I don’t know when it began, exactly, but I know that it happened. I know that it happened because it’s still happening. I peek through the blinds, past the nailed-up boards I put up to keep things out and look out into the yard. The yard is overgrown now, covered by tall clumps of crabgrass, mounds of kudzu covered with tiny purple buds just ready to burst, and creeping vines with stickers. But there are paths out there through all that vegetation. Those winding paths are clean and clear. They worry me more than anything.
I was ready for this. Shrinking stockpiles of canned food, MREs, and jugs of fresh water line my walls. I stocked up on iodine for water purification. I rigged up my gutters so that they drained into a large tub outside that I could drain through a spigot set in the kitchen wall. I always thought it’d be the government coming down on us, taking away all our basic freedoms and rights, but I never expected how the shit would eventually hit the fan.
I hear them at night. They call me out. Some of them sound like people I used to know. Sometimes I look outside, and I see them. Then I see through them. They are the ghosts of what came before, and that’s all they’ll ever be. What came before never will be again.
So, anyway, it wasn’t the government. It was us, all of us. We slept in one morning with a collective snore. We didn’t give enough of a flying cow turd to get our asses out of bed. And when I finally left my bed, the world had changed. It had moved on without me.
The borders of my lawn had already disappeared. The civilized lawn that used to be there, the one I kept mowed down nice and short so I wouldn’t have to mow it too often, was replaced by creeping bushes and tangles.
I make my own wine out of canned peaches. It tastes nasty, but it does the job all right, I guess. I grow a couple plants. I take care to keep some seeds to grow more plants, and the buds never cease growing. The world is overtaken by weeds. I take a toke, I sip my wine, and I look back outside and contemplate what once was and what is now and how the two are so very different.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m seeing things, spending too much time alone. I pick up the phone, but there’s no dial tone, of course. The lights won’t come on. I see my mailbox out there by the road is full to bursting, but I won’t go out there. That’s what they want.
I used to date a girl. She was a pretty thing. She took me out shopping all the time, and I hated it. She didn’t like hunting or fishing or shooting rats out at the dump. You know, she just wasn’t anything that was actually fun. She’d rather buy shoes. Now, I’ll admit those shoes looked good on her. Her clothes looked real nice. But they were impractical. Those heels got stuck in the mud of my driveway. Her dresses tore on briars if I took her out for a walk through the woods. So, I guess we didn’t have much in common. I guess it didn’t work out, and I guess I understand why. It only makes sense.
But one time I remember she took me to this mall, a big mall, all the way out in Atlanta. I hated those roads in that crazy ass town. To tell the truth, I tend to get nervous when things get paved and there’s more than one stoplight or intersection per square mile. But nothing could have prepared me for the mall. The thing was three stories and packed tight with people like an oversized sardine can. And what good are sardines without crackers and hot sauce? Anyway, I didn’t care for it, I guess. I sweated and felt sick. Those people pushed and pulled against me like waves. They made my stomach turn. People sprayed cologne on me in the department stores, and they choked me up even worse. It was just about the worst thing I ever did experience. The food court was a mass of dialogs I couldn’t follow. She talked to me and smiled sweetly. I didn’t hear a thing she said over all that ruckus. I never did hear what she said. And that was that, I guess. I never wanted to go shopping again, even if that meant I couldn’t be with that sweet girl.
And then, every time I went out afterwards – to the grocery store, the big hardware store, the head shop – it reminded me of that mall. I couldn’t go anywhere.
I never did call her or ask her out again after that day at the mall. Just the thought of being near her little modern Honda again was enough to give me the shivers.
So when we all slept in for the big sleep, I didn’t mind so much. I didn’t have much else to do.
Cars drive by sometimes, but I know that they are just a waking dream, an illusion. Probably something toxic in this peach wine making me hallucinate, I figure. But sometimes I do see them, and I sometimes wonder if the world ever did really sleep in. Or maybe it’s just me? Not that it matters none. I am here and there ain’t no going back.
Not even when I think I hear that pretty girl calling to me through my boarded up windows. When I feel weak and sad, I wonder if those paths winding through the overgrowth are hers. Those tiny holes in the wet dirt could be from a pair of high heels. That seems a reasonable enough speculation when I’m good and drunk. But if that’s her, she better be careful. She’s likely to break her ankle in them impractical things.
But I know that ain’t real. It’s just what they want me to think. I know better than to go back out there again. They’d tear me to pieces.