Johnny Gunter on the Apocalypse
The third war set everyone back to zero. It wasn’t much of war, when push comes to shove. In fact, the right person at the right time could most likely sleep through all of it. A few major bombs, a few major cities. The rest came falling apart in plans conceived by bigwigs. They all decided that preserving a particular way of life was mostly impossible at that point. At the same time, though, they wanted to start a new, possibly wait awhile for all the lesser-evolved species to die off in quick succession, whether it was of starvation, manslaughter or shear boredom.
Yet, such an elaborate plan of a more than just periodic control wouldn’t keep anyone tied down. All people need to breathe free once in awhile, to slowly tear away at the chains that keep them strapped down to the floor, and in this case, inhaling the dust and dirt from the surrounding underground.
Johnny Gunter wasn’t one of these people. He was the guy who basically slept through it all. The right person at the right time can hide away from anything. For Johnny, it would become a familiar choice, one that helped him reevaluate all of life’s temporary vices once again. He understood what was happening, and yet didn’t necessarily know where it was all going. High school was confusing enough with the homework, and the idea that everyone didn’t necessarily have to do it. They could look up a synopsis online or possibly just copy it off of somebody else.
Wendy Barletta was one of those people. She figured out around seventh grade or so, that first off, there were certain gullible bodies in the world, and second that these bodies would most likely do anything for her if the inclination happened to occur. She just had to smile, possibly wear something low cut, and lean over at just the right time. The average adolescent boy would be swooning over thoughts of Wendy Barletta in the deep confines of his bedroom, until they eventually realized the truth behind such a ruptured fantasy. They were being used on a regular basis.
Johnny knew the basic path she took with all the callow libidos before her, and yet he couldn’t necessarily help himself when such an inclination occurred at the back lab table in Mr. Coplin’s biology class. He thought that maybe things would be structured differently, that she would fall for his boyish charm, his knowledge of cheap wines and punk rock bands from the mid-to-late seventies, “Disco sucks” being a floating participle on all their sweaty poster faces. He figured it would be easier to send her through the loop. He was only mediocre at Biology anyways. If she wanted to copy his answers, what was the harm in it, just so long as it went down in the right location?
Johnny became good at playing the lovesick fool. She eventually couldn’t take the tension anymore. On a lonely February thirteenth, he made the first move, and she didn’t think to resist for the sake of Biology. Their half-hearted attempt at a relationship lasted for what was going on three months. They didn’t ever truly connect in a grandiose sense; so much as they developed a quaint routine with one another. Every weekday when they were assigned homework, both would retire to one of their basements, copy answers and make-out in quick succession. It was an understandable addiction. Both were puzzle pieces that fit close together, but didn’t ever look right from far away. Eventually one would have to get bored with the way the picture looked.
It was Wendy who broke the news lightly before first period; a break-up message that stretched past room 103, and almost spread to the cafeteria. Neither one was popular enough to warrant any kind of outside interest. People would walk past their held hands and either feel undeniably lonely or, in most cases, simply laugh at such an odd-looking couple. Two less than attractive sixteen-year-olds deciding to tear apart one another for the sake of youth, boredom and biology lab answers.
He wasn’t crushed at first. In fact, Johnny was mostly expecting such an untimely ultimatum. He first suspected something was up when he saw her flirting with Ted Geisel outside the auditorium a week before. Each jilted make-out session that subsequent week was lacking passion, even if both parties didn’t quite understand the definition yet. In any case, it led the two of them to opposite sides of the state that weekend.
Johnny had lied to his parents before the break-up, Wendy having planned earlier for the both of them to travel to Hartford. Wendy’s sister, Anna, was planning an all-out bash, two days full of barely legal actions and the consumption of varying narcotics. It was supposed to be a big deal, their first reckless trip together, and yet upon the initial lie, Johnny didn’t necessarily see any of it fleshing out. He needed an escape, though. A place to go and be alone, possibly write some aged acoustic masterpiece only to later hide it in his top desk drawer amongst ticket stubs and memories that would never happen.
The cabin was out in the middle of nowhere. It was his grandfather’s, the psychiatrist. Robert Sr. would go up there often, just to be alone, and to occasionally shoot furry things here and there. Robert Jr. had inherited it from his father roughly a year earlier, the funeral being an omen of things to come. Johnny stole the key from his father’s oak desk, the names of Gunter’s past inscribed in the one pull-out drawer, knowing that his father probably wouldn’t notice. There were big games that weekend, office social events, millions of other potential problems to worry about.
He wouldn’t notice the two bottles of wine either, or the cans of beer, the firewood, and his copy of Born to Run, all minor vices taken for granted. Johnny’s small green Ford had random items hidden all over it, none in plain view, his mother waving him goodbye without noticing, or having any real recollection of what went missing. Their house was like that; a cold enclosure, monuments from the past, faded photographs of family members and their trophies won following league regulations, all meticulously placed on shelves next to brown cardboard boxes. Nobody noticed much of anything once it was gone.
Friday night blurred into Saturday, which later blacked out into Sunday. A weekend spent alone, to wallow in adolescent self-pity, thinking about the good times everyone else was having. Johnny slept in late that Sunday morning, too hungover to hear the random bangs off in the distance, the eventual screams from frightened parties, the planes and all-terrain vehicles gathering up all the wondering lost. The cabin was hidden behind a forest, the dirt road leading to its sanctuary easy enough to ignore. No one noticed it. No one took the time to think about anyone being up there. It was a quick sweep, what was meant to be a clean sweep. People forgot or neglected to remember what they saw as they quickly passed it by. Some eyes weren’t trained well enough to notice.
Nonetheless, Johnny couldn’t help but feel a little strange about the fact that the power was out in the cabin. It was two P.M., the vast surrounding area only offering familiar silences. The morning had been full of missed excitement, and although there were still vague traces of all the initial actions, the big plan finally settling all those jumbled observers, disoriented and above all else fearful for everything they once knew, Johnny was mostly oblivious.
He figured there was a logical explanation for the lack of power same as there was for his headache. The bottles sat vacant on the living room coffee table, staples of what his life was slowly becoming. A life without the convenience of mid-afternoon make-out sessions with Wendy. His street cred was diminishing. There was not a doubt in his mind that upon returning to the tainted hallways of East Brooke High, he would have to once again lower his standards. Girls like Wendy only came around once every fourth period.
As the slow sink of his stomach started to settle after eating a bowl of cereal, and resting for another two hours, Johnny decided it was roughly time for him to venture home. He had school the next morning, a barrage of homework assignments left unfinished, Biology all of a sudden lacking the little appeal it once had. He packed up his few belongings, burying the wine and beer bottles in a brown paper bag in the woods behind the cabin. It was like a dead body his parents couldn’t know about. They needed to be left in the dark about all his extracurricular activities, no matter how normal they seemed.
His Ford rumbled as it started; a familiar sound that would sporadically occur every few days or so. Johnny pulled around in the small lot and drove down the dirt road on his way back to civilization. He thought about how despite the fact that he had a car, a readily available mode to pick up stranded women in high school, it never really offered any kind of solace. It was as if things were always specifically one way, and even the onset of something terrible wouldn’t necessarily change any of it.
The roads were vacant for awhile. No cars coming one way or the other. Then he saw a few broken down along the side of the road; some with their lights still on, but no drivers present. Johnny felt that this was a bit odd, and yet saw no reason to continue thinking about it. He had so many other things on his mind; Wendy’s weekend for one. He thought about asking her friends about what had happened; her Friday and Saturday on campus, spent going through the motions until the next potential heartbreak. She would have problems of her own, deciding where life was going.
Johnny soon grew paranoid as he continued to pass more broken down cars, and then it all started to come together. A cluttered mess on the highway. They were randomly stopped in the middle of the road, no plausible explanation for why. He continued to drive, though, figuring everything would flesh out once he got home. His parents would be there. They would tell him what had happened, where the progress of the human race was inevitably headed.
Each stranded vehicle made him drive faster. It was like a video game, dodging clumps of cars, sometimes driving on the side, and always checking his rearview. He felt like he was being followed, or watched. An expensive practical joke. A way of seeing life differently. He was being broadcast; it was part of a new program happening, and yet it felt strange that something so elaborate would be occurring near New Haven. There was never anything going on in East Brooke. Everyone just had their own plans. Their own personal choices, modes of production.
As Johnny took the exit, he saw everything he was more than used to. The road felt normal, and with the exception of the stranded cars, nothing had really changed at all. His neighborhood was just as hushed; the Gunter house sitting like any other, squeezed into the familiar fold of suburbia, appearing exactly the same. Johnny slowly opened the second wooden garage door with his key. The remote never existed for this door. It was old fashioned, taking more time and energy. He pulled his car in and shut the door behind it. Robert’s BMW sat comfortably in the other garage, not a scratch on it. Johnny stepped into the lily-wallpapered kitchen and called out in the faintest of voices.
“Hello? Mom? Dad?” There was no answer, a quick search around the house leading to no plausible explanation. Perhaps they were just out, he thought. Maybe they were unwinding from a similar weekend in a safe location. Nonetheless, the power was also out in the house, which to Johnny, seemed a bit unsettling. He opened the fridge and ate some cold leftover pizza from that Friday afternoon. Johnny then walked into the living room, the couch being a staple of his father’s suburban achievement, now vacant. The phones were dead in the house, and Johnny’s cell only made a few fluctuating noises before eventually dying on him later that night.
He had no solutions, no flick of a switch around to tune into the outside world. The sun was slowly setting on his quaint little neighborhood. All the other houses were dark, no beacons in any windows. Johnny decided against doing his homework that night, locking all the white doors and finding Robert’s small revolver in the box under his parents’ bed. He loaded it for the first time in his life, and thought about how surprisingly surreal it all was, that he was so afraid with no legitimate explanation.
Johnny put his headphones on from his small portable CD player and listened to OK Computer, while he tried to be tired enough to simply conk out. He checked his watch with the small flashlight his Uncle Sam had bought him the previous Christmas. It didn’t run on batteries. All a person had to do was shake it to get light. Johnny’s uncle always bought him stupid somewhat useless gifts for varying events. There were swiss army knives, and a barrage of thermal clothing. Several devices conceived of for hunters and fisherman, and yet Johnny was neither. He couldn’t just fall into the niche. There were so many other things worth buying. He wanted obscure albums, movies only shown to limited audiences; various drugs banned in certain countries, all the cherished items teenagers thrive on.
It was two A.M., no onset of drowsiness setting in. Johnny walked through his dark upstairs hallway into the bathroom. Surprisingly all the water was still working, nothing having been backed up. He opened the cabinet behind the mirror and pulled out the vial of Nightquil, taking a quick shot of green liquid and patiently waiting for it to sink in.
Johnny slept in through noon that next morning, his father’s gun resting quietly on his dresser next to the CD player. When he looked out his window with half-open eyes, he saw the spacious white capsule lying in the middle of his backyard. Johnny was just checking the weather, and yet all of a sudden an answer had magically fallen from the sky.
He quickly stepped outside into his backyard, turning the small latched on the side, and opening it up. Above all the canned goods, the sharp pointy objects, the ammo, another revolver, suicide capsule and other various objects meant for science fiction fans, was a note. It sat passively in an envelope marked broadly with an American flag and a soaring eagle. Johnny ripped the left end of the envelope quickly as he unfolded the crisp letter and started to breathe in.
Dear United States Citizen,
If you are reading this, that means you missed out. The United State Government has tried to save as many people as possible. They were moved into underground bunkers placed at various locations in this great country of ours. Their placement as such was meant for their protection. The total destruction of most of our major cities has led myself and my cabinet to take the only plausible action we could. The nuclear fallout from these cities will eventually spread to all the surrounding areas, leading to disease, deformity, and eventually death.
Here’s the rough part. After locking all the doors to said bunkers, we all went into hiding for ourselves. There is no longer a United States Government because there is no longer a United States of America. The package in front of you is meant to help you with your transition to this new world, which is slowly falling apart at the seams. You have options. The small pill in the orange vial will end your life and hopefully your suffering or you can choose to survive.
There are enough supplies in here to last you for some time, but after that you’re on your own. Remember, this land is our land, do with it what you must, what you have to. The choice is completely left up to you. Freedom still exists in the hearts and souls of us all. Some of us just unfortunately missed the boat. I leave you with these last few words of advice. Be civil. There is no point in creating more war, not with the way things are.
Raymond M. Braddock,
Former President of the United States of America
Johnny crumbled the letter and let it fall back into the capsule. He thoughts were quickly interrupted by the sound of a few random gunshots being fired off in the distance. Johnny, feeling rushed by his impending doom, quickly pulled the capsule into his house through the back door. From that point on, like the letter casually reiterated, he was on his own, without much choice but to wait it out, hope for a new temporary solution. He locked the doors and started to gather supplies, hauling up in the finished basement of the house, all the food quickly catalogued into time of expiration on the available shelves.
He dragged the rusted black grill from his backyard and placed it in the basement as well. Johnny then began to drink his father’s scotch, organizing his pieces. He would be eating steak that night, before it went bad along with the rest of the country. The basement door was boarded from the inside that night; an arsenal of supplies and means to an end all placed on the right shelves in his basement. People wouldn’t think to notice Johnny, the few that were intent on looking for him or anyone else.
There was a stockpile of batteries in the upstairs closet, Mrs. Gunter having purchased them half-off after a Christmas sale. These helped Johnny pass the time for the first few days. He listened to the albums that meant something, the ones that he wasn’t sure he would ever hear again. Johnny had the remaining half cut of marijuana stashed in the Airwalk shoebox under his bed. That was gone in less time than the batteries, the alcohol soon following suit. He barely knew what was happening in the outside world, of even three blocks away. It seemed like the most plausible of solutions. He was good at waiting it all out, being left alone with just his thoughts, and empty notebooks full of misinterpreted emotions.
He waited a few days before eventually running down the batteries on his laptop computer while watching High Fidelity, his favorite movie, for the last time. All of the saved files were obsolete; the playlists of mixes made for Wendy now only a drifting fade in both their heads. Johnny couldn’t turn his thoughts off those first few days and as all his battery-powered means of escape slowly died out, he felt that the basement probably wasn’t the best of places to die. There was a vast world outside of the creaking stairs, and as day four rolled around, Johnny decided that if an eventual death did happen to occur outside of his parents’ house, then so be it. He was prepared, his Ford still with a full tank of gas.
Although, Johnny didn’t even think to open the second garage door by hand that Thursday afternoon. Robert’s spare set of keys for the gray BMW beckoned from the second desk drawer down. Johnny opened the garage door and sped out into the frantic solitude of his hometown, passing playgrounds where he would dream of being someone else, somebody with a larger life purpose. There were friends’ houses, now emptied, broken windows and glass lining the uncut lawns. It was a beautiful day despite the broken pieces lining the unpaved roads of this new suburban hole.
Johnny had several stops to make, before his eventual retreat back to what he knew all too well. The grocery store was full of lingering cans, not snatched up by violet illiterate wanders. He pushed his cart around the aisles, making sure to grab as many AA batteries as possible. Johnny froze suddenly as he turned down aisle11, frozen foods. All the lights in the cases were out, and yet the small dried puddle of red liquid leading down the tiled floor to the body of general manager Arthur Durbin, left Johnny with a stifling of his more then frequent lonesome thoughts; centered around how Wendy looked in her checkered skirt, and why some bands couldn’t top their first album.
The revolver sat coldly a few feet away, five shots left. Johnny slowly stepped past Arthur’s body, trying best not to stare at his frozen expression. He grabbed the cold piece of metal and added it to his collection. There was his father’s; the one from the fractured government and now Arthur’s last fragmented message to the world that left him behind. As Johnny pushed his cart past the checkout all he could think of was why hadn’t such a man waited for the suicide pill. The orange vial remained a last resort, taking up little to no space in Johnny’s front blue jeans pocket.
Johnny listened to “Only A Pawn in Their Game” as he drove the half a mile to the liquor store. It was mostly empty; the back freezer the only rock left unturned. Johnny grabbed a few boxes of wine and other fruity beverages that didn’t offer nearly as much edge as cold hard liquor, all the remaining town alcoholics having snatched it up before finding their own holes to crawl into. He didn’t know who was left or if anybody cared to find anybody else. The last ringing message of “You’re on your own kid” continued it’s persistent tapping in the back of Johnny’s head. He didn’t want to find anybody. People just managed to complicate affairs more so, the end of the world being no exception.
As Johnny pushed his father’s mid-life crisis to its limits climbing the large hill, and cruising past the one speed trap of a stop sign before eventually making it to East Brooke high school, he thought about how different everything would be if people had remained afraid, without acting on such a fear, if they had simply worked it out. He would have been in class, the looks from all the less than gracious spectators having turned everyone inside out. The halls were barely any different as Johnny walked down their lingering familiarity.
His father’s car was the only one in the faculty parking lot, the window he broke to get in, the only one shattered in the building. Everyone else figured that the brick monument on the hill offered little to no supplies and yet as Johnny spun the combination on his locker, he felt that the small private hiding places in the world were the best secrets out there.
The other cut he had bought from Drew Harvey the previous Thursday, remained intact, sitting in his red gym bag next to the pair of black mesh shorts he wore out of regulation. Johnny stuffed the plastic bag in his pocket and loudly slammed his locker. He started his slow retreat away from it all, the end of his high school career, no cap and gown, just a lack of education for all. There was nothing left to be learned, nothing to help any of them
Johnny only vaguely heard the tangled voices echoing in the upstairs hallway. He quickly froze and grabbed his father’s gun from out of the black backpack. They were angry, slightly youthful and there was more than one of them. Johnny thought about leaving at that instant, and yet the shear curiosity associated with actual human exchange, made such an inclination irresistible. He walked up the backset of red steps to the second floor. They were shouting from one of the science labs down the hall. Two voices, both men, smashing vials and laughing at the shear hysteria instilled in all those they once knew.
He slowly and calming approached the door. It was Mr. Coplin’s classroom, a dry smell of formaldehyde still filtering out into the hallway. Johnny turned and took a quick glimpse into the room, to measure up the scene, see where such an encounter was inevitably going. He didn’t know the two delinquents, both with stubble on their faces and long black hair, a few shiny piercings at random places on their faces.
They looked like graduates, past failures now reliving old glories, smashing whatever they could get their hands on, and yet there was more to it than that. It wasn’t just recklessness; these boyish excuses weren’t simply indulging in past glories. They were instead mindlessly going through the motions, and as Johnny saw her teary-eyed face (a less than familiar sight), her clothes ripped and torn, her mouth hushed with a strip of duct tape, and her arms tied with a brown extension chord wire, he knew what he had to do without thinking much about it.
It would be a swift motion, something that either turned out one way or another. He grabbed the Government Issue and pulled back the safety. It would be there to keep his father’s paranoia company. Johnny then stepped into the room, taking them both by surprise. He shot the taller one first; his black Slayer T-shirt quickly turning red as he coughed, fired one lone shot up into the air, and collapsed onto the ground, knocking a few wooden stools over. The shorter one put up a slightly larger fight, attempting to duck down behind one of the tables after his friend’s unpleasant demise.
Johnny didn’t think about any kind of valuable tactic, though. He knew they were as fear-stricken as he was, all means for survival becoming simplistic in nature. He shot him dead, hiding behind the table, trying to reload. Mercy was slowly becoming a difficult concept to imagine as no one could simply pretend like it was yet another calm and sunny day. The shorter one didn’t cough much or do anything but quickly let the sunlight reflect off of his pupils before sailing off into a more pleasant existence.
As he caught his breath and grabbed both of their weapons, also Government Issue, Johnny looked over at somebody he didn’t expect to see ever again. It was Wendy, wearing the same checkered skirt. She looked like hell if hell were still a distant thought. Instead, it was right in front of them, no longer any parallels to draw, petty differences to complain about. Johnny slowly peeled back the duct tape from her mouth, and helped her untie the extension chord letting it fall to the green and white tiled floor. She then caught her own breath before hugging Johnny tightly around the neck. It was a fresh start, a pill that some people chose to take, others deciding against it.
“I can’t believe you’re still here,” Wendy said as she caught her balance on the floor.
“Yeah, me neither. Who were those two?”
“I don’t know. They just kidnapped me after everything started happening.”
“Are there more of them?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Well, in any case, we should get out of here.”
“Alright.” Johnny and Wendy walked out into the hushed hallway, and towards the first staircase they spotted, grabbing the black backpack on the way. Robert’s car rolled out of the teacher’s lot taking the back way. The road that was normally closed with a “No Trespassing” sign was no longer subjected to the rules of personal opinion or convenience. Wendy started to breathe heavily as Johnny only loosely focused on the objects passing both of them by.
“So uh, do you wanna go on a burn run?” Johnny said as he pulled the bag out of his pocket and passed her the papers along with it.
“Have you been thinking ahead this whole time?”
“No, just since Sunday.”
“Well, alright, I can roll this, I think. Maybe you should stop, though. We’re gonna need gas later.”
“I will. I’ll stop when we get there.” Johnny took a few more back roads as the two made their slow crawl up to the mountain, a familiar spot for East Brooke students to unwind after a long and troublesome day of surviving the stampeding rumble of the hallway. He parked in between two trees and pulled his government issued yellow BIC lighter out of his pocket.
Wendy’s hands shook as she lit the joint and slowly inhaled. The heart-pounding rush of “what now?” loosely began to fade away as both starred off past the windshield into the woods. It was all still there, still growing, it didn’t look like something that was falling apart or was even close to such. Instead, it just felt like another normal day from the past, Johnny and Wendy ultimately deciding that maybe the spark stretched past Biology homework.
“So how are you not with all the other people right now?” Johnny asked.
“What other people?”
“Didn’t you read the note? Everyone’s underground, or mostly everyone, and we’re all just waiting for the nuclear fall out to make us sick before we die.”
“I didn’t hear anything about that.”
“Well, how did you get here?”
“I came home from Hartford Saturday and then I went to Ted’s party.”
“That still doesn’t explain anything. Where’s everyone else?”
“I got too drunk and ended up passing out in the basement where all their band equipment is. On Sunday morning, I went to drive home and that’s when those two guys got me.”
“And what happened with them?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it. Needless to say, I have no idea what the fuck’s going on, and it’d be nice to be filled in by somebody I know.”
Johnny took a low breath and started to tell her all the things he knew, how he had come back from the cabin with a similar confusion and then slowly started building his basement empire. Each person began to feel slightly more comfortable as time passed slower, explanations becoming clear almost fateful reasons as to why they were where they were. After a short walk in the woods, both started to remind one another of what the purpose of it all was.
Whether it was the alone time, or the jumbled mess of suburban living rooms, both Johnny and Wendy knew that they couldn’t maintain any sort of post-apocalyptic sanity without one another. He drove back down the hill as the sun calmly set on yet another seemingly uneventful day. The world was stale, and the little meetings and greetings occurring here and there, were only for the lone gunmen who thought to remind each other to reload occasionally.
Johnny opened the garage door and turned off the car. He led Wendy down into the familiar basement. It looked considerably different, piles of wrappers and cans lining the one corner. Supplies were on the opposite; all still spaced by date and time. Some would go bad within the week while other shiny packages with optimistic cartoon cereal spokesman would withstand longer like Johnny intended to.
They set the rest of the supplies down, as Johnny loaded the four large D-cell batteries into his portable blue and gray boombox. He then browsed the collection, all of the tight plastic cases alphabetized on the shelf, a Tuesday afternoon with nothing to do but organize. Wendy sat down on the red sectional couch, grabbing a magazine from the pile Johnny had swiped from the grocery store. It seemed strange to think about how none of the useless made-up news mattered anymore.
There weren’t any headlines with photoshopped pictures of mushroom clouds. Instead, it felt as if the world just simply stopped one day, all the zombies with their eyes open finding the right path to walk down at the fork in the road. They were enjoying varying conditions as morlocks, avoiding the sunlight and waiting for the winter to be over, so they could peak their heads out and breath in untainted air.
It was April, though; the rush of new movies awaiting summer release dates, now shelved like every other part that at one time meant something. Johnny and Wendy sat and listened to The Velvet Underground and Nico, as they read words from the past, and tried not to say what they were really thinking. It was a nice way to unwind after a day of polished discovery. They poured the boxed wine into clear plastic cups from garage sales and let it all slowly sink in. It was their life now, or at least for the time being.
They could hide underground with the choice to look out at the vastness of their familiar surroundings, or run away somewhere, look for more lost lovers like them, lingering amongst used cars and abandoned libraries. There was time enough at last to do everything, and yet both quickly fell asleep next to each other that night; the supposed screams and less than moral crimes happening outside their door, only partial influences on their lazy dreams of what was coming next, what was to become of the places they thought they were used to.
“Wake up” Wendy said as she cracked an egg on the skillet, over the grill, a few more bags of charcoal sitting in the one corner, patiently waiting to be burned and eventually turned to dust like so many unsuspecting citizens. Johnny and Wendy ate breakfast and discussed eventual plans, what they needed to do, explore, discover, and possibly run away from.
That particular day proved useful as they took the long way, back roads only, up to the local shopping mall. It was a ghost town, nobody breathing behind the lifted metal gates. However, there were vague traces of life, television sets knocked over, broken glass lining the beaten path, and certain pieces missing here and there. There was barely any food, and all the normal stops along the way, the CD store and bookstore, simply seemed obsolete.
After all, the town they lived in didn’t necessarily stock up on intellectual stimulation, unless of course it was a bestseller. No longer was anything nearly as marketable. Instead, there were simply empty baskets of goods left everywhere. It was like when a family took their kids trick-or-treating and left a full bowl of candy on the front porch. The first few parent-free deviants would take it all and move on to the next plentiful offering. There weren’t any rules, and even fewer consequences to dwell on.
As Johnny and Wendy loaded up the back trunk, once again finding a lone capsule sitting in the back lot by Sears, they didn’t take time to notice the spinning sounds around them, or the eyes that were fixated on their current position. Instead, it felt like a different kind of first date, except this time there wasn’t nearly as many options. No longer were there the shallow bodies lining the hallways with drugs and available living rooms. No, it was easier for both of them to simply pick and choose each other.
“So where are we going now?” Wendy asked as Johnny drove through the parking lot.
“I don’t know. I was thinking we could…”
He couldn’t finish his sentence. They swarmed fast, all their cars rumbling with a fury of a thousand deaths, running into Robert’s BMW like it had done something, directly to wrong them. The air bag flew up and then slowly sputtered as the car spun around and eventually turned off. Pieces of glass from the driver’s side window had scraped Johnny’s face, a slow trail of blood running down his forehead, blinding him temporarily. Wendy became a wide-eyed vision as she breathed heavily, both of them waiting for what was to come next. Both their doors flung open, dirty fingernails pulling their bodies out and leading them off in opposite directions. Johnny couldn’t comprehend much, although his last conscience thoughts were beyond simplistic. Why hadn’t they stayed in the basement that day? What did the mall ever have to offer?
It was a small red barn, possibly a few miles away from the mall. The only light that shined down on Johnny’s bruised face came from the lanterns placed meticulously around it. He stood up slowly, feeling the coarse rope, binding his hands behind his back. He legs were barely working as Johnny attempted to catch his balance and get a feel for where he was exactly. Wendy was nowhere in sight, and the barn lacked any company from animals. He struggled with the rope for sometime before, eventually managing to squeeze out of the mediocre knots. Johnny always had thin wrists.
He then started walking towards the barn door. Trying to mask the slow creak as it opened, Johnny moved at a pace slower than imaginable, eventually stepping out into the cold kinship of the night. He listened for voices, for any sort of recognizable sounds. Her cough, scream or yawn. Nothing. Just blank black space. Johnny saw the mansion up on the hill. There were lanterns in the windows, shadows moving back and forth. He knew she was up there, in God knows what state, trying to find a reason why it all was this way. He couldn’t run, not with his leg in the condition it was. No car, and miles from home, Johnny didn’t have much choice, and yet he had no weapons, nothing to help the tables turn.
As he limped towards the red brick house, his thoughts all turned to mush, the endorphin levels in his brain rising steadily to help remedy the pain and keep the adrenaline company. With each step came a new elongated fury that would stretch past the confines of any normal man’s life. The stress of the job, or the slow ticking irritation of every customer were small and insignificant compared to what was brewing in Johnny as he kept getting closer and closer to the rest of his life. It was like a decision that was forced on him. It wasn’t like choosing a college or getting a job in town. This was the supposed end of the road, a die-hard situation.
Johnny stopped rushing the second he saw the first of them standing by the front door, reading a Playboy magazine with a shotgun in hand. He was in his early twenties, short, with shorter blonde hair. A Cretan of modern society if any kind of societal values still existed. Johnny quickly ducked down and started a slow retreat towards the other side of the house. There was another one of them in the back. He was older, a full-grown gray beard, and more of an attention span, his arms choking up on a similar shotgun.
Johnny turned and looked off in the opposite direction. He could escape into the woods, possibly make his way back to his parents’ house and hope for a better tomorrow, and yet at that point, as all of his indifference towards the human race periodically washed over him, Johnny couldn’t help but feel as if there wasn’t any point in planning ahead. They weren’t expecting anything. They weren’t anybody of interest, just some country hicks who managed to miss the first few blasts, and yet as Johnny slowly reached into his pocket, he found the available solution.
The old man would an easier try. He didn’t have much fight left in him. It would be simpler for him to swallow. Johnny crept along the side of the house, small blue pill in hand. As the shotgun turned in his general direction, he saw it all clear as day. It was too dark for a clean shot, and everyone’s vision was slowly coming apart from the radiation. Johnny tackled the man to the ground, the gun rolling down the hill without a single shot fired. He puts his hand over the man’s mouth, and let the small pill slip down his throat, as he elbowed him in the back of the head. It worked fast, a few muffled coughs soon listlessly fading in the silence of the night. The remaining shells in the man’s pocket were soon in Johnny’s as he stepped to the other side of the house and knocked the Playboy subscriber out with the back of his gun, grabbing the remaining red scattered shells he needed from the ground.
Then it was in through the front door, an unexpected path to whatever was next. It was a large foyer, small lamps set up at random places in the other rooms, no sounds or voices filtering down any kind of hallway. The upstairs seemed obvious, and yet Johnny was beyond fearful of what he might find, what the eventual outcome would be. He took his time up the steps, waiting patiently for any untimely sign of life.
There weren’t any whispers, just dimly lit blackness. He checked each room individually, searching for what he had lost once again, what was taken away and hadn’t left a single trace. Johnny thought it strange that the house was empty, the two men outside seeming like guards for a treasure they knew nothing about. As he walked back down the steps, he could vaguely see the outline of the younger one standing up outside, the glass window in the door providing Johnny with all the picture he needed.
The shot went through the wooden door, knocking the man down to the ground. He began to moan in-between muffled bloody coughs. Johnny quickly reloaded and waited by the door. What could have been a minute or ten, Johnny stood waiting and listening to the man outside slowly pass. The footsteps were fast as they approached; they sounded soft on the ground. He heard the voice through the hole in the door.
“Peter? Peter, are you…?” Johnny opened the door, pointing the shotgun at the frightened boy on his knees. He wasn’t much older than thirteen, blonde hair and a face covered in dirt from whatever the previous week had to offer. The boy’s hand slowly reached for Peter’s lonesome shotgun. A slow motion that didn’t go much further than that.
“Stop. Don’t move.”
“I… I was…”
“I don’t care. Where’s my girlfriend?”
“She’s in the other barn with Keith.”
“Don’t follow me.” Johnny said as he grabbed the shotgun from the ground and slowly walked off in another unfamiliar direction.
As the boy sat down on the ground next to his dead brother, he heard the eventual shots from the barn, the loud rumble of somebody deciding on what the best possible discourse was. He heard the car engine sputtering, before it eventually drove off, down the road, and yet the thought hadn’t occurred to him that he was completely alone in the world. In fact, it took days for it to sink in. Afterwards it would just seem like something that didn’t happen. The shear loneliness would make even the most vivid of memories slowly fade with the daylight. It would become easier to stay in one place, avoiding all the grounded noises taking off in the distance.