Back when I was a kid, I would always hear all of these excitingly horrifying anecdotes about the apocalypse. It was like some lonely writer was crouched over their computer just typing away as they concocted the zaniest theories that one could imagine, then they spread the theories throughout the lunch room in middle school to both entertain the students, and freak out their parents.
For the most part, it was a lot of fun, trying to figure out how humanity would kick the bucket. Everyone had their own ideas of what would happen, but we all put them to the side and get swept up in the latest doomsday fad.
It started out slow, but then picked up momentum as the years flew by. Alien Invasions, Y2K, Global Warming, 06/06/06, the end of the Mayan Calendar in 2012, Killer Asteroids, the entire Trump Presidency… it went on like that for years until eventually, the collapse of civilization finally happened.
I never would’ve imagined that a mistake I make would be what set things into motion that eventually destroyed Western society, but then again, everyone considers themselves the hero in their own story, don’t they? No one realizes they’re actually the villain until long after the car has launched off of that proverbial cliff, and boy, did I launch that fucker.
The wasteland isn’t this wonderland of leather-clad, muscular warriors that one may initially picture when visualizing the after-times. Most souls, besides the most eccentric, are not dripping from head to toe in various S&M gear like in Mad Max franchise. It's easy to tone your calves by the sheer amount of walking you'll inevitably engage in when searching for sustenance, however that's about the extent of it.
Honestly, exercising is a bit of a challenge nowadays. You can occasionally find a Bowflex or a squat rack in some of these abandoned homesteads if you're desperate enough to try and pursue that avenue. That being said, you'll probably have more luck with scoring that sort of thing in a city or maybe even the suburbs, not that I’d ever recommend you go to these types of areas. Your “gains” aren’t worth the risk of venturing out into such a warzone.
Various warlords and factions are all still actively vying for control of every house, block, and street in the major cities, and each have had varying levels of success. If you’re caught by one of these rival groups, you’d better hope they need a soldier or even a scavenger, because otherwise it’s off to the Powerplant with you, where you’ll peddle your ass off on some fitness bike attached to a generator 24/7 so that Lord Greg can microwave his hot pocket or charge his electric Hummer.
The same Hummer that Greg drives a half a block up the road, where he ends up getting assassinated for daring to travel past the Exxon-Mobil Station of the High King Rico without paying proper dues. Before Greg’s body is even cold, Rico invades Greg’s land and lays claim to his new dominion, the Dollar General and the adjoining clump of stores, and just like that, you end up ass-up in his creepy sex dungeon that he keeps hidden in the basement of the Exxon. You won’t be there long, of course. You’ll soon end up executed by a jealous Queen for being a little too good at tugging out her husband’s ‘royal milk’.
At least, that’s how I imagine things usually go in the cities.
The wastelands are plenty dangerous, but so much more navigable. With more open terrain, coexistence is easier, for the most part. Little towns have cropped up, alliances have been formed, and treaties signed by groups of people just looking to make peace. There’s still the odd Stalin that’ll spring up, trying like mad to kill and invade every place and person around them just for the sake of doing it, but overall, it’s not so bad.
It can be kind of boring if you're stuck in a place like that for too long.
I hate boring, so I roam, wandering from place to place, taking in the giant clusterfuck I unintentionally devised, I like to think of it as a kind of penance, but that’s just wishful thinking.
If there’s a God or whatever out there, He’s got to have a special place in Hell reserved for rubbish like me, without a doubt.
When the dust storms kick up, I pull down my trusty goggles from their perch on my forehead to protect my eyes, then curl up in my oversized cloak and hunker down as best as I can.
My respirator keeps the burning hot sand from getting into my lungs, which is nice, and after a few hours, I spew forth from my sandy prison and march onwards like some sort of mummy from Ancient Egypt, on the hunt for food, water and purpose, as always.
It’s only at night that I tend to get really lonely. In the day, there is just so much more going on! There are fellow travelers to talk to, the occasional junk trader to link up with, plus loads more people trying to rob or kill you, and they’re really the best distractions that a guilty conscious could ever ask for. But at night, outside of the occasional robber or killer, things tend to grind to a halt.
Yes, there are plenty of rabid packs of dogs and other nocturnal hunters to be concerned with, but you can only worry so much about them before your mind naturally wonders back to your regrets. It’s a real pain in the fucking ass. I don’t want to think of my wife when I’m trying to nap. I don’t want to think of her, period, especially after everything that’s happened.
As the sun rises on the ashes of civilization, a new day begins. After my morning piss and gear check, I hit the dusty trail, marching ever onwards to nowhere. It isn’t long into my journey that I stumble across something I’d never seen before, something actually quite interesting. There’s a horse in front of me, which would normally be interesting enough on its own, but this one is massive, and is glowing a brilliant green.
Oh, and it has three heads.
I carefully raise my hands as I slowly begin to approach it.
I’ve got to get a closer look at this damn thing.
Despite a few anxious stamps of her radioactive hooves, she is compliant and I’m able to sort out her name from the golden text that’s embroidered on the deep purple leather saddle that is still strapped to her back.
“Ah, so your name is Cerberus, eh?” I say with a snicker.
The horse’s three heads neigh as they rear up slightly.
“Don’t you fucking lie to me,” I reply.
I peek through the purple saddle bag on Cerberus’ flank, but there’s not too much inside to uncover. I find a half-drunk bottle of water, a small satchel of carrots, along with a homemade map with a little red circle drawn over an unfamiliar town that is apparently somewhere up ahead.
“Is this where we need to go to get you home?” I ask Cerberus as I flash him the map, He rears up again and exhales loudly.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” I said before slipping her one of the carrot treats.
The horse and I make fast friends, as folks in the wastelands tend to do, and she allows me to mount her after growing obviously annoyed at my slow pace after a little bit. I struggle the first time just because of the impressive size of the beast, but soon I manage to pull myself up enough to throw over my other leg so that I can straddle her powerful back, and without another word, we are off.
I clutch the slack leather reins with one gloved hand, and keep the map at the ready in the other as we venture across the barren fields of dust and debris of the wastes. As far as I can tell, we stay mostly on course with few issues to speak of, besides the odd bandit, but Cerberus quickly devoured them without expending more than a modicum of effort.
As the sun begins its downwards slope for the evening, we come to a stop atop a small cliff overlooking a seemingly peaceful town below. I pull out my dented little brass telescope from the inner pocket of my cloak and I take a gander at the goings-on below us.
There are a surprising number of people milling about for the lack of walls or any other visible security measure. There is a fair number of makeshift buildings of different sizes and shapes that surround what seems to be the local watering hole.
I see a beautiful woman in a velvet robe exit the establishment from its ramshackle door holding a stack of papers close to her chest. She has a sad look etched across her swarthy brow. As she affixes one of the papers to the rusty iron bars that surround the windows of the building, I’m able to make out what the poster says;
Gorgeous Three-Headed Horse Stolen!
Large Reward Offered Upon Safe Return!
Answers to Cerberus, as well as Queen Green
Contact Ms. Tessa for details at the Hog’s Knob
Underneath the poster is a crudely drawn doodle of the horse in bright green marker. Beside the doodle there is a photo of a school bus taped next to it. “For scale,” it mentions in parentheses.
There is no mistaking it-- this town is where Cerberus belongs.
“Are you ready to head back home, girl?” I ask.
Cerberus rears back high, kicking her front hooves in excitement as soon as the words passed through my lips. I couldn’t help but grin a little as I pat her on the side of her muscular translucent neck a few times, then playfully run my hand through the constantly-quivering tendrils that make up her mane.
I would’ve really preferred to keep this monster of a horse as my own companion instead of returning her. I mean, life would certainly be less dangerous with her three mighty heads defending my person. However, Cerberus already has a home to which she longs to return to, and I’m not the type of person who would stand in the way of that…even if I was the dumbass who ended the world.
After I tuck away my telescope, we start our gradual descent back down the cliff before returning to the dirt road below. I sigh and give Cerberus another gentle pet, then begrudgingly coax her to begin trotting onwards into town.