The next day flew by in a blur. All of us around the base were quiet. Real quiet. Yet I knew, on the inside, for all of us, we still heard the screaming. The shooting. The wet sounds of blood spilling from innocent bodies. There was red on our minds and behind our shut eyes.
I lay awake in my bunk once again at the end of the day, unable to sleep. To rest. To recharge. Once again, Hooper whispered to me. However, there was something different in his tone this time.
“You awake?” Hooper asked me, the same as before. I replied that I was. I didn’t open my eyes but I heard the distinct sound of footsteps approaching as he left his bunk and came down to mine. I opened my eyes when I felt him stand at the side of my bed and lean down. The look I saw on his face was excitement mixed with fear.
“If I tell you something, could you keep it a secret?”
I told him I could.
“Even from Luschek? I mean, I love the guy but lately he’s…well you know how he has been handling all this.”
I did indeed. I told Hooper his secret, whatever it is, was safe with me. He nodded, a dark look momentarily crossing his face before it softened and he leaned forward conspiratorially.
“I have water,” he told me. My eyes and mouth both opened wide with registered shock.
He nodded, looked left and right, then motioned me to lean closer so nobody would hear our words.
“That’s right,” he went on, “I have some water and nobody else knows about it.”
I sat up straight, rigid with excitement. Could it be true? I hoped so, I could practically taste the water already. I asked him where it was.
“In a plane in hangar four. The Air Tractor AT-802.”
I shook my head and told him that those planes, although they could each hold about eight hundred and fifty gallons of water, had all been ordered to be emptied the first week of this crisis. Hooper smiled a sad, forlorn smile and shook his head.
“I know,” he said, “but the next day I snuck in and filled one up again halfway, just in case. I had a feeling it would be needed.”
I was positively dumbstruck by this development. I asked him if that meant he had been drinking water this whole time. He smiled sheepishly and said that he had. He’d been sneaking in and out of the hangar once a day to get a drink. But it’s been going on long enough. He’s afraid he’ll get caught. He’s afraid it’ll get taken away.
Hooper leaned in closer again and told me he had a plan. He said that we had enough water in there to last two people for about fourteen months. And since we didn’t have the clearance to go to the hangar and couldn’t afford to be caught sneaking back and forth for that long, there was only one option available to us; We needed to steal the plane.
My heart thumped like a jackhammer loudly in my chest. I told him that it couldn’t be done. It’s not like we’re sneaking a walkie or a CB out. We’d have to sneak out an entire plane. Besides theft, that was borderline treason.
Hooper scoffed. He told me that it’s only treason if there were still laws. And that there weren’t any, not anymore. That’s why we were okayed to murder the other day at the water tower. That’s why we’re all gonna be dead if we waited around for the scientists and the government to help us. They’re only going to help themselves survive, it’s now every man for himself. We had a chance, and we needed to take it. He also said he couldn’t do it alone, that he needed me.
I began to protest but he pressed on. He said that with the fuel levels, we could fly about 180 knots an hour. With our supplies, we could get about ten thousand miles away. Maybe if we went that far, if we searched far and wide enough, we could find more pure water. More water that was unaffected by the blight. By the red rain.
My protests dried up in my mouth as I realized he was right. I told him I was in. I asked him when we should go.
“Immediately,” he told me. “I wish we could take Luschek too, but we can’t take all our friends. We have to look out for ourselves now, we have to survive. Come on, let’s pack our stuff up now. Quickly.”
As we quickly made up our bunks and packed our scant supplies, we heard the door to the room open and slow, shuffling footsteps echoed across the floor. We stopped what we were doing and looked up to see Luschek stumbling his way into the room. His face was swelling up and turning red.
“Luschek, is that you?” I asked him, hoping that his disfigurement was simply a trick of the low light.
“Yes,” he replied, “please, don’t turn on the lights. I need your help.”
Sure, I told him. Just name it. I wasn’t at all prepared for his next words, however.
“I need you to do me a favor. I need you to shoot me. Please.”
My stomach turned to heavy stone.
“Shoot you? What do you mean, shoot you?” I asked him, as if I didn’t understand. As if we all didn’t already understand.
“I need you to shoot me,” he repeated. “I need you to kill me.”
Hooper and I both began to protest, but he cut us off and stepped closer, allowing us to see more of his bloated face. His arms and legs too were turning red and stretching and growing in hypnotic rippling waves of flesh.
“Please,” he begged, his voice hoarse from the thirst and from the fear. “I…I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to drink something, I just had to. I…I took a sip. Just a tiny sip. I drank some of the red water.”
Hooper screamed in terror and I dropped back heavily to my bunk, feeling the weight of the entire world crushing me.
Lushcek continued to beg us to kill him. To shoot him. He said he couldn’t do it himself, not if he wanted to get into Heaven. He said it would be a sin.
I shook my head and tears were rolling freely down my cheeks. I wish I didn’t have to say the next words, but I knew that I must.
“Luschek, you old fool, didn’t you hear the latest rounds of reports? People who drink that water, they can’t die! No matter what they try, they just can’t seem to die.”
Luschek’s eyes bulged, but whether it was from surprise or the tainted water, I didn’t know. He hit the floor in a heap and began to contort and plead and scream.
He bloated and writhed and begged us to kill him. Begged for a bullet to the brain. Before he got bigger. He didn’t want to know how big he could get before he died. That is, if he could die at all.
The reports spoke of giants, hundreds of feet tall. People as large as buildings. Growing, agonizing, but unable to die. Some tried to jump off a ledge, some tried to put holes in their head. Even those that succeeded, well, they didn’t die. Their fate seemed to be a miserable one, an everlasting one, an eternally red one. Just like the Hell he had feared.
He soon changed a part of his tune, he didn’t care if it was a sin anymore. He’d do it himself, his soul be damned, but he couldn’t. His arm was too heavy, too hefty, too large to lift the gun to his head anymore. He couldn’t move. Could barely even beg anymore.
I couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore. I picked up his gun and I fired a few rounds into his head. Holes were punched, blood and bone flew. Luschek, however, didn’t die. He just let out a soft whine and continued to cry on the floor.
Hooper and I made eye contact. I could see it in his face. He was blaming himself. Maybe if he had said something sooner, maybe if he had wanted to bring Luschek in…well, no matter. What’s done is done. It’s like he said. We needed to look out for ourselves. We quietly finished packing and left the room, stepping over a crying but not dying Luschek as we went.
The plan, although poorly formed, went off without a hitch. The plane, although enormous and hard to miss, quietly slipped down the runway and took off into the murky air unnoticed. The air was heavy. The sky was red.
We flew. For days, for weeks, we flew. All we saw below us was waste and water and red.
As we flew, we spoke little of anything that wasn’t clean water or suicide.
As we flew, the people below us got bigger. Bigger than cars. Bigger than houses. Twisted red bodies towered over towns, rose above tree-lines and hilltops. They seemed to get only larger and larger by the day. They seemed like they would continue to get larger, until they were too big. Until there would be no place left on earth to house the monstrous red mountains of irritated and taut flesh.
We crossed county lines, then state lines, then international lines. All over it was more of the same. Maroon heaps. Crimson peaks. Red bubbling bodies.
Hooper and I held not a shred of hope between us. We saw firsthand that nothing was going to get better. But we decided to hold on. Until we were out of fuel, until we were out of water. We would kill ourselves when the water ran dry, but until then we would hold on, all the way to the end.
Eventually, we lost elevation. Eventually, we lost everything and we crashed into a mountainside. Hooper died, dashed upon the rocks of a peak, a small red splatter that used to be a man.
So now, only I remain. I’m the last man alive, well, normal man alive that is. All the others, the ones that drank the water, those like Luschek, they’re still alive too. But it isn’t the same. They’re still growing, still getting bigger.
The last of the clean water spilled when we crashed, soaking into the soil and the rock and the gray of the mountain. I still had my gun, however, and I intended to use it just as soon as the thirst became too great.
I never thought that anything could compare to the thirst I felt, but terror, realization and space all played an equal part as I lived out my final couple days.
The terror was from the lack of air. The oxygen levels were already thin enough in the mountains and I, not planning on being there in the first place, hadn’t brought any oxygen tanks. In addition to the scant levels, there seemed to be even less air than usual. The former people, now current red rippling masses, were sucking in all the air in the world. Some of the first ones, ones that drank during that first rainfall, they were already well over five hundred feet tall and counting. Some of them I could even see with my naked eyes from the mountain peaks. They must have been bringing in close to ten cubic feet of air with each agonizing breath they took.
That led me to my ultimate realization: the world war ended up getting just what it wanted to, only not in the way it sought. The wars got each country what they wanted, only in a twisted, Twilight Zone kinda way. They were all expanded. They were all growing. They wanted to expand their property? Their borders? Their dominance? Well, now they surely were. They were expanding and continuing to expand until our entire globe was getting ready to burst. This realization, of course, made me realize that, very quickly, we were running out of space.
Even had I had water, even had I had oxygen, it would be no matter. I would be dead soon. Even here, stranded and alone on the mountain, I knew I would be dead soon enough. There are, what, about eight billion people on this earth. All of them growing at exuberant rates. Some of them stacked three, four, ten people deep, all collapsed on each other. All growing. All expanding. All turning red. All sucking in air. All taking up space. None able to die.
Soon enough, they would be here. They would balloon and puff up and inflate and expand until every inch of our world was taken over. Compacted. Crushed, with me on the bottom.
I sat down on a rocky outcropping, watching the sun go down for the last time. I was thirsty. Good god, was I getting thirsty. The thirst was getting so powerful, so overwhelming, so tempting, my moisture-mad mind even contemplated drinking some of the red water. Just for a moment, just for a sip, just for a small, temporary reprieve.
I picked up one of the guns not damaged in the wreck and I cocked back the hammer. I guess this is it. I guess this is all that there is left to see, of this world anyway. It’s getting hard to breathe. It’s getting hard to think. It’s getting hard not to drink.
I began this record to leave something behind, something for the next man. The next race. As I am finishing it up, I now realize that it is all pointless. It’ll be millions, if not billions of years before the world may recover from this, start over again. And when it does, what difference would it make to those next people, even if they found my record? Even if they spoke my language, could play my tape? Why would it matter to them that, millions or billions of years ago, we lived here too?
If we ever learned from history, I never saw it. The wars are proof enough of that.
I wish I had somebody to say goodbye to, as I prepare to leave this world behind. But I do not, so I don’t.
God, I’m so thirsty. Goodbye.
*Sound of gunshot. End of record.