out of the ashes

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Maggie

Somewhere outside New York, July 7, 2014.


The sky is white-hot blue again this morning. Not the cooling blue we have always known. Blue with a searing reddish perimeter, like a heart wrenched upside down and ripped inside out. The heart that was the world is dying, and soon enough the rest of the body will follow in its wake.

Maggie and I have made it to the outskirts of New York, or what is left of it, yet I don’t think we’ll be able to go any farther east. No doubt everyone this side of the Rockies has tried to get here. It was stupid of me. I should have headed out of Omaha and tried for San Francisco, but I’m certain the same thing has happened there. Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle—anywhere there is, or at least was, a harbor with a boat. Yet, had I gone west I would not have happened upon this child.

The once-magnificent Big Apple bears little resemblance to the grand old center of culture it was just three short months ago when all this hell started. Nothing does. But the trees I’ve seen along the way are what seem to strike me the most; dead already in the heat. Our lovely elms, stately oaks and cottonwoods—mere ghosts, now. The grass everywhere has withered up. The highways have become like heating coils on a stove, jammed with abandoned cars and trucks that explode when the gasoline in the tanks ignites. Cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo stand without movement except for the few who’ve remained on their streets to parade around in sack cloth carrying doomsday signs, or roam like rabid dogs cornering anything weaker. A dwindling number of animals that aren’t yet lying dead beneath burnt out bushes stagger aimlessly, their ribs showing and their tongues hanging out. The once mighty Great Lakes have shrunk like rotten fruit, the shorelines almost lost in the shimmering distance. We all head east, but it is a fruitless journey.

Our lovely planet has stopped rotating.

No one knows precisely why, but we all know that it happened. For those lucky enough to still be connected 4-G, we know that physics was turned upside down. We know that the spinning slowed, and then stopped entirely. We haven’t been told why. The leading physicists don’t know why. It couldn’t happen, they said, but it did. The western hemisphere is facing the sun; the eastern is in continual darkness. We burn, they freeze, and all of us watch as the Atlantic rises. We wonder how long it will take until the Pacific is a gigantic graveyard of desert sand. Will the Atlantic and Indian Oceans attempt to fill in the void? No one is certain. Wild storms arise over the Atlantic as the earth tries to regain its balance. Did we cause this catastrophe? No one is certain. No one is certain of anything except that we will all perish, likely sooner rather than later.

We continue on in the direction of darkness and the only hope of salvation, like animals driven by instinct. I’d rather freeze to death than feel my blood begin to boil inside my veins. Who wouldn’t? And so we flock toward the sea, all of us, there only to be caught in a net. If the heat doesn’t kill us, the crazed search for food and water will. We will kill each other in the war to get these two things alone. We will kill each other to find a boat or a log so that we can leave this continent. In time, those left will need no particular reason at all to kill.

Maybe north.

Maggie cries. She wants her “Moomy,” but her moomy is dead. I have no idea about her father or her brothers. Dead too, I imagine, eaten by dogs or those who are starving and have no humanness left in them. Had I left her there outside Chicago two weeks ago, little Maggie would be no more. I couldn’t do it, and though it is difficult enough for me to find a scrap of bread or a thimble-full of water, I cannot abandon her to certain death. One of these animals will rape her and then eat her. Such is the insanity and depravity that has infected us. I’ve seen it.

Maggie tells me she is six years old. She’s black, and very pretty with tight ringlets of velvet hair, eyes the color of jet, and soft, intense features. She attended school and liked reading, spelling and recess, but cared little for arithmetic, she said. She and her family lived in a highrise tenement—I took it to be one, though she didn’t use the word tenement, just home. Two long months after the anomaly, her father and two brothers told Maggie and her mother to stay put; keep the door locked, that they’d return with food and water. Two more weeks passed and they failed to come back. Her mother took her hand in desperation, then, and left. They made it one hundred-fifty miles after having wandered through South Chicago for days looking for her father and brothers. I found her the morning after her mother died. I had to pull her kicking and screaming away from the body, but I knew what would happen if I left her behind.

“You’ll see her again someday, Maggie, but right now we have to keep you safe,” I said to her once her screaming subsided a few miles down the highway. She didn’t answer. Of course she couldn’t understand any of this horror. What six year-old could? How could anyone?

Still, by the time we reached the outskirts of Toledo she began to trust me a little and open up. I told her that I’d been a schoolteacher, that I too liked spelling and reading, but not so much recess as I was afraid of the monkey bars on the playground, and the terrifying prospect of returning to the schoolhouse to face arithmetic when the bell rang. At last she smiled up at me with those sparkling coal eyes.

***

We’ve taken to hiding at “night” under a vicious blue sky that has grabbed hold of the ravaged planet so that even the stars have fled forever. There is no beauty left in the heavens, only an ugly foreboding. The roads are unsafe, littered with the dead and nearly dead; the roving bands, and so when this never-ending hike has exhausted us we detour into the fields that were planted with corn in the spring. None of it has been harvested, nor will it ever be. Like all the other fields, this one we are in stretches over the cracked earth, with tall brown stalks that catch the hot winds and whisper further of death. Still, it is safe here, safer at least than beside the road or in one of the farmhouses.

I have devised a shelter to protect us from the searing rays of the sun out of a blanket we found outside Newark three days ago. Maggie gathered up four light, thin branches with Ys on one end from one of the dead trees near the road, and we sharpened the other to push into the soil at four points—far enough apart to carry the blanket. Without this crude shelter we would be forced to find an abandoned building and the dangers lurking within. I don’t know how the Bedouins stay cool, dressing as they do, sleeping in tents. Ours is stifling, but at least we’ve created a semblance of darkness. She will sleep soon, I hope, but I will not.

...For the complete story and the surprising conclusion, visit my book at Smashwords soon:)



(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2011

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