Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One
Title: I See Angry People, Part 2
The sunrise gradually beat back the darkness of the night. By the time it cleared the horizon, I’d already walked 20 minutes. I would have prefered a sky full of golds, oranges and yellows. Instead, I got a sky full of gray clouds, and no blue anywhere. I should have known the day would have mirrored the weather. I walked with no path, on no trail, beside no road. That was the safest thing, walk where no one else had, where no one had reason to walk. My years of living with the wolves had taught me to walk in silence through the forest, through the brush. In the years since the world went insane, things had changed. There were more animals. Birds, squirrels, foxes, wolves, deer, everything. There were more trees. I’d never known how much trees would grow in a few years until everyone stopped cutting them down. And the grass, weeds, and bushes were everywhere. In every town I’d stopped in, yards were gone. The grass died when no one watered it, or fertilized it. Natural grasses, clover, crabgrass, dandelions, and weeds took over. Vines ran wild, engulfed fences, covered lawn chairs, decks, lamp posts. And trees followed them. I walked through a changed world, headed west, by the compass and the sun. I stopped after a few hours, took a drink of water from my canteen, and ate some trail mix as I listened to the sounds of life around me. Then, I resumed my westward trek. With no maps, no GPS, no guide, I never knew what I’d find, or if I’d find anything. The idea was, walk in a straight line long enough, and you’ll find a place where a town or city once was. That’s what happened. In the early afternoon I came across an old city. On instinct, I drew my bow and an arrow. I had to be ready to fight and flee with each heartbeat. I worked my way through a couple of old neighborhoods filled with mass produced, nearly identical houses, nearly evenly spaced, like they were squares of a tablecloth dropped from the sky to cover the land. Going was always slow, with weeds and brush where yards had been, and tangled masses of vines where fences had been. Moving yard to yard took time. Until I came across a school. The sign on the building was still there, “Green Farms Elementary School”. As I worked through the weeds, and dense brush, I tried to remember what going to school had been like. The clean halls, the huge open expanse of land, a parking lot, and long halls lined with rooms. A cafeteria, an office, a gymnasium, and a library. The school’s doors were long gone. I needed to be very cautious, quiet, and alert. My ears listened to every sound, my eyes studied every shadow and flicker of light. I worked my way through the building, to the library. Children’s books. Chapter books, story books, any kind of children’s books. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Anything I could find. I stuffed a dozen titles in my backpack. “The kids may not be able to read yet. But it won’t hurt to have books for when they can.” I smiled, I hadn’t expected to think of the toddlers and babies at home. None of them mine, of course. Valerie and I hadn’t, for whatever reason. Not that we hadn’t tried, just seemed like it wasn’t meant to happen. But Kelly, she had a son. Two years old now. Can you believe we used to take education for granted. Never thought we’d have to teach them everything. Manners, language, everything. When I’d grown up, that’s what schools were for. Kindergarten, pre-K, daycare. They’d done the teaching. Now, all of that was gone. If we wanted our children to read, we had to teach them to read. I wandered through the rest of the school as I looked for anything useful. Nothing remained. As the sun got low, I knew I had to find a place to hide for the night, and it couldn’t be the school. That was big, roomy. Others would stay there, especially groups. The hunter, gatherer type. Groups of men, or even groups of women. Those who’d survived the years of chaos. I had to clear the building, and find a safe haven. A tool shed behind a nearby house would do. I knew no one would look there, so I’d be safe either in, or near it. I set up my tent, and after making certain no one was around, I settled in for the night. I woke in a cold sweat, my eyes wide, my knife drawn. I didn’t move, barely breathed, as I tried to listen to my senses, listen to the sounds outside my tent. A woman. Screaming. Gunshots. Men screaming. More gunshots. Whether I wanted to or not, it was time to move. Time to find the sounds, see what was happening, and see if there was anything I could do. The sounds let me back to the school, to the cafeteria, filled with tables, chairs, dust, and a gunfight. I was silent, I knew no one knew I was there. A trail of blood led to a table turned on its side. A dead man was on the floor. There were three other men, trying to surround the table. One at a time they’d stand up, shoot at the table, then duck down, and move. “It’s over, girly!” “You ain’t gettin’ outta here alive!” More shots at the table. More movement. Three to one is never fair, so I drew my bow, let an arrow fly. It struck the closest man in the neck. I’d had a lot of practice over the years with my bow. I didn’t miss what I aimed at. The other two noticed the third had fallen. They turned from the table toward me, started shooting. A second arrow took down a second man. I spoke for the first time. “You OK behind the table?” There was no answer, I hadn’t expected one. Whoever was behind that table had lost a lot of blood. Maybe too much. The third man screamed, “Who are you?” “Nobody.” He fired shots in my direction. Son-of-a-bitch was terrified, shooting wildly. I put an arrow in his leg. He went down, alive, but no longer a threat. Arrow ready to fly, I approached him, “Drop the gun.” He did. “Move.” I motioned toward the table, threatened him with another arrow. He moved, though I knew he hurt like hell. We crossed to the table. The woman I’d heard scream was there. Propped against the table legs. Blood was everywhere. I pulled my knife, put the blade through the hand of the man, left him screaming in pain, and went to the woman.
Her breath was ragged, weak. I knew she wasn’t going to live. “You have a name?”
She nodded, her answer a whisper, “Jessie.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Jessie.”
She shivered. I wouldn’t let her die alone. I sat down next to her, put an arm around her. “Sorry I didn’t get here sooner.” Her eyes asked, so I answered, “I’m Frank. I won’t hurt you.”
She made a weak smile, closed her eyes, and leaned her head back. She whispered. “Did I get them?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “You got them all.”
And she was gone. I kissed her cheek. “Rest well in Valhalla, warrior.”
There was still the question of what to do about the last of the men. A year earlier, I’d have put an arrow in him, and been done. But I wasn’t a heartless killer. “Quit howling like a girl, stupid!”
He shut up, gritted his teeth, “I ain’t no girl!”
“No. You ain’t. Girls are civilized. You?” I drew an arrow. “You’re an animal.”
“She came after us!”
“I don’t fucking know! She pulled two guns, and started shooting. We had to shoot back. She shot Timmy and Jerry. In the back!”
“Good.” I pulled my bowstring tight. “I’m sure they deserved it.”
“What? No? Don’t kill me?”
“How many women have you killed?”
He didn’t answer.
“How many have you raped?”
He didn’t answer, just wet his pants, his eyes glued to my arrow. “Don’t kill me. Please, don’t kill me.”
“Why?” I aimed at his left eye. “Why shouldn’t I?”
He closed his eyes, “Oh, God…”
Since I had one of the evil men, one of the men who destroyed everything, in front of me, I decided it was time to ask questions. And there was one question I’d always wanted an answer to.
“Tell you what, if you answer my question, I might let you live.”
He nodded, “Anything! Anything!”
“She shot at us.”
“Why did she shoot at us?”
“No. Why did you, all of you, go crazy?”
“Is that what you think?”
“Yeah. Every fucking one of you went crazy. At the same time.”
“Mister, you don’t know a God damn thing.”
“Then tell me why.”
He spilled his guts, told me everything. Told me how men once ruled the world. How women belonged to men. How men were superior, stronger, smarter, faster. How women weren’t equal, never had been, never would be.
How he and other men decided to take back everything men had lost. Put women in their place. Turn them back into possessions, like they were meant to be. Where a man could have his way with any woman, because he was a man.
He rambled, and talked, and I stood there, and listened.
“And that’s why. We needed to become real men again. Not those weak, civilized men. We had to take back our manhood!”
I shot him. In the left eye.
“You aren’t a man. You aren’t even human. You’re just an animal.”
I returned to the table, picked up Jessie’s body, carried her to the shed. I found an old shovel. It took hours, but I dug a hole for her body. And I made a wooden cross to mark where she rested. “Rest in peace, Jessie.” I looked at the sky, “Take care of her, God.”
It was going to be a long day. It was time to pack my tent, and walk.
“Just had to take back our manhood.” I shook my head. “How stupid is that? Are they really that stupid?”
I walked through half the night. I put that city behind me, and headed further west.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.