Chapter 15: The Epitome of Other
Prinz Eugen’s one hundred pounds leans into my thigh. The bicycle’s front tire turns in ever-slowing revolutions: faint, drawn-out whimpers of the recently dead. Britt’s crumpled body leaks a congealing pool of blood. Her face is lifeless, but it at least seems content. Four years will do that, welcome death as the peaceful end to a world which has known only struggle and fight and madness. Even though Britt didn’t choose this end, it’s finally over for her. And Billy. Whatever happened to him up in the canyon. Somethings I don’t want to imagine. Somethings, even after four years, I cannot imagine, though I’ve actually seen far worse than what my mind can create.
Shamus stands on the other side of Prinz Eugen. Together, the three of us watch Faye stomping up the road. Though she has been shot and stabbed, she’s got her focused vengeance-walk in high-gear.
“She gonna walk all the way back to Dryden’s den?” Shamus asks. It’s rhetorical, because we know she’s not going to hoof it all the way from here to Brighton. At this point the best thing is to just let her go, burn off the anger and frustration. After her session in the batting cage, lopping off ReaD heads, she’s going to crash when the adrenaline fades. But in her mood and with her temperament, she might make it a few miles before dropping. And she’s already shot one NYD this morning. No reason to add a couple more to the list.
“She always been like this?” I ask.
“Not when I first met her and Holly. She was quiet. Shy. Scared. She let Holly do the talking and the leading. But, well, you know.”
“Yeah. It changes you,” I say.
“Does it? Have you changed?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I keep my eyes on Faye’s back, as she stomps up the centerline. The road is surprisingly clear of debris, other than branches and other scraps of nature. Street battles and Mercedes barricades must not have made to this ritzy semi-private community.
“Nothing,” Shamus says.
I don’t care for the question, or the implication, but what does it really matter? I knew Britt and her kid. I let them go into that darkened warehouse, when I knew it wasn’t the sanctuary it claimed to be. Hell, if I start making a list of preventable deaths, stretching back to the first night outside the Dam-It Saloon, I’d run out of spread sheet cells. And doing any sort of retrospective is pointless, if not self-destructive. Survivor guilt, whatever. It is what it is and Britt no longer is. Along with a few billion others.
I keep my eyes on Faye as the road bends behind a stucco three story house. She disappears. I force myself not to look at Britt’s body.
“Does killing Dryden accomplish anything?” Shamus asks.
“Should we wait for him to kill us? Or to play more games?” I reply. “What happened to saving the world? Or a part of it?”
“Not sure it matters anymore.”
“It has to matter,” I say with a noticeable lack of conviction.
“Were you saving the world while sitting on your porch, drinking beer? While stashing supplies? While hoarding that monstrosity of an escape vehicle?”
“What’s gotten into you?” I ask. Prinz Eugen moves from between us, to out in front. His head moves from me to Shamus and then back again. Both ears are up and his tail has arched. He’s got his disarming doggie-smile going, but I knew it is his in-between expression, waiting to see what will happen.
“This isn’t some bad indie book, where we take a helicopter none of us knows how to fly up to Dryden’s lair and eliminate him with extreme prejudice, probably using canine-saliva filled missiles, or something equally ridiculous. This is us. Three nothing special survivors and a dog. We can’t get close enough to do anything. We can’t fly a helicopter. We can’t do much of anything but enjoy the days we have left. Because, it is only a matter of time.”
I take a step away from Shamus. I don’t hear any buzzing, or feel anything sliding through my brain, but something is definitely amiss.
“What do have against indies?” I ask.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Prinz Eugen’s hair slowly starts to rise. I feel my own hair rising too. This isn’t good at all. I force myself to look down at Britt’s body. Reliving how she shot herself. Did so without any hesitation. Did so almost with a smile on her face. Dryden’s doing. I still don’t sense anything crawling over my lobes. I’m not sure what is going on here, but I’ve an idea.
Suspicion and paranoia. Like from the old movie, The Thing. Isolate us from one another. Destroy our trust. Toy with us. Pick us off one by one.
Or perhaps it is something completely different. Or perhaps this is exactly what Dryden wants. Doubt. Arguments. Dissension. Eroded confidence. Perhaps there really is no way to defeat him and however many more of him there are.
I take several more steps away from Shamus. His eyes remain on the road where Faye disappeared. I need to find a spot, clear my head, think this through.
Prinz Eugen’s head turns to down the road, away from Shamus. His stance goes rigid. I follow his gaze. The three stumbling ReaDs who escaped Faye’s batting cage session have returned. They are standing in the middle of the road, about fifty feet away, gazing at us.
Shamus doesn’t turn around. “You know what?” he says. “The old order is done. The last four years, what we know, what we’ve lived through, what we’ve come to expect, that is all over now. The ReaDs, as you call them, their time is past. Faye knocking their heads off with a baseball bat, that just shows the bodies are wearing out. The New Now doesn’t need them. I don’t even need to look to know those three are going to fall down on their own. The world is different now. And humans like us, we are no longer a threat. We aren’t even worth worrying about, because there’s nothing we can do to fix it or un-do it or change the course. Darwinism at its finest and we aren’t the fittest.”
Prinz Eugen sits. He also senses the ReaDs aren’t a threat. I find it hard to accept things have changed and that powerless, inept humans had nothing to do with it. But at this point I don’t know what to accept or refute or argue. We are not the dominant species anymore. That much is obvious. But do we just give in? Why fight? Why keep struggling when it all is pointless? I’ve already had this debate with myself. At the golf course. But that is what humans do, endlessly debate and then persevere in spite of all the rhetoric. Or so the stories and myths tell us. Except at some point we did go quietly into the night. On that first night, four years ago. However, after all Prinz Eugen and I have been through, all we have seen, all we have fought for, I refuse to believe it is the end. Yet, there is much we tried not to see, and refused to fight for, and lost our faith in. Eight months alone in the bunker gave me a false sense of finality. I was content to live out my life, sitting on the porch, eating canned chili, drinking stale beer. But it wasn’t the end. It never was. And this isn’t the end. This is only a new beginning.
“You can do whatever you want,” I say. “Give up, what the hell ever. Doesn’t matter to me. If it’s even you talking, thinking. I don’t know. But I’m not going to roll over and die.”
Shamus laughs. “Good to hear.”
“I should punch you right in your laughing face,” I say.
“You should. I wanted to know how you felt about things. You are a complacent type. I’m not about to plan some grand scheme with a passive talker for a wingman.”
“So you have a grand scheme up your sleeve?” I ask.
“No. Not yet.”
“Then fuck off with your games and psyche probes. We’ve enough of that without your contributions.” I head back to the house. The three ReaDs continue to stare at me. I’m not sure how I should feel about them or what I should do with them. Times have changed and I’ve obviously not yet caught up on just what is relevant-new and what is useless-old. Prinz Eugen trots at my left side. The ReaDs are on my right. If he perceived them as a danger he would be between us. This is still too much change to digest properly. Too short of a time span. Too long fighting them. I leave Shamus in the road with Britt’s cooling body and her whimpering bicycle and spectating ReaDs and Faye’s marching shadow and anything else lurking in the remnants in humanity’s collapse.
Once in the backyard, I slump into the Adirondack. Prinz Eugen sits next to me, his head at armrest level. I scratch his ears. He gazes at me with big brown eyes. The tip of his salami-like tongue rests between bottom teeth. There’s a smile somewhere in that look. I smile back at him, though I don’t feel happy.
“So what are we going to do?” I ask. He places one large paw on my knee. “What we’ve always done? Wing it and hope for the best.” He taps my thigh a couple of times, leaning closer into the chair. “Yep, what we’ve always done. Good, bad, and other.” I wrap him in a one-armed hug. He licks my face when I bend down. “We are the epitome of other.” I say.