Sean narrowed his eyes into what was almost a squint as the high thin clouds scuttled away from under the sun making the glare from the sun even brighter than it had been a moment before. He was wearing cheap black plastic sunglasses over his prescription glasses mended at the corner with a bent and twisted staple where a tiny screw used to be. The sunglasses were a luxury in these times when the world required one’s constant attention if one wanted to live until the sun went down. Darkening one’s visual perspective with darkened lenses was dangerous, but the headache caused by eye stain from constantly squinting at the glare of the sun as it reflects off of the road and the flickering of the overgrown fields laid out as far as the horizon to either side of the road, as far as anyone could see, was also dangerous as the two-lane blacktop laid out straight into the distance until the vanishing point was always seemingly closing but never arriving like an eternally postponed tomorrow, shimmering with imaginary heat mirages that had the potential to lull a person into a trance and that was the most dangerous of all.
Sometimes there were traps set in the road and sometimes the traps were warned of in advance with signs painted on repurposed pieces of wood affixed to lengths of pole or pieces of metal stuck into the ground and skewed by the capricious intentions of seasonal winds. Sometimes the warnings were painted on the road itself in big block letters in whatever color of paint was most conveniently readily available at the time or in uneven spray-painted letters. The messages usually read along the lines of “TURN AROUND”, or “DEAD AHEAD”, or even simple pictographs of child-like scrawlings of skulls and crossbones but the message was always the same.
The message was always, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” The message was “Your final destination is ahead.” The message was “Death awaits.”
The message was always “The living need not apply.” or “There’s nothing for you up ahead, so you might as well save yourself the gas and time and effort and head back in the direction you came from.” but usually there was nothing in the direction you came from or there was something but that something was bad or dangerous and anything and anywhere seemed better than what you had left behind anyway so you went forward anyway hoping that maybe the next stop would be better than the last and sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t but you never know unless you go and almost anywhere is better than wherever you are except when it’s not.
The traps that were warned about in advance were usually the less dangerous. Busses resting on their axles across the road to prevent your progress. Boxes of metal designed to move groups of people rendered redundant since there was no reason to move people from one point to another and significantly fewer people to move even if they were of a mind to do so. Intentionally parked across the road and left to rust, the messages were usually painted across the broad side graffiti style. “NO MAN’S LAND AHEAD” and “TURN BACK WHILE YOU CAN”.
It was the traps that you weren’t warned about in advance that were dangerous. The bridges that had been washed out by flash floods or were unable to bear themselves up against the constant strain of gravity and the gradual disintegration by the oxidizing effect of rust which is what almost always happens when most metals are left to the merciless attentions of water and air. The monuments made by man seemed so eternal when there were people around to see to the needs of their buildings and bridges. But as is often said, time destroys everything and nothing is permanent.
Sean was fine with traveling alone by daylight despite the risks because without any other people to worry about there was less to worry about overall. Sure it would have been nice to have someone along for the ride to help to kill the seemingly endless time. A woman or another man but preferably a woman because of the other. Their softer voices and softer skins. But companionship also means another mouth to feed and another life to watch over and another bladder to listen to the insistent demands of on the road.
Worthwhile companions were in short supply since the world ended. Hunger and fear and self-interest usually worked against the human instinct to operate as a social animal and in the absence of this instinctual drive, the worse natures of humans were brought to the fore as a constant character.
To survive in the world that was, now that the world that used to be was over, everyone had to do the opposite of what they had always been taught to do unto each other as they would have done unto themselves. Everyone that did not kill and steal and covet the possessions of others would be killed and stolen from by those that coveted what little they had and would not survive.