His internal clock told him that the sun was now below the horizon. That meant it was safe to take an evening stroll through the city. The thought of sunset made him harken back to the last time he saw one.
Occasionally, just so he could see blue skies, sunrises, and the occasional sunset, Herb would hide away in one of the long abandoned towers that filled the city above. Spring or fall was the best time for this, because the weather was more agreeable, and the days were shorter. Those long summer days, made for a boring wait between solar events. It also gets rather uncomfortable in one of those old office towers if there wasn’t much of a breeze. Either way, waiting out the sun in a building that offered peril at every turn, made for a long day.
Herb considered another daytime field trip in the near future as he made his way along the old subway tunnel. Winter released its grip from old Mother Earth and leaves would soon start to color the brownish grey landscape.
For tonight though, it was just a short foray into the world of fresh air and starlight skies. The forecast was for a nice, cool, star filled night, and Herb needed to smell something other than damp and dirt. He held his lamp out in front of him as he made his way along the tunnels. Where the tunnel widened to old loading platforms, he could lower the lamp as the light from others lit the area. He acknowledged others with a slight nod of his head or a mumbled a greeting if a face matched a name in his memory.
Herb preferred a staircase to the surface not often used by others. Most of the subterranean population used the same accesses to the surface, but Herb avoided them for the same reason he kept to himself. He didn’t want to become a Luner’s target because of someone else’s mistake. As his lantern light started to light the top third of the staircase, Herb extinguished it. He was not sure how far the eyes at the behemoth could see, but he was taking no chances. Even if half the city was between him and that floating monstrosity, Herb errored on the side of caution.
Immediately upon feeling a breeze, and glimpsing the stars overhead, his mood lifted. He breathed in the smells of a wildly overgrown New York City. His ears picking up the sounds of night creatures, and dry leaves stirring in the cracked and buckled streets of the old city. This is the world mankind was meant for. Walking the surface, breathing fresh air, and feeling the gentle night currents tousle ones hair.
Not sucking stale air that is barely refreshed since the fans that used to move the air quit turning centuries ago.
Herb quelled his old anger and resumed taking in the moment.
Tonight was full moon, the biggest reason Herb chose this night to stretch his legs and clear the mold from his sinuses. He would not see it until it cleared the broken towers to his east. However, by the time he got to his vantage point, it should easily be above the cities remains.
As he walked along the streets, a tune whistle from his lips. He wasn’t sure where he heard the song, or what the name of the song was. Herb was not even sure if the song had a title. Yet, it was a pleasant melody, and his whistling, along with the shuffling of his feet, should warn away most nocturnal creatures. Not much of the wild life in this old city was a threat to him. However, surprising a skunk or some other jumpy creature with claws and fangs could mean rabies. A disease whose vaccine was lost ages ago. For anything big enough to be a real physical threat, herb carried his carefully preserved revolver. Handed down for generations now, and always well cared for.
It was strictly a defensive weapon in the highly unlikely event, something bigger than a dog came charging at him.
Such fears just tickled the back of his conscious mind. The minions of the Church were always a bigger threat than nature’s own, and a revolver was of no use against the Luner’s. Herb dismissed such thoughts.
There was a change in the air, and he was going to look to the future.
Upon reaching his destination, Herb paused in front of the old office tower. This old city was full of them, but this one long became his preferred vantage point. At least since the appearance of the Citadel on the other side of the Hudson River.
Now, he stood outside the western side of the tower. As he craned his head to look up at the top of the tower, it appeared mostly in tact on this side. Its stone façade would look awfully weather worn in full daylight, but in the dim twilight, he did not see the deep shadows of missing concrete. He knew that if he walked around the building, a large pile of rubble would keep him from standing in this spot on the eastern face. The upper third of the façade fell to the street long before his time.
Herb walked through the glassless doors at the sidewalk level, and gingerly made his way to the staircase that wrapped around the elevator shaft. His goal was somewhere around the fifteenth floor. He produced a match, struck it on the wall, and relit his lamp. Herb then placed his left foot on the first step, placed one hand on the rail, held the lamp up, and looked up through the stacked landings above him. With no visual signs of collapse, he took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and started up.
Herb resumed his whistling, for the same reason as when he walked the streets. Along with scaring off four legged critters, it helped distract him from the chore of climbing the seemingly endless staircase. The whistling helped keep his mind off the burning he started to feel in his thighs as one landing followed another. For the first several flights, he made a conscious effort not to look at the rusted doors as they passed. He knew from past expeditions, that many still showed legible numbers, and he wasn’t ready to count them. At least not yet.
The burning in his thighs gave way to trembling fatigue as he reached the tenth floor. Sweat broke out on his forehead, and he felt it run down the channel that his spine formed. As the unhinged twelfth floor door came into view, he reminded himself that he needed to do this more often. He was far from what the ancients called, out of shape, but climbing long flights of stairs was not something most of the Earth born did these days.
Herb took a moment to stand before the open fifteenth floor door to catch his breath. The first time he climbed to this doorway, he stopped here because it was open. Time welded many of the doors in these ancient stairways in the position they held. Some like the twelfth floor door gave way to the wind, or setting, their rust brittle hinges shattering under natures force. However, most doors remained forever frozen shut. After his third or fourth trip to the fifteenth floor of this unnamed tower, Herb tried to close the door. He felt a certain possessiveness about this place and wanted to keep others out. Door fifteen wanted nothing to do with his plans.
“I am sure no one will stumble upon my little observation deck.” Herb said to the faded and rusty door.
Herb lifted the lamp, worked the lever that lifted the globe, and blew the lamp out.
The path to his observation deck was free of clutter and tripping hazards. With each visit, Herb cleaned the century’s worth of accumulated trash, debris, and broken concrete from the old apartment. On nights like this, he was glad for his efforts. It was not pitch dark, but with the moon just clearing the horizon, the light was dim, and shadows long.
He made his way to a door-less closet to the left of the apartment’s front door and retrieved an old plastic patio chair. He stowed it in the closet when he left in the hopes that the wind wouldn’t pluck it out of there and hurl it into some far away corner of the city.
So far, so good. Herb placed the chair about three meters from the edge of the abyss.
Long ago, the concrete façade fell away from this side of the apartment building leaving the eastern face exposed to the rising sun, and tonight, the moon. Meanwhile, the western flank was mostly intact, and the central stairwell/elevator shafts provided concealment from the floating monstrosity across the river. There was also a good collection of taller towers between this one and the Citadel, but Herb liked the security all the concrete directly at his back afforded him.
With his hand placed on the back of the faded green chair, Herb turned his focus to the Citadel. Over the years, some of his compatriots’ took to living in the open. Planting crops right out where the High Priestess could see them. Hunted deer in the daylight. All the while, snubbing Herb, and others who still believed that the Church would not tolerate their open defiance of the Church of Mother Earth. One night, everyone went to bed, the western skies free of its foreboding black mass. The next morning they woke up to Luner’s burning their crops, and destroying their homes.
Herb pushed the memories of the Citadel’s arrival out of his mind, and focused on the people living in that monstrosity.
Herb could feel them. All those lunar born human beings living on that colossal reminder that the High Priestess and her Sisters could reach all the way to Mother Earth. He could feel their humanity. Could sense their minds, and their deep-seated belief in the pap the Church taught them. Yet, if he probed deep enough, he could feel the occasional infidel. The longer he probed, the more he discovered. A brief smiled flicked at the corners of his mouth before he turned his attention east.
Looking as though it filled the entire eastern sky, and glowing orange as it rose above the towers of the city before him was the moon. Though the sight was spectacular, to Herb, it was flawed. When compared to the pictures he and his fellow tunnel dwellers carefully preserved. The moon of ancient times was marred with craters and natural fissures. Now, the surface pocked with a multifaceted collection of man’s greatest triumph, and mistake.
Those that lived here on Earth, they were outlaws, infidels, remnants of those who successfully hid from the Church led sweeps in the final days of the exodus. Though the last three hundred years have been a struggle, humankind has managed to grow its numbers. Yes, most of Herbs closest friends and family are gone. Only because they were arrogant and believed the Church forgot them. Many murdered by the Luner’s that first morning the Citadel showed up. Herb tried to convince them that they were being foolish, but they would not listen.