We are all told to dream big. To follow our dreams and never give them up. But perhaps what we all fear the most is one day we will awaken from our real dream? The last thing that one seems willing to give up is their dream of who they wish they were. And who they have spend the bulk of their lifetime attempting to be. Yet that may be the only acceptable path to follow? The only way to escape being enslaved by the universal spider upon whose web that we are sooner of later caught upon. Wrapped luxuriously tight wound in fine silks until there is no more possibility of escape. Our inner being dissolved slowly until there is merely an outer shell left. A semblance hollow and without substance. The dream I awoke from was a nightmare. But it hardly compared to the nightmare that I found myself within.
It was the end of May. Some five weeks since since the power had been cut throughout the region. Was it a war? The television stations and radio stations that had continued to broadcast were giving conflicting reports that consisted mainly of stay in your homes no matter what in the first hours. But they had suddenly gone dead for even those with generators or batteries to power them. No one knew? At least those few that still clung to life. By the end of the first week of SHTF, half the population was at each other’s throats. The food stores had been out of stock and roving gangs from the ghetto were burning and looting anything that they could find. The small bands of residents of houses in the suburban areas that formed a belt around the city were beginning to run low on ammo. Some groups had formed barriers around their neighborhoods with the help of local tow trucks that pulled the burned out wrecks and abandoned cars from off the nearby boulevards that had become choked with them. That was until all the gasoline had dwindled. The vandals were now coming from everywhere. The bodies of the dead lays untended in the street and throughout the residences where they had fallen.
The strong were killed off one by one by bands of those who were desperate and collectively stronger and their goods looted and houses burned. The entire city lay devastated by the pestilence of growing disorder. There were no food trucks, or police or state militia. Some endured the invasion of their homes giving themselves freely to the whims of their invaders. Stripped of their garments and belongings and humiliated in every way that the darkened minds of their captors could conjure. Then left battered and naked to the vagaries of the changing seasons. The winds that seemed to continually blow cold smoke and burning embers from yet another community far off that was actively being torched. The fourth week saw an uncustomary calm where the streets were now populated only by dogs and birds picking apart the bones of fragmentary corpses. The entire neighborhood below was now empty. Or so it seemed? From the tenth floor of the largest high-rise there was no indication of movement. The lone resident carefully crawled about checking just above the sill’s of her broken windows with barely and an eye exposed above each. The inside of the three rooms were trashed with anything useful carried off. The first group had forced their way into each apartment yelling to each that if they did not surrender and open up the door all would be slaughtered. By the time the fifth door had been breached anyone with fight still left in them had shrieked their last.
She had simply opened the door and let them in to have their way. She was used of course. But the exhaustion come of the immediacy of recent slaughter combined with a rapid inebriation from so quickly imbibing purloined alcohol kept it to more humiliation than unrestrained violence. They had left in the midst of night after breaking everything that could not be carried away then tossing much of it out of the windows to the street below. She was left shivering in a darkened corner retaining only her torn T-shirt and stained briefs. From that point on she took to hiding in hallway closets during the day with the most usable pieces of rubble pulled over her for camouflage. She heard several more groups of scavengers pouring through the vacant apartments displacing whatever what remained but eventually they all would move on. She would come out of her hiding place at the bewitching hour and cautiously scouted the other empty flats. Some of the corpses that had been her neighbors were no becoming unrecognizable in part from rot but equally from the flocks of birds who flew in through the broken glass. She managed to pull off a sweater from one and some deck shoes from another. Hunger and thirst drover her to the descend the stairwells to other floors to glean what little she could. The effort being inconsequential in most cases. Having gotten as much as she could from the general vicinity she began to range further and further from the confines of the building. The small houses that were left were near to total wrecks. A can here of something in a misplaced jar that had rolled under a broken chest afforded the girl enough to keep her from collapse. What ever she would find.
The increasing distance of her foraging meant that she had to occasionally find cover farther from the sheltering warren that was her former apartment complex. The immediate evidence of another in the vicinity sent her scrambling to avoid them. Many times it was her imagination. The lack of food for many weeks running had jarred her senses. There was the dilemma of the aching pains of her abdomen and the lightness of her head that drover her more and more to risk the unknown traveling ever further another block over. It was uncanny how her sense of smell could so naturally block out the ever-present sickly scent of decay in favor of some unexpected delicate aroma signifying a possible morsel of something eatable. She was nearly a mile beyond her normal haunt when at dusk she caught the smell of something from another past time in her nostrils. Something that she now might have ranked with the most exquisite of rarest delicacies imaginable. The smell of cumin. Chili. The scent of it from across alley behind the corner of the garage that she tremulously huddled within. The fact of it drove her to near frenzy wanting to run over to find its source but equally terrified that she might encounter someone. The weight of danger in following through wanting her to abandon the searing pain in her abdomen that it inspired punishing the emptiness. The safe bet might mean that the longer she hesitated the more the possibility that another would like her find it and snatch it away. Her hunger getting the better of her.
The aroma was coming from the back of a house that looked almost relatively untouched. As she drew closer it blossomed into a richness of a sort of bacon-like overtone that enchanted her as she sidled along the side of the garage that was across from her former hiding place. Looking back and forth she could not hear a soul. Her heart leaped into her throat as she tiptoed to the back door and peered over the undisturbed glass into the amazing sight of what seemed to be a properly intact kitchen. The door was open, slightly ajar and now trembling between abject fear and unbounded expectation she nervously crept past it slowly approaching the burner of a wood stove with a large stainless pot that sat simmering away atop it. Memories of another time overtook her brain and she wondered if somehow she was still a child in her grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen. Somehow awakened from a terrible dream that was so vivid that she was left confused by it in this tremulous state. Unsure if it was really there she stopped in the middle of the kitchen confused a bit of how best to proceed. She looked over to the counter by the sink to see if there were implements handy. A drawer with a spoon or fork. Perhaps a bowl in the overhead cupboard. The flash of a face just outside the window peering at her turned her immediately into electrically charged ice. The floor seemed to drop away under her and she caught herself falling down beneath it landing on her rump upon a slid that whisked her away from the kitchen above into blackness.
The slide whooshed her down into an enclosure and she tumbled into a concrete wall kicking her feet and clawing forth trying to amble up to escape somewhere. She scrambled against it’s coolness quickly finding a corner and then following just as quickly to its juncture. All told she was in a small concrete space of some ten feet by twelve. The trap in the floor above had fully retracted and the space was pitch black. She fought the long disused impulse to scream letting out a couple gasps and coughs with the effort. Cradling herself in her arms she stumbled around rechecking the room’s confines in hopes of finding some overlooked point of possible exist. There was none besides the colder smoothness of a steel door. She fumbled around tot he opposite corner and huddled down into it trying to make herself as small as possible. There she sat for an infinity of minutes. The minutes turning into interminable multiples that might have been reckoned as hours before exhaustion released her into sleep. The sharp slip of metal grating and the prolonged squeak of rusty hinges bringing her instantly back to consciousness. That damn smell lurked outside the doorway wafting its way in. This time from a bowl that a shadowy figure standing just outside held close to his middle as if waiting for her to approach to take it. Her fear fought with the futility of the situation. Here she was completely defenseless having been cast into an inescapable concrete prison without he torment of much needed sustenance just outside of its entrance in the hands of her captor. Minutes past but there was no sound from the lips of this person partly in shadow. The scent of food was wracking her frame overcoming her bringing to mind so many rationale’s as to why she should abandon her position and accept the silent but implicit offer. Though she was now unused to speaking she searched her mind for something that might magically proffer her safe passage or mitigate and possible mischief that might be in the thoughts of that silent figure so patiently waiting to greet her. Slowly and with great reluctance she got to her feet and slowly approached the figure who now held out the bowl.
Her eyes adjusted to the dimness allowing her to note that her host was a very normal looking man in work clothes and an apron. His face not terrible in some malevolence of ill intent. Rather to the contrary bland and emotionless. He placed the bowl into her own outstretched hands and she brought it up to her mouth and tipped its contents to her lips. The heat of the contents within it cautioning to slow her ardor in too quickly consuming it. The taste of something real to eat once again made her forget her surroundings and she gobbled and gulped in-between short bouts of gagging and shocking as its bulk hit her depleted stomach. The man just stood there unmoving watching her. Though in the universe before the current Hellish world the size of the bowl that she ate from might have been considered moderate she found it nearly impossible to consume more that half before she sank to the ground doubled over from the pain of trying attack its contents. She curled up beside it rocking a bit her eyes remaining upon the dish wary that the man might remove it from her grasp even though she was presently unable to withstand consuming the rest of it. She began to cry and sob until she passed into a state of near stupor. It was then the man pulled her arms from the bowl and began to pull away the varied scraps of rags that covered her until nothing more of them remained. He pulled her up unsteadily and in his embrace she careened across the outer room into an ante chamber. A series of small enclosures measuring four feet square composed of welding rod with a small door awaiting her as her new birth. Some of the other cages containing occupants as best as her compromised wits could imagine. He set her down and urged her within. She crawled willingly through its opening and he swept her leg in after her then set its lock into place. She was now a prisoner within some strange place full of others not unlike herself. Naked curled up on cold concrete she shivered herself to attempt escape via sleep into the last safe haven of dreams.