By Morgan Brennan
Hal Peters shuffled along the old Telegraph road. He’d traveled many a mile and was dog tired and hungry, but his shoes, well, they felt real good. A perfect fit and genuine calfskin leather brogues, wouldn’t you know. They made a comforting crunch on the broken ground. The dead guy he’d pulled them off of back in Mobile wouldn’t have missed them. No, not one bit. It had always been sneakers with Hal, but he could get used to these. Yes sir, they had status and solidity, unlike the ground before him. He had to criss-cross the road’s yawning cracks and its melted tarmac, but that was ok. He was alive.
Hal was a coal miner, and on the day, he’d been a mile below God’s good earth, digging out a new seam for the Man. Hal and his crew were down shaft 235, deepest of the deep when it happened. At first there were tremors, then violent earthquakes. The alarms sent them running for the elevators. Only he was quicker than most. When he got up top, there was nothing but him and the blasted fields and the shells of burnt out buildings. It was like a Californian wildfire had come a-calling from the west. In fact, there was not even the call of a bird or drone of a plane, just dead bodies, and shoes.
He’d heard weeks ago that the rhetoric had gotten serious. They’d cut diplomatic ties. Then, an incident off the South China Sea. He’d not taken much notice. Let them get on with it. They’ll sort it out. Then someone pressed a button.
He stumbled on. The sky was a toxic soup of yellow and red mushroom-shaped clouds. Above them, a devil’s symphony orchestra crashed out thunderous chords. Only, down on the ground, there were no partners left to take up that last dance. No sir, excepting Hal, nothing whole was standing. Not one other person, nor one tree, nor one building, except…except for a lone and crazily twisted billboard. It had somehow survived the blast wave, but its familiar slogan had been distorted. Some letters were covered by black ash. Hal could just about make out the rest against the scorched stars-n-stripes background. Ma e America eat Again. He shuffled on past. He was still hungry, but yeah, the shoes would do him fine.