by Micah Clemence
Fallout from Nukes five years ago. Stop of Government four years ago. Decay forces you and Johnny away from the city two years ago. Failure of Johnny’s immune system against infection four nights ago. No antibiotics except at St. Mary’s. No entry allowed past armed guards, perimeter patrol, watchtower, twenty-four hours a day.
Johnny doesn’t build fires. Johnny doesn’t talk quiet enough, so the deer hear you approach. Johnny doesn’t set up the anchors in the ground for the tent. Johnny doesn’t set up the tarp to catch the rainwater. Johnny doesn’t use guns. Johnny doesn’t set up traps for mice, for rats, for rabbits. Johnny doesn’t catch a shot to the chest from a .45 that is stopped by your only Kevlar® vest, and Johnny doesn’t jump the shooter when they come to loot your still very living body. Johnny’s never killed anybody. Johnny isn’t strong. Johnny doesn’t have what it takes to survive.
You don’t need Johnny to survive.
Johnny’s missing all the color in his face. Less than a bottle of breath produced in a day from Johnny. Can’t sit up anymore. Unconscious longer each day. Won’t make it without antibiotics.
Can’t get to St. Mary’s without a car. Can’t get a car anywhere but Maude’s Junk Palace, and can’t get a car there unless Maude’s asleep. Can’t be seen or else Maude will send people later.
Johnny’s gone from the world of the awake. Never quiet, the low groan of interior bubbling lungs. Lack of light in the basement makes Johnny a rattling ghost.
You didn’t save the Sharp boom box combination CD and cassette player from the old house. You didn’t find a copy of Monster Hits! from Sesame Street outside an abandoned car filled with old VHS tapes and trade your damn water bottle for it when some other vagrant—which we all are now—got to it first. You didn’t watch Johnny when he cooked, but the food tasted much better when he did. You didn’t cry when you both found a mother rabbit in the trap and little kid rabbits cowering outside it. You didn’t cry when you pulled the broken Kevlar® off and the rotten peach bruise bullet stamp was revealed.
Johnny’s not waking up and it shouldn’t bother you, shouldn’t be an issue, still breathing. Antibiotics can help with severe pneumonia. Don’t be pneumonia. Not pneumonia means no antibiotics, no trip to St. Mary’s, no fighting the guards, no running through the hallways looking in cabinets while the siren sounds outside, no listening to the nail bombs you’ve set in the hallway to slow them down and of which you only have three left, no leaping from the third floor when you’ve found the medicine but you’re cornered, no broken ankles flooring the pedal of the stolen car from Maude’s, no sweating from the pain of using limbs that are not matched up the right way, no coming home to probably find Johnny is dead anyway. Not pneumonia would be much better.
But Johnny’s not recovering.
You won’t remember the words to “Take a Chance on Me” past the part where it goes, “When the pretty birds have flown.” You won’t sing harmony without a reminder of where the fifth of a note is—you still don’t know what that means. You won’t laugh when you are on the hunt and Johnny is doing a very accurate Ernie and Bert. You won’t get back to the basement and say, “Hey, I’m home!” really loud when you open the door. You won’t watch obscure VHS tapes alone. Not alone.
You won’t live with Johnny dead.
No one awake at Maude’s. No one becomes three, four people when you hot-wire the truck. Less than thirty meters between you and the pursuing vehicles (three). No space between pedal and the floor. No time to deal with these clowns. No one will follow you into the forest. No less than three cars do. No one inside the white Mustang survives the crumpling against an oak you see in the rearview. No one should ford the river. No looking back at the sound of muddy tires of the surviving car, still following. No crying as you hear Johnny’s rattling ghost in your head. Less than two miles to the hospital. No breaking eye contact as you wave to the guards (three on the ground, one in the tower) and signal that there’s someone behind you. No acknowledging their questions as you tell them the car behind you has a car bomb, something about needing to talk to their boss. No flinching as you hear the tower guard open fire on the pursuer, no thinking twice as you take the pistol from your bartering backpack and discharge twice per distracted guard on the ground and once into the man in the tower. No time to be surprised that this is working.
No surprise that you get out of the hospital with more than broken ankles. Can’t afford to think about the man from Maude’s that followed you into the hospital, can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel from blood loss, can’t afford to look cool so you are yelling at yourself in the car and not thinking of your pursuer who’s either alive or dead in the hospital behind you. Less than three miles to the basement now. Less than three minutes if you floor it. Less than the length of one segment on Monster Hits! Don’t smile until you hear Johnny’s rattling in the house, don’t trip walking in the door because you might not get back up.
Say, “Hey, I’m home,” so that Johnny will hear you, say it real loud, say you’ve got antibiotics.