Walking the Outback - Searching for Love

Walking the Outback - Searching for Love

Chapter 1 - The Question

Why was it that the lights seemed to give a last flash before the power failed? It never gave a parting flash like that when the fuse in the apartment blew, one moment it was on and then it was off. He would have plenty of time to ponder that question once he’d answered the more pressing one on his checklist of power failures – Was it local or nationwide?

The answer was in front of him, the battery powered laptop still working and the internet connection still up. His first attempt to load a site from this state gave a new page, so it must be only a local breakdown, maybe a car into a power pole, some people were no good at driving in the dark. Actually he was reluctantly putting himself in that group ever since his heart incident.

Under the covers still early to sleep, his mind circled back to that question he’d been asked. The one that changed his life. Not about the prepping, he’d done that in a small way for ages. No the question that had questioned the very reason for his prepping. The question that had shaken the very core of his beliefs, and it had seemed so innocent in the moment. A small discussion in the lunchroom at work. Amongst the chatter of sports results past and future, and amongst the feats of growing children and grandchildren that held very little interest to anyone but the speaker, someone had asked a real question for once, and his hesitation in asking had hushed the room.

“Since you got no family, why you bother prepping? If the world is going to end in a mushroom cloud, what’s the point?”

He couldn’t remember what he eventually said, all he knew was that he couldn’t think clearly for days after, as though his whole life had been upended and was spinning out of control waiting to find solid land to right itself on. Someone suggested that maybe he had a family secreted around and the conversation moved back to sports and grandchildren.

It was Clair that grounded him.


Chapter 1 - The Question

An hour and still no power. The battery clock on the bedside cabinet letting him count up the hours. Part of him wanted it to be a nationwide breakdown then his prepping efforts would be of real use. That would have meant the world had been hit by a CME. A large blast from the sun that had penetrated the earth’s weakening magnetic field and fried all the electric system like had happened in the eighteen hundreds. The Carrington Event it was called. In a time when electrics was so new and all most people saw of it was the telegraph, that blast had melted the wires and burnt out the early telegraph equipment. Since then the protective magnetic field of the earth had reduced even more and the whole world depended upon electrics for everything. At least he made sure he had two old oil lamps and a windup clock found at a yard sale to add to his store.

The more he thought of the problem, the more he realised he hadn’t thought about it enough before. Up to now, all his plans for surviving trouble involved loading his preps in the tray of his truck and making tracks out of town and toward the distant hills. He’d actually bought the truck for that very reason. Large enough to carry everything and big enough to push small cars out of the way, but what was to say the sun’s blast would spare the electrics in his truck. He could be left stuck in town with the rest of those that lived day by day. Their idea of preparing was to loot the few that did. The city would be a bloodbath in only a few days, and he didn’t want to be in that position.

And then he thought of Clair.

Sometimes thinking of her brought tears. A grown man crying like a baby. But after the tears always brought determination and a certainty that somewhere there would be a second soul mate for him, if only he looked harder.


He knew he’d wasted his life to date. It took more than he cared to admit that to himself. Other men his age had large houses in the suburbs with two cars in the drive and a few children to worry about. Now high up the working pecking order with underlings to boss and reports to complete at night before bed. And him? A rented apartment and truck on credit. Where had life gone?

He consoled himself thinking those men that seemed so well off most likely had that big house mortgaged to the hilt and those two cars were leased and they needed to keep working all night to keep up the payments.

I need transport without electrics.

He knew his mind only offered that thought as a way to ease the envy he felt. If he’d only made better choices, but the past couldn’t be changed.


The heart thing had come out of the blue. One moment he was perfectly fine, not a worry in sight. The next moment he was on the floor at work and the ambulance men were sliding him onto a litter. Wires poked all over his chest and needles in both his arms, poking things in one arm and sucking blood out the other. Endless clipboards to be answered then a wheelchair drive to a darkened room. More needles in his arm and then lifted to a sliding bed before a cavernous white machine.

“Stay still,” the nurse said, but how could he move, they had his arms and legs tied down and his head encased in a clear plastic cage. The machine hummed and the slide moved while he stayed quiet, not completely certain what was happening still. Part of him thinking he had died and gone to Hell. This definitely couldn’t be Heaven.

His memories came clearer after they pushed him to his room. “It looks like you’ve had a mild heart attack dear,” the nurse with the blue name tag on her left breast said. She was treating him like he was a doddering old man even though she did look young enough to be his daughter. But he didn’t feel that old. Certainly not old enough for a heart attack. “The doctor will come and tell you more soon,” she said before she left him alone.

The doctor was not much better. Freshly let loose on the world from medical school, the lad lifting a metal backed chart from the foot of the bed and peering intensely at it before asking, “Mister Simpson?” toward Paul. “The MRI shows you had a very mild heart attack. We’ll do some more tests, but it won’t be too long before you’ll be back at work.”

At least he didn’t call him “dear.”


Left alone he thought how ironic it was to be laid low by his own body. No amount of stored preps would have helped. Maybe they were right at work. Maybe prepping was pointless after all, when all his plans could be betrayed by a weakness in his own heart.

A week he stayed in hospital while they poked more needles into his arm and tablets down his throat. Then they sent him to rehabilitation and showed him exercises he had to do. Then it was a pamphlet about eating after a heart attack and all the things they said he wasn’t supposed to eat.

That had been eight months ago. Everyone was sympathetic at first. “You’re too young for heart trouble,” was the commonest comment. At least his supervisor asked Paul if he had enough money to go on. He did, but he didn’t say it would use all the savings he had left, and he still had to swallow three different tablets every morning and visit an expensive specialist every three months.


He took to walking as soon as he escaped from that hospital. Just around the block to begin, he was finding that hard enough. Then he bought a heart monitor watch that had an alarm if his heart rate went too high, which it did far too often, but over the weeks his body became stronger and he could walk for longer without the alarm beeping on his wrist. It was during that exercise that he met her.

He could never remember if he asked her something or she asked him first. He pondered that often. It seemed unlikely they just saw each other’s eyes and didn’t need to say anything. However it happened, they met and they were talking about… He could never remember what they talked about that first day. All he could remember was her eyes and how much she felt like she was a part of him already. As though they had been together for all of time and knew each other so well there was nothing left to say.

Of course she wasn’t the first woman he’d met, that’s why he knew she was so special. He also knew he was desperately lonely. For as long as he could remember he had a deep hole in his soul. A pit of loneliness. Someone had said he looked melancholic and he thought that was as good a word as any. He also knew that others sensed his loneliness and shunned him for it. He went through periods of actively searching for a partner. Lonely hearts in the papers. People at work attempting matches. Lately even the net, but that was the most disheartening of all. He knew exactly what he wanted. Well he thought he did. A woman to love and hold for the rest of time and a woman that wanted the same for him. That couldn’t be that hard, surely.

He blamed it on time and his age. Nearly all the women his age had a past life they wanted to continue. He couldn’t fault that really. Their life had been their children and they wanted that to stay, and he would always be a mere accessory in their life. Someone to pay the bills and be ready to babysit the grandchildren when they came.

He did find some unmarried women like him, but they had a life too. They said they wanted the same as him but there was always more, their list never stopped at someone to love. Their special man had to be better than the most perfect romance book hero. House, cars, status, looks. He had nothing like that and so they had no time for him.

Then he met Clair.


He remembered staring at her eyes, they drew him in and filled his whole being with happiness.

Then his watch alarm beeped.

“You got an appointment?” she said.

“Heart rate alarm,” he said, and she laughed a little and so did he.

“Sit by me while it settles.”

He wasn’t sure it would settle, but he certainly sat by her side. They didn’t talk about what had been and what might come and they didn’t talk about past life failures and successes. They sat side by side on that rickety bench under the large bay tree and they laughed when one of them moved and the bench creaked. He remembered talking about what was in front of them. The plants. The people rushing by. Even the clouds wafting above. He remembered her scent that increased when she turned to whisper a deliciously wicked observation about someone as they passed close by, and he remembered the feel of her knee as he reached out to hold her close and then the warmth of her backside as they both creaked the bench to get closer. They both laughed then and he took the risk of putting his arm around her to hold her shoulder to him, and he didn’t even find her name until they were parting.

“Clair. Would you sit with me next Saturday?”

“Paul, and I would love to be with you.”

Standing first to help her up. One last chance to hold her. One last look into her eyes.

“Two o’clock,” she said softly as he let go of her hand and she slowly walked along the pathway toward the road.

His alarm chimed again, but she most likely hadn’t heard it. A few paces more and she hesitated and turned her head, a nod of her eyes and she was walking away while he sat back on the bench to let his heart settle.

She seemed so much older he thought as he relived the encounter. Her face nearly old enough to turn into wrinkles. Years older than him. Everything but her eyes, the things that hinted at playfulness and youth and love. With eyes like that hardly anything else mattered, and remembering the feel of her body against his was still thrilling him. Searching to describe it seemed futile. All he could think was that feeling her was like filling an empty part of himself. She filled his thoughts all the way home as though she was still by his side. As though she was a part of his life.


...o O o...


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