Michael Credico ~ Cataclysm

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.