How to Survive by Richard W. Carr II

Bobby sat cross-legged in the center of his self-made fallout shelter. Beneath his house, he wore flannel pajama pants, and with knuckles white, he gripped a rifle as he rocked back and forth with his eyes closed, talking to himself. He was surrounded by thick metal walls of canned goods. One wall stood floor to ceiling but showed evidence of a diminishing assault with an obvious divot, thievery. A few cans had rolled and spread to a stop around the floor like a family of opossums playing dead at the impending threat of bright lights. As he rocked, he repeated through gritted teeth, “Go away. Leave us alone. Go away. Leave us alone,” over and over again, and in his head, he beat himself up over the loss of every individual can.

A few minutes earlier, he was standing in his bunker, angry that someone had figured out what he was doing and found their way inside like rodents in the pantry. Prior to that, he heard the rustle of leaves in the barren woods behind his home accompanied by voices screaming, “He’s got a gun!”

Previously, he stood on his porch, aimed for the night sky, and squeezed the trigger, warning all who dared upon the property that he had no reason to be afraid.

Two minutes before the gunshot, his four year old daughter was wailing, “There’s a monster!”

But first, he had awoken abruptly to his wife’s panicked eyes glinting in the dark, his daughter’s fear, and a knocking that sounded like old pipes settling beneath the house.

One year earlier, Bobby glanced up the street and saw little lumps like blobs of tar as far as the eye could see. They lay across the suburban landscape of roads, cars, and rooftops like blots of ink from a leaky pen altering the canvas of a perfect painting. They made him think about survival.

Ten seconds prior to that thought, Bobby broke the silence and asked his neighbor if he could borrow her broom to do the same. Before breaking the silence, he watched his neighbor use the old broom to sweep the corpses of blackbirds from the roof and hood of her car. Moments earlier, he looked at his own car and knew he had to do something. A few minutes prior, he walked out his front door to go to work, but instead, he slowly froze like cooling wax and noticed his neighbors were all outside in silence slowly aiming their astonished faces in every conceivable direction.

Earlier, at four in the morning, he stood barefoot in his bathrobe on his front lawn and stared up at his roof. A couple of minutes before he ventured outside, he woke up to the sound of thump, thump above his bed.

Two years before the thumping, Bobby told the real estate agent, “We’ll take it.” Five minutes prior to the acquisition, in the empty echoing foyer of their soon-to-be new home, Bobby and his wife smiled, embracing each other, sandwiching their one-year-old daughter between them with love.

A year and three months earlier, the happy couple stood holding each other in their small one bedroom apartment, celebrating the great news. Thirty seconds before the celebration, Bobby felt a wave of joy so strong it made his face hot and his eyes water like melting ice cubes.

Preceding that moment, Bobby’s wife sobbed, “I’m pregnant.”

Ten seconds previous to that, Bobby’s face was confused when he asked, “What is it?”

One minute before he asked, Bobby’s wife hysterically cried and said, “I’m so sorry I’ve been such a mess lately. I’ve just been so scared about money and everything, and there is something I haven’t told you.”

A minute before that, they cried out, smiled, and embraced one another.

Three minutes before the embrace, Bobby received a phone call that said, “We’d like to hire you for the teaching position.”

Fifty-nine minutes prior to the offer, Bobby blinked maniacally, quickly disregarded the breaking news on TV reporting that the bee population was critically low, turned his attention to his wife and with frustration replied, “Somehow, I will always take care of you. I don’t give a shit what I have to do.”

One minute before his vow, with a shaking voice accompanied by shaking hands, Bobby’s wife asked, “If this doesn’t work out, how are we going to survive?”

Rick Carr works as a Learning Assistant for a community college in New Jersey. Previously, he has had work published at Blazevox.org. He attained his BA from New School University in 2005, and is currently working on his MFA through the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College in Massachusetts. At the moment, Rick is working on two novels and a collection of short stories titled, “The American Nightmare.” Rick has also been making music for more than half of his life. He sang and wrote lyrics for the experimental band T.W.i.NE. from 1997 to 2009, and he is presently beginning a new musical project. You can follow Rick at www.twitter.com/IAmRickSee

15 comments:

David Barber said...

Rick, telling the story back to front was a stroke of genius and on top of that it was really well written. Top marks to you!

Angela said...

Rick, I enjoyed the final countdown quality of this. I kept trying to move forward in my mind, and then got pulled back to the mysterious reality of the past - tick by tock. Fascinating and enjoyable.

Chris Allinotte said...

This was an amazing tale. The reverse sequence, knowing what had come before builds a remarkable sense of dread and tension.

Well done, sir.

Jenny Dreadful said...

Conceptually interesting, fun read.

David Cranmer said...

"... little lumps like blobs of tar as far as the eye could see." Me gusta!

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Like others mentioned, telling the story backward was a great technique and really worked. I really liked this

Benjamin Sobieck said...

Kewl play on time, man.

Bill Baber said...

top rate stuff...

Rick Carr said...

Yesterday was my birthday and it has been very nice for me to see all these flattering comments. Thank you very much, everyone, and thank you, the Flash Fiction Offensive!

David Barber said...

You're welcome, Rick. Thank you for sending the story to us and we hope to see you again!

Sandy Carr said...

Very nice work. I'm so jealous of you right now LOL! Love, you're stupid sister.

Mike Miner said...

Rick, a nice mix of menace and tenderness, sort of a microcosm of the modern condition. How to survive, how to build a life in the middle of an apocalypse.

Tim C said...

That was the first time I've read and been able to understand a story told from back to front! LOL This story was serious! --- Good job man!

Melissa Ford Lucken said...

Emotionally disturbing in the best possible way.

“Somehow, I will always take care of you. I don’t give a shit what I have to do."

wow.

elkay said...

Very cool, Rick, very cool. Good details, and, like others have mentioned, I love the backwards storyline. Oh, and the bees and crows? Kudos!