Authors: Ryan King
Sam climbed slowly out of the confined toilet and went to turn the stove off and actually did succeed in throwing up into the sink and then couldn't seem to stop dry heaving. Brown liquid and undigested beans looked back up at him accusingly
. Sam's knees were wobbly and he had to grab the edge of the sink to hold himself upright.
He needed to lie down for a little bit and then he'd be okay he reasoned. Sam gingerly made his way over to the unkempt bed and let himself drop onto the soft surface. His breathing was heavy and he started to shiver with fever. "This is bad," he said out loud before throwing up all over the floor.
People were in the camper with him.
Scary people. Whispering fluttering shadows hovering around his bed. The Pack was nowhere to be seen. Sam lifted his head and was instantly racked by pain and nausea. He almost laughed, was this really how it was going to end?
A face materialized out of the shimmering darkness. It was Barbara his daughter, but she looked dark and in distress, not quite real like before.
"Darling?" Sam asked holding out his hand.
The shape moved forward, but didn't take his hand, "We waited for
you daddy. It was so scary, but we knew you would come for us, but you never did."
Sam felt like he was choking, "I was...I was trying to get to you. It was-"
"We died terrified and alone because of you," said the face with venom.
He was angry now, "You're not real. You're not my daughter. You're just the delirium, or my guilt, or bad freaking chili!"
Barbara's face vanished, but the shape remained and Rachel took her place.
"How you feel baby?" she asked.
Sam smiled, "Not good, this might be it."
"Not yet," she said. "You're not done."
"I think so. It's been fun and all, but I'm tired of being afraid and alone. Tired of doing nothing for no reason. Tired of living and just waiting to die."
She reached out to caress his cheek and he could almost feel her, "You would leave us there in our house, our bodies to never know a proper burial or rest. You would walk past our home a dozen times and not love us enough to overcome your own fear and weakness. Is that really the sort of husband and father you are? Is that really the sort of man you are?"
He started to answer, but the shape moved away into the mass of swirling darkness moving around the other end of the camper. Sam even thought he saw the crazed boy he had killed with the baseball bat a lifetime ago.
"I'm delirious," he said.
"Probably dehydrated too. Need water."
With a herculean effort, he pulled himself upwards and swung his feet to the floor. He stood and almost slipped and fell on his own smelly puke. Sam made his way carefully over to the sink and turned on the faucet and cupped water into his mouth using his hand. His body sucked up the moisture, but his stomach immediately wanted to expel the liquid.
He looked out the window and saw the fire outside burned down low. All the dogs were piled together around Scotch on the blanket. He had shut the camper door the last time he came in which was why they weren't in here with him. Sam loved his pack, they would have chased away these demons if they were here with him.
His eyes caught the bottle of rum again and a memory stirred. Years ago he had gone on a bu
siness trip to Romania where the locals would not let any meal pass without a digestive of a fruit brandy called palinka. They claimed the fiery strong alcohol was actually a health drink that maintained proper digestion and ensured long life. His host later explained to him that for generations people had to eat things that were not totally free from germs or bacteria. He swore on the benefits of palinka, even explained that alcohol in general was a poison that the human body was able to filter out of its system. Germs and bacteria could not survive in alcohol and thus pouring this poison into the stomach killed them. He said it was as simple as that. Sam had scoffed and laughed at the time, thinking they needed better food hygiene. It seemed at least worth a try now.
With shaking fingers he pulled down the bottle of rum and spun the cap off. He took a generous swig of the rum and almost threw it back up, but held it down. He then took another slow steady drink and put the bottle on the counter.
Sam ignored the dark wraiths around him and stumbled out the door to the jubilant dogs who pranced around him barking as if they thought they would never see him again. He lay down on the blanket beside Scotch and the other dogs soon settled in around him.
If he were going to die, he would die with this friends and not a bunch of ghosts, he decided as he drifted off to feverish stillness.
The night was eternal and he wasn't sure if he slept or only drifted in and out of various stages of delirium. By the next morning he was no longer shivering, although everything felt weak. Maybe he would live after all.
The dogs were undaunted and were ready to be off on another adventure. Sam carefully and slowly fed them, got himself some water, vitamins, aspirin, and lay in the lawn chair wrapped in a blanket. He remained this way most of the day, no longer nauseous or racked with diarrhea.
At some point he
fully woke and the sun was in the opposite part of the sky. He looked around and saw Scotch wasn't on the blanket anymore. He tried whistling and it came out as a pathetic sound like a tire losing air. He tried again and it was stronger. Raven came around from close behind him, on guard of course. The other dogs barked from nearby and came running up to visit him. Sam basked in their affection and felt better still.
He pushed himself up and looked for something to eat. Sam was afraid of any canned goods now, although most were still likely good, but how was one to know? He needed to find fresh foods and hunt, trap, and fish more. He had been lazy and it had nearly cost him dearly. For now he would have to settle for boiling some rice he'd found in the cabinet. That should be easy on his stomach.
After eating he felt well enough to build up the fire for the night. He wouldn't sleep in that camper filled with the smell of his sickness and the spirits of his guilt. It was warm outdoors anyway and the sky was clear. He fished out the telescope and gazed at the sky until going to sleep and resting deeply.
The next morning he felt almost normal and was eager to be on his way. He knew exactly what his destination was now, maybe what it had been all along. Every trip up and down the coast he had lingered longer and lon
ger near Williamsburg, always finding a reason not to stop. Maybe this was why he couldn't move away from the coast. This time he intended to stop this endless dance.
He wasn't going to try to go down I-
64, that was still a nightmarish scene. There were smaller roads and a few other routes. Sam couldn't go anywhere near Norfolk, although that would likely be the easiest route. He could just imagine the piles of death and decomposition there. Instead he would cross over the little two lane bridge near old Jamestown.
Sam traveled north and east for several days before coming to the bridge, half fearing and half hoping something had happened to it, maybe destroyed in a storm. It was still intact, but the two lanes were hopelessly clogged. He took the SUV as close as he could and then parked on a
hill, maybe he would come back this way someday and need the vehicle.
Loading gear into the wagon he had carried all the way from Key West, he put on his pack and started walking down the middle of the bridge clogged with three lanes of vehicles. The dogs stayed close to him with Raven out on point as normal.
On the other side of the bridge Jamestown National Park emerged, the site of the first permanent settlement in America, a horrifically swampy and disease-filled location with little room for crops or grazing animals. A place where for the first one hundred years of its existence, five out of seven settlers died within their first year of arrival. It looked peaceful enough now, but Sam was uninterested. He had taken the tours and he moved on steadily towards his destination.
Sam found a pickup truck with a camper top he was able to get started and filled up with fuel. He drove onto the old historic scenic road and was surprised at how few abandoned vehicles he encountered. He supposed it was because the scenic road didn't really lead anywhere other than to connect the triangle of three historical sites: Jamestown, Old Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
He slowly made his way to their neighborhood and street and not much had changed since he'd visited it last almost six years before. The old maple in the front yard had fallen down in some windstorm, missing the house by inches. Even the windows appeared unbroken. He got out of the truck and walked to the front door and remembered the letter and photo on the door, both of which were tucked away safely in his pack. No notes or instructions this time.
ad misplaced his keys years ago but knew there was a spare hidden inside a small stone rabbit in a planter near the door. He picked up the rabbit and took out the slightly tarnished key. He put it in the lock and had to work it back and forth for several minutes to get the lock to turn. It finally did, and Sam forced the door open with his shoulder and heard the weather stripping around the door come unsealed from the wood with a loud sucking sound. Stale pent up air rushed past him, and he left the door open. The dogs shot into the house and started sniffing around. They seemed fascinated by the smell of master everywhere.
Memories flooded through him. The happiest times of his life had been in this house. He and Rachel had raised a girl here. They had comforted each other when they had lost little Jimmy at only
one month old. Life here had been so wonderful that he was now ashamed he had taken it for granted. He had always assumed it would go on forever and even looked for better days ahead failing to appreciate what he had. Sam had violated one of his grandfather's favorite axioms, 'Boy, don't try to get happier than happy. Just happy is rare enough.'
Sam spent some time looking at the pictures on the wall and the mantel. He smiled and even cried a little. They had loved each other and known they loved each other. They were dead now, but it wasn't his fault. It wasn't even his fault he hadn't been here at the end, just chance, one of the ways things worked. It might have even made dealing with the end worse if they were dying before his very eyes and he wasn't even getting sick. That sort of emotional guilt could destroy you. No, it was better this way he thought...at least he was going to believe that because it was the only option available.
He finally summoned the courage to walk up the stairs to their bedroom. Somehow he already knew Rachel and Barbara would be together, and he was right. He found them in the master bedroom, huddled in bed. Time had taken away the pain and rigor their faces certainly showed at the end. Dead dry skin stretched over bones and their faces were no more horrific than thousands he had seen before. Sam understood that these two husks were not his wife and daughter, they were both long gone. These were just the tangible memories of their brief time in his life and on earth. He was grateful for it.
Sam pulled the blankets up over the heads of both bodies. He then went out to the shed and selected a shovel off a hook on the wall. There was only one thought of where to bury them. The garden was Rachel's favorite p
lace and Barbara would want to be close to her mother. He dug one deep grave for both of them, taking his time and resting frequently while drinking some instant tea he'd found in the kitchen cabinet.
When the grave was finished he went upstairs and
, wrapping the blanket around the bodies, brought first Barbara and then Rachel down, laying them carefully in the open grave. He picked up the shovel and thought to say something, but he had already said it and wherever they were, they certainly knew what was in his heart. He shoveled dirt over his family and patted it down flat.
He had a morbid urge to
stay the night in his house, then was afraid he wouldn't be able to leave, would stay there and die, calling up resting spirits to haunt him for his own need. No, he would let the dead rest and move on himself. There was nothing more to do or see in this place. It was no longer his home and never would be again.
They camped out that night at Yorktown overlooking the river and the next morning crossed the giant bridge going north again. Summer was nearly upon them, and Sam paused in the middle of the bridge to look up and down the river. It was beautiful and peaceful.
At the other end of the bridge, Sam was excited to find another jeep that worked. He rolled the plastic sides down, loaded up his gear and the dogs before he
They had only been driving an hour or so before Sam saw smoke far to the west. He stoppe
d and pulled out his binoculars but couldn't really see anything. West was away from the ocean, he thought. Probably nothing more than another barn on fire, or a brushfire set off by lightning, or his wishful thinking.
Sam deliberated for a moment and then smiled. He looked at the map and turned the jeep around to backtrack to a western road. It was probably nothing, but who knew, it might be someone else. It might be another person
, and he might not be the last man after all.
He put in a random CD from the jeep's visor case, turned the music up loud and headed off down the road singing and hopeful.