In Death, Part V

I wake up and open another box of cigarettes. I flip my lucky around as usual, beginning to doubt its actual luck. Still on high alert after one-eye, we head out early. Early is relative in death. Everything is simultaneously too early and too late in death. If you stop to think something’s too early, you might already be too late. Time is best not measured. We walk for miles. Smoking and chatting. Neither of us discussing Cyclops at all. That’s what I’m gonna call him. It’s not creative. But creativity is best served for other survival ventures. A few miles in, we were out of water. But, there was no time to stop at this point. We were still in woods. Easily traceable. The sun is reaching its highest point. It’s unusually hot today. The climate has not been consistent since the Impact, but it’s mostly cold. Sweating, we begin to slow down near a small town. It looked like it had been untouched by technology. Quaint. Quiet. Somehow quieter than the world around it. Perhaps because the busyness of technology had never entered its atoms and made it eternally anxious. We trudge into this small safe place.We fall at the foot of a building that appears to be an Inn. Surprisingly well kept. We find a well on the outskirts of the town and begin to fill up our canteens, drinking from the well itself as we went. We began to talk about Cyclops. We had both decided to refer to him as that. Makes sense. As I said. Gotta preserve that creativity.

As we enter the center of the town again, we hear a rustle. A young woman ran off towards a house. We follow. We quietly enter the house behind her. We hear a small scattering sound. Like a hoard of mice. We follow the sound upstairs. We see two groups of 3 scurrying off. We follow one group into a large study. We flip the lights on and dozens of faces appear around us. Pale with rage or fear, I can’t quite figure out. But, they stare at us with dead eyes and expressionless faces. We scream. Not my proudest moment. As our child-like screams of horror fill the room, the group cringes. They let out a collective hiss. This leaves me and the young man silent. We stand there, looking at each other. Petrified.

As the imminent horror of death by snake people leaves my mind, I begin to notice the group around us. Their fingers are held to their mouths. Lips pursed. Like a crotchety librarian… Wait. Are they? They’re shushing us! I quiet down to a whisper and tell them we won’t hurt them. We just wanna know what’s going on. A small woman comes out to us. She says her name, but I try not to remember names, so I don’t really recognize it. She explains to us that they are a small civilization here in death. They don’t refer to it as that, but I know that’s what they mean. They were a small Amish village — one of the few remaining ones — that managed to survive the Impact. They believe they survived because their homes and land did not possess the quiet hum of background technology. They believe the Impact targeted all electronic technology. That is very possible. And it would explain the pristine shape of this town. As they began to experience threats to their still-functioning society, they began to adapt survival techniques that involved avoidance. In other words, they are the quietest movers and shakers in death.

We explain our story. Who we were in life. What brought us together. Cyclops. We tell them we would love to learn from them. We promise to serve the community. We just want to learn how to be quieter and we’ll be out of their hair. The woman says she needs to gather their village council. She and few other women walk out of the room. A young boy approaches us timidly. He asks us about how we survived. We have not been practicing our filters much in death, so the boy begins to get terrified at our graphic recounts. He runs away quietly to his parents. I assume so, at least. We stand awkwardly for a moment. The women return in the room.

“We have decided,” she speaks in such a quiet voice.

She tells us, and the room, that we will be allowed to stay. But, we must contribute by teaching the village basic survival skills. She says their pacifistic lifestyle held them back from learning how to survive in a hostile environment. We agree. I was a teacher, after all. She begins asking questions about life before the Impact. They really wanted to learn about the steps immediately preceding the Impact. They are curious a to how technology had ruined society. I am more than happy to oblige, as I have grown quite the spite towards technology. However, I’d prefer not to discuss it at large. I ask her to take us somewhere more private. She nods in agreement and leads us from the house and towards the Inn where we had collapsed earlier.

In Death, Part III

In life, I had a wife and children. Before the War, we were happy. I stayed at home most of the time. My wife worked. I would help my children with their schoolwork. We would play games. When my wife was home, we spent time together. Spiritum was not necessary in our house. We read to our children before bed. When we went to bed, we talked for hours. She would tell me about her day and I would tell her about mine. We would make love for hours. If ever there was a place where the lilies would grow, it would be in our relationship. We were the envy of our friends. Our relationship was simply unbeatable. When I was drafted, we wept and mourned together for weeks while I was in basic. The 12 hour days of programming would leave me drained. All we could do together was mourn. Eventually, the hours turned to minutes and then to nothing as training shut down my mind. I was slowly becoming a machine. A soldier. Spiritum became a mainstay in my medicine cabinet. I never let her on to the fact that I was using it. When I left, she cried. I did not. I knew it was better that I leave rather than destroy even the memory of what we had.
I went to the War. For 10 years, I fought for our nation. I fought for freedom. I fought for peace. At least, that’s what I was programmed to believe. I saw men die. Both by the enemy’s hand and my own. I was the best sniper in the Force. I could shoot a small vial from over 2000 meters away. I was recruited frequently for assassinations. I took down warlords and presidents. But, I was taught that they weren’t people. They weren’t like us. They wanted to destroy the peace we had slowly constructed over the past 500 years. So, I did it. I killed dozens of the enemy’s leaders. I was considered a War hero. Aside from my gun skills, I was in the top of the Force for stealth missions. I believe I ranked number 3 overall. On top of my assassinations, I was recruited for those. Primarily intel. I would infiltrate enemy compounds and disarm guards and hack their systems to discover where the leaders planned to be next. I rolled solo. A lone wolf. When I returned, I was considered a War hero. I was highly decorated. But inside, I had died.
When I returned, my children were grown. I had missed their entire childhoods. I was too distant to be involved with them. My son was much like his mother. He excelled in computations and eventually became an analyst for the System. My daughter was much like me. She excelled in logical analysis and became a strategist for the government. But, I didn’t care. My wife looked at me differently. I knew she didn’t like what she saw anymore. I didn’t either. My Spiritum addiction grew. I pushed further away from my family until our marriage was only a formality for both of us. We stayed together because we didn’t want to belong to everyone. We stayed together for our children. It was all her idea, though. I was too apathetic to care about any of that.
Once news of the Impact began to circulate, I hid in my bunker. I didn’t tell anyone. Not my wife. Not my children. I was too closed off. It’s not that I wanted them to die. I just didn’t think of them. All I thought about was myself. I had many missed calls from them. But, I never answered my phone. Finally, my wife came pounding on the hatch of the bunker. I didn’t let her in for fear that the Impact may hit as soon as I did. Just as I had convinced myself to let her in, the Impact came. I watched my wife disintegrate before my eyes. I think I needed to see it. It changed me. I didn’t cry, but I felt something for the first time in 10 years. I still don’t know what the feeling was.
After the Impact, those who knew the aftershock was shortly behind began to scramble as their bunkers had been destroyed by the Impact. Many people pounded on my hatch. I did not answer. When the aftershock finished, I emerged to the husks of men and women and children scattered around my bunker. I felt nothing. I headed out on my journey. Alone. I roll solo. In death, I am a lone wolf.

So What? (A Short Story)

The blood dripped down my cheek like the sweat dripped off his brow. Each labored breath tasted of the metal that was filling my lungs. I can barely keep my arms up to guard my already crippled torso. But, I have to push on. I have to win. Yea, I’m barely standing, but so what?
I started school a few months ago. Bright-eyed with enthusiasm that quickly dwindled as the pressures of my fiscal responsibilities weighed on me. The crushing weight of loans and bills and my vices gripped me like, well, a vise. My first few weeks were exhilarating, learning all of the elements of great writing from professors whose qualifications left me star-struck, as if I were in the presence of unsurpassed brilliance. They spoke eloquently and exuded the traits of good writers that I hoped that, by being in their presence and under their tutelage, I would be able to one day gain. I would read books about writing and reading critically in my free time between assignments. Assignments that I drank up like a fine whiskey, becoming intoxicated by the challenges of reading into stories rather than merely reading them. My professors pushed me to analyze and the analyses would push me to understand how to write. Coffee in hand, my fiction writing professor would constantly repeat “So what?”
So what?
Never menacing, never pretentious. Always constructive in its scope, the question would linger past the class and into every day of my life as I read and wrote and spoke and listened.
So what?
Those two words. Those six letters. They became my mantra. So much so that, when I got a tattoo of a typewriter on my arm, the paper feeding out read “So what?” Then, I got news that I was only approved for half as much of the loans as I had anticipated. Sitting in the financial advisor’s office, I was crushed. I considered my currently light work schedule and did the math as to how many more hours I could fit into a work week as her voice became but the faded words of freshly erased pencil lead. Should I get a second job? Will I have time to do my homework? When she finished, she asked me if I understood. I had to make monthly payments towards school. I looked at her and paused for a moment in my delirious state. When I finally found some words, the only thing that escaped my mouth were the words tattooed on my arm. So what?
I picked up more hours at work and became a rundown husk of my former self. I was skipping classes to work on homework for other classes or to drink in smalls sips of sleep when I could. The classes that had once given me wings began to weigh me down. And, as my grades began to slip, so did I. The late nights at work left me thirsting. So, I began to hit the bars after work. Shooting the whiskey that I used to sip. The whiskey that had once been my school work became my reality. Nightly, I would work. Drink. Sleep through my first class. Wander into my second with a headache, wearing sunglasses to conceal the bloodshot eyes that had once been fixed on my professors and were now instead fixed on the end of the night. Around the third month of nightly binge drinking, one of my coworkers stared at me as we closed up. When I shot her with the spitting words of defense that only an alcoholic writer could muster, she told me I had a problem. I looked back at her contemptuously and said “So what?”
After work, at the corner of my fifth and sixth shots of Bulleit, I started to become vocal about the worries that plagued me. A man I had seen in the bar most nights that ended in “y” approached me and gave me his number. He told me he has some side money I can make if I need it and to text him when I decided to take him up on his offer and he left. Four drinks later, I texted him, barely legibly “Whn n whr?” He simply sent back an address. I touched the address and pulled it up in my GPS and stumbled out of the bar. I don’t remember driving there, but when I opened the steel door on the white-washed building, the sweet smell of liquor washed over me, underscored by a bitter smell that I couldn’t place. I walked into a smoke-infested room full of men much larger than myself and lit up a cigarette. In the inner circle of the crowd was the man whom I had texted, eyes fixed intently on something I could not yet comprehend. When I asked him what was up, he grabbed my shoulder and jerked me towards whatever he was watching. Two men, shirtless, bare-knuckle boxing. Blood thinned by sweat dripping from their temples. The light red liquid seemed to shine like an ignored stoplight after a good night of drinking. The man explained to me that this was my opportunity to make some cash. I agreed to participate. After one of the men in the middle of the room finally collapsed, they dragged him out of the small circle and the other man was handed $500. I was told that my first fight would be worth $250. Unless I place a bet on myself, which would increase my payout to about $500. My liquid confidence was well in effect at this point, so I placed a bet on myself and they lead me to the circle.
I stared down my opponent. It must have been the fistfight for him, as well, because I could see the small chatter of his teeth as we approached each other. A hand reached up from my side and poured a shot into my mouth. Then another hand reached up and socked my opponent in the rib cage, sending him reeling backwards. My own hand. He returned a blow to my booze-numbed face. So what? I hit him back, square in the nose, feeling it shatter underneath my fist. He fell on his ass and I screamed at him to get up and he obliged. I thanked him with another blow to the ribs and he thanked me with a spatter of blood from his mouth. He was sweating, but I was not. When he staggered back towards me, I hit him with a left jab to the sternum and a right hook to his cheek and he fell. All those Rocky marathons really paid off, even if I stood orthodox rather than southpaw. I stared daggers at him, as if hoping the weight of my gaze would keep him down. He never got up. He was dragged off by his feet and I was congratulated with more spirits, and my spirit was lifted as I was handed $500 and an extra hundred for such an entertaining fight, albeit a short one. That was the last thing I remembered of the night before waking up in my car in the parking lot of the college.
This continued for a while: work, drinks, fights. I was winning nightly, slowly accumulating a small fortune. Never losing. Confidence growing as my motivation shrank, as if making room for my ego. That white-walled building became my refuge. And tonight, when I arrived, I was told that I was fighting the reigning champ. I was set to make $2500 if I could drop him in the first thirty minutes, $5000 if I could get him in the first fifteen. I placed a rather confident bet on myself for the first fifteen, which would make my payout $7500. Enough to pay my next two year’s tuition after loans. So, they lead me towards the circle and I patiently waited for my opponent. The man from the bar stepped in front of me and removed his shirt, revealing his numerous army tattoos. I was going to be fighting the man who got me here and I was going to win. He cracked his knuckles and his neck and pulled his hair back into a ponytail. He was considerably larger than me, but so what? As gentlemen warriors, we touched fists and backed up a few steps. There was a lump in my throat that felt like swallowing a gold coin. We approached each other and the fight began.
He beat my ass like an angry farmhand for the first 5 minutes, hitting me with hooks and jabs to the face that still felt like running full speed into a brick wall, even through my alcohol-medicated numbness. But I stayed standing and flailed my arms, like one of those inflatables in front of sketchy used car lots. But, oh, he was much faster and stronger than me and hit me between my noodle-like attempts at punching. He hit me with a heavy combo to my torso and I felt my rib crack and my lung puncture. Fluid was sitting in my lungs, but so what? The blood dripped down my cheek like the sweat dripped off his brow. Each labored breath tasted of the metal that was filling my lungs. I can barely keep my arms up to guard my already crippled torso. But, I have to push on. I have to win. Yea, I’m barely standing, but so what?
I step back and almost trip over my own desperation to escape. I look him in the eyes and he puts his hands down and smiles, telling me to take a moment. We’re ten minutes in and the pressure of the next five minutes is starting to weigh on me. I charge him and as I get within his wingspan, he hits me with a hard right jab to the nose…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I’m in the hospital, now staring at a different white surface than I am used to seeing. My pants are folded up on the table and I scramble to grab my wallet from my pocket. It’s empty. I had lost it all. I fall back and stare again at the white ceiling which becomes to me as bleak as my own thoughts. The lump in my throat now feels like a D battery chilling out on my larynx. The nurse comes in and tells me I have a severe concussion and that I had been in a coma for days. But, I don’t care. My life is over, anyway. I stay motionless on the hospital bed, thinking about my situation, drifting into sleep. The nurse comes in and jars me awake, telling me that if I fall asleep, irreparable damage could be caused to my brain. She stays for a while before going to her next room. I feel sleep looming over me like the reaper on an old man’s last days. As weariness envelops me and my eyes begin to droop, I hear the hoarse-voiced retort to the nurse’s warnings creep out of my throat…
So what?