Setting traps for rats and snakes, catching rainwater in plastic jugs and searching the city for cans of food makes up most of my day. Sometimes I’ll come upon something useful, like a sewing kit or plastic bowls to eat out of. I’ve turned a lobby of one of the old hotels into a house. Furnished with chairs and tables from what was left of the rooms. I even have a decent wardrobe now. It’s been almost 2 months and no sign of life.
I talk to myself more and more now. I had caught two small mice and kept them in an aquarium. They were my only companions. I put a soda can in there for them to build a house and fed them dry dog food because the taste was unbearable. Then, I found out that one had cannibalized the other and in anger I put a lid on the tank and gassed him to death with ether. Now I am alone again, except for them, the monsters. I’ve seen them combing the ruins of the city. They communicate in grunts and sneezes, kind of like cows or elephants. I’ve avoided them, for the most part, but I’m beginning to believe I need to confront them if I hope to figure out what happened to the rest of the humans. I began preparing last night for a reconnaissance mission to follow them the next time I found a few of them alone. Now, I just watch and wait.
The days have been passing by relatively quickly. The orange skies intensify the light produced by the sun, but at night the desert holds no heat and the cold is chilling. I’m not even sure what season this is. By the short days, I would say fall or even winter, but I can’t tell. While sitting here reading books and eating a can of peaches in sauce, I thought I saw something in the distance. There they were. I scrambled to the edge of the floor, atop the high building I have made my home, and looked across the wasteland. They were coming this way. A band of people, maybe forty in total, all dressed in rugged coats and heavy pants. Peach sauce ran down my chin and unconcerned I grabbed the binoculars. This was an interesting development, I have to be cautious. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are here. They seemed to know where they were going and stayed together in formations of groups. When they entered the city they spread out while protecting their positions. I continued watching them as they moved cautiously between the buildings. I got a close look at a few of them as they passed; each of them carrying weapons fashioned from tools, not a single rifle or gun among them. Then I watched as they exited the city.
I wanted to follow them. I wanted to call out to them, to let them know that I was here, that I had survived, but I thought better of it. These people were on a mission, one that I was not prepared to get involved with. If they come back through, then I might communicate with them, otherwise, it’s best I just remain where I am until I can get a better handle on the situation. Besides, I have a mission of my own.
As the day turned into night, I heard a low rumbling in the sky. I jumped from my resting place and ran to the open area of the wall that served as my window. Time, I’m sure, had deteriorated the walls of most of these structures and I’m almost certain they had seen their fair share of battle themselves. The walls were crumbling and with every step the floor below me groaned as I passed. I looked up to see it. It floated almost weightlessly in the sky. It made the slightest of sounds as it continued overhead. The edges were rusted like iron and it was in the shape of a freighter or boxcar. It was heading in the direction of the group who passed through, but not as if it was on an intercept course, most likely it was carrying supplies, food or water. I trailed it with the binoculars until it disappeared over the mountains.
It has been two days now and I have eaten the last can of wretched food I could find and nearly hunted the mice and snakes to extinction. It has not rained a drop in two weeks and I have not had fresh water in almost as long, drinking stale water and subsisting off of what was left in the bottom of canned food. I have woken from nightmares three times today, screaming and fighting invisible enemies, this has to end.
I stared at the cracks lining the ceiling. I had decided to conserve my energy, only venturing out when I knew it would be safe to do so. Laying beside me was a stack of books that I had read several times over — mostly manuals, business machines and other such useless material. The light started to poke in through the open walls and then a dull roar, like a train whistling. Suddenly, a tremendous force shook the building. The wind and sand charged in, a powerful force. Terrible shrieks and moans erupted below. I ran down the stairwell and entered the lobby. Small funnels of dirt and soil spun in circles filling the open room.
People, dressed in modest rags and torn clothes, charged in from outside seeking refuge from the storm. This was my moment; this is how I would join them. I inserted myself into their group, huddling amongst them. I acted disoriented and wandered around. One of the men dressed in gear came to me and grabbed me by the arm. He mentioned something about getting over by the other rescued slave workers and disappeared. I had removed the clothes I had been wearing and looked enough like the rest that I just blended in. The others looked tired and weather beaten, just as I must have looked. We began traveling away, out of the city. There was little organization. A few of the people began to break away, some ran back to the city and others just collapsed in the heat. There was no way of knowing how long we had to keep this up. Nobody had much to say. When the sun reached its highest point in the sky I began to think I had made the wrong decision in following these people, but I had to know. We continued walking for several miles until we reached a long flat area of land that decidedly looked like an old airstrip. There were defunct military planes and overturned helicopters, the bodies of which were in various states of disrepair. The group slowed its pace as we came to the remains of a bunker. There we huddled together and prepared to make our descent into the bowels of what would become our new home.
We made our way into the interior of the shelter, quickly filing in a few at a time; marveling at the structure, its many intricacies, the twisting labyrinth of rooms and hallways that went on for miles below the surface. This had, at one time, been a command station or research facility, perhaps for military troops and officers or for scientists developing black ops technology for the government. It was nothing now. There was running water, electricity, food and most of all shelter. At last, there was some resemblance to civilized life. This is what I had come here to find. Everyone was fascinated by the discovery of the strange technology, as if they had never seen it before. How long had I been out? Long enough, I assumed, for an entire generation of people to be born without any concept of civilization. I pitied them.
We gathered in a large common area that could have served as a briefing room many years ago. There was no assumption that I could make based on the passage of time. It could have been decades or several hundreds of years, there was no way of telling. Looking around the room I noticed that many of the rescued had banded together, either out of fear or comfort. Were these people the last vestiges of mankind? And if they were, what chance did they stand against the beasts I had seen in the city? If it was up to these people, mankind would surely be lost. I fought the urge to say something, but the burden to speak began to outweigh my desire to remain anonymous. It was like a tickling in the back of my throat. I looked away. My mouth twitched, opened and out sputtered the quiet sound of words,
“I can help.” It sounded like a plea, but I continued, “I don’t know how I got here, or what has happened to the world, but last month I was a member of a Specials Forces team working with the Army Corps of Engineers. We were assigned to guard a watershed on the Balsas River. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in total darkness and found the world over run by those creatures.”
What I said made no sense to me. I wasn’t sure if it even made any sense to them. The few of them, the ones in charge, discussed in hushed tones. I made my way through the crowd of people and went up to the big one.
“I’ve been living in that city, alone, ever since. Now, if we work together, we can…”
He raised a hand to me in silence. “What is your name?”
I stammered, “John. John D’Arby Sergeant First Class.” His lips curled into a tiny smile.
Sleeping arrangements were minimal. Throughout the night I heard the disturbing howls of grief. In the morning there were discussions about training an army and talk of overthrowing the alien invasion. I began training immediately. The mass of people would be unacceptable, but there would be a few who could make the grade. Without weapons this little group would not survive. We needed something powerful.
We were not allowed to leave the compound. It was far too dangerous and might alert the aliens to our whereabouts. In keeping with the security, we trained indoors. We ran the halls and practiced combat in the readiness room. The training was not perfect, but it would have to do. There were inner rooms where the others, I had come to call them, lived and worked. These rooms were off limits except to those with clearance.
It had been two months of intense strength training, core exercises and unarmed hand to hand combat. We had discovered every area of the shelter and our presence was met with great enthusiasm by the others. Finally, we were prepared to take to the wastes in an attempt to stem the tide of destruction imparted on us by the alien invaders. There were three of the others that had been coming and going inside and out of the shelter. One was a female who was working rather hard at keeping her left arm hidden beneath a thick coat; the other two seemed to be helping her, a thin man with long braided hair and an obvious cyborg. I wanted to get a look at what she was carrying under that coat, supposedly she had a secret weapon.