Essential Passage 1
I am begging you. I’ll do anything.
Such as what? I should have done it a long time ago. When there were three bullets in the gun instead of two. I was stupid. We’ve been over all of this. I didn't bring myself to this. I was brought. And now I’m done. I thought about not even telling you. That would probably have been best. You have two bullets and then what? You cant protect us. You say you would die for us but what good is that? I’d take him with me if it weren't for you. You know I would. It’s the right thing to do.
You're talking crazy.
No, I’m speaking the truth. Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They’ll rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you wont face it. You’d rather wait for it to happen. But I cant. I cant. She sat there smoking a slender length of dried grapevine as if it were some rare cheroot. Holding it with a certain elegance, her other hand across her knees where she’d drawn them up. She watched him across the small flame. We used to talk about death, she said. We don't any more. Why is that?
I don't know.
It’s because it’s here. There’s nothing left to talk about.
I wouldn't leave you.
I don't care. It’s meaningless. You can think of me as a faithless slut if you like. I’ve taken a new lover. He can give me what you cannot.
Death is not a lover.
Oh yes he is.
Please don't do this.
I can't do it alone.
The man (the unnamed protagonist of the story) and his family are caught up in a nameless disaster (a nuclear war or perhaps a natural disaster) which has left the world in the grips of a nuclear winter. As the years pass, there is less and less food. The animals have died. The plants have died. Other than scavenging for canned food, the only recourse is cannibalism. The man’s wife realizes the inevitable conclusion will be that they will most likely die at the hands of others. She sees no point in going on and has decided to end her life rather than suffer at the hands of others. The man begs her not to do this, stating that he cannot go on without her. Her son needs her as well. The man holds out for some kind of hope that they can survive in the midst of this nightmare. He tells his wife that they can go on together and that he will never leave her. He is faithful to her as he is faithful to life itself. Yet his wife has made up her mind. She speaks of death as a lover who can give her the peace that her husband cannot. In the end, she goes off to kill herself, and the man and his son go on the road alone.
Essential Passage 2
…I should have been more careful, he said.
The boy didn't answer.
You have to talk to me.
You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?
He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We’re still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.
As the man and the boy travel the road, they must always be on the lookout for cannibalistic scavengers who will hunt people for food. At one stop, a strange man approaches the two, asking for help. The boy is always anxious to help others on the road, but the man is suspicious. He refuses to help. The stranger then grabs the boy. The man uses one of the last remaining bullets in his gun to kill the stranger as he holds the boy. Traumatized by both the...
(The entire section is 1688 words.)
Essential Passage 1
He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raises his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.
The man and his boy have stopped on their travels for the night, taking refuge in a rocky area, protected from the rain. The rain does not clean away the ashes that cover everything, killing everything and destroying the food supply (except for human beings). The man feels his sole purpose in life is to keep his boy alive and free from the taint of the savagery that has descended on humanity. Yet he knows he cannot do this forever. He is becoming ill, an ever-increasing cough slowly draining his strength. To keep from waking his son, he goes down into a gryke (a fissure in the rock) to cough and cough to clear it all away, but he cannot. He questions whether or not he will survive the night. He calls out to God, not for help but in defiance and bitterness. God has let him down. God has let humanity down.
Essential Passage 2
I can't do it alone.
Then don't. I can't help you. They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I don't dream at all. You say you can't? Then don't do it. That’s all. Because I am done with my own whorish heart and I have been for a long time. You talk about taking a stand but there is not stand to take. My heart was ripped out of me the night he was born so don't ask for sorrow now. There is none. Maybe you’ll be good at this. I doubt it, but who knows. Then one thing I can tell you is that you wont survive for yourself. I know because I would never have come this far. A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body. As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.
The man flashes back to a time when his wife was still alive. She has told him that she has decided she cannot fight any longer and will commit suicide. He begs her not to, stating that he cannot go on alone. She sees no point in going on anyway, so is indifferent to his pleas. Death is certain in a world with no food supply and the increasing danger of humans preying on humans. There is no reason to go on, no hope. She realizes this when her son was born into this new world in which he is only to die. She points out to her husband that he will not survive either and has made it this long only because he has someone to live for. Eventually he will have no one, and there will be no purpose to life. She hopes to die and find, not peace, but nothingness. There is no peace. There is only oblivion to all feeling and emotion.
Essential Passage 3
How do I know you’re one of the good guys?
You don't. You’ll have to take a shot.
Are you carrying the fire?
Am I what?
Carrying the fire.
You’re kind of weirded out, aren't you?
(The entire section is 1513 words.)