Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The screaming wakes me. I roll off and under the bed before assessing. Christine’s slid over to give me room. Another scream. The Bensons let their guard down. I warned them about trying to make a community. I’ll go across the road and loot the place after the pack leaves.
“About twenty savages.” Her hearing is phenomenal.
Eight years since someone’s idea of a clever plan met someone else’s idea of a cunning counterstrike, and I hope to god the EMP storm was an unexpected side effect.
I’d read articles about people in western society coming to rely on the internet as an extension of their mental capabilities. What I hadn’t grasped was just how little the average ‘first world’ human actually knew after the ability to go online and find information disappeared.
The first winter did for the weak. Warring between the various post-apocalypse fantasists living out their road warrior, whatever-punk or Aryan dream thinned the herd further. By the time the second winter rolled in – with skies like beaten lead and ice blizzards that lasted for days – even the hardened survivalists were having to face a reality far worse than anything they’d been ready for.
Survival is about the basics: water, food, shelter, and the fundamentals of hygiene. There’s also some simple logistics involved. While one human can feed a lot of rats, the other way round erased the rodent population in under a year. Wildlife either avoided humans or died out. Eventually, humans had to make some hard decisions. The younger and less squeamish turned first. The older generations were easy prey. Which messily removed most of the remaining sources of pre-internet knowledge and lore.
That’s why I’ll be salvaging cans amongst other things tomorrow. Savages don’t consider them a food source. Even if they recognise them, I’ve seen that taking time to figure out how to open one leaves a savage open to being attacked and eaten by its packmates. I’d hazard an extension of that explains their lack of offspring.
I lived a solitary, smokeless, low-noise existence in the upper part of a four-storey building with razor-wire tangles across the exterior. Painstakingly worked out rooftop agriculture. Had windmills and solar panels to charge car batteries, along with a hand-cranked generator. Those let me heat, light, and keep watch.
“They’re dragging the bigger bodies away.”
One morning I went out on the roof to find Christine watering my tomatoes. She’d also fixed one of the windmills. She’s partially sighted, but felt her way up the side of my building, under the tangles. I should have added her to the larder. Instead I offered her a cup of tea and let her describe the gaps in what had become our defences. I’ll never ask what she went through before getting here. That she’ll only sleep in the dark under my bed tells me enough.
From what I was then to who I am now convinces me that the dictates of ‘absolute’ survival mean you might survive, but you won’t be human. In that case, what’s the point? Much as there is any point, these days.
“They were screaming your name at the end.”
I reach back and pat her leg reassuringly. She pokes me in the ribs.
“They were calling for help from the only source they knew.”
“Why didn’t we?”
“You know why.”
“Because we would have died as well.”
She ruffles my hair as she says it.
This precarious existence is comfortable, but inflexible. We don’t talk about rescue. We just are, and that will have to do.