Oscar and Meredith watched the cave people drag the carcass of the creature into the cave. They couldn’t be sure what is was, something between a cow and a frog perhaps, it’s face clearly bovine, but it’s leathery skin and splayed back legs those of another creature entirely. One of the cave people sliced into the frog-cow-thing’s belly, and a milky froth of egg-like spawn spilled forth. The cave people descended on it greedily, scooping up the warm, steaming mass and shovelling it into their mouths. It ran between their fingers and ran down their chins, growing cold and gelatinous in moments.
One of the cave people, a young female, carried a handful of the strange goop to Oscar and Meredith and offered it to them, her head bowed reverently.
“Take it,” whispered Oscar. “It’s an offering.”
“You take it,” Meredith hissed back, “It’s disgusting.”
With a sigh, Oscar helped the cave-girl drop the cow-frog’s spawn into a rough hewn stone bowl. She looked up only once, daring to steal a glimpse at Oscar, and offered a grin full of black, rotten teeth when her eyes met his. Oscar smiled back instinctively.
“Looks like you’ll be warm tonight,” said Meredith bitterly.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Oscar replied defensively, “She’s just a kid, what’s wrong with you?”
“Look around you, Oscar. Look around you and take your pick.”
And Oscar had to admit, life in the cave was not getting any easier. The cave people kept them fed, and kept them safe, that was something, but Oscar could feel the weight of expectation upon them growing with each passing day. The cave people watched them guardedly now, and the offerings had become smaller. The younger ones knew no better, of course, but Oscar wondered if some of the older ones were starting to remember, starting to piece the picture together and realize that things weren’t right.
After all this time, was it possible that they could remember?
“Well, if you want to take your chances outside,” said Oscar. “Best of luck. Looking at that thing down there? I’d say radiation is still a bit of a problem.”
Meredith stood up, throwing the heavy furs and skins that had been draped across her to the floor. “One of these days, I might just take my chances.”
As she turned to stalk off to one of the more remote corners of the cave, she found her way blocked by two cave men. They looked at her, tilting their heads from side to side, as if they had noticed something new about her, something they were seeing for the first time.
“It’s alright,” Oscar said reassuringly, placing his hands on Meredith’s shoulders and guiding her back to her spot next to him. “They just want their reward for being good hunters, don’t you boys?”
The larger, and bolder, of the two cave men grunted in reply, and stabbed a finger towards Oscar.
“Yes, yes,” Oscar said patiently. “Gather yourselves together, and we’ll all worship together.”
The cave men grinned, and loped off to gather the others.
“You are way, way too into this,” said Meredith, burying herself once more under a mound of furs. “You’re getting sucked into their world, you know that don’t you?”
“Our world is gone, Meredith,” Oscar replied. “What do you expect me do? It’s their world or nothing.”
Meredith made a huffing noise and pulled her furs up to her chin. “Just keep the noise down, and make sure those monkeys know not to try and touch me in my sleep.”
“I’m quite sure they wouldn’t dare,” replied Oscar, pulling a dirty sports bag out from under his own pile of skins. “You’re the Shaman’s woman, after all.”
Meredith didn’t answer, but Oscar could feel here eyes on him as he unzipped his bag. There was a gap on one side where a badge of office had been stitched once. Oscar missed it now, another thing from the world before forever lost, but he knew that he could not have stood seeing it every night. The cave people had gathered in a rough semi-circle around them both now, waiting patiently. A few of them were chewing on chunks of meat they had cut roughly from the cow-frog’s belly, and Oscar fought back a mouthful of bile as he lifted the small portable television carefully out of the bag. Expectantly, the eyes of the tribe fixed on him, he slid in a set of batteries and switched it on.
“This the emergency broadcast system. Stay in your homes. We will provide instructions as soon as possible. For your safety, remains indoors. For your safety …”
Oscar drifted off. He had heard the announcement a hundred times over. It never changed. There were no instructions coming, and there were no homes to stay inside, not any more. Somewhere, a machine was still calling out to other machines, and that was all of society that was left. One day, whatever kept this system running would be gone, and that would be it. The last vestige of the modern world would be an unpaid utility bill.
Looking at the cave people, he wondered who the lucky ones were. The young ones, born after the war, or those who simply couldn’t remember that there had a been a war anyway. Had it been the bombs, or perhaps the great gas clouds that had swept across the country in their wake? Maybe the radiation, which surely twisted the brains of people as easily as it mutated the flesh of animals, Oscar reasoned.
Whatever the cause, one things was certain. Oscar could never, ever, tell the cave people that it was all his fault in the first place.
Meredith opened one eye. “Goodnight, Mr. President.”