Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and Butters kept running, Stan leading the way.
Instinctively, he turned and ran down a street that was all too
familiar to him – it was the street where he used to live. He
slowed to a walk, nostalgia washing over him as he gazed around at
the place he'd called home for sixteen years. It looked nothing like
he remembered – but then, none of South Park did.
"Hey, where's Cartman?" Kyle's voice cut into his thoughts.
They turned and looked back. Cartman sat slumped on the kerb, sweat pouring off his face, which was heart attack red.
"Come on, dude, we gotta keep moving," Stan said.
"Can't…run…anymore…" Cartman panted.
"Cartman, we've only run like,a few blocks," Kyle said scornfully.
"Come on, fatass," Kenny said, grabbing Cartman under the shoulders. With Butters' help, he hauled his large friend to his feet and they began to walk, Kenny and Butters holding onto Cartman as he swayed about almost drunkenly.
"Man, its weird being back here after everything that's happened," Kyle said, looking around.
"You're telling me," Stan said quietly.
There was only one way to describe South Park now – a ghost town. And it was all Cartman's fault, as most things were. Three years previously, Cartman's anal probe had suddenly and inexplicably reactivated: no hints, no warnings, nothing. One minute he was smoking pot at Stark's Pond with his friends, the next minute he had a large hole in his jeans and an 80ft satellite sticking out of his backside. Once out, it had beamed a signal into space, and then disappeared back inside a disbelieving Cartman again. Barely half an hour later, a vast alien fleet arrived, blocking out the sky above the small mountain town. Most of the townspeople, including Stan and his friends, fled right before they opened fire. The ones that decided to stay behind and sit it out were destroyed, along with most of the town.
The survivors descended on towns and cities across America, seeking help and shelter, and by the time the alien fleet had been fought off by the armed forces, they were too settled in their new lives to go back. Some even said South Park was cursed and refused to go. So the town, or what was left of it, was abandoned and left to rot.
Stan stood in front of the ruins of his childhood home, a lump forming in his throat. All that was left was a pile of bricks and rubble. One wall was still standing, and ivy and other climbing plants snaked up the side. The grass was nearly waist height and had completely obliterated the driveway.
In fact, nature had begun to reclaim the whole of South Park. Stan had seen trees growing through the tarmac in the roads, raccoons running through the grass, and even a couple of deer wandering through the abandoned gardens. But what freaked him out more than any of that was the silence. It was almost otherworldly. It almost made him feel afraid to speak.
"What do we do now?" Kyle asked suddenly.
"I don't know," Stan said distractedly. He gave himself a mental shake. Come on. Snap out of it. Wendy needs you. "It's getting dark. I guess we should look for shelter."
"Shelter?" Kyle looked around at the decimated town. "Where the hell are we going to find that?"
"I don't know!" Stan said irritably. "But we've got to find somewhere, unless you want to stay out here and freeze to death." He pulled his suit jacket tighter around him, for what good it did. The temperature was plummeting fast. Not for the first time, he wished he had his trusty red and blue poofball hat and brown coat.
"For what it's worth, I'd rather freeze than experience death by Trent," Kenny said.
"What does it matter to you?" Cartman asked. He had pretty much fully recovered from his little drama. "You'll come back whatever happens!"
"I'm just saying!" Kenny said defensively.
"Guys, come on!" Stan said. "Let's keep going. There must be somewhere we can hide out."
They set off again, walking quickly and bunching close together – partly through cold, partly through fear.
"We could go to mine," Cartman said after a few moments of silence. "My house is still standing."
"You don't have to sound so smug, Cartman!" Kenny said irritably.
"Wait, how do you know that?" Stan demanded.
"Well, I, uh…" Cartman ran a hand through his hair self consciously. "This isn't the first time I've been back here. I like to come back sometimes, just to…sit."
"Sit?" Butters asked, amused.
"Yeah, I like to sit here and look around, and remember!" Cartman shouted, glaring at him. "I miss South Park, okay! Geez, why don't you just cut me and watch me bleed!" Embarrassed, he shoved past the others and strode on ahead.
"I know what you mean," Kenny said. "I miss the old place, too."
"Really?" Stan stared at him. "Ken, you haven't died once since we left South Park!"
"I know!" Kenny said, his eyes wide. "I've gotta tell you, it's weird. Life without death is just plain freaky."
They turned around and headed toward Cartman's house in silence, letting these latest revelations sink in. Stan was amazed. He'd assumed he was the only one struggling to adapt to life outside South Park, but two of his closest friends were struggling, too. It just goes to show you don't really know anyone, he thought.
"Stan, can I talk to you for a minute?" Kyle asked from behind him.
Stan dropped back to walk with him. "What's up, dude?" he asked.
"I was just wondering, supposing we somehow survive the night without being discovered, or freezing to death, what are we going to do then?" Kyle asked. "I mean, our situation isn't great: we've got no phones, we can't start the only car in this whole goddamn place, and the only other people here are trying to kill us. Any thoughts?"
"What do you want me to say?" Stan asked, shrugging.
"Well, I just thought you'd know what to do. You're always the man with the plan, Stan," Kyle said sarcastically.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"For the last few weeks, I've done everything you asked!" Kyle said loudly. "I helped you organise the wedding, and I've taken all of Wendy's crap, even when she seriously needed her ass kicking! And where's it got me? Being chased around our old town by two frickin' psychos, that's where!"
Stan stopped and stared at him, openmouthed. "So what, you're blaming me for this?"
"I'm just saying if it wasn't for your goddamn wedding, we wouldn't be in this mess!"
Stan shook his head, to stunned to even speak for a moment. "You're an asshole, Kyle," he said eventually.
"Finally, he sees the light!" Cartman said joyfully.
Now it was Kyle's turn to look stunned. Stan had never insulted him before, not even during their really bad fights.
"You've been a dick to me for months," Stan said, his voice low and harsh. "And yeah, it pissed me off but I ignored it because that's what friends do. But you know what? I am sick of being made to feel like I've done something wrong. I don't know what your problem is, and I don't care. So in conclusion – screw you, Kyle."
He turned and stalked off without looking back.
Kyle, realising he'd pushed Stan too far, jogged after him. "Stan, wait – "
"We're done, Kyle."
The group carried on down the street, Stan leading the way at the front, and Kyle walking sulkily at the rear.
"He has got a point, though," Kenny said quietly. "If they find us, we've got no chance."
"So we tool up," Cartman said.
"Tool up? What the hell with?" Kenny asked incredulously.
Cartman grinned. "Follow me, everyone."
Five minutes later, they resumed their journey, clutching a series of improvised weapons. Cartman still had his flagpole, Stan had a length of drainpipe, Kyle had a plank of wood with a nasty looking nail in the top, and Butters had a dustbin lid that he swang merrily as he walked. Kenny had nothing, mainly because any weapon, no matter how small tended to backfire on him.
Looking at his drainpipe, which was starting to come apart at the top, Stan couldn't help but marvel at Cartman's ability to turn the most ordinary, everyday items into weapons of mass destruction.
After a few detours – to avoid bumping into Trent or Christophe (or both) – they reached Cartman's old house, which looked pretty much the same as Stan remembered on the outside, but dark and foreboding inside. He shivered as they waded through the overgrown lawn to the front door. The sun was disappearing fast behind the mountains, casting long dark shadows over the small town.
They had almost reached the front door when wild boar shot past them from the back garden. Butters squealed in alarm.
"Eww! Pig-rat!" he cried.
"Goddamit Butters, shut your fucking mouth!" Stan hissed angrily, glancing around nervously as though Trent or Christophe were hiding behind the nearest bush.Geez, paranoid much?
He jumped at a loud bang in front of him, as Cartman attempted to shoulder charge the door. He swore and held his shoulder as he bounced back off it. He tried again. Still the door didn't budge.
"Dude, keep trying!" Kenny urged as Cartman collapsed to his knees in pain.
"He could try using his head," Kyle said. "I don't think he'd feel much – huh, Stan?"
He looked at Stan hopefully and chuckled. Stan just stared at him coldly.
Cartman got to his feet, muttering something about a "fucking smartass Jew". He took a deep breath and glared at the door, then he ran at it full pelt. The offending door almost came off its hinges as it flew open. Cartman collapsed in the middle of the hallway, winded.
"Dude, sweet," Kenny said as he went inside.
The others followed, Butters shutting the busted door as best he could. They stood for a moment, looking around at the dark and dusty house. Cartman clambered to his feet, holding his side.
"Okay, so we're in the house, finally," Stan said, rolling his eyes. "Now what?"
"Now, you all shut your freakin' mouths and listen to me," Cartman replied. He grinned in a way that made Stan feel extremely worried. "I think I know how to get you candy-asses out of this. I've got an idea."