Apocalypse with pictures: Three

Dall-E generated

Sister pulls her boots on, grabs her day-pack and rifle and stands hesitant at the door.

Six weeks have passed since the family made Uncle Jacob’s cabin their home, if only temporarily. Father successfully maneuvered their SUV around the washed out bridge, which, on close inspection, stank of sabotage. The car sat, solar panels wide, batteries charged, in the driveway, wires from it snaking into the cabin providing electricity for light. The three adults had taken turns, in alternating pairs, inspecting the valley. They’d discovered six other homes, all ransacked, most with months’ old graves, twos and threes, scattered about each property.

“Where do you think the survivors went?” Mother had asked after having judged the last grave to be one of a child.


Mother towed a wagon heaped with scavenged items from the last home. “Somebody buried these people.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Father carried spare lanterns and an extra ax, all the while scanning the field edges for movement. “Middle of winter, mild as it was, must have been hard on everyone. Being alone. Most folks can’t handle it.” He’d paused and brought his binoculars to bear on a distant ridge where he spied fleeting movement, too far to tell what animal. “Bury your kin and go find other people, despite the sickness.”

The fact that their family had survived—considering that both the country’s electricity grids had collapsed, plus the mutated virus variant—Mother and Father considered their situation a blessing. Sister often wondered if the billions of dead were now the more fortunate.

Sister zips up her jacket and clears her throat. “I need a walk.”

“Father’s cutting wood and I and the kids are going to continue preparing the garden.” Mother had found rubber boots close enough in size for both Midge and Parker. “You shouldn’t go alone.”

Sister sighs and shifts her weight. “We haven’t seen a damn thing. No one. Nothing. Even the wolves have gotten bored with us.”

Mother sets her hand on Parker’s head. She purses her lips letting her silence fill the space between her and her daughter. “You’ve got the hand-radio?”

“And I’ll check in every hour.”

“Which direction?”

“Farther up the switchback. Past the house with the Scandinavian scroll-work.”

“Can I go?” Midge sits on the stairs, chin in her hands.

“Next time, kiddo,” Sister says quickly. I just need a little time to myself.

Midge harrumphs and stomps up to Parker. “Come on Parker.” She grabs his hand and tugs him out the back door. “We’re planting food for us to eat.”

“Since you’re going, we could use fresh meat.” Mother waves for Sister’s gun, checks the chamber, hands it back. “First sign of trouble, any…”

“Really?” Sister opens and steps through the door. “After what we’ve been through. What I’ve had to do. Who I’ve had to kill. You still don’t think I can handle myself?”

“As I was saying… Any stranger you see, don’t hesitate.”


“And don’t kill anything you can’t drag back.”

Sister smiles briefly and leaves. She cuts around the corner of the house and walks past her father. “I’m going hunting, alone. Anything in particular you’d like?”

Father considers his daughter’s tone. “Grouse would be nice. I dare say we’ve seen signs of wild boar.”

“This far north?”

“They follow the climate.” Father swings the splitting maul and sends the halves of a ten-inch pine log flying. “Did your mother OK…”

“I’ll see what I can find.”

“Well, be safe, then. Knock ’em dead.”


A mile and two switch backs later, Sister passes the blue shuttered house with alpine-sloped roof. The two graves in front glared dark at her. Unmarked, they still bare the same pattern of excavation as the others.

Who wouldn’t even try and identify their dead? Not even a simple cross.

She wonders about the occupants of the house and the graves. The small cottage felt like a retired couple’s home. The ancient Jeep Wagoneer remained under the carport, tires still full.

“I bet that thing would start right up.” Her voice startles a stellar jay that’s been watching her. “Janice and Sven, those were their names,” she decides. The jay alights in a deadwood spruce at the edge of the yard-gone-to-weeds, turns and regards her, its head cocked. Sister brings her rifle up and nestles the scope’s crosshairs on the bird’s breast. The nine-millimeter, despite being high-velocity, is no large game caliber. But, they have plenty of rounds, and at close enough range with an accurate enough shot, she knows she can kill nearly any beast that shows itself.

“Bang,” she says, sending the jay squawking into the forest.

Sister knows from the map that the road swivels up the mountain, disappearing before it crests the saddle between two white-capped peaks. At its end, snow still tucked into shadowy drifts beneath tall conifers, she continues straight past the dead-end barrier. There’s an obvious, drivable trail here.

To her right, miles down the valley, she can make out smoke curling from the chimney of their cabin. The scene sends a tightness across her chest. Everyone who means anything to her is down there.

The world is such a fucked up place now, she thinks. Was it always going to end up like this? Reverting to tribes, suspicious of others, hunting and gathering at the edge of survival? She’s experienced the varying thresholds of human decency. How altruism ebbs and flows, at one point sharing and saving each other, then, at the turn of the tide—the last sack of flour, the last can of fuel—reverting to savage selfishness. “Kill or be killed,” she quotes to the chill mountain air.

The dual-track ends and she continues her level trek along a footpath. Before her, between thick trunks of Sitka Spruce, she notices the horizontal timbers of an old cabin. From her vantage point, it seems degraded and empty. Closer, she cups an eye to a window, still intact, but dark curtains obscure the view. To this side the lack of activity indicates an abandoned hunting cabin.

She wanders around the uphill side.

“Stop right there!” An older woman speaks, dead serious, a shotgun held to her hip.

Sister’s own rifle had been held in the crook of her elbow. She knows the drill and squats, eyes locked, and sets her gun on the needle-strewn ground. She stands, arms half raised. “I… I’m Ellie,” she says and cracks her placating smile. “It’s great to finally see another human being.”

The woman, gray-streaked hair, hunched and glaring, jabs forward with her shotgun. “Ya don’t look sick. How is it you ain’t sick? Speak up, now. I ain’t afeared a you.”

“Immune. My whole family’s immune,” Ellie admits.

“There be more a you?” The woman glances furtively to either side. She shouts a hoarse command for others to show themselves.

“It’s only me. And I swear, I’m not here to steal anything or cause any grief.”

“‘Course you’d say that. Next minute, you’d shoot me in the back.”

“I would never…”

“How you come to be here? Ain’t a live soul for a hunnert miles.”

“Can you lower your…” Ellie nods to the gun. “Pump-action Remington and buckshot, am I right?”

“Maybe,” the woman says, as she lowers the barrel.

Ellie takes the time to scan this side of the cabin. Obvious signs of habitation show. Farther along the hill, bathed in bright sunlight, she identifies raised garden beds, fenced off with stakes and chicken wire. “Deer are murder on gardens, aren’t they.”

“Rabbits and those damn pigs. If I could kill me them pigs. They’re sneaky devils, bold n’ shy the same time.” The woman seems to transform, as if her suppressed social skills are now bubbling up through crusty hermit suspicion. “Bell-Marie Holsen. You can call me Mary.”

“Ellie Pollard, from New Mexico.” Ellie takes one step forward and Mary shuffles back.

“Stay away.” Her gun starts to lift. “I ain’t alive ‘cuz I’m stupid. You say you ain’t sick. But…”

“Yeah, sorry.” Ellie sees Mary eying her high-tech rifle. “It’s a semi-auto survival Beretta. You want to take a look?”

Ellie slowly retrieves and unloads her gun, stretches, with it butt-forward, to where Mary has no choice but to lower her own and grasp the composite stock. She hefts it, remarking on its light weight, slick lines, and yellow blaze down its side. Mary cautiously hands it back and presents her own, declaring that, sure enough, its an antique #870, owned by her father and his before that. Ellie notices the dour lines on Mary’s face have smoothed away.

“Been so long I heard another voice…”

“How long have you been alone?”

Mary mulls the question. “So we be right friends now, eh?” She takes a step sideways and walks the stone path that leads to the covered porch of the cabin. “Always been alone. But months since I seen another soul. Tea?” Turning, she holds out a hand, palm forward as Ellie moves to follow. “I’ll bring it out.”


The pair sit some distance apart on log-rounds as chairs. Mary admits to missing electricity, which Ellie now notices as a wire strung back to the road. The topics roam from End Days to the rich getting what they deserve, ending with family and the dead. Mary begins to speak of the homes and the graves in the valley, when Ellie interrupts.

“Oh, shit. I forgot to check-in.”

Mary squints her eyes. “Leave me out of it.”

Ellie lifts an eyebrow but shrugs. “Sister calling base. This is Sister.” Ellie shields the radio as if it were a phone. “Odd, third person bullshit, I know. But my brother and sister use it and we all got in the habit.”


“Yeah, sorry. Got busy tracking some deer. I’m good, though.”


“There are still a few hours left.”


“Gotcha. Sorry again. I’ll remember.”

Mary wraps her hands around her cup, now cold, and drains it. “I’ve got chores and…”

Ellie looks up from examining her own cup. Past Mary, past her garden, a tall, nearly white wolf, gray-tipped ears, stares straight into the primal core of Ellie’s humanity. She widens her view and three other wolves come into focus. “Mm… Mary,” she whispers. “Wolves…”

“What?” Mary shuffles her feet around to look. “Oh, that’s just Winter and his gang.”

“W… Winter? You’ve made friends with a pack of wolves?”

“Friends? Winter, maybe. But the others? No, not even close. But, they mind their business, and chase the pigs.”

Ellie bobs her head reflecting on this old woman’s tenacity and ability to cope in such a world. “He know his name? Should I worry about his gang while I’m hunting?”

Mary whistles and to Ellie’s alarm, the big wolf lopes toward them, his confident, fluid movements evidence of his lineage. He stops five paces from the women, lifts his nose and takes in their odor.

“He won’t bother you. But, if you leave the offal of any kills, the gang’ll learn to respect you. Not treat you like prey.”

Ellie shudders at the thought. She rises, sets her cup on the log and tips a non-existent hat. The wolf inspects her for a moment, turns, strides away and vanishes with his tribe into the brush.

“Wow. That’s something.” Ellie shoulders her firearm and takes her leave. “It was lovely to meet you, Mary, I have to get going.”

“About those graves.” Mary gathers the cups. She gazes out over the valley, the distant peaks have started to glow pink. “I dug ‘em, buried my neighbors.”

“The virus?”

“For the most part.”

Dall-E generated

4 thoughts on “Apocalypse with pictures: Three

  1. I sincerely hope you keep going with this one—I’m really loving it, especially the way you’re peeling back the layers. Some gorgeous prose here, and the characters are all exceptionally written 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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