My ex-wife always said I could sleep anywhere, felt like she was right. My eyes were still closed but that weren’t no mattress I was lyin’ on. It was knobbly and hard, probably not from DFS. Well, maybe…
I decided I’d better take a peek at my surroundings. I opened my eyes but the light didn’t increase much. Took me a while to figure out I was wearing sunglasses. I took them off to get a closer look at them. Closer than when they were right over my eyes? You know what I mean. Anyway, they weren’t mine so I tossed ‘em to one side. They didn’t make a noise when they landed on whatever they landed on which gave me the urge to explore my surroundings more closely. I pulled focus and saw tree branches; I was under a tree. That’d explain the discomfort. No, wait. Lyin’ under a tree isn’t that bad, I done that plenty of times before. I was in the goddamn tree.
Faster than you drop after a kick in the nuts it came shootin’ back to me. The slugs. Those god-damned slugs. I looked around for my hockey stick. Well, ever’one else called it that, I just called it my stick. It was wedged between two branches to my right. Smart. I reached over to pull it down and grabbed it, but lost my balance and fell. Instinct kicked in and I reached out with my left hand, grabbin’ a branch without letting go of the stick. I pulled myself over to the trunk and wrapped my arms around it. Shit, I was high up. Of course, those bastards sure know how to climb. I was above my highest fly-paper salt trap which was still wrapped around the trunk so I was safe; had time to think.
I sat myself down on a branch and looked ‘round. I could only see one of them, probably on guard duty and…was he wearing my sunglasses? I don’t know whether they landed on him when they fell or he put them on himself but there was no doubt, he had ‘em on. I was surprised they even fit him, he must have been a below average specimen.
I didn’t have any salt left for my stick. Not to worry, I could still take him on as long as he didn’t have any friends nearby. I dropped down through the branches ‘til I was low enough to jump. He knew I was here, else he wouldn’t be, but he didn’t have any sense of danger. His mistake an’ he’d learn soon enough. I dropped to the ground behind him and swung the stick in a glancing blow across the slug’s head. Hard to tell what affect you’ve had on a slug when you hit him with a stick but this one didn’t move much so I must have caught him by surprise. Not wasting any time however, I quickly followed up with a blow straight down, trying to sever the head. I only got half way through on my first hit so I finished the job with a second.
I didn’t want to stick around. Slugs have an amazing sense of smell and the death of one of their own’ll bring a cornucopia along in no time providing it’s not a salt related death. In those circumstances they ain’t so hasty. There was a city due west so that’s the direction I set out in.
‘Hey! Old man!’
Who in the hell was that shoutin’? Whoever it was, better not have meant me, although it looked as though he might have. A twenty-something dude was runnin’ up and behind him near a bench was a group of people. Survivors. This should be fun.
‘You alright?’ he asks.
‘I’m breathin’, standing. How’d I look to you?’ I tell him.
‘You’re lucky we found you when we did, sir. Come with us, we’ll keep you safe.’
‘Keep me safe huh? Well that’s a mighty fine offer. Where ‘bouts you headin?’ I was damn certain I knew what he’d say but thought I’d give him the chance to prove me wrong. He didn’t.
‘Out into the country. We should be safe there until we can call for help.’
I couldn’t tell if this feller had been waiting all his life to be in this sort of situation or if he was the best pick of a real bad bunch. Either way it wouldn’t be long ‘fore he got someone killed; if he hadn’t already.
‘And what makes you think you’re safer in the country?’ I asked. Gave him plenty of time to answer, seems like I needn’t have bothered. ‘It’s because it’s what they do in the films, right? When the aliens attack? Terrorists get the nukes? Everyone high tails it to the hills, the mountains. Anywhere but the cities. Right?’
‘Well yes. It seemed like the best idea…’
‘‘cept this time it ain’t no aliens or terrorists, it’s slugs. Man-sized, carnivorous slugs; but what they eat don’t matter. They still need the habitat they’ve always needed, and that’s wet and soft. That sound like the city or the country to you?’
‘But there are more people in the city,’ the fool countered. ‘Surely that’s where they will go to hunt.’
‘Not so long as they’ve got idiots like you delivering yourselves like pizza. If I’m attacked by the slimy bastards I don’t want six or seven people around me, I want six hundred. Hell, six thousand. Narrows down the chances some of me gettin’ ate if there’s someone tastier nearby.’
The boy went quiet for a spell after that. Presented with a life saving solution and he still had to think it over; thinking so hard it looked as though his face would melt. Eventually he spoke.
‘Do you want to come with us? You probably wouldn’t slow us down too much.’
‘That’s kind of you to say,’ I replied, fightin’ the urge to slap him with the slimy end of my stick. ‘But I reckon I stand a better chance on my own.’
‘You’re alone?’ He asked. ‘Don’t you have any friends? Family?’
‘Nope. Well, I got my Pa.’
‘Really?’ the stranger asked. ‘Where is he?’
‘Oh, he’s…around.’ I got that question a lot. I liked to leave my answer hanging there just a bit. ‘Anyway,’ I said eventually, ‘you kids had better scoot ‘fore this feller’s friends show up. Surprised they ain’t already here, actually.’
The boy looked down for the first time and saw the two giant pieces of slug. I had to put a hand on his shoulder to stop him from pitching forward and catchin’ a face full of goo.
‘My god, that’s a…did you…?’ he stumbled.
‘Yes it is and yes I did. Got no salt on the stick at the moment but I find I hit anything with it hard enough it tends to die. Now go on, get.’
‘Right away. Thank you sir.’
‘Don’t be callin’ me sir, got an awful sound to it.’
‘Don’t tell me, that’s what people call your father?’ He was smiling now. Damn, this boy belonged in a copy room or a grocery store stackin’ shelves, not out leading people to safety.
‘Naw, they pretty much call him by his first name. Or Lord, which I think gives him a kick.’
‘So who are you?’
‘Who am I?’ I hate to admit it, but I loved this bit. ‘They call me Jesus.’
I was startin’ to wish I’d not thrown those sunglasses away. Putting them on as I said my name would have really set the mood. I wasn’t about to reach down and pull them from the slug remains though.
‘Of Nazareth. Jesus Christ, son of God, died for you sins, all that jazz. The Jesus.’ I said it slow. I like to think it helps it to sink in on the rare occasion it did, though this wasn’t to be one of ‘em.
‘Well Mister Jesus, thank you for your help. It’s been great talking to you but as you said, we’d better get going now.’
He didn’t believe me, so far no-one did. It made no difference to me. I try to help people and if they listen, all the better for them. If not it’s their loss. I tried.
‘That you should,’ I told him. ‘Best of luck to you all.’
The stranger turned around and walked back to his friends. There wasn’t much conversation between ‘em ‘fore they set off walking. East. Figures. Well I wasn’t goin’ to get all worked up an’ chase after ‘em. They’d made their minds up about me and that was fine. No sense wastin’ my time arguing with one group of people when somewhere down my road I might meet others more inclined to listen to sense.
I set off walkin’ again but barely made five steps ‘fore I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked round and it was one of the girls from the group. She was barely more than a child but lookin’ past her, the group weren’t waitin’. She must have been on her own.
‘You really think you’re Jesus?’ she asked.
‘What do you think?’
‘Jesus died,’ she said with certainty.
‘Yep. Came back to life again, too.’
‘Yeah, but then he went to heaven.’
‘And now I’m back.’
‘He weren’t from Texas,’ she said, defiantly.
‘True enough, but I been here a while now and besides, I like the accent.’
‘He din’t play hockey or kill things,’ she said triumphantly.
‘I don’t play hockey,’ I replied. ‘This here’s my Jesus stick. I invented it firs’ time round. Carpenter, remember? Some feller must’ve seen it and come up with the game afterwards. An’ with these here slugs it’s either kill or get ate, so I kill ‘em.’
Another thinkin’ pause. Seems a lot of folk end up doing this when they talk to me long enough. This one was different though. Looked as though she might have a brain rattlin’ around upstairs.
‘If you’re Jesus, prove it.’
‘Ain’t never been asked that before. Last time people just took my word for it.’
‘People have changed, I wanna see proof. Turn some water into wine.’
‘You got any water?’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t do it if you did. I can’t do no magic tricks, never have. Whoever wrote that Bible book of yours took more than a few liberties with the truth.’
‘Feeding the five-thousand? Walkin’ on water? Curin’ lepers?’
‘Curin’ lepers? Ha! I wouldn’t go near ‘em. Din’t want my feet fallin’ off. Look, I ain’t provin’ nothin’. If you want to come with me then fine, if you don’t, don’t. but I tell you one thing, you go with them lot you ain’t gonna last long. Come with me…well, it’d be nice to have the company and you’ll likely last a lot longer.’
I bent down to pick up the sunglasses and wiped off the slime with the corner of my shirt. I wasn’t going to miss that opportunity if it presented itself again. The whole time the girl just kept watchin’ what I was doin’. Sizing me up. I started walkin’ west and she followed.
‘So what’s your name?’ I asked.
‘I don’t want to say,’ she replied, looking up at me.
‘I ain’t havin’ you tag along and not tell me your name,’ I said. ‘Spit it out.’
She paused before she eventually said ‘Mary.’ I couldn’t help but smile.
‘Hey,’ she said suddenly. ‘Your shirt.’
‘What about it?’
‘You used it to wipe the slime off…but…it’s clean.’
I lifted up the corner of the shirt slightly and looked down at it. Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out the sunglasses.
‘Yeah,’ I said, putting the glasses on. ‘So it is.’