Authors: Jordon Quattlebaum
I love the Post-Apocalyptic genre. Specifically, I love the moral grey areas that pose challenges and help polarize the protagonist. Unfortunately, I found that when I read many of the stories, the heroes were pretty formulaic:
• They were almost always people with a lot of stuff;
• They were super-prepared and usually military trained;
• They were ready to kill people within 10 minutes of the major ‘event’ happening.
This left me wondering what a survival journey would be like for someone who didn’t have years’ worth of bullets, beans, and bandages stored away.
What if our hero didn’t have it all together? In fact, what if before the fall he was a good guy but had a broken spirit? Someone who didn’t stand up for himself? Someone who wasn’t in the greatest physical shape? Someone who, like 99% of the population, wasn’t prepared for a long-term emergency?
Thom Monroe, our “hero,” is a man who falls into these categories. He’s a recent widower, a father of one, and an employee at a dead-end job. But he’s also a good man. He does the right thing more often than not. He’s kind to others. He puts food on the table for his child. He mourns his wife without turning to drink or other substances to dull the pain. He’s strong in a way that goes against the norm for most survival genre heroes.
I believe that someone like this, someone who has known pain but trudges along regardless, is someone who could rise up after the end of the world and be more than he was before the fall.
Would Thom’s quiet kind of understated strength be enough to survive?
I wanted to see if a man like this could live, thrive, and possibly even find happiness; if he could make the journey in one piece. I want him to make it because he symbolizes a lot of the unprepared people I know in life. I want him to make it, but I’m not sure he will. It’s going to be a long road.
I hope you enjoy the evolution of Thomas Monroe. I’ll let you judge whether he’s a better man before the fall than after.
- Jordon Quattlebaum
© Copyright 2015 by Jordon Quattlebaum
is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Episode 1: The Fall
Chapter 1 - A Rough Start
The alarm sounded, rousing Thomas Monroe from his rest. He’d dreamt of her again; a wonderful dream of gentle conversation. They had held hands and laughed together. She had smiled at him, rested her head on his shoulder so that he could smell her hair…and then the alarm woke him. Thomas was tempted to curse.
The woman in his dreams was Sarah, his late wife. She’d passed earlier in the year, just before their only child, Anna, went off to college. It was sudden. They were driving home from a party on the 4th of July and were hit head-on by a drunk driver on the way home. Thomas managed to keep Sarah alive until the ambulance arrived, but he lost her on the drive to the hospital.
The other guy walked away. Thom remembered looking down and scrubbing her blood from his hands, paring his fingernails back to the quick to try and get it out from under them. Needless to say, it had messed him up pretty good. It still hurt, but he had been finally started getting help.
That was during the summer. Anna had been preparing to start her freshman year on a full ride at college about 120 miles away in Columbia, where her mother and father had met 20 years earlier, but she opted to start in December instead so that she and Thomas could mourn her mother together. Honestly, she was more worried about her father being alone than she was about heading off to school. She was a sweet girl like that.
Then spring came. Anna was planning on heading home for spring break. She and Thom were going to take some time and go camping. Something they used to love doing as a family together.
Thom rose from bed, stretching the aches out of his aging 40-year-old back, and went about showering and having some breakfast. He scooped the last of the coffee into the filter and set it to brewing while he hopped in the shower. Throwing on his work clothes, he tugged his slacks on, noticing they were a bit snugger than they had been pre-winter.
After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, Thom hopped into the car to head to work, thinking that he should really start to work some free weights into his morning routine. Thom was not fat, per se, but the thin body he had was more fat than muscle, and he knew that needed to change.
Driving was a challenge for Thom now. He was seeing a counselor to try and get past the fear, and it was getting better.
He’d gotten permission to work from home three days out of the week, and that helped a great deal. Unfortunately, today wasn’t one of those days. Not long after he got on the road, the phone rang. When he saw who the caller was, his spirits lifted.
“Dad?” Anna’s lively voice—his daughter’s voice—filled the entire car. “Hello? Daaad? Helloooooo?” Thom wanted to respond at once, truly. His mouth opened, and he tried to form a couple of words in response, but couldn’t get even a squeak past the lump in his throat. For several breaths, silence reigned on both ends of the line. And then: “Daddy?”
“Honey? Heeey, sweetie! Sorry about just now, I thought I had you on loudspeaker, but I couldn’t hear a thing. Thought you were prank-calling me or something.”
Thom gave a short chuckle that sounded genuine enough, even to his own ears. Maybe it was.
“Seriously, it’s this new phone; it never stops making me feel like a fossil. One of these days I’m going to forget how much I paid for it and chuck it right out the window. You know you’re the only reason I even keep it on me? When you come home for spring break, honestly, I’m gonna set this phone loose, let it do its own thing. Maybe it knows how to grow potatoes.”
That drew a grudging snort from Anna. Thom could almost imagine how she must be rolling her eyes; perhaps even looking around to make sure no one was near enough to overhear his idea of a joke. She called them “Dad jokes.”
“About spring break, Dad…are you sure you’re gonna come pick me up?”
“Yeah, of course, hon. Why, what is it? Do you have other plans?”
Anna’s voice turned rueful. “No, I’m just not confident you’d remember exactly
you’re supposed to be here.”
“Not remember? Why on earth wouldn’t I—oh…oh, Anna…did I forget to send your allowance again?” A loaded silence answered him, which he took to mean,
Yes, Dad, you forgot. You totally forgot.
Thomas sighed. “Okay, all right, I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Then afterwards, when you get here, we’ll fix it so you can just withdraw directly from my account or…or, I don’t know, we’ll think of something. And anyway, you’re eighteen now, maybe it’s time you started handling your own finances. But are you still set for today, hon? Please don’t tell me you haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“Geez, Dad, give me more credit than that,” Anna replied, chuckling. “Like I’d really wait till I’m starving before harassing you for cash? I could make what’s left of my money last for a few days if I have to. But—Dad, don’t make me
, okay? I’m serious. I already had to borrow money once before, it was so not cool, and I’m so not doing it again.”
“Okay, honey, okay. I’m sorry. I won’t forget again, I promise.”
Anna gave a martyred sigh. “Okay, well…thanks. Ooh, and about coming home? Maybe I should just go all the way by train. You could pick me up at Union Station, and we could have dinner. Or I could take the train halfway. I know you’re working with your counselor on this. I could at least meet you halfway? Dad, I’m…a little worried about you making the trip alone. Because…well, it
a two hour drive. It’s…far.”
The last time he’d attempted the drive, about a month ago, Thom had had a bit of a mental breakdown once he’d hit the interstate.
He knew, of course, what his daughter actually meant but was trying hard not to say. Despite bouts of eccentric liveliness and his constant show of strength for her benefit, Thom could never really fool his little girl.
Though far away, Anna knew he was still very much out of his mind with grief, and—as Thom once again proved that morning—capable of forgetting, even for the briefest of moments, that he still had a daughter who needed him, a daughter hurting just as much as he was.
Anna was a young woman who had suddenly found herself adrift, because the person who used to help her steer her course, her mother, was no longer a call or a head turn away. Thom should have been trying to fill that role for Anna. Instead, he needed constant reminding just so he would not capsize the boat. Now Anna was trying to navigate for him.
“Sweetie, it’s a two-hour drive. Two and a half at the most,” Thom informed her gently, a small, wistful smile on his face that he hoped would transfer over into the phone.
“Like I said, Dad,
pretty far. The train isn’t much more expensive than the price of gas. Sure, it takes a bit longer, but I could finish watching a few episodes of
on the train or read a book or something. It wouldn’t be a big deal at all.”
Amused, he shook his head.
“Listen to me, honey. I’d much rather brave the highways for two or three painful hours than spend that same amount of time wondering whether you’re still on your way home or already halfway to China. Plus, I miss the heck out of you and enjoy having you all to myself on the drive. It’ll give us a chance to catch up and for you to tell me all about college life.” He thought about what he’d said for a second. “Okay, maybe not
about college life. Daughter—you are to stay exactly where you are and wait for me. I’ll definitely remember to get you, so
just tell me this one thing: When exactly am I supposed to be there?”
Father and daughter continued chatting about inconsequential things until Anna said it was time for her to go to class. She said goodbye, promising to call again later just to prove that his only daughter did
only bother calling when she needed money. Without Anna’s voice to keep it at bay, silence descended over the car again, followed closely by the numbing gloom that was Thom’s near-constant companion these last months.
But the numbness failed to envelope him as snugly as usual—he didn’t become completely disconnected this time. Thom could still feel traces of his daughter’s radiance and warmth lodging themselves in his spirit, and these somehow opened him up again to the ability to feel as deeply as he used to before his wife passed.
Work, for Thom, was about an hour-long commute. He worked in a call center helping military members enroll in college using their tuition assistance, or their veteran’s benefits, if they were fortunate enough to have them. He liked that aspect of his job. The men and women who served were driven and knew that their bodies, for the most part, couldn’t continue to go on the way they were going after their careers in the military were finished. They knew they’d need an education to fall back on, and it was a pleasure helping them talk through their dreams and helping them select a program that’d be a good fit for them.
Thom did not, however, like his boss, Rick. Rick was one of those suit-and-tie-wearing men with the fake smile and the slicked back hair. He cared more about numbers and metrics than any one student, and he often chided Thom for spending too much time helping them plan, work on study habits, etc.
“For all the time you spend helping one student, you could be enrolling three!”
What really got under Thom’s skin was the way Rick had ogled his wife at the company Christmas parties in years past. Thom had heard about him having relationships with some of his female coworkers who had been struggling with their numbers and were afraid they might lose their jobs.
He tried not to think about it too much. A pretty firm believer in positive thinking, Thom wanted to stay that way, and a big part of staying positive was finding a way to filter out the negative influences in his life. In this case, it meant his boss.
The drive that morning was nice. Mondays, for whatever reason, were never bad. There seemed to be fewer cars on the road on Mondays, which suited him just fine. Thom turned on the radio and listened to some uplifting music on the local Christian radio station. He used to listen to talk radio, but since Sarah’s passing, he couldn’t stand the negativity. Thomas supposed it reminded him too much of the office.
The dream he’d had of her was a welcome gift, a pleasant distraction. He could still smell the scent of her hair, even after being awake this long, but he couldn’t clearly remember what it was they’d talked about in the dream. Anna was involved, he knew. That was what kept them laughing and smiling. Toward the end, though, when she’d rested her head on his shoulder, the tone had changed, and he couldn’t quite remember what it was she’d said. Thom started to delve back into the dream, reliving it.
Something flickered in his field of vision, and looking to the right he noticed a deer just as it darted out in front of the car. The impact was unavoidable. The windshield glass spider-webbed into an exquisite scarlet smear, and he instinctively cut the wheel to the right and hit the brakes. Taking a moment to breathe, and make sure the car was pulled safely onto the shoulder, Thom turned off the ignition and set out to inspect the damage.
The deer was dead, thankfully. He was not sure what he’d do if she had survived. The car was, speaking plainly, a mess, but it still looked drivable. Small miracles. The passenger side was a bit of a wreck. The bumper and right fender were heavily dented, and the windshield on the passenger side was so damaged that he doubted he would be able to see out of that side.
Thom popped the trunk and opened the emergency car repair bag he kept stocked. It had a basic first aid kit, a can of Fix-A-Flat, and, most important to the task at hand, a roll of heavy gauge duct tape. Using several lengthy strips, he taped the damaged bumper and plastic liner as best he could so that they wouldn’t rub against the tire as he drove. Satisfied, Thom nodded to himself and decided it was about as good as it was going to get.
Checking his watch, he realized he was now running late. So, with a quick prayer to the automotive gods, he strapped in, put on his hazard lights, and drove on the shoulder the remaining five miles to work.