“Do you remember comic books?”
They all look at me with dog-like confusion. It’s irritating. At fifty one, I’m far and away the oldest person in the group of refugees, but because of my age - and hence my education - they all look at me as if I’m some kind of sage, when in fact I’m just a laid off insurance adjuster from Dahlonega, Georgia. Most of them are dead-eyed kids, but even the older ones - in their thirties - have a strange, sneering kind of ignorance. On the one hand, they seem to think it’s a amazing that I know things like who the sixteenth president of the United States was, or what a Dinosaur is, but on the other hand they clearly feel all of that knowledge is pretty useless. I can’t argue that they’re wrong, even if I thought they were. Six months ago, I would have argued that they were a bunch of runny-nosed troglodytes, but now I find I’m gradually coming around to their view. I’m unquestionably the last human being alive who knows how to drive a car, but since there are no more working cars, what does it matter?
There were fifty or sixty refugees - it was hard to keep an exact count, some kept running off, some kept dying, some stragglers kept showing up from one place or another, so the number was continually in flux, up and down unpredictably. The overwhelming trend was down, though. When we started off, there had been a thousand of us, there had been a hundred left this morning. Bad stuff had gone down. Bad stuff always goes down. The number of refugees correspondingly went down. Blacknight found it difficult to keep track of, and if he couldn’t, with his amazing detective’s brain, then what chance do I have? Of course that’s just justification. In actual fact, I’m too depressed to keep a count. What’s the point? The numbers will almost certainly be smaller come the dawn, smaller still come the following dusk, yet even still smaller should anyone survive to next light. We’re on the raggedy edge here. For all I know - and I know a hell of a lot about these things - the refugees and I are the last human beings on planet earth.
We’re holed up in a very large comic book store in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. Judging from the architecture and the beyond-ample parking outside, I’m assuming this place used to be a car dealership, and a fairly ritzy one, but I have no solid memory of it. Strange. I can remember the Irish pub just a few blocks up the same street, I remember the techno goth club across the street, I once got mugged a few blocks south of here, I used to be here a lot, but no memory of the comic book shop, or the car lot that must have preceded it.
One of the refugees comes up to me with an arms full of copies of “Barely Concealed Nipples” back issues, some Richie Riches, and “Stutz Bearcat, Frontier Lawman” comics, and looks at me questioningly. His mother - I think - is with him, looking blankly ahead, with the fifty-mission stare the last of our race have all developed. More like a hundred-mission stare, if I’m honest. I look at her - she’s not that much younger than me, maybe forty? Forty one? Why the hell isn’t she explaining this to the kid?
I ask the question again, slightly differently, “You remember Comic Books, don’t you?” More stares. I look to the mother, “You remember these things, right?” She just shrugs and walks off, leaving me to explain it to her illiterate son. Where to begin?
“Comic books: A form of literature quite popular in the 20th century in America, England, and Japan, somewhat less so elsewhere. Declining steadily in popularity since the last decade of that century, but still capable of supporting niche market since…”
That was the blind kid. I’d taken to calling him “Homer,” and he’d taken to responding as if it was really his name. He wasn’t blind when we started out a couple weeks ago, but he’d lost both his eyes in a firefight up near Kennesaw mountain, and had been entirely dependent upon us since. Blacknight had sewed up his eyelids to prevent infection, but he still wore his glasses, though the lenses were shattered. It was a deliberately disturbing image, apropos for the end of the