Kosmicki: Mad driver on Hollister roads

Smoke rises from the fire seen from Cienega Road in 2015.

It is A.D. 2022 in Hollister, Calif., three months into the apocalypse.
Drifter guide Felix Solano, a fellow survivor, meets me at the intersection of Union and San Juan roads in an area off the former Highway 156 that is now dry like the Sahara.
Felix is frank about my prospects to cross one of the most feared, physically treacherous, paved destinations left on earth—the explosive, unkempt streets through and around Hollister to the last plentiful water source in North America: San Justo Reservoir.
“You’ll be reduced to ashes in 20 minutes,” Felix says stoically, looking into nothingness. “Maybe within five.”
Felix confirms drifter speculation about San Justo as the last great water resource and how it’s brimming with delicious mussels. He knows I must find water and food before dawn and that there’s no other choice than a drive through Hollister.
“Nobody survives the roads there,” Felix warns. “And the feds guard those mussels like Fort Knox.”
With dust blowing in every direction, a ground squirrel crawls behind us and I squish it with my boot heel. Then I pick up the squirrel and hang it before Felix’s dread-tranced face. He gulps, staring at the limp creature, and clearly expects me to eat it like the post-apocalyptic savage he sees in my tired, deathly eyes.
“See this squirrel?” I tell Felix. “Watch this, my scared, wise friend.”
At this point, I move in to devour the quick meal. But then, to the surprise of Felix, I resuscitate the seemingly dead ground squirrel with finger pumps to its chest and faint breaths—through a spare straw I pull from my pocket—into its tiny mouth.
Disgusted by the visual, Felix turns away and pukes a bit in his mouth. Looking back, he sees the unfathomable: The ground squirrel coughs, shakes its head and scatters off into the first hole it sees.
“What direction to the water?” I say.
A dazed Felix looks over his shoulder and sees a dust cloud approaching near the hills.
“Through Hollister and the Land of Maniacs,” he says. “Forget Union Road. It’s a minefield. Then there’s the Fire Wall.”
“Fire Wall?” I reply, as Felix ponders some more.
“Don’t ask,” he says.
I climb in my hatchback—a 12-cylinder miniature station wagon armed with fire-resistant exteriors, spiked tires, missiles, oil slick and smoke bombs—and take off.
Cruising into Hollister past some sort of steaming, bubbling lake to the left, a gas cloud seeps into the car. It immediately blurs my vision and burns my throat, sending the vehicle swerving frantically over a series of otherwise avoidable potholes, small boulders and road kill.
My vision returns just before slamming through the backside of a wood sign that reads: “Stay away from Dump Lake” with two “Toxic” stickers overlapping the alert. I swerve back on the road, though, without serious car damage. Along that barren Fourth Street through the Westside Straits, a deserted junkyard acts as an instant reminder of my good fortune.
My good fortune lasts only so long.
Pulling up to the Westside Boulevard intersection, the light suddenly turns red. In any towns overseen by Mollusk Face, which are most these days, everyone knows running a red light results in certain death—with automated detonators under the pavement. Facing a squadron of Water Boys on my tail, I wait out the light. This holdup, however, goes on for three or four minutes despite no traffic in the counterpart lanes.
“Did this town ever hear of traffic-light sensors?” I grumble before banging the dashboard. “Are you serious? We have automated bombs waiting to explode underground and blow me to smithereens, but no working sensors?”
Losing patience, I pull back and turn right onto Westside Boulevard and away from that gateway path into the old downtown district. Racing along, I soon realize the astronomical mistake I’d just made.
“School Zone Ahead” a sign reads on Westside.
At this point, all the terror I’d ever felt couldn’t equal the fear running through my head—clawing at my nerves and bones like a feral cat after drinking a bowl of Rockstar. After all, Hollister earned its other name—the Land of Maniacs—due to all the crazed drivers outside of schools in the hours after the apocalypse began. Incidentally, Hollister residents didn’t receive word of the apocalypse until later that night, so they were just driving like they normally do when everyone started calling them maniacs.
“I’ve run through fire, but heading into a Hollister school zone is pure suicide,” I say to myself, turning the car again.
This time, I head straight for the bypass so I can try and get to San Justo before sundown.
To Be Continued …

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