Another Chance

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It was a Saturday and Kevin, as usual, chose to stay in bed a little longer. Nothing in the world would be able to take him out of the comfy warmness and the nesty arrangement his comforter acquired during the night. He would have remained there another hour, at least, hadn’t the most unusual sound prevented him from even closing his eyes again. It started as an indiscernible humming, far away, like the grumbling of a misbehaving machine. Then, as if someone had just turned up a dial, it grew to an unavoidable continuous thunder, an obnoxious melody formed by thousands of indistinguishable voices. It was like nothing he had ever heard before, and it was keeping him from his deserved extra sleep.

While he headed to the window, he was able to isolate a few of the chirps that, incredibly, could well be birds. Lots of them. It didn’t make sense, since he was in the 14th floor of a highly urbanized downtown area, more used to distant sirens than birdsongs. Opening the window added to the confusion, the sky a moving grey mass, dim as if it was still the middle of the night. His eyes required a few seconds to adjust, and his mind a little more than that to believe. It was indeed birds, by the millions, maybe billions, all flying in the same direction, one giant swarm of every species of bird he could think of. He looked out mesmerized for a whole minute before realizing it appeared to have no end. They were flying long before he got to the window and didn’t seemed to thin the littlest bit. Kevin walked to the living room to get a better look from the balcony but, right when his hand moved towards the door handle, one of the birds, a pigeon, dropped dead over the metal table he kept outside. There were so many birds that it was impossible for them to avoid each other, and the buildings. The thumps he was hearing were the poor animals hitting walls, his walls.

He was used to climbing down the elevator every day, but it never took so long. Some part of him still imagined it was a dream he would soon wake up from, but the cool breeze invading the insides of the PJs he was still using seemed eerily real. Kevin joined the crowd of necks stretched up and bodies eventually avoiding a falling bird. They were all hypnotized by the strange event when something knocked him in the calf. A cat, running like its life depended on it, passing through the hundreds of human legs in front of him. Two other cats went through when someone shouted down the street. Everyone turned and looked in terror as apparently every small land animal in the city joined birds in this mysterious massive migration. Dogs of every breed and size, cats, squirrels, rats, raccoons, chickens, lizards, possums, rabbits, guinea pigs. A monkey made its way dangling through the power cables. The people had to open the streets to the animals. Kevin squeezed back to his building and to his apartment, terrified.

The news showed images of what everybody could see firsthand, saying it was an unprecedented event, and that no specialist agreed on what was happening. Massive migrations weren’t uncommon, but usually happened in particular species, at particular periods of the year, and towards particular directions, none of which corresponded to what they were seeing. Domesticated animals killed themselves trying to escape and join the wild crowd. The next day, sewage pipes were clogged with the animals that preferred the underworld. Everything from rats to cockroaches to spiders vanished, leaving behind the dead bodies of those who got caught in the tight spaces of the low levels. Water stopped running, services were interrupted, until the city could figure out a way of removing the dead animals and letting the basic sanitation pass. Even then, the smell remained for a few days, a dark memory of the strangest days on everybody’s lives.

By the third day, it was official: every moving living being, except for humans, had disappeared. Deprived of the beings that together outnumbered humans three to one, and aided by the terrifying experience that frightened the remaining homo sapiens, the cities and villages experienced a bizarre consequence: a great silence took over. There was no sound but the ones made by the scared human beings. No one could guess the weight of that community few paid attention to extended to the atmosphere of a place. No insects, no pets, just a blank expression on the faces of confused people. Even the air appeared to have stopped in a complete and ominous lack of movement. The world still wondered what had happened, while the media pointed out that it had happened everywhere all at once, and apparently the beings had a precise destination: as far as possible from every human being.

The first visible impact of the migration started appearing just a few days after. Without the other creatures to do their part, the plants everywhere started dying, no matter how much you cared for an indoor ficus. Some key element had disappeared with the animals. It wasn’t just pollination: plants used insects as protection agains all sorts of enemies, specially the microorganisms that were the only ones to stay along with humans. Another, maybe more dismal result had an even greater impact. Despite the fact that all services performed by humans or machines had been resumed, garbage started accumulating. Big piles we just couldn’t handle fast enough grew in every corner, overwhelming the people used to dealing with it. As it turned out, rats, cockroaches, pigeons and such, the ones we like less and were probably happy to see gone, the ones we usually associate with dirty environments and diseases, helped a lot with garbage control. Who would’ve thought? Less than a week later, people were wishing back the dirtiest creatures. But their wish wouldn’t be granted.

That was all Kevin was able to get from the news his then ever-on TV vomited all day long. By the time the land animals vanished, long before the first effects started to be felt, he decided to stock up on supplies, becoming an impromptu survivalist. He kept going outside for the first weeks, carefully updating his stocks, taking mental notes of the general state of affairs, waiting for the impending doom. Because that was the one thing he was sure of: it couldn’t be just an isolated event. The creatures wouldn’t simply wake up one day and flee human coexistence. For him, it was just the beginning, the first sign of darker times yet to come.

And Kevin was right. Atop his fourteenth floor small apartment, he saw hope disappearing from the faces, the quick rise and fall of violence when people started realizing it would do no good. It all changed in a fast pace, a world woken up in confusion, suddenly fading into oblivion.

He wasn’t the first to do it. In fact, he had been delaying it as much as possible. There was no telling what was out there to be found. There was no telling how the animals would react to humans re-approaching. It was risky, and even if there was a general belief of calculated risk on the minds of those who chose to escape, they all knew there was no such thing.

So Kevin triple-checked the contents on his backpack and the two duffel bags he could carry. He waited all night for the perfect time to exit the building, planned the straightest route to leave the city as soon as possible. He had stocked on fuel the last weeks but was aware that his car would only get him so far. He thought about calling for someone, friends, anyone else wanting out before everything got even worse. But he knew he would have to do that alone.

Two thousand kilometers after, his car was on the verge of dismantling itself. He had fuel left, but the machine wouldn’t make it any further. The back left tire was pretty much gone, the right one about to. He had been off the road since leaving the city limits. The way didn’t matter, for he didn’t know where he was going. He passed by other travelers along the way, the desire of giving them a ride always itching him inside. Without noticing, they were all, much like the animals, going in the same direction. Vegetation gave space to the desert, but no one turned around. When Kevin heard the last clank his car was able to make, everything around him was a hot beige landscape as far as the eye could see. Everything except for one darker spot, almost touching the horizon. It could well be an illusion, a mirage, but it was all he could follow.

A great wooden wall greeted him, his feet and legs fighting to keep him up. Maybe it was an illusion, because he felt a cool wind kissing him from between the cracks on the wall and, that was certainly his mind playing tricks, he heard the sounds he grew to miss so much. A small door opened to let two men pass. Kevin looked at them, put down his backpack and fumbled inside for the only thing there. He gave the men his almost empty canteen and collapsed. Two strong arms that he could not feel transported him inside the walls.

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