What the Old Man Did 4

April 6, 2012

. . . Standing at the stop of the stairs, tears filling my eyes, I didn’t notice that she began to move. Slowly, staring with her white eyes, her hand out, moving slowly toward me. I bolted, running for the door. I heard a noise behind me, shuffling footsteps, and then a kind of groan. I stopped and turned. My mother was hurrying slowly to me. But it wasn’t really her. There was a mad hungry look on her face. I turned again and ran for the street. Aside from the breath whistling in and out of my mouth, everything was dead silent. No cars, no people, nothing. I ran for my friend Oakland’s house . . .

After I was surrounded by K and her “friends,” I sat in the cage for a time. They circled, never seeming to tire, looking for a way in. The afternoon sun was fading and I was unwilling to stay here for the night. I knew I would never be able to sleep with them prowling around, maybe attracting more of them. I stood, grabbing a sharp stick from the ground and walked toward the gate where one of the men stood. He tried to reach through the bars to me, but I was easily able to avoid his grasp, sidestepping it, and lunging forward, forcing the stick deep into his eye socket as far as I could. He crumpled to the ground and didn’t move. I heard K at the back side of the cage, moving along the perimeter to get to me. Her partner seemed to be stuck in the decorative bamboo near the back of the cage. Fishing the key from my pants I hurriedly tried to get it into the lock, panic making me clumsy. I finally turned it and got the door open as she rounded the corner. I leaned down and picked up a large stone and waited.

. . . I got to Oakland’s house and ran to the door. Turning, I looked back down the sidewalk. There, maybe a hundred yards back, was my mother, slowly moving along, following me. Somehow I knew she would not give up, no matter how far I went. I learned a hard lesson that day. Once one of them laid eyes on you, they would never stop trying to get to you . . .

As K got closer, I saw the white eyes, her hand was out, like she was reaching for me. But there was no love there. Only lust. And not the kind she had taught me when we first met. I raised the stone and hit her full in the face as hard as I could. Dazed, she sunk to the ground. I hit her again and again.

Over the next three weeks I wandered east. Instinctively, I realized that I needed isolation at night, like my long lost little prison. But food was harder to get. The stores still had food, at least some of them, but it was mostly bad, the cans starting to bulge and rats eating the dry grains in bags. K had taught me how to cook, so I wasn’t useless when it came to preparing something from basic ingredients.

I was on the outskirts of St. Louis after another month. In a little suburb south of the city. The home lawns were mostly tall weeds, windows broken, and roofs with holes. Lots of cars littered the streets. I had learned to drive during my time but after I ended up at the park, there wasn’t really any need. And the batteries were all dead anyway. The small grocery store ahead was intact. I approached slowly. I had not seen one of those “things” for weeks, but I was still careful. Coming up to the door, I pulled out the knife I found in a sporting-goods store in Kansas City last month. Opening the door, I entered slowly. It was dark.

My eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness. After a minute or so I could see the floor was covered with what looked like pieces of wood, some bigger than others. I stepped carefully over them but it was hard to miss every one. My left heel caught, and I slipped, losing my balance and falling to the floor. Whispering a few swear words I got up, looking around, and saw them, forty or fifty of them coming down the center aisle at me. It was one of those moments when time slows down. You seem to see everything. Those were bones on the floor. I turned and ran out into the bright day.

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