fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Ten. {fiction}

 

It was the bedrooms that proved disturbing.

The first was the children’s room. I knew this not only from the décor — stuffed animals on a long shelf, cartoon character toys, colorful jungle wallpaper — but there were also the long-dead corpses of two children, carefully tucked into their perfectly made little beds. Their small skulls lay upon their pillows, grinning horribly up at the ceiling.

One looked like it might have been about 8 years old, the other somewhat smaller. I had seen a lot of dead people when the virus hit, but these somehow struck me as more horrible. It looked like someone had lovingly tucked them in and read them one last bedtime story before they drifted off into permanent slumber.

I continued my limping exploration and found the rest of the family, dad and mom, in the next bedroom. Dad looked much like the children, tucked in under the covers, head on the pillow, face staring at the ceiling.

Mom was another matter. She was draped askew, across the other side of the bed, on top of the blankets, a handgun still tangled around her finger bones and a big jagged hole blown in her head, long congealed blood spattered in a grisly halo across the pillow.

Then I spotted the dog, a small desiccated corgi from its size and markings, in the corner next to an overstuffed chair. He lay as if napping except there was a hole in his head too.

The mother had watched her whole family die. Tucked them in, cleaned the house, shot the dog, and killed herself. As awful as it was, I could see the sense in it. What had she to live for? And it would have been cruel to leave the dog amidst its dead family, to soon become dinner for a pack of coyotes.

It was going to be hard traveling with my sprained ankle, for both Burl and me. As gruesomely unnerving as it was to have four dead people in the house, it seemed like it might be a good place to hole up for a bit while my ankle healed. And I could use the rest anyway.

No one had disturbed this house in the years since the family died, tucked as it was away from both river and road, so it should be safe from unsavory travelers. It didn’t hurt that the cupboards still contained a fair amount of dried and canned goods too. There was even a functioning can opener.

I led Burl around to the back of the house where sat a serviceable, if rickety, covered wooden pen that I imagine had been used for goats. I found a scythe in the adjacent shed and cut some of the tall, tender spring grass, putting it into the feed bin inside the pen.

I tried the hand pump, and to my delight, found it still worked, though I had to press the lever hard at first before it loosened up and the water flowed easily. After tossing a couple of buckets of rusted water aside, the faucet finally ran clean. Another luxury — clean, plentiful water for us both.

I returned to the house and shut the bedroom doors, vowing to forget about the corpses for the time being. The day was still young, so I hobbled around dusting the kitchen and living room, wiping down the kitchen counters, table and chairs with a freshly rinsed dish rag.

I wished the electricity still worked so I could vacuum the floors, the couch and overstuffed recliner. Instead, I swept the floor and wiped the couch and recliner down with the damp rag.

Basic cleaning done, I rummaged eagerly in the cupboard, examining the selection of canned and boxed goods for my lunch. Instant mashed potatoes, a large, unopened can of oatmeal, various sizes and shapes of pasta, jars of pasta sauce — marinara and Alfredo — canned beans and a variety of soups lined the shelves.

I chose a can of Amy’s Chili, spicy, because it seemed the most immediately gratifying, and set to work on it with the can opener. I picked a slightly dusty tablespoon from the selection of flatware that sat comfortably in their assigned slots in a drawer, swishing it briefly under the faucet before sitting at the table with my culinary treasure.

I drew the chili from the spoon into my mouth a little at a time, savoring each bite and the sharp smell of red chile and tomatoes. The red beans were firm but tender. Perfect. Even cold, it was the best thing I had eaten in a very long time, as well as the most I had eaten in one sitting since I left the compound.

I sat immobile in a satisfied, plump-bellied stupor for several minutes, feeling dizzy from the nutrients and calories rushing through my veins. I rinsed the can in the sink and deposited it with a thud into the big blue bin labeled Recycle, as if there was still a recycling center to take it to.

Hobbling over to the couch, I curled up atop its incredibly soft cushions for a long nap, listening to the rhythmic flap-flap sound of the screen door against the door frame and enjoying the soft swishing of the cedar-scented breeze as it flowed through and around the house.

I awoke just before dusk, disoriented. For a few seconds, I couldn’t remember where I was. I even had a moment before I opened my eyes when I thought I was at home before the virus. I used to take naps on the living room couch a lot. I stretched my leaden limbs, shaking my head to clear the fog. My ankle twinged, reminding me of my injury.

I shuffled out the front door and made my way around to the back of the house from the outside, not wanting to walk down the hall by the bedrooms to the back door. Burl napped contentedly in his pen. I cut more grass for him and topped off his water, the cool sturdy metal pump handle in my hand, watching the clear clean liquid pour in a gush into the galvanized steel trough below.

The sun glowed low on the horizon; the breeze had slowed since mid-day. The rustling new leaves on the hunched cottonwoods sounded like the excited whispers of children at a slumber party when they’re supposed to be asleep.

For the first time since I had left, I gave myself permission to just rest. It was going to be awfully hard to make much progress with my sprained ankle, and it wasn’t really fair to Burl to have him carry me for the days it would take to heal. Plus, being in the open while injured made us both more vulnerable, so I decided we were going to take a little respite from our journey.

We had come at least halfway, so I felt optimistic that we would get to Grandma Sita’s house soon enough, no matter what.

Burl and I spent the next week or so mostly sleeping and eating. Aided by my cane, I led Burl with me around the property as I looked for game and wild edibles, so he wouldn’t descend completely into a slovenly condition while on our vacation, and I could save more of the packaged foods I had found for the rest of our journey.

I discovered a round metal grill in the backyard, which I used to cook the foods that benefited from cooking, fueled by the abundant cottonwood deadwood droppings. I ate hot pasta with the sauce du jour several times, and oatmeal with raisins and nuts I had found still sealed in their cellophane packs.

Except for the Amy’s chili, I saved all the canned goods for my journey, since the cans couldn’t be penetrated by curious rodents along the way.

After 10 days, my ankle had steadied up enough that I could put my full weight on it without pain, though I did continue to favor the other one for a bit. It was time to leave, but there was one more task I had to attend to, as much as I dreaded it. I had managed to forget about the dead people in the bedrooms for the most part, quiet as they were.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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