Their Days Are Numbered is a new year-long project authored by the collective Entropy community. It is a collaborative online novel written by the Entropy community on a weekly basis. A different author will write the next “chapter” each week, to be posted every Tuesday, following the previous post from the previous week, and following a very limited set of guidelines (that each author has one week to write the next piece after the previous week’s installment goes up, that installments should range between 150-1500 words, and that pieces should somehow incorporate a real-life occurrence, current event, news item, or other happening from that week).
Follow the entire “novel” here: Their Days Are Numbered.
The ninth installment is presented this week by Megan Broughton.
With your soles keeping time, the omnipresent song shifts each plodding step north. In one mountainous area, the bellowing of distant rockets syncopates with their own echoes against the pink rock. For entertainment’s sake you imagine it’s the sound of an army’s worth of drummers warning an impending ambush. “What crafty motherfuckers,” you think, while feigning evasion. But no one emerges to skewer you on a bayonet which is just as well because your light heartedness seamlessly morphed into klutziness and now your whole arm is boulder-bruised and the flickers in the sky are laughing. Seems you can softly rain hellfire down on the kid’s city but you can never take the city out of the kid.
You gleefully remember the silliness of your first Pee in the Wilderness (or as you’ve since dubbed it “apeecalypse ”). Years ago and five hours away from a bathroom, your best friend asked if you peed outdoors – “I mean…no, but I could.” And she responded, “Oh that’s a problem.” If anything, the end of the world has been great for your inhibitions and self-confidence and left time for the hard questions like “Who am I when walking alone?” and “Exactly how much do I miss toilet paper right now?”
Though with feet as mallets playing with tone and rhythm, you’re slowly weaning yourself off expectations of glass and concrete. Over time, the distinct reverberations of the surfaces over which you trudge become apparent: the tactile differences between untended sidewalks, desiccated fields, fetid mud, and tree roots. Each a portrait of a place, or a place that once was in this aching landscape birthed from a global game of “Would You Rather” taken painfully far:
Would you rather:
obliterate this or that
assassinate him or her
displace this group or that
pull the trigger at home or overseas
scour and spike skid row or redesign the city
overcrowd, overspend, overuse here or there?
Names of days came to mean nothing and so you numbered them, losing count as storm clouds gathered above. [Wait, would today be your friend’s birthday?]
Well, whatever. The petrichor and your indifference arrive together.
You forget the abruptness of unyielding asphalt and the cool somewhat sticky feeling of linoleum, not that you much miss either. A new bodily memory is assembled out of the destruction as the conveniences and joys of yesteryear morph into jokes and half forgotten dreams. Thoughts of microwaves, taut sheets, the last person you slept with, the last shared laugh, puppy bellies, indoor plumbing…the unfathomable pleasure of cool running water against sweltering wrists, friendly silence, and admiring something without plotting to eat it.
Every worthwhile sacrifice you never made plagues you. With no one to witness it, you frequently collapse to water the melancholic earth with your tears. Perhaps from the dust will return a trail of magnificent dandelions. Maybe they’ll lead someone to you if slugs don’t slime them to death instead. Or maybe in this inexplicable world, each tear initiates a sinkhole.
For the first time in your life, you think, “I am alone.”
Then you realize that’s a selfish thought and this pity party for one sucks. What a wreck.
You are “alone with”: the matter from which you came and the disembodied thoughts, memories, and actions of others (and what ever happened to that mechanized mouse you traveled with for a few days? He must have counted for something). In the midst of the dictionary definition of “desolation,” the absence of options, and the stripping away of artifice, you have found a sense of being in the aftermath. By letting go of embarrassment and pretense, you’ve grown up. Maybe you don’t want to give this up when and if you ever find that new government to the north (if it even exists, or if it’s even actually north).
With your mind a tiny universe, you examine, reexamine, shoulder and pardon guilt with some acidity. Somewhere between haphazard foraging and a second attempt at Great Name Bad Taste Hipster Stew, the memorial for a professor you admired nags at your conscious. You missed it because you were working, or at least that was the easy reason you landed on. In reality, it was just too much emotion to face though even then the difference between self-preservation and guilt was unclear. You recall the last conversation with him after which he sent you home, plucking the thin material of your dress shirt and crooning, “Aren’t you freeeezing?” These days, you can’t even imagine the softness of that shirt – you lightly rub your thumb and forefinger together in hopes of a somatic memory but your dirt encrusted calluses snag at each other. He’d be cracking jokes at your expense while simultaneously Mother Henning the situation. Maybe it’s this appreciation for humor you should be cultivating in this absurd post apocalypse. After all, there’s no one here to laugh at but you.
Today, this devotion to self-reflection is fine. Yesterday, it was bullshit (like this stew).