by J.D. Cook
No one knew how civilization collapsed. It happened suddenly and without much ceremony. The survivors were those who were able to transition back to a world that no longer had internet, cars or computers of any kind. As the centuries rolled, records of whole civilizations burned up in fires. Mankind went from being more connected than any other time in human history, to living in isolated pockets thousands of miles apart. Nature did not move in to reclaim the cities that were left behind like many thought it would. Instead, a great poison lay about much of the land keeping anything from living. People were forced to migrate north constantly to stay cool as sudden changes in heat could cook people in their shoes the farther south they went.
This was the world Doug was born into. His parents had survived in a small bunker and raised him there for the beginning of his life. They told him the bunker must have been built long before the great collapse for some long lost war. In those days they lived off canned food that wasn’t spoiled and the occasional animal that got too close to the yard the bunker was in. Sometimes they would spend whole days out of the bunker in the yard playing with the empty cans. His father had a small red rubber ball that they would take turns trying to roll into the can’s opening. Doug missed his parents; they had both died yesterday.
His mother never seemed happy and she was always worried about them being out of the shelter for any amount of time. His father had told him once while they were above ground practicing how to skin animals, that she had encountered people called the Brothers of Apocalypse before he met her. When he asked what they were or what they did he would only explain that they were bad and they did bad things to her. He said if he ever met a man with a white skull painted on his face, he should get away from him as quickly as possible. His parents died coughing up blood. Doug couldn’t save them. They were struck with a fever, started bleeding later that day, and were dead the next morning. Doug listened to instruction’s his mother had given him when he was younger and donned a small white mask and gloves as he removed them from the bunker and dug them two holes. When he asked why they needed to be put in the ground, she had simply said it was wrong to leave bodies to become carrion. His mother spoke in an interesting manner and Doug never understood everything she said, but she had done her best to teach him. She even taught him how to read a few words.
Now Doug stood outside the bunker, his two parents were buried in the dirt, and he had packed a bag with the few good remaining cans of food. He tied his father’s old bandanna around his forehead; the tail blew back in the wind. His jeans were oversized but they were held up with a belt that had a strange ‘S’ symbol for a belt buckle. Doug’s boots were tattered but still intact and his blue button up shirt was missing the sleeves. He hoped to find a jacket somewhere along his travels because the days had been becoming colder and colder. In his pocket resided a small knife which he used for carving and skinning game. Hidden in the bag with the cans was what his father called a gun. He had never fired it before because his parents had been afraid of drawing attention to them but he understood its workings extremely well in practice.
The wind picked up and howled through the trees as if it was reminding him to start his journey. He felt two tears roll down his cheeks as he thought of the world without his parents a world that was completely queer to him. Then he took his first steps into this brave new world he had never explored.
After walking all day down what had once been a concrete road in the middle of the woods, Doug stopped to scratch his sprouting blonde beard. He was horrified to find small bugs making their home there. He quickly rubbed at his chin as hard as he could, resulting in some blood. After feeling around for a few minutes, he was satisfied with the lack of bugs. He then continued to move onwards down the road. As he grew weary, and the sun moved closer to vanishing on the horizon, he made out a small house in the distance. Some ancient part of his instincts awakened and he felt the urge to sleep under the roof instead of in the open. He also had a growing despair and fear inside him. It was a voice on the edge of his conscience telling him there was something out in the woods waiting for him, something that wanted him, and he knew his parents were not going to be there to protect him anymore.
He ran towards the house and felt his blood pump through his veins with purpose. As he neared the front door of the home, he heard something at last. He didn’t dare look back, but he knew that there was something bearing down on him fast. Doug doubled his efforts and reached the front door. He was relieved to find it open, but as the door swung open a force grabbed his back pack. Terrified, he lunged into the house ripping the straps of the bag in the process. His higher cognitive functions were gone as he crawled into the house and kicked the door shut. Something screamed in pain. He kicked the door again and this time it shut. Without thinking he moved deeper into the house and found another door that led down some stairs. It was dark and the air smelled stale, but it reminded him of home so he moved into the darkness and curled up at the bottom of the stairs scared and alone.
Sunlight awoke him. Unlike his bunker, there were windows in this one. He looked around and found an extremely comfortable and long seat. There was some kind of enormous picture frame on the wall that had no picture in it, just a black vacant background. Most surprising of all though was the strange ‘S’ symbol on his belt buckle. A man dressed in blue with a red piece of fabric coming from his back wore it on his chest. There were likenesses of him everywhere and many frames containing images of him in various poses. In one he held a green car, in another he flew above some buildings. Lying on a table near the long comfy seat, Doug found a book; it was old and smelled bad. He could read a few of the words in it and paged through it. The pictures helped him put the story together, and a memory from his father, remarking that the belt buckle was Superman’s, suddenly gave Doug a moment of clarity. Apparently, Superman had been an alien sent to Earth to fight for truth, justice and the American way after both his parents died. Doug knew what truth was; it was anything his parents had said. Justice was something his mother talked about a lot; he thought it meant balance of a kind. The time he ate too much food in the bunker his mother had punished him by not allowing him to eat the next day to make up for the food he ate; she called it justice.
American was a word Doug knew extremely well. His father and mother had both spent a lot of time discussing it. They said it was letting people do what they wanted to do. They often told him he’d have to live the American way of life after they were gone.
Doug found courage in himself as he turned through the pages and saw Superman grow up. This was someone who had lost his parents but went onto greatness. Doug continued through the old book and found Superman in love, and then fighting people who threatened or oppressed the weak. After a few hours reading, Doug found himself inspired. He mounted the stairs and returned to the front door. After a moment, he opened it and found his backpack laying virtually undisturbed on the front step. There were various tracks around the front of the house; he recognized them as coyotes, animals he had seen his father kill many times. After collecting his pack, he returned to the house and searched it room by room looking for anything of use. In a lucky turn of fortune, he found an old pistol like the one in his bag. A box of shells remained mostly full next to it. After adding these to his pack, he returned to the basement and ate his one meal of the day. He then spent the rest of the day devouring everything he could find on Superman. He wondered what had happened to him and why he was drawn in books and not photographed.
The next day, Doug knew he had to keep moving. Superman never seemed afraid or willing to stop fighting for what he believed in. He knew out there, somewhere, there were people he could help like Superman, and there were probably people who had never heard about Superman who would be astonished to learn of him. So with all of this in mind, Doug repacked his supplies in a new bag he found and added to the collection the book on Superman he had found. He walked outside unafraid and filled with wonder for the first time in his life. As he continued down the road, he knew he had to fight for the American way just like his new found idol, and off he walked down the road towards the utterly unknown.
Authors Note: If I get any interest in this story I may turn it into a serial on the site. If not then it shall remain a short story of hope in a bleak world. Happy Travels Amigos!