Chapter 16

Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Pudge’s Journey



The cone-like opening where the parabolic telescope had been constructed had completely collapsed on itself, the edges fallen in, filling the bowl. Pudge now stood on an uneven plateau, his view unencumbered for miles. The small mountain had become an island surrounded by ocean. To the north ragged ridges formed even smaller islands poking through the water here and there, with the mainland to his north forming the largest. Dotting the mainland were columns of smoke and pinpricks of fire, but not a single recognizable structure. The ocean was littered with the remnants of the devastation, bodies and wood floating along with an overturned oil tanker and the wing of a large passenger plane. Caught against the smaller island ridges he could see metal scrap that had come from cars and numerous smaller boats in pieces, the shattered masts looking eerily like crosses in a cemetery, shredded canvas sails billowing with the ocean breeze, lifting like veils on a corpse bride, inviting you for a final matrimony kiss.

Pudge wondered what had happened. The devastation was far greater than that of a hurricane or a tsunami. He knew instinctively that whatever had caused this, it had something to do with the signal. No, the signals… Where had the second signal come from? He thought he might be able to figure it out, but all his equipment had been destroyed. Hell, everything had been destroyed. Was he the last man left alive? Had this happened all over the world? Was his family dead? The irony of being the last man alive in the world shortly after trying to kill himself did not escape him.

He had to figure out what to do. How to survive, where to go… or perhaps suicide was the solution after all. Should he be happy he survived this cataclysm? Were the dead the lucky ones? He began to believe that was the case as absolute melancholy descended upon him. He was a mistake, forgotten by both hell and heaven after the apocalypse. 

The sun was directly overhead, its brightness diluted by smoke columns rising from near and far. Movement on the sea attracted his attention. This was not the slow bobbing of wood and scrap on the waves nor the rolling of downed palm trees at the surf’s edge, this was not a natural motion. His eyes scanned the water. The movement had been on a straight line, a spot surrounded by white. His ears began to catch the rumble of a motor, and the sound directed his eyes. There, by the overturned tanker, a boat was pulling a wake and creating splashes as it rose and fell from wave to hollow. It was drawing a line through the detritus that lay on the water and seemed to be headed from the tanker to his south to the Puerto Rican mainland to his north. It would need to pass very near the mount-island where he was.

Pudge began to wave and scream as he hopped toward the shore, his leg-cast dragging behind him. He thought the vessel was a Zodiac, and he believed he could see three people aboard. “My god, three people!” he thought, “Thank you God, I am not alone.” 

He had to get their attention. The vessel was moving carefully but steadily in his direction. They would pass his little island before he could reach the shore. He screamed as loud as he could as he continued to move toward them. The Zodiac seemed to gather speed as the water became clearer near the island and Pudge’s heart felt like it would explode from exertion and fear.  He was still forty meters from the shoreline when the boat began to pass the westernmost point. He stopped. He would not reach them. He screamed as loud as he could and bent over to pick up a stone. He reared back and heaved it as far as he could and the wind seemed to pick up just to help it reach its target. The stone fell way short and his heart sank. He screamed and the wind picked up his call and carried and dispersed it. The wind gusted even stronger and they did not turn.

The wind pushed at him with gaining strength when he saw one of the figures turn and point at him.  As a cloud crosses overhead he begins to hop and skip toward the shore, waving his arms, the wind helping him move. He sees the dinghy turn and speed in his direction, and now all three occupants are pointing at him. He forgets the pain in his leg and wrist and nearly accomplishes a full-out run, tears beginning to stream from his eyes. As he reaches the rocky shore and the rubber boat gets closer, he sees them pass from sunlight to shade, their arms no longer pointing at him, but beyond and above him, and he realizes that he cannot hear them, but they are screaming, their eyes filled with terror. Even before he can turn his head he knows what is behind him. 

He knows that it is death come to fix its mistake. 


Chapter Seventeen