Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice:
Title: I See Angry People (Part 3)
I’d reached the point where days didn’t matter anymore, calendars didn’t exist, years had no numbers. Time had become more flexible, consisting of daylight and darkness. How many days had I walked to the west? I didn’t know, and it didn’t matter.
As I walked I came across pieces of the world that had been. The world of cities, and towns, roads, cars, buildings, stores, and farms. All of it was gone. Dead. Countless clearings where farms had been were returning to nature. Weeds, saplings, bushes, vines, covering everything, tearing down the creations of mortal men.
Hay balers, tractors, ATVs, and trucks were scattered across the landscape, miles apart, signs of what was. I learned not to look to closely at the machines, filled with dead, rotting bodies, blood stains etched forever into windshields, and dashboard plastics. “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,” echoed endlessly in my head.
I didn’t bother to count the number of burned houses I saw, the number of empty towns. I walked. I headed West. Further west than I’d ever gone, by a long time. At night, I tried to sleep. How do you sleep with the truth echoing in your head, your dreams? How do you sleep when you see men hunting women? When you hear the words, “We had to take back our manhood!” every night.
It couldn’t have been that way everywhere. There had to be good men. Men like me, who cared for those around them, took care of them, helped them, protected them. As I walked my plan changed. I wasn’t walking just to gather things the people at the camp might need, or want. I began to walk to learn, to study, to understand.
What happened to the world?
What had the world become?
Every few days an eagle had greeted me when I woke. An emissary from Jessica, I knew, asked to check on me, what I was doing, where I was going, when I’d come back. I’m sure my answer was upsetting when it reached the camp. “I don’t know.”
One, an eagle asked, “why are you heading west?”
“I don’t know.”
He’d looked at me, looked through me. “You’re looking for something.” He flew away.
The eagles stopped showing up after that. How many days ago had that been? He’d been right. I was looking for something. Not for the first time in my life, either. I’d looked for revenge, for a reason to live, for a reason to stop fighting, for a reason to keep fighting. I’d always looked for something.
Yes, I was looking for something. The same something I’d always looked for. The answer to why. Why had the world come apart? Why all the violence? Why all the destruction? Why had it happened. Why was it still happening. Where did it all lead. How did it all end.
I was looking for something, like the eagle had said. And after countless days, I figured out what I was seeking.
Others like me. Men who were still men, who hadn’t become animals. Were there any left? There were very few men at the camp. I could count them on the fingers of one hand. And have a finger left over. At the camp, including myself, there were five men, and dozens of women, some of them still girls, really.
And the four I knew at the camp were nothing like me. They were weak, scared, hiding. They were safe in the camp. Two of them were married. I was happy for them, they’d found love in an insane world. They were safe in the camp. Outside the camp, they were hunted, like they were diseased, and needed to be put down for the safety of everyone else.
One wore dresses, said he was in the wrong body. From how he acted, I knew he was. He’d asked me to call him Sarah, so I did. We all did. He cried sometimes at night about being in the wrong body, and how in the old world, he could have been fixed. Could have had surgery, and at least looked like he was supposed to look. And how that could never happen since the world went insane. He was safe in the camp. Outside the camp we all knew he’d be killed by the first men he stumbled into.
The fourth man was old. He told stories of his life. Of the wars between countries for resources, oil, food, water. Of the fish all but vanishing from the oceans. Of countless animals he’d seen vanish from the world, elephants, lions, tigers, frogs, lizards, bees. He told stories of a great extinction throughout the world. The old man always said, “Nature let loose a virus on mankind. It drove us nuts. Made us kill each other. Nature did this to save the world from us.”
No, none of the men at the camp were like me. I was different. I didn’t talk of the past. I wasn’t hiding. I was building a life. Building a future.
I’d never met another man like me.
That’s what I was hunting for, why I was heading west. To find others like me. So I wouldn’t be alone.
I kept heading west, day after day. Past empty towns, empty homes, empty farms, and all the remains of the world that had been. In the hopes of finding a second glimpse of the world starting over.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.