Tell Gilgamesh I’m Sorry
by Lou Antonelli
“I want to move on to Houston,” said Skinner the next day. “I don’t want to hang around a long time.”
“I know you miss your sister,” said Omar. “I think I know what would be best for you to barter with.”
“I won’t tell anyone about you,” blurted Skinner.
“I’m not going to keep you here, don’t worry,” said Omar. “Besides, who would believe you?”
“The only reason I believed you existed is because my grandpa told me on his deathbed,” said Skinner.
“That’s usually a time when people tell the truth.
“I haven’t made it as long as I have by just giving away the stuff I’ve accumulated to survive,” he continued. “But I do have some stuff I can spare. Follow me.”
They walked four levels down a reinforced steel and concrete staircase, and into a large bunker with thick pillars and plain concrete walls.
Omar walked over to a metal cabinet and took out a metal box stamped “RSA.” He reached in and pulled out a sack of gold coins.
“These coins have an ounce of gold each,” he said. “Carry some in your kit and hide the rest.”
Skinner turned one of the coins over in his hand. One side showed an old man with a beard that only covered his neck, and some type of antelope on the other.
“These coins will help get you through checkpoints,” said Omar. “I can get you some fresh tobacco from my drying shed tomorrow that you can use for bartering with individuals.”
“Do you have something I could use as a weapon?”
“You made it this far without anything more than a knife.”
“Yes, but the militia captain said it’s a lot more dangerous between here and the Houston area.”
Omar closed the metal box. “You really need to use these Krugerrands to buy a place in a convoy, son. You shouldn’t travel alone, anyway.”
“I suppose so.”
“We will get organized, maybe you can leave in a couple of days,” said Omar.
“I suppose so,” said Skinner, a bit distracted.
“Let’s get back up top and turn in for the night.”
“I wish you’d come with me,” said Skinner as they began the climb up the stairs.
“I’m still an old man,” said Omar. “I don’t have much speed and strength to be of help on the trip.”
“No, I mean to help things come back,” said Skinner.
“I tried that before,” said Omar. “Each time, something would happen that would expose me. When I was burnt up in a fire and came back, they called me the Phoenix. When I drowned, I became Proteus. There are other examples from other cultures where I lived.”
He stopped on a landing to catch his breath. “You have no idea of the combination of jealously, envy and hate you see in people’s faces when they realize you’re immortal. And you have no idea how it feels to see everyone you ever know die. That’s why I’ve stayed away from society so much and avoided making attachments.”
He looked Skinner in the eye. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m still human after all these years.”
“You must be very lonely,” said Skinner.
“I wish I could think of a sure-fire way to get out from under this curse,” he said as he opened the door to the ground level. “In the morning, remind me to tell you how I tried to get to an atomic bomb test site in Nevada back in 1957. Now that’s a story.”
* * *
A massive shotgun blast tore into a wild boar’s chest. There was squeal, then a thud.
Another blast spread birdshot among more of the razorbacks and the pack scattered. Omar rushed over to where Skinner lay. The teenager was immobile, his eyes glazed. Six feet away, a sack spilled gold coins on the ground. Even in the darkness, Omar could see the teenager was covered in blood. Skinner was on his side; Omar rolled him onto his back.
He leaned down and could see the teenager had been eviscerated. Skinner groaned.
“Am I hurt bad?”
“Yes, ’fraid so,” said the man.
“Am I gonna die?”
“Yes, the hogs tore your guts out.” He rubbed the boy’s forehead. “Why did you take off? Why didn’t you wait until daylight? You didn’t have to leave right away!”
“I want to see my sister so bad...”
“Oh, God, the impetuousness of youth!” Omar kneeled by the teenager. “You knew I kept the razorback pack in these woods as protection.” As his eyes adjusted he got a better view of the boy’s injuries. “I’m sorry, I can’t doctor you, you’re too torn up.”
“I wanted to see my sister,” Skinner groaned.
“I tell you what, I will go to Houston, and tell her you died trying to reach her,’ said Omar. “I will bring her your ashes.” He tousled the boy’s hair. “Does that make you feel better?”
“Yes,” Skinner gasped.
“Do me a favor for me, then?” said Omar, leaning over. “When you cross over and see him, tell Gilgamesh I’m sorry. Tell him I’m sorry that I didn’t have a better answer for him...”
Omar stroked Skinner’s forehead as the teenager nodded feebly and then his breathing stopped.
Omar stood up, and grasped the dead boy’s hands. He dragged the body back towards the farmhouse. It was hard work, and he had to stop twice to catch his breath. Once he had the corpse on the patio, he went inside to a storeroom and recovered a can of stabilized gasoline.
He drenched the corpse, and then tossed a wooden match. The flames exploded skywards. He stepped back and wiped his face. He pulled his hand away and realized there was a tear. He smiled a crooked smile. “Thanks, kid. You showed me I’m still human after all.”
He stood there for some time watching the flames, tears streaking his cheeks.
* * *
“This is it, this is the Woodlands. This is where you get off.” The militia captain nodded. “You said you weren’t going through to Houston.”
“That’s right.” Omar jumped off the end of the transport truck. He turned and handed the captain a Krugerrand. “Here’s an ounce of gold, for the road.”
“Thanks, old timer.”
The clutch ground and the truck lurched off in a cloud of foul diesel exhaust. Omar walked up to the checkpoint, where two militia guards stood at attention.
A captain stepped forward. “State your business.”
“I’m bringing ashes to a family member,” said Omar. “A traveler died on my ranch, it was his dying request.”
“Who are you looking for?’
One of the guards turned. “The Wrightsons live on Woodlawn Street.”
The captain looked at the two guards. “Let him pass,” he said.
Omar stepped through the barricade.
“You have something for customs?’ asked the captain.
“Of course, again,” said Omar as he pulled out a small bag with hand-rolled cigarettes.
The captain peered inside. “Wow, these are fresh.” He turned and gestured to another militiaman sitting in an old SUV that had been sawed off and converted into a technical.
“Corporal Sealy, take this gentlemen to Woodlawn Street.”
The corporal drove the technical over to them and Omar clambered in.
Woodlawn Street was only three miles from the checkpoint. Omar tipped the corporal a few cigarettes and slide out of the technical.
As he walked up the sidewalk, a man opened the front door and leveled a rifle at him.
“What do you want?” he shouted.
“I’m looking for Beverly Wrightson.”
“What business do you have with her?”
Omar reached in a sack and pulled out a wooden box. He held it up. “I’m bringing her brother’s ashes.”
A middle-aged woman pushed past the man at the door. “Skinner? Skinner is dead?”
The man lowered his rifle and waved. “Come on.”
Omar and the woman met on the walkway. “I’m sorry, ma’am. He died outside Pleasantville, halfway between Dallas and Little Rock.”
The woman looked at the wooden box numbly. “We haven’t gotten a letter from him for two years,” she said. “Hard to send letters these days. Last we heard, he was taking care of Dad.”
“Your father died, and then Skinner tried to make his way here,” said Omar. “He was killed by wild boars in the woods outside my house.”
He held out the box. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t save him. Before he died, I promised I’d bring you his ashes, and his love.”
She took the box, and leaned against her husband who had joined them. She began to sob.
“Things are starting to come back, I had hoped we would be able to get back together some day,” she cried. “But not like this.”
“It’s okay, honey,” said the husband and she pressed herself into him.
He looked over her head to Omar. “Thanks for honoring his last wish,” he said. “You must be a tough old bird, it’s a long way from Pleasantville. Would you like to stay a while, maybe enjoy a hot bath?”
Omar raised his eyebrows. “You have a hot water heater?”
“Yes, we have propane.”
“I’d like that very much.”
The husband — still hugging his wife — began to walk back towards the house. Omar followed. “You wouldn’t happen to be an old school teacher, would you?” asked the husband.
“No,” said Omar. ”What makes you ask?”
“You sound like you’re educated. We’ve banded together and are planning to reopen the school,” said the husband. “We want to educate the youngsters. Like I said, things are slowly coming back.”
“I wasn’t a school teacher,” said Omar. “But you could say I have a broad education.”
They paused at the front door. “Maybe if you feel at home, you might think about staying, help us get the school off the ground,” said the husband.
The wife looked at Omar. “Please stay with us a while, we owe it to you, since you were kind to Skinner at the end.”
“Yes, and maybe you’ll decide to stay and help with the school,” said the husband.
Omar put his hands on his hips and looked around. Except for the poor condition of the pavement and the rust on the streetlights, the neighborhood almost looked as if the Crash had never happened. “You folks have done a great job fixing up your neighborhood. I’ll certainly think about your suggestion.”
“Come join us for some refreshments in the kitchen,” said the husband. The couple went inside.
Omar looked as they disappeared into the house, and then looked around the neighborhood again. “Maybe I should stay,” he said to himself. “Maybe things will be different this time.”
He re-joined the couple in the kitchen. “I may take you up on your offer to teach,” said Omar.
“That would be wonderful,” said Beverly. “Skinner would be proud.”
“That’s the least I can do, he was a good kid,” said Omar. “It’s not like I don’t have the time.”
Copyright © 2011 by Lou Antonelli