Live or Die

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Post Apocalypse, Violent,

Desc: Action/Adventure Story: What if your story's hero is functionally insane? An apocalypse story with a twist.

I woke in the middle of the night with a high-pitched singing noise in my ears. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. It slowly increased in volume until I began to scream. It had to be ultrasonic in nature. It felt as if my mind was being shredded by a cheese grater. I had one strange thought that came to me from college physics--sound propagates differently in water than in air. I emptied the kitchen sink, plugged it and started it filling. It was agonizing to stand there, waiting. I scrambled through one of my two kitchen drawers for a big aluminum slurpee straw that I once bought for no damned good reason. As soon as the sink was half-full I pushed the faucet to one side and plunged my head under the water. Oh, blessed relief! I fumbled with the straw until I lined it up with my collar bone and my mouth, then put it between my teeth.

Agony! Ahh, shit! I raked my hand through the baggies and plastic wrap stored over the kitchen cabinets, then wrapped the straw's mouthpiece in cling-wrap. Once again I shoved my head beneath the water and positioned the straw to breathe through. It worked. I heard a high-pitched chord of notes something like a locust infestation, but that was all. I reached up to turn off the flow of water and stood there in front of the sink with my ass hanging out and my head in a bucket.

I didn't know how long I half-squatted there with my arms braced against the counter. I dozed until I caught myself half-drowning several times. Eventually I began to see something I didn't believe that I ever would again--the light of dawn.

It was several hours later before the noise started to abate. The sun was high, shining deep into my apartment. When I no longer heard the rasping whine I pulled my head from the sink and listened. Nothing. I stripped, dried off and threw more towels on the floor to soak up the water. I looked out my patio door. The ground was covered with the bodies of bats and birds. I slid open the door and listened. Nothing. Was I deaf? I couldn't tell. I walked to my stereo and flipped on the FM. I heard music, but it was muted. I guessed that my high frequency hearing was shot to hell. I consoled myself with the thought that I was still alive to hear anything at all.

I figured that I wasn't going in to work that day. I laughed until I cried.

After I got it together I dressed and fired up my computer. My Internet connection was solid. Whatever it was had hit world-wide. I checked web-cam sites everywhere I could think of. I didn't see any movement. I saw plenty of wrecked cars and uncontrolled fires, but no life.

I sat with my head in my hands. Now what. I made a strong drink and sat out back in the sunshine. I wondered if anyone else near was alive. I didn't hold out much hope until I thought about the local jails and sheriff's lockup. The prisoners were behind six or more layers of concrete block and industrial doors. I'd been in the Juvenile Justice Center to install and maintain computers. I knew how it was laid out. The problem was, how was I going to break in to see if any of the kids made it?

I really should have thought twice about it. I didn't get along with people in general, and I'd been diagnosed as borderline psychotic before. Still, the thought of living alone terrified me.

I had a pretty good idea of how to get in, but it was destructive as hell. I knew where to get a generator and a few cut-off saws. The metal-cutting composite blades were available nearly everywhere. First, though, I needed supplies. I also wanted some back-up! if any of those kids decided to run rough-shod over me I wanted a way to put them down--fast.

Just down the road was a Mercedes Benz dealership. I didn't want a fancy car--I wanted a goddamned delivery van! I figured if UPS, Fed-X and USPS all used 'em, then I'd go for a sprinter van too. I ran my old junker through a couple of doors until I found the key box. A tire removal tool from the shop got me access to the new vehicle keys. I got a long-bed Sprinter van gassed up, then headed down to my friendly neighborhood Lowe's. Man, it was robbery, assault and battery. I walked out with a big-assed tow-behind generator that hooked to the van, a great selection of breaking-and-entering tools, a face mask, a leather apron, gloves and a big draft fan. I gassed up the generator at the station next door.

That wasn't too far from the JJC. It was maybe noon when I pulled into the lot. I said 'screw it' and cut around the big picture window rather than try to defeat the door latch or hinge. I had a couple hundred feet of six-gauge contractor's extension cords with me. I powered through two security doors and a wall between a hallway and the monitoring office. There I managed to figure out the emergency lock release mechanism. I nailed that and grabbed a six pound ring of keys from the body of the poor bastard that had been on night duty. The monitoring office faced the gym. The gym had skylights.

It was an ugly sight. Some of the inmates had ran into the walls until their skulls caved in. Some strangled themselves with pillow cases, socks and bed sheets. Some wings were better insulated than others. The ones that survived the best had huddled together in the bathrooms with towels jammed around the doors. Out of an eight bed facility only twenty four survived. Eighteen girls and six boys. None were older than seventeen or younger than fifteen. They were all pretty shocky. I got them outside with arms full of blankets, still in their blue uniforms and slippers. I stripped the back of the van. Once everyone was aboard I headed for the local Burger King. I figured that if a kid could be taught to work in the place in one shift it couldn't be too hard. After a couple of failures I made up a bunch of Whoppers and watched everyone chow down. I had one myself since noon had come and gone.

I started talking, low and slow. It got their attention.

"I checked the radio. I checked the Internet. I couldn't find anyone. The birds and bats are dead in the streets. Whaddaya wanna bet that pigs, horses, cows and goats are dead, too. We could take a quick trip through a zoo to check, but that's my guess.

That means no more fresh meat. No more milk. No more fresh butter or cheese. None. There should be fish left alive, along with ocean-dwelling animals like sea lions, dolphins and whales.

Imagine people like you, surviving the noise, still left behind bars. Nobody around that knows they're alive. Slowly starving to death in their cells."

One of the guys quietly asked, "Why did you come get us?"

"Reflex. I couldn't live alone. I'd get drunk as hell some day and eat a shotgun barrel."

Another guy, probably illiterate but pretty smart, asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question. "What we gonna do now?"

I leaned over the table with my elbows propping up my head. I face palmed and said, "Fuck all if I know. We need to take over some place with big-assed freezers, clean it out and strip the bejesus out of the biggest supermarkets around." I raised my head, then raised my hand. "How many o'youse can drive a car or truck?" They all sort of eyed each other and tested the waters with a little wave. "For Christ's sake. I'm not asking how or where you learned, and we're not talking Dan Ryan at 4:30 traffic either. How many can drive?" They all grinned and stuck their hands up. "Fuckin' -A. All right, along the same note, anybody here know how to operate a semi?"

A Hispanic girl with bad acne scars grinned and waved. I pointed at her. "Everybody say hi to your new teacher. I hope you're patient because we're gonna need to know what you know, real fast." She looked surprised, then sat up in her seat, pleased.

"If everyone's full, go hit the John and clean up. If you're still hungry I'll burn some more meat." They were satisfied. "Okay, time to hit the road. There's a J. C. Penny's across town. We'll get you all out of those uniforms, then look for a place to stay."

We tore that poor damned excuse for a mall apart. The girls got their earrings back--in 24K solid gold! The stores had been shuttered when the sounds hit, so all the expensive jewelry was stashed away, which bummed them out. Still, J.C. Penny had some pearl necklaces and such that they admired at close quarters. I got everyone dressed and with a spare suitcase of underwear, socks, shirts and pants. I got into the bit too. We'd have to go elsewhere for boots as I was particular about my Redwings. They carried Nike's though, which made me happy.

I knew where there was a Courtyard Inn a few blocks off of Main street. It wasn't too hard to get a hand full of master keys made up so we could take our pick of their rooms. The hot tub got a lot of enthusiastic exercise before things settled down. I stayed back from the frolic. I was too worried about what the next day, week, month and year might bring.

I'd visited a luggage outlet for a nice briefcase, a Walgreens for some spiral bound notebooks and pens, and finally a Radio Shack for a disgustingly cheap but free laptop. I also picked up their best FRS radios for all of us. I was up half the night scribbling and using the motel's WiFi to ask questions. I didn't like most of the answers I got.

I was questioning our survivability. How many years could we live on salvage and foraging? It wasn't the quantity, it was the aging. Diesel fuel would begin to break down within a year unless specially treated. LP gas was available in large quantities (railroad cars), but we'd play hell finding equipment that was set up to run on it. Whatever we did to secure this resource would have to be done quickly.

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Story tagged with:
Post Apocalypse / Violent /