After the End of Civilization

Three months after the zombie apocalypse ended, the last man on Earth found the last woman on Earth.

Okay, he knew they probably weren’t the last people on Earth, but as far as Jeffrey Elwood, PhD, had discovered, they might be the last living people in central Maryland. The zombies, fortunately, hadn’t followed the typical horror-movie pattern. The highly infectious, fast-developing disease had spread to most of the planet’s non-immune population—which, according to news reports promulgated before civilization had collapsed, included almost everybody—within the first two weeks. The zombies hadn’t lingered for long, though. They’d literally disintegrated days after infection. On the positive side of the human species’ near-annihilation, there hadn’t been time for much looting or vandalism.

The sole survivor in his neighborhood, Jeffrey had stocked up on food, gasoline, and other supplies and connected his house wiring to a portable generator. Not bad, he figured, for a nearsighted, middle-aged, slightly chubby English professor. He’d read enough post-apocalyptic science fiction and watched enough TWILIGHT ZONE episodes to know the expected procedure. What would his late colleagues who’d sneered at popular culture think if they could see him now?

The next step, of course, was the quest for fellow survivors. To drive around checking houses block by block would take forever. Besides, he wanted to find compatible people, not wild-eyed, gun-waving survivalists. Although the internet and cell service no longer existed, luckily he had the faculty directory of his former university on his computer. After months of disappointing in-person reconnaissance of promising addresses, he discovered Dr. Susan McCarthy, a biology professor, in a rowhouse less than twenty miles from his home.

After Jeffrey allayed her suspicions with his faculty ID, she invited him in. A tall, angular woman of about forty, she wore bifocals and had collar-length, medium brown hair.

While she didn’t own a generator, rooftop solar panels produced enough electricity to power a few appliances. She supplemented them with camping gear, for which she’d stored plenty of propane. She’d prepared for winter by stockpiling wood in the garage for the fireplace.

Admitting that, like him, she’d grown tired of having nobody to talk to, she asked him to stay for dinner. “I have a battery-operated radio and a CB rig,” she mentioned as they set the table, grilled steaks, and opened wine, “but I haven’t picked up anything except static since the second week.”

They discovered common reading interests and discussed books and movies over the meal, happy to drop the subject of the worldwide catastrophe in favor of its fictional counterparts. After they’d polished off the wine, Susan brought out a bottle of sherry and poured a glass for each of them. 

As a lifelong science-fiction reader, Jeffrey knew what ought to come next. He cleared his throat a couple of times and started to reach for her hand but drew back, as he worked up the courage to broach the vital topic. “We don’t know whether there’s anybody else left in this region or even the whole state or country. I believe it’s our duty to repopulate the world—well, the greater Baltimore area, anyway.” His face heated with embarrassment.

Susan shook her head with a wry smile. “Not happening. I had my tubes tied after my divorce six years ago.”

“Then the human race is doomed! Or at least the Maryland contingent of it.”

“If it depended on us,” she said, “it would be doomed anyway. One breeding pair is nowhere near enough for a founding population.”

Casting his thoughts over the next phase prescribed by fiction and film, he said, “Then shouldn’t we search for other survivors to restart civilization?”

“Can you realistically imagine the two of us trekking across a devastated continent, gathering a band of complete strangers, and convincing them we’re qualified to lead a community of intrepid pioneers?”

“Well. . . .”

“Me, neither.” She lifted the bottle. “More sherry?”


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