And here’s the conclusion:
Of course, Chelle knows ravens are a different bird from the crow; or at least she thinks they are. 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 she’d expect, that’s for sure. Shouldn’t there be fewer bodies? How many pounds of flesh can an average crow eat?
Someone has to remove some of these bodies. The smell alone is ruining Chelle’s sense of adventure. And her appetite is nearly gone. If she were the building’s super, she thought, where would I be hiding out? If my job description had just recently changed from fixing leaky pipes and re-hanging planter boxes, to disposing of dead bodies and fighting off evil crows, where would I disappear to? Anywhere but here.
Chelle now thinks her boyfriend isn’t coming home. Ever.
He hasn’t even called. And when she pictures his face, all she sees is a plate of raw meat. You know, like one of those cheap steaks served with a baked potato at a dive bar. It’s pink with the threat of blood. But not bleeding. Just lined with false potential.
In her head:
I’m having doubts. No super, no power for lights, and no Internet. But lots of garbage. I can’t wait here forever. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Chelle, what are you waiting for this time? You’re a lonely hatchling in this darkened nest of birds and bodies.
Oh, my parents would say I should wait for help, for the authorities to come, for a savior. But my parents aren’t answering their phones. Two damn cellphones and no answers. No super. It’s just me. I haven’t even had to change a lightbulb for myself in three years. Now I’m faced with this loneliness, and I think the bodies have been moving around. Dead bodies. Moving!
I’ve become too scared to go downstairs for a closer look. But from the fire escape outside my window everything looks like those police drone videos of protesters all bunged up, shoulders hunched, just struggling against each other. A single purpose with multiply avenues of completion, and even more avenues for failure. But they stand up, and they take a risk. No matter the beatdowns taken, they push on. Push on.
I’m going to die here alone if I don’t make a move. I have to put some things in a bag and go out there. This waiting isn’t working out.
Eaters Without Boarders
Milton Fife and I are in the mall’s foodcourt. “Hard people full of soft potential,” I say, as he’s stacking heavy objects against one of two entranceways to Snack’s Snack Emporium.
“The lamia came for the children,” Milton Fife replies between grunts and over the sound of his work.
I ignore his comment because I’m now more interested in Snack’s unused bounty of individually wrapped, chocolate-dipped corn chips. Salty and sweet, that’s my kind of meat. In these times of decay, we nomads have refined our understanding of nutritious meals into three commandments. “Stay hydrated; eat proteins when available, and above all else you have to enjoy the pleasure of consuming snacks with long shelf lives. Thank you, Hostess.
Mini Muffins for days! And days. And days.
It’s this thought—Ho Hos: A Bad Thing Turned Good—which keeps me from noticing the sudden sound of music booming from unseen speakers, until it’s cranked to 11 and quickly reaching out to all ears.
All at once, the commanding voice of Barbra Streisand breaks over me as Milton Fife slaps my backside and swings his sledgehammer onto his shoulder in one fluid motion. “New question,” he says, “can Eaters tell the difference between live and recorded audio?”
And all around us, Barbra Streisand electrifies our foodcourt stadium with a rousing rendition of Second Hand Rose.
“Better question,” I reply, “will the Eaters be repelled or attracted by Barbra’s voice?”
By way of an answer, Milton Fife hones in on the scent of something, a smelly vibe I guess, telling him the answer to a more important and unasked question: Where’s the music coming from?
Chelle Preaches Vengeance
As we run in search of the voice, a new threat comes to us in the form of an amplified, disembodied question: “Are you dead or alive?” … secondhand pearls … I’m sick of secondhand curls…
Now. How does one answer a oneway transmission in space? Maybe, one lands one’s spacecraft on the doorstep of the inquisitor and says, “Yes, I’m alive. How kind. Thanks for asking.”
If you’re Milton Fife, on the other hand, you sledgehammer the office door of Poppy’s Pumpkin Palace and scream, “We’re the living, and you’re going to be the dead!” And yes, he screamed “going to be” and not “gonna be”. Milton Fife is formal even in a fight.
Now, the question becomes: How does one respond to an In-Your-Face challenge from a stranger on her doorstep? With a true action movie hero one-liner, of course: “Buddy, I’m gonna press your suit with a cold, dirty iron.”
Chelle slides a big pistol of unknown make and manufacture from under her jacket, letting fly an awkward shot that slams into the wall just to the right of Milton Fife’s head.
Milton Fife, with a slight shakiness in his voice, “Bed your make, sleep in it!” Accompanied by thunderous sledgehammer gaveling on the floor in front of Chelle.
… It’s no wonder I feel abused … I never get a thing that ain’t been used …
That’s when our false front of bravery breaks down into the gushing of laughter and tears. Absurdity and fears. We—the only truly living human beings left—drop all our defenses, falling bodily to the floor in a release of loose, casual humanity. For a moment.
Our chuckle orgy lasts an eternity of about four carefree minutes. Time doesn’t like to stand still, however, and its momentum makes Chelle pull us back to the moment. Rising, with a flash of heat and anger. Without disclaimer, she unleashes an oral barrage. One, I can only conclude, that had built up in her over days of lonely struggle until our presence called it forth.
“I have lasted in this sick crow and garbage infested horror town as long as you! And without aid from others, I’ve been completely alone.” And from Barbra… Life is juicy, juicy and you’ll see I’ve gotta have my bite, sir….
She continues; her voice building with Barbra’s: “I’ve killed those dead things. I’ve put them down for good. And in the short time since I left my apartment at Ravenbend, I’ve grown more than in my entire previous, shitty life. I was a baby. A baby waiting for death.”
Chelle reloads her pistol. She eyes us with a brutality beyond her years.
“Together, we will destroy them all. Reclaim humanity. Or at the very least, we will take back our city. Stand now. No progress without vengeance. No future without a fight!”
Everything is Coming Up Eaters
Have you ever misplaced a chunk of your day? An hour gone, no imprint. A day in the week, just blank. Or an event, years prior, that someone swears you attended. You know you didn’t. Maybe?
Oh fluid memory! It’s a juicy gossip. It’s a tale of conjecture. So my retelling of the next few hours may not be true. Sit back, and look for the warnings.
Chelle is not an imposing figure. She is small, like 5’3”. But with a pistol in one hand and a machete in the other, she’s a reverse biblical crusade of miniature fury. Fuck Knights Templar! And that is our fighting word. Every cry begins with it.
“Fuck! Fuck lard! Fuck the dead! Fuck the Eaters of human flesh! Fuck viral incongruities! Fuck greed!”
On and on we go. Killing and crying. Milton Fife sledging anything that moves, quivers, shakes, or drags a lame foot. Fuck the lame!
Oh … right, and fuck the hundreds of Eaters from the rotunda that have heeded the ongoing call of Barbra Streisand because in our excitement we forgot to turn off her saucy voice. Fuck amplified music!
He touched me
He put his hand near mine
and then he touched me
I felt a sudden tingle
when he touched me
a sparkle, a glow
He knew it
It wasn’t accidental
No, he knew it
And suddenly nothing is the same. Oh, Barbra, your words are prophetic. Touched, and it’s over. But that hasn’t happened yet. The fight is on.
As Barbra’s recorded voice sings, “Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter,” we chop and curse; we fade and regain our energies. We feel the unrestrained freedom again.
And then there’s some other lyrics, not so important until this: “Eye on the target and wham. One shot, one gun shot, and bam!” Chelle is Barbra incarnate. Milton Fife and I are simply her backup singers. We repeat her lines and double tap our way forward on her wings. Bloody wings of vengeance. We kill and kill.
And then, she’s there. Wife. Ex-wife. My once living love. Yes, the one who left me. Her outsides matching the twisted insides I hadn’t understood soon enough. Only glimpsed in missing time and contradictions.
Her true self, it seems, has been let out to play. Well, good. Seeing her lame-footed dance now makes me wonder: Is there a feminine for Conquistador? Maybe it’s Eater? Oh man, can she eat. When I spot her, she’s noshing on some mall cop’s tender bits. Another survivor? Not now.
My ex-wife has been touched, torn, stripped clean of social structure. But it is her. Something in the eyes, or the big white teeth, this is definitely her, all her. An Eater, as I had thought she would be. An Eater I used to know.
I miss her still. Even like this. Inside I’m reaching out. Outside I’m riding on the bloody wings of Chelle’s vengeance. And mine, too. For the lies and the blame. For the unwanted separation. This is why I survived. Bad timing turned good.
I take a moment. I slot an arrow. I draw it back. Goodbye, old world.
Thomas Cleans Out His Closet
But, truly, back in the office, as Milton Fife charged with his sledgehammer, Chelle shot him twice. Once in his shoulder, and once in his stomach.
… free again … back in circulation now … time for celebration now … a party
She hadn’t missed. We hadn’t charged off to fight for vengeance. No wings. No ex-wife.
Milton Fife stumbled forward, hitting Chelle’s arm with an awkward sledge swing. Her pistol fell. I slotted an arrow. I shot it through her neck—right in the center. No thought, no consideration. Just the sound of Chelle and Milton Fife hitting the floor mixed with the voice of Barbra hitting the high notes.
At that point, I crawled to him, and I lifted him up, head and shoulders, onto my lap. A most loving gesture it felt in the moment. He was still breathing. And there was a happiness in its sound.
As Milton Fife bled, he talked: “I guess, Thomas, we’re grim criminals in the end. Not heroes. Not poets. Only commentators and thieves. We stole a little extra life. The turd pool would eat this up. I can hear them tapping away, and clicking away. Be alright, my friend. Stay strong. Use blood if you have to, but write this thing out. Write it out of our existence. Thomas? I should’ve stayed under my rock.”
The Barbra Streisand Fortress
I think this is where I will stay, in the pumpkin palace. The food is preserved beyond recognition, although the water tastes a bit like cancer. Familiar and final. Also, there are Sharpies, ball points, and pencils in every drawer. I have my blood, too. Plus blank pieces of paper in the office printer. And at the end of the day, even the music conforms to the situation:
People who eat people
Are the luckiest people in the world
Where children eating other children
And yet letting our grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside
I feel a true peace coming on. I greet it. I become it. Thanks, Hostess.
K. Shawn Edgar | Thanks for reading | Hope you enjoyed it | Ho Ho’s