The Highway Wanderer

The Highway Wanderer

A Story by Eric Krups
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A short story set in a post-apocalyptic world. A lone survivor wanders the remains of a highway contemplating his life

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The biting wind assaulted his face, piercing through the ragged clothe he wore in a pointless effort to protect himself from the elements. The sky was grey and dreary like the rest of the land. Ash covered the ground and bare black trees dotted the roadside like hundreds of tall toothpicks. The wind whipped ash into his face as he trudged down the ruined highway.

Every few feet he passed a rusted car barely visible under the ash that had consumed the world. If he’d wanted to he could’ve looked into those cars to see the skeletal remains of the drivers. However he did not look, he never looked anymore. Long ago he’d check every car for survivors or supplies but he’d learned soon enough that there was no point to that. Everyone was either dead or gone.

He wiped the ash off his googles with the sleeve of his patchy carhartt jacket. With a shrug of his shoulder he readjusted the rifle strapped to his back. He only actually had ten bullets for the rifle but the gun itself was usually enough to scare people off. Not that he saw many people these days. In the beginning there had been many more. The highway was packed with crowds of people moving out from the cities but as time passed the crowds thinned. People died on the way, starvation, dehydration, disease, injuries, many were killed by other people. Others split from the highway, leaving with notions of rebuilding or forming their own gangs. Whatever the reasons, people began to disappear. It was for the best. This world wasn’t meant for communities of people, it was meant for the lone wolf.

Only alone could you survive. You had no one depending on you, no one to feed or protect, only yourself to look out for. You did what had to be done, took what you needed, killed who you had to, all for another day of existence in a miserable bleak world of death. Every man for himself, that was the only rule now. Even in groups the people really only cared about themselves. Your best friend would shoot you for a can of beans without a second thought. Anyone who wouldn’t do so died off a long time ago.

He hadn’t had to kill many on his journey thus far. Only fifteen. After a few you began to care less and less. You started forgetting their faces. You moved on. He still remembered the first though. It had been near the beginning, back when the highway was packed with the caravans of marching people. His name was Brian then, he supposed it still technically was but what use was a name when there was no one to use it? The world was ending, how he didn’t exactly know, and he was fleeing with the thousands of others to get out from the city. For a while he’d driven but the traffic became so slow that people just began abandoning their cars forcing Brian to abandon his. His wife and daughter were with him. Jessica was his wife, they’d been married for eight years, and Terry was his seven year old daughter.

They’d been walking amongst the crowd, Jess was carrying Terry, his daughters arms wrapped around his wife as she slept not knowing what was happening. He was carrying their bags as he walked next to them. He wore his own backpack and pulled two suitcases along with him, the large red one being his wife’s and the small pink one his daughters. Suddenly someone up ahead started screaming, a shrill terrifying sound. People started rushing away from where the scream came from. As the crowd parted the scene unveiled itself to Brian. A woman lay on the pavement, one arm up in an attempt to protect herself the other hand clutching her gut where red blood was soaking through her white blouse. A man stood over her, a bloody knife in his hand. He didn’t look like the murderous type. He was short and lean, he had glasses and a dusty grey suit. His black hair clung to his sweaty forehead and his breath came in ragged gasps that were visible in the cold winter air.

Jess tugged at Brian’s arm trying to pull him away, but he couldn’t move. The man with the knife looked and saw him, then with his blade brandished he started towards him. Jess cried out and Terry awoke, a look of tired confusion on her face. Brian stepped in front of his family as the man lunged forward. Brian grabbed the man’s arm and swung with his free hand. His fist connected with the attacker’s face shattering the man’s cheek bone and cutting open Brian’s knuckles. He struck again smashing his fist into his nose. The crunch of cartilage and bone was followed by a gushing stream of blood which was followed by another blow to the face, then another and another. The knife fell to the ground but the blows kept coming. The man cried for mercy, or at least tried to through a mouth full of blood and broken teeth. His face became a bloody pulp, barely recognizable. His glasses were broken, shards of glass in his face and in Brian’s fist. Jess was screaming and Terry was sobbing but Brian heard none of it. Their voices seemed dim and far away as if he were under water. His vision focused entirely on the man before him, everything else was blocked out. People stood all round watching in horrified awe as Brian continued to hit the man.

At some point Brian had picked up the knife. He couldn’t remember how or when only that he had it in his free hand now. The lacquered wooden handle was cool in his hand, the woman’s blood ran down the blade and dripped onto his clutching hand. Then the blade was inside the man. The metal sliced through skin and slide through muscle till it punctured the lung. The man coughed and gurgled as blood filled his lungs. Brain yanked the knife free then let the man fall to the ground. For a few moments the man continued to choke, his eyes bulging inhumanly, then he died, eventually drowning in his own blood. Then there was silence.

For a long while no one moved, no one spoke. Jess was silent and grim, Terry sniffling into Jess’ shoulder. Brian stood horror-struck. The realization of what had just happened came to him. A feeling of despair and guilt swept over him, even more so a feeling of nausea. He looked at his hands, soaked in blood, some his own but most that of the dead man before him. The color rushed out from his face and he bent over and hurled, the acidic bile forcing its way up and out of his throat. He was lightheaded, tears streamed down his face leaving trails where the dirt was cleaned away. He looked up and saw that the woman who was stabbed lay still and pale, her blood pooling around her. The crowd had started moving again. They walked around the corpses without a sound and without looking, pretending that they weren’t there. Brian looked to Jess and what he saw was disgust in her face. She held Terry’s face tightly against her body then started moving forward. Brian followed after her.

That had been a year and a half ago now, give or take a few months. It was hard to tell without a way to keep time. Brian still didn’t know what had come over him that day. Sure, he was protecting his family but clearly there was more to it. Something in him had snapped. The stress that had been building up had finally released itself on that man. Not that it mattered now. Brian had come to terms with killing some time ago now. It was just another necessary part of life.

He scratched at the beard under the clothe that covered his face. In the distance he heard the echoing of a gunshot. He stopped, pausing to listen for more. There were no further sounds. It wasn’t unusual to hear such things. It was generally just someone offing themselves. Most who survived this long ended up killing themselves. Even Brian saved one of his bullets for himself. Sometimes it was just easier. Other times it was the only choice.

The highway ahead sloped upwards then down blocking Brian’s view. He made his way up, trudging tirelessly through the layer of ash that covered everything. He glanced passingly at a speed limit sign and the car that had crashed into it. The sign pole was bent, the front of the car dented inward, and the windshield cracked. Brian stopped walking when something in the car caught his eye.

He moved towards the abandoned vehicle then stuck his head into the open passenger side window. The inside of the car was full of ash and smelt of rust and death. The item that had drawn Brian over was sitting on the dashboard. A zippo lighter. Brian picked it up and admired it in his hand. The steely metal was cool to the touch, the lighter only slightly tarnished. He flipped the top off and stared delighted as the orange flame flickered to life and danced in the wind. He snapped the lighter lid shut then look in the car once more. He reached in and opened the glove compartment. Inside were some crinkled papers, a candy wrapper, and a pack of cigarettes. He took the cigarettes and looked the package over.

He stuck a cigarette in his mouth, raised the lighter, and lit it. He closed his eyes and inhaled. With a sputtering cough he released a puff of smoke, his eyes watering from the harshness of the nicotine. It didn’t matter though. He felt better somehow. He took another long drag then turned around to go.

A man was standing there, his arm stretched out before him, his revolver aimed at Brian. The man said nothing for a while, just stood silently pointing his gun. He was tall and lean, his face gaunt and his clothes tattered and dirty. Ash had settled into the wrinkles on his face. His eyes were grey and tired looking. The wind tussled the white hairs of his goatee. He was grey, colorless, a lifeless husk. He was the reaper come to claim his prize.

Brain locked eyes with his killer. He stared deeply into the soulless empty eyes. Brian stuck the cigarette in his mouth, clenching the filter between his teeth. The orange glow of the cigarette was the only color along that desolate highway. “Good luck,” Brain said, his voice hoarse and dry. A metallic click and a bang were the sounds of Brian’s doom.

He lay on the ground staring up at the bleak grey sky. His body suddenly felt very cold and numb. He clutched at his stomach, warm blood seeping between his fingers. He could taste blood on his lips and knew that he was dying. Everything he’d done to survive had been for nothing. But he didn’t care. Survival didn’t matter anyways. Not anymore, not in this world. His mind wandered to a memory of Jess and Terry. He remembered the sun, bright and warm on his skin. He remembered Terry laughing and Jess smiling her beautiful smile. Brian closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then moved no more.

© 2014 Eric Krups


Author's Note

Eric Krups
Please be honest as I am trying to learn but be helpful not hateful. I'm only a highschool student and don't have any advanced schooling in writing

My Review

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Featured Review

I think it's good writing. The parts that i would consider adding or changing are the two senseless murderer parts. Some guy just stabs a woman then sees Brian and figures he'll stab him too? As a reader, i want to get more explanation. Is he just flipping nuts? Okay, tell me that or give me another reason.
The other part was the reaper. Was it the actual reaper or just another nut case walking around shooting people?
You can write though, in my opinion. Keep at it.

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Eric Krups

6 Years Ago

Thank you a lot for the advice. Honestly I would agree with you about the senseless stabbing, I may .. read more



Reviews

I think it's good writing. The parts that i would consider adding or changing are the two senseless murderer parts. Some guy just stabs a woman then sees Brian and figures he'll stab him too? As a reader, i want to get more explanation. Is he just flipping nuts? Okay, tell me that or give me another reason.
The other part was the reaper. Was it the actual reaper or just another nut case walking around shooting people?
You can write though, in my opinion. Keep at it.

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Eric Krups

6 Years Ago

Thank you a lot for the advice. Honestly I would agree with you about the senseless stabbing, I may .. read more

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Added on November 26, 2014
Last Updated on November 26, 2014
Tags: wanderer, highway, eric, krups, shortstory, story, short, apocalypse, post-apocaylpse, erickrups, drama, violence, survival