A drizzle of heavy rain begins to fall on the windshield.
In less than a minute, the dry road darkened under the steady downpour of water. The further I drove down the interstate, the more difficult it was to see.
The car’s worn windshield wipers rubbed fitfully against the window. Each stroke smeared the water as much as it cleared my view of the way ahead.
Visibility of the road worsened, causing me to slow the car.
When I’d first left Barstow, the sky was clear. Weather had grown steadily worse in the two days since. A few scattered clouds grew until the horizon was covered by thick storm fronts.
My attempt at planning the route beforehand was based on a map I’d found. What it couldn’t have taken into account were sections of freeway blocked by abandoned cars.
Neither of my previous traveling companions had been familiar with the route I planned on taking. Tara had come from the opposite direction, and Simon had driven East, from somewhere near Los Angeles.
With nothing else to go on, my only choice was to go blindly, hoping for the best.
After I’d first woken up at the hospital in Las Vegas, I drove from there to California. My route was hundreds of miles farther north. Backtracking the same way would have added days, if not weeks on the road.
The way I took was littered with abandoned cars, but there was always enough room to weave the compact Toyota Yaris through the lanes. The closer I came to reaching Las Vegas, the more difficult it was to squeeze around the congestion.
Another few miles, the curtain of rain recedes, leaving only gray skies and wet roads.
After I pass Calico Road, which detoured to parallel the interstate, the windows start fogging over. Cranking up the heater all the way and setting it to defrost doesn’t do much.
Leaning forward, I rub my jacket sleeve against the glass. Distracted, I nearly crash into a black sedan blocking the freeway ahead of me.
As slow as I was driving, my wheels still slide five or ten feet along the wet pavement before bringing me to a halt. Another few moments and I would have broadsided the car ahead of me.
My hands shake slightly as they let go of the wheel. It wasn’t like me to make mistakes like this. I wouldn’t have survived so long being reckless.
I sit back in the car’s seat before rolling the window down and looking outside.
Past the sedan, more vehicles blocked the road, their doors left open. I notice that a few trunks were left partly open as well, with their contents lying scattered on the surface of the ground.
I could make out the remains of suitcases and soiled clothing. Weather had taken a heavy toll on the unprotected items, and any dust that had still clung to the vehicles was now a thin layer of mud.
It was obvious that there would be no way through, but a sense of almost morbid curiosity drew me nearer.
Pulling forward and round, I stop the Yaris just short of the last car. Common sense told me to turn around and keep driving, but I’d been crammed into the tiny car for hours. My back and legs feel stiff and painful.
Putting the car into park, I turn off the ignition and climb out to stretch. The muscles in my back ache appreciatively, despite the chill morning air.
Purposefully, I make my way toward the abandoned cars to see if there’s anything useful to take. There’s still food and water in my backseat, but you never know what you can come across.
Walking closer, one vehicle in particular catches my attention. There’s several holes in its windshield. Getting right up to the glass, I can see that the driver had been left to decay in the car.
The body still sat in the seat, but its head lulled unnaturally to one side. I couldn’t see much more than the long tangles of auburn hair draped downwards, obscuring its face.
I’d seen bodies before, but never this well preserved. Kurus would have striped most of the meat from its bones.
The thought of Kurus made me start looking around more closely, focusing on any shadowed places they could be hiding from the light. They were more desperate for food, and more dangerous than ever.
Kurus had been people, before becoming infected. They were now as close to being people as cats were to tigers. Their ferocity, heightened senses and instincts only fueled my constant paranoia.
Forcing my eyes away, the other cars seemed to stretch out for a mile into the distance, if not farther. A few of the more daring drivers had attempted to drive around the road. Their wheels were dug into deep ruts, trapped in the earth. The uneven terrain was unforgiving to anything with less than four-wheel drive. My small car wouldn’t have a chance.
I went to peer inside several more cars, but none had anything worth taking. Clothes, shoes, and sentimental items were the predominate objects to be found. I must have come across thousands of photo albums by now.
Aware of the time I was wasting, I turn back to head towards the car. Rain had soaked into my jeans, but the Jacket was keeping most of me dry.
For a brief moment, my eyes drift up to sky. The gray clouds overhead were noticeably thinner. With any luck, the sky would fully clear by this afternoon.
Quickly walking around puddles and trash, I climb back into the warm car. Drops of water cling to the waterproof jacket. This unexpected weather was going to slow me down.
After starting the vehicle’s engine, I backtrack my way to the off-ramp. It was surprisingly clear of cars, considering its close proximity to the interstate.
There might have been few cars, but the condition of the road had severely deteriorated. Cracks ran long furrows down the faded asphalt. My wheels shook each time I drove over one, but it was more bearable than the random potholes that threatened to pop a tire.
Pulling onto Yermo road, I take a left. According to the map, the thin line representing Yermo would parallel the interstate before merging back. I hope it would get me past the blocked road. If not, I’d have to try driving another way or continuing on foot.
Caution made me glance at the vehicle’s gas gauge, even though I’d checked it less than half an hour ago. It was enough to get to Vegas, but I would need to re-fuel for the ride back.
If I did make it back.
Traveling alone was more hard than I’d expected. The silence got on my nerves. There was no more broadcast radio, and the car I chose had a broken CD player. The noise might’ve helped, but was no substitute for other people in the car.
Simon, Tara, and Katie had accompanied me nearly everywhere since Michael and Rachael had left. Tara had offered to join me, but I’d turned her down. Driving back was something I had to do on my own.
When the location of my pre-amnesia home had returned to me, it had been just over two months ago. My first impulse had been to tell the others, but once my initial excitement faded, it was clear that traveling to Vegas as a group would be impossible.
Traveling with an infant was one of the main reasons why we decided to settle in Barstow. It was safer than staying in a large city. Keeping her quiet, especially when we didn’t know where we could stop or where was safe, had been too much of a risk. A cry at the wrong moment could bring a whole pack of Kurus down on us.
For now, I was alone, but that was only temporary. I wasn’t sure what I’d find in the house I used to live in, but I hoped to return to Barstow within a week. I figured Simon and Tara would be able to take care of themselves for that long.
Driving through the intermittent rain, I kept thinking of Stephanie, my wife, daughter, Rosie, and Phil and Bernice. The memories of those who died had often crossed my mind. It was hard not to think about those I’d come to know as close friends and family, but it seemed a feeling of regret always made itself known when I was alone.
I continued forward until I was able to merge back onto the interstate. It looked as though I’d be able to continue without much delay. As far as I could see, the road was bare, other than a small stream of water that swiftly rushed along the emergency lane.
I kept the drive to a slow crawl in case a situation arose where I’d need to come to a fast stop.
For the remainder of the drive on the highway, there had only been a few cars that were left abandoned. These appeared just as weathered as any of the others, but I wondered if they had belonged to fellow survivors. They might’ve attempted to enter or leave Las Vegas, only to have had the misfortune to break down or run out of gas at the wrong moment.
When I approached closer to Nevada, communities far off the freeway seemed in almost in pristine condition. It could have been a different story up close, but I didn’t have the time to spend sight-seeing.
A few large casinos sat alone, a few dozen miles past the city limits. I could see cars left in the large parking lots, but they were too far away to make out any details.
It wasn’t until Las Vegas was in sight that a mild feeling of relief came over me. Even if I wouldn’t be able to find my house right away, there was still time. Things appeared different enough to make me wonder if my memories would even help to lead me home.
The vehicles I could see were layered with the same mud that covered the roads. From my view on the Freeway, trash and debris had blown down the streets, only to be pilling against buildings. Weeds forcing their way up between the cracks on the pavement and sidewalks added to its abandoned feel.
If anything, Las Vegas had lost what little luster that had clung to it.
At the edge of the city, a tour bus and semi-trailer had overturned, leaving no room for the Yaris to squeeze through. Broken glass and parts of the twisted wreckage littered the wide expanse of the road.
From there, I saw no end to the vehicles that stretched out before me.
Putting off getting out of the comfortable car, I twist in my seat to grab the well-worn sword behind me. There hadn’t been a sheath when I’d taken the katana from the wall of Las Vegas’s Planet Hollywood.
I’d had to put something together on the fly. It was a black PVC plastic tube that I’d capped on one end and fitted with a strap that slung across my body from shoulder to hip. It only rattled if I was running, and by then any noise I made didn’t matter.
After grabbing the sword, I reach for my supplies. I had fit a small amount of survival gear, food, and water into a small hiking backpack. Its frame loosely pressed into the sheath, but it was more aggravating than uncomfortable.
The pistol sat within easy reach on the passenger seat. Picking the weapon up, I habitually check that the rounds in the gun and two spare clips were still fully loaded.
Twenty-five bullets against the vast, empty city.
A few loose rounds sat at the bottom of my backpack, but they would take too long to get to if I really needed them.
I take a moment to make sure that I wasn’t forgetting anything, grab the map out of the glove box, and put it into my jacket’s inside pocket.
It was too late to turn back, so I pressed forward through the drizzle.
I was being careful, quietly walking between row upon row of congested cars. The city was soundless. Nothing, aside from occasional drops of rain could be heard.
Overhead, a layer of thin and patchy light-gray clouds block the sky. The horizon was much darker.
I wonder if the weather will clear up, or if the distant storm front is pushing its way in.
Looking both left and right, I take in my surroundings. Old planters, where flowers once grew, are now only showing a few shriveled twigs. The red clay pots had filled with mud, overflowing onto the sidewalk. My eyes follow the water that gently rushed off the curb and into the gutters.
After hesitating, I continue walking until passing a small, unfamiliar pawnshop. Unsure if I was going in the right direction, I take shelter from the drizzle under an awning, looking over the map I’d brought.
The small lines and words are difficult to decipher. What’s worse is that there are no landmarks visible from where I stood.
From my few memories, I didn’t live too far from a hospital. On my morning pit stop, just before work, I remember sitting in traffic and always passing nearby the front entrance. The memory of the building was clear enough, but I couldn’t remember the words written across it.
Every minute spent here was one I couldn’t afford. The sun would set in a few hours, and cities are one of the most dangerous places to be, after dark.
I need to avoid the strip, and detour more towards the outskirts. My last on foot trip through the heart of the city taught me to leave the dark buildings full of Kurus well enough alone.
The hospitals marked on the map were scattered across the city. I would need to find transportation if I didn’t want to spend hours on foot, slowly searching the areas around each marked location. I figure if I can locate the right one, maybe I’d be able to find my way home.
If Rachael hadn’t left with Michael, I would have more answers than questions. She would be able to tell me, more or less, where the hospital was, or at least where we had crossed paths. Being from Las Vegas, she could have helped me narrow down my search.
The memory of her leaving with Michael made me grit my teeth and seethe before I could push it away. They were idiots to leave on their own, but it was their decision. Focusing on what was important, I continue down the abandoned street.
Work boots kept my feet from being completely soaked, but my jeans let the drizzle trickle down into my socks. Tempted as I was to put on another pair, they would only keep me dry for a few minutes. I’d have to wait until I found someplace to hole up for the night.
A distant rumble of thunder didn’t bode well. Wanting to get out of the rain, I hurry towards a neighboring street. The road is more compact, and there’s several residential motels, ranging from cheap to decrepit.
The Motel Six appeared to have been less maintained and more vandalized in comparison to the two others budget chains. Its exterior paint was weathered, and several of the windows were missing panes of glass. Most of the doors to the first-floor rooms stood ajar. Many had been smashed inwards, some completely knocked down, others hanging by a single hinge.
A few of the upper level doors still stood, but the whole place gave me an uneasy feeling. The two vending machines near the front office had been tilted over. Black steel cages had kept the soda and junk food from being taken by looters.
The front office had been boarded up. Over the wooden boards, large bold graffiti spray-painted in black read, “KEEP OUT!”
Only a few vehicles remained within each parking lot, making me think that both tourists and travelers decided not to stay.
Unlike most of the streets I passed, the road in front of the motels is left surprisingly bare, with the exception of a few abandoned cars. I wonder if the street would remain clear farther down, or if road congestion blocked this area in.
I second guess each decision I make. A single mistake could cost me my life.
Reaching the end of the road, I see that the intersecting streets are choked with vehicles, but if I could find something comparable to a Yaris or Mini, I’d be able to weave through on sidewalks and alleyways.
Since my chances of finding something small, containing fuel, a working battery, and the keys already in the ignition was just over nonexistent, I didn’t bother searching. Instead, I continued on foot.
As I walk, several of the street names seem familiar, as though I should know where I am.
After spending a few seconds thinking, it was clear that as much as I wanted them to, none of my memories told me where I was.
If it hadn’t been for the map reference, I might’ve wandered aimlessly for days without finding anything. There are over a dozen locations marked as hospitals.
Assuming I’m reading the map correctly, I wasn’t too far from the nearest one. There’s a few city blocks between where I stood and my destination.
Carefully folding the map up and putting it back into a plastic bag, I slip it securely back into my jacket pocket.
I pass various shops, as well as a dental clinic. Most had closed their steel shutters, but almost every other store had windows either damaged or missing.
Crossing the storefront of a 7-Eleven, I see a indistinct shape twitch from the corner of my eye.
Hope you enjoy this week's chapter. I've brought my writing's tensing to present, which hopefully didn't throw anyone off. Book 1 and 2 were more reflection, this is as it happens. I find it more tense and compelling of a read.