the venue is warm and welcoming. it’s shaped like a railway apartment, narrow and long. the stage is at the far end, illuminated by the glow of colored lights. it’s warm and i feel calm. a chill passes up my spine as we step up, instruments in hand.
the set passes routinely, loud and energetic and practiced. we’re having fun. the crowd is receptive. i exchange some whispered words with my bandmate. he holds his guitar to the side so i can speak in his ear.
“i can do the interlude. i know the notes,” i say. i’ve never once played it, but i’ve heard it a hundred times. surprisingly, he agrees.
i watch my hands glide over the keys as if they are someone else’s, arpeggiating octaves from one end to the other. the notes reverberate dreamily. they bubble up from the floor of the venue.
i end the song on a ringing B. the note fades into earnest clapping. i feel high.
i enjoy the feeling for a moment before blaring sirens erupt outside. the crowd cheers, they think it’s part of the show. i clap my hands over my ears and whip around to talk to my bandmate. he isn’t there.
when i turn back to the crowd i see their backs, far across the room. they hurriedly file into the basement. i abandon all my gear on stage and follow them.
in the dusty cellar i talk to a venue employee. a bartender. her towel is still over her shoulder and she smells like liquor. she could be pretty but her eyes are so tired. she never makes direct eye contact, but explains that something horrible has happened outside. an attack. we’re all on lockdown until further notice. she starts going on about how there is plenty of food for everyone for at least a week. my stomach sinks when i realize she is thinking long term. i ask her if she’s seen my bandmate, or my friends. she says no.
where did everyone go? i am in a room full of strangers. i settle in underneath a high basement window. i can see the dirt and grass when i stand on my tiptoes. cigarette butts. distant flashing lights. the sirens are still wailing but i can tune them out.
i can’t say how much time passes. it feels like days but it never gets bright outside. everyone stands around in a disoriented clump. i wish people would lay down, sleep, eat, anything but stand around.
i find the bartender.
“is it safe to go upstairs?” i ask. “i need something to eat.”
she warns me to stay away from windows. don’t let anyone see me from the outside.
when i emerge from the basement the venue is filled with natural light. but wasn’t it just night time?
i’m in last nights clothes. last night’s makeup has smudged and dried uncomfortably on my face. i feel vulnerable. exposed.
it’s hard to creep unseen past the gaping windows. i do my best to skulk in the shadows. the swinging kitchen doors are straight ahead. i’m weaving quickly through tables and booths.
i enter the kitchen relieved. no windows. it’s dark and it’s dusty. how long could it have possibly been? my footsteps echo and i feel uneasy, as if i’m not alone.
i round the center island to find a girl on the ground. she is surrounded by bread and fruit, and she’s eating a dinner roll. her black hair is matted and she doesn’t look familiar.
“hi.” i’m as gentle as possible but she still jumps.
“what do you want?” she squeezes the dinner roll in her hand, and her other hand falls on the pile of bread next to her. guarding it. there are tiny scrapes all over her body and her eyes are dark and sunken.
“i just came up for food. can i have a piece of bread?”
“so am i.” she nearly growls. i take a step back.
“well, i’m sorry, but i haven’t eaten yet, and it looks like you’ve at least had some bread.”
“i found this,” she says slowly. “find your own food.”
“look. i’m assuming you came in from outside. there are at least forty people downstairs and we all have to make this work until things are resolved.”
she smiles sadly. looks down into her lap. “you don’t know what happened, do you? you have no idea.” her voice is quivering. i step forward instinctively.
“i don’t, but — ”
“things aren’t going to be resolved. things aren’t just going to get better.” her voice crescendos frantically. “it’s fucked out there. we’re all fucked.”
“then please,” i bargain. “have some compassion. don’t worry about the others then, it’s just you and me, i won’t even tell them you’re up here. i just want some bread.”
“what’s your problem? fucking christ.”
over the course of one long, painful second, i swipe a loaf of bread out of her pile, and she pulls glinting metal out from behind her. holds it up. points it at me. now i’m on the floor in blinding pain, gripping the bread i took.
my ears are ringing.
“i’m sorry,” she says. she’s crying. she sounds so far away. “i’m so sorry. it’s only a 22. you probably….will be okay.” i hear rustling. my vision goes in and out. and then she’s gone. there are two loaves of bread left on the floor.
i reach my hand up to touch my throat, the epicenter of the pain. a chunk of skin is messing from the place where my neck meets my shoulder. warm blood is bubbling out. i feel so lightheaded, and the pain fades substantially when i close my eyes and lay still. i realize i will die if i do that.
i sit up to a spinning room. pain shoots down my arm, and i use my good arm to pull myself to my feet. put your left foot forward. right foot. left. right. push the doors with your good arm.
when i enter the dining room i see that it is night again. the basement door is ajar, just as i left it.
i glide down the stairs in a dewy, warm haze. i know i’m dying. i can’t tell where this will to survive is coming from. it would be so easy to lay down and sleep.
when i reach the cellar i see that everyone is gone except the bartender. she nonchalantly reads a magazine, perched on a stack of dirty milk crates.
“help,” i croak, and she looks at me like someone would look at a wounded animal. says nothing.
“where did everyone go?” i manage to ask. when i talk i tense muscles i didn’t know i had, and the blood pumps faster out of my wound. i see drops of it on the floor by my feet.
she doesn’t answer.
“i need help!” i try to yell, but it comes out a pitiful squeal.
“i don’t know what to tell you.” she holds her place in the magazine with a finger. “i heard of a makeshift hospital some survivors put together. up the road. in plymouth.”
how did you find that out? i want to ask. who told you? but i’m too tired to interrogate her.
“i can’t drive,” i say. i’m weaker by the minute. “please.” i fish my car keys out if my pocket and hold them out.
“i’m sure as hell not going out there,” she scoffs. in my frenzied head i think, i’m dying. a person is dying in front of you and you won’t help. but then i realize, who knows what’s out there. she doesn’t know me anyway. doesn’t care about me.
i can’t remember my bandmate’s name. what was it? what the fuck was it?
if i die, i die.
i don’t sense the danger when i step outside. it’s a quiet night like any other. i’m tempted to drive home. to lay in bed and sleep, and at least die where someone will know where to find my body.
i pull out into the road and take a left toward plymouth. my headlights are so dim, and i can hardly keep my eyes open.
there are no other cars. there are no streetlights. it feels eerie but not necessarily unsafe.
as i pass a field, my high beams illuminate a group of people holding huge guns. their ski masks are striped with reflective tape. it shines eerily, my heart skips, and i step hard on the gas. they freeze and watch my car pass, but they don’t do anything.
suddenly i notice blazing fires dotting the roadsides. now i’m steering my car around mangled bodies. my shirt is heavy with blood. i wonder how much is left in my body.
the road begins to wind up the west mountain. to my right i can see the valley, glowing with fire. i swallow my fear and force myself to stare straight ahead.
i park my car outside the hospital when i reach it. it’s pitch black, and it’s deathly quiet. there is no one here.
she lied to me.
i slump over in my seat, and my last thought before i lose consciousness is that no one will ever bury me, not during this anarchy, and i’m going to rot down to the bones here in the driver’s seat.
i hear a pop. a thump. soft scraping. human voices? i’m too weak to open my eyes or speak. i’m too weak to care. i’m only grateful that the pain has faded into a dull throb.
then i gasp down a huge breath as if i finally reached the surface after being underwater. my eyes are open and i’m staring into a bright light. am i dead?
i feel a sickeningly painful pulling in my chest. if i’m dead then why do i still feel pain? this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
“hey One-Shot.” a gruff voice. i turn my head the slightest bit and become aware the my neck is swaddled in layers and layers of gauze.
there is a man with a black skull cap and a dirty, wrinkled face. he is holding a huge bloody syringe, and now he is bandaging a tiny hole in my sternum. the light is a bulb suspended over a cold operating table. two more men lean against the wall behind him. “what the fuck happened to you?”
i’m confused, but i’m starting to get the feeling i’m not dead. the bright light is inescapable, and it’s burning purple blobs into my vision. the table is freezing cold. “i just wanted some bread.”
all the men laugh. a chorus of deep grunts. “we got some of that,” the doctor one says.
They slide me into a wheelchair. i’m too dizzy to keep my eyes open. “tired, One-Shot?”
“i slept so much,” i say.
“you weren’t asleep,” the doctor man says. cool air hits my face as he pushes me along. it feels nice. “you were, i’d say, three quarters dead.”
i already knew that.
i open my eyes in a brick room stocked to the ceiling with beautiful, fresh bread. it smells like a kitchen. it’s warm. it’s dim and easy on my eyes. it all seems too good to be real. he hands me two croissants and i slowly but eagerly choke them down. i forget the last time i ate.
the doctor man smiles as he watches me eat. i feel myself perking up like a dying plant that’s been watered. i can clench some of my muscles.
“you’re coming back to life over there,” he says.
“thank you.” what else do i say to someone that saved my life?
“don’t mention it.” he produces a huge gun out of nowhere, and my heart drops. he clicks a mag into it, tosses it into my lap. i flinch and he chuckles.
“you’ll never get hurt again, not if you’ve got that thing on you.” he pulls his skull cap down over his face. it turns into a ski mask, striped with reflective tape. “welcome to the fight.”