Friday, August 27, 2010

Modus Ponens

Oh, school; messing up my blog 'skedge, making me get up early. On the bright side, it gives me the option of posting something I've written in the past, and my writing folder is chock flippin' full of things that would otherwise never be seen by another pair of human eyes. I'll tell you what this was gonna be about at the end of this post.

Roger Einhaus parted the blinds and looked down the street. There weren't any signs of life in the neighborhood, nor had there been for several days. The postage stamp-sized front lawns of the houses were unkept and overgrown. Some of the houses still had automated sprinklers that came on in the morning or evening, but most of the others had been turned off weeks before. In fact, there were only two lawns that were green, the rest were prickly shades of brown. Roger had never been in an abandoned neighborhood like this. There weren't even any cars passing through. The last one he'd seen had gone down the street about a week before; a black SUV, clearly loaded with a family's earthly possessions. Even though it had only been visible for a few seconds, Roger had been able to see blankets, clothes, luggage, a computer, a television and at least three children stuffed into the back of the SUV, pressed uncomfortably against the windows. There was even more luggage and half a dozen shipping boxes strapped to the top of the car with cotton rope. The family didn't see Roger inside his fortress, sitting in a darkened room with the blinds drawn. There wasn't a hint that anybody lived there except for the slightly parted blinds from which Roger peered.
It was times like these that he wished for a dog. At least he could have someone to ease the tension that he felt. At the very least it might keep his mind off the news reports, which Roger just couldn't bring himself to turn off. Every hour seemed to bring more alarming reports of outbreaks in major cities. The news anchor's nonchalance had long left him; the smug smile and calm expression had been replaced with those of alarm and rigidity. Even his usually calming tone had started to crack, either from worry or dehydration. That reminded Roger that he needed to be drinking water.
He let the blinds fall back into place with a metallic click and stepped into the kitchen. There was a glass on the counter that Roger had been using for the past few days. It probably wasn't very sanitary, and now was no time to be letting germs roam free. He washed the glass in the sink, scrubbed a little dish soap into it, washed it out and set it down. He stared down into the sink for a long while. He thought a little bit about a lot of things. He didn't have enough food to last more than two weeks. At that thought, he looked up at his cupboards. There was enough canned food bulging over the edges that a casual observer might think Roger was crazy, like those people who were so worried about Y2K.
He was probably going to contract that new flu that was going around, anyway. That was all he needed; first a death sentence cancer diagnosis, then the weaponized flu. He filled the glass and took a deep drink. His throat was dry and the water didn't make it feel any better. He felt feverous. It was probably just cabin fever; he hadn't set foot outside for the better part of a month, and spending that time in a cramped apartment filled with dread and fear. Maybe it was time to raid someone's house. He was frightened as he realized he had been thinking about it for days. It wasn't that he was hurting for supplies, but it never hurt to be prepared. Just like the Boy Scouts, Roger thought. He knew that most families probably would have taken as much of their canned goods as they could carry, but the more perishable food was probably left behind. That's what he was counting on.
Reluctantly, he stepped over to the blinds and looked out again. It seemed like all he did was stare out at the dead neighborhood. He let the blinds fall closed again. He pulled open a kitchen drawer and removed earplugs and an old dust mask that had once been used to hunt for moldy insulation in his landlord's attic. It was odd, now that he thought of it, to have a tenant repair something for the landlord. He tisted the earplugs in his fingers and inserted them into his ears, then he shook the dust out of the mask and pressed it to his face. He reluctantly stepped over to the front door and fastened the straps behind his head. With ceremonial slowness, he unlocked the door. It was a moment before he could pull it open. He took a deep breath.
The door stuck a little as he pulled it open, letting in a dusty breeze that was hotter than the inside of his apartment. All he could smell was his own breath inside the mask. He wondered if the flu could get into a person through their eyes.
He turned and looked down the street. Some people had left their cars in their driveways, probably the families who owned multiple cars. He had seen people syphoning the gas from one car and putting it into the other. Luckily the rioting that had apparently happened in some other neighborhoods hadn't been a problem here; although almost everyone was in a panic, people hadn't resorted to breaking windows. Everyone had left in a fairly orderly fashion. The amount of noise the night everyone left had been outrageous. From the hours of eight O'clock to around three AM people had packed their families and possessions and hit the highway in hopes of finding safety with relatives that lived out of state. Either that or the nearest military base, but Roger already knew that the military wasn't going to help anyone.
He crossed the street toward the Richardson house. They had been good people, the Richardsons. Unfortunately they had locked their front door. Maybe they believed they were coming back. Roger searched around for that obvious rock that usually held a hide-a-key. People just didn't seem to realize that the hide-a-key had never been a secret, since everybody seemed to have one. There was a rock in the flowerbed that didn't remotely look like it belonged. Roger lifted the rock and found that the Richardsons had taken the key with them. Who the hell would have the presence of mind to remember that kind of thing? Most people were too scared to even speak coherently, let alone collect all of their spare house keys. He decided to try the next house.
It was peaceful, walking in a neighborhood with nobody around. It was like being on a movie set, or a model neighborhood. Lots of doll houses that were never meant to be lived in. However, it was hard to be relaxed when the sky was that awful orange-brown shade. Why was there so much dirt in the air? It was like someone was dropping dirt from the clouds. The evening sun was a deadened point of orange brightness in the swirling atmosphere. It might have been Roger's imagination but it seemed like the dirt made everything a lot quieter. Then again, there weren't any people around to make noise anyway.
The neighbors hadn't locked their door. Roger felt a little ashamed as he entered the house. He didn't remember the name of the family who lived here. He closed the door behind him softly. He didn't like the idea of someone coming in behind him.
“I know nobody's around,” said Roger, “I just don't want to take the chance if I'm wrong.” He spoke aloud. His voice was a little jarring. He realized it had been a while since he had spoken at all. The only human voice he heard anymore was that of the news anchorman. He fervently hoped the house was empty.
There was a little coat rack in the foyer. A single jacket remained, a small pink one that probably belonged to a little girl. Why wouldn't they take that with them?
Roger crossed the living room, which looked like a tornado had swept through. He entered the kitchen. Like the rest of the house, it was a mess. It looked like they had just raked everything out of the pantry without paying much attention. The refrigerator was swinging open. Various food items were strewn on the floor. Not only had these people left in a hurry, it was clear they weren't planning a return trip.
There wasn't much left in the refrigerator except some leftover Chinese food that smelled like it had gone bad long before the family had left, and a box of baking soda that had probably come free when they had bought the house. Roger sighed into his mask. He decided to check the rest of the house, maybe he could get a hold of some blankets or something.
The back wall of the house was one solid window running from floor to ceiling. It wasn't the kind of thing a contractor would put in standard; the people must have put it in themselves. Roger glanced out the window. It was a shame the backyard was so pathetic-looking. It didn't look like the grass had ever been taken care of. He noticed a dog lying dead in the middle of the lawn. He looked away.
After ten minutes of scouring the house, Roger left with a garbage bag containing a few boxes of powdered milk and some sheets from the master bed. He felt guilty for stealing, but part of him rationalized that he would be needing it more than anyone else in the neighborhood. He stuffed as much as he could into a kitchen garbage bag and slung it over his shoulder. After leaving the loot back at his house, he went to another home.

This was the early stages of (one of the) zombie stories I was trying to write about a year ago (2009ish). I thought it might be interesting to have a crotchety old man with cancer as one of the only people on earth who is immune to the Zombie-flu. He shares more than a passing similarity to a certain teacher I had once. I had another, earlier part of the story that gets into his backstory a little more, but I figured that the audience had already figured out that he was a jerk.
What I learned from this:
1) I don't like writing jerk characters.
2) I don't like writing post-apoc stories as much as I like playing them in games or watching them in movies.
3) Some stories will never be finished, and that's probably a good thing.


  1. What would be really interesting is if he met the little girl who owned that coat, and had to take care of her. And then met some other oddball characters, and they had to work together to raid the neighborhood and survive against enemy raiders and that sort of thing. And over the course of the story, each character would develop and become likeable.

  2. You sure are good at getting me hooked and then crushing my hopes and dreams of ever reading more. Way to go, William.


  3. I remember reading this I think, I thought it was good then too. I am going to have to agree with Meg, We will never know what happened. :(