The rain is swelling with truth
Drops hit the ocean
ripples to waves
that hit me
on the edge of a yielding cliff.
Collect your courage
for the moment you have no grip
Don't seal your heart.
Align it with the butterflies in your stomache
and the sound in your skull
When you hit that water
you get tumbled
Remember, you're mostly water
speak to it as the closest and dearest.
You'll find your truth
and it's safe in the heart.
The ocean sits still in many needed moments.
Take the trust gratefully.
You are not alone in this.
Build your ladder to the stars.
Stand up after each defeat.
Hold that star with your stare.
i am wearing a kimono,
this sheer, garish, floral shred of fabric that wafts about my frame.
the cafe people snip at it with their eyes full of sharp edges.
ive been here all day
the view is terrible,
is like the sound of a snail in seasalt.
of wet flesh hot and retreating, no, burning.
but i am so tired I cant move.
maybe it isn't so bad,
maybe I am just being difficult...
even the kiss colored leaves that
toss themselves down the boulevard,
seem shrill to me.
all i can
is what you said to me last night
"a pretty face is a loaded gun"
tearing holes into me with your angry eyes.
the line itself is crap,
a splinter in this thigh,
it is snapping, that line, under all the meaning
i gave it in my drunken storm.
i walk along that line,
as though it is stretched between sky scrapers,
high above like a tightrope.
today all the great buildings that surround, give me perspective on my size,
and they hiss
as great, hollow objects seem to do sometimes.
now that iam awake
i see that it doesn't make sense
when you said it
you were swimming in a gin bath and
playing the poet with a shredded heart
but iam trying to give you credit
and find something other then an image
-image of my body
with a heavy, black barrel protruding from my throat
and a tantalizing trigger, curling like a tongue taunting you
to pull it
and blow your fucking skull apart-
you were just trying to offend me thats what i see.
dont blame this face, you are just angry.
goddamm the music here sounds like nails!
that man over there with the sloppylips looks like he might disintegrate
in worse shape then me I think,
anyways i was saying dont blame this face
thats right i say iam beautiful,
you said it first though.
though you only said it, in search of the trigger.
we all need to get up and go,
this place is like a horse's mouth
lets all get up and walk out together in a thread of gorgeous bodies who just
wont take it anymore. lets go.
forget it. wait
what was i saying?
I hear the door crack open
My soul rushes through the back of my skull
an egg yolk through the door of an airplane at cruising altitude
My body turns to jello
The air turns to tar
I can't move
I am hovering over my own body watching myself scream
It is as if Hermes himself grabs my body
and gives me the strength and speed of 10,000 men
I catch you 5 steps from the end of your life
I wrap my arms around my personal Achilles
and not for the first time
and not for the last
I find safety in numbers
Madness moves like molasses... coating the inside of my skull... it hits my eye sockets... like a cartoon you can watch it glaze over my eyes... causing me to see things that aren't there... I mean are there... I see the weave of the words everywhere... they spell out messages... messages just for me to find... they affirm the existence of God... of creation... and genius... I break out in tears over the frustration of no one believing me... or listening to my formula... seeing the way... it's so obvious... so simple really... look. see.
Oh but it can't be... after all it's just for me... isn't it... I know how it is... it's all a test... yeah and I'm going to pass... I'm going to get farther then any of the others have... I'm the chosen one... because I'm the last unicorn... such a rare breed... I sparkle don't I... it hurts your eyes sometimes but that's okay... shhh it's okay... nevermind... nevermind... let's get back to the messages... wait, more like maps... oh yes a map... one only I can read with my special madness coated eye's... that's why they change color... so I can read the code... I crack the code... like a savant. I can't wait to get to the end...to truly transform... it will be incredible won't it... there will be fire right? and ice... yes all the extremes please... after all you control the strings don't you? oh but I love you to... there is no other way I could exist... it's all just out of my hands... fate, as they say...
and mine is not my own.
Anger building up in me
Pounds my skull quite violently
I can’t sit still so I just pace
Until again he invades my space.
Afraid to tell, I rage and scream,
Upon deaf ears falls my suffering
The pain inside I've rarely shown
Cripples me if I’m alone.
Too easily they let it slide,
What he did for years they tried
To hide the truth and blame the one
Ripped apart by their fucking son.
My northern lights
are green just like yours
but there are only two
that steal me away
even when they are nowhere to be found
because they're encrypted in my skull.
They attack me
with agonizingly beautiful flame
every time the conversation veers
to music or art.
And rather than being near the pole
they're a mere five blocks north
probably open wide as he thinks of the world he can conquer with a flick of his broken wrist.
To another day
passing like the parched foliage
dangling from the roofs in
the dirty Bronx
left of the ferry,
right is the skyline
doubled three times,
cloaked in solar panel
glass and shimmering
against the smoggy array of light
in due time.
East River father,
where is the little
meatball you had grounded
up for eyes.
For a Roman nose
and Mafian stubble
when your Sicilian tongue
was clipped at age five.
For English-Only stamped on the roof
of your waste factory
of a mouth.
For the neo-tongue that
was bred liked
And copious liquor upon
the grounds of your hiking
Cannibalism of the XX—
I saw your phantasm
figure, soiled in
dark tan, curve in
Swallow the hazel
like a viscous sauce,
A fuckable baby—
of five. You clipped
my tongue with now
cloying giggles and in the bunk bed,
red and cum,
like a locket, limbs
dangling out the sides, fleeing in
a fountainhead of
Effaced by an amnesia.
The old man in my skull speaks,
— I was thirty two days ago.
Now the IVs DRIPDRIP,
Chorus with the TICKTICKTICK.
You are the hour,
I am the minute
You are slow, I must
go-go-go in compulsive haste.
Run for sixty,
encore, solo, imbrued
with the days that twine the middle, framed in
The doctor parses the old man like an
obsolete phrase with theatric hands,
Then comes the Shakespearean
—He hasn’t the coverage.
The trigger as a glove of flesh
hits its target, quiets the machine,
puts me to sleep.
What is it that
I must do?
-become the platoon,
an infantry of sun-empired men.
Fight the shrapnel,
the blitzing of
Become the fireman
with an axe wielded—
Scale the towers like cracks in a mountain.
Die from the smoke or
the spherical flames of the
planes that rode like the hooves
of a horse with bubonic pallor.
Fall like a worker
for stories down until
God, or some sadistic keeper
of this earth, slacks a noose
and reels me in like
a bluefin tuna, prized,
salute. You ‘Nam
the lacy harlequins of corporeal
I am in
the waist down,
object of the tight, frictiony
almost indulged in.
To be a daughter, so sonly,
revoked of all features.
Stripped of the places
you liked to touch.
Sunday awakes, uninspired
gut-ill and soul-tired
coffee, cigarettes make no dent
thudding skull betrays cash ill-spent
Sunday, I dedicate you to suicides
and red-rimmed eyes
desolate day, Sunday greys
nothing to be done
but squander it away.
- - - - - - - -
Dresden flicked the cigarette lightly, watching the embers descend into the water running through the stairwell. The sky was black against black outside the subway, heavy rain clouds hid the moon and stars; the city's lights had been extinguished for six months now. He took out an old digital watch and turned on its backlight. 12:07. It was unnatural to be out this late but this recon could only take place in such a downpour; it had been weeks since the last scavenge through this area. There were mutants to fight by night and humanity by day, the biological senses of the former and the technological sensors of the latter kept all but the most desperate of raiders and scavengers hidden beneath the surface.
He relished the last few drags of the cigarette before dropping it into the passing stream; only five left in the pack, tobacco wasn't worth growing anymore. Can't manufacture everything I suppose. He smiled at the memory of days spent in the laboratory, dreaming of brighter worlds where ideas and love flowed as freely as a mountain spring racing toward a wide, open ocean. The FEV had changed everything, just as promised.
He turned off the backlight and realized that he could still read the faint numbers. He looked up. A flare was falling in the sky. He froze, mind racing. Was anyone else scheduled for patrol? No. Was it a trap then or a sincere call for help? Only one way to find out. He unslung his rifle and took out a tight-beam radio, "Commander, I've got a flare a kilometer north of Recon Post 17. Permission to investigate?" A moment passed and a memory flashed from a long-forgotten past, a lady with bright eyes telling him that when the time came for savagery there was no place for chivalry. He hadn't accepted the idea then and the manifest apocalypse hadn't led him to butchery but the lines got blurrier day by day. He was damned lucky to have found a group of like-minds, a brotherhood of men and women dedicated to the Mantle.
"Permission granted Dresden. Nicole and Lester just reported in, they completed their survey a few miles west of your position, wait for them to reinforce you."
"Avery." He used his commander's first name with reluctance but he couldn't overstate his unalterable intention. "If this is real trouble for survivors, I'm not going to safely wait while raiders or mutants rip them to shreds. Tell them to reach the relay at the subway and then head north by northeast for a kilometer."
"Fine Dresden, but when your heroic bullshit finally kills you I'm going to activate the remote detonator, funerals be damned."
Dresden grinned, his last cowboy run had nearly resulted in his death and potentially those of his squadmates, but it had been worth it to lose two fingers and a bit of his throat to the mutated dogs that roamed the city. They'd saved a whole family that night. "Don't worry boss, I remember the price of heroism. Tell them to use short-range coms when they reach Point 17. Out."
"Acknowledged." Avery's voice was always blunt and authoritative but Dresden caught a small twinge of concern in his squad leader's voice. How touching. He stowed the radio, flipped up his hood, and ran up the stairs into the pouring rain. There was a fortified building to the north that had been observed in the last survey but no one could tell who, if anyone, lived there. It was the most probable location to begin his search. Flares were rare this long into the Aftermath. They had been a favorite while some semblance of government and military remained to respond to them and lasted a short while after as a useful lure for ambushers. Most had been used up and considering the current climate, further production was pointless; the mutants seemed to feel the light even underground, it was the easiest way to call a horde. No one would use it to ask for help unless they were overrun. In all likelihood, a rival group had fired it off near another in order to exterminate them. Either way, someone was in trouble.
He quickened his pace and shifted into the road where debris was minimal; he doubted snipers could see or hear him and the mutants sure as hell couldn't smell him. The steady slosh of his running steps against the cracked asphalt and water mixed with the beat of his heart and the rhythm of his breath in an urgent symphony that longed for completion. The rain beat against his face-mask relentlessly, the non-stick surface was pointless under a falling river, he ripped it off. The mask was mostly for potential chemical weapons and the attacks of the stranger set of mutants, even skunks had developed violent measures; mace was no longer a strictly human tool. If any FEV still remained in the air, it wouldn't affect him, most survivors were the few one percent that had been apparently unaffected by the virus or experienced minor (in the even rarer cases, beneficial) mutations; a few represented the previous once percent who had owned vast reserves of wealth and resources and had managed to quarantine their bodies and estates from the virus. They also generally led the more aggressive sets of survivors, still operating under the clause of scant resources in the wake of massive depopulation. Their reckoning would come, given time.
He recognized a building to his left, a thrift store at ground level where he had met one of a very few goddesses he had had the pleasure of knowing, and in one case, experiencing. He wondered about them sometimes, especially in his dreams; the loving command of a green eyed valkyrie whose hair only provided the barest glimpse of her powerful fire, and the loving submission of a golden haired angel whose blue eyes taught him to abandon his fear of the sea. Together they had taught him eternity and how to love each and every moment of it. Sometimes he feared the worst and would bite his pillow as he imagined the the virus ripping their genetic seams apart and leaving them crumbling and dying in some obscure room, buried beneath the noise of a thousand other similar stories. Other nights he felt their hearts beating somewhere out beneath the sun or the moon and he wondered if they could feel him too.
The building was in sight now. It was only ten stories, it was out of place amongst crumbling giants of steel and glass, but unlike those proud towers of business and governance, it had a humbler mission, education, the exponentiation of human experience through the growth of knowledge; as such, it had bars on its windows because the humans in it desired consumption without growth; its vision was caged and it became a new center for activity in a caged world.
Lights were flashing from its rooftop and Dresden could barely make out the sound of muffled gunshots; he sprinted to the doorway. The reinforced steel door was open, perhaps someone had escaped the carnage, he thought. He stepped out of the rain into the utter darkness within. He flicked on the flashlight at the end of the rifle. The hallway was clear, stairs only ten meters away. He pulled out two knives; one attached underneath the barrel, the other was a tungsten carbide blade that he jammed between his teeth. The wild howls and screeches from above were barely noticeable even without the rain pounding his body and they sent a slight shiver down his spine. Many species had become many things but dogs retained their pack mentality and weeded out others that were too different. The largest and strongest breeds had quickly come out on top, their various methods of energetic intake differed from locale to locale, but here, in the megalopolis, humans were most abundant, and their evolved counterparts had engaged in wars that enriched both sides understanding of tricks and traps. His group called them Rots, based on the pale features and stringy bodies that looked like so many undead creatures of the night. They were intelligent and ferocious; he'd almost lost his life to them before and so he hesitated.
A distant scream shook him out of the mild flashback and he started up the steps, slowly at first, but as he grew convinced that all the action was upstairs, he began to bound up them. He had reached the fourth floor when his radio crackled. "Dresden? It's Nicole, where are you?"
"I'm in the school we identified last recon as a potential. It's inhabited and under attack. I'm proceeding to provide assistance but occupants are unknown. Catch up as soon as possible, the area's wildlife seems to be busy up here. No further comms."
She was efficient and Dresden knew she and Lester would always back him up but they hated his need to play the hero, they'd risked their lives more than once with him and for him. He'd never ask for their help if he could avoid it but they'd be even madder at him if he ever went into a fight without them. He started up the stairs again, racing toward the growing din of battle. By the time he was on the ninth floor he could discern a distinct drop in the rate of gunshots above. He turned off his flashlight and sprinted up the last stair to find a nightmare.
A floodlight down the hall illuminated the grotesque scene. A grey mass of bodies was clustered around the final stairwell to the roof. A large figure was gnashing its teeth at one Rot that was viciously trying to push its way through the crowd, others separated from the group were tearing at two limp bodies of fallen survivors. He ducked back into the stairwell and primed his two grenades, waited two seconds, stepped back into the hallway and lobbed the grenades into the center of the crowd, praying the shrapnel wouldn't anybody above. The bodies muffled the twin explosions and he ran to the end of the hallway turning and firing at the livid Rots racing towards him. Adrenaline slowed time and he could see their foaming fangs in perfect resolution, and as his body tracked and fired into the coming onslaught, his fully lucid mind registered the peculiar behavior of the large dog that seemed to be policing the pack. It's scarred snout opened wide and let loose a snarl that resonated with the walls. The Rots were within twenty feet and he began to step down the connecting hallway, but before he did, he saw half of the remaining pack stop, the rage that had been in their eyes a moment before left and they were momentarily blank. He couldn't see what happened after that, he ran backwards after registering that this hallway was empty and slung his rifle, pulling out a short bat from under his coat and plucking the knife from his teeth. Ten of the bastards were still chasing him and he gripped the blade tight as the closest one lunged at him. He swiped violently with the knife and its head flew against the wall as the body fell to the floor. Two more easily sidestepped their fallen comrade, one lunged, the other went low for his legs. His bat connected with the chest of one and the knife sliced through the other, cutting off part of its face. It slowed them down, barely, but it didn't matter. In the next moment he was toppled under the weight of all the others. They tore at his neck and every available limb trying to shred his bones but his underarmor held, the carbon weave immune to the strength of their jaws. But there were seams and he stabbed and clubbed desperately as they searched for them. Blood splattered the walls and he kept stabbing until their jaws held his arms down like vices. The fangs ripped his coat to shreds and various tools fell into the puddle of blood surrounding his frantic body. Finally one of them ripped off his mask. He stopped struggling and stared deep into its jet- black eyes. Its low growl silenced the others; they stopped biting. It stared back and bared its fangs into a parody of a grin, a sinister jackal of night and death. I'm going to die now. A curious elation spread through his body, he felt himself become light and a final image of an oft-remembered smiling face and sunny green eyes entered his mind. He closed his eyes and smiled as the Rot tore at his face. So much for an easy death.
Suddenly gunshots blasted through his eardrums and bodies slumped on top of him. The Rot on top of him turned and snarled, a shotgun blast to the head was the reply. Dresden knew who his guardian angels were without asking. "How the hell did you guys get here so fast?" The torn cheek made it difficult to speak but he managed to get the words out through the blood and weird tonal qualities of an unsealed mouth.
"Well, unlike your fat-ass, we only carry what we need." was Nicole's mocking response as she and Lester brought him up to his feet. "Also, the bikes didn't exactly slow us down." Lester added. Their humor masked their concern but Dresden could see it in the way their eyes jerkily traveled from his bloody face to the tattered rags hanging from his body. He threw the coat off and said, "Come on, there might still be someone on the roof."
Lester looked at him and shook his head, "We would've gone up there first but the only sound of action was here, buddy."
Dresden's heart fell a bit, "Let's see what the damage is then."
It was difficult pushing up the stairs with blood and rain pouring down and so many bodies blocking the way. Dresden shifted the last one to the side and heard a low growl ahead. He whipped up his rifle and stepped out into the rain. The flood lights blinded him and a spasm of fear gripped him; it was brushed away immediately by the two warriors standing next to him, rifles at the ready. His eyes adjusted and he made out the same Rot that had commanded the pack cornering a young man towards the edge of the building. "Open fire!" As he yelled, the demon sprinted to the ledge and jumped. Dresden stopped for a second, shocked, but the dull clank of metal told him that the Rot had landed on the fire escape. He raced to the edge and saw the dark figure rapidly descend the steps with grace and precision, its claws clacking loudly against the wrought iron. He knew there was no catching it so he leaned over and aimed at the street below, waiting to see which way the bastard would run. A dark shadow sprinted northward and he fired. The shadow continued unhindered. "Fuck."
Nicole joined him and gazed down at the blurred streets, "Let him go." She put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him back. She walked over to the young man who was picking up a little girl. Dresden looked at the crates nearby and realized that the teenager hadn't been cornered, he had been protecting her. Lester was already talking to the kid, "I'm Lester Carmichael," Nicole stopped beside him. "This lovely lady is Nicole Winters, and that ugly son of a bitch over there is Dresden Cole. He saw the flares and came running; we followed." He looked around the roof; twenty or so Rots laid around a dozen human figures. "We came as fast as we could, sorry." He took off a glove and extended his right hand, "And you are?"
The kid's blue eyes were not fearful, they were alert and calculating. His eyes considered their faces, half cast in shadow by the overbearing light. He adjusted the girl's position in his arms and shook Lester's hand. "I'm Bryan, and this is Emily." The little girl was crying softly into his chest, fists balling up the rough cloth. Dresden noted Bryan's straight gold hair and the deep red of the girl's locks. Brother and sisters by experience if not blood. Nicole approached the subject from another angle, "Where are your parents?"
"Dead." He gestured towards the bodies around and continued, voice oddly frozen, "They killed our mom and her dad." His gaze slid over the mangled human figures, coming to rest on a bloody hulk; its hands were still recognizable, a silver ring with a skull and ruby eyes rested on the pinky. "He raped my mom and forced Henry to watch." Bryan's voice seemed to come from a great distance, as if he were watching them from one of the buildings towering over the scene."When he finished with her, he cut her throat and laughed... and laughed..." His eyes glazed over. Dresden looked over the bodies. Raiders. They must keep the place intact as a trap; draw vulnerable outcasts and small recon teams. Why'd they leave the boy alive?
Before Dresden could cut into his flashback, Nicole placed a hand on Bryan's shoulder and squeezed hard. His eyes snapped back into focus. He tried to speak but she raised a finger to his lips. "Is there anything you need to grab before we leave?" He shook his head. Dresden frowned and left to pick up the mess of tools he'd lost below. Lester watched him go, "I'll lay down a beacon in case we want to wrap things up." Dresden raised a hand without turning back. Lester placed it on a defunct AC unit. He turned to Nicole who was stroking the girl's hair and said, "If that's all then we should get going. Something will pick up the scent of these bodies soon." The rain was already dying down.
Nicole wiped the tears from Emily's eyes. They fluttered open at her touch; blue like Bryan's but there was a certain spark in them, a memory of the sun that couldn't be found in his. Nicole smiled and wiped strands of hair from her face, "Don't worry, it's over now. We're going to take you to a safe place. You can stay there if you want, we have fields and animals. You won't have to hide from the sun." Emilia smiled back, her whimpering was done. Nicole grabbed her hands and held them tightly. "But if you want to see them, I need you to be brave. I need you to walk with us, because if you slow your brother down, then he'll slow us down, and we all might die."
Emily didn't break eye contact, she whispered, "I can do that."
Nicole looked up at Bryan, a command in her eyes. Bryan's eyes widened and he pointed towards the nearest body, "Here?" Nicole stared him down, saying, "Yes, here. There's no innocence in a world of savages. Our mistake was imagining we'd ever created an unnatural state; you can't shelter her." Bryan hesitated so Emily pulled her legs out of his arms and fell to the ground. Nicole took her hand and led her towards the door, blood swirling beneath their feet under the soft rain.
Bryan watched his sister step over the bodies in the stairwell and stood there, still stunned. Eric punched him lightly in the shoulder. "The reason we fight and die for women is not because they're fragile. A woman's song will always have more power than a rifle." He handed a pistol and an extra clip to Bryan, "Come on, there's work to be done. You'll get a hot meal and a bath at the end of it, I promise." Bryan smiled, just for a second, but it was there all the same. Lester grinned and whistled as he walked over the bodies. Bryan followed and shook his head, wondering if he'd ever get as used to death as these three reapers who had so unexpectedly entered the stage. Or was he entering theirs? He looked at the sleek black lines of Lester's clothing and the engineered precision of his tools, then he looked at his bare hands and tattered clothing. Whomever the story belonged to, he knew he had a part to play and, more importantly, he knew somehow that these strangers would do everything they could to protect his sister and him. Reapers or angels? It hardly mattered, this was the right side.
Dresden gathered his tools from the bloody floor; a little cube that measured all the basic physical units such as charge, length, mass, etc.; a small drill with adaptable bits which could handle most screws and bolts; a high intensity laser that could burn through most metals; a portable 3-D printer for plastics; ropes; a garote; a small defibrillator; a GPS which had memory banks full of editable maps; the radio capable of broad spectrum waves and tight-beam pulses; a pneumatic pistol that fired electroshock rounds; a roll of det-cord; two bottles for a binary explosive; and of course, duct tape and WD-40. There was also a little medical kit which he set to the side. He searched from room to room; most of the place was completely empty, anything useful repurposed long ago. Finally he found a stash of supplies in a small closet in one of the classrooms. He grabbed two duffel bags of various medical supplies along with some extra food and water. There was a treasure trove of other tools in there but the fabrication lab back at the base had rendered that form of scavenging moot; they just needed the raw materials to construct any designable form. He grabbed a backpack and went back to the hallway, packing everything safely away.
He carried it all into a relatively clean room and set the medkit on a table. He first took out two little spray bottles, a disinfectant and a nutrient-rich biomatrix that vastly accelerated the healing process. Before he applied them, he placed a metal plate on the inside of his mouth, covering the hole in his cheek. He locked it in place with a fast-drying resin and then screwed his eyes shut as he squeezed the plate out through the gash. He stood and breathed for a moment, then grabbed the disinfectant forcefully and sprayed it over the right side of his face. Tears of pain welled up, unbidden, and he wiped them off before they entered the wound. He finished up the treatment with the biomatrix and then covered it all with a sticky gauze that filtered everything larger than oxygen.
He packed away the medkit, but before he went downstairs, he stopped to look out the window. The rain had stopped, he could see the outlines of the roof imprinted on the building across. He couldn't the forms of his squad or the survivors. Idiots. Why didn't they turn off the damn things before they climbed down? He checked his anger, almost dying always made him angry; he wasn't cut out for the apocalypse. Without his friends, his particular brand of idiocy would've killed him long ago.
He left the duffel bags at the stairs and climbed up to the roof to turn off the generator. He had his hand on the switch when a cold twinge of electricity shot down his back. His eyes shot upwards. Black on black shapes circled above. He flipped the switch and sprinted back inside. He threw on the pack, wrenched the bags up, and vaulted down the stairs.
Lester and Bryan traveled systematically through the building, Bryan pointed out the stashes he knew of, Lester made notes in the logbook. They skipped the top floor; Lester didn't need to ask why Bryan's face had turned green at the sight of the two-half eaten bodies at the bottom of the stairs. When the color returned to his cheeks, Lester asked him, "It's better to deal with the pain before the wound festers." Bryan kept his eyes on the floor in front of him. Lester refused to drop the subject, "Why'd they still have the bodies?" Bryan stopped walking. He collected himself and then turned to face him.
"We couldn't have been here more than thirty minutes." They made it to the lower floor before he spoke again. "We were looking for a place to stay; the GLM kicked us out about a week ago." Lester's eyes narrowed. The GLM was an overarching collection of tribes on the Eastern Coast; their harsh tactics were the main reason he had to carry an electronic jammer and a cyanide pill. They were organized, technological, and ruthless. He'd seen their leader the last time they tried to raid the home base; a heavily scarred face looming through an industrial filter mask with cold black eyes that summed up the vast greed and cunning which had tamed three hundred miles of coastline. He had been unable to devour them that night; sonic fields had shredded all men and material that attempted to step on their mountain. Avery was very loath to use that sort of power and they were all waiting for a final confrontation with the bastards.
"You're with the GLM?" The harshness in his voice was difficult to miss.
"No, I was."He said firmly. "Is that a problem?"
"You're goddamn right it is." Lester's friendliness had vanished in an instant; he was trying damn hard to not remember the faces that had been lost on patrol to their raiding parties. "How long were you with them?"
Bryan took a step back but answered, "A few months, they conscripted the group we'd lived with since this hell started, so don't fucking look at me like that. We just farmed for them, can you imagine me raping and pillaging?" His outrage was building but he had a point. There was a vast difference between the solidly packed muscle beneath Lester's black armor and Bryan's slight frame.
"No." The edge left Lester's voice. "What do you weigh? One-forty?"
"Ha, that's generous, one-twenty, but I'm only sixteen."
"How old's your sister?"
"Almost nine, in a month or so, it's been awhile since I've seen a calendar."
"It's March Ninth, come on, let's get moving. I'm pretty sure Dresden is handling his face; he'll be done soon enough. By the way, how do you know where all this stuff is after twenty fucking minutes?" Suspicion creeped back into his voice.
"They weren't exactly inconspicuous about what they were doing. We were exploring the first floor when Henry stepped through a trip wire, I'm guessing. Flashbangs went off and they had us bound and gagged before I could figure out what had happened."
"If you're going to run with us, you need to learn to take in every detail of your environment, even razor thin wires bend light. You can't be consciously aware of it all, but you can listen to the intuition your subconscious gives you. Sorry, continue."
Bryan checked a derisive retort but Lester saw the flash of anger and chortled. "I'm glad to see you can control yourself."
"I got a lot of practice with Henry when my mom married him. He became a better man when it was needed though." The tightness in his brow faded and he continued his story. "They stripped us of the few supplies we had left and carried them to the stores on that level. We were carried to the top of the building and different people came out of rooms to meet us at each landing, all with different drugs and alcohol and ... instruments. As best as I could make out, the more prominent members lived closer to the top and near the stairs, each little group had their own stash. They didn't seem to be hurting for supplies; we were just entertainment for them. One of them even tried to take my sister." A very primitive grunt of hate interrupted the flow, Bryan coughed and went on, "The leader wasn't having any of it though, he wanted to save her for himself." Lester could feel the heat emanating from Bryan, he smiled, that kind of intensity was very useful these days. "When we got to the roof, they started to assemble some crosses. The bastards strung up Henry, still alive, and then my mother. They had a third cross which I think was for me but that's when God intervened."
Lester looked over at him, it was strange enough to find men and women of faith these days, but teenagers? Avery would like him, and Rebecca would be happy to have some company amongst soldiers and engineers.
Bryan continued in a whisper, "When they strung up my mother, one of the ties snapped and she fell violently into one of the cunts. He was bleeding everywhere and the man holding me let go to help him. I immediately tried to run and help my sister but there just so happened to be a perfectly placed flare gun on the crates between us. It was tricky to aim it behind my back but I managed to not kill myself. The leader started laying into me with those rings of his, but he didn't kill me. He said that he wanted me to see what they did to whomever the flare attracted." Bryan's lips twisted into a sinister grin.
"I'm not sure what happened after that, he left me downstairs with my sister in an empty room, only one guard. The rest of them left but they weren't gone long. It was only a few minutes before the first few came running up, scared shitless. We managed to make it onto the roof in the confusion; they ignored us while they put up the barriers. The leader caught me hiding Emily behind some crates. He picked me up by the throat." A tightness in his jaw gave testament to the fear he had felt in that moment. "I was barely able to hear the pounding against the barrier, close to passing out, would've died. He dropped me and ran for a gun. A few of them held it in place while others fired through gaps in the steel. I thought they'd hold out but then there was this really freaky moment when everything started vibrating, the metal resonated with the vibrations. It got to the point where they simply couldn't keep their hands on the metal. They slaughtered each other. Gunshots at close range ripping the dogs to pieces, teeth ripping out throats and tearing off limbs. I managed to cut my ties off with a machete that had been dropped, I barely had time to get Emily's off before the fight was over. It came down to just the leader and a really fucking big dog. Something about the way it was growling filled me with fear. He must've felt it too because he just stood there as it stepped closer and closer. It wasn't til it finally lunged that he reacted, but it was so much faster than him."
As his story continued, Lester noted the growing tone of disbelief in his voice. Lester decided to find some correlations from his sister before they shared the story, make sure they'd seen the same things. Trauma tended to corrupt perception; it'd be a good way to measure the two of them.
"I thought we were going to die. I thought I was ready to go, I embraced its ... command, I guess you'd call it, to surrender. I dropped the machete, but in the same moment it hit the ground, I remembered my sister and ..." His voice trailed off. Lester eyed him closely.
"Did you feel guilty for throwing away your chance to fight?"
"Yes." Bryan's eyes remained on the tile ahead of them. They stopped in front of the stairs. "I knew I deserved to die but I couldn't leave while she was still living. As much of a bastard as I was, am, I still had a purpose. I couldn't let the son of bitch kill her. I was going to fight to the death but I didn't need to. She's still here too." He raised his eyes to meet Lester's and extended a hand in solemn respect. Lester shook it firmly without saying anything. "Thank you."
Dresden's voice ended the moment abruptly. "Meet at the first floor now!"
Lester looked at Bryan with the look of a command, dropped the bags in his hands, and raced down the stairs; Bryan did the same.
Nicole was impressed with Emily's steady footfall. When the little girl stopped and knelt besides the mangled bodies of her parents she had expected another bout of silents sobs and tears. Instead, Emily looked into their eyes one last time and closed them with trembling fingers. There were no more tears in her eyes and she stood with a grace that expressed a solemn tribute to the dead. Nicole stood a little straighter and said, "This is your only chance to speak for them."
I'm updating this very slowly since I started writing without really figuring out the characters first. So right now I'm imaging all their backstories, how they've evolved emotionally through time, all that jazz. And since I've decided to deviate from the dream this was based on, there a lot more possible paths for the story and I haven't really settled on one yet which is why I want to focus on the characters. I want people that have enough personality to survive the transition through multiple universes. Overly ambitious but this is all for fun anyways
There is no need to dwell on the exterior cliche of an injured soldier, the propaganda is superficial. Civilians have only plastic green men, heavy dusty movie set costumes, and Army-of-One heroes to populate stereotypes. Keep your images larger than life, no use touching up a paint-by-number. Mine was banal, foolish, and 19; enough said.
One fence is the fraternity itself, the next is brain injury. No other way to understand but be there. A Solid-American-Made-Dashboard cracked my forehead at 45mph.
Crumpling into the footwell,
unaware that the flatbed's rear bumper
was smashing thru the passenger windshield above me
the frame stopped just shy of decapitating my luckily unoccupied seat.
Our vehicle's monstrous hood had attempted to murderously bury us under,
but the axle stopped momentum's fate and ended the carnage under dark iron.
Shards of my identity joined the slow, pulverized, airborn chaos.
Back, Deep, Gone.
Unconsciousness is the brain's frantic attempt to re-wire neurons, jury rig broken connections, the doctor's desperate attempt to re-attach, stand back and say, good enough. Essential systems limply functioned, but unessential ones were ditched. Years later a military doctor diagnosed an eventual triage: Hypothalimus disconnected from the Pituitary Gland, Executive Function damaged, long pathways for emotional regulation interrupted.
I woke up still kinda bleeding, crusty blood in my hair, a line of frankenstein stitches wandering across my forehead. My sense of self had literally dissolved into morning dust floating in a sterile hospital sunbeam. My name was down the hall, words and the desire to speak were on a different floor. Life became me and also a separate me under constant renovation, a wrecking ball on one half, scaffolding and raw 2x4's the other.
Waking up in the hospital, I realized I needed help to get the blood cleaned up. A nurse came in, largely glared at me in disregard, and quickly left… for an hour. She returned and brusquely dropped a useless ace comb and gauze on the blanket over my feet and abandoned me again. This was my introduction to the shame of a VA hospital. I minced my way to the bathroom, objectively examined my face in the mirror with shocking stitches above one swollen eye. Gingerly rinsing my hair, the water ran pink in white porcelain. I remembered the sound in my skull between my ears when a doctor scraped a metal tool across my skull, cleaning debris before stitching. I recalled that in the ER I was asking Is he ok, repeating it like a broken record, knowing I should stop but I couldn’t. There was also perhaps a joke about an Excedrin headache.
It was morning, and since there was no such thing as time or purpose or feelings anymore, I wandered to the hall with my only companion, the IV pole. One side was a wall of windows, and I was, what, 10 or 12 stories up from the streets of a much larger city than where I crashed. The hall was warm and sunny. I wheeled my companion to a blocky square vinyl chair to sit next to a pay phone. I didn’t have any thoughts at all, or care about it. After about an hour my first name floated up from the void, then with some effort my last name. It took the rest of the morning to remember I had a brother. After lunch we resumed our post, and I spent the afternoon in concentration piecing together his phone number. God had pushed the reset button.
Thirty years ago the doctors didn't understand head injuries; they only recognized the physical symptoms. At first there was good reason to be permanently admitted to the hospital. My blood pressure was unstable, sometimes so low that drawing blood for tests caused my veins to collapse even with baby needles. My thyroid had shut down completely, only jump-started again with six months of Synthroid. I had to learn to live with crashing blood sugar and fluctuating appetite. For years afterwards, any stress would cause arrhythmias, my heart filling and skipping out of sync, blood pressure popping my skull. Will the clock stop this time?
There is always at least one momentous event in every person’s life that becomes punctuation, before and after. The other side of Before the accident truly was a different me. I have a vague recollection of who that person may have been, and occasionally get reminders. Before, I was getting recruiting letters from Ivy League colleges and MIT, a high school senior at sixteen. After, I couldn’t balance a checkbook or even care about a savings account in the first place. Before, I had aced the military entrance exam only missing one question, even including the speed math section. They told me I could chose any rating I wanted, so I chose Air Traffic Control. Twenty years later, I thumbed through old high school yearbooks at a reunion. I saw a picture of me in the Shakespeare Club, not recalling what that could have been about. On finding a picture of me in the Ski Club I thought, Wow, I guess I know how to ski. A yellowed small-town newspaper article noted I was one of two National Merit Scholars; and in another there’s a mention of a part in the High School Musical.
This side of After, I kept mixing right with left, was dyslexic with numbers, and occasionally stuttered with word soup. Focus became separated from willpower, concentration was like herding cats. The world had become intense.
(chapter 1 continues in memoir)