Main Jam Don't Shake

Jam Don't Shake

They seem so innocent: jars of jellies and jams. But the inhabitants of the town of Goodman know better. An additive in Auntie Goodtimes Jams and Jellies turns good people into rioting murderers when their supply is cut off, the factory burned to the ground, and the National Guard closing in. Doug is trying to survive in this post-Goodtimes world, sating his addiction with a carefully dosed tablespoon a day of jelly. And, when supplies get low, Doug, like others, finds that cravings can be quelled with the blood of fellow addicts. Is it really murder when it’s a matter of survival?
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About Jam Don’t Shake


Nicholas J. Carter


They seem so innocent: jars of jellies and jams. But the inhabitants of the town of Goodman know better.

An additive in Auntie Goodtimes Jams and Jellies turns good people into rioting murderers when their supply is cut off, the factory burned to the ground, and the National Guard closing in.

Doug is trying to survive in this post-Goodtimes world, sating his addiction with a carefully dosed tablespoon a day of jelly. And, when supplies get low, Doug, like others, finds that cravings can be quelled with the blood of fellow addicts.

Is it really murder when it’s a matter of survival?





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Jam Don’t Shake


Nicholas J. Carter





Dedication




To Nicole:



This is what I get up to while you’re at the office.





Part One


I awoke to noise. From elsewhere in the Save-U market, there came the squeaky squeal of sneakers on linoleum tile. A pair of shouts. Then, a girl’s laughter.

I staggered, feeling light-headed as I reached my knees, flung my arms to the shelf of peanut butter and, dragging down a dozen jars of the stuff as I flailed for a better grip, lost it, and ended up back on the floor on all fours. The fluorescents were blinking on and off overhead, showing and then hiding the jam-sprayed bodies lining the aisle, along with hundreds of broken jars and bits of bright glass that shone like stars. Thousands of little fruit flies stuck there like black carpet. The air was sticky-sweet like fruit punch. I found my nine iron on the floor and picked it up. At my feet was the body of the old woman I’d just killed for the last jar of Aunty Goodtimes raspberry jam. The jar was nowhere in sight. I shook my head. What the hell had happened?

I stood, the effort making my head swim, and clutched the nine iron tightly in my hands. A girl appeared at the end of the aisle, wearing a white shirt with a red stain like a birthmark.

“Over here. Help!” she shouted.

She switched between screaming and laughing as she ran toward me. She was either high or hadn’t had a hit in so long that her mind was starting to go.

There wasn’t time to think. Two men dashed into view just moments after the girl appeared. Their faces were grim behind sloppy sprays of jelly. One brandished a bent-legged folding chair, the other a ridiculous antique lamp with lime-green pom-poms dangling along the shade. I stared at them. I saw the girl move to the peanut butter shelf out of the corner of my eye. She stopped.

The men charged. A jar of peanut butter flew from the girl’s hand, catching Lamp Man in the nose with a heavy thud, stopping him short. He clutched his face and groaned. Raspberry-scented blood flowed from his nose. Still woozy, I bellowed and shouldered past Lamp Man screaming at Chair Man but slipped on a patch of blood as I approached, falling forward as I swung the club. The blow, meant for his chest, struck his knee instead. I felt the nine iron vibrate in my hand. He dropped the chair and crumpled to the floor, screaming. I heard the scuffle of sneakers on the tile behind me. Then, the sound of glass breaking.

Chair Man was holding his leg and whimpering. I stumbled to my feet. Hit his leg again. Twice. He screamed. The knee had to be broken. The lights swirled as I turned around.

The girl in the sneakers was on her backside, scrambling backward over the bodies of the old woman and a decapitated corpse that smelled of strawberry. A thin gash marred the spot between the girl’s neck and shoulder. Flecks of Lamp Man’s lamp were strung in the girl’s hair, the rest was in shards on the floor. His enormous hands were stretching out to her, the hair on them matted down by jam or blood. I couldn’t tell which, and the difference hardly mattered.

I hurled the nine iron. It flew, wobbling, and struck him awkwardly and without much force in the back of the head before clattering to the ground.

He turned, eyes vicious red.

From behind, Squeaky Sneaker Girl leapt up, hugged him with one arm and with the other, brought a shard of the lamp to his stubbly throat and yanked it across.

Raspberry … everywhere! He fell, clutching his hands to his throat. I ran to him and pushed him over. He struck the floor head-first and heavy. We kneeled at his sides, the girl and I. I drank. She drank. We were scarcely aware of one another as we lapped at the luscious blood slipping from the man’s neck.

I’m not a monster. If a jar of jam had been available, I would’ve gone for that. But my craving had been vicious when the man fell, and that jar I’d gone to so much trouble to get, killing that old bag, was missing. It came flooding back to me as I drank: the nine iron denting in her skull. My triumphant shriek. Grabbing the jar from the shelf. Slipping on her blood. Falling. Smack. Darkness. Waking up to this.

The girl smelled of raspberry, too. Not that I needed to smell her to know her type. She wouldn’t be drinking from another fruit that wasn’t her flavor.

I felt the high sink into my skin. There’s really no describing it to someone who’s never had a bit of jelly. The closest you can get is to say that your flesh is like an oven set to warm. The lights get muted, and you feel sweet inside. Like your innards are a baking pie. Baking up so warm and sweet you can feel the colorful juice bubbling out of your skin, with just a hair of that pins-and-needles sensation you get when a limb falls asleep.

We finished drinking. I smiled at the girl. “What’re the odds of five raspberries in the same market?”

She giggled. Chair Man groaned in pain down the aisle.

The craving was gone. Now, there was only euphoria. Her blood had dried. Under the ratty, tatty shirt and skirt and matted hair, she was cute. Had long black-brown curls and round black eyes you could lose your head in.

I found myself drawing closer to her and noticed with glee that the jelly high had sent her soaring, that she was leaning toward me, too. She murmured something in a sultry tone. I couldn’t quite make it out. It didn’t matter. I felt good. Nothing else mattered.



It’d been the first time I’d had sex in months. It was oral, both giving and receiving, which was exactly how a fruit would want it. The drug got into your body fluids. Last time I’d had sex had been with Kerry, shortly after Aunty Goodtimes jams and jellies had been rolled out onto the market.

They’d been touted as aphrodisiacs, among other things. A stimulant. Good for headaches. Great for colds. Gave a sense of well-being. Lots of quack cures and funky stuff that I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t worked for the company. The stuff hit markets under a cloud of controversy, sold briskly, then began to disappear from the shelves in a cloud of dust.

Of course, Kerry turned out to be a strawberry, and I hadn’t seen her in months. I have to admit that the sex hadn’t been as good after the addiction took hold. We were both disappointed that we couldn’t get each other high.

The supermarket floor was sticky. It grabbed at me, tearing away lots of little leg hairs when I shifted on to my side. I barely noticed. The high was still intense. The sex afterwards kept it rolling along longer than it otherwise would. Flies were still buzzing around us. I remember the hum seeming pleasant at the time. Like a radio with the volume left low. You can’t make it out, but it’s better than silence.

“Who are you?” I whispered, stroking the girl’s cheek.

“Miranda,” she said, smiling. Her lip twitched just a touch at the corner.

“Miranda,” I repeated.

“You?” she asked.

“Douglas,” I said. “Just Doug to you.”

“We should go somewhere. Just … enjoy this while it lasts.”

“Yeah. My place isn’t too far.”

“Maybe tomorrow we could hunt some more.”

“The other guy has to be close.”

I stood up and offered her a hand, which she accepted. Her skin felt delicious against mine as she slid her fingers into my palm, and I couldn’t help but drag her roughly toward me as I pulled her off the ground. She was shorter than I was by nearly a foot. I buried my face in her hair, took a good, long whiff of the raspberry scent of the oil in it. She put her arms around me. Her red fingernails stuck sharp through my shirt, into my back.

“We could find more Aunty’s together, you and I,” she said. “Four eyes are better than two. We can trap other raspberries if we find ’em. And if we can’t find any right away, we’ll have each other.”

I nodded, a grin spread all over my face.

She picked a few knives out of the store’s kitchen aisle. A big, spearhead-like butcher knife and a bunch of slicey little sharp ones with blades only a little larger than her fingers.

Chair Man hadn’t gotten very far. A pair of strawberries in purple clothes were giving him a look over outside, looking disappointed. Addicts knew one another by scent if they were close enough. Some even had really incredible senses of smell, but only when it came to the jam. Another effect of the addiction. Ordinary smells became like whispers; Aunty cut through them like a scream.

The strawberries eyed Miranda and me, then sulked away when we stepped out of the shadow of the store’s red awning.

We stuffed Chair Man into a shopping cart and rolled him to my apartment a few blocks away. He was in a lot of pain and didn’t struggle. We carried him to my place on the third floor. There hadn’t been power in my building for days, and we stumbled over a pair of heels — Kerry’s; I hadn’t moved any of her things since the last time she’d been here — and bumped into the deep blue couch looming in the darkness as we passed through on our way to the kitchen.

Miranda’s little fingers were good with knots. She tied the man to a kitchen chair with a pair of yellow extension cords from the closet. When she’d finished, she gave me a thumbs up, flashed a grin and looked around the kitchen.

“Got any jelly here?” she asked.

I shook my head. The truth was that I did still have a few jars of Aunty in my kitchen cupboard, right up on the highest shelf, bagged in plastic to try to keep the scent out of the air. I was sure she couldn’t reach them, and I hoped she couldn’t smell them either, or if she could smell them that she would just take it as the background reek of a place belonging to another fruit.

She moved to the coach, flopped down on it and leaned back, stretching so that her T-shirt rose above her soft belly. She was thin, but with a soft, cloudlike look brought out by the oversized shirt she wore. In the blue of night, maybe she wasn’t quite so attractive as in the red-coated aisle at the store, but was pretty all the same. Not that I would have complained about another raspberry anyway. Not that either of us could’ve complained. I hadn’t bathed in days, and I’m sure she hadn’t either. My brown hair was a rat’s nest. I’d like to think that I didn’t cut so horrible a figure, given the state of the town. Kerry had said that I had a stone face, and that it looked unkind when I wasn’t smiling.

Chair Man whimpered in the kitchen.

“Come here,” she said, patting the couch.

I stepped toward the couch and knocked my shin against the coffee table. I sat down.

“You live around here?” I asked, running my fingers down her chest.

“Who doesn’t these days?” she said, laughing.

She took my hand and put it on her thigh, adding, “Anyway, what’s it matter?”

“Just curious.”

“Mmm. I was a cashier at the Save-U. But I actually lived on Grant Street downtown. You?”

“I worked at the Aunty Goodtimes plant. Jarring and shipping. Mostly shipping.”

This provoked a burst of giggles. She hit me playfully on the shoulder. “Get out. So, you were probably one of the first addicts?”

“Yeah. And I was there when the plant burned down during the riots.”

Her smile faded. “That was a … a tough day.”

I nodded. “How did you survive? I mean, the markets were charnel houses.”

“I hid,” she stated.

The craving was there again, though very, very faint. It mixed with the arousal, cleaving to one another. She slid a hand into my pants.

“You survived a long time,” she murmured. “Must have been through a hell of a lot.”

“I always had a good supply. Knew the names of everyone we shipped to.”

“Ooh.” With that she fell back on the couch, pulling me on top of her. “You still know them all?”

I hesitated, hoping she couldn’t see my frown in the dark. I’d kept a list of our buyers, but it had dwindled to only a few small names, and I was rapidly losing hope. The longer the panic went on, the fewer of them would have anything. By now, even the little stores had likely been gobbled up. I’d gone to the smallest buyers first; people who had ordered gift baskets or individual jars through our catalog. Those were the least likely to have been plundered, but they dried up fast. There wasn’t much to spare, and I didn’t want to share what I knew.

“Pretty much all gone, by now,” I said with an overwrought sigh.

“That’s too bad.”

I lifted up her skirt and realized she’d left her underwear in the store. Before I could do anything, she’d already wriggled out from under me. I was sitting, erection pointed up at her. She pushed me back to lay where she’d just been, and, when my back was set against the soft velvet of the couch, she climbed atop me, lowering her skirt over my face.



We fell asleep awkwardly, face to crotch on the couch. I awoke in the morning, when the euphoria of the jam had loosened enough that it had become easier to think. Right after a jam session, you were so loopty-loop that about all you wanted to do was lie around or fuck. About twenty-four hours after you’d had a mouthful of jelly, the craving crawled down your spine like a line of tiny spiders, so prickly and tickly that you could hardly think of anything other than finding your next hit. But there was a time between the pain and the high when you could think pretty well.

Jelly was the best for getting high, of course. Failing that? Blood. Failing that? Any body fluid would work, or so they said. Most I’d never been desperate enough to try.

Chair Man wasn’t moaning. I wondered if he was dead, and I felt a little guilty. I wasn’t a monster, not any more than anyone else out there. I mean, I’d killed, once or twice. You had to, to get the spiders out of your back. I looked at the guy in the chair. He was middle-aged. Pretty ordinary. Would’ve done the same in my place, I’m sure. I pictured him wearing a frilly, rainbow-colored sombrero and doing a dance around my standing corpse, drinking the blood from my neck as it spewed forth like a fountain into a little margarita glass he held with a tiny yellow umbrella in it. For a moment, I wondered who he’d been before all of this. Telemarketer? Used car salesman? Maybe. He looked the wife, two kids and forty-hours-a-week-at-a-desk type.

Miranda turned and murmured — her drool was sticky on my thigh. Aside from the raspberry scent, she smelled mostly of stale sweat. She talked in her sleep. It was never anything comprehensible, but the tone was always afraid. Like she was dreaming she was being chased. It made me wish I hadn’t brought her back.

She wasn’t anything like Kerry. Kerry didn’t deserve what happened to her. She’d been a sweet, shy Catholic girl who dressed in ankle-length brown skirts and felt embarrassed in anything shorter. She had worked in the shipping office of the jelly factory and was sending money to her parents a couple of states over, helping them pay the mortgage. She was pretty in that girl-next-door kind of way — mousy orange hair, green eyes and chubby cheeks. Irish and pale as marble, with lots of little orange freckles. Other than a few movies and a similar taste in music, the only thing we had in common was that we both worked for the plant. Neither of us had actually been from the town of Goodman; we’d both moved here for work. I was all she had and vice-versa. I lost her when the factory burnt down, but by then, I’m not sure that we were really what you would call together.

Most likely, she’d been torn apart that night.

Miranda groaned. From where I lay, I watched her head rise and look left then right. She looked down at my crotch and gasped, her head drawn suddenly back, which I found amusing after last night. In the window, the blueberry-colored sky was turning to gray.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hrmm,” she replied, looking back.

“You ready to go out searching?”

From the odd angle her head was cocked, I could see the edge of a weak smile.



Chair Man was out cold, though every so often, he would give a little grunt and twitch like a dreaming dog. In the light coming from the kitchen window, I could see that his leg was bent a little forward at the knee, which made both Miranda and I shiver. Hell of an injury. I hoped for his sake that he’d stay unconscious. We had a breakfast of crackers and yellow cheese, cutting the white mold spots off the wedge with one of Miranda’s knives.

“We could have him with breakfast,” Miranda said, taking a bite out of a stale saltine.

“Why not save him? He’s not going anywhere. We’ll have him when we get back.”

She shrugged. “He’s right here.”

“You really jonesing that hard?”

“Not really.”

“There should still be some jam somewhere.”

“Why do you think so?”

“The raspberry supply wasn’t high, but neither was the population of users,” I said. I put a bit of cheese on a cracker and nearly had it in my mouth before I noticed the green corner on it, which I broke off and tossed over my shoulder.

“Don’t tell me you know how many users there are.”

“A lot of it is just common sense — or common scents, heh.” I tapped my nose. “There are a lot of grapes around because supermarkets were full of the stuff. It’s the most popular flavor. The strawberries have nearly wiped themselves out. Demand had been nearly as high as grape, but there was half as much jelly to go around. We never produced as much. I’d always wondered about that. Seemed like a big mistake on the company’s part. Just one of those funny, little things, I guess. In any case, I have a rough idea of how many addicts there are of any flavor, just from what I saw us ship out.”

“Really?” Miranda said. “So, what’s the order?”

“Let’s see.” I held up my hand and began counting on my fingers. “In order: Grape, strawberry, raspberry, pineapple and apricot. We never finished production on kiwi or orange. Oh, there’s also mint. But I’ve never met a mint. Who the hell uses mint jelly for anything?”

Miranda nodded. She raised another cracker to her mouth, stared ahead for a moment and shivered. “Ugh, my back is starting to tickle.”

I nodded. “Let’s get going.”

We put the food away and double-checked Chair Man’s knots before leaving the apartment.



We were walking aimlessly down the middle of the road. There were plenty of cars left around, and the gas station’s pumps were probably operable, but the riots had made it impossible to drive: too many wrecks. Probably a quarter of them had been broken open, and maybe half of those had bodies slung over the wheels or cowering in the backseats, covered in crawling flies. A lot of people — fruits and the non-afflicted alike — had tried to flee during the chaos. I don’t know how many made it, but hundreds and possibly thousands didn’t. Miranda stopped to look in the backseats of some of the cars. You never knew your luck.

We took a few turns and eventually ended up on Wick Street. I had my nine iron, which had apparently gotten bent the previous night. She’d brought the big butcher knife.

“They say the National Guard is dug in on all sides now,” I said.

“M-hm?”

“So, did you grow up here?”

“Stop. Don’t do this,” she snapped.

“What?”

“Make conversation,” she said, stopping in front of a tailor’s shop with broken windows and looking up into my eyes. “Like you’re just reciting what you saw on CNN. This isn’t normal. We aren’t normal. We’re hunting people. I don’t want to talk like we’re just going out for dinner and a movie, or something. I killed someone last night. It wasn’t the first time since … since all of this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I just … it’s just …” she stuttered, crying. Then laughing. The tears were sliding down her face. I brought her close to me, nuzzled her nose and licked them away.

“I’ve lost someone, too,” I said.

“You see?” she said, smiling.

“Maybe, we can get better?” I said.

She laughed, but shook her head. “This is it. There isn’t any getting better. This is the new ‘normal.’ We do what we can to get by, whatever we have to do. Let’s not pretend we can have any of that other kind of life back.”

We moved on, passing an electronics store whose windows had remained intact, the silent black screens of the TVs eerie as they reflected the circle of the sun, like eyes watching. You could still find a working TV or radio here and there; they apparently couldn’t shut off the power everywhere in Goodman without affecting a few neighboring towns. Some neighborhoods still had power. News reports were coming in pretty regularly.

Goodman was surrounded on three sides by the Goodman River, which looped around it like a hook and from which the town took its name. The National Guard had deployed mostly on the two bridges that crossed it, in the north and northeast, and on the landward side of the town to the southeast. They’d been stupidly trying to keep addicts quarantined. Outsiders couldn’t understand: We didn’t want to leave. Aunty was here. But every so often, you might find a working radio, and there’d be news of addicts who wandered a little too far from the center of town and ran into a patrol. The Guard abducted them. They were trying to detox them out in the world. One in five died just from being denied access to Aunty. Chemical dependency. Roughly the same number of addicts committed suicide when they couldn’t get back.

I thanked God we’d only been a regional brand centered on Goodman. There hadn’t been many cases outside of the surrounding four counties. And the lack of availability when the riots started and the town turning in on itself made the outbreaks in the other towns short-lived, though operations on those places bought the citizens of Goodman a little more time to enjoy what we’d become.

Miranda stopped to look under a Save-U delivery truck, then crawled underneath, sniffing like a bloodhound. The street was littered with scraps and blistered with burn marks from fires set during the riots. I kicked away a wad of wet newspaper, and a bit of it clung to my shoe. I flicked it rapidly to get it off. I wondered if I would end up like the captured addicts someday. Spiders’ legs were beginning to trickle down my back. Aunty would run out on everyone, eventually. We had to make do with what we could, here and now. Live the life in front of us. The new “normal.”

“Hold on,” Miranda said as she crawled out from under the truck. She stood and sniffed the air. We were at a “T” intersection where Wick Street met Carla Ave. They were two of the busier roads downtown. There would’ve been a lot of traffic before the town closed up, and, even now, addicts routinely crossed it. I couldn’t detect anything besides the usual background smells. Miranda must’ve had a keen nose.

“This way!” she cried, giving a little giggle. She pointed her knife. “It’s strong! Could be a whole jar!”

She took a left, running around the corner.

“Wait!”

I took off after her, getting to the intersection in time to see her flash a quick smile and turn left once more, into an alleyway squeezed tight between two buildings of cracking red brick. I ran in after her, my arms pumping, nearly losing my grip on the golf club.

She was at the end of the alley, still smiling. She pointed the knife toward the only turn — the sunlight glinting off of the blade, briefly blinding me. She ran. I got to the corner and saw her back. Her skirt was whipping up over her waist. I still couldn’t smell the raspberry other than the scent whispering off of her.

The alley split left and right; she looked both ways, turned right and then doubled back left while waving the knife. I followed.

I was panting when I finally caught up with her. I’m maybe good for hauling boxes around a loading dock but too heavy for so much running and definitely not at the pace she set. She stood still, back to me, one hand on her hip, tapping her foot and facing the blue basement entrance of a thick, brick building at the dead end of the alley.

I walked up behind her. She turned and put one hand on my chest.

“You smell it? Must be a whole jar. Trail lead all the way from the delivery truck. I swear there’s some stuff down there.”

I arched an eyebrow. “You can’t be serious? You can smell a jar through all that? That’s extreme. Even for a fruit.”

She didn’t reply but kneeled down at the hatch and tugged at the handle a little, as if she was only trying to show me that she couldn’t open it.

“Can you get it?” she asked sweetly.

I shrugged, and she stepped out of the way and put her back against the wall. I dropped my nine iron with a clang, gripped the hatch and pulled. Little flakes of blue paint crumbled onto my fingers as the doors began coming up. They weren’t locked like I thought, just rusty and old. I felt Miranda slip her free hand onto my shoulder.

And then the handle broke off in my hands. I toppled backward on her.

“Ow!”

“You alright?” I asked.

“Yeah. Shouldn’t have got behind you, I guess.”

I stood up, wedged my club into the hatch and tried to lever it open, eventually getting it high enough that I could grab the edges and push them up against the wall, though I bent the club even further in the process. The top third of the nine iron was skewed nearly perpendicular to the bottom. On the basement floor below, dust-speckled sunlight shone. There was that usual musty, dusty basement scent, but strung throughout that was a pleasant whiff of raspberry. Standing up, I noticed the jar of Aunty at the bottom of the basement stairs, coated in the ray of lemon-yellow light that fell from the basement window. The lid was off, and the jar looked half full. And not dried up like you might expect a jar of jelly would be after being open to the air for a time.

Miranda started down the steps, unsettling a few spiders. I grabbed her arm.

“Wait a minute.”

There was a radio playing somewhere inside, just on the edge of hearing. A song playing, too garbled by distance. It sounded like something out of an oldies station, sixties rock, or something like it, but I couldn’t recognize the tune.

“Someone might be in there,” I whispered. “Trap. Could be a fruit basket.”

She nodded and took a step back, closing her eyes and turning her nose up into the air. “I’m only smelling raspberries. Can’t be a basket.”

“Could still be a trap.”

The fruit baskets, addicts of different flavors working together, began showing up in the days just after the Aunty Goodtimes factory burned down. They were gangs, containing only one of each flavor they could find, banding together for safety and helping each other to forage or hunt. There weren’t many of them, but they were organized, and any group who could keep three or more people on the edge of sanity organized were not the kind of people you wanted to fuck with.

It was hard to tell where one might be — every flavor’s scent was spread over the town like … well, like jam on a slice of bread. You couldn’t be too careful. I reached down and picked up a dented beer can at my feet. I threw it down the steps at the jar.

Clank. The can made a little noise on the cellar floor and rolled out of my line of sight. We waited a moment.

Nothing else happened. Although, I’d started to smell something other than the raspberry jam. A mix of mothballs and something unpleasant.

I looked at Miranda and jerked my head toward the stairs, then began to very quietly creep down each individual step, weighing myself on them, slowly, so as not to make them creak. The final one did anyway, in a series of three slow, agonizing snaps that felt to my ears like breaking bones. A six-inch sliver of wood split from that step and fell to the dust.

I reached the cement floor, which was coated in thin, gritty dust except in a foot-wide line from the outside stairs to the jar, and then from the jar to a set of rotting wooden steps that led to the inside of the house. Miranda’s light feet sounded loud in the gloom. She wasn’t even trying to be quiet. I bit my lip in irritation. The place was covered in clutter: a rainbow of old tarps, blankets and rags in haphazard piles; the frame of a rusted, purple bicycle, broken apart and stretched out across the wall; cardboard boxes overflowing with old plaid clothes, rotting under the wooden stairway that lead up into the house. A workbench was set against the wall under the narrow window, the red-handled tools mostly covered in spider webs, the color faded where hands had gripped them over the years. A pair of mounted deer heads hung on the far wall, one, diagonally, and only from a single nail.

From elsewhere in the building, I could hear the radio station changing songs. A deejay’s muffled voice called out something. The chatter passed, and the station began to play what sounded like “Sixteen Tons.”

I reached out with the nine iron and tapped the glass jar. It rolled on its edge for a moment then vibrated through a series of smaller circles to a stop.

“It’s safe,” I said turning to Miranda.

I turned back to the jar, and, only then, did I notice the light glinting off of the gun barrel, which jutted from under a heap of rags. I dropped the club, dropped to the ground, covering my head with my hands. Waited for the shot, hoping, praying to God that Miranda was the better target. I heard her footsteps shuddering up the wood stairs. Wasn’t sure if she saw the gun or just reacted when she saw me duck.

Silence.

The shot never came.

I stood up. Miranda was coming back, making tracks through the dust. I crawled toward the gun, which, aside from the tip, was buried under a heap of moldering blankets. I threw them off.

A cloud of dust emerged. There was a body underneath the blankets. An old man, his skin grey and peeling. His eyes glassy. He smelled of rotten meat and fruit left in the sun. My stomach churned. The top of his head had caved in, and red-brown blood coated him down to his shoulders. Someone had thrown mothballs into the cavity of his skull. The things were also tucked into the various folds of the blankets around him, and a few clattered to the ground when I’d moved the cloth aside. I choked back the surge of sickness in my throat.

The rifle he held was still clutched tight in his hands. I wondered if I would be able to pry it away, or if maybe Miranda could cut the fingers off. One of them had a wedding ring.

“His back’s against the wall,” I murmured. Miranda came up beside me. I felt her hand close around mine.

“So?” she asked.

“So someone walked up right in front of him and did this.”

“Okay?” she said.

There was the sound of something heavy falling upstairs. Like a sack of oranges thumping against the floor.

“Close the cellar door!” I hissed.

Suddenly we were no longer trespassers. The jar was ours. The basement was our lair. We were its protectors, and we had to seal it away. There could be other addicts anywhere nearby, outside or inside. Miranda rushed to the hatch and slammed it shut with a bang. She threw the bolt.

There was another, smaller thump from the floor above. And another. A series. Like someone limping. Slow.

I hid under the inner stairway; there was space underneath it and gaps in the steps for me to see through. Miranda threw the blankets back over the old man and buried herself under a heap of brown clothes in a corner.

From above me, there was the noise of a creaking door. Watery light flowed down the stairs.

“I know you’re down there,” screeched the voice of an old woman. “I can smell you.”

And we could smell her. Raspberry. A little sour.

She was walking down the stairs. Slow, resting between steps. If she had any sense, she’d be armed.

From where I stood, I could see her feet fall into place above me, one after the other. And with extreme care. They were in brown-and green-striped socks pocked with balls of lint. A thick bandage had been wrapped around her left leg and a patch of maroon blood marred the side of the bandage that I could see.

A foot came down at eye level. I thrusted the nine iron through a gap in the stairs, hooked her foot with it and sent her stumbling down, screaming, her body bounding noisily down the steps. She bashed her head against the railing on the way down. Her smell gushed into the musty air of the basement. A claw hammer she’d been carrying clattered to the floor.

Miranda came out from hiding, holding her knife in front of her and wearing a nasty expression.

“No. Don’t kill me,” the woman begged. “There’s enough in that jar for all of us. We can share.”

She spit out a chipped tooth. Blood dribbled down her chin. On a closer look, the bandaged leg seemed to be festering. Maybe the old man clipped her right before she brought the hammer down.

“Please. Plenty to go around. I’ve lost blood. Not enough for you.”

It was pathetic. Most of the blood went to waste when you killed someone, anyway. You didn’t need every pint, and you couldn’t save it. There would be enough for Miranda and me. I thought back to the old woman in the store, the one I’d killed for the jar, and suddenly felt a pang of guilt. It was stupid. Wasn’t she as much a murderer as I was?

“Screw it. Let’s just leave her and get out with the Aunty,” I said. “That wound smells bad and who knows what infection the old bat’s got.”

Miranda furrowed her brow. “Are you really debating this?”

“Why not? Plenty in that jar.”

“We leave her here, and she’s just gonna die when her stash runs out. Which’ll be soon if this is the last of it.”

“Fuck it. Do what you want,” I said.

“Hell with you,” said the woman, her lips curled up in a sneer. “One of you will bleed the other someday ...”

Miranda had heard enough; she growled and leapt on the woman, plunging the knife into her grey throat. Maroon blood spurted from the wound as the woman clawed desperately at Miranda’s neck, the younger girl easily batting her hands away.

You couldn’t waste anything. You just couldn’t. Though I still felt uneasy as I licked the blood from the old woman. Her thrashing got slower and eventually stopped altogether.

We got what we could out of her. She was right though; it seemed like there was less blood in her than there should’ve been. She’d probably not had much Aunty in the past day or so either — the apex of the high was short, which meant that there wasn’t much of the drug in her system.

But it was enough. The high warmed our hearts and left us happy. With nothing better to do, we explored the apartment. It was actually part of a three-family house. Nobody was at home in any of the other units, and the ground level windows and doors had all been boarded up or barricaded with furniture. Miranda found the radio in the living room — an old, black portable with a hefty gouge out of one corner — turned the dial to a top forty station and began dancing to some funky techno tune I didn’t recognize and could scarcely stand, while I sat on an orange couch and just watched her move. She swore she could smell the old scents of numerous raspberries outside. They’d been prowling. We weren’t the only ones who’d found the place, apparently. “All of the scents lead in, but not out,” she said.

I could imagine the clever old couple baiting and butchering raspberries for a time — maybe they were a little too frail to go out to the store. And then word got out that this place was a death trap, or maybe the supply of fruits began to get low. And then even their backup jam was a bit sparse. And one day, one of them decided to stretch the stock just one day further.

We lounged around, slept together. Miranda and I pulled some red and yellow and blue blankets from the heaps and made ourselves a little nest in the basement. We locked the basement door, figuring it was safer in the cellar than anywhere else.

The sound of distant gunfire woke me in the middle of the night. I wondered who it might be. Sounded pretty major. Maybe a couple of rival fruit baskets clashing over some secret cache, or a bunch of grapes converging on a stash and fighting it out. Miranda was curled, half-clothed, around my left arm, one leg thrown over mine. I was naked to the waist. Our bodies were hot and clung where they were pressed together. I could feel her heart beat. All that blood going round and round. Thump thump. Thump thump. She murmured a little and squirmed. She hadn’t slept soundly the past night, either.

Sometimes I wondered if Kerry had made it out of the factory fire alive. Maybe she was some other strawberry’s Miranda, or maybe her blood was pooling in someone else’s guts.

And Miranda had probably been together with some other guy. Maybe just another boyfriend. Married? Too young, I imagined. She looked to be in her early twenties. I was twenty-seven. What might’ve happened to her boyfriend, if she’d been together with anyone? What if he’d been a raspberry, too?

We hadn’t closed the old woman’s eyes. It was too dark to see anything, but I knew they were out there. I wished we’d closed them. I got up and tried, but it was too late for it by the time I’d thought of it. They stared stubbornly in our direction until I rolled her over and draped a few of the old blankets over her corpse. Even then, I slept poorly knowing that they were open, still looking at something, somewhere.



When Miranda awoke, I had a surprise for her.

“You want me to wear that thing?” Miranda asked in disbelief. She looked back and forth between the plain gold ring in my palm and the one on my finger. We were both in that clear zone of thought between the high and the horror.

“I left someone alone, during the riots. She didn’t deserve that and … I just don’t want to do that again. We need to stick together. I want you to promise that I can trust you. This can be a symbol of that. And why not?”

She was still looking at the old woman’s wedding ring, her face curled up along one side, like I was trying to hand her one of the dead spiders curled up on the windowsill. Miranda’s hands were a similar size to the old woman’s. There was no reason to think the ring wouldn’t fit. I’d already managed to pry off the old man’s ring and was wearing it on my right hand.

“No. This is stupid. It’s creepy. We just met. Why in the fuck would you even think of something like that?”

“What isn’t fucked up right now? We just murdered a woman. We live in a ruin of a town with hundreds of lunatics addicted to jelly, and we’re drinking blood like vampires. We’re good together. Maybe if we keep reminding each other of that, we’ll stay alive and stay happy.”

She looked at me, eyes wide, and shook her head. “Doug — shit, I don’t even feel comfortable calling you Doug, like, I don’t know you well enough — this isn’t going to end well. For either of us. It’s like … have you ever gone on a really bad trip? Like visiting a relative you don’t want to visit. There was this time back when I was a teenager where we went to visit my grandmother in the nursing home. The AC in our old car was busted, and it was so hot that opening the window was like putting your face in front of a blow dryer. My parents put on a crappy radio station because we didn’t have a CD player, and my little brother kept punching me in the shoulder. It’s one of those things where you’re all miserable; it’s just better to have someone else along for the ride for a while, if it has to be that way.”

It was an awkward way of putting it, but in the back of my head, I knew there was some truth to what she was saying. I just didn’t want to believe it. I don’t know what sort of future I pictured for us, but you never imagine that things are going to be anything but similar to the way they are at the moment. As if life can and will go on exactly the way it is, indefinitely. “So you’re fine fucking me,” I said, “cutting throats and drinking blood, but you won’t promise you’re not going to kill me in my sleep? Shit, why not? I’m just asking for a little sign that we can trust each other.”

“You can’t trust me. And I can’t trust you.”

“Can’t we try and change that a little?” I asked, thrusting my hands into my pockets. “Look, I lost someone in the riots. I feel guilty. I just don’t want to lose anyone again. Didn’t you have anyone before this? Where are they now?”

She opened her mouth to speak but closed it immediately, as if she’d thought better of what it was she was about to say. Instead, she rolled her eyes and let out a big, exasperated sigh. “Fine, give it to me.”

I did. She slipped the gold ring on her finger and held the back of her hand up to my face. The ring was a little loose. It glinted in the dusty light from the basement window.

“Can we go now?”

“Sure,” I said.

“You bringing the gun?”

“Out of bullets. Found a crowbar on that workbench anyway,” I said. I’d hung the crowbar off of my belt, leaving the busted golf club behind. My game had always been terrible anyway.

“You already picked up the jar?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?”

“Safe,” I said, patting a fanny pack I’d hooked around my belt.

“Hmmm. You want to talk trust? Give me the jar. If you can do that, maybe I’ll trust you.”

My jaw dropped. “Don’t twist it on me like that. There’s trust, and then there’s trust.”

“You say you need to know if you can trust me. I’m saying the same thing about you,” she said with a smile

“But, I’m only asking you not to kill me.”

Still smiled.

“We both know we can’t trust each other with Aunty.”

Not a move. Just that same bright smile.

I thrust a hand into my pack and retrieved the jar, holding it out in front of me like a dead mouse. She tucked it into a backpack she’d found hanging against the wall.



We set out back to my place, planning on doing a little scavenging along the way. Out on the street, there was a billboard that I hadn’t noticed before. The slogan underneath, “Just a spoonful,” was plastered under Aunty Goodtimes’ great horrible grin on the billboards around town. They got that right. A tablespoon of jelly would give you a high that would last about a day. Though it took quite a bit more than that if you were drinking blood.

I sometimes wonder who the first guy was to drink another addict’s blood, and why they even thought to do it. When did we get to that point? People were cutting each other even before the jelly riots started, which means that they didn’t do it just because the supply was low, although the week before the riots was about the time that the murders became common. I’d bet it was probably one of the rarer flavors like apricot. We couldn’t produce any variety anywhere near fast enough, let alone apricot. I was in on double shifts for nearly a month. Was loving the money.

And then there came a time where I didn’t care about my paycheck, which was fine because they stopped giving them out. Nobody cared. And we were no longer a company, but something more like a hive; we came in, we produced our nectar, we left. We just kept showing up to work because we loved being there. And then, one evening we just didn’t leave. We holed up in the factory because it was ours, damn the rest. I loved the smell of the raspberry tanks. Loved knowing that I was helping to produce the stuff I loved. There was camaraderie when there was plenty. We were loyal to one another when supplies ran too low in the town, and we closed and chained our doors to protect our hoard. We stood by each other when the riots erupted, the city burned and the mobs came. We were just another bunch of people trying to protect our stash.

By then, Kerry and I didn’t really care for one another, and I’m sure she was screwing around with other strawberries. I would’ve started fucking around myself if it weren’t for the lack of raspberry girls in the plant. I don’t know why we really thought it could work. I mean, that we could hold the factory. It was the only time I’d seen so many of the same flavors working together. There were more than ten grapes on staff: even the company president was one. But there were crates and crates of the stuff. We thought we could hold out forever. Stupid.

I was up on the second-floor catwalk, over the vats, when they broke the doors down. Was hurling down reams of green-and-white printer paper, garbage, old wood and tools, orange safety cones, everything, everything at the lunatic fruits that rushed in. Every so often, bingo, one would drop. A few of those around them would dive in and try to carry them off, or kneel down and bleed them dry right there. There was so much blood on the floor that the latecomers were kicking sprays of it onto the backs of each other’s legs. The air was humid and thick as juice.

Two other raspberries worked at the plant, but never did any of us think of the other as a way to get high. We were defending the factory for all of us. You didn’t think to drink any of your coworkers because they were with you. And there was so much jelly to be had. It was inconceivable that there could ever be anything other than good times with Aunty forever. And who would’ve thought that the rioters would tear apart the people who gave them not only their addiction but also the means to sate it?

The loading bay doors buckled inward under a hundred blows from blunt weapons and eventually burst open. I saw a group of strawberries knock down Murphy, the night janitor, from his perch atop a mixing machine. Part of me didn’t believe it was happening. I stopped throwing things and just watched as they tore him apart and scattered his pieces across the floor. The lemon twins — two researchers, not actually related, who’d been hooked on an experimental lemon curd that’d never see production — were knocked down and trampled even though their blood was worthless to anyone but each other. Ten of our grapes lined up on the first floor and were rapidly overwhelmed by the opening charge. Two had brought hunting rifles in from home; the rest made do with sharpened sticks and metal rods. All were useless under the wave of addicts rampaging through the factory. And the fruits took it any way they could: from crates, from corpses, from the boiling vats of liquid jelly that hadn’t quite finished yet. A few crazed fruits stuck their heads in and pulled away screaming, the skin sloughing from their hands and faces and curdling on the floor.

When the addicts began stacking junk to reach the second-floor catwalk, I ran up the stairs to the roof.

I guess I was one of the few that escaped the jelly factory that night. To date, I still wonder if Kerry made it, or if I should have gone back for her. She was stuck atop the cardboard bailer, cracking open strawberries with an improvised axe made of a mop handle and a bit of sheet metal, a Braveheart look in her Irish eyes, screaming obscenities the entire time. Maybe she got out alive.

By the time I’d made it to a roof a block away, the factory was burning. From the edge of the building where I sat, I could see hordes of addicts still rushing this way and that out of the supermarkets and the convenience stores of the town, better than half of those burning. And down the streets, I could see the flaming wreck of the Aunty Goodtimes factory. In the dark distance, backlit by the inferno, the people looked like little black ants. Men and women were scurrying in and out of the building. Some of them were on fire. Many held cases or jars of Aunty in their hands. Some of those were on fire. I don’t think anything on this earth could more resemble the gates of hell more than that fire did — the flames licked at Aunty’s face on the billboard above, her paper skin peeling away black in the inferno. Hundreds of imps leaping out of the blaze with flaming jelly glazing their mouths and skin, licking it off of their fingers and howling to the moon.





Part Two





“Doug? Earth to Doug?” Miranda said.

“Hm?”

“You zoned out a bit there.”

“Was just thinking.”

It was afternoon by the time we entered the lobby of my apartment building, and there was only a razor-shaped slant of sunlight to see by. We’d spent some time looking around the neighborhood for other fruits. “No sense in wasting the jar of jam if we didn’t have to,” Miranda’d said. I sat for a moment on the bottom of the stairs. She leaned against the row of bronze mailboxes set in the wall, crossing her arms. “Whatcha thinking about?”

“Nothing much, I guess. Where were you during the riots? I mean, how did you survive?”

“I … I just. I got out of the market and hid in a friend’s house.”

“Another raspberry?”

“Yeah.”

“For how long? You must have had a decent stash from the market, huh?”

“Yeah. Is there something wrong with that?” she asked, the corners of her lips turning downward. The lower one had begun to tremble.

“No. I was just curious.”

She looked outside through the front door. A wind blew along the street, scattering dust and dried paper in front of it. “Everything was fine. I was fine.”

The breeze entered through the front door, tousling her hair and blowing it in front of her face.

“Let’s go upstairs,” I said.



We did. The door to my apartment was wide open.

“Fuck! He’s gone!” she yelled. The man who’d been tied to the chair was, indeed, missing.

Panicked, I immediately ran to my jam cupboard and looked inside. Empty.

“That son of a bitch!”

She rushed to my side. “What?”

“He took my stash!” I said, feeling every last word slip out, unable to take them back.

“You had more?”

I bit my lip. “Yeah.”

“Shit, why didn’t you say something?”

“It didn’t come up.”

“After all of the bullshit about trusting each other?”

“You would’ve done the same.”

“That was my point from the start!” she shouted, then stormed off into the living room and threw herself down on the couch with an exasperated groan.

I slammed the cupboard door shut. “It doesn’t matter. We need to find this guy and score some more jam. How far could he have gotten?”



The answer was, not far. We found him on the roof, splayed out with his head at the center of a carpet of dried blood. He’d been drained. The local wildlife was feasting — a line of crows along the building’s edge were sneaking away with gibbets of flesh, craning back their necks and swallowing the morsels in a series of nods. The thick swarms of flies that had settled in Goodman after the riots were already swarming above the body. Someone had dragged him up to the roof to finish him.

“We still have what’s left in the jar,” Miranda said, sweetly.

We heard voices from the streets below and walked to the edge of the building to see what was going on, scaring the crows off of their perches in the process. Miranda leaned on the edge of the roof. There were a few people on the street. A withered-looking strawberry was walking by, leaning on a wooden cane. Miranda sniffed the air. “Few grapes, not far away,” she stated. There was a rare appearance by two pineapples, walking together. Probably just waiting for an opportunity to cut each other’s throats. Every last fruit was headed in the same direction.

Miranda waved and yelled down at them. “Hey. Where’s everyone going?”

One of the pineapples — a man who looked to be in his mid-40s with thinning, blonde hair — answered, looking a bit puzzled.

“You mean you don’t know?” he asked.

“No,” Miranda shouted.

“National Guard made landfall last night in the northeast corner. Just across the bridge. Got into a big shitfight with a fruit basket that had dug in at Carter’s Bowling Alley up there. Strip mall right next door got shot up real bad. Bunch of us ran. Supposedly they moved the barricades up closer to town along the Route 40 bridge, too. And to the south. They’re closing in. They’ve seen what it was like in the other towns where the problem wasn’t as bad, and they aren’t fucking around. Get your Aunty while you can. The end’s coming.”

I felt my heart leap in my chest. They’d pull us out of here, thinking that they were rescuing us. One-in-five, dead. One-in-five, suicide. To never have Aunty again. To never feel good. I wouldn’t leave, I decided then and there. They could kill me, but I wouldn’t leave.

“You know where a guy could score some pineapple around here?” the man asked.

“No,” I replied, flatly. Miranda shook her head. The pineapple looked annoyed for a moment, then nodded and continued on his way. A lone grape turned a corner, looking over his shoulder warily.

“We need a big score, fast,” I said. Miranda nodded. She turned toward me and threw her arms around my waist. I could feel her sobs beginning. It was the moment that would really unite us, I’d decided. Time was the limiting factor instead of supply. It’d be easier to fight off the world with the two of us.



Kerry had lived in the northeast corner of town, not far from the bowling alley and right about where the Guard must’ve landed. Her place was in a ridiculous purple house with pink shutters that had been split up into apartments. I alternated between love and hate for how absurd it looked. I think she loved it there for the same reason and maybe for the red-and-blue suited garden gnomes the house’s owner insisted on planting on the lawn. It’s funny, I don’t think I feel bad about not going back in for her; I feel bad about not feeling bad about it. For some reason, I hoped the Guard did have her, and I hoped that they would get her help.

My list of stores that had taken shipment of Aunty Goodtimes jelly included only three names; a Gas-and-Go, a small mom-and-pop market, and the Goodman Pharmacy. With the northeast corner taken by guardsmen, the pharmacy was our only real chance. The other two were too close to the hot zone.

We tried looking in the area around my apartment, but there was little to find and more hungry faces around the neighborhood than usual. Addicts prowled around day and night. We slept poorly. Sporadic gunfire sounded off when the world went dark.

In a couple of days, the half-a-jar we took from the old woman’s house became a quarter-jar, and soon after, an eighth. Miranda was beginning to look tempting to me, and I’m sure I did to her. I finally shared with her that I knew somewhere where there might still be a little jam and was hoping we could put off the inevitable. She looked at me a little funny, like she thought I was holding out on her.



The Goodman Pharmacy was a drugstore in the southwest corner of town, which had been remodeled to something more like a convenience store. It had a sign with a little red-and-white mortar and pestle, in front of which stood a cheerful gopher in a doctor’s uniform. A pun on the two words in its name: Goodman Pharmacy. “Go-Pha.” It was in what would have been the rougher section of town — not that anywhere in Goodman was all that rough — close to where the interstate came in and where the bulk of the National Guard were stationed, making it a risky move but the only one we could make. Miranda pocketed a few knives. I had my crowbar. The storefront window had one of those diamond-patterned metal grates over it, and there was a metal blind on the door to keep people out. Both of those measures were completely intact. Still, there were multiple breaks in the window and bloodstains on the glass, as if more than one person had tried to reach inside and had been cut.

We’d seen the pineapple men again on our way there. They were sitting in the street, drinking something yellow out of jars. Piss, I was sure. One waved. I waved back, feeling sheepish. You were in a real sorry state if you were drinking piss. I’m sure there was still a bit of the drug in it, but piss still smelled like piss and must’ve tasted the same. I decided that if we found a jar of their flavor, I’d give it to them.

Miranda put her hands on the trellis and clung to it as if she were about to climb. She thrust her nose past the grate toward one of the breaks in the storefront window. “There’s definitely some in there. I can smell it. How are we going to get in?” she asked.

“I don’t know. It bothers me that nobody’s tried to get in here.”

“There’s tons of scents here. They have,” she said.

“Successfully, I mean.” It was secure, but an addict would fight hard when he wanted jam. Hadn’t the big doors of the factory been brought down?

“Moot point, Doug. If they had, then where would we be? Let’s check for a back way.”

We walked around back into a small, private parking lot. There was a single back door into the place. The window had been smashed, but someone had boarded it up.

I brought a finger to my lips. “Might still be someone in here,” I whispered. Miranda nodded, her forehead wrinkled with worry.

Tried the door. Locked.

Aside from the storefront, none of the other windows were low enough or large enough to enter. I decided to pry one of the boards loose. Could reach an arm in then and unlock it that way. It took a bit of effort, and the board clattered down inside, echoing loudly in what appeared to be a vacant stairwell beyond the door when I peered in through the gap. I reached in, clicked the latch and pulled my arm out.

“Nothing to it,” I said, smiling.

I’d opened the door only about halfway when I saw a filthy man in a police uniform, holding a shotgun at the top of a set of stairs.

“Duck!” Miranda fell to one side of the door; I fell to the other. The blast tore through the door, pushing it further open.

“We got raspberries!” came a voice from inside.

“There are more,” Miranda whispered, sniffing “Five flavors. A fucking basket!”

Fuck. That was why nobody had touched the Go-Pha. I tightened my grip on the crowbar. From out on the street, there came the sound of the lattice shifting on it hinges, creaking. Footsteps. They’d come out through the front door and were circling around.

I was standing at the corner of the building with the crowbar held overhead, ready to brain anyone who came around. The door was at my back. The cop’s feet were thumping down the staircase inside, and I prayed Miranda could stab the guy before he got another shot off.

Some scrawny blonde kid ducked his head around the corner. His eyes went wide as I brought the bar down. I clipped his skull just as he pulled back. He cursed. I heard him run off the other direction. Others were coming.

“Get back there!” a man yelled.

“But they’re armed!”

The cop’s steps had hit the landing. I kicked the door behind me, hard, and heard the gun go off. My ears rung. He cursed, and I could scarcely hear it. Miranda screamed. I turned.

I saw the butt of the gun strike out and crack her in the forehead. The cop rushed out, pointing the gun at Miranda. I swung the crowbar at the back of his head. The claw end of the bar stuck in. He fell, gun clattering to the asphalt.

There was a sudden whiff of mint, then something hit me in the shoulders, and I fell on all fours. More blows across my back, my neck, my head. Miranda was yelling something, but the sound was coming out all fuzzy around the edges. I felt dizzy. The world spun around like the colors in a kaleidoscope, swirled and winked out.



I woke up lying on my back, my hands cuffed underneath me. Once I’d sorted out all the aches and bruises I actually felt jealous … some fucker got mint.

There wasn’t a lot of competition for mint. It’d never been in high demand, and a month prior to all hell breaking loose, we’d ended up overproducing due to a computer error. Goodman was loaded with mint, and nobody to take it.

“You awake, eh?” came a gravelly voice. It was followed by a sharp kick in the ribs that rolled me over on my belly. I opened my eyes. The wooden floor I was on was warped, the boards old and sort of concave in the middle. Dead flies and clumps of dust filled the cracks between them.

“Fucking raspberry, eh? Ballsy move trying to rob us. We’re actually pretty good on razz right now, but you know how it is; you never really have enough. Right now, I’m more pissed that you killed our pineapple. I worked with Jerry for a year. He didn’t deserve that shit.”

On the last word, another kick. I groaned and rolled over on my side, putting my back to my attacker. We were in an office. Second floor, by the view of the sky out the window. Papers were stacked neatly on several plain wooden desks, and the walls were full of old posters for various medications, pictures of pills scattered across each and every one, but all of them having gone that faint blue that pictures do when exposed to light for too long. The guy standing over me was another cop. He had one of those trim mustaches they’re allowed to have, only his had gone a bit feral around the edges. He was a big man, well-muscled and with a look of contempt in his eyes.

“Cop?” I muttered.

He shrugged. “Not anymore. Not in an official capacity, no. People respect the uniform. They want someone or something else making the hard decisions for them, so, fuck it, I make the decisions around here. Oh, and no jokes about jelly donuts. Got that from other smartass fruits we’ve taken in, and it gets really fucking old. That stereotype is bullshit. You spend a lot of time on the job, you need coffee. And if you need coffee, you go to a donut shop. I don’t even eat the things. Besides, who ever heard of a donut with mint jelly?”

“Mint?” I gasped, trying to catch my breath.

“Yeah,” he said, pulling an office chair over. It creaked and squeaked as it rolled. He sat. “Just my luck. Wife was a bit of a gourmet. That weird kind who likes to cook for other people and then just ends up making a peanut butter sandwich for herself. Lamb with mint jelly is what did me in. Ended up with the leftovers in my lunchbag for few days after. Definitely lucky on that one. You have any fucking clue how hard it is to find something like apricot?”

It hurt to breathe. I wondered if he’d broken some of my ribs. Miranda wasn’t there.

“Girl,” I sputtered.

“Your wife is in the other room. Safer to lock you up separate. Anyway, we’re probably going to keep her longer. Our raspberry is a guy. They can keep each other company for a little while.”

“Said … you already have … a good supply.”

“You can never have enough. I’m sure I said that. Don’t tell me you haven’t bled someone when you’ve still had a little jam left. You ain’t lasted this long without doing it. You take what you can get. Jerry — guy you killed — I loved him like a brother, but we’re draining him now. Some other pineapple is gonna come along, and we’ll take them in, and they’ll want a drink. Blood’ll actually keep a day or two, if you’re equipped to drain it and seal it properly and have some anticoagulants on hand. Probably not healthy to drink the stuff afterwards, but who actually cares about that at this point?”

There was a silence for a moment. He looked down at me. I took a deep breath. Don’t know why I said what I said next: “One block east, about … three blocks south. Coleman Street. Saw two pineapples. Both looking bad.”

Officer Mint’s eyebrow shot up. He scratched his stubbled chin. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Not going to affect me either way,” I said.

“You know, you’re all right,” he said, chuckling as he stood up and continuing to laugh all the way to the office door, which he closed and locked behind him.

I tried to stand up. Had to inch my way over to a wall and lean against the furniture there, pushing my face and upper body against a metal file cabinet. My cheek caught on a rusty spot along the edge, and I gashed it a little as I tugged to get away from sharp spot.

They’d taken the crowbar, of course. I looked around. Only papers and office furniture. Didn’t seem to be anything I could arm myself with. And anyway, my hands were stuck behind my back. There were two doors in the office: the one that Officer Mint had left through and another one set into the only wall without windows. Both had panes of frosted glass set into them. I shuffled toward the one that Mint hadn’t used and gave the tarnished knob a twist. It stuck fast. Was locked. It was hard to see too far into the room. It looked to be full of shelves, like a stock room, but the shades were drawn and there were only a pair of thin bars of light to go by where the drapes had been drawn over of the room’s windows. Scarcely visible was a small figure, which looked to be sitting in a chair with its arms behind its back. “Miranda?” I whispered. Trying to get her attention, I knocked my head against the door and instantly regretted it. Pain. Purple and white spots flashed before my eyes. If it was her, she wasn’t moving.

I had to get us out of there. Or at least get myself out and come back for Miranda. If it were possible. Wasn’t sure where the other fruits in the basket were, or when they might be coming back. Officer Mint didn’t seem stupid enough to leave the key to the handcuffs lying around. I rooted through the desks. There wasn’t much useful. The desk drawers were filled with typical things; pens, pencils, more papers. I found a pair of scissors and tried to jam them into the keyhole of the cuffs, but honestly wasn’t sure what good it would do. I’d just given up on it, dropped the scissors onto the desk and was looking around for a paperclip when someone else showed up at the door. They unlocked the bolt and entered.

It turned out to be the skinny, blond kid I’d nicked earlier. There was a bandage slung across his forehead, an eye of red blood at the center of it, and a faint scent of grape wafting ahead of him. He was carrying my crowbar and a cold expression. He had one of those thin, pathetic teenage mustaches, set between a pinched, too-narrow nose and a petulant little mouth.

“Yeah. Not so fucking tough without this, are you?” he said, pounding the bar in his palm, though it actually looked more comical than threatening. He took a swing, tripping a bit on the uneven floor as he moved forward. I stumbled back and landed ass-first against a desk. “You’re lucky we didn’t just kill you out on the street.”

“Fuck you. We’re just trying to survive,” I said. “Like you wouldn’t have done the same.”

“Like you wouldn’t have done the same,” he repeated, nasally, and swung the crowbar into my chest. “Like you wouldn’t have done the same.”

I bit my lip, sucked in air through my teeth. He smiled and hit me in the side. I let myself slide to the ground, counting myself lucky that he was so small. Had the blow been from Officer Mint, it likely would’ve broken something.

“What, you don’t like getting hit, huh? Yeah, hurts like shit, don’t it? Maybe you need a break? But that’s fine, right? Cause you’d be doing the same in my position,” the kid said, he took another swing.

This time I was ready. I dodged out of the way to the left, and the crowbar rang out against the metal desk. I gave him an awkward headbutt, bingo, right in the stomach. He collapsed.

The door he’d entered through was unlocked and open.

I was across and through the door before he even realized it. Miranda would have to wait. The stairwell was immediately in front of me, and I had to stop sudden to avoid spilling down it. To my left, there was a hallway and a few other doors. Looked like apartments. A wooden chair was sitting just down the hall.

From behind, the kid yelled, “Get the hell back here!” But I’d already stepped onto the stairs, trying to go as fast as I could but barely able to balance, body aching and heart pounding. A second later, he was on the steps behind me. Halfway down, I fell. A whiff of air told me he’d took a swing at my back. Felt his body overbalance and tumble, knocking me in the legs and falling the rest of the way with me in a heap.

I landed on top of him. He was screaming. As I got to all fours, I could see that his arm was pinned beneath him. I knelt on his stomach as I stood up, taking the wind out of him. Had to get away before the others came back. Had to put my back to the door to grab the knob. Blonde Grape turned over. Blood was on his back, the arm under him, twisted. He’d landed on the crowbar. He made no move to get to his feet. I opened the door and ran out. From the second floor, there came a panicked voice. “Tom? Tom?”

I was hurting all over, and the craving hit me all at once. There was another raspberry nearby. Been too long since my last hit. The want of it was sinking its hooks into my spine and yanking me up as much as the adrenalin was. I was out in the parking lot. Turned down the adjacent one-way street …

… and saw Mint and a couple of other fruits coming along: a short, middle-aged woman with curly blonde hair, toting a submachine gun, and a tall man with a long, craggy face. One of the piss-drinking pineapples walking beside them. The other was being dragged. Dead or unconscious, I wasn’t sure. For a split second, I felt bad for mentioning them to the fruits.

I was pushed to the ground from behind. Not the grape; somebody else. Scent I couldn’t identify right off the bat. Apricot. It wasn’t long before the others had arrived and were dragging me back into the building and back into the office. I yelled, swore, kicked shins and snapped my teeth at them as they dragged me upstairs by the arms and legs. The half-dead pineapple was tossed in after me. I leaned against him, lying on my side on the floor and, now that the adrenalin had gone, too banged up to move very far.



I lay there for hours, just listening to the sounds of the fruits as they passed by. Officer Mint was clearly in charge. I couldn’t hear much of what they were saying, but I’d heard his voice alongside a multitude of others, and his had a pack leader ring to it. I wondered who the rest were. Relatives? Friends? Maybe just a handful of survivors without any relation to one another. The idea seemed alien, as if it came from a life too far away to understand. When did we stop being people and start being fruits?

Maybe it was when I left Kerry behind in the factory. That had been the last time anyone around me felt human. Other fruits I’d killed were just … animals. There was a pang of guilt after the first, and the second, but never remorse in the days after: never the idea that, dear god, I’d killed a human being.

A plain analog clocked marked the hours. In time, the streetlights started to come on. I heard movement in the stockroom and then crying.

“Miranda?” I whispered.

I squirmed to the door, pressed my back to the wall and shuffled my way up.

“Miranda?” I said again, tapping on the window with the edge of the cuffs.

The crying stopped sharp.

“Doug?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

There came the sound of a rolling chair being slid across the floor. A vague image of her pressed itself against the frosted glass. “What happened?” she asked, quietly.

“Fruit basket got us. Look, I think they’re gonna kill me. Maybe soon. But you’ve got a chance.”

“I smell you,” she said, lightly. Almost childlike. She was probably jonesing pretty hard. I was too, but the accumulated aches and pains were pushing it out of mind. The fruits had probably been a little easier on her.

“Been bleeding a bit,” I murmured back.

“You smell good,” she said with a giggle.

“Hey, stay focused. Have they got you cuffed?”

“Roped to a chair.”

A light came on in the stairwell, and I found myself holding my breath. Heavy footsteps clomped up the stairs outside. When the figure reached the door, it turned and walked away down the hall to the left.

I let out a relieved sigh. “They took your knives?”

“Yeah.”

“Miranda, see if there’s anything sharp. Anything you could use to cut the rope.”

“Can’t see anything in here.”

The pineapple on the floor was beginning to groan, slow, but increasing in intensity. He looked to be about the same age as the other one, only he was bigger. He had a body like a football player I knew in high school who’d let himself go in the years since. You could make out the strength he used to have, but it was buried under whatever sort of life had happened to him after.

I heard the chair rolling around in the other room, accompanied every so often by a little giggle.

“Doug? I can’t find anything with an edge. Gonna … hee hee … gonna try and untie the knots, if I can.”

Someone walked by outside, turned and went down the stairs. There was a muffled conversation from the floor below.

The pineapple had come to. His eyes were both black and couldn’t open very far. He tried to sit up but winced as some previously unknown pain shot through him. “Ungh. Mike? Mike? Izzaat you? Where’d they take us?”

“Nobody here named Mike,” I said. “Don’t worry. We’re getting out of here.”

“Who’re you?”

I eased my aching back into the office’s lone chair. “Just another guy trying to get out of here. What happened to you guys out there?”

“Fuckin’ … fruits show up, hold us at gunpoint. They take two looks at us. One of em’ flips a coin. Next thing I know, they’re beating the fuck out of me. What … what’d they do with Mike?”

“The other pineapple? The blonde guy? He was walking with them.”

“B … bullshit. I took care of him,” the pineapple spat.

I shook my head.

“Doug?” Miranda said, her voice shaking with exertion, “There’s a mint, a pineapple, an apricot, a grape, a strawberry and a raspberry other than you.”

“That’s a lot,” I said, trying to keep her talking, maybe keep us both calm. “And an apricot? They’re really rare. You sure?”

I heard her sniffle and burst into laughter. “Yeah. These guys have all the unique ones, huh?”

I chuckled, a little nervously.

“You almost through?”

Movement on the stairs.

“Not yet. Not much to work with here.”

Laughter just outside the door. The chair being moved away. Shadows pressed on the glass.

“Doug? I don’t … don’t know that I can do this.”

“Keep trying.”

She was silent. In the window, the sun was nearly down. It reflected bright orange against the clouds. The pineapple coughed.

“Doug? I want you to know something.”

“Sure.”

“I stole that jar from you. The one in the Save-U. Was running away when the other two guys showed up.”

“What?”

I heard her sniffle. “I tossed it into the backseat of a wrecked car, thinking they’d go after it, but they didn’t.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does.”

“It’s … it’s in the past. You could’ve cut me, but you didn’t,” I said.

“Didn’t have anything sharp on me. And I … I didn’t want to spend the time looking for something when there was a whole jar just sitting there in your hand,” she said, hiccoughing slightly as she spoke. I tried to think of something to say. There was nothing.

“Don’t do this. I don’t want some fucking deathbed confession.” I felt my own eyes beginning to tear.

“I did it before, Doug. My boyfriend. We hid after the market riot. Hid for three days and had to leave it all behind. I … he. Have you ever gone without for that long? I cut him while he slept.”

My stomach twisted in knots. “Miranda, I didn’t need to know any of this.”

“Name’s not even Miranda,” she said.

Officer Mint threw open the door, and he and a few of his cronies took me and the pineapple away.



The blonde grape was there as we exited the office, walking with a bit of a limp and glaring at me with a pissy look, his arm in a crude sling. The other fruits I’d seen outside were with him. There was the short, middle-aged strawberry woman with curly blonde hair, holding the submachine gun in both small hands. She looked like somebody’s mother. The big guy fell in line beside her. He was tall and had a chiseled face like a news anchorman, only with a three-day beard and a few recent cuts and bruises. He was missing teeth, too. Had a hunting rifle strapped to his back and looked like a real mean son of a bitch.

They left Miranda behind in the office.

We were taken downstairs. They’d already repaired and reinforced the back door. No way out. I heard gunshots out in the street — not too close by — and worried whispers from the fruits.

“Fuckin’ Guard is closing in.”

“Guard’s got a lot of territory to cover. We’ll handle ’em.”

We were taken down another set of steps into the basement, which was pleasantly cool after the stuffy warmth of the office. The walls and floor were grey cement, lit only by a few bare bulbs dangling by wires. Steel shelves were lined against each wall. I could smell the room all the way from the top of the stairs, like the heady, fruit punch odor of the Save-U’s jelly aisle. The floor wore an immense blotch of blood.

Officer Mint flipped a coin. It landed on the back of his hand, glinting like an evil eye.

“Him first,” he said, pointing to the beat-up pineapple.

The other pineapple — the blond one I’d spoken to earlier — eyed him with a guilty expression. Big raspberry and the blonde grape were half-carrying, half-dragging the other man against the wall. There were cuffs stuck to shelves that lined either side. Both were stained with blood.

The pineapple began to whimper. “Mike, c’mon man, tell ’em to let me go. They got loads of shit, and you know it! C’mon man, I could’ve fuckin’ cut your throat when I found you! I carried you every day since I found y —”

Whump. The big raspberry punched him in the gut. Pineapple gave a cough and spat up a little pink blob. They quickly shackled him in place.

“We don’t stand on any kinda ceremony here,” began Mint, in a strong, authoritative voice. “We’re doing this to survive. The drug has fucked us all up. There isn’t anything good about any of this or any of us, but you stop taking the shit, you’re probably going to die. There’s nothing personal about it. I don’t enjoy killing, and I don’t think anyone else here does either. But it’s gotta be done, so make it quick.”

With that, he handed a razor to the other pineapple, the traitor. The man looked at him with grief.

“Mike. Ain’t right … c’mon.”

The traitor pineapple stopped a few steps away from his friend. “There anything we can give him? For the pain?”

Officer Mint shrugged.

The pineapple wasn’t jonesing too hard. Couldn’t have been, or it’d be over with by now, or so I thought. They must’ve given him a little before they’d brought him in.

“Not too easy to kill when you’ve just had a hit, right?” I said.

Mint glared at me. He said to the pineapple, “You will be called upon to kill when you are not prepared to do so, because everyone else here needs your help, and there are others out there who are looking to score all the time. You defend us, and we defend you. That easy. But you need to be able to do it. All. The. Time. Not just when it’s your skin that’s crawling.”

There was more muffled gunfire outside. Mint’s brow furrowed. He nodded at the staircase and then at the strawberry woman, who nodded back and went upstairs. The basement’s windows had been stuffed full of debris. We shouldn’t have been able to hear out there at all, I thought. I was getting irritable. The little hairs on my arms were standing on end. Had been too long.

The traitor took a deep breath. He walked up to the chained man against the wall, and, though the big man struggled, shaking the shelves until I was almost certain they’d tear from the wall, he managed to find the vein in his throat, push the man’s chin up and slash his neck wide open.

The traitor’d cut his hand in the process, began clutching at it and hissing in pain while his friend’s blood spilled out all over the floor. He looked at Mint as if pleading for help.

“Well? Drink, you dumb bastard,” Mint shouted.

By the time the chained pineapple had stopped thrashing, there was very little blood left. The traitor lapped it up, looking a little hesitant as he did so.

“Shit, what a waste,” said the blonde grape.

“I wasn’t … I mean. I didn’t need much. You gave me some.”

The others just shook their heads. Mint belted out an exasperated grunt, as if the man was a child who’d just shown him a bad report card.

“Doesn’t matter. Get him down and get the razz up against the wall,” he said, pointing at me. “Sounds like shit is going down out there. We’ll store the bodies inside tonight and toss them in the morning. I don’t want anyone going out and getting hurt.”

Pineapple went and sat in a corner, looking depressed. They took the body of his friend down. Big raspberry and the blonde grape hauled me over to the wall. The craving was excruciating. My whole body was pins and needles. My teeth felt like they were swinging back and forth in my mouth like pendulums. I dragged my feet as best as I could. Slipped raspberry’s grip. Spun away from the grape. I bit raspberry in the hand and got a good lick of blood before being shoved to the ground.

Mint got involved. Put his hands under my armpits and tossed me against the wall like a rag doll. I was feeling better. Not great, but better. The other two cuffed me to the shelves.

Raspberry got the razor next. He held it in one hand, rubbing the knuckles of that hand against the inside of his other arm to soothe it. I’d bought myself a minute.

I looked up, my head lolling lazily. “You know how I found you?”

“Fuck you,” said the raspberry.

“Shipping invoices. I can tell you exactly how much jelly came to this store, and when. Not a lot, of course. Owner only renovated to compete with the convenience store down the street. Not like many people’d get groceries from here.”

The big raspberry raised an eyebrow, he looked at Mint, who rolled his eyes and motioned him onward.

“Shipment: April first. One case grape. One strawberry. One mix pack consisting of six raspberry, six apricot —” Mint raised an eyebrow at this “—six mint and six pineapple, which was sent in error and not paid for but never sent back. We didn’t catch it at first because the owner here always over-ordered. I worked for Aunty, you know. Shipping. What’d this asshole do?”

“Hold up,” said Mint. The raspberry stopped just within arm’s reach.

“Fuck. Tony, this is bullshit. He’s making shit up. For all we know, he just looked through some papers upstairs. I told you we should’ve just tossed ’em all.”

“Give me a date, and I’ll tell you what the shipment here was. I stole out of Aunty’s factory with loads of manifests,” I said, and quickly added, “and I’ve memorized them all.” They didn’t need to know that I’d checked just about every last one and had either come up empty or cleaned them all out and would be more-or-less useless to them.

“Where are you keeping the papers?” Mint asked.

“I burned ’em. Memorized every last little detail and burned them.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You think I would want anyone else getting their hands on them? Bring a paper down. Give me a date, and I’ll tell you the order. I’ll tell you anything off of the invoice. Name of the shipper. Date. Product codes. Name it.”

Mint took off his sunglasses. He gave a little chuckle and nodded at the raspberry. “Steve, go upstairs and see what the fuck is taking Anne so long. Sean, go and take a look through the papers upstairs and see if we have any shipping receipts.”

The big raspberry pursed his lips. He gave me a nasty look then trotted upstairs, followed by the blonde grape, who actually seemed relieved to be out of the way.

The door slammed shut above. The remaining pineapple was sulking in the corner. Mint had taken the pistol out of his belt holster. He drew a grimy white cloth out of one pocket and began to rub it all over the gun, whistling, and stopping every so often to point it somewhere and sight down the end of it.

“We took over this place the night of the riot. Well, I say ‘we,’ but really we’ve gone through a few members since then. But you know what I found? That first night we came here? Variety pack with both mint and apricot. Both rare flavors, and both stuff I needed. Thought it was odd to find those here.”

I asked, “So what happens to your raspberry if you find out I’m more useful?

“I’ll let him go.”

“That’s it?”

“I’m not cruel. I ain’t gonna just put a bullet in Steve after all he’s done for us. But this is a wasteland, and you can’t rely on anyone out here. Hell, I’m not sure you ever could, some of the things I’ve seen. People are never predictable. But I’ll let him go. Tell him to try his luck elsewhere. If you only knew where to find raspberry, I’d beat you senseless until you told us of any caches you had. Would rather keep the team I have. But, you really know all of that shit? I can’t let you go. Even if you didn’t want to stay, I couldn’t let you go. But I can’t keep more than one of any kind of fruit. Shit’s scarce enough without having to feed more than one.”

“If I stay, so does Miranda.”

He laughed. “Your little raspberry whore? I noticed you both have wedding rings. Tell me, you married to each other, or just married? Cause I’ve been married for twenty years, and the two of you don’t look like how I think a married couple would. Call it a hunch.”

I looked away from Mint. The judgment shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. What could we have been, if she and I hadn’t met like this?

“We’ll keep her around for you for a little while, but she’s going to be a drain on someone’s stash, whether it’s you or Steve. Can’t let that happen to any of us.”

There were more gunshots from outside, and then one that sounded as if it had come from inside. Then two. Mint frowned. He looked toward the stairs then to me. Chewed the corner of his lip for a moment and then seemed to reach a decision.

“Stick around; I’ll be right back,” he said before disappearing up the stairs.

Someone met him at the top. There was a whispered argument, too low to make out anything other than the tension in the fruits’ voices. The traitor pineapple sat in the corner, staring blankly at the corpse of the man he’d killed. I tried not to look at him.

“I did this,” he finally said.

“You did what you had to to survive,” I said but didn’t really feel the sentiment behind it.

“What’s survival got to do with it? We need to get high to survive?”

“Someone out there is going to kill you, if you don’t kill them dead first. Shit. Minutes from now, I’ll either be dead or taking some other addict’s place. This is all fucked up. We’re all fucked up.”

The pineapple snuffled. I could see tears forming in his eyes, shining in the corners. It shouldn’t have been possible; the high should’ve overwhelmed the grief, but there it was. “We got a choice, and we all decided to keep going down this road. I … I knew him since we were kids,” he said. “I was beat to shit when he found me, couple months ago. Survived a long time cause he carried me the first few days. Could barely walk. Couple other pineapples beat the fuck out of me and he scared ’em off. Shit, he was a goddamn bully back in the day. Don’t know what changed him. He had a choice; he let me live. He was a better man than I was, and I’m still alive.”

More gunshots. Something heavy hit the ground on the floor above. There was a yell. The light bulb in the ceiling swayed a little, and both the pineapple and I watched it flicker.

“This thing’s changed us all. Maybe we’re all monsters. Maybe we can help that, but we’re not going to change locked up in a basement.”

“Didn’t make Bill a monster,” the pineapple replied. A line of lime-green snot was running down his face. He sniffed and wiped the rest against the back of his hand. “This drug bullshit’s just an excuse. You don’t want to think you’re not a nice guy. Just the drug. No. Fuck that. I killed him. I did it.”

The amount of time between the shots was getting less and less. Somewhere on the street, there was a battle going on, and it was coming right for this shop. Mint’s strained voice was perfectly audible upstairs, screaming at other fruits to get to this window or that. More shots were ringing out indoors now.

“Mike — that’s your name, right? Mike, I don’t know if any of us can go back again, but we’re not going to get the change here. We need to get out of here. I don’t doubt that that’s the Guard out there. We get out, and we can turn ourselves in. At least try for that second chance.”

He looked up and nodded, his wet eyes scented with salty pineapple.

The pineapple — Mike — found a pair of boltcutters in a cardboard box full of rusty tools. He cut the chains between the cuffs, leaving me with a cuff on each wrist with a few useless loops of chain dangling on the ends.

There was an explosion. Dust sifted down from the ceiling beams. Every ache and pain was amplified as I stretched out, the craving combing its teeth over the cuts and bumps and bruises. Mike’s eyes were wide and watery.

“We need to get out of here,” he said.

“Not without my —” I hitched, not sure what to call her, “— Miranda.”

“Fine, but I’m leaving.”

We were halfway up the stairs when Mint threw open the door, his scent rushing in like a wave in front of him. He scowled when he saw the busted cuffs trailing from my wrist. His head was bleeding. A sparkle of broken glass covered one shoulder. The sting of his scent was overpowering.

“We’re done,” he said, wiping the blood from his eyes. “Guard’s here in force. Thought we’d have at least a week. Get the hell out if you still can.”

“Miranda?”

“Your girl’s already gone. Get the hell out of here!”

He left. Pineapple Mike rose up the stairs ahead of me and took off at a sprint, rushing through the back door. I stopped in the first floor hall. From where I stood, I could see into the front of the store. Mint was there, holding a chestnut-haired, middle-aged woman in his arms. The apricot. His wife. All too obvious by the familiarity and comfort with which they held one another. I moved to the back exit, relieved to see that the office door on the second floor was wide open and the strawberry woman lying unconscious on the ground in front of it. Miranda had made it out.

There was a burst of gunfire from the front, and a woman’s scream. The sound of Mint’s pistol going off was echoing through the building. I ran out into the parking lot.

Pale blue searchlights were sliding over every surface like watery eyes. Where would she have gone? I scented raspberry, faint, and knew it was her. I took off down the one-way street, leaving the pharmacy behind.

Left. Another street. Another set of searchlights. Been too long. Right. Avoid the lights. Double back to catch the scent. Had to. Sound of a chopper overhead. Its big light looking down on Goodman.

Raspberry. Faint, but getting closer. I heard some chatter, like police trying to talk down a hostage-taker. “Put the crowbar down. We don’t want to hurt you. We’re here to help.”

I spotted Miranda from afar — at the other end of a scrap-strewn alleyway facing down a trio of National Guardsmen in mute-colored uniforms. Their rifles were trained on her. I looked over the ground for a weapon and found a discarded plank of wood with a nail in it. I picked it up, entered the alleyway and hid behind a dumpster, poking my head out from behind it just enough to survey the scene. My breath came fast. I was responsible for her. I wouldn’t let them take her away.

She was backing down. Ran into the alley, toward me. Past the dumpster. Two soldiers chased. When the last one passed by, I leapt out from behind the dumpster, struck him in the back with the plank. The nail stuck in. He shouted as I yanked it out. I broke the wood over his head before he could turn around. He fell. The other, I wanted to charge. Rip him limb from limb. Every movement brought new pain. Every sense hurt. The last Guardsman pointed his rifle at me. Noises were striking the insides of my head like a drum. The sounds of gunfire were like bubbles bursting behind my eyes. I raised my arms to shield my face, but suddenly, he screamed and fell, a knife handle sticking out of his back.

Miranda ran to me. I clutched her so tight my nails dug into her back. I licked a little streak of blood that had blossomed on her cheek. We kissed, deeply, but the Guard’s voices were swooping down on us again.

Gunfire crackling all over Goodman. There was fighting everywhere.

I grabbed Miranda’s hand and ran. We took turns — right, left, right — until we were both utterly lost. A helicopter’s eye followed us like a stage spotlight to the four-way intersection in front of city hall, where an amazing thing was happening.

Fruits of all flavors were rushing out of the buildings like cockroaches. Some had guns, most only had sticks and bricks and stones and blunt tools and wild, red eyes. I gasped. It was a massacre on both ends. Every moment a fruit would drop, and one or two of the same flavor would stop to lap them up. The riots all over again. Miranda and I ran into the chaos. Blood flowed everywhere. Ours. Theirs. Flavored. Plain. On Herman Street, I slipped in a puddle of it and skidded to my knees, bits of stone and grit grinding their way into my skin. We stopped at the shoulder of a dying man — a raspberry. Each of us took a taste of his blood while Miranda laughed, and the firework noise of the battle came popping in from every direction. They finally understood: We wouldn’t leave. There were no human beings left here, and there was no reasoning with an addiction.

We found our way to a white house with a paltry garden fence along the lawn. The door was broken in; we couldn’t be sure we were safe, but the sounds of the fighting were far from us, and neither of us had had a real hit since the previous morning. I threw down the crowbar with a loud clang. Tossed Miranda to a torn couch in the living room. We tore each other’s clothes and licked our wounds. It wasn’t enough to fix us entirely. I was panting. She was dripping in sweat; little rivulets of which were making trails in dried bloodstains down her body. Still not enough. I wanted more.

She sniffed. “A strawberry coming,” she said, smiling, a slight tic in the corners of her eyes.

I’d barely had enough time to get off of Miranda when the wild strawberry appeared as if on cue, standing in the doorway. He was thin, and his hair hung in bushy clumps. The look on his face was of someone who hadn’t had a fix in days. There was a little black pistol in his hand. I put my hands up and tried to act calm.

“We were just hiding,” I blurted out. “Not even your flavor.”

“Get out. You’ll lead the Guard right to me.”

“Just let us get our clothes.”

“Get out!” he said, not moving from the door.

“We’ll leave. Leaving right now, okay?”

Then, Miranda laughed.

He pulled the trigger.

Gunshots sounded against my ears again and again. I leaned low and barreled forward. Wasn’t even sure where he was firing as I knocked him out onto the porch. One more shot as we fell. Bang. Felt it skim across my back. Click. Click. The gun was empty. I was kneeling on him, grabbing his head and beating it against the cement.

He stopped struggling. I let his head fall, the blood pooling under it, and went back into the house.

“Miranda, you all ri —”

She was not. She’d been shot three times: twice in the arm, once in the chest. The air around her was suffused with raspberry. I drew in a breath. All that blood. Horror and hunger. Too long since yesterday.

She was whimpering. The wounds, I couldn’t say how bad they really were. I just … fixated on all of the red running out.

“Doug,” she murmured.

The roar of the fighting outside had faded to the occasional pop. The light in the house was that same blueberry tone that it’d been when I’d first brought her back to my apartment. She’d been so wonderfully pretty in that light and still was as I walked slowly toward her, the hardwood floor creaking beneath my feet.

“Please. Help.”

My last hit. The last one before the Guard closed in and took everything away forever.





Epilogue


The rest of that night is a blur of too-bright spotlights and dark tents. A doctor came by and shot something black into my arm, I don’t know what. I dozed uneasily in a sleeping bag. They kept a guard over the addicts. All of us were cuffed. Couldn’t trust us not to cut each other’s throats in the night. Someone tried it the first night I was there. It was a black-haired grape kid who’d managed to slip free. The guy he cut died, but the kid didn’t manage to get a single drop before they dragged him away, kicking his legs and shrieking. Part of me wishes he’d gotten what he wanted. What a waste.

They shipped me off to some detox center in Illinois with walls that are a washed-out green, and floors that have that boring black-and-white checkerboard pattern. We drink coffee out of grey mugs and sit in circles telling one another about how we felt or what we did in Goodman. And on and on. It isn’t the only detox center around; each place only takes in four to five patients, generally and preferably different flavors so as to reduce the risk that we kill one another, just like the fruit baskets, although, grapes still outnumber the others, and sometimes it’s impossible to keep them apart. We have two of them, and every so often, there’s a glance like murder in their eyes.

You can still tell the addicts by their scents, though without the drug, the aroma is weak. I’m roommates with an annoying brown-haired grape who tells us to call him “Danny-boy” and sings at the top of his lungs at all hours of the day. I was surprised to find Mike the pineapple in a room down the hall. He hasn’t told anyone about the friend he killed in Goodman, so far as I know. I haven’t brought it up. I’d mentioned Kerry and received a row of polite nods. We all have more-or-less the same story: addiction, murder, who we abandoned and who we kept with us.

Every so often, one of the patients is wheeled out under a vine-colored sheet. We’re allowed to go to the funerals if we want, see them put in the ground. Sometimes, it seems like it might be a good idea to find something to open my veins, but I never go through with it. There’s a listlessness about everything here. As if nothing, not even your own suicide, matters.

I don’t know the final death toll. They’re still working on it and still trying to figure out what went wrong with the additive.

I think of Miranda, from time to time. Usually in the afternoons. It’s winter now. Sunny. White snow is covering everything, and even the bare, brown branches of the trees look vibrant in comparison. I spend my free time indoors, staring out the window at the colorless world, and thinking. My real name isn’t even Doug. I wonder who Miranda really was, and who she might’ve been before any of it happened, or if she’s survived to reach this world where everyone is blanched bland and flavorless.





About the Author


Nicholas J. Carter is a UMass Boston alum, currently living in Massachusetts with his wonderful wife. He credits his mother, a librarian, with his love of words, and his father, a smartass, for showing him how they don’t always mean what they should. Outside of his family, nonsense and chaos are the two things he loves most. His blog may be found at http://adequategusto.blogspot.com.





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Licensing


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. This book, and parts thereof, may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without express written permission. For information, e-mail info@vagabondagpress.com.



Jam Don’t Shake

© 2011 by Nicholas J. Carter

Vagabondage Press

PO Box 3563

Apollo Beach, Florida 33572

http://www.vagabondagepress.com First digital edition in the United States of America and the UK, July 2011

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

Front cover art by The Crimson Monkey. Back cover art by Maggie Clark.





Table of Contents




Part One



Part Two



Epilogue



About the Author



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