A survivor

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 31 Jan 2024



We drove north through the state of Washington, no longer a state, just a name on a map that had no relevance, then east on highway ninety, the route I came to the west coast eight years earlier, call me sentimental. But we proceeded at a snails pace, often travelling only a hundred miles a day. We took many detours to small towns off the direct route. I had many maps from the libraries in my band. We would explore all these rural roads with one thing in mind, find some elegant lodging with a fine bedroom for the night. The food stores and liquor stores would all fall into place and if we discovered it by noon, the day was spent, that was our rest stop till tomorrow.

The bottom line to this rambling and zig-zag course was that Sarah was happy, very happy, and that meant the world to me. We had no agenda, no mission, no clue even as to what to do if we happened to stumble across other humans or Dora and her robots. So we were traveling in a void so to speak, a true void if one considers the absence of all people, a quiet vacation with all the inns and vistas and comforts still there, except you had to get them yourselves. There were no waiters. But to counterbalance this you had unlimited tabs and could take whatever room you chose, and any item off any shelf with billionaire abandon.

I considered this cruise a substantive step in Sarah’s complete recovery and a honeymoon of sorts in our relationship. I even imagined that all honeymooners must experience something akin, so rapt up in each other the entire world fades away, their stares into each other’s eyes the only thing that matters. Sarah was acting this way towards me and I gladly reciprocated, in a perfect place, an empty world, with no one to step in and disagree.

But in Butte something like that did finally happen, and send ripples through a pond serenely placid, our pool of our bliss. We encountered a fellow mortal.

He was sitting in the one beautiful edifice of that nondescript, long ago mining town, the public library in the heart of it and I stopped there because I knew it was so fine. Some mining baron in the eighteen nineties had endowed it with a huge sum of money and it purchased several thousand of the best volumes to be had at the time, gilded, leather bound editions of all the best classics, shelved right next to pulp fiction and trash. Stupid librarians, you might think that living in a house of knowledge they might absorb some intelligence, through their pores, but they didn’t, and filed these rare relics from an age where the art of book binding, and typography, and textual layout were at the highest peak western civilization ever achieved in designing a book.

No, these wonders were filed according to the Dewey decimal system, a name as repellent as its results, right between the detritus of cheap, worthless paperbacks and ugly, modern, vinyl hardbacks of supposedly similar subject matter. But I had been in this place before, heading west, and stopped again now heading east to liberate a few dozen of these works of perfection from their prison.

What I never expected to find was an old man, as rare as any volume on the shelves, sitting at a long table and quietly leafing through some large reference work that might have been a dictionary. He didn’t even notice our advance until we were a few feet away. And when we voiced our presence to him he turned calmly and unperturbed as if nothing out of the ordinary were occurring.

“Well hello,” were his first words. “Been awhile since I’ve seen fellow mortals. What brings you here?”

“I know this is a fine library and I love old books. I was going to check out a few, permanently.”

“No problem there,” he replied. “I  haven’t seen a librarian here in years.”

We sat across the long table, facing him. I was totally bewildered by his presence, so Sarah spoke up for me.

“How long have you been here, and are there any others?”

“I’ve been coming here a long time, perhaps too long. The absence of others makes each day seem like an eternity. But I have my routines and pass each afternoon in this elegant hall in blissful study.”

“May I inquire what you study and why,” I asked.

“Nothing in particular, a little bit of everything I suppose. I bet you’re both lovers of books like myself, to come into a place like this and find me here.”

Sarah went straight to the point:

“Are there others alive?”

“Quite a few, quite a few. But I don’t live with them anymore. I don’t want to. I’m too old and too weary to be constantly moving. My wife and I I left our group and stayed here, in the house I grew up in, a few blocks away. But they stayed in touch as they roamed the mountains around us all that time. I come here to pass the time. My wife passed last summer. How about you?”

I told him vaguely about our colony in Oregon, our farming community and prosperity, but nothing about Dora and all the troubles we’d been through. He noticed the slender bands on the back of our heads and we explained to him that they were computers tied to our brains, simplified and safe versions of the goggles that got everyone in trouble, a few hundred terabytes of information for us to access at our leisure, nothing more.

We also mentioned that we were on the lookout for others and wanted to meet his former group. Here he had to apologize. He told us they were some forty in number when he left them, people much like ourselves, from all walks of life. But he said they wandered constantly, never settling down, moving from town to town by foot, some using bicycles and carts and horses. These were the tactics that got them through the dangerous years long ago, and they never changed. So he told us they were headed slowly south and east and guessed they might be in South Dakota or Nebraska by now.

He told us to look in all the small towns. They used to keep to the hills and woods but with the whole world deserted, they discovered that sleeping in beds, just like I did, was much more comfortable. It made me wonder out loud why they never settled in one place, or use vehicles to travel. He enlightened me a bit by telling us that a few members of his group had seen strange things in a large city, even after nearly everyone died and that the evil was still out there so they spent their lives in quiet hiding.

Fear is a powerful motivator and the trauma most of these survivors went through in the deluge and drone years must have scarred them for life into this nomad, gypsy existence. It made me all the more eager to find them and enlighten them, bring them back to a nearer century of comfort and civilization in our own valley.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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