They unleashed a fire that devoured the world in a flash. The sound of air-raid sirens heralded the end of the world like the trumpets of angels. Everyone still alive was left to experience the death throes of a planet that now resembled nothing more than an animal doused in gasoline and set ablaze by a match. The raging infernos raced across the continents leaving a charred, cold, and decaying shell.
There were only two kinds of people left, the dead and the dying. Billions of burning bodies put up pillars of smoldering acrid clouds which quickly spread across the sky, blanketing the earth in an ebony death shroud that swallowed the sun. Ash poured from the clouds like snow quickly blanketing the entire planet, plunging the world into eternal winter.
The great cities of the world were now vast plains of twisted steel and concrete, the only human remains the radiation sickened living corpses who with their last bit of strength were hemorrhaging from the orifices left in their melted flesh.
Tucked away in a place that was officially nowhere, there was the subterranean habitat of the man who had ordered the apocalypse with just a single phone call.
Matthew Blake, the 47th President of the United States of America.
Along with his family, his vice president, and his family, they were quickly whisked away after the decision had been made. They were now living in their own little beneath the earth. It was an artificial world that provided its inhabitants with life’s essentials only by artificial and ultimately temporary means. It was also a place to hide from the consequences of their decision.
A decision with drastic effects for the vast majority of people who had no agency, whose lives, could be extinguished with just the proverbial push of a button.
Within the walls of the nuclear super bunker, sitting under a desolate plot of land codenamed Sight Hope, were the automated mechanisms which produced clean water and fresh air, lamps that were meant to double as the sun, and a vast supply of foodstuffs served as reminders that death had infinite patience.
President Matthew Blake, the commander-in-chief, was sitting in a small conference room somewhere within the confines of the cavern.
It was a windowless, rectangular, concrete cell with gray walls and a heavily contrasting vibrant plush blue carpet and a long, perfectly polished oak table. When he first arrived, this conference room had been filled with advisors and generals. Now, it was dark and quiet. Empty of all but the President himself, at the head of the conference table, slumped down in his commander’s chair with his face resting on his folded arms on the table. He was hung over, and it only took one glance to know that the binge had been long and heavy.
The angles of his chiseled face were covered with unevenly grown, light brown stubble. He’d discarded his jacket onto the floor along with his tie. The sleeves of his usually immaculate button-down shirt had been sloppily rolled up his arms. This was where he spent much of his time, and where he usually drank. He mumbled to himself, occasionally tapping his fingers on the surface of the table. Those were the only sounds that could be heard in the room with the man that everyone had forgotten.
He lifted his head, as he often did, to look at the pair of twin clocks above the steel door. The red glow of their digital displays cut through his blurred and tunneled vision. One read: 13:52 and the other read: 264:34:08. They were the time and the sum of the total hours he’d spent in the bunker, respectively. He often checked them while sitting at the table, like an office worker counting down to the end of the day. The room around him seemed to be spinning, and the weight of his head became unmanageable. He laid his head back on the desk.
“Twenty-four hours in a day,” he muttered, “One hundred sixty-two divided by…uhh…twenty-four, seventy-two…Jesus, almost eleven days.” He groaned.
He thought back to the first time he’d met with a cabinet member or one of his generals. His eyes fell on the clipboard on the table. He reached out and dragged it over to him. The last logged meeting was at one hundred forty-eight hours.
It was a reminder of just how irrelevant he’d become.
What was he even the President of any more?
He issued directives to a military that most likely no longer existed and he filmed addresses that no one would see.
The people that were left no longer lived in America with a president. They’d brought him here as part of procedures for the sake of the “continuity of government.” But that was delusional thinking.
There was no control
The bunker wasn’t a presidential command center, not that the word ‘presidential’ even carried any meaning anymore.
It was a tomb.
He was like the last pharaoh.
And this was his high-tech sarcophagus.
He slowly got out of his chair, and slowly positioned himself on the floor. He rubbed his face against the plush carpeting and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he looked back at the twin clocks.
They now read: 15:39 and 266.
His head felt like it had been encased in cement.
He buried his face in the carpet again and groaned. The door in the front of the room opened.
“Oh, Jesus, look at you, “said a familiar voice.
It was Michael Crane, the president’s husband.
President Ryan was America’s first openly gay, and the last person to ever hold the office. He’d married his college sweetheart, Michael. They’d met while they were both attending law school at Yale. They were chiseled, highly polished, all-American men. They were a modern-day version of the Kennedy boys.
Except they were lovers instead of brothers.
His critics had been afraid that a gay president “wouldn’t be a tough president.”
He’d shown them though. He’d shown about eight billion people just how tough he was.
Michael left the room and returned with a low-ball glass filled with ice water. He sat down on the floor next to Matthew and handed him the glass. Matthew put the glass to his lips with shaking hands, took a small sip, and set his head back down on the floor.
“Come here,” Michael said, scooting over closer to Matthew. He patted his hands on his thighs and the tired president laid his head in down in his lover’s lap. “Michael…Mike…Mikey…” Matthew muttered.
“What is it?” Michael asked, slowly brushing his fingers through his lover’s hair.
“What did I do?”
“What do you mean?”
Matthew sighed, “Why did I give that order?”
“You did what you had to do,” Michael replied, his tone reassuring.
“But now, there’s nothing…It’s all gone…We’re stuck in this pit and we’re all gonna d…”
“Hey, shh, shh,” Michael whispered, kissing Matthew on the forehead. “You’re a good man. You’re the man who helped me come out to my parents, and you’re the man I married. You’re a good man and you’re a good president that’s for damn sure.” Michael said.
Matthew had always appreciated this side of Michael. It was the side of him that the public never got to see. They were allowed to be gay, but no one was ever supposed to see it. For the most part, Michael just stood behind him with his strong, silent composure. No one would ever expect to see the square-jaw captain of the rowing team cradling another man’s head in his lap, whispering to him as a mother does to a sick child. But as much as Matthew loved him, Michael wasn’t sure he really grasped the entirety and enormity of what had happened.
“Everyone needs you to be strong. Not just me, but the country. These are going to be hard times and they’re going to look to you to get through them.” Michael said. Matthew didn’t say anything. “Now, come on. You need a break. I bet you forgot it’s Christmas.”
Matthew squinted, “Christmas?” He repeated warily. The leisure quarters of the bunker had been done up to look like a suburban family room. Everything was there. The couch that sat adjacent to the recliner, the flat-screen TV against the wall, and the large wooden coffee table. They’d neglected no detail in creating the façade, but there were cracks everywhere.
No matter how much paint they threw on it, it would peel and crack and the cold concrete walls would show through, revealing the true nature of what this place really was.
The Vice-President and his wife were sitting together on a leather couch. They were much older than the President and his husband. The Vice-President was a tall, portly, gray-haired man with a round red face. He squinted when he smiled, and a lock of curly hair always seemed to be hanging over his forehead. His wife was a slender red-head who had aged well. She was past the point of being able to cover her many wrinkles, but was well composed and she carried herself with a dancer’s grace. They were watching Alex, Matthew and Michael’s eight-year-old son, who was playing amongst a pile of hastily shredded wrapping paper and ribbons.
Matthew and Michael walked into the room, the President dragging his feet, with his arm draped over his husband’s shoulder.
“Another staff meeting?” Beckerman asked, with a grin.
“Come sit over here with us,” Cindy said, patting a spot next to her on the couch.
Matthew groaned as his body sank into the leather couch. “Hey, Dad,” Alex called out, excitedly.
Matthew sat silently, dreading his son’s next words. “Dad,” Alex called again. Matthew took a deep breath. He felt his son’s body crash into his knees. “Dad, look! I got the Playstation Z!” His son exclaimed, holding up a black game controller.
“Yeah. You might be waiting a long time for the new games,” Matthew said, wryly.
“Oh, come on now. There’s no need to be grumpy,” Cindy said, playfully slapping him on the knee.
“Why’s Dad so mad?” Alex asked.
“Oh, he’s just been having a tough time at work,” Michael said. “You just have fun with your game.”
“I wonder if Tim got this. We could play online,” Alex said.
“It’ll probably be a while before there’s internet,” Michael told him.
“How long do you think?” Alex asked.
“About when we leave here. So figure two…maybe three weeks,” Michael said.
“Yeah. Just think of this as a camping trip,” Matthew replied.
“Hey! I know. Why don’t we throw on A Christmas Story?” Beckerman suggested.
“Oh yeah! That’s a good one!” Cindy agreed.
“What’s that?” Alex asked.
“It’s a movie about a little boy like you who wants a rifle for Christmas,” Michael said.
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” Beckerman giggled.
“I go get it when the cookies are done,” Michael said.
“Jesus fucking Christ! Cookies!” Matthew sneered.
There was a knock on the heavy steel door on the other side of the room. “Oh! That must be her,” Michael said, smiling with all the giddiness of a schoolgirl.
“Let me guess. You got fucking Santa,” Matthew murmured.
No one heard him.
Michael opened the door. Three Marines in full combat gear, complete with hazmat masks, entered the room, brandishing automatic weapons. Perched jauntily atop there respirators were Santa hats. A much smaller figure followed behind them. The mask came off, revealing a short woman with long salt and pepper hair, slightly wrinkled sun worn skin, and crow’s feet around her eyes. She smiled widely, “Alex!” She called out, opening her arms.
“Grandma! Alex exclaimed, running into her embrace.
“What the hell?” Matthew stood up.
“Merry Christmas, Sir,” One of the Marines said, “The First Lady…I mean…your husband…uh…your life partner arranged to have us chopper your mother to this location for the holiday festivities, Sir.”
His mother smiled, “Matthew, how are you?”
Matthew bit his lip and took a deep breath, “Are you people fucking insane?”
The room went quiet.
“What the hell is all this? Don’t you people have any idea what’s happened?” Matthew shouted.
“Honey…calm down.” His mother said softly.
“Yeah,” Michael said, “just because things haven’t gone so well at work that doesn’t mean you have to ruin Christmas for your family and our son.”
“Yeah. We’ll get everything fixed up. It’s not the end of the world,” Beckerman said.
“Not the end of the world!” Matthew shrieked. “Not the end of the world! That’s exactly what it is! In case you all haven’t noticed, I’m the one responsible for the fucking apocalypse!”
The room was silent. Everyone was speechless, except for Alex, who whispered, “What’s the apocalypse?”
Matthew moaned and put his face in his hands, “It’s the end of the world! Don’t you get it? We’re all dead!”
“That’s enough! Michael shouted over Matthew. He scooped Alex up and the boy buried his face in his father’s shoulder. “We’re trying to make the best of our Christmas in this place, which frankly, you put us in, but you won’t even let us have that!” Michael quickly turned away and left with their son.
Matthew wiped his brow and stumbled back over to the couch.
“Are you okay? Can I get you something?” His mother asked.
Before he could answer, the sound of machine gunfire rang out from somewhere inside the bunker.
“What the hell is that?” Beckerman shouted.
Everyone cowered down as a few more sharp bursts echoed around the chamber. Matthew heard something hollow hit the ground and roll into the room. Before he could even look up, there was a deafening roar and a blinding flash, and for a few seconds the light and the ringing in his ears was all there was.
And a few seconds was all it took.
When the ringing faded and his eyes adjusted, he could see the tips of a pair of dusty combat boots, just inches from his eyes. He tried to stand up but the heel of the right boot came down on his neck. The room had become a chaotic nightmare. The Marine guards who had escorted his mother lay dead on the floor, their bodies riddled with bullets. They’d been gunned down by an invading unit of Marines who stared down the barrels of their rifles at the Commander-in-Chief, his Vice-President, and their families.
“Get down on the ground!”
“Stay on the fucking floor!”
They shouted again and again.
“What the hell is going on here?” Matthew demanded.
The boot eased up off his neck and allowed him to turn over and look up at the man leading the raid on his compound. He was tall and dressed in the same combat and hazmat gear as his soldiers. The large ebony kaleidoscopic eyes of his mask were hollow and insect-like. A Desert Eagle in a holster was slung around his waist, cowboy style.
“Who the fuck are you?” Matthew screamed.
The man dug his boot into Matthew’s chest.
“Colonel Perry, 5th Battalion, 3rd Marine Corps. Martial law has been declared and it’s been determined that there’s no role for you or your administration in the plan for the continuity of government. We don’t take orders from faggots.” Perry declared.
Matthew was silent. Not long ago, he had been the most powerful man in the world. He couldn’t believe how quickly that had changed.
His office was now little more than a word.
The powers vested in it, little more than a memory.
And none of it was going to save him.
“What about my son?” He finally whimpered.
Without answering, Perry drew his pistol and fired a round through Matthew’s forehead, killing him instantly and sending him into the infinite and dark abyss of death. He never even saw the assassin’s face.
Matthew had been America’s first gay president. His name and legacy had been meant to be a symbol of the slow, but steady progress the country had made toward freeing itself from the grip of hate. But as long as society cultivated the power of the nuclear sword, the power to set the world ablaze, there could never have been another outcome. Matthew’s ascent to the presidency came during a time when conditions allowed for acts of compassion, but in only minutes the age of the homo sapiens had ushered in the twilight, and the sunset of the history of the species. They would not fade peacefully or gracefully, but rather in a maelstrom of chaos and cruelty. Matthew’s bunker, unlike the tombs of the pharaohs, would never be discovered by future generations. It would instead be forever buried under the dust of civilization in a vast wasteland of smoldering human remains.
This story was printed by Dreamscape Press in their anthology of speculative apocalyptic fiction titled "Nuclear Town USA"