They didn't need the gas masks, not anymore. I just liked the look of really. It gave a kind of twisted humor to the whole scene, like some punk band from the cold war or something. It also served to hide the faces I couldn't stand to see. The horror in their eyes was softened by the glass. Their terrible smiles were completely covered by the tight fabric. And sometimes I liked to think that maybe this would have saved them. Maybe they would be baking cookies in a brightly lit kitchen. If only...
It was a sham of course. A gas mask may help against anything getting on your face but the rest of the skin would be exposed. The poisons that got them would have worked anyway. So it was all a false hope, but what else did I have? As far as I could tell I was the only sane man left in the city. Probably the nation.
The city was dead. Corpses were everywhere, bodies initially piled by the living until they were overwhelmed by the task. Now the pyres are unlit and the stink is overpowering, especially downtown. So I stay safe in the suburbs. Canned food will last me until I die, and camping stoves work. And every day I ask “Why me?”. Why was I the one who lived when everyone else started falling over and staying down? Was there a plan? Was I lucky? Blessed? Cursed?
At first I thought it was my hobby. Taxidermy does get a lot of chemical gunk around you so I guess I'm pre-preserved. But that doesn't make sense. All my friends are just rotting piles of meat now, even the other taxidermists. Their collections are fine though, fine work. I took Bob's prized fiji mermaid fake early on. No sense in it going to waste. I also took his head before it rotted. The body was useless but I felt he deserved better.
I have the only working electricity in the city. It took a few tries but I've got nothing but time. A gas generator and a siphon hose keep the kitchen lit. The gas masked players always finishing cookies, a perfect Rockwell scene. I spend most of my time in that room anymore. It's the last slice sanity and peace in such a grey world, the last remnant of the good life.
Last night was strange. I thought, for just a moment, I saw her move. She offered me a cookie. I nearly fell out of my chair but when I looked again nothing had happened. Of course nothing had happened. They were dead, stuffed with sawdust and filled with preservatives. What was I talking about?
Something happened again. The living room is dark, no in the room to shine a light on. But today the room lit up. Someone was moving in there. I put down my book and ran in, but it was dark. The room was empty and I smashed my leg on a chair. I thought I heard someone running, but the sound faded before I could look up.
It gets lonely in the wasteland. I get bored. Most books were burned early on by lunatics attempting to purify the dead and “heal” our society. TV is useless of course. I could watch videos, but the power drain would be to much for the lights. So I read what I can, I scavenge, and I preserve. A few battery powered lamps and my old gear and my workshop is just fine. I do heads these days mostly, to let the future know about us. Bodies take up to much room. Some I do full size, but a lot are to damaged, so I shrink them. I have quite a collection now.
They talk, I'm sure of it. Not to me of course. And they shut up when they think I listen but they talk. The heads in the basement whisper to each other. They blame me. ME! I gave them a second chance to endure, to be preserved. I made them special out of this entire city. Their voices are dry. In the kitchen I hear muffled cries of agony and pain. Supplications for help. They offer me cookies, but I know they are just plastic. Do they think I'm stupid?
Maybe the heads are right. Maybe it is wrong to preserve them, but what will they do about it? They're heads! They can't even move! Especially after I mounted them. I gave them all little bodies. Not real bodies, no that would take to long. But I did display them. In jars, on spikes, one is on a giant teddy bear.
I need to join them. I should join all my headed friends. I will do it tonight. In the kitchen, where my dear sarcastic sister and her brat of a son can watch. A blade, sharp and fast, in a frame. And then? I get to join in the conversation, until my tongue rots out at least. But don't worry I made plans for that. I will fall in a bucket of formaldehyde. It's rough but it works.
Inspired by the weekly flash fiction challenge at Chuck Wendig's Terribleminds.com Post here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/04/01/flash-fiction-challenge-the-unexplainable-must-be-explained/
Photo here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/60-completely-unusable-stock-photos Number 21.