I couldn't really say what small sound woke me. I was disoriented and unsure where I was at first. Then a grunt hit my eardrum, and a the slight sound of lips smacking followed. A shift as Parker nestled against me, his body turned so that his leg was between my own and the top of his thigh was pushing gently against my nuts. His nearly flaccid penis pressed wetly against my hip and a trace of wetness was slowly crossing from my pec to the center of my chest.
My bladder was aching. I reached up and touched the damp spot on my chest and realized, with vague amusement, that Parker was drooling on me. Oh, I am so going to bust his balls for that! My bladder was going to force me to move, and soon, but for the nonce I stretched slightly, enjoying my body shifting against Parker's and the absence of blankets; we must have pushed them off us in the night. I moved my arm from his back up to his hair and began to gently stroke the soft strands. The peace that had descended on me the night before was still with me, magnified by the intimacy of this quiet moment with, quite possibly, the greatest boy on the planet; certainly the best friend anyone anywhere had ever had.
So deep was my stupor, lying in bed with Parker, that my mind didn't register the sound of my door opening. Perhaps out of reflex my head tilted toward the sound before my mind consciously identified it. Initially I'd say the look on my father's face was comical. His mouth was open slightly as if he were planning to speak and his gears had simply ground to a halt. As his eyes began to bulge, almost in slow motion, I became more awake and more aware of my position, with Parker sleeping on me.
"What the fuck..." my father growled, his voice building to a frightening snarl, one that promised danger.
"Dad!" I said and sat up, shedding Parker's sleeping, yet now stirring, form. I struggled forward toward the foot of the bed, placing myself between Parker and my father as the former's face filled with violent thunderheads.
"What's going on?" Parker muttered behind me as I gained my feet and stood in front of my father, feeling small and vulnerable.
His eyes were narrowed and his breathing short. His hands were clenching into tight fists and then unclenching slowly, as if it were a terrifying an exercise to keep them from acting of their own, violent, accord.
With great fear building in my chest I looked over my shoulder to see Parker taking in the scene before him, sleepiness having dropped from his face.
"Parks, I think you better go home, now," I said in a wavering voice.
Parker's mouth tightened as he pressed his lips together. His eyes darted from my father to me and he asked, "Are you sure?"
I nodded, intent on getting him safely out of the house while my father was still standing still and not yet exploding. He shifted off the bed and grabbed his jeans and slipped into them and then grabbed his tee shirt. Pushing his feet into his shoes he grabbed his bag and his board and, with a glance at my father, he looked at me.
"Call me." Then he was gone.
The tense scene with my father held until the sound of the front door hit our ears, then all my father's control snapped.
"What the fuck was that?" he screamed.
I stayed silent, not sure what would provoke him more: an actual explanation, a fictional explanation or my silence. Apparently none of them was likely a good answer as he began to growl, snarl and yell about broken trust and what a failure and disappointment I was and he wondered aloud how I was to face my mother. His verbal jabs were hitting me in places I didn't know could hurt and my self worth began to spiral down a black, endless drain. It just went on and on.
"Get dressed," he finally said. I was unable to move, my eyes heavy with unshed tears and my heart broken as my distant father, whom I thought loved me, stood before me and stripped away my illusions. He ripped away the comfortable idea of his love and shredded my sense of self. My limbs felt heavy and I longed to go to Parker, to feel worth something.
"I said cover up, God damn you!" he screamed and then, making my blood run cold, rested his hand on the butt of his ever-present handgun. In a fit of pure, unadulterated fear, I began to cry and my overtaxed bladder unleashed a torrent. My father cursed loudly and struck me across my face, spinning me back toward the bed.
"Clean up and be dressed and in the living room in five or so help me..." He let the threat dangle as he stalked from the room, slamming the door behind him.
I shook. I couldn't stop. Yet, I knew I couldn't stay as I was. If I didn't clean up, it would only get worse. I pushed myself up on rubbery arms and gingerly stepped around the wet carpeting to my dresser. I pulled out clothes for the day and bundled them so I could take them all with me to the bathroom. Perhaps if I hurried, it would work in my favor.
As I turned to leave my eye was drawn to the bed. The covers were pushed, mostly, to one side and as a consequence the end of the bed, to the right, was exposed. Puddled by the leg of the bed frame was a small bit of cloth. Parker's underwear. My chest emptied of air and a great, hollow feeling made me feel as though my chest would implode, breaking my heart and soul with it. I held back a sob, pulled my phone from the top of the dresser and headed to the bathroom.
I wet a washcloth in hot water and wiped down quickly. I finished emptying my bladder and brushed my teeth before dressing. I looked into the mirror and couldn't find the boy that had looked back at me in the wee hours of that very morning. Breaking away from my reflection I walked to the living room on unsteady legs. My father sat in a chair, on the edge of the seat, his eyes locked on the doorway I emerged from. With startling speed, he stood and glared at me.
"We need a weekend away, I think," he said, his voice slightly unsteady.
Shit. My heart sank as I realized he was planning to isolate me with his survivalist buddies. A bright streak of fear lanced through me as I also realized that I might not be coming back. After all, he'd never come close to threatening me with his gun, but when he'd placed his hand on the butt...
He did so, now. His hand twitching on the grip. "I said, let's go, Shane."
With a feeling of dread, I walked on legs that shook with fear to the front door and out to his truck. There was no wind, no sounds of insects or birds to accompany me on the longest walk of my life. He climbed into the driver's seat and started the long drive out to the compound. He was rigid in his seat and the cab was silent; even the ever present radio was turned off. I looked out of the window and my feeling of dread shifted into one of resigned fate. I wasn't getting out of this, but even if I'd known it would end this way, I'm not at all sure I'd have traded away the feeling of utter peace and belonging Parker had given to me.
As the truck bounced through the arid countryside, I searched for that peace and worked to hold it close, to envelop myself in it like a shield. Within a few minutes I felt cocooned, memories of being embraced and valued, loved, defending me from the waters of despair that lapped just outside my defensive bubble.
My feeling of dread only increased as my father headed to higher elevation, taking roads I hadn't seen before. This wasn't the way to the compound so where was he taking me? A violent chill rushed through me as the thought occurred: someplace my body wouldn't be found. We drove for more than two hours in complete silence. Every argument I could make died on my lips as I'd turn and see his face set as if in stone. I did screw up the courage once and he told me to shut up. In fear I tried again and he hit me with the back of his hand, so hard and so fast it didn't hurt right away. After that, I stayed silent. I was confused when my father pulled the truck over on the side of the dusty road. There were no buildings, no compounds...and no witnesses. He threw the truck into park and yanked the keys from the ignition. With a scant tip of his head in my direction he ordered me to get out. He turned to climb out of his door and as I opened the door I slipped my cell out. It had no signal, which wasn't a surprise. The slamming of his door made me jerk in surprise and my phone tumbled from my hands and to the floor of the cab. My father yanked me from the doorway and slammed the door shut.
So, this was it, then. As my feet hit the dirt I squashed a fat tear that welled up and I forced my mind to think of all the strength Parker had shown me we both possessed in these last several weeks. I was stronger than I'd known I could be and I used that to stiffen my spine and leash my fear.
"Let's go," my father said and started walking off into the scrub brush and dusty wasteland of this depressing area. I fell in beside him, refusing to cry, refusing to be cowed. My fear that he was taking me out to kill me grew with each step, and I fought to keep it down, to keep hold of the precious gifts of my best friend while I shivered in the cool air at this altitude.
We walked for several minutes before my father came to a stop at the top of a chasm. Below us was a ravine, or a huge ditch - I'm not sure what you'd call it. It was at least fifteen or twenty feet deep and half again as wide. At the bottom was a trickle of water, slowly meandering along the floor. With a sudden lurch my father threw the keys to the truck out into the air, where they sparkled in the cold sunlight before dropping out of sight, deep into the hole in the earth.
He unholstered his sidearm and pointed the barrel down.
"Shane. Take your clothes off."
At this unexpected demand my mind reeled with confusion. I thought he was going to kill me, but what did that have to do with my clothes. He racked the gun and, with trembling fingers, I pulled on the hem of my shirt, pulled it over my head and held it in my hand while the cold wind picked up and stole the heat from my core. I felt a little stupid since I hadn't dressed for coming up here, but then I'd thought I'd go to the compound.
"Toss it," he said, pointing the barrel toward the fissure. I licked my lips and tossed the shirt where it floated down and out of sight.
"Keep going," he said.
I pulled off each garment and, with a point of his barrel, threw them over the side until I was standing in my bare feet without a stitch on me, shivering in the mountain air.
He took in a great heaving breath and looked out into the distance. Were I not so cold, so miserable and now losing the fight against my fear then my father might have made for a classic photograph. His hair moving in the wind and staring off at the landscape. As it was I began to hate him as my body temperature began to drop and my toes began to feel less like flesh and more like ice.
"I can't blame you for what you are. I kept thinking that the whole way out here. I was trying to think of a way out of all this," he said softly, his words nearly lost in the air. He turned his gaze to me and continued, "There isn't, though. The Collapse is coming; you know this."
I resisted the urge to say I knew no such thing and focused on trying to stop my teeth from chattering.
"For us to rebuild into a better, freer world we need people to survive. We need to reproduce. In the places that survive after the Collapse, the pockets of humanity that are leftover... they won't have you, Shane. You can't increase their numbers and you hate guns and your survival skills are non-existent. All the things I've tried to teach you... things you'd need you just don't believe in.
"It wont' matter when it happens, though. There won't be any place in a rebuilding world for you. So, you'll be easy prey. I have to do something. I have to spare you that future, that emptiness."
My lips twitched but I stilled them, words aborted before they could leave my mouth. My mind screamed with all the arguments I'd had with him in my mind, the many challenges I'd made to his assertions. Cynically there are too many people making too much money for things to just collapse, unless it worked to someone's advantage. That leaves out the good people who are actually working for everyone's benefit. Things are far more complex than his one, simple worldview - and it struck me, then, that my father was one of the people Parker would have no use for. A man who had a single-minded ideology that all government was bad and sought to control him. What could I say to his charges? This was his worldview and his questionable facts. I can't argue against blind faith like his anymore than I could that of Ake or any other true believer.
He sighed and said, "As much as I know it'd be a mercy, as much as I know it's what I have to do...I can't bring myself to shoot you down, boy." He lifted his gaze to meet mine and said, "Maybe, in the end, that makes me no better. I'm not strong enough to make this end quickly. I can't bear to see you...dead." He paused and my skin crawled with his words lingering, my fear made true that he was going to kill me. He continued in an almost philosophical tone. "Exposure won't take but a few days. It'll be like going to sleep, Shane. Forgive me for not being able to make it quick, but I'm just a man and weaker than I thought."
With a lightning quick move, he brought his gun up to his temple, grimaced, and a crack of thunder hit my ears. My senses were assaulted by the sound of the shot, the sight of the gore of his mortal wound, and the scent of his bowels letting go. I couldn't stop the sudden emptying of my own stomach as I turned from the wreckage of my father's body.
I stumbled a few feet away and fell to my hands and knees, retching my guts out as the scene played over and over in my head. The sound, the smell, the gore. My stomach clenched again and I spit to get the taste from my mouth, but like the image in my mind, it lingered.
I stood, slowly, and though I didn't want to, I looked to his body and shivered from either the cold or the scene before me, I'll never know which. It felt too strange for it to be real. A fine spray of blood was all that remained. I moved toward the edge on unsteady feet and peered over the side. At the bottom I could see small splotches of color that indicated where some of my articles of clothing had landed. Partway down, snagged on a thick, jutting root was one of my socks and the lifeless remains of my father. I covered my mouth in horror and turned my eyes away.
I'm not sure how long I stood there, looking away from from the edge. Little things began to seep into my stupor: my ankle aching with my weight, a chill settling deep in my bones, the cold wind chafing my bare skin and the faint smell of shit. I peered back over the side to see if it were possible to get any of my clothes, but could see no passable way down. My father's corpse was unobtainable and thus so were his shit-filled pants and bloodied shirt.
I had to move. I had to get out of the cold and wind. Thirst began to bother me and I turned, looking around to see if I could spot the truck. In the distance I saw a reflection, perhaps the windshield or a piece of chrome trim. Slowly I ambled toward the winking light, my pace slowed from my sore ankle and the rocks and other hard, sharp bits in the ground that dug into the soles of my feet without remorse. Rocks became like chunks of ice, numbing my feet and making it hard to walk normally. My pace slowed even more as I looked down to pick my way back to the truck.
I licked my lips and heaved a sigh of relief when I reached the truck. I knew my father kept a jug of water and some old granola bars or something in case he got stuck. I squeezed the door handle, but discovered the door was locked.
I whimpered and shifted my feet, my toes tingling with a chilled pain and my soles feeling like they were turning into a solid, cold mass. I thought to break a window, but then realized I may need them later to keep out the wind or if animals came close hunting for easy meat. Right now, that was me. I lamented not having my father's gun, but it was as unobtainable as his stained clothing had been. I shifted on my feet, reminded of my dilemma.
I examined the door as my body shook and I tried to think. No window breaking, so what else could I do besides lie down in the dirt and die like my father had wanted? My eyes drifted over the truck and I felt a wave of hopelessness. Jesus, what would Parks think of me if I just gave up? I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and then another. Slowly I opened them and studied the truck. I had an idea. Casting my gaze about I walked around the truck until I spotted a decent sized rock in the partial shade of the truck. Hefting it I walked to the door and brought the rock down on the door handle.
I swung again and again, cracking the pot metal and plastic as I hammered away on the handle. Small bits of it spun off around me, bouncing off my chest or landing on my feet. Still, I hammered at the handle until it broke free with a clatter, still held on by one screw. Tossing the rock aside I examined the door and pushed my fingers in the hole in the sheet metal where the handle had been. Grabbing the rod for the lock with my fingertips was a chore as feeling in my fingers was more like sensing pressure than traditional feeling. I pulled up, but lost my grip.
Whimpering in discomfort and frustration, feeling lightheaded from the cold and lack of water - I was so thirsty! When had I last had a drink? - not to mention my father's rotting corpse in the nearby ravine, I tried again. And again. And again. At last, with my patience deserting me, the rod moved and the door lock popped up. My eyes widened in shock and I huffed a dry, joyless cheer. Pushing the tab on the handle mechanism, the door opened and I climbed inside the chilly vehicle.
I tilted the seat back forward, finding the water and food stashed where they were always kept. A small, mean voice told me he'd removed them before abandoning me, but he hadn't thought of everything and I gleefully dragged them out and let the seat back crash into place. My glee turned to chagrin as I realized the water jug was only about a quarter full. The top was loose and it must have been evaporating over time was my best guess.
I grabbed the jug and drank deeply, then spluttered and threw up the water, splashing across the edge of the seat and splashing on the floor and against the door. I groaned at the loss of water and at the sudden revolt of my stomach, but sipped a little and waited to see if I could keep it down before getting more. It felt like liquid ice on my lips and they began to grow slightly numb. I leaned back on the seat, glad to be off my sore ankle and my abused feet. I closed my eyes and groaned, feeling utterly hopeless despite the small amount of water and food I now had.
I sipped more water and capped the jug, knowing I'd have to make it last. I set the jug on the floor, but it landed unevenly. I looked down to see my phone under the jug. Picking it up I woke it, dismayed but not surprised that a signal hadn't magically appeared. I pulled a granola bar out and nibbled at it, hungry since I hadn't eaten before we'd left that morning. I pulled up the picture of Parker on my phone, sitting on my bed as he looked to the side, perhaps just then deciding that my curtains would need to be augmented.
I touched my finger to the screen, sliding it past his face and to his shoulder. My heart broke that I'd never see him again. I wanted to tell him about the peace I'd felt, the tranquility he'd given me. I snorted and smiled, thinking how he'd protest the very idea of bringing peace and tranquility to anyone. As I looked at him sitting on my bed, I decided to leave something for him for when the truck was discovered. Someone would plug in my phone and perhaps he'd see.
I opened the text box and selected him from my contacts. I closed my eyes and, with a steadying breath, opened them and began to type.
Parks, I wanted to tell you in person but it looks like my dad isn't going to let that happen. I wanted to tell you what a great guy you are, how much you and your friendship meant to me and that I wish more than anything I could see you one more time, for you to cuddle me through one more night.
What we did, it wasn't a mistake. I'd do it again. My dad is dead. He left me out here to die. I want you to know I was thinking of you and how much I regret not getting to be your best friend for the rest of my life. I hope you find a girl that's worthy of you. I hope you grow up and make a ton of money and have wonderful kids. I hope you find every happiness the world has to offer.
Most of all I want you to know how much I love you. I miss you and I wish you were here right now to tell me it would all be okay, because I'd believe it if you said it. I wish I'd met you sooner. I wish I'd been brave enough to approach you. Life is cruel to have given me a taste of how good things could be and then to rip it away.
Anyway. I love you. Signed...your best friend.
I sighed and hit the send button. Immediately it told me the sending failed, but at least the message wouldn't be lost. I turned the phone off, after indulging in one more long look at his picture, then stowed it safely in the glovebox. The cab was cool, but my body heat was very low and my toes ached with cold. I pulled the cover off the bench seat and wrapped myself in it while rubbing my feet to try and get my circulation going. As I rubbed the small stubs of ice at the end of my feet, my mind drifted.
What came to mind, though, wasn't the comfort of Parker or even the flimsy relationship I had with my mother, but of my father and his final moments. It tangled my thoughts that he'd responded so well to me being in a fight and having a friend. That he'd approved of Parker and pushed me to spend time with him was completely at odds with the man that found me this morning, naked and in the arms of my best friend.
I wanted to say I didn't know who that person was, this morning, but that would be lying to myself. I hated lying and, even now, I had to admit my father's capacity for violence wasn't exactly an unknown to me. However, I also truthfully had never felt endangered by him. I had been frequently annoyed by his tirades and conspiracy theories, but ever since I'd learned to check out his 'facts' I'd come to realize there was something going on with him I didn't understand.
For some reason my mind conjured up the way he looked, the sadness in his face as he told me he didn't have the heart to shoot me to death. I shuddered as I wondered what that sadness had actually meant to him. It seemed that the only thing he was sad about was that he couldn't bring himself to give me a quick death. All because the end of life as we know it was coming and no one would want a guy who loved other guys.
I wondered how many days it would take for my body to be found. I wondered if my father was truthful when he said it would be like going to sleep. I hoped Parker would meet more people to support him and that my loss wouldn't hurt him too badly, though I thought it might hurt at least as much as it hurt me thinking of never seeing him again. I liked the idea that he'd mourn me, but abhorred the idea of him in pain.
Morbidly I wondered what my funeral would be like. Who would be there besides Parker and my mom? Maybe Parker's folks, I guessed. Outside of that, who'd care? I pictured Parker in a suit, looking handsome and having Bo leashed beside him to guide me to the underworld. Perhaps Ake would show up and tell the crowd how I'd not listened to him and was thus damned. Perhaps Angie would show up with Travis and, in whispers next to my corpse, tell me why she seemed to be pushing Travis toward me. Was she just into cruel jokes?
I sipped a little more water and shivered as the cold liquid chilled my core. I wondered about my list, ticking off the names and discarding them until I reached the anomaly of Travis and his odd relationship with his girlfriend. I never would find out what game she was playing, I mused to myself and again thought of her lips moving beside my dead ear in the funeral parlor. I thought of Travis, the little brain as he pushed his glasses up and bit his lip. I wondered if he knew how cute that gesture was? I wondered if it was that look that got Angie's attention, too. Or maybe it was the way his nose turned up a little and was sort of pointed at the end? Was she a nose person? Was there such a thing?
He was so little, and I knew people picked on him. I cursed myself for never having stood up for him. Who knows, we could have been friends. I idly wondered if he'd have cuddled like Parker. I decided that, due to his size, it'd have had to have been me cuddling him. I rolled on my side and groaned in the cold, thinking of holding Travis to me for his body heat. Of running my fingers through his messy hair or of taking his glasses off his little face before kissing him.
It was a nice fantasy, I decided. "If I ever get home," I said to the empty cab, "I'm going to ask Travis out. Fuck the fact he's dating a girl who might kill me in my sleep."
The afternoon passed in a haze and my thoughts were untethered from reality. Images of Parker and his parents flashed by along with my mom, sitting on the couch and coughing as she took a shot of whiskey to help her sleep. Then it was Angie and her sly look and Travis biting his lip. I thought of Bo, barking and wagging and Clint muttering about burning food. The worst, though, was the gunshot. The sound, not of the real thunder of the pistol as it discharged, but the wet splatter that filled my imagination but which I'd not actually heard. The sound of his brains landing out in the cold.
I dozed for a time, but was awakened by wind rushing over the cab and rocking the truck ever so slightly on its old springs. I sat up and opened the door and felt a cool breeze, a harbinger of a rainstorm to come. A fat drop splattered on the metal roof and I sat up and began looking around the cab for empty cans or bottles so I could try and take advantage of the free water. Finding two, I climbed out and yelped as my backside made contact with the cold metal of the truck body. I stepped away, shivering, and quickly looked for places to put the few containers I'd found: an insulated coffee cup and an empty soda can.
The wind picked up again and dust stung my eyes as an invisible hand scoured the dirt and shabby scrub. Lightning flashed in the distance and a rumble echoed shortly afterward. The wind picked up and drops began to fall, slowly turning into a heavy rain. I stood, feet spread wide for balance and bottles held up to take advantage of the water. I'd let them get no more that half full before draining them and holding them skyward again, but I wasn't sure how long I could manage it as the water and wind were quickly stripping away any heat I'd managed to acquire while wrapped up in the front seat of the truck.
I began to shiver as the wind blew and the rain turned colder. I gingerly climbed in the truck bed, feeling exposed with my nudity, and propped the bottles up on the tool chest which provided a long, flat surface. I turned and duckwalked on the smooth metal of the truck bed and was shocked when my feet flew out from under me and I landed hard on my hip.
"Augh!" I cried out, but the wind ignored me. The storm increased and lighting cracked overhead and the thunder was close enough for me to feel a vibration in my chest. I scuttled down to the end of the truck bed, my skin sliding on the wet metal, and then fell off the edge and into the mud. Picking myself up I limped back toward the open door of the truck, idly trying to brush the mud off me as I went. A sudden increase in water volume washed me down, stealing both mud and the last of my body heat. I struggled to the open door, teeth chattering, and hauled myself up. I slammed the door shut and pulled the seat cover over my cold, shaking body.
Rain pounded the roof in a cacophony and I shivered as lightning lanced across the sky and thunder shook the world. My teeth chattered and I moved my shaky hands up and down my legs and arms, moving rapidly and trying to generate some heat. I realized that, while water was a concern, being wet in this cold might do me in, first. How could I have been so stupid? My mind was sluggish and I supposed that my lack of logical thought would do me in where my father had failed.
Stuttering, I began to curse my father for his betrayal, for his ignorance and for failing as a human being, much less a father. I screamed in a shaking voice about how it should have been, how he should have supported me like he did when he first met Parker and not how he'd left me to die when I dared love that very same boy.
I pulled the seat cover tightly around me for warmth as mother nature raged outside and I raged within. With shaking hands, I grabbed a granola bar and ate while watching the fury of the storm. Sometime later the rain slacked off and the only other sound was the distant grumble of thunder. Wrapped in the seat cover I lay back down on the bench seat and pretended Parker was going to be joining me any moment. That he'd cuddle me and this nightmare would end.
"I'm going to make it," I said to myself. "I'll live where you died, you bastard." Then, exhausted, I slept.Next Chapter Previous Chapter