I am in a state of disappearance, back inside Ohio. I drove all night. The car stalled before I could ram it through the perimeter fence. The Great Lakes have been cordoned off. The last of the world’s drinkable water. I cannot see it through the dark, but I can smell it: fishgut, bleach, and exhaust. I have honeycomb welts from pressing against the perimeter fence, a bruise on my arm swirling and expanding, and a baby in the passenger seat I think is a boy but is not my boy.
I locked myself inside a hospital room. I was thinking about you. The baby was in the room with me. I wondered if it was yours by another man, if you would come looking for us if I took it. I stabbed a syringe into my arm to show the baby I was harmless. I am a doctor, I said. An emergency.
Sometimes the baby’s eyes would light up and it was all that was keeping us on the road at night. I was trying not to blink. But then I blinked. I blink. I am a man who blinks and it disgusts me.
If I climb the perimeter fence, they will shoot me. I listen for helicopters. I watch for searchlights. I check the passenger seat for the baby but the baby is gone. The baby is gone.
We had been evacuated from Ohio and sent West toward the drought where we were dispensed like everyone else into converted strip malls, trailers, and manufactured homes. I told you I would rather live in the car, pack the water rations, and go. You said you were pregnant. I wondered how that was an answer to anything. Then I saw the three of us on the road to anywhere the hell else. That is when the baby was lost.
The last time I saw you I was the dog. I bit into your Keds. I needed you to say something. This after I had killed the neighbors’ kids’ dog by accident with the car. I wanted to make it up to them.
I do not believe everybody wants the same thing, that life is about sustenance, that all we want for ours is sustenance. If I could drink or if you could or both the babies, what then? The end began with a drink: the children poisoned by city taps, bodies drowned in the rivers, washed up on the river banks to be found by the children.
I held the dog like the babies when you said:
Later, I fell to all fours.
I found a bird on the sidewalk with an exploded stomach. I asked who shot it down. They said it was something in the water. But what water?
I was having dreams. A deer standing over me. I was shot in the stomach. The dirt blood-wet. I lay next to a bear that earlier I had shot down from a tree.
What the hell is a bear doing in Ohio? The deer said.
I shot it because it was here. Is that why you shot me?
I didn’t shoot you. Are you sure it was me?
The deer was holding my gun, wearing a buffalo coat and a wool-lined flannel cap.
The bear stood up.
I thought you were dead, I said.
I am dead, the bear said, glumly. And you are dead. And you are dead. And you are dead. And you are dead.
There is one of us left and they know it. The helicopters are overhead. I feel the rotors in my chest. The car radio switches on. The static is overwhelming. The dial turns on its own until the static is gone. I breathe in. The station breathes out. Bright hot light shines through the fogged windows. It is like this all night.
When I found the baby inside the hospital room I spoke out loud every name on our list of names. The baby responded to none of them. The baby was at an open window. I asked it if was going to jump.
Yes. I am going to jump, the baby said.
I grabbed the baby. I told the baby the world is still turning. The baby agreed, told me it could feel the world turning and spit up all over me.
I step on a bullet casing. A seagull caws from the remains of a collapsed pier. I am thirsty. The water is reaching for my throat. I scan the horizon for any sign of swimmers, vessels, the babies, you. Do you remember how the sound of a foghorn felt in your stomach? Or a loudspeaker telling you go home? Do you know where you are?
Michael Credico is the author of Heartland Calamitous (Autumn House Press, 2020). His fiction has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hobart, New Ohio Review, NOÖ Journal, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West, and others. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.