How It All Began...

by Chadrick Neal

It was a Tuesday, middle of September and we're all suffering. Don't get me wrong, I like Baumann as much as the next guy, but the lady gets droll after a bit. Someone's watch warned us of the hour and teased us about the last 20 minutes of Astrophysics. I had an F in that class. Ainslee slid a note towards me.

"Want to go to Bernie's after class?"

I looked down at my phone, 18 minutes left. Baumann's steely gaze pinned me to my seat. "Mister Blake, I do suggest you pay attention. Your performance in my class is heartbreaking." An uneasy giggle ripples across the classroom and I felt my lips curl into a sheepish grin.

"I was paying attention, Miriam." Ms. Miriam Baumann, divorced, pig-nosed, and bitter, comically scrunched her face into a scowl and her face darkened as she turned her back to the class and began teaching again. I grabbed my pen and started to scribble on the neatly folded paper in front of me.

"You buying?" The girl laughed; Ains wasn't bad looking. She's just wasn't my type. Plus, I'd known her since fifth grade English. She was more like a kid sister or something. Short, a little clutzy, thin and you'd mistake her for a 16 year old before you'd accuse her of celebrating her 23rd birthday. Another watch sounded off; this one commanding that the owner be released from this boring woman's deadly clutches. The scuffle of notebooks closing, bags being roused from their temporary foundations, the squeak of sneakers on dusty tile and the low hum of individual conversations was operatic end of Intro to Astrophysics.

"Jeremiahare you serious? It's your turn to buy, you fucking bum." Sometimes I wanted to choke her, honestly.

"Yea, yea, yeaI'll buy. Just don't bitch about having to drive or do you expect me to drive you there, too?" She punched me in the arm, grinning playfully and shaking her head as if I had said something embarrassing.

"You're just a bastard. And yes, you dirty bastard, you are going to drive me there. And drive me home. And you will not complain about it," She said it like she was flirting with me. She did that a lot, lately. I was just too nice to tell her I wasn't into her.

Bernie's was a hole in the wall where a lot of us from the college liked to congregate and drink out the days distresses. Bernie himself is the owner and bartender and had been for years, as the legend goes. Viet Nam veteran, slightly racist, but fair nonetheless. The jukebox was the newest thing in the place, one of those where you feed it a dollar bill and it gives you a few songs to play and you can choose from pretty much anything and I had had trouble deciding if I should pick Soundgarden or Fear Factory. I was too drunk to care that night and for once, I noticed that Ainslee Ramona Greene is actually pretty hot.

"Miah! Get your ass over here and drink, you pussy!" T-shirt, ragged jeans, cigarette hanging out of her mouth, sweat beading up on her forehead because Bernie didn't believe in the sin of central air. The windows were open, the ceiling fans beat at the stale, smoke-choked atmosphere and the music started to play, which breathed a little more life in the crowded, smoky dive.

"You always run your mouth at me, woman," I sank into the hardwood chair and the graffiti carved into the table tops tell me of conquests past and also a number to call for the best blowjob in the world. "What are we toasting now?"

"Let's toast the oil covered animals in the Gulf of Mexico." She smiled coyly, running a thing finger around the rim of the shot glass. "To the oil spill!"

Our classes were the least of our worries, then. There were so many people here tonight; it was strange. Bernie's is usually dead, all the time. But that night, there were so many people many women. There was a pale skinned red-head staring at me, her eyes were the mesmerizing color of a bright spring sky and her lipstick made it look like she's been drinking blood all afternoonand she was staring at me.

"Hey, what the fuck are you"Ainslee turned her head and followed my drunken leering, in this smoky haze her features which are normally dull seem perversely detailed. The wave of her hair, the tender tone of her skin, I can even smell her perfume, it's "of course you'd be eye-fucking some tramp."

"What? You're kidding me , she started it." Beer. Drink the beer, Blake. The tone in her voice said that she was annoyed more than anything else. Someone had decided that playing Pantera's Domination was a good idea. The music seemed to fit the sudden change of mood. My beer was less than cold and the consequence of all of our nights' activities were starting to take their toll. I found myself sitting alone at my table. Ainslee was stalking across the bar, like a jungle predator stalking it's prey. Her tiny hands were curled into fists, so tight that later I found nail imprints on the bottom of her hands. The girl with the red hair pursed her lips and leaned forward on her table, still staring at me and unaware of the scorned woman bearing down on her as she pressed her breasts together beneath her tight, white blouse...

"I can't believe this shit," I don't know what happened. One minute I was enjoying a drink, the next I was hauling Ainslee out of Bernie's as she snarled and shouted profanities, kicking innocent by-standers and hearing Bernie call me every derogatory name you could call a negro under the sun. This wasn't my fault and I don't ever remember being that..well, embarrassed.

"Well, she'll think twice about eyeballing someone. It's creepy. You're not on display." I shouldn't have been driving then, I was too drunk. I hadn't even put the keys in the ignition. We were just sitting out in the parking lot for nearly an hour. Ainslee's shirt was torn at the collar, her supple curves betrayed our relationship and dared me to make a move. Three perfect claw marks on her left cheek had started to bleed lightly. There's more sweatit was hotit was always hot in this damned city. There were too many people--

"Why don't you like me, Jeremiah?" her voice was wavering and on the verge of tears. If I could have become invisible right then, I would have. "Every time we come here, you leave with a different chick. That's why I had you drive tonight so you wouldn't leave me."

"Ains, you're like my kid sister, dude," Wrong thing to say, I know. But I mean, what else could I have said? It's the truth, but she had turned into one hell of a woman. "It would be weird."

"I'm not asking for a relationship, you dumb ass. I'm not like that," She was drunk and the conversation was having a sobering effect. I juggled my keys in one hand, staring down at my lap so I didn't have to look at the face I knew I'd see; pouting with watering eyes, quivering bottom lip, and a furrowed brow. Emo-rage, as I call it.

"Well, then, I don't know what the fuck you want, because I care" the rush of body heat and ferocity of her on me, her frantic breathing, the condensation forming on the windows. My pants were unfastened and unzipped and there was a deft hand on my dick. Kissing, biting, her legs were bunched up in the driver's seat. Her pants were non-existent and my own pantaloons were bunched down around my ankles. Her teeth sank into my neck and she begged me, teased me. She made promises of always, love, and forever."Just this one time, pretend that you just met me here and you're taking me home," I didn't have any rubbers. I was too drunk. There were any number of excuses I could have used at that moment, but I used none. That was the first time in my life that sex had ever felt that good. And we did it again. And again. And again, until finally, we're both too exhausted and confused to do anything more than sit on the hood of my car in a now empty parking lot. She was laying on her back, her hazel-green eyes beholden only onto the night sky. I sat next to her with my arms wrapped around my legs feeling like I just stolen the cookies from the cookie jar and didn't share them with my beautiful accomplice.

"You okay?" Her voice sounded relieved, as if some great burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

"Yea, I'm fine so what, now? Just want to get down every once in a while? Friends with benefits?" I'm wasn't as pissed off as I tried to sound, I just didn't like being confused, still don't.

"It's whatever you want to do, Jeremiah. II love you, y'knowI meanI don't mean to sound weird or anythingit's just" the only sound I made was a defeated sigh and turned my own attention upwards. Our country was on the verge of going into another great depression, sinkholes were opening up in remote places in the world, volcanoes were erupting and I was still having trouble understanding the concepts of love and relationships. "You're my best friend. You looked out for me, then we graduated high school and I was left all alone. I had to fend for myself. When I came here, I didn't expect you to still be around. I thoughtI thought you had moved ongot married and had kidsbut no, you were still waiting tables, smoking pot, and drinkingit was like nothing had changed. I love that about you"

"Just fucking stop with the sentimental shit..just stop," I was sober, manhandling a headache and feeling used, kind of. God, it had felt good. It had felt right. "Just...don't make this some trial or whatever. Just leave it alone. It is what it is."

"Alright, Miah," she spoke sosoftly, she didn't sound hurt or disappointed. I think it's what she expected. The dark sky was suddenly plagued with what seemed to be endless shooting stars.

"There's lots of them lately. The stars I mean."

"Yea, I know. Have you been keeping count?" Maybe Baumann would give us some extra credit, since Ains and I were lab partners. "Aldeeran. It's on Aldeeran." She sat up and laughed, I loved that laugh.

"Do you feel a disturbance in the Force?"

"Nah, just had a random thought." Something didn't feel right, though. I know the world's ending and we're all going to hell in a pretty little handbasket, but looking up that night I felt a sense of dread that just seemed completely irrational.

"Want to go to my place? Smoke a bowl? Watch a movie?"

"Have more sex?" She laughed at my reaction of feigned insult; my own patented look of complete disdain. "I'm kidding and so long as we don't have to watch Starship Troopers for the millionth timeor Lord of the Rings.or Terminator 2 because you think Terminator one is shit in comparisonoh, fuck it...let's just go."

And so, we went. That was how life was before their arrival. Everyone thinks that they showed up the day the animals went crazy and started doing whatever it took for them to be away from us. It was maybe six months after Ainslee and I made it official, we were basically living together by then. We were at the zoo and all the animals looked like statues, all their heads were turned skyward in the middle of the day as if they were waiting to be told to move; the zookeepers were baffled and didn't know what to do.

"They look like they're expecting someone to pick them up and take them away, don't they?" Ainslee said, sipping at her 44 ounce slurpee we picked up at Seven-Eleven before we made it here. Stoned, hot, hungry and needing a cigarette my mood was worsening by the minute; it was boring, what's the point of going to the zoo where the animals (even the damned fish!) had their attention focused on something that we couldn't see or sense or feel."Maybe they're just not interested in being stared at by us today."

When we got to my place later that evening, the news had picked up on what they playfully dubbed "savage stargazers". Apparently, not just our zoo, but people's pets, squirrels, strays, even the rodents of run-down establishments had all come out of hiding fearlessly and stood their silent vigil. Herds had stopped herding, packs had stopped roving, and it seemed like the entire animal kingdom was awestruck suddenly by whatever might lie beyond our atmosphere until the next day. It was Thursday, I think. Maybe Sunday. I can't remember right now and I'll tell you why shortly, but the animals, all of them, were leaving and they were leaving in a big way. Mortal beastly enemies now strode side by side, through the streets, across busy highways, through rivers and out of lakes headed north. Zoologists worldwide were stunned. People who tried to restrain their lifelong companions were viciously attacked until their beloved pet was let go of. The zoos were shut down; the animals were killing themselves to be free and then it happened. Elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, bears, panthers; it was an urban safari as they began to make their grand exodus. They weren't afraid of humanity any longer, only enraged at anyone who would dare stand between them and their freedom. People were trampled, traffic was held up on several occasions; farmers and ranchers found themselves unable to contain their property as bull and heifer alike braved barbed wire and electric fencing to be freed. Pretty soon, there were no animals left and no one could find them any where.You can only imagine the widespread panic this caused; meat manufacturers had had to instantly slaughter animals who had once before been as docile as a well made bed. These creatures, our cattle, turned violent in a bad way. No one really realized it at the time, but a lot of people died from just the animals escaping alone. The president addressed the Union, where he promised to figure out why this was happening to us (as if America was suffering this tragedy alone) and what measures he planned to take to resolve the current crisis. A week after the animals evacuated themselves, they hit our most precious resource; the oil. They made sure that we knew it, too. Ainslee had just walked in the door from work; her restaurant was tanking just like every other place that served food. No animals, no meat; not everyone was a vegan, but we were all slowly warming up to the idea. At least the insects still droned about as normally, so that was one sigh of relief all of humanity could breath. The day we lost our oil was catastrophic; it felt like the entire planet was being shaken; buildings collapsed, factories exploded, entire city blocks lost all power, and pretty soon, the human race found itself out of gas. The religious fanatics swore up and down that 2012 had come early and that this was God's will made manifest, he saved the animals because "animals are ignorant and therefore innocent, unable to sin" and the scientific community was still baffled and had no explanation for those that followed them. Economies worldwide began to tank and international tensions rose to a boiling point and the situation nearly went nuclear, until the first attack happened. We were in the dark about it, until they brought it to our cities. When you're rumbled out of your sleep by some bastard explosion and hearing people scream, then more explosions and more screaming; fear had gripped me by the balls and throat. Ainslee wasn't in bed, but standing at the window in her underwear, braless, and gaping at the horror outside. They looked like big, metallic insects and slowly they made their way toward our apartment complex; the explosions were from the large cannonesque appendages shooting what I just assumed to be fucking plasma because I couldn't think of anything else that could burn through anything like that. Our door began to rattle vehemently as someone on the other side yelled for any survivors inside, we were both silent. I crept up to the door and stared through the peephole, on the other side stood a Marine; his head was bleeding, he didn't seem to be in any pain. Then everything went white...

It's been almost a year since then, I don't know what happened. That day I woke up buried under smoldering rubble and I don't know how long I was out for. I remember being pulled from the demolished building and carried away, I remember asking about her. I was told I could either fight or die. So, I decided to fight. All of our luxuries and amenities had been taken from us. The enemy that we were fighting seemed to have no mercy, no conscience, and no end. The reason I couldn't remember what day the animals left is because right now, I'm neck-deep in the shit, fighting for my life, and hoping that the guy dying next to me doesn't do what I've seen so many others do in this situation and off himself. It's not like I'm some bad ass or anything, I'm just lucky and scared shitless. I keep looking for her, too. I know there's a very high possibility that she's dead, but I have to keep looking for her because of the very slim chance that she's alive out there, somewhere.

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