Monday, January 4, 2010

Last Call, Last Stand Part 6

Chapter 3 - All Friends and Kingdom Come

My dreams were static, veined with that gorgeous valium blue. Occasionally through the hiss and crackle of my worn out neurons firing, I was aware of a droning voice on a radio far away. As the mental fuzz slowly receded, fractal waves on a polluted beach, and my senses started answering for roll call, I became aware first of the noise of an emergency radio, then the sour taste of drying spit around my mouth, and then finally the wall of red behind my closed eyelids. I kept them squeezed shut tightly and reasoned-a skill hard learned after too many unfamiliar wake ups; the red wall means there is a bright light in front of you, and after a 3 day yay run you don't want to be staring into that shit.

I hadn't even gotten the valium eyed girl's name; I vaguely rememered sitting down hard in her chair again and listening to her nervous but steely chatter fade off into a sort of Charlie Brown parent's whine. I was still sitting up in a recliner, so I presumed I hadn't been moved. As my hearing tuned in a little more, I could make out the recorded message on the radio. "...all emergency personel report immediately to their superior. This includes National Guard, police, fire, EMS personel, doctors, nurses, city power and sewage personel, sanitation..." The rain had not let up, providing a constant source of pleasing white noise-probably the source of the static in my dreams. With some trepidation, I opened my eyes.

The bright light slashed into my eyes like a hatchet, and I let out a slow grown and lowered my head. Everywhere else was dark, but for some damn reason there was a big coleman lantern blazing on the coffee table right in front of me. I hadn't seen anything else; mostly I focused on rubbing out the hard circle of yellow now lingering in my vision.

Her voice, beside me. "You okay?"

"Fuh...fine," I croaked, as I fumbled for a cigarette. All without opening my eyes, I lit it and took a deep drag. That is another of life's small strange gifts reserved mostly for the drug user; even blindfolded, underwater and shaking with the DT's, he can always find his smokes and his lighter. Eyes closed was no feat at all. The withdrawl headache that loomed like a winter storm on the horizon retreated a bit, before it could really settle behind my eyes like a great squalling grey bastard. Slowly I forced my eyes open again, and looked around the mostly dark room.

It was just the two of us still, sitting in that small circle of yellow light like nervous pioneers. I could hear the radio loop over with "Any and all instances of looting or secession will be punished by federal authorities to the fullest extent of the law. Please remain at home and provide authorities with a detailed list of all members in your household for rescue supply allocation...."

"You ought to open a window," she said reproachfully, and got up to do it herself. There were sweat stains under her armpits now, particularly the side with the shoulder holster. My inner sociopath also noted the signs of recent crying-eyes rubbed red, barely visible tracks on her cheeks, a pile of tissues next to the electric lantern.

"Sorry." My voice was rusty, and I paused to clear my throat a few times. "How long was I out?" I could already tell it wasn't enough time, however long it had been-I barely had any cravings and I was still bone tired, almost as if I hadn't slept at all.

"About nine hours. The maintenance guys left your new key." She sat back down on the couch, not far from me. In a way, the poor light was a blessing; her eyes didn't captivate me the way they did when they had more to reflect.

"You didn't wake me up?" I grunted, and leaned forward to drag fitfully off my cigarette. My eyes darted around for an ashtray and found an old sprite can instead.

She shook her head, her high and tight ponytail swishing softly over her head. "You looked like you needed it...and I didn't really want to be alone with all this happening." She gestured broadly around, but I'll wager she didn't mean 'lower middle class apartments.'

I took a few more drags and coughed a bit into my fist. "Yeah, what the hell is happening anyway? Seems kind of weird that rioting in Chicago would spread here to Indy."

"I don't know. I know they closed I-65 down due to more flooding-the rain hasn't stopped and the weather guy says it probably won't." I could hear her words echoed on the radio. "TV stopped broadcasting a few hours ago, and I had just got the lantern set up after the power went out."

"Fuck me," I blurted, and then laughed-too far out of my head to do anything else, perhaps. I was remembering how I bought the twinkies and soda at the bodega and laughed at the poor fucks in Chicago. My (bent) funnybone had a soft spot for tragedy; I like to think God made it that way so I wouldn't be too mad about my birthday being September 11th. In 2001, I was the only one laughing that day too. I dropped the cigarette with a hiss into the sprite can.

I regretted the laughter almost immediately; her eyes widened in shock, and perhaps for the first time I could taste acrid fear in her voice as she says "Are you okay?" And of course that was even funnier, but I manage to choke down the giggles and focus by biting my lower lip for a minute-another junkie trick, for those who are keeping score at home. Superman has laser eyes, Wolverine has regeneration, and John Fucking Mackey can take thirty-two micas of LSA and ace his job interview-in fact, he did, three years ago at DialDos. The sudden bright blossom of pain pushed back the rising tide of hysterical laughter.

"I'm okay, sorry. Just had...some weird dreams." My hands shook a little as I lit up another cigarette. I looked around, seeing more rubbermaid tubs in the living room. "Looks like you're ready for it if anyone is."

That got at least a half smile out of her, as if being reminded of it was what she needed. "Well, kind of. My dad...well he was into this end of the world stuff, and I mean..." I couldn't see it, but I could practically hear her blushing. "It's weird, but I mean he made sure I kept all this stuff, this gun..." Here she gestured towards the glock, still hanging like a fat coiled snake in a shoulder holster. "Y'know, in case..."

"In case this ever happened?" I quipped, and enjoyed a pleasant surprise when we both laughed at that. "Hey, who am I to cast stones? Especially now, when he's being proven right?" It occured to me that, with disaster impending, I should be more concerned than I was. But I was insulated, as we all are I think, by my own personal dramas. Right now, the wolves at the door meant a lot less than the pills and snow behind it-and with a start I realized that I was now free to access it again. That meant a lot more to me than some paltry national disaster.

"I guess that's true." She chewed her lower lip as well, and then rubbed her eyes a little bit with her small pale (ringless don't notice the ringless) hands. I felt an uncharacteristic pang of sympathy; she must be tired as hell.

"Well listen," I said, "I'd better get back to my place; I've stayed too long as it is. But listen...what's your name?"

She gave me a short look of reproach. "I told you my name before. Phebe. Biblical spelling."

"Oh." Apparently I had deleted some of our previous conversation. "Well, thanks Phebe for helping me out. But I'd better head back to my place and, uh..." For once I stumbled for a lie; the usual set of circumstances seemed oddly inappropriate. "Y'know, get myself ready too. Load up my gun and shit. But I really appreciate you letting me crash here."

"No problem," she said, flashing me her teeth. "Call me if you need anything."

"Yeah. I will." Either I must already have had her number, or she didn't really want me calling her; I'd check my phone later to see if I had it. Another routine, sad as that is. I rose to leave, stepping into the cold rain again, still dead tired and beginning to feel the dreaded ache in my gut. Everything that was clean and crisp before was starting to have the blurred edges and the smudgy colors. The white crash was like that; it's not that my senses were getting dull, but that the world came into focus only with a little help from my little snow angel. I needed to get into my apartment, and soon. My hands were shaking when I finally got my door opened and headed back to my treasure chest. The day had been long indeed, but at long last it could begin again. I think it was just past midnight before I could get a few holes cut in my brain, and by that time, the bad news didn't bother me at all.


  1. Wow, excellent story, man. Has a very Gibson feel to it. Only a few spelling errors, and it's an interesting perspective as hell.


  2. Thanks; yeah I'm not proofreading that closely-I just need to get something down. I've enjoyed your story as well.

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