I drag my feet as much as possible on my way back to the town hall. It doesn’t matter that the situation is beyond my control, no matter what I do, the elders are going to blame me for the bridge’s deterioration. I’ve staved off the inevitable as long as I can; I might as well get it over with.
The guard gives me one of those “Good luck, bro” looks before unlocking the hall doors. I don’t know what the council expects of me. It’s not like I can stop mother nature. I enter the hall and address three of the most annoying men I’ve ever met.
“Well, nice of you to finally join us, engineer, I presume you are ready to make your report to the council,” said the High Elder. Thirty years ago we all called him Carl.
“The bridge situation remains the same as last week I’m afraid.”
The second elder grunts with the effort of leaning forward. “Unacceptable!”
I really have no idea how to respond so I keep my mouth shut.
The high elder puts his hand up as if to appear sympathetic. “We need the bridge, engineer. We are counting on you to fix it.”
“As I’ve said for years, without paint or heavy equipment we can’t stop the bridge from corroding. At this point my best guess is we have less than a year before it washes away.”
“And what are we to do?”
“We do what I, and just about everyone else has suggested for about twenty years, get the hell off this island and look for a new place to settle.”
The third elder starts to fan himself in a melodramatic fashion. Apparently the mere mention of my suggestion is enough to make him almost pass out. The second elder, now completely enraged, is red-faced and grunting furiously from his many failed attempts to stand.
“How dare you speak to the council in such a fashion?”
“How dare I? Jesus, Carl, we went to the same high school for crying out loud. You were a bully then and you’re a bully now. Just look at Frank, he’s so damn fat he can’t even stand up and Stanly, you can’t even comprehend the thought of leaving without needing first aid.”
“Well, perhaps I should call the guard. Maybe a few days uncarserated will help you remember how we run our society.”
“You mean incarcerated?”
“That’s it! Your insulin has gone on long enough.”
“Insulin is for diabetics you imbecile. And what are you gonna do call the guard? Bernie’s been my best friend since the second grade. Face it; it’s over, done, at-an-end, caputski. You’re all nothing but glorified town selectmen. Your job before the war was to manage the town’s money, but since money doesn’t exist anymore you went ahead and appointed yourselves leaders. And we let you, I guess because at the time we needed some sort of leadership what with the government’s collapse. We all held out hope that someone would cross the bridge and bring help. We were weak and vulnerable then but now we are strong, and we did it despite all your attempts to keep us isolated here on this island.”
“You’re a fool, engineer. You think it is easy, ruling over the masses; listening to their whining day in and day out. There are important decisions we have to make every day; Choices that decide whether we all live or die.”
“Oh, for the love of God, stop it. You’re not that important, Carl. You’re just a dickhead bully who’s basically given the town a giant wedgie for years.”
I have to admit, the stunned looks I’m getting feel pretty great.
“Tomorrow I’m crossing that bridge and anyone who wants to come with me is welcome, including the three of you. It’s time for us to leave this island, while we still can. Maybe there are others out there, maybe there aren’t, but at least we’ll know.”
I leave them to mull it over. Bernie is standing outside waiting for me.
“How’d it go?”
“Better than I thought. You and Sarah packed?”
“Yeah, us and just about everyone else in town. You sure about this, Bill? Should we wait and see if others want to come with us?”
“No, we need to strike while the iron is hot. We’ll let them know which way we’re going and let them catch up if they choose.”
Bernie nods his head in understanding. “You think they’ll come?”
“I don’t know, I hope so. As much as they annoy me, I don’t want to see them dead. As far as we know we’re all that’s left.”
“I’ll walk you home, I still don’t trust the council or their supporters. I wouldn’t put it past them to try something.”
I’m touched by the gesture then a thought occurs to me.
“I hope no one expects me to be the leader. That’s not what this is about.”
“Tough crap, Bill. I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone when I say we’re following you over the bridge. Like it or not, you’re the one we’re all looking to, to save our bacon.”
Once again I have no idea what to say so I keep my mouth shut. The walk back to my cabin is punctuated by many nods and smiles from my fellow townsfolk. I stand in front of my cabin for probably the last time.
“I’ll stand guard while you get some rest, old friend.”
“Thanks Bernie, you’ve always looked out for me.” I clap him on the back before opening my door. I’m not thrilled about being in charge of the town’s exodus but at least we are finally doing something proactive. I turn around and see Bernie standing arrow straight and looking serious as a heart attack. It makes me uncomfortable knowing he thinks of me as a leader.
“I think I’ll just sit out the next apocalypse, Bernie, It’s all just too much work”.