Majorette wore her best walking shoes, so she thought. The soles were beginning to wear, and if you looked closely, you could tell that old knee injury affected her gait. Her right shoe, all shifted and worn away to the inner man-made material, made her limp just that much more. She crossed the old highway and made her way down the dirt road toward home, stopping to shift her pack to the other shoulder.
“We just weren’t ready for them,” she mumbled aloud to herself. The day was bright, with a crisp chill that balanced out the strong scent of her unbathed limbs. The thought of a hot bath almost made her mouth water. “Bubbles,” she declared, to no one in particular. Majorette was used to talking to no one in particular, and truth be told, she hadn’t seen a single soul for days. But, it didn’t hurt to keep that muscle in shape.
Once past the first intersection, Majorette’s thoughts shifted to her location. Home. She hadn’t looked upon these woods in more than eight years. She inhaled deeply. Except for the obvious destruction from The Lockdown, it looked, and smelled, pretty much the same. The patch of trees across the street from her parent’s house were still standing, but the creek was dry. Not a good sign.
Majorette crossed the street and quietly picked up her pace as she entered what used to be the front yard. Old cars and motorbikes and bicycles were carefully sorted and piled, stacks of tires teetering precariously against the big garage door, and boxes filled with random parts labeled “free.” A path was worn between all these rather large junk sections, before heading toward the back of the property. Smoke was rising from the stack, but she knew it didn’t mean that her parents were home. Just that someone occupied the dwelling.
As she made her way through the abandoned vehicles, she watched and listened carefully for warning signs of a dog or other guard animal. Nothing. Which, of course, was a sign in itself. A muddy, paw-stained door into the garage could be a sign, but then again, it could still be tracks left from Kadeedid; her family’s blonde Chesapeake Bay that passed away before she left. The door was jammed a bit as she pushed her way in; finding the space curiously dark in the daylight. A small bit of sunlight made its way in somehow, but the window was still heavily draped in raid fashion, keeping the light out…or in.
“Ain’t you kinda exposed to be running around out here all by yerself?” Majorette convulsed violently at the male voice, knocking over…something; and causing a resonation that hung in her ears for a full three seconds. Fear, humiliation, anger. The emotions washed over her like burning water, but her recognition of them was still severely delayed. She fumbled to open the pack containing her handgun.
Majorette struggled to use her authoritative tone, “I’m not sure…I…I’m wearing clothes. I’m fully clothed.” Standing in the doorway with the sun at his back, she couldn’t see any features of the man, except that he was tall, with a slight build and longish hair.
“Woman without her people. I reckon there’s a story there…” The man reached to turn on the light.
“Reckon? So, you escaped from Texas to find solitude up here–” She interrupted herself in favor of silence when the lights turned on and was surprised to see a kid standing in the doorway. Young man, she supposed, tall, seemingly 24 or 25, wearing shoulder-length auburn hair, worn motorcycle boots and toting a gun notably bigger than hers. “You’re just a kid!”
The kid lazily moved in for a better look, bearing no shame in where his gaze settled, slowly walking round her as if he were pricing cattle. Majorette swallowed hard, another emotion to identify and now it was lost in her gut.
“W..what’s your name?” she asked, weakly trying to lighten the moment.
“What’s your name,” that all you can come up with? “What is mine, what is YOUR name?”
It was the kid’s turn to be startled, but not from fear. Majorette could only look on in confusion as she watched the boy double over in laughter, bringing him to tears. The kid smacked his rifle on the garage floor in time with his giggles, trying to regain composure. This did bring a smile to Majorette’s face, and she definitely recognized this emotion. Utter bewilderment.
“Hahaha! You mean to tell me we in the middle of the fekkin Revolutionary Drumroll, and your name is “Majorette?” He continued his laughter for another five full minutes.
While he continued to chuckle, Majorette eyed the door handle to the basement of the home and began walking toward it. Obviously, this boy believes there's a war on the way. She wondered how long it would take him to realize that the war's over. And that we lost.
“You can call me Cred,” the teen voiced, rather abruptly. He quickly stepped in her path. “As in C – Red. Get it?”
Majorette placed her hands on the sleeves of his flannel over coat, noting his marked malnutrition.
“Yeah, I get it. Nice handle, now move.”
“Wait, wait, wait – just a minute there…girl. Where do you think you’re going?”
Majorette continued to push her way past him, stopping at the handle. “Well, ‘Cred’, technically this is MY home – or my parents – so I might ask YOU what do you think you’re doing here?” The handle was thoroughly greased up as she suspected, probably teaming with a nice little armory of defensive germfare. Majorette dropped her pack to the floor and began digging intensly, pulling out a variety of tools, bits of textiles, weapons and the like, until finally coming across the baby wipes.
“It’s always the last place you look.”
“What?” Cred was standing over her.
“Nevermind,” she mumbled, as she wiped the handle clean. She looked up at Cred to see him gazing down at her, not exactly looking in her eyes. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” Cred stumbled back at the question, shoving his hands in his pockets to make his trousers billow softly. The illusion worked. His clothing choices definitely added weight to his frame, and if she hadn’t grabbed his upper arm, she would still be thinking he could physically overpower her.
“Haven’t had much access to protein in the last year. Been…ahh…about 3 months since I even had any.” He shifted his weight back and forth, then side to side. She couldn’t quite tell, however, if she made him nervous. Men were such a blind spot. That’d be two, she thought.
Majorette nodded and opened the door to the basement of her childhood home.
“That explains your dog missing.” The mold hit her nostrils first. The pungent musk, of which she was allergic, made her sneeze loudly, causing Cred to jump. She couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s two,” she exclaimed.
“Two of what? Cred asked. Majorette could only smile at him, moving closer in.
“You know what the Regents would do if they found out about your dog,” Majorette whispered, quite matter-of-factly, “Cannibalism is pretty high on their list of major offenses.” Cred swallowed hard, his eyes narrowing as he spoke.
“It’s been a year since…”
“That’s three,” she interrupted, with finality. “I own you.” Majorette quickly slid her pack off her shoulder, slamming it against him with enough force to launch him against the back wall. Pulling the scaling blade from her leg pocket, it was unsheathed and against his throat in a matter of seconds. Cred was stunned, not even attempting to break free. She could see the pulse in his throat, quivering at a rabbits pace. Smiling seductively, she carefully checked his clothing for weapons, then in her best throaty whisper, nonchalantly spoke the words “Say Uncle.”
“You wouldn’t kill me….” Cred proclaimed.
“Say it!” she shouted, her knee pressing into his bony groin.
He managed a tortured “Uncle.”
She looked up toward the ceiling, locating the g-cam, and gestured before releasing. Making a point of stepping over him as he crumbled to the floor, Majorette smoothed her hair and picked up her pack,
“Now then….I’ll go make dinner.”
Cred could only look on, speechless, as she made her way upstairs to the kitchen.
After foraging inside her backpack for a bit, Majorette drew out a box of powdered eggs, a bottle of hot sauce and carefully unrolled a pack of corn tortillas. They were only about 3 days old; she could still remember the aromas coming from a tent in the RV park she camped in. The old man that made them offered them freely, but she knew better. She offered her stash of sunflower seeds in exchange, still hoping that they grew wild in her backyard.
Looking around the kitchen for a griddle wasn’t easy. It clearly wasn’t meant to be a kitchen anymore, foodstuffs had been replaced with an assortment of dyes and other natural elements. It also looked like some experiments were in progress, with pots of seedlings and a table set aside for seed splicing. It seemed Cred had some real skills he was putting to use, though she couldn’t tell what he was really trying to accomplish.
After locating the griddle on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator (clearly not being used to keep things cool anymore), she placed it on top of the stove. Immediately, she laughed at herself. Gas stovetop. Right. She turned around and spotted the microwave. “Of course they’re still around,” she said aloud. As she began looking for a microwave safe bowl, she could hear Cred shuffle up the stairs. Upon entering the kitchen, he glanced at Majorette briefly before looking down at his toes, obviously feeling beaten.
“Water?” she asked aloud.
“There’s some water down under the sink…perfectly useable,” said he.
Majorette stared at him a little bit longer than she normally would have before looking under the sink. It was obviously rigged to reuse the water, but this water was absolutely unusable. Filthy and dark, jiggling in the pail like jello.
“Well, I hope you’ve been boiling this stuff first.”
“Just stick it in the microwave,” he mumbled.
Majorette laughed loudly “And spawn a new alien species? No thanks.” She dug in her pack briefly and pulled out her cantine, pouring a bit of water into the powdered eggs before setting in the microwave. With a gesture, Majorette invited Cred to sit, and the two sat there the full two minutes, staring at nothing in particular, before the ready bell went off. Silently, she got up and divided the eggs, the tortillas and passed Cred the hot sauce. “Eat.” She said, matter of factly.
And he did, his hunger throwing all manner of grace and propriety out the window. Majorette took a few bites of her eggs and finished the tortilla, then scraped the last of her eggs onto his plate. Cred looked up and nodded in gratitude, chomping away loudly.
“So…now what? You o-own me? What does that mean? What do you want?”
Majorette laughed before leaning back in her chair. “Oh yeah, that’s right. Hmmm… Well, let’s take a look now, shall we? Stand up.”
Cred obliged her, and Majorette made no effort to hide looking him up and down, as he had done to her before. His coat was obviously overstuffed to create the illusion of muscle mass. Majorette chuckled a little before asking him to take it off. He obliged again, and continued to do so with each article of clothing, until he stood there before her, in his threadbare boxers. She noticed the small scar above his left shoulder blade. “He tried to remove the mark,” she thought to herself. Then she got up and started washing the dishes.
A few moments passed before Cred spoke: “Now what” he asked.
“Now nothing.” She responded.
“What,” stammered the kid, What is it? What did I do? I did everything you asked.”
Majorette smiled and stared him in the eyes. “Yes, you did, and that’s precisely why you are of no use to me. Put your clothes back on.”
“But… I thought I was….owned?” his face was as crimson as his greasy hair.
Majorette laughed. “Do you really believe that? See, that’s the problem, you go to all this trouble to look big, massive, empowered….but you’re all skin and bones underneath. Yes, you do what you’re told. But — look around you – that’s exactly how we got into this mess. And if we’re going to get out of it, I need someone that can think for themselves. ESPECIALLY someone tatted with THAT.” And she poked him there, on his shoulder blade, with the scarred evidence of marker removal, before turning on her heels to do the dishes.
Cred’s face flashed as red as his hair. He slowly bent over, picked up his pile of clothes and walked toward the door, kicking the kitchen chair over as he left. Majorette smiled a little to herself as she picked up the rest of the kitchen. She poured the old water from underneath the sink into the (non-working) toilet, then went back to the sink to run the tap. It came out slowly, trickled out, but at least the well wasn’t dry, like she supposed. Probably just the plumbing, she mumbled to herself. She found her cooking candle and lit it, propping the tin cup filled with water upon it. Once heated, she sat down on the floor and carefully unwrapped a bag of green tea she had been saving. After anchoring it to the bottom of her teacup with a spoon, she looked at her pack. It had been awhile since she opened her journals, not wanting memories to impede on any task that affected her survival. The journals were years in the making, and included letters to her two children - whom she hadn't heard from in almost five years, blog posts and video blogs beginning a few years before the Surge and then, of course, only written texts once all personal electronics were rendered useless.
“Here’s to coming home,” she whispered before sipping. It tasted like watered-down Heaven.
Looking around, she could see that not much had changed – except for the dust. The white powdery substance was caked on everything. The house was smaller than she remembered, though perhaps new vinyl siding added to the exterior added the illusion of depth and width, as well as conformity with the rest of the houses on the street. The interior was, frankly, a mess. Hardwood floors were exposed, scuffed and dappled with paint, yet Margie thought even that looked better than the worn carpet that had covered them the last time she was there. The draperies were still there. She remembered her mother making them herself, as her step-father told her they couldn't afford any. She clipped coupons, and the family ate tuna casserole and hamburger helper for weeks so she could save up to buy the fabric. Her mother had also reupholstered the sofa, but wasn't able to afford much after that. Margie thought they turned out beautiful, warm and majestic - completely out of tune with the rest of the room.
Right now, they were caked with some kind of chemical dust, probably for delousing, or ph balancing, or whatever kind of bio weapon was being used du jour.
The chemical spills and modified insecticides were just the beginning. Once The Truth came out about World Reformation, all Hell broke loose. Everyone panicked. No one stopped to understand why things needed to change, why peace was necessary to move forward - people, especially Americans and the Middle East, simply reverted to fear tactics. Hoarding weapons and ammunitions; forming raiding parties; building safehouses and community compounds. All right under The Cloud's nose as they watched. Our fear and our hate fueling our own demise.
As she glanced around, she felt that familiar wash of dread take over. The one that envelops you slowly, starting with a single thought, then reaches down your throat to close it, forces your heart to race, palms and brow to sweat and would seize you into full anxiety attack…except, well, she had learned how to control it. Her mind wandered back to growing up here – on this parallel, this particular latitude and longitude of time and space. All the tragedies – the boy who got so drunk, he dropped a girl off by her front door, not thinking she couldn’t get in, and so she froze there, overnight. The abusiveness – from everyone, your family members, your enemies, even your fucking friends. And the fighting. And the sickness. And the five-legged frogs we found alive in the creek behind our house.
Something happened here. Something major. Something more than the chemical spills, more than the all the pesticides in the ground water. But for the longest time, she couldn’t quite put her finger on it – too wrapped up in surviving herself, that all the keys to solving the puzzle, and finding freedom were lost on her, even when it was staring her right in the face.
“How did I not figure it out? How did I not figure it out…in time…?”
Thinking about it only made her body feel worse, so she put it out of her mind to begin breathing steadily, purposefully, to control an oncoming anxiety attack. She envisioned herself laying on her mat, heart slowing – her pulse fluttering; synapses stalling a bit…before bringing her heart rate back to normal.
Majorette closed her eyes trying to envision her calming thoughts, but clearly, being here in her childhood home, was blocking any kind of good-memory sorting. “No,” she shook her head. Now’s not the time to look at the past. Now is the time to clean up the toxic dust, find out who is actually controlling this lockdown, and organize the survivors. Or, at least find out where in the fuck they were.
Now’s the time to… Damn…what to do about that skeletal Ginger downstairs. Majorette opened her eyes and glanced across the great room to see Cred leaning against the guardrail, squinting.
“Ahm...thanks for the food. You have a real knack there. Makin’ egg powder taste good? I can’t even use that microwave proper.”
Majorette smiled at him, brushing aside the initial creepiness of his stare. “Thank you. Yeah. Yes. I love combining. Spices and ingredients…creating flavors that complement the pallette. It’s like making magic….only for your mouth.”
They both sat there for a moment, in pregnant pause.
“What about you? All those instruments in the garage? That your passion?”
“Reckon.” Cred nodded.
Majorette smiled at his lack of information and relaxed back into the wall.
“So…perfect pitch?” Cred nodded silently. He knew she was hovering around a line.
“It’s okay Cred. We can talk about these things now. No more hiding. So….Son of Four or Five?”
He straightened a little, “Five.”
Majorette nodded, “That’s good, excellent.” She breathed a sigh of relief. If he’s a five, she thought, then he was at least inoculated.
“And you?” Cred asked
As she spoke, Majorette leaned over onto her hands and knees before slowly standing, her body aching from the 15 hour trek, and no sleep for the past 36. Regeneration beckoned.
“I am a daughter of Seven Nations. Descendent of an Irish Finn, a German Jew, and a French-Canadian Salteaux. My son, Callum, is a Seventh Son.”
Cred nodded and smiled cockily, “...and inherited your flair for the dramatic, no doubt...”
Cred shifted his weight back, gripping the rod iron guardrail as he began to speak.
“So…that’s why we’re still here. We’ve both been 'nocked against th' Necrot.”
Majorette could only look down with a slight nod, making sure to keep her eyes averted as she walked past Cred, into the hallway leading to the two bedrooms. She felt her mind beginning to shut down; right now her body was craving, no ... demanding sleep.
She always listened to her body.
Walking into the smaller of the two upstairs bedrooms, Majorette carefully tested the overhead light switch before opening her pack to find the flashlight. Sometimes the switches were rigged to kick back a pretty nice shock; not enough to kill someone without an implant, but definitely enough to annoy and delay any hope of crashing on that mattress within the next 10 minutes. Once the flashlight was located, she began inspecting the room. No cobwebs…good. Windows were sound and weatherproofed. All the heat registers were removed – probably part of the national safety plan once The Truth came out. “Too late, of course,” she mumbled to herself, the wealthy “Corporatocracy ‘1’, Humanity ‘0’". She rummaged the front pocket of her pack and pulled out a tiny, metal device – something that looked like a tuning fork on a kickstand – and placed it next to the mattress. The device had two purposes: it masked any radiating soundwaves present by emitting a more “pleasing” subsonic sound, with the added benefit of blocking sounds of her own movement or vocals from being picked up by any nearby listeners. Most likely an illusion of privacy, but certainly a great tool, allowing her to sleep soundly.
Majorette took off her clothes, folded and laid them carefully next to the mattress. She had unzipped her sleeping back and slipped underneath, lying on her back with palms up and looked up toward the ceiling. Whispering silent gratitudes to herself had become routine, and she truly thought they helped the Earth in transition – even if it didn’t quite seem that way right now.
After several moments of staring at the ceiling, it had become a moving entity – the stucco beads seemingly wallowing in their paint. As her mind entered the place between slumber and wake, she began to dream – eyes open, pulling out memories of the day and deconstructing a few for more meaning – but this place…being in her childhood home, being in this very room, pulled out memories she wanted to avoid tonight. She made a conscious decision to think of something else, and so her mind settled on a tea party.
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