Read an Excerpt
 i) This Book assumes many things. ii) Among them, that you are still alive. iii) It assumes that the world has not been destroyed by fire, that it has not developed radiation flats and a meteorology of fallout. iv) It assumes there has been a breakdown. v) It assumes that a new competition for resources has begun; that there are resources yet available; and that primarily, the Event involved ab initio (or has since developed) an economic revolution.
 i) The destabilization of Trade informs the competition for resources--conflict, nationalism, religion, and consciousness are all Narratives for securing these. ii) These will be your ready tools.
 i) This assumes that you will kill other people. ii) Begin identifying the people beyond your Group as Outsiders as quickly as possible. iii) Begin before the Event, if you are able.
 i) You will need a Place, and it will require a name. ii) Your Place is your strongest Narrative.
 i) If your Place serves also as your residence prior to the Event, then there are a number of preparations you can make. ii) Of course, stockpiling firearms, ammunition, fuel, preserved or preservable foods, and medical supplies is a priority. iii) However, over-preparation can lead to disaster (c.f. 2.1.iv-2.1.v). iv) If your Place is too near an urban center, then Outsiders may attempt to Forage it for supplies or shelter. v) If your Place is over-prepared, it loses mobility, which is among a Group's most primary survival characteristics.
 i) A Group inhabiting a Place too near an urban center will endure considerable Administrative stress in the process of negotiating with potential Additions to the Group, for this negotiation inevitably includes a number of necessary eliminations--Rejections that stress the Place's perimeter. ii) This is problematic, for in this instance, your Group will be forced to eliminate Rejections before your Narrative has solidified against the psychological damage that can result from doing so. iii) A Group requires time to identify not only itself but also its Outsiders. iv) For this reason, situate your Place an appropriate distance away from any urban center. v) Given time, a Group will stabilize its Narrative such that Additions and Rejections will not stress Administration.
We put soft edges on the swords, which were looser ideas about sharpness than what we intended. Than what we intended to do with these edges.
We took turns, grinding and grinding, throwing sparks onto the linoleum and against the fridge. The other of us paced from window to window, watching for notice. We had every light in the house on to make it look like we were working our late-night house-flipping renovation. They dimmed, a sort of sinking, light-choir, every time one of us bore down on the wheels with our steel.
We only made them so sharp. Because we had to practice, which was going to dull them. After we'd practiced, then we'd finish the ideas. We'd sharpen them fully. And we got lucky--the grinder didn't burn up, because we didn't finish the job. We let it cool, and added some lubricant, which would be enough, we'd heard, to finish the job.
There would come days, though, when we would do this by hand. With our whetstones.
What I remember most about pumpkins isn't carving them. It's the smell. Even fresh pumpkins smelled like rot to me, like bad flesh, and disemboweling them so you could insert candles felt like grabbing fistfuls of decayed sinew--the seeds like tumors caught in their own body-webbing. Roasting the seeds, with salt and oil, always seemed carnivorous, even though we were dealing with a plant.
We had the pumpkins set up on sawhorsed plywood, on the dark side of the house, where neither Jo nor our other neighbor could see what we were doing. We were screened from the next property by the back yard's mess of bamboo and sycamore trees.
Outside, in the dark, I held my sword like a carving knife. I thought about Halloweens past, about how we created glowing faces with sharp knives. How pumpkins became jack o' lanterns. About what I wanted faces to look like. About what I had to do to a pumpkin to get what I needed to know about striking someone in the head with a sword.
It took practice, slicing into the pumpkins instead of simply knocking them from the plywood.
We also used watermelons, which were important because they made "the sound."
Later, we finished the idea. We finished the edges and burnt up the grinder. Adam put all the pumpkin seeds we'd picked from the plywood on a baking sheet. Added salt and oil, because there was no sense wasting. Not with what was coming. We had to become accustomed to doing carnivorous things.
Killing people outside of a grocery store is more than it seems. It is also collecting baseball cards.
It is an entire pack, a box of packs, too large to steal. You must simply take them, right in front of the assistant manager who only lets six students in at a time because our junior high school was too close, and we all stole too many things. After the first card, there is the next, and the next, an entire loose-leaf photo album that isn't yours. And somehow it means something, even though baseball bores us, because it meant something to our fathers. It is a stack of talismans we'd rather not understand. And they stack and stack.
So do the people, when you kill them.
I was twelve then, and there were three of us: Jon, Chuck, me. In the wooded lot behind our development, we had a fort. A copse of trees, really, at the soft end of a flood-plain, where the city had installed an extra storm drain, right in the trees, leading to the main culvert nearby. The culvert was only slightly more important to us than the fort. It was an open-topped, cement trapezoid, and it was horseapple fights, experiments with aerosol spray and butane lighters. It was access to a second-place, between our housing development and the next, between and below privacy fences. It was an underworld where we sold scraps of stolen Playboys and Clubs and Penthouses to each other. It was where we got beat up. It was our Place.
The city's failed drain became our coffer. We wiggled the calcified service "key" out of its brackets under the iron lid and finished the job that runoff had started: sealing the drain and its ground-level vents with mud, sticks, anything that would move downstream. We made it our own Charybdis.
A neighborhood grocery store moved in a year or so later, absorbing the majority of our field into its parking lots and facilities. So we formed a Plan.
On Friday nights, we would sleep over at Jon's house. His parents let us watch unscrambled late-night cable and stay out as late as we wanted. As long as we stayed in the neighborhood. Which was fine with us. The neighborhood was all places to us.
Through the culvert, through the fort, through the unmowed grass at the edge of the lot--the grass as tall as we were--we took the field back piecemeal. We read teach-yourself ninjutsu manuals and practiced moving invisibly and silently through the grasses. We destroyed the store's decorative shrub-lighting with clubs from the fort because doing so with the baseball bats we had used in Little League, on team Yellow Jackets, felt wrong. We threw bottles into the lanes, and nails--anything we thought would make grocery store life generally unlivable.
By day, before and after school, we took back the store. We stole medicines, mostly, because they were small and expensive. But we also took anything else we wanted: pens, lighters, a whisk. Anything small enough to escape the ceiling's bubbled, black security windows.
And eventually, we stopped stealing and started taking. A gallon of milk, a mop. A box of baseball cards. What twelve-year old would walk out with a gallon of milk? The store's bigger problem was the other kids, those stealing bags of candy to sell on the blacktop at school during lunch--the managers always caught them. We were never caught. Our combination of force and paranoia was stronger than guilt and stealth, which never worked. We dumped everything in our coffer, used or not. We were most amused by just destroying what we'd taken.
Adam hadn't started stealing until college, when he dated a punk girl without realizing it. He didn't know until months afterward, when she told him that what they'd been doing, stealing together, was dating.
We were force, and paranoia, moving through the culvert along University Avenue toward the store where Adam and I bought Ramen noodles by the shipping crate and boxes of mac-and-cheese and soda. We ate these things while we played Dungeons & Dragons after work. We had never stopped playing.
Word had slipped through the F.C.C., and things were unraveling. We chose this store because there was a pharmacy across the street, and we intended to target both. We parked Adam's truck beside the unused loading dock of the mostly empty shopping center a few blocks away. We used the culvert to move along the avenue to get to the store because we thought the swords would provoke a fight, if people could see us. Not everyone was being strategic. Some were getting high on disorder for its own sake, with better odds than not that the police wouldn't even show because they'd be controlling panic elsewhere. Most of the National Guard that watched the armory along the highway had been deployed overseas.
The swords had taken their edge on the grinder. We had hacked through whole melons earlier in the morning.
WHIS.PER had been quite clear. It was the only thing he ever said, and he said it behind a mask, behind an assumed name, into the tiny lens recording his 'casts.
Overcoming the aversion to violence is best effected through disguise.
It was the only thing he ever said, over and over, and most jammers left him alone for it. We painted the tops of our faces with shoe polish, and masked the bottoms with doctored swathes of our darkest T-shirts. I remembered from mine and Jon's and Chuck's ninjutsu manual how to turn a T-shirt into a ninja's hood.
"Did you decide?" I asked him. Overhead, sports cars with exhaust mods gargled furiously past.
"Levi," Adam said.
"Yeah? You sure?"
My heart was realizing the task at hand, pumping so hard my field of vision was twitching.
I'd chosen my new name already, had chosen it right away when I'd seen the wildstyle directive in greasepaint on the commuter-lot dumpster. There was a sigil as homage for WHIS.PER's Rule, his 'cast frequency in faux-stencil. The new message was around it. No vowels.
Thy shld tk nw nms.
We were stalling. "All right," I said. "Nothing that won't fit." We had backpacks.
"Yeah." Adam's bright blue eyes drew in what dusk remained. What flotsam would move downstream to collect in our coffer at the bottom of the field.
. . . You are not yourselves . . . , I said. Just walk right out and disappear into the grass.
The Plan was simple. We wouldn't steal, which is paranoia--we would take, which was force. Things were falling apart faster than we expected.
We wouldn't go inside the store. Inside was chaos. If there had been more of us, maybe three, we would have. The disorder didn't scare us--it was electric, new. Being someone else in a familiar place with new rules. Unpunishable rules. We figured that, inside, people would be shoving and running. Punching, stabbing, shooting for what they wanted. Or simply because other people wanted something. Not what but because. Because they could now. Those that survived, that fought their ways out or slipped through the tidal surge from the bread aisle to the baby food, would already be tired, would already be hungover on their own adrenaline. They might be wounded, or out of ammunition, or unarmed.
We were mostly correct. So we crouched behind an overgrown holly bush and spotted. We were looking for targets, but it was already dark, and most of the store-escapees were not pushing carts, but sprinting with armloads. We wanted singles, and it was hard to tell who was running with who else. We didn't want to fight. Especially not more than one person. That was the point.
From inside the maw of the entrance, from between what shards of glass still held to their frames, through flickers of flashlight and a shouting drone, things crashed. Banged. We heard a shot.
We had already drawn our swords.
"This isn't working," Levi said.
. . . You are not yourselves . . .
"Can you see?" I asked mechanically, craning my neck, tugging at the shirt around my face. I had the same view as Levi.
"Maybe we should try the pharmacy," I said.
Levi looked over his shoulder, peering through the curled holly leaves. "Same there."
Every instant, more targets slipped by. More canned meat, batteries, isopropyl alcohol. More pockets filled with butane-lighters.
My heart was still hammering. I was thinking in fragments, atemporal, simultaneous things. Ghostbusters, T-Ball, staring at panty-lines in lecture halls. I was sweating my clearest thoughts onto the leather wrapping the sword hilt. I was shutting up and thrumming forearms. I was my best friend. I was still afraid of being arrested.
"Tell me to do this."
"You have to fucking tell me to do this. I'm not doing it--you need me to do this. Say it."
He wasn't sure.
He wasn't sure.
"Don't fucking look at me. Don't. Fuck."
. . . You are not . . .
"Take one down." . . . yourselves.
I was on the outside, farther from the bush than Levi.
"I need you to take one down."
I didn't even stand. I just swung the sword into a pair of running shins. Chips of things hit me in the face.
The problem with practicing on watermelons is that they don't have bones, even if they do make the noise--a noise you don't want to be surprised by.
I remembered T-Ball. Team Yellow Jackets. Hitting a baseball with an aluminum bat stings. The ringing, in your ears, is not what you think it is.
This, of course, was not the Plan. The force of the running shins against the sword knocked me out of my crouch, away from the bush.
Adam shouted. It was his voice, and not Levi's--I could tell.
But I couldn't hear him over her screaming. Her face was right up against mine, after all.
"What the fuck?" he whisper-shouted. He was looking around frantically, ducking and rising. He looked like he was preparing to steal something, which wasn't the Plan. We came to take things.
Around us, between the cars in the parking lot, people kept running, kept dropping things and pulling at each other and looking back. The store was still making noise.
It sounded like traffic laws in the nearby intersection were losing force. Cars had become weapons, and some sounded stronger than others.
"Stop screaming," I told her, dazed on my back. "Just . . . stop."
Levi shuffled over.
"Christ, you didn't even ask her," he said.
I turned to look at her. She had stopped screaming, and her eyes were trying to look up, inside her forehead.
"Well, neither did you," I said.
. . . Do not panic. . . .
"What's she got?" I managed to ask, sitting up. In the darkness, her blood looked like the oil oblonging the parking spaces.
Adam was touching her, tentatively, like she was a wounded animal. Something he intended to study, but not yet. Not while it could still spit and spray and blast adrenaline into his stream.
"Levi," I said, . . . best effected through . . . not looking at her, "what's she got?"
Thy shld tk nw nms.
"Uh . . . uh," he rummaged, "diapers, matches . . ."
. . . disguise.
I started gathering things and shoving them into my pack.
"Okay, look at me now."
"Now you can look at me."
He stopped and looked. The folds around his eyes had cleared themselves of polish.
"I think . . . I think we need to always look. At each other. Afterward."
He looked back down. "Okay."