I’ll be honest—the dating game’s gone downhill since the end of the world.
And it’s not like it wasn’t already tough for someone like me. Average-looking guy with an online gaming addiction and mild paranoia issues? It all worked out great when the world went to hell—I was hunkered down in my apartment, surrounded by canned food, long before the disease spread.
Finding a girl, though? Give me another apocalypse.
I’d tried the whole online dating thing, too, where ‘someone finds love every 14 minutes.’ Yeah, right. If that were the truth, I would’ve found love 146 times.
Now we’ve got The System. Singles hang their information on posts around town, on doors of abandoned cars, on looted store windows (the ones that aren’t broken).
Ray, in Dallas from Day 419 to Day 421. Always playing country music. You’ll hear it.
Alice, in Denver from Day 427 to Day 434. Staying in the tallest skyscraper. Looking for something long-term.
The rare ones have a real picture attached, if someone was lucky enough to find a polaroid camera.
It’s not swiping right, but The System gets the job done. Supposedly. I’ve never had any luck. By the time I see the posters, it’s usually too late. Can’t get the timing right.
Just my luck.
I left my Houston apartment when I’d licked all the beans out of the last can. It wasn’t too bad, really; most of the people in the city were long dead from the disease by that time, so they were no longer contagious. There was no one to bother me—including the landlord, which meant I didn’t have to pay rent.
And so I traveled. It was easy enough to find cars on the side of the road. The gas tanks were only half full most of the time, but there were enough cars it wasn’t a problem. Pulling the bodies out was the worst part.
There were a lot of good surprises, though. One car—a red Ford Taurus—had caramel chocolate in the cupholder. My favorite, even if was melted. And a Honda Pilot had a charged iPod plugged in with some of the greatest hits pre-apocalypse. It had been months since I'd heard good music.
I went north. Texas was always too hot for me, and I'd had enough of the smell of warming, dead bodies. I was driving through the Rocky Mountains when I saw the poster hanging on a streetlamp in the highest elevated town in the country.
Bri, in Leadville from Day 436 to Day 445. Belle of Colorado Campground at Turquoise Lake. Look for the purple tent.
Attached was a picture of the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She had warm brown eyes that seemed to stare straight into my soul and chocolate hair that fell to her waist. She was laughing and reaching toward the camera, as if she wanted to touch me….
It was Day 438. Day 438.
I snatched the poster, careful not to crumple the picture, and looked around the road frantically. There. Firehouse General Store. I sprinted inside and found a pile of maps on the floor; they must have fallen off the cashier’s counter. They said “Explore Leadville” in block letters across the top.
I ripped one open and laid it on the counter. Firehouse General Store on Harrison Avenue…got it. And Turquoise Lake…less than five miles away.
Four and a half miles. That’s all that stood between me and life as a bachelor.
I took a deep breath. This was my one chance, and I had to do it right.
First was the smell. After a deeper diver into the looted Firehouse General Store, I surfaced with two car air fresheners shaped like pine trees. I rubbed those over my skin until I didn’t smell like I had lived in a sewer for the past year.
Next were the clothes. I found an extra-large t-shirt with a smiling moose on the front, biking shorts, and brand-new sandals just one size too big. The outfit was no tux at the prom, but it would do. It wasn’t like Bri had other guys lining up for her.
Nothing would control the hair, though. I’d never gotten the hang of cutting it myself, so it stuck out in all directions, mismatched and lopsided. Not a single hat in the store.
Just my luck.
I dumped a bottle of water on top just for good measure and tried to flatten it as best as I could.
And then I was out the door and in the car speeding toward the lake. The road quickly turned to dirt. I slammed the brakes when I came upon a fork in the road with a sign in the middle.
Molly Brown Campground on the left, and Belle of Colorado Campground on the right. I swerved so hard to the right I almost hit a tree.
Campsites lined the road on the left and right, dotted with picnic tables. The lake peeked through the trees, the water glistening with soft light of golden hour.
It couldn’t have been a more romantic setting for the biggest day of my life.
Ten campsites in, and there sat a purple tent in the spot closest to the lake. My heart threatened to beat out of my chest.
This was it. My time to shine. I could hear the wedding bells already.
I parked the car, glanced in the rearview mirror and gritted my teeth at my hair. No time. She was probably scared right now, hearing a car approach her. I needed to comfort her, hug her, kiss her….
I jumped out of the tent and approached the tent. A rain fly covered it, blocking the view inside.
“Is…is Bri here?” I asked tentatively.
Something rustled inside.
“I’m going to open the fly,” I warned. I knelt and shakily pulled up the zipper.
Inside was the largest, most acne-covered man I had ever seen in my life.
“Hi, handsome,” he said, cracking a smile with yellow teeth. Several of them were missing.
Catfished at the end of the world. Just my luck.