|Word count: 1289
Grits felt he was too young to be losing his teeth. Oh sure, he wasn’t surprised. Not with his diet and his problems. He remembered when he lost his first one. Not his baby teeth, or the teeth he lost playing high school football or the time he had one of his molars chipped by a pair of home made knuckle dusters in a canteen fight when he was in prison that time. No, he remembered the first time one of his teeth fell out after the fall of society. The fall of society was what Grits had heard other hobos, for that was what he was: a hobo, call it and it suited Grits to call it that too. It sounded intellectual. It sounded poetic. It sounded metal. It suit them all, no matter what pigeon hole they still rammed their pontificating heads into. Grits called it the fall of society, because that’s what had happened. Society fell. Whether you liked that or not.
The return of steam trains was one thing that the straggling dregs of humanity like Grits liked more then most. After a year or so, the pseudo-government – the Man – had put the trains back on the train tracks. Like iron angels visiting purgatory, their steam whistles giving hope like trumpet calls to the desperate. God knows what the damned thought of the damned steam whistles. But Grits knew, Grits had seen the hope and tears these trains brought to once thriving –now-isolated communities stranded by the fall . No diesel air horn could do that. Fill the belly’s soul like that.
The first time he lost a tooth, it was after 6 months of abject poverty worthy of a boat refuge. Six months of consisting on nothing but dog bone soup, broiled and rebroiled and eaten when he dared. First time he lost a tooth he thought it was maybe radiation poisoning and that was what had killed all his cronies, his parole officer, the cops who beat him every week, and even the goddamned social worker who dealt heroin on the side, not for the money but because she was a left-leaning, socially conscious sap. But no, then he realised that was just the zombies. The zombies killed and ate all those people, not radiation poisoning. And even Zombies didn’t make your teeth fall out. Unless they bit half your face off with it.
Grits looked at the mangled thing before him. It was caked in filth, brown and stinking. Dry, brittle. The first couple had been sharp as daggers but these days, when his teeth fell out they were weak, gnarled imitations of the real thing. Frankly, Grits thought he’d be better off without them. Without this process. But Grits had liked his teeth. So had the girls. Grits had lost many things over these few years and made many hard decisions. Survival wasn’t cheap in this world. And really what was one more lost tooth in the bevy of lost souls surrounding his existence? Still, Grits knew he was dreading his final tooth, and after that no teeth. He might as well be one of them. A fucking zombie.
“You fucking dickless bastards!” Grits yelled and hurled, ineffectually really, the dead tooth off the moving train carriage roof at the milling zombies. “You fucking no good smelly dead beats!”
“Yeah! Yeah man!” Grits looked over at his current hobo-brother. His current travelling partner of the tracks. He called himself the Snakepit Man. Said he was a salesman before the fall of society, the fall of autumn as /he/ called it. Grits looked at him. The thing with travelling partners was you had to keep them in check, let them know who was in charge, who came first in the pecking order. And when you had Grits problem, you needed someone you could rely on. The only way to get somebody reliable in this world was through fear. Grits wondered if the Snakepit Man wasn’t too stupid to be ruled by fear. Or maybe it was that he was too smart. He didn’t have any teeth, and that showed he’d survived a lot longer then Grits, and on a lot less. Cunning as a shit house rat, Grits decided.
“Give me your hat.”
The Snakepit Man stopped guffawing.
“What do you want that for? It’s my hat.”
“Give me your fucking hat, for I take it from you,” Grits spat on the ground, away from the other hobo. No need to be too confronting.
“Aww, now Grits,” the SnakePit Man said, already cowed. “No need ta be like that. I’ll give ya my hat, if that’s what ya want. No need to be like that.”
Grits watched narrow-eyed, never taking his eyes off the other. Grits didn’t even think he’d have to snarl to get the big dope to do what he was told.
The Snakepit Man took his hat off his head and carefully held it out to Grits. Grits looked at the Snakepit Man one last time. Gave him one last narrow-eyed look to show he meant business and gently took the hat.
“I know you like this hat SnakePit Man,” Grits says. “You can have it back after I manage my sleep. You can have it back after my nap. Nothing happens to me, nothing happens to this here hat. You got that?”
“I know Grits. It’s okay. You look after me. I look after you. That’s how it is with us. You’re a real good fighter Grits. And a real good problem solver too. You’re tenacious, is what you are. Tenacious. You like that?”
All the time the Snakepit Man has talked, he hasn’t taken his eyes off that hat. Grits turns the hat over and over in his hands. Watching the hat. Watching the Snakepit Man. Watching the hat.
“It’s a nice hat Snakepit Man.” Grits says, looking at the hat but not looking at the Snakepit Man. “It really is. What do you think it was made of? You think it was one of them imported hats from Italy?”
The Snakepit Man smiles at that. He likes that idea, Grits knows.
The train carriage is really whistling along the tracks now. The fields were once wheat fields, Grits knows. Now they are overgrown with thistles and weeds and other detritus. Like the milling dead.
Grits grins and throws the hat.
Grits doesn’t throw the hat.
“Geez, Grits. Don’t do that. That’s my hat.”
Grits throws the hat.
“Jesus goddamn it Grits. That’s my favourite hat. Don’t do that to my hat. You said you was gonna look after it,” the SnakePit Man stomps his foot, a dangerous move on the roof of a moving steam train.
Grits stares at the SnakePit Man.
“I’m gonna take my nap now. Manage my condition. You look after me, I’ll look after your hat. “
“Grits, you know you look after me. I look after you already. It’s how it works when your budd-“
Grits throws the hat.
“Keerrist Grits! Okay, okay. You have your bleeping nap. I’ll watch your bleeping back. Befor e you know it we’ll be at the cross roads and I’ll wake you up and we’ll get some supplies. Have a look around. Keerist, Grits.”
Grits puts the Snakepit Mans precious hat in his rucksack. Props it up against the air vent and shifts around until he’s comfortable.
It’ s a tough world. Made tougher still when it’s a world full of zombies and humans who’d poke you in the eye as soon as let you look at them. You don’t survive being a narcoleptic in this world without being one tough little bugger yourself.
Grits is dreaming before his eyes are even shut.
<em>this is my next piece in an interactive zombie story. http://www.Writing.Com/main/campfires/item_id/1832624-No-Rest-for-the-Wicked
It almost stands on it's own however. It was fun writing it. I was actually able to organize my thoughts and slow down my brain to sit down and write it without getting overwhelmed. I've posted it here because I'm going to enter it in a competition. </em>.