Her name was Anna.
After Dexi had gotten the small child back to Ward’s, Angel and Chelsea slipped into maternal mode and immediately heated bottled water on the stove, while Raymondo heated a can of chicken soup for the obviously malnourished child.
The horrid images would not leave Dexi’s mind, flashing again every time she closed her eyes to blink. She was white as a ghost, even beyond her usual pale, and shaking like a leaf. What she had witnessed in that room was inconceivable to most, even her own twisted nightmares. The old man had the N.E.C.R.O. and Dexi had never really seen its full ravages on anyone before this. Nor had she ever really seen cannibalism, and she thought perhaps that is how they had been sustaining themselves in that dark and smelly little apartment. A sick, aging madman and his caged children, eating the flesh of thy mother, disease-ridden and surrounded by the flood of sewer worm filth.
A paralyzing thought occurred to Dexi: Is this what the hell was going on out there, down below?
“Yo yo!” came the all too jovial and familiar entrance call of Chas. He reeked of smoked cocaine, dirty hooker and man-cum. “Just like the good ol days...I feel GREAT.” Through his buzz he could feel the odd vibe in the room, and through those hazy, half-slit eyes with the huge pupils, could see the dour and stressed-out looks on everyone's faces. “What’d I miss, what happened?” He was standing there, still smiling like an ass.
Ward came right out with it. “We have a new roommate, Chas.”
With that same dumb-ass, open mouth, high looking smirk on his face, he asked, “Is she hot?”
“She’s ten, Chas.”
“Huh?” The smirk seemed to slowly shift into lip-biting contempt. “Oh. Huh?”
“Her parents died. It’s a long story. Nevertheless, she is going to be living with us.”
“Well, where’d she come from?” His tone was increasing in decibels.
“It’s the little girl from down the hall...”
“WHAT? THE CRIER?” The drugged anger was all too visible in Chas’ dark brown eyes. “ABSOLUTELY NOT! We don’t have the room or the supplies...”
“Well buddy it is NOT your call. Wish I could say that I’m sorry, but I’m not. It is MY place, man, world up my ass or not. Now drop it, go enjoy your high.” Ward turned back to Dexi, who was sitting there, obviously doing the mental slow burn over Chas’ drugged selfishness.
She reached into her pocket and threw the last of her stash at Chas. “Here, asshole. Take mine. I’m done.”
Chas stood looking at both of them with disgust. “She gets NONE of my portion of the food. Leave it to the faggot and the bimbo to try and make it a family friendly apocalypse.”
In a garbled, frothing, profane rage Dexi stood up and began to madly wield her knife at Chas. Ward immediately gripped her up in a bear hug until she dropped the knife and went limp in his arms. She did manage to look directly into Chas’ face and spit into it like it was an Olympic archery bull’s-eye target. And she hit that target dead center.
He laughed. “Last time you did that it was right after you sucked me off, remember, skank?” He then wiped her venom from his bristly face and stormed into his bedroom, followed by a slam of the door and the turn of a lock.
Dexi began to release heaving sobs of her pain, her terror, and her pent up frustration as Ward slowly released his grip. She fell onto Raymondo’s scrungey, shirted chest and wept in heaving sobs of silent violence.
When Anna was finally scrubbed clean, she sat at the table and wolfed own the hot chicken and stars soup with a row of saltine crackers. Everyone but Chas sat around her, watching her with an almost sorrowful curiosity. But as she ate, the shock did seem to be wearing off, and she began telling her story.
Anna had lived with her father, mother, older sister, and the family dog. By the time of the final shuddering death rattle of the world economy, her father had already been out of work for over a year. There was no government assistance. Only going out into the riots and the protests, and the police state of martial law. It was a time of regret, resentment and despair for all. Thousands were committing suicide, or killing their families, then committing suicide. Or just plain going berserk. Stores were looted, cars crashed, gas stations and government offices blown up. Everything was gone. Everyone was gone. Just too much stress.
Every breakdown was unique. Eight billion unique breakdowns worldwide.
Anna’s father had lost it in his own unique way. The stress, boredom, hunger and poverty had pushed him to begin drinking quite heavily, and in no short time, he developed an intense fear of leaving the apartment. So on his last time out, during one of the uglier riots, he overstocked on supplies.
He kept himself and his family hostage in that awful little airless apartment, with its sealed windows, foul-smelling plumbing, and fear.
Paranoia became dementia, and when his wife had caught a cold, that initial sniffle, that first sneeze while complaining and in severe pain over a sinus migraine, drove dear old Dad to poison Mom in order to save himself and his little girls.
As Mom lay on the floor, gasping for air and clutching her throat, just after a bowl of strychnine porridge, dad stood over her and apologized in drunken tears and blubbering.
Anna and her sister Betsy had tried to make a run for the door, but good old Dad was too quick. He grabbed both girls and put them into the large dog cage. He told them it was for their own good, that here they would not get sick, mauled by rats, or consumed by plants. He was keeping them safe from madness and worms and brain fungus.
It all sounded so strange, so scary.
The dog, a large German Shepherd, had always been very protective of the two girls, and began to ferociously attack dear old Dad amidst all the other chaos, after witnessing him manhandle the children into the cage.
But Dad fought back in drunken confusion, snapping the dog's neck. Killing the beast just as he had killed their mother...right before their eyes.
He had spent the next week trying to feed the dead, boiled dog to the traumatized children. He said the dog was mad with N.E.C.R.O, that he had to kill it. And that boiling the meat was the only way to make it safe. That it was the only food they had. That it was necessary to kill the government toxins that microscopically embedded themselves into the life-being of every living thing.
Then he would make sweet love to his dead blue wife, her corpse filled with death-bloat gasses and stink. He said it was because he still loved her, and would repeat this cycle several times a day right before his daughters, telling them “See, I still love her.”
That was when the girls stopped eating.
When all the bullion cubes and canned potatoes and dog meat was gone, Dad began to carve up Mom. He would carve her up while weeping drunk, maniacally. While making love to her. He would then sit there and cry, while chewing on her jerky-rot in post-coital madness.
He tried to make the girls eat their mother. They chose instead to waste away. Starvation and malnutrition eventually killed Betsy. After that, Dad dragged Betsy out of the cage, and began to call her Henrietta, his dead wife’s name. He would dress her up like Henrietta and charge her still corpse with Henrietta’s duties.
One time, Dad had left Anna there alone, saying he was going for a trip, round the world, to Samoa. Betsy was going to watch over her, and he sat the girl's corpse in the grungy old leather recliner, facing Anna in the cage. The corpse just stared in fetid silence while Dad left the apartment, went away for hours. “I’ll see you when I get back from Samoa.”
He came back from his trip the next morning, even stranger. He began to shout garbled gibberish often, and began to complain about an itchy brain...
Wracked with guilt, Dexi went over and took Anna into her arms, hugging and holding the poor, malnourished child tightly. “You’re in a safe place now, Anna. And I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Tomorrow: LIGHTS OUT