Tom looked through his binoculars, perched, crouching on the top of a semi-truck.
His eyes swept across the landscape–an abandoned highway, wooded on both sides, piled high with discarded vehicles. Cars, stopped haphazardly in the road, motorcycles, laid down on their sides.
Dirt, dust and debris lay untouched across the scene.
His mind drifted, thinking about all the lives, all the stories that ended here. He adjusted the lenses, focusing on an empty baby chair, visible through the shattered windshield of a van.
He almost laughed, thinking of a time of soccer moms and their snotty children. Almost. Humor dissolved into bitter regret and frustration, longing for even the most annoying parts of the before times. It had been a long, long time since any civilized humans had occupied this part of the world.
His mind was jarred back into working order as he glimpsed movement further down the road. His pulse quickened as he saw them, three men clad in long shirts and beanies, with bandanas tied around their mouth and noses. Only their hard, searching eyes were visible.
Two of the three had some sort of makeshift weapons; the third had an AK-47 rifle gripped in tattooed hands. They moved silently; intentionally. As a team, crouching behind cars, sprinting across the open areas before disappearing behind another.
He slid off the truck, landing quietly on the ground.
He had long black jeans, ripped and faded, black boots, and a black t-shirt under an old brown leather jacket. A small black backpack clung to his back, filled with his measly supplies; some rope, water, food, and ammunition for the nine millimeter pistol tucked into the back of his jeans.
His eyes darted back and forth, scanning for any hiding spots, anywhere to run away; for any other option than fighting. He could hear the men’s quiet footsteps, like angels of death slowly, deliberately, walking to collect him.
He gritted his teeth and dropped to his stomach, looking underneath the carcasses of the vehicles. He saw their feet, only a few cars down the road. He rolled underneath the semi-truck, praying to whatever god existed in this hell that he would be passed undetected.
He watched two of the men pass, only their boots and the barrel of the rifle visible from his position. The third came, crouching low around the front of the truck and around the side.
He held his breath as sweat began running down his face.
The man paused, just feet away. Tom slowly moved his hand around to his back, groping for the familiar touch of his pistols grip. His heartbeat pounded in his ears as his hand found the pistol. He gripped it like a drowning man gripped a lifeline.
The world around Tom was so loud. Every step the men took was loud and crisp in Tom’s ear, he could hear their breaths, ragged and hot. But the world around Tom was deadly quiet at the same time. The sounds tom could hear would all be drowned out if he were to say a single word.
The men continued on, not knowing any better that they had passed right by Tom.