I’ve got Bukowski on my mind, mostly speaking, as I leave the liquor store and piss on the wall on the side of the Sturgeon Liquor. Since the decrepit old fucker’s scorched remains have been rotting in the ground for nearly six weeks, I don’t think he’ll mind much.
Three years at a liberal college will do that to you, the Bukowski that is.
It used to be once in a good and great goddamn while that I’d remember something I heard in class. It had to be triggered by something. I’d get to thinking about how much I loved screwing Bernice, or her younger sister, and the words would practically roll right out of my mouth.
Now it’s anything. It keeps happening, and I don’t know if it’s stress or contamination or the fact that I’ve been pickled for so many days that I’ve lost track. Now it happens when I’m looking at one of the dead animal carcasses that litter the side of the road from where the tanks rolled through. It happens when I drive past the empty stores on Main with broken windows. It happens when I go walking near the burning church building that none of us will confess to torching or bother to put out. It happens when I stare at the haunted schoolyards with silent playgrounds and stillborn swing sets.
When it happens it’s like I’m back at Iowa State, before they revoked my football scholarship, before drug screenings, before I had to work at McDonalds nights to make up the difference in tuition. I haven’t eaten fast food since I left, not even Taco Bell. I can’t stomach the smell now that I know what’s in it. Bass Note, on the other hand, practically moved into the Golden Arches after they dropped the leaflets explaining how the virus works and told us not to approach the barrier or they’d shoot us. Some of the residents actually believed the pills were really for water purification like the labels said.
"There are worse things than being alone.”
I’ll be on house patrols with Frank, looking for meds, and we’ll walk in and find a whole goddamn family dead in the living room, gathered around a blister pack of military issued cyanide capsules all empty and ingested. Somehow we’d overlooked them. Their eyes will be open and swollen. Their bodies will be bloated and disfigured. Their tongues will be sticking out black as tarpaper. The television will be blaring, pure white noise, since there is only static on these days. Then all of a sudden I’ll vividly remember some line from T.S. Elliot or fucking Flannery O'Connor or that pervert, Vladimir Nabokov.
“If you're losing your soul and you know it, then you've still got a soul left to lose”
Every now and then, a little of their programming will seep out, and I’ll catch myself reciting Shakespeare or Milton or that faggot Truman Capote or Ernest fucking Hemmingway. How the hell can I still recall the Old Man and the Sea or the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner? I can’t tell you what I would give to burn The Walrus and The Carpenter out of my mind.
Frank’s squirreled away enough prescription painkillers to stay good and high for the next decade. He’s got Vicodin. He’s got Norco’s. He’s got Dolacet and Lorcet Plus and Darvocet. He’s got Soma and Seconal and thin white sticks of Xanax. None of us will let him forget the time he took the Cialis thinking it was Phenobarbital.
Tonight it just so happens to be the dour words of a prolific loser that I can’t contain inside of me. I blame Bernice for being obsessed with his writing and giving me all those cheap paperbacks.
Tonight I lean against the bricks, my fingers digging into the damp fungus-covered grout as a stream of hot piss steams out of me, and the words roll out with everything else I can’t recall drinking in. Bernie would make me recite snippets of literature back to her while we were fucking and if I got it wrong, she wouldn’t let me fuck her sweet asshole. She said she’d educate me properly and get me to learn to love Burroughs and Kerouack and Ginsberg even if she had to wear diapers. She called it her carrot on a stick routine. She had the biggest tits you’ve ever seen in your life. If we did anal, she didn’t make me wear the condom and I could cum in her. I’m a pretty fast learner and within a week Big Breasted Bernie couldn’t sit right. Serves her right for making me switch majors.
Tonight we are on our 48th day alone in this town, the only survivors, but we are nowhere near the end of this ordeal. I haven’t seen anyone new come into town since the government laid down the quarantine perimeter. I haven’t seen a plane fly overhead since they formed a human shield made of Army reserves and militiamen. The world has grown quiet here, like how I picture Nagasaki was a few days after the bomb dropped, wind whistling through the sporadic elf fires left burning.
“Some suicides are never recorded.”
Corn, Piccolo Pete, and Bass Note don’t say anything about my literary Tourette’s syndrome. We are devolving at an alarming rate, returning to our primal, savage roots. Anything out of the ordinary is cause for concern, we tell each other, because it could be the onset of the virus. Originally we agreed that if anyone of us got sick, the rest of us would take him out in the woods and shoot him in the back of the head, so he didn’t suffer. That was before Pete got the cough, then Corn got it, then Bass Note.
Tonight they are too busy piling into the back of the Chevy and back out just as quickly. Cassius Clay, Frank’s fawn colored Boxer Pit Bull mix, has shit on the floor again and pissed up the seats good. Frank starts berating her and I do my best to yell over him.
“Why do you leave the damn dog in the car so fucking long, Frank?”
He’s not paying attention. He hauls out a chewed up length of rope from the trunk then drags Cassius Clay to the front of Chuck’s feed store, and ties her to a post. It’s cold out and the bitch might freeze overnight, but Frank’s not thinking that far ahead. Frank loves that goddamn dog more than most people love their wives, which is why he’s so hard on her.
We’re all trying our goddamn best to act like everything is normal. None of us know how much longer we can go before we fucking snap. Piccolo looks kinda green around the edges and Corn keeps sneezing. Then again, they might just decide to carpet bomb Crystal Lake like they did Cedar Rapids. The radio stopped picking up news so we shut it off. Frank had it last I saw.
None of us want to talk about it anymore, why we didn’t get sick right away like the others. Frank thinks it was Al Qaeda but I think it was an accident. Frank talked a lot about signing up for the armed forces after 9-11, but in the end he got his contractor’s license and forgot all about the military.
We dug forty-three plots in six days, then the guys in hazmat suits showed up and Dave let them use his tractor to dig one mass grave. They burned the bodies before they covered them. They smelled worse than my memories of cleaning the grease traps.
Bass Note grabs a beer from the old cooler sitting in the open trunk and Frank starts hollering at him in a voice loud enough to raise the dead.
“Ain’t no harm done, Dub T’s,” he whistles out as Frank wrenches the can from his hand, glaring at him. “Shit, I’ll just go back in the store and grab you a case if it’d make you happy.”
“Not from my ‘emergency only’ stash, dipshit,” he chides, slapping him up side the head. Bass Note flinches and Frank hands him back the beer, cursing as he shakes the foaming suds off his hand. “Those are my only cold ones,” he mutters.
Cassius howls pitifully and Frank turns and stares at her.
“Shut up Cassius,” he wheezes between a coughing fit. “Damn worthless bitch.”
“What do you want to do about the car?” Corn asks and Frank glares at him, pulling the cooler out of the trunk.
In the distance there is an explosion and the dark outline of a black plume of smoke rises from where one of the local gas stations is located. Odds are, it’s not in service anymore. Half of the buildings in town have been looted or stand open. Wild animals roam the streets unchallenged.
“We’ve got two choices,” Frank groans. He adjusts himself and spits out something that looks like blood on the wet concrete. He’s shivering from the cold and his face is red and patchy in places. “We can either burn it or drive it into the lake, because I ain’t cleaning it.”
In the end we decide to burn it right where it stands and just commandeer a new vehicle from the sixty odd some left sitting around. Corn and Piccolo Pete grab the gas cans they filled earlier in the day and start to douse the Chevy while Frank barks out instructions. Bass Note and me walk over to the feed store and sit on the curb. I’m drinking Vodka of the Gods with one hand and petting Cassius with the other.
“It's possible to love a human being if you don't know them too well.” The words fall out of my mouth and my cock gets rock hard in my jeans thinking about the triple B. “Damn worthless bitch,” I mutter. Cassius looks up and whimpers.
It was during our first summer out of school that we had each earned our own scatologically inspired nickname. Dave ate six cobs at Frank’s parents 4th of July barbeque until he made himself sick. He was in the bathroom for nearly an hour the next morning. He shit so much that some of it wouldn’t flush. Kernels kept floating back up for days according to Seanie’s version.
Frank’s got a box of Diamond Strike Anywhere in his hands. He’s pulling one out at a time, sparking it on the zipper of his jeans, then flicking them at the gasoline soaked car. The first three go out before they reach the roof, but the fourth hits. There is a loud whooshing sound as all the air around the vehicle pulls in towards the initial flash of fire. Flames shoot across the surface of the roof, climbing in the cracked windows and covering the seats. Bass Note starts to cheer, then leans over and throws up on his faded gray Chuck Taylor’s.
Seanie got nicknamed next, Picollo Pete, for the high pitch sound the firecracker makes when you ignite one. Everyone always said that Seanie was way too uptight for his own good. Before you knew it everyone was trying to nickname each other something that had to do with how they farted.
Silent Death Bob. Gunfire Gary. Peckerwood Paul. Fecal Frank.
Bass Note is on his hands and knees vomiting so hard that he loudly shits himself. From the sound of it, he just lost half of his organs. Frank starts laughing and laughing. He’s just washed my grandmother’s left over Klonopin down with half a bottle of Jim Beam. No one knows how much longer they’ve really got. All they know is that it won’t be long now for most of us.
James got saddled with the moniker Bass Note, for the long introduction he gave the walls of any enclosed space before commencing to shit. James is a big, fat fuck of a guy with a special place in his heart for cooking chili and a child’s sense of humor. To this day, most of us believe that James actually nicknamed himself. Shitting himself is kinda the way he might have wanted to go.
Frank is still laughing. Pink, blood-tinged tears stream out the corners of his eyes. He laughs so hard that he begins to cough and sputter. Once he starts, it’s like he can’t stop. Soon he is spitting up a little more blood and I know it won’t be long until he’s just as sick as his parents were before they climbed into the Oldsmobile. He found them in the garage with the car still running looking as peaceful as if they had simply fallen asleep and forgotten to wake up.
There is a very good reason why we’re not taken in and examined for ninety days after the initial exposure, but goddamn it, it’s just downright cruel to leave us to die like this. Everyone knows this strand of haemorrhagic fever is weapons grade, that it runs its course in as little as six to twelve hours. By the time you start to cough you’ve already got less than a day left. No amount of morphine can numb that fact out of your mind. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know your options.
We call Frank the Wind Talker, or Dub T’s for short, since he has a bad habit of passing loud gas that, thankfully, almost never smells like anything. Being nearly a year older than the rest of us and barrel-chested, there was never any question that Frank was our leader.
Bass Note falls into the gutter where he’s been puking but he doesn’t get back up. The wind shifts and I can smell him. He’s got to be dead. If I had to guess I’d say that his internal organs have probably been liquefied by the virus. Corn and Piccolo Pete sit down on the ground shaking. They douse each other with the remaining gasoline without saying a word. Frank is eating handfuls of pills from his pockets. He stumbles forward onto the burning car passing out over the hood. He is instantly consumed by fire. It’s clear that no one wants anyone else to be responsible for making sure they don’t suffer. No one is taking any chances at this point.
I look up at the sky as Pete and Corn go up in flames. The truth is that I feel fine. I’m not sure why it’s not affecting me, why the only virus in my head is a dead drunk’s verse.
“You must begin all over again. Throw all of that out. You are alone with now.”
I untie Cassius Clay and start to walk up the street, whistling as I pass the remains of my childhood friends. It’s been a long day and we have several miles to go before I can find a clean house without any corpses in it to sleep in tonight. The stars are bright and the sounds of the forest are all around me, wild and raw and inimical.
There is no one left to remember my nickname or how I earned it, which is just as well.
This bitch and I are going to be stuck together for the next 42 days.
Devan Sagliani holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the
University of California at Los Angeles. His fiction has appeared in Word
Riot, Impetus, Thieve’s
Jargon, Outsider Ink, & Thirst
For Fire. He was also recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
At present Devan resides in Los Muertos where he is plotting a great and terrible
revenge upon the world in literary form.
Copyright 2003-2006 AntiMuse