When Home and Hearth No Longer Offer Solace from the Specter of Night
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The Scientist

Beneath the canopy, sunlight filtered in jagged, stuttered lines through gaps in trees. In the wilderness, in the beauty of nature, she thought only of the double-slit experiment. Rays, like heaven. Rays, like quasars shooting gouts of energy like arterial blood into the aether, into the nothing that comprised the most there was. Expelling. Spitting. Like the sunlight above her head.

It had been a long while since she had seen another living human being. Dead ones, sure. Many, like her, had fled the cities when things began to truly fall out of control. The cities were where people had more access to things that could hurt. The final trappings of civilization wasted for destruction. Most of it seemed mindless. Even if it wasn't, there was no way of knowing otherwise.

It had been five or six years since she had last heard a human voice. Seven since she heard an actual living human, in the flesh, speaking.

The way that things were had not been good. But the wilderness was not much better. Many others had the same idea. Many were not as successful. She had been lucky. Her wife had always been interested in survivalism. She always teased her for it. The scientist couldn't imagine a world where any of these things would be useful. Where she'd have to rely on herself and only herself.

She was reminded of Leibniz's monad. Humanity as completely closed systems, incapable of interacting with each other. The grace and beauty of the universe's dance only making things appear as though they are reacting.

Except this was so much worse. So, so much worse. This was monads without the chessmaster. No elegant universe. Only broken toys battering against each other. G.I. Joe soldiers and Barbie dolls smashing their bodies against each other in frustration and lust, and shit. What was that?

Sticks breaking. Twigs? Whatever. Her hearing was still good, at least.

There was little time to duck out of the way. She saw that the person who made the noise was a woman, coming out from the trees. Maybe it had been as sudden for the woman as it had been for her. The scientist still had her revolver in her hands. The woman had a shotgun. It looked old. Unreliable. But her revolver was in condition that was just as bad. She had never known how to do any upkeep. Never really liked hearing about guns or any of that.

She wish she had listened to her wife before all of the things happened.

The woman's hair was tied up in a messy bun. Long hair. Black. But her eyes? The woman's clothing was tattered, but the scientist reasoned that hers were, too. Her backpack was filled. It looked heavy. She looked at the bottom for any pooling of blood. That was usually a good tell, she had found. A good tell that someone wasn't the kind of person she should be around.

Sometimes it was an animal. But it was better to be safe than sorry.

There was blood on the woman's shirt. It could have been an animal. It could have been someone attacking her. The scientist wasn't certain. But it was better to be careful.

They did not move. The woman and the scientist stood still. Silent, untouchable monads. Would that be the plural? Blinking. But only to moisten eyeballs. Their bodies didn't twitch or quake beyond the bare minimum required by a working human body. Rigid arms pointing guns straight ahead. Silence.

The wind battered the limbs of trees. They scratched and whined, like a see-saw noise. She had always wanted children. Two of them. Up and down on the see-saw. Her arms hurt, but there weren't a lot of comfortable positions that she could maneuver her body into. Everything felt rigid. All movement, robotic, defined, calculated. Not exactly animal anymore.

She had a twin before all of this. He had died like so many others. Hunger. Torn apart by maddened, silent crowds. The same end. Almost the same pain. Except one was longer. Sharper. So maybe not the same pain.

She still didn't know which she would rather have happened to her.

The guns weren't clean. She wondered if the shotgun would misfire. That would be wonderful, wouldn't it? The few people that she had seen since she had left the city had been desperate. Men that came to her with palpable need despite their unflinching, unemotive faces. She was never one to put a lot of stock into the brightness or life of someone's eyes, but she had taken to looking at them as deeply as she could. The only windows into any inner life.

It was so easy to believe that people didn't have any thoughts or feelings in this world. So easy to make the other alien. But she stared at the eyes as much as she could. Mostly what she saw was fear.

The other woman's eyes were hard to read. They were grey. Or a different color. But she thought they were grey like granite. Hard. She cocked her revolver.

Movement. The scientist's eyes slid right.

A child behind a tree. Dark hair, dark eyes. That same calm face that everyone had. The boy's face was dirty, but his cheeks were red. He seemed healthy, or as healthy as could be expected in a situation like this. A mother. The woman with the shotgun was a mother. His clothes were clean. Tattered. A backpack on his back. Like his mother.

They had the same eyes, didn't they?

The scientist stepped forward.

Birds chirped. There were deer in the woods. She hadn't seen them. She had only killed a few. They were fast. Revolvers were hard to aim.

She had never killed another person. And she couldn't do it to someone in front of their child. Especially like this.

Maybe it was okay.

A mother couldn't be someone to fear, could they? A mother would understand. A mother would empathize.

The shotgun worked, and it was the last and loudest thing that the scientist had ever heard.


The Poet

The baby no longer made a single sound. It did once but no longer. The infant child, a boy with rosy cheeks and startling bright eyes, cried in silence. Impotent tears streamed down its face. Locked in itself from such a young age. The eyes followed him with the same need as any other child. But it could not speak. Would never speak again. Gestures would soon be lost to it. It did not grasp for him. It did not move. But it breathed. And it cried in that horrible way. No facial movement. Nothing but breathing. Nothing but the most base physical ways to stay alive. And the boy would know nothing else but this feeling. Locked-in.

He did not hold him. He could not hold him.

Before it had taken speech, it had taken writing. After it had taken speech, it had taken sign language. Then it took body language. It took pictographs, and it took morse code.

There was nothing that they could do. And still, so many clung to life.

The poet looked at his child, and he wished to any god that would hear it that he could touch him.

The loss of art had been the worst thing he had ever experienced. The written word had always been his only solace. Besides his wife. Of course. Gosh, he loved her. And he loved his child. He had taken to painting after language had fully left him. Written and vocal. When the word had been fully depleted, he had gone to color. As impressionist as his poetry. But even that was taken away.

There was no love without art.

The child would be silent. The child would never know language. Never understand the significance. Could someone appreciate art without being taught to understand? What would one think of the outside world if one was born in silence, raised without touch, and kept at arm's length without any stimulus besides animals?

Did that make humanity separate from all other kingdoms? Even the animal was capable of body language. Even, shit, fuck, the parrot could speak. Just the words of humanity and whatever sounds they could mimic, but still. They had meaning.

What was humanity raised without meaning? Raised without language? Without signification? Derrida. He barely remembered it. But he'd have something to say about this. Probably. If he weren't dead. Dead as all fuck. Dead like so many.

It had been a year since all speech, all communication, had been taken from everyone. Things were collapsing. That was easy to tell. When things had gotten bad, he and his wife had gotten as many supplies as they could. And they went off into the wilderness. A cottage. In his mother's family. Shitty. No electricity, but what was going to be providing electricity anymore anyways?

There weren't many supplies left.

And his child would never know a world with touch. With speech. Of any kind. Nothing.

The poet cried along with his child. Soundless, thick tears dripping down his nose. He had brought his painting supplies. They had long dried out. The painting in front of him, he could understand it. He could grasp it. But would anyone ever be able to again?

Would a child even have an idea of aesthetics? What would happen to humanity? To internal monologue?

Locked in without any way to put words to your experience. A nebulous terror world of confusion. Things happenings with no show of cause and effect. No understanding of cause and effect. And in it, the boy would die. Everyone would die. Humans without communication. Without possibility of communication, forever. Locked into themselves. Would they get selfish? Would their desires turn dark and twisted? Would you think the best of your brother or the worst?

And there would be no expression. It would devour whatever attempt there was to create some kind of understanding. Untouchable. Forever untouchable.

The man, in his silent cottage, watched his sleeping wife and child. Poor thing had exhausted himself. Which, perhaps, was the method to go in this world. When self soothing was the only kind of soothing possible, such things were important.

It would be his duty to teach his child to live.

And he could not do it. Not in this world, lacking of metaphor and simile. Lacking language and play and anything that he could understand and grasp.

He told himself that he was doing them a service. That the supplies would last longer. But it was only forestalling the inevitable. The world was inhospitable now. The Tower of Babel had fallen, and it fell hard. He wondered there, dimly, without humor, how many ex-poets in this dead land had composed works about the Tower of Babel, alone in their heads like that dude in the Russian short story. Or whatever.

But it was because he could no longer live in a world like this.

It was because he could not face his child and his wife and see those unfeeling faces. He could not do it. He would not do it.

There was no way to leave a note. The act of suicide was, perhaps, the only possible avenue he had left for some self expression. It was a message. And an apology. An admission of guilt, for what he did not know.

His child slept. His wife slept. Peaceful. If there was anywhere else, he would like to remember them like that. Truthfully, maybe he didn't deserve it. Maybe he deserved to see what he had brought them.

The poet held the shotgun under his chin, and he pulled the trigger.


The Mother

The woman walked with her boy.

He was quiet. They were quiet. Sometimes, she wondered if he loved her. Did humans have an innate concept of love? It had been on her mind for so long. Animals understood love and affection, didn't they? What things would a human not understand if they had never known any facility toward understanding?

She could never hug him. Or teach him to talk. Or to sign. Or to draw. All she could do was give him the largest shares of food. All she could do was protect him when they were menaced, when she saw that there were others, those with ill intent and bad souls.

But she had taken to that sparingly. Other things had been taken away. What if her communication of love, of maternity, through protection and support and food was taken away from her? She didn't know what she'd do without her son. It was impossible to think of.

Since her husband had died, since he had taken his own life, things had been hard. Rough. Long. But she had kept the boy alive. She had kept the boy as healthy as she could. Maybe he would understand that it meant that she loved him. Maybe he would know that she was his mother and protector, maybe he would understand that he was her son.

She could not tell how much her son understood of their relationship, of the things around them. It was impossible to tell anything about anyone anymore, besides their appearance. Besides the most base ways of understanding an individual.

The mother had always wondered how this was affecting people's bigotries. Things were festering, undoubtedly, when it was the only thing anyone had to go on. A limited understanding of wide swathes of people. And fear. Mixed with so much fear.

Since they had lost the cottage, things had been tough. But they survived. They had always survived. Her child was strong. She regarded him with pride, and the mother found herself so often wishing that he would understand that she was so proud of him. He always waited. He never did anything bad. No misbehaving.

A good boy. A perfect child.

She had killed before. She never counted. The bullets in the tin coffee can, protected from the elements by paraffin wax, were depleted. Noticeably. That's all she knew. It had taken a few lives. Only human. She didn't use it to hunt. Bow and arrow were good for that. There had been one in the cottage. Which was fantastic, because she knew that she never would have been able to make one.

Motherhood doesn't change. At its most base state, it doesn't.

She heard a rustle in the trees. She picked up her child, seven years old, as though he weighed nothing. She put him behind a tree, bodily. He would stay there. He knew what that meant. Some things were beyond words, beyond communication.

The noise was a woman. The mother walked towards it.

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