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.

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In Death, Part IV

The young man carries himself like he’s not an addict. He is poised. He is alert. He would have made a fine soldier. Every now and then, he stops and scans the area. Usually, because he thinks he hears someone. But, it’s never anything. We stop in the next town. We go on a supply run. We walk into an antique store and look around. Just for fun. I don’t like this building. The way it continues to settle. Too many creaks and groans as we walk around. He calls me over. He asks if I happen to have found any loose tobacco. I had a few towns ago. He has an old pipe and asks if he can have some. He says he hasn’t smoked a pipe in ages. He packs it up. I watch him intently. I never was one for pipes. I like my nicotine quick and to the point. He turns to me to ask for a light. His eyes widen. I feel a sharp pain in the back of my head. Everything goes blurry and fades to black.


I awake to the sound of voices. An unusual sound. As my vision adjusts, I see the young man. He looks terrified. As I begin to comprehend the environment, I notice we are tied upside down. We have been stripped down to our underwear. He is panicking. I try to swing around and take everything in. But, the room is blank. The voices sound like they’re outside the door. I try to speak to the young man, but I spit up blood as I open my mouth. My headache is splitting. I need a fucking cigarette and some whiskey. I hear the door open and see some light leak in. I try to rotate and see who has entered, but I only hear his voice. He is rather upset. Suddenly, I feel myself spin around and there is a man right in front of my face. His breath wreaks of stale tobacco and sour milk. Pleasant. As my eyes adapt to the darkness, I make out the features of his face. He is missing an eye. He should probably have an eye patch because that void is fucking disgusting. It looks infected. His other eye — the one still in his skull — is bloodshot and pale grey. His lips are dry and cracked. The teeth he has are black with rot. He scans me intently. Or at least, half of me. He spits in my face. It smells like rotten eggs shat out by a dog then eaten by a bird who promptly puked it back up. Nice.


“Who the fuck are you?”


Well. I don’t know how to answer that, sir. I sit silently and try to take in the surroundings. He has a bat perched on his thighs as he crouches in front of me.


“Well? Who the fuck are you?”


“What do you mean?”


“What do you think I mean?”


“It seems inconsequential.”


“I like to know who I’m about to kill.”


Oh, a gentleman savage. “I don’t even know the answer to that anymore.”


“Well, you better find one quick. Cut them down.”


I feel a release and I drop on my head. That’ll help my headache. I am lifted up to stand and look in the eye of this man.


“You have a lot of supplies. What were you?”


“Just a teacher.”


“Bullshit.”


“Well, believe what you need to, but that’s all I was.” He doesn’t need to know anything more.


“Well, teach… I’m taking all your shit. I hope that’s fine.”


“You get an ‘A’ for survival technique.”


“Oh, you’re a funny guy, huh?”


I like to think so.


“How did you survive?”


“I guess it was just luck.”


“Luck. Sure. Because that’s what I call lucky. Let him go.”


The hands that held me up let me go and I stumble a little. I regain my composure and look him in the face. Which is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in death.


“Leave.”


“Ok.”


“Not you dumbass… Take the boy.”


His two cronies grab the young man and exit the room.


“I don’t like you.”


“Obviously.”


“You’re disrespectful.” He’s quite astute.


“Well, sir. You did kinda kidnap me and my friend.”


“Fair.”


“And took all of my supplies.”


“Yes, that’s right.”


“That’s pretty disrespectful.” I eyeball the bat he has now slung over his shoulder. He looks strong. I think he’s probably not very agile, having only one eye.


“Well, you haven’t earned my respect.”


“That seems a little one-sided.” He’s obviously a fair leader. He laughs. He drops his bat to his side. I see my opportunity and jump for the bat. Right as I grab it, I feel a heavy handed punch on my side. I fall over. Luckily, I still have the bat. I’m certainly not as strong as this man. I jump up. I now notice how large his hands are. He swings a southpaw hook towards my face. He misses. I swing the bat and he stops it with his right hand. I’m actually impressed. He jerks the bat, taking me with it. I hear voices clamoring outside the door.


“Stay out there! I’ll handle this cocksucker.”


Well, I think the homophobic comment was unnecessary, so I grab the bat and swing it hard. I connect. With the wall. The sting in my hands made me drop the bat. He grabs me by my neck and throws me down. He stands over me and clasps his hands together to swing down on my head. I duck through his legs and scramble for the bat. I grab it and swing it around and hit him in the leg. He drops. He quickly recovers. Just in time for me to hit him in the head with the bat. He drops again. For a little longer this time. I watch him shortly to make sure he doesn’t move. I burst out the door, swinging the bat. I connect with one of his henchman and the other puts up his fists to guard himself. The young man grabs him in a chokehold and eases him into a nice sleep. We run away from the brick building. I see my bag and our clothes and we snatch them up as quickly as possible and keep running. After about 20 minutes, we stop and pull on our clothes. He laughs. I laugh. They stole everything but my whiskey and my cigarettes from my bag. That’s fine. We take a swig of whiskey and I offer him a cigarette. We continue walking and laughing. Maybe he and I are more alike than I thought.


We continue walking. A little faster pace than normal. Occasionally downing some branches and veering off path to cover our tracks. We find a well covered clearing that looked acceptable to sleep in. We sit down and crawl under the clearing. As the sun begins to set, I light my lucky cigarette up. One more day. Though, now I’m wondering if this is actually a lucky cigarette in this world…

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.

In Death, Part II

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.

In Death, Part I

It’s been 473 days since it happened. The day breaks. I wake up and shake the rust off my eyes. I don’t know how long I slept. It’s hard to tell most times. In fact, I’m not entirely sure exactly how long it’s been. But, my tallies say 473 days. I open my last pack of stale cigarettes and flip my lucky around. Hopefully, I get to smoke it today.
I think it’s summer. It’s warm, at least. I pull on the remains of my clothing and set out to town. The paintings on the sidewalk still tell stories of the ghosts of days gone by. I was happy once. With her. But, that’s over now. So I push on. I’m not sure why, but I do. Maybe it’s the romantic in me. Or maybe it’s the fear. Either way, I push on. I see the shadow of a child on the side of the house in which I was staying and I hold back the tears. I had a son. I don’t know what happened to him when it hit. No, I do. But, I can’t admit it to myself. So, I pretend I don’t. The husks of men haunt this road, as they do all of the others. Interspersed with the silhouettes are the remains of those who scavenged before the aftershock took them as well. I don’t know which is more haunting.

 

I pull out the flask I found in the remains of my parents’ house. It’s my father’s and it’s all I have left to remember our wayward relationship. It’s filled with whatever cheap whiskey I could find along the way. The end of the world and I’m still picky about my liquor. He raised me right. I take a long sip of the booze, hoping its spirit will somehow lift mine. But it never does. It just placates me temporarily. I see an overturned cart on the side of the road and approach it. It’s picked clean, so I move on. Towards the city. I believe it used to be called Decatur. I think I’m in Georgia. Either way, I’ve never visited this town, so I’m going.

 

There’s a drug store right at the entrance to the town, so I head in to stock up on some supplies I may need. I find some cigarettes hidden behind a flap and a few stray bandages left behind in the haste of other scavengers. I also find some lighter fluid. I load them into my backpack. The rest of the store looks picked clean, but I slowly walk the aisles anyway. Lifting up the bottoms of the shelving units, I’m hoping to find some sort of food. It looks like only perishables are lefts and they’ve, well, perished. Finally, I come across a can of green beans. I fucking hate green beans. I’m not as picky about my food as I am about my liquor, though, so it’ll work. I leave the store and wander down the street towards a thrift store. My legs are barely with me. Push on.

 

In the thrift store, I search for some jeans. There is one pair in my size, but they’re far too long, so I take out my pocket knife — the one dad always taught me to carry — and cut them down a little bit. They’ll work. The only shirts they have are two sizes too big, as usual in life and death. The one I’m wearing is full of holes and dreadfully caked with dirt, so I grab one and pull it on, anyway. I hit the shoes next, but find nothing that will work for this environment, so I move on. I find a few housewares to use in whatever fashion I may need them later and leave the store. I light up another cigarette when I hear a soft rustling. I look around and see a branch swaying. There is no wind. I slowly approach the tree and pull out my gun. In life, I was utterly abhorred by the use of guns after having been in the War. But, in death, the rules change. I approach quietly, gun trained just under the branch. I pull back the foliage. Nothing. I venture a little further into the shrubs, but decide to retreat in case it’s a trap. Evermore alert, I proceed.

In life, I was a vet who became a teacher after the War left me unable to cope with being home all the time. The reparations from the War had gotten me plenty of money to live a comfortable life. But, I couldn’t stand being home alone all day with my thoughts until my wife got back, so I went back to school and got my teaching degree. In death, I am an active soldier again. In death, I am the student.

The asphalt has a cushion of soot on top, so I remove my shoes in favor of discretion. I tie them to my bag and continue forward, gun in hand. Occasionally making a small rotation to scan my surroundings. There’s no time for my demons out here. Only survival.

 

After feeling I have put sufficient space between me and whatever follower I suspected, I rest in a clearing in some woods. I remove my bag. I place my thrift finds on the ground in front of me. I feel overwhelming relief as the weight of the bag and my paranoia have been lifted from my already exhausted body and mind. I found a blender there. I disassemble it. Somehow, many animals survived the Impact. I remove the blender’s blade. Using a small torch I had from my time in the War, I soften the center of it. I fold it in half. Into an arrowhead. I remove a small dowel from my bag and place it into the hole in the center of the blade. I tie it into place. Quite the sturdy arrow. I had wasted a lot of bullets on hunting. But, I’m too low for the time being. I set out into the woods to retrieve supplies to create a bow.

In life, I was a pacifist. But, I was drafted as a sniper in the War. I was trained to be an impersonal killing machine. Those weren’t people. They were just blips of oppression on the radar of our freedom. Small casualties so that my family and friends could feel safe. I was always removed from the act. Never up close. Never personal. I never saw the last moments of life in another human’s eyes as I sat posted a hundred meters from their humanity. It was easy. It was the only way I could cope with being drafted. I wasn’t a killer before. I denied that I became one. In death, I am a killer.

I find a flexible branch and  and strip some meat off a bare trunk with my knife. I fashion them into a rather hefty bow. I draw back the arrow and release it from the bow. Without the fletching, it’s aimless. I reach for my bag to see if I had anything to make it, but I left it at my camp site. I don’t even have a quiver to carry this. I think I’m living life without a quiver right now. Not a quiver of fear or regret or anger. I no longer feel. I’m no longer a person. I just am. If even that. I’m in my head too much. No time for demons. I head back to camp.

In life, I was lost. After the War, I had no fletching. I was a teacher, but I never stayed at a school for more than a year. I had found myself in South Carolina during the Impact. I had intel that allowed me to survive. I hunkered down underground. My training had taught me that there was always an aftershock. That’s how I survived that. I lost my family after that. It was then that I fell back into my training. A stone cold killer. I have purpose. In death, I am found.

I light up another cigarette. I listen intently for any signs of animal life. My bare feet give me discretion in the woods. They are calloused from all of my silent excursions into towns. I can’t believe I left my bag at camp. I have never done that. I hasten my walk a little. I lose some of my discretion. I step in some animal shit. Great. I keep going until I see the clearing and return to my camp. Everything’s still there. I start to make some shelter for the night. I camouflage it so it looks like little more than a pile of branches downed by a storm. I hear a rustling in the woods. I whip around. I grab my bag and open the pocket I keep my gun in. It’s gone. I turn around again and there’s a man. He has my gun. Trained right at my head.

NA

It starts with alcohol. A person hits a point where life isn’t worth living sober. After night after night of drunken binge. It’s not enough. So he moves on to weed. It’s new. It’s different. Most importantly, it’s an escape.

 

My name is Travis. And I am an addict.

 

It started with alcohol…

 

I was grabbing coffee with my girl and she said she needed to talk. I wasn’t the one for her. Not the “perfect partner” for her. Now, to me that’s bullshit. Not a real reason. But reason was never her strong suit. I stared at my coffee for a long time before I realized she was gone. I stepped outside and lit up a cigarette. I didn’t know what to do. The coffeeshop was closing and my boy was working. I finished my third cigarette when he came out and asked if I wanted to hit the bar. I did. Desperately.

 

I dropped back a half pitcher of PBR. Followed by a few shots of whiskey. Obviously, I had to wash those down with another half pitcher. By the time I was finished, the bar was closing. First time closing her down of many to come. The next night I went for more.

 

After that, it was all a blur. I can’t pretend to remember how long this cycle went on for. But, I do remember this… I moved on to weed.

 

It was a late night at work. We were understaffed and oddly busy for a Monday. We got out late. I needed a drink. So did everyone else. So we hit the bar. A couple beers and a few shots later, I asked one of them if they had some weed. Of course they did.

 

We went back to his place and we got crossfaded. I almost fell asleep. I was thinking about nothing. For once. It was great. Then, every time we worked together, we would get high and I would go out and drink afterwards. The feeling was incomparable. Thinking about nothing. Caring about nothing. A radical change. A good change. I ate it up.

 

Obviously, accompanying all of this were numerous nights of sexcapades. Different night. Different girl. I had it all figured out: smoke, drink, fuck. Repeat. Life felt good. That doesn’t mean it was good, but it felt damn good. That time in my life was all a blur. The chicks, the booze, the dope. None of it remains very clear in my mind. But, I vividly remember the day that everything really changed. It’s weird. I don’t know why I do. But I do.

 

I woke up and took a drag off last night’s cigarette, still smoldering in the ashtray. Then, I went to grab some coffee. I sat down in my chair and lit up my bowl. This was some gas. It slowed everything down. I grabbed another cigarette and lit it up. The flint of my Zippo sparked and I got a whiff of the fluid catching fire. Then the sound of the flame lighting the paper and the sizzle of the tobacco. That first drag tasted like honey. I smoked that cigarette for what felt like hours. Ten minutes after lighting my cigarette, I put it out and went to make breakfast. I was hungry. I laid down 5 strips of bacon and cracked 4 eggs. I poured some milk. I ate it all. Bacon tastes great when you’re high.

 

Work dragged on. The plus of that is that I can keep up with orders pretty easily. I feel like I’m moving slow, so I push myself harder and work faster. It was an average day for business. I finished my shift and we all smoked again. I hit the bar. The ten minute drive was more pleasant than usual. My tunes were so good, I sat in my car for another 15 minutes to listen to a few more. I walked in the bar and they handed me my half pitcher. They knew. I wandered out back and lit up another cigarette. Chugged my beer. Got another. Went back outside and pulled out my stash. I rolled my j one-handed and downed my beer again. I went into the alley and lit up. I felt that release, but differently. Not as intense. Months of the same routine left me stale. So, I wandered the city.

 

Now, you guys now what the city is like. Users at almost every turn. Especially at 1 am. I rounded the corner and stood face-to-face with one of them. He was zoned. His cheek bones looked like they were fighting to stay inside his flesh. Whatever teeth he had were unrecognizable in the dark. He smiled. You wanna get high. He wasn’t asking. He was telling. And he was right. We walked to the end of the alley and took up shop behind the dumpster. It was a cold night. His shaky hands placed some powder into an old spoon. He ran his lighter under it until it bubbled up and melted. He pulled out a syringe and I watched as it sucked up the liquid. He handed it to me to hold. He took off his tie and placed it on his arm. I looked around at the alley. It was dirty, of course. Boxes and clothes and half-eaten food lining the ground. I think he lived there. He grabbed the syringe from my hand. I was distracted. The night was dancing in a little taunt. Like it knew what I was before I did.

 

After I decided the taunt was sufficient, I looked over and saw my new friend. He had slid over and looked pretty damn happy. I took the half-empty syringe out of his arm. Pulled the tie loose. Placed it around my bicep and pulled it tight. I have had my blood drawn enough to know how to do this. I have heart problems and got a lot of bloodwork done for it. I tapped the nook of my elbow a few times until I could see the veins pop. I flicked the syringe a little. Inserted it into the biggest vein. I could feel it slide into my skin. I was nervous, yeah. I was also still really fucked up. I pushed down the head of the syringe and felt the horse gallop through my veins. It was warm all of a sudden. I felt like I was safe. I felt like I was happy again. But, only for a little bit. I blacked out.

 

I woke up. It was 7 days later. I had OD’d. But not that night. No. I had 6 more days of use that I couldn’t account for. The doctor told me I was lucky to have survived. I had used enough heroin to kill even a hardcore user. I didn’t remember it. He told me about this group. So, now I’m here. Trying to figure out where I went wrong. And why. It’s a struggle. To not use. But, I need it. I need to be clean.

 

My name’s Travis. And I am 4 days sober.

Adrift

I awake. Cold and alone. Adrift in the open sea. The wreckage of my darling is still strewn about me like the blocks of a decimated building. I weep.
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I awoke. The day broke my eyes open with a gentle pry. The day of our voyage was upon me and I could already taste the salt on my lips. O, how long it had been since my last trip and I couldn’t contain my desire. My wife was already awake, preparing may traditional pre-voyage meal: a simple beef stew. She always made sure there was enough left for me to bring along for the first few days. The taste was especially delicious this morning as it foreshadowed the trip I was to take. She does not know my love for the sea far exceeds my love for her. She may, in fact. But, it has never troubled her because she still holds a place dear in my heart.
I grabbed my hat and pulled on my overcoat. The things I wear every day anyway felt especially comfortable and natural. I kissed her goodbye and told her I would be back within the week. I was off…
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Where did I go wrong? I took every measure the same as usual. Yet, when it hit, my love was devoured and now I lay here on a shred of her blouse gazing at the night sky. The stars have fled from my eyes as if I’m not worthy of their beauty. A chill sweeps over me. I must stay awake.
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My first mate greeted me with a hearty hug and asked me if I was happy to be back out at sea. I was, of course, but couldn’t let on any sort of passion to my crew. They must view me as strong and hardened. Besides, my first mate was sensitive enough for the whole damn crew. Ha. I walked onto the harbor as anticipation grew within me. The moment I set foot on the ship, I was ready to depart. The whole crew was on time. Except for our lookout. We waited patiently. A half an hour had passed before I decided we must depart, so we left.
We collectively inspected the ship to ensure its safety and that everything was in working order. Nothing unusual, so we each grabbed the rope that held the anchor and labored it onto the deck. We were off…
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The salt has taken on a new bitterness. I am chilled to the bone. The tears still linger. Frozen to my face. I can hardly breathe.
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Our deckhand had brought a barrel full of his homemade rum. He had, by far, the best damn rum a sailor had ever tasted. After navigating the shallows and settling into the open seas, we all sat around at high noon and drank and reminisced on past trips. Five years strong, this crew has faithfully served together. Our navigator had brought a few pounds of the tobacco from his crop, so we all pulled out our pipes and smoked together. We drank. We smoked. We ribbed on each other. The life of a sailor.
By the time the sun had set, we were wasted. Traditional for our crew. We all headed below deck to get some sleep for the night. We had an early morning.
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Dammit. The cold pierces. Must stay awake.
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We all awoke. Hungover and ready to start the day. I made a large pot of coffee for the crew and headed up to the deck to meet everyone. But, when I had arrived, I didn’t recognize the sea around me. We had forgotten to drop anchor last night. So, we all headed over and dropped it. Sunnuvabitch. I had no idea where we were, so my navigator and I went to the Captain’s room and began to scan the maps, looking out the portholes to try to recognize whatever landmarks we had approached through our telescopes. But, it was no good. We were lost. I had never been lost. Not knowing what to do, I retreated to my quarters to think. I savored the beef stew I had left. I drank some sweet rum. I smoked a few ounces of tobacco. Racking my brain.
There was a storm that night. One like I had never seen. It tossed us about and knocked our sails over. We were stuck until we could fix them. We were left. Cold and alone. Adrift in the open sea.
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I can’t quit coughing. The air is fighting its way into my lungs.
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This morning, we all awoke. Unsure of what the day would hold. Wherever we had drifted was impossibly cold, it seemed. We worked diligently at our sails. Noon came and we all stopped to eat and drink and smoke. Conferring over how soon we could finish our sails. Our deckhand had just told a side-splitter of a joke when the boat jarred us to the side and a loud crash entered my ears. My darling was hit. That damned lookout never showed and my darling was hit. Time seemed to slow down as my love began to unravel. I could see every splintering of her hull and every ripping of her blouse. I watched helplessly as a couple of our crew sank into the shards of her destruction. Another loud bang resounded in my ears and I whipped my head over just in time to see a cannonball strike my darling. We had wandered into pirate territory. I witnessed my first mate, my long time friend, crushed by the cannonball, but it moved me not nearly as much as the destruction of my ship.
A third cannonball launched in my direction. But this time, the noise was nonexistent and my only point of reference were my angry eyes leering at the ship approaching us. I felt the ground give way underneath me and throw me backwards. My lover was angry with my negligence and she saw fit to punish me accordingly. And as the boards propelled me, time slowed even further as I saw my wife weeping over an empty casket. Then, there was the cold… I awoke. Cold and alone. Adrift in the open sea.
The water was colder than the night was menacing. I turned and look to see the pirate ship retreating, having accomplished its mission. O, what a fool I was. I slept.
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I awake. The wreckage of my darling is still strewn about me like the blocks of a decimated building. I weep. Where did I go wrong? I took every measure the same as usual. Yet, when it hit, my love was devoured and now I lay here on a shred of her blouse gazing at the night sky. The stars have fled from my eyes as if I’m not worthy of their beauty. A chill sweeps over me. I must stay awake.
The salt has taken on a new bitterness. I am chilled to the bone. The tears still linger. Frozen to my face. I can hardly breathe.
Dammit. The cold pierces. Must stay awake. I can’t quit coughing. The air is fighting its way into my lungs.
Each breath… Is a burden…
Can’t sleep…
But I’ve… Grown weary…
My love… Gone… Gone…
Forgive me… My love…
I sleep.

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…
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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?