Before the end times, the office people in Zachariah’s building believed guns would be the most important resource. With a gun, you can get everything else, Henry from Finance used to say. Zach was never much for conversation, but the office banter was like birdsong. It was light and pretty and made him feel nothing would ever change, and it was better than the news seeping out from the radio. He enjoyed his days of checking thermostat settings and changing light-bulbs and testing equipment, all accompanied by the chirrup of other people talking.
Guns, Henry from Finance would say, are the most important thing. And Zach, made invisible by his overalls, would bleed air from the radiator and think, Really? Then he’d finish work and go to his workshop and spend a gentle, meditative evening dismantling and oiling and reassembling, and think, I’m not sure guns are the most important thing. That doesn’t sound right to me.
As it turned out, it was bicycles.
A single car-crash would block all other cars, instantly and for ever, but a bicycle could slip through. A bicycle could easily outpace the dead, and was virtually silent. It required no petrol; it would never tire or spook or need feeding. Zach, weaving between gently rusting wrecks and thinking of the snared rabbit in his backpack and the potatoes he would earth up that afternoon, felt the sun on his back and thought, The bicycle may be the single greatest invention in the history of humanity.
When Henry lurched out from behind the dumpster, he was so skinny and wild-eyed that Zach thought for a moment he was one of the dead. You can join us, Henry declared, and because he was waving a fat-looking Glock in his shivery right hand, Zach thought it was best not to argue. Henry took the rabbit for himself, leaving the others to spoon Stagg chilli from tins.
Semi-automatics burn up your ammo, Henry from Finance used to say. Pump-action shotguns are where it’s at. And when Hannah or Roger or Lucy replied with But what if you’re crap at aiming? Henry (who lived in a McMansion, and drove a Mercedes) would smile and say, Learn fast or die early. Now, Henry looked at Zach’s bicycle, and Zach looked away.
Three days later Henry declared, We’re taking the battle to them, and rode off on Zach’s bike with a grenade and three handguns. Zach turned over a lug-nut in his pocket. He’d liked that bicycle, but there were plenty more.
When Henry shambled back, moaning and slavering, he let Hannah fire the bullet.
Zach could have been leader after that, but he liked his workshop and his garden. The group faltered, then thrived, then grew. The harmony might have seemed almost unnatural - unless you were watching the man who maintained the bicycles, making small adjustments to keep the wheels turning smoothly; or perhaps ensure they fell off altogether, somewhere dark and very far from home.