And So It Begins It was the probably the worst hangover she had ever experienced. At least as far as she could remember. The kind where she woke feeling like she had been licking ashtrays right before she went to sleep. She was hiding under the bottom bunk of her kids’ bunk beds. She was using a Care Bear for a pillow. Barfy Bear, she thought it must be. She was alternately too hot and too cold, with no blanket.
She could hear the rattle of cooking in the kitchen. Her husband and their children were probably making breakfast. Or was it lunch? How late did she stay up last night? Her brothers had come to visit, sans their wives, and she had been beguiled into drinking, at first just a little, but later, a lot. Oh my god, I did smoke part of a cigarette last night. How gross is that. She threw up a little, in her mouth, and lacking the will to get up and do something about it, she swallowed it back down. Back down to the hell hole you came from, she thought.
She hated her brothers. Drunken fools. Marching off into the dark, drunk as lords. Falling into the vernal pond after she told them not to. Falling into the ditch. And they were so freaking loud. They were all very lucky none of her neighbors had called the police. And they got her to smoke. Gross.
A little head was sticking into her face. “Mommy! Are you getting up? We’re making pancakes!” came the shrill excited little voice. “Daddy is going to make them look like bunnies!”
“Hush child. I am unwell. Go tell your father I am sick.”
Little face brought a pink finger from beyond the safe under-the-bed cave and poked it right into her eye. “Oops. Your face looks funny, Mommy.”
“Okay. That’s right. That is what a sick face looks like. Go tell your dad I’m sick.” And the little person bounced out of the room, her every footfall damaging Madge’s tender constitution.
She had to pee urgently. She was required to get up and go around the corner into the bathroom. She sluggishly shoved and grunted her body toward the opening at the side of her safety cave. The weight of the air was so heavy that she could barely move. Something was scratching her face; the bottom of the bunk bed over her head was poking at her as she moved . . . And she opened her eyes, but her view was obscured. The hangover was just a dream. But she did have to pee, urgently, and something was poking her in the face. Something scratchy. She lifted her hand up to shove aside the hair or whatever was in her eyes, and she could hear a clattering noise. Something was falling on the ground around her. Her hand came to her face to remove . . . some kind of rocks.
She sat bolt upright and broken pieces of bricks fell away from her body. The air was full of brown dust. She could not see further than her hand, and barely that. She put her hands down to support her weight so she could get up and the ground was covered in broken pieces of brick, sharp in some places. She reached up to feel what was above her. Something solid. A table? She reached out in front of her. There was space. She moved into a crouch and inched forward, feeling the ground gingerly. She hurt from head to toe, a hazy ache. The air tasted bitter. She couldn’t tell where she was going. She continued a slow ascent up a shifting pile of debris. She found a rag and wrapped it around her head covering her nose and mouth to filter the air. That helped some.
As she crawled up the pile of broken crud, the dirt in the air thinned out some and she could see that she was in part of a room. She could see the remains of a doorway, broken off half-way up with nothing above. She reached the top of the pile and sat on chair seat. No legs. No back. Just the seat. She stretched her legs out and tried to remember what she had been doing before she fell asleep, but nothing came to mind. She thought about her children in the dream. Her children were all grown up now and lived on the other coast. Where was her husband? Where was her dog? Was this her house? Nothing came to mind.
She looked up. The sky was brown with swirls of grey. She looked out in front of her and could make out the remains of a front yard and a street. Piles of broken stuff, mounds of debris, obscured what could have been cars. Or the wreckage of cars. Then the wind came. The front carried grit that was going to sand her face right off, so she slid back down the hill to get some cover. Then she felt the sting of dime sized hail, but it was really small rocks. She moved quickly back down the pile to hid under the table, or whatever it was. The rock storm passed quickly and then the rain came, at first with pounding intensity and then just rain, and then just a few drops, and then gone again.
The rain cleared the dust out of the air and she could see the wreckage of a neighborhood that she didn’t recognize. Everything was either brown or grey. There were a few walls left standing and asphalt of a former street was still visible. She could see a larger pile of debris down at the end of the street. She decided to go there and reconnoiter. She looked around. Nothing moved. There were no sounds. No people. No animals. Nothing green as far as the eye could see. No one was watching so she squatted and peed right there. No toilet paper. Well, no toilet, no paper, no water, no food, and a bitter taste in her mouth. It tasted like she had been licking ashtrays.
Climb Every Mountain It was rough going climbing up the shifting pile of rubble, but she required some perspective, a better view. She found a piece of a door and used it as a platform, positioning it so as to stabilize a spot, walking or crawling across the flat spot, then repositioning it. From the top she could see a long distance. In one direction there were hills that she recognized, Saddleback Mountain among them. Some mountain, more like Saddleback Hill.
Between herself and these hills, and in all other directions, she could see only piles of brown and grey debris. Some of the piles were bigger than others. There were a few parts of buildings, half walls still standing. That was it. She saw not one single living thing. There were no fires, no smoke, no smoldering buildings. What was this mess? Where was everyone? She felt strangely calm. She was not hungry or thirsty. She was not anxious. She was curious. She decided to walk to the top of Saddleback Mountain to see if she could get a better view. She looked at the vague shapes of streets and tried to sort out a pathway to get her out to the hills. Then she headed out.
As she walked along, she kept a sharp lookout for items she could use. She found several plastic trash bags and some pieces of cloth. She came upon a demolished grocery store and scored some cans, their labels eroded. She visualized a can opener. Perhaps the universe would deliver that to her. Later she found a plastic bottle. Thank god Nestle had sold all those plastic bottles. And here she thought they were just made to fill up the guts of a whale.
When she neared the base of the hills, she came upon a the remains of a gas station. It smelled of gasoline and was dangerous, but the convenience store part was less destroyed then most of what she was finding. She moved quickly to see what she could. A roll of plastic bags. Intact bottles of water. A backpack! Cigarettes. Lighters. Ding Dongs. Ho Hos. She walked away wearing the backpack, a Dodgers baseball cap, and sunglasses, and carrying two plastic bags to which she had added additional loot including three rolls of toilet paper, 14 packages of assorted salted nuts, and a People magazine with Britney Spears on the cover. Still no can opener.
She picked her way around the pot holed road that wound up into the hills. Where there had been chapparal there was now no sign of plants, just rocks and other bits of flotsam and jetsam, which she now believed had been delivered on the wind. A hard rain of rocks, as it were.
The road did not go all the way to the top of the “mountain” but it did circle it. The homes were obliterated so the view was clear. She knew where she was now, the general lay of the land. She had been up in these hills many times in her youth, cruising with her friends, looking for a spot with a view away from the prying eyes of the old folks at home. To the west was the ocean, but she couldn’t see it, just a continuous expanse of brown and gray, with occasional swirls of dust, little dust devils. To the north were the San Bernardino Mountains, real mountains. Up near the top, there was green. Something must be alive up there, to high for the storms. To the east, lower hills – nothing green showing. She decided to head north.