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At the End of the World: Chapter Twenty One

       Last updated: Friday, July 3, 2020 11:47 EDT



August 28

    Now that Willow went and recorded her report in my journal, it doesn’t really feel like my journal anymore. But maybe that’s okay. I started it for myself, but now, I have to wonder: is this journal just about me, anymore? Or is it the story of us? And if so, maybe I have to rethink who gets to write in, and read, it.

    We wanted to bury Blake, but with the ground frozen, there just wasn’t any way to do it. So we put him to rest in the whaling station’s graveyard and piled stones on top of him. When it came time to say a few words, everyone looked at me. Don’t know why, except maybe I reek of Recovering Catholic. Anyhow, I was the only one who’d spent any time in a church.

    We tried checking in on the captain on the way to the graveyard, but when we opened the door a crack, we heard snoring. So we backed off. When we tried on the way back, he answered our first knock. He had to be talked into some food, which I brought back out with Willow.

    He sounded very weak. Told us to leave the food on the step, that he’d pick it up. Willow asked him if she could come in just a step or two, to see how he was doing. He refused. She threatened to push on in anyhow.

    The captain replied in his ice-cold authority voice. “If you do, I will not be able to allow you to leave. You’ll have to stay in here with me. For weeks, maybe months. So don’t come through that door.” By the end, his voice had faded to a pleading whisper.

    Willow tried to say something, choked back the words along with a sob, turned on her heel and walked back to the manager’s house. Really quickly.

    I didn’t know what to do or say, but about a minute after she left, the captain spoke. His voice was low. “Alvaro, things are going to get more difficult.”

    “More difficult than a ship full of raiders?”



    He may have chuckled; he just may have been coughing and gurgling. “Fair point. Let’s say things are going to get difficult in a new way.”

    “Well, that’s good to hear. The old way was getting boring.”

    “I knew you had some cheek in you. But hard facts, now, Alvaro. I’m never leaving the radiohouse.”

    “Captain, if you haven’t come down with the virus in a month –“

    “Alvaro: think. You’re smarter than that.”

    He was right. Deep down, I knew better.

    He evidently knew my silence meant I realized he was right. “Don’t feel badly, lad. I knew I was dead when I climbed up the ladder to the stern of that ship.”

    “What do you mean? Your wounds aren’t –“

    “Alvaro: it has nothing to do with my wounds, although they will accelerate my — my outcome. As it is, you’re going to have to go through all my kit soon, anyway. So when you get back to the manager’s house, go in my room. Go look at the bottles in my medicine cabinet. That will tell you what you need to know. I was the only one who could risk going on their ship, because I’ll be dead before I can, er . . . can ‘turn’. Assuming I’m infected at all.”

    “Captain, whatever is wrong with you, you can’t be sure –“

    “Yes, I can be sure. What’s wrong with me is not going to get better. And even if I had some miraculous reversal, I can’t risk staying near you lot, lest do I turn. This is the way it has to be. But there’s a harder patch ahead.”

    Now I knew what he meant. “Johnnie.”

    “Yes. He’s a good lad, but it will be hard having him living in a separate room in the manager’s house. So, when I — no longer have need of my bunk here, this is where he should be.”

    “So this becomes the plague house.”

    “Yes. So, listen now: here’s what you have to do.”

    He talked me through the necessary steps in about five minutes. He had it all thought out, down to the last detail. By the end, he had gotten hoarse. “Now go. Talking makes me tired.”

    I heard him shuffle away, deeper into the radiohouse.

    When I got back to the manager’s house, I went into his room: everyone stared at me as I did. Everyone except Willow, that is. She just looked real sad.

    I learned a lot of things. Like what a bastard I was for calling him the Great Ghoul of the Ocean-Sea and other smart-ass shit like that. The first of those orange prescription med bottles I picked up had this on its label: “Methotrexate — for advanced Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” I didn’t see the dosage or anything; I didn’t need to. There was Lieutenant — no, Captain — Alan Haskins’ death sentence, written out as calm and plain and small as the bullshit you read on the label of Flintstone’s vitamins.

    And then I saw that the bottle was empty, and that the “next refill date” — in Valparaiso — was May 30, 2015. Almost three months ago. So, whatever the captain had heard on the radio by mid-June made him skip going to Valparaiso for his meds. Going through the rest of the prescription bottles (which included interferon, Welbutrin, and a bunch of opioids), I found another empty methotrexate, this one from Port Stanley. Clearly, a pharmacy there was his back-up plan. But by that time, no one was dispensing any meds — or anything else — in the Falklands. 

    The only bottle that didn’t make sense at first was a prescription for Vyvanse, made out for someone named Phillip Grover. Then Willow walked in and solved the mystery.

    Looking over my shoulder, she scanned the bottle and said, “Huh. Sure.”


    “It’s why the captain perked up over the last week. That’s some kid’s ADHD meds. Vyvanse is an amphetamine. Must have been left behind on some cruise.”

    “Damn it,” I muttered. “The captain, he — he deserved better than this.”

    She nodded. “He’s had a hard life. Unfair.”


    She shrugged, went to the nightstand. There was an open manila folder on it. “He had me get this out from under his bed last night: all the data he ever collected on the virus that’s causing this plague. But I found something else under there.” She took what looked like an oversized jewelry box off his nightstand, handed it to me.

    Inside was a square silver cross. It was hanging from a white ribbon with a purple stripe running down its center. It took me a moment to realize I was looking at a medal. “Holy shit. What do you think it is? The Victoria Cross or something?”

    She handed me a much folded letter on royal — royal? — stationery that had gone with the medal. It was the Military Cross, awarded for gallantry to Lieutenant Alan P. Haskins of the —

    I looked up. “He’s friggin’ SAS?”

    She nodded as I put it down. “I wonder how long we would have survived if anyone else had been the captain of Voyager.”

    For a moment, I couldn’t decide whether I felt we were the luckiest people on the planet for having had him with us, or the unluckiest for losing him and never knowing who or what he was until now. I guess if we hadn’t all been such a bunch of self-involved kids with our heads up our asses and obsessing over first-world problems, we might have seen him more clearly.

    Tucked under the medal box were letters. The addresses were written in a female hand. Judging from the postmarks, they were probably from the woman Keywood had mentioned. Who seemed to be one and the same as the security operative he had lost on Fortuna Glacier, according to some of the security stamps on a few of the envelopes: evidently, she been assigned to Port Stanley from the Foreign Office. I put the medal box back on top of the letters: I couldn’t open them any more than Willow had been able to when she found them.

    We wandered out into the next room. Everyone was there, looking at us. Because now we had morphed into a combined surrogate-captain; we were the ones who shared out the information, set the next course. I thought I might shit my pants right there.

    I started to speak. Before I had the first word out, Giselle put up her hand. Yes, she put up her friggin’ hand. I just nodded.

    “What about Johnnie? He needs to hear what’s going on, too.”

    I answered carefully. “We’ll catch him up. As soon as we’re done here. But captain had some — orders — about Johnnie. And himself.” Which I explained in stomach-sinking detail.

    After that, we had to review the new equipment we’d added to our collection. Although a lot of the raiders’ guns had gone overboard, there were the bunch Johnnie had pulled off the ship, and then a few more the captain had stuffed into the bags he’d brought out. There were four Argentine FALs, three Rexio pump shotguns, and two AKs that looked like they had been well-chewed and spat out by the backstreets of half the cities in South America. There were about an equal number of handguns: a few Tauruses and Browning Hi-Powers, but most were .38 Special knock-offs.

    The other things that the captain had scavenged for us — mostly food, water, vitamins, medical supplies — were all in sealed plastic: the only reason he had picked them up. In addition to a pair of toolboxes, that was pretty much it.

    When I was done, everyone sat for a while. Then Rod looked up. “Okay, but what are we gonna do next?”

    I sighed, couldn’t believe I was going to say what I was about to say. “We start getting ready to leave.”

    “Whoa, whoa!” shouted Silent Steve — who’d really found his voice in the past twenty-four hours. “That’s not for a few months, though, right?”

    I shook my head. “Captain says there’s a change of plans. We leave within the week. Have to.”

    “What? Why?”

    “Because of the plague.”

    “But we’ve got the captain and Johnnie quarantined. And if they’re okay –“

    “We won’t know until it’s too late, Steve. What do you want to do, tape them to their chairs for the next month — assuming that’s long enough? Except how do we restrain them without also getting too close to them? According to the reports, when the infected turn, they turn fast. Really fast. And — worst news — the two people who’ve been exposed and are currently quarantined are also the two largest, strongest people in the group.”

    Steve eyed the guns leaning in the corner next to the door.



    “Really?” I asked. “You think you could shoot either of them? And do you think they’d make it easy?” I thought I might throw up. “Captain thought this through. Winter is just about done down here. In a week, if the weather is good, we start out. If not, we wait for it to turn, watching the ocean from Leith Harbor.”

    “And what?” Giselle gasped. “Just leave the captain and Johnnie here?”

    I sighed and looked straight at her. “That’s what the captain says. And if you have a better solution, one that allows us to keep them with us, but safely in quarantine, I am all ears.” I kept myself from adding, I don’t like this any better than you do. Probably a lot less.

    Giselle’s chin came out: she wasn’t going down without a fight. “There’s the other ship. We could put them on that.”

    I shook my head. “It’s a good thought, but it won’t work. Running that ship requires a lot of hard work and a lot more than two crew. Unfortunately, the captain can barely hold a teacup. And Johnnie — well, he’d need a lot of hands-on guidance.” In order to make that sound better, I added. “Any of us would.” Which was true enough. “Look: the captain is right. We can only take one ship: Voyager. So we refuel her from the raider’s tanks, and take as much more as we can hold in the containers we have. But all of that is for emergencies: for close maneuvers, outrunning bad weather, whatever. We aren’t experienced sailors like the captain, but he taught us a lot more than the basics. As he pointed out, we ran the ship on our own from the time we got around Tierra del Fuego.”

    Chloe frowned. “Ugh. I’m not looking forward to going back through there.”

    I smiled at her and her frown went away. Hell, she even smiled back. “You won’t have to. Because we aren’t going that way.”

    Rod nodded. “If we head northeast, we can ride one current after the other over toward Brazil. Then we can coast-follow all the way up to the Caribbean.”

    “To do what?” Steve asked. “None of us have any spent any real time on the East Coast. The West Coast is all we know.”

    Willow shook her head. “Actually, Steve, we don’t know the West Coast. Not anymore. Every place is an unknown, now. But if we tried sailing back to California, we’d have headwinds for a thousand miles to the west and then a hard tack up along South America’s Pacific coast. But if we go north, we can follow the Benguela Current up to the South Equatorial Current and catch a ride all the way to the Spanish Main and the Caribbean.”

    Steve smirked. “Yeah, just in time for hurricane season.”

    Chloe shrugged. “Hey, if you know a perfectly safe place these days, tell me and I’ll go. But if not — damn, there are a lot of ports up that way. A lot of places to look for survivors.”

    I nodded. “And the captain pointed out that there are a lot of sub pens that face on the Atlantic. If anyone in the world got away from this virus, it would be sub crews. So we want to get up there and get our radio in range: not just to pick up their transmissions, but to trade information, join them.”

    Giselle sighed. “We’re not the only people who will go to the Caribbean. Which, if I recall my history, was a hot spot for pirates until the last century.”

    I smiled. “Well, we certainly don’t have a shortage of guns or ammunition this time. We even have enough to get in some practice.”

    “On the open ocean?”

    “Could. Or if we scout out some of the islands that have remained uninhabited. We might make landfall there.”

    Steve screwed up his face. “What uninhabited islands?”

    “There are some everyplace you go. Usually small ones that don’t have any springs or rivers of their own and are so small that any decent hurricane will put them underwater for a while.”

    “So we’re going to stop there just to practice shooting?”

    I shook my head. “Fish gather in their shallows. There are fruit trees. We get a chance to feel our feet on the ground. And yes, we also get to practice our marksmanship.”

    Rod nodded. “Captain really did have it all figured out.”

    I smiled, didn’t let on that the last couple of ideas were my own. Then I noticed Willow smiling a Mona Lisa smile at me. Well, yeah, okay: she knew they were my ideas. After all, she’s friggin’ Willow.

    It was she who got up first. “I’m going to go tell Johnnie.”

    No one volunteered to come with her, to talk through the door to tell the biggest, most good-natured of us all that we were going to maroon him here with a dying SAS lieutenant who just might go whacko and kill him before the first week was out.

    I felt like a shit.

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