Short Stories

 

(Written in collaboration with Joseph L. Silver)

Writing prompt: Write a tale of the apocalypse

 

Kevin licked the remaining bits of grease from his fingers. It most definitely did not taste like chicken, whatever chicken tasted like. He couldn’t remember. There hadn’t been chickens around for quite some time now. There hadn’t been many things around for a while, except people. Billions and billions of people, all crowding against each other on a planet shrinking every day.

As he threw the last of the bones onto the small pile at his feet, he fleetingly wondered if he should bury them – a last testament to humanity, such as it was. But that type of ritual had gone the way of – what was it called? – the dodo. Like death. Gone. Extinct. So many people now, but no one to bury; how twisted was that? And no one knew what to do. At least he wasn’t hungry now, for the moment. But that would change, again, and since he had gone off the rails and become a “canni,” there was no going back. At least he had plenty of people to choose from. He wondered if they all tasted different.

Kevin was a second-generation subject. His parents had lived during the boom time of science and medicine, when people were screaming for cures for diseases, environmental disasters, and – the big one – mortality. Experiments into re-lengthening telomeres were just the beginning of extending the human life span. Soon, scientists were figuring out where in the genetic code the “aging” genes were, then the “death” genes. It was complicated, to be sure, but the map was there if you knew how to follow it. It became an obsession, not just for the scientists, but also for the world at large – a way to live forever. To be a god.

Years of work led to the discovery of the proper sequence, and from that the scientists made a serum that guaranteed immortality. Of course, it was only available for those who had the billions of dollars to afford it. But then a bunch of terrorists angered at the hoarding of the magic formula stole the serum, turned it into an aerosol, and sprayed the air over every centimeter of the planet. Now everyone had all the benefits that science could offer.

It wasn’t until a few years later that people discovered they had all the side effects, too. The biggest one was enhanced fertility to the point that people were breeding like rabbits. They couldn’t not breed. And since nobody died, the population soared. The trouble was, the serum didn’t affect either the plants or the animals, so both became precious, non-renewable commodities. The Earth became taxed for resources of all types. People became primarily nomads, searching out new sources of food, and fuel, and metals.

And they suffered. Cancer rates were on the rise, but since no one could die, the victims remained permanently in pain on their deathbeds. Immortality did not guarantee an easier life. People still got hurt in explosions and car accidents, but there was precious little medicine or medical supplies or even doctors any more. The people simply had to endure. And there, of course, were wars. Man had become the master of war, and the fight over limited resources just escalated the battles. Maimings, bullet wounds, knife cuts – they were just another part of the new era, one that, by its very nature, would never end.

Kevin, at least, was in a relatively quiet area for the moment.

“Don’t get too comfortable.”

He jumped at the voice and jerked around to see who had snuck up on him, maybe wanting him for a snack, but there was no one.

“Where are you?” he demanded.

“Right with you,” the voice answered. “You had me for lunch.”

“What? Show yourself!”

He remained low to the ground, turning around in slow circles to find the source of the voice. He was on a dusty plain, not a tree left in sight, and he was, unusually, alone.

“Didn’t think you’d get rid of me that easily, canni,” the voice taunted.

“How do you know …”

“I was there while you were knawing on my leg, and my arm, and my head. We can’t die, in case you’d forgotten.”

“Well, get out!” Kevin’s whole world seemed to spin precariously around him.

“No can do. I’m a part of you now, and I’m going to make you pay for what you’ve done, just like I’ve paid for all the bodies I scarfed. We’re all here.

“Hi, Kevin, you lousy knuckle-dragger,” a high, thin voice piped up.

“Don’t mind if we do make this home,” came another. “Thanks for the digs.”

“Why can’t you all just be quiet?” Kevin shouted, even though there was no one near him.

“And spoil our fun?” the original voice queried. “We’re in this for the long haul, and it’s going to be a very, very long haul.”

Kevin thought about throwing himself off a high cliff in a desperate attempt to silence the voices, but what good would that do him? He would lie at the bottom of the mountain, all broken and unfixable, and the voices would be right there with him, screaming with their own pain.

And in that moment he knew – this was how humanity was going to end. As more and more people got desperate enough to eat each other, their heads would become more and more crowded, and they would become permanently, incurably insane. And it would last forever.

The voices in his head just chuckled.

(c) 2017 Miriam Ruff All Rights Reserved