Thursday, September 26, 2013
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The room was sealed from all light by blackout curtains covering sloppily-welded metal bars. I opened the door and terror did pour out like a dropped and cracked water jug.
Shit boy you smell that foul, Daggett said.
Poor bastard, I said, barely suppressing a gag.
Pungence oozed, kind of thickness that sticks to your tongue and won't break through spit or dirt or fire-hot scalding water. I arced the lantern's light across the room to the back corner, where a big pile like a nest was pushed up against a wardrobe with no doors. Daggett grinned large through gapped teeth just as rotted as the room.
After you sweetness, he said.
I told him to eat a dick and shoved him hard in the chest. Daggett just laughed with a sputter and lit a cigarette. Holding the lantern ahead of me, I clapped a rag to my face and moved into the room. Daggett followed, with that sawed-off shotgun scanning the room for signs of life.
Lucky bastard rightly, Daggett said. Imagine what I'd to do him with my big boy here. He stroked the gun like a small animal.
Shut the fuck up and keep your eyes open, I said.
Rot was pervasive. Moldy and maggoty-pocked meat littered the floor, but mostly concentrated near a makeshift hearth and piping chimney carved into a the far wall opposite the wardrobe. Tattered remnants of clothing were equally strewn and in a similar state of deterioration. Even the standing water in big pots on a table in the middle of the room was covered in a thin layer of muck.
The pile in the corner loomed and seemed to grow larger as I approached it. My lantern was my shield, and I stretched it out until my arm reached its maximum distance from my body and my shoulder strained and ached. It was an amalgam of everything else in the room, food, clothing, animal pelts, and even straw, seemingly glued together into a thickly-packed hive.
I prodded the pile and turned over pieces with my booted foot, uncovering bit by bit until I found Old Jules toward the bottom.
Over here Dags, I said.
There wasn't much left of Old Jules. His skin was bloated and brown in the lantern's amber light, split open where my boot nicked it. Half-eaten, glossy eyes had maggots for pupils, and they moved as he did and gave him sort of a sad look, like he couldn't focus or was lost in bad thoughts. A big line was raggedly drawn across his throat where they did him in, cut ear-to-ear with a ripping knife in a big, brick-colored smile.
Well shit who did this little piece of work, Daggett said as he moved to my side, crooked the shotgun under his arm, and blew smoke.
I have no idea, I said, and kicked the top of the pile to cover up Old Jules' face.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The bottom of the flat used to be a lake. After a long winter when the snows pack hard and the spring sun melts, the water rushes strong down the carve-outs and creeks and refills part of the basin. The nearbys peek out to gather water alongside all the rest, deer, elk, little red foxes, even some bears.
Still is, I suppose, if you define things by what they are. I like to think that it's not about all that, but about what things do. In the days before, the lake was a lake. Snow melted, and it began. People and animals took fish like before. Water gave life indiscriminately. Oppressive heat faded away as people forgot their cares for brief moments.
But then people disappeared. Survivors camped by the lake, pitching hopeful tents while casting fearful eyes toward the horizon, watching and wondering if they'd also be seized by the fever. Yet hints of the past remained. Everyone had these wry smiles plastered up and the men clapped each other hard on the back. Maybe we made it, they said. Here we are. Children laughed and ran along the shore, wondering what the big fuss was all about and why did we have to leave and when can we go back home.
Eventually survivors dwindled, either moving on or passing on. And the lake was abandoned. That's when it stopped being a lake and became just another unseen puddle that ebbed and flooded with the seasons.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Boy hell the fire was in his eyes when he stood over me and said son you ain't got a prayer left under god or heaven or all the stars in the sky so mark your time. Withering, that glare; rattled me to the core and left me wanting to jump up and run from that house and back down through the briar and out the gate into the open fields, away.
It wasn't just Old Jules, either. That rifle in his hands, it was the worse. Rusty and brutal, just to grip it risks too much. Half of you thinks it'll tear someone's face off, or it's just as likely to pop in your hands and send you back down where you came from. The rust on the barrel was an odd semi-circle, like the gun was smiling right down at me, both like it knew its fate and could all-too-well guess mine.
Who are you to come around here, he asked. I said my name. Came up through the briar looking for Old Jules.
Ain't ever seen you before, he said. But well you found him by sight, and you'd better get to explaining yourself all skulking and cowering or else this conversation's going to be awful quick.
There was a moment just clear of the path, in the yard between the bombed-out Ford and the empty dirt pitch where a dog used to be, where I hesitated. Took down my bag and opened it up, double-checking my supplies and surveying the house. It was corrugated metal, simple and sharp, drafty and cold, but it at least kept out the rain. Then out from behind the car springs the man. Cagey bastard and fast, but wouldn't guess it to look at him. Hit me on the head with the butt of his gun and down I went, black and flat.
Awoke to him over me, near pressing steel to my cheek.
Here for trade, I blurted.
Trade? He laughed, guttural and rolling, but that smiling rifle didn't flinch none. Son you come to the wrong place.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Ever see a someone just rot away?
Things puff up a little at first, and there's these little white specks everywhere, maggoty shits that slippy slide all through the softest of soft. Then the body colors something foul awful, brown and black and soupy. Smells too, boy ever, worse than you think too. You think dead horse along the road and that deep and sweet rot wafting up from the landfill's bad? Ain't the same. Judged it salty, and stingy-eyed, like some damn fool's gone and mixed bleach and ammonia.
Worst are the eyes. They turn all cloudy and just recede, leaving the body to gape at you like it knows its fate and ain't nothing to be done but just endure the horror. Course no way for the body to know. It's gone. And you're left to watch the sinking, stinking holes and think, damn, that used to be my brother or sister or best fucking friend in the whole world but now they're just a falling away bag of meat.
And you scratch your arms and check for marks, and you dig a hole like all the others before because that's what civilized folk do for each other. In they go, all easy. But the arms don't land quite right and the head cricks oddly when you push it in with your boot. Doesn't look a thing like Grandpa, rest him, in the pine box with gentle clumps of dirt tossed by weepy well-wishers. No it's just a mess in the ground and you shovel and shovel and shovel so fast because damn you need it to be done.
And then it is, and you move on to the next one.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Day 7,650 (?)
I cannot guarantee whether the above date is accurate. While some try to maintain meticulous records, the first days after the fall were fraught with confusion. Survival trumped accurate record-keeping.
Salvaged documents are scarce and often damaged, but the universally agreed-upon time is December 24th, 2001. That date is also what my parents used to consider my birthday. But those sort of things doesn't carry a whole lot of weight anymore.
Snow coats the forests and plains. Animals go to ground. The corrugated steel walls of my shelter seep cold from early winter.
Seasons are one way to keep track of things. They allow for a discrete, concrete order. I lament for those living thousands of miles south, where warm days blur together and it's too easy to ignore if the sun's out a few minutes longer each day when more pressing concerns are at-hand. I suspect they don't begrudge me the deep freeze, however, and how we must scavenge for warmth wherever it exists.
This journal is an experiment. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I think the old ways aren't completely dead -- just forgotten, or perhaps dormant. Let's see if that's true.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Derrick died in my arms.
Derrick died by my hand.
I first witnessed death before the end of days. My father was a drinker and a lout. We loved him desperately, but feared his rages and steeled hand. The heart attack made him seem so weak. Clutching his chest, he dropped to his knees and keeled over. The fear in his eyes was the fear in ours all those times before, and I remember the only thing I could think at that time was that it seemed utterly fair, and that there must be greater powers at play in the world than how individuals interact. He terrorized us, but something even greater laid him low.
Derrick died much in the same way.
He's always been greater than I am.
I smelled liquor and animal fat on his breath. His movements were sluggish, exaggerated. Warmth from his fire spread across the clearing, so much so that my icy touch nearly sizzled. Our shadows struggled against the Douglas Fir canopy above and aside.
Surprise was my friend. Surprise was my ally. Derrick was alone. I squeezed as hard as I could. Annoyance became terror. Airless lips begged.
The job was done.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Late summer tomatoes were candy, sweet and red. I bit down, and juice splattered out onto Linsell's face.
"Fuck man," he said with a bubbling laugh. "Watch that shit."
"No regrets," I said and grinned wide, teeth covered in pulp and seeds.
We found the settlement torched, bodies in the road smoldering, stinking thickly of oil and burnt hair. The calvary went through just hours ahead of us, like they always did. Heat from fading fires radiated off of ravaged fir huts and patches of brush, making the muggy summer afternoon more uncomfortable than it already was.
I tied a rag over my nose and mouth and started digging. Kevlar work gloves protected our hands from lingering heat. Obsidian dagger? Makes a good weapon. In the bag. Lightly-scorched metal medbox? Could save a few lives. Doc will be thrilled. Unmarked square bottles of brown liquor that nips as it goes down? One for me and Linsell; five for the boss.
Then I saw it, a secret kept by fire and then ash, a basket of five ripe tomatoes somehow not boiled or withered by the raid. I seized one instantly, ripped the rag from my face, and bit down. I closed my eyes. Summer in my parents' backyard, before everything. Glory off the vine, tangy and hot.
I devoured the first tomato, wiped my mouth, and flagged Linsell frenetically. He trudged over with one of those what the fuck now looks on his face. Then he saw the four tomatoes. We each grabbed one, and tired disgust became dripping euphoria.
"Our secret?" he asked.
"Fringe benefit," I said.