By: Paul William Fassett
After the first hour passed, Randon had cleaned up all the blood, rolled out the old man, which still had a bit of meat on him that he hadn’t yet salted, and made his place look presentable. He used a mop and water to loosen up the hardened dried blood. It slushed around a bit making the water darker, and soaking into the braided strands of cotton, going from white, to dark red, to black, and back to white again with every dunk into the bucket. It never rained in the wastes, but there was still enough humidity left over to capture some. In a few days, a week, maybe more, he could fill up a bucket by using long sheets of plastic to capture it. He had been using them ever since he started noticing there were only three jugs of clean water left. The water he captured always tasted gritty though, like he’d strained it from a handful of sand, so he mostly used it for cleaning.
When the boy stepped into the room, Randon’s heart skipped, then resumed its normal pace. “Come over by the fire. You can dry your clothes.” Randon averted his eyes. Still unable to make contact eye to eye with the young boy he considered killing. The boy was damp, pale, sickly thin, with dry cracked lips. His clothes hung heavy and greasy off his skeletal frame like he had just climbed from a pool, and his hair was cropped short at odd lengths. He edged his way to the corner, and watched Randon with nervous darting eyes. For a long time Randon just watched the boy from the corner of his eye. Sizing him up. Unsure of what the boy might do if frightened. Mostly though, he was trying to figure out if the boy was worth helping. It wasn’t like he had a backup plan should the boy eat up all his food. Hell. Maybe the boy would have been food if he had been more than flesh vacuum sealed over bones.
“Are you hungry?” Randon asked breaking the silence all the while hoping to calm the jittery animal in the corner. “I have some beans, and some rice.” The boy did not move, and Randon decided he wouldn’t wait for a response. He loaded up a scorched pot, with water, and placed it over the hot embers. He went to get the rice over in the corner, and he saw the boy jump.
“Just trying to get you some food. The rice?” Randon pointed to the large sack behind the boy. He slid away from the bag, his back always at the wall, watching Randon.
He pulled the bag open, and brought out a heaping handful of white grain, and threw it into the pan. It sizzled as drops of water dripped down into the fire, and bubbled and fizzed on the side of the pan.
“What’s your name?” Randon asked.
“Ignacio.” The boy answered in a wavering voice.
“Iggy. Do you mind if I call you that?” Randon watched the boys face for protest, even though his lips were offering none. “It’s a lot warmer by the fire. Why don’t you sit down?” The boy hesitated, so Randon stood up and offered his back to the boy as he walked to the little window. A risk, he knew it. It may have just been a little boy, but it was a little boy with a knife. A hungry little boy, a desperate, shaking little thing. It was capable of anything, but Randon had to believe that this would work. The notion of living in that cold damp, foul smelling place by himself for the remainder of what short life he might have left unnerved him. It just had to work.
By the time he turned around, the boy was already by the fire, his hands stretched out, finger tips reddening from the heat. The color returning to his face and arms.
They sat in silence for a while. Neither of them making many movements.
“Where you from?” Randon asked, breaking the calm.
“North.” The kid spoke vaguely, almost a whisper.
Suspicious, Randon pressed. “Where up north?” He waited for an answer, but no answer was forthcoming. “Come on… If I meant you ill, ill would have fallen on you by now.” He reached towards the child, and he leapt back, knife brandished, shaking, pointed towards Randon. “Hey, now. Calm down, just trying to get your plate.” Randon grabbed the plate, cleaned it off with a rag, and stored it in his duffel bag. “What are you planning on doing with that thing?” No answer. The trembling hands told the story. “You ever stick someone with one of those? It’s ain’t easy. Feeling the flesh part, and the sound… You don’t get used to sounds like that… You like stories?”
The kid didn’t answer, but his stance eased up.
“If you put the knife away, I’ll tell you one.” It took the boy a moment to do it, but he put the knife away, and sat a little farther away from Randon. Randon took a deep breath. “It was before the civil war, before the looting, and fires. I was with my wife…”
“We escaped to the beach house for a couple weeks to get away from the city because the world was feeling like a tightly packed place, and I found myself unable to breathe. Luckily my position as a patriot afforded me such luxuries. You know what a patriot is right? A politician, but not officially… Anyway, when we left the city we made a promise to one another. No distractions. No TV, no radio, no magazines, or books, cell phones, home phones, newspapers, or music. Just the company of each other, the sound of crashing waves, and the light of the sun or moon to guide us. It was like our own little way of living like a real person. Another luxury I had gone too long without indulging in.
The first morning I woke up early expecting to hear a garbage truck, a car alarm, or some bitch down the street screaming about some inaudible thing as if I had forgotten where the hell I was. I woke up in a sweat, my eyes scanning the room, wondering why things felt so out of place. I could hear birds chirping, and the low roar of small waves climbing up the sand outside. I watched my wife sleep, her eyes twitching, moving back and forth, deep in some peaceful, smile inducing dream. I lay back down, and closed my eyes, imagining a world where I never needed to wake up. A place of infinite sleep and dream. A place where I could hang with friends both alive and dead. Somewhere in another world where sound, noise, distortion, scraping, and shattering were unknown. Only soothing sounds and thoughts.
We sat on the beach and I thought about glass. Sand is essentially nothing. It has so very little in the way of content. It’s clear, and hard, and light. But glass… Glass is made of essentially nothing, and is burned in fire to make less than nothing. A shape that has no obstruction, or pigment. To the eyes it is essentially not there. A shape made of nothing, in a nothing shape, no pigment to obstruct the rays of energy splashing across our pupils. It can multiply our eyes, forcing the rays off in different directions. It can amplify our vision, and magnify the detail of images in the horizon. At the same time it is also the height of death. Devoid of anything usable or living mineral. The only thing it is capable of becoming is shards, then powder, then nothing. It was then I had a flash of insight.
‘I know how I want to be buried.’ I turn to my wife on a windy night by the ocean.
She of course looked at me concerned, asking herself: Why is his mind on that? But I tell her anyway.
‘I want to be buried beneath a small tree.’
‘I don’t think they allow you to plant things honey.’ She turned back to the water and threw a rock in.
‘Who?’ I asked, puzzled at first, but somehow knowing her answer would amuse me.
‘No. I mean bury me in a field or something, plant a tree on top. You know…’
‘How poetic of you.’
‘Well seriously, come on. Under a tree? How the fuck am I going to get you under a tree?’
I laughed, I couldn’t tell if she was just joking, or if she really didn’t understand. ‘A small tree.’
‘I know, but I have to dig a big ass hole and everything. I have to put you in something right? Not just going to dig a hole in your chest, and stick the tree in it am I?’ She laughs, not able to look me. ‘I mean how fucked up a funeral is this going to be?’ She laughs. ‘On a scale of one to ten?’
‘No but I’m serious. Just hear me out. You can get a guy to do it. We’ll own land by then. It could be on our land. Buried without caskets, becoming one with the ground as an apple tree, or an orange grove. I’ll be a part of something living, even in death.’
‘Yeah, and when our grandchildren’s grandchildren get older, their parents can feed them from us and say, hahaha! You’re eating your grandparents. And their kids will be afraid to come near us, and soon, in ten generations or so, when someone sells the farm, we’ll be known as the spooky trees growing out of the ground in the middle of that corn crop. Someone will come eventually, and tear us down.’
There was a sound growing over the waves, but we did not know what it was. So we looked down the rows of houses, all colored the same, similar builds, slight differences, and in the horizon was the city, and it was orange, and we watched as the light grew brighter, unsure of what to do, or what to say to each other, because we weren’t ready to admit what we saw.
Within an hour, in the house, we flipped on the TV, and watched as cities burned, and people were shooting in the streets. The degenerates, the monkeys, they rioted, they stole, they killed, and murdered everything we had worked together towards. They were working their way through the well to do neighborhoods, and burning it down. Every stick of everything, down to ashes. They were working their way to the beach homes, and there was no way out. We went outside, and we could see a couple pulling a small fishing boat out to the beach, and we ran towards them, our hands waving, shouting out to them. When we got close they pulled harder, trying to get out to sea without seeming obvious, and before we got there, they were too far in. Over the waves, and I was sure they wouldn’t stop mid row to pull in the extra weight.
When the men tracked us down, after a long hour of running, I hid underneath a porch while they shot out my wife’s knees. I watched her twitch, and grasp at sand as they drug her off, gurgling out screams, fading off into the distance, and the house above me burned. I hid and listened to her sobbing, being dragged off to be raped, or worse. I waited until her voice faded off and ran through the heat, and the smoke, into the waves, which were silenced by the sound of whipping fire, and wood crumpling beneath itself. I followed the shore line, ducking under passing patrols.
I killed for the first time about a year later. I was hiding out in an old building on the corner of Vine (Used to be this really expensive restaurant I always wanted to go to, but could never get in.) It was ash too. This kid comes in, a teenager, and he finds me sitting in a corner, next to a fire I had started with some of the legs from a chair. He kept me there, pointing a gun at me. Had me trapped in there, his face turned to the open door and he started screaming: “He’s up here! He’s up here!”
I panicked and hit him with a rock. His head just crumpled beneath the blow, and his body went limp, and bounced off the ground. I watched him claw his hands for his gun, a little revolver with a brown handle lying just at finger tips reach. I wanted to stomp down on his hand, like I had seen on so many movies, but instead, I just bent over and took it. I exited through the window, and ran off into the woods. I ran for weeks, months, I ran on until I was in the middle of nothing, and then I ran some more.
I disappeared completely that day.”
“So don’t be so quick to try and hurt someone. You can’t get it back once it’s done, and it only gets easier from there.”
“I came from a camp.” The boy’s voice was a hoarse whisper.
Randon’s eyes got wide as a reflex. He knew what camps were up north. Bounty men, slavers. Either way, bad news.
“I got people after me. I…” He stood up, and searched the place for his tattered coat. “I should leave.”
“Wait. Why are they after you?”
“My parents got sold off, and when I went on the block, they sold me to this merchant. I ran off one night, and the slavers came after me.” He grabbed his coat, and threw it on. “Thank you for the help, but if I stay…”
It would be bad, and Randon knew it. Might as well let him leave. Nothing good can come of it, and if he leaves soon, the dogs will find him on the trail, and just pass this place by completely. He would have liked to stay silent at that moment, let the kid continue putting on his coat, and walk out, but he couldn’t. “No. Stay.”
“I can’t… If they find me here…”
“They will. They got dogs.”
“Yeah, but I got something they don’t.”
“The element of surprise.”