The room had become comfortable for the five occupants. Perhaps it was the wine but each had accepted the other and the conversation continued.
“Do you remember the housing melt-down?” Dexter started.
“Sure. That was a mess.” Ike answered.
“That was THE start. The market went down with the bad loans. People had overextended themselves.”
“I always lived by a pay-as-you-go policy.” Ike chirped as if to get a winning approval smile from the others.
“Fine, but so many others didn’t. This caused the banks to have debts they could not recover.” Dexter stood and started flipping though the books on the walls.
“Then everyone got sick!” West chimed in.
“What?” Ike confused response.
“Not too fast,” Dexter turned and continued his story. “So as we know the economy cracking up under the pressure of bad loans and the fear of a run on the banks. Companies were laying-off employees to reduce cost. There was no employment for newly graduating students. People stayed at home to keep cost down and waited for a recovery.
“And don’t forget the digital snafu.” Newton shyly whispered taking another slip of wine.
“Ah, the digital change over.” Dexter stopped searching for a book. “The government needed more air bandwidth, so they announced the analog television signal would be changed to digital. They sold boxes to convert the older televisions to accept the new signal, but the day the change over happened…..”
“Riots in the streets.” Newton added.
“It seems the digital signal was not strong enough and people lost there ONLY entertainment…. television. That was the last straw.” The tall blond turned back to his book search.
“Foreclosures grew and some… many just walked out of their homes and wandered into the emptiness. Companies closed and the government could not print enough money to help.”
“Abandoned homes started to fill neighborhoods. They became crime havens with roving gangs of homeless. Homes started to burn, either by their former owners or in anger to the financial crisis. Cities started to burn and that fed the fever. The whole country went crazy. ”
“Then the illness came.” West spoke up.
“Please continue good sir” Dexter bowed to West placing another book on the shelf.
“The A2O2 virus had started the year before and was picked up by the medical community” West continued sitting up, “It seemed to start in Mexico, but it didn’t matter. It spread like wildfire.”
Ike and Ginger stared at each other in bewilderment.
“Television talked about the A2O2 everyday on the news while all these unemployed people were sitting at home watching. Reports of growing numbers of deaths on the nightly news didn’t help matters and the panic grew. People would wonder the streets in mask and gloves. The pandemic created a gigantic fear factor. Then the television went off the air so no one knew what was going on. The Internet was full of lies and roomers. . The hospitals started flooding with cases. We were all overwhelmed. There was no vaccine so all we could do is cope.”
“So everyone died?” Ginger questioned with a wine burp.
“Not so fast little girl, the story continues” Dexter placed a restful hand on her shoulder.
Ike filled Gingers glass fascinated by the tale being presented to the couple. “Please continue.”
Newton returning from the kitchen with a plate of raw seafood said, “ It was panic time.”
“People started going crazy!” West added in a calm medical manner. “They had been kept at home watching this crazy stuff on TV and then everything they touched turned them sick. They went to the grocery story and the carts and the cereal boxes and the bottles of milk and the frozen packages were all contaminated with the A2O2. It was everywhere. Even in the money.”
“Wild man” Newton added.
Ike was not charmed with the comment. “So where did everyone go?”
“Man, it was wild” Newton turned chomping on a crab leg. “It was like a bell went off.”
“It spread” Dexter calmed the conversation. “It was like a wildfire.”
“Like a wildfire!” Newton agreed.
“Suddenly on April second, 2009, the world went crazy.” West explained.
“Crazy?” Ginger questioned.
“Crazy! The whole world went mad. It was as if no one had anything left to lose. Neighborhood on fire emptied into the streets screaming. Mobs formed and started looting. Cars were left on the roads as people ran for whatever safety they could find. Banks and other symbols of the establishment were burned to the ground. Anything that represented wealth were targets,” West continued.
“Yes, we know” Ike sighed.
“Oh, really?” Newton seemed to perk up.
“Please, continue” Ike interjected.
“Well the few that could get television reception, the news showed the rioting and then they went off the air, so people used their own devises to communicate.” Newton added.
Dexter continued the story, “The Internet was good for a while, and then that went down. It related the whole world was intertwined in this mess. Everyone all over the planet was broke, mad, sick, and dying. That was went it really went bad.”
“Where were you?” Newton asked the bewildered couple.
Ike shyly responded, “ We left our home and boarded a cruise ship for open waters.”
“Ah, the sea” Dexter smiled.
Ike seemed perturbed with Dexter’s remark replied to West, “ Where did everyone go?”
“They did the same thing as YOU did! THEY WENT TO THE WATER!” West shouted.
The room’s atmosphere chilled as the conversation halted on the shout. What was the meaning of the statement?
“The water didn’t seem to be affected by the A2O2 virus. The fish were somehow shelter by the water.” Newton calmly broke the tension while picking up the empty platters.
“So the water shielded the virus? So the fish are immune to this virus? “ Ike asked.
“Seems so” Dexter replied opening another book and studying the scripture within.
“But you guys are here?” Ike ‘s volume increased. “And we have seen other humans?”
“And we saw a bird this morning?” Ginger added.
“We were on the base when the order came in that we were being shipped out” West broke in. “ I was in the supply depot. I became distracted by the list of pills and prescriptions and stayed to organize the orders. Time passes quickly and when I realized the time, I went to the outside. Everyone was GONE!”
“Gone?” Ginger asked.
“Gone. The base was empty. I wandered around for awhile hoping to find someone, then walked to the beach thinking I catch a ride.”
“There was not a person in sight. Only vacant cars, trucks, buildings, and a hot highway.” West responded.
Newton suddenly entered the conversation; “ It was the same for me.”
“What?” Ginger asked.
“I was in an airplane hanger. I was working on a solution to air draft through a video simulator, when I fell asleep. I guess I had been working on these projects for hours.” Newton paused and wiped his glasses. “I went outside and everyone was gone. EVERYONE!”
“What… what did you do?” Ginger questioned.
“I did the same as everyone else. I went to the water. Wandering to the ocean I met West and then Dexter” Newton softly remembered. “ That was when we realized WE were the only ones left.”
“Dexter? Where did you come from?” Ike changed the subject.
“Me? I was in the library doing research. Hours pass like minutes when you are engulfed in a fascinating adventure of research and study. I had a special corner where I did my study. No one would ever bother me there, so I continued to complied my notes until I was so overwhelmed with information I placed my head on the table and slept.”
“And?” Ike added.
“When I awoke, I rubbed my eyes and walked through the empty building full of the most wonderful, exciting, and revealing words anyone can find. I moved into the outer world to find silence. Every human had disappeared.”
“As the three of us stood on the beach watching the last of ships lose themselves at the horizon; the power died.”
“And that was how many years ago?” Ike asked, hoping not to get an accurate answer.
“After we found this place and realized we were not sick, we started looking around for the basics. Food, water…” West continued in a logical manner.
“… And books” added Dexter.
“The necessities of life.” Newton returned from the kitchen area with two more bottles of wine.
“Allow me” Ike grabbed one bottle and with a quick twist removed the plastic cover. Then a thrust from his knife into the cork and another twist reveled the liquid shared to all.
“This is really strange,” Ginger questioned.
“The wine?” Newton asked.
“No, what is going on here. Have you every seen anyone else?”
Dexter walked over and sat on the floor. He placed a slice of paper in the book and closed the cover. Quietly picking up another filled glass said, “ We looked. Up and down the beach. We went inland, but everywhere we went was empty.”
“Empty?” Questioned Ginger.
“Just as you have seen today. The entire population of every country had boarded ships and gone to sea…. Or died.” Dexter voice dropped off and he took a long gulp of wine.
West changed the mood, “Light a few more candles Newton.”
The sun had set and the group was wrapped in darkness except for the corner of the room lit by a few wax light sticks.
Dexter had vanished into the darkness as the others resituated themselves for the evening. Ike looked worried about the revaluation of the demise of the country, but kept a smile for Ginger who was filling another glass of wine.
“Go ahead, we have plenty” Newton smiled checking out Ginger’s curves.
“What a minute!” Ike cried out, interrupting the mood of relaxation. “This A2O2 virus that swept the country? Why were YOU guys spared?”
Dexter walked back into the room and sat crossed legged on a pillow staring at West.
“Science seems to prove the A2O2 virus only had a brief, but deadly lifespan. By the year 2010, the virus had mutated and died or become harmless.” West shrugged, “ I have no proof of this, but it just stopped.”
“But no one knew that because they had all vacated the premises.” Newton smiled with another bottle of wine glaring at Ginger.
“What about the rest of the country?? Those who could not get to the sea? What about Kansas?” Ike slurred having another glass of red.
“We don’t know,” responded West, “Unless they came this way, we have no communication with anyone. You are the first people we have seen in… oh…. ten years or so.”
As Ike and Ginger sat looking at each other in a stupor haze of wine and wonder of an unbelievable story presented to them, Dexter offered a silver case. With a knowing smile he opened the case to show some tightly rolled cigarettes.
“Would you like a recreational cigarette?” he smiled a broad knowing grin.
“Does everyone just get high now?” Ike grumbled knocking over his glass of wine. Ginger moped it up with a towel she pulled off a chair. Newton enjoyed her every move.
“What about the animals?” Ginger questioned the drunken trio. “We saw a bird today.”
“Some animals survived because they were out at sea or on far away islands, but for the first year or so there were nothing but carcasses laying on the ground. There were no insects so the bodies just rotted under the sun into mush. “
“It wasn’t pretty and very smelly, but we three could not bury all of them” West added. “Thank God for the rain.”
Ginger eagerly grabbed the lit cigarette from Dexter and took a long toke. She turned to Ike who did not looked interested, so turned back to Newton who smiled and received the gift.
“Let me see if I understand,” Ike over spoke to the group, “ everyone in the country… no in the world…. Realized they were in immanent danger if they did not except to the seas? So everyone, except for you three and a couple of others who seem to be immune to this A2O2, climbed aboard any floating fixture and paddled out to the open oceans.”
Dexter puffed with smoke coming out of his nostrils, “ Yes!”
“This is crazy,” Ike slammed his hand down, “The entire world can NOT run away from a flu. We have medicine, doctors, scientist, the military, the government… there must have been something done…. Something to stop this.”
“It is estimated,” West stopped the tantrum, “ that 30 to 40 million people died due to this virus. It was fast and devastating.”
“What choice did people have but to run away?” Newton asked smoke blending into his curly grey hair. “You’ve seen the results.”
“Now what?” Ginger slowly lifted her droopy eyelids to look to Ike for an answer.
The room grew silent. As the flames on the candles flickered in the sea breezes the five figures sat in complete quiet. There was no answer to the question.
“Let me have a hit,” Ike reached for the silver case which fell to the floor.
There on the dusty sandy-carpeted floor sat the silver case with an inscription on the cover. “Manard”.
Ike and Ginger stared at the case and at each other as Ike inhaled. The mysterious trio stared at the case then each other wondering what the interest was with the inscription.
Blowing smoke into the room Ike asked, “Where did you get the case?”
“We do scavenger hunts on the beach,” Newton puffed.
“Yes, we found it on the beach” West agreed.
Dexter just smiled; smoke wafting around his long hair. He just sat with a knowing gesture to the others.
Ike was too tired and drunk and high to continue the inquisition, so he lay down on the floor, put his head on the pillow, and closed his eyes. Ginger realized it was her call to cuddle next to him. The two became as one on the soft pillows.
The clink of empty bottles rolling across the floor were covered by the breathe of candles being blown out.
“Sleep well” Dexter whispered to the pair as the mysterious trio disappeared into the darkness.