Jam Donâ€™t Shake Nicholas J. Carter
They seem so innocent: jars of jellies and jams. But the inhabitants of the town of Goodman know better. An additive in Auntie Goodtimes Jams and Jellies turns good people into rioting murderers when their supply is cut off, the factory burned to the ground, and the National Guard closing in. Doug is trying to survive in this post-Goodtimes world, sating his addiction with a carefully dosed tablespoon a day of jelly. And, when supplies get low, Doug, like others, finds that cravings can be quelled with the blood of fellow addicts. Is it really murder when itâ€™s a matter of survival?
I awoke to noise. From elsewhere in the Save-U market, there came the squeaky squeal of sneakers on linoleum tile. A pair of shouts. Then, a girl’s laughter. I staggered, feeling light-headed as I reached my knees, flung my arms to the shelf of peanut butter and, dragging down a dozen jars of the stuff as I flailed for a better grip, lost it, and ended up back on the floor on all fours. The fluorescents were blinking on and off overhead, showing and then hiding the jam-sprayed bodies lining the aisle, along with hundreds of broken jars and bits of bright glass that shone like stars. Thousands of little fruit flies stuck there like black carpet. The air was sticky-sweet like fruit punch. I found my nine iron on the floor and picked it up. At my feet was the body of the old woman I’d just killed for the last jar of Aunty Goodtimes raspberry jam. The jar was nowhere in sight. I shook my head. What the hell had happened? I stood, the effort making my head swim, and clutched the nine iron tightly in my hands. A girl appeared at the end of the aisle, wearing a white shirt with a red stain like a birthmark. “Over here. Help!” she shouted. She switched between screaming and laughing as she ran toward me. She was either high or hadn’t had a hit in so long that her mind was starting to go. There wasn’t time to think. Two men dashed into view just moments after the girl appeared. Their faces were grim behind sloppy sprays of jelly. One brandished a bent-legged folding chair, the other a ridiculous antique lamp with lime-green pom-poms dangling along the shade. I stared at them. I saw the girl move to the peanut butter shelf out of the corner of my eye. She stopped. The men charged. A jar of peanut butter flew from the girl’s hand, catching Lamp Man in the nose with a heavy thud, stopping him short. He clutched his face and groaned. Raspberry-scented blood flowed from his nose. Still woozy, I bellowed and
shouldered past Lamp Man screaming at Chair Man but slipped on a patch of blood as I approached, falling forward as I swung the club. The blow, meant for his chest, struck his knee instead. I felt the nine iron vibrate in my hand. He dropped the chair and crumpled to the floor, screaming. I heard the scuffle of sneakers on the tile behind me. Then, the sound of glass breaking. Chair Man was holding his leg and whimpering. I stumbled to my feet. Hit his leg again. Twice. He screamed. The knee had to be broken. The lights swirled as I turned around. The girl in the sneakers was on her backside, scrambling backward over the bodies of the old woman and a decapitated corpse that smelled of strawberry. A thin gash marred the spot between the girl’s neck and shoulder. Flecks of Lamp Man’s lamp were strung in the girl’s hair, the rest was in shards on the floor. His enormous hands were stretching out to her, the hair on them matted down by jam or blood. I couldn’t tell which, and the difference hardly mattered. I hurled the nine iron. It flew, wobbling, and struck him awkwardly and without much force in the back of the head before clattering to the ground. He turned, eyes vicious red. From behind, Squeaky Sneaker Girl leapt up, hugged him with one arm and with the other, brought a shard of the lamp to his stubbly throat and yanked it across. Raspberry … everywhere! He fell, clutching his hands to his throat. I ran to him and pushed him over. He struck the floor headfirst and heavy. We kneeled at his sides, the girl and I. I drank. She drank. We were scarcely aware of one another as we lapped at the luscious blood slipping from the man’s neck. I’m not a monster. If a jar of jam had been available, I would’ve gone for that. But my craving had been vicious when the man fell, and that jar I’d gone to so much trouble to get, killing that old bag, was missing. It came flooding back to me as I drank: the nine iron denting in her skull. My triumphant shriek. Grabbing the jar from
the shelf. Slipping on her blood. Falling. Smack. Darkness. Waking up to this. The girl smelled of raspberry, too. Not that I needed to smell her to know her type. She wouldn’t be drinking from another fruit that wasn’t her flavor. I felt the high sink into my skin. There’s really no describing it to someone who’s never had a bit of jelly. The closest you can get is to say that your flesh is like an oven set to warm. The lights get muted, and you feel sweet inside. Like your innards are a baking pie. Baking up so warm and sweet you can feel the colorful juice bubbling out of your skin, with just a hair of that pins-and-needles sensation you get when a limb falls asleep. We finished drinking. I smiled at the girl. “What’re the odds of five raspberries in the same market?” She giggled. Chair Man groaned in pain down the aisle. The craving was gone. Now, there was only euphoria. Her blood had dried. Under the ratty, tatty shirt and skirt and matted hair, she was cute. Had long black-brown curls and round black eyes you could lose your head in. I found myself drawing closer to her and noticed with glee that the jelly high had sent her soaring, that she was leaning toward me, too. She murmured something in a sultry tone. I couldn’t quite make it out. It didn’t matter. I felt good. Nothing else mattered.
About the Author Nicholas J. Carter is a UMass Boston alum, currently living in Massachusetts with his wonderful wife. He credits his mother, a librarian, with his love of words, and his father, a smartass, for showing him how they donâ€™t always mean what they should. Outside of his family, nonsense and chaos are the two things he loves most. His blog may be found at http://adequategusto.blogspot.com.