I hate you and I fear you but I hold open the door

Gollum’s horse-deer came sliding to a stop about ten yards away from us.  It didn’t seem to be well suited for riding, it was more like when a little kid rides a dog.  Or when Johnny Depp rides a capybara into the pool at Kiefer Sutherland’s house.  He (the spindly dude not the furry horse) seemed more curious about us than afraid, but he wasn’t going to be coming any closer either.  His clothing looked like it was burlap or canvas or something coarse like that.  His feet were all gnarled and bloated so much I’m not sure you could have gotten a normal shoe or a boot over it – ironically it looked like the “boot” print we found earlier was some kind of sandal that he had attached to his foot like a horseshoe.

He had a pouch/pocket with a tool of some kind sitting in it, I wouldn’t call it a knife, it was more like a sharpened rock.  What it looked like was one of those things you see in a museum in the Neanderthal exhibit, a scraper I guess they call them.  I don’t know if it was intended to be a weapon but he kept his hand close to it most of the time.  Every few moments he touched the “handle” like you see someone patting their wallet to make sure it’s there.   

He wasn’t as hard to understand as the traders but it was still a struggle.  He mumbled, combined, contracted, and truncated words seemingly at random.  I swear that he kept asking us if we were men, which makes absolutely no sense.  Martialla?  Maybe.  If you just caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of your eye she’s mannish enough that you might make that mistake until you looked right at her. Which you wouldn’t because you’d be looking at me.  Because there is no way anyone would ever think I was a dude.  I was number thirty-seven on Maxim’s hot one hundred last year!  I guess everyone on that list is dead so I suppose I’m number one now.  Which is nice for me.   Number one baby!

After that I’m ninety percent sure that he asked us if we were cars.  After a lot of back and forth and pantomime we determined that he does know what a car is, same as us, but it was too hard to figure out what he was trying to ask about them.  We asked if there were still cars or how he knows about them and he looked at us like a dog looks at an answering machine when it hears its master’s voice coming from it.  This communication problem is going to get really old really fast.  The one thing we did understand is when he asked us why we had masks on.  We told him it was because of the air and he sniffed a bit and then shrugged.  I don’t know why exactly, but seeing such a normal human gesture like that almost made me cry.  It was a gesture that wasn’t like we were in a post-apocalyptic hellhole, it was more like I had just asked someone what time the Scorpion King was playing and they didn’t know.   

I asked him about the guy with the potato head that killed the trader and he got all bent out of shape.  I think what he said was that lumpy is one of the invincible and that’s why he (spindly not lumpy) was out there – scouting for his village to see how far Mr. Potatohead and his potatohead friends had come into their valley.  He didn’t seem jazzed about them being so close.  We tried to ascertain what he meant exactly by “invincible” but that was lost in translation.  Or maybe he was just too agitated to pay attention.  He wanted us to come back to his village so we could tell “Kway” what we had seen.   

Following him seemed like a bad idea, but it was also the reason we were out there.  The only choices we have now are likely going to be bad ones.  We agreed to go with him and he turned his animal, which is more the size of a pony than a horse or a deer close up, and we followed.  Its tail wasn’t really like that of a horse or a deer, it was more like a short lion tail – smooth and then a big puff of hair like a horse’s mane at the end.  

Martialla looked over at me “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” 

“Almost never.” 

“Maybe we were asleep for a lot longer than a hundred years.  I mean what the hell is this animal?  It would take millions of years for a new species to evolve!” 

I frowned “Who the hell knows?  Maybe when they blew up the Coca-Cola bottling plant all the chemicals got in the water and that sped up the evolutionary process.  Like what happened to Joker in the Batman.” 

She stared at me “I don’t even know how to respond to that statement.” 

As we trailing along behind him our new friend chattered away over his shoulder, mostly about how he wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers and how brave he was for doing so.  Seems like he might be a kid.  It’s hard to tell based on his appearance but he acts like a kid.  Although would you send a kid out to scout for lumpy-headed murderers?  You might if you didn’t like him too much.  We passed through an area of tall grass and I could hear something moving parallel to us.  I caught sight several times of some mean looking dog.  Our guide didn’t seem concerned in the least though, he said that we were too big to be attacked by “daws”.   

As we got closer to the lake, we noticed that the plumes of smoke we had seen from the hills were coming from there too.  Eventually we saw some villages.  And by villages I guess I mean ramshackle collections of huts clustered around very rickety looking docks out into the greasy water.  The huts had some scraps of metal and tattered plastic in them, but they were mostly made up of sticks and mud it seemed like.  I’m not sure what good they would even do.  Being in a mud house during the rain seems worse than just being rained on.

The lake stank like it was a chemical factory or something.  Dead fish or toxic waste, that you expect in a lake smell, but this was like an oil refinery.  I felt like I might puke at any moment – which would really suck when you have a mask on.  Sure, I have no idea what an oil refinery smells like, but this is what I assume it smells like.  From a distance, the water looked murky and gross but up close it looked like a tar pit mixed with vinaigrette mixed with a trout smoothie.   

Our arrival caused quite a stir.  The tiny dirty people poking the water with long sticks all ran out at us like it was a Viking raid.  Our guide, who may have told us his name somewhere in his gibberish, rode forward, presumably to calm them down, and was promptly yanked off his animal and tossed to the ground like a sack of dirt. 

The yanker looked like the only one of the bunch to top five feet and was looking marginally less scrawny, while being no less dirty.  He had a bunch of rags wrapped about his head and his stick looked more like an actual spear instead of just a long pointed pole – clearly a leader.  I can’t articulate the difference between a pointy stick and a spear but you know it when you see it.  He used said spear to poke at our new friend with the non-pointy end and bark at him as he lay on the ground arguing with him. 

Martialla looked over at me “Should we do something?” 

“The bossman is clearly not happy to see us, I feel like intervening would make things worse.”  I looked around at the compost heap of a village “I’m not sure if I should feel relieved or insulted that they don’t want us here.” 

I need you and I want you cause I know you from before

We came to a point where the brush cleared out enough to give us a good view of the surrounding area from on high.  We saw a low sprawling complex that Martialla thought might be the Sierra Army Depot. An army depot seemed to me like the kind of place we would want to check out, but Martialla said that if there was anything there, it would have been looted a long time ago.  She sure has a lot more opinions now than she did back in the real world.  I went along with it, because why not?  There may not have been anything there regardless since Martialla said that she thought that it was a facility where the EPA made sure the government decommissioned military explosives in an ecologically friendly way.  Who knew that was a thing? 

I pointed at a low sludgy-looking body of water in a vaguely ragged W shape “I don’t remember any big lakes around here, have we traveled farther than I think?” 

Martialla shook her head “No we haven’t gone far, but things are bound to be different after a hundred years.  Topography changes a lot more than you think.” 

“It has NOT been a hundred years.” 

She looked over at me “Why do you refuse to believe that?” 

“Mostly because I don’t want it to be true.  But if you want logic, there’s no way that facility could have survived a hundred years without anyone around doing maintenance.  Things don’t last long, as you keep telling me.”  I gestured. “Not even the landscape it seems.” 

“Lasting a long time is kind of what it was designed for.  Plus we don’t know what happened Ela, maybe people were living there until a few years ago.  What do you reckon?  Head for the disturbingly dirty-looking water?  Or that?” She lifted her chin in the direct of a curl of smoke lower down the hills. “Or keep on the trail?” 

“As long as the trail is going vaguely in the same direction as both of them, we might as well stay on it.” 

The trail wound down in a switchback until the vegetation petered out and tipping plants gave way to slipping rocks.  Scree I think they call that.  At that point there was no real trail anymore.  Which left us standing there with no real direction.  We both looked around for a while, I think we were both waiting for the other one to say something.  I was about to suggest turning towards the water (without having a good understanding of where it was) when I spotted movement crashing our way through the brush overland.

There had been a disturbing lack of animal life.  There were a few bugs, but not enough.  Not that I love bugs but you know what I mean.  You walk through the wilderness, tons of bugs should be jumping on you.  I didn’t see or hear a single bird either.  It was unsettling.  As long as there are plants, and there are tons of those, there should be an ecosystem right?  Little critters eating the plants and bigger critters to eat them.  It was a surprising relief just to see something else besides us that was alive (besides plants, I know plants are alive, I’m not an idiot).

I pointed it out to Martialla “Is that a horse?”

She put her hand up to her mask to peer “I’d say a deer maybe, except with no neck.  I think it belongs to someone, whatever it is.”

“Why do you say that?”

“It has cloth on its hooves.”

I squinted through my dusty mask and saw that it did have some kind of coarse sacks on its legs “Oh yeah, why would you do that?  To muffle the noise of hoofbeats?  Is it a stealth horse like a stealth bomber?”

“Uh, I guess if you don’t have horseshoes maybe you’d do that?”

“How do you think they ever came up with horseshoes anyway?  Who figured that it would be fine to put nails in a horse’s foot?  And how did they get that first horse to go along with that program?  How many people were kicked to death before they got that right?”

“They probably tried it with a dead horse first.”

“After beating it?”

Before she could answer (if she was going to) we saw the presumed rider of the beast clamber over a boulder into view.  It moved slowly and spindly-ly like one of those rain forest frogs you see on the TV very slowly walking up and down trees instead of hopping around like a normal frog.  I guess it was a person but it looked more like that Gollum monster from the Lord of the Rings.  Only with clothes on.  And let me tell you, if there was anyone who should have been wearing a shirt in those movies it was Gollum. 

Martialla whispered to me “Now, we don’t want to spook him . . .”

I lifted my mask enough to cup my hands “Hey you!”

He was startled.  To put it mildly.  His reaction was like he had never heard a noise before.  It was like what I imagine someone would do back in the old days of the electric chair when they threw the switch.  After he was done freaking out he jumped on his deer-horse (no saddle) and it looked like he was going to gallop away but instead he came racing at us at what I would call a breakneck speed. 

Martialla sighed “Good job not spooking him.”

“Hey, it worked didn’t it?”

She drew one of the guns “Remains to be seen.”

The end of laughter and soft lies

Remember that movie Caddyshack 2?  Of course you don’t remember it because you never saw it because you’re a post-civilization marauder who doesn’t know what movies are.  But I’ve decided to write this like I’m speaking to people from my time because otherwise what am I going to say?  And I can’t not write this because people need to hear my courageous story.   

The question is moot anyway because no one remembers Caddyshack 2 because it was horrible.  It’s the poster child for crappy sequels.  The only good thing about it is the Kenny Loggins song “Nobody’s Fool” which I wanted to include a cover of as a B-side on my album Louder than Words, which I would like to point out sold better than J-Lo’s On the 6 domestically.  I was supposed to play a Ty Webb type character in a Caddyshack rip-off called Two Putts (the poster had two golf balls together that kind of looked like a butt, which makes no sense for a variety of reasons) but Jay Mohr pulled out of the lead role so he could be in Mafia! and without the “star power” of Jay Mohr, the financing fell through.  I wonder how many lives could have been saved with the millions of dollars spent on movies that don’t end up getting made.  Probably a lot. I mean they’re all dead now anyway.  So I guess it’s fine. 

Anyway the closest thing to anything approaching humor in Caddyshack 2 is when the guy from Ghostbusters gets snakebit in the ass and he asks the guy from National Lampoon Vacation movies to suck the venom out of said ass and Clark Griswold says “Is there any money in it?” which is almost mildly funny.   It’s very close to being mildly funny.

We haven’t been here very long, but so far I have to say I am not enjoying this post-apocalyptic hellscape.  It’s hot, and I means balls hot.  That soggy hoggish variety of hot where it’s like you’re getting slapped with a piece of wet ham repeatedly even when you’re not.  Which would be bad enough if I wasn’t marching through a tangle of nettle-y plants but also I’m doing that.  I’ve heard people with bad knees say that walking down an incline is worse than going up, which sounded like nonsense to me before but now I get it.  I feel like I have shin splints so bad I’ll never get unsplinted.  There seems to be literally no flat ground, it’s all roots and rocks and plants and shit.  I would seriously just like to take three steps without slipping and or tripping.   

But what really sucks is that food we got from the ratlike traders is sitting like a rock in my belly.  No, not a rock, more like a sea urchin, with the spines you know?  One that’s still alive and is trying to poke its way to freedom.  Slowly, relentlessly, Andy Dufresne poking its way through my belly.  I feel like I’m all twisted up inside.  If this is what food is like here, I’ll be dead soon.  Which would maybe be a relief at this point.  Did you know that until modern times, for every soldier that died in battle, seven shit themselves to death?  Literally I mean, on account of they had dysentery.  Point is, I was doing my business when I got Caddyshacked – a fucking snake bit me on the ass.   

Martialla said that she doesn’t think it’s venomous.  She didn’t see the snake that got me but she said the bite shape is that of a non-venomous snake, being U-shaped instead of two-hole vampire shaped. She also said that it doesn’t really matter anyway because there’s nothing we could do about it if it was venomous.  She said that that old cowboy tale of cutting the wound and sucking out the poison is pure nonsense.  The poison is in your bloodstream instantly, it’s like pee in a pool, there’s no getting it out.  So if it was venomous, either I’ll survive it on my own or I won’t.  Cheery huh?   

My left cheek has swollen up to Jennifer Lopez proportions but if Martialla is to be believed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s venomous, she said that a barracuda bit her on the arm once and it swelled up like crazy.  Sounds like the real issue is making sure that the wound doesn’t get infected.  She said what we could really use is some alcohol.   

She doesn’t know how right she is about that. 

I was so focused on limping along with my half-Lopezed butt and my twisted gut that I bumped into Martialla without realizing that she had stopped.  The not-road had led us to a path – like a real path – through the foliage.  I said that it could be an animal path but she pointed to what was clearly a shoeprint.  More like a moccasin print, but you know what I mean.   

We both looked at each other.  Decision time.  Do we want to avoid where other people are or seek them out?  Do we rely on the kindness of strangers or keep to ourselves?  Neither seems to offer very good odds of staying alive for long.   

I gestured vaguely “You need to make the call on this one Mar, I’m falling apart over here, I kind of want to die right now.  I don’t think my judgement can be trusted at the moment.” 

She looked down both avenues of the path for a long time “Just like when you decided to be in Cobra Two.” 

“Look, that film got really screwed up in editing.” 

Martialla decided that we should follow the trail.  Wasn’t much of a decision really, it’s not like we’re going to find a patch of land and start farming. Unless we can find someone to interact with, we’re not going to last long.  Traveling on the path was much easier (that’s why people make them you know) but it was still a struggle for me.  At one point Martialla pointed out hoof prints on the trail which really lifted my spirits.  Sure, riding a horse isn’t great for a snake-swollen buttocks but it would be nice to let someone else do the work.   

We stopped to rest and even though my guts felt like twisting barbed wire, Martialla told me to eat some of the energy bars.  I wonder what would happen to me if I tried to live just on energy bars.  Die of malnourishment, I suppose.  I don’t know if I nodded off or passed out (there’s a difference right?) but when I came around for a second, I thought that Martialla had left me there.  Not only left but that she had taken all the supplies too.  That was easily the most terrified second of my life.  But she was there dragging me to my feet by the straps of my backpack. 

I looked at her sweatily “I suppose this is the part where I should tell you to take the supplies and go on alone, leaving me to die.” 

She snorted “No chance of that eh?  I’m pretty sure you told me one time if you were ever on life support and your estate ran out of money, I should start running drugs to keep you alive.” 

I smiled wanly “How else are you going to make serious money?  Not as a high-class escort right?” 

She chuckled “You know I’m your stunt double right?  Whenever you make a comment about my looks, you’re actually putting yourself down as well.” 

Stunt double Mar, stunt double, not body double, very important difference.” 

“I suppose that’s why I wasn’t in your softcore porn movies.” 

“School of Hard Knockers is not softcore porn!  There was less nudity per minute in School of Hard Knockers than there was in Revenge of the Nerds.  So are you saying that Revenge of the Nerds is softcore porn?!  Because if that’s what you’re saying you’ve gone completely insane!”

It hurts to set you free

Remember the opening scene in Star Wars when all the guys in beige pants and giant helmets hug the walls in that hallway and fight the Stormtroopers when they breach the wall?  Is that the only scene in those movies where the stormtroopers actually hit anyone?  Imperial marksmanship really took a nosedive after that initial victory.  Of course, shooting at main characters will do that to your aim.  Plot armor is hard to negotiate.  I had an idea once for a movie where a James Bond minion-type figures out that he’s in a genre movie and instead of going after the protagonist and dying, he sidesteps the situation and runs off.  I don’t know what happens then though, so it’s not much of an idea. 

Maybe Martialla and I should have taken cover at the end of the hallway and stood our ground.  There’s no cover for anyone coming in that way.  Maybe we should have tried to pick them off as they came through like Stormtroopers coming through a hole in the side of a ship.  Or maybe that would have been a terrible idea.  Two handguns against an assault rifle?  I’m no tactician, not even an armchair one, but that may not have been a winning move even with cover.  Plus who knows how many more men they had above?   They could have flanked us and come in the back way (if you know what I mean).

We already had all the supplies ready to move anyway, so what would we have been fighting for?  The facility itself.  Maybe leaving was the worst mistake we’ll ever make.  Maybe control of a facility that still has working geothermal power is the most valuable thing in this new world.  I’m not sure what we could have done with it, but maybe someone else could.  Then again even if that was true, what are the odds that if it was valuable that we could have kept control of it with just the two of us anyway?  Once the word got out, someone would have taken it away right? 

One thing that I am sure of, there’s plenty of free time to second guess yourself after the world ends.  We didn’t try to fight.  We went out the back of the facility to the employee parking lot and slid/fell down the hill to what used to be a road.  Attached to the back of the facility was a shed/garage thing sheltering an overgrown truck of some kind that Martialla later said was a “unimog”.  I wanted to check it out but she waved me away.  Even if it still ran, any fuel would have been long gone she said, making it a giant ugly useless slab of metal.

There was a steep little road out of the employee parking that I think used to connect to Rock Creek Road and take you to the El Dorado Freeway.  I think.  I don’t know this area well.  And it doesn’t really matter because the road was completely overgrown.  The “road” was a bed of little leafy plants and twisty vines.  Kudzu?  Is there Kudzu in California?  You could only tell where the road was because there weren’t trees there, I mean there were, but not big ones anyway.  In amongst the nettles and twisted roots we found chunks of pavement, and by found I mean tripped over, but not a lot.  What happened?  What makes pavement disintegrate?  I mean time conquers all but rocks last thousands of years right?   

My instinct was to cut south cross-country since the road was useless but Martialla said that we should stick to the road.  She asked how we would stay headed south without any landmarks.  Plus she said because of all the vegetation covering the ground, it would be easy to walk into a defile or crevasse without a road to follow.  I have no idea if she knows what she’s talking about but I didn’t fight her on it.  What difference could it make when you have no destination?  Might as well follow the road.   

I thought I was in pretty good shape.  I’m an actress right?  I have to look a certain way.  I’m no iron(wo)man triathlete or anything but I’m out there getting it done.  Monday, fifty hanging ab raises, fifty rope crunches, fifty incline sit ups with a forty-five-pound plate, repeat with thirty-five reps, repeat again with twenty-one reps.  Tuesday, ninety-minute cardio dance class.  Wednesday, hot yoga.  Thursday, spin class.  Friday, same as Monday.  It’s just that easy!  I mean that plus starving yourself.  I haven’t had a piece of bread since I was eleven. 

I now comprehend the difference between being in shape and being in condition.  I played a boxer’s wife in a TV show once (No Mickey don’t do it, you got a family!  If you go out there tonight don’t bother coming home!  I’m taking the kids to my sister’s) and the real boxer technical advisor dude on the set told me about how being in condition is a full-time proposition so you don’t do it all the time.  The eight weeks before a fight it’s all you do, you’re either sleeping or training.  If you’re in shape, you’re a man waiting for a beating.  You need to be in condition to fight.

Not to mention which, I don’t normally work out with a filter mask and a heavy awkward backpack pushing my way through dense foliage that is seven thousand percent made of burrs.  So that didn’t help.  Maybe I need a more practical workout routine.  An hour in and I was sopping with sweat like a fat senator being grilled about an intern in open court.  Another fun issue is that the air is filled with dirt.

Like literally.  You sweat and then all this dusty crap in the air sticks to you and quickly you feel like you’re covered in expired peanut butter (don’t ask how I know what that feels like).  I couldn’t imagine doing it all day.  And how far did we get really?  Maybe two miles?  That mask was a nightmare, but taking it off was even worse.  Neither of us ever really stopped coughing after that first time we wandered outside without them and got a snootful of the future.  The air is like that of a poorly ventilated woodshop.  I mean I guess, I’ve never been in a woodshop.  Without the mask you can actually feel the particles hitting your tongue and throat.   

After the fifth or sixth time Martialla told me to be careful after I stumbled, I snapped at her and she pointed out something that I should have known.  Turn your ankle on a hidden chunk of pavement or a root or whatever and there’s a decent chance I could die out here.  This is the state of nature.  What happens when a gazelle hurts its little hoof?  There’s no gazelle hospital.  Maybe if it’s really lucky it heals on its own but most likely it gets eaten by a mountain gorilla coming out of the mists to smash its little antelope head in.  Sad, but true.   

I need to adjust everything I do, I can’t operate like I did before.  It’s just me and Martialla and whatever we have on us.  There’s nothing else. 

Applied Cryogenics West – where it all begins again for the first time forever

Since I updated the site the map section has been blank for a while, but it’s still the most visited page on the site. The main thing I’ve learned from this blog is that people LOVE maps. I don’t really get it. I hate when my RPG group cries for maps all the time. Does everything have to be exactly nailed down 100% all the time? Does it? Oh, it does? My mistake.

In a desperate land

After the traders scurried off, Martialla and I sat around in the hallway for a couple hours not really doing anything.  We had been all primed and ready to head out to explore (sort of) and then just like that the wind was taken out of our sails.  For no exact reason.  It’s like when you get up early and you get dressed to go to the gym and you’re raring to go and then just as your hand touches the doorknob to leave, suddenly you think “I don’t want to do this”.  I guess the reality of the situation was sinking in.  The end of the world and all that.

You know in the movies when the aliens are invading or the zombies come out of the ground or the Ebola monkeys are on the loose and there’s the one character who immediately jumps out the window (or whatever) and kills themselves?  And you’re like “whoa dude, can you wait five minutes to see how things are going before you commit seppuku?”  I kind of get it now.  When something this enormous is staring you in the face, there’s a wave of helplessness that passes over you.  Jumping off that bridge I suppose is a way of making what happens (death) your choice.  But once that wave passes you’re just kind of . . . there.   

We half-heartedly started talking about venturing out to explore again and essentially took turns saying why we should and then providing excuses why we should wait until tomorrow.  We were commenting lackadaisically that we should have had the traders draw us a map of the area when we saw some shadows through the dirty glass.  It’s fun how you can snap from a variety of bored malaise to being terrified to your bones in zero seconds.  One moment you’re wondering if you even want to go on and the next moment you’re very much thinking about how you want to be super alive.  Deadly threats have an interesting effect huh?  It’s counterintuitive but I suppose we should have propped the doors open so we could see who was coming.   

I really wanted to tell Martialla to go first and I would cover her, I wanted it more than I wanted that role in The Mummy Returns.  And I wanted to be in The Mummy Returns a lot.  I can’t play Egyptian?  I got news for you, casting director Joanna Colbert, Patricia Velásquez ain’t from Egypt either.  But that would have made no sense since Martialla is the shooter and I’m the talker.  I should be proud of myself for not asking her because she probably would have done it even though it’s illogical.  She takes this bodyguard shtick pretty seriously.  Even I feel most bodyguard contracts have an out clause in case of world-ending events. 

Do you ever have that thing where being scared of something makes you reckless instead of cautious?  I get that every now and then.   It’s not a good trait.  I should work on that.  No reason to let the end of the world get in the way of self-improvement.  I decided that the best thing to do was to yank the door open and shout “What the hell do you want?”  On the other side, the small filthy men with bad skin, bad teeth, and an even worse odor scattered like rats.  Actually more like armadillos.  I was on Conan once and the zoo lady brought an armadillo.  Those animal segments on talk shows are death.  I blame Carson for that.  Yeah, I said it.  The poor little thing just ran around and around in a circle.  If it could speak, I imagine it would have been saying “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear”.  They were more like that than rats.  Rats are more self-assured.  When they run they’re hissing at you, the rat equivalent of flipping the bird.  They’ll be back.

The first three traders had returned with friends.  Because of the difficulty communicating with them, I’m not sure if they thought we asked them to do that or were just taking it upon themselves or what they were thinking.  Once they stopped freaking out over me startling them, they were excited to show us more junk, but before I could politely decline, there was a second commotion up top where their wagons were.  There was some too-fast for me to understand talking and then some shouting.  The guys down the ramp seemed to be torn between running back up to protect their trash wagons and trying to dash into the building for cover.  I saw them eyeballing my gun like maybe it was worth the risk to charge at me. 

Before they could decide, a few more of the traders came marching down with a couple other guys herding them.  The newcomers were bigger, although I doubt any of them were over five six, and they were wearing some kind of pants that looked like a camouflage pattern with the colors all wrong – hibiscus on a pastel yellow.  I don’t know where you’re going to hide with that scheme unless it’s on a Rose Bowl parade float.  They would have looked totally ridiculous if they hadn’t been carrying guns but they were, so they were merely mostly ridiculous looking.  Two of them had what kind of looked like big long flare guns to me.  Martialla later called them “cut-down lever action rifles” but how can a rifle have a barrel that’s only eight inches long?  Regardless, Martialla assured me they wouldn’t fire flares, assuming they fired at all. They looked to me like something the juvie kids would make in metalshop. 

But the third guy had something else altogether.  I’ve seen enough action movies to know an AK-47 when I see one (Martialla’s note, it was an AK-101).  I guess those things do last forever.  I almost had a studio convinced to let me play a terrorist in some dumb plane hijacking movie.  I thought it would be interesting to have a woman terrorist, but they decided in the end that wouldn’t be cool with foreign audiences.  I guess they thought people in those countries wouldn’t mind being portrayed as terrorists much as long as it’s a male actor in the stereotype, I mean role.   

AK certainly seemed to be in charge.  Was he in charge because he had the best gun or did he have the best gun because he was in charge?  Or was it because of his potato head?  You see, this fellow’s forehead was all lump and bumpy like he had tubers growing that hadn’t broken out from under the skin yet.  It was like a crappy alien makeup design from Star Trek or some other sci-fi show like that, only even lazier than usual because they weren’t symmetric or matching or anything.  Other than having a forehead full of tumors, he looked less scabby and unhealthy than the traders were.   

He glanced at us and then spoke to the traders in a fast-clipped way that I couldn’t follow at all.  I was about to speak up when he put the tip of his rifle against one of the trader’s chests and casually blew him away.  Like he was reaching for a beer out of a cooler.  No big deal, just killing a guy. 

For a moment I thought the pain I was feeling was just in my head, like from the shock you know, but when I saw the blood, I realized that the bullet had gone through that poor sap and hit me right on the front point of my hip bone.  It didn’t have enough force left to penetrate, but it was like taking a bad spill when your bike smacks into a tree.    

I don’t know about the other two, but his gun sure as hell worked. 

So limitless and free

I looked over at Martialla solemnly “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” 

She blew out a long breath “That it’s going to be impossible to effectively keep watch on both entrance doors with just the two of us?” 

I shook my head “No, I was thinking that if that’s what men look like now, there’s not much chance of a quality lay for the rest of my life.  I was worried about my looks fading, but if those pigmen are what we having running around now, I’m in for a long dry spell.” I gave her a frank look “Unless . . . you know.”

When she didn’t react, I threw my hands up “Come on, that was funny, lighten up a little, it’s only the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.  What do you care about keeping an effective watch anyway?  We were literally getting ready to leave when those mongrels showed up.” 

It was a moment before she spoke “I’m having second thoughts.” 

I raised an eyebrow “That’s my line.  You said we’d die if we stayed here.” 

“I know that!” She took a moment to calm herself “I know we can’t stay here, I’m just . . .  those guys showing up really unbalanced me.” 

I chuckled “Those rash-covered losers?  Why are you afraid of them?  I’ve seen more intimidating eighth graders.  If anything, seeing them made me feel better.  They didn’t even have guns.  We probably have the only functioning firearms left in the world.  That makes us queens of this world!  Until we run out of bullets anyway.”  I waited but Martialla didn’t say anything “It’s interesting, isn’t it?  Weapons seem to last forever but everything else breaks down.  Tools for killing?  Immortal.  Tools for living?  Rotted away.  It’s like a metaphor for human violence or something.”  I waited another moment and then waved my arms at her “Hello, are you listening to me?” 

“Not really.”

I gestured “Well tell me about it, let’s work it out.  Remember that movie where I played a therapist?  I got the gist of it.  I can shrink heads with the best of them.” 

She frowned slightly “I don’t remember a therapist movie.  I guess you didn’t need a stunt double for that one.” 

“Actually I did, see I played Doctor Case Meridian and one of her patients became obsessed with her and broke into her house at night to eat her kneecaps.  Also he was a serial killer, I think.  Also maybe there was a vampire.  That movie got really screwed up in editing.  The working title was Fatal Attraction and when they found out there was already a movie with that name everything got messed up, I think one of the financing people pulled out.  How could they not know about Fatal Attraction?  That movie came in out eighty-seven!  I don’t even recall what the final title ended up being.  Something about a snake maybe.  Anyway, you weren’t in it because you couldn’t work then, I was filming that after you fell off that mule at the Grand Canyon and ripped your perineum in half.” 

She glared at me “That is not what happened!  First of all, it was a full grown big horse not a mule, and more importantly . . .” 

I laughed “Yeah, yeah, whatever, let’s get therapizing, have you been getting enough sleep?” 

“You said you played a doctor in that movie?  Are therapists doctors?  Did you mean you were a psychiatrist?” 

“There was a man wearing a George Bush mask attacking my knees with a circular saw, I don’t think the script writer was too concerned with accuracy.” 

Martialla spit out some mung from the disgusting food she was eating before continuing “Seeing those men made it real for me.  I was in shock before I think, probably still am, seeing them drove it home.

Our world is gone.  Rick is dead.  My parents, my friends, everyone I knew except you, it’s all gone.  Maybe we can survive here, but what for?  It’s all gone.” 

“We don’t know that.  In all the Mad Max movies, there’s like a biodome where people are attractive and have lots of food and go watch killer motorcade fights and laser themselves when they’re fifty as a form of population control because a giant computer tells them to.  We just need to look for something like that.” 

She looked at me annoyedly “This isn’t a movie, Ela.” 

“Sure it is, we’re the last two women on earth, there’s a bunch of movies like that.  When we finally give into the temptation of our desires in the second act, it’s really going to be hot, Mar.  Some actresses get uptight about doing nude scenes, but here’s my theory.  If it’s for the movie, and if it’s not just about nudity, but if it’s artistic and says something about reality, and if it’s in character and if it’s for the scene, 
and if it’s not just a body that . . .” 

She threw a hand up “Okay, enough.” 

I grinned “The sex will be simulated of course, this isn’t a porn, but that doesn’t mean . . .” 

She rolled her eyes “You are a buffoon.”  After a moment she sighed “I’ve never had to be brave before.  I’m not sure I have it in me.” 

I was stunned into silence for a moment “How can you say that?  You’re the bravest person I’ve ever known!  When that mob attacked you didn’t hesitate, you took action.” 

“That wasn’t bravery, that was just reaction, that was self-defense.” She smiled weakly “Plus that was over a hundred years ago, people change.” She sighed “Maybe brave isn’t the right word.  When I worked at the embassy there was this one guy, everyone hated him because they thought he was a spook.  His hands and arms were covered with scars, he couldn’t straighten out his fingers anymore because the nerves were cut or damaged.  I asked him about it one day.  He said that he climbed over several barbed wire fences to get out of a prison in Cambodia, the guards didn’t watch them because they didn’t think anyone would be fucked up enough to climb through them.   I asked him how you do something like that he said ‘it’s just pain’.  That’s what I’m talking about.  There’s a difference between the kind of bravery where you don’t shit your pants in the moment but then afterwards you’re scared out of your mind and the kind of bravery where you know you’re going to be hurt, and I mean hurt bad, and you do it anyway.  No one is making you, you just do it.  I think that’s what’s going on out there.

We’re indoor cats who’ve suddenly been left at grandma’s farm because we hissed at the baby.” 

“My cousin’s family did that, dropped the family cat off at our farm because it bit one of the neighbor kids.  I remember how scared my cousin was for it, how she cried because she thought it was too soft and weak to make it.  That cat was a freaking monster compared to our little farm cats.  It was huge and it was mean and it gave zero shits.  It ruled that place.” 

She snorted “And what, that’s what we’re going to do?”   

I shrugged “Sure, why not?  In the words of Doctor Case Meridian ‘The first step to doing something is deciding to do it’.” 

She shook her head “That’s a terrible line.” 

“Well the guy who wrote it is probably long dead so things are looking up already.” 

Can you picture what will be

Eventually we figured out that the scabby little mole people actually were speaking English, or at least some patois with a lot of English in it.  They were just speaking so fast and with such poor diction it was hard to understand them.  It seemed like they were shouting “hooah!” like in that crappy movie where Al Pacino pretends to be blind but they were saying “who are you” or something along those lines.  Once we figured that out, we were kind of able to communicate with them.  Mostly.

They were traders.  Or scavengers maybe.  Actually I guess they were both, first they scavenge then they trade.  They were wary of our guns but they didn’t seem to be afraid of them.  I think maybe most of their trades take place at gunpoint.  Or clubpoint or whatever since they didn’t seem to have any firearms.  At one point I could tell they were making fun of the way we talked.  I would have been offended if they weren’t such gross monsters that it was impossible to care about their opinion. 

When I went up to look at their junk wagon, they kept trying to sidle beside me like one of those pervs that rubs up against you on the bus.  I repeatedly had to tell them to stay in front of me, I thought I was going to have to shoot one of them to back them off.  Or you know, not do it myself, but order Martialla to shoot one of them.  Even though they were more varmint than man, I’m not sure I could have pulled the trigger unless they were actually attacking me. 

It was definitely a waste of time.  When I say that they had a junk wagon, I mean that literally.  I don’t mean junk as in stuff, I mean junk as in literal garbage.  There was some scrap metal which I guess has value but honestly it looked like a mobile landfill.  I’m surprised there wasn’t a flock of seagulls circling it and screaming.  The wagon was huge, it was bigger than a haywagon like back on the farm and it was being pulled by a comically tiny motorcycle.  It looked like a minibike, honest to God. 

The only thing they had that looked worth anything was food.  Real food.  Tomatoes, grapes, almonds, walnuts, all kinds of stuff.  It looked half the size and twice as ugly as what I buy at the grocery store but it seemed healthsome enough.  My mouth started watering in that gross way where it makes you feel like you might yak – that’s when you know it’s been too long since you’ve eaten.  The problem was what to give them.  There are probably all sorts of things with good trade value in the cryo-facility but it’s also best to keep that stuff undercover right?  Plus we don’t know the relative worth of anything.  If the world is really crunked and no one can manufacture anything anymore, that makes paper rare for sure, but is it valuable? 

I asked Martialla what else was valuable in Waterworld besides dirt and she gave me that look she gives when I treat movies like they have real information.  What the hell does she want from me?  I’ve never haggled with post-apocalyptic badger people before.  Where else am I supposed to draw information from other than movies?  There’s no way to have any practical experience here lady.

She told me seventeen times not to trade away my gun.  Which is insulting.  I’m not a moron.  Although strangely they didn’t seem interested in them.  Maybe in this world no one would ever give up a weapon so they didn’t even consider it?  They also didn’t seem interested in us, you know, as women.  Not that I would have offered or agreed anyway, but that also seemed odd.  They’re ugly as sin so maybe that’s what they like? 

In the end, we traded them a couple of Applied Cryogenics West jumpsuits for assorted produce and some stacks of crud they called a word that sounded like a racial slur and Martialla called “lock-up loaf” because it’s what they give to prisoners for meals as a form of punishment when they assault a guard – at least when the Supreme Court lets them.  Not anymore though, since I get the feeling there is no penal system nor Supreme Court anymore.  The three stooges were pretty happy with the jumpsuits so we probably got ripped off. 

The foodwad was gross but it was the only thing I could eat.  All those nice juicy fruits and veggies tasted like the floor of a public restroom to me.  Martialla was able to choke it down but I couldn’t force myself to swallow that nasty crap. 

We tried to ask them what happened to the world but they didn’t understand the question no matter how we tried to ask it.  Or we didn’t understand the answer.  Maybe both.  I asked them if someone dropped the bomb and I eventually realized their jabbering was them telling me where to go to get a bomb.  I swear to god it sounded like they said to get on the 101 at one point.  We asked them where people live and they talked a mile a minute and gestured all over the place, none of which made any sense to us.  But I suppose that means there are other people around.

Martialla asked them what they used as fuel.  After much “who’s on first” bullshit we realized their answer was “fuel”.  She asked if she could look at their bike and they got real squirrely about that.  Up until that point I got the feeling they would have hung around and chattered at us all day, but once Martialla showed interest in the bike, they got agitated and not long after that they cleared out.  They wouldn’t even start up their machine until we were down the ramp below their sightline – as if starting up a dirtbike was magic that you could only replicate by watching it happen. 

Even though the cryo-place seems like a fortress, the front doors are just glass.  We dragged some chairs out into the hallway from the breakroom so we could watch to see if they came back while we enjoyed our feast of rotten fruit and prison sludge. 

I sighed as I put my feet up on a chair “So one of us needs to be on watch here all the time probably?”

Martialla popped a tomato in her gaping maw and nodded “We should have been doing that before, that was stupid, they could have walked right in on us.”

I shook my head “I don’t see how you can eat that.  What’s wrong with it?”

She shrugged “Bad soil?  Maybe it’s irradiated and I’ll wake up with a bunch of tumors.  Maybe this is just what food tastes like when you don’t have pesticides and herbicides and fertilizer and genetically modified bean sprouts.  Who knows?”

“How do you know it’s safe?”

She gave me a cool look “I don’t, but if this is what food is like now, it doesn’t much matter does it?  We only have so many high fructose corn syrup bars and once they’re out, this is all there is.  If we can’t eat this food safely we’re dead either way.”

My face fell “Jesus Martialla.”

She held up a nut appraisingly “Freaking tell me about it.”

I’ll never look into your eyes again

I did mess around with the computers for a couple hours.  There wasn’t a password or a code or anything set up to protect access to the files.  It was just all out there in the open.  So much for confidentiality.  All these dead guys would be pissed about that if they weren’t dead.  I couldn’t figure out if anyone was frozen alive like Martialla and I were.  After much poking of buttons, I did manage to open one of the other pods but nothing happened.  I went out and looked.  Just a frozen old dead dude in a tube. 

After awhile I gave up on that idea and I started playing solitaire.  Somehow out of all of it, that’s what made me cry.  The world may be over and I was playing computer solitaire?  It was too stupid not to make me really sad.  When Martialla found me, I was in the bathroom starting at myself in the mirror.  She looked around like she was expecting someone else to be in there with me. 

“What are you doing?” 

“Staring at myself in the mirror.” 

She looked to the skies for help “Jesus Ela, I know you’re vain but this is too much even for you.” 

I glared at her “Hey, if the world really is gone out there like you say, I’m never going to look this good again. I want to remember it.  I want this image to be seared into my mind.” I held up one hand “If you’re right, I’m never going to get a manicure again, look at these cuticles!  My nailbeds will never be this clean again.  Have you thought about that?” 

She shook her head and twisted the wedding ring on her finger “No, mostly I’ve been thinking about how I’ll never see my husband again.” 

I sighed “You always have to one up me, don’t you Martialla?  That’s one of your worst traits.” 

She nodded somberly “I’m sorry that the thought of Rick being dead distracts from the sorrow of your beauty routine being disrupted.” 

I snorted and then waved towards the door “If you’re going to be like this, let’s just go.” As we headed into the hallway, I looked over at her “Are you going to give me one of those guns?” 

She thought a moment “I haven’t decided.  I would like to have someone watching my back but I also don’t want you to freak out and shoot me in the spine because a cricket jumped on you.” 

I scoffed “I went to the range every week when we were filming LA Gun Club.” 

She gave me a side-glance “That movie wrapped over three years ago, I mean, three years before we were frozen for a hundred years . . .” 

“It was not a hundred years!” 

“Whatever, you know what I mean!  Have you fired a gun since LA Gun Club, Ela?” 

I thought about lying for a moment before answering “No.” 

Before she could answer, we came in sight of the front doors.  The glass is too dirty to see through clearly but we could both see a silhouette on the other side – one that was obviously the size and shape of a person.  We both froze in place and she silently handed me one of the pistols.  We stood there for a moment wondering if we were seeing what we were seeing.  When the shadow moved on the other side of the door, I almost fell over.  Martialla started creeping forward in a ballet like shuffle with her weapon up.  I wanted to ask her what the plan was but I was too worried even to whisper.   

She stopped when then person (?) outside started making some kind of wailing sound.  It took a moment but eventually I realized that it was singing.  Horrible singing, maybe not in English, but it was singing nevertheless.  That shook me out of my torpor.  Not that evil murdering rapists can’t sing, but it was something human and familiar.  Martialla’s eyes went wide as I walked up to the door and reached for the handle. 

I winked at her “Cover me.” 

When I opened the door for a second, I thought it wasn’t a person at all but a very small and very upright bear.  It was a man wearing a fuzzy brown animal skin.  Not a fur like a rich lady would wear, more like a pelt – like I wore when I had a small role in that movie about the Oregon Trail.  A Native American group sent me a nasty letter about playing that role.  They should have been bitching to the casting director, not me.  What actor is going to turn down a part? 

When the door swung open, the man (?) jumped back like a startled rat.  He didn’t look like he was even five feet tall.  He brandished a sharpened piece of metal at me with cloth wrapping for a handle, more than a knife, like the size of a baton maybe.   

“Hoo-ra!” he shouted at me, or something like that. 

I kept my gun down but made sure he saw it “What?  What’s who-raw?  Are you in the marines?” 

“Digger hi baker!” 

I kept my eyes on him and said over my shoulder at Martialla “Is he speaking another language?” 

Before she could answer, the small bearman whistled and two more guys came down onto the ramp.  They were equally as small and dirty and their exposed skin was covered with hives.  What really bumped me was their teeth though, they were so yellow they were almost brown and they looked like they were half the size they should have been.  One of them had a fire axe, one of those mil-spec ones that looks even nastier than a normal axe – it made me think about what had happened just a few days before (to me, maybe a hundred years before) to that poor slob who tried to stand up again the mob.  The other one had what looked like a pipe but was closed on both ends, a heavy piece of metal for smashing heads in any regard.  I did raise my gun at that point and they backed off a few steps. 

“So you know what a gun is huh?  Can you understand me?” 

Bearman ducked his head and said something that sounded like “seecwo”. 

Out of my periphery I saw Martialla move up and take cover with her gun trained on the strange men. 

“What the hell are we going to do here Mar?” 

No safety or surprise

Remember at the end of Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston (I just realized for the first time what a weird name Charlton is) sees the Statue of Liberty on the beach and he freaks out because seeing that let him know that they “blew it all up”?  Something like that would be helpful.  When we go outside, there’s no reason not to just assume that Placerville had been abandoned.  There’s nothing that says “clearly the apocalypse happened”. 

You could say that the air quality should be a tip off, what with the haze and the throat stinging, but it’s California right?  There’s always a wildfire somewhere it seems, plus all the pollution.  Maybe the fact that our phones had no signal should be a tip off, but we always have crappy reception out of the city anyway.  When the phone in the clinic didn’t work, that doesn’t even really help us know that the world has ended because if the place had been abandoned, there’s no reason it should have worked, right?  Same thing with the water. 

Plus there’s this to consider.  Have you ever been cryogenically frozen?  It makes everything all fuzzy.  Even when that pod opens up, it takes a long time to get your head in the game.  It was probably three hours before I felt like I could even sit up.  I don’t know how long it was after that before I was clear headed enough to wake up Martialla. 

There’s a storage room where we found some half faceplate masks with a bunch of filters, I assume they used those when they were handling whatever chemicals you use to freeze old dead dudes.  According to the back of the box, the filters will only last eight hours in “very dusty” environments, which I am going to say the death-air outside is. Going through six a day is going to eat them up pretty fast.  There’s an unopened pack of one hundred and maybe thirty in an opened box.  That’s three weeks if we’re both outside all the time.   

Whoever was living here while we were on ice had stockpiled a huge amount of bottled water, no loose bottles but pallets like you see in a warehouse, where did they get those and how did they get them here?  But out of that, there were only about three hundred left.  Martialla says we’re going to have to boil them before we drink them even though they’re sealed.  And even then she doesn’t sound super confident that it’s totally safe.  Can you get by on two bottles of water a day?  Assume we can, that’s ten weeks of water, give or take. 

Food is basically nil.  There’s a pile of unopened cans but there’s nothing inside them but black flakes of scrud.  I thought canned food lasted forever.  I guess not.  We do have a plastic crate of assorted energy bars, two dozen or so, that seem fine.  Which is mildly disturbing.  Martialla said that some energy bars are just a solid brick of preservatives so they last a really long time.   

She also said that as long as they don’t get wet, guns and ammo basically last forever.  So the four handguns we found should work.  The knives and clubs certainly will if it comes to that.  I’m ninety percent sure I could shoot someone if I had to, but the image of that guy taking an axe to karate guy haunts me.  I’m not sure I can stab someone.  As we were going through the tedious process of boiling all the water and putting it back into the bottles, I started to have second thoughts. 

I looked at Martialla as she stacked up water bottles on the counter in the break room “I’m starting to have second thoughts.” 

“We need to find out what’s out there, you said so yourself.” 

“I know, that’s why I said SECOND thoughts.  We have no idea what we’re walking into out there.” 

Martialla paused her work to look me in the eye “Right, that’s why we need to find out.” 

I gestured “We have electricity here that is apparently apocalypse proof.” 

“What good is that?  What we need is food and water, whatever kind of geothermal rig they have going on here doesn’t help us with either of those things.  I mean unless you want to play minesweeper, the computers’ electricity doesn’t help us.” 

“There’s like fifty frozen guys back there.” 

Martialla stopped to think for a moment “Cannibalism?” 

I nodded “Cannibalism.” 

She shook her head and went back to packing “Even if we knew how to thaw them out, I don’t know if you’d want to eat someone who was cryogenically frozen.  They’re probably full of antifreeze or something.” 

“What about water?  If you turn up the freezer enough you get frost, right?  Can we rig up something to make ice that we can melt for water?” 

She gave me an appraising look “Can you?  Because I am not an electrician or an engineer, I don’t know how any of this equipment works.  I have no idea how to turn electricity into water.  I wish I fucking did.  I know you feel safe here Ela, but we can’t stay.  All we can do here is waste the supplies we do have waiting for nothing.” 

“Maybe we could wake someone else up, strength in numbers.” 

“They’re all dead Ela, that’s how cryogenics works.  They freeze you after you die because it’s bullshit.” 

I held my arms out wide “How can you say that?  We’re here!  It worked!” 

Martialla got a stubborn look “But the cell walls . . .” I made a disgusted noise and she moved on “Look, if you want to try and figure out if someone else was frozen while they were still alive and then how to unfreeze them, go nuts, but as soon as we get all this water ready to go,we have to move.” 

“We don’t have to leave leave though right?  We can explore and come back if we need to?” 

“Sure, we can check out Placerville and come back here maybe but that’s about it.  After that, we need to head for the highways.  Using up all our supplies investigating the three-mile radius around this hole in the ground isn’t going to net us anything.” 

“It just seems crazy to leave this place, it’s like a fortress!” 

“I thought you were the one who was thinking everything would be fine over the next hill, now you want to hunker down?  Make up your mind.”