Till the Last Drop

by Kilmo

You could hear them, that was the worst of it. The stumbles, thuds, and half choked rattles as what had been the town’s latest crop of donors squeezed beneath the door like the wheezing of a dying man.

‘They’re not going away.’ In the store room’s corner a face emerged from the huddle of arms and legs wrapped around each other. Laura’s voice sounded small and alone, ‘are they?’

Hank nodded, he‘d almost forgotten he had company. After listening to what had happened to the other pupils the blonde who sat two rows in front of him and occupied most of his attention during class had been all but catatonic. Now she’d resurfaced he could see her eyes were glued to the splinters round the lock with the same desperation as a rabbit caught in headlights.

‘Yeah, but they must be weaker. He got up and stretched, Hank was tall enough for a kid twice his years. Not that he enjoyed being the giant amongst his fellows. More often than not it led to trouble he’d rather avoid. ‘When was the last time you heard anyone scream?’ he said nearly tripping over the last word. His eyes shot towards Laura, but she didn’t seem to have noticed. ‘Couple of days, maybe?’

Laura jabbed her knuckles in her mouth and stifled a sob.

Hank stepped forward to comfort her, and stopped, not sure if she would welcome the intrusion. Back when he’d first come barrelling in the harvesting centre’s escapees had only just reached the school’s edges and he’d had to tell the terrified girl hiding in the shadows what was happening. Hank pushed the memory aside and wondered how Mum and Dad were doing; then wished he hadn’t. Judging by what he could glimpse through the cracked safety glass of the narrow room’s solitary window it wouldn’t be good. Most of the street was invisible behind the plastic laced exhalations of a dozen fires, and no one had come to rescue them.

‘Hank, what are we going to do?’

‘I don’t know, but we have to do whatever it is soon.’

They both looked at the corner they’d been using as a garbage can. You couldn’t really call it that anymore; landfill would be a more appropriate word.

‘Can you drive?’ asked Hank.

‘No.’

Neither could he, not really, but he could see a car outside that looked like it only had a few scratches and his father had let him behind the wheel of the family automatic once or twice. Maybe that would be, ok?

‘Listen, we could make a run for it. They might have forgotten we’re inside.’

‘What if they haven’t?’

‘Laura, we stay here much longer everyone will be dead. Don’t you want to get out of this place?’

There was a pause and then she answered, reluctantly.

‘Yeah, ‘course.’

‘Then we’re driving.’

That meant crossing what was fast looking like an ocean of tarmac, not to mention the window was so small it barely deserved the term. If Hank hadn’t spent enough hours truant to be familiar with its tricks he’d have rated their chances as somewhere close to zero.

‘We’re going out the fire escape. I’ll pull the wires off the alarm; no one will be any the wiser.’

Even to his ears it sounded like fantasy.

‘I hate them.’

For a second Hank’s confused, cars, or the rampaging indebted poor? The bankruptees that should be in the harvesting wards not populating the town’s centre inspired a lot of emotions in him but hate wasn’t one of them.

‘No, you don’t.’

Laura’s feet began to beat a rising tattoo on the linoleum.

‘I do, oh god, I do. All I ever did was try and keep my head down. I wanted to be something. Now they’ve gone and mucked it all up.’

Hank had to admit she’d got a point. The streets of Newford have never looked so bad. In a way he was impressed. It had taken a serious effort to turn a dump into a hell hole.

‘Come on let’s just get it over with, shall we? It’ll be alright so long as we’re careful. You can fix things later.’

But, in the street it was worse than he’d thought. Bodies lie twisted around each other like energetic lovers illuminated by light from fires that refuse to go out. The carnage shouldn’t come as a surprise, but he couldn’t stop the shock that ran down his spine as the scale of the devastation became apparent.  Hank supposed it could have been worse: there were enough combustibles around after years of drought to keep the party going for weeks.

‘Hear that?’ His words arrived with the rustle of arid leaves, but its not them that brought Hank’s head snapping round. At least Laura was nearing the vehicle. Hank found himself praying to a god he didn’t believe in. The SUV’s keys had better still be inside.

Before long what he’d been waiting for arrives and at first he notices how close to death they looked with discomfort only. The sick, vertigo inducing, fear came later when they’d gotten close enough to see what condition the harvesting had left the town’s donors in. Cleary the community had taken a lot more than its pound of flesh.

‘What’s wrong with them Hank?’

‘They’re crashing. I doubt there’s enough dopamine left in their systems to keep them moving much longer no matter how much they’ve been stimulated. They’ll be getting desperate by now..’

Hank’s father had been a specialist. One of the corps assigned to look after the labour pools. It was a well-known family secret what that had entailed.

‘Are they dangerous?’ said Laura and Hank had to hold down the urge to say what was on his mind. She already the tracks of enough tears on her cheeks and the indigents were moving forwards.

The murmur from the crowd’s throats redoubled as Hank’s first blow cracked against the car’s glass. The second swing performed better and the driver’s window went in.

A dozen heads followed their movements.

‘Don’t run.’

It was one of the women that had spoken. Although her rasp was a long way off a normal voice. Judging by the huge pits in which the glitter of pupils could only faintly be seen that she could speak at all was a miracle.

Hank shook his head.

‘We’re not going to hurt you,’ the woman’s desiccated voice whispered down the empty street.

Threats had sounded more enticing.

‘We just need more. You’ve got more haven’t you?’

Never had Hank been more aware of the dopamine in his body. Evidently, he wasn’t the only one who could feel it either.

More … we need more.

The chorus of voices sounded like wind blowing through a forest.

‘We’ll only take a little bit.’

If he’d been younger he might have been tempted to believe them. But even from this distance Hank could see that the only thing showing between their lids is bloodshot white.

‘Just leave us alone.’

‘Can’t do that,’ croaked the woman as her companions joined in again.

‘They took ours … .’

‘Said we had to pay … .’

‘Only wanted to feed my kids … .’

‘My husband needed a lung transplant … .’

Soon they’re all telling them their stories, the words like the waves of a sea crashing against the shore.

‘Look, it’s not our fault. We had nothing to do with it. You’re criminals: debt accumulators. That’s the law.’

He finished, and the crowd falls silent before they begin to shuffle forwards. Already those at the front have their arms outstretched.

Hank dove under the dash. Even in that bunker his shoulder blades hunched as he heard the scuffles coming closer. A forgotten childish part of him was tempted to try and use it as a hiding place. But these bogey men looked a bit realer than the ones that used to live under his bed.

When the ignition wires refused to still in his trembling hands Hank tried desperately to remember what the older kids had said. Laura’s gone quiet on him and he daren’t look up to see why. When the engine finally caught, he nearly knocked himself out as his head rebounds off the wheel.

‘Get in Laura; we’re leaving.’

The crowd was so close now he could smell them: unwashed, and rank. You heard stories about the wards but until then he hadn’t really believed them.

‘Laura, come on.’

‘No stay away, leave me alone.’

The indebted donors were nearly on her and Laura’s hands batted feebly at the front row. There were seconds to spare and no time to be gentle as Hank yanked her back and they struggled through the jeep’s shattered window.

‘Adios muchachos.’

As the joyous sound of gravel spraying into the air reached their ears Hank allowed his finger to unfurl. Another few minutes and it would have been like trying to drive across a football pitch mid game. There was a bump as one of the mob he hadn’t spotted in time goes under the wheels and then they were flying down the nearest thoroughfare against the stalled traffic. Hank’s always wanted to do that. It was a pity the circumstances stank.

‘Look Hank. There must be survivors.’

He followed Laura’s eyes: some of the citizens had built barricades. Although it had done them any good. Holes were punched through all of them wide enough to take the SUV with ease.

He tried to think of something encouraging to say, and failed. It really was the end then.

‘Where are we going?’

‘Don’t know, I was thinking into the hills.’ Hank kept his attention on the road. That at least was a task he could control.

‘What about my family? For that matter what about yours?’

Pictures of happier times flashed through Hank’s mind.

‘Laura, look out the window. They’re not going to have lived through that. My Dad said it was coming. If supply hasn’t met demand and the indigents realise they’re not coming out of the system standing up any more, they’ll rise. Of course, everyone laughed at him. Most of the time the poor fucks were so tranquilised they could hardly remember their names.

But, at the thought of his parents, an itch started up behind his eyes. Hank scowled; taking his hand off the steering wheel to deal with it seemed like a bad idea.

‘Alright,’ Hank forced himself to breath normally. His head hurt from all the fumes, and it was taking him all he’d got not to slam his foot down on the accelerator. ‘If we go by our driveways will that be enough for you?’

‘No, but I have to see. It will do.’

‘This is going to be quick.’

Afterwards they sat in silence. Hank felt hollowed out, and empty. Driving anywhere no longer seemed that important.

‘Do you think they … ?’

‘Don’t Laura. It won’t change anything.’

They hadn’t found them, not breathing at any rate. They hadn’t even found much of their homes either: just smoking ruins and bits of their relatives scattered over the lawns. Laura had yet to shed a tear. Hank’s best guess was the shock had yet to catch with her, but it was hard to tell. She looked like she was watching events unreel in some place that had nothing to do with the remnants of the town they’d grown up in.

‘We’ll leave in a minute, I guess. I know a place,’ said Hank.

‘Where?’

‘There’s a cabin next to a lake. We used to go fishing there. It’ll be alright you’ll see. No one will harm you.’

‘I wish I believed it.’

‘Why wouldn’t you?’

Laura made a quick nervous movement as she pulled down her sleeve to hide the marks there and finally the penny dropped.

‘Oh … you’re one of them. How long have they been siphoning you?’

‘Since Dad got into debt. He said it would only be for a short time. But then … it was why I was hiding at school. I didn’t want to go home.’

Hank’s cheeks began to burn. He should have known, and there was him still bloated with dopamine regardless of what had happened. He could almost smell it. He stared out of the windscreen. The sun had finally begun to rise, only the town below them still held the last of the night’s outliers, and even the cicadas had begun to quiet. The first rays skipped off Laura’s face like feathers.

‘No, I bet you didn’t. We’ll take some of mine if you need it.’

Hank turned his offer over in his head like a piece of driftwood he’d found at the beach. He’d blurted it out without even thinking about it. But he’d seen her father once, a tall man with a salesman’s greasy smile.

He watched the nearest of the buildings tucked behind their well manicured lawns and white picket fences collapse.

Sparks shot up on a whirlwind of greedy flame.

‘Hell, take it all if you want.’

Laura smiled. It had to be the first time since it had all begun that he’d seen her do that. Suddenly Hank felt ten stone lighter.

‘What about the others?’

‘Let ‘em burn,’ said Hank.

Turned out he wasn’t as bothered by the destruction as he’d thought.

END

ANDREW LEON HUDSON

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