Plato and I were driving across country. We had nothing else to do, really. Surprisingly, in a world devoid of life everything pretty much worked still. Electric generators still generated electricity, the Internet was still there— I don’t know how, but it was— and gas pumps still pumped gas. Since my dog Plato and I could do what we pleased, I was behind the wheel of a 1961 E-Type Jaguar convertible, red in colour, speeding down the highway in the direction of a mall I remembered visiting with my now-gone family back when we visited the Grand Canyon.
I remembered the town because we were stuck there for about four and a half hours, as we waited in the heat of mid-day for some kind of car part to be couriered. A fuel pump, maybe. In any case we were side-tracked and explored the town as a pack: My mother and father, my two sisters, and me.
There was a water slide near a huge indoor mall. It was one of the biggest malls in the state. It stood on the edge of a forest— a dense, wild, rather dark expanse of land that I remembered because it was such a contrast to all the concrete and glass, the street lamps and oil stains, the harsh sunlight and noise of the town.
My sister Katy had wanted to go hiking in the woods— she was always trying to be contrary— but we all ended up swooshing down the water slide, which was fun because the water was cold, and then going to the mall for hot dogs and Orange Julius, in our damp clothes and wet hair, smelling of chlorine.
That day, in that small town, remains one of my most treasured memories. We all of us were together, truly together, for one of the last times. In the next year my oldest sister Cher would be going away to college, and Katy, bless her, would get pregnant and married and moved out at the age of sixteen. You just never knew what was going to happen.
As Plato and I well knew, since we’d witnessed the end of the world. We tried to look on the bright side: We were going almost 100 miles an hour in a vintage Jag, and Plato loved the rush of air and I put goggles over his eyes and his ears flapped around his head and his tongue was glued by the wind to his jowls. Happy days. Maybe this would be a memory, too.
We camped in the woods behind the mall, in a tent we got from a huge sporting goods outlet in the mall. I made a bonfire, which I learned to do in Boy Scouts, and Plato and I roasted hot dogs and drank gallons of Orange Julius. I told Plato about my sisters, and he listened with his head tilted, as he always did, and just as we were about to crawl into the tent, Plato leapt up and started to bark.
He made a whimpering noise too, and growled some, and then barked again. He didn’t move, as he was well-trained, but he looked at me, barked, whined, and then howled, staring out into the darkness of the forest that surrounded us.
Yes, a shadow moved. It wasn’t the wind, as there was none. It was someone.