I returned to my apartment and found an empty shell, windows cracked and broken, the grass brown and withered, littered with dead plants and the interior a wasteland of dead computers, televisions and every other appliance humanity had relied upon to ease the troubles of this world. I tried to turn on some of these electronic devices, without any success. Of course, there wasn’t any electricity, no running water, nothing. One portable computer, battery operated, briefly started up, but died as the power ran out. One thing that did work was the gas stove and I found some packaged food that was still edible.
I went out to find my neighbors and the few that had returned were in a similar situation. We pooled our resources and hoped that the leaders of the day would find a solution. Leaders, I thought, are there any leaders left in the world? They are probably in just as dire straits as everyone. At this moment I felt a tremendous sadness over what we had lost and I was more than a bit worried.
I was in my apartment shortly after my encounter with Dr. Greenwood, savoring the paltry dinner I had scraped together when I had a very unexpected visitor. Any knock on my door caused the hair on my arms and the back of my neck to stand up, but this visitor more than any. I peeked out the door and saw Meno waiting, alone. I pulled the door open a crack and was greeted with the same smile I had always loved.
“Hey, Doc. Can I come in? It’s just me.”
He was holding his side in a funny way as it became obvious why he was there. I opened the door and hustled him in; I glanced down the hallway for his entourage, but he truly was alone.
“What happened to you?” I asked, although it was obvious that he had been in some sort of altercation. I moved his hand away and a blood soaked towel fell to the floor.
“It seems that Tyrone didn’t like the way I was running things; thought I was too meek and not using all my influence as I should. We had a bit of an argument and I guess I lost.”
“No doubt about that”, I answered as I examined the wide gash in his right side. “This goes through the muscle, almost into the peritoneum. Another half inch and you’d of had a big gash in your colon and probably be dead or close to it. But, I think I can stitch you up. Let me get a few things.”
“Take your time, Doc. I’m not going anywhere. Nice apartment, at least I think it used to be nice. Could use a bit of spiffing up, but, then again, everything needs a bit of spiffing up these days. I guess that’s where me and Tyrone had our disagreement.”
“How’s that?” I rummaged through my closet and found my old emergency kit. I opened the case and found some suture and instruments. The vial of Xylocaine had only a few drops.
“I hope you don’t mind a bit of discomfort. I don’t have any local.”
“I’ll grit my teeth; maybe you got a bullet for me to bite on?”
The wound at least was a clean slash, obviously the product of an extremely sharp blade, the type so popular with the gangs of years past. It was as clean and straight as the sharpest scalpel could make, perpendicular to the skin and straight down through the muscle, stopping just above the transversalis fascia. Meno winced as I washed it out with bottled water and then I began to sew.
“So what happened between you and your buddy?” I asked. I really was curious and I also thought that the conversation might take Meno’s mind off the pain he surely was feeling.
“Well, Doc, Ow…I was thinking about Abraham Lincoln and his second Inaugural Address, ‘Charity for all, Malice towards none’ sort of thing. I mean look at the world now. All we have are memories of our old advanced society, at least technologically advanced. But, now we have to start to rebuild from scratch. I proposed that my followers set an example, actually to emulate the man we sent away; to be servant leaders and embrace our enemies, Ow.”
“Sorry, I’m being as gentle as I can. I take it Tyrone disagrees with this approach.”
“Tyrone believes it’s time for us to be on top, to take what we want or need. We’re the strong now; the people follow me, at least the people in this area. You know, Doc, I spoke at the old Arizona stadium a few days ago. It was overflowing with people and all I had was a megaphone. There must have been 80 thousand, young, old, men, women, children; all sitting silently, listening to my every word.”
“I guess you’re the new Messiah”, I observed. “I’m done with the deep layers, just the skin to close now.”
“Well, Messiah means ‘Anointed One”, which I certainly am not. If we all do what’s right we can put this world back together in months. If we fight, exploit and lord over the weaker members of society we’ll destroy ourselves once and for all.”
“Sounds like you’ve got the right idea, what’s the problem…Tyrone?”
“Tyrone and his buddies; all those that felt like society owed them something. Eddie also doesn’t seem happy, although he’s not as vocal or as prone to violence as Tyrone; usually he just goes with the flow, but he also likes being on top for once. Me, I guess I never had that feeling of being downtrodden; I was on my way to a better life when all this started. I mean, I always thought I’d be in politics, but not like this.”
“You’re way beyond politics”, I observed. “There, that’s the last stitch.” I covered the wound with a clean dressing as Meno got up.
“Thanks, Doc. Good work. I just don’t know if I have the courage, you know; the courage to stand up to an angry mob. So, what do I do? Give in and hate myself for the rest of my life or stand up for what’s right and commit suicide in the process?”
“Do what’s right”, I answered. “Years ago, one of the younger doctors came to me with what he thought was a big problem. He was a Urologist and he was caring for a patient that needed to be treated with a stent. The patient was in the hospital and didn’t have insurance; didn’t have any resources at all. This doctor was worried that if he placed the stent he wouldn’t be able to remove it at the appropriate time because of her lack of insurance. I advised him to treat the patient in the best way he could, not to compromise the care he provided because of a social problem. Physicians are called upon to care for the sick and injured, not just the well healed sick and injured. Do you see my point?”
“I understand, but it may not be that simple. Maybe, I have a sense of how Jesus felt. He prayed to god to take the cup away; to find another way, apart from the Cross, to bring salvation into the world. But God said no, ‘it’s my way or nothing’. But, I’m not Jesus; I’m not sure I’m ready to go the Cross.”
“These are the times that try men’s souls”, I answered, empty words that offered no solace. “Follow your heart and do what’s right.”
“Maybe, Doc. But it may not be that easy. Thanks for the patch job. See you around and be very careful”, he advised as I closed and locked the door. I soon learned that he was not the man I thought he was.
A few relief efforts had barely begun when the violent gangs appeared. The paucity of resources led to hording of food, fuel supplies, clothing, even water. The age old story of haves being attacked by have nots led to this violence and destruction. They were mostly young men drawn together by their shared misery, individuals who found strength and power in the anonymity of the mob. There were also young women within the gangs drawn to or forced into a life of near servitude in order to survive. They were the strong ones at that moment and they mercilessly exploited the old and weak.
Meno was at the front of the largest gang. His was the most powerful; thousands followed him and his every utterance, every command led to more violence. Whispers through neighborhoods spread the news. There wasn’t any radio, television or internet. Those that were considered to have a useful skill, who had the potential to be an asset to the gang were made to join; the weak, disabled, mentally ill or those who just didn’t fit the proper mold were eliminated, cast off, thrown into the fire like garbage. And Meno smiled, and his friends smiled. I knew Meno would come for me one day. After all, I had some skills that were scarce, but also in great demand. All I could do was wait. I thought about his ideals, his desire to do good, those attributes that he had in the past; now buried away, pummeled into oblivion by the temptation that comes with the power to dominate and exploit. What good was he doing now? Abraham Lincoln he was not; Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin maybe.
“A new order has begun”, they said. “Only the strong can survive. There is no more God, no religion, only those of us who have the vision to see a future where we will be stronger than humanity ever dreamed.”
The entire scene reminded me of the old movie, Mad Max and, as I thought about it, the whole depressing scenario truly was a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Violence and death became the way of life. Civility, decorum, manners, whatever one wants to call it became vague memories of a world that was now dead and buried.
The irony has made our whole situation almost comical, but actually supremely depressing. The media always portrayed scenarios such as ours as the consequence of some human created disaster or natural disaster. The aforementioned Mad Max, a Boy and His Dog, The Omega Man and so many other books and movies seemed to share this idea. War or disease could wipe out everything and leave desperate shells of humanity in their wake. The apocalypse brought about by humanity’s failings or by Satan, perhaps, that I could accept. But, how could God, who is supposed to love us and has given so much of himself, how can he turn his back on his people. As I think about it now, I realize that it was not God that brought this upon us. It was our own fallen nature, Satan’s final triumph that is leading to our ultimate demise.
I refuse to put the leader’s name to paper; he had a choice; he could have led the people back to civilization, established order and reason. Instead he chose wanton destruction. I thought he was a friend, but I could never call anyone friend that could carry out such violence. If mine is the only record of these horrific days, let it be written that it was human nature that led to our downfall, not a single man and not God.
It was hard for me to gather the courage to leave my apartment. The streets were now a dangerous place and there was nothing there. Withered, dried up trees and bushes, replaced by the cactus that had flourished before the Light appeared. Eerie silence filled the air. The old sounds were gone; no cars or buses, no bustle of people moving from here to there. Only an occasional dog rummaging through piles of garbage, baking under the desert sun. The daytime was quiet; the heat discouraged even the heartiest soul, the marauders preferred the coolness and cover of the night. I walked along abandoned streets, staring up at a relentless blue sky. This was a different light, one that brought no comfort, only anticipation of violence and death.
I went by my brother’s apartment one day, even started to walk up to his door, but I couldn’t bear to see him again. Perhaps he was the only sane one, safe in his fortress living on Spam and beans.
I walked to Ace’s home, figuring he was living the life of luxury. The grounds were dried up, like everything else. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. The door was open, however and I gingerly pushed it open and called his name.
“Ace, you home?” No reply. His “autocycle” was gone as were a number of other items. The kitchen was a mess of open cabinets and drawers, everything emptied. I saw a pair of feet in the backyard, behind a wooden fence.
“Ace”, I called as I ran towards the lone figure. There I found him, I recognized his shoes; he was propped upright in a lawn chair, his hands folded in his lap; a perfect picture of serenity that lacked only one item: a head for the body. This is no time for entrepreneurs, I thought as I carried the headless body into the yard and buried it in a shady spot behind the garage.
“I guess it’ll be my turn soon”, I said out loud.
I left Ace in peace and wandered through the decaying streets of what had once been a bright, vibrant city. The desert sun scorched my neck and arms, but I was oblivious to the burning; the emptiness in my soul burned far more. Some people were about, foraging for anything little thing that could ease the pain and poverty of this new life “under the sun”.
A crowd approached and I saw my brother at the forefront.
“John, John; it’s Dan”, I cried.
He stopped as I approached and those following him also stopped.
“What’s all this; where are you off to?” I asked, curious, but also a bit fearful of this unknown mob following a man who recently had been holed up with a lifetime’s supply of Spam and beans.
“We’re going to find the Tree of Life”, he said enthusiastically.
“How do you know that it’s here and where to find it?” I inquired, even more curious.
“Listen, I was wrong about the Morlocks, OK. We had a rebirth of the Garden of Eden, didn’t we? And, in the center of that Garden is the Tree of Life and there should also be a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. All we have to do is find the center of the Garden and we’ll be there. We eat from the tree and, bingo, we’re good forever.”
“Where’s the center?” I was almost afraid of his answer.
“Well, if the whole earth was “the Garden”, then it would be at the center point for the planet.”
“You’re going to the earth’s core?” A touch of sarcasm accompanied my question.
“That actually was my first thought, but that doesn’t make sense, I mean Hell would be there. No, after a great deal of thought, and a vote of all the people, we decided that Centerville is the place.”
“Centerville, Texas, to be exact. Halfway between Dallas and Houston, the perfect spot.”
I shook my head and then turned to all his followers. I saw a mass of tired, bedraggled people who shared only one thing: a look of hope. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything that might shatter that hope, the only thing left of any value in this world.
I smiled and held out my hand.
“Good Luck, John”, I said as we shook hands, “And good luck to all of you. Don’t forget me when you reach Centerville.”
The followers all wished me well as they left, a few implored me to go with them, but I politely declined. I slowly walked back to my apartment. I wondered about Phyllis and Dr. C and even went by their house, but it was empty, abandoned or worse.
I passed by the spot Dingo had occupied, waiting for his Savior. Dingo was gone, only a pile of rotting apple cores remained. I wondered if he had left with Jesus or had become a victim of the mob. I suppose it didn’t matter. His was a faith that couldn’t be shaken and either way he was now in God’s house, perhaps reunited with his mother who loved the lord in such a strong way.
Finally, I reached my apartment and made my way up the stairs. There needs to be a record made, the truth about these times saved for future generations. I suspected that time was short, at least for me. They would come; he would come and it would be the end. I could never join him; death would be preferable.
Darkness was falling now. Soon they’d be out and no one would be safe. I need to put all this down while I still could.
As I record my thoughts I realize one of the great truisms of the world. “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. I think it’s now too late. It’s only a matter of time before we destroy ourselves. Memories of the abundance we used to have fuel hatred now. But, how could you let this happen, dear God; surely an omniscient God would have looked into the hearts of his creation and seen that all that was inside was hard stone. Love and Charity and goodness had long been replaced by a myriad of games, drugs and every other hedonistic desire imaginable.
As I finished writing there was a loud, crashing noise in the corridor outside and I heard voices outside my door. I put my writing in the desk drawer, in a panel hidden beneath the middle drawer, and I picked up my nine millimeter weapon. They were coming now, he was coming now and I knew that there was no reasoning, nothing I had that could satisfy their lust for death and destruction. Humanity finally unleashed. Joseph Conrad said it best, “The Horror, the Horror.”
And, somewhere, perhaps on a lone mountaintop looking out over the world or in the crowd that followed Meno and urged him on to greater destruction, Satan smiled.
(I originally ended the story at this point, but was told by my retired partner. Dr. Ebeid, that it left the reader in despair. I added the next chapter to provide some hope, Let me know which ending you prefer.)
The words you’ve just read were recounted to me by my mother, Miriam. Dr. Marcus was my father and before his death he told her his story. His exact words were stored in her remarkable memory and she passed those words and his writing on to me. Almost every night she would sit with me and tell me the tale and I committed every word to memory, just as she did, to be passed on to the next generation. She witnessed the final conflict and was with my father at the end. Here is what happened:
The mob burst into the room as two shots rang out; both came from Dr. Marcus handgun. Two of Meno’s gang fell to the floor before the doctor was subdued. He was carried out into the street and, just as the doctor anticipated, Meno came to him. The grand leader was dressed in a dark suit and he wore dark glasses, even though it was nighttime. In a gesture reminiscent of Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane he approached my father and kissed him on the cheek.
“I considered you a friend”, he said to my father, “a man with special talents; someone who could have joined me to help rebuild this world. But, you have rejected me and this is something that I cannot forgive.”
All this time Dr. Marcus was restrained by two of Meno’s henchman. As Meno spoke to him, my father relaxed, which cause his captor’s to relax. He gestured for Meno to come closer, that he had something to say to the “great” leader.
“You…you could have helped bring light back into the world”, he said in a weak raspy voice. “You could have followed the example set by Him. Instead, you are leading the people to death and destruction. God knows this and in the end you will be judged and you will pay for your sins.”
Meno laughed. “God has forsaken this place. We are all alone and it is I who sits in judgment now. It is I who sentence you… to death And, because you put such great faith in this God who has abandoned us, you will die in a truly biblical way. Take him.”
Meno leaned forward as if to kiss him again. At that moment my father jerked his hand free and his arm shot out with a powerful and carefully measured back hand slash. The retractable scalpel blade found its mark with a surgeon’s precision; blood spattered my father as it sprayed out of Meno’s severed carotid artery and filled the hole that had been sliced into Meno’s trachea. In less than five minutes Meno lay dead on the ground.
The mass of people stared in disbelief at Meno’s lifeless body. Out of the silence, Tyrone jumped forward.
“You will pay dearly for this crime”, he hissed between clenched teeth, but he also had a sly smile on his face.
They took my father and beat him and carried him down the street. They chained him to a fence and, in true Old Testament fashion, they stoned him, mercilessly. My father went calmly, telling his attackers that they should put their faith in God, that He hadn’t abandoned humanity and that He would return. The Bible said so and nothing could be more true. He repeated the words over and over, until there was nothing let of him, only a bloody pulp; left for dead by the raging mob.
As the mass of people moved away, one person stayed behind, my mother, Miriam. She had been looking for him ever since their brief encounter; to tell him she was carrying his child and, perhaps, to fashion some sort of life together, facing the hardships of a world gone mad together. She had followed, shrouded by the safety of the crowd, protected by the anonymity of the mob, led by a sixth sense that told her that somehow Meno and my father were destined to meet.
She freed him from the wire fence and was surprised when she felt him take a breath. He opened his eyes and gave her a faint smile and she smiled back.
She took his mangled, bloody hand and placed it on her rotund belly and whispered, “This is your child that’s growing inside of me. I’ve been looking for you for months and now you know that a part of you will live on.”
I’m sure that in those dying moments he didn’t remember her or truly understand that it was his child that was growing inside her; I suppose it didn’t really matter. It was then that he told her his story and she committed every word to memory. He told her where to find his written record and the Bible that was stained with The Savior’s blood. And, he told that even though the world was chaos and destruction and death seemed to rule the day, there was still hope. The words of Revelation had not yet been fulfilled and Jesus would return again to vanquish evil and bring the new Jerusalem to all those who believed.
That was thirty years ago. Miriam is gone, Tyrone is gone, but the Word made flesh lives on. Now, our numbers grow everyday. The ravages of war are past and humanity is rising from the ashes like the phoenix, rebuilding this earth and carrying God’s word to every corner of the world. The blood on this Bible cannot be washed away. His blood brings hope and salvation to all of us.