The Last High
Characters: Arnott, Sykora
Rating: R, for bad words. And DEATH. You can't have the end of the world without DEATH, folks.
Summary: Uhm, have you seen the promos for the Day After Tomorrow? You're good. If you've seen the movie, imagine that the whole ice age thing was.. bigger, and colder, and BETTER. Well, anyway, it gets cold. Lots of people die. I'm not saying who, but... everyone. (Okay, so maybe those folk in Chile escaped the cold. Maybe Mo and Hully cause they're in Cabo...)
AN: Song fic. Stole the first line. Stole lotta things.
AN2: Anyway, anyone remember that Day After Tomorrow challenge? Write, before it opened, a 2000 word fic about the end of the world, any fandom. Well, never made the deadline. Didn't follow the rules either, because 2000? Well, 10,000 is pretty close.
Every morning is this morning.
Jason stares up at the ceiling. At the rafters and the purple tube that runs along the middle of his line of sight: it’s the air conditioning vent. It used to pump cold air into the gym to keep it cool. If he closes his eyes he can almost taste the cool dry air, and remember playing basketball. It was a different kind of taste--different from the air he breathes now--because it was artificial and welcomed.
He remembers playing basketball, and the way that the floors shone--a rich honey color that his shoes squeaked and skid across. Shiny and new and clean.
The floor are littered with dirty blankets and mattresses and cots, now. Because he is bigger than most, he was able to acquire a mattress. Nobody cares about women and children anymore. Nobody cares much at all.
He sleeps most of the day away, lying stiffly between two bodies, on his side. He can’t sleep on his back; there isn’t enough room. Petr is in front of him now. He stares at the back of his head--the way his hair curls at the nape of his neck. He was glad when Petr finally got a haircut. He fucked him on the couch when Petr had returned home from the hair salon; it had been an important event in need of celebration.
Behind him is an old woman. She has white hair and breathes heavily. She coughs every now and then, and he can feel her whole body shake with the force of it. He thinks: she’s going to die soon and he’ll be able to sleep on his back. It’s an awful thought, but he thinks it nevertheless. He figures now is a time of truth. He no longer has use for lies.
Beyond the three of them, on their island of a mattress, lie hundreds of other bodies. They collectively breathe in and out, waiting. Sometimes people cry. A baby or child will make a noise every now and then. For the most part, people are quiet. They lie down, face to face, and stare at one another. There isn’t much left to be said, and what needs to be said is easily communicated while looking at each other.
Jason prefers to look at the back of Petr’s head. He used to stare at Petr’s face for hours and, sometimes, he’d open his mouth. But nothing would ever come out. He took that as a sign. He used to wrap his arms around him, press his lips to his head, and whisper stupid lies to keep them warm. Now, when Petr’s teeth chatter, Jason thinks about his toes, and frostbite, and simply pulls the army-issued blanket around himself tighter.
He’s tired and he stares up at the ceiling and thinks about the long walk down the hallway to the bathroom. He thinks about the maze of bodies (when did he stop referring to them as people?) and the dark corridors and how the pipes have frozen so the faucets no longer work, and wonders if he really has to pee. He thinks: maybe he can just lie here and go back to bed, and his bladder will forget. He doesn’t want to get up; he doesn’t want to move; he’s tired. He’s tired of being tired.
His mind and bladder battle every morning, and his bladder always win. When he gets up, the old woman moans a protest. She’s probably upset her space heater is leaving. His feet shuffle along the hallway, and it’s so quiet--everything’s so quiet--that any noise would seem too loud, and jarring, so he’s careful not to bump into anything. Not that there’s anything to bump into, or doors to slam. Or pins to drop.
There are no high heels to echo across these floors. He thinks about high heels and women’s feet and calves and legs, and Dina’s skin. He remembers kissing the inside of those calves and working his way up her legs--
The bathroom is dark: there’s no electricity anymore, and the sun hasn’t risen yet. He’s glad he only has to pee. The toilets have frozen so it’s either outside or they make use of the drains in the shower area or the sinks. He likes the showers because he figures most boys used to be pee in here anyway when taking showers. And he doesn’t like the fact that the sinks have mirrors above them.
He pulls his dick out and his hands are rough and cold, and they’ve never felt more foreign. He thinks about junior high, and high pitched girlish voices (belonging to boys) chanting: shake it once, that’s alright… shake it three times and you’re just playing with yourself.
He passes Petr on his way out. They look at each other and it’s another one of those moments where Jason opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He looks tired; his skin is stretched tight across his face. They’re all tired. It’s not worth noting anymore, so Jason doesn’t know why he does it.
He makes his way to the end of the hall for breakfast. There isn’t a long line yet, and he wonders if he got up extra early. He falls in line behind a small woman with black hair. He sees her every morning. Always from behind or in profile. He’s never seen her whole face. He used to make up stories about half her face being disfigured or her being coy. He doesn’t anymore. He just stands behind her and waits his turn.
They distribute the food in an old English classroom. Or, at least, what he thinks used to be an English classroom. The walls had been stripped bare, and any books that were on the shelves were burned long ago. Paper burns so quickly; it’s useless fuel. But you’ll try anything when you’re desperate. Two minutes is two minutes you don’t have to think about the cold. Two minutes is two minutes longer you don’t have to think about tomorrow. Or about how all the books are gone.
A twenty-some-odd year old, militant man distributes the cans. Two cans: make them last, he orders. Feet move forward, hands reach out for their cans, and they shuffle forward again. A line of people making their way though a maze of desks designed to keep things orderly. At the end is another man, oddly reminiscent of the other handing out the cans, and probably because they are friends. He is the only man in the whole fucking gymnasium who has a can opener. It is a special kind of power, and Jason knows he eats more than his two cans per day allotment. Everybody knows, really, but nobody says anything. It would destroy the system, and maybe everyone would go crazy and kill him for his can opener and eat all the cans in one sitting. They’d go through them all in days, and then what? Starve and die? Following the system, he supposes, postpones the inevitable. He also figures everyone’s too tired to actually rebel and start an uprising.
He holds his cans out and the man slices through the metal, rotating the knob between his fingers, and Jason watches, fascinated. The man always leaves the tops on; people like to lick the undersides. Jason runs his tongue across the metal and thinks about its jagged edges. Sharp, and how easily they’d cut through skin. It probably wouldn’t even hurt. Maybe the cold would act as a kind of anesthetic, too.
He carries his cans into another classroom. History, maybe. He used to eat on his mattress with Petr. But the old woman, sometimes, was too tired to walk all the way to the end of the hallway to pick up her food for the day. She’d stare at Jason, waiting for him to offer up his food, and he always felt like such a bastard. He tried turning his back, but he could still feel her eyes on him. So he gave up and started eating inside one of the empty rooms.
Families used to segregate themselves into different classrooms. But then they’d discovered that if they all slept in the gym, together, the room was slightly warmer. Slightly. It’s all relative. Probably psychological, now. It’s getting colder, and soon it won’t matter how many people they stuff into a room. He thinks about the AAC. The ice would melt, and he could feel himself sink into it when he skated. All those people talking and breathing. It wasn’t their body heat, though. It was their constant walking in and out of the doorways and letting the heat and humidity into the building.
Canned peaches. He hates peaches. He scoops the fruit out, in its sticky syrup, with his fingers. He gave his spoon to Petr two days ago. Or last week. Sometime before yesterday. It’s hard to keep track of the days. They all melt into one another, and dates don’t really matter anymore.
He sucks the syrup from his fingers and he’s grateful that at least it’s human food. He thinks about the time he got cat food. None of the cans have labels on them; the rains washed them away. So you never know what you’re going to get. It was fishy and grainy, and kind of like cardboard--if cardboard tastes like shit--and he wished he had been able to trade cans with the old lady. She probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared. But Petr had been watching him, so he choked it down.
He thinks that afterwards, maybe, was when he handed the spoon over to Petr. Here, he had probably said inside his head, take this mother fucking cat food spoon and shove it in your mouth.
He hates cats and loves dogs. He has a dog. Had a dog. He drooled everywhere and drove Dina insane. She smiled and pretended it was so cute that he had left a pool of saliva all over her bracelet and hand. She wiped her hand nonchalantly on his coat--something he, himself, had done numerous times before--and he instantly knew that he liked her. She was smart and stylish, and she didn’t disappoint in bed. He wonders when was the first moment he thought he could spend the rest of his life with her. Was it at the carnival? The beach by his parent’s house that first summer? When she said she’d move out to Texas with him?
He spends so much time thinking about before. It drives him insane, but there’s nothing else to think about.
It wasn’t always like this.
He used to play hockey. In a city called Dallas filled with women who used too much hairspray. He thinks: stupid cunts, look what you did.
He forgets he used to use hairspray too. He doesn’t like to think about all the things he did, all the things they did. He doesn’t like to think about factories and smoke, and cars and exhaust, and freon and aerosol particles. He thinks about hairspray, instead.
He thinks about his two houses. One had a beach. He imagines the waves--growing taller, rising, gaining speed, crashing into his house. He thinks about all his trophies and pucks and hockey cards and clothes and his plasma TVs and his recliner, and his cars in the garage. He loved racing around in his Lamborghini. He was so fucking cool. He kind of wishes he still had it. It’d be useless: it couldn’t be driven anywhere and it couldn’t be traded for food. But he misses his useless toys. He’d give anything for some useless extravagance. Just to distract him for a moment.
He thinks about things, rather than people. Their faces come to him eventually so there’s no need to rush the memories. He has just woken up and eaten his first can of food, and he has twenty four hours to fill. Eight more hours until the next can. Then he can stop his head for a moment and focus on eating again. Licking the metal clean. There used to be other tasks. They all involved finding fuel or food, or ways to travel or communicate with anyone else who may have survived. Planning what to do next--organizing.
But nobody cares anymore. It’s useless: there is no fuel, the cans are the last of the food, and travel is stupid. It’s hard going, plowing through the snow, and where would they go? What exactly would they be looking for? More food? Less snow? Other people? It’s the same in every direction: snow, snow, snow, and nothing else. There are no other people. And if there are, that would only be more mouths to feed. Any food supply is useless. Eventually they’d run out, and they’d have to start searching again. And crops don’t sprout well, buried in snow. It’s pointless. Everything is pointless, so they sit inside their gymnasium, eating their cans and sleeping the days away. And waiting. For a miracle, maybe.
A while ago a group of men and women left the gym. Petr called them brave and Jason called them stupid. They all belonged to the same religious cult. Or church. Or political affiliation. Something like that. Details are unimportant now. They could have all been on the PTA. Maybe they sold brownies at their last bake sale.
They set out to find other people. To find help. To find something. Jason forgets, now. And when they found whatever it was they were supposed to find, they were going to come back for the rest of them. They haven’t come back, yet, and Jason figures they’re either living it up at Club Med or they’re dead. Either is probably better than this.
He is sitting, cross-legged, on the floor--his cans (one empty) like treasure laid out before him. A soft padding across the floor and Jason looks up to see Petr in the door frame. Jason picks up his empty can and moves it aside. It clinks on the floor beside him, and Petr winces.
He moves forwards and takes the place of the cans, sitting in front of Jason, and eventually leaning forward and resting his head in Jason’s lap. He shifts to get comfortable, and Jason runs his fingers through his hair, more out of habit than comfort. He could probably palm Petr’s skull and crush it. He thinks about movies, and how Rhett nearly did it after being hurt by Scarlet, thinks about fight scenes and Die Hard--one, two, and three.
He thinks: this is so fucking insane. And his ass hurts from sitting too long on the ground. He wants to shove Petr off of him. Maybe push him against the wall. Punch him in the head a couple of times. Not because he wants to hurt him, but, mostly, because he’s bored. His fingers ache; they’re so fucking cold. He’s not even sure he could make a proper fist, but maybe if he could, maybe if he could slam flesh against flesh, he could get some feeling back into them. Maybe he could start to feel again. That would (maybe) be nice. For a while at least. He’d stop thinking about the cold. And his mom. And Wade. And Dina. Every fucking face burned into his retinas. Even the newspaper boy with his stupid oversized baseball cap, who never managed to chuck the paper far enough. God damn, stupid kid made him walk all the way out to the end of his driveway.
He’s forgetting again. He never picked up the paper in the morning. That was always Dina. He keeps thinking it was him because she complained so often. He can still hear her voice in his head. Back in Wasaga the paper boy put the paper nicely on the front porch. She likes that. Liked. There’s no front porch anymore.
His ass is numb and he thinks: he isn’t supposed to be here. He was supposed to be in Wasaga. It was so much less humid there than in Texas, and Dina wasn’t due until July, so after the season ended they flew up to Canada. He isn’t supposed to be here; he isn’t supposed to be alive.
Petr’s season ended a bit earlier than his, and he was supposed to fly home for the summer. But Jason fucked that up when he called him up and told Petr to meet him in Texas. They spent three days together, and it was great. On the fourth day, lightning storms appeared. They curled up in bed and let the lightning create shadows against the walls.
The next morning it began to hail, and Petr said it was so fucking weird. Jason made hot chocolate and they listened to the radio: tornadoes in LA, monsoons along the sea board, snow nearly everywhere, and oh, yeah, England was gone. Jason stopped stirring his hot chocolate after the news bulletin. He can’t remember, but he must have put the spoon in his pocket sometime afterwards.
He tried calling his mom and Dina. No service. And hours later he would hear about the tidal waves.
They didn’t do much that first day. It began to rain, and never stopped. Flash floods. Houses being destroyed. Torrential winds. Jason stayed in bed, staring at the ceiling and waiting for it to be ripped off. It never happened. They listened to the monotone radio voice: hysterical before, but now so shocked, and the damages and horrors and death were so far reaching that it didn’t seem real anymore. It was easy to list off the cities, or states, now completely submerged underwater. And then it began to snow. Just like that.
And just like that, everyone began moving south. No longer just moving inwards to avoid the waves, but now south to avoid the cold. It was just like a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. Petr was surprisingly calm, and the one to tap him on the shoulder and tell him they should get going. He didn’t have any of his snow gear; Texas snow is pitiful, usually, and there’d never been a need for it. They bundled up in the clothes they found and left. He didn’t bother looking through the house for anything to bring. There wasn’t anything he wanted. He forgot about food and water.
They had wasted time, sitting there, listening to the radio. By the time they left, cars were no good. Jason wasn’t quite sure where they were going, or why. He just followed Petr. Petr and his crap sneakers. He watched Petr’s feet sink into the snow. They were probably soaked through. Squish. Squish.
He looked behind him once, at their tracks. He used to hunt when he was younger. When he could get away from the rink during the winter. He started with a rifle. Now he uses a bow and arrow. It’s more fair.
He watched the snow cover their tracks.
They didn’t end up very far. After a few miles they spotted a bunch of abandoned cars at a gas station. They holed up there for a while, and Jason found some plastic bags to put over Petr’s sneakers. Later they broke into a shoe store and got him some real boots.
They traveled from store to store, following the caravan of people, until eventually they ended up at the gym. It had been partially prepared: cots, flashlights, and blankets, leftover from the lightning storm.
And then it began to get colder.
Some of the caravan moved on, but most stayed behind. A middle aged woman helped organize space and the distribution of blankets. Parties of five were sent out to scavenge for food. Someone fell through a snow drift and found the thousands of cans. The flood had swept them, probably from a store, and for some reason they had stopped. There. All of them.
Somebody called it a miracle. Jason thought it was some kind of sick joke. He still does.
He stops threading his fingers through Petr’s hair and asks him, “Where were we going?” His voice sounds weird, and Petr doesn’t answer. He shifts, though, so Jason knows he’s awake. “When we left the house. Were we going to Mexico? We didn’t have anything. You only had those stupid sneakers.” There is something else on his tongue. The why. Why had they left? What was the point? Weren’t they all going to die anyway?
Petr sighs. “I don’t know about you, but I wanted a pizza. I was walking to Pizza Hut.”
Jason counts the tiles in the ceiling. He loses count on purpose so that he has to start again. So that he has something to do tomorrow.
He’s lying on his back. Petr, beside him, is fiddling with the buttons in his coat. Jason had never been a smoker--a casual cigar smoker, but other than that, nothing really. He wants one now, though. Something toxic, little tendrils of smoke weaving their way into his lungs… it looks cool, too.
Petr rolls into him and shoves his hand under Jason’s shirt. His hands are cold, and Jason flinches for a second. It’s not sexual; his hands are just cold and Jason happens to be the resident space heater. It stopped being sexual a long time ago.
Petr traces his ribs with his thumb. A small mewl and Jason braces himself. “I miss--” and Jason tunes him out. Flowers? Sunshine? Patrik? Hockey? Fruit? A bed? What? What, he wants to scream. It’s all gone. He doesn’t need a laundry list to remind him.
He waits for Petr to stop and compose himself, and then tells him they should head back to the gym. When they return to their spot, the old woman and the mattress are gone. Jason sits dumbly in its place, and runs the morning through his head. Yeah, he remembers a mattress and an old lady.
“Where is she?” Petr asks.
Jason squints and stares at the woman next to them. She has a new coat.
She catches his eye and has the decency to blush for a moment. “She didn’t have any use for it,” she whispers. Mouths. Jason can’t hear her; he has to read her lips.
He kind of wants to cry. Because someone stole his mattress. And that’s like the mean trick that the cool kids perform on the newbie--the vets on the rookie.
Instead, he looks around for his mattress. He figures whoever got rid of the old woman’s body probably took it as well. He spots it about fifteen yards away. Two men are sitting on it. He thinks: he could take them. He’s bigger than them. He could walk on over, demand his mattress back, and mumble, “fucking animals” under his breath. To let them know there’s still morality and decency in this world, even if it’s frozen over.
That would probably be a Petr thing to do. But Jason is far more practical. He’d have to walk the fifteen yards over there, and then carry the mattress fifteen yards back to their spot. Or, he’d have to somehow kick the two men off of it. Both required energy Jason didn’t really have. Or want to expend anyway. Especially over an old woman that coughed in his face (and never covered her mouth) and made him feel bad when he ate food in front of her.
He wonders what they did with her. Did they throw her outside? Where did all the bodies go? He saw the population dwindle, but he never figured out where the bodies went. He’d gone outside but never seen any piles of bodies. Had the wind drifted snow over them? Were those mountains really people?
He snorts, laughing to himself. Was that really cat food he had eaten? He runs his tongue across the back of his teeth. He thinks about the aisles and aisles of food at the supermarket. The hundreds of cans of cat food, all neatly lined up on the shelves. So many brand names--even different flavors: fish, chicken, beef, old lady.
Petr looks at him strangely. So does the woman next to them. He supposes there isn’t much to smile about, and it looks out of place. Whatever, he thinks to himself. If he wants to fucking smile, he’ll fucking smile.
He lies down on the floor and clutches his can of food. How many more hours does he have to wait? He doesn’t know, but until then, he’s going to make sure nobody steals it.
Eventually Petr lies down as well. He’s not much of a follower, so Jason figures he was probably getting tired of standing.
He rolls over and whispers in his ear, “Do you still have the spoon?” Petr nods and, “Make sure they don’t steal that too.”
He rolls away, but Petr rolls with him, resting his head on Jason’s chest. Jason sighs. Where’s his pillow? His hand is beginning to hurt because he’s gripping the can too tightly, but he can’t relax his grip. Petr’s without can, and Jason wonders when and where he ate them. Did he even get any this morning? Jason can’t recall watching Petr eat in days. Months. Years. Well, maybe yesterday. He remembers Petr standing in front of him in line. Long Jesus-hair that fell across his face and--
He tilts his chin into his chest to study the top of Petr’s head. His hair is longer, but he distinctly remembers Petr getting a haircut. It was before, but not that long ago, and everything kind of flickers and when he stares at the head on his chest it isn’t Petr‘s. It’s the dark haired woman from the food line. He doesn’t think about how that happened, but, rather, thinks about before, in line, and questions whether or not that was Petr. And when he looks down again, it’s the top of Petr’s head. Short hair, and growing, but not nearly as long as the dark haired woman‘s.
It must’ve been the cat food. Fucked with his brain, and now he keeps seeing the woman’s face instead of Petr’s. Wavering back and forth, back and forth, and he shuts his eyes, squeezing them tight.
He wants to have sex with her. He thinks about sex, and before, and with a woman, and he misses curves and soft skin. Petr is all corners and jutting edges. He could cut himself. Lean with too much pressure against him, and Petr’s hip bone would slice his abdomen open, or an elbow would cut, dig deep in his side. Anything could gut him and his intestines would start to spill out, and when he’d reach for them, he’d have to let go of his can.
And the moment he does that, he’s fucked, because someone will steal it, and then what will he do in a few hours? He’ll be without can, and maybe he can focus or concentrate on shoving his innards back into his stomach, but what if he’s lost too much blood and he’s too lethargic to move? He’d have to sit there, or lie there, and he’d have nothing to do. But wait. He’s already doing that, and it’s pretty boring.
The floor is cold underneath him. It’s like he’s sleeping on a slab of ice. He remembers Dina standing in front of the refrigerator, stomach first. Playoffs were just beginning, and summer was beginning to rear its ugly head.
He touched her belly, before he left, to rub it for good luck, and it was cold beneath his fingertips at first. Then he felt the heat spread--first his palm, and then his finger tips. Her skin was so elastic and soft. She smiled and placed her hand over his.
“Lower.” And she guided his hand slightly to the left. “Feel it kicking?” He did, and it was weird, because he knew she was pregnant, but it never felt real. It still didn’t, even though he could see and feel what was growing in her body. It wasn’t even a real person yet, inside his mind.
It was still pretty amazing, though. He kissed her goodbye, drove to the rink, and lost game four. He came home, and sat in bed next to her, reading a Sports Illustrated article to her stomach. It was weird, having this barrier of flesh between him and his baby. He might as well have been 3000 miles away. And the baby still wasn’t quite real, but he faked it for Dina’s sake. He figured he’d feel it in the delivery room, holding her hand with one hand, and holding a pair of baby skates in the other.
She liked it when he pressed his hand to her stomach. She pulled away when other people broached her; she felt like they were invading her space, and “how the hell does my being pregnant give them the right to poke my stomach?” But she felt protected and warm when he’d lay his hand on her. She’d press her own hand over his to keep it there longer. She smiled and it was something simple he could give her. And himself.
The baby had never been real, and then suddenly it was. Afterwards. It was an awful feeling. Because he felt like he had known his baby for years, and yet, at the same time, he hadn’t been given any time at all. It was like a limb he hadn’t know he’d had was suddenly ripped away from him. He’d never actually used his third arm, but there was the hole in the middle of his chest, and the pain that went along with it.
He opens his eyes and stares at a purple blob. Slowly his eyes focus, and he recognize the air conditioning vent. His shoulders and back hurt, from lying on the floor, and he wonders how long he slept for. Maybe it’s time to eat his next can.
He glances at his chest, and Petr’s napping, so he decides to wait. He manages to slip his arm out from between them without waking him, and folds it behind his head for a pillow. He stares at the ceiling a little while longer before he realizes something.
His hand is on his stomach. And Petr’s hand is resting on top of his. And his other hand is behind his head.
He glances to the floor beside him. He’s so fucked.
Someone stole his can.
“What are we doing?”
There has to be another can opener, or something he can use to cut through metal. This was a school once, and didn’t most cafeterias serve glop from huge cans that needed to be opened?
He grabs Petr’s hand and pulls him along in the half-darkness, weaving through the hallways and staircases.
They stopped for a moment in English to grab a few cans. Well, Jason did as Petr watched with wide eyes. Nobody was guarding the food though. Nobody cares if you sneak an extra can into your coat pocket. After all, there’s only one can opener. Not much you can do with a can.
Someone once had the idea of breaking the cans open by throwing them to the ground over and over until they dented so far in their sides would split open. It took several throws though, and the noise echoed throughout the gym. They found the man quickly. Everyone was so angry. Horrified. Jealous. Wished they had thought of it too, until a stronger voice began to talk about starvation and running out of cans, and suddenly, easily, the smartest man in the entire gym suddenly became the most hated. How dare he eat their food supply? How dare he put them at risk?
Jason wasn’t quite sure what happened, but he never saw the man again. He had beady, shifty eyes and wasn’t missed. At least, by Jason.
They make their way into the cafeteria; it’s cool and quiet and the light reflects off all the aluminum. It’s not the shiny kind; the refrigerator and countertops and stoves are all a dull matte gray. They search the drawers wordlessly, but find nothing. If there was anything to be found, it would have been found a long time ago. He thinks: they should probably look in another room.
If the thought sounds like hope, it isn’t. Just practicality.
Petr stops him with a hand on his arm. “I was saving this…” he trails off and holds a closed fist out in front of Jason. Jason cocks his head at him, but holds out his hand.
Petr drops a single cellophane-wrapped mint into his hand.
“I’m not hungry,” he replies automatically, shoving the mint back into Petr’s pocket.
“Then why are we…”
Jason can’t quite explain it. He just needs a can. If only to hold it for a while. Grip it in his fist, run his fingers along it’s slightly serrated edges, lick the top until all he tastes is metal. He licks the tops first, always, then places it next to his feet. Scoops out a tablespoon at a time, chewing, or holding the food in his mouth for six seconds before swallowing. Over and over until the only thing left to do is run his finger or tongue around the inside of the can. Even after the can is clean, he runs his finger over the metal six more times. Just to be certain.
He’s not hungry, but he needs his routine. It helps drive away thoughts, and it drives away hunger as well. Even an empty can quells any desire or pangs. But it has to be open; it can’t be the heavy things weighing his pockets down. He just needs to find a can opener. And soon. He fears it--hunger--because once it begins, how will it ever stop? He fears that insatiable feeling, the constant wanting, because he knows there’s nothing he can ever do to make it go away.
Just one open can. It’s all he needs. He can’t imagine how he had ever eaten a steak, potatoes, and a serving of vegetables all in one sitting. He can’t imagine all that food in one place. He can’t imagine food not coming in cans.
He grabs Petr’s hand and leads him into the classroom nearby. They search the desks, but there’s nothing. Not even a pair of scissors.
Jason is tired and he sits on top of the teacher’s desk. He tries to think about what he could use, and where he could find it, but his brain stutters and sputters and refuses to cooperate.
His legs hang over the sides and nearly reach the floor. He was almost a teacher, once. Something haphazard that he had thrown out to his mother when she asked about his backup plan when he was younger. Teacher had sounded easy. Safe. He’d get summers off. There weren’t many male teachers, though. Most were women, with rounded bellies and paid maternity leave. Most men were P.E. teachers, and he liked sports, so he probably would have ended up teaching in a gym.
But he’s here now, inside a classroom, lit only by the dim light peeking through the shades over the windows. Petr shuffles between his legs. He puts a hand against Jason’s cheek, as if to say, “sorry” in the nicest, Petrish way. Jason thinks about how close they used to lie in bed--late at night, in the morning, in the afternoon--skin pressed against skin, and now there’s always a layer of clothing between them. He’s fully insulated, and sluggish, like a snail with layers of goo all around him. Protecting him from Petr’s edges.
He thinks about his innards, spilling out, again and he remembers hunting. Teaching Petr how to dress a deer, and slicing its belly open. How Petr had watched with interest at everything that had fallen out. How quick and how eager to please Petr had been, ready to bite the heart when Jason had held it out teasingly.
“I was just joking,” he had laughed, and Petr’s cheeks turned as red as his lips. Patrik teased him, and talked about livers and Dances with Wolves, and had come up with some stupid nickname. Jason can’t remember it now--only that he’d used it for weeks afterwards, whispering it in his ears before telling him exactly what he was going to do to him and how.
He moves his hand now, brushing his thumb across Petr’s lips, smudging the red. Blood, but it feels waxy on his skin--like lipstick--and he watches it streak across his cheek. His fingers brush against hair too long for Petr’s, and he’s staring at her again. Dark hair covering half her face, and the light isn’t strong enough to make out any features he hasn’t seen before.
He thinks: this is eerily familiar. And not just because of before, when he was lying on the floor, and he looked down and saw her head in place of Petr’s. But because of something else, itching at his brain that he can’t really remember anymore.
He wonders when he first began to notice her. When he first became aware that there was a person in front of him in line with actual features. That the people around him weren’t faceless blobs. He wonders why he kept seeing her wherever he went. How his eyes managed to spot her in the gym so easily, even though she never seemed to sleep in the same place twice. She was constantly moving. He wonders if, maybe if he still had the mattress, if she’d come and sleep next to him now that the old lady’s gone.
He can’t tell if she’s pretty--he’s never seen her face. He can’t make out her body beneath the layers and layers of clothing, either. She’s dirty. Her hair’s greasy. He can smell her, because she’s so close. She smells, like they all do. No soap, water’s too cold, and who would voluntarily take off their clothes? But there’s something sweet as well underneath the grime and sweat. Not perfume, or even the softer smell of a woman’s skin--like the way Dina used to smell, but a sickly, sweet scent. It makes him want to puke, but he doesn’t push her away. He just breathes deeper.
He pulls his hand away from her face and he finds her hip instead. He traces her hip, runs his hand down the side of her jacket until he feels a bump. He reaches inside her pocket, and finds a can. It’s like the ones he and Petr took from the room before they went searching for a can opener. That seems like so long ago. And maybe it was.
Her hand closes over his, and takes the can back, putting in her pocket. And then he remembers.
He remembers: the hallway, and the morning, earlier than ever, and he’s the first one up and the first one to the cans and the first to watch the man slice it open, twisting twisting twisting, and leaving the top on. She’s leaning against a wall, and her cans are at her feet, empty. Her hair covers all her face, except for her eyes, nose, part of her mouth, and a bit of her forehead. Lips parted in a silent moan, and it’s like she’s frozen in that position. When she speaks, it’s like a whisper inside his head, and he learns someone stole her cans. Ate them right in front of her and dropped them empty at her feet. His first thought is: she’s lying. Because no one else is up. She keeps eyeing his cans, and it makes him swallow, because she’s skittish, like a wild animal and her eyes keep darting back and forth from her empty cans to his full ones.
He can feel the spoon inside his pocket. It’s smooth length against his thigh, and he keeps telling himself to move, to go back to the gym and the mattress and Petr, and lie down and eat his food. With his spoon. But he doesn’t move, and then her mouth is against his ear and her voice is in his head, and he thinks she’s going to say something like, “Quit watching me, freak. Its why I keep moving around the gym. In the hopes I’ll lose you.” But she doesn’t.
She tells him she’ll let him touch her if he gives her his two cans of food.
Food for sex, and it’s so fucking ridiculous. Because he has Petr and Dina, and he can have practically anyone he wants because he’s a hockey star and he has money, and he doesn’t need to trade food for sex.
But then he realizes that he doesn’t have any of that anymore, and that everything has changed, and he licks his lips and grips his cans tighter.
He doesn’t remember anymore. And he can’t recall how long ago that was, or if it even happened. Was that the morning he ate cat food? Gave his spoon to Petr?
But this feels familiar: sitting in the dark, in a room he’s never been to, next to a woman who lets him put his hands on her body. She gives a small sigh and glances over at the windows.
The light glints off her eyes when she moves her head. The way light bounces off metal, and knives, and he thinks about his hunting knife and deer bellies, and when she moves her head again, it’s Petr, staring at him, concerned. He drops his hand from Jason’s face and the cool air rushes to his skin.
He shivers involuntarily.
He’s dreaming, and it’s all white. White hallways, white clothing, and a bright white light illuminating everything. He follows Petr--Petr, who has his arm hooked around Jason’s elbow, pulling him along, and he tells Jason they have to move faster. It’s reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and Jason keeps waiting for the Red Queen to appear.
Petr tugs on him, and it’s real this time. He blinks once, because he doesn’t recognize where they are. It’s not the gym. He can’t find the purple vent running across the ceiling.
He sits up and bangs his head against a desk, and remembers.
“What is it?” He asks sharply, because nobody wakes anybody up anymore. Nothing exciting happens, nothing is missed, everything melts into each other. It’s a continuous day and everything can wait, because nothing ever changes. So. “What is it?” He wants to ask sharply, at least. With urgency behind his voice, but he’s too slow and his tongue feels heavy in his mouth. His words are slow and lethargic, even during an emergency.
“I’m tired,” Petr says.
Jason stares at Petr like that’s the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard, because it is the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard.
“I’m tired,” he says again, and maybe, if it was before, he’d find it amusing that the two of them were repeating themselves, over and over, but it seems normal here. Normal for here, but not normal for Petr, and Jason stops staring at Petr like he’s crazy, and really looks at him, his stomach turning and clenching.
“Go to bed.” Slow, big words that he can barely form with his mouth, barely push out with his tongue. He says it to shut Petr up. Doesn’t want to hear Petr with his voice so dead, and tired, and resigned.
He’s heard this before. This Petr and this voice, and he’s told him to go to bed before, and sometimes Petr did and sometimes Petr would whine a little and shoot back, “I’m too tired to sleep.”
This time, though, Petr just stares at him. Bruises under his eyes, but they could just be shadows. There’s not enough light in the room.
“Aren’t you tired?” his voice hitches at the end.
“I just took a nap.” Slow, dumb words, and Petr looks at him in disbelief, if disbelief ever looked that tired, and a little something in Jason’s chest aches. He didn’t mean it, he wants to say. He didn’t meant it, and he didn’t mean a whole lot of other things, and he didn’t mean to take so long. He’d just been so slow that day, waves crashing against his chest and slowing his walking down.
So many wasted days, and there were so many things he wanted to do and to say, and so many things he never had time for and now he has all the time in the world. But.
“If I had a can opener…”
Jason doesn’t know what to make of that, so he waits for Petr to finish. He doesn’t so they sit there dumbly for a few moments.
“Don’t you want to get out of here?” Petr asks, in a voice that’s more familiar to Jason. It’s the same voice he recites all the things he misses with. Half moan, half whine, and Jason has become accustomed to tuning it out. It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t mean as much when Petr speaks this way. It’s the other way that cuts him.
“Go where? How would we survive?” Slow, monotone, bored. He wants to dull Petr back to sleep. A kind of lullaby that he never learned from his mother.
“We could take the cans. Not all of them. Just enough. To get us to the next town. We could find the people that left before us.” And this is all wrong. Petr’s voice, desperate, and there’s such a disparity between the two of their voices. It’s like they’re not in the same conversation; they aren’t even talking to each other anymore. “We, we could live off the cans,” he finishes lamely.
“No.” And, no, he thinks. Because they couldn’t live off the cans. They aren’t living off the cans now. Scraping, licking the metal, and sleep walking and sleep talking and sleep sleeping. No, they aren’t living at all. “No, we couldn’t survive.” And that’s a better word, but his words sound foreign to his ears. “We don’t have a can opener.” Logic, he likes that. He’d always been the King of Logic: we’re too far away; Texas is just as far as Jersey; I’m trying to settle in with the team, I don’t have time; I’m getting married; Dina’s pregnant.
Petr’s silent and Jason exhales a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, or why. There’s a pounding behind his eyes and he leans his head back against the desk, turning to rest his cheek against the metal. It’s freezing, but it doesn’t reach him.
Then, “What if I had a can opener?”
Jason doesn’t move his head, stares at Petr out of the corner of his eye, trying to gauge him, gauge how serious he’s being. Whether he’s just waxing philosophical or if he really found one. Really stole one.
"I don’t think you'd want to leave. I could have five, and it wouldn’t make a difference.”
He stares at him, through the slits of his eyes. “Do you have one?”
“Aren’t you tired? Don’t you want to get out of here?”
“I hate it here,” he says. And it’s true. Mostly. Hates the four walls that have trapped him inside his head, and he can never get away from himself.
Petr nods furiously. “I can’t stay here anymore. They’re all just waiting to die. They’re waiting for us to die so they can take our clothes. I can’t live like this. We have to go--we have to go now.”
Jason sighs. “Do you have a can opener?”
He looks away from Jason, and pulls off his hat, running a hand through his hair. He swallows, and when he looks at Jason, wild and desperate, Jason knows what his answer will be before he even opens his mouth.
“Let’s go then.” Petr looks like he’s about to cry, so Jason stands up and turns around, fixing his layers of clothing, tugging at sleeves, and pulling his gloves out of his pocket.
He doesn’t bother asking Petr if he’s ready; he just walks out of the classroom and expects Petr to follow him. He decides the exit on the far west side of the building would draw the least attention. Not that he gathers anyone would care if they left. But. But maybe there’d be some protest about two hockey stars walking to their presumable, eventual, inevitable death: No, you can’t die! You scored the Cup-clinching double over time goal! Have my babies! Or maybe they’d just complain about open doors letting the cold in.
He stops right outside the exit, and he means to ask Petr one last time--not about the can opener, but if he really wants to do this. But instead, he asks him when he last ate.
Petr falters for a second. “Wha-what?” He doesn’t close his mouth, stares at Jason like a puppy dog. An ugly, dirty stray one.
He’s always loved dogs.
They should probably eat before they leave, his mind tells him. The two cans weigh heavily in his pocket. It’s on the tip of his tongue, and as the words spill out, he watches Petr’s face fall. His stomach twists and turns, but he tells himself it’s just a hunger pain.
They’re so close to the door that Jason’s bones ache already. His whole body aches, and his head aches, and he’s tired. He’s so very tired.
Petr is slow to pull out a can from his pocket. He stares at it, as if willing it to open. For the metal to magically peel away. Jason waits a moment because he thinks, maybe, Petr can make it happen.
When the moment passes he takes the can from Petr, places it on the floor. “Probably cat food,” he says stiffly. “Just eat the mint, and we’ll go.”
And Petr’s so grateful, staring up at him with great big saucer eyes, that Jason reaches out and clutches him to his chest, burying his face in the wool of his cap, if only so that he doesn’t have to look at Petr. Petr, so grateful, that Jason’s allowing them to die. There’s the rustle of cellophane, and a sickly sweet scent. Something stabs his stomach, and he clutches Petr to him tighter, so his innards don’t fall out.
He takes a breath, and prepares himself. He’s done this before, countless times. Creeping out of bed, half naked; tip-toeing in his socks out the front door; kissing Petr at the airport terminal; breathing against the back of Petr’s neck, “Time to go.” A gruff voice, meant to stave off tears. Petr’s usually.
The cold cuts into him when he opens the door, and there isn’t even any wind to drive it into him. It’s just there, pressing all around him--a vise, and he can barely breathe. Gomez used to joke about the stupid people who would go running in Alaska during the winter.
He bites down, his jaw tightening, and he’s surprised to find that as he walks, the cold drives his thoughts away. He has no memories now; his mind as blank and as white as the snow all around them. And that’s all there is. Snow and snow, and white and white; he chose an arbitrary direction and started walking. It didn’t really matter.
He is struck by how timeless it all is. He has been walking for a while now, or maybe a minute, and nothing has changed. Maybe the landscape has, but he hasn’t noticed, because all he sees is white. He is walking, and that is all there is. He had all the time in the world, back at the gym, and it was an endless loop. Nothing ever changed, and nothing is changing here, and he’s not getting anywhere, but it’s because time has stopped. He’s not forced into remembering anything over and over again, because he has no time to reflect. Now is all there is.
Until, maybe, three days later when Petr stops walking and falls down. It could be five days--maybe an hour--Jason doesn’t really have a concept of time anymore. Everything was now, and then, with one fall, Jason is very aware that time has passed.
“Just tired,” Petr says when Jason sits down in the snow next to him. He pulls Petr’s body halfway onto his lap, in the hopes it’ll protect him from the cold, and he swear he can still smell that sickly sweet scent.
“Go to bed,” and he’s choking the words out, forcing them out into the cold. They hang in the air, frozen. His lungs ache, his throat feels like it’s bleeding and he’s sorry he said anything.
Petr wraps his arm around the crook of Jason’s elbow, pulling him closer. “Tell me a story.”
Jason closes his eyes, but his brain is blank, and all he sees is white. All his stories, everything from before--it’s all gone. He can’t think about anything but this. He wills the face of anyone to his mind; he knows he was thinking about someone just before they left the gym. But there’s nothing.
Petr tugs on his elbow, jostling him. “Don’t fall asleep before me. Tell me a story.”
“Don’t know one.” His lungs are screaming at him: stupid idiot, stop breathing.
“Sing me a song.”
Don’t know one, his thinks automatically. Willing his answer to be sent telepathically.
Petr tugs on his arm again, and he opens his mouth and, “That's great, it starts with an earthquake,” falls out. His jaw won’t work right, and he can’t sing anyway, so it’s a stilted kind of half rap-half singing. “Birds and snakes, an aeroplane--”
He stops, mind blank, until Petr tugs on his arm again. He hums--his head too stupid to remember anything. “Mmm mmm mmm mmm” and his lungs are grateful, until his head is stupid enough to remember the chorus:
“It's the end of the world as we know it. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”
Petr stops tugging on his arm. Probably because he can’t believe that Jason is singing an REM song. He’s probably thinking: he knows a thousand country love songs, and the dumb fuck is singing a song he doesn’t know the words to, couldn’t even sing them fast enough even if he had the lyrics sitting in front of him.
“Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. Mmm mmm mmm--”
“Leonard Bernstein!” Petr interrupts.
“Five more mmms. You have to wait for it.” He wants to smile, but he’s afraid his face will crack in two. His lungs have stopped screaming--they probably just stopped working. Too deaf or too stupid, and why bother screaming if no one’s going to hear you?
He screams, “Leonard Bernstein!” out into the whiteness. “It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine...fine...It's time I had some time alone.”
By the time he’s reached the end, Petr’s already dead.
He keeps singing because there’s nothing else inside his head. It’s a strange feeling, the emptiness, and being so detached from everything--but even that, alludes to something being out there to be attached to. And he’s an island in a sea of white. “I feel fine.”
When a woman with black hair, sweeping across and covering most of her face, walks up to him, he doesn’t even recognize her. He’s beyond questioning who she is, where she came from, or how she found him. His only concern is that she’s making a break in the white; she’s ruining it--the perfect whiteness. Her figure a jagged slash, cruel and harsh against his background of perfection, and he closes his eyes to block her out.
A breeze against the back of his neck, and he wants to reach up and fix his collar, pull his cap down farther, but his hands won’t reach. They’re frozen at his sides and he can’t move them. Is she holding his arms? He wants to open his eyes and check. But. She’s ruining it. She’s ruining everything.
He opens his eyes and it’s dark. He looks around and there’s no one. His legs ache, as if he’s been walking forever, but he’s still sitting, cross-legged. He wonders briefly where Petr is.
His eyes begin to focus, and when he looks up, he sees a familiar shadow across the ceiling.
He unfolds his legs, stretching them out, before lying back. The room seems so much more expansive now. A little more empty. He spreads his legs and arm out as far as he can, spread eagle, and hits nothing. He rolls out a blanket, swaddling himself, and as he wraps himself he touches his jacket. It’s slightly damp. He wonders if he remembered to tap the compacted snow off from the bottom of his boots. He yawns, can’t remember. He’s so tired now.
Jason lies on the ground, tries to sleep. Shifts, and turns on his side. He stares at the back of Petr’s head. Brown hairs curling at the back of his neck, and Jason wants to reach out and touch them, but he squeezes his eyes instead. A baby, somewhere in the gym, begins to cry. He pulls the blankets tighter, his shoulders shaking.
Every morning is this morning.
AN: Don't ask me if Petr's dead or alive. Don't ask me if Jason's dead or alive. I don't know. If you hate Petr's hair, imagine him dead. (CUT IT, PETR.) If you're all like, a hater of those who are easily confused by helmets, then imagine Jason dead. You can't imagine how strange it is to write a fic where you have no idea what's going on.
You Were the Last High - Dandy Warhols
I am alone but adored
By a hundred thousand more
Then I said when you were the last (high)
And I have known love
Like a whore
From at least ten thousand more
Then I swore when you were the last
When you were the last high
You were awake
And I should've stayed
I was only out for a day
Out for a day
It was Chicago for a moment and then
It was Paris and London for a few days
But I am alone but adored
By a hundred thousand more
Then I swore when you were the last
When you were the last high
When you were the last high
I was the first to have spoken
And I said just about
All of the things you shouldn't say
So maybe you loved me but now
Maybe you don't
And maybe you'll call me
Maybe you won't (oh)
So I am alone but adored
By a hundred thousand more
Then I said when you were the last (high)
And I have known love
Like a whore
From at least ten thousand more
Then I swore when you were the last -
When you were the last high
And you were the last high