It felt weird to be on the highway again after almost three months of once-a-week trips to the grocery store.
When Mark Philipson checked the mirrors he saw out of the corner of his eye pandemic gear on the console: face mask, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer and latex gloves.
If he had to get out of the vehicle he was ready for the enemy in the air looking for points of entry or waiting on glass counter-tops to ambush unsuspecting finger tips.
With eyes fixed on the road the copper bracelet around Mark’s wrist caught a glint of sunlight. He started wearing it after reading an article saying people that handled copper had a high survival rate during an influenza epidemic. He never bookmarked the article and he couldn’t verify the contents. Besides, it happened hundreds of years ago somewhere in Europe.
What if copper was the magic bullet? He pictured billions of nano-bots being injected into Covid patients. Armed with microscope pulse rifles, the bots swam through the bloodstream, hunting down the rogue bugs and pumping copper slugs into the nasty creatures.
Like the plot of Slow Ghosts in the Soft Machine.
Maybe it was all in his head but the copper thing added an extra boost of confidence.
On May 31st, Mark watched the final installment of Serif software Lockdown 2020 Creative Sessions. He’d been logging into the live streams or checking out the prerecorded sessions since day one.
The main take-aways he got from the sessions and put into practice were the isometric drawing grid in the vector tool and continuous export mode in the raster tool.
A news story inspired the first project: the pilot of a medevac helicopter was also an emergency trauma nurse. She touched down in the median of a highway to render aid to an accident victim. It was in the early stage of the lockdown and traffic was light. The pilot set a compound fracture on site while waiting for the EMTs to arrive.
Mark drew a hospital complex and helicopter, aligning the walls, windows, doors, and roof to the side, front, and top planes of the grid. He duplicated the helicopter and adjusted the position of the copies. Continuous export fed changes made in the source graphic to the export image.
Mark inserted the updated export images into a simple GIF animation timeline. When he was done he had a medical helicopter coming into the frame and landing on a pad marked with the Red Cross logo while the background changed from stars twinkling in the night to the sun arcing across the day.
The next day, June 1st, marked the beginning of hurricane season. He figured he’d top-off the gas tank. The same day Mark received an email from the manufacturer of his SUV for a recall on the fuel pump.
Mark called in the appointment on the automated line and waited for a confirmation call from the service department.
“Mr. Philipson, we have the part in stock. You’re all set for Friday morning.”
“Remember to bring the vehicle in with a quarter of a tank or less.”
“Are you serious? I just filled it up.”
“That’s our policy.”
“Can’t you drain it?”
“We’ve had problems with that in the past. We only do it if there is no other option.”
That recall was the reason Mark was heading south on State Road 27 on a Sunday afternoon as Covid-19 worked its way into the population.
So here he was, on the last paved road bordering the Everglades, trying to burn three quarters of a tank by next Friday. Mark figured on doing it in three runs. The home of Florida’s version of Bigfoot—the legendary Skunk Ape—seemed like a good place to start.
It was a beautiful day. The road stretched out beyond the hood, vanishing into a horizon touched by a blue sky laced with white clouds.
The intersection of Griffin Road was coming up. At the entrance to Everglades Holiday Park a crystal clear memory swept across his mind.
They pitched the tent on the grounds, headed to the Welcome Center and bought some fishing tackle. It was the first time Mark saw a Texas rig. One of the guys was an avid fisherman. He showed them how to bury the tip of a cam action hook into the belly of a plastic worm. Mark wouldn’t be there if Chuck hadn’t promised to put them on some fish.
Mark took Chuck on his word. The kid spent every spare second he could get his hands on prowling the banks of the canal behind the houses, casting plastic worms tight against the shore. It paid off on the morning he landed a seven pound large mouth bass.
They rented an aluminum John boat for five dollars a day. Because it didn’t have an outboard motor there was no deposit.
The day started slow. It took time to get used to the feel of the lure being dragged slowly through the weeds. The leading weight kept the lure’s nose down and tail fluttering.
Mark glanced at Chuck, watching how he kept the line taught and set the hook at the slightest twitch of the tip.
He felt a thump at the end of the line. Mark didn’t hesitate. He lifted the rod and reeled down. The line ripped across the surface. Mark kept his arms high, cranking with one hand and thumbing the spool with the other. The bass jumped, pumping water out of its gills as it tried to spit the hook.
They caught a lot of fish that day.
That was the good part.
A big thunderstorm moved in that night. Howling winds blew down the tent. Driving rains flooded the campground. The temperature dropped into the low 50s.
They spent a cold and wet night shivering under the shelter of the awning of the tackle shop. Chuck called his older brother in the morning.
Mark found two things on that trip: a love of fishing and a hatred of camping.
The last intersection fell behind as Mark crossed the county line.
Then he saw the first tree. Bare branches twisted off in all directions from the dark trunk. It looked like it had been scorched by flames.
Late spring was the height of the dry season and brush-fires were common. Sometimes ash fell like snowflakes and clouds of smoke towered over the Everglades.
Blackened trees appeared on both sides of the road now, getting thicker with each passing second.
The road took a sharp turn to the east. When it straightened a small cluster of skyscrapers appeared on the horizon.
Scorched trees formed a tunnel leading to buildings that shimmered like a mirage.
Mark’s perception of the fabric of time stretched out like a wild imagination. Firing synapses between brain cells transformed seconds into hours. Mark had no idea were he was or how he got there. His foot pressed the accelerator to the floor. The speedometer needle hovered at 97 MPH. It was like being drawn into a black hole.
Mark spotted taillights ahead. He let off the gas and tapped the brake.
As the vehicle slowed the hum of tires passing pavement returned. Ghost buildings in the distance became the skyline of Miami.
Mark made a U-turn at the next intersection and headed north.