Whatever floats your boat...
Chelsea bent down and used her thumb and middle finger to flick the beetle off the side of her beat up boot. ‘Beetle boots’ she thought to herself and chuckled. She remembered her mom saying it when sixteen year old Chelsea came home from the thrift store with pointy, black boots on proud display. Chelsea wore them twice, decided she’d like to be able walk if she lived to be thirty, and took them back to the thrift store. She traded them in for a pair of combat boots, the very ones she was currently wearing. Her mother’s voice in her head, ‘beetle boots’, seemed like something that could be from the Dead Sea scrolls. Eons in the past.
Jordan emerged from the wreckage of a small transport truck, covered in ash and holding something up over his head as if he was trying to keep it above water.
“Hey.” he said to Chelsea, a shiny, sneaky grin breaking out across his face.
“Even in an apocalypse.” she said shaking her head, a smile spreading her lips.
“ What?” Jordan asked in a way that implied he was trying to figure out whether he should feel wounded or not.
“ How the fuck…” she began “…do you keep your teeth so white even in the middle of an apocalypse ?”
Jordan laughed. The sound of it startled him a bit. It had been at least three days since he had laughed. Before the final blow to humanity, culminating after years of a long, slow boil, he had still managed to laugh at least once a day. He very suddenly wanted a cigarette so he did what he always did when the urge descended upon him. He thought of their wedding day. The memory flooding his mouth with the taste of almond-buttercream perfection and champagne. Olfactory systems fully online. The smell of the flowers. The glow of Chelsea’s skin. The shine and bounce of her cascading locks, the little swirls of softness dancing on her shoulders. They had both managed to quit smoking one month before the wedding to accommodate the many attending family members who abhorred the smell of smoke.
On the day of the wedding he smelled the flowers and the grass and the blue-sky air as he had never noticed before. And that kiss. That sacred kiss that sealed the deal. Her breath smelled like angels, vistas of hills and horizons like the ones that drove the masters mad as they tried to convey them to canvas. The taste of her, so clean and sweet, reminding him at the time, of a virgin mint julep.
Not smoking was good. Of course once out of the throng of the congratulators, they lit up their first of what would amount to a pack and a half between them gone by morning. They managed to quit for good three years later, when Jordan had the pneumonia scare, and it had now been nine years clean for both of them.
“ Whatcha’ got ?” Chelsea asked brightly, drawing his attention back to her and then to what was in his hand.
“ Compass.” he answered while rubbing the scarred and cloudy plastic face of it with his thumb.
“ Casing’s kinda’ melted but it still works.”
“ Can I eat it? “ she asked with dead-pan sarcasm.
“ No,“ he answered “ …but if we ever need to make a decision between a warm direction and a cold direction…” he trailed off, realizing that actually, it couldn’t help. Up was down and straight was sideways in the new frontier. He tossed the compass to the side of the road and Chelsea busted out laughing.
“ I knew you’d get there, eventually.” she said.
Jordan was amazed at how well she had adjusted and how quickly. She seemed genuinely happy, giddy almost, ever since nature lost her patience and brought out her big stick to spank humankind. Jordan was a little worried by Chelsea’s borderline-sunny and getting sunnier disposition. Chelsea had never struck him as an apocalypse fan-girl type but she was taking all of this very, very well.
She stopped laughing and leaned towards him, hand out to gently lay it to his face.
“ I’m hungry. we need something besides potato chips and canned green beans, some protein.” She kissed him lightly on the lips and he sniffed her not-so-wedding breath.
“ Okay, and where do you propose we find protein ? “ he asked with a quick glance towards his crotch and an eyebrow waggle.
“ Later, I promise,” she said “ but right now I want other-than-human meat.” She was pointing at something behind him. He turned to see an obviously abandoned, grubby, little house with a double-wide hutch at the side. The hutch contained a large, lethargic rabbit. Jordan’s heart leaped and sped up to double time. His mouth went dry, his hands went cold and a twisting sensation began in his gut, his phobia fully rising to the surface.
“It’s okay.” said Chelsea, taking his face in her hands and turning it back to her own.
“ I got this. Go take five. I’ll call you when it’s on the grill.”
After some Lamaze-breathing, Jordan relaxed a little. Just a little.
‘rabbits are ALways planning something in their heads you just KNOW it’ he thought to himself.
Chelsea walked off to do the deed. She took no pleasure in the job. She had needed to learn quickly to detach if they were going to survive. No one had enjoyed cow, pig or chicken meat for a very long time and folks had started getting creative months ago in their quests for protein. Hamsters, mice, even cockroaches had landed on American menus and were easily adopted after the truth came out about lab-grown meat, tanking the market for it except among a handful of sick-fuck connoisseurs.
After a meal of rabbit and an hour of convincing each other that it would have been cruel to leave the animal to starve in it’s cage, they started down the road again. Chelsea was convinced they were very close to the outskirts of city-central. Plenty of mini-marts and smoke shops, probably every 2.4 kilometers, so close she could smell it, taste it. A spring developed in her step as they walked hand in hand. She was bouncing. When she started skipping and tugging at Jordan’s wrist enough to pull him off balance he pulled back at her.
“ Hey, hey, hayyy, ” He said slowing to a stop. “ WHAT is UP with you ? Did you find some pharmaceuticals you wanna’ tell me about and, uh, SHARE?”
Chelsea was laughing.
“ I always feel great after a protein injection, you know that.”
She engulfed his face in her hands and kissed him. When she pulled away he was laughing too. A funny, breathy laugh. He looked at her more seriously and she knew he needed words.
“ I’m just glad we’re together.” she said.
Jordan looked mostly relieved.
“ Besides, we’re almost there. C’mon! “
She took off skipping again towards what looked like a four lane road at the next bend. Jordan stood there looking baffled for a couple of seconds before taking off after her. She was already around the bend which was screened with high ever-green hedges so he couldn’t see her.
“ Hurry !” He heard her yell from around the corner.
When he came around the hedge she was standing on the sidewalk looking up at a storefront. Her arms were crossed and she was wearing a triumphant, full-teeth, face-cracking grin. He followed her gaze to the unlit, faux-neon sign above the marquee. Smoke Shop, it read. *click,click,click went the tumblers in his head, the combination to the lock, unravelling the confusion of the last few days. Jordan began to laugh deeply, then convulsively.
The promise he made to Chelsea nine years ago came flooding back to him, when they’d both quit smoking for their health and made a pact with one caveat , insisted upon by Chelsea, that in the case of an actual apocalypse the pact could be broken on unanimous agreement or by Chelsea.
“ Find a brick Big-guy,” said Chelsea, “ Momma needs a butt.”
Any similarity to real-life events or living humans in this story are purely because we can only draw from stuff that’s already here, so sue me. Seriously, I’d like to have your autographs on the court papers for my wall or to sell on e-bay next time my car breaks down.
Dedicated to humans that make living on this planet more tolerable, including but certainly not limited to Chelsea Peretti, Jordan Peele and as always, Stephen King. Special thanks to my son Danny for reminding me that I like to write.