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Chapter 3: "Regardless of Others, Ever Regardful of Others"


It wasn’t until later that the whispering began. Olivia thought it was just the usual quiet bickering between Ned and Jenny, but after it had continued for longer than usual, and was noticeably kept at a hushed tone, she began to get worried. Something was up. Sure, it had only been a few weeks, just over a month in fact since she’d joined their group, but not once in that time had those two been able to keep their whispers, whispers. And there was only one thing that they seemed to agree on: survival. Those two had the sharpest eye for it. Self-survival at all cost. Yes, that mentality was a necessity in this world, but, as Olivia had seen after months on her own, it could only take you so far. If she’d been without Ahab back then, she probably would have lost it.

A couple of weeks after the air changed, Olivia had decided she should try to break into the sewer systems. Poor Ahab had listened to her musings with the patience of a saint, but of course offered no advice. When the scientists began appearing on the news more than twice a week, Jack had started planning. Olivia had laughed at his paranoia then, but later as she sat in their cellar and looked at the door to the tunnel he had dug with his own paranoid hands, she had whispered her thanks. It was just a cellar, but it stayed cool, even in the coming summer months, and as long as the P-Temperature stayed constant, she’d be safe. But as the days grew longer, and the nights warmer even in the depths of the cellar, she finally approached his installed doorway. She had stacked her supplies carefully several times, loaded and reloaded her backpack and sat completely still in the quiet cellar turned cell for hours, but had never looked at the doorway dead on. Something about it, calmly waiting in the darkened corner, inevitable and completely unknown, chilled her.

But, when Olivia finally did face that door, she found that it was stuck. She had packed her things once more, swung her bag over her shoulders and carefully clasped each of the buckles that met at her chest and stomach. Then, with one last glance at the stairs that led up to the kitchen door and the house that she and Jack had shared for 3 years, she patted Ahab between his pointed black ears and tapped the side of her thigh. They walked the seven steps to the hip-height door and she punched at the latch with a spastic jerk of her left hand. The door remained closed. She had laughed and tried again, lifting the tiny metal latch slowly this time, then pushing with just enough pressure, but again nothing happened. She slammed her shoulder into it. Still nothing. After an hour of throwing her entire weight at that useless door, Olivia had fallen backwards, letting the bulk of her pack pull her to the cement, and covered her face with her arms, elbows on her knees. Then, she just laughed, long and hard. It was the first real time since the P-Temperature newscast.

Ahab had been sitting by the useless door, but as Olivia’s laughter turned from mixed gurgles and outright knee-slapping chortles into sharp bursts, he crept quietly to her side. He pawed her a bit, as he did when they played "ignore the pooch," but when that didn’t work, he shoved his snout through her crossed arms. Olivia pushed his wet nose away and sat up quickly. He, of course, was right. What good would laughing do? Sure, smiling was supposed to release endorphins and serotonin, but those happy chemicals wouldn’t unstick that damned door. Neither would hysterics. And, yes, it was her luck that the end of the world would come during her lifetime, and that when it did come strolling into her happy life, that she would end up alone in her cellar with her dog, but she had never expected that the one doorway back to some sort of civilization, carefully installed by her overly cautious fiancé, would malfunction. Jack would have laughed it up to another sick twist of fate. For the last time, Olivia promised herself, she wondered what sick twist had kept him from coming home that night. Or if he still laughed, wherever he was.

Olivia had no other way to get to the sewer that ran below the length of the road that lay just feet above her. Jack had said why not tunnel there? If the air keeps changing, they’ll stay cool enough and we’ll need to get to them somehow, won’t we? Olivia had laughed and owed his three weeks digging to just another excuse for a new project. He was always knocking a wall down just to put it back up two inches from where it had been or relaying the patio or installing unnecessary light fixtures. It was almost hilarious that as she had sat in the cellar, trying to decide whether or not to leave her safe basement for the sewers, she had forgotten that with all of Jack’s projects, at least one thing always went wrong. Of course, with this crazy genius plan, that one thing happened to be the only doorway through to her escape route.

So, most of the following months had been spent in a silent darkness. When she started to lose herself and all concepts of reality, and her babblings began to frighten Ahab, he would grip her ankle between his teeth. Not firmly, not gently, but more as a bitch her pups, with purpose, from the neck. As his teeth firmed, she’d snap back and light a lamp for a few hours. By the time Ahab sounded the approach of the first signs of life in the outside sewer, Olivia had already reread her three poetry books, Treasure Island and I Capture the Castle, by flashlight, at least four times each. West with the Night had split at the seam and Out of Africa’s pages littered the floor, from the day they were torn and thrown all about, the papers flitting and falling in lamplight from her flashing hands.

Somehow Olivia had found her sense of reality in time to grasp that there were actually travelers in the sewer, mere feet from the opposite side of that damned door. And, if she didn’t make enough noise to stop them now, she would probably die with her dog in a basement beneath the home that she and Jack had loved. When the sounds of their approach came closer, she and Ahab barked and howled, screamed and pounded with all they had in them. And that was enough.

Since the day Simon’s shoulder had slammed through, on the fifth try, with both her thumbs holding up that damned latch all the while, Olivia had never seen Ned and Jenny whisper in peace. Something was stirring. Stirring and broiling in their food focused brains, and since Jenny’s recent remark about "wasting" food on a "useless walking shit machine" Olivia was cautious of where their ponderings might take them. She knew exactly where, even if they weren’t aware yet themselves. Olivia was ready for the day when the food ran out. Just as she was ready for the next day, or maybe two, before dog-meat was added to the menu. Olivia didn’t know if she should break away from the group that had saved her before then, or if she would be able to escape when the time came. Or, if somehow, just somehow, Autumn would come and the temperature above would cool enough to climb out of the sewers.

Next Chapter: Ahab's Death Scene (Probably in Chapter 5)