Author : Bruce L. Priddy
The fish rolled its four goat-like eyes, gnashed its human-like teeth and bleated obscenities as Kendal pulled it from the river. June, his wife, gasped at the sight of the mutant.
“Must have swam up from near the city,” Kendal said. “The others have been fine.” He nodded toward the day’s catch – three bass and a catfish – strung up beside them on the boulder-strewn bank.
“We’re still safe here, right?” June asked, looking back at the RV parked on the golden and ruddy tree-line a dozen yards away, their children inside.
The fish grew louder, shouting curses at both husband and wife.
“Sure,” Kendal said. “Miles of forest in front of us, a rough river to our back. We might as well have the world to ourselves. This is the worst we’ll see. Still, might not want to let the kids play in the water.”
June pushed a smile through her concern. “Good.” She stood from the flat boulder she shared with him and started back to the RV to check on the kids. “Shut that thing up, will you?”
Kendal took the fish by the tail, bashed it against the rock until its head ruptured and the vulgarities died.
Night came. Far removed from the remains of civilization and the monsters, Kendal felt comfortable enough to build a fire. For the first time since the things-disguised-as-stars fell upon the earth and the cities collapsed and life warped and twisted, the family ate a meal that wasn’t from cold cans. The fish were sparse on meat, but the meal was warm, and the family was happy.
After dinner, Kendal read from a copy of Moby Dick pillaged from a second-hand shop after the family fled the city. Leigh, his daughter, sat in his lap while his son, Mikey, leaned against Kendal. Both were too young to understand the way the words fit together, only wanting to hear their father read to them. It was a luxury missing since the world fell apart. Kendal wondered how many months it had been since the kids had a bedtime story. He didn’t want to count
June excused herself to the RV, returning a few minutes later, her jeans and sweater replaced with a sundress. It was shorthand, carried over from before the end-of-it-all, though neither could remember how the tradition started. It was getting harder to remember there were times before. Autumn chill played across her exposed legs and shoulders, the gooseflesh pulling Kendal’s eyes from the book again and again.
He read until the fire shrank to nothing but a soft red glow in the logs. Mother and father each carried a child to the RV, placing them in sleeping bags adorned with cartoon characters that would not keep out the coming winter’s cold. But that was a concern for another day.
Then, husband and wife walked into the forest holding hands, not far, RV still in view. In the shadows they had at each other once again.
Above them, stars broke loose of their moorings and drifted down, down, ever closer to the family.