Episode 1 – The Hudson Belvedere

My eyes open. My sister Amy’s got her knees jammed in my back. It’s so fucking uncomfortable. She’s getting tall, and the single bed’s our only personal space in the whole apartment…like a raft in a sea of shit! Uncle Henry’s a fucking hoarder and every inch is piled high with supplies he thinks we’ll need when the country collapses in anarchy and chaos.

Two years ago, before our parents got killed in the wreck, Amy and I lived normal lives. I mean, nationally, all the shit was getting worse and worse, but we had this cozy little house in Pleasantville, New York, and hardly gave the whole scene a second thought. Except for occasional shooting sprees in neighboring towns, nothing unusual happened. Pleasantville was unscathed, then out of nowhere, the accident happened, and Uncle Henry showed up to take custody…and hauled us to his piece-of-shit apartment building, the Hudson Belvedere on West 97th.

Amy squirms…yanks the sheet over her head. Lies still a few minutes, then sits up and stretches. It’s a beautiful, sunny day. Luckily the only windows are in the corner by the bed, so we can sit and check out the West Side…plus the Hudson River and the Palisades beyond.

It’s Saturday, June 30th, the day before my 14th birthday…fourth day of Summer vacation. Amy’s eleven and almost as tall as me. That’s why we have to rethink sleeping arrangements. It’s getting really weird.

We kneel side-by-side staring out the window. Everything looks normal…cars in the street, boats on the river, and an airliner approaching LaGuardia. “I’ve seen enough,” Amy says. “Let’s sleep more.” So, we lie on our backs and stare at the ceiling. We’re in pajamas. I’m dying to sleep nude, but that’ll never happen unless we move.

Some people think Amy and I are twins for a bunch of reasons. We’re both roughly the same height, like 5′ 6″…skinny, dirty blond, pale waxy skin, long faces, short noses, and major lips. The only difference is, she’s got perfect teeth, but I had a big space in front, so I’ve got braces which are a fucking pain. Oh, yeah…I also have freckles on my nose. What drives people crazy is we’re both Androgyies like a lot of kids. Last year, 2017, the trend exploded, so now you can’t tell which kids are boys and which are girls. It’s hilarious, especially at school, because the teachers get s-o-o-o frustrated…call boys girls’ names and vice versa. Crotch checks are essential, but sometimes that doesn’t work, because kids go to extremes. Girls stuff socks in their underwear and guys wear tight briefs. Amy and I actually do that sometimes…love fucking with teacher’s heads.

I look around our “room,” hoping to see it in a new light, but it’s depressing as usual. Small to begin with…crammed with cardboard boxes, plastic bags, bottled water and other junk my uncle accumulates. He actually believes there’s a underground revolution going on…that conservatives are freaking because of the gun crackdown, and violent cells are trying to dump elected officials. I don’t know if he’s right, but every night on the news, there’s more gun violence…people are definitely trigger happy. So far this year, the city’s had twelve mass shootings by groups nobody heard of five years ago. Uncle Henry blames it on the Internet…says the web brings all the radicals together…so, we’re not allowed to have laptops, cell phones or anything. Everybody thinks we’re seriously warped, because we don’t do what most kids do 24/7. Instead, we’re TV freaks…even that wasn’t easy. We had to bitch for months to get cable.

I start getting really antsy. Glance at Amy who’s asleep again. Fuck! Start poking and pestering…tell her to get her ass in gear.

She’s majorly pissed. “God, Derrick, you’re such a pain!”

We pull out our robes, which like all our other stuff, are piled on boxes…wherever there’s space. Conditions in the apartment are beyond belief. Mom and Dad would freak, if they saw the way we’re living! We have to do everything, even wash our own clothes. If we don’t, we’ll get dirty and infested with bedbugs. There are definitely bedbugs around…you see them under Uncle Henry’s shit, but Amy and I keep our living space spotless and disinfected. Uncle Henry, on the other hand, is covered with bites, but he thinks it toughens him up for the coming apocalypse.

The apartment’s divided into a series of pathways and tunnels that lead through the shit. It’s hard to tell what room you’re actually in, because so much crap is jammed floor to ceiling. Believe it or not, you actually need a flashlight to see where you’re going…even during the day.

Robes tight around us, Amy and I follow the TV tunnel to what was once (allegedly) the living room. Around the TV, we’ve constructed a cardboard cave which is kind of cool because we have total privacy…usually escape from Uncle Henry who raves 24/7 about his conspiracy shit.

We try to watch our favorite programs, but every station’s on alert…warning everybody about a group called the Clan for Mutual Defense, the CMD, which supposedly has thousands of patriotic members threatening to overthrow the government unless they’re allowed to have some high-tech weapon called the Zombie X-34 which the President is threatening to ban. The whole thing is totally bizarre, because the newscasters are acting overjoyed the country’s in such a fucking mess.

Suddenly, we hear Uncle Henry clunking through the boxes….sticks his head in the cave. “You guys listening to this shit?” He’s obviously thrilled…like it’s only happening, because he predicted it. “We better lay low today. This could be the spark that ignites the conflagration. If the police lose control, the shit’ll really hit the fan!. No way they can protect us from a big group like the CMD.”

I glare at him. “Why are you so fucking happy? This is a huge pain in the ass!”

He and I never see eye to eye…so he’s not surprised. Just keeps talking like I don’t exist: “Stay away from the windows. This is the nation’s worst fear! Incidents could pop up anywhere, and there’s no way to guard against them. This week’s gonna be really interesting…a turning point for the nation.”

I shake my head in disgust. “Why are we stuck in this hole? Let’s leave the fucking city.”

He waves his hand over his crap. “It’s not safe anywhere. You’ll see. This is exactly why I stored all these supplies. We may be here for weeks.”

“What about Pleasantville?” Amy asks. “That was peaceful.”

Uncle Henry chuckles. “Not anymore. The suburbs are powder kegs.”

I can’t believe the shit he says. “What the fuck are powder kegs?”

“It’s an expression. The situation’s explosive.”

I throw up my hands. “Jesus, Uncle Henry, this is no life. It’s Saturday and our friends are waiting for us.”

He gives me the usual disgusted look. Expects me to give him a hard time. I don’t believe half the theories he comes up with, so I’m definitely on his shit list. Amy thinks he’s crazy too, but she’s tactful…so, he loves her.

He stands in the light of the TV looking back and forth between us. “So? Isn’t this exactly what I warned you about? The CMD’s the big leagues. We’re really in for it!”

I can’t even look at him…same shit day after day. He’s nothing like my parents…can’t believe he’s Dad’s brother. Dad was tall and thin, Mom too, but Uncle Henry’s got totally different genes. He’s not ugly exactly…probably would look decent if he took care of himself…but doesn’t shave, has a scuzzy pony tail, showers like once a week, and never exercises, so he’s got a major pot, and wears old clothes to save money for emergency supplies. He was a computer guy at some big company…gets a pension, but never spends a dime on us. Fortunately, our parents had life insurance, so we get an allowance from the bank. Without that, we’d be totally screwed.

It’s impossible to have a relationship with Uncle Harry. He’s so totally hung up on doomsday scenarios that he doesn’t show real interest in us at all….except as an audience for the latest disaster news. It’s so totally different from when Mom, Dad, Amy and I would sit at our kitchen table sharing everything going on in our lives.

I’m about to turn fourteen, sprouting up, and feel like I’ve got to take charge of my life, and Amy’s, or we’ll end up weird recluses who never see anybody. So far, we have friends, in spite of Uncle Henry, but with the CMD and all the bullshit, I’m seriously worried we’re gonna get cut off. Definitely, can’t let that happen.

To be continued…Read episode 2