From the author: How does the world end? Not in manicured lawns and easily-accessible canned goods.
Before the plague, Hollywood told us that the end of the world would come in sepia and brown and rust. It would come as graffiti on the walls, and people turned cannibals in the shadow of decaying cities.
I remember watching those shows. No matter how run-down the houses looked, the grass out front had always been mowed.
This grass under our feet lashes the legs of our HAZMAT suits. We don’t wear them for protection from the plague—we’re all survivors, immune to what humanity unleashed on itself. We wear them in spite of hundred-degree heat, so that all we can smell is our own living stench.
Weeds fill flowerbeds. Vines crawl up the brick, thick enough to shoulder gutters away from the façade. Bonsai saplings grow in the gutters. The window beside the front door, shattered. Looters—scavengers not sanctioned by the county—beat us here.
Inside? Teen squatters. One says he lived in the house before the plague, but his name doesn’t match county records. They have guns and baseball bats. We have pistols and clipboards. Amazing how official a clipboard remains, even after the apocalypse. They won’t leave, but it’s not county policy to shoot kids for being stupid and desperate. “This area’s scheduled for demo,” I tell them. “Clear out.”
On the door, I paint: Squatters. Given notice. A photo on my phone for the record. In a week, the fire-teams will come, and any squatters or looters will get what they deserve as the subdivision blazes.
Three houses down, my eyes fall on a weathered No Solicitation sign, and I knock. “Giving the looters fair warning?” my companion asks, drawing his pistol.
I don’t give him any more answer than the house gives us reply.
Inside, green mildew and the maggoty corpse of a dog. Given the shotgun pellets in the wall behind it, looters killed it, and rats and raccoons have gnawed it since.
I don’t eat before retrieval runs for a reason.
We find bodies upstairs, past a door that bear mute evidence that the family dog had chewed its way in here in desperation. Cockroaches swarm away from our feet. Names painted on the wall—Maddox and Carl. One boy’s still in the top bunk; the other boy’s partial remains are in a corner. The mother died slumped in a chair beside the bed. The dog gnawed her legs off.
We take them down to the backyard and bury them under the long grass as birds sing, occasionally dropping down to peck bugs out of the upturned dirt. The apocalypse didn’t come in brown or sepia or rust. The apocalypse arrived in green and jade and viridian, and swarmed with life.
Just not ours.
We drive off, knowing that after the fires, the green will return. Trees will grow, and someone might clear the land and farm, like the pioneers. And after that? Maybe they’ll build a city atop the farms.
Because even when the world ends in viridian, people keep going.
This story originally appeared in Remixt.