Sequel to The Nothing Man III
Hot, dry. It was approaching the end of summer and oh, it had been a long summer. Summer used to mean lazy afternoons by the pool, floating in something that floated and drinking something delicious and intoxicating. Now, summer means hot, that is all.
A heat haze still blurs the horizon. The flies are out, buzzing, pooping, vomiting and eating. A fly only lives for an average of 15 days. Now days that’s 15 days of uninterrupted decomposing regurgitating bliss. A cloud of happy flies living their short lives to the fullest swarm around half a rotting corpse as it sings its mournful soft song of death. A breath, just a whisper it manages while dragging its pitiful self, sadly on the hot asphalt road. To whom it cries is unknown and who would hear it? Not a living soul.
How did it get here? Where is it going?
Such a woeful ill begotten thing it is. To know only hunger, want only to feed. A cruel and twisted joke to have a primal urge so deep that can never be satisfied, never tempered. It cannot enjoy the warm sun on its back or the cool breeze that attempts to playfully ruffle its thinning hair. Nor is it bitter towards the black birds with their little beady black eyes. Too quickly they swoop in and out, squawking, teasing, and successfully poaching from the dragging entrails on every visit.
Abandoned of emotion but full of desire.
The world didn’t end, the planet has flourished. The human race is what has ended. Fallen deep in to the dark and punished all the way down. The sun rises and the sun sets. Flowers bloom, animals live free and wild. Those of the human race that have survived are left to wonder, in awe of everything, not just stuck in dead end jobs, forgetting to live while still alive. Now I have seen the blessing I was gifted. I look up to the stars and the immense size of it all makes me see how personally small and insignificant I truly am, in the overall scheme of things, and what a miracle it is I even exist. Regretfully I regard the past with spite, for not enjoying it, for now to live I must fight. Tooth and nail every day I must fight.
This thing that crawls, claw over pointed claw pulling its pathetic bone and leather carcass, losing bits of itself as it travels, trailing behind it guts and black things. This evil thing is our punishment, for throwing away food scraps after a greedy meal, for wanting more room to fit designer shoes, for taking for granted what was a marvel of life.
The never ending pursuer of living flesh. Without feeling or remorse it will destroy us and our loved ones but worst of all, it will recruit. Give it half a chance, relax just a little and be eternally damned.
As individuals we need to be resolute, find strength and face our personal demons. The line is blurred between living and surviving. To enjoy life we must first survive and to survive we must first fight. Every second of every day, fight. And we will. We will fight for love. We will fight with anger. We will fight for our lives and HE will fight for us.
Boots. Snake skin.
The breeze picked up, carrying on it something to alert the thing. It halted in its aimless quest. Its eyes dry, never closing and sightless. Its ears torn and chewed, deaf to the world. The gaping hole showing cartilage and bone where its nose should have been offers no sense of smell. Nevertheless, void of faculties it stopped and raised its head to the breeze. Its hankering for living flesh so strong it replaced the forgotten functions of its past life.
Jeans. Black and blood stained.
An unholy sound parts its cracked lips, so wanting, aggressive and sad. It feels a cure to its ails. It wants flesh. It needs flesh.
Flannelette. Sleeves rolled up.
A desperate frenzy overtakes it, to be free from carnivorous hunger, oh but if only for a moment, to be comforted and not be yearning, just for the briefest time. The antici……..pation drives it mad.
On his back – a guitar?
On approach my tires roll down the open road; perhaps the earthly vibrations had alerted the thing. I roll past a wooden post with a bullet hole ridden street sign, welcoming strangers and old friends to a forgotten city of death. Broken and loose, it moves slightly in the breeze, whistling as it does so. The wheels seize up, skidding as brakes are heavily applied and just like that, bah bumbity bump, the thing is no more, put out of its forever misery by my van. The windows of which are blocked out and is painted all in black, typically, it’s a musicians van. The things head and its contents are pancaked to the ground.
The passenger door to the van opens. The passenger door to the van closes. “Hello” I say, the driver of the van. I’m a sinewy young man wearing tattoos for sleeves, my favorite bands t-shirt, Tenacious D and my own pair of black denim jeans. “A guitar” I say, “I knew it, I knew it was meant to be. Shiiiiiit”
In the browny yellowy greasy puddle the tires spin for a moment before taking grip and rolling on forward down the road. “Jesse,” I say to the seat next to me, “That’s her name. I can’t believe I left her behind.” I couldn’t tell you why I spoke so freely and openly to this stranger. On some level I understood I was not completely sane or altogether with it. “It all happened so quick man. Shit. You know? Shit. Shit. Shit. I never shoulda left her man. Never man. She is my heart and my soul man. You know?”
The strong weathered hands of the stranger, who sits quietly listening, begin to gently caress across the strings of his guitar. There is no formal greeting, no friendly catch up or even cautious sizing up. The stranger is a good listener, just what I need. I continue to babble, “You don’t say much do you man? Nah? Nothing Man?” And then nodding to agree with myself, “Yeah, Nothing Man, that’s cool.” Unable was I to describe the face of my passenger for not once did I even look at it. Always I only spoke and looked upon the guitar. My crazy darting eyes were drawn to the guitar.
I bathe gently in the tune The Nothing Man strums. It is a melancholy hypnotizing dream.
Eager to fill a gap, “You don’t got to say nothing, man. I knew it straight away. I saw you standing on the horizon man and I could feel it in my guts. You’re the one to help me rescue my Jesse. She’s safe oh don’t you mind, no-one is going to get at her, I left her safe but now I got to get back to her. My Jesse, we were so good together, people was always saying how good together we was.”
While on approach to the remnants of the city the beginnings of a mellow folk story sung forth. From strumming to plucking, The Nothing Man made the nylon strings dance beautifully.
“Oh that’s some sweet licks man.” I say in admiration. “You got some sweet licks and some sweet kicks. Shit man. I knew it. I knew it in my guts man.” As we entered the ruins of what was once a hive of activity, the remains of a dead bustling metropolis, the music of The Nothing Man increased in pace and vehemence, equally matched to the increasing pace of my van. “Music soothes the savage beast man,” Goosebumps prickle my skin. “Not me though. I’m all like beast mode man. Going to rock this shit. Gonna rock out with my cock out to this savage shit man.” Pedal to the Metal. “Shiiiiit!” I scream.
Bah Bumpity Bump. “One down, about three thousand to go,” Bah Bumpity Bump “And now another one less.” Then I laughed the laugh of a crazy person, all bulging eyes and teeth and spittle. “I’m coming for you Jesse! I’m coming for you girl! AH hahahahaha haaaa.” An evil laugh of glee.
The Nothing Man was oblivious of his surroundings. He was there for one reason and one reason only. To play. Up and down the neck of the instrument that was like a part of him. Fingers sliding, holding, pulling off. The crescendo of the tempo was intensifying. It was an anthem for war. He was playing to fight. And the fight was just beginning.
The theme, haste and sharp notes.
Bah Bumpity Bump Bah Bumpity Bump! It was messy but it was effective. Blood and gore covered the car and its windscreen, the wipers did nothing, they tried but it made things worse. Much, much worse. Bah Bumpity Bump! The speed bumps in the road squished and popped but did not slow us down. I knew the way, this was my town. Bah Bumpity Bump! Maniacal laughter and frantic music filled the van, as did the smell of burning flesh, grinding in the guts of the motor and wheel arches. Bah Bumpity Bump!
Left at Jo Joe’s Pizzeria. Bah. Second right after Beats Music Shop. Bumpity. Three blocks down and Stop. Bump. Slapping the guitar with one swift hand The Nothing Man muted his instrument between the beat of a heart. Deafening silence, the chortles of mirth ended. The van quit just two blocks from our goal and had come to a complete and smoking stop in the middle of the quieted City Centre. Vacant of moving pedestrians, at least for the minute.
The mood had become pretty loose, as had my attitude, “Ninety nine Zombies of the death on the wall……ninety nine zombies of death.” I became a pedestrian and exited the vehicle, carrying an axe I’d grabbed from the front seat. “You take one down via a hole in its crown,” to the passenger side wheel I walked to see under it the grasping hands of a puddle monster. I didn’t give it what it wanted I gave it what it needed, using the blunt end to save the blade, “but there are still ninety nine fucking zombies around.” Shattered teeth from eating the pavement dance about my boots like popping corn.
The passenger door to the van opens. The passenger door to the van closes. The Nothing Man stands tall, the high noon sun pouring rays of light upon him. He absently adjusts the strap of his guitar and strums a loud low chord and shakes the guitar for effect. Like a stone in a stilled pond it sends a daring, threatening invitation rippling down the empty streets.
“You know man, music man. Music has the power to move you. Like, fucken, to the moon and back man. I got my weapon, got me an axe. But man, you got the sweetest weapon of all man. You got music. You got your axe right there, man. Like a boss.”
The fingers of The Nothing Man once again begin to seduce his familiar strings.
“Yeah man, you know what I’m talking about. Let’s wield our shit man, let’s go get my Jesse girl.” Together we start to walk off down the street. “Let’s rock this fucken shit man!” I let the axe handle slip lazily through my grip until it hangs loosely by my side. Chest out, swelling full of confidence and fearless. With The Nothing Man sound tracking our walk as if it were a scene from a Mexican standoff we stride down the white lines of the middle of the road. A newspaper, full of stories of horror, is picked up by the wind and trundled across the road in front of us. Rusted hinges whine as the wind plays with the empty shop doors.
The first of the foolish seekers of death and flesh steps out from between buildings. Guided by sound alone it wobbles its head down the street, arms out in front, mouth clicking in practice for its dinner. The tune seamlessly changes, it’s clean and robust and full of vigor. Me, the man who was the driver who became a pedestrian evolved into the bringer of eternal sleep. I begin to sing. Not words, words are too sophisticated. This is primal. My sweet falsetto voice of made up words and noises matches perfectly with the tone of the strings. The zombie is attracted to the heavenly sounds, curious to see what they taste like.
The axe goes up eclipsing the sun, glittering like Excalibur, the axe comes down with shattering force. The monster is dispatched, effortlessly. Split almost in two down the middle. Its opened carcass slumps in a goopy mess to the hot black bitumen of the street. Like the pied piper calling to the rats of Hamelin, more zombies come. From the power of my melodic pipe, in much the same way, more zombies fall. The gutters soon begin to run red.
As the dance of death continues so does our anthem of despair. It’s operatic, it’s a skat, it’s full of rock and roll and big juicy balls. It’s enough to make a man believe in divinity and magic and dreams.
I am but a man, possessed not by a demon or an angel but by music, by a foot stomping, head banging riot. It gives me strength and power and cojones as big as a bulls.
The axe is but a conductor’s baton with a mind its very own, guiding the tune, pace and flow of music. Burying itself when needed, butting away danger with the blunt end and cleaving when desired.
Fuck the world, screw the consequences. Live and live free. I chant, I hack. I bellow crisp and defiant. I kill quickly but not cleanly. Played out like a gruesome music-cool it’s just so, god be damned, epic.
A zombie approaches me from the left. I put him in two minds, literally. A couple more from the right. One swing dispatches them both sending jaw bone, gristle and skull fragments through the air. I make one from behind wait his turn by taking him out at the knees while two more in front are served their doom. The axe soars through the air, held with one hand then two. It’s a wild and ferocious fury.
This is how we moved down the street, leaving in our wake a trail of pulped corpses. Death final and unquestioned. I am their cause of ruin, harm and death. I am their axe wielding, yippee ki-yay bane of existence.
This is what a man can do.
Oddly, the Nothing Man, a few steps behind me was never in any danger, never even acknowledged by the ravenous crowd. The street had become a zombie abattoir and righteously so the congregation dispersed, the music concluded, the last zombie fell. Two blocks, lots of zombies one masterpiece of music. A horde of marauding Vikings would have made less mess.
Blood and gore cascade down the wooden axe handle, down my forearm and off my elbow. I look back, visibly shaking, wiping bits of dead people from my face, to see why the Nothing Man had stopped his playing. In the ecstasy of battle and song I hadn’t noticed we had arrived at our destination.
Save something for an encore.
Eyes popping and hands shaking, I hunched back to my former size, the trance of virtue passed and I gazed upon the glorious chunky river of carnage that was once the familiar street that leads here, to my past life, my old apartment block.
The axe works as a key, ruining the lock. We enter.
Automatically, on some sort of auto pilot, I started us in the direction of the elevator doors. Panting as if I’d just been on a jog and not a slaughtering rampage, I said, “Mum used to say – Write your dreams on a piece of paper and put them in the freezer, to keep them fresh.” I pushed the elevator button for up. “The freezer don’t work mum, there’s no fucking power, mum.” Begrudgingly to the stairwell we went.
It was dark. Oh so very, very dark. The blackness had a thickness and a drowning weight to it. We were reduced in senses. We could feel the cool metal hand rail and dusty cement steps under foot, smell the damp of a forgotten hole in the world and hear panting breath and our own beating hearts but we were completely blind of sight. Scrapping foot across the dirty floor echoed noise and brought the walls and ceiling closer in, trapping us in our minds.
Regardless up the stairs we went.
It would seem I am just the climber of steps.
Every unexpected noise brings a startle. Every unexpected touch would bring a squeal…. which would bring a startle. To ease the tension, The Nothing Man began a slow clap, a steady marching beat. It sent us forward and upward, telling our feet what to do and shaming the will of our fear. Calmed I walked in front, carrying my skull blunted axe. I hummed a soothing tune to the beat of our two man procession. Pausing briefly, “I love a good hand clap,” I managed almost deliriously cheery, “You know, like, they just make everything better.” I stopped on the stairs to ponder a bit more, “Yeah man, and cow bells too, hand claps and cow bells. The fucking shit man.” My humming resumed and upwards our quest continued.
Acoustically, the stairwell was a great place to be.
At the top of the stairs our destination was gilded by a rectangle of light. Our way was barred though, from the other side of the door, by a dead weight. It was Miss Jones from two doors down. Her manicured nails, painted the yellow of embalming fluid, worked hard on the wooden door, her rigid fingers fumbling with the complicated mechanics of the handle scratched and etched. Desperate moans to ease her pains haunted down the stairwell. She’d always seen me, her handsome young bad boy neighbor, as a piece of meat. Only difference is, now her vial urges would have a more permanent, violent conclusion.
Which is just how we greeted her, with an axe, to the cranium. She was concluded. Violently. As far as could be seen she was all there was in way of a welcome home committee. Her emaciated corpse decorated a corner like a dropped dirty hand bag full of bones and off butchers’ offal. The hallway in to which we entered offered a desperately sad image of despair and loneliness. Across the walls were black blood stained hieroglyphics and finger scraped marks painting a history of despair. By the chipped plaster and cracked bricks it was plain to see that Miss Jones had been here, by herself, wanting, for a very long time. Trapped and persecuted every second of the day and night. But this was not a pity party for Miss Jones from two doors down. This was about my quest to save my Jesse girl.
I was so close, to my one true love, to my Jesse girl. The closer I got the more scared I became of failure. From the blood matted hair on my head to the blisters on my feet I shook, trembled like a frightened child. It was difficult to believe the man who was the deliverer of justice in the street below was now so terrified. Not of zombies, but of failure. Of losing my Jesse girl at the final hurdle. To the question; is she all right? The answer final would soon enough be given. No longer maybe or probably, it would be a yes or a no. That finality rotted my insides. So close, yet in a zombie filled world, so far.
“Shit man, Ima bout to piss in my boots, man!” I spurted out. At my old front door I stood, trying to calm and tidy myself in giddy preparation. Flicking bits of dead people’s insides off like a shaggy dog let inside after a bath. It was locked, which was a good sign. Cursed my fidgety numb fingers worked the keys. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, click, and thrust ajar the door.
I opened my eyes.
I fell to my knees.
There she was, my Jesse girl, hiding in the corner, safe and sound.
So happy and overcome with emotion I momentarily lost the power to work my legs. On all fours in a Golem like fashion I crawled across the floor. In one sweet movement I picked her up and stood up. I held her tight and spun in circles of joy openly crying my thanks to the heavens. I swelled with glory and exaltation. Tears of untapped happiness streamed freely down my face. In helping me find my Jesse girl The Nothing Man had given me back purpose, a little bit of a life and a reason to live. Some sanity in this crazy upside down world.
I griped my Jesse girl tightly round the neck. Ran my fingers up and down her curved sides and I caressed her softly across her strings. She was a little off tune but it was nothing I couldn’t fix. My Jesse girl, my first true love, my guitar, back in my hands. I sobbed so happy.
The Nothing Man, who had given me strength I did not know I had and who had sound tracked my epic battle through the dead streets, smiled, just a little, as he walked backwards, bowing, quietly plucking some notes, fading out the front door and gone.
Boots. Snake skin. It was time for the encore…