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Tales from Overland

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This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang, but a whimper

~ T.S. Eliot



past imperfect

 

Levi used to mow lawns, year-round. Someone once asked him if it was boring. He can’t remember now, but if it was, he thinks it was probably the good kind of boring. Like when the road is clear, the sun is high, and the car is speeding along on a full-enough tank. Everyone is quiet, keeping an eye out for the smoke of a campfire, or the collapsed sign for a hospital or gas station. Any passing monsters can be imagined as rocks or rubbish, and he can pretend all his troubles will disappear so easily in the rearview mirror.

 

Jean won the lottery once. It was only $500, which was like spare change compared to the jackpot. Her friend Bell had to talk her into claiming it. They spent it on a weekend at the spa, which meant it was gone almost as quickly as she had gotten it, but it had been worth it. She thinks about, if she found $500, what she would spend it on now. A shower. A better car. A hot meal of something other than canned food. One night without dreaming of Sun and Anton, their horrified faces as the car pulled away.

 

Pietro stopped drinking the day the world ended. He’d lost his wife already, shortly before losing his job and his house, and he was two weeks away from losing his car, so the booze was all he had left to lose. Sometimes he thinks God took it from him, to keep him mindful of his sins. Sometimes he thinks he gave it up himself, a pitiful attempt at a sacrifice. If he could drink, it might make the world hurt less, so he bears the thirst and the pain as his penance. He has so many sins to atone for.

 

present tense

 

Lee talks. A lot. Once upon a time she called it her coping mechanism, but she isn’t sure what she’s doing now counts as coping, so she’s stopped. It’s got her kicked out of her old group, but the people she’s with don’t seem to mind. Maybe it’s because she’s so good at tying knots and starting fires they’re willing to put up with it, but she likes to think it’s because they need the silence filled sometimes. It isn’t like silence is hard to find in this new world. Wherever her first group is, she hopes the silence hurts.

 

Harvey tries so hard to lead by example. It used to be enough. Even now, people like him, people look up to him, but it’s just not enough. When the trader refuses to deal with them, when the engine is running on fumes and there’s a stranger holding a gas can, when a former ally shows up with a knife in his hand and fire in his eyes, it’s like he’s gone mute or the others are deaf. His words of encouragement are enough to keep his people alive, but nothing else. He still tries. He has nothing else left.

 

Farrah doesn’t daydream any more. She’s fully present in every moment, in pain or pleasure, imminent danger or relative safety. It’s not like she has a choice: the past is a minefield, the future is a house of cards built on a faultline. If she tried to live in either of those, she would be dead in seconds. Whenever her thoughts drift in either direction, she pulls them back to the present in all its terror and exhilaration, focusing on her heartbeat and the rhythm of her lungs, a reminder that right here, and right now, she is still alive.

 

future continuous

 

Anton thinks he might head east. He caught up with them once, but he’s not likely to do so again, and it’s only getting more dangerous the farther west he goes. He can’t just think of himself anymore: Skipper is alert as ever, but whines every time he puts weight on his injured leg, and maybe, maybe, Sun is still alive in that abandoned car she holed up in. Maybe Jean did him a favor, leaving him behind while she went on toward whatever she thinks is out there. Maybe what he wants is out there too, just ... someplace else.

 

Vito imagines a house. There isn’t much to build one with here, but his imagination has never needed much help. The house has a big kitchen, and a jacuzzi on the patio, and a upper floor balcony that looks out on the ocean. There’s a greenhouse, where he can plant the seed packet he picked up off that ruined hardware store’s floor, and the enclosing wall is big enough that Laika has room to run. And at the center, a living room with the biggest fireplace, where they can sit and tell stories about the world that used to be.

 

Phoebe waits for sunrise. The others are asleep, curled by the slowly dying fire, but she is too alert for sleep. Maybe it’s the waves keeping her up, or maybe just the exhilaration of having made it this far.  Twice before, she thought she’d reached the end of her road, only to find a new road waiting to begin where the last one stopped. Maybe it’s foolish of her, but she wonders if in the morning, she’ll find another road, ready to carry them a little farther. Maybe not. She’s content to wait and see. The stars are beautiful here.



I don’t pay attention to the world ending.

It has ended for me

many times

and began again in the morning.

~ Nayyirah Waheed