Day 1 of the apocalypse, 1-17-2023
If you’re reading this, that means the human species has survived the third world war. My name is Stan Wrighthart, and I’m documenting my life in this diary. I’ve never been much of a writer, but apocalyptic times bring out the Stephen King in all of us, except this is not a work of fiction. I wish it was.
Less than 24 hours ago the Ukrainian army launched an offensive toward Crimea. They’d been seizing territory all over the country, but they got cocky. Crimea was a step too far for Vladimir Putin. In retaliation, he authorized a nuclear strike on Kyiv. Nobody in the world thought the son of a bitch was crazy enough to do it, but he was.
The strike on Kyiv induced a response from NATO. The alliance formally declared war on Russia and gave Putin an ultimatum: step down from power and disable all his nuclear weapons or face annihilation. He chose war.
I was stopped at a Chevron gas station in Salt Lake City, Utah, several hours after the strike in Kyiv. The tiny television behind the register showed an anchor on CNN pointing to a map of Ukraine.
“Officials have confirmed a 9K720 Islander missile system launched a 25-kiloton nuclear warhead at Kyiv from Mariupol. President Vladimir Putin has threatened NATO with nuclear strikes on major European cities if it mobilizes its nuclear assets. The United States congress authorized the mobilization of its strategic bombers in an emergency session late last night. The white house is urging the American public to have excess water, and food in reserve should Russia launch an ICBM at the mainland.”
I remember every word she said. That ominous warning at the end is still ringing in my ears. The guy behind me in line began hysterically shouting, “The end is nigh!” over and over again. At that point, the gas station broke out into pandemonium. People began jumping over the counter to grab bottles of alcohol. The clerk abandoned his post and darted towards his vehicle in the parking lot. In the midst of the chaos, everybody’s phones went off simultaneously. An eerie beeping filled the room.
I looked down at my phone and read: EMERGENCY ALERT BALLISTIC MISSILE INBOUND TO LOS ANGELES. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
People all around me stopped to absorb the information. The words felt impossible. The magnitude of the text was palpable in the air. World War III has begun.
Day 2 of the apocalypse, 1-18-2023
Telephone communications are completely down, none of the TVs are showing the news, and the power is off. No missiles have struck Salt Lake City yet. Many of the stores were ransacked following the detonation in Los Angeles. Pious Mormons walk through the streets with smiles on their faces trying to convert the wanderers. They believed this war was prophesized and God would be bringing his children home again. They are the only ones smiling.
The perishables are wiped from the grocery store shelves. I managed to scavenge a couple of cans of beans and fruit. I’ll need to make this last if I want to survive.
Money is useless; the economy is non-existent. Every city is isolated from one another. Goods are no longer being exported or imported. Whatever is in the stores is what you have to survive. It’s every man for himself.
My sister and her kids lived in LA. I don’t know if she’s alive. I can’t contact her, so my mind is coming up with an infinite number of scenarios. I want to drive west but it’s not safe. A giant radioactive cloud is hovering over California, and I don’t have any protective gear.
I’m not moving until I have a plan. There’s so much confusion. Is the war still going on? It feels like I’m waiting to see a mushroom cloud sprouting up near me, signaling my impending violent death.
Day 4 of the apocalypse, 1-20-2023
The city is a ghost town. I’m cooped up near Grandeur Peak with a small band of people. We naturally gravitated away from the city to avoid the criminal syndicates robbing the unsuspecting.
A crusty bearded veteran named Fitchner directs our group. He worked in special operations in the Army many years back. He has a hand-crank radio that picks up the president’s emergency broadcasts.
New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Chicago, and Albuquerque have been obliterated. The death toll from the war is already approaching 50 million. Every major city in Russia has been hit with a nuclear bomb. Many of the metropolitan areas of Europe are decimated.
Joe Biden assures the world that the worst is behind us because Russia can no longer launch missiles. Fitchner tells me the horrors have just begun. Radioactive dust will blanket the Earth in the coming weeks, propelling the world into a new ice age. The precipitation will be radioactive, and nowhere above ground will be safe for humans.
Day 7 of the apocalypse, 1-23-2023
A cease-fire has been reached between the United States and Russia. According to Fitchner’s radio, more than 200 million people have perished since the start of the war. The leaders of both superpowers decided shooting more missiles at each other was pointless. There are no longer countries to control. Both federal governments have completely fractured and collapsed.
World markets are obsolete. International trading is impossible because satellite communications were destroyed by multiple space nukes that went off. The electromagnetic wave traveled quickly in the vacuum of space, wiping out our primary means of communication. The highly energetic blasts destroyed even MILSTAR and AEHF.
My entire life revolves around transmissions from that fucking hand crank radio. Every time I hear the faint crackle of it receiving a signal, a small glimmer of hope rises in me. I want it to tell me life will go back to normal soon, but it doesn’t. The news updates we get are progressively worse each broadcast.
Our federal government tells us not to panic. They reassure the public there are contingency plans in place to get everybody food and water, but that’s bullshit. If you’re not already dead or on the verge of dying, you’re living in hell.
Help isn’t coming; all the help has been destroyed in Satan’s war. Chaos and bloodshed are the new law and order. There are no police officers to arrest criminals and prevent the atrocious murder of innocent civilians. Shit, I stole a 9mm Smith and Wesson two days ago from a gun store at the edge of town. Fitchner convinced me to do it for my protection. I’m listening to him because he seems to be the only person with a grip on reality.
Day 9 of the apocalypse, 1-25-2023
Our food is almost out. Only Fitchner, Herb, and I are left in our rag-tag group of mountaineers. The others have left the safety of the mountains to venture back into town for food. My belly is empty and my mind is foggy. By my estimate, I’ve lost ten pounds since the start of the war.
Fitchner is teaching me how to hunt. He refuses to go back into the city for food, he says it’s too dangerous. He has no idea what it’s like in the town, but I trust his judgment. Humans are wild and unpredictable during war. The pastor at your church might turn into a child-eating cannibal under dire circumstances.
We caught two squirrels today. It’s been so long since I’ve had freshly cooked food I forgot what it tasted like. I split my portion with Herb because he’s old and he needs the protein more than I do. Sleeping in the cold has taken its toll on the ancient man.
Herb has developed a nasty cough; sometimes flecks of blood fly from his mouth as he hacks his lungs out. He’s a stubborn bastard, he won’t admit the pain he’s in, but it’s obvious. Fitchner wants us to find him some antibiotics. He suggests we raid the nearest Walgreens pharmacy. If we don’t go, Herb will likely die. If we do go, we might die.
I want Herb to live; I love listening to stories about his early days working in a coal mine. I suppose that’s why his lungs are so fucked up now. He inhaled toxic dust for decades before he was able to medically retire because of a severe disease he developed as a result of his work. He has the sharp angular face of a working man, with calluses on his hands to match. It pains me to watch him suffer.
Day 10 of the apocalypse, 1-26-2023
Salt Lake City has changed dramatically in a week. Trash and debris litter the streets. Dead bodies are strewn about the garbage like dead animals poisoned by a common water source. I don’t know how these people died, but I see signs of human involvement in many of the cases. One man had his throat slit, and another had his brains bashed in by a blunt object.
There is no sign of federal aid. There are no helicopters that fly overhead, and no FEMA trucks to supply people with food and water. Death and destruction spread as far as the eye can see. Aside from the dead people, the streets are mostly deserted except for the newly formed gangs that rob and kill the victims they can find.
Fitchner and I cautiously moved through the city towards the Walgreens. Before entering an area, Fitchner scans the perimeter with his high-tech binoculars for signs of human activity. We move under the cover of darkness like raccoons sneaking around a trash bin.
Walgreens was a shit show. Nearly the entire store had been turned upside down. Two little boys were ogling over a magazine when we entered the front door with our weapons drawn. They jumped to their feet and flashed pocket knives.
Encounters with new humans in this post-apocalyptic nightmare are tenuous at best and violent at worst. We told the boys we meant no harm. They hesitantly lowered their knives in relief.
It turns out the boys were holed up in a stranger’s mansion with some other kids. They told us armed militias were forcing adults to join their ranks or they would be killed. Many of the kid’s parents had been slaughtered for refusing to join the paramilitaries. Other parents just abandoned their kids and left them to fend for themselves.
Three militias are battling for control of the city, the Mormons, some offshoot of the KKK, and ANTIFA. The kids don’t know who is winning the fight for dominance, but they told us not to travel too far south or west.
Fitchner found several bottles of antibiotics for Herb under a display case that had been knocked down. He stored them in his backpack and we ventured back up the mountain. We found Herb curled up in his tent with a high fever. Pools of sweat surrounded him. He looked gaunt and pale.
Day 13 of the apocalypse, 1-29-2023
Herb died. He actually asked me to shoot him, but I couldn’t do it. His dark brown eyes were swollen and tired. His ribs protruded from his stomach. He passed away next to Fitchner and me as we read him his favorite book, The Road.
We buried him in the forest several miles away from our campsite and dug a hole deep enough so the coyotes won’t find him. I gently placed a ring of pinecones over the gravesite. His death reminded me of my sister who was probably atomized by an atomic blast.
I try not to think about her because it distracts me. I’m one thought away from committing suicide, but I know if I do, she would hate me for it. She was the type of person to wake up at 4:00 in the morning to work out and be back in time to make her kids breakfast. If I kill myself, it would be for nothing. I must survive for Lanna.
It hurt burying Herb in the mountain soil. The burial felt so undignified, but it was the best we could do given the circumstances. I didn’t just bury a friend, I put the old me ten feet into the ground. A newer, more cynical version of me emerged. I’m going to fuck this nuclear holocaust in the ass.
Day 15 of the apocalypse, 2-1-2023
We are absolutely fucked. The radioactive cloud is hovering over Utah. The cloud isn’t your typical cloud, it’s actually dust, dirt, radioactive particles, water, and a bunch of other nasty shit. It has a morbid deep gray color, different from any cloud I’ve ever seen. It’s blocking the sunlight, and the temperature has plummeted drastically.
We have to leave, but there’s nowhere to go. We’re trapped in the freest country in the entire world. How ironic.
Day 17 of the apocalypse, 2-3-2023
We’re packing up to leave at dawn. It’s too damn cold and we’re exposed to the radiation out here. Radiation is a slow, invisible killer. Neutrons rip apart your DNA, causing it to mutate. Fitchner tells me how fast you die is dose-dependent. We cannot measure the radiation we’ve been exposed to, but I’m assuming it’s a lot.
Day 18 of the apocalypse, 2-4-2023
A war broke out earlier this morning. Fitchner and I woke up to gunfire and explosions coming from the city. Buildings caught on fire like candles in the night, but this was no celebration. The fighting happened in bursts—a blast here, a barrage of gunshots there, then silence. After several hours the battles subsided, and plumes of thick black smoke rose high into the sky to meet the radioactive dust clouds.
We need to get more food from town. My stomach groans from the lack of calories. My rib cage protrudes through my skin, threatening to tear a hole in it. I’m tired and weak. All the plants, animals, and water in our immediate area are radioactive. It’s tempting to hunt for more squirrels, but eating them will kill us faster. Time is of the essence.
We don’t know what areas of the city are safe. We know where the explosions occurred, but it’s unclear if the militias are stationed near them. Fitchner planned an escape route through the backside of the mountain that would eventually lead us to I-25, but it required too much fuel. The nearest gas station is at a busy intersection, which is likely controlled by one of the roaming paramilitaries.
Day 19 of the apocalypse, 2-5-2023
Well, we managed to get more fuel for my truck, but we had to fight for it. An armed mob of skinheads protected the gas station like it was their holy land. Fitchner shot two in the head from a clever hiding spot before the rest scurried away like rats. We waited almost thirty minutes until we slowly made our way to the station.
Brains are laid out next to the gas pump. Ash falls from the sky. A blanket of sickness and death covers the Earth. A man died for oil, no different than the wars our government started in the middle east.
I want to believe that Lanna is still alive and somehow survived a nuclear explosion, but I know how absurd that notion is. Salt Lake City was never hit by a nuke and it descended into anarchy within hours. I can only imagine what the survivors of Los Angeles are experiencing right now.
Day 88 of the apocalypse, 4-15-2023
I’m still alive; barely. So much shit has happened I’m surprised I still have this journal covered in radioactive ash to write with. I stopped caring about the radiation long ago; I’m going to die soon anyways.
So, after Fitchner and I gathered up several fuel tanks for my truck, we tried to drive south, but on the border of Arizona I drove over spikes intentionally placed in the road. My tires popped and we came to a screeching halt.
Within moments, individuals wearing bone necklaces and painted faces appeared from the desert and surrounded my vehicle. They all carried guns of one make or another.
The group's leader, a monstrous man named Kahn, forced us out of the truck. His breath stunk like rotting meat. He made us forfeit our weapons and strip down naked. We had no choice, we were surrounded by a gang of ghoulish-looking creatures.
They led us to their encampment several miles away from the highway. Human skulls sitting atop makeshift pikes encompassed the camp of raggedy tents. Towards the center they had human skin drying on clotheslines and a large pot that sat over an open flame.
They were cannibals that had just caught their latest meal. We were ushered into a large tent that smelled of sewage and rancid meat. I nearly barfed the second I was pushed inside of it. I wish to forget the horrendous sights I saw in there, but I can’t. They haunt me to this day.
Mutilated human bodies were strewn about the dirt floor. A woman was missing both legs and a gangrenous infection had spread to her belly, turning her skin a sickly green color. She barely opened her eyes as I entered the tent.
Some people were sobbing and moaning, filling the area with sorrowful tones. A baby with its entrails hanging out was picked at by some of the others in the tent.
More bodies in various states of decomposition were placed just outside the tent. It was all too much. I passed out and woke up to Fitchner shaking me.
“Stay quiet. They choose one random person a day to eat. We’re lucky it’s not us today. We have to find a way to escape.”
How ignorant Fitchner was. There was no means of escape. Armed cannibals patrolled the feeding tent day and night. Occasionally the guards would burst into the tent to rape one of the two living women in the camp. I pretended like I couldn’t hear or see what was happening.
The cannibals called themselves the Skin Eaters. The necklaces they wore were from their victims, which they proudly displayed. Each new appendage they consumed added more bones to the necklace. Their teeth were stained yellow and their eyes were bloodshot.
The nightly meals consisted of a twisted and macabre ritual. It started with a chant Kahn initiated while someone else played the drums. The remaining Skin Eaters would mimic Kahn as the victim was led to the center of the encampment. The victims were tied to posts wedged deep into the ground with their limbs spread far apart, giving them the appearance of a star.
As Kahn circled the helpless soul tied down, the chants grew in intensity and pace. With a blood-curdling shriek, he would swing down his blade to hack off a limb. Cries of terror and pain would follow. Once a limb was hacked off, it was quickly cauterized by a burning piece of wood. Some of the victims died from the shock.
When a person had all four limbs removed, their head would be lopped off in a special ceremony. The brains were treated as a delicacy, and only Kahn and other high-ranking individuals were allowed to eat them. The brains were always consumed raw.
I often wonder what those people had done before the apocalypse. Were they doctors, teachers, and accountants? It’s hard to envision them being anything other than savages, but at some point, they must have been.
On my tenth day there, they chose Fitchner to be eaten. He refused to leave the tent, and when a guard threatened to kill him, he lunged for his gun. He managed to grab the handle before a rain of bullets ripped apart his back.
“Lead ruins the meat, but he’ll have to do. We can’t waste precious protein,” Kahn announced to his clan of monsters.
If I ever get the chance to find those sons of bitches, I’ll kill every single last one of them. Watching them ravage Fitchner’s body reminded me of lions that have just killed a wildebeest. Those aren’t humans anymore, they’ve devolved into wild animals.
You’re probably curious how I escaped from the Skin Eaters. I could tell you I was a hero and miraculously killed Kahn and saved the world, but that would be a lie. What actually happened was far less heroic.
One night, an altercation broke out between Kahn and one of his confidants. The fight escalated into a shootout that left a large chunk of the Skin Eaters dead or severely wounded. Bullets ripped through the compound, tearing apart the finicky tents. A few of the Skin Eaters ran off into the desert, but those that tried to stay were overwhelmed by the able-bodied people in the feeding tent.
Once we were liberated, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. I took back my truck and drove as far south as I could before I ran out of fuel. I kept walking until I stumbled upon a sanctuary set up by the federal government in southern Arizona. They have food, water, and protection. For now, I’m safe.
Day 107 of the apocalypse, 5-4-2023
I’m dying. Dr. Clark says I only have thirty days to live. I have stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I’ve been exposed to lethal radiation levels for two months straight and my body can’t handle it anymore.
It hurts to move. It hurts to think. It hurts to be alive. The estimated death toll is 1.2 billion. Global famine is starting to set in. Scientists estimate it will take many years for the nuclear winter to subside and decades for crops to grow again.
There is no hope for humanity, no silver bullet to save the human species. We manufactured this catastrophe, and now we must suffer the consequences.
Billions of innocent lives were lost over pride and politics. We never were in control of our destiny. The planet's fate rested in the hands of a handful of generals and presidents. Nobody should possess that type of power at their fingertips.
Day 112 of the apocalypse, 5-9-2023
Radioactive ash falls from the clouds above, our new snow. Nobody stirs in the compound. Armed soldiers wearing hazmat suits guard the barbed wire perimeter that protects the small community inside. This is the mutually assured destruction policy.
Our site is running low on food and water, but I’ll be dead before I die from dehydration or starvation. A quiet uneasiness has spread through our little haven. The government has no idea what it’s doing. It’s the wild wild west out here.
It’s only a matter of time before the people here go crazy like the cannibals did. They will start fighting over water and food when they realize there is no more aid to rescue them. The will to survive is the demise of altruism.
Day 113 of the apocalypse, 5-10-2023
God is dead.