The Trip Back

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An exercise in setting detail, "The Trip Back" is a look into a moment with two brothers in a post-apocalyptic setting as the venture back to their home town that was destroyed.

Submitted: September 25, 2014

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 25, 2014



The sound of the water brushing up against the boat was all that Bayne could focus on. It was soothing, calm, and shallow. It helped to easy his troubled mind, like therapy among chaos. He closed his eyes and listened carefully as the boat sliced through the water, splashing and curling out of the way of its keel. Every now and then a piece of debris would clank against the sides, accenting the orchestra of splashes and then topple away, unwanted and forgotten. The hum of the motor and the churning of the water at its propellers kept rhythm with the music of their venture. A thin layer of mist blanketed the gargantuan lake, parting as the boat moved through it. Unlike any other mist, its dampness was still and smelt burnt, like the aroma of an extinguished fire. It had a way of encompassing all, marching its stench into the nose and lungs of those who ventured into it. This wasn't the first time this trip was made. There were many trips taken to the Quarantine Zone, or as the survivors had come to call it, The Ash; trips not sanctioned by government but pursued out of necessity, out of longing, out of hope.

Lights from the sky had scorched the earth, like a magnifying class to an ant hill leaving only ash in its wake and a new name to suit it. This was the first time Bayne had been back to The Ash, since that morning the world changed. He tried to picture in his mind his old red-brick house and wide-open back yard, the park on Main Street with all the trees, and the happy people of his neighborhood. None of that existed now, at least not as he remembered. He was scared to go back, scared of what he might see. Or, truthfully, what he might not.

The old tuna can of a boat continued to creep along towards the crispy shore of The Ash. Every now and then Bayne's brother Aydon, who had the delicate job of steering the boat through the debris left from the scorching, and who was leading this particular venture, would swerve quickly around larger pieces of debris, causing the boat to shift and away. Pat, the third member of their party, was the embodiment of motion sickness. Rocking too hard in a rocking chair would turn him greener than the sea, and sicker than sick, so it took everything he had not to loose it completely as they piddled on. Pat grew up across the street from Aydon and Bayne and the three of them spent just about every moment together. From the driveway playing street hockey as kids to sitting in a boat outside of a designated Quarantine Zone, the three of them had always remained together. Pat tried with all his might not to hurl. The rocking and the churning, and that god awful stench; the levy seemed primed for bursting and Pat moaned in anticipation.

"Shut it, Pat!" Aydon whispered harshly, giving Pat a shove. "We're almost there, keep it together."

Bayne, lost in the trance of the water, opened his eyes and looked ahead, shocked to realize how right his brother was. He was hesitant when his older brother told him he was going; he had no desire really to return. As The Ash slowly became more visible through the mist, his uneasiness grew like a festering bug bite begging to be scratched. Their outpost on Beaver Island was running low on supplies. Most homes in Michigan had basements, and most people were smart enough to load those basements with canned goods and other emergency supplies. Aydon always led the search parties and each time Bayne stayed back. He always saw his older brother as the strong leader type. Even in high school on the varsity football team, Aydon was the star. He made a name for himself his sophomore year coming into the state championship game as the second string quarter back. The starter came out after suffering a mild concussion, leaving Aydon with a demoralized team, down by two touchdowns with little time left to play. Aydon hadn't played a single game that season, but his team was in need and he was going to give it his all. He led their team to a comeback victory that year, taking home the championship title and setting the tone for himself and for the rest of his high school career. Bayne looked on to his brother, who only sitting three feet away looking somber and stern, hadn’t noticed he was being stared at. Bayne always thought his brother looked like Captain America. With the neatly cropped hair, the chiseled jaw line, and the stout muscular body, Aydon was a spandex suit away from having his own comic book. But that was eons ago. The thought of high school, of football, even comic books seemed like something out of ancient history; something out of a dream. Suddenly, Bayne was immediately brought back to the present as a decent-sized thud hit the boat.

Bayne looked down and saw the carcass of some animal floating in the water. He couldn't tell what it was, or what it used to be for that matter. Its translucent flesh with patches of hair bobbed against the boat as it passed. Its eyes were missing and there were slashes in its abdomen. Images of a long forgotten Halloween party flashed into Bayne's mind. The carcass was a giant apple in the midst of other smaller apples. Thud, again it hit the side of the boat and like a flash flood, Bayne was brought back to the dismal world. Pat, upon seeing the carcass, doubled over the side of the boat, dry heaving like mad. They hadn't eaten much in the last few days so there wasn't much to throw up. Aydon gave him a quick kick, but the man continued to gag. Pat was a tall, lanky fellow with greasy long black hair and a sunken-in face. The stress of survival had caused him to lose most of his hair though, which he found dreadfully disheartening having barely turned twenty-four. He and Aydon were the same age. Bayne was a year younger, with light brown hair and a smile that would crack the hardest of hearts. There wasn't much to smile about though these days.

"Pat, for the love of god! Cork it!" Aydon whispered harshly, this time a bit more hoarse. "I don't feel like dying today!"

"That shit was nasty bro," Pat mumbled as he sat up straight, a gloved hand wiping spittle off of his mouth. "Couldn't help myself."

Bayne ignored them and focused on what lied ahead. The charred ground of the shore became visible through the mist. And the stale, dense aroma of death suddenly filled their nostrils as The Ash came closer into view.

"Kill the motor," Bayne whispered. Aydon heeded his brother and Bayne hopped out into about six inches of water, grabbing the boat side and guiding it up on shore. Pat bumbled out and crawled up shore and fell flat on the ground.

"I'm never coming on one of these damn trips again," he mumbled. Bayne grabbed a supply bag from the boat and slung it over his shoulder. Walking up to Pat, he leaned down and helped him to his feet. Once Aydon secured the boat, he grabbed a second supply bag and an old .22 rifle. Black barrel with a fine wood finish, Aydon guarded that rifle with everything he could muster. The phrase, "guard it as if your life depended on in" never held more truth and reality than it did in their present circumstance.

Bayne looked on towards the land ahead. He'd heard tales about how bad it was from others who were brave enough to venture back here, but nothing could ultimately prepare him for what he saw. The ground was a black canvas, warm and charred. Disfigured remnants of what used to be trees casted eerie shadows as the sun began its ascent, shining through the mist. The mist itself was dense, much more so than on the lake they had crossed. With it came the spine-shuttering quiet. Other than the sound of the water crashing softly on the shore, there wasn't a sound to be heard. It was like the town was being suffocated, except it was already dead.

Bayne shook off the chills that crept up his spine and pulled his old, brown duster tight around his waist. A sickly-sweet smell began to permeate the area, weaving in and out of the charred, stale air. It clung inside his nose like a baby to its mother. For a land ripe with death, it was wholly supplied with an almost inhuman tang.  

"What the hell is that smell?" He asked, bringing a finger up to his nostrils, and suddenly wondering if he was the only one experiencing the vile stench.

"Let's go, we've got a lot of ground to cover before dark," Aydon ordered, oblivious to Bayne's inquiry. He shuffled past Pat and Bayne with stealth-like quickness and made for the town ahead. Bayne looked back in Pat's direction, who now sported a look of confusion as he stood dusting himself off. The ash seemed to cling to their already filthy clothes.

"Pat, you smell that, right?" Bayne asked, still mystified and disgusted.

"Look, I don’t think you want to know what that is," Pat replied. "You're best bet is to just press on. The sooner we get what we came for the sooner we can get back."

Pat was right, Bayne thought. It didn't make the smell any easier to deal with, however. He tore two pieces of cloth from his dingy shirt, rolled them up and shoved them forcefully into each nostril.

"Much better," he declared, mentally patting himself on the back as if the nose plugs were an act of genius. Both he and Pat headed off after Aydon, who by now was ahead of them just enough to barely be seen through the mist.

After what seemed like walking for hours, the group found themselves in what used to be a small community. The houses were leveled to giant piles of ash. Remnants of their skeletal structures were all that was left of the original buildings. Like a graveyard, it gave off that same damp and eerie feeling. Death loomed about them; there was just no avoiding that. Ash and debris crunched under their boots. Each step felt loud and hollow; Bayne tried effortlessly to block it out, focusing on his brother's pack in front of him. Aydon had made this trip a number of times and was well aware of what had and hadn't been searched. He was one of the first to come back after the fallout. Over the last six months those trips had become fewer in number and farther apart. Mostly because coming back to this area was dangerous. It wasn't radiation or poison, or rabid animals that they worried about. It was the mist. It wasn't…normal; a byproduct of the burning lights, the mist never dissipated, getting thicker as you moved inland. Some of the survivors who had braved coming back would say the mist was "unnatural", that it had a way of seeping into your mind, rewiring your brain and then it would set you off on a course leading to your death. They said that the mist was there to protect The Ash; to keep the dead in and the living out. Bullshit, Bayne had concluded. It's just mist, right? It's a true and unfortunate fact, however, that one can easily get lost in the mist if one wasn't careful. A lot of people had indeed gotten lost, and Aydon didn't want to risk losing any more survivors. Hence the fewer trips and the smaller parties.

Around mid-day, they stopped to rest in an open clearing. What once was Memorial Park was now a sweltering heap of nothing, just like everything else. The playground that used to sit in the center was gone. A few pieces of jagged metal framing from a swing set were all that was left. Piles of ash populated the open area, some bigger than others. Bayne was afraid to ask or even think what those piles used to be. He sat down on a large rock as he pulled out a leather wrap from his pack filled with beans. Pat was a few feet away, lying on his back with a bandana over his eyes, attempting to sleep. Aydon, after scouting the perimeter, sat down next to his brother. His face was distorted, his brow furled. He was twenty-four but looked forty-four. Bayne reached over half-heartedly to offer some beans to his brother.

"Nah, I'm good. You go ahead," Aydon replied, setting his pack down while leaving his rifle in hand.

"You remember this place?" Bayne asked, popping a bean in his mouth. "You know, before the fallout?"

"Of course," Aydon replied, almost unwillingly. "I remember it used to be…green."

Bayne smiled. "Oh it was much more than green!" he said. "I remember fall picnics out here with mom and dad, and Susie. I don’t think it gets any more colorful than Michigan in the fall."

"You got that right," Aydon said with a tired sigh that escaped with ease. "Were you here when dad held that big barbeque for Susie's graduation from MSU? Or were you still in school?"

"I was here," Bayne said, letting out a chuckle. "Dad was on one that day. He was here at like six in the morning to set up," Bayne recalled, "I know, because he dragged me out of bed to help him claim his spot. He had bought so much food; I swear we had enough for the whole town."

Aydon cracked a smile this time. Bayne looked out towards the mist, watching the memories of old play out in front of his very eyes. Warmth filled his heart as he watched as his mother put up party streamers, as his father tended the grill, and as his sister and brother sat laughing, all together in a time that wasn't the present.

"It was warm that day, perfect for a cookout. The park was so green, the trees vibrant, and man did that chicken taste good!" Bayne said, cringing at the thought. "Mmm, I can almost smell it now!"

"Stop!" Aydon said holding his empty stomach. "Don't mention chicken, ever!" They both shared in a chuckle. A small breeze fluttered their way, picking up ash and tossing it in their direction. They both closed their eyes and covered their faces, deflecting the ash as well as the memories. As the breeze died down, they wiped the ash from their faces and looked out into the emptiness in front of them. Bayne hung his head. The images of his family melted away. Only a reflection of his own emptiness lay in front of him. A single tear began to form in the corner of his left eye, trickling down his dirty cheek. Aydon turned and saw the track forming on his brother's face. He took a hand off of his rifle, raising it to comfort his brother, and then decided against it. Instead he put his hand back down on the firearm, shook his head and cleared his throat.

"Come on, Bayne. Lighten up," he said, forcing sternness into his delivery. "I need you focused and present. Wipe your face and finish eating." Aydon stood and walked over to Pat, who hadn’t moved much since they broke for a rest. "Get your gear ready," he said, giving Pat a kick. "We head out in five." 

© Copyright 2020 BrandonEverett. All rights reserved.

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