Early Thaw

Early Thaw by Curt McDermott

Book: Early Thaw by Curt McDermott Read Free Book Online
Authors: Curt McDermott
 
    Slick eyeballs of mud exploded around Leslie Ewoldt as he lay sinking in liquefied Yellowstone clay. The tendinous fingers of his right hand encircled a small walkie-talkie; the fingers of his left were 2.3 miles north and moving steadily away. Something about the sickly February sun made his body seem more withered, more birdlike, as if the skeletal frame that filled his snow pants and ski jacket was composed mostly of air. Though his face remained somewhat intact, a trickle of blood oozed from the tangle of fiber and tissue that might euphemistically be called his neck, the vivid red bleeding to the brown of the mud.
     
    Like most people, Leslie was dead. And like most, that fact didn’t keep him from moving, as his feet now began to do.
    ***
    Val warmed her feet in the basin, the sulphuric heat of the water rising in indolent coils of steam. Though the thermal pools usually bubbled around 240 degrees, this particular batch had cooled just enough to be tolerable. Sprawled out on the chair in a T-shirt, curling and straightening her toes in the enveloping heat, she laughed at how luxurious her life had become—little parts of it, anyway.
     
    On the stove, the pot of creamed corn began gurgling. Most animals had gotten smarter in the months since The Shit Hit the Fan—the term she and Leslie used to refer to the curious moment when dead folks started shuffling around and snacking on people— so red meat and poultry had grown a little scarce. Fish were still stupid as hell, though, which meant that meals had begun to = canned vegetable of the day + some kind of trout. Smelly ghosts of fishes past still clung to the cabin’s wooden panels with oily fortitude.
     
    Sliding her feet reluctantly from the water, Val tried to remember exactly what had been going through her mind as she dragged cases of creamed corn into her cart at the visitor’s center. Sure, the (former) store manager had just attempted to sample the meat of her left arm, but fucking creamed corn? No level of panic could justify such a lapse in judgment. Sniffing now at the sicky-sweet smell of sugared vegetable product, she tried to imagine the first idiot who thought it a good idea to squash corn into wet paste. She wanted to punch him.
     
    And though she didn’t really mean to, she thought of Leslie’s face that day.
     
    Crumpled on the floor, his stringy body calcified in fear, he’d looked like the tiny corpses of spiders she swept from the cabin’s windowpanes. He’d gaped, a bundle of spindly, desiccated terror, as she plunged a hot-pink marshmallow-roasting fork through the manager’s eye. When it was over, when the corpse slumped to the linoleum and shook out the last bits of whatever had animated it, Leslie’d let a small sound escape his throat that— it made her sad and a little sick to remember it— was not unlike the mewling of a puppy.
     
    It was the first time she truly reflected on her place in the new order. She could no longer be a 24-year-old Bozeman grad who really, you know, found herself in nature— those girls had all died pretty quickly when TSHtF. Instead, she knew that her survival would be her responsibility alone. Little Leslie was less man than child.
     
    Her transformation into modern-day Amazon began when the first turd splattered, way back in September. She remembered how fraudulent she’d felt wearing the ranger hat, how the family from Nebraska actually thought the idiot bread loaf on her head meant she’d have an explanation for why grandma was gnashing away in their backseat. All patient smiles and polite nods, she’d endured the fat dad’s barrage of saliva-soaked questions like a minimum-wage saint. But when a little girl in an I ♥ Moose shirt ripped a chunk of calf muscle from her mom’s leg in front of the ICE CREAM GEYSER, something very important for normal mental operation sputtered and smoked in Val’s mind, and she found herself repeating i don’t fucking know with increasing volume

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