Stepping on the sand, feeling it beneath our feet, it was different. We had been walking along the road for such a long time that we had forgotten what it felt not wearing any shoes, any clothing except underwear.
We were six people, three women and three men, and we had been wandering the country for almost a month. We had begun walking because all the cities had been destroyed, devastated by war. Bombings and attack troops and orbital bombardment. All done because of many wanting the same: rule over the world.
But the world couldn’t be ruled, not by only one person. So all the war had caused a violent reaction from nature. Pests and natural disasters had stopped the fighting and violence. So much was the catastrophe that the war had to be finished, as there were no more troops to hold an invasion, an attack or even to support a small settlement.
Our group had seen thousand of bodies on the roads, mostly of soldiers and other men of war but also from people that had flee the crisis too soon or too late.
I, for one, had stayed in the lowest part of my building, waiting for all the sound from above to stop. I had a radio, a mobile phone and a small portable television but they stopped working after the first month. I also had rations of food and batteries, a lamp and even a sleeping bag. I had been prepared.
Family? None, at least not in this city. They were far away and there was no way of knowing if they were alive or not. All transmissions had died slowly: TV stations, radio stations, satellite feed, everything stopped at some point.
So when I came out, the city were I had lived in for the last five years, was in silence, deserted almost completely. I found a few people on my way out of it and we formed this group. I had told them I needed to go to my family’s city and see if they were dead or alive, as the doubt was eating me up.
The route was a long one so we headed first to a gas station and took several maps to help us get to our destination. We also got a little cart to put all our things in and we would take turns pulling it but in the first week we were lucky enough to find farm animals, cattle and so on. So we borrowed a donkey from one of them and he has proven to be our most prized possession.
In the group, we all have the same responsibilities and duties with each other. There’s no one that rules over others or someone that gets to do nothing. We all do, we all pull, we all feed Burrito (our donkey) and we all get food and explore the places we walk into.
The good thing is that no one ever complained or tried to be more than the others. We just got along and, to be honest, we try to speak as sparsely as we can. Sometimes there are heat waves, and fighting or talking too much during them would be fatal. We just way under a large shadow and be sure to have plenty of water.
It does seem like some things are running out, like water. We normally find gas stations or supermarkets with bottles that are still good but the natural sources seem to be running out. Just a few days ago, we saw a gigantic patch of mud on the ground. None of us had traveled the region before, but it was obvious a large lake had been there.
We ate anything that would not need frying or real cooking of any kind. We had matches and a portable cooking thingy, but the first ones ran out fast and the other worked on gas, which was not really that easy to find, so we would rather grab all the jerky we could get, ham, cheese, and so on.
Not milk, never, as it had all gone bad already. Most places we entered had that foul smell of milk gone bad. But we rapidly learned how to stand it and soon we ignored it altogether.
We traveled mainly by the roads. Not directly on them, as the heat made it annoying, but on one side, walking on grass or dirt. There were small rural roads and freeways of many lanes. But these days they all looked deserted, except for the many cars left stranded a little bit everywhere.
The tough part was when we started heading up a mountain. We had to do that to go down the other side and from there it was practically a slope towards the ocean.
The mountain was really hard for Burrito and for us. I personally feared more for the animal than for us. We had fed him well with the few fresh vegetables we had found on our way but it never seemed enough for such a creature. On the way up, he was nevertheless relentless. It was like he didn’t feel the annoying angle on which we had to walk.
There was neither snow nor nothing that cinematic, only a lot of chilly wind, trying to topple us with its strength. But after a single afternoon, we made it to the other side. Unfortunately, we had to camp up there. This time, Burrito wasn’t that strong.
We buried his body, first thing in the morning. We all cried and said a few words. A guy on the group had a Bible (he was the religious type), so he said a prayer for the animal. We owed him a lot.
Now it was us who had to pull the cart again but this time it was harder. The weather had gone significantly worse: heavy rain for three straight days and that damn wind that never stopped blowing. Not even when we got to sea level, did the weather stopped.
This moment proved to be a test for all of us. It was then we really had to meet each other, when we learned about each other and why we were doing what we were doing. It wasn’t like before, when we wouldn’t speak or even breath too loudly. Maybe it was the rain, but that had changed.
Now, during dinners, we would share stories about our past. The unspoken rule was that only one could tell his or her story per night, but the person could decide for how long they wanted to speak. At first, the stories went on for as much as fifteen minutes but, with time, we got to a story spanning several hours, during which we would eat something and enter our sleeping bags.
The road after the mountain was difficult, very rough to the legs and arms. The person pulling the cart always had the worst part, as it was too hard to do it on rocks that would move when passing on them. It was sometimes dangerous and, many times, it pulled out all the feelings people were hiding.
But that didn’t split the group; it actually made us much stronger, like a family. We were learning to live together but we knew we stood no chance if we were to take on this new world by ourselves. Without saying much, I believe love started growing among us, the kind of love you have for sisters and brothers.
Rations were getting smaller. For some reason, these roads had nowhere to find food or canned goods or nothing. For a good week, we fed very poorly, and it was starting to show. Some of us had yellowish, greenish tint on our faces, as if we were in a constant urge to vomit.
So when we finally got to the city, everyone acquired new strength. The possibilities to find food were a lot higher here than anywhere else. And we did, yes we did. We ate like pigs our first night there. We actually ate pig: a lot of preserved ham and canned beans still good. And there was water and, in a hotel, we had found an ice room still working for some reason. We played like children in there, freezing but happy.
The next day, was the day we went to the beach. And it was then, when we first felt we were alive, that we were reminded of our humanity and that our time here was not done yet.
Some walked the beach hand by hand. Others, like me, just stood there with sand up their ankles, watching the ocean. The waves, coming and going.
And there I cried again, the first time since Burrito had died, the second time since… Since I didn’t know when. I was alive but the word was dying and we all knew it.