Chapter 6

Copyright© 2000 by Al Steiner

Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story: Chapter 6 - When Comet Fenwell crashes into the Pacific Ocean one October day, it spells the end for most of humanity. Those that survive find themselves in a greatly changed world filled with different morals and the same old urges.

Caution: This Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Ma/ft   Fa/ft   Consensual   Reluctant   BiSexual   Science Fiction   Post Apocalypse   Group Sex   Sex Toys   Violent   comet crashes into earth story, end of civilization story

"Oh come on," Brett chided, his words more than a little slurred, "put more than that in there!"

Michelle giggled, upending the tequila bottle a tad more and letting another half ounce of the liquid run into the orange juice glass. "I don't weigh as much as you do," she said, her words considerably more slurred than his. "Don't you know that therapeutic," it took her three tries to spit this word out, "dosage is based on weight, goddammit?"

"It sounds to me like you can't handle your booze," he said, picking up the two-liter bottle of warm Pepsi and opening the lid. About a quarter of the bottle was gone now. There was a hiss as the gas escaped.

"I can handle anything you can throw at me," she declared, staring at him defiantly with her reddened eyes. "Pour the fuckin' soda."

"Right," he said, pouring an equal amount of the soda into each glass, so that the total amount of liquid in each was about two-thirds. They then each picked up a small dishtowel, towels that were now damp and boozy smelling, and placed them over the tops of their glasses. "Are you ready?" he asked her.

"Fuckin' aye," she said. "On three."

They counted to three together and then slammed the glasses sharply onto the wooden crate that sat in front of them. They then removed the towels from the glasses revealing a foamy, fizzing concoction of soda bubbles and tequila. As quickly as they could, before the bubbles had a chance to begin to settle, they put the glasses to their mouths and sucked the contents down their throats.

They were in what had once been an equipment storage room of the community center. Before the comet it had been where the athletic equipment such as basketballs and badminton sets had been kept. Now, in post-comet life, it had been converted to a different kind of storage. All of the alcohol, marijuana, pills, and other drugs stronger than Tylenol were neatly arranged on shelves. Paul, after having the need for a critical incident stress debriefing explained to him, had opened it up and allowed the two of them unlimited use of its contents for the night. Jessica and Dale had of course balked at this, as they did nearly everything, but Paul's insistence had eventually won out. They were sitting on the carpeted floor, their backs against the wall, their legs stretched out in front of them. The bottle of Jose Cuervo and the bottle of Pepsi rested on the small crate along with a small bag of potent marijuana and a disposable lighter. On the floor, directly between them, was a large ceramic water bong that appeared to have been made by a master craftsman at considerable expense. After every second or third shot of booze they would load its bowl up with the bud and add that chemical to their bloodstream as well.

"Blaaaah," Michelle said, sticking out her tongue and taking a few breaths. "I don't care what you say, it's still gross. There's nothing you can do to tequila to make it taste good."

"This is how I used to get drunk when I was kid," Brett told her, secretly agreeing with her. It did taste like shit. "Good old Alabama slammers. The fastest, most tasteless way to get hard alcohol into your system. When you're trying to drink some of your dad's booze without him knowing about it, it's the only way to go."

She stifled a burp with her hand, fearing for a moment that more than gas was going to come out. "I was more into wine coolers," she said. "Remember those Bartles and James coolers? I drank so much of those once that I passed out in the toilet."

They shared experiences of past vomitus drinking episodes for a few minutes, during which time they both had one more slammer. Since neither one of them had bothered with dinner on that night the booze went almost immediately to their heads, increasing their euphoria and making them forget about the tension they had experienced earlier along the wall.

Brett picked at a loose strand of carpet with his fingers. "So what do you think?" he asked her. "Do you feel better about shooting that guy now?"

Her face sobered a little as she was reminded of it. "I'm not shaking anymore," she said. "That's something, isn't it?"

"Well, the booze is an artificial and temporary coping mechanism. It's easy to forget after you drink down a bunch of tequila. The trick is maintaining that coping after the booze wears off."

"We'll just have to wait and see then, won't we?"

He gave her a smile. "You'll do fine," he said. "You're a natural ass-kicker. I could tell that just from training."

"So now my cherry's been popped, right?" she asked with a giggle.

"Correct," he said, with a chuckle of his own. "You're a virgin no more."

That declaration called for another drink. They poured the tequila, topped it off with soda, and then wrapped the glass in a towel. A count of three and a slam and the alcohol was fizzing away. They drank it and then set their empty glasses back down. The entire process took less than a minute.

"I'm starting to get dizzy," Michelle said, wiping a thin layer of sweat from her forehead. "I haven't drank like this since... well, in a long time."

"Me either," he said, remembering that the last time he had gotten good and drunk had been in a cop bar after work about a month before the comet. He had worked a patrol car that shift because the department's single helicopter had been down for maintenance. Spending ten hours on the ground as just another grunt, responding to family fights and domestic violence calls and false burglar alarms and making vehicle stops, had reawakened the camaraderie with his fellow cops that he was not usually exactly a part of anymore. And so he had gone to the 11-99 Club with them at end of watch. Loud music had been playing on the jukebox and the talk had been animated and profane, the way cops always talked when they were among their own kind. He had drank boilermakers until nearly closing time and had to be carried into the house when he finally got home. And Julie had been so pissed at him! He remembered the angry expression on her face as she yelled at him about his no-good friends and asked him if he had ever heard of a telephone before.

He sighed a little now, finding the memory very painful to think about now. Michelle's face was a mirror of his own, telling him that she was recalling her last time with the same sort of agonizing nostalgia. Where had she been? With her husband? With her girlfriends? With a magazine editor? He did not ask her, not wanting to travel down the road that such thoughts would open up.

"Did you notice that he wasn't starving?" Michelle asked him, apparently just as anxious to change the subject.

"Yes," Brett said, not needing to know who the he that she was referring to was. It could only be the man she had shot along the wall. "I did notice that. It bothers me for some reason I can't quite put my finger on. I didn't realize that you had noticed it too though. Pretty good eye."

"I'm a writer," she said, reaching into the marijuana bag and pulling out a pinch. She began to roll it between her fingers, compacting it into a ball. "Writers are observant by their very nature. We notice the small details of things. It's how we earn our living."

"Cops too," he said. "So tell me, Ms. Observant, what do you make of it? Why would a man who has been eating fairly well try to sneak in here after he was already driven off once?"

"Lots of reasons," she said, putting her small ball into the bowl of the bong. "He could be running out of food now and thinks he can get more in here."

"He could be," Brett agreed. "But perhaps you noticed that he did not have a backpack or any kind of carrying device with him. What was he planning on taking his bounty out in? He wouldn't go through all the trouble of sneaking in just so he could grab a few cans and leave, would he?"

"You wouldn't think," she said, picking up the lighter. "But then maybe he figured that he would be able to find something to carry it with once he got inside." She struck a light and began to suck on the mouthpiece of the bong. The marijuana turned orange and shriveled up, finally disappearing down the hole below it.

"That doesn't make a lot of sense to me either," Brett said, grabbing a pinch of his own from the bag and beginning to roll it around. "An empty backpack or carry bag does not slow down your movements enough to justify leaving it behind in the hopes that you will find another one. And I can't buy the argument that he just didn't have one. If he's been eating, he would have had something to carry supplies in."

She exhaled a plume of acrid smoke into the room. "That all makes sense," she said. "So what do you think he was planning on doing in here?"

"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. He turned the bong towards him and began to stuff the hole. "It bothers me though. Anything that doesn't seem to make sense on the surface bothers me because usually it does make sense in some way that you can't figure out. Can I have that lighter?"

She gave it to him and watched as he sucked up his own hit. "Do you think the committee will listen to you now and let you change the guard posts around?" she asked him.

He exhaled, coughing a few times since his lungs were not used to such treatment. Nevertheless he felt the effects of the latest hit pushing his intoxication to a level approaching obliteration. It was not an unpleasant sensation at all. "No," he replied. "Even though that person did exactly what I warned them we were vulnerable to, namely people hiding along the wall, Jessica and Dale will not let me move the guard posts. They will say it is an isolated incident or a freak occurrence and that it won't likely happen again. Hell, I wouldn't put it past them to say that I bribed the guy to do that. That I found some outsider and gave him a week's rations to play hide and seek outside the wall and that I then had him shot dead to cover it up. After all," he said, mimicking Jessica's voice, "it was Chrissie that spotted him first, wasn't it? Isn't that just a strange coincidence? Little frail Chrissie being the one to spot the big, bag straggler?"

"She does kind of live in a world of her own, doesn't she?"

"She lives in an entirely different universe," Brett said. "And she's trying to drag all of us in there with her."

As if speaking of her summoned her spirit, the sound of soft footfalls began to echo along the carpet outside. Both knew it was Jessica before her face even appeared in the open doorway. They stopped what they were doing and looked up as she looked down at them. Her sharp, vulture's eyes took in the companionable way that they were sitting together and her face twisted into an interested gaze. Already she was formulating the gossip she would spread. Did you hear? Michelle and Brett! I swear! You should have seen the way they were sitting next to each other. Mmmm hmmm.

"What's up, boss?" Brett asked, unmistakable sarcasm dripping from that last word. Michelle began to giggle as she heard it.

Jessica's expression darkened, immediately changing to disapproval. She looked at the tequila bottle and the marijuana bag. "You two certainly have helped yourself to quite a bit of our stock now, haven't you?"

Brett shrugged. "Adequate payment for protecting the sanctity of this settlement, wouldn't you say?"

"Stragglers are shot several times a week," she told him. "Do we invite every guard who does that in here to raid our trade goods?"

"No," he said. "But then they usually don't have to go track them down and shoot at them in the open either. Why don't you cut us a little slack, Jess? Here," he held up the bong. "Let me load you up a nice bonghit. It'll mellow you out."

"I do not take bonghits," she said with extreme distaste. "I don't know why we even kept that stuff. It's illegal. You of all people should know that."

"I'll tell you what," he said, reaching in and pulling out another pinch. "When the federal government and the California state government gets its shit back together, reinstates civilization, reenacts the penal code and the drug control act, and gives me a new badge, I'll be the first to seize the supply, okay? Until then, I think I'll just burn it a little bit at a time." He stuffed his pinch in and picked up the lighter.

Michelle giggled again, shaking her head at Brett's quick tongue. Jessica glared at both of them, daggers in her eyes. "In any case," she said sternly, "there is something going on tonight that I thought Brett should be aware of. It is potentially very scandalous and shocking."

"Oooh, let me guess," Michelle said, holding up her hand as Brett took his bong hit. "Someone has snuck out to one of the guard posts to have unauthorized sex?"

Though this was not particularly funny, Brett and Michelle both found it to be in their present condition. Michelle erupted into hysterical chuckles while Brett coughed out the carefully prepared inhalation he had just completed, and more than a little saliva. Michelle, still giggling, began patting him on the back.

Jessica did not find this the least bit amusing. "No," she said huffily. "Although that subject is not something that should be laughed at."

Brett got himself under control, his laughter reluctantly tapering off and dying away. "Of course not," he said, wiping a tear from his eye and giving a few more light coughs. "Forgive me. So what kind of scandal is going on that I should be made aware of during this official debrief session?"

"It seems," Jessica said, her expression now taking on the barely repressed delight it assumed whenever she was sharing a particularly damaging piece of gossip, "that your young friend, Jason, was seen accompanying our kitchen server, Stacy, to the house that was assigned to her."

Brett looked up at her, uncomprehending. "That's it? What's the big deal about that? They're friends. I see them talking together when I go in for early breakfast."

"Jason does have the night off you know," Michelle, who had finally gotten herself under control, added helpfully. "He's not skipping out on his detail if that's what you're worried about."

"She invited him inside," Jessica exclaimed. "And he has not come back out yet!"

Michelle and Brett looked at each other for a moment and then back at Jessica. "How do you know that he hasn't come back out yet?" Brett asked. "Do you have somebody following them around?"

"Well of course," she said, as if doing such a thing was by-the-book doctrine. "When I saw them leaving together I sent Maggie to see where they were going." She patted a walkie-talkie that was on her belt. "As of five minutes ago, he was still in there, no doubt being molested by that... that... bimbo!"

Michelle's jaw dropped as she heard this. Brett's came close. "Are you telling me," he said slowly and carefully, "that you are using the security division's communications gear to keep track of the activities of two of the townspeople?"

Jessica scoffed. "Stacy is no more a member of this town than you are," she said. "She worked making coffee before the comet. She's lucky we even let her stay here at all. And now look how she repays us. By corrupting your friend! I always knew she was a shameless slut!"

"This is unbelievable," Brett whispered.

"I'm glad you agree with me for once," Jessica said. "Now what are you going to do about it? Are you too drunk to take care of it yourself? I can get Paul and..."

"You are the one that is unbelievable," Brett interrupted. "Where in the hell do you get off having people followed around like that? What the hell makes you think you have the right to do that?"

"She is taking advantage of a young boy!" Jessica screamed. "Where do you get off not even acknowledging that fact?"

"I hardly think Jason is in any danger," Brett said. "In fact, he's probably having the time of his life. If he and Stacy want to boff their brains out, what business is it of yours?"

"He's fourteen years old!" she reiterated loudly. "Fourteen! Are you saying that you think its okay for a full grown, pregnant hussy like that to take advantage of him?"

"It's okay for him to kill stragglers for you and protect you while you sleep, but it's not okay for him to get laid?" Brett asked.

"I never wanted him on guard detail," she said. "And that is beside the point anyway. He is a child that needs to be protected. She is a corrupt woman without any sense of decency! Now, are you going to do anything about this, or should I go get Dale and Paul to do it instead?"

"There is nothing to be done," Brett said. "Call off your nazi spy that's watching them and leave them alone. Put the communications gear back in the security room where it belongs and don't touch it anymore."

"You do not give orders to me," she proclaimed.

"I am in charge of security," Brett said, "and you, committee member or not, are abusing official security department apparatus. Call back your goon, put the shit away, and don't touch it again. You know as well as I do that it is well in my authority to tell you that. So do it!"

"How dare you..."

"And no one will bother Stacy and Jason," he added, standing up to face her. "I mean that, Jessica. Leave them alone."

"Are you threatening me?" she asked, obvious fear in her voice as he towered over her.

He did not answer her. "Leave them alone," he repeated. "I mean it. What they're doing is none of your business."

She took a step backwards, her fist clenching in nervousness. "Paul and Dale will hear about this," she said with a voice that was not quite steady. "The committee will take action against you."

"Groovy," he said. "We'll talk about it tomorrow, after everyone has had a chance to reflect upon the day's events, okay? In the meantime, why don't you do what I told you to and then go back to your house, fuck Dale a couple times, and then start planning your speeches for the meeting tomorrow?"

"You'll be ejected from this town," she promised, pointing a trembling finger at him. "I promise you that."

"Whatever will be, will be," he said. "Now, can me and Michelle get back to our debriefing? We still have a lot of tequila to get through until we put the painful episode behind us."

She turned and stomped off, heading towards the main office. Brett watched her go and then sat back down. "So," he said, with a satisfied smile. "Where were we?"

It didn't take them long to blow off Jessica and her intrusion. All it took was another slammer, another bong-hit, and an animated discussion about Jason and Stacy.

"You think he'll come out alive?" Michelle asked with a laugh.

"I think he's a very happy man about now," Brett replied. "I'm surprised Jessica didn't have Maggie stick a video camera through a gap in the blinds so she could get a photo record of the corruption in progress."

"How do you know she hasn't?"


He sighed a little, slumping downward against the wall a bit. "Why is everybody so wrapped up in all of this gossiping and scandal? Everybody does realize that a comet hit the planet and killed everybody, don't they?"

"Of course they do," Michelle said, putting her hand on his leg. "They can't drive their Mercedes or get their hair done in the salon anymore, can they? They only get to take hot baths every third day now, don't they? They are rapidly running out of fingernail polish remover and Oil of Olay, aren't they? You have no idea the hardships these women are enduring. I mean, sure, you've been out in the wilderness fighting off starving outsiders, but they have not seen a new issue of Cosmo or had a decent latte in weeks."

He eyed her hand for a moment, noting that it was resting about two inches above his knee, seemingly companionably. He then looked up at her. "I guess I just haven't appreciated all that everyone has been through in here," he replied.

She inched a little closer to him, her hand sliding up a few more inches. It gave a little squeeze of his thigh, a squeeze that felt very good. "They're in a huge state of culture shock," she said. "Everyone is. You can't just live under one set of ideals all of your life and then change in a few days. Give them a while and they'll slowly start to come around."

"I'll believe that when I see it," he said, starting to feel guilty now for enjoying her touch upon his leg and not doing anything about it. What would Chrissie think if she saw this or heard about it? Despite the estrangement between them, he did not wish to lose her. And though he could pretend that Michelle was just caressing his leg in friendship, he knew, even through his haze of drunkenness, that that was not really the case.

As if to prove this point, she inched her hand even higher, so that it was about halfway between his knee and his groin. She edged her hips over a few more inches as well, so that their shoulders were touching. He could feel her warmth through her clothing. "I've become very fond of you these last few weeks," she said to him softly.

"Have you?" he said, not looking at her, only looking at her hand, which continued to inch upward.

"I didn't think I would at first," she said. "When you gave me that speech about my not having a chance with you, I thought it was funny. I never thought that I would be the least bit interested in someone like you. I figured that you were sort of a dull person. You know? Efficient at what you did, reasonably smart, but without much personality otherwise. That's how I always pictured cops, pilots, and soldiers. Whenever I wrote about one in a short story or one of my many failed novels, that's always how I portrayed them: serious but dull."

"That sounds like me all right," he said weakly, his penis now hardening.

"Give yourself a little credit," she said, leaning closer and whispering the words into his ears. He could now feel her breast pushing against his shoulder. "You're very witty, very funny, and very good looking. You care Brett. That's what really gets to me. You care about all of these shallow people you're protecting. You're not just going for free room and board."

"Michelle," he said, pulling away from her and breaking the contact; everything except her hand on his leg, she refused to give that up. "This is a bad idea."

"Oh?" she said pointedly. "And why is that?"

"Because I'm in charge of the guard force and you're one of the guards," he said.

"Chrissie is one of the guards," she said, "and yet you sleep with her, don't you?"

He nearly choked as he heard these words. His erection wilted in an instant and adrenaline went shooting through his veins, sobering him up considerably. Michelle simply smiled at him.

"Or at least you were," she continued, "until you had a fight on your fifth or sixth day here. You haven't been really speaking to each other or doing anything else since then. The fight was probably about what happened your first night with Mitsy. I imagine Chrissie told you what she heard and you didn't deny it. Am I right so far?"

"How... how... how do you know this?" he asked numbly. "Did Chrissie talk to you?"

She shook her head. "Chrissie and I talk a little bit, usually at breakfast and dinner, but she never told me that. She's keeping your secret."

"Then who told you?"

"You and Chrissie did," she said. "Although not with your mouths. Do you remember a little while ago when I told you that writers are very observant people? I wasn't kidding. If you just pay attention to people's body language, you can learn a lot about them. Hell, you should know that. Don't cops do the same thing?"

He ignored her question. "Are you telling me that you just figured this out by watching us?"

"Yep," she agreed. "When you two were first voted in, I could see that you and Chrissie were very close to each other. Much closer than a man and a platonic friend are. I could tell that you had great affection for each other but that you were restraining it when you were in public. You always made certain that you did not touch each other in any way, that your eyes never met with that teasing, knowing little smile that lovers share. But at the same time, when you thought that nobody was paying attention to you, you would share that look, just for a moment. You would pass a little telepathic signal back and forth with your eyes. She loves you, Brett, and I suspect that you love her as well."

"Jesus," Brett said, thinking that Michelle was some kind of a witch.

"It was also pretty easy to tell when you had your fight," she went on. "All of a sudden you weren't eating breakfast together anymore, you weren't looking directly at each other for any reason anymore. Although, if you watch, as I do, you'll see that both of you look at the other when you think they're not looking at you. If your eyes do happen to meet during such a look, you don't smile at each other. You look away. And then there's talking to Chrissie. It's pretty obvious that she's in the midst of a major depression. She hardly laughs anymore and her eyes have bags beneath them as if she doesn't sleep very well. You have the same thing, although your work keeps you a little busier than hers keeps her."

Brett reached over and grabbed the bottle of tequila. He removed the cap and took a drink directly from the bottle. "Okay," he said. "So you know. What are you going to do now? Are you going to tell everyone?"

She smiled sweetly, scooting back over to him. Her hand, which had never left his leg, suddenly moved all the way up to his crotch. "No," she said, squeezing and pinching his cock through the material, "I'm not going to tell anyone. That is not my place to do. What I am going to do is suck your dick. You could probably use a little relief after all those days of going without, couldn't you?"

"Michelle," he said, getting hard despite the underlying tone of the discussion. "I don't want to do this with you. You just told me you know about Chrissie and me. I am asking you to respect that relationship."

"Oh I do respect it," she said, continuing to squeeze and feel him, bringing him to a full and painful erection. "I respect it greatly. It's almost like one of those crappy romance novels I wrote. It really is a shame that the two of you are still fighting over Mitsy."

He tried to remove her hand from his crotch but she gently pushed him away. In truth, he really didn't try all that hard. She had been entirely correct when she'd said that he had not had relief in some time. He hadn't even masturbated in nearly a week. She began to pop open buttons on his jeans, releasing each one with slow deliberateness.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked, cursing himself for not having the willpower to make her stop.

"Because I want to," she said. "Remember that I haven't had any since the comet either. Despite what I said about my research tools and my self-gratification know-how, that gets old really quick. I've come to the conclusion that a woman just has to have a nice hard, warm, live cock once in a while." She popped open the last button, revealing his bulging underwear. "And right here is such a thing. All ready for me."

He made one last feeble attempt to stop her when she pulled his pants and underwear down. "Michelle, we're right in the community center in front of an open door," he said, watching as his cock sprang free into the air.

"So keep an ear out for people coming down the hall," she said. With that she lowered her head into his lap and took him into her mouth. Her warm, wet lips closed around him and her tongue began to dance up and down the surface. She hummed contentedly as she tasted his member and he moaned in defeated arousal as he felt her go to work. Within a second or two he was completely lost in the sensation.

Oral sex was something that his wife, as passionate a woman as she had been, had just not been too enthusiastic about. If he had been able to coax two blowjobs a year from her, he considered himself lucky. Nor had Chrissie been particularly fond of that activity either. She had mouthed it inexpertly a few times during foreplay once they'd moved into their home but she had never sucked it more than a minute or two and had never allowed him to ejaculate in her mouth. Despite her maturity in all other aspects of post-comet life and sexuality, she still considered sucking a cock to be somewhat "gross". He had never pushed the issue.

But Michelle apparently did not think it gross. She sucked expertly, in the manner of a woman that had made cocksucking a regular part of her sexual repertoire for quite some time. Her brown hair, released from the ponytail it was usually tied up in, cascaded over his lap, tickling his bare thighs as her head bobbed up and down upon him. She would deep throat for several strokes, swallowing his six inches whole and then slowly bringing her head back up, and then she would lick and suck on the head while jacking his wet shaft with her hands.

"Ohhh," he moaned, letting his head fall back upon his neck, forgetting about Chrissie, his conflict with Jessica, even the possibility of someone catching them in the act. This was, without a doubt, the best blowjob he had ever had in his life. He let his hand fall into her hair, his fingers running through its silky smoothness. The honeydew scent that rose up from it told him that she had probably had her bath recently.

"Mmmm hmmm," Michelle hummed from around his cock. She began to deep throat less now and concentrate more on the classic motions of jacking and sucking. Her hand became a blur upon his shaft and her mouth became a soft, clenching orifice that tried like hell to suck the sperm right out of his balls.

It didn't take long at this pace. As he began to spasm, his hips tried to rise up into the air, instinctively driving him in the age-old rhythm that accompanied orgasm. A wave of pleasure spread throughout him and, with a grunt and a groan, he exploded into her sucking mouth. She sucked frantically, her hands continuing their ministrations throughout, and she consumed every drop.

She licked him completely clean and then slowly removed her head from his lap and looked up at him. She licked her lips once. "Did that feel good?" she asked him.

"Yes," he admitted. "That felt absolutely divine in fact."

"Glad to see I haven't lost the touch." She removed herself from his embrace. "My panties are completely soaked right now," she told him matter-of-factly.

"Uh listen..." he started, reaching down and pulling his pants up. "I think that things got a little out of hand here tonight. Maybe we should..."

"Go back to my place," she said, standing. She began gathering up the tequila bottle and the glasses and the other supplies they had used. She quickly stowed them back in their proper places. She did not seem all that drunk any longer.

"No," he said. "That's not..."

"Walk me home, Brett," she told him, not even looking at him. "I need you tonight. And I think that you need me."

"But Chrissie..."

"Don't worry about Chrissie for the moment," she replied. "You need to come to my place. Believe me, I'm acting in everyone's best interest here."

"Michelle," he said. "I don't think that..."

"Don't think right now," she said, walking over to him and giving him a teasing kiss upon the nose. Her breath was warm and smelled of semen. "Just come home with me. I've wanted to do what I'm doing for some time and tonight the booze has given me the courage to do it. Everything will be made clear soon."

Michelle, like the majority of the town women, lived in the same house that she had inhabited before the comet. Hers was one of the top-of-the-line models, not quite as much square footage and as many upgrades as Jessica's, but it was close. It was a tri-level located near the southern portion of the park that surrounded the community center. The walk to it was short but several times Brett tried again to bow out of what was to follow.

"I can't, Michelle," he cried at one point. "I've already betrayed Chrissie once and look what that did to us. You know as well as I do that somebody is noticing us walking to your house. If I go inside, that's it. By tomorrow, everyone will be saying that you're the one and I'll lose her forever. She might put up with one betrayal, but she won't put up with two."

"That depends on what you consider a betrayal to be," Michelle answered. "Trust me. I am well aware that our trip is being noted right now and it is part of my plan."

"Your plan?" he said. "Just what kind of plan are you talking about? You're stealing me!"

"I am doing no such thing," she said. "Now take my arm. Make it look good."

"Michelle," he said, stopping in his tracks. "This is crazy."

"Crazy or not, it needs to be done. Now do what I say. Everyone already will have an earful of you and I based on what Jessica will tell them tomorrow. That in itself will be enough to drive Chrissie away from you. I don't want that to happen, Brett. I really don't. If you want to keep her, you need to follow my lead and take me home."

"Michelle," he said, "you sound like a defense attorney telling a murderer that he can escape the electric chair if he just kills a few more people."

She laughed, slapping at his arm. "That's funny, Brett," she said. "Good analogy. You ever thought about being a writer?"


"Sorry," she said. "Listen, my plan may seem strange right now, but it will soon make sense to you. Just remember and try to accept that you and Chrissie are as caught up in pre-comet morality as everyone else in town. The difference with you two is that you try to honor it while the others only pretend to. You will have to come to some accommodations with some new realities here, just like everyone else does. In the meantime, what I'm doing will protect you and your lover as well as give me what I need. Everyone will win, okay?"

"Now you sound like a used car salesman."

"Saleswoman," she corrected, sliding her arm through his. "Now see me home, Mr. Most Eligible Bachelor and try to pretend that you don't think anyone sees us."

She gave a tug and he started moving, propelled along more by his drunken lack of judgment than anything else. Soon, they reached her front door. She opened it with a key and led him inside.

Like every other house in Garden Hill these days, Michelle's had a clothesline strung through the formal living room, attached by molly bolts into the plaster. Her shirts, pants, bras, and panties hung drying in the air in what had once been the room designed to impress visitors with a display of expensive, uncomfortable furniture, usually antique and usually the kind that no one was allowed to actually sit upon. In every other house that he had been in, despite the clothesline, the furniture had remained, as if the women needed to show that even though civilization had collapsed, they had possessed taste and money before. This was not so with Michelle. There was not a stitch of furniture in her living room, only other clotheslines with sheets and comforters hung upon them. They had to duck in order to get under all of it.

"What's with all the linen?" Brett asked as she lit an oil lamp and led him through the maze.

"It helps my clothes dry faster," she said. "And keeps the humidity down in the house." Humidity from air drying cloth was one of the scourges of Garden Hill life. It would peel wallpaper from the wall and make you sweat sitting still despite the chilly temperatures.

"Say again?"

"It's like hanging clothes that are still damp in your closet," she explained. "The dry cloth helps soak up the moisture. You'll notice that its quite humid in here but everywhere else in the house is quite dry. I've suggested the technique to some of the other women in town but they won't do it because it clutters up their living rooms."

He followed her into the family room of the house and found that it was indeed quite dry in there. There was no thick haze of cold, muggy air pervading the atmosphere, making it feel like you were in a fog bank. The air temperature was actually quite pleasant in a relative sort of way. Over the past few weeks the ambient temperature outside had dropped by about ten degrees, making everyday life in a town without propane or electric service a challenge. But in Michelle's living room, it was almost comfortable.

"My plants," she said, pointing around the room where sickly looking houseplants were everywhere. "They don't do all that well since there isn't any sunlight, but the firelight and the lamplight during the hours I'm home keeps them alive. They, in turn, generate a little heat for me and keep the air nice and fresh. Again, something I've suggested to the other women but it takes a little too much effort for them."

"Amazing," Brett said, almost forgetting the circumstances that had brought him here. His respect for Michelle, which was already quite high, kicked up a few notches.

She tapped the side of her head with her finger. "See what you learn when you read a lot," she told him. "Why don't you start us a fire? I'm going to go change."

That suddenly brought him back to what he was doing here. "Listen, Michelle," he said. "Maybe we should talk about what this great plan of yours is first."

"Maybe we shouldn't," she said, starting to unbutton her flannel shirt. "Start us a fire, Brett." With that, she disappeared into the bedroom.

Left with nothing else to do, Brett picked up some dry kindling and newspaper from a stack next to the fireplace. Wood gathering and drying was a major consumer of daily labor in Garden Hill, not just for the personal use of the inhabitants but also for the three large fires at the community center that needed to be kept burning day and night to heat hot water for bathing and cooking. The wood was chopped from the many fallen trees around the perimeter of the township. Putting it near one of the fires dried it, although even this could not get all of the moisture out of the pine and sequoia. He arranged the kindling and the newspaper expertly and then put a log on. He lit the scraps of paper with a lighter that Michelle kept nearby and a moment later a nice blaze was beginning, providing both light and warmth.

"Very nice," said Michelle from behind him. "Very romantic even."

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