Monday, July 2, 2012

The Search

Day 1

I'm following Jed's trail. He's not so far ahead that I can't still see his footsteps, sunken into the snow.

The wind is sharp and cuts against my skin like a razor. I have on so many layers, yet I'm still cold. But I keep my mind off of the temperature, off of the weather, and onto Jed. I will find Jed.

Day 6

My mind stubbornly tells me that Jed's probably dead now, frozen in a ditch somewhere, or worse, taken by the boy.

I tell my mind to shut up because I'm going to find Jed. Even if he's dead, I will find him and bring him back to his mother.

And if he's been taken? my mind taunts me.

"I'll just take him back," I say aloud.

Here's hoping.

Day 12

I lost the trail. The snow has increased and covered the tracks I was following. And I'm on my second-to-last can of beans. I've been rationing them, but walking against the wind is tiring and makes you hungry. Even cold beans are good when you're stuck in a storm like this.

There's a market up ahead. Perhaps Jed found shelter there. Perhaps I can pick up another trail.

Day 14

This trail is fresher. The supermarket had canned goods that were untouched - they must have been there for years. I found the cans that hadn't gone bad and saw that a bunch were missing - easily enough for Jed to carry. He resupplied and went out again. Lucky kid.

After I restocked my supply as well, I went out and continued looking. I can't rely on footprints anymore. The winds make the snow cover everything.

I guess I just have to be lucky, too.

Day 19

I found him! He was huddled inside a broken McDonald's, trying to get one of the fryers to start working again. When I found him, he looked like he had almost succumbed to the cold - I quickly started rubbing his hands together. Then I took an old Bunsen burner I had packed and turned it on.

He got better quickly. I saw the warmth return to his face. He was damn lucky he didn't die or lose any limbs or even fingers.

But I see now that he left well prepared. He didn't just bring food - he brought thick gloves and rope and actual supplies needed to survive out here. He was planning this excursion for a while.

"Why?" I asked and he didn't need more than one word to know what I was asking.

"I need to see him," Jed said. "I just...I need to see my dad. I need to know if he's alive."

"He's not," I said. "I'm sorry, but he's just...not. He didn't walk out here with food or supplies. He walked out with nothing and the cold took him. I'm sorry."

Jed began to cry and I awkwardly patted him on the back. "Your mother's worried sick," I said, which was probably an understatement. "I need to bring you back. Okay?" He nodded.

After we had sufficiently warmed up, I turned off the Bunsen burner and repacked it, then we both got up and prepared to leave. "It's weird," Jed said, "I thought I was doing so well. I even found an old map and marked out probable places to restock food. But then...then I got turned out in the snow. I got lost and I couldn't figure out where I was. And I started to lose feeling in my fingers. So I came in here. But...I thought I heard someone...I thought I heard someone singing."

I stopped. "Jed," I said. "This is very important. What were they singing?"

"It..." He paused. "It sounded like 'To market, to market, to buy a pig. Home again, home again, jiggity-jig.' That's...that's strange, isn't it?"

"We need to go, Jed," I said. "We need to go now. We need to get back."

I was worried about Jed all that time. Worried that the boy had taken him. But the boy wasn't after him.

We rushed as fast as we could, as fast as our frail bodies let us. But I knew we would be too late.

Home again, home again. Jiggety-jig.

He wasn't after Jed. He was going home. To our home.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Jed went missing today.

I was walking down one of the stretches of hall, when I saw his mother, Cora. She was crying, sobbing uncontrollably, while several other members of the community were trying to console her, without much luck. She turned her tear-stained eyes upward and saw me and screamed.

"It was him!" she yelled. "He's the reason he left! Always filling his head with stories!" She started to sob again, while one of the men in the group, Richard, walked over to me.

"Jed apparently went for a walk," he said, trying to keep his voice low.

"What?" I said. "Why?"

"I don't know," Richard said. "But I don't think he wanted to, you know...kill himself. For one thing, he packed up food and water."

"That's good," I said. "He might find his way back."

"You know better, Lowe," Richard said. "Nobody finds their way back. Even if he wanted to get back, he'll just become lost in a snowstorm. Or get hypothermia. Or worse."

His mother evidently heard this and started screaming at me again. "Why couldn't you leave him! Why couldn't you just leave!" She collapsed inward, like a folding chair, her knees held close to her face.

I looked at her and said, "I'll find him. I'll go outside and find him and bring him back."

She kept crying, but softer. She knew what I was saying.

I went and packed a bunch of my things into a backpack. Whatever food I had, whatever bottles of water, I stuffed them in the pack. Then I grabbed this journal and stuffed it in my pocket and went out to the front door.

Richard met me there. "You don't have to do this," he said.

"Yes, I do," I said.

He nodded and said, "You realize you probably aren't coming back?"

"Stranger things have happened." I opened the door and looked out into the black starless night.

"What are you thinking?" Richard asked.

"I was thinking of a poem, actually," I said. "Haven't written one in a while. But I just remembered an old one. A good one."

"How does it go?"

"One aged man -- one man -- can't fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night."

And then I stepped out from the door and started walking.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Went For A Walk

That's a euphemism here. "Went for a walk." It means committed suicide, basically.

Jed's father went for a walk a while ago. He didn't hang himself or take pills (we don't even have any pills to take) or shoot himself. He just opened the front doors and literally went for a walk outside. And he kept walking. He disappeared into the snow and was gone.

Some of the other residents don't believe these people are actually dead. "They might have found shelter," they say. "They might be alive somewhere." I don't try to argue with them. I don't point out that them being alive might be worse. That being kept alive by the Boy might be more terrible then they imagine.

Jed and I were Buddies again today. I think they stick him with me because nobody else likes being around me. I'm a reminder of how things used to be. Of when people grew old. Some are even resentful that I'm old and still around, instead of going for, ahem, a walk.

"Have you ever been tempted?" Jed asked.

"To do what?"

"To go for a walk?" His hands were gripped together and he wiggled his fingers, obviously nervous at this line of questioning.

"Sometimes," I said.

"Why don't you?" he said and then backpedaled. "I mean, I don't want you to go, I don't...want that to happen. But I've heard some of the grown-ups. They say you're a coward. That you take food. That there's no place for you here."

"Because I'm old," I said.

He stared at the ground and quietly said, "Yes."

"Perhaps they are right," I said. "Perhaps there is no place for me here any longer. Perhaps that went away...when Agnes did." He turned when I said her name. I've often told stories about her to him during these lonely nights in the Grow Room. "Perhaps I am a coward for not leaving." I stand up and stretch my arms and Jed's eyes go wide, as if he thinks I'm going to leave right then and there. "But I won't. I won't go for a walk. I just can't."

"Why not?" he asked, as if that was an easy question to answer.

I looked at Jed and said, "It's too easy. It's too easy to just open the door and go for a walk. I've faced that choice before. Back...back before, with Agnes. We could have gone together. But that would have been easy and we were never ones to take the easy way out. Life is hard and getting harder. But even when the world around you is cold and hard, it's better to be alive than the alternative."

I sat down again. "I hope that answered your question."

Jed shrugged and then said, "When...when did you and Agnes face that choice?"

I smiled. "We were in France at the time. And there was a you know what a Door is? I mean a Door to the City." He nodded. "Well, there was this Door..."

As I told him the story, he listened with eager intent, hands on his chin, and together we forgot about the world outside.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Elephant's Child

Calling Kokytos a "city" is actually pretty generous. It's more like a collection of buildings. When people reached the coast, they found plenty of abandoned buildings to use (just don't ask about the former inhabitants or where all that red slush came from). As more people arrived, they set up a couple of buildings -- buildings that were already connected, so that nobody would have to venture outside that much. There are about six hundred people in Kokytos.

Jed is a second-generation Kokytosian (Kokytian? Kokian? whatever). He was only two when they brought him here, which was about thirteen years ago. He's the son of one of the first families to settle here. And yet, it seems we only talk when we're assigned as Buddies.

(Oh yeah: we have a Buddy System in place. Nobody goes anywhere without having a Buddy. Just like when you were a kid and you had to learn how to swim, so they gave you a buddy that already knew, so you wouldn't drown. Except then they got fed up with you and just decided to toss you into the deep end and see how long you could hold your breath - which, by the way, was four minutes.)

"Mom wouldn't let me go outside for a supplies run," he told me, sounding distinctly similar to Luke Skywalker saying that he wanted to go to Tosche station to pick up some power converters. "She says it's not safe, even in a group. The Cold Boy could get me."

I nod sagely, as if I agree with his mother.

"She says the Cold Boy is the Devil," he said. "And that he's making the world into his Hell."

"Who am I to disagree with someone's mother?" I said.

"But my friends said that he's, like, the manifestation of someone's fears."

"Another viable option," I said.

"What fear?" he asked. Normally, I could get by on conversations with Jed with a few nods and short sentences, but this was different. He wanted to know. And who was I to deny him that information?

"The fear of being cold," I told him. "Cold and cut off and lonely. That's why he takes you when you're alone."

"Lonely?" Jed looked over all the plants in the Grow Room, gazing at the black, withered plants with curiosity. "If he only targets the lonely, then why has this all happened?"

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe he doesn't need to target the lonely. Maybe we got it all wrong. Or maybe it's not just people who can get lonely. Maybe the Earth itself was lonely."

"Oh," he said thoughtfully. "Okay."

Saturday, April 28, 2012


I live in the city of Kokytos. In Greek, it means "the river of wailing" or "lamentation." In Dante's Inferno, it was depicted as a frozen lake in the middle of Hell, where Satan himself was stuck. This should illustrate how optimistic the people here are about their situation. (My own recommendation of "Coldtown" was thoroughly disregarded.)

Right now, I'm on Grow Room duty. That's right: we have our own Grow Rooms - except, instead of pot, like they would normally make, we're growing food. And, holy crap, it's hot in here. We're using high-intensity discharge lamps and they make the room into a land of summer. It feels wonderful.

Everyone wants Grow Room duty. Outside the Grow Rooms, it's basically freezing. You have to wear a jacket in the hallways. No power for heaters -- all extra electricity is routed to the Grow Rooms. Food is more important than heat. After all, we're warm blooded creatures, we can survive the cold. We can't survive starvation.

It won't last, though. The Grow Rooms have been steadily decreasing in the amount of food they provide. Soon, there won't be enough to feed everybody here. They say it has to do with the variation of seeds that they plant -- but that's bullshit.

The cold's creeping inside. It's getting into the Grow Rooms. I can see it now. Some of the plants have withered. It might be months or even years, but the cold will take it all. And we'll be left with nothing except each other. It'll be a big Donner party, then.

I seem flippant about this, don't I? The loss of food, turning to cannibalism to avoid starvation, everything. Well, I am. What else is there to be? Super serious? That won't change anything. That won't bring Agnes back. The problems of us little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Speaking of beans, I tried to convince the Grow Committee to let us grow some coffee beans, but they said that wasn't a priority. Priority, my ass. I miss coffee. I think that's why they called this place "lamentation" - because I am seriously lamenting not having coffee right now.

The World in Winter

I remember. I remember writing and running. I remember being young and hopeful and running towards the future.

I am an old man now. The world has changed on me. It has changed on all of us.

Winter has come. The last winter, I suppose, though I use "last" to refer to the last humans will experience - there will probably be many more winters for the cockroaches and the mountains and the planet Earth. But not for humans.

Because this winter is different. It's an old winter - it's a winter caused by Him. The Boy. (Is it silly that I still call him a boy, even though I know he absolutely isn't one? That's what she called him and I suppose I still call him that out of respect to her.) It spread across the world and covered everything in a layer of ice.

I don't know why He has done this. Perhaps He became bored with same old, same old (and, in that respect, we are alike). Ours is not to reason why, I guess. Ours is simply to last as long as we can before the cold takes us. I suppose this record is my last will and testament, although the only thing I will be leaving behind is...well, this journal.

I suppose it's time I introduced myself, then.

Hello, my name is Tav Lowe. Welcome to the end of the world.