The speed of the breakdown amazed Ted. "Civilization", he muttered to himself, "ain't nothin civilized about it". He spat on the broken concrete slab in front of him and carefully examined the irregular splotch for remnants of blood. That's how the first one's went, he thought to himself, their lungs had failed them.
Ted spied a large length of rebar protruding from the foundation rubble. It was about 28" long and would be the perfect length. He would need a weapon. He started jerking the bar back and forth, hoping it would weaken enough to snap. After a few minutes, he gave up, his soft hands blistered from the heat and the roughness of the metal. The steel was too hard to bend and he didn't have the physical or emotional wherewithal to keep fighting it.
He thought about the host of tools that were perfectly organized in his garage, not twenty feet away, but buried under so much debris that they might has well have been a mile. And without power all of that machinery was pretty much useless.
"Here kitty, kitty, here kitty kitty" he heard the neighbor down the street mournfully intone. It was not so much a plea now as a dull mnemomic chant, since the cat had not been seen for weeks now since the incident. "How long had it been?" he wondered to himself.
The whole thing was truly a perfect storm. According to the bits and pieces of information that he had gleaned from the ham radio operator who lived on the next block, the whole thing had been a big setup. The reds had timed their nuclear missile strike on Japan and massive land invasion of Taiwan knowing that the United States would respond in kind. Unfortunately, they had infiltrated our defense department computers so thoroughly that when the inevitable response came, they were ready.
The conficker virus, which had lain dormant for so many years, suddenly clicked awake with its gigantic botnet of slave computers. It's rise from dormancy had completely decimated the nation's energy grid, causing a gigantic electro magnetic pulse that altered the telemetry of the large Hermes class missiles that had been sent airborne to punish the chinese. In this way, the federal government had unwittingly leveled large sections of Southern California, Texas and Maryland with it's own weaponry. The precision of the planning and the brilliant execution of the mission was spellbinding.
The lucky ones died instantly. A tear came to Ted's eye when he thought of his wife and son, who lay crushed beneath what was left of his home. The not so lucky one's lasted a little longer, it was not so uncommon to see the blind and hairless survivors and radiation victims stumbling around in a trancelike daze in the first few days after the strike.
If the first reports were accurate, at least 30 to 40% of the United States population had been destroyed in the initial missile catastrophe. Radiation sickness would surely claim at least another 20 to 30% in the next several weeks. There was no telling how many of the huns we had managed to vanquish.
Ted thought about his own prospects for survival. As a software engineer, he was really good at slinging together 1's and 0's. But what good was all that frigging code when you couldn't turn on the damn machine?
He thought about the narrow limits to his competence. He couldn't even make a simple battery. He remembered from junior high that it had something to do with a lemon and a penny. But even if he managed to scrounge up a lemon, how could he use the citric voltage in any meaningful way? He could no more explain the workings of an internal combustion engine than he could walk on the moon. There was sick humor in the fact that for all of man's supposed achievements in the 21st century, in reality we were less able to take care of ourselves than ever before. With all of our fancy gadgets.
The super convenience of store bought meat and produce had largely sapped man's ability to do something simple like grow a garden or hunt his own food. Ted knew no more about what wild plants might be safe to ingest in what was left of the backcountry than he did about recognizing flint so that he could start a fire. Thankfully he still had a great store of disposable bic lighters. And he still had his stash of drake's cakes.
Lack of a reliable water supply was his main concern, that and the roving gangs that were looting every home in sight. There was still water coming out of a pipe near the curb in front of what was once his house. But he had no idea if the water was merely the gravity flow still left in the main since the pumping station couldn't operate. It was impossible to know if it was safe to drink. But hey, sometimes a guy had to take a chance so bottom's up.
There were reports of serious cholera epidemics on the west side and the governor in Sacramento had organized an airdrop of arrowhead bottles to the stricken. But the survivors were still under a strict quarantine and would see no medical help for the foreseeable future. He had heard that potassium iodine tablets might stem off the epidemic but he had as much chance of finding any as sprouting wings and flying away.
Soon after the attacks, Tommy had made his way to the hospital. It was a near fatal mistake. Operating in wartime triage, doctors and nurses were pulling the plug on those who hadn't much of a chance at survival. Similar behavior occurred after Katrina and many of the physicians had been tried and prosecuted. Vigilante groups stormed the stark hospital building repeatedly in search of painkillers that they could use both as currency and to dull their consciousness to the bizarre reality of daily existence. Pitched battles took place every day for control of the narcotics. It was ground zero and he couldn't risk it.
He was ashamed the first time he saw the looters, he recognized several of them, one was a broker who used to belong to his club. Now these bulwarks of society had reverted to predators, jackals and hyenas who preyed on the weak. They systematically raided every building still standing for food, alcohol and prescription drugs. Darwinism was alive and well, at least in Placentia. The veneer of normalcy vaporized in a new york minute after such a shock to the system.
"Kitty, kitty" he heard the plaintiff cry once more. Ashamedly, he reached into his pocket and felt the cat's studded collar. He would have to hide that where she would never find it. He was not proud of what he had done but a man needed protein to survive. He had heard rumors of people eating far worse. A bit stringy but it tasted a little like chicken. Now what in the hell didn't taste like chicken?
Ted recognized the far off sound of a truck motor and quickly hid behind what was left of his second story parapet wall. He saw a white Ford pickup with several disheveled men sitting in the bed, all holding rifles and weaponry of some kind slowly ambling down the suburban cul de sac. He knew better than to expose himself and kept his head down until the sound of the truck had disappeared.
Ted felt angry. He had heard reports that the government was safely ensconced in their subterranean brain trust at Rocky Flats, near Denver. They had booze and broads, the whole megilla. You knew they weren't starving. And he was supposed to be comforted that they had assured the population that they had the means to repopulate the country with the select group of breeders they had hand picked and stored away in Colorado, like that was supposed to make him feel better.
Never a particularly religious man, he chuckled when he heard people blame the events of the past few weeks on god's wrath. He wanted nothing to do with a god who was so insensitive to the suffering of man. He remembered a story he had read in sunday school about god instructing the Hebrews to slay the Midianites and rape every virgin in their tribe. He had no use for a god who could behave with such cruelty. At the same time, he felt pangs of guilty remorse for eating the neighbor's pet. But a man had to do what a man had to do.
"Hey mister" Ted heard a familiar voice call him as he sheepishly peered over the wall. It was Tommy, the paper boy, who never failed to land the darn fishwrap next to a running sprinkler.
"Hey Tommy, how are you, and how are your parents? Did they make it?"
"We all did. And guess what Mr. Harper? Dad said that we took out most of China and North Korea too. We killed billions of them, and guess what, they're surrendering right now. Dad says them boys are in deep sukiyaki. We won. Now ain't this the greatest country in the whole world? Didn't we show them?
"We sure did, kid. We sure did."