Relatively Apocalyptic

Update: “Leaders Taste Better” will appear in Issue 57 of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, which will be published at the beginning of April 2017.


A couple of thoughts inspired the following piece of flash fiction:

  1. In every apocalyptic movie, show, or story, there are pockets of survivors. What, then, quantifies an apocalypse? What percentage of humanity must be affected before we can call it a bona fide apocalypse? Ninety-nine percent? Probably. Sixty percent? Maybe. Ten percent? One?
  2. I love the movie “Idiocracy.” Would you call the collective stupidification of mankind a dystopian or apocalyptic event, if indeed it is occurring? “Wayward Pines” made use of a species so genetically changed over time that they were no longer human. They were savage monsters, ready to devour the members of the last human colony. We’ve undergone genetic mutations that make us different from our ancestors…


Dearest Catherine,

The days are long and dark since you left me alone. I miss you with every fiber of my being. Part of me, though, is glad you didn’t live to see the end of the world.

I remember how you loved to make lists of things we needed to survive the apocalypse, like the ten thousand rounds of 7.62 X 39 mm ammo for our AK’s, and twice that for the .22’s.

I remember the day we hung the vault door on its steel hinges–that was a doozy!–and how you wondered how humanity would fall. Zombies might come staggering out of some government lab, or we could get hit with an EMP, or we could see a global economic meltdown, or…

It’s worse than anything we imagined together.

They aren’t like the zombies from 28 Days Later. They’re slow-moving and lethargic, like The Walking Dead. They have boxes though–little black boxes that let them communicate and form a sort of collective consciousness. I can only assume the boxes are part of the secret government project that changed mankind into these mindless creatures. Perhaps, with all of their decayed gray matter put together, they have the reasoning ability of an average man before the event.

I went on a raid three nights ago to get more canned cat food for Felix, and a swarm of them were blocking the street that led to Wal-Mart. Thank goodness we reinforced the truck’s front bumper with a steel cow-catcher. I caught one zombie under the tires, but the others either bounced off the side or flipped over the top as I plowed through them.

I remember that you wondered exactly what level of destruction quantified an apocalypse. If small pockets of non-infected humans survived a plague outbreak, would it still be an apocalypse? What was the threshold then? Surely there was a line, you said, between one person and ninety-nine percent of humanity that made an event apocalyptic. I guess that, like art, an apocalypse is hard to define–you only know it when you see it.

I’ve been keeping notes on what seems like a crude pattern of speech among the zombies, in case a cure can be found. Perhaps I could coerce one of them into the bunker to test rehabilitation once I’ve identified the root cause of their zombification.

As I shoveled cat food cans into my ruck sack, I heard grunts from the aisle adjacent to the pet food aisle, and something that sounded like, “Cash me ousside, howbowda?” Another replied, with changed emphasis, “Cash me ousside, howbowda?” I can only assume that the change in emphasis in the repeated phrase indicated something of importance.

I made it out of Wal-Mart undetected, but another swarm of them had gathered around the truck. I think they’d been summoned by flashing red and blue lights–almost reminiscent of police lights–whose brightness in the night hid their source. The lights, I think, were probably installed by the same government entity that connected the zombies via the black boxes. I had no time to speculate, though, as one of them noticed me with my ruck sack full of cat food and started barking at me with unintelligible gibberish.

I always pack heavy when I go out now, and three well-placed 40mm grenades obliterated most of the swarm and sent the rest scattering. I set off several smoke grenades and made my escape in smoke and darkness. Thank goodness we invested in top-notch night-vision, and that we practiced driving with obscuration! The truck took minimal body damage, which I hammered out when I made it safely back to the bunker.

I miss you, and Felix misses you. Your planning is probably what kept us alive so long after the event. The greenhouse will feed me indefinitely now that we’ve eaten through the year’s stockpile of canned and freeze-dried food.

I can only hope to find a cure, and restore some semblance of humanity to the world. Perhaps one day things will be “normal” again, whatever that really means.

Even if the zombies never came, though, my world ended in your absence. I know the threshold now, and it is one man. My apocalypse began when you left.


I will love you always.




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