I resolved to head to the center of the town, which I knew to be a brief walk. I passed more buildings that, by all appearances, had not seen use in some time. A few cars were scattered here and there, all had the unmistakable appearance of disuse. Weeds had grown around the tires of each, windows and paint were discolored and dirtied.
The town center was marked by a park that was a popular spot for tourists and picnickers alike. Today it was empty. The usually trim grass was overgrown and the trees were surrounded by leaves that I guessed were normally cleaned on a weekly basis. No one had visited this park in some time. Each shop or restaurant was the same as the others I had encountered. I puzzled and tried to put together a clear picture of what happened here, but lacking any information, all I could do was speculate. Most doors were locked, which told me that people had time to lock them. There were few cars surrounding the park telling me that people had driven somewhere, else there should be more vehicles. Whatever it was that happened, people had some time to prepare. Maybe a chemical outbreak? I thought. But if it was a chemical outbreak surely the area would have been quarantined, or some sign of government clean up crews would be present? There was no evidence of violence. No guns, the buildings were dilapidated, but not decimated. And most of all, there were no bodies.
I walked across a street to a gas station to check the news stand. The door was locked, but some of the glass was broken making the lock accessible. I unlocked the door and approached the news stand. The nearest newspaper was dated, August 8, 2014, almost two years ago. The headline article read "No More Oil?" A cursory glance revealed that the article was about the growing oil crisis that scientists had yet to resolve. It appeared that the world's oil reserve was quickly dwindling and the oil wells weren't producing any oil. Kuwait, Iraq, Alaska, and the Gulf of Mexico all reported a growing concern over the lack of oil production at their wells. I looked outside and noticed the sign that detailed the gas prices read “$16.84” for the lowest grade of gas. I stared at that for a moment, stunned. Grabbing another paper I read the headline, "Mass Famine! Farm Failures Across the World".
What happened in the nearly six years I had been gone? An adequate question given my current situation, the answer to which I could not begin to fathom. Something tragic had fell upon the world and had similarly affected this small town.
A breeze ruffled the edges of my coat bringing with it a sense of dread I was not accustomed to. What of my family? Although I was not close to them, I still cared a great deal for my mother and father. Were they still alive? My friends who struggled to respect my boundaries, what had befallen them? This town and this emptiness had stirred feelings deep within me that had lain dormant for years. I had convinced myself of my lack of need for companionship, but maybe that belief had been rooted in the possibility for companionship in the future. Now, with the emptiness of this town trying to convince me that a similar fate had fallen upon the rest of the world, for the first time in a long time, I desired human contact. I wanted someone to tell me it was alright.
The next breeze brought no answers.
I knew of but one antidote to despair and that was action. I decided in those moments to travel up the coast to my home. I would visit the houses of my friends and parents and see just what fate had befallen them.
I turned to the few cars lying about the central park. The idea of taking one of these stirred feelings of guilt in me. Could I bring myself to take one? Was that akin to stealing? They seemed abandoned, but what if they were not? Would the owner come back to an empty parking space with only me to blame? I could not shake these questions and thought to myself, “Damn my conscience.” Even in the face of anarchy, I struggled with morality and consequence.
I can’t just take someone else’s property, I thought.
But there may be no law left, I told myself.
Can I redefine those self-evident truths simply to fit my needs? I may be American, but I am surely not Roman.
In the end, I decided on what I thought to be the least expensive car, and somehow that justified my actions.
The car happened to be unlocked and the keys were in the ignition, a stoke of luck I turned into hope. I curtailed my growing sense of guilt out of necessity and turned on the car. The engine of the two door sedan groggily shook to life and was purring gently within a minute. I tossed my pack into the back seat, threw the car into reverse and headed home.