May 18, 2026
Y’know, I once wrote a story about a little girl. She dreamed up a magical universe, as an escape.
Her reality was abusive. She needed somewhere to go, but she didn’t have the power to leave on her own. So she used her imagination. She created someplace special, just for her. A place to be happy. A place to be free. The story was occasionally charming, sure, but it was dark. And the ending was crushing.
The little girl, despite all her best efforts, succumbed to the pain of her reality and died in search of her wonders. It probably hurt more to write it than it did to read it. I even attempted to give the story a happier ending, to appease my future audience, but I couldn’t do it. What I had already written felt right, and anything else would just rob it of its weight. It would take away its truth.
I was afraid my friends and family would question my mental health if they read it, so I never shared it with anyone. Looking back on it now, I realize I didn’t want to share the story because what I put on paper scared me just as much as I thought it might scare others. It had become my own personal scripture, with a demon on each page.
It’s lost forever now, likely rotting in the rubble of a house I grew up in. But it still rattles around my brain from time to time. I’m 35 years old now, and it’s rattling again. Only this time it’s different. This time, I’m not scared of it. I have a new perspective, and I understand what the story really means – It was an outlet. A way for me to express what I knew about the world without confronting it directly. I couldn’t find a happy ending because I couldn’t see my own.
I never cried over losing my family. My old family, the one I had before all this. I know that sounds terrible. It’s not like I didn’t want to cry, it just never came. I couldn’t force it out. It’s strange, I’ve always been someone with big emotions. But whenever something really bad happened, something unspeakable, I would just buckle down and choose not to feel it. A defense mechanism, like if I processed it I might explode.
I’m a survivor. That’s how I’ve made it this far. Dropping to my knees and crying wasn’t going to help. Head down, move forward. On to the next.
But then the next was Alex. And after that, our little Sweet Pea.
I made a mistake. I started feeling again. I felt so much. For years, I didn’t think about that little girl or that horrible story. In a world that wanted so desperately to prove me right, I just thought about my loves. My new family. I could see my own happy ending.
We had to leave Buffalo. The snow was too much in the winters, and the buildings couldn’t handle the banks piling up all over. We barely made it to spring a few years ago, so our family moved south. Outside the city, somewhere in hickland, we found a stable of horses. The folks inside the house nearby had kept them healthy and well-fed. They couldn’t do the same for themselves. Their bodies were fresh, but they weren’t infected. So we took what we needed from their place and left on horseback.
Pittsburgh became our new home. A nice little suburb outside the city. Plenty of empty houses*, canned food, and supplies. Alex and I cleared the block of infected. Set up a homeschool for Sweet Pea. Lived with smiles on our faces. Nearing a decade together.
I came up with a stupid idea to celebrate mine and Alex’s anniversary. There was a little trail, not far from our house and right next to the river, where we loved to spend evenings. Sit, talk about life, admire the city skyline. At the end of that trail was the entrance to the sewage system, locked with two great big doors. One morning, while Alex was teaching Sweet Pea at home, I snuck away and painted a mural of us on them.
It wasn’t for anybody else to see. Just for them. I wanted the reveal to be an event, something they talked about for days. Something that made Sweet Pea giggle. But it wasn’t that. It was a disaster.
Alex loved it so much. He told me it was amazing, and I didn’t believe him. Then suddenly, I saw his eyes, and it really was special. The way they were sparkling. Lit up. Sweet Pea laughed, her lovely little laugh, and they were all I cared about. A moment separate from reality. A happy ending.
I was too distracted to notice Sweet Pea open the doors. In all the time we’d been there, Alex and I had assumed they didn’t open. Locked. Stagnant. But child minds think differently. She found a way. A curious little hand pushing too hard on a rusted bolt, perhaps. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I just remember the clicking sounds we heard as soon as those creaky doors swung open.
Everything happened so quickly. I made eye contact with Alex, and the happiness had vanished. Just fear. We weren’t prepared. We let our guard down. Stupid. The infected came pouring out of that dark cavern-like ants. Sweet Pea was right there. We couldn’t get to her in time.
I wanted to let the monsters take me. I watched her sob. I started sobbing too. I couldn’t make my legs move. Alex managed to get to her, pull her out before she suffered. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it out either. He took charge, pushed me forward. We ran for a while. I lost them both in the chaos. Now I’m here alone. Crying over losing my second family. Thinking about Sweet Pea. Wishing she didn’t have to be the little girl from my story.
What I have left is this journal and a reminder why I started writing it in the first place. I was right. Happy endings don’t exist. Life always ends in death. No matter how hard you try to fight it. So I’m officially putting down my next rule in “Apocalypse 101”.
Rule #49, Learn Not To Feel
I don’t know where Alex and Sweet Pea are, but I know I’ll probably never see them again. I don’t envy Alex, either. If they both escaped those infected, he still has Sweet Pea. And she still has a bite mark on her shoulder. I hope he’s able to do what he has to for the both of them. He won’t read this, but I hope he doesn’t need it. If you want to keep living in these times, you have to learn not to feel.
You can’t stop to mourn the bodies at the stable. You can’t grow attached to one place. You can’t be afraid to kill. You can’t love so much you forget where you are.
When you feel, you open yourself up to death. I don’t know what’s next for me, but I know I’ll do it on my own. Consider doing the same. You see what being vulnerable got me.
*(Our suburb was pretty empty, but the city itself had a lot going on. Infected, yes, but also large groups of people. Lots of shooting. We stayed away as a family, but now I might not have a choice. Cities are bad, but there are too many infected in the other direction for me to take on alone. Maybe if I keep to myself, I can sneak through undetected…)