First Quarter 2020 – Cody Roggio

I’m not following you, you’ve just always been ahead of me.
And I just moved to Philly so you’ll probably be moving to New York soon? Have we all been getting into bigger and better things? That’s what life is supposed to be, right?
My parents are gone, so do you think you could ask yours, if it would be okay, if I could make them proud instead?
I was so happy when I quit smoking and then I found out you cured cancer.

I am traveling the apocalyptic wasteland on a motorcycle it took me days to get running. I hear you started a compound. It appears over the hill down the road and it looks more like a small city. It’s surrounded by huge walls. I get to the gate and the guards ask what I’m here for. I say your name, I mention we were old friends. They whisper to each other, their car part armor clanking together as they move close. They tell me to wait here.

You’re wearing desert apocalypse clothes as well, and you have face paint on. The side of your head is shaved and your hair, black the last time I saw it, is dyed silver. Your wasteland armor doesn’t cover much of your body, it’s like those old Heavy Metal fantasy drawings of gorgeous women, and I ask you if you think that armor would actually protect you from anyone that would want to harm you.

Who would want to harm me? You ask. I look around as we walk through your town. The people here stare at you with dropped jaws. A man gains the courage to walk up to you while we’re talking and hands you a gift. “I made you this:” It’s a necklace made of human bones. You accept it graciously and put it on. It looks fucking fantastic on you. The man is beside himself with glee.

They are erecting a statue of you made from recycled car parts in what would be the town square.

“So what do you need from us?” You ask me.

“Water.” I say.

You laugh. “For who?”

“Just me.”

“Where’s your family? Your cousins? Aren’t you traveling with a group?”

“I couldn’t find any of them after the attacks. I assumed them all dead, so I just..moved west.”

You look down and offer your condolences in a way I can tell is entirely genuine. You have a softness about you that completely offsets the sword strapped to your back and the guns on your hips. I wish that cameras still existed and I could take photos of this.

“Is that it? You came to us for water?” You ask.

I look away and my face scrunches up and I try not to cry but I can’t fucking stop it, it comes on too fast and I just burst. Tears running down my face and you motion for the guards to leave the room so we’re alone and you pull me in and say I know, I fucking know, it’s hard, all of this is hard, I understand. My head is on your chest and the cold metal from your breastplate is uncomfortable but I stay here as long as you let me, you’re stroking my hair, and I realize again why all these people fucking love you.

I pull myself together, or at least enough to talk: “I need..can I stay here a few nights?”

“Of course.” You respond.

You put me up in a nice room with a wide open window where I can see the entire desert wasteland city and the sky. I take off my guns and leather as soon as the guard leads me in and I flop down on the bed and immediately fall asleep.

I wake up to the most beautiful sunset coming into the open windows and I smell food and bonfires and I hear music. You’re sitting on the edge of the bed, wearing a different suit of armor, this one using leather and straps in a super aesthetic way. There’s a human skull hanging from your hip as an accessory. You notice me
waking up.

“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” you say, softly.

“You made all of this?” I ask.

“I did.”

“It’s amazing.”

“We’re figuring out a water filtration system. We’re super close to having running water, toilets that flush again throughout this whole town. These people are like my family,” you say, but you start to trail off. You look at me.

“What are your plans?” You ask.

I walk over to the window and look down and the city is truly alive. Street vendors selling food, bonfires scattered about, and that sunset still beating down in the blue and purple sky. I can’t speak and it seems like an hour passes in silence but it’s only a few seconds.

When my mouth is able to work again there’s only one thing I can think to say and the words come out in almost a whisper before I can stop them:

“Please be gentle with me.”