"what the f*** is nuclear winter?!"

Written in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “Thank you! It’s just what I wanted.”... view prompt

23 comments

Speculative Funny Adventure

This story contains sensitive content

SENSITIVE CONTENT: Profanity, harsh survival scenarios including guns, mental health issues and suicide, evil spirits; also, the rabbit dies but that scorpion's still out there.


***


I used to know a guy who wouldn’t Google anything without F-bombing it, just for laughs... you know, “what the fuck is tiktok” “where can I get some fucking weed near me” “who the fuck is ke$ha?!”. If the Internet was still around, I’d love to see if anything he Googled regarding this cataclysm would show up on auto-complete. I could do with some levity right about now. 


It’s been probably five years since anyone could get meds of any kind, and most people who were on antidepressants suffered a simultaneous wave of despair after supplies ran out that caused a notable one-time surge in the death toll. The brain-numbing cold doesn’t help, of course: Richards joked – again – the other day that if you weren’t depressed before, you should be by now. It’s played-out, but I know he’s just trying to keep our spirits up. (In close quarters, though, the hundredth time you hear a joke can make you want to kill someone; we try to cut him slack since he’s one of the ones who lost his entire family straight away.)


Funny, though, that the bipolars seemed to have survived okay. Maybe the mania balances them out somehow, I dunno. As with normal travelers, they occasionally come through camp; they present well at first, so that you don’t realize there’s something fundamentally off. Slowly it reveals itself, though. Or, you hope it’s slow, so that you can begin showing them the door before you have all-out chaos on your hands. One of them got hold of a gun one time and locked himself in the pantry while in crisis. Fortunately it wasn’t loaded. 


We have more camp guards now, which means fewer away teams, but you do what you have to do.


***


It’s my month in the kitchen, both meals per day. The term is so long because we realized some time ago that a shorter time frame doesn’t allow for adequate acclimation. Better to settle in for a while, either indoors or out. Easier on the body, given the temperature differential.


Some of the others prefer to be outdoors even with the deep chill; I like cooking, though, especially how creative you have to be with it. For instance, this morning’s breakfast was white gravy served over last night’s canned bean leftovers, with some "yamcakes" on the side… all ingredients from industrial-sized cans still, thank God. We aren’t running out of those any time soon, with a warehouse we found.


I say “found,” but I guess someone from the camp must have known where it was already. I came here later than many of the others, heading south in search of some cleaner airspace and hopefully warmer temperatures. They say those exist somewhere. I made it as far as these mountains and tried to go around, when I came across this group which had presumably encountered the same obstacle and Googled “can we just fucking stop here,” same as me. 


It’s not a bad area. There’s some game to supplement our supplies. Not huge – I’m guessing the larger ones couldn’t find enough vegetation to survive, but the smaller ones are making it somehow.


(Or not so much, since I’m making rabbit stew for Christmas dinner tonight…)


We fluctuate between 20 and 25 people, all adults, so it takes a lot to feed everyone. I haven’t seen a kid since the devastation began, but I’m sure they’re out there and it’s just a coincidence. We are, after all, in the middle of nowhere, and it’d be hard for a family with younger kids to trudge all the way out here. It’s a tacit relief among us, because it would suck if we had to watch a kid die some day.


I haven’t given up on conquering the mountain and continuing south. In my cooking months spent in camp, I probe its slopes in my spare time, trying to gain a foothold upward. In my former life, I enjoyed the challenge of climbing plastic rock walls; funny how they are nothing like the real thing as we’re experiencing it now. 


But I have a secret, one that I haven’t shared lest its promise vanish: I hit the highest point yet, yesterday, and I felt a stillness. For those of you not in the know, a stillness means a turn in the mountain, albeit slight. And that means you can traverse in the direction you are going, but somewhat shielded from the stronger winds. It is a good sign.


***


Today it was snowing too hard, and one of my kitchen aides was ill (I think probably hungover), so I couldn’t follow up. Hopefully tomorrow.


***


The snow finally let up, so I started out right after breakfast today. The known path up makes for easy climbing, though the turn is now new territory, and I have to take it more slowly. As I climb higher, the winds continue to be dampened, and something else: a growing light. I have to stop for a moment as my pulse races, to keep from making a mistake out of sheer excitement. Could it have been this close, or is this just self-delusion because I want so badly for it to be true? (Granted, I am over a half mile above camp, which isn’t a walk in the park. But it is relatively close versus going around the range.)


I stop and rest to consider my options. “You come to a fork in the road. Keep going? Y/N.” I’m quoting very old video games, and I swear there is an eidolon near me that has been there for the last half hour. These are not good signs, somewhere in my brain is sounding the alarm. So close, though, it feels like. 


It is brighter now, but the mountains are still dressed in cloud cover that makes vision beyond an arm’s length in front of you impossible, so the climb is slow, and my surprise is thorough when my hand grasps the flat surface of what seems like… yes, it is… a plateau!


Fifteen minutes later, I’m panting as I lay flat on my back, having hoisted myself up and over. My excitement to share this discovery with the others is tempered by the fact that it may be nothing at all… but the light, the light tells me this is something different, something real. I continue to lay there, exhausted. Months of struggle have left me unfit for a climb such as this, but I know I cannot continue to lay here and expect to survive, so I slowly rise to my feet. Laid out before me is a rock-strewn flatland, bordered in the distance by a highland field, and the eidolon has vanished.  


***


I know I should go back down. It must be mid- to late-afternoon now, and while the second meal of the day won’t be due for hours, it will take hours to return to camp. But I can’t, not yet, not until I know. Besides, I reason, I’m worn out, and traversing flat lands is going to allow me to regain some strength for the trip back down.


I start off at a slow pace, but like a horse within sight of freedom, I find my pace picking up as I approach the verdant distance, definitely brighter as I had noticed. Two hours later, I am in a beautiful area, and lo and behold, a road!


Dumbstruck, I sit a moment to catch my breath and let my thoughts catch up, too.


I'm immediately stung twice in the buttock by something sharp, and I yelp and jump back up again. It's a HUGE scorpion, as large as my hand. That can't be good. The area he struck is already going slightly numb, and he still looks pissed and ready to rumble, so I decide to follow the road in what I determine is likely a southern direction. My leg feels a bit limpy, but I'm going to walk this off.


***


It's starting to get dark, but it's not the start of death nor the end of my hopeful adventure towards the light: it's just getting dark because it is late. Too late to go back down, I know at this point, yet in the far distance I do see light. LOTS of light. A city! I keep moving despite the numbness which continues growing in my leg, and by the time I reach a town, I am nearing a crawl.


On the outskirts, I encounter what appears to be a family at dinner, enjoying the balmy weather and clean air. The abundance of their roast pork and grilled vegetables is heavenly to behold even in this growing dark, and the smell fills the air. They see me and cease talking as we appraise one another. I must look a sight.


A woman hands a young boy of about six a glass of water, and he brings it to me -- children! They have children, even! "Thank you! It's just what I wanted." I hadn't realized until now that I have not drunk water for what is likely 12 hours, since I hadn't the foresight to bring any along. I am so thirsty that the glass is empty within seconds, and the kind lady sends him over with another. I immediately launch into my story so as not to take up any more valuable time in saving my companions, and the words come out in tumult:


“Please, PLEASE you must help us! We had come to the mountains and are stuck at the base. I’ve found a way up, but if you could only lend me some provisions and help me return... we could possibly even use some aid in the form of transportation – or is there even maybe an easier way to circle down the mountain in that direction? I don't think I can make it down again easily,” I gesture to where I’ve come from. “Any help would be so very appreciated, and we are hard workers and would be willing to do whatever necessary just to stay here and survive. You would have our eternal gratitude. By the way, where exactly is here...?”


“¿¿...Cómo??”


November 23, 2022 21:22

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23 comments

Delbert Griffith
10:45 Nov 24, 2022

This is a really good story. The narrator's tone is just right: snark interspersed with relevant information. The last line was the kicker. Nicely done, Wendy.

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Wendy Kaminski
13:14 Nov 24, 2022

Thank you so much! I think I will need a Snark category, love that description! :) Really appreciate your encouragement, Delbert, and thank you for reading!

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Ela Mikh
17:32 Nov 25, 2022

Wow. What a journey, I wanted to follow your character right down that road. And the ending - brilliant!

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Wendy Kaminski
17:44 Nov 25, 2022

Thanks so much, Ela! :)

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Mike Panasitti
17:06 Nov 25, 2022

This is a well-written post-apocalyptic adventure story. I think inclusion of actual geographic landmarks (e.g. the name of the mountain range) would have helped the reader situate her or himself better. Also the note you begin on (the Google f-bombing by the boyfriend), doesn't seem to be very pertinent to the remainder of the story. I hope the main character surmounts the language barrier and gets the help she needs.

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Wendy Kaminski
17:08 Nov 25, 2022

Thanks for the input on it! (In my mind, the city she ends up near is roughly Guadalajara, if that helps orient. :)

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Mike Panasitti
17:11 Nov 25, 2022

That is helpful, and I never would have guessed it given the narrative. I figured it was somewhere in Northeast America.

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Wendy Kaminski
17:16 Nov 25, 2022

Neophyte writer, here. I figure you go down as far as the northern (US) jet streams would carry nuclear winter issues of cold and darkness, which would be roughly the tip of the Baja peninsula. (Granted, they'd cover the earth, but let's just say...) That would put you just north of that area of Jalisco. So they're into that range, maybe nearer the coast. Then some hocus pocus with someone not really that into geography who really wants this story to work, and boom. There you have it. ;)

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Mike Panasitti
17:39 Nov 25, 2022

I'm not sure if it's because I'm naive or an optimist, but I try to avoid researching the finer details of nuclear war : )

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Graham Kinross
01:18 Dec 01, 2022

I like the bleak humour, and what might be her last words being lost in translation is just bitterly ironic. I can see a lot of families who’ve had to work harder to get by making the transition to a post apocalyptic world without as much panic as people who had a comfortable life. Seems like that family that they’re stuff in order. Nice big twist feeling at the end, like one of the early M Night Shyamalan films.

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Wendy Kaminski
01:20 Dec 01, 2022

That is incredibly flattering, Graham! Thank you so much for the kind words! :)

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Graham Kinross
01:30 Dec 01, 2022

You’re welcome. This felt like a lot of films I’ve seen and reminded me a little of the despair from a game I played called Horizon Zero Dawn which had people living out their days until the supplies ran out or depression overtook them. That sense of despair is palpable. Have you seen Children of Men? It’s a book as well but I’ve only seen the film. A very different kind of apocalypse but just as grim.

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Wendy Kaminski
01:37 Dec 01, 2022

I have! (I, too, have only seen the film.) I am drawn toward the post-apocalyptic in general; my father was a survivalist fan, so we heard about, read about, and engaged in a lot of disaster scenarios and training when I was a child. It's affected me. :)

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Graham Kinross
01:49 Dec 01, 2022

I’m kind of a survivalist myself in that if I had the money I would have a bunker and a cabin in the woods and all the rest but then I look at some of the billionaires who had reserved bunkers with veterans guarding them and I think that the former soldiers if the time ever came would close the door and keep the provisions to themselves because they actually know what survival is.

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Wendy Kaminski
01:51 Dec 01, 2022

Sound logic!

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Edward Latham
16:25 Nov 29, 2022

An enjoyable narrative voice in this one Wendy! I do like a post-apocalyptic setting and this was a fun one to explore with you

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Wendy Kaminski
16:26 Nov 29, 2022

Thank you so much, Edward, for your kind words and for giving it a read! :)

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Laurel Hanson
13:07 Nov 27, 2022

Nice work at world building (or is it called world destroying when one is writing in the apocalypse?) to create a strong, believable setting. Narrative voice is good as well. I am interested in the reversal that occurs at the end, wherein it seems you are pointing out how U.S. citizens could find themselves the "illegal immigrants" crossing the southern border. Not sure if that is intentional, and it may be that I wasn't quite sure where the narrator was and had internally set her up north for some reason.

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Wendy Kaminski
13:16 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks, Laurel! Yes, it was intentional, though not so much as a political statement as a "remember, we are all in this together" proverb; I am fond of that twist in the movie "Day After Tomorrow," and it may have had a little influence, here. :) Thanks so very much for the kind words and encouragement!

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Ken Cartisano
07:25 Aug 12, 2023

Nice twist, good writing. You do the apocalypse well. I cannot believe you used the word eidolon. You made me look up a word I've never even heard of before. A Greek word. When I hear Greek words, I think of sponges and people with gigantic metal heads. I don't know why. It must be something heretical. You know, involved with the genes. Maybe because Greek is tragic. That's what the Greek philosopher Hippocampus once said. Before the volcano erupted and covered him in ash. Have you been to Greece, Wendy? It's a lovely, ash-enriched envi...

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Wendy Kaminski
20:27 Aug 12, 2023

Swiss. Do you know how screwed up your ancestors would have to have been, to emigrate from Switzerland?! :) Chocolate, money, and neutrality. It baffles the mind.

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Aoi Yamato
02:19 Jun 06, 2023

good story.

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