The Rules

Submitted into Contest #160 in response to: Set your story during a drought.... view prompt

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Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

THE RULES

NOTE: This story contains content regarding violence, mental health, self-harm, and coarse language that some may find disturbing

Imagine this. You’re trapped. It’s a room (not a prison, but it may as well be): hardwood floor, plastered ceiling, equally beige walls; you have a door and windows but you’re not allowed to use them. Well you can use them, it’s just against the rules.

The rules. They’re the only reason you’re alive. That’s what you’ve convinced yourself of anyway. At the start, when you were still sane, you wrote them on the whiteboard hanging next to your fridge. Laid them out nice and neat. 

Then you got drunk and angry one night and tore the whiteboard down and started beating it with the baseball bat you swore you’d only save for the Others. That was the first time you almost broke the rules. So, with no more whiteboard, you used your knife to carve the rules into the wall plaster.

At some point your canvas changed from plaster to flesh. So now you have rules six and seven carved into your forearm. They used to bleed a lot, but now they only itch. That wasn’t very smart; but then again, you don’t much care. At least you felt something.

Rule six: ‘No light after dark’

Rule seven: ‘Save the emergency box for emergencies’

You won’t forget them.

But right now you’ve forgotten them. Well, maybe not forgotten, but they're not your priority. The days are getting longer, you can see the sun setting later each night through the boards that you shoddily erected over the glass door that leads to the balcony that rule number one tells you you’re not allowed to visit. 

Rule number three is the only thing that matters now. ‘Be prepared for the Drought.’

Back, when everything had only just gone to shit, you were smart and thought of this as soon as you created the rules. Now you think you should have made it rule number one; maybe if you had you wouldn’t be in this big old pile of shit now. 

Even though you took every container, bucket, hat, bag, you could find, and laid them out on the roof to collect rainwater; even though you emptied every bottle of non-water into a big jug so you could fill the empty bottles with more water; even though you used the fireplace to make your own still so you could change that non-water (soda, soft drink, soy sauce - {side note: soy sauce DOES NOT work}) into actual drinking water; even despite all of that your throat is still burning, your limbs won’t operate properly, you’re dying. 

All because you prepared for the Drought. Just not enough.

You knew that it was coming. But when this shitshow started the Drought seemed so far away. Back then you had bigger fish to fry.

Fish. Fried fish. Wouldn’t that be so good? Maybe some fries to go with it.

Oh yeah. You can practically taste it on your tongue. You reckon you’d be salivating like a dog; that is if you had any fluid to spare for saliva. 

Fried fish, fried fries. You still have salt and pepper. You still have plates. You’ve used some of the knives and forks for other things, but not all of them. Cutlery, plates, seasoning. It’s all coming together in your mind.

Wait.

Shit. 

You got rid of the tomato sauce.

Why in the ruddy Hell would you get rid of the tomato sauce!?

You think to yourself for a moment.

Why? Why? Why? You stupid idiot.

Oh, that’s right. You got rid of the tomato sauce so you could fill the bottle up with water. Water, water, water. Oh how you’d love some water right now. 

The toilet, the sink? No, the water supply cut off almost a month ago. Should have stored more water.

Now it’s the Drought. Capital D because it comes around every year without fail. Three months without even a hint of rain. It’s a season, not an event. You knew the Drought would come. 

And yet you’re still out of water.

You drag yourself off the ground, tear yourself away from the small corner of blankets and depression that you made for yourself. That was where the coffee table used to sit. Then you broke it apart to create those barricades.

You could remove those barricades. You bet there’s water outside. 

Wait. 

You just remembered the swimming pool. It’s on the bottom floor of the apartment building. The pool has water.

You’re halfway to the door, searching eagerly for the hammer you know you left somewhere on the floor around here, when you stop yourself. 

No.

Rule number one. There’s a reason that you made it rule number one. Never, ever, open the door. 

Not since the first day. You broke rule number one on day number one. But then again, the rules hadn’t been created then, so you suppose it doesn’t really count. 

Your neighbour. That hot girl from across the hallway. You heard her screaming. She was shouting something but the words were lost to the cushioning of the walls between you. 

You opened your door, crossed the hall, and knocked on her door. 

You should never have opened the door. What were you thinking? At that moment you think that you must have wanted to help her. All you really wanted was to be a hero.

Imagine the look on her face when you saved her. Those striking blue eyes, her long blonde hair blowing in the breeze even though there's no breeze because you were inside. The way her…

The truth is, you honestly can’t remember whether her eyes were blue or brown or what. Maybe her hair was black. Actually, the more you think about it the more likely it seems. Then an image of red hair pops up in your mind and you’re convinced. She was a redhead. That’s right. 

Maybe you should just check. Asking her would be easiest. 

You push open her apartment door. 

You push open her apartment door?

Wait. WAIT!

How have you ended up here? 

What are you doing? 

The hammer’s still in your hand. You turn around. Your own door is waiting, wide open. The panels that you used to barricade it lying useless on the floor. 

The hallway is dark. So is your apartment. 

The other apartment, the one whose door your left hand is still resting on. That one seems less dark than yours. 

No. 

Go back now. 

But another voice tells you otherwise. The other voice sounds different to your normal one. Maybe that’s the voice of sanity - or the voice of unsanity, non-sanity -

What’s the word?

Oh, un, sorry, in-sanity. 

You laugh at your stupidity. 

Then you stop yourself

Rule number two was no loud noises. 

You march into the apartment from across the hall. Apartment number 124 because yours is number 123. Easy to remember: 123.

The girl’s apartment is brighter because she never closed her curtains, never boarded up her windows. 

"Hello?" you call out.

Actually, you say it in your mind but it sounds so real that you can’t tell the difference. 

There’s no response. 

The layout is the exact same as your apartment. Only everything is still where it was when this entire thing started. Couches, tables, the fridge. 

It smells really bad.

You go to the fridge. It’s probably some food that was bought fresh but isn’t really that fresh anymore. You should clear it out. 

You pull open the door.

Oh Lord.

The fridge is a crime-scene. 

Clearly whatever once was fruit and vegetables is now more goo, slime, and, by all accounts, its own ecosystem. There’s bugs and stuff in there. Gross, no. 

Rule number five comes to mind: ‘All other diseases still exist.’

You don’t want to make yourself sick so you close the fridge door.

You continue to explore, hammer outstretched. 

You don’t expect to be attacked, not anymore. The Others. They’re pretty good at hunting. If there was one in here it would’ve already shown itself. 

Still, you can never be too careful. 

That’s one of your rules right? Something about vigilance and complacency. Must have been around rule twelve or thirteen because those you don’t remember nearly as well.

You walk down the corridor to where the bedroom is. Then you stop. Why are you here again?

Oh, right - tomato sauce Water. No, wait. You were going to go down to the swimming pool for water. You’re here because you want to ask the girl what colour her hair is. Yes, that’s it. 

You enter the bedroom because you know that that’s where the girl will be. 

Only you forgot that you already killed her. 

She’s still in the same position as how you murdered her. 

Limbs sprawled across the bed, kind of like a starfish. A starfish out of water.

Water. Oh how you’d love some water.

You step towards the bed and the rest of the memory comes back to you. 

You opened the apartment door just like you did before because it was already unlocked. 

You called out, asking if she was okay. 

You take another step closer to the bed. You’re determined to find out what colour her hair is.

She didn’t reply to your question. Only she kept screaming. The sounds came from the bathroom, the room across the hall from the bedroom. 

You turn around. The bathroom door is ajar. But that’s not where your quarrel is. You take another step towards the bed. 

You moved into the hallway as a man - her boyfriend - and her, came tumbling across your vision from out of the bathroom. They were wrestling, there was a lot of yelling and screaming. The man sounded rabid. Totally crazy, nutso. His teeth were gnashing and it looked like he was trying to bite her. Like a wolf. 

They tumbled into the bedroom to where you are now. You look for the man’s body but it’s not there because, you recall, you and the girl picked it up and threw it over the balcony. 

You followed them into the bedroom to find them grappling on the carpet. The woman screamed extra loud as the man’s jaw chomped down into the meaty part where her shoulder met her neck. 

Without thinking you grabbed the closest thing that was the closest thing to a weapon - a guitar propped up against the wall - and slammed it across the man’s head. 

He stopped biting her to look at you. That’s when she scrambled out from beneath him, and, as he rounded on you, rushed to her bedside drawer and retrieved something silver.

  You were too preoccupied with the crazy guy (who was an Other, but you didn’t know it at the time) as he marched towards you. 

You’re standing in the exact spot where all this happened now. Halfway between the door and the bed where the dead girl is. You don’t want to look at her face. Well, you do, but not really. She’s been dead for a while - but maybe her hair is still okay so you can figure out if it’s red or blonde or black or what. 

As you brought the guitar up to defend yourself the man jerked back in pain as the silver instrument  - a pair of scissors - was rammed into his neck. 

He screeched - in a clearly non-human manner - and turned to face his newest attacker. That’s when you smashed the guitar over his head again and he fell directly onto the scissors, punching them straight through his throat. 

He was dead. You: alive. The girl: injured and bleeding. 

The following week was good. You and the girl worked together well. She helped you write the rules. You had double the resources to work with. She helped you board up your own apartment. She helped you to collect all that water. You even remember sleeping with her a few times. Once in her bed, twice in yours. 

But if she helped you to board up your own apartment then how’d she end up back here?

And surely if you were working together you wouldn’t have forgotten to use up all of her fresh food as fast as possible?

Why? Why? Why?

Whywhywhywhy? 

It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like one of those impossible riddles in one of those riddle books you used to read to keep your mind working until you got so frustrated that you used it as kindling.

Now you’re standing over the corpse.

That’s why. Because none of that ever happened. 

You worked together for the best part of a day. You helped her patch up the wound as best you could but when you suggested you head to the hospital she shot you down. 

“It’s not safe out there,” she told you. 

There you go, maybe you didn’t dream everything. She gave you rule number one. 

As the sun was setting that night she invited you into her bedroom.

You must have gotten excited, but only for a brief moment, because then you registered both her tone and expression. 

You (plural) sat down on the bed and she told you what to do. You said you didn’t want to. You couldn’t. There’s another way, there must be. 

You hadn’t tried cauterising the wound. Maybe that would work. What if it didn’t happen the same as it happened to her boyfriend? 

They were only words. No meaning. 

Because you both knew what was true and what needed to happen. 

She laid down, just like she is right now.

Your hands were shaky. You needed to be more steady, otherwise it would hurt more than she deserved. 

She deserved to live, but you both knew that couldn’t happen.

You reenact the moment now, even though the corpse is so rotted and withered that it barely resembles the girl at all. 

You remember thinking that you should have taken a sharper knife from the kitchen, maybe this one wasn’t sharp enough.

It sliced through the flesh well enough.

The sheets are grimy and moulded but there’s still a deep stain of red where the blood from the girl’s throat spilled. 

Her hair was brown by the way.

Even in the dim light you can see that she was a brunette. 

You stand up prepared to leave.

You imagine tears in your eyes, but in reality you haven’t drank water in so long that it’s not even possible to cry. 

You make the trek back to your own apartment. You close the door but don’t even bother locking it - and you definitely don’t bother putting back up the barricades. 

That night you catch yourself thinking about a lot of things. You think about a lot of ‘nothings’ these days, but today you actually think about something. 

  1. You broke your own rules.
  2. The Drought means death
  3. Death is the only sure thing in life

Death came for the boyfriend, death came for the girl, and death - capital D if you’re religious - is coming for you. 

Drought. Drought. The stupid, annual Drought. You tried to prepare for it as best as you could and still you didn't have enough water to survive. You think once more about the swimming pool. But no, there’re too many chemicals in that water. Drinking that water is not smart

The only way for you to survive is to leave your apartment. Probably to leave the building, if it comes to it. 

But you’re too scared to do so. Lots of people left their apartments at the start, not one of them came back. You watched from your windows as people were torn to shreds on the streets. It was carnage, and there’s no way you’re going down there to try and find water when you can die peacefully up here.

Die, die, die. 

Death. 

You survived some apocalypse only to be killed by thirst.

Waterwater, thirstthirst, deathdeath.

A sudden thought strikes you. Maybe it’s sanity or crazy talking, you don’t know which voice is which. 

But it’s a thought, and it gives you hope. 

If you’re dying of thirst, well then surely, the Others, who still have human bodies, must be going through the same thing too. 

You’ve seen that they’re good at hunting meat, but surely they’re not so smart as to conserve and scrounge for water because of the drought?

The drought will kill them too!

How have you not thought of this before?

(Actually, you did think of this before, way back at the start when it was sanity and not crazy speaking. All you have to do is outlast them.)

But now you think it as an original thought. 

All I have to do is outlast them.

I can do that. I’m human. I’ve survived the drought every year for my entire life. This year’s no different. 

And for the first time since this entire shit/freak-show/ cluster[redacted] began, you’re filled with hope. 

The Drought, it can mean death. But it can also mean life. 

Not one of your rules said anything about that.

August 26, 2022 08:00

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5 comments

Daniel Allen
17:19 Sep 01, 2022

This is an awesome piece that does a great job of exploring the psychological effects of extreme situations. Plus, you manage to create a really tense atmosphere right from the word go. Well done!

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Seaver Chester
00:00 Aug 28, 2022

This is a fantastic story and an excellent example of second-person narration. It helps create a very spooky, uncertain atmosphere that propels the story forward to a satisfying (unsatisfying) conclusion.

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13:58 Aug 27, 2022

Unreliable narrator stories are not easy to write and sometimes hard to follow but you did a great job of both. I’m seeing a big correlation between peoples drought stories and isolation which I guess makes sense. Very cool story and I like the pacing as well.

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06:51 Aug 27, 2022

Love post-apocalyptic stories. I wish i could write like you. I can see that the narrator is slowly losing his sanity. Would have loved to see him meet the Others. Great content, excellent pacing. You delve deep into their psychology. Hope to read your next story.

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Shelby B
05:29 Aug 27, 2022

I loved how fast paced this story was. It always kept me interested. You can tell how he's losing his mind a bit, which of course, I'd probably be too if I was in his situation. I was hooked from the start.

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