I wondered if this whole thing should become one of those ads in a gun magazine. You know, the kind you’d see next to the monster truck magazines at check out lanes all over the south. A big picture of the latest word in pistols, shotguns, or rifles, full of garish ads for laser sights, gas masks, and calendars of half naked women cradling fully automatic weapons. Yeah, I could see it now. “The day the world ended, and I all had to count on was my trusty Smith & Wesson.” That would be printed across the top of the page in bold letters. Below it would be a picture of a ragged but defiant survivor, calmly cradling the zenith of firearms technology.
The only problem was that the magazines weren’t being printed any more, and the places that used to sell them had probably all been looted. Meanwhile, the day really had come when the world ended, and all I did have was my grandpa’s old Smith & Wesson. It was no one’s fault, probably just a matter of bad timing. I happened to be up at Gramps’ old cabin doing a bit of fishing in the lake to clear my head. A recent break up will tend to do that to a man. Gramps had been up in Alaska, hunting bison or some such, so he’d said to ahead on up to his place, relax, do some fishing, drink some beer, and clear my head.
That’s what I’d been busy doing, and in her own way, maybe Clare breaking up with me saved my life. If she hadn’t shown me the door, I might have stuck back in the suburbs, waiting like for end like a canned ham. Instead, I was sitting out here in the sticks of Illinois, barricaded inside an old cabin and wondering how long I’d last.
I had it pretty good in some respects maybe. There was still a hand pump in the kitchen, so I had plenty of drinking water, drawn up from the old well. Hell, for that matter the lake was fresh water and I could probably boil it. When I dared to go out, I could even still catch my supper. Though Gramps had the larder of the place stocked with enough canned food to last for months.
I’d added to that by baking all the flour in the place (there’d been 25 pounds of it in a sealed plastic bin) into hardtack. Gramps had loved his bread machine I’d gotten him one year for Christmas. Loved it so much that it sat up here in his cabin. The hard tack was just flour and water baked down into a hard cracker. Sealed in plastic bags, it would probably last for years.
The next Christmas, I’d gotten old Gramps one of those Ronco food dehydrators. I hadn’t know what else to get him, so I’d ordered it at the last minute and had it shipped. That had been sitting up here too, along with the Foreman Grill, the Hair in a Can Kit, and a dozen Chia pets dating back into my childhood, including no less than four Chia herb gardens.
The closet full of unused Christmas presents had proven to be rather useful, as I’d used to the combination of them to cook up all the food in the freezer and dry it, even drying the fish I’d caught so long as the power stayed on. In the first days, I’d gotten jumpy and drilled a large orange tabby cat. Waste not, want not, so I’d cooked that into a stew with some potatoes. For the end of the world, I was styling.
Gramps had called one last time off his cell phone, to say that he and Sarah (I couldn’t call her Grandma, as she was younger than I was) were okay, and that things weren’t too bad in Alaska. That was the last I’d heard from him, though a postcard showed up that had been mailed a few days before everything started.
The mail kept being delivered for a good two weeks into things. That wasn’t bad all things considered, since the phones were out by the fourth or fifth day, and the power went off and stayed off at day ten. The phone weren’t worth much from the first or second day, first with all the circuits busy, and then dropping off, node by node. I’d heard that in the interests of Homeland Security, that the government might have yanked the phone network. I didn’t know for sure though, as a lot of wild rumors had spread at the end.
I’d lived a pedestrian life up in Novi, working that most stereotypical of jobs, selling copiers and digital imagining equipment. I’d avoided being tied down by a wife and kids, or so I thought until it looked like Clare would be the one. Then Clare had decided that her friend Penelope was more her style than I was. Last I’d paid attention they were off somewhere planning a same-sex union. More power to them, though I wished Clare had returned my CD collection.
I’d never caught Gramps bug for hunting, even though he’d raised me after Mom and Dad died when I was still a boy. Those were the days before airbags, before side impact collision standards. Back when cars moved fast with lots of nice explosive gasoline in their tanks. I’d been sitting with Gramps watching Scooby when that call came in. Funny, but I’d never been able to stand that dog after that.
I’d gone out grouse hunting with once, but I’ll confess that I never did learn what a grouse looked like. Funny though, even with no interesting in hunting, I’d taken to Gramps other hobby, shooting just to shoot with some passion.
So it was that back in Novi, sitting in my townhouse, provided it handed been looted, were a nice Sig-Sauer .45, a Glock 9mm, a 7mm Remington Magnum rifle, a scoped .22 bolt action, and Remington 870 12 gauge. Most ironic of all, sitting under my bed was the Colt AR-15 (basically a semi-auto only M16) that I’d bought worried about Y2K. Instead all I had was Gramps old Smith & Wesson, which had still been sitting in the original box he’d gotten it in back in ’67. Gramps had never been much of one for handguns, but he’d felt he needed one just to be safe, what with all those crazy hippies I suspect. So he’d bought that old .38.
I still remembered shooting tin cans with it up here at the lake. The blued finish was a bit worn, and the grips had seen better days, but it was still as tight as a good watch. The end cap on the box said it all, identifying it as a Smith and Wesson Model 15-2, blued, four inch barrel, with Magna combat grips. The model also had a name, “Combat Masterpiece” it said.
There were five boxes of ammunition sitting with the revolver, the most recent purchased in the late 90s. I was down half a box now, as the revolver had proven to be, if not a “Masterpiece”, down right useful.
I watched the television 24/7 at first, falling asleep in front of it and waking up again, riveted the whole time. Gramps never went up to the cabin much, but that didn’t stop him from having satellite TV with all the channels. Before he’d met Sarah, he’d been somewhat addicted to pay per view porn. Thus I’d been able to flip back and forth between CNN, MSNBC, and local affiliates.
When the power went out, I set up a little black and white battery operated set and watched that until the D-Cells were drained. There had been a FOX affiliate still on there as long as the batteries lasted. The scenes from closer to home were the same as those from far away. Rioting, anarchy, evacuations, martial law… Starting in Bangladesh and soon everywhere.
I’d boarded up the windows after the first one showed up. It must have been fresh, maybe from up off the highway, still wearing a blue J.C. Penney suit, only with one arm torn, a huge bloody chunk gone, just gone. At first I had thought it was an accident victim. The television and radio had said that the highways were clogged, though the sunspot activity was interfering with reception even then. I’d walked up to him, thinking I’d try to help him. I don’t know what I planned to do, it wasn’t like I could call 911. I still had a full tank of gas in my truck, maybe I half thought I could play good Samaritan and drive the poor SOB to the hospital.
I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw his eyes. Sunken in, bloodshot, and no longer focused… I’d seen people on drugs though, but then he’d opened his mouth, revealing half broken yellowed teeth. He’d come running at me then, not shuffling like they do when they’ve been gone a while, but sprinting. Habit saved the day, for a guy who didn’t like pistols, Gramps had taught me well. It was called a Mozambique drill, two to the body, one to the head. That drill saved my life. The only ammo I had was semi-wadcutter target rounds, accurate and they put nice clean holes in paper. Not the best manstopper around, but they did tend to penetrate deeply.
My aim was dead on, the sights on the Smith still registered for that identical load. The first two hit center of mass, but just like the TV had said, that didn’t do much good. The third round nailed him right between the eyes. That dropped him as though he’d been struck by lightening.
That first one I buried, even putting on a pair of heavy latex gloves, the yellow ones like you’d do dishes with, and fishing out his wallet. It said his name had been Randall Stevens. I dug a proper hole, and even said a few words. I think I might have still believed in God then.
Four more came later that night, pounding on the windows that I had boarded up, taking the time to shutter them up good, and even to screw in the big square pieces of sheet metal that Gramps had kept around for no apparent reason. They banged on the metal, scratching at it. Later, in the morning, I’d even find their fingernails still stuck in the wood, broken off.
They went from window to window, banging, shattering out the glass. Finally I tired of the noise. The power was still on, that was the second to last day that I had it. I used a Sawz-all to cut firing slits for myself. Then I took the Smith and Wesson back out.
I used eight rounds of ammunition on the four of them. The two who were dressed like paramedics were bad enough. The third looked like a soccer mom, still wearing her jeans and a sweatshirt. The fourth was the worst, a preteen boy dressed in a little league uniform, only with half his face gone.
Those four I still put in a hole, but I don’t remember saying any words after over them. There were two others I shot before the lights went out, one bullet each on those, I was getting better at it. Once the lights were out, I was bothered five more times, these went into a drainage ditch. I poured some paint thinner over them, mixed with old motor oil, and set them alight. I’d dragged them down the road a bit, using Gramps lawn mower and chaining the trailer to it that had once been used to carry lawn trimmings.
I don’t think they burned all the way, but I hoped they were far enough gone that I wouldn’t be getting any new and horrible diseases, or even any old and dreadful ones.
There were a dozen bottles of Chivas, still in their gift boxes, sitting in the closet. One of Gramps partners at the firm had given them to him, every year, like clockwork for Christmas. I was starting to like the fact that Gramps never seemed to use a gift. He was always an Irish whiskey man. The next two weeks, I spent drinking to fill the void. Sometimes I’d hear a banging outside, I don’t know if they smelled me, sensed me, or just happened along.
Each day I’d sit and eat my dried fish, some hard tack, and a can or two of what I had laying around. I’d found eight jars of Tang in the kitchen. Sarah had been in the habit of mixing Tang with her Vodka, though there was no Vodka. At least I wouldn’t die of scurvy.
The days started to blur even more. I’d eat when I was hungry, empty my slops bucket outside during the day when I felt it was safer, and sleep when I was tired. Sometimes I’d wonder about Gramps and Sarah, and whether they had made it. Other times I’d think about Clare and Penelope, and hope that they hadn’t. Maybe that seems harsh, but she’d never returned over half of my CD collection after all.
Eventually I dug out the Chia pets, and the Chia Herb Garden. I planted them all, and found that Chia wasn’t bad with hardtack and dried fish. I was surprised that the seeds still grew after all that time, but I suppose being sealed up in the boxes, still shrink wrapped, must have preserved them as well as a Pharaoh’s tomb.
The truck still lingered outside, and at first I thought about running. I suppose I might have, but I didn’t know where I’d run to. Gramps and Sarah were in Alaska, assuming they were still alive, and I knew I’d never make it that far. God knows where Clare was, or what she was doing. I didn’t really have any other family, or close friends. I suppose I should have been more worried about things, felt a greater sense of loss, but I didn’t.
Instead I started going through the closets again. I found the battery operated automatic shoe shiner I’d given Gramps when I was a freshman at college. It worked even better than I’d imagined, and I polished up my hiking boots and my good dress loafers. The power was out, so I could try the automated tie steamer, but I imagine it would have been grand too.
Finally, I found a picture album, the first Christmas gift I’d ever bought for Gramps out of my own money. It’d been when I was ten, and it was the finest Corinthian leather. I’d worked all summer mowing lawns to get it. This I opened and paged through. I found my entire life contained in it. From pictures of me as a baby, up through last Christmas’ photo of Clare and I holding hands at the beach. The leather was worn, and a few pages torn. I could tell that this was Gramps’ favorite Christmas present of all.
That night I sobbed, and I’m not even sure why. Each night I slept, not very soundly, with the Smith and Wesson by my side. Spring turned to summer, and then to fall. It was getting colder and I was running out of food. I began to raid the other cabins that I knew were nearby. I took odds and ends, just what I needed to survive. I found a catering truck abandoned on the highway, it read “Two Moms Catering”. The wedding cake and buffet ingredients were long since consigned to the realm of mold, but there were dozens of cans of Sterno on board. Enough to have warmed a buffet fit for several hundred people by the looks of it. I loaded them all onto the back of Gramps’ lawn trailer and hauled them back to the cabin.
That night I ate a veritable feast of crutons, dried fish, and macaroni and cheese. I even had an appetizer of canned tomato soup. Maybe it was the hot food or maybe I was going stir crazy, but I knew that I couldn’t stay where I was forever. Yet I didn’t want to leave either, I’d been at the cabin for months. I decided to wait for spring.
It was a long and hard winter, the worst in centuries. I think the cold kept the revenants at bay, it’s hard to move when your joints freeze up. Maybe this brought everyone some time, or maybe the things just started moving south. Dead or alive, Florida was probably a better place to winter.
“Today is Tuesday,” I said to myself on the first day of spring. I knew it had to be spring because I could hear the birds chirping and I saw the first dandelions sprouting.
I’d only seen three of the creatures all winter, but I saw the fourth that day. For a moment, I let myself believe that she was alive. When I first saw her at a distance, wearing BDUs and her hair flowing lose, I believed that the cavalry had arrived. A flash of a million fantasies went through my mind, salvation, romance, a happy ending. I wanted to run out and hug her. The impulse lasted only a moment. As the soldier drew closer, I could see that her uniform was torn, ragged, and in need of repair. The woman herself was in only somewhat better shape. One of her breasts hung from her torn uniform top, languidly, a chunk gone from it.
When she saw me, she moaned. I hadn’t heard one of them moan before. One boot missing, she tripped over a torn piece of concrete and fell, struggling to rise. I imagine that cold winter might have frozen and rotted her flesh even more. Before she could get up, I shot her in the face. Maybe it was anger at having my fantasy so abruptly ripped away, or maybe it was despair, but I kept shooting her until the Smith and Wesson clicked on empty.
Afterwards, I put the thick gloves back and gave her a grave. Her dog tags were gone, perhaps torn off, perhaps lost. I went through her clothes before I buried her. There was a damp pocket New Testament, the pages ruined. I laid that in her palms. Perhaps she’d been attractive once, I don’t know, death and six .38 bullets had ruined her faith. I wanted to see peace on her face, wanted at least that benediction, but there was nothing save a bloody, torn mess.
I threw the dirt over her corpse. The name tape on the uniform was missing, but there was a name written in laundry marker on the tag of her uniform slacks, it said “E. Stavros”. I pulled the tag loose and tied it to a crude wooden cross.
That night I resolved to blow my brains out unless something changed soon.
When morning came, I harvested some dandelion roots. I roasted them in a Dutch oven (which had sat unused in Gramps’ kitchen for years). If you cook them enough, they make a passable coffee substitute. Bitter, like chicory, but I had a bit of sugar left.
I sat at the kitchen table and cleaned the Smith and Wesson, oiling it. I checked the action repeatedly. It had to be perfect, every speck of dirt gone, every pull of the mechanism as smooth as it could be. When I was finished, I wiped it down with an old T-shirt. I tried to remember how long it had been since I had had a warm bath or a decent change of clean clothes. In the end, I couldn’t remember. I leveled the Smith and Wesson at the empty, quiet refrigerator and pulled the trigger, dry firing the action. The hammer fell with a satisfying click.
Removing the shells from my pocket, I took my time loading it.