Note: any resemblance to The Last Drop is purely intentional. (Thanks to Andi, Lisa, and Beth for helping me beat on an extended version for hoped-for publication.)
Friday February 10, 2045
I enjoy a good warm living room this time of year, even if Februarys now are a lot milder than they used to be. I can look out the window and see the kids playing their bean-bag game… I can’t ever remember what they call it, but it’s a lot like hacky-sack from when I was in college. When I call it hacky-sack, though, they look at me like I’m senile. Whatever they call it, at least I don’t have to worry about a ball coming through the window.
But I’m stalling. I had another one of those dreams last night. You know what I mean by one of those dreams: the kind that tell me what I really didn’t want to know.
In the dream, I was alone on a one-way city street that was packed with empty cars. And when I say “packed,” I mean there was barely enough room to put a stick in between them, let alone walk between them. The buildings seemed to be watching me, weighing me and finding me lacking. The sky was overcast, the clouds roiled but never rained, and it was still and hot. I had to jump from car to car to get anywhere, and I remember how they were caked with dust with a few streaks like maybe there had been a little rain at one time. This must be a dream, I thought — then, but would I see this much detail in a dream?
Time compressed itself, as it does in those kinds of dreams, and I found myself approaching a gas station. But the cars were packed in it and all around it, and I thought it would have been futile… anyone managing to get gas would never get back out.
“Mortal!” someone shouted. “Could this ever be put right?”
I looked around for the voice, thinking, sure, if you started moving cars from the back of the pack… but I realized that wasn’t the answer. There wasn’t enough gasoline left in the world, let alone this one station, to back them all out. I hadn’t found my questioner yet, but called back, “I don’t know. But only God Himself could fix this.”
He stepped out from behind a fallen overhang. “But if this is humanity’s folly,” he said, “can humanity’s wisdom not solve it?”
“If humanity was that wise, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. What the hell is it, anyway?”
“Your question contains its answer,” he said. “This is the Hell that humanity would have created for itself, had it not chosen a different path. This is the last gas station, where the last gasoline would have been sold. Had all insisted on the easy path, instead of changing their ways, this would very likely have been the fate of mankind.”
“So people would have just abandoned their cars and gone home?”
“Some would have. Others… look around you.”
I looked again, and now I saw the signs of a struggle: broken windows, the little doors over gas caps torn away, the gas caps themselves strewn about… and bullet holes. “They killed each other? For gasoline? We barely think about the stuff these days.”
“In your prime, men fought at the pumps when the lines were long. They killed each other to claim the oil beneath a barren desert. So why would they not kill for some of the last gasoline?”
For a moment, I could see it: drivers desperately trying to leave; those behind them pressing forward… and then people swarming over the cars with fuel cans in hand. When the pumps ran dry, they turned on those who had been first in line. As they tried to leave the way they came, they were set on by those coming behind them. And those were set on by people coming behind them. Gas cans were punctured by gunfire, dropped and spilled, or deliberately poured out or set afire by those who would not give up their prizes. Not a drop was carried away safely.
I shook my head. “Why am I being shown this?”
“Humanity is foolish, but there is yet a little wisdom,” he said. “Write down this vision, mortal, and let it be known that all mortals live in one of the better possible worlds that they could have made for themselves. For there is a possibility even worse than this.”
He opened a cooler that I’d not noticed before, one of those pull-along coolers with wheels. He brought out a bottle of water and gave it to me. “The Living Water,” he said, as I opened and drank.
I almost choked. “You’re The Prophet!” I said.
“Go, mortal,” The Prophet said (for now I saw it really was him again) and smiled. “You will see me once more before you are mortal no longer.” Then he was gone, and the dream again dissolved into either chaos or something beyond my comprehension.
When I wake up, I usually have to pee first thing. Not this morning… I woke up with my heart pounding and feeling like I’d spent an entire summer in one of the dehydrator racks. I slugged down a liter of water and almost hurt my throat drinking so fast. It was like I’d been at that gas station all night, sweating in the heat. But the sheets on my bed weren’t wet.
I’ve spent all morning and half the afternoon trying to figure out whether I’d really been there or was just dreaming the whole thing. I don’t suppose it matters in the end. I do know that Daughter Dearest and Martina noticed something was amiss, and asked me about it. I told them half the truth, that I’d had a dream… forgetting that DD knows about the first one I had. She waited for Martina to go outside, then demanded the details. I told her the whole thing, especially the part about having one more vision. She has to know I’m not going to live forever, but she’s pretty much running FAR Manor these days and doesn’t need to worry about me right now.
I’m looking forward to getting out and helping with the spring planting. The veggies are all sprouting in their starter pots, and it looks like I’ll get at least one more shot at starting the garden, anyway.