A post-apocalyptic search for essential party decor (and friendship).
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The fourth of July was fast approaching, and Columbus was getting frantic. He needed an eagle to finish his decor for the celebration of the greatest country that ever was. The problem? Finding an eagle in good repair in this apocalyptic wasteland was surprisingly impossible. Surprising because it used to be the heartland of the country, you know, a place where football and cigarettes and cows and tornadoes and family values all coexisted.
“I can see it, Blueberry, in my mind’s eye — you know what that is, the imagination — I see an eagle. A solid bronze eagle. Looking into the middle distance. Like he’s watching for George Washington’s reincarnation, riding bareback on a horse, shirtless, a tattoo of ‘no taxation without representation' on his chest, Paul Revere and all the other Founding Fathers in tow.”
Blueberry, or Berry, said nothing. She was a fat, lazy, unimpressive rabbit the color of mottled dry grass.
“You’re right. I should settle for a two-dimensional flaky wood cutout of a duck. Plenty of ducks here. No gosh darn eagles.”
Red, white, and blue banners were strung so thickly throughout the apartment it looked like freedom took a diuretic. It made Columbus sigh with self-importance.
“Just think of how amazing the Fourth will be. I’m going to bake a flag cake and have a candle for every single year of America’s prosperity. All three hundred and ten of them. But between your birthday, my birthday, and America’s, we’re running out of candles. And it’s hard to blow them all out by myself.”
Blueberry gyrated her face, wishing for less talking and more celery. She’d settle for less talking, though.
“Come on, just one more search for the eagle, then I’ll be done. I swear.”
As if Blueberry had a choice. In protest, Blueberry popped out a few little turdlets.
“Damn it, Blue. It’s not that bad out there. Only 112 degrees today.” Columbus proceeded to bundle up in a breathable workout shirt, a UV-protective jacket, and then a raincoat. He gently grasped the fluff ball and placed her inside a transparent backpack, black eyes staring. “Do you ever blink, for Henry Ford’s sake? I wish you were human sometimes, just so you would blink. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be so alone.”
Columbus unsealed the door with a thick-gloved hand, went into the air-tight mudroom, and unsealed the next door. The wind whipped at eighty miles an hour. Hail the size of grapefruits crunched the ground like miniature meteors. Cold, acidic, rain pattered everything. Perfect tornado conditions. That’s what happens when humans drain water from every natural source, poison the soil, pave everything with asphalt and concrete, and fill up any free space with garbage. As a people, Americans had decided, “let’s fuck around with the natural world and find out what happens.”
“See? Not bad at all,” Columbus said before placing a worker’s hard hat on his head and grabbing the bloody machete. Wild dogs and wild-dog-sized rats had been especially angsty lately.
Blueberry quivered in fear.
An eagle in the right form and grandeur that Columbus desired couldn’t be found. Not in the old Wal-Mart (infested with mutants), nor the Masonic lodge (which was most shocking). Columbus figured there had to be one either in the old courthouse or the judge’s house or an undiscovered bunker.
Head down, near bent double to resist the gale-force winds, Columbus trudged into downtown proper. The only semi-intact buildings left were the bank and the courthouse, both from the “golden age of America'' when men when to work and women were housewives, and everyone ate jello and didn’t pretend to like it (Columbus tolerated it because it never expired) ((Blueberry sniffed it and smooshed it but never ate it)). The stone on these buildings was real all the way through, giving them the strength to stand against time itself. Everything else was so destroyed and overgrown that the courthouse looked out of place. The courthouse, specifically, appeared to be offended that no one ever told it the apocalypse came.
Blueberry moved around, scratched at the backpack’s sides, looking for an exit. It was stuffy in there.
Columbus took the movement differently. “Blueberry, this isn’t a mistake. This is going to make the party the best Fourth of July there ever was.” Under his breath, Columbus added, “What else would we do besides stare at each other? You, looking at me with a piece of baby celery in your mouth. Me, looking at you, with my dwindling supply of marijuana. Ok, hold on.”
Blueberry, a very good listener, far better than Columbus, spread her feet wide to brace herself. Columbus hammered and chopped away at the wood planks blocking his entry, cleared the glass, and vaulted inside. The front doors had always been immovable, which had scared him from further break-in attempts previously. Now he saw why it had not budged: a giant barricade of desks ten feet high kept those doors firmly shut. They were manned by skeletons with guns. Manned was the wrong word. Skeletoned? Dead-manned?
Columbus cheered, “Guns! I’ve been looking everywhere. Oh…”
His excitement died swiftly, for he realized the skeletons weren’t facing the barricade in the let’s defend this till our dying breath way, but more like we’re trying to claw our way out because we’re being shot in the back kind of way.
“Blueberry, don’t look.”
She could not. She was faced in the opposite direction.
There were skeletons everywhere. Some trying to flee, it seemed, others fighting, and yet more were sitting side by side with a single gun between them.
“Getting some cult vibes here.”
The white marble floor was covered in dust and stains. And behind the skeletons, up on the wall next to a huge pristine-yet-dusty American flag, was a confederate flag with a rattlesnake woven in.
Columbus nodded in understanding. “Ah…one of those local militia-dystopia-fantasy things. One-thousand percent caucasity,” Columbus said. “Good thing we got here after this mess. They’d have killed me straight off. And then eaten you, poor Blue.”
Before exploring, Columbus removed Blueberry, shook out her little poops she’d made, and put her back.
“You poop too much,” he said and went into a side office. It wasn’t her fault she was so regular and Columbus wasn’t. She always thought he should eat more vegetables.
Nothing good in the office except a candy bar and a fancy pen that still worked. Beyond the entryway, up a small set of stairs where the main halls intersected at a cross, there were clothes, cots, cooking pots, and stars and stripes paraphernalia everywhere; from coasters and cocktail toothpicks with little flags to boxer briefs and backpacks. This had been a large settlement, larger than most Columbus encountered in his trek from the frozen wastes of Minnesota. He’d planned on getting to the Gulf of Mexico, where there were rumors of civilization. But then he got used to the solitude. And then he found Blueberry, and it would be too much for her to move cross-country.
He rifled through the artifacts of the cult, listing his findings, “Ramen packets. Soda. Some good stuff! I can’t believe it took me this long to check this place out. Can you believe it, Blue?” She could not. “We gotta find where they kept things under lock and key. You know the secret to finding places like that?” Blueberry scratched an ear. “You look for the biggest pile of bodies.”
He found it in the courtroom, dozens of skeletons strewn about with their moth-eaten clothes and the whole place smelling like an old barn. There were a few old motorcycles in one corner, cobwebbed over.
“Whoever brought down this little commune was most likely the guy sitting in the judge’s chair, right there.” A skeleton in an immaculate wool coat was in the judge’s seat, an axe in his skull. He was leaning back and smiling, getting the last laugh. The judge, as Columbus thought of him, had a shotgun in his fleshless grip, and the guy that had axed him was on his back beside the chair, head blasted off.
Columbus, without respect for these dead psychos, crunched on bones and kicked them out of his way. He hoped that big ass shotgun still had shells in it. It did. Behind the chair was the judge’s private room he always saw them go in and out of in the movies, and the door was ajar.
Columbus smiled, his teeth very nice and taken care of (even when the world ends, you gotta floss), and said, “Bingo. Hey, calm down.”
Blueberry was hopping in terror, having seen movement out of the corner of her eye.
In this backroom was a wealth of rare supplies. Bullets and guns. Crates of MREs and survival gear. Then the super normal stuff, like a signed manifesto printed in blood (or had they just run out of black pens?), a stack of gold bars that Columbus decided he had to lick to believe, and finally, a bronze eagle, half-buried in dollar bills.
His awe was like a child watching fireworks. “Just like I imagined it…It’s perfect-oh…” It was not perfecto. The eagle, with its wings spread proudly, wide as Columbus’ shoulders, held not the laurels and arrows of America in its claws, but a rather large swastika. Columbus sighed. “Damn nazis ruin everything. It’ll have to do.”
Blueberry was getting frantic, having seen movement again. In her bunny vision, it was a human shape with some hair and clothes. At least they weren’t naked. Naked humans scared Blueberry more than coyotes. (She almost had a heart attack every time she saw Columbus dancing naked after showering).
Things were only getting worse for them both, as Columbus was unaware of the threat to his life, and also because he tried to stuff the eagle in the backpack with a bunny that really didn’t want to share such a small space with a nazi eagle, and definitely didn’t want to die at the hands of human - naked or otherwise.
“Blueberry! Ow! Come on, there’s plenty of room!” Columbus recoiled from being bit and dropped both eagle and backpack, Blueberry hopping out and away behind the tower of gold bars stacked chest-high.
“Um…is that a bunny?” Columbus wanted to scream out loud, but he bravely held it in, puffing out his cheeks, and spun around, brandishing the eagle like it would ward off the undead.
The first thing he saw was a walking, talking skeleton. But it was wearing clothes, for one, and two had luxurious long hair that was not greasy by any means.
Skeletons didn’t typically have nice hair or wear clothes unless they were wealthy and buried at a legit funeral. Oh, and there was a big ass rifle in their hands, pointed right at him.
The not-skeleton spoke again, with a very high voice, “Hi. I’m armed.”
“Columbus. And the bunny is Blueberry.” Blueberry inched out from behind the top of the gold bar tower, hearing her name said sweetly.
“Ah. Ok. My name’s not armed. And anyway, what kind of person keeps a bunny at the end of the world?”
“What kind of person lives in an alt-right-nazi-orgy-topia?”
The human scoffed, the high voice making it a squeak, and lowered the double-barreled shotgun. “It’s actually really nice upstairs. A postmodern paradise.”
It was Columbus’s turn to scoff. “As if there’s anything authentically postmodern around here. Closest thing I found was an Eames chair turned into a swivel stand for a 50-cal.”
“I saw that too. Made me laugh. Hate the Eames chair, though.”
Columbus agreed, “A mass-produced status piece that offers very little comfort.”
“We can’t ever have both aesthetics and comfort, can we?”
They suddenly glared at each other, getting suspicious that they’d agreed on literally one thing out of billions of opinions. What else was there to do in the apocalypse but formulate increasingly niche and annoying opinions? At least Columbus had Blueberry to rant to, but this other human?
“Are you alone?” Columbus asked.
“Yes.” Desperately alone, he seemed to say.
“Do you have a name? Since it’s not ‘I’m armed.’ Unless it is. Wouldn’t be surprised if that’s your name if you’re a descendent of—“
“No, no, not related to these psychos at all. Just a convenient hideout. They did have names like that, though. Pistol Whiplash. Locknload (yes, as one word), lots of Washingtons and Reagans and Lincolns. But my name’s Frankie.”
“Do you know what happened here, Frankie?”
“From the last of the journals, it seemed like they were just getting bored. Like getting down to the thirtieth protocol for subsection D on the manifesto.”
“Yeah…it happens. When it comes down to it, all we need is food, water, and someone to shoot the shit with.”
The dust motes, and Blueberry, were suddenly party to an awkward, shuffling exchange of unspoken items between the two.
Frankie pointed. “Eagle?”
Columbus raised the swastika bird. “For my Fourth of July party.”
“You think I can remove the swastika?”
“I mean…you could cover it. No one’s around who cares about that anymore.”
Columbus sighed. “Yeah. It’s just…if I use this for a Fourth of July party, I think the founding fathers will go Christmas Carol on my ass.”
“That would actually be pretty exciting…”
Another silence passed between them.
Columbus sighed, lightly, to not offend Frankie, and asked, “You wanna come? To the party?”
Frankie could have cried. He started to, then pretended to have something in his eye. "Damned nazi dust."
Columbus scratched the back of his head and looked anywhere but at Frankie’s emotional face. He wasn’t used to seeing faces with skin and expressions on them that weren’t hungry or angry. “Cool, uh, well it’s tomorrow. Come over whenever. I’ll have coffee and a cake with so many candles it’s amazing.”
“Eh. I stopped drinking a while ago. Keeps the old world away.”
“I’ve got IPAs.”
“Yup, we’re drinking.”
On July the Fourth, the three-hundred and tenth birthday of a country that didn’t exist anymore, two lonely folk in the midwest sang Happy Birthday, blew out a shit ton of candles, and then stumbled through the pledge of allegiance while saluting to a giant flag and a bronze eagle, the swastika buried in a pot of soil. This struck Frankie as oddly ironic, but was he stoked to share this ironic moment with someone who wasn’t a skeleton. Columbus, too, was happier than he had been in a long time - and the party was absolutely flawless.
And Blueberry, well, Blueberry was a bunny who was happy to not be in a dirty courtroom with a bunch of dead nazis or stuck outside in the apocalyptic wasteland. In short, Blueberry was happy too.
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