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Extra Pickles for the End of the World

James Reinebold is a game developer and writer who lives in Carlsbad, CA.

I work a register over at Burger Brothers, the one behind the crater from the orbital bombardments three years ago. I've been working there for a while. Since before the gangs, before the fires, before the zombies, and before the bugs. I'd really like to quit, but I'm waiting for the right moment. It's best to move cautiously in the wastelands: stay low, keep behind cover, and don't make noise. Hide from drifters (they only bring trouble). Don't touch anything that glows.
The restaurant is about a mile from my apartment. Walking to work each morning isn't as dangerous as you might think. There's plenty of cover in the wastelands. Places of all sizes to hide: trenches, burned out wreckage, drainage ditches, bomb craters, abandoned gas stations, and the big cavernous bug burrows (all dormant now, thankfully).
Any day now I'm quitting. I'm just waiting for the right moment.
When the zombies swarmed the suburbs, I thought for sure that was my chance. Tim the fry cook, my shift supervisor, and I survived for a month together on top of the roof. We ate pickles and stale buns until finally the National Guard cleared the area and got us down.
A week later our manager said she was reopening the restaurant. And well, I needed some extra cash... my rent got raised. You know how it goes.
I thought about quitting during the invasions when the call for volunteer starfighters went around. Towards the end they pretty much took anybody who could wiggle a joystick. But I get queasy from turbulence. It wasn't the right time. It wasn't the sign I was looking for.
Then there was the Utopia Vessel--the big blue cube that was supposed to take everybody away to a new, healthy planet. But like I said, I don't much care for flying. And who knows what awaits them out there in the darkness of space. So I'm still here, out in the wastelands among the bug carapaces, the leftover undead, and the motorcycle gangs.
Anyway, it's not so bad now. Burger Brothers International survived while the United States, the United Nations, and the Allied Planets Initiative are now nothing but nostalgia. Enough trucks make it through the Forbidden Zone, on average, to keep up with demand.
The few customers I get always ask how I've survived for this long. I tell them I do what anybody would do in my situation:
I settle the coffee pot onto the burner. I sweep out the dining area. I replace the toilet paper in the bathrooms. I refill the little packets of salt and ketchup. I spray disinfectant in the ball pit. I start frying the hash browns. I move cautiously in the wastelands. And all the while, I wonder when my life is going to change.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Author Comments

One of the things that fantasy does, for better or worse, is provide an escape from the daily routine. It lets me argue with dragons, suit up in power armor, and travel to other planets. But when writing this story, I tried to think about would happen if something truly fantastic did occur in the real world. Would it change our lives? Or would we settle back into a routine to where even zombies and space aliens seemed mundane?

- James Reinebold
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