Shantae sank her teeth into the ripe plum. "You know, we never decided where we were gonna go. We just decided to get out of the valley." she said between bites. They were all starving. They ate like pigs, wolfing down plums like there was no tomorrow.
Mark thought about this. "You're right. Lets set our sights on a big city. A huge one, where there's bound to be plenty of survivors and resources."
"New York." said Tyler. He'd already eaten his share of plums and was feeling full. "That's our best bet."
"It's all the way across the country, dipshit." Alison said.
"What about Chicago?" Mark suggested.
"No way, my grandparents live there! We'd get shot in an instant. They tell us all about what they see on the news and it ain't pretty." Shantae said.
"Then I guess it's New York." Mark said.
"Look!" shouted Tyler, "A truck! It's coming down the road! We're not alone!" They all stood in the road and waved their arms. The truck slowed to a stop in front of them.
"Need a ride?" asked the driver. He was short and rather large, with a long gray beard and he was balding.
"Yes! Please!" begged Alison.
"Going anywhere in particular?" he asked.
"New York City, sir." Mark said.
"Wow! Y'all are goin' far, huh?"
"Yeah, but right now our main focus is to get out of the valley." Tyler said.
"I can take y'all as far east as Las Vegas, but from there, I can't promise anything. Name's Bill, by the way."
"Hey, I'm Mark, That's Tyler, This is Alison, and she's Shantae."
"You kids gettin' in or what?" Bill said with a chuckle. They loaded the back of the truck with their gear. It was a white pickup truck and it had room for three people in the front seat. They decided to alternate people sitting in the front at each stop.
First, Mark and Alison sat in the front seat. There wasn't a single clean person in the car, but they were all so dirty nobody could smell each other. Bill headed down the road, and he didn't seem to be in any kind of hurry.
"I have ta make a stop at a survivors' camp, if that's ok with you folks." Bill said.
"Survivors' Camp?" Alison said. She looked at him in disbelief. Tyler and Shantae had heard from the bed of the pickup and they wanted to hear all about it too. They gathered close to the little opening in the rear windshield.
"Yeah, survivors of the Armageddon. Theres a whole camp of about 10 of 'em."
"So wait- our parents could be there?" Shantae asked in disbelief.
"I guess, but ain't nobody in that camp lookin' for a kid. Them people in that camp musta figured all their family's gone er somethin' because talkin' 'bout family is like forbidden fruit in that camp. All it does is hurt people, and they been hurtin' enough."
"How far is it?" Mark asked. All the kids were excited.
"Oh, 'bout 20 minutes from here."
Tyler looked puzzled. "Did you say... Armageddon? I could've sworn you did."
"Yep. This here's the Armageddon. A nuclear bomb was dropped by them damn Afghans. Killed almost the entire U.S. of A. Tragedy, huh?" Bill spit out the window.
The car was silent for a moment. Then Mark asked, "How did we survive?"
Bill scratched his beard and thought for a minute or two, then finally said, "I don't know. Y'all musta been lucky or somethin'."
"That's funny," Alison said, her hair blowing in the breeze, "We all woke up in the street, laying next to each other."
Tyler looked at the clock. It was only 7:57 am. He thought it was much later. He stared at the mountains as they drove by. The sun wasn't quite over them yet. It was beautiful.
"Hey, Tyler?" Shantae asked. "Are you ok?"
"Yeah," he replied, "just thinking."
Tyler wet his lips. "Just about how beautiful those mountains are. I never noticed them before. I never realized how beautiful they are."
Shantae smiled. "I remember when my father and I used to climb onto the roof every Sunday morning in our pajamas and watch the sun rise over the mountains. It was gorgeous." a tear fell down Shantae's cheek. "Then he got sick. He had brain cancer. He survived, though. The doctors said it was a miracle. He was paralyzed from the waist down. I had to watch the sun rise alone from that point on... after watching the sun we'd get donuts. We both knew each other's favorite flavors. Sometimes mom would come with us. He'd always get a sprinkle donut and a strawberry frosting one, I'd always get a jelly filled donut and a Boston cream, and my mother would get two long johns, one chocolate and one vanilla frosted. After my father got sick, my mother was launched into deep depression. I haven't had a donut since." Her cheeks were wet with tears.
Tyler looked at the bed of the truck. "My dad was a drunk. He never took me to watch the sun rise. My mother was very submissive, always doing what he asked without questioning him. She'd buy him Bacardi and Miller Lite at 8:00 am without hesitation if he asked her to. I seem to always remember him either on the couch, at the kitchen table, or in his bed. He never beat me, although sometimes I thought he would. We still don't know why he drank, but something bothered him. He's had a kidney failure twice but still can't give it up. He refused to go to AA. It's sad. My mother loves him still, he used to be a great guy, but he's holding her back. She's working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week all for him and me. I think it's mostly for me, though. My mother is the only person that's always been there for me..." Tyler was crying now, too. He and Shantae were suddenly a thousand times closer. He'd never told anybody about his life before.
The truck stopped a few minutes later. "Alrighty folks, we're here." Bill spit in the dust. "At the camp."
The kids all climbed out and looked at the tents and makeshift garbage and tin shelters. It was sad. The ground was gravel and the people probably had to sleep on it. There was a dying fire in the middle of the camp and about 7 people in torn, ragged clothes were huddled around it. There were no sign of their parents.
"Is this everybody?" Mark asked, a hint of disappointment in his voice.
"Yep, just about. There's one more, probably sleepin', but she ain't old enough to be a mother. She's still 'bout 26."
The teens were crushed. They had their hopes up.
Bill went into a little makeshift hut and came out a few seconds later with a burlap sack. "Last of my possessions. Lost the rest of 'em in my house. It burned to the ground."
They all got back into the truck. This time Mark and Alison sat in the bed of the pickup. They pulled off of the shoulder of the two lane road and got going.
"Next stop will probably be on the other side of the mountains. If we make it over, that is." Bill said. He ran a few fingers through his greasy hair.
"IF we make it over?" Tyler asked uneasily. He did not like "ifs".
"Chances are we'll make it over, but if somethin' goes wrong, we're stranded. There are better places to be stranded than a mountaintop, I'll tell you what."
"Joy. Mother fuckin joy." Tyler wiped his face on his hand and stared out the window while he tried to calm down. "'If,' he says, 'if we make it over the mountain.' Ha! Haha!"
In the bed of the pickup, Mark was digging around in the supplies, making sure they hadn't forgotten anything. He found the water bottles. "Aww no, where are we gonna fill these up?" He looked at Alison, but she only giggled and looked away shyly. Mark looked so handsome with the sun shining on him that way...
Bill hit a bump that almost sent Mark and Alison overboard. "Sorry kids! Not the greatest driver, ya know."
"Are you ok?" Mark touched Alison's arm. She turned bright red.
"Yeah, I think so."
"Look, we're almost to the mountains." Mark pointed up the road.
Tyler had his head in his hands. "Calm down, Tyler." Shantae said, elbowing him. "There's a pretty decent chance we'll make it over. Then again, there's also the slight chance that we won't." Shantae and Bill laughed, but Tyler was not laughing. No, sir, Tyler did not find that funny at all.
The truck started up the incline. Mark and Alison looked up at the majestic foothills. They were beautiful this time of day. "Me and my grandpa used to take trips to the mountain." said Alison. "We used to camp in the foothills and up by the peaks even sometimes. It wasn't always legal, but grandpa didn't care." Alison kept on talking, but Mark wasn't listening. Mark had a headache. It was like a flashback.
Suddenly, he was in class. History, it seemed like. The memory was blurry and fuzzy and distant. The teacher was talking. Then there was an explosion heard in the distance. Everyone in class stopped. The teacher went pale. He said, "It happened. It's Afghanistan." Then everyone was rushing out of the classroom, screaming. Mark came to with a jolt.
"... me and my grandpa loved to- Mark? Are you ok?" Alison looked confused. Mark realized his brow was dripping sweat.
"Uh, what? Oh, uh, it was nothing."
"Mark, tell me. What happened." the cab of the truck was silent. Mark knew they were listening.
"I had a flashback... of kind of during the bombing... I think." Shantae and Tyler turned around in their seats and looked at him in awe.
Mark explained his memory to everyone. When he was done, there was just this long, awkward silence that seemed to last for decades. Nobody talked until they were over the mountains.