Deep Breathing by the New Sea - a Scifi Story
A Fisherman Out of Water
“Pa-pa-pa?” a high pitched voice asked me. I turned, expecting to see baby Maria in her playpen. Instead, she was toddling on two baby legs, arms outreached. She’s walking! And she'd climbed out of the playpen! I'd have to watch her like a hawk now.
I pick her up, tears streaming down my face. “Oh, God, baby!” The air won’t come between her weight and my tears. I sit down hard, and she cries in surprise. “Oh, God, don’t let her have been born to die at the end of the world!”
I want to sleep. I want to dream. But I’m afraid I won’t wake up. And holding her, at least a not-so-sad moment, I owe her. I want her to have a moment of love before we’re all dead. “Na-na?” she asks me.
“Nana’s dead,” I said. We’d buried her days prior. Two days after the end of the world, I suppose, if it wasn't still yet to come.
“Nana?” Maria asks me again.
“She’s gone. Like Grandma.” My mother had died when her oxygen face mask ran out while she slept. Luck for us, I guess. My son Jack and neighbor’s son Jake had talked about denying her air. We’d all slept through the change time, and she died in her sleep. More air for the rest of us, buying more time.
She’s found a pacifier and put it in her mouth. That’s what stopped the crying. I need something else to stop my tears. “Maria, do you want to hear a story?” My daughter had tons of those in the RV. Lucky us, or someone might have let the bastard baby die for all her crying. That my daughter was pregnant again, or that my son’s pregnant girlfriend was asleep on the fold out bed next to my son didn’t register as babies.
They were just women who were fat, in my hindbrain. Maria was real. Walking, now. Talking for weeks, crying, demanding, eating, sleeping, and pooping. Real. And dying, along with the rest of us.
“A month ago, maybe. A star far, far away burped. Uncle Michael says it’s a magnetron. It burped and put out lots of radiation. It rained down radiation on the other side of the world. That side’s gone. Long, long gone.” She’s listening, not crying, and no one else is awake. I decide to keep going. As I tell it, the conversations Michael had while I was drunk or tired or exhausted – him and his scuba gear, his clear scientist brain, his better functioning in general – start to congregate and correlate. I’m not stupid. I was a SEAL, once, before and after being a fisherman. To get out of the small town when young and it’s what I did before I got back. Came back, got married, and made two babies with a wife. She killed herself, blaming boredom. My kids, lucky I guess, hadn’t gotten out of school long enough to go to college. To be far away to be elsewhere when the world ended.
“That star burped so big that it blew away almost all our air. Like blowing on a dandelion flower, and all the white stuff blows away into the sky. Do remember dandelions flowers?” She nods yes, though I don’t know if she understands. “Uncle Mike and I saw the aurora, the big radiation glow, and the big colors in the sky. We were up late, arguing over his welding making too much noise. Nana was up with you, because you still can’t sleep at night. Or, you couldn’t then. Well, we all saw the big colors in the sky. Uncle Mike’s radiation detector went off, and his barometer – the big wheel with the arrow – started to spin. Then the huge winds started to blow. It was a hurricane! But we live in hurricane alley, and we hadn’t cleared up since the last one! So Uncle Mike and Nana close up the shutters and the garages, and I pull my boat up onto the trailer, in case the waves get real bad. Well, it was already in dock, so that wasn’t far. The water was blowing away from us, but I didn’t want a wave to mess it up. While we’re watching the aurora, the winds start up – and it took our breaths away! Literally! Yeah, that’s a big word, Maria.
So we went inside and hid for that night, back inside, where it was safe. It was hard to breathe, so we decided to sleep until morning. Sun comes up, and a lot of stuff was all messed up! And the sky had this big white streak across it, across forever, white and blue, a big long cloud! Uncle Mike said the air pressure was dropping, we were like it was supposed to be high, high up in the mountains. It was maybe 5 AM, and the air’s still dropping. It’s early, but Nana’s up because you were hungry and crying. He said the air’s going away; we have to go away, before it’s too late. Air’s so thin, he says take a deep breath so you can think.”
We argued fast. I couldn’t think, but he can. So I put my boat trailer on the truck while he loaded up his welding trailer and SCUBA trailer together. Nana packs up the RV. She thinks we’re just leaving for a hurricane, but she’s throwing in all the bug out packs and packed food we had for camping. Your Mommy’s still sleeping a lot – I though it was because you were sick a lot. Your uncle Chris and his girlfriend were asleep in the RV – because I said they couldn’t sleep together in the house. Lucky me, end of the world, and they’re fucking in my RV cause it’s close to all the beer and the beach. Ah, don’t repeat that word. Mike’s son is asleep in his house, and Mike gets him in the truck.
Nana gets in with all her oxygen stuff. Mike helps her load it up, with his stuff, saying we’ll need the air. Then he drives his truck, and Nana drives the RV, and I drive my truck with the boat. We’re driving down the coast south-southwest. We’re already living on the coast, but he wants to go south-southwest. Fewer people, toward that part of Texas and Louisiana. Away from Houston. Away from industry. Some oil rigs and pumping stations, but toward some coastal resorts that don’t have people that time of year and state parks – not a lot of people.
Nana thinks it’s nuclear war, because he radiation meter went off – so she thinks it’s great to get away from the targets. I don’t know, really, what we were thinking. The sea level was dropping and it was high tide, air pressure dropping, and it kept going low. Air was thin, it was hard to think. Mike had an idea of where to go and what to do.
“Oh, baby, do you know how lucky we were? We had our families there, with us. Grab and go. My wife was dead. Mike’s wife was divorced and left him, and it wasn’t like he and his son Jake were gonna go get her. My daughter and you were already living with me. Your Daddy was scum, so he wasn’t allowed near us. Turns out her new boyfriend was Jake, so my daughter and Jake weren’t gonna go looking for their lovers somewhere else. My son Jack’s girlfriend was already here, so he wasn’t going to go looking for her. Her family was going to kick her out for sleeping with a coastal hick like him, so she didn’t want to go anywhere else. Lucky, lucky, lucky. If he'd gone looking for her, I can't help but think we'd have lost him.
We were at a gas station about 6 AM. Mike says we gotta drive on the coast, follow the water. While we’re arguing, birds start falling out of the sky. Nana says its nuclear war, thank God we’re out of the city. The kids in the back of the RV start waking up. Hard to breathe, but they’ve been asleep. Lots of arguing. Jake, says we gotta fill up more gas. Mike’s already filled up everything. Jake sees a fill up truck here to fill up the gas station.
Driver’s inside the station bathroom. Jake says a couple words to his Dad, and we all get ready to go. Then he goes in to pay, takes the bathroom key. Then locks up the driver, runs back to the truck, and hotwires it to leave. We leave with the RV, Mike’s truck, my truck with the boat, and a gas truck. Drive fast along more roads south-southwest. Make a couple miles, then Mike says to drive onto the mud. Keep following the water. Sounds crazy, really crazy. The girls are getting nuts that we stole a gas truck, but Nana tells them to shut up, we’re fleeing nuclear war. So they stay shut up, and try to keep you quiet.
We drove real slow over the first of the ocean mud, trying not to get stuck. The ocean’s receding, and the sun’s making it hot, but it’s till mud. We make a couple miles out until noon. Mike says stop, when we hit a rocky patch. Let it all dry out. Funny idea, that the ocean will dry out. We’re already a couple miles out from shore, where low tide isn’t. Maybe he thinks no one can get us this far out, but they could walk. Maybe its to let the mud that was up to the wheel wells dry out. The girls make lunch. We’re tired, air won’t come. Hard to breathe. We’re sea level, but Mike says the air is as thin as if we’re on Pike’s Peak. That’s like 2 miles up. He says we gotta go lower, but can’t right now. So we camp out in the RV and watch out for people. Not many people.
Mike says the other side of the world is irradiated. Everybody, even if in bunkers, was fried while we slept. It was over in minutes, but still was bad. That side of the world caught fire, too, making bad fire, burning everything. That day, we started to see smoke on the horizons, thick clouds in the air. More air was still getting lost to space, because that big, bad star burped and blew a lot of it into space. The rest of the air was still around us, some coming back around, but high up winds were blowing smoke from the other side around the world to us.
It was noon, maybe 12 hours after that star’s burp hit us. Africa, Asia, Europe, all toasted. North and South America woke up, if they were near sea level, with trouble breathing. Rest of the world couldn’t breathe at all and was dying. We had made a couple miles south to be away from people – lucky us. And we now were ready to drive to where no one else was.
The ocean had surged some, closer to the house, while we slept. But my boat was on a trailer, out of the water, so it didn’t get smashed up. Almost everybody else’s did. That why there aren’t any other boats we’ve seen yet. Cause the surge took up a dozen feet or more about tide, and we lived up above the water high enough, barely, because I'd always wanted to be prepared for storms by design. I don’t really know how high it went, but the water and air all sloshing about, pushed away by that interstellar star burp, blew the a lot of the ocean away, along with a lot of air. After that heat wave caused the water to expand and some boiled into the air and space beyond, all we know is that we have to be close to the new coastline wherever it is if we're going to survive. To stay in the cities as they lose their water, transport and minds is death. And wherever the shoreline ends up, there will be fresh water, eventually, as the water cycle reforms. And if air is being lost in this process, too, sea level is the only place we'd be able to go and live.
We ate lunch. We slept – a lot. Nana shared her oxygen, letting us breathe better. And you. Absolutely, you. It got hot that day. We decided to stay until night, see if the cops came looking for a stolen gas truck. It didn’t come. The radiation fried a lot of electronics like satellite communications and computers. Cops were more worried about a nuclear war. I think, since we don’t know. Don’t know what it was like for the cities right then. Probably chaos of thinking it was a power outage or war.
That night, it had already dried out a lot. We started driving further toward the ocean. We made a couple miles on the muddy sand. Stopped the next day, slept during the day. Woke up, found Nana dead because her oxygen ran out. Hard to think it had been two days, we all slept so much. Buried her in the mud. Then drove another couple miles.
We were maybe ten or twelve miles from shore when we had to stop for a long camp out. The salt flats – big long sections of salty mud – had started. We were also right along a section of silt from the Mississippi river curling out. Mike said stay here. That river mud was miles long, and we didn’t want to drive around it. The mud was good soil, now that the oceans were receding. And it was next to salt flats around us – places nobody had ever lived before. We were a couple hundred feet below sea level then. It didn’t make much difference, but a little. Wait until it was safe to drive on without risking vehicles getting bogged in mud or the river came to life or the ocean had stopped and we could catch up.
Third night, we saw all the lights of the city then. The air had started to return a little, except for the fires and smog and pollution from the other side of the world. Our cities were still there, but a lot of places higher up lacked air for people. No people, no control, so fires started and burned – especially from fried electronics and the oil refineries with fried computers. Houston burned. Corpus Christi burned. Some of the oil rigs further out started to burn, too. Fortunately, the wind was blowing north-north east – away from us. A lot of other people that already didn’t have enough air were suffocating on the poison. We were getting sea air, salt air. We could breathe, if barely.
We stayed there for days. Waited three more days, til our air – Nana’s air - ran out. Then we used Uncle Mike’s air. The girls got a lot, because they both admitted they were pregnant.” Maria was staring at me with big brown eyes open wide. Grandpa’s telling her a story. No one’s crying, no one’s screaming, no one’s yelling, so this was the best she’d seen in days. “Uncle Mike says the first night without air probably killed a lot of people, but 1-2 billion people live by the coast. The lack of electronics starting fires, people without enough air doing stupid stuff, radiation – probably killed more. We were a week before we realized we needed more supplies. Couldn’t go follow the ocean and hope for fish. What if they’d all died? Uncle Mike and Jake – call him cousin, I guess, or another Uncle - took the truck and drove up to town.
Came back with a tow truck, pulling a convenience store truck left abandoned by people thinking it was a nuclear war. Next day, left and came back with another delivery truck that had beer and bottled drinks. They said they’re been looting of stores they could see with binoculars, but they were hitting abandoned convenience stores along the highway. No refugees had gotten that far, and everyone they’d seen had moved inland or away, for fear of a tsunami or hurricane. Third trip, same day, brought back a bakery trip. I told them the next day to look for a pharmacy – we had you, Maria, and two girls who were pregnant. They found a pharmacy, though it had been looted. They got out and went to the storeroom of the place. Everybody looted the front, killed the clerk and pharmacy, but no one checks the store room. Got diapers, formula, sick people stuff, if no drugs. Fourth trip, a car tried to follow them back.” Maria’s big brown eyes looked like those of her father, the scum I hated for getting my daughter drunk and pregnant.
Since my wife had recently killed herself, I couldn’t bare the thought of anything but letting the grandbaby live. Now I was starting to regret that decision. I’d convinced my daughter to have the child live, only to now see her die such a slow and difficult death. “We fired a few shots, killed the jerks. No one else followed, but we haven’t gone back to the coast. We’re stuck with what we have, until it all runs out.” Maria stuck out her feet and wiggled them, pretending to run. It was a funny joke for a baby, and she giggled at it.
“I’m sorry, baby. I am so, so sorry.”
All the electrical fires caused by the magnetron pulse were more dangerous than an EMP. An EMP would fry everything. The magnetron did some stuff, but not everything. Our older cars worked reliably. Control electronics were unreliable. The boys found that some electronics worked and others didn’t. I told them to bring food, drinks, medicines, tools. Stuff the old world either would never make again or that would be out of our reach as poor fisherman again.
I was lucky my son had been arrested for breaking and entering, car theft, and a number of other sundry skills. I’d hated his adventures before. But while Mike’s son Jake was good at shooting as well as high tech stuff, my son was the one who got the drinks out of the machines and the cars they hotwired back. I still hated him for getting his girlfriend pregnant, though. Another potential burden, another potential loss to feel guilty about. My daughter admitting she was pregnant by Mike’s son was frustrating, but it made Jake happy and satisfied. It added to the cohesiveness of the group. My kids both had their partners, and the girls were content to stay here, safe, because of the baby and babies to be. Mike was determined to stay here because he thought this was the best thing. Far from the cities, from refugees, the insanity. Close to the shore, where they would be food. Farming I could see becoming impossible for a long while. The equipment might be fried, and the gasoline that ran equipment was scarce. Refugees would drive off – maybe literally – livestock and surviving farmers. Only the ocean would let a man freely collect food as far as he and the fish – and now the ocean – roamed.
I wanted safety, security, certainty, dignity, loving, and my wife Kai Li. I had none of those things. It all added up to lonely.
The boys had made the last trip about 10 days after the disaster. We’d stopped tracking things then but inventory. But the night before the end of the world had almost been a full moon, and it was almost a full moon now. Maybe that was what God was waiting for, that final irony of insanity hitting on the full moon. It would make as much sense as a star burping thousands of light years away even more years away destroying life on Earth. The tightness in my chest from the anger and grief threatened to overwhelm me. Then lack of oxygen compounded it.
I tried the deep breathing Michael said to do. Bring in air deep to the lungs. Hold it. Release it. Deep breathing to bring clarity of thought. It was all so easy to make fun of when it sounded like Buddhist crap my wife used to do. It was even harder for me to do now, since she committed suicide despite doing it. The anger didn’t go away, but the vision blurriness did.
Mike was keeping guard from the top of a truck. His son and my daughter, my son and his girlfriend, were all asleep in the RV with me. I wondered what he was thinking, then decided not to ask. He’d ask what I was thinking, and that would be a mistake for morale. And the last of our soda and chips was not enough to resolve my thoughts of Kai Li, of where she had been wrong as well as right.
The day was hot, as all the others had been. I kept the engine running for the AC, using up precious gas. The trucks themselves were worse, as they got hot in the day and freezing at night. We were eating the food most likely to go bad first, but it would have put a dentist and nutritionist to shame. Mike worried health. The girls worried about babies.
I worried about water.
We were miles from the old shore, and the new shore was still receding. Mike thinks the Earth lost water vapor in the air that was blown away, taking water out of a closed system. How much water had to go away to make the ocean level drop this far? We were on a slow sloping part of the Gulf, but we were at least half a mile below sea level. And if the air was thin here, how bad was it at what had been home? The boys had a couple face masks and pressurized air things from Mike’s equipment they’d used on their “runs”, but that wouldn’t last forever. Even here, we could last forever. We didn’t want to move because of the long salt flats ahead and the river mud nearby. Why go further down if we might get too far for scavenging?
And the river had the promise of fresh water, whenever the water quality tests Mike did said it wasn’t toxic. But it had all the old poisons plus a lot more, and now it was getting salty as crap. Further downstream, he said, might be the ocean. Funny thing, since the Mississippi was a stream about a hundred feet across right now, most of it sludge and toxins. And trash. Lots and lots of trash. No more bodies, though.
I was worse than a fish out of water. I was a fisherman without water. Worse than a fish out of water, because it was taking so long to die.
Babies get into everything, play with everything. She hated being locked in the RV, because she could see a whole wide dangerous world out there she wanted to play in. My house keys to a house we’ll never see again just aren’t good enough anymore.
I hated my grandbaby playing with the door. Swats on the diapered butt have little impact, literally and figuratively. Swatted hands last longer, but there are only so many things to play with in here, including me.
At naptime, I fell asleep. When I woke up, Maria wasn’t where I could see here. That harsh white light from outside was streaming in. The door was open.
“Maria!” I screamed. All I could think of was the baby dying out in the hot salt flats, a pickled baby body, another dead body that no one else would bury. Or I would have to, before asking my family to shoot me for not watching her good for as sick as the girls were feeling on our lousy diet.
“Pee-boo, Pa-pa-pa!” she screamed. She was sitting on the foot step into one of the other vehicles. At my screaming and hers, everyone in the other vehicles started throwing doors open. My idiot son threw his open, knocking her off her perch and onto the ground. She started wailing, a big red welt sure to become a bruise forming as she looked up. I picked her up, crying until I was as red as her.
My daughter’s screaming at me meant nothing to the guilt I already had. I didn’t know how much I wanted to live our not, but I knew I couldn’t live without her.
It was too long before nightfall and silence.
Full Moon Night
Full moon was so bright. Was that from the solar flare or stellar event lasting even longer? The ability to breathe but not get full lungs of air was so weird, as if we'd been suddenly transported to Everest.
Maria was up already and playing quietly. I made a bottle with nearly the last of our known good bottled water and gave it to her. I didn’t pick up the child. I didn’t want her wandering, or worse, following me. She finally went back to sleep after finishing the bottle. I took a deep breath and went outside.
The burning columns on the horizon were our night lights. The stars were brighter without as much atmosphere, but the columns of burning oil jetted up high, and their smoke went higher. It was luck, good or bad, that the smoke had been constantly blown inland and away from us. Those who’d stayed on land who were not suffocated the first days were probably such by now. The thought to take one of the trucks back and go join them was hard to control. Only the thought that others would try to follow me and risk themselves kept me from doing it.
The smoke had made a dark and angry cloud to the east. There was a thick ring around the moon. Rain by noon, we’d once believed. I took a deep breath, wondering if we would finally get that toxic billow, dying in our sleep from bad air as billions already had. It was a momentary relief that I had gotten Maria back to sleep instead of telling her another story. She wouldn’t fight suffocation, just slide from one sleep into a deeper one.
As lightening started to spark, other thoughts came to life in my mind. All those chemicals and radiation and who knew what else were up there. The hot days had evaporated the Mississippi to a puddle near us, all the mud gone dry. Chasing the ocean seemed stupid now, since it may have abandoned us altogether. Now the toxic rain would come and wash all doubts away.
I told Jake to go inside, I’d take watch. He was looking worried about the clouds, and the instructions to take shelter were heeded. He got in the RV, where we all slept. I climbed on top as a look out spot.
I rolled onto my back and watched the storm come. If it was toxic, I’d die fast. If acid rain, it would probably hurt. But I’d die near my family, and it wouldn’t look like suicide. I was a fisherman born and bred. I had always suspected I’d die in a storm or a hurricane or drowning.
Two years ago, Kai Li killed herself. Now I had a grandbaby and two more on the way, and I ate food they needed … I’d talked my daughter into keeping the baby she’d made, because I couldn’t dare not risk losing my first grandchild, unborn, so soon after losing my wife. I regretted that decision every day since the disaster, every time I wondered if I was helping or hurting their odds for survival.
My hopes for a future made manifest, Maria was now made my worst fears come true. Helpless, hopeless, and all my fault. I’d die fast so they could choose longer to die slow. And I wouldn’t have to see Maria die. I couldn’t see that. Let the acid eat my eyes, if that was what it took, so that I wouldn’t have to see it.
Mom was old, on oxygen, her loss had been expected for a while, so she hadn’t hurt to lose. I wished I’d gone that way, but God had wanted me to at least try to save them. Maybe. Or maybe one of them needed to make peace … it sure wasn’t me. I took in a couple deep breaths, sensing the high humidity that comes before a storm. God must have liked bringing disaster at night; more people dying peacefully in their sleep must have made heaven easier.
The storm clouds were high and growing higher, filling the whole horizon. It brewed black, like ink come to life. I wondered if that star burped again, and it was taking away everything else. The storm clouds grew with lightening. With a full light storm like the aurora that had nearly wiped out all life on Earth, it ripped across the heavens with full noise. It was so loud I couldn’t hear Maria crying inside. Then the rain started. I took in a deep breath and waited for my skin to melt away.
The water fell like a giant sudden sheet. I couldn’t breathe more; I was drowning. I rolled over and covered my head, barely able to breathe. I almost needed gills. Funny thought, for a former fisherman. The storm was going to dump a deluge – God’s promise of ending in a flood guaranteeing we’d all die.
I closed my eyes and waited for the storm’s end or mine, whichever came first.
I felt the sunrise an eternity later, a rich ketchup color through all the clouds. There was still a drizzle, but it wasn’t stopped. There was a thick row of clouds across the sky, kind of like the second Milky Way we’d seen the first night of the disaster. I heard water, too, but it was not right around me. God wasn’t done with me – or us – yet.
I got back in the RV with my family. They asked a lot of questions, none of which I could answer. It rained another couple days, not as solid hard. We knew the full moon, so we knew the date. When the rain stopped for a full day, we went out to explore. The world was mud again, but the river was wide again. Luckily, it had dug a big groove in its mud and wide channel to the east. We were near the river, a couple thousand feet now. It was full of junk and debris, but it also had green and flow to it. Maybe, eventually, water to live from.
I waited until high tide for the highest point of the month before trekking to the new sea. With all that happened, I could not chance going lower and having the vehicles swamped only to have the ocean recede further again.
And after a week of rain and a few drizzles, it had not come any higher. This was likely a new tide line. Still hundreds of feet lower than before, but we were back at sea level.
It was only a few thousand feet to walk, but I wanted to walk it a lot. I needed to know where it would end for good before unhitching my boat, before putting it in the water. It was saltier than before, but it was full motion. There were currents and life. I saw floating debris, but there was green of algae, too. The billions of humans might have died, but the ocean wasn’t dead.
When I finally saw fish flailing on the surface, we unhitched my boat trailer.
Deep Breathing by the Deep Blue Sea
Mike thinks the Earth caught up a solar storm blast and the water vapor and air was blown away. It wasn’t gone with the wind, it was air gone with the solar blast or whatever the right words were. The air is like it used to be at 13000 feet, instead of 14000 feet. That didn’t matter much, because we’d adapted to the thinner air. At least we were closer to the surface of the ocean, where the air was thick with water vapor. The temperature would stay moderate here, and this would be the last place on Earth to lose its air.
The thick salty air was more salty than it used to be. But it was moist, which meant plants might eventually grow here. All I could see today was streams of dead kelp from the ocean’s withdrawal. But there was moisture here, so hope for future life.
The first morning with a minor rain, we weren’t sure if it was loss of air and water again. Then the fog grew into a small cloud and began to drop back to Earth. We raced for containers to catch the fresh water. Life itself was falling from the sky. We’d live a few more days.
More importantly, it began to rain every day or two. Fresh water, to supplement the supplies we’d begun digging into. Then the supplies became a reserve, as fish began to come back up and to feed where we could catch them. I was catching some fish, and not all seemed toxic. We dug a channel for my boat, too, to the water. A lot of big building debris washed down to the shore was used to build a dock. It was an ugly port, but it was home.
The fires that had burned at the oil rigs and in the cities stopped with that first, life restoring rain. While there might be oil slicks and chemical spills, they were no longer growing and would start diluting. Algae was coming back, giving fish a chance to recover.
The two grandbabies are getting bigger inside of their mothers. We count months now, because it’s all we can keep track of. The men are building drying racks out of support struts from the torn up oil rig struts, as well as reinforcing the drying huts with the metal supports. We have lots of dried and salted fish, and add to it each day. It rains enough to give water, but the hot sun keeps the humidity from being enough to spoil the reserves.
The rain gives us the water the river still cannot. It’s a few hundred yards across now, spreading to our east. It’s still a shimmering mess of chemicals, but the water is clear some afternoons. The bodies stopped floating down, though there is plenty of flotsam. That gives us enough stuff to burn to keep warm at night. One day, the river might be good enough, safe enough, to drink from. A second reserve, if the rains stop. Mike checks it every couple of days.
Survival is both a matter of luck and planning. We managed both. I don’t know if any other survivors had enough of both, but we don’t worry about that. The food stores alone will buy friends, if we ever encounter more people. If we don’t, we can go up the shore or up the river to look. At the very least, there may be salvaging trips later. Right now, we have everything we need, because of the sea.
Maria brought me a blade of grass today, from when Mike took her walking along the muddy river bank. Life is returning to the land. It doesn’t matter to me, though, because I am a fisherman, living at the edge of the land and the sea. That's why I had to follow the receding ocean, because my life was defined by the border between sea and land.
The full moon rose bright and huge over the newly calm water from the latest storm. The fishing boat was bobbing like a cork, still tethered to the oil rig beam we’d tied it to. The cool air was thick and salty, easy to breathe. That’s probably what woke me up with a clear head, the first deep breaths of nightfall bringing the clarity day time rarely does now. My grandson wailed. I picked him up, holding the baby so that my granddaughters didn’t awaken. Mike could be heard outside, cutting and welding. Making new shelters out of the remains of the trucks. For drying sheds for fish and kelp so that we could store food for as long as we needed it. For a second housing shelter, because Maria was already climbing all over the RV and we needed space. And the sections of wood and metal they’d cut and were ready to shape for a second boat, while we had the materials, so that we could fish even when the motor went out on my boat. I might lose it in another storm, but I would always be a fisherman. I already had ideas of stuff to make skiffs and Mike’s a good crafter. We’d survive. And that, I realized, made us very, very lucky.
I thank God for each day and each blessing, and wonder when the next one will arrive. Life goes on, and even better, it is good. And I’m deep breathing on the side of the deep, blue, new sea.
- By Design - a short story
When the machines become so sophisticated that we mistake them for human, it becomes hard to know who is real after the end of the world. A short story by Tamara Wilhite