Apocalypse with pictures: One

A lone family marches across the snowy landscape. The children delight in this surprise of white. They kick at the tufts of snow laden grass. Father smiles at their antics, recalling his own childhood and the seldom delivered freedom of a snow-day.

Sister shifts her pack and frowns. “How much farther?” She’s complained the entire trip as they trudged north, away from their abandoned vehicle, its battery finally dead, their destination a day’s walk.

“Look how sparkly it is,” squeals Midge. She selects another snow bump and sends a burst of crystals into the air, the bent stalks beneath spring straight, released from their burden.

Mother has been humming a tune about country roads. “A ways still.” She reaches down and scoops a handful of snow. It falls apart as she tries to pack it. “We’ll stop for lunch in an hour or so.”

Eventually, the temperature rises and the snow creaks beneath their feet, pressed to footprint-sized waffles behind them. As they come across a barbed wire fence, Sister and Father take turns clearing the path with bolt cutters. The deer and elk can manage, but livestock, bred without wanderlust, remain trapped on farms and ranches throughout the country. The two of them take this rewilding seriously.

Within a copse of cottonwood, the family brushes off the trunk of a fallen tree and sets up to eat: quick jerky stew with dried peas and carrots.

“I sure hope your mountain home has better food.” Sister flicks the propane stove to life. “I could go for a peanut butter sandwich right about now.”

Parker, the youngest, brightens. “Pweanut butta? Do we have that?”

Mother dips a camping pot in the trickle of a nearby stream, its crystalline waters suspect. She sets it on the stove. “Soon, Parkie. And yes, ‘Sis, there’s plenty of food at the cabin.”

“I want pweanut butta.”

Sister grins thin-lipped and sheepish. She mouths to her mother, ‘sorry’. “Stew for now, Parkie,” she says as she trickles a cascade of dried ingredients into the pot. “But pweanut butta is on the menu for tonight.”

The boy smiles guileless at his big sister, his cheeks the color of strawberry jam.

Father has been scoping their trail, fore and aft. “Mother,” he says, motioning her to his side. He tilts his head to hers. “We’ve got company. Wolves.” He seems nonplussed at the prospect. Fully prepared, he and his wife and their adult daughter each carry a collapsible survival rifle and sufficient rounds of nine-millimeter ammunition.

“Of course,” she murmurs. “Can’t enjoy a trek across a desolate hellscape without predators seeking to eat you.” She bumps Father’s shoulder in playful camaraderie. “I suspect they’re just curious. Not many folks about to disturb their dominion.”

“You’re prolly right.” Father trusts his wife’s intuition implicitly. She’s saved them again and again in the turmoil of the aftermath.

“But,” she taps the pistol at his hip, “better safe than dinner for a pack of nosy wolves.”

He kisses her and wraps his arm around her shoulder. “Is that beef stew I smell?”

Full but unsatisfied, the family packs up, fords the meager creek and continues on their way, Midge in the lead. At a road that slices across the valley, she bends and forms a snowball, drops it and begins to roll it larger. “Look at this. Can we make a snowman?” She glances back at Mother not bothering to plead with Father. “Please?” She’s removed her gloves and her fingers are pink popsicles.

“Where are your gloves, young lady?”

“I’ve got ’em.” Sister motions Midge close and helps her into them. “I vote for a snow-woman.”

Midge grins at the thought.

Mother checks her phone. There’s no service of course, hasn’t been for half a year, but the solar-cell on its back keeps it charged. The map app, fully downloaded, with terrain and surface roads marked, have kept them on target for months. “Twenty minutes, and then we have to hustle. The sun will set in about four hours.”

“We still have at least eight miles to go.” Father keeps peering over his shoulder.

“Then you’d better get busy.” Mother tosses an icy ball at his head. It misses, barely.

“Hey, now. Give a guy some warning.”

“Like they ever give us any?”

He knows what she’s referring to, last week’s attack. Fortunately, the brigands, poorly armed with machetes and axes, had not anticipated resistance from such a small band.

Their family had managed to travel, folded solar panels atop their large SUV, charging by day, driving by night, the entire way from New Mexico. The morning before this latest attack, they’d parked—after driving slowly for ten hours, the slower they went the farther they’d go—at the edge of a rail yard, the panels set to catch the morning sun.

Lacking any sense of stealth, six ragged men had flopped out of a boxcar and run at them, across the tracks, yelling hysterically. But they seemed confused that such a vehicle could exist in their world given what had transpired. They stopped a convenient thirty yards from the car and rocked back and forth, shouting obscenities, their weapons hanging heavy in their hands.

The noise had startled Mother awake. Father sat wary, staring at the hollow train cars, the early morning mists lending malice to the scene.

“‘Sis, can you make sure the kids’ ears are covered?” Father ratcheted the receiver confirming the gilded round within. He nodded to Mother and they stepped from their SUV. Lessons learned from countless trials, they raised their rifles and killed the rogues. Only one tried to escape. The others, apparently accepting, perhaps wishing for their own personal end, stood and died. The last one didn’t get far.

Over time, Father’s reconciliation with murder resolved itself to mercy killing. “These creatures no longer represent humanity,” he’d said to himself. How Mother justified such acts, he’d resigned himself to never knowing; the answers to some questions, he thought, should remain unknown, unknowable even.

Sister plants two large bosoms on the snow-woman that stands a foot taller than she. She lifts Parker who sticks two dark rocks as eyes in its face.

Midge smoothes the roughness from the sculpture’s base and stands back. “She’s so pretty.”

“I name thee Snow Queen. May your reign be long and peaceful.” Sister high-fives both her siblings.

“Yay, Snow Queen,” Parker says with a little dance.

“Say goodbye, now.” Father helps Sister with her pack. “Let’s get into the foothills, pronto.”

Parker and Midge step reluctantly forward, each twisting back repeatedly to gaze at their artwork. “Bye, Snow Queen,” Midge says softly, her knit cap dragging in the melting snow, wisps of her golden hair drifting fairly-like in the quickening breeze.

They reach the first of the spruce trees that guard the road leading up into the hills. Father pauses to gaze behind them. The wolves had kept at it and now circled the snow-woman, the males taking turns to cock and piss on her. He turns back, disgusted. “Fucking wolves.”

Dall-E generated

13 thoughts on “Apocalypse with pictures: One

    1. Thanks for reading and your supporting comments.
      Question: This was told present tense, with a bit of a detached POV. What’s your thoughts on that? I was considering redoing it in past tense to see if it felt better — there’s something a bit off with the telling. Wonder if you thought the same.
      To “glass” is to use binoculars to scan a terrain. It’s a military, ops or hunting reference.

      Liked by 1 person

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