By Kevin P. Sheridan
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Library of Congress Summary: When the world is thrown back into the dark ages, Adam Dawson must fight his way across the country to reunite with his father, fighting through the religious zealots who believe the end has come.
First edition, September 2013
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"You Stay Here"' lyrics Copyright © 2000 Richard Shindell
Cover Photo © 2008 Rhys A. Discovered on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/51867225@N08/4768682049/
Cover design © 2013 by Deb Quinton
To my wife, Anne, who always believed I could do it
And to my kids, Hannah, Cara, and Kyle, so they remember forever that mom's always right.
PART I - JUNE
"You stay here and I'll go look for wood
Do not fear I’ll be back soon enough
Do not let the fire die
Neither let it burn too bright"
Everyone goes through airport security on edge, waiting to be pulled aside for some surprise in their suitcase. I knew exactly what the TSA agent stared at on his small x-ray screen. The image of the lead cross on the silver chain practically floated off the screen and smacked him in the face. Fortunately, the inch-long knife contained within the cross allowed me a clean getaway. Fiberglass reinforced plastic doesn't get picked up by metal detectors, and lead blocks out x-rays. It also doesn't hurt that most TSA agents couldn't find their assholes with a map written on the toilet paper. The cross rolled safely out from the machine, innocently sitting in the circular plastic basket. I picked it up, put it on, and then put on my shoes. Hoisted up my carry-on, and walked away. I looked down at the cross. Simple Goth look to it, skull in the middle with red plastic eyes. Innocent enough, I guess; it fit the whole “rebel twenty-something” image. I smiled. Nobody ever looks for danger in a religious icon.
As my original plane backed away from the gate, I plopped myself down on the butt-numbing terminal seat. Two hours until the next flight, giving me two more hours of not heading home. I would've thanked God for that if I believed in a God. Going home fell just below eyeball scraping on my "favorite things to do" list. I looked down at the brochure from the seminar at Penn I just came from – “Enhanced Measuring Techniques in Astrophysics”. Bunch of academic androids proudly spitting out their latest ideas. Long, large, drawn out words strung together with self-importance and enigmatic equations, like one of my dad's lectures. I tossed the brochure down a few seats. Let some other traveler kill time trying to understand that.
The image of my dad popped into my brain; the nation's top astrophysicist on his flight home from D.C. after an important meeting with the president, then off to a quick lecture pimping his newest book. “We Are God” was dad’s latest attempt to prove that God doesn't exist, and how man made the whole thing up. I gave up on trying to prove to him that I existed by the time I was sixteen. It's easy to stay invisible in a thirty-five thousand square foot mansion in Malibu.
I made my way over to the bar for a drink. A smoking hot waitress showed up and asked if I wanted anything. Tall, probably six-foot, long black hair in a ponytail, and a perfectly shaped face. I almost forgot the question. “Jack and Coke, and a cheeseburger, medium. Nothing else on it," I said.
“ID?” She asked. I took out my wallet and showed her my license. I still get carded at twenty-three. Not that I mind. She shot a glance at it. “Thanks,” she said and turned away.
My cell phone buzzed my hip. With a practiced flip I pulled it out of my pocket like an old west sheriff. Checked the number - unknown. Fuck it. They'd leave a message if it was important enough.
The drink came and then the burger. The waitress laid the plate down in front of me and I noticed the scars on her arm. A seemingly random pattern, but each one almost exactly an inch long, almost like tread marks. I looked up at her and noticed her eyes, pale blue but hard. Why would she be a cutter?
“You use a scissors or a knife?” I asked, chomping into the burger. Her eyes went wide. I pulled up my sleeve and showed her the same type of scars, intermingled with various Celtic tattoos. “I prefer a knife. A very special knife.”
She didn't know what to say, so I carried on. “Pretty messed up, huh?”
No response, just a quick turn away.
She stopped. Something gnawed at her. “Why do you do it?” She asked.
I never really thought about it. I've been at it for what, seven, eight years maybe? Running the blade of a knife over my skin just helped me...not feel. It pissed off my ex-girlfriend; she thought I’d mess up her favorite tiger tattoo on my upper arm. Truth is I wouldn't care if it did or not. I only got that tattoo because she thought it was hot. Guys’ll do some stupid shit if they think they’ll get laid for it.
“Never mind," she said, again turning to go.
I had to recover quickly. "Sorry. Yeah, it’s a little embarrassing. I usually do it after my dad pisses me off. It’s the only way to get the feelings out. When I do it, it’s like the anger is…”
“Escaping,” she finished. I smiled at her. She knew. "How does your dad piss you off?"
"Usually by existing. He's a scientist. Works closely with the President, publishes a lot of papers, gives talks, shit like that." I looked down. I didn't like to talk about it too much. My dad showed about as much emotion as his telescope. The coldness of space had nothing on him.
“Marilyn,” came a voice from the bar. She whipped her head around to the bartender, a hulk of a guy with a Harley Davidson mustache. “Customers,” he said, pointing.
“Yeah, OK.” She waved the bartender off, gave me a smile that instantly doubled her tip, and left.
People don’t expect guys who come from well-off families and have good jobs and good looks going for them to be cutters. What could possibly be wrong with my life, right?
Wrong. Most of us are cutters in one way or another. Football players, the guy with a million tattoos, hell even the guys from Fight Club. We don't wanna admit it, but guys are addicted to pain. That sharp sensation of a million nerve endings suddenly splitting in two - and the body's reaction and recovery - it takes us out of our fucked up present and immediately begins a healing process, one we could never start on our own.
As I ate, I saw a familiar face on the TV above me - President Douglas, making some horseshit statement that I couldn't care less about. Behind him, as usual, stood my dad, applauding at the right cues, looking smug and intelligent. I tuned in to listen over the crowd at the bar.
"America is not a Christian nation, but a free nation. A nation of people of all faiths, and we should not, we cannot, legislate for one religion. We will set laws not based on the Bible, or the Koran, or the Talmud, but on the Constitution."
More applause. I smiled remembering my dad getting into the campaign, practically orgasming every time he watched Douglas on TV, saying how great it would be to have an agnostic president. When my dad got tapped to be a part of the cabinet as secretary of energy I think the old man actually got hard.
The gorgeous talking head at the news desk came back and spouted off about the religious right's response, and how the country is growing increasingly divided. I couldn't remember, I focused on more important issues, like the different positions I wanted her in.
They cut to some old fart standing in front of a podium. Must've been a hundred years old. I went back to eating. Politics and I don't match. Another dinner conversation my dad and I never had.
The guy at the table next to me mumbled to whoever could hear, "Fuckin' fascist. That president's making a lot of enemies. Tearing this country apart. Wants to make it an atheist country. Just like Stalin."
Remarkably, more than a few heads nodded in agreement.
I hate people.
Burger done, another Jack and Coke, and I dropped the debit card to my ever growing bank account on the check that Marilyn brought.
Marilyn reached down to grab it and I saw her arm again. She switched hands quickly, but we both knew. She cleared her throat and smiled a bullshit, embarrassed smile that came and went like a camera flash. Turned to run the card.
She returned with the check for me to sign. “Thanks, Mr…” she checked the name on the card, “Dawson.”
“Adam,” I said. I held out my hand. She balanced my empty plate on her left arm to shake it.
“Marilyn,” she said staring at me. The bartender yelled at her and she damn near dropped the plate on the floor. Her boss had issues, I could tell. “Fuckin’ hell,” Marilyn whispered as she left me. Another five percent for colorful language.
I got up to go, growing more depressed with every step back into the cold, hollow terminal. Here was this incredible chick, a fellow cutter (we should form a club), and she’s on the other side of the country from where I live. Philadelphia and Malibu relationships are doomed to fail, no matter how much 'sexting' you do. In the end, you just can’t escape the fact that you’ll always be jerking off.
Sucks that life works out like that. I tried asking my dad once about why that is, but he spent the next hour philosophizing about some grand universal scheme bullshit while pulling up astronomy pictures. I don’t believe there is a grand universal scheme. I believe time, God, the universe, whatever, just fucks with you at random moments in your life. The rest of your time is spent trying to recover.
As I sat down at the now empty gate, I pulled out my phone to play some games. I glanced at my seminar handouts three seats away. Boring as hell, and gravitational micro-lensing was pure bullshit anyway. But Dad wouldn't have missed it. He gave me his brains and natural aptitude for the subject, but not the passion. It's hard to get pumped up about a subject your father loves more than you. Still, getting my degree at least shut him up.
I unlocked the phone, and saw that I did have a message. I never get messages.
I called my voicemail, listened through the Bluetooth headset, and heard a crackling voice shout. Bad reception on their part, I figured.
I lowered the phone to hang up, chalking it up to a bad cell zone when they called, but I heard my name being yelled. “ADAM!” the voice cried. “You've got to get this. Check your email.” More crackling. Something something and then “off of me”. Then back into the phone. “Check your email and print it out. You've got one hour, Adam. One hour!” It sounded like scuffling, then nothing.
I recognized Dad’s voice. I checked the time; his flight left an hour ago. He had to be in the air.
I’d never heard him freak out like that before.