In the beginning - Day 4 ACE
My memory isn’t what it used to be but there are things I remember with utmost clarity. This is one of those moments. It was the fourth night of my new life. This new life of mine started on July 1st, 2018, and it began the way most lives do, with a lot of confusion and a fair bit of crying. Day one consisted of me running around in a panic, trying to figure out what to do. Late on that day, I came up with a plan that was borne of desperation and would likely result in my death but it didn’t matter. I’ll fast forward through the first few days of this new world as there’s not a lot to tell as things were still fairly orderly if only because it existed in a state of shock. Now on day four, still being a literal babe in these new woods, I would come to fully understand how well and truly screwed we all were.
I traveled down the mighty St. John river for the last four days and nights by kayak. My wife and I had been avid kayakers so it made sense I would choose that as my mode of transport in absence of any working cars. Paddling down the river was normally a stunning and peaceful experience. There were no major cities along its banks between Fredericton, where my journey started, and Saint John and there were many spots where it seemed like you were the only person on the planet. Both sides of the river bank showcased a variety of magnificent trees, now in full bloom. If I could have ignored the fact the world had been plunged into chaos, this would be one of the most surreal journeys one could take.
Travelling by river, it would be about a five day paddle, maybe longer, depending on how hard I pushed myself. The panic and adrenaline the first couple of days helped me cover decent ground with impressive speed, despite the heat of those early July days. Then the rains started, the back gave out and blisters formed on my hands. It slowed me to a crawl.
When I grew tired of the rain beating down on my bald head and trying to wipe the raindrops from my glasses, I knew it was time. When my body finally screamed at me for mercy, I gave in and tapped out for the night. I had no way to tell what time it was without a watch but my body and brain told me it was well past my bedtime. Dusk had given way to total darkness some time earlier but I refused to give in for the night. I needed to keep going until my body told me otherwise. That time had come with spasms, aches and bleeding hands. I put out by a small clearing along the river bank where I could set up camp for the night. There was a space void of trees big enough for a tent but with still enough tree cover to offer some shelter from the rain. With some difficulty, I found a few logs that were still dry enough to burn and soon had a fire suitable for warmth and cooking.
I reached into the storage area of my kayak, which I had beached along the shore, for my supper. It had everything I would need...camping supplies, food rations, water, a machete and a few other necessities. I also brought along a heavy duty tarp, which was already acting as my temporary shelter once I had tied it to a cluster of nearby trees. I also managed to form walls of a fashion and decided it would have to do until I had the energy to put up the tent.
I grabbed a bottle of water from my quickly dwindling supplies, despite my best efforts to ration it.
Part of those supplies included water purification tablets which were for emergencies only and I wasn't there yet. I also hauled out a protein bar and a package of dried, ready to eat meal. On menu tonight was something called Macaroni and Cheese but it bore little resemblance to what I knew by that same name. It tasted like clumps of shit with orange stuff that was trying to pass for cheese. As much as I loathed this crap, It was better than starving. I threw the bag into the small pot of water I had placed on top of the fire and waited for it to boil. I chowed down on my protein bar while I was waiting.
For the first time in my life I realized how dark the night is. Without the lights from the city, the darkness appeared to be unnatural. I had grown up in a time where mankind had taken the fear and mystery out of the dark. It had now come back with a vengeance. The occasional sudden flashes of lightning lit up the night sky for a quick second, like a huge bomb going off in the distance. Hot on the heels of the flash was a deafening clap of thunder. The planet was pissed and it was making itself heard. I felt primal on that night as I huddled around my tiny fire; scared, wet and alone. It’s not that I was afraid of the dark but rather I was afraid of not knowing what was in that darkness with me.
I had used the time-tested method of counting seconds between the flash and the boom. I was at about one second now; the storm was right on top of me. It made me uneasy as I waited for a bolt to hit my camp and fry me like a fine steak. I huddled as close as I dare to the fire but it still didn’t take the shivers away. The rain soaked my clothing through to my skin. My skin was so cold it was had a burning sensation to it. I only had a hoodie on for a jacket which had worn out its usefulness hours ago. No matter how much you try to think of everything, you can’t. For some reason, I couldn’t think of a rain jacket as essential when I left home on a bright sunny day. The shaking was only due in part to the cold rain that soaked me, mostly it was caused by my anxiety and fear. No fire could be hot enough to take that away.
Shaking in the cold and picking at my meager rations, I thought about the last time I spoke to my wife. It seemed so long ago but in fact, it’s just been 4 days. She had gone up to the northern part of the province before everything went sideways, to a place called Campbellton. This was a small little berg where nothing ever happened but it was home to her family. Her daughter was about to give birth to our first grandchild and she wanted to be there for her.
I wonder if she’s had the baby yet; I thought.
I continued to pick absently at my meal while I thought about our last conversation.
June 30th, 2018 Common Era (CE)
“It’s going to blow over, I promise.” I had told her then. “There's no way they're going to hit anywhere near us, we’re too small and not worth their time”
I was lying and we both knew it. There was plenty to worry about but there was no sense in talking about it and get everyone all worked up. Terrorist attacks were hardly new but this time, everything felt different.
“I know I’m worrying about nothing and it’ll pass,” my wife, Laura, remarked, trying more to convince herself than me. “I just wish you had taken some time off and came up with us.”
“We’ll be together soon enough, I promise”
I wish I had never said those words. Thinking back now, it was a damn fool thing to say and just dared the fates to throw in their five cents worth, which they had done, in spades.
We continued to discuss what was happening around the world and it was terrifying. It began in the early morning of June 30th as peop...