Copyright 2013 by Bryan Cassiday
Halverson felt like he was covered with hot leeches that were sucking the blood out of his flesh. To make matters worse, he felt like ticks were crawling under his skin across the entire length of his body. He scratched his left forearm trying to soothe the itching that was burning his skin. It did no good.
The ticks were embedded under his skin as they crawled all over his body. His scratching accomplished nothing, save to exacerbate the itching and smarting of his skin.
His eyes snapped open.
He realized he was lying naked on his back in the dingy bomb shelter. He surveyed his body. There were no leeches on it, and he could discern no traces of ticks burrowing underneath his skin, no ridges formed in his flesh by their burrowing. Nevertheless, his flesh was burning up.
The result of the nuclear blast. The scorching blast wind had striated his body as he had run for cover to the bomb shelter underneath the desert.
A single dim incandescent light bulb hung above him in a wire cage on the ceiling, as he lay in a daze on a bunk.
The explosion of the atomic blast and its accompanying overpressure had all but burst his eardrums.
His skin continued to itch like crazy. He had to get the radioactive dust off it. He needed to take another shower. But how many showers did he have to take and how often? He knew he had taken many since the atomic blast had flattened Las Vegas, a few miles away from where he now lay doggo underground.
He could not take that many more showers, though, he knew. There wasn’t an inexhaustible supply of fresh water in the shelter. What water remained needed to be conserved for drinking.
Iodine, he thought. He needed more iodine tablets to treat his radiation-contaminated body. Where was Victoria? he wondered. She and he were the lone survivors of the atomic bomb explosion, as far as he knew. He did not see her now.
He felt his forehead with the back of his hand. As he had thought, he was burning up with fever. Maybe he was delirious as well.
His mind raced, seeking answers.
Maybe the atomic blast had never really happened. Maybe the blast was a chimera of his overheated imagination brought on by the fever. Somehow he doubted it. In fact, it was all coming back to him.
The president had dropped nuclear bombs all across the country and all over the world in a last-ditch, desperate attempt to rid the nation of the plague-infected flesh eaters that were running amok around the world, wreaking havoc and spreading the pestilence wherever they roamed.
If only this was a nightmare! decided Halverson. Then he could wake up from it. The fact was, it was worse than a nightmare, because it was really happening. He would never wake up from it.
Above his face he saw a black spider rappelling down on a strand of silk from the ceiling. Then he wasn’t the only survivor, decided Halverson. This spider, too, had survived nuclear annihilation.
He did not like spiders. He did not like this ugly thing jerking its eight legs around like knitting needles darning an article of clothing as it descended ineluctably toward his face on its thread of silk that glittered like dew in the dim artificial light of the incandescent bulb.
His initial reflex was to kill the creature. He wanted to swat it off its silk strand and then stomp it on the cement floor.
But if he killed the spider, he would be alone in the blast shelter—unless Victoria was in another part of the structure. He had no desire to be the last man on earth, or even the last living creature on earth, for that matter.
Overcoming his reflexive urge to smash the spider, he decided to do nothing and let it continue its descent from the ceiling, to let the ugly arachnid live and keep him company in the cramped bomb shelter. To have any kind of life with the creature present was better than being left alone, he decided, even if it was a detestable spider.
He rolled out of the way of the spider as it descended onto the bunk.
Hopefully, the thing would not bite him later as a way of thanking him for his moment of kindheartedness, or, was it more accurately a moment of weakness on his part for sparing the spider? Was it weak to desire a companion in his solitude?
The creature crabbed away from Halverson across the bunk’s sheet. Just watching the way the spider scuttled off creeped him out. The last thing he wanted was a hunchbacked spider crawling across his smarting flesh. The suffocating sensation of leeches and ticks swarming on and inside his body was enough for him to deal with at the moment. Too much for him to deal with, in fact.
He sprang off the bunk to his feet.
He must find Victoria. Was she in any better shape than he was? he wondered.
A hunger pang attacked him. If worse came to worst, maybe he could eat the spider. Or maybe it would be best to let it reproduce, so it would bear more spiders and then he could consume them. Christ! What a sickening thought! He wanted to wretch.
His logy mind was straying off in directions he preferred not to travel in.
He massaged his forehead. He needed to pull himself together. To face his predicament like a man. The last man on earth, maybe. His mind kept revolving back to that nagging whim, he realized, like water circling a drain before disappearing down the sink. The last man on earth.