Sand

SandThe hot wind hit Angel like a warm towel. The sand aloft in the air scratched like the fabric. The sand, it was hard to walk through the sand with no socks — only shoes that he was forced to empty every block or two. The sand was everywhere in the city. It piled along the buildings and alleyways like the snowdrifts of years past.

Gone were the plows to clear the way for traffic. Occasionally the wind would reveal a patch of pavement. Sometimes Angel would spot a crosswalk or a yellow line that ran down the middle of the road.

Block by block he worked his way across the city. The sun baked down on him. Without his clothes his mile-long walk would have given him cancer, or at least an excruciating sun burn.

He walked it every week. He walked among the empty streets and buildings of this once magnificent, second city. This place had survived a tragedy before, a great conflagration that destroyed nearly everything. There was no escape for her majesty this time around. The devastation was complete, along with every other city around the world.

Ten years had passed since the last remaining vestiges of the world’s military squared off for the slivers of fertile land near the poles. The final battles took place in Antarctica. The West won, but their prize was short-lived. Even the southern continent succumbed to the warmth. The heat and the dryness obliterated crops, as they had done across the globe years before.

On he trekked, climbing over rusted relics that used to move along the streets, but were now buried in tons of silicon and grit. He climbed down from upper streets to lower streets on scattered fences, jumping into dunes when the makeshift ladder fell short.

Only the wind, the sand, the sun and the decay made any sort of sound. Glassless behemoths stood and howled, as if to call out in slow anguish while the years tore them down. Pitted walls gouged by the relentless beating of the air made them look as ancient stone in some places, relics and ruins in others.

The air was thick with heat, but short of oxygen. More than the shoes, exhaustion slowed Angel’s pace.

A world had gone wrong, infested with a short-sighted species that valued power over existence. A world that had been abandoned by logic and empathy had no recourse to right the wrong, and no way to cry for help.

The Last Bar in America

Angel made his way across town, up and down roadways as the structures would permit. He left a trail in the sand that faded away in the distance. The evidence of his journey was washed away by the shifting sands as soon as it was out of view.

He arrived at the heart of the city, and found the building where he would take shelter, as he did each week. It was in ruin, much like the rest of the buildings around it. This building, however, was special. It held within it’s chambers a small miracle of salvation. It was hiding a modern oasis for weary travelers with the secret of its location.

In the belly of this building was a tiny bit of the world before that somehow managed not to succumb to the ravages of the sand and the drought.

He walked into the building and made his way past the elevator shafts. These machines had retired many years before and would no longer get him to where needed to be. Down, down, down the stairs he went, casting off puffs of sand with each step.

In the basement level he opened the door. Fluorescent lights greeted him with their resounding buzz that echoed the wind’s howl. They lit a room about the size of a carport for eight vehicles. In all likelihood it had served that purpose at one time.

It had been converted into a sanctuary for weary survivors. This establishment still existed to exchange goods and services, and what it served most proudly was sourced from a massive, hidden stock of booze. This tiny little space maintained the soul of the city that grew up on the drink. While it served several purposes, the proprietor of the establishment liked to refer to it as the last bar in America.

Distilled Spirits

Distilled Spritis - The Last Bar in AmericaThe owner of the bar, if you could call anyone the owner of anything so close to the end of humanity, was a blustery old fart from a place where the rivers used to run full of fish and the hills were spotted with deer and wild turkeys. He grew up the old fashioned way, as close as one could get to a frontiersman in the age of the jet plane and interstate.

This made him an ideal survivor in the sand filled world. One thing he knew was how to distill spirits and when he happened upon the cache of liquor, he realized he could survive for quite awhile.

He scavenged enough equipment from various places around the city to build his distillery. Mufflers became tiny pot stills. A few precious solar panels were salvaged to provide power to heat them. Copper plumbing was easy to find and pound into piping to condense the vapor. He had trouble, at first, cooling the pipes. Water was difficult to come by. Water, as it turned out, was more valuable than a stiff drink.
It was that value that drove him to re-distill the spirit and raise the proof. He wasn’t necessarily trying to make the drink stronger, he was extracting the water.

He traded the water and the alcohol. As time passed he ended up selling more water than booze. His stocks of high-octane, un-aged spirits gathered dust on the shelves for the most part.

Water supplies were ample, but not great. He knew at some point that he’d have to find something else to trade. He was resourceful, a frontiersman, and it was just another problem to solve.

His bar was tidy as Angel opened the door at the bottom of the stairs, but the owner was sweeping the floor anyway. He could never quite get all the sand out — and with frequent visitors he got into the habit of sweeping a few times a day. Angel was the third patron that day, but the other two had arrived hours earlier and the floors had already been swept twice since they arrived.

As Angel entered he paused to scan the room. In that age folks were cautious and suspicious of people they didn’t know, and some that they did know.

On this day he knew everyone in the bar. He greeted the bar owner with a warm hug and took his backpack off, setting it in a chair at the bar. He acknowledged the other two patrons with a nod with two fingers touching his brow.

“I’ll take some of the tough stuff today.” Angel said.

“Oh? Special occasion there, Angel?” asked the owner.

“Special day, Jim.” Angel replied.

Yellowstone

Jim Doorsman attended a university in the city back before the turn of the millennium. Following the computer technology boom, he set off to the West Coast to create the next revolution in technology, or so he liked to think. By the teens he had married and was raising a family with two boys, his sons. He still thinks about his sons every day.

The Twenties came and went, and Jim continued to work in the technology sector. As the planet’s situation became more dire, He found himself attracted to companies and projects that were trying to make a different for the world, not just for commerce.

For awhile he and his family enjoyed being in the group of “haves.” He could see that it wasn’t going to last. The “have-nots” population was growing fast, so fast. People were at once being displaced by automation, and also losing their properties to some aspect of the Earth’s decline.

Coastal communities were falling to rising seas, the plains were suffering a drought that would never end, the South was too hot. Desperate people abandoned all they had to move north, or to the mountains where rivers still eked out a little water.

Jim and his family witnessed the growing unrest in California. Paying for water became something people budgeted. They bathed in the ocean if they were close enough, and not at all otherwise. Water was for drinking, and hydroponics if you could get away with it. The government’s regulations forbid almost everything other than drinking fresh water.

Sometime in the early Thirties Jim was contacted by the central government. They wanted him to move to the Midwest to work on a project that, as they said it, “could bring the world back from the brink.“

It took a year to convince his wife, but in 2034 the Doorsman family set off for Chicago. They did not take very much, and by that year many of the roads were in severe disrepair or suffered blockages from the drifting dust and sand. A journey that would have taken no more than four days on clear roads, had already taken ten by the time they reached Yellowstone.

It was a June morning. Jim left his family to sleep in and drove East to buy water and food for breakfast and groceries for the next week’s journey.

EruptionAcross the globe survivors still know that on June 18th, 2034 Yellowstone erupted, spewing gas and ash into the atmosphere and accelerating the planet’s already dire course toward destruction.

Jim knew that date because it was the day he watched an explosion of magma and rock consume the town where he left his family. He watched in helpless anguish from his car full of provisions.

Thirst

Jim spent the next few days camping as close to the pit that was formerly a national park. In the morning he would wake up and stare westward at the plume of smoke and ash that was still rising out fo the massive cauldron. The sunlight brought out the minuscule amounts of color that was contained in the gassy billows.

Eventually it became too hot near Yellowstone. Jim decided to carry on with his journey. As he moved eastward he eventually came back into civilization. His phone lit up with messages from friends and family, wondering if he and his brood had made it across before the eruption. He couldn’t bring himself to respond to them all. He called his mother.

On the radio he heard scientists talking about how much more drastic the environmental changes were going to be from that point forward. The strategy of humanity, they said, would have to adjust from one of societal balance to mere species survival. The interviewer, of course, downplayed this prophetic statement. No need to cause a panic.

Thirst - Last BarJim knew enough about climate science to understand the magnitude of the event. He knew that he would have to be under the government’s protection in order to make it even a few years. The new job sounded like just the ticket.

Uncharacteristically, he had never told any stories about the position, or what he was working on, or why it had ended.

He would say, “I can’t talk about that.” If anyone asked.

Few would ask, though. Most of the time their eyes welled up when he told the Yellowstone story, and they didn’t think to ask about the job.

At some point, the job ended abruptly. It was right around the time the city suffered some sort of terrorist attack. Details were scant at that point. It was in the mid-to-late 2040s. There was terrible unrest in the city. Authorities were having trouble controlling the situation before. Afterward there was no hope.

The lake’s water level was dropping drastically in the heat. There weren’t any storms to replenish it. All adjoining lakes were clamped shut at the locks. No one was sharing. The city was dying of thirst.





Look for new posts to this story every Tuesday and Thursday. I also have a book coming out soon. If you’d like to be informed about my writing escapades you can follow me on Facebook or sign up for my mailing list.


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