A centipede briskly maneuvered between the toes of a sleeping girl. It chased its prey up her ankle, finally skewering it between sharpened mandibles just as it reached her knee. The girl did not stir. If you came across her, you’d probably think her nothing more than a corpse. If you were living in a civilized world this occurrence would probably bother you, and you may make a ruckus. Fortunately for the girl, and probably unfortunately for you, the world is no longer civilized.
The girl’s name, in this case, is Mel. She last ate five days ago, is missing two fingers, is deaf in one ear, and hasn’t had a pair of shoes since she was ten. The deafness is inherited from her great-grandmother, who left nothing to Mel except for an MP3 player whose volume was stuck at high, and was filled with nothing but punk-rock and poorly written erotic Batman fan-fiction in audio format. Oh, and a katana.
Mel’s missing fingers consist of the middle finger on her left hand and the middle finger on her right hand. She lost these in a fight with a largemouth bass when she was thirteen. The bass had eaten half-a-dozen worms from her hook, and in her frustration she decided flipping it off was the best course of action. The bass, finding this extremely rude, abandoned the safety of the water and leapt mouth-first onto Mel’s raised finger. The bass had a brief moment of satisfaction before having its brains bashed in by a cinder block.
The other finger was lost a half-hour later due to a celebratory bottle of whiskey and a cleaver.
Mel awoke to a light tapping sound on the roof of her makeshift hut. First she felt annoyed. Why would someone be bothering what was clearly a very convincing corpse? When the tapping not only continued, but also increased in intensity, she panicked.
The weatherperson hadn’t said there was rain in the forecast! The weatherperson of course didn’t know shit about how to predict the weather, as the weatherperson happened to be Mel. She bolted out from under the hut and began rummaging through her packs.
After a frantic minute of searching Mel produced a collapsible water bottle, a disposable filter, and a funnel. After setting the bottle up and making sure that it wouldn’t fall over, Mel retreated back to her shelter. The rain wasn’t acidic, but it certainly was not healthy, especially for hair. The last hard rain caused Mel to shave her head after clumps began falling out. She had only recently gotten back to a length that she could do anything with. As valuable as water was, her hair was far more important.
A purple splotch had formed three days ago under Mel’s right eye. It didn’t hurt to touch, but it seemed to quiver ever so slightly when exposed to bright lights. She decided the best course of action would to wrap it with bandages and hope it went away.
As stated earlier, Mel’s feet were bare. They had been bare for quite some time. The small toe on her left foot was especially bare, as the toenail had fallen off due to a harsh winter when she was fifteen.
As far as potential coverings for her feet, Mel had repurposed, discarded, or otherwise made unusable all that she came across. There were steel-toed boots that held a beehive for a season. Knee-high socks were torn apart, scattered among a gas mask, earrings, smoke bombs, and ravioli. Only one sock had survived that past decade. It was red, small, and had six reindeer (poorly) stitched into the sole. Mel had certainly attempted to destroy the hideous thing when she found it. She had been tripping on homemade acid at the time of first contact. It was in the drawer of a pine desk, in the corner of an executive’s office, on the third floor of a crumbling skyscraper, in a city that used to hold an annual celebration of a long deceased barn owl.
The sock, it turns out, teleports anyone who wears it to the main island of Japan. Mel has yet to put it on.
Mel wore a bow in her hair these days. She didn’t care much for how it looked, but it was the only bow she had come across her whole life, and was in almost brand new condition. She kept it on the off-chance that she ever crossed paths with someone who fancied bows. She kept it in her hair because it would take up far too much space in any of her packs.
Ten hours after being awoken by the rain, fourteen hours after having a centipede crawl up her leg, and eighty-seven hours after the purple splotch appeared, Mel was leaning over the railing in a parking garage stairwell, puking her guts out. The sounds that came from the stairwell could be heard from three blocks away, although no one heard them.
Mel had stumbled into an aquarium just hours before. Most of the tanks were broken, empty, or completely filthy, and all of the former inhabitants had long since died. Most of the tanks, but not all. The squid tank, situated in the basement next to the jellyfish exhibit, was fully operational. Only a few squid were still alive, but they had become plump and lazy. Mel hadn’t the slightest idea of how to cook them. She gave it her best shot, she can at least say that, but at the end of the day, they won.
Moisture flowed down Mel’s leg and onto the dark tile floor. She had gotten greedy. There was a working toilet in this building, one that she had used several times before. But this time there were people guarding it. Mel was not shy, but most people she had encountered in the past ended up trying to steal from or kill her. The matching leather jackets that they wore, embroidered with “CERTIFIED RAPIST”, did little to make Mel think they would be any different. She waited in the room across from the toilet. She could see them through a hole in the wall. She assumed that they would move any time, but they just stood there, as if programmed to do nothing other than guard the toilet from anyone seeking to relieve themselves in a civilized fashion.
Pants ruined, bladder empty, and temper rising, Mel unsheathed her sword, and marched purposefully towards the two men. One had a baseball bat, the other a screwdriver. Bat approached first, saying something that Mel couldn’t understand. The tone of his voice and expression on his face conveyed the meaning quite well though. Four feet behind Bat, Screwdriver cracked his knuckles. Mel would feel no guilt for what would happen in the next two minutes.
Mel sat with her back against the wall. Blood covered the majority of the bathroom. She thought a rib might have cracked, but the fresh pair of pants, functional screwdriver, and warm jacket that now read “RETIRED PACIFIST” were more than worth it. Her ear was ringing. It turns out Screwdriver had an air horn in his pocket. He blasted it several times before Mel could disarm him.
It took five minutes before Mel heard anymore voices or footsteps. She wasn’t sure if Screwdriver had been using the horn as a message or a weapon. Turns out it was both.
Who were these people? Why had she never seen them before now? She could hear six distinct voices headed her way, there’s no way a group this big could be in the city for this long without crossing her path.
Mel attempted standing, slumped back down, and attempted once more. She used her sword as a crutch, moving out of the bathroom and into the hall. She had half a minute to make a choice, if she were lucky. She could make a run up the stairs, lose these people in the cubicles and offices upstairs, and then leave town when the sun went down. Or, she could put on the sock. After five seconds of deliberation, Mel’s laziness (although she will claim it was her sense of adventure) won out.
Mel disappeared from sight, not in the blink of an eye like she expected, but in the slow closing of the eye of a drunken frat-boy who is desperately trying to stay awake, because he knows when he dreams, the booze and sex will be gone, replaced by the nightmare of his reality. He knows he is going nowhere in life, and rather than fix it, he sinks further into debt, and continues a lifestyle that will kill him. Unless he kills himself first.
That is how Mel disappeared.
Rows of shelves lay flat on the ground, pools of liquid and slime puddled around them. Mel marched up and down each row, gently lifting brains off of the floor, picking out shards of glass before tossing them into a burlap sack.
The shelves had stood, proudly untipped, with glass jars resting on them, proudly un-shattered, for years. The brains floating inside the jars had been hooked into a Japanese super-computer since the end of the civilized time. They were originally charged with the task of solving Japan’s energy problems, a problem that became much simpler when the population dropped into triple digits. Having accomplished their primary purpose, the brains split their focus between logarithmic calculus and particle physics during the week, and the translation of hentai into a series of increasingly complex languages on the weekends.
Mel ate like a queen for a month after the brain incident. She collected two dozen to sustain her for the coming weeks, planted three as an offering to whatever god had led her to such a bountiful feast, and left two shelves standing, as an emergency supply.
The two remaining shelves, realizing that their computational power had been reduced to a fraction of what it was, altered their weekly plan: Every week for the foreseeable future would be dedicated to revenge.
The third Sunday of each month would still be used to translate hentai.
Mel came back into existence as slowly as she left it. Time and space flowed around her like alphabet soup and semen, things she had very limited experience with, and neither of which she particularly enjoyed at the time. Visions of brains and shelves filled Mel’s mind, and an intense hunger grew in her stomach.
These visions passed after several minutes, allowing the Japanese countryside to come into focus. The sock had disappeared, leaving an imprint of six reindeer across Mel’s ankle. She swore profusely at the new tattoo, contemplating cutting off the offending foot. Before she could come to a decision however, the universe, in a completely unoriginal use of tropes in fiction, gave Mel a severe nosebleed, and forced her to pass out.
Seeing its “Fuck with Time Travelers” quota filled for the day, the universe promptly returned to shitting all over some endangered species of space goose.
In the grand scheme of things, the gods have been much more successful at killing humans than humans have been at killing gods. But Mel didn’t care about the grand scheme. In her mind she was ahead. In her two-ish decades of life Mel had killed exactly one god, and the whole shamble of gods had killed exactly zero Mels.
In her travels Mel had encountered three gods. One existed as a hole in the road in Mel’s hometown. This particular god remained docile, eating whatever happened to drunkenly stumble into it. The third god gave Mel a sweet-sixteen present in the form of a set of prosthetic middle fingers. While Mel treasured the thoughtfulness of the gift, she had grown accustomed to her eight-fingered lifestyle. She still wore one of the fingers on a necklace, and had given the other one to a raccoon.
The second god is the one that Mel killed.
It happened about two and a half hundred weeks prior to the brain incident, in the bathroom of a strip-club/movie-theater somewhere in the Midwest. Mel was passed out on the blood-stained floor after a month long binge of crack cocaine, speed, and Vicodin. Mel was slumped up against the south wall of the bathroom for five days, an IV drip keeping her alive while her body worked overtime to flush out everything that contaminated it. During these five days, Mel dreamt up an entirely different life for herself.