Post Apocalyptic, by Matthew Lowes

lost highway

Post Apocalyptic

by Matthew Lowes

I’ve always enjoyed apocalyptic themes, and stories of the time beyond. As a child it intrigued me that there could be a time beyond, a time after the end of the world. Like those first clear thoughts of death, the idea of an apocalyptic end to the world was both terrifying and mind expanding.

The Greeks had an idea that the consideration of human beings should widen in expanding circles, from self to family to community to state, and ultimately to the world. The post apocalyptic story extends this notion of ever widening circles forward and backward through time, breaking through the boundaries of contemporary history, culture, and society. For we are now living in the post apocalypse of ages past, and the world we know cannot last. Nothing can stand — no human civilization anyway — against the eons of futurity the universe has in store for us. So whether this current world ends with a bang or is transformed in a long whisper, it will some day be gone.

And yet … post apocalyptic tales tell us there is more to come, good and bad, after the radioactive dust settles on the ruins of the time that was. Another age will come, when people will look back on this world of wires and microchips, of sky scrapers and superhighways, of automobiles and fire belching machines. They will look back on our wars and ideas, on our great riches and destitute poverty. They will look back and it will all seem strange to them.

Post apocalyptic stories often act as the conscience of history and humanity. They show us, simultaneously, the great heights we can achieve, and the terrible flaws which could be our downfall. In extreme conditions, whether in the midst of catastrophe, or in the wastelands of the aftermath, they show us the full spectrum of human nature, from our noble compassion to our savage depravity. In the end, perhaps, that is their charm, an ability to contain equal measures of horror and hope: horror that our time must end, and hope that when this age is gone, someone will pick up the pieces and carry on.


Some favorites off the top of my head:

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye
Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Darkness by Lord Byron
And Death Shall have No Dominion by Dylan Thomas

Making Waves with Particles, by Eric M. Witchey


Making Waves with Particles,
by Eric M. Witchey

(Image source: Damkier Media Group via iStockPhoto)

Story meaning is both a wave and a particle.

The classic double slit physics experiment works quite well when applied to stories. In fact, slits aren’t even necessary for the experiment. All a writer needs is a pair of eyes, or even just one eye, or even braille. For this little thought experiment, think of the eyes, eye, or fingertips as one slit. When a story passes through that slit, the particle scatter patterns emerge.

Take a look at this text. Here is an ‘A.’ Here is a ‘B.’ Notice that the text you are reading is really just a long string of little black squiggles on a white background. One squiggle after another, the little squiggles appear. Readers scan the squiggles. Every now and then, a little extra white separates one group of squiggles from another group of squiggles, and the reader recognizes that a word has ended and a new one has begun. The squiggles make word patterns, and the word patterns appear in rows, lines.

Lines group together. Paragraphs appear. Scenes appear. Chapters appear. All the little particles line up in rows one after another until they have marched one particle at a time from the first letter of the first page to the last period of the last line on the last page.

Letters, words, lines, paragraphs, etc. are the scattering of the particles on a backdrop. The reader’s eye, eyes, or fingertips pick up each little squiggle and combines it with the next to create words. The reader picks up each word and pulls the meaning from it and combines that meaning with the next. One after another, the reader picks up individual meanings and combines them with other meanings. Patterns emerge.

Notice that in the last paragraph, the description of the reader’s experience included an interesting shift from recognition of the little squiggles to the pulling of meaning from the emerging patterns.

The second slit is the mind’s eye, the eye behind the eye, which is a calm pond into which the particulate words fall like pebbles. Each pebble creates a ripple. The ripples expand and interact. A ripple peak meets a trough, and they cancel into a moment of calm water. Two peaks meet, and they create a new peak that is higher and stronger than either one alone. These rippling interactions of meanings add to or subtract from the power of the reader’s experience. Each ripple has amplitude and frequency. The driving power of the ripple is emotion, and the power of the emotions cancels and amplifies.

A yellow dog playing with a boy is a happy thing to read. A yellow dog dying is a sad thing to read. Alone, each has power in and of itself. Combined with a story’s many other ripples, all of which combine to amplify or cancel, the second image becomes the tear-jerking end to Old Yeller.

Perfect, particulate words and events are not enough. Emotion captured in an individual line, a conflict set, or a single page is not enough. Awareness, intuitively or consciously, of how the particle patterns and wave patterns are related and how the wave patterns interact allows a writer to create the contrasts and amplifications that keep the reader’s mind and emotions focused on the story that emerges from the page. The emotional power of an ending depends on how the ripples created by the first word of the story are amplified or cancelled when combined with subsequent ripples.

For your consideration, examine the following short story for the patterns of particles and for the complimentary and contrasting wave interactions. Please, if you see the particle/waves duality and the power of the interactions between waves, leave a comment and let me know. I hope you enjoy the experience.

The following story was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prose Award and was first published in The Best New Fiction of 2012. All typos and variations from the published version are my fault and not the fault of the editors. Also, Dr. Hansey is a real doctor. He was my doctor. Use of his name is my bow in his direction. Without him, I would still be sealed in my own metaphorical car in the sun. Namaste, Dr. Hansey.



Eric M. Witchey


The sealed car is heating up under August sun. Gordon lets the sweat roll down from his stubble hairline, along his neck, and under the collar of his linen cabana shirt. It reminds him that he’s on an outing like a normal person.

A family reunion. Lots of people go to them. Now, he does, too.

He tells himself family reunions are happy things. When he was a kid, he remembers them being happy things. He especially remembers galvanized steel tubs filled with water and ice nests cradling huge, sweet watermelons.

For some reason, the memory of one family reunion includes a fixation on a nearby swimming pool he and the other kids weren’t allowed to go to. The chlorine smell of the water, sounds of splashing kids, and squeals of joy and laughter tortured them in heavy August heat.

He supposes the pool, like many memories in his life, is burned into his mind because he couldn’t have it.

Like Sussette.

She still dominates his thoughts, but his meds helped disconnect his actions from those thoughts. He’d finally gotten to the point where he could leave her alone. He’d even deleted her old number from his cell phone. With Dr. Hansey’s help, he’d almost deleted her new one twice. That day would come pretty soon, he was sure.

But the meds hadn’t made it so he could get out of the car, so he watches his family reunion from inside the protective, purifying oven of glass and steel.

Kids run back and forth across the park lawns. Some play soccer. Some play chasing games. There are so many kids. Chaos on the hoof, and he can’t imagine any good will come of it. They’ll crash into things, spill things, break things. If he gets out, they’ll bump him. One might even touch his skin.

The sweat on his neck chills and makes him shudder. That’s what he tells himself.

He’d been a kid. He remembers it whether he wants to or not.

It’s just crazy to sit in the car because he can’t stand the thought of them bouncing around like agitated molecules. They touch everything. They scream and squeal.

He must have been like that. Must have been.

What if he had gotten together with Sussette? They would’ve had kids. She wanted them. She desperately wanted them. He wanted her. He would have agreed to anything to have her.

The restraining order was pointless, really. She had no idea how much power she had over him and how little power he had over her. If she’d asked, he’d have followed her from two feet or fifty yards. He’d have done anything for her, but she hadn’t seen that.

A Frisbee hits the side of the car. The plastic on metal thud startles him. He ducks and sucks in a lung full of hot, vinyl-tainted air. When he realizes he’s okay, he lifts his head enough to peer across the seat and out the passenger side window.

A laughing eightish-year-old boy runs to the car, sees him through the window, and mouths the word, “Sorry.” Then he snags the disk, spins, and lets it fly back toward the field of loose molecules.

Gordon checks the door locks. None of the kids are near him now. He’s safe, and he does a breathing exercise to relax a little, then he thinks back to what it was like when he was a kid.

The first thing he remembers is that he could fly. It’s always the first thing he remembers. He had to be naked, and the day had to be sunny, too. He remembers the warm sun on his skin felt good, like ripe watermelon on the vine tastes — a sweet, spreading liquid rightness flowing into every shadowy nook and cranny of his body and mind. He used to lie down in a field of clover and close his eyes. While his eyes were closed, when the rightness filled him full and replaced every heaviness in him, he would stand up and fly. It wasn’t a super power sort of flying––that fast, driving flying that tore at the air and pushed it aside. It was more of a leaning into the breeze, hands slightly out from his sides and palms forward. He leaned and let the cool air touch his chest, belly, and arms––let it gently lift him from the earth like a kite with no string.

By turning his hands and leaning, he could slide along the waves of wind and rise and fall and move forward or let the wind push him back.

In the heat of the car, he closes his eyes and tries to find that feeling of freedom, of rising above all the ugly stuff that had become his life.

All he finds is orange heat behind closed lids.

All he feels is the drip of sweat on his neck and off the tip of his nose. He can’t even find the smell of the clover or make the heat of the car into the delicious warmth of sun on his bare skin.

“Gordon!” The voice is his mother.

She found him flying in the clover field. Her anger, fear, and shame made her scream, grab, and drag him to the house. She sprayed him with cold water from the hose they used to water the dogs.

“Is that you? Come on out here. Let me look at you!”

It’s not his mother. It’s a man’s voice.

Someone pulls on the car door handle. They tap on the glass. “Gordon!”

He keeps his eyes closed, willing them to believe he’s sleeping, trying to push them away from the car with his thoughts.

He has learned to visualize what he wanted to happen in his life, and he wants that voice to take its body back to the pavilion where barbeque is cooking and adults chat and trade lies and laughter.

The knocking on the window gets harder. “Gordon! Are you all right? Gordon! It’s Andy! Gordon!”

Andy. Of course, it’s Andy’s voice. His cousin. They had played together at these things.


Yes––until Andy hit him in the head with a bat.

And running and jumping games.

He remembered Andy pushing him down a flight of three concrete steps.

Now, adult Andy yells at him to leave the protection of his metal shell. If he did, he’d have to walk across the grass. The bouncing, laughing molecules might touch him.

Grown up Andy probably has kids. Maybe the Frisbee boy is Andy’s kid.

Gordon keeps his eyes shut. Andy calls for him a couple more times, then the visualization works and Andy goes away.

Gordon is about to open his eyes when he hears people coming. Many voices. Excited voices. Talking, almost yelling voices. Andy’s is mixed in with them.

“. . . locked in, and I couldn’t get him . . .”

“. . . a hundred and fifty in there. We have to . . .”

“. . . get Zach. Quick, get Doctor Zach . . .”

Too many voices. Too much noise. Even the adults have become loose molecules. The sun has heated them all into agitated Brownian chaos and craziness. He should drive away. He wasn’t ever going to get out of the car. He knows that now. It was pointless to drive the two hundred miles to this stupid park thinking he’d gotten well enough to somehow join his family and act normal.

He opens his eyes just in time to see an arm swinging toward the passenger window. In a slow motion of terror, he sees that the hand on that arm holds a tool of some kind––a red plastic handle with a metal point sticking out of it. The metal hits the window. A spider web of fractures appears, radiating outward to all the edges of the window. The whole thing bows inward, and every tiny fragment of glass frees itself from all the others and explodes inward toward him, showering him in the fragments of his own sheltering window. Cool wind chases the glass with the smell of chlorine and mowed grass.

Then the door is open. Hands reach in. Too many hands. Andy’s hands. Other people’s hands. A pair of child’s hands.

He pushes himself away from them, kicking and pressing his back to the driver’s side door.

Grasping hands find the master lock switch on the key fob dangling from the ignition. The lock on the door behind him pops.

His door opens. He’s out, dragged onto the hot asphalt, surrounded, and held down. It’s a nightmare, the opposite of flying.

He screams and struggles to get up.

“Heat stroke,” a voice says.

“Hysterical,” another says.

They all say things, make noises, talk at him. He can’t hear them all, not all of them, not all at once.

He fights, but they hold him.

“Get back!” Someone yells. “Everybody, get back! Give him air. Give him room.” The someone makes them pull away.

One man, a man with curly red hair and a trimmed beard, kneels next to him. Blue sky surrounds the man’s face. He is a bearded balloon floating in the blue sky. “Gordon?”

Gordon manages a nod.

“I’m Zach, your second cousin. Do you know me?”

He shakes his head.

“It’s been a long time.”

He nods.

“Do you know where you are?”

He manages one word. “Reunion.”

“That’s right. You’re at your family reunion. Do you think you can you drink some water?”

Gordon looks around at the loose circle of towering, momentarily frozen, molecules. Andy’s there. It’s Andy, for sure, taller and fatter, but still Andy with his dark eyes and narrow lips. Five children of various ages stand around his legs. Gordon closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see them.

“Stay with me,” Zach says.

Gordon opens his eyes. “Hebephobia,” he says, “and OCD.”

“Shit,” Zach says. “Get back! You kids, get back! Go play! Now!”

“Is it contagious?” Andy steps back a few paces.

Gordon closes his eyes against the horrors of his family reunion and tells himself he’s home in his basement lying in the dark on the hard concrete floor. Mowed lawn and sweat smells combined with the hot asphalt against his back makes it hard to believe himself.

“Just keep the kids away, Andy. Get them to the pavilion. You go with them.”

“Is it contagious?” Andy sounds scared.

Somewhere inside, the Gordon lying crying and bleeding at the bottom of three concrete steps catches his breath and smiles.

“Go!” Zach says. A few seconds later, he says, “You can open your eyes if you want to.”

Gordon does. He and Zach are alone.

“Can you sit up?” The second cousin doctor helps him sit. “So, is this some sort of therapy for you?”

“I thought I could do it.”

“You’re here.”

“But I couldn’t get out of the car.”

“You’re out, now.” Doctor Zach tries to be a normal person and chuckle. It sounds flat and wrong. Zach pats him on the back.

“I have to leave,” Gordon says.

“I’ll explain it to them.”

Gordon looks at the pavilion full of people, at Andy standing there with a kid under each arm, talking excitedly with a gray-haired woman and a couple of younger men. The younger men keep looking Gordon’s way.

“Do you think,” Gordon says, “you could wait to tell them?”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“No. That’s not it.”


“Just wait. Let Andy’s germs worry him.”

“I’m not sure––”

“Just for one day.”

Zach turns and looks at the pavilion, too. When he turns back, he’s smiling, and the smile looks real. “I’ve known Andy a long time. I think I can do that.”

Gordon nods and lets Zach help him to his car.

When he gets home, Gordon strips, goes out into his privacy-fenced back yard, and lies down in a patch of clover. He closes his eyes and lets the summer sun make his skin delicious. After a while, the delicious starts to sink in deeper and deeper until he’s sure it feels just right, just like he remembers. He stands. Eyes closed and arms at his sides, he leans into the breeze and rises into the embrace of summer winds.



My Hero’s Journey between the Coffee Pot and the Keyboard

Eric M. Witchey

Every writer is at one point or another exposed to these two things: Joseph Campbell and resistance to writing. Is it surprising at all that instead of actually writing fiction I’m scribbling about two concepts I wrestle with every day? After all, isn’t talking about doing something very nearly the same as doing it?

My World of the Everyday

This morning, the alarm didn’t go off.

I should be so lucky that I sleep until my alarm actually goes off.

You see, in my tribe of one, I’m dissatisfied with my world. My restlessness gives me fitful dreams and early mornings.

Ah, but there are good things, things that represent home and hearth to me. One is my morning cup of steaming, Italian Dark Roast espresso. In spite of my dissatisfaction with my lot amid the familiar things of life in my small village, I take pleasure in my skill in grinding, measuring, pouring, boiling, filtering, smelling, and sipping my dark elixir.

I lift my mug to lips, savoring the aroma and anticipating my first sip.

The Call to Action

Then, up in my bedroom, the Marvin the Martian spaceship alarm clock explodes into its 90 decibel, digital simulation of lift-off.

My promise to myself is that today I will move beyond my own boundaries, failed attempts at eloquence, and cyclic, self-defeating thoughts. Today, I will leave my village of one and enter the dark woods of creativity where none but those who dare to venture forth know what might await.

I gulp down my magic elixir, forgetting to savor because I’m already seeing the future greatness that shall be me once I leave this wretched village and pen a deathless tome.

Resisting the Call

But first, I’ll clean the kitchen, which amounts to resisting the call, which is never, ever a good idea. Everyone knows that resisting the call means immediate deterioration. I know it. I do it anyway. I wet the sponge. I swipe at the counters. I sweep the floor. I face the crud-caked microwave.

The clock on the microwave counts f***ing seconds. Seconds! Who the hell needs to know what time it is to the f***ing second?

Apparently, Mennonites think I do. I don’t know any Mennonites, but they know me. Mennonites. Minions. Is it coincidence that I think of dark Sunday coats and muse on the idea that the two words could be modified slightly to make them near rhymes?

I think not! There is darkness in the world.

I can feel my coffee buzz rising to a crescendo as I wipe away last night’s bean and bacon soup explosion from the inside of the microwave. By the time I’m done, my buzz is fading. The self-loathing is growing. The clock is counting the seconds of my mortality off with annoying precision in digital block numbers that remind me that I’m dissatisfied with the tribe of one and its limitations. I must take action if I want to stop my own deterioration.

The Wise One and Magical Potions

Memory, ghostly and strange, brings me the voice of the sister-in-law I once rented a room from, who tells me in her most wise, sepulchral Japanese voice, “Go, Eric! Go! Only doing gets it done!”

Spurred on by my memory of the wise one, I make a new cup of coffee and head for the archway into the hall that leads through the shadowy back of the house and toward the…

Threshold Guardian

The sphinx holds the archway, blocking my path to my path.

Okay, not so much a sphinx as a pug-sized, 14 year-old mutt of mixed origins, profound deafness, near blindness, and extreme wobbliness. I try to step past, but he senses me and stumbles to the side, placing his frail, pathetic body nearly under my foot.

Very clever.

He knows that every writer knows that you can’t hurt the dog.

Catching myself, and protecting the newly brewed elixir I carry from sloshing over onto the frail guardian and my village’s symbolically overloaded now-soiled-but-once-upon-a-time white carpet, I step back into the kitchen and ponder the guardian and how to vanquish it.

My life reading mythopoeic tales is not wasted. The answer comes to me as if by magic. Guess its name.

That often does the trick. I’ll start with an invocation. “Thy name is Zeke,” I say.

No response.

I pull out the big gun magic word. “Tuna?

Ah, now I have his attention. I have answered his riddle before it has been asked.

Did I say he’s really, really old in dog years? As if to warn me of terrible things to come, he squats like a little girl dog and pees, further soiling the symbolically overloaded carpet.

Tuna, indeed! In my mental notebook of vanquishing spells, I make a notation. Do not overexcite the frail threshold guardian.

I clean the carpet and feed the guardian, thus vanquishing him and learning that beyond the archway await trials and tribulations too terrible for him to speak.

The Dark Woods and Learning the New Rules

Stepping over the wet spot, I enter the dark dinning nook.

There, I must pass traps set by minions—or perhaps Minionites. Who can say what true Minioinite-owned parent corporation controls the Time Magazine left open on the dining room altar? Like a siren’s song, pretty pictures beckon. Jennifer Aniston got a haircut. Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post. A drone killed someone who was not in the NSA skimming through this blog to find out what I’m up to.

Foul spell! Evil tempter! Archaic media format! Begone. Leave me be! Leave me be!

I shake off the darkness that settles slowly over those who read news before writing fiction. I sip my elixir of clarity and motivation, and I consider returning to the kitchen to let the Mennonites reheat the elixir to a reasonable temperature for quaffing.

The Minionites nearly had me, but my encounter with my first trial has made me wiser, stronger.

Staggering away from the breakfast nook, I set my course for the stairs on the other side of the living room.

Yes. If I can make it to the stairs, I may be able to rise above the trials of the shadowy living room, move beyond the soul-tugging shelves of books I have collected but never read, slip around the sudden, mystical need to dust tchotchkes and alphabetize by author.

My elixir is nearly gone, but it has served me well. I swallow the last. I am now alone with myself—with whatever innate powers I was born to and whatever knowledge I have gained along the way.

Encounter with the Minionites

The Minionites call my name.

No, it’s my ringtone. My cell phone is in the bathroom off the short hall at the bottom of the stairs.

I had not considered that the Minionites might be in league with the evil Japanese wizard Sam Sung, a Galaxy III class wizard and master of many apps to beguile me. Who could think of such a union until confronted with it? Who could resist the need to silence Sam’s call? Braver souls than mine have succumbed to the subtle, insidious mental magic and answered the call—lifted, poked, then stared at a fixed point while ignoring all around them. The Lotus Eaters themselves would have risen from their bowers of bliss to answer.

But I have learned! I have grown! I have voicemail!

Ha, Minionites! Ha! I bite my thumb at thee, Sam Sung! Fie, I say! Fie!

The stairs are mine!

Confronting a Lieutenant of the Evil One

I rise upward toward the land wherein the grail hath been hid. There, a framed gateway pours forth beams of ultraviolet, spectrum-adjusted, high luminosity seasonal affective disorder busting brilliance. Just beyond resides The Oak Roll Top Altar of Creation and the rune-etched keyboard through which I will cast my spells upon the hearts and minds of the needful.

I rise and press forward, ever watchful for an attack I feel must come, a…

A spider!

Huge and hairy and spindly-legged, it dangles from the doorframe, challenging me, testing me. This is no mere apparition or household pest. No, clearly the UV, spectrum-adjusted sparkling of its many, many-faceted eyes reveals the true magical nature of the vile beast. This is more than a Minionite! This is more than a guardian! This is a confidant, a true loyal to the desires of the darkness that I now know is named Sam Sung.

It beckons. I can almost hear its Vincent Price voice call to me, “Embrace me! Do battle with me! Show me what it is that makes my master tremble so when your name is spoken.”

The trick here is suddenly clear to me. Battle joined, I would no doubt win. I have size and speed and hard-earned tools. The empty elixir mug alone would be enough to end the existence of this creature, but there is more at stake here than vanquishing a foe.

As with all moments, I live in this moment. It will define me. My actions will name me truly hero or merely another of the many who have fallen to violent impulse and selfish desires.

“No, lieutenant of darkness, I will not fight. I will not raise my hand against thee. My quarrel is not with you, nor is yours with me.”

“Fight, Coward!” He drops to the floor and scuttles, fangs raised, toward my feet.

“I am not like you or your dark lord! I embrace the UV, spectrum-adjusted, mood altering light and will not fall into the shadows from whence you came!”

I choose my action and define myself. I do not kill. I do not capture and release outside. I step over the spider, humiliating him with my demonstration of his irrelevance. I have stepped past the last obstacle.

The Final Confrontation

Into the glow—into the embrace of light, I pass. To the altar of imagination and self-expression, I step. Into the throne, I settle. Incantations and careful hand passes of mystic power bring The Oak Roll Top Altar of Creation to life.

But Sam Sung knows of my victory over his minionites and his lieutenant. He marshals all his powers against me.

His evil corrupts even the altar of creation.

Allison wants to be my special friend, wants me to chat, to share naughty secrets, perhaps to meet and see what comes of it.

Minionite! Begone! Route thee to the garbage files!

Blue pill promises potency beyond my wildest dreams (and hers—probably Allison).

Get thee to Allison’s house!

Sam Sung himself promises me new power, power beyond my dreams, beyond his Galaxy III mastery. I, humble villager that I am, can have Galaxy IV power if only I will click here.

One click.

Only one, and the world will be mine!


I have seen this ruse before—and before, and before, and before. My life has brought me along a twisted path through dark rooms to this moment, and I deny thee and all thy Minionites, Sam Sung!

Not local Milf, nor magic app, nor promise of great power, and not even your offer of great wealth if only I will help you move funds from your Nigerian accounts will stop me this day.

I rebuke thee! NO, I say! Thrice, I say, NO!

Deep within, I find a spark, a need, a moment of purest hope. With all my tested spirit, I fan that spark. I feed it my dreams and nurture it with my hopes. I open a blank file of purest potential, and I place my fingers upon the rune-etched keys.

The Grail is Found!

Free, healed, and in the moment to which I was destined to come, I give my triumph back to the world. I type, “It was a dark and…”


IFD Publishing has just released one of my science fiction novelettes. It’s a scifi romance that proves that even crazy people can make long distance love work. Beware the Boojum is currently available for 99 cents at your favorite ebook outlet. Enjoy, and remember to review.

Amazon: Bewared the Boojum

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