(Content warning: This story has some intense themes and depictions of violence, please don’t read it if that might upset you -Max)

When I think back now I think I was isolated long before I became a prepper. I was from a pretty small town and I didn’t have many close friends.

Everyone I grew up with, well they left for the cities years ago.

I found social media made me feel more alone too, everyone I enjoyed talking to lived on the other side of the world, we had instantaneous communications But latitudes and longitudes separated us all, right?

I wasn’t particularly happy at my work, the job was ok enough and I made more than enough to get by. My life was just stagnant, I gave up on the rat race long before that point. I gave up on all of it to be honest. It was all so soulless and directionless. I felt like I was in prison, just the walls were a bit bigger, out of sight, but I always felt they were there.

Even at home I felt isolated. Everyone on my street had a big house, and they left for work in their cars straight from their underground garages. I never even really saw any of my neighbours, and I certainly didn’t know any of their names. doubt they knew mine neither.

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment that I broke completely. But I can tell you how it manifested itself.

One day, out of the blue, I took a redundancy from work. I just…left.

I didn’t even go to my own farewell party. I just packed my stuff, I walked out the door and I never looked back.

I sold my house, I sold everything I didn’t need and trashed the rest, and I took all that mattered to me out of town, I bought a little farmhouse on a hill that overlooked the highway. It was far away enough that you could see the cars clearly but not really hear them, except for the occasional gutter roar of some truck’s compression brakes. I grew to like that sound. I don’t really know why.

And truth be told, I liked it out here, right from the start. I didn’t need anyone. I just became self-sufficient. I’d spend my days managing the farm. I only had vegetables and fruits, but far more than I needed for myself, I built rain tanks, my own solar and wind power grid. It was a good feeling.

And it felt all the more apt as I spent the nights reading the news, watching the fights on social media, the world was going to Hell and I was relieved I was no longer a part of it.

But then I started to worry about those people coming from their collapsing world into my newly built one. It was an odd feeling, it wasn’t rooted in anything specific, it was more like a sense of dread. I think it was that feeling more than anything logic or practical that made me become a prepper. I started to stockpile everything. Any food I didn’t eat I canned; Any excess water I bottled. My shelves, basement and even the roof became crammed with goods I collected. Eventually, I even bought a few shipping containers and buried them into the hill to start storing it all. It was more than I would ever need.

Not long after that I began to buy alcohol and add it to the storage, I believe that when the shit hit the fan, alcohol would be a prime currency after the gold standard collapsed. Everyone always wants to get drunk right? I became obsessed, eventually I even started fermenting vegetables and making my own moonshine.

And then there were the guns. The more I had stored, the more valuable it became to me, so I knew I had to protect it. I bought my first gun, and had it in my bedroom, but then I worried if I was suddenly attacked how would I reach it in time if I was in another room. So I bought another gun, and another, and another. I had one hidden in every room, a few in the garden, and ammo everywhere.

I spent years prepping, but never felt prepared. I just knew, that in my mind I was ready for the shit to hit the fan.

But then it actually did.

It was one of those moments in life where you don’t just remember where you were at the time but you remember every little detail. I had some vegetarian lasagne I had made for dinner in the oven, that delicious smell was hovering over the house. It was a dark night and I only had my reading lamp on next to my couch. I was ready for another quiet night, just myself and the crickets.

And then a second later, it was like daytime. Imagine the brightest and hottest summer day you have ever felt but turn it up to eleven. It was so bright I had to close my eyes, but even then I could still see. I could see the bones of my hands as I tried to cover my face. And then it was black again. My eyes took a while to readjust to the darkness. Finally I managed to look around, nothing seemed broken was my first thought.

I went outside to look around. I Saw the glow behind the mountains, the silhouette of the trees shaking in front of the burning smoke behind. The nearest city to me was about fifty kilometres past those mountains. It didn’t take me very long to figure out what had happened to it.

I just sat there on the grass, watching that glow. Half of me was screaming to find a way to help, or to call someone, or do anything really, and the other half of me… just sat there. Finally the smoke alarm in my house went off and shook me into action. It was my lasagne, it was burning. Huh.

I remember the next few days as a bit of a blur. I couldn’t bring myself to turn on the TV or my computer, I couldn’t even unlock my phone. I guess the idea that there wouldn’t be anyone on the other end was something too hard to know for sure.

So I just went about my daily routine, working the farm, like nothing had happened. Just ignoring the smoke over the mountains. I found life easier that way, just, pretending the world outside my view didn’t exist. But of course it did, and eventually, it came to me.

Like everything else, I ignored the flow of refugees coming down the highway. There were a lot at first. Dozens at a time, spread out into various size groups, one day I counted over a hundred as I cowered below my window. They kept passing though and none of them seemed to even notice the farm, maybe they just didn’t care. I don’t know, I’ll never know now I guess. This went on for, I don’t know, maybe a week? But eventually there were less and less every day and then eventually none at all.

And that’s when I came out. And that’s when my routine finally broke. I’d spend whole days just sitting on that porch. Waiting for them to come back. But no one did. Not for weeks, not for months. And that is when it finally got to me, that I was alone, and that old world was gone.

I don’t know what you call that emotion. Depression doesn’t seem to do it justice. It’s like time had no purpose anymore. It was all just hollow.

I just sat there day after day. The morning light would shine on one half of my face, and the evening moonlight would shine on the other. At some point I started to bring my shotgun with me, it would just sit against one of the porch roof columns and I’d give it a glance occasionally.

Funny thing is, when you stay in one particular spot long enough, you start to notice everything, like the fact it was always so quiet now. Birds were gone, so were the bugs for what I could tell, it even felt like the wind was quieter. Yeah, you notice everything.

Which is why the day they came, I spotted them the moment they broke the horizon. A group of people, four of them. Two big ones and two little ones. They came down the highway and at some point they saw me and they froze. And I did the only think I could think of, I waved to them of course.

They stood there for a long time, talking, arguing it looked like, a lot of hand waving at each other. Then they all hugged and one of the big ones began walking up my drive way.

I glanced for a moment at my shotgun, an old world habit I suppose, I never for a second considered picking it up.

The man looked as worn out as anyone I had ever seen. Dusty torn old clothes, what looked like permanent tears in his eyes. He came up to me and he fell to his knees and he started begging for help for his family.

I got out of my seat, and I walked up to him, and I picked him up, and I hugged that man, like I had never hugged anyone before. And he broke down.

And so did I.

Sorry, that memory is still… tender.

Well all of that was about eight years ago now, and the five of us are all still here.

We turned this place into something else, I guess you could call it a motel, for those that pass by the highway. They are few but we trade with people who can spare, and we help those that can’t.

The thing is, in recent years the flow of traffic has picked up again, I guess we all started to come out of shock from the war, and now there is only rebuilding to be done. and this is our little part in the new world.

Since things have been getting busier, I decided to take on a little project of my own. I run the bar here now, that’s my job, all that stockpiled alcohol came in handy after all, you see! We named this bar Latitude Zero, because to us, this was the center of our new world.

And I hear a lot of wild stories from those that pass through here. It occurred to me that the history of this era will likely be lost, like some modern dark age. That pretty much can’t be helped I suppose, but, well I decided to do whatever I can to save my little part of it.

So I started taking notes when people talk about their experiences and I record their tales when they permit me. That’s how I began composing the works you are now hearing. I hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears, because the survivors of this world? They have so much to teach us.

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