Authors: Brian Martinez
I clap my Gloves to get the Munie's eyes, then point. “You know the way to your nest? The City is there, down the Mountain. You can see it from here.” Still crouched, fingers in the dirt, it comes closer, unsure of my movements. Then it looks out to the City and after five seconds nods its head. “Go and don't come back. The only thing for you here is my Axe, understand?”
It slowly crawls over the ledge and descends the Steep, past the Garbage Bags and Cans infested with Winged and Wormy Beasts, past all I've done, and when its foot knocks a dry bone loose from the plastic, it looks back up at me like it understands.
I look back.
I haven't used the Long Eye in such a time its a waste not to use it again, once, to try it. I hold it between the Gloves and put the Mask up to the small side and I pick a point far away and look at a group of Trees that have fallen over, one into another. I do this a few times, pick spots and look at them. I happen to find the Munie as it heads down the Mountain so I follow it, watch it descend. Its skills are impressive, even with the Silvery Foot slowing it, and it must be in pain, if Munies feel pain, but it gets around the dangers of the Mountain well. Better for me, let it leave fast and not return so I can forget it. The Munie leaves my sight a few times, hidden by the Trees, but it always shows again, and this happens for some minutes, and the last time it does it's entering into the border of the City, crouched low to the concrete.
I leave the Long Eye to return to the Trailer, and I'm happy about this, but as I walk the Wood there's a picture taped to my Eyes. The small Munie had a strange look on its face when I told it to return to its nest, like it wasn't sure, or it didn't want to, or something like that but I don't know how to read a Munie if there's anything to read. After twenty-six seconds I go back to the Long Eye because I feel I need to know.
I find the small Munie quick enough. With the Sun falling asleep it's the only thing down there sneaking through the streets, and I feel safer Out here seeing this. Time for the Munies to release their grip on the day and give it back over to me, and my Records, and my Watch, and my-
Wait. Something else is moving in the City, something in a doorway. I see it now, a Munie, full size and disgusting like the others, and it moves toward the small one with purpose. Maybe it's family? What am I saying. Munies don't have families, I can't think of them like Real People.
The small one sees the big one and I can tell this isn't family, isn't friend, the way it backs away and tries to run, and I'm frightened by how the big one chases after the small one, catches it, falls on it, and the small one kicks and hits but its too small and too weak. The big one is so much bigger and its acts are brutal. Then the big one drags the small one away by its foot, the Silvery foot, and I see it sniff at the foot and smell the blood under the wrap. I've seen that look on a Munie too many times, that hungry look, that terrible look.
It drags the small Munie back to the door it came out of, a door in a building with a tall, pointy roof. Real People used to go into those buildings to talk to the God when the God was alive. The big one goes inside, then the small one dragged behind it, scratching at the ground with its dirty fingers.
I return to the Trailer, finally.
This was the longest I've been Outside in a long time, ever since I found all the Supplies in that building. It was a safe building, had a fence around it with sharp metal at the top, but it was too close to the City so I knew it would always be in danger, always be sniffed and pushed at by the Munies, so I took all I could carry and brought it up and hid it in the Cavern, and I did this up and down the Mountain until there was no more to take, and I've lived on those Supplies since that night.
I sit on the Chair, fall into it, tired and dizzy. I feel like sleep but it's dark out now and that means I have jobs to do, with the Silvery Tape and the Watch, and before any of that I have to shower, yes, have to do that, have to get clean. I stand when I feel better.
Take the Silvery Tape off the Shower Door. Get in. Put the Silvery Tape on. Take the Suit off. Scrub.
As the cold Alcohol touches my Skin I think of the way the small Munie fought off the Beast by the ledge of the Steep. I could see how scared it was by looking in its eyes. I didn't think Munies could be scared, but the Eyes don't lie, not about these things. That didn't stop the Munie from doing what it had to do, what it needed to so it could stay alive. I know what that's like, know it very well, the way of eating the fear and pushing it down into the Stomach where it can't be seen. I know it, and I guess that Munie knows it. Both of us know, but only the Munie moved.
I finish the shower and dry with the Towel. Then I put the Night Eyes on my Face and turn them on, then put the Mask on, then the Suit, and I leave the Shower and go out the Door, into the Outside.
What are you doing?
Before I know it I'm walking through the Wood, then down the Mountain, going to the City with the Axe in my Axe Hand.
It's all rust, the Bridge, another way into the City. It's safer to go around, not follow the small Munie's trail which smells like foot blood to the others, and it wouldn't be smart to walk where they wander, excited, looking for food, sniffing in the dirt. They should all be asleep now, yes, curled in their nests of rock and rotted fur, but I don't live by what Munies should or shouldn't do. Munies are Beasts and Beasts can't be understood.
Stay low. Stay quiet. Learn from the Munies, they get some things right.
I cross into the City for the first time in two years one month seventeen days. The last time I risked this danger was to find Supplies, and I got hurt trying to travel further from the City, got attacked for it. It was a mistake to enter or escape the City then, it's a mistake now.
The City is dark and quiet, green under Night Eyes, but green without them with all the plants growing in the streets, pushing out from cracks and snaking up walls and crawling in windows. Trees have burst from their dirt boxes and attacked cars. Tree Beasts too stupid to leave the City hide up in the leaves, peaking out now, knowing like me the nights are the safest, safest but never safe, and they watch me, watch one stupider than them, and I don't need Tree Beasts to tell me that.
Walk around the bones. Don't look at them. Don't try to read them, figure out what they used to be.
It's very different looking at the City through the Long Eye and walking through it. First is the smell, the smell that enters even through the Mask Mouth, and I trust the Mask Mouth to stop the Bastard Air but I still try to breathe lighter, don't take in too much of it. After the smell is the size. The tall buildings, the very tall ones, they stand like Beasts of sharp angles, feels like they look down and watch, the way the Trees in the Wood feel, and it's worse that they hold Munies in their dead bellies.
A sound of danger explodes behind my head and I panic and my chest feels like it will burst, and I turn and find a group of Leatherwings flying out of a big, long car and away, a bus is the name, I think. They flap-flap away into the night, hunting smaller Winged Beasts. I scared them, and they scared me, and I feel better that it wasn't a Munie but I fear the sound may have woken some up.
Relax. Listen. Move. Study the buildings and find your way through.
I find the nest I'm looking for.
Back in the Real Times I had a mother. This isn't a surprise because everything has a mother, that's what life is, but I don't think of her now, not because I can't remember her or because I don't like her, but because I do remember her and I do like her, and to think of those things, the Real Times, makes everything worse. My mother is why I'm alive now. Not just the birth but after that, too, when the Bastard Air came, and what she did, and I don't like to think about that, what she had to do.
My mother, I think of her now because she said something. She said, “Remember what you're lucky to have, always. But remember them especially on the bad days, the days when they're all you have.”
I'm thankful for this Axe. I'm thankful for this Mask and this Suit. I'm thankful that Munies don't close doors, they ignore them, so that I could walk in here quiet and not wake them, let them stay Inside their noisy sleep.
I stand by the door and I listen to the nest. Breathing from all the walls. Long chairs fill the middle of the room, long enough for ten people to sit on but most of them have been knocked over and pushed in and broken up to make a circle on the ground. All the way at the other side there's a higher part of the room and a window behind it, a very large window made of all the colors I've ever seen, and out of those colors a picture, a picture of the God, I think, but I'm not sure because I've never seen it.
Walk. Stay quiet. Keep the Axe up. Breathe like you're not breathing.
Munies sleep in the corners. I count three, huddled in piles of garbage and kill. I think they do this to show the others what they can do, to show they should be left alone, not attacked, but I'll never really know why a Munie does anything, not really, and not now. I leave them alone and go to the middle, to the long chairs, where I know I'll find them.
The two lay Inside the circle of long chairs, the small Munie tucked under the arm of the big one, both sleeping, and now I know it's true, what I believed. The large one is the largest of the group. Not the leader, Munies don't believe in leaders any more than they believe in anything, but they do fear the largest and give it room and let it take what it wants. Tonight it wanted the small one- for warmth now, for food tomorrow. The Munies, they've always disgusted me, they always will. I think the God wouldn't like what sleeps in its place, but I don't know because I've never met it.
With the Axe I push at the chest of the small Munie, careful, not touching the big one. After a few pushes its eyes open and look around, and then it sees me and I put my Glove out to tell it to be quiet. It understands, and I'm thankful for this too, so I walk around the long chairs trying not to make a sound, no crinkling of the Suit, until I'm above the head of the large Munie and its fat lips croaking Bastard Air.
Lift the Axe with your Axe Hand. Line up your shot. Swing.
The small Munie moves away from the big one, waking it up with a sudden opening of its eyes. A second later I cut its neck in half with the blade of the Axe, the ugly head and ugly body two different things, instant, the Munie dead but the sound loud, dull and wet, the dark blood a mist on the long chairs and the small Munie and the Suit, which I don't like. And in the corners I see the others, and they're awake.
We have thirty seconds to one minute on our side. Before anything, before hunger or anger, they'll fight over who's the biggest of them now, who gets the better nest with the dead Munie in it, which they'll sleep on top of to be sure of their safety. I know this as the Keeper of the Time, and from watching them, knowing them as much as anyone can know them. I use these seconds to grab the arm of the small Munie and pull it over the long chairs so we can go out into the night, away from the nest and into the City.
I let go of the small Munie's arm and we run through the street and through the Wood that's grown in it. Already I hear the others behind us, chasing, faster than us, hungrier than us, angrier than us, and I know we don't have time, not enough time to get out of the City, and even if we did it would it only get us killed outside the City. This is why I'm not trying to get out of the City.
I lead the small Munie to the stairs that sink into the ground. We go down to the place where the trains hide under the water, where they used to move free with Real People Inside them. The small Munie stops like I knew it would and I grab its arm again, pull it, drag the Munie behind me with the sound of the others coming close, and I walk down into the water.
“No want,” the small Munie says.
The small Munie fights me because it hates water. All Munies hate water, they're scared of it. I would live in water to be safe from the Munies if I could, but its not safe for other reasons, has too many things hiding in it, too much I don't want to think about, but it's safer in the water than out there with the Munies because one scratch would let the Bastard Air in and I can't let that happen, not now, not after all this time. Filled with bad things, these tunnels, but behind us is worse.
I hold onto the small Munie and make my way in, right away floating from the Air in the suit, and I keep the Mask Mouth pointed up and my back to the water, my face in the inches between the water and the brick at the top, covered with slime and dripping on the Mask. The small Munie does its best to do the same, but it shakes and swallows water, coughs it out, swallows more. I wave the other Glove and kick at the water to make us move. It's slow but it works, and the Mask fogs up from the water and from my fast breaths and I try not to think of the Beasts that live in here, under us, their teeth, their tails, their cold eyes that see through the water, the Beasts that live in the trains.