“Alive for the holidays because there is no going home”
” … and there was an old dude still in his bathrobe, shuffling down the street. His white hair all piled crazily around his head. His neck and what I could see of his face was all brown and wrinkly, looked like it was sliding off his bones. Old and unkempt, probably half way through senility, like my grandpop had been. I figured he’d seen enough of this life, didn’t have much time left anyway. Why risk my young self for his old self, ya know? And the little girl, she was in her robe too, all alone out there. But what was I to do? I’m not her parent, don’t have any kids of my own to compare. What was I supposed to do, run out and save her? And then what? I’d be responsible for, have to take care of her. She’d be no help to me. She’d be a drain, a waste, a, a, hindrance.”
“Ease up buddy, this here is a sanctuary, not a confessional. If you’re looking for absolution… ”
“It’s okay son, what the old coot should be telling you is just surviving the day was brave enough. Seems there are very few who have gotten this far.”
“They were walking to where… to where I had just come from. It was bad that way, very bad. Maybe I could have yelled out to them, but that would have given away my position, so I didn’t. I just hunched down further and waited. Waited long enough ’til their screaming began, then I ran and kept running… figuring the noise would cover my steps, ya know? I knew I was no hero, never thought to be one. I guess all I proved today is that I am a coward.”
“But you survived and that’s what counts. You’re not alone anymore and this here is our sanctuary.” The old coot must have liked using that word.
“Listen son, we all did some terrible things to get here, or were terrible for doing nothing. No one here came in pairs. We all walked in alone.” Her voice was husky and gravelly, not at all soothing.
“Thank you. It doesn’t make me feel any better. But thank you for trying to ease my mind. This is something I am going to have to live with…”
“For a very long time, I hope. We are all in this together now. Hopefully we can ride it out until they restore some order, or someone comes looking for us.” Her tone was bland and emotionless, seemed more to be thinking aloud than speaking to him.
“Here kid, this is mighty fine hooch. Top shelf stuff, probably older than you are.” His voice was off also, deep and cold. “It will either put hair on your chest, or singe some off your balls.” He laughed at his own joke, a flat lifeless cackle that ended in a coughing fit.
“Leave him alone, you fool. Now go fetch him a blanket, but leave the bottle.” Stern, clear, forceful, there was real emotion in that command. Then, as if a switch had been thrown, she spoke to the boy.
“If you need to let it out, go ahead, but all we’re saying is it doesn’t matter what you did to get here. Nobody is holding court. We all do what we have to, to survive. It’s instinct. That’s all it is. Nobody’s asking you to be a hero and no one is calling you a coward.”
It wasn’t until they drape the heavy quilt across his shoulders that he realized he was naked. As the blanket scraped along his shoulders, he glanced down to see just an old pair of skivvies and a dirty, mud-stained sock on his left foot. Everything else was bare, dirty flesh.
“Here’s a blanket, keep the bottle, drink some, drink a lot, drink it all. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ll leave you alone for a while, get yourself together. When you’re ready, come on back and join us. We’ve got food and companionship. You’re welcome to it.”
“How did I get in here?” he wondered about his clothes, amongst other fleeting thoughts. Whatever had shaken him before, was being overwritten by his bare skin.
“You walked in… ”
She shot the old man a nasty look before interrupting him. “You came pounding on the door and collapsed. When we tried to pick you up, you insisted on walking. You were not very steady and made it about this far. No worries, just about everyone entered the same way. Of course, the others were better dressed.” She had managed to inject some humor into her comment.
What kind of sanctuary could be breached by a half mad, half naked refugee was not an easily answered question. That he had been plucked from the streets and carried in was not something she wanted to explain. She patted his quilted shoulder, tousled is greasy hair and left him to his thoughts. Curiosity or hunger would get the better of him and he would join them at the back of the hall.
His dander was up, as his granpop would say. Not anger, but excitement, or like Peter Parker would intone, his senses were tingling. Something did not seem right. No matter how hard she tried, there was no compassion in her voice, and that old cracker could barely contain his excitement. He’d seen the hell that was out there, but what was in here might be even creepier.
But the holiday decorations are a nice touch…
JJ (aka jfx mcloughlin) came to our rescue AGAIN in the face of holiday seasonal apocalypse, after a previous rescue attempt during a serious zombie-crisis. We’re starting to really dig this guy.