Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. It’s the lighting there he is attracted to. Also, sometimes there is pie.
Six of us survived: our number since Day Four. Nance had been in the church already and Tom I met while running towards it. Big and black, wearing Buddy Holly frames, I find it strange the cigarette tucked behind his right ear is what I conjure up most whenever he comes to mind—I mean, seriously, of all things to be concentrating on at that point in time. Jeff comes next, coming a day later, and the day after that is when the twins complete what we’ve become. They’re fraternal, Jennifer and Johanne, and from the onset appear worse than the rest of us. Low, off to the side, Jeff makes this known: Danger, Will Robinson, danger.
Johanne came to us injured as well, and it’s Nance who first steps up to address the leg wound. Not until the second bandage change in as many hours do I notice what Jeff has already seen. Standing, stroking the back of her sister’s head, Jennifer seems in control of herself, or at least coping as well as the rest of us. It’s as Nance re-wraps the wound that I am given pause; vacant eyes, mumbling lips—all this through thick strands of hair no longer being bothered with. The difference between sisters is striking, worrisome, but then so was the situation we found ourselves in. This is not an excuse, but then again, maybe it is; why else had I done nothing when clearly the woman was beyond functional? I cannot speak for the rest of them, but I at least have to be honest with myself, so yes, more likely than not, this is why I chose the weakest route available. We had survived. Disturbed or not, each of us being all we had left.
Day Six we relocate to the basement and this is when Tom finds the boy—what I have come to believe is a boy. Silent, each of us takes a turn looking at him from the corner window of the rectory. The angle is odd, more left than right, but still you could see how the remaining skin stretched towards the street below. As the cigarette tucked in Tom’s ear would forever connect me with the image I have of him, I am reminded of my childhood as I stare up at the boy, to a time when my brother and I would throw old shoes up and over telephone lines in hopes of getting them caught. Strange how fear can do this to a person; twist and warp such innocuous things. All told, it makes me more than afraid. All told, it continues to turn me into someone I never thought I’d be.
“It’s not right,” Jeff says, and he’s more than a little indignant in the way he professes this. From what little I knew of him, this was new for Jeff, and not at all in line with the sarcasm he used as a shield. He is taller than the rest of us, even taller than Tom, and the stubble he has begun to grow is patchy and red. Heated now, he adds that it’s crazy, the entire situation, and that we’re all just as insane if we think for a moment we might survive. This is answered by Johanne, who very quickly adds a butter knife to the man’s right eye before any of us can move. Neither warning nor scream accompanies this, and Jeff’s fall is so immediate, so weighted, it too has become an image I cannot displace.
“He wanted crazy. I showed him crazy.” Is what she finally says, each of us hearing it even though it comes out from under her breath. After this, silence—and the world seemed to change yet again.
“There’s the AV room in back.” Tom suggests, and Jennifer is the only one who protests, saying her sister had been though a lot, that we weren’t there the moment their parents were taken. “You aren’t the only ones going through this,” Nance says matter-of-fact. The two of them then acknowledge each other from opposite sides of the room, and then they stare, ten seconds, fifteen, and it’s in this time that I realize how defeated each woman looks, how worn. Nance continues, yes, but Jennifer’s objections came to hold less conviction as the days wore on. We were not foolish enough to believe this was her coming round to our way of thinking, though. We couldn’t, not after that had been done. They were sisters is all, and twins on top of the fact. In hindsight we were wrong. I have to accept that. We all do.
At night is when they feed, and they are far from quiet as they do. “I’ve seen more teeth on the smaller ones.” Tom says, and I sometimes wish I could not concur. “Make sense we worry about those ones more. The larger ones may have more weight, sure, but they aren’t nearly as fast.” True. But the muscle on the bigger ones, I’ve seen the business it can do, how it’s able to rip a man to parts.
We use no light from six p.m. until dawn, none, each of us together in a single room. Precautionary, it’s the way we’ve lived since coming together, but things might soon have to change—Tom and Nance try, yes, but the room we share is only so big. “Not that it’s my business,” I ask when the time comes.
“Does it matter, mate? Really, with what’s going on out there, can you blame me?” I couldn’t, not remotely, which pretty much summed up the man’s entire point. Perhaps I’m secretly jealous, or perhaps I only miss my own wife. Either way, our living arrangement was meant to change.
Day Fifteen is when the food runs out. Day fifteen/night is when Nance finds Jennifer at the base of the Christ statue, her wrists now open to the bone. Woman had a plan, she says, woman followed through. She is right but neither Tom nor I give comment. We can’t. We only stare.
Outside, the boy who hangs continues to do so, but the skin that remains has become greyish in colour, dry and mummified. I peg him at being four or five years old and then inside I die a little more.
I offer to inform Johanne about her sister and when I do there is no reaction, none that I can discern. She only stares directly ahead, her eyes wet and vacant, like understated paint. I re-lock the door. Later, as we continue to discuss our options, there are tears and then cries towards the injustice of what we have been reduced to. I tell them we must move; that I feel the church is no longer safe. Tom agrees, stating we’d be fools not to include some type of contingency plan once a new place is found. With Nance it takes some doing but in the end her fear of dying pulls her from the fog. “I’ll go,” I say, and neither of them speaks up when I suggest this. Backpack on, I leave by the back of the church, going past the room which holds Johanne. I hear her singing as I pass and then abruptly there are screams. She calls for an Angie, a Teresa, and suddenly I pause, my confidence gone, but soon the singing starts anew. It’s here I remind myself about tomorrow; that the choices we make now mean more than they ever did before.
Outside I move slow, careful even though it’s the middle of the day. Rounding the corner, I look up at the boy as I knew I would. His hands and feet almost touch as they dangle and reach for something they will never grasp again.
Cautious, I run.