The Goldilocks Zone
Inventory day in the bunker. On Daddy’s Excel sheet, canned tomatoes, peas and peaches are a month past expiry. A couple cans are fat. A family-sized fruit cocktail in heavy syrup already exploded. The bunker smells like a wino, Mama says. She explains why in her social studies lesson The Immoralities of Godless Cities. I think winos smell sweet but also . . . ruined?
The Basmati rice has a bug-town at the bottom. I Google “Will rice bugs kill you?” and discover rice weevils are actually useful protein in a crisis but Daddy was dumb to put the bunker next to the boiler room. “Heat equals bugs,” he says like Let that be a lesson to us all.
Tomorrow we’re off to ALDI for provisions and insulation from the hardware store so the bunker won’t be so bug-friendly. Rice weevils aren’t gross, but their poo is. I Google “Will weevil poo kill you?” and don’t find the answer but do learn that we surely have bugs in the rigatoni, dried pintos, and Daddy’s family-sized Cayenne pepper. Turns out we have loads of bug-towns, so we make bug chili and put pintos on the list for tomorrow.
I study six hours every morning so Jesus will be proud of me on Judgement Day. Mama’s not good at math, but she’s taught me almost everything else. Like how we’re mostly empty space. How Finnish is the hardest language. How the world’s largest meteorite is in Namibia. (It’s named Hoba, and it’s flat.) How cockroaches can survive a nuclear war, or how lobsters don’t scream but still feel the hell of being cooked.
In spelling yesterday, Mama and I practiced words that end in –tion, like obliteration, annihilation, extinction, and Tribulation. I can spell them all.
Bugs are industrious. One of the weevils is making a rice-grain cave. I describe her as agile and sound for my science project. I call her Fluke because Mama says that’s what she is. A fluke can be a flatfish, a worm, part of an anchor or a whale’s tail, but I think Mama means a fortunate mistake. Fluke’s alive only because the seal on her plastic container is crumbly and the temperature’s just right in the bunker. Fluke doesn’t know tomorrow is Basmati-bug Biryani day. And that’s probably for the best.
It’s a buy-three-get-one-free Apocalypse at ALDI. The aisles are pyroclastic flows of preppers. Daddy’s ramming his cart down the produce aisle, shouting “Extraterrestrial impactors! Supervolcanoes! Armageddon! Now’s not the time for perishables!” Some people stare, some smile, but they all put down their basil and pears. They know we’re doomed.
But bright-side alert: Halloween costumes are 70% off. We buy The Three Bears because there are three of us and Mama says when our time comes we can hunker like hibernators down deep in the bunker, like we’re waiting for Goldilocks, like won’t that be just-right cuddly? She does a silly dance in ALDI, chanting hunker in the bunker, hunker in the bunker.
And that’s exactly what we do when the sirens blow. We file calmly to our cave, secure the door and zip ourselves up in our woolly bear costumes. Daddy gets out the games. Mama boils water and dumps the rice in. I listen for little Fluke’s screams, but they never come.
We settle in, play Trivial Pursuit, say a prayer. And wait for impact.
Christopher Allen is the author of Other Household Toxins (Matter Press) and Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire). He is presently the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. He is certain that no one’s getting out of this alive.