Birth of a Savage Garden

Salt Lake City was never like this when he was a kid; people bustling about, practically driving over pedestrians in an effort to escape the TRAX train impeding traffic.   The radio is blasting as Bristol Kirkland’s Jeep moves with the other cars until it comes to an abrupt halt.  The car in front of him has a bumper sticker ironically stating, “The only reason I’m speeding is that I really need to poop”. 

Bristol was born and raised here, watching the quaint town boom into the metropolis it is, and knows the people haven’t finished yet.  The goal seems to be to grow into another New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and it’s definitely happening.

The only difference seems to be the fault line that plows through the eastern side of the state.  It has always had him alert and prepared, plus the entire scout training he’s had growing up.  But no amount of training could prepare him thoroughly for the future, without the help of a psychic or seer.  Then again, he knows the mystery of the planet is nature and Mother Nature is as unpredictable as any other female expected to make up her mind.

Now that he’s an adult, a week never goes by that he doesn’t shake off the madness with his girlfriend, Scarlet, in exhilarating activities such as biking or hiking somewhere.  They know the mountain ranges like the backs of their hands, keeping track of the seasons and weather patterns in journals.   Being prepared is what Bristol focuses on in everything he does. He has no doubt this is the ultimate key to his survival.

When traffic comes to a halt, Bristol puts his window down and turns the radio off.  Groups of people stop to observe the numerous televisions sets in a shop window.  He listens to try to determine what is going on.  Suddenly someone yells, “We got eight minutes, just eight minutes and twenty seconds!”  A large portion of the crowd takes off running, another stands in disbelief, and a third stands disoriented in awe.

Horns begin to honk and people are chaotically thinning out.  An impatient driver decides not to wait, and goes careening through the crowd of people on the sidewalk, laying on the horn all the way.  Pure insanity.  Nevertheless, other cars follow and the people scatter like a colony of ants in a sudden rainstorm.  Apparently, they’ve all heard the news as well.

As if it will help him escape the chaos, Bristol puts his window up while he draws his own conclusion.  Sitting in relative quietness, aside from the occasional holler, he watches as the people move about him in a slow and unmethodical motion.  Desperation is everywhere. 

Flipping the radio back on, the music is blaring as he abruptly flips the station to the broadcast channel.  The announcer’s voice sounds urgent, “I repeat; we’ve got a little over eight minutes before the earth will be in absolute darkness as you heard Dr. Alan Nesh, one of NASA’s top astronomers, proclaim.  Is it the end of the world? Some would say…”  Bristol changes the channel while he steers his car into a neighborhood; his neighborhood to be more precise, and pulls into his driveway.  According to his watch, and everyone else, he has about five minutes before his world will go through an inevitable change. 

The cell phone feels warm in his hand as he dials his girlfriend Scarlet’s number.  She picks up almost immediately.  “Hey… I know, I know. Settle down and listen. Get your camping gear, flashlight and as many batteries as you can find,” he instructs her, “Just do what I said. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” 

After hanging up, he turns the television on to listen to while he gathers his belongings.  Finding a channel with a live broadcast is difficult, as most channels are producing a recorded announcement. “I hope you’ve all been keeping your food storage up-to-date, because no one knows how long we will be without sunlight,” the man chuckles uneasily on the set, “for some of us darkness might be a good thing.  My wife quit wearing make-up a long time ago.”  The canned laughter dwindles as Bristol hurries to the stairway.

Heading into the basement storage area, Bristol grabs his camping gear.  A curiously large spider scurries out from beneath the backpack and he steps on it, slinging the pack over his shoulder.  His other hand snatches the cooler’s handle and he totes them to the kitchen.  Making his way back upstairs into his bedroom, he grabs his coat, cash out of his top drawer and baseball cap, pulling it onto his head. 

Back in the kitchen, he packs the cooler with chocolate bars, fruit and bottled water.  Then he tugs everything into the garage to grab his emergency food supply consisting of dry goods in mini packets, a large container of jerky, freeze-dried raspberries, powdered eggs, a whole bunch of Ramen Noodles, and canned tuna and chicken.  Peering inside, he ensures he has two can-openers, in case one breaks.

Everything fits snugly into the back of his Jeep as he opens the garage door.  As the door rolls up, he can hear the neighborhood going crazy as if it is a henhouse upset by a fox, and they appear as much.  Children are crying, women are trying to guarantee they have everything, and the men are yelling at everyone to hurry up.  It’s amazing at how everything has changed in only a few minutes.   However, as he notices these changes, the light evaporates as instantly as someone closing the refrigerator door.  For a split second, silence envelopes the world until the birth of a savage garden arrives.

Blood-curdling screams ring out as he turns his headlights on to witness his neighbor’s attack by a couple of men.  Her face, etched into his mind, searches for help as hespeeds away striving to save his own girlfriend.  Time is of the essence and he knows that every second counts if they are going to escape safely.  In his mind, or perhaps in reality, he can hear his neighbor shriek again, but this time it stops suddenly in midair.  Suddenly thoughts of Scarlet needing his help drown out any sounds he hears as he speeds up in the chaos.  Tunnel vision takes over and the remainder of the journey is a blur.

Pulling into the driveway, Bristol sees the beam of a flashlight come bounding out the front door.  Scarlet’s duffle bag and backpack over one shoulder, holding the flashlight in one hand; and Maximus attached at the end of a leash.  He should have known she was going to bring him, even though they really couldn’t spare the room in the restrained area of the vehicle.  Her duffle bag and backpack are small in comparison to the size of the dog food bag she totes under one arm.  Despite the extenuating circumstances, he finds himself smiling.

“All ready?” he calls to her, flashing his light at her so she can see where she is going as he climbs out to help.  The Border Collie makes seeing where she’s going a difficult task, but with Bristol’s help, she manages to get into the passenger seat.  The dog jumps into the back, on top of their belongings.  The driver’s door pops open and a man begins to climb in as Bristol clutches his shoulder with one hand and hits him with the flashlight with the other.  He quickly knocks him to the ground. 

Maximus begins to lunge at the stranger and Scarlet lends a restraining hand, “Stay.”  Bristol steps over the man, granting him a kick him to his gut before he climbs in and slams the door.

“Now are we ready?” he asks.  Maximus barks and the Jeep starts up, squealing out of the driveway as they take off.  They can see the lights bouncing around as people are fighting amongst themselves.  He wonders if they’ll ever be back.  If so, the neighborhood will most definitely be different.

Zipping along the back roads, he is heading for the freeway when he recognizes the traffic stopping at the bottom of the entrance ramp.  The Jeep slows to a stop when a man jumps from his vehicle ahead of them.  In the array of headlights, he pulls a gun from his waistband.  He walks to a vehicle stopped in front of him and aims his gun.  He begins to fire while shouts and yelping ensue, similar to that of an out-of-control dog pound.  The gunman systematically follows up the line of cars, one after another, until someone returns the favor with a perfect shot to the head.  His body flies back to the car behind him and he crumples to the ground.

 There is nothing to say at this point, only securing their safety as much as possible, as Bristol makes a U-turn.  The situation is becoming even more dire as he drives against traffic down the outer edge of the ramp.  Scarlet leans over, as the tires hit the main road, and puts an old Sammy Hagar song playing, Three Lock Box in the stereo.

The Jeep rumbles along the Wasatch Front, coming up the River’s Edge resorts and east toward Bristol’s cabin, tucked away from the rest of civilization.   When his father died and left him the property, he kept it for the purpose of childhood memories, but never thought the purpose would be to hide from civilization.  With the insanity he’s been seeing, he’s relieved that it is so far away from populated areas.

The scene welcoming him gives him an immediate sense of security as he drives into the clearing off a familiar dirt road.  Bumping through the trees, he drives up to a two-story cabin.  Definitely not something the Hiltons would live in, but it is all his and paid for.  A wave of relief swathes him as the headlights shine on the front door and he cuts the engine to hear the sweet sound of nothing. 

“Here we are,” he breathes, “We’ll be safe here until this crazy crap blows over.”

“How long do you think it will take,” Scarlet asks with concern burning the back of her throat, “days, weeks, or months?”

“That isn’t my department,” he jokes, climbing out to begin to grab some gear, “I work in the science field, not disasters.  And this is a disaster.” 

“Fair enough,” Scarlet gets out and takes Maximus with her.  She grabs his dog food and kicks the door closed.  It takes several trips for the two of them to completely unload the vehicle, but when they are finished, they know they can finally relax.

When everything is empty and they have the kerosene lamps burning, a fire going and hot coffee, the mood is more than surreal.  It’s inviting.  “If I didn’t know better,” Bristol teases as he drapes his arm around her shoulders, “I’d think this was some scatterbrained idea to get me alone.”

“Maybe it is!” she laughs as she cuddles up and plants a long and inviting kiss on his mouth.

The scratching noise awakens Maximus who scrambles from his spot at the foot of the bed.  His hard nails tap across the floor as he trots down the wooden stairs.  The clattering stirs Scarlet awake as she sits up in bed and listens for any disturbance, hoping he hears the wind stirring tree branches against the window.  Those thoughts dash away as she hears her dog growl and begin to bark in an alerting manner.

A scuffle ensues, by the sounds of it, and she can hear thrashing noises of disrupted furniture, a couple of lamps crashing and a few thuds.  “Bristol!   Bristol,” she whispers as quietly as she can while maintaining urgency for his attention.

“What?” he stirs, rolling over toward her, but then she can feel him sit up when he hears the commotion.  The dog continues to snarl and rumble until he unexpectedly becomes silent.   The eerie and turbulent hush physically creep up the stairway toward their bedroom doorway. 

Within a fraction of a second, Scarlet can hear the nightstand slide open beside the bed before Bristol jumps from the bed and hustles behind the door.  A slow creaking reveals the door opening on its hinges.  Scarlet is finally relieved that Bristol hasn’t oiled them, despite her constant nagging. 

The pitch darkness doesn’t allow her to feel comfort in knowing that Bristol is behind the door, so she flips on her flashlight to shine its beam directly into the eyes of the perpetrator.  Startled, he screams and throws his arm up in front of his eyes, dropping his flashlight.   Bristol knocks his hands away from his face and pepper sprays him.  The perpetrator falls to the floor, wailing as Bristol begins to violently kick him until he stops fighting and ceases to move. 

A second intruder enters and Bristol turns to clock him in the jaw with his elbow, and then turns to spray him as well.  The man tumbles over his friend’s body and clambers to the floor where Scarlet shines the light on him and screams.  When he raises his head, Scarlet can see this one must have been the one that Maximus attacked moments earlier.  He has open wounds on his face where blood is dripping and if he could see his own face, he would be screaming too.  Baring his teeth, he lunges from the floor toward Scarlet.  The flashlight in Bristol’s hand crashes down on the back of her head and back several times.  When the man rolls away from Scarlet, Bristol sprays the cuts on his face with the pepper spray. 

The noise of his screaming is deafening as the man runs about the room, crashing into the walls until a shattering of glass his heard.  The flashlights in unison reveal the delinquent has fallen through the bedroom window as the country-made curtains flutter in the cool, dark air.

Scarlet clamors to the light switch and flips it on to see a bloodied knife, which was undeniably intended to be her fate.  She releases a breath of liberation as Bristol runs over to her and pulls her close while she sobs with relief. 

After Scarlet gathers herself together, she agrees to stay put until Bristol can take an inventory of the situation and pull the stranger’s body out of the bedroom.  The thudding on the stairwell does little to appease her fears.  She sits nervously on the bed waiting for Bristol to return.  Her cell phone sits on the bureau and she snaps it up to call the police.  The phone service is available and her phone is charged, but there is no answer at the 911 station. 

The sound of dragging weight, doors banging, and footsteps sound in the quiet night above the sinister hush.  “Ugh, damn!” Bristol scowls as he lurches over the body of his girlfriend’s dog, Maximus, hitting the floor on all fours. 

Afraid of luring wild animals to the property, or more would-be thieves and killers, he pulls the bodies into the trees toward the cliff.  Using all his strength, he pushes them over the edge, one at a time.  This feat takes a long time because without any light, whatsoever, stepping too quickly could happen once too often.  He’s grateful he is so familiar with this territory and feels as if he could complete this task blindfolded.

Bristol wipes his nose with his arm.  He props himself up on his thighs with his hands and takes in a couple of deep breaths.  Spent, he doesn’t feel as if he has any oomph left at all for anything but sleep. 

Returning to the cabin, he enters to the safety of a lighted room.  He latches the door, stopping to wonder if he had done so earlier.  He decides to leave Maximus and the mess here until morning.  At least the men are gone.  He’s exhausted and certain he’ll be up way before Scarlet to get rid of it then.  Nevertheless, he needs to ensure he has his gun ready from now on. 

Bristol looks across the room to the gun cabinet.  He opens the kitchen drawer to remove the keys from their nestled spot in the back.  The gun cabinet is one his father’s friend had constructed many years before.  The front of the oak cabinet resembles any other found in a sporting goods store, but the hidden drawer at the base of the cabinet holds a few “extra” handguns and ammunition. 

Although Scarlet feels as if she is strong, and she is for a female, Bristol feels uneasy about giving her a gun that could cause her harm, so he picks up a 350 caliber, loads it and stuffs it into his waistband.  Next to that gun, he finds a 22 pistol he deems appropriate for Scarlet.  Briefly, his memory takes him to the first time he had ever fired a gun, and this was what his father referred to as “the instructor.”  The bullets are sitting in the back of the drawer and he shoves a few into the gun.  He fills his pockets with more ammo and heads back upstairs. 

“It’s okay, Scarlet,” he announces to ensure her security, “It’s only me so you can chilax, baby.  It’s over.”

The room is quiet as he approaches, the flashlight in his hand, and he sees the door is partially closed.  A strange numbness lingers in the air, causing him to pause.  He listens and doesn’t hear anything, which doesn’t signify anything as Scarlet is probably shaking like a leaf in anticipation of his return.

“Scarlet?” he listens closely as he gently pushes the door open with his foot.  The door swings open, bounces and returns.  His vision skims across the blood-covered bed where his girlfriend is lying on her back.  Her dark hair splays down the side as her head dangles off the edge of the bed, eyes wide open as she stares through him.  The presence of another person nearby strikes him as he spins to see a face glowering down at him.

The rest happens slowly and surreal as his contender emerges.  His face is also sporting some signs of earlier turbulence with an animal, probably Maximus.  But none of that matters now as he feels a poke and something sharp glide out from between his ribs.  The sound of the knife sliding against the bone is unmistakable as he feels it go back in.  Blood is bubbling up his throat and out his mouth, rupturing from his lips.  The flashlight tumbles from his hand, and he raises the pistol to shoot his assailant’s throat.  Bristol feels is pop, but doesn’t see it happen for his world goes just as dark as his surroundings have been for the past sixteen hours.

A warm kiss on his lips awakens him as his eyes flutter open to see Scarlet leaning over him, her hair tied back is in a bandanna and she has on cut-off shorts and a tank top. The sun is brightly shining through the windows.  She crosses the room to push it open, allowing the singing birds to join in the day’s celebration.  “I’ve made you breakfast as a lure to get your butt in gear, Mr. Kirkland,” she croons, twirling about the cabin’s bedroom in her sing-song voice.  “C’mon, let’s go soldier!”

Bristol pulls himself up in the bed and runs his hands through his sweaty hair, “Did we have anything to drink last night?”

Her head flings back, showing her smooth neckline and the floating heart necklace he gave her for her birthday as she laughs heartily.  “No alcohol, if that’s what you mean,” she says, “but I believe you were intoxicated with love, if you felt anything like I did.” 

Opening his bureau, she removes a pair of his boxers, a simple shirt, shorts and socks, tossing them onto the bed before disappearing down the stairs.  Her voice is melodic as she hums loudly and he realizes he can smell freshly brewed coffee, eggs and bacon. 

After he finishes getting dressed, he energetically scopes out the stairway and floorboards, searching for damages but not finding any.  The radio sitting on the counter is playing old rock and roll as she sings along, jumping when she hears him talk.  “Where is Maximus?” he inquires as he enters the kitchen to watch her. 

Scarlet laughs, “Maximus is with my sister, where we always leave him when we come up here.”  Her voice lowers, “You said you can’t stand him watching us.  When we tried closing him out of the room he howled the whole time, remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” he agrees, turning to see her putting water into the pans she is no longer using.  Bristol crosses the room and wraps his arms around her waist, giving her a gentle squeeze.  Leaving the water running, she turns to him and puts her wet hands around his neck giggling.  He chuckles a bit himself as droplets of water trickle down his back, wetting his shirt.

The radio is playing “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” by Savage Garden and the couple begins to sway to the music, kissing deeply.  Partially through the song the music ceases playing and the emergency alert system begins blaring loudly, causing the couple to stop abruptly.  They rotate toward the radio, as if lips were going to move on the speaker, addressing them.

“We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast,” the recording states, “to bring you this emergency message.”  Afterwards the speaker is the regularly scheduled deejay, Justin Case, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am required to relay a message from the president of the United States.  NASA has reported a large hole in the ozone layer growing at an increasingly rapid pace.  We have been instructed to prepare immediately…”

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