Author : Thomas Desrochers
“You have to understand that, at the time, people still believed in a better future. There were people who could see the writing on the wall, of course, but nobody was willing to listen to them, much less able. When the barges stopped it was quite the shock. The state had maybe half a million left at that point, but it could only feed fifty thousand, and that was assuming the machinery could be kept fueled and maintained.”
Outside the wind howled, out of tempo with the sputtering of the wood stove. The cabin itself was only ten feet by ten feet and sparsely populated: a cot, a chair, the stove, a wall of firewood, a cast iron pan hanging from the ceiling, and a rifle in the corner. No windows, only the light from the stove to cast dim dancing shadows over the room and across Adams’ weathered, bearded face and sunken eyes.
Adams shrugged. “We got by for a while. We farmed, we hunted, but we couldn’t fight the fires in the summer, we couldn’t keep our equipment going forever. Anybody who got out alive… well, nobody came out whole. Hardly anybody came out at all.”
His audience sat on the cot opposite him, two foreigners seeking passage north: both were women, one covered head to toe in brown robes that obscured every aspect of her, the other wearing an ankle length skirt and a heavy wool sweater. Her skin was as deep and smooth as polished onyx, her eyes bright and curious.
“But you did make it out,” the curious one said.
“I did,” Adams replied.
“Then you can guide us back?”
Adams sighed and sank into his chair. “I didn’t leave alone. I took what was left of my family, a second cousin only twelve years old.” Adams fell silent, looking somewhere half a lifetime removed.
When he started up again his voice was hollow. “We weren’t the first ones to try and get back to the states – the wolves had already figured their strategy out by the time we hit them. We never found bodies, only thousands of bones scattered across what was left of the ALCAN. We had to stop early to start a fire if we couldn’t find a vehicle to sleep in, and we’d take shifts through the night.
“We were doing alright until the 30th day. We sat down to take a break and eat a little, and a fog rolled in with no warning. We were high up so the trees were small – too small to climb.
“It was over in an instant. Four dead wolves and Max trapped under one of them, bleeding out. He still had his dog-eared copy of Asimov’s ‘Robot Dreams’ in his hand. There were tears rolling down his face, mixing with the blood and dirt. I told him, ‘Don’t cry, Max, don’t cry. It’ll be over soon. You’ll get to see your parents and your brothers real soon.’ He just shook his head, and he said to me, ‘It’s just not fair. It’s just not fair. We were promised a future with robots and spaceships. A future where we were great! Instead we got this. Why should we dream when we’re back to hiding from wolves around a fire?’
“What’s there to say to that? What can you say? The fog didn’t burn up. He didn’t die quickly.”
Adams wrestled his gaze back to the present, looking the young woman in the eyes. “You’ll only find graves if you go back there. Whatever you’re hoping to find is dead with the rest of it.”
Another tale of post-apocalyptic lingering doom.
And a rather good one, too.
Excellent. Great writing, great story.