Note: This is part two in a three-part series.
“If only earth’s other wild creatures turn on people, then what?”
– Anonymous drifter selling molded zoo animals on a Hollister street corner, A.D. 2022, the year of this column
Through a deep fog littered by flying dirt and debris, an armored station wagon emerges onto South Street toward downtown Hollister.
The modified, post-apocalyptic war machine rumbles through a series of potholes wider than the Aromas Quarry and catapults sideways, rolling once but landing upright in a ditch.
I come to from brief unconsciousness and see scavenging condors chewing at my calves and backside. Worse yet, a boar in the distance huffs toward the wreckage, escalating my panic.
“Get off me, you perverted condors,” I scream while swiping the scavengers into dried brush. “I’m not dead. Not yet. And I’m nobody’s ham sandwich, pig.”
Time will determine my fate. With the mishap, a pack of enemies gains more ground in the distance in a chase to stop me from reaching the continent’s last plentiful water source, San Justo Reservoir. Odds remain strong I won’t survive to a showdown with those suicidal warriors or a battle for San Justo. Because first, I must somehow traverse Hollister’s long-ravaged roads and maniacal drivers helping to guard San Justo for dictator Mollusk Face.
Rattling over crater-covered South Street, a succession of vans circle around me like lionesses taunting injured prey. They make it obvious: This is a coordinated effort to hunt and kill me.
They stray from one spot to the next—all communicating on cell phones—but keep a steady barrier around me. They squeeze closer, probably to either drop explosives, slash tires, or tell me how stupid I am and give me the finger.
They’re also just close enough so I can light the Roman candles I’d picked up on the way to Hollister at a garage sale peddling illegal fireworks. Fortunately, four of five foes had windows smashed out or stuck open. In the fifth, a smoker.
The ejecting firework knocks the cigarette from her mouth. It flares wildly inside that vehicle. Subsequent shots do the same in the four others, too, sending the vans diverging on chaotic paths, breaking up the death circle.
“Never leave your windows down in a storm,” I mutter.
Approaching a mostly abandoned downtown, it appears at least one corner restaurant survived the apocalypse. Muscle-ripped pickup trucks line the nearby streets and a lot—most taking up two parking spots. Stalled momentarily at San Benito Street’s lighted intersection behind two other pickups, the light turns green. With no movement by the lead truck, I beep my horn to help nudge him along—an immense mistake, it turns out, with potentially fatal consequences.
An angered, grizzled man in a plaid button-down shirt and high-waisted jeans slams the driver-side door, leaving his idled truck in the middle of the road.
“You want to (bleeping) beep at me, huh? You bald, (bleeping) son of a (bleep) in a station wagon. I’ll show you.”
“Holy (bleep),” I respond.
I skid back some to make room and zip around the trucks and enraged man. He scurries over to meet the car, winds up for a full-scale kick and whiffs, incidentally good fortune for him.
Other gathered men in plaid shirts look on from a street corner.
“Someone just beeped at a fifth-generation native,” one of them proclaims. “Get the trucks, boys.”
Sparks fly as the armored hatchback’s fender scrapes through a dip in the San Benito-South intersection. Glancing in the rearview mirror expecting to see one or two behemoths in pursuit, I do a double take with more than a dozen mega-trucks chasing—many using the opposite side of the road without hesitation or any apparent concern for their lives—and other frenzied pedestrians hopping in their vehicles to join the chase.
Pulling up GPS, it confirms what I’d remembered from weeks of research, in preparation for this romp: Ahead is a stop sign, followed by railroad tracks. Knowing Hollister drivers, most will race to and through the intersection—clogging the traffic artery enough so my car can distance itself from the pack. More important, the daily afternoon U.P. train along McCray Street is arriving just in time. If I beat it, I could miraculously move on to the bypass and San Justo. If not, they would capture me, and probably do worse. Hitting the gas, my car escapes the train, leaving the trucks behind.
It’s just another short-lived triumph. Mollusk Face and his Water Boys anticipate every move to this point. They knew someone who lived through pure Hollister road rage, like me, could survive the airborne poison radiating over those sewer ponds, known as Dump Lake, in the Westside Straits. They knew someone with local street experience might just ride out Hollister’s notorious van prides, and even its packs of Texas-sized trucks.
It’s why after all that, they saved their most deadly obstacles for last—on the Highway 25 bypass.
Look for a conclusion next week. Read Part 1 on the link to the left.
Note: This is part two in a three-part series.