(9 minute read)
by Whitney Reinhart
Russell R. Russell spent his life preparing to survive the apocalypse. Orwell, Huxley, Kirkman and, occasionally, King and Koontz were his prophets. He studied, memorized their works, the way others studied the Bible or the Quran. He daydreamed about surviving the zombie hordes à la Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead or blazing across the desert like Max towards the Thunderdome. In his head, he was the victorious underdog who always won out in the end.
His bug-out bag was ever-ready, he was up-to-date on all possible immunizations and had squirrelled away enough shelf stable foods to last him two years. He’d had laser eye surgery because glasses break, and contact lenses aren’t sustainable in a long-term societal collapse. Russell prepped his mountainside home for siege with solar panels, water collection systems, and was fluent in several languages of firearms. He knew to police his shell casings and pack his own ammunition. With more than 100,000 rounds stashed behind the baseboards of his cabin, he was confident he could fend off any unprepared sheeple who might think he was an easy mark.
A self-proclaimed primitive survival expert, Russell R. Russell knew how to start fires with tinder and forest-sourced resin. He could build shelters with woodland debris, saplings and branches. He knew which plants would help with a fever, which could stave off infections and which were poisonous in the right doses; white willow, echinacea and pokeweed respectively. Russell had spent thousands of YouTube hours learning different methods to trap and kill animals. He practiced on the unfortunate wildlife living on his side of the mountain. He felt like a regular, woodland MacGyver.
When people around the globe started to get sick, Russell got excited. Thith ith it, he thought. Thith ith what I’ve been waiting for! No matter how hard he tried, he could not help but hear his speech impediment when he talked to himself. He had always been the butt of cool kid jokes and resented the implication that his difficulty with s’s made him stupid. It didn’t help that he didn’t have any natural talents or that he was short but round and prone to excessive sweating with a face too small for his head. As an adult, things didn’t get much better. Even though he rarely spoke to other people, he was still short, round and sweaty. In a nasty twist of fate, his hair had started falling out soon after high school graduation. The injustice of developing a bald spot the shape of the 18th green at Augusta was simple salt on a complicated wound.
As public service announcements rang the bells of alarm, Russell retreated to his mountain, going into town only for perishables (while they were still available) and even then, only once every two weeks. He watched FoxNews, CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and other news outlets with the same excitement of children in the 1970’s watching Saturday morning cartoons. He trolled the internet, the seedy corners where ‘real news’ was shared, as well as liberal controlled social media sites for infection and death counts. One hundred thousand, two hundred, five hundred thousand, one million, four million!! Doctors claimed a 40% mortality rate and Russell nearly peed himself.
On his rare excursions, he watched his fellow survivors with grimy hawk-eyes, wondering which ones would die next, which ones would succumb to secondary and tertiary waves of the disease. He knew as more and more people died, even more would panic. The idea of widespread chaos was almost more than he could stand; he had to remind himself to be patient. If patience is a virtue, Russell R. Russell was the most virtuous man on the planet. He merely had to wait it out.
When images of pathetic panic crashed across his screens, he tenderly cleaned his guns and talked to himself, reveling in the routine of brush and oil. Tho many thtupid people will be dead in a few weekth! The mitherable dregth will be looking for help when they ought to be helping themthelvz! He walked his fence rows and checked his perimeters every day, mending and reinforcing weak spots both real and imagined. Russell checked his gasoline stores, adding stabilizer to any aging containers. He chopped hardwood and felt old world pride as the drying ricks grew to teetering heights. Most of all, Russell made sure the entrance to his sanctuary was well camouflaged and gave no hint to the fortress of preparation beyond. The siege engines of social demise could not reach him here.
He was ready for the end. He was Destiny’s eager lover waiting to claim his place in history as her avatar, a shining example of ultimate manhood. The end in which men like him would be kings and no longer dismissed as ‘crazy’. Let them thee! Jutht wait, they’ll all be coming to me. Begging me for help. And will I give it? No. I won’t. Not one tiny, bitty bit. Russell did not feel a moment’s sympathy for the sick or unprepared.
As he walked and worked and checked, he remembered and cherished all the slights he had endured for years. He gloated at the thought of Ginger getting sick and dying; the plain nerdy girl who’d had the nerve to laugh when he asked her to the tenth grade dance. He felt superior thinking about his brother begging for his help; his brother with the fancy six-figure paycheck and thousand dollar suits but no common sense or real-world skills. He was a little sad that his mama was dead already but not because he missed her. He was sad she wasn’t around to witness this; his time finally come. She’d always been distant and dismissive; like she was embarrassed by everything about him. He was never good enough, nothing like his sainted, quarter-backing, class presidenting, scholarship winning brother. No, Russell R. Russell would not help.
As riots erupted in the streets and neighbors turned on neighbors, Russell was smug and sure of himself. Not that there was anyone to witness his rightness. But he wasn’t lonely. He’d learned long ago to enjoy his own company, which was just as well, no one wanted to be around him anyway. No, he would emerge supreme from this crisis and lead the survivors, people like him, people who would understand and appreciate the man he’d become, to a prosperous new world where justice would be meted out on his terms. He had it all planned out. The survivors, his people, would be grateful to simply breathe the same air as their leader.
But when the end came, oddly enough, Russell R. Russell was unprepared. Although there was panic in the streets, bodies piled in heaps outside hospitals, somehow, world governments still managed to function. Citizens stopped fighting each other and began pulling together to restore order. When he descended into town, after weeks of isolation, no one paid him any attention. Russell was left alone to live his life the way he wanted. He was even allowed to be disappointed if he wanted. No one cared what Russell R. Russell thought or did.
What happened, happened so suddenly, he didn’t know it was happening until it was too late. On his way back up the mountain, Russell was angry. He shouted and screamed in impotent fury. He felt robbed of his chance, his one chance to be somebody. In the confines of his truck cab, he beat the steering wheel and gnashed his teeth. Spit flew, sweat poured, his face turned red, his right foot got heavier and heavier. And time stopped.
A doe and her fawn stepped delicately onto the roadway, coming down the mountain in the twilight, directly in front of his truck. In his foaming rage, he didn’t see them until it was too late. In no more than the span of a heartbeat, he jerked his wheel to swerve and plowed into the little family, sending them all, himself included, careening over the guardrail. His descent was halted briefly, abruptly, by an obliging boulder, slamming his balding head into the windshield and rendering him mercifully unconscious for the rest of the jolting trip to the bottom of the ravine.
When Russell R. Russell woke, he was pinned at the waist between his seat and the wheel, staring through the shattered glass into the sad eyes of the dead fawn. He tried to shift himself out of the cab, but it was no use. He was good and stuck. He felt confident someone would come along and rescue him. But no one ever did. In the end, with no company but two dead deer who had shared a relationship he would never understand, feeling lonely and unprepared for the first time in years, Russell R. Russell died alone.
Copyright © 2021 – Whitney Reinhart. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Born in Alabama, USA, Whitney is an MFA-Creative Writing student who spends her days in the company of two incredibly spoiled Siberian Huskies posing as study partners. She is married to the smartest man on the planet and finds inspiration in the ironic duplicity of humanity.
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