After it All - Short Story
J. J. Hanna © 2021
Folks tend to have apocalypse plans. Especially the doomsday bunker-in-the-basement, shotgun-in-the-closet types of folks. Me? I’d never even come close to assuming I’d survive at all when the day finally came.
So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up one morning and found people were trying to reinstate a government.
They’d gone back to the founding documents, made some minor adjustments for the times, and they were running a new election for the survivors.
Hell, if they hadn’t been flying around with a microphone in a helicopter, I wouldn’t have had a clue there were even other people out there.
But I’ve gotten kinda used to my simpler way of living. I don’t miss going to work for a corporation that only pretends to care. I don’t miss going to large group gatherings. I don’t miss following someone else’s orders.
In fact, I really enjoy waking up whenever I want, going for my beginning of the day walk, collecting a few berries here and there along the way for breakfast, stopping by the creek to bathe, and then returning to my little camp.
It was just me. Everyone else had split off years ago, or worse. The Almosts got them. Back when this all began, I’d wanted society to return to normal. I wanted my job to be secure. I wanted society to be secure.
But the more things fell away, the simpler my life became. I still remember the day my watch battery died completely. I still wear it, but it’s forever stuck at 6:17 pm. I don’t have a clue if that’s anywhere near the right time. Time was made up, too, you know. How could it possibly be every hour at the same moment across the globe? No. That was just a construct to give what was left of society some semblance of a feeling of control.
Now? Up until the new government took a stab at calling out the stragglers like myself, time hadn’t mattered. I slept when I was tired, I ate when I was hungry, and I changed my own scenery whenever I wanted to.
I was my own boss, and if I wanted to lay around all day, I could.
I never did. I got too bored. But I found other ways to pass the time. I wandered. A lot. It took me a long time to find a place I wanted to call my home—close enough to water, food, and shelter. Not to mention the views. The views were spectacular. To watch the earth reclaim what humanity had stolen—Denver was a ghost town of vines and trees, the kind of plants no one ever thought could grow in an arid climate like this one.
This is exactly why that helicopter got my attention.
That helicopter marked a possible return to society as we knew it.
And like it or not, I had to go investigate what they actually meant by it. Maybe they’d found a cure for the Almosts. Not that it mattered for the ones who had died. But if we could round up the others and fix them . . . Then again, as society declined, so had the Almosts. With no one else to infect, it left them to their own devices. And slowly, they died. They didn’t want to eat anything else. They couldn’t adapt. So maybe, rather than a cure, there were simply no others left.
I wasn’t the only hesitant investigator at the scene of the vote. As I approached and crouched behind a bush, a voice from the other side of the bush hissed, “Go find your own bush. This one’s mine.”
“You’re not so sure about this either, than?”
“Me? Sure? No. Never. But I can say that if someone is going to bring society under control again, I want to know where they’re going to do it so I can stay far, far away. Now leave me and my bush alone to watch in peace.”
I couldn’t say I blamed them. I got up and found a different bush a little closer in. People were starting to gather out in the open, watching each other warily, like most of them couldn’t quite believe it was actually safe to gather again.
And they were right. How could it be safe? Just because we hadn’t been hearing about any new instances of the Almosts didn’t mean they weren’t out there, waiting for something like this to start the whole thing over again.
I was hit simultaneously by the strong feeling that I shouldn’t be there and that it was also too late to leave.
“Thank you for coming today! You’re doing the world a great favor by stepping up and stepping back into your roles as citizens. Believe me, I know after such a long time of separation, it will take some adjustment for us all to readjust to what life together looks like once more. Like me, you probably mistrust your fellow man. After all, the Almosts look like us and move among us. How could we ever know if someone is an Almost or if someone is not? We’ll just have to take our chances. Humanity cannot survive alone. We need the skills and the devotion of the many to support the needs of the whole.
“You’ve all discovered new skills you never thought you’d have. I want to give you a vision of what the future can be—a future safe from the Almosts where we can return to living lives of leisure together. I plan to rebuild Denver as a haven city, a place where those of us left can live in peace together. We’ll have the resources to support ourselves, and we’ll build walls so the Almosts can’t get in.”
“Excuse me!” one of the people brave enough to stand in the crowd called out. “How will we know who to let in? How will we know who’s safe and who’s an Almost?”
“We’ll run a dietary test. For a three week quarantine period, we’ll feed new arrivals freshly grown fruits and vegetables. As we all know, the Almosts only eat one thing. If a new arrival can’t pass the test and survive for three weeks off of the food we give them, they will be turned away for the safety of the many.”
The same man called out, “And who will be in charge of this? You?”
“Do you see anyone else rushing forward to return society to normal? To offer a plan for those of us left out to dry, alone in this world?”
A woman rose her voice from the crowd as well. “Those of us willing to survive have learned to do so without the help of others. Why should we share your weight?”
“Are you not lonely? Do you not miss the days of watching TV shows together, curled up on the couch of your home without worrying whether or not you’ll be attacked in the night? It’s not that the danger wasn’t there, but rather that the worry wasn’t in the forefront of your mind. I long to return to that reality, not this bleak horror we live in now. And it would be possible. This plan I have will work.”
“How do you know?” the man asked.
“Why should we trust you?” the woman called.
“I’m your only hope. There are segments of the city that could easily support our life sooner than later. There were gardens before. The plants are all still there, untended, bearing fruit as they will do with or without human involvement. It’s all ready. Are you ready to return to the safety of numbers?”
I watched the people, waiting for someone to make a move. But everyone else seemed to be waiting like I was. So far, there had been no sign of the Almosts I’d expected to see by now. So maybe, just maybe, he was right.
Maybe after it all, it would be possible to return to life as we’d known it. Maybe not all the way—with our experts and scientists and workforce demolished. But the segment of humanity that still survived . . . There were ways we could get older technology back up and running. And if there were any other humans out there, the battle for our humanity and our planet and our way of life was just beginning. We could reach the others if we tried . . . And maybe, maybe if we tried, we could return to normal.
People weren’t going to stop dying from the Almosts. Not yet. Not until we had a system in place that could protect us and study them. But maybe . . .
I left my hiding spot and approached the crowd. Everyone turned, defenses raised almost immediately at my presence. I understood why. It was the same reason I hadn’t gone near the crowd until now.
“I’m ready to try. Nothing will change until we change something. I’m still scared. And I don’t want to die. But I’ve lost enough to the last few years. I will come to the Haven with you.”
I could feel their eyes on me. But slowly, one by one, they all came to the same conclusion I had. And those of us who had heeded the call of the helicopter man began the slow journey into Denver to reclaim what we needed to survive.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in any way. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real life events is unintended by the author.
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J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her making YouTube videos and Online Courses about the publishing industry. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.