Back to Issue Forty-Six

At The 16th And Mission BART Station



There is no heat in the Krishna Hotel, and often no water. It is not clear how it got its name. Perhaps it was a joke on the part of its rapacious Indian owner, or perhaps it is because in its rooms you are free to shoot heroin until your skin is the sky-blue color of the infant avatar. At any rate, it is a good place to leave, and Ilya staggers out the front door, intent on doing just that.

In three steps he has already forgotten where he is going and why, but he continues on, past the Yangtze and the Mi Tierra markets, past the payday loan store, past Smoker Friendly, which does okay with tobacco but can’t keep the burner phones on the shelves.

A bus bangs and clatters to a stop next to him, and he is swimming upstream, buffeted by hermetic bubbles of twittering schoolgirls, wizened Chinese women, a boy with a face like worn pavement and a shirt that says “Pride and Poise” in silver script. Someone has painted “Queers Hate Techies” on the sidewalk and a trim young man in an expensive mountaineering jacket walks past it, unable to see anything that doesn’t glow.

In the subway station plaza, the ghost of Pancho Villa, silver handlebar moustache, red plaid cholo shirt, sleeps outstretched on a bench. In his dreams the bright promise of the revolution is again betrayed and buried by the black hearts of men, while a round schizophrenic woman, tangled silver hair down to her waist, sits on the station steps, rocking back and forth and grinning up into the sky. It is empty and blue, the sky of one hundred years without rain, a perfect canvas for the deliverance of revelations.

An off-brand phone company has set up a table, and underneath it sits a cynically multicultural sales crew—two pretty women, one white, one Hispanic, a black man in a non-threatening business suit. It’s never been cheaper to connect, their awning says. Ilya stops, stunned, and then begins to move unsteadily toward them. His heart throbs in his chest and for a few magical moments he is filled with an ardent certainty that it is true.





The preppers are unafraid. Whatever you do, the preppers will be ten moves ahead. The preppers are playing eight-dimensional chess and the rest of us, well, the rest of us are as good as dead.

The preppers sit in their brown vinyl La-Z-Boys, flipping razor-sharp butterfly knives open and closed, open and closed. Their heads are full of thoughts about antibiotics, filtration systems and Faraday cages. They are on the watch for the Illuminati, the globalists and the Satanists. The preppers have pointed questions for representatives of local government. They are unsatisfied with the answers they receive. The preppers keep us all in their prayers, even though it’s not going to do a damned bit of good if we don’t get our acts together. The devil will take the hindmost. That’s just common sense.

The preppers think a lot about the lifeboat problem. Eventually, somebody is going overboard, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be them. That’s a given, but there are gray areas. The preppers dislike gray areas. Gray areas are vague. Gray areas are troubling. Snap decisions, hard truths, who will survive and who won’t—these are the currencies of the future. Everything else counterfeit and false.

The preppers have been forced to take a good, hard look at some things. Their children, Trent and Vicky, for example. Vicky’s a big girl. Surprisingly strong for her age and gender. She would be an asset hoeing a field, setting a secure perimeter or riding the generator bike. As for Trent…the preppers’ thoughts veer away from Trent.

Sondra, the preppers’ wife, also falls under some scrutiny. The preppers are worried that she’s a chink in the armor, a weak link in the chain. Sondra does not want to talk about reinforced concrete, how to tan hides without chemicals, effective siege tactics.  This turns out to be limiting to their daily interactions. Long periods of silence have become increasingly common.

It wasn’t always this way. The preppers remember the early years of their marriage as happy. Blissful, even. But it was a happiness based on ignorance and delusion. It was only at the birth of Vicky, their first child, that the preppers began to see the truth. It is still a vivid memory for them, looking into the newborn Vicky’s eyes and coming to the sudden realization that the world was a cauldron of chaos, evil and death, and that the only meaningful role the preppers could now assume was to keep the ravenous monster of reality away from this incredibly vulnerable child.

Sondra, inexplicably, does not share the preppers’ sense of urgency. She refuses to see the threats that are so horrifyingly obvious to them. The clarity and precision of the preppers’ mind has left her behind. The preppers wish, desperately wish, that this were not so. But the preppers cannot live in conflict with the truth. They can only hope that Sondra will eventually catch up.

It is important, though, that the preppers not dwell on the dicey state of their marriage. The preppers square their shoulders and pull themselves together with a conscious effort. The preppers don’t have time to worry about everything. The peripheral stuff will sort itself out eventually. There’s only one direction possible, and that’s forward.

Trent comes down into the basement one day. Trent never comes down into the basement. The preppers and Vicky are practicing field-dressing head wounds. Simulated blood drips down Vicky’s face and smears her overalls. Head wounds are like that—they’re gory affairs. It’s important to be realistic.

Trent watches them for a few moments.

“Mom’s going out again,” he finally says.

The preppers give a neutral grunt. 

“She always goes out looking real pretty,” Trent says.

The preppers don’t like to use the word sensitive to describe Trent because sensitive isn’t going to keep him alive. Sensitive isn’t going to be worth a damn when things get real. Observant. That’s a nice, conceivably survival-oriented word. Trent is very observant.

“Your mom’s a pretty woman,” the preppers reply, hesitantly.

Nobody says anything for a long time.

The preppers find they cannot meet their son’s gaze, his soft, fatally vulnerable brown eyes. Their attention flits around the room like a moth, taking in the stacks of MREs, the boxes of ammo, the seed packets, the gun rack, the sturdy, gray metal shelves packed with supplies. The sheer tonnage of his great, misunderstood love.

“Dad,” Trent says softly. “Dad.”

“Shut up, Trent, you fucking pussy,” Vicky suddenly shouts. “Shut up! Shut up! We don’t need that bitch. Look what we’ve got here. Just look.” Her face is bright red. Blood has clotted in her hair into lank snakes. She waves a sanguinary arm at the walls of the basement. We are surrounded by life, she seems to say. This is what life looks like.

Trent’s shoulders drop. He turns away.

The preppers close their eyes, listening to Trent’s slow footsteps mounting the stairs. Suddenly they are sobbing, great, convulsive, uncontrollable gasps. They collapse to the concrete, snot, tears and saliva mixing on their faces. They can’t stop crying. They feel as if a giant hand is squeezing them, releasing them, squeezing them again. Vicky stands above them, her eyes hard, full of calculations. The preppers were ready for this, they think. There are no surprises. The preppers have thought of everything.

John Haggerty’s work has appeared in dozens of magazines, such as Fractured Lit, Indiana Review, Michigan Quarterly, and Smokelong. He has also received awards and honors from Bridport Prize, the CRAFT Elements contest, the Nimrod Literary Awards, No Contest, Pinch Literary Award in Fiction, and Wabash Prize in Fiction, among others. He is the founding editor of The Forge Literary Magazine. Read more at

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