While writing my science fiction novel “Survivors’ Club” (coming 2018 from Not A Pipe Publishing), I created a playlist of music to put me in the mood for a post-apocalyptic world. My free short stories were inspired by these songs and by the world of “Survivors’ Club”. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.
Today’s story, The Mall, goes along with the song “An Ending (Ascent)” by Brian Eno.
Officer Beatrice pulls her mount, Dunkin, up overlooking the Reflecting Pool. The sky captured in the water is a flat gray of unruffled clouds, still no blue in sight. The wind sighs through the grass. No one shouts. No one runs. No homeless sleep on benches or in shady patches. No kites fly, no tourists snap pictures. After the camps in Pennsylvania fell apart, Office Bee returned to her precinct, reclaimed her gear and found Dunkin, grazing near the station. Now she’s back on the job, patrolling the Nation’s Capitol.
Murphy sits next to the elephant in the Museum of Natural History. Someone tried to break off one of its tusks. Murphy shakes his head. He did a lot of things, things he doesn’t want to remember, all for the sake of the monkey on his back. He did those things, sure, hurt those people, killed that guy, but still, the elephant? He feels rage bubbling up in his guts, the way everyone felt when those camel-jockeys attacked New York. It’s one thing to hurt someone on a personal level, especially if you needed the money or drugs. Nowadays food, water, and shelter are the must haves. But still, why the elephant? What were they going to do, sell its tusk to the Chinese? Murphy laughs and shakes his head. He pushes himself up, heads back to make his rounds of the Mall.
Tiffany hates the kids. She squats in the shade of the Metro station’s overhang, watching them as they watch her. Their dark skin and hair provide camouflage. Only their large eyes stand out against the grim and dirt of their clothes. The little one is sucking her thumb again. Tiffany rolls her eyes. How many times has she snatched that digit from the child’s mouth? She’s so tired of them. Back in the camps, it was worth it. Having the brats meant extra food, a place in the family housing, which was a lot safer than taking her chances in the supposedly women’s only housing. Tiffany shakes her head, tries to push away the memory of hands fumbling at her in the dark. She has to get out of here, out of the dark. She stands up, grabs her bag and heads out. She honestly doesn’t care if the kids follow or not.
Officer Bee’s footsteps echo down the halls of the Castle. All those beautiful works of art and history, memories of a people who may never return. She checks each door and window, ensuring the building is sealed from the elements, protecting her charges. There was a rumor in the camps that someone had found a cure, a miracle in the West. Officer Bee doesn’t believe it, but she’d like to. She turns back to the front door and stops. Dunkin’s shadow isn’t alone.
Murphy watches the white soccer mom stride across the grass, whacking at the knee high weeds, her Coach bag bouncing against her bony hip with each step. The two black kids trailing behind her are clearly not hers. She doesn’t look back or call to them. They scurry after her like orphan ducklings. None of them notice the man skulking in the museum’s shadow. Murphy has a lifetime of experience in being unseen.
Tiffany stares at the horse. Its tack identifies it as a member of the National Police. The gear is clean and well cared for. Tiffany reaches up to touch the horse’s neck, watches the shiver of skin as it rolls its liquid brown eye to study her, stomps its hind foot in judgment. “We’re going to be such good friends, Thunder Bolt.” She lifts the flap of one of the saddle bags and finds the gun, a shiny Sig Sauer, like the one Dad had.
“Is that yours?” The older kid wipes snot on his sleeve. Tiffany glares at him, pulls out the Sig. God, she loves the heavy weight of it in her hand. Never again will someone touch her in the dark. She’ll blow their freaking head off. Both maybe. She grins. The kid frowns. She tests the sight, aligning the notch with the kid’s sternum, like Dad showed her.
“Lady! Hey, what are you doing?” A man jogs toward her across the wide stripe of grass. He’s dirty and skinny. Tiffany knows his hands would feel like claws on her. She swings the pistol toward him.
“Ma’am, put the gun down.” The voice is calm, commanding, female. They have her surrounded. Tears sting Tiffany’s eyes. It’s a trap. She’s seen men use women to lure in other women. It won’t happen to her. She turns and squeezes the trigger as soon as the notch shows her the blue blouse and white buttons of the woman’s chest.
Officer Bee stumbles back and sits heavily on the stairs. She feels like someone punched her in the chest. She regrets not donning her body armor, not securing her backup weapon, but she hadn’t seen a living person in weeks. She’d believed she was safe.
The man stands in front of the kids, the woman waving the Sig at them, tears running down her face. Officer Bee wants to intervene, to calm things down, but she just can’t catch her breath. The woman grabs Dunkin’s lead and yanks, but he won’t budge. She’s no cop and the horse knows it. The woman tries again then turns and runs, heading east towards the river and Anacostia.
Above Officer Bee the clouds part. For just a moment there is blue sky. Maybe there is a cure out West. Officer Bee sighs a soft gurgle. At least she got to see the real sky again.
Murphy and the kids bury the cop at the base of the Washington Monument. “Don’t know who you were, Lady, but you seem like one of the good ones,” Murphy eulogies. “You get the biggest damn gravestone ever.”
The kids take turns riding the horse. The woman with the gun ran off east, so Murphy and the kids head west. After everything else he’s done, taking care of them is the least he can do.