Please support the Nifty Archive with modest or generous donations.
letters please jet2larkin [ at ] g mail [ d o t ] com
Imagine a world undergoing systemic collapse. Whether it is war, economic depletion or climate change, it really doesn't matter. Lawlessness, privation and death stalk the land. This story takes place 8 or 10 years after, when the survivors are struggling to stay alive in a world that can't seem to repair itself. The population is crashing. It is a new Dark Age.
The Kids at the End of the World by Larkin
Raif lay in the dark room. The mattresses were still pushed together but no one was there except him. The small room was held in dreadful silence because Raif couldn't or wouldn't make the slightest sound. He didn't have a word for the heavy weight that lay inside of him but if he did it would be despair. He hadn't eaten since the last time he had seen Newt and he could not get rid of the image of him in his mind. Raif blamed himself for everything. When it got too much he would sleep for awhile. He opened his eyes, partially at first, and then the realization of all that had happened came crashing back down.. Raif wanted to die...
Raif was suffering. Even in the closed off room, he could sense the sun traveling across the sky, lighting the world along the way and then sinking into darkness. Early morning and evening are indistinguishable and unimportant.
His last ray of hope was Max. "I wish he would come back so I would know." But Max didn't and another day wore on.
The fifth day dwindled into afternoon. Raif heard an intruder in the floor down below. He lay quietly listening. Intruders come now and then but as long as the room door is bolted it didn't matter. He sat up to listen. It might be Max. If it were Max he would have come right up to the door. Raif lay back down hoping the intruder would move on.
"Hey up there, anybody home!"
Raif lay quiet. He heard someone climbing the stairs.
There was a knock. "You in there?"
Raif climbed to his feet and confronted the bolted door.
The voice on the other side of the door said, "I gotta message for ya."
Raif opened the door. It was a woman, older maybe late thirties, slim and not unattractive.
"I got a message from a kid named Max. You know him?"
Hearing this revived Raif and the hope that he might be freed from this terrible state. He frantically pulled her into the dingy room.
"You look like crap d'ya know that? When was the last time you ate? You better take this. It's a rabbit leg, don't worry, it's only a day old."
She looked around the room and said, "Men! Look at this place. What a fuckin pig sty!"
Raif apologized but prompted her to tell him any news about Max or Newt. She introduced herself as Lucy.
"You know Max don't even know how to write? What a dumb asshole! He wanted me to write for him but I said fuck it and since he did me a good favor I came up here to find you."
Raif said, "What did he say?"
"I live two counties down and that where he run into me. He was in a sorry state and I got him all cleaned up and let him get some rest."
"What was the message!"
"You know, I even killed Reggie so's he'd have something to eat. Reggie is my rabbit.. that's his leg your holdin there."
Raif put it down on a wooden crate.
"Did he say that he saw Newt and the Man that took him?"
She said, "Yup."
"Well, what else did he say!?"
"He said that he figures that those two are headin back to where that guy lived before and now he knows that he can get'em."
Raif was grateful but was beginning to get impatient with the woman. "What's he want me to do."
"I don't know, he didn't tell me what you should do but if you go after him you'll probably criss-cross and miss each other and put alla'yus in more danger and then Max will have to come looking for you. Don't worry about Max, he's got a gun. I can tell, he'll be fine. I got instinct about these kinda things."
"So how long do you think it'll take for them to get back?"
Lucy thought for a moment. "If he got what he's looking for, maybe, ...4 days?" after 6, I'd be worried but I got a 2 day journey in front of me so I better get started."
She only just got here and she was heading back out onto the road. Lucy called after him. "Eat that rabbit leg before it rots, It won't be good for nothin if it does!"
They had stopped for the night to rest but they continued fighting and arguing. Whatever sway Phil had with Newt before he had run away was completely gone.
Newt fired back, "No you shut-up!"
I said Shut-up!
"No, you shut-up!
Like a child himself, Phil fell to his knees and bellowed, "Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!!!!
Newt was feeling that in some small way he was getting the best of Phil, "No you Shut-up!"
"You know what? I fuckin hate you, I'm sick of putting up with you. I should have hung your stinky ass from some tree ten miles back in full view of the interstate!"
They were still in the dark woods off the road by 100 yards. Newt began his screams again. they were not screams of fear but screams to drive Phil crazy and screams for alarm to sound out anyone to come and help.
The ground was covered with dead leaves. A large man and a small boy tied to each other, struggled. Phil came down on the boy and started choking him hard. Newt clawed and squirmed under the weight of the crazed man.
Phil heard something, maybe a twig breaking. He looked up and against the dark blue starry night, he saw a black silhouette. Then he saw a yellow flash. No one will ever know if he actually heard the pistol shot.
The bullet hit him in the forehead but he wasn't dead. He stood up and staggered around like some fearsome monster in a movie. He spoke horrible jibberish and then he ran off dragging a prone Newt along with him and,... ten yards further, he finally fell dead.
Newt ran to the figure and jumped up on him "Max!"
At the same time Max fell to his knees. He was stunned over the fact that he had really killed someone. He never wanted to kill anyone. It was the first time Newt was really crying since his capture. He cut the rope connecting Newt to the dead man and carrying him away on his back, Max refused to look back at the dead man. He didn't bother search the man, he didn't want anything the man had. He turned and walked towards home. Max and Newt were back together and that was all that mattered. He knew that by sunup flies would find the dead man and soon there would swarms of black flies obliterating the idea that Phil had ever existed. It didn't matter because, Max and Newt were alive and they were going to be miles away.
When the sun came up, the two boys stopped to eat the tuna. He gave the cigarettes to an elated Newt. Before he cut the rope from around his neck, Max examined it saw where Newt had tried to gnaw through it during the night. The boy proudly smiled up at him. Max had to admire his cunning drive to survive. They hugged each other and continued on their journey home.
Two more days of waiting and Raif could no longer bear it. He gathered up provisions and started out late that night hoping that he could find Max and Newt. The woman seemed confident that Max was going to be able to find Newt but he wasn't sure and he just didn't know. He headed towards the interstate. It was not safe to travel alone and more so without a gun. To walk down the middle of the interstate made you a target. The only ones that did that were Clan members, armed convoys or stupid people. The best was way through the woods, just out of site of the road.
It was morning when Raif saw them coming over the rise from the old Post Road. The ran to meet each other in a joyous reunion. Such happiness was novel in their lives. It was the profound realization that they were all they had in the world. They spent the day together talking, playing and swimming in a pond that they had found. It wasn't until evening that they started back.
As they got closer to their tumble down house and the overpass and the market where the Soup Mother's set up, they heard shots. The three boys ran around the back of the village to where the elevation was higher and they could observe without being seen.
It was mid-morning that two Vengeance trucks drove into the village. In the back of each truck was 8 to 10 black uniformed men wearing black masks and shades. They drove up to where the Soup Mothers were doing the chores and with the music blasting from their truck players, the men got out and started killing people. Most scattering but they were pursued like quarry in a hunt. These were death squads sent out by Vengeance for some undisclosed retribution. It was old fashion heavy metal music full of aggression and no heart. They were killing everybody. To save bullets the ones that didn't run out of disbelief were hacked to death with machetes where they stood.
As horrible as this scene of death was the boys had no idea that events like this were not unusual. It was the signature of the human animal. You might learn from the past, but all the history books are gone and now few still knew how to read. What do you need history books for? The truth was that this was a common event in the human timeline. From the beginning until today, nothing had really changed. The collapse that brought forth this broken world wasn't any different from the bloodbaths of the past. The human animal is taking natural selection into their own hands.
Raif wondered if Lenny and Clark were down there murdering and killing. He knew they probably were. The boys saw them breaking into their tumble down home and when they came out, they set fire to it along with all the other houses. By early afternoon they climbed back into their trucks and drove away leaving bloody streets strewn with corpses. Raif knew that they were done for the day and that they would not come back. Their work was done. It was over and if you managed to evade them it was your good luck. The killing fever had broken. The boys could go back if they wanted to.
Max and Newt didn't really know what to do. Raif stood up and looked distantly towards the South.
He said, "You know, I've never seen the ocean. They always say it is beautiful."
He looked at Newt and Max and he said, "We're not going back there. We are going on a journey to see the ocean."
They hugged and started walking South, away from the village.
jet2larkin [ at ] g mail [ d o t ] com