Saturday, March 7, 2009

Through the Smoke

Buck knew that he needed a car, but for the first three hours since he woke up, he could barely bring himself to accept how mundane his needs were in the After. Every day had been like this, so far. An apartment? A car? How could he be thinking of these…things…when he knew that principalities and powers walked the earth?

“Dear God, keep me sane,” he whispered, and realized with a start that he had just prayed. It was still a new sensation, that missive to the Great Unknown. But I do know it now. God is love. And that love will be the only true shield against what’s coming. “God is love,” Buck repeated out loud. Then he laughed. “And I still need to find a car.”

As he stepped out onto the streets of this now quiet North Chicago suburb, he saw almost nothing but cars. Some parked neatly, as if waiting for their owners to return. Some were still blocking driveways and intersections, the crumpled metal glinting in the pale sunlight. The city had managed, by now, to remove most of the bodies. But Buck could see that some of the cars had been empty at the time of the crash. He turned his head, resolutely avoiding the sight.

A block, then another. Buck didn’t know what he was looking for. Nothing flashy, and nothing too big. Maybe a Camry. Something that would blend in. He didn’t want to set anybody off.

The smell of smoke stung his nostrils, causing him to make a sharp left at the intersection. A woman was burning something in the front yard of her house. She’d built up a huge pile of fabric – bright stripes stacked on some frothy lace, then a peek of denim. Children’s clothes. As Buck got closer, he inhaled lighter fluid. The woman was very serious about this fire catching.

She heard him coming, and her eyes flicked toward him. “Had to do it,” she said, defensively. “Had them in the dryer when It Happened. What was I supposed to do? Fold them?” The anger tightened her voice into a mutter. “Carrie, Carrie. Little girl. My baby girl.” She began to croon tonelessly as she grabbed another tiny shirt to throw on the pile.

Buck turned away without speaking. He’d seen a few like her in the last week. She knew her child wasn’t coming back. By the look of her, she hadn’t eaten much in the After. She’d be one of the ones to give up, to forget how to live. She only wanted to see her child again. Principalities and powers meant nothing to her.

Then, through the smoke, across the street, Buck saw it. A Mazda 3 in black. Without thinking about where the owner was, Buck walked up the path to the door and turned the knob. It opened easily – it hadn’t been locked. Inside the front hall, he saw everything he needed to see: a set of keys on the side table and a worn little book tucked into the shelf below. He grabbed the keys and turned to the door. Then, he paused. He reached back for the Bible. “No one else is using it, after all.”

The car ran like a dream.

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