My name is Max Stein. My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. Well, that and find a decent mechanic. Who knew that maintaining a killer muscle car would be such a pain in the tuchus? If you know anyone reliable, please tell me. My current guy is a big overcharger. Also, he is a cannibal slaver, and I get worried when I visit him that he’s going to eat me.
Actually, I’m thinking about a trade-in. I would prefer something solar-powered and autonomously driving, maybe with a five-year warranty. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It’s a sensible solution to all our problems. But everything is such a schlep now. Gas, gas, gas, that’s all anyone cares about. How about some public transportation for those of us who don’t live near the cliffs?
That’s how things are now, crazy. As the world fell it was hard to know who was crazier. Me, or everyone else. My therapist says it’s me, which is why I don’t see him much anymore. That and the fact that he lives in a cave 300 miles away. Such a thing!
Still, sometimes I drive out that way because vampire maniacs with fire guns are chasing me. I say to him, “Saul,” (even though he prefers his post-apocalypse name, Imperium Colossus), “I keep having these nightmares where I see the faces of the children I should have saved. Also, inexplicably, Tina Turner.”
He says to me, “that is very interesting, man who is also meat. Do you know where I can find water, fuel, food, and scantily-clad women?”
“Enough with the water, fuel, food, and scantily-clad women,” I tell him, “I just want a decent bagel with a schmear, is that too much to ask?”
But these nightmares, I tell you. They also include my mother. I see her face, outlined by fire and screaming headlines of newspapers that no longer get published. “Max,” she says, “your father and I are very disappointed in you. Shave that awful beard, you look like a vagrant! Did you remember to call the oral surgeon?”
I wake up screaming, but my mother’s face is still there. That’s because she also survived the apocalypse. She doesn’t know how to drive a stick so I have to haul her everywhere. Just my luck.
“Max, look out, you are driving like a maniac!” she screamed the other day.
“Ma, we are being chased by zip-gun wielding zombie slaves in a spike buggy!”
“You are wearing your seatbelt, aren’t you, Maxie?”
These are the things I have to deal with on a daily basis.
But at least I get to eat her cooking. She makes the best raw two-headed gecko and bat-dropping salad in the seven known wastelands. And her macaroons are to die for.
“Maxie,” she said to me the other night over dinner. “Don’t you think it’s time to settle down and meet a nice Jewish girl?”
“Ma,” I said. “There ARE no nice Jewish girls anymore. Everyone worships gasoline-huffing animist milk overlords with incomprehensible accents.”
“They could convert!” she said, hopefully. “And then you could settle down and get a pleasant house in the Green Place, maybe give me some feral grandchildren. That would be nice.”
Our dinner was interrupted. I heard a rumble on the horizon. There was also a rumble in my gut. I wished that the heavily guarded antacid depot wasn’t 150 miles away, ruled by a crazed man who writes novels blindfolded.
“Ma, we’ve got to go now,” I said.
“But we haven’t even had coffee!”
“Unless you want to end up being a blood bag, we have to go.”
“Blood bag, schmud bag,” said my mother. “Always on the run, never have a chance to sit down and talk.”
“Come with me if you want to live.”
I picked up my mother and put her in the passenger seat of my car.
“This car is filthy,” she said. “I taught you better.”
“Ma, shut up or I am going to make you sit on the hood and spit gas into the turbocharger.”
“You do what you have to do to survive, I guess,” she said.
I launched the car off the cliff and hit the ground 40 feet below.
“If only your father were alive to see this,” she said.
But he wasn’t. One day we went out to buy the Sunday Times. Hunchbacked dwarves with giant utensils for arms ate him. We really do live in a changing media environment.
My mother and I ripped across the open desert.
“Forty years our people wandered and here we are again,” she moaned.
A huge tanker truck chased us. Dozens of bald men with bone-white skin hung off the sides, firing flares guns at our wheels. Typical.
“Look at these goys,” my mother said. “They think they’re so special.” I hit the brakes hard. We nearly ran into a vehicle that had four speakers stacked high on the hood. A crazy eyeless man hung from a pole, playing an electric guitar that shot flames from its neck.
Every time you think things can’t get worse out here, they just get worse.
“Such awful noise,” my mother said.
“Now Sinatra,” she said. “That was music.”
Neal Pollack’s latest novel is “Repeat.”