Mustang Sally - A True Story by Bill Brooker (fiction)

Recommended Posts

“Mustang Sally, guess you'd better slow that mustang down.

You been running all over town,

Oh! I got to put your flat feet on the ground.”

–Wilson Pickett


Hi there. My name is Bill Brooker and you'll need to forgive me with this. Before the proverbial fan and shit combo became everyday life and most people died cold and alone and uncomprehending, I fancied myself a bit of an aspiring writer. But I couldn't even call myself a writer in my own mind without heaps of self-administered scorn because I didn't ever write anything. I definitely aspired to be a writer though. I always found aspiration so much easier than the thing itself. It was just a dumb dream I'd think about in my worst moments, a nice piece of escapism from the monotony of being stuck as I was.

But sometimes the urge to write has more powerful origins. Sometimes writing is as much a need as food or water or warmth. Sometimes you feel like you'll die if you don't tell the story you need to tell.

I just need to get this all down so I can try to get it straight in my mind.

It's better that I do this now. If I don't I feel like I'll just wander off thinking “I've got this under control, I've turned a page on this, I'm cool as a cucumber” and I'll keep trying to believe that right up until the moment when I blow my brains out.

So I figure if I'm going to tell this story, I may as well try to do it right. Be a real writer for once, lay down the tale, and see if it helps. I don't see how it could possibly hurt at this point.


I met Sally near a massive gnarled oak tree at the abandoned mine entrance three weeks after the world smashed civilization to bits. I saw her from a long distance off, partly because I was constantly checking my binoculars anyway, and partly because of the bright red jacket and hat she wore as she shuffled back and forth in a manic daze. I sat behind a fallen log, knees bitten by the cold earth, and watched her for a while. She would wander away from the mine entrance in every direction you could imagine, but she would always stop and head back to the tree. I saw her do this five times. After the fifth expedition she returned to the tree, pressed her back to the trunk and sunk to the ground. She was far enough up in the foothills that I couldn't really see what she was doing – she was just a little red figure on a mountain and maybe it was just the distance or the cold but she seemed so small up there.  It's hard to see people in landscapes like that.

I hadn't seen a living person in almost three weeks. My first instinct was to run. In that moment I couldn't have cared if it was the sweetest little child that ever did bless this ruined earth, the savior of mankind come again to melt the ice and reconnect the routers. I was happy to leave whoever they were to the cold and wolves and bandits I was sure lurked in every sodden heap I passed.

I know now it was straight-up adrenaline overload and I guess I sort of knew it then too. Against instinct, I didn't make tracks back. I calmed myself down behind that fallen log and kept looking up at that massive gnarled oak tree and the little red figure that sat by it.

My heart slowed over time. The figure hadn't moved. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made that this might be some sort of trap. I didn't think I had been spotted and the figure had been sitting still and alone for almost half an hour. If this was a trap it sure wasn't a very efficient one.

I was cold and hungry and I was starting to get pissed off about being obstructed. I remember actually saying “fuck it” out loud as I began my cautious ascent towards the stranger.


I stopped once when I had closed about half the distance between us. The slope of the hill had allowed me to ascend a long way without being directly within line of sight of the red figure, and I had kept a number of trees between us for cover. I stopped behind one and pulled out the binoculars.

It was a woman.  Youngish, hard to say exactly - early thirties was my guess at the time. A small pocket of face and a few golden strands of hair were all that were exposed beneath her red wool cap and the hood of the jacket which she had pulled tight around her. The coat was the same brilliant shade of crimson as the cap, but closer inspection revealed that it was in bad shape, covered in sooty black streaks and leaking off-white stuffing from a long vertical tear near the zipper.

The stained chest convulsed in heavy sobs. She was crying. It was mostly a silent lamentation, but every so often one of those sobs would rack her and rip a breath from her lungs. I watched her for a while, also making sure to sweep the woods and mountain surrounding her with the heavy glass lenses.

Eventually I approached her, walking softly across the new fallen snow. She wasn't crying anymore.  She was holding that little exposed pocket of face in a bare hand, eyes closed and strained as if a migraine was crushing her brain into dust. I stopped a ways off, not wanting to startle her.


She was on her feet in an instant and I was the one taken aback. She pulled a small hunting knife from her jacket and stood with it, knuckles red and white around the wooden handle. She snatched up an arrow and held it in her other hand, only the gleaming flint of the arrowhead exposed between her fingers. Her green eyes shone, bloodshot and glistening and full of fury.

“Get the fuck away!”

“You don't have to be scared. I don't want to hurt -”

“Get the fuck away from me! I'll gut you. You think I can't but I fucking swear I will. I'll paint this hillside with you.” Her eyes darted around the woods behind me.

“Where's the others? Waiting 'til after you smash my head?”

“I'm alone.”

A sneer contorted her face.


“I saw you on the hill... I... was headed to the mine and I saw you on the hill and I didn't...”

“Where are you going?”


I remember how hard it was to think and to speak. I wasn't ready to talk to a human being, let alone under such circumstances, and her mind was moving at a frenetic pace. I felt like I was being dragged along behind her train of thought, my mind racing to keep up on rubbery legs. My eyes were burning from the cold wind and the adrenaline. I needed to keep watching the woods and I needed to watch her hands, she had that knife and the arrowhead and I needed to think about my rifle but I needed to talk her down first if I could but I couldn't keep up with her thoughts and what about the woods I needed to watch the woods -

“Don't fuck with me. I asked where you're going. Why are you heading to the mine? Where are you expecting to get?”

I exhaled a shaky breath.

“I'm... trying to get to Pleasant Valley.”


“It's... all death here. The animals... aren't acting right. The wolves... It's so cold. There's only corpses.”

Her eyes had fastened to the rifle on my shoulder.

“You got ammunition for that?”


“Why's it slung then.” It wasn't a question. Her grip on the knife tightened.

“I spied you out from the bottom of the ravine... I was pretty sure you were alone and... well, I mean I thought you were unarmed...”

“Answer the question, dickhead. Who walks up on strangers with weapons shouldered? You ammoless shit. Now I got blades on you.”

“...and I saw you crying.”

It was barely a flicker in her eyes but I saw it. She waited. I rode the surge of adrenaline and kept talking.

“At first I thought you were a bandit-trap, pure and simple. Girl in bright clothes crying out in the open seems a surefire way to end up with your throat cut. But I combed these hills, glassed the whole place over and over like my eyes were little nuclear bombs. I coated the whole area and I waited. I thought maybe they're waiting in the mine entrance. The thought of that almost made me turn around right there. But I had my exit sorted and I had my rifle and quite frankly I'm losing it a bit being out here this long so I said fuck it and now I know you're not bait.”

She kept looking at me, knife at the ready.

“Pull that rifle off your back.”

“I'm not giving you my rifle.”

“I'll take it if you lied. Get that rifle in your hands.”

I hesitated at first, but slowly began to reach for it. I pulled the sling off my shoulder and let the rifle fall into my hands. I held it in front of me, barrel facing away from us and up into the rolling gray skies.

“Open the bolt.”

I did so, tilting the internal magazine towards her. I popped a brass cased cartridge into my hand and held it up.

“I've only got four but they work.”

She nodded.

I clicked the round back in and closed the bolt. I kept holding the barrel away from us. She didn't let go of the knife but she lowered the hand that held it and let the arrow fall from the other.

“Do you have any food?”

“Yeah. Do you like peaches?”

“That doesn't matter.”


She began to laugh a little. It was brittle and delirious. It makes me smile to think of it now.

Eventually she put the knife down and wiped her eyes once more with a dirty crimson sleeve.


Her name was Sally. When I found her near the mine she had been ferocious, damn near frothing at the mouth, but the truth was she was starving to death. She said the last decent meal she'd eaten was half a jar of peanut butter seven days ago. Since then it had been a couple of cat tails, boiled water, and not much else. She told me the reason she kept wandering around that tree was because she was afraid she'd go too far into the woods and then just fall down and pass out and be dead. I realized later this was only partly true, but I'm sure the fear was real enough.


It really was bad. The first night after our showdown she could barely stand – I guess she burned through the last of her energy trying to scare me off. I made a fire in the mine's entrance, just out of the cold but close enough to the steel door and Plexiglas window that the day's dulling light could float through.

The entryway was almost entirely empty. A bare metal shelf stood near the door and an aluminum toboggan was propped up next to it. Nothing else. We ate peaches and two cans of beans and I melted snow in my travel pot, brought it to a boil, and left it outside the door to cool in the windy night. She watched this all silently while she ate.

“You don't want to go to Pleasant Valley” she told me between mouthfuls.

“Why's that?”

“Bandits, no food, cold.”


“Have you been here this whole time?”


“This area. This side of the mine. Since the lights went out.”

“Oh... yes. I'm not sure what it's called though... I didn't find any signs... and I couldn't tell you what's beyond it. The ice gets weak walking out into the bay and the land gets dangerous quickly when you head off the road and towards the mountains.”

“Did you follow the highway yet? In either direction?”

“No. Fewer predators up in the foothills.”

“But more wolves.”

She was a quick one.

“But more wolves,” I agreed.

“I don't know what this area's called either but that's the coastal highway down there.” She gestured in the water's direction.

“If you follow the highway south past the logjam you'll hit Commuter's Lament. That's what I call it, anyway, most people do. It's impassable at this point... too much rock and ice and bull crap in the way and it's hedged in by these little mountains. So that's out.”

She put her hands into the dying fire, hovering them over the glowing embers. I added a bunch of little sticks I'd collected from just outside the mine's entrance. The wet wood hissed, then began to burn normally.

“But if we take the highway northwest and follow the bend... well.. maybe it's just as fucked as Commuter's Lament, but if it's open we can take one of the mountain passes towards Mystery Lake.  Should be plenty of cabins and fishing huts if they haven't been burned down or turned into some kind of bandit paradise. Not to mention the dam... there's probably all kinds of useful shit in there.”

It all sounded good to me, but her quasi-encyclopedic knowledge of the whole region was surprising to say the least. Didn't she say she'd come from Pleasant Valley?

“Are you from around here or something?”

“Sort of.”

She shifted her legs, pulling her boots and socks off and placing them near the fire She let her feet dangle next to the boots.

“Were you a local?”

“Let's not, alright?”



We set out early the next morning under a blue-black sky. The stars were lost to the first hints of dawn, but the aurora still glowed green and bright in the darkness, its folds rippling on the horizon as we walked. She wasn't very talkative and neither was I, but our exchanges were friendly enough when they did occur. We covered ground at a slower pace than I would have liked, staying off the highway itself but following it along the escarpment above. Snapped ankles and deranged wolves were obviously a concern on “the High Road”, as she took to calling it, but getting blasted or beaten down with clubs against frozen pavement seemed the greater risk.

For the most part we camped against the open cliff face that rose still higher above us. We'd stick a couple of branches into the ground around the fire and would sling a blanket or two over them to create a canopy. The idea was to retain as much heat as possible while also concealing our position from the highway below.

It was not a foolproof system. Most mornings we woke damp and chilled to the bone and sometimes would spend an hour or more shivering by a newly lit fire. Some nights the fire wouldn't seem to burn hot enough, or wouldn't burn long enough to be useful. Sally taught me how to make feather sticks from wet wood and I don't think we would've had fire some nights otherwise. She knew a lot about making fire and would try to impart little bits of wisdom whenever we stopped to light.

“Split wood burns better, remember that. The inside can burn hot and dry even when the outside is a frozen mess.”


We happened upon an empty cargo container in the late afternoon of the fourth day on the High Road.

The container's large swinging doors were ripped off and the open side was facing the steep escarpment above us.

I knew it was a thing of beauty as soon as I saw it. Sally didn't really seem to understand why I was so pleased with it and I probably did look like a bearded fool smirking at a cargo container's door for no discernible reason. I remember I looked at her then, still smiling.

“The door's facing the cliff.”


“We can keep a fire going.”

“We could've kept a fire going.”

“We won't need to use blankets.”

She looked down towards the highway. You could almost hear tumblers clicking into place.

“So it's only the High Road we'd have to worry about, then.”


“So it could be big.”


“I see now.”


She looked at the container and began to smirk too.

“A bonfire it is then. I'll help you get wood.”

We exchanged a quizzical look for an instant but it was too late. Before she could correct her phrasing, but after her face blushed darker than her jacket, I was doubled over in the snow laughing, in big bellows at first but almost struggling to breathe within seconds, reduced to little more than a gurgling ball of a man.

It wasn't that funny, of course. I knew it then and I know it now. It was just the hungry delirium, but it felt so good it genuinely didn't matter. She was chuckling now too, face buried in one hand like the day we met, but this time with a smile creeping out between the fingers. It didn't take long for the giggles to start dying off and I got myself out of the snow. She wiped away a tear with a pale finger.

“Alright, alright, you had your laugh you fucker. Let's get some fire wood. For the fire.”


Eventually we made it to the end of the High Road. Six days. After scanning the road itself for movement, we made our way down to it and continued towards the bottleneck formed by the highway and the mountains around it. At first it seemed like it was impassable and that the week's journey had been for nothing. Massive black rocks were piled on top of one another and the pavement underfoot was cracked like a broken mirror from the weight and force of impact. Splintered telephone poles lay scattered across the roadway, but some were still mostly in place, snapped in half and bobbing up and down on dead cables, their trunks still rooted to the cold earth.

There was a purple sedan with smashed windows and two bodies sitting in the front seats. They wore little more than tattered cloth – one had a t-shirt plastered to his rib cage like paper mache, the other was bare chested, his flesh pale blue. Neither had shoes but both wore ruined jeans. There was a shredded black backpack in the back seat. It looked empty.

Sally started feeling through their pockets and after a moment I joined her. The pockets were empty but there was a flattened pack of cardboard matches in a side pocket of the ruined backpack.

“Wouldn't they want us to?”

“I think so. Doesn't matter.”

“Dead men need for naught, right?”

“How poetic.”



It turned out that Sally knew where she was going. She found a path leading out of the coastal highway that was barely wide enough for two skinny travelers to squeeze through. We passed under fallen rock and back out onto a crumbling mountain pass. There were a couple more cars. No more bodies, nothing useful. I checked for gasoline in the tanks like I should have done at the purple sedan, hoping to find something that might burn in my lantern. My improvised dipsticks kept coming out clean and smelling of nothing but sodden wood. I chucked the last one into the frozen river nearby.

Later that afternoon, we came upon a massive wooden bridge that spanned an icy canyon, free flowing water still tumbling from the falls.

The crossing was uneventful but by the time we reached the other side the sky was losing the last of its gray light. We cooked a can of tomato soup in my pot and passed it back and forth in my cup. It was so good that I threw caution to the wind and opened a can of condensed milk and heated it up in the smoldering pot. It was heavenly and for once the fire was able to drive the chill from my bones.

Feather sticks crackled away under heavy fir limbs. The fire burned dark and heavy and needed little tending. Above us, the aurora flamed, its emerald shadow shimmering in the pale black sky. Sally was in her bedroll next to the fire, I was still sitting up with my hands to the flames. Her voice surprised me.

“Do you believe in God? Or gods?”


“Did you before?”

“No. I don't think so.”

“Yeah, me neither.” Her gaze drifted to the fire before she continued.

“Lately though... since all this... I wouldn't say it's made me believe or anything but... isn't this the kind of thing gods do? They smash us against the rocks to watch us break apart. Like the old gods I mean, the vengeful gods. The ones that delight when mortals writhe.”

She waited for a response and I didn't give one.

“That was a dumb way to put it.”

“No, I was just considering it, that's all.”

She gave me a strange look. I'm still not sure what that look meant.

“It's just a thought.”

“I know.”


We spent a day and a night just following the rail line, only leaving the tracks long enough to loot nearby targets of opportunity. Sally was confident that if we stayed on the line, we'd eventually run into the dam. She said that if there was anything in Mystery Lake that was going to prove indispensable – guns and tools and food and stuff like that – the lion's share would probably be at the dam. She said it was one of the largest employers in the greater Pleasant Valley area, certainly the biggest in Mystery Lake itself, and it wasn't crazy to think they'd have generators and lanterns and stockrooms full of useful things. It made sense enough to me. We walked those tracks straight through the night and into the first light of morning.


By the next afternoon, we could see the outline of the Carter Electric Dam, gargantuan and distant, a looming insensate rectangle of gunmetal gray bolted to the crest of the falls. We traversed the icy river leading to it, carving a path where frozen water met frozen land. The main doors were locked but we spotted an access road carved into the side of the mountain that snaked towards the dam's rear. We followed it and as night fell we forced open a window and entered one of the dam's maintenance buildings.

The plan was to stay in that first room, a cramped office with two filing cabinets, a steel desk and some broken shelves. If I hadn't found that half bottle of lantern fuel wedged between the desk and the wall, I probably would've stuck to the plan, but now I wanted to go explore the dam. I used a couple drops of the lantern fuel as an accelerant and Sally got a nice fire going right on the floor of the office. We kept the window we had jumped through open for ventilation. There was a door near the window but it was one of those emergency doors you could only open from the inside. Sally didn't seem pleased by the idea of me exploring the dam but didn't really object either. She went out the emergency door to collect more firewood, wedging a cinder block in the doorway to stop the latch from closing, and I headed further into the dam, lantern lit and held out before me.

The dam was a sprawling compound but it was completely gutted. My dream of a shelf or three of canned goods, coffee and cigarettes did not materialize. Instead, I was rewarded with room after room full of metal scaffolding, stripped wires and rusted oil drums. Some rooms were utter mazes of pipes and valves and metal catwalks with painted railings but there was nothing useful here. I was in another office just about ready to give it up and head back to Sally when I heard a voice behind me, male and deep. My blood was ice before I even understood his words.

“Don't move quick now, or you're dead, man.”

I turned, seeing a man with a revolver pointed at me. To his right were two more men, one tall, one short, both holding sections of metal pipe. One of the pipes still had a spigot attached. The gunman looked to the closer of the two men, the tall one with the spigot.

“Use the pipes.”

The tall man looked at me, winced, looked back at the gunman.

“Come on, Dan.”

“We don't got time for this. We don't got the bullets to spare.”

“Fuck man...” he looked at me again.

The short one spoke up, his voice cracked and dry.

“Just use the gun, fuck it man. We'll find more. Let's not make this hard on us... or him.” He looked at me too. “We can learn to do this later.”

The tall one looked at the gunman, nodding wildly. “Yeah man, plenty of time to learn. It's too much man. This is too much man.”

The gunman was still looking at his comrades in disbelief when Sally pounced from the shadows, smashing into him and repeatedly plunging her hunting knife into his flesh where the neck and shoulder met. The gunman was screaming.

The tall one reacted first. He was about to swing his pipe at Sally when he saw me readying the rifle to fire. All of his previous apprehension melted away and he ran at me, pipe at the ready. I couldn't get the rifle aimed up at him in time but I was able to catch his swing with the barrel and we both went down, wrestling on the ground, too close to use the pipe or the rifle and so we were trying to crush each other with bare hands instead.

I'm not tall, not nearly as tall as this guy was, and I've never been very strong. He was beginning to overpower me but I was able to grab my lantern and smash him in the face with it, swinging it on its wire handle and cracking it like a whip in his face. The handle broke off and the lantern went flying but it opened up enough space between us for me to get to my feet and grab my gun. Before he could get up I smashed the butt of the rifle into his face. I aimed for the spot between the nose and the mouth and kept hitting him.

My rifle was coated in bloody pulp and I turned to see Sally on the ground, the short man over top of her. The man was bleeding badly from wounds on his hands and face, but he had Sally's arms pinned at her sides. She was gnashing her teeth, spitting at him, screaming at him, desperate to rend his flesh. I hit him in the head with the rifle, rolled him off of her and fired directly into his face. The ringing in my ears was deafening and I should have been more cautious about ricochets, but we were both alright in the end.

We looted them quickly. A new jacket for Sally and a new pistol too. It was a .38 special, model 36 Jframe. It's the little snub-nosed revolver you'd often see detectives using in old police movies. Five shot, three bullets left. I was able to get new boots off the short one. We took all the laces too. We both tried to make light of the situation later but I think we were both upset by what happened.

After that I'd call her Mustang Sally sometimes and when she asked why I said she needed a bad ass name to match her bad ass moves. She smiled at that.

“But why Mustang?”

“I don't know, it's cool isn't it? And there was a song called Mustang Sally. It was a great tune.”

“What's it about?”

“I don't really remember.”

“For fuck's sake, Bill.” She started to laugh.


We traveled through the dam's main doors and back out towards Mystery Lake, following the tracks again but in the opposite direction. This time we left the rails whenever it suited us. We ransacked cabins and trailers as we found them and were pleasantly surprised with our haul. Apparently Mystery Lake had fared better than the regions surrounding it, or perhaps it was simply that not very many people had been able to traverse the landscape between here and anywhere else.

It wasn't a buffet, but it almost felt that way at first. One day we found six cans of beans wrapped in a burlap sack and buried at the base of a mailbox. Another day we found an outdoor freezer with three whitefish fillets stuck to its frosty floor. The area had been looted, that was certain, but it hadn't been picked clean like the part of coastal highway I had been living in or the areas of Pleasant Valley from whence came Mustang Sally. There was some breathing room in Mystery Lake and I think we were both relieved.

We found some candles and books in a fishing hut and started to read passages to each other by the fire most nights. We had ongoing arguments about whether a silver-back gorilla on cocaine could beat a grizzly bear on cocaine or whether you'd rather fight a spider-sized man or a man-sized spider.  Sometimes we talked about movies or video games or even TV commercials. Some of those days I almost forgot what had happened to the world.


Nothing good lasts though, of course. In a couple of weeks, the food grew sparse and the weather turned incredibly cold. Sometimes it was hard to stay outside for more than an hour in broad daylight, even when the wind was gentle. I think under normal circumstances we could have recovered from these setbacks, but we also faced a much more serious problem, and that problem was Sally.

She hadn't been injured in the bandit attack - or at any other point for that matter - but for some goddamned reason Sally got sick and wouldn't get better. I thought it might be jaundice and I said so but neither of us knew how to treat jaundice and I wasn't sure in the first place so I didn't bring it up again.

We tried to move only when it seemed necessary. I wanted her to build up her strength. We'd stay at a location, eat through most of our food and move on, finding a new location with a bit more food when luck was with us. Soon there was nothing left to scavenge, and our lack of mobility made the hunt for a meal that much more difficult.

One day when the hunger was starting to hurt I went out and shot a lame wolf. I was pretty pleased with myself but I should have realized there might be a good reason this pup was still here while his pack had gone up into the mountains following the scent of deer. When I cut it open the wolf was full of tumours. Some were white as pale milk and some were dark gray and mottled black. I tried to cut out the good meat from around the growths and was left with two steaks no larger than hamburgers.

Only two bullets left now.


We found a map of the area at the camp lodge and it said there was a trapper's homestead in the northwest. Maybe there was more food there, I told her. Trappers have all sorts of stuff that might help us, maybe some snares or even some more ammo. She nodded.

“There's just not enough food near the lodge.”

“I know,” she said, nodding again. “I think it's a good idea.”

“It might be hard on us getting out there.”

“Hard on me you mean.”


“I'm up for trying it if you don't mind taking a chance on dead weight.”

“Please don't talk like that.”


“It's alright.”


When we set out things were going about as well as we could've hoped for. She was sick and slow but she was a tough cookie and kept up well enough. I carried her backpack for her but that was only ten pounds at the heaviest. The real problem was the sickness, whatever it was. When we were about halfway to our destination, we were stopping every thirty minutes for her to cough her lungs out and to vomit thin streams of bile. She said she was sorry and I told her don't worry about it, you don't have anything to be sorry for.


When we finally reached the deadfall area – a massive, open pit of tree trunks with a winding access road leading away to the east – she wasn't able to walk anymore. After resting on some logs I set out with her on my back. I told her to hold on around my neck and I held her thighs and I stumbled forward with that crazy little thing clinging to me. If she wasn't such a slight woman, already half-starved, I doubt I could've carried her at all. But I did, for a while. I carried her through the whole deadfall area and halfway up the access road and then collapsed under the strain. I tried to lift her up again, and I failed. I dropped my backpack and all my shit except for my rifle and I tried again, and I failed. I could barely sit up and she was having trouble breathing now. I began to cry.

“It's alright, Bill.”

“I'm so sorry Sal.”

“It's alright.”

“This is so fucked.”


Above us the aurora was trembling, exultant in the sky. We were both looking at it, lying in the snow.

She struggled to find words for a moment. I already knew what was coming. There was no way out of it. I owed her from before, and besides, I knew I couldn't just leave her there, wondering if she had it in her to do it herself. I remember I wanted to dash a god's head off a rock.

“If you have it in you, I'd like you to finish me off.”


“I know it'll be hard, I'm sorry for that, but you don't have to bury me. Just leave me here after you do it. I really don't mind.”


“It's just a body. We're not the bodies, we're the minds in the bodies. That's why you can leave my body here and I won't mind.”


“Honestly Bill.”


“Don't even look. I'll just hold the barrel against my head and you pull the trigger from there and you don't even have to look.”



When I finally did reach the trapper's cabin two days later, there had been enough food to keep a single man from starving for weeks. There had also been a sled rested up against the outside of the cabin. It was narrow but long enough for a person to lay down on. After a few days in the cabin, I packed up most of the food and set out with the sled to find Sally's body.


I buried her and her things where we met on a day much the same as most lately – gray skies, frozen shores, cold winds. Everything in sight seemed ready to shatter. I wanted to crack the world open and let its innards freeze in this barren waste, as mine had.

When I went through her belongings, I was surprised by how little she had with her. The knife. The arrowhead. The pistol. A lighter. A roll of gauze, half used and stained. Two fish hooks and a length of line. A bottle of isopropyl, almost empty. Two notebooks, one half-filled with writing and one blank. Four pens, three that worked. A length of rope. A picture of Sally and another woman. They look a lot alike. They're both laughing.

I took the pistol and the lighter along with the gauze, the isopropyl, the fish hooks and the pens. I flipped through the used notebook. It was a journal. The entries were hers and I read several pages, but I was getting too upset by it so I stopped. I put the knife and the arrowhead and her notebook and the broken pen and the photo in a little cairn I built next to the tree. Then I left, wandering down to and then along the main road of the coastal highway.

I think I may have wanted to die at that point but it wasn't a strong emotion, just a nagging background noise in my head that wouldn't let me rest and made it difficult to make good decisions. I wandered down the highway in an aimless stupor, taunting death, and in that cruel way life likes to laugh at us, my journey was safe and uneventful. I passed through the coastal towns without stopping to check for supplies. I think I was fed up with trying. I spent one night in a dilapidated tool shed and another in a cave that smelled like bear piss. Truth be told, it felt like I was on drugs for most of it - heavy, sleep-inducing painkillers that numbed out pretty much the whole trip. Sometimes I worried that I would never see anyone again. Other times I started to doubt that I'd even met Sally at all. When the feelings were too overwhelming, when it truly felt like she was merely the figment of a mind stretched past its breaking point, I'd pull out the pens and notebook and touch them.

That's the same notebook you're reading from now. I'm using the second of the three pens I took and I'm pretty much done. If you happen upon this notebook and you're in a bad way, which I bet you are, I want you to know that I don't mind if you burn this. Hell, I hope you burn it – heat is more important than words, though I think you need both in the long run. As I said before, the whole reason I wrote this story was to get it straight in my head, to give it reality and form and to be able to convince myself that, yes, this is real, this really happened and yes, I'm really still here.

I'm writing this in a forestry lookout tower that has a great view of the coast. Even on the really dark days I've felt a strange serenity looking out past the islands and ice to the misty horizon beyond. My food supply could be better but it could be far worse. I've got maybe another week if I stay hungry. It's enough to make a bold move.

I'm planning to set out across the frozen water, way out past where the land and highway end. The last week has been bitterly cold and I'm hoping it's been enough to solidify the ice past Jackrabbit Island. If I'm lucky, maybe I can get around the mountains via the coast, or maybe I'll find a ship, or survivors, or my death – I'm sure it's been looking for me long enough.

That's the plan though. The view is beautiful from up here, but it's time to come down.

Good luck to you, friend - hope to see you in the summer.

- Bill Brooker, 61 days since the lights went out


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.