#1820

Isaac slumped against the loft railing, staring down to the floor below where his companions worked to reinforce the boarded windows. He vacillated between admiring their stubborn determination to keep fighting and pitying them for not being able to accept the bleak truth of their situation. Mostly, though, he watched Michael move among the busy scene and wondered how things would be different if he had met the handsome doctor under better circumstances. When you couldn’t even leave the building without carrying a gun, or at least a crow bar or sturdy length of wood, romantic overtures were quite low on the list of priorities. Of course, it also didn’t help that you had zero privacy and were never more than fifteen or twenty feet from one of the other survivors. Was it wrong to wish a few of them might disappear, to whatever end, just to ease the crowded conditions?

“Isaac, you look like you haven’t washed in days,” Maria’s heavy boots thunked along the cheap plyboard as she climbed the loft stairs, a hammer hanging from her belt loop and spare boards tucked under her arm. She looked him over with a motherly frown of disapproval. “Your hair’s all greasy.” Isaac wanted to reply with, We’ll all be dead soon, why does it matter if I don’t look my best? or perhaps, That’s what concerns you? I guess you didn’t notice that I haven’t eaten in two days, but he held his tongue and answered instead with a careless shrug. “Maybe the dead won’t want to eat me if I taste like unwashed skin,” he added as an afterthought, but Maria had already turned away to block up one of the second story windows. She could be friendly, and her nagging was well-meant, but sarcasm had no place in her version of the apocalypse.

To be fair, Isaac had very little energy or desire left for sarcasm himself. He also didn’t particularly mind that no one had yet noticed his share of the rations went untouched, though just from feeling his own body he knew the effects were becoming noticeable. Whatever. He wasn’t trying to be a martyr or anything; he just honestly felt that what little food was left to their ragtag group should go to the people who still clung to hope and life. Sure, they’d be dead soon either way, but at least they would fight until the very end. Isaac had given up, plain and simple. At this point all he wanted was to finish this slow wasting away so they could bury him and forget he’d ever existed. That had already happened to a couple billion other people, after all. What was one more?

Isaac closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the splintered railing, letting the sounds of hammering and urgent discussion wash over him like a white noise machine. Exhaustion and hunger made his head spin and when he woke later he couldn’t tell if the memory of Michael kneeling beside him, his handsome face creased with concern as he checked Isaac for fever, was real or just a wishful daydream.

#1819

As the first wave of pain crashes over her changing body, her brief fourteen years of life flash behind her eyes like bursts of lightning. She sees herself as a young child, seeking the safety of her older sister’s room to escape Eldest Sister’s cruel torments. She sees herself comforted in her adopted mother’s arms one moment, a cosseted little pet, then fearful of her mother’s wrath just a few years later as the demoness grows tired of tending her fragile human daughter. In a flicker she is a teenager and her mother has just cast her aside, leaving her to face her fate like a lamb among ravenous wolves. As in the present she screams and writhes in pain, feathers bursting out of her flesh like razors, she watches as in the past Noah finds her just in time and tells her not to be afraid, that not all demons are as coldhearted as her mother. She watches her cousin spirit her away from that terrible world and into the realm above, leaving her to fend for herself among the angels. She relives the moment she is discovered by the orphanage and brought aboard the world-spanning train, and the unbelievable joy of being among other human girls. She closes her eyes to block out the horrible sight of her body’s transformation, and in the darkness behind her lids she watches herself fall in love, the kind only young women can feel for each other, deep and endless and passionate. But this memory is only days old and it flashes by too briefly, leaving her in the present where she trembles violently as her body rips and tears to accommodate the angelic metamorphosis. The tears running down her cheeks are partly because of the pain, but also for this fledgling love that now can never, will never, be. A tiny part of her mind wonders if it would have been better to let the demons devour her.

#1818

I know what you think. You think I want to fix you, or at least change you, make you something or someone other than what you are. That’s what your paranoia tells you, at least, isn’t it? I can almost see it whispering in your ear sometimes, twisting my words before they reach you so what you hear is only a queer shadow of what I said. But try to understand my meaning when I say I don’t want to fix you. What I mean is, I want you as you are: sick and mad and broken. I mean I want to be at your side for all of this, even the nightmares and the blood. Even that crippling paranoia. I mean I want to watch you die, and I will do so unflinchingly. I can’t offer you much, but I can offer you that. Someone at your side until, and past, the inevitable end. Someone with you in the dark. Your paranoia wants you to believe I only love the parts of you I think I can fix, but that’s a lie – I love most fiercely the parts of you that cannot, will not, ever be fixed.

#1817

If I wanted, I could never feel anything again. If I wanted, there are a hundred different ways to shutdown, to shut out, to numb myself beyond all care. Yet I do not want this. I choose pain. Pain means lucidity. Pain means you can think, that beneath the torment you are still in control. Every dull ache or sharp stab of white-hot pain means my body still fights. Could I spend my final months or years in a medicated haze, pretending that I’m not rotting inside? I could. I won’t. I would rather experience every moment of agony with the acute clarity of the dying than relinquish even a moment of control. My lover chooses to drown his sorrows in whatever cocktail of liquor and opiates works best that day, but not me. I choose awareness. I choose pain. I choose to face the end without flinching.

#1815

What was it like, to be one so young and shoulder a burden so heavy? Were you frightened? Were you angry? They make it sound like you accepted your task with grace and humility. In all the paintings you look like a woman grown, experienced and capable and wise, but you weren’t. You were just a child. How could you not be afraid? I think you were probably terrified but you couldn’t say no, could you? Neither of us could. You don’t get a choice with that kind of destiny. The angel appears to you and suddenly everything is different, forever, and you are drawn along the journey whether you like it or not. And in the end, I guess I wouldn’t change any of it, anyway. There were probably nights when you cried yourself to sleep too, or lay awake wondering if you were mad, if you had made it all up. They’ll never tell that side of the story – they need you to remain the quintessential mother figure, meak and mild – but I think I know the truth. I know how long those nights can be. I know how crazy you can feel. Yet I bet you wouldn’t have changed anything, either.

#1814

Sometimes life is not the better choice. Sometimes nothing can be done to save someone because there is nothing left to save. I am a walking corpse, and I will find a way to cut myself free from this rotting body eventually. To argue or pretend otherwise, or to offer me well-intentioned falsities, is a waste of time. Daren is gone. Nothing will change that fact. He will still be gone if a therapist gives me antidepressants to stave off the crushing sorrow. He will still be gone if my family has me committed so I cannot harm myself. He will still be gone whether I live another thirty years or die tomorrow. Given that immutable fact, what does any of it matter? He is dead and I am alone.