Lohbado found shelter in a house converted into a hotel, the only building left for an entire block. The lone house stood at the end of a heap of rubble.
Lohbado chose a vacant room and made himself at home. He planned to rest and recuperate for a few days. A rash spread over Lohbado’s shoulders and down his back, some sort of skin cancer or radiation burn after spending another week on the Plains of Radiation. Strange weapons were used, violating humanitarian conventions, during the Apocalyptic War. His shoulders and the back of his neck burned. Scabs formed on his chest, stomach and legs.
Lohbado accepted the skin burn feeling. The pain caused him to dissociate and break into a sweat. He felt dizzy and floating. Lohbado sat on the bed and scratched. He raked fingernails across the crusty skin on his chest and belly until a warm smear of blood made him stop. The feel of his own blood made him feel safe. As long as his body contained blood, he would be OK. He didn’t mind the rash. It was the itch that drove him crazy.
The mattress sank under his weight as he sat scratching on the soft, spongy bed. He stopped scratching, tore off his shirt and threw himself backwards on the corn-coloured corduroy bedspread with the brown wool blanket and pale blue sheets underneath. He propped a hard foam pillow under his head to ease the pain in the neck. He listened to a crack of thunder and the downpour of acid rain.
He had nowhere to go and nobody to meet. He could stay as long as he liked. The Department of Standardization would pay for travel expense until he reached his final destination in Yamaville. Agents of the department didn’t bat an eye about layovers due to toxic rain or radiation storms. It was too dangerous to travel when a storm raged over the plains. After the Apocalyptic War, devastating storms happened often enough to make them seem normal.
Lohbado surrendered to the bed and gazed at the ceiling. Nausea knocked the wind out of him. A nipple-shaped ceiling fixture began slowly turning and pulsating with each beat of his heart. Each time he inhaled, the room brightened a little. It darkened when he exhaled.
He wondered if the moment of death was near. Once he died, there would be no more Lohbado, although many more Lohbados, just like him, would continue to come and go. Millions of Lohbados stumbled along the broken, torturous pavement from birth to death, working out their life sentences, doing whatever it takes to cheer up and be friendly. He laughed as he saw himself laying there.
Lohbado drifted into a deep sleep for about fifteen minutes, until the sound of a motor awakened him. He heard a door slam and footsteps on the gravel driveway. He heard footsteps in the hall. A man approached his room. Lohbado sat up and invited him in.
The man, about sixty, bald, but with a bushy beard, sat down in the heavy wooden chair beside the little table next to the bed. He wore a brand name jacket, indicating he was not poor, although the rest of his clothes indicated he was not rich. A solid wire frame held thick lenses in place, which slightly distorted his dark eyes.
The man introduced himself: Harry Dick.
Harry Dick arrived at the hotel house after losing his job around 2 PM on Friday at Greenzly Bank. He was surprised Lohbado hadn’t heard about it. It was the kind of thing news sites loved to report. The news went viral throughout the department of finance, Harry and Candy caught making out in the safety deposit box room. The manager had gone out, but unexpectedly returned to find Harry reaching into Candy’s money belt, while Candy poked a finger into Harry’s wallet. It was pretty hard to conceal what they were doing.
They didn’t buy Harry’s or Candy’s argument that they were checking out physical collateral before expanding their resources into new investment opportunities. Harry and Candy hoped to merge their assets, to invest in hedge hogs and sell them to gardeners and resorts for pest control, since they’re known to eat a lot of insects. They could rent out the hogs and live off the fees. Once the hedge hog farm came into it’s own, they could sell hedge hog franchises. Some of the capital from that could be used to set up petting zoos in areas where people were too busy to make physical contact with one another. For a few dollars, a harried person could stroke the dog, hold the cat, play with a goat or ride the donkey.
Fantasies of investment opportunity and financial growth took Candy’s breath away and made Harry feel like a man. They could even process and sell their excrement as high grade fertilizer for exotic plants, such as orchids, gardenia, venus fly traps or even cannabis. Nothing would be wasted. Even their saliva could be used as an agent to ferment erotic beverages and their urine converted into toilet disinfectant.
Candy was sent to Tom’s office for discipline. Harry was given the boot.
Two days later, Harry wandered into the Hotel House, the only standing structure on the bombed out street, where Lohbado relaxed on a sagging bed. Harry walked down the hall and peered through the open door and saw Lohbado lying on the bed.
“Do you have any ointment?” asked Lohbado, “I got the itch like crazy.”
“Lick the wound,” said Harry, “Saliva is supposed to have healing properties.”
“It’s also full of bacteria,” said Lohbado.
“Is there anything to drink around here?” asked Harry.
Lohbado pulled himself together and sheepishly followed Harry down the hall to the back pantry. The house hotel manager was out. The place functioned on the honour system. A cash box sat on a metal table next to the refrigerator. A price list tacked to the wall above the cash box indicated the cost of each item.
Lohbado opened a bottle of beer. Harry poured himself a stiff drink of peach brandy.
Lohbado felt good right away after finishing a beer. He opened another beer and found a package of noodles and a pot to cook them in. He found a bottle of olive oil in a cupboard and a hard piece of white cheese, lightly coated in a white mould, in the fridge.
It was time to talk about the sewing machine.
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