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Food Chain by Evangeline Jennings

Food Chain by Evangeline Jennings

FOOD CHAIN

by

Evangeline Jennings

Steven died last night.

He didn’t leave a note.

At some long moment during his watch, he slipped over the side into the darkness and let go. Steven took himself out of the food chain.

We haven’t seen a fish in weeks.

If Jackson and Mary form an alliance, I’ll be next to go. I have a half bottle of Oxycodone left but not the guts to end myself. Not yet. When they come for me, would a fistful of Mary’s Xanax help or should I follow Steven into the depths?

Here off the coast of East Africa, the winds are getting up. Cape Verde is two hundred miles south. The Canaries sit a little further north. We could make for an island, the mainland, or home. Maybe slip into the Med. Trouble is we don’t know if anywhere is safe. Nothing but radio silence since the missiles flew.

If we hadn’t been at sea when it started, we’d be dead. We’re all going to die anyway. Most of us already have. Sacrificed for the greater good. The sun crests on the horizon. Another beautiful day in paradise.

I wonder how it happened to my family. To people I grew up with, went to school with, who I remember as if it were yesterday. I haven’t thought of them in years but now I can barely think of anything else. The brothers next door who played soccer with me. The redheaded girl I watched in gym and pondered in detail at night. I hope they all died easily. I’m not sure they did.

Are all the politicians, super-villains, soldiers, and masters of the universe safe in their bunkers and mountaintop lairs? Or has this been an equal opportunities apocalypse, impossible to defend against? I hope so.

A month ago, we spied a crippled battleship. The waves were littered with corpses. None of them had eyes.

Our side was the first to go thermo-nuclear. The others responded in kind. The missiles flew too high to see and we were in the middle of the ocean at the time. The safest place to be. The war to end all wars passed us by, but the woman on the radio said our president made sure to pancake Mecca, Medina, and Tehran. All in the name of his god.

The president will regret that if the Muslims were right. No virgins for you, you mass-murdering tool.

Six weeks before we sailed, the yacht was infested with rats. We wiped them out with a mixture of poison and traps. With the benefit of hindsight, that was our biggest mistake. A single female rat breeds up to thirty times a year. We could have learned to farm them for meat.

There’s food in the freezer for four more days – now Steven is gone.

Does it matter we don’t know what happened? That we never will? I don’t think so. Dead is dead. Two days after we left port, people started dying. Bleeding out through every orifice. We followed the horror as closely as we could, by radio and satellite TV. There was no ground zero for this plague. New York. London. Paris. Munich. Moscow. And Beijing. It hit almost everywhere at once. Only a matter of time before someone pressed their button. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, my grandfather the colonel used to say.

The only question now is what will get us first – poison, radiation, or starvation? Our desalination system will outlive us all.

Mary is struggling though another of her nightmares. Her anguish wheedles though the bathroom wall while I pee. The toilet paper ran out weeks ago. Another page from Twilight makes the journey front to back. The medicine cabinet hasn’t been raided yet. My drugs are here. Mary’s too. I could have hidden them but someone might have noticed and decided I wasn’t a team player after all. There are no teams now. Not for me.

I could use a shower but I’ve seen Psycho. There are wicked-looking knives on board this yacht.

We’re down to our last bag of beans. I grind enough for the pot and then grind some more while I wait for the coffee to boil. I stir the pot and take my steaming mug on deck. It’s hot, black, and bitter. Three months ago, I would have made a joke.

I hide a knife between the cushions on the seating at the stern. I can’t be surprised here and if they make a move I can retrieve my weapon before Jackson gets to me.

The sun rises into the sky.

I mourn the world and fear my best friends.

A lone cloud passes overhead.

Jackson emerges at the helm. “Hey, Cameron, what’s going on, where’s Steve?”

“Man overboard.” I shrug. What can you do? “Some time in the night.”

“Shit. The selfish bastard.”

“Ain’t that the truth?” I pronounce it troot. I don’t know why.

He’s too far away to read his eyes, but I’m sure he has a calculating, lean and hungry look. Of the final three, Jackson’s the big dog. Whoever he picks will stay alive at least a little longer. Jackson won’t choose me. Despite her nerves and night terrors, Mary is drop dead gorgeous.

“I made coffee.” My pathetic tribute.

“Thanks, Cam. I could use a cup.”

Does he expect me to get it? “Help yourself.” I’m staying where I am.

His grin says Jackson gets that. And understands why. I guess he knows he doesn’t need to rush. Try as I might, I can’t stay awake forever. But then again, neither can he.

When the crash comes from the galley, I don’t move. Staring at the waves, implacable, relentless, I recite the full names of all our dead friends, bearing witness to their sacrifice or stubbornness depending. The last is Steven Patrick. I wait until the flavour of his name fades from my tongue, then take my knife and investigate.

Jackson is on the floor. Struggling to rise. The weight of the world on his shoulders, he makes it onto his knees.  Now I can read his baby blue eyes. They’re scared and confused. If he could find a way to force out words, I’m sure the first would be, ‘What?’

“Oxy and Xanax,” I say, helping him out. The least I can do. “Ground into a powder and mixed with the coffee beans.”

He pitches forward onto his face.

I watch and wait for five minutes. Ten.

Jackson doesn’t move. I slit his throat.

I’ll butcher the carcass later. First I need to put Mary out of her misery.

Before we set sail, I was vegetarian, verging towards vegan. The slogan on my favourite t-shirt says that Meat Is Murder.

The next two days, I make jerky.

In a month, I’ll be gnawing on their bones.

The Strait of Gibraltar is only nine miles wide. I haven’t been this close to land since the day we left. There’s no way I can know if it’s safe but I may as well see Naples before I die.

Maybe there’ll be fish in the Med.

Port side, Europe. Starboard, Africa. I can see two dead worlds from the helm. Can the poison reach me? I don’t know. A stricken car ferry floats battered and alone, awkward and low among the waves.

Skirting Spain, I scour the coast for any sign of life. I keep at least a mile from the shore. After four days of failure, I despair and pull away.

Rotted bodies pepper a beach on Ibiza. In a fishing village with no name, wildfires rage.

The Strait of Bonifacio is half the width of Gibraltar but I navigate it almost without fear. The poison might be gone. I have no Geiger counter.

This short stretch of water separates two islands. In the old world, one was French, the other Italian. There are no nations now. No flags. Only me.

Vesuvius dominates my view of the Bay of Naples. Two thousand years ago, it buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. If it had erupted twelve months ago, millions would have died.

I will live or die on Capri.

I anchor in the harbor and untether the dinghy.

As I row for shore, I pray Mary’s endless screams stay on the boat.

Copyright (c) Evangeline Jennings 2014

Read my interview with the author here.

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