Apocalypse Now and Then

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A 28 year old college dropout deals with the apocalypse the only way he knows how. (Written for ChristinaNicole's Writing Circle, check it out at weeklywritingprompts.weebly.com.) Sorry, I'm 2 weeks late, I really suck with sticking to a deadline.

Submitted: February 06, 2014

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Submitted: February 06, 2014

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 I was a twenty-eight year old college dropout. I made my money by bagging groceries at one of the one hundred and seventy-six Jewel-Osco locations within the Chicagoland area. Specifically, just a little beyond the far northern fringes of the city itself, in a suburb otherwise known as Evanston. I took one bus and two trains going one direction, everyday. Two buses and four trains round trip.

I made eight twenty-five an hour.

I didn’t own a car.

Ninety-percent of our clientele consisted of indistinguishable soccer moms, each a perfect cookie-cutter copy of the one before them. They all wore sunglasses adorning the insignia DG; Dolce and Gabbana. Sunglasses that cost upwards of seven-hundred and fifty dollars a pair.

I made eight twenty-five an hour.

Their sunglasses cost more than I made in two weeks.

I didn’t even own a pair of sunglasses.

What bothered me most was they wore sunglasses inside, even on cloudy days.

“I want paper bags inside of plastic. Paper bags are better for the environment but they are much easier to carry when they are inside of plastic bags,” she said, or rather they all said, quite matter-of-factly. I always held my tongue. I never pointed out the irony.

They always dove head first into the latest trend without doing so much as a shred of research.

“Are these strawberries gluten-free?” they asked.

“Yes, Ma’am, all strawberries are gluten-free,” I would say.

“How come only some of them say it on the box?” they would ask.

“Because, Ma’am, while celiac disease is quite real and affects a small percentage of the population the gluten-free diet is a trend, and most people that follow it don’t truly understand what it means. Because of this, certain companies have taken to printing the words, ‘gluten-free’ on the sides of items that contain no gluten and raising their prices by two or even three dollars in an effort to bolster revenue,” I would say.

They would always stare at me in silence as if I had just spoken in tongues and they the needed the divine powers of the Holy Spirit to translate.

He never translated.

“Well, they can’t put it on the box if it isn’t true. So the other ones might have gluten in them and I’m gluten-free,” they would say before proceeding to spend an additional three dollars for fancy yellow lettering and disregarding everything I had just said.

I would die a little bit everyday when they would request help to their cars with their paper stuffed in plastic bags filled with their gluten-free strawberries. They always drove the same car. Always.

Something large.

Tinted windows.

Leather seats.

Poor gas milage.

No species this ignorant deserves to survive.

Needless to say, when the Apocalypse struck, I didn’t mind.

 

***

 

The night the Apocalypse began I was smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey, outside on a balcony, thirty stories in the air. I was visiting a high school friend of mine who did not drop out of college. He instead ‘made something’ of himself as my mother would say.

Truthfully he had a job that he hated consuming his life for forty-five hours a week while he himself spiraled downward into alcoholism. He worked in a cubicle. He was not allowed to hang pictures or decorations. He did not have a window. I bought him a plant once as a joke. It died because he didn’t water it, at home, it wasn’t allowed at work. Good joke.

I suppose I would spiral into alcoholism too if I didn’t already drink more than all the fish in Lake Michigan.

His name was Daniel, but I called him Danny and his condominium provided adequate protection throughout the first week of the Apocalypse. It was high enough in the air to not be bothered. He also owned a gun that he kept locked in a box in his closet. The gun was now loaded and sat atop whatever table happened to be between us at the time. Mostly though we spent that first week sitting on his balcony smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey.

There is no better way to watch the Apocalypse unfold than from thirty stories above it, sitting on a balcony, smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey.

 

***

 

So many people tried to flee the city during the initial panic of the Outbreak. I felt this only added to the confusion. If not for the attempted mass exodus of the nation’s third largest city I hypothesized the whole situation would have remedied itself quite quickly.

The problem was mankind’s survival instinct. Every person comes equipt with a switch, that when flipped, will give them complete and total tunnel vision, focused only survival. This is why people flee en masse from their homes before a hurricane strikes. Or why canned goods disappear faster than prom night virginity in the days before a snowstorm.

Practical, sure, sometimes.

It is also the same instinct that causes two grown men to fight over the last G.I. Joe action figure in the middle of a crowded Toys R Us in the days before Christmas. Or for boxes of Velveeta Cheese to vanish from the shelves in the days before the Super Bowl because ‘experts’ predict a shortage of queso dip.

We have experts that predict shortages in Velveeta Cheese and thus our queso dip availability.

There are not enough words readily available to remedy the stupidity of that last sentence. Never-the-less, I shall try.

Perchance we do not have a shortage of Velveeta Cheese and therefore queso dip, instead we have an overabundance of corn tortilla chips creating the horrifying illusion of a queso dip shortage.

 

***

 

It was this very same survival instinct that caused for Danny and I to remain on his balcony smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey thirty stories above the Apocalypse below.

 

***

 

By day nine the Outbreak seemed to have ceased.

We had not seen an Infected since day seven.

We had not seen another person since day three.

We saw birds everyday.

On day nine we decided to venture out and replenish our supplies.

Danny died on day nine.

I met Rachel on day nine.

Those last two things happened in reverse order.

 

***

 

On day nine, our first stop was a grocery store owned by the same chain that used to employ me. It was remarkably still intact except for the liquor department. All that remained in the liquor department was a solitary bottle of vodka. I felt bad for the vodka being all alone during the Apocalypse and I packed it into my orange backpack.

Danny’s backpack was blue.

We also took several cans of meat and fruit.

And toilet paper.

Toilet paper had become an issue.

Electricity had also become an issue but we had been preparing our meals on a charcoal grill. Danny carried a bag of charcoal over his shoulder.

We found ourselves exiting through the register lines like conditioned cattle. Danny even set the bag of charcoal on the counter and reached for his wallet. We shared a laugh and moved on.

Our next stop was a small restaurant next to the grocery store. The door was locked, which I found humorous. Even in the wake of the Outbreak and the Apocalypse the owner managed to lock his door before fleeing. It was as if he someday expected to return and open his doors for business as if nothing had changed.

He would never again open his doors for business.

Danny attempted to kick his way through the glass door.

He was unsuccessful.

After three failed attempts he fired a single shot from his gun through the glass door. It didn’t shattered but it cracked into a wonderful, spiderweb type pattern. Danny kicked the spiderweb, reached his hand inside, and unlocked the door.

We filled our bags with items untouched from the bar. Whiskey mostly. We even found a first aid kit attached to the wall that we took for good measure.

 

Our spirits were high as we exited the restaurant. We had acquired food, alcohol, even medical supplies. We had one stop left, a convenience store in order to procure cigarettes, and before we knew it we would be back on the balcony smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey thirty stories in the air.

We did end up back on the balcony, but not the way we planned or expected.

 

Danny’s gunshot and accompanying glass shattering kick had alerted the lone Infected that still roamed the area. Before we could even step out onto the sidewalk Danny was tackled to the ground by a man-beast, furiously clawing at his torso.

Danny pulled the trigger on his gun three times, each bullet tearing through the soft flesh of the creature’s belly. His blood rushed out, he howled, but his attack did not cease.

I kicked the creature three times in the head and it turn its attention towards me. I back away in horror, expecting at any moment it would do to me what it did to Danny.

“Get out of the way,” she said.

I didn’t even turn to examine her, I jumped sideways into the street as my savior fired two shotgun blasts, hitting the creature in the knees and the chest. It laid on its back twitching, but still alive. It was impossible to tell if it felt pain, or just aggravation that’s its muscles would no longer function properly after being filled with buckshot.

The girl was Rachel, of course, and I will refer to her as such from now on.

Rachel doused the creature in liquid and then, just like a nineteen-eighties action movie, lit a cigarette off a match and dropped the match on the creature.

He howled and burned.

 

***

 

“We have to go,” Rachel said.

I helped Danny to his feet and supported him for the walk back to his condominium. He complained about a cigarette the entire time. He complained and complained until Rachel allowed us to stop. She stood guard outside a small store as the two of us filled our backpacks with pack after pack of cigarettes.

We continued to Danny’s home and climbed the stairs thirty stories into the sky. When we got inside we dropped our bags to the ground and breathed. We had made the climb in just under twelve minutes. Not bad for two nearly thirty out of shape men functioning on ruined lungs.

We heard the shotgun cock and found Rachel had taken us hostage.

“Strip, now,” she said, pointing the gun at Danny and myself.

 

***

 

There are few things in life as uncomfortable and humiliating as standing naked next to another man while a woman younger than yourself examines your body.

I passed her inspection.

Danny did not.

When the Infected attacked him, it left claw marks across his torso and bite marks deep into his shoulder.

 

***

 

“What happens now?” Danny asked.

“Well, soon I am going to make you stand on the other side of the balcony railing. Then, you are going to turn into one of the Infected. Before you can climb back over the railing I am going to shoot you. The blast from my gun will be enough to knock you backwards. You will fall and you will die,” she said.

“How long do I have?” Danny asked.

“Maybe an hour,” she said.

“You’re not going to make me climb over the railing just yet are you?”

“No. Why?” she asked.

“Because I would really like a cigarette and a whiskey,” he said.

Rachel smiled and nodded.

 

***

 

Danny and I found ourselves on the balcony again, smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey thirty stories above the Apocalypse below. Each, I’m certain, finding some dark humor in that Danny’s Apocalypse story was ending just as it began.

Smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey.

On a balcony.

Thirty stories in the air.

 

***

 

We finished our cigarettes and whiskey.

“Well, here it goes,” Danny said.

He climbed over the railing and gripped tightly to it with his hands.

“I would really like another cigarette,” he said.

“Of course,” I said.

I pulled out my pack to find that it was empty.

“They’re inside. Would you like another whiskey too?” I asked.

“Yeah, that would be nice,” he said.

I could tell his eyes were filling with tears but I chose not to say anything about it; grabbing his empty glass, I walked inside. Rachel was sitting on the sofa, a cigarette clamped between her teeth, sharpening a hunting knife.

“How is he?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said.

I really didn’t know what else to say. I filled our glasses with whiskey and walked back outside. Danny was still clinging to the other side of the balcony.

“I remember when I first moved in the heights used to scare me,” he said.

“Oh?” I asked, handing him his glass.

“Yeah, I always thought I’d sleepwalk right over the edge one night,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“Cigarette?” he asked.

“I left them inside. I’ll be right back.”

 

I successfully retrieved the cigarettes and stepped back onto the balcony only Danny was gone and all that remained was an empty whiskey glass sitting on the table. I walked to the edge and looked over and lying in a pool of crimson thirty stores below was the unmistakable outline of my friend.

He went on his terms.

 

***

 

Rachel knew Danny had jumped, I didn’t need to tell her. I filled two glasses with four fingers of whiskey and set one in front of Rachel.

“I have a question,” I said.

“I don’t have any answers,” she said.

“Oh,” I said.

She sighed.

“What’s your question?”

“Are they zombies?” I asked.

Rachel shrugged.

“More or less,” she said.

“Oh.”

Rachel sighed again and stopped sharpening her knife. She stabbed it downwards into Danny’s coffee table and lit another cigarette. I was glad she was here, even though she was only a stranger. I got the feeling she was barely tolerating me.

“I don’t know if they’re zombies. Zombies are a Hollywood creation. They’re slow, they’re stupid, and they die easily enough if you shoot them in the head. To kill these you have to completely destroy the head. I don’t mean just put a bullet in the brain, I mean completely destroy the brain. The more pieces the better. I saw one take three shots to the head and keep coming at the guy,” she said.

“What happened to the guy?” I asked.

“He died.”

“Oh.”

“So are they zombies, I don’t know,” she said.

“But the eat people?” I asked.

“People. Animals. Hell, I’ve seen ‘em eat each other. It seems to be instinctual for them to go after humans, but like most anything else they will do what they need to do to survive,” she said.

“They’re fast too,” I said.

“I don’t know where Hollywood got the idea that zombies would be slow. I really doesn’t make sense when you think about it,” she said.

I did think about it.

It really didn’t make sense to me.

 

“I’m leaving in the morning,” Rachel said.

“Ok.”

“You’re welcome to come with me if you like,” she said.

“Where are you going?”

“West,” she said.

“Why west?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

“I’ve already seen the East,” she said.

That seemed to be as good a reason as any.

 

“Rachel, one more question,” I said.

“Shoot.”

“Well, Chicago is pretty big. Why is it so empty?” I asked.

“Well, man’s first defense is to run away, so he ran away.”

“But what about the Infected?” I asked.

“They went were the food went, just like nomads,” she said.

“Shouldn’t we stay here then, I mean if they’re gone?” I asked.

“It’s not the Infected I’m worried about. It’s other people. Pretty soon they will start making their way back to their homes and everything they left behind. That’s when you’ll get your Hollywood version of the Apocalypse, martial law and whatnot.”

“Oh.”

 

“Here,” she said.

She tossed me Danny’s handgun.

“I took it off him when I searched you guys. It’s yours now.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

She went back to sharpening her knife and I went back to the balcony to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey. I thought it was strange how often she referenced Hollywood in that brief conversation.

 

***

 

I later found out that before the Outbreak Rachel was an aspiring actress.

 

***

 

We left Chicago on bicycles. I stood guard while Rachel used a small saw to cut her way through bike locks. It took almost an hour, but in the end we had transportation that could weave around the abandoned cars and quickly escape the gridlock of the city.

The air tasted better when we got outside of Chicago as well.

The world was still and peaceful.

We might have been the last two humans.

We weren’t, but sometimes it seemed that way.

 

***

 

After a week of traveling west we reached the Mississippi river. Yes, we could have made much better time, and I loathe myself for admitting this, but I was enjoying the travel. Rachel seemed to be enjoying it too.

We acted like newlyweds on our Honeymoon.

We stopped in small towns and made ourselves lunch in diners.

We drank whiskey we found in abandoned bars.

I think we even started to believe that maybe we were the last two people on Earth. Which we weren’t, of course we weren’t, and we found that out when we reached the Mississippi.

 

“Turn right around and go back the way you come,” the Sheriff said to us with chunks of chewing tobacco flying from his mouth with every syllable. Even from three feet away and a chain-link fence between us, his saliva still managed to hit Rachel in the eye.

“We’re just looking for a place to stay the night. We’ll be out of your hair come morning,” she said.

“You’re going to be out of my hair come right now, ‘less you want me to put a bullet in you and your boyfriend here,” the Sheriff said.

“You’re really not going to let us in?” she asked.

“I gots to look after me and mines and we ain’t got the room,” he said.

“Ain’t got the room, what are you going to do when your women start having babies, throw the babies over the fence and let nature run its course?” Rachel asked.

“I’ve accounted for that, Ma’am, but I’m sorry, we ain’t got the room. Rations are tight enough as it is,” he said.

“We won’t be wanting any food and we’ll be gone come morning.”

“I’m sorry, but this is the way it has to be. If I let you in today, I’ll have another family here tomorrow. The next day I’ll have two families and the day after that I’ll have three and their cousins. I’m sorry, but this is the way of it,” he said.

“If that’s the way its got to be,” Rachel said.

“It is.”

 

***

 

The Sheriff’s refusal to let us in turned out to be a disguised blessing. We made our camp in an old motel about a mile down the road from his enclosed town, from our window we had a view of the gate he just denied us at.

Rachel was in the bathroom washing her clothes with the little bit of water that still remained in the toilet tank. I was sitting at the desk in front of the window swirling a whiskey in my hand.

“Someone’s coming down the road,” I said.

Someone was coming down the road.

“Hope they have better luck than we did,” Rachel said.

“There’s a lot of someone’s coming down the road,” I said.

I saw a large group of people moving towards the Sheriff’s town. I took me half a moment to process what I was seeing, but I did.

“Rachel, there is a horde of Infected moving towards the city,” I said.

Rachel was by side in an instant.

“Stay low,” she said.

She crouched next to the desk. I got out of the chair and crouched too.

 

We watched as the men of the town opened fire on the approaching horde to no avail. The Infected charged the gate, ignoring the bullets tearing holes through their bodies. When they reached the gate they climbed over. We listened to the gunfire and the screams of the villagers. We listened to the howls of the Infected. Graduality all the gunfire died away and screaming ceased.

My watch said it was a little past eight PM. It had taken a horde of Infected just under fifteen minutes to lay waste to the entire town while we watched from our motel window.

It was, probably, the first time we really felt afraid.

 

***

 

Neither one of us slept that night.

Neither one of us spoke that night.

When the sun finally began to rise I was first to speak.

“That was a group of them working together. Together,” I said.

“I’ve seen two or three of them working together before but that was easily over one hundred of them, all with the same goal,” she said.

“I suppose we should see if there’s anything we can salvage from the town.”

Rachel agreed.

 

***

 

We had stopped in several towns before where signs of an attack had been evident. We must have assumed the attack happened shortly after the Outbreak, during the mass confusion. Never did the thought cross our minds that the Infected were working together as a single entity.

Neither one of us really felt like searching the town for supplies. We went through the motions, but that was it.

“I don’t want to be here anymore,” Rachel said.

“Alright, let’s get back to the bikes,” I said.

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

“What then?” I asked.

“I want that horde to be as far away from us as possible. Let’s hole up in the motel again tonight, maybe tomorrow too, make sure they have a nice head start on us,” she said.

“Ok,” I said.

 

***

 

“Are we going to keep doing this forever?” Rachel asked.

“What?” I asked.

The motel room was black, outside was black as well; there was no moon. The only light came from the ends of our lit cigarettes and we sat next to each other on the bed. We were fully clothed, ready to run at a moment’s notice. The horde attack had scared us both.

“Running. Moving from place to place, never settling down,” she said.

“You thought that was safest,” I said.

“I’m not so sure anymore,” she said.

“Oh.”

 

***

 

“Rachel?” I asked.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve been thinking,”

“About what?” she asked.

“What if the Infection isn’t really an infection?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if it’s evolution?”

“I don’t understand.”

“What if it’s Nature’s way of making everything right?” I asked.

“What was wrong?”

“Well, people,” I said.

Rachel was silent.

 


© Copyright 2017 Jonah Ryan. All rights reserved.

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