"There shall be order. My order."
- Charm: Above Average
- Adaptability: Needs development
- Planning: Jaw-dropping
- Survival Preparations: Jaw-dropping squared
- Wealth: Plutocratic
- Weapons Skill: Road rage
- Intelligence: Logistic
- Warm Fuzzies: I'm not paying you to feel good
- Leadership: Natural Born
- Mutation: Wum
Overview of Survival Tactics
The ESTJs who remain on the surface will face hordes of zombies, mutants, Artisans, and ghastly combinations thereof. How will this highly organized type survive in a climate of mad chaos?
Good thing they are prepared.
At first ESTJs will hide out in their bunkers, listening to their radios and eating MREs skillfully prepared to look like TV dinners. Though dull, this period will be a good time for reassessing their goals in life, or rather, their goals for remaining alive. Many will just decide to live out the rest of their lives in their bunker, which has been prepared with no less than eighty years of supplies—and even a solar powered color TV! But these ultra-survivalists will be the exception, not the rule. (Most will just have radios.)
When it becomes apparent that the government is never coming back and that the army is not going to rescue them, ESTJs will grimly shoulder the responsibility for their own survival. These brave souls will head for the little enclaves of law and order that will nucleate around family-owned armaments factories. It will be a long and difficult trek, and many ESTJs will not survive. But on the bright side, those who make it will enjoy exceptional type development that would otherwise have taken them a lifetime to achieve.
Just as we all have strengths, so we all have weaknesses. For example, a Judger will excel at the skills of organization, time management, planning, and decision-making. However, because they focus on practicing these skills, they do not get as much practice at Perceiver skills, i.e. improvisation, openness to uncertainty, flexibility, and information-gathering. Thus our strengths always cast shadows of weakness. We spend our entire lives improving our non-preferred functions (i.e. a Judger may get better at Perceiving), but we never give up on our strengths.
On your journey to refuge, you would be wise to play to your strengths and avoid situations where you would be forced to exercise your non-preferred functions—assuming that is possible (probably not). These tips can get you started:
- Pack light. Although you probably have a small mountain of emergency supplies, you should only try to take as much as you can fit into one large backpack (“bug-out bag”). Expect to hunt and fish along the way; you will have to barter for everything else you may need. Tip: Never barter with ESTP Raiders, especially if they are trying to sell you a quality used escape vehicle.
- Remember, as an extravert you derive energy from being around others. Travelling in a group will keep you bursting with confidence and smiles.
- Management comes easy to ESTJs; utilize this strength to keep your party in good order. During mutant and zombie attacks, keep a cool head and direct your troops to create an organized defense. Your party members will be grateful to have your experienced hand on the wheel when the fighting starts.
- Use your keen Sensor awareness of the environment and your SJ knack for noticing quantitative changes, i.e. more or less acid rain or more or less radiation, to steer clear of danger areas. Keep graphs of the levels and you'll always be one step ahead of your surroundings. It may be helpful to devise a form to record the data in (okay, this may be going overboard).
- Thanks to your Judging tendencies, you will find it easy to devise an escape plan. Set milestones and choose a date for when you want to arrive at the armaments factory. Whenever you feel discouraged, you can look at the plan and review your progress. Daily mileage may drag at times, but if you keep your eyes on the prize you are sure to reach your goal.
Once you reach the enclave you will be home free. (Hopefully it is not a dystopia). You will have your pick of dream jobs: those inclined towards industry can easily find work in the armaments sector (assuming they have three good references and a degree in military science) and over time will rise to become shift managers. If you find that you enjoy leading men and women into battle, you can join a mercenary army and lead perimeter patrols, proudly keeping your family and home safe.
When you've saved up enough money, you may want to consider opening an armaments outlet and going into business yourself. Customers will appreciate your trustworthiness and honesty, although they will not appreciate the prices you will charge. (If they complain, tell them they can go shop at the store run by the Artisan down in the next gully, who will cheerfully teach the miserly cheapskates the true meaning of caveat emptor.)
Down-to-earth people, many ESTJs find satisfaction in working the land. It will be rewarding to raise food for your hungry neighbors, and you will appreciate the nutritional security of a silo full of grain. At first you will only be a poor sharecropper, but eventually you will be able to buy your own land and supervise poor sharecroppers of your own. From spring planting to summer weeding to fall harvest to nuclear winter, you will always enjoy a full day of fulfilling work. ...Then again, you may find farming mind-numbingly boring. Only time will tell.
Life in the Leadership Caste
But what of the ESTJs who go underground? These tough-minded Underlords will have to shoulder the immense burden of keeping human civilization alive.
As a member of the leadership Caste, you will have the deciding vote in the Great Committee and head up the various enterprises that keep the caves running. From birth you will hold the power of life and death over your subjects.
Yes, sweet, intoxicating power. It is fortunate indeed that ESTJs are a type that regards selfless service as a sacred duty. Very fortunate. You will found a dynasty that will last for at least ten thousand years and be rightfully revered by your trembling subjects.
Like all Guardians, you firmly believe that idle hands are the devil's workshop. Thus, it is imperative to keep the population busy. (As a side benefit, it will also stop people from whining about the unemployment rate.) One of your first projects will be to create a sprawling labyrinth of catacombs, crypts and dungeons beneath the city. This will have the effect of disposing of disruptive adventurers and providing suitable habitat for the wum, dragonbat and oorrg population. Naturally the whole complex will be riddled with booby traps and secret passages that only you know about.
Another problem is the issue of inbreeding. At first it will be assumed that the outbreaks of mutation are caused by radioactive groundwater, but eventually the experts will come to the realization that it is caused by a shrinking genetic pool. An aggressive but unpopular system of arranged marriages will be necessary to prevent further disintegration of the population's DNA. Nobody will thank you for it, but you'll set your jaw and make the call.
Speaking of contaminated ground water. The underground river flowing through your cavern (it glows a gentle gold color thanks to genetically engineered microorganisms) will have to be dammed to provide hydroelectric power for your growing civilization. But this will create a giant lake and swamp untold acres of prime real estate, forcing houses up the sides of the cavern and ruining the carefully planned road system. The burden of leadership will weigh heavily upon your shoulders as you order the construction of the dam. You will eventually have to take up fishing to relax—leading to accusations that you built the dam solely for your own benefit. (Ingrates.)
However, your greatest challenge will come from within. Every once in awhile (say, about once a year) some upstart will pop out of the woodwork and say something to the effect of, “I've discovered that the ancient rituals are meant to point the way to our people's return to the beautiful sur-fas! Since it has been almost ten thousand years since we arrived here in Cavfoor, the troubles we fled must be long gone. If you give me equipment and personnel to mount an expedition, I shall rediscover the sur-fas and we can reemerge and start civilization all over again.”
What can one say to such things without letting the youth down? Here are some ideas:
- “Your idea would be good, if it wasn't heresy.”
- “That's an interesting suggestion, and I'm glad you brought it up. Unfortunately, attempting to mount an expedition to sur-fas is in violation of section 126.96.36.199 of the Sacred Operating Procedures Manual. But how would you like to become a slave in the crystal mines instead?”
- “Guards! Throw him to the oorrg!”
Do they really expect you to waste precious resources on their fantasies? Of course, you will almost always find that such people are trying to get out of their place in the caste system or want to escape an arranged marriage. As leader, it is your job to prevent such myth-chasers from disrupting the carefully tended order that preserves humanity's tenuous survival.
Eventually you will expand the cavern system to the point that it is basically an underground empire. You will light everything with glowing crystals and have a palace looking out across the lake. Catwalks and larger “cargo” dragonbats with bigger wingspans will solve the logistical nightmare of the transportation system.
But there is trouble in paradise. (You always knew it would come.)
First off, a few rabble-rousers will begin complaining about how Cavfoor has forgotten its humble origins and grown proud and decadent. (What do they expect you to do about it? Institute mandatory humility training?) Worse still, one day a strangely dressed man with miniature eyes and peculiar “sun-tan-colored” skin will appear, claiming to be from the sur-fas. He speaks with a weird accent and asks if there is any treasure lying around. He is a rogue ISTP Vigilante. His goal is to bring about the downfall of your civilization.
At this point, you have several options. Your first thought might be to politely point him towards the nearest dungeon and let the oorrg devour him. However, ISTPs have an unfortunate knack for slaying monsters, and this might fail. Worse yet, the annoyingly resourceful adventurer might make it back to the sur-fas alive and tell everybody about the secret passageway that leads to Cavfoor, which could have unfortunate consequences.
Your next thought may be to send him to the crystal mines. But alas, the mines are already chock full of rebellious youths who wanted to mount expeditions to the sur-fas, and sending the stranger there would stir up a wum's nest of trouble. Therefore your only option is to construct a gladiatorial arena and pit various monsters against him until he dies.
Sadly, before that happens he will probably escape—somehow the accursed Artisans always do. Probably one of the female ESFJ Bunkerdragons felt sorry for him and helped him get away in exchange for a promise of undying love (a typical SP ploy). What happens next will be inevitable.
Within the week your subterranean paradise will be flooded with illegal immigrants from the sur-fas.
"Where do you keep the gold?"
"Can I fight in the arena?"
"Which way to the dungeons?"
"Is there a place where a guy can buy torches around here?"
No matter how hard you try to find all the secret tunnels leading to the surface, you will never be able to plug them all. Your $#@& ESTJ ancestors were too industrious for that. So what do you do?
In the short term, it may pay off to establish a special Warriors Guild task force that will handle the important job of killing all Artisans who set foot on the sacred soil of Cavfoor. This is only a short term solution, however, since the Artisans will only be more attracted to your empire as a result of its fearsome reputation. However, the measure will stem the tide temporarily.
In the meantime, you can get organized and give serious thought to the question of how to deal with the problem. Is it better to give in and try to coexist with the surface dwellers, or should you rise from the depths and crush the barbarians like the scum they are?
If you decide to coexist, the dungeons will become a tourist attraction and end up filled with litter left behind by messy SPs. In fact, the littering problem will get so bad that you will have to establish a Guild of Janitors just to tidy up after them. The caves will never be totally clean again.
The ISFP Ghosts will immediately fall in love with the cavern fauna and demean the dignity of the wums by treating them as pets. As for the dragonbats, the ISFPs will claim to have discovered that the beasts are sentient and regard themselves as slaves. Despite the fact that this is a bald lie, it will lead to widespread moral recrimination on the part of the people who were previously bewailing the pride and decadence of your empire. Accusations of corruption will be made against key committee members, and you will be forced to disown several trusted advisers.
But the worst is yet to come. The Artisans will disregard the Sacred Operating Procedures Manual and create cavern-wide chaos. They will play in the lake without the supervision of lifeguards (many will be sucked into the whirlpool and clog the drain, causing flooding), take oorrg out of season, play loud music at all hours of the night, ride dragonbats like maniacs, violate the dress code, and explore the dungeons without a permit. The peace and darkness will be shattered by their round-the-clock torchlit expeditions into the crystal caverns. The Law Enforcement Guild will be driven to distraction by constant calls and the prison system will soon become flooded with Artisans, overloading the Justice Guild and necessitating the construction of new dungeons, from which the Artisans will promptly escape. Instead of traditional well-planned organized crimes, the SPs will commit impulsive crimes in the heat of passion, namely looting, which they regard as acceptable behavior. (!)
Whatever happens, your utopia will never be the same again.
There is a silver lining, however. Once the dust has settled and “normalcy” (or whatever now passes for it) has been achieved, you will find that things don't seem quite as bad as you originally thought. This is because an ISFP Ghost who pretends to be the dragonbats' elected representative will fall madly in love with your tough-minded but self-sacrificing character and take to following you around, making hilarious jokes and distracting you from your work. It will be hard to ignore their outpouring of adoration, their fun-loving spirit, and their warm, caring fuzziness, especially when they sit on your desk on top of your work and shower you with passionate kisses. (Beware—if you marry them, you will spend the rest of your life housebreaking them and picking up their toys. You will also have to give your favorite riding dragonbat full civil rights, an outrageous salary, and maternity leave.)
So that's one option.
Then again, it might also be a good idea to invade the sur-fas and put the savages in their place. (Or as you put it, “civilize” them.) On a silent, moonless night, the Artisans will be sitting around their campfire, enjoying a cannibalistic repast. Suddenly there will be a flapping of wings. An ENFP Fury on their pet unicorn? No! Without warning the dragonbats will swoop down and seize their prey. Screaming in terror, the remaining Artisans will flee into the night, but they will not be able to hide from the echolocation powers of the dragonbats.
In the morning the sole survivor will be horrified to discover that the dead have been drained of every single last red corpuscle.
Once the Artisans have been softened up, you can proceed with civilizing them. This won't be as easy as it sounds. First, there will be the hassle of conquering them, which will take about one thousand years. (Although lamentably disorganized, they attack with all the primitive savagery of the Visigoths.) Eventually, however, the disciplined ISTJ Sentinels of your Warrior's Guild will prevail.
Next comes the gigantic task of teaching the barbarians how to read, write, and clean up after themselves. Do not think that they will be grateful for this; indeed, they will seize every opportunity to escape and hunt mutants. But you will establish a Guild of Truancy Officers to catch them and bring them back.
Once the population has a basic education, you can begin training them for the workforce. If you thought educating them was hard, you will soon laugh at your earlier naivete. The Artisans will fail to show up on time; spill coffee in the break room and not clean it up, take sick leave when they aren't sick; perform duties in an unsafe manner; ignore company memos; abuse controlled substances, dress inappropriately; and practice cannibalism on the clock. If you make rules, they will simply disregard them. If you reprimand them for breaking the rules, they will act contrite and go right on breaking them behind your back. If you fire them, they will laugh gleefully and go off to hunt mutants. They will be so impossibly disorganized that you will have to implement workforce training programs simply to teach them how to keep their desks clean. No less than half the gross national output of your civilization will be devoted to the task of preventing the SPs from reverting back to savagery. Taxes will soar.
But you will persevere. In time the Artisans will learn not to eat each other during work hours. After thousands of years of careful training, they will even start obeying the dress code. These little victories will keep you refreshed when you feel like throwing them all into the oorrg pit.
Will you ever succeed? Mostly! Actually, by the time you finally civilize the Artisans, you'll be married to one. At that point. the apocalypse is pretty much over. You cross “Fix the apocalypse” off your to do list, give yourself a pat on the back, and get to work cleaning up the mess your spouse left in the living room.
The Surface Dwellers
But let’s back up to the tumultuous time when ESTJs lived on the surface like barbarians. At this point, you aren’t living in Cave Four. No, you’re tearing open a letter that your oldest son retrieved from the post office at great personal risk. The post doesn’t run regularly anymore—it is a minor miracle that it runs at all—and the letter is two months overdue. But the message has arrived at last.
With bated breath, you draw out the paper and unfold it. The message is written on nice linen paper that feels rough on your fingertips. It reads, “Congratulations! You have been accepted into Cave Four.”
You give a whoop of joy.
“Honey, the zombies will hear,” your ISFJ Assassin wife says.
“Forget them!” you say. “We’ve been accepted into one of the undercities. Look here—we even made it into the neighborhood we wanted. Our new address is 302 Paradise Lane.”
The whole family gathers around you, ogling the embossed paper. This is what you sank your retirement savings into two years ago. Now your investment has paid off at last.
At the bottom of the letter is a portion that can be torn off like a ticket. Your oldest son leans over your shoulder and reads, “‘To redeem this ticket, present yourself at the Grand Elevator no later than May 15th, 5 pm.’ But that’s just two weeks from now, right? I thought Cave Four was all the way across the country.”
Your good mood takes a turn for the worse. “We’ll have to start packing at once—”
Everyone jumps as something strikes the front door. You instinctively reach for your golf club. Your wife and eldest son lunge for their baseball bats. The twins scamper into the closet and slam the door. Sport, your border collie, growls deep in his throat.
From up on the second floor, your younger son shouts, “The Joneses want to talk to us!”
You lower your golf club, frowning. The Joneses. What could they want?
You peer out through the slits in the boarded up windows. Sure enough, there is a yellow signal flag waving in the upper window of the house across the street. On the roof there is a faded sign reading “Alive.” In another upper window, a piece of cardboard reads “119.” You curse silently. Jones is ahead. But no zombies are in view.
Unlocking the door, you cautiously crack it open. When zombies do not come flooding through, you reach down and retrieve the rock lying on the welcome mat. Around the projectile is wrapped a note.
“What do they want?” your wife asks.
You undo the note and read it. “It’s a dinner invitation. Too bad we can’t go since we’ll be busy packing. I’ll start the list—”
“But dear, we can’t just leave without saying goodbye to the Joneses,” your wife says.
“We can leave a note in their mailbox on the way out,” you say. “Anyway, they probably just want to gloat about their score.”
“We have to let them know where we’re going or they’ll worry.”
You grumble, but you suppose she has a point. “Alright, everyone. Let’s get cleaned up. I want everybody to put on nice clothes without any bloodstains on them. We don’t want the Joneses to think we live like animals.”
“Can we use soap?” one of the twins asks.
“Yes, you can use soap. Just not too much,” you say.
Soap is one of the many items you have been forced to ration. Although you are an ESTJ and undertook quite thorough preparations for the apocalypse, there is a point at which supplies simply run out. It doesn’t help that you were forced to barter away much of your stock to buy increasingly scarce necessities or that freeloading relatives come to your house whenever they need help. You have no qualms about turning down freeloaders, but the fact that they are your own flesh and blood makes things complicated. If you have to draw the line any sharper than it already is, there will be some uncomfortable family reunions in the future.
Still, it doesn’t matter now. Since you are going to Cave Four, everything will be alright.
It takes almost twenty minutes for everyone to get themselves into shape for a visit to the neighbors. When you are ready, you look your family over. Your ISFJ wife is dressed in a freshly ironed blouse and skirt. She carries a can of pears as a present for the Joneses. Your oldest son, an ISTJ Sentinel, is wearing the suit he wore for his senior photos, which is the sole remaining nice piece of clothing he owns. He carries a baseball bat, which is appropriate since he played baseball for the school team. Your younger son, an ESFP Daredevil, played football at school, but he also carries one of his brother’s baseball bats. (You can’t exactly kill zombies with a football.) He is looking snappy in a blue blazer. The twins, an ENFP Fury and an ENTP Maverick, have been dressed up in cute little matching outfits. They are not identical twins, but they still like everything to match. For weapons they wield a rolling pin and a frying pan.
“Are we all ready? You have your armaments?” you ask. “Let’s go.”
Your hunting rifle held at ready, you lead your family across the strip of deserted pavement that serves as the no man’s land in your neighborhood’s private war against the undead. Most of the neighboring houses are empty, their windows smashed by looters. The shriveled, leafless trees died in last year’s winter, and the lawns are speckled with dandelions. In the interludes between zombie attacks, you and your family to go out to pick the dandelions for salads. You hate the taste of dandelion greens.
The Jones domicile is a tall, gracious house with white trim and an attached two-car garage. The dandelions that form their lawn have all been neatly trimmed, just like yours, and a pair of pink flamingos stands serenely by the birdbath.
You go up to the door and knock.
“Hey neighbor!” Jones exclaims, opening the door. “Come on in! Good to see you again.”
In theory, you and Jones are friends. You have lived next to each other for ten years. When Jones moved into the house across the street, he came over right away to say hello. You were pleased to have such a friendly fellow living next door. “Come in and have a cup of coffee,” you said. You should never have invited him to cross your threshold.
No sooner had Jones stepped inside then he began to ask questions—like how many inches long your big-screen TV was. “I was thinking about buying a new one,” he explains. So you tell him about your TV, and recommend some features to look for. The next day Jones shows you his new TV, which is two inches wider than yours. “I just like my big screen to actually be big, haha,” he says. Feeling slightly needled, you smile nonetheless.
Soon Mr. Jones buys a big, blue truck which cost $2,000 more than your current vehicle—as he takes pains to point out. Mrs. Jones never wears the same outfit twice. She notices whenever your wife does, though. You buy yourself a nice little fishing boat so that your family can go out on the lake together. The Joneses buy themselves a yacht. (“You should ditch that little boat of yours,” Jones says, mysteriously turning up with his new yacht just as your family is about to head off on a fishing trip. “Looks like a wave might capsize it, ha ha!”)
Soon your wife is fretting about how many times Mrs. Jones has seen her in this or that outfit, and you are carrying around extra cash in your wallet just so that you can flash it in front of Jones when you buy a coffee. You also start shopping for a yacht, though your current boat seemed perfect just a week ago.
Ah, but you are still naïve.
As it happens, the district dividing line runs down your street. You're the district superintendent on your side; Jones is a member of the school board on his side. What this means in practice is that your children go to a different school than his even though you live across the street. It is only natural that your sons, who play sports for their respective school teams, are in competition with Jones' children. Quite frequently, your sons beat Jones' sons at baseball and soccer.
You are surprised one day to learn out about a new scheme to redraw the district lines. You don't see why it is necessary and oppose it, but you are outvoted. After an enormous hassle, the lines are switched about.
Jones was the secret impetus behind the decision, though you do not realize this until overhearing a chance telephone call between two board members. You wonder why he pushed for the change.
At the start of the next school year, your learn why. Both of your sons come home complaining that all the best players on their teams have gotten transferred to different schools. You have a sudden revelation. At first your suspicion seems so paranoid, so petty, that you can't believe it. But Jones grins his toothy smile at you as he boasts of each new triumph. The smugness in his face sickens you.
Jones was gerrymandering. With your sons' teams stripped of their talent, his sons can beat yours at sports. You can't prove anything, but you know he did it on purpose.
That was five years ago.
Two years ago, when things started looking bad, you decided to start storing up supplies in your basement. The Joneses peeped through their curtains as you hauled boxes of MREs down into your cellar. Next week, Jones announced that he too was getting ready for an apocalypse, and oh, “How many square feet is your bunker, neighbor?”
With an effort, you put aside the rising irritation that these memories stir in you. This will be the last time you ever have to speak with Jones again, so you might as well just get it over with.
Jones leads you to the dining room, which is elegant with white lace and bowls of scented potpourri. The boarded up windows of the dining room are covered with thick curtains that serve to conceal whatever horrors may be lurking outside.
“Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes,” Mrs. Jones promises. “Sit down, and help yourself to some canned cherries while you wait.”
She passes out delicious little cups of cherry pie filling, the kind they used to sell in the store. It is the best thing you have eaten in months. You suppose they saved it especially for the occasion—whatever the occasion is. The Joneses don’t just invite you over for the pleasure of your company. Surreptitiously you elbow your younger son as he scrapes and scrapes his bowl, trying to get every last drop of the pie filling.
“So neighbor, how’s it been going?” Jones asks, grinning broadly. (He is an ESTJ Underlord, like you.)
“Oh, pretty well,” you say politely. “How about you?”
“Not bad, not bad. We got another zombie today. One hundred and nineteen now. Gonna run out of room to bury them, ha ha!”
You damn Jones under your breath, but manage to produce a believable smile. “How’s your ammunition situation?” you ask.
“The usual,” Jones says. “We can never have enough, you know? How about you? How many zombies have you gotten?”
“I haven’t been keeping track,” you lie. “We’ve been getting so many lately.”
“We have one hundred and fifteen,” says one of the twins helpfully.
“Ah, so that’s how many,” you say, forcing a smile.
“One hundred and sixteen,” your oldest son says. “I got another one on the way to the post office today.”
Jones’ smile widens, revealing his artificially whitened teeth. “Wow, good job! One hundred and sixteen! Nice. Way to go, team.”
From anyone else, the praise might have been gratifying. From Jones, it is salt in the wound. You stare hard into your empty cup of pie filling, searching for something nice to say. “Windy weather we’ve been having lately, isn’t it?”
“Boy! How about that wind!” Jones says. “Been years since it was this windy. Let’s see, last time was…2008, wasn’t it? Remember that year we stumbled into each other at the green at Rolling Hills? The wind was blowing like the dickens, and it blew your ball into the sand trap.”
“Yes,” you say. You lost by one point because of the wind.
“You lost by one point because of the wind,” Jones chortles. “Gosh, it’s been so many years since we played together. That sure was a good game. Why don’t we play together anymore?”
“We should really get together some time,” you grit out. You focus your eyes on the framed embroidery hanging on the opposite wall. Amidst masses of stitched pansies, the embroidery reads, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” You repeat those words to yourself between clenched teeth.
Meanwhile, your wife has been trading pear recipes with Mrs. Jones. She helps set out plates and silverware. This leads to the usual story about how Mrs. Jones and your wife wife gave birth on the same day. The story finishes, as usual, with Mrs. Jones exclaiming, “—And my baby was just one ounce heavier than yours!” Your wife laughs mechanically.
It is a relief when the food is ready. You sit down at the table, sizing up the table settings and trying to decide whether they are more expensive than your own. You feel a stab of twisted pleasure when you see that all Jones is serving is spam.
Still, Mrs. Jones did a nice job of sprucing it up. A plate of dandelion greens serves as a bed for little cubes of spam that have been stacked into a pyramid. Tiny slaves painstakingly carved from spam drag blocks of spam across the dandelions, while little spam overseers wield whips made from dandelion stems.
“Isn’t it beautiful! What a creative use of spam,” your wife exclaims.
“Mommy made a unicorn out of spam for my birthday last week,” the ENFP twin says proudly. “Unicorns are my favorite animal.”
Mr. and Mrs. Jones go rigid; they know that a unicorn beats their pyramids. But Jones does not lose his smile. “Wow! That’s something. For my son’s birthday, my wife made an entire miniature baseball team out of spam. Ha ha, that reminds me of the last game our boys played before the schools closed. That was something, huh, ha ha? But let’s eat!”
You hate spam; the mere smell of it makes you sick. Nevertheless, you force it down with a stern look at your reluctant children. They are well-behaved, and know not to whine when strangers are present. Following your example, they fill up their plates with little blocks of spam.
“Say…I forgot to mention,” Jones says casually. “We got a letter in the mail today.”
“Oh really?” you say. “So did we.”
“Ours is from Undercity Real Estate,” Jones continues.
Your heart gives a thump. Jones is going under too? Suppressing a groan, you produce the letter from Undercity Real Estate. “So is ours.”
“You too, huh? Looks like we’re both going to be digging under,” Jones says. He pulls out an identical envelope. “Which cave did you get into? We’re going into Cave Four. It’s the largest one.”
It seems you are going to be sharing an underground city with Jones. So much for being rid of the man. “As a matter of fact, we’re going down into Cave Four too.”
“Wow, what a coincidence!” Jones exclaims, but his smile is failing. “I wonder what street you’re on? We got lucky. We’re on Paradise Lane. It’s one of the better neighborhoods in the Cavern, or so I hear. How about you?”
You groan inside. “We’re on Paradise Lane too.”
Now Jones’ smile disappears entirely. “What? Oh, I suppose they probably just group everyone together based on where you used to live. Maybe we’ll be neighbors. What’s your address? We’re house 302.”
“302? But…but that’s…” You fish the ticket out of your wallet and reread it. It says exactly what you remember: your new address is 302 Paradise Lane. You look at Jones. “Are you sure about that?”
“Why?” he asks.
“There’s been some misunderstanding,” you say. You hold up the paper. “This says that we live at house 302.”
“Oh, but that’s impossible,” Jones says. “Says right there that we’re at house 302.”
You and him trade papers. You read and reread his letter. It is identical to your own.
“It’s probably just a mistake,” your wife says. “They’ll sort it out when we get there.”
“Yeah, just a mistake,” Jones says. “Say…When were guys leaving, anyway?”
“In a couple days,” you say. “How about you?”
“Oh, eventually. No rush, no rush,” he says.
“We’re not in too much of a hurry ourselves,” you say. “Lots of packing to do, could take all week.” Your wife looks at you oddly, but you silence her with a warning glance.
“Well, this has been a nice dinner,” Jones says. “We should get together more often.”
“We really should,” you say.
You and Jones exchange a friendly smile, and in his eyes you read death.
“Hurry!” you scream at your family. “Get all the food out of the basement. Fill those suitcases. Don’t bother with the Christmas decorations. There will be no Christmas next year if we don’t get to Cave Four before the Joneses do.”
“I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding,” your wife protests. “Maybe they accidentally printed out two letters by mistake.”
“Maybe. But there’s only a limited number of slots available, and I don’t intend to let Jones get nab 302 out from under us.”
“If only we call up the Undercity people,” your wife says, looking fretfully at the dead phone.
“We’ll figure it out when we get there—and we’re going to get there before Jones does. We’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow! But surely we can’t—”
“Tomorrow,” you say firmly.
“Daddy,” the ENFP Fury twin says, tugging your shirt. She is holding Mittens, the orange cat with the white paws. “Will there be mice in the cave?”
You want to tell her that the animals will have to stay behind, but you can’t look in her sweet little eyes and say that. “Of course. But let’s go pack plenty of cat food, okay? Hurry up now.”
The ENFP bustles off.
“That was nice of you dear,” your wife says.
“Yes,” you sigh. “How are we going to fit a dog and two cats into the truck with all our stuff?”
“We’ll manage,” she says.
The ENTP Maverick twin chimes in, “I can hold the fish bowl on my lap.”
This is where you draw the line. “No, I’m afraid the fish will have to stay behind. We need that space for important things, like clothes to wear and gas for the truck.”
“But you said we could bring along three personal things, daddy. The fish is one my personal things.”
“I meant things like books, or toys,” you say.
“Why not fish?”
“Because then you have to bring along fish food, and a sloshing bowl of water. I’m sorry son, but a fish takes up too much space.”
“What were you planning to put on my lap?” the ENTP Maverick asks. “A lot of heavy stuff? Like a can of gas?”
Somehow you are still arguing with your six year old son ten minutes later, when there is a knock at the door. Your wife opens it.
“Joey! What are you doing here?” she exclaims.
Your brother-in-law is standing in the door, a suitcase in his hand. Speaking of freeloading relatives…
“Just came to say hi to my favorite sister!” Joey says. He hugs her, then turns to you and produces a phony smile. You produce a similar expression. He grips your hand with his sweaty hand and shakes. You are enveloped by the overpowering smell of cologne. How does he still have cologne? Is that the only thing he has stockpiled in his apartment, cases and cases of cologne?
“Are you packing up to go to Cave Four?” your brother-in-law asks. “I heard the notices came in today.”
“Oh, did you want to come with us?” your wife asks.
“I’m not sure there’s room in the truck,” you say hastily. “Do you have your own vehicle? No? I’m sorry. We’d love to have you, but…”
“Maybe we could make some room somehow,” you wife says, looking at her brother with guilty sympathy.
“I just don’t think it’ll work out,” you say. “The kids want to bring their animals—like my son here is bringing his pet fish on his lap. I don’t see how there’s going to be any room, unless you want to sit in back with the gear the whole way?”
That last bit was a mistake, and you realized it as soon as the words slipped from your lips.
“Sure, I don’t mind!” your brother-in-law exclaims. “Makes no difference to me. Nothing like wind in your hair, I always say!”
“Well, we’ll have to see. The truck will be very full,” you say. “But where are my manners. Why don’t you help yourself to a snack in the kitchen? Honey, could you help me dig up some food in the basement for our guest?”
Down in the basement, you are blunt in expressing your feelings. “I refuse to share a truck with that man. I refuse to share a house with that man. I refuse to share a can of spam with that man.”
Last year your brother-in-law stayed in the cellar with your family during the nuclear winter. You have never experienced a more powerful urge to strangle anyone. You hated his braying laugh and the way he blows his nose and that whistle he makes through his teeth when he snores. Once you had a dream where you ripped the scraggly mustache off his upper lip and burned it.
“I know you and Joey don’t get along,” your wife says, “But it’s only for two weeks, and I’m sure we can find him somewhere else to live once we get to Cave Four. I’ll give up some of my things to make room if necessary.”
“He’s nothing but trouble,” you declare. “And I’ve noticed that every time he comes to visit, something goes missing. Last time my best set of gold cufflinks vanished—”
“You never wear those unless Jones is coming over, so I put them in my jewelry box where they wouldn’t get lost,” your wife says.
“That wasn’t the only time,” you say. “Back at the reunion, I noticed that he—”
“Honey, please,” your wife says. “I’ll talk to Joey and make it clear that his stay with us will be temporary. You may not like him, but he’s family. In times like these, we have to stick together. Besides, he can be an extra driver.”
“He can take care of himself,” you grumble. “Fine—but if he wants more money, I’m throwing him out on his ear. He’s probably stuffing his suitcase full of silver right now.”
You spend the rest of the day packing. Joey makes a pretext of helping, but mostly just gets in the way. The truck fills with cans of spam, dried milk, and dehydrated eggs. Next come jugs of drinking water, cooking utensils, and the can opener. The most important items are the supplies for the truck: tools, oil, radiator fluid, spare tires, and precious, precious gasoline. Your powerful red truck has an extended cab, an extra long bed, and four wheel drive for off-roading. It only gets eight miles to the gallon. At your wife’s suggestion, you also bring along the family bicycles—there’s no telling what might happen out there, and if you run out of gas, you don’t want to be stranded.
During breaks in the frenetic preparations, you go up to the second floor to see what the Joneses are up to. As you suspected, they too are racing to pack. You hear crashing and shouting from across the street. You smile grimly. Jones hoped to steal a march on you, but you’re not as dumb as he thinks. We’ll see who gets to Cave Four first, you think. We’ll see, Jones.
As the hours of night pass, you check item after item off your list. Your children deliberate on which three personal items they will bring. Your oldest son takes one baseball trophy, a picture of his girlfriend (now dead), and his catching mitt. Your younger son takes the autographed poster of his favorite band, his gaming console, and a bag of video games. He doesn’t take his clarinet, and you and your wife have a private discussion on whether or not you should bring it anyway. Finally you decide to leave it behind.
It is not the first time you feel the pinch of sacrifice that night, and the resentment you feel toward your space-occupying brother-in-law grows with every treasure you discard. Your ENTP son painfully deliberates on whether to bring his bug collection or his favorite book. Your ENFP daughter says a tearful goodbye to all the stuffies she must leave behind. She promises to come back for them someday, even as she clutches the chosen three to her chest, sniffling.
“We’ll hide them in the closet so the zombies won’t get them,” you promise, hugging her. “They’ll be alright.”
“But it’ll be dark in there!” she wails.
You try to comfort your daughter, but there is nothing you can do. The experience is like all the stress of a move crammed into one heart-wrenching night.
You hold yourself to the same strict standard as your children. Your three personal items are the watch your wife got you for your anniversary, the plaque you received in recognition of your twentieth year as district superintendent, and your fishing pole. Whether there will be fishing down in Cave Four, you don’t know. At any rate you hope so.
Finally you are down to the last few items on the checklist. The family scrapbook. Rubber bands, always handy for jury-rigging things. A bottle of aspirin. A cooking thermometer. A deck of playing cards.
Just as you cross the last item off your list, there is a knock at the door. Has Jones finished? His lights were on all last night.
But it isn’t Jones who stands outside, continually rapping the door until you open it.
It’s your mother. You haven’t seen her for years. She glowers at you as only an ENTJ Warlord can glower. “I tried to call you, but your phone was dead.”
Her tone of voice seems to imply that this is your fault. Indeed, the entire apocalypse may be a personal failing on your part. Your mother is disappointed in you because you only make $300,000 a year and failed to become an astronaut.
“Hello, mother,” you say, your voice wavering between attempted friendliness and the rigid formality that was drilled into you during your lonely childhood. “I’m glad you came by. We were just about to leave.”
“I know,” she says, stepping inside. She is wearing full camo and carries an AK-47. “That’s why I came to see you. You can cancel your trip to the undercity. I have a better opportunity for you.”
Your heart sinks slowly down past your spleen and settles somewhere in your intestines. “What do you mean?”
“There’s a launch soon, and I got your family a place on board,” she says.
“A launch? You mean one of the Mars launches?” you say. You had heard stories about rich billionaires fleeing Earth in private rocket ships. Funny how the space agencies couldn’t manage to get a man to the moon in all the years since 1972, and now everybody is headed straight to Mars. Apparently all it took to get people motivated again was a zombie outbreak and a nuclear war.
Your mother nods briskly. “I know how much you always wanted to become an astronaut, so I filled out an application for you.” She thrusts a paper in your face. “Read this.”
You accept the paper and reluctantly peruse it. Sure enough, it looks like you have been approved for a trip to Mars on the Mayflower II.
“Thank you for thinking of us,” you say. “But we’ve already paid for a place in Cave Four, and as you can see, we’re all packed up to go. It’s too late to change our plans now.”
“It’s not too late,” your mother says. “In fact, the launch site is just to the east of Cave Four. Both projects share the same construction site. All you have to do is drive an hour east, climb on board the ship, and go. It’s that simple.”
You shake your head. “I can’t ask my family to undertake a dangerous trip to Mars. I’m sorry mother, but we won’t be going.”
Your mother’s lips purse into a thin line. She shakes her head. “You’re missing the opportunity of a lifetime. It wasn’t easy getting you this position, you know. They granted it to me as a personal favor. I’m the head of the design team.”
“I’m grateful for your efforts,” you say. Silently, you add, But you’re never getting me onto some deathtrap of a space ship. You used to be an aerospace engineer. You don't like flying, and for good reason—you know all the ways the aircraft can fail. Does she expect you to put your wife and children on a prototype space vessel? Never. But you’re too polite to say that to her face.
Shooting a glance at your family, you look for an excuse to end the conversation. “Well, everyone hug grandma and say goodbye.”
For a moment no one moves, then finally your oldest son moves to obey.
“Don’t bother,” your mother says. “I’ll be coming with you. I, at least, have no intention of staying on this doomed planet.”
“You’re coming with us? But there’s no room—”
“You shall make room,” your mother states, glowering.
And that is that.
As dawn breaks over the abandoned neighborhood, you roll up the garage door and take one last look around. The dead trees are black silhouettes against the sky, and you feel a sense of sadness as you say farewell to the peeling fences and concertina wire. Your children rode their bicycles on that sidewalk, and you and Sport used to jog through the park every morning before work. How strange to think you will never see any of this again. You say a prayer that you or your children will return here one day.
The Joneses are still packing, crashes and bangs attesting to the vigor of their preparations. But you are first. So long, Jones, old buddy, you think as you climb into the cab of your truck.
Your beautiful red pickup is settled low on its axles. A veritable mountain of supplies is tied down to the bed, and the family bikes are lashed to the cab. The interior of the truck is as full as the exterior. Your mother and brother in law are squeezed into the back with the twins, while your wife and two sons are squeezed into the front with you. A total of eight beings, though the cab was intended for six. Already the interior is hot and sweaty. And loud. Sport barks in the back seat. A steady stream of meows comes from Mittens and Tiger. Only the fish is silent.
With a solemn gesture, you turn the key in the ignition. The truck roars to life, loud in the confines of the garage. Taking a deep breath, you shift into first and pull smoothly out. Then you are on the cul-de-sac, passing the big oak, and out on the road. In the side mirror, your house retreats into the distance. You feel a lump in your throat.
“I forgot the fish food!” you ENTP son shouts. “We have to go back!”
“No,” you say, shaking your head firmly. “We’re on the road now. It’s too late to turn back. You’ll just have to feed it…crumbs or something.”
“Honey…” your wife says hesitantly.
“No,” you repeat. “We have a lead on the Joneses. We can’t afford to lose it now.”
Your wife looks embarrassed. “I think I left the spare spark plugs back at the house. On the kitchen counter.”
Five minutes later you are home again. You sit there, fuming, as your family runs inside to retrieve all the items they suddenly realized that they forgot.
As you sit there, the Joneses’ garage rattles open. Inside is a gleaming new blue pickup truck with Jones at the wheel. He pulls up next to you and rolls down the window.
“Good morning, neighbor!” he says. “Perfect day for a trip, eh? I thought you were gone already.”
“We had to come back and get a few things,” you grate out.
Jones nods sympathetically. “It always happens doesn’t it? Good thing we used a list, right gang?” The Jones family smiles and nods smugly. “Well, we’d better get a move on. See you at Cave Four!”
With a honk of his horn, he pulls out. You grind your teeth as the big blue truck vanishes around the corner. The last thing you see of Jones is the mass of “My Child is an Honor Roll Student” stickers plastered across his bumper.
It takes your family fully thirty minutes to jam in all the new stuff, redo the tie downs, and squish themselves back into the cab. A few new guests have invited themselves along—a clarinet, an armload of beanie babies, a book about bats, and your wife’s camera. And also your box of fishing tackle, which your wife grabbed for you, and an aquarium heater for the fish, in case it gets cold down in Cave Four. Oh, and the fish food.
“Are we all ready to go?” you ask in a flat tone.
“Yes,” your family says meekly.
You punch the gas.
When you are finally out on the open highway, your foul mood begins to lift. It feels good to have open space around you, and the fresh scenery is a pleasure. A grim pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.
Whole neighborhoods have been reduced to blackened skeletons. The roadside is littered with dead cars. A faded “alive” banner waves forlornly from a crooked flagpole, but you see no sign of any survivors.
Just when you are beginning to relax and enjoy the drive, your wife says, “Uh oh. Look in the mirror.”
The rear view mirror is blocked by sleeping bags and suitcases, but the side mirror is free. You look back and see eight motorcycles closing fast. Your heart jumps.
“Hand the rifle up here,” you say. “Honey?”
Your wife accepts the rifle from the back. She checks that it is loaded. Your mother prepares her AK-47. You roll down all the power windows.
“Everyone crouch down,” you say. “We may have to fight.”
With a snarl of buzzing engines, the motorcycles surround you. The bikers are a mass of bearded, shaggy-haired men bristling with chains, knives and clubs. A man with a red bandanna and mirror sunglasses pulls up beside you. He has a tattoo of a demon-zombie-thing on his arm. This is enough proof for you that he is a bad person.
“Pull over!” he yells.
Yeah, right. You’ll pull over so that he rob you blind, take your truck, rape the women, sell your children into slavery, and murder you in cold blood. You pull over—and slam his flimsy motorcycle off the road. Simultaneously your wife thrusts the rifle out the window and opens fire. The rifle booms like a thunderbolt.
Her shots are deadly accurate; two of the men topple off their machines. Behind you, your mother opens up with her AK-47. Scorching hot casings bounce around the truck as the guns eject their empties.
The gang had obviously not been expecting such stiff resistance. Four of their number are already down, and you are untouched. Swerving as one, the remaining two bikers flee down a side street. But before they vanish, one of them fires a last shot. You hear the bullet strike the truck with a metallic clang. Your wife takes the biker down with a shot through the chest.
And now you become aware that the engine is making a funny noise. Oil pressure is dropping like a rock. You draw to a halt and turn off the engine. Everything is very, very quiet.
So much for catching up with the Joneses.
By the time you figure out how to fix the engine—the oil tank got hit and there was miscellaneous damage to the electrical system—a whole day has passed. Fortunately you are an ESTJ and travel prepared; you brought along every tool in the garage and as many spare parts as you could carry.
As you and your ISTJ son sweat underneath the hood, your ESFP son retrieves the motorcycle of the man your wife shot. He scrubs off the spray of blood on the handlebars and smiles. You can see a bond forming.
“Son, we don’t have room for that,” you say before he can get his hopes up. “Anyway, you don’t know how to ride a motorcycle.”
“Yes I do,” he says. “I learned at Cory’s house.”
You were not privy to the developments at Cory’s house. “Is that so.”
“Don’t worry, we were safe and everything,” he adds hastily. “We wore helmets.”
“That’s good,” you say, frowning nonetheless. You used to ride a motorcycle when you were in college, but by then you had a driver’s license. Your son never got his. “Even so, I think you’re too young to be on the road without a license.”
“I’m old enough to kill zombies,” he protests. “I’m going to be seventeen next year, and the only reason I don’t have a license is because the DMV got taken over by the Skullbear Scouts.”
“That’s true,” you admit. “Well, maybe it’s not a bad idea to bring it along. See if you can lash it to the side.”
Your son happily obeys.
When at last you get the truck started again, your whole family raises a cheer. You and your ISTJ son share a triumphant high five.
“Alright, everyone in!” you shout. “We’re going to catch those Joneses!”
The problem of how to do that weighs on your mind as you race down the deserted roads. Soon you will be at the highway; then you can make better time. But Jones is already on the highway by now, and how will you catch up? Maybe he is having problems too. You can only hope.
As your brother-in-law snore-whistles against the window, you turn on the radio and listen to an ESFP Daredevil describe the road conditions.
“—North is choked with refugees. Don’t try to get your car in there, folks, ‘cause there ain’t room for a sardine. Now the south route is clear, but that’s only because it’s so crammed full of z-men that FEMA had to put up Zombie Crossing signs! Folks, if you go the south route, put in a word for me with the Big Guy when you reach that big bomb shelter in the sky. Now, on to the Sports Report—”
You turn the radio to a music station. You can readily believe that the north route is blocked with refugees given all the big factory towns that got shelled last month, but that doesn’t mean the road is impassable—just slow. Which route did Jones take? He, like you must realize that you’ll need to make all haste if you want to get into Cave Four before they seal it up at 5 pm on May 15th. But is he desperate enough to risk a zombie horde?
You certainly are. “We’ll be taking the south road,” you announce.
There is much hand-wringing, and for a hopeful moment you think you will get rid of your brother-in-law. But after you finally convince your family to risk the dangers of the south, he decides to remain in the back seat, nervously eating a can of creamed corn. With a sigh, you resign yourself to his presence. One hour later you turn off onto the southern road.
It isn’t long before you begin to see ominous graffiti painted over the roadsigns. “Living, Go Back,” a yield sign warns. “Road of the Damned” someone has spray painted over a street sign. From a stop light hangs a string of skulls threaded onto a rope. It swings back and forth, back and forth, making a silent message as you pass beneath.
The cheery music on the radio begins to grate on your nerves, and you turn it off. Your nervous family fills the silence with the Alphabet Game, the License Plate Game, and I Spy.
“I spy with my little eye, something that starts with s…”
“Skull!” “Skeleton!” “Shotgun shell!”
“I spy with my little eye, something that starts with z…”
Finally tense silence envelops the vehicle. The only sound is the rustling of the map as your wife examines the route ahead. “It looks like the we can do it in two hours if the driving is good.”
Needless to say it isn’t. You are constantly slowing down to navigate the hulks of downed vehicles—cars, jeeps, tanks and half-tracks. At one point this whole area was a battleground between regional warlords. Rumor has it that there are active minefields scattered about the dry, barren fields that border the road.
There are also bodies. Some of them are clean white skeletons scattered about the shoulder; you have become blase enough about death that they don’t bother you. But others are fresher. Bones protrude from rotting human carrion, and the passage of previous vehicles has caused the corpses’ shriveled eyes to ooze out of their sockets like toothpaste. Most of the skulls have been shattered open by zombies. Sometimes one of the crushed bodies—undead—will raise a hand to you, as if beseeching help. You navigate grimly around these sick spectacles, disturbing flocks of gorged crows.
Occasionally you have no choice but to drive over a corpse with a ghastly thump-thump. While you feel sorry for the poor wretch, you also feel physical revulsion at the thought of your truck’s nice new factory tires getting covered with rancid, maggot-eaten flesh. It’s also hard on the suspension. Your rugged truck is theoretically built to take this kind of punishment, but the actual prospect of seeing it sullied or harmed in any way appalls you.
The living dead are attracted to the sound of your engine like flies. Fortunately, you are moving fast enough that they can’t keep up. Zombies stumble after you, and are lost in your side mirror.
Your oldest boy leans over and whispers, “There sure are a lot of moaners here.”
You nod silently. Did Jones go this way? Somehow, you are beginning to doubt it. You wonder if you have let your desire to reach Cave Four first put everyone in danger. If you have to stop to change a tire…
As you head further down the Road of the Damned, you come to the ruins of Vickeburg, a small town long since abandoned to the dead. Now buildings box you in, and the road is so clogged by vehicles that you have no choice but to drive with two wheels up on the sidewalk. But you don’t dare slow down. Bloody, ragged men and women stagger from every alleyway, and each house disgorges its hungry dead. There are so many of them that you cannot possibly avoid them all. Their clawing fingers screech along the sides of your doors as you bludgeon your way through the living cemetery with your bumper. Your fingers are white on wheel, and sweat dampens your clothes. Even the sidewalks are jammed with vehicles now. You come to a dead end and have to back up. Zombies press against your windows, staring at you with their empty eyes. Driven mad with hunger, one of them shrieks and pounds its decaying hands against the glass. You cannot afford to be distracted. You focus on the road behind you. There is no time, there is no self; there is only your wife’s voice, giving you directions, and the specters that reach for you with moans of longing. You work your way through the maze block by block.
You barely hear your wife whisper, “I think we’re nearly out.”
When you slowly become aware of your own taut muscles, the twins’ soft whimpering, and the mess your terrified collie made in the back, then you are out of Vickeburg.
You come to a large field that seems clear and pull over. For a moment you just sit there, slumped in your seat, breathing quivery breaths. Then, “Everyone alright?”
Shaky affirmatives return.
You force a smile. “Well, we made it through team, that’s what counts. I’m going to go out and inspect the truck.”
You scan the edges of the field for lurching figures. Everything seems safe. Unlocking the door, you climb out. All your muscles are stiff and sore. The wind chills your sweat-soaked clothing. Nonetheless, you are grateful to be out of the cramped cab.
You examine your once-beautiful truck. Long, horizontal scratches mar the gleaming red paint. The dented front bumper is covered with blood, hair, and flesh. The tires are already attracting flies, and the mud flaps are indescribable. You stand there alone for a long moment, grieving inside. Then the rest of your family piles out of the truck and you straighten your back and man up.
“Let’s have lunch, shall we?”
Your stomach feels queasy, but you eat spam out of the can and force down cream of mushroom soup with wilted dandelion leaves. The ENFP Fury tells her beanie babies how brave they were, and urges them to eat or they will be too weak for the ordeal ahead. Your oldest son tops off the gas tank.
“How much were we down?” you ask.
“Ten gallons,” he replies.
Sport runs around outside, wagging his tail. Then he jumps back inside the cab and vomits.
Before, your thoughts were mainly on reaching Cave Four in time to beat the Jones. Now you realize that merely surviving this trip will be an accomplishment.
As you come off the southern road and merge into a larger highway, you wonder what has become of Jones. You didn’t see his truck anywhere; did he take the south route and make it through ahead of you, or is he bogged down in the refugee column up north? You wish you knew.
Now that you’re on a semi-well maintained highway, you are making better time. The vehicles you share the road with are a motley crew: tough looking jeeps with spikes welded to the hubcaps; yellow school buses jammed with people; and little minivans piled on top with mattresses. Most of flow is going your way, and you fall into the traffic stream. You are almost grateful now for the battle damage your truck has sustained, because your shiny new pickup would stand out among this ragged bunch. As things are now, you are clearly better equipped than 90% of the vehicles on the road. Your natural ESTJ proclivity for preparing for the worst now makes you a tempting target.
Towards noon, a column of tanks appears, clattering down the road like a stream of armored beetles. Soldiers in ragged uniforms ride on top, cradling their machine guns. You hope they are headed to Vickeburg, but you will learn later they are headed to do battle with a warlord in the neighboring city-state.
When darkness begins to fall, you turn to your wife. “You want to take over? I’m getting sleepy.”
“I can pull a shift,” your brother-in-law offers.
“No, we’ll be alright,” you say. You don't intend to let Joey get his sweaty hands on your truck.
Your mother smirks. “It’s nothing personal, Joey. My son can’t bear for anyone but him to drive the midlife crisis.” (The ‘midlife crisis’ is her term for your beautiful red truck.)
“It’s not that,” you insist. “It’s just that I know special driving techniques to save gas, and—”
“—And we’ll need every one of them to get this gas-guzzler to the launch site,” your mother finishes. “I’ll be watching the needle very carefully.”
“We’re not going to the launch site. We’re going to Cave Four.”
“You won’t make it in time,” you mother says.
“We will,” you say.
You pull over to give your wife the wheel. By now you have spent a whole day jammed in a truck with seven other people, a dog, two cats, and a fish. The cab stinks of sweat, urine, and vomit. Your children are beginning to complain, “I want to get out. I have to go to the bathroom.
When are we gonna get there?”
“Say, why don’t we pull over for the night and get a real sleep?” suggests your brother-in-law, who never misses a nap or a meal. “We’re days ahead of Jones now, and we could all use a break from being stuck in here. I’m beginning to feel like a sardine.”
“We don’t know if the Joneses took the north route or not,” you point out. “If they took the south route, they could actually be ahead of us.”
Your brother-in-law pooh-poohs the idea. “Come on, a few hours of rest isn’t going to kill us. Be reasonable.”
“I want to get out,” whines the ENTP.
Your wife leans over. “Why don’t we stop for two hours and get some sleep? Then I’ll take over and drive the rest of the night.”
You want to press on, but popular opinion is strongly against you, so you grudgingly find a wayside and park. Truth be told, you want out of the truck too. You are exhausted, greasy, and homesick. It’s hard to believe that just last night you were snug and safe in your boarded up house, the moaning of the zombies lulling you softly to sleep. Now you are homeless refugees.
With much fussing of ropes, you manage to undo the tarp over the back of the truck and get out the sleeping bags. You unroll yours in a patch of dry grass under a picnic table. Since your brother-in-law won’t be driving, he volunteers to keep watch. You are so tired that you fall asleep the moment you close your eyes.
Given the horrors of Vickeburg, it wouldn’t be surprising if you had nightmares about zombies. But you have an entirely different kind of nightmare.
You are back in space camp. Your mother pushes you towards the low gravity simulator chair. “Remember, failure is not an option,” she states, quoting the unofficial NASA slogan. Inside, you’re screaming, No, no, I don’t want to be an astronaut! But instead you nod obediently and get in the chair. Then you are on Mars. You hear a hssssssssssss and realize that there is a leak in your space suit. All your oxygen is disappearing, and cold, thin Martian air fills your lungs. Your mother stands there, watching your futile attempts to block the leak with disapproval. She is not wearing a suit, yet she seems able to tolerate Mars’ frigid climate and carbon dioxide atmosphere. You try to scream for help, but she crosses her arms and repeats, “Failure is not an option.” And then the zombies attack.
You awake with a gasp. Bright morning sunlight blasts your eyes.
It is dawn. The entire night has passed. Your family is still zonked out under layers of blankets. As for your watchful sentinel, he is snoring in the cab. The truck has a flat tire.
“Everyone up!” you roar.
An hour later you are on the road again. You are in a bad mood thanks to your idiot brother-in-law, the tire, and the nightmare.
“What were you thinking?” you snap at Joey. “Anyone could have come along and slit our throats.”
“I’m sorry,” he mutters. “I just dropped off. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Now we’ve lost nine more hours,” you say. “Nine hours. The Joneses are probably already unpacking their bags in 302. And no mother, we are not going to Mars.”
“Perhaps you should ask your family what they want,” your mother says. “Maybe they want to go.”
Your wife says politely, “It sounds exciting, but isn’t it rather dangerous?”
“Yes, but so is everything these days,” your mother says. “When we get to Mars, we’ll have a clean slate to work with. No radioactivity. No zombies. Humanity can start again from scratch.”
“We can do that in Cave Four. No need to leave the planet,” you say.
“You want to box yourself up in a giant bomb shelter?” your mother says. “Is that any life for your children?”
“It’s better than freezing to death in space. Or starving to death on Mars.”
You and her have a long, bitter debate about merits of your two survival plans. You repeatedly refuse to set foot in the Mayflower II, but ENTJ Warlords are just as stubborn as ESTJ Underlords, and your mother is wholly convinced that she is right. Finally she demands, “What are you going to do if you don’t make it to Cave Four in time?”
“We’ll make it.”
“But what if you don’t? What’s your back up plan?”
“We. Will. Make. It.”
She sneers. “Blind faith won’t make the truck go any faster.”
You grip the steering wheel and silently repeat, Honor thy father and thy mother. Your wife reaches over and rubs your thigh.
You attended space camp every year from age seven to eighteen. It probably would have been fun if not for the intense pressure your mother put on you to enjoy it. Most parents dream of their children becoming professional athletes, presidents, or Nobel prize winners—the normal inflated expectations, quickly crushed. Your mother’s dream was for you was to become an astronaut. Since less than 1% of 6,000 yearly applicants to the astronaut program are accepted, she had her work cut out for her. While other children played sports, went to band practice, and led normal lives, you played the “Mission Failure” game with mommy. Her favorite saying was, “Failure is not an option.” You would bring home a test where you missed one of the extra credit questions. “Failure is not an option,” she would state. Then you and her would sit down together and work through the problem several times, until you understood why you failed.
Naturally you grew to resent her control of your when life when you hit your teenage years. Your rebellion consisted of getting nothing but straight A+s, even as you secretly grew to hate everything related to the space program.
In college, you finally came to the realization that if you didn’t take control of your life from your mother, you would forever be a slave to her astronaut ambitions. You decide that maybe you would like being a teacher, so you try out an Education major. The phone quakes in your hand as you dial your mother to tell her that you are not going to major in Aerospace Engineering, like she did.
But the bomb never goes off. Your mother, realizing that she can no longer control you through parental coercion, falls back on guile. “It would be a shame for you to give up your dream of becoming an astronaut now. Why don’t you take just one introductory class in Aerospace Engineering this semester and see how it works out? Even if you don’t ever become an astronaut, you can always fall back on engineering as a career. Engineers get paid much better than teachers.”
You are so relieved that you agree. A fatal misstep. Each semester, your mother will always have another reason why you should take more Aerospace Engineering courses, even though you insist that you don’t want to become an engineer. (You don’t have the guts to admit that you don’t want to be an astronaut.) You graduate with a Master’s in Education Administration. And a degree in Aerospace Engineering.
By the time you are out, your mother has already used her connections in the engineering community to secure you a high-paying job at Boeing. “It’s an amazing opportunity for a new graduate,” she says. “And now you can get the three years of experience you need to apply for the astronaut program.” None of the education administration jobs you were looking at pays half as much as the job at Boeing, and your numerous student loans have put you deeply in debt. So you become an aerospace engineer.
You loathe every well-paid minute of it. The people who hired you were delighted because they expected that you would have the same passion for aerospace engineering that your mother did. Slowly they uncover the truth, and the disappointment in their eyes crushes your spirit day by day. You know that they know that you are a sham who only got the job because of your mother’s reputation.
Three years pass. Finally you have the minimum amount of professional experience required to apply for the astronaut program. So you do. And you fail to get in, just like the 6,000 other candidates who entered that year. Surprise!
Never was anything so bittersweet as the moment when you received that rejection letter. Your eyes blurred with tears of gratitude as you accepted your place in life among the failures. The following day you quit your job as an aerospace engineer and applied for a low-paying job as an administrator at a local high school. Now you could be your own man, free of the burden of your mother’s dreams.
“You may have to reapply several times before you are accepted,” your mother said. “Failure is not an option.”
You never were accepted.
The truck thumps over a pothole. You blink back a slight mist in your eyes and remind yourself of your brilliant career in the education system. You aren’t a failure, no—you have a wonderful family; you are a respected member of several very exclusive clubs; you hold a seat on the city council; by all rights you are a pillar of the community. Your life is a success story, not a failure.
But if you don’t make it to Cave Four…then what? What if you have no choice but to board the Mayflower II? You just know that if you get on that ship, something inside you will die.
You use every trick in the book to wring more speed out of the truck. When the way is clear you drive at reckless speeds. When the route is clogged you take “shortcuts” through places where no one else will go. You get chummy with a troop of Skullbear Scouts and only escape by throwing your son’s iPhone out the window for them to fight over. Two days later you pass through Little Chernobyl, which is the closest you have ever been to a real, physical hell. (This time you are sure you are going to lose your brother-in-law, but he pops a Tums and rides it out.)
Yet despite all the time you save by these measures, you are constantly plagued by delays. Most of them are the result of mechanical problems. You notice that your gas mileage has dropped suddenly, and find a puncture in the gas tank. You get another flat tire. Your battery mysteriously goes dead, and you have to flag down a friendly man in a gas mask to give you a jump start. The alternator belt snaps and you have to barter for a replacement.
You are perplexed by this slew of problems. Your truck is nearly new; how can it be breaking down before the warranty has even expired? But of course you have never put a vehicle through as much abuse as this one. Still, you can’t help but feel disappointed in your not-so-rugged red machine.
Other delays are caused by the inevitable traffic jams. You end up bogged down at a military checkpoint at a state border. As you sit there in a stagnant line of vehicles, the engine turned off to save gas, a bicyclist comes pedaling toward you. You flag her down with a can of tomato soup.
“Hey, what’s going on up there?” you ask.
She pops the top and chugs it down. “It’s a heist,” she says at last, wiping her lips off with the back of her hand. “They’re tearing the cars apart. I saw them taking food, ammo, jewelry. If you don’t like it, you’ll get a bullet in the head.”
You glance uneasily at your family. You’ve already bribed your way past two military checkpoints with the help of your anniversary watch and a can of Coca Cola. But this sounds serious.
“What army?” you ask.
“The Neighborhood Crime Watch.”
You grimace. “Great. Well, thanks for the help.”
“No problem. Stay safe, and hide everything you care about.” She pedals off.
Your wife is already unfolding the map. “If we turn back, we could try to go through Sweetview Heights and circle around past the checkpoint. It would cost us time, though.”
“I suppose we don't have a choice,” you say, shaking your head. “Four days left, and now this. It just gets better and better.”
“It shouldn't take us much longer to get there,” your wife says. “Once we get back onto the highway, Cave Four is only a day's drive away.”
You make a noncommittal noise. Experience has proven how easily one day of driving can be stretched out into a week. Another breakdown, a checkpoint, a pile up...you just never know. But it's not like you have any choice but to keep going.
Some of the vehicles ahead of you are turning around and driving back along the crammed shoulder. With your wife leaning out the window to make sure you don’t hit anyone, you inch your way out of the traffic jam and join them.
By dusk you are off the highway and deep in the Sweetview suburbs. But here something goes wrong. Your wife is driving as you try to sleep, but you can’t help but overhear the whispered discussion between her and your sons.
“Shine the flashlight over here. That’s Jennet Boulevard, isn’t it?”
“But that sign two miles back said we were on 34 West.”
“That can’t be. That’s north. We’re going south.”
“What a mess. Let’s circle back to that church. At least then we’ll know where we are.”
Finally you shed the pretense of sleep and sit up. “Are we lost?”
“I’m not sure,” your wife says. “I thought we were headed out of town, but now…”
You examine the map, but have nothing to add. Finally your wife drives back to look for the church. It has vanished. For another two hours you roam about in the dark, wasting gas and growing frustrated. The map must be hopelessly outdated. If you didn’t know better, you would think that someone switched around all the street signs just to mess with you.
“I have an idea,” your ESFP son says. “Why don’t I go scout things out with the motorcycle? It’ll save gas, and I can move quickly. Once I’ve figured out where we are, then we can find our way out easily.”
“Alone? In the dark?” you say. “What if you get lost, or run into zombies?”
“I’ll be careful,” he says. “I can leave a note at each intersection so you know which way I went.”
“We are using up a lot of gas,” your wife says, eying the needle. You will have to refuel soon. You mentally tally up how much more gas you need to reach Cave Four. Enough for one day of driving? Maybe. But you’ll be cutting it close.
You don’t like the thought of your son going off by himself, but you’ve come to accept that some risks are necessary. Anyway, he's seventeen. It’s time you gave him more responsibilities. “Alright,” you say. “But be back here in two hours.”
Parking the truck near an abandoned McDonalds, you help your son untie the motorcycle. After a few starts, he manages to start it up and turn on the lights.
You hand him the map and a flashlight. “Be careful.”
“I will,” he promises.
He kicks it into first and goes purring smoothly away. You watch him go until he disappears. Though you worry, there is a part of you that envies him the cool wind and the lonely road. The crammed situation inside the cab is every bit as unpleasant as the winter you spent in the basement. You rejoin your family and try to catch a little sleep.
An hour and a half later, your son comes buzzing back in a state of excitement. “You won’t believe what I’ve found!”
“The way out—you found it?”
“Yes—no—well, you’ll have to see.” He points up the road. “We need to go that way. Help me tie the motorcycle back up and I’ll show you on the map.”
For nearly an hour you drive through the darkness, following your son’s instructions. Despite his excited explanations of what he found, you are still not prepared for what you discover at the end of a cul-de-sac.
A brick house in Dutch Colonial style stands among flowering lilac trees, neatly trimmed hedges and soft green grass. The lights are on, warm and golden, and you stare mothlike at the glowing windows. Somewhere in the darkness you hear the soft burble of a fountain.
A man stands at the white picket fence encircling this paradise. As you park, he opens the gate and strolls down the walk, smiling. “Welcome to Daisy Acres. There’s a meal and beds waiting for you inside.”
Your are so astonished by this reception that you simply stammer out a thanks. You get out of the truck and follow him. You can smell the sweet scent of the trees, the fresh odor of new-mown grass, the faint chlorination of a swimming pool. A Lexus hybrid is parked in his driveway.
The inside of the house smells of apple pie.
“This way,” your host says, leading you across an expanse of beige carpet. You catch a glimpse of maple furniture, leather sofas, and bookcases loaded with volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Everywhere you look, there is luxury: a scented candle burns on top of the brick fireplace; philodendrons hang lushly down the windowsill; soft music plays on an old-fashioned record player. The windows aren’t boarded up, and there’s no blood spots anywhere. What is this place?
The dining room is in Shaker style, simple but elegant. You are urged to sit down, and a plate of food is placed before you—not spam, not dandelions, but real food: pork chops, honeyed carrots, mashed potatoes and buttered corn. Your hostess, a pleasant middle-aged ESFJ woman, pours you a glass of lemonade. You take a sip and close your eyes in pleasure. Ambrosia. You have not tasted anything this good since Jones’ can of cherry pie filling.
“Sorry for serving leftovers,” your hostess says. “This is the best I could do on short notice. The Joneses didn’t expect you to arrive for days.”
“The Joneses!” you cry, almost spitting out your lemonade. “They were here?”
“Of course. They’re staying in the house across the street. You can see them in the morning.”
“But—why are they here? What is this place? How can you—” you ask, staring around you in astonishment.
Your host, another ESFJ Bunkerdragon, smiles. “I know you have a lot of questions. For now, just let me tell you that we’re a small community of good people who believe in working together to make the best of difficult times. Shall we say grace?”
That night you sleep in a real bed with clean white sheets. As you lay your head down on the pillow, your hair still damp from a scorching hot shower, you feel a sensation akin to ecstasy. You wrap your arms around your wife, breathing in the smell of the shampoo in her freshly washed hair. The room has air conditioning, and you are cool and comfortable.
“This is just like Before,” she whispers.
“It’s like a dream,” you say. “A dream come true.”
The next morning you awake to the sound of a robin warbling outside your window. Toothbrushes, deodorant, and a bottle of shaving cream are lying on a tray by your door. A note reads, “Breakfast is ready when you are. :)” You smell coffee brewing downstairs.
Your hosts greet you with bacon, eggs, toast and jam, all washed down with a mug of black coffee. The friendly ESFJs offer to give you a tour of the neighborhood. You express a wish to see the Joneses first.
In the daylight, everything is even more astonishing than before. The whole street is an island of green. A children play, laughing. You hear the buzz of a lawn mower. Normal sounds. Sport runs about like an excited puppy, peeing on every corner.
“This is a special place,” says your host, smiling proudly.
“How is it all so green?” you ask, marveling at the lush landscape. Is that a golf course you see down the road?
The ESFJ chuckles. “That’s a long story. When we realized we were on our own, we called a neighborhood meeting. A lot of people were hoarding things in their basements—the usual selfish thinking, you know—but we decided to pull together and share our resources. We took over the shell of an abandoned mall with an underground parking lot and installed growing lights and sprinklers. For power, a few of us built a small hydro system on the river to the west. Everyone contributed tools, fuel, and food until we got the system running. We grow our own vegetables—even fruit trees. The bacon you ate this morning was from our pig farm. It’s a small herd, but it’s growing.”
“How do you protect all of this?” you ask. “At our old neighborhood, everything would have been stolen by looters.”
“We made friends with the local militia,” the ESFJ explains. “We pay the Neighborhood Crime Watch a percentage of everything we grow, and in exchange they leave us alone. In fact, they even protect us from the undead. ”
At that moment, a familiar figure emerges from the house across the street.
“Why hello, neighbor!” Jones exclaims. “About time you showed up. We were beginning to worry about you.”
“Jones! What are you doing here?”
“Same thing as you, we found our way here by accident. Little patch of paradise, isn’t it? We’ve decided to stay.”
You glance at your ESFJ host, wondering what his reaction to this will be. ESFJs are notorious for their friendly hospitality, but surely they can’t afford to support every freeloader who drives up?
But your host just smiles. “We’re an exclusive community, but we welcome those who have skills to offer. You’re expected to do your share of the work, and in exchange you get a share of the rewards.”
You nod. If you want to eat, you have to work. Sounds like a trade off you could live with. “So Jones, you’re not going to Cave Four?”
“What, live in a dark, damp cave when I can stay here in the sunlight and breath fresh air? No neighbor, 302 is all yours, and you’re welcome to it. Oh, but say—there’s a golf course up the way. Feel like a game before you go?”
Jones wants one last little victory over you. You are about to decline, but your brother-in-law exclaims, “Wonderful idea! Let’s all get together and have a game. Only…I didn’t bring my clubs.” (You presume his suitcase is packed with cheap cologne.)
Your ESFJ host is delighted. “I can provide enough clubs for everyone. It would be a real treat to play with some new faces. We get so few visitors here.”
It seems ungrateful to repay his hospitality with a too-abrupt departure, so you agree to join in the game. Anyway, your wife is eager to go see the gardens, and the ESFJs have promised to give her some fresh produce to take with you. Your kids are already playing soccer with the local youth, working off the energy from sitting in the truck.
Only your mother looks less than pleased at this turn of events. She should be glad because she knows that each delay makes it less likely that you will arrive at Cave Four in time. Then you will have no choice but to go to Mars. But now there is a third alternative, isn't there? Jones decided to stay; what’s stopping you from doing likewise?
You ponder that thought as you tee up with Jones, your brother-in-law, and the ESFJ Bunkerdragon. Since you only brought along your dented long iron (the “zombie iron,” as you call it) you end up sharing clubs with your brother-in-law.
The golf course is just as miraculous as the rest of Daisy Acres. Immaculately groomed and dandelion free, it is a dream floating amid the graffiti-covered wasteland. You can hardly believe any of this is real.
“Better watch out, it’s windy today,” Jones says jovially.
With an angry tok, you drive your ball down the fairway. It isn’t one of your better shots; you’ve gotten rusty since the demise of civilization. You don’t even make it onto the green.
“Great job!” Jones exclaims. “Really good shot! Excellent!”
His praises only make your lukewarm performance more embarrassing. You hand your club to Joey, who takes a swing at the ball and whiffs it. You feel slightly better, but that only lasts until Jones takes his shot. The ball whizzes through the air, the wind guiding it just to the left, so that it lands on the green and rolls into the cup.
“Hole in one! How about that!” Jones says, grinning.
Your ESFJ host is delighted. “Why Jones, you didn’t tell me you were such a good player.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Jones says modestly. “I practice.”
Jones is just as rusty as you are, as his subsequent performance proves, but that magical first shot nonetheless establishes his reputation as a pro. Though you quickly improve, you are unofficially ranked below him—a fact that fills you with all kinds of negative emotions. The ESFJ, of course, easily beats both you and Jones. You are impressed not only by his game, but by his relaxed demeanor. He focuses on playing, all his attention on hitting the ball. You can’t do that; you are too jittery. Your eyes dart about, squirrel-like, watching everywhere for shambling moaners and knife-wielding psychos. The ESFJ’s calm, unconcerned behavior speaks volumes about the life he leads in Daisy Acres.
As you stroll down the fairway, the bag of clubs hefted on your back, Jones tells you more about his decision to stay. “—When we heard the ice cream truck coming down the road in the morning, that was when we decided to move in, ha ha!”
“They have an ice cream truck?” you say, astonished anew at this display of affluence.
“Sure do,” Jones says. “That’s the Daisy Acres way—keeping everything normal.” He already talks as if he has been part of the neighborhood for years.
The ESFJ adds, “We want our kids to have the same things we did. That means both ice cream and homework. It’s important for our children to grow up in a stable environment.”
At the mention of homework, you perk up. After the schools shut down, you tried to homeschool your kids, but merely staying alive took so much effort that you finally gave up on the project. You have smart children, but they’re not getting the education they need.
“What do you do for school here?” you ask.
“Oh no, nothing too elaborate,” the ESFJ says. “We do have a few retired teachers, enough to teach the core subjects. What grades are your children in? That oldest boy of yours looked like he should be in college by now.”
You’ve grown cautious about describing your children to strangers—rumors of slavers and the like—but the ESFJ obviously isn’t a slaver so you tell him about your children’s ages and education. He is impressed by the fact that you used to be a superintendent.
“We could use a man like you around here!” he exclaims. “We’ve been needing someone to look over the curriculum. Are you sure you won’t consider staying? We’d be glad to have you.”
You are flattered, but you turn him down. “We have to get Cave Four. We already paid for a place there.”
Secretly though, you wonder if Cave Four would be any better than this. Will there be ice cream in Cave Four? A golf course? Apple pie? Somehow you just can’t picture it.
The ESFJ wins, of course. You and Jones tie, but the scorecard count-back assigns him the victory. (“Good game!” he says, trying to sound sportsmanlike as he grins smugly into your face.) As for your brother-in-law, you could almost feel pity if you didn’t dislike him so much. Whenever he handed you a club, it was all sweaty and covered with cologne.
So you head back to the ESFJ’s house. Curious, you ask, “How do you keep the grass clipped? Doesn’t the mower use a lot of gas?”
The ESFJ shakes his head. “Our mower is electric. We try not to be too dependent on anything that runs on fossil fuels. With hydroelectric power, we can keep our machines running indefinitely, no gas required.”
“Wasn’t that a hybrid I saw in your driveway?” you inquire.
“I use it to go to market once a month,” the ESFJ says. “It’s the most energy-efficient vehicle we own. That said, it does cost a lot to fuel it.”
“I contributed gas for the next market trip,” Jones informs you proudly.
“You gave away your gas?” you exclaim, shocked.
“Things here are different,” Jones says. “We here at Daisy Acres don’t fight over resources—we pool and share. Cooperation, not competition. That’s the name of the game. ”
“I’m impressed by your…generosity,” you say skeptically. Jones? Sharing?
Jones continues, “Yes, we share everything here. No hoarding, no greed, no games of one‑upmanship. I’ve contributed quite a bit to the community so far. They were very impressed by what I had to give.”
The ESFJ says, “Jones here is a credit to the community. He’s only been here a few days, but already I feel like I’ve known him all my life.”
“Just being neighborly,” Jones says, grinning.
You swallow back negative emotions. “Good old Jones.”
“Will you at least consider staying?” the ESFJ presses. “If you’re half the neighbor Jones is, we need you here.”
“I’ll think about it,” you say.
“At least stay until tomorrow. We’re having a barbecue,” the ESFJ says. “The whole neighborhood will be there.”
You think about staying. Hard. And that night, when your family is gathered in the upstairs bedroom of the ESFJs’ house, you hold a vote.
“I know we were set on going to Cave Four,” you say. “But we’ve been invited to say here in Daisy Acres. If we go on, we'll need to leave tonight. We have two days left, and if we don't start now we might not make it in time. But we could also stay here. Don't think it will be easy—we would need to chip in to help the community, and that means hard work. But there are advantages too, as we’ve seen. Now, I want this to be a family decision. What do you think about staying at Daisy Acres?”
Your younger ESFP son is the first to speak. “I want to stay,” he declares. “I don’t want to be cooped up in a cave for the rest of my life.”
You are surprised at the vehemence of his response. “I thought you liked the idea of living in Cave Four.”
He grimaces. “That was before we spent a whole winter in the basement.”
Now your ISTJ son speaks up. “I’d like to stay here as well. I know you already spent the money, but I don’t think Cave Four would be any better than this. We might not even arrive there in time, and then we wouldn’t have enough gas to get back here.”
Finally the twins speak. As usual, they are united in their opinion. “We want to go to Cave Four!” they say together.
You are surprised. “How come?”
The ENTP twin looks at his ENFP Fury sister. “It’s too happy here,” she says.
“Too happy?” you echo. “How can it be too happy?”
“Because they’re all trying to be happy,” she says, as if this was perfectly obvious.
“And we want to see a bat colony!” her brother adds eagerly. “So we have to go to Cave Four.”
So the family is split, two against two. Since you aren’t giving your mother or brother-in-law an opinion, the deciding votes fall to you and your wife. You have discussed this already, and agreed that if the kids are willing, you will stay.
And so the decision is made. You comfort your ENFP daughter, who is inexplicably upset. “But daddy, I want to go to a place that is really happy,” she pleads.
“We’ll be happy here,” you promise. “You’ll make lots of new friends, and there will be a real school for you to go to. Won’t that be nice?”
“I guess so,” she says grudgingly.
You change the subject. “So did the kitties get fed tonight?”
“No,” she says. “I’ll go do that.”
This reminds you that you need to take Sport out before you go to bed. Normally you just let him out for a few minutes, but this evening you decide to take him for a walk around the neighborhood and think. The ESFJs have let you tie him up in their backyard, so you head there, leash in hand.
When you get there, Sport is nowhere to be seen. The rope is lying loose, and the back gate is open. Sport knows how to open gates. He always was an intelligent dog.
“Sport!” you call, trying not to be too loud. There is no response. You walk down the road and call again. Still nothing. You feel a sinking feeling in your stomach.
“I can’t find Sport,” you tell your wife as you climb into bed.
“Oh no,” she says. “Wasn’t he in the backyard?”
“He got loose.”
“Maybe he’ll be back in the morning.”
“Let’s hope so.”
You lay there with your eyes shut, but you do not fall asleep. You are wondering about Sport, of course, but there is more to it than that. Your thoughts circle around what your daughter said, about Daisy Acres being too happy. Sometimes there is truth in the mouth of a child. Like the ice cream truck—couldn’t the community find a better use for their resources? It seems dangerous to broadcast so much prosperity in such difficult times. You suppose the protection of the Neighborhood Crime Watch has to count for something, but you haven’t seen so much as a single sentry guarding Daisy Acres. You can't quite make yourself feel safe here.
Next morning, you awake early. The house is quiet; everyone is still asleep. You hurriedly dress and go outside to look for your dog. Passing by the picnic tables that have been set out for the barbecue, you head to the backyard. The dewy grass feels cool on your feet.
Sport is there, gnawing on something. When he sees you he leaps up and gives you an enthusiastic licking. You smile, stroking his head. “Don’t run away on me like that, boy. You had me worried.”
Hoping that he has not been gnawing on a lawn ornament, you glance at the object he was chewing. It’s a bone. A really big, long bone, about the size and shape of a human femur. You shoot Sport an exasperated look. “What have I told you about digging up graves? No human bones, bad. Very bad.”
Sport smiles obliviously at you, tongue lolling. With a sigh you pick up the bone. What a way to introduce yourself to your new neighbors. This was probably part of somebody’s grandmother. (More likely it is from a shallowly buried zombie killed by one of the residents. Or the gruesome remains of a victim left lying somewhere. Sport is revoltingly good at sniffing out human remains.)
You hold the bone out hopefully to Sport, letting him sniff it. “Show me the grave, Sport. Show me the grave and I’ll give you a treat.”
Sport knows this game—you probably shouldn’t have made it into a game—and happily runs off through the open gate, barking. You cringe at the noise your dog is making, but follow. The Joneses’ dog probably doesn’t exhume graves.
The fresh-painted clapboard houses stand in a double row along the quiet street, and to your relief, Sport passes by them all. Like an arrow, he heads to the golf course. Specifically, that sand trap from the eighth hole which your brother-in-law got stuck in. Sport stands there proudly, panting as he waits for you to catch up.
You look down at the extensive hole your dog has dug, which reveals a number of grinning skulls. You shake your head grimly. “Oh, Sport. What am I going to do with you?”
Sport waits expectantly for a treat. Sighing, you pat him on the head and toss the femur back into the hole. You suppose you will have to fill up the hole. Hopefully you can change out of your dirty clothes before anyone notices.
As you shove dirt back into the hole with your bare hands, Sport lies down and watches. To your eyes he looks highly amused. You get more and more annoyed with him as you work. Finally he wanders off to another part of the course; you are glad he is not watching you anymore.
You get the grave covered up at last. “Sport!” you call. “Let’s go home!”
Sport bounds up from behind a small hillock and comes running. In his mouth is another femur. You swear.
This time your dog has exhumed the turf itself, revealing another cache of skulls. You assume the locals built the golf course over a massive zombie grave. Though, if these were zombies you would expect to see the skulls shattered, and these skulls are whole. Maybe these were the corpses of victims torn apart by the zombies? But in that case, wouldn't the skulls have been split open by the hungry undead?
Well, it doesn’t matter to you. You’re no forensic detective, and goodness knows there are enough skeletons buried in your backyard. You grab the femur and try to pull it away from Sport. He thinks you want to play tug of war, and a macabre struggle ensues. Finally you get the femur away from him.
Then you notice something odd. This femur is somewhat charred at one end, and in places you can see parallel black lines. It reminds you of the marks left on meat by a barbecue grill. Strange.
Sport has gone back to get another bone from the grave, and you hastily intercept him. Shooing him away, you restore the femur to its owner. As you do so, you notice a bit of metal glinting in the dirt among a pile of collapsed ribs. You aren’t a grave robber, but you feel a certain bit of morbid curiosity. So you grab the metal thing and pull it out.
“Why, what’s this doing here?” you say aloud, staring at your find. It’s a perfectly good two-pronged barbecue skewer. How did it come to be embedded in a dead man’s ribcage? Maybe the man loved barbecuing, and this was his friends’ parting gift to him? Personally, you would have gone with a spatula, but you restore the skewer to its resting place and cover up the grave. You keep an eye on Sport to make sure he doesn’t get up to any more shenanigans.
You are unhappy with the ripped up turf, but there’s nothing you can do about that. By this time people will be waking up, and you need to hurry back. You wipe your dirty hands off on the grass and call Sport. He comes running, thankfully without a bone in his mouth.
In retrospect you will look back on this as one of the dumbest moments in your life. But how could you ever have guessed that something so monstrous could lay at the heart of beautiful, peaceful Daisy Acres?
You head back to the ESFJ Bunkerdragons’ house, intending to return to bed. Your big red truck is parked at the shoulder of the road, as before, and you admire it as you approach. For all its faults, you love your truck. You are even beginning to like all its scratches and dings. The damage makes it look tough. But what is that shadowy flash of movement you see behind it? A thief!
Instantly, you are all stealth. Sport takes your cue and goes rigid. Your hands balled into hard fists, you tip toe towards the intruder.
There is a little gravel on the road, and unfortunately it grinds underfoot. The intruder freezes. You lunge around the truck and almost punch your brother-in-law in the face. He is holding a can of blueberries.
“So!” you growl. “Raiding the food. Those blueberries are for bribery, not for eating!”
He stares at you sullenly. “We don’t need to bribe anyone. We’re staying here.”
“That’s right,” you say. “And that means you can leave. Tomorrow we’re going to pick out a house. You will not go anywhere near it. You will also stay away from my truck or I’ll break your nose. Is that absolutely clear?”
He raises his chin defiantly. “They’ve invited me to stay here too. I’m going to be the head gardener.”
“You can dig graves for all I care,” you say. “Just stay away from me and my family.” You snatch the can of blueberries out of his hand.
Your brother-in-law stalks off, fuming. You glower at him until he is out of sight. Then you uneasily check the bag he got the blueberries from to make sure everything is still there. The contents appear to be intact. Not that it matters, since you’ll have to share your supplies with the ESFJs as the price of joining the neighborhood.
Maybe it’s selfish of you, but the thought of giving up your carefully conserved stores goes against every instinct you have. Still…you have to admit that cooperation has bigger payoffs than competition, at least when everyone is pulling their share. You just really don’t like the thought of sharing with the Joneses. Or your brother-in-law. Who was dumb enough to make him head gardener? You wouldn’t have put him in charge of a mop.
Shaking your head, you tie Sport up in the backyard and go back into the house. Breakfast has already begun; it’s bacon and eggs.
“Out taking the dog for a walk?” your ESFJ hostess asks, smiling.
“We had a good stroll,” you say, hiding your dirty hands in your pockets. “It’s nice to be able to walk around without having to clamber through concertina wire.”
The ESFJs laugh.
The morning’s grisly work has not affected your appetite, and after washing up in the bathroom, you dig eagerly into real, nondehydrated eggs and crisp bacon. As you eat, you find yourself absently recalling that human meat supposedly tastes like pork. Odd that this little tidbit should occur to you now, of all times. You wash down your bacon with a glass of orange juice.
Just as you finish, your mother appears. “We need to talk.”
Bracing yourself, you set down your fork and join her in the empty sitting room. Before she can start, you say, “You can take the motorcycle and whatever else you need to make it to the launch site. I won’t be coming along.”
“Son, you’re acting like a fool.”
“Mother, I won’t say it again. I’m not coming.”
“Do you think this is a paradise?” she says. “Son, let me tell you something. I took a hard look at the biosphere plans for the Mars settlement. Everything has a cost, do you understand? To grow a plant in a greenhouse, you need a certain amount of water and electricity. To feed a cow or pig, you need a certain amount of fodder, and that fodder costs a certain amount to grow. Last night I counted the houses that were lit up and worked the numbers. Daisy Acres isn’t sustainable. If their population is what I think it is, they can’t possibly be producing enough food to feed everyone. Especially not in an underground parking garage that has to be heated and lit continuously.” She produces a piece of paper and shoves it at you. “Here, check the math.”
You are familiar with such things thanks to your intense astronaut education. But though you understand the principles behind what she is saying, it’s quite obvious that the people who live here are sustaining themselves.
“I know you want me to go with you,” you say, “But I’d honestly prefer to stay here. As I have said repeatedly, I don’t want to go to Mars.”
“You’re ignoring the facts,” your mother says, slapping her paper. “Sooner or later these people will run out of food.”
“Those aren’t facts. They’re theories,” you say. “Have you seen the hydroelectric plant?
Have you asked about its output? Do you know if they have any alternatives sources of energy? What about bartering? What if they’re letting their pigs graze on dry fodder from last year? I’m sorry mother, but this just isn’t Mars. And no, I’m not leaving Earth. That is final.”
You stand and walk out. At that moment you are proud of yourself. You do wonder, however, what the ESFJs are feeding their pigs. You’ve heard that hogs will eat anything, even people. Hopefully they don’t let their pigs do that…no, of course they wouldn’t. What a silly notion.
Your mother's remarks do make you wonder how the ESFJs are running things, though. You have been rather hasty in your decision to stay; perhaps you should get more details on the situation before you commit.
You find your ESFJ host out on the front lawn, sharpening his knives for the barbecue. He greets you with a pleasant nod.
“Can you tell me about your farming operation?” you ask. “How much electricity does it take to keep the parking garage warm in the winter?”
Your host looks surprised, but only for a moment. “Oh, I don’t know. Someone else takes care of that.”
“Ah. Well, how much electricity does your house use?”
“About a megawatt a month. Depends on the season. We try to conserve.”
You quiz the ESFJ at length about the generator, the plants he grows, and the pigs. Though he has an answer for every question, sometimes his answers are unsettlingly vague. If you were in his position, you would know every single detail of the operation. If there’s one thing you’ve learned, it’s that survival depends on keeping track of the numbers.
You end the conversation unsatisfied, but the ESFJ reassures you that you can learn all about it tomorrow. He’ll take you on a personal tour and show you everything. But today is the neighborhood barbecue, and he’ll be too busy. You tell him that you understand.
You go to find your wife. She is in the upstairs bedroom, digging through the pockets of a pair of pants with a frown. “What is it?” you ask.
“The keys,” she says. “I can’t seem to find them anywhere.”
You scowl, remembering your brother-in-law. “I saw Joey digging through our supplies last night. I’ll bet he took them.”
Your wife looks unhappy. “But how could he have—they were right here in the bedroom last night…” She shakes her head. “I’ll go talk to him.”
You nod grimly. Good thing you have a spare hidden. You make a mental note to keep an eye on the truck; you wouldn’t put it past your brother-in-law to drive off with it.
At this moment, you feel a tug on you pants. You look down to see your ENTP son standing there. “Daddy, are you looking for the keys?”
“Yes…do you know where they went?” you ask.
“I put them in the fish food.”
“Why did you put the keys in the fish food?”
“So that nobody would steal them.”
“Oh…uhm…good…but, why would someone want to steal them?”
“To keep us from going to Cave Four.”
“Why would they to do that?”
Your son looks wordlessly at the floor for a moment. Then he looks up and launches into a guilty torrent of words, “I was playing outside, and I got hungry, and you were playing golf, and everyone was busy, and I noticed there was a cookie jar in the kitchen, so I got a stool, and climbed up on the counter, but then someone came in, so I got down and hid in the cupboard under the sink, and I heard them say they had to find our keys, so we couldn’t leave to go to Cave Four. So I hid the keys in the fish food where they couldn’t find them. I’m sorry for trying to take the cookies without permission.”
You and your wife exchange an uneasy glance.
“Who said to get the keys?” you ask.
“I don’t know,” your son says. “I couldn’t see.”
“Was it the Joneses?”
“No. It was someone else.”
“Why would they want our keys?” your wife wonders.
You pace around the bedroom. A lot of little things are suddenly beginning to seem odd. On a whim, you pull out your wallet, where you keep the ticket into Cave Four. Your heart gives a little jolt.
“The ticket!” you gasp. “The ticket is gone!”
You search through the small papers in your wallet, as if the ticket could be hiding there, but the ticket is completely and totally gone. Your wife snatches your wallet and searches it herself. Nothing.
“Someone stole it,” you grind out. “They couldn’t find our keys, so they stole the ticket instead.”
“But why?” your wife exclaims. “Why would anyone want to keep us from going to Cave Four?”
“We weren’t going to Cave Four anyway,” you say. “Nobody could possibly want to keep us from going there, except for the Joneses, and they’ve decided to…stay…here…”
A thought occurs to you. What if Jones hired someone to steal your keys and the ticket? What if he is playing possum, trying to steal another march on you? What if he was never going to stay at Daisy Acres at all?
“Jones!” you hiss. “He’s behind this. He hired someone to sabotage us.”
“Darling, really,” your wife protests. “I just can’t believe that. Maybe someone here just wanted the truck. Son, did you actually hear someone say that they wanted to keep us from going to Cave Four, or did they just mention the keys?”
Your son can’t actually remember whether Cave Four was mentioned, but you are certain that Jones is plotting against you. The golf game, the gas donation—it was all a facade to make you believe he was staying. Perhaps he had to stop at Daisy Acres for repairs, and he needed a way to stall you while he finished fixing his truck. Whatever the case might be, you should never have let down your guard.
You glower at the house across the street. “If Jones genuinely intends to stay here, then he won’t need his ticket to Cave Four. I think I’ll just go ask him if he still wants it.”
“But we aren’t even going to Cave Four!” your wife exclaims.
“This is a matter of principle.”
You march down the stairs, stalk across the street, and pound on Jones' door. Jones opens it. He puts on his usual grin. “Why neighbor! What brings you here? Need to borrow a cup of sugar, ha ha?”
“Where’s the ticket, Jones?” you demand.
Jones looks surprised. “What do you mean?”
“The ticket that was stolen from my wallet,” you snap. “The ticket to Cave Four.”
“Your ticket was stolen?” Jones says, still feigning surprise. “Why, that’s horrible. Who would do such a thing?”
“Oh, be serious,” Jones says, chuckling.
“I am serious,” you say coldly. “The ticket, Jones. Give me the ticket or I won’t be responsible‑‑”
Jones interrupts you with a laugh. “I see how it is. Alright, I confess I’ve been trying to get to Cave Four before you. So have you, eh? Ha ha ha! But that’s all over now. Tell you what neighbor, you can have my ticket if it matters that much to you. I’m not planning to be a caveman anymore, but if your heart’s set on it, I won’t stop you. Good luck, and happy trails.”
He pulls out his ticket and hands it to you. You hesitate for a moment, then accept it. Fearing some trick, you examine it closely. It is definitely not your ticket—the fold lines are different. Jones has actually given you his own ticket. You stammer an apology.
“Oh, think nothing of it,” Jones says. “But here I thought you were going to stay at Daisy Acres. Did you change your mind?”
You hesitate. If it wasn’t Jones that stole your ticket, then who…? And why…?
Your ESFJ host appears. “Is something wrong?”
You don’t answer; you are thinking. The person who came to take your car keys did it while you and your wife were gone—you to your golf game, your wife at the gardens. But you had your wallet on you the whole time you were playing golf, so the ticket couldn't have been removed then. When was the ticket removed? It must have been at night, when you were asleep—you left your wallet on the nightstand.
You stare at your ESFJ host, stricken. You can’t believe that he would let strangers walk into his house in the middle of night. Did he let someone in to steal your ticket—or did he do it himself? Was the golf game yesterday a distraction so that the thief could get your keys?
Jones, seeing that you make no reply, explains, “Someone stole his ticket to Cave Four. Right out of his wallet, can you believe that?”
“Oh dear,” says the ESFJ. “How can that have happened?”
You become aware that your host is carrying a bottle of lighter fluid in one hand and a two-pronged barbecue fork in the other. It looks exactly like the one you found in the mass grave this morning. A chill runs down your spine.
“I don’t know how it could have gone missing,” you say. You find yourself thinking of your mother’s insistence that Daisy Acres isn’t sustainable, and about the bacon you ate this morning.
“Maybe you misplaced it,” the ESFJ suggests.
“Maybe so,” you say. You think about how your daughter said everyone was too happy. You think about how your brother-in-law has no skills, yet has been given an important oversight position. You think of pork chops and bacon.
Jones nods. “Could the ticket be in your other pants?”
You try to look thoughtful rather than panicked. “You know, I think I’ll double check. It’s probably in the truck somewhere. I’ll get my family and have them search the bags. Probably one of them has it.” You turn to your wife, who has just come up. “Honey? Could you gather in the kids? Oh, and did you find the fish food?”
She nods, holding up the keys. You flinch.
The ESFJ watches as she pockets the keys with a jangle. He looks confused. “But I thought you were staying?”
“We are,” you lie. “I just want to find the ticket. If someone really stole it, I would be upset. But I think it’s probably in the truck somewhere.”
There is something about the ESFJ’s face that tells you he doesn’t buy it. But you have no choice but to play along anyway. More of the locals have arrived to set up picnic tables. They shoot you friendly ESFJ smiles, but all you can see is the way their eyes wander over you from head to toe, sizing you up.
You look at Jones. “Say, when were you going to give me that tour of your new place?”
Jones is naturally delighted at the prospect of flaunting his house. He invites you inside. The ESFJ goes back to the barbecue grill, shooting you a suspicious look that you pretend not to see. The moment the door is closed, you grab Jones by the arm.
“We have to get out,” you say urgently. “This place is a trap. I found a mass grave under the golf course this morning.”
Jones scoffs. “They have to put the bodies somewhere. What did you expect?”
“No. It’s more than that.” You explain about the keys, and how the ticket was stolen out of your wallet last night—by the ESFJ.
“Absurd!” Jones says. “He’s a fine fellow, he wouldn’t steal your keys. You played golf with him, does he seem like the sort who would go around pilfering tickets from your wallet?”
“We played golf on a mass grave,” you point out. “He didn’t tell us about that.”
“It would have been in exceedingly bad taste,” Jones says.
You grit your teeth. “One of the bones had grill marks on it. And there was a barbecue skewer that looked just like the one he was holding this morning.”
Jones shrugs. “So what? They probably got attacked by zombies during a cookout. I wouldn’t want my barbecue skewer back if it was embedded in a zombie either. You need a vacation, neighbor. You’re getting paranoid.”
Now you begin to doubt yourself. What if you’re wrong about all this? You don’t actually have any real evidence, like a freezer full of human remains.
That gives you an idea. “I’ll be right back,” you tell Jones.
You walk casually across the street, back to the ESFJ’s house. “I think I figured out where the ticket might be,” you tell him as you pass. You try to make your voice sound calm and confident.
“Good,” the ESFJ says. “I’m going to light up the briquettes.”
Nodding, you go inside. You head straight to the kitchen. The refrigerator stands at the end of the room, humming. It is covered with little alphabet magnets. You pull open the freezer door. A blast of cold air rolls out, revealing packages wrapped in white butcher tape. You grab one labeled “chicken fingers” and tear it open.
Inside is a blood-stained human hand. The frozen white fingers are clenched around a young green onion.
You drop the package, horrified. At that moment footsteps sound behind you.
“Oh dear,” says your hostess.
She seizes a butcher knife from the counter and lunges for you.
You fling up your in arm just in time. The razor-sharp knife slashes off your arm as you thrust it away. You grab her wrist and use the leverage to ram her into the dishwasher. She screams. You jam your hand over her mouth, but it’s too late.
Twisting the knife out of her hand, you make a break for it. “Honey!” you scream. “Where are you? Get to the truck!”
The ESFJ is screaming, “Stop them! Stop them!”
You hear the thunder of feet coming downstairs. Your wife appears with the twins. Seeing your bloody arm, she goes white.
“Get to the truck,” you shout. “Where are the boys?”
“They went to play baseball down the street—”
“Get to the truck!”
Your family stampedes out the door. You hesitate, then dart upstairs to get the rifle. So much adrenaline is flowing through your veins that you don’t even feel the pain in your arm, though you are dripping blood all over the beige carpet.
Your mother appears out of the bathroom. “What’s all that racket—”
“Get in the truck!”
Your gun is there in the corner where you left it. Seizing it, you glance out the window.
Your wife is backed against the truck, the twins behind her. A crowd of ESFJs is advancing on her, barbecue skewers and butcher knives held out. More locals are rushing towards the scene. You smash the window with the butt of your rifle. Your ESFJ host looks up, startled.
“Don’t move or I’ll blast your head off,” you roar, sighting on his head. “Honey, get in the truck!”
Your wife unlocks the front door and throws the twins inside. She slams the door shut. A moment later you hear the revving of the engine.
Now you bolt down the stairs, your rifle at ready. Your mother is waiting at the bottom of the with her AK-47. Together you slam open the front door and make a run for it. Your ESFJ host whirls to face you, his teeth bared in a snarl. He jumps into your path, holding the skewer out like a knife. You point the gun at his chest and coolly pull the trigger. Click. Empty; someone unloaded it. The ESFJ laughs. He leaps for you, skewer held high.
You twirl the gun around and bash in his face with the stock. He goes down with a squeal.
“Have you lost your mind?” Jones cries from across the street.
“Run for your life!” you scream. “They’re going to kill us!” You jump onto the truck's running board as hands reach for you. Your mother hops onto the tailgate. “Go!”
Your wife guns it. By this time you are surrounded by a crowd of angry ESFJs. Your wife ruthlessly runs them down. You cling to the side mirror as bodies go tumbling past. Then the first patter of gunfire rings out. A bullet whines past your ear.
In thirty seconds you are at the far end of the street. The boys are tossing a baseball back and forth near the golf course. They stare as you come barreling down the street in a storm of bullets.
“Get in!” you shriek, throwing open the door.
They pile inside, and you jump in too. Your wife grinds the clutch into gear and you peels out. Your mother curses, clutching her bloody shoulder. You stare at the red smear, frightened, but only for a moment. Behind comes the sound of revving engines. Your eyes dart to the side mirror. Two hybrids are following. As you watch, someone snakes a gun out the window and fires. The side mirror explodes.
“Go! Go!” you shout.
“Joey!” your wife cries suddenly. “We left him behind!” She whirls the wheel around.
“No!” you yell, but she ignores you.
Bending over the steering wheel, she drives straight at the hybrids. You catch a glimpse of pale white faces behind the windshield as your truck bears down on them. They careen off to the side. You go roaring down the center line.
The Joneses are under siege in their house; the ESFJs are trying to batter down the door. Your wife drives up onto the lawn. The ESFJs scream and run, but not fast enough. She clears a grisly path for the Joneses to escape.
“Joey! Joey!” she yells. “Where are you!” She begins honking frantically.
A bullet smashes the windshield. Glass rains into your lap.
“We’ll have to leave him!” you scream.
Joey staggers out from around a fence. His hair is disheveled and he is carrying a bottle in his hand. You wife gives a cry of relief.
Your brother-in-law stumbles towards you, arm upraised. Your wife throws open the door.
Before Joey can arrive, an ESFJ jumps inside and grabs the wheel. Your wife screams. She flails at him with her fists. He reaches for the keys—then screams bloody murder. You hear savage snarling, and the man vanishes. A moment later Sport jumps into the truck, a bloody grin on his face. Joey leaps in behind him.
The Jones have started their truck. Together you blast off, roaring through the carnage at full speed. But the hybrids have regrouped for another attack.
“Get them,” you snarl, bracing yourself against the dashboard.
Your wife punches the pedal. The hybrids see your blood-spattered truck bulldozing forward like an avalanche, but they don't break off. Instead, they open fire.
“Everyone duck!” you shout.
You crouch behind the dashboard, your body sheltered behind the truck's engine block. Bullets go whizzing through the empty space where the windshield was. You hear them thunking into the cab. The engine roars.
Then the hybrids break off, one to each side. You grab the wheel and twist it sideways. The truck swipes one of the hybrids aside as you pass. You hear a snatch of screams, then a crash. Your mighty machine plows on without stopping.
Chest heaving, you peer out the window. One of the hybrids is embedded nose first into a house. The other is weaving frantically down the road, out of control. You took out one, and Jones got the other.
You pull your head back inside, satisfied that no pursuit will be following. Raising your voice to be heard over the wind, you shout, “Is everyone alright? Mother?”
“I'll live,” she says in a taut voice. “Keep going.”
You look worriedly at her shoulder. Her whole shirt looks red now. “Joey. Get something on there to stop the bleeding. We'll stop as soon as we can, mother.”
Your mother nods.
You count your family, reassuring yourself that they are all accounted for—the twins, your two sons, your mother, your wife, and your brother-in-law. And Sport. The cats were already in the truck, so they’re fine. You have everyone…except… You look at your ENTP son, wondering if he knows. He holds up a canteen. “I put him in a water bottle so he wouldn’t get hurt.” As you watch, he retrieves the fish bowl from the floor and pours the fish back inside.
You let out a breath. Everyone is here.
You pass by a brick facade with bronze lettering that welcomes you to Daisy Acres, and then it is lost behind you.
For many miles you and the Joneses travel in tight formation, ready to repel attackers. But no one follows. Your wife ignores the map and just takes every road that leads north, back to where you came from. You realize belatedly that the ESFJs probably changed with the street signs to direct victims into their trap.
At last, when it is clear you are safe, you and Jones pull over. You climb out, glass tinkling about your feet as you open the door. You still haven’t recovered from the shock. Neither has Jones. For a moment you just look at each other in shared disbelief.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Jones says. “I’ll be needing my ticket to Cave Four back.”
He holds out his hand.
There comes a time in everyone's life when they are tested. For you, that time is now. It did not come when you were ready for it, but when you were tired, shaken, battered and betrayed. You stare at Jones speechless, your mouth open to yell at him, or maybe just because you are so aghast. You saved his life, and this is the first thing out of his mouth. But you always thought of yourself as an honest man…the sort of man who would do what was right whether it came hard or easy. Or at least that was how you thought of yourself until now.
You reach for your wallet, but not to retrieve the ticket. Instead, you clutch your pocket protectively. He gave it to me, you think. It’s mine now. Anyway, 302 is mine. He gave up his ticket willingly. It’s mine!
Who knows what you might have done, if it hadn’t been for the sound of your oldest son helping your mother out of the truck. You become aware that your family is watching you. But none of them was there to see Jones give his ticket to you. If you say the ticket is yours, how will they know you are lying? They won’t. But you will know.
Slowly you withdraw your wallet and take out the ticket. Jones pulls it out of your resisting fingers. “Thanks neighbor. Nice job on the ESFJs. How many did you get? We got thirteen. Well, see you around.”
He climbs back into his truck. You stand there, numbly, watching as the blue truck vanishes into the distance.
“Did you just give him our ticket?” your wife asks.
You slowly shake your head. “No. It was his. We don't have a ticket anymore.”
Your mother says nothing. Silently you help your wife bandage up her shoulder.
“Where are we going?” your son asks as you drive towards the launch site. The broken windows are covered with cardboard, plastic bags, and duct tape.
You make no reply. After explaining the situation with Jones that morning, you haven’t spoken a single word.
“We’re going away from Daisy Acres,” your wife says.
“We’re going to the launch site,” you mother says.
You stare out the piece of scratched plexiglass now serving as your windscreen. All of your sacrifices were for nothing. You can’t enter Cave Four without a ticket. It’s over.
At last you pull over for the night. You sit down at a picnic table and stare at an obscene word scratched into the wood. Your wife tries to make you eat some creamed corn, but you push it away.
“So are we going to be astronauts?” the ENTP asks eagerly. At age six, he likes the idea of going into space. How naïve.
“Well, we’re sure not going to Cave Four,” replies your ESFP son. He sounds happy at the thought. Of course, he never wanted to dig under in the first place.
Your wife hushes them. “Eat your corn.”
When the sleeping bags are laid out you crawl inside yours and lay there as if dead. You throw your arm over your eyes.
As the emotions of the day quietly release themselves, you face the future. You will be an astronaut, like your mother wanted. You will go to Mars with your family. Everyone will know you as your mother’s son; she will probably arrange things so that you end up working under her. You feel ashamed at your anger toward her, but it doesn't change your feelings. Couldn't she have just left you alone? Why did she insist on coming? Does she have to keep grinding and grinding at you until there's nothing left?
A brave man would screw up his will and face the death of his hopes and dreams with courage. You are a brave man, but you have just been through hell and back. You regard your fate, and bitterly bow your head. So be it. You will endure your fate. All you ask of life now is that you can provide for your family. They are all that matters now.
You close your eyes and fall asleep to the sound of a bird singing.
Mars. Your mother stares in disapproval as your space suit starts leaking. Your lungs fill with freezing carbon dioxide. You pant and writhe, clutching your suit—
You awake with a gasp. Your hands are clutched around the zipper of your sleeping bag.
Somewhere in the early morning quiet you hear a slow sssssssssssssss. It’s coming from the truck. You squint into the darkness with bleary eyes, and make out a figure crouched by the back tire. The hiss is the sound of air being let out. Someone is sabotaging your truck.
Worming your way out of your sleeping bag, you reach for your rifle. Silently you raise the gun to your shoulder. “Hands up!”
The man gasps. He jerks around, and you find yourself facing your brother-in-law. Surprise, surprise. Guilt is written all over his face.
“What are you doing?” you ask. Without lowering the gun, you clamber out of your sleeping bag and approach.
“Just—uh—ch-checking the tire pressure,” he stutters. “To make sure it wasn’t going flat again.”
“You were letting the air out,” you say. “Why?” You look around and see that Joey has gotten down the motorcycle. And the last can of gas. Bribe food is scattered about: blueberries, peaches, pineapples in syrup.
“I wasn’t letting the air out!” he says. “The tire was going flat, so I—”
You glance down at the tire, where Joey was using the tire pressure checker to deflate the tire. The hissing of your space suit was the hiss of air escaping from the tire. But this isn’t the first time you have had that dream.
“You let the air out all those times,” you say slowly. “Why?” Another thought hits you. “Did you cut the alternator belt? Puncture the fuel tank?”
His face goes pale. “I—I didn’t do any of that.” His nervously clenching hands tell a different story.
By this time your family has awoken. They gather around you and your brother-in-law. With cold deliberation, you put the barrel of your rifle against Joey’s forehead. “Where’s the ticket, Joey?”
Joey's eyes dart wildly. “I don't know! I swear!”
Slowly, you repeat, “Where’s the ticket?”
Finally his face crumples. “The blueberries. It’s under the label.”
You pick up the can of blueberries and peel off the label. The ticket is inside.
“Do you have an explanation?” you say, your voice dangerously calm.
Joey looks like he’s going to cry. “I only took it because I thought you didn’t need it anymore. I was going to sell it… I needed money, and you wouldn’t help me. Jones offered to pay me if I— Please, I never meant any harm. I was just supposed to slow you down, so that he could reach Cave Four first. I’m so, so sorry.”
“So you betrayed your own flesh and blood for money,” you state. Your next words would have been something to the effect of “Up against the wall, traitor” but your wife speaks first.
“Joshua!” she cries. “How could you?”
Tears trickle down the traitor’s face. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” he repeats.
“You disgusting little cowardly snot,” you say. You give him a hard shove, driving him out of the family circle. “Everyone get in the truck. Not you, traitor.”
You make Joey reinflate the tire as you stand over him with the gun. He cries the whole time. When he is done, you get in the truck and drive off. Your brother-in-law is alone on the roadside.
Your wife throws a can of green beans out the window. You shoot her an angry look. “He doesn’t deserve anything from us.”
“I know,” she says miserably.
Then you remember that Joey is her brother. You take a deep breath. “I’m sorry. But—”
“I know. I know.”
So you say nothing more, even though you still feel like turning around and running Joey over a few times. From now on, your family traditions will recall Uncle Joey with the especial contempt reserved for the likes of Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot.
But as for the true villain, Jones, he is somewhere up ahead, reveling in his victory. The extent of your neighbor’s treachery leaves even you astounded. You always knew Jones lived to one-up you, but this... He must have been working to undermine your family from the very moment you left his house, your belly still warm with his food. How did he know to seek out your brother-in-law? Has Jones been paying him to spy on you this whole time? You saved Jones from the ESFJs and he repays you in duplicity and deceit.
Your anger burns hot as you roar forward down the highway, growing and growing until it feels like your very blood is pulsating. You will catch up to Jones by 5 pm this afternoon, when the Grand Elevator descends. And when you do… Your hands clench tight around the steering wheel.
You drove recklessly before; now you drive like a madman possessed. Ruthlessly your shoulder smaller vehicles aside with blasts of your horn. With your truck's size and mass, you dominate everything on the road except tanks. Your mind is fixed on Cave Four—on Jones. He has eight hours lead time on you, but what is his gas situation?
It isn’t long before you find out.
“Honey, there!” your wife exclaims, pointing to a gas station with an attached machine gun nest. “Isn’t that Jones’ truck?”
You see a familiar blue truck covered with Honor Roll stickers. A sinister smile twists your lips. The Grand Elevator descends in mere hours, so you can't afford to waste time giving Jones the full treatment he deserves, but that doesn't mean you're going to let him off scotch free.
You pull off onto the side road that leads to the gas station. Jones is haggling with a heavily armed gas station attendant. There is a look of desperation on his face as he holds out his family heirlooms to an unimpressed attendant.
You lean out the window, raising your hand in a casual palm wave. “Hello, neighbor.”
Jones turns to you, embarrassed to be caught in such a predicament. But he quickly recovers his usual smile. “Why, fancy meeting you here! We’ve been having a little gas trouble, ha ha. Got any to spare?”
“Ooh, I’m so sorry,” you say. “But unfortunately—” You yank the ticket out of your wallet and flash it in his face. “—We’re in too much of a hurry right now. See you around neighbor—or not!”
Laughing in his stunned face, you punch the gas. Neighbor Jones is left to breath your exhaust fumes as you peel out towards Cave Four. You laugh for a solid mile, giddy with joy.
Even two hours later, you are still chuckling to yourself. “Did you see the look on his face? We finally got him, the little—”
Bam! The truck skids out of control. Your family screams. You whirl the wheel around madly.
Despite your frantic efforts, the truck nosedives into the ditch and comes to a stop in a thicket of dead brush. You hear the buzzing of motorcycles going past. You grab for your rifle, but the bikers disappear down the road.
After a few tense minutes, you dare to climb out of the truck.
Your ESFP son looks in the direction the bikers went, puzzled. “They left without taking anything.”
“Some people just do bad things for fun,” your wife says.
But you know the truth. “This is Jones’ work. He sent them after us.”
You kick the shredded tire and curse and curse. If only you had left him to the ESFJs. But the only thing to do now is to change the tire.
You are halfway through when Jones goes roaring past, honking his horn. You leap up onto the road and open fire. But Jones swerves cunningly; before you can blast so much as one of his tires, he escapes behind a bend in the road. “Damn you!” you scream after him.
Finally you get the tire changed. When you are done, a compassionate Methodist helps you get back up on the road. He sends you on your way with a blessing.
With divine justice on your side, you speed after Jones. There is a manic light in your eyes as you whip the wheel about, slicing your way through the traffic like a wheeled, multi-ton knife. In the distance you can see a mountain. It's not a real mountain—it's Cave Four. This is all the dirt that was excavated from the great subterranean hollow below; after the city was finished, they piled the earth back on top for extra protection.
“There's the turn off to the launch site,” your mother says, pointing at a road blocked off by a chain-link fence and guarded by sentries. “This is your last chance to evacuate this planet before it's too late.”
You don't even slow down. Your mother says nothing, her pale face set in disapproval.
You speed onward as fast as you can go. Just when you think you will make it in time, you come upon a solid wall of red tail lights.
“Stop!” your wife shrieks.
You slam the brakes just in time. The whole road ahead is blocked with cars; you cannot pass. You leap out of the car and grab a passerby. “What’s going on?”
“Some dipstick got his truck stuck sideways across the bridge,” the woman says, spitting angry.
“What color is the truck?”
“Jones!” you snarl.
You realize instantly what Jones has done. He couldn’t buy enough gas to reach Cave Four, so he blocked the road to stop you until he can reach the elevator on foot—or on bicycle.
Whirling to face your family, you shout, “Get the bikes down. Hurry!”
When your family understands what you intend, they quickly realize the consequences: they will arrive at Cave Four with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“Mittens!” cries the ENFP.
“Tiger! Fishy!” cries the ENTP.
“Put them in your backpack if you want to save them,” you say as you clamber onto the motorcycle. It’s been a long time since college, but your body remembers the motions. With a little fiddling, you get it started up. The flaming skulls painted on the machine fit your mood perfectly.
“Honey, I’m going to catch Jones. You grab whatever you can carry. The elevator goes down at 5 ‘o clock.”
You knock back the kickstand. But before you can rev the gas, your mother seizes the handlebar. She leans in close, staring into your eyes. “Listen to yourself, son. You’re obsessed! Do you really want to give up everything—everything—just to reach Cave Four? If you leave all your possessions behind, you’ll arrive there without a penny to your name. If you arrive at all! Stop this madness.”
You look into her eyes, and take a deep breath. “Mother, I hated space camp and I never wanted to be an astronaut. Whatever you think of me, I want you to know this—I’m going to do what I want with my life, and what I want is to stay on Earth doing what the job I love. I am going to Cave Four. I'm sorry.” Your mother opens her mouth, but you plow ruthlessly on, “You’re going to Mars in an untested space vessel, and in my opinion, every person on board is going to die. So I’ll just tell you that I’m also sorry I’ll never see you again. Goodbye, mother. I wish it could have been different between us. For what it’s worth, I do love you.”
Pushing her hand aside, you give it gas. The motorcycle springs to life and you buzz out. You do not look back, because there are tears in your eyes. Painful tears, but not tears of regret. Sport runs after you, barking, but he can’t keep up. Soon he vanishes behind you. You are on your own.
Shoving your roiling feelings down, you focus on weaving back and forth between stalled cars. Before long you reach the bridge. As you suspected, Jones has parked his truck sideways, blocking the whole thing. He even slashed his own tires. Looters are picking over the abandoned supplies in pickup’s bed, but all the bicycles are gone. Clever, Jones, you think. But not clever enough.
You skid past the downed truck and navigate your way through the traffic jam on the other side. As vehicles stack up behind the bridge, you scream down the shoulder, your hair flying in the wind. Jones can’t have gotten far.
Minutes later you are wailing up the switchbacks that lead to Cave Four. The sides of the road are filled with junk. Rocking chairs. Washing machines. A piano. Even valuable things, like camping equipment and bicycles, are heaped up in piles. Previous families must have tossed aside items that went over the size/weight limit. Not that any of that matters to you, since you have nothing on you but your wallet and the ticket.
As you ascend, you can see the countryside spread out below. The road you took to get here is a winding grey line dotted with red tail lights. To the east is the launch site, easily recognizable by its maze of scaffolding and buildings. You can even see the gleaming white hull of the Mayflower II, pointed skyward amid a shroud of girders. You examine the ship, impressed despite yourself, then turn your eyes back to the road. There is no longer any doubt about your future.
Rounding a switchback, you suddenly come upon the Jones family. Jones isn’t among them. You know that he too has rushed on ahead, ticket in hand, to hold the elevator. Ignoring the shrieks of Jones’ wife and children, you race onward. This bitter race can have only one victor.
Jones is ascending the last leg of the final switchback when you catch up to him. He looks back and sees you. His face goes white. He begins pedaling frantically, but he is no match for your gasoline-fueled speed. You pass him as if he was standing still. The elevator lies directly ahead.
A gunshot rings out from behind, and a bullet slams into your bike's engine. The motor begins to sputter. You look back, more shocked than frightened, and see Jones grinning his artificially whitened smile. He is holding a small revolver. “Sorry, neighbor!” he shouts. Tucking the revolver back into his pocket, he pedals for all he is worth.
Your motorcycle’s engine grinds horribly. Clenching your jaw, you kick the clutch into neutral and turn the motor off. You were doing sixty miles per hour; now you coast uphill in neutral. Moment by moment, your speed bleeds away. Jones is gaining on you. You hear him giggling madly as he pants, closer, closer. Come on, Jones, you think, your hands white on the handlebars. Come and get me.
Now Jones is alongside you, his front wheel slowly edging up in front of yours. “So—long—neighbor,” he gloats.
You swerve your motorcycle sideways and ram him.
The two of you go down in a tangle of spokes and pedals. He is trapped underneath, but your leg is caught under the motorcycle. With a painful grunt, you pull yourself free. You snatch the revolver from Jones’ pocket as he thrashes about.
“Nice try,” you gasp, hurling the revolver over the nearby cliff. “But I’m afraid only one us is going to Cave Four. Farewell, Jones!”
You run for the elevator.
Before you have taken two steps, something snaps in your kneecap. That knee has always been bad—an old sports injury—and you must have done something to it when you crashed into Jones. Instead of sprinting, you are limp/running, your leg threatening to give way underneath you with each step. You look back and see Jones pulling himself free of the wreckage. He staggers after you, a manic light in his eyes.
You are only fifty feet away from the Grand Elevator. Drawing upon your last bit of strength, you pull the ticket out of your wallet and scream a battle cry against all the forces that oppose you. Your knee is on fire and you cry out at each step, but you are running. Thirty feet. Twenty feet. The elevator attendants watch you with wide eyes. You stretch the ticket out to them. The paper trembles in your hand.
Jones tackles you from behind. There are no words between you now; you flail at Jones with an animal snarl. Now he scrambles to his feet, his ticket in his hand. He is up and running, but you grab his ankle before he can get away. He whirls and kicks you in the face. You do not let go. You roll and cut his legs out from under him. He topples over.
Before he can regain his feet, you pounce. Not for him—for the ticket in his hand. He tries to hold it out of reach, but your fingers close around the end. Both of you pull at once. The ticket rips. Now there is only one ticket left—yours.
With a savage laugh, you scramble to your feet, but Jones has gotten hold of your belt.
You drag him behind you, the pain subsumed in battle rage.
You are only ten feet away! You hold out your ticket to the nearest attendant. “Take it, take it!” you scream.
But the elevator attendants are alarmed by your reddened eyes and spittle-flecked lips; they edge backward. Jones gives your belt a hard yank; your treacherous leg gives way.
The instant you are down he clambers on top of you, pinning you down with the sheer weight of his body. He grabs for your ticket.
A terrible noise comes out of your throat. “Never, Jones! Never!”
With inhuman strength, you raise yourself up onto your hands and knees, the ticket clutched protectively to your chest. You crawl towards the elevator. Jones gropes for the ticket, but you won't let go. “Give it to me!” he snarls. He drives his fist into your ribs like a pile driver.
But you are beyond pain. You crawl forward, the crumpled ticket clenched in your fist. Eight feet. Seven feet. Six feet. Jones’ pummeling fists cease. Now his hands close around your throat and squeeze.
“Die, neighbor,” he hisses. “Die!”
No air now. You force your arms to move forward inch by inch. Your windpipe feels like it is collapsing. Five feet. A circle of darkness is closing in around your vision. Jones’ weight drags you down to the ground. Three feet. Your arms tremble, you swim forward. Two feet. Bright points of light are flashing in the darkness. Your lungs scream for oxygen. One.
You cast the sweaty ball of paper at the feet of an attendant and crumple to the tarmac. A shadowy hand picks it up. Jones gives a shrill cry. His hands tighten hatefully around your neck. Screaming an incoherent word, he smashes your head into the ground over and over.
Perhaps he would have killed you, but there is the roar of a familiar engine. Doors slam. The hands around your neck are yanked away. Angry voices. You lay there, gasping.
Slowly your vision clears. Your wife is leaning over you, shrieking your name. You manage to moan. She gives an exclamation of relief.
Your beaten body aches with each movement as you force yourself to sit up. Slowly you recover your wits.
Jones is sitting slumped on the tarmac, staring at the ground. Your wife dabs blood off your face with a wet cloth.
In a croak, you ask, “How did you get here?”
“Your mother brought us across on the construction road,” your wife says. “She used her pass to get us through the launch site, and there was another bridge—Oh! Here, I'm supposed to give you this.”
She hands you a folded up paper. You open it with shaky hands. It is the ticket to the Mayflower II.
“It’s on the back,” your wife says.
You turn it over. Written there in your mother’s precise engineer's handwriting is a note that reads, “I regret that I misunderstood your desire to enter the space program. Perhaps I should have provided a wider scope of options for you to express your talents, which are considerable. I am proud of your achievements, despite what you might think, and I hope you will make the best of your life in Cave Four.” Below her signature, it reads, “P.S. I love you.” Beneath that, it reads, “P.P.S. I supervised the ship’s design myself, and it is perfectly safe.”
You give a tremulous smile.
As you oldest son discusses size and weight limits with the attendants, your family bundles everything into the elevator. As you sit there, your younger ESFP son comes and crouches next to you.
“Dad…?” he says.
“Yes?” you whisper.
“Do I have to go down with you?”
You look at your wife. She says nothing. You look back at your son. Just one hour earlier, you would have said a firm ‘no,’ but instead you say, “I think you should come down to Cave Four with us. But the choice is up to you. If you want to stay up here, you can.”
He gives a nod. “Thank you, dad. I think I’ll stay up here.” He hugs you and his mother. There are tears.
You load your luggage into the elevator, but there is a problem when it comes to the pets. The attendant doesn’t want you to bring Sport, Mittens, Tiger or the fish. “No animals allowed,” he says.
Your ESTJ personality is a lot like your truck: in an emergency, you can use it as a battering ram.
You loom over him, determined and covered with blood. “They’re going.”
“Put the animals inside,” you order your family. You stare at the attendant, daring him to stop you.
He isn’t being paid enough to fight you to the death. He scowls and pretends not to notice as the animals are loaded inside.
You limp over to Jones, who looks up when you approach. His face is dirty and defeated. When his family arrives, he will have to tell them that he failed. Some part of you almost pities him.
“Cheer up, Jones,” you say, pulling the Mayflower II ticket from your pocket. “You can still go to Mars. Here. A parting gift.”
Jones reads the paper in silence, then looks up at you mistrustfully.
You smile at him with your bruised lips. “Just being neighborly.”
At last the elevator is ready to descend. The cats meow frantically in their carriers. Your ISTJ son is holding Sport by the collar. Your wife and your ESFP son exchange a long hug. You shake your son's hand and look him in the eye.
“It’ll be rough out there, but you know how to take care of yourself. Whatever you do, remember I’m proud of you.”
He nods. “Thanks dad. I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, son.” You had intended to leave it at a handshake, but instead you hug him again.
It’s time to go. You take one last look around and notice your beautiful red truck. Battered and broken, covered with zombie flesh and riddled with bullet holes, it stands majestic. Before you can go down, you must say goodbye.
Stepping quickly out of the elevator, you reach out and touch its hood. Well done, loyal friend, well done.
Then you turn away and join your family. Squeezing in between an old woman and a pair of frightened children, you do one last head count. It is one head short. You swallow the lump in your throat. You can't believe this is happening.
The door, a five foot thick mass of steel, slides across the world like a cloud blotting out the sun.
“You brought the fish food, right?” you say to your ENTP son, who is holding the fishbowl.
You turn to your ENFP daughter. “You have all your stuffies?”
“Yes daddy.” She is holding an armload full of beanie babies.
You turn to your ISTJ son. “You have—”
You smile at him. Then you turn to your ESFP son, who is standing on the other side of the door. “Are you sure you don't want to come with us?”
He shakes his head and remembers to smile, though there are tears in his eyes. “I’m going to buy parts for the motorcycle.”
“Go to the launch site and ask your grandmother for help. She’ll get you set up.”
“I’ll miss you guys,” he says, his gaze taking in the whole family.
“We’ll miss you too,” you say, wiping away your own tears. “Good luck, son. I love you.”
The door cuts across your vision, and soon there is nothing left of the outside world but a thin sliver of light.
“Dad, here!” your son shouts suddenly. “I’ll take the spare!” Something small and silver spins through the closing gap. You catch one last glimpse of his grinning face—genuinely grinning now—and then the door booms shut. Bending down, you pick the fallen object.
It’s the key to your truck. You give a tearful little laugh. You’ll wear that key around your neck from now on.
With a mighty groan of machinery, the elevator descends. In the back, a baby is crying. Someone coughs. Sport whines fitfully. For a long, long time the elevator sinks down.
Finally it comes to a stop. The door grinds slowly open.
Outside is a world of darkness lit by yellow sodium lights. The air is warm and moist. At the bottom of a tremendous staircase, you see buildings lined up along a neat grid of streets. Everything looks shiny and new; there is no litter, no vandalism, no decay. You have arrived in Cave Four.
You turn to your family and put on a brave smile. “Come on. Let’s go find 302 Paradise Lane.”
It will take you awhile to adjust to your new home. At first you can't stand it, and you berate yourself for going down. Yet strangely enough, you will eventually come to like it. The great cavern is surprisingly peaceful, like a giant womb, and when all the lights are on—you arrived at night—it is almost like day. There is a river stocked with fish, and a playground for your children. 302 turns out to be a fine little house in a good neighborhood. You never have to leave your door locked at night, and the local school is excellent. The family who lives across from you has a mushroom garden. Your wife accepts a jar of fresh fungi from them with a pleased smile.
When you discover there is a position open on the education council, you put in for it. You are quickly accepted, and after a few years you will end up as chairman, and finally as the mayor’s Education Adviser. However, you find yourself no longer satisfied with advising alone. Cave Four has problems, and you think you have solutions. When the current mayor resigns, you will run for office. You won’t make it in this time, but at the end of the next term you will be elected. And reelected. And reelected.
Your children will grow up and have families of their own. Your older ISTJ son will follow in your mother’s footsteps and become an engineer. Wouldn’t she have been proud. Someday, his son—your grandson—will be major of Cave Four just like you are. Your ENTP son will monitor earthquakes, and your ENFP daughter will be an amazing teacher. You are very proud of them both.
You won’t know what happens to your ESFP son, but he does fix the motorcycle. He ends up as a jack of all trades who motors around the country, camping under the stars. Around his neck he always wears a key. Sometimes he looks up at Mars and wonders if his grandmother made it.
You wonder the same thing. By all rights your mother shouldn’t be alive, but somehow you just can’t imagine her dead. But if she made it to Mars, then that means the Joneses made it to Mars too. What are they doing there? How big is their house? How much is Jones making? But no—you fight those thoughts off. You’re above that now.
“Honey,” your wife says, “Is it just me, or do those people across the street have a bigger stalagmite than ours?”
You and your wife will grow old together. When you finally pass away, the new major will put up a statue of you in recognition of your many years of civil service. On the base it reads simply, “Though he was the last to come down, he became the first among us.”
Ten thousand years from now, that statue will still stand, faceless but proud, a testament to your achievements.