It’s my survival philosophy to avoid other people, wild animals, fires, and other natural disasters. But I’m a fucking voyeur. I heard sounds, looked for them, and started watching.
I was on top of a mall. The malls have been pillaged, and more than a few were kissed with fire and destruction, a natural target representing the corporations and greed that people blamed for the collapse. The malls that survived are often like little town-forts. This one was a little bit of collapsed ruin and town-fort. Bowie and I went to the roof for a few days of rest and recon before resuming our road trip.
It was on our third and final day when we heard the noises. The noises were coming from the mall’s eastern parking lot. Most of the noise came from a female source and could best be described as screams and pleas. That’s probably what prompted Bowie and I to take a look.
Bowie said, “Woof.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” Bowie believes in protecting others. He’s a big, gracious beast, with a lot more manners and empathy than me.
“Woof,” Bowie said with a firmer, sharper intonation.
“I hear you,” I said, “but you know our policy.”
Employing my binoculars, I watched the scene and listened to the noise. Clearly, these four men had grabbed this female, who looked like a sixteen-year-old, and planned to rape her. She was fighting back. From their laughing and gestures, they seemed to think her cries and fighting were comical.
“Woof,” Bowie said again. He looked at me.
“All right, all right. I know I’m going to regret this.”
Unslinging my Waxman, I brought up the scanner. The five bodies below were found. I targeted all of them and then deselected the girl. Two seconds of debate were embraced as my mind hovered over kill or sedate? Being a compassionate idiot, I chose the latter, pushed the button, and released the fledges. They went with a sporting hiss and struck within a few seconds.
Down went the four. Hooray for my side. Relieved from being hit and raped, the girl scrambled to get the hell out of there.
“Our work here is done, Bowie,” I said. The tranqs would keep those four down for about twenty to thirty minutes, depending on a lot of factors. I figured the clock was running. “Time for us to exit Dodge.”
“Woof,” Bowie said.
Hearing a shout from another part of the parking lot, I whirled. Someone had seen me. Hello, shit. The Waxman was employed again. But then, there were others out there looking up and pointing. Some pointed with hands and fingers. Others used weapons. Arrows flew toward me. The pop-pop of automatic weapons followed.
None reached me but now the roof was a dangerous fucking island. “Let’s go, Bowie,” I said. “Let’s make like a bandit, and git.” Bowie, being smarter than me, was already on the move for the path we’d used to come up.
We had to move fucking fast. Folks might be stupid in this raw, new world, but someone would say, “How’d he get up there?” Someone else would know that we used the pile of junk stacked against the mall’s entrance by Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Leaving precious stuff behind, Bowie and I ran hard. I was ruing my intervention because of the stuff I was leaving behind, but, come on, civilization had already collapsed too much. I wasn’t going to countenance more collapse by sitting idly by while men raped a girl. If death was what I had to pay for my noble stupidity, c’est la vie.
Bowie and I made it down the rickety pile of wreckage but shooting arrived as we reached the bottom. Grabbing Bowie, I hauled myself back behind a line of scorched, toppled refrigerators as rounds made discordant sounds on the junk. Looking through a gap between the fridges, I saw a charging mob. I fired the Waxman and realized it remained on sedative. That was about all the time I had because noises behind me revealed that I’d been outflanked. Another mob was charging my position from the rear.
“Take them alive,” an ugly blond woman shouted.
Should have killed them all, I thought as Bowie launched himself, and then a shit-storm hit, and it all went black.
I apparently lived. I awoke in a silent pool of sunshine. But, as a corollary piece of the environment, I was on a bed and the sunshine was streaming in through a window. The window was above a petite tan sofa. Looked like leather. Sitting up to color in more, I found Bowie beside me on the bed. Good, I thought, but then had to deal with a headache that attacked when I sat up. Sitting up had not been a good idea.
Alas, I’m a stubborn shit (my mother was a stubborn shit, and my father was a stubborn shit, to paraphrase some Richard Pryor lines in Stir Crazy), so I didn’t lay down or do anything to appease my pain. Bowie was bandaged in several places but awoke at my touch, releasing me from a dread that he was dead.
I – we – was – were – on some elevated bed in a small room. The sunshine came through a window to my left. All I saw were sun and clouds. I jumped down off the bed, a movement that required me to pay a toll of dizziness. Bowie was up and wanted down, so, teeth grit, I helped him to the floor. He immediately sank down to rest on the blue carpet.
That’s what I should have done, but that window attracted me. I crossed to it and looked out, confirming, yep, I was in something that was airborne. It was pretty impressive. I’d flown back in the days when we’d had the means. I’d never been on any aircraft that was this smooth and quiet. I’d never been on anything, including car, train, and boat, so smooth and quiet.
I stared out the window for several more minutes, mostly because it let me minimize my movement, which assuaged my headache, but also because I was curious about our airborne location. I could see a shore and water, and buildings in various states. I’m not an expert but I don’t think we were higher than a few thousand feet. We weren’t moving fast, not even as fast as a jet on final. After satisfying my headache, I checked on Bowie, confirming he still lived, and looked around more.
There was a television, Keurig, and small refrigerator and microwave. I also found a pocket door. Behind it was a shitter, sink, and mirror. The mirror showed my familiar, weathered mug, matted hair, and thick beard. It also showed some cuts and scabs. Feeling my head as I checked my reflection, I found a knot behind my right ear. It was tender and wet, so I kept touching it and wincing from pain, because I’m stupid like that.
Satisfied that I’d been hurt, I resumed my room inspection and saw a second pocket door. I tugged on it. It remained closed.
“Well, this turned out to be a fine morning,” I said. I knocked on the locked door. “Hello. Anybody out there? Nod if you can hear me.”
I didn’t expect anything to happen. It didn’t. You’d think I’d be happy because I was right, but I wasn’t.
Nothing to do but chill and wait. My patience and willingness to accept whatever happened is probably what’s kept me alive. The frig had Jarlsberg cheese and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I opened a bottle of the second and took the package of the first with me to the sofa.
There was no use in starving and staying sober while I waited. Not if I could help it.