David Shipko is a Los Angeles based scholar and writer.

First

            I am walking down a residential street in an upper-middle class neighborhood toward a house that I know is mine, although I have never seen it before. The sky is red with streaks of fire and smoke. High, black treetops line the street. Their trunks have been cut away, probably for firewood, or maybe for repairs. I wonder how the treetops are staying aloft. I wonder who harvested the trunks. People are desperate these days. We haven’t had electricity for months. The same goes for everything else. The street is thankfully empty. I wouldn’t want to see anyone right now. The way things are, you can’t trust anyone.

            My stomach stabs me. My mouth and throat are parched. I haven’t eaten in days. There’s water at the house, but not much. I know it, I feel it, I am dying. I don’t know how much longer I have left, but it can’t be long. I never thought I would die like this, wasting away amidst monuments to excess. They look like tombs to me now. I don’t remember how the world came to be this way. There is a vague memory of a catastrophe, but I can’t be sure if it was an asteroid strike, a war, a nuclear apocalypse, or something else. I know it happened somewhere out there. It must have. Otherwise, these houses would not be so pristine, and I would be dead. Now that I think about it, I think it was the asteroid, and I think it happened very far away, maybe in an ocean or somewhere nobody lives. I am living in the shadow of its strike. Whatever is left of it will be the tombstone of the mass grave into which I am now fading. I wish it had struck here.

            I reach my house. It is a small mansion. The front door is open. Before entering, I stop and look once more to the sky. It seems bloodier than yesterday, but maybe it’s just me. I can’t remember what a blue sky looks like. No. I will not die like this. I will not waste away. I will survive as long as I can. I pull my iPhone from my pocket and call my mother. It rings a few times before she answers.

            “Hi David,” she says, her voice cheery but hollowed out by our phones. “How are you today?”

            “I’m fine. Same as every day.” A comet streaks through the sky. “I’m dying. I need to get some food and water. I need you to send me $20,000, so I can buy some guns and other things.”

            “Okay, dear, I’ll do that today. A gun sounds like a good idea. But now’s probably not a good time to be making long-term investments.” She laughs at her own joke. I chuckle half-heartedly and ask her to hurry.

            I end the call and enter my house. The vaulted-ceiling foyer is dark except for light spilling down the hallway from the kitchen. In the kitchen, I find some close friends I have never seen before. There are about five of them. Everyone looks clean, but I can tell that they too are starving. I want to help them, but I can’t do anything for them, not now. When I have the guns—

            The door on the far side of the living room that borders the kitchen slams open and a group of four men enter. They look like they are in their late 20’s. They are well groomed and their clothes appear new. Three are armed with large knives. The leader is wielding a hatchet. They don’t need to say anything for me to know why they have come. I grab a large knife from the counter and take up a defensive posture where the kitchen meets the living room. I can hear my friends do the same. The intruders fan out into a line and advance across the living room, moving among the furniture and décor like leopards through a jungle. Their leader bears down on me. He grins and raises his hatchet. I lunge, aiming for his heart. He dodges and I miss, but I manage to correct my attack enough to slice his weapon arm. He screams and drops the hatchet. I redirect my momentum into his chest, trap him in a bear hug, and raise my knife to plunge it into his back. Pain explodes from my right rib cage. My adversary grins and pulls away. A different hatchet has been buried in my side. Blood seeps into my clothes, spreading out like an oil slick on calm waters. I stagger backwards and begin to fall.

Second