For Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: An Uncharted Apocalypse:
He fumbled with the little packet of cheese and crackers in the empty store. The whole place smelled like rotten meat. The few items that hadn’t been cleared out in the final surge of panic had gone bad months ago. Now the only food worth taking were items so processed that they barely qualified as food, but were still edible and had at least some nutritional value.
He tossed a box of Twinkies, a few unopened bottles of water and a couple cans of pork and beans into his backpack. He shouldered the burden as he headed out of the abandoned store, looking over his shoulder at the empty aisles and dead overhead lights. He walked out across the abandoned parking lot to the street he’d been walking since he’d woken up and realized he was all that was left.
He was keeping his eyes open for some form of radio, but even if he found one he wasn’t sure what good it would be. Transmitters needed power, and power wasn’t something most people had anymore. When the oil reserves ran dry, people were told that other means of fuel would keep things going until a solution could be found. The eggheads rolled out better solar-powered cars and hydroelectric plants but it was too little too late.
Folks had started knifing each other over a gallon of gas. Prices at the pump skyrocketed. Those that could took portable generators and a few belongings and headed for the hills. Scientists scrambled to find a solution but bureaucrats whined about government subsidies going to them while people went hungry, and special interests whispered in their ears about there being no profit in philanthropic science. One by one, the sources of power the world depended upon disappeared. Power went out all over the world. The food in the stores went bad, hospitals could no longer treat the sick and wounded, governments shut down and corporate stock was useless.
He opened a bottle of water and drank as he walked. He wasn’t sure why he was the only one left. He wasn’t anyone special, just a contractor that didn’t mind heights. He’d worked on a lot of the tall buildings around him. What would happen to them now that they were empty? The wind howled quietly through the streets and between those buildings, giving no answer.
He figured he’d keep walking until he found someone, one of those families that had taken a camper and portable generator into the woods and hills. But he knew he wasn’t the only one who’d had that idea. People followed the smart ones who’d skipped town at the first whiff of trouble, some with money that no longer had any meaning, some with weapons to simply take what they wanted.
A bit of broken glass shattered under his boot as he passed a storefront. Its front window was smashed, a few of the TVs missing. He smirked. The looting had started when the newsreaders sagely told the public that there simply wasn’t any more oil to be had. The scientists and hippies had been right, they said between the lines, and we’ve gotten ourselves good and screwed. People did what they always did: they panicked. In their panic they started taking what they wanted, things they’d never been able to get when the world made sense, and since it didn’t make sense now, why should they? A Blu-Ray player might have been useless when the power finally died, but there’d have been some good movie marathons until then.
Rummaging in his pack, he pulled out a Twinkie. He knew he had to pace himself, as this food needed to last him until he reached the next store. Still, the sweet cream in the middle of the sponge cake lifted his spirits a little. Maybe he wasn’t the last man alive. Even if someone was willing to take a shot at him when he found their little cabin or trailer or whatever, at least it would mean he wasn’t alone. The rows of silent, impotent cars and apartments all around holding the dead was beginning to unnerve him.
He spent the night in an abandoned bookstore. He made a fire with some of the conservative periodicals and newspapers and sat by it to read. He read about aliens coming to earth, about mighty earthquakes and meteors smashing cities and giant bugs. He had to laugh. The end of the world hadn’t been anywhere near that dramatic. Humanity had simply not planned far enough ahead. Every time they’d drilled for more oil, they’d cut their own throats just a little more.
Sleep was fitful and short. He was up before dawn, cooking his pork and beans before putting his fire out and walking away. A few hours of hiking later he came to the river. It was small, only a few feet wide, but he still took the time to find a bridge. When he crossed, he noticed something. A few months before, the trees and undergrowth had been ten or so feet from the shore. Now, green growth and vines were spilling down towards the river, like thirsty men groping for water.
Nature was taking back what was hers.
He looked back over his shoulder. Soon the stone and brick buildings would be covered in vines. Trees would spring up in the streets. Birds would nest there and animals would make their homes in used game stores and fitness centers. He smiled and turned back to his path.
A bear was standing in it.
It was a big, black, shaggy thing, rising up on its hind legs and smelling the air. The man swallowed, standing still. He wondered when the bear had last eaten, then thought it’d been stupid not to look for a gun store or at least pick up a knife from the grocery store. The bear came down onto all fours and tensed to charge. The man closed his eyes.
Nature’s such a fucking bitch sometimes.