Laura reached her hand across the bed and whispered, “Jack, I think someone’s trying to break in.”
Jack bolted upright and strained for sound.
“There was a loud bump, like someone trying to shoulder the door down.”
“I don’t hear anything.”
“I was up. I’m not going crazy.”
“All right, I’ll check it out.”
Jack swung his legs off the bed and tiptoed out the bedroom. He snaked his arm around the doorway and flicked a light on. Nothing. He walked over to the front door and confirmed it was locked. He headed back to bed when he noticed his grandmother’s arm sticking out underneath the curtain and rushed over to her.
“Oh my God! Laura! Laura!”
Laura trotted in, finding Jack on the floor, cradling his grandmother.
“She’s gone. Grams is gone.” Jack starting crying as Laura tried to find a pulse.
Jack pointed to the empty pill bottles. “It’s no use. She’s gone.”
Laura grabbed a tissue box and knelt down, putting her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Jack.”
“I can’t believe she did it. Why’d she do it?”
“She said she wanted to go her way, Jack. It was her last wish.”
“Wish? Come on, this is insane.”
“I know, nothing’s right anymore.”
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do without her.” Jack wiped his runny nose.
“It’ll be all right, Jack. With time, things will be better.”
“She was my mother, Laura, it’ll never be better.”
“I know how much she meant to you. She meant a lot to me, too, you know. I’m just saying that over time the pain dulls, that’s all.”
“What should we do? Call the police? Right Age?”
“Uh, you sure? She wanted us to, uh, use her body. Remember?”
Jack shook his head. “I can’t. No way.”
Laura put her hand on Jack’s shoulder. “I understand, but look at us. We’re disappearing. I don’t have the strength. Geez, I’m in bed by nine every night.”
As if on cue, Jack’s stomach growled like an attack dog. He lifted his grandmother and placed her gently on the bed. Laura pulled the curtain closed and grabbed Jack’s hand.
The couple sat on their couch.
“I don’t know what we should do,” Jack said.
“I know, but if we call the Right Agers, they’ll take her to process her and we get no benefit. Besides, it was her wish to help sustain us. I wish my parents would have did it her way.”
“Yeah, but at least we won’t get in trouble.”
“We can figure this out, Jack. That is, if you’re okay with all of it.”
“Okay with eating my mom? It’s crazy.”
“Yeah, but it’s the smart move, Jack, and you know it. If we don’t, what did we accomplish?”
Jack sighed and shook his head. “You’re right. What’s the freaking difference between chomping on a stranger or a family member?” He shook his head. “My God! How the hell did we get here?”
“It’s a nightmare.” She reached for Jack’s hand. “Thank God we have each other.”
Jack put his arm around her. “You’re all I got now. We’ll get through this, I promise you. No matter how bad it gets, we’re gonna survive this.”
“You think so?”
He shrugged. “We’re not going out without a fight, I can tell you.”
“So what do you think we should do?”
“Much as I hate to say it, let’s respect Gram’s wish.”
“Good, I know it’s tough, but we have no choice and really she would’ve been—”
Jack held up a hand. “We’ve got to be smart about this, otherwise someone will be munching on us.”
Laura shuddered and Jack patted her thigh.
“What do you think we should do?”
“We can’t do this alone, Laura. We’re gonna need somewhere to put her. They’re gonna come looking for her, I can tell you.”
“Who’s gonna help us? I mean, we can’t trust anybody.”
“Joe Miller? Are you crazy? He stole from us! He pointed a gun at me. I can’t stand to even look at him.”
“Look, we know him and what he did. It’s better to know who you’re dealing with. Besides, Joe worked in a lot of restaurants.”
“I don’t know, we can’t trust him.”
“Look, if he pulls any bullshit I’ll take him down with us.”
“How you going to do that?”
“The reservoir incident. I’ve got pictures showing him with a tube to steal water. I swear, he screws around, I’ll put them out.”
“You think that’d stop him?”
“I’ll tell him up front and let him know this time his kids will lose their rations as well.”
“The kids? Oh Jack, no. They’re innocent. Don’t pull them into this.”
“Don’t worry, Lor, it’s just to keep him in line.”
“I don’t trust him.”
“I’ll handle Joe.” Jack stood. “Look, while I go talk with him . . .”
“You’re going now? It’s the middle of the night.”
He headed for the door. “We need to move her down to Joe’s when nobody is around. Anyway, I need you to go through Gram’s stuff and get rid of whatever she’d take on a trip.”
“To make it look like she took off to avoid being euthanatized. We’ll report her missing in the morning, and when they come round, we gotta be sure it looks real.”
“Jack, wait, don’t go yet.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Let’s say our goodbyes while we’re alone.”
Jack and Laura hovered over the body and, after planting their last kisses, recited the Lord’s Prayer. The couple made the sign of the cross and Jack headed for the door.
Jack entered the crowded lobby of his building and spotted two uniformed officers interviewing some of the residents. He kept his head down and took the elevator to his apartment.
He closed the door. “Lor, the police are in the lobby. I got a feeling they’re here for us.”
“Really? Don’t they have better things to do than try and chase down an old lady?”
“It’s all about control, and I hate to agree, but if they’re lax on enforcement all hell would break loose.”
“Can’t get much worse . . .”
The doorbell rang and the couple exchanged reassurances before Jack headed to the door.
The two officers identified themselves and their mission. Jack and Laura answered several questions before the officers searched the apartment, going through the refrigerator and cabinetry as well.
Empty-handed, they referred to a printout and asked to examine Jack’s SUV.
Jack came up from the garage.
Laura exhaled heavily. “I was really afraid, but it really wasn’t so bad.”
“I don’t know if we got lucky, because I’ve heard some horror stories.”
“You don’t think they’ll come back, right?”
“Tough to say. Who knows, they could be watching us.”
“Watching us? That’s creepy.”
“Don’t worry. We keep quiet and we’ll be okay.”
“What about Joe? We can’t trust him.”
“Come on, Lor. Don’t worry about him. He screws with us and I’ll take his whole family down.”
“You think that would work?”
“I’ll handle him.”
“I hope so.”
Jack grabbed his trench coat off a hook. “I’m going down to see him now and pick up some, uh, of our half.”
Twenty minutes later Jack returned with a pair of bundles tucked under his arms and his pockets stuffed with two smaller packages.
“Check the kitchen window.”
Laura looked out the window to see if any drones were patrolling and drew the curtains.
Jack put the neatly packed aluminum foil parcels on the kitchen counter.
“This should last us eight days and give us more calories and nutrition than we’re getting now. We can sure use it. We’ll store our rations, maybe double up once a week, we’ll see.”
Laura stared at the packs.
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know, just kinda surprised. They’re packed pretty nicely, right?”
“Well, Joe worked in a lot of kitchens, working his way through college.”
She picked up a smaller pack. “Where we going to put all this?”
“In the freezer.”
“But if they come back we’re gonna get caught.”
“Joe salted everything down before freezing it. So if we gotta move it out, they’ll keep.”
Joe swung open the freezer and loaded two larger and one smaller pack. “We’ll have one now. Get a skillet out.”
“What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Joe said to pan fry it till it browns.”
Laura frowned and grabbed a pan, setting it on a burner. Then she started to put on her kitchen gloves when Jack said, “What’re you doing?”
“I, I don’t know. I guess all of this is grossing me out.”
“You’re the one who said we had to do it.”
“I know, it’s just . . .”
“Look, we gotta look at this as food. Just because of where it came from doesn’t make it any different from half the stuff we’re eating now.”
Laura slowly unwrapped the slab of flesh and stood staring at it for a second before adding oil to the pan. It sizzled quickly and Jack slid the flesh filet into the pan.
They hovered over the cooktop, inhaling deeply.
Laura said, “It smells just like chicken.”
Jack wiped a drizzle of drool away from his mouth. “Chicken. It’s been a long time.”
Laura turned the flesh over and sprinkled some salt on it as Jack, stomach growling, set the table.
“You think it’s ready, Jack?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“How would I know? It’s the first time I ever cooked human flesh.”
Jack said, “I don’t think it’d be any different than chicken.”
“I’ll give it another minute.”
“I’m starved, take it off now.”
Laura sliced the slab of flesh in half and plated the pieces. They took their plates and sat at the table. The couple locked eyes for a second before Jack cut off a piece and rammed it in his mouth. As he gobbled the piece, Jack’s head bobbed as he mumbled, “It’s good, real good.”
Laura made the sign of the cross and tucked into her plate, humming as she devoured the meat.
by Dan Petrosini
In the face of a death-defying power, what’s the “new normal”?
Like all reporters, Jack longs for a breaking story but is stuck writing obituaries for a small-town rag. As his frustration mounts, it hits him that no one has died in over three days. Jack’s odd observation becomes something far stranger when he connects a meteorite to the bizarre phenomenon.
Seizing the opportunity, Jack breaks the story and after a struggle to control the meteorite’s power is resolved, a swelling population begins to create havoc. With the survival of the human race hanging in the balance, politicians enact increasingly horrific measures and desperate citizens take matters into their own hands.
Jack’s in a position to not just report the news, but change it, and his decisions and observations creates an epic thriller that pits the potential of human immortality against a force designed to change – or obliterate – humanity itself.
Only one man might stand in its way … the man buried in the obits department.