I could hear the movement in Salsa. The African rhythm of the base, kettle, and guitar. She swayed. Her hips bounced back and forth, her arms and elbows extended out. Clapping her hands to the melody, shimmying her breasts and shoulders, while turning in a circle, she shouted, “échale!” Closing her eyes, she moaned in response to the rhythm’s possession, animating her limbs and expression. “Viene aqui! Y baile conmigo!” She implored. I always enjoyed watching her more. I loved the movement in her hips, the ache in her expression, as the music overtook her. She was beautiful and sexy. I missed her and still loved her deeply.
The memory faded into dusk as the twilight slipped into darkness. Night had absorbed the faint strings of light trailing the setting sun. I was now a couple of weeks down the road and that much removed from the farmhouse encounter with the Visitor.
The undergrowth on either side of the road was damp. The pungent smell of moss and rot held tightly to the moisture from an earlier rain. The business of crickets and toads filled the night’s vacant space of sound with the occasional hoot of an owl. Their noisy chatter, my only company.
Weeds populated the brown patchwork of gravel with long stems dotting the cracks and small fissures. The trees in a ghostly outline ran alongside the road jumping between the pockets of moonlight making landfall.
Bark and leaves pushed up into the nighttime sky, following straight and crooked guides. Possessing emaciated and gaunt lines, having already lost a bit of their leaves with the axial turning of the seasons, they covered their nakedness with remaining reds, yellows, and oranges. Their overripe blossoms of summer leaves, turned fall, crowned the canopy listing on the nighttime air.
With the sentinel of trees successively topping one another, they ran up the enormous length of the hillside that marched off into the distance; like some ancient creature lumbering along its arc, under the twinkling stars of the eternal sky. It was… a wonder to behold, but we were now much smarter. We definitely knew there was life out there among the stars. We now, knew we were in danger.
“Hey, I got a couple of tickets to the play I told you about. ” She said. “I thought, since the kids are staying over at their friends, we could go see it tonight! What do you think?” I volleyed a lukewarm response. The cool reception washed over her emotions and extinguished the excitement within them.
The sound of my solitary footsteps slid against the pavement, metering out the cadence of cymbals being struck on the movement of a melancholy, jazz track. I looked down at my feet, watching them as I placed one in front of the other, trudging along as I drifted in and out of my thoughts and memories. The tongue on my boot flopped and wagged with a forlorn type of energy.
My eyes shifted over to the woods, studying them as I walked along. Food and additional supplies would be needed soon. Aside from the cans of stewed tomatoes I greedily drank, the load of dried pastas and preserved vegetables, I’d later found in the root cellar of the farmhouse, was almost gone. My pack felt and looked visibly lighter – always a catch-twenty two – the fewer items I carried, the faster progress I made. However, the fewer items I carried meant there were less provisions of food, water, meds, and other essential – things. I was homeless in a world without the concept of home anymore. A farmhouse or any house with an indoor toilet would be a welcome sight. I would have given my right arm just to shit like a decent human being.
“Are you planning on getting up at all today?” I turned over in the bed and looked at her as she stood in the doorway. I never uttered a sound in response. I could see her anger rising by levels, but it didn’t matter to me. Her face though, still held something there. Her face still looked remarkably beautiful and bright to me, though it was laced with disappointment. She waited a few more minutes before turning away in a blur of what I sensed was a growing hatred for what I was becoming.
A rustling sound came from the bushes directly next to me. I stopped for several seconds looking into the darkness of the tree line until a rabbit darted out of the bushes and back into the woods. I laughed my good fortune. No one ever stayed in one place for too long and survived.
Before the arrival of the Visitors, there were plenty of people. No matter where you went, there were people, tons of people, too many people, everywhere people; the very people, I wished once upon a time were not around.
We were easy pickings for the Visitors. They would simply reach down and scoop up a handful of us at any time. Upon their arrival, they seemed to be everywhere, all at once. At least that’s how the television news made it seem. The Visitors had been pretty efficient in decimating the human population. The outside world was now, no different than the small, contracted, and insular world of my apartment. My long ago wish had been granted, but these days I longed for human contact. I craved it! Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you have till it’s gone. Ain’t that the truth Joni, I thought to myself.
With the banishment of artificial light, scattered and unavailable to dull the night sky, the stars shown much more brilliantly. The stars seemed much closer and much more accessible. Maybe we would have had a better sense for how close we were to any celestial neighbors and the likelihood of a visitation, if not for the perception of greater distances because of light pollution. Yet another sharp contrast to the times before the Visitors. A time that used to be one of lost hope for me. Now, everywhere was just as empty and somber as my apartment had been on days when I hadn’t had the kids after the divorce and before the Visitors.
She stood next to the bed, appearing smaller than usual, defeated. “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t know how to help you.” I turned from the pillow and raised my eyes to meet her words. I was too deep down the hole to respond or react.
Depression can catch you at the edges, like a narrowing of your vision to the point where nothing matters or ranks in importance. But sometimes, depression closes in all at once. One day in the light, the next in the dark. All you want to do is hide away. It’s almost as if depression itself, was a creature, ever present, waiting nearby for the right moment, when the stress of the onslaught would be too much to resist. I had retreated from her, from my children – retreated away into a small apartment, I pretty much picked for its size – too small for life outside of my own, to take up permanent residence.
I slept and slept and slept. I pretty much spent most of my time sleeping, dogged of energy, and fleeing life – just wanting to cryogenically sleep time away until the world would be interesting again. The divorce had been another weight on shoulders already curving under the gravity of desperation.
But my oldest son had been my lifeline to the outside world. I don’t know if he could sense it at such a young age, but he was what kept me going when I lay in bed lacking the desire to do anything, when life’s moments lacked taste. Each morning, he would say, “Good morning, dad!” He would give me more hugs and ‘I love you’s’ than I could carry out the door. Again, it’s like he knew I would be in need of them later – a pack of warm feelings and value – to ration and get me through the day. My eyes welled up at the thought of him. He was such a good kid.
But I still hid away, anyway; locked myself away. But now my contracted world was everywhere. My world had seeped into the empty fields and farmhouses. My world crept onto the empty highways. My world filled in the empty cities. I had all the space in the world with barely anyone in it. Aside, from the people at the farmhouse, the Visitor took, I hadn’t come across another person in months. The Visitors had taken away the people who should’ve been alive like my son, not people like me.
With each daybreak, I awoke and asked myself, “Why are you running? Who knows how close you were to ending it all before their arrival? They can deliver that release to you – do what you can’t do. Maybe you should stop running and let it happen?” Despite these regular bouts of discourse I kept it moving and I hustled to stay alive. Maybe my reason for fighting for life was in memory of my family. Maybe it was because most of the human population was gone. Maybe some ancient survival gene kicked into gear. Whatever the cause, I now only wished I could come across just one human being – just one person to talk to – someone who was living this same nightmare – just one person who understood.
by malakhai jonezs