The 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.
* * *
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.
* * *
The 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.