It was a like a day from before. Y’know, before. Clouds moved past the sun but didn’t linger too long. Spring was breaking into summer and it was warm as we lay on the mountain side, pleasant like. Nostalgia wasn’t welcome, mind. Blondie was on her front tying flowers together into a little wreath for her hair. Times like that before would’ve been spent with a picnic, with food and drinks picked in fields by people’s whose name you’d never know, faces you’d never see nor hands greet. They’d go into boxes and on into vans and lorries then containers and through factories and further still planes or ships then back into vans and lorries and into people’s hands again then placed on shelves and would wait for you packaged up all nice. The whole process would take a couple days max. We all lived like kings for so long. Eating and fucking without a care in the world.
Now the days went past uncounted and seasons and years were the only measurement. It had been like that for a time, and while you might’ve gained a better idea around the equinoxes you couldn’t keep count for long. Blondie’s hair had got blonder in the sun but not quite to the roots and it looked nice. Reminded me of before, again. Something like peace had settled on me and the memories and day dreams came thick and fast. Unusual for me. Right then, it was how we met; the first time I saw her, caught her accent, her laugh. We were at work and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her and I didn’t want to. Wasn’t the only one gawping either but the rest had about as much charm as second hand toilet paper and somehow it was all mutual. Wasn’t long before I travelled to see her and her me and back again. It was some distance, four hundred miles so it wasn’t every week but I tried for at least every month. But that didn’t go on long like that until the day I went to get her. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I did get her but off I went. It was all I could do, everything spiralled the fuck out at once.
The train stopped outside the city. Between stops fire and chaos had taken root. Could’ve been the best idea the driver had in his life. How do you get through a riot in the city when the city is the riot? I was sure there’d be no connecting train. Sometimes the only way is through so through I went with floods at my back and smoke at my front. Had some clothes and some keepsakes and not too many knives. Somehow I got through the city, found myself on a motorcycle and followed the rail tracks to the town beyond. By nightfall the economy had collapsed and a red, curdled moon drifted overhead. I was covered in blood and dirt but I got there less a knife or two. Didn’t know what I was really gonna do next. Phone reception had gone. Got to her street and just shouted her name a bunch. She picked me up off my knees and I lost a few days and some blood.
Life got different then, different to before. So much was undone. So much more happened. Once the memories took a turn it was tough to feel any warmth, even on a day like that; ‘till I looked up and saw my children. Lana was the eldest and was fighting Edward each with little wooden swords and each giving as good as they got. The two youngest, Isobel and Hope watched on while each clutched a cheeping chick. Our mutt Max circled and barked excitedly, more wolf than dog and no less family. Blondie rolled closer to me and stopped then looked at the children, let out a sigh. Relaxed maybe. She’d finished the wreath and put it in her hair. Hers was the last one to complete. They all looked clean at the minute save a few stains. Recently found clothes for them in a house I’d cleared out. Occupants were all long dead but least they’d all gone down in a struggle so it looked. Was a good stash of clothes for both us and the kids, few tools worth having from the garage. Nothing to eat of course.
She put the wreath on and gave me one of her looks from under her hair that only she could manage and sent my guts a little crazy. I was probably gonna get lucky later. She got up and sat behind the little ones, rested a hand on each and watched the sword play. I laid back a little longer and smelled the grass. Watched the clouds pass some more and thought back to the first time she fell pregnant. She pissed and swore at me and kicked and punched at me and the cabin and I let her do it all, let her get it out. I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect either. I had no idea how we would cope and we only had ourselves to blame. What right did we have to hold back life anyway? We had no idea how to abort. How could we when so many had died? We had no idea how many of us were even left. Who was destined to be Lana was growing inside her and she could’ve been the last of the human race to be born for all we knew. It was scary enough to the point of nausea but once we came to terms with it we took advantage and fucked like rabbits for as long as we could and then prepared, much as we were able. Blondie swore and cursed me worse at the first birth. Edward and Isobel weren’t half as bad but Hope was trouble, but here she is and hence the name. Blondie fell sick for a lot of the pregnancy which left me to look after her and three children. It was a tough year and a winter birth but it all became past. No more kids since, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t the apple of my eye. Four children when the world has gone to shit and ended and the love of a good woman to top it off. Could say it made things easier and harder but you take what you’re given. You can piss and shit over it or you can revel and strive in it. Choice is yours.
Dog gave it away first though. He sat down to have a good stare, squint, see what were coming. His fur bristled and he growled a low note that had everyone stop what they were doing and turn round. Five of ‘em I counted, all in black. One with a spear, one with an axe maybe, the others had what looked like giant bug catching nets. The stories we’d heard about the catchers were real. Definitely didn’t look too friendly. They started to spread out into a line. Shit. The family gathered behind me. Max was on all fours teeth bared. Must’ve been the smell of blood in the air. Blondie came up beside me but I pushed her back.
“Go.” I said.
“No.” She replied.
“Go. Take the kids. Run.”
“We’re not going without you,”
“Go now or not at all.” Said it through gritted teeth. “There’s no time. Take Max and go back to the cabin then get what you need and go. I’ll hold ‘em off.”
I’d never drawn my weapons in front of my children with the intention of doing violence before. Lana and Edward were wide eyed in terror but Isobel and Hope weren’t really sure what was happening. Blondie picked up Hope while the colour drained from her face. I walked forward and kissed her cheek then took a step back. It’s not often you look at your family assembled together and think that it might be the last time you see them. Know, even. All my girls with flowers in their hair, my son and the dog. My fucking legacy. The future.
“Go. Fucking Go!” I hissed, just to make sure they’re all moving in the right direction, then I turned.
Adrenalin was like a puddle of acid in the bottom of my stomach. I set off running as fast as I could, wouldn’t even be able to tell you what I screamed as I carried on down the mountain at ‘em. Sooner I got there the more time my family had, the family I’d protected for so many years after the end of the fucking world. My family.
Two tried to pull left while the others began to converge on me. Spear pointed out ready for me and axe held high. They were running too now. All I could hear was footsteps, my own ragged breathing, then Max bounding beside and ahead. You stupid dog. He went for the one with the axe. I went at the spear guy. Feigned what direction I was going then slid past the tip of the spear, jumped then put both feet into his chest, reached forward with both knifes into his neck. Rolled ass over elbow as I landed, lost a knife. Max planted his teeth right in the axe guy’s jugular. Didn’t stand a chance. Growled as his teeth ripped and tore flesh, blood sprayed his snout and his eyes. Even a dog can get blindsided. There was an awful popping sound as the knife went into Max’s ribs, then a yelp. Third guy stuck him again then loosened his grip on what was left of the axe guy’s neck. I dragged myself up, winded, but by the time I was up the third guy had stuck him again and was twisting the knife while the dog screamed on the floor and shook, powerless.
Knife guy came at me and we circled. The dog cried on the floor. Sun and sweat and blood in my eyes stung as I tried to squint up the hillside. Couldn’t see wife or the kids but could see the other two catchers, coming back around for me now instead. Knew I’d got to finish it quick before they got back down the hillside. Slashed once more so the guy bounded back hard then quickly across, kept him off foot while I reached for another knife. Let him come in close, span out the thrust. Brought one knife into his side then the other along the back of his neck. Went down limp. Other two were running.
Hoped they were scared.
They got to me sooner than anticipated, kept me penned in. One slashed a machete, the other some kind of knife with a fancy spiked hilt. I threw a knife at the machete guy, sunk deep into his thigh and got me a scream, then turned for the fancy knife guy. Used my empty hand to try grabbing that hilt round his knuckles, stopped him slashing down, sent the knife in my other hand up into his jaw, threw him down, then turned and the spear went in my gut.
I thought I’d done it for a split second. But there was the final guy braced on a knee, other leg limp complete with knife. There was me with wood bursting through my guts, pointy bit somewhere behind me. Blood splashed on the floor. The guy grimaced and screamed then pushed. Rose up a bit and stuck me further through, felt like an apple getting cored. Guy was an idiot though, got too close to me, I put a knife in his eye. He let go of the spear to tried and stop me but it was too late. His hands just pawed at mine then froze, twitched a little.
I dropped to my knees, spear halfway through me. Couldn’t really find the energy to move it and just stayed holding it, numb. Called out to Max. Got a whine that trailed off, one last shake of his tale and he’d gone. My eyes got tired. Felt like they were gonna roll back in my head. Everything got hangover bright. Cold.
Someone shouted me. Blondie. Eyes focused. Felt like I was out of coma, deep sleep. There she was with a halo of flowers in her hair. Screaming maybe. Hands on my face. Hair so beautiful in all that light. Corners of her mouth down turned. Tears. Sorry I did that to you. Sorry for everything. Oh my love, I’m Sorry.