One Spring...I Think
Earlier on, I had taken a calendar from a mostly-looted pharmacy. I used it to keep track of time until the unpredictable weather dumped several centimetres of rain on me and the surrounding landscape in a matter of minutes. I accidentally dropped the calendar which then got hopelessly drenched and washed away from me.
After that, I used a board I found and tried to mark the passing of the days on it with a piece of flint. Of course, days were apparent only by the facts you could see the uniform grey clouds above you and the complete blackness of the nights. Fortunately, I was not above looting myself so I had picked up both a propane lantern, a propane stove, a buck knife, an insulated tent, and several good parkas. I had always been afraid of fire-arms so, wisely or not, I neglected to get any. The one thing I had a hard time finding was dried food and I realised I was going to have to live off the land for what I figured was the short period left in my life.
Many people had died already. Of course, countless numbers had been incinerated with their cities during the very brief War. Apparently, the “Doomsday Device” that had been believed real was not a reality. At least, we survivors did not suffer from a sleeting of radioactive cobalt. I'm not saying that radiation sickness was not rampant because it was. For some reason, one that I've never understood, I did not go through the weakness, bleeding and final agonies that many people I spent time with shortly after The War did. These things I never talked to my new friends about as I was afraid of upsetting Kathleen,doctor though she was, because she hated hearing about anyone suffering.
There were two things I did hint about to some of the guys during our travels: why I started living off of rats and where I got my makeshift spear. I never went into detail because they disturbed me to remember.
Around three years after The War, during the Spring (at least, I believed that was the season...the days were growing a bit brighter), I found myself in a bad way. I was basically starving to death. I had not seen a living soul in several weeks (?) and I was beginning to believe I was the last human remaining in what I thought was central Ontario. There were still animals about and I was lucky to stumble upon an old food-processing factory that was overrun with the before-mentioned rodents. The vehicle I had used to move my “household” was long in the past. I had walked many kilometres east from were I had found the truck but all I found before the factory were towns either empty, filled with the dead or populated with people who did not like strangers.
Two days before I found the factory, I had used up the last of my food. I still had propane, the stove and one remaining tent. My last parka was rent and threadbare due to rough usage.
When I first saw the factory, I didn't know what it was. For a moment, I thought it was a huge natural formation. Then I noticed the grey reflection of the skies in the many partly-smashed windows and the several abandoned cars in the parking lot. The vehicles were hardly recognisable under their blankets of snow and ice.
For the first time in a while, as I stood on the hill above the manufacturing plant, I actually noticed my surroundings. All the deciduous trees stood bare and lifeless-looking. The evergreens, however, still seemed alive. Another thing I realised was that still seemed to be a lot of wildlife still living. I had always considered the concept of nuclear winter as being the death-sentence for all but that hardiest of Nature's creations...but, no; Life was hanging on. The mood I was in I really couldn't see any reason why it was doing this. I remember I shook my head to clear it of these thoughts and started down the incline towards the buildings.
The processing plant was in excellent condition, considering the weather conditions. Even from outside, I could hear faint rustlings coming from the interior. I walked up a flight of stairs to a door marked “Employees” and entered, the door being unlocked. It opened into a room with several other doors leading from it. I checked in the one marked “Cafeteria”.
I was immediately assaulted by the odour of decay. This filled me with dread until I realised it was probably just food that had rotted. Then I saw three seated figures. I approached them cautiously. In a moment, I realised caution wasn't necessary as they were all dead.
They had all died of gunshot wounds, the third apparently self-inflicted. I assumed that they were dying of radiation sickness at the time and had taken what they figured was an easier and quicker way to finish their lives. The corpses were in an advanced state of decay and appeared to have been picked at by small vermin, probably rats. I turned away from them, feeling sad for the trio. I moved to the back were I figured the kitchen would be.
There was a great deal of spoiled food there. I did find some canned goods plus a hand-operated can opener. The main stove was propane or natural gas. There were also bottles of water on a shelf. I opened with shaking hands a can of condensed tomato soup, dumped its contents and some water into a pot then hurriedly heated it up. I waited for it to just start steaming then poured it in a mug and forced myself to slowly drink it down. I knew, from experience, that when I was that hungry, slow and careful were the best policies...especially if I wanted to keep the food in my stomach. The overriding stench wasn't helping matters, either.
I wandered around, mug in hand, looking for a walk-in freezer though I was quite sure that even there all would be spoilage. I found the large door and approached it.
There was a twanging noise and the next thing I knew I was being gripped painfully tight around my right ankle and hanging upside down. I received a face-full of soup and the mug went flying, smashing to pieces against the door.
What the hell? I thought then I realised I was obviously caught in a snare. Try as I might, I could not reach my ankle to grab and release it. Besides, it felt like I was being held by a piece of wire.
I dangled there for a considerable length of time. I could tell as the day was getting darker. I had been able to pull my parka back up around my body so it at least was not getting numbed. I had lost most of the feeling in my trapped foot and I had a pounding headache, which was making me feel nauseous. I was just about to lose my quick lunch when I heard approaching heavy footsteps. By lurching side to side, I was able to look towards them.
Two very large men, both carrying buck knives and wearing hides and long bushy beards, walked in to the kitchen. The pair looked at me and laughed heartily.
The slightly bigger of the two said, “Well, Joe, looks like we caught somethin'! Bigger than a rabbit or a rat, that's for sure!”
“You got that right, Willie! Kinda scrawny, but we've had worse!”
After a few moments, they had me released from the snare and began dragging me away, one each holding holding a foot. They hadn't even searched me. They were mostly silent as they dragged me down a hall but, occasionally, one or both would give a glance back at me and chuckle.
For the first few minutes I was too incredulous over what was happening to say anything. I finally shouted, “What the hell is going on here?”
The one called Willie replied, “We are takin' you back to our place!”
Joe continued, “Yeah! You're going to be our guest for supper!”
This brought out another gale of laughter from the two. I had been uneasy and mad up to that point but then I became frightened. These two showed every sign of being mentally deranged and I figured I was in a very bad spot. I had no weapon and my hosts were huge; I was definitely physically outmatched.
A finally brought me to a door that still had a glass in it in on the glass was the word “Manager”. They swung the door open almost reverently then dragged me inside.
They had obviously been using this office for quite a while. The walls were covered with skins and I was appalled when I saw one of them was a complete human "hide". The floor was littered with garbage, old cans and bones. The most frightening touch was the fair-sized pyramid of human skulls over in one of the corners. The place stank of smoke, sweat and blood. On the wall to the left of me I saw what looked like part of a metal door frame, sharpened at both ends.
What made this nightmarish scene even more surreal was the black, probably cast iron, cauldron in the centre of the room. A piece of wire, much like the type used in the snare, hung directly over of the huge cooking pot. There was fresh wood already under it. The floor beneath and surrounding it were burnt black.
Oh, no! I thought.
I screamed, “You ass-holes are cannibals?”
As he and his partner began to strip my clothes off, Pete said, “Nah....we ain't cannibals; we just think it's a sin not to eat what you catch. Eh, Willie?”
Willie nodded as he pulled off my pants, “Yup. We don't mind havin' 'long pig' every now and then, mind you. Say, Pete...I guess that does make us cannibals! Well, goddam!”
This didn't seem to alarm them too much. When they had me naked, Pete held me down one large, heavy foot, while Willie started the wood burning under in the cauldron, which was already full of water apparently. The two then took me and tied me by the same sore ankle that had been in the snare to the wire above the pot. The top my head was about 20 cm from the water. It was beginning to give off small wisps of steam already. I saw it also had pieces of meat and some roots floating in it.
Willie said, in a perfectly normal conversational tone, “We usually let a fella hang over the water until it gets boilin'...gives him something to think about while we wait. Then, we do the old 'cut-and-bleed' and once he's empty, into the pot! After he cooks awhile, makes him easy to die-bone. See?”
I had nothing to offer in return.
Willie turned to Pete and said, “I'll be back in a minute or two...gotta get the spices.”
“Sure. I shouldn't have any problem lookin' after 'limp-dick', here.”
Willie start off through the door. Pete reached out and gave me a playful nudge that sent me slowly spinning. The water below sent waves of heat up towards me.
Me? I was actually praying. I had read long before that “God always answers prayers...unfortunately, he sometimes says,'No'”. He definitely had said a big No when The War started. I was praying for anything that would get me out of this horrific situation.
Maybe it was God...I'll probably never know. Maybe when Pete pushed me and started me rotating, it was too much for the wire.
Whatever it was, the next thing I knew I heard, again, a twanging sound and I was falling head first into the pot. I flailed my arms and, possibly because it wasn't seated quite flat, was able to knock the cauldron over on its side. I hit the floor on my side and, thankfully, the fall had not been too far. I got to my feet as quickly as I could.
I saw that Pete was jumping around trying to avoid the very hot water. Without really thinking about it, I grabbed the metal shard off the wall and ran at the bigger man. I caught him just below the sternum and shoved him back against the wall behind him. The spear ran him through and my impetus nailed him to the partition.
It's strange what went through my mind right then: I remembered a time when I was a teenager helping on my grandfather's farm. I was 16 and, therefore, in my grandfather's opinion, old enough to run a tractor. One day, while cutting hay, I accidentally impaled a woodchuck on the blades. I stopped the machine and got off to remove it. It had been growling and straining to get off the blade. From fear of it by biting me, I knocked it off the cutters with a shovel I had on the tractor. It fell in half, dying quickly.
Pete was like that woodchuck. He strained to get off the piece of metal I had impaled and tried to shout and growl. I think I had damaged his diaphragm as all that came out were hissing noises. This lasted only moments then he sagged on the spear, which was deep enough in the wood behind him to hold his great weight.
I could hear Willie loudly returning so I quickly grabbed his dead partner's knife and moved behind the door.
When the big man entered the room, he first saw me missing and the pot overturned then his friend hanging on the wall and, finally, the point of his friend's hunting knife heading directly towards his left eye.
As he slumped to the floor so did I, emotionally drained. It wasn't that I felt bad about killing them. It was just that I had gone through so many stages of terror and anger that I was physically exhausted.
That night, after I had dressed and gone back to the cafeteria to eat, both their bodies were unceremoniously put out through the window. I had to go back and have another meal after that..as I said, they were very large men. Treasures that they left were a flashlight and several large batteries. I took the spear as I felt it was a good luck charm. There was little else in the office of interest so I left the room and closed the door, never returning to it.
So, until the really strange part of my life began, I lived in the factory and once the usable food was gone, I found that rats, while not delicacies, could be used to survive. I found another office, untouched, and made it my home.
Home! I doubt I'll ever see it again but at least I'm not alone, anymore...