Authors: C. L. Scholey
Shane looked at her in puzzlement; before realization came, Sam bellowed like an enraged bull charging the man. Sam hit him high and hard with a beefy shoulder sending them both flying. The girl screamed, racing from the house.
Sam locked hands around the man’s throat, his face red with rage. Sam shouted condemning words through clenched teeth, each word punctuated by a shake.
Shane yelled a warning and sprang for them, but the gun blast was all the indication he needed it was too late. Sam spiraled backwards, landed on the floor against a wall with a sickening thud, sank to his knees, then side, then moved no more. Shane screamed his rage, but was spun around as the gun went off, striking him through an arm. Shane dove for cover behind an upturned overstuffed chair.
“She was mine, you dirty bastard. You had no right,” the man screamed, spittle flying from his mouth. He dragged a wounded leg behind him limping through the house, following Shane’s retreating form.
Shane, reeling from the death of his friend, backed away, avoiding the strewn furniture, holding a bloody arm.
“Now, you got a nice little family, don’t you?” the man said with menace. “Pretty wife, three pretty girls.”
He lunged, taking Shane off-guard. They hit the stairs to the basement falling backwards, crumpling into darkness, the gun blasted. Both men lay in a heap, neither moving.
* * * *
Shane was uncertain how long he lay at the bottom of the stairs. Looking up at the top of the landing, he could tell darkness was falling. He tried to rise and groaned. The gunshot had fired into his belly.
Shane was losing a great deal of blood, his shirt saturated. The other man was dead. His neck broken in the fall.
Shane, grabbed hold of the banister, pulling himself up each step. Home being his only concern. A terrified thought crossed his mind; Tansy would come looking for him. She’d never stop; she’d be injured or killed in her efforts, the girls left alone. He must get home; he needed to tell them about Sam and their decision to move. They needed to know the city was destroyed. They must find a different place before all the food was gone. Disease would be setting in if it hadn’t already. The snow would fall, trapping them in certain death.
Shane staggered through the street. His hand lifted to rid his face of the cold rain beating down on him. His fear for his wife and children driving him. Tears mixed with rain as he came to his battered home. A home once filled with love and laughter would now suffer despair. Though loath to see his wife cry, he knew there was no other way. He’d like her arms wrapped around him when he breathed his last breath. He knew her fear would encourage him to be strong. He wanted her to remember him strong; he wanted to die knowing she needed his strength. Even in death he’d offer her courage. She deserved no less.
Blood dripping through his fingers, Shane stumbled into his house. He was met by Tansy and screams of denial when Marge realized Sam wasn’t behind him and would never be coming back.
“My husband! My Sam!”
Tansy helped Shane to their bed, trying to stop the flow of blood. Shane’s breathing was labored. His cold wet hands trembled as he reached for Tansy’s.
“Go north,” Shane whispered, desperate to make her understand before it was too late, before the inevitable occurred.
“What?” Tansy asked, packing another wad of padding against the already bloody sodden ones, trying to staunch the flow.
“North.” Shane coughed up blood and tried again, “Underground, Tansy, you must go underground.”
“What do you mean, underground? We can’t live under the ground.”
“The mines up north, babe. Go to the mines with the girls. The houses won’t stand; the basement won’t last.”
“No honey. We need to wait until you’re better.”
“No,” Shane said fiercely. “I’m not going to get better. I’m—” But Tansy cut him off.
“I won’t,” Shane said seeing her terror and gentling his voice. He loathed leaving her, she was his everything. “I’m already dead, babe. Save our girls and yourself. Live, please live.”
Tansy was shaking her head, tears coursing down her cheeks. Shane became desperate.
“Live for me, please promise me.”
“No, I’m too afraid to be alone. You live for me.”
“I will,” he vowed and placed his bloodied hand over her heart. “I’ll live in here with you. I’ll always watch over you. You’re my world, my whole world; you have been since I was sixteen. I love you, babe. I’ll always be with you. Keep our girls safe. Live. Promise me, babe...promise...me...”
The last was said so quietly Tansy’s tear-streaked face was next to his mouth, nodding her head. She tried to will her life into him; she kissed him, trying to breathe the life back into his still body.
It was too late, he was gone. The only man she ever loved for twenty-one years was gone. Tansy threw back her head and howled her fury and pain. She’d never experienced all-consuming loneliness. Tansy could feel her heart shatter within her breast. A weight so heavy it closed her throat, her breath came in labored gasps. She wanted to die, to join him. They’d never been separated. The unbearable pain in her chest made her clutch at her shirt.
Emmy reached out and grabbed her mother’s arms, pulling her close; they wept together. Michaela added her howls to theirs, pressed between them.
Shanie sat back watching. Her eyes darted to her mother and sisters, then to her prone father. Her father was dead. Her memories flashed backwards to when she was three, her father had stayed with her all night during a bad bout of pneumonia. He slept in the chair by her bed, but when she woke each time, he woke. When she was four with chickenpox, they played connect the dots with a soap crayon.
Her first day of kindergarten, he took the entire day off work in case she needed him and waited outside until lunch. He bought sundaes for dessert, so huge her tummy hurt. At six, he taught her to shoot her first basketball. At seven, he bought her a puppy, they named him Chunky but he was run over two years later. He wiped her tears, cuddled her close and said, “You’ll always have me.”
Now he was dead.
He lied, he lied.
Shanie knew her thoughts were unreasonable, knew he deserved better, she loved him so much. The tears flowed down her face onto her shirt as she remembered.
At ten, her father taught her to box and put her in karate because a boy had picked on her. Later when she blackened the boy’s eye and her mother had been mortified, her father said, “Girls will be girls,” and he winked at her conspiratorially.
He loved her too, she knew, had always known.
Shanie sat silently and let the memories wash over her. Now she was fifteen, where was that special memory of fifteen? Not when she came home after curfew. Not when he found out she was smoking. Her mind raced. Where was the memory? It would be her last. But the memory wouldn’t come. She knew she’d been difficult of late. Shanie’s realization made her head bow into her hands feeling overwhelming devastation. There’d be no more memories.
A hand on Shanie’s shoulder made her look up. She expected it to be her mother but it was Chris. He sat down beside her. With deep sincerity and red saddened eyes bright with his tears he said, “Your father was a good man.”
Moist eyes mirrored moist eyes. Amidst the suffering, below the superficial animosity, one aching heart reached for another. Their pain intertwined and a tentative bond formed.
“Yours too,” Shanie whispered. “Yours too.”
* * * *
“We need to move while we still can,” Tansy said.
Tansy had gone outside, no more than a few blocks alone into the city, much to the fear of the others. She realized what Shane had tried to explain. Tansy set out the next morning, soon after she, Marge, Shanie and Chris retrieved Sam’s body with a wheelbarrow. They dug shallow graves in her backyard for the men, lined with plastic bags. Tansy couldn’t stand the thought of her beloved husband resting in a puddle of mud. They took great pains to rid the holes of moisture, battling the relentless elements.
In Tansy’s fury she couldn’t help but feel the rain was one of Mother Nature’s taunts, spitting on their efforts. Their bodies were wrapped in thick quilts, pillows for their heads. Each of the children placed a favorite memento beside their fathers. Tansy added a family picture she tucked into Shane’s embrace next to his heart. Their eulogy was brief, but filled with heart wrenching sorrow.
Tansy decided to set out and see what Shane and Sam wanted to protect them from. She wandered at first in a grief struck stupor, but all too soon her eyes cleared. The horrors around her couldn’t be denied. Each step brought her closer to town and the unmistakable realization the city was flooding, the waters were rising before her eyes, her feet sloshing about. Their destruction, if they didn’t move fast, was imminent. That they’d survived this long was nothing short of a miracle.
“We should stay,” Marge said.
Marge was following Tansy as she darted back and forth packing what they could carry, what she deemed most important.
“It’s too dangerous out there,” Marge continued. She wrung her hands and bobbed and danced from one foot to the other. Looking at her, Tansy thought she resembled some type of walking bird—bob in weave out, in-out-back-and-forth, turn and look, begin again. Tansy reached out and grasped at Marge’s hand to still her.
“Yes, it’s very dangerous out there.”
Marge whimpered. Since the death of Sam, Marge seemed the essence of indecision. She was a shell of a woman, looking to everyone, anyone for guidance. Decisions were too far from her grasp. Marge was completely helpless without the authority of her husband. Sam hadn’t done her any favors by taking care of everything.
“Mom,” Chris said. He came over and led his mother away so Tansy and Emmy could continue packing.
“Sit here for a while.” Chris sat her down on cushions they’d taken from the couch and piled up in a corner close to the fire.
“Why don’t you tell Michaela about the story of the birds that came to watch in the window while you learned to bake pies? I love that story of you and your mom, Mrs. Market,” Shanie said.
“The birds,” Marge began, looking lost and alone. “My mother used to tell me my voice was so sweet the birds stopped singing to listen to me. It’s not really, of course, not now, but Sam used to say it’s what made him notice me.”
Chris smiled at her with encouragement. Before long she stroked his cheek and smiled back.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Tansy needs our help.”
* * * *
The decision to leave the relative safety of the basement was a hard one. Their plan was to head north. Tansy wracked her brain through the night. She knew what Shane meant. Every year the highlight of their season vacation was heading north. There were deep caves and mines, old and abandoned, but they would be perfect.
The mines Tansy knew of went back into the face of a rocklike hillside. They didn’t descend into the bowels of the earth, but she presumed with the amount of sheer rock above them they’d be safe.
Part of the mine did venture down at the side in a deep slope, but leveled off at the bottom. They would hopefully be protected from strong winds, rain, tornadoes and hurricanes.
How to get to this relative safety was a concern. They couldn’t drive a car. The roads were bound to be blocked by debris. Any moment another storm could hit. If they were out in the open, they’d be doomed. Judging distance would be tough, they’d be walking with a three-year-old. With winter nipping at their heels, they’d be battling snow and ice with hypothermia a constant threat, another element to make their lives miserable.
What if they ran into other people, what if they didn’t? What if they came across another person like the one who murdered Sam and Shane? Yet through their loss they were wiser. They would trust no one; they’d learn to depend on each other.
Tansy looked over to the corner where Shane’s rifle was propped up against the wall. Her head hung with guilt, he’d left it with her to keep her safe and he’d died. She made a mental note not to forget it. She’d made him a promise.
* * * *
When dawn came it was overcast, a miserable day to match everyone’s miserable mood. Shanie stood at her father’s grave, her face solemn and unreadable. When Tansy came for her middle child she bowed her head and offered a quick goodbye to her husband, her lover, her best friend, her soul mate. If she stood there any longer she knew she’d be on her knees, her hands digging in the sodden dirt wanting to join him.
She reminded herself of the promise. She’d never once broken a promise to Shane, he was too important, her love and respect of him too great. Tansy put an arm around Shanie and compelled her to pick up her gear. They each held as much as they could carry in backpacks and bags. Even Mike held a small bag to help her feel important. They joined the others and with a deep breath, and on shaky feet, they ventured north. Into the cold, into the unknown, into their new destiny.
* * * *
The dark-haired man shivered. He’d awakened to hunger and thirst and abandoned the confines of his tomb-like cell. Stumbling to wobbly feet, he dragged himself from the rubble of the penitentiary. So much of the building was in ruins, more was missing. None of the gates were left standing; he was free to roam wherever his unsteady legs would take him. He staggered outside glancing around waiting for someone to stop him, but no one came. No one yelled a command, no one ordered him to return to his cell.
There was no one anywhere. He walked in a stupor, his muddled head turning from side to side, up and down. There were no planes overhead, no helicopters, no moving cars or buses, no trains.
Where is everyone?
The silence was eerie. He’d thought solitary was lonely, but that had been for his own safety. There’d always been sound, metal against metal, guards laughing or yelling, inmates arguing or fighting. His bewilderment intensified when he saw in the distance a group of African elephants.
Elephants don’t roam free in North America.
He shoved the last bite of canned spaghetti into his mouth and sucked on his fingers while rising to his feet. He’d found the can on what was left of a road, rolling back and forth in the cold breeze. He’d been about to kick the can then realized it contained food. He sawed it open with a sharp rock he’d found. No easy feat considering how weak he was.