As the sun breaks through the dusty horizon of the ruins of Los Angeles, casting a sickly orange glow through the window of the bedroom, Alan turns over, hoping to grab a few more moments of sleep before the day begins.
“Rise and shine, Mr. Welker,” A.R.V., his Automated Robotic Valet, said in a tin, empty voice. “I have prepared your breakfast, sir.”
Alan mumbles thank you, as he rolls to the nightstand next to his bed. He tears the previous day’s date from his calendar of inspirational phrases and quotes.
“The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.”—Charlotte Bronte
Well said, Alan thought to himself, as he pulled his cargo pants up. Here’s to dying alone then.
Alan dresses himself and heads to the kitchen, where a flurry of machines have automated a variety of his more mundane morning tasks: ironing shirts; toasting whole wheat vegan French toast with almond milk, vanilla and cinnamon; grounding and brewing his home grown coffee beans from his greenhouse. Alan takes a sip from his Cal Tech Alumni Fungi Mug. A wheeled drone the size of a small trash can appears from the other room with Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Alan flips it open to the page he left off on last night, walking towards the glass door balcony. The sliding doors open as he approaches the motion sensors, and Alan sits in his hammock the read his Russian literature in the orange glow of the post nuclear holocaust morning sun.
“Security and perimeter briefing prepared,” a drone said, as it hovers nearby the balcony while Alan sips from his coffee.
“How are my hedges, S.I.S.?” Alan asked his Security Information and Surveillance drone, the rotors whirring like a hummingbird.
“No new hostile encounters or sightings over last 8 hour cycle. Gates: %100. Mine field: 10/10 mines armed and unexploded. Flame pits—,” Alan waves his hand dismissively at the drone.
“Yeah, yeah, all’s quiet, I get that. Any mail?” Alan asked.
“One new voice message from Sarah: Need some Neosporin and advil, cut myself up while working on a project. Meet at Echo Park?” The drone plays back the audio recording. Alan smiles. Maybe today won’t be so lonely after all, Charlotte.
Alan quickly sips his coffee down to minor dregs, wolfs down a few bites of his toast, and button’s up his freshly ironed shirt. He goes back to the master bedroom to his closet. A wall full of Yeezy’s he had pilfered from Kanye and Kim’s house the month before last.
“Ok, Alan, you’ve got this. Super simple question,” Alan said to himself in the mirror as he puts pomade in his hair and spritzes a mist of Calvin Klein perfume on his neck and chest. “Got any plans for Dinner, Sarah? I mean, how could she say no, no one has dinner plans anymore, right?”
Alan takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
“Just be confident.”
Alan takes his survival poncho off the hook by the front door, picks up his pump-action shotgun and checks the ammo tube to make sure he reloaded last night. Then he opens the door and walks down his drive way. A mutated crow flutters to close to his side of the street. 3 drones break off from their patrols and gun down the mutated carrion in a hail of gun fire, falling to the ground with a dull thud. Alan goes over to it’s corpse, picks it up with a pair of gardening gloves and tosses the carcass into a barbed wire enclosure marked COMPOST, full of other various dead animals and waste products. Alan walks down the drive to the next house over, where Robert DeNiro’s mistress and secret boyfriend would meet him when he came to LA (Alan had found the diaries and photos. They actually made a very cute couple, he thought.). The glass solarium made for a wonderful greenhouse for Alan’s plants, and the underground sex dungen provided the ideal conditions for his mushroom colonies to cultivate and store his barrels of homebrew IPAs and wines. He unlocks the basement, walking down the stairs and to the cabinet marked NONPERISHABLES, MEDICINE, MAGIC THE GATHERING CARDS (NON GUEST GAME HOLOS).
Alan presses his thumb to the print scanner on the cabinet handle, and after a robotic chime pushes the latch aside and swings the cabinet open. He sorts through his medical supplies and finds the Neosporin and Advil, taking two tubes of the disinfectant and two bottles of the pain reliever, just in case she was downplaying how bad the cut was.
Alan locks the cabinet back up and climbs the stairs. As he walks through the solarium, he sees that a small wild flower had bloomed in his tomato and squash gardens. He plucks it from the soil and settling it into his chest pocket.
Alan walks through the barren wasteland of what was formerly the neighborhood of the Elite and Famous of LA. Alan tried to be a good neighbor and keep the yards fresh cut and well watered, irrigating desalinated and filtered water he piped-in from the a nearby lake, but could only afford to divert so much of the water he needed to survive and care for his food supply. He even had set up a system to recycle his own urine to stay hydrated and conserve water for where his neighbors use to be, but that only helped so much.
Alan takes a turn at the end of the block to the right and walks toward Echo Park. The tumbleweeds and dust wisps flit through what had once been a lively common area for Angelinos. Alan looks around, squinting into the sun. He looks up toward a gazebo to see a figure in a dark duster and hood standing alone, machete in hand. The figure’s hood has a crown of feathers and ivory bone spines sticking up from the facemask, and a string of human teeth and knucklebones around its neck. Alan walks up the hill, slowly and stops within a few paces. The figure undoes the latch behind the side of her head, and takes off the elaborate head covering.
“Nice outfit, Sarah,” Alan said. “Is that new?”
“Found an arts and crafts kit with some needles and thread, so I’ve had a little fun with it,” Sarah said, putting the headdress down along with her machete. “Didn’t have any scissors though, so I had to use my survival knife, and well.” She holds up a bounded hand, the bandages scarlet red.
“Got you covered,” Alan said, taking the supplies from his pocket. She undoes the bandaging and applies the balm onto the cut, then rewrapping the treated wound. Alan opens the pill bottle and hands her two tablets and his canteen.
“Thanks, Alan.” Sarah said, tossing back the pills with a mouthful of water. Alan says it’s no problem, fumbling with his words as he works up the courage to ask her out. Sarah pays little attention, asking him if he had seen any new comers enter the city on his drone surveillance. He tells her there had been no new sightings on his end.
“Damn,” Sarah cussed. “I’m down to my last reserves of those nomads I killed 3 weeks ago.”
“Well, funny that you mention food,” Alan segued. “I was wondering, what are your plans for dinner tonight?”
“Well, usually I leave the adolescent meat for a special occasion, but unless I come across someone out on the city limits I’m not going to have much choice.”
“Oh, no,” Alan clarified. “I meant, would you be free to have dinner with me…later tonight…together…?” Alan clears his throat, the words coming up in awkward chunks.
“Oh!” Sarah said, caught by surprise with the sudden proposal. Her mind goes back to the moment they first met. She had hunted most of the last survivors in the Valley, deciding to branch out and test her luck in the main city. She goes by the old Whole Foods downtown, remembering how her boss would make her spend hours in traffic just to pick up a brand of kombucha that was sold at the grocer’s next door to his office but not the specific flavor he wanted. She killed and ate him a month after the bombs had fallen. Lean, but with plenty of good, marbleized fatty cuts from the haunches.
Suddenly, a whirring noise builds and roars behind her. She whips around to see a pair of drones hovering, a belt fed barrel clicking as it armed itself.
“HOSTILE DETECTED,” ARV announced, wheeling up behind the drones alongside Alan.
“Protocol: First Contact,” Alan said, as the drones flank Sarah to each side, keeping superior position but otherwise settling to a less aggressive position. As Alan looks Sarah over, he can see from her appearance what her survival looked like: bloodied clothes, the tension in her stance, the machete full of nics from human bone.
“Are you a Roamer?” Alan asked.
“Roamers kill people for sport or money,” Sarah said. She didn’t have much tactical advantage in the situation, so not much could really be gained from lying. “I kill to eat.”
“You don’t have to,” Alan said.
“No one ever does.”
“If I let you go,” Alan said. “Would you try and eat me?”
“I don’t think R2D2 would like that very much.”
Alan smiles. “Protocol: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free.” The drones and ARV scuttle away, leaving Alan and Sarah alone unguarded. “I’m Alan. I live up by the Reservoir. What’s your name?” Alan extends his hand out to her.
“Sarah,” she said, looking sideways at Alan’s extended hand, not knowing whether it was a trap.
“Sarah,” Alan said, grabbing and shaking her hand. “Great to meet you.”
“You understand that I meant what I said. I eat people.” Sarah said. “Most…people I meet tend not to be happy they met me.”
“Yeah, sure,” Alan said. “And I avoid dairy, meat, and fish. I just don’t have a lot of neighbors now that the Roamers have been coming around, beggars can’t be choosers, right?”
“That’s a…pretty open-minded view, I guessed,” Sarah says.
“Nice,” Alan said. “Chaotic Neutral vibes and all around.”
Sarah enjoyed Alan’s company well enough. They mutually benefited from having an amicable relationship based on trade and not killing one another in their sleep. They also had some shared interests and hobbies, tastes in art and literature. They often enjoyed using SIS drones to blow up pretentious pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
And on a deeper level, they agreed that there were just some things and people that didn’t deserve to survive the apocalypse. Sarah had worked at the state legislature, and when the first bombs started to hit, her boss and a few coworkers hid together in a bomb shelter under the capital. It didn’t take long before congressmen and political big wigs started hoarding food, leaving interns out in the fallout to die.
When it became clear there would be nothing left to eat, Sarah started a revolt among all the aide that hadn’t gone mad from radiation, and they all killed and ate the big wigs. Alan’s story was different. He was just always different. Believed in alien abduction stories, spent days by himself as a kid out in the woods, collecting mushrooms and identifying edible berries and seeds.
They split the city down the middle, Alan taking Hollywood and the reservoir’s abandoned trendy neighborhoods, Sarah taking the Valley and East LA neighborhoods as her personal hunting grounds. Alan relied on Sarah to help scavenge for parts and other fixings that he couldn’t get his hands on within the area that his drones’ signal could reach, and Sarah traded with Alan for repairs to her own equipment and hunting tools, plus a safe-house for whenever a pack of wild dog-bear-elk sweep through town.
“I don’t know, Alan,” Sarah said, looking down at her feet.
“Just hear me out,” Alan said. “We’ve been neighbors now for over a year, and I’d just like the opportunity to get to know you better.”
“I eat people,” Sarah said, squinting at Alan. “I think that tells you a lot about me, Alan.”
“Yeah and I like Kale and Soybeans,” Alan replied. “But I also like coffee and reading. I’m almost halfway through that book you suggested, the one by Tolstoy. Despite what people use to say, we’re not what we eat…Well, you are technically. Just have dinner with me tonight. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Sarah begins to search for the words to put Alan down politely, but just can’t bring herself to dampen his enthusiasm. She relents and asks when and where.
“Come by the house around 6 later tonight,” Alan said, fighting the desire to pump his fist triumphantly.
“I’m not eating any kale,” Sarah shouted as Alan skips away.
“Don’t worry,” Alan shouted back from halfway down the hill. “You’re going to love the main course, I promise!”
Sarah sighs as she watches Alan jog off, spring in his step and a song in his soul.
“Fuck,” Sarah said out loud to herself. “I really don’t want to move to Palo Alto.”
I hope that you have enjoyed Dark and Silly Books first publication, The Cannibal and The Vegan: Part 1, from our short story collection, Stories from the End of Time! We want to bring you more stories like this, so sign up for our email list so you can keep in touch!
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