Thursday, 18 August 2016


(Warning: Sensible graphic violence)

I made it to the edge of the stream. Squatting, heart pounding deep inside driving blood up to my head—a staccato pulse in my ears; the hairs in my ears scratching against each other to the rhythm of my heartbeat. My lungs ravenous for air. I place my hands into the chill flow transfixed by the red swirl expanding from my fingers. Did I need to?

Does it matter? 

Two weeks, (do we still measure time in weeks?) fourteen days?  A fortnight? (These have been gone a long while.) 14 . . . suns?  Or was it only twelve? Every day its own epoch.  I told her we would have to leave in hours not days when it finally came down.  We were allowed to refuse entry—all three of us were selected, without fee—but we were only permitted to go to one of the villages if we refused. The camp is not by choice. Their last exercise of control I suppose. (There were theories.) So we fled to the woods.

She trusted me, I think.  I only half trust me.  Should I have let him go? Why didn’t we just go ‘inside’? Abner. God I miss him. Wish he were here even to share this with me. 

The blood has dried quite quickly to my hands; maybe I sat for a while praying to one of my gods. The one for whom this was not sin. The one who guided my hand. 

That goddamned ‘flue’. Giselle still inside Audree.  I was too lax.  He got it early so I thought it was just regular flue.  It and nothing else has been regular since. I miss him.  Like my own childhood I miss him.  He was as tenacious and daring and curious as any boy should be.  He would have broken the world in two just to see what was inside.  Snuffed hope.  Quick and purposeless. 

But so many purposelessly gone now.  The stench of the burning.  The grief never indulged because of usurping terror.  At least we buried our boy and stood by and wept.  In the days when loss could still be felt; death just beginning to smash against perceived solidity.  Dropped to my knees by the deep hole, unbuttoning Audree`s coat stuffed my head under her dress, burying my face in her belly weeping my obligation to the babe, “I will never be careless with your life”.  God how I miss him. 

It is under my nails.

If I peak under my arm they might not notice my gaze. How will Audree receive me? Good they are turned away. They are a wonder.  Audree and Giselle sit singing happily so soon after; “The Days Are Coming When” They are more mine than ever.  And I am theirs. I know nothing else.  Without Giselle we probably would have stayed with the rest in the village or had been shipped off to the camps—grey and hopeless—a final contrition to the old order.  She is the ember of our hope, and the tickle of our folly, out here in the wild—ourselves to bear into the mystery of future ages.

The popular tale was that the villages would provide the energy and materials needed to finish building the AllWorld bellow. I favoured the one where they needed a stock of unmodified DNA to draw from as they became decayed in their subterranean Utopia. 
I cross myself. And think of Angus . . . Scrubbing my hands, more on my tunic, “Oh Christ, what have I done?”, a good deal more.

As he faltered down the slope toward our camp my heart hardened against him. 

“Hello. Hello there friends.  Wow such luck to find you; you have a lovely set up here. Mind if I join you. I am quite lost out here. I should have just gone to the village, stupid not to, but I can’t go now the light from my chip went out. Oh. Don’t worry I am perfectly safe, It automatically deactivates one kilo length from the village. Not a criminal, just would like to make your company.” his hands up, feet simpering down the slope.

I stood and crossed my arms.

“Oh, oh excuse my stupidity; I have lost my manners for want of social discourse. You mind if I join you for a minute?  Haven’t seen anyone in days, well since I left four days ago. Rough sleeping out here alone.  Keep hoping I'll run into an Inn like in those old stories we used to read before they were banned. My backpack is full of meal bars, I can share them. I have enough for a month or so.”

“No thanks, we left all that behind.”

“Sure. You can join us.” Audree, before I could finish rejecting him. 
We had just sat down to a hard won meal, rabbit stew; actual meat.  A little bit of rice and a plantain and dandelion salad with salal berries. I hated him. I'm short on trust, though I know some day we will need to again.  Yet he was untrustworthy in manner; danger in his nervousness, dishonesty in the eyes. 

“Am I lucky to find you.”, as he sat on the log next to Audree. “Have not eaten a real meal since I left, and look what you have.  Looks like something in a magazine.” 
He assumed we would feed him. Like we’re neighbours—one big happy brotherhood of man.  Must have been an Egal Scout. There was likely enough food, four good-sized rabbits, but I intended to gorge myself—a deep intuition to fatten up.  And how long would this lout stay if he could get a free meal from us.  

        Audree got up to put something in a bowl for him; he looked at her frame as she moved.  She took the opportunity to move Giselle to the other side of me, sitting between. 

“We can spare one meal, but you will have to move on after you’ve eaten.” I think I said this clearly.

“Oh. Well that’s understandable, these are strange times.  I got locked out y’ know.  This is not my thing out here.  You three seem to be doing quite well though.” He eyed the meal, Audree, and the babe. Glancing only once at my glare. “Wow there’s a lot I could learn from you folks.”

“We’re doing okay.” I felt the urgent need to cut the meeting short. He could not be allowed to become comfortable. He would never leave. 

        “I hate to be sudden, but you must take your food and go straightaway.  We cannot support another mouth, and we have no time to make friends.” 

        “Certainly. Of course, but can I stay for the meal first? Then I will go”

“I doubt that’s true.”

“Wow friend . . . what is your name?”  I didn’t reply. He was so false—the embodiment of the fatuous greed that brought our people to an end.  He must have sold things for a living, or worked in the Council. I knew now that I was right: he was too desperate to leave on his own. What did he follow with?

“Well that is a hasty condemnation. I have always been honest in my dealings. If I could just stay seated here and eat it would mean so much to me. Reminds me of home.”

“This is not your home.”

“Your lovely wife invited me in. are you not going to honour her invitation? Ma’am can you please ask your husband to honour your invitation.”

“You do not speak to her. If you want the meal at all I suggest you take it and leave, or you leave without. ”

“Please good sir, I have startled you, I see that, but I will leave of my own accord I assure you when I am finished. I am certain you want your bowl returned. I am surprised. I thought people would be more receptive out here. Had quite an idealized view I suppose.”

He was absurd. Incapable of grasping the danger of his new situation. There are no neighbours out here, no State to mediate between citizens. No conventions. He practically insisted on a Right of Hospitality.

“That’s a lie. You will only leave when made to, I am certain of it. Not now, not when you’re finished eating and not in 6 months. You will ever find reason to stay.”

“But we just met sir, how can you know this?”

“Tell me it isn’t true.   No don’t bother.  See.  You are drawing me in already.”

“We will have to learn to trust you know.  We cannot survive on our own.”

“You can’t I’m sure, but we . . . see you intend to plead . . .”

“Perhaps you will find others”, Audree cut me off, but I was glad to know she was with me. 

“I can be quite useful; I did all my own repairs in my dom.  I just don’t know anything about getting food out here, how to make shelter, what plants won’t kill me, or how to catch a rabbit. When these meal bars run out, I'm done. My, this looks delicious.”  He begins to devour his portion lustfully. 

“I don’t think we need the toilet fixed, and we got the rabbits more or less by luck.”  This was nearly true. At the perimeter of the suburban corridor there are more than a few rabbits; lazy from lack of predators, but it is risky going near the villages.

“Ha.  No, suppose not. But I’ve been quite desperate. Seeing your happy family is the first hope I’ve had in . . .”

“Why are you on your own; you have no family or friends?” I probed for weakness.

“Well, like I told you, I got shut out when they closed down. I wanted . . . I want to be inside, not out here.”

“Sounds like bad luck, or worse.”

“No! There was no trouble. I was cleared to go in. But they shut us out, and then I got mad and behaved foolishly. I walked away from the village, like a child in a tantrum. I was so stupid; what was I thinking? I would gladly go back and beg to be let in, even just into a village, but I would certainly be sent to the camp for deserting.

“Instead you are here begging to be let into my camp.”

As if I cared, and as if I hadn’t spoken, he carried on. “Well things got crazy at the port where we were scheduled to enter. Some Rejected were protesting, disrupting entry. Some of them pushed down the fence. When things got out of hand they simply shut the port. When the crowd cleared by evening there were more than 100 of us left waiting, each with the chip in our hand.”

He showed us his, pushing at it under his skin.

“More like a pill. We knocked and pounded on the door, running our chipped hands past anything that looked like a sensor, but nothing.  I couldn’t believe it. We waited and shouted and banged for more than a day but no sign from inside. How could they just shut us out like that?  We had paid, we had promised. We believed.”

“We never did.”

Better wash out my tunic. I cannot greet the women like this. The blood billows in great clouds into the current.

Why didn’t he just leave? Did he really think he would win me over being desperate and demanding at once? Such despicable characteristics in a man.

“Well, many got in, my consort and her son went earlier. I had some family to say goodbye too. Dear god they must be worried about me.  Why would they shut us out?  All that talk about needing to stick together, building a better future; the ultimate happiness, safety and unending life. It does sound so wonderful, doesn’t it?”

“Sounded like hell to me, we have chosen the Savage life.” Then I surmised, “They probably knew how many they needed. You rest were only for crowd control.  Keep people focused on something while they secured the perimeter. The first went in long before the virus spread. Thought they were trying to kill us all off. Must have been a culling, or a means to confuse resistance. Probably wiped out those with some weakness.”

I wonder what weakness those blind leaders of the blinder could have seen in Abnerthol, maybe they were trying to break me?

“You should feel better to know they will likely all be dead soon.” I did not really know this, only wanted to torture him a bit. To see just how despicable he was.

My tunic will not come clean. Dull red remains like an island on a map. Turning I see Audree looking at me; sorrowful. Noticing I’m naked she covers her eyes and, smiling, looks me up and down through her fingers. I turn to face the water.

“Dead?!  Why?  You are bleak.” He still put his faith in it—as if he spoke nicely they might come and find him and bring him back.

“I am only here now, me and mine in these woods; I do not have any thoughts about the old world.  It’s time you moved on. It is obvious you are not meant for this place. Go back and beg, maybe they will forgive you.” What outcome did he expect? That I would change my mind? “I think you would fare better in the camp, and they might not keep you there long.”

“Dear god where is your humanity. You know they don’t forgive. It’s all smiles and good feeling unless you fall outside. And I have fallen. Such a stupid little thing. But then I found you, I knew my prayers were answered. I had never prayed in my whole life. Then I just started this morning, asking to find someone to help me, to show me mercy, to set me free ”

“Well maybe we will, but not in the way you expected. Take whatever hope we’ve granted and go. I will not use words to make my point indefinitely.”

“I’ll die out here.  Can’t I stay with you for a while? This is awful, you are my answer to prayer how can you . . .” looking at Audree's amulet, “You are a devout woman, you must have some kindness in you still, please ask him for me.”

Audree stared at the fire. The stranger placed himself in front of her. 

“Please miss . . . ma’am, please.” Why should he think I would want such an ignoble lout in my company?

“That’s far enough guy, you must move on.”

“Please, I will be useful, I will learn.”

“We owe you nothing.  I didn’t trust you when you first walked in here and you have done nothing to change my mind.  Now get along.  You are way past your welcome.”

“But where to?  There is no place.”

“Not my problem.  There will be others, maybe more trusting than me.”

“Please.  I am desperate, I have no one, nothing, and you have so much.”

“Leave your plate and go. NOW!” Pointing the direction he came in.  But as the command emerged I realized he couldn’t go.  He would be a perpetual threat; hanging around our perimeter, hoping to be let in, stealing, or attacking.  And he couldn’t stay.  That meant one thing. Dear God, how could I do it?  Would it be wrong?  Is there law or Christ out here?  He was dangerous in his worthlessness.  But could I really; with my own hands.

The stream is flowing steadily I find blood on my feet as I reach for my sandals. I am thoroughly unclean.

The stranger placed his hands on Audree’s knees.  “Please I am as desperate as this child.  Where is your kindness?”

“Get your sinful hands off my wife you fucking maggot.”

“Lugh!” Audree stomped hard on my foot. “We promised we would never teach our children to curse.”

“Ouch! I am sorry, very sorry, but do you know how grave this situation is dear?”

“You promised.”

“Yes, but I don’t think this is the time . . .”

“Is the child not here? We said no matter how angry, how scared, our mouths were built for truth and consolation, not profanity. We might as well have stayed behind in that filthy village with that pornography spitting from your mouth.”

She was right. Not always, but this time she was. What worth are principles if you throw them away at duress. 

In the distraction of our spat the stranger managed to grab Giselle stepping hard on Audree’s foot in a childish mimic. Lunging, I fell over an unseen rock and hit the ground, allowing him to get ahead; running up the bank away from the camp.  Before standing I picked up two four-finger stones from the perimeter of the fire ring. ‘Focus; you are in chaos.’ Three deep breaths, cross myself, and pursue at a deliberate pace, “Stop! Stop there, or you’re dead.”

Halfway up he stopped and turned holding his hand round Giselle’s throat.  “Promise to let me stay and I won’t hurt her.”

You won’t either way. The time for words is through. Put her down safely now and you can leave with your miserable life.”  I didn’t mean this.

“Please, I don’t want to hurt . . .” Thud.

Surprisingly the first stone hit him hard and clear in the nose and forehead. He dropped to the ground, releasing Giselle onto the thick bed of leaves I hoped would catch her fall. Audree ran wordless to retrieve the babe crying in terror. As I approached, the vermin began to stir. He had blood in his teeth making his obsequious smile comical.

“What are you going to do with him now?”  Audree asks, intuiting the inevitable.

“Show him mercy. Set him free.”

“Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“This is not a time for womanly generosity.”

“You are doing this in my name too.”

“Not your decision, Love, you are guiltless. Head back to the pit and turn the child away.”

She paused. And the intruder took the opportunity to feebly scrabble up the slope.


“Tie him maybe.”

“Not your decision. Go!”

She made her way down tacking through the leaves.

I catch up quickly kicking him onto his back.

“Sorry friend.” The stranger was looking up at me still very drunken from the blow. “I guess I better be going, now.  Sorry for the trouble. Maybe they will forgive.”

The stream is deep a little way in. Pick my way in finding sandy places to put my feet between the stones. I am nearly up to my thighs.

How did I manage it? He was hopeless there on the ground, only two-thirds my size, but mortally dangerous if let go. He was untrustworthy, and worthless. There were no cops to call. I had to. Couldn’t take the chance. Too many chances already.

I jumped on him, flipping him over, I pulled his arms around, pining his hands with my knee high up his back.

“Ouch.  I’m sorry. L-Lug is it? That’s an interesting name. From the world before? I am an idiot.  Desperate.  Please.  I’ll go. I promise.  Won’t be any more trouble.”

“What’s your name sir?”

“Wha? Why?”

I didn't answer.


“Well Mike it’s your time. better make good in your soul.”

“Wha? No!”

I put the remaining stone in my right hand and brought it down hard on the back of his head, partly as a mercy, partly to ensure my success. Couldn’t risk gun noise; pulling my knife from its sheath I put the blade to his throat and pulled hard.  His pleading gargled; he writhed horrifically under my weight.  I pushed his face into the leaves hoping to spare Audree the horror.

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound. . .”

Audree was singing, an odd choice—perhaps fit—it is such an ancient hymn 300 . . . 400 . . . didn’t know she remembered it.

Seemed to take forever.  I suppose if we had been facing downhill he would’ve drained faster. Switching the blade to my left hand I repeated on the other side.  He continues to writhe for some time and I think of plunging the knife into his ear to end this. 

Then it slowed.  One last murmur—I smelled shit—he was still.

At the place where the sand drops down dark and deep I look back at the women and drop in. The water is chastening cold. I wash my body and watch the clouds of blood slip slowly away downstream.

At the camp Audree is standing rocking the babe slowly, close to her chest, peering toward me. She needs me. I will have to face her. With handfuls of sand I scour my flesh till the skin on my belly weeps blood. Pick back through the stones looking down. At the shore I tie my tunic around my waste turning the bloody part inside. Walking up I search her eyes for intent.

“I don’t envy your lot Lugh Taggart.” She walks toward me, holding Geez, asleep in her basket, “Thank you.” Her arms are consolation her body warm against my chilled flesh.  We are holding each other as she weeps softly humming the hymn again. My belly smarts, but I do not flinch.

Suddenly some sprite possesses. Audree pulls off my tunic and begins whipping me with it playfully, trotting to the water’s edge she places the babe on the shore, strips, and begins wading through the stones. She has pulled her braid around the front to unravel it revealing her white and lithe form. Her shoulders slope softly from her neck. Her back true as a tower, her rump lusciously undulating atop her the gracious gate of her legs, feet searching comfortable purchase in the stream. I follow, picking up the basket and carrying it toward the pool.

“There is a place to swim a little way up.”

“I know. I saw you.”

Placing the basket on a large dry flat rock at the edge of the pool we step in together.

“Woo. It is cold.” Audree expels.

“You will warm soon.” Lammas' late evening sun is still full on the pool. The water stings my raw belly. We keep afloat opposite each other by moving our arms back and forth mechanically. I look in her green eyes for redemption.

“What did you do with him?”

“I cut . . .”

“No! . . . With his body?”

“Covered with leaves. I think. I will have to carry him away and burry him in the morning. Too close to our camp.”

“Did you pray over him?”


“He was quite hopeless. I'm sorry I invited him in.”

“Don’t think it would have made a difference, he was desperate and determinedcrazed.”

“Sad though, he had no place out here, better to have gone by the plague.”

“Why was he spared the plague and not our Abnerthol?”

“I don’t know, I cannot make sense of such things. I bear his spirit impossible in my chest every moment. But we still have Giselle, and each other, and whoever may yet be given to us.”

She takes a deep breath and turns up toward the sky on her back, floating; brown hair spreading out like an alluvial plain, breasts rising out of the water like treeless hills with a single sentinel at watch atop of each, her smooth belly below the surface and her legs sinking into the darkness. I sink down below the surface emptying my lungs till I reach the bottom. Rising slowly, I catch my breath silently so as not to disturb her ecstasy, treading water quietly honouring her beauty for some time.

“Sure beats the common pool in the village.” Audree resplendent.

I grab her toe. She treads facing again.

“Were you watching on me Mr. Taggart?”


“Well, you just going to look Savage man?”

I pull her toward the shallow and draw her close kissing softly. She pulls away, placing her hands on my face, looks in my eye, “I feel as though all our lives flowed toward just this moment.” Then gesturing to all about, “This is our world. This is why we came here; to be naked against raw nature; Angus and his Bride.”

I pull her to me and know her standing in the shallow water, praying for a son.


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