on our way out


By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 2 Feb 2024



The old man sitting across from us was a puzzle too, his survival, his serenity a thing to admire. Since we’d done most of the talking we asked him politely if he would care to share some of his own history with us, Sarah and me, and he did, not having talked to anyone in a very long time, and as became apparent in his concise narration, he still had a very sharp mind.

“Do you want to know my history from birth or from the catastrophe and how I managed to survive?”

“A brief recap of the whole life would be pleasant” I said. "But it’s up to you."

“Well, I grew up in this town as I’ve already mentioned, in the lap of luxury one might say, the only child of affluent parents. My father was a successful business man and a state senator for eight years. I attended the university of Montana in Missoula, an excellent school, far underrated, in the seventies, a time of drugs and wild parties. I met my wife there. We moved back here and I took over my father’s department store and lived in connubial bliss for almost forty years, with two grown daughters and their children to show for it. Then the disaster happened.”

“My wife was diagnosed with a cancer two years before the event. We owned a vacation cabin, very remote, high up in the mountains by a beautiful lake. So that’s where we repaired and as we found out later, escaped. You might even say it was her illness that saved us. Our doctor had prescribed her a regiment of drugs and told us the fresh mountain air would do her good. I was only following his advice. But she always told me, if she was to die, she wanted it to happen in our summer retreat, the place she loved best.”

“The miraculous thing was, she slowly improved, always claiming it was the air, and that we had to stay. So we did, through two winters, which wasn’t that bad. The lodge was equipped with solar panels and all the amenities and our supplies and medicines delivered to us each month. The one thing we lacked was communication with the rest of the world. So we missed all that madness with the goggles and people killing themselves. We only drove down after our supply carrier hadn’t shown up for two months and by then it was all over. Every street was deserted.”

“At the hospital here we found three younger people still alive, two men and a woman, all of them with head injuries that prevented them from wearing the glasses. So we joined forces and over the next months found a few others, always in remote places, the most remote because that’s how they survived, just like us. They were out of touch with the rest of the human race, now gone.”

“That’s also how we survived the first drone attacks. We travelled in campers, looking for people and when two of them were spotted and blown up we fled on foot into the deepest woods which we knew well from all our searches. It was a rustic life, campfires and tents, fishing and hunting, with brief forays into towns for canned food. We lived in hiding and fear for over a year, till the drones disappeared.”

“Our company, all of them more than a decade younger then us, many of them hardly more than children, adopted this life thinking the drones might return any day. But my wife and I, being in our sixties, found it hard and decided to return to the house we knew so well, that of my parents, come what may. We shared a pleasant life, food plentiful, candle light and the fireplace each night and a glass of fine sherry, romantic even to an old couple in the dusk of their days. She died peacefully in our bed, and happy.”

I admired his fine narration and told him so. I also asked if he would be so good as to travel with us and help us find this tribe, that a resettlement with our group would improve both immensely. They would gain a safe and settled place to raise children, with electricity and running water, and we would gain there numbers and talents for even more safety, a benefit for all.

“You make me a very gracious offer and I think I’ll agree to it because I do miss those things, the electricity and running water you mention. Finding wood to burn and carrying it home has become a sorry task for my old arthritic arms and winter is coming. I’ve had visions of simply freezing in my armchair by a dead fireplace, and I’m not quite ready for that fate. I accept your invitation.”

With this statement I stood up and we shook hands, Sarah too and with bright smiles we took him under our wing. He pointed the way to his large house, which we drove, and he was even more delighted when Sarah prepared us a meal while I gathered wood from several half-dismembered fences nearby and made a roaring fire. We finished off the evening with much more talk and more than several glasses of his fine sherry.

The next morning, after helping Alfred pack up some clothes, we set out towards Yellowstone park and in a place aptly named ‘Wander camp’ we found the motley group with their wagons easily visible from the road, in a circle by a stream, like cowboy wagons of old, but also enjoying the amenities of the lodge a hundred feet away. We stopped and sent Alfred out as our ambassador.

He must have done his job smoothly, because after ten minutes two men and two women walked to our truck and invited us to join them in the lodge. We sat with them, without our guns and described our mission and our colony over cups of tea, their whole group, some thirty of them huddled round, the adults standing closest to us and the youngest behind, all intently quiet and curious, and peaking at us between their mother’s skirts.

These people were easy to win over. I explained that we had explored most of the roads between here and Oregon, the whole West coast, and there were no threats, only desolation. When I described our valley, emphasizing it’s amenities, it was all ‘oohs and ahs’ especially from the women, the life they remembered from before the fall all coming back to them in vivid technicolor. This question and answer period lasted two full days but even by the end of the first I knew they agreed to load up on buses and be guided back to our hidden valley and join our group. Their own wandering existence was going nowhere. And everyone has a secret hankering for the thought of ‘home’.

With arrival of the two buses our colony in Oregon now numbered almost a hundred. Introductions and accommodations all went smoothly. Strangers hugged as they met as if they were long lost brothers and sisters, as if on some life raft as the Titanic sank, the lucky few survivors of the disaster. Sarah and me were feted as heroes for a week as we helped the newcomers settle in. When we set out again, the two of us in our truck, everyone thought we were on a mission to find and bring back more outcasts, but we weren’t, we were setting out to find Dora.


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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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