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Friday, June 10, 2011

#FridayFlash: The Last Journalist

Is it ironic that this story is 911 words?



The Last Journalist

Today, Greg wrote by the late afternoon sunlight streaming in, for the first time I heard rumors of cannibalism. He jotted June 14 above, then continued. The last National Guard food truck came a week ago. Three weeks since the first riots, and the Land of Plenty has become just another failed state. It seems longer, though.

He put down the pen, took Vanessa’s picture out of his shirt pocket and smiled. “You doin’ okay, babe? Bet it’s hot down there in Sarasota with no air conditioning. Sure is hot here in the ATL.” As always, she said nothing but gave him her sexiest smile, looking back over her bare shoulder at his camera.

He sighed and turned back to the notebook.

Nobody knows why, but everyone has heard something or another. Food trucks can’t get through for hijackers, seems to be the most plausible explanation. And the news from yesterday. Most of the other rumors run the gamut from paranoid to delusional.

Vanessa had left just in time, it turned out. With a full tank of gas, and a five-gallon can in her trunk, she went to visit her family for perhaps the last time. He’d had to stay behind; he was investigating how certain people seemed to always have gas for their SUVs. When the fuel protests turned to riots the week before Memorial Day, he was in the thick of things, interviewing protestors, police, and National Guard commanders. Not to mention power crews after the electricity quit. Vanessa kept in touch until the phone networks went down too.

The newspaper closed up over the long weekend, and never reopened. Greg kept reporting, but transferred his observations and photos into a ratty three-ring binder. Someone has to document the end, he’d wrote at the time, it might as well be me. Between the riots and fires, thousands dead and tens of thousands fleeing, much of Atlanta was empty now. He’d learned quickly that even starving looters seldom ventured above the fourth floor once the elevators stopped working, so he squatted in an abandoned fifth-floor apartment near the action. Solar panels and batteries, stolen from freeway road signs, powered his laptop and camera. While he was out and about, nobody bothered a man with a camera. You couldn’t eat it or drink it, after all. But it could draw interest, and meeting the noted local journalist Greg Pilser still got people talking even after everything went to hell.

He picked up the pen, stared at the paper for a moment, then put it down. The conversation was stuck in his mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to put it on paper:

“They say it’s happening up in Midtown.” Just another survivor, looking for enough food to make it another day or week. “Someone got killed in a fight, they cut the meat off his legs and cooked it. I guess when you got nothin’ else…” He shook his head, patted his pistol. “Not me. I got eight bullets left. Squirrels is good, but I wouldn’t want to try possum what with all the bodies around, you know? Anyway, the last bullet in my gun’s for me. I ain’t gonna eat nobody.”

He got up and paced around the living room. A framed snapshot caught his eye, and he picked it up. A little white kid, maybe two years old, sitting on a deck chair. The exaggerated perspective suggested a cellphone snap, but someone had done some Photoshop work on it. He thought about it for a moment, then opened the frame and removed the photo, taping it onto the page near the bottom.

You have to wonder about people, he wrote next to the photo, if you want to hold onto your own humanity. Someone cared enough to work on this picture. Something we need to remember: people are worth caring about.

“You okay, kid?” he asked the picture. “I hope you’re somewhere safe. Where you don’t have to worry about eating. Or getting eaten.” Funny, he’d been squatting here for nearly two weeks and only now had he noticed the picture, standing on the bar all this time. As with Vanessa’s picture, the kid said nothing, just continued to squint at something off to his right.

He flipped back a page and looked at yesterday’s entry. He'd shot and printed a photo of a wary group, carrying sacks and water bottles. “We heard the Guard has a refugee camp down at the airport,” one of them told him. “Worth checking out, anyway. Nothin’ left here but a dead city of dead people. Ghosts will be comin’ soon.”

Maybe that guy was wrong about the ghosts. Maybe. But he was right about the city. Today, he’d heard about cannibals in Midtown. Sunday, it was vigilantes in Marietta and Alpharetta. Verifying those rumors were likely to get him killed, but staying here was just a slower death. He flipped back to today’s page, wrote down the cannibal rumor. Then, between that and the kid’s photo: My work is done here. It’s time to see what comes after the death of a city and a nation. When it gets dark, I’m starting for the airport.

His backpack had room for his binder, laptop, and water bottles. The camera he could sling over his shoulder. He took one last look at the photo before closing the binder. “Maybe I’ll see what you’re up to myself, kid.” He smiled and packed.

28 comments:

  1. you paint an apocalpytpic scenario very well, getting across the scale of it with a few words. Mind you,I reckon Chipper Jones could restore peace and goodwill to all men...

    Marc Nash

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  2. I love end of the world stories and this was a great example of why. Him being a journalist is a perfect perspective, allowing him to see and record more than the average person might. His attention to the photographs, of Vanessa and the boy, is touching and brings the sadness of the situation home.
    That's not your adorable son, is it?

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  3. This was brilliant. Am going to retweet to share with all my followers. Really easy to read, well-written and imaginative.

    It reminded me of The Road a little bit. Except, obviously, very different writing style. And I actually prefer the perspective of your protagonist.

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  4. Oh I liked this. A pretty haunting picture of a while city gone Donner Party.

    Like Cathy said, I really liked the POV of a journalist here. It was perfect for the story.

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  5. Morning!

    Marc, let's hope Chipper wasn't at an away game…

    Cathy, yep that's Mason. I don't live in downtown ATL, so he's standing (sitting) in for someone else's kid here.

    Thanks, Henrietta. What's your Twitter name? I'll give you a shout & follow.

    Michael, thanks much… the journalist was one of those "huh!" moments for me when I was trying to write this. It makes sense that he'd stay and try to cover the story.

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  6. I think you've tapped into a scenario which we could so easily enter within our lifetimes. This makes for unsettling reading, but only because it is so well written. I like the way the journalist sounds somewhat distant from the horrors: this would be the reporter in him, it lends an objectivity to the events.

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  7. Certainly time to check in on the kid. Like the above readers, I dug the point of view you picked.

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  8. Flyingscribbler, I realized after I wrote it that it's at the beginning of a story arc that ends with this short story (second of three scenarios). As far as the distance from the horrors goes, that could be shock just as easily as professional detachment, no?

    Thanks, JohnW. Sometimes things just work like that!

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  9. Really like this one, FAR. Great atmosphere and tone.

    Have you ever come across the DMZ comics/ graphic novels? The main character is a junior journalist caught up in events who ends up staying for the good he can do in being 'on the ground'.

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  10. This was haunting, and it read like a short film - I could picture it perfectly. Excellent voice as well.

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  11. Wow. This is a pretty haunting story. I love the pictures and the little stories he tells about them.

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  12. JohnX, thanks much. This is the first I've heard of DMZ. Is there a linky online?

    Henrietta, I've followed!

    Thanks, Laurita. I often visualize what I'm writing, although the background details are often sketchy.

    Sonia, thanks much. Even though the story is a man alone, I wanted some dialog in there to keep the piece moving. I thought talking to the pictures would work; sounds like it did!

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  13. Looks like there's a free pdf download of issue 1 over at DC:

    http://www.dccomics.com/vertigo/graphic_novels/?gn=5272

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  14. I really like this particular way of viewing the apocalypse, like he's still doing his job. I never understood why narrators in these types of stories keep journals but in his case it's perfectly justified. I hope he finds what he's looking for.

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  15. Very haunting portrait of the end. You simply have to read the story Jim Bronyauar and I co-wrote for the E-pocalypse anthology. All told in emails. It's called "The Blight." A similar thread runs through it. Very dark... I hope the guy makes it but if he's heading out into the chaos... makes me worried.

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  16. Excellent pace here, FAR. I love how you release information in bits and pieces that fit together in the end. His decision to go to the airport makes sense too. Fantastic flash here. Truly.

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  17. Great story. Dark, scary, makes you think... and as Maria said, we have a story like this coming out soon...

    Wow, good work.

    Jim
    www.jimbronyaur.info

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  18. Nice fresh take in a crowded field. This reminds me of Mira Grant's Feed and Justin Cronin's Passage, but I like the way you capture the city and the desperation has a touch of New Orleans. Yet, his decision to leave contrasts nicely with this giving an upbeat sense to the story.

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  19. Wow what a moving, evocative piece. You paint a sad world and yet the picture of the young boy holds that last glimmer of hope.

    Btw love the photo of the boy!

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  20. Wow, Mason's a cute one! :)

    I agree with everyone else, the story was very well written. The part about him wondering if the boy was somewhere where he didn't have to worry about eating or being eaten reminded me of Macbeth "Where's Polonius?"

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  21. You paint a credible picture of the end, Far. (As you have done in other stories.) I have to agree about the use of the journalist. I just hope that you're barking up the wrong tree about the cannibalism.

    BTW, I like the detail about the solar cells via borrowing from the street signs.

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  22. A great look at this man's plight and how he copes by continuing with his job recording events. The final paragraph left as with a sense of hope. Nicely told.

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  23. Wow, hi all!

    JohnX, thanks for the link. I'll give it a look while Mason's nappin'.

    Icy, I think I'd keep a journal if I found myself in that situation. Like Greg (the MC) said, someone has to document the end.

    Maria, is there a link to the story, or do I have to wait for the antho to come out? ;-)

    Thanks, Mari. You should have seen the first draft: a mishmash of elements that I had to arrange into a narrative.

    Thanks much, Jim. Looking forward to seeing yours & Maria's story.

    Aidan, I did want to end it on a hopeful note. I think it was James Blish who wrote "every end is a beginning."

    Helen, thanks. Mason's a photogenic little guy when I can get him to sit still long enough!

    Chuck, I call him the World's Cutest Grandkid for a reason. ;-)

    Thanks, Boran… one of my longest-time readers. This is what the peak-oil doomers call the "fast-crash scenario." As I said above, the story arc could end with Old Guy (or maybe the Weavers).

    Great summary, Alan. Thanks much, and welcome to the free-range insane asylum!

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  24. Hey, FAR.

    Yeah, we're kinda under contract and all that now. Sorry. It's going to be a good anthology.

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  25. The reality of such an apocalypse in our lifetime is a frightening concept. You nailed the perspective and the sense of objectivity yet endowed it with such a sense of humanity, or the lack of, in such a time.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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  26. The apocalypse comes to different people in different ways. I could feel his sense of mission, and the way it faded. Great story.

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  27. Maria, I'm going to borrow Danni's #impatientface for a while. ;-)

    Adam, permanent oil shortages in our lifetimes is almost a given. How we respond will tell the tale.

    Thanks, Tony. Post-apocalyptic fiction is interesting to write, because you can put ordinary people against a very different background…

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