I open my eyes to the diluted light filtering through the window, and blink a few times to moisten my vision and break the crusty coating at the corners. Daybreak comes far too early, and with it a scrambling to finish all I need to accomplish today. I want to return to my real home in Malibu; I've stayed far too long in the Valley.
This is not a safe world I live in, but some places are safer than others, and it's time to lie low awhile. I sigh and let my mind wander for just a moment, back to when all I had to be concerned with was finishing homework and making sure my nail polish matched the clothes I was wearing.
For a moment I hear my mother's voice, her crisp tone urging me out of bed to get ready for school.
!” she would call in her native Japanese. “It is rude to be late
An automatic smile appears with thoughts of my delicate mom, hands on her hips and her lips pursed as she talked to me in a harsh tone. It hadn't been in a mean tone or done in a critical manner, but rather in a strict way to teach. “If you make your bed now, you'll be comfortable later
” or “The stench of perspiration lingers long after you leave
It had been the way her parents raised her, in that brisk, no-nonsense way only the Japanese have, and she applied the same principle to her only child. As I was growing up, I hated that tone she used, what I had thought was a condescending attitude even though my father told me over and over that was how Japanese translated to the American perspective.
My legs need to stretch, so I flip over onto my back, lengthening my muscles and easing the tension of the night. The smile has long since vanished as I remember my mother. She was beautiful, with long, stick-straight black hair. Man, how I had envied her hair. Mine is just as dark but has the looseness of curl that I could never tame.
I miss her. Still.
Finally I start looking about the room as I push old memories back. The bedroom I am in was beige once, I think; it's hard to identify colors anymore under the dirt and grime brought by time. The people who lived here must have thought boarding up the place and putting plastic on everything would keep it all pristine for their return, without realizing they would never have the chance to see it again. But it did preserve the mattress well enough for me to use, and after six years I've a hoard of houses all throughout former Los Angeles where I can be sure I have a good night's sleep.
I am nothing if not meticulous, so after one more stretch I hop off the bed and start putting the room back to how I found it, hiding my tracks. In the world I live in, to survive means to be cautious, to act like you've never been there. I pull the ragged piece of plastic back up on the bed, I gather the thin blanket and few items of clothing into my backpack, and I head out of the room, making sure to tilt the door at the same angle I found it. There is no water in this house, so I walk noiselessly down the stairs, knowing where every loose board is and avoiding it.
The bottom floor of the house is a wreck. All the windows are blown out, even the ones that had been boarded up, leaving the elements free rein to invade. Dirt and leaves rustle as small rodents scurry over the shredded carpet and linoleum floors. I don't bother the vermin, and they don't bother me.
The top hinge of the front door is still together, but the bottom has long since rusted off, and the angle at which the door hangs has created a small space to wriggle in and out of. I crouch down and slither through the opening, careful to avoid the large hole on the front porch.
It's early morning and the safest time to be out and about. I spent the night in what used to be Sherman Oaks, but like the rest of the world is now nothing but forgotten memories. There are no city limits, no boundaries, no jurisdictions; the world has been decimated, and I am but one person in a handful of humanity that survived.
The pockets of humans left come out mostly at night, like vampires, so I feel pretty safe leaving my resting spot in the bright light of day and walking a few houses away to find water. I am at the end of a cul-de-sac nestled against the base of the mountain that had divided the Valley from the rest of LA. The street I turn onto eventually leads to what once was Sepulveda Boulevard.
It is absolutely amazing how certain things survived the Great Incident and how other things didn't. I use the term Great Incident
because there hadn't been a war. Sometime six years ago, North Korea detonated a biological bomb in the air, and the fallout spread a virus that turned into a pandemic. I only know this term because people bandied it around earlier from a scare of the swine flu. It had turned out to be nothing compared to the new threat. The virus started out as an airborne pathogen then quickly mutated into a disease that had no antidote. Unfortunately when the virus mutated, the pandemic spread fast, creating panic. And with panic came desperation. People left their homes, the cities, thinking running would help.
The United States responded by invading North Korea, of course--and wow! There wasn't even an ultimatum, like the one Bush gave Iraq. We just swooped in and took over. But by the time other countries joined us, the pandemic had started its deadly run, so any type of war was preempted by planetwide deaths. And who the frick knows what North Korea was thinking when they launched their biobomb? From the news seizing control of all the TV networks, it seems North Korea was hit hardest, with the death toll almost 100 percent.
No one really knows why some people didn't contract the virus; it was either you got it or you were one of the lucky ones. I remember that people desperately wanted to hold on to the feeling that everything was going to be okay, that doctors or the CDC were going to announce at any moment that a cure had been found. I remember being immature. I was mad that something ordinary like cheerleading camp in Las Vegas had been canceled, so my friends and I decided we were going to go anyway. A way of giving the finger to the National Cheerleaders Association for believing we weren't going to be okay, that life wasn't going to continue. We really didn't have a plan; we just decided to wing it and see what trouble we could find on the tamed-down Vegas Strip.
I had driven there, without my parents' permission, of course. My father was an entertainment lawyer who had fallen sick, and my mother was a surgeon fighting the pandemic that had already killed half the world's population. I was alone a lot. I figured they wouldn't miss me. So I took my hybrid sweet-sixteen present, the car I had gotten the previous year for my birthday, and drove the five or so hours. That was a Friday.
That Saturday was when a massive earthquake devastated Southern California. The Big One
To this day I still don't know how it measured on the Richter scale, but who really cares? The result was the same no matter what. Biological attack, disease, destruction. LA was a lost civilization.
I remember little from that time, because of shock, I suppose. My friends and I had been getting ready to go to a nightclub, with fake IDs and lots of makeup, when I felt the world shaking. Even as far away as it was, Las Vegas wasn't immune to the quake. When the news came over the television, I knew my life had just spiraled out of control.
The police urged everyone to remain calm and stay where they were. Fuck that; I ran. I ran because I was scared; I ran because, after all my teenage blustering, I needed my parents. I drove my car halfway back to Los Angeles before I stopped to really appraise the red haze covering the city far in the distance. The earthquake had caused everything to burn, or at least most of downtown and the parts near major plants and factories. I drove onto a barely paved road, crying, realizing my mom and my dad had to be dead. That, like them, my world was dead. The earthquake had taken something from me that even the pandemic hadn't, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, left.
I had slept in my car, and I woke with a horrible headache the next morning. I didn't return to I-15. Instead I drove on the little road that twisted and turned and wound its way through the desert. I peed behind short cactus stumps. Only the clawing of my empty stomach forced me to find food, and I stopped at this deserted mini-gas market to stock up on whatever I could find. Whoever had worked there hadn't returned, so I felt no guilt as I gorged myself on junk food and Red Bull. For two days I stayed there, realizing that by some miracle, I had been in the right place at the right time. I was alive, and there was no way I was going to misuse my miracle.
The convenience store had a television, but after three days there were no more news broadcasts. The world was in such a desperate state that I realized no rescue was coming.
I stopped watching after that. What more did I really need to know? In the beginning all I had wanted was to find my family and be around humans to lament the devastation, but it dawned on me that I was not safe. Flashes of Los Angeles history came to mind, and though the riots had happened way before I was born, I had still heard about them. If I survived, then others must have survived. But I was neither exceptionally strong nor fit, so I had to rely on being calm and rational.
Thank goodness I loved action films. I took a notebook, and I opened a new pack of pens. I started to write out every survival story I could remember seeing, any tidbit where the hero used cleverness to get the jump on the bad guy.
I stayed at the convenience store until the food was gone. I rationed, so it was about two months. I hid my car. I barricaded the doors and did all I could to make the place look deserted and empty.
I only had one scare the whole time I stayed there, and it came at night after I had bedded down in the store's office on the small vinyl couch. The door to the office was locked from the inside, and I had used items from the handyman aisle to reinforce its security. I had heard nothing, but the turning of the doorknob woke me instantly. I lay there in the dark, unable to see anything, but able to hear the turning and slight shaking of the handle. My heart jumped into my throat, and I reached down to the floor and quietly picked up the hunting knife lying there. I had found it after my first search of the gas station. I'd hoped to discover a gun, but I felt okay with finding a really big knife.
The door rattled once, and it was hard to tell which was louder in the dark: the sound of the shaking door or my frantically beating heart. Fear rose up into my throat. My muscles contracted. All I could do was wait, wondering if whoever was on the other side of the door could hear my labored breathing.
I waited for anything to happen, even for the door to be kicked down, but then I heard the doorknob release, and the rattling stopped. I didn't hear retreating footsteps. But night continued and day came, and I was far too frightened to open the door. Perhaps the visitor was out there, waiting, making sure this room was really deserted.
I let four days go by before I ventured out. I had run out of emergency food, and the toilet bucket was getting really rank. I figured if anyone was out there, the smell would alert them before anything else.
But the store was empty, and I walked outside waiting for something to happen. Only nothing ever did.
My inspection showed a set of tire marks on the gritty parking lot surface, ones that weren't mine. I took a deep breath and rubbed my chilled arms in the hot sun. I was alone again, but this time very happy about that fact. With a critical eye, I turned back to my little haven and started methodically looking at what could have made the visitor check things out. I had removed all the food and hidden it in the back of the store, trying to make it look as if the store had already been looted. But then I realized that if it had been a true looting, the inside would be dirty, perhaps a window or two broken. At minimum, there would be dust everywhere, and I had kept the place looking spotless. Just like someone lived there.
I wrote this information down in my notebook and then got busy messing everything up. I broke two windows, though I made sure to break them away from the areas I usually walked to avoid the glass. And I stopped sweeping. This helped me to relax, but I replenished my food supply in the tiny office and always slept with that hunting knife nearby.
Eventually I continued on to Los Angeles, though I was vigilant on the way to my Brentwood home. Only, Los Angeles was beyond devastated; it was almost completely wiped out. People had been suffering from the pandemic, thousands dying every day. When the earthquake hit, it brought everything to a halt. Like I said before, I was only seventeen at the time, so my understanding was limited. I knew there had been problems before the Great Incident; the economy and lack of health care were catalysts. But of the world events leading up to it, I had only fuzzy recollections.
For six years I have kept as low a profile as I can. My hybrid car is gone, though I remember where I stored it. One, I can't chance driving it and having someone notice, and two, gas is almost nowhere to be found, and the vehicles that use it, pretty much obsolete. I ride a bicycle most everywhere, going from one safe house to another, though I have a dirt bike for emergencies. I scavenge. I store. Everything I find, I meticulously work over to discover a way to use it. I have found the most amazing things, from useful items such as food and water to what I call frivolous necessities--like the chest of sex toys I found some time ago. Yes, a developing girl turning into a young woman does need a vibrator.
I dig out my bike from its hiding place and ride the mile or so to where the Borders bookstore used to sit on Victory Boulevard. I know I've visited this store about a hundred times, but I've managed to keep quite a large number of books in the half-collapsed building. I want to grab a few of them.
It takes me about half an hour to get there, and I hide my bike in the overgrown weeds where the remnants of abandoned apartments litter the streets. I make my way carefully over the collapsed concrete and steel and duck into the darkened bookstore. I'm not the only person who has ravaged what has remained, but this building no longer attracts scavengers like me, so I feel okay with making my way around. It's been so long, not even scattered papers remain.
My stash is close to the roof, so I walk up the staircase, which is actually kind of hard to do because it has slid sideways, as if it melted. But the foundation beneath is sound. When I get to the second floor, I duck around fallen debris with sharp, pointy metal spikes. A panel I've wedged closed and made to look natural holds my stash. I pry it open and grab a couple of books on top.
One book is a mystery paperback, and the other is about vampires. I spend a few moments reading their jackets, when a trolling sound comes from outside. I freeze and listen. The sound comes again, along with diluted laughter. The books fall to my feet, immediately forgotten. Fear dances over me because I know who is out there. I make my way to one of the blown-out windows and peek out, my gaze roving all over until I spot them.
A band of men, decked out from head to toe with weapons, are dragging three bodies entangled in chains. I have no doubt the victims are dead; there's just not enough body left for them to be alive. The men are laughing, probably congratulating each other on a job well done.
After all, three scavengers are a lot.
People like me, people who steal what they can find to survive, are on top of the most hunted list. This city is basically lawless, run by gangs who consider the territory off-limits to strangers. And if I happen to be caught, it will be a very bad day for me.
I stay low and hidden until the men are long gone. And I remain still for another hour after that, just making sure that they are far away. The ground shaking beneath my feet has me moving from this dilapidated building, because the last thing I want is to be in it if it decides to cave to gravity. If you live in LA, earthquakes are a way of life. But lately there's been an increase in all the rockin' and rollin', and it's starting to bother me a bit.
I move my cramped body, forcing myself to back away from the window to grab the two books I dropped earlier. Then I hightail it back down the stairs and out of the broken building, to my bike. The hunters temporarily shook my nerves, but I'm used to seeing them. I'm used to being invisible.
As I start back to Malibu, my backpack strapped on tight, the fear starts to dissipate until I barely remember being scared at all. It's an all too familiar feeling, scared one moment and not the next. Tonight I plan on sleeping in my childhood home; sometimes I visit there, because leaving it completely is just too painful to contemplate. If I were to forget about my old home and my parents and the life I used to live, then I would be no better than that band of roving humans who had killed three people who had only been trying to survive.
It is a beautiful day in Los Angeles as I ride my bike and munch on a stale granola bar. The sun shines, the sky is blue, and a slight breeze wafts over me as I pedal up the incline of Sepulveda Pass. I am sweating, so the cool air feels really nice. Even now, even after so much destruction, this day is almost perfect.
It is a massive ride to leave the Valley and head back to the west side. The bridges over the 405 freeway have collapsed; the concrete and asphalt are impenetrable. There is an area where I am able to maneuver my bike up to the deserted freeway and I use the open road until I hit the exit for what used to be Sunset Boulevard. When I finally make it here, I am officially in Brentwood, my once and long-lost home. The echoes of my parents still linger, and they produce a painful thud in my heart. How can I still miss them so much? And is it ridiculous, even with the world completely in ruins, that I think the worst part of this catastrophe is that they died without ever knowing how much I loved them?
My house, located off San Vicente Boulevard, is a nice two-story white brick with a lovely marble walkway. Only now the white is marred with soot, the mortar is chipping, and the lawn has been reclaimed by wild grasses. I hide my bike in the back and use the basement door to enter, taking a moment to listen and ascertain that I am alone in my house. Within a few moments I grab some stored food and water, and I head upstairs to my old room. I have to smile at the decor of a young, naive girl who used to love Justin Timberlake and Robert Pattinson. My favorite books are still lined up in their shelves, my jewelry and makeup lined up on my vanity. I have stuffed animals and dolls, an unusable MP3 player, burned and bought CDs, and a store of batteries I've collected from many households. I light a candle and then choose a CD before popping it into my CD player. “Beautiful Liar” by Beyonce and Shakira immediately starts to play.
I open the closet and move the clothes around to uncover my plastic boyfriend, William. Silly, I know, but in school, way back when, I had a major crush on this guy named William, and when I found this mannequin, I decided to immortalize my feelings. He's been very faithful, very supportive, there when I needed him, and best of all, I wouldn't have to worry about him if something were to happen to me. William will live on, I imagine, until time erodes his hard plastic flesh.
I smile the smile of a Cheshire cat as I prop him up and start taking off his clothes. The music playing is the perfect accompaniment to my striptease. I push the button-down shirt off his shoulders, admiring the pecs that are revealed. My breathing hitches a bit as my heart speeds up. It's been a while since I visited William. I unbuckle the belt and slowly roll down the zipper, reaching around to slide my fingers over his butt as I push the trousers off him. My belly feels the dildo I long ago affixed to William, and the contact starts juices between my thighs. I am getting excited and wonder how long I will last playing with my doll.
When William is naked, I lay him down, the red dildo sticking straight up as if as proud and excited as I am with him. I take a few steps back, and the music changes to another Beyonce song, “Single Ladies.” I start to shimmy as I remember the old video. I don't know the moves, of course, but I dance with freedom, shaking and swishing my hips as I run my hands over them, between my legs to tease myself, and then up to cup my breasts through the sheer top. My nipples are hard already, so I tweak them to bring forth that need deep in my pussy. I've often wondered what it would feel like to have a real man replace my hands with his own, to have that need fed with his lips and tongue while he pinched and rolled my nipples. Would it be just as delicious as it is now? I rub my breasts with one hand while the other travels down between my thighs, my finger finding my clit and rubbing lightly through the rough material. Not enough to actually get my rocks off, but enough to make me wet with anticipation. Masturbation is fine, but since I found the red dildo and attached it to William, my fingers are no longer enough.
The song changes to a Katy Perry tune. I begin to remove my clothing, starting with my top and then moving on to my jeans and taking my panties off with them.
Naked, I sit on the floor facing William and close my eyes. This is the point where my imagination takes over, because as well as William services me, he is still just a dummy with a red dick. I am a woman; I need to feel the magic of romance and foreplay, even if I am the one doing the stimulating.
In my mind I picture the real William, with his blond hair and bright blue eyes. He was the quarterback in my high school, so his body was chiseled with hard muscle. I imagine him taking me in his strong arms to kiss me gently on the lips. He would worship me, trailing his lips down my neck and latching onto my breasts.
Next his hands would skim over my skin, causing chill bumps to appear. Then his fingers would disappear between my legs. I open my knees, letting cool air tease over my moist pussy, feeling exposed in a primitive way. The moisture there is slippery and just a bit sticky, the perfect way to lubricate William.
I slip my middle finger into my slit--only in my mind it is William's finger--and moan at the bliss that pours through me. My pussy walls practically suck my finger inside, so I hold my lips open as I start pumping in and out. My palm hits my clit with each pump, and I squirm at the pleasure. My hips start rocking to my hand, so I slide another finger in, groaning as sweat starts to bead on my face. The pressure is building fast, but I don't want to come on my hand. With much reluctance, I stop my hips and withdraw my fingers. It's time for William.
Beth D. Carter