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“What happens when the rain doesn’t stop?”

Rayn is an apocalyptic story in which a solar flare from the sun crossed the Earth’s path on the far side of the moon.

The results from its effects were the opposite of that predicted by scientists. The ozone layer surrounding the Earth not only healed itself rapidly but increased in density over certain regions impacting the weather patterns of the entire Earth.

Temperature became extreme and storms became exponentially more violent. The exact history of the era was lost.

When the solar flare passed the moon it created a global EMP pulse which destroyed nearly all electronics on the planet. During the four year lightning storms across the planet, more EMP pulses were experienced which destroyed most of the few pieces of electronics that survived the initial flare.

After the four year lightning storms subsided, the true rain storms started.

The storms created floods that swallowed cities and hurricanes that covered multiple states at once. In some regions. the earthquakes were so violent, entire continents became reshaped and islands vanished. The sea level rose to uncharted levels and mountain tops became rain forests.

The scientists said that the rain would continue for the next 10,000 years.

During the first year that it fell people disagreed and contested their calculations. The fifth year of the rain along with a worldwide population of less than 100 million people, made more of the disbelievers think.

On the tenth year, disbelief was near extinct, for the remaining 10 million people… worldwide.

They knew not dry touch or sunshine…
They knew not dry land or peace…
They knew not abundance or hope…

For all they had was the never ending rain.

Chapter 1
My first entry:

It’s been a month since the lightning storms and equally as long since we’ve seen another person. Fatboy has been quiet since yesterday – I think he’s mad at me. I don’t know what I did, but I can tell when he’s angry… He pokes his lip out and trips on stuff when he walks through the puddles.

I was the first one awake this morning in the Food Mart. Normally I fall off the shelves when we sleep on top of them, but this morning I woke up from my wet-bag-of-charcoal pillow and I was still on the shelf with Fatboy. He didn’t say anything, but I know he noticed. Ha!!!

We started out early because he said that the storm was going to pick up later. He showed me the black clouds in the distance they were bordering the gray ones blowing the rain against the store windows. They looked like demons crawling across the sky. The thunder was their roar.

I still didn’t see anyone else outside. It’s so spooky.

We split a can of corn-beef hash that he found behind the counter in the water for breakfast and collected all the plastic that we could find. Fatboy is so smart. He showed me how to keep one set of my clothes wrapped in plastic to keep them dry during our travels each day. He got me some water proof shoes from a department store we found and he gave me his poncho when I lost mine escaping some snakes down by the courthouse building last week.

He’s like a big brother to me.

He reminds me of my brother a lot.

He…

I miss you, David.

I miss you, Mommy. I miss you Daddy.

Today is my eleventh birthday and I’m almost a full-grown woman, Fatboy says… so I gotta start acting like it. I carry my own things now and he gave me pocket knife with a can-opener on it. I’m not going to let him down. I told him that I want to be as strong as him when I become his age but four years seem so far away now. The rain won’t stop and animals keep attacking us when we travel. We rarely see other people and not all of them are good. Maybe I should just be happy making it until my next birthday.

“Surprise, Rayn!”

“Hunh? What are you doing Fatboy?”

“Happy Birthday!!”

“What’s this?”

“It’s a backpack. I found it last night in the back when you were sleep.”

“Uh.”

“Open it!”

“WOW!! A tablet with dry paper… and PENS!!”

“Open the front pocket, Rayn!”

“A – A toy pony. It’s yellow like the way the sun used to look, Fatboy.”

“I know, Rayn… because you’re my best friend and my sunshine. You don’t have to be in a rush to grow up. Happy Birthday.”

“Thank you, Fatboy.”

-Rayn

Chapter 2
Birthday +2: School Lunch

Yesterday wasn’t so bad. The rain eased up into a light storm by afternoon and we could walk through the flood water. Although it was pretty dirty, there were a lot of cool things floating around that kept things exciting as we moved through town. I saw a baby doll arm that kept bobbling up and down as it went down the street looking for someone to give it a ‘high-five’ hand slap. There seemed to be entire wardrobes of clothing caught in every corner that slowed the flow of water down. I found a pretty pair of red shorts that would look good when we find the place that the sun is hidden and the rain stops.

I didn’t let Fatboy see me grab them. They’ll be my secret.

Over on some high mounds near the parking lot I saw a bunch of dead rats. Even through the pouring rain, the stench was overwhelming. They were crowded up with the rotten food from a tipped-over trash can and broken car parts. Fatboy kept tugging on me and telling me not to look… I couldn’t help it.

We passed a small school and sat in the cafeteria to eat lunch, now THAT was cool! Fatboy sang me an ‘old-world’ song that he knew while we ate some canned sardines and ravioli. His voice echoed off the walls as he told me how school was before the lightning storms. I was just turning six years old when everything went crazy so I didn’t remember school very well.

He said that they got to go on the playground on sunny days. They had art classes and music classes in which they all sung together. They learned about lands and people all around the world as well as studied the stars up above.

Fatboy must’ve been the most awesome kid ever! He said that he could skip a bar when swinging on the monkey bars and jump the furthest from his swing when swinging against his friends on the swing-sets. I could barely contain myself when he started dancing from puddle to puddle on the stage at the front of the cafeteria acting out the way things were. He made me laugh all afternoon!

When we left the school we saw a church in the distance that had people standing around outside with their hands up in the rain shouting. Fatboy said they were praying… they look like they were shouting to me. We don’t go around church people, they tend to be trouble. They don’t like people that don’t believe things the way that they do and they look for reasons to call you bad and say that you don’t fit in. The last time we crossed church people, they tried to split me and Fatboy up.

They didn’t know that Fatboy would never leave me and I would always go where he goes. He is my very best friend and he needs me to take care of him. I will never turn on him… he said that I was his sunshine!

It sucked though, because they were the first people we’ve seen in the last month. Oh well…

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!!

P.S. I’m so glad that Fatboy got me this tablet. I keep it dry and write at night when we camp. He lets me use one glowstick an evening to write so I’m going to write until each page is full!!

-Rayn

Chapter 3 – Follow the Worms

The storm blew a little less angry than normal making travel just a few more steps easier and vision just clear enough to see the edge of town. Fatboy and Rayn made it a point never to stay in one location longer than three days and traversing this town had been a test as each night camping made it increasingly difficult to journey forward the proceeding day. It’s been so long since the duo had seen a friendly face.

“Step on a crack and break your mama’s back!” yelped Rayn as she hopped along the lightly flooded sidewalk gleaming with a smile. The water jumped from each of her landings and splashed against Fatboy’s legs which were already soaked from the constant downpour. He strived to maintain his seriousness and awareness, but made it a subtle point to miss the cracks in the sidewalk.

“The rains shifting,” he said while pausing beside a bent stop sign.

“Fatboy, look… on the back of the sign!” shouted Rayn while moving her gloved fingers along some letters etched onto the back of it. “It’s like the other one we found.”

“Yep,” responded Fatboy, “Read it. What does it say?”

“Uhm… ‘Headed to Under-Mall.’ It has an arrow scratched beside it.” Said Rayn.

“It’s the same person that left the sign last week. He’s headed to the same place as us, Rayn.”

Rayn jumped up and down splashing harder while laughing, “YEA!!! There are others!! There are others!!!” Fatboy allowed his youth to rival his maturity for a moment and joined in the happiness with Rayn, “This is SO cool!!! I hope this guy is friendly!! I know he’ll be friendly!! I hope he’s with a group!!!”
Suddenly, the storm increased strength and the thunder grumbled in the distance.

“Crap! Side-rain is blowing in!! We gotta find shelter, Rayn!” cried out Fatboy while holding his hand up against the onslaught of wind and hard droplets.

The duo cuts through a small side street that led to a series of back roads. They were no longer in the heart of downtown, they were lost within the flooded sections of the neighborhoods. The surges of knee-deep water tugged at their weary legs in hopes to engulf them. Fatboy wouldn’t allow it.

“Rayn, come here!!” He commanded as he grabbed her tightly and hugged her in his jacket while looking further down the road. “Relax and pull your legs up!!”

The little girl grasped onto her guardian with all her might and relaxed her legs as he did the same. The water surged over both of their heads as it pulled them across the street and into the side top of a large sports utility vehicle turned on its side. The duo slammed into it with a ‘THUD’ leaving Fatboy breathless from absorbing the impact; his grip on her weakened instantly.

“Fatboy!!” She shouted while grabbing the vehicle and locking her legs around his. The water gushed over each of their faces as the winds acted as an introduction for the lightning starting to strike in the heart of downtown where they just exited.

Coming to his senses, Fatboy recovered from the splashes of water to his face, and instinctively called out to Rayn while trying to reorient himself, “We need high ground, Rayn!! We need high ground!” Desperate to save Fatboy, she pulled herself up to the top-side of the SUV and braved the oncoming lightning to search the driveways in the neighborhoods during the bright flashes provided by each striking bolt.

“WORMS!! Fatboy, I see worms!! That house right there!! They’ve got worms on the driveway!!” She yelled out while pointing to the house next to them.

“Good, let’s move!!” replied Fatboy while pushing against the water to the backend of the vehicle. “Gimmie, your hand, Rayn! Don’t let go!!”

The eleven year old clutched her fifteen year old best friend and peered into the evening gloom only to discover his determined eyes. Dark and without doubt he stared at her, “I’ll die before I let you go, Rayn.” She knew that he was telling the truth.

“I know, Fatboy.” She replied.

The storm’s outcry forced another surge of flooding water just as the duo pushed from the vehicle into its wake. They held their breaths and grabbed onto anything they could in the street as they powered their way from the tremendous strength and yet shallow depths of their nemesis.

Minutes seemed like a lifetime un-promised as the Rayn burst onto the rising slope of the driveway first gasping for air. Fatboy pulled himself up next welcoming the sight of the dead worms gathered in the corners of the driveway. The two eased further up the driveway then sat to collect themselves in the foyer of the home while watching the flooding water stream by filled with debris.

“I don’t know how you did it, Rayn, but I’m glad you saw the worms.” Said Fatboy.

“I remember what you said… worms always find the highest ground during a storm.” Replied Rayn while pulling off her backpack. “What now, Fatboy?”

While peeking out from the foyer to gauge the coming lightning, the youth also studied the home they were at. He normally tried to stay away from homes and keep to city-centers and stores. He hated to see personal pictures and items which reminded him of his home. He hated to see bedrooms and toys that reminded him of his family. He hated to see the bodies of those that lived there, it reminded him of his reality.

In this situation, Fatboy didn’t have a choice. He picked the lock on the door with his pocket knife and paused in the doorway.

We’re going to stay here tonight, Rayn.

Chapter 4 – Living Room Campfire

The house didn’t creak… because the wet wood was tired. Fatboy and Rayn entered the uninviting darkness of the living room only to feel the tainted air steal their breath away.

“Black mold!! Cover your face, Rayn!” said Fatboy while removing one of the larger ziplock bags from her backpack to hand her the dry red scarf within it.

“Mmf… t-what about you, Fatboy?” questioned Rayn as her forest green eyes seem to glow in the darkness.

“I’ll be alright.” replied her elder while pulling his drenched shirt above his nose. “We gotta light a fire tonight.” The duo hugged the wall to feel out the basic shape of the room making sure not to go too deep into the home or too far from the front door.

The rain howled viciously outside as a wounded animal trapped. A thousand beads of water collided against the side of the house as a constant rhythm of perpetual knocks begging for the duo to come back outside. Although the nearing crackle of lightning made each of the two visitors jump, the brief glimpses of light were actually an aid in figuring out the room that they resided.

“What do we have left for fire and light?” enquired Fatboy as he pushed one of the couches towards the bottom of the stairs leading up to the upper bedrooms.

“Two glow sticks, a pack of matches, a roll of toilet paper, and crushed plastic. What do you want to use?” said Rayn as she unwrapped the matches without sight. Fatboy pulled out his pocket knife, removed the pillows from the top of the couch and cut deep into the folded bed built into it. He extracted almost totally dry cotton from the center then broke the wooden chairs in the kitchen to gather wood.

Rayn used her birthday knife to cut the damp couch pillows into long pieces in order to form a circle in the center of the room. She worked in between lightning flashes and finished preparing the area by breaking out two of the windows on the opposite side of the room that was receiving the brunt of the rain. It was a joy for her to do her part now that she was an eleven year old ‘grown’ woman and it showed by her secret little smile in the darkness each time she looked back at Fatboy struggling to get the fire lit.

The pile of cotton on the bottom of the makeshift ‘campfire’ pile didn’t light until the pack of matches was almost depleted. The cotton burned handsomely and bright on the bottom of the collected wood. The heat from it melted the crushed plastic on top causing it to drip down slowly and burn at a crawl all over the wood. This further dried the wood and eventually made it burn.

“Ta-daaa… we have a fire, Rayn!” celebrated the youth while puffing his chest out with his hands on his hips. “Cough – cough, its gonna take a while to burn this mold in the air. We have any more of the incense stuff?”

“We’re down to the last bit, Fatboy. Let me light it.” Said Rayn enthusiastically as she opened another small plastic bag and unwrapped a small cloth bag inside of it filled with frankincense and myrrh. She then lit it with a small piece of smoldering wood. The strange gummy aroma of the incense was sweet and relaxing to the duo as it cleaned the air around their area.

“We’d better take advantage of this fire to dry our clothes. Go on over there and change into your dry stuff, Rayn.”

“What about you, Fatboy?”

“Quit worryin’ about me so much. I’m gonna be alright,” the guardian paused, “I lost my backpack when we hit the truck outside. It’s probably washed away by now.”

“You can wear one of my shirts… uhm, its going to be tight, but its okay.”

Fatboy stared at his friend for a moment then burst into a gut wrenching laugh that made her join in. He grabbed his belly in the crackling light and gasped for air as he jumped up in his classic fashion to act out what he would look like in girl clothes.

“Loook at me, I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with my real-tight tee…” he singed, just before tripping on to the floor with a new series of laughter. Rayn jumped on him and they wrestled until she won. The duo then sat hypnotized by the flames while enjoying the warmth for the rest of the night.

Fatboy began to drift off to sleep first, right after throwing another piece of wood on the fire.

Rayn stayed awake long enough to use one of the last glow sticks to update her journal. The final line in her entry was a thank you to God and a remark of how good their day ended.

Chapter 5 – The Wetcats

A rumbling stomach from hunger and a stiff chill reminded Fatboy that morning had crept into their makeshift living room campsite and it wanted its share of time in their lives. He reeled slowly from the smoldering wood in the center of the floor and opened his sleepy eyes just enough to notice that the room was lighter than normal.

He rose to his feet and staggered into the kitchen to grab more wood for the fire stopping at the window to peek outside.

“It’s drizzling.” He whispered.

“It’s drizzling.” He said loudly causing Rayn to stir from her sleep.

“Mmm… can I sleep a little longer, Fatboy? I’m still tired.”

Fatboy’s face beamed with a smile, “It’s gonna be a light gray-day! YES!!” He vanished into the kitchen for less than a minute and returned with wood to add to the fire. He then remembered to answer her question, “Yea, go ahead and sleep, Rayn.” But it really didn’t matter because she was already snoring while snuggled up with her backpack.

For Fatboy, this was an opportunity to check out the rest of the house. He knew they were desperate to replace the critical supplies that they had used the night before as well as he had lost when his backpack got away from him in the storm.

The kitchen yielded food that had become decayed muck over time and a few small cans of soup; with the tastiest being the ham-and-potatoes. Utensils were corroded and all of the appliances were dank within. He decided that he needed to increase his search.

Gripping his pocket knife, he eased past Rayn without disturbing her sleep and stepped over the couch at the bottom of the stairs. He ascended slowly with his knife at the ready and his nerves on edge.

“I hate this crap!” he thought to himself as he instinctively poked his bottom lip out and stumbled slightly. He reached the top to the stairs and entered the closest room. Inside, everything was decayed and damp. He could barely tell what was in the room, that was, until he saw a collection of baseball bats in the corner along with unwound dingy baseballs.

“They had a son.” He said softly while swallowing. He pulled his dry shirt up above his nose because he began to have trouble breathing with the black mold all over the ceiling and walls. He eased over to the bats and grabbed one only to feel the soft wood tear away in moist pieces. Behind the wooden ones, there was a final bat the reflected the dim gray brightness presented in the room.

“ALUMINUM.” Fatboy said as his heart jumped. “Oh… my… goodness… an aluminum bat!!” he repeated while screaming in a whisper. The bat was near perfect. The head of the bat was perfectly balanced and the weight of it was inviting. Fatboy’s hand twitched before grasping it. It felt natural to him as he inspected it closer and waved it around.

The other objects in the corner fell to the ground, but once the sound of their impact ceased… other sounds behind him did not. They were different.

His body tensed and a spike of fear drove through him. The room behind him on the far end of the shortened hallway came to life with muffled movements. Fatboy eased towards the doorway in an attempt to get back down the stairs as quietly as possible…

Terror would not allow this.

The room on the far end stared at him as a homeowner violated by a thief. The closed door to the room shuddered as the scratches and thumps upon it became louder. Suddenly the house felt angry to the youth.

Just then, the door slammed open and a flood of large bestial cats poured into the hallway with their eyes glaring in the dust light. Their whining was as feral as their appearance. Starvation was their language and death their conversation.

“Crap!” shouted the teenager instinctively, “WETCATS!!”

The beasts began to spread slowly to the sides of one-another making their pack appear larger, as if it was needed. Their hair was matted in soiled black spikes, it was sticky and smelled of rotting meat and trash. Their size was twice that of a fully grown house cat and their claws durable enough to shred flesh like a razor.

Fatboy peered down the stairs at Rayn sleeping, turned towards the pack and raised his bat. “What in the hell are you waiting for?!?”

The wetcats charged the lone youth from all directions focused on his throat and face. It was not unusual for them to take down human prey for food… but today was different.

Fatboy closed his eyes and swung his bat with all of his might ignoring the soggy crunching sounds at the end of each of his strikes. He hollered out at the top of his lungs and pushed into the pack forcing them away from the stairs. The wetcats piled on top of him scratching into his jacket and shirt searching for flesh.
He slammed his body into the wall crushing the felines to his rear and continued to swing as tears flowed from his eyes and fatigue set in.

“You ain’t getting pass me!!!” He screamed out. “Rayn!!! Run for it!! Get out the house!!”

Rayn jumped up from her sleep only to catch the brief sight of Fatboy upstairs covered with wetcats falling into the bathroom shouting.

“FATBOY!!” she cried. His answer was a muffle ending with the word, ‘out’.

Rayn started to shake and scream, “FATBOY!!!” The little girl couldn’t move, but his final command forced her to go. Grabbing her backpack and charging into the front door with tears in her eyes, she burst into the drizzling rain of what would normally be a beautiful light-gray day.

She ran from the house wavering from puddle to puddle and breath to breath as her tears became one with the weather.

She would only whisper between gasps, “Fatboy.”

She was now alone.

Chapter 6 – Waking up

The most common question asked around a campfire was, “What were you doing when the lights went out forever?” It was the easiest way to make friends and the most inviting way to talk about memories forgotten.

Everybody had their own ideas as to why power stopped everywhere, but no one really knew. Nothing worked – no phones, no television, no cars… no internet. It wasn’t long after that the screaming started. The distrust became normal, paranoia was rampant, and everyone blamed everyone for everything.

I saw my first dead body when I was ten.

He seemed to stare at me with dry eyes. He was my neighbor. The police didn’t come and he was the first of many others. I saw people stabbed, shot, and beaten. I saw the dead piled in the backyards of my friends’ homes. Everyone kept to themselves and stayed in their homes at night.

I remember when the storms started. It wasn’t long after the lights went out but it was the day that no one speaks of. The heat, the humidity, and the gray skies provided the backdrop just before the first rain drop and the first rumble of thunder.

My father was gathering tools from the shed when the rain started… he was gone less than a minute later. My mother screamed out the window as lightning struck everywhere. Cars exploded, homes caught fire, trees shattered, and my ears bled. There were just SO many lightning bolts in the sky… they – they looked like the fingers of God playing a song on a piano with my town being the piano keys.

I remember praying. I remember asking God if he was mad. I remember talking to God to try to clear things up. I remember arguing with God because the lightning strikes would not cease, they were so loud. I remember begging to God when my mother didn’t return from the rain after going after my father.

I remember giving up on God when I realized I was alone.
I hated being alone.

Rayn is alone and she needs me.

“W-K P… BO..!”
“WAK… UP… BO..!!”
“WAKE UP, BOY!!”

“Ugh, wh – who are you?”

“Shhh… you the only one in this house? Open your eyes… wake up!! You the only one in this house?”

“Ugh… cough-cough… no… uhh, can’t breathe. Yea. Yea, I’m the only one here.”

“Look like you killed your share of these here wetcats boy! What do they call you?”

It took a moment to regain his senses as the fifteen year old leaned against the tub filled with dead feral cats and the edge of a broken toilet. He attempted to peer at the person helping him to his feet but was stopped by the pounding headache making his poor health well known.

“I gotcha, kid. Here lean on me. What’s ya name?” The vague image asked again.

The youth vomited in a collected puddle of water and forced his way into the hallway to search downstairs with his poor vision. His strength gave out as he collapsed gasping.

Grabbing the boot of the man standing beside him, he mustered up a whispered answer to the man’s question.

“Fatboy.”

Chapter 7 – God’s Cough

The storm staggered in strength all day long as though it was God speaking with a cough. For every sharp shout of thunder there was torrent of rain forced by gales of his breath. The winds flung each drop from the darkened blue skies as sand grains thrown by a tornado. Once each of his ‘coughs’ cleared the barrage released into a drizzle and the lightning subsided. This is when the heavens had the time to follow the lonely little foot splashes of a child dashing from store to store below, followed by three beasts closing in on her.

Her pace was frantic as fatigue embraced her and strength left her as a gift snatched away. She was tired and the beasts following her were starved.

Falling to the pavement in a skirt of dirty rain water dashed against a convenience store’s double doors, the little girl rolled into the glass slamming her face near the handle. She grasped for her backpack while searching around in the dim evening for her attackers. They weren’t far.

Across the street they poured from the broken window of a small car and slowed to a ‘kill-walk’ just before the bench beside the leaning stop sign only yards from her. They were plotting their attack.

The little-grown woman pulled her backpack from behind her and strung her arms through the straps positioning it on her front. She knew that she couldn’t run anymore. The beasts eased forward as God coughed again and the lightning caused their eyes to glare even louder than the sound of the light dancing within them. She grabbed her pocket knife and flicked out the largest blade within it.

“I’m not running anymore, wetcats!” said the angry girl. She wanted to be scared but for the moment fear was gone, she could only think of two things… survival and…

“Fatboy,” she whispered.

With her back against an old bag-of-ice machine she slowly moved her left hand up to grasp one of the unlocked doors. The wetcats pounced as she screamed and slung the door open capturing one of the three within. The other two landed on her scratching into her backpack as she shoved to the side slamming the door to the bag-of-ice box.

She fell forward stabbing at the wetcat nearest her throat. Her blade found home two to three times before all of them landed into the streaming waters of the street with the rain increasing in force. The final wetcat slashed her face drawing blood and a curdling cry. Fear had finally found placement.

She twisted her body against the current and clutched the final wetcat as the ferocity of the stream made itself known. They slammed from fire hydrant to street curve stopping with a loud thud in the side of car stuck in the intersection. The wetcat took the brunt of the impact.

The storm released its strength as the stream weakened giving the child a chance to stand over the broken wetcat. He clawed and hissed as his broken spine promised him a grim tomorrow.

She could breathe now.

She knew to leave the street because it was only a matter of time before God would cough again. She was weak.

She stammered back to the storefront and stopped at the closed bag-of-ice machine only to hear the knocks on the side of it die down slowly.

“The leeches are killing him,” she thought to herself. “Good.” She spoke. This age had made her that much more cold.

The store was covered with vines tangled into an intricate web of beauty and danger. Deep on the inside of it, she could see watermelons gathered by the dozens on all of its arms. She was taught to stay away from vines and yet she was starved; she’d been running and hiding from the wetcats for the last two days. The other nearby stores had already been looted.

The little girl took the time to reposition her backpack behind her while grabbing the toy pony connected to the zipper by a key ring. “What would Fatboy do?” She asked herself.

She stood back, stared at the store, then stepped forward to look between the vines at the watermelons. She looked down the street as God coughed and the rain increased in strength, once again.

She kissed the pony – her present from Fatboy and pushed her way into the store.

Chapter 8 – I Feel The Same Way

This is my last glow stick.

I don’t know what to write tonight, but it’s all I could think about doing since yesterday. I have so much on my mind and I don’t know where to begin. I can’t stop crying.

I had to use my last band-aid this evening to cover the scratch on my face from the wetcat I fought earlier. I’ve never killed anything before, this was my first time.

I used pieces of my scarf to wrap the cuts on my legs from crawling through the vines. They only had thorns on the parts furthest away from the watermelons in the center.

I did what Fatboy taught me and stayed on top of the shelves while eating my share of the green and yellow watermelons floating all throughout the flood water. They were SO good! I even took the time while eating to decide on a name for my pony. I named him, ‘Perci’.

When my brother David was alive, him and Fatboy acted out this story (I think they called it a myth) about this guy with a flying horse that killed a snake-headed lady and some other bad people to save the world and the girl he loved. David did all of the sound effects while Fatboy acted everything out.
Uhm… I’m not quite sure of the names or anything, but I remember Fatboy joking with David about the name, ‘Persum’, ‘Persium’, or something like that. I’m not even sure if it was the guy or the horse they were talking about. I didn’t care either… I liked the horse and they used to make me laugh!

And Soooo… my pony’s name is PERCI!

I also found a full bottle of shampoo tonight on one of the back shelves by the soda counters. It was so pretty! It was light pink with pictures of berries still on the side of it. It was called Herbal Essentials and I stuck it in my backpack for later. I’m not going to use it until the next time I see Fatboy!

When he smells how good my hair is, he’s going to go crazy! He’ll probably want to use some for himself!! It said that it can make my hair shiny and strong. I can’t wait!! It’s going to make me look like a real-live grown woman!! Fatboy will…
Fatboy will…

God, please let Fatboy be okay.
Please.

God..?

I’m so sorry I didn’t get up that morning when Fatboy tried to wake me up. I’m sorry.

He wouldn’t have been attacked if I would have got up. We would’ve left. Please God… please don’t take him. He’s my only family left, now.

Everyone’s gone.

I’m so scared tonight. The storm outside keeps growling at me, it’s so dark. Fatboy used to tell me about being strong after David died. Now all I have is Perci and my backpack.

I’m going to go back for Fatboy tomorrow. I remember what he told me a couple days ago when crossing the flooded streets, he said, “I’ll die before I let you go.”

I feel the same way, Fatboy.

I feel the same way.

God, please help me tomorrow.

Chapter 9 – Bird and Dale

The dreary warm air pushed against the flesh of the sleeping teen as instinct forced him awake. Beetles ran everywhere but couldn’t be seen. He didn’t jump from the scampering; he merely leaned to another position as his eyes opened slowly to darkness only a bit lighter than when they were closed. He refused to cough even as his throat scraped dry. He needed to know where he was.

A shift of his weight and slow feel of his surroundings spoke to him in a language that said bath tub. His memories confirmed this as it was his last recollection but it is his paranoia that tells him, “Something isn’t right.”

Fatboy pushed into a seated position only to feel his sweat run down his naked body, which was also different than he remembered. “Where are my clothes?” he thought. Clutching the silence as his only friend, he pulled himself up against the wall.

His legs were still weak.

He stepped from the tub and welcomed the grumble of the distant thunder. From the bellow in its girth, outside had to be a minimum of two to three rooms away behind a wall and a window. His fingers ached and his skin was hot; he missed the cool rain on his flesh. He drove on and stepped from the tub in the weakened light.

He stopped at the door which was cracked open only to be met with a conversation of ignorant debate and laughter by two gangly figures illuminated by the dim amber of a set of deep burning candles.

“You cheatin’, Bird!! You cheatin’ again!!” said the larger of the two. He sat on the corner of a bed with a soggy mattress and bounced up and down pointing at the other person dressed in Fatboy’s jacket.

“I ain’t cheatin, Dale!! The king can jump the queen, that how him moves!” said Bird while pushing his broken chess piece forward on an old red-and-black Checkers game board.

“Screw you, Bird!! Screw you!! I don’t wanna play no more!” said Dale as he slammed the board knocking the pieces to the room floor. Bird smiled in the gloom as the storm raged outside with a series of lightning strikes in the distance. The flashes of light illuminated his yellow tinted gray teeth as well as Fatboy’s weakened body leaning against the cracked door to the bathroom.

“What do we have hea’” whispered Bird to his partner grabbing his attention. “The boy’s awake! Go get, Bone, Dale. Let’em know that the boys awake!” ordered Bird while going over to open the bathroom door.

“Okey-Dokey!” shouted Dale as he vanished downstairs to carry out his task.

Bird opened the door to the bathroom slowly as Fatboy dropped to the floor with little strength. He stood over the youth and looked into his face.

“Howdy – Howdy, Fatboys!!” He said with a large smile.

“Ugh… hunh?” replied the bewildered youth.

“You hungry, aintcha? Dale went to go get Bone. Bone wanna meet ya!” said the excited man as he tugged Fatboy’s naked body over to the bed. His voice seemed familiar and took less than a minute of thought for Fatboy to place it in his memories. It was the same voice from the house that spoke to him after fighting the wetcats.

Fatboy struggled to sit up right on the wet bed, “Uhm… what do I call you, sir?” he inquired.

“I ain’t a ‘sir’. My name is Bird! I saved ya, Fatboys! Dale went to go get Bone. He wants to meet ya!” Bird answered.

“Bird… would you happen to know where my clothes are?”

“Dale, cleaned the wetcat muck outta them. They behind you on the dressa… they dry, too.”

“Thanks, Bird.” Said Fatboy while dressing. The room is a ramshackle of non-matching clothing, furniture, toys, and supplies scattered everywhere. Roaches the size of soda cans run all throughout the mess and into the crevices in the walls each time the thunder bellowed. The thick warmth in the room sat as an invisible fog adding to the discomfort felt by youth.

All he could think about was… Rayn.

“Where am I?” Fatboy questioned.

“Bone’s comin’. He’ll tell ya. I hope you gonna join the family, Fatboys.” responded the haggard elder somewhere in his possible thirties with little regard for cleanliness. He removed Fatboy’s jacket and laid it beside him on the bed then eased back towards the door leading out to peek down the stairs.

“Bone’s comin’. Bone’s comin’.” He repeated. His voice was so simple and gruff… and yet so ominous.

Chapter 10 – Bone in the Closet

“Bone..?”

“Nah, my name’s ‘Bain, these idiots can’t get pass their southern-draw. They pronounce everything wrong.” said the bearded figure stepping in the room to greet Fatboy. He was an older man with leathery skin and age-worn eyes that had seen too much of everything and had too much wisdom.

“What do I call you, sir?” questioned Fatboy standing from his comfortable position on the soggy mattress next to the door.

“I couldn’t care less.” answered the old man impatiently. “Dale, get’em something to eat.”

The man studied the youth for a moment allowing his instinct to tell him things that logic refused to reveal. The boy had health in his corner, even as his momentary weakness was on display. He pushed against Fatboys shoulder only to receive a forced shove back as the youth held his position.

The bearded man cracked a smile.

“You a ‘forager’?” he asked.

“A what?”

“A forager.”

“I don’t know what that is… sir.” Responded Fatboy hesitantly and slightly confused. “What’s a forager?”

Dale returned from downstairs and stepped between Bain and Fatboy with a plate of un-canned pinto beans with some grapefruit slices beside them. Both were stuffed beneath a small leg of raw meat from some animal that Fatboy could not immediately recognize.

“Eat! Eat!” yelped Dale excitedly. His gangly partner, Bird, sat on the far side of the door next to Bain as anxious as he.

“What d’you think, Bone? Is he one of us? Is he right for our family?” inquired Bird while leaning forward to get a view of Bain’s face.

Ignoring the question, Bain repositioned himself by the barred window on the wall of the room opposite of Fatboy. He opened the blinds and stared out into the cobalt sky as the rain hammered the glass hungry to be upon his body. “Bird, I need you and Dale to go feed our… ‘Guests’ downstairs then to move that junk out the street. There’s a flood coming.”

“Okay, Bone. Okay. C’mon, Dale.” said the obedient weird man before scurrying out the room.

Now, there was only Fatboy and Bain.

“I’m going to ask you this a single time, boy… don’t lie to me,” snarled the bearded man as he turned from the storm outside. “Are you from Under-Mall?”

Fatboy paused from engulfing his food and noticed that serious and dangerous look on Bain’s face. He slowly placed his unfinished plate of food on the small table next to the bed before answering, “No. I’m not from Under-Mall.”

The man merely stood with his eyes locked on the youth through the failing light. Fatboy returned his glare as something other than a challenge; Fatboy was intrigued. “Why?” he asked.

The weather groaned through the walls as the wet warmth in the room beckoned the building tension to release. “Follow me.” commanded the older man guiding him downstairs towards the back of the building.

The wind blared through the many shambled openings downstairs as the minimal luminance allowed Fatboy to gather his placement. The room was filled with broken tables. Stools gathered in all of the corners as well as blocked the doors, puddles of water were everywhere and the stench in the air was sour. There was a large counter with near empty shelves populated by empty liquor bottles and scrambling rats. He noticed hand-made crosses hanging on all of the walls and flickering candles on the top of each shelf dancing against the invading drafts. Bibles of all types were scattered across the room.

“It’s a bar,” he thought to himself, “They tried to change it into a church or something.”

Bain took him into the connected garage at the back of the building. They passed a small hallway that led to another section of the building with female voices muffled behind a desolate door. Fatboy made a note of it in his mind.

The inviting smell of grease and oil was as welcomed as the cool air for the youth. He stayed a little more than an arm’s reach from his host at all times; that was until he removed a small flashlight from his cargo pocket and turned it on.

“MY GOD!!” gasped Fatboy, “How? Where? What? When? Oh my GOD!!”

“Calm down, boy” said the bearded man.

“LIGHT! A – A light!! A FLASHLIGHT!! Oh my God!! Are you really from God?!?”

“No.” answered the man. He directed the light towards a large mechanical object on his work desk. “You know what that is, boy?”

Fatboy took a minute to calm down and to catch his breath. His body was shaking with awe. He hadn’t seen anything electrical function in over five years. His mind was racing as he tried to answer Bain. “I’m – uh, I’m not sure… sir.”

Bain pushed the boy closer to the object and held his light on it for a moment before redirecting it at six small components on the table next to it. He turned his light off and looked out into the storm as though it was watching him. The patter of the rain decreased in strength as Bain leaned over to Fatboy’s ear.

“It’s a motorcycle engine, boy, and those are sparkplugs. They work.”

“Oh my God.” said Fatboy, “Wait, why are you whispering, sir?”

Bain moved his back between the open garage door with the storm outside and the youth, “Because the storm is alive, Fatboy. It’s alive.”

The bearded man looked back over his shoulder towards the groaning weather too close to be far.

“There’s a lot that you don’t know yet. There are many secrets and some of the answers are in Under-Mall.”

A lightning crackled in the distance as Fatboy stared at the man the others called, ‘Bone’.

Chapter – 11 Melons and a Jerk

“Red… Green… Sunshine – Orange… Blue – sky – water… wet… cold… relax… I gotta pee.” thought the little girl not realizing that she was sound asleep in the shallow waters of a street corner ‘Handy Mart’.

“…melons. Get… melons.” Murmured a voice in the background, it was deep and sluggish. The rainbow effects clouding her thoughts kept her distracted. It was the brutish tug and shake that gave her enough strength to realize that she needed to awake.

“Hey there little girl; you okay?” said the voice that was now coming in clearer. “What’s going on?” asked Rayn.

A light breeze of air flowed through the opened door to the store allowing the spray of new rain to escort the odors of traveler’s musk to the little girl. She couldn’t move and felt sharp pains in her legs each time that the struggled.

“OUCH!! AAAAA!!! IT HURTS!! IT HURTS!!” shouted Rayn as she gazed down with large green eyes only to see melon vines wrapped around her legs with the thorns pressed against her skin. “GET’EM OFF!!! GET’EM OFF!!”

“Calm down, you’re going to be alright. These melon vines will suck the life right out of you. You’re lucky we came. The thorns secrete stuff into you that gets you high and make you sleep.” said the burly man with a young look on his bearded face.

“Leave the girl, Gaston! Get the melons and let’s go!” yelled a voice behind him entering the store. The burly man finished cutting the vines around Rayn’s legs and contorted his face into an annoyed snarl before responding to the slim older man behind him, “The girl needed our help, Axel, so I’m helping her.”

Axel moved behind the burly man and pushed him to the ground into the water beside Rayn. “Who do you THINK you’re talking to, Gaston. I told you to leave the little cockroach and gather the melons. She’s already eaten some of them making our count low. Get your head out of your butt and get moving NOW!”

Rayn stepped forward and cried out, “Who are you calling a cockroach, jerk?!?”

The lightning flash of hardened flesh across her face from the slim older man sent her twirling into the empty counter she fell from the night before while sleeping. A small stream of blood ran across her soaked cheek as she stumbled to her feet and grabbed on to a counter.

“Fatboy, told me to fear no man and I ain’t afraid of you… JERK!”

The lone tear swelling in the corner of her eye was lost in the rain as the small click of her pocket knife blade being extended pierced the gray-lit room.

Gaston approached from behind and laid his hand on her shoulder. He then stood between her small frame and Axel, “Don’t do it, little girl, Axel will kill you. Things will be alright, he’s just anxious to get back to his wife.”

“Shut up, Gaston.” said Axel as he barged out of the store with a hand full of melons. Rayn gripped her backpack and went to the door as Gaston gathered more melons. She was bewildered. There was a small group of metal shopping carts loaded with scavenged supplies being pulled by mules. There was a wounded man in a large wagon at the back of the convoy being cared for by a young girl in her twenties.

Axel went back to speak with her as Rayn was startled by another girl beside her slamming the door to the ice machine while spitting. “Yuck! There’s a dead wetcat in here!” she barked while covering her nose with her soaked wrist. It was then that Rayn noticed the weather; it was a light shower and the clouds were thinner allowing for the soft hue of sunlight to crawl through.

Gaston exited the store with a sack filled with the remaining melons and proceeded to load one of the front carts as the girl beside the ice machine approached her.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Rayn.” Said the little girl with the attempted expressions of an older woman, “And who are you?”

“I’m Cory and that’s Gaston.”

“Where are you from” asked Rayn.

“We’re from Under-Mall. We’re on our way back now.”

Rayn was speechless. “Under-Mall.” she whispered as almost a question.

Cory smiled, “Yea… we’re foragers.”

Chapter 12 – Leaving the Cockroach

Rayn was today’s youth that shouldn’t be. She was a hardened little girl nothing more than a few sunrises older than eleven summers and alone. She was a girl pretending to be a woman and yet a begrudging best friend to innocence. She was advice that could not be given and mankind’s lesson to learn when there is no class or school to attend.

“PLEASE!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH – This is killing me!!!” screamed the wounded man from the back of the makeshift convoy as his caretaker shrilled out with tears in her eyes, “For CHRISSAKES, Axel, Peyton is dying! I can’t save him! I can’t save him!”

Rayn drifted towards the final rusted wagon bringing up the rear of the convoy and shifted her head slightly to the side ignoring that it was the rear piece of a small pickup truck. Her vision was fixated on the amount of blood running from the tailgate mixed with the rainwater destined to become one with the mud on the side of the street.

“Twist the tourniquet, Lori! Twist it hard!” commanded Axel as he crawled onto the back of the trailer. “You’ve got to stop the bleeding!”

Rayn stood in shock. The solemn green eyes of this little girl approaching the back of the trailer had never seen suffering such as this. Fatboy and her dead brother, David had always protected her from it. The screaming man pushed against the girl with his left arm while kicking the inside of the trailer as Axel fought to control him. His right forearm was mangled with a missing thumb and bone protruding from shredded flesh. The makeshift tourniquet made from a wet leather belt and soft wood wasn’t holding the flow of his blood back.

Each time the weak glare of sunlight passed through an opening within the thin light-gray storm clouds above, the pale flesh of the suffering man could be seen as though it was begging for health. His piercing voice failed away to silence as he fell unconscious into the arms of Axel. The caretaker, Lori, reset the tourniquet and helped to lay the man’s head onto a wet charcoal bag being used as a pillow.

“We’ve got to get back to Under-Mall, Axel. Peyton’s dying.” She said softly as Axel crawled from the trailer and stood in the street beside Rayn. “I – I know, Lori. We’re leaving now.”

Axel strode past Rayn ignoring her existence and stopped before the front cart loaded with melons and other small scavenged supplies. “Gaston, get the mules ready to go… we’re leaving. Cory, throw some melon seeds in the store for next time and close it up.”

“What about the little girl, Axel?” asked Gaston in his soft deep voice.

“The cockroach stays! She can’t go with us.”

“But…” responded the burly man as his young face reflected
disappointment.

“But – NOTHING, Gaston! She too young to be of any… ‘use’ and she has NO mate! They won’t let her in Under-Mall. She’s a liability. The cockroach STAYS!” commands Axel.

Suddenly the clouds above closed off the trickling sunrays and gathered into darkened anger that was fated to become the next raging storm. Thunder grumbled as the air thinned and the rain increased in its fight to make it to the ground.

The mules buckled with their cries of fatigue and stubbornness as they tugged the convoy forward slowly. Gaston led them through the muddy street as rain water began to flow around his feet. He stared at Rayn as he guided the convoy further away.

Axel waited by the store as Cory completed her throw of seeds and chaining of the handy-mart doors. Once completed she handed Axel the key to the lock placed in through the chains.

She walked out to the corner of the sidewalk and stared at Rayn standing in the street before turning back to Axel. “I’m going with the girl.”

“Not with us you aren’t.” he answered.

“Never said I was. I don’t have a mate either, Axel, and foraging for a bunch of happy couples that don’t give a crap about me ain’t what I figured a good life would be.”

“Soo…?” commented Axel with annoyance.

“SO, I’m leaving. I don’t want to end up like Peyton or the others… especially in a place where I’m unwanted anyway. I’m going with the girl.”

“I don’t care what you do, Cory; you were new to Under-Mall anyway! You’re single and useless as a forager… take the cockroach and go. I have more important things to worry about!”

Cory stared at the ragged slim man as he returned her fierce look with equal menace. She threw her sheathed combat knife to his feet and walked out into the street to Rayn. Axel recovered the knife, shoved it into his belt and hurried off to the vanishing convoy.

Cory grabbed Rayn’s hand and rubbed her face as the rain came down harder.

“Where do we go now, Green-eyes?”

Rayn looked at her, “We have to get, Fatboy!”

“Who’s Fatboy?” she asked.

“My mate.” said Rayn.

 

Chapter – 13 Finders-Keepers

If there was not a drop of rain falling from the sky, this lifeless street would appear devoid of all activity and be forgotten. If there was no water flowing across filled drains, through parking lots, and up driveways, this town would be nothing more than another one of those from the lore of Western stories with cowboys, outlaws, and Indians. If there were more than a gangly large man and a fifteen year-old boy traveling through the storm to get to a certain house, than this desolate age would have a community. But the simple truth is loneliness, fear, and survival dwelled here… hope merely visited.

Husky boots trail through the murky rain water passing in the opposite direction of it flow as they keep pace with the teenager walking slightly ahead in the lead. “So, what’s the story with ‘Bone’, Bird?” asked Fatboy while fixing his view on the line of houses searching for the one that he and Rayn camped in.

“Bone saved us. He saved me and my cousin Dale.” responded Bird as he followed behind Fatboy like a security guard transferring a prisoner.

He swung an aluminum bat around and used it to knock down trashcans whenever they passed them just to have fun. Fatboy recognized the bat as the one that he had found days earlier in the house that they were currently returning to. It was the very same bat that he used to battle the wetcats.

“What’d he save you guys from?” Fatboy saw the house two-driveways down and slowed his pace as he tried to formulate a plan to get away from Bird.

“The Bloateds…” said Bird with a pause, “They killed the people that we were with. Dale got sick from one of them and Bone fixed’em with medicine.”

“What? What’s a Bloated?” asked Fatboy irritated by all of the new terms that he had been hearing in the last few days.
“You ain’t never seen a Bloated, Fatboys?” Bird stops and leans on the bat as the rain began to lighten.

“No.”

“They fat sick people, filled with mucus and rain water. They crazy, Fatboys. They crazy. We seen them attack people for no reason at all. They got sores on them and they make other people just like’m.”

Fatboy looked at Bird trying to decide if he should believe what he just heard or if he should chok up Bird’s comment as something simply coming from the lips of an older slightly-retarded religious nutcase.

“Dale got sick from one of’em and Bone fixed him with medicine-pills. That’s why he let you come back to get your backpack. When you told him you had medicine-pills, he knew they were important. I mean, lookit how good Dale is now. He almost like a genius… heck, yesterday he counted to fifty and read from the Bible.”

Fatboy rolled his eyes away from the gangly big man and decided to go with his second train of thought on the matter. He led Bird up the driveway of the house and remained focused on the bat in his hand. His challenge was that Bird also carried a rubber gripped machete as a backup weapon sheathed on his leg.

“This is the house I found you in, Fatboys.”

“I know, Bird. My backpack should be in here somewhere.”

“We gotta hurry. Bone wants us back soon… wait…” Once again
Bird paused, “I gotta pray to the storm before we go in.” The gangly man removed his drenched leather rain coat and laid it on the ground then raised both of his hands to the sky before he started to mutter.

“Look, do what you have to do, Bird… I’m going in, come in when you’re done.” said Fatboy before disappearing in the house. This was an opportunity for him to look around for clues on Rayn as well as for him to carry out his real purpose for returning which was to find his pocketknife which fell from his pocket while fighting the wetcats. He knew that he needed a weapon.

Upon stepping into the house, it was like returning to the scene of a horrific crime. The black mold snatched his breath away and the wet chars from cold campfire in the middle of the room instantly drew tears from his eyes as he thought about Rayn. It made him even more determined.

He moved up the stairs slowly, tripping on the step just before the last while biting his bottom lip and stalled in the small hallway connected on both ends by the room he found the aluminum bat in and the other that had the wetcats. His memories began to bother him as the presence of terror reminded him to go on.

He went into the bathroom and wedged his hand between the broken toilet bowl and the tub. He withdrew his pocket knife and gripped it tightly as Bird approached from behind.

“Ain’t no backpack in here, Fatboys.” He said with a grim suspicious look on his face. “You knew that didn’t you?”

Fatboy turned towards the much larger man that was holding ‘his’ aluminum bat. “That’s not your bat, Bird.”

Bird stared down at the bat and walked his glare back to the teenager. “Finders-Keepers, Losers-Weepers. Ain’t no backpack in here, Fatboys… but you knew that… didn’t you?” repeated Bird as he eased even deeper into the bathroom to confront Fatboy.

The youth stood against the giant and planted his boots against
the base of the tub, “Fear no man.” He thought to himself.

“Bone knew you wasn’t alone, Fatboys. He wanted to give you a chance… I wanted you to join our family.” whispered Bird as the weather outside allowed gray-lit sun beams into the opening downstairs in the living room.

“I have a family, Bird! And she means EVERYTHING to me! Let me go. I have to find… my sister.” stated Fatboy in a tone other-than a request.

“No.” answered Bird.

“Then, no more talk.” Uttered Rayn’s protector as the small click of his knife blade being extended pierced the gray-lit room.

 

Chapter 14 – The Ballad of the Honey Badger

His dad wanted him to play football while his mom had always desired a piano player. As a non-standout student attending Springhill Elementary, Fatboy did neither. The Springhill Honey Badgers football team would never know his potential. The music program would never learn of his talents. No family member would attend a play with him in it and there really weren’t many that took the time to call him a friend. Fatboy was always a generation ahead in understanding and wiser than his years would ever show… he was always private, suspicious, and most of all, lonely.

They could never really reach him and yet they loved him so much… his parents. Now, they were gone. Fatboy would not make this same mistake with Rayn; for her he is willing to give everything.

“YYAAAAAHHH!!” shouted the teenager charging forward across the mildewed wood of the small bathroom floor. Fatboy rammed his full body weight into Bird in order to stunt his bat swing and force him closer to the broken sink beside the door.

Bird released an ‘UMPH’ of air as his larger size stood strong against his young adversary. His mind was made up to kill the boy and his actions did not betray his thoughts. He attempted to swing the bat, as Fatboy planned, but quickly found the bathroom too small to gift him with space and momentum. The head of it flung forward only to strike the bottom of the sink as Fatboy wedged beneath his arms and his thigh perched forward for footing.

Fatboy gritted his teeth and sunk his pocket knife deep into the top of Bird’s thigh causing him to scream while dropping the bat. He instinctively slammed his fist down into the back of Fatboy as he was pushed back further from the bathroom and into the second floor balcony. The two cracked the balcony and dropped to the ground just before the corner bedroom as Fatboy hollered out with blood from his mouth while snatching the machete from Bird’s sheathe on his thigh.

Bird swung his fist into Fatboy’s face striking him harder than he had ever been hit in his life. The youth slung backwards from the force leaving the bright light of common sense in front of Bird as the darkness of confusion and pain took its place within his body.

Time slowed…

The rummaging memories of his father passed through his mind’s eye in blinking seconds as he spoke about the fearlessness of honey badgers in YouTube videos on the internet years ago before the blackouts. The ringing in his ears played as a symphony entertaining his mother with her favorite song. It was the blood from his nose that trickled across his lips, that reminded him to wake up.

Bird gathered his footing and leaned against the balcony as he struggled to stop the flow of his life fluids with a wet wrap. He pulled Fatboy’s pocket knife from his thigh and slowly moved to close the distance between the two.

“Gonna kill you, Fatboys. Gonna kill you real good… just like the others.” He muttered.

The machete was still in Fatboy’s hand as he staggered to his feet. He was desperate and outsized.

“Fear no man,” he whispered only to realize that fear wasn’t here because of the man before him. Even in this heightened situation, the air became that much more eerie and cold as fear visited the youth… it was coming from the presence of death.

Fatboy held his hand forward shakingly and spoke to Bird with blood bubbles forming in the corners of his mouth, “Let me go, Bird!! We don’t have to do this! I have to find my sister! I have to find her, Bird… please.”

“Gonna kill you real good, Fatboys!” the larger man replied. The distance continued to vanish between them as much as their ability to breath deep with black mold swirling around. Panic crawled all throughout the teenage child; for he was no killer. He had never killed a person before but this situation was becoming dire.

“Bird… Please stop.” He begged as the larger man threw himself forward with his strong leg pillared and his knife hand forward. Fatboy shrugged away his shoulder high and the machete crossing his body with the blade flat.

His agility was intuitive as his father’s voice called out for him to move backwards. The machete blade ripped through the flesh on the bottom of Bird’s forearm then sliced deeply into the muscle below. Fatboy’s eyes were closed, but every part of him knew what was happening. Survival became his protector and desperation his madness. The blood across the sweeping machete blade slapped the youth as droplets then splatters.

He moved as the lithe namesake repeated by his father and found himself behind his enemy as any honey badger would. The machete kicked out of his hand from a wild swing by Bird as he reached back to grab him.

“YOU’RE GONNA DIE, FATBOYS!!” howled Bird swirling around numb from adrenalin. He yanked at Fatboy’s pants leg as his wound pulled strength from his determination. This allowed Fatboy to drag along the floor until his fingers bled in order to make it to the edge of the bathroom

“Let me go, Bird! LET ME GO!!”

The rustle between the solemn two opponents became the staccato of music that Fatboy’s mother would never know and yet it was her voice that was the climax to this song…

“Baby, you have to survive,” she whispered to her tired son as it drove him to end her ballad with the final searing rhythmic pulse of bass provided by his aluminum bat and Bird’s final bit of weight falling limp on the floor.

The humble harmonics of woodwind instruments providing the epilogue for this encounter was provided by Fatboy’s frantic heaves for air and Bird’s shallow breathing reminding his subconscious that some life is better than none.

Fatboy leaned against the balcony to catch his breath, then eased down the stairs and left the house.

“Thank you, Daddy… Thank you, Momma. I won’t let you down anymore. I love you both… I’ll be seeing you again, soon.”

He placed his pocket knife in his pocket and set off to find Rayn.

“I just won’t be doing it THAT soon.”

He smiled as the clouds above closed off the trickling sunrays and gathered into darkened anger that was fated to become the next raging storm.

Thunder grumbled as the air thinned and the rain increased in its fight to make it to the ground.

He wondered if Rayn was caught in the same storm as he.

 

Chapter 15 – The Beacon

The bitter black sky had a stranglehold on joy as the punishing tentacles of lightning jumping from its depth shouted in explosions of anger; just as a reminder that the weather must always be first. Pain knelt to the storm, along with fear, disappointment, loneliness, and sorrow.

The rain poured straight down, for there was no wind to move it. It was cold and as heavy as the heavens felt wet. Every low point flooded and every high area became an island.

There beside a small driveway wall and a decayed fallen tree loomed a rugged blue backpack drowning in the arms of dead wood with garbage caught in its grasp. The backpack had dipped and swallowed the poison of separation from its master. A stiff snatch, a muttered splash, and a small heave of breath was enough to end the separation and to rejoin the waterproof carrier with its master. If the backpack had life, it would be happy to be in the grasp of Fatboy.

The teen acting as a man, crawled backwards along the dead tree to the driveway wall and pulled himself to safety from the flood. His face still felt hurt from his earlier battle and his nose would not stop bleeding. This is one of the few times that he actually welcomed the punishment of the rain because it reminded him that he was alive.

He grabbed his aluminum bat and allowed himself a second to smile at the sight of his bag. During an age such as this, even something as simple as a backpack felt like a piece of family and a piece of home. He pulled his arms through the straps, looked into the night, and pushed forward with a limp to the highest house on the furthest side of the block while thinking merely of one thing… “Rayn.”

Hours into the storm buried within the maze of the suburban neighborhood led Fatboy to a home that was perfect in more ways than one.

It was quite far from the location that he fought Bird and it still had many boarded up windows from the inside. Upon picking the lock and hastily checking the inside, it was obvious that it had already been scavenged and left to age in peace. The two story home was, in fact, perfect.

He began to unpack his backpack beside the door as the storm demanded his attention by slowing the pace of its assault. The rhythm of the drops became a hypnotizing song made up of drums and memories as Fatboy thought about Mr. Padgett and the things he taught him.

Mr. Padgett didn’t like Fatboy when he first met him and he spoke at him in disgust. He remembered, “Keep them matches dry!” and “Keep to the high ground.”

Fatboy removed his dry matches from his backpack and coughed up a grin to Mr. Padgett as his thoughts whined on about the importance of having plastic to burn and bags to keep your stuff dry, Mr. Padgett swore by his advice. He was always ready for the end of the world.

In the center of the floor, Fatboy started a fire and made no attempt to border the flames off for control. The plastic pieces, he placed on top, melted slowly, spreading the touch of it flames and heat to the other parts of the damp room causing them to dry and eventually catch fire.

Fatboy stood in the doorway to the house caught between the dim, cold rain, and the searing, live fire before him.

He shuddered as the flash-back of food-and-flight consumed him instantly. Mr. Padgett shouted through his whispers on a night much like this as he told Fatboy to start a fire much like the one that was burning before him. Mr. Padgett chose the house… much like this one and the sharp clang across the street guided them to their escape, much like he needed now.

Fatboy smirked.

The house started to burn as Mr. Padgett grabbed Fatboy and rushed him off towards the clang, inside the house across the street in front of the one they had just set aflame. Inside, the third person in their small group was waiting with their stolen bags of food; memories not to be forgotten.

Regaining his focus of now, Fatboy’s smirk grew into a giggle as he raced across the street to the house in front of the one that he had just set aflame. The house was small with no doors and broken windows. There were just as many ways into it as there were out of it; it was a shell of a home.

He sat in the kitchen next to a large opening and stared into swelling flames of the home he had just left. He felt comfortable as Mr. Padgett’s memories reminded him, “You see – you see, the people after us are stopping at the house! Remember, Fatboy, always hide in the house in front of the one you burn. When things cool down, they’ll check the house and the ones on each side… hell, sometimes they’ll check the one behind it, but they never check the one in front.”

Fatboy leaned on his backpack and began to drift asleep as Mr. Padgett’s final commands that night, in the past, haunted him.

“Pack up the food, David! We gotta get back to your Momma and Rayn!”

“Yes, Dad.” David responded.

Mr. Padgett’s daughter was taught the same things as Fatboy and her brother David.

The fifteen year old youth knew that she would see his beacon and that she should always check the house in front of the flames first.

 

Chapter 16 – Cory’s Braids

‘Cory is pretty,’ thought Rayn as her head was twisted upward in a confused perch while staring at her traveling partner’s hair. The young girl striving so hard to be a woman was amazed at the sleekness of Cory’s hair and tried her best to hide it as they slogged along the mushed grounds beside the sidewalk leading to the houses on the edge of town.

The dank sky and intense rain was not enough to dull the glowing interest of Rayn as the duo stopped near the back of an old restaurant beneath a shabby covered patio.

“Your hair looks like pretty black vines tied into ropes,” said Rain, trying her best to sound casual.

Cory removed her backpack, opened it, and extracted a hammer. “Hunh?” she responded.

“You’re hair… uh, how do you make it like that?” inquired Rayn.

“Hold on,” chirped Cory as she used the hammer to strike the doorknob of the restaurant’s backdoor. She pushed the door open slowly, looked around then turned back to Rayn with a small smile on her face. “My hair is braided, Green-Eyes.”

“Oh? Braided. Okay,” said the little girl in a light voice. Rayn quickly looked away from her new traveling partner and attempted to recover her confidence by placing her outreached hand before her traveling mate’s chest. “I’ll go in first, Cory. I have my pocketknife.” Cory stepped back and allowed Rayn to move into the darkness.

The wind howled along the opened doorway and allowed the flashes of the storm’s brightness to chuckle into the depths of the restaurant. The place was barren and the two were somewhat safe.

“There’s gotta be food in here, Rayn. The door was locked,” exclaimed Cory as she began rummaging through the depleted food stores and corroded ovens. Rayn crawled on top of one of the food preparation counters and waited for the flashes of the storm. “Wait, Cory. Let the storm speak.”

In an instant, the storm chuckled again and Rayn responded with a quick, “Ah-ha!” and jumped from counter to counter until she arrive at a cabinet near the back wall. Her little girl arms strained to reach along the top of it as she teetered on her tip-toes.

A break of storm light, a pause of darkness, a sharp scratch, and a jump of flames drew a strong giggle from the young girl seating herself on the counter beside a small set of three lit candles.

Cory stared at her. “How in the hell..?”

With her chin high, Rayn spoke proudly, “Fatboy said that restaurants always had candles and flashlights from back in the days, when the power went out. They always keep them high and out of the way. He used to do this every time we came into a restaurant.”

Cory’s shoulders dropped slowly in amazement. “Wow. Fatboy sounds cool.”

“Yep,” said Rayn. “That’s why he’s my mate.”

Cory sat beside, the little girl and held her hands above one of the small flames hoping to gather some warmth from it. “Uhm, Green-Eyes… I don’t want to sound rude, but how do you know that Fatboy is okay? Things are kinda’ rough out there.”

Gathering a fork from the ground beside the stove and packing it into the side pocket of her backpack, Rayn looked at Cory. “Nothing can stop Fatboy.” Cory listened intently for a quiver in her voice and found none.
“He’s looking for me, Cory,” said Rayn.

“How do you know that, Rayn?”

Feeling a smile forcing its way onto her face along with a tear in her eye, the little girl gritted her teeth and said, “Because he would die before letting me go… and I would do the same.”

Silence sat in between both of them as a third person in the room.

Rayn unzipped her backpack and hesitated before pulling out her bottle of Herbal Essentials shampoo. “Will this make me as pretty as you, Cory? I mean – I mean… at least my hair? Will it make it… braided?”

Cory grinned at her determined friend. “No, Green-Eyes. You’re already pretty. This will take care of your hair and make it smell nice. In order to get braids in your hair, someone would have to do it for you.”

Rayn returned the shampoo into her pack and zipped it slowly. She was anxious to ask her next question and ashamed at her lack of knowledge in womanhood. She moved back towards the open restaurant door and looked out into the storm.

She felt like the little girl she was.

Cory came up beside her and joined her. “That shampoo you have is very valuable, Green-Eyes. People will do bad things to you in order to gain it for trade. Don’t show it to other people.”

With her lips tightened, Rayn nodded.

Zipping up her jacket, Cory grabbed one of Rayn’s hands and covered it with her other hand. “I tell you what, I will help you to shampoo your hair and braid it, after we find Fatboy, Green-Eyes. I promise.”

The little girl returned Cory’s promise with another nod and vanished into the darkness of the restaurant to recover the candles and matches. She blew them out, cooled them off, then stuffed them into her backpack and returned to the doorway.

“What are you doing?” asked Cory.

Rayn pointed out into the distance through the storm. “You see that smoke out there?”

“Yea?”

The little girl smirked, “That’s Fatboy’s beacon.”

“Hunh?”

“He’s alive, Cory! And he’s looking for me!” She hugged her taller traveling mate and started to cry, “He won’t quit, Cory and neither will I.”

Rayn rushed out into the storm and stopped after a couple of steps. “We have to hurry, because I’m going to hold you to your promise!”

The two survivors then disappeared into the darkness.

Chapter 17 – Vultures , Warmth, and Life

Mother Nature’s two rowdiest children are Life and the Weather. Siblings in all but understanding, the eldest of the duo has always pushed the younger to ‘find-a-way’ to survive; and so, Life, has always found a way. In this dreary age of grim skies and rage, hope had formed itself into a small pair of rubber boots dashing through dank neighborhoods looking for life. A weary beacon of dying light and smoke guided their way using determination as fuel.

Huffing for air, Rayn’s tightened breast swelled with excitement as she sprinted over a broken lawn mower, rusted into a monument representing suburban life-no-more; across a broken gate, a knee-high puddle down by a cul-de-sac, and through a pair of zero-lot-lined homes; she would not stop.

“Dam – hunf-hunf – Dammit! Slow – hunf-hunf – down, Rayn!” cried out Cory, shuffling half a house behind her smaller companion. Feeling the weight of her waterlogged backpack and clothing, she leaned against the edge of a small front porch plastic chair held together by a shrewd collage of entangled vines smeared with hues ranging from dingy yellow to mischievous maroon.

Rayn slowed her pace and paused while crawling through an open space between two wooden gate planks. Tiny mushrooms grew through all of the areas missing paint on each of the boards. The pouring rain made the wood as soft as worn clothing.

“We’re almost there, Cory. We gotta hurry, the smoke is almost gone. It’s the next street between those houses. Fatboy, is right over there somewhere.” Rayn pointed frantically as Cory held up her hand waving for her return.

“Come here, Green-Eyes” she spoke in a lower tone while staring at the vines beside her.

Rayn rubbed the water from her eyes and stepped away from the gate to return to Cory, she knew something was wrong. Her older ally was quiet. “What’s going on, Cory? What do you see?”

The older teen moved her hand along the vines then squinted her eyes to peer into the storm before them. Without looking away, she reached over and gently grabbed Rayn’s hand to pull her next to her.

“I’ve seen these vines before while traveling with the other foragers. They called them ‘Dead Man Fingers’ and said that the dead is always near, wherever they grow.”

Rayn gazed at the vine then out into the direction that Cory was transfixed on. “What are you looking at?”

“That side of that house over there.” She pointed. “You said that Fatboy is on the next street, right?”

“Yes…”

“Look over there on the side of that house, up near the roof.” She pointed again to direct Rayn to her focus.

“I see black lumps.”

“Look again, Green-Eyes.”

Rayn jumped. “They moved!”

“I know. C’mon, let’s go this way to cut through the houses.”

Cory took the lead and guided Rayn to the edge of the houses just before the street of the smoldering home that Fatboy burned. Both of them sat quietly as the rain weakened and the black lumps scurried up and down the side of the home that Rayn was sure that Fatboy would be.

She whispered, “What are they?”

Cory withdrew her hammer and gripped it at the ready. “They’re vultures. They used to be plain birds, but the storms changed them. They can’t fly anymore so they crawl along trees and walls attacking the wounded or scavenging on the dead.”

“Oh my God, we’ve got to find Fatboy.” whispered Rayn with a suppressed shout.

“I know – I know, Green-eyes, we just have to…” responds Cory as she is interrupted by the tug of Rayn stepping away from her to pull out her pocket knife in response to the scavengers.

“No. You don’t know, Cory. I’m going to get Fatboy.” Her small frame tightened as her glare was as stern as her intent. With blade in hand, after moving her backpack from her back to her front for protection, Rayn gave a final swipe of water from her face and pushed in to the gray lit darkness of the storm leading to the house holding Fatboy.

The shell of a house had four vultures screeching around in the front room as though they were cautiously impatient.

“GET AWAY!” barked Rayn, kicking the backend of the scavenger closest to her. Cory, speechless and in awe, struggled to accept the fearlessness in a person so tiny for a need so great. Confounded, she followed the little girl, who claimed womanhood, and joined in, “Get away, bird! Check the kitchen, Green-eyes.”

Entering the kitchen seemed to signal the breaking of the storm. The rain eased its onslaught and the clouds lightened as the crashing of bolts in the distance acted as lamps to break the gloom. Sitting next to a hollowed out refrigerator, beneath the sink was Fatboy. His chin resting on his chest as blood drenched his jacket and his body shivered furiously. He was not awake.

“FATBOY!” cried out Rayn as she rushed to him and tugged his body to hers with strength three times her size. “Fatboy!” She called out, only to have the room echo it back, with no answer from her guardian.

Cory rushed to her side and helped her to pull him out from the sink. “Hold on, Rayn. Let me grab him… let me grab him. Here, put’em on his backpack.”

“God, PLEASE!!” screamed Rayn, refusing to let go of Fatboy’s sleeve. “Cory, save him… please save him…please.” Her tears burned from the heat of her emotion.

Freezing up from Rayn’s impassioned plea, Cory leaned back with her open hands collapsed against her mouth and started to cry against her will. She couldn’t move and yet her body forced her to react.

“I got him, Rayn.” Cory examined Fatboy and called out to him only to receive no answer. She checked his eyes, grabbed his wrist, then reached under his shirt to feel his chest.
“Keep the vultures back, Rayn.” she ordered.

The young protector stood beside Cory and Fatboy holding her pocketknife with a vicious new purpose. She would hold the doorway while Cory worked. The birds withdrew from the house as if they understood.

Cory pinched the base of both sides of Fatboy nose and twisted it with a snap. She pressed against his chest to help him breathe easier and changed his sweater with a dry one from a plastic bag in his backpack. Fatboy’s body continued to jerk for warmth as Corey turned to Rayn.

“His nose was broken, but I was able to reset it. His body won’t stay warm, Green-eyes. We have to light a fire.”

Rayn paused and lowered her head. “We can’t, Cory.”

“What?!?” questions her partner, sharply.

“When a person creates a beacon, like this, it means that someone was looking for them. A fire would guide them to us. My Daddy taught us this.”

“Then what are we supposed to do, Green-eyes. He needs heat.”

Looking around, Rayn shoved a small table into the doorway of the kitchen and stacked debris all around it to block the vultures. She then stood beside Cory and asked her to help her pull Fatboy back under the sink. With nothing else said, she crawled up under the sink with her guardian and pulled off both of their shirts to use as blankets as she cuddled up to his chest.

“He’s my mate, Cory. I’ll die before I leave him again.”

Cory stood paralyzed for a moment, and then pulled together the clothes from her bag to add to the blanket. She removed her shirt and curled up on the other side of Fatboy to help save his life.

“You are definitely a weird one, Green-eyes. I can’t wait to braid your hair.” The two girls smiled at each other and fell asleep protecting Fatboy.

Life had found a way.

Chapter 18 – Heaven, a Hammer, and Riches

Imagine the breath of a blizzard, age-old and bitter. The very gossip of time muttered through its boreal lips of sleet could dance over a continent and create an ice age for an era. Imagine a murmur of cold from this blizzard upon one’s body asking it to submit to its blight of anguish; at the most, it would ease the shivers of misery wracking that same one’s self from each of its prickly touches.

Now, envision an oasis of southern warmth amidst the jabbering of this storm. It is a wellspring of joy, strong enough to crack this twilight of submission and to remind one ‘the need to rebel’. The cold demands that life finds its way away from this body… as the warmth stands strong as the vigor fighting to ensure that it stays. Between this war of cold and warmth, there can only be one victor…

Fatboy snatched himself awake with a stubborn heave for air as his head bumped against the underside pipe of the kitchen sink. The morning did not want to be nice to him, but the presents left at its doorstep made up for the knock on his head. The naked flesh of two snug women against him made him hesitantly ask if he had ‘died and gone to heaven’; until the shadows danced away from the smaller woman’s face to reveal the beautiful features of all that he ever wanted to protect.

“RAYN!”

The boy forced to be a man, quickly became the boy that he was and grabbed up his best friend with the mightiest of hugs. His cheeks curled tightly with a smile as his tears melted over his face.

“Rayn! Thank you, God! Rayn!”

Mumbling against his bare chest, the now awaken little girl responded, “FftBoooyft, cn’t brth.”

Fatboy held her back and looked at her, as her golden face swelled into a cute grin bordered by endless forest-green eyes. “I missed you, Fatboy.” She said softly as she reached her arms around him and hugged him as a mother bear loving her cub. Her embraced seemed to be twice as tight as his own.

“I cn’t brth, Ryn.”

The duo giggled and laughed until Fatboy came to his senses and stared at Rayn’s body in the brightening morning light. “Rayn..? Where’s your shirt? Go get dressed. You shouldn’t be…” Before he could finish his statement the morning also allowed him to see the other woman that was there.

“Whoa.” Chirped, Fatboy as her grown figure stole his breath with as much tenacity as the focus of his attention. His mind asked the question, ‘Who is that?’ as his body responded with a conversation summed up as, “Whoa.”; for the second time. The figure before him was gorgeous and strong. He’d never seen a near-naked woman this close before, much less, felt one. Puberty would never let him forget this moment.

Cory, woke up, and eased away from the couple covering her bare breast with crossed arms, as she looked upon this ‘boy’ that she has heard so much about. His gestures were those of youth and innocence, his quickness for realization was that of a war-torn soldier. Fatboy naturally began to position himself between her and Rayn. His demeanor melded into that which refused to invite trust.

He crawled slowly from the kitchen sink with one arm back towards Rayn and the other pushing along the floor. He would not break his gaze from the unknown woman. His eyes flashed quickly to gather his surroundings and to search for his aluminum bat.

“Who are you?” He asked, slowly staggering to a loose stance.
“I’m – I’m Cory.” She answered.
“I don’t know you, lady.”

Rayn pulled on her protector’s arm, “She’s my friend, Fatboy. She helped me find you. She fixed your nose last night and helped me to save you.”

Fatboy leered at the woman and ‘into’ the woman. She was fed and strong, her skin smooth and yet tough. She glared back at him with, what seemed to be, more interest in him than he in her. One of Fatboy’s eyebrows raised curiously then he bit his bottom lip.

A stark screech rammed its way into the kitchen as the wind swallowed up the gurgling trappings of a vulture, too far from its venue, being swarmed by a group of wetcats outside. Grabbing his bat near the windows, Fatboy rested against the shambling edge of the counter to look into the sky.

“There’s a black pocket of clouds dragging in the east. Side-rain is going to be hitting here in a few hours. The wetcats are going to hunt hard for more food. We gotta move.”

Fatboy stumbled forward, regained his balance, and then began packing up his backpack after dressing. He would not look at Rayn getting dressed, and he could not ignore Cory dressing. The trio moved into the clutch of the downpour outside.

“Where are we headed?” asked Cory as her voice sought confidence in the request. Fatboy ignored her until they were two neighborhoods away from where they started. They gathered under a small bus stop on the side of the road to escape the downpour long enough to confirm their direction.

“We needed out of the house area, lady. I hate seeing the dead in their homes. That street over there leads to down town. We need to get to the stores for supplies and safety.” Fatboy held Rayn’s hand and entered the low-flooding water to move along its path to down town. Cory instantly felt like a bother more than a team member and did her best to follow.

Two hours later, they arrived on the edge of downtown as the heavy rain abruptly decreased into a light haze of mist and drizzle. A strong low breeze crawled quickly through the town, it was as warm as a liar’s breath.

“You guys feel that?” Cory barked in a low tone.

“It’s the calm before the side-rain, Cory.” Commented Rayn as she watched Fatboy vanish into the store closest to them to investigate.

“What’s wrong with your friend, Rayn? He acts funny.” Inquired Cory almost as a complaint.

“Fatboy doesn’t know you yet. He’s like this with anyone we meet. Some people have done some bad things to us in the past and he’s been through way more than me.”

“We’ve all been through bad stuff, Rayn. He doesn’t have to be so mean.”

Fatboy then appeared in the doorway of the store, across the street and raised his hand to signal for the duo to join him. Rayn led the way and Cory followed, once again.

The ramshackled store was dark and dank, yet safe. Light creaked through all of the windows and crisscrossed the entire area providing a steady stream of luminance and good air. “There are shelves in the back that we can sleep on when the floods start tonight.” Said Fatboy as he held up a wet cardboard box he found. “Not to mention, I found an old box of trash bags buried in a junk pile behind the door.” He then smiled.

Rayn ran into the store and instantly went into ‘scavenger mode’ as though it was a game. She was determined to find something to outdo the trash bags he’d found. Cory walked in behind her and kept her distance from Fatboy. It wasn’t long before Rayn’s voice sang out from the back, “I got something!”

Fatboy and Cory came to the back of the store only to be met with quirky smirk from Rayn and a large lock on a stock room door. Faboy dropped his head to the side and shrugged with his eyebrows pulled upward as he moved his head from side-to-side. “That’s a padlock, Rayn. Look at the dents on it. No one could break it, you would need an actual hammer to break something like that. We don’t have one.”

Rain leaned back with her lips perched into an adorable sneer. Her hands were clasped behind her back as she twiddled her right boot along the floor; she then looked up slowly at their newest braided-hair companion.

“Cory?”

A series of sharp whacks from her tried-and-true travel hammer left the padlock destroyed in pieces on the ground; the opening of the stockroom door was just as quick. A cough of gray soot rolled from the room as the stench of ashy decay fell out into the new air for all but a moment as the winds from the light rain outside made it dissipate. All items organic were now mounds of garbled muck, dried in-place.

The can food shelves in the back were a vision to take in. Every shelf was full and completely untouched. Hundreds of cans lined the walls with foods varying from fruit, vegetables, and canned meat. The never ending rain outside kept the temperature low and the food somewhat preserved. The wrapping and metal of the cans were in near perfect condition. Many were still wrapped in the tough, clear, plastic bundles they arrived in on the pallets.

No one could move or look away.

“I haven’t seen anything like this, since before the first storm.” Said Cory

“I have NEVER seen anything like this.” Said Fatboy.

“Does this mean we’re rich?” questioned Rayn.



“YEP.” Responded Cory and Fatboy at the same time.

Chapter 19 – Trust

The night sky hollered as the onrush of side-rain incessantly pattered against the back and back-side of the ‘Neighbor-Mart’ store. It came in waves, as if it was the revelry of angels after a great battle. The front and front-side of the store remained protected, which was a welcomed perk; for the expected flood never came, instead cool streams of rainwater flowed in rivers down the streets.

The dark heavens crackled with dancing lights in the distance, but the thunder, barely noticeable, merely became rhythmic bass for the tale of three young comrades counting their blessings and simply enjoying their night.

“And so, Gold-Skin Man and his green cat, Creaker, saved his friends!” said Fatboy as he leaned back with his hands dancing in the air. He had two empty cans of chicken-and-dumplings, along with a half-eaten can of pears beside him.

“No – no, Fatboy, you forgot his sister. What about She-Girl and her rainbow horse? You forgot about her, what did she do?” yelped Rayn, just before shoving another fork full of Spaghetti-Rings and meatballs into her mouth. She hopped around the room, as if she was on a horse fighting with a magical sword.

“Okay, dang it… She-Girl was the one who beat Skullface. Every time he tried to shoot his magic, She-Girl would swoop around his blasts like a swift wind, with her horse, and bounce his beams back at him, knocking him down. That’s how she won.” Answered Fatboy, finishing off his pears.

Rayn stood before him and smiled in the dim light, “Sooo, She-Girl was the one who REALLY saved the day, right?”
“Nope. They both did. Nah.” Fatboy returned her smile.

Cory sat quietly and somewhat amazed as to what she just experienced. “Uhm… you DO know you guys are talking about an old cartoon show that used to come on TV?”

Fatboy and Rayn continued to stare at each other as their smiles slowly faded. Rayn took a deeper notice of the cut across Fatboy’s nose, as Fatboy’s lips parted, he became fixated on the small fresh scar on Rayn’s face stemming from her recent battle with the wetcats.

Fatboy stood in front of her and palmed her face gently, before slowly rubbing his thumb across her healing cut.

“I was scared of losing you, Rayn.”

Her throat swelled, her eyes watered.

With the sharpness of weather-change, Fatboy turned his attentions to Cory, “Who exactly are you, lady? What made you team up with, Rayn?”

Cory placed her near empty can of gumbo down beside her feet and leaned away slightly before responding, “I was a Forager from Under-Mall and I got tired of being there.”

“What?!?” yipped Fatboy in grim surprise.

Cory continued, “You gotta have a mate to stay indoors at Under-Mall. Everybody has a job there and foraging is one of the most dangerous; hence, those without mates are automatically assigned as Foragers.”

“Why didn’t you have a mate?”

“Because I was still somewhat new and none of the men picked me.” Cory stood slowly, looked at Rayn, then moved towards the door. She leered out into storming darkness. “Every time we went out, it seemed like someone came back mangled or dead. How in the heck are you supposed to find a mate or fall in love in a situation in which everyone puts you out front to take the biggest risks because you’re new.”

Fatboy sucked his teeth.

Cory erupted, “What is your problem with me, Fatboy? I just met you. I was trying to help Rayn… and you. Why can’t you give me a chance?”

Moving closer to Rayn and his bat, Fatboy spoke, “Because you’re pretty, Cory. I’ve watched guys die protecting women like you. I won’t. I don’t trust you, but I will respect you for Rayn’s sake.”

Rayn moved between Cory and Fatboy. She didn’t understand what was happening.

“Fatboy… Cory….”

Grabbing Rayn’s hand, Fatboy lead her over to their makeshift sleeping area on the shelves. Cory stayed by the door watching the duo and the storm.

The boy, acting as a man, whispered to his companion, “Don’t forget, the only one we can trust, is each other, Rayn.”

The young girl wanting so bad to be a woman, fought back her tears and confusion before succumbing to sleep as Fatboy sat watch over her with his bat.

He would not allow himself to trust the beautiful lady that was now traveling with them.

 

Chapter 20 – Agony is Awake

Morning.

Two small blocks of Styrofoam wrapped in tape are placed in a small plastic grocery bag and shoved into the bottom of a backpack. Two cans of beans-and-ham follow. Dry clothes wrapped in a trash bag are pushed on top of the food cans, and the ‘burner’ bag is placed on top of the clothing. Inside the burner bag, a box of wooden matches, plastic bits, scrap paper, birthday candles, and incense are snuggly arranged; frankincense-and-myrrh would have been preferred, but Rose scent would have to do.

A light creak and the clatter from a fallen pocket knife jarred Rayn from her rest. Instinctively peering into the dim morning luminance, she searched for Fatboy. He wasn’t there. Crawling down from her shelf, her boot scampered across one of the bottom shelves for grip only to screech from her weight causing Cory to stir, over by the door.

Rayn’s green eyes seemed to glow as she scratched her head and yawned while looking for Fatboy. It was the shuffle in the back-storage area that grabbed her attention and so she went.

“What are you doing, Fatboy?” she asked as she watched him push his first-aid bag into his backpack beside the burner bag.

His companion stretched and moved towards her backpack to gather her gear, “I was kind of hoping we could stay a little while longer, now that we’re rich.”

Fatboy placed two more tape-wrapped Styrofoam blocks in his bag to top it off then tightened the pull string before closing it. “We ARE going to stay here, Rayn. I just have to run out and do something, really quick.”

“Do what?”

Picking up the pocket knife from the floor, Fatboy stared at her before shoving it in his pocket. “I’m gonna go back and try to save those people that Bone is hurting.”

“What?!? The scary guy you told us about last night? His friend HURT you, Fatboy! WHY?”

The boy stood before Rayn as a chastised child; his shoulder’s slumped. She stepped up to him and grabbed his shirt while looking up into his eyes, “We JUST got back together, Fatboy! I don’t want to be apart no more.”

Fatboy studied the pain on her face. She was too young to have worry-lines and yet, this young ‘want-to-be’ woman seemed to have them forming. His hands were so heavy, he dared not try to lift them, instead he whispered his response as loudly as he could muster, “People are being hurt, Rayn.”

The little girl whipped away from her companion and stomped her feet as she barged out of the storage area. Fatboy was frozen.

A moment crawled past as he grabbed his bat and eased out of the room towards the door.

“LET’S GO.” Said Rayn, fully dressed with her backpack on.

“What?!?”

“I’m not going to be apart from you, Fatboy! Not again.” Her stance was as stern as her intent. Fatboy now understood Cory’s description of Rayn, when she told about her standing up to the vultures in the house.

“I don’t want you in danger, Rayn.”

“And I don’t want YOU in danger, Fatboy. I’m NOT leaving you.”

Fatboy smiled as his shoulders slowly began to rise. Turning to the door, once again his path was blocked.

“You don’t have to trust me, Fatboy, I get it. But, where Green-Eyes go, I go.” Cory placed herself before the door with her backpack. “You and the princess is all that I have and I am going to earn your trust. We can block up the storage room and disguise it until we get back, but this ‘mission’ you’re doing… we are all going to do.”

At that point, Fatboy felt complete – they were a great agony to have.

Working as a fluid team, the three camouflaged the door to the storage room and set off into the rain on their mission to save people they did not know.

Chapter 21 – The Rescue – Part 1

Two hours ago, beams of sunlight diffused through the early morning showers as a flashlight covered by thin cloth. It created a kaleidoscope of hues in areas the storm clouds were thinnest; there seemed to be small rainbows everywhere, dancing in the mist-like rain that greeted this day of challenge. The warmth from the sunshine was welcomed, it dispatched a brief respite from the chill of upcoming unknowns. in fact, it moved as the silent fourth member of Fatboy’s team of rescuers – then again, that was two hours ago…

Huddled up, one street across from their destination, Fatboy, Rayn, and Cory peered from a cracked glass door leading to a small outside balcony, on the second floor of a dilapidated movie theatre called, ‘The Athens’. With his finger pressed against the door-glass Fatboy pointed across the street.

“Over there, where that barred window is… that’s where they are. I woke up in a tub on that second floor.”

Cory squinted her eyes as the rain outside began to increase in intensity. Rayn’s attention continually became distracted by the majesty of the broken-down stage, behind them, in the theatre, along with their missing fourth member, “The sunshine is gone, Fatboy.” She whispered as she pushed against the door to get a better view outside.

The bar, their destination across the street, made up the entire corner of the two-story plaza building. The bottom floor on the end of it was converted into a workshop garage; this was where Bone showed Fatboy the sparkplugs. The pitifully-repaired awnings outside did their best to protect from the rain, which filtered the airflow from the storms through the open entrance doors to the bar. The storm’s breath filtered out the musk from that area.

Fatboy turned away and pressed his back against the wall – he began to shudder. Rayn stared at him in pause. Cory moved alongside Fatboy then gently grasped his hand, it was clammy and lukewarm. She then felt his neck and his forehead.

“You still need rest. You’re not fully healed.” She said in a factual and yet stern voice. “Do you really want to go through with this?”

Shuddering still, the teen boy’s eyes rolled to the side to look at her, “I – I- I’m okay, lady.”

Annoyed, Cory turned towards Rayn and stared before blinking slowly, she then returned her attention back to Rayn’s guardian, “I DO have a name, Fatboy.”

The boy leaned his head back then closed his eyes. Her voice stabbed him. His shuddering stopped as he exhaled slowly – he felt her attention.

“What do you want to do, Fatboy?” asked Cory.

He waited a moment after swallowing, then spoke, “He have to help those people.” It was only then, Fatboy realized he was still holding Cory’s hand.

Without noticing, Rayn barked in the background, “Hey someone is down there! Someone is at the bar!”

Scrambling back over to the door-window on his hands and knees, Fatboy peered out leaving breath-frost on the glass.

“Yea, that’s them!” he pointed, “The big one is called, ‘Dale’ and the tall one behind the counter is ‘Bone’.”

“Where’s the one that hurt you?” asked Rayn.

Without looking away, Fatboy responded, “Don’t know, his name was ‘Bird’. We gotta move, though.”

Removing his backpack, the young guardian dug through his pack to extract his burn bag. Flipping his backpack to the side, he reached into one of the side pockets and pulled out a small, single-shot, sized bottle of alcohol.

Cory winced in surprise, “You getting drunk before something like this?!?”

Rayn answered as Fatboy looked on with disregard, “No, he’s going to create a distraction. My Daddy taught us that.” She then turned to Fatboy, “What’s your plan?”

Donning his backpack, once again, and grabbing his bat, the guardian stood, “You and the lady need to stay here and keep watch, Rayn. I’m going over to the top floor to create a distraction then rush downstairs to the hidden room to get those people out.”

“What?!? Alone?” questioned Rayn sharply.

Grinding his teeth, Fatboy turned away from Rayn and stomped his foot while slamming the bottom of his fist against the wall. “RAYN, PLEASE! Listen to me, these guys will kill! This is NOT a joke! Remember, how some of the grown-ups wouldn’t come back after looking for food? REMEMBER?
People were dying Rayn… they were being attacked by people like these psychos. I can… NOT lose you.”

The wind shifted in the background, adding to the quiet.

Cory approached Fatboy and gave him her hammer. “I named my hammer, ‘Thor’. I put the tape around the grip so it doesn’t slide as much when it’s wet… It’s the only thing I have from home.” The boy looked at the tool, then looked into the woman before him that was merely a few years older. He was befuddled.

“Wha – why are you…” he started before being interrupted by Cory, “Because the door holding those people will probably have a lock, Fatboy.” Reaching out to grab the burn bag and alcohol from his hand, Cory moved alongside Rayn. “We’ll light the fire. You go save whoever we are here to rescue.”

Green-eyes flashed in the dim light as Rayn stepped forward, snatched Fatboy’s aluminum bat, and gave it to Cory. “Quit being such a wimp, Fatboy! I’m ‘She-Girl’ and we’re going to save these people. Let’s go!”

Grim and outvoted, he accepted reality, “We will do as Mr. Padgett… your Dad taught us, Rayn. Both of you torch the second floor and get out, I will get to the room downstairs to free the people. This will be our rally point, so we’ll leave our backpacks and take only what we need. If something… ANYTHING goes wrong, light this place, too… making it a ‘beacon’, and head back to the house you found me in.”

Rayn nodded.

The trio moved downstairs to leave the theatre as Fatboy stopped before exiting into the storm, “Remember, whatever you do, don’t go back to the store. They will track you there and take our food.”

Once again, Rayn nodded as she and Cory scurried off to the far side of the bar.

 

Chapter 22 – The Rescue – Part 2

Moving in a zigzag to cross the street, shallow puddles were sheared into sharp splashes as Rayn lead the endeavor to create a distraction for Fatboy; she moved, obsessed, as if she had a point to prove. Cory kept pace with her small companion, just as focused, and even more serious. Her fear had devolved into a dark emotion of anxiousness, worry, and frustration.

Both not far from each other, they moved along the side of the far end of the plaza to get around back without being seen. Their vision was shortened from the foul weather as Rayn continually wiped her face desperate to find the back door leading into the bar.

Cory was the first to curse the elements, “Dang, this storm.” Rayn was quick to follow suit, “Yep.”

The storm?

It was a relentless backdrop of disorder as it fell like a billion ball bearings made up of raindrops forming a waterfall. Lightning danced as a gathering of devilish imps in the darkened sky, while thunder punched the earth. It was merely afternoon, but it felt like an accursed evening brought forth too early.

The two huddled together under a failing awning to catch their breath as Cory pointed at a large, metal trash bin on the edge of the small parking lot. The bin was on its side with a little chair in it. The chair had the bottom cut out of it.

Cory tipped her head at Rayn, “That’s their crap seat.”

“Their bathroom?” asked Rayn as she began to shiver.

“Yea. We’re close, Green-eyes. Look at the door over there. It’s cracked open.”

In no time, flat, the duo was at the door pushing it slowly to the side to ensure stealth; the noise from the rain gave great cover. The first thing noticed was the intense stink of musk, mildew, and decay. The girl’s face winced and the young woman gagged. Just past the stairs was a short hallway leading to the front space acting as their church, which, of course, was nothing more than the broken-down bar. The stairs near the backdoor they entered, lead up to the living area made up of six rooms. This was where the fire needed to be started.

Once again, taking the lead, Rayn eased into the darkness following the few candles lit in small jars to show the way. Cory accompanied as she slipped on the soggy, mildew-laced carpet lining each of the steps. Breathing the air became more difficult the deeper they went into the area.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs, Cory pointed at the far door and whispered, “Let’s light up the room Fatboy woke up in.”
Even through the lowlight, she saw the smile on Rayn’s face.

Creeping to the door and listening intently, both agreed no sounds were detected. They eased into room and found the tub and bed that Fatboy described. Rayn quickly went to work, pulling out the contents of the burn bag and cutting up the putrid smelling material acting as covers on the bed. Large roaches scurried along the walls, daring both of the females to leave screaming – the roaches nearly won the contest.

Rayn lit a small fire in the center of the bed and jumped towards Cory as a new intrusion of roaches scuttled from the mattress.

“EEEKK!”, she screamed uncontrollably, “I hate roaches!!”

Cory slapped the bat against the bed killing a small gathering of the large insects, while also spreading the flames. The bed jumped from the impact creating a knocking sound that was distinctively different than the murmurs from the storm outside.

She coughed as the flames began to grow, ”C’mon -cough- Green-Eyes, our job is -cough- done.”

Rayn fell through the door gasping for air as Cory moved before her to follow suit while grasping the balcony railing.

“Who you?” a voice belted from down the hall. “I said, who you?”

The increasing light from the growing fire, ensured that there was no mistaking the gangly figure before the duo. He had unkempt hair with streaks of gray and his brow was noticeable. His shoulders were uneven and his arms were like thick vines. His cloth-wrapped forearm, as well as his leg, had blood stains seeping through the material.

The man moved forward to study the duo closer. His eyes moved beyond the girl, studied the young woman, then froze on the aluminum bat. “Finders-keepers girlie, I done seen that bat before.”

Simpering, the simple man studied Cory closer as he eased forward towards them. “You must know Fatboys, girlie. You must be the one he was looking for. You his sister?”

Cory was unable to move. She was paralyzed by fear as Bird lurked forward hungry for a victim.

“You look like him, girlie. You got my bat and I’m gonna kill you.”

Snatching the bat from Cory’s hand, Rayn lurched into a wild swing, bashing Bird in his wounded leg.

“Fear NO man! C’mon, Cory, let’s get out of here!” She shouted as Bird collapsed to the ground shrieking.

Reaching out instinctively, Bird grabbed Rayn by her hair and tugged her backwards to the ground. She screamed as she dropped the bat to clutch his hand.

Cory remained frozen in fear.

Bird tugged his prey across the floor as she kicked and fought. Blood seeped from his thigh onto the floor as he yanked violently in a downward direction forcing Rayn to smash the side of her face into the floor.

“Dale gonna like you, little girlie! He loves children.” Bird snarled.

Cory remained frozen in fear.

Pulling her pocketknife out, as her face began to swell, Rayn sliced through her hair to free her from Bird’s grasp. Unable to regain her balance she squirmed around the floor, searching for the bat as her hunter staggered to his feet while releasing a fist full of her hair.

“You gonna make me hurt you more, stop fighting.”

“No!” cried Rayn as she pivoted in the burning light with a second swing of the bat in a downward motion. Missing his entire leg, but finding a home on the top of his foot; bones crunched.

The gangly man instantly collapsed again in extreme pain.

Rayn teetered over to Cory as one of her eyes closed from the swelling. She grasped her hand, “Wake up Cory… Please. The fire is growing. We have to get out of here.”

With tears in her eyes, Cory finally blinked. “Rayn?”

Nothing else was spoken as the young girl, wanting so bad to be a woman, guided her friend down the stairs and out the back of the bar. They headed to the rally point, back at the Athen’s theatre.