Happy Birthday On This Side.

This blog is two today!

Things that have changed:

I am engaged.
I am a Grace graduate.
I am more joyous.
I am more responsible.
I went to China.
I have a tattoo.
I have changed my mind on things.

Here are my favorite blogs over the last two years in case you missed any good ones. Please revisit:

  1.  Another New Year
  2.  What We Hold Onto
  3. A Bad Day is No Match for You
  4.  No Such Thing as an X-Cutter
  5. The Trouble With Compassionate Men
  6. Pure White Poem
  7. Embracing Nonsense
  8. Accepting Heaven
  9. Shadow
  10. Reach

For further enjoyment: CXVI

Joyous Strain

Sing the ancient yule tides
Carry, old hearts, the lost dialects
The eternal hymns of the heavenly
Light and warmth on midnight clears
Ancient tales pour from new lips
Spilling contemporary tidings of cheer
Decades of praises for the Emmanuel
Archaic arias of Bethlehem reborn.
Sing to prepare for the infant king.
Lose not a single note.

The Atoma: Lucky ain’t lucky [[chapter 3]]

“You are an AB” Harrison said. We went a crowded way that thinned out. “People will ask more of you because you have an advantage. We will probably rely on you heavily. You are immune. We can get you scratched and bit and you won’t turn or die. I warn caution. I want you to meet someone before I take you to Rascal. I know what it feels like to be new here. I want you to know that you can trust me. It may not feel like it but you always have a choice. They might just not be good ones.” We came to another bunking area. Along the walls nooks were carved out and covered with shower curtains or cloth. He knocked on the wall beside one curtain. A woman drew it open. She had straight blonde hair, striking brown eyes under long lashes. Most noticeably she had pink scar tissue up her left arm. She had a toddler in her lap with blonde curls spurting each way and brown eyes to match.

“Are you new? My name is Richelle” she extended a hand as she bounced the child on her knee. “Most of Rascals original crew bunks here. We dug these holes out in the very beginning. As we grew we had to switch to a less private bunking solution.” I looked to Harrison hoping to explain why I was meeting this woman. He didn’t. He chatted with her about Sadie’s event next Friday. The conversation picked up my attention again here:

“He’s an AB like you”  Harrison reached out and Richelle handed him Leah. The toddler looked very small in his arms.

“Oh, Has Rascal met him? He looks like Rascal would like him. Strong” I tensed up. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be liked by Rascal. I was leaning towards I didn’t. A small chicken was going the other way. I remembered that Sadie said they had gotten a bit out of control.

“I used to be one of his favorites. I still go on raids with him sometimes.” She looked to the toddler who Harrison  held”Leah here kind of kept me from being too available to him. Do a lot of kitchen duty now. Things I can do with her on my back.” Harrison and her teased me about different chores I would get to experience.  After a bit Harrison stammered about being late for something and passed Leah back to her mother. We continued down the VIP rooms hallway.

“Remember Gidget?” he asked quietly keeping a very slow walk. He was stalling, we must have almost been there. “He was in the room when you woke up. Richelle was his fiance’. She was on the raid team with Gidget and me.  They got to liking each other see?” he scratched at his beard. Determined to break my quiet impression of him he kept speaking. “There was also a man called Steven on the team. He liked her too. About that time we found out that AB’s only lose their memories when they get bit and scratched. Next raid we lost track of her and Steven. She called him over to open a door and they were just gone.” I leaned in because he was getting quieter the further we went. “He got her scratched on purpose. They were out on their own for about two months. He told her Gidget’s  engagement ring was her wedding ring and she was his wife of two years or something like that. She came back pregnant with Leah.” Needless to say I was shocked.

“What did you do to him when he returned?”

“Nothing. Doing anything would have been bad for Leah and Richelle. We all play along with it. Even Gidget. I guess my point is, you are AB. We will ask you to take risks. Being lucky ain’t always lucky Lucky. Make sure to weigh each request carefully. Not everyone will ask with a pure heart. Keep that in mind.”

I saw Vyra ahead now. She sat outside a curtain that covered the rest of the tunnel in a folding chair with an old blanket over it. Across her lap sat a gun with an open book over it. “You took your time” she said without looking up.

“Sure did” Harrison said and she closed her book folding the corner to keep her page.  Her hair was light brown and braided back and her eyes were the same confusing flashes of color. They aimed towards matching the seafoamy color of her book spine.  She was tall and slender in grey shorts and an embellished maroon tanktop with a brown cardigan and brown boots. She pushed back the beach scene shower curtain to reveal what resembled a waiting room with a fire pit and well worn couches. This was the only room with carpet I had seen.

Rascal was half asleep by his lunch rations on the sofa. It was kind of nice to know he had the same gruel I did for lunch. Before him was a map of the compound and lists of names and chores and several books filled with just numbers. At our entrance he woke up a bit and stretched his limbs. Most leaders you meet are attractive, with good speaking skills. Rascal was that and what you would expect the leader of a ragtag group of cave dwellers in a zombie infested universe to look like. He had commanding features that were well defined and softened only by the scruff of an early five ‘o’ clock shadow. His bottom lip sported a a scar and his ear look cauliflowered like a boxers. That was mostly hidden by unruly hardwood colored locks.   He was younger than I had expected. Not much older than me. He wore a thick coat with sleeves rolled up to his elbow, camo pants and a stained wife beater. He looked at me like a cat looks at a mouse. Anticipation, excitement and about to pounce. He had an easy and unnerving presence. No wonder Vyra hung out with him.

Vyra sat down next to Rascal and started to sort papers. “Have you recovered Lucky?” it made me nervous how she just plopped her weapon on the floor. Did these people have gun safety?  Gidget came over with a teapot that was steaming. I bit back a tea party joke. It helped when I realized that we were being offered hot water. There were no tea bags to speak of. Harrison took a lumpy chair by the sofa Vyra and Rascal were on and I took another sofa. Gidget sat down next to me.  He set his tea cup on a map of the surface.

“Since  you saw me last?” I asked. “No” no time or opportunity had been granted to me rest and heal since I woke up. I ached with scratches still and I also felt the weight of doing chores all day. None of the events would have been that straining if not for the fact that breathless had very recently nearly been torn apart. How recently? “How long was I even in that room?” I never got a lot of answers.  I wanted them now. From the source. From Rascal. Rascal rubbed his chin with a grin before his lips got moving.

“Well. Let’s see. On last Saturdays’s raid we lost Tory. A group of breathless migrated to the store we ran through. Came about while we were inside. Gunfire drew them away. We checked it out too once it was safe. We found an empty camp and you on the roof. Freaked out, covered in scratches and near unconsciousness. Tory got bit by one that was behind a van on the groups way over. He was a good kid. About your size. We took you back. We saw your name tag was A+. But then we noticed you weren’t a female and the tag was for a girl. In case you were AB we waited for you to die and change. You didn’t so we brought you back and monitored you. It’s Friday now.” I don’t know why Rascal hadn’t been the one to explain things to me instead of Vyra. Facts were nice to deal with.

“Oh” I said.

“We didn’t see evidence your group had been anywhere close recently at all” he went on. “But we are now a man short for the raid tomorrow and I want you to join us. Vyra is going to show you a breathless before you decide.”

Gidget spoke up “Glory and honor come to raiders. We are the milk and honey of the place.” I wondered if he ever stopped to talk to Richelle on the way down. I was a bit sad for him for a moment. I wondered if I would ever run into Steven. Is it the right thing to do to tell Richelle what happened?  
Rascal’s hazel eyes lingered on me only a moment longer. He probably knew more of what I looked like than I did now. He then gave me a thumbs up. “Go up to the surface and come back.”

We sipped hot water for a bit more and then Harrison, Gidget and Rascal went back to scratching their scruff and staring at the papers on the coffee table.  Vyra stood up and put back on her lavender cloak covering her long hair and legs. “C’mon.”  Vyra smiled and nodded and even stopped to hug several people on the way up. She seemed more sociable than Sadie. If that were possible. Funny, she felt isolating to me. We went past the gardens and kept going up. When the tunnel started to slope up I saw natural light for the first time that I could remember. The air was not fresh and I pulled my shirt over my face to breath. Many of the guards past this part had masks.

“Are you ready?” She was now taller than me.  I had noticed she was tall today but not this tall. That was odd. I towered over most people and had to duck in certain hallways. Before I answered she was pulling me along like a child “Let me show you something.” The sound and smell got worse. I wanted to cry, vomit and call out for my mother. I bit my bottom lip to keep from doing so. I would get used to the heavy feeling of dread sitting like a rock in my gut. The dread was paired with a heavy feeling of depression. I wanted to plummet into the pits of the earth. Melt, and sink into the cracks in the dirt. We waited for a big thick metal door to slide open. I heard gears shifting. This was the surface. Behind this. After the wall of metal moved a wall was revealed with a blue metal door. She went over to it and rummaged in her shirt pulling at a chain about her neck. She waved a card at a panel by the door. There was a beep, a green light and she pushed it open. I saw vehicles first. Jeeps, two doors, a tank and even a small farm plane.

We went up past the vehicles that had returned. Some looked alien and others like the ones from the old calendars with woman draped over them from before the Atoma; the kind that used fuel. She took me to an impressive fence I could not see over. It was more of a wall to be honest. It was fifty feet tall and it bowed outward. It was made of scrap metal elegantly fused into one solid peace reaching around an area big enough to park the vehicles and the entrance to Rascal’s last stand.

“We have met before you know. I was in my true form.” The wall began to slide open “You were a youth.” She was shorter than me again. I think at that moment her hair was blue and her eyes red. It was a trick of light surely. It was all too much. I watched the big outer wall slide open and she turned the safety of her gun off.

The wall was gone now. A sea of moaning breathless filled my vision. The smell was overwhelming and I tried to move back behind the other wall back inside. Instead I ended up freezing Their skin was void of human color and replaced with pale skin that you could see veins and organs through. Their eyes were dull and sunken in. Their mouths in a constant moan. Some had green gunk growing over them. Only after I threw up and recovered from a small panic attack did I notice the thick chain fence that still held them away from me. “Soulless and without reason” her voice boomed sounding cold and distant. “You will have to be careful not to join them. You cannot become a breathless by the breathless. Still they can tear you to pieces or the Odious can take your soul. Peril lies ahead.” I stared at her a moment. Was this a scare tactic? Did she really know me from before today? I concluded then she must be insane.

“Join our raiding team?”

“What-“ was the only intelligent response I could muster.

“Raiding or laundry duty… raiding lets you go out. Maybe you can find Aimee. Maybe you have a family. But you won’t be safe like here.” She snarled her teeth and muttered at the fence and a few breathless took a step back. “Lucky, I want to add you to the raid. I can tell by your build you are used to tough jobs. Besides it’s safer to recruit you than a more common blood type. Rascal wants you to know what faces you” she dangled her key pass in front of me “It comes with a better Cot and access to the all the Library.”

“Can I think on it?” I asked.

“Have to do your thinking on your feet.”

“How long is on my feet?”

“Ten.”

“Ten what?”

“Nine.”

“Seconds?”

“Eight.”

“Did you really know me?”

“Seven. “

“I’m in!”

“You have six seconds are you certain?”

“Yes.”

“Good.  Sadie thought you would choose that. Harrison will be coming with us.” She smiled. She had managed to get my agreement. I did not approve of the tactics. “Lets get you a gold pass. Lets you into weapon closets.” I resented her. But I was also excited.

The Atoma [Chapter Two]

I got to stay in my hammock for nine awkward minutes. An old wall clock ticked away the moments. I liked how Sadie filled the time with joyful hammock. Harrison didn’t care to. He just stared at the clock while I sat in a dead man’s bed. When he did speak I wished he hadn’t. “He had some shoes I think are your size.”

I looked at my boots. They were falling apart. “No thanks.” I didn’t want to fill Tory’s shoes. Metaphorically or literally. I wanted his death to matter. I don’t know why. He shrugged and waved for me to follow him. I wondered if I was eaten how quickly my space would be given away. I was so cold and pessimistic about everything then. If the next guy would want my shoes. There isn’t much trust to go around in the apocalypse.

“Normally I am on raid duty, but I went out yesterday so it’s my break day. We brought back a lot of battery powered things. You AB’s never remember what it was like when the Atoma were in charge. No war, no sickness. Perfect, clean energy. They took it all with them. Our only hope was to get 100 year old technology back up.”

I didn’t have a response so I just followed him down a tunnel with a cardboard floor. We started to pass more people that were out and about. Some carried boxes, some chatted in pairs. Others carried garden tools or weapons. This places was a machine. I already was mental exhausted and I could feel the psychical fatigue coming. Is dying here my only option? Will I ever see the sun again. Could I not have a moment to myself to process? I burrowed my brow and frowned. Can I knock out Harrison? My face stayed like that. I was done. I wasn’t going to slave away for people I didn’t know for an unquestionable leader. Most of all I hated that Harrison was so quiet. Did he know what it was like to have so many questions?

Signs with directions were at every turn. I felt like I was in an ant farm or a mundane series of hamster tubes. We moved upwards as we walked. I noted men with guns. They were holding them in an obvious fashion and watching the moving people. Guards. So we arn’t free here. We have guards. The silence stretched on as I carried an empty milk crate after Harrison following the signs marked storage. The lighting was dark and somehow I recognized the hum of a generator. I also heard what sounded like human suffering. A constant moaning filled every inch of any room I found. I noticed the people moving about wore earplugs. “Excuse me-“ I stopped walking to listen “What is that noise? Where are we going”

“We are getting cans put in the entryway storage room and taking them down. The entryway is close to above ground. That is the sound of the breathless. Should smell them soon. We will write down how many cans of what we have and then take them down to the pantry by the kitchens. Okay?”  That seemed simple enough. We kept going up for a few more minutes. We walked slowly. Harrison nodded to some girls carrying carrots down and they had a short wordless encounter.

I could smell them now. I ran over to the wall and leaned on it for support. I vomited. I didn’t have much in my stomach so it turned into dry heaving quickly. The smell of death and decay filled my lungs from that point on but I got used to it.  I rubbed off my chin with a handkerchief that Harrison had ready.  A room marked storage was full of shelves and food. It was roughly organized. Fruits filled one shelf, vegetables another, beans and so on and so forth. Items that didn’t seem to fit on a shelf were lined against the wall. “This is all from last night” he must have been more tired than I was. “It was I that found you firing about. We used 15 bullets to save you.” His mustache curled with a smile. “Sadie is always so pleased to have new people around here.”

We spent the next two hours organizing the room by expiration date and type of food. We made a careful list of everything according to the week it expired. We spent another two hours filling milk crates and carrying them down to the pantry by the kitchen. Over that time Harrison slowly spoke a bit more. It helped me ease up. It pushed the dread back so I could deal with it later. Most of the talking was done by Curtis. A tan skinned teenager who seemed to be very happy to tell me about why he should be put on the raid team. It was clear he was a bit of a hot head who thought he was tougher than he was. I wouldn’t put him on a raid team either, but I was happy to listen to him blow off some steam.  He did his share of work and Harrison smiled at most of his comments.  The teens cockiness seemed to amuse him.

“If I had been on the raid you were found on Tori would have survived” he shot Harrison a look. Harrison’s smile quickly faded. Curtis got quiet.

“You weren’t there, you don’t know” he said icily. We spent the last hour working in silence. I hadn’t imagined what had happened the day I was brought to Rascals last stand. I hadn’t realized that the man’s hammock who I took died and somehow I came back. Did he have family? Are they bitter? We worked in silence from that point on.

When we were finished Curtis went off to clean up after the pigs. “You used to be a solider?”Harrison asked breaking the silence.

“Yes, I think that’s right.”  He nodded. I waited for a follow up question that never came. He took me back to the room where I had a hammock.

“I am going to a raiders planner meeting. We have a raider to replace. You will be with Sadie in the garden for the rest of the day. See you at dinner.” Was he really a film major? Was that a real major? Walking away he looked like he had been military.  Did this world remove who you once were? Did it matter if you remembered life before or not? Or did everyone end up the same.  Sadie was hanging some of their laundry from the rod that hung their curtain.

“Hey Lucky, ready to garden?” she kissed Harrison and he left for his meeting. I settled into my hammock. I wanted to rest. I didn’t know if that was an option. How much free will could I express?

“I would rather rest.” She looked up at me. Was that not an option?

“Oh…” she shook out water from a shirt and laid it flat on the edge of her bed to let it dry. “Well, you don’t have to.. it’s just. Lucky, we need every person to chip in.” She came over to me. She answered my question. There was an illusion of choice but there was no free here. You had a weight to pull. I suppose that is fair.

“I’ll pull me weight tomorrow” I told her. Someone sat up to listen to our conversation from a bunk over. How much was I pushing the envelope here?

“You shouldn’t stay here and sulk. Come on.” I got out of my hammock. Now was not the time or place for testing limits. Besides how hard can gardening be?
We joined four other woman and one other male. He gave me a bucket of water to carry up with us. We took another tunnel upwards. We stopped along the way and Sadie and the other four women stopped to get a wheelbarrow filled with tools. The gardens were the highest section of the compound. There was a large garage door that led outside to the fenced enclosure above us where the vehicles for raise were kept. The ceiling was very thick glass. It made the air stuffy and warm.  The compost smell actually helped with the smell that overwhelmed me earlier.  I got to work with a woman named Velma pulling up radishes and the girls began distributing the buckets of water over  some mounds with nothing showing. Velma had hair with black roots and blond ends. She was short and less talkative than the other women. She did enjoy explaining how we fetched water from underground wells and how to adjust soil pH. She apparently helped set up the irrigation. Some of the moving water from below was moved into barrels up here. It was a smart system that arose from deep need and desperation. Working with the woman was more pleasant. They didn’t allow for long painful silences.

We left a lot of the tools up and I then went with Sadie to take a wheelbarrow full of beets, carrots, and potato’s to the kitchen. It was nice. Working. It was wise for Sadie to make me do something. “See? It always helps men to be physical. Makes them feel better. Men only mope when they sit around Wspecially if there are things to be done.” She stopped me from pushing to pick up a potato that rolled out.

“What about the women?” I asked picking the handles up again and controlling the speed down the slope.

“We need some work, it’s good for us to pull our weight.  But in the end girl’s just want to have fun. Like midnight swimming in the underground river. Dancing after lunch. We even are trying to repair an old projector for a movie night once a week. Heard of DVD’s?” I told her I hadn’t. She started to tell me about how her and a band of women host weekly events to keep people light hearted. We kept on a down slope. A group carrying wet clothes was making their way up.

“Why is the kitchen and pantries so far from the garden and store rooms?”

“Because we didn’t build this before hand. We added where things fit as we needed them. We collapsed part of it expanding the sleeping quarters. So we put it down here.” We got to the kitchen and some women helped us unload. They began to clean them as soon as they got them. We grabbed our dinner rations and ate them in a few minutes. It was carrot soup and beans. Not exciting. “You adapt as you go. You just keep going with no real plans.” She had taken awhile to

“Yeah sorta” she smiled. “We must persist in kindness” she said. “Maybe one day the breathless will leave.”  We went back to the garden and I helped Velma until it was dark. I went back to my hammock and Harrison came back from his meeting. He went to Sadie and spoke with her in low tones I couldn’t overhear.  It was long enough for me to find a clean shirt and change in the bathroom. When I came back Harrison wanted to speak with me this time.

“Come with me” is all Harrison said. He motioned for me with two fingers. “Rascal wants to see you.”

The Monsters in White

It spends it’s time on pinterest.
Shows make them look like witches.
White monsters with long tails and veils.
Keeping you up to date with blogs and mass emails.
Stomping down aisles and taking over churches
Forcing you to make a registry purchase.
Leaving trails of glitter and birdseed.
The last member of a formal stampede.
Who is this beast really?
Why she is a bride to be.

I think it’s funny how daytime tv makes brides look. No worries. I am just playing with words. That’s all :P