The ever-present breeze by Daniel J Collins
Visit Daniel J Collins's page

He sat for a while after the car had sputtered to a stop, the tank empty. His was not the only car along the side of the road. Had he not pulled over when he felt the car give up the ghost, his car would not have been the only car in the middle of the road. The car in the front of his was a burned out hulk; the last remnant of the conflagration still wisping away in the ever-present breeze that drug across his face through the open window. The breeze was a constant since the event. It was an unnatural breeze. To say that it blew from East to West would fail to describe its movement. It did not originate from some distance source that you happened to pass through; it felt as if it was being pulled from the outside towards a central location that had used up all of its air and now required the air of others. He sometimes imagined that he was on the edge of a vacuum. If he walked just a few steps away, the breeze would lessen nearly to the point of imperceptibility. This, for a reason he could not explain, made him uncomfortable. He supposed that he had become used to the feeling, the constant tugging, and didn't want to lose anything else. He had had his fill go losing things in the recent unpleasantness. On the other hand, if he traveled too far in the direction of the breeze, he was sure the pull would become irresistible. This, too, made him uncomfortable as there were moments where that was very tempting; the desire to be consumed almost overwhelming. For the time being, the balancing act was acceptable.

His mind drifted away from the breeze as he began a mental inventory of his car. When he loaded his car before leaving home, he had thought his choices had been quite frugal and practical. Now that he had to make decisions about what he would be able to carry on his back, he was astonished that he brought so much from a life that no longer existed. What in the world was he thinking when he packed his mother's typewriter. He had no paper and many of the keys were stuck; yet he had spent twenty minutes rearranging the contents of the trunk to make sure it had a place. His parents had died long before the event and he had no siblings, so there were none who could condemn him for leaving the typewriter to the fates, as he had done with his computer and flat screen TV, but he felt a guilt that he could not ignore or explain as he sat in the driveway, his car idling in preparation for his departure. He cursed under his breath and turned off the ignition before going inside to retrieve the typewriter where it had remained for a number of years after he had taken it from his parents' house after his father had died a short nine months after his mother's death from uterine cancer. His mother had always wanted to be a writer and had bought the typewriter for that purpose. Life seemed to have other plans for her despite the purchase.He knew that she had secret hopes that he would make use of the typewriter in ways that she had not been able to, especially after he had won a short story contest in the sixth grade. He never quite got around to opening the case of the typewriter when she was alive. An uncomfortable feeling began to grow in his stomach that felt quite similar to guilt and he knew as he climbed out of the car that he would be carrying that typewriter somewhere on his back.

The ever-present breeze was a degree stronger outside the car and it blew his hair into his eyes. He reached back into the car to grab his black baseball hat that he had worn for years. It had not been easy to find a hat that did not have either a sports mascot or corporate logo. He had purchased it from an embroidery shop that stocked them for little league teams and local businesses. The shopkeeper had charged him as if he had sewn a logo onto the hat, but he didn't mind. He always felt like a walking billboard wearing hats with logos and couldn't understand paying a company to advertise for them. He had used the hat to reign in his hair, which was long enough to get into his eyes but not long enough to pull into a ponytail. He tool a moment to look at the area that would be the final resting place for his Ford Crown Victoria that he had purchased used after hearing from a friend it was the car the cops used and was very fast. He should have been suspicious there was more to the story when he saw the person selling the car was a little old lady who didn't look like she had done anything fast for sometime, let alone drive, but no such thoughts crossed his mind as he gladly paid the woman's asking price of $1,000, thinking he had found the deal of the century. It wasn't until he questioned his father when his car had not lived up to expectations that he found out the model the police drove was the "Police Interceptor" and he was driving a luxury model that did not include the bigger motor and increased horsepower. Despite the initial disappointment, he had grown quite fond of the car and didn't just want to leave it anywhere.

He was in-between towns on an interstate heading west when the car ran out of gas. The last town had been largely abandoned; a trend that was on the rise after the event as people began to gather in the larger cities. Gas was rapidly becoming harder to get and as such, the distribution of goods diminished. The smaller, outlying suburbs and more isolated towns simply couldn't get anything shipped to them. He had pulled into the gas station, without much hope, and wasn't surprised to find the pumps off and an "out of business" sign in the window. He shielded his eyes against the setting sun to look in the window of the gas station and found much of the contents of the convenience store either missing or strewn about, broken on the floor. He tried the door and found it unlocked. He wondered if the owner had simply not bothered to lock it when he left, knowing he would never return. He walked slowly through the store, not wanting to slip on the mix of fluids on the floor from the many broken bottles. The store seemed to be a victim of both vandalism and theft, if it could be called theft if the business had been abandoned. Both were on the rise. He made his way to the counter and found a display of maps largely untouched. He felt guilty taking the maps, but there was no way to pay for them he argued with the face of his father in the back of his head. He had been caught by his father stealing from his mother's purse while in high school. His father said nothing and walked out of the room. It would not be the last time he would disappoint his father with his decisions. His mother never knew about it and he had not taken so much as a pen from work since that day. It seemed that the event was making people do a lot of things they wouldn't normally do. He was not surprised to find the drawer of the cash register open and empty, but there was no way to know if the owner had left it that way when he left for who knows where. He walked out of the store and drove away, knowing his car would soon need to be left behind.

He briefly considered pushing his car off the road to a group of trees not far from the side of the road to offer it some protection against looters and vandals, but dismissed it as foolish a moment later and walked to the rear of the car. Despite not having the power he wanted, the car did have an enormous trunk and he had been able to put quite a bit in the back of the car. This blessing quickly became a burden as he realized how much he would be leaving behind. He didn't have a specific destination in mind when he first decided to leave his home, he just knew that it was a long way to the coast and thought he might have trouble finding what he needed on the journey. About half of the trunk was taken up by canned food and bottled water. The remaining space held clothing, three extra pairs of hiking boots, various "essentials" like his laptop computer and a collection of his favorite DVDs, and of course, his mother's typewriter. He had been a regular camper before the event, one of the few activities he had his father had done together, and his backseat held many of the camping supplies that had been removed from the trunk to make room for the typewriter. He began to calculate the weight of the food and water and realized he would be leaving more than he would be taking with him. Next to the canned food was a box of military MREs, which was basically dehydrated food that soldiers are given that his father always brought on their camping trips. He assumed his father had developed a taste for these during his time in the Marines, though he always found them much too dry, no matter how much water you added to them. He was thankful for his father's addiction to the food packs as he calculated how much of these he would be able to carry with him instead of canned food. He spread a tarp on the road behind his car and began to set out items he felt that he needed to pack to see if it would all fit.

It took the better part of an hour to sort through the items he had packed in the trunk and another twenty minutes to determine how to make it fit in his hiking backpack and duffle bag. The backpack had a metal frame integrated into it that allowed the wearer to carry more weight than he could with a normal backpack and he decided this was the bag for his supplies. In his duffle bag, he would put the lion share of his clothes. He thought that if he had to dump this bag in an emergency, he would rather have food than clothes. He didn't care if he smelled from dirty clothes, but he did mind if he had to hike on an empty stomach. In his hiking backpack, he placed some heavier winter clothes at the bottom to act as a cushion for his mother's typewriter. He didn't bother trying to rationalize with himself for he knew that typewriter was coming no matter what. He placed another layer of clothes to protect the top and filled most of the remaining space with MREs and as much bottled water as he thought his back could handle. He included a few cans of peaches and green beans, which were his favorite and some folded camping toilet paper. On top of all this, he added his mother's bible. He had not opened a bible in some time, but its inclusion was inevitable as the typewriter. He knew right away he was not going to take his laptop, but he did remove the hard drive and placed it in the duffle bag with the clothes and one of the three pairs of extra boots he had in the trunk. Before closing the hiking backpack, he went back to the trunk and opened a lacquered mahogany box. He tool from it the one item his father has specifically mentioned in his will. It was a nickel-plated M1911 handgun. This he placed next to the bible and then closed the backpack.

He strapped many of the camping supplies to the sides of the backpack with the straps intended for that purpose and attached a roll to the bottom that contained a sleeping bag, a tarp, and a one-man tent. After attaching the remaining two pair of hiking boots to the sides of the backpack, he was ready to leave. He placed the backpack on the hood of the car to make it easier to put on and went to the back of the car to close the lid on the food and other items he would be leaving. He paused for a minute and decided to close the lid to keep the weather off the items in the trunk, but left the keys in the lock. At some point, someone was going to be going through this car there was no reason they needed to pry the lock open. He smiled at his act of charity and foresight. He took a couple of deep breaths in anticipation of the weight of the backpack and shouldered the burden. He took a couple of steps to get his balance and returned to his car to pick up his duffel bag. He placed a hand on the hood and kicked the tires one last time before turning head out on the road.


He traveld about ten miles before he decided to stop for the night. The sun was not far from setting when he left his car and did not feel that he should walk much in the night as road maintenance on the more isolated spots of the interstate was a low priority in the best of times, and this was not the best of times. This part of the country was relatively flat and he hiked for a bit before he felt that he was sufficiently hidden behind a low rising hill. He unstrapped a solar-powered LED lamp from the backpack and began to set up camp. He ate his MRE with the same scowl his father always rolled his eyes at and turned in early; knowing that tomorrow was going to be the first of many days of long walks.

Sleep was long in coming. He knew that his car was not going to get him all the way to the coast, but he had hoped it was going to get him through the mountains. It was late summer and he imagined that he would get to the mountains by early to mid fall. He doubted that he would be in the mountains during the winter, but he knew that there were some cold nights in his future. He was wondering what he was going to find when he got to the coast as he fell asleep.

A low roar worked its way into his dreams and he woke to find that it wasn't a product of his sub-conscious. The sound was coming from the east and was increasing in volume. It took a moment for him to identify the roar as that of an approaching vehicle, a large truck by the sound of it. He wasn't concerned or interested, even though it had been two days since he had seen anymore, let alone a car. It wasn't until he heard a crash that he exited his tent and crawled up the low hill that shielded his camp from the road. He saw two sets of headlights racing the same direction he had been walking. One was definitely a large truck and the other was a sedan of some type. The vehicles did not interest him though. The orange glow of fire behind the cars seemed to be more significant. It cam from the many cars that lined the interstate and he could not imagine what had caused them to catch on fire. He only had to ponder this for a moment as he saw a glowing object fly from the truck and burst into flames as it struck a smaller pickup truck. The lights of the car in front began to swerve and he realized how fast the car must be going. He couldn't imagine why someone would drive so fast on a road full of cars or why they would waste so much gas when the truck surged forward and rammed the car from behind. His eyes widened when the situation became clear in his mind and he lowered himself to his stomach. As the cars came closer, he could hear voices he assumed were coming from the truck. He couldn't understand the hoots and hollers but the tone was all he needed to hear for him to slide down the hill on his stomach. He crawled back into his tent, thankful that he had not turned on his LED lamp when he first woke to the sound of the cars. The cars collided again not long after they had passed his position and it sounded like the car in front had not been able to avoid some abandoned car in the road. The voices raised again in volume, though they were too far to be understood. He reached into his backpack and pulled out the handgun his father has left for him. He did not remember falling asleep that night.

His eyes opened suddenly and he knew that he had slept, but he was not rested. He didn't know how long he had slept; he just knew that it was nearing dawn. The gun was still in his hand. He looked at it and saw that the safety was off and his finger had been on the trigger. He was thankful he hadn't shot himself during the night by accident. He switched on the safety and laid it next to him as he got out of his sleeping bag and prepared to make breakfast. The air had the smell of smoke on it and he could see a number of grey columns rising into the sky. The smokey air made the MRE seem more dry than normal and had a smell in it that he couldn't identify but it ruined his appetite none the less. He was quick in the breakdown of his campsite and headed out towards the road. As soon as he came from around the hill into the open field, he could feel the ever-present breeze on his face. He had expected this and paid it no mind until he got out on the road. Many of the cars were still smoldering and the air was thick and difficult to breath. He was about to walk back into the field to get to cleaner air when something didn't add up in his mind. The breeze felt as if it was blowing from the direction of the cars towards the field, yet the smoke rose into the sky as if the air was still. This bothered him and he wasn't sure how to process it. He felt suddenly exposed and turned around quickly, expecting to see a truck. He saw nothing but decided that he needed to get moving again. It was when he finally turned west that he saw the smoke was in front of him as well.

It took about ten minutes of walking to come to a car that was smashed into another car in the center of the road. Both cars were still burning. The smell that had turned his stomach earlier was very strong new and he assumed that it came from one or both of these cars. He walked wide to the right of the wreck, his eyes blinking often, trying to clear the smoke. He could not help but look, even though he was sure he was going to see something that was not gotten to be forgotten quickly. He saw the body behind the wheel first. He could not tell whether it had been a man or a woman. It was the same color as the car. He found that the gun was back in his hand, though he didn't remember reaching into his waistband to retrieve it. As he passed the car, he continued to turn to face it, not wanting it to be out of his sight or aim. When he felt that he was a safe distance from the car, far enough to have time to turn around in the burned corpse suddenly decided to get up and chase him, he turned his back to the car. He regretted it immediately. In the road was a half-naked woman. She was clearly dead as her face was beaten into the road. The clothes that were still on her body were torn open and the remaining clothes were strewn about the road, many of them partially burnt. Much of her body had been blacken by the fire, the worse being her hands, nearly unrecognizable. She had either gotten out of the car or was pulled from it before she succumbed to the flames as her companion had. He fell to his knees and emptied his stomach of both his breakfast and the dinner from the previous night. There were wounds all over her body and it looked as if one of her breasts were partially removed. He turned his face away and wiped it with his sleeve. His closed his eye and immediately opened them. The image of the woman was burned it. He groped around without turning his head. He had dropped the gun when he vomited. His hand found the barrel and he drew the gun to himself. He stood slowly and started down the road. He stopped after only a few steps before removing his backpack. He removed the tarp from the roll attached to the bottom of his backpack. With his eyes partially closed so as to limit what he could see, he load the tarp over the woman. He gathered some debris from the crash to weigh down the edges of the tarp so it would not blow away in the ever-present breeze. The form of the woman under the tarp was no easier to look at and he quickly walked away.

He walked all day without stopping. He wanted to be a far away from the accident as possible. He didn't think to look to see if he could figure out what direction the truck had went, but there was no way he was going to turn around. When he finally stopped for the night, he was exhausted and ravenous. He ate two MREs and a can of peaches. Even though he had found a patch of trees that completely hid him from the road, he at in the dark, not turning on his LED lamp. He woke often during the night, thinking he heard the sound of an engine, but nothing was coming or going on the distant road.

He continued in this way for many days; walking all day, eating in the dark, and sleep that provided little rest. His father's gun was constantly in his hand. It was an uncomfortable companion. Before the event, he had been a pacifist. It had been the main source of tension between he and his father. His father was a Marine who felt honored to be allowed to serve his country and had fought in both wars in the Middle East. He had assumed when he had a sin, he would follow in his footsteps. He remembered the look on his father's face when he told him that he had no plans to enter the military when he graduated high school. His father had initially misunderstood what he was saying and said that he expected him to go to college first so he could be an officer. The conversation went down hill from there.

[this conversation will be revised]

"No, I'm not going in after college either.I'm a pacifist."

"You're what?"

"A pacifist. I don't believe in war."

His father slowly breathed in a few times before responding.

"Pacifism is a luxury paid for with the blood of soldiers."

He had expected his father to say something like that. His father thought everything was paid for with the blood of soldiers. He defiantly stood his ground.

"No man has the right to take the life of another."

His father stared at him for another few seconds. When he spoke, his voice was controlled and measured.

"I can only imagine what you must think of me."

His father left without saying another word.

[this will include something about baby-killers and drop the last line at least, probably the no man line as well.]

It was raining the next morning when he woke and he was shaking. He assumed he had caught a chill during the night and got ready to get moving for the day. He pulled a heavy coat from the backpack and packed up camp without eating breakfast. He walked in a daze and stumbled more than once. Each time, it took a little longer to get up. He begun to worry that he had something more serious than a chill. The rain continued through most of the day and the sun never broke through the clouds. Walking in the constant grey lulled him into a waking sleep. He kept moving but his eyes were closed as often as they were open. He often found himself drifting off the road and would stagger back only to wander off again as the road sloped to the left. He continued to stumble off and on the road for a while longer until he looked up to see two lights directly in front of him. His hands rose to protect himself from what he was sure were the headlights of the truck bearing down on him. He fired the gun without aiming and fell backwards as he stepped off the road again, the weight of his backpack pulling him down. The grey turned to black as his eyes closed.

He woke the next morning on his back. He opened his eyes and saw that they sky was still grey but it was no longer raining. He lifted his head as best he could with the backpack weighing him down like a turtle. He could see a farmhouse in the distance. He rolled to his side and was able to get back on his feet. He was soaked but could tell that his fever had broken in the night. He was starving and ate where he had woken. He figured that either the house was empty or they couldn't see him from where he had collapsed. The food in his stomach sat a little uneasy, having been empty for sometime. As he let the food settle, he got a better look at his surroundings. He now understood why no one could have seen him from the house. He had fallen down a slope that led into a ditch. He was looking around when he heard a sound that cause his breath to freeze in his chest. It was the sound of a truck speeding down the road. He rolled into the ditch and lay a still as he could. He was no more than 15 feet from the road and he could smell the exhaust as the truck passed by him. Even though was face-down in the ditch, he could tell the truck was heading in the direction of the house. He could hear the same voices hooting and hollering as they came to a stop. He raised himself up on his elbows as the voices disappeared into the house. He would have crawled away until he was sure that he couldn't be seen and get as much distance as possible between him and the house except that he heard a new voice among the cacophony; it was the cries of a young woman.


His heart was pounding in his ears and he felt as if he might throw up again. He gulped some air and laid face down for some time. He had tried to cover his ears when he heard screaming coming from the house, carried his way on the ever-present breeze, but his hands offered no refuge, no escape. As the light of the day faded into night, so did the voices. He had lain in the ditch all day and was stiff from the cold and the immobility. He slowly rolled onto his side so he could wiggle out of his backpack, which had weighed heavy on him all day. Free of the backpack, he pulled out his father's gun and checked the magazine. It was one bullet short of being fully loaded, the missing bullet having been fired the night before in his fever. He slipped the magazine back into the gun and started walking towards the house.

Once he got near the house, he worked his way around the back where he saw no lights. He did a complete circle, ending next to the truck. It was red and was lifted for off-road use. The front of the vehicle had three desiccated heads attached to the front grille. He wasn't sure but he thought two had been men and one a woman. He felt the familiar taste of bile rise in his throat once again, but this time he controlled his body's reaction to the inhuman display. He had counted four men entering the house when they had arrived earlier in the day. He knelt by the truck, keeping it between he and the house. He had not thought about what he was going to do and was at a loss. It wasn't until he recognized the smell of turpentine coming from the truck that an idea began to form in his head. He climbed into the back of the truck, keeping an eye on the house, and found a box of bottles with rags stuffed in the opening. The bottles reeked of a number of flammable chemicals. He took two bottle out of the box and placed them on the ground next to the truck. He then emptied a few of the bottles into the bed of the truck and one on the porch next to the truck. He took a lighter from his pocket and lit one of the bottle still in the back of the truck. He then grabbed the remaining two bottles and ran around to the back of the house. The fire in the truck spread quickly and it was soon engulfed.

He did not have to wait long to hear voices from within the house. Three men ran out of the front door. Two of the men were naked to the waist and all three carried weapons. Two carried bats, the third had a shotgun. All three looked in the direction of the trunk and he did not give them the opportunity to turn to see him. He lit one of the Molotov cocktails and threw it at the men's feet, igniting the floorboards that he had previously soaked with the contents of a bottle from the truck. Flames erupted into existence around the men, causing them to drop their weapons in a primal response to an old enemy of man. He dropped to one knee and shot all three men. He avoided killing shots, wanting the men to burn like the man and the woman on the road had burned. The men fell to the burning boards and screamed in both pain and impotent rage, unable to extricate themselves from the fire. There was a time he hated his father for making him go to the firing range and teaching him how to shoot. This was not one of those times.

He smashed a nearby window and crawled in to find the remaining man and the girl. The screams of the men outside rang clearly through the house so he had no illusions about finding his final target unawares. He walked carefully from room to room on the first floor, keeping an eye on the flames spreading from the front porch into the house. Even amid the flames and his fury, he was still sickened by the condition of the house. Rotting food was everywhere and there was evidence to suggest that either the bathrooms were not working or that the current tenants hadn't bothered to use them. The smell was nearly overwhelming, but recent events had taught him to control his gag reflex. There was also evidence of other victims. A quick survey of the clothes told him that age was not a determining factor in the choice of their victims. At this, the bile rose again in his throat and he ran upstairs with less caution than he would had he not seen the child's underwear in the corner of the room.

He paid for this lack of caution. A sensation like fire consumed his shoulder as a shot rang out. He quickly fell to the ground and rolled to the side, felling a second bullet streak past his head. He tried to get his feet back underneath him as he expected a third shot any second. The shot never came and he was instead tackled back to the ground. A naked man attacked him the fury of an animal, biting and clawing at his face and arms. The attack caused him to drop his father's gun as he fought for life against this creature that had once been a man, but who could no longer be called as such. The attack was relentless and he could not get a grip as the thing was naked and covered in sweat. He felt a fear growing in his stomach as he realized that he would not be able to fight this thing off and a panic was not long in coming. He let go of the arms of the monster and started grabbing wildly around him, desperate to find something to use against the unstoppable force on top of him. The creature squealed in delight at the absence of resistance and grasped his neck tightly in both hands. Dark spots and flashes of light swam in his vision almost immediately as the supply of oxygen was cut off to his brain. The failing of his hands lessened and was near to stopping when the back of his hand fell on a piece of molding that had fallen from the ceiling in the recent past. With the remaining seconds of his consciousness, he smashed the molding into the face of the creature. Spittle, blood, and teeth fell from the creature's mouth. The creature pulled back from the blow and lessened the grip on his throat ever so slightly so that some air made it to his brain. This cleared his vision long enough to see the destroyed mouth spread into a smile, as if the damage had caused him some perverse pleasure, and it was then he knew that he was going to die. As the grip on his throat tightened once again, the distorted smile widened for a moment before it burst apart in a deluge of blood, bone, teeth, and brain, drenching him in effluence. The body collapsed on him immediately and gasped painfully for breath through his tortured throat. He squirmed out from under the corpse to find a young girl, who could be more than thirteen years old, holding his father's gun, the last remaining wisps from the detonation of gun powder escaping from the barrel into the air. She, like the woman in the road, was naked from the waist down. She held the gun aimed in his direction for a moment before turning around and walking into a room off the hall. As he was getting to his feet, a second gunshot rang throughout the house. He didn't bother to see what had happened. He simply retrieved his gun from where it had fallen from her hand and covered her with filthy blanket he found in the corner of the room. By this time, the flames were licking up the side of the house and he rushed down the stairs, covering his mouth as best he could from the smoke. Once outside, he collapsed what he thought was a safe distance from the inferno and wept.


All that remanded of the house was the concrete foundation that the house was built upon and a blackened chimney. His shoulder throbbed where he had been shot, though the wound proved to be superficial. He would not be able to carry his backpack as it was now and he went through it in an attempt to lighten the load. After sometime he had made his decision and left the smoldering house behind. He walked with a step that was both lighter and heavier at the same time. He knew that new burdens had been placed on his mind and his heart, and that to handle them, he needed to let some others go. His mother's typewriter sat on the foundation of the house he had burnt down. A paper torn from the back pages of the bible he carried with him was in the typewriter.

The words came in and out view as the paper was moved by the ever-present breeze.