Society. Civilization. Humanity. These words used to mean something. They echoed a promise. A contract between everyone that no matter how many people there are, or how different, we would live in a way that made sense, in a world that made sense. Not anymore. Forget civility. Forget the promise of Progress. My comforts now are my garden, my tar paper shack, and my ham radio.
The crack of my shotgun rips through the morning air. A lone scavenger drops to the ground. I spit the tobacco I was chewing and wait. I hear a scream. Young. Fresh. I take aim. She runs to the dead woman’s side, saying something in a language I don’t recognize. I hesitate for a moment. But only for a moment. Ten minutes later I’ve separated the things I can use from the things I can’t and thrown them in their respective piles. Shoes, clothing, supplies, it gets wrapped up in a bindle and lugged on my shoulder. The two of them barely fit in the wheel barrow, but if it means I won’t go hungry for a week it’s worth the effort.
My radio crackles to life.
“Still living?” the voice asks.
“You’re gettin’ pretty jumpy, son. Maybe you need a vacation,” the voice says.
“If you say so. But you know, everyone needs a little break. At least one day a year to just let loose,” the voice says.
“Shut up!” I scream. The voice laughs without pause for an hour. I make a mental note to look for batteries later so I can finally get this radio to work.
Home comes into view as the sun reaches the peak of the sky. The heat is blistering. I take a swig from my water sack. The fluid is warm and tastes like leather. The ruined suburb is a million miles away from any human habitation. I chose it purposefully. It is a good place to hide and scrounge.
The wheel of the wheel barrow breaks just as I cross the fence into my yard. I curse at the sky until I’m good and satisfied. I throw my makeshift bindle made from the scavenger’s stuff next to my shack. Then I drag my other findings to the meat locker I have hidden under a fake stump and dried leaves.
“What a catch, my friend. What a catch. You’ll be eating good tonight,” the voice on the radio says.
“It’s only bait.”
“Sure yeah bait. Uh huh. Bait is good. But you know, it’s getting pretty sparse out here. Pretty soon there won’t be nothing left to hunt. I bet your ‘bait’ is going to start looking pretty good right about then,” the voice says.
“Maybe throw on a couple spices, dash of pepper. Oh and some hot sauce. Like they do it down South,” the voice says.
I don’t have the energy to “prepare” them right now. That’s a job for later. The little one is light weight and goes into the meat locker easy. The other takes some effort. She doesn’t go in all the way at first.
“Whooo-wee! Look at that Grade A flank right there! Prime cut, I tell you what!” the voice exclaims excitedly, referring to the part of her still sticking out of the locker. Her pale flesh steals my eyes and doesn’t let go. I hold back tears, grabbing her ankles so I can shove the rest of her in the locker. “Mmm-mm. Boy that is nice. See how it jiggles? It’s been a while since you’ve been with someone, hasn’t it?”
“Stop,” I plead.
“Oh come on. You’ve done it before. Right on that stump if I’m not mistaken,” the voice says.
“I mean, when’s the last time you’ve seen a rear that pristine? No one’s out here. No one will know. Come on. Do it. Why let it go to waste like that. Hurry, while she’s still fresh!”
“I said shut up!” I scream. I pick up a rock and throw it at the radio. It shatters. I shove her in the meat locker and close it, locking it good and tight. Then I throw up and cry.
“You poor boy. All alone out here. You need to get out more. Meet more people. This isolation is killing you,” the voice on the radio says.
“No. No more,” I struggle to say in between dry heaves.
“The war is over, man. It’s over! Take your spoils and go home. You don’t need this. You’re going to die out here. You know that right? So alone. You might as well be on Mars. The Society will take you back. They remember what you did for them,” says the voice.
“I have no right to call myself a man. Not anymore. I deserve to die out here. I deserve…”
There’s a suitcase buried behind my shack. In it there is a bottle with two cyanide pills. Two in case the first doesn’t take. It was given to me by my superior officer in the event of enemy capture. I never used it, to my great shame. Instead I clung to life desperately, like a child being ripped away from it’s mother. I ran. I survived.
The region fell apart. The country fell apart. An entire nation of people without drive or purpose suddenly had both. Overnight. The answer became clear. I fought against these “people with answers”. Fought them till I was the only one left. I was on the right side. History was not. We lost. I lost. Nothing I knew as a boy exists in any way I recognize. The new world is crueler, darker. Technology’s cutting edge slices deeper every day leaving the vulnerable bleeding dry. The government smiles as the bottom falls out, leaving more people to scavenge and fight for survival.
There are too many people. That’s what everyone says is the problem. Too many people eating too much and using too much. The solution is monstrous. Unthinkable just a decade ago. Not anymore. I roll the pill bottle in my dirt covered hand.
“So much to live for. Don’t waste your life like you’re wasting that sweet piece of ass you got in the meat locker back there. Live. Enjoy yourself,” the voice on the radio says.
“I have my garden,” I say.
“You have guns! And Grenades! Oooo sweet, sweet ordinance!” the voice says.
“So boring. Do something fun, would ya? You used to be fun. Remember when you were fun?” asks the voice.
Sleep comes fitfully. My dreams are the color of regret and fear and rage. A saying reverberates within me. The thousand mile trail of blood begins with a single drop.
Two familiar sounds wake me. The sound of a drone’s propellers whirring and the crackle of a loud speaker.
“Hello! Hello in there!” I hear a cheerful voice say. Instantly I’m up, reaching for my shoes and my rifle. “Yes you in the… uh… shack. By the authority given to us by the Institute of Better Citizenship, we’re here to hunt you down and kill you!” He sounds high school, or just in college. I have my shoes on now. I peer out of the shack’s opening. “Hi! I’d hoped you were in there. Trip would have been a waste otherwise. Anywhoo, this is a hunt and kill kind of thing so, if you don’t mind running or something, that would make this whole thing a lot more legal. Would you kindly? Please?”
I train my rifle on the drone.
“So are you coming out or?”
I fire. The drone explodes. I set the C4 charge, grab my bag and run. As I run, I hear cheers. The hunt is on. But it’s not theirs.
It takes the better part of a day. The first one I find is wearing a deer mask, a puffy jacket and skinny jeans. He’s talking on a wireless headset to his friends, laughing about how cool the whole thing is. After he checks in, I come in from behind and snap his neck. Quick and quiet. I take the headset and continue. The second one is in a wolf mask, ripped jeans and flannel shirt. I get her right between the eyes at thirty meters. The next one is cautious. He knows something’s up. His friends aren’t responding. But he’s no hunter. He gives me five openings before I act. One to the leg, one to his dominant hand. I ask him how many of them there are. He tells me six. Now there’s only three.
The fourth and fifth one are together, back to back in a clearing. I wonder if I can get them both with a single headshot, but I decide not to risk it. Instead I get the itch to try out one of the traps I made. I let them spot me and they give chase, wanting to end it quick. I lure them to the pit trap. They’re moving so fast they don’t have time to stop. They fall, sharpened sticks that took three days to find and plant are finally put to good use.
The last one takes a bit longer to find. She’s hiding in the van that brought them here. It’s black with “Get with the Program!” spray painted on the side in big red letters. It’s easy to pick the lock and hop right in the back.
“Oh fuck!” She screams. She’s a teenager. Here with her friends to kill some guys and have some fun. The van is filled with computer equipment and ammo boxes.
“Empty your pockets,” I say.
“Please don’t kill me. Oh shit, please. I wasn’t, it wasn’t anything personal, just something for college credit, please don’t kill me,” she pleads, tears in her eyes.
“You have no right to beg. No place to talk,” I say.
“Please, I’ll do anything,” she says, crying. “I’ll suck your dick, I’ll let you do anything to me. Please please don’t kill me, please.”
“You don’t mean any of that. You’re scared and talking without thinking,” I say.
“No I’m not, I swear. I swear on everything.”
“Fine. Face the door.” She does. “Now take off your pants.”
“Oh god. Oh god,” she says, sobbing. Once her pants are down around her ankles, I kick her out the door into the road and shut it.
“You’re just a string of missed opportunities, aren’t you?” the voice on the radio says as I start the van and drive off.
I am faced by my past every day. Today I faced it like I never have before. I don’t feel the same. Something in me has changed. Something has broken. I drive to one of the places where this all started. A grand old building in the heart of the old downtown where the first strikes were. It is a dilapidated ruin. But the lights are on. A banner flaps in the wind. “Join the Club!” it reads. I ditch the van in an old parking garage and go on foot to the place. Inside, a hundred people in the Club, the Program, the Gang, and the Party are mingling, talking about hunts past and getting ready for the one about to start.
“This one is going to be the biggest one yet!” someone exclaims. Everyone is wearing masks. I wear my own mask. No one suspects when I lock the exits. No one stops me when I arm a charge by the weapon and coat check. Everyone is too drunk on booze and ennui to notice.
“Attention,” I say over the hijacked P.A. system. “Tonight’s theme has changed. The new targets are as follows. Club Jackoffs, Program Douche Canoes, Gang Assholes, and Party Fucktards. Enjoy.”
The charge goes off. The people scream. I operate. My shame, my dishonor, melts away. I make my late squad mates proud.