“I’ve been keeping something from you. When the last guards left this place, they probably had a lot on their minds, you know, parasites, riots, all that shit...”
That terrible descent into hell as civilisation crumbles overshadows us in different ways. Kristine waits apprehensively until I’m ready to continue.
“...they probably just forgot…or figured someone else would…um, Jesus, there’s no excuse really. Not all the kids got out when the last guard left. Some are still here. In their cells.”
Kristine covers her mouth that drops open in horror.
“Oh, shit, they starved to death?”
“No Parasites got in here. I haven’t moved the bodies out… there’s so many…I couldn’t.”
This weakness shames me.
Tears are a given with Kristine’s sensibilities. Refusing to watch her cry loosens my throat enough to dishonour them.
“They’re probably baby killers and car-jackers.”
A cracking voice damages the sincerity behind these assertions.
“You don’t know that! They might only have been homeless or abused; besides, no one deserves to die starving!”
Her damp eyes flash angrily for a second, relenting when she sees my obvious sorrow. Saying these words burns dry eyes. Kristine’s hand links into mine.
“You aren’t so tough.”
“You better not believe it.”
I jump up and do a few Mr Universe poses, flexing muscles, clowning to mask linked misery. The mood lightens, but not much. I disable my iron front.
“They haunt me"
A difficult admission of closeted monsters.
"That doesn't make you less of a man, Sam. It makes you human. Show me where they are. Perhaps I can purge their spirits.”
A ghoulish request would have left her journeying alone. I dissect her motives and find no voyeuristic streak in her, just empathy that radiates. Who's to know if that strange New Age religion she leans towards might possibly guide these manifestations of the mind to a less dismal place. It is worth stomaching her beliefs if there's a chance to bring them, and me, peace.
“We do this once, and then we never go there again, OK?”
She dips her chin in agreement.
I take us through the giant cafeteria and face a peculiar streak of eccentricity. Kristine’s question strives to understand.
“What’s with all the surfboards?”
The room is filled with colourful boards leaning against walls, screwed to the ceiling, on tables. The reason for the montage evades me. I can’t even ride one of these things. There must be few empty surf shops in town.
I shrug in disparagement of the hours I’d put into this pastime, and lead her to another hefty door. I slap it lightly as if testing for heat, belabouring the need to keep the entire place locked down in case of a break in. Whether by humans or monsters, I prefer to obstruct their every move and give ourselves time to fight or get away.
Kristine nods grimly, knowing I’m stalling.
I keep more than human remains locked in this crypt. Inside are the dregs of emotions I no longer allow myself to feel.
On that long distant day I’d found them, a fringe of despondency had hung around me. Lonely and searching for a reason to stay positive I wandered aimlessly into silent, dusty corridors not yet explored. The garden project was finished, contingencies covered, lists crossed off. I’d grown tired of waiting. Waiting for a cavalry that marches into town and returns me to a normal world. The foundations of my faith crack in gaping chasms and I’ve run out of meaningless make-work and time-eating games to stuff them with.
Then I’d found this door. And ventured beyond to behold rooms of terrible sadness, though not every cell is populated with a corpse. Still, I lost the stomach to make a proper inventory after swiftly moving between viewing slits in the hope that the first, then second, then third, are isolated cases. Random hurried glances showed me many more.
Every detail inside every cell is remembered. The bedding torn in impotent frustration. The slow starvation, prolonged by drinking water from the sink or, if the taps had stopped flowing, the toilet. The cut artery, painting walls and floors black with frantic smears.
I’d shut this door on those vivid pictures. Switching off the power and air-conditioning and placing them in a vacuum so they would no longer exist for me.
It hadn’t worked.
The ghosts of agonized cries attach themselves to every waking moment and wail through nights of exhausted sleep. Visions of inconsolable spirits swirl with dreams of dead children calling for their mothers. I wake to cold sweat and harsh cries.
The sleeping pills I found in a hollow eyed search for liquor got me through the worst days. I’d seen many corpses in my travels but the utter helplessness of these slow deaths affected me deeply. Now sleeping pills, and many others, provided such comfort I can’t cope without them.
And here I am, about to open the door once more.