The world as we know it ended nine years ago. A virulent disease wiped out the world’s population, with the exception of a few people desperately hanging on to the remnants of civilization or roaming the country determined to steal those remnants. Pockets of the afflicted are still around, quarantined and feared by the healthy.
Hig is a pilot, a grieving widower, a hunter and fisherman, a dog owner, a lover of books and poetry. He lives at an old Midwest airport designed as the centerpiece of a community of nouveaux-riches pilots, where he tends to his 1956 Cessna, hunts deer, and scouts out interlopers from the air. His sole neighbor is Bangley, a tough man determined to protect his territory or die trying. Bangley continually tests Hig, pushing him to find his weak points and bullying him out of them. Hig’s weaknesses? Caring about the community of contagious families within flying distance. His reluctance to shoot people. His dog Jasper. His memories of the time before. The innate trust that Bangley believes will kill them both one day.
His desire to go anywhere, to be anywhere but that old airport.
When the chance arises, Hig decides to fly off in the direction of a voice transmission he’d picked up years before, seeking a new face, a new place, a new something that will divert him from his grief and give him a shot at regaining his sense of humanity. Loaded down with fuel and supplies, he takes off and leaves Bangley behind.
And meets other people. The problem is that those people are also trying to protect their territory. They don’t know that he’s looking for companionship or salvation, and he may be dead before he can communicate that to them. He must balance his essential self with everything Bangley has drilled into him to weave his way through these encounters.
Heller uses the first person to tell this story, giving an immediacy to the adrenaline of Hig’s mortal encounters and the range of emotions he feels towards Jasper, Bangley, his wife, and all the things of the prior world that he misses, along with the complicated thrill Hig still gets from flying. From the details of ambushing a raiding party to the feel of tickling fish in a mountain stream, Heller puts the reader into Hig’s unenviable place and finds the slightest glimmer of hope in a world that is barely holding on.
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