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"Hangin' On" by Blake Kilgore

Updated: May 17

Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning, and we were nowhere near home.

Me and the boys were always on that pendulum, swinging from dangerous and thinking to drunk and lying in a ditch, grimy and alone.

About ten o’clock each night, at least according to Rufus’s watch, which somehow kept ticking, after sleeping off the previous night’s binge, after waking in a fog storm with a clanging head-masher, sometime around noon, we’d pile into our grubby little kitchen and wrangle up some brunch, cramming our faces full a hashbrowns and chicory root coffee, with a little sour mash on the side to ease back the shakes.

We’d spend the afternoon tending our taters, and then early evening working the stills. Jethro and Judah were moonshiners in The Long-ago-before, and now pretty much kept us in our cups. We alternated security between the four of us, and I always had first watch. Once upon a rarity I’d take down a varmint to sweeten up our feasts.

The End had come on a Thursday, and tomorrow was the anniversary, or so Rufus told us. He’d kept a calendar in the beginning, mostly for the pictures of scantily clad pin-ups, but he dutifully checked off each used-up day when it was finally done.

As things went along, Rufus sort a became our timekeeper, and copied out a new calendar on scraps we found here and there in our early scavenging hunts. We didn’t get out much these days. It was year four, and we hadn’t seen another soul in over two.

Mostly, we stayed wasted.

So, anyways, I’ll try to patchwork this quilt best I can. We’d been talking about the anniversary, and Jethro said we should try to find a cow or something so we could have STEAK and taters for once. I sneered and told him ‘we ain’t seen no cows’, and he rightly objected that ‘well, we ain’t really left these parts lately.’

So, come ten o’clock on that Tuesday night, after we’d started our daily dose of liquor, Jethro starts in again talking about let’s go, and right now. Hell, we didn’t have nowhere else to be, and it sort a conjured a Friday night from The Long-ago-before, when we’d search for trouble to try and take the edge off our boredom. Ha!

Course we brought two jugs along to keep our spirit’s light, and after a while, wandering the dark, with only moonbeams for enlightenment, and with our minds a-buzzing with expectation and inebriation, we got lost.

The more circling we tried, the more bewildered we became, and when the last jug was dry, we started slinking toward a slumber, and then we all sat down, looking up at the stars, out there twinkling away like nothing ever happened down here on poor little ol’ lonely, empty Earth.

Early on we’d had to kill a couple of fellas who come around looking to take away our piece, and in those days, after The End, gunshots sometimes echoed through the night. Didn’t many folks make it that far, though, and the few who did must a slaughtered each other quick. It was nearly silent after the first few months.

We only went near a city once, and when I looked through my scope, I saw nibbled and severed skeletons piled and dragged and draped and stained on every single street, hanging out a windows and doors nearly everywhere I surveyed. We didn’t go back, and after we killed them fellas, didn’t nobody else come near our dwelling.

Whoever survived humanity’s inclination to murder his own barely surviving neighbors likely got gobbled up by the wild. We’d worked real hard those early months keeping all the critters at bay. Built some big, thick walls around our taters, and then we cowered inside, listening to the snarls and howls rumbling out there in the darkness. We’d witnessed some real Animal Kingdom takedowns out there, too. Once saw a pack of wolves tearing a black bear to shreds. Must a been hungry.

The animals were mostly gone now, too. We figure whatever got in human blood eventually killed their organs when they consumed our fallen brethren.

I didn’t think we’d find a cow.

Sometimes, I sort a wish a bandit would come along again, and I could offer to play him in a game of chess. Jethro and Judah don’t care none for games and Rufus weren’t no good. He quit playing me a few years ago ‘cause I always beat him quick.

If I’d been clever, I’d a let him win a few times. Hell, it might a even become a sort a game to invent ways a turning a loss into a win without him ever knowin’.

I do a lot of that with the boys, trying to sort a make our catastrophe seem grand. They call me “Preacher”, sort a see me as the leader who helps them face each new day with some hangin’ on kind a glimmer.

Keeping everybody drunk most the time had been working pretty good. Lately, though, the boys been holding their sides, and we all been pissin’ blood.

I ain’t no doctor, but these livers gotta be nearly dead.

So, anyhow, after our little respite in the weeds we’re still drowsy with drink, and the winds a-picking up, blowing dead leaves and barren branches up and down and all around, and we jump up from our midnight naptime quick-like, sort a stumbling and slurring out our worries, each of us mumbling on top a the others, and leaning floppy and lopsided, and we finally started to head on home. Course then we remembered we were lost and stopped dead in our tracks.

Right then she appeared, heavy and lowing, two calves in tow.

She sauntered past, and we followed at a polite distance, awestruck. One of the calves kind a looked back, like ‘come on,’ and we did. She led us right back to the front gate of our wooden fortress. Must a smelled them taters.

Had to expand our walls to enclose some pasture, but now we got milk. We also had to defer on the steak for a whole cow generation, but hey, we got mixed drinks and company. I’m hoping to maybe teach one of them calves how to play checkers, or at least some duck-duck-goose.

Blake Kilgore is a writer of poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and non-fiction.

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