As someone in the book business (with a background in journalism), you’d think nothing would surprise me. I’ve seen it all, read it all. Well, most of it anyway. That’s why I love it when a book throws me for a loop.
But I don’t love that feeling in real life. I don’t love irrational behavior. And lately it seems I have more experience than I ever hoped for with such behavior. I’m not going to go into details about that in this blog (or anywhere in cyberspace), but this week I realized why I find dealing with delusional people unsettling.
It’s like looking into a funhouse mirror. You know what reality should be, and you expect that to be reflected back to you, but instead what you get back is so twisted and turned it is almost entirely unrecognizable.
Constantly dealing with that warped sense of reality can threaten to drive a sane and reasonable person crazy.
Fortunately, I have a bunch of (mostly) reasonable and (mostly) sane people in my support system. So, here I am. Still sane. Mostly.
And I realized that as I was writing this blog, I kept thinking about a story in Dean Wesley Smith’s Seeders Universe. It’s called “A Pity About The Delusion.”
So, I thought, why not post it here for free. You can find it at the end of this post.
Perhaps I’m the delusional one after all, since I’m supposed to be selling books for a living and I just gave two of them away for free.
Maybe. But that’s the kind of delusional I can get behind.
Allyson Longueira is publisher of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, editor and designer.
A Pity About the Delusion
Dean Wesley Smith
Mandi Meyers turned the big, white Ford Explorer SUV onto Bryant Street and drove slowly past all the suburban homes that were damn hard to tell apart. Luckily, most of them had big numbers attached to the wall beside the standard two-car garage door.
She was looking for 1622, which would be on her right side.
All the lawns had once been beautiful, but now were patches of weeds, brown and dead now that it was summer and hot. All the cars left on the street were parked in the driveways or along the curbs. There clearly hadn’t been that many people in this neighborhood home when the world ended. She figured that most everyone here had jobs in downtown Portland and had died there, their cars more than likely parked in a transit-station parking lot.
The few that had died here on Bryant Street in that mid-morning were either self-employed or the parent that stayed home with the kids. But school in this town had already started in late August when the world ended, so she doubted there would be many kids bodies here either, even though this neighborhood was clearly one for young families.
She was used to mummified bodies in cars and along sidewalks, still in the same positions where they had fallen three years before. It felt strange to not see any bodies at all.
And if not for the weeds and brown lawns from the summer heat, she wouldn’t have been able to tell anything at all was wrong with this subdivision.
When the world ended, she had been working for the United States Air Force after finishing college. She had been twenty-three that day three years ago and had survived because she was working about thirty feet underground when the electromagnetic pulse hit the Earth and killed everyone who wasn’t inside protection.
No one knew the pulse was coming from space. One minute the world had billions of people, the next there were only millions left, most scattered across the planet wondering what had happened.
Many of the survivors killed themselves shortly after the first wave of deaths or went insane, unable to come to grips with everyone they loved being dead. But Mandi had been single and young. When the wave hit, her parents, her only family, had just moved to a small town in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area.
She actually hadn’t seen them for a number of years, so she really didn’t miss them that much.
She had stayed with the other survivors in her unit and slowly, over time, a form of national organization started to come back together.
It seemed a lot of people in the military had survived, and a lot of people in subways and in tunnels and so on. And everyone wanted to rebuild before too much was lost.
Now, there was a national plan to restart five cities in the country and Portland had been picked as one of those cities because of its nearness to clean water, its long growing season, and mild winters. She had volunteered to come here and live and work.
Mostly she had picked Portland because she knew she would find the time to finally deal with her parents.
She had arrived last week in the first wave and had been too busy setting up everything for the thousands of more that would follow to try to get here, to her parents’ home, before now.
So finally, after three years of wondering, it was time for her to face the loss of her family. She had always known they would be dead, but seeing them was another matter. She needed to do that, then at some point get help coming here to bury them.
Her best friend, Donna, had offered to come along to her parents’ new home on this first trip, but Mandi had declined, saying she needed to do this herself. She didn’t even know if they had been home that morning of the electromagnetic wave.
If not, her parents were somewhere in the city and were going to be tough to find among all the bodies. But since the new government was working to give every body a decent burial and record what information was with the body, she might find them eventually.
Donna had been really, really worried about her coming alone. She said what little Mandi had said about her parents had not been complimentary. But Mandi had insisted she would be fine.
It had taken her almost an hour from downtown Portland to work her way out her into the suburb city called Lake Oswego. Part of the way the big freeway had been cleared by her people.
And part of the way she had been forced to use the police bumper attached to the big SUV front to gently nudge a car or two out of the way.
But now this suburban street was clear.
The winding street turned to her right and then wound back to the left.
She was getting close. Then, as she came around a gentle bend in the street she could see her parent’s home.
The lawn was green.
Flowers were growing in the flowerbed along the sidewalk.
That wasn’t possible.
Mandi stopped the car and closed her eyes, then opened them again.
The lawn was still green among rows of brown lawns and the flowers were clearly being watered.
From military satellites, she knew that only two people had been living in downtown Portland itself, and there were scattered survivors living out in the suburbs, but she hadn’t really paid any attention to see if any of those survivors lived close to her parents’ address.
Let alone their very address.
She shook her head to try to clear it, but the green grass and flowers remained.
She pulled the big SUV over near the front of the house and sat there, shaking.
Then she took a couple of deep breaths.
She had to think and be clear or this could turn out very ugly.
She had no idea who was in that house or how sane they might be. She leaned over and took out the loaded service pistol she had put in the glove box of the big car.
Donna had insisted on that just in case.
With the pistol in one hand, she slowly climbed out of the big SUV and into the heat of the later afternoon sun. She tucked the pistol in the back of her jeans and ran her hands through her short, brown hair.
She had kept it short for the last three years since it was just easier to keep clean and take care of.
The green lawn was still there in front of her parent’s house, as impossible as it was.
She moved slowly up the walk towards the front door, some of her basic training coming back in.
She moved slowly, one hand on the gun, as she scanned the neighborhood, looking for anyone watching her.
Nothing moving at all in the heat.
Except for this one house, the neighborhood was dead.
She reached the front porch and rang the bell, feeling so numb she couldn’t believe any of this was possible.
Was she having a hallucination?
Had she gotten sick on the way out here, or was she having some sort of reaction to actually finally seeing her parents dead?
She had no idea who was going to answer that door or what kind of reception she was going to get. For all she knew, one of her parents had survived and had gone completely crazy in three years and wouldn’t even recognize her.
After a moment the door handle turned and the door swung open.
Her father stood there, trim and fit and looking younger than she remembered him.
And he was as naked as the day he was born, with a drink in one hand.
She forced herself to look only into his eyes.
Music drifted from the inside of the house and Mandi could smell the wonderful odor of baking cookies.
“Hey, Mandi,” her father said, smiling at her. “Glad you could make it. Come on in.”
She started to open her mouth, but she knew she could say nothing.
That was not the response she had expected at all.
“Don’t let all the cold air out,” he said, standing back from the door. “It’s hot enough in here as it is.”
He laughed at that for some reason.
It was a saying he always had said when she was growing up with them in Southern California.
She nodded to him and stepped through the door.
He shut the door behind her.
The cool, air-conditioned air felt wonderful after the heat outside.
And all the lights were on.
Somehow her father must have set up a generator to run the lights and the air-conditioning.
The home looked standard, right out of the 1990s, just as their home had been when she was growing up. Couches were nice brown cloth and the carpeting tan. A large-screen television sat in a large entertainment center on one wall, and two recliners faced that area.
There was a large dining area off the living room with an oak table with ten matching wooden chairs. A wide, carpeted hallway disappeared off to the right. It must go off to bathrooms and bedrooms.
This was a nice, spacious suburban home, nicely furnished and kept clean.
Then from the kitchen area off the dining room, Mandi’s mother shouted, “Who is it, dear?”
“Come see,” her father said, smiling at her. “Mandi has decided to join the party.”
Mandi recognized that phrase, but darned if she could place it.
Her mother came out of the kitchen, also totally nude and thinner than Mandi remembered.
Her mom smiled at her. “Glad you could make it, dear. Jim, get her a drink before the other guests get out of the pool.”
Mandi again just opened her mouth, then closed it.
What the hell could she even say?
It had been three years since the world had ended. Yet her parents seemed to think everything was normal and there were other guests in the pool.
And why were they standing around naked.
And why weren’t they excited to see her?
It felt more like she had just stepped back in time, into her own past. There was so much of that past she had pushed away and forgotten. This felt like part of it.
But that wasn’t possible.
She could feel the room spinning some, so she moved over to a chair at the kitchen table and dropped into it.
Her mother smiled at her and went back into the kitchen while her father went to the bar in one corner of the family room and started working on a drink for her.
Neither of them made any movement to cover up their nakedness in front of her.
At that moment, the sliding back door to the kitchen area opened and four other naked people walked in, all of them in their late twenties, all of them laughing and dripping wet.
Somewhere, in her distant memory, she recognized them.
All of them.
“This can’t be happening,” she said to herself, shaking her head.
She closed her eyes, but the laughing and the voices continued.
“Not feeling well, dear?” he father asked. “It’s okay if you just go back to your room.”
“Sure is,” he mom said, coming in and putting a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the kitchen table.
The four other nude people gathered around, each grabbing a cookie.
“You better get a couple of those before they’re gone,” he father said, winking at her.
Then all of the naked people went into the living room and sat down, laughing and talking while Mandi sat at the kitchen table, stunned.
She put her head down on the hard wood, jammed her eyes closed as she used to do when she was a young girl and didn’t want to see or know something her parents were doing, and just let the voices and the scene of six naked people sitting around fade away.
The next thing Mandi knew, a hand was gently touching her shoulder.
“Mandi? Mandi?” the voice whispered. “Are you all right?”
She pushed back from the table, stunned, almost tipping her chair over in the process.
The house was dark and hot and smelled like a tomb. She had dust on her hands and she was sure on her face where she had put her head on the dusty tabletop.
Donna stood there with Henry Stevens, one of the main contractors working on getting the airport back up and running. Both of them had flashlights tied to their heads and another in one hand.
“I got worried when you didn’t come back,” Donna said, “so Henry and I came to see if you were all right.”
“How long have I been gone?” Mandi asked, trying to brush herself off.
“Seven hours,” Donna said.
Mandi nodded and stood.
Donna handed her a flashlight and Mandi went out into the living room.
Six bodies were there, on the couch and chairs, none of them wearing clothes.
They had basically become mummies in the heat of the house.
Donna recognized her father in a big recliner and her mother sitting next to another man on the couch.
“My mother, my father,” Mandi said, shining a light on the two grinning skeletons as a way of introducing them to Donna and Henry.
Mandi just shook her head, staring at the scene. It had been just after eight in the morning on a weekday when the electromagnetic wave hit and killed most everyone. And yet her parents, even here in Portland, even at the age of forty, were still up to their old games.
“Do you know these other four?” Henry asked.
“More than likely neighbors,” Mandi said. “Over for a morning of sex and mate-swapping, more than likely, considering none of them are dressed.”
Donna glanced at her, a very worried look in her eyes.
“Don’t worry,” Mandi said, smiling at her friend. “I dealt with my parent’s behavior a long time ago, when I was very young. I had forgotten it until now.”
“Wow,” Henry said, shaking his head. “Way beyond my comfort level.”
Both Donna and Mandi nodded.
It had always been beyond Mandi’s comfort level. She had grown up with naked adults coming and going at all hours and the sounds of sex coming from strange places in the house. It was no wonder she wasn’t interested in sex or getting married.
She was really going to need some help getting past that childhood, if she ever could.
Maybe seeing them like this would help.
With one last look at her parents, she said, “Lets get out of here. Let them have their party. For them, it was the perfect way to leave the planet.”
She went toward the front door and waited until Henry and Donna were outside ahead of her. Then with one last look at the six naked mummified bodies in the suburban house, she said what she had always said to her parents when they told her they were “getting together with friends.”
As she pulled the door closed, she thought she caught the sound of laughter and ice in a glass making a clicking sound as someone drank for courage.
Or maybe that was just her memory.
“A Pity About the Delusion” copyright © 2013 Dean Wesley Smith, cover design copyright © 2013 WMG Publishing, cover photo by Ekaterina Yudina/Dreamstime.com
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.