by: Chad D. Christy
It didn’t happen at all like he had expected. Maybe a dirty bomb or another airplane, but not the quiet with which the city had died. Everything had just shut down. No lights. No phones. No radio. Even cars and buses and planes refused to turn on. It was like someone had sucked all of the electricity out of the city. And not just his city, but a lot of them. New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Kansas City, Omaha, Denver, Houston, San Francisco. Not an exhaustive list, and not a list that he’d known existed when it first happened. At first, he couldn’t imagine that the chaos extended beyond the metropolis he called home. Maybe he could have, but he never had the opportunity.
Looking back on the cascade of events that had filled those first days, pondering the unfathomable task that was set before him, standing in a quiet moment, he knew that if all the things that had happened hadn’t happened in the precise sequence in which they had, he wouldn’t be where he was with who he was with. And he wasn’t sure he would change it if he could. The others relied on him, and if his path had changed even a little, they all might be dead. Or worse, they might be husks. Shells. Repeaters for a message designed to promote chaos. As it stood, there were only a few who continued to resist that message, and every survivor lost pushed the looming task further from Herculean toward impossible.
He stared out the window, watching the empty street and all the darkened houses. His lantern had been extinguished for the night, leaving his part of the world lit only by the lights that God had turned on long ago. Eyes adjusted to it over time, though. He hadn’t realized how spoiled he’d been when the push of a button or the flip of a switch had solved most of his problems or completed some mindless task. Now, if he wanted to turn on a light, he needed matches, a lighter, or a flint and steel and some tinder. He hmphed to himself and rubbed his eyes, then turned back into the house.
This was his routine, and he couldn’t break it. Didn’t really want to. When he was taking his turn on watch, he had a duty to ensure no one approached their position undetected; he had a duty to ensure the safety of each person in his group. So, he’d move silently among them, counting heads, making sure all was as it was supposed to be.
He’d chosen a split-level house for them for the night. He hated two story homes, knowing from experience that without proper preparation, the second floor could become an inescapable death trap. Under ordinary circumstances, the danger could come from a fire on the bottom floor, but now there was so much more that could go wrong. Fire was still a threat, but there were also scavengers, wild or rabid animals, the aforementioned husks. One bad night without an evacuation plan and they could end up dead.
“Or worse,” he said, correcting his thoughts.
After checking on everyone, he walked into the kitchen, carefully peering through the window that showed the back yard. There was a tree line about thirty yards from the deck, and try as he might, he couldn’t see into the darkness within. There could be anything shambling around between those trees and he wouldn’t know it until it was much too late.
“Hey,” a voice said quietly behind him. He hadn’t heard her approach, but he didn’t jump. He looked back, nodded, then returned his gaze to the shadows surrounding the house.
“You don’t need to watch tonight,” he told her.
“I know. Heard you come through. I keep tossing around, so I thought I’d keep you company.”
He nodded. “How’s the ankle?”
“Fine. Better anyway.”
“It was stupid, you know.”
“But necessary. Look, you’d have done the same thing in my position.”
“Maybe,” he admitted. “It was a needless risk, and these people need you.”
“And we need you, too.”
His mind shoved a thousand responses toward his tongue, but he forced himself to stay silent. She would only argue with him. After all the times he’d screwed up, she still trusted him. After all the people who’d wound up dead—or worse—because of his mistakes, she still looked to him for answers. If she’d known him from the beginning, he thought, she wouldn’t stick by him as she did.
“Jeff,” she said softly, “are you thinking about her again?”
“Gettin’ there,” he admitted.
She touched his arm. “She’d be proud of you.”
Jeff hmphed again.
“She is proud of you.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I know she is. After all the people you’ve helped. Saved?”
“We’re just delaying the inevitable. You know that.”
Jeff saw the slap coming, but let it happen.
“We’ve got a chance. You can’t give up now. Keep it together, okay? We need you.”
“They need you, Stacy. Not me.”
“Well, I need you, then.”
Jeff shook his head. “You’re getting all I can give. Beyond that, I’m empty.”
“You’re a good man,” she said, placing a kiss on his cheek. “If no one else was with us, I’d know we were going to make it. Just you and me.”
“I don’t know why you place so much faith in me.”
“You saved my life. If I can’t have faith in you, what else is there?”
She slipped back into the house, back into her bedroll, he assumed. Saved her life, huh? Maybe she remembered it differently. Or maybe he was too cynical.
Copyright © 2014 Chad D. Christy
All rights reserved.