The horrors of the past meet the brutality of the present
Gathered around the warmth of the wood stove they dined on cans of Spam Maria had retrieved from the basement. They were outdated by a number of years, as was everything else in this world, yet they had been stored in a cool dry place so there was little chance of getting sick. Over time their bodies had adapted to the changes forced upon them anyway, making outdated food less of a danger than it might have been, and a welcome change from the steady diet of rabbit, squirrel, and deer.
“So where are you guys from?” Maria said.
“A place just down the road a piece, past the bend in the river, you know, on the right,” Billie-Bob said, drawing a look from Meat that warned him to be careful.. “I’m not telling her anything important.”
“What’s wrong?” Maria said, glancing from Billie-Bob to Meat with a worried expression.
“They’re all a bunch of old ladies where we come from, always afraid someone will find them. They’re as bad as my brother.” Billie-Bob said.
“You have a brother? What’s his name? Is he older? Younger? I’m sorry I haven’t had anyone to talk to in so long.” Maria said.
“His name’s Bobbie, and he’s the same age as me.”
“And you’re Billie-Bob, right?” Maria said, a look of confusion slowly creeping into her expression.
“Just Billie, they call me Billie-Bob because me and my brother are twins and when we were growing up we’d trade places to confuse people, everyone calls us both Billie-Bob now.”
“It all sounds so confusing.”
“How long has your dad been gone?” Meat said.
“He left a year or so ago I think, I’m not really sure, we’ve been hiding here for such a long time. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“They call me Meat,” he said as he extended his hand, hoping to once again hold hers.
“Why such an odd name?” Maria said, then stopped, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“It’s all right.”
“It was only you and your Mom?” Gregory said.
“Since last year I think, Jamie, he was my younger brother, he came down with a fever and died, we buried him,” here she faltered as the memory overwhelmed her. Billie-Bob rested his hand on her back and she turned in her seat to bury her face against his shoulder.
Her actions sparked a touch of jealousy in Meat who had sat on her other side patiently listening to her and Billie-Bob. Everyone became quiet as Maria fought to get her emotions under control. Window had remained quiet throughout, eating when Meat instructed him to do so, a part of the group in only a physical sense. It seemed like he was off in a world all his own.
Meat noticed Einstein watching Window very closely.
He knew what was wrong and needed to get it out in the open as soon as possible if they were to be successful, much less survive what they intended to do. It wouldn’t do them any good as a group to have two of their members angry at one another. Then there was the question of Maria and what to do with her. He didn’t really want her to come along. Not with what they planned to do. He’d only allowed Gregory to accompany them as he had lost his wife and daughter to that roving band of savage children, his motives for coming along were pretty obvious.
There would be no survivors, that decision had been made before they even left the compound, it was one of the stipulation the council had put on their little trip. They were to leave no survivors who could reveal the location of Bremo Bluff. It was simply a matter of survival and the presence of that group, especially since they now knew what lay at Bremo Bluff, meant they would have to be destroyed.
“Is anything wrong?” Meat said.
“More than you realize,” Einstein said as his gaze drifted over to Meat. His brow was wrinkled in anger, reminding Meat of their first meeting in the classes they attended when Einstein was eight. It was during recess and Einstein had been cornered by two of the larger boys in class, even after an apocalypse some things never changed, bullies would always go after those they perceived as being weaker, though in this new reality weakness was sometimes characterized by an unwillingness to do what was necessary to survive.
They had been learning to raise rabbits, the three R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic, had been replaced in this new reality by resource, raise, and re-purpose. Rabbit meat was good and with the animal’s ability to reproduce it had become a staple of the community. They had reached the last lesson, harvesting, and the instructor had shown them how to quickly and efficiently break the rabbit’s neck to minimize its suffering.
It was at this point Einstein hesitated, having become quite attached to his charges; he was unable to bring himself to kill the animals he’d spent the past three months caring for. The two biggest boys in the group had no problem with harvesting and quickly dispatched their own small herds before moving among their classmates dispatching what the others hesitated to kill. When they came to Einstein he tried to stop them, his actions angering the boys who took a great deal of pleasure in the suffering of Einstein’s animals, dragging out its death as the rabbit screamed in agony.
A rabbit’s scream is something that stays with a person, a cry reminiscent of a baby’s squall. A chilling sound that stirred old memories that were better left undisturbed as the image of that lone door at the end of a shadowy hallway invaded Meat’s mind.
Einstein had thrown himself at his tormentors in a flurry of fists that were as ineffective as was his ability to do what was needed to survive. The teacher intervened, an old man who had less patience for Einstein’s feelings than for those of the rabbits he’d been teaching them to raise.
At the time Meat and Window had been hanging out together since Window’s arrival. Naturally gravitating to one another, two lost souls seeking confirmation that they were not alone in this world. Their paths to The Bluffs, while somewhat the same, were as different as the night and day. Two years older than Einstein they had already taken the class for raising rabbits and currently oversaw several small herds they’d started from rabbits they had captured beyond the fence. In the small school yard they came upon Einstein cornered by his tormentors. His ferocity in the face of such odds impressing even Window.
Einstein simply refused to give up. With a busted lip, one eye nearly swollen closed, and blood from his nose smearing the front of his shirt he had stood his ground. Holding his fists up in a vain attempt to defend himself as they pummeled him at their leisure.
“Don’t seem fair two against one,” Window said as he came up behind them.
“This ain’t none of your business, Window,” Franklin, the oldest said. His father was currently serving on the council and from the way Franklin acted you’d think it was he who was serving. The fact that his family had been among the founders of this outpost further added to his sense of entitlement.
“I’m making it my business,” Window said.
“I don’t need no help,” Einstein said through tears of anger and frustration.
“Could have fooled me.”
Franklin and his friend turned their attention from Einstein to Window, two big boys who were confident they had the upper hand. Meat saw the look in Window’s eyes, a wild glee, a barely restrained rage that flashed in greedy anticipation. Faster than they could react Window drove into Franklin’s friend, hyper extending his knee with a well placed kick right beneath the kneecap, followed up with a one two combination that doubled him over and set him up for a crushing uppercut that sent him falling to the ground like a tree felled in the forest.
It happened so fast Franklin barely had time to react. One moment he and his friend were towering over what they considered easy pickings. The next second his friend was lying at his feet unconscious while Window stood silently in front of him, his hands on his hips as he gazed up at him with quiet eyes.
Franklin held up his hands as he backed away from Window, “I don’t want no parts of this,” he said.
“That should even things up for you,” Window said before he turned on the ball of one foot and walked away.
With a smile Einstein advanced on Franklin, who once he was alone, suddenly realized just how vulnerable he really was.
The memory receded as Meat once more came face to face with the problem that was growing within his own ranks. Twice now Window and Einstein had clashed over differences. At the barn Window had been right and Einstein was wrong. But now there appeared to be a new problem.
“It’s like he’s trying to get me killed,” Einstein said.
Window jumped to his feet and walked to the back door. His gaze fixed on the forest behind the house.
“What’s wrong?’ Maria said looking up from Billie-Bob’s shoulder as Window brushed past her.
Window pushed through the back door and raced down the steps into the backyard. He ran across the yard, vanishing into the forest behind the house.
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