9 AM

6 Nov

Fuck. All the science and technology in the world couldn’t come up with a cure for hangovers, can you believe that? Can’t even go back to sleep, not with that stench and the hammering my head’s taking right now. And what do you know, there’s a man standing at the door with a crowbar. He looks vaguely pissed, like someone just drank his coffee or something. Squeezing my eyes shut and opening them again doesn’t make him go away, he’s probably real. He’s still staring at me so I do the polite thing and stare back.

“You stink.”, he says.

“You’re ugly.”, I point out. I’m not a morning person. The staring contest is about to start again – which I really don’t need – so I sit at the edge of the bed wondering where my beer went. I could do with a drink of water too.

“You could use this”, I hear Mr. Crowbar say. When I raise my head I see him dropping a white pill into a bottle of water. Water. I ask my new best friend what the white pill was, and “Iodine” comes the curt reply. Told you he looked like a good guy, didn’t I? Some of the water goes on the blanket which I use to wipe off of my shirt some of what was in my stomach last night. Feeling better, it comes to mind that I should repay his kindness.

“Care for a beer?”. A smile! I got a smile out of the sphinx!

“What brings you to this part of town?” I’m curious, not many people come through on a good day, let alone today.

“I’m just passing through. Saw the dogs drag out some meat from the freezer downstairs, figured there might be some food I can find.”

“Yeah, those dogs are all right. You leave them be and they don’t bother you. Used to belong to folks who lived around here. What kind of people run and leave their pets behind, man? Anyway – where are you headed?”

“West”, he says, putting the bottle back in his bag. He must be lost, so I try to save him some time before he leaves.

“You sure you want to go west? There isn’t much west of here.”

“I’m sure.”, says the talkative bloke. Just can’t get this guy to shut up. He’s out and I can hear the door at the staircase creaking as he opens it, so I shout to be sure he’s heard me, “All right, if you insist that strongly I’ll come along.”

“Ha – I think I’m fine by myself, thanks.”

“You said you were looking for food, and that grumbling isn’t coming from my belly. Trust me when I say – I’m doing you a favour by coming along. Besides, if you’re going west, you’ve got to be almost wherever you want to be – and my axe-murdering days are behind me.”

 

8 AM

4 Nov

The damned crows are at it again, and going by the sound they’ve found something tasty. Don’t they know what day it is? Even God didn’t wake up this early on a Sunday. At least I got in a good night’s sleep. Getting out of this bed is going to be harder than I thought, my first proper mattress after God knows how many nights. Whoever owned this house never appreciated this bed as much as I do now, let me tell you that. Might as well check out what the crows are feasting on. The window’s barred but there’s enough gaps to peek out, and off to the right I can see a whole murder of crows going at it. Looks like some dogs dragged out a huge chunk of some unidentifiable meat from a butcher’s, and there’s plenty to go around. For a moment I’m jealous – they really don’t know what day it is.

My stomach’s making that grumbling noise again, it has been a long time since my last meal – wonder what can be scavenged from the pantry below. That wooden dresser is going to be a bitch to move from the door, and you could ask what was the point of barricading the door today of all days. It’s just a force of habit, all right? Sleep comes much easier when I don’t have to worry about who else is in the same room. Besides, the locks on all the doors in this house have been broken a long time ago, and without that dresser keeping it shut – well, just keep in mind that unidentifiable piece of meat those dogs were dragging out on the street. Streets are full of animals, on four legs and two.

The pantry’s seen better days – which doesn’t come as a surprise any more. This place has been ransacked a few times over now, most recently by myself, and folks were kind enough to leave behind whatever didn’t fit into their bags. All that’s left for breakfast is a couple of cans of tomato paste. Still, that’s better than nothing. I’m not even looking for a can-opener, no one in their right minds would leave behind a can-opener if they found one here. I was in my right mind once, luckily – my pocket knife’s fed me more times than I care to count. The tomato paste disappears in no time at all, when the sound of dogs barking grows louder uncomfortably fast. They’re probably chasing something they’ve seen up the street but my hand grabs my crowbar all by itself anyway. I don’t want to probably make it through today. The sound of the pack grows and then starts to fade away, my grip on the crowbar relaxing but still firm. There’s nothing else to be had in the pantry, but a house as big as this has other fun things. The pool in the backyard, for example.

The water’s been stagnating for a couple of weeks at least, but there’s nothing in it besides fallen leaves and branches from the big oak tree next to it. Doing slow backstrokes through the pool, looking up at the sky, I could almost lie to myself that it was just another Sunday. But the sun’s finally coming out over the trees and I guess I’m on a schedule whether I like it or not. The towel’s going to take a few minutes to dry off, and I don’t want to leave it behind even today. While it’s drying off on the grass, I fish out Dune from the few prized possessions stowed away in my backpack. I probably know most of this book by heart, but sit with your favourite book on a Sunday morning under a tree by a pool and it could be any Sunday morning.

Before I know it a half hour’s already passed by, and I’ve got some distance to cover today. It’s quiet all around except for the occasional crow or the bark of a dog – this town was a nice place to end up in. Dune goes back into the backpack, towel goes into the plastic bag (whoever started the replace plastic-bags-with-paper can suck it, these plastic bags are a lifesaver), and I bring out my sneakers and the motorcycle gloves. The gloves are not for the rugged look, they’re for the crowbar. Wallet? Check. Pocket-knife? Check. Crowbar? Double-check. Both my water bottles are empty, so I go to the pool one more time. My progress has been slow for many days now, so it doesn’t take me long to find out where I am on the map – around 10 miles from where I want to be by the day’s end.

It makes sense to head first towards where the dogs dragged out the chunk of meat. Not because I want the meat, but because there’s probably some source of food nearby where there just might be something that isn’t rotting. Besides, those many birds and dogs usually mean there are no people to scare them away. No people is good news, no people is no complications and no need to keep looking over my shoulder all the time. What? Too anti-social for you? See, I’m a believer in the goodness of man and hearts uniting in times of despair and all that, but the sunshine-and-rainbows phase ended quite some time back. When the food stops coming in, the power goes out and no one answers 911, people look after themselves and theirs – don’t you tell me you wouldn’t. Stories kept floating around about people getting together to build strongholds and bunkers for the bad days, strength in numbers and all that. But come on, no place is going to run without someone doing the dirty work, and the food’s going to run out everywhere. What do you think will happen then? Lord of the Flies inside a bunker, that’s what.

No thank you, unless someone’s a life-long mate of mine, they’re not coming with me. I didn’t get this far by being a bleeding heart. Or by being reckless, so up the attic I go and take a look around, just in case there’s a pack of dogs or coyotes nearby I haven’t spotted. It’d be stupid to take a turn and suddenly have 20 new four-legged friends for lunch. It’s all quiet nearby, and there’s nothing in the streets to worry about – still, proceed with caution. Walking slowly and quietly, I give the big chunk of meat up the road a wide berth – but it’s clear where it came from, there’s tiny bits of meat strewn over the road, flies pinpointing the locations as if they weren’t visible enough already. A solitary dog is off to the corner, working on a haunch of something he’s ripped from the pile – he considers me for a moment, and decides I’m to be forgiven for intruding on his meal.

I walk sideways and slowly until I’m sure the dog is really not interested in me, until I find the small market at the end of the trail. The power’s out here as elsewhere, and the sliding doors are permanently shut but the glass has been broken – getting in isn’t a problem. There’s no point even trying the freezer, anything in there is no longer edible. The display case for the pastries has been scoured clean, but the counter is still worth a look – maybe someone had a secret sweet tooth, and if I’m lucky I’ll find their secret stash. But it’s never happened so far, and it doesn’t happen now. Behind the counter is a dark staircase, at the top of which I can see a door lying slightly ajar. It’s quiet everywhere, and there are no sounds from behind the door, so I quietly push it open. At the far end of the room is a small dining table with a lamp overhead (bulb missing), next to a fireplace with no wood. The clock on the mantelpiece reminds me it’s ten minutes to 9, I shouldn’t be spending too much time here. This looks like the place where the folks who ran the place downstairs must have stayed. The kitchen looks bare, all the cupboards lying open and bits of broken plates here and there. A slight breeze comes in from somewhere, bringing with it a smell of something – like half-eaten, wasting food. It’s coming from a doorway off the to the left, and I proceed, crowbar at the ready.

It’s the bedroom and compared to where I’d spent the night, it’s a downright dump. The window glass is cracked, the dresser’s overturned, and there’s bottles of all sorts alcohol lying everywhere (some half full). And on what’s passing for a ped, someone is lying facedown in a pool of their own vomit. I don’t even want to go in there, so I turn around to leave. I’ve taken barely a step, when behind me something falls to the floor. Leave, I think. Turning around I see the culprit – a bottle of a dark something lying on the floor, spilling it’s contents slowly, freshly fallen from the limp hand half a foot above it. The owner of the hand is still immobile, and a second later he lets out a groan. Propping himself up on his other arm, he turns his head towards me, and our eyes lock.