It started with a scratchy throat but got much, much worse.

I may be old but I can remember those days well. For awhile we were on the verge of another world war but things unraveled so fast no one had time to declare anything on anyone. Gas prices skyrocketed, food prices skyrocketed, and it seemed like we were ready to declare war on anyone sitting on an oil reserve. A dozen terrorist groups claimed to have nukes and, in hindsight, half of them probably did. Not that they got a chance to use them.

Some stories say it began with a dead bird washed ashore in Croatia. Others claim it was a Chinese pig farm. Others blame gorillas in the Congo. For some reason, people still feel the need to believe it started somewhere—anywhere but here. Why this still matters, I have no idea. I just know what I saw: people had the flu and didn’t know it. With the public rallies and protests the disease spread fast. From what the last reports suggested, it took about a week for symptoms to show. Hint of a dry throat, and then in 72 hours you were dead. Red boils, bleeding eyes, the works. At least the children went quickly. Not so for my Marjorie. She was young and healthy so she lasted longer, almost a week. All more’s the pity. Why some of us didn’t get the flu, I don’t know. Now I’m too old to care.

Of course the fundamentalist wackos took advantage of the disorder. The bombing of DC. The gas attacks in Chicago. Poisoning the New York water supply and L.A. erupting in riots. The chaos spread as fast as the disease. Whole cities burned like funeral pyres. One day the power went out and never came back on. Of those who survived the disease, fewer made it through the dark years that came after. I won’t talk about them, except to say I stockpiled everything I could scavenge before I got shot through the legs. Could’ve lost them both. I went years not seeing another soul except for through the scope of my rifle. For a long while, that suited me fine.

Things have changed since then. More strangers are passing by here now, looking to trade. They bring dried meats and want canned goods, fruits mostly. Yesterday two strong looking young men said they’d gone all the way to the lakeshore and back. They said they saw a generator powering a computer from the old days; said a woman at the machine was trading messages with someone on the other side of the planet, but I don’t believe them. I bet they didn’t even make it to the city limits. Liars, trying to coax a silly old man to tell them about those last days.

I don’t have much time left and I’m satisfied living them out propped up at the window with my rifle, even if I haven’t had to pull the trigger for some time. But people keep coming, telling stories about people bringing the old world back. Forming strong communities. Writing laws. They tell me they there’s a militia that fights off the
packs of murderers and thieves roaming the countryside, but I haven’t seen them. Some of the travelers even carry bibles, talk to me about God.

I tell them I haven’t seen him either.

--as told by "Lucky" Lou