Dillon grimaced as he gazed around his mini-fridge for the fifth time tonight; three Pop Cola cans, an old box of beef Lo Mein from Zhang’s corner stand, and a carton of Quik Fruit. Absentmindedly, he picked at the hives bubbling up under his left arm. The Happy Harvest line of Pumpkin Spice Quik Oranges had been recalled and, in what would be the beginning of the end, his manager Gene looked the other way while he slid a few rejected cartons into his bag. Dillon then snagged a few expiring Harvest Cider Quik Apples too, and he was lucky he had. Ever since the food riots began last week, all the stores had shut down or been looted. Still, eating nothing but the Quik Fruit and whatever he had left in his apartment had wrecked his system. Three days ago, he puked brown and woke up to a slew of rashes covering his body. Yesterday he nearly blacked out. After skipping dinner last night, the swelling had mostly subsided and he almost stopped the compulsive picking. This morning, however, the smell of something alarmingly close to warm cinnamon emanated from the flaky rash and it was growing stronger with time.
He closed the fridge then opened it again, relishing the whisper of cool air on his burning forehead. His eyes slid back over to the Quik Fruit. Dillon licked his cracked lips. What he would give for an apple, a real honest-to-god apple. He could almost picture one, perhaps a McIntosh, and his dry mouth began watering at the thought. Crimson and green molted skin reflecting the light, smooth in his hand; soft resistance of the peel giving way to a satisfying crunch into succulent white flesh. The subtle play between refreshing tartness and a lingering touch of sweet. He frowned, realizing that the feverish image he was conjuring was that of a Quik Apple from a viral. Sifting through his sluggish mind, Dillon couldn’t remember what any real fruit tasted like.
How long had it been since the last colony of hives simply vanished? Two years, perhaps, and there had been nothing even remotely close to an orchard for at least four. Dillon vaguely remembered UXN’s news feeds filled with speculation and saccharine hope; that there would be some way to resuscitate the bees or mechanically cultivate a form of perpetual windborne pollination. Any idea that would stop the inevitable. Who could have even imagined just how devastating the consequences would be?
At first, there had been no noticeable effect. This was before fuzzy kiwis, sweet pineapples, organic fair trade Guatemalan coffee, and most of all, apples, began to disappear; soon followed by cucumbers, limes, sunflowers, avocados, plums, pomegranates, and potatoes. A few of Dillon’s more vocal friends, the ones always shit-posting and spewing long rants on strangers’ scripts, were initially mocked for claiming that this was the end of the world as they knew it. Kelly, Shylo, Qi, and the rest, cast as another hipster-clique of doomsayer-attention-seeking-naturalists. Nothing could harm them, for they were too well inoculated against anything of consequence. Change was nothing more than mere inconvenience.
One day, however, Red Delicious doubled in price, and the next week they were ten times more. Oranges were suddenly small and green; the pallid zucchini shriveled. Asian pears were unbearably hard and heads of lettuce lay wilted as distributors pushed the last and worst of their stock. Soon after came the ration lines. Like something out of a ridiculous ‘shopped picture of the past; starving people stuck in line spending hours staring at the luminescent screens of their phones. It was inconceivable. Meanwhile, SocialI’s home feeds were filled with the latest sales, breakthroughs in chem-gene replication, and Shylo and Luca’s fifth anniversary. Rumors of techromancy reviving the bees followed by loops of the President calling the UGN’s International Ecological Director a “reactionary jackass.” Scrolling and glancing up to see a state of no progress; eyes back down to real time blurbs of human ingenuity, arrogance, or stupidity; depending who was posting.
Then there weren’t lines at all.
Sirens wailed in the distance, following a prolonged staccato of gunshots, and Dillon blearily looked to his curtain-covered windows, the black cloth blocking out any light. Martial law had been enacted almost immediately, but the soldiers were starving and sick too, so the cities had quickly descended into chaos. It seemed as if he really was going to have to follow the others into the streets. Dillon stumbled to the entrance of his apartment, panting from the effort. He peered through the peephole just as a ragtag group of people appeared at the end of the hallway. Dillon couldn’t believe his eyes; standing at the edge of the group was Kelly!
Dillon watched as Kelly pointed towards his apartment. He could only hear snatches of the conversation, and it sounded like they were asking her if she knew who lived there. A moment later there was a knock.
“Dillon? Dillon, are you in there? It’s me, Kelly. I’m with a group of soldiers and we’ve got supplies. They picked me up after Qi and I went looking for food.”
“Qi,” there was a pause and he thought he heard a tremble in her voice, “didn’t make it.” Another pause. “Dillon, you have to open up. We just want to help. Please.”
He looked through the peephole again and could only see Kelly with a half-smile on her face. He couldn’t believe she was still alive! Dillon undid the lock and cracked the door. “Kelly, I—” when suddenly, the door was kicked in. He fell, dazed, and was struggling to stand when he received a swift kick to the head. People streamed into his apartment as the world swam in and out of focus. He felt something cold and hard pressed against the nape of his neck. Kelly crouched in his field of vision. She wasn’t smiling anymore.
“I’m sorry, Dillon, but it was you or me.”
When not actively avoiding being mauled by his cat, S. Benjamin Elko Jr. writes in his apartment, car, state parks, and local coffee shops in Pennsylvania.