I’ve never been one for sitting around the house. Spacious though it may be, the decorum is Spartan and the entire affair smells faintly (and in some places, not so faintly) of mould.
So I stay on the move as much as possible. Take on some semi-freelance work delivering (Spence was not keen on the idea until I told him I was referring my customers to the Business after they’d paid me), get some cash on the side, and who knows, I might even have some fun along the way if there happens to be a decent club or pub. I return ‘home’ occasionally, though generally just to meet up with my co-workers if we’re going on a big assignment. My room in the house is, basically just a storage facility for my cash and medicine, (Which reminds me, Doc: Why would I steal from you? That’s such a goddamn stereotype. I’m pretty sure if you saw my stash, you’d be more likely to steal from me) and occasionally I’ll even sleep in my own bed. Though sleep is a luxury these days…my little sickness is becoming more symptomatic. I close my eyes and the darkness overcomes, then a light flashes and I can’t move and He is here and my lungs clamp…
So sleep is a luxury.
I’m back home now; last couple of days I’ve been on a little trip to line my own pockets (and then promptly de-line them, you know how it goes). It was a routine delivery, couple of Runners (you know, I’ve never really liked that term, people always take it far too literally. I wish people would just calm down and see it more, metaphorically: running from death, perhaps? But these silly buggers pissing themselves as they sprint across the country? They’re just forcing themselves into de-facto vagrancy. And vagrants cheques? Generally bounce. I’ve got a rule for my own deliveries: If you don’t have a place of residence I can make the delivery to, ‘cause you’re too busy sitting in a hotel taking videos of the minibar, then guess what? I’m too busy to get my arse over there with extra videotapes. Go get a real job.) under lockdown in a South Dakota farmhouse. And like all good rednecks, they needed more slugs.
I always have these flashes of existentialism in this job. What are we doing? We’re profiteering from people who, no matter what we bring them, are doomed. It’s pre-emptive graverobbing. We can bring them all the guns and ammo they want, all they’ll be doing is maybe putting a dent in the Proxy population, which in some corners of the earth appears to be, considerable. Never do they touch the source of the problem. I don’t even think a depleted uranium shell could make a dent in Tall and Slender…though damnit I’d love to try. (Spencer, can we get a tank for Christmas? Pleeeeease? I’ll be good! I’ll take it for walks and clean up after it and everything!)
This is generally the point that Spencer would come up to me and say “We’re providing a service in the short term, and who knows? Not everyone’s as fuckin’ pessimistic as you, y’know?” (Except he’d be saying it less coherently, because by this point he’d probably have got into my absinthe and sculled it like the Philestine he is)
I think I’ve thought of a better justification: We’re on our way out too. Just one group of the walking dead, doing jobs for another. It’s not graverobbing, it’s more…a zombie economy, so to speak.
…So where was I?
South Dakota. The farmhouse in question was…ominous. A tiny, dilapidated (hell it might as well have been Civil War era) cottage in the middle of sprawling fields. Very Children of the Corn. And you wouldn’t believe how little it appealed to me that the first thing that came to mind when I saw the thing was a Stephen King novel. That never bodes well. I parked my car (Well, it wasn’t mine as in, bought it with my own money. Last freelance job I took, my client didn’t need it anymore. I don’t generally take non-cash payments, but hey, everyone needs wheels.) as close to the house as I could manage, taking a reticent look out at the swirling cornstalks before vacating the car, grabbing the package, locking the door and briskly walking to the front door. Knock knock.
The door opened near immediately to a pair of flannelette-shirted beards. “Special delivery for a Misters Johns and Stewart?” I asked, just going through the motions at this point: of course they were, there wasn’t another house for miles. Which made sense. Wouldn’t want to spread the plague further; bunkering down in an urban area? Someone’s going to see Tall and Slender, or at least one of his little buddies. And then they’ll be at risk. Sometimes, it’s best to go into quarantine, I suppose.
”You got our ammo? We got those sons-of-bitches knockin’ on our doors just as soon as the sun sets,” Mister Johns and/or Stewart asked frantically as I handed him the tightly-bound package. “And we can’t go into town, not anymore. They’re there, they’re there…all through, never suspect a thing, can’t see, not on their faces but in their minds and they want us and why? Why do they want us? …”
One of the perks of working with people with our problems; you don’t need to try and carry out an intelligent conversation with them, they’re far too happy to hear the sounds of their own voice, letting their fragile minds explode through their vocal cords like they’re afraid if they don’t talk about what’s happening, they’ll miss their chance to talk ever again.
Probably why so many of us blog. Go figure.
”Got the cash?” I asked, prompting the silent one to reach into his pocket and toss over a roll of Ben Franklins. “That’s ‘bout the last of our cash.” he said quietly. “We can’t sell the harvest, they’ve sprayed the corn with something. Frank here ate some and seriously tripped, he’s never been the same since.” I counted the money. “Must be tough. Yep, this is all the cash, glad I could be of service.” I said, backing up a little. Never overstay your welcome, that’s my philosophy. For life in general as well, apparently: well, considering my job and habits. Jump in, do what you need to do: stay around after that, and that’s just pure hedonism.
“Thanks, pal…I guess it’s ‘bout time we should move on, we’ve held the fort here as long as we could. We’ve got food for another month or so, but…” I was already on my way to the car. This field was giving me the heebie jeebies. Though if I was asked to describe my feelings at the time, I’d probably have used a rather more choice phrase which didn’t make me sound like a cartoon.
“You kids have fun.” I said, unlocking the door and stepping in. I waved (might as well be polite) to the two blokes at the door, only to see them turn sheet white and slam the door. So much for politeness.
It was only when I put the machine into ‘reverse’ and looked in my mirror that I saw what they were so white about.
Two men in masks, standing either side of the path out; partially obscured by stalks of corn. I couldn’t see them carrying anything, but they were far away, and my eyes are bad.
I locked my doors, swung the car around and pulled on my seatbelt. Neither of them moved. I considered going out of my way to hit one of them, but…well, death is…death. The end. The finale. As a man who is spending his life trying to hold onto it? Taking another life when it could be avoided…
Not my style.
I pushed the accelerator and started down the path. Neither of the two masked men moved as I shot past them, they merely stared intently at the cottage. As I drove, I noticed more and more masked faces amidst the corn, sending shivers down my spine. None of them moved, they just…watched.
We may all be Runners, but some are closer to the finish line than others. The roll of bills weighed heavily on my consciousness on the drive home, though I managed to put it out of mind because of one simple fact.
At least with my help, the two of them weren’t going down without a fight.