Dystopian fantasy was a big thing when the world imploded. The world. I tended to think of it in those terms. For all I knew it was confined to this little part of it. Would they have sent in help had that been the case? If some psychotic extremist decided to blow up Butthole, U.S.A. with a homemade radiation device, wouldn’t our government step in? There would still be planes in the sky, men in HAZMAT gear running around, at least supplies dropped in by FEMA, right?
Not necessarily. Look at Chernobyl. Look at the Ninth Ward after Katrina. For all we knew they’d roped us off and were waiting for the smoke to clear. The levels to drop.
I’d read the books, the comics, watched the hit television shows. Part of me wandered through the rubble on the lookout for creatures, humans or animals disfigured by radiation and mutating into dangerous predators. Or the aliens that dropped the bomb. Vampires, zombies, were-creatures and aberrations, pop culture fantasies we’d made seem plausible through the magic of green screens and face paint. We knew it was coming. Saw it, anticipated it, obsessed over it. We molded our reality into fiction for entertainment. We knew yet we had no clue.
The difference was we expected humanity to win. Had it happened 100 years ago we may have had a chance. It turned out in our softness, in the luxury of our first world lives we’d all but lost any instinct for survival. If it couldn’t be cranked, booted or Googled, we were lost. If it didn’t come in a vacuum sealed package or on a styrofoam tray, it wasn’t food. If it wasn’t climate controlled and comfortably cushioned, it wasn’t a home.
As far as humanity went, Hope was the first living soul I’d seen apart from my own family, which I was fighting to hold together. I often found Linny sobbing in the bathroom because the water didn’t work, because there was no conditioner left in the bottle. And I understood.
I saw no monsters, though. Not outside my own skull. All I saw were rats. So many rats. Some singed hairless, or missing ears, tails, even limbs. Was that where it started? No. I saw young ones too. They were normal. Fat and sleek with twitchy whiskers and bright beady eyes. As it became more difficult to find canned foods within range of our house, I would trap them. Throw out the unhealthy ones, and kill the rest. I would build a small fire and clean, skin and cook them before taking them home. Linny and the kids never asked where it came from or what it was. It was food. That’s all that mattered.