Halloween: Do NOT read if You Have a Weak Stomach
by Byron Vissaliades
Apologies to Beardsley
If art truly is a mirror of society, then society had become terrifying and hopeless. If art was a window into the soul, then humanity's soul had collectively become dark and somber.
Michael hated art now, because it was a constant reminder of what had become of the world that he once loved so much. When he saw it, it was on the front pages of discarded newspapers below screaming bold print; or scrawled on the walls by those that were desperate to be remembered before their inevitable, and generally impending, deaths; or, as in this case, in a child's drawing left behind in a hastily-abandoned home.
He had found the untidy pile in what appeared to have once been the room of a young boy. Everything had been left intact- even his bed was unmade—although there was nothing of value that he could have taken back to the compound. The pictures were in what appeared to be chronological order, and drawn over a period of months based on Michael's recollection of events.
The first picture, the one on the top, was a happy nuclear family - a dad, a mom holding a young baby, the apparent artist between the two, and a few pets at their feet. They were all smiling, even the sun and the pets. Further down in the same pile, no one was smiling and the baby was missing; the father, in particular, appeared to be angry. Further, still, the mom was nailing boards over the window, while the father stood awkwardly on the front porch. The final image in the series was simply an angry scrawl in black and red.
Michael sighed and slipped only the first image into his pack. There was no real use for such a thing, but he had developed a habit of saving certain sentimental items that he felt needed to be remembered. He made is through the rest of the house, looking for anything that could benefit the growing community back at what he had come to call home. He was walking through the narrow hallway when he heard it.
He froze, straining his ears for the sound. The house was silent, although he was sure he had heard something. He started moving again, but froze when he once again heard it.
He stopped again, his heartbeat thundering in his ears. He forced his breath to slow and listened. He could hear it, now, the unmistakable sound of movement from the other side of the wall, tracking his progress through that part of the home. He tried to remember the layout from the outside; on the other side of the wall was the windowless garage - the only place that he hadn't checked. The only place that he really needed to.
Michael followed the wall into the kitchen, where the door to the garage was closed but unlocked. He pressed his ear to it and heard the subtle movements within.
"There's only one, I think," he thought to himself. He had been doing that increasingly often as he spent more time alone and less among living humans. "It doesn't sound too active, you should be able to take it out pretty easily."
"Why risk it? Move on," came his internal reply.
"You know why; you've already picked the other houses clean, and the folks back home need fuel before it gets dark. It's too damn cold to let the generators run dry again."
He could offer himself no reply, and grabbed the doorknob with his left hand while clutching the large claw hammer in his right. The slight sound that he had made caused the creature inside to grow frenzied, and he knew that he had to act before he lost his nerve. He took a steeling breath and flung the door open, spilling light inside.
It was a child that approached him- seemingly the one from the drawings. At least, he was a child once; now he was a violent creature, with no more humanity than the woman's body that lay perversely in the middle of the garage floor behind him. He...it... growled and broke into a frenzied shuffle, desperate to reach Michael.
Michael watched his approach with sad eyes; he was the same age as his own son, who had died when the panic first began. The same color hair… the same build. "I'm sorry," he whispered when the child finally reached the low step into the kitchen.
He stood there for a moment, still pathetically reaching out, before he fell into a heap on the ground, convulsed once, and was still.
Michael cried when he threw the match onto the bodies, watching as the fuel caught and quickly consumed them. On some level, he regretted using even a small amount of the precious fuel that he had been able to syphon from the gas tank, but felt that the boy and his mother deserved something resembling a funeral service, even if it was only a stranger that could honor them.
He hoped that, when the time came, someone would do the same for him.