An hour of free time. Why haven’t I done this before? Max was in his house in Arvada. The place had seen better days. He was surprised it hadn’t collapsed, it looked on the verge of doing so. He went into the living room and stared at the picture dominating one wall. An old farm scene, of a barn in a dilapidated state, full of faded yellows and golds, a scene of late August before the leaves started turning color, but with just that tinge of decay. He shuffled through the debris where a table full of photos used to be and found photos of his family.
Still here after all these years. It took him a moment to even recognize Nick. He hadn’t seen Jessica for years, she would be…fourteen? Undoubtedly nothing like the six-year-old smiling up at him from this picture. Max took the photo out of the broken frame and tucked it into his shirt pocket, making it part of him. There is no shirt. He smiled and continued looking through the debris, harvesting old pictures as he went. For some reason this scavenging made him feel more human than he had since he died. The last photo he took belonged to Nick. It was a picture of him taken the summer that z-day started, arguably the last picture ever taken of him that was ever committed to paper. Nick was holding a baseball bat, in uniform and smiling directly into the camera. All in all a perfect picture of a ten year old. Quintessential. I need to go check up on him.
Thought led to deed and Max found himself staring out to sea at a storm coming in from the Atlantic. I thought he would be in Miami. It took only a moment for Max to realize he was much further north than he thought he would be. Momentarily irritation clouded his mind, Why can’t anyone do what they’re told? Max didn’t have the capacity to keep everyone safe, people had to take some personal responsibility too. Maybe he just wanted to see the portal? It was no good, anyone who saw the portal, came all this way, wouldn’t be content to just look at it.
Ahead of him he saw a short, squat man walking with Nick along the beach, their backs were to him. Gus. But do I owe him a ‘thank you’ or a ‘fuck you’? Max shook his head, casting off the disparaging thoughts; Nick was there, Nick was alive and well. Regardless of what happened things were fine. Starting up a conversation with negativity would not lead anywhere productive.
He caught up with the two in an instant and wasn’t surprised when Gus turned back toward him and smiled, “I figured you’d be along. How was your trip? Did you learn anything?”
“The Californian’s took Sarah. I don’t know why.”
“Where is she?” Gus asked, looking around, though they both knew he couldn’t see in the traditional sense anymore. “You didn’t go get her?”
“I can’t…that’s not how this works. I’m a little limited to geographical places. Any place I’ve been before is easy. Other places are more challenging, but I can get there. I can go to people I’ve run into since I…transitioned. But not everyone. Like I can never seem to home in on you, Gus, but I can get to Nick without any problem.” Max rubbed his chin and said, “Given Nick’s abilities that seems wrong too. Maybe it’s because I’m his father.”
Nick grunted and turned out to look out at the approaching clouds.
“You went through the portal.” Max stated.
“Yes.” Gus answered. “Not my idea, in case you were wondering.”
Gus hitched a thumb at Nick, “Turns out his abilities work really well on their zombie Gods.”
“You drew their attention?” Max said, his voice growing louder.
“Like I said, his powers shut the other one down when it came in for the kill. I’ve been in tougher fights on this side, if you want the truth. I don’t know that he could suppress a group of them, but the ones we ran into were relatively easy to take out.”
“Ones? You ran into more than one? And killed them both? Their absence will draw the others like moths to a flame…”
“Dad!” Nick interrupted, “We’ve already had this speech from Doctor Sentry.”
“He is less than thrilled, too.” Gus added.
“Where is he?”
“Back at his house, trying to purge Hank of the disease, a ‘cure’, Max. A real cure.”
“Is it working? Wait, who is watching the portal if he’s doing that?”
Gus shrugged. “The horde. I don’t really know, things are coming to a head now. A storm is coming and we’re going to be very busy. I think you better find your wife, Max.”
“Sure, where do I start?” The tone was sarcastic and immediately after asking the question Max realized he had been set up.
Gus gave him a short stare and a smile before saying, “Works every time.” He tapped the side of his head with one finger, “Canada, my friend, the way to Sarah lies through Canada. Just north of Vancouver.”
“Why would you even be looking at something like that? For me, I mean.”
“I’m looking at the storm that’s coming and you are part of the solution. Or could be. It gets complicated, but I see you in most of the futures and in the ‘good’ ones your wife and kids are with you.” Gus said.
“Care to share any of your insight with the two of us?” Max asked, spreading his arms to include Nick.
Gus tilted his head back, his dark sunglasses reflecting the sun for a moment before the clouds that were rolling in obscured it and left him in the shade. “There are things I think will happen, I can share the highlights with you, it will help, from what I can see. Everything changes though, Max, I’ve told you this before.”
Max nodded, “I know, Nick knows, we all know. Stop hedging your bets and tell us what you can.”
“There’s going to be an exodus. People are going through the portal, led by you and Stewart with Nick and I at the fore front. Sentry may be there. In the best case the portal is…altered behind us, probably by placing and detonating another bomb on this side.” Gus stopped talking and stared out at the rising storm.
“That’s it?” Max asked.
Gus nodded, and Nick laughed.
“Seems a little…concise.” Max said.
“I think brevity is best. Keep the future simple enough to understand without going overboard on the details that may or may not matter.”
“No other little details you want to impart? Like where the people are from? Or where we end up?”
Gus shook his head, “It’s too variable. I think there are a lot of folks from all over that end up going, mostly from Iowa and the Miami area. Something is causing a time crunch, a sense of urgency. Probably that group from California. I don’t know, it’s not clear, Max.”
“How would we even begin to get people down here from Iowa? I can’t even imagine getting everyone from Miami up here! You must be talking like five or six million people.”
Gus just stared at Max, his face unreadable.
“Not five or six million people?”
There was the barest shake of Gus’s head.
“How many?” Max asked.
“More than a thousand, less than a million. Probably less than a hundred thousand.”
“Jesus! And we leave the rest here to die?”
“They aren’t dying now.” Gus said in a dry voice.
“We…we can’t just leave the vast majority here!”
“Nor can we bring everyone, can we?” Gus asked, “Face it, some people love this. Some people don’t want to be saved. We would never convince everyone to go, even if we could.”
“But you’re still talking about leaving people who want to go behind.”
Gus shook his head again, “Max, you are making it sound like this is all my decision. I will play a very small role in that part of things, ultimately I don’t know who makes the call, just not me, there fore I have little idea on how it comes about.”
“You set this future on course!” Max accused.
“I played a part in trying to save people, yes. I’m doing my best to save as many as I can. That’s the difference between us, isn’t it Max? You want to save everyone. I want to save as many as I can.”
Max didn’t respond.
“We should go check on Hank.” Nick said.
“Probably.” Gus agreed, “You coming with us, Max or do you have to get back?”
“You said I should go to Canada.”
“North of Vancouver.”
“I have been to Vancouver…before, so I can get there now.”
“So, you’ll be going then?” Asked Gus.
“Yeah, I guess I will. Want to come with me Nick?”
“No.” Nick’s answer was blunt and honest and Max winced from the force of it. “I mean, I want to…want to. But I don’t. I can handle the zombies here, if they come through, everyone else seems to think they are a big deal.”
“He has a job he can do. We do need him here, for now.” Gus added.
For Max the sting of the ‘no’ was all that mattered, without the justification or padding added by Gus. He nodded, “I get it. We all have our roles to play. Keep the place from going to hell, Nick, alright?”
Nick nodded and without another word Max disappeared.
I didn’t think I could hurt like that anymore. Max thought as he arrived on the street in front of the small hotel he and Sarah had stayed at on their honeymoon. A northwest pacific coast honeymoon, followed by a cruise from Seattle to Alaska. It was a good time. We always meant to do it again.
They never had, in fact they hadn’t ever managed to get further west than Colorado since they were married. I guess we never will now.