"Rookery cookery crock, the food goes in the pot," he sing-songed to himself as he finished chopping the gigantic zucchini and scraped the pieces into the cast iron pan.
Bryan had found the garden and the rundown house attached to it and he felt decidedly blessed. Huge zucchini sprawling everywhere, crowding against large white onions, tufts of green onion, and sunflowers that were still tender enough to be plucked whole and chopped up to be added to his makeshift stir fry.
There was water to wash in. Both body and gear. Sunlight to warm his skin as his clothes hung out to dry, his backpack flopped inside out in the hope that the weird smell would finally be gone. And the pantry had been untouched, the occupants long since gone (though the dried bloodstains said not by choice), so he’d felt no shame in helping himself.
Shame had left him long ago.
He was cooking outside in a spot he’d cleared and circled with stones. There’d been no cooking oil in the trashed kitchen, but he’d been pleased to find the rectangular can of smoked oysters.
He wasn’t sure what most of the info on the can meant–his mom and dad had done all the grocery shopping, and it wasn’t like the Internet existed anymore–but he figured the oil was safe enough to use. He was hungry and he was going to eat.
Peeling the lid of the can back, he drizzled the oil over the vegetables, using the spoon to squish as much oil out of the oysters as he could. Then he shrugged and scooped the oysters into the pan too.
Fighting down the urge to chew on his lower lip, Bryan poked one of the oysters experimentally. Then he shrugged and used the spoon to pop it into his mouth.
He chewed slowly, letting the flavor roll over his tongue.
Then he swallowed.
He wasn’t sure if it was something he’d have eaten in his Everyday Life, but this wasn’t normal times anymore.
This was the End Times.
Or whatever else someone was supposed to call the experience of waking up decorated in blood in a world gone full post-apocalyptic.
He hadn’t seen a single person since he’d fled from that hotel of horrors with an axe in his hand and a bundle of human scalps in the bag slung over his shoulder.
Sometimes he thought he’d gone crazy. That none of this was real. That he was strapped to a bed somewhere and his parents were visiting him and if he just concentrated he’d be able to hear their voices calling his name. "Bryan." "Bryan." "Come back to us, Bryan."
But mostly he lived with the fear that this world was forever and real. That he had to keep going, surviving even when he wanted to lay down and give up because what else should he do?
Suicide was a sin. And even if he hadn’t been very religious before, he didn’t want to risk ending up in real Hell. Because if there was anything worse than this, he didn’t want to see it.
Sighing, Bryan forced himself to focus on the task at hand: Feeding himself. Enjoying the food. Not obsessing over the things he could not remember or change.
He used the spoon to toss the vegetables with the oil and spices he’d added. There was a can of Spam off to the side, but he hadn’t opened it and he thought now that he would save it.
The oysters had some amount of protein, and without refrigeration it wasn’t like he could save the leftovers. He was better off eating the whole pan of stir fry tonight and saving the Spam for breakfast. He’d found some minute rice that could be boiled in the bag. And he wasn’t ashamed of his excitement for it.
He settled the pan on the bricks he’d set amongst the wood fire and kept stirring the vegetables as the oil heated and things began to sizzle. He had some water off to the side to add later, as well as soy sauce and ramen noodles he’d half-cooked and drained.
Even if the food didn’t turn out perfect, he would eat every bite. Because he had to live. To make up for the things he’d maybe done. To atone for sins he didn’t remember. And to honor his parents, who had loved him and who he hoped he hadn’t killed. (But feared that he had.)
The world had lost all meaning. But he still had to live in it.
And he would count his days one meal at a time. And he would make his situation better one day after another until he figured things out. Because he didn’t know what else he was supposed to do.
He was still here. The world was still here. And he was still alive.
~"Bryan At the End of the World" by Harper Kingsley