Authors: G.P. Grewal
A Post-Apocalyptic Adventure
Copyright © 2013 G.P. Grewal
All rights reserved.
THE POST-APOCALYPTIC TRILOGY
Weren't no telling just how far I'd come, though I reckoned California was still a long ways away—long when you was walking it, long when you was hot and thirsty with nothing but a limpy old dog to talk to, that dog that were the best and only friend I had. I'd take it easy. A couple months maybe. Or maybe I'd just find somewhere along the way to settle down.
I'd found him outside the ruins of a little town called Safford some thirty miles back. He was a hungry, scraggly looking thing, and awful lonely, words I guess could have been used to describe me too, and though I ain't have much to eat I let him come along anyway, good company being hard to find.
He seemed happier now that we was together, at first all sad and whiny though his spirits had since picked up. Guess he was glad to have found someone to take care of him, and damn lucky too. Most people would have just ate him, especially in a place like Safford, hungry, desperate folks looking to cook up whatever they could get their grimy hands on, though I couldn't much blame them for that, I guess.
Five-hundred and sixty-eight miles the sign read, rusted and banged up but still standing. It was a lot of miles, though not too bad for someone who'd been wandering for as long as he could remember. Don't know why they left the "t" off the name though. Must have been a mistake, or maybe that were just their way of talking it back then.
"Lost Angeles, five-hundred and sixty-eight miles," I told Lucky, though he ain't care much about that. That's what I'd named him, "Lucky"—lucky I'd found him, and lucky he'd found me too. He just looked at me, all dumb and panting. It was damn hot in that sun.
Lost Angeles. It was a funny name for a place. '"Angels" is what the second part of it meant, "angeles" being the word for "angels" in Mexican, like maybe they couldn't find their way back up to Heaven, or maybe they could but didn't want to go, figuring it just weren't home anymore. Come to think of it, I guess it weren't so funny as it were sad, them pretty angels wandering around without a home, but then a lot of things were pretty sad in the world, like Lucky, that big mutt who'd been following me the past thirty miles. He had a bad limp and was awful old, his blue eyes all cloudy, his dirty old hide mangy and scarred. I looked him over as we stopped to rest that night, wondering why he was limping like that, though I couldn't find nothing stuck in his paws.
Though I weren't too tired, it wouldn't have been a good idea to keep walking after dark. Too many eyes on you you couldn't see, because even if it seemed like there weren't there usually was, someone looking to rob or kill or do even worse to a man, and ain't nothing you could do when someone come up on you holding a pistol when you weren't knowing, especially when it were more than just one man.
I gave Lucky half my jerky, though the stale corn bread I finished on my own. I laid down after that and looked up at the stars, not wanting to risk lighting a fire so close to the road. Better to spend the night a little chilly than to have someone come looking to see who was there. Last time that happened I had to kill a man, and though I'd done my share of it, killing weren't something I liked doing much no more.
Later on I heard Lucky growl, though when I opened my eyes he just put his ears down and sat there panting in the dark. I turned over and tried to sleep the best I could, hoping no rattlesnakes would come crawling up on me. Slithering, I mean. There was a lot of traveling to do and I needed my rest, a whole lot of walking, I reckoned, before I'd finally get to see it with my own eyes: Lost Angeles, that place I'd been dreaming of for so long.
The first few hours of traveling that empty highway weren't so bad, though by late that morning it got so hot that I had to stop to rest. I saw a big rabbit, got him with my first shot, skinned the critter and we ate real good, Lucky smacking his chops after cleaning the haunch I gave him down to the bone.
We continued on a short time later, the desert sun beating down, the old highway littered with rusted old junkers that had been gutted out by folks looking to pick clean anything they could. But that was a long time ago, in them years when I was a boy and a man would kill you for what littles you had sooner than say how-do-you-do, which is still the same way it was I guess, only back then there were a lot more people around.
The going weren't too hospitable and Lucky had a tough time, though I did too. I weren't getting no younger, which was probably why I felt so damn tired half the time. But that sun, it had no mercy on either man or dog, trying to beat you down until you was nothing but one more body laying alongside the road, the birds and coyotes coming until all that was left was a pile of bones. In fact, judging by all the skellies I'd seen, there'd been a lot of folks who'd had things end for them out there, no one around to even dig a hole and give them a proper rest, ashes to ashes and all that. Maybe that'd be me one day, I reckoned, or maybe old Lucky, because that dog didn't look so good, and when I tried to give him some water when we rested in the shade of an overturned bus he just sniffed at it and whined, laying his chin on the road.
I wanted to make Lucky better but didn't have no way of doing it. I wasn't good at fixing hurt people and I sure as hell didn't know nothing about fixing up an old dog, though I let him share my blanket as I laid listening to him pant and whine all night, the noise of it waking me up. In the morning, he didn't seem no better, though he finally took a little water and chewed on a piece of cornbread a little before spitting it out.
"Dumb Lucky," I said. "Ain't much left of that."
He just sniffed at it and looked away, and so off we went, the desert taking turns cooking and freezing us, the temperature dropping as the sun went down until finally it was downright cold, the two of us taking shelter behind a rusted automobile that night, probably the only two living creatures besides the snakes and rabbits and the hungry coyotes I sometimes heard yapping for miles. At least that's what I thought, because sometime that night I heard Lucky growl, and though I didn't give it much thought, I soon heard the noise of a clunkety old engine from far off and realized someone was passing by.
I got up, wondering if I was hearing right, Lucky following me. I made my way to the road, hiding in the darkness as I spotted the people passing by. Four, five... Five at least, followed by that tired, sputtering engine though I still couldn't see no automobile coming in the dark.
Lucky growled, though I hushed him, swatting his snout. I could see them more clearly now. Six, I counted this time, including two that looked like women if I weren't mistaken, that old engine getting louder and louder until at last I could see the beat-up white pickup truck that was following a short distance behind, its headlights either not working or simply turned off, most likely not wanting to attract the attention of anyone who might have been nearby.
Lucky stuck his ears up and started whining again, scared of the noise of that old clunker, which seeing how rare it was to see one running nowadays might have been the first such thing he'd ever seen.
"Quiet boy," I whispered. It weren't no good, because, that truck passing not too far away from us, he started to bark. I tried to hush him again but off he went, quick as a rabbit, running from our hiding spot and making straight for that rickety truck. There was a man driving it and another sitting on top, the man on top being the one who first heard the barking and caught sight of Lucky running towards him through the dark.
"Hot damn!" he shouted, his rifle coming up as he squeezed off a shot. I tensed as he fired, thinking it were the end. He weren't no sharpshooter though, because as close as he was he missed, though as soon as that rifle cracked Lucky turned tail and ran.
I stayed hunkered down, the whole lot of them excited as they suddenly stopped.
"Hell you shooting at, Bill?" one shouted, a big fella who'd drawn his pistol after hearing the shot.
"Dinner!" the other one shouted back, cussing as he tried to catch sight of Lucky, though weren't nothing but blackness all around. "God damn big one too. Shut this truck off, Jimmy. I'm gonna get that hound!"
He jumped down, looking and seeing nothing, the whole desert blanketed in dark. "Forget it," his buddy told him. "It's gone. Get your ass back up there and stop wasting bullets on every damn critter you see. You ain't hit one thing yet."
At first he didn't want to give it no listen, but then he got back on. The old truck sputtered and started up again and they rolled off, everyone having settled back down. Soon I couldn't see them anymore except for the moonlight shining off the white pickup. Where was Lucky? God damn it, come back boy. I called for him a little, looking all around, though not wanting to lose sight of those people I finally had to give up and hurry on.
It was sad losing my dog like that, damn depressing, but weren't no helping it. No way I was going to find him in the dark, and even if I did he'd just get them folks shooting at us again, that dumb dog never knowing when to shut up. "God damn it, Lucky," I said, throwing a look over my shoulder as I moved on, hoping that maybe he'd be able to sniff me out in the dark even though I knew he weren't coming back.
I kept my distance, not wanting them people to catch sight of me, following the white pickup truck for a long time. I was tired but they weren't stopping, probably traveling as much as they could by night to avoid overheating the truck. What must have been hours later they finally moved off the road, setting up camp next to a broken down building and what was left of a big tanker, the beat up old truck sputtering a moment as the engine shut off.
I could see them pretty clearly now, them and the big sign that marked the place as a gasoline station, though after searching the building and checking the pumps a bunch of times they discovered it, like every other place, was completely dry. God knows where they even got what juice they had, seeing as all the pumps and tankers had been drained of it a long time ago in those days when the biggest gangs with the biggest guns decided who was going to get what was left of things and ain't nowhere you could go without seeing dead bodies lying in the sun. Everywhere I went it had been the same story, the fighting never ending. First the army men fighting against everybody else. Then, when they was gone, those who was still living fighting each other tooth and claw, everything gone to hell, neighbors killing neighbors and then moving on when they was out of stuff to live and killing or being killed along highways and in strange, faraway towns.
But these folks, they looked to be doing better than most. A couple of the men were even nice and fat. Good eatin'. I mean it was what they must have been doing, not what I was fixing to do to them, because I weren't no man-eater to be sure. Weren't many of them, but weren't none of them without arms. Guns I mean. It was just another way of saying it. Rifles and pistols mostly, though shotguns too, and now that they was all settled in I counted them and once again came up with six plus another man who had disappeared behind the broken down station to do who knows what. Two was still women, which was something you didn't see much anymore. Not out on the road especially, and them men must have been guarding them real good.
They made a fire and some of them slept around it while others just sat around keeping a sharp eye on the desert, their rifles close at hand. I was still too far away for them to see me, laying hidden behind the rocks a safe distance away. I thought about going over there to meet them, but though I'd have been very happy to join their company, I knew I'd probably have been greeted by a bullet from fifty yards. I settled down there in the dark and closed my eyes, figuring there weren't nothing more to do than to get a bit of sleep and wait to figure things out when I got up.