In life, everything was great. Everyone lived in happiness. We lived how we desired and no one said a cross word to anyone. Marriage, promiscuity, singleness, fluidity. Every lifestyle was accepted. We worked for money, but everyone lived comfortably, regardless of the job they worked. Whenever life seemed too difficult, we were allotted a weekly portion of Spiritum. It was a new drug sanctioned by the FDA in 2035. It was a revolutionary hybrid of opium and marijuana. It created a sense of security and stress relief that carried little side effects. The drug kept everyone satisfied and life was great. Any sort of disturbance in the community was policed heavily and involved parties were given Spiritum. I lived with my wife and children in peace. Single folks were expected to be promiscuous. Until you were claimed by another human, you belonged to everyone. All my life, I understood this as fact. In death, I realized that life was actually death. We were blinded by our government. Now I see that peace is chaos and chaos is peace. It’s nature. When nature is stifled by man, it lulls us into a false sense of security where atrophy was to be feared.
But as I stare at this young man holding my gun, I can’t help but wonder if atrophy is a necessary evil. I look at him calmly. He is scared. Of me or of this new life, I am unsure. I stand steady, hands in the air. He asks me if I have any Spiritum. I don’t. No one has had any since the aftershock. The look of craving in his eyes is unsettling. I approach him, pretending to have his heart’s desire. I tackle him to the ground. I’m strong, but he has the strength that only a desperate addict could have. We land blows. The gun flies across the clearing. I can hardly see, but notice his shape approaching where I think the gun has landed. I launch at him and grab him around the neck in a submission hold I used to use in the War on hostile soldiers. He bites my arm hard. He drew blood. I reel back but quickly grab his leg and he kicks me in the face and scrambles to the gun again. He screams at me for his drugs. I sit up and laugh. Confused, he fires a warning shot off right by my head. He’s a damn good shot. My ear is ringing. He screams more, but I can’t hear what he’s saying. I laugh more. He comes at me and grabs the collar of my shirt, lifting me up to his face. I headbutt him. It was hard enough to knock both of us on our asses and we both fall. Groggy, I stand up and get in position for a fist fight. But, he stays down. He starts crying. I slowly move toward the gun. I don’t let my guard down as I crouch down to grab it. I point it at him. He’s young. Very young. Maybe early 20’s. He was probably just out of high school when the Impact hit. The young ones struggled more with substance than the older generations.
I feel pity for him. I grab the cables from my bag and tie him to a nearby tree. An hour passes before he talks again. We discuss this life and what the old life was like. He was an analyst for a budding new tech company. He had only worked there a few weeks before the Impact changed his life. He survived. But he wishes he hadn’t. The throes of addiction have taken over his body. I feel even more pity for him. I offer him a shot of whiskey. Of course, he accepts. Though I don’t having much whiskey left, I feel the need to share what I have with this young man. So, we sit and drink and talk for a long time. He somehow got ahold of weed in death. So, we smoke that. I untie him. Whiskey and weed is all a man needs in death.
In life, he was a foster child. He was bounced from family to family until he was 18. A problem child, tossed away when the disturbance of his presence was too great for even Spiritum to conceal. His education was pieced together through the system as he grew up. He made it a point to make sure he never depended on anyone again. Unfortunately, he depended on Spiritum. He needed the high. He had gotten high all the time. It became the only thing he was dependent on. But now, it’s gone. In death, he is an orphan.
He is intelligent. His last high school had set him up with the tech company, as his main focus had been on logistical analysis all through school. He’s too intelligent to be addicted to drugs. Or maybe that intelligence is what makes him an addict. Maybe the constant nag of feeling isolated by your own mind is enough to make you dip into the wax of substance use over and over until you’re finally coated enough to not feel naked. He lights up a cigarette and so do I. I ask him if he would like to join me on my trip. He’s skeptical, but eventually agrees. It’s hard to have no time for demons when you’re alone on the road and I had a feeling we both had a few demons we were trying to drown out. So we set out.
He tells me of his girlfriend. A beautiful young woman with the most enchanting eyes. He says her eyes were what drew him to her. Not only their physical beauty, but the depth they conveyed when he looked into them. He says that he lost her in the Impact. She was running toward the shelter he was in right as it hit. He made himself watch it happen so he wouldn’t be able to hold on to her. He has no hope. He has no idea why he continues to survive. He thinks it’s because he believes she would want him to. For them. He only does it for her, though. He has no will to continue on, but he has to carry her fire. He says her fire burned brighter than his ever could and that hers was enough to keep them both warm. He’s afraid to let a fire like hers fade from the world. Even in death, the world needs her fire.
In life, I was detached. I was destroyed mentally by the War. I wanted nothing to do with anyone. Even my wife and kids. I sheltered myself in my home until I decided to teach. But, even there, I was disassociated from my students. I had a reputation as the most difficult teacher to please. Students dreaded my class. I had no reason to attach to anyone, so I didn’t. Some things never change. In death, I am still detached.
We walk for a while. He seems to be getting over his craving. Hopefully that will last. Spiritum wasn’t addictive, in and of itself, but the high was enticing. And the high stress environment in death could make someone ache for that release. But we’re getting along rather well. We have whiskey and weed. We should be able to keep things level.
We push on towards the next town. He tells me more of his girlfriend. I think it keeps him motivated, so I’ll let him go on, even though it surfaces some of my demons. About how I miss my wife. How I wished I had been more attentive. Maybe she would have lived. Maybe she would be here with me. Maybe not. In either event, my actions didn’t give her a chance. He talks of beauty, but I only know my own ugliness.