The Survivor Journals Omnibus [Books 1-3], page 37part #1 of The Survivor Journals Omnibus Series
We eventually went to bed. The heat in the RV was stifling. I considered hanging a hammock between two trees and sleeping outside, but despite the open terrain around us, I just couldn’t bring myself to trust the night. It was silly, I know. My brain just kept telling me Bigfoot was coming. I felt better inside the Greyhawk. I slept in the back bunk; Ren slept in her bunk. She still slept next to her shotgun. She fashioned a spot to hang it from while she slept so that she wasn’t in danger of accidentally hitting it, but it was still within easy grasp. The next morning when I left my bunk at dawn, I didn’t step on empty bottles. The floor was clear. I smiled. That was progress on the Trust front.
Renata and I spent weeks on the road repeating the same endless pattern. Up, breakfast, drive. Explore towns. A snack for lunch. Drive. Explore more towns. Stop. Scavenge. Camp. Sleep. We explored as much as we could, crisscrossing through North Carolina and South Carolina, hitting a lot of towns. At first, Ren’s enthusiasm for finding others kept us going. Her optimism was renewed each morning. “Today we’re gonna find someone, I just know it!” By the end of the day, she was a little dejected, but at each night’s fire, she’d shake off the disappointment and tell me, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow’s the day. People are out there waiting for us.”
In the meantime, as we rolled through the countryside, we learned to trust each other more and more. By the end of the first week, I felt comfortable around her. By the end of the second week, she was the best friend I’d ever had. We were different people. She was street smart and city-wise, almost a college graduate. I was four years younger than she, and something of a bumpkin from the sticks, comparatively. However, I’d somehow acquired skills in my suburban upbringing that she lacked, and she had thoughts and ideas that I lacked. We had similar senses of humor, though. We liked a lot of the same movies and books. We complemented each other well. In short order, we had become family tight because we had no other choice in the matter. We bonded.
I taught the city girl to drive, something she’d never thought she’d have the need for in New York. I tried to explain that every town in Wisconsin was a ten-to-twenty minute drive from the next-nearest town, and our public transportation system was almost non-existent. That fact alone blew her mind. The first couple of days when she took a turn behind the wheel, it was a little rough. It is tough enough learning to drive in a small family car, but to learn at the wheel of a long, bulky RV—well, let’s just say it made me very glad there were no other cars on the road.
Ren taught me some things about First Aid and medicines. She was invaluable in sorting out my medicine stash, and she took the point on our pharmacy raids. She taught me how to do stitches correctly. A year ago, I’d sliced my palm open on some sheet metal, and when she saw the lumpy scar tissue across my palm, it made her cringe. Although, she was impressed that I had been able to stitch it one-handed.
We had fun along the way, too. Occasionally, we went swimming when we found a nice lake or river that was not overgrown with algae. Some nights, we played catch with an Aerobie we’d found, one of those orange, plastic, Frisbee-like rings. We played around in a climbing gym one night, scaling walls and swinging from ropes into a foam pit. We played ping-pong and basketball another night in a school gym. We played table tennis so long, the next day both of us had sore shoulders. We broke into a mall in Charlotte, North Carolina. The mall, surprisingly, was mostly intact. A few of the stores had been looted, but not many. I guess there aren’t a ton of survival necessities at Hot Topic and Spencer’s Gifts. We set up a bunch of battery-powered LED lanterns along the corridors to make the mall seem less scary. In the mall, we broke the lock on a gate to a skateboard shop and spent a night roller-blading and skateboarding the long, smooth floors. We had races. I wasn’t very good on a skateboard, but I was better than average on the roller-blades, thanks to growing up in a hockey town. Ren could roller-skate well. She could skateboard, too. She could ollie and do kickflips. To me, skateboards were the work of the devil. I didn’t understand how people could jump off the board and make the board come with them. It looked like it was defying physics. The mall had one of those little places where you could put on a harness attached to some bungie cords and bounce on a trampoline. We spent at least an hour on that thing, bouncing, laughing. My stomach hurt from laughing. My cheeks hurt from smiling. It was the most fun I’d had since before the Flu.
Maybe the most fun ever.
I thought a lot about Doug Fisk when we were in the mall. Being in the mall, laughing and goofing off with my only friend in the world, it was the first time I felt like I was living and not just surviving. It wasn’t part of the daily grind. It wasn’t slavish devotion to making sure the next day, the next week, and the next month would happen. It was a happy deviation in which I let myself be immature and stupid. It was fleeting moments where, for little windows of time, I could have just been my stupid teenage-self screwing around with friends, and my parents were still alive at home, probably watching NCIS reruns or complaining about how there was nothing on Netflix they wanted to watch. For those little windows, I had no pressures, no responsibilities. I wasn’t worried about a storm destroying my home. I wasn’t worried about running out of gasoline. I wasn’t worried about how I’d make clothes in the future, if I had to. I wasn’t worried about anything. And it was glorious. I just hoped Renata felt the same way.
Ren was something of a mystery, despite how much we’d shared and done. She was cryptic, hard to read at times. I trusted her with my life on a daily basis. I like to believe that she trusted me, too. We got along well. We made a good team. If it hadn’t been for the Flu, neither of us would have ever met. I would have spent my life in Wisconsin. She would have spent hers in New York. There were some cultural differences between us, too. She grew up first generation American, while my parents’ families had been here for at least 150 years. One of my great-great-great-great grandfathers fought in the Civil War. She was city. I wasn’t exactly country, but Sun Prairie, Wisconsin is as good as country to someone from Brooklyn.
I know that the more astute readers of these journals (if there ever will be any) would be wondering about romantic relations. As of the night I wrote this passage, there were none. Nothing. We were as asexual as amoebas. We were friendly—no, beyond friendly. We were bonded together through extreme trials. We’d both survived a year alone in a wasteland. We’d both faced loneliness and isolation. We’d both walked a fine line between sanity and raving madness during that year. We’d both faced the unanswerable questions about why we continued to live in a world that so clearly wanted human beings gone from its surface. We both faced questions about why we were such aberrations to the natural order of things. We’d done all that, and yet we kept kicking. We kept fighting. We were tight because we understood each other; we each knew how the other had lived. But, there was never any outward signs from Ren that she was interested in me beyond friendship and reliance. She wasn’t overly touchy. She didn’t laugh at my bad jokes. She didn’t lean toward me when we talked. I’m not any sort of player. I was on the cusp of nineteen—women were still very much a mystery, and maybe they always would be. I just felt that any sort of romantic instigation was not for me to do. I didn’t want to weird her out or make her reconsider coming with me. I needed her. I think she needed me. That was a bond more important than sex or romance. I did not want to try anything and then have to spend the next fifty years in an awkward place with her, always measuring every action, every gesture. Maybe she didn’t want to risk it, either. I couldn’t know.
The heat and humidity continued to be a daily factor, and I started to reconsider my desire to live in Louisiana. I couldn’t imagine ever being used to heat and humidity like this. A friend of my dad’s was a librarian at the UW. He’d been a librarian for a school in southern Florida for a few years before taking the job in Wisconsin. He said the first six months of being Down South were miserable. Then, he got used to the heat. Then,
We crossed the South Carolina/Georgia border, near Greenville, late in the summer. I was driving. We passed a sign for a town called Elberton. Ren’s face lit up, and she grabbed my arm. “Here! Turn here!” After some map consulting, she directed me to Highway 77 South, and then told me to turn left onto Guidestones Road. A hundred yards in, there was a small parking lot to the side of the road, and beyond that lay a granite sculpture of a quartet of monoliths. “We need to see this.” Ren’s voice was solemn and insistent. I didn’t question her.
“These are the Georgia Guidestones,” she said as we walked up to them. “I saw them on one of those weird unsolved mystery shows, the ones that talk about ghosts and aliens. There was a little feature on YouTube about them, too. These are important.” The stones were tall, almost twenty feet. There was a central slab flanked by three other slabs. They were topped with a smaller capstone, almost like Stonehenge.
“I told myself that I would see these someday.” Ren ran up to the nearest one and placed her hands on it. “You know what these are?”
Ren’s eyes were wide and full of reverence. “No. They’re a guide for rebuilding society after an apocalypse.”
In 1979, a man calling himself R.C. Christian went to a local granite finishing company to commission the statue on behalf of a loyal group of Americans. The granite company thought he was cuckoo, and perhaps he was. They overbid the job in an attempt to discourage Christian, but he accepted their bid and paid what they asked. He told the company that the design of the stones had been planned for more than twenty years.
R.C. Christian was a pseudonym. Some believe the name was an adaptation of the word Rosicrucian, tying the guidestones to the Rosicrucian movement, an old semi-secretive mystic order that sought a bridge between religion and metaphysics and looked to unlock the secrets of the universe. The Rosicrucians sought a reformation of mankind. No one knows who really commissioned the guidestones. They were put in place to function as compass, calendar, and clock in case of a cataclysm. The stones were astronomically aligned, and each stone bore a series of instructions for maintaining the world following a massive societal collapse. At the site, there was a square engraved on an explanatory tablet. It read, Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason.
When Renata explained the stones’ significance to me, I felt chills rush up and down my spine. She said, “The stones feel charged. Touch them.” I reached out my hand and placed it on the warm, gray granite. They did feel different, but I don’t know if it was my own imagination doing it, or if they really were special.
The inscriptions on the guidestones said the same thing in multiple languages:
1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
2. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
4. Rule passion—faith—tradition—and all things with tempered reason.
5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
9. Prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite.
10. Be not a cancer on the earth—Leave room for nature—Leave room for nature.
Ren ran her fingers over the inscription in English. “Number one, check. Number two, check; nobody’s reproducing around here, anyhow. Number three—who knows? You and I both speak English, I speak some Spanish. It’s all good. Number four, check. Number five, no people or nations anymore, so…check. Number six, no nations: check! You know, an apocalypse did a really nice job of ending petty laws and useless officials.”
I laughed. “Yeah. No more census takers or city aldermen knocking on your door, that’s for sure. I guess there really is no great loss without some small gain.”
“I think we’re doing pretty well. Ol’ R.C. Christian set a low bar for a societal rebuild after everyone died.” Ren walked around the monoliths touching the stones. “Spooky, though. This group forty-some years ago said, Hey! Shit’s getting out of hand. Let’s figure out rules for after everything falls apart.”
“How smart were they, though? If they put up the stones in 1980, you’d think they might have expected the collapse to happen sooner than it did. I don’t think they anticipated a virus wiping out everyone, either. I think they were thinking about an economic collapse.” I walked to the spot where a slab said there was a time capsule beneath it.
“An economic collapse would have been brutal. The virus was a mercy.” Ren saw the time capsule slab and raised her eyebrows. “Want to dig it up?”
“Not in the least.” I said. “I bet it’s buried beneath concrete. It looks like it would be a bear of thing to get to without heavy equipment.”
“What if there’s like some sort of Genesis pod in it that would spread humanity all over Earth again?”
I looked at the quiet, peaceful countryside surrounding the stones. I listened to the meadowlarks’ song and the cicadas and frogs chirping along. “Maybe it’s for the best that it stays put. As much as I’d like the world to go back to how it was before the Flu, I don’t know if that sort of recovery is possible. Or if the Earth really even wants it.”
“You think that maybe we’re a mistake? Maybe we should have died, then?” Ren’s eyebrows knitted together when she frowned at me. “That there is no point to us still being alive?”
I shrugged. I felt stupid when I did it. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Ren shook her head and fell backward in the tall grass, splaying out like she was going to make a snow angel in the weeds. “Maybe,” she agreed. “But at least we’re having fun, right?”
I flopped into the weeds next to her. “Yes, we are.”
“Out of everyone who didn’t die, I’m glad I found you, Twist. You’re making being alive feel like a good thing again.”
Ren didn’t move after she said it. I almost thought that sounded like an invitation, like maybe I should have tried to kiss her. I did not try, though. I looked up at the blue Georgia sky and kept my mouth shut. I should have said something.
I’m such a coward.
The Kingdom of New America
I always hated it when people called the city of Atlanta, Hotlanta. I had a friend in Wisconsin who did that. He was one of those guys who thought he was going to be a rapper, always talking about some non-existent mixtape he was going to cut. Good kid, but it was always a little weird to hear a chubby suburbanite teenager talk about how the rap scene in Hotlanta was the place to be. When I got to Atlanta, I understood why the name originated, though. It was hot as hell. Ren said, “It feels like I’m breathing sauna air.” That’s probably the best analogy for it. It was hot, thick, messy air magnified by the concrete and asphalt to another level of magnitude. The tar on the roads was sticky from heat. It was too hot for this Northerner.
“The Atlanta metro area, plus the suburbs, had a population of four million people. We’re going to find someone here,” Ren said the morning after our first camp in Atlanta. As usual, her optimism percolated.
“You said that in Charlotte, too. Same sort of size,” I reminded her.
“But this time, I feel it, Twist. I feel it in my bones.” She sounded so definite, so sure of it, that I didn’t bother to contradict her. Her hope was helpful. It gave me hope.
“Why are there peaches everywhere?” Ren had abandoned her shotgun for one of the pistols from my small collection. After the misfire at the raccoon, her taste for long guns evaporated. I gave her a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .357 that she said felt comfortable in her hand and we found a holster and a nylon tactical belt for it at a gun shop along the way. It made her look cool, I have to say. As much as I’m not a fan of guns, the way the belt hung on her hip gave her a roguish appearance. She reminded me of Han Solo the way she stood with her palm resting on the knurled hand grip, her curvy hips cocked to the side. As a kid, when I played Star Wars, I always wanted to be Han Solo. I think everyone did, male or female. Han was the man, easily a thousand times cooler than Luke, even though he didn’t get his own lightsaber. Unfortunately, as I got older, I found myself to be much more C-3PO than Han Solo, stiff, awkward, and spouting facts and data no one asked for or wanted.