Sam pushed his way through the break room, past his coffee-drinking, gossiping co-workers, shimmied around the paper-jammed copier reeking of toner and the technician slamming his palm against it in frustration, narrowly dodged an intern carrying a stack of loose papers higher than her own head, and screeched to a halt just outside the editor-in-chief’s open door. He knocked on the frame with two knuckles and waited for her to look up from the copy she was working on.
“What is it, Sam? We’re slammed, here.”
Sam grinned. “I know we are, Heather, I know we are, but I’ve finally found it. I’ve been telling you for months, the bees are the next big story, and I’ve got it at last.” He waved the folder in his hands back and forth, simply oozing with excitement. “The melittologist I was talking to has completed his research project, and oh boy—”
“You can stop right there, Sam,” snapped the editor-in-chief. “For the last time, the bees are old news. There aren’t going to be any more bees pretty soon, anyway.”
Sam did his best to restrain himself from jumping up and down with excitement. He managed to keep it to a marked tightening of every muscle in his body. “But that exactly what I’m trying to say! Dr. Amestone has found that it’s not that the pesticides are killing the bees directly, it’s that—”
“And I already told you, shut up about the bees. Haven’t you been paying any attention to the projects I actually assigned?”
Sam’s enthusiasm vanished without a trace, replaced by a nervousness that had been hiding under the surface, trying to scream for his attention but being held back, hidden under a think layer of excitement. He felt the sudden need to swallow, but his throat was too dry. “Well, of course they’re next on my list, but—”
This time, Stephanie didn’t have to cut him off verbally. She simply shot him an icy glare, and slowly got up out of her chair. “There aren’t going to be any more bees, Sam, because there aren’t going to be any more anything. No more bees, no more ants, no more spiders, no more birds, no more bears, no more nothing.” The small, deceptively mousey-looking woman was taking slow steps across the room toward Sam, who was reminded of a middle school bully, also a good foot shorter than him, who used to dunk his glasses in the toilet and make him wear them to class dripping wet. He instinctively backed away, and fiddled with the right temple of his glasses.
“The bees aren’t going to be a problem, Sam, because there are no more farms, no more fields, no more crops, and no more food. The ice cream has covered everything.”
Sam was backed up against the wall now, looking almost straight down at his editor-in-chief. The smell of her cheap perfume stung his nostrils, and he wondered why she continued to wear it. Possibly no one had ever dared inform her that it didn’t suit her.
“The supermarkets are running out of food, Sam. Children haven’t been at school for days. The roads are closed to cars. The snowplows are all gummed up with sticky mess. Farms are completely buried. Ice cream vendors are suing the government. The economy is on the verge of collapse. The entire continent is vanishing under a mountain of ice cream, and it’s spreading across the oceans towards Europe and Asia as we speak.”
For a moment, Sam thought guiltily about the old carrots he had thrown out just a few days ago. They were still fine, he just hadn’t felt like peeling them because they were too rubbery. He hadn’t realized the ice cream was really that widespread. His mind struggled to process what he was hearing – and to not show on his face how out of the loop he had been.
“Now. Sam.” Stephanie smiled her boss smile, her threatening smile, the smile of an animal which is really baring its teeth in warning. “I want a story about ice cream on my desk by the end of today, or you can go outside and drown in the stuff for all I care.”
Amanda heard Jim coming up the stairs and ran to open the door for him. He stumbled through, arms overloaded with shopping bags from the local supermarket, kicking off his sticky shoes before carrying the bags to the table. He had a stupid grin on his face, and she winced, not looking forward to more of his “humor”.
She made an attempt to derail whatever pun he was about to make. “Did you manage to get some fruits and veggies? I know everyone’s been running low… If this thing doesn’t stop soon, there might be none left.”
Jim laughed. “Aw, relax, Panda. This won’t last much longer. I mean, it’s basic physics, right? Laws of conservation of energy, Isaac Newton, all that stuff. Nothing can keep going forever.” He walked across to the window and pulled the curtains open. The glass was smeared with sticky mess, but there were still patches where you could see through to the mess in the streets below. “I mean, look at that. It’s like the tastiest snow ever!”
Amanda just shook her head. “I’m sick of looking at that,” she grumbled, and pulled the curtains closed again. “And you didn’t answer me about the food. What did you get?”
Jim grinned and gestured welcomingly towards the plastic bags on the counter. “No worries, Manda Panda. There were some carrots, potatoes, and onions from a fresh shipment. I grabbed some before those paranoid armageddon-screaming maniacs managed to snatch them all up.” He rolled his eyes, as though it were a typical mild annoyance. “I mean, honestly, people are stockpiling food like there’s never going to be any more. It’s no different from that hurricane a few years back. Everyone was buying milk and bread. Why are people so obsessed with milk and bread? Like that’s going to be the difference between starvation and survival.”
Amanda grimaced at his uncaring attitude. She knew he was trying to keep her calm, but it wasn’t working. They needed to be more prepared. “Maybe we should be stockpiling, too,” she said, casting a worried glance at the covered window. She reached towards the bags, but Jim snatched the nearest one away and started unpacking it, displaying its contents to her like a game show host’s assistant.
“And what’s in bag number one? Well here we have not one, but two bunches of fresh orange carrots. Just look at those vitamins! I hear you can even eat the greens.”
He continued to show off the few small but edible vegetables, cans of corned beef hash and tomato paste, and other assorted random bits and pieces. When he reached the second-to-last bag, he made an even bigger show. “And for the lady who’s concerned about the apocalypse, I even managed to snag the last camping stove and oil lantern from the sporting goods department.”
Amanda looked over the equipment, pleased and fairly surprised by his foresight. Maybe he wasn’t as carefree as he appeared. Maybe it really was an act designed to keep her spirits up. He had purchased enough oil for the devices that they should last a fairly long time, even if they lost electricity.
There was one bag left on the counter, and Amanda reached for it, but once again had it snatched away by her boyfriend. “Ah, now this last bag, my cuddly Panda, is something very special indeed.”
Playfully, Amanda snatched at the bag and pulled it away before he could get it. Its contents were cold. A feeling of dread swept over her as she slowly removed its contents.
It was a large tub of store brand blueberry-flavored ice cream.
Jim grabbed it from her hands with a smile. “You said you wanted fruit! Anyway, I love ice cream!”
Jake wiped another tear from his face. Even though no one was looking, he was still ashamed to be crying like a little baby. What would his big brother say if he saw this? He’d probably punch him for being a wuss, and then punch him again if he cried from being punched.
Not that his big brother was there, of course.
But it hurt. His tummy hurt so, so much. He was hungry. There was no more food in the fridge. There was no more food anywhere.
There was nothing but the ice cream.
It had been so great at first. With his parents and brother away on their trip, he was the only kid on his street who was allowed to eat the ice cream when it first started falling. He had bragged and bragged and bragged at school. His au pair, Misha, let him do pretty much whatever he wanted. She had told him he shouldn’t do it, that he would regret it later, but he was double-digits now, one of the oldest kids in his class, and he wanted to make his own decisions, and Misha had just shrugged and let him eat it.
It was coffee flavored, and it was disgusting, but he didn’t tell Misha that. He told all his friends that he’d had coffee, and that he’d eaten some of the first ice cream, and he’d become an instant hero.
For a few days, at least, until the school buses couldn’t run anymore and he was stuck at home all day alone. He tried playing in the ice cream, but it made everything sticky. He tried having ice cream for every meal, but he threw up for about three hours that night and went back to eating whatever he could get from the fridge.
After the first day that the roads were closed, Misha stopped coming. Jack ate raw fruit and vegetables and microwaved whatever he could find in the freezer. He wasn’t allowed to turn on the stove. Also, he didn’t know how.
After a week, the electricity went out. There was still plenty of food in cans, but the electric can opener wouldn’t work, so he couldn’t get into them. He tried walking to his neighbor’s house, but the ice cream was up to his shoulders, and he almost drowned in it. He gave up and went back inside. And he ate the ice cream. And he threw up.
He made a fort with all the pillows and blankets and couch cushions in the whole house, and he curled up inside it to sleep. He thought about all the times he’d asked his parents for a dog, and how nice it would be if they had let him. Then he would have someone to cuddle with and keep warm with besides his ratty old teddy bear, which he kept hidden under the blankets in case his big brother came home and saw him with it and called him a baby again.
For a few days, there was strawberry ice cream. He sat on the balcony and dug through the ice cream, already burying the ground floor, and picked out the strawberries with his frozen fingers. They were delicious.
He sat on the balcony a lot, wearing all his clothes and a layer of blankets, watching for helicopters. That’s what the government did when there was an emergency somewhere. They sent in helicopters to pick up the survivors and take them back to their families. That’s what his mom had always said.
But the helicopters didn’t come. The world was silent and empty and cold and sticky. So he ate the ice cream, and he got weaker and weaker. And every night, all alone in the house, he cried like a stupid little baby.
Everyone thought the headlines were a joke at first. Ice cream raining down over America? It had to be a scam story, likely originated from one of those fake news web sites. Several prominent scientists declared the whole thing to be impossible, and the matter was more or less closed for a day or two. But when even Reuters and the BBC started reporting on the incredible phenomenon, when the photos and videos circulating on social media became too numerous to deny, Paul contented himself in the knowledge that this was merely one of those strange things that happened in America, much like their eating competitions and farcical presidential elections. It was far away, happening to a group of people who, quite frankly, deserved it.
He ignored all the conversation down the pub about how the ice cream storm was slowly crossing the Atlantic and heading for the UK. Conspiracy nonsense, and he would have none of it. He was an educated, intelligent Englishman, no matter what his idiot friends liked to say, and he would not be taken in by their prattle.
When he saw the first green glob of pistachio ice cream hit the pavement in front of him, he refused to react. He carried right on walking. It was surely a prank carried out by one of his friends, and the best way to respond to something childish like that was to simply do nothing. He would not give them the satisfaction of so much as glancing at it.
In fact, he went directly to the pub to nonchalantly drown the seed of doubt growing in the back of his mind in a few pints. He blocked out the conversation happening around him until it was too much to ignore, at which point he paid his tab and made his way outside.
He had to walk carefully down the slippery pavement, but eventually he made it to his front door and calmly stepped inside. After wiping the sticky green goo from the bottom of his shoes, he placed them on the shoe rack and retired to the lounge to further relax himself with a brandy. Just one or two glasses to calm his nerves over the extent of the prank, and he would be off to bed. It would all be cleared up by morning.