Oren


He would flip through books filled with photographs of family members I never knew. The lives of my young great-grandparents and their parents and their parents too were documented dating all the way back to the year 1964. The pictures were grainier the higher generations we went but in great shape overall.
I sat on my father’s lap as he explained each picture according to what his father had told him. He explained the events, the traditions, the machines and other objects that made up the picture. A spring day shows my great-grandmother in her wedding dress, young and beautiful and wonderfully clueless and hopeful. One Christmas morning, years before that shows my great-grandfather unwrapping a gift. A Playstation 5, my dad said. Further back, my great-great-grandparents are at a place called Miller Park for a baseball game, a game that my father has tried explaining to me but I’m not sure even he understands it. Their heads are turned to look at the camera behind them and they’re sharing a smile, possibly in the midst of laughter.
There’s something eternal in that picture of my great-great-grandparents. A kind of peace, different from the peace I know now. I love that picture and even today I still have it, just that one. Even after everything that has happened, that’s the picture I carry with me and haven’t gone a day without looking at and getting pulled in to the smells and sounds emanating from the simple photograph. Smells and sounds that I don’t know but I somehow can’t imagine any other way.
My father has taken my twin sister and me to Miller Park a few times before, looking for nothing in particular. Just looking. There would usually be a few other small groups of people scattered around the stands. We were rarely ever the only ones there but it always felt that way as my father would walk us up the broken and jagged stairs to where our great-great-grandparents sat, sitting us in the busted chairs, our asses getting spotted with mildew. But hell if we cared. He’d kneel next to us and take out that picture and put it in front of our faces, telling us to look out over the field and enjoy the game that wasn’t really happening. To enjoy the company of the people around us who weren’t really there. And maybe it was his voice or his vivid descriptions or our wild imaginations, but somehow we would. My sister and I would sit next to each other in this gray, empty, soulless stadium and have the time of our lives. And my father would be sure to capture the moment, sitting in the chair behind us and telling us to smile for the camera. We’d turn our heads, give a large and honest smile and he’d press an invisible button on an invisible box and say, “Beautiful.”
And it was. But the days to remember were the days that never even existed. We were reminded of that every day as we listened to gunshots echo through the dusty clouds, felt explosions shake the ground as we ate and watched as friends and neighbors up and left without a trace. This wasn’t the world our parents wanted us living in and they tried their best to convince us it wasn’t. That no matter what happened now, it was all building up to something better. And they would read us classic fairytales, books that my mom had gotten passed down to her from almost two centuries ago, filled with stories of heroics and magic and evil ultimately overcome by the goodness of our protagonist.
And in hindsight, that was their biggest mistake. Tricking us into believing the world was not what it seemed. That someday soon there would be a parting of clouds and a ray of sunshine and the world would be new again, weddings, videogames, baseball and all. That we were living in the most critical time on this planet and our generation would be the ones to help rebuild and live in a world brought back from the dead.
We would all be up well into the night and our parents would listen to me and my sister as we would enthusiastically talk about our plans for a new world and our parents would nod their heads and tell us how terrific it sounds and how impressed they are that we were the first to think of it and that we’d someday be heroes for it.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized you can’t be a hero in this world by way of peace. My sister and I realized this at the same time. And it was obvious our father already knew it.
It was nearing the end of winter but the winter wouldn’t end. One day, my father, sister and I decided to trek to Miller Park again. We had been cooped up almost all winter long and despite the day’s heavy snowfall, it wasn’t bitter cold. It turned out being one of the rare days that Miller Park was empty, at least as far as we could tell and my sister and I scoffed and laughed at how corny our father was being, trying to take our faux picture again. But still, we turned our heads and smiled.
At one point as my father and I talked, my sister started roaming the stadium, curious as to what else she hadn’t seen in the fourteen years we’d been coming here. She was picking things up from under the seats, most things recently left behind. If you found anything dating back to when Miller Park was still Miller Park, you struck gold. She’d walk up to walls to read obscure graffiti or climb through obstacles of fallen concrete and mangled plastic chairs. Eventually she was out of sight and my father and I continued to shoot the shit, talking about nothing with substance. How my friends were, the few that were still around or if I’d met any girls of the few that were still around. Finally we got to talking about my future, something I was still adamant on talking about. It may have seemed vain to a stranger to hear this but me being the hero my parents convinced me I would someday be was something that still to this day I could not put to rest. This was a frequent discussion my father and I had and it usually followed the same formula. But not today.
Before we got to the Happily Ever After, a scream broke through the falling snow. It had gotten heavier and I hadn’t even noticed; I could barely see three meters in any direction. My dad and I stood up immediately and called for my sister but our own voices got lost in the wind so we called again, running to where we last saw her heading. We were at the top of the stadium, our breathing deep and painful having bounded up the uneven stairs in the dense snow. We called for her again without an answer and just as we were deciding to split ways we heard her scream again. To the left. Not far.
I figured that she possibly slipped and fell and twisted something or at the very worst found a frozen body, but she wouldn’t scream at something like that. We’d had our share of bodies in the past, plenty gorier than one just frozen. But I couldn’t think of any other reasons for her to scream. It was clear my father did. He was four feet ahead of me, picking up speed as she screamed once more and my heart fell when I watched him reach under his jacket and pull out a hunting knife, the one we used to skin our game.
We came to a large slab of fallen metal that sheltered a section of the stands from the snow and I immediately saw my sister underneath, screaming as she clawed at the concrete. My first thought was she had gotten stuck and then I saw in the darkness the rugged face of a man, grabbing at her pant leg, a dedicated sickness in his eyes. He didn’t see my father or me through what was now a blizzard, even as my father ran to the other side of the heap of metal. My sister saw me and screamed my name and I immediately grabbed her, dragging her out from under the shelter. The man looked up at me with a genuine fear when my sister was out of his grasp and suddenly slipped back into the darkness and out the other side as our father had pulled him out. We both ran to our father who was now wrestling the man in the snow but froze when we saw him pin the man down and thrust the knife up into the man’s jaw and through his mouth and heard the man scream a kind of animalistic scream. Our father kept the knife there for a few seconds and then tore it down, following the man’s trachea down to the top of his chest. The man writhed and we heard him try screaming again but it was just a brief gargle and he was soon still.
Our father stood over the man, breath heavy and back hunched as though warning any other predators that might be hidden in the darkness beneath the metal. Apparently we had a look of pure horror in our eyes as our father looked up at us and immediately shot back with a look of regret. Whether that regret stemmed from the act he had just committed or from allowing us to see said act wasn’t very clear as the entire walk home was silent, save for the whistles of the wind through the bare trees.
When we walked in the door our mother shot up from her chair and gasped, staring at our father, to us, and back to our father. My sister and I tried to rest in the other room for the next couple of hours. Our father came in at dusk and knelt down next to my sister, stroking her hair and asking her if she was all right. She shut her eyes, nodded her head and started crying. When she was able to get a few words out she asked my father what he really knew about the world before it ended. I turned my lifted my head and looked at her, taken back by her tone. A tone that implied this was more of an accusation. Something she had clearly wanted to ask since earlier today at the stadium.
I couldn’t blame her, though, or shoot her a glare that told her to keep it to herself. I wondered the same thing. Because besides the pictures, everything we’ve been told about life before the apocalypse seemed to blur with the fairytales we grew up with.
Our dad sat silent for a few moments and finally sighed and said, “I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe none of it’s true.” He sat for a few moments longer and when it was evident none of us had anything more to say he stood up and walked out.
My sister and I stayed up almost all night, talking about what our father had done and how many times he had done it before. We knew this couldn’t have been the first. And so we asked ourselves who who he had killed. The kinds of people, what they had done and if there was ever anyone we knew.
And somehow, after that night, we dropped it. It wasn’t until about three years later that I asked myself about the men my dad had or would kill. Because it was clear that he had killed the wrong one.

I fell to the ground as I got another crack to the head and things went black. Couldn’t have been for long because when I opened my eyes my parents were still alive and fighting. I tried to get up but I was weak. My muscles felt like sand and I couldn’t get more than half a breath in at a time. My stomach was being pulled towards my spine with each attempt at a gasp of air. My hand fell upon it and I brought it to my face. My vision was blurred but I could tell my hand was dripping with blood. Somewhere between in the time between our front door being kicked in to right now, I had been shot in the gut. Or right beside it. I was still alive but wasn’t supposed to be. Another gunshot. I subtly looked up hoping they wouldn’t notice and saw my father fall to the ground, my mother screaming and running over to him. Then, with a blade swiftly crossing her throat, she fell over my father, twitching, until she finally went lax.
Five had come into the house, and two were left. I noticed one dead in the opposite corner as my father. The two left took another look at me so I stopped breathing. They silently confirmed I was dead, grabbed their dead partner and walked out the front door. With all the strength I could muster, I shifted my body towards the wall and looked outside through a hole I was supposed to have filled in weeks ago. I watched them open the trunk of a car and toss their friend in. The other two were still alive sitting in the front of the car. And so was my sister. My vision was clearing and I could see her shaking in the center backseat, blood trickling down the side of her face, gagged and eyes sealed with duct tape. The other two got in, one on each side of her, and pushed her head down between her legs and they drove off.

I took a week to heal, eating the remaining food we had stored and crawling to fetch water each day. Whatever the men thought they had hit, they were wrong. I was in pain but healing well. The smell of my parents was growing unbearable and so I buried them one night, gaining a twisted sort of insight in doing so. There had been a warrior in my father. I had seen it that day at Miller Park and tonight, before the strike to my head had knocked me unconscious. And I now knew there was a warrior in my as the tips of my fingers sparked and trembled. I had already lost time in the race to get my sister back from wherever she had been taken.
I rummaged through my father’s things that same night and found little. The men who had come into our house had taken any weapons my father might have had. The only thing I found was an iron pipe and maybe that would be good enough. I needed to leave first thing the next morning, maybe find someone who could help me, someone looking for something else even and just pick up clues on the way.
I slept peacefully that night and woke the next morning to the sky just as gray as the day before and the day before that. I can’t remember it any other way. I packed my things and was about to leave until I remember one more thing. I ran back to a heap of my father’s thing and grabbed the photo album, flipping through the pages to photo of a couple four generations above me, smiling and enjoying the baseball game going on behind them. I continued staring at the picture as I stepped outside and for the first time took notice of the sky above them.
Nothing but blue and appearing as though it never ended.