I don’t recall how I got here. I blew in with the wind I think. Stumbled across the threshold and tumbled onto the linoleum of a diner on the side of the road. The street out there is laden with ash and debris like a hurricane tore through the neighborhood and lit the place on fire with matches and gasoline. I'm still trying to get my bearings.
I’ve found a seat at the counter and a woman with half a face is asking if I’d like some eggs and a side of hash browns. Behind me two young men do what they can to barricade the door. It seems useless, one of the large windows is cracked, I wouldn’t think it would take much to smash it in.
“Supplies won’t last,” the woman says to me, blood trickling down her mouth. “Are you hungry? We’re still serving breakfast.”
“I would love some eggs. Over hard please. Hash browns sound wonderful, and a side of toast if you have it.”
“Would you like bacon? Or sausage?”
I think about it a moment, watching the two young men eyeing the crack in the window and the people scattering around out there. A swell of ash billows in the distance and I wonder how many people have died from all that fire that lights up the sky. The screaming is muffled and I swear I see a skeleton on fire sprinting past the window.
“I’ll take some sausage please,” I say, returning my gaze to the woman as a chunk of her flesh sloths off her face.
I stab the fork into a piece of sausage. It's hot, mapley sweet, tender, and delicious. I close my eyes and savor the juices that coat my mouth and tongue.
“How is it?” the woman asks, resting on the counter on her elbow out of breath.
“Its just fine. More than fine, It's wonderful.”
“That’s good,” she says, "who knows how long it will last.”
There are a couple dozen people milling around the diner. The smell of bacon and eggs doesn’t leave the air, it fills every space, even the restroom. Whatever hit us out there is still coming. So much ash in the air, sirens going off constantly, and there's a red glow like hell burning on the other side of fog.
There is a jukebox in the corner. I find some quarters in my pocket and insert the change into the slot. It comes to life and I move through the selections. I find Miles Davis, I put on Flamenco Sketches and the horn cuts through the atmosphere revealing some kind of heaven. Its like a gift pressed upon us in the fading light. Before long the juke is the only light we see. Nothing else stays on and we lay there with full bellies and the horns of Miles Davis work on our minds, nudging them into a kind of lightness. Somehow we sleep.
In the morning I wake to a strange sound, like air blowing from a distant machine. I smell something too, its bacon.
I stumble in the half dark toward the counter and find three gentlemen surrounding the woman who served me the day before. She appears to be unconscious and one of the men is trying to save her life. It's only after a piece of flesh falls from her face, a large piece, leaving behind the bone-white of her skull covered in red film that the efforts stop. I stand back and they look at her for several moments before rising and we stare at death becoming in great discomfort. After some time two of them talk in Spanish and they carry her corpse away. Where... I didn’t want to know.
The sun rises into the ashy sky and everything is orange. Orange in fields of orange. Bodies begin to rise from their places in the eating booths and the restroom, and I turn to the counter where there is no one there to dish up the food. I step into the kitchen and the three gentlemen are cooking and filling plates. One of them looks at me and nods.
“I’ll help,” I say. “Keep it coming.”
The counter fills up quickly with hungry patrons. Coffee is made and passed around to smiling faces. There is a moment when everything looks and feels pretty damn normal. I fantasize that this is my own diner and these are my patrons, and in some way it's true.
The morning turns to afternoon and with it lunch is served. After that comes dinner and mashed potatoes and peas with steak. There’s plenty of wine and beer and we all drink and be merry because why not? It's all we have at this moment and there is nothing more than the moment at hand. Nothing before, nothing after, only this instance right here no matter how hard or terrifying. I know we’ll get through because we always have.
Days go by and the food sustains. We have visitors at “the gates.” If they seem like they could contribute to our “village” then we let them pass. They make their rounds amongst those who are here and introduce themselves. They become part of the pack. We create teams of scouts who go out in search of intelligence and food or resources. The world out there has become something that it wasn’t before. No structure, no hope of ever going back to normal. But we have each other, and after some time that's all we know and we begin to forget what was. It's easy to forget when very little remains.
It's a long time that passes. Time changes shape. It becomes the sun crossing the sky. We no longer live in a diner. We live in a fortress for survivors. We fortify the walls and create jobs and an economy. We make love and friends and war with marauding hordes who threaten our survival. So much has changed yet at the same time, not a damned thing is different. This is who we are. Who we have always been. We are survivors and we will not be subdued.