Death of All the Salesmen
Genre: Apocalyptic, Horror
15 minute read | Short Stories | Fiction
By: Atman Brahman
The sun didn’t rise today… Pitch black days were upon us. Since the dawn of time, our ancestors made mortal sacrifices in dire fear of this very occurrence. Maybe we took it for granted too long that whenever we woke, we would feel the bright warming glow of our creator star looking over us. But at that very moment, an entire population’s ambitions, and an entire future, were humbly erased. A dismal, tormenting wave of hopelessness washed over all the forsaken souls of this creator-less eternity.
The chill of reality awaited his awakening. Entrenched in a vivid but safeguarded reflective dream world, illusion had embodied humanity’s oblivious gluttony, gullibility, and lack of vigilance and prudence on this deceivingly delicate greenhouse of glass we call the blue plant, or what’s left of its blueness. As Gabriel awoke from one subconsciously acknowledged illusory hell to this indisputably real hell, he felt an odd mix of emotions wash over him; An odd cocktail of fear, helplessness, inspiration to rise-up in a time of struggle, and a tinge of indifference. Although, mostly he was still in denial.
Wiping the tiredness from his eyes, Gabe had to triple check to assure himself he was not still dreaming. He looked at his watch for the third time in disbelief that it was 10am and still as dark as midnight. He fearfully tried time and time again to stop the thoughts of the entire timeline of all human existence, vanquished in meaninglessness and forgotten. Like the dinosaurs we will become oil reserves to be used or not as a commodity for some future careless glutton.
The phone rang, making his heart drop in surprise, startling him from his hazy blank stare.
“Yes?” He answered, with a slight crack in his voice.
“Where are you? You were supposed to be at work 2 hours ago and the boss wants your head on a stick!” Bryan spoke at him rather than to him.
“My alarm went off but I thought I set it wrong because it was still dark out. What the hell is happening?”
“We don’t know still. There is no power anywhere right now and we are trying to salvage anything we can from the refrigerated aisles.”
“This doesn’t look good Bryan. I have a very, very bad feeling about all of this.”
“Gimme a break! It’s not like it’s the end of the world man. I’m sure our president and all them powerful people are working on it and it’s not that big of a deal. They always figure it out don’t they? They are much smarter than us.”
“Jesus.” He hung up and jumped out of bed to get his clothes on. He was still trying to work his way up to regional manager at his job at the grocery store but this would not do him any good to be late for work, again. But he needed to see his girlfriend. Besides, his job may not exist in a short time. While driving to her house, his mind went mad.
Humans have always had a healthy obsession with the end times being lurking just beyond the shadows. Somewhere deep in the psyche or in the social aether it had been rooted since the dawn of dawns. There is a sense of togetherness maybe in joining our former brethren as death comes to us all, or maybe it is the archetype of death which is synonymous with the death of all, together. Absurdity only sets in once the philosopher comes to terms with how much of his existence he has spent contemplating not existing.
He could not escape the thought that this was our own doing, or un-doing. So many threats humans caused towards themselves: nuclear holocaust, artificial intelligence takeover, extreme over population, vast and irreversible pollution, accelerating climate change, critical resource strain and greater inequality bringing us to the ever-teetering brink of world war. Gabriel had played out action packed end-time fantasies many times before, but now he was paralyzed to what his first or last move should be. He grew up in fairly conservative rural neighborhood, and he knew of many “preppers” that would be deeply stocked for an event like this, although ironically those same people may still be in actively delirious denial of the inevitable unfolding of what has become of our infestation of this planet in the first place. Some, of course, believed that this event was the wrath of God for our terrible sins and sloth, although irrational in this post modern setting, it acted as an analogy to the more stoic explanation that nature itself is rejecting our sins against it.
Delirium has had a firm hold on humans since inception, in which a truth was never truly beheld, but iconized and ceremonially danced around. And here at this time, left and right, liberal and conservative were face to face with a newly resurrected manifestation of Miasma Theory in a sense, re-realized. A striking irony in that such obvious self-inflicted local pollutions can occur like in the past great stink of the Thames, or a more recent British Petroleum oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, but yet humans trick themselves into belief that they can conceive of a universe so vast when at the same time not quite grasping that our planet is not vast enough to have the luxury to simply “throw things away”. These problems aren’t just local unless you were to call Earth itself, local. A hypothetical extraterrestrial passerby would notice that even the space surrounding our planet is littered with “trash”.
Gabe’s stomach tightened up the more he considered the struggles and uncertainty that lay before him and his family and all those that he loved. His only thought at this point was to get to his girlfriend’s house and see her face, wishing desperately for her to tell him everything is going to be ok. He felt sick to his stomach and his anxiety choked his soul.
“Gabriel! What does this mean? What are we going to do? I have been worried sick about you.” Indra opened the door in tears before Gabe could even ring the doorbell.
With clammy hands, he immediately embraced her like a vice, trying not to show the sheer terror ripping him apart inside. “I don’t know what is happening but this is a very bad sign baby.”
“But how can the sun just disappear? Could God really be finished with humanity?” She said, wiping below her eyes with the sleeves of her shirt.
Gabe had never heard Indra talk about God before or express any real religious beliefs, but he was keenly aware of the common inference of God from people falling into the desolate philosophical abyss of existential crisis. “I am sure there is a scientific explanation for this. We can always trust in science,” he said, with an earie skepticism.
Indra’s father came strangely out of the woods from behind her house. He had a stern confidence but walked with apprehensive purpose.
“Indra!” His deep hollering came from the back door.
“Dad, where were you? I’ve been trying to get ahold of you but cell phone service is limited and only working through some central networks.”
“I have an important secret, Indra, that not even your mother was aware of when she was alive, but the time has come.”
“You can tell me anything dad.”
“Gabriel, you are special to my daughter and we will need your help. I need both of you to follow me.”
“You have my trust, Tom,” Gabe said with sincerity.
Gabriel and Indra followed her father into the woods behind their house to a densely wooded area where two large boulders were against each other with a small space below where they came together. Tom got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the opening and removed a dead shrubbery which he had used to cover the opening. He reached in again and unlatched a steel covering which lay beneath. He opened it and proceeded to turnaround and back down into the hole, descending a ladder. They followed in surprise.
“I have been building and stocking this since I was 23 and returned from the war. The world is so much more fragile than we are brought up to believe, or that we choose to acknowledge.”
“Dad, this is incredible!” Indra exclaimed with astonishment. “But why have you kept this from me all this time? I would have understood.”
Ducking his head in humble admission. “Your mother would have disapproved and I know that she would not stand for seemingly ‘wasteful’ spending when there were so many petty pleasures for us to invest in. It was my place to not only provide for my family, but protect them against all odds, and part of that protection is provided by total privacy, which is ever more important in times like these. I need you both to promise that you will not tell a soul about this place, ever.” His face became very serious.
“Sir, you have my word,” Gabe said, stone faced.
They looked upon the furnishings of this bunker with a feeling of insurance and security against all turmoil that could face them for now. Sleeping quarters for 10. Canned food that took up 3 whole rooms along with pallets and pallets of bottled water, in addition to the distiller that was installed in the kitchen. Multiple bicycles and rowing machines hooked up to an inverter and a large assorted 12V battery array which took up another whole room.
Tom led them through a few of the rooms into a control room towards the back of the bunker. He had various offline computer systems, along with all of the electrical controls and a C.B. radio as well as other radio communication devices. They continued to explore in awe of this secret facility as Tom turned on the equipment.
“Is this going to be our lives now Gabe?” Indra asked with a shaky voice.
“We can’t know for sure until we can find out what is actually going on. I mean, I want to find out that this is just an odd phenomenon that will blow over in a few days…” he said, trying to stay as optimistic as he could, for both of their sakes. “But I think we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that the world may never be the same.”
They ventured further into Tom’s secret fortress when they came to an unfinished section.
“It took me over 25 years to build this place you know,” Tom said with a booming voice, startling them from behind. “This is where I left off 5 years ago. I was starting to think it was me that was crazy, and not this world of naivety.”
“You were right all along, sir,” Gabriel acknowledged.
“God, how I wish I was not.” He hesitated a moment before asking his one and only daughter and her long time high school sweet heart to take a seat for what he was about to tell them. “They have been broadcasting on the emergency radio system that the worst has been confirmed. Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore have been completely wiped from the face of the Earth, literally. They are saying that Jakarta has also taken massive damage. The caldera of Lake Toba has erupted and is still currently spewing monumental amounts of matter into the high atmosphere. Scientists are saying that the astronomical shockwave and subsequent earthquakes and aftershocks are shaking the globe over and causing other volcanic activity, including Mount Mazama and Yellowstone caldera. The shockwave itself has wreaked havoc on much of the worlds electrical infrastructure.”
“But haven’t volcanoes erupted like this before? Mount Saint Helens happened and we are still here aren’t we? I don’t feel the sense that it was so earthshattering.” Indra said with an air of new hope.
“I remember learning about Mount Saint Helens in high school. It had devastating effects and was awesome in stature but I don’t think it had that much devastation globally,” Gabe said, seconding Indra’s optimism.
“I hate to break it to you two, but we are talking somewhere between 3000 and 5000 times the amount of mass released by this eruption compared to Mount Saint Helens. And that’s just the one eruption. I remember hearing legends from my grandfather about ‘the year without a summer’ and ‘New England’s dark day’ but I thought they were just legends. They had mentioned over the radio that ‘the year without a summer’ was because of an eruption from Mount Tambora on the other side of the world and that there were crazy temperature anomalies like frost in June because of it, killing wholesale amounts of crops world-wide, producing drastic famine and economic strain. And even Tambora was only about 40 times the mass ejection of Mount Saint Helens.”
“I think you should both hear for yourselves,” he said.
Indra and Gabe gravely followed Tom back into his communication room and listened to the various broadcasts. They listened to the harsh news that the volcanic activity had reached a critical point due to rising global temperatures. It was revealed that not only were the oceans full of unfathomable amounts of liquid water sensitive to volumetric expansion with rising temperatures, but also liquid magma and the gasses which are often saturated in it, building pressure in the core of the planet. It was discussed how events like this have happened on earth before and how it can also cool the globe in reaction, almost in natural compensation. But the speed of temperature migration in either direction, from human influence, and earths seeming violent reaction, is not hospitable to life in most of its forms.
“This fragile world was thrown into turmoil in the early 19th century by a tiny eruption in comparison. The world population was only about a billion people at the time of the Mount Tambora eruption and we may be on the brink of something much more devastating because of the sheer numbers alone. I fear for humanity.” Tom dropped his chin to his chest, taking a solemn sigh.
“This is different,” Gabe yelled. “We were practically cave men still in the early 1800’s. How can we even compare then to now? We have technology now which will ensure human survival.”
“But Gabriel, the future of mankind has to be earned, made, it is never certain. No-one will be sad if we are gone and it might already be too late.”
“He’s right Gabriel,” Indra said with tears streaming now. “We, as a species are very powerful, but only in relation to our past selves. We still have such horrible flaws which leave us vulnerable.” She exhaled a calming breath of acceptance and numbness.
Tom put his arm around his daughter. “The unfortunate truth is that masses will perish because of this. One of the most important resources, food, relies so crucially on the shining of the sun itself; A God, worshiped by so many of our ancestors. Sure, our technology can mimic it at minute scale, but the unsatiable demand, coupled with economic disparity will assure that only the richest will be able to afford to produce food without the sun, and that’s if mutiny does not consume them. The rest of us will be forced to scavenge, and with a population of nearly 8 billion anguished suffering souls, resources will diminish quickly. The scourge will be desperate, savage and putrid.” A shiver rushed through Tom as he came to terms with the very words that he was saying.
Gabriel could not accept this reality, and he felt blasphemous for even allowing such pessimism surrounding the 3 of them. At the same time his hands became clammy and he felt sick to his stomach while an outer body, after death vision flashed in his head of his own corpse rotting and being gnawed at by desperate, rabid, post-human children.
Months passed sunlessly and seamlessly in a dense fog of depression and despair. They had done all that they could to prepare the bunker and make it their new home in hopes to last through everything but the infrastructure was having major issues. With these issues the bunker was practically crippled and starting to flood without use of the sump pump. For the sake of their own sanity, and to assess the state of the outside world, Gabe and Indra decided to make a trip to the supermarket where Gabe had previously worked to get supplies for their still indeterminant journey for survival. It was gut wrenching to realize they now needed to leave their fortress and venture into the unknown obscurity. Tom agreed to stay and reiterated that someone needed to man the bunker to guard the remainder of their supplies.
Emerging to the surface, it was now like a dark foggy night with the moons dim glow barely peeking through the fog, but yet it was 2pm and that faint glow was not from the moon, but from the sun.
Although they wished to conserve fuel, they decided to take the pickup truck because they would need to haul any supplies they could find, and if possible, top off the truck with diesel. In just the short drive to the store they observed a land filled with no love, only decrepit human desperation. They witnessed homes raided, abandoned, and even one that was burned to the ground with seemingly no intervention; The embers were still burning. Ash was falling from the sky at times, slowly covering everything and making it a dark colorless void. Their stay inside the bunker had preserved the little optimism that they had and shielded them from this hellish revelation of a new reality. Little did they know, prisons and mental hospitals were now unmanned and so the most volatile and demonic of societies hidden away and forgotten souls were released into this lawless hellscape. Civilization in such a broad sense of the word, was just a delicate, pretty façade over a turbulent, brutal, barbaric purgatory that cared nothing for your screams and cries.
“What the hell is this?” Gabe shouted as they approached and a line of cars was keeping them from even entering the parking lot. Indra immediately became on edge, biting her fingernails. Neither of them expected things to be so bad so quickly. Gabe turned off onto a small unpaved path that he often would explore on his 4-wheeler when he was younger, and later in his teens when he would escape and hide out to smoke weed with his friends.
“G-G-Gabriel, I have a really bad feeling about this. I’m really scared.”
“I am too,” he said honestly. He immediately wanted to take it back, knowing that keeping one’s composure is critical in order to think clearly in his case, but also to keep Indra’s spirits up as much as possible. Sometimes the only thing truly keeping you going is an illusion.
Immediately he knew that things were off. There were often bon fires back here where friends would drink and party, but it appeared that someone had been camping out. There was trash spread about carelessly and the fire pit was damaged as if there was a struggle. There were bullet casings everywhere, and Gabe noticed from the corner of his eye, but did not look or flinch for fear that Indra would see that there was a dead body mangled and mutilated on the fringe of the camp site. He pulled the truck up closer the rear of the supermarket.
“Just promise me Indra, that you will stick to me. Let’s try to make sure we always have an exit strategy.”
“Can’t I just stay here? What if someone steals the truck?”
“Well it would be a lot worse if someone steals the truck, and you,” he said. “We need to stick together at all times, and we need to get whatever we can that will be of use for our journey.” His heart skipped a few beats as his conscience reminded him that they knew not where they were going, or their ultimate fate.
They approached the rear of the building and noticed 2 armed guards at the back entrance. Gabe had hoped it would be his ace in the hole, but somehow knew it was a long shot. As they circled to the side unseen, they noticed large crowds starting to become unsettled and pressing the armed guards at the entrance to the market. There were some remnants of grocery bags and some blood in one of the parking spots which appeared to be from a prior altercation. The store had inflated prices to ridiculous levels and was only allowing handfuls of people into the store at a time to keep from being overrun by an unseemly riot. But the crowd was about to burst.
In a moment of clarity Indra thought: Humanity is short sighted in the scheme of things and disillusioned by the outsourced consequences of such excess. Our big brains revel in the constantly calculated future, the proverbial apple on a string before the horse, but we are blind to that which is beyond our shortsightedness. Nowhere else in the universe do we see an animal so in awe of itself. Contemptibly, as a species that has thrived and proliferated on the very concept of cooperation and “love”, the realization is inescapable that everyone’s ego is a narcissist.
“Oh Shit!” Gabe said as he noticed a large pickup truck racing by them from their flank. It was picking up speed and the guards noticed also. The crowd started screaming and the guards backstepped closer to the entrance, eventually opening fire. The truck was being ripped apart by the barrage of bullets but it kept picking up speed before it tore through the crowd. Bodies could be seen flying up over the windshield while others were crushed beneath the large off-road tires. The truck proceeded to run over 3 of the guards with a gruesome trail of lethal bruises, lacerations, blood and body parts in its wake. It crashed through the entrance and kept going until it pinned the remaining two guards to the concrete wall nearly ripping them in half, killing them instantly. Some of the crowd fled in panic while much of the crowd rushed in behind the truck into the store. Chaos was unfolding before their eyes and Gabe knew that in a matter of hours this store would most likely be completely raided of anything and everything.
“Indra, I need you to trust me on this and stick to me. Do you fucking hear me?” He said with a stern voice, psyching her and himself up.
They approached the entrance and passed many groups of people brawling over push carts and carriages. Gabe knew that he could find one of the larger carts near the employee break room and so they moved quickly and as inconspicuously as possible. Indra pushed the cart as Gabe threw supplies into it wantonly. He dragged his arm across a whole shelf of health supplements, knocking them off and into the cart and kept moving, pulling the cart and Indra as he went. He knew this store like the back of his hand and he proceeded directly to pulling canned foods and then to snack bars to fill much of the cart, where he then proceeded to bottled water. The crowds were really picking up the pace and constant pushing and shoving was happening all around them. Indra was knocked to the ground by a 300 pound woman running by carrying armfuls of ice cream. Her instinct was to yell but Gabe grabbed her arm and put his finger over his mouth motioning for her to keep quiet and for them to stay as innocuous as possible. The chaos was dangerous, but also concealing.
Gabe hoisted 3 large 5-gallon water jugs into the cart while bumping into a few of the desperate souls doing the same. His eyes lit up when he turned around to the rack of vegetable and fruit seeds that was left untouched. He immediately tipped the rack over and shook the contents into the cart knowing that these and the water would probably be worth more than gold in this new reality.
“Indra, this is it. Let’s go! Don’t make eye contact with anyone,” he whispered to her through the noisy anarchy.
“Run!” She said.
They deliberately bolted through the bathroom supply aisle knowing that it would be nearly deserted. They could hear gunshots and screams coming from somewhere, but the ear-shattering gunfire was so loud it seemed to engulf the entire building. At the end of the aisle they slowed and Gabriel peeked through some of the items on the shelf. He could see that someone had been bludgeoned to death and trampled in the next aisle lying face down in a pool of blood. Another body lay not far from it, riddled in bullet holes. Looking beyond, he could see that the gunshots were being exchanged between some armed rioters amongst themselves, but also with the two guards which had left their post at the rear entrance.
Gabe glanced towards the rear exit and then at Indra and she nodded in acknowledgment. They both grabbed onto the cart and sprinted towards the exit. With adrenaline raging, both of their excitement was boiling as they pushed through the door and could nearly see the pickup truck where they had parked it. As they proceeded, Indra stumbled.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!” She let out a loud shriek.
Gabe turned, ready to help her up when he noticed that a gritty looking man had grabbed her from behind and knocked her to the ground.
“That’s a nice haul you two have there, or should I say, I have there,” he said. His voice was coarse and unstable. His eyes gleamed with the ire of a psychopath having nothing to lose and a thirst for taking. He held a large bowie knife to Indra’s chest holding her to the ground.
“Woah, my friend, please, it’s yours, I swear,” Gabe said with his heart pounding through his chest. “We don’t want any trouble. Please take it all. Just leave her be!” he cried. Indra whimpered in sheer terror.
“What else do you have?” The man said, grinning with is crooked animal like teeth. “Maybe I’ll just take her too.” He snickered as he smelled her long silky brown hair, and dragged the large blade between her breasts.
“We have a truck too. It’s yours!” Gabe said pulling the keys from his pocket and dangling them for the man to see. The mans eyes were drawn to the shiny keys like they were gold and as he looked up, Gabriel leapt at the man pulling his knife wielding hand from Indra. She rolled to the side and instinctively sunk her teeth into the mans other wrist as his hand was reaching for Gabe’s throat. He let out a vicious slur through his teeth. Blood gushed from his wrist as her teeth ripped a chunk of his flesh and the three of them continued wrestling. Gabe had pinned his knife wielding hand with one of his hands but the man was getting the upper position. At that moment Gabe found his other hand reaching up, deep into the mans eyes socket and brutally tearing outwardly, ripping the eyeball and eye socket meat from the mans face. His grip loosened on the knife as his blood curdling screams resembled that of a tortured hyena being euthanized. Indra quickly grabbed the knife and jabbed it in a twisting motion into his abdomen, rendering his body to a limp but convulsing state. Freed from his demented grasp, they both leapt to their feat and without words pushed the cart expediently to the truck, leaving the screaming corpse in its excruciating element.
That was long ago, and a new normalcy had now firmly took hold. Their journey to this warmer southern climate had been planned, but luck also aided in providing rare conducive weather patterns that allowed enough sunlight to resemble a New England November at times, even in the dead of summer. Their clan was still small but had been built with diversity and trust. A few of the younger men occupied the makeshift barrier walls, forever on the lookout for nomad bandits. A resurrected dark-age was newly paralleled. The walled micro city that they had formed protected their tightly knit dwellings, along with micro farms equipped with lens effect green houses necessary for even the hardiest of plants in this unhospitable volcanic winter. They got the limited power that they could with salvaged solar panels and human driven generators which they each dedicated a third of their days to occupying.
They gathered for a communal and ceremonial dinner. Tom raised his glass of homemade grain alcohol, made from distilled urine and gave thanks to all that attended. It was a fairly special occasion, that tonight they had a medium rare meat that was meticulously cooked and prepared due to the scarcity in which they encountered meat protein, and such a good cut at that, in this cruel age of extinction. The few that were in the know, who had previously grew up manning the walls of this city against intruders, knew that this steak was marbled so nicely because it was from a previously affluent person that had reached their most desperate and frantic abrupt end. They were unlike the majority that attacked which were skin and bone and weak from the engrossing and exhausting escape from the imminent grasp of death before they were precipitously dismissed from their infernal misery.
If we hadn’t cultivated such empathy over the past couple centuries it wouldn’t have been so scaring psychologically. It would be so much easier as savages to consume our own. When these so called “genetic bottlenecks”, or “dividers of man” happen, it is always those that embrace the savage darkness within, the most heartless and most vicious that survive and thrive.
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