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Reaching 180.80

Noises in the Silence

By WriterZummyPublished about a month ago 45 min read
Noises in the Silence

A Perspective Preface and Introduction

"It's so fun to think that I had originally written the beginnings of the following tale within a comment section of an instagram reel. Regardless, I am eternally grateful to the countless heartfelt replies and encouragement of the many readers of this story. Their responses have inspired me to release the first of many adventures that is Reaching 180.80."

"The story is told in a unique perspective that I believe will enhance the reader's experience. The style choice places the reader in the front seat of the tale as they venture forth from place to place through the eyes of a character. Your character will have to do their best to survive this world. Pain, danger, loneliness, loss, and the vast unknown are his foes... but will you see him through it all? From spectacles beyond measure, to the mundane of the daily—will you hear the beats of your character's anxious heart? Will you shoulder their burdens and bear them upon your very own? Will you truly see him to the very end and help him find what he's looking for? Well, if you have read and reached this far, why not embark on the reading adventure and start Reaching 180.80?"

- David Zummy :)

CHAPTER 1 - Now Do or Die

It tasted like dust ... thick, dry, dust.

Your eyelids were heavy, caked with mud and powdered cement. As you gradually muster the strength to open them, you find yourself amidst broken walls and other rubble. You hastily get to your feet, shaking off debris, and feel multiple fractured ribs relay their complaints. As your eyes adjust to the bright yet pale lighting, you look around—but … there really wasn't much to see.

Not only was your apartment, garden, and car in utter ruin but even the city skyline was shattered. It had all been raised to the ground in one way or another. Everything was reduced to ugly gray stone spikes that pointed skyward, and no one … absolutely no one was in sight.

Coughing on the barely breathable air, you cry out for help. But as the sound of your empty voice returns after bouncing off the gray landscape, you realize things were far worse than you could ever imagine. You were really alone.

There had to be someone right? So, in quiet sort of panic, you roam the streets in search for answers.

The city blocks—or what remained of them, were barren and deteriorated. The few lamp posts that remained were layered with dust and rust and stood like splinters alongside the cracked roads. It was as if the world had sped forward without you, weeds splitting through sidewalks and streets, vines etching across the walls of buildings, and unusually rusty cars waiting patiently in their resting places for owners that would never return.

Your heart screams for you to continue looking for people who might still be around, but the day was no longer young. The thought of wandering the dead city at night alone sent shivers down your spine. What if the destruction wasn't over? What if you were still in danger?

It was now do or die.

So, in the absence of better judgment, you decide to do—or in a more literal description: run. You leave your little township behind and continue sprinting, never once considering looking back for fear that either what had laid waste to the city would return or that the sight of it all would kill you with despair then and there.

You were now far from the city, and gradually, against the gray fluffs of clouds high above, shimmers of plum red and gold snaked across the sky. You could tell by its unique warmth that it was soon sundown already. Thankfully, you spot an old gas station sitting next to the road nearby and stumble over towards it. Still busy with cars nestled in its tanking lots, the place evoked an indescribable sense of rustic and almost nostalgic feelings. It was as though the drivers and station staff had disappeared into thin air all at once, leaving everything exactly as it was when the place thrived.

The withered paint and rusty metal that still clung strong told you all you needed to know about the cars there. None would really work. You figured the petroleum in the pumps had long since expired due to lack of a stabilizer, so even if some of the cars were sleeping … they would never awake with the fire that once brought them here.

You walk into the gas station ministore and, to your relief, find it half stocked. From beverages to canned goods, you start grabbing all that your weary hands can carry. Fortunately, you find a blue laptop bag behind the counter—probably once belonging to an employee, and examined it. You feel a wave of shame at discarding the laptop that sat in the bag, but after trying to boot it up to no avail, you realized it was a lost cause… and attempting to fix it was a priority that certainly could wait. You empty the bag's other contents onto the dusty tiled floor to fill it with the cans and goods you had scavenged from the shelves.

Stealing all these items felt rather shameful, but you knew there was no other way. It was a dance with death, and survival was the winner’s prize.

You shoulder the bag and continue looking around the store. You find and detach a massive tank of water from a nearby drink fountain. The syrups once used to mix with this water had long since dried to a sticky mulch-like sludge. You attempted to lift the behemoth of a tank, but unsurprisingly it was extremely heavy. With much effort, you finally managed to lift the thing as the fear of departing without it far outshone the effort of having to lug it around.

As you shuffle towards the exit, you eye the sun poking its face out of the clouds as it started dipping behind the horizon. Then it occurred to you: why not stay here?

The road you had stayed on after leaving the town continued for dozens and dozens of kilometers until it reached the nearest suburban township and the waking stars above reminded you of the horrors of being in the open at night. You decide to stay.

While the ministore presented itself as quite the ideal shelter—stocked with food and what not, the windows were all smashed through and the door had fallen off its hinges. The place was open to the elements, as could be seen by the piles of sand that had accumulated within and some roots that crept in and along the walls. You didn't want to wait and find out what else might find its way in during the night.

Having looked over the place thoroughly, you figured that the gaps could all be plugged—at least for the night, seeing as setting up camp within a store carries its own convenient perks. Finding some old tools in the back of the store once belonging to a car amenities aisle, you set to work. You start by knocking the products off of a large wooden shelf then began dismantling it, salvaging the nails as you separated the boards. Next, you boarded up the windows, doorway, and any other precarious gap to the outdoors with these resources.

It was pitch black now, the wind howling as it lifted the sand past outside. Against better judgment, you open a box of matches to provide some light. One after the next the matches went out, and a worrying realization arose as you notice your finite supply fast depleting.

Though being mere meters away from petroleum, you decide you’d rather take your chances than sit in the cold dark. Besides, you wanted to cook a meal from the things you had gathered, so yet again you set to work.

You begin by breaking apart some more wood from what had been salvaged earlier and start a little fire with the last matches, watching a little fire grow. You open a couple cans and set them on the fire to bubble as they cook.

After a hearty cooked meal of baked beans and smoked spam, you sit back and watch the crackling fire before you. For the first time since you awoke today, you could finally process your situation.

There was no returning home as there was nothing left for you in your city. You could return to scavenge for supplies, but the thought of seeing familiar sights in such a broken state made you sick to your stomach. Thinking back to your efforts to find people there, you remember how the destruction fell off the further out of the city you went.

Upon the arrival at the gas station, you noticed how it was also run down, but its condition was almost untouched compared to the buildings and apartments of your hometown. Whatever had happened definitely occurred at the heart of the city, spreading across it and getting weaker as it left its limits.

By now the crickets could be heard outside as the wind died down. At least some life remained, you thought to yourself wistfully. And perhaps this meant there was a chance to hope that someone ... yes, someone would still be around.

CHAPTER 2 - On the Run Again

The smell of burning plastic made you bolt upright.

THE STORE WAS ON FIRE!

You cupped your mouth against the smoke and shouted at yourself for dozing off. With no one to watch the fire, it had already helped itself to the roof after climbing a wooden shelf, and any attempt to put it out would be futile.

You grab your bag and attempted to lift the tank of water you found earlier; however, the awkward mix of barely being awake and lack of breathable air made the heavy container impossible to carry. It just simply wouldn't leave the ground.

You were burning time, and in a fit of desperate frustration you kick the tank over, choking on the thick smoke as you did. The toxic air would prove fatal if you didn’t get out soon, and what worried you even more was that you could feel the heat building. The gas station was a ticking time-bomb!

To cut the losses of not having the water tank, you exchange a couple cans from your bag with some bottled water. The bag had limited space and you were desperate. You dash toward the entrance but your heart sinks as you find the boards you built firm and unmoving. You kick at them with all your might but nothing moved. The smoke scratched at your lungs and you could taste iron as you coughed. You keep slamming yourself against the door and the window boards… but nothing, absolutely nothing budged.

You could feel the flames licking at you now, searing your skin as it closed in. You yelled in pain as you heard your skin sizzle. Doubling your attempts, you start to hurl yourself against the boards, but they remain indifferent to your helplessness.

Suddenly, you hear a wizz followed by a loud boom that sends you crashing hard against the splintering wood. The fire roared behind.

Finally you were out!

Looking back, you watch with weary gratitude how a box of scattered aerosols were to thank for your escape. The heat had made them explode-

But wait!—this meant the petroleum could be next...

You crawl to your feet and start limping away frantically from the bruning station with all the strength you could muster. Then you heard a much louder hiss followed by a loud BANG. A giant fireball erupted out of the ground behind you, tossing you face first into the sand and gravel beside the road. You glance back in tired horror at the destruction caused by your negligence, but you couldn't focus on that now. The morning was fast approaching, and you didn't want to stay around the station for fear that the commotion would attract unwanted attention.

CHAPTER 3 - The Smile

After hours of trekking down the same road, you reached the next township and enter the first house you could in order to rest. After about midday, you leave and start wandering from house to house. You find no one, as usual, but the area was rich with goods like food, water, and most importantly—medical supplies. Infections and open wounds would be fatal if left untreated, so you immedietly set to work. After disinfecting and bandaging up your wounds the best you could, you continued searching for useful supplies and signs of life.

A cold and lonely thought kept remerging as you dove in and out of abandoned buildings, but you dismissed it.

Finding what you could vaguely make out as a kindergarten, you entered it. What you saw made your heart drop... It was overrun with sand, debris, and vines. What had happened to the staff and children? Then the same creeping thought from earlier returned and rose up your spine ... so you were alone, weren't you?

You dismissed the thought, but fear and sadness still lingered in the back of your mind as you dove into the darkened halls of a supermarket. You find some old magazines with products, travel destinations, ads, and … people. They were all smiling. You let the creeping loneliness return, and realized that everything up until now reminded you of people—or worse still, of their absence. This had to be a nightmare. You reassure yourself that you couldn't possibly be the only person to have survived. You wipe the thoughts away, and pocketed more supplies from the shelves. Before stepping out, you rush back and snatch a magazine and a comic or two. They didn't take up much space and you figure having some lighthearted entertainment wouldn't hurt in times like this.

Later that evening, you enter a trailer park. After scavenging the place for useful resources and items, you find a large RV that could be opened. You had stopped your searches upon seeing a heavy and strange mist settle around the area, forcing you to seek shelter though it wasn't night yet.

In the darkness caused by the fog, you fumble around in your bag for matches and a candle you had collected from your scavenging. Suddenly, you hear a deep rumbling outside. It was as if there was an earthquake outside as you felt waves of tremors move on past, slightly rocking the vehicle back and forth. Then it was all quiet ... uncomfortably quiet.

After a couple minutes of sitting in dark silence, you light the candle and place it on a countertop. You then pour out the treasures of your toils on a small table. After sorting out the different things you collected, you set aside the magazine and comics you found earlier today. While flipping through the pages of the comics, you scoop up spoonfuls of cold ravioli out of a can you had opened. The comics were strange but they sure made you laugh. From chuckles to sighs, tears to intrigue, they reminded you of a different world before all this.

Upon finishing the can of ravioli, you mumble to yourself and open a bag of chips. You put aside the comics and begin flipping through the magazine . It was rather worn, so you couldn't quite make out what the magazine was about—but that didn't stop you from taking things in.

Suddenly you stop over a page. Under the candlelight it was hard to read the description of the topic, but there was a little portrait of a person on the bottom of the page and you sure could make out a faint smile. It stood out to you because it felt so real—so human. You feel your own to see if you’re still human like them, and it was there. Out of all the things you have come across, this was the first time something left you like this. You feared that looking away would make it lose that ethereal beauty, so you stayed glued to the portrait, knowing that as long as the candle burned, so did your heart for the smile of a person you never met and probably never would.

The following morning you got up late as you had stayed up gazing at the picture deep into the night. Before leaving the trailer you unfold a giant piece of paper you found scavenging the park earlier the other day, revealing a dilapidated but legible map of the state. You had already etched in your custom markers of the sites you found days earlier, now including this new trailer park. If you had to survive, you had to plan ahead, and mapping the area would be vital to achieving this goal.

You venture out of the town and find many like it over the course of days, weeks, and months ... finding better shelters as you went on; but, at heart you couldn't deny that the real reason why you kept going was far higher than a mere roof over your head.

With every step you screamed internally, hoping that out there somewhere someone ... anyone, would hear your plea. You prayed for the unbelievably remote chance that maybe, just maybe, there was someone still around. Perhaps, the person in the magazine was still out there? A smile like theirs couldn’t possibly have faded away, you lie to yourself. After all, if you had survived, is it too far to speculate that someone like them may have as well?

CHAPTER 4 - Drowning In Realization

The continual search for a better shelter often led you on excursions to many areas you had never been to before. Today it brought you into a strange new city.

You run close along abandoned blocks, etched between skyscrapers. It's been many months since the gas station incident and you have wandered far enough to have made it into a large abandoned city, quite similar to your own in its faded grandeur. The formidable spires reached far into the cloudless sky, scraping at the heavens, but also scraping at your heart… They were once bustling with people like you. Now you dove in and out of these lifeless corpses in the hopes that you would rediscover a glimpse of something that would bring those days back.

You tighten the cloth around your face as you spot a sandstorm closing in on the far horizon. It wasn’t abnormal for these to occur in this region, and they weren't life threatening ... as long as you didn't get lost in one. Thus, staying out in one would be useless and rather reckless.

You bolt into one of the towering giants, and slouch into a leather seat in the main reception hall. The constant darting in and out of here and there had exhausted you. The glass doors, caked with dust, took on the scene of a massive theater screen. You were surprised that the glass hadn’t been destroyed like so many other things have been.

You watch wearily as the storm rages outside the glass doors, then refocus your attention on the room you were in. You eyed it up and down, the plants all having dried up long ago, the carpets faded, and wooden furniture misshapen by the elements and possibly termites. Your eyes come to rest on the seats that you’ve been sitting on … and you get up suddenly. They were empty … they were all so empty. And the thought of sitting any longer in them would drive you crazy.

You let curiosity take the better and you find yourself climbing flights after flights of stairs. After what felt like ages of endless steps, you make it to the top of thge scraper. The storm raged on below, but up here ... it was amazing. The sun had just set and the sky was alive with color. Pink blended into purple, and the blue of night was just landing. The stars started to sparkle their stories to the moon far on the horizon, and the sandy clouds below stretched far out on all sides. You reach out a hand to hold the heavens as your heart released a silent prayer.

Your hand recedes into one of your pockets where you pull out a small folded piece of paper. It wasn’t the map this time, but a smaller picture, torn at the edges. It was the person from the magazine.

The Folded Smile

You figured that you would discover amazing sights like this on your excursions, and thought to yourself ... they shouldn’t be witnessed alone—at least not really. So you carried the person along on your adventures for however long these may continue. The paper was weathered and the portrait of the face almost completely gone—but their smile remained. You clutched it close and nestled yourself back against an old antenna. It was dreadfully cold now up here by now, but the warmth of the moment made it so pleasant.

The night was young, and the milky way galaxy was spilled across the sky. A sight like this would have been impossible in a city of this scale while it was alive … you revel. It was a bittersweet thought but for the first time since you awoke to this strange new world, you didn’t know which you would have preferred at that very moment.

The stars kept reassuring you that you weren’t the only one up here as they twinkled their tales. At last you felt less alone ... but then the realization settled that those celestial bodies would have not a single person on them—just like down here.

The feelings start to reverse as you conclude that finding the person in the magazine would be just as vain as traveling to these infinitely distant stars. You gently fold the cutout and pocket it as you continue swimming in the sea above. Though sparkling in the night, the stars were just as lifeless as your circumstance. They were a sight for sore eyes, once having been witnessed by billions. Now, it could very well be that all but one pair of eyes drank in their beauty. No … they weren't drinking, they were drowning ... drowning in the marvel of this lonely theater.

CHAPTER 5 - Finding 180.80

It's been years or more ... or perhaps less. You really weren't sure anymore.

You had reached the decision around the sixth month of this nightmare that keeping track of time was futile, as the need to observe dates had long lost its human touch. All that mattered was the gradual shift of seasons, as you recalled how difficult your first winter was.

In the time that has passed you've stumbled across a beautiful acre of farmland that eventually led to a barnhouse. There, you made a little farm for yourself, caught and brought up some cattle and other animals, and even restored an old watermill that rested in the sands of a small river. Though it was a massive project and took you multiple seasons to complete, you've managed to outfit the mill with an old streetlamp wind turbine motor to generate power through hydro-electric means. Installing it wasn't as difficult as deconstructing the motor and hauling it back, but you were glad it all worked out and that you had been lucky enough to stumble upon it in the first place in one of your annual journeys into the lonely cities.

You began working on any task that would keep your mind from drifting into despair. You knew such a price was too steep to pay.

A casual day would take the form of: tending to the fields, feeding the animals the produce you planted, oiling the mill motor, and occasionally running to a nearby town to collect items you didn't have.

It was on one of these trips where you had found a friend. Ever since then, all the daily tasks would involve little Atticus the dog. On warm days you'd go swimming in the river with him, splashing around in the crisp waters. When you'd let the animals graze on the open fields, little Atticus would help you keep a tab on them, always barking at any that chose to wander too far. At the end of some days you'd sit out on the barn porch with him, and if it was a really good one—the sunset would be everything. On such occasions, it was a tradition of yours to hug little Atticus, scratching the scruff under his chin in his favorite little way.

It was good to be alive, to have a way to be alive, and to share this life with a friend again. And as the moon spread forth its wings after a good sunset and little Atticus started dreaming his little doggie dreams, you would pull out the weathered picture of the magazine person. You would pray the same prayer, the same plea, as you did long ago atop that scraper. Then you would tuck the picture away and gaze at the stars dancing above just like you did back then.

Day in and day out, you kept this routine, and life seemed like it had finally picked itself up again.

But then the winter came, again.

Your life was hit with things you fought hard to avoid. Oh how you hated that bitter winter! You had prepared—no, slaved, all that summer and autumn to ensure that you, your farm, and the animals would make it through. But it was far colder and harsher than you had anticipated, and one terrible snow storm after the next you started to lose ... everything.

First the mill stopped as the river had started to freeze up, leading you to salvage the motor so you could hand crank it for charging up batteries. At the very least, this outcome kept you warm with the frequent cranks, but then it the really bad things started to happen.

The storage silo, where your year's labor was stored, burned down. All the wheat, potatoes, and other necessities you worked your back off farming were lost. When the fire happened you hadn't even realized it since it occurred during a blizzard. By the time the snow and wind had subsided all you could find was the smoldering reminder of the hostile circumstances you were barely surviving.

The winter brought calamity after calamity, and though you fought hard to cut the losses, one after the next they continued to build up. Your animals started to fall from hunger and sickness—it was just too cold. To counter this, you tried bringing them into the warmth of your barn and would nestle against each one on especially cold nights to keep them warm. You would stay up late tending to them though you had fallen ill from a cold yourself, and in the feverish gray light of day you would go about feeding them with what little resources you had left. Regardless of all your efforts, you had reached a point where almost all of them had passed, and then finally ... the world decided it was time to land the hardest blow.

It wasn't right. You knew little Atticus was sick and had ventured out to get some medicine for him from town. But when the accursed blizzard came, and all you could do was shelter in the town's church house until it had blown over, you knew it would be too late. Two times you tried going out in the storm to save little Atticus, but both times you ended up returning as it getting lost in this weather would be fatal. By the time it all subsided and you returned, you could've thrown all the medication away by now, as you hugged your lifeless little friend close.

Illustration of little Atticus by the author (me)

Your routine had been shattered ever since, and you found yourself crying for the first time in ages as you buried him. You tossed the shovel away upon finishing and dropped to your knees, the snow soaking your pants—but you didn't care. It seemed all your cares had, for the time being, perished with little Atticus.

You were alone again.

Days had passed and it was another night howling with the wind and snow of a blizzard. The barn held strong, and the crackle of a woodfire kept you warm. You crack nuts you had picked up from the aftermath of the silo fire. Somehow they managed to survive it all. Roasting these nuts on the fire, you fill the place with a comforting smell of bygone Christmas memories. Once the first batch was finished, you chucked a couple on the ground and waited. Two squirrels bolted out of the sides of the barn, snatched up the treats, and disappeared again into the hay. You never really recovered from little Atticus, but the squirrels Tim and Jim still held a soft spot in your heart, and though you knew they'd go someday too, you were going to see them through till the end.

This evening, though, you pushed all the negative thoughts aside—at least for now.

It was time to celebrate.

Celebrate? Yes, it was a big evening ... as you had managed to restore a radio! The tiny old thing had been found a couple weeks ago by little Atticus while you were clearing out old farm equipment in the loft of the barn. It was broken and old, but after some rewiring, hand-cranked charging, and much much patience, the power light lit up.

It had been a long while, but for the first time your old excitement of finding people seemed to reignite.

The radio static arose as you adjusted the volume knob. You smile ... but frown not long after, realizing that, yes it worked ... but that was only half the victory. Hours upon hours of going up and down the frequencies led to nothing. You couldn't stand it anymore. The static made you feel even more alone.

In a fit of depressed fury you grab the radio and toss the unit towards the fire as your last kindle of hope recedes into anger. Luckily, the unit rebounded off the gleaming embers, landing on its face while letting out a static crunch and then—a miracle happened.

"Anyone! If you c- kzzzzt -ear this transm- kzzzzt Please can you kzzzzt kzzzzzzzt (you slam the radio on the counter) and follow the road until you reach the little junction on- kzzzzt because the kzzzzzt So if you follow the instructions, you'll find me."

Realizing it wasn't the radio that was responsible for the disturbance, you did your best to listen, piecing together the broadcast bit by bit.

"In case you kzzzzt -issed the first par- kzzzzt this transmission, tune in on the radio fr- kzzzzt ency 180.80... kzzzzt of the same for many broadcasts now, and I need to know if there's kzzzt one else in this reality. My name is- kshhhhhhhhh"

You notice this time it's not your radio, but instead the other end that had somehow broken up. You didn't know whether to cry or laugh... But you sure didn't waste any time in rushing to grab a piece of paper, and on it you wrote...

CHAPTER 6 - The Cards Are in Play

Weeks of tuning in to 180.80 was ... futile. The voice never came back, and you wondered if the sounds that evening were just your hallucination. Could it be your radio? Could it be their end? Could it just be you losing it finally? It's been so long after all, and talking to animals definitely doesn't help your case. But then what else is there? For the first time in a while you had a real glimmer of concrete hope, and you wanted to hold onto it as long as it lasted, so you continued chasing 180.80.

Night after night you would settle in front of your radio at exactly 8:04 PM, the time of the first broadcast, while you listened to the familiar hiss of the radio static. Doubts began to fill your head again.

Did you remember the wrong frequency or could they have changed the broadcasting times? Or could it be that the radio just picked up some random recording from somewhere?

Though constant and rather subdued, the radio static was deafening—or more so the silent loneliness it ushered. Reminding you of the countless times you had watched what little hope you still had being dashed apart, this situation ripped at your soul.

Day after day you endure the grueling wait, every attempt draining your hope just a little bit more than the last. Hour after hour went by next to the static box. You would lie there, twirling around some hay as you memorized the barn roof patterns, but it was always nothing after nothing

But then out of nowhere...

"Kzzzzzzzzzzzt-ESTING ... TESTING ... Oh! Okay, the lights are flashing ... annnnd that means I'm live right? Ah, who cares, no one listens to this anyhow. Alright, this is log... I don't really know anymore, 83? Nah, probably 84-”

You leap to your knees and dive next to the radio.

“Sigh, and to think I do this even though I'm probably the only one who'll ever hear this... Anyhow! If in the teeny tiny chance that someone is hearing this broadcast ... I FIXED THE ANTENNA!! You probably had a hard time hearing me last time—if you were even around last time ... and I am sorry for that. You all better be grateful now though since I nearly busted my back setting up the new one. These stupid trees and roots made it so difficult to get up there, and I think somehow they must've damaged the old one. These salad rejects seem to grow faster than a coon-hound chasing a hare. But somehow ... yes somehow, it all worked out. I'm here, and you're there ... listening—I hope..."

You listen on expectantly.

"Gosh, I do hope someone's listening..."

You feel the pain in their voice.

"I can't help but think I'm the only one now. I haven’t seen anyone since all this started. It makes me so tired when I think of it all. The thought that I still haven't found anyone ... scares me."

The volume was at max already so all you can do is hold the radio as close as possible. You didn't want to miss a single moment this time.

"I would go out and continue searching but it didn't work out too well last time. Don't you hate coyotes too? No? Well you will learn to soon enough—trust me. ANYHOW, here I go off script again. Where was I? Ah yes, so I fixed stuff and... well yeah that's pretty much it. My power supply is kinda limited sooooo I'll have to end this log for now. BUT … sigh, I will tune in on the weekly and let you know if I'm still around so ... yeah, catch you around fellow survivors. 180.80, over and out."

The familiar static ensues leaving the barn silent. You stare blankly at what you just heard and can’t decide to scream in joy or tears…

Unwillingly, you end up doing both.

But what now? Do you leave the farm and all that you have set up in the slight hope that maybe … just maybe there’s still someone out there? What if it was a trap? And to leave would mean to leave the crops, the animals, and … so much more. It was a gamble, it was a game of risk … and were you about to fold?

No.

You couldn’t let this opportunity pass. A lifetime of comfort spent alone paled in comparison to the chance of perhaps finding someone else. Even if it was a glimpse, it was a risk worth taking. However if it was false, or even a trap… well, the adventures would have to end there. You took your cards and went all in, there was no backing out now.

CHAPTER 7 - It Was Settled

The barn roof’s wood boards danced with light pitter-patter, tips and taps. Though barely through winter, the weather had strangely warmed up quite notably. This meant rain ... and that, in turn, meant a lot of mud and flooding in the area. Thankfully the rains seemed to still be rather tame; however, it could worsen in the coming weeks, you thought to yourself.

Regardless of the weather, you made up your mind already. Today you were going to find 180.80. Where? Well, they did sound like they were announcing the directions to their location the first time, but the most recent broadcast seemed to have left that detail out. Whether they thought better of announcing their location to the world or simply forgot, you didn't know. What you were certain was that the source was likely operating from a radio station, as you recall how the frequency 180.80 was reserved for a famous sitcom radio station long ago. Pulling out your trusty makeshift map, you recall noting a communications building in a town you had passed. But then again ... you had passed a couple more in other cities.

It was a long shot … and the trek to the nearest one would last 3 days, maybe 2 if you walked through the night. If you went there and found that there was no one there, the rains could delay your return by weeks or perhaps even a month. Was it worth the risk?

Alternatively, you could wait for the next week's broadcast in the hope that the person would provide more information, but that would mean another week of waiting. What if they decided to move elsewhere by then? Worse yet, what if something happened to them before you got to them? There was a strange urgency to the situation you couldn't quite explain. It was a mixed feeling bouncing between that of leaving someone behind and just barely missing someone—but so much worse. You were at a crossroads, and had to make a decision.

It was settled.

You pack up what little provisions you could carry into the trusty laptop bag you shouldered from day one where you stopped by the gas station. It was quite unbelievable that the robust little thing had survived so long, but it did. You grab a rusty barn shovel and tie it to your back as it put your mind at ease to know that, in the case of running into wild animals, you were prepared (especially about the coyotes thanks to the warning issued by 180.80). Deep down though, you did it as a tribute to little Atticus. You had nothing that remained to show of his existence, aside from this shovel. It was with this very one that you had buried the little guy, and it hurt to think of how much he would've loved to accompany you on a trip like this.

Among the provisions you also brought some medical supplies you found in a shed nearby, though most had long since expired. You also carefully poured precious kerosene into a flask you would carry along with a portable metal lamp. A little light could make all the difference in a critical situation.

Setting aside a couple of nuts from a sack you had tied up and stored away in the back of the barn, you scattered them on the floor as you bid your squirrels Tim and Jim goodbye. Up till this point they never approached close enough for you to pet them, but this time they ventured closer than ever before ... seemingly as if bidding their own version of farewell.

Leaving the barn, you look at the watermill you converted into a power station. It had stopped working since you removed the motor but you were proud of it. You walked past the makeshift farm you had poured months into, the rubble that was the old silo, and all the animals you've raised. Though rainy, the days had gotten warmer, and so the animals were out in their pens instead of the barn. You begin to open the gates, freeing the animals—watching all the toils and tears invested in your survival here came to an end. And without so much as another last look back at all the labor and fruit of your hands, you ran off. You were leaving, and nothing was going to hold you back. If the risk was in vain well … you sure can say you put in a heck of a try.

“180.80, I'm on my way” you whispered to yourself as you trudged through the marshes, wiping the raindrops off your brow.

CHAPTER 8 - The Strange Town

It had been a day and a half, your supplies were half emptied, and your legs were weary from running. You had planned out the journey very carefully to ensure you wouldn't miss a single day's delay for fear that such a foresight would make your entire risk vain. It was that strange urgency again—be it excitement, dread, a mix of both, or perhaps a rekindled handful of hope.

At the end of the third day, you had almost finished all your supplies. Under normal circumstances you would start scavenging houses but this time you had to push on. At last, you could make out the telltale outskirts of the township with the broadcast building sitting under the town's hill. It was an odd little town, abandoned of course like everything, but it had details that were rather ... unsettling. Of all the things that were dilapidated, broken, and well ... just so shattered in this reality, this one was the most in such a confusing way.

Entering the city limits, the road soon fell off as severe cracks became more and more frequent with weeds cutting acrosss here and there. The buildings were run down, no surprise, but this time … there was a pattern.

The deeper you hiked into the heart of the town, the destruction seemed to thicken … and the vegetation, too, became denser. You would have never even seen the old communications building the first time had it not been for its massive array of antennae reaching skywards out of the thick vegetation.

The houses were overrun by nature in an indescribable way, and you eventually find yourself at the foot of the communications outpost. By now, the hill behind the building already cast ominous shadows over the place as the sun had already hid behind it.

Your heart couldn't contain itself anymore. At last, at long last… you finally had the chance of finding someone else in this forsaken reality. Maybe then they could explain what was happening, and maybe then … you could share in one another's experiences, make sense of things … and no longer fight for survival alone.

You shake yourself back to the present and rush forward, not wanting to waste another second as the strange urgency returned. But as you step towards the main entrance, a sight makes you shudder to the core…

CHAPTER 9 - An Entrance

The door wasn't there anymore, and the windows had been pushed out by marvelously big tree roots. The entrance had vanished and in its place was a gaping cave-like hole. The interior looked extremely dark from the outside, like a giant mold spore on a tomato. Thick vines climbed the sides and hung like veins and vessels.

You remember it's only been a month since you mapped this place, how could things have gotten so out of hand? A month is quite a while, but this was ridiculous. The roots, vines, and even trees, grew so much more since you were here last. Had the station been in the state it was now, you'd have never found it to begin with long ago.

You swing your laptop bag to the ground with a thud. Swiping out a box of matches, you light a small camping lantern you had stashed for yourself from the trailer park that one time. The little wick swimming in the kerosene flickered to life on contact with the burning match, and holding the little halo of warm light … you step into the abyssal hole.

It was worse inside … but in the most confusingly beautiful way.

You recall that at least last time you could make out that the building was a radio station by the studio and furniture within, such as a couple leather chairs, potted plants, heck even a snack vending machine (the stuff spoiled so it was just as useless when you discovered it as it was now). But now you could barely make out the studio. A gentle layer of moss coated everything, walls were cracked, and the leather seats were clothed in a serene sea of green and vines. With every step you made, tiny white moths would take flight after being disturbed. The cracks in the walls occasionally allowed trickles of sunlight to beam in. The dusty, musty air within became the perfect canvas for these rays, setting the stage like the spotlights to a breathtaking concert. Except here… there wasn't anything too spectacular, just a garden inside a studio of an abandoned town amidst the sandy wastelands.

Wonders aside, you refocus on the meat of the mission.

You wade through some pools of water, likely trapped from a storm or two in the past days. With every step you can feel your heart pounding faster, the suspense building ever more. Walking into what you could vaguely make out from memory as the recording room, you held your heart tightly for fear it'd run off without you. This was it. Have you finally found 180.80?

CHAPTER 10 - Someone to Understand

Of all the rooms in the building, this one remained the most untouched by the elements. As your lamplight fell on the room, you could see that the old recording chair continued to rest in its usual place: the far left corner. You also found the long desk of buttons and other doohickeys used for who knows what still nestled in their place. Then your heart skipped. On the floor, half overrun with green, was a long oval orange object. As you held your lamp forward, your eyes zeroed in and you could make out more objects. These included a backpack, an overturned lantern, and some boots all surrounding the orange enchilada. It was a sleeping bag.

You rush over to the object, and in your haste you hear a crunch followed by the crystal rustle of broken glass. You ignore the sound and examine the bag, but it's empty… There was no sign of anyone. Looking back at where you had stepped when you heard the crunch, you find a broken picture frame. You lift it to the only source of light at this point in the building which was your lantern. On it you could make out a family of three. You note how they smile in their blissful happiness. And as you eye them, something strikes you…

It couldn't be ... but oh it definitely was...

You reach into your pocket to reveal the trusty little snipped of the magazine you had carried everywhere. And though the flickering lamplight didn't help, there was no denying the matching smile on both.

You immediately noticed how the new portrait revealed more. 180.80, if it really was her, was a beautiful young woman who looked to be in her early 20s. She had jet black hair, a smart nose, gentle cheeks, and deep-set eyes. Her eyes seemed to understand you, though they remained silently frozen in time. Next to her were two older people which you could only assume were possibly her parents.

Illustration of 180.80, courtesy of my talented and skilled sister

In that moment everything faded… Could she be 180.80? You feel a lump form in your throat as you experience an unexpected wave of emotion, the likes of which you haven't experienced since the loss of little Atticus. The thought that this person dutifully radioed week after week in the hopes that someone would hear them … never once letting the thought of it reaching no one stop them. And it took you two years after the incident to finally receive it. You then realize that … she, too, was a lot like you. In spite of a reality so different from before, she relentlessly pushed forward to make the best of the situation. She didn't ignore the emotions of her situation—you recall from the last broadcast, but she definitely didn't let them rule over her. She understood what she was up against, and strove to be herself. She's probably done many things she's never done before, like broadcasting, and fixing the antennae to name a few that you knew, but you could only imagine what else. If she had survived this far, she definitely had to learn new things just like you had. In spite of this though, she was human like you and most definitely yearned for answers, help, and someone—anyone, to understand this strange new world with her. You could almost feel the mutual longing, one so filled with passion and fervor, to be told that everything would be alright and that together, you'd figure things out. Though she wasn't there, you could've bet a million that she sure was present.

CHAPTER 11 - Something Wasn't Right

You check the sleeping bag once more as if to confirm again that there really wasn't someone in there anymore. And of course it was empty … but there was one thing that had fallen out when you were hastily opening it. You find a worn little booklet, the kind that you could fit in your back pocket.

Opening the little thing, you find that it was a journal. You quickly close it out of courtesy, as you felt it wasn't any of your business to go rummaging around in other people's personal things. Yet … you felt the need to know more, so you took (a quick and innocent) peak inside.

There were maps, recipes, doodles, drawings, plant diagrams, schematics, and so much more. It was quite like the map you had put together, you smiled in admiration. The pages had little cutouts of celebrities and other people from books and magazines etched inside … reminding you of your own little snippet you carried around. You flip forward to the latter half of the book to find empty pages still, and flip back to see the latest page.

You find a little entry dated about … your heart raced, two days ago! You felt a pang of bittersweet regret, happy knowing they were here not long ago … but torn that they had missed you by as little as a day—or even hours maybe. The handwriting was unbelievably gorgeous, carrying a sense of elegance and intention with its light yet bold strokes; however, it was rather difficult to understand since you'd never learned cursive, but you could make out something involving making a trip to "relay base" which you assumed was this radio station. Then it occurred to you … this wasn't their base, they were just here for the weekly broadcast.

But why was everything left behind? You understand that she might have left things to make the trips lighter, such as the sleeping bag and maybe even the lantern, but you couldn't figure out why she would leave the backpack and especially this journal behind. Perhaps she forgot since it was such a routine thing by now. Regardless, you continue reading.

On the last entry you read that 180.80 began to “set up the power generator for tomorrow's radio broadcast”. You noted that indeed, today was the day of the weekly broadcast. But then—why wasn't she here? You continue. “Unpack things for shelter in recording room," and other reminders like "don't forget to bolt bottom entrance shut” stretched the side of the page.

But wait. You read the phrase again…

Bolt the bottom entrance?

It was definitely not bolted shut when you arrived. You supposed they could have taken it down to leave, but why would they leave before making the broadcast? Things didn't add up—and something wasn't right, so you continued to read.

CHAPTER 12 - The Rumbling Returns

By now you started to understanding the artful patterns to her cursive writing and you savored every calculated swirl and loop in the letters.

“Personal Note: it's the 85th attempt at this whole thing and I wonder if I should stop and focus on maintaining main base. Might consider reducing relay base expeditions to once every three weeks. No one seems to receive the broadcasts.”

Instantly two things became very clear. Firstly, she had a real shelter base that wasn't this one. You had speculated this already, but now it was confirmed. Secondly, this person had been persistently sending transmissions for almost two years if it had been their 85th weekly broadcast, and she never mentioned having once received any sign that it was being heard. And until recently with you, it probably wasn't. That's true persistence.

Your heart hurts to think of the pain and hopelessness in doing the same fruitless thing every week with the same empty result. It was madness. It was so depressing ... yet an amazingly beautiful show of defiance and resilience to the world we had been so mercilessly thrown into. 180.80 was a survivor.

That was the last entry.

Strange ... where was today's and what happened to the intended broadcast? Something really wasn't right. You flipped through the book and examined each broadcast date carefully. You notice how each has an outline and script of points to be mentioned. Hurriedly flipping back to the last entry, you look closer and realize why you haven't found the latest entry.

The page following it was ripped off…

This meant that it wasn't forgotten, but instead was possibly missing from the journal.

You pocket the journal and urgently search the sleeping bag in hopes to find it, but only uncover some small fire making tools, a pair of finger-cut gloves, and a pocket knife. You respectfully put the things back and continue searching the floor, but still find nothing. You open the backpack to reveal something that made your shiver. There was dried bread, smoked meat in a pouch, as well as some other provisions, and a large bottle with kerosene for the spilled lamp. Then you refocus on the lamp, it was spilled already when you came in, and it was cracked too... You didn't even notice that it was broken as it had been semi-buried in flora. You stand to your feet and your head starts to spin with fear. The scene started to make sense, things were disturbed as if in a wild panic. The sleeping bag was ripped at the opening, and traces of its fabric tangled with the weeds in the room. It was growing increasingly clear that the absence of 180.80 was indeed unplanned… but how and why? Then something catches your eye towards the right corner of the room. You walk over to examine and held your breath. It was ... the lost page!

It was nestled between two thick roots that grew into the roof of the room. You figured that after being ripped out somehow, it probably got blown over and got stuck here. After all, there was a rhythmic draft moving through the place, which was strange enough on its own… You pull the page out of the grasp of the roots and take a look at it.

It didn't take you long to understand its meaning this time.

It began with a few words that were smudged at the top... Gone was the delicate cursive, and instead there was a almost fear-driven air to the strokes. You could make out that it started with “Script 85 ... ” and the maybe the date following suit, but then—horrifyingly, a crimson stain smeared the center, making whatever came after indecipherable. The rest of the page was tattered and torn.

You suddenly hear a worrying rumbling sound followed by a deep vibration throughout the building. You stare in horror as you start to see shadows moving along the wall, growing and shrinking like the pumping vessels of a heart's veins and arteries in the faint lamplight of your lantern.

Then a shocking realization set in. The rumbling—this same exact sound, you had heard it all before ... in the trailer park!

CHAPTER 13 - It was Alive

At first you couldn’t make out what the shadows were due to their sporadic movements, but then … looking to your feet, everything became clear. You were stepping on it. Or better yet, it had emerged out of the ground, melting out of it like a hot knife through butter. It was alive, it was all—alive! A couple of vines shot underneath you and hit the wall behind you, then circled around and arched in front of you. They knew you were there.

You dodged just as a sharp vine lunged itself at you, power slamming itself into the radio station desk sending broken plastic and buttons flying everywhere.

It all became so clear. The weeds in all the roads, the scattered vegetation on all the different buildings, the way the missing doors were pushed out, and even the vines in the gas station. Even your old city had similar roots in the roads and buildings.

Your heart stopped. What if 180-

You ducked as a large root swung down, barely missing your head. Suddenly two smaller vines spun themselves around your legs. You felt thorns pierce your skin as they dug themselves in. You screamed in terror and pain, dropping your lantern. The contents spilled across the moving floor and ignited one of the leather chairs. A fire was starting.

You attempted to get to your feet but more vines had already wrapped themselves around your wrists, holding you firmly down. A horrifyingly large bulb emerged out of the wriggling roots and vines before you, maroon in color and covered in jagged thorns. It slowly split open, revealing multiple slimy, pink, funnel-like antennas that seemed to vibrate like nightmare bone saws.

They shot forward latching themselves to your thigh and neck, as if targeting your major blood vessels. A sharp slash followed another as they tightened their vice-like grip on you. A pain of the likes you have never felt before in your life coursed through your body as the antennas latched on.

Was this it?

A surge of adrenaline suddenly pumped through your veins as your fight or flight instincts kicked in. It was now do or die, yet again. With this temporary burst of strength, and the will to live, you tore one of your arms free and, remembering little Atticus, you swiftly pulled the shovel off of your back. Before the plant could catch your freed hand, you swung the shovel violently at the antennas, the rusty edges severing the connections. You grinned as you watched the bulb reel back and start spewing dark red liquid everywhere.

Then you realized ... the liquid wasn't the plant's.

IT WAS YOUR OWN!

CHAPTER 14 - RUN

By now the fire from the spilled lamp had spread throughout the room, casting hellish shadows on the walls from the writhing sea of vines. You were being harvested by a plant.

You bit your lip to counter the shock and dodged another antenna that was intent on feasting on more of your life source. You countered by smashing the shovel hard on the bulb. It released its vines frantically, hissing as the entire building shook. A thick vine shot itself into the ceiling, followed by another, and another. Strangely, they were quite far in front of you—too much so to have been an attempt at counterattacking, or so you thought. After fixing themselves firm to the ceiling, the vines opened themselves in their middles, revealing multiple throbbing sacks. A couple of the steaming bundles suddenly burst, sending a moist and warm gush of either spores or gas into the air. It was sweet and almost perfume-like, but sticky as it reached the lungs. You couldn't help but panic at the thought of what it might be doing to your body now that you had inhaled it.

The fire had reached 180.80's spilled lamp and backpack. The kerosene!—the fire errupted in a fury.

Using the momentary distraction of the explosion, you slashed the vines that held your legs, picked up 180.80's journal you somehow dropped while fighting, and bolted for the door to the main studio. In response, the violent green surged to block the way but you dove forward, just barely missing the outstretched tentacles intent on keeping you within the recording room. Looking back you could see the fire catching on the vines that had missed you, and you noticed how the plant shriveled from the heat and tore its burnt appendages off itself. It avoided the fire like the plague, and suddenly—you had an idea.

You reached for your laptop pack but then your heart sank. While you still shouldered the strap, the bag itself was gone. No, worse ... it was still in there!

You had intended on tossing the kerosene flask for your lamp into the fire in hopes it would cause it to surge, consuming the room and the plant too. But then you realized that, with how the fire was growing, it wouldn't be long before it reached your bag anyhow.

As if in response to your thoughts, the plant raged and began digging itself under the walls in a feverish frenzy to get to you, given the doorway was blocked with fire. You didn’t wait for an invitation and dashed towards the main entrance. To your horror, you couldn’t find it. Everything was pitch black away from the recording room’s fire. The vegetation had morphed the building interior into a dense jungle of moving green with thorns and spikes protruding from where the wall cracks once let sunlight in.

You simply chose a direction, hoping it was the right way, and dashed forward.

Illustration of the escape by the author (me)

CHAPTER 15 - The Only Regret

You sprinted, tripping around in the dark of the building, your head spinning from the dense air laced with that eerie, sweet smell of spores that the vines secreted earlier.

THUD, you smacked your head against a wall of roots.

Feeling around with your hands you swallow hard—it was the wrong way. You had fumbled yourself into a dead end probably deep within the building. Looking back, you could make out a silhouette of the vines that had escaped the room, emerging out of the ground like some horrible spider as the blub, too, surfaced. They had a ravenous intent, the way they searched so hungrily for you. The fear of the antennas reattaching themselves to you made your head swim. You froze, knowing that the entire building would give your position away the instant the green on which you stood realized this weight was you.

The earth beneath you quaked as the vegetation shifted in confusion.

You lost your footing.

The vines shot forward, like deadly hunting darts that had found their prey again. You closed your eyes, expecting to get skewered and funneled at any moment. But that moment never came. The vines had stopped mere meters away from your torso. They faltered and pulled back slightly.

Then all at once, the vines receded into the ground. Mere seconds later, the recording room burst open, sending a wall of flames in all directions. You fell to your knees and watched in helplessness as the raging column of fire barreled down the corridor.

Time seemed to slow as you pulled out the old cut out of 180.80 and while whispering to yourself, “I failed ... but heck I would have done it again to feel what I felt when I reached you and realized I was no longer alone..."

You swallowed.

"My only regret is that I was too late again ... just as I was with little Atticus-”

TO BE CONTINUED - - - - - - - - >

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About the Creator

WriterZummy

Here at imagiNation we are all sojourners searching for paths to new destinations where ink meets pen. So hoist your backpack filled with canvases, pens, and pencils, and watch the paths to destination: imagination!

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Comments (10)

  • Alora Towers7 days ago

    This is fantastic! Keep going kid! :)

  • Thor Nado 2511 days ago

    I’m from that reel. I really love the story, it makes me be hoocked on it. I love the way you write is simply perfect for me. please keep going on this story is the best I’ve ever read before.

  • Minou Næss25 days ago

    Hey, I was just scrolling timelessly on insta (although i was supposed to clean my room) and I opened the comment section to find your comment. It medmorized me. I need a sevond part! I thought to myself i kept scrolling until i had scrolled througj like 400 comments. I went right here afterwards. This is probably one of the best stories ive read in a long time. Please keep going👍👍

  • Keith Harris25 days ago

    Here from Instagram, YOU ARE SUCH A TALENTED WRITER, YOU EVEN INSPIRED ME TO START WRITING AGAIN!

  • Miles Appleton about a month ago

    Im from instagram too I really enjoy the story Thank you for being born

  • Illyabout a month ago

    Also from Instagram! Love the story and can't wait for more!

  • 404about a month ago

    Patiently waiting for it to be continued. Thank you for such a wonderful piece.

  • Hermosaabout a month ago

    Omg I’m here from that same instagram comment section. I was so glued in. I’ll definitely buy your books if you publish. Please write more🥹🫶🏽

  • Luis sanchezabout a month ago

    Man this was an amazing story so far your writing skills are top tier I hope this story continues and thank you for this amazing story. (From that one reel🙃)

  • WriterZummy (Author)about a month ago

    On behalf of the legendary comment section that supported and encouraged me through it all, I want to thank: astralserenity siloph95 hiiamxsk lukaslevanen abdallehassan_19 gamsye kookooduron214 jeromepn yums_world_official sea_hamburger livi_divvi lsutigers019 e_nation9 reallucyluv queen_tee_bro mskatlynn19 common_cents84_ that.skullboy l799p004 hoopn_tae coreycater40 chy.wade smiley_k southbabe lensko_ bighomie.twon cajthaassassin livi_divvi tiyana_custom_creationz j_roberts08 ohayon.chloe jackson_baruk tooprettykittyy anik_art3 anggifrnandaa riswanda.kafa dio_zlatlan2.0 bakermitchell57 onlydanee philosh365 michel.likar freyersrichie thiscatisjustj oh_liver8 brody_rogers74 kitykitykatcat quartz__fr emetsstore beezi116 raiden_fall imbigant nuke2active jhonshickk _afrin_amira_ judah_carlson 7kvenzom ana.nicolaee epoh_i aiden_is_the_better_trusty sauccybarber isaacinniss umamimilk __therealjacy bryantownley363 curtisguess25 giulyy_trylly ru_humza cold.0.fx _im_akira tia.allyse zaynia.maiya bach.__.giang franzii_the_lobbyh03_and.hams sinco.ds just_a_dude_that_was_bored honeymustardonmytoez wildwolf_2022 isshdoofy_ rabbi__zidni__ilma relz_______ benpistole_ 4caliboy3 austin_a16 krishnav_charingia jaythegod0055 ciah_failzzz2.0 its_pe_n_ny gremlinisahusky __aiz.njr xiiixxviii mahumalii ashy_nem semertzi_anna big.footis.real troop_march itsjust_tumo trigga__ll hinnagaami_hotaru alexandra.aminaa en_zoo.j puppieskjfk (little Atticus would be proud) christian_is_coool vth_dang arthur_.wayne callsign_goose1 theboy._6 petergross803 1bitphoenix ozzie.585 liamr580 ihartb_ pixiie.stephhh__ judah_carlson cheesecakes.jpg xbronzeangelx cheekz187 jenna.henke abi.goodgains shadow_demon_yurei whymchl ally_berryy_ (And for any that I have missed, thank you all so so so so much. You guys are amazing, and I will never forget this.)

WriterZummyWritten by WriterZummy

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