What happens when a whole generation changes in a blink of an eye? Perspectives shift dramatically, changing the course of the future as a building explodes, or two... What happens when a deadly disease begins to gnaw at half of the human race? Natural disasters are no longer disasters, but as common as rain.
What happens? People die. Many people. Those few left have been transported back to a simpler time where they must band together to survive, and scrounge for food. The concept of electricity seems foreign, and water in the house is a joke. What is left of the life we knew is painful, A reminder of our failures. We failed to care, failed to help, failed to stop the disaster, and then we failed to die. The Earth is ripping itself apart, and the Human race is decomposing...
I sit on the trunk of a long dead tree. It too is decomposing. I am watching the fire, and the smoke is making my eyes water. The people I survive with scurry about, doing their jobs. One by one they come to the fire and sit. Stare. In this quiet time of the night, when all that can be heard is the crackle of burning wood, a trickle of water from the trees, and various forest creatures, the lot of us can do nothing but think. It is painful. Shock and boredom is constant here. We survive because there is nothing better to do. It is a grudging survival. Full of hard work and strange hours. Here, around the fire, we wonder how, just a few years ago, we sat in air-conditioning, staring at a computer, content to just wait. All of us in a perpetual grind. Pointless lives. Always looking forward in every situation except for the one that mattered. We all knew people were dying. We did nothing. Even with all that forward looking, no one bothered to save our way of life. Our lives are still just as pointless, but we have no air-conditioning.
I looked up at the sky, squinting. Even here, in the Oregon mountains, the stars could barely be made out.
"Alissa! Come help with this wood!"
I dragged myself up. Living was such a chore. Pointless. So pointless... My Aunt had a different view on the current world, it seemed. She still hoped. It was sickening. My cousin Danny stood up and walked toward the forest as well. We shared a look of disgusted understanding. She was so cheery, and we hated it.
Jason and Jesse were already there, hoisting logs onto their shoulders. Jason smiled slightly as he walked by, and Jesse dipped his head in acknowledgment. I stooped down and lifted as much wood as I could manage. It was more than a year ago. I hurried back to the fire and dropped them with the rest. Jason looked at me, slightly amused.
"Cheer up, cous; at least we're still alive."
I shot him a nasty look and began to pace around the fire. I hated being so bored, so restless.
"Lisa," I called towards my aunt, "We're gonna go house-raid. We'll be back with some food later."
She looked up at me, eyes shining. "Okay. Be back before sunrise. I don't want you to get caught outside."
I dipped my head, watching the boys stand and stretch. Then I ran. Away from the house and the fire and the cheerful woman. They followed me without a word. Suddenly, when I could no longer see the fire, I stopped.
"Where to?" asked Jesse, "Should we just start at the next house in line?"
I spun around and smiled. "We aren't going house-raiding. At least, not yet."
Eventually, they were all smiling back at me, and I turned to run towards town. I had never been a big runner before. Never even a big exerciser. I was the laziest of them all. Why was I left here, when better people passed? My only conclusion is that this is punishment.
I hated having these morbid thoughts. My mind had shriveled into a little ball of hatred. I barely got through each night. The only way I knew how was to pretend this wasn't real. To pretend that it was all a game I was trying to win. I was losing.
We stopped in front of the small liquor shop connected to the one gas station in this small town. Then we were on our way again, running hard until we flopped ourselves down on a sandy beach. There wasn't much beauty here anymore, and nothing could be seen, but the sound of the waves was mind-numbing. Soothing. You could close your eyes and forget. I tipped back the bottle in my hand. This also helped.
"Easy, Alissa." Jason warned.
"Why? It doesn't make a difference anyway."
Jesse scooted closer to me and grabbed my half empty bottle away.
"He's right. You still have to make it back to the house at least. And we have work to do."
I leaned into him, my eyelids drooping.
"Okay." I whispered. His arm came around me. We sat in silence for a long time, just listening to the sound of the waves.
I thought about many things when I let myself, when I couldn't stop myself. Like the end. When it all came apart.
I was in Oklahoma, with my dad. A storm, the biggest hurricane ever known, devastated Florida, where my family lived. I couldn't get in contact with them. They were probably dead. I had stayed in my bed for two days, just staring at the ceiling. Then major cities around the country were nuked. The world stopped spinning. Panic. Chaos. Electricity was gone. People gathered their families and whatever they could carry and headed to obscure locations.
I was still in shock. My family was dead. I stayed in shock for a week, until one night I realized I wasn't staying with my father's dysfunctional family through the end of the world. I left one night. There were abandoned cars everywhere, and I drove one after the other until they ran out of gas. Sometimes I had to walk to the next one. Six days later, I was in Oregon, outside my aunt's house. I walked right in. There they all were, sitting on the couches with a portable radio between them. I collapsed into the couch next to Jesse, and cried. They never asked what happened. They probably knew that I was within a millimeter of my sanity. It's been two years. I know other people have to be alive. They must live in little pockets like ours all around the world. And I know every other country was decimated like ours, because every country pushed the blinking red "Boom!" button with their last breath. No one was going down without everyone else.
I had started to cry again. Jesse gave me his hand and I held on tight. He stood and pulled me up.
"Come on boys, we have work to do."
My cousins grunted and stood. We walked back to the neighborhood, beginning at the next house in the line.
When we returned, Lisa glanced up. Relief passed over her face and she stood to go in the house. The edges of the world were lightening, and already, it was hot.
During the day, the sun was deadly. Outside too long, and your brain would fry. Too long being about an hour. It wouldn't hurt; you'd just become exhausted and black out. Once that happened, you'd be dead within fifteen minutes. So, we'd become nocturnal. It was easier for us younger ones. We were used to staying up late, and sleeping in. It was harder for Lisa, and she never really adjusted.
Winter was hard. We'd house-raid and store-raid for two months, so that we never had to go too far from the house. Mostly we stayed in, playing cards by candlelight, or sitting around the always-blazing fireplace. I read a lot. Played a lot of board games. In the nights, when we all woke up, it was sometimes necessary to get firewood. Eventually the pile ran out.
"Lisa. Jesse and I are going to collect some more." It was getting late, sunrise was coming soon.
"Hurry." she said.
We did. We bundled up and headed for the forest. Jesse had the axe on his shoulder. We didn't have to go too far in when we came upon a fallen tree. He began to cut it up. I leaned against another tree, humming to myself, my eyes closed.
A few minutes later, I heard a hiss. It came from above me. My eyes snapped open and I looked up. There, on a low hanging branch, was a starved Mountain Lion. It was so skinny, its ribs were showing. It was preparing to pounce. But it wasn't looking at me. It was looking at Jesse, whose back was facing both of us. I sucked in my breath to yell and the cat pounced, landing on Jesse's back, swiping its claws at his neck and pushing him face-first into the ground. I gasped, shocked.
"Jesse!" I screamed. The cat whirled around, hissing at me, moving away from Jesse. He was motionless on the ground. I could tell he was dead from here. I sank to my knees, crying silently, my face twisted up. The cat didn't move, it just stared at me, that starving, desperate look in its eye. We stared at each other for a long time. Eventually, it saw that I was not a threat, and began to drag Jesse away. I cried harder and backed away, tripping over things and sobbing. Somewhere, my mind noted that it was getting bright outside, and extremely hot. I was too far gone to care. I caught my toe on a tree root and landed hard against the frozen ground. It was a strange sensation. My head was foggy, and I felt warm, even though it was cold underneath me. I knew I was done for. Knew that I had failed yet again. I had lost. Game over.