The Great Collapse
A burst of static on your small, nearly broken Chinese wind-up radio wakes you from your daydream. You crank it again. Listen. The moments drag by. Just the patter of rain and you.
Finally, you think. A tone, then a beeping sound. There, there it is...the secret broadcast. The one nobody is allowed to tune in, but you’ve tuned it in.
You are hunkered down in the small pit. A worn bomb crater. There is a storm outside and it very cold, but not yet cold enough for snow.
You have a tent. Actually a piece of torn and yellowed plastic. It covers the top of your makeshift hole in the ground and it flaps in the wind. It reminds you that life is bad and living is worse. A day-to-day struggle.
You have a pole in the center. It’s an eight foot section of burnt lumber you pulled from a collapsed house. There is two extra feet above your head in the center of your hole. Your home. Your mud, now. Worms of earth cleave from the sides of your hole and patter gently into the shallow pool of freezing muck at your feet.
You live alone. Away from the others. Away from the big camps near Bend. They still call it Bend, but Oregon is no more. In fact, the United States is no more. Now it’s just a big place. Too big and too dead.
Luckily the cool weather has cleansed the decay. You no longer smell the burning pits. Just that wet ash funk. And the smoke has cleared for now.
You look around your hole-home as the radio static continues, but you know it will be soon. You know that old Jack Shorebird, a so-so blogger from the before times, is about to ruin your day and maybe, just maybe, give you a reason to live one more day.
You like to hear Old Jack. He's right on. Direct. No bull. Just the facts as best as he can get them. Cold hard reality shoveled on deep, until it chokes you. Depresses you and at the same time, makes you angry. Makes you want to fight back, if only here, in this place. In this hole-hell.
On the raw ground sits your backpack and half-eaten rodents. Fleshy tails are floating in the mucky water now, like hundreds of worms. Reminding you what is digesting in your gut.
You have enough deer jerky for a month. It's better than rat. Better than bugs. But so hard to find. So hard to kill and trap deer when everybody else was after the last of them.
There aren't many of us left, you know. The fighting had stopped. People were beginning to share what was left. The ones out here anyway. The city was something different.
Water for a few days. That was it. You should collect more rain, but you are tired. You just hold your tongue out. Let a rivulet from your tent fill you.
Ragged clothes for a week, before you need to wash them again, which is serious safety issue since everyone uses the same river and not everyone is nice.
Your extra pair of boots hang from your makeshift tent pole. You found them yesterday, on a dead guy hanging from a tree. It was a suicide. He didn’t need his boots now.
The broadcast begins as the beeping tone stops. At first you hear the birds and wind. That’s the guy’s thing. The sounds of the beach and birds.
You hear the waves rolling in next. It’s something he recorded when there were beaches and people. He has a bunch of them, but they are all from Florida or what used to be Florida. Now it’s a jungle and few people survive their long. Malaria, war and finally cannibalism, have taken their toll.
You went to Disney World once. With the kids. It was hot and miserable and a blast. You remember Florida that way. Mickey Mouse and roller-coasters.
The Cruel World
You like to listen to the waves for a moment, before Jack comes on. Before the broadcast.
Because when he comes on he just depresses the hell out of you, and oddly, he also gives you a reason to live. When you are angry about the news, at least you are not so damned depressed and worried about dying. Not so disgusted about the wormy rat tails in your hole.
Static and then, “Hello cruel world!”
It’s him. The biggest jerk on earth. Still ballsy enough to hassle the government. What's left of it.
Maybe he is just plain stupid, you think. I mean what kind of nut would traipse all over the south with a radio and broadcast anti-government news?
You wonder. But it sure was a head kicker. Maybe he had a death wish.
“This is Jack Shorebird from...well...I ain’t gonna say, but as usual I only have few minutes before the gall darned government types pick me out. So here it is, today’s news!”
More static washes in. Then bird sounds. The radio begins to hiss. Crap, you're losing the signal.
You lean against your favorite stone and listen. Hoping he’s still there. Adjust the antenna. Jack comes back.
“As you may recall from our last little broadcast, the government is running out of supplies and manpower.
“According to one of my sources, the President in Exile has given orders to bomb parts of Michigan and California. It seems the rebels are at it again, raiding the supply trains heading to Omaha. Actually, they are Freedom Fighters.
"Hey guys, they know you are coming. Back off.
“And the weather... My special source gives the following information…”
You tune Jack out. You just want the Oregon report and you hope he gives it before he has to go off the air.
“Oregon and the Northwest.”
"About time," you hiss. You know it's getting colder. You just need confirmation.
“Cold as heck. Subzero stuff. You have a major snowstorm moving in. Hunker down. You have about...three hours. It’ll last about two days…
This news worries you. You need more water and that means a trip to the river. You begin the search for your plastic gallon jugs, under the piles of plastic you've collected. The rain won't be enough.
“And now for something completely different…”
“Jesus,” you say out loud. Jack is trying to be funny. Monty Python, you remember.
“The world is in utter chaos...still." He pauses. You can hear him shuffling papers.
"Our President and Dictator is still sunning himself in Panama along with many of the other Kings and Queens and ruling trash of the planet, trying to escape the fallout from the Great Collapse.
"Can you imagine it?" There is anger in his voice. Barely contained.
"Saudi princes rubbing elbows with Japanese diplomats, all while boating and drinking as we, us rebels, us freedom fighters, struggle just to survive.
"As far as I'm concerned our government in exile may as well stay there -- for good. Because if they ever come back here, after what they did -- hell, what they are still doing -- then I got something for them."
You hear the sound of a revolver. Like he's spinning it and loading it. If they ever catch this guy they are going to fry his fanny, you think.
“Russia is still at war with China. Europe, well Europe is still a wreck. I had a report yesterday about Cannibal Armies moving into Switzerland for what they called the last good meat. I swear that is what a German guy was telling me on the shortwave, before he had to go."
A burst of static then. It lasts for about ten seconds. You check your antenna. Then he comes back on.
Ruins of NYC
“Okay folks that was first call. They are trying to triangulate me. Okay.
“In other news...today in New York City there were visitors.
"Apparently a North Korean submarine sailed within spitting distance of the world’s largest ghost city and took pot shots at the decaying buildings. You wanna guess which building was their favorite target and that it apparently irks them to no end that it's still standing? You guessed it. The old Empire State Building. Looks like hell -- a pock marked beast, but it still stands.
"What a mess I tell you. What a disaster that rogue nations now play target practice with our once great cities. Nobody fired back either. Not a soul.
"In my day, hell in my day that sub would've been sunk before it left port. They'd a had B-52's over Pyongyang hammering them to hell."
You can tell Jack is seething. It's moment before he continues.
“The witness I spoke with also advised the North Korean submarine took people off of the streets, the ones they could find, since the city was pretty much vacated after the Great Collapse. They lined them up and used them for target practice. Gruesome stuff, I tell you. Gruesome.”
“In still other news…” a burst of static “...they are at it again.
"The Country of Hawaii is sending rescue ships to the west coast starting in May.”
Your ears perk up. You need those ships. Hawaii is a free zone. A safe zone. One of the last free nations on earth. Only a small radiation problem.
“They will be heavily armed and advised they would be taking women and children who are not sick. I repeat, who are not sick. So don’t even try.
"They will land in pre-selected zones. I will advise more on this in the coming weeks as their plans firm up. The biggest problem they are having right now are the rogue navies and North Koreans. Why someone didn't out that Korean punk during the wars is a frigging pot of luck for them, I tell you.
"As you recall, the Hawaiians have attempted this before and lost good people. They also advised that this will be their final attempt.” Silence on the air. As if Jack was thinking.
It didn’t matter to you. You knew why they wanted the women. The kids, you were not so sure about. But Hawaii, the last free zone still protected by a small navy from several former nations’ armies, sounded like paradise. A paradise you would never see again. Same as Walt Disney World or the Grand Canyon. Hell, you'd settle for Pilot Butte at this point. It was just outside of Bend. An extinct volcano. You could see it still.
“And the Horribles,” Jack Shorebird said.
You listen in again. This was important.
“The Horribles are on the move again. Last location was ten miles north of Macon, Georgia and heading in two directions this time. One group is heading west and the other, well they’re heading south.
"Maybe they are heading my way, I’m not so sure.
“In any event, ever since they left Mexico they’ve lost a lot soldiers. They are about a half-sized army now, according to my sources. Which I’m sure is really ticking the Horribles off. Each time they move into a city or attack, they are at a distinct disadvantage.
"Serves them right -- attacking us while we're down. Cowards.
“They are starving now. That makes them more dangerous too. I recommend that we let them starve out and hit them guerrilla warfare style when they try to hunt for game. I mean we know this country and they don’t. You know the song...a country boy can survive!”
“Jeez Jack,” you say out loud. “Stop singing!”
“But don’t take my word for it,” Jack’s voice scratches out of the nearly useless speaker, “read a little Sun Tzu....”
This time the static lasts for longer. You wait it out, hoping for more. Jack comes back.
“...final note. A source in Canada said that he thinks he knows what started the Great Collapse.
According to his research, apparently he still has access to a copy of the old internet, it was when the economies of the world changed over to electronic money.
“You probably remember the Gold Accords, when most of the nations on earth agreed to destroy their stocks of gold and we were all forced to turn in all of our silver as well. Some of us called it the Greed Accord.
“Anyway, it is rumored that most of the gold was not destroyed but taken to secret locations in South America. But here’s the strange part." You hear paper again.
“When we all switched over to government backed electronic and digitized, I call it smoke and mirror, block-chain currencies -- you remember the predictions -- doom and gloom. Well, the economy soared. I mean America was kicking arse and China was sucking our dust.
“But not so fast. According to this researcher, this Canadian guy, the Chinese infected the coin-base and the dollar. In other words, Beijing dumped a computer virus on us. Well, you remember what happened, it collapsed overnight...and the rest is history. The Greatest of All Depressions.
“More on this next time, but for now stay warm and take care of each other. We’ll get through this somehow.
No Wooden Bitcoins
“This Jack Shorebird, signing…”
You think you hear an explosion. Static floods your little dark hole and you see that the rain is beginning to turn into snow.
“Whoa!” It’s Jack again. “That was a close one! Well, America, until next time, don’t take any wooden Bitcoins!”
The radio signal died. Jack was gone for another day or two. You could never tell when he would broadcast next. It was always a hit or miss proposition.
One thing sticks in your mind though. Something he said.
"Take care of each other."
It seemed such a simple thing to say. But it makes more sense now than it ever did before.
You think about that woman with he two kids you've seen. She's holed up just like you. About a mile away. She seems smart somehow. Maybe it's time to start again. Start trusting.
© 2017 Jack Shorebird