Breadcrumb #380


Lately, I’ve been thinking about the apocalypse and I have this horrible fear that, when it comes, I might survive. I am hoping that, when civilization as we know it comes crashing down, the post-apocalyptic society that survives needs someone to do, like, needlepoint and embroidery, because otherwise, I’m done for.

    Not that I know how to embroider. I don’t. And I’m not a particularly fast learner. It just seems needlework would be easier to learn than Krav Maga or Hapkido or those other badass martial arts that everyone in the surviving communities seems to know.

    Trust me. I am somewhat of an expert on this. I have seen the End of Days time and again, while streaming hours and hours of Netflix. There, the apocalypse is brought on pretty much any way you might imagine. There, humanity is always on the precipice. Another 36 post-doomsday scenarios were added just in the past four days.

    No matter what the cause is, it always starts with us. It’s pollution or overuse of fuels or A.I. gone out of control. Or some unforseen agent of destruction, like overly concentrated laundry detergent.

There, the apocalypse is brought on pretty much any way you might imagine

    “Our clothes were white enough, damn you!” the hero of that last one shouts to the heavens, alone on a barren, but very sudsy, wasteland.

    In the unchecked laundry suds scenario, the has come when a Bayliner speedboat on Long Island Sound, piloted by a guy who’s been drinking, plows into a yacht occupied by a family beginning a sail to Florida. Among the items destroyed by the collision is a two-inch-long vial of the latest super-concentrated detergent that the family has taken on the trip, carefully following the instructions to use no more than a drop that can fit on the end of a toothpick -- and that for heavily soiled loads.

    With the vial smashed, the entire 1.2 ounces of detergent is loosed into the water. Within days, the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Baltimore is smothered by a glacier of fluffy white suds that show no signs of stopping. Millions drown or choke to death on soap bubbles. Millions more flee, although many linger behind, bewitched by the meadowy-fresh scent.

   But that’s besides the point. The cause of the cataclysmic event isn’t so important. Whichever way the world as we know it ends, we’re going to need skills afterward. I’m sure my abilities in public relations won’t carry over. The regional warlords who will inevitably rise will not need press releases. Marketing directors are likely to be among those survivors sectioned into the categories of “food” and “paving materials.”

    Social media pros will be in low demand when all the electricity comes from whipping the captives you’ve snatched from a nearby fiefdom as they pedal reconstituted exercise bicycles that have been hooked up to a sparking, sputtering power grid.

    (There are exceptions. Back on Netflix, one clan managed to power what looked like a classic English estate in an ingenious way. Inspired by the home science experiment where a clock is run by sticking two prongs into a potato, the group managed to grow a spud the size of Westminster Abbey. Into its white flesh, they stabbed enough metal strips to live the high life. They thrived until the day a rival tribe rolled in with an enormous deep fryer -- which they heated up, ironically, by plugging it in to the potato.)

    But no matter. When the time comes, I’m just hoping that combat skills are not absolutely essential. When the warlords rise to power, not everyone can be a warrior, right? Someone has to monogram their napkins and vestments. That could be me.

   I could serve my friend Karen. She’s a mid-level manager. Second assistant to the third vice-something-or-other in charge of stuff people don’t need but spend lots on. She’d make a great regional monarch. She’d take me in, too.

    “Sure,” she told me when I asked her about it. “You can be Secretary of Finery.”

    “Secretary of Finery,” I said, testing the sound of the title. “I’ve been called worse.”

• • •

Breadcrumb #285


Mom and James and I go hiking through a sparse wood, making our way between broken birches, careful to avoid snapping twigs beneath our feet. We walk in a line, me in the middle because I’m the youngest. Mom comes to a stop up ahead, signaling for us to do the same. James half raises his rifle, alert, my hand hovers over the pistol at my side, but then Mom gives the OK and we continue walking. This is all we can do, keep moving on. It is almost the fall and there are dead leaves on the ground, there are dead bodies in the river, the stench and screech of the undead all around us.

    When we reach the shallow part of the creek, we find a deposit of half-eaten bodies. The flesh and the innards is what they eat, leaving the rest behind for us to pick through. We descend on the scene like vultures, ravenous for anything we can get our hands on, the shock of death having long been lost on us. There isn’t much to scavenge from this lot, no tools or weapons, no materials save for a few shoelaces, a leather belt, some buttons from their torn and bloodied shirts. Things we can use to mend or replace our own tattered clothes. Mom stands watch on the edge of the riverbed.

We descend on the scene like vultures, ravenous for anything we can get our hands on, the shock of death having long been lost on us.

    As I dredge myself up from the shallows, a brightly colored, cardboard object catches my eye from beneath the wet leaves. A soiled box of cigarettes reveals itself to me, red and white and black lettering. I quickly pocket the sad trinket before mom or James takes notice of my loitering. We make our way again through the woods at a brisk gait, making as little noise as possible. None of us says a word.

    We find our way back to a wooden shack, half-hidden by broken branches and moss cover, built and abandoned by someone else. It has been our camp for the last couple of weeks, but not for much longer. We were grateful to find it, and lucky that it was uninhabited. Luck has been a great asset to our survival, and we never ask for more than we receive.

    Marnie runs up to James and throws her arms around his waist, just as she does every time he returns to camp, and he ruffles her hair in reply. Of everyone, these two have been with mom and I the longest. James found Marnie while searching a deteriorated house for supplies, starving and trapped there, so he unquestioningly took her into his care. The pair had traveled together for a long time before joining my mom and our small group of survivors.

    Marnie is the closest to my age, so we’re best friends. I flash her the cigarette box as we reunite and she gives me a discreet high-five. There’s only one in there that isn’t too damaged to smoke, so we agree to share it tonight when we take first watch. Mom and James and the others usually let us take first watch because we’re teenagers, or we just go right to sleep. Sometimes I sleep with my boots on. We must always be ready to run.

    When we can’t sleep at night, which happens to be much of the time, Marnie and I whisper to each other about our hopes, the little things we know we need to carry with us in order to survive. She tells me she hopes we find an apple tree so she can taste the sweet sensation of biting into the hard skin of a fresh fruit, her favorite from a former lifetime. I tell her I hope we find a dog to travel with us.

    One night she says she had always wanted to try a cigarette, just once, she says, maybe. Me too, I say, and tell her that my mom would probably kill me, but maybe it wouldn’t matter to her anymore. My father couldn’t live without them, but luckily for him, he never had to. She thinks for a minute and decides James would be unhappy about it too, and then we are silent, gazing up at the stars, breathing out clouds of fake smoke in the cold night air.

    Now the summer is almost over and some of the leaves are withering and falling, but tonight is warm and comfortable. We are giddy through dinner, trying to hide our smiles while digging our teeth into the flesh of a scorched trout. Currently, there is an even number of people in our group so everyone eats two to a meal. Marnie and I share a fish. Mom and James share too, ceremoniously handing it back and forth as they each take one bite at a time.

    Night falls and we hear the screeching wail of the undead rise from the furthest reaches of the forest like a rooster at daybreak. Marnie and I assume our duty on watch as the others huddle in the shed before it’s their turn to take guard. Mom stays behind to stoke the fire a little longer, reluctant to leave us two alone out here, but I reassure her that we’re ok. She warns me not to stray too far before finally turning in.

    We sit side by side against a tree near the campfire. I slide the slim, white, paper prize from within my shirtsleeve. Marnie produces a pack of matches, a resource she’d always collected on her travels. Only a few beat-up matches remain, but the sacrifice feels worth it as we strike it into flame. We watch the satisfying glow of the ember garnish the end of the cigarette as I inhale, breathing the smoke out of my lungs, up into the night sky.

    We pass it back and forth, becoming light-headed, feeling the sudden and unaccustomed rush of nicotine as it enters our brains for the first time. We try to blow smoke rings but don’t even come close. At first the stale smoke isn’t too harsh, but then Marnie starts to cough, hacking and wheezing uncontrollably. I try to help her breathe it out, quiet down, but she is unable to stop it.

    We hear something move. A loud rustling alarmingly nearby. Marnie covers her mouth with one hand, draws her pistol with the other. The undead have come for us, just as they always have. My gun is in my hand before I know it. The noise approaches at a hastened gait, aggravating bushes closeby, about to tear through the darkness in a hungry fervor. I stand to meet it, raising my weapon with both hands. It emerges, a dark, wild shape. I pull the trigger.

    Marnie lets out a yelp as the body of a deer collides with the ground at my feet. My arms and legs are shaking visibly. Mom soon appears, weapon drawn, eyes on fire. She sees me first, then the deer, then me again, then erupts into a hushed rage. She reminds me that the noise of a gunshot will only attract more attention. This was not a life for death situation, she points out. Marnie is beside me, her hand holding mine. We stand before her dumbfounded, too startled to speak, still buzzing with nicotine.

    Mom then embraces us both, telling us how grateful she is that we’re ok. She hesitates before pulling away, a puzzled look on her face. Have you two been smoking? She asks, but doesn’t allow space for a rebuttal, dismissing the thought as she remembers the deer. We share a look of triumph as we turn to head inside.

    Marnie and I are in an elated state, so we stay up all night retelling each other the story, feeling empowered by our small accomplishment. We laugh until there are tears in our eyes, already reminiscing about the night we had together.

• • •

Breadcrumb #121


“I think we should take it.” Otto threw the last body into the trashcan. It was a short bald woman whose charred body was found in the middle of the road by the night crew.   

    “An upgrade huh?” Quentin wiped the sweat off of his forehead and squinted. It was a hot afternoon. The sun was beating down on them hard, without mercy, like the devil on the drum, and the desert wind was tame that day.

    Quentin had seen his share of gruesome bodies: a woman stoned to death for killing her husband and a young, pregnant girl, hung after she stole a week’s worth of water and food supplies.

    And then there was Clive.

    Clive was buried alive, in a wooden box, when he refused to give Glaster his last cigarette. His fingers were dried and bent with blood.  His knuckles-raw, scraped in tiny diamond shapes and spheres revealing bone…

     Endless...endless clawing….Quentin thought.  

    The wooden box had been dug up and left in the middle of camp for a few hours for the folks who thought that Clive had been brave.

    The stench of rotting flesh, feces, and urine was beyond foul. There was nothing brave about Clive’s corpse.

     After Clive was put away for good, Glaster received a few items including two of the rarest of gifts in their camp:  a small bottle of tequila from one of the Navajos and Quentin’s last spiced cigarettes. Glaster rewarded them both with a small piece of chocolate. They swirled the melting square in their mouths for a while before swallowing.

     Quentin could still taste the cocoa in his mouth.

    “He can get us out in the open. And you know good offers are hard to come by around here...” Otto was a pale man with dirty blonde hair and hollow circles under his eyes. And Otto knew better than anyone about a good deal. One had come to him at The Rumblin’ Diner a few days before it happened.  

    A young redhead, not older than eighteen, licked her plum lips seductively and told Otto that his diner had the best ice-cream float in town. The next day he bought her a turquoise bracelet from an old toothless Navajo woman, selling trinkets by the side of the road, wearing a green scarf, and a silver belt. 

    It was a good deal.

    Otto had sex with the redhead in his trailer while his wife was visiting her cousin Ruthie.  He never saw the redheaded whore or his fat wife again.

    Then the world went to hell within a few hours and none of that mattered anymore

    And he didn’t mind.

    Nor did he mind the bodies that had piled up.

    Once in a while, he would find a pin, a button or a bead and would quickly bury it in a little box lined with red cloth and decorated with white-pink seashells. Glaster knew about the secret box, but Otto was Glaster’s favorite so the boss let him keep it.

    “He talkin’ to anyone else yet?” Quentin asked.

    “A few folks...”

    “Hmmmm…” Quentin circled the area where his wedding band had been. A nervous habit. Otto grabbed his hand, quickly, squeezed it tight and looked at the bleached-ring around his smooth black skin.

    “You know we are supposed to forget about all that,” Otto said raising his chin and clenching his teeth.

    “Yeah...I know.” 

    Quentin released his fingers.

    “Your kind has always been so sentimental…” Otto grinned.

    Quentin looked down at his dark skin-it was so dark that it was almost blue. Some folks thought that Quentin was a seer. But Quentin wasn’t a prophet, just a black guy, who worked at the post office and missed his family--Kingsley, his goldfish and Alahna his wife.

     “What kind of work?” Quintin took a small swig of water from his dusty canteen. They were running out of cactus fruit and water was precious.

    Half of a cup per day.  

    Otto’s left eye twitched like a dying roach. He scratched his right arm where a red blotch had formed, a common effect in the desolate wasteland that had once been Arizona. Luckily, they had a few doctors and nurses in their camp and the rashes weren’t deadly.

    Just itchy.

    Nevertheless Quentin worried about Otto

    Quentin had learned about ergot poisoning on a routine cleanup. A few people had begun to hallucinate and died shortly thereafter. Quentin noticed dry grangrene and with the help of one of the books in their small library, along with Doctor Peterson, they were able to confirm it. Ergot.

    He feared that it had gotten a hold of Otto.

    Quentin wondered what would happen if he just took off beyond their camp borders...but he knew what was out there.

    Except for a few brutal punishments, like Clive and the two girls, their camp had been pretty civilized: Stored food. Toilet pits separate from where the sleeping bags and tents had been lined up. A small library containing fifteen books. A few bikes people signed out for recreation time.  Even a game night where people played cards or dice, betting on scraps of shiny metal or lost and forgotten keys. Murder and rape were rare and everyone worked on their given assignments given out by Glaster’s soldiers.    

    Refugees had been crossing into their camp starved and -wild eyed with weird tales. The strong ones were kept alive for work and the weaker ones were stripped of their possessions and killed. Quentin didn’t like it one bit. But he didn’t like what he had heard from the refugees who had escaped their tribes: unidentified diseases worst than ergot, cannibalism and a few camps who had taken children in promising them shelter only to use them as sex slaves instead.

The strong ones were kept alive for work and the weaker ones were stripped of their possessions and killed.

    “The new assignment would get us out of this dusty graveyard,” Otto said looking around at pile of bodies scattered about like demented mannequins. 

    “And out in the road…what does he want us to do?” Quentin asked. The Grand Canyon wasn’t too far. And he had never seen it. Maybe they could witness its magnificence…one last wondrous thing before it all went to hell for good. 

    “Cults are formin’. One thinks the savior is comin’ back. Another, a bunch of kids… wild kids who lost their parents. They want revenge... and then there is a female cult.”

    “Jesus freaks, orphans, and women. Hell...since when is Glaster scared of orphans and women?”

    “Cortez was found half-dead on the road a few days ago with an arrow in his chest and a letter for Glaster. The orphans and the Jesus freaks are just punks. The women. Well….they been followin’ some weird shit like choppin’ off their left tit.”

    “Hmmm...sounds like the ways of the old Amazons….” Quentin had read about them in a mythology book.

    “They offer protection to girls who have been raped and girls who want their protection from the savages out there.” 

    “Cortez wasn’t a savage.”

    “These women are. They capture men and take them as slaves, castrate and kill ‘em.”

    “What does Glaster want?” But Quentin knew the answer.

    “He needs folks he can trust to take their supplies and put an end to the cults. Easy as pie...” Otto said.

    “Upgrading from garbage men to assassins and thieves...any paid vacation days?”

    “This ain’t a joke. People are getting restless collecting scraps and pissin’ in pits. We runnin’ out of dried fruit. And the meat that was salted is crawling with maggots”

    “Scouting…it makes sense. How much time we got?” Quentin asked which was a ridiculous concept. Time didn’t seem to really exist in the dessert-even though a few folks had been able to keep time going as if it still really mattered. 

    “We got until tomorrow.”

    “And you already said yes.”.

    He listened to Otto explain the plan and wondered what Alahna would have done. The scouts would be killed along with the women. Their camp burnt to the ground.    

    Quentin circled his skin again where the band had been and thought of Alahna-her raven-black hair, playful smile...smooth caramel skin.

    “I know a good deal…” Otto mumbled. 

    It happened quickly. Otto grabbed Quentin and sliced his throat open with the blade he had hidden under his shirt.

    Quentin tried to gasp for air but he couldn’t. His hands shook below his neck. His mouth made a soft gurgling kha-kha-kha sound, blood spurted out, eyes rolled back and he began to shuffle sideways like a drunk dancer.

    “Too sentimental for the upgrade. Glaster said..we can’t have any of that…it’s poison.”       


    The two men on duty threw the two bodies into the garbage can as ordered-for they were new on their assignment. They wore cowboy hats to keep cool under the desert sun. 

    “Not a lot today,” the first said.

    “Nope... just an ordinary clean up,” said the other.

    And they moved along to load up a few more before heading back to camp. 

• • •