They had all become mad dogs now. Brute, stupid, murderous, cannibalistic, roaming animals. There was no way she could fix anything to eat either, since the range was electric. She had refrained from opening the fridge the way she did when the hurricane had come through lest all the things in there spoil. She also tried to not think about Mike laying out there in front of the porch, though as it got darker the effort to keep him out of her head got harder. Two cigarettes left. She found an older box of cereal in the kitchen cupboard, something that she had picked up once on impulse and never opened. She ate it from the box, standing in the dark kitchen and looking out through the window. The fellow down the street had cigarettes. She had seen him and that girl in the too-short shorts earlier. He was the one with no job. He certainly did not come and go from the house as often as his wife did. She had never liked that, and couple it with the fact that he did not seem to be around here, she had always felt a cold, mild contempt for him, which was slightly different from the cold mild contempt she felt for all her neighbors who had jobs, or were retired. She would rather not ask him for anything, but how long had it been since she had even heard a car anywhere in town? This was rush hour. There should be a stream of kids from the university cutting though the neighborhood to beat the traffic on thirty-fourth. Not one car all day.

She looked at the pack laying there on the end-table. Her cravings were on a fixed schedule. She needed one now. That would leave her thirty minutes before she would want another one and then after that one there would be nothing. It would be dark and she would have to venture out to the gas-station by herself. Of course, she could go now. She decided to have a cigarette and think about it. It was less than a mile, but through three narrow streets with no streetlights even if there had been electricity to power them. Would the gas-station even be open? That was a horrible thought! What would she do if she got out there like that Thanksgiving day in ninety-seven when they went looking for cigarettes and nowhere in this town was open. The thought horrified her to where she wanted to throw up. That was the night that she had wound up in the emergency-room. Mike had taken her there for a sedative because he thought she was going crazy.

She would offer to buy some of the neighbor’s cigarettes. Or, perhaps pay him for a ride out there to see if somewhere was open. If she had to she would smoke the stale, over-priced ones from the supermarket. The supermarket had to be open.

She looked down at Mike again through the screen-door. She had nine dollars in her purse. Mike, she knew, had over a hundred in his wallet to go yard-saleing with on the weekend. In the dark, what they had done to him was easier to deal with. There was no red anymore, just shades of blue and purple and gray. His torso where the men, some of them neighbors, had ripped it open looked black on the inside. You have seen worse before, Camille, she said to herself. Just bend down there and get it. It won’t take five seconds. Imagine not smoking till tomorrow. The thought sent a wave of horror through her body like an electric shock. She inhaled deeply on the cigarette she was smoking. It felt like the breath of life itself. She opened the screen door which screeched loudly. It sounded like you could hear it all the way down the street, but having opened it she stepped out and walked to wards the corpse of her husband taking little breaths, and then when she started to smell the blood, which now smelled stronger than it had earlier in the day, she held her breath. She had never touched a dead person before. She stepped forward, felt her slippers leave her feet. Her bare feet came down in the viscous coat of mostly dry blood on the walkway that had held the slippers. Shit, she said. Now she just moved quickly like a person forced to take a cold shower by necessity. She reached into his pocket and, yes, it was there. She pulled it out and stepped back feeling a sigh of relief. This was the first thing to have gone right all day. When her foot came down this time it was on something very hard and very sharp. She screamed, or tried to scream, what came out was more of a loud croak. She pulled the thing from her foot and held it up to her face to see what it was. A piece of pinkish gray bone, chewed and splintered to a point on one side. She dropped it and pulled her hands back to her. She found her slippers and set off across the street to acquire some smokes.

# # #

Smokes by Jeb Reiss
originally published July 19, 2010



Jeb Reiss writes in Central Florida. He likes cheap beer, books (mostly genre fiction), and the work of describing calamities.

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