Friday, May 22, 2009

After the Rapture: Jack’s Prologue

Jack looked on as five bandits terrorized several families. The parents’ hands were bound to their feet, and they were propped on their knees. The children were all huddled together, cowering and crying. No one else had seen Jack approach, and if he left that moment, no one would know he’d ever been there. Jack didn’t want to get involved, but he somehow knew he was going to.

It wasn’t that Jack was a fatalist, nor was he particularly god-fearing. Jack had never cared much for the “divine plan.” From what Jack understood, God’s “plan” was to send all the bad folks to hell, send the good ones to heaven, and leave the rest who weren’t worthy of either place, people like him, in this barren wasteland to fend for himself. What kind of shit plan was that?

The Rapture had been some ninety years ago. The once bustling metropolises were now graves and junkyards. The landscape was littered with cracked, unusable roads, broken-down vehicles, ruins of buildings, and trash, everywhere. All that could be known of the old world were stories told by his ancestors. Jack knew only what his father had told him, which had been learned by rote from his grandfather, which had been taught by his great-grandfather, supposedly a police officer in the pre-Rapture era. It was perhaps this cop instinct, passed on through the generations, that would inform Jack’s actions.

“Please,” one of the fathers cried out, “just take the food! Take anything else you want too, but let us go.”

“Shut-up!” shouted a red-faced bandit. “Did I say you could talk? I’ll say when you can talk. One more word, and I start capping kids!”

“Jesus Christ, man,” started a fellow gunman. “They’re just kids.”

“Don’t you get all moral on me, you whiny little pussy!”

“Hey!” came an authoritative voice, presumably the ringleader. “That’s enough. Nobody dies ‘til I say so. Let’s see what we’ve got first.”

As the bandits rummaged through the families’ effects, Jack recalled the first time he’d crossed paths with bandits.

It was fifteen years earlier. He was only eight years old. Those were the days when he and his father roamed this American wasteland together, in the hopes that they might someday find his mother. He remembered the countless times his father told him about how beautiful she was, and how perfect everything would be once they reunited in a quaint little village called Haven. They would find a home there, and be nomads no longer. For a time, Jack believed they would someday find this place, but as time dragged on, Haven increasingly seemed to be nothing more than a mirage on a barren, broken horizon.

Jack and his father had been making their way through a wood when they had heard a woman scream. Cautiously approaching, they saw a man holding a woman at gunpoint. Her hands were tied behind her back. She was begging for her life. At the time, Jack was too young to realize what he had planned for her, but old enough to understand the distress she was in.

As they hid in the brush, they also spied a second bandit who had a man tied to a tree, dousing him with something out an old jerry can, presumably gasoline. As the bound man begged the second bandit not to burn him, the first bandit dragged the woman into a tent.

“Son,” his father said, “I want you to stay here and don’t make a sound, you understand? Here, take this.” His father handed him a pistol. “If something happens to daddy, you just stay here, and don’t do nothin’ unless they see you, understand? And if they see you, you just start shooting, you got me?”

“No.” Jack grabbed his father’s arm, tears in his eyes. “Don’t go, pop. This ain’t a good idea! What if they hurt you too?”

“That ain’t gonna happen, son. Trust me. We’re gonna save those folks.”

“Why do you have to go?”

“It’s the right thing to do, son.” This would be the answer that would ring in Jack’s ears for the rest of his life.

His father really did save those folks. He started by shooting the douser, right as he was about to strike a match. The shot rang out through the air. Everything froze. The man tied to the tree looked like he might pass out from either surprise or relief at this impossible rescue. Jack’s father’s eyes glanced around for movements elsewhere, but mainly, he was focused on the tent. He kept his pistol trained on it while he pulled a knife with his free hand to cut the man free.

The gunman came out of the tent, using the bound woman as a shield. He said he’d shoot her unless Jack’s father dropped the gun. So his father slowly lowered his gun to the ground, never taking his eyes away from the panicky gunman. Jack’s father calmly stood up, his hands in front of him.

“Now let the poor lady go!” he said calmly.

“Yeah, right!” The gunman hollered, shoving the woman to the ground. “You’re dead, shit-for-brains!”

What happened next was completely a blur to Jack. What actually happened was, the instant the gun had left the woman’s temple, Frank ejected a quick-draw pistol from his sleeve, and shot the gunman through the forehead. The bandit’s gun fired a shot into the ground, partway between where the woman lay, and Frank’s feet. Jack smiled. His father was the fastest gunman in the west.

The couple was so overjoyed that they traveled with Jack and his father for several weeks, sharing what little in the way of rations they had to offer. They finally parted ways when the couple found a cottage on a riverbank, with a steady supply of fish and a working stove, where they wanted to stay. Jack’s father wanted to move on in his quest to find Haven.

Two weeks later, Jack and his father doubled back to the cottage, hoping they might be able to rest there for a few nights. Instead, they found the couple deceased. The place had been ransacked, and their bodies lay in pools of blood. They had both apparently been shot, and had bled to death, side by side. That was the only time Jack ever saw his father cry.

“What the hell’s the point of doin’ right if it just comes to this? Are you listenin’ God? Them people ain’t never done nothin’ wrong to nobody! Nothin’, you hear me! How could you let this happen? How could you…” and he trailed off into quiet sobbing. “Why is God doing this to us?”

Little Jack wasn’t sure what to do. He was crying too, but that was a daily occurrence for Jack. He took another look at the bodies of the two lovers. They were holding hands. He wondered what was that last moment must have been like for them. Did they feel love? Were they just taking consolation in not having to die alone. No one should die alone, Jack thought. Nobody.

Seeing his father like this scared him, but it was this moment that Jack realized that his father was just a man. He was tough, loyal, and courageous to a fault, but he couldn’t save the world alone. No one ever could.

Jack snapped back into his present situation.

“We gotta kill them all,” one of the bandits insisted.

“What, the kids too?”

“Yeah, We don’t wanna break up any families.”

Jack thought about his own family. He looked down at the crucifix his father had given him. He would never have thought a man like his father could ever die, but in a world with no running water, no doctors, and bacteria everywhere, the smallest infection often meant death.

Now all Jack had left of his father was the dream. Haven. This was the only thing that kept Jack going. Jack believed that if he could find his mother, that his father would never truly be gone. He would have someone to remember his father with. His mother. He didn’t even know what she looked like, but he somehow felt that he would know her when he saw her, and that she would know him too. Jack didn’t know if Haven was real or not, and even though finding it wasn’t even his own dream, it was the only dream he had, and the only thing that kept him going.

“If we let them go, they’ll tell their people we’re here. You’ve seen that village! There’s like ninety of them there. There’s five of us. You do the math.”

“We got guns though, man.”

“You think they don’t?”

His father’s words kept echoing through Jack’s mind. It’s the right thing to do. Haven could wait, and if Jack died doing this, then he supposed it would just have to wait forever. Jack stood up, and revealed himself.

“I think y’all better just let them folks go,” came Jack’s loud, unwavering voice.

The red-faced bandit went for his gun. With lightning speed, Jack pulled a pistol from his coat and fired a shot into the red-faced bandit’s head. Jack swiftly pointed his pistol at the ringleader, whose hand was on his gun, but it was still holstered.

“You got kind of a slow draw there, amigo. You sure you wanna do that?”

The ringleader took his hand off his gun.

“Here’s the deal. I’ll put my gun down if y’all put yours down too. Let’s talk about this like men.”

“Fine,” said the ringleader, and they all carefully put their guns down. “Now, who are you, and what do you want? You want a cut or something?”

“No, I don’t want no cut or nothin’. I just can’t stand by and let y’all do any more harm to these here folks.”

“Oh yeah? Just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

“I’m Jack Frost.”

Jack Frost had also been his great-grandfather’s name. Some clever irony had gone into the name, yet its humor would be lost on Jack. It would also be lost on the men who stood before him.

“I don’t care if you’re Billy-fucking-Holiday. Nobody tells us what to do. Nobody. You understand?”

Jack remained perfectly still, except for the raising of a single eyebrow. Jack clearly wasn’t impressed. Neither was the ringleader.

“I guess you think you’re some kind of idealist hero, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“You willing to die for those ideals?”

“Sure am.”

The ringleader snapped his fingers. Everybody went for their gun, and a chaotic barrage of bullets ensued. The entire fight took less than a second, and at the end of it, the terrified families saw the five gunmen collapse, and Jack standing perfectly still with his pistols drawn. Jack surveyed the scene, allowing his eyes to catch up with what his hands had done. Five gunmen were dead, bleeding out, lifelessly.

“’Course, it ain’t like that’s my only option.”

Jack twirled his twin pistols and re-holstered them. He untied the parents and made sure they and the children were all right. They offered him food, but he declined.

“Nah, you got growing boys and girls with you. They might need extra.”

“Why don’t you come with us?” asked one of the fathers. “We could use a fighter like you.”

“Nah, sorry, friend. I got somebody I’m looking for. I ain’t gonna stop ‘til I’ve found her.”

“You should come with us to Haven then,” one of the mothers replied. “There’s a community there. Maybe someone will know something. And you look like you could use a decent meal and a change of clothes too.”

“Haven, huh?”

Jack needed no further convincing. For the first time in his life, Jack finally felt like his years of wandering were coming to an end.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Quitter

Quitters never win, they say,
And winners never quit.
All I do is run away.
I’m such a chicken-shit.

As I recall, I had my licks.
A job and girl I knew were mine.
I had it all at twenty-six,
And sweet fuck-all at twenty-nine.

When I look back at what I lost,
I think about the hidden cost.
It’s her I’m really going to miss.
I guess I’m not cut out for this.

Backward Progress

People came from miles around
To look at Darwin’s freak.
If all the world loves a clown,
Why should it have to sneak?

Where might Caesar find the cause
Of Pantheon’s delight,
When I cannot shake all the flaws
Of this disgusting sight?

Who’s the King of Timbuktu?
What’s the longest mile?
How much would a woodchuck chew?
And why the crooked smile?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Pattern

I found out last night that Parasite Eve has a boyfriend. And a painfully handsome one too. I’d made an assumption that since she was just visiting my university for the summer term before moving out west that she wasn’t attached to anyone. These assumptions of mine have a tendency to get me into trouble. “Never assume,” as they say, “because it makes an ass out of Ume.” I’m pretty sure that’s how it goes. And I’m not sure who this Ume guy is, but I’d rather stay on his good side. Anyway, on the bright side, I’ve made a new friend.

Yet I can’t help but feel a bit down about it, nor can I shake this sense that I’m perpetuation some kind of pattern in my life. I can’t seem to find work, not that I’m willing to do anyway, and I can’t seem to find love, not that I’m willing to do, anyway. I suppose there are crappy jobs that I could take, but they’re just a band-aid – a dead-end, and for the money I make, it doesn’t change anything. There simply isn’t enough financial incentive for me to care. On these salaries, it would take me 40 years to pay for a house. Oh yes, I did the math. That means I’ll be 70 when I’ve paid for my own house. Then I’ll promptly sell it, because I’ll be completely senile, and all that money will get pissed away in a retirement lodge, where they’ll treat me like crap and talk to me like I’m a baby.

Yesterday at my grandma’s lodge, an old codger came up to me and asked, “Can you tell me where the car is? The car that brought the babies?” And I remember thinking, ‘What? Oh, right. She has dementia.’

“I left the car in your room. Go back to it.” No I didn’t, but I wanted to. I just told her we didn’t have a car, and then she moved on to the next person to ask. I kept hearing her husband saying to her, “There is no car, Agnes. We live here now. We have our own room here at the lodge.” He said this over and over. What kind of an existence must that be for him, I wonder. I’d go crazy if I had to tell me wife the same shit over and over. And nothing ever stuck. Grandma Loopy is tedious as hell to deal with too. At least now she does really talk anymore. She just makes weird gestures.

Also, my Auntie Flo is coming in from out of town, and her 15-year-old dog just died, so I’m sure she’ll look and feel her best when she gets here, and I’m sure she’ll be extra friendly, and not in the least bit bossy, tedious, annoying, bitchy fucking asshole that she always is. Damn, now I feel like drinking.

I want a woman of my own, but I don’t actually think I like them. I’m certain they don’t like me. I want to have a job, but I don’t want the jobs I can have. I’m stuck in a paradox where nothing seems to be good enough, yet conversely, nothing is worse than something.

One might accuse me of being picky, but the last two women I dated, were women that no one wants. And they turned me down. How is that supposed to make me feel. If I lower my standard, people seem to think even less of me. Fuck my life.

The thing that annoys me the most about the patterns is that I’m aware of it. I just don’t know how to break the cycle.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Knights Before Bishops

I enrolled in two classes today: a third year class in British Literature, and a second year class in American Literature. I went on campus beforehand and asked for a course overload, so I could take two classes, and then before heading to class, I agonized over what to take.

You see, I’d been talking to a “friend,” (a hot girl befriended on a dating site, who never took the time to actually meet me in person, I’ll call her “Coach”), who teaches ESL on an Indian Reservation. (By “Indian” I mean native, but I resent that term, because *I* am a native. I was born here too, and I sure as shit don’t have a home in England. And unlike “natives” I don’t get a free education. Lucky bastards… grumble…) Anyway, she told me she made 60K a year, plus benefits, and I thought, “damn, now I really don’t feel like going to another country to teach English for the equivalent of minimum wage. Not when I’m this close to going to teacher’s college. So I’m going to keep pushing through the prerequisites I need.

I still haven’t decided whether I want to teach small kids, teens, or just go all out, get a PhD and teach university kids. And if I want to teach high school, it’s strongly recommended, (if not required,) to have two teachable subjects. (Coach only has one, but she teaches on a reservation, so the rules are probably different. You know, like all the other rule for “natives.”) A mere English B.A. would only give me one, so I’m trying to figure out what to do about a minor. I’m considering psychology or history. There are merits to both. But I was torn today about which to commit to. So of course, I didn’t. I took two English classes, because I realized that I could follow a simple principle: Knights before Bishops. When you have known and unknown steps to be taken toward a goal, you take the known ones first. This may seem rather obvious, but today, it was exactly what I needed to solve my dilemma. In chess, when you’re making your first grab at territory, there really is only one ideal square for the knights to jump to. The knight almost always open towards the center. Since you’re going to do this anyway, you may as well do it first, because there are a number of different logical places to put your bishops, and which one is best may not become apparent until later on.

We went over the syllabi in both classes today, and pretty excited about the reading list. Our Brit lit professor is actually contemplating changing one or two of the readings to suit what we haven’t read, or would read. I thought that was a nice touch. We’re going to be analyzing poetry in that class too, which should help with my craft.

Also, there is this girl that I noticed, (isn’t there always?), in both of my classes. So after the second class, I thought, “perfect that’s my ice breaker.” And so I broke the ice with her and we talked about our decisions to take these two English classes, and how unsuccessfully we’d been thus far at getting our educations to work out for us. We parted ways at the bus stop, were she said she was going to the comic book shop. And so I thought, “nerd!” It turns out this girl also has every modern console system, and she… is… GORGEOUS! She’s like the ultimate nerd’s wet dream. I’m going to be sitting right next to her in Thursday’s class, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind. I’ve decided to call her Parasite Eve. Some clever video game humor went into that one. Anyway, though I’ve only just met her today, I have a mad crush on her, and though this will probably only end in tears, for now I choose to enjoy it.