Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Wither Part 14
Glen sat with his arms resting on the table, watching the man Mara claimed was her Uncle Mac hold a partially frozen bag of peas to his face. He suspected they’d be eating those same peas later at dinner, though the thought was a little nauseating considering the state of the man’s cheek. It was swelled to twice its normal size and beginning to sport multiple hues of black and blues that reminded Glen of abstract paintings. The kind where artists smeared an array of watercolours across a canvas in haphazard ways that when done right were oddly hypnotic and evocative. Done wrong, they looked like what was growing on the puffed up face in front of him.
Glen wasn’t much of a fan of abstract art, and so far, he wasn’t much of a fan of Mac. Something about the man...
Mac moved the bagged peas higher, whistling a whiny breath through his gritted teeth as he did so. The plastic had begun to sprout little beads of condensation, and Glen was pretty sure the moisture and the bumpy little vegetables inside couldn’t have felt all that great, despite their numbing temperature. As far as Glen was concerned though, he was lucky they had anything even partially frozen to offer with the power out. Luckier still, they hadn’t thrown him out on his ass.
The jury was still out on that one, however, at least as far as Glen was concerned.
He blinked tiredly and fought back a yawn, reminded of how he’d only gotten an hours sleep before he was rudely awoken. The darkened room didn’t help his level of alertness, either. At Mara’s insistence, Glen had replaced the board over the window in case one of the boys woke up and decided to get curious. According to his watch, it was half past noon, and though Mara had several of the oil lamps lit, the light they provided was dim in comparison to the former brilliance of what had looked to be a spectacular late fall day.
Christ, he missed daylight.
Feeling suddenly claustrophobic, he shifted in his seat and cleared his throat, breaking the silence that had fallen when Mara left the room to get the first aid kit.
“So,” Glen said, picking the thread of conversation back up where it had left off. “You came here from Stenton, Mac?” There was a skeptical tone in his voice he couldn’t quite repress. He wasn’t sure he bought Mac’s song and dance about his arrival, and it showed. “Long way to come on foot.”
“Well, I didn’t solely come on foot. I hitched a ride a few times with some of those so-called military folks. Most of them seem to be just prowling around these days. Probably not a lot of higher ups around to tell them what to do anymore. It wasn’t hard to barter a few canned goods for the privilege of parking my ass for a bit.”
Glen nodded, though he wasn’t necessarily buying the story. In his experience, what was left of the military wasn’t comprised of men and women who were prone to be overly friendly or helpful. He also doubted they’d be randomly driving around out there, not with gasoline being harder and harder to come by.
“The small base they had set up here cleared out a few weeks ago. No warning, no word. They all just packed up and left. Can’t quite figure out why or how.” Glen chose to leave his suspicions unvoiced, but it was clear Mac picked up on something by the way he blew out a breath and took a long minute to answer.
“The why’s probably easy enough to figure,” Mac said finally. “Nothing here to stick around for. No supplies coming in. As for the how...well...travels a bitch for the UV Intolerant, but not impossible.” The eye not covered by the packet of Green Giant peas narrowed slightly as he stared back at Glen, conveying his own suspicion. “They move at night, and they either find shelter in whatever city they move through or hunker down in their jeeps and trucks, keeping them covered with these huge black tarps. Most of their windows are painted out, except the windshield.”
Glen nodded again, tapping his fingers against the table, restless, still slightly claustrophobic. “You said you got an email from Mara’s dad?”
“That’s right. Joe, my brother,” he added with pointed emphasis. “He sent it right when things started to come about with all this sickness, back when you could still count on the internet. Told me the boys and their mother had it, but he and Mara were up to that point immune.” He scratched at his neck, grubby nails scraping over a little blood from his wound and a whole lot of dirt. Judging from the smell of him, Glen suspected it had been awhile since he’d been anywhere near a shower.
“Why would my father email you?” Mara stepped back into the kitchen. She dropped the medical kit on the table and frowned at Mac. “I mean no offence, Uncle Mac, but I know you and Dad weren’t exactly close. I haven’t seen you since I was a kid, younger than Jeremy and Teddy are now.”
Mac pulled the frozen peas away with a slight hiss and set them on the table with a soggy thud. Glen had to fight not to grimace at the mess Mara’s bat had made. Mac’s eye was starting to swell and would probably be sporting the shiner of all shiners by tomorrow.
“Guess when the world is falling apart and everyone is dying around you, you start seeing old grievances in a new light.” He tried to give her a smile, flinched, and settled for a head shake. “Look. I know my visit is a surprise, and I shouldn’t have broken in, but in my defense, no one is where they’re supposed to be anymore.”
He glanced at Glen then back at Mara. “I hit dozens of places on my way here, looking up friends, acquaintances, anyone I thought might still be around. Damn near every time I thought I’d found people I knew, I learned they were dead or moved on. Hell some of the houses and apartments where they’d lived were taken over by total strangers who didn’t react kindly to me poking around.” He pointed at his cheek. “This isn’t my first go around with getting my lights knocked out.” A half grin formed then quickly fell away to be replaced by another wince.
“So you broke in here why?” Glen asked.
Mac settled back in his chair. The light of the oil lamps picked up a few gray hairs at his temples, but otherwise it was clear to Glen he had to be a younger brother. The black sheep of the family, obviously.
“I got into town late last night. Saw you,” he answered, motioning to Glen, “outside cutting wood. Didn’t see anyone else. Suspected maybe my brother had taken Mara away. From what I’ve seen of this town, there isn’t many resources left here. It just made sense, especially since he’d said they were the only two who hadn’t gotten sick. I figured the boys and your mom were de...gone, Mara. Sorry.” He cleared his throat. “It seemed logical.”
Glen reached out and took Mara’s hand without thinking about it, simply wanting to offer comfort when he saw the flash of pain alter her expression at Mac’s words. “Why not move on then?” he asked, giving a slight tug to bring her closer to his side and looping one arm around her waist. She leaned against him, seemingly grateful for the contact, and Glen watched Mac’s one good eye narrow again, mentally digesting their new close-fit position.
Mac’s gaze settled on the arm Glen had around Mara, his lips pinching in under his scruffy beard. “Looked like you got a decent set up here. Supplies are hard to come by right now. In this day and age, you can’t blame a guy for looking to help himself, can you?” He switched from staring at Glen’s arm to his face. Before either Glen or Mara could react to the fact Mac had just declared himself a thief, he continued. “You should have better security going on. Just saying.” This time his lopsided smile had a decidedly cocky, gloating edge to it.
Glen heard the audible click of Mara’s jaw snap shut. For a long minute no one spoke. There was a challenge in Mac’s expression as he continued to stare directly Glen. It wasn’t easy to take. Glen could feel himself getting pissed off, even as he had to take the implied insult to heart. He had clearly failed to properly protect Mara and the boys, and that was a bitter pill to swallow. He wanted to flatten the gloating bastard as guilt left an ugly taste in his mouth. Only the fact Mac was a relative of Mara’s kept him in his seat.
“You know what, Uncle Mac?” Mara said, breaking the tense silence, an unusually syrupy inflection in her voice.
Mac turned his head to her. He seemed to puff up a little at the implied warmth of her tone. “What, darling.”
She smiled, leaned forward slightly, and said with quiet seriousness, all the saccharine sweetness vanishing. “I should’ve hit you harder.”
Glen couldn’t help himself. As Mac’s mouth fell open, he gave Mara’s waist a squeeze and grinned like an ass. His little nymph was a spitfire. A surge of heat hit him, and inappropriate as it was, the thought occurred to him that the moment he got rid of this uncle, he was taking Mara back to bed.
And even though he was tired, he didn’t plan on either of them sleeping.
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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)