An Elegiac Winter

Chapter One
Coen had thought of the time he killed a young man. The man’s eyes. How they reminded him of his son’s. Or could have been. The man whose blood drained from lung and mouth had sold drugs, laying waste to streets. By blood and dependence, the dying man robbed security from fathers and mothers. All the same that memory summoned the taste of ash from his hollow chest and it shivered to his hand. A phone pressed to his ear.
“I’m taking my wife and kids, and we’re going away for a while,” he declared and swallowed his spit.
“Will we each speak again?” a women’s voice uttered softly through.
He noticed his kitchen. “I haven’t been certain about anything.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“I wish I didn’t have to.”
He hung up and left.

A sparse layer of snow lay ahead of Coen’s old pick-up truck as he drove down the highway. He watched the moving borderline of bare poplar and spruce and jack pine infrequently tower into the skyline like jagged teeth. The sun glinted off the frost from the tall grass in the ditch as the November air blew through an open window where Coen exhaled his smoke. Rosalie looked at her husband with an expression which begged him to put out the damn thing. He looked back at her and stubbed it out in the ashtray and smiled convincingly. She turned her head to hide her smile behind her long black hair. He glanced through the rearview mirror and, in it, saw his six-year-old daughter Jess sleeping on her sixteen-year-old brother Emmett as his head bent to his phone as his thumbs danced and clicked over its bright screen.
The truck turned off the highway and onto a gravel road that cut into the thick border of trees where the road was so narrow that the willows and branches slapped and scraped the window. It was a few kilometers down the rough before the pick-up entered into a clearing where they saw a brown cabin sitting quietly and undisturbed except by scattered rodent trails that went beneath the structure. By a small shed in the distance, Coen looked to where the snow set lightly, where rustic hand saws and weathered scythes were hung by nails on shaved jack pine ornamentation as if to commemorate the efforts of the inhabitants long ago.
Coen and Emmett unraveled the tarp covering the truck box and began hauling bags and coolers and other outdoor gear such guns and ice fishing poles and tackle and survival kits. Meanwhile, Rosalie opened up the cabin and began sweeping out the dust that settled over the long vacancy while also keeping an eye out for Jess who ran about with active interest of the unscathed vastness. When everything was hauled inside Rosalie called Jess, and they changed bed sheets and washed counters and did whatever else to tidy.
Emmett could hear his dad chopping wood outside as he knelt over with his hands inside the stove. He rushed to place old newspaper underneath the kindling that refused stay in place. He pulled out his arms and let out a sigh and looked around as if he hoped there was gasoline laying about; however, his father, a traditional outdoorsman, wouldn’t have it. He reached in and lifted the kindling with one hand while igniting the newspaper with a Bic in the other until it caught up in flames. He set the tinder pile, so it had been proper to burn, and he withdrew his hands. Coen walked in with an arm full of chopped logs and placed them in a wood box near the stove. After seeing the flame grow, his father conveyed a look of approval.

An hour passed and they had their coats hung, and boots set, and the heat from the stove pushed out the chill from the cabin and brought warmth to the floor boards. Coen was sitting at the table picking and wiping down two disassembled rifles while Rosalie set and lit kerosene lamps. Their children sat across from their father with their heads bowing before their devices. As Coen noticed, he hoped to share the disappointment with his wife, but she was doing likewise, glaring at the screen. He shook his head with a sigh.
“Those guns aren’t going to clean themselves,” Rosalie joked as she stuffed her phone into her pocket. She walked over and sat on his lap and leaned for a kiss, “relax, I was just talking to your mom, she’s just going through the checklist again,” she explained.
“Now that we’re here? That’s great,” he replied, sarcastically, “if we forgot toilet paper, we’d be wiping our asses with frozen leaves now.”
“We have to use leaves, dad?” they gained Jess’ attention.
“What’s happening?” Emmett asked abruptly as he ripped the buds from his ear canals.
“Whoa,” Coen said, “take it easy, we just forgot toilet paper.”
“What? Really?” Emmett protested.
“No,” he replied as Rosalie laughed to herself. “Would you look at that? You guys off your phone. They should give out a Nobel prize to parents for stuff like that.”
“Funny,” he rolled his eyes.
“C’mon, you’re always on that damn thing. You used to love hunting and what not, what happened to that? If you were a boy, these guns would have been cleaned, and we’d already be out butchering us a buck.”
“Things change, yo.”
“Well, sorry, ‘yo.’”
Emmett rolled his eyes and stuffed his ear buds back into his canals.
“You can’t give them too much grief about it, hon,” said Rosalie. “I mean, cmon, even your mom’s can’t get off hers.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I’ll never get used like everyone else. Look at all this—this is the life: cozy stove fire, fresh air, the great outdoors, trees and stuff,” he smiled. “Beats getting drunk and doing it with the bros, anyways. I’ll say that much. I miss doing this with you and the kids. It’s been so long.”
“Oh really, you’d rather be with us than out in the middle of nowhere drinking with a bunch of lonely guys? I don’t believe that.”
He laughed insincerely. “Well, if you put it that way then no you’re right.” He watched his wife get up to proceed to ready for the night. “Besides, things won’t be so bad in a couple of hours or so.”
“Why is that?” asked Rosalie.
“Well,” he said as he continued to brush the interior barrel of his camouflage Browning, “because it’s going to be hard to use your phones when they’re dead. And we didn’t bring any chargers.”
“Yes, we did!”
“Nope,” he grinned, “I sort of unpacked them. The only one we got is for your phone, and that’s in the truck for emergencies only.” He stopped cleaning his rifle and looked into Rosalie’s surprised eyes. “So no phone calls from my mom. No outgoing phone calls. And, thank fucking God, no Facebook. I want this weekend to be about us. Our family.”
“Well, it would be nice to get a couple of pictures.”
He continued to clean the gun. “Yeah, it sure would.”
“What are the kids going to think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hon, you know how it is. Wouldn’t it be better to be safe than sorry?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what if somebody gets hurt?”
“What’s cellphone going to do?”
“We can call somebody. Let somebody know.”
“Ambulances aren’t coming all the way out here. Either way, if something like that happens, it’ll be up to us to take them. Don’t worry, baby. It’s just a weekend. Nothing will happen.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. But I just want this to mean something. Can’t we just live like this for one weekend? Will that kill us? Relax, baby.” He leaned for a kiss. “We’re a tough crew.”
Rosalie looked away with a sigh. “We’ll see just how tough,” she said, biting her tongue.

The next morning was dim and gray until the scarce sun birthed through the crevices of the clouds out through the window where Coen watched and sat at the table with his stubby fingers wrapped around a hot cup of coffee. He looked out through the window at the blank white view. A dark dock sat in the wind as snow blew off its surface. The radio played country music and repetitive commercials faintly through silence. He sipped his coffee before placing more logs in the fire. He closed the stove and wiped off the black soot off his worn plaid sweater and went to turn the radio louder in hopes to wake his family.
Rosalie walked out of the main bedroom with frizzy hair. Coen eyed her down. She walked up to the coffee pot wearing nothing but a white shirt over her bare legs that derailed his attention from all else and, despite her slow suspicious, turn towards him he refused to look away. She smiled shyly. “Good morning.”
“Thanks to you.” He stared over his large mug as he took a drink
She sat down across from him at the table. They both said nothing as they sipped their coffee. The radio played repetitive commercials. “What’s on your mind?” she asked.
“Nothing too important.”
“Mh,” she said and tightened her lips. She spoke to break the silence. “Well, nothing important is going on, might as well tell me.”
“Just thinking about what the guy at that store said to me. The last one we stopped at. It smelt like mold in there. All I wanted to do was get out, and it took me about a minute to get his attention. He was staring at a TV. Some news or something he was looking at. Anyways, he finally notices me, and after I get him to grab me a few packs of smokes, he asks me ‘rough situation they have in China?’ And I don’t know what to say about that but ask him what he meant. He goes on to explain how China is crazy populated and how they force abortions and spread disease and famine to solve the problem. Purposely. Then he starts going on about our government and asking me all sorts of questions. I had no idea what he was talking about. Anyways, he went on to say that one day the same thing is going to happen to us. I have no idea why I’ve been thinking about that. It was just odd. But after a while, he started making up all sort of scenarios, and after a bit, it started making sense. I don’t know. It was odd.”
“Wow. That is odd.” It fell silent a moment. “Should I make the aluminum hats now or wait until the kids get up?”
“We’ll wait until the kids get up. Jess loves arts and crafts.”
“Arts and crafts? This is serious stuff, babe. We’re talking one world government, aliens built the pyramids stuff here.”
He sniffed out a chuckle as he smiled. “Anyways, when Emmett gets his ass out of bed, we’re gone for the day. Probably past sundown. Hopefully earlier, depending on our luck. If we do get something, we’ll come back, and you and I could teach Jess a thing or two about preparing meat. Tomorrow we’ll make jerky. But, that’s if we get lucky. This time of the season, there’s bucks running around everywhere looking for something to keep their dicks warm. So you know they’re around.”
“Those lucky does.”
“Don’t sound so deprived. I ain’t walking away empty handed today.”
Emmett walked out of the room and interrupted in a disgusted tone before she spoke. “Oh God.”
“Oh! Good morning, sniper.”
“Really? Sniper?”
“Well yeah, I figure we got to give you a cool name before we go out on the hunt today.”
“That’s a pretty lame one. Why not Grew Owl or something? An actual hunter. Sniper is something a dad would say on a 60s show. Anyways, what were you guys talking about… other than deer boners?” He sat down.
“Oh, you know the regular stuff parents talk about. Government conspiracy, aluminum hats,” she replied in a high-pitched, motherly tone as Coen nodded in agreement, “but mostly deer boners.” She sipped her coffee.

The wind blew viciously through the trees and masked the crunch of their footsteps as they tread softly and slowly into the snow and frozen leaves, each shade of gray in the woods matched their white camouflage attire. Coen’s rifle rested below his armpit with an open and empty chamber. Emmett had his in hand. While his father struggled to push through a patch of thick willows, Emmett opened up his chamber and quickly shoved a .270 round into the barrel. Coen looked back. Emmett thought his heart beat through his jacket, louder than the wind. He knew not to keep the gun loaded. However, Coen simply cleared branches out of the way and jerked his head for Emmett to pass.
At noon they sat quietly around a small fire and over the flames sausages sizzled at the end of their sticks. After they had eaten, they each drank from steaming ceramic cups and sat quietly around the fire as the remainder of the logs burnt away.
Hours passed in the wilderness. The air grew cold as the skies become dark. There was a trail of blood that followed along the footprints of the hunters leading to where Coen knelt over a bloody caribou carcass in the distance. He pulled and ripped a skinning knife through the hide. Emmett appeared from the brush zipping up his pants and knelt over the dead body to where he was opposite of his father.
He saw his father pull the trigger after he couldn’t. The rifle jerked against his father’s shoulder as the gunfire rang across the land and he looked to where the caribou ran a short distance before stumbling inert onto the white forest floor. He missed his opportunity to kill his first game and sensed a lingering disappointment by it from his father. Whether he shot the caribou or not, in the snow, it laid dead.
His father slid the blade through the thick leather and Emmett couldn’t help but cover his nose from the odor of the flesh when the pink and embossed tendrils of fat exposed over the blood-red, steaming skin. The hide was removed completely after Coen had sliced and hacked the caribou’s head from its torso until it was a boulder of flesh in the middle of the woods. The knife stabbed into its lower abdomen and carved towards and through the chest before stopping at the wishbone. It soaked the ground with blood and intestines, and a rank smell of feces came steaming from the pile of coral red pulp. Emmett pressed his forearm to his nose as his father ripped and slashed out the insides. First, it was all the intestine cords and then came the stomach and then the liver until the corpse was nothing but a hollow piece of meat and bones. They tied strings above the hooves on each leg and used trees to pulley the body belly up and tied it up to ensure it remained in place. Coen cut and pried the legs one by one and hacked off the meatless lower part of the limb. He told Emmett to wrap up each limb and piece of meat cut into small sheets of tarp until all that was left the head and hide and lower legs.
Coen cut down two small spruce trees and removed the branches so that they were nothing but long poles. He folded a tarp with the two poles so that it looked as if a stretcher. They strapped the meat on secure. “What now?” Emmett asked.
“Grab an end.”
The skies dimmed to nothing but darkness illumined by a full moon peaking through the clouds. They held the pole with both hands and held it against their waist and pulled it through three kilometers of thick trees and rugged terrain. Their breath froze instantly in the cold air as they pulled the contraption over dead-fall and hills. Hours had gone, and, at last, they saw a dim light in the distance through trees. “Finally,” Emmett said under his breath as he forced through the remaining trail and dropped the sled in relief at arrival.
“That wasn’t so bad,” said Coen, rotating his head.
Emmett stood for a moment, stretching out and slapping off the snow from his attire before following his father into the warmth.
Jess spouted up from next to the fireplace and ran across the room and jumped into her father’s arms while Emmett pulled off his gloves and peeled the hood from his head and saw his mother’s smile.
They hung their wet and frosty winter wear to dry above the range, and Jess watched their parents bringing in the raw, wrapped meat. Emmett walked around toward her side to better his view of her still curiosity. He placed his hand over her shoulder and put his hips against her.
“Did you shoot him?” she asked.
“No, dad did.”
“Why?”
“It’s how it goes. It’s hard to explain. But it’s how it goes.”
“Why?”
“Before there were stores like the ones we have back home, this was normal.”
She stood quietly for a moment. “Do we have to kill anymore?”
“No, we got more than we need. We can probably even give granny some. She loves wild meat.”
“Did you try shooting him, brother?”
He bit down, teeth on teeth. “I tried. But I couldn’t pull the trigger.”
“Emmett,” his dad exclaimed, “you’re just going to stand there?”
He rubbed his thumb on her shoulders and walked outside.

It was dark in the room after Rosalie leaned over and reached out to dampen the wick on the kerosene lamp. She blew out the tiny flame and set herself comfortably in bed and later in the night when the moonlight revealed the figure of their heads against white pillows, Coen’s figure joined with Rosalie’s. A quiet popping of their lips as they locked to each other. Rosalie’s breath grew loud. He pulled his hands out from underneath her white shirt and slid off his briefs. He rolled over in between her legs, and she panted in a sudden burst. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and back so that she held herself up to bite down lightly on his shoulder to mute her breath. Small gentle thrusts grew into long, hard ones. Coen buried his head into her shoulder to muffle his grunts and Rosalie bit down harder until their thrusting had stopped in the peak of passionate volume. They kissed, and he rolled over to his side and her head on his shoulder until slumber.

Next morning beyond the tool shed and spruce trees was a play house that stood about six feet above the ground. The floor base, nailed to four different trees, gave the structure an imperfect shape. The walls were rough wood that failed to completely fill the gaps between the lumber and in between the crevices Jess’ figure played. Inside the tree house, she sat on her knees as she mumbled and whispered to her doll. She bounced up and pretended to walk it in whichever way she saw fit. She held its head as if to look out through the window. “Look, a lake. Too bad it wasn’t summer.” She pointed out at the dock. “Want to go on the dock? Okay.” She climbed down the ladder and ran across the yard and onto the dock.
Jess stood a foot away from the end with the doll tucked against her chest. She slid her feet like skis slowly until the tip of her boots aligned with the end of the dock. The wind exposed separate areas of ice by clearing the snow. She held it out as far as she could reach. “Can you see through the ice?” The sheet of ice-foggy and cracked. “No? Well, okay, let’s if it clearer underneath the dock.” She leaned forward to see beneath. She lifted up her heels and stood on the edge with her tip toes. The wind gust. She squealed and jerked her head backward, falling on her posterior as she nearly slipped off the edge. She was in shock as she sat staring at her feet pointing towards the cloudy skies, the wind hollowing to no concern. She used her hands to push herself into a more stable position and rose to her feet. She stared once more at the ice. Her doll lay lifelessly on the cold surface as wind begun to cover it in the crisp white.

Chapter Two
A thin blade slid with ease between the fat and muscle tissue. It came down a second time to glide through red flesh until it stopped at the bloody cardboard. And they’d repeated until it had been too difficult to divide the meat further. The pieces were packed full into resealable bags. The knife’s blade scraped off the white fat tissue from the cardboard and into a garbage bin that sat next to the table. Coen used the back of his forearm to wipe away sweat from his forehead.
“Where’s Emmett?” Coen asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Emmett,” he called.
Emmett came out of the room next to his parents’. “Where’s my charger?” He held his dead phone in his hand. No one answered. “Hello? Where’s my charger?” He looked at his unresponsive mother as she had her eyes shamefully on Coen.
“Dad?”
“We didn’t bring any.”
“Yes, I did. I packed mine.”
“I unpacked yours.”
“What?”
“I unpacked them so we could spend time as a family. Now grab a bib and a knife and start helping.”
“What the fuck? I had shit I had to do!”
Coen grabbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Don’t talk to me like that, Emmett.”
“Well, what the hell? I have things I got to get done, too!”
Coen turned around with a sharp look on his face. Emmett’s eyes widened, startled. “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again. And if you ever speak to me like that in front of your sister and mother like that again, I won’t hesitate to kick your scrawny ass.”
Rosalie grabbed Jess firmly by the shoulder and covered both of her ears. “That’s enough, you two,” she said. “Emmett, it’s just for the weekend.”
He straightened his poster and matched his father’s fury. “This is fucking bullshit.”
Coen immediately threw a punch directed at Emmett’s face but stopped in time so that Emmett merely squinted to the convulsion of air crashing against his cheek.
“That’s enough, Coen.” Rosalie declared in Emmett’s defense as he used his arms to protect his face. “Emmett, you go back in that room.”
“You fucking psycho!” he hollered as he walked out.
Coen took a deep breath and turned around and continued cutting up meat. He looked over to Jess who had her head buried in Rosalie’s sweater. She looked to get a glimpse of him and turned away when they briefly locked eyes. “I’m sorry.” He saw her shaken expression.
Jess whispered something to her mother that Coen could not make out. “It’s okay,” Rosalie responded. He looked over with a question looked. She shrugged.

Later that evening Coen sat at the table staring blankly into his nearly empty cup of whiskey and cola. He swished the liquid and ice soft enough not to spill over the brim. A bottle of Canadian Club sat sweating next to him. He wrapped the neck of the bottle with his thumb and forefinger and topped off his drink. He swished the liquid to mix his drink properly and took a gulp.
He had the radio turned up louder than usual but still had not paid much attention. He realized that he had not heard a song for a while. He pointed his ear towards it:
“…we are still looking for more conclusive information on the cause of their deaths. In the meantime, authorities are asking that everyone refrain from leaving your homes, and avoid any contact with those who are showing signs of any symptoms. Once again, authorities…”
He got up and walked towards the radio to turn it up when he noticed a vehicle light shining through the window and, instead, he lowered the volume to silence.
The light grew as it shone on the backside of Coen’s parked truck. He threw on his jacket and stepped outside. An old engine muffled along as tires crunched through the hardening snow and soon Coen heard the music humming through the iron of an old pick-up truck as it parked slowly next to his. The man inside opened the door slightly before turning the key, muting the country music and uneasy engine. He stepped out and placed one hand on his belt. He thought the man to be about ten years his elder as he stood in the wind raising his eyebrows to the cap of his flapped hunting hat.
“Howdy,” he said in a stern voice. “Chilly out, eh?”
“Yeah, it’s getting pretty bad fast. Can I help you?”
The man approached as far as the steps where he rested his weight on the deck rail. “Yeah. Sorry to bother you at this time of night. My name is Carl. I have a cabin about fifty kilometers north of here. I was just wondering if you had a phone or some way I could make a call back home.”
“A cellphone. But the signal out here is pretty bad.”
“Don’t mind if I give it a try?”
He looked at Carl for a brief moment. “No, not at all. Come on in.”
Coen grabbed Rosalie’s phone from her hung coat and turned it on. While he waited for it to load properly, he offered a seat and drink to Carl and the guest obliged. He pondered over his thin, checkered sweater, thinking that for such a distance to travel in uncertainty, an outdoors-man would more cautious in respect of the freezing night. “Sounds good about now.” He poured and mixed it himself. Coen sat across the table from him and took a good drink from his cup.
“I know it’s late. Again, I’m sorry, bud.”
“It’s no problem. I was up anyway. And I’m sure it’s all for a good reason.”
“Yeah. It is I suppose. There ain’t a bit of service where my cabin is. All I got is an old radio. I tried using it a couple of times to get a hold of my wife, but she hadn’t been replying. I don’t know if it has anything to with these clouds, but it sure has me concerned. Been out there for a week. Just been these last couple of days this has been going on.”
Coen punched in the cellphone’s password and slid it across to Carl. “Hopefully you get something.”
Carl poked at the cellphone’s screen and lifted it to his ear. Coen could hear the phone ring faintly. The signal abruptly rung and occasionally cut out in chaotic sequence. Carl dialed a new number. The same result. He ended the phone call, and his deep breath exhaled.
“No luck I take it?”
“None.” Carl slid the phone back.
“Technology. They say so many good things about it on TV and what not. It never done me any good. I figure we’d all do better without it.”
Carl took a big drink. “You don’t hear that much these days,” he laughed. “But I agree with you there. Can’t get the kids off those damn things nowadays. Got any?”
“Two. Sleeping in that room right there. A six-year-old daughter and a teenage kid.”
“Wow, ain’t too often you hear about kids camping these days. I got me one. Technology is a spirit killer for guys like us. Often enough you can’t even use half the damn stuff out here. And if you can, you need to have plug-in every hour so that you can keep the damn thing from burning out.”
“Yeah. Maybe I’d use it more often if it wasn’t for that.”
“Then again. I did see this one satellite at a hunting shop one time. It was in the states. All you do is hook the bugger up, and it gives you internet and TV and all the bells and whistles like that. Says it could work anywhere in the world. I’d say something like that could have been useful right about now.”
“What’s the next move, Carl? You going to be heading into town?”
“Yeah, looks about that way at this point. Right in the morning, I suppose.”
Coen refilled their cups. “Us too. Could have been a more eventful weekend but at least I took down a buck. Always good to go home with meat.”
“Yeah. I got me one too a few days back. Figure I got to haul that back, too. Good hunting this year. I’m surprised. Wish I could find a way to get my kid off his ass and get him out here. But that’s asking for the impossible. He’s twenty-five now. He’s hitched and in love and has it all sorted out.”
“Yeah well, truth be told, I’m surprised as hell I got my family out here. When my son was just a young boy, he did some show and tell with his class. Lucky all he done was tell. Told his teacher and his classmates that we came up here and did some trapping and some little girl went and made a big fuss of it. They figured we were barbarians. My father would have been ashamed at the way things are,” Coen drank his cup dry and refilled. “He would have probably packed a switch blade and Roger’s Golden Syrup and moved up here and called it home if wasn’t for cancer. The bullshit back home would have drove him crazy. Times sure have changed.” He took a shot.
“They sure have. It’s good to meet a like-minded individual finally. You and your father both. Been driving past this turn off my whole life. It’s nice to get to meet you finally. Where’s home? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Not at all. Near Thompson. My mother lives in the city. Before that, I was living off a reserve by Flin Flon. I grew up there.”
“My family and I live in Thompson, too. Just moved there. She just opened up a deli. I’m still looking for work up in the mines. Never had much luck landing anything.”
“That’s where I’m working. I’m head of security up there.”
“Oh yeah? How’s that going?”
“Mhm. It’s alright. It’s mostly just quiet. Nothing too serious ever happens. Young kids getting worked up about their girlfriends back home mostly.”
“How did you get into that line of work?”
“Hm. Just got the job and stuck with it. Pays the bills.”
An hour of conversation passed. It was twelve thirty AM. Carl slipped on his linen gloves. “Thanks for your hospitality, eh.”
“Looks like it’s getting bad out there. Safe travels, man.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I’ll make it.”
“We probably won’t be leaving until late in the noon. Stop by and grab a coffee before you take off.”
“I sure will. Have a good one now.” Carl shook Coen’s hand and walked outside.
Coen closed the door behind him. He walked up to the table and poured the rest of the two-six of whiskey into his cup. He reached out for the volume knob on the radio and turned it up only to hear the sound of a constant hiss. The hiss randomly escalated to a small screech. He adjusted the frequency knob to find a different station. There was nothing but noise and static. He turned it off completely.

The next morning he walked out of the room as he rubbed his eyes and yawned. He walked up to the coffee pot and poured himself a drink. He heard the radio broadcast behind him. He turned and saw his family all sitting quietly as if they just heard that someone had died. Rosalie turned her head towards him. “You have to listen to this.” He walked over and sat down quietly not to interrupt.
“…Locals of Thompson, Manitoba are demanding more answers from the federal government as so many are forced to remain inside their homes. Authorities have blockaded the city so that no one could enter or leave. At eight thirty, officials have officially announced the death toll to have reached six thousand in the northern city.” Rosalie covered her mouth with her hands. Her eyes widened in tears. “Across the province, the death toll has been estimated to have reached approximately forty thousand since the first deaths. The unknown disease has killed approximately thirteen million people nationally in under forty-eight hours—twenty percent of Canada’s population. The Government of Canada and Minister of Health urges that all citizens remain inside their homes. ‘We are working diligently with the UN and World Health Organization for answers,’ said the Minister of Health, this morning during a nation-wide broadcast. The Prime Minister has yet to make an official statement. His last update came yesterday VIA a tweet stating: ‘my thoughts and prayers are with the families who are affected at this time. Some questions need answers.’ The first case was reported in China where the disease has since caused the deaths of over fifty percent of the population…”
Coen’s coffee was cold, untouched, and still at the brim. The broadcast had fallen upon deaf ears. His eyes fixed on the wooden surface of the table or something. Nobody spoke. Not that he could hear otherwise.
Jess got off her chair and walked over to hug her mother sitting still as if to hold back her tears. Her mother put her arms over her shoulders and pulled her in close. Emmett’s eyes wondered on the floor as if he was trying to look for something. He put the tip of his fingernail in between the crevices of his teeth and bit down. He had done this finger by finger until his mother slapped his hand out of his mouth. “Stop that.”
“Well, what the fuck?”
Coen snapped out of it. “Don’t start, Emmett.”
“This is insane. Why didn’t we bring chargers?”
“We did.”
“What? You lied? Where are they?”
“In the truck. Glove department.”
Emmett sprung up and ran outside.
“Is grandma sick?” Jess asked.
Rosalie covered her mouth again and burst in tears. “No, my little darling. Grandma isn’t sick.” She hugged her and got up and started pressing her fingers against her phone’s screen in a hurry.
Coen hugged his daughter. “I’m sorry for the way I was yesterday.”
“It’s okay, dad. Emmett was being bad.”
“We both were.” He smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “What now?” he asked as Rosalie seated.
She looked at him and shook her head side to side. “I don’t know.”

The broadcast continued in their silence. Much of the reports repeated throughout the hour. Emmett sat at the table attentive to his phone. He often cursed at the phone’s poor service but updated with new information when it came through. The first accounts of the disease came from China and moved its way throughout the entirety of Asia before breaking out worldwide in less than twenty-four hours. Said of the unknown disease was that it afflicted the lungs and the victims died of asphyxiation in less than an hour after coming in contact with an infected individual. The disease was airborne. In the broadcast were the screaming riots worldwide. Mothers’ cries shouted violently through the speakers. Thousands of voices chanted out in holy prayers. Politicians spoke nervously at podiums. Blockades were present in every community worldwide. Villages. Small towns. Cities. All quarantined. Hospitals were shut down. Public malls and market places were robbed. Gas stations were sucked dry. On-call nurses and emergency respondents and doctors alike were nowhere to be found.
“This can’t be” Rosalie repeated frantically. They listened as carefully as they could, biting their knuckles.
They could only imagine the horror.
“Anything yet?” Coen asked.
She shook her. “No,” she murmured with her hand resting on her phone.
He wiped his mouth. A tear rolled down his cheek and over his fingers.
“What do we do? We can’t stay here. We have to go back.” She grabbed the back of his hand.
“Go where? You heard what they said. Everything’s blocked off.”
“We have to try. We can make it work. We always manage to make it work.”
He wiped his face. “I don’t know about that.”
“Well, at least we try, Coen. Don’t start now. We can’t be thinking negatively now.”
“Neither can we be thinking stupidly.”
“Why do you always do that? Shut down every suggestion I make? This is different. This isn’t about you.” He bit down and looked away. He held his tongue. “Okay? This isn’t just about you, Coen. This about us as a family. Your mother is somewhere in that mess, and here we are talking about abandoning her.”
“I didn’t say anything like that. They said it themselves! People are going crazy out there. They’re stealing from gas stations and stores and people’s homes. We can’t just up and leave and burn away all the gas for nothing. Thompson is quarantined. They won’t let anybody in or out. How hard is that to understand? We have to stay here and protect what little we do have. What if we end up going and we get mugged on the road? What about Jess? Emmett? We can’t jeopardize their safety for no reason. Think about it, Rosalie.’
We will be okay here. We’ll just wait for this whole thing to blow over. They’ll come up with a cure and eventually everything will be alright. You heard them say they’re doing everything they can. We have to believe in that. One stupid move is all it will take.”
Emmett looked down at his phone. His battery was down to thirty percent. “How much gas do we have for the generator?”
Coen glanced at him and moved his gaze to the window. “If we use it for no more than an hour a night, we should have enough for roughly a month and still have enough to get back home.”
“You think everything will blow over by then?”
“It will.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
“It will.”
“What about food?”
“We got enough meat to last us awhile. We’ll manage.”
Rosalie wiped away her tears. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I don’t think anybody could.”
“Where’s Jess?” She looked around hysterically.
“She’s in the room,” Emmett said. “I told her to lie down and read for a while.”
“Thanks.”
“No problem. What now?” Emmett looked at his parents’ blank expressions. Their eyes were red. “We have to do something.”
Coen looked into his son’s eyes. “Survive.”

Chapter Three

Coen pushed the mattress and box spring off the frame and looked down in between the two-foot-high wooden rim where an assembly of firearms and ammunition laid. Four cased rifles and a black twelve gauge Mossberg laid side by side. Two handguns were lying in their holsters next to a few loaded clips. A mountain of ammunition sat in boxes, stacked in one corner. In the shadows, there was a compound bow and a crossbow lying next to two sheaths filled with arrows and bolts and large hunting knives. He grabbed a Mossberg and pulled back the action and set it next to a box of shotgun shells. He reached for another box and checked it before setting it down to grab one of the many hand pistols. He took it out from its holster. A silver 9mm Beretta glistened in the light as he held it above his head. He pulled back the slide and placed it back in the holster, strapping it to his belt. He walked over to the other side of the bed and grabbed a sheath and slung it over his shoulder. He pulled out a compound bow and tugged on the string to check if its tension was secure and it was.
He adjusted the bed and sat on the edge. One by one, he cleaned the weapons. He stared blankly at his muddy reflection on a ten-inch hunting knife. His eyes were dark. He held the point of the blade at the tip of his finger and used his other hand to spin the knife. He looked up at the wall and glanced at a picture of his family some years ago. He sighed and shook his head.
“This isn’t happening.” He went to the kitchen.
Rosalie sat and watched Coen as he fidgeted with the radio. He searched through the stations and found nothing but the same broadcast.
“What are you doing?” she asked to no reply.
He switched to AM frequencies but still found nothing. The last thing she heard was a reporter of protesters attacking blockades before Coen had turned the radio off completely.  He hung his head.
“What’s wrong?”
He didn’t look at her. He turned away and walked to the room.

That evening had been the coldest thus far. The snow fell so thick that visibility was a mere ten feet from out the window. The wind blew as if to remove the roof from the cabin. The stove was filled bottom to top with burning logs to fend off the intruding cold. It was quiet inside save the deep bellows of the wind and the stove crackling and popping. Jess was in her mother’s arms as they sat on the couch with a mink blanket covering them up to their necks. Coen and Emmett sat at the table. His sights fixed on the weapons as his dad set the table.
“Do you remember when you were a kid and we use to do archery?” Coen grabbed the compound bow. Emmett nodded. “Well, we’re going to be doing a lot of that again. Bullets don’t last forever.” He took the sheath of arrows and handed them to Emmett. He leaned over and cooed, “if things don’t happen as we hope, you’ll have to know how to live.” He fixed his posture. “First we’ll use the bow for a while, and then we’ll make some of our own. I’ll even show you how to make an atlatl.”
“An atlatl?”
“It’s basically a handle made of wood that you use to project a giant dart. You just use almost like you were pitching a ball. Doesn’t sound like much but if you make one right, it could cut clear through a bull at a reasonable distance.” He handed him the bow. “Pull it back but don’t let it go dry.” Emmett pulled it back and aimed towards the roof. “We’ll start practice tomorrow when it’s light enough to see.”
“Is this just for hunting?”
“What?” Coen was looking down at a box of ammunition in his hand.
“Like, will I be practicing how to use this just for hunting?”
His father’s eyes looked past his forehead as his chin tucked in. “You’ll be practicing how to use for whatever you’ll be using it for.” He put down the box. “I know your gun was loaded when we were hunting. Why did you do that?”
Emmett looked down at the table. “I just wanted to be ready to shoot just in case anything popped out of nowhere.”
“And when we saw that caribou, why didn’t you?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t. I think I just didn’t want to miss and come home with nothing.”
He picked up the Mossberg and pointed it towards the window. He pulled back pump and set it back down. “Emmett, things have changed now. You can’t hesitate. Twenty-four hours ago I would have understood. We don’t know what to expect anymore.”
“I understand.” He pulled out his cellphone. “By the way, I was talking to Brandon earlier. He and his family are okay. I can’t send or receive anything though. Messages. Internet. Nothing works. I think the towers are down or something.”
Coen continued inspecting. “It’s probably better that way.”
“Why?”
“What good will knowing do?”
“Knowing what? What’s going on?”
“Yeah.”
“It could help us lots. Who is alive. Who isn’t. How we can fight this disease or whatever it is killing people. How we can prevent it. How it started. There’s still lots we don’t know about.”
“If we sit around and hear nothing but horrors than we’ll do nothing but run around here scared and crying. We know enough. We’re lucky enough to be here. All we got is to move forward. That’s a better deal than we could ask for, son.”
Rosalie shot up from the couch. “Babe, your mom texted back! She said she’s okay,” she announced. “I tried sending a text, but it wouldn’t send.”
“Mine either. Towers must be down.”
“What did she say?” he asked. His head leaned over her shoulder to read the messages.
“She just said she’s okay but scared. She just found out the same time we did. She said she locked herself inside the house and that she’s not going anywhere.”
“At least we know she’s okay.”
Coen went back to his firearms.
“We can’t just leave her there alone, Coen. She’s your mother.”
He was silent for a moment. “We already talked about this. We have to stay here. If we move, we die. Then it will all be for nothing.”
Rosalie stared at Coen with a harsh look for a few moments before turning to sit with Jess again. Emmett set the bow down carefully and said, “They say that whatever it is, it’s super contagious. It could even probably spread from just being by someone who is sick.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah.”
“Well?”
“Well, what if somebody comes around here?”
Coen opened the chamber of a bolt action rifle and blew into the barrel. He looked into Emmett’s curious eyes and snapped the chamber closed.

Coen sat in the driver seat with his fingers tapping the top of the steering wheel. The sound of his police radio overwhelmed quiet country music and traffic passing on. He looked up in his rear-view mirror. His partner Phillip stood waiting out at the passenger side with a bag of fast food and a beverage tray with two cups of coffee. He used his hips to tap the window gently with his holster and belt. Coen reached over and popped the door open.
“Grab this,” Philip said as he handed over the tray.
He sat in the vehicle and looked in the bag and grabbed his chili and a bun and handed the bag over to Coen.
“What the hell took you so long?” Coen said.
“Man, it’s fucking rush hour in that place all the time.”
Coen dipped his bun into his chili. “Well it was worth it,” he said with his mouth stuffed.
“Yeah, sure, while you sat in here and played with yourself.”
“Relax, I got a wife. I don’t need to be doing that. Unlike somebody I know.”
“Yeah-yeah. I get tail all the time.” Phillip grabbed a napkin and wiped his blue jacket.
“Yeah ‘cause you go to those slummy bars all the damn time.”
“What’s wrong with that? They don’t know who I am over there. They’re always partying there. And they know how to do it better than those rich cock-suckers downtown.”
“See that’s why I don’t go out with you no more. You can’t go to a normal, nice bar and pick up a normal, nice chicks like any normal, nice guy would.”
“Do you want to know why there’s a problem with that?”
“Why?”
Phillip shrugged. “Well, because I ain’t normal or nice.”
Coen looked at Phillip with the corner of his eye, his teeth just about to sink into his food. He bit down. “Yeah, we know. You’re a sick fucker, Phil.”

The neighborhood filled with alarmed civilians and ambulance crews and police cars. Emergency lights flared. A crowd of people surrounded the yellow crime scene tape. Coen and Phillip got out of the car and walked under the tape. The commotion was in front of a two-bed room house where photographers snapped photos of bloody bodies they stood over. There were four of them lying lifeless and bloody on the red and green lawn. The coroners stood by waiting for the detective’s call to have them hauled away. Phillip looked at Coen after coming to wits. He shook his head and exhaled “Fuck. I can’t be around this. I’ll watch the tape,” he said and walked the other way. A detective in a black suit walked up to Coen after he inked a view notes.
“Coen,” he said. They shook hands.
“Brad.” He looked at the bodies for a closer glimpse. The face of one was so bloody and shot up that it was impossible to identify. “What the hell happened here?”
“Gangs, they shot this place up good.”
“They’re just kids. Nineteen to mid-twenties.”
“Unfortunate.”
“Any civilians hurt?”
“No one. There’s two more dead inside. They lit this place up with automatic handhelds: Uzis and Tec-9s and at least a few pistols. They couldn’t find pieces like that on their own. This was a job. We found no drugs in the house. Paraphernalia, but that’s all.”
“No drugs? So somebody got away?”
“Yeah, we spoke to witness who saw one person run out of the house and jumped in the passenger side of a car and they drove away in a hurry.”
“Did they get the license number?”
“Nothing. But she said the car looked like an early 90s Buick, tan in color. Maybe seen the letters B and X on the plates. They may have been older than the early twenties. We don’t get a whole lot.”
“Okay. I’ll let dispatch know immediately and have some boys keep an eye out. Anything else?”
“That’s about it. I’ll call you when I learn anything else. Seeing as you don’t have a phone to text. You should climb aboard the times. They aren’t so bad, Sarge.”
“Look at that, detective.” He pointed at the wall of people stretching over the tape taking pictures with their cellphones. “They look like fucking vultures scrounging for a meal. No thanks. And I’ll call you too if I find anything. Take it easy, Brad.”

They were driving slowly on the industrial side of the city. It was quiet that evening. The sun was already half sunken into the horizon of warehouses and junkyards. The area was blurry. The memory distorted in flashes like burning reels of tape but he could recall being across the street from a 92 Buick parked outside a culvert garage. Phillip was muttering to dispatch. The words dampened as if under water. Two men walked outside the culvert and looked abound warily. Noticed. Coen jumped out of the car with his forearms resting on the car door, gun loaded and aimed. “Freeze!” his demand echoed. They refused to abide. The gunfire resonated.
Tires squealed. They pursued the trail of dust. Two red rear lights shone like a creature’s glare in the shadows. The Buick lost control and crashed into a cement roadblock. Coen had his gun aimed at the driver side door. He begged for their surrender. The door opened, and slowly the driver crawled out, his face bloody and bruised. Phillip walked cautiously toward the wreck with his gun aimed at the passenger side. The other man fired his gun inside the shattered car, and Phillip fell to the ground. Coen’s eyes widened at the site of the bloody exit wound that protruded in the back of his partner’s head. The world slowly moved as Coen opened fire inside the vehicle. Silence fell.
He released his clip and snapped in a fresh one. He held up his gun and walked slowly towards the vehicle. The man in the passenger side appeared lifeless, his head leaning on the car seat. Cautiously, he opened the door to get a better view. The man burst in a sudden movement and fired off two bullets before his clip was dry. One bullet hit Coen in the torso. Bursts of cloth exploded. There was no blood. He managed to rapidly put several bullets into the man’s chest and head before he leaned against the car to hold himself up, the pain throbbing. He took a deep breath and saw the other man crawl away. Coen lifted his gun and lined up his site to him. Everything vanished.

Coen shot up, forehead sweaty. He felt lost when he looked around the dark room. The memory of bullet impact transcended into reality as he grasped his torso to check for a broken rib. Placidity came when Rosalie roused up.
“What’s wrong?” she asked rubbing her eyes. He took a deep breath and fell back into his pillow. He stared at the roof waiting for his heart to settle, and soon his fever dissipated. His wife rested her head on his shoulder. He reluctantly turned away to his side. “It’s nothing,” he said, “just a dream.” She threw off the blankets and walked out of the room.

Chapter Four

 
Later that morning the wind whistled quietly through the crevices of the front door as Jess slipped on her boots. “Jess!” her mother cried before she opened the door to play. Rosalie grabbed her by the arms and looked her directly in the eyes “don’t do that, Jess. You can’t just leave like that.”
She pouted her lips. “I just wanted to play.”
“I know but don’t go outside without telling me you. You can’t go outside alone, you hear me?”
She nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay. Well, wait inside for a while. I’m going to cook some porridge.” She walked towards the kitchen counter. “You shouldn’t be going outside without eating anyway. Where’s your brother is he up?”
“Yeah. He’s outside with dad. They’re shooting arrows. I wanted to go watch, mom.”
“Well, you got to eat first.”
She turned on the propane and ignited the stove top and put on the coffee kettle. Roughly twenty minutes later the sound of bubbling and burping came from the pot full of porridge and steam whistled through the kettle. Coen and Emmett walked into the aroma of cooked oats. “Porridge is in the pot,” Rosalie told Emmett as she set Jess’ plate down in front of her. They walked over to grab a plate of their own and sat down, eager for a bite.
“Mom I want sugar, it tastes funny,” said Jess.
“Sure.” She got up and got the sugar and scattered a scoop of white sugar on the surface of her steaming oats. “There you go.”
Jess dipped the spoon back in and blew it cool. “Still tastes funny, mom.”
Coen fixed his posture and looked at Rosalie in disapproval. “We can’t use too much, my darling. We need to save. We can’t use lots.”
“But I don’t like it.”
“Jess, eat your food. You heard your mom,” said Coen.
She grumbled and started swirling her spoon in her bowl without eating. Her parents continued eating with their eyes fixed on the table. Emmett nudged Jess. She squealed and hit him on the arm. “Don’t” she cried.
Coen dropped his spoon and quickly wiped off his hands. He grabbed Jess’ bowl and walked it over to the garbage can and dumped it.
“You want to waste things? There you go.” He sat back down and acted as if nothing had happened. He could feel their eyes on him. His jaw muscles contracted.
Jess threw her arms on the table and began to cry. Rosalie looked back at Coen shaking her head. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Why should we have to put up with that? This isn’t how things are going to be anymore. Jess, I am sorry. But if you want to waste your food, you don’t have to eat at all. That’s the bottom line.” Her cries ascended. “Stop crying, Jess,” he demanded.
“Coen, stop it,” Rosalie exclaimed and jumped out of her chair.
Coen leaned closer to Rosalie’s face, uninitiated. “Get out of my face. I will not let my family die because we’re too careless with what we have.”
“She’s just a little girl.”
“And she’ll learn.”
She was quiet for a moment. “You’re not making this any easier on us.”
“Who said this was supposed to be easy?” He grabbed her arm and pulled her in closer. He whispered through closed teeth. “This is how it’s going to be for now on. I love you. I love you and the kids.” He loosened his grip. “Emmett, help your mom do dishes. Jess, go to your bedroom. I’ll be in there to talk to you shortly.”
Rosalie stared long and hard at Coen. “Don’t you raise your voice to her like that again. She’s just a little girl, and she’s scared.”
“She’s scared? That’s great. It’s fine to be scared. Being scared is what’s going to keep us alive.”

Coen had his elbows resting on the deck’s rail. He reckoned he would go out to smoke while the wind and cold were mild. He took a long drag from his cigarette and exhaled slowly to savor the warmth in his lungs. The smoke was thick in the cold. His thoughts were deep. He wondered if the white ahead was trickery and all was simply a dream of which he could not wake. The thought escaped as the front door creaked, and Rosalie walked out beside him. She crossed her arms to keep warm.
“How much of those do you got left?”
He dug into his pocket.
She huddled up against him and put out her hand for a drag. He placed the smoke in-between her fingers.
“I’m sorry,” he said calmly.
“It’s okay. I don’t know what I’m doing either.”
“Two years?” His eyes crossed to stare at the cigarette in between his teeth.
“Over two years now. Tastes like shit now.” She handed him the last few drags. “You had a dream about what happened didn’t you?”
He exhaled and stomped out the rest. “Yeah.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “It’s going to be okay, babe. I just need you to understand that I’m here for you, not to get in your way. We have to do this together.”
“I know.” He looked down. “Every time I think about what happened, I just feel distant. I don’t want to feel like that, but I can’t help it. I feel like I could just pour an entire bottle of Canadian Club down my throat and pass out in the snow somewhere and even that wouldn’t faze me as much those fucking nightmares. I’ll never get away from them. You go into the force thinking that if something like that would ever happen, it wouldn’t affect you as much as it does. It’s a nightmare.”
“Drinking doesn’t help anything. Neither does being distant. Don’t think that way. You know you can’t do that. Not now.”
“I know. It’s just a feeling. It happens at work. I manage to manage.”
“Maybe it’s because they don’t sell alcohol up there.”
“More than likely. I had a drink the other night when Emmett had his fit about the phones. I just couldn’t take the stress.”
Rosalie’s stare was almost cold. “You brought alcohol?”
“No. It was already here from the last time I’ve been up here. Anyways a man showed up that night.”
“What? Out here?”
“Yes. His name is Carl. He asked to use our phone, but there was no signal. He had a few drinks with me and went about his way. He said he might be coming back, but he hasn’t shown up yet. I’m just wondering if he tried to get back into Thompson.”
“If he went there and it was quarantined, wouldn’t he have turned around?”
“I figure by now yes.”
“So what?”
“I might go up to his cabin and see if he’s there.”

Coen turned on the radio and humming, and noise rang through the speakers. They went through the frequencies, but there had been no broadcast, just noise that swelled and hissed and faded. He turned to address his wife and son. “Okay. If he isn’t there, that means he might have made it back into Thompson. That means we can go back too.”
“What if he isn’t there and he just died?” said Emmett.
“It’s a chance we got to take.”
“Okay, so what about gas?”
“Gas?”
“Yeah. Aren’t we supposed to save it?”
“Yeah. But it’s a chance we got to take, son.” He walked over to the entrance and threw on his coat. He bent over to tie his boats. “Emmett, you stay here.”
“What, why?”
He rose up and grabbed the rifle sitting next to the door. “Because you have to stay here and help your mom watch Jess. They need you here.”
“What about you?”
“I can handle myself.” He withdrew his Beretta from its holster and checked if the clip had bullets.
“What if somebody shows up?”
“Make sure his name is Carl. If it isn’t him, tell them to leave. It could be foragers or anybody. And if they try to harm you, shoot them. Have your gun on you at all times, Emmett. Tell your sister it’s just in case of bears. Don’t try and scare her.” Emmett nodded. “Be careful.”
Rosalie held her hand over her mouth. Uncovering it for a moment, she said with water in her eyes, “you too.”

The road was vacant and blanked out in white. Coen the pavement was buried under a blanket of snow. At a leisurely pace, it took an hour before the road was disturbed by vague tire tracks. He followed the trail for about a kilometer until finally, he came to a cabin much like his own although there had been poplar throughout the lot and beyond or before the wiry bush he saw no vehicle of any familiarity. He checked over his shoulder before stepping out from his truck and stood for a moment to listen but heard only wind and saw no smoke spewing or even so much as driveling from the chimney. He walked up to the front door and knocked and as he’d thought there was no answer and so he cleared a circle on the window with his sleeve and winced through the frosted glass but saw no one.
He went and checked the doorknob but it was locked and took a switchblade from his pocket and dug it into the frozen crevice between the knob and frame and carefully wedged and pulled the blade to pushed his weight on the door and he flung it wide open.
He folded the switch blade and placed it back into his chest pocket and looked about the cold cabin. There was frost on every window. The faint light from his backside painted his figure into the dim lobby. He saw the floors had been swept off the dust recently however as he knelt to touch the floor it had been cold to the touch. He looked to the heads of elk and deer and moose which hung on each wall, and, in between the trophies, wolf pelts, dream catchers, beaver traps, muzzle-loaders hung fossilized in rust and frost and, when he did not see any family pictures to indicate evidence of the owners, he walked to the kitchen counter and one by one he began opening cupboards. Cups…Plates…Soup cans…Spices… and there he opened up a cupboard with keys hanging from the door. He checked every key. There it was. It was a key that could have certainly been the spare for Carl’s pick-up truck. Still unconvinced he went through the drawers and found a pile of papers and magazines and old pens. He grabbed one of the hunting magazines and saw Carl’s name prescribed over the barcode and left.

Rosalie was reading to Jess on the couch while Emmett stared at his rifle, closing and opening the bolt action. He said to his mother that he was going out for some fresh air and left with the gun. He grabbed a sleigh full of chopped logs and started a fire in the fireplace and brushed the snow from off the picnic table and sat down waiting for the flames to throw heat. He looked out towards the lake and got up and put the butt of his rifle against his shoulders. He squinted to look through the scope. The dark spruce border on the other side of the lake was too distant to line up in the crosshairs. He turned the sight towards the woodshed and lined up the handle of the ax. He put his finger gently on the trigger and slowly pulled until the chamber clicked. The barrel was dry. He slung the rifle back on his back and turned around saw a man standing motionless.
Frost and ice hung off the fringes of the man’s hood. His scarf covered his face up past his nose. Emmett could only see snow stuck to his bushy eyebrows, his dark empty eyes looking back at him. Emmett put the end of his rifle underneath his armpit. The man raised his hand to halt.
“Wait,” he muttered loudly through his scarf.
Emmett eased the gun.
The man pulled down the scarf. Emmett had not known it, but it was Carl. “My name is Carl. I met your dad the other day.”
Emmett squinted for a moment and let go of the rifle. The man walked closer towards him.
“Sorry for scaring you. It gets cold walking when you’re walking for so many miles.”
“Did you see my dad?”
“Not since a couple of nights ago.”
“Are you okay?” Emmett pointed at his frosted boots. “Looks like you’ve walking quite a while.”
“Yeah. My truck ran out of gas. Bastards wouldn’t even let me fill up my truck.”
“You just came from Thompson?”
“It’s completely shut down. Even the radio wasn’t working. It could be on now, but I don’t know.”
“Whoa. Don’t come any closer,” Emmett said with his hands up. “Are you sick?”
“No, but I’ll probably get sick if I stay outside any longer.” He walked right past Emmett and pulled off his gloves and put his hands as close to the flames as he could. “Where is your dad?”
“He went to your cabin. He wanted to see if you’re still around.”
“Nope, no I wasn’t.” He blew into his hands and rubbed them together and put them in the heat again. “I figured out what was going on and I had to get back home to my wife. I just pray she isn’t gone. I just want to know if her and my son is okay. So many are dead.” He looked at Emmett and glanced at the rifle. “I get it. It’s cool, man.”
“My dad told me to be careful if anyone came around.” Emmett walked up to the fireplace. “Said to shoot anyone that wasn’t you. Was just about to. You looked like the freaking abominable snowman.”
Carl laughed. “Funny guy eh. Yeah, it was a long thirty or so kilometers. Thought I would have been lucky enough to make it here on fumes. Damn old gas guzzler anyway.”
The front door slapped the cabin. “Emmett?” his mother hollered. They both turned their heads towards her. Her eyes frightened.

The kerosene light danced calmly on the walls and over the floors and the stove crackled over the quiet hiss of the radio, and their eyes lay upon the table surface. A bottle of Merlot was set by Rosalie as she sipped from her wine glass. And Coen took a bottle of Canadian Club and poured it into Carl’s cup and Emmett’s posture was erect as he watched like a student at a University lecture.
“I say we just go over there guns blazin,” said Carl.
“We can’t do that.”
“Out of the question,” Rosalie broke in stubbing the tip of her index fingers on the table like forcing out a cigarette.

“She’s probably dead anyway,” Carl said solemnly. “My son, too.”
“Don’t say that,” Rosalie spoke in a comforting tone.
Coen nodded. “Yeah, she’ll be fine.” He poured himself another drink.
“I just can’t sit around and do nothing.”
“What do you mean ‘do nothing’? You could survive. We are. If you need anything, Carl, we’ll always be here to help you,” Coen assured.
“I wouldn’t know what I’d be doing it for.”
“For you. You can’t just know what you know and let it all go to waste. That’s why guys like us live the way we do. We’re born and bred this way. You can’t just give up. You’re meant to be here. You’re meant to move forward.”
Carl took a big drink. “How the fuck do we accept this shit?”
“Undoubtedly it’s hard to accept. But ninety percent of this world has been too busy with their heads plowed into their phones. They don’t even care to look five inches away from those screens without worrying about who’s going to text them or who’s going to like what they have to say. Me and you? We didn’t buy it. Never have and never will. And now look at this world. People were probably so busy on those damned things reading about the price of wheat in China that they didn’t even notice that the world was going to shit around them. If they were to see us now, they’d envy us. They’d give up their TVs, cell phones, credit cards, mp3s just to be where we are now. They’re stuck. There’s nothing they can do now. Doctors, politicians… they’re all dying. I don’t feel sorry for them. They chose their lives the same way I chose mine.”
They were silent for a moment before Carl spoke. “She didn’t choose that life. I guess I just left her behind. I live in the city too eh. I know there ain’t much people who like to go out camping or anything but there are the few who still need to work. There are still thousands that love to be outdoors, but it isn’t a way of life. I can’t say that I don’t feel sorry for them. It isn’t their fault people are dying.”
“The world couldn’t handle us people. So many of us and the way we show gratitude is by taking advantage of it, taking shortcuts and always looking for the easy way out.” Coen poured another drink. “But I’d kill to see my brothers and sisters again… my mother too. I’d do anything to have them out here. We’d make it so good.”
“Where are they now?”
“They all moved away, some to the States but mostly down south. They’ve probably been caught up in all of this too.”
“Are you going back?” Emmett asked Carl.
“Yeah,” he replied.
“Not tonight,” Rosalie instead. “Not tonight. You just finished freezing your ass off. If there’s any room for kindness left, it’s here. Besides, you and Coen are looking a little half shot. No way I’m letting my baby drive. We got a sleeping bag you can use. We don’t have any extra mattresses, so I hope that’s good enough.”
“That’s more than enough, Rosalie, God bless you.”
“Well,” Coen lifted his cup, “to the last alcohol we’ll be drinking in a while.” They raised their glasses and drank.
“You’d think we savor it,” Rosalie said while she poured her glass to the brim, “but fuck that.” She took a big gulp.
“Too bad I forgot the magic blue pills,” said Coen.
“Oh God, just end it all now,” Rosalie rolled her eyes.
Emmett shook his head and went to bed.

Jess was in the bedroom with a little LED scrolling over the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. She whispered the words soft and slow, trying to ignore the bantering of Carl and her parents outside. When she finished the book an hour later she could hear her brother snoring across the room, and she pulled her blankets over her ear to dampen the sound but his snores pierced through. Later on, she awoke to her parent’s snores coming through the walls and growled as she rose to her feet and went to a large box filled with toys and quietly picked out a stuffed bear and brought it over to her bed. She used its soft fur for a pillow to hug but she her eyes would not close and, irate and mumbling, she stomped to Emmett and nudged him quickly, “brother I can’t sleep.” She nudged again when he mumbled, “can I sleep with you? I can’t sleep, please.” She heard his growls and, with no room to lie next to Emmett, he sat down on the edge of her bed caressing the soft stuffed animal.
She swallowed her spit and decided to grab a drink of water. She poked her head out of the door and slowly stepped into the darkness. The moonlit room was quiet. She made out the kitchen counter sitting in the moon’s gleam in the darkness as she carefully slid her feet across the floor to avoid kicking anything. She got to a rubber tub and scooped water from the dipper, and she let the cold water slide down her throat in relief.
“Don’t you think you should use a cup?”
Jess froze when she heard Carl’s hoarse voice. His face was hidden in the shadows and saw only his hands and feet and a bottle of whiskey in his fist.
She stood speechless, eyes wide. “Don’t be scared,” Carl said in pitched voice. “Your mom and dad are only in the next room. You couldn’t sleep neither, huh?” He saw her hesitant nod. “Yeah, me either. You’re not scared of me are you?” She barely turned her head. “That’s good. I’m not scary. Compared to what’s going on anyway. You’re a lucky girl you know to have parents like that. Most girls your age don’t have parents that will take them camping.” He leaned over, and half of his face revealed. His sockets were shadows. “You better go to bed. I don’t think your parents would like it to find you out here out of bed.”
Jess slowly stepped backward until she turned and made for the room and she quickly shoved Emmett’s leg over and laid next to him.

Chapter Five

 
Early morning Coen and Carl drove out about ten kilometers to the abandoned pickup. Snow covered the window and hood. Carl brushed it clean while Coen emptied out the gas from a jerry can. He closed the fuel cap. Carl turned the ignition, and the engine grumbled until it fired up. Carl got out.
“That ought to do well until you can get back to your place,” Coen said, placing the empty container in the back of his truck.
“Thank you,” Carl shook his hand.
“Now you’re sure you have fuel at your place?”
“Yeah, I got some of it. Next time I’ll be sure to bring it with me.”
Coen stood silently in the humming wind.
“What’s on your mind?” Carl said.
Coen looked at Carl’s pick up and looked around. “I thought you would have been further out from this. Thought I heard Emmett mention something about you being thirty kilometers away. Guess I thought I’d burn more fuel coming out here.”
Carl smiled. “It felt longer during the walk. I don’t know. I guess I’m just getting too damn old or something.”
Coen laughed. “Yeah, I know what you mean. You take it easy now, Carl.” Coen grabbed the truck’s door handle.
“You too,” Carl waved him off.
Coen got in and started his truck. Carl drove around him. He sat for a moment before he turned his wheel and made back for the cabin.

Late that morning Coen stood on the dock with his family and a needle bar resting on his shoulder. He walked up to the end of the dock and jabbed the ice with the pointy end. Ice scattered around the spot where the iron bar had gone in a couple of inches. It did not go through. He opened up his hand, inviting Jess onto the ice with him. She grabbed his hand and, after her father, slowly placed one foot down and the next. Coen smiled at her and assured her it was safe with a nudge. She began sliding around. Rosalie told her to be careful. Emmett jumped off the dock and did the same. Rosalie followed as they walked out towards the middle of the lake. They found a suitable spot where Coen drove the pole into the ice repeatedly until there was a circle outline of clear shards. He handed Rosalie the pole to which she looked to baffled. He pointed down at the outline and told her to punch through right in the middle. She started jabbing in between the outline. She popped her hips to lift the bar and drove it down repeatedly and, after an exhausting effort, the pole went through the ice and water spewed out the hole and filled the six inch opening rapidly like a sprung leak in a dam. Coen grabbed the needle bar and cleaned up the excess ice so that a water bucket could fit.

Emmett and his father went out into the woods and found dead jack pine short of a kilometer away. They hacked and chopped tiresomely until the tree fell. They chopped it in long segments and placed them on a long rubber sleigh and hauled the weight back to the cabin where Emmett cut the lengths into logs and split them in half. The process would take most of the light of day. Emmett’s arms were sore, but he was silent in confidence because the work was done. He brushed sawdust and soot and clinging branches from his apparel and went inside for a drink of water.

Jess and her mother were inside scrubbing dishes and the counters and the tables. When Jess would avoid staying busy Rosalie would scold her and make sure she participated. They shoveled the snow from the deck and swept it clean. Rosalie placed a large tin tub full of water on the stove and waited until steam rose. She took off the tub and put clothes in to soak. After around twenty minutes she scrubbed them one by one on a washboard and had Jess ring out excess water and hung the clothes on a drying rack. The laundry’s moisture turned into vapor. With the beds set and everything in order, Jess and her mother sat down for a game of cards at the table.
Coen walked in. “What’s going on?”
“Playing cards with mom, dad,” Jess said.
“Rosalie, there’s still stuff to do. We don’t have time for cards right now.” He walked in the room and came out with a hatchet. “Hurry up.”
“But dad we aren’t done our game.”
“Jess, please don’t talk back. Rosalie, let’s go.”
“Well, what? What do you want me to do?”
Coen had stopped before he walked inside, his expression serious. “There’s an old fishing net out there. You and Jess could take out the tangles.”
Rosalie threw down the cards in her hand. “Let’s go, Jess.”

When the light set in the mornings, Emmett and his father stood nearby the fireplace and practiced archery. Coen coached Emmett with his breathing and posture. When Emmett would complain about the wind, he told him it would only make him a better hunter. Day after day the projected arrow came closer to the bull’s eye. A week past and finally an arrow penetrated right in the middle of the target. Emmett had got the bull’s eye on a snowy and windy day. His dad patted him on the back. “Okay, now we go further back.” Emmett rolled his eyes and shook his head with a smile.

In the mornings and nights, Rosalie would check her phone for messages, but none sent. The signal had completely vanished, and the device was nothing more than a symbol of hopeless promise. A week had roughly past, and she stopped looking at it entirely.

One afternoon the family was out on the lake. Coen punched a hole in the ice. Jess stood by and asked of the odd piece of wood. He put it in the hole and guided it using a string. “Listen.” They were quiet. As he tugged the rope, they could hear the jig thudding beneath the surface. He had Emmett follow the noise for about a hundred meters away. Coen tugged. Emmett waved his arms, “got it” he signaled. He used the needle bar to punch a hole, and he pulled out the jigger using a hooked stick. Emmett started pulling the rope and the fishing net sunk into the water. Emmett drug the hundred pound net until it was completely under the ice. They tied down both ends to wooden poles they secured in the ice.
“When can we pull it out, dad?” Jess asked.
“Tomorrow.” He gave her a kiss on the head. “There will be lots of fish for us eat and smoke. Hey, I don’t think you ever tried smoked fish, have you?” She shook her head. “Well, we’ll have to have some. It’s yummy.”

That night Coen was up late. He sat at the table with a pen in his hands and a blank piece of paper in front of him. He stared at the dimly lit kerosene as if he was looking for thoughts to come. Nothing. Suddenly he heard a faint voice. It was the radio. He shot up and elevated the volume so he could hear it distinct. The reporter’s voice was soft:
“…thousands of policemen are reported to have deserted their posts. It’s unclear whether the disease killed them or they refused to show up for duty. Coast to coast, the government, has now rallied military reserves to maintain quarantine zones. However, military confidence is low. Riots within the quarantine zones are growing larger by day. The World Health Organization has ‘begged’ for rioters to refrain from joining large groups of individuals, creating an opportunity for the disease to spread at a more-so alarming pace. The statement issued after the deaths of over ten thousand in less than an hour during a violent protest in San Francisco, California. Similar occurrences have happened globally, and this is not rare. Health officials say that the protests are major culprits in the spreading of the disease.”
The broadcast was the sound of protesters from across the globe. Chanting and cries. “According to the UN’s reports, Russia has been least affected with a death toll of five percent compared to the global average of ten. Canada and The United States have been most affected at over twenty percent between both North American countries. Officials are stating that the presumed genetically enhanced Spanish flu is an act of biological warfare. Whether or not the Russian Federation is to blame is still unclear. Russian leaders have denied the allegations but have yet to make the following statement after reports that five million Russian soldiers have prepared in a ‘war-like’ manner earlier this afternoon. While the UN and other top global organizations investigate the cause of the disease, they urge that civilians stay inside and avoid any contact with strangers. Clinical masks and gloves can also hinder the spread of the disease. There is still no cure for the unnamed illness. And just to remind our listeners, that our broadcast is day by day. We are here only out of the good of our hearts. As much as we would rather be in our homes with our families, we still feel it’s vital to share what news we can get with you. From all of us still here in the CHTM studio, take care, and God bless. Goodnight.” The quiet hiss returned.

When they had all awoke to the cold and windy snowfall in the morning, they went back out on the lake and found their water hole with the markers standing out like lone trees in a whitened tundra. Coen shoveled off the snow from the hole that had frozen over. He lightly punched the entirety of the circumference and shoveled out the shards of ice. Coen and Emmett walked over to other hole and prepared to pull out the net. Rosalie leaned forward and squinted to see beyond the white precipitation. She could only make out faint figures like black and white sketches in motion. She used to her hands to keep the snowfall out of her eyes and walked closer as she wondered if her husband had been signaling her. Coen heard water splash like a large stone tossed into some calm water. Her head turned, and she noticed Jess struggling to keep her head out of the water. Rosalie screamed Jess’ name as she rushed to the hole and slid to grab her by the forearm. The little girl had been shrieking in the burning immersion of the debilitating cold. Her wet clothes scrapped on the edge of the hole until Rosalie pried her out entirely from the water. Her tears filled her eyes as she squeezed her frightened daughter.
Coen and Emmett came rushing out of the whiteness.
“What happened?” Coen panicked. He saw her soaked clothes freezing.
Emmett stood by silent and shocked as Coen grabbed Jess and threw her over his shoulder and dashed to the cabin where he ripped off Jess’ clothes and wrapped her in a warm blanket and wiped away the frosted moisture by the stove. She was still scared and crying as her parents spoke stern, assuring her that she would be okay.

Rosalie was wordless. The sound of her daughter falling into the water echoed. She saw her daughter fall in head first. Though, in that image, it was her beneath the ice instead. The endless black. She looked up to distant daylight through half a foot of ice as she clawed and pushed to escape and when so, she saw Coen’s jaw strain in disappointment. His eyes stiffened in furry, and hers slowly deviated in the overwhelming guilt, as if beneath the ice would be a warmer place to drown in rather the tension.
That night she sat next to her daughter and held her hand and watched as she slept soundly. The kerosene lamp lit the room like a calm summer evening. She studied Jess’ pale skin and dark eyelids. She removed the grade school books she’d just read to Jess and put them on the nightstand. She placed the back of her hand on her daughter’s forehead and adjusted the blankets to cover her completely. She noticed Jess’ mouth move somewhat talking in her dreams, and her arms began to jolt as she tossed over uneasily. Rosalie softly hushed her calm. Emmett walked into the room and sat on the other side of the bed. He leaned over and kissed his sister on the forehead. He looked at his mother and got up and rubbed her shoulder and gave her a hug before he walked out. Jess coughed violently. Her temperature climbed rapidly, and her skin became cold, clothes dampened from feverish sweats.
Rosalie walked out of the room and saw Coen sleeping on the couch. Rosalie blew out the lamp and lied next to Jess. Moonlight mirrored off Coen’s peered open eyes. The dim reflection in his optics gradually subsided into the darkness.

The sun glimmered off the wavy lake. The RCMP sports boat rocked easily. Coen and Phil were out of uniform as they sat comfortably in the vessel reeling their fishing rods. Coen wound in his hook and threw Phil a cold beer from the cooler. Their cans cracked one after another, and they took a meaningful drink as the hot sun poured down on them. Coen wiped the sweat from his forehead and cast his hook out. The world vanished as if Coen blacked out.

He was sitting solitaire across from a desk. He used his elbow to prop his chin resting his hands as he stared blankly at the abundance of filing cabinets and post it notes. There was a dampened voice calling his name, but he hesitated to answer. He looked towards a suited man speaking to him on the other side of the desk, but his concentration felt obscure. His chess captivity felt like an empty vessel.
“Coen, you listening?” the man’s voice finally came through.
“Yeah.”
“We have no choice but to put you on two weeks paid suspension. Considering what has happened to you, we can extend your time if you want.”
“What about my family?”
“We’re doing everything we can to relocate them. We need you to not go anywhere for a minimum of two weeks. We’ll get one of the guys to make grocery runs and what not. We’ll be keeping you family safe, Coen.”
“Phil’s family?”
“We relocated them too.”
“Is there anything else you want to tell me about those people?”
“Coen, I wouldn’t worry about it. You need rest. You’ve been through a lot.”
“For my family’s safety.”
“We’re taking care of it.” Coen’s stable expression made the man uneasy. “Okay. They’re just some group of drug pushers. They come out with different gang names every other month.”
“Don’t bullshit me, Doug. You don’t take these kinds of precautions with just any group of teenage thugs. Was it H.As? I deserve to know.” He barely made eye contact with Coen. He gave him a subdued nod. “Shit. He shot Phil.”
“Look. You might be in trouble. Might be. We aren’t sure. That’s all the information I can give you right now. We’ll have our guys calling you before night and every morning. We’ll even swing by and make sure everything’s okay. What you need to do, Coen, is get some rest. Call us if you need anything: an extension, food, drink… whatever.”
Coen surrendered his badge and gun. “Okay. Thank you.”
Doug reached over the desk, and they shook hands.

Rosalie and Coen were sitting on a couch in their living room. She turned down the volume on the television.
“What about school?”
“They’ll still go. They’ll be safe there.”
“And what about me? I have a job too.”
“If they can’t understand your situation then it’s their loss.”
She propped herself into a rigid posture. She continued in a concerned tone. “Babe, are we okay?”
He turned his attention away from the television and looked at her. His atom’s apple quailed. “I don’t know,” he replied softly with an unsure nod.

He peeled open the curtains of his home. Within the darkness, Coen could see the reflectors of an unusual vehicle parked from across his vast lawn. His eyeball barely peeked out a thin crevice. He could see a faint outline of somebody or something inside the vehicle. He squinted but recognized no particular figure. It was too dark outside, and the car had strong tint on both the back and front windows. He looked over at the clock on some unit in his entertainment stack. It was twelve thirty. The vague reality vanished into flashing images of a funeral. Coen was in a black attire suit. Phil’s ex-wife cried underneath her black veil. He could sense her deplored eyes stare through the opaque garment. His head turned to the road. It was the same car that disturbed the streets of his home. He examined cautiously until the black vehicle drove off. A chorus of gunfire heightened. The visions vanished.

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Past The Toothed Tunnel

slendernot_by_tmp999-d8040ahPast The Toothed Tunnel, a short story.

The summer had become a rot to the earth. Green leafs, yellow leafs, brown leafs… ash. The bare trees twitched in the horizon like the legs of a dying spider. A time when the world had been harsh and rough for the people. The first of snow melted just as it fell. And the earth became wet and sorrowful. The people looked no higher than their feet. Tireless days of making their homes strong for a ravaging winter. For food, they preserved the whole of shaved rodents in the bile of pickle jars. A man with a long face and whiskers looked out the window as he capped the last of his pickled fetus and saw two orphan boys walk through the muddy town. One boy in a black coat, the other in brown.

The mud in the roads had been so deep, it looked as if the boys kicked their way through. Blotches of mud spat up. The town folk looked on and grumbled and continued on to nowhere. The boys wondered what to do. They had played the games they knew far too much and their jokes grew tired and their toys become irrelevant. The black skies above offered no answers as they lay in grey foliage. The straw bent to their shape.

What do you think we should do then?” Chad, the orphan in black said.

You’ve been asking all day,” Lee, the brown coated one replied.

We need to find something new to do,” Chad scoffed.

I know what you mean.” Lee sighed softly. “It’s like I’m getting the itch to move or something. But I’d rather not talk about it.”

Why?” Chad wondered.

I’m starting to feel sad right now, that’s why.”

Why are you sad?”

I don’t know.” Lee’s face stirred in confusion. “And I feel angry for no reason.”

Not at me, I hope.”

No. Not at you, just, at everything I guess.”

That’s odd.”

They got up and went back to the town. White candles hanging from the twiggy houses glowed dimly like scattered full moons beyond the dispersed fog. A man with pointed shoulders and a dark face beneath a top hat crept from the shadows of an alley. His hunching stance towered over the orphans. Piano key-like teeth. His face shaped like the front of a train. He tapped his long fingers, all but his proud pinkies. Meticulously and symmetrically and pleasantly. Index finger, middle finger, ring finger… Again and again. His breath leaked between his long teeth like they had been glued shut. His tongue slithered between his grin, like a snake gasping for air, and he licked his purple lips.

What are you boys doing out so late?” His voice tenor and wispy.

Chad swallowed his fear. “We were just looking for something to do. We are bored.”

The stranger put his sharpened fingernail below his pointy chin. “Hmm,” he looked to the darkness then instantly back to the boys with a clowning grin. “That is because you are homeless and sad and need something to do. To forget you are homeless and sad.”

The orphan boys looked to each and raised a brow then looked to the stranger.

Perhaps,” the boys agreed reluctantly.

Well then,” the stranger said, “you must do what has always been done.”

What’s that, sir?”

Go into the woods and keep warm. Or die out here.”

Lee’s eyes widened round like two moons. “Die?” he murmured in terror.

Die,” the stranger hissed. “In the woods, you will be entertained and frightened, bored and courageous. There are many treasures and as many temptations.” The stranger looked to the moonlit hills below the black, starless sky. “Be wary, for one could still die in the woods. Where there is boredom, there is seldom a lesson. And without a lesson, winter will have you.”

The stranger pointed and they followed his finger to the scene of the hills where, in that patch of darkness, the woods awaited. When they turned back to the stranger, he had vanished and all that stood was the flickering round glow from the waxy lanterns.

An owl uttered and cooed its warning before the boys stepped a foot into the shadowy prongs. The wiry labyrinth of wood crooked and wrenching in its dim folly. As they went on, the moon filtered into halves, then to splinters, and then to nothing behind them. The vine-like hands of the trees gathered to swallow its glow. Creatures scampered in the trees. Hawks screeched like banshees or tormented souls, swooping from branch to branch above. The trees swelled until they could no longer stand side by side. Pricks and thorns scraped their cheeks. Large thorns stuck into their guarding forearms like a shield thwarting arrows in war.

In the pitch black ahead, a white orb formed. Its outline like a mill blade. They felt the thorns comb their hair from above as they followed the light. Soon the needles began to scrape. Getting lower and lower until they crawled through the narrowing, toothed tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, Chad stuck his head out and he looked about the moonlit woods. Quiet and still. He slithered out and gave Lee a hand afterwards.

When they had stood straight, boulders pinched the back of their coats and they were carried off into the woods. Thunderous footsteps like fissures drowned out the orphans’ screams. They twisted and twirled and squirmed, bouncing against the rocky thing that hauled them away. The boys were tossed into a pile of rotting deadfall in a round clearing. The massive trees circling the border like witnesses. They looked to the fading quakes. The back of a haunch stone gianta sauntered like a lonely old man into the darkness in which they came.

What was that?” the brown coat cried.

A giant.”

Right you are indeed,” a queer voice spoke from trees. “A gentle one at that.”

The kid black coat looked around vigorously. “Who are you then?”

I am Dr Finkleform.” Where the trees rattled, a pair of sharp, yellow eyes floated in the shadow. And its row of sharp teeth grinned. The teeth of a wolf. “So young, so brave. What brings you to the woods?”

A man told us that we could learn how to keep warm in these woods, so we don’t die in winter.”

The eyes disappeared and the sound of whooshing wind and cracking twigs circled the opening and they reappeared elsewhere. “Aah, yes. One could. Many have. Many haven’t. Here you are, boys.”

Finkleform threw out two stones and then two more.

Chad picked up a set of stones and pondered them. “What are we to do with these?”

The hidden creature laughed. “Make a fire, of course. There are many ways to make a fire. One could use sticks, one could use stones. Others have fires before them their whole lives. I must go now, boys. For there are apparitions of my own to my calling. This coming winter will be the worst of them all, I fear.”

Wait,” Lee said, “how do we use these?”

Hit them together, why of course. Silly boy.” The creature ran in circles once again. “If I were to do it for you, what good would it do? All the best.”

The creature scurried away.

The boys looked at their stones, rough and heavy and sparkling, and they went about making a fire. The woods whispered a language long forgotten. They gathered a pile of grey old twigs laying about. Beneath the kindling, they set dry grass and, both at once, they scraped and plunked the course stone. The sparks erupting like waves of light, only to fade upon the strains of grass. They hit the stone slow, scraped it fast. Hit the stone fast, scraped it slow. The sparks died on the grass for hours without so much as a wisp of smoke.

Crud,” Chad swore. “This is useless. We don’t need to do this. It’s not even that cold right now.”

They heard a rustle in the trees, louder and louder. A man came out of the dark borders and stumbled in the grass before them. He looked about the place in delirious fashion. His breath stunk of foul rot and lantern oil.

He saw the boys and bobbed his finger to them. “Boys, how are ye’?” he muttered.

Fine, thanks,” they replied.

He looked at the pile of twigs. “What ye got there?”

Making a fire, sir.”

He pounced to his feet and studied in awe. “A fire? You boys are making a fire?”

Yes,” they said, hesitant.

I admire a fire when my legs they tire,” he snickered. He saw the stones in their hands and nearly drooled in amazement. “Are those rare course stones?”

Yes, a friend gave them to us.”

Aye. Can I have a set then?”

The orphans gripped the stones and refused.

I’ll trade you for them?”

They looked to each. “What you got then?”

The man went through his pockets and pulled them out. Like socks pinned to his attire. He had nothing. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll make you a fire, and if I do, I’ll get to have one of those sets. You’ll be nice and warm and toasty. Aye?”

Lee shook his head while the orphan in the black coat nodded.

Chad looked at the stones. “So you’ll build my fire then?”

But of course, young ball of subtle flesh. Of course.” The man smacked his lips, slithered his tongue and reached out his hand.

Lee looked to the other orphan in uncertainty.

Chad handed over the stones.

The man grinned and not a few minutes later, after a perfect glide of the stones, the tinder lit and soon a small fire gave light to the small area. “There you have it. I shall be off now.” He looked to the orphan in black. “Good luck,” he said with a grin and left.

Lee looked to his stones and set another pile of twig and tinder.

Chad stared at him baffled. “What are you doing?”

Learning how to make a fire.”

What for? There’s one here?”

What’s going to happen when it goes out? Then what?”

I’ll just keep adding to it. Simple.”

You can’t stay here forever and keep adding to it. That will be boring.”

Fine. Have at it then.”

The orphan in black sat warm and cozy by the fire as he watched the other struggle and grunt. Lee’s hands become scraped and cold. His fingers almost too exhausted to hold the stones. He looked as if he was about to sleep hovered over his knees. Chad smiled and laughed and teased. The thudding and scraping of rock. The orphan in black invited Lee to join him but he refused every request. Chad’s eyes were heavy and soon he fell asleep.

In the grey morning, Chad awoke in a shiver. His bones rattled beneath his skin. The fire before him had turned to a mound of ash. Lee plucked the stones together. He scraped and turned the flint at once and a discharge of red sparks bedded over the tinder and a small wisp of smoke arose and he blew gently and the tinder burnt beneath the twigs until it had become a fire. Chad saw the other boy’s gentle smile over the flames.

F-f—finally,” he stuttered from being so cold, “t-t—took you all night.”

Just needed a bit of practice is all,” Lee explained proudly.

In the woods, they looked to where a rustling noise escalated. The dark figure of a wolf approached, barring its teeth in a cynical grin. Finkleform’s stained yellow eyes. The figure was tall and thin. Like the creature had been starving. Finkleform’s chest, skeletal and ribbed, neared ten times the size of its waist. The hair on its back stood like the silhouette of tall grass in the night.

Looks like you both done well,” Finkleform lauded, stopping at the clearing’s edge. “Why have you not made another fire, boy?” he asked Chad.

I traded my flint in exchange to have my fire made.”

The wolf’s eyes sharpened like pins. “Pity. And you?” he looked to Lee.

I just got mine done by myself.”

Finkleform laughed and ran. “So soon?” he shouted as his shadow circled the area. “Others have spent weeks before they saw so much as a plume. A drunk man walked these woods for most his life, wasting away. He gave his stones away a long time ago.”

Can I get more stones then?” Chad inquired.

The wolf stopped but he was no longer a wolf. His body, the black figure, malnourished and thinly. His hands like giant claws of a night hawk. “No,” he growled. “I will not give any more stones to whom has traded them off so freely. You can get flint, yes. However, not from me. You have chosen, boy. You sold the very thing that could take you anywhere in this cold world. Places beyond where there is no winter or darkness cast in every corner. But, like so many, you have failed and such is the pity. You are done here. Get out of my woods and quit wasting my time.”

The stone giant rumbled through the woods and carried the boys by their collar and placed them at the toothed tunnel. They crawled through it and left the narrow woods and walked down the hills and arrived at the town where the people looked on and grumbled and continued on to nowhere. The ground was hard and soon snow fell but had not melted in its descent. Winter had arrived.

I’m leaving for awhile,” Lee admitted to Chad.

Where?”

Somewhere far from here. I must leave.”

He kicked up muddy snow. “What will you do?”

I don’t know. I simply must go.” Lee hugged the orphan in black. “Farewell, good friend.”

Chad stood in the centre of the gloomy town, surrounded by powdery snowfall, and he watched as the brown coated orphan walked into the darkness of the world. A red bindle swaying gently over his shoulder as if it waved a long goodbye.

In the days since Lee’s departure, Chad spent nights trading away his clothing and shoes for temporary shelter in sheds and barns. He begged for the townsfolk to build him a fire and even though they’d offer succour, some nights the boy laid shivering in bitter cold. The orphan in the brown coat was nowhere to be found for he had followed the sun to where the earth was always green and plentiful. Chad longed to find him but he looked to his naked feet, wiggled his blistered toes and knew he couldn’t. He opened a jar of pickled rodent that he traded for his black coat and he dug his skinny fingers to the bottom and pulled out pale flesh, nibbling so that it would last.

A Fallen Bird

A Fallen Bird

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i.

The wind cut across the black infinity in ferocious bellows. In the darkness of a cold winter’s night, an ashen silhouette of a hand slithered over the glass-hard snow. The figure of a girl’s head thudded consistently into deep depressions created by the boots of the man whom tugged and heaved the naked body onerously by the shins. The man struggled in the contrast of the dark grey snow. He brought the girl to the edge of land where a black river flowed softly against the embankment. The man’s breath feathered white in the air as he hooked the girl’s underarms and tossed her into the black currents. The floating mound disappear into the night.

Weeks later upstream on a warm winter’s day, a truant boy plowed his boots through a pulpous layer of melted snow over the walking path of a bleak city park. Two buildings ascended into the cloudy sky above the unvarying row of the park’s skeletal like treeline. Adjacent to the park a widespread river flowed languidly to a highway bridge built before the small city. The boy looked to where a breeze had gone west through the park and past the river to an assembly of bare poplar and dark pine beyond the far shore. Light pluming breath. In the mounds of ice conveying in the current, the boy noticed a strange figure roll along the riverbank and he stepped off the sidewalk into the deep and sodden snow and went to the figure he leered. At the embankment, he stood with an unsettled expression as he studied the lumping form. A web of black strains swirled in the navy-blue water like a grim and aberrant flower among crystal bricks. Pale shoulder blades protruded and, seconds after, the lower half of a naked female emerged from beneath the broken ice. The boy was stupefied and shaking. He finally pulled out his phone and took a picture and dialed 911, watching and trailing the corpse floating along the riverbank.

An hour went by as emergency personnel and eager reporters arrived at the river. Curious pedestrians chattered in low speculation as they gathered on the walking path up to where the yellow barricade tape waved lightly in the breeze. The disquieted city brimmed with dissonant traffic as drivers studied the scene from the filling parking lots and busy streets. From a distance, they watched the emergency units scampering in the heavy snow as if waiting for something to happen. They’d heard a girl had drowned or something of that nature. The bystanders took photos of the commotion with their cellphones like independent reporters of their own online social profiles.

Meanwhile, at the riverbank, two men wearing diving suits walked chest high out into the frigid water and grabbed the girl’s body and brought her back to shallows where investigators stood by and snapped pictures. The divers carried her out of the water and handed her to the paramedics who placed her on a stretcher. The entire response unit collectively stood in silence at the unfortunate sight of a young and once beautiful native girl who lay pale blue and bare among the pondering bystanders. Her cataract-like eyes stared vacantly into the grey void above. Her face and body were disfigured and swollen by the moisture and bruises and lacerations littered in her flesh. A lifeless daughter lay the focal point of sombre examination.

They covered and strapped her body in a white sheet and hauled her away through the snowy park. Reporters took photographs and shouted questions to the RCMP passing through the crowds. The public appalled in the distance. A native RCMP corporal by the name of Jori Cardinal was selected to stand before the handful of local news reporters as they shoved their phones and mics to his face like an electronic bouquet. He cleared his throat and looked to the gather with an expressionless face.

I’m Corporal Jori Cardinal,” he declared, “I, along with my partner, were first to arrive on scene. Questions?”

Who was it?” one voiced shouted through.

Another called immediately after. “Who found the body?”.

The reporters inquired near the same time, one after the other. Was she aboriginal? Who committed the murder? Was it a suicide?

Jori expelled a deep plume and he brought up his hands and waved to dim the banter. “Okay—okay,” he broke through their voices, “look, this is going to be brief. Here’s what I could tell you. Unfortunately, we do believe the victim to be a young girl. We don’t know anything in regards to the victim. So don’t ask.”

Was she aboriginal?” one inquired, regardless.

The corporal shook his head and scoffed. “We believe so. But, look, we don’t know anything. What happened, who she was… but I can guarantee both the city police and the RCMP will work diligently so we could answer these questions.” He looked at the ambulance her body went. “It is unfortunate.”

After several questions, he waved farewell and left to the panel, ignoring further inquests. His partner, Constable Donovan Garth, sat waiting on the driver side of the ’06 Chev Silverado. Garth knew not to bother the older officer who crawled in scoffing and grumbling beneath his breath. Not that Cardinal hated to be in front of cameras, it was the loath of repeating himself. To ask him anything at that moment would be out of line, as a friend.

The door slammed shut at Jori’s side. “Why do you white people have to ask so many questions?” he said.

Garth smiled. “Hey, there was that cute little thing from APTN in there. She’s native. And she was the one expecting a confession out of you.” He pointed to her somewhere out through the window. “Her.” They stared at the cute reporter about a minute… “And I’m not white, I’m Metis, I told you.”

At least, I’m half right.”

Garth shook his head. “Detachment?” he asked, palm over the automatic shift.

Detachment.”

Staff Sergeant Theresa Healy stood at the end of the detachment’s meeting room, her eyes watching over her reading glasses. Behind her cream, coloured walls shine luminously from the many fluorescent lights humming above. She pursed her lips and licked her fingertip before sifting through the papers in a clipboard. The women, in her fifties, sighed and dropped the clipboard on the wooden table surrounded by officers. The slapping snap breaking the silence.

Well,” Healy said, looking to each officer, “that poor girl is in the labs as we speak. Once we identify who she is, first thing we do is contact the parents. Ask them what they know. Who she was last with, where she goes, who she was. Obviously, what we could tell was that she was in the river for quite some time. So we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled from here to who-knows-how-far-up that river. Georgie,” she called to a heavy set officer eating a sour cream doughnut.

Yeah?” he replied, crumbs falling beneath his chin.

Georgie.” She wiped her mouth in suggestion.

And he wiped his too. “Thanks.”

Georgie, I’ll have you get dispatch to send word of this case federally. Tell every detachment from here to North Battleford. I’m sure they’ll figure it out sooner or later, but just to be sure. So after this meeting, let them know what’s going on.”

Yes, ma’am,” he said, smiling. Good old Georgie wasn’t ashamed of his eating habits. He grabbed another baked good.

Jori,” Healy addressed.

He looked to the short women standing stern in her soft blue uniform. “Yes, Sarge?”

You were first on the scene. We’ll just cut to chase. You’re now detective on this case, corporal. If anyone in this room digs up any information, you report it to Corporal Cardinal here, immediately. Okay? So that means you too, Garth, will take lead on this. To investigate this case within the city perimeters, Graham and Bartley will take care of it. Okay?” She looked to Sherry Graham and Ron Bartley. Two young cops who the older members of the detachment thought to be inexperienced. A few were surprised with the decision. “You four are the brains and brawn behind this case,” Healy continued. “Any questions?” All were quiet. “No. Okay, good. Oh,” she realized, “and until we know for sure, no one here is talking about this case with the media, okay? These missing and murdered cases are fucking loud and contrived so let’s not blow it out of proportion.”

Jori nodded, content with the thought of not having to deal with the public. The staff sergeant walked out of the meeting and Jori watched as the officers gathered their papers and followed her out. Corporal Graham and Constable Barkley were last to get up and leave. The four assigned officers looked to each other in a silent initiation. The humming of the fluorescent lights above.

Later in the detachment, Garth stood at the coffee brewer and prepared for a fresh pot. As the black liquid filled, he looked about the office. The other officers chatted around their desks. Telephones rang. Fax machines dialed. Printers inked in clangour. When the pot spewed the last bit, he filled two large foam cups and stirred in a few sugar cubes and brought the steaming drinks through the office and to the desk where Jori sat typing in the case report. Garth set the streaming cup next to the keyboard and rested his hip on the desk. “Enjoy,” he insisted to the busy man.

You should be doing this right now, Don.”

Yeah, true. But I think I’m getting carpal.”

Quit jerking off so much then…And done,” Jori said, punching in the last few letters convincingly. “For now.” He sipped the coffee and smacked his lips afterward. “Not bad. The wife wants me to quit drinking coffee in the evening.”

Losing too much sleep?”

No, not really. I just get too hyper. She can barely handle it these days, if you know want I mean,” he laughed, his tongue protruding.

A smile was pinned to Garth’s shaking head as if he nearly spit out his coffee. He swallowed the liquid. “You’re like almost 100, don’t tell me that.”

100? Are you calling me and my wife old?”

Jori was forty-two. His wife thirty-three. Jori spent ample amounts of time in the gym, at home and in the public facilities, so the age difference wasn’t so apparent in family photos. Jori was the type to fix his hair eloquently, slick folds defining his barber cut style. He was slightly sensitive to compliments pertaining to age and looks.

I’m calling you decrepit, old timer,” he punched his shoulder, “you’re wife’s still a fine Pocahontas.”

That’s better.” Jori took a sip.

So,” the young cop cleared his throat, “what do you think?”

Jori let out a long, deep sigh. “Bruises. Deep ass cuts. We’ll find out soon if she was raped or if she was possibly molested. I think we could have a girl who was reported missing in the past two, three months, possibly, in our hands. If I were to guess, she was murdered, dragged to the river maybe a few days ago after the killer didn’t know what to do with her. I’ve never investigated a murder, Don. But there’s going to be a number of people wanting answers, and I intend to answer and find out as much as I could. Step by step. I want to know.”

Do you finally feel like you’re doing something as a cop? That’s just how I feel right now.”

Jori leaned back on the officer chair, his chest pointing to the ceiling. “Don, I wake up every day praying that I do my job well enough so I don’t have to see anyone come out of rivers like that around here. I could of went my last few years as a cop without seeing that and I would of been fine.”

I didn’t mean it like that,” he apologized. “I’m just tired of handing out speeding tickets and fucking dealing with the same old drunks around here, you know? I’m saying that I feel great going after a real criminal, a real crime. Someone who’s done real detriment. I don’t think I would have signed on to the force if I knew it’d be so mundane as it’s been the past few years. Actually thought about quitting.”

Don Garth was a twenty-five-year-old man who grew up in the southern areas of the province. He played as a first line defenceman on every hockey team he was a part of. And with his 6’5 frame and wide build, he excelled on the ice. Crushing opponent’s who dared enter his team’s end zone, injuring their star forwards with clean, and, sometimes, dirty hits. The type of player you’d rather have on your team.

You wouldn’t have been a cop if you knew there were no murders, eh?”

I’m saying I wouldn’t have joined if I knew there were no issues. No fight. No justice to be found. But these missing women, they need us. This city needs us. There is a fight.”

Oh, God. So justice? That’s your reward? Fuck the money, fuck the benefits. Justice?”

Justice, my friend,” Garth said coolly.

Jori laughed and cleared his throat with a drink of coffee. “You’re full of shit. You just came for the gun.”

Oh,” he smiled and placed his fingers over the handle of the .40 S&W, “that’s pretty nifty, too.”

Jori,” Georgie called to him from across the office, “phone’s for you. They got her.”

Jori and Don looked to each other. The telephone on the desk rang a fraction before his hand snapped to answer it.

Cardinal,” he confirmed.

It was 7:45 in the evening. Jori and Garth stood in the halls of the morgue watching the forensic pathologist through a wired window on the door as he hovered over the girl’s lifelessly body, pointing and explaining the traumas to the coroners that stood opposite. Jori looked to the floor at the sight of her exposed body and knocked to address their arrival. The pathologist covered the girl up to her neck and after the officers walked into the examination room, looking upon her face as they gathered.

The victim’s swelling had faded considerably since afternoon. Jori disregarded the sombre thoughts—that of the shame in wasted beauty and that of the sadness in a young life taken—and examined the girl’s face thoroughly in a professional mindset. What he could tell of the girl was that she took care of herself before her death. The victim showed signs opposite to that of depression and suicide which were in most cases poor personal hygiene. She took care of herself before her death. Her brows were trimmed perfectly symmetrical. She had her ears pierced numerously on each ear. Her lips showed signs of previous lip piercings, grown in since. Her neck was bruised in such a way she had been choked, however, the marks were faded, indicating that they may have been inflicted before her death. Marks common in abusive relationships.

The pathologist removed the glasses that were barely on his nose. “Her name was Alexis Bird,” he broke the silence. “She would have been 20 yesterday. Originally born in the city here. She grew up on a reserve most of her childhood. According to her file, was arrested numerous times during her teens here in the city, so she must have moved away from her home here during those years. Something I’m sure her father will know more about.”

Jori looked up to him. “Father?”

The pathologist coughed. “Well, unfortunately, her mother passed away some years ago. Her father’s name is Kenneth Wiever.”

Jori’s jaw slanted. “Shit,” he muttered.

Garth winced. “Kenneth Wiever? No…”

Jori nodded in dismay.

Kenneth Wiever was a homeless man who they often found in the jail’s drunk tank for misdemeanours and causing mischief. If he wasn’t in holding cells, he had been roaming about the streets or at the mall panhandling for his next drink, possibly drugs. He had been arrested on a number of occasions shoplifting mouthwash and robbing houses. A pure, nonsensical nuisance. Jori recalled the time he had to pepper spray Kenneth and his friends for refusing to get in his panel after trying to steal from a gumball machine.

I take it you know who Kenneth is,” the pathologist said.

The poor girl,” Jori said. “He’s always out of his head. Stealing and panhandling around the mall. I wouldn’t have thought he’d have a daughter.”

Terrible.” The pathologist looked at the girl. “Shall we?”

Garth put his hand over Jori’s shoulder in assuring manner.

Yeah,” Jori said.

The pathologist slid the sheet off Alexis’ body and twirled his thumbs over the tips of his index and middle fingers and scanned over her pale stature as if to decide where to begin. He explained quickly she had been struck over the head but it was mostly likely a superficial wound. He put the tip of his finger over the light bruises on her neck and explained that she was in fact choked, though, as there were no blood clots in her eyes, she would have likely died by bleeding out rather than being choked or drowned. He drew his finger over the gaping cuts, clean and smooth like flesh coloured sedimentary diagrams. Her lacerations were a result of an assault with a sharp weapon, a blade, he explained as the rubber finger followed the slit flesh running down over her breasts. The white fat bubbled beneath the salmon tissue. The pathologist speculated that she may have been carrying a weapon at the time of her death as if the suspect was wary of getting in distance to stab the victim and thus instead slashed. The purple bruises over on her arms and scattered throughout her body were as a result of a struggle, that she was apprehended, and likely occurred at the time of her death.

So, she was attacked,” Jori reiterated. “Slashed, at first, bleeding out. She would have run at that point. Was more than likely chased down, grabbed, and, as she was weak from the blood loss, the suspect was able to hold her down…” he pointed to the bruises on her thighs and on her ankles. “And?”

Weeks before her body’s discovery, in a grimy, unkempt room, Alexis reached for her phone from in her pocket. Ennui among the room stacked with dusty, old boxes and ripping garbage bags. A clock ticked in tempo on the poorly lit walls. She looked at the phone screen until suddenly she was struck over the head with a blunt object. Footsteps thud softly at her backside as she regained consciousness. She stared at the granular, widespread floor, her cell phone laying flat a few feet away. Before she reached for the device, she screamed as a man’s hand grabbed her hair and lifted her to her feet. She cried in distress and mercy as she looked upon the three men standing ominously side by side, staring at her as she helplessly tried to tear away from the man’s grip. With a bright, flaxen light shining directly at their backside, their faces were contrasted in shadow. She begged for her life to the man in the middle, pinching at his unrelenting hand fastened in her hair. His face was riddled in foreboding, dark resentment. He tilted his head as if to ponder his next move. She pleaded and apologized consecutively as moisture excreted from her every orifice. The men had not spoke a word…

The pathologist sighed. “We did a test, and the result came back positive. We did find traces of DNA and the bruises are indications that she was raped after the initial attack. We sent the data out for matches but it could take a few days, maybe weeks, to find out if there is or isn’t any.”

Okay,” Jori nodded, “well, doc?”

Cause of death… Bled out. Raped. Murdered.”

Jori pulled the sheet over Alexis’ face. “I noticed no track marks in her arms. Find anything?”

Traces of cocaine and marijuana. No alcohol.”

Well, doc, if you find anything else, let us know.”

Of course. We’re still going to run further tests. More toxicity tests, and with permission, look for potential internal injuries she may have sustained. Could tell us more down the line.”

Outside the hospital in the dark parking lot, three reporters approached Jori and Garth and pointed their devices to their face and followed them through the parking lot, asking similar questions simultaneously. Bright camera lights glared in the officers’ faces as they squinted toward their panel.

Officers,” said the female reporter from APTN, “were you able to obtain further information regarding the body?”

The officers stopped in the midway to the panel. “Yes,” Jori admitted, “at this time specific details are to remain private for the sake of the girl’s family.”

Who was she?” a reporter blurted.

The victim found earlier this afternoon was 19-year-old Alexis Bird.”

So it’s confirmed, she was of aboriginal descent?” the APTN journalist inquired.

Yes, she was aboriginal. Look, I’m tired. It’s been a long day. I’ll have our team set up a conference this weekend, but for now, we just want to go home. You get enough?”

The reporters didn’t. They wanted to know who her parents were. Who her boyfriend was. What school she attended. How tall she was. If she was an addict or in college. Questions he had asked himself a thousand times in the span of just a few hours since discovering the boy. Aside from the fact he was ordered from Staff Sergeant Healy to stay away from the media, he was genuinely annoyed by their repetitive questions and thus wanted nothing to do with them.

He pushed his way past the bickering and slammed the truck door in their faces.

Constable Garth came in after him, turning the ignition. “You okay, chief?”

Yeah. I just hate goddamn, snoopy ass reporters.”

I didn’t mean that.”

The image of Alexis’ ghost-like body intervened Jori’s nameless thought. Eyes without pupils staring up at him. His jaw clench, effacing the thought. “I’m okay.”

Look, I don’t mean to be so clingy. Just making sure it’s not like the last time.”

Jori stretched his neck by moving his head in circles. “No, I’m good. I guess I’m getting used to it.”

They called dispatch and updated the detachment of the information they obtained from the medical examination. After an hour of filing the pathologist’s report and the case report and as well as a frugal attempt to call Alexis’ aunt, Kenneth Wiever’s sister, Jori’s shift ended and he began his quiet, twenty-minute commute to his house in his ’99 GMC Sierra. A slow country song played lightly through the tinny speakers and he tapped his finger on the steering wheel to its rhythm. Dark-green spruce towered into the night sky, their piney tips ascending like a wicked, black picket fence guarding the full moon. He pulled into his long driveway. Behind a handful of scattered pine, his two-story house sat quietly. The interior lights lit the yard where he looked to the impressions of his young daughter’s footsteps in the snow. He stopped as the garage door opened.

Later that night Jori sat on the couch in the living room with his laptop. The light from the screen beamed to his tired face, eye sockets shaded. The television quietly played a movie for his wife, Beth, and daughter, Tiffany, who sat in the dark next to him. But Beth’s attention was on her husband. His scrolling eyes, his busy index finger. He didn’t blink in the past hour. In that hour, he read that the news stations had already broadcast the discovery of a young aboriginal female’s body in the city’s renown river. Alexis’ name was every page, every headline. The story was littered throughout all social media news feeds. Residents of the city and beyond shared the featured image of the girl’s body floating in the water. Aboriginal Teenager Found In River. Boy Finds Dead Teen. Alexis Bird—Another Murdered Aboriginal Victim. Little detail in each post. To fill in the blank space, the public told their version of what happened, along with their opinions. As if they already solved the case. Of how they knew her. Public suggestions in forensics. Rumours that the RCMP had no intention of investigating her death because she was native. How she was a relentless drunk and probably killed herself. Regardless of the gossip, there was no definitive truth. The comment sections of Facebook and Twitter and news media outlets were, unsurprisingly, merely cesspools of pretentious speculation and unhinged ignorance.

There was a web page that created in her honour. RIP Alexis Bird—God’s Angel. It was open to the public so Jori took it upon himself to find out what he could. There were numerous condolences from friends and family. Friends reminisced much of how they had met or of their favourite memories. One of her friends spoke about how Alexis was around during hard times and for that, she was thankful thus deeply heartbroken of the loss. She was often described as funny and honest and beautiful. The pictures of which she was posted revealed the beauty that was taken away. Her face was flawlessly adorned in make-up as she posed frequently with a soft grin exposing her long dimple. The orbital of her cheeks darkened by a light, beige blush. Thin, dark liner vivaciously trimmed her sharp, brown eyes. Her dark, silky hair straightened smoothly in each photograph. Perhaps what flaws he noticed was that she met most of those who posted at parties. After profiling what he could he closed his laptop and placed it gingerly on the coffee table so he did not disturb the movie.

Having noticed his wife’s gaze at the corner of his eye, Jori looked to her as she brought her feet up off the floor and put them on his lap, her feet rubbing his inner thigh where his boxers had ended. On the love sofa, their daughter was sound asleep. Beth bit her lip and slid her foot further up his thigh, softly, until her toes snuggled under his boxers. He ran his hand over her smooth, bronze legs and felt under her loose night shorts. Even with her face hidden in the dark, he saw the beautiful girl he married. Memory alone gave light to her image. She was near a decade younger than he was and he often wondered how he got so lucky as to marry such a beautiful, smart native girl. She was magical in such a way that, with her sincere eyes alone, she could quell the anxieties that hindered his morale from within.

Over a decade ago, Jori took upon himself to work for abs. At thirty years of age, countless nights of drinking had taken a toll on his waistline. In lieu of going up a jean size, he went to register himself at a local gym. At the counter was a beautiful, young girl, sitting on a stool with her head fixed on a book. A Time To Kill was the novel. He remembered because he had to eventually read it to pretend he knew something of John Grisham so he could maybe impress her. Every day he attended and jogged a short while before taking to weights, hoping her eyes would wonder to him as he struggled with his arm curls. One day he had nearly killed himself in an attempt to do 500 sit ups. The girl had put down her book in annoyance and walked up to Jori as he struggled with his fifty-fifth rep. She told him that he could do as many sit ups as he’d like but he wasn’t going to get abs. Afterwards, he asked if she could help him achieve his goal and so, in the span of six months of her forcing Jori to run a minimum of 5 kilometres each followed by rigorous core workout routines, he had finally achieved the results he longed for. To celebrate the proud, young officer had taken her out for a drink at town’s lone bar and near a hundred bucks worth of diet cocktails later, the girl had admitted having liked Jori since he signed up and that she did, in fact, check him out. She teased him for not having the gull to ask her out. In no time at all, Jori took Beth’s hand, circled around the table, put his fingers lightly over her lower back, and they kissed among the quiet bar scene. The jukebox playing 80s music in the background. Since that night, the two have been together. He managed to support her with his police salary throughout her college years until she obtained a degree in dental therapy. During a vacation in Rome, he asked her to marry him, and nine months later their daughter was born and they wed shortly after. Beth was still as gorgeous as the day he saw her reading on that stool…

He leaned to her and they locked lips.

Four am. Just making sure it’s not going to be like the last time. Garth’s words repeated in Jori’s head subconsciously as he lay awake in bed. Like the effect of terribly overplayed radio hits. The light from the moon illuminated through the window. The feather pillow below shaped to his head. He looked at his wife to check if she had noticed his restlessness but she slept sound. He stared back to the ceiling...the last time. The last time he saw a dead body was of his niece who died years ago in a drunk driving incident. He responded to the scene of a chaotic wreckage. A truck lay in the ditch on its side. In the distance others, cars were thrown off the road. Scattered among the roads were coroners and paramedics carrying out the bodies that flew out the windows. The officers escorted Jori to the suspected culprit of the accident, a car laying on its roof. In it, he saw the driver. The lifeless girl tangled and hoisted upside down by the seat belt, her arms hanging past the side of her head. Nose broke. Blood draining into her peered eyes. Her hair thick and soaked dark red. The memory was haunting. Jori sighed slowly and turned to his side away from his wife and stared into a shadowy corner where he saw his niece’s face dwell angrily, eye sockets hollow and draining a darkness which streamed past her caved cheekbones. Or perhaps it was Alexis. He stared blankly at the image, prepared for a sleepless night.

The Alley

On a city street where thousands tread in routine and commute lived a former boxer who went by the name of Otis. In the alley he lived, there were no trophies nor belts that forebode a fighter’s past for that past was no more than a memory long overlooked by names he cared not to know. Twenty years have gone by. What keepsakes remained of his battles fought long ago were still and all effigies of lonesome nights accompanied by a bottle of wine cradled to his chest like a lost pup frightened by the echoes of the city and its unpromising dim light. He whispered and mumbled and hummed to the wrapped bottle as if to say something of the strangers that walked past the mouth of the alley like inky ghosts heedless of his presence. A member of the shadow. The bottle’s response was to never turn away.

A rush of cold wind rolled past the alley and brought a chaotic shepherding of garbage bags and papers and wrappings of sorts that tumbled and somersaulted in the same direction like a dancing herd sharing a destination secret to all man. Gusts of wind blew heavily in the streets and a frigid draft crept in from above and filled the alley in like a cup and when the chill surrounded Otis he knew the summer’s expedience would soon slip away.

Shit it cold,” he exclaimed. He threw his head back and took a big swig and wiped away the dark streams of red rolling past his chin. “Damn, it is cold.” He wobbled to his feet and headed out to the sidewalk. “Newspaper,” he whispered with a lisp as he scanned about. “Newspaper, where are you when I need you?”

Three men came around the corner side by side, laughing and bickering as they unknowingly approached Otis. He stood straight at the sight of them and used his sleeve to clear his face.

One of the men noticed Otis and pointed to alert the others. “Look,” his lips read as his teeth grinned through the dark. They laughed as their chins raised.

Hey, fellas,” Otis stopped to greet, “you guys wouldn’t have a few extra dollars to help a brotha out?”

The tallest man spat. “Nope, ‘thir’,” he said, an eccentric mimicking sound of Otis’ lisp. “Look at him. What do you want money for?” They weren’t slowing down as they neared to him. “Get a job how about, ‘thithta’,” he continued.

Otis backed away, holding out his hands as he looked mercifully to each shadowy face. “I don’t wa-want no trouble,” he stammered, “please, fellas.” He tripped as he shuffled backwards and when he managed to his feet they had him circled.

The tall one looked down at Otis. “You ain’t gettin’ shit from us, you dirty bum.” He pushed Otis into the man opposite of him.

Get off me, you filthy old nigger,” said the voice that shoved Otis back to the tall man.

Otis imitated that he was falling from the push and used the plunging force to swing his arm like a snapping catapult, his knuckles striking the tall man’s temple with sharp impact, causing him to fall board stiff onto the concrete. The two others grabbed Otis and one put him in a choke hold while the other tripped him at his feet and they proceeded to kick and swear and stomp and growl at the helpless man as he lay covered up. Stuttered breathless cries of agony echoed through out the empty street.

Across the street, a teenage boy and girl stood in shock as they witnessed the two men overwhelmed the curled body. The boy shouted to them and ran across the empty road towards the altercation, leaving the girl standing alone, her hand falling to her side after an attempt to grab him.

Call the cops,” he yelled out to her.

The attackers froze for a moment when they heard the boy’s request and looked to their unconscious friend then at each other, to the street, and back to their friend. As if they had contemplated leaving him abandoned. They sneered and scoffed as they lifted the tall man to his feet and took up sides to hoist his limp stature and carried him away. “You’re lucky, bitch boy,” one of them muttered before they faded into the streets.

The boy carried Otis onto a near bench and pulled out a bandana from his backpack and used it to wipe the blood pouring from Otis’ swollen nose and lip. The girl made her way across and stood a few feet away with her hands over her mouth. Wary of getting too close.

Be careful,” she muttered in her palm. “He might have something.”

Really?” he said in disbelief. “Just go if you want.”

She didn’t move.

They heard police sirens wailing nearer and nearer.

We should go,” she said.

The boy left his bandana in Otis’ hand and studied his frailty. The boy shook his head and swore under his breath, looking to where the sound of the sirens swelled. He pinched at Otis’ thin, tattered t-shirt and sighed deeply. His breath pluming in the air.

C’mon,” the girl begged as she ran off.

He finally stood and, after the last examination of Otis, followed her to some hesitation.

Otis awoke, staring blankly ahead to bright, golden lights blindingly hang above him like the heavens and the sun and he heard thousands of extolling voices applaud and roar. Soon the ambience faded into cries of sirens. The bright lights transcended into blue and red flashes among the dull yellow street lights in the foreground. Two dark figures appeared within the light. Policemen. He shook his head and slowly rose to his feet and stumbled hurriedly to the alley.

Stop,” the police shouted and tackled Otis to the ground, struggling to cuff him as he squirmed in detest. With the point of their knees, they pinned his head and body to the sidewalk. “You’re under arrest. Stop resisting.”

Otis swore to the cement, his cheeks pressed against the cold. “I didn’t do anything. Let me go,” he repeated as they lifted him to his feet and shoved him in the lit panel.

Otis was released from the holding cells the next day. He clutched his broken rips as he limped through the city for near an hour before arriving at the familiar street he called home. Repulsed faces scorned his presence. A mother drew her child close. Passersby pressed their nose close with their forehand. And nearly all contrive to pay no mind. And although he may on no occasion find comfort in so much as walking down a sidewalk he put his mind to the bright and warm day and so it was Otis who saw through the faces of disdain.

He arrived at the alley and saw a lumping figure of a man laying in the shade of his cardboard covered spot. Otis called to him and swore and hobbled quickly over and grabbed the man by his collar and slapped his hairy face with conviction. Otis winced from the sharp pain of his sudden movements, ribs aching. “Hey,” he exclaimed, “get yo’ ass up befo I whoop it.”

The bearded man was perhaps in his late sixties although it was difficult for Otis to make out for certain. As life on the streets had a way of rushing the age of flesh and the mind sooner than nature’s intent. The stranger raised a thick brow but his eyelids didn’t follow.

Get up,” Otis demanded and slapped the old man again.

The man mumbled and a white foam spewed from between his crusted lips. His face gaunt and pale and sweaty. Otis threw the man to the opposite of his area in vexation and snubbed him off as he lay in the shade.

It took Otis short of two hours to collect the money for a bottle of sherry as his wounded stature played a part with the public’s empathy. Essentially obliged to offer their change readily. He hurried back to the alley and saw the old man shivering in the spot he was left. Otis nudged the man’s bony shoulder with his scrappy shoe. He thought briefly. “You’re not right,” he said and bent low, “oh, no, you ain’t.”

He drug the man by the arm pits adjacent to the pile of cardboard and newspaper. The old man nodded circles in a daze and spoke under his breath as if blindly addressing a crowd below. Otis turned his ear to him.

They know better,” the old man blabbered.

Who better know what?” Otis replied.

The old man looked through a thick lash beneath a protruded brow. “Who are you?” the man asked softly.

Who am I?” Otis raised straight, offended. He pointed out his finger. “Who is you? Look at this cat. Coming into my zone. Stinkin’ the place up worse than it already is. Man. Who are you?”

The old man coughed and spat towards the street and postured up to examine about. “Where am I?” he said. “Is this downtown?”

Yeah, you downtown. In my spot, man. My joint. What’s wrong with you? Find your own ground, man.” Otis wondered if the man stirred in confusion understood him. “Are you okay or what?”

The bearded man reached for Otis’ bottle, his face pled for a drink. “I’m sick,” he proclaimed and coughed miserably.

Otis pulled the bottle to his backside. “Hey, hey, first you sweat and stink up the place and now I got to front you?”

Sorry,” said the man and dropped his hand and looked elsewhere. “I’m just thirsty.”

M-hmm, I’m sure you are.” Otis sat down and thought for a moment and looked to his bottle and then he drank it down to half and passed it over. “Where you from? Why ain’t I seen you around here befo?”

I’m not from this place. Not sure I got here, though. Maybe they put me here.” He drank and coughed and as the liquid went down and he offered it back but Otis refused. “Thanks. I’ll make sure you’re rewarded. I’m not feeling too good. I think they got me sick.”

Who?”

The government. They want me because I speak to others. Others from another planet.”

Otis gave him a halfhearted nod and grin. “Okay, snowball. Okay. I got it. You got a name?”

Friends call me Fritz. Commissioner of the Outer Dimension Alliance. Keeper of peace and the chosen messenger between the others and earth,” he proclaimed in such a way one might believe it then coughed.

Otis shook his head. “Okay, Fritz, all right. Well, drink up that medicine,” Otis said as he watched the man take a swig. “They won’t get you now,” he laughed to himself.

Hours passed. The sun gradually sunk into the steel and concrete pillars. That evening in the alley a frigid breeze lifted dust into minuscule whirlwinds spinning aimlessly in the vicinity of the ingress. Trash twitched along the muddy corners like buried, odious souls coming to life at the slow inception of nightfall. All was still in the alley apart from Fritz’s limbs pointing and waving to obscurity beyond the brick wall like a preacher.

When the government killed my aunt,” Fritz explained in a hoarse whisper, “they also tooks my rights to their place. I was their only family so it belonged to me, I’d say.” It was difficult for Fritz to mutter more than a few words without some degree of guttural coughing.

Why the government so entertained by you, fool?” Otis inquired.

Like I says, I know what they did. Back in Nam.” His stubby index finger pointed to the stone wall. “Raped and killed. Aborted. The wives and mothers and the children. Raped and killed. The bastards turned a blind eye. They lied about it. Not me. I seen it and everybody else did. My uncle seen it. And I know what they did. I’m telling you, brother.”

No one cares about that shit anymore, man,” Otis laughed.

Fritz looked to him. “About what?”

Old war stories, man. Nobody cares about things that happened a long time ago to some people they don’t know. Nobody cares about that, man. You think any of these people walking by right now crying out a tear or two, caring about that shit? Boo-hoo, JFK is dead. No, man.”

Fritz’s brows scrounged in dismay and he ran his fingers through his smokey beard as he looked to the ground. “You think?”

Yeah, sorry to say it, man. But that’s just how it is.”

Fritz shrugged and looked to the bottle. “At least the wine’s good.”

Otis scoffed. “Shit. Must be nice.”

I got abducted a few times, did I tell you that?”

Twice already.”

They came to me,” Fritz’s eyes lit, “they talked to me and everything. After my aunt died, they took me. Figured I’d be pissed enough to give them some dirt and I shit you not I did, ha! Got the government by the balls.” His hands could have held two baseballs. He took a long drink. “And I still do, Otis. Someone’s got to give a rat’s ass or else us decrepit corpses’d be buried long ago.” Fritz was interrupted by his own violent cough that prolonged a short while. “They better know to thank me. Can’t kill me. Even got me GPS coordinates of documents that’ll prove my every word.”

GPS coordinates,” he whispered doubtfully, amused. “You believe all that, don’t you?”

Fritz pulled the bottle away from his lips. “Believe it? It was my ass they probed. I know it. But you don’t got to believe me. I’ll make sure they reward you anyways, my brother.” He lifted the bottle feebly to the air and took a drink.

With what? A probe in my ass?” Otis joked, shaking his damn head.

Near midnight, the alley dimmed to pitch black. Fritz had taken his last drink from the bottle and fell asleep sitting up. Otis rested his head gently on a portion of the cardboard foundation and covered the shivering man in a sheet and then himself. “Crazy old coot,” he laughed, closing his eyes.

At the dawn of light, Otis stood over Fritz and saw that his sweaty and pale condition exacerbated in the cold and so he took to the streets and held out a tin cup until he collected what looked to be about ten dollars in silver coin. He went back to the alley where Fritz had woke.

Is that a cold you got?” Otis asked.

Fritz turned to him like a spooked animal. He used the top of his wrist to wipe the syrupy layer of sweat from his forehead. “I’m fine, brother. I’m fine. Got anything to drink?”

Otis shook his head. “Hey, man. Where was that tattoo or GPS thing you were talking about?”

Huh?” Fritz looked at him in confusion. “Oh,” he realized, “on my rib cage. Here, let me show you.”

Fritz lifted his shirt up past his chest and there in his flesh over his skeletal ribs were two rows of random numbers embossed of scar tissue carved meticulously like serial numbers on some piece of machinery or codes on a plastic bank card. Otis scanned the sheer flawless imprint of numerals and punctuation marks in awe.

See,” Fritz said and put his shirt down.

You did that?”

No, of course not.” Fritz cleared his throat.

That’s crazy you’d let someone do that, man.”

I asked them to,” Fritz insisted, “for the better of mankind.”

I’m going to need more than Advil,” Otis said, shaking his head.

Fritz coughed and spat a pulp of blood and phlegm onto oily grime of the alley floor like a surgically removed organ. “I could use a drink.”

Shit that nasty. Uh-uh. No, sir. I’m going to get you some real medicine. That ain’t right.”

No,” Fritz grumbled, “no. I just need a drink. They won’t get me. A drink, please. Don’t worry. They won’t get us.”

I ain’t playing, Fritz. No aliens gonna save you. Possessed lookin’ old man,” Otis waved him off and left. “Gonna get you some damn Tylenol or something. Crazy old goat.”

No,” he growled to Otis’ back, “goddamn you. No. They’ll get us.”

Otis walked to a drug store along the street. In it, the clerk’s face rose to him and his pupils followed Otis’ every step. “Stay away from the mouthwash. And hairspray. I’m not selling you any of that. Lucky I let you in here.”

Otis simply disregarded the watchful clerk and went to where he saw a shelf full of bottled capsules. Allergy relief. Headache and pain relief. Arthritis relief. And near the top of the shelf, he found it. Extra strength cold and flu relief. He grabbed a thumb sized container of the value brand, to save some money for later, and walked to the checkout counter.

He placed the container down for the clerk and took out the change from his pocket and scattered it and the man counted each coin with his finger tips like a blind old man dialing a telephone.

Just so you know,” the clerk looked at him as he took the exact amount, “you can’t snort this.” He shoved the change at Otis.

Oh, shit,” Otis nodded, “you tried?” He slid the silver in his pocket.

No, of course not. I just know.”

Damn. Well, could you point me to what I could snort? I got this real nasty chest cold, you know?” He faked a quick cough. “I need that shit to go right to the head, you know? Need it to work. Could be SARS. It’s bad.”

The clerk’s face scowled. “Get out,” he muttered, pointing to the door.

The wind picked up considerably by noon. Clouds rolled over the mountainous buildings and smothered the sun’s array and a greyness fell upon the world below. Dark like a fading evening. The mouth of the alley from a distance appeared as if a gateway to another place entirely. A place abandoned by all hope and moral ambiguity. A black foliage of its lonesome shadow corrupted the fridge of the crevice like a festering wound. As Otis came through the entrance he saw that Fritz was resting still. He shook the bottle like some cheerful morning alarm a mother would do to rouse a slumbering child. He shook his shoulder and told him to wake, rattling the bottle by Fritz’s ear but he didn’t do so much as flinch. Otis put the pills to the ground and scooped up Fritz’s head and saw that he was no longer sweaty nor hot nor breathing. He was pale and green-like save his eyelids, veins dark violet. Otis felt the cold from his friend’s cheek and turned a gander at the street and rested Fritz’s head to the cardboard and covered his entirety with a sheet.

Later in the day red and white lights blinked and sporadically lit the alley. A crow yapped on the power-lines crossing the alley’s gap and flew over the people who stopped and casually returned to their business at the sight of the homeless men among the crowd of pediatrics and coroners and policemen. One of the officers asked if Otis knew Fritz’s birth name to ascertain information for his death certificate. They explained to Otis that they had records or documents as well as no known relatives on file. Otis told them as much as he could recall of Fritz’s story, as much sense as they could make of it.

His aunt and uncle and brother passed away some years ago,” Otis recalled to the policemen. “If you look at him, he’s got this tattoo or something with a bunch of numbers on it. Said it’s some sort of map or something. Maybe it’ll tell you more. But I think he was just a little bit of a basket case. He was a good man, though. I hope ya’ll figure something out.”

He looked to Fritz’s peaceful expression the last time as the coroner’s hand brought up the zipper that enclosed him in the blackness of the body bag. They lifted the stretcher and rolled him into the back of the coroner’s van and soon after they drove off into the grey city and as they vanished into the busy streets Otis couldn’t help but think that Fritz would soon be buried without a single friend or family member at his side. The priest would be the only patron to lay dirt upon his casket. More solemn was the thought of that which a man would be buried without a name. As if he had not existed at all. He tipped his head farewell and left.

That afternoon he bummed enough change to buy a jug of Branvin Apera and a pack of value cigarettes and he sat on a bench near the end of the street where he watched sports highlights and news through a window display at an electronics store. His football team had won. “I’ll drink to that,” he cheered and took a drink from the paper bag.

His attention was most fixed on the commuters he requested change until he squinted at the TV screen flashing over the shoulders of the walking crowd. A female reporter talked mutely through the showcase. Examining the flashing images of the women, his footsteps slowly and automatically brought him through the crowd before the glass, leaning forward to get a better glimpse of her clear image. She resembled his daughter whom he had not seen in decades. Only in his dreams. Though by her fair and young complexion, he was certain it was not her. Her name appeared on the screen. Aubrey Campbell. She shared his maiden name. He looked to the ground after her report and then to his wine through the steel spokes of the bench. The beating of his heart could the break ribs inside his chest.

Night after night in his shivering slumber he dreamed of his daughter. Ora was her name. He saw her in a locker room standing level to his face as his cloth wrapped hands covered hers and she smiled and kissed him on the cheek and they hugged. He kissed her goodbye before he sent her off to her mother standing in the doorway. All was silent save the muffled chant and applause that came through the stone walls. Ora’s mother stared at him without expression as her hands brushed the little girl’s shoulder before she disappeared into the halls. He looked away and hung his head. His boxing shoes tapping.

He awoke to a cold morning. He waited for the day to warm up at noon and stumbled through the street and saw that there was a bend in the walking path ahead where crowds moved around to avoid a camera operator’s view. He looked across the street and directly from the bend was a van with the same logo as Aubrey’s news team. He paced through the crowd and surrounded by spectators was the girl who reminded him of his own daughter. She held a brief smile and then pulled the mic down to her side and the operator pointed the large camera to the sidewalk.

As Otis neared, the operator gleefully complimented Aubrey’s broadcast.

Thanks,” she said. “Let’s go eat now.”

Oh, hell yeah,” the operator agreed, turning to the road.

Aubrey,” Otis called as he showed himself out of the crowd. He brought his hands to his head as if to remove a hat.

Hi,” she said with a quick grin.

The operator kept a watchful eye over his shoulder.

Her open hands fell upon atop her lap. “Well, I got to run.” She looked to the cameraman and shrugged with a hidden smirk, baffled.

Wait,” Otis said.

She turned to him for a moment then back to the road.

Is your mother Ora? Ora Campbell?”

Aubrey and the man froze before turning back to him. “What?” Her face stirred from curiosity to concern. “How do you—do I know you?” Suddenly she shook her head as if to rid the thought she may recognize him.

Ora Campbell,” he repeated as he moved in enough to share his stench of wreaking wine and foul breath.

The operator moved to her guard.

Don’t worry,” Otis assured. “My name is Otis. Otis Campbell. I’m Ora’s father.” He saw the moisture in the young lady eye’s thicken. “Do you know her?” he stammered.

Bewildered, the man whispered in her ear, “is everything okay?” He put his hand over her shoulder. “Should we go?”

She was catatonic briefly before blinking out her tears and looking to the operator. “Yeah.” She wiped her face. “Yeah. Let’s go,” she said and sniffled and motioned to the edge of the sidewalk.

Otis watched as she waited for a clearing. “Aubrey,” he begged, his hand reaching out, “please.”

She didn’t look back.

As she took the first few steps towards the empty street Otis saw a glimpse of an officer at the corner of his eye and seconds later he was under arrest. He shouted to her and she turned and saw him struggle as two policemen cuffed him and drug the distressed man into the busy crowd. There was a moment of clarity as Otis discovered her sombre gaze. All sound of the world and the world itself around her had disappeared, then he was taken out of sight.

He stared blankly ahead at the white cement of the holding cells. The wine came out through his pores and his hand begun to shake restlessly over his lap. A stream of sweat rolled off his brow and puddled on the floor. Soon after he slept. Blackness only came for but a second. In the blink of an eye, he went from the holding cells into a boxing ring surrounded by thousands of electric witnesses cheering and lauding as they filled the stands. Across from Otis was his opponent. A fair haired white man. Not an ounce of fat to mar his definitive physique. As his opponent circled and changed levels like some lanky and evasive beast of a different kind Otis’ undying will to hit the man was obscured by an invisible entity. Otis’ opponent slipped his dogged punches with utter ease. “He’s done. Finish it,” the words of his foe’s corner echoed. The opponent threw out his lead hand like a blunt spear crushing Otis’ nose and not a second later came a flash of a right glove, the sight of sweaty, red leather larger the arena behind and then the memory vanished as Otis awoke to the thunderous sound of the cell door sliding open.

Mr. Campbell,” said an officer, “you can go now. C’mon.”

He came out into the blinding morning, an arm up to shade the seething light. During his return, he panhandled for a small bottle and went about drinking it and when he wasn’t occupied by the sensational liquid he bothered incoming traffic for expendable money. His aimless stroll was halted by the sight of Aubrey’s lit face on the television screen through the electronic store’s showcase. Without volume to her voice, he assumed her report had been about the economy or something of that nature. “Thriving Economy Boosts Housing” the headline read beneath her microphone’s logo. He walked into the store and saw that the clerk was busy and quickly scuttled to a row of flat screens displaying the broadcast, bending below the height of product shelves.

…and though the mayor was unable to comment officially, he did quickly mention that is great news for the city and believes it’s only a first step to success. With Global News, I’m Aubrey Campbell. Back to you, Susan.”

Thank you, Aubrey,” said the anchorwomen as it cut to the newsroom. “And now in the bizarre swing of things, up next we have a story about leaked information of possible government war crimes revealed upon a homeless man’s death. All that and more coming up on Global News.”

As Otis’ head bobbed back and forth with a crooked, blank stare, he belched profusely. “Crazy conspirators. Everywhere,” he grunted, drunk and hiccuping as he walked out the store.

The evening was cold. Otis bottle was empty and there was no one walking about. He walked into the abysmal alley and in the darkness his shouting voice echoed. “Where is it?” he exclaimed. “What have they done?”

He scanned wildly, weaving and twisting his stare as he tread back and forth. His cardboard foundation, sheets and blankets were gone. “No, no, no,” he cried, stomping at the filthy asphalt. There was nothing to be found but gravel and trash. He ran out to the streets and turned to each direction again and again like there would be someone making a joke of it somewhere. His fists clenched at his side, digging into his palms, and the sound of bones cracked.

This ain’t right,” he shouted and fell to his knees and sobbed to the infinite darkness above.

On a cold night, Otis was sitting on a bench somewhere in the city. His chin was tucked low as he shivered and snored. His light breaths were plumes soaking into his tattered shirt. The teenage boy came to him and waved his hand in front of Otis’ face and when he didn’t wake he slid off his backpack from his shoulders and pulled out a coat and put it over Otis like a small blanket. He was still snoring. The boy took out a pair of hikers and measured them to Otis’ duck taped runners and nodded contently. He put the boots on Otis’ lap and ran off.

Otis awoke stretched across the bench on his side. A coat over him. He sat up and examined it. Then he noticed a pair of hikers by his feet. He picked them up and looked around. Nobody appeared to object his claim. He slipped off his runners and slid his worn wool socks into the boot and wiggled his toes and grinned.

Damn,” he said and tied it snug. “Did you do this, you old crazy goat?” He looked up into the shapeless clouds scrolling through the blue.

Mid-day. He crossed the street to a crowd that surrounded a young man playing guitar. As he neared the man’s voice become more apparent. Deep like an old story teller’s. Pain and rasp in the high notes. Reminiscent of Rod Stewart’s early work. Raw and smooth in its soulful concord. Otis stood among the crowd as the man plucked the Cort’s copper strings gingerly with his long finger nails so that they danced and swayed, ringing in perfect unison with the sound of his voice as he sang to the sapphire heavens. Otis smirked pleasantly. A member of the captivating vibe.

Shit that nice,” he said and took a drink.

The End.

Zombies! Fucking Zombies!

 

episode-4-amy-walker-21

Zombies! Fucking Zombies!

A zombie fiction by BC Clarke

This is a story about a fresh, swagged out fuck boy named Titus. Titus was one of those ass-hole kids who gave zero fucks. He was a disappointment to his microbiologist father and stay-at-home mother. He often failed tests. Received low school grades. Skipped out on afternoon classes because he smoked too much pot during lunch hours. And he masturbated chronologically. As much as the ordinary teenager boy, you might say. And Titus hated his father for naming him Titus. Especially that his last name was Dick. Titus Dick. Let’s give him sympathy for that one. So, anyways, he made sure he played the consistent thug role to fit the part of his self-given nickname, T-dusk. Unfortunately, he also thought he could one day become the next Slim Shady. More unfortunate was the fact he thought he could use his ‘swag’ to get the girl of his dreams, his Spanish teacher, Ms. Oswaldo.

He was sitting in Spanish 10 one afternoon, his chin resting in his palms, as he stared at Ms. Oswaldo’s big, fine, round booty. Her bronze legs glimmered up to her long skirt for all the boys and male teachers, but even then little was left to the imagination. Because after the skirt starts, her thick thighs fill in every inch of the skirt’s black and gold pencil design. But, as much as her healthy legs filled it in, her ass, with peerless justice, more so. You could almost make out every detail of its round shape—the majesty of where it ends and where it begins—as if it was God’s intention to gather all that is curved and smooth and round and beautiful and poetic in this world and somehow managed to combine it all to form a women’s ass. Then above it was her thin waist line that flowed like glass art to her busty chest. Ms. Oswaldo liked to keep a few buttons undone. Her voluptuous titties all things golden and perfect.

Yo,” he asked Ms. Oswaldo, “Ms. O, what’s up?” He licked his lips and clicked his tongue. “You got any after school anything going on? You know. So I could catch up on my Spanish…senorita?”

She turned from the chalkboard and her cute face looked down at Titus, looking to his knock off Jordans and fool’s gold jewellery hanging over his douche bag Affliction t-shirt. “Titus,” she said, “if you actually tried to do your homework in class you wouldn’t have to be tutored, comprende? Now, do your work. Before you flunk out and you’ll have to dress like that your whole life.”

The classroom laughed at Titus.

Hazlo,” she ordered.

She turned to the chalkboard and wrote down whatever in Spanish and her booty swayed like two onyx suns. T-dusk thought she was a trampy-ass trap-queen anyways, but he didn’t want to say it. How she’s dating a big time dope boy on the West and throws it out to all the thugs for a whistle and for ice. Hypocritical trap-queen with an attitude and sexy accent. Despite the shots fired, he jerked off to her in the washroom stalls before his next class taught by the fuckboy teacher, Mr. Canning.

In Mr. Canning’s class, T-dusk sat in the back. It was the best place to avoid the balding chubby teacher from picking him out. He stood explaining the next assignment, his zoomed eyes often cornered at the edge of his glass’ lens to T. That day the short Mr. Canning looked like the typical pedophile. Hair slicked to the side. Typically thick framed glasses hanging too low on his nose. The only thing that was missing was a bow-tie to top off his blue khaki shirt, buttoned to the top like how a mom would force her fucking dweeb child. It was his attempt to look hipster. But it was more like ‘please, I’ll call my mommy, mister’.

Titus,” Canning’s nasally voice found him, “not that you’d know much about it, but could you explain how the body uses fluids to help contraception in mammals?” He chuckled to himself, thinking he was hilarious. To Canning, Canning was hilarious. “Did you guys hear me? Not that he’d know much about it.”

T dusk shook his head. “Yeah, I do know how my fluids help the process. I go to the liquor store, flash my fake ID to the fine lady working and then after some gin and juice us mammals get a little naked and things happen, nomsayen?” A few held their laughs. “That’s how I got your moms anyways, Mr. C.”

So then T dusk was sent to the main office where he sat waiting and watching the fat secretary talk on the phone to his mother or something. Her eyes watched T over her tiny glasses. Then the cool-natured, menopausal looking principle came out of the office and told Titus he was lucky that there was a school assembly and dismissed him to it.

At the assembly he sat with his head hanging low, nearly sleeping as the teachers ranted about nothing. T-dusk suddenly imagined himself breaking in with about ten other of his homeboys dressed up in black with bandannas over their face, rolling in the place with gats and shit and he pictured them holding up the teachers and embarrassing them in front of the whole school and left shooting up the flags and the roof to leave a message. Although Titus had no posse (friends, let alone), nor has he even seen a real gun. His daydream vanished and, after the assembly, again, in the boys washroom, he jerked off to Ms. O. Lonely kid some would say.

In the next class, gym class, a young girl named Elle came across from the girls’ side of the gym to him. She was pretty enough, but not for T-dusk’s taste. She was tall and slender. Lacking the Kardashian look he imagined his next boo to be. Kim would of filled those little gym shorts in fine as hell, he thought. Anyways, this Elle did weird shit, too, like read books in between classes and discussed them with teachers.

She stared at him as if to gain his attention. Hey, Tidu—I mean T-dusk,” she said, “heard you got told off by Ms. Oswaldo.”

His face was repulsed. “Shit, no.” He pursed his lips and acted coolly. “Who told you this?”

She did. I went to talk to her about the book Don Quixote and asked her if she’s read it, and of course she did, and so I said that last night I finished it, of course, and then after discussing its themes briefly, she asked me if she knew you and I said yes we went to elementary together and then she shook her head and asked if I could ask you to stop being a creep and to focus at actual school work or at least try for girls your own age, or something like that, or she might have to talk to the main office,” she said all in one breath. “So what’s new anyways?”

Whoa—whoa!” He leaned in closer. “That ain’t true, okay? She said that?”

Yep.”

He played coolly again. “Chh! That ain’t cool of her. I ain’t creepin’, ya know? Just been distracted by other things, ya know? Like some things going on at home that’s real tough.” Such as the time when his computer froze and crashed because he tried to download an unrated porno movie from Piratebay. He needed that computer for his mixtape. “Just got lots on my mind, okay?”

Okay. But, really, it’s okay, T. Anyways, if you need extra help in Spanish just ask me, comprende, senoir T dusk?” she said.

He looked around, embarrassed by her giddiness. “Yeah. Aight. Yeah.”

Beauno!” she said and jogged away like Bambi.

Coby Wilkinson came out of the resting boys’ crowd smiling like the douche bag jock he was. T-dusk hated Coby, the 6’4, 200lb football quarterback, basketball power forward and hockey centerman. Mainly because he had this way of making people feel good about themselves. Always handicapped people. He’d take them to church, praise them for throwing baseballs like little girls. Things like that. And it was for that reason, T-dusk hated Coby even more when he would talk to him.

Hey, buddy,” Coby said, a brilliant smile as he towered over T, “still rapping T?”

Yeah, I guess. You know.”

Awesome, man. Look, we need another man for some basketball. I know you don’t really participate, but we could really use a guy with a great jump shot like you.”

Man,” T-dusk protested, “I shoot hoop, nomsayen? I play ball. Ball is life. Man, I know my skin may look white but my soul is black, nomsayen?”

Coby laughed probably the phoniest laugh you’d ever hear. He reached out his long arm and rested his hand in relief on T’s shoulder. “Oh, man. T, you are a goofy one.”

GOOF? Did he just say goof? T-dusk thought. Despite this towering man that stood above him, nobody calls T-dusk a goof. (No man should ever be called goofy or anything alike. He heard somewhere that people get sent to graveyards and hospitals for saying that shit in prison. T wasn’t sure where he heard it but he knew it was fact. And what doesn’t fly for the brothers in prison–even though he’s never met anyone whose been in jail– doesn’t fly for him.) So he sucker-punched Coby in the nose and was subsequently beaten to pulp by him and then he was sent to the main office where the brawny, he-women principle suspended him the remainder of the week.

He was in his room staring at the ceiling. He brought his hand up to feel his swollen, black eye and sore nose. He suddenly heard the front door open and close and he knew it was his dad. “Shit,” he said and covered his face with a pillow. He heard the footsteps stomping up the stairs and through the hall and stopped at his door. His father opened the door and stuck his head just enough to see Titus among his unkempt room.

What?” Titus said.

What happened?”

Titus removed the pillow off his face and showed exposed his beaten-ass face.

Whoa. I’m not even going to ask about the other guy, because you probably are him. Did you at least get a couple in?”

One. I suckered him.”

His dad shook his head. “That’s what bitches do, son. C’mon. You aren’t no bitch. I didn’t raised no bitch.” He sighed off the disappointment. “Anyways, do you homework and all that. Keep the music down so I ain’t got to deal with your mother bitching me out.”

Dad,” Titus said before his dad left.

Yeah, son?”

You’re a microbiologist. You ever make anything zombie-like?”

Zombies?” He paused and thought. “Well, we did make this one concoction that somehow ended up making our test animals all crazy and violent in a way. I think I still got some. Since you’ll be bored all weekend, I’ll pull it out and I’ll show you on Guppus. I don’t see why not. He’s ancient and going to croak soon anyways. But, enjoy, you little shit.” He slammed the door. “Yes, I talked to him, women. Fuck sake…” his voice disappeared.

A couple days later, Titus and his father stood with their eyes fixed on the box sized hamster cage. Old Guppus the hamster stared back at them as if to wait for a treat. He looked to where his father pulled out a vial. It was labelled with cautionary signs. It look liked one of those liquid candy snacks, thick and red and syrupy. He twisted off the cap and put the minuscule drop of it on a peanut and opened the cage and placed it at Guppus’ feet and the old hamster took and nibbled on it like had been starving. Minutes later the hamster fell on its side and started convulsing. Titus’ eyes widened and he looked to his father who enjoyed the scene maniacally. Then the hamster was still.

That’s all?” Titus asked.

Sh, watch.”

The hamster suddenly got to its feet and charged at Titus behind the gate, it’s teeth nibbling at the steel cage. He never seen the old hamster move so quickly, even when it was younger. It spewed blood from its mouth as it continued to try and bite its way through the cage.

Psycho little thing, ain’t he?” his dad was laughing and enjoying.

What’s wrong with him?”

Not sure. We were just pissing around one day in the lab and suddenly made this and we tried it on some fish and mice and they went absolutely…how would you say it, son, ‘cray’? So, any who, I was told to destroy it after we had a gag but I had to keep it for the sake of a good time. And here we are!”

Does it do that to people?”

His father turned slowly to him, wonder and terror both in his expression. “…I don’t know.”

Ben?” his mother called from the kitchen.

His dad, Ben, put the vial down beside the cage and walked into the kitchen. “What? I’m busy. What is it, dear? For God’s sake.”

Titus looked at the vial, and to the feral hamster, and he looked to his parents arguing in the kitchen and then he swiped the vial and put it in his pocket and left the house.

He took a city transit bus, standing restless as he waited for his destination. He looked down at the vial in the palm of his hands then to a fat women eating a creamy long john. He felt repulsed to the sight of her shoving it in her mouth like it was the last long john on earth, her face smeared with icing and crumbs.

What’s that?” a big thug said as he noticed the vial in T’s hand.

T shoved the vial in his pocket. “Nothing, man.”

The thug looked around. “C’mon, what is that? Show me.”

No, I can’t homie.”

Homie? We homies? I ain’t your homie. Playa.” The thug gripped his necklace. “Fake ass gold and shit. Looking all beaten up like some bitch.”

Look, I don’t want no trouble, man.”

Give me the vial or you’re going to find it anyways. As a matter of fact, give me your wallet and cellphone and everything else.”

T-dusk reached into his pocket. He saw that everyone in the bus was watching, except the fat lady who was distracted by another long john she pulled out of her ass. He uncapped the vial in his pocket. “Here,” T shouted as he slung the liquid from the vial into the thug’s eyes and mouth.

The thug was blinded and struggled to wipe the seering pain from his eyes. “What the fuck, bitch boy?” he screamed in pain.

You wanted it, you got it,” T dusk said, smirking. He then suddenly realized what could happen, and even if it didn’t, he would still have to run.

The man fell to his knees and coughed out a pool of blood. The crowded bus grew restless and loud. They watched as the thug coughed and fell to his side and shivered to a still pause. Then his eyes opened blood red.

The thug rose to his feet, slobber draining from his mouth like a dog with rabies. T dusk ran near the mid exit and rang the driver to halt. The thug was standing and staring, though not staring at T, but at the distracted fat lady who found another long john. His shoulders and chest flared up and his panting grew deep and suddenly he shouted and sprinted to the fat lady and grabbed her hefty face and sunk his teeth into her neck. Everyone in the bus shrieked and panicked to the exit, crushing T against the door.

The bus door finally came open and the crowd rushed out. T dusk ran into a parking lot of a strip mall and turned the bus. He saw blood spurt onto the inside of the windows like buckets of red paint emptied carelessly. The bus driver was watching the passengers in horror and he too was suddenly attacked by the fat lady and she swallowed his jugular and started, simply put, eating him as if the three or four long johns she just ate were only an appetizer and the driver was the delicious main course.

Red-eyed passengers came out of the bus and charged at the others and bit into their flesh until they too became rapid and hungry for violence. T dusk backed off slowly. Suddenly he saw that the fat lady was on the sidewalk, thrusting her large hips into the pelvis of a small man laying on the sidewalk. He shook his head and ran from the incident.

He got back home to which his parents stood reserved at the coming of his entrance.

His mother’s arm were crossed. “Where did you go?”

I went to the store. I needed fresh air, okay?” Titus replied.

Ben was more aloof. “You went out looking all beaten up like that?”

Titus rolled his eyes.

Honey, you weren’t suppose to go out. You know that. You’re grounded and it’s against the rules.” A tear drivelled from her eyes. “But I’m so glad you’re okay, honey. I thought you ran off on us.” She pulled him in for a hug. “Oh and bad news, honey.” She cleared her throat and wiped her eyes. “Be strong, okay?”

Why?”

Because…. Guppus is dead.”

A day passed. Titus near chewed his fingernails completely bald as spent the hours looking out his window like some paranoid crackhead. The next morning his father called him downstairs and showed him what was on the news. Hundreds of people in the city suddenly became violent and uncontrollable with an infection. People were raping people in clear day. Biting their necks. And the bitten would then rise up and move on to find their next victim. Either raping them or biting them. The infection spread fast.

You know anything about this?” his father asked.

Dad,” Titus said with his head low, “I almost got jumped by this guy and so I got scared and threw the liquid in his face. He bit some women then everybody… started going fucking crazy. I think this is all my fault.”

Well, son….” his father disappeared into the kitchen and Titus heard the rustling of sticks and other junk in the broom closet. His father came out with a shotgun and pumped it loaded. “Looks like we’re bound for a good time.”

They reinforced the house. Barricading windows. Nailing doors. His father took out his entire collection of guns. Shotguns. Assault rifles. Oozies. Some real gangster ass shit, as Titus would put it.

Why are we doing this again, hon?” his mother asked Ben, loading up cartridges into a glock.

Remember that red stuff I made and we got drunk here when Jeremy and Renitta came by for a drink and we used it on gold fish and they went all loopy?”

Yeah.”

Well, Titus used it on people on a transit bus.”

His mother tilted her shaking head. “Oh, honey,” she said calmly yet disappointed.

Days past and they watched through the windows as people scattered from their homes. The infected chasing down mothers and fathers and children. Vehicles abandoned on the road. Houses aflame and busted. A real horror show.

Ben called his son to the living room. On the t.v a reporter caught on film two zombies appearing to have sex with each other. The male zombie grabbed the female from behind and torqued his hips slowly into her ass. They groaned and moaned like how you’d dare to imagine two old people fucking (with a little more blood but they still had teeth) and the male zombie drooled over his thrusting zombie dick as it penetrated the female zombie’s asshole. The male zombie managed to fuck it faster and appeared to have came hard into her. The male zombie suddenly fell to the ground and was still.

Why the hell they banging?”

Pretty sick, am I right?” He was genuinely entertained. “The infection was meant to be an aphrodisiac at first. To help losers get laid without using roofies. So it goes down to the core of our systems and brings out the primal instinct in us. Which is to reproduce. Fuck. Unfortunately, not everyone is the same. Some people rather eat than fuck. Or, eat then fuck.” Titus recalled to the fat lady riding the man earlier. “Either or, it’s just how it works. Also, the serum was a failure because it made the subjects look all creepy and shit, and it was irreversible.”

That’s messed up.”

Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

You’re not mad or scared?”

No, hello no, kid. The world’s overpopulated and could use a little fun. Besides, who doesn’t like a little zombies? I got to level 55 by myself on Call of Duty so we should be fine, us three.”

T thought about Ms. O that night in bed. Was she okay? Would that gangster she calls a man protect her like how he would protect her? What if he sold her out for his own survival? He couldn’t leave this world without getting some Ms. O. He shot up and went downstairs and grabbed an oozie and a hand gun and a shotgun. He looked to his parents sleeping sound on the couch and then left.

The world was different. There was no traffic or cops or people, for that matter, anywhere. It was like the place had been abandoned completely. He wondered where the horny zombies were. Be damned if he gets raped by a gay one or something. And then after he was half ways from Ms. O’s house, he saw a crowd of zombies in a park. He sneaked slowly past them on the side walk but stopped as he noticed that in fact it was a huge zombie orgy. It sounded like one large moan from the distance. They throbbed and thrust against each other. T shook his head and carried on.

Nothing was going to stop him from rescuing Ms. O. Absolutely nothing. Not even the sudden charge of two zombies. They came from out of a resident alley. He aimed his shotgun and blew each of their heads off. When the sound of the shotgun echoed through out the street, more zombies came out into the street. “Fuck,” he said, loading more cartridges into the shotgun. They ran for him and when they were in distance, he unloaded a shell into their skulls. He was a pretty good shot for someone whose never fired a gun. He moved along, step by step, dropping zombie by zombie. When his shotgun was empty, he dropped it and pulled out his oozie and cleared the street. They were all dead. “Damn,” he said, impressed with himself.

An hour later of dodging zombie herds and sneaking through yards and taking shortcuts, he finally made it to Ms. O’s house. A one floor building boarded up on every entrance.

He walked up to the door and cleared his throat and knocked. He heard the sound of footsteps inside. He took off his hat and sorted his hair and put it back on and rehearsed the face he would give her. Stupid fucking wanna-be hard face. The expression faded as the occupants began to peel away the barricades from inside. The door open slightly and a man’s eyes peaked through.

What you want?”

I was wondering if you had a moment to talk about our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?”

The man slammed the door shut. “It’s some kid. Looks goofy,” said the man from inside.

T thought “fuck you.”

The man opened the door and invited the kid in with a rise in his chin.

T ducked under the boards and squeezed through. He was a few inches shorter than the man. He wore a wife beater and gold chain necklace with a cross. He recognized the bald Mexican. He was the dope boy he hated because Ms. O dated him. He did his best not to look shook, but failed miserably. The dope boy studied him.

Where you rollin’ in from?” the dope boy asked.

Fucking shit up out there, man. Check out the piece,” T said, holding up his oozie.

Cute. Anyways. The fuck you want? This ain’t a charity house.”

Yo just to survive, nomsayen? I seen this place was boarded up a little better than the other places so I thought to check. Can I stay the night?”

Gloria,” the dope boy called.

Yeah, baby?” Ms O’s voice came from the kitchen.

Some punk wants to stay here for awhile. I don’t know, he looks young. Dressed kind of funny too.”

Who is it?” Ms O said as she came around the corner and dropped her cup of coffee. “Titus?”

She was just as beautiful as ever. She was wearing tight, pink short shorts. Her juicy thighs were exposed and golden. Her legs were gifts from Heaven. Her belly button revealed under her tight tang top… Okay, anyways, he did as best as he could not to make it apparent he was checking her out. She looked at her boyfriend then to Titus.

Ms. O, holy shit,” T acted surprised. “What are the odds? Wow. O. M. G. This is insane.”

You two know each other?” the dope boy stressed.

She was bewildered. “He—uh—is one of my students, baby. It’s crazy. Don’t you live down on the East side? How did you get over here?”

T hung his head. “Well, you see, Ms. O. I was at home when suddenly a group of zombies broke in our home and raped my father and ate my mom.” He squeezed out a tear.

She went up to him and hugged him. Her large breasts pressed against his chin. “You poor thing. That’s so terrible.” She looked to her boyfriend. “He staying here with us, honey. We can’t let another child die.”

The dope boy groaned and sighed. “Okay, but you listen here little, ombre. You stay on my couches, you better not bleed all over it or nothing like that. They’re new Italians leathers so I don’t need them getting fucked up. Comprende?”

Word, dawg.”

And none of that shit here. Didn’t your mama teach you no better? Fucking gangster ass thug shit,” the dope boy said. “Embarrassing.”

They all sat on the couch watching illegally burnt DVDs of shitty t.v shows. Like Two and a Half Men, without Charlie Sheen, of course, we’re talking. T would occasionally look over the dope boy to Ms. O sitting quiet. The sounds of a women’s scream came from outside like she was being attacked and raped. But they didn’t move.

Anybody hungry?” the dope boy said.

Yep,” Ms O and T agreed.

Okay.” He got up and left to the kitchen. “I make some great lasagna. Even ask Gloria. Right, Gloria? My lasagna is the shit?”

Yes, baby.” She looked at T and smiled. “So, how are you, Mr. Dick?”

Oh shit, Ms. O, don’t call me that.”

Did you get my message from Elle?”

Yeah, look, Ms.–”

You ain’t lactose tolerant, are you, kid?” the dope boy interrupted from the kitchen. “I like to load up on cheese and I don’t need you farting all over my couch.”

No, I’m good,” he replied.

When he turned back to Ms. O, she was sitting with a joint in between her lips. She scrounged through the table top for a lighter, her thong sticking out over her short shorts.

You smoke?” she asked. “Oh shit.” She just realized he was a student. “Aah fuck it,” she said and lit the joint, “the world’s going to end anyways.”

Oh fuck that smells good,” the dope hollered from the kitchen, “babe, give that kid a toke, he’ll be fucking cooked. Ha.”

She handed him the joint.

He took a long drag and coughed and passed it back.

You’re a rookie? You’re always so high in school, I thought you’d be like a champ.”

He laughed. “That’s some dope ass dope, Ms. O. I didn’t know you was straight up thug like Ri-Ri.”

Ri-Ri? Rihanna’s my bae.” She nearly smoked the entire thing herself before passing him the rest. “Finish it up, dear.” She blew out about the amount of smoke a house fire would create.

Suddenly as they sat quiet and baked, the dope boy screamed from within the kitchen and they both went to it. There was a small rat that scurried away out a dog door. The dope boy stood holding his bleeding neck.

Ms. O went up to her boyfriend. “Oh, baby, what happened?”

Little fucking rat attacked me. Bit me in the neck.”

T remembered Guppus. The vicious little rodent. Animals could get the infection and they could probably spread it. “Are you okay?”

I’m fi–” the dope boy fell to his knees and started to puke out blood onto the floor. He was sweaty and pale.

Ms. O panicked and begged that he would be okay, rubbing his back and crying. T pulled her away and shot the dope boy in the back of the head. Ms. O screamed at the top of her lungs and slapped T.

What is wrong with you!” she cried.

He was about to turn and rape us both! I had to!”

No,” she sobbed. She hugged the headless body. “My baby. My trap-king. No…”

She cried over his dead body for hours. Meanwhile, T stood on guard for the rat but it never came back. He looked out through a crack on the window for no apparent reason. He went back to kitchen and rubbed her back and told her it was going to be okay.

She looked at T and hugged him like it was the last hug she would give. Her body shook in his grip as she cried profusely over his shoulder. He rubbed her upper back and slowly moved his hand further down until it was just above her thong. Finally, he thought, he felt her smooth skin. He hoped she wouldn’t notice that he was hard in the pants.

That night she fell asleep sound on the couch. T watched her from across the room. He thought of trying to feel her up but then realized that would make a bad impression. So instead he went up to her and shook her shoulder and she woke up.

You think it’ll be more comfortable to sleep in your bed?” he asked her.

You’re sweet but I don’t think I could. That’s where me and him made sweet, sweet love every night. That’s where I wanted him to put babies in me and now… now it’s never happen.” She started to cry in her hands.

Sh, sh,” he said to comfort. “It’s going to be fine.”

Titus?”

Yeah?”

Would you mind laying with me, just to hold me through the night? I don’t want to feel alone right now,” her eyes were wet and sincere.

Of course,” he said, baffled. He squeezed himself onto the couch and wrapped his arms around her exposed abs.

Her hair was stuffed against his face. He felt like sneezing but he didn’t want to move. Her hand came over his and a jolt of comfort and excitement came about his entire body. She wanted him. He could feel it. He started to shift his pelvis against her round bottom and she started to rotate it in the same direction. He felt his erection become solid in pants, rubbing against her soft cheeks as she pressed harder and harder. She began to pant and moan under her breath. Titus couldn’t believe what was happening.

He slid his hand above her belly button and under her shirt. He popped his fingers under her bra and felt her subtle under boob. They were softer then he ever imagined. He pushed his hand completely over her boob and squeezed it and started to play with her hard nipple. She started to push deep into his pelvis. He noticed her hand slip into her short shorts and she began touching herself. He tried as hard as he could not to come. He thought about Mr. Canning. He thought about the manly principle. He thought about Ellen Degeneres and the finale of Lost. He could still feel her booty rub against him.

She pulled her hand out from her shorts and grabbed his hand from her breast and guided it into her shorts, past her patch of pubic hair and onto her clitoris. The first time he’s ever felt one. So soft and wet. He rubbed it slowly and felt her moaning breath vibrate on his chest. She asked him to rub it harder and so he did and she started to moan louder until her pussy was completely soaked. He reached his fingers below her clit and played around her throbbing hole. It pulsed, opening and closing, and she turned to him, catching her breath.

I can’t believe you made me come,” she said. “Wow.”

He smiled proudly.

I want you inside me.”

Almost instantly he reached down for his zipper and he pulled out his dick and she looked to it and got up and wrapped her thick, wet lips around it. She started off slow. Her lips gently mapped over his throbbing head. She licked around it and moved further down until he tongue was over his balls. It was the best moment of his life and he knew it was only about to get better. He propped himself up so that she could shove his sack into her mouth. She moaned as she sucked his balls gently. Her eyes looked up at him and suddenly, with her hand resting on his shaft, he saw a bit of come dripping out. She smiled and licked it and sucked his head so hard it hurt. He allowed the pain for her. There was no way he would protest.

His dick had become less sensitive. She got up and went to the middle of the living room, staring away from him. She looked to her backside and slowly slipped off her shorts and thong until her bottom half was completely naked. His eyes were wide, studying the round, bronze ass. It was shaped so perfectly. Above it were small dimples. Below it were the lines that separated it from her thick thighs. She bent over as if to touch her toes and her pussy came below her beautiful spread cheeks. It was wet and throbbing for him. She put her fingers to her clit and rubbed it then spread her small pussy lips so that he saw her pulsing hole.

Come here and fuck me. I want you.”

Titus got up and pointed his dick towards her pussy, as if to joust it in. He scuttled as his pants were wrapped around his ankles then he tripped and fell face first and the world disappeared.

Titus!” Ms. O screamed out of the oblivion.

Titus suddenly found himself back in Spanish 10 with his chin resting on his palms. He looked to Ms. O standing angrily at the chalkboard. The entire class was watching him.

Earth to Titus,” she said, “get up and start doing some work. I’m tired of you sleeping and daydreaming in this class. Get to work.”

Okay, sorry, Ms. O,” he apologized.

Beauno.”

After class he sat in the boys bathroom stall, still mesmerized by his daydream. He felt it was all so real. Apart of him wanted it to be real. But his dad was not that rad and his mother was strict to the bone. Although Mr. Canning was a complete asshole, he would never dis his mom or anyone’s because he raised at least to that point. And even if Colby did call him a goof, there’s no way he’d punch him (he helps crippled kids after all). Ms. O actually lived in a small house but it was with her family. Her husband is a lawyer and she has three kids. Still, he’d tap that. Then there was the other thing: “Zombies,” he said, shaking his head, “fucking zombies.” Titus jerked off to the thought of Ms. O and proceeded to Mr. Canning’s class.

The end.

Into The Frozen Veneer

trailer

THE YOUNG MOTHER lay weeping. All the more bearing her son in thin arms. A boy she had barely known. Only that she had not raised him. She was selfless enough to avoid letting any child grow into a world where the survival of winters meant waking up in the middle of a kitchen on a mattress to the sight of red-hot coils glow within a grimy stove. She thanked God everyday that he was the third child but the only in flesh for but one pair of innocent eyes would be tainted the image of slow bleeding blight creeping beneath her door. Cold winds whistled a chaotic song that reminded her of each wearing winter which grew worse after the other and how those shorting days entitled fading smiles. Her hands that shook like her child in the night would one day be able to build a fire. One day.

The sun was hidden on a lonesome gray morning. She wiped the tears from her eyes and buried her head in the boys long brown hair. “Wake up,” she whispered to him as she rested on his crown. She gently turned him towards her stare and he grumbled and his eyes slowly peered open and he smiled softly as if to say hello.

As she kissed him on the forehead she looked over to her clock. An old unwashed coffee brewer that at one time may have been white. She slid her feet off the sheet-less bed onto the cold floor and went to fill up a glass of water over the unkempt sink. At the last drop she looked to her frozen window and suddenly felt a sense that her life was confined to the hopeless constitute behind the dark crystal murk and so there was solace unearthed in that of her son’s departure home. She reached out to feel the cold window and held it until the shape of her hand melted into the frost. She put the cup down and shortly after dressed her boy in his winter wear and handed over his pack.

“When can I come visit you again, mom?” the boy said.

“Whenever you want to,” she properly adjusted his scarf. “I’m getting you all dressed up just to take it all off in the car. They’ll think I’m going crazy.”

The boy laughed.

“Whenever you want to. But you just got to go back to school. And I want you to be a good man and learn lots, okay?”

He lifted his chin proudly and smiled. “Yes.”

“That’s my big man.” Although she fought off the tears, her teeth rattled and her eyes inflamed and she held her uneasy hands folded over his. Transparent sadness spoke tales past the facade. She pulled him in for a hug and kissed his forehead. “Okay, at least we know you won’t freeze on your walk to the car.” She opened the door and he walked into the snowy, dark morning towards the parked headlights of his foster parents’ car and watched him ride off with two people in which she knew just as strangers. They vanished into the grim snowfall and she closed the door. The semblance she had convened melted into a teary face.

THE YOUNG MOTHER was asleep when suddenly her door came crashing open and she rose to feel the chilling draft that came behind her boyfriend as he stood in the doorway. She ordered him to close it and got to her feet. His panting breath let off the lingering stench of alcohol as he quietly stared at her, eyes low and unsteady. He was drunk enough to have his jacket unzipped in a snow storm, his reddened ears and nose embossed of snow and frost. Her brows were risen unimpressed but shook it off as if it were inconsequential to react in anyway.

“Lock it,” she said.

He turned to the door and back to her. “I’m sorry, baby,” he plead as he slowly walked towards her.

She stood quiet in stoical manner.

He slid off his boots and held his hands on her shoulders and looked down at her as her revolting expression wound away from his putrid breath. “I meant to come home sooner. I’m sorry. I love you. I promise it won’t happen again.”

Looking away, she said “you stink.” She brushed his arms away and sat herself down on a thin, copper framed table chair and looked to him as if to tell him to sit and he did, more so falling. “Almost three days. You couldn’t stop by once?”

He grumbled and stared blankly at the old, unwashed walls. “Kids. Oh kids just love a fun, old drunk.” He laughed to himself and turned to her, “you think I’m really the daddy type?” Filthy teeth exposed through his grin.

“Well,” she said, lighting up a half burnt cigarette, “for all it’s worth, I missed you.” She inhaled the first drag slowly and even slower blew out the smoke towards the ceiling. “So, what’s up? You came to screw or what? What do you want?”

“Baby, I came to see you. That’s it.” He shifted his entire body towards her and reached out for her resting hand. “If I was any good with kids, I’d be here. You know that.”

She pulled her hand away and walked to the sink.

“Anyways, I can’t stay too long.” The sound of the faucet pouring into a glass. “I think I might have to go for stitches.”

She examined him as he took the toque off his head. She placed the glass of water in front of him and shifted through his greasy hair to see a long, open laceration near his temple. “Oh my God. What happened?” she asked.

“It’s nothing,” he assured, “it’s nothing. I got jumped by these goofs at a party over some shit. It’s nothing. I just got to go get it stitched up, I suppose. I’ll go to the clinic.” He took a drink of water. “Aah, that’s good. After that, I’ll come see you.” He poured the rest of the glass down his throat and placed the empty cup in the sink and slipped on his boots. “I’ll be back soon. It won’t take long at all.”

Her brows pinched between her nose. “You’re not coming back, are you?” Disdain in her voice. “It never ends. Just go,” she said, opening the door.

“Hey. Shh. Here.” He handed over a couple small pieces of shredded plastic grocery bag. “Keep that until I get back. Some guys are going to stop in to see me, so don’t worry if they show up a bit early.”

“A couple of guys?” she worried.

“It’s nothing, baby. They’re just coming to do a little bit of business. Hook me up, you know? Then you know what that means,” he smirked. “Just save that until I get back. I love you, beautiful.” He leaned over and kissed her and left.

The strain on her face faded as she looked down towards the wrapped plastic shreds that lay in her palm. She walked quickly over to a cupboard and tiptoed and reached and placed the pieces on the highest shelf.

IN THE HOURS that plodded throughout the lonesome morning the young mother’s gaze was fixed to the cupboard across the kitchen where inside were the plastic shreds that managed to distract her from all else. She opened and closed it on several occasions to ensure the pieces had not been stolen or had not run away, a sigh of relief after she reached and felt the plastic against her fingertips. The green text of time on her unused coffee brewer climbed slowly past noon when she began uncontrollably biting her nails and jigging her leg, rhythmically swearing at her cuticles underneath her breath and sprouting to the door every time she heard so much as a sound of a passing vehicle. She repeatedly opened and closed a drawer near her fridge and watched as a small tin cylinder tube rolled back and forth and soon after she picked it up and placed it in front of her gently on the table like a cup of coffee filled to the brim and sat down and looked restlessly to the cupboard.

When there was no longer relief in swearing and biting her fingernails, she almost instantly grabbed the pieces from the cupboard and lay them out on the table. She untied the small knots and unwrapped the plastic and poured out the brittle white crumbs in a pile next to her straight pipe. After the last one, she pinched at the small pile. She studied the crumbs closely and carefully and put it up to her nostril for a whiff.

“No,” she panicked. “No.”

She stuffed the tip of the pipe and took a light to it. It lit up in a flame that expelled an odd black smoke and immediately she pulled the tube away from her lips, coughing violently as veins bulged from at the sides of her thin face and neck. She threw the pipe across the kitchen and viciously whipped her arms across the table top, the pieces of plastic and substance scattered across the floor.

She kicked randomly towards the grain-like white crumbs and shouted amply. “You f-cking cocksucker. You son of a bitch.” She kicked over a chair before going back to stomping at the specks. Smeared streaks of white. “You need this shit. You should of kept it. You dirty bastard. You need this shit. To clean off your gross balls, you piece of shit. Soap? You need soap to clean of your infected dog dick, you dirty bastard. You worthless asshole…”

She dropped to her knees and cried in her palms, mumbling and a swear: fuck. A knock at the door. She wiped clear her face and slowly rose to her feet and the door peered open enough to see two men in about their early thirties standing with their arms huddled to their chest, their heavy breath freezing in the air.

“Is your boyfriend here?” said the man nearest to the entrance, leaning his body in closer. He appeared near half a decade older than the other. She may have seen his face around a time or two or perhaps heard of him but never would have damned him a drug dealer if she had to guess. “He said to meet here.”

“Yeah,” she widened the entrance, “come in. He said he’ll be around.”

The older man smiled. “Yeah. Thanks.” And they came in and wiped the snow from their dark clothes onto the floor and walked blatantly to the chairs with soaked boots and sat themselves down as if it was a thing they had done casually in the homes of their own mother. The older man noticed a lady’s concern and looked to the puddles of slushy water leading up to his feet and squinted and grinned curiously at the floor smeared white. “Oops. Were you doing a bit of cleaning? At least now you got some water to get all that off.”

She grabbed a filthy rag from the sink and dropped hand and knee to wipe the water off the floor. “Yeah, I dropped something. Sorry about that.” She looked at the younger of the two, his face stone in demeanor. He anxiously twirled his thumbs and picked at his fingers and then she wondered why it was that as if he refused to look at her. She looked over to the older man and felt uneasy that his stare had hardly eased its inspection of her, unlike his quiet friend. A confident grin below sharp eyes.

“That man of yours, sure takes his time,” said the older man. “That kind of behavior gets a person in all sorts of trouble in this business. Did you know that?”

She went to rinse the rag. “I can imagine. He said he’d be home soon hours ago, so he should be coming.” She took her time twisting and yanking the cloth, watching the filth run down the whistling drain. “He went to the clinic. Got bottled and he needed some stitches.”

“Bottled? Oh. That’s no good,” he smiled at the younger man. “Shit happens when you try to have a little fun around these parts. If people aren’t drinking themselves to death, they’re smoking themselves to death. They’ll spend everything, take everything, just for a little fix. Even from their own mother, brother. Even child.” He saw her head turn slightly, white orb spying over her shoulder. “Hey, I’ve known your boyfriend for so long, how come I don’t know who you are? I think I heard about you.”

She threw the rag in the sink and turned around. “I’m sure everyone has something to say about me.”

He laughed. “No, don’t be so hard on yourself. Your boyfriend too has been on your side of the street for sometime I think. What’s a pretty girl like yourself doing with a smelly, no good goof like that?”

“Hey,” she protested. “He’s a good guy, okay? Everyone has their problems. Nobody’s perfect. And nobody’s so great to be in a position to judge.”

He nodded in what looked to be sarcastic agreement. “You’re right. You’re right. We all got our flaws.” He looked down at the puddle of water surrounding his boots. “I’m thirsty. Are you thirsty?” he asked the younger man. “Do you got anything to drink?”

“Water.”

“Water. Okay. Grab me and my bro a glass. Please?” the older one requested.

The younger man turned towards the wall as if resenting a hand fed meal.

She turned on the tap and filled the first glass to the brim. As she turned the faucet off she heard the sharp snapping click of the deadlock. She turned to the younger man as he stood door side like a club bouncer.

“Okay, I want you two to leave.”

The older man refused her demand with a smirk.

“Right now,” she screamed. “Leave.” She walked briskly to the door but was struck down by the guarding man’s fist before she could touch the lock. She spat phlegm and blood onto the floor as she crawled towards the mattress. “What the f-ck,” she questioned in a daze.

“You’re not going anywhere. And your definitely not screaming like that again,” he got up and put a pistol to her head. “Do you hear me?”

She agreed reluctantly with a nod as she repeated please through her bloodied teeth.

“Okay. I think you’re senses are back, mostly.” He scampered across the kitchen floor. “So he told you that he’ll back later, did he? You’d think sooner than later, this man that loves you so much. This is probably going to be terrible news then.”

He threw her the rag from the sink. “Wash up,” he said and then looked to the younger man, “sit down. I think she learned her lesson.” He went and knelt to her and took the rag from her hand and gently wiped the blood from her chin as she sobbed and shook, staring blankly away from him. “You don’t seem that stupid at all. Not as stupid as I thought you’d be. You know, no offense. But dating that guy, don’t blame me for finding room to assume. Anyways, I’m sure you know that he’s not coming. No. You see, your boyfriend wasn’t bottled last night. I’m assuming he didn’t stay too long. You would of seen the cuts and bruises all over his body. My boy here gave him all that. But he left that out didn’t he?”

Forcibly bringing her face aligned with his as she pulled away, he continued, “If there is no law in the matter of your business than who is there to judge? Who can honestly wait for God to do anyone’s bidding? I don’t think it’s his style. I don’t think it’s a cop or judge’s either in those situations, last I checked. When one is dealing with issues that are under no script, no word, of law or of God, then who has the right to justice? Me. When your piece of shit boyfriend took drugs from me, the will of nature dictates that I’m great enough to judge.” He took a calming breath. “And so last night we made an agreement, me and your loving man.” His hand fell high on her lap as with his other his fingers slid across her cheek. “I’d get my money one way or another.”

She slapped his hand away. “No, you can’t,” she cried. “I’m not his property. He doesn’t belong to me. You can’t do this.”

He looked to his partner for but a deadpan reaction. He gripped her hair and shoved her temple into her shoulder. “I could, and I will, tonight and tomorrow, and the next day and the next day. Until I feel like that little junkie ass has subsidized for three thousand dollars in losses.”

As he began to slip the top off her shoulder, there was a knock at the door.

The younger man went to the window but could not see through the frost. He looked to his superior to find that he was just as bewildered. The older man took out his pistol and casually pointed it at her. His finger wrapped around the trigger. She knew he would pull it if she made even the slightest sound. The knocking persisted longer than one would normally expect. Annoying as the consistent knocking had been in days prior, the young mother’s face lit up slightly as if she suddenly realized who was on the other side.

“Who is that?”

Her voice trembled before she could speak. “I don’t know.”

“Go tell them to fuck off. And if you say or do anything, I’ll kill you and whoever that is. Got it?” he spoke through his clenched jaw as she nodded. “Go.”

The younger man stood behind the door and slowly opened it. And there in the snowfall stood a chubby little girl in a thick faux-fur jacket, her son’s friend, standing silently with a tight smile. Inside the men looked to each other as her head protruded out into the cold. They could not hear a word over the bellowing winds drafting through entrance. The older man moved to stand directly at her backside and put his ear in closer.

“Okay, see you later then,” the young mother spoke in a clear yet shaken voice.

The man moved even closer, his ear near in between her head and the door.

“Help,” she whispered.

The man grabbed her hair and threw her to the middle of the kitchen floor and ran outside and pulled the little girl in by her coat collar and bowl-cut hair.

“Leave her alone,” she begged, fearing for the crying girl.

“What is wrong with you?” He tossed the girl to the floor and put the gun to the women’s forehead almost at the same time. “Do you want to die? Huh?” Jabbing her in the forehead. “Are you stupid?” He pulled the gun away and put it to the terrified little girl’s temple as she sobbed to the ceiling on her knees. “Is this what you want? You are just as stupid as I thought you were.”

“I’m sorry,” she cried at his feet. “I’m sorry. Let her go. She didn’t do anything. She’s just a little girl. Please, let her go and you could have anything. You could do anything, please.”

“Let’s take them both to that backroom,” he ordered the younger man who stood panting in apparent anxiety.

They took the women and the girl to the main bedroom down the hall and gagged them using whatever clothes they found laying around and tied their hands behind their back. The younger man stood on guard as the older swore to himself in the kitchen. The mother begged to the younger man through her gag but he was unmoved. The older man came into the bedroom punching himself on the cheek.

“Should we just go?” said the younger man.

His superior looked at him as if insulted. “Leave? She knows who we are. If this fat little kid says anything, we’ll be screwed. Cops will be all over our ass.”

“What if she doesn’t say anything?”

The women looked at the little girl as if to calm her down.

“She’ll tattle-tale,” he said walking to the little girl. “Won’t you?”

The women shouted something through her gag for the older man’s attention.

“You did this. You brought another child into your fucked up little world to suffer. And now you know what? She gets to watch and witness. Witness what happens to f-ck ups like you. Then after that? We’ll see how fast you could dig your grave and hers when this is over.”

The superior grabbed the seams of the women’s pants and started pulling them off and when she was in her underwear he ordered the younger man to pin her swaying body to the floor and he did so in reluctance, looking elsewhere with his hands clutched over her shoulders. The older got inbetween her kicking legs and unzipped his jeans.

Then there was another knock at the door. The men turned to the hallway. Frozen. The sound of the door creaked open and with it the wind and the sound of boots stomping and the older man stood up and pointed his gun down the hallway and then to the floor ahead and laughed in relief.

“What’s up?” said a hoarse voice. “What the hell? Why you getting all hostile?” A the stranger with a face gaunt and that would have a starving shark lose its appetite walked in the room and he stopped instantly at the sight of the two distressed bodies gagged on the floor. A little girl and half naked women. “Whoa. What the hell is going on here? I guess I didn’t miss too much.”

“That stupid bitch brought this f-cking kid in it. Now we’re stuck with them both.”

“What do we do?”

“We have our fun and get rid of them.”

“Get rid of?”

“You didn’t miss a damn thing.”

He took a few back steps towards the door. “Hey, I just got out of jail. I thought we were just going to stop by for a bit of fun. This is too f-cked up, man. I can’t do this.”

The superior turned to the man. “You are doing this.”

“What if someone finds out? I can’t do life, man. C’mon.”

The older put his hand over the man’s shoulder. “Look, don’t worry about a thing. No one will ever no we were here. Besides, this is a junkie’s house. All her neighbors know that people come by just to get f-cked up all the time. Plus it’s a blizzard out there. No tracks. No anything. It’s fine. We’re fine,” he said with an uncomfortable grin.

The gaunt man looked at the little girl. “Can we talk in the kitchen? All of us.”

The superior and the younger man looked at each other and both walked out of the bedroom, the strange man lastly closing the door.

“I CAN’T DO THIS shit,” the mother heard the younger protest down the narrow hallway.

She looked to the little girl and mumbled as if to calm her down. She shifted her jaw tirelessly until the lime cloth between her teeth slid to her neck. “Okay,” she whispered. “Turned around.” The pudgy girl turned on her side and the women used her teeth to pluck and untie it as aimlessly as a snared rodent gnawing its own leg however her binds were too tight around the girl’s swollen and reddened wrists. “F-ck.” She looked to her dresser lined up with the bedroom door and propped herself to her feet. She waited until the three intruders screamed uncivilly before she used her hips to budge and fasten the dresser against the door, inch by inch.

“I’m going to break the window. You’re going to get on my back and jump out, okay?” she said to the little girl. She looked around the room but there was nothing her teeth could grip to break the window therefore she put her forehead against the cold glass and pulled her head back past her shoulder blades and thrust forward. A mere spiderweb crack came about the thudding impact. The men continued to obliviously argue. The concoction of their arguing voices and the thudding struggle of the little girl’s feet masked the impact. Blood poured down her forehead and into her shrouded eyes. On the second attempt, glass and ice and snow came crashing down onto the floor and shards were instilled in her flesh. They heard the shattering impact on that occasion.

As the women got to her knees the little girl stood for a moment to see the lady. Her face full of blood and lacerations and skin hanging from her forehead. “Go,” she demanded. The sound of rushing intruders came down the hallway. The little girl stepped on the mother’s back and she rose to throw the girl out the window. When the intruders broke through the door they saw the smashed window and rushed to it. The little girl’s tracks lead to a small break in the tall fence where she passed under for escape.

The superior took to kicking the mother in the ribs in blind anger and the gaunt man hesitantly walked backwards to the door.

“This is f-cked up,” said the strange looking one, “I told you. I’m out, man.”

In almost an instant, the older man turned to him and put a pistol to his head and demanded that he not move to which the gaunt man told him “do what you got to do” and thus was shot in the back of the head after he turned to walk away. Blood and flesh and bone skewered throughout the hallway walls. The younger man shook when he saw the lifeless man’s skull empty a pulpy pink and red liquid to the floor.

“You have anything you want to say?” he said to the younger. “You want to go?”

Scared, the younger one shook his head.

“Well hold her down. I’m getting what I f-cking came for.” The older turned the women on her back and unzipped his pants. “Hold her down I said.”

The younger man was still, watching as the women lay silent and bloodied. He watched as the man started tearing away the clothes off the helpless mother like a savage beast. A man who had more vehicles than anybody could need, more people at his side than most politicians, and more money required from the enslaved to last a lifetime. The man regarded no life save himself. Although the ladder was never clear to the younger, he realized that now. At last, he saw only a manipulative man selfishly unhinged from all law and virtue of man and God. This nefarious man could of seized his unrelenting pride and let the loss of it wear on his soul as bleakly as wind against stone however he did not and therefore the young man lifted his pistol and shot the unjust man twice in the back as if the entirety of which he stood aloof to the monster was for that moment of which nature appointed him law and judge and subsequent of the settling echos of gunfire he witnessed the deliverance of justice as the eyes of evil saturated among the dead and then the pistol fell to the younger one’s side.

The women was too weak to push the dead older man off from her torso. “Please, help.”

The younger man roused from his shock and dragged him off and as soon as he stood to his feet, the sound of a .22 caliber rifle went off and the women looked over to the doorway and saw a hefty man wearing spandex over his plaid jacket, his gun pointed sharply. The little girl’s father. The young man fell to the ground at her side, life seeping from a blank stare and soon after, when the hefty man had picked the young mother up to her feet and escorted her out, he died on the cold floor.

In the hefty man’s pick up truck in the driveway, he had blanketed her and assured that she was now safe and that help was coming. She looked out to her tattered, trailer home and its frozen windows glowing through the evening’s darkening skies and, as they drove off, the world went black.

THOUGH SHE HAS always waited for God, perhaps He did answer back however not in the way she had expected. She could not see his face or feel his hands or hear his voice. Perhaps he spoke through the confinement of her cold, gray home. In such a way being, even as great as He, one could not amend, could not dictate, nor judge. Only an extension of understanding that may be derived as it is. A cold and gray home. An internal loneliness within. Perhaps angels are not always found only in the joyous and prosperous aspects of the world but also that of in dismay and pain. She dreamed that those whom suffered longer and harder battles were the ones that brought themselves closer to the warming embrace of divinity. She had never read or heard of script or of law by God or by man that could directly dictate the will of flesh and so it was only by her steadying hand and alarmed spirit that she could find the greatness within herself to grant justice and it was in that dream she was terrified but somehow she had also built a fire. Then she awoke.

A year had past after the storm. The sun streamed through her hallway windows like thick, golden beams. Particles of dust danced liked ever changing constellations. The walls were adorned with framed photos of family and friends and stickers that immortalized the simplistic words of terrible and nameless writers of past. Live. Laugh. Love. She followed the fresh smell of coffee into the kitchen and picked out the pot from the stainless steel brewer and poured herself a steaming hot cup. She stared out past the window as she stood at the sink and scrolled along her freshly painted fence and in disguised thought she realized there was something important missing. “Get up now, you’re going to be late for school,” the young mother hollered to the hallway and turned back to the window and took a sip of coffee.

 

Numb Basin

Lena_River_Ice_Road

It was late into the evening on a cold wintry lake. Winds and snowfall hurried to bury the ice road that beset ahead. A thick mist tailed as he drove his truck through the pallid sight like a current jetting through deadened water, snow pummeling against the swishing window wipers. The four-foot high edges were rounding out and in no time the road that could host two lanes caved in to nothing more than a convenient rut for the wandering downfall. Aware of the conditions and having rode down the route a great deal, his pace didn’t let up even as the tires would crash against hardened drifts causing sudden jerks. He knew that it had been worse. What an ungodly day it must have been.

He had just delivered several packages to a small hamlet that could only be reached by an ice road. It took him longer to arrive than planned. He was halted by an elderly women in her grim cabin. One who he knew and spoke with every time he came by. One who only spoke Dene words, much like his own grandmother. She was a nice old lady who was always surrounded by her grandchildren. He was still unfamiliar with most of the Denesuline words she spoke, his native language. Edza was the only word he could make out from her babble. Cold. On any other day he would listen and visit, however he insisted his departure, his mind weighed by worry. He waved off and left the isolated community.

He thought about the moments he shared with his girlfriend days before, looking over to her long black hair as they drove through a quiet town late that morning. Her soft nose pointed down towards where her cellphone rested between her thighs. Her fingers pressed against the screen busily. She wasn’t usually as quiet. He purposely cleared his throat and tapped his fingers loudly against the steering wheel as to gain her attention. Her gaze was still unmoved. Eyes were fixed on reading whatever message or post that was returned, staring and smiling. A type of smile he hadn’t seen in a while. He asked her what she was so busy with and with that an argument ensued for the remaining ride home. He couldn’t remember their words, only the frustration in their expressions and how she couldn’t look into his eyes, the way her jaw line shifted when she explained herself then she said nothing at all. Barren tones of radio covered the aching silence like a carpet over rusty nails.

She sent one more text and sat with her hair covering half of her face as she rested her chin on knuckles. And for days after that, they shared conversations sparingly. He refused to listen to her, and she refused to fight. He focused his days looking after his ill grandmother. Her ailed body too weak to carry out most normal functions. Getting her up from the couch. Seating her carefully on the stool. Cooking and feeding.

During while, his girlfriend had been at her parents or wherever else. Places he would rather not know. He would only see his girl in the evening when she would come home to sleep next to him. Laying thousands of kilometers away could have felt just as close, as if her presence and stare a polarizing force to depart.

He watched the heavy snowfall crash into the window like tunneling vortex, a guilt encasing him, similar to the way someone would realize they forgot to lock up their house or feed their dog. Maybe he was wrong about it all. The assumptions. If she wanted anything else she wouldn’t have been at his side, even as he resented her. He sped up, realizing he was still quiet a ways away from home, ways away from her, and ways away from giving her an apology.

Too long on the hazardous road, not enough sleep. His eyes fought to stay open, weary from a sleepless night. The white in front of him became flashes of darkness. A comforting dark that promised serenity. His eyes closed shut. A violent jolt woke him from his slumber. In a short instance of unconsciousness, his truck lost control and barged into a snow drift as tall as the hood of the truck and his forehead hit the top of the steering wheel.

The vehicle was motionless in the snow, the muffled engine idling below the powder. Radio static. His head rested on the steering wheel, unconscious. The wind howled and the snowfall brought on its encumbrance as if nothing happened.

She was sitting on top a boulder about the size of a small bus in the middle of the woods. She beckoned him to climb up. He took her hand and crawled up to met her at the top, seemingly taller than the green trees that surrounded them. A ray of sun peeked over the fringe of green as he pulled her in and she pulled him in. They looked in each others eyes, smiling. And their expressions faded as they brought their heads in forth at a tilt. As their lips locked, sunlight pierced between their joined dark, contrasted figures and its citrus glow erupted like the splitting of clouds in the sky as they parted to look at each other, her hands resting over his shoulders as his lay at her waist.

He remembered every thing clearly in that moment. The chirping and bleating and whistling of birds and rodents from the treeline. Her sweet face, the green of the trees, the blue of the sky. The way she hung her head slightly, forcing him to stare into her brown eyes, into the warmth of her soul. Her fragrance, one he couldn’t place, familiar and comforting and angelic. An aroma of everything he would ever need.

She ran ahead of him through a small beach and removed her sandals and walked hurriedly to dip her toes in a clear blue pool in the middle of the forest. He noticed her begin to peel off her top and slip off her shorts and until she was naked in the water. He looked around. Only trees and wild. She looked back at him as she dipped herself in and smiled invitingly, backpedaling towards the middle. He took off his clothes and stood hesitantly before the water. She waved him in. He took a step and submerged completely, like walking off a diving board, and his entirety was stung from the sharp cold.

He abruptly woke to the sight of his breath freezing mid-air. He felt his hands shaking uncontrollably beneath him. He lifted his bruised forehead from the steering wheel and looked about the cold cab. He wiped away frost from the window and discovered he was near buried. The wind whistled loudly through the cracks. He turned the key and the engine spat and jogged before starting. He cleared the frost from the gauges and saw that the gas was just above empty and by that thought maybe he was out for an hour or so. If he was out for any longer, he may have never awoke. He knew that all too well.

He swore and punched his dashed board until his breathing grew heavy and his knuckles sore.

The door was blocked by the surrounding barricade of snow. He pushed until it slowly peered open and he was able to squeeze out of the vehicle. He walked far enough away from the truck to see that it was moments away from becoming his frozen coffin, almost completely buried. There was noway he was getting anywhere. He took a shovel from the box and began to dig just outside the driver-side doorway where the wind blew right over truck’s cab. With the doorway clear, he jumped in the cab and looked through his storage departments for anything he could find of use. A box of matches. Extra gloves and a pair of hide mitts. Old packages of broken up saltine crackers. A flashlight. And a pile of sweaters and extra snow pants and greasy old gloves. Some rope and select tools.

He dropped his head on the steering wheel, feeling the swelling on his forehead push against his skull. He thought of how great it would be to have a trucker’s radio and how stupid it was that he didn’t but there wasn’t much point in sitting around thinking of what he could have done. He stared at the vents. Streams of freezing air. The gas gauge was sitting right on the empty line, temporary comfort soon to fade when the gas would. Perhaps it would last until rescuers would arrive but that was a chance he would have to wage for his life. He turned off the ignition and got out of the vehicle and shone his flashlight down both directions where the road would have been, but the snowstorm had devoured its existence. From afar, it looked as if the truck had been placed arbitrarily in the cold desert by an act of God. There was no leaving. Not by tires, not by feet…not mortally.

He needed to get back home. If not for his own life, he needed to for her. The woman who lived in his heart. He needed to hear her voice again. The cold sung on the lake a deathly bellow. But he was not afraid of the fear that arose within. He seen storms before and he had survived them all. He’d walked through snow storms drunk, battered and bruised. Fell through ice in the later days of winter. Fought off an angry, old wolf with an ice pick. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Seen the deaths of family and friends. And although the deathly bellows sung, the fear within him sung clamorous, for without it he would welcome death’s music in grandeur. It can’t be on this night. Not for his own life, but for her.

His shoveled and tossed the snow overhead, enough to stay above the pace of the relentless blizzard. Hours later a small area outside the driver door was cleared out. He took a handful of tools from behind the seat. He rummaged through every crevice inside the cab for a tarp or something until he thought to check the box. He removed the piling snow and clawed his way to the iron, his hands sifting through until his fingers caught a grip of what felt like a sheet of some sort and tugged it out. Canvas.

Later he threw the sheet above the gap from the open driver door to the cab hood and secured it using rope. With the excess canvas, he pegged it down so that the sheet lay out against the side of the truck like some makeshift lean-to. As he finished, he crawled under the cover to ensure it was as robust from the inside as it was out. He patted the inner lining and thought to himself that it’d take a tree to fall over to take it down. He grabbed all the extra clothing and whatever else he could find and placed it out underneath the shelter as a floor. It was as much comfort as he was going to get, although he could still feel the overwhelming cold creep up his skin.

He jacked up the truck enough to pry out the rear tire from its frozen mound. He placed it near the entrance of the canvas enough so to crawl in through. He dipped a long, greasy rag into the gas tank until it was drenched in the musky fluid. He slipped off his gloves and put them between his teeth as he twisted the cloth so that gas would trickle over one side of the rubber. He took a book of matches out from his chest pocket and he slid a match against the striker and put the miniscule flame against the gas. The flame burst for a moment before dying down to shallow a height. It took only a few moments before the cold rubber caught aflame and burned lightly in the frigid cold.

He crawled further back into the canvas and watched the flames grow below the emitting thick, black smoke. Inevitable darkness crept as he sat nibbling away at the package of stale and tasteless crackers and thought about the elderly woman. Edza, she said. He could see the distraught look in her eyes now that he put his mind to it. She wanted him to stay until the storm would clear, her fingers pointed at a steaming pot of some sort of soup. It could have been just a broth of old scraps and bones meant for dogs, he would still eat it now.

The flames danced in the wind and faded to black as his eyes lids came to a unhurried close, as if to purge the despair in his heart and mind. A few hours had passed before his eyes burst open. Disappointment on his face as soon as he saw the continued storm. There was a sun somewhere beyond the violent grayness. It might have been six am but he wasn’t sure. He threw off the bits of clothes piled above him and crawled out of the shelter. His body felt weak and sensitive to the cold, the long, sharp gusts of frigid air sinking into his ail bones as he looked to the smoking embers of his exhausted fire. With a harsh, gruff cough berthing from his heavy lungs and through his sore throat, mucous oozed from his nostrils and he wiped away and spit his phlegm towards it and swore.

The truck was seamless underneath a foot or so of snow. He took his shovel and cleared it out so that it wouldn’t go unnoticed to rescue, pushing through maturing illness within, his sluggish movement. He dug out an area and pulled another tire from the truck and threw it into the embers and soon its black smoke blew into the distance. About an hour later, he was depleted, a heavy sweat pouring down his face. He crawled through the shelter and into the cab to look about the lake.

He sat and wondered how long it would take before rescue would come, if they ever would. Heavy eyelids flickered open and closed, open and closed. In the white distance, he saw a giant plow cutting through the incredible height of snow as simply as a utility knife cutting through packing tape and the height of the plow truck was too great for the flying powder to crash against the windows where two men sat, one young the other older and stoic, whom both looked about critically in search for him and once they saw him the younger man would open his door and help him get into the cab where he would remove his gloves and rub them briskly in the stream of warm air plowing from the vents, and they told him that his grandmother and girlfriend were worried sick about him, turning around to where, in no time at all, they arrived to the sight of his tiny town in the distance. And then he saw his girlfriend, the tip of her finger over his nose as they lay in bed smiling silently at each other. They whispered their affection to each other as the sunshine came in between. Then she screamed, her voice piercing like echoing sirens and gunfire.

He awoke in a violent shiver hours later. He looked around and wondered where he was. He repeated his grandmother’s name, shouting, crying, and looking around ceaselessly as if he heard her voice come from every direction. He got out of the cab and ripped the canvas down like she was simply hiding behind it, begging for her help. But there was nobody. He felt his skin burning up beneath his clothes.

Panicking and irate, he threw off his jacket and sweaters until he was standing shirtless in the blank, white world, his shrieking voice faint in the bellowing storm. He began to walk through the deep of the snow and, short of a hundred meters away from his truck, the coarse and stiff top layer of sharp ice scraped against his stomach and hips until his flesh gradually peeled clean off and the blood rolled down his sides, a fringe of red left at the edge of his trail. He carried on bluntly.

He saw her in the distance and she saw him and they ran through the snow as if it wasn’t there. He laughed and smiled, moving as fast as he could. They wrapped their arms around each other and he told her how sorry he was for everything, for ignoring her, for assuming the worst of her. And she explained that it was her father she had been talking to. Her father whom would pay for their wedding in the next coming of spring with money he had been saving. The news was supposed to come as a surprise to him. She had told him this before, when he would walk out on her. “It’s okay, baby. . . it’s okay,” she whispered in his ear. He cried and smiled and his tears froze on his face and she enveloped him in her heat, so much so that he was no longer cold or burning up. He held everything he ever wanted. “I love you,” he said, and died in her arms.

The snowfall stopped. A sea of ivory surrounded him as he lay lifeless, his arms wrapped around a mound of coagulated snow. His eyes were open and unmoved, his skin blue and purple and peeling. Dashes of white flakes rolled across his face as he stared across the rippled pallid. The day was reluctant of conclusion, the sun piercing through the thick gray above. A whispering wind in the dead of winter. In the world where volcanoes rumbled and cows grazed and men stood patiently in suits among towering monuments build by great machinery and mountain ranges rose above heathens, existence was wrapped around minuscule flakes that glared like billions of diamonds scattered across the numb basin.