How It Ends

I’m not sure what this is.

It’s dark. It’s about feeling trapped. Feeling hopeless, even.

Which is ironic. I’ve felt this way, even recently, but I don’t feel particularly down or hopeless today. On the contrary, today has been a good day. Maybe that’s what made it so easy to tap into these feelings and sensations. They’re fresh, but not present.

Fiction’s funny that way.

If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, keep looking. This isn’t it. But if you’re down for something bleak, read on.

how it ends

She asked me how it ends.

“It don’t end,” I told her. “Not now. Not never.”

She looked at me like I was speakin’ gibberish. Like my words didn’t amount to no more than the moanin’ we hear at night sometimes.

She’s pacin’ the cabin, her boots fallin’ heavy on the wood floor. I want to tell her to sit still, to be quiet, but I’ve felt the same way. Restless. It’s hard knowin’ nothin’s ever gonna be the way you think it should be, no matter how hard you work to make it so.

I spent weeks pacin’, just like her. I’d eat dinner, whatever food I could find, then clean my gun til it was spotless, even if I hadn’t fired it that day, and then I’d pace. I swear I thought I’d wear a groove in the floor, pacin’ by candle light, the doors barred, the windows closed, and all the wild world just beyond the thin walls of this shack.

That’s all it is, the cabin. A shack. If them things had the sense God gave a mule, they’d go at the door hard and that would be it. I’d take out a few, and then they’d take me out.

But they can’t think. Sometimes I almost wish they could.

What kinda life is this, hiding every night, hoping I sealed us up tight enough to keep our scent in and them things out? During daylight, we scavenge, hoofin’ it into the city to try to track down canned food or anything else that hasn’t already gone bad. Once in a while I come across a squirrel or rabbit, and then we get meat. If I can snag it with an arrow. If I use the gun, ain’t nothing left fit to eat.

I’m sick of beans and corn. I would kill for a burger. Some fries. Maybe a shake. Hell, I doubt there’s a living cow within 100 miles.

I doubt there’s another living person.

Just me and her. She found me, bangin’ on the door one night just before sunset while I was lockin’ up. Scared the bejeezus outta me. I almost had to change my pants.

I opened the door just enough to shoot her, but she had the good sense to talk. Them others can’t. She told me she was alone, just lookin’ for a place for the night. I opened up, and there she stood.

She wasn’t wearin’ no more than rags, barely coverin’ her bits. Her skin was dirty and her hair was a rat’s nest. She smelled, too, but she was still the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. Before all the craziness, no one like her woulda talked to someone like me.

She eyed me for a bit, scared I suppose. I ain’t nothin’ to look at even when I’m all gussied up, and I hadn’t had a shower nor bath in weeks.

I told her to come in or go, I didn’t care. She looked at my gun, and I shrugged.

“Ain’t nothing to me,” I said. “In or out.”

She came in.

We didn’t talk much the first week. She’d say she was gonna leave the next day. Every damn night she said that, but then mornin’ would come and she’d go into town with me. We found her some clothes and some food. That seemed enough.

She didn’t want no company in the female way, that’s for sure. Not that I tried. I’m not some animal. I could just tell by the way she looked at me.

Then one night, she told me about her family. How she lost ‘em, fire in her voice and tears in her eyes. She lost everything, like me, and she didn’t have nowhere to go. Since then, she doesn’t talk about leavin’. Until tonight, she didn’t talk about anything, really.

Now she wants to know what we can do to fix it.

“Some things can’t be fixed,” I told her. She shook her head. She thinks there’s some way to live through this, and I can’t bring myself to tell her the truth.

There ain’t.

What we got here is a rigged chess match. We only got a couple of pieces on our side of the board. Not even the good ones. Maybe a knight and a bishop. The other side ain’t got nothin’ but pawns, but there’s a ton of ‘em. It don’t really matter what we do. We ain’t never gonna get all of them before they get us.

I know how this game ends.

But she don’t, and I can’t bring myself to tell her, makin’ her cry again. It kills me to see her cry, and I don’t even know why. Maybe it’s just seein’ a real person do real person things. I don’t know.

So I danced around it, hemmin’ and hawin’, trying to keep from crushin’ her hopes or boostin’ them, either one. And now she’s pacin’ with her heavy feet—boom, boom, boom, boom.

Until we hear somethin’ at the door. Someone wants in.

“Who is it?” I yell, but the answer ain’t in words. It’s one of them. They found us. Before long, I can hear more.

They start pounding and the door creaks, so I grab my gun. She takes the bow. I look at her, the only person in the world I know any more. I don’t even know her name.

“This,” I say. “This is how it ends.”

Then the door gives way.