Authors: Brian Martinez
The Mountain and The City
Copyright © 2012 Brian Martinez
I can't imagine living in a house, one of those real houses with Shingles and a Garage. Too many Windows and Doors, too much to go wrong. Edges and corners put weakness in the creases, make the Silvery Tape fail. That means constant work and upkeep. I wouldn't have any minutes to myself to listen to my Records. I bet I wouldn't last a month like that, all that Silvery Tape and no Records to keep me right.
Time to check it again.
The Silvery Tape, I love how it catches the candlelight around the windows and over the Kitchen Vent, the soft-glowing veins, it helps me to remember, when I see it, what Christmas Lights looked like. Nothing's worth more than Silvery Tape, at least that I've found. Nothing's more valuable than staying alive and nothing keeps me alive better than Silvery Tape. Without Silvery Tape, how would I keep the Outside outside? How would I keep the Watch on the Watch Arm or the Axe on the Axe Leg?
Smooth the Tape with your Gloves. Stand on the Bunk-bed and feel the seal where the Wall and the Ceiling collide. Double-check. All around the Front Door, all around the Small Window, all around the Shower Door glass, from the top of the strip to the bottom. Have a system and stick to it. That's what life is.
I stay silent when I check the Tape so I can listen for the Voice of the Outside. Don't want to hear the Voice coming through the Silvery Tape, no, never want that. Need to catch the hissing, catch the whistle of the Air, the Bastard Air. My Gloves find a spot right above the Stove where the Silvery Tape is getting weak and I don't panic when I find this because panic makes Death.
Grab the roll from the Belt. Rip a strip long enough, stick it on and patch it up. Smooth the Tape with Glove fingers. Rub the veins with your fingertips. Double-check. Stop breathing and listen through the Mask and don't move until you're sure the voice isn't there.
I almost didn't notice it's five o'clock. That means its time to wind the Watch. This part makes me nervous but I look forward to it, such an honor I've been given, Keeper of The Time, that's my title, that's what I do. It makes the Watch so important, having that job, and that makes me important. No more machines in the sky to track it, no more men who read the Sun. No more batteries to run the clocks and that leaves me and the Watch and the Watch Arm and that's me and that's why I'm important because I keep the time, Keeper of the Time. I've done it for so long, don't know how long.
I sit on the Bunk-bed and pull the small Table over so I can work. The Table, I remember finding it on the Outside, just laying there in the Wood tangled up in a bush I was collecting berries from. My Gloves were running with juice and my Mask was fogging up from the anticipation of boiling and eating them. Then I stopped because there it was with its legs sticking up in the Air, Bastard Air, and it was such a surprise I didn't know what to do. Right off I thought it was a Munie trap. No, I knew it was. I dropped the plastic bag to the grass and cut the Silvery Tape to pull the Axe from my Axe Leg and started waving it around at the Wood screaming, “Come and get me, you Munie Beasts! Come get me!” There were no sounds, no movement, only the small, fat Beasts scattering through the berry bushes. No one was there. I really don't have to say no one was there because I'm still alive, but I still like to hear myself say it. That was a good feeling, still being alive. And I had a new Table, too, someone long ago in the Real Times had thrown it out.
On the Table are the Tweezers where I left them. It's easier to wind up the Watch this way because the little metal arms are hard to get a grip on with Gloves, even with the grooves cut into their heads.
Try and the fingers keep slipping. Instead, hold the Watch up. Bring it close to the Mask until its glass face is touching your plastic face. Slip the points of the tool into the grooves, pinch the arm-head and slowly, very slowly, twist the Tweezers while holding the Watch against the Mask face until it starts to spin and you hear the little tic-tic-tic, but be careful! A wrong move here can destroy the Watch and then time is lost forever.
It starts to spin with the tic-tic-tic, and I keep it slow, evenly spaced, so I don't dislodge one of the tiny gears inside, the sound I hear in nightmares, and when its done I make sure the Silvery Tape holding the Watch to the Watch Arm still has a good seal and I push the table back to its place against the wall and I finally breathe.
Hungry, time to eat but I know what that means. Saw the Cabinet when I woke up at four pm and know I need to go to the Cavern to restock the Cans but I'm not looking forward to it, never do. Made a list of what's running low: Toilet Paper, Canned Food, Matches. A good night is any night I can stay inside the Trailer and wind the Watch and check the Silvery Tape and listen quietly to my Records, quiet enough so the Munies can't hear, but that's not tonight.
Tonight isn't a good night.
I open the can and eat it all, scrape it clean and throw it with the Plastic Fork into the black Garbage Bag with the other Forks and Cans and I tie it shut with a double-knot, deflating it against my crinkly chest so it isn't any bigger than it has to be and place it in front of the Door. Then I grab the Silvery Tape roll and the Night Eyes and take them with me to remove the seal from the Shower Door. I step inside, check the Floor Drain for breaks in the seal but it looks good so I close the Shower Door and tape it up.
Take the Mask off. Release the clips around the neck and hear the ss-s-sss of the air pushing in, then hold your breath and hope its Trailer Air, not Bastard Air. Naked, take a bottle of Rubbing Alcohol from the Shelf and douse the Suit, then yourself. Rub it in, feel how cold it is, don't miss anything. A dry inch can mean your life.
It stings at my Eyes and they water up. They get angry at me when I do this. I put the empty Bottle back on the Shelf and dry off with the Towel, my skin soft and pink like a worm's. Air doesn't touch it much and the sweat and steam keep it moist all the time, gummy, like when people used to take baths in bathtubs but stayed in too long. The Suit is like a bath I take too long, but it's myself I bathe in.
Put on the Night Eyes. Flip the switch and the world goes green. Dread the day the Night Eyes run out of battery. Put the Suit on. Then the Mask.
With the Axe in my Axe Hand and the Garbage Bag in the other I head into the Wood where the Trees scream and scream at me. It gets worse than this when the Bastard Air gets warm, the things in the Trees get so loud it makes me dizzy and I want to run back Inside. The Trailer Door is already sealed back up with Silvery Tape, though, guarding against the Bastard Air and giving sure sign of Munies when I return. If I ever return to find the Silvery Tape ripped, hanging loose or torn or lifted up, I know to turn around and leave, without a sound, and never come back.
I can remember a time, faint but it's there, back in the Real Times, when I enjoyed being Outside. It used to mean sport and play and running around with friends, kicking things and throwing things but for fun, not for the reasons I kick and throw now. I think my mother, this almost sounds like a joke or maybe a dream I'm mistaking for real, used to tell me to go Outside to get Fresh Air. That seems so ridiculous, if I'm right, like it can't be true, no one could have been that stupid, but it's important to remember the Real Times were very different times from now. All the rules were different then, before the Bastard Air. People even took showers with water. And the cities, well, the cities were cities.
The stars are so bright up there, like a spray of blood against a dark wall, except the blood is green from the Night Eyes. Important to remember how much Bastard Air is there between me and the stars.
Something is watching me from the Wood.
It's not a Munie, I know that from the eyes. It's a Beast of the Wood that wants me for food. I'm going for Supplies and it is, too, but to the Beasts I'm the Supplies, and I understand that. I don't understand the Munies, who kill to kill.
It's a quick run from the Trailer to the Cavern using the Trail through the Wood, three minutes and ten seconds is my average with two minutes and seventeen seconds my best, says the Watch, but that's without anything in my Hands. Five minutes thirty-four seconds is the average with Supplies. Once, and I don't want to do that again, it was eight minutes nine seconds, but that was with Supplies and with running into that Munie and using the Axe on it.
See it behind the Trees, watching with its green eyes. Keeping distance and choosing the right time. Keep the Axe out. Keep eye contact with it. It won't attack until it sees your back or your weakness. Hide both.
I think it's one of those Beasts Real People used to keep Inside their houses in the Real Times, feeding them and caring for them. Can't remember what they were called. There are so many names I've forgotten because I haven't said them since I was small and like anything else a name dies when you don't use it. Doesn't matter now because it's hungry, and hungry things don't have names.
Still at least one minute forty seconds from the cavern and the Beast in the Wood is impatient, coming closer through the Trees. The tongue in its mouth drips with spit and its eyes don't blink and I know I don't have time to get to the Cavern before it loses control and jumps on me. Even if I fight it it'll rip the Suit with its first bite or scratch and I can't let that happen.
If the Bastard Air got in I wouldn't fight, I would let the Beast finish me. Better to be Supplies than a Munie.
No time left. Do it now. Attack it before it attacks you. Use the Axe to scare it or kill it, get the Supplies and return to the Trailer.
With the Axe in my Axe Hand and the Garbage Bag in the other I run into the Wood, right at the Beast. I'm waving the Axe and shaking the Bag to look loud and noisy and I'm screaming inside the Mask and it comes back at my Ears and makes me dizzy. The Beast tenses up and gets smaller, then turns and runs the other way. I keep running, running and screaming and shaking and waving in case the Beast was thinking of backing off and then returning and attacking when I turn my Back. I haven't run in so long and it feels strange on the Legs. The muscles have become another name I let die.
The Beast breaks free of the Wood and runs into the clear. I follow it out and don't stop the noises until its far away, far down the slope of the Mountain and into the Lower Wood, and then I stop and see where I am. I haven't looked at it since before I can remember, the City down there at the bottom of the Mountain, dark and dead under the stars. I can make out its shape with the Night Eyes.
Listen. Notice the trees have stopped screaming. Life is something always screaming, when one starts another stops.
At the mouth of the Cavern I listen, like always, listen to it. The sounds in there echo so much it makes it hard for anyone to hide Inside. Any shuffle or sniff repeats, gets louder, travels, and Munies aren't good at staying still, so any Munie in there would give itself away quick. Isn't a big chance of that happening, a Munie in a dark place, but it's important to be safe, take no chances, ever.
I only hear water drips. Then, when I'm standing Inside, the squeaks of the Leatherwings far down, but I ignore those because Leatherwings leave me alone and I leave them alone, everyone doing what they have to do. So I walk through the Cavern and I'm careful of the waxy, wet Spikes that grow from the Floor and the Ceiling and I find the metal Stairs, built by Real people in the Real Times when they used to visit here, and I use them to go down. It's a scary place full of scary things but I feel safer the deeper I go into the ground.
Find the Supplies. Take what you need, Toilet Paper, Canned Food, Matches, and get out. Return to the Trailer.
At the bottom the Cavern opens up. The Ceiling is so high the waxy, wet spikes aren't trouble for my Head, only my Feet, and I imagine what it would be like if I could reach Inside the Mask to the switch for the Night Eyes and turn them off, stand here in no light, no light at all, but the thought of all that black around me and above me makes the Air push in and out of the Mask Mouth faster. I have to watch the water rushing and bubbling past me for one minute six seconds until I feel like I can walk again.
I pass the Waterfall, small but loud and I always have to wipe the mist from the Mask, and then I'm at the Yellow Room, which I call because of the walls. I'm happy to see the Supplies are where I left them, only one box chewed on by a Leatherwing or some other Beast with teeth that are tiny and useless against boxes.
By my count I can live one year four months on these Supplies. I'll think about that in one year three months.