The overgrown ruins loom in the distance. Peeking out above low lying fog, pyres burn atop ancient, vegetation strangled skyscrapers. There are still people who live in the forbidden zone, as is evident by the acrid smoke of their cook fires. “Are you ready for this?” The boy with the binoculars asks his companion as he carefully adjusts the windage and elevation dial on the ankle pad of a boot. “Ready or not,” the boy replies, grinning fiercely. Thomas takes another look through the eye piece. In predawn stillness he can make out the subtle movement of figures on six of the ten towers lancing through a cloud-like membrane.
Breakfast time, he thinks, wishing he were close enough to smell what has been slow simmering over dim coals all night. All for the better that he can’t. Amino acid tablets and cereal bars they carry provide for their health. But fall well short of the mark where nourishment of the spirit is concerned. One whiff of spitted meat and Thomas knows he might be tempted to invite himself to partake of unidentifiable jungle barbeque. Subjecting his digestive tract to a potentially lethal dose of radiation.
People who live in the forbidden zones are used to chromosomal bombardment. They even make soup with the bones of the creatures they kill. Thomas gives a silent shiver at that and an awe inspired sigh at the wonder and resilience of stubborn humanity. Too stubborn to die of what would kill an adult water buffalo. Bones are where the lion’s share of poison lurks, awaiting release into broth. Like a time release cyanide tablet. This isn’t a time to become star struck or bedazzled, Thomas reminds himself. Summer is nearly over. But that doesn’t make this last stop any less dangerous than the previous ones.
Over-excitement leads to rash decisions which, more often than not, leads to death, the tour guide had warned. They are both far too busy with school to die frivolously. And if the natives don’t complete the job, Thomas’ parents will see to it. This is the final stop. And they will complete it together. Just he and Richard, without any other members of the group. And if his parents find out – Well, wasn’t that the point of being young and dumb? Besides, they frittered away three days stomping around Centralia without a hitch. Together, they braved Bogota and built artificial snow people out of Styrofoam aboard the great floating Pacific trash pile.
They’d even set foot in Chernobyl. Marveled at the abundance of species that thrived there. Admittedly, they were always accompanied by Cecile, his parent’s manservant. As well as local guides who knew how to shelter their wealthy charges from the more disagreeable areas. But it had still been they who set and broke camp, decided on landing coordinates and mixed it up with the natives every chance they got. The two-headed horses had disturbed Thomas the most. And the people, if one could still call them that, who wanted to eat them had given Tom and Dick a fright. That was for sure. But much about both of the young men had changed and matured over the course of this eight week summer vacation. They were not the same weak kneed boys who had set out across the barren glass wasteland once known as North Korea two months ago.
“Do you think the women will be hot?” Richard asks, startling Thomas from his recent memories. If by ‘hot’ he means radioactive, Thomas suspects the natives will not disappoint his schoolyard chum. In regards to beauty however – He adjusts the telescopic lens to full intensity. Judging from the thickness of the dyed purple burlap robes the natives wear to conceal their skin, Thomas doesn’t count the odds good that his friend will discover some hidden jewel in the rough.
People who spend their entire lives above the hundred and fiftieth floor of abandoned office buildings; eating the vegetation; shooting birds out of the sky with blow darts. How was it possible? How did their society endure? Thomas knows there is only one way to find out. They will have to go and ask. At the count of three they leap in unison. Soaring high above creeping jungle fog, Thomas squints past the wind and vision blurring tears at the rooftop he designates will be their landing platform and command center. Reaching an altitude of seven hundred and fifty-four feet, according to the altimeter wristwatch his parents gave him for his birthday, Thomas feels the rate of ascent slow.
At the pinnacle of the arc they are momentarily weightless; frozen, for an instant, against an infinite backdrop of blue above and gray-green below. Then gravity gains the upper hand in its relentless battle against the properties of their boots and he feels the old familiar tug of queasiness roiling his guts and testicles as the descent picks up speed. The landing between jumps is the most important part. Determining a proper place to set down that offers both appropriate recoil for the subsequent bounce and sufficient solidity requires great skill. To tumble and land on anything other than one’s feet would be the same as leaping intentionally to one’s death from a gigantic height, which he has no intention of doing.
Life is too rich and precious and vibrant for anything as boring and predictable as teenage suicide. Colliding expertly with a mossy patch of open jungle floor, Thomas feels the slight vibration in the soles of his feet as the pads, charged by momentum, fire him once more skywards. Like the world’s most high stakes game of leap frog, he thinks, glancing over a shoulder at Richard in hot pursuit. Ahead lies the ruins of yet another recently-made-available-to-the-public tourist destination. Thomas sneers at the notion that one day soon toxicity levels will be such that they might reclaim the area once known as – He struggles to recall the name of this place, resorting eventually to referencing the inner wrist pad he keeps pertinent notes on. This place once known as Washington.
Olin Wish is a husband, father of three young children, student and full time bread winner. He currently resides in a small, mid-western town in the United States. A place where the dust and the wind never let up and steel mills and prisons dot the landscape to the edge of the horizon. He is a regular contributor to Drunk Monkeys Literary Journal and has also appeared in Kleft Jaw, Deep Water Literary Journal, Gray Sky Publishing and Sci-Phi Magazine, among others.