The base for a book of worldly pain, centered about a survivor who knows nothing but.
| The man opened the heavy iron door with a grunt and a loud creak into the cold, closed-in room, with an even colder gust of wind chasing him as he walked in. Behind him, he shut the door, and with a quick push of his shoulder and another muffled grunt through his teeth, the door was sealed. He turned the vault-style door handle clockwise, locking the thick metal door pins in place with a final groan from the door. As he turned, he observed his surroundings: old papers strewn across the rickety, dark, hardwood floor, the shelves and counters of his kitchen to his immediate left covered in empty alcohol bottles, cans, and scraps of trash; to his right, the entrance to his bedroom, which around the doorway was much of the same, with some retired old clothes sitting soiled to the side. He then turned his attention to the center of the room he was standing in, and to the ceiling. The dim blue tube light shone down from the ceiling, flickering occasionally, illuminating below a relatively empty and clean space filled only by a couch, a recliner, a small coffee table, and another smaller table which occupied an unworking glass tube television, now unplugged from the wall, and finally, a metal folding chair, which sat on the opposite side of the coffee table from the couch. On the couch sat a man in a long sleeve sweater covered by a windbreaker sweater vest, and atop his head was a dark blue beanie; beneath, on his legs, blue jeans and worn boots. He was short, stocky, and had an unemotional and non expressive face. He had rough stubble across the span of his jawline and his upper lip, and he appeared very stern. His hands rested, fingers interwoven, in his lap as he sat, and as the newcomer looked down at him, he shifted his eyes to him. On the recliner sat a skeleton, which donned a similar outfit to the man on the couch.
“Hello, Vladimir. How was your trip out? Bring anything new back from the outside?” said the man on the couch.
“No, Dmitri, I did not. We have not had much luck out there lately, and you know that. How about you come out with me sometime to grant a helping hand, instead of sitting in here all the time?” Vladimir questioned. He walked into his room, the sleeping quarters, while waiting for a response, and he lifted a dirty blanket in the poorly lit corner, under which there was a plastic carton that contained several large bottles of vodka. He pulled one out and took a look around for a moment, feeling almost lost. He looked at all the madness and mess in the sleeping quarters; clothing strewn all around, smothering most of the floor, blankets hanging off the side of one bed with the pillows misplaced, parts of wrappers and bags in various areas around the room, trash cans entirely filled with no signs of relief for months, or even years. Suddenly, the two remaining beds left unexamined became very vivid to Vladimir, who glared at them. Perfect sheets, relatively clean, pillows arranged neatly, sides of the blankets tucked under the metal cot upon which they lay. It made him mad. In a sudden burst of rage, he yelled, and upon dropping the bottle of vodka onto the dirty bed, he threw his arms onto the mattress of one bed, then gripped it firmly with both hands, and, ripping the mattress from the cot, he flung it across the room and into the wall. He did a double take, adrenaline pumping through his mind, his heart pounding in his ears and chest, and he looked back down at where the mattress lay. “I am sorry, Dmitri. I will remake your bed,” Vladimir said into the entrance of the other room, to which he heard the reply as he turned, “It is alright, thank you.”
As the roaring in his mind steadily muted itself and he regained his bearings, Vladimir grabbed the mattress and placed it back on the cot, replacing the blanket and arranging it how it had previously been. Still, the two clean mattresses stuck out and frustrated him, but he ignored it, and he grabbed his bottle of vodka, then walked back into the main room in the center of the small building. Dmitri was still looking up at the door where Vladimir had stood upon entry. “What is the matter, Dmitri? Why do you remain silent, even upon my proposal? I need your help on the outside. We cannot continue to live like this.” He sat down in the metal folding chair and looked over at the skeleton in the recliner, his calm now regained; he was, however, still alert and unnerved. Upon his observation of the skeleton, he noted the bones. The bones were brown, not white, from the decomposing flesh of the human once accompanying the skeleton staining the empty frame, along with an indeterminable amount of time spent exposed to the dank air in the house. In an eerie, film-like fashion, with the tube light above them, the only things well illuminated in the room were them; Dmitri, Vladimir, and the skeleton. Behind the skeleton, Vladimir looked at a dark brown stain on the gray concrete wall, along with a small crater near the stain. There was a hole in the forehead of the skeleton. Still not receiving an answer from Dmitri, Vladimir slammed his balled fists on the table, then unfurled them and stood up. “I don’t know why you refuse to speak to me. Stop acting like a child,” Vladimir said angrily, raising his voice progressively. He then popped the lid of the vodka bottle, slid it underneath the chin of his gas mask, and took a long chug.
Vladimir pulled a pack of cards from his brown corduroy jacket, and upon removing them from the packet, he manipulated the deck, shuffling it instinctively. “I’m sorry, Dmitri. Let us play some cards; poker. I need to relax.” Vladimir dealt five cards to Dmitri, five to the skeleton, and five to himself. He looked down at his feet as he waited for Dmitri to discard some of his hand so he could deal the next set. He could not help but notice the rips in his sleeves, the ragged cuffs of his jacket, the fading, tarnished Adidas jumpsuit sweatpants he wore, and the boots he had. His boots had holes, and the divide between the soles and the leather was becoming very noticeable and drastic. The fingerless gloves he wore had acquired holes in the knuckles and palms, and as he felt for his knit beanie, he noticed it was beginning to unravel. Upon his focus on the lenses of his gas mask, he could very easily see many scratches and splotches. He looked up and saw that Dmitri had discarded his whole hand. Vladimir dealt him his five cards and stood up slowly, gathering his bearings. While waiting for the skeleton, who usually took a good bit of time to play, Vladimir walked to the kitchen. Prying open the fridge, he looked at their reserves. Two canteens of water, of which Vladimir knew only one was filled, and his own was nearly empty. There was a small half leg of deer there, reaching near its spoiling point. It had been there for what seemed like weeks now, with no food harvested since. All that was left was the leg and a slice of cake in the bottom of the fridge. He suddenly felt an urge to cry, but choked the emotion away and gathered his bearings, preparing to return to the table.
Vladimir walked back into the central room and looked at the table where the cards lay. Though the skeleton had played, Vladimir’s attention shot to an empty plate in front of Dmitri, which seemed to be laced with crumbs. He did not remember the plate being there or Dmitri asking for food. Vladimir walked to the door again with an expression of deep anger and stood there for many moments, contemplating. He turned around to Dmitri, who still sat in the same position and looked forward to Vladimir. “Come on, Dmitri. If you want to eat, you must get your lazy ass up and come out with me. I can’t provide for the both of us.” Vladimir was very mad, but was struggling to keep his voice down. He reached for his rifle by the iron door; an AK-74. Looking into the window of the thirty-round magazine, he could see that he had about seventeen rounds left. There was no more ammo in the base; every bit of ammunition that they owned was currently connected to the gun in Vladimir’s hands. “You can pull your weight here by choice or by the barrel of my gun! Come with me now!” Vladimir demanded, shouldering the rifle and aiming it at Dmitri. “If you are going to eat the food I provide, you will make amends!” Dmitri sat still, then shifted a bit in his seat and reached for the new five cards.
Suddenly, what felt like a bolt of lightning flashed through Vladimir’s head, and though he could not hear during the proceeding sequence through his adrenaline, he watched as the muzzle flash erupted from the AK-74 and Dmitri’s forehead exploded into an array of psychedelic colors. The shadows at the edges of the room got deeper and closer to the center of his vision, while the colors reached towards the edges to fight it. Vladimir could no longer see anything but his dead partner, and the vision of the back of his head slamming into the wall behind it replayed in his mind, acting as a terrible nightmare, which seemed to go on for eternity. “Dmitri!” Vladimir screamed, but the harsh noise fell only on deaf ears. It reverberated in the small space, tormenting him over and over again as he came to the realization that he had killed the only person left in the world that he knew. The anger vanished from his mind, replaced by sorrow; every sound he could ever hear shredded his eardrums, every color he had ever known invaded his vision, the emotion he felt as he pulled his trigger on every man he had ever killed sped through his senses, and every memory he had ever had of Dmitri flooded his mind; including the one, a long lost time ago, when he had killed him. Vladimir collapsed on the ground and began sobbing. Shadows of the hands of death, reaching slowly for him, were aching at the corners of his eye, the colors now absent to fight them.
All he saw now was reality, albeit a mildly double-visioned drunken one. He looked at the vodka bottle; it was nearly empty. He looked at the skeleton; still stationary, the same way it had been since he had established its owner’s death upon opening this vault years ago with Dmitri, not long after the bombs fell. The plate in front of Dmitri was laced in crumbs still, as old as the posture Dmitri held, and was now covered in cobwebs. He looked at Dmitri; a skeleton, much like the one sitting in the recliner, but with a new hole surrounded by significant fracturing in his forehead; his head now rested behind his shoulders, propped up by the wall. The patch of concrete behind his head was badly chipped from the impact of the rifle round. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” cried Vladimir repeatedly, now crouching on one knee in front of the door. He stood after several minutes, still crying, and walked into the kitchen, where he undid the clasp on the back of his gas mask and removed it, then stared into the mirror in front of him. Vladimir examined his face; his structured jaw, now sagging from his crying, was defined especially by his sunken cheeks. His unshaven beard had been growing uncontrolled for months, and his bloodshot eyes were underlined by massive bags and purple lines. Vladimir remembered before the bombs, less vaguely now than ever, when he was forcibly placed under the doctor’s examination after returning home to Russia, the doctor’s diagnosis: Schizophrenia. Being a schizophrenic had greatly deprived him of sleep, and neither the disease or the lack of sleep had helped him. Some time ago, those issues, having built up over the course of years, are what killed Dmitri, and now, they had led him to this point. Tears rolled down his cheeks, leaving clean streaks across his pale white skin and carrying the dirt to either side of his nose as he looked at the fridge again, without opening it this time.
He walked to the door after a moment, recollected his rifle, wiped his nose, and turned to the door. Using one hand and some leverage gained by pushing with his body, he turned the dial counterclockwise on the door, disengaging the metal pins which hid themselves in the doorframe. He pulled hard, yanking the door open and revealing the cold, empty wasteland outside. His geiger counter immediately started croaking lightly, and his ears, freshly desensitized by the harsh ringing they had experienced, were buffeted by muffled wind rushing to the doorway. He took several steps out and realized how painful it was to breathe the frigid air without his gas mask. His messy, dirty, blonde-turning gray hair was unraveled and sent awry by the strong gusts outside. Looking around, he watched as the wind whipped trash and dirt over patches of ice and dying or barely living grass and other assortments of plants. Occasionally, there was a tree which would be stripped of its leaves, lying desolate in the field surrounding the bunker which Vladimir had walked out of. He looked at the sky. Not any more diverse than the ground, he thought. The world was now bland. It all looked like this for miles, hundreds of them even. Nothing had been the same since the bombs fell and tore everything away from humanity and its civilization. Vladimir shuddered.
Vladimir walked forward briefly once more. He then produced a picture from his jacket pocket; he rubbed his fingers across the image and stared. It was of him and Dmitri years before the bombs, before the shelter, and before his death. They were clean-shaven, muscular, and filled in, with no care in the world. Vladimir thought that it was odd; now that he faced the extreme opposite of his life before the bombs and the war, with no food, friends, money, or family, he actually cared about substantially less; after all, what was there to care for? Following this thought, he looked out past a pond in the distance, glimmering black with sparkles from the dim sky; he watched the hands of death once again reach demandingly into the corners of his eyes. The photo he was holding was slowly released, almost with anticipation, and it fell to the ground.
Vladimir slowly directed the barrel of his AK-74 into his mouth and let his world go black.