A Post-Melt Guide to Local Wildlife, by James Seidler

Want to ID the critters you’ll spot while you’re poking through the ruins? Add this handy guide to your survival pack, and before you know it, you’ll be a modern-day John Muir!

What’s that staring down from the trees as you scavenge for old cans? Does it have wings? Does blood seem to be dripping from a beak? If so, congrats, you’ve spotted a pigeon. These “rats of the sky” are less likely to roost on the ground these days thanks to pressures from actual rats. But Columba livia does increasingly live in hive-like societies in fortified burrows. Be careful not to step in one, as you’ll need to pay a precious grain tribute to get your foot back from their collective claws.

Hear a noise rustling in the underbrush? Does it sound like just one animal, you pray? Or are multiple bodies rustling beneath the sticks and leaves? Either way, you’d better run because you’ve been discovered by rats. Hordes of the rodents swarm the abandoned streets in search of living prey to gnaw with their tiny teeth and claws. Think you’re safe sitting motionless in the dark, a terrified hand clamped over your own mouth lest you draw their attention by screaming? Don’t forget: they can smell you.

What’s that floating in the water, or more likely, lurking unseen beneath the surface of the water as you and your companions draw sticks to see who has to risk it before you all die of thirst? Yup, that’s a crocodile. They were actually supposed to be extinct by now, as rising temperatures mean that only females develop in their heat-sensitive eggs. But they just adapted to reproducing asexually, producing offspring that are clones of the mother. Chalk one up for nature.

What’s that crawling on your hands and face as you burrow into an abandoned army base in search of MREs? If it’s not rats—and trust us, you’d know if it were rats—it’s likely just cockroaches. These insects don’t want to hurt you; they’re just trying to get their mandibles to your eyeballs to drink the moisture. You want to keep them from doing that, though, as they’ve developed a burning ooze on their skin to protect themselves from the rats and the pigeons, and it’ll likely make you go blind.

Going back to the trees for a moment, if the looming form in the branches isn’t a pigeon (no wings, beak, etc.), it’s likely a rat. Yes, they’ve colonized the trees as well. Tree rats are more likely to be solitary than their ground-based cousins. That’s a good thing, although you still have to be careful to avoid the elaborate “webs” they weave from old shoelaces and re-masticated chewing gum.

What’s that majestic form trotting through the morning dew, nose held high, body quick to flinch at even the whisper of your approach? Oh god, it’s a deer. There’s still one left, and it even looks like it has plenty of meat on its bones. Kill it, quick! But wait, wait. Can you trust the spear you whittled? Or do you dare use one of the last cartridges in your pistol? Pick one, fast, before it runs away!

Sated with raw, dripping venison, you lay back for the first time in who knows how long and look up at the sky. And…that’s funny, there’s something flying up there. It looks like a pigeon…there’s wings…a pointy head. But there’s a big bulge rising in the middle and something long and thin dangling beneath. Is that…is that a rat riding a pigeon? Is it wearing a little helmet and carrying a spear? It’s what we always feared. Quick, into the tunnels and caves! They own the air now, and things are never going back to how they used to be.

James Seidler is a writer living in Chicago. The former editor for the humor site flymf.com, he’s now collecting rejection slips for his first novel. See how he wastes his time on Twitter.

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A Post-Melt Guide to Local Wildlife, by James Seidler