Tales from the Climate Apocalypse
A loud whistle blew.
She opened her eyes wide, waking up only to shut them tightly again as a thousand tiny knives stabbed her brain. Her teeth clenched.
The ringing was unbearable.
Delirious, her vision blurred in and out of focus.
She could feel the blood pulsing rhythmically through veins in her temples, and it felt like some terrible bird was attempting to peck its way out of her skull.
There was a loud, fast rhythmic staccato percussing against her back and a gentle rocking back and forth. If not for the blinding pain it might have been soothing.
“What the fuck.”
“Where the fuck am I?”
She managed to open her eyes, pull herself up, and look out the window.
The landscape was moving.
It was a train. She was on a train.
Just then she noticed that the long pointed heel of her Jimmy Choo black pump brushed against something. It was a lifeless hand lying face up.
Without warning panic set in. The voice in her head began asking questions faster than she could process what the questions were, let alone arrive at any answers.
There was a loud wheezing sound as she fought to draw air into her lungs. But the air was hot and dry. She tried to think but her head was still pounding. Fast clacking noises penetrated her ears. Her eyes darted in all directions and she began to heave as if some awful truth just found her.
She backpedaled, tripping over more dead bodies. At that moment she became aware of the putrid odor that entered her nostrils.
She tried to slow her breathing down but every breath just caused her to gag.
Tears streamed down the sides of her face.
“Think. Just get a hold of yourself. Breathe.”
She began to dissociate.
The only noises that escaped her mouth were small hysterical high-pitched squeaks, like someone letting the air out of a balloon.
All that she knew at that moment was that she was on a train, she was in a very bad state, and everyone was dead.
“Move. Just move.”
She began making her way down the aisle, stumbling over the corpses. There were signs that the passengers had clamored to escape, but there was nowhere to go. She could barely move and she was so tired. The air was hot and suffocating.
She panted in a series of short breaths, her jaw spasmed and her head shook as she struggled to make it to the front of the car. Only the bottom remained of her Gucci skirt suit. It was torn and her blouse was half unbuttoned. This was once her favorite skirt that she had worn to many power brunches.
Her once tightly bunned hair was streaked with gray and wildly disheveled.
“Just a little further. C’mon.”
Instinct drove her steps forward as her knees buckled under her feet. Her legs felt like plasticine. Just as she was about to reach for the door she suddenly felt a hand grab her ankle. She tried to scream but no sound escaped her mouth. The hand reached out from beneath a pile of body parts.
Someone was alive.
Maybe they could tell her what the fuck was going on.
Just then she could not have known what was happening, because she did not have the capacity to. Her brain had been badly damaged by the excessive heat and dehydration. She bent down low so that her face was close to the man on the ground. He was in his mid-forties and also looked as if under normal circumstances might be a well-dressed businessman or stockbroker. But these were not normal circumstances.
“What happened”, she said slowly, and at a volume that was barely audible.
The man blinked slowly as he looked up at her, gasping like a fish out of water. She couldn’t help but notice that he reminded her exactly of a fish whose mouth was agape taking its final breaths.
“We. Should. Have. Listened.”
His eyes rolled back in his skull. The grip on her ankle went limp.
Listened to what?
Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move. Piles of bodies began shifting. A pair of pale eyes stared up at her from under one of the seats. The form struggled to get up, like a newborn deer using its legs for the first time. The being was not so much born as it was resurrecting itself. Then another head jerked up. And another. They began to make their way toward her, their red tattered Brooks Brothers ties hung loosely on their necks.
Something ancient stirred in her as her heart began racing very fast. Her head was still throbbing and her throat was so dry that it felt like it was on fire, but she knew she couldn’t stay. Clumsily she reached for the handle of the sliding door. The grip on her ankle tightened again causing a shot of adrenaline to course through her veins. She pulled herself free and with all of her remaining strength and began pulling at the door handle. She jerked, throwing all of her weight to the left, wrenching a crack big enough to get her hand through. Using her knees and legs she pushed the door open wide enough to wedge herself through.
More passengers began to stand up and stumble towards her.
“Run. Just run.”
But she couldn’t run.
She could only trudge as if wading through a swamp. More bloodless hands began to animate and reach for her. She had seen this in movies and television shows before, but this was not a movie. All she knew was that she had to keep moving. Part of her wanted to just lay down and give up. Part of her wanted to just sleep and allow herself to be devoured, but encoded deep within her DNA was the most basic instinct to live. How was it only now that she felt this? It was perhaps the first time she had experienced this sensation in her whole life.
She wanted to live.
She must live.
So she kept moving, staying just ahead of the swell of corpses rising like a wave gathering mass and volume close behind.
Just then an elderly man lunged at her from behind one of the seats like a wild animal, with a watery black fluid oozing from his nose and eyes. With her left hand, she attempted to hold him back as she groped frantically for something, anything to defend herself. Her hand clutched at a black Mont Blanc pen in the jacket pocket of a dead passenger in the seat next to her. She flipped the cap off with her thumb and plunged the fountain tip into his eyeball. She felt a crunch as the sharp point pierced the ocular cavity of the skull.
She wasn’t sure if it finished the job, but it bought her enough time to keep moving forward as the horde advanced close behind. The exhaustion was overwhelming. Her insides were jelly. She was not fully aware at that moment that she had been literally cooking in the intense heat wave. Tens of millions had died from temperatures in excess of 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
She was also unaware at that moment that another deadly pandemic was sweeping across the globe. As vast swaths of the Siberian tundra had melted, prehistoric diseases were unleashed on human beings. As she made her way down the long corridor towards the front of the train, she glimpsed the orange glow of wildfires on the skyline. If this wasn’t a deadly hellscape where she was fighting moment by moment for her survival, the scene might have been quite beautiful, like the sunsets at her company retreat in Honolulu so many years ago.
“Just keep going.”
What was left of her poached leg muscles ached and burned, much worse than anything her Crossfit trainer had made her endure. She hyperventilated, taking in big heaping gasps of the stench. Her lungs felt like she was trying to breathe underwater from the humidity. The physical training at least paid off. That and the private Jiu Jitsu self-defense lessons which had become instinctive at that point. She had been determined that no man would ever again overpower her.
But these weren’t men. They had become something else.
Another emerged with frightening speed from the bathroom. A fast upward motion from the heel of her palm plunged the nasal bone into his brain causing the assailant to fall backward.
She was almost to the front of the train.
If she could just make it to the engine she might be able to seal herself off. It was coming back to her now. They were on their way to the Yukon. The train was taking them to a compound which was called The Last Resort. It was a luxury stronghold built for elite captains of industry like herself, billionaires, old money trust-a-farians, and a handful of celebrities who were liquid enough to afford it.
It had become apparent that society was going to collapse eventually. The unwashed masses would eat themselves. The only thing to do really was to make enough money to wait out the inevitable apocalypse in style.
While the hoi polloi was struggling to survive the heat, the droughts, the food shortages, the climate refugees, and the unrest, they would be enjoying all the finest accouterments money could buy.
This is what would await her if she could just live a little while longer.
Finally, she reached the door to the locomotive at the head of the train. The horde of clamoring cannibals was only the length of a few sleeping berths behind her. One of the heels of her black, very expensive pumps snapped. She limped for a few steps, not unlike the attackers chasing her before she kicked her shoes off and charged on barefoot.
She reached for the doorknob and pushed. It would only open about two inches. Something was in the way.
As if her voice finally found her, she let out a blood-curdling howl of desperation mixed with violent sobs.
They were almost on top of her. She could tell that one of the infected snarling beasts was from her home office. He was lurching toward her in an Alexander Amosu bespoke suit. He had been trying to kill her professionally for years, but now he was coming to literally kill her.
She could not let him be the one who finally finished her off.
She threw her body against the door with everything she had, letting out a barbaric and primal scream. All of those years of struggle and sacrifice to make it to the top so that she could be one of the few that lived, no, thrived through the end times.
She felt something heavy obstructing the door, but it gave way about eight inches. It might be just enough to squeeze through as a flurry of blackened fingernails clawed at her face and hair. She stepped over the conductor’s body lying face down in the doorway. Wild grasping arms prevented her from locking it. She managed to wedge her body at a right angle with her knees against the door for leverage to keep the mob of undead from bursting through.
There was a red hatchet hanging on the wall. It was just out of reach.
The force against the door felt like it would break the bones in her legs. Her fingertip grazed the wooden handle.
This was it.
She thrust her hand forward and pulled the ax from the brackets mounting it to the wall and began chopping wildly. There were loud wet cracking noises as the bones and tissue split against the sharp blade spattering her face and hair with blood and black watery fluids. Hands and fingers fell to the ground and she slid the bolt shut.
She let out a maniacal laugh.
“Not today buddy. You fucking asshole, I WIN!”
She wiped her face. At this point she didn’t care that she was resting on the lifeless body of the conductor, using him as a cushion. He had managed to pull the train whistle one last time before he succumbed. She used the bloodied ax to push herself to her feet and walked to the window. Hopefully, there was a manual or something she could use to figure out how to slow the steel behemoth. She would also need a map of some kind to discern where the final stop to The Last Resort was.
But first, she needed a break. She needed to rest. The muffled thumping of fists continued to beat on the door behind her. It wouldn’t matter. They would need an acetylene torch to cut through.
The golden light of dusk shined against her face. Her breathing slowed down. She felt safe. All of those years of climbing the corporate ladder had taught her to never give up, that the strongest survive, and the greatest wills always prevail.
But the moment of victory would not last. Defeat and surrender set in.
At some point the conductor, if he had remained lucid and conscious, would have engaged the switching rod that signals the tongue track to shift; sending the train on the correct trajectory toward the final destination. Because he was not, their course charged on toward a long stretch of unfinished track. The Canadian government once had plans to build a bridge over the ravine to deliver tar sands oil to the lower forty-eight states in America, but they long since had too much to contend with and were barely holding it together. There were many such unfinished infrastructure projects as all financial and manpower resources were diverted to the endless catastrophes.
In the distance was only a sharp drop into the abyss.
In just a few seconds the cars would cascade off of the end of the tracks toward the dry river bed five hundred feet below. Of course, the train itself was ten times that length.
In those final moments, time stretched in what felt like an eternity. A calm came over her. The pupils of her eyes dilated with the sudden realization that she did not even exist.
She wasn’t a person at all.
She was only an idea, conjured by words and imagination.
She understood the truth.
It was a metaphor.
The train wasn’t a train, it was the carbon cliff humanity was charging toward. She wasn’t an executive who had fought for her life, she was an image that represented the folly and shortsightedness of global capitalism, placing profits over human life and a livable world. She lived only as a picture and voice in the mind of the reader — an embodiment of our capacity for willful ignorance, inaction, and distraction.
The zombies were our insipid need for comfort and insatiable consumerism.
They were our collective disconnect from the people living in the global south, who will suffer mass death and displacement so that the industrial west can maintain their standard of living. They were the disregard for our children and unborn grandchildren, sure to inherit a barren wasteland of a planet2 so that stock prices and quarterly earnings reports can remain high.
The zombies were the psychopathy of oil barons, Wall Street executives, and corrupt politicians.
She was the simulacra of stories we look to escape in — to avoid facing the reality that every one of us must rise up and together to act.
She understood at that moment, her only purpose was to connect with that part of her audience’s psyche that could register what was really coming for the human race. Her function was to light a fire in the heart of the reader, who had created her like magic in their mindscape, the impulse to disrupt the status quo.
To do something. Anything.
The train is all of our futures. Humanity is fast approaching the end of the tracks — the point at which the momentum of carbon levels can be stopped.
The realization that she did not live in this real world gave her some peace.
There was nothing for her to do but to become a memory.
It was for her audience to act, because urgent collective action was their last resort.