It was a Wednesday when we went to war with the people in Stairwell C. The snow was illuminated, transfixed, falling down past the mercury floodlights on the roof, which is how I know that the electricity was still on then, but that was certainly one of the last times it was. I can also remember yelling, improvised pole-arms made out of kitchenware; the blood being a brighter red than it is in the movies, though it dried out pretty dark.
Death was something we were rediscovering in those days, and the suddenness, the irreversibility, was something that I think had not sunk in yet. The only person that had died before the war of the stairwell was Mrs. Peterson from 107, who had cut herself up pretty bad on the pieces of a broken window after falling in the snow, and the wounds just got septic. Just like that. There was still plenty of food then, but the drug stores were the first thing that had been looted. Blood poisoning, they used to call it. But who could take somebody dying of blood poisoning seriously?
We didn't leave the building for a few days after the war, so I guess in that sense you could say we won. The people in Stairwell C left before us, so they lost. We didn't kill them all, and I don't think we would have if we could have. Not long after that we left too. Was it because the electricity went out for good then? It must have been right around then that it did, so that could have been why we left. Before we did, we buried Jack Fernandez, the super, and Mr. Lawson from down the hall, and Billy who was my roommate but never actually paid his share of the rent. When there was still rent. We also buried an old lady that the Stairwell People didn't take with them when they left, whose name we never knew. She was wearing one of those ridiculous floral-print dresses that only old ladies wear. None of us would ever admit to having been the one that killed her, but somebody must have. It was a lot of work, digging a grave for her with the ground frozen, but nobody complained.
That was a hard winter. The breaks in my memory get wider and harder to guess at, starting with not long after we left that building. The last month of it I was alone, and how I lost everybody else, and what happened to them I don't know. I can remember I was living in a subway station for a while, with a foot of water on the ground, and I remember being terrified that the third rail would go live and I'd be flash-fried, carbonized. But it never happened, and it was good, because nobody else wanted to go down there. Before that, when I was still with some of the other people, we were in a park somewhere.
It must have been a pretty big one, because you could get lost in it if you didn't know it well, and hide in all kinds of places if you did. We started naming parts of it: "the rock that looks like a frog about to jump" became simply Frog Rock after a while, and the pond became Lake Ordinance, because that was what it said on top of a sign by it. Maybe if I had stayed there I'd be telling stories now about how the Rock Frog tricked Ordinance into becoming a lake, or about how all the animals met one day at the Meeting Tree except squirrel, and that's how squirrels are good to eat. Actually, the park may not have been that big. You can get lost even in small places, and hide in them too.
I left the city that spring, walking down the interstate, but things, it turned out, were pretty much the same everywhere. I saw some pretty interesting things, I guess, like a town that was ruled by librarians, and another where people made human sacrifices to an old World War II memorial, but people are pretty much the same no matter who tells them what to do or what they give their children to.
I guess you could say it's a miracle that I lived through those times, but somebody had to. I don't feel like my surviving was the result of any conscious decisions, made by me or anybody else. It's more just one of those things that happened, and things do seem to keep happening, and not making any more sense than ever. That is the moral, maybe, that things keep happening, and we try to make sense of them and don't, but that's kind of a shitty moral. Maybe it's also that we keep going, anyway. But I am old and tired now, and I am ready to stop.