36 days after the storm
Scott Bryant clenched his stomach, his heavy eyes locked on the cabin in the middle of the harsh field. The wind howled, whipping his thick, unkempt hair across his face, the ends of which had been burned by a gas leak in one of his kitchen’s fryers. A gust blew underneath him, lifting his coattails and kicking up the gray dust covering the tall grass that brushed against his knees. He curled his other hand into a fist, digging his nails into the palm of his fingerless glove, crushing an empty Burger King Whopper wrapper. He tossed the paper to the ground and wiped away a splotch of ketchup under his bottom lip. A bubbling gurgle rumbled in his stomach and he let out a groan, covering his mouth.
“Oh God . . .” he hiccupped.
The cabin was roughly a hundred yards away. Half of the awning above the front porch had caved in, the windows shattered, and vegetation was creeping up the foundation. The Storm had formed a layer of dust two inches thick around the entire house, creating a sheen that reflected the light from the sun onto Scott’s glasses. He adjusted the thick black frames on his nose.
The cabin was like a bag of frozen pasta that had found its way into his Michelin-starred restaurant.
“This will do,” he said.
The contents of his stomach churned inside him like a rowboat in rough seas. He tightened his overcoat across his chest, pulled the strap of a burlap bag across his shoulder closer to him, and hurried toward the house.
He approached the porch and stumbled up the steps. The door was already cracked open a few inches. Scott placed his hand on the door frame and peeked inside.
“Hello?” his voice echoed into the cabin. He reached inside his bag and fished along the bottom, pulling out a blood-splattered ladle.
He pushed through the door and tiptoed into the entrance, tracking mud onto the dusty wooden floor. It creaked and moaned, keeping his head on a swivel.
“If there’s someone in here, you show yourself right now!” Scott yelled, both of his hands shaking as he gripped the ladle. “Okay? Don’t fuck with me! I’m warning you—”
His stomach gurgled again and he clutched his side. He quickly pulled the burlap strap over his head and dropped the bag into the foyer with a thud. He crept around, ducking under pieces of wood that had been warped from the Storm. Ahead was a long hallway, its doors closed. He picked up his pace.
He approached the first room to his right and pushed the door open. The bathroom. Sanctuary. A foul odor smacked him in the face. He pulled the collar of his shirt up to his nose and hacked. Behind the toilet, he saw what looked like the abandoned nest of an animal, made from grass and twigs. The wall next to it had been chewed open. He took a deep breath and stepped inside.
The anarchy in his stomach had reached a boiling point. He quickly unbuckled his belt and pulled down his pants, planting himself onto the ice-cold porcelain.
What followed was an evacuation of days’ worth of fast food: McDonald’s chicken nuggets that had felt like cardboard between his teeth; a steak sandwich from an abandoned Arby’s, the meat having started to sour; and, most recently, a soppy Whopper with moldy cheese that had dissolved like papier-mâché in his mouth.
If an attacker were truly lurking around the corner, the smell coming from the bathroom would be Scott’s greatest weapon.
Suddenly a rustling came from behind the toilet. Scott raised his ladle just as a possum crawled out from underneath the nest and began scratching at his ankles. Springing from his seat, Scott swung the ladle at the possum, banging at the floor like a madman.
“You goddamn devil-rat!” Scott yelled as blood from the possum’s head splattered onto his legs.
He continued to swing the ladle until only the possum’s hind leg twitched. Scott pushed the carcass away with the edge of his pinkie toe and dropped the ladle to the floor, leaning back on the toilet seat with a heavy sigh. Then he clenched his stomach again and held on to the rim of the seat while the remains of his fast-food nightmare continued to spiral through him.