by Josh Dale
Summer 2043, unknown location. Last marker: 100 miles west of Reno, Nevada:
Am I trapped in a polyethylene dream? Or is this fragmented reality, truly, really? It’s hard to discern these days because there is no such thing as a dystopia, only normalcy. I am the consequence. This desert, my grave. When will it stop? I’m coughing blood now. The shrub is nearly dead. It’s gone, all gone. Denver is destroyed. Please—
Winter 2039, occupied in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO:
My dear reader, whoever that may be. This journal was once filled with pages from my youth, held delicately to my eyes only. However, those years, that innocence, is lost. Now, this is the final hope to reverse the sins of our past and to learn from them. I, Katya Burke, daughter of Lance Burke the Messiah, have documented roughly seven years of detailed accounts of the fallout, travelers from the east, and aspirations for the future. Those documents are locked in a lead-lined safe at the abandoned warehouse ten miles outside of Kansas City, Missouri. It is where my father first discovered the shrub. Look for the blast door next to a boulder. The passcode is 6-25-32, the day of The Flash. These documents must be acquired before our race reconvenes in California. It must be taught to all the future generations. It is not folklore, but our history. Nothing beyond matters anymore. We shall be doomed without it.
If I am to die or unable to continue on my trek, please, take this and the seeds with you. Guard them with your life. Do not put the seeds anywhere on your stomach, for they are safer from gunfire. Do not cultivate them, no matter how tempting. I will have two dwarven plants with me and my company so we can survive. Their lifespan is engineered to last us the entire journey, but one can only assume for error. In the next few pages, I will summarize my accounts and a brief history of what I remember from The Flash onward. Adults, this is our shared present. Youths, this is our catastrophic past. I beseech you to make haste by any vehicle you can. Save your weary bones for paradise, my friends, for we are destined to arrive.
After The Flash, the sunlight turned a hazy green—if visible at all—and the plants became exhausted within the seared, arid earth. Insects are extinct, all of them. I am uncertain of the disposition of the fish, for I live deep in the heart of the mainland, yet wanderers from the coast claim it to be inhabitable—the ocean is but orange and still. Wildlife has become scarce, potable water even scarcer. Any living animal is fair game, but one must be able to inspect them thoroughly. If their eyes are purple and their fur is patchy, you ignore them—hell, run away from them. The tiniest of bites could spread the condition rapidly through the blood, which consequentially eliminated the fowl, bovine, and suidae. We are left with the non-perishables now. One plays a dangerous chance with the rabbits and squirrels, for I've seen plenty wither away from digesting the radioactive meat—a likewise situation with the sitting water, however, there are trace, unaffected springs deep underground. Those are normally inaccessible to most, for even if you step on the grounds, an anonymous bullet whistles deeply into your skull.
Rogue militias roam the towns scavenging for food, supplies, and able-bodied men to join their ranks. They leave the dead and injured as they are, for the rancid atmospheric concoction quickly infiltrates open wounds and produces horrific gangrene. It overtakes the body fully within three days. They burn the buildings, though. I assume it is a tactic to leave us wanderers out in the open—to pillage whatever supplies we may be carrying. But for the sake of our safety, whenever we passed through town intact, we kept on moving. A lone ember's intensity is magnified significantly, so much so, that pure steel becomes melted within an hour. If it's not the smell of corpses that will asphyxiate you, the sulfur will.
You would think the world governments would’ve done something—to collaborate and assist their fellow man. Well, there are some safe havens. These pastures of life still remain, as if they were manufactured purposely with the most advanced bioengineering money could buy. That’s where they fled—the elitists—who, in a preceding attempt to save the human race through untruthful political gatherings, abandoned all of us a day after the catastrophe. The televisions stopped streaming, radios ceased, federal buildings shut down. For the aforementioned us, well, we were given no sense of hope or reprisal. We were the damned.
The nation has since dubbed a new epoch: The Second Life. To put this in perspective, there is now a generation of children that do not know what a leafed tree or a cow is; that have not seen the sun and blue sky as it has been prior. Throughout the years, we, as a collective, achieved the homeostasis that we desperately strived for. Our habitats were found within the forest to the east, sans shrubbery and canopy. An unmarked spring was discovered that was previously untouched by the militias but was discovered by one of our own geographers—at least that’s who she claimed to be in The First Life. The logs of dead trees were simple to whittle down and provided sturdy protection from the violent gusts that circulate in and around the forests. We established a microcosm by the spring—a community of dependents in which we were able to dig up and extract a simple irrigation system. We birthed our children, taught them survival skills, and instilled values that we once held dear through literature—whatever quantities that weren't burnt.
My father, in The First Life, was an environmental chemist in Kansas City. When the news surfaced, the harbinger of the decaying earth, he shifted perspective within his laboratory. He would be gone for days at a time, immersing in his monitoring devices. Initially, there was a spike in carbon monoxide in the air, choking the city dwellers until the skyscrapers were but barren and hollow. He and a large collective of manufacturers salvaged all the material they could and literally locked themselves in the factory about ten miles from town. They were gone for two months. Utilizing the sophisticated filtration systems, they were able to scrub the air in the entire plant, while still generating electricity and expelling exhaust outside. The ’good’ militia guarded them as much as possible with an improvised barracks, ousting off the weary and damned with the crackle of bullets and carbon. When they reemerged, and the locks were blown off the door with explosives, they carried a plethora of gas masks, Hazmat suits, and thirty ‘bio-domes’, which were revolutionary spectacles and unseen before in the history of man. It’s surprising what man can do when money, time, and resources are no longer a factor, almost as if The First Life was saving their techniques for such a catastrophe. They reached out on CB radios to townsfolk and travelers that sought sanctuary, and all seemed well, until The Flash. Things just got worse, extremely worse.
In The Second Life, he became a hunter-gatherer, using his botany skills to clone mutated plants in his sparse laboratory. After years of strenuous labor, and the onset of pancreatic cancer, he created a new strain, dracaena oxigenico-Americana—or 'shrub' to the locals—that became our saving grace. The plant feeds off the polyethylene’s and replaces the dangerous molecules with pure nitrogen and oxygen. Once word spread, many people from all over the state came crawling to him for help. The plant quickly went underground, as private institutions sought to mass produce the plant to secure city-wide bio-domes. But then the platoons came, in their black garb, and forced them all to desist. They swooped in like ravens, with big guns pointed at the greenhouse. My father refused, by stepping out of the building, completely nude. So they shot him, and like his predecessors, he returned to dust before I could even grieve.
Summer 2041, location unknown. Last mile marker: 50 miles to Denver, CO.
The group was split up when the Humvees were spotted. A couple of runners were gunned down. Luckily, I mustered the strength to scale up this cliff. Here I am now, hundreds of miles away in the Rocky Mountains, with a handful of seeds and one of two cultivated dwarf shrubs tucked securely away in a biodome; Katya has the other, wherever she is. Oxygen is running low. I’m gazing down from a very high peak, with the wind swirling into the precipice. and I do not experience vertigo. The high is coming on again, and I can almost see the influencing haze in various shades of yellow in the distance. The remaining trees are drowning in pollution or petrified. This once majestic gorge is now a shadow, whisking away in the wind. I pull out my dirty mirror. My thinned hair drapes over my protruding shoulder bones. My eyes are deep and lifeless. I look sick. I am sick. I am—sick of this way of life, sick of this entire world. All I do is run.
Morning. I heard engines. I heard shouts. I don’t have to turn around to know that the platoon has finally caught up to us. I emerge from my shelter to the stomping of feet, the cocking of rifles. There’s Katya, nude and unafraid, with her back to another cliff. She holds a biodome close to her emaciated body. I look back, frown at my biodome. The soldier's whistle and pant like rabid dogs. They, too, are weak. They want to devour her down to the bones. They will do the same to me when they get to me. She stands, un-wavered, ready to die.
She shuffles backward, their guns perk higher towards her head. They instruct her not to move, yet she shuffles closer to the ledge. They panic, moving closer. They try to coerce her with fake smiles and maleficent hands. Some are angry, shooting bullets into the ether. She shakes her head defiantly; her hoarse, yet sharp screams reverberate like dynamite. She does not weep. The men close within twenty feet. All the while, as I am engrossed in her plight, I mumble incoherence. Mother Earth calls me by name and her speech is hypnotic.
“Miss Burke, please. Hand us the plant and you will not be harmed, I promise. We have room and food for you at the base camp. Don’t be like your father.”