Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 15: Another Blowout

by Jeff Rand

Finding nothing else of value, John made the decision to travel to the coordinates he deciphered from the Project Orion case. To complicate the situation a bit, he did not know his current longitude or latitude. "Oh well I just head north," he thought. "Since Jeff was involved in the project, I probably need to go to the arctic tundra."

John hiked about a mile before he approached an automobile parked beside the road. Unlike virtually every other manmade object that he had encountered since emerging from his three-year slumber, the car appeared to have avoided destruction. However, when he walked to the front of the car, his hopes for automotive transportation quickly evaporated upon seeing the smashed front end.

Without hesitation, he proceeded to search the car for food or anything else of value. In the glove compartment he found a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, a canister of compressed gas for emergency tire repairs, and some American Automobile Association maps. "What luck! At least now I can have a good smoke," he said aloud, as he discarded the cigarettes. He was pleased to find among the maps, one of the State of Michigan. He searched the map for several minutes and could not find any hint of longitude or latitude. None of the AAA maps contained any indication of their global coordinates. Disgusted, he put the Michigan map, the lighter and gas canister in his pocket.

John continued hiking northward. While his current attire had more practical value than the makeshift clothing he wore earlier, his growing hunger and general fatigue were beginning to slow his progress. John knew that he must find food and better transportation soon. Perhaps he would find the answer in the transportation mecca of the Detroit area that now stretched before him. John scaled a fence and looked toward the expanse of Metro Airport.

Like most things he encountered, the airport suffered from damage and neglect. John could see in the distance the remnants of the terminals, once alive with much human activity, now burned out shells amongst the ruins of man's attempt to conquer the skies. This more than anything John had yet encountered showed the planet's state of affairs. As far he could tell, no other human walked the face of the earth. Aside from the tombs within the NVR centers, the earth had begun a process to remove all signs of homo sapiens.

Yet the runways, as far as John could tell were in remarkable shape and showed few signs of decay. Except for a few patches of snow, they were clear and probably serviceable. To the east he observed several small planes parked next to a hanger with a collapsed roof. From his current position John could not determine the status of the planes, so he diverted east for a closer examination.

After a hike of about mile, he arrived to find that most of the planes were damaged with rubble from the hanger. There were two, however, that were parked away from the others and showed no signs of damage. He recognized a two-seat Cessna 152 and four-seat Cessna 172. John's heart almost skipped a beat. A couple of years ago he had earned his private pilot's license and had acquired a special knack for flying vintage aircraft.

A piece a metal lying upon the tarmac provided all the lever needed to pry open the door of the 172. With little hesitation, John reached under the pilot's seat and removed a large nylon pouch. He hit pay dirt. Among the contents of the pouch were aeronautical charts, a compass, tools, and emergency high-energy nutrition bars.

John wasted no time in tearing into one of the nutrition bars. He took a tentative bite and swallowed. After three years inactivity, his stomach found the whole process most disagreeable and told him so through a sharp pain. He turned to vomit, but was not successful in disgorging his stomach contents. John fell to the tarmac in severe distress. After a few minutes the pain became bearable, although John could not be sure that he would ever digest the meal.

Forgetting about hunger, John examined the charts. There were several maps covering parts of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario. To John's delight, latitude and longitude lines were clearly indicated. After a thorough examination and a bit of extrapolation, he determined that if the scratches on the Project Orion case indicated a convergence of longitude and latitude, then Cass City, Michigan would be his destination. Curiously, it was almost due north, making him quite pleased with his earlier decision to head in that direction. It was, perhaps 100 miles away, which would be too far to hike. With an airplane, however, it might be just an hour flight.

With little hesitation, John reached for the ignition switch, while he extended the throttle a bit. He engaged the switch and heard a click. Yet, the engine would not turn over. Twice more he tried with no success. When he turned another switch, he was pleased to watch his instrument panel come to life. Obviously the battery had power. Just not enough to engage the starter.

John decided to examine the smaller plane. Inside he found another emergency kit and some bottled water. When he tried to engage the engine of the 152, he could hear the starter struggle to turn. He quickly realized that he might be successful starting this smaller engine, if he had some additional power. Returning to the 172, he entered the compartment underneath the rear seat and retrieved the battery. Lacking any jumper cables, John brought the battery back to the 152, where he turned it upside down, such that he could make contact directly from its terminals to those of the existing battery. He hesitated a bit, recalling a near disaster at Winter Camp IX, when a Winter Camper connected jumpers to the wrong terminals in his Chevy Suburban. Even in his somewhat diminished state, John did not repeat that mistake.

The extra battery was sufficient for the starter, as the engine in the Cessna 152 roared back to life for the first time in more than three years. John had to be quick to subdue the throttle, when the plane lunged forward. Perhaps his piloting skills were not as refined as he thought. Yet, he knew that he would now put them to the test. John was pleased to note that the fuel gauge indicated more than half a tank. He gathered his meager belongings and the emergency kit from the other plane, now ready for the final test.

The take-off was near perfect and John made only a slight deviation to achieve his initial bearing of due north. John's turn lined him up perfectly with Merriman Road, as he decided to use this as a landmark to guide his northward journey. After a couple of minutes his altimeter read 2,000 feet, with an air speed just shy of 100 mph. He pushed the throttle forward to move past the 100 mark and decided to climb a bit more. He just realized that he did not calibrate his altimeter at take-off and could not be certain of his actual altitude. Better be safe and gain some altitude.

The plane bucked a bit, but proceeded to climb. John checked his direction and noticed a slight deviation eastward, which he verified by sighting the roadway below. As he crossed I-96 in Livonia, he turned his steering wheel to the left. Suddenly he heard a snap, as he felt the wheel lose all lateral tension. He turned it further to the left. No response. A sharp turn to right similarly yielded no reaction. He had lost control of his ailerons. He pushed the wheel forward to test his elevators. The plane began a descent. He pulled back. The steering column would not budge. He jerked the column, then hit it with his fist. He pulled back with all his strength, again without success. He dared not try to push it forward any more and increase his rate of descent. John now flushed with panic at the realization of his impending crash. He had entered a powered descent with a useless steering column. Quickly, he glanced at his altimeter. It read 2,500 feet, with a rate of descent of 600 feet per minute. He had perhaps 3 minutes, at most.

John pulled back on the throttle and slowed to about 70 miles per hour. His descent rate showed no great change. He was going down. The ground now approached quickly. He had veered well east of his bearing and was no longer above the road. Below, he could see the approaching roof of a strip mall. In a state of panic at the prospect of crashing into a building, John pushed the right foot-pedal to turn the rudder. The plane turned sharply to the right. However, his lack of banking with the ailerons and relatively slow airspeed put too much strain on the engine. The engine stalled abruptly. The plane cleared some trees by just a few feet and turned above an eastward running highway. In a last ditch effort, he pushed the column forward violently and jerked back. With scant seconds left before impact, the elevators now responded and the nose lifted above the horizon.

The rear tires hit first and exploded from the impact, leaving crumpled rims. Shortly thereafter, the front wheel met the pavement and bounced, causing an aeronautical wheelie. The front wheel bounced three more times before the increased friction of the rear wheels brought the plane to a dead stop. The plane skidded to the north side of the road, where the left wing clipped a large signboard.

John sat in the wreckage, truly shaken, but without great injury. For whatever reason, when he viewed the crumpled wing against the sign, he now realized that this was the first time that he had actually piloted an airplane. His memories of flights past were not real. They were manifestations of his life in the virtual world. John observed the sign, which read "The Pines of Farmington Hills."

With only superficial wounds he was able to force open the door, having survived his first real test as a pilot. He grabbed the emergency kit with his few meager belongings and proceeded on his northward journey, again as a pedestrian. He noted the street sign read "El Marco." He walked for less than half a mile into the subdivision before El Marco ended. Turning right on a short street, he observed utter devastation to a house on the north side of the street. It certainly attracted his curiosity, as he assumed it had been a direct target for a bomb. Perhaps someone had been playing with pipe bombs or as he was beginning to suspect, it might represent some deliberate action.

Standing next to the house, almost unblemished, was a red Schwinn LeTour bicycle. Other than mismatched tires the bike appeared to be in working order. John pinched the more durable looking front tire and noted it to be fully inflated. He observed the rear tire to be flat. Thinking only a moment, he unearthed the emergency air canister that he had found earlier in the automobile. He placed the canister on the valve, which was fortunately of the Schraeder style. The air quickly filled the tire to full pressure and beyond. John jumped back when he heard a loud explosion. He had misjudged the quantity of air needed and blew the tire. It now had a six-inch gash in its sidewall. An utterance of profanity ensued.

Lacking an airplane, the bike seemed to offer the best alternative form of transportation. Now it would be marginally functional, if at all. John resolved to attempt a resourceful solution. He looked in the rubble of the house for materials to repair the wheel. In what once was the garage, he found a jar of rare coins, with a face value of exactly $100. They were quickly discarded. When he discovered a bunch of partially burned white T-shirts marked with a scene of a polar bear in a snowstorm, an idea quickly emerged. He found a piece of garden hose next to the ruins. He cut it to fashion a new tube. Then he ripped the shirts and stuffed the pieces of cloth into the hose to make a more solid tube. Next he put the hose into the old bike tire and placed them back onto the rim. He wrapped the entire wheel with duct tape from his emergency kit, making a patch to cover the slit in the casing. He placed his weight on the saddle to test the tire. Although it had more give than normal, it would hold his weight, at least for now.

John attached his supplies to the bike rack and pedaled down the driveway. His years of inactivity were not kind to him, when he fell as he tried to turn onto the street. He got up and tried again. Soon he regained his confidence and navigated through debris and patches of snow. Back at the main road he turned right. After a few minutes more, he found himself at the intersection of Ten Mile and Orchard Lake Roads. There he reviewed the maps to set his course. He would ride the damn bike to Cass City.

After several hours of arduous riding, with an especially bumpy rear wheel, the sun, which had been low in the sky all day, now visited lands further west. In the darkness John found himself in the town of Millington. Finding shelter in a remarkably intact hardware store, he decided to spend the night. He forced down two of the nutrition bars, without regurgitating.

After a fitful sleep, the low sun returned. John surveyed his surroundings. He found no trace of human food, but discovered a pet supply section. The dry food was completely gone, as animals had long since removed the contents. However, two dozen sealed cans of dog food were still intact on the shelf. He had no trouble opening a can and devouring its contents. The thought of what they were eating in the imaginary world of Winter Camp made this seem altogether trivial. He recalled that the Beast had actually consumed dog food at an early Winter Camp in the real world, as well.

John was delighted when he found a bicycle tire in the store and was particularly pleased to find it an exact match for the existing tire on the front of the bike. Likewise, his search yielded a new tube of the appropriate size. This time he used the much slower, but more reliable frame pump, which was attached to the bike. John left the store with a well-oiled and functional bike, loaded with supplies.

John guessed it to be near 10:00 a.m. when he entered the town of Vassar. This town was much more devastated than Millington and the only storefront left intact was one with a display of toilet seats. In Vassar John changed direction and headed northeast through Caro and onto to Cass City.

John arrived at Cass City in early afternoon. He determined the exact destination to be on the northern edge of town. When he arrived at the believed point, he found nothing to offer precise confirmation as to his success. Besides a few damaged houses, the only other aspect of human interference was the Elkland Cemetery. "How appropriate," he thought.

He entered the cemetery, half expecting to find another NVR center. He encountered about three inches of snow, making it difficult to read many of the tombstones. He searched for over an hour, but found no clue as to why he was there. Perhaps his conclusions were an error when he deciphered the message on the Project Orion case. He sat despondent.

A pain in his bladder told him it was time to urinate. He walked a few steps and was about to relieve himself, when he noticed he was standing on a tombstone. He brushed away the letters. It read "Michael A. Walsh." He took a few more steps to be respectful.

Lacking any other idea, he proceeded to examine a few more tombstones. When he reached the sixteenth, he noticed that the wind had blown away some of the snow exposing the letters "old." He cleaned the rest of the snow to expose a monument to an individual lacking a middle name. It read "Harold Oatley Born: December 16, 1908 Died: December 10, 1988."

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