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by Justin Teerlinck
I sit here waiting for hooded and bird-masked undertakers pushing two-wheeled carts up and down the street everyday yelling, "Bring out your dead!" Like so many other trends, it makes sense that Armageddon would begin on either coast, and then work its way towards in the interior of the North American Continent. I picture the Four Horsemen as derpy, oafish Terry Pratchett-esque characters, with three of them too busy partying to get on with their jobs, and one acting as the mature older brother who got perfect grades at Apocalypse School and isn’t any fun. While others’ minds go numb in the face of doom, mine goes…British. Anglophilia makes sense in times like these. The Brits are a stoic people who place personal dignity on a higher pedestal than individuality, and they know how to match their mood to their weather. My hat’s off to them.
Now that COVID-19 is here in Tacoma, we have forgotten all about “The Big One,” the infamous Cascadia Quake that is 300 years overdue and expected to shake us from British Columbia to Northern California. They say that a medium-sized tsunami alone would wipe out 60% of the coastal population, and most of those folks are vacationers likely to meet their end not fleeing from it, but running towards it, phones in hand, live streaming it all on Facebook (the most well-read book after the bible). A moderate windstorm is all it takes to yank us back to dark age barbarism in Washington.
A misanthropic recluse like myself need not fear a social contagion. The biggest danger is panic and herd mentality. I went shopping yesterday and found the grocery store shelves were picked clean. Preparing for Armageddon is a regular hobby people enjoy out West. I've gained a bit of weight recently, so I am done for if there is any kind of supply shortage, as one of my neighbors will likely kill me and rend my fat to use as tallow for their homemade candles.
My lover Jenny and I remain hunkered down in our carpeted bunker, sitting in our bathrobes with a loaded shotgun whilst scattering birdseed by hand and naming individual squirrels. Bonkers is the most impressively aggressive. Even when faced with a pile of birdseed taller than he is, he still chases away his tree-mates and scares the shit out of the few songbirds intrepid enough to approach. Jenny and I refer to ourselves as King and Queen of the Ruckus, but I think Bonkers and his lady friend are poised to snatch that title away from us. We used to be entertained by his antics, but now I view my fellow mammals with “food eyes,” like those old cartoons where the salivating predator sees a pile of smoking sausages instead of a pig or suchlike.
My biggest concern to date is that my apocalypse soundtrack lacks enough songs. Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral”, “Virus Human” by The Ponies, and “Ghouls Night Out” by the Misfits lead the wolfpack, but almost anything from the Subhumans, Black Flag, The Stooges, and The Doors have to make the cut.
Occasionally, we need to take a bit of exercise, if not for our sake then for our stocking-clad Sheltie, so he has something to do besides lay on the floor and lick his raw paws. We have a stroller for walking—er, rolling—the dog. Winston is arthritically enthusiastic, so he attempts to frolic, but needs a helping paw after a quarter mile or so, at which point we load him into the human-propelled pram and on we go. After we affix metal spikes to the canopy and the wheels and draw a few flaming skulls on the sides with sharpies, we’ll be outfitted better than Mel Gibson was in the Mad Max films. With a helmet on and face paint, our War Sheltie will look like a cross between an irradiated mutant son of an A-bomb and a furry Celtic warrior. The cup holders in the stroller are just the right size for holding Molotov Cocktails made from our empty bottles of Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. Yes, we believe in recycling in this household. Winston had been promoted to the rank of Imperator in the new fiefdom we created, but he quickly lost his title after being told to stop licking his junk numerous times. Imperators just don’t do that.
Like any self-respecting good American paranoid crank, as soon as it was clear that I could only buy enough toilet paper to wipe my bum for the next eighteen months, I panicked and bought a gun. Although a shotgun was not in our budget, I purchased it using the funds we had set aside for more toilet paper. Having depression with suicidal tendencies adds a layer of complexity to firearm ownership, but seeing as I have at least two weeks of medication left, I realize that my mental health is actually more stable than it’s been in years. Besides, using a shotgun to plaster your brains across the wall seems a more dignified way to go than drowning in your own fluids and adding yourself to the plague statistics. I’m sure Papa Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson would agree.
To say that the store where I bought the 12-gauge, pump-action Maverick model 88 was a madhouse, is a grave insult to madhouses. The lad tending the gun counter was about half my age and twice as crazy. His sweaty hands trembled with kinetic energy as he frantically displayed his knowledge of each firearm in the store. I quickly interrupted him, pointing at a beastly-looking 12 gauge with black matte finish. “I want that one!” I said, like a child pointing to a piece of pie. “The Maverick is a great choice!” the lad enthused. “Unfortunately, the barrel is too long to give you tactical advantage, so you won’t be able to shoot people in close quarters, but it’s still great for field use.”
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah oh yeah,” he continued. “Unfortunately, we only have really crappy ammo left. You’d need to put at least two rounds in their chest at 25 yards, five or six if they were wearing body armor. Even then, you might not take him out, just slow him down a bit.”
“Take who out? What about slugs? Will this fire slugs?”
“Oh, hell yeah. One slug will go through like five walls and even cave in someone’s chest if they have armor on!”
“I was thinking more like hunting,” I said. The lad seemed disappointed.
“Animals?” he said.
“Yeah, you know, things like deer and rabbits and such.”
He perked up again. His eyes were glowing with murderous titillation. “You could totally take out a deer with slugs. If you hit it in the neck you could take the head clean off at 10 yards. And ducks, you could just obliterate ducks.” The boy was a new breed of nerd I’d never before met: a gun geek. While I was grateful for his knowledge, I wondered if perhaps he spent more time playing first-person shooter video games than interacting with other humans. “I think you also need some double-oh buck,” he said. “The size of those balls could shred through meat and bone little butter,” he added with a wistful sigh, as if he was reliving personal memories of having done just that.
I wanted to ask the lad if he’d ever perused the hunting memoirs of Teddy Roosevelt, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, or any of his six other full autobiographical volumes of fondly recollected killing sprees. Even in the letters TR wrote to his young children he can’t resist relating anecdotes about treeing a cougar with dogs and then climbing up on a branch to stab it in the heart with his pearl-handled knife with giddy, schoolboy glee. This collection of bloodthirsty horrors was just the kind of gunsterbational material that I had no trouble picturing the gun clerk autofellating to.
Just before I could ask this question, a bespectacled, silver-haired gentleman with a dapper coat and a receding hairline stepped up to the counter. Without so much as a hello, he pointed to a beefy, semi-auto, magazine-fed pistol in the display case. He flagged the clerk over and said, “What does this one do? Which one has the most bullets? Do any of them have a red laser?”
With nerdy, detail-fixated exasperation, the gun clerk said, “First of all, pistols fire cartridges, not bullets. The bullet is the part of the cartridge that propagates down the barrel at high velocity as the casing is laterally ejected… Secondly, how many people are you wanting to take out? This model can hold 15 rounds, and it can be modified to take up to—"
“What? I can’t hear you,” said the man. “I’m getting feedback on my hearing aids. Look, I’ll take it. I’ll take ten clips with it too, and as many boxes of ammunition as you have.”
“I’ll be right with you,” the gun clerk said to the other gentleman. He turned to me with a conspiratorial grin. “You’re really lucky,” he said to me. “You just got the last 12 gauge we have, and we’re almost totally out of ammo too—especially the good stuff, but I can sell you this one box of crappy shells so you can at least do some skeet shooting.”
“I can’t hear you,” the other gentleman yelled over to the clerk. “I want the one with the red laser because my wife says I can’t see too good.”
I walked out of the store carrying the box containing my shotgun, feeling very disoriented. The soft-sided case I bought for it was bent downward, like the drooping fin of a killer whale living in captivity. “Sir,” said a kindly teenaged girl wearing a uniform. “Are you looking for the way out?” The confusion must have been writ across my knit brow, even in spite of my recent Botox treatments, which have frozen my facial muscles into a mask of calm congeniality. Her question took me aback. Was she talking about the store, the city, or life?
“I think I can find my way,” I said gamely. But I wasn’t exiting the store so much as I was entering the new wilderness that we, the panicked herd of derpy mammals, created together in barely a fortnight. It was a wilderness of familiar sights and sounds, but one where all the certainties of yesterday were quickly being replaced by fear and fantasy in equal measure.
I wondered if people secretly hoped our civilization was doomed so that they wouldn’t have to face one more mortgage payment, one more daycare bill, more unaffordable medical and student loan bills that simultaneously enslaved us to our shitty 9-5 jobs and ensured we would die in debt after lives of barely making ends meet. Buying two tons of toilet paper looks like a mindless activity, but isn’t hoarding, buying, consuming what Americans have been taught to do our whole lives? Have we not been told repeatedly that propping up our economy is the patriotic thing to do? Buying more food may be the only way most people think they will ever have a chance to get ahead. Furthermore, unlike medical care that comes with hidden fees and high deductibles, surplus food is an insurance policy that is guaranteed to be a stable investment. It only seems silly if you have unwavering faith in the system that failed you your whole life and is now crumbling before your eyes. Even before we revert to fiefdomship with bands of warlords and biker gangs attacking each other with helmeted Shelties, uncooked beans might be worth their weight in gold.
A lawless world is one fraught with great risk, but it at least offers people the chance to be on equal footing again—at least those bearing guns with red laser sights and high capacity magazines.