Foreword: The Messiah Modification: Modified Klebsiella Planticola
It was lauded as an agricultural revolution. Scientists had managed to modify a strain of bacteria that were present in the root system of every plant called Klebsiella planticola. Typically when a plant breaks down, it produces a sludge that is potentially detrimental to other surrounding plants that needs to be removed/neutralized. These modified bacteria would instead turn that decomposition into ethanol, otherwise known as alcohol.
Years of research and study failed to see the obvious flaw in the design, which was plants’ inability to survive in soil with a high concentration of alcohol. This little oversight was overlooked until it was too late. Once the modified bacterium was released it proliferated and quickly rendered the once thriving farmland of the Mideast infertile. Agriculturalists tried to contain the damage, but Pandora’s box had already been opened.
The trade winds were what damned the world. What was once one nation’s tragedy quickly spread and infected other countries through wind currents, which carried the modified bacterium to new continents. Within three months, half of the world’s land had been infected. Half a year later, roughly seventy-five percent of cultivatable land was rendered useless for planting. Nine months after the ‘agricultural revolution’ was unleashed on the world. Every single root system had been infected by Klebsiella planticola.
On the anniversary of the cataclysm, scientists ‘saved’ the world with another modified bacterium. This one also targeted the root system and allowed it to absorb the alcohol that lay in the soil without killing the plant. Of course the damage had already been done. A byproduct of absorbing the alcohol in the soil was that the seeds, plants, and fruits/vegetables were tainted and contained high levels of alcohol. Eating one fruit was now the rough equivalent of taking one shot. It would have seemed like an alcoholic’s wet dream had it not decimated the world and resulted in the deaths of millions.
Once a majority of the untainted crops and preservatives were consumed, humanity had no choice but to use and eat the crops that had been tainted with the bacterium. The first few weeks were lost in a drunken haze of chaos and alcoholic inhibition. Those that managed to find a medium and not be consumed by the chaos eventually built up a bit of tolerance to an alcohol-laden diet and despite this cruel new world, they managed to continue living.
This will focus on a few people in their attempts to survive in this place as they, and the world itself, continues to shamble on to their drunken end.
I felt the room begin to spin and I tried my best to distract myself. I didn’t want to throw up and lose all the hard work I spent trying to fill my stomach. The best way I found to prevent this was to focus on the irony of my situation. A few years ago, I would have welcomed the idea of being perpetually drunk, but that was while I was still viewing the world from the bottom of a bottle. Now I don’t have much choice in the matter.
I thought back on what they had told me back at my intervention. They self-righteously explained to me how I would consume myself and become a hollow shell. I might have listened to them if my family or friends had attended, but instead the ‘circle of friends’ that had convened was only comprised of work friends. They hadn’t really cared about me. They were worried about the hospital’s reputation. They wouldn’t have minded if I drowned in my own sick in my off-time, but the fact that I had come in to work once or twice hung-over was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
They had spouted pointless platitudes at me. They said they cared, but in actuality, the only thing they cared about was the hospital’s status as the top care provider in the Lower Michigan area. I nodded, wept a few crocodile tears, and promised I would quit drinking. I had no plans to stop, but some empty assurances were all they really wanted after all. I had built up the perfect system for getting by. A couple of shots after work and over the weekend was enough to keep the memories at bay of my childhood bedroom door creaking open, feeling my foster father’s fetid breath on my face, and his rough, calloused hand sliding up my leg as I desperately pretended to be asleep.
I only slipped a few times and those were never my fault. A persistent prick at the hospital or bar who didn’t know when to take no for an answer or a message from my foster mother set me off and made me want to drown the feeling. The day I had come into work hung-over was a result of a Facebook message reminding me that it was the anniversary of that bastard’s death. He had had a heart attack in my bed. He had overexerted himself and was clasping at his chest and gasping as the last little bit of air in his lungs was wrenched away from him. I watched for a few minutes before I put his pants back on and called for help once I was sure it was too late to save him.
My tolerance was what saved me in the first few weeks of the alcoholic apocalypse. I was already used to a liquid diet and the prospect of ingesting four or five shots alongside my food was not a daunting prospect. The trick, as is the case with being a high-functioning alcoholic, is moderation. Eat a little bit at a time and space your meals out. Most tried to eat everything all at once to save themselves from the taste (which is akin to a bitter liquor), but that only led to them getting sick. Slow and steady was the key.
My distraction worked and the room evened itself out. I focused on an object sitting on a shelf. I was clear-headed enough to tell what it was (a dented and puffy can of split peas), which meant that I was sober enough to continue scavenging. I would be able to treat any cuts and would be straight enough to know whether or not I was making a stupid decision. In a world where a majority of people’s inhibition is lowered, that the prospect of mugging someone seems to have little drawback, being restrained is the difference between life and death.
I turned to the source of the noise and scurried behind a counter. Hiding was a much better option than trying to talk to an unknown person and determine if they were dangerous or not. I could always observe them and make a judgment call. I crouched down and peered over the edge at the source of the noise. I waited for them to come into view.
He stumbled into view, his clothes were loose and looked like they hadn’t belonged to him until only a couple of hours ago. He was humming the tune of a limerick to himself. If I had to guess, I would assume it was about a man from Nantucket and his disproportionate genitalia. He moved sluggishly and sloppily. He was likely drunk, which wouldn’t have been a big problem were it not for the other symptoms.
His nose was a bright rose-red that only came from a lifetime of drinking and burst capillaries. His movements were choppy as if he had to think through every action before he took it. His head lolled about like there was no musculature in his neck. His eyes were glossed over and he mumbled to himself. His skin looked like it was covered in a sheen of sweat and sticky beer froth. I could smell the booze wafting off of him. This wasn’t a normal person struggling to adjust to life after the cataclysm; this wasn’t a man at all.
This was a wet-brainer.
Back when I worked in the hospital, every now and then we would deal with late stage alcoholics who were literally drinking themselves to death. Some suffered from an affliction called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It was commonly found in people who drank excessive amounts of alcohol over a prolonged period of years. Common symptoms were: sluggish/uncoordinated motor skills (even when sober), minor auditory and visual hallucinations, erratic behavior, quickness to ire and irrational behavior, and fluctuating emotions.
In the drunk tank our world had become, these were the wildcards. At times they were lethargic and at others they were downright psychotic. I remembered one sufferer at the hospital forcing his way through three burly security guards, breaking one’s nose and another’s ribs, to get to a bottle of rubbing alcohol, which didn't even have the right type of alcohol for getting inebriated. These people were dangerous and I was trapped in a supermarket with one.
My safest option was to keep quiet and hope that he was just passing through. He could be completely robotic and just running through motions of days long-past, or he could be suffering a psychotic break from reality. It was a flip of the coin and I didn’t like those odds. It was best to avoid them completely. I was hunched behind the counter when my stomach betrayed me and growled.
It was a long, deep, hollow sound and I could practically hear his entire body whip in my direction. There was a brief pause while I fabricated hopes that he hadn’t heard it. Of course those dreams were shattered when he howled, “I know you’re in here! I can smell you. Oh, your aroma!”
I scrunched myself into my hiding spot. If he was bluffing, I would rather not give him a cause to search me out if he was unsure. He continued with his over-exaggerated sniffing and catcalls. He drunkenly crooned, “Oh, I can tell, you’re wet… Are you excited for me? Come out and I’ll treat you to the glory I’m packing. I’m using it as a belt right now.”
This was clearly someone who had completely broken from reality. I had no intentions of indulging in his depravities. I heard him stumbling about the room, kicking discarded cans and trash as he moved. The constant influx of alcohol had rendered him insensate. The thought of sleeping with him, despite the fact that his sperm count was likely abysmal roiled my stomach. I still didn’t want to suffer the experience of being with him.
I vowed to keep quiet until he passed.
My stomach had other things in mind. It growled once again and I could hear the man change direction towards the counter I was crouched behind. My position had been given away. I took a moment to steel myself. I would need to put on a strong front if I was going to confront this wet-brainer. A strong stance would likely discourage him from any advances. Once I was sufficiently fortified, I rose up from behind the counter just in time to see him jump up on it.
In the time it had taken me to build up my resolve, he had somehow managed to strip down to nothing. He hopped up on the checkout counter with surprising litheness. At the sudden movement, his now-exposed testicles were sent flip-flopping around between his legs. It looked like a sad little worm tucked between two shriveled grapes. It would have been comical if not for the gun in his hands.
He gestured toward me with the handgun and spoke with drunken bravado, “Found you.” I winced. He had his finger on the trigger and all that lay between a bullet perforating my chest was an intoxicated twitch of the hand.
I spoke cautiously; trying to reason with him, “Let’s talk this through for a second.”
“The time for talking is over. I must plant my seed. I am the only one left capable of fathering children.” He noticed my incredulous look and demanded lewdly, “I don’t have whiskey dick, I... uh, just need a bit to get the juices flowing. Strip for me.” He raised his gun to show that he was through with talking and wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He wanted me to strip for him and I didn't have much choice in the matter.
My skin crawled as I slowly gyrated and danced a bit. He sat down on the counter as he watched me humiliate myself. I slowly began unbuttoning my shirt as I desperately tried to think of a way out of this. At this range, he could spray the area with semi-automatic fire if I tried to run. The gun was still in his hand so I couldn’t overpower him either. He began to stroke his flaccid length at the prospect of seeing more of my skin and I almost dry-heaved at the prospect.
I was sliding off my button-up shirt when the answer came to me. He was now frantically tugging at his shame with both hands in a frantic attempt to disprove his previous whiskey dick statement with his gun was within hand’s reach at his side. I began to helicopter my shirt above my head.
He snapped, tired of waiting, “Quit stalling and take off your bra-” His words were cut short when I threw my shirt at him and covered his face with it. He immediately swore and pawed at the gun he had next to him, limiting my options. I sprinted for the aisles as he pulled my shirt off his face and grabbed the gun. I had hoped that he was too drunk for gunplay and the prospect of chasing me down would dissuade him.
He thought otherwise.
As I rounded the corner to duck into an aisle, I heard the crack of a gun and a jar of pickles that had fermented with time exploded, dousing me in its boozy-brine. I kept running as the smell soaked into my hair and made me want to vomit. I heard his feet slapping the ground behind me. He fired again as soon as he rounded the corner of the aisle. I felt the bullet whiz by me. I skidded to a stop at a frozen food section and went to duck into another aisle. I hazarded a look at him to see if he was catching up and that was my biggest mistake.
He charged through the aisle like a bull with his handgun raised. He squeezed the trigger three times in rapid succession. The glass behind me exploded inward and another bullet pinged off a metal girder nearby. I started to run when the third round caught me in the shoulder and sent me sprawling into the garbage and glass that littered the supermarket floor.
The bullet had torn through the flesh of my left shoulder and shattered my scapula on its way out. I would have limited range of motion after this, but it wasn’t fatal. The alcohol thinned my blood and made my wound weep. The glass and trash dug into my back and cut at my skin. The pain made me want to pass out, but I knew that that wouldn’t stop him from having his way with me. I began to crawl through the debris in an attempt to get further away from him.
He dragged himself into view, wheezing and panting at his exertions. Sweat trickled off of his beer-belly and got trapped in his matted pubic hair. He walked towards me slowly as a grin spread across his face. His bare-feet crunched glass with each step, but he was likely too drunk to even feel it. He sank to his knees when he caught up to me and pressed himself against my body.
I screamed as he began to grope me, but I knew that no one would be responding to my cry. He tore my bra and I winced as the clasp dug into my back as it was striped away. He pawed at my breast while slurring, “Shhh, it’ll be over soon. Once you’re pregnant, I’ll take care of you. We’ll repopulate the world and survive. With my genes, our kids will be able to tolerate the environment. I can take care of them. I'll take care of you.” I started to cry.
He tried to kiss me; his breath was rancid and stank of stale beer. One hand trailed to his semi-hard length while another slid into my panties. I couldn’t move, my body locked up and my mind crashed into catatonia. I wasn’t lubricated and he was rough. He dug into me as if searching for some hidden place that his delving could uncover. It hurt. I cringed my eyes shut and tried to kill the memories bubbling up at the surface.
I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and imagine I was somewhere else, somewhere far away. I wanted to pretend I was asleep until he was done. I heard a small girl crying and I recognized the voice. “If I don’t do something, this won’t end; it will never end.” I opened my eyes and stared down as he attempted to line himself up. My hand shot out and pawed desperately amongst the trash. I wrapped my hand around a shard of glass and knew what was coming.
He was too focused lining up his own thrust to see mine coming. I stabbed into the soft of his stomach and pierced his diaphragm. He gasped in shock as I shoved him away from me. He flopped onto his back as I straddled him and pinned him down. I raised the shard of glass and stabbed into the exposed fat. I knew it was cutting into my palm, but I didn’t care. I knew it would leave a scar. I knew there was no way I was leaving this place without scars.
I kept stabbing until he stopped struggling. I stood up as he writhed on the ground with eight stab wounds in his torso. I tried to let go of the glass, but it was fixed in my hand with our blood intermingling. I looked over his form. Blood dribbled out of the seven-inch punctures I left in him. He squirmed and tried to curl up into himself as if the motion would help him stem the bleeding. It wouldn’t.
In that moment, he wasn’t a stranger. I watched my stepfather writhing on the ground, trying to press his blood back into his body. I remembered the night he died. His breath was coming out in ragged gasps. My eyes were tightly shut, fearful of the night he would ask me if I was awake; afraid of the time when he would demand that I participate. I only opened my eyes when I heard him roll of the bed and hit the ground with a heavy thud. I got out of bed and watched him feebly gasp for help. His eyes met mine and recognition filled them. He knew why I was doing this. He knew what was happening and that prospect terrified him. I watched as his breathing stilled. I thanked God for heart attacks. I stayed by his cold form for an hour until I was certain that he was dead.
The man in the supermarket was not my father. His fate had been more brutal, more painful. I had punctured his diaphragm, even if I had decided to try and treat him, he would likely still die. I had no desire to save him. He didn’t deserve to be saved. He realized what was happening and what was coming. He howled and for a brief second, it came off as a low, mournful sound like some sort of supermarket ghost damned to wander the aisles trying to figure out what had gone wrong in its life.
Once he was gone, I took his handgun; there were a few bullets left. It likely wouldn’t deter any wet-brainers, but it gave me the sense of security I felt like I needed in that moment. My bra was ruined, but I was able to salvage my button-up shirt. I put it on and walked over to his bunched-up clothes he had hastily discarded in his rush to rape me. I was tempted to leave them, but I wanted to check to see if he had anything valuable.
One pocket seemed to be completely filled with beer tabs. The other had some loose change and two spare bullets. I loaded it and was about to walk away, but something stopped me. I turned the pocket filled with beer tabs inside-out and let them all spill out onto the linoleum. Dozens upon dozens of tabs fell out and jingled pointlessly onto the ground, building a small monument in celebration of his sickness. Within the cascade of junk was two items. I knelt down and picked them up.
The first was an old Polaroid photo that had been balled up and worn with time. He looked younger by a couple of decades, but it definitely was the wet-brainer. The man was in a hospital room. He was sitting in a chair and clutching a newborn baby to his chest. The look he had on his face was that of adulation and exaltation. It was apparent that he truly loved this baby. The crumpled Polaroid slid out of my hand and came to a rest on the mountain of tabs.
The other item looked like a poker chip. It was plainly colored and worn around the edges, as if someone had spent a lot of time rubbing the plastic disk in their hand while debating whether or not they were going to continue. On the chip was inscribed the following words: “XXV: ‘To thine own self be true.’” I looked over the photo, did the math, and added up the years. Once I was certain, I returned to the naked man to dress him.
Just like before; I decided that I would re-dress him. And just like the first time with my stepfather, I wept while I did it. Unlike that night those three decades ago, where I wept for myself, this time I wailed for someone else. This time it was for the man. I didn’t cry over what he was, but for what he once was. I dressed him and left the family photo and the sobriety chip clasped in his sticky, cold hands. I couldn’t stop. Tears continued pouring out of me like blood from a stab wound. I wept for myself now, I wept for the world as well. Not for what we had become, but for what we once were and what we could never return to.
Let me preface this all by saying how sorry I am. When I first felt you kick within me, I knew you would be strong. It didn’t matter what they told me or what I saw; I knew you were strong when you clenched my finger in your hands. I knew that you would be a shining beacon of light in this world. You grasped my finger so tight that I was certain that it would break under the pressure. We had suffered so much, so many indignities, I was sure that you would live up to your name. I was right; you were strong. You were the strongest child I’d ever met.
I feel like I have to tell you about how you came to be. You deserve that much. You were a miracle. I never assumed that I was ready for children. Whenever the topic came up, I always explained that I wasn’t ready for that responsibility. How could I care for such an innocent thing when I couldn’t even care for myself? I was still a baby myself and unable to bear the responsibilities of being both a child and a parent. I always told myself that I wasn’t ready for any of this, but in the end, it wasn’t me who chose the time. It was God.
He wasn’t the prince I had always hoped for. He didn’t hold me close to him when the time came. He didn’t kiss away my tears as he pressed himself into me. He didn’t make me feel safe; he didn’t make me feel warm, he didn’t make me feel loved. He only filled me with an aching that still resounds inside me. He didn’t hold me close, he only held me down when the time came. He withdrew from me and I only felt emptiness.
I won’t lie, when he left, I tried to scrape you out of me. I desperately pawed and tried to dig you out. It wasn’t your fault; it was mine. I couldn’t stand the fact that at the very end of things, I wouldn’t remember much about my first time. At the very end of things, I wouldn’t want to tell you about your father. The only things I knew about him was that he was harsh and he smelled saccharine sweet, like fermented fruits.
You didn’t deserve to hear that. You were innocent and pink. None of this was your fault. So every night, I held my stomach and felt you turn and twist in my embrace. I told you sweet stories. I told you that your father was a sweet and compassionate man; I told you that he would teach you how to be strong. I told you that he would be here. Not the actual man, but someone better. Someone you deserved to have.
In the end, there was no one except you and I. The people who had vowed to support me drifted apart after the first sign that something was wrong. I tried to hide the stomachaches and the discomfort but once the symptoms were there, they knew what they had to do. I wasn’t the person that they had wanted. I wasn’t their salvation. You weren’t their salvation. You weren’t going to be a shining beacon rising from the tainted world unaffected.
That was fine. It didn’t matter that you weren’t perfect, you were in me and that was all that mattered. I carried you for the next couple of months and tried to keep you safe. I tried to avoid alcohol when I could but towards the end, I realized that I had no choice. There was nothing left in the world and our only option was to eat what we could. It was bitter and every bite reminded me that I was hurting you. I hoped you were strong enough to adjust to this new world but with each passing day, I knew that that wasn’t true.
I held you within me until I grew gravid. I felt you struggle to break free into the world, but I kept you inside me. I wanted a few more moments to keep you all to myself. You were a bright beacon and I wanted that light all to myself. I don’t regret my decision. I pressed you into myself and felt your warmth and light suffuse my core. You were my hope and light.
That light died a few weeks later. The stomach pains became more frequent and my excuses began to dry up like water in a drought. I held tight to the belief that you were a miracle. You weren’t just a child; you were the salvation of our future. They didn’t see it, as the issue persisted, they slowly abandoned me. They knew what was coming and they couldn’t bear to watch it happen again.
You decided to make your light known at the most inopportune time. I was only a few miles from the nearest town when my water broke. My first reaction was to foolishly press the liquid back into me as if that would stall the process. It didn’t, and as I watched the amniotic trickle through my fingers, I realized that your time had come and that you would greet the world out in the wilderness.
I laid down and hiked up my legs. I had no idea what I was doing, but that didn’t matter. I fortified myself with the conclusion that you would be strong enough for the both of us. I prayed you would not be a breach birth, and you answered my prayers. You came gently and my intoxication numbed any pain I would have felt. It took three hours for you to emerge into this world. You brightened it up the moment you arrived.
You darkened it fifteen minutes later when you passed away.
You didn’t come into this world crying like a normal child. You were quiet. I pulled you towards me and felt your umbilical cord press against my stomach as I held you close. It was cold; you were colder than you should have been.
Your eyes were so close together and it almost seemed as if you had a third eye in the middle of your face. There was a hole there through which I could see your final moments. Your eyes had not developed and your nose was little more than a bump above your lip. You struggled to breathe. I held you close to me and sang to you in your final moments.
I sang songs my mother used to sing to me as a child. I sang sweet saccharine songs as you fought to breathe in my embrace. You wanted to persevere so much that you continued living for much longer than you should have. I held you even after you became cold. I held you as you turned blue. I held you as I dug your grave and laid you to rest. I still hold onto you even to this day. I will never let go. Gabriel, you are my one and only child and I will never let you be forgotten.
I survived the birth, although I shouldn’t have. I staggered into town with blood and amniotic fluid dribbling down my thighs. They managed to save me and get me the transfusion I desperately needed and patched me up. I spent a few weeks convalescing in their care. The smart ones kept their mouths shut and didn’t ask me questions or tell me how lucky I was to be alive.
I wasn’t lucky. I wasn’t alive.
I left as soon as I could. I gave no reasons for leaving them and they made no attempt to stop me. I wasn’t their ilk and they weren’t mine. I walked away and pressed on into this cruel world. This world had become wormwood and I was another one of its many victims. We were slowly dying and nothing we could do would change that.
I called you strong earlier, I was right. You were strong; you were strong enough to realize that you didn’t belong in this world. You were strong enough to realize that this wasn’t where you belonged. You had the fortitude to leave, even if it meant hurting me in the process. I was right when I gave you your name. You were Gabriel.
God is my strength.
You were strong enough to realize that this wasn’t your world. You were strong enough to realize that your only place was by God’s side. He called you to him and you followed. It’s true that you left me, but it’s also true that you are by God’s side.
There isn’t much left to write, but goodbye. Goodbye Gabriel. I love you with all of my heart.
Let me start all of this by telling you how sorry I am. You were the light of the new world and I should have let you shine. Instead I kept you within me. I’m sorry, but after hearing all of this, you will surely forgive me…
Dozens of similar letters have been recovered from multiple sites all through-out the Midwest. They all start and end differently but other than that, they are virtually identical. The nature and content of the letters has led to many people passing around stories of having found them tucked under dolls and stuffed into empty baby basinets.
These letters have given rise to a new urban legend. On a dark night, the most intoxicated will attest to seeing a woman walking on the abandoned roads shortly after having read or heard about one of these letters. They say that she walks the roads, seeking her lost child. They say that the self-inflicted wounds on her wrist drip a blood that almost looks black in the moonlight. That is their horror story, they do not realize that the truth is much more terrifying.
The woman is not dead. She is not a ghost in the traditional sense that haunts the world. She is still alive, in a way. She continues to walk the roads and every reflective moment is devoted to the child that she lost years ago. The toxic land only serves to send her spiraling back into those moments. She is trapped in a cycle of intoxication, constantly reliving the memory of the child she lost. She holds him to this very day. She will hold him to the very end, even though he is weighing her down.
God is cruel.
The mantra echoes in my head. It isn’t hard to see why this statement holds true. Society has fallen apart. Neighbors turned against neighbors, fathers have taken blades to their sons. It is appropriately biblical. The third trumpet has sounded and soon He will return, but the way needs to be made clear first. The thought of God’s wrath cuts through the drunken haze and allows a memory to resurface. I try to bury it back down into the slurry, but it bubbles up and rises to the surface. I realize the futility and I embrace the recollection.
I remember my flock asking me why I didn’t partake in communion whenever I was blessing the Eucharist. I had three answers to that question depending on my relationship to them. To those in my flock that I didn’t know too well, I told them that I don’t like the taste of wine. That’s a lie; I liked the taste of wine, a lot. To those that I was closer to, I told them that I used to have an issue of controlling myself when alcohol was present. That’s was a half-truth, half lie. I wouldn’t elaborate further on that for them, I would let them draw their conclusions.
The full truth that I only spoke to God in the quiet of my room was that there was nothing past tense about my alcoholism. I didn’t drink the sacrament because I knew that all it took was just the taste of it on my tongue to send me spiraling back down. I know how easy it is to relapse. The past memories are inexorably linked. I cannot remember my fruitless pledge to quit drinking without recalling why I had to make that vow.
I only remember bits and pieces of the night before I met him. I had just rolled over and faced the street. I had failed to make it back to my apartment once again. My knuckles stung and had a small crust of blood on them. I remembered splitting open someone’s lip at the bar earlier, but who it was or for what reason was still murky. I really didn’t need much reason other than the sensation of laying someone low. Waking up in the street really didn’t matter much to me. I was used to waking up like this, what I wasn’t used to was having company.
The man had just knelt down to look me over for injuries. He was likely kneeling in my urine, but he was so focused on me that he didn’t notice, or didn’t care. In one hand, he held a bottle of water, in the other, a bible. He gave me the former and talked to me for an hour, before he gave me the latter. It didn’t take much convincing to go with him. I only saw two choices back then, I could either drink myself to death or make something of myself.
I thought that I could transcend my weakness. I hoped that God would raise me up and give me the strength I needed. The irony of it all has not escaped me. God is not benevolent, God is cruel; we cannot escape what He has planned for us. My path wasn’t the priesthood. My chosen path was not to evangelize His word, my duty was to carry out His will in another way.
I had fifteen years to convince myself of the lie I had been saying every day as a Matin and a Vesper. At the very end, I had told myself so much that I’d changed that a part of me actually believed it. Fifteen years later, Wormwood would descend and taint everything. I would relapse and revert back to what I always was. My congregation would leave me as soon as they say what I became. I was my father’s son, angry and belligerent. They found me in a gutter a few days later. My aspirations were born in a gutter, and that was where they died.
The memory sinks back into the hazy mire and I let it go. I don’t need to remember. I’m better in my stupor. I haven’t moved very far since everything began and that’s fine by me. I have everything I need here. The church has an old garden that feeds my habit and keeps me under the Lord’s influence. It’s large enough to keep me going for a few more months. No one else visits it. The fruit tastes bitter, but most gifts from the Lord are. I wash away the taste with communal wine. The Lord provides, all I have to do is wait.
I wait in the gutter. It is right next to the main stretch of road so I typically don’t have to wait long during the day for people to pass. I don’t move from that spot, to do so would give away intent. Staying slumped over and seemingly in a stupor is the perfect camouflage. They think I am one of them and they leave me alone. I guess in a sense it is true; I am one of them.
I am what they call a wet-brainer. I don’t see myself like the other alkies though. The others are mindless, sluggish; they react to stimuli like automatons. I am not like them, then again, they could be saying the same thing about me. I don’t know what’s going on in their heads and they have no idea what is going on in mine. I am a wet-brainer, but the trick lies in convincing passer-bys that I am one of the harmless variety.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see them approach. They both look capable enough. One is a man and the other is a woman. The man has a bit of a paunch to him. He likely has a higher tolerance than her as he is much heavier and has a bit more of a drunken swagger to him. She is by no means emaciated, but she also has seemed to have eaten the Wormwood-tainted food much less than he has.
She is the first to see me. She almost stumbles to a stop, but managed to catch herself. She tugs on his shirtsleeve and points me out to him. They watch me for a few moments as if trying to decide if I am a threat to them. The man picks up a rock and tosses it in my general direction. He isn’t aiming to hit me; rather, he wants to gauge my reaction. I wait for the rock to hit the ground before I lazily loll my head in the direction of sound before letting it sag back down. I make no other movement than recognizing that there had been a sudden sound close to me.
He mumbles, “Fucking wet-head.”
They decide that I am harmless. There are two types of us. Those who are basically drunken shells who are too sloshed to even move other when pursuing their buzz and others who can get around that are driven by their lack of inhibition and their baser desires. These people actually seek out the inebriating ambrosia. They assume that I am too drunk to be a threat. They are wrong.
I wait a few moments for them to pass by before I carefully rise to my feet. I am drunk, but not enough to forgo caution. I stalk slowly behind them. I am not wearing shoes so I make little sound. They are unaware of me. I can hear them talking. The man’s voice is a slur while the woman’s is barely above a whisper. She is the smarter of the two, but he is the more intimidating.
He will be first.
The metal bar makes a wide arc and connects to the side of his head with a heavy sounding thunk. I feel something give way as I follow the swing through. He crumples to the ground like a puppet that has had all of its strings cut. The woman is looking forward for any sign of danger so she hasn’t seen me yet. The sound of the bar hitting flesh makes her turn to the sound. She sees her companion on the ground and connects the pieces.
She reaches for something at her side. A weapon maybe? I lash out and strike her right on the forearm. I hear the bone crack under the force of my attack. She looks at the broken radius for a second as if trying to process the information. It clicks and she opens her mouth to scream. "God is cruel." I swing the bar with all of my strength and it catches her cheek just as her mouth opens up and the cry tries to loose itself from her lungs. I see a few teeth dislodge and go skipping across the pavement as she falls to the ground.
She tries to crawl away with blood drooling out of her mouth. She is stronger than she looks. I can’t have other people coming to investigate the sound of her burbling through broken teeth. I can handle a few people, but a group would overwhelm me. I catch up to her and raise the instrument of God’s wrath high above my head. "God is cruel." I bring it down on the back of her skull with all my strength, caving in her cranium. The bar stings my hand, but the communion wine helps dull the pain to a slight throb. She twitches spasmodically on the street. Through the red and white, I catch a tiny glimpse of something pink. She won’t be getting up after this. She’s gone to the great beyond.
I turn around to where the man lies. The attack caught him completely unaware so he was unable to anticipate the blow. He is unconscious. That’ll make delivering the coup-de-grace easier. After I am finished with them, I will look through their belongings to see if they have anything of value. I’m sure I’ll find a weapon or two and maybe some food, not that it’ll be much use to me. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if they have any valuables.
After rifling through their pockets and packs, I drag their bodies over to a manhole in the street. I pry open the top and am hit by the noxious scent of decay. In the sewer system below rests my other victims that have yet to be washed away with the waste. I can’t leave them out as warnings. If I am to do God’s work, I need to not raise any alarms. I need to be seen as a helpless drunken man.
I am doing this because God is cruel and we are all His begotten children. The world has forgotten the wrath of God. He brought down Wormwood and poisoned a majority of the world, I am only trying to finish the job He started. Tome Waits said it best, 'Don't you know there ain't no Devil, there's just God when He's drunk.' I am the emissary for my God during His bender. These people are mine to do with as I please. I am His intent made flesh. I am His wrath and His rage. I am His cruelty. I am alive.
Regina Leah Schwartz
I’m trying to be a big girl, but I’m scared. They really don’t notice me much now, I know that soon they’ll start taking an interest in me and want to do things. I try to hide this change with baggy clothes, but I can feel him staring sometimes. It isn’t like when I was in school and I knew a boy liked me, like liked liked me. His eyes don’t make me feel warm inside, it makes me feel dirty. I don’t want him to look at me like that, which is why I’m writing this. Mommy always said I should talk to someone when I was worried, but there isn’t anyone left to talk to. Instead, I’ll write in this journal and try to figure out what to do.
Everything went bad on my tenth birthday. I don’t remember much before then. It all seemed like a haze. I would wake up, go to school, come home, do my homework (usually with Mommy’s help), have dinner, and then go to bed. It was the same, day in and day out. The bad thing began during my birthday party. Mommy and Daddy had been arguing lately about what I was eating. I didn’t like it when they argued. Daddy went out and got a fruit cake instead of the chocolate cake I wanted. I was upset, but I didn’t cause a scene because I didn’t want them to fight anymore.
I was happy then. All my friends were there and I had a lot of presents to open up. They cut the cake and I got the first piece. It was also the largest, The cake didn’t look great, but I didn’t want them to fight anymore so I ate it. It tasted like everything tastes now. It made me feel funny, but I kept eating it because I didn’t want them to be mad at me. I even had a second piece and told Dad it was delicious even though it tasted weird. Everything got kind of blurry after that. I remember getting sick and going to the hospital. Doctors said I was intoxicated and I had to get my stomach pumped.
Mom said something about pressing charges against the store, she called them a lot of bad words I’m not supposed to say. She said that they intentionally spiked the cake to make me feel funny, but they didn’t have time to call the police before the other bad things started happening. Suddenly everyone started getting sick like I did. The hospital was crowded with a lot of kids like me. Soon there were too many of us and we got sent home. My parents were angry with the hospital, but they were also scared. I told them I felt better even though my stomach still hurt.
The first couple of weeks were spent watching the tv. A lot of scientists said that there was a bad bacteria in the soil that they tried to get rid of with another bacteria, but something went wrong and now fruits and vegetables were coming out that made people sick. I told my parents that we should just stop eating vegetables and fruits and we would be fine, I said that I didn’t like vegetables much anyways, but they explained to me that almost everything had a little bit of fruit or vegetables in it. That made me worried, I didn’t want to get sick again and I didn’t want them to get sick either.
They told me everything was going to be fine, but it wasn’t. It only got worse. We ate up all of our good food in a few weeks before we had to eat the bad food. We stopped watching the news after the first riot. A lot of people were dying in the city. Daddy said that it would only scare me, but I was a brave girl. Sometimes late at night, I could hear them whispering to each other. I couldn’t hear them, but I did hear Mommy crying a few times. I couldn’t help it then, I started to cry. I covered my mouth so they wouldn’t hear me.
I remember the first night we had to eat the bad food. Daddy went out to the supermarket and bought some. Mommy was mad but he said that it was necessary. She finally tried cooking it. He had a lot of food that required cooking, but we started with apples first. He took a bite of one and cringed. He said that it was bad. Mom tried boiling it. She said that it might remove the bad stuff. The air in the kitchen smelled weird. They boiled it for a couple of minutes before leaving them to cool. He tried it and said that it wasn’t as bad as before. We sat down at the dinner table to eat. The food was mushy and tasted bad. It made me feel sick, but we didn’t go to the hospital this time. They said that I would have to get used to it.
We left our house a few weeks after that. We lost power a few days before. Our neighbors were saying that the rioting was getting closer to us and pretty soon it would come to our street. Daddy said that we had to leave now, but Mommy wanted to stay. He shook her and said that we had to leave, he told her about what he had seen in the city. A few days before that, I noticed Daddy wasn’t feeling good. He stumbled a bit and he spoke funny. I had gone to the restroom one night and found him eating food without cooking it. He told me to keep it a secret from Mommy and kissed me on the forehead. His breath smelled bad. I loved him so I didn’t tell her, but I think she knew anyway.
I remember listening in on them talking the night before we left. They were arguing about me. Dad said it wasn’t normal for me to be acting this way, he said I was acting too young for my age. Mom snapped at him asking him how I was supposed to be acting in this scenario. He used a big word I didn’t and still don’t understand. He said that I was in a state of ‘regression’ and that it wasn’t healthy. Mommy said that what I was doing was a blessing. She said that any way I dealt with ‘’this’’ was fine just as long as I didn’t have to see what the world is. One day I’ll ask someone smart what that word means.
Two years have passed since we left home. We spent a little bit of time in a shelter, but some of the people there were too weird. Mommy said she didn’t feel safe there so we went to another place. She told Daddy that the way some of the guys there looked at her made her uncomfortable. They were fighting more often now, they didn’t even try to hide it from me. Sometimes it would start over the weirdest things like food, water, or other people. Daddy was always loud while Mommy said mean, hurtful things. Sometimes I was worried he would hit her or she would slap him. I tried to get them to stop fighting a couple of times, but they always told me that it would be alright.
It wouldn’t be okay. It only got worse. A few weeks after leaving, my parents started fighting everyday. They didn’t hug each other or kiss anymore. They were always saying such mean things. Every now and then they would blame it on the food, but it was never really that. They had been arguing ever since I could remember. They just used the bad stuff as an excuse to say what they had always wanted to say. I remember the last fight. Sometimes I wake up at night crying, wishing things could have been different.
We were hiding out in a building and they were arguing about what to do next. Mommy thought it would be safer in the Capital ad Daddy thought that it was too dangerous. He said that it was too far and that there were too many dangerous people out there. We had stumbled across some people earlier who my parents told me had been sleeping, but I knew people just don’t fall asleep in the middle of the street. Mommy said that we had no other choice and she grabbed my arm. She said that we were going to go with or without him. I started to cry as she pulled me towards the entrance. That’s when Daddy hit her.
Mommy rubbed at her red cheek for a second before dragging me further into the building. She was crying when she told him that he had become just like his father. She told him not to follow us and Daddy sat down in a chair like he was really exhausted. I wanted to ask Mommy what she meant by that, but she kept crying. She told me that it would be much better in the Capital and that the government would have an answer for everything by the time we got there. I was hungry, but we didn’t have anything to eat. We hadn’t had anything to eat in a few days so we went to bed.
I tried to sleep, but I was too worried. I wanted to check in on Daddy so I waited a few hours until I was sure Mommy was asleep before I snuck out. I wasn’t mad at Daddy. I wasn’t mad at Mommy either. It was all the bad food’s fault that this was happening. I tip-toed through the building looking for him. I found him in the kitchen. He was laying face-first on the ground. There were a couple of bottles next to him that smelled like the bad food. I tried to wake him up but he wouldn’t get up. I was getting ready to go back to bed when he got sick.
It puddled on the ground beneath his face. He started twisting in it and trying to get out, but something was wrong. He didn’t seem like he could roll over. He started making sounds like he couldn’t breathe and I got worried. I tried to turn Daddy over but he was too heavy. I was too weak. I hadn’t eaten anything in days and he was big. I grabbed his shoulders and pulled, but he slid with me and rubbed his face in the sick. He continued making gasping sounds and I got really worried. I ran to Mommy and woke her up. I told her what was wrong, but by the time we got there, it was too late.
Mommy spent a long time crying. I cried too, but I did other things as well. I looked for food and tried to get help. No one would listen to me and most people ignored me. I did manage to find a small garden a few blocks away. She just spent all day next to him crying, even when he started to smell bad. She didn’t eat any food I managed to find. I didn’t know how to build a fire to boil the fruits so I just ate it raw. It tasted really bad and it made my stomach hurt, but I didn’t need to go to the hospital like the first time. I guess that was because I had eaten so much of the bad food that it wasn’t as bad for me.
We spent a week in that building before Mommy got better. She still cried, but she tried to do it at night when she thought I was asleep. I didn’t let her know I heard her crying, I didn’t want her to feel any worse. We didn’t bury Daddy, we couldn’t find a shovel and we weren’t strong enough to dig a hole or carry him so we left him there. Eventually she told me that we had spent too much time here and we had to leave. We said our goodbyes and Mommy told me that even though Daddy had issues with the stuff that was in the food even before it happened, he was a good man. I didn’t understand what she meant, but she said she would explain it to me when I was more grown up. She told me that it would be much safer if we headed towards the Capital and that we would be going there. Both of us said our goodbyes and we left.
It took a lot longer without Daddy. We moved mainly at night and we avoided everyone. Mommy said it wasn’t safe for us to talk to people anymore. She said that there were bad men on the roads that would hurt us if they caught us so we had to be quiet. We didn’t really talk when we moved around at night. We walked around at night and slept during the day. We would eat food when we got it, but it still made me feel sick. Mommy seemed to enjoy the food much more now. She would eat a lot more than she usually did and sometimes she would act really silly. I think it made her forget about Daddy. We managed to do this for a few weeks before the bad thing happened.
We tried to be as quiet as we could, but eventually someone heard us. We tried to run, but he chased us into a department store. He was a big man and he didn’t have any hair on his head. His belly was round and it looked like he was pregnant. His face was red and he was panting heavily when he caught me. He pulled me towards him as my Mom began to beg and plead. He said that he wasn’t interested in me and wanted her. He told her to come to him and he would let me go. She started to cry and begged him not to hurt me. He pinched my cheek hard and shouted at her. The man smelled like sweat and vomit and I was very frightened.
My Mom moved over to him and he let me go. I ran a few feet away before turning around. I didn’t want to leave her alone, I was afraid that he was going to hurt her. I had left Daddy alone and he died. I didn’t want her to get hurt too. She was all I had left. She told me to run, but I couldn’t. I could only watch as he pulled at her clothes. He tore them and I could see her start crying. He tried to kiss her, but she turned her face away from him. He slid his hands down her body and into her jeans.
She slapped him and told him not to do that in front of me, but he wouldn’t stop. He unbuckled his pants and that was when Mommy scratched him in the face. He said some really bad words and then started hitting her. He wouldn’t stop. I started yelling, but he kept punching her. She started screaming, but he kept going. It wasn’t until she started bleeding, stopped shrieking, and he continued hitting her that I realized he wasn’t going to stop. I ran away knowing that that would be the last time I saw her.
I wandered around for a while. I did what Mommy and Daddy taught me. I only traveled at night and I slept during the day. I kept moving in the direction we were heading in and did my best to avoid everyone. I cried myself to sleep at night, wondering if it would be better to die and be with them than to survive and live without them. In the end, I kept moving. I knew that they would be mad at me if I just gave up so I continued going. I managed to live on my own for a few weeks before they caught me.
There were too many of them to hide from and they decided to search the place where I was hiding. I tried to hide in a supply closet but they found me. I was going to fight my way out of there until I saw who it was that had discovered me. It was a ten year old boy. I could have easily knocked him out of my way, but seeing him made me realize something about the group. If they were traveling with a child, then they couldn’t be bad people. Bad people don’t care for children, they just hurt people and make them sad.
The boy alerted the others and they crowded around me. I was very nervous and my stomach felt upset. There were ten or so people with two children, a boy and a girl. They asked me a bunch of questions that I tried to answer. They asked where I was from. I told them I was from a suburb. They wanted to know what I was doing. I answered that I was heading for the Capital. They asked me where my family was. I told them they were dead. They didn’t ask me anymore questions after that.
They gave me an orange they had taken from a supermarket. It tasted like all the other food. I couldn’t even taste what it was like originally, now I could only taste the stuff that made me sick. An older man watched me eat it. He waited until I was done eating to tell me that Washington was dangerous. He said they had come from there and they were looking for somewhere safe. He asked me if I wanted to join them. I agreed to go with them.
As we traveled, sometimes I heard them talking about me when they thought I wasn’t listening. They said that there was something wrong with me mentally, that I shouldn’t be acting this way. I ignored them. Daddy said the same thing and hearing it again makes me sad. It reminds me of him. It reminds me of Mommy too. Our group was large enough that I actually felt safe walking the streets with them. There were too many of us for the bad men to try and hurt us. I felt safe standing next to the boy and girl even though I made them uncomfortable. I felt secure until we discovered the Commune.
The Commune looked great at first. It provided for the people in the group and only asked that we each carried our weight. We would go scavenging for supplies, materials, and medicine; and they would make sure we had a home. We were in an old hotel with a garden on the roof. They put me to picking green beans from their garden. It was boring work, but it kept me busy. I typically worked alone while the others went out looking for stuff. One of the people from the Commune named Humbert would stop by every now and then to see how I was doing and to give me a drink or some food. He was nice. I don’t like him anymore.
A few weeks into our stay at the Commune, Humbert said he had something to give me. He took me into a room and said that he thought I looked pretty. I smiled at him, but the way he said it made me uncomfortable. He said other things but I didn’t understand what he meant. When I told him that, he said that he would show me. It wasn’t until he pressed himself against me that I realized what he was doing. He wanted to do the thing that that man did to Mommy. I panicked. I shoved him into a table and I ran out of the room.
Humbert didn’t chase after me. At first I thought I was going to be in trouble for pushing him, but as the days passed, I realized that he hadn’t told anyone. I thought that maybe he wasn’t interested in me anymore, but I keep catching him looking at me in the dining hall. The way he looks at me makes me feel dirty. I tried to wear baggy clothes to hide what I am growing into, but he keeps looking at me. I know now that he’s just waiting for another opportunity to get me alone and that makes me scared.
I have two choices now. I can accept what is coming and let Humbert take me into one of those rooms or I can run away. I don’t want to fight it like Mommy did and end up like her. I’m scared he’s going to hurt me like that man hurt Mommy, I’m sure she’s with Daddy now. I don’t want to die, but I’m afraid to be alone. The other people that I joined with seem happy here. The boy and girl are always running around and playing. Everyone is too happy to leave. I don’t know if I can make it on my own. I can run, but there’s a chance I could run into a bad man on the street.
I thought that writing in this journal would help me decide what to do, but it hasn’t. It’s only made me more confused. I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want men to look at me this way. Humbert keeps looking at me and I know what he wants to do. I can run away, but I don’t know if I can survive out there if Mommy and Daddy couldn’t. I’m scared to stay and I’m scared to leave. I don’t know what to do. I wish Mommy and Daddy weren't dead. I wish I was back in my old house with my old friends. I wish that the bad food didn’t get made. I don’t want any of this. I’m scared.
I raise my head off of the floor and sniff at the air. The scent is back. It’s always like this. I’m sleeping and the similar smell drifts into my nostrils. In my daze, I confuse it with the original source and my tail begins wagging. I am so excited when I think she’s returning to me that I forget for a moment the she is gone, likely for good. It always takes me a little while to realize that her scent is similar but not exact. My friend has been gone for years.
I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was scared.
She smells like her but it isn’t her. Maybe they use the same scent, soap, or shampoo. I have seen her at a distance, but I’ve never gotten close enough to really get acquainted. Part of me is afraid that she’ll be like the others. She’s almost always in the same place day after day. She goes there each and every day, it’s likely her territory. I don’t even know if she looks like Donna or if it’s just the way she smells. I don’t want to get too close to her. I have to be wary of people these days. It’s not like it was before.
People can’t be trusted. A long time ago, I could walk up to almost anyone and get scratched behind the ears and played with without having to worry about being hurt. Nowadays, if I did that, I would likely be killed and eaten. They do that now. They let their stomachs and instincts guide them, they will do anything to survive. I can smell it on them. I am familiar with the scent of my kind being digested in their stomachs. Most of them are too uncoordinated to attempt to hunt us, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try for an easy meal if it falls into their laps. I don’t hold it against them. I’ve been known to feed on their corpses when they go. I take opportunities just as they do. This world doesn’t grant such gifts too often anymore.
I watch her from a distance. She is leaning against a building. She has a crowbar next to her to chase people off that worry her. She rarely uses it, but keeps it around to warn people off. She waits there each day and talks to people as they pass by her. Sometimes the people passing by say nothing to her, other times they talk for a bit before leaving her. Every once in a while, she takes someone into a nearby alley. They are usually only gone for ten or fifteen minutes, but when she isn’t there, I get worried. I usually keep my distance for fear of her chasing me off too, but she typically doesn’t react to my presence. I usually lay on the sidewalk and watch her as she waits. Is she waiting for someone too?
It is different today. I’ve noticed that each day I’m a bit more close to her. She doesn’t seem to mind me being there. I just want to be closer to that smell. I need to get right up next to her to make sure it’s not her. Each time, I grow a little more bold. A part of me hopes it is actually her and that time has resulted in her scent changing, but I know that’s not true. It can’t be Donna, if it were, she would react to my presence. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m still drawn to this girl with the familiar scent. I need to know for certain.
A man stumbles up to her. It is obvious that he’s had too much of the strange bitter food that makes everything act strange. I don’t know why some people chose to eat it in excess. I can’t understand how they can be happy in that state. It’s disorienting and frightening. You could be attacked and wouldn’t be able to defend yourself. Still some people seek it out and eat it until their stomachs are heavy and they can barely walk. They talk for a few minutes before she speaks loud enough for me to hear her.
“A trade for a little bit of excitement.”
The man nods, he likely doesn’t trust his mouth enough to try speaking. They head down the alley and this time my curiosity is too much. She usually disappears for a couple of moments before heading back out. She usually smells of sweat when she comes back. I don’t know what they’re doing, but I want to find out. I approach the alley cautiously. I look around the corner and that’s when I see them together.
He is drunkenly on her. She is leaning against the wall; one leg is on the ground for stability, while the other is wrapped around him as he sloppily thrusts into her. I catch her eyes just as he reaches his climax. She looks away from me and back to him. He pulls his pants up. He reaches into his back pockets and clumsily tries to pull out something. It’s a few peaches. The man hands two to her and shuffles away. He has what he wants and she got what she wanted. She cleans herself up and exits the alley.
She returns to her spot and begins eating the peach. She cringes as she bites into it for the first time. It looks juicy and reeks of the substance that makes everyone uncoordinated. The juice runs down her face and drips onto her dress, but she is too busy eating it to really care. The way she eats it, it seems like this is the first bit of food she’s had all day. She finishes the first peach while looking at me lounging on the sidewalk appraisingly. She starts in on the other peach just as my stomach begins to rumble. It’s a hollow and deep sound. I’m about to head off to scrounge up something to eat when she speaks:
“This stuff tastes like shit, not sure if eating it without anything else in my stomach was a good idea. Might as well share the wealth. You’re too skinny anyways.”
She throws a bit of fruit to me. I shy away from it until it hits the ground. I approach it and pin it under my paw as I take a bite out of the flesh. It tastes bad, like everything else. The entire world smells off now. I remember back as a pup when the world was rife with new and interesting scents. Now the ground, the water, the people, and everything else just smells like that substance that makes it difficult to move around. I eat a little bit, but don’t overdo it. I don’t want to get sick. I need to be aware of my surroundings in case of a predator or invader into my territory. I stick around for the rest of the day until she decides to leave and I spend the night scavenging for scraps and leftovers.
I join her again the next morning. She greets me, but doesn’t approach me. We have established a comfort zone. She smiles at me and my tail starts to wag on its own. It’s a dark, overcast day. It looks like it could rain any moment. We spend most of the day waiting for someone to come by. I keep her company. Now that I’m closer to her, I get a good look at her. Her hair is brown and scraggly. She is thin and looks wiry. She doesn’t look like Donna. I’m not sure if that disappoints me or relieves me.
Time passes quickly and it begins to get dark. She is getting ready to head home when a man comes down the street. Something is wrong with this one. He smells different from the others. The other people smell like sweat and and the substance, this one has a different scent. I don’t like it. He sees her and a smile spreads across his face. He approaches her while picking up a rock. He lobs it at me and I retreat out of range while he shouts:
“Get out of here you mutt!”
The girl snaps, “She wasn’t hurting anyone. You didn’t need to throw a rock at her.”
I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was scared.
He loses interest in me and focuses on her. They begin talking, but I stay close. I don’t want to leave her alone, the man has a bad scent. He smells like sweat, semen, sick, and blood. He has one hand in his pocket while he reaches out with the other and strokes the side of her face. She stiffens under his touch but doesn’t resist. She still wants something to eat for the day, but I can tell she is nervous. He says a few more things and they go into the alley together. I follow them, not wanting him to be alone with her.
I creep into the alley just in time to see him press her up against the wall. She seems to be struggling in his embrace. This wasn’t like her previous encounter. I hear his whiskey-washed whisper, “What if I got nothing to trade for you, but still want what you got? Are you going to give it to me or do I have to take it from you?”
She puts on a brave front but she smells like perspiration and panic. She doesn’t seem to want to fight and would rather run away, but I already know that he isn’t going to let her. She goes to leave the alley, but he withdraws a small knife from his pants and brandishes it at her. He is close enough to cut her and that stops her dead in her tracks. He continues talking, “I’m going to get what I want. If you deny me, then I will have to cut a hole into you that I can use. Don’t fight back and you might even enjoy it.” He starts towards her with his knife at the ready and that’s when I intervene.
My teeth sink into him before he knows I’m coming. I tear at his calf and taste the blood beginning to well up in the puncture wounds. He turns and strikes at my head, but I’m clamped onto his leg and not letting go. He is shocked and hasn’t begun to think with his head yet. He forgets that he has the knife in his right hand. I hope I can scare him off before he remembers, but he recovers quickly and stabs the blade in-between my shoulders. I release him and twist away, taking his knife with me. I’m lost in the excitement and barely feel the injury.
The man backs away from us, but makes no moves to flee. He realizes that he is bigger and likely stronger than both of us. He thinks he can kill us and then take what he wants. What he does not realize is that two are more powerful than one and that in his current state, he really doesn’t stand much of a chance now that he is weaponless. The girl pulls the knife free from between my shoulder blades. It hurts, but now she is armed and having the knife seems to bolster her confidence. I lead the charge and snap at him. He is prepared for me and does his best to keep me from slipping under his defenses and at an arm’s length.
He is too focused on warding me off and does not see the woman coming. She lunges forward towards his left side and with a scream, drives the blade into his stomach. He groans, half in surprise and half in agony as she presses the blade deeper. He backhands her just as she jerks the blade to the right, effectively opening him up. She falls back onto the ground at the force of his attack. His insides are now outside and he is afraid. He tries to back away but I see my opening and attack. He is busy trying to press his intestines back into him as I slam into him.
I barrel into him and knock him off his feet. He weakly tries to push me off but I am energized by the prospect of ending him and my full weight is on him now. I sink my teeth into his neck and clamp down. I feel him wheezing and struggling against me, but I have him in my jaws. His fists pummel at me, but his wounds leave him weak. I bite down hard and feel his throat collapse under the pressure. I twist my head and tear into the wound. Warm red fills my mouth and I know that the fight is over.
I ravage his neck for a few moments until I am completely certain he is dead. He has finally stopped twitching. His throat is red, raw, and open to the world. We are safe, he is gone. I look up and try to lick my muzzle clean of his blood. He tastes like sick and filth and I want his scent off of me. I make eye contact with the girl. She looks at me with fear showing on her face. It’s a familiar look. It’s the same way that Donna looked at me that night. I can’t stop it now. The memories rush back to the surface and I am lost to them.
I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was scared.
I was scared. That was the first time I really lost control of my body and experienced that now-familiar sensation. I had trouble seeing and everything seemed blurry. I thought I was dying. I staggered around before finally falling on my face. Donna was laughing, I don’t know why. It sounded weird, like her tongue wouldn’t cooperate with her. It came out as a slurred sound. I was so scared and confused. As I lay on my stomach, I begin to dry heave. A whitish, grey mucous comes up. It tasted bad, but I don’t want to lose my meal. I try to eat it but suddenly a pair of hands grabbed me and jerked me away from the vomit.
I reacted without thinking. I snapped out and caught one of the hands in my teeth. My teeth found flesh and I bit deep. I smelled blood and I heard her scream. When I realized what I did, I let go. I didn’t mean to bite Donna. She hit me, hard. I yelped in pain. That was the first time she hit me and it hurt. She reeled back and slapped me again. My vision exploded in a bright flash. I try to rise to my feet, but I can’t. She struck me again and began yelling angrily. I managed to get up and try to get away, but she kept hitting me.
I managed to make it to the door, but she has followed me. She was still yelling when I got to the doggie door. I look back one more time at Donna. She has grabbed a knife off the counter and was chasing after me. I make it out the small gap in the door that allowed me to enter and leave without needing to open the door completely. I ran down the street with her sprinting after me and shouting. I kept running until I was sure that I was alone. I didn’t know where I was. I kept running, I never stopped.
I’m too caught up in the past to realize how much blood I lost in the struggle. It’s dripping down my coat and I’m panting heavily. My head feels light and everything looks dark. I can barely stand up. The rush of excitement is dribbling away and is quickly replaced by pain and dizziness. A long, low whine comes out of me without my consent. Before I pass out, I see her approaching me and the last thing I see is her retrieving the knife from the ground.
The first words I hear are: “You’re one tough bitch.” I wake up in her lap in a place I am not familiar with. Everything here smells like her. The space in-between my shoulder blades feels tight and painful, but I am no longer bleeding. I am wrapped in something that prevents me from moving too much. I work to try to free myself but she speaks softly and re-assuringly in my ear. I realize that I am too weak to fight back or escape so I just lay there. She strokes my head in slow, repetitive movements while softly crying. I can’t understand why. The man is dead and gone, there’s no reason to cry.
She reaches down to my old collar and looks at the tag. She continues talking, “Gage King huh? Not sure I like the ring of it. It doesn’t really work for a lady does it? Looks like both of us are on our own here. Let’s try to come up with a better name for you.” She spends the rest of the night talking softly with my head in her lap.
I sleep close to her that night. I am too tired to move and she seems comfortable in that position. My head is resting on her lap as she leans up against a wall. She is impaired. Her breath smells like the substance that makes everyone act the way they do. A small part of her has the same scent of the man. She smells like that bitter liquid some of the more unpredictable people drink. Even though she’s intoxicated, I don’t feel worried. I feel safe with her. I fall asleep with her scent all around me.
I drift in and out for a few days. Sometimes she is there, sometimes she isn’t. There’s always water in a bowl and a little bit of kibble that smells stale and is as hard as rocks, but it’s better than nothing. I eat what I can. When she’s around, she scratches me behind the ears and talks to me about her day. I eventually grow strong enough to move around her apartment. Everything smells like her and it comforts me. The girl constantly talks about how dangerous the streets are now. Apparently there are more men like the one I killed in the alley in the city since I’ve been gone.
A week later, she makes her proposal. She is sitting in her chair and my head is in her lap. She is eating a bruised apple and is silent for a few moments before stating, “I don’t like it here much anymore. There aren’t enough trust-worthy people to make a living. I think you are one of the few left I can actually trust. I think we should blow this popsicle stand before any more dangerous people try to take advantage of us. So what do you say gal, wanna come with me?”
I wag my tail and look up into her eyes. That’s enough for her to understand that I’m going with her. She wraps her arms around me and I take this opportunity to sniff her hair. She no longer smells like Donna, she smells like something new all-together. I enjoy the smell. We leave her apartment together and begin walking towards the horizon. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I am actually home.
Written by EmpyrealInvective