The worst part of being alive is being alone. There's no one to talk to, no other voice to drown out the one that keeps pounding my mind with useless details and observations. Like now when it says: I'll bet she used to be a dandy. Who else would wear a mop like that? I reach down, pick up the wig, and try it on. Curious, I look at myself in a nearby mirror. Even through the haze of glass, though, I can see that pink and white stripes definitely clash against the fatigues and boots. They don't sit well against my brown skin, either.
Makes you look like a cheap whore, the voice says.
I toss the starlet wig aside, and the voice laughs.
She was probably a whore. What do you think about that, Jim?
I look around the store, at the racks of clothes that will never be worn, at the glass case of diamond jewelry that will never cast off a sparkle of light at a cocktail party. With the exception of me, the man in the mirror, and the worthless piles of bones scattered across the floor, the place stands empty.
"You're probably right," I mutter.
Of course I'm right. Can't you see it? She used to wear stiletto heals and an audaciously cheap leather skirt? She probably had a tramp stamp, too, there in the small of her back.
See what I mean? Why the woman wore those clothes—assuming it was a woman—was beyond the purview, as the saying went. Certainly beyond mine. And that thing about the tattoo? Pure speculation. How can anyone possibly know something like that just by looking at a broken spinal column? So there you go: worthless details.
There was a time when the prospect of being alone held its own comfort. To read a book from cover to cover, to listen to an hour of music with no kids to disturb me, no wife to demand I talk about God only knows what, well that was my personal definition of heaven. Add a cold beer to the equation, and the rocket ship of bliss took a flyby past the pearly gates and set a course straight for Xanadu. But that was before all the voices ceased to exist, before the sky echoed back with the screams of a thousand perished souls, back before the light of day surrendered to the darkness, the sun blotted out by a cloud of dust that turned everything to bones.
When it happened, I was aboard the USS North Carolina, a Virginia class stationed out of Pearl Harbor. I didn't see it happen. It's hard to see much of anything when you're in a tin can a mile under the surface, deep in the Kamehameha Basin. I heard it, though; everyone aboard did. As soon as the Commander realized what had happened, he played a recorded message from central command. He also played a copy of a report that some poor soul had loaded up in YouTube before the cloud made its way to where ever he had been at the time. We saw it rise up from the horizon, a huge cumulus beast like something out of Hollywood, and we watched as its tentacles of gray death spread out, touching house after house. As soon as the camera's microphone picked up the first screams, the man (clearly panicked and young by high-pitched sound of his voice: "Oh my God... God... oh...") rushed into his house. The sight of his wall, a picture of a surfer riding a killer wave, turned out to be the last image recorded. None of knew exactly what happened to him, how it ended exactly for him, but knowing what the cloud left behind gave us little else to ponder. That was the moment when when everyone aboard realized the situation: life as we knew it had changed. It was like the pink and white wig. One moment, it's you in the mirror; the next moment, what you once recognized as normal now stared back at you as something else.
For a while the guys stayed together, but then one by one the crazies entered their brains, turned them into raving lunatics and I knew I needed to leave. That was six months ago. Or maybe a year. After all this time, I've lost track.
It was two years, Jim.
"Shut up! Shut up, I say!"
I pull my gun from the side pocket of my camo pants. I took it from the ammo store sometime back. I mean what were they going to need it for now? I squeeze my eyes shut and scream, trying to will myself to do it this time, to go ahead and pull the trigger. But I can't, so I lower the pistol. Maybe some day.
I step out of the store and feel the crush of something under the heel of my boot. As always, the street is empty. Oh, how I wish I had someone real to talk with.
What about you?
Are you real?