New American Dream

Posted on: June 17, 2014

You don’t ever get used to it. You think it’s a nightmare. Anytime you wake up suddenly, that’s what it is: a nightmare.

You’d be wrong. You’re not waking up from one. You’re waking up to one.

You almost wish the virus resulted in something more. After all the horror films and tv shows and novels, you were expecting zombies or vampires or at least a dystopian society. It would give you something to fight against, instead of this anticlimactic coda.

It doesn’t matter that you watched your wife and kid succumb to a plague that’s like the Black Death’s big bad-ass motherfucker of a brother. Life’s just there. An undesirable Everest. Existential manifest destiny.

The only salvation is natural resistance and immunity. Hey, you’re one-in-a-million, kid. You won the genetic lottery. Your prize, other than life, is to stand watch over your family as they bid adieu to the living world. To sit in stony silence as they scream and writhe at the end. You keep hoping they’ll get better, but when the seizure starts it’s time to put Old Yeller out of his misery.



The voice is loud but distant.

“Give it to me!”

You walk toward the parking lot, skirting the edge of the trees.


Don’t think about who it is.

Don’t think about your youngest, still growing out of his lisp. Your namesake, fruit of your loins, proof of your virility.

‘Help me, Daddy.’

Don’t think about her, the one you love and make love to - oh, but not now, not with the blood and sweat. Did you know the last time you had sex it would really be your last?

‘Please, baby. Please help me.’

Then the shrieking horror. The shut-the-fuck-up of it. Are you really putting them out of their misery?

Maybe you’re just selfish. A selfish bastard who wants some peace in the apocalypse. What gave you the impression the apocalypse would be peaceful?

You want to swallow a gun, but you’re not strong enough to pull the trigger.

Strong enough to live, though. Ha. To have God look at you under his holy magnifying glass and say, “Yeah, that one - he’ll do.”

Strong enough for that bullshit divine intervention.

Not strong enough to squeeze that trigger when the barrel’s pointed in your direction, no sirree.

You are a survivor. It’s your curse: to be able to survive, to want to. You are your own Achilles's heel.

There’s a hissing voice in the back of your head, one that says maybe you wanted to shoot them. Maybe deep down in the very core of you, in the base, the id, the part unearthed by the End of Days, you longed for a solitary life. For the new American dream: peace in the apocalypse.

Because it was too easy, wasn’t it?

And you can’t confront that. Can’t look at it full-on, which means you can’t stay in your house, where memories are replaced with the stench of decay and the strange sounds of corpses. You don’t have the heart to stay there, to debate mercy and murder until you’re blue in the face. Just like them.

Sorry, lover. Sorry, offspring. This is one vacation we can’t take together. Are we there yet? Well, some of us are. One of us didn’t make the cut.

You close the door on that life.


Two men argue.

“It belongs to me!” The bearded one says. His hair is gray, but he looks like he could’ve been thirty a year ago.

“Fuck,” you whisper. You spot the source of the fight.


You get out of the city. You think of proportions and odds, the density of urban life compared to others. You decide it’s time to go loot the local Costco and say goodbye to modern living.

Now every morning you wake up with a start, the sleeping bag rustling as you spasm into consciousness.

You walk as far as your feet will carry you. And when you find a bike, you ride until your thighs cramp and the tires blow. You avoid cities like the plague (ha ha ha!), but small towns are fine. Towns are nice. Quiet. Beautiful, in a sad sort of way.

Some people make pilgrimages, traveling in packs to start a new life in some destined place.

Too many are like you--carrying on without a plan, without an ending in mind. It’s like you all decided to just go on a walk to get some fresh air, and you’ll keep going until you find it.

Or die trying.


“Help me!” The woman screams. She looks around, her eyes wild and large. They fall on you, and her yell becomes primal and desperate.

You take in the bruises on her face, the clubs the two men carry.

Even Neanderthals are deadly.

“Please!” Her voice ends in a sob, and she wails louder as you turn around and walk farther than you have before.

You still hear her.


Don’t be stupid. That’s the gist of it.

Don’t drink the water without sanitizing it.

Don’t go into old buildings.

Don’t eat wild mushrooms.

Don’t start fights you can’t win.

But you’re a survivor, so all these rules are common sense. They are easy to follow. And in the days and weeks and months, you age like it’s been years, decades, centuries. You’re an old soul traversing an ancient world.

You want to ask God to throw you a bone. Give you the peace you need. Because you were going mad in that house at the beginning, and you weren’t thinking straight, and you didn’t want to kill them, you really didn’t, and you know that now, because it’s all you ever really thought about since, and can you go home now?

Wouldn’t it be nice, to close your eyes and have everything tangible fade to black forever? To fall asleep and let death embrace, and in that embrace you find them?


Max Junior.

To hear your own name on your wife’s lips?

I love you, Max.

I love you, Tiffany.

Phantom voices fill your head.

Help me, Father. Help me, Husband. Help me, Stranger.

But hey, cheer up.

It’s gonna be a beautiful day.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Whitney Ott

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