Into the Land of Nothing
by Oscar Deadwood
forum: Into the Land of Nothing
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Into the Land of Nothing


           How had he become thawed?

           He found himself lying in the street of place he could only describe as Anytown. It had the same familiar look of his boyhood Michigan Main Street with its collection of hardware stores, post-office, bakeries and butcher shops.

           His memories were starting to come back, albeit very, very slowly and in a haphazard order. He remembered landing in Volgograd, his ten-year-old son looking fearfully out the window, staring at that gray, gray city as he was beginning to understand the finality of their situation.

           He remembered dragging his family out of the house with only the clothes on their backs and passports and all of his cash taped to his body. Jeremy remembered leaving the dog behind over his son's crying protests and he felt like a mean father.

           He needed the dog as a decoy; he had illegally removed the Omnistar tracking device from his Albanian-made Rover Aerocar and attached it to the dog's collar.

           If anyone were to try and find Jeremy, they would only find a mutt of dubious origin sniffing around someone's trash.

           He remembered the nighttime drive out of Michigan and into Canada and over the North Pole, keeping the car as low to the ground as possible while buzzing through Michigan, and as high as possible over Canada and the arctic region.

           Why Russia? He tried to remember as he stood up and started walking down the street. There was a noise in the air, like the babble of a brook or the rustling of the leaves. But it wasn't possible, there was no breeze and the trees along this Main Street were bare and nearly identical in a surreal sort of way. And there was no sign of water anywhere, the town, and the world that held the town seemed very, very dry and bleak, as if a cloud of dust was about to come tumbling down the street. And though it was daylight, the sun was blocked somehow and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

           It was almost like a murmur, that noise in the air, as if several people were whispering collectively.

           And he remembered why Russia, why the nighttime exodus out of Michigan, why he removed the Omnistar tracking device at risk of his own death if caught without it.

           Because too many people were dying, that's why he went to Russia, too many people were dying from a virus that had many names: The Monkey Pox, the NM971, and the Bengali Bug, just to name a few. People were dying, the death spreading across the planet like a slow moving fire and people were dying in countries that had always been healthy: Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Australia. America was safe, so far, but that could and would change and soldiers were scurrying across the land, setting up treatment centers with sterilization showers and digging trenches in the countryside to bury the expected dead. So many of Jeremy's neighbors kept saying they could see a pale horse streaking across the sky.

           Jeremy didn't believe in pale horses. He believed in life and death, he believed in preservation, he believed in preserving his own life and that of his wife and their ten-year old son.

           Jeremy knew the world would be a ruin after this flu had run its course, and the really aggravating thing was that it appeared to be on purpose, as if some men in business suits somewhere decided that the world needed to be cleansed.

           Until recently, Jeremy was a leading microbiologist at the University of Michigan. He often consulted for the CDC and the National Institute of Health, especially early in his career, back in the first days of the century, when the president of the United States pretended to be serious about combating the spread of AIDS.

           AIDS had nothing on the Bengali Bug. The Bengali Bug was an airborne virus, one only had to breathe contaminated air and it was goodnight.

           And so, when the virus first started spreading in India, Jeremy volunteered his services to the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the CDC and the NIH.

           He vainly assumed his services would be welcomed as he had proven himself innovative in the war on AIDS; a war that ended abruptly when the government slashed its funding.

           But no, he was told no thanks by all the organizations he contacted. And there was never a mention of a vaccine in the press, it was as if someone decided the best course of action would be to batten-down-the-hatches and clean up the mess when the virus died with its last fatality.

           Jeremy decided, when he was told his help wasn't wanted that it was time to get the hell out of dodge.

           But how?

           That's why he went to Russia. It was and is illegal to be put into a state of cryonic suspension while still alive in the United States, but not in Russia. In Russia it was either legal or the law wasn't enforced. And the Russians had also been kicking the crap out of the United States in the Space Race, but it wasn't the Russian government who was responsible. It was Russian billionaires, oil and pharmaceutical magnates whose corporations ruled the country with an authoritative grasp around most of its currency.

           So, a Russian businessman/scientist/visionary had something to offer Jeremy. Jeremy found the man on the Internet. Jeremy had to cash in on all his retirement accounts and re-mortgage his house to the hilt. He gathered about a hundred thousand dollars in cash. The rest of the million-dollar fee was wired to a bank in the Cayman Islands.

           Russia too, would be dangerous to travel through, as the virus had already attacked the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, but it was a risk worth taking, Michigan and America would soon be a wasteland.

           Jeremy had taken a virtual tour of the Russian's facility, and he did some research on the man, Andreyev something-or-another, a long Russian name with too many consonants that he found impossible to pronounce. The man was well-educated, multiple degrees from British and Russian universities, and he was financed by one of Russia's leading businessmen, an untouchable with dubious connections to Russia's omnipresent organized crime.

           In short, Andreyev was protected; no one messed with him or his cryonic program, his cryonic program with a twist.

           Andreyev not only put one in cryonic suspension, but he put one in cryonic suspension inside an automated rocket ship, one that would orbit the earth for a two-hundred years, coming back when Society had eradicated disease and any Armageddon-like conflict had been resolved.

           Jeremy was thrilled with that aspect of the journey, even if it was slightly unbelievable; but the alternative, death in Michigan, was very believable. Jeremy was a man of science, and the opportunity to travel painlessly to the future and see the wonders of human advancement was thrilling.

           But this street he now walked down looked nothing like the future, in fact it looked like the very distant past, the past of his childhood.

           Where were his wife and son? Where were the other fifteen passengers on the rocket whom he now remembered? Each one of them were placed in an individualized chamber that allowed their bodies to be nitrogen cooled, chambers that allowed for reawakening once the rocket re-entered the earth's atmosphere.

           He walked down the street slowly, as if he was afraid something would jump out and grab him from behind one of the empty storefronts.

           He remembered last seeing his wife, it seemed only like moments ago. He winked at her from across the floor of the rocket, inside his glass chamber, as their bodies started to shut down. She smiled a frightened smile. But his son, oh how he wished he could have comforted his son, was screaming and crying from inside his chamber. Jeremy was glad he couldn't hear him but he so badly wanted to hold him and tell him he was just going to sleep and how lucky he was to go on a rocket ship ride.

           The murmur swirled around him, as if it was a physical force like the wind. He timidly looked inside on of the windows of what looked like a barbershop, an old-fashioned barbershop with the swirling colored pole affixed to the frame of the door. Inside, the shop was nearly empty, and piles of dust coated the ancient-looking chairs and the floor.

           The murmur grew in its intensity and he could swear he could hear hints of words.

           The words "Jeremy" and "Daddy" seemed to float through the air and sail around his ears.

           He walked down the street and he could now see it end abruptly in a dry and desert-like landscape, no sign of trees or water anywhere.

           And the murmur grew louder still, as he stepped off the Main Street and into this land of nothing.

           He could see smoke rising from the distant horizon, a billowing cloud of white smoke streaked with gray and it rose into straight into the air into the cloudless and gray sky.

           He walked towards the smoke, confused and frightened and longing for his wife and desperately concerned for his son.

           He realized as he began to walk faster and faster and more briskly that his body was quite sore, as if he had been hit by a car or had been tackled, or as if he had fallen from a tree. All the muscles and bones on the right side of his fairly thin and fortyish body seemed bruised and very, very tender.

           But still he walked with purpose towards the smoke, as if the smoke held answers. Where was he? It wasn't Russia, and it looked kind of like America, but there was no terrain in America that he knew of, that looked quite like this.

           He walked and glints of silver and red shined through the smoke and he could see mounds of debris scattered on the ground.

           The murmur was now deafening.

           The clouds of smoke looked like they were several miles away, but the curve of this land was confusing, he actually walked what seemed like half a mile before he found more questions than he already had.

           The remains of several rocket ships were scattered on the ground, still smoldering even though Jeremy couldn't feel the heat. And on the ground were countless cryonic chambers with blackened glass and the bodies inside seemingly mummified and still and very, very dead. He knew his wife and son were inside one of those chambers, but he was shaking too much to even try and look.

           And he was disoriented. The murmur was now deafening, as if he was in the front of a large orchestra playing a cacophonous tune. He stood for a moment, adding his own scream to the overwhelming discord. And finally, finally he heard through the murmur a voice clear and concise and familiar.

           "Daddy, I think the rocket ship ride is over."



copyright 2005 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood is a writer living in Royal Oak, MI with his wife and two small boys.  He has worked as a sailor, a journalist, a miner, a mechanic, and a salesman.  He was first published twelve years ago in a small literary magazine called Renovated Lighthouse and took a decade off of writing as he was busy trying to be the next Hemingway.  He was recently published in the December 2004 edition of Dark Moon Rising.