The cabinet door was stuck. With a rough tug the door flew open and its contents fell onto the vanity below causing a crash that made Luke flinch. Loud noises brought attention. Attention brought bad things.
Looking over his shoulder he saw the small face looking at him curiously, wondering at the noise. "Everything ok?" Matt asked quietly.
"Yes," Luke spat between clenched teeth.
He rifled through the contents of the cabinet and picked out the useful items. A tin of bandages, a half-used tube of toothpaste, a couple of lightly rusted safety pins, an out-dated bottle of Aspirin, and a half used bottle of rubbing alcohol. He stuffed them in his pack and moved to drawers.
Toilet paper had long since been shredded by mice, which had long since died as well. He found a sealed pack of baby wipes which still felt like it contained most of the liquid and shoved that in his pack as well. Matt watched by the door, looking for some sign that they had been followed or observed. He grasped the little sawed-off shotgun as if it meant the difference between life and death. In many ways it did.
Luke continued poking through corners and cabinets, drawers and closets, looking for anything that might be of use. The bedroom contained the house's former owner or at least last resident. It appeared that he had chosen the easy path. Luke had already extracted the slightly rusty pistol from the dried out skeletal remains.
They went room to room, picking, searching, hoping. A few supplies could make the difference between suffering and thriving, and a few cans of food could make the difference between living and dying.
They worked over every inch of the house, finding bits and pieces that they could use. They removed anything that wasn't nailed down, looking for stashes behind furniture, under drawers, anywhere. The jackpot came when an old area rug under an equally old kitchen table was removed. Beneath it, set into the floor-boards was a cellar door.
Luke pulled at the inset handle and the door refused to budge. He tugged harder, yet the slab of oak refused to budge. He pulled and pulled, his knuckles growing white and his face growing red.
Finally when it felt as if the sinews and muscles in his arm were about to snap, there was a groan. It emanated from the hinges and as Luke was able to get his fingers below the leading edge of the door it grew into a screech. Looking around he noticed a bottle of cooking oil which he had noted was rancid earlier. He pried off the cap and poured a bit on the offending hinge. A little wiggling and the screeching was silenced. A bit more and the door came open much easier. He peered into the darkness below.
Matt pulled out the tiny keychain flashlight that they had found several weeks before. He handed it to Luke and once again checked out the nearby windows for signs of life. Thankfully there were none.
Luke advanced down a stairway so steep that it logically could have been called a ladder. He brushed cobwebs out of the way and advanced slowly, watching his step. One wrong move could be costly in time and health. He glanced up toward the opening where Matt peered down curiously before stepping out across the damp stone floor.
Something rustled in the corner and Luke shone his flashlight toward the sound. It had been so long since he had seen a living creature that the sight of the little mouse downright frightened him.
It was starving, same as them. It had apparently subsisted on bits of grain in a bag of what appeared to be grass seed, but it looked skinny and malnourished. He could count the ribs on its tiny body.
Any time before perhaps the last three years Luke would have tried to capture or kill the rodent as human beings had done for millennium; treated it as vermin. But times being what they were he couldn't bring himself to destroy another life if he could keep from it.
Having surveyed the little cellars other occupant Luke turned in another direction, swinging the little orb of light in his fingertips around to face another wall. He stopped. A lump formed in his throat. A sigh escaped his lips. Not a sigh of frustration, but one of relief.
"Matt," Luke called, his voice just above a whisper.
The boy peeked over the edge toward Luke. "Yes?"
"Look at this," Luke said quietly. He felt a tear roll down his cheek, such elation at their find. God bless grandmothers and their fascination with canned vegetables.
The wall before him was covered from floor to ceiling with shelf after shelf of mason jars. Each jar contained some kind of fruit or vegetable from what he could tell. They had been subsisting on boiled oats for over a month, so the wall before him looked like a glittering city of gold. He felt like he had just found the golden ticket to the chocolate factory.
"Bring the wagon in if you can," he called up the stairs. Matt nodded and disappeared. A few moments later he heard the wheels of the little radio flyer wagon roll across the floor of the old farmhouse. One at a time, very carefully, Luke began passing the jars up to Matt. Matt with equal care sat the jars into the wagon one at a time.
Luke noticed a jar of peanut butter on one side and opened it. He dipped his finger in and shoved it in his mouth, sighing with elation at the taste. He looked into the darkness toward where he had seen the mouse. Without a second's thought he stepped into the corner and placed the jar on its side against the floor. He watched as the mouse scurried up and began nibbling on the edge of the jar.
"Good luck to you," he said.
They couldn't haul much at once but could carry more than enough for a week or more. The trick would be getting it all home without breaking a jar or two.
An hour later they walked along a desolate roadside. The pavement was cracked and the asphalt had bubbled and run in several places. This made the going with the little wagon somewhat treacherous.
It was night-time, but that fact was easy to miss by the amount of light in the sky. The lights of the Aurora Borealis, unofficially the "northern lights," lit the sky to an almost daylight. The term Northern lights referred to their appearance near the north pole. Since the sunspots had begun the Aurora had cast at least a twilight glow from pole to pole, if not out and out daylight. But the brightness of night was nothing compared to the brightness of day.
"It seems dimmer tonight," Luke commented quietly. Matt nodded silently. He wasn't much of a speaker and tended to express himself in gestures. That came from growing up under the constant fear of attack.
Luke sighed and pressed on. They were about an hour from home still, carrying and pulling their cargo of food as quickly and quietly as possible. After a time they came down a narrow canyon road alongside a free flowing stream. It wound back and forth, clogged with the mud from countless rainstorms. The water was yellow and contained no life that was evident. Luke knew from detailed observations that there was still life everywhere. There just wasn't enough of it.
It was where the water went under the roadbed that they departed from the pavement. There was a rocky outcropping which served to hide their tracks from anyone which happened by. With so few higher life forms left there wasn't much that would notice their tracks except others like them. And some of the others like them were less scrupulous about what they killed and ate. It made for a dangerous environment. No longer a dog-eat-dog world; it had disintegrated into a man-eat-man world.
They walked through the water under the bridge to the flat bottomed boat that was tied there in the shadow and as carefully as before transferred all of their wares into it. Then with slow deliberateness they began pulling the boat upstream, staying in the shallow channel to mask their passing. A half-mile upstream they passed a small house and barn. The shingles had melted almost completely off of the house and the exposed metal of the barn was bluish from the prolonged heat. Luke looked toward the house, his eyes finding the three little crosses near the old root cellar. He bowed his head in silent reverence and swallowed deeply, as if to swallow back the emotion he felt every time that he thought of them.
Heads bowed they continued on, another few hundred yards the canyon got very narrow. Here and there vegetation still grew, untouched by sunlight. They rounded a curve and Luke felt for the fishing line that had been strung across the stream. It had been put there to serve as a warning if anyone or anything had managed to make their way up the stream. From here there was no other way in. Nor any other way out.
With a sigh of relief Luke found the fishing line where it should be. He unhooked it from the branches that he had used to support it and they continued up the stream. They rounded a corner and came to what appeared to be a blank wall. Water streamed down from above in a constant flow. But close observation in clear light proved that the flow of water was greater than what came streaming over from above. Luke reached through the stream of water and grasped the bungee cord behind it. With a tug the front of the old upside-down wooden canoe came forward through the water, separating the flow and exposing the passageway disappearing into the rock behind. As the prow of the once proud little vessel split the waterfall Matt took his cue and pulled with all of his might into the passageway. Once the boat was passed Luke began pushing and slipped under the current of water, letting the old canoe retract into its normal position suspended by long bungees.
Once inside they were bathed in darkness and the temperature dropped twenty degrees. They pushed on, feeling their way along the wall careful of where their feet fell in the chilly water. After what they knew was two turns they arrived at a wide gallery.
A sandbar sat to their right and in the total darkness, completely by feel, they pulled the boat up and Luke secured it to a stalagmite. There was a rustling in the darkness as Matt found the lighter and carefully lit the torch that had been left there before leaving earlier in the evening.
There was a sense of relief and letting down of their guards from both of them as they carried their find for the day into the main gallery which they called home. In the outside world they were peers, more like brothers, relying on each other for protection and survival. At home, snug in their cave, they were the father and son that they should be.
The tension of being outside began to fade away. It was safe here. Luke had closed a gate in the narrow tunnel between where they had beached the boat and wedged a large timber against it. They were effectively closed in.
They began putting away the finds of their outing and settled in for the day. To be outside in the open once the sun came up was practically suicidal. Direct sunlight could cook the skin right off of a man's flesh in less than an hour.
Matt returned to the lifestyle of the ten year old boy that he was. He fired up his television and game console and let his mind wander as he chased pixels across the screen. It was here that he acted like a boy and not a hardened warrior.
Luke sat down on the couch behind Matt and reclined, flipping on the lamp at one end. He cradled a book that he had found on a previous scavenging mission. Outwardly these creature comforts seemed somewhat unnecessary and a gross misuse of resources all things considered. Both of them knew however that these things and everything it took to maintain them were a welcome distraction from the void of human contact that they lived in.
Luke began reading, turning the pages carefully, taking in the fictional storyline of a time when things were normal, before God purged the world with fire.
She looked up at him, her eyes coyly flirting without saying a word. She brushed a bit of her auburn hair from her brown eyes and pursed her lips in the way that she tended to do. Her hands reached out and touched his chest, wandering lower and lower.
He leaned forward and began to massage the tender flesh of her breast through the thin, almost translucent, material of her nightgown. She gasped slightly, her breath seeming to catch in her throat at the contact. He massaged for a moment before he found the swollen mound of her nipple beneath his palm. With practiced precision he rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger, squeezing it just enough to stimulate it into a hardened little peak.
She shifted slightly, her senses awake enough, her arousal driving her toward the edge of it. She wanted him. It was in her eyes. It was evident in the air. He tugged at her nightgown, readjusting until her breasts were bare. With a savage attack he suckled at her breast. This time she truly gasped, and then moaned. Then she began to beg. First with her motions, her body language hinting for him to take possession of her, then outright audible begging.
"Please," she whispered. "I can't wait anymore..."
With a grunt he rolled her onto her back and took her in, her few items of clothing disheveled, her hair out of place, her mouth pouting in a mock pout. But her eyes ... Her eyes screamed at him. The heat, the desire, the absolute lust in them turned any resistance that he had left into obedience and he gave in to her need.
She moaned deeply and her eyes rolled back, her mouth hanging open limply as they couples. She grasped him around the shoulder to hang on and enjoy the sensations. For a few moments nothing was said, there were just the sounds of two lovers escalating toward the inevitable.
"Oh," she said, the word slipping from her lips as if accidentally. Her breath caught in her throat and suddenly her eyes snapped open. She grasped him and kissed him on lips, the passion oozing from her, following the swishing of her tongue. Her eyes opened wider, her pace quickened, her breathing became labored...
And then her skin burst into flame. He looked at her momentarily, then noticed the sun shining from the nearby window, suddenly blinding, searing. She began to scream, the frantic scream of those who know that their time has come. Then like a flash the flames consumed her and left her a pile of ash upon the red satin sheets.
Luke snapped awake. He groaned as he noticed that Matt had already gone to bed. The book lay mashed and mangled by his side on the sofa, probably dropped and then thrashed in the dream.
With a sigh he got up and wandered into the small alcove that served as his room. He undressed and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the mirror on the wall. His eyes looked distant; his face needed a good shave. But his desire was most evident. It was a cruel joke that his mind played upon him.
With a sigh and deliberate action he closed his eyes and tried to bring himself back to the bed, back to her. It worked only feebly as a substitute, so vivid were his fantasies/nightmares. With practiced motion, he rid himself of the edge, the distraction that plagued him so often.
He opened his eyes and looked at the photograph of her there, eye level. It was an old-timey photo, a mockery of vintage photography. She was laid back in a claw-foot tub, the tops of her breasts visible above the rim, her eyes closed in peaceful bliss.
He sighed again as a stab of pain seemed to eviscerate his heart. Why these feelings? So many were lost. So much was destroyed. Why did he only feel the pain for her? ... and them, his mind corrected. Can't forget them.
Deliberately he lay his head onto the pillow, feeling the soft fabric catch on his scruffy cheek. He felt his eyelash brush against it and chuckled, remembering how she had been so amused at how his eyelashes had made noises on the pillowcases that first morning together. With deliberate force of will he closed his eyes and let the exhaustion that he felt within every inch of himself carry him off into sleep.
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Post Apocalypse /