The morning light brought the shoreline of Virginia Beach. The dark silhouettes of rows of hotels create a jagged horizon. As the sun rises on the Dusty Rose’s starboard, Ike can feel the wheel pull toward the shore.
“Where are we?” Ginger squinting at the daylight, arises from the darken hull with two cups of coffee.
“That’s Virginia Beach?” Ike said grabbing a warm cup and taking a sip.
Ginger sat next to Ike and cuddled up with the soft grey sweater pulling it tight and cupping the ivory cup “It’s nice this time of the morning.”
“We’ll cut into the Old Coast Guard Station and anchor there. Hold this coarse while I go below and try and find a spyglass.” Ike put down his mug and release the wheel to go below.
Ike crept down the stairs to the mass of papers scattered about. Opening a cabinet and shifting through maps he reached in the back and felt the metal cylinders.
“This thing is hard to steer.” Ginger complained struggling with the wheel.
Ike grabbed the wheel with his left hand and gave a sharp turn to starboard while raising the binoculars. The Dusty Rose moaned and proceeded back to course.
“There! That’s where we want to go.”
Ginger squinted and stared at the white beach. “How do you know?”
“See the grey shingled building?” Ike handed the binoculars to her and pointed.
“I see Neptune!” she squealed.
“But I still don’t see any people and that worries me.”
The sun was up and the beach accepted the constant waves staring down with pastel towers of loneliness.
Ike moved to the bow and threw the anchor overboard listening to the chain rattle against the side. The Dusty Rose slowed to halt and turned into the wind as Ginger lowered the sail.
After a brief clothes change below, placing the sweater in a safe place, the couple dove into the waves riding to shore.
Alone on the wide stretch of sand the two surveyed the former vacation site. Stepping out of the waves slapping at their backs, Ike and Ginger’s steps sunk into the dry sand up to the concrete boardwalk. The hot sand turned to the cool slab that separated the massive hotels from the pristine beach.
Ike swung the pack over one shoulder and started inland. “There has to be someone here.” He muttered.
“I’m glad I found these shorts and t-shirt. They are much easier to swim in.” Ginger said to wind blowing her hair dry.
Up to the boulevard of surf shops and restaurants and tourist attractions, the two looked north and south. Surfboards sat layered, sand blistered in the sunshine awaiting the next wave. Brightly colored beach towels faded waving like flags in the sea breeze.
Ike walked to the nearby Hyatt high rise and pressed the glass doors that did not resist his entrance. The lobby was dark and had the smell of mildew. He walked to the check in counter, then behind opening doors and moving knocked over chairs. Scattered papers covered in sand covered the floors. Ginger moved to the elevators and pressed the button.
“No electricity here either; just like it was in Wilmington. All the doors have electronic locks so we can’t get a room.”
“Let’s keep going.” Ike turned back to the blinding sunlight.
“Hey dude, try these.” Ginger said tossing him a huge pair of sunglasses.
Ike tried on the glasses and stared back at Ginger who was admiring herself in the glass doors.
“I’ve got an idea.” Ike moved toward a rack of bicycles at one of the tourist sites. The tattered awning gave little shade as he checked the gears, brakes and tires.
“Try this one on for size.” Ike pulled a pink cruiser out of the rack and walked it over to Ginger who was still shaking her hair in the reflection. “I’ve pumped up the tires and it looks stable.”
Ginger stopped her vanity and looked at the rusting heavy bike. She lowered her sunglasses and pointed to the rack. “That one. I want that one.”
Ike turned to notice her selection; a white 28-speed racer with drop down handlebars.
After a few minor adjustments the two barefooted explorers were gliding down empty streets littered with rusting vehicles stopped in their tracks.
Up Virginia Beach Boulevard to Oceana the two rode until Ike said, “Let’s try the navy base.”
They rode to the gates but there were no guards. Proceeding inward they followed the winding streets of vacant cinderblock buildings casement windows swinging in the wind. Ike thought of the still navy ships bobbing in the waves off shore when they entered the area and wondered why they had not seen any sailors. “There was no one here?” they thought as they traveled out another unlocked gate and onto the up ramp to I-264.
“I’ve never ridden a bike on a highway.” Ike laughed as his gears clicked higher and his speed increased. The race was on. Ginger lowered her head, grinned a wild smile, and zoomed pass Ike. In turn, they gathered together one taking the lead, and then the other weaving pass abandoned cars and trucks and roaring like school children on a holiday.
“Let’s try this one.” Ike pointed to a sign showing the exit ramp for the Pembroke Mall.
They coasted down the ramp and onto Independence Boulevard, then into a parking lot full of empty vehicles. The two coasted to a stop and Ike took off his sunglasses. He blinked twice trying to focus on the expansive retail establishment.
“We need to rehydrate, “ Ginger said in her domineering voice sure she had won the race. “Over there, where it’s shady.”
The travelers rested their bikes against the wall and slid down to sit cross-legged under the cement canopy. Ike slipped off his pack and produced two bottles of warm water. Soaking a handkerchief, Ike passed it to Ginger to wash her face and rub the back of her neck. She handed it back and he repeated the process for himself.
“So what the hell is happening here,” Ginger gulped spilling water onto her already soaked t-shirt “ and why are WE still here?”
Wiping the top of his head, Ike checked the steaming parking lot in silence.
“Whatever has happened has taken all the life forms, but left buildings and cars. It’s not a natural disaster because the Red Cross would be here. It is as if everyone just stopped and disappeared.”
“So now what?”
“Let’s stay the night at the beach and move back to the boat in the morning. We’ll find someplace to sleep.”
“Sounds good to me.” Ginger replied in confidence she had worn him down with her speed and looking forward to a real bed.
“Let’s get started before the sun goes down.” Ike leaped up swinging the backpack in place and mounted the bike with new energy and vigor, disproving Ginger’s first thoughts.
Before they went back to the boulevard, Ginger asked, “ Do we have any food for tonight.”
Ike reached around and felt the pack, remembering he filled it in a hurry. “Perhaps we need to find some….ah…..stores somewhere.” He replied shyly.
Ginger stood up shaking off the dust and turned to the glass doors of the mall. “Let’s go shopping.” She smiled as she entered the doors into the darkened mall.
Ike reluctantly followed resting his steed against the wall.
The skylights lit the floor with mysterious shadows. Ginger ducked back and forth from shattered store to store like a ferret on the hunt.
“This is great. I like this one, and here’s another great top.”
“ I better find another pack.”
“Make it a big one.”
Back into the parking lot, the couple gathered their rides and strapped on their bulging packs and pressed back to the boulevard.
As they neared the beach, Ike remembered the food. “We’ve got to find some food!” he shouted to Ginger as she had sped ahead.
“Oh yeah.” Ginger slowed as Ike caught up. The sun was starting to set and the shadows quickly filled the side streets.
“Ike,” Ginger yelled, “ Look over there.”
The pair stopped and turned to a large supermarket approaching quietly in the dark.
“Stop!” A voice rang out.
The couple froze.
“Friend or Foe”
Ike heard the sound of a shell filling the chamber of a gun. His cat like reflexes crouched down and turned from side to side in a defensive move.
“Advance and be recognized!”
Ike grabbed Ginger by the arm and directed her into the shadows. She quietly disappeared and he walked forward. The moon had backlit the couple but he could not see who or what he was approaching.
Ginger stood silently as a figure appeared in the moonlight. Ike paused facing the barrel of a sizeable weapon held firmly by a large man with ribbons and sashes hanging from his pockets.
“Who the hell are you?” the gruff voice yelled. “Where did you come from?”
Ike stood transfixed as if to pounce on this uniformed guard, when Ginger yelled out. “Who are you and where is everybody else?”
At this distraction, Ike quickly grabbed the weapon and ripped it out discharging the magazine.
“Where is everyone!” Ginger yelled hearing the last shell fall being cleared from the chamber by Ike who then threw the rifle to the grown in disgusts.
The uniformed figure, looking confused and bewildered by the company of other human beings and having been removed of his protection, straightens to a rigid attention and presents himself to the couple.
“Captain Roland Spicer, 12th Division, Company A, Ops and Special Protection Unit.”
Ike moved forward studying the aria of badges and ribbons on the captain’s uniform. He felt the bulge of the pistol he carried behind his back but did not fear the situation.
“Ike…. I’m Ike Patterson sir, and this lovely lady,” motioning to Ginger to reveal herself from the shadows, “ is Ginger Bonneau.”
The tension eased and there was a moment of silence as each looked over the other.
“So Colonel?” Ike started, “ what are you doing here?”
The unarmed warrior looked startled by the question. He searched the darkness for his weapon like a baby for a security blanket.
“ It’s captain and I’m standing my post until replacements are sent or until I get an order to stand down” he nervously said still peering into the darkness for his cane.
“You have radio contact?” Ginger interjected.
“I did, but now it is all static. I haven’t had a message in a long time.”
“But you stay at your post?” Ike quipped.
“Duty!” the captain replied.
“Where are your troops?” Ike responded looking into the darkness. He was sure that if the captain had been in command of others they would have presented themselves or fired up the couple.
“They all deserted. Ran away. It was almost a mutiny. They had wives and families and when the disease hit, they ran home. All of them…. they just left. Platko, Forrest, Bullard, McGinnis, Cromley, Winfield, Campbell, Held, Greentree, Laudon, Foster, Atkinson, Morris, Sadler, Powell, Clements, and little Blake” the captain’s voice dropped.
Ike walked up and wrapped his arm around the big fellow and with a hug said, “It’s OK big fellow.”
“Where are we?” Ginger interrupted the warm moment.
“My assignment was to protect the Food World against looters.”
“Yes, when the world went mad, we were called up to protect the limited resources available to the general public.”
Ike and Ginger paused and stared at each other. The world had gone mad and they missed it, but have to deal with the results.
“So is there any food inside?” Ginger giggled in an effort to lighten the tension.
“Don’t know,” the captain responded in a firm voice, “ I’ve been living off of K-rations. This is what has been instructed to do.”
Ginger started to explore the darkness feeling her way into the shelves of can goods and questionable food stuffs, while Ike bent down and retrieved the rifle he had so unforgettably taken from the solider.
“Since we are down south I’m going to call you “Colonel”, if that’s alright with you?” Ike handed the empty weapon to the confused looking warrior.
“Where did you come from?” the captain responded clutching the metal to his chest.
“Well Colonel it’s a long story and we aren’t there yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ve come a long way and it looks like we have a way to go before we discover what is going on around here.”
Ike reached back to his pack and revealed a bottle of scotch. “Would you like to share a swig.”
The captain’s… err…. Colonel’s lips were wiped in anticipation. The two men uncorked the bottle and passed it back and forth wiping the top on every taste.
Ginger returned from her adventure in the darkness holding up two cans of kidney beans. Ike smiled and stuffed them into his heavy pack and slapped it on his back.
“We’re going back to the beach for the evening. We have a boat off shore. Do you want to join us?” Ike asked to the stoic protector and was surprised at his response.
“I must man my post until relieved or ordered to stand down.”
The two men stood face to face and slowly saluted each other. Ike mounted his bike and pointed it toward the rising moon. Ginger joined his side smiling at the protector of the Food World.
“By the way,” Ike yelled back at the figure standing at attention,” I’m with the government, and you are now a REAL Colonel. Field promotion. Take care.” Ike turned and the couple peddled off from a smiling face holding his at parade rest.
As they coasted into hotel row, the moon lit the ocean like glistening dancing diamonds.
“Let’s try the Hyatt again” Ginger urged.
So the two weary adventurers propped their bikes again the stucco building and entered the dark but now familiar lobby. Ike remembered the direction to the stairs and pressed the door, inviting pure darkness.
“Feel your way through” Ike whispered to Ginger as the two felt the handrail and stepped lightly on the concrete wedges.
“Stop that” Ginger would slap Ike as he slid his hand up her leg during the climb showing his effects from the scotch with the Colonel which he left for the solider manning his post.
Ginger pushed open a door to a tight hallway and Ike followed moaning under the weight of his backpack.
In the darkness Ginger asked the staggering Ike, “Now What?”
Ike grinned but she could not see it in the blackness. A swift kick to the left popped the door open flooding the room in moonlight.
“OK!” Ginger swirled swiftly into the space and threw open the curtained shades. She slid the glass windows open and the roar of the ocean filled the room. The wind blew the curtains in abandon. “What a beautiful moon,” she noticed sliding off the pack stuff with her early finds. “Don’t you think?”
Ike had landed on one of the two double beds. His pack had slid off under its weight entering the room and his body had crashed upon the covers.
Ginger looked at the limp body and thought about removing his shoes, but decided he was better off the way he was. She removed her shorts and slid under clean sheets watching the moonbeams until her eyes closed in a restful relaxing state.