So, apparently we were taking a break for the new year. It wasn't intentional, but I didn't publish an installment between Christmas and New Years. Somehow that week got away from me. So, apologies. We are back at it, though, so don't expect anymore breaks until this thing ends. And I hope that when it does end you'll buy a copy of the final version when it goes up for sale. In the meantime, if you are enjoying the story, let me know in the comments. Or if you have any thoughts on what you've read so far, good or bad, let me know that too.
Now, on with our story.
Welcome to the End//Part 12--Resupply
“He’s the one I feel sorry for,” Caroline says. “I’m not old, but at least I had a childhood.”
She thinks for a moment more. “The kind of life I’d expected? Normal. I’d go to college. Get a job. Married. Kids. I don’t know that I’d put many details around any of it, but that’s sort of what I expected.”
“It’s what I wanted too,” I tell her and start fishing around in my pocket for keys. “I wasn’t going to get it unless I quit living the freelancer life. Settle down. Hopefully meet someone else who was settled and our journey would begin.”
I point to a building a few blocks up: “That one’s mine.”
I pull the keys from my pocket and hang the ring off a finger. The metal rattles and Caroline smiles.
“Oh, please tell me that, as the world was collapsing around you, you took a moment to lock up.”
“Shut up,” I say. “It’s habit.”
“You’re such a Boy Scout.”
My complex is in rough shape. Some buildings are gone completely. Others are half of what they were. Mine was lucky. It was hit by whatever it was that fell that night, but it survived mostly intact. There are a couple of small holes in the roof of my place. And one large chunk of roof is missing over what was the bathroom, but the stuff care about -- the stuff I came for -- is mostly protected still.
We take the steps up to the fourth floor. These are the steps I used to unload the truck with all of my stuff when it finally arrived, cursing my choice of the top floor in the complex after just 30 minutes of going up and down and up and down the stairs.
Caroline stood behind me while I unlocked the apartment door.
“Boy Scout,” she said again quietly.
The air inside was stale and everything looked a little different. It’d been weeks since I’d seen the place, and when I had gone back it was only for a few minutes. Wailer activity was still hot through this part of downtown, and I didn’t want to dawdle. Now, it all seems like a monument of some kind. I don’t remember what I was doing the night it all fell apart, but, whatever it was, everything is still where I left it. The apartment is a living snapshot of a moment in time.
There’s a stink from the food rotting in the fridge, and Caroline brings her shirt to her nose.
“We’ll just be a couple of minutes,” I tell her and head to the closet in the hall.
I start pulling items from the top shelf and tossing them toward the couch.
Caroline is looking through my collection of DVDs.
“Interesting choices,” she says, her voice muffled by her shirt.
“It’s eclectic,” I say.
She flops hard into the chair that’s behind her. I see her relax. She sinks into the cushions. “Let’s not go back,” she says. “They’re all grown ups back at camp. They can take care of themselves. Or maybe you carry this one back too.”
I smile at her suggestion. “You’re welcome to carry back whatever you want to take.”
“You’ve already got me carrying a stove.” Her head is tipped back onto the cushion behind her. She has her eyes closed.
“Well, we can always come back. But stay there for a few minutes. I’ve got a few more things I want to go through. If you’re comfortable there I can go do that.”
She waves me away with a lazy hand. “Take your time. Take your time.”
I move to the bedroom and want to fall onto the bed. Instead, I sit at the foot and start going through the bookshelf that sits against the wall. This place was nice -- new when I moved in, but they didn’t waste any of their money by building extra space. The apartment is tiny. MOst of my stuff ended up in a storage unit across the highway. I’m sure it’s all beaten to hell by now considering what happened to the overpasses nearer Fair Park.
I start pulling titles off the shelves and flip through the pages. I don’t know what I’m looking for. Money? Bookmarks? Reminders of what life was?
I toss a couple of so-called classics behind me, wondering again, as I did when I read them, who made that distinction. Was it just one of those lies that, if repeated enough, become true. These books were a lot of things -- heavy, verbose, confusing -- but they were far from good. But that’s me and my weird tastes. I like something smaller.
I move to the second shelf and grab a couple real classics. My favorites. Both books found on a discount shelf that won’t be taught in any college classroom, but found me at just the right moment. I’d been absorbed into those pages, becoming the main character. Living those stories. I sit the books on the bed next to me and grab one last volume. The Bible that my grandmother had given me. It was tattered and dog-eared from summers spent at camps and weekends in services, but it hadn’t been used near enough recently. But it too often takes moments like we’d been living for the last months to make you realize that. I add it to the top of my pile and move to the closet. Besides, If JR is right, I don’t want to be the only member of the congregation without my own copy of the good book.
There are a couple of pictures of my folks on the bookshelf too, and I grab those.
At the closet, I start throwing clothes into a pile on the bed.
“Wow. Fashion plate.” Caroline is in the doorway.
“We aren’t taking it all.”
“I’d hope not.” She steps to the bed and starts pulling shirts off the pile and holds them up.”
“You know,” she says. “You actually have good taste.”
“Well the beaten Army jacket is nice, but what can you tell from one jacket?”
“I clean up nice,” I say and toss three more shirts onto the pile.
I start sorting the shirts, anything that buttons up the front goes into one stack. Anything I can pull over into another. Caroline starts to help.
“Anything with buttons stays here,” I tell her. “I’ll grab a few of the others to wear. We’ll use the rest for emergencies.”
She keeps sorting and I go through the pants still hanging in the closet. I’ve told myself that I’ll reserve half my pack for clothes. That should mean about three pairs of pants. I grab the three best pairs of jeans I can find and grab a fistful of the t-shirts. I carry them to the living room to load them in my pack. I grab a plastic trash bag from under the kitchen sink and Caroline shoves the rest of the shirts inside.
I start to load the camping gear that I’ve thrown onto the couch -- mostly cooking gear, travel pots and pans and silverware. That’s when I hear something I haven’t heard since the attack. Caroline hears it too, and we both look toward each other then move to the window. I pull the blinds, and that’s when we see it. Rain.