Outland: Chapter 3
That day, we weren’t able to travel very far. I allowed our power cells to charge properly the following morning, which let us travel for a good part of the day. I could feel a slight change in mobility with the feet being unbalanced, but Gulliver seemed to compensate for it without having to involve me.
That night, while plotting out the day’s new section of my map, I kept finding myself staring out the porthole. Out in the darkness of the night, I could have sworn seeing a faint light off in the distance, blinking intermittently.
I had spent many nights looking up at the stars and the moon, perpetually clear nowadays with no other lights around to pollute the sky. I had practiced guiding myself by the stars in the sky like old sailors had done. Even though I had only been following the coastline, it helped me determine how close I would be to arriving at the equator. All of the maps from before the catastrophe were no longer quite right. I think that’s what originally drove me to start creating my own.
Still distracted by the light outside the window, I made a quick mark on the still blank section of the map where I thought it might have been. It seemed barely a day away, and if it was something manmade, it would be worth stopping by.
The following morning, we set off early, hoping to reach whatever the source of the light may be before nightfall. The cliffs of the surrounding the rocky coastline had taken a beating, obviously from the waves now encroaching farther inland. Stuck on a small strip of land between the water and the crumbling embankments, I ended up piloting Gulliver myself a good part of the way. The experience is often somewhere between never wracking and mind numbing.
Atop one of the far cliffsides, I noticed what seemed like a grouping of buildings built near the edge. It wasn’t uncommon to come across old ruined structures like this; many rich folks at one point lived right on the water. Most of them didn’t fare well. This one, however seemed different.
The neighborhood, as what it might have been, seemed more humble in structure. One particular house, one slowly creeping up to meet the edge, seemed as if it had been maintained to a certain extent. As we approached, my suspicions were confirmed. Large pile of debris and rock had settled at the bottom of the cliff, having been sent tumbling down as the cliffside slowly had been eroded away. Sections of carpentry with splintered siding sat among shattered masonry and foundations that people once called a home.
The image of light from the night before still hadn’t left my mind. The pretty little white-washed house still sitting atop was very much out of place. I rarely see people out here, and for good reason. Many are desperate folk, not having been able to mover inland. However, if someone in fact did live in this house, I couldn’t believe that they would be bad.
Intrigue running through my mind, I stopped Gulliver in place and gathered a few supplies. My Smith and Wesson ’45 sat in my back pocket, while I prayed that I wouldn’t have to use it. Grabbing a pair of thick work gloves, I exited through the bottom and made my way up to the cliffside.
My feet began to find holds in the rough clay dirt to find my way up the worn embankment, slowly and cautiously proceeding on. Finally reaching the top, I shook the dust off myself and walked up to the road. The asphalt was cracked and had buckled in several places, and the surrounding houses didn’t seem any better. As far as I could see, there were no telling signs of human life. A block down, I found my way to the house I had seen, almost touching the cliffside on its own.
In the front yard sat neat rows of leafy greens sticking out of the dark loam; a vegetable garden. I was greeted at the door with a pristine looking door mat; which I sheepishly wiped my feet on, leaving light streaks of brownish mud. With a slight hesitation, I finally knocked. Inside, I could hear the faint sound of scuffling before a faint voice finally came through the wooden structure of the door.
“Si?” I heard the quick demanding response.
Clearing my throat to best accommodate my poor accent, I spoke back as calmly as possible. “Soy un amigo.”
The bolt on the door clicked loudly, followed by its opening a crack. A blue eye stared back at me incredulously, looking my dirty appearance up and down. “Ingles?”
“Yes…” I muttered, as the door opened up more. Behind, I met eyes with a tall man, white haired and equally pale. Looking down at the dirt I had deposited down on their mat, he stepped aside and waved me in. “Expat?” I guessed aloud as I walked into the room, displaying a small American flag sitting in a decorative vase.
“You’re keen son. What are you doing here?” The old man turned around as I surveyed the room, containing an old velvet loveseat and various antique looking knickknacks.
“I should ask you the same thing.” I turned to face him, not wanting to soil the nice furniture by sitting down. “You know where you are, right?” I said, motioning in the direction of the ocean,
“Don’t talk to me as if I’m senile, boy.” He responded indignantly, though his eyes twinkled something soothing. “This is my home, despite the appearances.”
“It’s very… clean.” I mumbled, at a loss for words. “Why’d you let me in?”
“Why?” He rolled his eyes. “Cause you knocked.” He gave a slight chuckle. “The rare looter that happens to come by… they don’t have such a curtesy. You aren’t a looter… are you?”
“No sir.” I said, still dumbfounded. “But… I just couldn’t help but notice your house here is…”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” He interrupted. “This house… my wife and I bought, after we retired. We moved away from the states to get away from it all. That view out there… as soon as we saw it, we knew that that was the one we wanted to look out on every day until we went blind. So, here I am, taking care of it.”
“And your wife?”
The old man’s eyes dropped to the floor. “She died about five years ago, before the catastrophe. Told me she wanted me to take care of the house, no matter what.”
I pursed my lips, avoiding eye contact. “There must be…”
“Don’t sugar coat it, boy. It is what it is.” The old man shrugged.
“How have you been managing out here, all alone?” I asked finally, rubbing the back of the loveseat with my hands. “You must have gotten hit by the wave yesterday, no?”
“It lapped at the cliffside a bit, nothing to worry about. For me… I’ve been enjoying the various canned foods we packed away, as well as tending to my garden out front. The weather here keeps them growing all year round. Occasionally, I’ll walk into the old town to see what I can scrounge up… Gas to keep the generator running a bit at night, bottles of drinking water, soap. I like to live simply. What about you?”
I looked down at my feet, devising an answer. “I’m a… traveler. I happened to see a light… your light out in the distance last night.”
Walking to the window, the old man parted the blinds with a metallic crackling, looking out at the blue water, obviously catching sight of Gulliver. “That yours?”
“Yes, sir.” I muttered, heeding a response.
“What do they call those again? Breaker bots?”
“I remember seeing the barges bringing them down the coast years ago. You work with the corps down the Chilean coast?”
Releasing the blinds, the old man quickly turned back at me with a glare. “Do you ever feel… guilty, at all, for the crap that’s been caused, what we’ve gone through?”
“Sir?” I was taken aback by his sudden change in temper. “I think you’re making a big jump here.”
“What did you think was going to happen, doing all that blasting at the ground like you fellas did? I bet you can sleep at night just fine, saying that all the experts said it would be okay. But you…” He shook a finger at me menacingly. “You just did what you were told, didn’t you?”
“Believe me, sir, it wasn’t just one person’s doing. It was just a job for me.”
“You should be ashamed, still parading around with that thing.” The old man took a deep breath, leaning against a side table. “I think it’s time for you to go.” He finished.
“I’ll show myself out then, good day.” Carefully backing out towards the door, I bowed my head and quickly stepped out. With a quick turn, I headed back down the street. Before passing outside of view behind another row of houses, I got a quick peek at the old man staring back at me from the door.
With quick steps, I slid down the dirt embankment and onto the flat beach below. I could see faintly the pristine gable of the house from down below as I climbed up the ladder and back into the lower compartment of Gulliver’s hull.
“Welcome back, Andrew. Was there… anyone home?” Gulliver enunciated.
“There was something, but nothing that we should involve ourselves with.” I said, tired and defeated. “Not that we could ever do anything about it as we are.
After returning to the cockpit, I quickly set a coarse to continue forwards up the coast, watching out the rear port hole for one last look at the house. That night, while plotting out the maps for the day, I went back over the mark I had made the previous night. The small dot remained on top of the cliffside I had sketched in, quickly noting it with the description ‘House on the Hill.’ I told myself that if I were ever back this way, I would pass by again to check on it.