On the ground in New York City it was 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Where Grant was standing, with his toes over the edge of a 51st floor apartment, shoes crunching in the broken glass of the shattered floor to ceiling windows, it was much colder. The wind whistled through the empty spaces around him. He pulled up the collar on his black military jacket, huffed warm air over his chin, and looked down into the remains of what used to be Times Square. Or maybe it still was. Just because one civilization had left it behind didn’t mean that its characteristics would change until some other group came along and made it their own. It was going to be a while before the plants took the cities over so completely from neglect.
It would be the plants. The people of Earth had tried, no one else was coming.
And because Grant lived the kind of life that could never, ever depend on his conjecture, someone chose that exact moment to enter the apartment, tripping his makeshift alarm and causing an unholy racket along with ruining his poetic train of thought. “For the love of all that’s holy,” he said, turning around. “Can’t anyone ever, oh, it’s you.”
Nell was caught in a shadow box, the dark door frame she was standing in surrounded her as the golden doors of the elevator across the hall behind her caused her silhouette to pop in the near dark. She was wearing a grey peacoat and black pants, and had a semi-automatic rifle trained on him. He slowly pulled his hands from his pockets and spread his arms outward like broken wings.
“I killed you,” she said.
“You tried. It was a commendable effort, since I not only had to recover from the bullets, but also from the infection and dry socket I got when you removed my three gold teeth.” Out of habit, he ran his tongue over the empty spaces where his back left molars had been.
“I needed proof. It was that or your hand.” She stepped forward, lifting her foot over the spent trip wire.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “You can’t prove the teeth were mine, but fingerprints are unique. I wouldn’t need a hand if I was dead. Why the sudden swell of sympathy for the nearly dispatched?”
Nell lowered her gun and threw the strap over her shoulder. “I’m soft on ya, Gee, always have been.”
Grant relaxed, dropped his arms, and took a few steps toward the center of the room. It was for safety, just in case she decided to rush him and fling him from the window. “Always were a crazy bitch,” he said.
“You know any sane people in our line of work?”
“You got anything to drink?” she said. “I’ve damn near climbed a million stairs to find you. My lips are chapped to bleeding and my throat feels like I’ve swallowed the oysters, shell and all.”
“No water. I’ve been rationing a bottle of top shelf whiskey for a week now.”
He could feel Nell’s eyes on him as he crossed the room to the small apartment kitchen. Grant turned his back on her to pull the whiskey bottle from the over-the-stove cabinet. He poured the makeshift water into the bottle’s cap and turned to hand it to her.
“Didn’t these people have any real glasses?”
“Rationing means small sips.”
“Selfish prick.” She upended the cap in her mouth and hummed low in her throat as she swallowed. “That hurts all the way down.”
“Being selfish is one of my charms. Another one is that I’m not shooting you in the head right now. I’m a gentleman that way.”
“You wouldn’t expend the energy without an order and pay upfront.”
“For you I might make an exception, one of these days.”
Nell held out the cap and smiled, stretching the skin tight over her chin and cheek bones. He remembered her as a beauty with a glow in her eyes. The last time he saw her she had been fuller in the cheeks and chest, her dark hair flowing around her shoulders instead of cropped to above her ears. Living was treating her worse than death ever would, but that didn’t quell the urge to run his knife across her tan, ropey throat.
“More,” she said.
Grant nodded and poured again, and again, and again. She took shot after shot and tossed them back like she was trying to extinguish the flame in her gut. He thought about how vulnerable he felt with his toes sticking out into the air. He’d spent an hour that way every day, just contemplating jumping, but not being able to.
He was afraid death wouldn’t take him. He was afraid Nell would. He was afraid of the morning light. He was afraid of his next job, which was the only one of the four that he could successfully hide from, as long as he had a stable supply of forgotten booze to claim.
The last drop dribbled into the cap and Nell had to practically lick it out with her white, dehydrated tongue. “What else have you got for me?”
“I think there’s a mini bar on the next floor up,” he said. “A cavalry line of cheap vodka just waiting to be taken.”
“So let’s walk the plank.” She tossed the cap toward the open window and frowned when it fell just short of it.
“Let’s, mate,” he said. He moved past her, then spun around and snatched the rifle from her shoulder. Before she could grab for it he brought the butt of the gun up into her nose and knocked her out cold across the once-white carpet, now grey with mildew. She had been right about not being worth the energy, but that didn’t mean he didn’t always catch exactly what he was after.This post was written in response to therealljidol Exhibit A, Week Two Topic: Throw back the little ones. Concrit and comments are welcome.