I wake to a fight breaking out between Hector and Ramona. He refuses to stop singing that stupid song. Ramona decides to force him. It’s not smart of Hector, forcing her like that.
Ramona is a survivor and mean as an old man’s spit. Protected only by a can of kerosene and a few matches, she saw the carpet eat the rest of her family alive. Something like that gives nightmares in the day. Memories which make us scream when eyes are open. We all have them to one degree or another.
The rest of us only make half-hearted attempts to stop her as she cuts him over and over again. Hector sang the song for days. We were tired of it. He doesn’t stop singing–even his screams are sung words.
We gave him lots of warnings.
At least Ramona does more than her fair share of cleaning up the mess. We cut the body into smaller chucks, more manageable in size, just like the books say we should. Use chemicals and brushes to clean up real good. Some weak jokes about the cleaning. A few laughs which poorly hide the pain.
If only our parents can see us now. How clean the bunker is. Walls and floors, even the ceilings, kept spotless. It isn’t just what the books say. We’ve seen it. Seen what happens when floors are dirty.
The carpet comes.
“Bodega. Toptop. Josie. Lacy. Help with the parts,” the Big Book suggests. “Time to feed the animals.”
I put away my little book. It tucks into the pocket made from the folds of the table-spread I use as a satchel. When I was rescued, they named me after the lacy thing. None of us keep our Before-Time names. It’s been so long since I’ve said or heard my name, I’m not sure I can pronounce it.
The books say it’s a coping mechanism.
Maybe it works. The Big People kept their names and titles and they are all gone. Well, except for Auntie Sally. She stays outside, though. When she comes inside, she does things the books don’t like.
I carry an armful of Hector outside.
Going outside takes a while. There’s a lot of doors with short hallways until the next door. It’s important we never open more than one door at a time. We check the little hallways carefully, always two sets of eyes. A book is used to take pictures which the Big Book examines. Toptop is extra careful–he comes from another bunker. They weren’t as cautious there.
The books at the final door say the abattoir is safe. It’s a funny name for a place so scary. We do the cranks and levers to open the big door. It is bright outside—though even when it is dim and cloudy it seems bright to me. Like underground is darker, despite all the lights. We scurry across the abattoir to lower the drawbridge.
The moat it leads over is shallow but filled with icky, smelly stuff. Chemicals which are supposed to burn the carpet if it finds the bunker.
The hike across the apron to the farms takes several minutes. The bunker is surrounded by a flat expanse of the gray-white concrete. Tall posts topped by watch towers spear the sky at regular intervals. Bridges, made narrow by the height, link some together. Sally lives up there.
To the south the jagged teeth of ruined buildings interrupt the sky along the horizon. The old city. There were fewer teeth now. The tallest buildings are falling, one by one, as months and years pass.
The Big Book says the carpet doesn’t eat buildings, but it sure seems like it to me.
We lug our packaged Hector east. The rising sun makes my eyes squint. The farm doesn’t resemble the pictures in the books. It’s a crescent-shaped collection of fields sectioned off by fencing. Horses and cows mingle in some areas. Pigs, goats, and sheep in others. Chickens dash under the feet of everything larger.
At least this isn’t a collecting day. I hate those. We have to wear special covers while we slaughter animals or harvest grains. Even in the coldest weather it is hot and sticky inside the suits.
Then we have to clean everything. Over and over. If even the slightest hint of a trail is left to the bunker the carpet can follow. Then we’ll be trapped inside forever.
If the carpet of ants doesn’t dig inside and eat us all.