I finally felt a stirring of the muse this week for Friday Flash Fics, and it’s probably no surprise it is a revisit. This one goes back to Benoit and Ray from The End of the World As We Know It, my viral-outbreak story that niggles at the back of my mind now and then. I’ve touched upon this world three times now, if you include the September Flash Fiction Draw challenge, Home, which also included the setting.
Road Tripping in the End of the World
Their first day of traveling had gone extremely well. They’d only had to stop twice to clear cars blocking the road—the other vehicles they’d been able to get around—and watching Ray work the winch-hook-grapply-thing was, Benoit decided, pretty high on the butch-and-sexy scale.
They’d continued their tradition, finding a house without a car in the driveway to increase the odds that there were not bodies inside to deal with, and that had worked, too.
They had maps—paper ones, of course—but they’d also hit outdoors gear shops over the long, long winter and kitted up as much as they could. They had GPS. Benoit had hit the bookstore and found survival guides, too, and he’d been reading them and trying out various bits.
It had been a long winter, and tough on more than a few emotional levels, but between planning, sorting through everything at the depot Ray had brought him to, and getting a truck ready that could handle whatever they might come across on the roads—definitely a project Ray was in charge of—had kept them busy.
There had been signs of other people here and there, but they hadn’t actually seen anyone. Benoit had spent a clear January morning on the roof of the depot with binoculars, and he’d seen a few streams of chimney smoke deeper in the residential areas of the city. Not many, but some.
And he’d scrounged up the last newspapers that had been printed, too. That was how they’d learned at least a piece of the reason for their survival: they were both AB-negative. The doctors all around the world had figured that out, at least: the only people who weren’t dying from the illness all had AB-negative blood.
Another newspaper pointed out the vector of release of the illness seemed to have been through New York—specifically New York airports—some time in the weeks before Christmas.
There were no newspapers for him to find beyond the twentieth of December.
“British Columbia,” Ray said one morning, while they lay together in the warmth of their bed in the depot’s portable.
Benoit had looked at him. Burly and hairy, Ray had a rough-around-the-edges look to him that was completely belied by his nature once you got to know him—they’d walked on egg shells around each other for the first few days they’d found each other the only other survivor at the hospital last December. Benoit had been terrified Ray would find out he was gay and live up to his appearance. Ray had been just as afraid Benoit would find out and leave him by himself.
Their mutual realization had been a very, very good night.
“B.C.?” Benoit had replied, thinking the look on Ray’s face matched that night: nervous, but wanting to speak his mind.
“Milder winter, better growing, and there’s this town I know. Claims to be the ‘greenest town in Canada.’ Solar, geothermal, wind… basically, it’d still have power. It’d be easier there.” He took a breath. “I mean, once we got there.”
“That’s a long trip,” Benoit had said, but he was already smiling.
“Hardest part is getting out of Ontario, really,” Ray said. “Once you hit the Trans Canada Highway, it’s a straight line right through to B.C.”
Benoit bit his lip. “So that’s a no to Atlanta, then?”
That had been another ongoing discussion. The C.D.C.
“Is it terrible if I say I don’t want to be in the United States?” Ray wrapped an arm around him.
“I don’t think there really is a United States any more. Or a Canada,” Benoit said.
“Well, if there are survivors, I mean.”
Benoit could see his point. “No, it’s not terrible. Not at all.” He snuggled down. “B.C. it is.”
That first day of travel had been great. It felt like an adventure, albeit one where they both knew there were more than a few risks. There was no one to call for help or backup. Ray had spent a very long time over the last weeks picking the truck, making sure the truck would work, and gathering tools and supplies he might need to fix the truck.
Benoit had never felt less handy in his life, and that was saying something.
They left the city behind them, and were passing through what looked like a one-crossroad town when they came across a big truck all the way across the road, from one sidewalk to the other, on its side.
Benoit managed not to look through the window.
It was closer to night than they’d intended to let it get—that was another reality: no street lights.
“That looks like a bad crash,” Benoit finally said.
“We’ll figure out a way around it tomorrow,” Ray said, eyeing the buildings around them. Most of this “town” seemed shuttered and closed—a mom and pop diner with faded signs and wood-boarded windows, a gas station with no pumps, and another square building they could barely make out were their options—the last building at least had space on the sidewalk they could park on, so that’s where they went.
Inside, the main room of the building might have been used by transients, but it was empty now. Graffiti covered most of the walls. There was little to no furniture, but there were large holes in the concrete, and remnants of metal things that Benoit couldn’t identify.
“It’s a garage,” Ray said. “A mechanic.”
They set up their tent inside, cooked on their camp-stove, and slept through the night surprisingly well.
In the morning, Ray handed Benoit a hot tea and kissed his forehead. “Regretting coming with me?”
“Funny man.” Benoit laughed. “No, not even a little.” That earned him another kiss. “I think I figured out a route for back-tracking a little bit. There are side-streets here.” He pointed at his map-book.
“Anywhere I get to go with you is good,” Ray said.
“Aw,” Benoit said. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me since the world ended.”
They cleaned up their kit, packing it all away carefully and checking the building out while the sun crept up—looting was as much a game as a habit—then packed it all into the truck. Benoit opened the door to get back in, and saw Ray staring past him, a big grin on his face.
“What?” Benoit said, turning.
The sign over the front windows of the building had once said ‘Auto Parts.’ The first A was gone, as was the ARTS at the end. Some enterprising graffiti artist had taken red spray-paint and added ‘IA’ after the letters that remained.
UTOPIA, the building declared, with faded, broken, and boarded up cheer.
“Did you see that last night?” Ray said.
They climbed into the truck together.
Day three was already starting on an up-note.