“See ya when I see ya! Have a nice afterlife!”
The Sister removes hew cowl and uses it to clear a bare spot in the ashes on the top step for the two of them to sit down. Howie can’t help but stare with an eyebrow raised at the Sister’s golden locks. Letty notices and smirks, continues with her work until it’s finished.
“There,” she announces with the toss of the cowl into the parking lot. Its landing results in a mushroom cloud of ash two feet tall. “Pop a squat, kid.”
“Pop a squat?” Howie asks as he does as instructed. “I hear that right?”
“You did,” Sister Letty says to the heavy white sky. “You’re right, you know.”
“The sky,” she says plainly. “It’s bright now. Brighter than it used to be, even on a cloudless day.”
“Okay, great. I’m not crazy then,” Howie chuckles as he straightens his right leg to reach into his pocket. With extreme caution he takes the joint out, which resembles a letter S at this stage of its journey, and places it between his teeth to get the matchbook. He opens it and starts a bit when he sees that half the matches are gone, but then remembers feeling it out in the church earlier, before the Sisters jumped him. Tried to jump him, anyway, if that’s even what they were doing. “So what was the plan before, just push me over and kick me until I stayed down?”
“Heavens no,” Letty says, her words doing nothing to convey the smug grin on her pallid face. “We didn’t really know what we were doing, Hoots. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing.” She nudges him in the arm with a bony elbow. “Speakin’a which, are you go’n’a light that jammer or not?”
Howie does a double take. “Yeah, no, yeah, I just uh… it’s weird.” He crosses his legs at the ankles and flips the matchbook shut with his thumb. “Last night, I remember right after I got kicked out I was walking down the steps to leave and I found a joint in my pocket just like this one, all bent but not broken and all that shit, and I found these matches, too.”
He holds up the matchbook, turning it this way and that.
“The matchbook was full last night and it was half empty when I woke up this morning, which should make sense because I remember smoking the joint.” He takes the joint out of his mouth and displays it as he did the matchbook. “Yet I have this joint here, which seems to be able to bend indefinitely without breaking.”
Pinching the twisted-off end of the joint between his thumb and index finger, Howie takes the crutch back between his teeth and bends the joint to a ninety-degree angle. The paper tears into a toothless smile and the joint nearly breaks in half before both of their eyes. Hoots’s jaw drops and the joint falls into his cupped hand. The paper only tears further.
“God damnit… oh, shit, sorry Sister.”
Sister Letty giggles an old woman’s laugh. It’s almost a cackle, but describing it as such would be rude. “You’re fine, Hoots. Look around – I don’t know if I believe there’s too much God left for us to find in this world anymore. Everything happens for a reason, but this… and, and why did we survive? Why us, three old women and some gay stoner dude? No offense.”
“None taken,” he shrugs, “I’m just not gay. I’m kind of wondering the same thing, though… but it makes sense from a technical standpoint. Whatever happened during the night was clearly caused by unbearable heat, and we were in one of the rare heatproof shelters that happen to exist around here. We got lucky, in a way. In a few ways.”
“You bet,” Sister Letty agrees wholeheartedly. “Lucky. That’s us.” She clears her throat into the ash about five feet in front of them, caving little craters into the ashdrift. “Lucky fuckin’ ducklinigs, every one of us… give me that joint, would’ja?”
Howie stares at the broken joint for a second, then, “Why?”
Sister Letty takes the joint out of Howie’s hand. She carefully rips a small section of paper off the mouthpiece, exposing about half of the index card crutch. Holding the crippled joint straight and flat in one hand, Sister Letty wraps the torn leaf around the break like a bandage with the other. She then wets one ashy finger with her tongue and tries to glue the bandage down. It brings moderate success, the papers are slightly sealed now.
“I don’t know if it’ll hold, but give me the matches.”
Howie, astonished, gives Sister Letty of St. Wuester’s Church the matchbook. She pops the joint between her dentures like she’s been doing as much her entire life and ignites every last match in a single strike, lighting the tip of Howie’s joint with the small fireball she now has at her disposal. Letty takes four fat tokes without coughing and hands the jammer to Howie. Dismay drops his jaw into his lap as the front half of the happystick breaks off and plummets into the ashes during the transfer; satisfaction picks it up when Letty raises the burning matchbook to Howie’s face and lights the exposed green of the halfstick without saying a word about it. Howie takes a few puffs and then a few more. His throat is starting to hurt.
“Here, you kill it,” he says, offering the Sister another blessing from the Lord.
Sister Letty pushes it away. “No, that’s all you. I got exactly what I needed.”
“Yeah, so did I,” Howie says, suddenly feeling tired and vaguely out of place.
“And yet there’s still some pot left,” Sister Letty hums. “What do we do, Hoots?”
“Uhh, well we start by not calling me Hoots, thanks,” he says, hastily standing up whilst puffing on the roach.
“Oh, but you said we could earlier,” Sister Letty says slowly. “I’m–”
“Did I? My bad, I don’t know what I was thinking.” He looks back at the church’s heavy doors, then into the gray devastation waiting for him ahead. “I should really get going, Sister.”
“You’ll come back, won’t you Howie?” She sounds like she’s pleading. Howie’s molars grind until he feels grit on his tongue. “Please? We… if this really is the end then we need you, Howie, you must see that. You can’t just… you can’t just leave us here.”
The roach, flicked and still smoking, takes flight only to be swallowed by the ashen abyss. “Look, I need to go home, all right? To see what happened to Jhan, and to get Roscoe and my stash. Maybe I’ll come back here… I don’t know.”
“Where is your house or apartment or whatever it is? You live in Wuester, right? Do you know the way back?”
“Yeah, I live in town,” he mumbles. “Of course I know the way back. I got here from there last night, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but where is there? ” she prods. “I’m just worried about you is all, Howie. I’m worried about all of us. No, we didn’t go looking for other survivors yet, but this is still new to us dammit! We’re afraid! We’ll… we’re going to go out searching eventually, when we have a bit more of the supplies sorted away. When we’re more prepared. If you never come back we’re going to look for you, we wouldn’t be able not to. It’s just a matter of time, really, especially if you don’t get back in contact with us somehow. Please just tell me where you’re going so we can find you if we go looking. If we send someone looking, how about that? We’ll send someone strong, all right?”
He doesn’t say a thing for a moment, only listens. The silence out here is somehow worse than it was inside the church, somehow louder. Deafening. “Vhykus Path, off of Rosebud Avenue. Looks like a seven, Vhykus does. It’s the house on the bend.”
“Oh,” Letty says, her voice suddenly deeper. “I didn’t think you came all the way from that part of town…”
“Yeah, I did. My road’s a skip and a jump closer to the center of town than the church here on Madison Avenue is, and what of it?” Howie demands.
“It… is closer… well, you don’t have to cross through Central Wuester to get home from here, right? ‘Cause you shouldn’t.” She seems to think for a moment, then nods to herself three times. “No, you shouldn’t, you should be fine, but… I’ll just be honest with you Howie, is this twink of yours Yahn really worth going near the center of town after all this has happened? It’s just… it’s so filthy down there. Central Wuester wasn’t a safe place to go before the world ended, and the actual center of Wuester, Wuester Central? I know… I knew friends who died there, Howie. Believe me when I tell you Armageddon can’t have done much to help that situation, not as far as I can imagine.”
“Excuse me?” Howie scoffs unbelievingly. “Are you even… what? So you’ve never been there, but you heard some hillbillies talkin’ their shit so what you think must be the truth. It’s all the same town, for Christ’s sake, we live in the same town! There’s nothing dangerous about Central Wuester, and why call it filthy? Why that word specifically? Because the folks who live there were here before you? Because they like to have parties and make noise at night, because they’re mountain or whatever the hell you judgmental pricks call us?”
“Howie no, you know I didn’t mean that.” She stands up and reaches to grasp his shoulder but misses. “Howie stop, plea–”
“And Wuester Central? I’m about sure you just made that up off the top of your high-ass head right this second. You know, Letty, you Sisters Three have rubbed me the wrong way straight from the jump. When Sister Etty in there was telling me all about why I should be grateful to y’all, she mentioned how y’all didn’t throw me out, you know, as if it’s a fine and noble thing not to toss me into no man’s land, as if evicting a ‘man after the apocalypse happens is the norm ‘round these parts. If I woke up to the God damned end of days with a lost, high stranger in my basement, I wouldn’t even consider throwing him out until I could at least talk to him and figure out what was going on. But you folk… and now you’re mocking where I live, and that whole business with the joint just now…” Hoots steps down off the steps, kicking up a fog of ash around his ankles. “I’m going home, Sister Letty. Tell the others I said goodbye and thank you, for the supplies and everything. A’ight? And listen, if and when I meet some other survivors on my way back home, I’ll send ‘em right to you, get a whole strength in numbers thing going on for ya. Cool? That sound good to you, Sister Letty?”
Letty says something, might even be shouting it if her waving arms are of any indication, but Howie’s already walking out of the parking lot. He couldn’t listen even if he wanted to, so he puts a thumbs up over his head and shouts back, “Great, sounds good! See ya when I see ya! Have a nice afterlife!” and goes on his way.
Hello Commons, this has been the fifth subchapter of the first chapter of Flowers, a novel about a man who smokes the last of his pot.
Flowers is part of the Third Spiral, an anthology of sorts called The Here and Now which is comprised of stories told from the various planes of Existence.
Flowers is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
If you like Flowers and would like to help support my work, click here and buy an autographed copy of the book (or anything else!) from my store. Alternatively, you can snag a cheaper (and unsigned) copy from Amazon by clicking here.
Be well Commons~