Th’way Ah figgur it, lotsuh folks ain’t got no other option, righ’? Like, single moms ‘er dudes whose parents kicked ‘em outtuh their house?
Ah met uh couple guys in Atlanta an’ they wus real’ nice people. Me an’ Dave swapped stories with ‘em cus we split uh pizza an’ sat buhind uh buildin’ few like four hours, man.
See, Dave knew’em cus he’d go tuh Atlanta tuh see his grandparents every weekend, an’ him an’ Paul came across’em in the park once. They’d dance durin’ th’day an’ let folks see’em, then at night they’d hang around an’… *Shrugs his shoulders* Sum people’d come back around an’ pick’em up.
Ain’t like messin’ ‘round with whoever from uh bar ‘er whatever fer th’hell uh it. Ah git awl tore up when Ah think ‘bout people who got so little thah’s awl they got tuh sell… *Rubs the back of his neck, eyes dipping low*
When Ellis was fifteen, he watched the towers crumble on the news and thought, “damn, that looks cool!” until the footage began to show the stunned, soot-covered faces of survivors who’d been blocks away and barely escaped with their lives. Horror began to curl its fingers tight in his gut as he watched people fall, their outlines mere specks against a sky of smoke and fire as they flung themselves to the angels to escape the oppressive heat and toppling structure. When Ellis was fifteen, he’d clutched Heather in his arms listened to her sob as trembling voices filled the television and the radio, devastated families asking why as politicians struggled not to break under the weight of confusion and sadness as they addressed their people. When Ellis was fifteen, and the truth had unfurled in the days following 9/11, he’d watched Heather wash her face of tears and uncertainty and tell the mirror she would join the military and hunt down the people who had brought this to her country.
When Ellis was twenty-six, he called his exgirlfriend to find her back home for the first time since the apocalypse, her last tour over and her fiancé’s murmurs in the background. She’d been home a few months and Ellis could hear the hardness in her voice as she described going back overseas after the green flu had been smoked out, how her job hadn’t been over and it had been baffling to fight men again when she’d been fighting monsters on home soil. Men driven by passion and faith instead of illness and violence; and yet, she said, the wars had felt the same. Protecting people against a force she’d never understand.
“It ain’t over,” Heather said softly, and Ellis could hear the quietest hint of the tears she’d said goodbye to over a decade before, “It’ll never be over.”
Because as they spoke, the television was still playing the memorial footage; families were still recounting their losses, remembering fathers who’d kissed their children goodbye and perished in the fall, girlfriends who’d made one last call as they ran down the stairs and prayed aloud to their partners, passersby who’d been caught in the falling debris just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The memories were still haunting. Terrible things had happened years later, and yet, it was the betrayal of men against men that made the act so terrible compared to the green flu; it was that there was no brain-eroding virus to cause the hijackers to take lives, no animalistic drive for violence that had led to the slaughter of thousands. Thousands who would never come back regardless of the vengeance sought in their name.
In weeks, it would be the third anniversary of the green flu and all its suffering, but today, Ellis sat and listened to the second greatest tragedy in American history, and mourned.
[It’s been so long, and there are still no words.]
No way, man! That ain’t no attitude tuh have.
Ah mean, sure, errybody gits down sumtimes, don’t they? We awl got shit we don’t wannuh deal with, ‘er plans we know ain’t gonnuh go nowheres but downhill. But the way Ah figgur it, best way tuh handle uh day goin’ tuh hell is tuh give it hell right back!
IM-PRAWV-IH-ZAY-SHUN, man! Can’t jus’ give up cus summin don’t go righ’ - cus ain’t nuthin’ gonnuh go yer way every single time, y’know? Thah’s jus’ th’challenge uh life.
Take bein’ uh mechanic. Yew’d think, ‘hell, cars is cars, man, learn tuh fix one, yew can fix ‘em awl’ - an’ that’s where yew’d be wrong. *Grins* Shit, yew cud know erry goddamn thang ‘bout jus’ one kinduh car an’ sumbody drives up in one an’ there ain’t no guarantee yew’ll know how tuh fix ‘er. Cus she ain’t gonnuh run like yers, since she been drove diff’rnt, maybe fixed up wrong bah th’las’ guy, maybe gottuh possum up in her sumplace an’ yew don’t notice ‘til it crawls out covered in grease an’ tries tuh eat yer buddy’s face off…
Ah can open any hood an’ have uh rough idea in mah head uh wut might be wrong, but thah don’t mean shit fer when Ah git down tuh business. Too many variables, mah buddy Paul usetuh say, gottuh keep uh open mind, gottuh adapt. An’ yew can apply that kinduh thinkin’ tuh everythang yew do, cus life purdy much works th’same across th’table. Take an idea, run with it, an’ be open tuh changin’ it up ‘er goin’ in uh diff’rnt direction if yew gottuh, cus nobody knows everythang.
Now yew listen here. That muthuhfucker done beat th’hell outtuh mah best friend; Ah chased his sorry ass off cus he wus uh no good asshole, not cus Ah wanted tuh make Nick single again. Pissed me off tuh see th’guy so sad an’ sorry over awl that crap he went through with Overalls but Ah’m not sum kinduh homewrecker, man. Ah wudn’t gonnuh threaten’im over uh couple’uh fights – it wus cus he laid his hands awn’im. Ah wus pickin’ up pieces bah sendin’ his ass packin’.
Nick’s mah buddy, a’course Ah’m gonnuh be there. Ah mightuh screwed up a’fore bah not stickin’ around tuh be uh good friend but it ain’t happenin’ again.
Yew can take that shit tuh th’bank an’ cash it.
Well, shit — prolly shit! Ah say it awl th’time, man.
An’ y’all remember Ah don’t like shit like ‘whore,’ *cringes lightly* but Ah ain’t too sure thah’s uh cuss s’much as jus’ uh bad word. ‘Cunt’ don’t seem real’ polite. *Pauses and blushes, his brain catching up with his mouth; he drops his eyes, clearing his throat bashfully* So, uh, yeah. Prolly thah one.
This one time mah buddy Keith from school called his lady th’c-word — awn accountuh her takin’ his beer money tuh pay th’cable bill ‘er summin — an’ she stabbed ‘im with uh bar-bee-quew fork righ’ in th’thigh! Man, he wus so pissed off he jus’ left it in there fer like twenty minutes while he told ‘er off, bleedin’ awl tuh hell. Paul finally drove her tuh her mom’s an’ Ah jimmied th’fork out an’ wrapped ‘im up. Dave figgured he needed stitches but Keith never went tuh th’hospital ‘less th’cops made ‘im cus he said it wus uh waste uh money.
His leg went green an’ started smellin’ real’ bad so when Rachael came back like uh week later she tricked him intuh goin’ tuh th’hospital bah tellin’ him they wus goin’ tuh sum swingers party ‘er summin.
Well this one time Ah got this sword-lookin’ thang fer like uh gag gift tuh make Keith laugh, ‘cept they really did look like toys an’ Arden found it an’ brought it over tuh Nick’s without me knowin’. Ain’t like Ah don’t keep that shit in uh drawer outtuh sight so who knows how he got uhold uh it.
Well Nick brung it back over…
Now see, Ah got uh soft spot fer Riggs Donner – shit, named mah dog after’im – but erry TRUE Riders fan knows Thad took wut skill he got from his daddy an’ went awn tuh be twice as good. S’why they wus replacin’ that putz Jake th’Snake with’im fer th’memorial show. But Keith don’t see it that way.
Nick, mostly. He wus real’ worked up from th’moment we got in there, tho tuh be fair we wus treated like rabid dogs, locked up an’ shit.
“Processing,” Nick repeated over and over, his voice husky and low, frantic gaze flitting between the sleek slate tile beneath his feet to the reflective surface of the metal door. “We’re waiting for – processing.” His suit was crusted with grime, thick material splattered with gore and the filth of fluids: but worse than his clothing was his face, filthy hair kept back with gel that flaked from the heat they’d traveled in before being helicoptered to Kansas, his features – now host to a patchy beard – gaunt and haunted from weeks of unspeakable violence and narrow survival. He looked like a man who wanted, beyond anything, to be safe.
Ellis thought they’d finally achieved that goal when he’d tumbled into the helicopter, Coach’s hand had wrapped up in the front of his t-shirt to haul him up before he toppled back into the crowd of screeching zombies and bellowing tanks. He’d thought that even when they had landed and the military had taken his guns, Nick snarling and refusing to relinquish his own until Coach – grim-faced and visibly exhausted – had talked him down. Ellis had believed in their safety even though everyone around them had worn protective masks, and an armed soldier had flinched back when Rochelle – still drowsy on pain killers – had almost stumbled into him, as though she were some sort of threat. He’d been convinced of it even though no matter how many times they asked the same questions – what’s going on, what are carriers, when will we see our families – they had received no answers from their hazmat-suited chaperones, and had been locked in their barren, windowless cell with only a vague warning that the medical staff would be by to process them within the hour.
Ellis scratched at the crisp, crackled surface of a scab on his arm, blunt fingernails scraping it free in red-tinged flakes. He leaned against the cold wall and watched Nick pace from beneath the bill of his cap, plush lips drawn into a soft frown.
“Nicolas,” Coach murmured with vaguely exasperated patience, like a parent after a long day running errands with difficult children, “Sit down. Yer agitatin’ th’boy an’ Rochelle.” He had slumped down the wall opposite of Ellis, the still bleary-eyed producer cuddled up to his side as they awaited their fate like trusting cattle.
“Naw,” Ellis said after a long moment without Nick ceasing his movements, “Naw, this don’t feel right, Coach.”
The former teacher’s dark eyes fixed on the mechanic for the passing of several seconds, disbelief and irritation slanting his thick mouth with a frown. Ellis had been steadfast in his support of the military and their assured safety as soon as they had decided to strike out to New Orleans; the change of pace was startling.
“Shit!” growled out the redhead from clenched teeth, lips peeling back on a thick grimace as he removed his hand from the canopener’s reach, blood bright red and glisteningly wet on his fingers. The brunette was immediate in fetching a paper towel and drawing the taller male to the sink to fuss at the wound, kissing the freshly cleaned gash before sealing it up with a bandaid. “Thanks, shortcake,” Keith purred with a smile, and they both pretended neither had suffered wounds a thousand times worse than a torn finger in the safety of Keith’s kitchen.
Her cowboy boots thump against the dance floor just a bit louder than the heels she normally would, tight and sleeveless black blouse adorned with a spill of frills down the front; but it’s her cut-off skirt that has Ellis’s hands roaming over it, short and denim and draped with fabric tendrils from their former life as jeans. “Damn, Syd,” he purrs in her ear, letting her slide her hands up to grip the soft curls at the nape of his neck as they dance, “Yew feel – uh, yuh look fantastic.”
“Feel is good too,” she says with a flirty laugh like clanging crystal bells, skimming the ankle of her boot up the side of his calf when he dips her, “Take me home and gimme summin tuh ride, Ellis.”
“Mom,” said the nine year old thoughtfully, forking his macaroni and cheese past a grin that was already missing some teeth, “Why is fuck uh bad word? Cus Keith says it means sex an’ yew said sex is wut makes babies an’ babies ain’t uh bad thang yew said, yew said Ah wus uh blessin’.”
Sarah paused with her own fork posed over a smoldering plate of noodles, eyeing her son speculatively before she said, “Eat yer dinner an’ let me think about it.”
[After some discussions, I wrote up this little narrative on the effects of being a carrier in El’s universe plus how universe meshing with Keith has changed things. Second half is a roleplay between Ask-Keith and I.]
As a carrier, Ellis took a garden of prescriptions to keep the infection dormant; not because it would make him ill, but because the virus spread through his very breath, and he was a risk to everyone around him not like himself. The little orange bottles lined an entire shelf in his medicine cabinet, and the half dozen times he’d forgotten to bring some with him when staying over Keith’s instead, he’d pulled his clothes back on and driven home for them. Every few months he had bloodwork done, and missing an appointment was as nasty of an offense as a major parole violation; likewise, when the Department for Airborne Pathogens Containment – fancy speak for carrier watching – called him twice a month, he was required to ramble off his location, occupation, living situation and identification numbers – error or refusal in answering was as bad as skipping his clinic dates. Carriers had been fined or jailed for it from what Ellis had read online, and he wasn’t eager to dish out any more cash or submission to the government than he was already forced.
Hard not to feel that way when the government had played part in his best friends’ deaths.
*Rubs the back of his neck self-consolingly* Well there wus this one time… See, when CEDA screwed up, th’military started takin’ over sum uh their safe zones… They were awl over, man, set up real’ quick-like, but they were awl run different. Most were jus’ like small towns all fenced in so th’military cud protect folks, but we ran intuh uh bunch that were like prison camps ‘er freaky test labs, where errybody wus locked up cus th’guys in charge were scared ‘er summin. When we got outtuh New Orleans we got brought tuh one uh them lab ones fer carriers.
We were only there uh couple hours cus Nick heard uh bunchuh thangs he didn’t like an’ it spooked him real’ bad. He started pacin’ th’lil’ cell they thrown us in, jus’ losin’ his shit, til Ro agreed she didn’t like th’place an’ she wanted tuh leave too. *Pauses to scratch his stubble* We had tuh fight our way out, an’ there wus this lady…
Now Ah don’t agree with dudes hittin’ ladies under no circumstances ‘cept summin like mine. Ah’ve never laid no hands awn uh girl buhfore ‘er since, an’ Ah won’t ever. An’ Ah’ll kick uh guy’s ass if he tries tuh do it infrontuh me. *Clicks his tongue*