The fire danced across the concrete floor, following the liquid, moving towards the mattresses. Laughter trailed down the upstairs hallway, soundtrack to the chaos before them. His mouth opening in a shocked ‘O’, feeling the splinters move under his skin, Tim stood immobile, mesmerized by the flames.
Pushing past him, Jason pulled the mattress back from the encroaching flames. A box of Capn’ Crunch darkened and curled under the heat. Tim found a part of himself angry at the loss of the cereal. It was his favorite kind.
Grabbing a thick blanket and rolling it up under his arms, Jason said, “Give me a hand here, Tim!”
Tim’s eyes popped up to Jason and it was like he returned to his body, his limbs flooding with intent, adrenaline dousing his heart with energy. He ran to Jason, the smoke beginning to darken the basement, creating a hazy wall, Jason tossed him one end of the blanket.
“We’re gonna stretch this out, you at that end of the fire and me at this end, and then we’ll drop it down. We got to make sure it goes down flat. We don’t want to waft more oxygen on the fire, got it?”
Nodding, Tim swallowed, unsure of the plan, but incapable of saying so. They shuffled around the fire and when they were in position, Jason nodded at him and they dropped into a squat placing the heavy blanket over the fire. It covered most of the fire, snuffing it out abruptly. Stomping on the blanket, to make sure of it, Jason reminded Tim of the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk each time his big boots slammed down. Tim worked his way around the basement, stepping on small fires. After all the flames were out, they traced scorch marks on the floor with blurred vision, chests heaving. Tim coughed from the smoke.
“We should air the basement out. Too bad someone boarded all the windows.” Jason said, straight faced with a laugh in his eyes.
Tim, bent over to clear his throat, peered at Jason, wondering if he were serious. He saw the smile rippling Jason’s lips and couldn’t help but laugh himself. He laughed, coughed, laughed, thinking his chest would explode and Jason, laughing and coughing with him, lead him upstairs, gun ready in case Lyle was waiting for them, still uttering cough-laughs. They headed outside, into the backyard and sucked in deep lungfuls. The sky, a deep blue, like the sea had taken place of the heavens, hung over them. Tim giggled, the fits uncontrollable, his body shaking all over, bordering on hysteria. He sank to his knees, a steady stream of tears incongruous to his giggling.
In the distance, thick swirling clouds danced on the air, hovering over houses, sentinels of wings and teeth.
Sitting in the kitchen upstairs, a pair of tweezers in his hand, eyebrows drawn down and his mouth a tight, grim line, Jason was plucked pieces of wood out of Tim’s face. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide sat on the table next to a growing pile of bandage packages.
“You’re gonna look like a mummy after we’re done here,” Jason said.
Tim hissed as a sliver was dragged from his chin. He’d drank two shots of rum, Doctor Jason’s orders, and although a pleasant glow circulated in him, his skin stung as the slivers were liberated from his body. Tim poured another shot, his anxiety sloshing some onto the table. He hurled it back, a heat radiating out from his stomach.
“Last one, okay?”
Working in silence, Tim trying to understand what was happening and Jason deep in concentration, the pile of slivers, dipped in blood, grew. Jason, sitting back in his chair, swiping a hand across his sweaty brow, sighed and said, “I think we’re done with your face. Now it’s time for your arm.”
Tim arranged himself so that his arm lay across the table. Jason plugged in a table lamp and directed the cone of light onto Tim’s arm. The tweezers set to work.
“Are you still leaving me?” Tim said.
Two plucked slivers later, Jason answered, “Yeah. Yeah, I will be.”
Although he knew it, a ball of fear coiled in his guts.
“Will you help me, uh, help me bury my family before you go?”
“Sure. Sure I will.”
Moments of silence, the glow of alcohol numbing his pain, physical and emotional.
“Why are you leaving? For all you know, your mom is like mine.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right. But I don’t know, you know? Not until I go there and find out for myself.”
“I’ll die without you, without someone to help. I’d be dead right now if you weren’t there, when those guys showed up.”
Jason shrugged, “Maybe. You might have acted differently if I wasn’t there. You never know. No one really knows what they’re capable of until they’re tested.”
Shaking his head, Tim said, “I know. I’d be dead. I froze down there. More than once.” Snarling, Tim said, “Fucking movies.”
“Watching movies, you see those situations and you think to yourself, ‘I’d never do that. I’d do this and this and I’d come out on top.’ You never think you’d freeze with your thumb up your ass while some dude points a gun at you or tosses a flaming bottle down your stairs.”
Jason nodded and said, “We’re all the stars of our own movie. And the star is never supposed to die is he?”
“You know what I’m really afraid of? That those guys are all who’s left out there, or people like them. Murderers, cleaning up after the bugs. I read something once, in a history book. It wasn’t on purpose. It was school related, but it stuck with me. Did you know, during the wars when Napoleon was trying to take over the world, that the army was followed by a horde of people. They were made up of soldier’s families, whores, business men selling wares out of carts, all types, just following the army. After a battle, the field would be filled with bodies. Pieces of men all over, the grass soggy with blood and a lot of the soldiers were still alive, unable to move, weak. These people would walk the field, holding knives, sharp as razors, looting the dead and killing the living. It didn’t matter if the soldier would have made it, these people would slit the throats of dying men and loot their pockets. Some of these soldiers were as young as me. I pictured myself as a soldier, lying in a mass of bodies, pleading for help as an old crone, stepping on the bodies of my friends, made her way towards me, her knife slimy with blood. That’s what I think is out there. The worst of humanity, getting fat off the bodies of the dead, like maggots in meat. I don’t want to be alone.”