Mike had a very nice apartment above Columbus Circle, right off of Central Park West. Mike’s landlady had bought the apartment as a condo in the 1970s, when the area around the west side of Central Park was the stomping grounds of drug dealers and prostitutes. Eventually, the area rose again, and many people like Mike’s landlady found themselves with million dollar apartments. Mike’s landlady didn’t need to sell her apartment to be rich.
She had a home in Connecticut and a home on the right part of Long Island. She didn’t live in Manhattan these days, but she wanted to keep the apartment as an investment. Mike was a good tenant, and he was careful to keep his nose and the apartment clean in exchange for ridiculously cheap rent. But, the real price that Mike paid was occasionally being awakened in the middle of the night by his tipsy old landlady flipping on the bedroom light. As blinding as the sudden light was, he was doubly blinded by the light winking off her diamonds and sending laser-like beams into his eyes. “Mike, dear, I have a terrible headache. The charity gala was a nightmare. Get the hell out of my apartment.” Mike had to check the society pages for charitable events before he risked inviting a girl over for the night.
We were headed for Mike’s apartment, now. An average New Yorker can walk a block a minute. Avenue blocks are the length of three regular blocks, so they take three minutes to walk. Twenty blocks equals a mile. On a normal day, we could have made the trip in about half an hour. Of course, there weren’t any normal days, not anymore.
Moira and Mike were pushing me and Bethel in a cloth cable hamper full of Spam and we had no idea what we were going to encounter. We had just three hours before daylight, when we’d run the risk of being eaten by giant birds and then being shat out on some innocent person. We had to get to shelter before we became bird shit.
By the time we got to 48th St., things had gotten quiet. Too quiet. The hub-bub of 42nd St. hadn’t been menacing at all compared to the menace of deserted streets. I dug around in the hamper with a free hand and came up with a can of Chunky Clam Chowder. I popped it open and let Bethel lick it off my fingers.
“Nasty,” Moira huffed as she and Mike pushed the heavy cart. I couldn’t tell if she was talking about me and Bethel or not, so I didn’t respond. The streets were becoming harder and harder to navigate. More people actually lived in this area. While businesses hadn’t been producing garbage, people had been. They’d dropped black plastic bags of garbage out of their windows, down to the sidewalk. Mike and Moira mowed through the bags when they could, had to stop to kick them out of the way when the bags were too heavy or too numerous. The soles of their shoes became coated with slime periodically, so they skittered around until the slime wore off on the pavement. They had to find the small ramps carved into the sidewalks on each side of every street we crossed because there was no picking up the hamper to clear every curb. Our progress was torturous.
“Break,” Mike gasped. We stopped, and they leaned on the hamper, breathing hard. I dug around and found them each a beer. It wasn’t cold, but it was something. While they chugged and burped and moaned, someone appeared from the darkness around the corner. Several someones.
The leader of The Someones had a glass bottle in his hand. I didn’t think he wanted to drink with us. To prove me right, he broke the bottle on the corner of the building and brandished the broken end at us. This had obviously been his mugging technique before the world ended, and he was sticking with what he knew.
“You bitches are going to give us that cart you got,” he growled. The Someones advanced on us.
“She’s sick,” Mike pointed at me. “Our friend is sick. Please help us.”
“Bullshit. You help us by handing over that stuff you got,” Bottle Man, leader of The Someones replied.
“Gah,” I said. I drooled a big mouthful of clam chowder at The Someones. “Gah ack. Hep. Peas. Hep. Gaaaaaaah,” I reached out pleading hands covered in clam chowder and made weak grabbing crab claw motions.
“Jesus,” Bottle Man backed away, bumping into The Someones. “Jesus Christ, get her out of here, man. Go on!” He stomped one foot repeatedly like a fired up revival preacher.
Mike and Moira didn’t need more. Break was over. They put their backs into it, and we hampered away.