He slipped around the end of the trailer and looked at the other car. A newer Ford: He could see the badge on the rear deck. The front end of the car was wrapped around the oak in the backyard just as he had thought and steam was rising up into the air. The Ford first, he decided. The car across the road would have to wait.
The Ford had hit the tree and climbed it a few feet before it came to a complete stop. Carl had to stand on tip toe to peer into it. The driver had no head left, that had been the huge stain on the windshield. There was no passenger. Looking out from the inside it was not just red but gray and black too: Bone, hair and brain matter. His stomach did a quick flip and he began to close his eyes as he turned away.
As he turned, his eyes caught on the floorboard and a blue duffel bag that was jammed into the space with the drivers legs. There was no way that the door was going to open, but the glass was gone from the window. He balanced over the edge of the door trying to stay as far away as he could from the dead man as he did, leaned in and tried to snag the duffel bag. His fingers brushed the two plastic handles, but he could not get a grip on them.
Carl levered himself further over the window sill and nearly came down into the dead man's lap as he lost his balance and his feet left the ground. His hand shot down quickly, bounced off the dead man's thigh and hit the seat, stopping him just a few inches above the man's lap and a small splattering of bone and blood that was there. His hand slipped, but he pressed down harder and held himself.
He could feel the slick blood and splinters of bone under his hand, but he pushed the knowledge out of his mind, took a deep breath, braced himself and then reached down with his free hand and snatched the handles pulling the heavy bag free.
He pulled back, but the bag was so heavy that he had to hold on tight and push off the seat with his other hand. For one alarming second it seemed he would fall forward into the dead man's lap. After a second of indecision his body dropped back down to the ground, the bag in his hand. He thought about the trunk as he started to turn away, reached back in, shut off the dead ignition, pulled the keys free and hurried around the car.
The trunk held nothing but a black suitcase. He debated briefly, then reached in and took it. He went back, put the keys back into the ignition, and turned it back to the ON position. What else! What else! His mind asked.
His heart felt like it was beating a mile a minute, skipping beats, and his breath was tearing in and out of his lungs so quickly that it was painful. He could think of nothing he had forgotten. He told himself there was nothing else and then immediately he thought of the glove compartment. He ran back around the passenger's side of the car, dropped the bags and pushed the button on the glove box. A small paper bag and a dull, black pistol rested inside.He took a deep breath, thought for a moment and then took both, slammed the glove box shut, picked up the bags and ran for the trailer. He booted the door open and threw the bags inside...
His head exploded, and the glass of the rear window he had been standing in front of blew inward. The shots ricocheted back to them and then the silence came hard and stayed.
“Chloe,” Mike whispered after a while.
“Yeah?” Her voice was still tight. Strained. They had both been looking through their scopes.
“You see anything? Anything at all?”
“Nada,” she said softly. “Goddamn truck's in the way.”
Mike nodded to himself. “Alright... I'm going to stand up and yell Jessie's name... I'd say cover me, but I guess I'll be a sitting duck.” He stood and looked down the road past the truck. The view was no better. The truck in front of them was on a slight rise, or the road dipped past the truck, either way there was little to see.
“You guys alright back there,” Mike asked.
“Yeah,” Tim’s voice.
“Good,” Josh added.
He cleared his throat. “Jess! ... Jessie! It's Mike,” he yelled. “Those guys that were shooting are done, Jess... Jess?”
“Goddammit, Jess. It's really me... Answer me... Someone!”
He stood on his tiptoes. “You can see me, Jess... Those guys are dead... We killed them... I'm standing in plain view, Jess... For Christ’s sake don't shoot me... Come on, Jess. It's Mike!” His voice was growing hoarse from shouting.
Silence.... Then he saw her. A shock of black hair bobbing just above the hill. Then she was there. Standing on the apex of the hill.
“Mike?” Her voice sounded small and far away. Her rifle was in her hands, ready to use. Another head bobbed, and another, and two men moved up behind her.
“Jess, it's me. We're coming down, Jess,” he yelled.
“Those bastards shot me, Michael,” she said, in her far away voice. Then she collapsed...
His head was worse. Pain inside every time he tried to move too fast. It felt like liquid sloshing around inside his head, his brain shifting with it, slamming into the bone cage of his skull and he wondered if it were true or just something his mind provided in explanation of the pain. As he sat the pain eased enough for him to stand. Standing helped to ease it even more and he began to search for the others...
The world did not end. We think so highly of ourselves that we believe that the end of society means the end of the world and I guess it did mean the end of the Earth for us... some of us, but the end of the world? No. The world will go on and on when we are nothing at all but dust upon the ground. We will pick the world up and drag it around with us from place to place forever until there is no more time left. It was what our ancestors on Mars had done: Picked up and moved their entire civilization to Earth. And Earth had proven too hard to adapt to and so we had had retreated to our DNA and become slightly different; enough so that it didn’t matter and we had begun again.
This time on Hay Vida we might not have to retreat to our DNA at all. It might be possible to go forward and adapt as we age. But even if we did retreat it would not be world ending. It would only mean beginning anew in a more basic way: A more basic configuration of the true life form that we were...