The Tipping of the Raft

Feb 10 '11  /  Filed under Short Fiction Typography  Posted by
Words by Matt Beers   Illustration by Nate Utesch
A continuation of The Standard and Hope.
(note: Previous encounters with The Standard and Hope are found in issues No.1 and No.2 of Ferocious Quarterly.)

And so Lily was the only one willing to go with Angela when she said she wanted to explore, look for survivors, and photograph the world that everyone else had left behind. “We’ll be back before winter, don’t worry,” Angela said, as if this wasn’t the biggest adventure of her life. “Of course,” mumbled Lily, trying to remember why she had agreed to go and wondering if there was any graceful way of backing out.

They were six weeks in and the RV had finally broken down. It had been brand new, right off the lot. Angela had turned the one bedroom into a darkroom and the two ladies spent the better part of two days mounting a snowplow to the front of the RV. They drove slowly at first, shoving cars gently off the highway, but after a few weeks, the reality of their situation set in and they started having fun, making a game of it, seeing how far they could fling the cars that lay in their path.

It didn’t take Lily long to fall in love with her friend. She had never been interested in women before, but she had also never carried a hunting knife on her hip before. Everything was changing. And then everything changed again with the failing of the RV.

It didn’t come as a complete surprise when the engine refused to fire up that morning. It seemed like more and more of the things they had taken for granted had been failing. First it was the developing chemicals in the darkroom. They just wouldn’t do what they were supposed to do. Angela found some fresh stock in a small camera store, but that went bad within a few days. Then it was the rifle shells. At first, only one out of every forty or so misfired, then it was one of thirty, a before too long, it was every other. Now they were lucky to find any at all that worked. Then the RV died. Their home. Their fortress. Gone.

The only sign over the last two weeks that she was upset was the occasional missed photo op. Once they were walking along a highway in what had once been Illinois and they saw a white, picturesque, two-story farmhouse with an airplane sticking out of it. It was as if a naughty giant had planted it there, it was so perfect. Angela just stared at it and gritted her teeth. “THAT’S they very thing I came out here to shoot. Abandoned momentum.”

Lily felt rather useless the entire time they had been living out of the RV. But now that they were traveling on foot and camping under the stars, she felt that she had something to offer. Her father had always wanted a son, but was not at all disappointed that his only child, a girl, had taken to the outdoors as naturally as any boy. She could fish and she could build a fire. She could even build a very passable shelter out of a few sticks, some rope and a tarp. Angela’s approval was worth the nasty insults she had received from her more feminine peers as she was growing up.

A month after abandoning the RV, Lily and Angela were sitting on opposite sides of the fire, having just given up on a rather silly argument. It was an unavoidable hazard when traveling great distances with another person. Three perch lay in the remains of a smaller fire a few feet away, inching their way toward perfection. Lily leaned over the perch to turn and season them. Over her shoulder, in an attempt to put their argument behind them, she said, “I don’t know why I never cooked like this before. Just the thought of fast-food makes my stomach churn.” Angela made a gagging noise. Lily laughed but when she looked up her smile fell away and her blood turned to ice. Angela wasn’t joking around. The noise she had made was sincere. Lily watched, frozen, as something thick and dark sprayed a stain across the front of Angela’s shirt. Blood was cascading from her throat.

“Angela? ANGELA!” Lily reached her friend in time to catch her as she fell sideways. She pressed her hands to the cut, which was deep and stretched from one side of Angela’s throat to the other, but it was no use. Angela gasped and choked and finally closed her eyes and was gone. Lily knelt over her friend, shaking. Blood dripped from her fingers and the perch continued to sizzle in their embers. Something rustled in the shadows at the firelight’s edge. Lily’s hand went immediately to her knife, but as she pulled it from its sheath, it slipped from her bloody grasp. As she leaned over her friend’s body to recover the knife, she heard heavy footsteps pounding across the packed dirt, racing away into the night.

A combination of grief, rage, and confusion twisted inside her belly. The smell of blood, human waste, and burned fish filled the air. She did not sleep. When the sun rose, Lily began collecting rocks from the riverside, as big as she could carry. She wrapped Angela in a blanket and built a rough cairn over her body. By the time she had finished, it was late afternoon. Nevertheless, she packed what she needed into her knapsack and set off in the direction of what she now thought of as home.

In the dying light of the day a mournful figure stood beside Angela’s grave and wept even more bitterly than Lily had.

Illustrations by Nate Utesch

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