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That Which Binds Us All
“So, where were you when they hit?” James asked as he handed the whisky bottle to his newfound friend Austin. He was much to young to be drinking, but ever since the bomb blew half the country to hell, drinking the water was a risk. Austin took the bottle with gusto, took a large pull, then set it between the two.
“Funny enough, I was in history class. We were talking about Chernobyl, how in over a hundred years, the land was still too radioactive to support any sort of life. Ha! And look at us! I’m surprised none of us have sprouted wings or something.”
James had to laugh at the idea. Ever since D-Day (that’s what they had started calling it) the whole damn country was just one big Chernobyl. Babies born with horrific defects, limbs falling off perfectly healthy adults, their skin rotting off as they died slowly. Only the lucky ones made it through D-Day and the weeks after. But it didn’t matter. The fallout in the environment had sterilized the entire feeble population. Now, instead of deformed babies, there were just no more babies at all.
“How about you?” Austin slurred. “Where were you when the world ended?”
“I was making love to my fiancé,” James said, eyes distant.
For some reason, Austin thought this was hilarious. He fell off the log they were sitting on and rolled on the ground for a minute. “At 10 in the morning? Wh-what were you doing in bed that late?”
James smiled. “We both took the day off to celebrate. I had preposed the night before.”
Austin regained his composure and reclaimed his seat. “What happened to her?” he asked.
It was James who took a long pull from the bottle. “She was killed by marauders. Five days after they hit.”
“Same with my parents,” Austin sighed. He extended his hand for the whisky, not even bothering to ask. James handed it to him anyway. Why not? Living with yourself was just as much a part of surviving as was sleeping with one eye open. That’s why most people avoided being seen. Better to be alone than risk being shot for your coat. That was the cost of a man’s life–his coat. The nights were so cold anymore that if you weren’t careful you’d wake up frozen to the ground, or you wouldn’t wake at all. It was just by chance that James had come across Austin. He had seen smoke, and followed the source to find Austin cooking some bass he must’ve caught in the nearby lake. You had to be careful with wild game, what with the risk of ingesting more radiation, but fish, as long as their water source was secluded, were fairly safe. After talking the boy down, reassuring him that he was no danger, they sat to eat. James shared some of his bread in exchange for a slab of fish. When neither killed the other that night, they joined together. It was there fourth night together now.
Austin managed to get to his feet to stack a couple logs on the fire. James normally would’ve advised against it, but they were in such thick foliage that the smoke couldn’t be seen for miles. Plus, the warmth was comforting. It reminded him of Rachel.
“What would you’ve done, if it hadn’t happened?” James asked.
Austin have a enthusiastic shrug. “College, maybe, I don’t know. I always wanted to go to Syracuse and play ball. Doesn’t matter now.”
“‘Course it does.”
Austin chuckled. “How could it possibly matter?”
“Because that’s what makes you who you are: your dreams. Without them, we’d be just another species. But he have dreams; we have hope. That’s what’s important.”
“Yea, I also dreamed of making millions and having any girl I wanted. What ya think ‘bout that?”
“Sounds like a good dream,” James laughed.
And they both laughed. If felt good to laugh. In all the darkness and madness, they took comfort in the fact that they were still sane, that they were still human. That they were still alive.