Erik woke up shivering with cold unsure if it was day or night. He freed his arms from the sleeping bag and pushed the quilts covering him to the side. He could faintly make out the walls of the bathroom so it must be daytime. He had insulated the walls of the basement bathroom with mattresses taken from the beds in the rest of the house. A mattress in the shower formed his makeshift bed. He groped around until he felt the cup of water on the toilet, broke through the layer of ice, and drank the remaining water. He struggled out of the bedding materials and rested on the toilet. The toilet served as a chair or a table, never for its original purpose anymore. He slept fully clothed with a heavy winter coat, a hat, and his boots. He thought it was February. He hoped it was February. January had been a bad month.
Erik’s first task was to get the fire going. He must not let it go out. Erik moved the mattress away from the bathroom door before opening it and walking across the hall to what had been a storage room. The room was empty save for a small woodstove and some pieces of wood and tinder. His breath produced clouds of vapor. He opened the cold cast iron stove door and peeked in to spy a dark red ember among the ashes. Erik cut a few shavings of wood with his pocketknife and carefully placed them on the ember. He blew on it gently causing it to glow orange while the wood shavings turned black and began to smoke. He blew again harder, and the shavings finally burst into flame. Erik gradually added more pieces of wood until the fire began to crackle and burn vigorously. A small victory. The ice in the pan on the stove gradually began to melt as he warmed his fingers over the fire.
It was important to keep the fire going. Someone may see the smoke and rescue him. It had been five years and there had been no rescue. Maybe the WRMs would come and steal his wood. Maybe Reapers would see the smoke and his ordeal would finally come to its inevitable conclusion. In previous winters he had seen smoke coming from some of the other homes in the area. This winter he seemed to be the only one remaining.
Erik put his hand in his pocket to retrieve his mittens. His hand brushed against a piece of paper. The Note. How long had it been now? He closed his eyes as a sudden pain swept over him. He paused to take several deep breaths of the frigid air until he had calmed himself. He donned his mittens and climbed the stairs to what at one time had been their living room. It now consisted of a snow-covered platform surrounded by studs and some remaining wall fragments. The winter sunlight on the fresh snow blinded him temporarily and he stood blinking and adjusting to the brilliant light.
Erik ventured out to check the traps. He had caught a vole in a mousetrap two days ago but there had been nothing since then. The meat of the vole was very strong and gamey. Mouse was much sweeter meat, but it had been some time since he had caught one. It might have made a difference if he had proper bait, but he had already eaten anything that could reasonably be used for bait. It had been a long time since he had caught a rabbit in his trap. They seemed to be avoiding his yard. All those years of chasing the rabbits out of the garden. Now he wished they would come and visit his yard and feed him for a change. There were still a few bones left over from the last rabbit he had trapped, but the bones had been cracked open and cleaned of marrow, the gristle hungrily devoured. He had even chewed the hide until it was nothing but fur. Today, he found nothing. The traps had not even been tripped. There would be no food today. He filled a bucket with snow and brought it down to add to the pan on the stove.
Erik set about the task of tearing down his house to feed the voracious appetite of the fire. The fire had consumed the trees in his yard in the first years. He had started taking his neighbors' trees and then stripping their homes for fuel. The neighbors had either fled or died he wasn’t sure which. He just knew they were gone. There were no authorities to stop him from taking their things. Eventually, it became too difficult to transport the materials, so he had begun tearing down his garage for its wood. He had proceeded to the west wing of the house. He estimated the house would be able to provide fuel for another year. He dismantled his walls using a saw and hatchet, tearing out the studs and siding, and making a pile of combustible materials. He would need enough to last through the night.
Erik had just ripped up a piece of flooring when he saw it. A spot of bright green. His breath caught as he bent down to examine it more closely. It was an M&M. Some of the candy-coating had been washed off by moisture and it was stuck to the sub-floor, but there could be no mistake. It was an actual God damned M&M. Erik took off his glove and peeled it from the floor. Maybe he should save it? Instead, he put it in his mouth and let the chocolate flavor cover his tongue. He closed his eyes as memories flooded back to him. Laura had loved M&Ms.
Erik had heard that people who froze to death could no longer feel the cold. The snowbank just felt like a soft blanket. Erik had no doubt about “what dreams may come” in that “undiscover’d country.” Oblivion nothing more. He would not embrace oblivion. Not yet. He would “not go gentle into that good night.” He would “rage, rage against the dying of the light!” Erik raised a defiant fist into the air and let loose an animalistic growl. Suddenly, seemingly in response, he heard an angelic voice drifting in the wind, and with it came gentle music.
Erik closed his eyes and shook his head, but the music continued and grew louder. Erik heard an electronic drumbeat join the music. He peered out from the ruin of his house and saw a black van approaching. It looked to him like a tour bus or a recreational vehicle but when it encountered some debris on the road, he could see that it consisted of several smaller segments. A display on the side of the vehicle depicted a beautiful garden of flowers and trees. The words Disciples of Eden were written in flowing letters across the side. When it reached the front of his house it came to a halt.
A young woman wearing a turquoise blue parka trimmed in spotless white fur climbed out of the van and approached the house. She carried a large square duffle bag.
“Hello,” she said, calling out in a cheerful voice. “Is there anyone home?”
Erik looked out at her confused. “Yes,” his voice croaked hesitantly as he stumbled forward. He could not remember the last time he had talked to another person. She came up to the house and opened the bag. There was something in it that looked vaguely familiar.
“Would you like a box lunch?” she asked.
Erik’s eyes bulged. She was getting him a boxed lunch. He nodded slowly at her.
“Do you have any dietary restrictions?” she asked.
“No,” Erik said. “None.”