by Shane Gannaway
That morning it started raining ash early. The skies had a perma-layer of smog, but the thickness varied, and you could still catch the figure of the sun rising from the east when the veil was thin. At least I figured it was the east. Compasses didn’t work anymore and after what happened January 20th, 2017 I wouldn’t be surprised if the world was spinning at a completely different angle. I nudged my traveling partner with my foot; he was asleep on the ground, slowly being covered by the falling ash. I went to go stomp out the embers from our campfire the night before. Not that it really mattered. There was nothing remotely close to us that could catch fire. We’d been traveling with kindling and wood on our back. Evening campfires were necessary since every night came with a deadly coldsnap attached. I stared out over the wasteland in front of us. It was identical to what was behind me, what we had traversed previously: miles of flat, gray, scorched earth. No mountains to be seen on the horizon, hardly a hill, and black sticks in the ground for trees. Certainly no sign of human life.
“Land of the free, alright,” Barack Obama said behind me.
I turned. Barry was already up and packed. He was sliding his ski-mask over his eyes as I walked over. I adjusted the scarf around his nose and mouth, and pulled up my own scarf. I didn’t have the ski equipment, just a snorkel mask with the nose cut off so I could breathe. It helped keep my scarf in place. Out here the winds could get nasty, and they would generally carry in scorching dust and bits of debris. It was best to keep as much skin covered as possible. I figured I’d let Obama take the better gear. I mean dude used to be President of the United States, y’know? Also, he was the one who knew where we were going. No working navigational equipment and you could forget about seeing a North Star, but Barry was following something. When I first pressed him about it he would just smile and say, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Eventually he confessed that it was because of a chip implanted just below his left ear. All the presidents had them, he told me. There were exceptions too. Hillary got one, even though she was never technically president. Benjamin Franklin had one too, but that was mostly because he invented them.
“Wasn’t gonna not chip himself,” Barry chuckled under his breath.
It took a while for me to call Obama anything other than Mr. President, but he kept insisting.
“We’re most likely the last two people on this planet. We, uh, might as well have nicknames,” he gently explained to me, “for each other. To keep our sanity.”
I had to agree. I was never good with nicknames so I just called him Barry. He called me “the Snake,” explaining because my name was Sam, and Sam the Snake “sounds cool.” I couldn’t really argue with that.
We had been traveling for about three hours that morning when Barry held up his hand to signal stop. It felt like for the past week he’d been saying we were close. Maybe this was it.
“This is it,” Barack said.
He didn’t say “you can trust me” but you could tell he wanted too.
“Now hold on,” he kind of mumbled under his breath. He started to remove his scarf and mask.
“Barry, what the hell are you—?”
“Easy now, Snake. I got this. It’s gonna be a little unpleasant. Mostly for me…” Barry pulled out his knife and stuck it behind his left ear, right where he said the chip was.
“Whoa!” It was all I could say. “Whoa. Barry, do you need—“
He grunted and held a hand back to indicate “stay back.” He pried something out of his upper neck and… sure enough, it was some sort of metal object. He clicked something on the chip and it started beeping green. An aggressive wind started to pick up. It was hot, despite the lack of sun, but the flying dirt felt worse than sweat. I pulled my cloak tighter and adjusted my mask. Barry seemed to ignore the wind. He merely dropped the blinking, bloody chip onto the earth. It disappeared instantly, covered in the incoming hot ash.
Nothing happened at first, but after no more than thirty seconds passed a hand exploded from the ground, dust flying high into the air and catching onto the wind making a small twister of sand and dirt. A white, clean-shaven man climbed out of the world. He wore a dark suit and a dark tie; he was predictably filthy. As the man stood there, triumphantly, the mist of debris cleared and I picked him out authoritatively sticking the still-blinking chip into his right ear.
“Sam the Snake,” Barry was covering his bleeding neck with his scarf, “may I introduce D.B. Cooper.”
Barry could tell by the look on my face I didn’t recognize the name.
“You’ve never heard of D.B. Cooper?”
“It’s okay, Snake. Before your time, really.”
I tried not to look annoyed. It was starting to get dark already. Shade was falling fast over the landscape.
“Well, what’d we have to go all the way out here for? What does D.B do…” I glanced over at Cooper. His eyes were glowing a bright and shimmering green.
“He’s our way off this Godforsaken planet,” Barry said.
Cooper gave us two thumbs up and winked at me. I looked skyward. That’s why the world was darkening. Descending down towards us was what looked to be some sort of colossal spacecraft. So this must be how we were getting to NATO’s Top Secret Moon Base.
Barry looked at me, smiling, and all three of us slowly ascended toward the ship by tractor beam.