I dropped my empty canteen 2 days ago. There was no need to carry it any longer. The water, if any was to be found, had been poisoned by the fallout. The creek I crossed yesterday, or was it this morning has been inviting but the voice in the back of my mind said differently. I waded across and headed in the general direction of the Helicopter I had heard after dark. My best guess was it was heading to Vandenberg. Maybe they had water. Maybe they had food too. Each step brought me closer to a meal, to a morsel of food that I could wash down with clean water. All I had to do was find the base and I’d be safe.
I stopped and leaned against the nearest wall. I licked the sweat off my arm. It was salty and moist. For a moment it satiated my thirst and relieved the dry feeling in my mouth. I could almost feel saliva moistening my cheeks. I slid down the wall and let my legs kick out from underneath me. I was in the shade for the moment and the cool air was welcome. The only sound was of my breathing and the rush of blood pumping in my ears. There wasn’t one living creature anywhere. Thinking back I hadn’t seen a bird, cricket or mosquito since I parachuted in with the rest of the tactical team 3 days ago. Alpha team had been responsible for disarming the device and my team, Tac Team IV was responsible for evac. There would be no evac now. Surely the device had detonated and infected every living thing within its kill zone. The bank vault and 6 inch steel door I was standing next two shielded me from the silent blast.
Sargent Lattimore was barking out some order to fan out when he and the others all crumpled to the ground. Then the birds fell from the sky and the insects fluttered down last. I was alone to make my way to Vandenberg and the waiting helo that would take be to safety.
Across the street from me was a grocery store, inviting me with posters of Peaches and Polish ham, $2.95 a pound. I crawled across, weaving my way past bodies beginning to swell up from the summer heat. Another day or two and I’d have to do something about the smell, but in 2 days I’d be in Vandenberg in a nice infirmary cot sucking juice through a straw.
I tried to climb over a line of 20 shopping carts to get to the grocery store but my flak jacket got snagged in one of the cart and I couldn’t get loose. I rested for a bit, all twisty and awkward in fabric and wire. I knew I’d be safe here as anywhere so I rested.
Years later a helicopter from Vandenberg flew low over the grocery store, sniffing the air for poisons. The prop wash blew my bone fragments across the parking lot and they sounded much like autumn leaves blowing down the street at night.