The group emerged from the forest and onto the side of a broken and buckled road littered with debris. There were cars and trucks abandoned and now resting askew with skeletons at the wheel and other bags of bones trying to crawl out backseat windows. On the opposite side of the road was an immense parking lot, bleached dead gray by the sun, trash gently swirling in a whimsical and radiated breeze among upturned and wayward shopping carts. Beyond the lot stood a long line of connected buildings, a corporation-created wall of consumption now stained by human greed and rebellion — a vacant strip mall with windows boarded, signs broken and hanging by wires, exteriors spray painted with swirling poetry of all that went wrong, and once perfectly manicured merchandise scattered on the walks out in front of the stores atop a sea of shattered glass.
Linnifrid stepped forward. “What is this place?”
Bucky turned to her. “It is our new sanctuary,” he said. “Our new place of peace and purpose.”
“It doesn’t look peaceful at all,” Linnifrid said. “It looks like the undying love of cheap, sweat shop created products finally got the best of them. What an ignorant world it was… Full of ignorant, ill-informed people with priorities all opposite of any human value.”
Bucky was worried about his friend and this sudden onset of depression and negativity she was experiencing. It wasn’t like Linnifrid at all, he thought. “How could a world with you in it be as bad as you say,” the horse said. “That’s nonsense.”
“Is it, Bucky? What’s the point of going on in a world such as this? I’ve completely given up hope on people. People are awful. They’re selfish, greedy, hateful… Ugh! They’ll never survive…Obviously. Just look around. I wish I had been born on a different planet… Or not born at all.”
“Linnifrid!” Bucky snorted. “Please don’t talk like that. What would I have done without you? What would your Papa have done without you?”
“You would have all been just fine without me. The whole world would have been just fine without me!” Linnifrid said, and then she started to cry, and she walked away from the group toward the abandoned, busted up strip mall.
“Wait!” Bucky cried out as he trotted after her. “You can’t just run off into the unknown. It’s not safe for a young woman to be alone in a world such as this.”
Linnifrid stopped in her tracks and turned to face Bucky, pointing a finger, angry. “You got that right, Bucky. That’s the whole problem. Arrogant, judgmental men and their animals standing on our necks, denying us basic human rights while they wave around their little wieners and clutch their holy edicts.” She spread her arms wide before her. “And look what it got you. A dead world. Way to go, assholes.”
“Please don’t blame me for the misguided actions of others,” Bucky said. “I agree with you. Women should have ruled the planet all along.”
“Well, it’s too late for that now, isn’t it,” Linnifrid asserted, and she started to walk again.
“Please don’t go,” Bucky cried out. “I have something very important to show you.”
She turned and huffed, folding her arms. “What is it?”
They walked side-by-side across the trash-strewn field of asphalt. The sun was hoisting itself high in the sky, there was a slight breeze, a bird dropped out of the sky and landed at Linnifrid’s feet. She looked down and watched it twitch before taking its last breath.
At the end of the strip mall was a standalone building: square, modern, sun-bleached, with large windows. Unruly green foliage lined the walk leading to the front entrance. Off to the side, there was a faded green canopy over a patio rung by wrought iron fencing. There were tables and chairs, all void of people.
Linnifrid cocked her head to one side as she looked at a green and white sign on the building. It read STARBUCKS, but someone had sloppily painted a Y’ in between the K and the S.
“Starbucky’s?” Linnifrid said.
“What do you think?” Bucky asked.
I don’t get it,” the young woman answered. “What is this?”
“It’s my coffee shop,” Bucky boasted.
“YOUR coffee shop? Bucky, this is a Starbucks.”
“It used to be a Starbucks,” the horse was quick to point out. “Now it is abandoned, because of the apocalypse, and everything else that went wrong.”
“So, you just took it upon yourself to commandeer an abandoned Starbucks?”
“Yes. With the help of my little radiated friends, of course.”
“I don’t think you can do that,” Linnifrid said.
“They’re not coming back for it,” Bucky said in his defense. “I thought you would be proud of me for doing something positive with my life. We are offering a valuable service here that brings joy to others.”
“I just… I mean. Does it even work?”
“Yes. We’ve managed to clean the place up, get all the equipment working… And we’ve even begun cultivating our own coffee beans.”
“But, what about customers?” Linnifrid wondered. “There’s no one to serve.”
“On the contrary,” Bucky asserted. “You’d be surprised how many people come through here — aimless wanderers, frightened widows, orphaned children, the soldiers and resistance fighters, and all sorts of other various breeds of survivors — all of them in search of a delicious cup of hot coffee, or a refreshing iced alternative if they so desire it. We’ve even begun offering delectable pastries. We’re all about meeting the needs of our customers.”
It was just then that the band of radiated little people marched up to them, impatient and grumbling. The leader stepped forward from the pack. “Well, what the fuck is going on, Bucky? Are we going to open up the coffee shop or just stand here and play with our balls?”
Bucky sighed. “Mick, could you please watch the language in front of the little lady here?”
Mick looked down, embarrassed. “Oh, sorry about that. Guess I wasn’t thinking.”
“But yes,” Bucky said. “Let’s go make some coffee!”
Once inside, Bucky and the gods of radiation went to work. They all moved very quickly and soon the aroma of delicious coffee filled the shop and people began coming in the door.
Linnifrid sat at a table by a window and watched all the hustle and bustle. A little while later, Mitch came strolling up to the table and proudly set a cup of coffee in front of her.
“What’s this?” Linnifrid wanted to know.
Mitch put his hands up in front of himself. He was being somewhat awkward and shy. “Um, well. I feel kind of bad about swearing in front of you. I mean, I’m usually a nice guy, but today I just… Well, you know how it is with the end of the world and everything. I just wanted to buy you a cup of coffee… I mean, I, I didn’t actually buy it, I just made it because you know I work here…”
“Okay,” Linnifrid said, interrupting his nervous rant. “You can stop explaining. Thank you for the coffee.” She took a sip and brightened up. “Mmm, this is wonderful. What is it?”
The small man shifted uncomfortably. “It’s my own special creation. I call it a Mitchucinno.”
Linnifrid smiled. “A Mitchucinno, huh? This just may be the best coffee drink I ever had.”
“You really think so?”
“Wow. That’s fantastic. I’m so glad you like it.” Mitch scratched at his round head and thought hard, a sudden serious look coming over his face. “Could I ask you a question?”
“I suppose,” Linnifrid answered with some curiosity.
“Would you like to go out on a date with me?”
Linnifrid had just taken a sip of her coffee and the liquid suddenly exploded out of her mouth like a high-pressure hose had just burst. Then she started laughing. “Absolutely not,” she said. “Are you kidding me?” she said through a chuckle.
Mitch’s face crumbled and his head drooped. “Oh,” is all he managed to say. “Forgive me for bothering you,” he added, and he turned and started to walk away.
Linnifrid called after him. “I’m going to rule the world someday soon,” she cried out with purpose. “And the heel of my shoe will be pressed into your throat to hold you down — and you will remember me always, wee man, as I have remembered the false liberty and blatant injustices you brought upon us.”