They all laughed at me, he thought. But I was right in the end, so I guess I got the last laugh. Although, I don’t feel much like laughing. Chester got some satisfaction knowing that his prediction was correct. Everyone had their own ideas about how the world was going to come to an end. Everyone was convinced that their theory was the correct one. The Native American prophesies said a great disease was going to sweep across the land, killing all of the White people who had done them wrong. The war mongers had insisted that nuclear missiles were going to be thrown by each nation in anticipation of another doing the same. The hippies thought that Global Warming was bound to drown us all in the waters of the polar ice caps. He knew better than all of them, he had predicted Z Day – the day when zombies clawed their way across the land. I was ‘mad’, they claimed.
Not many people took the prospect of a zombie apocalypse seriously. Those that did, made off like… well… they survived anyway. Those who had been willing to entertain the impossible were the ones who made it. Humanity was a fickle thing. It had all kinds of theories about how it was going to come to its end. As pragmatic as everyone tried to be, it was the least likely scenario that ended it all. Take that doomsday preppers!
Chester had been smart to grab a juicy piece of land in upstate New York. It cost him and arm and a leg to get it, but when the time came, neither of them got bit. At least he didn’t have to make any more payments on the land or pay the taxes for that matter. He’d built himself a nice little bunker out in the woods far away from the mass population. It was far less likely that the zombies were going to be heading out this way when they had such choice cuts of meat right in front of them in the cities. Corrugated steel made up most of the front. Chester had taken the time to weld it all together so that it didn’t collapse as soon as weight was put on it. The walls were about ten feet high, but on his side, he could easily stand over it using it as a defence.
He’d taken the smart route and stockpiled ammo, canned goods, clean water, and water filters. A simple Springfield rifle was his choice for dealing with any problems. It had a simple design, was reasonably accurate, could be repaired easily, and its thirty ought six ammo would still be plentiful even after the fall of civilisation. His food was the basic staples anyone would take. Corn, peas, some canned meat, and a few dozen cans of Beefaroni to mix things up once in a while. There was also a carton Twinkies for special occasions. After all, they do last up to seven years in the package. How they managed that was beyond him.
Yet, he had everything he needed… except, other people to be around, to live with as a part of a society. Not that he’d admit it of course. But, no matter what came along, he was confident that he could deal with it.
Of course, there was the possibility of needing to trade in the far future. Right now he had about three years worth of supplies. When that time was over, he’d need to go out and get more. He’d decided that he’d have to hunt, or grow some vegetables to use for trading. But all of that was years away, right now he was good, and would be so for a long time. He was satisfied with his preparation plan; it had gone off without a hitch. He wondered if anyone else had been able to do as well. You never knew when you’d be coming across another living soul this far out in the wilderness. Thus far, he hadn’t seen anyone. When the corpses started walking, he’d gone running. There hadn’t been any time to save any of his friends, they were, to a man already dead. He didn’t have any immediate family, and his parents lived in California. They were too far away for him to do anything about. He just assumed that since they were elderly, that they were already dead. No matter how well prepared he was, he still couldn’t help but feel a bit sad at having been right.
Chester picked up his binoculars and looked out across the land before him. Not a single zombie was in sight, no people either. Several times a day he took a moment to scan for zombies from his advantageous vantage point. Each time he saw that there were no zombies, he felt a bit more relieved. Each time he saw that there were no people around, it made him feel a bit sad. It was that time of the evening anyway, time to grab something to eat. He sauntered down the steps of his fortification, his boots clacking off the cinderblock steps. In his mood he partially dragged his feet across the dirt floor secretly hoping he’d need to fix it later as something to do.
He reached into the dry food storage and took out a can at random. Hefting it up, he looked at the mixed vegetable label. He pulled his Swiss army knife out of his pocket and flicked out the can opener. The walk back up to the observation position was all the time needed to get it open. Sitting down in a lawn chair, he switched over to the spoon and began his evening meal. At moments like these, he liked to watch the sun begin to set. The changing colours of the sky reminded him of the things he used to feel before the isolation began on Z-Day. Now, he only feels alone. Yep, the last laugh, he thought.
* * *
I am a genius, he thought. I am the man with a plan that paid off, which is why I’m going to be the one to survive and be rich. Al was feeling pretty good about himself. He’d taken the zombie apocalypse pretty well. He, unlike most people, was prepared for anything. He had meticulously plotted out his whole survival plan. With great effort, he’d managed to cover every possibility. Satan himself could have thrown his legions at him, and he’d still have been prepared. Al considered thinking ahead to be one of his specialities. Unlike most survivalists, he intended to remain mobile. He had provisions that would last him a short while but was prepared to get more when the time came. His philosophy was that, as long as you were moving, you stayed ahead of the zombies. Mobility is the key to survival; even the hunter-gatherers knew that, he reminded himself.
Most people just panicked after the zombies hit the country. No one knew what to do because no one was actually expecting something as ridiculous as a zombie outbreak. Those that were prepared would reap the rewards with an extended lifespan. But Al was different from the rest of them. He was anticipating his needs just a little different than those who had also been ready. Having been a libertarian, he was well aware that exchange was still going to take place in whatever world appeared in the place of the zombies. His foresight told him to snatch up as much gold as he could in anticipation of that inevitable exchange. Gold, he reasoned, was better than anything else. It was the universal lubricant of trade that made even the post-apocalyptic world go ’round. It was his faith in gold that would supply him with what he needed when his immediate supplies ran out.
Some people disagreed with him about hoarding gold in preparation for a collapse of society. They had said that food, water, and guns were a much better choice. His response had been the same, “any of those things can be bought with gold. Once society collapses, the dollar will no longer have any value. Only the power of the government gives it that. Once it’s gone, so is the dollar.” Gold was different you see, it had an intrinsic value, unlike the government issued fiat currency. It was all well and good for day-to-day transactions in normal life, but in this post-apocalyptic world, it didn’t possess the value it once did. A smart man would know that trade never ceases. All of our ancestors exchanged goods in one way or another. Those who invented using gold as money to exchange had been geniuses that went on to be super wealthy. He’d read all the works by the big “gold bugs”, Ron Paul, Peter Schiff, etc. They had warned of this kind of thing due to the fact that government money had no real value. Al had listened to those who knew more than him and learned from them.
His life wasn’t so bad. He toured the cities scavenging what he could to get stuff for free. Why spend money on it if you didn’t have to? You don’t get rich by writing a bunch of cheques. He made out well; he had all that he needed. When it was possible, he even managed to scoop up some luxuries. This one time back in Albany a few pieces of gold procured him a small container of Ben and Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream. Well, it had been more than a few pieces really. He’d thought he’d never see such a treat ever again. Al had never figured out how the merchant had managed to keep the ice cream frozen after all these years. Yes siree, gold could get you anything.
Al still had aways to go yet. He adjusted the trader’s jacket that he’d gotten a few months ago. It was a dirty khaki colour with a multitude of pockets throughout. His belt was heavy with packs and pouches that carried various tools and knickknacks, right alongside a nice Sig Sauer p226, 9mm pistol. Add in the load bearing backpack, and he had everything he could want. Well, almost everything. Casually he wiped his hands on his faded blue jeans. This latest expedition led him further away from the cities than he usually went. Sure, it was tremendously safer in the countryside, but there wasn’t anything to scavenge. If there wasn’t anything to take, then what was the point of going out there? It was a necessity to keep up the trading if you wanted to stay in food and clean water.
This life afforded him something that he couldn’t have attained in his pre-apocalypse life: true freedom. In this life, he had no God and no master. When he was relying upon fiat currency, he had to submit to employment, a dead end job that went nowhere. But now he was free to come and go as he pleased, trade with whomever he wanted. That was the life for him. He answered to no one and lived how he wanted to live. Only in the destruction of the world did he find true freedom. When a man went where he wanted, exchanged with who he wanted, he lived a free life.
Sure, he got lonely. It was a small price to pay for being free. Al often thought about settling down with a woman and having a family, but it would hurt his trading business. Whatever happened in life, happened. Until such a time came, he was going to live his life to the fullest as a free man. As long as he kept in a good supply of food, water, and a few luxuries, he’d want for nothing!
It would be still a long walk yet to get to where he was going. Niagara Falls was said to be a good trading hub given the close proximity to Canada. There it was said, you could get things you couldn’t get here. People always spoke highly of the Canadian maple syrup, something he’d have to check out for himself. It was getting late in the day and he was getting hungry. Thinking about the syrup reminded him of it. Al reached into one of the inside pockets of his coat. He felt around for a moment only to be distressed at the fact he didn’t have any food rations left. What the hell? He swore he’d bought some new ones at the last stop. This was not good, he’d need to find a source of food fast.
He picked up the pace and reached a new jog trying to get to his destination more quickly. He went over hills, around huge rocks, and leapt small streams. Jogging through fields was almost a pleasure. The displeasure came from the fact he was heavily weighed down with some goods and a lot of gold. It wasn’t long, however, until he found a small fortification in a hill. It looked well made, someone had taken the effort to weld together some corrugated steel to produce an impressive defensive wall. A man this prepared would probably have a healthy supply of goods to trade for. Al changed his trajectory ten degrees and made off towards the bunker in the near distance.
Chester sat in his lawn chair with his feet up. Every once in a while he’d pick up his binoculars and scan his commanding view back and forth. Whao, what? he asked himself. He’d spotted a man coming in his direction at a good pace. He was jogging towards his position loaded down with gear. He seemed to be in a hurry, but clearly wasn’t running from anything. Just to be safe he picked up and Springfield and took the safety off.
Al was starting to wear out. The sweat poured almost like a faucet from his head and back. “God damn,” he moaned out loud. Out of necessity, he slowed down a bit to conserve his energy. He looked ahead and saw a man sitting high up who was watching him with a pair of binoculars. Al waved to him in order to show that he had to hostile intent. Chester watched the man approach. In a few minutes, they managed to make eye contact.
“Hey there,” Al called out to the man holding a rifle, “are you interested in trading?”
Chester lowered the rifle and thought about his question for a moment. Sooner or later he was going to need to resupply, and this guy might have something he needed. At the very least I can find out if he has anything I need, he concluded. “What do you have for trade?” he asked.
Al slowed to a walk as he came close to the man’s fortification. Now that he was close to it, he could see how well built it was. It was a massive wall that would be impossible for a zombie to climb it, or dig through it. He wondered how it was possible to enter and exit the bunker. This guy, whoever he was, had prepared well. This exchange was going to be interesting.
“I need all kinds of stuff, but right now I need some food,” Al called out. He shifted his weight to one foot and rose up his hand to make a visor for his eyes.
“I got lots of food. What do you have to trade for it?” Chester called back.
Al reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a few pieces of gold. “I’ve got plenty of gold to trade.”
Chester stood there dumbfounded that he’d been offered gold. He scratched his head and said, “I don’t want any gold. I don’t need it.”
Al’s face became a sheet of stunned silence. “What do you mean don’t want any gold? You use it to exchange for things. You trade it for stuff you need, just like money. This is actually real money.”
Chester shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t trade with people, I’m self-sufficient.” It perplexed him why this man didn’t understand that. He’d gone to great lengths to take care of himself, and be prepared to survive on his own. Why hasn’t this guy done the same thing?
“Gold has value,” Al said, starting to become frustrated, “it can be used to buy anything. It has an intrinsic value. No matter what, it can be traded for something else. That’s what makes it a lot better than bartering.”
“I mean if you say so, but I don’t use it. I don’t do exchanging. I made sure I was self-sufficient before the zombies came. Why didn’t you do that?”
“I did, I hoarded gold so that I’d be able to get the things I needed.”
“Well, what if someone doesn’t want your gold? Not everyone wants it.”
“Yes, they do because it can be exchanged for anything. It has a value no matter what, because of its ability to be exchanged.”
“How so? I don’t want it. I have no use for it,” Chester sat back down on his lawn chair.
In frustration, Al threw his hands up. “You do want it, you just don’t know it.”
“You’re telling me what I want?” he asked. His face contorted into an expression of offended confusion. Where the hell did this guy get off telling him what he wanted? Chester thought. He put his feet up, tired of the conversation, it wasn’t going anywhere. Clearly, this guy didn’t have anything he wanted. Possibly he didn’t have anything at all. “If you don’t have anything I want, then I’m not interested in exchanging.”
Al was getting angry now. He raised his voice, “I do have something, I have gold, and it’s useful!”
“I don’t want your damn gold! Do you not understand that? I have no use for it! I don’t want it!” Chester called back losing his temper. “If you don’t have something I need, then move on!”
Al threw his arms to his sides. “You’re a fool!” he called out to him.
“You know what? Why don’t you get lost? I’m not interested in trading at all anymore.” Chester held his gun up higher where the man could see it. He wasn’t aiming it at him, but he was making it known that he had it and that he meant business.
“I need some god damn food, now had it over and take this gold!” Al demanded.
“Who the hell do you think you are demanding I trade!?”
Al finally lost it, he pulled out his Sig Saur and pointed it at the man behind the fortification. “Hand over some food now or I’m going to take it by force!” he insisted. Chester dropped down behind the wall into cover. As he did, Al fired a shot over his head.
“Crazy bastard!” he called out to him. Chester rose up with his rifle and fired a shot directly into the chest of his attacker. Al’s eyes went blank as dropped to the ground with arterial blood pulsing out of his chest. When he landed, the pouch containing the pieces of gold ripped open, spilling them across the grass. The setting sun reflected off the gold pieces catching Chester’s eye. For a moment he just stood there taking in what had just happened…
His first interaction with someone since abandoning his home had ended in a killing. Why? Because someone insisted something had value when it didn’t, to him. Because someone had something that someone else needed. The only way of obtaining it was to conduct a trade where one person would lose out. A man had just died, because an act of exchange for a necessity had been prevented. A need had conflicted with a want, leading to disaster. The light of his revelation cast upon on him. And he knew that he wouldn’t be able to shake it off. Chester realised he’d just learned something about life. Something he couldn’t unlearn. A man died because he was hungry.
The rubble of the old world is the same as before it had fallen, he thought.