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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Sci-fi · #1951003
She didn’t know why she still searched, and that was something to chew on for a while.
HONORABLE MENTION in the Boy Have I Got a Story for You Contest by sdodger, November 15, 2013

FIRST PLACE in the Separate Worlds Monthly Contest by Colin Back on the Ghost Roads , December 2013

She didn’t know why she still searched, and that was something to chew on for a while. Every morning she’d think about that; it was a thought as clear as air and whisper-thin inside her head. Yet, the air seemed heavy, and darker today --- like ashes constantly carried by the wind. This morning, a breeze had picked up a bit, right after the yellowish sun broke through the sick-looking clouds but the light that illuminated her face was as pale as snow.

Where was she heading? Walking places; seeking constantly. Some places were full of dense vegetation, others, dry as sandpaper. Maybe drier than that. She thought about water inside sweaty plastic bottles and licked her lips. A flat taste in her mouth; she needed water bad. Whenever she found water she’d splash it on her face first. Maybe a few miles South. Yes, South. Last time she tasted water was months ago. Canned peaches or canned pine-apples were a treat but she wanted that H20 chemical compound in her mouth more than life itself.

A subtle noise from the quiet road brought her back but there was nothing under the shade of the oak tree that spread its branches over rusty cars, and skeletal school buses. It could have been a rat. Everybody thought that cockroaches would make it; an urban legend. They all died; rats made it. It made sense. They lived underground. There were millions of them. She walked towards the tree, feeling her back hurt. The backpack; so full of cans. She pretended that someone was right there, resting under the tree. She’d do that sometimes. Just for the heck of it, to keep her sanity. She lowered her face mask. Breathed in the dry air.

“Good morning, traveler.” She said, her voice as dry as paper.

“Good morning.” He’d greet.

“Where are you headed?” She asked.

“North. And you?” He’d investigate.

“South.” She answered.

“Why South?” He’d question.

“Well, it’s closer to the ocean,” she replied.

“Yes, but North is closer to the great lakes and the ice caps.” He’d reason.

“You have a point there… but what if it’s all… gone, all melted?” She challenged.

“Then… we’d be swimming with whales…” He’d say.

“I am going South anyway.” She told.

"Do you need anything? I have a cookie but it is as hard as stone.” He offered.

“No, thank you. I am used to eating once a day now. If I eat more, I feel sick.” She explained.

“Well, then. Goodbye.” He’d be gone as fast as a dry leaf blown in the wind.

“Farewell, traveler.” She greeted, her voice chipped as a crystal glass. Hearing herself speak was so strange. Also, her voice was becoming hoarse.

She continued her journey, laughing at her conversation with Mr. Traveler Nobody. Was she becoming mentally ill? No. No, she wasn’t. Just pretending, as she did when she was a child, in Iowa. Her mother didn’t like it, and asked her if she was talking to ghosts. She looked around. Dead leaves, and dead trees everywhere. It smelled old, like iodized metal. Pestilence took its course. What happened in other countries, other continents? The same? First, it started with people. The Big Virus from that country. Sickness, disease - then famine, and death. Survivors looted homes, buildings, hotels, shopping centers and supermarkets. No more money and coins. Then dogs, and cats, cattle and pigs were gone, even most birds, and snakes. Some people formed little groups. Others were alone, and they went about doing whatever they did. Somehow kids died last. There were all kinds of people: traders, vagrants, wanderers, runaways, religious fanatics or people that only wanted to be left alone, like her. No question, different times… that haunted each town, each city, each state. Maybe far worse but for sure it was the end of times.

It wasn’t as horrific as depicted in an old TV series where “Walkers” roamed the planet after the Big One. On the contrary, it was hunger for food, not for blood. People became crazy or traders, mostly. Some men would swap their possessions, or wives and kids for food, and soon they’d have nothing left to trade. Most items were spoiled or ruined when found. Canned goods were worth a person’s arm and leg. Same for water, sugar, and salt. Nobody cared for gasoline. It wasn’t worth any trade. Besides, where would you go? You couldn’t escape death. It was all around you. Nobody cared more for seeds. Where would you plant them?

Once she found a cereal bar under a kitchen counter, and half eaten by rats. It had gone stale but she didn’t care. No one cared as long as your mouth tasted something other than your own saliva, now as thin as paper. She needed water. She’d dream of lakes, oceans and rivers. She’d taste the fresh water and feel it flowing through her thin fingers. Once she dreamed she was opening a big refrigerator door, the big ones sold in Target. She stuck her head inside, the cold air touching her cheeks, and mouth but these where long gone dreams, and possessions. What mattered now was surviving.

What had become of us? The world lost itself to itself after the first vaccines but they weren't efficient, and enough. At first, nobody wanted to leave home, go places, travel abroad, or live a new normal life anymore. Nobody cared about socializing. Nobody wanted children or pets because everything became so expensive to keep. Health insurances. Life insurances. Job insurances. Home insurances. Car insurances. Everything insurance. Loans, home loans, bank loans, business loans. Debts. Credit card debts. The realm of the inexplicable economic obligation. Poverty. People living in tents under bridges. Ghetto’s. Chaos. Then… FUTURE. It took over softly, and swiftly. In reality, it was a spy. It knew it all and owned it all. FUTURE - Control. FUTURE took over Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Bing and Baidu, and controlled the world. It knew our secrets, what we watched, how much we had, what we didn’t have and what we wanted to have. It told us what to do. It controlled people, it became the tax collector, the creditor and the credit score appraiser. It controlled lives, agendas, activities, politicians, the police force, hospitals, pharmacies, social networks, and TV broadcasts. Everybody on the planet worked for FUTURE; who didn’t, became unemployed, and poor. That’s what happened. Others said it wasn’t but on-line home networking was the only available job.

Clothes, and food, too expensive to buy. Internet, and an Ipad, were the only free things in the world, and they “belonged” to FUTURE. A totally controlled world; controlled people, like cattle. Like in Orwell's 1984. The last days were times of difficulty… a brutal World. One nation. One world. One currency. One president: FUTURE's CEO. The world couldn’t survive this way. It couldn’t. It didn’t. And so it happened. The Big E. came from somewhere far in the East.

Little drops of sweat rolled down her forehead and moistened her lips. It was water but salty. Whenever she thought about the Big Explosion, she became queasy, her stomach twisted like a snake pit full of poisonous snakes. She threw up. She smelled the air; she had to hurry up, find food and search for another safe place to sleep; abandoned houses. The last time she had looked at herself in a mirror she nearly went mad. Who was that sad woman staring back at her? Deep wrinkles running down her pale face like dry rivers in the Grand Canyon, and deep eyes that popped out from her thin face; two red marbles. She smiled a crooked grin, and noticed that she had empty holes in her gums.

Iona knew that she’d walked all across America because of the rusty, scattered license plates she’d step on. Maybe she was near Mexico now because some plates were in Spanish, maybe not. Maybe she was in Central America, and all this time not a single living soul had approached her but one person. It was a sun dried man, covered in dust and wearing black clothes. He spoke of hate, looking up at the sky, shacking his hands vigorously and cursing endlessly. He carried a rifle. She hid. What was wrong with her… and them? Why hadn’t she, and them died all along? Someone had said it was about your blood type.

Months ago she found a dynamite stick but she had no matches. She found ten thousand dollars in a wooden box, under someone’s bed. She used it for bonfires whenever she was able to make fire by rubbing two stones. She missed simple things that you don’t bother to think about in your daily life. Painkillers. A matchbox. Tooth paste. Running water. Soap. Boots. Peroxide. Band-Aid. Electricity. She missed her addictive “devices.” She was from the “Old” I’s generation --- Iphone’s, Ipads, Itablets, and especially the Iwalls. Oh yes, the wonderful Iwalls. All was done, bought, traded, heard and seen from your own wall, right in front of your couch or bed in an enormous big screen, and only bought from FUTURE. You needn’t leave your house. Some Iwalls even came with scented sensors and you felt as if you were amidst a rain forest in a resort hotel in Brazil or sailing on a Catalina sailboat in the blue, salty Caribbean seas. All voice activated. Safe. Secure. Protected, and away from dangerous people, predators, or robbers and perverts.

She had met people from the “New” generation. They were called the “Holo’s”--- all their devices were holographic, pure Nano tech, weird, and inexplicable. It went viral, like a dark virus, penetrating each person’s mind, ruining the body forever, an implant; spying your every need, fulfilling your soul and body in such a way that you could not live without your Holo even for one minute. You would voice activate your wishes, and disappear from your room and “travel” places holographically. Holo’s were FUTURE’s best employees, rich beyond imagination but the first ones to perish after the Big E. She often wondered what happened to FUTURE because life grinded to a halt without it, life became hollow.

Sometimes Iona weakened. Her limbs refused to go on in this endless journey to nowhere. She had found carcasses of dead animals with human bones… inside of them, deep down in caves. Piles of debris, and rotten trees. When was the last time she saw a flower? Grass? Bacteria and deep layers of infection ate human skin, the objects, the tree trunks and even bones. The rains became rarer and rarer till they stopped altogether; deserts enlarged their boundaries. Arid plains everywhere; Doomsday. In the beginning, she thought of suicide, but discarded the idea. Not because of God, humanity didn’t believe in God anymore; churches, temples and synagogues had been destroyed, and vandalized years, and years ago. The Lord never came nor did the anti-Christ, there was finally proof of uninhabited solar systems, and the sun was becoming incapable of supporting life and warmth, because of the ash-colored clouds, polluted with deadly gas, and that swallowed whatever was on their way.

Then came X. Noi, a mad young man, a scientist, and an astronomer, coldly and calculating "proved" to the world, through a perfect mathematical theory, that God didn’t and couldn’t exist, and that we came from ectoplasm, and planetary explosion. Nothing more, nothing less, just that. No heaven nor hell. No eternal life in Paradise or honey and 72 virgins according to the Islam heaven. Nothing. Just life, then death. Plain and simple. Noi also foretold the physical end of the world --- prophesied the destruction of the globe, Cosmos, and all its planetary systems. Annihilation by gradual, natural decay of the Universe. Catastrophic destruction. Despair. Nothing to believe in; madness. All of this because of a monster Virus. Yet, she, and the ones like her kind, had nothing to lose; she decided to survive anyway. She never thought why she was still alive. A curse? For sure it wasn’t a gift. Maybe it was human nature or a grip in her soul or something in her genes. Maybe nothing at all.

Iona wondered where she’d let her life go. She had scarcely even noticed, even after all these years. She’d wonder if she had died or if she just come to life but they looked just the same, life and death. It was a dreary life, a life full of misery and loneliness, pain and dire affliction, yet against everything wrong, she persevered, she explored and searched. There was no healing light or prayer, preacher or Angel, church or religion that could save her from her future but Iona still managed to see ahead, here and there, everywhere. Something blossomed inside her sometimes. Hope; but it was like a blink of the eyes that saw a beautiful oasis far away, engulfing her dry face, and then it wasn’t there anymore. Maybe it had been there before, but certainly not after. The only thing that Iona was certain about; not after. Not after she had tried to look at herself in a mirror again. She knew she was in the room, standing right in front of the mirror but Iona wasn't there anymore.

Word Count: 2229
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