By: Paul William Fassett
Sometimes, when things were quiet, and the only sounds in the world were the crackling of embers slowly dying, or the sound of music playing in his head, he would think about his wife. Or at least the images of her which he could remember, but time faded the photos to white, and all that remained was a burn mark on white exposed negative, a silhouette of a person, who took many forms from time to time. He could not remember her eyes. He never looked into them, because when he did, they saw right through him, saw into whatever lie he was telling. Sometimes though, he would talk to himself, pretend she was there. Carry on a conversation with her, and pace around, maybe arguing about something. Politics. They liked to argue about that.
Randon was a Patriot, that’s what they called him now. Like it was some dirty word. Branded a Patriot like someone would brand a witch, and hunted like one too. In his life long passed he was a full fledged member of The Council of Twenty, but he worked his way up to it, and she knew every little dirty secret he ever had. Every underhanded, sneaky, and terrible thing he’d ever done, willfully, or by complete chance. She called him the man with the overactive pen.
“Sign, sign, sign everything they put in front of you.” He said in his best imitation of her, and he shot back: “What do you suggest I do then? I do what I am told!” He was angry now then he had been when they had this conversation the first time. Of course now he had the time to let that anger fester. It was the last one they’d had after all. The last one they would ever have.
“Then say it. Say it out loud. Go on TV and let the world hear you say it. Let the people know who really run things. Break this illusion.” He remembered how she took the bend around the couch, so smoothly. She’d made it to him so quickly that he didn’t have time to recoil, or laugh, or play off the idea. She hadn’t given him time to think of a quip, or off handed remark. He was forced to deal with the question. Why didn’t he?
The thoughts made him feel empty, but if you asked him he certainly wouldn’t tell you he was lonely. No. He knew how encounters with others usually ended, and he was not interested in meeting people. All experiences with that in the past led to nothing, and he was in no mood for nothing. He wanted plenty, so he made himself some beans, and rice, and chewed on some salted meat.
He would not share the wealth of his gains with the survivors, because he knew what they would do. They would steal it; claim his gift for their own. He needed to keep it from them. So he set about blockading the doors with wood from the shelves. Shopping carts were chained together, and tethered to the doors. Windows got boarded up, and all entrances were wedged closed with sticks and bits of metal. Turned over aisle dividers reinforced the exits, and now he was closed in, with only one good exit which was heavily locked from the inside. All was comfortable, and all was fine. That is until he started to hear things. Something living, something scuttling around, making a mess of things outside in the aisles. At first he shrugged it off as just his imagination, or a rat, but when he heard a shelf come crashing down, and old bottles of expired what-ever’s, and cans of what-it’s bouncing, and spinning onto the floor; He could no longer deny the truth. He must have locked himself inside with something. Something that was probably hungry, and most likely desperate…
He crept along the unlit aisle on the balls of his feet, bending his knees as to not make a sound. Randon turned right down the cat food lane, and passed the kitty litter, and empty spider webbed shelves where cans of Happy Cat used to reside.
As he turned the corner he felt something hit his chest, lightly, then rebound and fall away. Two eyes, dirty face, mouth quivering, sat on the floor shocked staring at him. Soon however, a knife was drawn, with shaking fingers, and tentative grasp. Randon’s spear was long, he could put it through the bastards little face, put an end to it, but his hand would not budge. He looked at the child, filthy, and scared, but that fear was slowly softening with time that passed, both combatants really wanting nothing of combat. Randon walked away, leaving the boy no doubt slack-jawed, but he never turned around to see it, because the boy did not affect him. Not his eyes, or his stance, or the way his eyes quivered in his head or the talk with his wife. He just didn’t think it worth it. The boy would die out there with nothing to eat, and no decent place to sleep. So he walked to the storage room, and slammed the door shut. A shipping pallet was kicked into pieces, and scraps of wood jammed into the door frame. He waited by the door on his knees with one ear pressed against the cold rusty metal. Clack clack clack went the shoes of whoever was in the store with him. Heavy breathing.
“Sir?” The voice was young, adolescent. A father, maybe even a mother would be close by. No way could he take both of them, and that door wouldn’t stand against them.
His blood coursed hot and hard through his veins, fear and all sorts of confusion rolled around inside his brain. The shadow of the thing obscured the light from under the door, and then all at once disappeared. A fire was still going near the bed he made for himself, so he walked to it, and wrapped his body in an old beach towel he brought from the beach house. It was all that was left when looters burnt it down. Just the towel and a voice he couldn’t get out of his head.
He sat and warmed his hands, and thought to himself. He’s here for the food. Smelled it. Stupid stupid stupid. Gripping the sides of his head, he rocked back and forth chanting. He won’t leave. He won’t leave.
He wanted to cry, but held it back choosing instead to pace the long empty rows of gates, racks, and shipping containers.
I can wait it out. Maybe he’ll get hungry and leave. What if he was here first? No, that isn’t it. No he came for the food. I can wait it out. He’ll leave.
There was a sound, sustained, and echoing from under the door. He slid closer to the door with all his cardboard, and his blanket, and he listened. It was too muffled so he placed his ears against the cold metal door, and waited; his mind trying to match the sound with an experience. Sobbing. He pictured the kid sitting on a tree stump, his head in his hands, tear dripping from between the gaps of his fingers. Maybe he was all alone, desperate, looking for a warm place to spend the chilly nights. Survive another day. Randon knew that feeling, but he was not about to give up what he had traveled so far to get. Not to some weeping child trying to prey on some perceived sense of decency.
He grabbed his spear, and drug the cardboard bed over to the corner of the room furthest from his filth, and tried to sleep, but sleep would not come. He could hear the foot steps outside, and every skitter of a mouse, every loud drip of water made him sit up in his bed, looking for an intruder, brandishing his spike. When he tired he stood up, and walked to the door once again. The sobbing had stopped.
Piece by piece he took the chunks of wood out of the door. A constant throb in his chest. What am I doing? He asked of himself; Appraising his feelings. A scared child had him frightened, but faced with the death of lively hood, or even the thought of sharing his new found bounty, it scared him. The mounds of food which he once looked at with adoring eyes now seemed poultry, small, but a morsel that could not feed the rats. No! He would not share it. The boy needed to die, so that he could live. He crept along the sides of rusted dividers, and looked through the honey comb of holes and saw nothing of the boy, but in the distance light waved, and pulsed off the ceiling. The boy was tucked away in some corner of the store, a fire to keep him warm. Passing the aisle of long dead food stuffs, bags of foul smelling kitty litter, and long rotted rolls of toilet paper, he padded along on the balls of his face, making no noise.
The boy had made a little home for himself out of the dividers, creating walls, and a long, soiled bed cloth as a door between them. Randon could smell charcoal, and taste the smoke from wood burning. Slowly he peered through the gap where two dividers met, and looked for him. Lying asleep, the boy’s chest rose, and fell. The curtain peeled back, and Randon put his head in first, looking around as if he might find a trap laid by the child. Could never be too careful.
He stood over him, the stake in one hand, watching. His cheeks were ruddy, and full of color. His hair the color of coal, and cut short, uneven like it was cut with a dull blade, and it was slick with grease and dander. His skin was dirty, and his collar bone showed through the neck of his soiled t-shirt. Unhealthy, probably close to the point of no return, probably sick. Organ failure, the body eats itself, the brain dies, the eyes cease to take in photometric information. The boy’s body spasmed with a cough, but he did not wake. Randon’s hand gripped the spike tightly.
The boy had made a bed out of bags of cotton swabs, and a pillow out of a folded up black leather jacket. Pretty smart, and Randon wondered why he hadn’t thought of something like that. Either he was a midget or he was very young, twelve maybe, small hands, and small toes poking out the front of his boots. Suddenly the boy sprang to life and brandished a knife, on his feet, poking at the air in front of him as he tried to gain his vision enough to face whatever foe was stalking him. Randon watched warily, stepping back, placing the spike behind his back.
“No need for that.” Randon said, and it gave the boy pause, no longer slashing at the air with that dull tarnished blade. “You look hungry.” Randon said backing up once again as the boy started forward with the blade outstretched in front of him. “Or you can stay here, and starve. I don’t care which. Come, go, stay, leave. Choice is yours.” Randon spoke no more on it, and turned to walk away, for a second time.