Red Matter (Full Story)

Red Matter

By: Antwan Crump

 

1

We‘d planned to leave for the reservoir around noon. High noon. About the time when you nearly have to break your neck to see the sun. The bunker had become uninhabitable. Weeks of: folks too afraid to leave, no bathrooms, and a canned bean diet can do that to a place.

The word was that we’d be waiting for another month or so—as a precaution. Old man Jenkin’s latest round of fecal fury saw a quick end to that idea. It was a thinly-veiled life or death ultimatum. Either: stay in the bunker and breathe in an eighty-year old’s dying insides, or nut-up and bear the radiation. There were twenty of us. The decision was unanimous.

Jenkin’s apologized profusely—as well as a senile octogenarian, could, anyway. In reality, we should have thanked him. Things were getting shitty, long before he stole the limelight. Closed quarters tend to bring out the worst in people. His loose bowels spared more lives than they tormented.

I was the second one to see the dying sky. It was similar to the greyish overcast of a coming storm, with the addition of a tinted pink hue. The mythos started shortly after the last of our group climbed to the surface. “It’s the blood of the dead! Stuck to the earth until their time!” I didn’t pay much mind to the ignorant jargon. I was more concerned with what was left.

Cherrywood was your standard suburban community; by white standards too, so you could imagine how nice it was. The area that I’d stayed in was a cul-de-sac, with twelve houses rounded in its teardrop crevice.

When Roy—our “head asshole in charge”—came barging at our door, we were hesitant to believe him. It’s amazing how fast a sonic-boom and ball of fire can alter your opinion. He invited my mother and me, to take refuge in his shelter. They had a thing.

As more and more bombs went off, the entire neighborhood flocked there as well. Roy loved the power and everyone just let him have it. It’s best not to cross a man who’ll let you die, because “you never mow your lawn” or he wants to fuck your wife. I guess, in his defense, the place was at capacity. Still though, fuck him.

“Jesse! Round up the others. We’ve got to search what’s left.”

“For what? You said the reservoir, let’s just fucking go there.”

“Don’t give me lip, son. Just do it!”

What is it about middle-age that makes men trust their testosterone over everything else? It was clear that he held the reigns of the whole friggin‘ situation. Yet and still, he offered his dick to every woman in the shelter, “old enough to bang, young enough to bleed”. His words. Not mine.

“Jesse!”

“I’m going!”

We needed water.

 

2

From the looks of things, it was apparent that I was the tentative second in command. I shouldn’t have been. I’m not the fighting type, nor am I overly athletic. I was the guy in high school that was more into musicals and other boys. It made me a target then. But, people adapt to whatever trough that life feeds them from. It made me a thinker. A strategist. I guess, even Roy had to respect that. Every hammer needs a chisel.

There wasn’t much left other than the pink-sky and the red hue the air had taken on. Most of the houses were caved in, broken down, or just gone altogether. We ventured down the block to check out the three that remained—somewhat—standing.

Roy had his team of two—his son, Jr. and his girlfriend. I handpicked my neighbors—Jill and Tate—the twins. We left the rest behind to search the rubble and tinker with the cars that we could get to. Shitty plan. It was still better than the bunker.

“What do you think happened, Jesse?” Tate lagged a bit behind. He wanted to take in the apocalypse. Dusty streets and debris filled roads. That’s all I’d taken from it. Whatever people remained were either with us or not. I wasn’t looking to recruit anyway.

Jill kept up with me, holding my hand, and doing her best to look helpless. We’d had the conversation before. She knew she wasn’t my type. People seek out authority in situations like that. I just hoped that’s all it was.

“Tate! Hurry the fuck up. I’m not trying to stay out here all damn day.” Something had caught his attention, “Tate!”

“Jesse. Look.” His finger raised and pointed behind us. I didn’t see anything at first. Just a bunch of clouds, and dirt blowing in the wind. “Further out…” He followed it with his finger. “Do you see that?” He yelled as if he’d called them himself.

A light was blinking in the sky and headed straight for us. “Look, Jesse, look!” He jumped up and down. throwing his hands around like an inflatable man, “We’re saved.”

“Tate! Cut it out. We don’t who they are.” I always erred on the side of caution. It’d kept me alive that long. “Anyone with sense knows that isn’t for us. Tate, stop it!”

“Fuck you!” He refused and ran toward the blinking lights. It closed in and soon was complimented by the gust of spinning turbines. “Hey!” He screamed to the sky, “Hey! Over here.” Jill gripped my hand tight enough to leave bruises. “Tate! Stop it!” She tried to warn him.

“Oh, Jill. Not you too.” He turned back to us, just to condescend, “You’re not buying into this crap…”

He fell to the ground. A parade of gunfire rained down into the streets. I pulled Jill under the broken remains of an SUV. We waited out the flurry of shots. It felt like forever.

 

3

“What the fuck happened?” A crowd had gathered around the body when the shooting stopped. We’d only made it about half a mile out. “Jesse!” Roy and his team were the first ones to show up. He glanced at Tate’s corpse, then walked past him like he was a bum on the street. “Jesse!” I’d still been under the car with Jill—spitting out dirt and blood.

I cleared my throat and wiped the green bile from my mouth. “Is it supposed to look like that?” Jill looked like she just wanted to run. What else could I tell her, “Yeah. It’s herpes or something.” More likely a collapsed lung. It was hard to breathe.

“Jesse!”

“We’re here.” I screamed out, “Come on, Jill.” It was only a matter of time until she’d snap. You want to comfort people in moments like that. It’s not always advisable. Her denial meant that’d she be composed. I didn’t have the energy to babysit a wailing teenager. “It’ll be fine. Let’s go.” We met them at Tate’s body.

“You want to tell me what the fuck that was?” It still puzzles the hell out of me, that Roy felt the need to tap on his gun when he spoke. Insecurity can be a bitch. That asshole was made of nothing but leers and overcompensation. No wonder he flunked out of the SEALS. “I’m waiting…”

“How the hell am I supposed to know? One minute we were walking. The next, there’s a god damn plane shooting at us.”

He took a hard step toward me, turned his head, hocked a loogie, “What did you see, boy?” His breath smelled like shit and coffee beans. “I already told you what I saw. What’d you want me to do…Paint a mural?”

“You listen to me, son,” he spoke through his teeth. A single vein ran from his eyebrow to his hairline and pulsed, “This isn’t a fucking game here. Now, I told your mother that you’re my number one for a reason. You’re a good kid. But you have to be more vigilant.”

He said it as if I should’ve expected the fucking death squad to rain down on us. Roy pointed at Tate’s body—he looked less like a person and more roadkill. I guess he was, “Shit like this can’t happen, Jesse. Never.”

“You’re the one who sent us the fuck out here!”

He stepped closer, and aligned his lips with my ear, “Are you questioning my authority?I could hear his finger tapping on the metal grip of his gun. The conversation had to happen. Just not then. “No, sir.”

“Good.”

“Tate!” Thank god for their mother. She’d broken from the coming crowd to mourn her dead son. Jill rolled out from under the car to join her. It was a relief to me and seemed to get to Roy out of my face. He’d never miss the opportunity to comfort a woman’s tears. That, and he had eyes for Jill. Some sickness never goes away.

I gulped down the wad of blood that had been building in my throat. Best not to let others know. There was enough going on. I headed back toward the bunker to find my mom. She was a nurse and could address the issue. They’d be distracted long enough for her to patch me up. Then, I’d have to help bury Tate.

We still needed water.

We were down to a gallon.

4

“Never you mind. What Roy and I have is something special. We’re not bound by societies rules. Especially, not anymore.”

So, you’re okay with him banging a grieving mother right now?”

“We all define love differently, Jesse. I can’t expect you to understand. Now sit up straight.”

My mother was always an optimist. That wasn’t a problem, but as of the time, it’d been bordering on stupidity. I’m not sure what Roy had done. Scratch that. I know exactly. It’s gross to think about. The point was, she’d been living in some kind mid-life crisis fantasy. He was her prince. She wouldn’t listen to me.

“It’s getting worse, honey.”

My lung had collapsed a week or so before. I’d gotten a bad case of cabin fever. Combine that with a stolen bottle of absinthe, and you’ve got yourself an out of control Jesse.

From what I hear, I tried to break outwhile the radiation meter was still at “fuck no“. They had to put me down. I woke up with a broken nose and some cracked ribs. I don’t regret it. I wanted death. “Could you find any of your tools?”

“Yes. But you need way more than a quick fix.” She pulled the stethoscope from her ears and placed her hand on my splintered ribcage. “They really did a number on you. You need a doctor.”

“I’ve got my mommy.”

“Seriously, Jesse. You can’t stay like this.”

“Then let’s go. You and me.”

“J. J…” she said exasperatedly. “You know we can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not?”

It was a dumb question. A stupid hope. Her castaway gaze had said it all. She would never leave without Roy. “We’re fucked if we stay here, Ma.”

“Oh, honey.” She put a hand on my cheek and kissed me on the forehead, “We’re fucked no matter what we do.”

5

“Jesse. Jesse, get up.” I don’t remember falling asleep. I did remember the dream. I was falling. There weren’t any buildings, planes, landmarks. Nothing. Just me. Alone. Free falling through the maroon dust-up that had swallowed the atmosphere. “Jesse!” A soft hand shook my shoulder.

“What…” My eyes had been sealed shut by nasal puss and whatever the hell else had collected on my face. I rubbed them open and sat up by the fire. “What’s wrong?”

“The big kids told me to get you.”

“Okay, David.” I tried to keep my grumpy attitude to a minimum. Had it been anyone else, I’d have let them have it. David was only eight. He looked up to me. As much as I hated it, kids follow, who they follow. It was a forced responsibility. But, a responsibility nonetheless, “Why?”

“Little Roy is building something. He wants you to come see.”

“Okay, buddy.” He took my hand and walked me a few houses down.

“Big” Roy had forced the majority of us to sleep outside while he convened with the of age women. Most of the husbands had died—or he let them. He’d finally had the chance to cash in on that discretion.

Both my mother and David’s were included in that burgeoning sister-wife cult. It wouldn’t be long before he’d wanted to move on to the girls under twenty-five. Nothing much that I could do, but take it as it came. At least, so long as his decency held sway.

“Come on. You’re moving so slow.”

“I’m hurrying, David. I’m hurrying.” He pulled my arm like he wanted to tear it off. “Where are we going?”

He smiled, “You’ll see.”

You’ve gotta love how worked up kids get over any old thing.

6

“So nice of you to join us J-Bird!” Little Roy had gathered all of the younger people to a makeshift shed. At twenty-two, the both of us were the oldest in there. He must’ve spent the whole night working on it. I wasn’t sure how secret it was supposed to be, but everyone looked guilty. “You were the last piece of the puzzle.”

He jumped down from the back of the old R.V. My mother used to tease his father for owning it—and keeping it parked on the front lawn. Jokes or not. There it was. It’d looked like it’d been through hell, but the wheels were full and the windows were wiped down. “Does it run?”

“Better than that.” He threw me a bottle of water. Nobody flinched. For a second, it felt like things were normal. “This old girl will run, jump, scoot, and whatever the hell else we need it to do.”

“But…”

“But, nothing. Welcome to your new home, until we figure this shit out. I would’ve told you earlier, but you seemed like you were pretty comfortable.” He came close to me—a safe distance, but still. He was his father’s son. I had to stay cautious. “Far be it from me to rush you back to reality.” He smiled.

I circled the R.V. He was proud enough of it, not to pry into my curiosity. It looked good. Too good, “How many people can it fit?”

“Comfortably? Around six. Maybe Seven.”

“That’s everyone in this room, Roy.”

“Exactly. Is that a problem?”

I hadn’t decided yet. I headed over to the passenger side to check out the door, “Do you mind if I have a look?”

“Not at all.” He met me there and announced, “All of you, keep an eye out. No one outside of this room needs to know about this place. Understood?”

“Yes,” they all agreed in uproarious unison. He’d already had them under his thumb. The only thing that I wondered, was what any of it had to do with me. Why the hell would he want me around? “Come on. After you.” He opened the door and invited me in—with the friendliness of a politician up for election. I’d known him for most of my life. It wasn’t his style.

He wanted something.

7

The inside had clearly been renovated. It was lined with plastic and stuffed to brim with supplies and food. It was unclear how much of it was still any good. On first glance, it all seemed alright. “So, what do you think, J? Not too shabby right?”

“It’s alright. But how?” I guess my confusion was pretty obvious. He didn’t seem too keen on answering. He looked away from me, coy. I asked again, “Roy! How the fuck did you do all of this?”

Back in the day—when the R.V. was still “new”—our two families did the job of destroying the inside. We used to go camping every weekend. Of course, that was before his mother passed, and my father ran off with his secretary. Roy and I kind of drifted apart after that. “Roy!”

“Okay, okay. Jesus Christ. I thought gays were nice…”

“Are you seriously making gay jokes right now?”

He plopped down sideways in the passenger seat, laced his fingers together, and finally looked me in the eyes, “Sorry. Bad habit.”

“It’s fine. Now, if you don’t mind.”

“Lisa and I were living in here; alright.” I don’t think I’d ever heard him be ashamed. “I proposed. She said yes. We were planning on running away together.”

“Roy, you’re a grown man. It’s not running away. It’s leaving.”

“Yea, tell that to fucking Caligula.” He had to look away again. I took a seat on the bench across from him. I wasn’t expecting a heart to heart. Pragmatically, I needed him to trust me, “Yeah. Your father has gotten a little out of control.”

“You’re telling me.” He grinned, “Who uses World War three, as a fucking aphrodisiac?”

“A horny old man.” I joked. Thank God that he laughed.

“You know the other day, he referred to Jill and Lisa as breeding stock”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish.”

I knew that Big Roy had fallen off the deep end. Somehow, I’d convinced myself that it was just my overactive imagination. Hearing it from someone else—his son no less—was some information that I’d rather not have known. Ignorance keeps things from becoming too real. “So, what is all this?”

He threw me a set of chain linked keys. “The same thing it always was. Our escape.”

“Roy, be reasonable. We can’t just leave…”

“I’ve got four canisters of spare gas and enough food to get us through the month.”

I didn’t tell him, but I had to give the man credit. He was more prepared for this shit than I was. “And everyone else?”

“Come on, Jesse. A third of them won’t make it through the week. At least this way, if we find anything, we can bring it back and save who’s left. Other than that, we’re just welcoming an obstacle.” He was more like his father than he realized.

“They’re our people. They need us.”

“And that’s exactly why we should leave. If we’re helping them, that means they’re hurting us. We have a better chance if we take only the young and the strong. My dad can take care of everyone else.” He stood up and sat next to me. God damn it. Why is it always the pretty ones that want shit? “I need you on board with this. I can’t do it alone.”

“You’ve got Mark and the girls.”

“I barely trust that shithead with a bottle of water. I’m not about to have him watch my back. I need you, Jesse. Just like the old days.”

We used to play Batman and Robin. I’ll spare you the “who was who” joke. I looked down to the keys and flipped them around in my palm. “When were you trying to leave?”

“I can have us all set in four hours.”

“And, if I don’t want to go?

“Then you’ll stay here, wishing that you did.” I tried to give him the keys back. He shook his head, “No. Those are the spares. I have my own set. Take a minute. Do what you got to do. Just please, think about it, okay?”

He got out of the R.V.

I thought about it.

8

Some of the old folks had set up tents by Roy’s bunker. He said it was to keep them comfortable, but only a fool wouldn’t recognize a quarantine when they saw it. They were fast asleep by the time that I got back to the campsite. I’d hoped that my mother would be done and by the fire. It’s best that she wasn’t. She was likely the only person that could’ve changed my mind.

As much as I hated to admit it, Little Roy was right. The old folks would slow us down, and the middle-aged ones were too busy cowering at Big Roy’s teat. We’d be quicker without them. Smarter and less compromised. I snagged a few bottles water before I left the shed. I took some paper and a pen too. It’s not like anyone would miss it.

I sat by the fire and started on my goodbye letter.

“Jesse? Jesse, is that you?” The frail voice called me from a couple yards away—where we’d set up the “definitely not quarantine” tents. I knew the voice.

“Ms. Jenkins?

“Yes. Can you come here, please? We need you.”

She was a nice old lady with a sick husband. Even I couldn’t say no to that. “Sure, what’s wrong?”

She brought me to the tent that she’d shared with her husband. I’d expected it to be another fecal issue. She had him laid out—naked and on his stomach. There was something bumpy across his back—almost like a turtle shell,What the…” She shined a flashlight on it so that I could see. I nearly gagged.

“You see? Can you help?” She asked in a combination of timidity and fret. “Your mother, she’s good at this.”

“This might be above her pay grade.”

Breathing boils lined the skin from his neck to his waist, like giant, leaky, goosebumps—bubbling in his flesh. They were dark and irritated from days scratching. Who knows how long they’d been growing. A red discharge dripped from the tips of his biggest ones and had been spilling onto the blue tarp beneath him.

Despite all of that, Mr. Jenkins laid fast asleep with his hands balled under the side of his jaw. My first thought was to put him down. Though, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, who I’d be doing the favor for me or him.

My next thought was that it was time to get the hell out of there. “Make sure you see my mother in the morning, Ms. Jenkins.” She gave me a naïve nod and retreated back to her husband’s side. Poor woman.

I don’t believe in signs from above. But, if I did, that one was neon.

I had to go.

9

We left long before the sun had risen and made our way to the reservoir. Regardless of where we went afterward, it was important for our peace of mind to ensure that there was actually something there. Everyone would sleep better if they knew that the other half of our group had a fighting chance.

I kept the news about Mr. Jenkins to myself. I figured it was something worth archiving, but certainly not appropriate for our trip. We’d already decided that our lives were more valuable than theirs—actions speak louder than words. Why add insult to injury?

The last thing that we needed was the validation to go with our silent sense of superiority. Mr. Jenkins and his bumpy back were indicators of a coming disease. Differentiation, like that, is how wars are started. First the thought, then the proof, then the death. I planned to bring it up if it became relevant.

The reservoir was about an hour drive out. It was a little crazy that Big Roy had considered walking, but fresh water wasn’t the only objective. Anyone with common sense would, or would have to gravitate there at some point.

With any luck, it was possible that we’d find some answers; maybe even some remnants of order, maybe a society. It was wishful thinking. When you don’t have a solution, all that you’re left with is chance.

Everybody up!” Little Roy had been driving for about a half hour before we hit our first problem—a crater blasted into the center of the road. “What the fuck?” I’d fallen asleep in the passenger seat. I awoke to a sea of red fog and the skeletal remains or torched cars. “We have to take a look.”

“What do you mean?” I looked around. I knew the area. “There’s a service road around here. We can just back up and go that way.”

“Or…”

“Don’t”

“Man up, Jesse. You can’t tell me you’re not curious.”

I really fucking wasn’t.

10

We dragged Mark along—just in case, we had to move shit. Even idiots are good for something. He was a year younger than Little Roy and I. The high school burnout type. At one point, it’d looked like he was NFL bound. A bum knee ensured that he’d settle nicely into a mid-level retail job. He’d humble-brag about his past. It was funny until it got sad.

“Over here!” We started with the lip of the crater. The red mist had thickened as the day went on. It was too early to call the pattern, but we could breathe it in just fine. “Guys!” We let Mark inspect it first.

I’d never seen anything bombed out before. Had it in been someplace in the Middle East, I may not have even blinked. Cars were scattered all over the road. It was clear they’d been frozen in time—right before shit hit the fan. A few of them were balanced on the edge like a seesaw.

The ones lucky enough to have beat the blast were blown half to shit on the other side of the gap. We stood as close as we could without getting vertigo. “What now?” Dumb guy. Smart question.

“Jesse?”

“Don’t ask me, man.”

“Roy?” He’d been stuck in the midst of his own plan’s first hiccup. He stared down the hole, then across the freight-car wide ditch in the ground. “Roy?” I added to Mark’s inquiry.

“Well, we can’t drive across it.”

“No shit, Sherlock. Alternatives?”

He looked around at the empty cars, “I say we check these out. See what we can get running. If nothing works, we can just gather supplies.” He looked back to us, “Sound good?”

I shrugged, “As long as we’re thinking of a plan too.”

“Noted.”

We started with the fancy looking ones.

11

Of the two dozen, or so, cars fit enough to search, we collected: bags of batteries, a few cases of

water, and a few fully loaded guns. We stocked the R.V. and headed back out to check on Roy. He’d been caught up trying to get a Lincoln Navigator running. It was the best-looking car we could find—and likely the only one that hadn’t had bits of itself falling from the engine. The windows were blown out, but beggars can’t be choosers.

“Someone grab we a socket.” I let Mark handle the apprentice duty. I don’t know much about tools. If I did, I still wouldn’t help. Best not to be assigned bitch duty so early in the trip. I wandered around for a little bit while they tinkered with the engine. It’s not like me to venture alone, but I really wanted a cigarette. Two dozen cars. One of these assholes had to have left a pack behind, I thought.

I made sure to stay within earshot of the truck and in view of the R.V. The girls had been cozying inside—taking inventory and keeping David entertained. It wasn’t a trust issue, just a good habit. I guess it was also just something to do. The apocalypse was surprisingly boring; if you don’t count all of the death.

“Jesse! Where are you going?” Roy had noticed my absence quicker than I thought. Had I been a dumber man, I’d have taken that as a sign of interest. Sometimes, I wish that I was a dumber man, “I’m looking for a pack of smokes.”

“Really? Are you fucking kidding me? You realize that you wheeze in your sleep, right?” He yelled.

“You realize that you’re not my mother, right?” I yelled back, “Just give me a minute.”

“Hurry up, would ya?”

I found a car that looked promising. A mini Confederate flag limped from the hood’s antenna, the paint was peeling, and there was a baby-seat in the back. Yep, I thought. If there weren’t any cigarettes in that car, there may never have been any at all. I might’ve even found some Pabst Blue Ribbon or Budweiser. They’d grab that before the baby.

I gripped the handle and yanked it lightly. It didn’t open. No surprise. I put my foot on the back door and pushed as I pulled the handle. It creaked and squeaked, but still nothing. I’m just going to break the fucking glass. I really wanted that cigarette.

“Somebody pass me the wrench!”

My demand was ignored in favor of the sound of an engine kick-starting to a purr. They flashed the headlights at me through the misty-red streets. I should have been excited about it. But, “The fucking wrench please!”

Again, I really wanted that cigarette.

12

“Okay, Okay. You, big baby. Here…” Mark slammed the wrench in my hand and smirked, “You know those things will kill ya?”

“Yeah. And…”

“Can I get one too?” I may have to reevaluate my contempt for Mark—smokers are a dying a breed. “Sure, just help me with this.” I swung the head of the wrench against the window. Mark cleared the excess glass. I reached in and grabbed the car handle from the inside. We got in and the search began.

“I fucking knew it!” I couldn’t help myself, but the haul was grander than I’d expected. For a few moments of my time—and a deal with my high school bully—I made out with half a carton of Marlboro’s—they’re cowboy killers, but I ain’t a cowboy. Yee-haw, I thought.

The celebration was cut short, “What the hell’s that sound?” Mark asked. I knew. Turbines.

“Roy! Get in the car and duck down!”

“What? Why?”

“Now!” If I screamed it any louder, I may have thrown up my throat.

13

The helicopter hovered over us for a few moments before it descended down. There was no place for it to land. At about a hundred feet high it stopped and flashed its lights. We all scrunched down in the seats—even Roy the last that I’d looked. I didn’t know if he’d turned the engine off. I worried, then I realized that we couldn’t hear much of anything over the boisterous roar of the chopper. I ducked under the wheel and prayed for the best—which is saying something. I’m not a god person.

I watched them through the side mirrors. Three men swung from the side of the copter—by a thick lanyard rope. They were dressed in pocketed black jump-suits and armed to the teeth with enough firepower to kill us all a few times over.

It was bad time for my lungs to act up. I coughed up a mixture of phlegm and cartilage. It looked like I’d been gripping a pound of raw gizzards.

“What the hell is that?” Mark whispered. He was crunched in the seat behind me. I didn’t answer him. We had bigger problems. “Jesse…”

Shh.” The men were checking the cars with barrels of their guns before their eyes. We were still up by the crater. They were closing in on the R.V. “Did you bring a gun?”

Mark didn’t want to answer. We’d all agreed to leave what we found behind for counting. “Mark…” He said nothing. All I heard was a heavyweight drop on to the seat behind me. It was a .22 caliber—nothing spectacular, but enough to cause a distraction.

“When I give the signal, get out of the car, and run to the Navigator.”

“What about you?”

I lit a cigarette, took a hit, and passed it back to him. Cowboy-killers never tasted so sweet.

14

“Now.” I shoved open the door and started shooting. I wasn’t trying to hit anything in particular—I just needed to buy some time. I threw a hand over my face and rushed across the lanes of the road to get to the Navigator. They didn’t seem intent on returning the shots. If they had, I didn’t notice. I threw open the back door of the truck and dove in. Mark was right behind me.

“Drive!”

Roy threw the car into reverse and backed it up without looking. The three men in black had the chance to pull themselves together. They each shot back a few times. No damage. “Who’s in the driver’s seat?”

“Lisa” Roy screamed as he spun the wheel and faced the car forward—away from the pit. “Honk the fucking horn!” I screamed. He slammed on the center of the wheel. The noise got the helicopters attention. The R.V. crawled backward. The shooters scrambled. “Do you have any bullets left?” Roy screamed as the smell of gunpowder and gasoline filled the car. I knew I was empty. I shot until the trigger clicked. No boom.

“Fuck that. Just drive. They see us.” We aligned with the R.V. Roy was right. Lisa was crouched over the wheel—instinctively checking her mirrors as the R.V. rolled. “Push the fucking pedal babe!” He screamed. We sped forth and away. Soon after, the R.V. popped back and had been flying backward down the road behind us.

The helicopter raised up and tilted forward. It started shooting, but not at us. “What the?” When it was painting the street in gun shells, it leveled out and took off in the opposite direction.

We didn’t see them pick the men back up. We kept driving until we sure the coast was clear.

“Can I have one of those?” Roy asked me, as I lit one for myself.

“Sure. But they’re bad for you.” It probably wasn’t the best time for a joke.

He took a strong pull from the stale tobacco tube, “Fuck it.”

Finally, we were on the same page.

15

We stopped about four miles out, back the way we came—at the tip of the service road. The impulse was to keep moving, but we had a gas tank to patch, and an R.V. to wait for. Mark kept an eye on the sky.

Little Roy and I convened in the truck and contemplated our next move. I was chain-smoking—because I could—he was biting his nails and pretending he didn’t smell the urine that he’d leaked onto himself. “What the fuck was that?” He asked.

“If I knew that, I would have told you.”

“The fucking military! I thought the world was over.

“It still may be. They just tried to kill us.”

“Yeah! No shit!”

“But, they didn’t. Something else has to be going on.” I cast a thin line over the conversation. I just needed to shift the topic. You can’t get much from a panicked leader. “We have to figure it out.” I hate myself for being right.

“And how do we do that Jesse?”

The R.V. caught up. It was still driving backward. I’ll take blame for the bad idea, “I didn’t see that helicopter pick anyone up. I’m thinking that we get guns and ask questions.”

“But, the reservoir…”

“What’s the point of getting there, if we’re being hunted? I at least want to know why.”

“Do you, Jesse?”

I paused. My impulse had gotten the best of me, “No. But the way I see it, ignorance is a choice. In this instance, it can get us killed. It’s your call. But, you know my thoughts on it.”

He took a fighting stance and cocked an eye at me, “What about them?” He said, pointing at the—now—bullet-riddled R.V. “What do we tell them?”

“Tell them that there’s an empty seat in the truck.”

I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

The chopper reminded me of Tate.

16

We waited a while before we left. For the hour or so, we patched up the truck, filled the tank, and each grabbed a gun. We parked the R.V. off the road, between some trees. It was hidden well enough. Jill and Lisa opted to stay behind and look David. It was a fair deal.

The plan was that if weren’t back in forty minutes, Lisa would start the camper and bolt back to our original base. There was no need for the three of them to risk going forward alone. On the other hand, it was incentive for us to get in and get out.

Roy was unsure, but he wanted answers just as bad as everyone else. I couldn’t care less about whether he admitted it, or not. If we were going to go forward, we had to know what was going on. We at least had to try.

Marie volunteered to go with us. She was the black sheep of the group; to put it mildly. At twenty, she’d already gotten sober and found god. Needless to say, her and I weren’t very close. She wanted to tag along to “encourage the Lord’s grace,” or some goofy shit like that. I didn’t care. “The more, the merrier. Just don’t slow us down.”

“I won’t, Jesse.”

“Then, welcome aboard.”

We packed into the Navigator and began our slow roll back to the giant ditch. Marie said a prayer before we pulled off. Hail Mary, I think it was. Right after that, she checked to make sure that her gun was loaded.

Good Christian.

17

We got there in five minutes flat. Little Roy was intent on getting the mission over with as quickly as possible. He zig-zagged through the roads like a bat out hell. The truck clipped a few cars on the drive, but it’s not like he’d have to report it to his insurance or anything.

We parked a little before the crater—where the frozen traffic had just started to bunch up. “Back here. Ten minutes” he said with a scowl and a crooked stare. Our phones hadn’t been getting any service, but the alarms worked just fine.

We synced up and parted ways. Roy and Mark went left. Marie and I went right. She’d already started to mumble a prayer. Just keep it fucking low, I thought.

I didn’t really care about getting answers, so much as I did about the crater. Sure, it’d have been nice to catch one of the hostilesbut the chances were slim that they’d give us anything. Even still, they’d have to be there for that to be an option. Had it been me, I would have high-tailed it.

It’s no fun to be a bully when the targets have guns too.

Marie walked behind meslightly to the left. I could hear her mumbles from even from the car length distance that she’d kept, “Is that really necessary right now?”

“Not all of us are ready to see the devil, Jesse.”

Then, get over it. Where are we going anyway? I don’t remember seeing them here.” Her steps stopped with the sentence. I turned around, “To the crater.”

“That wasn’t the plan!

“I think it’s safe to say…” I heaved up another wad of my insides onto my wrist. Somethings, you can hide. Others kind of leave you at the mercy of the audience. To my chagrin, this was the latter. “Jesse? What the hell is that on you?”

“Marie. Listen.” I put my arm out to her as she aimed her gun. “What the hell is in you?” She looked me up and down like I was covered in shit.

It wasn’t internal tissue and blood anymore. It was more like a melting gelatinsoft, mucusy, and sprinkled with bits of whatever it was inside of me that it was eating. I didn’t have time to be afraid. I had to negotiate, “It’s been happening for a while now. My mom thought it was just standard discharge. But, it’s been getting worse.”

She lowered her gun, and stepped close to me, “Are you dying?” I lifted my shirt and showed her the boils that had been cultivating on my side, “I don’t like to think about it. We’ve got more important things to worry about.”

“Jesse…” She placed her palm on the boils and knit her fingers around them. “Do the others know?” She looked up at me with the most compassion that I’d ever seen her have. I guess I’d have to change my opinion on her too. Beautiful big brown eyes. She looked like she wanted to cry.

“I’d rather they didn’t.”

She seemed to ignore my answer. She kept on massaging the growth. I heard her mumbling loud and clear this time. “Join me.” She closed her eyes. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

I looked down at her puffy hazel hair. She’d rested her head against my chest, “I told you that I’m not a God person.”

So, you don’t believe?

“Not necessarily.”

She looked back up at me, “Well, he believes in you, Jesse. Even if you don’t want him to.”

I don’t know why that made me tear up. She never took her hand off the lesions. “Can you remember the words?”

“Yeah. I think so.”

We said the Bible verse together.

Big, beautiful, brown eyes. Who knew?

18

After our little heart to heart, it was back to the task at hand. When the copter left the three men behind and started shootingone of them ducked and tried to hide by the lip of the crater. He was likely trying to get back up. He ended up being the first one shot. I’d hoped that he was still alive. If so, I knew that he’d be mortally wounded. The others ran off. But all I needed was one.

From that situation, I gathered three things: Firstnone of this was planned, and they had no plan moving forward. Secondwhatever happened to Cherrywood, is likely related to the sudden outbreak of boils. And thirdif there was a vaccine or even help with my disease, that guy would either have it or lead us to it. The only obstacle was that we’d have to catch him before he died. Our little hour intermission ate up the clock. We had to hurry.

“Ten minutes!” Roy screamed, from somewhere I couldn’t see. I supposed that he’d thrown his caution to the windafter a half hour or so without incident. “What do we do, Jesse?” Marie asked. Our search, thus far, had been fruitless. I was all ready to turn back.

Agh!” I heard the muffled whine bounce from off the side of the cars. “Marie, did you hear that?” She said nothing but raised her gun in the direction of yelp. “Agh!” We heard again.

“Who’s there?” We started searching under the cars. “Show yourself!”

“Eight minutes!” Roy screamed. We quickened our pace, “Show yourself!” I yelled again. The whine got louder. He wanted to be found.

Agh!” He went on continuously, Marie and I split to cover more ground. “Where are you!” I screamed. It seemed that all he could manage was an incoherent holler. “Agh!”

“Seven minutes!” Roy screamed.

I started to panic. “Where are you!” I screamed loud enough to ruffle trees. Roy stopped counting down so loudly. He and Mark rushed over to find us. “Jesse! Jesse! Jesse!”

I didn’t hear him. Not really. I was racing from car fast enough to split the red mist around us. Dropping, popping up and sliding over the hoods until my legs hurt, and hands bled from scrapping the ground. “Agh!” I heard it closer now.

“Where are you?” I yelled until my voice was hoarse and my throat burned. Until I coughed. Until had nothing left but sweat and exhaustion.

“Jesse!” They screamed.

Agh!” I heard.

“Where are you!” It sounded like a whisper by then. But I swear it was everything that I’d had.

“Three minutes!”

19

It was U-Haul truck, with the overhead door slid about a foot open. “Agh!” The screams eked out of the loading dock and sent the echo careening everywhere. I banged my hand on the side of the truck and hoped-for response. I still had to be careful. I couldn’t be sure what else had climbed in with him. “Are you there?” I slapped the side of the box truck. The boom reverbed. Three knocks boomed from the inside, followed by, “Agh!”. He was there.

“Two minutes!” Roy yelled from a few cars away as the Navigator’s engine revved and roared. “Wrap it up, Jesse!”

At that point, I’d considered letting them leave me behind.

I needed more time.

I pushed the door open and raised my gun, “You’ve got five seconds to say something that I can understand!” He’d been sittingL-shapedwith his head limped to the side. He was wearing a combat outfit and full faced helmet with a black visor. His hands were laid flat on the ground. An assault rifle was cast casually to the side. “It’s empty” he murmured. I placed my gun on the ground and pulled off his mask. I could’ve been gentler.

“Jesse!” I heard. The helmet squeezed off of his face. “Agh!” He groaned again. A light pink liquid ran down his neck. His face was wetcovered in the discharge and deflating boils. They’d run across the top of his head and seemed to be eating his blonde hair. He looked like a burn victim and smelled like old meat. His eyes had hemorrhaged and been leaking blood.

“Water. Please.” His tongue was covered in them too.

“Thirty seconds!”

They should’ve left me.

“Jesse! Move it!”

20

“Tell me something that I want to hear.” When he opened his mouth, a stream of drool leaked out. It was hard for him to say or do much. He’d been riddled with bullets, and fading fast. I guess that he was hoping for the cavalry. Not some gay kid, looking for the antidote. “Ugh…” He moaned and swung his head a few inches to the left.

“What?”

“Ugh…” He tried to move his hand. His shoulder jumped, then settled—heavy—back in the floor. “We-taw”

“What?”

“We-taaawww!” His eyes darted left and right. I reached in and checked around his side. I grabbed the black brick that laid against his hand.

“Walkie-Talkie? You want me to take it?”

“Signal…” I understood that word. He must’ve seen it on my face. He took a deep breath in and smiled. “Wetaw,” he said on an exhale. His head dropped. He didn’t get back up. The boil-juice leaked from his face and ran down his limp hand.

“What the fuck is that!” Roy had been rushing so fast, that he nearly knocked me down. He took a glance at the dead soldier, then at me, “We can talk about this later. We’ve got to fucking go.” He threw me ahead of him. We rushed to the car.

Wetaw?, I thought.

21

We dove into the backseat. Mark drove. He was even more dangerous behind the wheel than Roy was. We burned through the roads to get back in timecollapsing two of the truck’s tires and knocking the muffler loose from its holds. Sparks flew. The truck cascadedveering left, then right, then straight. We wobbled down the road creating black S’s where we passed.

“Faster,” Roy screamed. He’d been counting the missing seconds in his head. His father bedding Lisa was becoming an all too real fantasy. The numbers on the digital clock ticked upward. “Faster!” Mark pushed the gas pedal down hard enough to hear its repeating thud amidst the screeches and scraping metal.

Even with seatbelts on, we were thrown about the truck like a bag of bursting corn seeds over the blaze of a dancing fire. “Faster!” Roy yelled as if his life depended on it. Everything considered it may have. We passed the rendezvous point going near eighty miles per hour. I didn’t expect them to be there. Lisa was extremely complicit. “There!”

We caught sight of the back of the R.V.it’d been waddling at a measly crawl. It wasn’t what was intended. Clearly, Jill and Lisa had second thoughts about our plan. Good for them.

Mark leaned his elbow into the horn. We closed in and knocked against their bumper. The slight impact was enough to send us off-road, and tumbling over a guardrail.

We spun.

We cracked.

We bled.

Everyone bled.

22

We all managed to get out okayor, as well as could be expected. A few nicks, broken bones, and dislocated shoulders were the least of our worries. Roy stumbled out of the car first. He helped the rest of us get loose and out of the tilted truck before we were soaked in gasoline. The girls helped us get back to the street.

We loaded up in the R.V. and headed for the reservoir.

It was a thirty-minute drive.

We got there in ten.

23

We parked amongst the trees. There was a concrete bridge that may have been more amenable, but it left us too open to incoming fire. We hadn’t seen or heard signs of the helicopters, but at that point, we weren’t about to toy with chance. There’d been enough blood and puss spatters for one day.

We set up a mini-camp just by the water. Our hope was that it’d be drinkable. Our expectation was for the worst. As expected, the water was soured, destroyedtainted by the runoff of the towns faulted sewage system. We didn’t need to taste it to know. You could smell the former meals in the air. “What now?”

“I don’t know.

The reservoir was our only plan. There were no back-ups or secondary options. It may have just been a childish hope, but we’d thought there’d be something. Maybe another group. A military base. Hell, even if we’d just found a note that read Fuck You, thanks for comingit would have been something.

An error of youth, I guess.

We let David run around for a bit while we patched ourselves up.

24

“They just sprung up out of nowhere.” Roy’s back had already pimpled and been leaking. It’d only been two or three hours. We were exhausted and emotionally drained, but surprisingly still intact as a group. I planned on sharing my bubbled sides with the othersit was spreadingbut the conversation seemed to birth itself. The secret was out.

“Let me show you something.” I lifted my shirt and showed him my own grouping of “new friends“.

“What the hell are they?”

“I don’t know. Mine showed up a couple of weeks ago.”

“After we had to kick your ass?”

“Yeah,” I wasn’t a fan of the memory, “Anywhere the skin was broken, these things sprung up. I

tried lancing them, at first. They’d just grow backleaky and twice the size.”

“Shit,” he whistled through his teeth.

We’d taken an aside, away from the group. It wasn’t my intended topic of interest, but I was glad that it came up. It’d be a weight off of my shoulders. “Fuck it. One problem at a time.”

“Right…”

“What’d you want to talk to me about?”

“This.” I pulled the walkie-talkie from my back pocket. It was a little smashed up from the crash but still operational. I’d played around with it a bit, to be sure. I handed it to Roy, “It doesn’t get much but static.”

“But?”

“I got it from one of the military assholes.”

“None of this shit works, Jesse. We’ve been trying for months.”

“I know. But, we’ve got to assume that he knew something that we don’t. Why would he carry something that doesn’t work?”

Roy paused for a minute. As if, he was trying to find a hole in my simple logic, “We’d have to leave it on.”

“It’s not like we’ve got someone to call.”

He flipped the switch. A thick static sounded off. It lowered after a few seconds. He gripped it hard enough to turn his hands red. He looked up at me, “We should get back.”

Where else would I have gone?

25

We sat in a circlestaring at the ground and jumping anytime the static popped. My sides were bursting. It’d felt like my skin had been eating from the outside inward. It was making me squirm, squint, and rock like I had cerebral palsy. I did my best to keep the others from noticing. Despite my effort, I still looked like a fucking madmanat least, to four out of the other six.

“Boils?” Mark had been doing a little jig all his own. My first thought was that Roy had snitched…maybe Marie. “What the hell are you talking about?” I said.

“The way that your moving. Do you have them too?” He said it as if we were two inmates waiting on the electric chairtrying to figure out who’d they’d send to the death seat first. “I don’t know

that the fuck you’re talking about.” It was a bad reaction.

“Oh, just fucking own it,” Roy said as if the conversation had been going on for hours. He’d been having a hard time staying put himselfscrapping the dirt into his fingernails and darting his arms around every few seconds. “We all may as well come clean.” He lifted his shirt, “Does anyone else have something on them that looks like this?” Mark was next. His had been running from his shoulder to his elbow, “Yeah.”

“Anyone else?” Marie’s ran between her cleavage and stopped around her collarbone.

“Jesse?” I flashed my bubbly shame as quickly as I could. Solidarity is a bitch.

“Now…” Roy paused at the lack of shock at everyone’s “condition”. Soon after, Jill raised her hand, as she stared at the ground. “Jill?” I asked. She pulled down her sleeve and showed her set of puss-filled nuisances running down her forearm. She’d tried to pop them.

“Honey. No!” I’m not usually one for impulsive reactions. But that one hit a little too close to home. Why her? Of all the fucking people. Why her? “I’m sorry that I didn’t say anything.”

“When?”

“II tried to cut myself after Tate got shot.” Her hand shookfingers caged and trembling over her lips, “I just wanted it to be over. I want all of this to be over.” She fell to pieces again. I hate when I’m right.

“Honey. Don’t cry.” I had to go to her. I just had to. “It’s going to be okay. I promise. We’ll figure this all out.”

“I’m sorry, Jesse.”

She felt cold as she cried into my chest. “ShhShhShh” I held her as tightly as I could and ran my fingers through her dirty blonde hair. It hurt. I just wanted to make her pain go away. I wanted all of ours to go away.

“It’s going to be okay, honey. I’ve got you.”

I didn’t know that I was lying.

26

Whittaw! Whittaw! Are you there? Respond soldier! Over.” Our patient waiting had finally paid offafter an hour or so of spiraled gazes and boil pondering. “Whittaw! Whittaw!” Roy swung his head at the group before answering. “Whittaw’s dead.” It wouldn’t have been my choice of words.

There was silenceprobably just a couple of seconds. That’s some rotten news to get. It felt like

an eternity. “And who am I speaking with now? Over.” Another glance at the group. We’d been waiting for that moment. It didn’t really help in the way of planning for it, “This is Roy. Roy Lipstein.”

Lipstein, what’s your twenty?”

Another glance. This time, the pause was on our end.

Lipstein! Your location! Now!”

Roy got a testosterone kick. You almost hear his fleshy sack turn to metal, “I’m not giving you shit unless I have some guarantees.” He spoke as if he was disciplining a dog, “Over!” Once again. It wouldn’t have been my choice of words. There was another long pause. Little Roy just fucked us all.

“Son! Son! Are you there?” The voice hopped out of the little black box, and stunned us like the ghost of Christmas fucking past, “Answer me, son!”

“…Dad?” Suddenly, his iron balls, turned to marshmallows, “Dad, what the hell are you doing with them?”

“They picked us up this morning. We told them that there were more of our group. Where the hell are you all? Over.”

“…It’s a long story. Over.”

He wasn’t wrong. Although I’m pretty sure, we left because you old people were having orgies, could have sufficed.

“Listen to me. This is very important. Do any of you have open wounds?” Big Roy said. Our hopes for rescue all dropped at once. That’s not the kind of question that’s followed by good news. “A couple. Why?”

“Okay, son. I need you to separate yourself and the others who don’t from them. It’s a virus. Easily contracted. Terminal once you’ve got it. Take the healthy ones to the bridge. We’ll pick them up there. Do you copy?”

Little Roy’s bottom lip looked like it’d been trying to run off of his face. His hand shook in tiny circles. His eyes fluttered. Tears, if I had to guess, “And what about the rest? Over.” All the confidence had drained from his voice. He was a child again.

Another pause.

“Give us your location. We’ll treat them. Over”

“To what? Over”

“Just give us your damn location, boy! This is no time for your bullshit! Over!”

“We’re at the reservoir. North end.”

“Ten minutes. Over and out.”

27

A few seconds later, we were all just sitting there staring at one another like some dewy-eyed fawns in traffic. I thought, fuck it, and scratched my boils until the puss stained my shirt. “We’ve got our answer. What’s the call, boss?”

“We go to the bridge.” He looked around at his war-torn ganga bunch of miscreants, who needed their mommies, “All of us.”

He didn’t get any protest. No one wants to be left behind. I figured that whatever tests or cures they’d had, our presence would only force them to address it sooner. Who the hell would want to stay on our newly dubbed, Turd Bay? No one. That’s who.

We packed up into the R.V.

I think David may have nicked himself while he was running around. It was a tiny scratch. No bigger than a paper cut. A splinter at best. He didn’t complain too much about it. 

Good kid.

28

We stood in the center of the concrete bridge—out in the open like a herd of cattle waiting to be slaughtered. There was about a mile of road in front of, and behind us, of nothing but space and empty opportunity. Most of the group hung out in the camper. I had to argue for it, but we kept it running. I didn’t want to explain why. I’d been accused of being a pessimist enough in my life.    

Little Roy, Mark, and I leaned on the side of the R.V. We stared to the pinkish skies—smoking our cowboy killers and listening intently for the undisturbed whirring of helicopter turbines. I made sure that my gun was loaded. I wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the military, but I’d hoped to at least give them a fright—should the worst happen.   

The sun no longer pierced through the sky, though its presence wasn’t entirely unaccounted for. As the day drew on, it’d clearly been setting. The illuminated pink sky, darkened into a rosy red. It was as if the world had been wrapped in a decorative maroon film. It didn’t really seem to faze anyone else. Maybe I was just trying to distract myself.   

“Guys!” Mark yelled from the front of the R.V. “I hear something.”   

It was time. It couldn’t have come sooner. We were almost out of cigarettes “So, what’s the plan again?” I asked but didn’t really expect an answer. As my intestines coiled inside of me, and my hands shook from waves of uncertainty, I just kind of wanted to keep talking. Sometimes it makes things feel normal. Especially when they’re not.    

“We go with Lisa, Jill, and David. If they ask, we play dumb.” He winced as if he didn’t believe the bullshit coming out of his own mouth. “If I had to guess, we’ll get a lot more done on their base, than we will, waiting for them to figure something out.”    

“You got it, buddy.”    

The blustering echoes of the turbines beat down—louder and closer to us. The winds picked up and tried to carry our clothes away with the coming gusts. Soon after, we could make out the shape of the aircraft. It didn’t look like anything that could carry all of us. It definitely wasn’t the cavalry.   

As it hovered overhead, I noticed a thick line shooting out of its side, and oscillating around the R.V. A turret gun. It swiveled back and forth as if the shooter was indecisive on which head to hang on his wall first. I pulled the gun from my waistband and held it toward the ground. I didn’t like it.  

 

I didn’t like any of it.   

 

29

“Drop your weapon!” A voice shouted from an airhorn loud enough to crack the cement beneath us, “Now!” The helicopter had begun its descent. And only been about fifty feet off of the ground.     

“Fuck you!” I screamed back. I don’t think he heard me. But, I swear that’s what I said. My insubordination didn’t seem to matter much to them. They landed anyway, about ten car lengths away. “I’m serious, kid. Drop it!”   

I complied after the girls left the truck. No need for them to see me like this, I thought. Who’s going to act up in front of women and children? It was very civilian thinking. It didn’t take long for them to get too comfortable barking orders.    

“Send the women, first.” It’s not like we had much of a choice. Little Roy had Jill and Lisa lead the pack. As far as we knew, they were “clean”. I guess that he figured it’d buy us some room for error. Marie stayed behind with David. It probably wasn’t the best move.   

I couldn’t see much from where we stood, but it was obvious that they weren’t just letting us on. A man in a white lab coat jumped just outside of the helicopter with a handful of syringes and Petri dish. “We’re fucked,” I mumbled in a long drawl that nearly ripped the skin from my bottom lip.   

 

No one disagreed.   

 

30

“Now, the boy!”   

I didn’t want him to go. After him, I was all but sure, that the rest of us would be left behind to rot. If they’d do it to one of their own, it’d be downright idiotic to think that they wouldn’t leave us to fester with the rest of the corpses left in Cherrywood.    

Marie raised her hands from off of his shoulder. He looked at us all as he steadied toward the man with needles in a lab coat. I forced a grin. He was the only one of the pack that I’d actually liked. Forced optimism, is still optimism. I think it is, anyway.    

“Go ahead, David.” Little Roy prodded him along with a finger flick and fickle smile. The rest of us waved the most unassured assurance wave that we could. “Come on, son. Hurry now.” We heard the blast from the air horn. Just like that, he was through the mist and being prepped to have a needle shoved into his arm.    

“Any big plans now, boss?” I asked as we watched him take a seat on the ground.   

“What are they?” It was barely a sentence. Roy seemed concerned. “Where’s the needle?”   

The man in the lab coat jumped back into the craft. David sat on the ground—waving at us.    

“Roy…” Marie whimpered. A soldier in black—dressed a lot like Whittaw—stepped out from behind the turret. He kneeled down to David’s ear. I can’t know what he said. David stopped waving. He placed his hands behind his head and laid flat on his stomach. His feet still kicked around. He must’ve thought it was a game.   

“Roy?” Marie said again, with quivers in her throat.    

The soldier pulled a gun from his hip and aimed it at the back of David’s head.    

“Roy!” I said it that time. I reached down to the floor and picked up my gun. He stopped me before I could rush forward. I hadn’t even noticed that the turret was still pointing at all of us.    

Lisa and Jill were held down in their seats.    

A single shot shattered through the air. David’s head stuck to the floor like someone had dropped a weight onto him. His hands dropped from his head like bags of meat. His kicking knees fell to the street and didn’t come back up.    

“Roy!”   

Marie’s cries were drowned out by the endless rounds of turret fire striking toward us through the reddening mist.    

The craft lifted off of the ground.    

 

They wouldn’t stop shooting.    

 

31  

I managed my way back into the R.V. amidst the mass gunfire. They’d been floating above us and aiming at whatever they thought had moved. I duck beneath the wheel and hit the gas pedal with my left hand. I may’ve run over Mark’s body. The thump beneath the wheels likely ended his part of the story. As for Roy and Marie, I couldn’t say.   

Just over the bridge were some woodlands. I didn’t expect the gunfire to stop, but the trees and other shrubberies around would act as a shield of sorts. You can’t hit what you can’t see. They tried anyway.  

Bullets barreled down on the roof of the R.V.—piercing through it effortlessly, as I sped down the roads. When I finally reached the end of the bridge, the copter lifted. The sound of the stirring turbines dissipated. I kept as much weight as I could on the gas pedal until I finally crashed.    

 

32 

I was in the next town over. As I crept my head up over the wheel, I saw nothing but continuous red mist. The sun was setting. My sides were splitting. I had to move. It wouldn’t be too much longer before they found me, and finished the job that they’d started with David.    

I limped out of the car without really knowing where I was going. It felt like I was leaking out my skin as gravity tugged at my insides. Westwood, the town was called. They were church-going folk. Maybe they could help, I thought. Naïve thoughts. At that point, they all were.   

I kept on walking until the red mist, turned purple. Then black. It was getting harder to breathe. Blood had filled my shoes, my lungs, my sides, everywhere. I’d nearly fallen to my feet when I saw it. Westwood First Pentecostal Church.    

“My salvation,” I said to myself, like some grandmother on her deathbed. I’d been there before. Once. It was there where they tried to “cure me of my sickness. My affinity for the same gender. My refusal to quit the “sin”. My embrace of self. But, what doesn’t deserve a second chance, I thought, as I coughed up a cotton ball sized wad of my insides. I threw the melting flesh to the ground. It splattered like jelly just beside the announcement board that read, END OF DAYS. FIND YOUR GOD.    

 

Great minds think alike.   

 

33  

The church was untouched. The pews were clean. The stained-glass windows sparkled. Even the carpet looked freshly vacuumed and free of debris. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I saw the man hanging on the wall with his arms open. I’m guessing that he had it worse. I went to go ask him.   

I dropped to my knees, in front of the crucifix. The coming winds shook the building. The ground rumbled beneath me as the war-planes circled the above the area. It was more than one this time. They were looking for me.    

I looked at the cross on the wall—into the eyes of their god. My god. I asked him, “why” as the aftershock of the bombs shattered the windows into specks of nothing.    

The shards flew into me. Some entered, some nicked, some passed.  My cuts quickly boiled and bled the red puss. I watched my palms as cuts on them bubbled and disintegrated into fleshy baggy patches.    

I collapsed at the feet of god. I asked him “why,” again. The helicopters descended onto the street. I heard them knocking. I heard the voices. “Jesse! This is for your own good.” A rugged voice blasted from the air horn.   

 

There was no saving me.    

There was no saving anyone.     

They were coming.    

 

God never answered.   

 

 

The End.   


Like what you read?

Want more?

Well, of course, you can have more…

Welcome to the world of the macabre. In this long-awaited anthology, we delve into the dark nuances of the human spirit. From the apocalypse to murder and brutal realities we remorselessly explore them all, in search of the truths that evil holds. Can you face the darkest corners of your psyche or will you cower back to your fairytales and superhero mythologies? When you tire of the lies—we’ll be waiting for you here…in the dark.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s