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Settling Down

by Mark Dalligan

Margaret made her way through the bookshelves to the makeshift kitchenette. She filled the kettle with Evian water. After a little while on the camping stove, it began to simmer. Pushing wide the library’s twin Victorian oak doors, she admired the multi-coloured dawn rising over the crumbling remains of East London.

The Jacaranda blossoms softened the ugly blocks of deserted flats. She took a few steps outside to pick a low hanging lemon from the small grove that had grown so quickly in the past few years. Despite the foil wrapping, the Earl Grey had long gone stale and a slice of lemon helped resurrect the taste.

“Will you be inviting me in?”

Margaret smiled to see Paddy the traveler. They sat at a table strewn with aged magazines, the covers showing the world the way it had been. Glancing at these, Paddy thought that, in some ways, you could think it was a better place now.

“And do you think there are many of us left?” she asked.

The Irishman sighed, “Just a few poor souls now. I still can’t get a grip on why in the name of all that’s holy they dropped the bloody bombs.”

“Men and their toys,” Margaret said. “They found a way to kill without damaging property or people, just the food supply. Do you remember how the world stank of dead cattle, dogs and cats for weeks?”

“To my shame I can even remember eating some of the riper examples,” he said.

Paddy sipped at his tea. “Look beauty, I know I’m no catch and you're probably the only eligible lady in a hundred miles, but what about it? Have you thought of the fun we could have travelling together? It’s a grand life.”

Margaret leaned across and kissed Paddy long and tenderly. “It’s an attractive idea but not practical,” she indicated her shriveled right leg.

“I’d push you in a cart. There are still hundreds of supermarket trolleys.”

“I have to think about the kids.”

Paddy produced a bottle of Bushmills that must have been fifty years old at least. They spent the afternoon finishing this with intermissions of gentle sex.

“I should go now,” Paddy said, watching the evening draw in.

“The children would love to see you.”

“Oh, and I’m sure they would, but you know how they make me feel.”

He was pulling on his shapeless felt hat when one of the front doors creaked open, a fraction, then a fraction more. A tangle-haired boy, in a torn vest and pants, half crawled and half slithered across the parquet flooring toward them.

“Hello 21. This is a friend of mine, Paddy,” she put a protective arm around the man’s shoulders.

“You number them now?”

“They recognise numbers more easily than words. I write them on their foreheads, backs and chests. Keeps a lot of them alive in the pack hunts.”

Paddy jumped at the loud bang as the other door crashed open and a host of the wretched children stumbled or crawled into the library. They dragged the bloody body of a young teenager of now indeterminable sex and set it before Margaret.

The librarian rose, leaving the Irishman suffering from the near physical weight of the feral stares in his direction. She returned with a butcher’s cleaver, handing it to the most erect of the children. Paddy crossed himself when he saw the numbers 666 across the child’s head.

Margaret touched the corpse’s left arm, “Three times seven.”

“Twenty-one,” the children chanted. 666 aligned the cleaver in a practiced manner and took off the whole arm, kicking it to 21, who immediately began to rip at it with his teeth.

She touched the remaining arm, “1 and 2.”

The bone cracked once, as the arm separated from the shoulder, then again as it was split in two. 666 handed half each to Margaret and Paddy.

Paddy chewed, feeling the blood dribble down his chin. Perhaps it was time to settle down. The children bred like rabbits so there would never be any shortage of protein.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dalligan

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