Minutes, hours, days, months, years – an eternity even – passed, yet somehow Graham persisted, sweat-soaked and motionless . . . his heart racing.
Then the boat shifted course again, and all of a sudden, out of the heat and haze, his eyes caught something that he never thought he would see – the full span of the Golden Gate Bridge. From that distance, he could not see the long tendrils of growth that hung from the deck like a grey-brown beard or the decayed and twisted suspension cables that barely held the bridge in place. No, from his vantage point, the bridge rose from the ocean in a clean silhouette. It looked new, strong, and amazing. He almost thought that he spotted cars on the road, sunlight glinting off of windshields. He imagined the traffic – each car filled with life and conversation –crossing that glorious bridge every day. His heart skipped a beat. Maybe it was all over. Maybe they could go back to the way things were before the Collapse.
But as the boat sped closer, he began to see the dilapidation. The bridge no longer held its signature orange color. It was drab. It was useless. It was a mere relic of a time long past. As he watched the bridge become uglier and older by the second, he wondered if it would have been better to be born with a chance to change the course of human history . . . and then to fail, and thus die with shame . . . or to be stuck, as he was, at the bleak and unforgiving terminus of mankind’s ruinous run for greatness.
Of course, it was a question that did not need answering; he could not go back to the time before the Collapse and the die-offs. Humanity could not fix what it had broken. Earth’s population had made a choice, collectively signing a pact of annihilation. Humans had voted every time an eight-cylinder engine had roared to life or a television was left flickering through the night. It had been death by a thousand cuts – a hundred trillion cuts – but individuals everywhere had each contributed their own infinitesimal, but nonetheless significant dose of carbon dioxide to the destruction.
It might take a few years to come into complete fruition, but the end was inevitable now. He had known it for a long time; his reports had been screaming it for years. He had just been refusing to face reality. Now, it was clear. Now, it was undeniable – they were trapped, caged in, with no hope of escape, no chance of a midnight reprieve.
He stroked the scar on his face for comfort, but felt nothing. His heart ached too much. He slowly got up and walked to the very back of the boat. The sun beat down on his scalp; he could almost feel the blisters forming, but he did not care. He thought about going to talk to Peggy Lee or Charley, but what could either of them say that would change any of this? What could anyone say that could help him now?
He opened up one of the nearby deck boxes and found an old anchor. The chain had long ago been broken, and just a couple, heavy links clanked together as he heaved it out of the box. He dragged the anchor over to the deck railing. He tried to think about South Dakota, about his parents when they all were young and happy, about the rain . . . he tried to bring forth any happy memories, but his mind was fixated on one thing: getting away from this heat and the broken planet that had completely defined his life.
He picked up the heavy anchor, hugged it to his chest, and leaned against the guardrail. He looked for a sign – a bird, a fish, a glimmer of life – but there was none to be seen. He balanced the anchor on the guardrail with one hand and took his broken pocket knife from his pocket with the other. He dropped it into the ocean. He felt nothing as he watched it quickly disappear.
Then, with no further ceremony, Colonel Graham Snow closed his eyes on the blazing horizon, leaned forward, and dumped himself into the ocean. He held the anchor tight to his chest as it pulled him down through the super-heated, upper layers of the water, down to the cool and dark depths where sunlight barely penetrated. He turned for a moment and saw that the surface above him looked gray . . . like his fog. Below him, a vast and empty darkness promised cold, welcome relief.
He swallowed ocean water, struggled momentarily, and then as his lungs were about to burst, he took in a deep breath of saline. He choked, coughed, spat, gagged, but held the anchor tight. Soon his lungs filled with water. The anchor slipped from his weakening grasp and quickly dropped away. His body grew still . . . and then cold in the wet darkness. And then eventually, a gentle current unknowingly carried it out to sea.