I was not alive at the time of the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption in the early 80’s, but those who lived through it will tell you how harrowing and life-altering it was. While it was a catastrophe that ended and upended lives, humanity bounced back relatively quickly afterwards. The story that Brian J Callaghan imagines is one of which where getting back to normal after such an event is intolerably difficult–if not full on impossible. Please enjoy,
Little Things that Kill
By Brian J Callaghan
With a bang, followed by a whimper . . .
“The theory started in 1998, the Toba Catastrophe Theory,” the man in the once white lab coat turned filthy grey sculptor’s smock seemed to plead and suggest simultaneously. He was wearing a pair of glasses, the left eye-glass shattered on it. His face was just as grey, the dust and coal-like ash filling in the cracks and lines in his face.
And, though one could tell by his voice and rapid movements that he was probably only in his late thirties, early forties, he looked to be about sixty, his hair grey, both from the dust and from a change in color, his back bent and rounded into a question mark, and his hands were shaking and then clenching into fists continuously, as if the man was choosing between letting them do what they wanted before trying to establish control over that which was his.
“Sorry Doc,” Frank Wilde suggested to the thin man. “I have no idea who Toba is nor what happened in 1998 that was so catastrophic.”
“No, no, no,” the doctor said, as if Frank had raised issue with his statement rather than testifying his ignorance. “Seventy-five thousand years ago, in Indonesia, a volcano erupted. No, no, no. Not erupted, but exploded. No, no, no, it detonated. And it was the second most forceful explosion in the history of volcanology,” the doctor went on.
“Volcanology? Is that like Doctor Spock shit Doc? Look. I’m just here to raid your food stash. Take what I can. It’s hell out there. And if we hadn’t found a bunch of dead soldiers lying around on Highway 6 with this map on them, I never would have known you were here in this mountain.”
“So the soldiers aren’t coming?” The Doc begged, obviously deflated.
“Maybe one or two survived, but who knows, know what I mean Doc? Yellowstone Park erupted, or exploded, or detonated six months ago, and well, law and order was nice for a month, but when that odd fog refused to dissipate; and when that never ending black trail kept its path going across the sky; and when things stayed cold and the grass refused to grow in my backyard; I think we all knew what was up. If my grass ain’t growing, then the wheat ain’t growing. The cows aren’t being fed. Then the supermarkets began to raise prices on some things, and stopped selling others. Beef, for example. Chicken they still had, but the prices went way up. And beer, well, beer prices went through the roof. And the worst part is, they told us that the water was too dirty to drink. I went to Mexico a few years back and they told us to drink beer to stave off Montezuma’s Revenge, that stomach poisoning kills us northern Anglos. Now, my government won’t let me drink water or beer.”
“My God, the soldiers aren’t coming,” The Doc repeated, Frank noting that he was obviously ignoring his spiel about the world out there. Frank studied the doc. Even though he was dusty and messy, he still did seem all nice and comfy in this hideout off the highway that Frank had driven on every day on his way to the office when people had non-pillaging jobs.
Those days of nine-to-five and living paycheck to paycheck seemed a million years ago, rather than the six months ago it actually was.
“So we can’t stop them.” The doctor pleaded, turning on a computer, probably the last one working in the world, and hitting several keys. “How far away did you say the soldiers were?”
“Couple of miles north, Highway 6, near the Wolf’s Head Road exit.”
The doctor kept typing. An image filled the screen, one obviously coming from the satellites in the sky, perhaps the only other thing functioning in the new world order. The doctor went around in circles with the mouse making the image clearer and clearer. The doctor looked back at Frank angrily.
“Hey, I draw the line at killing our troops,” Frank explained to the angry face. “My dad was in Vietnam you know,” he heard himself plead his case. “But, they’re the ones,” he continued, pointing at the soldiers on the screen, justifying himself, “who started taking food for themselves, considering what they do is more important than us feeding our families. Training guns on the hungry. Can’t say I mourned the lot on the road. Just can’t believe their killers didn’t see this map,” Frank said, pocketing the map.
He moved closer to the screen. The troops were still naked. He and his group had undressed them after taking the map. Frank, who was a large guy, took the uniform off one of the well-fed troops, a robust guy whose skin wasn’t going flabby and hanging down in the apocalypse. The uniform didn’t fit, it being loose, but still, on anyone else in Frank’s group, or on a marauding gang, or an army, they would have looked downright silly.
“You took the map, but left the soldiers in the streets?”
“Yeah,” Frank didn’t explain. He assumed they would still be in the streets, just he had never thought he would see them again. But the doctor, who was probably really some kind of scientist who Frank had mockingly started calling Doc upon entering, seemed naive. He acted as if there were good Samaritans out there who still buried, and even dressed the dead. Those who did even one of the two being of an extremely rare variety in the post-apocalyptic world. But still, Frank leaned closer to the corpses and saw that their corpses had been ripped to shreds, some now nothing more than bone.
“Their skin,” Frank begged. “It’s shredded. What the hell happened? Oh my God, is it some sort of plague? Is that the Toba Catastrophe? Is it in my clothes?”
“No, no, no. Your clothes are fine. Although I am sure plagues will be coming soon, if history is any judge.”
“What the hell are you talking about Doc?”
* * * *
When Yellowstone National Park detonates, rendering the Toba Catastrophe Theory proven correct, the world falls into darkness, its food stores rapidly empty, and a new world order of fear, bewilderment and chaos becomes the new norm. As bands of survivors join together or do battle for their next meal, a better defensive position, or even a spot on a cold basement floor, a new menace arrives. And soon a new reality settles in. If your former neighbor and your fellow man won’t kill you, then the little things that kill will . . .
About the Author:
Brian J Callaghan spent seven years working in the cold, cruel, and often heartless world of New York book publishing for Tor/Forge before chucking it all in and moving to Prague in the Czech Republic to start a family. However, after being blessed with two beautiful children, the allure of the lingering menace that is the art world proved too much and Brian now finds himself the Artistic Director and Head Playwright for the Prague Harman Street Players theater troupe. Brian would be remiss in not telling you that he absolutely adores the second act of his Life…