Monday, September 17, 2012


 I walked steadily down the sidewalk. My heart pounded and even though I was aware that there wasn't anything real to be afraid of, I had that same familiar feeling of fear that sat somewhere in between my chest and throat.  The air was cool and damp under thick gray clouds and it had started to drizzle again. The sun had just barely began to rise and the cloudy dim morning light put a bleak filter on everything around me.  My black boots were almost a chic military style and reached just short of my knees and were tied with thin black laces- they were comfortable. The boots were a fantastic find at the salvage market, they were just my size and almost new.   The leaves were beginning to change and the chill in the air indicated that the winter rains would soon be here. On either side of the sidewalk large homes that had almost all been turned into rooming houses in the last two years stood grimly and plainly kept on either side.  Tall and dull structures with dull lawns and empty flower gardens. I checked my watch, it was nearly 5:30 am and I had walked most of the entire night.  It was just now that my calves were starting to burn and fatigue was starting to set in.  Two years and I still avoided sleep at night, actually I still avoided sleep at any hour. My keys jingled in my hand with every step I took.  Sometimes I thought that the sound of the jingling keys reminded me of when someone would walk their dog- that was one of the many rarities here- barely any pets.  Life here was about necessity and rebuilding .  Life here was a fine tuned machine of never having quite enough but valuing what you have.  After all, we were all survivors- but to get here, we had to live through that.





“…by god it’s gonna be a hot one out there today.  We’re just days into  May and it's already the second hottest recorded in history for our region. The summer is predicted to be just as scorching”

 “Make sure that you pet owners out there leave your furry friends at home today and if you have to bring them with you…. don't leave them in your car!"

 “It’s five minutes past noon, it’s gonna be clear skies all day with a chance of late showers tomorrow"

 “Hey, this news at noon was brought to you by the folks at One Stop Mechanics who invite you to come in for all your cars air-conditioning needs.  They offer certified repairs and recharges to keep you cool.  One Stop is your only Stop.  Ask Scarlet about their summertime tune-up package.  Make One Stop your honest mechanic"

 “Now kicking off a ten in a row is Simon and Garfunkel here on the only Station that matters Live ninety five point five.







The last day of the world as we knew it was an unusually hot sunny day with a slight breeze that was barely there.   The main drag was busy as mothers with there children waited for the bus, people window shopped along the strip meandering in out of the bakeries and boutiques, and hurried motorists rushed back to work as there lunch hour came to an end.  The traffic was always a mess there were three lanes of perpetual commotion in either direction; lines of cars and trucks were impatiently waiting as the sun continued to warm the car interiors.  I had taken the day off from work but as I sat in my apartment I listened to honks and roaring engines on the strip I knew I would also be irate if I were sitting out there so I was thankful to be at home.  I had been out only once today to get a coffee and buy the morning paper.  After catching up on my laundry and making the bed I sat down on my couch and began to watch a Waltons rerun- I had seen this episode at least 4 times.

Then it just seemed to get dark.  Not all of a sudden, gradually over the next hour.  At first it was the kind of dark that would come before a terrible thunder storm but there was no rain in sight or in the forecast.  Then the sky started to grow darker than it would at night.  By this time some of the people on the strip began to clear.  The dozens that didn’t think that this phenomenon was frightening gathered in excited huddles and looked up at the sky and discussed the sudden darkness. Finally the sky grew darker than I had ever seen it.  I had lived here for 23 years and had never seen this kind of dark.  There were no stars in the sky, and no moon- just total  blackness. It was only approaching 1 pm and it was Tuesday- this was far from normal.

It happened so quickly.

All at once the earth shook like a tremendous earthquake, the weight of the 8 floors of the shifting apartment complex made a terrible moaning and grinding noise and the windows almost systematically shattered. The sounds were deafening as the pavement tore and burst on the main strip- my ears that were initially ringing became so over stimulated that the sounds become muffled like I was under water.   The smaller building of studios outside my window was almost instantly reduced to a pile of rubble- fires started to spew from under the crushed stone and wood.  I could hear the ceiling above me creek with the enormous weight of the top 7 stories of the building bearing down on it and my heart beat out of my chest with my confusion and fear. I knew I had to get out.  The people who had not perished in the upper stories were screaming and attempting to jump out of their picture windows which had shattered lay in jagged pieces on the pavement below.  Until this day I had always wished that I had rented an apartment with a better view on a higher floor. Fate works in strange ways.  My jump was easier than most, which is to say that I had a chance once I stepped on the solid ground. As the top of the brick structure swayed some tenants took their chances and leaped from the higher stories only to hit the ground with twisted limbs and die like a rag doll.   Being only one level from the mess of glass and concrete I managed to leap with little injury to myself but I hadn't had time or sense to put on shoes so my feet were bloodied as I stood.   There were mangled bodies lying all around me on the debris.  Many were not moving and were bloody and crushed. I ran as quickly as I could trying to dodge the large pieces of steel and glass. My bare feet burned as pieces of glass and rocks worked their way into my soles.  I barely had time to look back when I heard the deafening slam of my home as it crashed into the ground. 

Through ringing and damaged ears I could hear screams from the main drag from the same people whom only minutes earlier looked to the sky in awe, and shrieks from people who lay crushed and dying under pieces of cement.  They were the shrieks of pain and fear and still they haunt my memories and sometimes resound in a nightmare.  Mothers calling for their children, babies crying, large brave men screaming in fear and in anguish.  Power lines lay on their sides and made a buzzing noise. I had no idea where I was going- I zig zaged with some small groups of people over and around busted concrete and scrambled over some motionless cars. I ran so fast that I didn't notice that the group I ran with was getting smaller in numbers with each new tremor.  With the earth still shaking I managed to climb a massive grassy hill of up heaved land tripping once, hitting my head on a large boulder. My forehead split open and blood began to run into my eyes, when I reached the top my head was pounding in pain.  I could still hear the muffled screams of the few whom were still alive.  I screamed and cried and  the earth still shook.  The last thing I remember about that dreadful day was the dust.  Large thick clouds floating through me burning my eyes and smothering me. I couldn't see more than an inch is from of me.  I slumped onto my hands and knees as my lungs filled and the only sounds escaping them were wheezes and when I couldn't find any more air to gasp I  buried my nose deep into the grass and  covered  my head with my hands and closed my eyes. 


When I came to my head pounded violently and my eye lashes were stuck together with dried blood and dust.  The sun was shining like it had the day before and the heat was stifling. The ground was still.  There were no more noises from the strip. No screaming from the injured, no sounds of falling buildings and tearing pavement. 

The dust still lay heavy in the air and the sun shone through it like rays of filtered light like a painting.  Clouds of smoke were rising into the sky from some large and some smaller smoldering fires.   There was no hum from the electrical lines.  My city was quiet.  I tried to get up and lost my footing and rolled half way down the hill where I stopped and tried to catch my bearings.  I had jagged pieces of glass stuck into the bottom of my feet and was missing 2 toenails from my right foot. I winced and I clumsily tried to pick out the larger prices of glass from the soles of my feet and bit my lip and cried as I did.  My long hair lay matted with dry blood on the side of my head.  I was unbelievably thirsty and the dizziness was making my legs shake.

I’m unsure of how I did it, as I walked about I didn’t even see the carnage, or maybe my mind had blocked it from my memory.  I do remember the smell though it was the smell of fire, gasoline, and decay in the heat but that only made me walk faster.  I saw and heard no one.  I remember wondering what time it was, what day?  I walked onward with my eyes fixed to the ground.  The road that was once car worthy was laced with enormous cracks ten or twenty feet long and ten or twenty feet deep, these cracks were now tombs.  Some of the dead were still in there cars, and covered with pounds of dust and wreckage.  My goal at this point was to only make it to the river.  An achievable walk before yesterday, but now it seemed impossible.  A river that I would have never stepped into before this day, it was known for being filthy and filled with bacteria, and perhaps because I was a city girl, would never even dip my toes into the murky water.   We used to walk by this river though, before yesterday it was lined with picnic tables and trees of all sizes.  It was a scenic area, which you could sit and watch the boaters cruise on the water and look across the bank at the many expensive homes which dotted the shore.   But now to get there and to cross the strip looked impossible. From some of the cracks I approached I could hear the spinning of tires as vehicles lying on their back worked frantically to burn off the remaining gas left in their tanks. 

I managed to leap across the first three lanes with some ease. The widths of the cracks were only a few feet although a fall would have meant my immediate death or a crippling injury.  I stood on what once was a grand boulevard lined with flower beds and baby trees, now only a heap of concrete and laced with fallen road signs and traffic lights. The second set of lanes was proving to be much more challenging because the cracks were long and wide and although home to cars and the dead were dark and deeper than sight to see the bottom.  Smoke rose out of the deep holes and the smell of gas was heavy. I began to walk north down the boulevard until I could find a safer place to cross.  The sun beat on my face and burned my eyes.  I concentrated on the pathway and looked down at my bleeding feet. My footsteps were traced with my blood on the concrete that I had left behind. 

When I finally made it to the river it did not resemble the water I had remembered.  The dust that lied on top the water made it look solid, like a field of dust from a distance.  The riverbank was choppy and whatever pieces of grassy earth had not floated away, lay in the water, like giant green icebergs.  I slowly maneuvered myself to the make shift shore and dipped my hand in the water.  The dust was at least 6 inches  deep but the water was cool when I reached it.  I splashed it on my face, cleaned my eyes, and gulped the filth out of my hand.  I put my feet into the water and laid back on the shore.  I peered up at the sun, which still looked like heaven’s rays through the settling dust. It was then, at that exact moment that the shock was gone.  It was then that I cried. My heart began to beat furiously as my shoulders lurched,  I cried for my mother whom I imagined was toiling away at work perhaps stopping with the other employees to watch the sky grow dark.  I cried for my sister who I assumed was sitting in a history or math class at school and wondered what had become of her and her classmates. I wailed like a baby - big ugly heaving sobs and when I looked at my feet and touched the wound on my head that was sticky with clotting blood I wailed louder.   For an instant I thought wildly about walking back through the rubble to find my family.  And even though I knew it was a most definite impossibility  I thought of the people that were left dying on concrete, the babies who could not help themselves and that maybe I could save them.  I cried for myself.  I did not want to be alone; I was scared and hungry and would have done anything to turn back the time to yesterday.  I cried for a long time with my feet still dipped in the murky water and until the sun went down and the stars tried to dot the dusty sky.  I only stopped many of the hysterical teary rages when I would hear a collapse from burned wood structure or a popping engine sound from a car deep somewhere crushed under thousands of pounds of concrete with the hopes it would bring someone who could cry with me.  The land was always the same awful empty.  I fell unconscious  that night as my body struggled to block out the physical and mental pain and my thoughts were of throwing myself into the river and refusing to swim.  The tears still burned my swollen eyes.

It was still dark when I awoke, the night was cool and my teeth chattered as I maneuvered myself on the riverbank.  The T-shirt I had been wearing was little protection from the wind and my jeans were damp and cold.  The silence was almost unbearable; there was no crickets singing or mosquitoes to nip at my flesh. The only audible sound was the unusually slow moving river as it lazily swayed through the city.   I wanted nothing more than to sleep at this very moment.  Help would come soon I thought to myself.  America's  huge army would get to work, send in aide and take me to a place that was better than this.  I hugged my knees up to my chest and buried my face into them- I was so tired but couldn't sleep in the silence. I was used to the cars and ambulance sirens that I would hear through my window at night or the television beside my bed that would play goofy infomercials for useless rotisserie ovens and acne treatments. There was nothing for me to do at that moment except listen to the slow moving river try to force it’s way through the debris.  You never know how alone you are, until you are alone as I was that night.  I had never even been camping, let alone sitting on a riverbank, with not a thing but my own thoughts to keep me company. My exhaustion took over that night but never for any long periods of time.  I would manage to close my eyes for a few minutes before popping into alertness and the horror of the evening.


It’s amazing how a human being can sense the things around her.  I can only remember jumping to my feet and peering at the river, no thoughts before that. I tried frantically to focus my eyes in the darkness to locate the sound, and determine what it was.  There was no reflection from the moon on the water, there was still too much dust in the air that stifled any useful light, the sound had already gotten louder and sounded like it was very near.  As my eyes began to focus I could see slight waves of a small object in the distance.  As the sound grew steadily louder I recognized it as a motor boat.  An anxious heat replaced the chill I had felt only moments ago and my heart pounded wildly.  I suppose I could have saved myself a hoarse voice if I had waited for the boat to come closer but my desperation was uncontainable and I could take no chances.  I began waving my arms in the air and screaming as loud as I could, “Help me, Over here!” repeatedly then I ran to the waterline and walked out in the water to my knees, cold water crept slowly up my jeans.  “Hello, over here, help!” The boat was still not completely visible in the sunless sky and I couldn’t be sure that anyone had heard or seen me.  I waved my arms and screamed in the water until my eyes adjusted on a figure waving their arm toward me. I could see there was only one person on a boat, I could see the faint red light from a cigarette cherry burn brightly and a voice was becoming audible.  The voice was deep but the words could not be made out- it was a man. I waited in the water until his words became crisp “You will have to swim out!” he called.

“Swim out?” I yelled back. “Can’t you come here and get me?”

“There is too much wreckage by the bank!” his voice was a scolding tone but he was right, pieces of floating tree trunks and wreckage were starting to all entwine and stick close to the banks.   I looked to the filthy water and shuttered. I imagined myself in the dusty sludge gasping for air as I did the breath stroke to the small motor boat. “Come on!” he demanded. 

 In reality I had no choice, I plunged in the water and tried desperately to keep my head above the water as a paddled to the middle of the river.  After a few pathetic attempts I rolled on my back and kicked my feet like a senior citizen at the YMCA.  I was no marathon swimmer although the years of Monday night swimming lessons paid off as I slowly made my way to the boat.  The man grasped my arms and helped pull me over the side of white wall and I landed on the metal in a heap- the motion made the little boat rock and some water spilled into it.  He looked solemn, older than me, but not by much.  His hair was a mess, chin length and a dirty brown that looked bleached from the sun.  His had  a dark shadow of stubble and his eyes were brown and noticeably big and framed by thick dark eyebrows.  He had no shirt and was only wearing a pair of filthy jeans cutoff at the knees and a pair of slip-on leather deck shoes.  His cigarette still hung out of his mouth and the ashes fell to the floor.  “Now wasn’t that refreshing” he said it sarcastically but had  no expression on his tanned face.  I tried to squeeze the brown water out of my shirt.

“Is there anyone else?” I asked

“You are the first person I have seen in all day” his answer was more sharp sounding than sad.

“Is the city gone? What has happened?"  I sounded eager and panicked and terrified, because I was all three and I was beginning to shiver.

“There is no city.  I spent a whole fucking day searching, looking.... Whatever homes that I can see that haven't toppled into the ground have burned, other than the odd tree most have fallen or are floating in the water , and I haven’t been able to catch a fucking fish in this water once!”  He paused to inhale his cigarette smoke and threw the shining butt into the water and then immediately took another and lit it.  “Today, I have only been able to see what’s left of the city from the river but I have not seen or heard anyone- you are the first person I have seen since it happened”

“Where were you when it happened” I asked him.

He paused and looked down to my to my mangled toenails.

“At home, I had gone out to my back yard to look at the sky.   The next thing I knew the shaking started, the ground burst sending gushing water from underground pipes everywhere. When I finally made it to the river sometime yesterday the bank slid into the river taking me with it.  I started going with the river and sometimes the current would pull me under"  He paused, he looked scared as he re lived it. 

I looked to the back of the boat.  Covered in dust and on the floor were two large red plastic tanks filled with gas, a dirty black shirt, old fishing rod, and an old ice-cream pail, chocolate swirl written on the worn lid in fancy font, filled with various tackle. “Where did you get this boat?”

“floating, the quake must have let it loose” he replied through his lips where his cigarette dangled

"We don't have earthquakes" I said quietly and reflectively  “Where do you expect to go?”

“Somewhere far from here until help comes” he inhaled the smoke and whirled it around his mouth.

“Should we head against the river…go South… get help?”

“No shit Sherlock, where do you think I am going?” he sounded annoyed.  His sarcasm was unnecessary.  I sensed something unsettling about him, something edgy, something a little mean but I suppose that people handle there fears and stress in different ways. I sensed  immediately that I shouldn't ask too many questions or perhaps it was that he didn't really want to talk to me.  Besides he looked exhausted and I had guessed been driving all day.

“You look exhausted” I said nimbly. “Maybe we should rest before the sun comes up and it is too hot to sleep”  He did not reply.  He finished his smoke and threw it into the river.  He removed the key from the silenced engine handed it to me.  He used the dirty shirt as a pillow and laid down on the bare metal floor.  I sat in one of the vinyl seats and looked at the destroyed bank I had left behind.

" Can I come with you?"  a senseless question really but after being alone the past day I couldn't bare the thought of another day like that one.  He sat up a little and even in the dark I could see his eyes narrow

"You are here aren't you?"  was all he replied.  His voice was tart and tired.   He must have been exhausted because it was no time at all before the silence of destruction was replaced with his deep breathes and muffled snores.

I did not sleep in the darkness or when I watched the sun rise on the water. I shivered from my wet clothes. I watched him as he slept- his lips mouthed words and his eyes and face looked grimaced and then calm again.  Before this morning I could never remember watching the sun rise or set.  I think that things like traffic jams and television programs clutter up ones mind and make a person unappreciative of a simple sunrise or the beginning of a new day.   In the brightening light and in the chrome from the boats dashboard I could see how filthy and terrible I looked.  My blonde hair was still matted to the side of my head and although the blood had been washed away the dirty water had dried dust to each follicle.  My white shirt was now gray, covered in stains and showed my green bra through the wet material.  My jeans were still soaked and lay limply on my legs and my feet were scraped and cut and bruised and starting to scab. My skin was colored gray with grime from the river- I had always been just a little to thin and the dusty color made me look sickly.  The boat hardly moved in the water as the cool morning breeze that wafted the smoky air, blew over us.

By the time he had awoken the hot sun had long melted the early morning dew that had made its home on the boat. His face was red with the indents of the metal floor and back had grown pink as the sun beat down at it.  He reached for his pack of smokes which looked like they had been drenched and dried and lit one with a blue butane lighter. “HI” I said in the most cheerful voice I could muster up the circumstances. He stood up and looked out to the river.

“Morning.” He replied softly. That morning he stared out on the river intensely and smoked his cigarette without saying a word to me.   He scanned the shore over and over again and I knew he was looking for the same thing that I was- life- any life.   When he finished his cigarette he emptied the ice cream pail of its tackle and bent over the side of the boat.  He dipped the pail deep into the water and placed the filled pail on the floor of the boat.  The water was almost black and particles of dust floated throughout it. Even in the small pail I was unable to see the plastic bottom through the murkiness.  The taste of the water was unbelievably bad but it was cold and I had been so thirsty that I cupped it in my hand and sucked it through my lips.  When I finished he picked up the pail and poured it over him.  The water ran down his arms and stomach and landed in a puddle on the floor.  He sat down in the seat beside me and rested his foot on the side of the boat.  He yawned loudly and then buried his face in his hands as if gesturing that he didn't want to look at the despair on shore.  His hands were tanned a dark shade and he had much fewer scratches over his body than I had. He looked strong, much bigger than me.  He hadn't worn a shirt since I came aboard the boat but I hadn't noticed in the dark that he had a large tattoo on his bicep, a combination of swirls and feathers.  I stared at him for a few moments expecting him to talk but he remained quiet as he looked to the river.  At that moment I couldn’t think of anything to say.  It was like being in an elevator with a complete stranger on a long ride to the top of a building.  “My name is Scarlet” I blurted it out and sounded stupid, I knew it. He looked at my strangely.

“Jason….what kind of name is Scarlet- like the color?”- it was not a question, more of a statement.

"Yes, like the color" I answered meekly. "When I was born I had a full head of red hair and my mom"  I stopped when I said the word Mom and my voice trembled.  My shoulders shook a bit and I had to catch my breath amidst a sob. "My mo..m"  I had to stop again and my eyes were becoming cloudy with tears and my chest was becoming heavy with the pain of my anguish.  He rolled his brown eyes and lifted his eyebrows high on his forehead. He squatted beside me.

" Ok, Red" he emphasized the name Red and looked up at my blonde hair that wasn't red at all.  "We are both having a hard time here, I can bet you are feeling pretty damn sad and I am too"  his eyes looked into mine "But I would appreciate it- I mean really appreciate it if you could be strong until we are out of this mess"     I shook my head and sighed and tried to open my eyes so wide as if I could suck back in the tears welling in the corners of my eyes.  We sat still for a few moments before he got up off the vinyl seat and began to pull the anchor into the boat.  He sat back down in the driver’s seat “Lets go?” He asked I nodded and handed him the key. The motor started smoothly and we began to move swiftly against the tide.

The journey soon became slow as we headed south.  On the banks the destruction was everywhere.  There were remnants of the farmhouses scattered along the shore and much of the riverbank had washed away.  What were once fields of wheat and mustard were being washed away as the river flowed. Any trees that once stood proudly upon the shore line had burned to the ground and any that hadn’t lay upon there sides, the massive roots visible from our boat.  Sometimes the smoke in the air was heavy and sat low like fog and other times as we drove over the water it would clear.  We were both silent as we took in the view of utter destruction in the city outskirts.  The once solid flat land was jagged and cracked; uprooted like small mountains lining the river.  Jason lit another cigarette as he maneuvered the boat swiftly around floating trees and debris. He left the driver’s seat only once ordering me to steer while he grabbed a piece of tackle and the fishing rod from the floor.  When we passed much of the debris he handed me the rod.  “Fish, catch us something” he said hopefully. Neither us of had eaten since.  I looked at the levers on the rod with confusion. The closest I had ever came to a fishing rod was while watching late night fishing shows as I struggled to sleep, I had never fished in my life and had no idea to cast the line into the water.  I held the rod out in his direction.

“I don’t know how, I’m sorry I have never used one of these.”

“One of these” he repeated in my timid tone and he shook his head as if irritated by me. He cut the engine and jumped out of his seat.  He turned the anchor into to the water within seconds.  “We’ll have to fix that”

For the first time since boarding the boat I could see that Jason’s face was softer and his expression was less harsh as he began spouting out some quiet fishing stories from his memories.  I soon learned that he was an avid fisherman.  He cast the line directly in the water and stood proudly with the rod in his hand. He began telling me about fishing derbies and trophy fish. I could not decipher the many names of species he spoke proudly about.  I had never seen a trout or eaten a musky.  I didn’t stop him though; I listened closely watching the  expression in his eyes- there was something so normal about the conversation that I relished it.  For the first time since our meeting he wasn't being so tart anymore.  He used profanity often. At first I found it shocking but then as he continued to articulate I was less taken aback.   And despite his use of explicits he didn't seem unintelligent.  I listened to his tales until he decided that no fish were going to nip at his line. 

The motor roared loudly so we had little conversation for quite some time.  The river which was once slender seemed to be opening up unnaturally and what once was land of farms and forests were now soaked with the river’s over spill.  Jason seemed to pay careful attention to his driving and had obviously was no stranger to maneuvering a boat.  When the sun started to dull and the sky glowed a smoky vibrant with colors of pink and orange and the moon was starting to faintly appear he made a small hand gesture which I recognized as his resolve to give up and rest for the night.   We were both very hungry and sometimes my stomach would groan in such anguish that I felt embarrassed.  It had been three days since I had last even smelled food and I thought longingly about coffee and crackers and cold glasses of milk.  It was becoming dark quickly now and Jason’s eyes squinted as he tried to spot his way in the water.  He soon cut the engine and slumped back into the seat.  “Should I try to fish again?” Jason asked.  His tone had softened.

“Maybe we should just sleep, at least we wont be hungry if were not awake” I tried to sound positive.

“I’m so hungry I could eat a fucking horse.”  he said.

“Well I’m so hungry I could eat a fucking fish from this filthy water” I smirked in his sarcastic type of tone. He smiled only slightly.  I sat on the floor and leaned up against the hard fiberglass wall.  Jason soon left his seat and took a place beside me.  He pulled out a worn package of cigarettes and slid the lid open.  It was the last one.  He lit it and offered it to me.  I did not smoke, had never tried it, but put it to my lips and sucked in a puff. To my surprise it didn't make me cough. I handed it back to him. 

“Fuck!!!” Jason muttered as he stood up and whipped the empty pack into the water.  “why didn’t I fucking die too!”  Jason screamed at the sky with vengeance- he was loud and awful sounding and I wondered if this was the moment that his shock was gone as mine had been on the riverbanks on the first evening. He shouted with too many profanities for me to possibly remember.  I tried my best to sink into the floor and not be noticed. 

It was then the first ray of hope dripped down on to my face. It was like we were in  a perfectly scripted movie and the sky was answering Jason’s screams when the clouds boomed somewhere in the distance with thunder. Fat drops of clean water began to drip from the sky- at first only a few but then increasing faster and harder.  The cold clean water ran over me and cooled my skin.  Jason drank the cool water already accumulating in the pail and moved his fingers through the puddles forming in the bottom of the boat.  I used my t- shirt to soak up some of the water forming on the floor of the boat and sucked it from the fabric.  When the rain had finally stopped falling a short time later our pail had accumulated a couple inches of fresher water and Jason snapped on the worn plastic lid. 

The night air smelled like falling rain and its breeze was a welcome cool. For the first time the smoke that had hung heavy in the air seemed to lighten and breathing became easier.  We fell asleep soaked but at peace. We had all the reason to hang on to hope then.  Just one more day. 


We both awoke before the sun and watched it rise as the daylight steadily approached.  I was very hungry and my stomach groaned loudly.  I was never one to eat breakfast, I would get up in the morning with only enough time to fix my hair and make-up and run out the door with a plastic mug of hot coffee.  This would be a day that I would definitely sit down for a huge plate of bacon and eggs, and perhaps seconds, no thirds if I had the chance.  Our tempers were growing hotter with the absence of food and I thought it would be best if I didn’t tease my mind with the thought of some nourishment.  Jason had already cast the fishing line into the river and stood looking hopeless as he stared at the water.  I had nothing much to say that morning and had already assumed that my fellow boater had no need to make conversation.  “Lets just go, your not gonna catch anything” Jason peered toward me and shook his head as he pulled in the line. 

Southbound once again the debris in the water became heavier.  There were stumps of trees, and wood from the destruction.  Jason maneuvered the boat well though.  The once slender river was now wide as it spread out on to the land that once contained it.  Jason kept the boat in the middle of the river cruising around the large masses of debris that seemed to float together.  We drove for quite a while until the sun was hot.  My arms, which were pale white only days ago, were robust via the suns’ rays and my cheeks were flushed with sunburn. “Where do you think we are?  Have we made it very far?" I asked Jason.

“Hard to say…. If we have…. Well it doesn’t look like it’s any better”  I noticed that Jason had lost his angry sarcasm today which was replaced by a quiet surrender.  This made me worry.  In the murky water I could see the carcasses of dead cattle that hovered beneath the dust which layered the river.    This made me remember the flood of 1997 when cows were swept away with the rising river contaminating it.  I looked back to our pail, which contained 1 inch of our only source of life.  The motor of our boat began to stall and sputter.  Jason turned off the ignition and began to fill the tank with one of the jerry cans of gasoline.  He was still quiet when he primed the fuel pump and then sat down in the vinyl seat.  From under the boat you could hear debris clunk against the bottom I imagined it was a cow or perhaps a piece of what was once a rickety farmhouse.  The river's tide was considerably slower and I suspected the width of the river was at least 3 ties what it had been before.  The suns’ heat was exhausting and the only cool was the breeze as we cut through the air in the small boat.  The dust had seemed to settle from the air and the day was bright.  The clouds were white and fluffy and moved steadily south with us.  It’s hard to say how long we drove that day until we anchored the boat to fish and rest.  Jason was the first to sip from our pail of water.  He sipped slow and closed his brown eyes before he swallowed the water.  I was next.  I cupped the water in my hand and sucked it through my fingers.  The water that remained on my hands I quickly patted onto my burning face.  Jason once again cast his line into the river.  “The river is contaminated Jason, we shouldn't eat from it”

“We have to eat something, we wont last like this. 

“Perhaps we should find a place to dock, there must be something left on the land, or someone”

“We will have to dock soon enough. The gas we have left won’t get us to far” Jason’s tone was expressionless and yet scolding.  I knew why he didn’t want to dock.  Every mile that we traveled was horrifying.  The devastation seemed to grow vividly worse.  If fire hadn’t scorched the surface of the earth, it was jagged and broken. His eyes were solemn and he looked as though he was beginning to weaken. 

As I watched Jason sit with his fishing pole I began to wonder about him. Did he have a family, a wife, and children?  In the midst of what was happening we had very little conversation that two people would have who had spent the past days together. Jason had scooped a piece of wild grass from the river and had it dangling from the corner of his mouth like a farmer; he gnawed on it frantically until it was no more.  “Where’s mine?”  I asked him sarcastically.

“It’s from the river, contaminated, you can’t eat it Red”  he said it condescendingly and  to mimic my earlier concerns about the river water

My eyes narrowed. I dipped my hand over the boat to pick up a clump of the grass.  It was then that I felt it.  It felt like the rubber of a tire-hard and cold. Curiosity got the best of me, and as I pulled toward me I screamed loudly making Jason jump from his position.  “Oh my god, oh my god” I couldn’t contain myself.

“What?” Jason sounded as frantic as I was.  It was then that the body floated up through the dust.  Its face was red and bloated and its eyes were white as expected in death.  It was a man, or  what was left of him. His skin had whitened and he was bloated and puffy. His mouth was open and filled with two rows of perfect teeth.  He was wearing a tailored brown business suit with a paisley tie. His chest bobbed up and down in the filthy water and banged against the side of our boat.  I immediately began to heave and if my stomach hadn't been empty I might have been sick enough to vomit. Jason put his hand on my shoulder and gently pushed me to one side.  He used his fishing rod to poke at the remnants of the human being. Even in the water the smell of the man was unbearable.  The smell of rotting flesh combined with the contaminants of the river.  Jason reached into the man’s suit jacket and pulled out a soggy brown leather wallet. He began reading what was left of a license ID card,  “Robert Derksen, Forty One Crescent Place, Ortonville, Minneapolis…"  Jason pulled the remaining money from the wallet and counted out loud “Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, eighty, one hundred, one hundred fifty.” I looked toward Jason as he tucked the bills and ID card into his pocket and whipped the empty wallet back into the river.  Jason came and sat down beside me “You ok?” he asked sympathetically.

“That’s his money Jason”

“He doesn’t need it now, and we may” Jason took the lid off of the ice-cream pail and lifted it up so that I could drink.  My stomach was still unsettled and for the first time in days I refused, 

“He looked terrible Jason, just terrible” Jason did not respond.  We both watched the water as the body floated away with the waves.  How many more bodies lied in this watery grave?  I began to weep, not for Robert Derkson, but for the many people that I knew who I pictured lay rotting in their crushed homes, cars and had been washed away in the river.  I wept until I fell asleep.

When I awoke the boat was moving swiftly on the river.  Jason was sitting in the driver’s seat peering out to the water in front of him.  I tried to get up and stumbled on the metal floor. My body was incredibly weak; I struggled to sit upright and failed miserably.  My stomach hurt violently with sharp pains and as I breathed I felt like I was being stabbed in the gut.  My eyes barely focus and my head spun.  I felt as though the sun had arms and was wrapping them tightly around my throat and my lungs felt crushed and I panted hard in attempt for a full breath.  I was hot all over. Sun Stroke.   Jason looked toward me and quickly turned off the boat and sat beside me on the metal floor.  He used his hands to scoop up the river’s water and splashed it on to my face.  “I want to die” I squealed softly.

“Just breathe deep, slowly” Jason commanded. 

“Just throw me into the river, let me die” I was then pleading as sweat poured vigorously down my face. I hadn't been being dramatic- the awful physical condition paired with my evolving depression made me serious.  I would have welcomed a watery grave.

“It will be night soon, don’t panic” 

“I’m so hot, I’m burning up, let me die” Jason did not respond.  He kept splashing the water on my face but the smell of the river water was making me feel sicker.  The heat had consumed me and I no longer had the strength to talk. 

“We’re going to make it” Jason told me reassuringly, as he held the pail to my mouth so that I could sip the water. I pleaded to end my life until everything was red and then brown and then black. 

Coming to, the burning sun had gone to bed and the stars were shining bright in the black sky.  Jason was sitting in the vinyl seat and  head was slumped forward and he was snoring loudly.  The heat had left my weakening body and had been replaced with an intense chill, which made my teeth chatter loudly.

“Jason” I called towards him.  Jason threw up his head into consciousness and looked toward me. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Half the day- at least”

“Have you seen anything?”

“We ran out of gas hours ago, I tried to fish, and lost the anchor, we’re... fucked”

“So we’re just floating now?”

“Yes, we should probably try to swim for land in the morning”

I could see Jason wipe his eyes with his bare arm.  I fell asleep in the silence of what was once a great noisy world.   I did not even have the strength then to throw myself into the river although it would have meant the peace I was longing for.

The next day we floated.  We floated hoping to see a sign on land or an achievable bank that we would be able to climb.  On the little boat, we knew the situation- we had no food, no water but so far we had our LIVES.  On the land, we had no idea what or what not would be waiting for us.


I always remember my dreams.  Some people can dream all night and not remember a thing in the morning but I always awoke with vivid memories. 

That night I dreamed that I had made a trip to the grocery store and filled my cart with loads of groceries.  Loaves of fresh rye bread, bricks of marble cheese, cans of Chicken Noodle soup, a jug of milk, boxes of sweet cereal....  It was only when it was time to pay that the teller handed me back my bankcard and sternly said, “Insufficient funds mam.”  I pleaded with the store manager to accept a check or to hold my license until I could return with money but he only stared angrily at me through his small spectacles.  God I could taste the food and all I could do was leave the store empty handed, stepping out the automatic doors to complete destruction.  To the end of the world.

 In any normal life the dream would have perhaps been unusual but now it was a terrible nightmare.  I awoke with tears in my eyes.  The sun had not completely risen yet and my eyes were cloudy with dirty tears.  My temperature was fairly normal but my stomach pierced with sharp pains.  The boat rocked in the river and the current was moving rapidly.  The waves were crashing against our small boat and the tide was spilling over the sides ever so slightly.  I sat up and looked toward Jason.

It must have been quite cold as I slept that night because he was now wearing the dirty T-shirt that had sat in the back of the boat for all these days. His head was slumped forward on his chest and his hair was a mess. I tried to muster the strength to stand up, my legs were stiff and my back ached.  I undid my jeans and hung myself over the boat to pee.  I yawned and looked to the brightening sky and then to the shore.  We must have drifted quite far because the tide had changed and the banks looked more desolate then I had remembered from the day before.  I yawned once again and looked to the other direction.  I saw it.  It was far, lodged on the shore and we were slowly drifting away from it, it was a small houseboat!

“Jason” I screamed as I tried to stand up.  My jeans, which were still around my ankles, made me trip and fall on my stomach with my bare butt exposed.  Jason shot up from his vinyl seat.

“What?” He peered at my collapsed body in confusion and I hadn’t realized at that moment how stupid I must have looked but I was filled with adrenaline as I quickly stood up and struggled to pull up my pants.

“Over there, look!” I exclaimed as I pointed toward the wreck. Jason peered in the direction in the sky that was still dark.  “It’s a house boat, perhaps there is someone else!”  I was very excited now and ready to leap off the motorboat.

“Come on!” Jason ordered as he attempted to pull out the anchorless rope.  “We should try to pull the boat with us” Jason pulled off his shirt and leaped into the water.  I was next but I gently eased myself into the filth hyperventilating as the cold water covered every inch of me.

We began to swim against the tide with the enormous weight of the boat behind us.  Jason was a strong swimmer and led us in our struggle.  I grasped the rope tightly and kicked my feet furiously.  The river water echoed in my ears and I tried to spit out the gulps I was unintentionally taking into my mouth.   It seemed like forever until the large houseboat was within our grasp we were both tired and weak.  It was lodged half up on the destroyed bank and its nose was still in the water. It was more of a pontoon really, or the design of a pontoon with a trailer top older but well maintained with sliding glass windows flat against the aluminum shell. Painted on the side in large black letters was SIENNA.

“Hello!”  Jason called up to the small railed boat deck.  The Sienna was quiet and still where it was lodged into the earth. Many of the windows were broken and where the stern stuck into the land the aluminum and steel frame was crushed.  We struggled to pull out our boat onto enough of the bank that it wouldn't float away  “Stay here, don't let this boat float away” Jason said to me in a serious tone as he tried frantically to climb the high enough to reach the steel bars surrounding the deck.  “Give me a boost, put your hands like this” I cupped my hands together as he demonstrated and lowered them so he could put his foot into them.  He climbed over the wall calling out.  I sat on the bank and tried to catch my breath and I gagged on some of the water I had swallowed.  

“Red, there’s food!”  

“Is they’re anyone aboard?”  I asked

“One man”

“Did you ask him if we could stay?”

“He’s dead…for days…the fucking smell is terrible…looks like he hit his head, you will have to help me get him off"

I reached up to Jason and he grabbed my wrists so tightly that when I was finally aboard they burned and were red.  I'm not sure what I had expected to see but it wasn't anything as horrible as I did.  The Sienna's occupant lay slumped half under the small pull down kitchen table and a swarm of fruit flies swirled over top of him.  He was a big man, with dark leathered skin and what were once wounds in his arms and legs were festering with tiny little larvae.  He was stiff and bent and I had to turn my head away to deter any extra smell.   "Grab his arms" Jason ordered.  But I didn't want to touch him.  I didn't want to put my fingers on his degrading skin and risk touching the moving swarms of maggots.  Jason looked at me

"I can't Jason" 

" what do you mean you can't?"  He sounded frustrated.  "Jesus Christ, take his feet then!"  and I did.  Regrettably his feet were heavier and we both grunted and gagged as we pulled him out and away to the screen weather door.  He was still bent and stiff as we moved him close to the rails.  He had died with his eyes open but they no longer had any color.  I wouldn't of been able to tell the color- they were white and ghastly.  Getting him over the rail was the worst.  He slipped once and his the weight of his legs made me stumble backwards into the deck floor. My mouth and nose were level with his gaping wounds and soiled pants.  When he hit the water he made only one splash and he didn't sink- he bobbed by the bank for a long time before the tide slowly began to mull him away.   I watched the slow float of the man- I didn't move for a long time.  It was a strange parallel.  Seeing his body and his demise was awful but I just wanted him gone.  I wanted his food and his boat.  I wondered shamefully if this was the beginning of not caring anymore.

Jason had opened all the intact windows to the cabin and used a large manual to wedge under the screen door to keep it open.  The smell wafted from the little space and knew it was still on my hands and in my clothes from where I had touched the man.  Jason was using a wad of paper towel on his foot to soak up some of the smeared fluids off the 70's style vinyl flooring and then pitched it off the side of the deck into the river.   The deck was small and half of it was covered with an aluminum awning that was hanging a bit on one side.  I could see that the tail end and lower motor was cemented into pieces of jagged bank and although some of the windows were broken, the exterior didn't have any openings or holes.    There was a small ladder which led to a portion of deck atop the main section of the boat but the rungs were twisted from the impact.   Inside the small cabin there were belongings that had been jostled about. The smell was still awful but Jason was on his hands and knees rummaging through the cupboards and then on his feet unlatching the small compartments above the kitchen table.  I waited on the deck.   Jason emerged from the cabin with a glass bottle filled to the top with whiskey, when he came near me I could smell his breath.  Jason held out the bottle in my direction but I didn't take it.  Other than the few parties in high school I had been to, I never drank.  I had been on medication most of my teen years that prohibited it and had never been fond of the bite it had anyways.  “More for me then” and he lifted an eyebrow and held the bottle a little higher. I stared at him, probably analyzing his smirk and smile too much and he noticed.   "Everyone has a vice Red" 

“There is food?” I asked

“There is food, some cans, some rice, some bread that we should eat right away and some water- bottles There is even a propane generator, I don’t know if it works though”

I put my shirt over my mouth and nose to stifle the smell and crossed back into the cabin.  The wooden cupboards were now all hanging open, Jason had pulled various items of food out onto the counter and the packages of batteries was what caught my attention first but that was quickly diverted to a case of water.  Like an animal I tore through the plastic shell and couldn't get the cap off quick enough and guzzled it.  Next I tore into a tetra pack of peaches preserved in syrup  and the hardly breathed as they slid down my throat.  I didn't care that my fingers were filthy.

My stomach began to turn immediately it had grown smaller over the days and did not know how to handle the sudden meal.  I instantly felt the nausea creep to my throat and barely made it to the end of the deck before gagging and releasing them from my stomach.  I slumped down into the floorboards and rested my head flat.  I could see the tiny nails that were beginning to lift and I stared at the pattern they made.  My body was hot but beginning to feel some relief.  Jason held out his hand low to help me sit and I took it.  He sat beside me.   He motioned the bottle in my direction and closed my fingers around it with his free hand.  I took a gulp of it and shuttered as my throat burned as the liquor touched but the warm feeling it left in my stomach was worth it.


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