Authors: C. L. Scholey
“I’m dead,” he muttered. “Damn.” I guess you really do go to hell for committing murder.
What kind of hell was this? Drinking water from dirty puddles, eating cold food he got out of beat up cans and now meandering elephants. The rain beat down in the silence forcing him to wrap his arms about himself from the chill. He was without any warm clothing, his flimsy shoes were soaked.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. He hit his forehead with the heel of his sweat-moistened hand hoping to knock some sense into it.
Looking up, he saw the small band of elephants—they were stampeding toward him.
“Oh, crap.” He turned and began running. Behind, close on the elephants’ heels, was a tornado.
He was positive he was in hell, and damn didn’t the Devil have a sense of humor.
* * * *
Tansy and her brood saw a few people their first day of walking. Mostly scavengers they kept a close eye on, hiding until they passed. Shanie protested saying there was safety in numbers. But Tansy wouldn’t relent. If in your numbers someone could be found who might hurt you, there was no safety. She couldn’t take the chance with three daughters.
The thought of a helpless child alone in this world was a sobering thought. If Tansy died, she’d be adding three more orphans. She had to live. If only for her children, she’d find safety if it could be found. She was grateful for Marge and Chris’ presence. Someone else to share the frightening burden of survival in this new world.
The destruction around them was earth shattering. They’d all seen destruction through the media after a terrible storm, but this was destruction like no other. It went on and on before them as they walked, a sea of never-ending chaos. Every step taken fearfully, their eyes glazed in disbelief. Their concern continued to grow as they moved on. The earth was sodden. Puddles were ponds, ponds were lakes, streams roaring rivers. The sky remained foreboding. Fear engulfed them while walking through a haze of noiseless mist. They stopped to rest. Their minds as well as bodies needing relief.
“What’re you doing?” a voice questioned, summoning Tansy from her reverie.
“Making fire,” Shanie answered. She had two rocks she was banging together. Pieces were flying everywhere in her enthusiasm.
“Ow, shit,” Chris swore and threw up his hands to rub his eyes as a small piece of stone chipped off and hit his face.
Tansy reached over and stilled her daughter’s hands. She took the offending objects as Chris sat down while his mother tried to inspect the damage.
“You idiot,” Chris thundered, trying to shove his mother’s hands away. “You can’t start a fire by hitting two pieces of concrete together.”
Shanie’s face reddened. They were in part of a subway close to the surface. Tansy was afraid to take them deeper knowing instinctively others would be lower. Maybe dangerous and frightening others who would steal what food they had. Before Shanie could retaliate, as she had that ‘I’m going to attack,’ look written all over her face, Tansy intervened.
“This is a brilliant idea.”
Chris looked astounded and paused long enough for his mother to get her hands on him. Shanie crossed her arms over her chest and offered him a smug look.
“Think about it. Eventually we’ll run out of matches and lighters will run out of fluid. How will we start a fire? We need rocks. Wow, I really was paying attention in Brownies.”
“Brownies taught you how to be a fire starter?” Shanie asked.
“No, silly. They taught basic survival skills while we were camping, I think it was a counselor who mentioned if you struck two types of rocks together it would create a spark.”
“Well what rocks?” Shanie asked.
Tansy looked around, but came to the conclusion it was fruitless. Only cement and mortar, debris from the city had collected around them. She shrugged helplessly then brightened. They were thinking; it was a good start. Then she realized they’d need to do a lot more thinking. They thought living in a basement was roughing it...they’d been sadly mistaken.
As they settled, all huddled for warmth and what security they could garner from one another, Tansy’s thoughts took flight. There’d be no more trips to the grocery store, which she came to terms with long ago.
They couldn’t hope to plant and grow vegetables. How could they when they never knew when a tornado was coming? Would plant life exist farther north? What about animals, how were they faring, were there any left at all? Tansy’s mind was reeling. Had they saved their children from one horror only to expose them to numerous threats, death by starvation? It all seemed hopeless.
Michaela’s teeth started chattering which attracted Tansy’s attention. She cuddled her youngest, pulling her husband’s coat tighter around them. It smelled like him. She closed her eyes picturing him there, smiling and offering encouragement and support through his embrace. As Michaela’s shaking subsided, Tansy battled with her own, not from cold but emotions turbulent and raw. Weariness finally won its battle and exhaustion forced her into a restless slumber.
* * * *
“I’m hungry,” wailed Michaela.
They stopped to rest at half day, exhausted from the long trek. It wasn’t so much the walking but climbing over the mounds of endless debris or finding a way around it and the endless water making their journey much more difficult.
Roads free of water were eroded from the damaging floods and dangerous to walk on. Entire areas were massive sinkholes. The destruction around them was endless. Trees uprooted lay in various positions scattered around like some drunken lumberjack had gone on a rampage.
Homes, buildings, structures were leveled. They were always on guard where they walked, not wanting to fall through debris into dangerous traps as was apparent some had. It was all too clear some travelers had been careless, falling through rotting flooring and drowning as the water rose.
The little group had been followed by a possum, or a very ugly cat. They’d thrown stones at it, not wanting to waste any of their precious bullets. But the possum-cat and throwing stones at it had given Tansy an idea. Perhaps they could make a slingshot or other weapons, bows, arrows or even spears.
“Food, food, food,” Michaela chanted into Tansy’s ear.
“Alright,” Tansy yelled.
She pulled the last package of crackers from her bag and handed two of them to Michaela. She offered some to the others, but there were no takers. After the crackers were gone, there would be nothing else, their food supply exhausted.
They’d been walking for days, weeks, perhaps even a month. Tansy was unsure. One day collided with another. They found little food, everything having already been picked through or destroyed. They came across living animals and protected Michaela from desperate, hungry rats that attacked without warning during the night in the cities. Packs of rats that ran up their legs, going for exposed throats or body parts once their fire died down, masking their devious approach under the cover of darkness. Red glowing eyes moved across the ground, an oncoming wave of terror, followed by screams of fear and rage. Tansy never loathed a living being so much in her entire life.
It had been a relief to catch a vague glimpse of the sun as it strove to shine through the clouds some days. Tansy knew without it all plant life would die. Most was suffering, wilting or drowned as a result of all the rain and dreary skies.
“We need to find something to eat,” Tansy said, casting a look around the area in desperation. “I want you, Shanie and Chris, to go look in that direction.” Tansy pointed at a line of barren trees. They’d made it out of the city and were on a patch of country road that would lead them to the next town.
“It’s not wise to split up,” Marge cautioned.
“We’ll stay in groups of two. We’ll only go as far as the count of one thousand then come back, and then go in different directions. We can’t survive on nothing.”
“And what is it you hope to find, a miracle?” Marge asked.
“Maybe,” Tansy answered. She looked at her oldest and handed over Michaela with the crackers. “Stay put, I’ll be back.” Tansy headed out, followed reluctantly by Marge who offered occasional glances at the fading image of her son as he disappeared into the tree line.
* * * *
“Hey, look,” Chris exclaimed.
Shanie crept up behind him and peered into the small cave opening. It was big enough for them to fit through, but they were wary what else might be occupying it.
“Go in,” Shanie whispered, punctuating it with a large shove to the small of Chris’ back.
He yelped and jumped backwards. Shanie burst into laughter. Scowling, Chris advanced on her but was startled by a shrill scream as Shanie jumped into his arms. Both teenagers exchanged surprised looks with their arms locked around each other as a rabbit crashed through the underbrush and darted away. With a quick shove to Shanie, Chris bounded after it, after a moment’s hesitation Shanie was also in pursuit.
Tansy, Marge, Emmy and Michaela appeared soon after Shanie’s scream sent them all scrambling for the woods. It was a startling sight. Shanie was yelling, as was Chris; he jumped and landed face first into the dirt and leaves. Scrambling up again, his hair wild and sticking out in all directions like some crazed fool on crack, leaves clinging to his face and chest, he lunged, missed his target and jumped up.
“Don’t just stand there, help us,” he yelled, his voice cracking with exertion.
Tansy saw the reason for their mad tirade, beside Shanie’s bedraggled appearance darted a rabbit. Tansy joined the chase. Soon they were all darting back and forth, their minds intent on one thing—dinner. With a magnificent effort, Chris lunged, landed, and lay still. The others crowded around worried by his groaning he might have been injured. Chris rolled over; the dead rabbit lay on the ground having succumbed to fear.
“You got him,” Emmy said and offered him an appreciative smile.
Chris rose slowly to his feet, his hands grasping his private parts, he ambled away muttering, “He got me first.”
Shanie giggled and Tansy moved in to pick up the rabbit. Tansy held the rabbit by the ears wondering what to do with it. They’d caught it, killed it, but now what? She looked helplessly over to Marge.
“Don’t look at me, it’s your miracle.”
Scratching her head, Tansy walked over to one of the backpacks. She told the others to start a fire and set up in the cave for the night. The sky was turning a deep purple and she knew there would be a storm when darkness settled.
Walking away from the cave, Tansy stopped when she felt she was far enough. She didn’t want the smell of blood attracting anything. Tansy lay the rabbit down on a large rock and removed her sharp kitchen knife and a bottle of water. They had filled their empty water containers at a creek. Tansy thought of contamination at the time but threw in purifying tablets they had left over from a camping expedition. Whether or not the water was contaminated, what would it matter? They had to drink or they’d die. Hopefully the tablets mixed with boiling the water would work.
Taking a deep breath, Tansy grabbed the knife in one hand, the rabbits head in the other.
She began sawing at the rabbit’s neck and gagged as the warm blood oozed between her fingers. Her grip became slippery but she only paused when she reached a bone.
With resolve she pressed down hard through that and gave a shudder of disgust as the head rolled off the rock and plopped onto the forest floor, its glassy accusing eyes staring through her. She sat back wiping hair out of her eyes with the back of a hand. Taking another deep breath Tansy grabbed hold of one of the rabbit’s legs cutting it from anus to throat. She dropped the rabbit, turned and vomited as the slick entrails spilled out. Wiping her mouth on her sleeve she looked back at the rabbit with loathing. With steely resolve she approached the rabbit’s body like it had the plague, but promised to finish what she started. This rabbit wouldn’t die in vain, she hoped.
Digging the entrails and other innards out with her knife, Tansy pressed her lips firmly together. Skinning the rabbit was difficult. In places it seemed to pull away from a membrane-like, ‘thingy,’ was all she could think to call it. In others it stuck like an S.O.B. By the time Tansy had skinned, gutted, and removed the feet, there was a sorry pile of stringy meat. Hopefully they could skewer chunks, although Tansy had lost her appetite.
As Tansy walked back with a slimy pinkish-gray mess of raw bloody meat she held in bloody hands, she envisioned seasonings and baked potatoes with sour cream and chives, tender asparagus dripping in butter with French bread and a bottle of white wine. Tons of salt with a dash of pepper. Not just regular pepper, the kind where they came to your table at restaurants and ground it in a long wooden pepper mill. At a table where everyone was laughing and wearing clothes that were clean and fresh. Everyone would be scrubbed clean, the men freshly shaven, the women wearing perfume and hair spray that kept their new salon hairdos in place.
As she approached the cave, her mind was assaulted with reality. The children looked at the mess she was holding hungrily. Their hair kept in place by grease and dirt, filthy hands and faces. Their greedy eyes feasting on the dead animal, before it was even cooked. Tansy’s steps faltered, but she made it to the fire and began putting chunks of raw rabbit on the end of wooden skewers the kids had found and sharpened with Chris’ Swiss army knife. They held them over the open flames like marshmallows. It was almost more than Tansy could bear. Her mind felt violated, she struggled to control her emotions as she watched Mike shove pieces of cooked rabbit into her mouth.
Mike, who before wouldn’t touch a grilled cheese sandwich unless the crusts were trimmed. A soft boiled egg was fine but absolutely no egg whites would she eat. If a cookie had fallen in dirt Michaela would’ve thrown it away. Tansy would bet her life if Michaela found a cookie buried in manure she’d fight to the death if someone tried to keep her from eating it. What had they become? Where were they heading?
“I wish we had some candied baby carrots,” Shanie said, munching on a piece of charbroiled rabbit, black on the outside pink in the middle.