Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Shelter, Katy Comber

Nomads, Installment 1
By Katy Comber


“This will be our shelter for now.”
I look at the camper. Metallic. Round. There’s a reason Bill likes it. Tattered curtains.
“I can fix those.” As with every move, my mind jumps into inventory mode, “The dresses Cola left behind?”
“Use ‘em.”
“Rusted door… hmm. James can fix that.”
“The cinder blocks are crumbling on one side. There’s a junkyard east of here.”
“I saw it.”
“We’ll go there after the post.”
“The post? How much do we have?”
“Well, with Cola and her kid gone we have two less mouths, so that should help. The trade post’s a quarter of a mile from across the lake.”
“How much do we have?”
He doesn’t meet my eyes. This question. It rakes the inside of my throat on the way out. Sometimes words have claws and teeth: animals that attack because it’s in their nature. This constant question is such creature. I see the question slap Bill for ignoring it the first time.
“Enough.” This word hisses a warning. My creature backs off. For now. I swallow other words, my mouth dry, and wonder silently about water. The stiff rotting smell of algae lingers over the lake. Drinking from that is not an option; besides, Cola took our filter. Bill paces over grass until his feet sink in the muck of lakewater and soil. The sounds of mud sucking at Bill’s feet lifting in and out of the gray make my stomach churn. This will be the sound of my temporary home. I try to focus on finding better sounds, but Bill clears his throat and orders me to dig through what we have and make a list of anything we might need.
“I can tell you now. We need--”
“Just dig through. Will you? Then make a list.” There is the hiss. It will be weeks before his voice cools, and by that time we might have to move again.
Shuffling through the trunk of the camaro does not change the mental tally I had before Bill ordered me to go through it, but the task calms me. Possessions do that. Knowing every object we’ve collected on our way, every dent, every smell, every sound of certain things clanging and clattering as we drive--for the past ten years, these things are my only real sense of home. Whenever we find something new, I study it. I memorize its grooves and textures as I clean and fix it up to meet our needs. This is my job.
My eyes scan the trunk and the milk crates that divide all our supplies into the categories of our entire existence. I imagine a museum exhibit dedicated to us, the modern human nomads, curated with a sense of bewilderment at the things we now consider precious to our survival. If there were museums left, anyway.
I feel the shock and rumble that haunts me whenever a memory dares to come... My little hand is held by someone taller and this someone is wonderful and I love her and her eyes and my eyes are the same and she points at something in the sky and her hand tightens and pulls and loosens and she is gone but the hand stays in mine, detached and purposeless. There is rumbling. There is shock. There is darkness. There is Bill, James, and Cola pregnant with her nameless kid. There is survival.
I swipe at my eyes and tug at the ring dangling from my neck. This memory is not welcome. Inventory. I focus and spot the nearly useless radio scanner in the blue crate marked SEARCHING. James staggers behind me and curses as he slips and slides in the impractical shoes he took from a dead man 452 miles ago.
“Heya, Maggs. Taking inventory?”
“A’yup. Orders from Bill.”
“That camper’s a pit.” James reaches into the milk crate marked TOP 5 and grabs a can of WD-40 from under a large pile of duct tape and a couple packs of needles.
“It’s shelter for when night falls.”
“Whatever.”
“Would you rather take your chances, James?”
“Cola…” his voice cracks and drifts. I can see the rumble and shock haunt James too.
“Just because she and Kid left--”
“Yeah. Yeah. I know. She’s probably fine. Kid too.”
“The showers haven’t been too bad in their section. I was thinking of pulling out the scanner before you wandered over. Maybe we can check?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Great idea, Maggs. Okay. Ohhhh. Kay.”
“James?” I search his face. His unkempt beard hides most of it, but his eyes are glazed and dreamy.
“I needed it, Maggs.”
Fury boils deep inside me. I try to look down in the hope that inventory will have its sedating effect, but I can’t take my eyes off James. His shirtsleeves, the ones he always has tightly rolled up his forearm, are down. I rush to him and yank them up to see fresh marks up and down his pale skin. “You? You traded?”
“They only wanted a pint for it, Maggs. I swear. Only a pint. With Cola gone--I needed it. Maggs try to understand. Maggs?”
I stop listening after I hear his voice whining her name, sprint back over to the camaro’s glove box, and punch in a code Bill uses when he thinks I’m not looking. The door of the compartment pops open and there it is, two glass vials. One of Bill’s and one of mine. Our blood. Somewhat fresh and the only thing left to trade for human food and filtered water. Bill’s frustration makes complete sense now. We are screwed.

To Be Continued...

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