Judgment Day: Part 27

The last entry for 2009. We’ll pick up again after the New Year.


Martin’s pick up followed the access road up the mountain and Daryl followed.  They climbed slowly, though it wasn’t a steep drive.  Martin’s caution left him wondering, and he worriedly checked on Molly.  She was still out, but the bleeding had stopped.  Probably a concussion, and even that could kill now.  He had no idea how to treat it.  As the forest rose up around them, there was a sense of leaving the world behind.  Arriving in some fantasy land constructed by Daryl and Azizi in the brief time since the world collapsed.  Escapism, because Daryl was sure normal people would have hunkered down in their homes.

They pulled off, half way up, at the Strong Mansion.  Sugarloaf was a private park, a large part of it acquired by Gordon Strong at the beginning of the 20th century.  He built the mansion in 1912 and,  in classic Citizen Kane style, it had never been completed.  The mountain itself was the highest point for miles and, on particularly clear days, it was possible to make out major sites in DC from the summit.  As a child, Daryl had been able to see that once, through binoculars, but never again.  Now there was a power plant on the Potomac between the mountain and distant DC and the haze of industry filled the skies.  The last time he’d been up on the mountain, about a year, he was shocked at how much haze had settled in just the last few decades.  But it was still country and fresh air.

During the Civil War, the mountain was a key outpost for the North and, briefly, the South.  The ruins of a small fort lay near the summit, its entrenchments cleared out by the maintenance folks so kids could run around in a maze of stone and history.  The mansion was occasionally opened to the public, but Daryl had never bothered to take a closer look.

In the rain and the twilight, the colonial-style building had a haunted, forbidding look.  The dark windows stared out towards the surrounding ring of trees, which closed in on the tiny, manicured lawn.  Here at the end of the world, Daryl didn’t like the look one bit.  But Martin, being a man of free time and bizarre culture, was something of a ghost hunter. It fit his personality that he would set up HQ in such a gothic location.  It was just that, as well.  An HQ.  Boxes sat out in the rain, an army HumVee, several U-Haul trucks and a front lawn that had been churned to mud in a gala of supply gathering.  He knew Martin well and was still stunned to see that his friends had, obviously, been working hard while he drove around with Molly, lost in despair.  While worrying, it was also a relief.  At least someone was ready.

But he could easily follow Martin’s thinking.  This was an HQ for some kind of counterstrike and, like the soldiers that had held this mountain before, he had chosen a spot that was both defensible and key to launching an attack. Daryl had seen enough of war and survival, though.  He wanted to run to the country and hit the ground, get under a rock.

But that wasn’t going to be good enough, he knew.  The Stephen King film Maximum Overdrive came from a short story where the survivors ran to the wilderness, seeking some sort of final refuge.  Their luck didn’t hold up.

He pulled onto the lawn and turned off the engine, which rattled bitterly for a second after he had removed the key.  Azizi opened the door of the van while Daryl stared at the dashboard, the engine’s death rattle still in his ears.

“He wants to fight, doesn’t he?” Daryl asked, looking down at his friend.

Azizi smiled, “We’ll talk him down.”

“We need to run.  Tonight.”

“Never run at night,” Azizi replied.  He put a hand on Daryl’s arm, “Grab the girl and come inside.”

“We can’t – “

“If they wanted to whip us up, they’d be here by now.  If we stay calm and keep our heads – “

“Calm?  The world’s ended – “

“So what?” Martin stepped up behind Azizi, “You’ve said it yourself a thousand times, D.  What was the world?  Sleepless nights, living the life of a wage slave, never really being aware of anything.  We all lived in a pattern and there was no getting out of it – quit your job and drown or stay at work and die slowly.  A world of half-conceived ideas and forgotten dreams, plagued by imagined disasters at every corner.  A day ago, we were slaves, Daryl.  You don’t have to go to work tomorrow.  You don’t have to pay rent next week.  Your credit card bill has been forgiven forever.”  Martin had been ready, probably writing that speech in his head on the drive to the mansion.  He stood now in the chilled twilight, the rain running over him, though he seemed not to notice.

“And in place of that freedom, we’re on the run from…those things.” Daryl replied.

Azizi leaned against the van, “Nothing comes cheap.”

“Would you get in the goddamned house, Daryl?” Martin hissed.

Daryl stepped out, circled around to the passenger side and gathered Molly in his arms.  He followed Martin and Azizi inside while, in his heart, he struggled with darkness.  Martin was echoing his words, reciting a speech Daryl had made many times whenever the three of them watched an apocalypse film or got to drunkenly talking about the workaday world.  You don’t have to go to work tomorrow.  You don’t have to pay rent.  Freedom.  Molly, in his arms, was a shuddering creature.  That wasn’t freedom.  This was the life of a haunted, hunted animal.