December 26, 2011
Kenneth was completely healed the morning of Boxing Day.
Stacy whispered to Carrie, after he stomped outside to retrieve firewood, that she had checked his bandages and, lo-and-behold, all that remained of his wounds were red blotches and irregular stripes on his skin.
They marveled at how quickly mama cougar’s bid for dinner sealed up on his ancient body.
“He told me that we will become just like him when we pass through the holy eye,” Stacy said matter-of-factly. “When he came through the holy eye to Earth, he became, essentially, immortal. And when all those souls that are being stored for safe keeping — his words — are led through the holy eye by Kenneth and those just like him, they are transformed.”
“Transformed?” Carrie asked.
“I don’t know. He just said that I would understand it all when it has happened and that I shouldn’t waste preparation time thinking about things I am incapable of understanding,” she laughed considering his pomposity.
“How are we preparing now?” Carrie asked. “We’re in cow’s ass nowhere sitting around doing fuck all. And I don’t even have my damned iPod.”
Stacy cooed that she missed her iPod, as well, forgotten back in Washington.
Carrie’s was left on the bedside table at the Spokane Holiday Inn.
Kenneth clomped back into the warm B&B and a coppery rattle signaled the introduction of firewood into the ornate box that sat beside the fireplace.
“Kenneth, how long are we going to just sit around here?” Carrie asked.
Pulling his boots off, he grunted, “For as long as it takes I am afraid.”
“We’re going to need supplies soon,” Stacy pointed out. “We could head up to Bozeman. It’s not far.”
Rising to his feet, Kenneth scratched a buttock and said, “Suppose we could. We’ll have to drive. The airstrip will be completely covered with snow now.”
“We could get iPods,” Carrie enthused toward Stacy.
“Bah,” Kenneth shot. “You both need clear minds. Please don’t gum up the works with all that dead world gibberish. You need to start thinking about the new world.”
Stacy winked at Carrie. “Yes, you are right,” she said, grinning. “We’ll just go get food and water and batteries and stuff.”
Kenneth nodded gruffly, aware that the girls were yanking his chain.
“And iPods!” Carrie shouted, attempting to poke Kenneth. “Yippee!”
“We’ll go tomorrow, weather depending. And we’ll not take any reckless steps for things we can get by with. Bozeman is one of the larger towns in Montana and I suspect there will be undesirables about.”
I flashed through Carrie’s mind and she thought it odd that I should be considered an “undesirable,” according to Kenneth.
“You mean people like Bob?”
Kenneth’s response singed her heart.
“Yes, just like Bob,” he said flatly.
Boxing Day dawned sunny and warmer than it had been in weeks.
Snow disappeared like water into a sponge as a warm wind flowed across the Three Sisters and out of the Cascades.
Andy and I decided to load up and go for a tour in the big Dodge. With snow, we could maintain a safe ring around our hideout, secure in the knowledge that no one was doing any in-close recon. Without snow, we could come and go without making tracks to alert others of our presence.
As we rolled out of the hotel, Andy shouted to Hex, “We’ll back in a bit. You hold down the fort and keep off the pipe.”
Hex offered a limp salute and walked inside.
I felt grand. Cabin fever had really been taking a toll and it was great to get out, even if it meant running into dangerous freaks. But somehow Andy exuded such a confidence that my fears evaporated.
All he carried with him, for weapons, was a fierce-looking hunting knife, ala Crocodile Dundee.
I had a Glock in my coat pocket and a 10 gauge rested on the backbench seat.
For over an hour we weaved around Bend.
“You can get a sense of a community by how it shut down,” Andy observed. “The patterns of traffic left to come to their own cataclysmic conclusions tell a story. You know, passing through Sacramento, I saw the coolest thing,” he said, his voice animated like a teenage boy passing on a story about how he saw the hottest girl in his schools tits.
“An inter-model train — you know, the ones carrying containers? — had derailed alongside a busy highway. It must have been flying as it passed through the city. At least 60 or 70 cars had derailed and there were red and green and blue and white containers everywhere, flung catapult-like from the flatcars. Had there actually been people in the cars along the highway there would have been hundreds dead. So cool, so cool,” he almost drooled. “The sound would have been amazing.”
“Heavy metal, baby,” I cackled.
Bend was dead. Winter’s arrival seemed to have kept the wanderers in warmer climes, not that central Oregon is all that inhospitable. I say that as a Canadian who grew up in Manitoba. To the drug-frazzled, disassociated demi-demons back at the hotel, all hailing from California, it was Arctic hell. But snow on highways helped keep the evil away. Who knew highways maintenance played such a key role in the spread of evil?
“Guess we picked a good place to lay low,” I said.
Andy then sent a chill up my spine that turned into a hot poker in my eye.
“This woman of yours, where do you think she went?”
I took my foot off the gas and the truck clack-clacked as it rumbled to a stop.
“Not a clue,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
I had told him my story many days prior and aside from saying he felt bad for me, he hadn’t brought up Carrie since. I assumed he was being respectful or just didn’t care.
“I just ask because you seem to be in pretty good spirits. Did you not love her?”
I was aghast. “I would die the most horrible death known to man for her,” I spat.
“But do you love her?”
“Of course I fucking love her. Seriously, where the fuck you going man?”
“Don’t get all wounded,” Andy laughed. “But seriously, I have been thinking, I mean, how completely twisted it was that you both ended up together after the culling? I’ve come across a lot of people in the last six weeks and they’ve all been loners, son. So you two had something special there — what kind of special, I don’t know. And I am just curious. Haven’t you thought about that?”
I told him I had thought about it non-stop and more than non-stop since “that fucking Scottish prick took her.”
Andy grimaced. “That fucking Scottish prick! Hah, are you a racist Bob?”
I shook my head and began to tell him the litany of reasons why I wasn’t a racist and he waved me quiet with a shrill laugh.
“Of course you are,” he squeaked. “What do you have against the Scottish?”
Nothing, I replied. “I am part Scottish myself.”
“I thought you said you were an Irish Viking.”
“And a bit Scottish,” I said.
“Anything else you’re not telling me?” Andy pushed with a small upward tilt of his mouth.
A firm, almost cool wind buffled through my window.
“I’m using you for security,” I quipped honestly.
Andy laughed and slapped me across the shoulder.
“Just messing with you my friend. Don’t mean to offend or rip any scabs off. And besides, I’m using YOU for security. I feel like you have my back but the rest of ‘em not so much. It’s a crazy world – has been for yawning centuries.”
I chunked the Dodge into gear and we continued to weave and thread our way around the light wreckage of Bend, stopping occasionally to root for supplies.
Walking out of a downtown coffee shop that had a Ford Focus crammed in its front door, which served to keep looters out of it and allowed us to scoop a fine supply of coffee, Andy said, “Bob, you are going to help get me home!” His eyes were wide and they gleamed with fresh tears.
I was taken aback.
“How’s that now? Home… where is home?”
Andy chuckled and wiped a tear from his cheek.
We tossed the bags of coffee into the truck and climbed up into it. Slamming his door closed, Andy said, “Home is where my heart is, pal, and it ain’t on this world.”
I couldn’t help it.
“That old Scottish prick told me I had to be left behind because I am evil. So what’s your story? The old man is supposed to be some kind of angel and he said my Carrie and Stacy were also angels. Me… not so much at all,” I spewed. “So what is your fucking story? What kind of evil have you done? Why didn’t you disappear like the rest of ‘em?”
I’d been itching to ask that since the first day I met him.
Andy scratched at a shoulder blade and mumbled something that sounded like another language — Greek perhaps. He looked like he could be Greek or Italian.
His chin tipped down and I thought he might be tearing up again. His tears were the first thing about him that frightened me.
“Let’s just say I have done a few things that are forcing me through this tribulation,” he said earnestly and looked outside his window.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them,” he said softly.
“Is that the Bible?” I asked.
Andy looked at me with a renewed twinkle in his eyes. “Don’t know your Bible eh?”
I said I wasn’t much of a churchgoer.
“Hence this,” he guffawed. “Welcome to the tribulation my friend.”
I noted that Kenneth spoke of the disappearance as if it were the rapture and asked if he believed that was what had happened.
Andy nodded a firm affirmative. “That’s exactly what has happened. The Bible warned mankind for so long that it just became background noise while they went about consuming the world. Many others warned about it before the Bible was a twinkle in a wine tormented friar’s inky fingers, and so did others. There were warning signs posted before Christ’s birth and there has always been angels aiding and abetting humans. That old Scottish prick, as you call him, must be one of them. How lucky for you that you met him!” Andy’s voice sounded impressed. “Explains things more clearly.”
I had to stop the truck again. A tangle of trucks, cars, vans and guardrails was too severe to navigate around as well as listening to Andy prattle on like Kenneth at the same time.
“How do you know all that shit?” I demanded. “I mean, what manual did you read or which website provided that particular yarn? Fuck the cosmic design. It can just go and royally fuck itself until it’s chafed and burning.”
Andy smiled again, warmly and genuinely. He suddenly appeared older — much older — than his 40-or-so years and I blinked to try and clear the illusion.
“I can’t really say,” he said.
“Because I can’t remember all of it.”
I told him he was doing a fine job remembering all sorts of twisted and interesting things that could be entirely relevant to our current worldly situation.
“It’s like I channel another being or something,” he said. “It’s like past life recall, or remembering dreams in vivid and amazing ways. So much time – so few brain cells in this limited presentation.”
It was the first time that Andy had seemed a bit twisted to me.
“So what else do you know about all this? And why the hell were you crying? You’re not a secret crier, are you?”
He shrugged and said slowly and barely audibly, “We are now in a time of tribulation. The transition is afoot and our world is now home to devils and demons. They are going to burn themselves alive and that is why we have to stay away from people. No one can be trusted. All I know is that I want to get home and you, my friend, are a key to that goal. I don’t know why or how yet, but I know that as surely as I know what I am telling you is the truth, want it or not.
“We are approaching the day of atonement, as Christians like to call it. But don’t be fooled by denominations or differences in race and culture, because that’s all just misinterpretations of the words of God, scaled down and simplified in order for the small human mind to process. God’s words had to be scripted for mortals and different tongues from different regions, driven on and inspired by different experiences, translated them into forms that worked for them and for the means and needs of a given power elite. Many passages in the Bible are bang on. Many others are garbled Tomfoolery. Ditto for other religious tomes,” he said.
“Now you’re just freaking me out. That’s just what Kenneth went on about,” I yelped, eyeing Andy suspiciously.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him,” he recited. “Do you love God?”
Scratching at the stubble on my chin, I groaned, “I don’t know. I guess so. If there is a God, I have always been completely puzzled by his grand design. From what we’re left looking at, it was a fairly crappy effort at creation.”
Andy’s head tipped to one side and he shook it sadly. “Rest assured Bob, there is a God and all of this is his work.” He fanned a hand out before him, gesturing at the carnage that was Bend, and at the world.
“If you know so much, per se, why are you stuck here? What did you do wrong?” I pushed again. “And why are the rest of them so scared of you? And, for fuck sakes, why were you crying?”
“All right,” Andy said, snapping his shoulders back and stiffening in his seat.
“Do you really want to know?”
I said I did.
He leaned against his door and looked down his long face at me with an expression that said, “all right then.”
With a resigned smirk saying ‘ask and you shall receive,’ Andy blurted, “I was once a great marquis and at my beckoning were 30 legions of the foulest, most hideous soldiers you could ponder with your terrestrial mind. My purpose, my role in the balance, was to bring reminders to the world that not all was as it seemed. I performed my duties with all my heart and soul and, believe-you-me, when I was on, this world was a total mess.”
I laughed out loud.
Andy shrugged and spat, “That’s why I don’t bother bringing it up.” He picked at some dirt under a thumbnail, hurt.
“Okay, sorry,” I sputtered. “Go on, please.” I had to fight off the urge to laugh. I said to myself, “Crying Demons would be a good name for a band.”
He shook his head. “Not much else to say, other than that my name is actually Andras and I am no longer a prince of hell. And hell, by the way, is not what you think it is.”
“Oh,” I glurped, “And what the hell Is hell then, An-dras?” Laughter still clung to my voice like water to skin.
“Hell is what you make of it. It is everywhere and it is necessary for human life to function on this planet. It serves as a filter for souls and helps keep things just tickety-boo for those who make strident efforts to avoid being sent there. At any rate, doesn’t mean a tinker’s cuss any more. Its usefulness has run out. I saw it coming long ago and decided to drop out.”
Laughing, I shot, “And you ended up in California!”
Andy said I could laugh all I wanted. “It still won’t reunite you with Carrie. You asked what I did — asked me who I am and I have told you. Advantage to you, my friend, for I do not know who you are or why you are so vital to me now. I just know that you and I were meant to march through this tribulation together. That is why I let you live back in Corvallis and why I continue to allow you to live.”
A chill seized my heart and a terror of the like I had never felt coursed over me like an unwelcome cold breeze down the back of your neck. It was the same feeling I had when I saw him crying.
He held his hand out to me and instinctively I placed my palm into his. A wrench-turner’s grip seized my hand and squeezed. I could not squeeze back and I winced.
“Now you know,” Andy said after a pause and released my pulsating hand.
My mind told me I just had a surreal discussion with a disturbed, egomaniacal fellow who held enormous feelings of self-grandeur. And he might also be more dangerous than I initially believed. But my heart told my mind to give it a rest because hanging out with a demon lord or such when stuck in a form of hell on Earth might come in handy.
“Why does anything seem surreal now?” I asked myself aloud.
“Exactly,” Andy woofed, smacking me across the shoulder with a loose hand.
“And what I need you to do now is find Carrie. Because where Carrie is, is our shot at stepping around judgment. The old Scotsman is a surely gatekeeper we need to sneak past, or we remain here in hell. And my kingdom is no more, pal. All I have left is you. You know what that is like?”
I said I didn’t. “Own property, though. Or owned.”
“It’s actually quite liberating but the order of things doesn’t take kindly to a deserting grand marquis of an evil horde. Those genuflecting rat snackers never let me rest in peace. All I wanted was to have a nice home near a pretty lake or lovely little stream, raise some sheep and maybe a goat or two, and have a family. It always looked so nice and the way men would cry out for mercy In the names of their wives and children was truly Inspiring. It made me really appreciate the monkeys,” Andy stammered. He was now babbling like a coke fiend.
He stopped and blinked and I leapt at my chance: how was I to find Carrie, I asked? “She could be anywhere. Not like we can just Google her or try and trace her path via her credit card usage.”
“Look for the signs, my friend,” Andy said. “They’re everywhere.”
“If they are so fucking prevalent, show me one and I will read it,” I snapped and scowled. My head throbbed. This was annoying because this form of head throb hadn’t happened since the whole shebang went missing.
Andy suggested we head back to the hotel. “I’m hungry all of a sudden,” he said.
Noting his preference to not answer me, I quietly maneuvered us back to the hotel, where we spent another week talking and resting. Winter rolled in and out again.
“We’ll need as much rest as we can get,” Andy said one night at dinner, “Because our true tests are coming.”
His words slipped past everyone’s ears but mine. I was growing weary of Andy’s recent penchant for pontification. It was like a tap was turned on the week before when I saw him crying.
I felt an ache in my chest and longed for Carrie. Andy’s words, and they were delivered on a regular basis now, were like strong tugs on puppet strings and they left a sour taste in my mouth.
To the rest, his words were captivating and mystifying but they were so lost — so ensconced in their roles as pissant demons, kept around to guard this fallen prince of darkness, as Andy claimed to be, that they merely went about their days jamming drugs and booze into their bodies and growing more resentful of me, and him.
Andy and I were now inseparable and our daily wanderings and discussions became longer and deeper.
Just as I had become accepting of the fact that the vast majority of the world’s human population had just disappeared and the love of my life was torn from my company by a deranged old Scottish angel because he needed to protect her from me, being evil and all, I accepted Andy’s words and devoured them voraciously.
He told me, on a daily basis, that I was going to find Carrie and that we would escape this hell. Simply put, Andras, a so-called marquis of hell, filled my heart with hope and kept me from going insane.
Carrie, Stacy and Kenneth traveled to Bozeman Dec. 27 and found the small city abandoned and covered in a blanket of snow that shimmered in the freakishly warm sun. One day warm and the next cold. Even the weather was off its rocker, Carrie thought.
Kenneth had them on high alert, as they spotted signs of previous post-disappearance activity, including barricades at entrances to the city along a snow-covered Interstate 90. What they didn’t see was the bodies beneath drifted snow at those barricades.
Not only did they find iPods, they managed to secure enough food and water to last them for months. They rounded up so many supplies that they could not fit all of them into the SUV, which handled the sometimes tricky and sticky drive north on Highway 191 with high-priced mechanical aplomb.
Kenneth fretted about their tracks, so he took great pains driving all around Bozeman in order to create as much confusion as possible.
It wasn’t Bozeman he had to worry about.
Taking note of them as they rolled toward the city, moving through Big Sky, was a terrifying threat — a 15-year-old lad named Burton. ‘Bad Burton,’ was what his fellow school chums in Bozeman called him.
Stranded and alone in Big Sky, a ski resort town half way between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, Burton had completely lost his young mind. Once he realized he could not flag down the SUV, he methodically went about setting fire to every building in the small town.
Kenneth spotted the smoke 12 miles before they cautiously nosed into the town along the highway.
And Carrie saw Burton first — standing trembling, holding a high-powered rifle, silhouetted against the flaming remains of the Gallatin Valley Mall. Kenneth slammed on the brakes and the SUV skidded to a shuddering, slush-spraying halt.
Stacy snapped her door open and with speed that amazed Kenneth, had her rifle out and leveled at the lad, who flopped to his knees, weeping.
Carrie shoved past Stacy and called out to the lad. His face was slimed with runny snot and tears. Unable to drive, he’d spent the past six weeks alone in Big Sky. Without any of the regular luxuries enjoyed by teens in 2011, and hardly able to feed himself, Burton had resigned himself to the fact that he had been taken to hell, where he was to await his death.
When he saw Carrie, he saw an angel. And the woman holding the gun also seemed like an angel. The old man, he had to go.
Despite Kenneth’s pointed and open desire to leave the lad on the side of the road, Carrie and Stacy made room in the back, by leaving some supplies in one of the few small buildings Burton hadn’t set ablaze, and gently nestled the shivering boy into the vehicle.
The two women tried to get the boy’s story as Kenneth mumbled his way south, darting looks in his rearview mirror at the lad, whose face was streaked with soot and tears.
Kenneth felt that I was evil, but wasn’t too concerned about me. He could taste the evil in the air around this boy.
Bad Burton, when he was just 12 and still living in Billings with his mom and step-dad, had pushed his stepsister into the Yellowstone River. Her drowning death was ruled an accident. A year later, just after his mother divorced his step-dad, he killed the verbally abusive, beer-swilling prick by shoving a filleting knife into the base of his skull while he slept in his trailer. He then lit the trailer ablaze and, luckily, the police ruled his death accidental, by fire. He took pains to ensure that he didn’t hit any bone as he pushed the blade in and he was thrilled to learn his deed completely fooled the police.
Shaken by the events of the previous year, his mother moved to Bozeman to be near her frail mother. After putting up with his whiney grandmother for six months, Burton, who had been thrown out of school for fighting and uttering threats, overdosed the old crone with a nasty concoction of her many meds. Again, the authorities ruled her death accidental.
Burton was initially a suspect but his mother saved his bacon by lying to the police and telling them he was away when her mother, disoriented as usual, mixed up her medication.
That gesture put his mother on the list as a suspect and the Bozeman police were watching her closely when Burton killed his fourth victim — the cop who had been nosing around.
He didn’t like the cop’s obvious lust for his attractive mom and broke into his small house one night. When the single cop came home, buzzed from the eight beers he’d pounded back with some of his co-workers, a nightly ritual, Burton — all 5’7” and 145 pounds of him — beat the cop with a hammer, then cut his throat and robbed him.
It was considered the most horrific crime in Bozeman’s modern history and no one ever knew who did it. Again, the young murderer got away without ever being a suspect.
His mother ended up taking a job as a chambermaid at Big Sky Resort and on the day of the disappearance, she had lugged Burton to work with her because he had once again been expelled from school, this time for pushing a senior cheerleader down a flight of stairs.
Just before the world went ‘poof,’ Burton had been daydreaming about killing his school principal.
Aware of his illness and crimes, the lad assumed he was undergoing some form of universal justice and in six weeks, whatever tiny strands of awareness of his actions that existed were gone.
As Kenneth steered the SUV into West Yellowstone, the boy had already hatched a plan to kill the old man and make Carrie and Stacy his slaves.
Once back in the B&B, the two women waved off Kenneth’s objections and grousing and put the boy to bed after feeding the famished youngster. Burton let the warmth of their caring wash over him and he nodded off into the most comfortable sleep of his short life.
“In the morning, I am taking him to Bozeman and he can fend for himself,” Kenneth said as they closed the lad’s bedroom door behind them.
“No you are not,” Carrie warned. Stacy said she agreed and Kenneth shot her a wounded look that shouted ‘aw, c’mon, I thought you understood!’
He growled, “You know better. That kid is wrong. I am telling ye he’s wrong. And he should not be here. He leaves in the morning.”
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: 11:11Ian Cobb
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