One of my biggest fears is surviving an end-of-the-world catastrophe. It was recently pointed out to me that I’m worrying needlessly, that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, it’s unlikely I’d survive past the first wave. Probably that’s an accurate statement. I don’t do well without air conditioning or diet Coke. But if I did survive, I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if I got to live at the airport with Hig and Bangley. Mostly because while Bangley scares the ever-loving daylights out of me, I also know he could protect me, and Hig seems nice and is probably pretty good looking in an LL Bean/end of the world kind of way, plus he has a secret Coke stash, so even if there’s no air conditioning, he could manage to feed my aspartame addiction.
After a worldwide flu pandemic wipes out nearly everyone on the planet, Hig retreats to a small county airfield with only his dog Jasper and a salty older man named Bangley for company. Together they set up a sort of commune, if you can call a two-man operation a commune. Hig’s only means of escape from the monotony of protecting their sanctuary from the roving bands of marauders – the few who survived – is The Beast, his 1956 Cessna, and so he flies off to patrol the perimeter of the airport, reporting back to Bangley any movements in the mountains and woods beyond their little enclave. Hig also regularly visits a family of Mennonites who live near by, careful to stay eight feet away from them because they carry the blood disease, something that came along as the flu spread throughout the world, and is slowly killing a majority of the survivors.
Restless and struggling to find meaning in his existence, curious about what is on the other side of the mountain, and thoroughly unable to forget a radio transmission he heard three years prior from an airport that should have been shuttered six years before that, Hig makes the irreversible decision to fly past the point of no return.
Twenty nine point three gallons. Not enough gas to get home. As simple as that.
As simple as that we go over the edge.
Told in spare sentences, sometimes just fragments, Hig’s story evokes memories of Cormac McCarthy and The Road, that stream of consciousness, no quotation marks, you’re in someone’s brain style. But unlike McCarthy, who is grim and stark and who often left me feeling depressed, Heller somehow managed to infuse what should be a very bleak story with something completely unexpected: hope. Hig is a warrior poet, and it shows in his thoughts, his actions, and his words. This is a man who has lost everything – his family, his wife, his child, his home, his dog – and yet he continues on, flying past the point of no return, awaiting his fate, ever hopeful.