Chuck Wendig, creator of the TerribleMinds blog and the esteemed author of novels such as Blackbirds and Mockingbird, has a weekly flash fiction challenge. This week's challenge was to pull a random song from wherever and use the title as the name of your story. 1000 words.
The song that came up was "Ways To Go" by Grouplove.
Ways To Go
Sometimes, in the deepest part of the night, when I can no longer see and must finally rest, I wonder if I am alive. I sit alone in the dark, caressed by the never-ending wind which whispers songs that I cannot understand, and wonder if I am real—or just a fading memory in one of my creator's mad dreams.
I know these thoughts are irrational, that they are another sign I am not well. But I cannot help it.
It is only when the sun finally peeks over the horizon and lightens the sky that I am reminded once again that - yes, I am real. I do exist.
And I remember Verona.
Her name fuels me and I stand, invigorated. The sun's ruby gleam shows the road before me, a grey twin-ribboned line that fades into the sky. This area is relatively clear. No clutter of burnt or rusted vehicles, no desiccated corpses, no fissures or craters or debris. I should make good distance today.
I begin walking and it gets the fluids pumping, clears my mind. This part of the world is wide and flat and red and dead, filled with nothing but sand and rock, wind and sun and sky—but I still am. And Verona, my love, my savior, my life, awaits.
I am coming, Verona. Every day I get closer.
Far ahead a cloud of dust appears, hazy on the horizon. Something approaches. Only emptiness surrounds me, there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to go, only me, the sky and the road, so I have no choice but to stop and wait.
Before long, a speck appears. It becomes a sail, then a vehicle with a sail attached, then a person in a vehicle propelled by the might of the wind's music.
He pulls a series of ropes and levers, cleverly contrived to adjust the angle of the sail and so control the vehicle's speed and direction, and slows it to a stop. He is swaddled in cloth to defend against the sun and wind, with goggles, a bulbous nose and grey beard peeking out from his hood.
He gets out, coughs and spits the dust from his throat. Cradled in his arm is a shotgun, which he holds with the ease of someone well accustomed to using it. "What have we here?" he says as he walks towards me. When he reaches me, he slings the gun, puts his hands on his hips and walks around me, studying me. "Well, well. An Assistant. I thought they'd all died out by now."
"I am… looking for Verona."
"Verona? Hmph. Is that a place? Or a person?" He has completed his inspection and now stands in front of me again.
"Verona is an officially sanctioned artist of the—"
He barks a quick laugh. "Artist? Ha! And Verona—what kind of name is that?" He scratches his nose. "She was your owner, I assume?"
The man is... confusing. I have not seen his like before. He is not Corporate. Nor is he Artist. Maybe Maintenance. "Yes, I belong to her."
"Ah. And where is this Verona?"
I pause a moment. "Hampstead, New Hampshire."
"Ham's Dead? Never heard of it."
I pull up information: "Hampstead, New Hampshire, settled in 1640 by..."
"Yes, yes. In other words, somewhere in the green lands to the east. Well, you've quite a ways to go before you reach them, my friend. But I suspect this Ham's Dead lies beyond that even." He peers closer. "If it was by the ocean, it's likely gone by now. Those lands are dead and all who near them develop the wasting sickness. Though I suppose that won't bother you none. But some say a wall is being built now and you won't be able to pass that."
"Yes. Some general rules there. He's building a wall to stop the blight from spreading. So they say."
The strange man bends down to look closer at my body. "Do you have a battery? How charged is it? I could use another one." He is once again walking around me, prodding and poking. "Ha! I can't believe you're still running. Where's your battery, my friend?"
His questions make me uncomfortable. "Where are you going?" I ask.
"Over the mountains to the Pacific. The San Fernando Valley of my youth. Do you know how things go there, by any chance?"
"No. I know not what lies that way. My journey began in the desert and I have seen nothing so far but burnt, empty cities. Wreckage. Silence." I look at him. "The only voice is the wind."
"I feared as much. But a man has to try." He pauses. "Your owner is long dead, you know."
"No," I say, "She needs me. I must find her."
"Nonsense. Most of the eastern coast was obliterated in the first strikes. But you can still make yourself useful. I could use a new power source and yours would do just fine. It must be one of the last ones made." He is once again examining me. "Fascinating."
"No. I must go." He lies. He must. I would know if she passed.
"Come with me to my windrunner. I have tools there."
Is he trying to deceive me? I have had no signal for quite a while. No updates from her since my refurbishing.
No, I would know. I would.
"No. I must go. She needs me."
"Come." He takes my hand, pulls me toward his windrunner.
"No!" I strike him. His goggles shatter and he crumples to the ground and lies still. A red puddle appears on the grey road.
"No," I say as I walk away. "She needs me."
He will be okay, I think. If I had a signal, I'd call an ambulance just in case.
I risk a quick glance back. Yes, he is just resting. Listening to the wind.
I continue on my way. Verona awaits.
And I have a ways to go.