(edit that was a early draft, sorry corrected one as follows)
“There is a time and a place for everything,” Albert says to me, “and now is not the time!”
“Thank you…Albert,” is all I can say. I’m bleeding badly from the bite on my arm. I can’t believe they got me. How could I have been so careless? I slip out of consciousness. I dream or have a vision, I think. I see my old life…the one before the fall, before the madness, before death walked on two legs and was as imposing as the Greeks’ free-standing statues. I think back to my schooling that I was never able to complete. I was so close. I had maybe two weeks…no less… oh, who cares now. School was a completely different life. I come to, but only for a second. I see Albert trying to light a fire. We’re in some room I have never seen before. (Not that I have seen many.) Albert turns to me and says something but I lose consciousness again.
I fall back into the dream. I am standing at my high school, the sun is out and the sky is blue. I cannot remember the last time the sky was blue. Why am I dreaming about high school? I have not thought once about high school since they came.
I wake up. Albert is sitting looking at me, with sadness in his eyes, which I have never, ever seen before. “You’re pretty banged up, buddy” he says to me as he wipes his nose on the back of his hand.
“I know,” I say looking at the bite on my arm; Albert must have dressed it while I was unconscious.
“Where are we?” I ask rubbing my eyes and looking around the room.
“A safe house,” is all he says. He’s not looking at me any more.
“Thanks for saving me.”
“It was the least I could do.”
We share an uneasy laugh.
“When I was passed out I had the weirdest dream,” I say. Albert is lighting his cigarette. “I was back at my high school.”
“Yeah,” he grunts still not looking at me.
“Well, it was the last place I was before the…” I’m cut off by some eerie chanting outside. The chanting grows louder and moves closer.
“What is that?” I whisper to Albert.
“It’s those cultists, the ones in the brown and black robes…man that chanting is creepy. When I was a teacher, back when the world was a world, I remember hearing something a lot like that. It was chant that monks would do or something like that. Funny how far music had come until the end came.” He sat back down, adjusted his ratty uniform, and took a deep drag of his cigarette.
“You were a teacher?” I asked, “I have been partners with you for…well a long time.”
“I know I don’t like talking about the past, its dead to me along with everything else.”
“You never fail to surprise me, Albert. So were you a music teacher?”
He doesn’t move, he’s staring off at the wall, as if he has x-ray vision or something.
“I remember this one lesson I had in my history class,” I say uneasily. It was about the Roman Empire and how it fell, you know attacked from all sides by basically everyone…kind of makes me think of our fall. We were so powerful and wealthy. We should have never had a problem with them. But somehow they won, and now we are in the Dark Ages.” My arm is starting to swell. Not a good sign. The infection is has beating my immune system. The bite will not stop bleeding.
“You know what we are?” I ask rhetorically to Albert. He looks at my chest. I continue, “We’re two travelers traveling through hell, and you’re my guide, Virgil, and I’m Dante. You have shown me everything that can be seen in this hell.”
“How come you get the cooler name?” he jokingly asks me.
“Well, because I am…”
He smiles and takes a long drag, and says, “Well, Dante makes it through hell and on to heaven.”
“I never said this was the real Divine Comedy, this isn’t even a comedy. I simply said that me and you were on a journey through Hell. That’s all.”
The moon is out in full. A fog is settling in. I look at Albert. His rifle is slung across his back and he is throwing more kindling on the fire. I look back at my arm. The blood has bled through the bandage. I take my good arm and wipe off some of extra blood. More comes and takes its place. I look at the blood on my fingers; I drag them on the wall and make the shape of a square. I fill it in; it is a solid red square. It looks like I feel. I sigh. Albert moves to the window, he has heard something. The infection has started. I didn’t hear anything.
Albert is looking out the window; he has a sly grin on his face.
He is quietly singing to himself, but I can only make out a few words, “short people got no reason…” is all I can manage to hear. His rifle is aimed out the window. He keeps singing softly to himself, something I have never seen him do. Then he yells, “Got no reason to live!” The rifle cracks and he turns to look at me with a devilish look on his face. I smile weakly at him.
“How ‘bout some food?”
“I’d love some,” I lie. I’m not hungry at all.
Albert takes a small pot and two cups out of his pack. He pours some water in the pot. He goes back into his bag and takes out two packs of Ramen Noodles. He raises his eyebrows.
I ask him about his old life, “So what did you teach?”
He makes no response.
“Come on, tell me. I don’t have long.”
“You know,” he says, “During World War II guys never ate this good.” He moves the noodles around. “No matter where they were, Europe, Asia…Africa, I bet the food wasn’t nearly as good as these noodles are about to taste.” He pours some noodles into one of the cups and hands it to me.
“So…” I say, as I drink some of it. I can’t taste it. “About World War II?”
“It was my favorite thing to teach, and the easiest. Kids always like to learn about it I think…I could be wrong but who knows.” His eyes fall away and he drinks some of this soup.
“I did like learning about it,” I say. I have some more soup. I don’t want to waste it. Albert didn’t need to give me any. Why did he even give me some? I never saw him do anything this kind back at camp. Heck, from the way you saw him act, you’d swear he was an existentialist, not caring about human life one bit. His name is Albert, after all.
“Out of every single important person in all of history and literature, who do you most respect?” I’m dying to make my last conversation a meaningful one.
“Lincoln,” is all he says.
“Well,” he says not moving his eyes from the fire, “when I was a teacher, kids used to make fun of me behind my back a lot. And Lincoln was made fun of quite bit. He learned to laugh it off and so did I, so I see a lot of me in him…and we’re both pretty tall, so that too.”
We both laugh.
“Okay, who do you not like at all?”
He lifts his head back, and says. “Walt Whitman.”
“Whitman, the poet. Well it’s not that I don’t like him; it’s just that I don’t think his poems are very good. I can’t relate to them at all. He is my model for what not to do when writing poems.”
“You really are Virgil, Albert I had no idea that you were so learned.”
“Yeah, well what are you going to do?”
I look at my arm; it’s not looking any better. I wish I had more time. I want to learn more and be like Albert, not be some lame kid. I want to know more about art and music. I want hear the slave songs and understand them for what they really are.
I close my eyes, and I feel tears coming on.
I wipe my eyes, and look out the window. Through the fog, I see the outline of a low, long building. It reminds me of the buildings my father always used to talk about, by Frank something Wright. We used to go see as many as we could. I grew fond of buildings. Those were good times. But how dumb we were, living out our lives trying to be picture perfect, “A Father Knows Best” family, worrying about all the wrong things. We were not focusing on the real problems.
I’m almost out of time. Albert knows this also. The times…they are a’ changing for both me and Albert.
“Do you believe in God?” he asks.
“Yeah, I pray everyday, I struggle a lot too, but I mean there has to be a God. There is no way us humans could have come as far as we have.”
“Then how do you explain what’s happening outside?”
“I can’t…but I know there’s a plan out there that we can’t see.”
“But things have fallen apart so badly. I can’t see how any God could let this happen.”
“It’s called faith, my friend.” I say.
“Still things have been falling apart for ever. I just never thought that an all- loving God could ever allow all those bad things to happen, let alone create them outside.”
“Just have faith my friend, please, something is going to happen that will take all of this away. Believe that there is a plan.” I stop and look at him; he has water in his eyes. His grey hair has fallen out from under his cap.
“Albert,” I say. “I want you to pray with me.” The room is growing black. “Please.” I begin to say a prayer. Everything is slowing down. I’m still praying. I look at Albert. He has his weapon aimed at me. Thank you, Albert. I finish my prayer and everything goes black.