The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Worlds of Ruin: A Literary Celebration of Apocalyptic Science Fiction. Please enjoy.
Margaret Tompkins awoke to the sound of bombs.
“Yeaargghh!!!” she half-screeched and rolled sideways with a thump onto the floor, and kept rolling into—
The cat’s litter box.
“Igh. Igh no.”
A little more awake now Margaret sat up and glared at the overflowing cat toilet. She had thought she was rolling into the bomb box she and Cecily kept by their bed, close by so they could slide right into it the second their house was hit. It was a wooden box designed to keep them from being crushed, so they could suffocate under the rubble nice and slowly. Cecily called it “The Coffin” and said it was stupid, and Margaret agreed but—
Margaret jumped up, spraying cat poop and litter everywhere and gave herself a little shake. It wasn’t a goddamn bomb, someone was knocking on the door. At this hour? It was ten in the morning. She had just gone to bed, or rather to couch. Margaret ruffled her greasy hair and glanced at herself in the reflection of the nearby refrigerator door. She had kicked off her pants in her sleep and wore only a pre-apocalypse Van Halen t-shirt. She shrugged and went to the door.
She was met with daylight filtering though the Eternal Cloud that hung over the city, a soft green glow coming from the nuclear plant next door, and the ugly pockmarked face of some guy who was smiling like he was paid to do it.
“Good morning ma’am and how are you doing on this beautiful lovely morning?”
An Aluminum God walked by and they both froze briefly while the ground shook with its steps. Margaret bit the inside of her lip and watched the thing uneasily—they weren’t violent, only clumsy, and one of them had stepped on their garage three months ago and she and Cecily had to rebuild it themselves on account of there wasn’t a government at the time.
There wasn’t a government now either, the last one had only lasted two weeks, and with no government there was no repair committee, but the thing kicked over a couple mailboxes and moved on.
“Right. So. Lovely day. This is just a great neighborhood, how’d you end up here?”
“Listen, guy, I was…like…asleep.”
“O-ho!” the pockmarked man, who Margaret realized was really just a kid, threw his baby-smooth hands in the air. “But the early bird gets the worm ma’am.”
“I work nights.” She wasn’t so old, why was he calling her ma’am?
“O-…oh. Oh, shit, sorry.”
“Yeah, maybe wanna come back later?” She had her hand on the door when the kid bounced around a little and waved his arms.
“Oh, but, really, ma’am, I’m only going to take five minutes of your time and that is it, let me ask you a couple questions and—heyoh!”
Another pockmarked kid suddenly bounded onto the half-crumbling porch.
“Jesus,” Margaret murmured. Her t-shirt wasn’t quite covering the ninja turtle panties she’d stolen from Cecily. Fucking salesmen. A quiet explosion echoed over to them from the nuclear plant.
“Ma’am we’d just like to ask you a series of questions.”
“What are your hobbies and interests? You like movies? Music? Cars?”
Margaret looked at the utterly destroyed road outside her house. It had been six years since she’d seen a working car. It’d been eight since anyone had made a movie.
“C’mon, now, everybody has likes and dislikes. What are your likes? What line of work are you in?”
“I sell cheese,” Margaret murmured. “At the night market.”
The second boy, who was half bald from what was probably radiation poisoning, dropped his act briefly. “You sell cheese? Seriously?”
“Someone’s gotta sell cheese. You sell shit door to door?”
“Someone’s gotta sell shit door to door,” the first kid said cheerily and gave an enormous smile from which a tooth dropped and rattled on the porch. He didn’t notice. “So, you like cheese?”
“You like…uh…bodybuilders? C’mon, handsome gentlemen? The fellas?”
“Heyoh!” The second kid threw his hands in the air, “then do we ever have a deal for you.”
“Ma’am, we sell vintage magazines.”
Margaret frowned. She opened her screen door and stuck her head inside, and examined the rack on the wall just inside the door. Its contents were all very modern. She turned back to the sales guys. “I don’t think my rifles will take vintage magazines.”
Pockmarks strained as the boys erupted in enormous gales of rehearsed laughter.
“My dear ma’am,” Kid 1, clearly the leader, slipped an arm around Margaret’s threadbare shoulders. “We’re talking about subscription magazines.”
“I subscribe with Ammo91.”
“Paper magazines,” the salesboys said in unison and beamed at Margaret.
“Paper? Like…uh…look if this is some hippie compost-your-weaponry shit—”
“These, no,” Kid 1 interrupted, “Very different from the weaponry term, not related at all. These are more like…uh…periodicals…miniature books that change up week to week or month to month and reported the news in particular areas. Time magazine for example might’ve covered political events.”
“But there’s no government.”
Kid 1 made a disgruntled noise and stepped back. “Charlie, would you care to try and explain?”
After some bumbling around with big excited words and arm waving they got the point across to Margaret, though it was a fairly stupid point. They would deliver the magazines month to month—
“Wait, you said vintage?”
“Well…yes…” Guy 1 scratched his head. “There aren’t any current publications so…”
“So if I subscribe to twelve issues why not, like, give them all to me now? Don’t touch me.” She warded off one of Guy 1’s attempts to put his arm back around her shoulders.
“It’s the novelty of waiting for the mail,” he explained.
“But there is no mail.”
“But we would be, like, reenacting the mail,” Kid 2 said. Most of his façade was gone now. He was sweating and looking nauseated and bored.
“And, all the proceeds go to our high school sniping team.” Kid 1 gave her a big grin from which another tooth fell. It was just the right combination of pathetic and annoying and Margaret eventually subscribed to Playboy to shut them up. They went their way along the treacherous road and Margaret returned to the couch. Fucking salesmen. She’d have rather dealt with a bomb.