Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It begins.

The family spent nearly a week holed up in the attic of their building doing their best to make no noise and draw no attention when the Shit Hit The Fan, as 17 year old Will liked to say because he wasn't supposed to say “shit”, but who really cared now.

They did all right, the four of them and two cats, because it was an old and withered looking Victorian; less starchy and frilled grandmother and more the grand old lady left in her rocking chair in a back room long after death. You could see where beauty had once been, and how the house must have been a sight back in her day, but you also might avoid getting overly close out of fear a stiff wind might hit her wrong and knock the whole place over. The abandoned look of the place seemed to keep anyone from trying to get into it.

Eve Aubrey, mother of the Brood, as she liked to call them, had decided pretty early when what was at first referred to as “the riots” began, their downstairs apartment was not safe, nor was traveling the streets to get someplace safe an option. Mass transit was down almost immediately, though while the radio was still broadcasting news on every channel, there were tales of heroic bus drivers or train operators getting their passengers to safety even after someone – or more than one someone - started losing it on their vehicles.

Chunky, out of shape Eve had grabbed the tornado box, handed it off to 11 year old Katrin, had Will help his wobbly, ailing older brother up the stairs to the attic. By the time Will got back down to the main apartment from the third floor attic, Eve had packed water, buckets, and food in the huge duffle bags that had sped them all away from pain and terror eight years ago. Will dragged those up, and Eve grabbed blankets, and they made it upstairs just as the sounds of the first gunshots and sirens in their neighborhood reached them.

In the attic, Will and Katrin covered all four windows with blankets to hide their presence. Katrin set up lanterns in case the power went out;it did by morning. Eve dragged a dusty old mattress out of a pile of left-behind junk from previous tenants and pulled it into the maid's room, the place she judged to be most secure. The maid's room had a heavy wooden door and a bare, unpolished wooden floor; it had been used for nothing more than storage for nearly a hundred years. Once they were safely locked in that room, there were four locked doors between them and the outside, all heavy, Victorian, hardwood doors locking into solid oak frames. After Katrin, Val and the cats were safely locked in, Will and Eve ran back down – as quietly as they could, gathered a few more last minute things, and locked all the downstairs doors, then the downstairs door up to the attic, the second floor door to the attic, and the upstairs attic door.

Katrin let them in and locked the door behind them again; Val was rocking in place on the mattress, munching on a granola bar and playing his Gameboy with his earbuds in.

“Shit,” Eve said, looking at her elder son as he rocked, occasionally stilling to pet the cat curled up on his lap. “His wheelchair.”
“Should I -” Will started, only to be interrupted by some kind of explosion nearby.
They crowded around the window, peering out into the darkening twilit city. Several blocks away, there were flames rising from what appeared to be the elementary school.
“No,” Eve said. “We'll reassess in the morning.”

Eve, Katrin and Val slept curled up together on the grimy mattress, sharing a blanket. Will sprawled in a legless armchair that had been tipped on its side in the maid's room for decades; Eve fervently hoped there were no spiders in it. She wasn't sure she could NOT scream if there were spiders. Sleep was fitful and interrupted by shouts, shots, sirens and crashes, but no further explosions.

They did all right for a week. That first morning they managed to get downstairs and grab Val's wheelchair from the foyer while Katrin sat with Val himself. Val listened to the radio, rocking now and then, but not as often as usual. Eve wondered how much he understood, considering she'd once been told he'd never progress farther than a five year old. Clearly he understood far more than a five year old would, but he rarely spoke, and it was hard to judge what he thought about all this, other than he was afraid. He flinched at noises, rocked back and forth more slowly and less than normal, and stopped speaking altogether, so she knew he was scared – she was too.

The power went out the first morning in the attic. Eve and Will did what they could to hide the maid's room door behind piles of boxes and junk in the main room of the attic. They took down the blankets in case that looked more suspicious, keeping only the one covering the maid's room window. They locked themselves back in to the maid's room and waited, listening to the radio as quietly as possible.

There was nothing from the upstairs neighbor in the apartment right below the attic. Will said he was out of town at a concert down South somewhere, and his cat was boarded with one of his friends. Though Upstairs, as Eve called him, being terrible with names, often left his door unlocked, they'd locked his place up as they'd retreated up to the attic.

With the power out, they used Katrin's lanterns for light at night. The radio ran off batteries, as did Eve's phone and Val's Gameboy; the radio lasted just fine but Eve's phone was off by the second day and Val's Gameboy the day after that. Will and Katrin were perfectly capable of keeping busy reading books, but Val couldn't read, so Eve began to read the Harry Dresden books out loud, one ear cocked for the sound of anyone else in the house.

“Todd is like Harry Dresden,” Katrin said mournfully in the middle of book three, as she rummaged in the tornado box for another notebook, having drawn all the way through the first one. The tornado box was a very large Rubbermaid bin with a cover in which Katrin kept any supplies she felt she might need if there was a tornado. Before the tornado box, storms and high winds were a source of terror for her; afterward, while still frightened, she was at least grimly prepared.

Inside the tornado box was a disposable litter box, dry cat food which Cassiopeia normally disdained but begrudgingly ate after Day 2, notebooks, snacks, writing supplies, comics, juice boxes, small toys for her and for Val, and a massive first aid pack ordered from a camping supply catalog. Katrin had dragged the heavy box up the stairs that first night, with Bertram tucked beneath her arm.  Bertram was the stuffed tiger that Todd had given her years ago, when Todd had first moved in.

Eve lowered the book, Grave Peril, and looked at her daughter, her mouth pulled back with a sadness held in check. “Harry is a lot like Todd, yes. They're both tall and sarcastic.”
“And brave, and fierce, and protective of little girls,” Katrin said staunchly. Eve smiled, a little bittersweet.

“Yeah, that too.”

“I miss Todd,” Val said, speaking up for the first time since they entered the attic.

“I know you do, kiddo,” Eve said.

“Do you think he's ok?” Katrin asked. By now it was more than clear that the world outside the attic had gone mad, whole cities had gone dark, there were no more sirens blaring in St Paul, and no one moved on the streets. Sometimes there was still screaming, but not too near. The formerly grand old Victorian and most of the neighborhood still stood, but Eve had stopped letting the kids watch out the window because bodies lay untended in the street. The city smelled of rot and smoke, Will said. Eve had no sense of smell.

“I hope so,” Eve said.

“He's strong and smart,” Will said. “He's probably fine.”
“He's probably on his way here!” Katrin exclaimed, clasping her hands together excitedly.

“I don't know-” Eve started.

“Todd comin',” Val insisted.

“What about the Uncles?” Katrin asked.

“They're up north in Duluth on vacation. Maybe Duluth is ok.”

And they stayed in the attic for days after that. Sometimes Katrin held Bertram and reassured him that Todd was coming, and Eve pursed her lips and said nothing. There was no way to know if Todd was still alive, if the Uncles still lived – no way to text them, no way to email, no way to call. She'd had no news for several days, not since the cell phone had died. Eve didn't even know if the cell phone network worked anymore. They ate emergency food, drank water

“Are we waiting to be rescued?” Will asked one morning, looking over the last two granola bars.
“I am not sure,” Eve admitted. “We probably need to decide that. We can't just run out for supplies and leave your brother and sister here, we need to stick together.”

“Firemen coming,” Val said.

“I can run out for supplies,” Will said.

Eve's heart pinched hard.

“Give me a bit to consider everything. This neighborhood wasn't safe before all this, I am not betting it's safe now. Radio says there are still actively infected people out there, roaming the streets.”

“We could see if we can get to the radio station. We know there's an uninfected survivor there.”

“He's already asked us not to do that. He ain't opening the door for anyone right now.”

In the background, Robbie Rocket's voice came over the radio again. There were long periods of silence today, and some music playing off and on. Val was of the opinion Robbie Rocket was “aseep”. Will worried Robbie Rocket was sick, a later acting active infection.

“Most people abandoned the Cities in the riots,” Will said, thinking out loud.

“Those who are left are not safe,” Eve said. “I don't know how many others there are who aren't infected who survived the riots. I haven't seen anyone outside.”

“Ozzie?” Val asked.

“Haven't seen Ozzie, kiddo,” Eve said. “Ozzie's hiding for now.” If he was smart, he was, she thought, and Ozzie, a long haired, feral black cat who roamed the neighborhood, was plenty smart. She snickered a little and the kids looked at her, waiting for her to explain. “Oh. Ozzie. Ozymandias. 'Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair' – it just seems fitting all of a sudden.”

“I don't get it,” Will said.

So Eve recited, one of the few poems other than Jabberwocky she knew well enough to recite:

“I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away. “

Will shivered.

“That's Shelley,” Eve said. “I named Ozzie after that poem.”

“Creepy, Mom,” Katrin said.
“Oh, sure, coming from you, Wednesday Addams the Second,” Eve said, with a grin. The kids grinned back, Val chuckled, then they all laughed, and it felt wonderful.

“Ozzie all fine,” Val said stoutly, then turned his attention back to the two toy cars he was driving over the mattress.

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