A Crab Crawl Crucifixion (Beginning)

We were lost somewhere in Arizona. The heat was better than the cold now. It was all about survival mostly, but maybe it was more about the ability to live off the streets and the rough land — which was all that was really left unless you lived high in a glass tower in one of the protected cities. We did not live in a glass tower. There was a privileged dude with us named Rob Muggins and he used to live in a glass tower. He was one of the rich guys who took a tumble down the ladder there at the end. Rob was scared most of the time — him being so damn out of his element. Sometimes though, Rob could step up in a time of heated crisis and do something really noteworthy and admirable — like the time he snatched Daisy from the grips of certain death.

Daisy was a crazy chick from Hazelton, Pennsylvania with black hair and black eyes but pale white skin. She had been working as an apprentice in an upscale tattoo parlor in Philadelphia when we picked her up. She had been trapped in a wishing well after seeking a place to hide from the monsters. Two days later Rob heard her soft cries for help. So now she’s with us. My name is Ed Dick and I’m the leader. I’m a good-looking oceanic cowboy from Maine. Like I said, we were lost in Arizona when things got very weird and ethereal.

The sun of the southwest could make a man parch in no time at all. We needed water. Water was our sweet salvation. Without water we wouldn’t last long. It was when we reached the apex of a dusty ridge that Daisy pulled out the spy glass and picked out a town way down in the rusty valley of corrosion. I took the spyglass from her to get a look for myself. “That’s a town all right,” I said to them. “I don’t see anything moving around. I think we’d be foolish not to check it out.”

Daisy was all for it, but Rob was being a whiny prick as usual. “I’m not going down there. The place could be totally infected with them. I’m not risking it and I don’t think you two should either.”

I stood up tall against him and looked down. “You know we’re going to die if we don’t get some water. What are you going to do… Hunt the desert for a few more days? You’ll never make it. Your throat will swell up and you’ll die.”

“I didn’t know you were a doctor, too,” Rob sniped with sharpshooter precision. He eyed the landscape and he wiped at his sweaty face with his hand and looked in all directions. “There’s got to be a river or pool or spring around here somewhere. There must be.”

I shouldered my rifle and started to move down the other side of the ridge. “Trust me. There’s not,” I called back. “That town is our best bet for survival right now.”

Daisy followed me down a cut in the ridge toward the floor of the valley, more of a dusty alley in a dead city. “You’re not going to leave him behind, are you?” she asked me.

I stopped and looked back up. “He’s smart enough to know to come with us. If he isn’t well then that’s his problem.” I continued on and Daisy had to work hard to keep up.

“You don’t like him very much, do you?” she asked me, in a tone that sounded like she was defending him. Maybe she liked him. Maybe she wanted him.

“No. I really don’t,” I answered. “He knows nothing about the real world. He’s been hiding behind a desk and a computer screen his whole life. He’s not my kind of people.”

“What is your kind of people?” she wanted to know.

“No people.”


We reached the floor of the valley and it felt even hotter as we ducked down in some dry brush and looked in the direction of the town. Daisy was close and I could feel her breath in my ear when she asked “What do you think? Is it safe?”

I turned back to her, and our noses nearly touched. My moustache wiggled with sexual excitement. “It’s never safe, but sometimes you got to take a chance. Are you locked and loaded and ready to shoot anything that moves?”

She looked nervous as she double checked her firearm. “I’m ready.”

We emerged from the brush slowly and started our trek toward the town. I stared straight ahead as Daisy scanned our perimeter for any signs of monsters. “It’s as dead as the world,” she whispered.

I nodded and we pressed on until the first building was not more than 100 yards away. We crouched near a cluster of fallen boulders. That’s when Rob Muggins came sloppily jogging up from behind us panting like a dog from hell. “They’re coming,” he told us as he collapsed in the dirt. “I saw them from the ridge. They’re headed this way.”

“Monsters?” Daisy quivered.

“Yes. And more than usual,” Rob answered, a tincture of fear in his voice.

I twisted my head back and forth in a panic. “We need to make for that higher ground. We’re raw meat down here.”

We dashed across the floor of the valley until the land began to crest upward. We scrambled through slippery rocks until we reached a dip beyond a hedge of desert brush and stayed low. “All this running around is no damn good for our dehydration situation,” I said to them. “No damn good at all.”

“Be quiet,” Daisy whispered, and she focus her eyes through the brush and scanned the land beyond. “I don’t see anything. Are you sure they were coming this way?”

“Maybe he’s hallucinating,” I suggested.

“I’m not hallucinating. I swear I saw them,” Rob said in his defense. “Why do you always doubt me?”

“Because you’re a polished desk jockey with no real life skills,” I snapped.

He turned away, offended by my blunt assessment of him. I waited for a reply, but none came so I just went back to dealing with our present situation. “I say we lie low here until it gets dark and then make for the town and try to find some water, or whatever else to drink.” I commanded. “It’s our only chance.” The other two looked at me and agreed. “Good. Now let’s try to conserve some energy. Daisy, you keep watch.”

Rob sat down next to me. His clothes were torn, and he was burnt from the sun. He looked terrible for a guy who used to be pretty sharp. “I don’t think I’m going to make it, Ed,” he surprisingly confided in me. “I feel like I’m about to drop dead… And I almost wish it.”

I spat at the ground, adjusted my hat, and looked at him. “You need to get over that. We’ll make it. You’ll feel a whole hell of a lot better once you get something to drink inside your guts.”

Rob stared at the ground and the sweat dripping from his head dotted the sand. “I once heard a person could drink their own urine to survive.”

“If that were true people wouldn’t die of thirst,” I pointed out. “And not only that, it’s disgusting and unsanitary.”

“Have you ever done it?”

“Drink piss?”

“Yes.”

“Hell no! What’s the matter with you!?”

“I once saw a guy do it on a television show.”

“Then he was a dumb ass. Television is for suckers.”

“I think he threw up.”

“I don’t doubt it.” I turned my attention to Daisy. “What’s going on down there?”

She turned and licked at her burnt lips. “Nothing. I don’t see a thing.”

“They must have turned,” I decided.

Rob scratched at his unruly bustle of curling hair. “I need to see a barber,” he said. “Do you think there’s a barber down there?”

“Could be… But not the kind of barber you want,” I warned him. “Not the kind that cuts hair.”


Once the day began to fade we made our way down and into the town. There was a ghostly moon hovering in the dying light and the streets were broken and overgrown with prickly weeds. The buildings were shattered, brick crumbling from years of the in-and-out of a blazing sun. The wind began to dance, and some tumbleweeds crossed our path. We saw no signs of life — monster or human. “We should split up here,” I suggested.

Daisy grabbed me by the upper arm. She squeezed a little. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. What if something happens?” I looked over at Rob and he seemed nervous and fidgety. “What do you think?” I asked him.

“I don’t want to be left alone out here. I say we stay together.”

I was overruled and so we pressed on as a trio down the main thoroughfare of the town — what was left of it. We came upon what looked to be an old grocery store and we went in. It was fairly dark inside except near the front by the broken-out windows. I illuminated our way with a small everlasting flashlight I kept in a pocket. The shelves were decimated except for a few cans of those vegetables no one likes — stuff like okra and asparagus and Lima, Peru beans. I didn’t even care that I was hungry, there was no way in hell I’d eat any of that crap. The coolers at the back were dead and empty. The storage room was picked clean of food as well. “It looks like we’re out of luck here,” I said as I swept my flashlight up against the walls and across the floor. Then I hit on something — a plastic bottle of water that had rolled out of ordinary view. “Look, there!” I said.

Daisy got down on the floor and reached her long and tatted arm underneath a worktable. “I got it,” she said, and she got back up and held it for us to see.

Rob snatched it out of her hand and uncapped it. He took a long drink. “Hold on,” I said. “There are three of us.” He reluctantly pulled the bottle away from his mouth and handed it to me. “Sorry. I was thirsty.”

“We’re all thirsty, you selfish prick,” I snapped, and I wiped the top of the bottle off with the sleeve of my shirt and took a few gulps. It was warm but tasted like water. I let Daisy finish it off and she tossed the bottle to the side. That’s when we heard a strange howl and we all instinctively ducked down and I shut off the flashlight. “What the hell was that?” Rob whispered in fear. The howl came again.

“It’s a lobo,” I answered. “Sounds like a crazy lobo, too.”

“Are you sure it’s not a werewolf?” Rob asked.

“What the hell did you just say?” I wondered aloud as I tried to see him in the dark.

He repeated himself. “I hope it’s not a werewolf.”

“Quit being stupid,” Daisy butted in. “It’s not a werewolf.” She reached out for my hand and squeezed it as if to say: Can you believe that? I squeezed back and smiled in the darkness. I was glad it was just a lobo and not anything else.

We left the cover of the store once the howling grew fainter and more distant. The animal had moved on. We resumed our stroll down the main drag when something off down a side street caught my eye. It was a light. I stopped and moved back into the shadows. “Come here,” I whispered. They ducked in next to me and I showed them. “There’s a light on over there in that shop.” Daisy pressed herself against me. “How is that possible?” I touched her back and I could smell her feminine side. “There must be someone in there,” I said.

I could sense Rob was trembling. “We need to leave now,” he said to me. “Right now.”

“No. It could be someone who could help us.”

“I think it’s a bad idea,” Rob said.

“Look,” I said. “There are three of us and we’re armed. I think it’s worth the chance. What do you think… Baby?”

I knew Daisy was looking at me strangely in the darkness. “Did you just call me baby?”

I was really embarrassed and avoided her question. I pressed them like a leader should. “Let’s go take a look.”

FIRST OF TWO PARTS


The Machine Man in the Wheat

It was on a Tuesday when the sun became different.

I remember it clearly because Tuesdays I visit with the doctor because I have a hard time walking in a straight line.

“You’re difficult to conform,” he says.

He also thinks he is smarter than me, but I know better. The questions he asks don’t seem very bright to me. He lacks, say, electricity. So like I was saying, as far as the sun goes, I had come home and went to the back of the house and drew the long green drapes away from the large window there. I looked out and there was a bright spot on the fence where the sun was shining and it drew me in, the color of it, like golden metal pressed up tight. It was a cold color, flat, indecent yet proper. And so I looked up and even the whole sky itself looked different. There was a deeper blue confusion about it. The clouds seemed edgy. There was turmoil in the air amid the subtle change.

The house is hidden in the hills surrounding a city. It’s an urban estate of modern aesthetics – tall glass, sharp edges, white and clean as snow and just as cold and empty and lonely, especially in the shadows. The furniture sits rigid and straight. Everything is strictly kept in its place. My home looks as if it has never been lived in.

I have seven bedrooms and don’t sleep in any of them. I have four bathrooms and use only one. My kitchen is always clean. It hums in the dead of day, the big metal appliances stewing in their pipes and electrical cords. There is a window over the sink and I can look out into my yard – a trapezoidal patch of bright green grass surrounded by jungle. A small pool sits empty. There’s some lawn furniture but it’s all scattered about now because of the strong breezes we’ve had lately. The yard is as deserted as my home.

I sat a drink down on a glass end table and the subtle sound of it echoed through the room. Then the telephone rang. It was Fred. I knew this because he was the only one whoever called.

“Hello.”

“I’m always amazed that the telephones still work.”

“I’m glad for it. At least I can call my doctor.”

“Not feeling very well? Is it the crooked walking again?” he asked.

“Yes. He doesn’t know what to do about it.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. Would you like me to come by tonight?”

“No. I’m just going to stand here and not move for a while.”

I hung up. Fred hung up. I knew this because he was the only one whoever hung up on me. Fred used to be an accountant of some sort, maybe a lawyer too. But not anymore. I used to be a geology professor. But not anymore. There are many things that are no longer the same. I used to have a wife and twin daughters. But not anymore. I used to park a car in my garage. But not anymore. Walking is all we can do now. If I need something from the city, I have to walk. I walk to the doctor, the grocery, the bar. I even walk to the post office and occasionally send a letter to someone I don’t even know – but no one gets mail anymore.

Sometimes I walk to the city with Fred. I really don’t want to because I don’t like him that much even though we consider each other to be friends. I would even say he is kind of boring, but not boring in the way of going to sleep, rather, boring in a way that makes me want to avoid him at all costs because I have better things to do. And the things he talks about are so pointless. It almost makes my stomach hurt when he starts in on how poorly the sidewalks were made.

“Just look it all the cracks,” he always points out, his long arm nearly touching the ground.

“There have been a lot of earthquakes,” I tell him.

“Even so, they should make better sidewalks.”

“They did their best,” I remind him. “The world was a mess.”

Fred picked up a small stone and threw it. It hit a light post. The sound echoed down the street.

“It’s still a mess, Frank. C’mon, you’re hip to it. You know it will never get better than this.”

I stopped and looked at him. I blew into my hands to warm them.

“Damn it’s cold. I thought we lived in California.”

There weren’t too many people at the grocery store. There were never too many people anywhere. I liked it like that, even though the place reminded me of a morgue with sparse shelves.

Fred strolled off to the produce department, but there wasn’t much there. The stores are never stocked that well anymore. I followed him over and together we looked at a handful of oranges as if we were visiting a zoo for fruit.

“They don’t look very fresh, do they?” Fred said, cocking his head and studying the oranges with a bent eye.

“They never are,” I listlessly noted. “I’m going over to the pharmacy.”

“More pills?”

“Yes, more pills.”

“All right then, I’m going over to the meat department,” Fred said. “I want to look at a piece of chicken.”

I walked down the main aisle in the front toward the pharmacy. I knocked on the glass.

“Hey. I need to get my pills,” I said to someone, somewhere.

There was some sort of person fidgeting around in the darkened back. I had to wait. We still always have to wait.

“Your name?” he asked when he came to the window – a little man in a white lab coat all alone with the medicine and a broken heart.

“Frank Buck. Why do you always have to ask? You know who I am.”

He blinked his eyes and barely smiled.

“It’s just procedure sir. It’s company policy. It’s a corporate rule and I cannot break it under any circumstances.” He looked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone else nearby. “My life depends upon it.”

The corporations still have all the power.

“All right. I guess you can’t break the rules. I understand. You need this job. Not everyone has a job anymore.”

“Did you know that being a pharmacist is the best job a person can have these days?” he boasted.

“I believe it. You’ve got 14 bottles for me, right?”

“Yes. Any questions?”

“Do I ever have any questions? Does it even matter if I have any questions?”

“Sorry. I have to ask. They’re watching me. They’re listening to me, too.”

“Sounds like you’re trapped.”

“I am,” he tried to whisper through the glass, and I only turned once to look back at the poor old soul as I walked away. 

“Do you think we should buy that last piece of chicken?” Fred asked me in the Something Resembling Meat department. “We could have a fry out.”

I peered into the glass case at the lone piece of raw chicken breast sitting dead and gross in a bloody wet tray beneath a bluish-green light. I stepped behind the counter and slid a door open and flipped the piece of chicken over.

“It doesn’t look too pale,” I said.

Fred was hungry and wanted the chicken.

“Go ahead and wrap it up. I’ll pay for it.”

I wrapped up the hunk of chicken like I worked there or something and we made our way toward the front of the store and through the sliding doors. Something scanned us from above as we walked out.

“When they come for the money, we’ll tell them the chicken was mine,” Fred said to me.

“Absolutely.”


The chicken sizzled on the charcoal grill I had out back. Fred and I went to the yard and plucked two toppled chairs out of the lawn. We set them up on the patio. We lit some torches. I poured Fred a strong drink. He watched me suspiciously as I withdrew a cigarette from my pack and stuck it in my mouth.

“I thought you quit those damn things.”

“I did, but why bother now?”

“I suppose you’re right. Not much to live for anymore is there?” Fred agreed.

“I don’t like to talk about it. Why is it we always end up talking about it such horrible things?”

“I don’t know,” Fred wondered. “What else is there to talk about?”

“Tell me about your dreams.”

Fred thought for a moment.

“I don’t dream anymore.”

“I know. I don’t either. Why is that?”

“I suppose it has something to do with that brain evolution stuff they’re all talking about. You know… What they say about us being able to survive when the others didn’t. They say we don’t need dreams anymore.”

“Leaves the night awfully blank though, doesn’t it?” I said with a downcast head, sad about it.

“Yes,” Fred moaned with a slight nod of his head. “I don’t sleep as much as I used to… Wait. I think the chicken is burning. Flip it over.”

I got up and flipped the meat and there were deep dark burn marks on the side already cooked.

“It might be a bit well done by the time I’m finished with it,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Fred said with a quick laugh. “Chicken is chicken and I’ll take it any way I can.”

The doorbell rang. I went through the house and opened the front door. Two officers from the Debt Police were standing there in a cloud of threatening menace. They had come to collect the money for the chicken and the pills.

“Wow,” I said. “It’s been only two hours or so and you’re already here. I swear, it seems you guys get here faster and faster every time.”

“Just give us the money, sir,” one of the officers said. “We don’t have time for idle chit chat.”

I stuck my hands in my pockets and dug around.

“Is there a problem, sir?” the other office asked as he stepped forward a bit. “Do you have the money? Yes or no?”

“I know I have it somewhere,” I said as I began to panic. “It’s in the house somewhere. But look here, that man outside, he has the money. The chicken was his idea. It was all his idea.”

The officers pushed beside me and well into the house. They went out onto the patio and Fred quickly stood up. I went to help him.

“This guy says the chicken was all your idea. Is it your chicken?” one of the officers wanted to know.

Fred shakily adjusted the eyeglasses on his face.

“Yes. I was the one who wanted the chicken. He just walked to the store with me to get his medicine. I told him I’d pay for the chicken.”

“Then give us the money,” the other officer demanded.

Fred nervously dug into his front pants pocket and pulled out some dirty cash. He flipped through the bills with his fingers.

“How much is it again?”

“Fifty-five dollars for the chicken and four-hundred and twelve for the pills,” one of the officers snapped.

Fred glanced over at me. “I’ll take care of it all,” he said, and handed them five 100-dollar bills.

“The rest is your tip,” Fred said.

One of the officers made a disappointed face. “Not much of a tip,” he said.

“But thanks,” said the other. “We’ll be going now. Make sure to lock all your doors and windows and load your guns. There are lots of creeps out there milling about in the night.”

We watched as the officers quickly moved back through the house and out the front door. I sank down in my patio chair, sighed and looked at Fred.

“Where do you get all that money?” I asked him. “You’re not a pharmacist or a cop.”

“I saved my money,” Fred said. “As I worked and lived my life I also saved money… For the times like these that I always knew were coming. I funded my survival.”

“Do you have a lot left?”

“No. The Men of the Wars took most of it.”

I glanced inside at the banner on the wall. It was the banner we all had now – and in big capital letters of red, white and blue, it read: True Freedom Has a Price Tag — and there was a big green Uncle Sam with devil eyes on the banner, and he had his big fists in the air, and he was clutching money in one and a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes in the other. And in smaller capital letters near the bottom, it read: In Greed We Trust and In God We Wonder.

I didn’t really like the banner, but we didn’t have a choice anymore.

After the chicken, some more drinks and a cold handshake, I said goodnight to Fred and closed the door behind him. I locked it just as the officers advised. It was a big cold deadbolt and it made me feel safer even though I knew deep down inside it didn’t really matter anymore.

I walked crooked through the rest of the house turning down lights and making sure the other doors and windows were all locked up tight. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror and my face looked old. I ran some water in a glass and washed down a handful of pills. I flicked off the light and quietly closed the door. I turned on the ceiling fan that runs right over my bed and sat in a chair by the window. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. What good is sleep without dreams? I looked out the window but all I saw was dark punctured by a few painful points of light. It was my personal jungle surrounding me. I liked it like that. I didn’t want to know everything about the world on fire out there.

Subscribe to Cereal After Sex by submitting your email address below. Once verified, you will begin receiving notifications of new posts. Thank you for supporting independent publishing.

Mr. Rumples

The diligent sound of war machines cracked an October day of bright sun.

There is a disease in the air now and everyone stays inside – mostly. There is no more school or work or going to the doctor. Medicine finally failed. There was nothing that anyone could have done. Someone somewhere chose war over healing, and that’s why the jets still roar, and blood no longer matters.

All I have left to drink is grape juice and I’m getting rather tired of it. I like to sip it near the window in the morning when I look out at a world that is no longer blue, but rather a sickly shade of yellow. The everlasting haze rests its weary head of death in the cradling arms of the mountains, and when it wakes it pukes out noxious gases all across the land. I cough all the time now. I can barely breathe. Everyone has cancer except for the devils that rule.

The other night I opened my blinds to look at the full yellow moon for the last time. The stars were retreating. I watched and watched and watched. I concluded that the spaceships weren’t coming to save us after all. Can I blame them? What reason would anyone have for saving us? Love? Does anyone out there love us?

At night it gets cold and dark, and I must light a wood fire in the wide-bellied fireplace in the main room. I live by myself in a worn mansion outside of the city, a bit in the country. No one comes around much anymore, but there’s an old black cat that sleeps in a dusty chair most of the time. The cat is sick too. I hope the cat dies first because if I die first there will be no one to feed it. The cat’s name is Mr. Rumples, which is funny because my name is Mr. Rumples, too.

I have a gun and only one bullet. I thought about shooting Mr. Rumples once when his sickness was really acting up. I couldn’t do it. I keep the gun on the floor near my mattress where I sleep. I’ll know when it’s the right time. I have a knack for intuition and an eye for irreversible devastation.

I used to have a wife, but she died when the storm came. She was a beautiful woman with intelligent breasts, and near the end her favorite meal was a toasted English muffin and Gatorade. I laughed at her a lot. We laughed at each other a lot. We had been married for 39 years and together we brought five children into the world – they’re all dead now too, as well as all my grandchildren – seventeen of them. It seems like everyone is dead. What does one do with that kind of fucking grief? Put it in a jar? Throw it to the stars?

There had been years of grand love in our large home, a home that was always filled with warm voices and the smells of steaming gumbo and cherry cobbler from the kitchen. The wife had limited cooking skills and so I had hired a woman to come in to help. She was a black woman by the name of Rosie. She was a stumpy yet cheerful woman and her laugh resonated above all others throughout the house. Her pancakes, stuffed fat with fresh Maine blueberries, were the absolute best. Now Rosie’s dead, too. I miss her, and the love she had brought to our hearts and bellies.

 There’s a family cemetery on my land and when it’s safe I go out there, wading through the golden floss of waving grasses until I reach the place of the two oaks and their slotted canopy of love. I run my hands over all the stones I had chosen – and they were just regular rocks really and I had scratched all the names and dates into them with a big nail. I often lie down on the ground when the sun has warmed it and I look up at the yellow sky and wonder all about why the Great Bog had left me to live to the very end and not the young ones or anyone else for that matter. Was it the evolution of my sins that left me with this torture? A wind carrying nothing whips across my face.

I can see the old work shed, rusted and red, and it’s kind of collapsing in on itself. I haven’t mowed the yard or plucked the weeds in months. What’s the use of doing anything, I often wonder. So I do nothing but wait. I wait by the window. I wait on the porch when it’s safe. I wait to fall asleep at night but rarely is it restful. There are noises in the nights here – great booms and screams and sometimes even the thundering of the sky, that angry sky committing abuse in the dark. I shuffle, I starve, and I pluck memories from my head like feathers from a chicken. I don’t want to remember anything or anyone anymore.

Dinner is usually a quiet affair between me and Mr. Rumples. I always light a candle at the table and then we say our prayers that no one hears and then we share some cat food and it’s cold and mushy and tastes mostly of fish no matter what the can says. I hate it, but Mr. Rumples loves it. Damn… he’s going to outlive me and then starve because he can’t open the cans. Poor Mr. Rumples – both of us.

After dinner, Mr. Rumples takes his place in the chair, and I make a fire and then just sit there watching the flames cast frantic shadows against the dusty walls. I have a stick I use to play with the fire. There’s something calming about poking at a fire with a stick. It’s like pretending to be camping and making hot-tipped arrows or torches to keep the creeps in the forest at bay. The creeps were everywhere at the end. People went absolutely nuts, all over the world. It was the worst horror movie I had ever seen.



My breathing is getting worse. In the morning I sit up on my mattress and cough up blood. I roll to the floor and slowly make my way to what used to be the kitchen and feed the cat his breakfast. I have my grape juice and it is starting to sting as it goes down. It is mostly silent during the day. I used to loathe the roar of traffic on the country road, but now there is nothing. No cars. No trucks. No people on bicycles. And across the field the railroad tracks are nothing but skeletal remains now. I walk outside there sometimes when I feel up to it. Not so much anymore. Some days I can barely move. But I did enjoy my walks out there along the rusting rails and rotting ties. I found a few spikes and brought them into the house, but I don’t know why. I suppose my mind is going too.

Sometimes when I’m shuffling about the place I just stop because I forget what part of the house I was wanting to go. I like to go to the upstairs part of the house where the bedrooms are. I don’t really know why I like to go up there so much, but I think it may have something to do with colorful memories – how the children would race through the hall as bedtime drew nearer and bathroom space scarce. I like to look out Jonah’s window. He was the first son and had the best room in the house. I pull up my rickety chair and scan the voided world, all the way to the crisp line of the sea against the shore. It’s so far away and such a pale baby blue color. I would love to go down there, but I’d never make it back alive.

I leave Jonah’s room and slip into where the girls used to sleep. It’s a dark and dirty pink color now. The wallpaper is losing its grip and curling and slowly falling down. I open the closet and there is one faded dress on a wire hanger and a dusty box of shoes on the floor. The house was once looted when I was trying to walk to the sea, and they took most everything that was left.

The boys’ room is down the hall and to the right. I push the door open and it squeaks. This room was once hot cat blue and made to look like a baseball diamond. The younger boys played baseball almost every day in the summers and I often went down to the fields and watched them when I wasn’t working. My wife was always there with them; she was good like that.

Our bedroom was at the end of the hall and is now just a hollow, empty space. I turn on the sink faucet in the adjoining bathroom and no water comes out. I’m thirsty. I’m starving. I can’t do this anymore. There is something greatly heartless in the coming of the end of life. It’s the final pecking into the flesh by a wild bird that does not care to save you. It’s silent. Then Mr. Rumples meows out from downstairs. He must be lonely.

It was a cold night when the end came. I was shivering in the corner of what used to be the living room. Mr. Rumples was burrowed in a blanket on the chair and he was purring.

“How can you be so happy?” I asked him.

He blinked at me once and said nothing. He jumped down off the chair and rubbed against me and then curled into my lap. I stroked his fur and looked into the fire again for a long time. The wind was howling outside and whistled in through the weak spots in the house. I was alone again in this false lap of luxury.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Mr. Rumples, and I set him back in his chair. “Just stay there.”

The heart races in times of great finality. There’s a gnawing on the soul at the thought of everlasting darkness or the great rivers of Heaven. Will it just be sleep or does one travel to another world to take over for someone else who just croaked? I cocked the gun and wondered. I opened the blinds near where I sleep and looked at the fizzing stars. I thought I could hear someone yelling for help out in the tall grasses, or maybe that was just me. I smelled the gun and wondered. I would have loved to have one last hot shower and a good meal. I wandered through the rest of the house, now flowing with amber candlelight. I set every memory aside and took a deep breath as best I could in each hallowed hallway.

I returned to the main room and drew near to the fire and pointed the gun at Mr. Rumples. He looked up at me and blinked his eyes slowly. My finger tremored against the trigger. For some reason I knew he wasn’t ready, and I also knew that he did not want me to be alone. I lowered the pistol and sat down in the chair with him. He circled in my lap, settled, and purred. The air sirens wailed outside, and we watched the fire, together, for a very long time it seemed, until a final silence fell upon the world.