As for Thomas, currently he’s gone small and Old World by penning his words in a blueish calfskin binder on non-bleached off-white pages. Pages with tiny words reminiscent of earthly stratification. There’s no “school” here, old or new, for Thomas. His method is simply primal, and I suspect he’s close to using blood as ink.
Dance of Life
It’s only now that I feel relaxed and comfortable in my own skin. My toes are my own. Organs, all inside and in place, healthy and mine. I no longer feel an overwhelming need to hide under a rock. I think it’s the recent decrease in non-screaming humans to Milton Fife and I alone that has released me from the fantasy that I’m not human. Because now I have millions of examples of true subhumans. And this gives me new purpose: be the best flesh, bone, and blood I can be.
From the fire escape outside of a large department store on the other end of our block, we jimmy a fourth-floor window. There are five buildings we can get to by going in different directions over the roof of our building. Some are connected by narrow metal walkways, while others we jump small gaps. On the largest gap we tipped long steel poles across, secured them on our side with brackets and concrete screws, and then shimmied over to bolt them down on the other side.
Milton Fife found some corrugated sheet metal on an unfinished floor of one neighboring building, so we pushed it along the poles and secured it with three-and-a-half inch bolts on either side. Ingenuity. I never thought I had it. But it’s bubbled up like spring water from the cavernous deep. This shows me that when you’re forced to level up, new abilities are exposed and, of course, you have to make use of them or you perish.
If you’ve ever been in a department store after closing—security guards and window dressers will relate to this best—there’s a queer glee and freedom to running about, or touching and turning everything on, that overrides one’s sense of societal propriety. Bang. It’s switched off. Full stop. And another sense switches on. A sense of unrestrained exploration. Maybe that’s how the Spanish felt after landing in the “New World”?
Normally, throwing a switch like this causes conflict with the untransformed majority because the actions it produces appear antisocial and harmful to the status quo. But, as Milton Fife says, all those tables have been turned. And burned. Eaters no longer care about controlling image, making money, or market shares; they’ve been rewritten to a single root command: If it’s alive, eat it.
The Meat On Our Bones
Ogden said, “It is the urge to build and expand—to literally increase one’s mass—that separates the living from the dead; for once this urge is gone, the living topple and decompose.” You may not know of Ogden. You may think you do. Either way, he was an Eighteenth Century Irish farmer and poet who wrote under the name of Barnaby Smoot. Shaped like a bean stock, he weaved agriculture into everything he did. Even his house, it is said, had a turf grass and sunflower roof.
I’m reminded of Ogden as Milton Fife and I stare down from the balcony overlooking the central rotunda. Four stories of shopping, food, and other entertainments reflect our past of over building and expansion for expansion’s sake. But now, it is all inanimate emptiness.
I wonder how Ogden would have factored the Eaters into his equation? Their urge to increase individual mass is definitely not gone and, if anything, has intensified to the singular focus of expanding into the one area previously taboo. Other living humans. That’s the thing, isn’t it? The ultimate connection; the ultimate sex is not sex and reproduction at all, but eating human flesh.
Milton and I snap into our Spanish Conquistador mode. The new sense of freedom overtaking us both at the same time, we run about the place touching, tipping, and attacking everything in our path. My main goal is to gather all the weapons I can, while Milton is clearly more interested in scientific study. He dumps a mannequin and a microwave over the balcony railing to see which hits the ground floor first. It’s an old experiment, no doubt, but somehow for him it’s also a cultural statement and a nod to his favorite stage play and movie adaptation, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”
The impact rises, building and expanding, filling everything. Clearly a living sound. My heart cogs freeze with this auditory sabot. Our momentary freedom made us forgetful. Eaters are attracted to sound.
And as the crash loses its urge to expand, flattening to silence, a corresponding noise builds from below. Slowly, out of sight, the heavy steps gather like a gang of clumsy dancers. Milton Fife’s childlike bouncy enthusiasm burns off, leaving the much more recognizable, clipped nature I’d come to know. Time to run.
I gather up several arrows, my bow, and a camper’s hatchet from the stash I had pillaged earlier. Milton, with his new, yellow safety-handle sledgehammer, sprints along the main corridor toward the foodcourt. For no sensible reason I take a moment to glance over the glass and chrome railing of the rotunda, needing a visual. A confirmation. Eaters—all bunged up and jostling each other, like so many rubber ducks in a funnel conveyor—have occupied the bottom floor and begin pushing up the rounded staircases.
Unlike her boyfriend, who’s a bellhop down at West Hippodrome and loves a crowd, Chelle has trouble leaving her apartment. The couple lives in “The Nest” at Ravenbend. It’s actually called Orchard Court, a product of low-income housing. But since the crows came, and the building’s architecture has always resembled a cluster of short-limbed trees, she has taken to calling it The Nest at Ravenbend.
Of course, Chelle knows ravens are a different bird from the crow; or at least she thinks it is. But, really, she’s not even sure these invaders are crows—long obsidian feathers, all shinny and sharp make her feel they’re crows. But either way, the name Ravenbend just sounds better. And there’s a lot of them flapping around. Big and black, noisy and posturing, like nightmarish pigeons, they stare at her. Intently. And she wonders how so many large birds can exist in one place at one time. What do they eat?
Oh right, she decides, it’s the bodies. All the bodies and there’s all the garbage that’s piled up. She hasn’t seen the building super for days. Although, there seems to be more bodies now than 24hrs ago. And more garbage too. Not less, as we’d expect, that’s for sure. Shouldn’t there be fewer bodies? How many pounds of flesh can an average crow eat?
Continued on Friday in Part Four.