I am blessed to be the sole guardian of the entire human race. It could be a wearisome burden for a simple man, such as I am, but I can not help but feel exalted, and I am gratified to know that from that first and only instant at the birth of creation, an inexorable path of circumstance and situation has led to where we all are today. I am the most important man on Earth and all humanity looks to me for leadership. Except for Glen Reilly, whose truculence is becoming a problem.
Glen will say, “Slide the shutters up a little, so we can take a look.”
And then the others will get restless and mutter, “Do it, Kevin. Glen Reilly is right. Slide the shutters up. Throw them wide open so we can all get ourselves killed.”
Then, emboldened by the bleating of my treacherous flock, Glen will move for the shutters, and I must suffer the indignity of chasing him away, shaking my staff of justice.
I made my staff of justice from a good length of gas piping, beaten down to an edge at one end, and curled into a hefty lump at the other. Thus, I may deal retribution either severe or merciful. I have not yet had occasion to whack Glen Reilly with my trusty staff, for I am made weary by the exertions of the chase, and he is uncommonly swift for such a large fellow.
Glen Reilly is becoming a problem, but what are problems to the sole guardian of the human race? No more than nails are, to a man with a hammer.
I wish to visit the basement, but Glen Reilly can read my thoughts. He comes over, showing me the palms of his big hands, a twisted grin painted on his lying face, hiding his evil nature behind a facade which is intended to placate me. I catch him stealing a shifty glance at my staff of justice, and I tighten my grip upon it. He is no longer laughing the way he did before the predicament, when I spent my lunch breaks fashioning this mighty weapon. He can no longer threaten me with Mr Billingham.
“How may I help you?” I ask, adopting a tone of cultured civility and understanding, though I imagine this will be wasted upon the great lunk.
“Maryam West is near to dying,” he says. “If you have anything to eat in the basement, you must share.”
If you were to pay a jot of attention to Maryam West, she would have you believe she has been close to dying for most of her sorry life. And yet to my eye, Maryam always had a healthy rosy glow to her fat face, and sufficient energy to avoid whatever work would otherwise have distracted her prattling. But now, last time I saw her, slumped against a wall, barely wheezing, she looks deflated, a shade of herself wrapped in a bag of wrinkles.
“There’s nothing in the basement, Glen Reilly,” I say.
“Then why do you go down there several times each day?” Glen asks.
“I am making sure it is secure, Glen Reilly,” I say.
“Secure from what?” he asks. “I took a look outside last time you were down there,and there’s nothing moving. I think they’re all dead... again. If you have something to eat in the basement, then you must share.” He lowered his voice. “If you don’t share, Maryam might be the next to go, but she won’t be the last.”
“I grow weary of your accusations, Glen Reilly,” I say. “There is no food in the basement.” How I wish there were, for I am fiercely hungry.
“Then give me the key and I will see for myself.”
The fool is obviously deluded.
I say, “This key is for use by the manager, or the assistant manager, only. You are not the assistant manager. I am the assistant manager.” And the sole guardian of the entire human race. So many hats.
“Please Kevin,” he wheedles. “Give me the key.” When I look at Glen Reilly I can sense movement at the periphery of my vision. Could he have swayed my subjects to his bidding. Are his cohorts closing on me?
“Very well, Glen Reilly,” I say. “I will grant your humble wish.”
In truth, I am famished. There is no food in the basement, but perhaps it is time for Glen Reilly to find out exactly what is down there.
It is obvious how this will end.
Eventually Glen Reilly and his followers, will strike against my loyal people. For the sake of mankind I must act decisively to quell this rebellion before it is too late.
I throw the basement key in Glen Reilly’s direction, and he snaps it from the air, curling his giant fist about it. He unwraps his hand and stares at the key suspiciously. His devious nature leads him to suspect me of trickery, but I have no reason to resort to such low practices. I am a righteous man.
“There is the key you were so determined to acquire, Glen Reilly,” I say. He does not wish to turn his back to me, but from fear and not respect, as it should be. I slide along the wall, mindful of his troops poised for any show of weakness on my part, so he has free access to the basement door.
He creeps to the door, glaring sidelong at me the whole while. He fumbles at the lock and opens the door.
“Kevin, I hope you’re lying to me,” he says. “I hope you’ve been hiding food down there, because if you haven’t then we’re going to have to leave.”
“I do not lie, Glen Reilly,” I say. “And we can not leave. We are all that remains of humanity, and this is where we must make our stand.”
“It’s been days, Kevin. There’s nothing moving outside. I told you, I looked.” He dares to dismiss our conversation with a surly shake of his head, and descends the stars into the basement. “I’ll be back up, shortly. Keep watch over Maryam.”
Glen Reilly does not lock the basement door, as I have always done these past days. He is not meticulous in his planning, but I am. I follow him down the stairs.
He is already standing on the basement floor, and turns to face me as I tread upon the steps. His face is white, and his mouth hangs open. “What have you done?” he asks. There is whimpering, but it is not Glen Reilly’s doing. I take the finals steps at a rush and raise my staff of justice high.
When I emerge, much later, I am no longer famished.
I have not forgotten Maryam. It would not be right, for even though she betrayed me by siding with the traitor, Glen Reilly, I will be magnanimous and forgive her. Glen Reilly’s other lickspittles have faded away, too ashamed to be seen by their rightful lord, or chased away by my devoted followers. I am alone with Maryam, crumpled upon the ground, her great chest heaving infrequently as she fights for breath.
I offer her something to eat, but she twists her head left and right, and moans in a most discourteous fashion. She must eat, so I press it hard against her mouth, and pull and push at her jaw to encourage her chewing, but it is to no avail and I achieve nothing but a crimson decoration of her saggy face. She lapses even further into herself, tries rolling away from me, but I am determined to be merciful.
She turns her back, buries her face under her arm, so I must hook my arm about her and try to heave her over. She has shed a good deal of weight lately, but she is still a most challenging handful. At my third attempt, I set her right upon her back, with myself all atop her. She flips and bucks feebly under me, but without success. Her tiny hands and flabby arms wave at me, moths against a windshield. The heat from her considerable bulk and the friction from her struggle warms my loin in a most uncomfortable fashion. I anchor myself on her with the palm of my hand upon her chin, forcing her mouth into an unlikely gape. Like a mommy bird I thrust the meat down her throat, holding her nose that she may be encouraged to swallow.
I am devastated. My efforts have come too late to save poor Maryam. In her weakened condition, her stricken body has rejected the food. With a twitch and a final stifled groan, she expires. I feel partially to blame, but the real criminal is the tyrant Glen Reilly. He might as well have choked the life from her himself.
I can not allow sweet Maryam to moulder away like spoilt food. I will drag her over by the shutters, where there is only steel and conrete, and make of her a funeral pyre. She never gave the slightest hint that she hankered for a Viking burial rite, but sometimes you just know. There is wood from broken pallets scattered all about, and we keep a can of gasoline by the generator in the basement.
First though, I have had a wicked thought. Surely, Maryam would not begrudge her protector a tiny parting gift. I hesitate, but I am certain I know what she would say. She would say, “Do it, Kevin. It’s right here if you want to take it.”
It is a struggle, but with much lifting, twisting, tugging and pulling, I have the dress off her. I gaze upon Maryam, hardly able to drag my eyes away, but eventually with a shudder I put the thought of her sallow bloated flesh from my mind. I drag her body over by the shutter, and prepare to fetch the gasoline from near the generator. But first I will give the dress to my sweetheart in the basement. It has been an arduous while, and I am certain this will come as a pleasant surprise.
The fiend, Glen Reilly, defies me even when he should be wholly expired. He has risen from his deathbed and is having his way with my sweet baby. Nor is my darling making so much as a tepid attempt to fend off his advances, though, to be fair, the chains provide something of a deterrent to fending.
I have the strength of ten men and haul him almost a full half turn about to face me. Some small gobbet which might be cheek dribbles from his mouth, and a glance at my sweetheart explains where his ear has gone, as it is coughed up unto the floor by my feet. The scatter of brain and gore about his head is my own handiwork, and I realise I no longer have my staff of justice with me, but it matters not a lick, for I will tear this heinous lecher to pieces with my bare hands.
I deal Glen Reilly a might punch straight to his bulbous white nose, and the shock of pain shooting up my wrist attests to the raw power of my blow. Barely seconds later I follow this strike with a vicious hook to the side of his lumpy face. My fist bites sickeningly into his already mashed head, and shattered bone grates against my knuckles. Now I have his attention. He stumbles for me, throwing his hands out simultaneously to snare me in a hug, but I am in no mood for his advances, and deftly back-peddle, screaming my warcry near uncontrollably.
We whirl and twirl the length and breadth of the basement, dancing a grim tango to the accompaniment of rough slaps and the chatter of snapping teeth. I rock him with blow after blow, but Glen Reilly’s ludicrous pride, even in death, means he refuses to acknowledge the dreadful extent to which I have wounded him. But now we are by the generator and I have in my hands an almost full jerrycan of gasoline, weighing close to forty pounds. Using this at once as shield, and then as bludgeon, I drive back Glen Reilly with impunity.
Finally he trips, lays on the ground, his idiot expression unchanged, masking his furiously racing brain, or what’s left of it. If I allow him any respite he will formulate some way to trick me. I bring the can down on his head, then again, now putting all my weight behind it. Again, and again, yelling my victory and with tears of triumph rolling down my cheeks, I slam the jerrycan into his face until his head is a bloody ruin of blood, brains, flesh and spilled gasoline from the crumpled can.
I am finished with Glen Reilly, and need never trouble myself with him again. His corpse is finally at peace, and soon the victory tremors I feel will abate.
But what is this? The dress, meant for my love, discarded on the floor, mired in gore and filth, tread upon and kicked about. I see red. Would it have been too much for the ninny, ensconced in the safety of a chain cocoon, to have shown the slightest concern for a gift? I am furious.
We will have words.
I march to my honey, my vision tinted red as the vile blood of Glen Reilly that covers me from head to toe. I jerk at the hanging chains and, attention gained, reach down and grab a double handful of short, curly hair and wrench it upwards. I am rewarded with a deafening squeal. With my head tilted slightly forward, so we are eye to eye, my hands twined tight into his beard, I let my gaze linger on my sweetheart’s face. He is a mess. Repulsive. Glen Reilly has done his awful work, and bit tremendous chunks from my baby’s face.
Betrayed. There is no other word for it.While I have been struggling to shepherd what little is left of beleaguered mankind, this foolish strumpet has done nothing, barely even attempted to defend himself. Perhaps I happened upon this tryst too soon, perhaps in time I would have faced a merry pair of corpses, groaning and moaning, and laughing behind my back at me. Me, the sole guardian of the entire human race. Ungrateful harpy. And now, it dares to speak?
“Let me go, Kevin,” he says. “Please, let me go. I’m hurt.”
He is hurt? I am positively indignant. What of MY feelings? I untangle my hands from his greasy beard. This relationship is not working out the way I had imagined.
“Please, Kevin, let me go. I won’t tell anyone. Nobody needs to know. I can protect you. I’m manag-”
The craven whore insists on riling me. “You’re what?” I ask, my voice a razored chill. “What are you?” I grab the chains and rattle them furiously, causing his captured arms and body to dance. “Tell me what you are.”
He will not look at me. My fists are sore, so I search about for inspiration, something heavy, but finally he speaks.
“I am your little princess, Kevin.”
“You are my little princess,” I say. “And what is your name?”
He sobs. An ugly sound. “My name is Tina,” he says.
I am triumphant. “That’s right, Mr Billingham, your name is Tina.” I wince, embarrassed by my faux pas, but in a way the situation may have sped to a point where a slip of the tongue is not the end of the world, particularly as it is, apparently, the end of the world.
The dress is still lying by my feet. It would have ruined poor Maryam’s day to see it mistreated so. I fetch it up, shake the worst from it, and go back to Glen Reilly’s body. The jerrycan next to him has seeped a pool of gasoline about him, but I reckon it to still be about half full. I soak the dress in fuel and return to Tina. He can smell the gasoline and becomes frantic. The noises he makes are no longer language, but I am beyond compassion, and feel nothing but aching loneliness inside. I squat in front of him, and bring the sodden dress to his quaking face. I steady him, hand upon his gnawed cheek, and use the dress to wipe the blood away. When I am finished, he appears calmer.
I remove the padlock which fastens the chain about his right arm to the pipe overhead. His arm drops like a dead weight, and another, softer, groan escapes his lips.
“Thank you, Kevin,” he says.
I kiss the fingers of my right hand and let them momentarily drift, like a passing notion, across his forehead. I drop the gasoline soaked dress over his head, wrap it tight about with the chain, binding his arm there too, and secure it firmly with the padlock. How he jerks on the single chain now, his voice a keening, desperate thing, but it is too late to beg forgiveness.
I need a lighter, a match, some purifying fire to cleanse myself, but more importantly to burn the bitch. My eagle eye returns to the loathsome body of Glen Reilly. Filty smoker, Glen Reilly. He draws me back, once again entangles me in his nefarious web.
Will I ever, truly, be done with him?
My sweetheart screams, and coughs, and chokes. The cacophony is quite distracting.
Glen Reilly has a lighter. A shiny, chromed clickety-clack, he flipped and slapped in a most extravagant manner when he was lighting his grubby cigarettes.
“Those horrible things will kill you, Glen Reilly,” I had said to him on many occasions, but he had laughed in my face, blowing smoke in my eyes, and then laughing all the harder as I fanned the air and retreated, my lungs attempting to disgorge themselves. Well I hope it gives Glen Reilly some satisfaction in the pit of whatever hell that houses him now to know that he was right and I was wrong. Glen Reilly may have dodged cancer, but he did not dodge the jerrycan that flattened his stupid head.
I feel an odd sense of trepidation as I approach Glen Reilly’s body, knowing I will have to search through his pockets in an intimate manner. The thought of running my hands over his burly, muscular corpse fills me with abject disgust. Imagining that I need to paw and grope about his person sends a lingering shiver of abhorrence tingling down my spine, but I must harden myself and just get on with it.
Standing beside Glen now, I kick at his feet just in case. There is no reaction, of course, and I laugh at my foolish fears. I bend myself to the task at hand and working from his shirt pocket down, I search through his clothes. I find the lighter, but I find a folded slip of paper too. It is a crime to read another person’s mail, and I wrestle with my conscience before deciding that since he is no longer a person, but a dead thing, Glen Reilly’s protection under the law is tenuous at best. I unfurl the sheet of paper and read it.
The letter falls from my hand, tears well up in my eyes, but at least I now know for sure. My deepest fears have been confirmed. The bitch, Billingham, had offered Glen Reilly an internship in the management program. How they both would have lorded it over me then. This is my darkest hour. I snatch up the letter, flip open the lighter, and set fire to the offending paper.
This is a mistake.
Having fallen on a stray puddle of gasoline, the paper all but vanishes in a whoosh. My steely nerves desert me, and I drop the flaming letter, but even as I do so I know what must happen next and turn to run. I have hardly taken a pace before the room is lit by a great orange ball of flame and billowing night black smog has rolled right across the ceiling, and is filling the basement moment by moment. Some blazing fragment has fallen upon Tina and he screams as his hooded head becomes a torch. I know my back is aflame, and the hair on my head smoulders, but now is not the time to let that stay my flight. I belt headlong for the stairs, and take them three and four at a time in my rush to quit the inferno.
I slam into something soft at the top of the stairs. Maryam wraps her flabby arms about me, and we tumble backwards down the steps. My head is rocked in the fall and for a while there is darkness.
When my eyes open I see I am at the foot of the stairs, the basement lit by yellow flame and all about burns fiercely. The foam lagging on the pipes overhead has taken light and there is a rain of dancing blue driplets. Maryam is atop me, her arms trapped under me, and her mouth gnaws upon my exposed face. I thank my good fortune that she has misplaced her false teeth somewhere upon the way down, and all she succeeds in doing is heaping sloppy kisses on me.
I take stock of my situation and a calm descends upon me. This has been a test. I have defeated the tyrant, Glen Reilly, I have exposed the perfidy of my true love, and I have consumed all their evil in sanctifying fire. I who have been the sole guardian of the entire human race have been challenged so many times, but each challenge I have overcome. Now it is the time for my followers to rescue me from this, ostensibly, hopeless situation. I cease my struggle with Maryam, and I will wait. Soon my followers will pour down the stairs and free me. We will throw open the shutters and spread like vengeful locusts to the far corners of the globe, burning away the dark stench of undeath wherever it yet lingers. The Earth will be our paradise, with me its benevolent patron.
All I have to do is lie here and wait.