Destruction: A Plague Story by Bruce Memblatt [horror]

Destruction: A Plague Story by Bruce Memblatt

I still remember their faces. I will always remember that unfinished look in their eyes. When the sickness began, everyone shrugged it off. Now no one shrugs (or does much of anything).

The flowers were purple, I mean lavender. They looked like average flowers, nonessential foliage, but they became particularly essential to our destruction. My brother would say, “Evan, there’s just something strange about them,” and I would act like I didn’t know what he was talking about, because I didn’t.

It was all in the breeze; purple, I mean lavender, spores and nothing could stop it—them.

A freak germ? An evolutionary hiccup? Who knows? Maybe the doctors had a clue, but they’re gone now; almost everyone is gone now, except for me and a few scattered about here and there like stubborn locusts.

The few who refused to go—like Charlie here.

Charlie lived in the house next door. Now he stays with me. We thought it would be safer—in case of looters or what have you, or if one of us got sick, someone would always be there, to at the very least properly bury the other.

But if I come down with it, I made Charlie promise to shoot me. I don’t want to go through all that wrenching, and dying, just let me die.

It’s so depressing. Plagues are depressing.

Anyway, Charlie said we had to dig a well, that our water was too stagnant. I agreed, not being too savvy with things agricultural like Charlie—I put my faith in him.

I said, “Hand me that shovel, Charlie.”

“Take this one, it’s smaller, but the bottom’s sharp as a blade,” Charlie said, watching me try to dig said well out in the back of the house. One thing I did have was plenty of land. It seemed to stretch forever; clear, flat land surrounded by woods on either side. Charlie’s house was across the street facing the front of mine, both were split levels, both are always dark now.

Charlie had a bandana wrapped around his scalp because the Sun was beating down hot, making everything sticky and difficult. With no power, we couldn’t dig in the coolness of the evening. It was pitch black at night now. Not a speck of light anywhere.

So, I grabbed the shovel and I said, “Charlie, this is going to take forever.”

And he said, “You got something better to do?”

I didn’t have an answer so I said, “No, I guess not.” I didn’t have anything worse to do, either. When a plague hits, the things you do become the things you used to do instantly; everything is about survival. Everything is basic and harsh. Even your dreams change—they become stark and grey.

“Charlie, how’s this? “I said, I could feel the earth move then; falling away easy as sand. Charlie was right; it was all in the edge of the shovel. I grinned and tossed a heap of dirt to the ever-increasing pile on the side of the hole.

“Now that is what I call digging, Evan. I’ll sleep easier knowing if anything should happen to me, you’ll be able to dig my grave like you’re a pro.”

I laughed and mockingly said, “Aw you turn my head, but really, Charlie, this talk is just morbid.”

Charlie wiped the sweat off his brow, looked towards the burning Sun and said, “Well, the world has gotten morbid, Evan, haven’t you noticed? Now keep digging.”

“Well, I can’t dig the entire well myself.”

“I know. We’ll take turns. In the meanwhile, I will supervise.”

There was something in the way Charlie said that, like he was about to smirk, that made me want to take that shovel and knock him upside his head. I am normally a calm man, some would say too calm, but the heat, and the dying, and the digging, and…I…well…the very last thing I needed that day was Charlie being snide. Let him save that for the evening when we were relaxing, or trying to.

Lately, we could hear the sound of wolves at night. I never heard them around here before, but everything was different now—everything.

“Charlie, I know to keep digging, you don’t have to tell me.”

“I know. I’m sorry, Evan, I think we both could use a breather.”

“You know what I miss, Charlie?”

“What, Evan?”

“Ice cubes,” I said, climbing out of the hole, planting the shovel into the ground. “Imagine, how much of a difference a simple thing like ice cubes could make? The world is crazy,” I said, and in that moment, the power of something small as an ice cube hit me like an earthquake, and I thought I knew why this had happened. It happened to show us the difference, to teach us to always be aware of the small things; the things that don’t matter, because they do matter. My conviction in my realization was so strong I thought the earth would tremble, but no such thing, of course, happened, and Charlie just looked at me like nothing happened, because it didn’t, but in that moment, talking to Charlie about ice cubes, I saw the truth.

Sitting down near the pile of dirt next to the hole, Charlie glanced at me and said, “You’re thinking about it again.”

“Yes, Charlie. There has to be a reason why all this happened. There is a reason for everything.”

Charlie just shook his head and said, “No there isn’t,” like I was the most pitiful, dumbest human left in the world, and I just felt like reaching for that shovel and hitting him again, but as I have noted before, I am a very calm man.

“Do you really believe everything is random? Look at the Sun, Charlie, too hot now, but if it wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be here.”

“But that thing is going to burn out one day. If it were truly here for the purpose of supporting life on Earth, wouldn’t it burn forever? The truth is we’re just an accident, Evan, just like the chemical reactions that are ridding the Earth of us.”

At that point, Charlie was giving me a monumental headache. I, just gritting my teeth and stuff, said, “Ice cubes, Charlie.”

Then I pulled the shovel out of the ground, climbed back down in the hole, and began to go at the earth again. Charlie didn’t say a word; he just got up and watched me have a go at that ground.

The silence went on for some time, nearly till sundown. I was so angry at Charlie that I hardly took a break. I peeled through that soil like it was water. I didn’t care if we did or didn’t find water when we got to wherever this hole was leading. At that moment, with the Sun still beating down, and my T-shirt covered with sweat and dirt, all I wanted to do, God forgive me for thinking this, was to kill Charlie. Of course, I wasn’t going to do any such thing. Anger is a dangerous emotion, but I am a very calm man.

Then it happened. I hit something with the shovel, something hard and metallic.

Charlie heard the clunk, looked down, saw me struggling, and he said, “Looks like you hit something in the dirt.”

“Duh, I guess so, Charlie.”

“Oh yeah, well fuck you,” Charlie said, and then he did something I’ve never seen him do before.

“I am so tired of this shit,” he said, and I climbed out of the hole, because I knew he was pissed, and I watched him march back to the house, spitting on the ground, shaking his head, and finally slamming the back door behind him.

I could just make out the smudgy shadow of the screen door as it swung in his wake, because the Sun had just set.

I should have gone back to the house and dealt with Charlie. I shouldn’t have stayed out there alone in the dark. I guess Charlie was just as frustrated and annoyed with me as I was with him. I’d wager he wanted to take that shovel and slam me upside the head too.

But I had to find out what that thing was that ran up against my shovel.

There was a crescent moon that night and some stars in the sky. That’s all the light I had, but I was going with it. I had some matches in my back pocket that I’d used sparingly, and if I really needed it, back in the house, there was an old flashlight under my bed.

I grabbed the shovel and I hit that thing again. Then came the familiar clunk. I could tell the object was tubular, and not very wide. I thought perhaps it was long. I prayed I wouldn’t have to dig too deep to get it out of the ground. What was it a missile? Maybe an old cannon shell? My mind wandered back to the days before the plague hit; in school, we used to bury time capsules. What an incredible thing; leaving part of your world behind for the world of the future to discover and see how people lived in primitive times—that, of course, assumed the world progressed and didn’t fall into chaos and disease like it had now.

I began to wonder if perhaps this thing was a time capsule as I started to dig around the edges of the shell-like object with my bare hands. There was a hint of a cool breeze that night, and a streak of moonlight fell just over the top of the metal.

At that point, the hole must have risen about a foot above my head. Yesterday, Charlie said soon we would need to assemble the pulleys for the bucket. Thinking about it gave me another headache. I couldn’t conceive of this relatively small hole in the ground ever turning into a real live well.

But at that moment, all my thoughts were on the object. I almost had one side of the thing cleared. The capsule, or whatever it was, didn’t go down too deep, maybe two feet, but my hands were aching from pulling the dirt away from it.

Then suddenly, I saw; I could tell what it was by the nozzle and the hose on top, and my stomach sank in deep boredom, and disappointment. It was an old fire extinguisher; so much for time capsules and new worlds.

I pulled the thing out of the earth and held it toward the sliver of moonlight down there, dusted off the top of it with my shirt, and then I started playing with the nozzle to see if anything was in it. It was so fucked up.

I tossed the thing to the ground, cursed at it, and then I kicked it. This was all fucking Charlie’s fault, him and his fucking well, and his fucking random universe. It was a good thing he had ran inside that house, because I was about to kill him anyway, I cursed under my breath as I kicked the extinguisher again.

And then came a sudden hissing sound, I jumped because it was so loud and near my feet. I could see that extinguisher writhing on the ground like crazy! I was getting scared, something about this wasn’t right. I mean, I could understand an old thing like that hissing a little, and moving around a little, but this was too wild, this was too much.

I was about to climb out of the hole, that’s what I wanted to do more than anything, when a loud pop, like an explosion; that thing must have been under such pressure, and fuck it, nearly blasted me out of that hole like I was a cannonball, and I reached the top, and I pulled myself up, and out, and I was just about to run, run for my life possibly, when the thing exploded again. My heart was pounding for real. I’d never felt it beat so strong. My hands shook—everything shook, and then I saw something shoot past me, not just something, but many somethings. I couldn’t exactly say what they were, but then amazingly enough the sky lit up, and these things; they were lights now; little balls; specks of light dancing across the night sky. It was no less than awesome.

I was sitting on the ground by the side of the hole, watching this amazing display, and peeing in my pants and I knew! I somehow knew what these things in the night sky were! They were souls! They were the souls of all the people who died in the plague shimmering above the earth in a joyful release and I cried out for Charlie.

“Charlie! Charlie!”

I prayed he’d hear me and come soon to see this magnificent display. I lay on my back, near the pile, and watched the night sky pulsate with these beings, these lights dancing, forming, and lighting the dark. They became brighter, and they seemed to be joining. And I knew what was happening! I hope I don’t sound like an asshole, but they were becoming one, and I was becoming one with them. I just knew that was what was happening! I could see God’s hands in this magnificence! I could see God everywhere! There was a grin on my face as bright and broad as the night sky. Finally, I saw there truly was a reason for everything, and Charlie would have to see it now too. There truly was such a thing as glory! Chills were running up and down my spine, just from the thoughts.

“EVAN! EVAN! EVAN!”

It was Charlie! “Charlie, look!” I cried at him, “Look at the sky! Look at the wonder of it! All the souls of the victims of this plague joining, lighting the night sky. Look at it! Look at it!”

I jumped from the ground and ran to Charlie, who was within feet of reaching me, but Charlie just kept on yelling out my name, and there was a frightened look on his face. What the fuck was wrong with Charlie?

“EVAN, EVAN, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”

“What do you mean what am I talking about? Look at the night sky lit, Charlie. Look at it, lit up alive with souls, the white light of God, Charlie!”

“EVAN, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? THAT SKY IS PURPLE. PURPLE LIKE THE FLOWERS WERE. THE PURPLE DEATH, EVAN!”

“Charlie, no, stop shouting! You’re wrong!”

My being shook. Why was Charlie doing this? Why was Charlie ruining this beautiful moment in time?

Then Charlie ran to the hole, pointed down to that old fire extinguisher and said, “Where did you get that canister, Evan? WHERE DID YOU GET IT! IS THAT WHAT YOU HIT WITH THE SHOVEL?”

Charlie’s face looked like it was bulging and he wouldn’t calm down. He looked like he was going to explode just like that old fire extinguisher. Why was he doing this? Why wasn’t he gazing at the beauty and the glory in the sky with me? Why was he fighting it?

“Yes, but it’s not a canister, it’s an old fire extinguisher,” I said pointing, shaking my hands at Charlie.

“NO, it’s not a fire extinguisher; it’s a canister, A CHEMICAL WEAPONS CANISTER!” Charlie cried. “Just like the ones that they sprayed on the fields, Evan. Like the ones those bastards sprayed everywhere WHEN THE WAR BEGAN!”

“What war are you talking about, Charlie?” My hands were shaking stronger. At that moment, I wanted to shake Charlie. I wanted to shake him and wake him up!

“What do you mean what war?” Charlie cried. “The war that brought this all about! It’s time you snapped out of it, Evan! You’re always talking about a plague, and I have been humoring you, but the time has come! There wasn’t any plague. There was never any plague! It was chemical warfare. Somewhere inside you, you know that, Evan! You’ve got to wake up and face the truth already!”

At that point, my anger was intensifying to a degree I can’t adequately describe, and I stood next to Charlie, next to him right over the hole, and I ripped into him with more words, “Charlie, you are just plain wrong. You just don’t want to admit there was a plague, and that there was a reason for it. You deny your own eyes and the beauty in the sky above us, rather than admit there is order in the universe, rather than believe in the Almighty!”

Charlie kept on looking at me like I had lost my mind, and he said, “That isn’t beauty in that sky, that is poison!”

“No, Charlie, no!” I cried, my stomach churning like it was on fire. “No, Charlie, please stop it! Please, I beg you!”

“Evan! What I’m saying is the truth, and I’ve got to get you to wake up, because you hit that canister and you released more of that poison into the air! You probably killed us too, now!” Charlie said, and he was shaking his hands at me so hard I thought he was going to break apart into a million pieces.

And I pled with him, because I had to save him. I didn’t know what else to do, and I cried, “NO, please, that can’t be the truth, Charlie! It can’t be! I beg you stop it! STOP IT!” Tears started running down my cheeks, but Charlie wouldn’t stop. He was so driven. It was terrifying.

“NO, Evan! No plague, Evan. No heavenly lesson! Evan, it was US! CHEMICAL WARFARE!”

“CHARLIE,” I hollered with such rage that I scared myself, and then not thinking just acting, I grabbed that shovel out of the ground, and standing next to Charlie, I swung it at him. I swung it at him with glory!

Charlie fell down into the hole. I saw his body flail through the air, lit by the souls above, and I watched him hit the bottom, and keel over on his side next to the extinguisher.

He was crying, whimpering with such pain, “Please stop this, Evan! Please help me,” he said.

But above the sky was growing even brighter. Lighting the way. I looked at its magnificence and I knew what I had to do.

For the glory of God, I climbed down into the hole and as I descended I hit up against the dirt, and the rocks, and the mud, and it hurt, but I didn’t care and I cried, “I’m coming to help you, Charlie! Coming to help you see the lights!”

Then when I hit the bottom and reached Charlie I said, “You have one more chance,” and I cried standing over Charlie, “One more chance!”

He was still keeled over, and he cowered by my feet. “What’s in the sky?” I asked him.

And Charlie being Charlie, cried through his pain, “POISON!”

Then I knew all was lost, I had no choice, I raised that shovel in the air, and I brought it down over Charlie, and being a calm man I grinned, and I stated as I ripped into his skin with the edge of the shovel, “Like you said, Charlie, the edge of this shovel is sharp as a blade.”

And I kept hitting him, cutting into him, until Charlie stopped crying, stopped moving, until all that was left was silence, and the beauty, and the glory in the sky.

Then I threw the shovel to the ground, and I gazed down at his body. Poor Charlie, I felt so sorry for him. It’s a terrible thing how a plague can delude the mind, I thought before I buried Charlie in his goddamned well.

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