tagSci-Fi & FantasyLove Among the Ruins Ch. 01

Love Among the Ruins Ch. 01

bythezinger©

Damon cautiously parted the drapes of his living room window with the barrel of his hunting rifle and looked out. There were no signs of life on his residential street, nor had there been for at least the last 24 hours. He could see two pale columns of smoke still rising from the direction of the airport. Had he dared to venture outside for an unobstructed view, he could have seen several more extending along the line of the landing approach. Each marked a four-day-old crash site--a marker of the moment when the planes had dropped from the sky. Also when every car stalled, every computer screen went dark, every power station failed.

Damon parted the drapes a little wider and craned his neck to look further down the street. Nothing. His eyes returned to the smoke columns. Somewhere across the country, the bodies of his wife and 12-year-old son likely lay among the ruins of a similar crash site. They should have been in the air for about an hour, returning from a visit with Claire's family. Maybe their flight had been delayed and they were still stranded at the airport, but it was unlikely. Damon had no way of knowing now in any event. He hadn't heard any news for over two days. That was the last time there had been any power at his home. When the lights had last flicked on he had immediately turned on the television and radio for news. He had finally found a beleaguered-looking newscaster grimly recounting reports of a large body of unidentified objects detected in orbit, accounts of huge ships landing near some cities, and swarms of small but deadly flying craft shooting anything that moved.

Damon had seen the floaters in action himself. Just down the street sat the wreckage of a pickup truck that had the misfortune to be driving when a floater came by a couple of days ago. Damon had heard the explosion and run to the window in one of the front bedrooms where he could see that part of the street. The floater hovered over the smoking hulk of the truck for a minute or two before moving on. If the desultory media reports of the floaters' lethality hadn't convinced him to stay indoors, viewing one in action certainly did. Since then he had restricted his outdoor forays to quick trips into his backyard to retrieve buckets-full of pool water for use in the toilets and bathing.

Why he bothered to stand sentinel at his window, Damon couldn't articulate. His hunting rifle would probably be no more effective against the aliens than a pop gun. Still, it gave him some sense of power to heft the familiar weapon, as false as that sense might be.

A movement on the street caused Damon to abruptly pull back from the window. He very slowly parted the drapes just the slightest bit and peered out. An old passenger car very slowly drove past. It was not only going very slowly, but appeared to be slowing down. Indeed, the car coasted to a stop a few yards past his house, then slowly drifted backwards down the slight incline of the street. It came to a complete stop almost directly in front of his door. He couldn't see the driver well as he was on the far side of the vehicle and the windows were tinted, but he could tell he was frantically turning the ignition in a futile attempt to get the engine to turn over. Damon knew that one of the intermittent power blankets must now be in effect, when any and every electronic device simply refused to work. That car wasn't going to start anytime soon. It would be at least a couple of hours before anything with electric power would function again, based on his experience over the last few days.

The driver, increasingly agitated, was alternately turning the ignition key and slamming his hand against the steering wheel. Finally, in frustrated resignation, he ceased his frantic actions and leaned his forehead against the steering wheel.

Damon paused for a moment, then acted. Still cradling the rifle in his arm he ran to the front door and opened it.

"Hey, over here!" he shouted from the doorway, waving one arm.

The driver didn't seem to notice him.

"Hey, come here!" he shouted again, stepping forward onto his front porch waving both arms, one still holding the rifle.

That seemed to get the driver's attention. Damon saw movement inside the car, then heard the driver's side door open. A figure emerged, righted itself, and looked in Damon's direction.

To Damon's surprise it wasn't a "he" at all, but a young woman who looked vaguely familiar. Damon anxiously scanned the sky for signs of a floater but saw nothing.

"Hurry!" he said, urgently motioning her in his direction. "You don't want to be in the open. It's not safe."

The woman hesitated for another instant, ducked her head in the car, grabbed something, then ran around the car and towards Damon. She was wearing a green Starbucks polo shirt and hat, wrinkled black slacks and clutched her purse.

"Hurry," Damon encouraged one more time as she came trotting, then running up his steps.

He ushered her into the house, slamming and latching the door behind him, then ran to the living room window and once more parted the drapes to look out onto the street. Seeing nothing after a moment, he turned to his unexpected guest, who stood panting and looking panic-stricken in his foyer.

"You were lucky no floaters came by. What on earth were you doing? Do you realize how dangerous it is to be outside?" he scolded.

The young woman looked at him with tears welling in her eyes, then burst out sobbing.

"I didn't know what else to do," she sobbed. "We were trapped at the store for days. There was no more food, the toilets wouldn't work, there was no place to sleep except on the floor. It was terrible. I thought if I could just make it back to my apartment I'd be ok there. It's not too far. I thought if I took back streets those--things--wouldn't notice me. But then my stupid car broke down. Why now? Why did that have to happen now?"

Her sobs had turned to sniffles, but the tears still flowed.

Damon lay down his rifle and approached her, reaching out to gently touch one arm.

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I didn't mean to upset . . . I mean, everything's so topsy turvy. We're all upset, I didn't mean to make it worse. For what it's worth, your car didn't break down. The aliens, whatever they are, they have something to make things stop working. It goes on and off. You just happened to be driving when they turned on the . . . the whatever it is that makes it happen."

"Oh," the woman replied, her tears now somewhat under control. "Well, thank you for taking me in."

"What's your name?" Damon asked.

"Bobi."

"Hi Bobi. I'm Damon." He stuck out his hand and she took it hesitantly to shake it.

"Thank you, Damon, for helping me." A pause. "But I don't know what to do now."

"Well, unless you have a death wish, you had better stay put. Besides, I guess I could use some company."

"Isn't your family with you?" Bobi asked, looking around.

Damon gazed into the emptiness beyond Bobi's shoulder for several seconds, then looked down at his feet.

"They were on a plane when . . . when it first happened. I haven't heard from them. They're probably . . . probably gone . . . now."

"I'm sorry," Bobi said, touching Damon's arm gently. "Your wife and . . ."

"My wife Claire and my son Trevor. He is . . . was 12."

"I'm sorry," she said again quietly. They were both choking back tears. "I'll pray for them."

"Thank you."

Damon picked up his rifle and put it in the hall closet.

"I don't know why I bother," he told Bobi with a sheepish expression. "Doubt it would do much good."

"Well, all you can do is try, when it comes down it," she replied.

"Guess that's true. But I'm not sure if it matters whether they come and kill us or just starve us out."

As if in reply, Bobi's stomach made a quite audible gurgling sound.

"Oh my God!" Damon exclaimed. "You said you'd had nothing to eat. You must be famished. Here, let's get you something."

"Oh, thank you so much! I'm really, really hungry! Thirsty too, if you have something."

Damon led Bobi into the kitchen. There was a large plastic jug of drinking water on the counter. He grabbed a glass from a cabinet and filled it from the jug.

The kitchen counters were littered with various foodstuffs: boxes of crackers, loaves of bread, jars of jelly, peanut butter, honey, ketchup, and various other items that would normally inhabit the back shelves of a typical refrigerator. There were also several bowls of fruit: apples, bananas, and oranges mainly.

Bobi's eyes widened as she took in the scene between gulps of water.

"Wow, it looks like you had prepared for this!" she exclaimed.

"Well, I guess you might think that," Damon laughed. "But it was just a coincidence I happen to be this well stocked. We were planning to go on a camping trip as soon as . . . as soon as my wife and son got back from their visit. I've got an RV behind the garage. It was all stocked and ready to go. Lots of canned food, packaged goods, bottled water. I . . . we could hold out for quite some time. It's not exactly gourmet, but it will keep us alive."

Bobi's stomach gurgled once again.

"What would you like?" Damon asked.

"PB&J?" Bobi suggested?

"Coming right up! And how about an apple to get you started?" he asked, taking one from a bowl. "It's getting a bit mushy, but it's still fine. We'll have to work on the fruit a lot in the next couple of days or it will start to go bad. How did people live without refrigeration?"

Damon continued to chatter on as he made Bobi's sandwich and she munched on her apple.

"Most of the perishable stuff from the fridge has already gone bad. I've eaten a shit-load of chicken over the last few days, let me tell you. But I can still do some cooking. The RV is well stocked with propane. I can cook in there, although it makes me a little nervous with those damned floaters hanging around. It's hard to tell what'll set 'em off. They only seem to go after things that visibly move around, so maybe it's safe. I've got a portable propane burner that I've got in the garage, so I've attached the spare propane tank to that and can at least do some primitive cooking on it. I've mainly used it to heat water for washing up a bit. I've got a pool out back and I fill pails of water from it for cleaning. The water smells a bit chemically, but it's not too bad."

He handed her the completed sandwich. In exchange she handed him back the apple core. There wasn't much left.

"So you work at that Starbucks down on Federal?" Damon continued as Bobi ate.

A nod.

"I go there a lot. It's on my way to work. I think I've see you there before. You look familiar."

Another nod.

"Been there long?"

"Aghbow tree chears," Bobi mumbled through a mouth full of peanut butter.

She took a swig of water and tried again.

"About three years, off and on. I'm putting myself through school working there. The community college has a campus near here."

Bobi dove back into her sandwich and Damon tidied up. When Bobi had finished eating Damon asked, "Will that do you for now? I can make another or get you something else."

"Thank you, but I'm okay for now. That helped a lot."

"We'll have a proper meal later. Don't worry. You won't go hungry."

Damon noticed, now that the shock of their meeting and the immediate needs of his unexpected guest had been met, that Bobi looked quite disheveled. Her armpits were sweat stained, her trousers wrinkled and dirty, and her face oily and streaked with dirt.

"I bet you'd like to clean up a bit," Damon suggested. "Let me show you the bathroom."

Bobi looked relieved at that suggestion.

"There's no running water, of course," he continued as he led her down the hall, "but I've got a pitcher of water for washing next to the sink. You can use that to clean yourself. The toilet will work if there's water in the tank. That's what the pail next to the toilet is for. But don't flush if you just pee. Save it for the brown stuff."

Bobi blushed at that, but Damon didn't notice.

"You'll probably want some fresh clothes. I haven't figured out what to do about laundry yet, since I've got plenty of clean clothes left for myself. But you obviously don't have that luxury. Maybe some of my wife's clothes will fit. What size are you?"

Bobi blushed again and this time Damon did notice.

"Sorry, I guess that's usually classified information. I didn't mean to embarrass you."

Damon took a couple of steps back to survey his new housemate.

"Hmm. You're taller than my wife by a couple of inches maybe, so I don't think her pants will fit. And you're, well, you're filled out a little more, so I'm not sure what of hers will fit. I'll tell you what, you wash up and I'll open some drawers and pull out some loose fitting clothes that might work. Feel free to look through the drawers and closets for anything you think will fit. I'll give you some privacy."

Bobi nodded in assent and locked herself into the bathroom. As Damon went through his wife's drawers he could hear Bobi splashing water around as she bathed. It was only now in retrospect that he began to consider what he had just seen. Despite her crumpled and unkempt appearance, Bobi was a truly beautiful young woman. She was about 5 foot 7 with shoulder-length light-brown hair that curled under slightly at the ends. She had large, expressive brown eyes and a warm smile, as he recalled from the few times she had shown it to him. She was quite buxom and her generous hips flared from a narrow waist.

Damon was certain that his wife's bras would be useless for Bobi. Probably the undies, too. His wife was--had been--rather petite with small hips and modest, if exquisitely responsive, breasts. Nonetheless, he left the drawer of Claire's undergarments open for Bobi to examine. He did pull out some around-the-house clothes like elastic-banded shorts and sweat pants. He also threw a couple of his own t-shirts on the bed in case she didn't find anything of Claire's that would fit.

He knocked on the hall bathroom door.

"Bobi, the main bedroom is down the hall and to the right. Help yourself to whatever you find. I'll be in the kitchen."

"Okay," she called in reply. "Thanks!"

As Damon sorted through the canned goods in the pantry to decide what to prepare for dinner, he heard the bathroom door open and someone pad into his bedroom. A few drawers bumped open and shut, and the faint rustle of garments being put on and taken off wafted through the house. A few minutes later Bobi appeared, hair pulled back in a pony tail. She wore a pair of Claire's blue stretch shorts and one of Damon's own rust-colored t-shirts. A pair of white socks rounded out the ensemble. It was immediately apparent that she wore no bra as her breasts rode lower on her frame than they had before and two very noticeable bumps protruded out through the fabric of the shirt. A small crucifix hanging from a silver chain dangled between them.

To his embarrassment and shame, Damon was instantly aroused. He immediately busied himself in the pantry to hide his condition.

"I hope you found something to your liking," he commented over his shoulder.

"Oh, yes, this is fine," Bobi replied. "I usually hang out in my apartment dressed just like this. I'm so glad to get out of those smelly old work clothes. I could hardly stand myself before! You were right about your wife's clothes, though. Most of them are a bit too small. But this is fine. It's not like there's someplace I have to be."

"No, I guess not," Damon agreed.

He had regained his composure sufficiently to extract himself from the pantry, a can in each hand.

"Tonight's dinner," he offered in explanation. "Beef stew and canned beans. It doesn't get any better!" he laughed halfheartedly.

"Compared to my last few days, that will be a feast. Thank you for treating me so kindly. You don't even know me, yet you've taken me in like one of your own. I don't think most people would do that."

"Well, how could I do otherwise? It wouldn't be right. It's not like these are ordinary times. Who knows what's going to happen."

"Yes, who knows?" Bobi repeated.

They were silent for a few moments, each lost in their own uncertain thoughts. Finally Damon took Bobi's glass from earlier and held it out.

"Would you like some more water?"

"Yes, thank you. I'm still pretty parched."

Damon filled her glass and one for himself.

"Let's sit down for a bit," he suggested.

He led Bobi around a corner into the family room where a large flat-panel television stared at them blankly. They sat down on the plush couch and stared back for several uncomfortable minutes.

Bobi broke the silence. "What do you think is going to happen?"

Damon pursed his lips. "I wish I knew. I doubt anyone does. We have no way of knowing what's going on with the power grid down. They--the aliens--don't seem interested in outright destroying us. If they can shut down our power and make our technology inoperable, they could probably just wipe us out if they wanted to. On the other hand, they don't seem to want us out and about either. They seem to be pretty secretive. They must have some way of hiding their spaceships, too. Otherwise I don't see how they could have just showed up in orbit without us detecting them. But as to what's going to happen, if this will end, who knows? But if it doesn't end soon, people will start coming out, floaters or no. Not everyone is as well provisioned as I happen to be. Hunger will force them out."

Bobi looked thoughtful. "I wonder what we did to deserve this?"

"What do you mean, 'deserve this'?"

"Well, is this some sort of punishment from God? I mean, surely we did something to deserve this punishment. Maybe it's a sign."

"Well, who's to say our God is their god? Maybe we just got trumped."

Bobi sipped from her glass, but didn't reply. The two sat in contemplative silence for some time. Damon noticed Bobi yawning and her eyelids began to droop.

"You look tired," Damon observed. "I bet you haven't had much rest recently. Why don't you lie down for a while. I'll work on dinner before it starts getting dark. I'll set you up in the guest bedroom."

Damon led Bobi down the hallway to a small bedroom furnished with a single twin bed and simple dresser.

"I doubt you'll need to get under the covers. It gets pretty warm in here by the afternoon with no air conditioning. But there's a throw at the foot of the bed if you need a little covering. I'll get you up when dinner's ready."

Bobi gratefully lay down on the bed and was asleep almost instantly.

==============

By the time they had finished dinner it was getting dark.

"Not much of a nightlife here these days," Damon wryly observed. "I wish I could offer you something more entertaining than dirty dishes and a dark house. But I don't have many candles and I want to conserve my flashlight batteries. I can, however, offer you warm beer or a glass of red wine."

"Uh, I don't usually drink, but maybe a little wine will help me sleep. If you don't mind."

"Excellent choice. I'll unscrew the good wine!' he said with a wink.

Damon poured two glasses and led Bobi to the now dimly lit family room. She sat on the sofa and he sat across from her on a chair.

"So do you really think we've earned this somehow?" Damon asked after a while. "That this is a punishment?"

Bobi stared vacantly at the floor before answering.

"I used to think that the world was so carefully constructed. That everything was operating according to God's plan. You believed, you behaved, you went to heaven. Sure, maybe His plan was hard to figure sometimes, but there was still a true order and real reasons to hope, to believe, that it was all a certain way for a reason.

"But can these creatures, whatever they are, really be part of that plan? I guess I'm having trouble believing that, really believing it, in my heart."

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