* * *
And I Feel Fine
Huh… I guess the Mayans were right after all.
That was my first thought when the end times came. You might have expected screams or crying or begging… basically any of the five stages of grief. But no, that’s not how I work. I’m too worried about ancient prophecies coming true rather than the immediate need to extract myself from the situation.
Oh, sorry. I should probably be a little more official in how I do this. I mean, I activated this recorder for a reason right? My grandmother always said that when you cut corners you only hurt yourself. Or was it when you skip steps you bounce… no, that’s not it either. Damn, can’t remember. I guess it doesn’t much matter.
Still, always better to be official.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 12, 2019.
Seven years after the big one. Though, you might say that’s a bit of a misnomer. Really, I should say seven years after the first one. That would be much more accurate.
So why am I so calm?
It’s a question I ask myself all the time, honestly. I should be a screaming mess, running around, panicking… or whatever it is a person is supposed to be doing. This, if you think about it, is the strangest thing you could possibly even think. I’m saying I should act normal… when the world hasn’t acted normal in quite some time.
Either way, once you lived through a dozen or so cataclysmic events in your lifetime, what’s the difference? Wait, what am I saying? You probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
I mean, I’m not yawning about it, but if it is my time… well, what the hell am I supposed to do about it?
I remember that first morning after it happened. Heaps of clothes on the ground, cell phones lying on top of the piles, drinks and food once being enjoyed now serving only the scavengers and ants. News spread fast, and all over the world it was the same scenario. People had just up and disappeared.
Nothing brings out some religious nuts like a good mystery so we heard lots of claims about how God had finally had enough with us screwing up the Earth. That he had taken his faithful up to Heaven and abandoned the sinners.
Maybe that was what happened. The rest of us poor schmucks biding our time until the absolute end.
I always thought it strange that things got back to normal so quickly after that. Don’t get me wrong, there were still tons of things we had to deal with. Family members lost and gone and all of that. But it was a shared grief. Everyone knew at least one person who disappeared…
It bound us together.
And when you think about it, percentage wise, there weren’t a lot of people taken. Then you had that scientist make the claim that it was spontaneous combustion. Had all sorts of charts and graphs to back up his theories. Like anything else, you can get scientists to say anything if you pay them enough. And I gotta believe the governments of the world didn’t need some kind of religious fervor let loose… hence the combustion theory. I didn’t buy it, but it seemed to calm a lot of people down.
People just want to believe.
I was never a big one on the Bible, but I have wondered, how many people survived the flood? I remember that he brought two of every animal, but he also brought his family.
Is that right?
Well, it couldn’t have been all that many. We may be getting down to that number here shortly. Assuming we haven’t already reached it.
To be honest, I’m not even sure who this message is for. For all I know the amount of humans left in the world could be down to a few dozen. And I think that I read somewhere that you’d need a minimum number of potential breeders to be able to restart the human race. Something about genetics and inbreeding.
What really sucks… ok, what really sucks more is that you know it is coming, but there is nothing you can possibly do to stop it.
And folks thought Global Warming was bad. Oh no, we’ll be dead in hundreds of years.
I’d kill for Global Warming. I could do it in my sleep.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 13, 2019.
It was a zombie uprising last year, and I have to say, putting down Johnny in front of his mother may have been one of the least happy days I’ve ever had. Man, did that woman have a set of pipes on her. My ears still ring sometimes when I’m getting ready to go to sleep. For most people they get the ear ringing from loud music, me, I get it from the unholy screams of a woman whose son you just killed.
For a second time.
Whoever is out there listening to me blather on about all sorts of horrible things… I just want to say that I don’t mean to be so callous. I really don’t. Mostly I blame others and that seems to get me through the days.
Dreams of alcohol get me through the nights.
The thing they don’t teach you in school is how to be all right with it all. We study history, but what is history? Just a series of horrible events, and then we answer questions about dates. But, we never learn what it really means. Those people who died in the Black Plague, we know the numbers, but what about the survivors? When they thought the world was ending, did a bunch just take a knife to their throats and end it all? Those that didn’t, how did they find the internal stamina to keep going on?
This is the stuff that keeps me awake at night.
I need a drink.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 14, 2019.
The worst part is the waiting.
Or maybe the worst part is the loneliness?
I mean you really can’t trust anyone these days. I get a knock on the door, hoping it is the pizza delivery order I put in a decade ago. Maybe the guy just got lost? But no, it’s some random scavengers.
Oh, they tell you they’re nice, but sure enough, it is just more of the same crap. They’re trying to take your stuff, or they want to infect you, or whatever.
Hey! It’s not as if it’s my fault Dad was a nutbag who not only stocked his shelter, but had a shelter to begin with. What did you expect? They had to have bomb drills when he was in elementary school. Duck and cover or some such shit. Like any of that would save you from the mushroom cloud shape filling up the horizon. But it was something for them to do, and I have to think doing something is better than doing nothing. My grandfather raised him with plenty of stories about the Soviets, which would be enough to make any kid a little nuts.
So he went out of his way to ensure that this place, this bunker, was full of everything you would need to survive whatever came. Food stores, a way to replenish the water supply through extra deep wells, exercise equipment, all sorts of entertainment, and just about anything else you could think of. He didn’t know if he would need to be down there for a year or ten, so he prepared.
I want you to know something; I did my best to save everyone I could. I invited the good ones in, and I invited the bad ones in.
No matter what, I learned that people end up as bad ones most of the time.
Except for Ian.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 15, 2019.
You know I am making up these dates, right? I have no way of knowing what the real date is. This camera says May 15, 2019 on the little display, but how do I know it hasn’t been reset or rebooted? There aren’t any new patches to update the damn thing, that’s for sure.
They say that in a nuclear Armageddon the only survivors would be cockroaches. I think that statement is wrong and sells us short. The real answer is always cockroaches and humans will find a way to survive. Though I suppose, at this point, humans are effectively cockroaches.
So maybe the original statement works.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 18, 2019.
I buried Ian six days ago.
One week. That’s how long it has been. One week. I don’t know how to go on.
My constant, my love. My…
I’m sorry, I can’t… not today.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 19, 2019.
This must be cabin fever kicking in. Heh. I’m actually surprised that it took this long.
Let’s try this again.
I buried Ian eight days ago.
I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore.
This was not how it was supposed to be. My family had the shelter since back during the Cold War when everyone either had a bomb shelter or hoped those old videos about crouching under a desk were going to be enough.
They should have called those old things ‘Better get ready to kiss your ass goodbye!’
It was a lark, a goof. We used it as a teenaged clubhouse.
Back when I was nine one of the houses in the neighborhood went on sale and somehow, one of the teenagers managed to get in the locked house. And then he told a friend, who told their brother, who told me, and soon enough we had a fully functioning house to hang out in. It was the perfect place to just get away from everyone else.
You know, just how every little kid needs their own house to really reflect on the rigors of elementary school.
It made us think we were older than we really were. And yeah, the older guys hated that us youngsters where always there, but they couldn’t kick us out because then we would have told on them and poof the whole thing would have been gone.
Mutually assured destruction.
Of course, no matter what there is always some dumbass in the neighborhood. Some kid or pair of kids who think they know better or think they are cooler than they really are. Yeah, we had those kids in our neighborhood. We had those two idiots. You want to know what they did?
They were playing in the house without anyone there. No supervision whatsoever. These two first graders who decided they were above it all.
Yeah, mistake number one. Not like they murdered someone. Very forgivable.
But then the dumbasses made sure that whatever it was they were doing in the house occurred in full view of the front kitchen window. Suddenly every person out for a walk in the neighborhood could look in as they passed the For Sale house and see one the neighborhood kids in the window.
You can guess how that turned out. Locks were changed, windows sealed up, and the clubhouse became a distant memory.
But it was a fun two months.
That’s what the bomb shelter was supposed to be. I mean, sure we were teenagers and no one knew we were going to be down there… uhm… mixing it up.
We’ll I don’t want to get graphic about it. A lady never talks.
So yeah, that’s why we’re down here when the shit went down the first time. When things went sideways…
All five of us.
It just occurred to me, every one of those horror movies begin with the five teenagers and then one by one they end up dying or getting killed or…
Having to kill one of their own.
Yeah, life can be funny. But mostly it has a really sick sense of humor.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 20, 2019.
Jimmy and his mom arrived in those early days. This was after the people disappeared, of course. This was just the next thing.
We were too scared to venture out. Too scared about what the broadcasters were saying. Then one by one, they disappeared from our screens. But we had the internet to tell us about the chaos. And it told us more than we wanted to know. It told us about the fallout in Russia, that New York had sunk into the ocean, the fact that one of the missiles diverted to the North Pole… the heat from the bomb caused glaciers to melt. The ocean rose…
We’d sent out emails, to family, to friends, trying to let them know we were somewhere safe. I wanted to go get my dad, but he told me not to bother. Both he and Mom worked downtown, and the city had taken the worst of it. Still, he thought there were a couple of places where they’d be safe enough. Maybe even make it to us if things got any better.
So I stayed put.
But Jimmy and his mother came because of the emails. And it was good. Ian and him had lived across the street from each other since they were five, but I think his mom never liked Ian. And when you start to get that cabin fever after a couple of months. When the fear kicks in and every moment of every day is full of worry.
Well, that’s when those little whispers begin to get the best of you.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 21, 2019.
It was Jimmy’s mom who let the new guy in. He’d begun pounding on the door and would not stop. She screamed at him to go away, and when he didn’t move she opened the hatch and let the bastard in.
Yeah, it only takes one idiot to ruin it for everyone else.
He wasn’t right in the head. The radiation or the solar winds or whatever it was that week swept across the nation and gotten its hooks into him. He’d turned like most people do when they have nothing left to live for. He’d become a creature even if he wasn’t actually infected with anything. Whatever it was, it was enough.
Somehow, Jimmy stepped in the way, got bit. Infected. The disease transmitted itself to him.
If it is any conciliation, and I’m not one hundred percent sure there is, he did it to save his mom.
Ian put them both down. Because even if Jimmy tried to save his mom, she still got the sickness too.
We burned the bodies in the incinerator, and then hoped that we weren’t infected too.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 22, 2019.
Someone decided we needed to go out. I’m not naming names, but it was Rick.
Have I mentioned Rick up to this point? Sorry. Rick was the fifth member of our little group. The odd man out. The one who secretly hoped he could use the friend zone as his way in with Kelly or me if we broke up with Daniel or Ian.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Rick. Just not in that way. He used to spend the night at my house. Heck, he spent more time at my house than he did at his own most days. Not that I blame him. His parents were real pieces of work. His dad was constantly on his case about college and his grades. Never mind he had the highest grades in the school twice over. I remember asking him how far ahead of the second place person he was, and he told me that he could have skipped his last semester of senior year, gotten zeroes in every class and still been our school’s valedictorian.
So, pretty smart.
But it can be a bit lonely in this place, as I am beginning to find out. And now I feel bad for Rick. At least we had someone to cuddle with at night. Someone who we loved was right there with us. That personal connection is a huge thing when you are not sure what tomorrow is going to end up bringing to you.
Cabin fever though, it’s a real thing. I was beginning to wonder if it was the last stage of the Earth trying to kill us.
Rick wanted to go out. To see if he could find any survivors. To see if anything of the old world still remained. Maybe it was the cabin fever. Maybe it was that he needed to know what happened outside our four walls. Mostly I think that he needed to either find someone for himself or die trying.
I begged him to stay put. We all told him that there was nothing left for any of us. That the world out there was the past and we just needed to deal. But he wasn’t listening anymore. He waited until we were asleep and left.
Sorry, I don’t mean to break down on you like this. I’m supposed to be giving an account, but I never realized how much I would miss him. It’s been three years since he walked out the door. I really do hope he found someone else out there. That he is with the love of his life doing all sorts of naughty things that you are supposed to do when the world ends.
That’s what I hope for him.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 23, 2019.
Kelly and Daniel. I wanted to say a little bit about them, but I’m not entirely sure how to frame it. They were Ian and my friends.
Well our couple friends.
You know the kind that you can do everything together and not get bored. But you never are on your own with one of them. Ian called it playing two on two defense. That’s the only way it could work. Otherwise, it becomes one of them bitching about the other, and you’re stuck in the middle.
I mean, how many times can you tell me about some horrible slight Daniel has done to you and me telling you to break up with him and you not doing it has to happen before I stop hanging out with you altogether?
We had reached that point before the world went to shit. And after two years’ worth of it, the whole time Kelly wanted out of the relationship. I mean, you’re stuck with this guy you now hate. You could see it with the two of them after about six months. They no longer cuddled at night. Soon he was sleeping on one side of the bunker and her on the other.
I thought that might be the opening for Rick to make his move out of the friend zone, but it wasn’t. Thought Daniel might have killed him if he had tried, so I didn’t push it.
But when it was just the four of us… it got to be too much.
I wish I knew when it really turned. What was the last step that pushed them over the edge? Was it this idea of their not being anyone else out there for them? Was it Ian and me, still happy, not sharing in their misery?
I wish I knew. I might have been able to stop what had happened.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 28, 2019.
I awoke to Kelly standing over Daniel with the knife in her hand. He was gurgling on his own blood, and she had the spray all over the front of her shirt. Her eyes were glazed over, like someone who couldn’t see anything anymore.
And that smile…
I sometimes see it when I dream.
Ian did his best to approach her. He talked to her in that calming voice he has. A voice that would say everything was going to be all right if only she would give him the knife.
For a second, maybe not even that long, I saw something in her eyes. The glaze melted away, and she saw the knife, and she saw Daniel, and the smile didn’t leave her face.
I don’t blame Ian for what he did. She went at me with the knife, and he stopped her. He stopped her the only way he knew how.
When it was finished, we clutched each other, just the two of us in this place.
I don’t know what terrified me more… Kelly’s actions or Ian and I being there by ourselves.
Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 29, 2019.
I’m at the end of things now.
The food has nearly run out. It was a good run. I can’t complain about that. Ian really did me right on that accord. Almost makes me…
No, I told myself that I would be strong about this. I’ve collected every spare bit of whatever I have around here. I don’t know if I’ll need it. Maybe the problem with being a pack rat is that even now, of all times, I can’t let the old shit go. My bags are packed. I’m ready to step outside, for whatever that is worth. I may not last five minutes out there. There’s actually no way to know what a person might encounter out there. It literally could be anything.
That’s a difficult thing to prepare for. What was it last year? It all runs together these days. Plague I think. Some unknown horror left behind by the CDC or some terrorist organization?
It makes a girl wonder if maybe the Earth is trying to tell us something. Dad had an old stereo, which actually could play albums. Yes, even long after the days of cds and then mp3s he loved that thing. More than that, he’d go out and get these great comedy records.
Pryor, Murphy, and Carlin.
George Carlin had a whole routine about maybe the Earth invented AIDS in order to wipe the humans out. Now, I’m pretty sure he was joking with that one, being a comedian and all. Then again, when you have one extinction level event and you survive… maybe he was onto something. Maybe, just maybe, the world is tired of us and now wants to weed out the undeserving.
So what do you call it when you’ve survived five of them?
The air may be on fire out there. There could be an asteroid streaking towards us right now, and I wouldn’t know. I’d be stuck in this fucking box, staring at the empty shelves, dingy furniture mocking me from the corner, the entire world would incinerate, and you know what…
I’d probably survive that as well.
Only the strongest survive? I got news for you; I’m not all that strong.
Or maybe I don’t care about surviving anymore.
I Feel Fine appears in the Machina Obscurum Anthology and can be found here.
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
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