Walking those streets at night...everything seemed so peaceful. Almost uncomfortably so, you know? It's hard to explain, but when a great deal of your life is spent being under pressure, hiding in dark corners, and worrying about your very survival on a daily basis...an extended moment of 'calm' can be just as nerve-wracking as the threat itself. You never want to let to your guard down. You can never give in to the feeling that 'everything is fine'.
Everything is NOT fine.
And yet, as I walk down that suburban street to the crowd ahead...I can't help but feel a sense of comfort anyway. And it spawned from seeing the light reflected off of the longish blond locks of my beloved Jordan in the distance.
The flickering illumination of the trash can fire seemed to cause his hair to dance in front of me as I slowly approached. There was a group of about 20 people all gathered around in a cluster. Listening to Father Joseph speak in the street. You see, Father Joseph was one of those hellfire and brimstone preachers that had basically been WAITING for something like this to happen his entire life. The PROOF that he had been craving that the end of the world was upon us, and HE was the only one with a direct line to the 'management' upstairs. He knew the Bible backwards and forwards, and had been spitting in the faces of sinners since he was 12 years old. Now he's older than my mom, and he's been taking advantage of the dark times we face like you wouldn't believe. Basically screaming out into the night and gathering followers, more and more every day, just for a self righteous chance to say 'I told you so'! The way he clutches that blasted book to his bosom, you would have thought that it was surgically attached.
But...what can I say? In all this dismal pain and paranoia around here...at least he's entertaining. Hell, I'd even go so far as to say that his ramblings make a weird kind of sense when you listen to them long enough.
Besides...Jordan Chadwick is standing over there in the crowd. And where Jordan Chadwick goes, I follow.
"Do you not SEE...all of the death and devastation surrounding us? Did the Bible not PREDICT this catastrophe, my children? Time and time again we have lived in sin amongst one another and spat blasphemies in the face of the almighty GOD...and with arrogance, we dared him to respond to our carelessness!" Father Joseph cackled from on top of his mini 'stage' on the side of the street. "It says in the book of Revelation, 'Thus with great VIOLENCE shall the city of Babylon be thrown down!' And look at our once great city on the horizon! Babylon has fallen! Do you not see? Have we mocked the almighty for so long that we have forgotten his greatness? His power? Have we truly strayed so far from GOD...that we are willing to bring his holy wrath down upon us in anger?"
Hearing the answers and soft cheers of the people surrounding him, I was almost dizzy with the idea that they were turning to his teachings so readily. Anything for an answer, I suppose. A feeling of security. I mean, I believe just as much as they do. But I never needed fire from the sky, pre rehearsed sermons quoting scripture, or any divine 'threats', to keep my faith in tact. My beliefs run deeper than any whacked out street preacher could ever reach. Ordained priest or not. And maybe I have it wrong, who knows? But at the end of the day...isn't that what faith is all about? Belief....even though you don't know for sure? If that was the point, then I'm sure my soul will be just fine with its final judgment when it comes. Assuming there is one. Who knows....maybe this worldwide 'holocaust' of ours....is the final judgment after all.
I made my way over to Jordan through the gathering, and he had the sweetest little smirk on his face. He must have been enjoying Father Joseph's speech more than usual today. Hehehe, just seeing that tilted grin made me smile from the inside out. Even in the dark, with only the glimmering flame of burning trash to illuminate the smooth, delicate, features of his face...his dazzling green eyes were still strong enough to create a violent 'wiggle' in the center of my stomach just from secretly taking a peek at them. My God....he could be SO fascinating!
You see, Jordan hasn't been a part of our little community for very long. I'm proud to say that I found him myself, and brought him back on my own. Jordan was a year younger than me at 15. More like a year and a half, actually. But his overall beauty was ageless. A living work of art that deserved to be admired from all angles...and cherished with the whole of your heart. I had to struggle to breathe when I was near him. And it only got worse when he looked directly at me. Which is why I was so thankful that Father Joseph was holding his attention for the moment. The more I got to know about this beautiful stranger, the faster I fell in love with everything about him.
"We have become a PERVERSE abomination in the paradise that thou hast built for us! Betrayers to his will! Adulterers! Heathens! Homosexuals! Pedophiles! Murderers! Abortion supporters, cloning, stem cell research, 'Big Bang' machines!!! We have indulged in every possible sin! Broken every possible Commandment! And yet...here we see the results of our hellish nature, and BEG for forgiveness! NOW...in this late hour!" He said, his wild eyes staring into the crowd as his 'salt n' pepper' black and gray hair stood out in its usual chaotic fashion. "But it's OK, my children! I am here to deliver the word to you as it was written! And despite ALL of your transgressions...God still loves you!"
Moving right up beside Jordan in the crowd, I gathered the courage to reach out a trembling hand to touch the soft fabric of his shirt, heated ever so softly by the warmth of his arm. Jordan turned his attention to me, and his smile widened considerably. I swear...I felt faint from the knowledge that I could inspire such an expression of joy on his angelic face. I found myself lost in the ego inducing moment, and could hardly speak as he gave me a playful slug in the arm. "Sup, Noah?"
"Hey...." I said. Hoping that my response didn't sound too...bashful. I fought to get my sense of normality back in order, and asked him, "...So, Father Joseph's got himself quite the audience tonight."
"Yeah, well...what else is there to do around here at night? Hehehe!" Wow....his laugh. His sweet boyish laugh could uplift me like you wouldn't believe. "I don't know, he's kind of on a roll. I guess it's because the crowd is so big." He said, and I listened a bit more to what he was saying.
"....We saw the signs, but we did not heed their warning! For YEARS...this evil has been a part of our society! And with PRIDE, we ignored the divine teachings and placed our faith in the demons that have CAUSED this horrible holocaust! BILLIONS dead! BILLIONS! Need I remind you???" Father Joseph shouted. "How long has it been? TWO years??? TWO years!!! It was 2010, New Years Day, that Codex began the mandatory irradiation of our food! Do you remember the papers? The news broadcasts? Of COURSE not! Because there were none! No! Demons perform their wicked acts in the shadows, don't they? They worked in stealth to pass the bills needed to DESTROY us on a global scale! Using our food as a weapon against us! Do you remember??? They took the nutrients out of our meat...to STARVE us! To leave us weak and malnutritioned! To PACIFY us! We eat and eat and eat their chemically processed food under their new demon laws, and never get full! NEVER get nourished! And when the VIRUS returned in the Fall of 2010....what happened? We were left susceptible to its deadly strain! Completely OPEN! And you think this was an accident??? Do you think it was by CHANCE that we starve and we fade and we contract man-made illnesses????"
The entire crowd shouted out in unison, "NO!!!!!"
"Of COURSE not!!! This was not by chance....but by DESIGN! The escalating war overseas the very next year, the assassination attempts, the death grip of national security, squeezing, tightening....and THEN....martial law!!! 2011 was their year, was it not??? The quarantines, the riots, the raids!!! A year ago, they slaughtered all they couldn't starve, control, or infect with their 'toy virus'! And the CAMPS!!! Let us not forget the murder camps, where they forcefully snatch us up, and execute us by the THOUSANDS!!! TESTING us!!! Guantanamo Bay was just a 'prototype' for what was to come! Let's see how the public reacts to secret death camps, and torture, and lawlessness before the eyes of God! And once we were desensitized to the idea, well, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump, towards building all of the other camps within our borders, bringing in soldiers, and lining us up on the front lawn, wasn't it?"
"YEAH!!!" The crowd shouted.
"So put it all together, my friends! Think about the prophecies that GOD himself has delivered to us in the book of Revelation! Did he not tell us of these dark times we are facing now??? These times of great tribulation??? Come closer, and let me breathe the words of the Holy Spirit into your hearts...so that you may one day be saved!!!"
I turned to Jordan, who was quietly giggling to himself. I said, "He's really giving it his all today, isn't he?"
Jordan smiled. "If you ask me, he's been hitting that liquor bottle a bit harder than usual. It makes him frisky, hehehe!"
Wow....Jordan looks so CUTE when he says words like...'frisky'.
"How can you all NOT see the prophecy unfolding before your very eyes! All four horsemen are here! WAR!!! DEATH!!! PESTILENCE!!! FAMINE!!!! Are they all not the events crushing down us today? From the abominable war overseas, to the outbreak of the virus, to the FEMA train gas houses?" Father Joseph said. "NO redeeming nutrients in our food! Thanks to Codex Alimentarius and their trade agreements! Harmful chemicals! TOXIC! To make us vulnerable to the deadly flu! To keep us SICK! And, here, in the book of Revelation it says quite CLEARLY...'It was in my mouth, sweet as honey...and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was BITTER!!!' THIS is what they have brought forth into our world! THIS is what they use to POISON our Eden! These....DEVILS and their New World Order!"
Jordan snickered even harder, and nudged me with a whisper to mock his voice. "Hahaha...it was in my MOUTH? Sweet as honey? Mmmmm...sexy! Hehehe! What the fuck is he even TALKING about?" I had to elbow him back to keep him from laughing too loud or Father Joseph would hear us and probably target us next for being...you know...wicked.
"It was written that the horsemen would take over a FOURTH of the Earth! Just about the size of the North American Union, don't you think? New World Order, one world currency, GUILLOTINES for the loyal...and the faithful! The mark of the beast is EVERYWHERE!" The preacher shouted from his imaginary pulpit, staring his 'congregation' in the eyes as he made faces to scare them further. "It's all here in the Bible, people! All four riders of the apocalypse! Given power to a fourth of the Earth, to KILL...by SWORD....and by FAMINE...and by PLAGUE!!! The end times are here! Are you prepared to face judgement at the hands of the Lord? Or shall you forever wander...a lost SHEEP...among the horrors that await you in Satan's domain! A literal HELL on Earth???"
I looked around at his flock for a moment to see who was buying Father Joseph's particular brand of conversational 'Kool Aid' today. It was the usual predictable gathering of people, with a few extras. But that number keeps growing all the time. People need something to cling to as times get harder, and we find ourselves getting further and further away from the way things 'used to be'. Religion really does work miracles in that department. I won't deny them that. People who wouldn't have been caught dead in a church before, are now standing close enough to Father Joseph's robe to touch it as he preaches the good word. They close their eyes, and clasp their hands together in prayer, and they absorb every word as if it was a blueprint for everything that's happened in the last few years...and everything that was sure to happen in the near future.
I saw Diana Larson up front, teary eyed as she gave thanks for hearing the spectacular sermon. Mrs. Larson was about as nutty as they come, if you ask me. She's like this skinny little evil chicken-lady, ready to frantically peck and squabble with anybody at the drop of a dime. I see that she dragged her son, Ian, with her tonight, holding him close and forcing him to listen to the sermon by keeping him in a motherly death grip around the neck and shoulders. Ian was only eight years old, with dark brown hair and a huge set of angelic blue eyes that could almost blind you from a distance with their brilliant aquamarine glow. I liked Ian a lot. He was such a carefree little boy, that could play and smile and laugh as though everything was right with the world. It's almost like he's immune to the misery and paranoid structure of this place. My only worry is that his bat brained mother will somehow infect him with her ridiculous ramblings and change him for the worst. She still jumps, twitches, and screams, at every loud noise she hears. And has a teary fit daily over some kind of incident that held all the weight of a single potato chip. But...she did lose almost all of her family in the early days of the culling. So maybe some of that 'freaky deaky' behavior was warranted. Still....sometimes I wonder....if maybe she was once all the way sane before any of this happened.
I also saw Raymond standing there in crowd, his hands in the air, shouting an occasional "Amen, Father!" as the sermon continued. Raymond Sender was kind of like my father was...but on a combination cocaine and RedBull! And without a job or a purpose of any kind to warrant it. Heh...a true conspiracy theorist that took every one-sided DVD documentary and scandalous college flyer to be the absolute truth. From Pearl Harbor, to the JFK assassination, to the UFO crash at Roswell. And now he's pushing religion into the mix. Never a good combination, if you ask me.
Raymond has been a non-aggressive 'revolutionary' of sorts since the World Trade Center went down. Mr. Illuminati himself, looking for hidden symbols, debunking every tragedy myth that ever hit us, trying to get past the subliminal messages in TV and advertising. He saw a sinister plot in just about everything. But with so much stuff, you could never really tell if he was being serious or just cooking up weird scenarios in his head out of thin air. But at the same time, even though he can be a bit of a selfish asshole most of the time, he has a way of making his stuff sound just as real and logical as Father Joseph does. Connecting all the right events to the right theories, adding some real life facts, breaking them down and providing examples...he would have made one hell of a screenwriter or something. But...still, a lot of it is just weirdness, I think. He's the kind of conspiracy nut that makes it harder for the actual truth to be taken seriously. The kind of people they thought my father was. But my dad was no nutcase. That's not what he did it for. My father found a real purpose in what he was doing, and it cost him his life. He wanted to open people's eyes...while Mr. Sender just seems to like all the attention he gets when he's talking out of the top of his head. But at least he hasn't gone completely nuts yet and started firing off pistol rounds at any of the locals, so I'm assuming that's a good thing.
"They want us to believe that the devil's power is GREAT! That we should fall to our knees and beg him for our lives, surrendering our very souls at his feet! To hear him laugh at us, and mock us, with blasphemous pride! I mean, look at all the horrors we may have to face if we don't bend to his will! How can we possibly stand against an adversary soooo powerful? Satan's army is a grand one indeed, and the weakest parts of my spirit are crying out for me to admit defeat before this TITAN of an enemy! But the devil is a DECEIVER! And I tell you now, my children, that he shall get *NO* such satisfaction from me!!!"
"Yes!!! YES!!!! AMEN!!!" The people cheered and applauded in unison. The crowd began to move around a bit more to get closer, and Jordan and I were getting bumped, shoulder to shoulder, as they praised Father Joseph with great enthusiasm. I must admit..I liked the physical contact. I even started to get a little 'excited' down there. Just from touching his SHOULDER...geez!
"Come to glory with me, my brethren! Come...and let us drive these demons back into the despicable lake of fire from whence they came!" Father Joseph spread his arms out to both sides, and closed his eyes as he soaked up all the love and admiration this small tattered troop of followers could give him. I think he really likes being...you know...'worshipped'. And with just a few words, he pretty much gets all the attention he's looking for. Every time. Kinda creepy, in my opinion.
"Yes! AMEN!!! Praise his good name!" The crowd put their hands in the air, as if they could reach up to the clouds themselves. And I think Jordan was getting just as freaked out as I was. This little sermon was taking a slightly 'cultish' turn that we didn't quite want to be a part of.
"You wanna get out of here?" Jordan asked me, and suddenly, I could feel my heart melting like soft butter right there on the spot.
"Um...yeah. O-o-ok...." Jordan smiled, and he turned to kinda worm his way back through the crowd with me closely in tow.
Jordan unfortunately had both of his parents rounded up and 'taken' back in 2011. He had been living all alone since then. Even he doesn't know why they were red listed. Then again, most of the families here didn't know why certain people were targeted, some only semi-targeted, and others weren't targeted at all. The strikes against you could have been something as big as leading one of the riots against the nation's capital...or as simple as surfing the wrong websites on the internet. My father used to tell me, "If you don't think your every action on the internet isn't being monitored and recorded...just look at the advertisements on your screen." Which didn't make much sense to me at first, until one day I saw it for myself. Go to any spot or search engine on the web and look at the advertisements that pop up. Hell, it could be a website that gets a million random hits a day from people all over the globe, and yet they're offering spam coupons for pizza slices at a place just three blocks away from my house. I'd get junk mail with my name, address, and phone number, on it from people I'd never heard of. Hehehe, I even wrote a short story once about vampires...and saw vampire advertisements at the bottom of the screen as I was typing it out. Everything was being watched, catalogued, and spit back at me at the speed of light. All day. Every day. Every last key stroke. Any government spook that wanted access to absolutely everything they needed to know to put me on that red list...all they had to do was type in my name and check my history. Enough red flags, and POW. I'd be hauled away in a dirty old truck, just like the rest of them.
Needless to say...I stopped my online porn habits cold right after that. That was a little something extra that I didn't want my dad to find out about. Or anybody for that matter. It was a secret that I wanted to stay secret for as long as humanly possible. Discrimination against gays was, perhaps, the last 'accepted' form of social torture left.
It wasn't until I was on a little salvage mission into the dead city that I found Jordan on a rooftop, that those gay feelings really began to come on strong again. He was trying to catch some food that would actually do his body some good. Hoping to attract a few birds with a handful of breadcrumbs. We hit it off within the first few minutes, and even though I was practically swooning over him to the point of conversational paralysis...I managed to invite him back to our neighborhood on the outskirts of town. And, lucky me, he followed. Nobody wants to be alone in this mess. Nobody.
Heh...funny thing, this 'apocalypse-in-the-making'. We spent so many years looking for ways to isolate ourselves and stay away from one another. Now that half the world is dead or dying and we've got a shot at the peace and quiet we were searching for in the big city...all we do is seek out more people like us. So we can reconnect again. We never know WHAT we want.
I walked behind Jordan, taking glances down at his butt as we distanced ourselves from that subtle madness. God....he had the sweetest ass. It was really hard to not spring a hair trigger erection at the very sight of it. Thank God for fear induced self control.
"So what happened? Couldn't sleep?" He asked me.
"Nah. Not really."
"Me neither. Bad dreams?"
"No..." I said. "...Actually...it was a pretty nice dream. Popsicles and everything." Jordan grinned a bit, and it made me blush.
"Cool. I should be so lucky." He told me, and that's when we passed by one of the smaller houses with most of the windows broken out. We in the neighborhood call it The Rat House. And yes, the title is to be taken literally. "Come on, let's see what he's up to. I'll bet it's something crazy." Jordan said, and I nodded with a grin. Jordan and I went inside and headed on down to the basement to see our friend, Dirk.
Kirk Durken was older than us by a decade and a half, but he had the mindset of someone years younger than us. Kirk Durken got to be a mouthful, so everybody just calls him 'Dirk'. He doesn't mind. A skinny guy with wiry noodle arms, and bags under both of his rust brown eyes. He was rapidly balding on the top, with only a wild mass of curly brown hair growing straight out on the sides, almost like a Bozo the clown wig. He had wrinkles something awful to only be in his early thirties, and the big goggle glasses and dark gray leathery smock and gloves that he always wore didn't seem to help beautify his appearance any. Everybody else thought he was super weird and stayed the hell away from him. But I kinda liked the weirdness in him. Deep down he was no different from any of the other wackos running around here. Go ahead and be 'bats in the belfry' crazy if you want, as long as it's honest, you know? However...it was a bit harder for people to get past his little town 'profession' here. See...Dirk was our local 'rat breeder', which every small community needs one these days if they want to stay healthy and survive the famine.
Just like Father Joseph said, with very little noise whatsoever...a trade commission named Codex Alimentarius put their part of the Agenda to work for the 'Order' just before everything began to fall apart. The idea of using food as a weapon was thought up over a decade before that, but 2010 was the major blow. That's when they secretly declared all nutrients in the food consumed by the public to be illegal. Somehow, they slid bills past us while we were asleep at the wheel, so to speak. Any animal on the planet that was fit for human consumption, now had to go through their irradiation process. Removing healthy nutrients, the vitamins and minerals that we need to survive, and replaced them with cancer causing chemicals and growth hormones. Every last bit of food that was given to us was now useless. Hell, a lot of it was downright POISONOUS to a great deal of the population. Millions died within the first 8 months. You could literally eat to your heart's content...and sure, you FELT like you were full...but the body continued to break down. No matter how much you ate, you were still destined to starve to death. It's a painful way to go, believe me. I've seen it happen plenty of times, right here in our own neighborhood. But at least we're doing a bit better than Detroit. I hear they turned cannibal over a year ago. People are scared to even go NEAR the place. We've been hearing rumors about Ohio too. Wild.
That's where Dirk comes in. Dirk had a collection of snakes in his basement a few years back before the culling started, and he couldn't really afford to keep buying pet mice to feed them all. So he started breeding his own rats at home. Thank goodness for that, because that particular skill pretty much gave us the knowledge on how to get the nutrients we needed. Now...before anyone twists their faces up and thinks, 'Ewwwwwwwww...you eat rats???' Let me just say...
Yes...we eat rats.
Sounds gross, but it beats the alternative. Dirk kept nearly 800 rats in floor-to-ceiling racks that he could slide in and out to feed and breed the little buggers. Big FAT rats from down in the old Chicago subways. Those things could grow almost to the size of a freakin' Chihuahuah the way he feeds them. But I guess the fatter they are, the more meat there is for the rest of us. Rats, squirrels, pigeons...it's the only living food left for us to hunt really. That, and whatever stray household pets that we find wandering the streets. Sometimes we get really lucky, and come across a rabbit! And rabbits are like...UNICORNS to us these days! Hehehe, if you see one, and actually catch it for dinner...it's like this huge honor! Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Day, and a big fat wedding cake, all rolled into one. Raccoons, possums, and skunks, aren't really around anymore. Most people went out to pick them off first. But rats? Rats are always in great supply. They multiply like crazy, they can live off of scraps, and their easy to contain. Thanks to Dirk.
It's not so bad, really. And even though the other food is no good for us, sometimes Darius' dad, Mr. Richards down the block, can mix up regular food with some rat meat and cook it all together to make it taste better. AND give us some nutrients to boot. You get used to the taste pretty quickly. It's the mental picture of you actually eating the meat and muscle of a filthy rodent that takes forever to get rid of. That's the hardest part. The first few weeks...GOD, I wanted to throw up every day. But now...well, everything tastes like chicken.
When Jordan and I peeked into the basement, Dirk was eating a 'rat meat soft shell taco' and jamming to some old B-grade blues music on his mini cassette radio. He was always dirty and greasy looking, no matter what the weather was, wearing a heavily stained wife-beater t-shirt. He always had this perpetual thin layer 'shellac' of coagulated man sweat on his skin. A scent that you could catch a whiff of from across the room. He hardly ever left that basement to see the light of day, so the whole room smelled just like him...mixed with 'rat'. He didn't really get along with anybody in the neighborhood except for the kids and teenagers anyway. Other than us, I guess all he really needed was his music and his four legged fornicators. One in particular...a fat black rat that seemed to keep itself cleaner than Dirk did, was his best friend. He named him 'DaVinci', and he had somehow trained him to sit peacefully on his shoulder by feeding him small chunks of cheese that he kept in his shirt pocket. How one rat got to be favored among the other 799 of them, I'll never know. But...I guess you can't turn down a loyal friend when you meet one.
Jordan grinned at me as we saw Dirk zestfully playing air guitar to the blasting bar room blues music, and drinking a bit of old liquor out of a metal flask. "Doo doo doo doo, let it ROCK! Doo doo doo doo, let it ROLL! YEAH man!" He said, his dark stained teeth presented through one of the biggest carefree smiles in the world, armpit hair reaching out like Mrs. Larson's hedge bushes. Jordan and I began to giggle, and Dirk turned around and saw us, jumping in shock! That just made us both burst out laughing as he attempted to straighten up. His Southern twang seemed to get SO much stronger when he was drinking. "Jesus!!! What the hell, man! You two scared the PUS out of me!"
"Sorry, Dirk." I said, and we came down the rest of the steps to immerse ourselves in his little world beneath the town. "Hehehe, what the heck are you doing?"
"Jammin', baby! When the world stops makin' the music we wanna hear, we've gotta make our own. You know what I mean, piglets?" He looked at Jordan, and offered him the flask. "You looking for a swig today, baby bear?"
"Yuck, hehehe, no thanks."
"Suit yourself. More for the king." Dirk said proudly, and lifted the metal flask to his lips to take a few swallows. Then he lowered it, and gave us an animated shiver. "Wooo-HOO! Good shit! I'd offer you some, Noah, but your momma would drag me out in the street and whip me good."
"S'ok. I haven't eaten anything yet tonight anyway." I told him, and that made him smile.
"Ahhhh...well, I'll tell you what. I've got a nice CHUNKY one for ya back here, that's just about seen her last days of breeding. You want me to tell Mr. Richards that you've got you a special order for the mornin' meal? He's gotta clean and skin her though. I plan to be too drunk to do it myself by the time the feeding hour rolls around."
"Sweet!" I said, then faded my smile a bit to make sure I still looked..you know...cool for my favorite boy. "You....you wanna share it, Jordan? Just you and me? We can like...'take it somewhere' or something. It can just be us two." But looking at the expression on Jordan's face, I could tell that it still kinda bothered him to think about it. I mean, he was eating pigeons before, but I guess it was easier to believe that it was just another bird. I mean, his 'anti-rat' face was quite evident, even though he tried to hide it.
Dirk spoke up. "Ain't nothin' to worry about, Jordan. Mr. Richards will mix it up nice for ya. Some spices, some lemon juice, a little butter and breading...you'll hardly recognize the taste. He can stir in some of that old processed hamburger meat, you won't know the difference."
"Yeah, I guess." Jordan said softly, and he kinda backed away as Dirk reached in one of the pull out racks and took out one of the biggest damn rats I had ever seen. "What the HELL, dude???"
"Hee hee hee! I TOLD ya she was a beauty! Didn't I?" Dirk chuckled, the rat kicking and squirming in his hand as he put it down into a large Tupperware bowl for carrying, sealing the lid tight. "You take this on up to Mr. Richards, and tell him I said not to scramble it up for anybody but you two! Got me?"
"Sure thing!" I said, and then heard the door open above me. I looked to see my best friend Milo stumbling his way down the steps. Following me as usual, no doubt.
Milo was even younger than Jordan. Only 13 years old himself, about four months away from his next birthday. Milo had chin length brownish blond hair, and a pair of glasses. Luckily for him, he's not completely blind without them though, because the lens over his left eye is severely cracked, and basically just held together with clear tape. He spends more time lifting his glasses to look at things than he does actually looking through his prescription lenses. I've kinda gotten used to him having that habit. Just like I've gotten used to his many hits off of his inhaler. Milo's asthma can get to be pretty severe on certain occasions, but after cleaning out a pharmacy near town, we all made sure to get him enough prescription inhalers to last him for quite some time. It's not an infinite supply, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now he's fine. Although, if you ask me...the asthma just comes from talking too damn much. Like...ALL the time! There's more useless information in that head of his than there was on all of the internet. I swear.
Ever since his parents disappeared, he's basically become my adopted little brother. So maybe it's natural for me to be annoyed by his presence from time to time. Especially when Jordan's around.
"Milo, what are you doing here?" I asked him.
"Darius said he saw you guys come down here? What are you doing? You left without telling me. Cool music, Dirk! Hi, Jordan!" He rambled.
"Hey, Milo." Jordan grinned.
"I just...wanted to go for a walk, Milo. That's all." I said.
"Cool. Can I come?"
"No!" I told him. "I wanted to clear my head. So...I kinda wanted to be alone."
"Oh. Ok." Milo said, and then turned to Jordan. "What about you, Jordan? You wanna hang out or something?" Arrrgh!!! When I said I wanted to be 'alone', I meant I wanted to be alone with JORDAN, you goofball!
"I don't know." Jordan looked at me, "Did you really wanna be alone, Noah? I mean...I don't wanna..."
"No. No. Just forget it..." I sighed in frustration.
Milo lifted up his glasses and squinted as he looked at the Tupperware bowl. "Whoah! That's a MONSTER rat, Dirk!!!"
"Damn straight!" Dirk said proudly. "And if you come back in about a month, I've got a male that's eatin' and growin'...I'll bet he'll be even BIGGER when he reaches maturity! I'm saving THAT one for me! I'm making up a recipe for him right now! Make it like....like a stew or a gumbo or something!"
"Awesome!" Milo grinned, walking around to tap on some of the rat racks for some curious reason.
Figuring that my short blessing of privacy with the boy of my dreams was OVER, I just wanted to leave. Trying to shake Milo would be an impossible task without me coming right out and saying, 'YOU...go THAT way! And me and Jordan...will go THIS way!' Which would cause Jordan to ask questions that...sighhh...I just wasn't ready to answer yet. I mean, I'm gonna tell him. I AM! Just....not yet. Saying I love you doesn't come any easier now than it has through the last few billion generations of nervous gay teenagers. So don't expect me to feel guilty about it.
"I'll catch ya later, Dirk." I said with a bit of a groan.
"Yeah! Catch ya later, Dirk!" Milo repeated, practically clinging to my leg as I headed to the stairs.
"Ooh, ooh! Hold on, Noah." Dirk said, skipping over to the corner. He reached in a cardboard box, and pulled out a somewhat raggedy old doll with long blond hair. "I found this in one of the closets upstairs in the old house when DaVinci got stuck between the walls. I figured it might make a nice little doo-dad for Anna. Might help her feel better."
"Wow, really? Thanks, Dirk. I'll give it to her right now." I smiled. People might treat him like a freak, but Dirk really did have a heart of gold. More people should be trying to learn from him, instead of trying to avoid him. "You're so kick ass, dude."
"Shhhh, we'll keep that our secret." Dirk snickered. "Otherwise, the whole WORLD'S gonna be wantin' a piece of the 'Dirk Man'! Now go on, piglets, get outta here! I've got another show to play!" And with that, he turned the music back up, and went right back to rockin' out as though we weren't even there.
Something about being in that basement makes you really appreciate fresh air. You know? It looked like Father Joseph had finally run out of hot air, which made the midnight streets even cooler. Jordan, Milo, and I, all went back to our little habitat, and hurried down the stairs to see my sister, Anna. I let Milo hold the rat dish, since he seemed to be so fascinated with it, and as soon as my mom saw me, she started to stand up.
"Noah, honey? Watch your sister for a second, ok?" She dusted herself off, dark black circles under her eyes from getting hardly any sleep at all. My sister was soooo sick, and getting worse by the day. We don't even know what the hell it is she's got. It's not like we can just drive on down to the local hospital and get her checked out. My mom stays up with her day and night, unable to do much more than read her stories and cradle her until she goes back to sleep. "Hello, Jordan." She said weakly, as she walked past us to leave the room.
"Hi, Mrs. Kenner." He replied, and watched as I knelt down by my sister's mattress. She was all wrapped up in layers of blankets...sweating, but still shivering. I felt her forehead, and she was burning up. To the point that when she opened her innocent brown eyes...she almost seemed too disoriented to recognize me.
"Hey Anna..." I said quietly, petting her hair. God, her forehead could nearly burn you from it's uncomfortable temperature.
Her throat seemed dry, and I looked to the side of the mattress to give her her water bottle. A single, half melted, ice cube floating in the center of it. She took a sip or two, and then looked back at me. Her eyes finally holding some level of acknowledgement in their child like gaze. "Hi, Noah." She said, and she almost smiled.
"Hey...look what big brother brought ya. Huh?" I took my hand from behind my back, and gave her the doll. I had to literally reach down and put both of her hands on the doll so she could hold it, weakly, in her arms. "Dirk sent it to you. He says he wants you to get better, ok? Maybe it's magic. Maybe it'll make all the bad feelings go away. All she needs is a little love." This time, even through frail and fragile lips, blistered with fever, I saw Anna's eyes brighten up. And a smile spread across her face.
Then...her expression changed, and she began to cough. REALLY cough. To the point of gagging and not being able to breathe. We all looked on helplessly as she choked. And then, without warning, she vomited all over herself and the doll. And promptly began to cry for Mommy.
My mother charged back down the steps in a flash, practically knocking little Milo against the wall, and then brutally pushing me down as she raced to nurture her baby. It was maybe a total of 30 seconds tops, and Anna stopped coughing. It was just one of her spells, but the fact that my mother wasn't right there when it happened seemed to cut through her like a knife. In her panic, my mother yelled at me angrily with teary eyes. "WHAT DID YOU DO???"
"I didn't do ANYTHING, Mom! Seriously, I just...I was trying to make her feel better..."
She looked down and saw the doll in Anna's lap. "What is this???" She asked. "I asked you a QUESTION, Noah!!! WHAT IS THIS???"
"I was..." My voice trembled, my self esteem shriveling to almost nothing right in front of her. "...I was trying to..."
"What did I tell you about bringing things in here from the outside???" She shrieked, and got up from the mattress to grab me by the hair! "Can't you get it through your thick head that your sister is SICK??? INFECTED??? I TOLD you...NOTHING from the outside!!!!" Both Jordan and Milo lowered their eyes and backed away from the situation. And that's when she noticed the Tupperware dish. "Rats??? You're bringing RATS in here now??? Is that where you got this from? From Dirk, in that FILTHY basement! Are you trying to kill us all?"
"I'm...I'm SORRY, Mom!" I winced as her grip on my hair grew tighter.
She realized that she was hurting me in her hysterical state of mind, and let me go. But before I even had a chance to blink, she harshly slapped me across the cheek! It was hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. And to hers as well. But she wiped them away, and stood straight up. "Take this diseased rag doll, and that germ infested rodent, and get the hell out of this house. Do you hear me?" She said. I stared at her in disbelief for a moment, not even seeing a hint of the woman that I used to know before Dad was taken away. And as a silent tear dripped from her eye, she shouted, "GO!!!"
Humiliated in front of Anna, in front of Milo, and....God help me, in front of Jordan...I snatched the vomit covered doll from her hand, turned around, and stormed up the steps while trying my best not to cry.
When I got outside, I took one look at the doll, and in a sudden burst of anger, I threw it over the roof of the house as hard as I possibly could. I nearly dislocated my shoulder, throwing so hard. A hurtful grunt escaped my lips, and I tried my best to suppress the rage of it all as best as I could. The tears pressing so hard against my tear ducts that they burned and ached from the pressure. I stomped to the side of the house, and got the hose to wash the scum and nastiness off of my hands. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed some more...but it was more just a distraction from the pain I felt inside.
When you live in a world like this, when you deal with THIS level of suffering every day, an entire OCEAN of pain is always waiting right there at the gates, ready to flood your emotions and completely take you over the edge at any moment. And something as simple as a slap across the face...puts a major crack in the dam you've built to keep it at bay. If you don't do SOMETHING to repair it, and the levees break...there's nothing left to stop the darkness from swallowing you whole. NOTHING!
"Noah...?" I heard Jordan's voice, but I didn't want to turn around. Nothing hurt me more than having him be there to witness another one of my mother's little stress tantrums. "Dude...it's ok."
"It's NOT ok!" I said, more tears streaming down my face. "I was TRYING to make her feel better! I would NEVER do anything to hurt Anna! She KNOWS that! She's just being a BITCH!" I screeched, still scrubbing my hands.
Milo remained silent, clutching the Tupperware bowl to his chest as Jordan came closer to put a hand on my shoulder. "Noah....c'mon dude...mellow out. K?"
"I'll...I'll be done in a second..." I said with a trembling voice. Please...just, let these tears dry up before I have to look at him again. Please! It felt like I was literally DYING inside at that moment. It was a small situation, but the rest of the world's problems seemed to be attracted to it. And they all came rushing in, to bear their combined weight on my shoulders all at once. I huffed and puffed, attempting to hold the agony inside. Seeing my father carried away to be murdered, seeing dead corpses in the streets, seeing mass graves of bodies and having to smell the burning flesh from miles around, having the ashes fall down on us and having to pretend it was something else, being reduced to eating vermin just to stay alive, running from armed soldiers whenever we go into the city for supplies....it all came back to me in a jumble of images that were almost too much for me to handle. So many dead. So many dead. What kind of world is this? WHY??? WHY???
I began to rock back and forth, my hands never seeming to get clean enough. And finally, Jordan reached over and turned off the faucet. "Noah...it's ok. Alright? It's ok." He whispered softly. And without thinking, I began to sniffle and sob, and then reached my hands up to his shoulders to hug him around the neck. And he just...he let me cry for a few minutes. Only a FEW minutes, as I needed to break away from him before the emotions got to be too great for me to go back to normal. But those little outbursts are needed sometimes. If for no other reason than to relieve the tension of having to hold them in all the time. Being emotionally unstable was not a luxury that we could afford to have.
"Hey, come on. Let's get out of here for a while. We can....go somewhere and maybe wait for the sun to come up. Your mom might be asleep when we come back." Jordan said, and I looked into his emerald green eyes...ashamed for having 'let go' like that. And yet, with a tilted smirk, Jordan showed me no sense of judgement at all. To be cool in front of somebody and have them love you is one thing....but to be flawed....weak...even broken, in front of them, and have them look upon you with a gaze that lets you know that it's truly okay...it's a feeling that would take lifetimes to describe.
"Really? You want to?" I sniffled. "Because that sounds like a hell of a plan to me."
"But, you guys....my watch says it's only 1:30 AM, and the sun isn't supposed to rise until 6:34 AM, which is five hours and four minutes. That's an awfully long time to just go out and..." I literally gave Milo a look that warned him to shut up before I broke the GOOD side of his glasses, and he pouted slightly. But at least he clammed up. It's not like we were extending an invitation anyway. He's lucky that we're allowing him to follow us at all.
"Cool. Let's go." I said, and wiped my eyes on my shirt.
Milo asked, "What about the rat?"
"Take it to Mr. Richard's place for morning food service." I told him.
"Do you guys promise not to leave without me?"
"No..." I told him.
"You guys better not leave! I mean it!" Milo said, now backing away from us in a hurry, before turning around to run the distance to Mr. Richard's house and back before we could get far enough away to lose him.
"You ready?" Jordan asked, and all I could do was nod. God, I was SO in love. Finally...an overwhelming feeling of dread and confusion that I could appreciate.
I can only hope...that one day when I tell him how I really feel....
...It won't be taken away from me.
Honestly, it's one of the only enjoyable things I have left.