Ahead of the horse and rider, Jack trudged on tattered sneakers. His electric green Reeboks had slowly transformed into ruddy rags since the outbreak. The morning’s sun was beginning its blistering ascent once again, and although he abhorred the fashion statement it made, Jack had tied his navy windbreaker around his waist.
“So where are you from?” he finally asked her. No matter how comfortable he’d tried to become with silence, especially in the last few months, he could never relax without conversation.
“North,” she answered, “you?”
“South.” he turned and gave her a coy smile.
“Hmm,” she said, expressionless, “you don’t look Mexican.”
“Ha!” he threw his head back and faced forward again, “that’s a politically incorrect assumption.”
“No one to hear me now.” she said.
“I suppose not.” He nodded, “So you make politically incorrect jokes, I assume you aren’t from the forward-thinking coast, like Seattle or Portland?”
He looked at her but she gave no response. Her rifle lay across the saddle, providing just enough motivation for Jack to move at a reasonably brisk pace.
“And you look just skinny and white enough to be from Los Angeles.” she said.
“Good guess! But the real test is if you can guess from where in Los Angeles. It’s basically its own state.” he said.
“Was.” she corrected.
“Was.” he nodded. He recalled his departure from the city, a lost wasteland filled with blood and hunger. He had decided he couldn’t trust the water anymore. It wasn’t that the water had been contaminated with the virus, everything was, but he couldn’t trust that it was being treated at all anymore. There wasn’t the manpower to do anything that was necessary. Over the last few months inside Los Angeles he’d watched businesses start to close, hospitals be overrun and explode into weapons fire from desperation, then people wandering helplessly in the streets, fire truck red eyes searching for anyone to care. After he realized he was one of the few immune he’d stayed in a large church and comforted victims as they died, but slowly he began to see the immune survivors go undertreated for simple illnesses caused by bad food or water. The day he’d left he’d barely slept through a night with terrible diarrhea. He knew that staying inside the city wouldn’t help anyone, and it might have been his end. He had mostly recovered when he saw a turn off to Las Vegas.
“Santa Monica?” she asked.
He only laughed, “Thanks for that. Probably the first time I’ve laughed in six weeks.”
He looked at her face but she was squinting at the dark horizon. He followed her gaze and saw an abandoned convenience store off the highway, apparently all on its own.
“It might have a first aid kit,” she suggested, nodding towards him, “for your leg?”
“Good idea. Maybe food too.” he said.
“Definitely food. Unless it has permanent residents.” she said.
“Looks abandoned,” he said, squinting himself now, “I mean, wouldn’t they have had cars blocking the road back where we came? Or some here?” Several miles back the abandoned cars had started to thin and now there were hardly any to speak of.
“There might be a blockade further down the road. I’ve been stopped before and I’d like to avoid it in the future. Let’s at least clear the building.” she stepped down off the horse.