If there were a part one to this book, this would be the final chapter...
“Do you think they’ll be mad at us because of the blanket?”
The question roused Mabus from his reverie, his face grim with the dull pain of fatigue. His eyes widened a bit and it took him a moment to form a thought.
“Doubt it. I left him all the tobacco and half the sugar and coffee I had. A bit of an Indian trade I admit, but it should keep their feathers down.”
Irena looked up to see his moustache twitch. They were walking an old Interstate highway headed west, finding their way past abandoned vehicles. He sniffed as if to center himself.
“They won’t follow us,” he continued. Not far enough to find us anyways.”
Irena trotted along, weak at the knees in the enduring rhythm of unconscious pattern.
“I’m tired,” she said.
Mabus swung his own legs along a number of more steps before stopping. “Me too.”
Irena stopped too. They both stood scarecrow still, as if wondering whether they could move far enough to rest.
“Irena, do you hear that?”
It was early morning; the sun began rising over the mountains to their right.
“It’s like, thumping.”
“Oh that. Yes.”
Mabus looked towards the metropolis towers spread out before them. They had reached hotels at the outlines of the city. He gazed back at Irena.
“For how long?”
“I dunno. A while I guess.”
Mabus blinked. He turned his head again and cupped his hands, making deer ears. “That could be them,” he said, his back straightening a little.
She turned her head as if listening for the first time. “I suppose so.”
For the first time in several hours, Mabus seemed to see here, saw the color of her skin in the morning sunlight. She was wrapped tightly in the olive drab wool blanket, which trailed behind her, painted nougat brown with mud at the bottom. She shook weakly, she skin sucked of color.
“Want some sugar?” Mabus asked.
She nodded. They sat on the hood of a car and Mabus pulled off his pack. His relief was evident and Irena shook once as if to ward the night’s cold.
He pulled sugar and coffee beans for them to suck.
“That tastes good” Irena said.
“Used to make a bet with my scouts on overnight outings. That I could cook them the best meal they’d ever tasted in their lives over a campfire in the woods.
Few of them ever believed me. Then I’d take them out hiking hard all day, as far as most of them had ever walked in their lives at once before, maybe five miles on hard trail.
“By then, it didn’t matter what I put in that cook pot; a few noodles with a bit of salt, a piece of wild fish with butter on it. Then I’d make each of them confess it was the best thing they’d ever eaten before I’d let them have more. Worked every time. They’d call me Chef from then on.” Mabus grinned at himself.
“This is the best meal I’ve ever had, Chef Mabus.”
“Haha! Good girl! Have some more!” He watched her take it with delight.
“The beating changed,” Irena said after a moment.
“I can barely hear it. What does it sound like?”
“Like…a different beat. B-boom, b-boom, b-boom. ”
They were quiet a several moments, listening. Each barely moved a sore muscle.
“That’s promising. Still a ways to go, but we made good time last night. Think you can keep going?”
“I will try.” But when Irena rose to walk, her legs buckled. She fell and began to cough again.
Mabus was to her quickly. He breathed deeply and relaxed, then puffed. “I’ll carry you again. We should keep on. I need to keep on schedule to go back for James.”
Irena let him pick her up, wrapping her arms tiredly around his neck. They continued on.
James had descended from the theatre’s higher floors by means of a copper drain-pipe fitted to the wall. On the last half floor the pipe had shifted enough to cause him lose his footing. With one foot he propelled off the wall face, to turn himself around so that he could land facing forward.
This time his roll was graceful. No sooner than he had begun to recover, did he suddenly hear something bearing upon him. He turned in time to see something berserking down upon him. It lunged at him like an airborne wrestler.
It happened too fast for even his nervous system to react. He turned on one knee as if accepting an attacker from sieza. The stick, which he had long-since learned to keep with him while rolling, was still in his hands. In the practiced kata of shōmen'uchi, it was up in his hands, one palm up against its metal surface, and as soon steady as it descended again. James yelled a fierce kiai, which seemed to come from his whole torso. The stroke stopped an inch from the scrambling creature’s head. James breathed in quick triumph.
The advantage was as soon lost as obtained however, for the creature, unabashed by the psychological attack immediately leapt for James again in a froth. Now James, whose guard had been slipped, felt a reversal as the incensed male fell upon him. In a cloud of ash he wrestled with the thing which would have been twice his size where it not half emaciated. James felt his ribs as he gripped a chunk of its flesh to keep its head away from his own. It stank. It scraped the side of James’s face with its fingernails.
The thing was strong, wild and spasmodic. It breathed through tightly clenched teeth, like an ape in a rage. James’s practiced movements kept him in advantage of leverage, as he maneuvered from side to side. Manipulating the creature’s spine through its arm, he pressed against its tricep with his own, stretching his arm away. When it tried to bite his hand and arch its back against him, James was inspired to grab it by the hair. When he had gained the advantage, he flipped the other wrestler over and scrambled for his rod.
His hands were too tense to wield it properly. As the creature rounded upon him again, he bunted it and turned to smash the small end against its ribs, ending the scramble. The creature curled into the pain as James ran.
It was not the only one out, however. Others were forming in doorways as if curious of the raucous. They had hardened, deadened eyes and decrepit postures. James was suddenly aware of how many lived in the abandoned city. Some watched on. One ran at him as if in challenge.
James found his muscles too tense from the wrestling; his upper torso was seized into a hard knot of utter tension. He slowed and took a breath, trying to force his life-locked fingers apart, and spread his stance. Ready for flight, he managed to open his fist far enough to permit the bar to slide through his hand. He waited in line with the creature’s attack and dropped to a knee for stability and to change his position and held it there. It was timed so that it ran its face into the cold steel of a 90˚ angle iron. The thing dropped bleeding from a wounded eye socket, wriggling in anger. He took a breath and moved in a circle from his knee, checking his surroundings.
Aikido taught me to pull my punch, he thought to himself. He was breathing hard, in long deep breaths for control.
He took off running again, this time with lighter steps. More post human monsters poured from the buildings around him. James wondered at them. It looked as if a hive of insects had been kicked and the ants were pouring out for war.
They trained me to pull my punch, his mind said again, thinking of the wrestler. Aikido almost got me killed. He almost touched his bleeding cheek and then thought better of it.
I could worry about the blood, but that’s useless now. He was running down the street. When one of them leapt for his legs he merely jumped it and kept running. Another he dodged and stopped only to strike once hard in the shin with his improvised bludgeon.
How dangerous, to teach someone not to hit. Its negligent homicide! It almost killed me with only its instincts. My training couldn’t match mere instincts. After all my training! “Damn!” he yelled aloud. He was angry and gritting his teeth, his eyes burning hard in his face.
The crowd of creatures surrounding him were pooling up behind him, yelling and screaming, likely to be the last angry riot recorded on Coeur D’Alene’s streets. He turned a corner to lose them around a building, and turned again into the building and out a window on the other side, rolling violently against the pavement before he turned down another alley.
He began to run, tears streaking down his face, yelling “damn!” into the wind as he went. A cool morning breeze disturbed old tar papers wedged against a car in the pavement. James barreled through a couple female citizens seeking a place in the mayhem, letting his angle iron meet their hard skulls as he passed.
He ran, hid, maneuvered and dodged until the sound of chaos was behind him, down new streets, over fences and across open spaces. Everything blocking him was met with anger, and he moved as a mountain without thought or conscience.
In a long half hour, he found himself bent over in exhaustion, gasping for breath and relief. His face was covered in dusted tears. When he found the strength to breath, he began to sob. The long withheld pain of many months in darkness. The thoughts of his mother and father lost states away in a pandemic. His withholding of himself around Mabus and Irena. The world, the hope of the world and all the people lost and tormented within it.
It hit him with the empty, impersonal force of an empty universe staring at back at the human imagination. It struck him with the force of a religious experience. It pinned him to the earth with sobs, smashing his tiny ego into the dust of mortality. His lips felt clods of dirt as his mouthed gapped against the ground in violent tremors. He gripped the earth and cried aloud, towards and against the earth, with all his might.
An hour passed slowly under his lament. Thoughts flashed and passed and went, as if reordering themselves to the new reality. Raw, unaltered feeling coursed through his vessels, as if having cleansed them. He felt empty, open and renewed. He found his head rested against a small red car, exposed in summer heat. He stared into the sky, watching the clouds pass in impassive majesty.
He sat there, dumbfounded, as if trying to remember something. A thought, like a butterfly, was flittering somewhere in his subconscious, flirting for consideration. A thought, he remembered that seemed somehow important. Something which seemed to apply to him, to the here and now. To something he should do, as if soon. Perhaps, right away.
He gazed into emptiness as if to catch the butterfly. He said aloud, in a mumble from his listless lips: “what should I be remembering?”
Then, there was a sound. The sound of a roaring which seemed out of place with the rest of the peaceful world around him of tree leaves flittering in the breeze and the sun casting light on the segments of a searching fly. A beetle was pulling itself along the ground in short stops.
Then he heard a voice. His consciousness seemed to slam back into him from somewhere else and the sound of an engine filled it as it approached him. He suddenly rose to his feet, not as fast as he might have expected to, given his fatigue.
A large hum-v was approaching down the stretch of highway towards him. The flare!, he remembered. It moved towards him as oddly, he thought, like the black metal box from the movie: 2010 Space Odyssey.
Now that’s an odd thing to think of at a time like this, he thought.