SHORT STORY: Herman’s Harmonious Flowers and the Secret Survival Sauce

The apocalypse hit hard. Really hard. One day, people were walking, talking, enjoying their lives, and the very next day they were coughing up blood and vomiting out organs. The virus was an odd one; the equivalent to influenza, Ebola, malaria, and the Black Death if they all formed a team and learned how to fly. It was almost definitely bioterrorism, but whoever created the disease didn’t admit responsibility. City Zero was Los Angeles, California, and within four days it had spread to every single country with an airport. Within fourteen days, half of the population of the Earth was dead. The virus, nicknamed “Plague Inc.” after the mobile app, was quite a brutal one. Its most horrifying symptoms included the liquefying of all bones, muscles and skin and the evaporation of most blood and water within the human body. This was accomplished through a rapid acceleration of the human heart and the hacking of the endocrine system to create fevers as hot as 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, each infected human would become a factory for the virus, pumping the airborne pathogens into the air for twenty hours before promptly plopping dead and turning into hot mush. 

From the second story of his LA flower shop, notorious germaphobe Herman Hernandez looked down on all the chaos, watering his flowers with his secret flower formula. Despite the streets below him flowing with his liquified neighbors, Herman wasn’t concerned in the slightest. Just as he had kept his flowers nice and disease free for his fifteen years owning his shop, he had a technique to keep himself free of the plague. A secret formula that only he knew of that could keep one infection proof. Herman was single, childless, and kept mostly to himself, so his secret formula remained just that: a secret. However, as the apocalypse worsened and worsened, people started to take note of the middle aged flower man who never wore a gas mask or boarded up his windows. As a matter of fact, “Herman’s Harmonious Flowers” had never been better, with his more scentful flowers especially in high demand. Furthermore, Herman’s flowers seemed to grow with more speed and even more beauty; Herman postulated to himself that the same virus that kills humans and fills the air with red mist also boosts the metabolism of the flowers and plants that it encounters. But Herman had never been one to prioritize making money; he had opened his small boutique of bouquets a decade and a half ago for the simple reason that he loved flowers.

Herman’s shop lost its last regular customer after day four of the outbreak; after that it was just passerbys in full hazmat suits, occasionally peeking in to see the man watering his flowers with the same mug that he often drank from. The mug itself used to have bright red roses all over it, but with time it had lost most of its color and was now a very white pink. On day six of the apocalypse though, Herman had quite a shock when he found a woman in a bright yellow hazmat suit waiting for him in his shop, with a gun in her right hand.

Pointing the pistol at the flower man, the woman desperately asked, “how are you still alive old man? I’ve been watching you from across the street for five days, and you’re the only one who’s survived not wearing any protection. Have you found a cure or something?”

Herman chuckled, and responded, “I wouldn’t call it a cure; more like a prevention. I’ve been using the same special ingredient on my flowers to keep them disease free to keep myself healthy. I can give you a taste if you would like.”

The woman, surprised at Herman’s openness, accepted his offer and holstered her weapon, although she still kept it close to hand.

Heading into his supply closet, Herman asked, “you’ve got a name missy?”

“Darlena.” she responded cautiously.

Herman retrieved the two objects from the closet and placed them on the checkout counter. They were a much newer mug with bright yellow dandelions on it and a jug of Herman’s secret sauce.

“Here, I’ll let you try a free sample,” Herman said with a smile as he poured the liquid into the mug.

Darlena, with extreme suspicion, opened the hood to her suit and reluctantly took a sip of the potion. The substance was so strong, so putrid, so vile that she gagged and spat it out. 

“What the heck man! Are you trying to mess with me?”

“No Darlena, I assure you that’s what I drink, two cups a day, everyday. Granted, it is an acquired taste, but once you’ve had enough of it you learn to enjoy, no, love its flavor. The tingle on your tongue, the kick of it as it goes down your throat, and the damp and dank aftertaste that stays in your mouth forever. It is the only thing that keeps my flowers and I alive in this world; I’ll sell this first jug and cup to you on sale! How about ten dollars?” Herman raved with a dreamy look in his normally calm eyes.

“Your crazy man! I’m taking my chances out there!” Darlena explained as she zipped and sealed her suit back up and ran out of the shop.

“Ah, well, more for me!” Herman exclaimed as he downed the rest of Darlena’s drink with several big gulps.

At day twenty-nine, the last five government agents hiding in a secret, sealed bunker died via the disease. The air became so dense with the small and slippery plague that even the filters of their vault became compromised. At day thirty, a man living as a hermit in the far North of Canada died in his self-made log cabin surrounded by his beloved huskies, with no idea what was even going on. The foul steam plumbed up from the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Los Angeles, and New York into the atmosphere, where the wind distributed the plague to even the most isolated of locals. At day thirty-one, the astronauts on the International Space Station all committed suicide, making Herman officially the last man on Earth. He, naturally, didn’t know this, and thus woke up and carried about his post-apocalyptic lifestyle as per usual. Except today, as he was going to fill his mug with his morning dose of “secret sauce”, he realized that he was all out. Herman shrugged as he grabbed his wallet, a shopping cart, and a baseball bat, and rode to the nearest OfficeMax to refill his supply. Busting open its window, he waltzed right in, went to the cleaning aisle, and grabbed every single bottle of hand sanitizer that would fit in his cart. Riding through the checkout lane, he threw a one hundred dollar bill onto the counter and, talking to a pool of blood and mush behind the counter, said “keep the change.”

As soon as he made it back home, Herman filled up his old mug to the brink with the hand sanitizer, and, with several loud slurps and glurps, started to chug the antibacterial agent. This was Herman’s euphoria, as he enthusiastically basked in the alcoholic and sanitary taste of the sanitizer. At this point, Herman considered himself to be a connoisseur of sanitizing agents, knowing which ones tasted and worked best for his unique situation. His personal favorites were tangerine and vanilla flavors that he only drank for special occasions, but he was open to new experiences. He found that the flavor that worked best with flowers was, ironically, rose scented. In any other scenario, Herman would most likely be the star of an episode of “My Strange Addiction”, but in this instance his obsession saved his life. He figured that the elimination of 99.9% of all germs was enough to erase the pandemic from his system, which, surprisingly, was a spot on theory. 

Over the next several years, the world has become a much different place. Trees and plants took over the urban world, as vines slowly but surely crept up tall skyscrapers and wrapped around large concrete buildings. Weeds and grasses poked their heads out from every crack and crevice that they could, slowly reclaiming the world for themselves. Lichen too became extremely common on the buildings of coastal cities. The factories that once pumped the air full of carbon dioxide now silently breathed oxygen back into the sky as trees and bushes took root in the old concrete cracks. The roads remained red for quite some time, but the oceans and waterways quickly returned to their blue hues, and massive amounts of fish, algae, and coral began to appear throughout the aquatic world. Even the sewers that once flowed with human feces and urine were taken over by large mushrooms and glowing fungi. Thus, the world was taken back to an idyllic Garden of Eden, with Herman as the new Adam. Yet unlike Adam, Herman was content to be completely alone.

And thus, Herman lived out humanity’s last days in bliss, with only him, his flowers, and his miracle drink to occupy his time. His life always followed the same schedule: wake up 7:30, have a mug of sanitizer at 8:00 while reading or writing a memoir, eat breakfast at 8:30, and, from 9:00 to 17:00, plant flowers and trees throughout the city. After he was done with work, Herman would always eat dinner at 17:30, having a glass of hand sanitizer at 18:00, and read or write until he fell asleep. The only break in this schedule would be Fridays, on which he would have flaming hand sanitizer shots with his friends, flower covered mannequins, until he passed out and woke up with a hangover the next day.

It turns out that each bottle of hand sanitizer contains the equivalent of five shots of hard liquor, and Herman had been drinking multiple bottles a day even before the end of humanity. Herman died five years later due to chronic liver failure. He laid himself to rest in a field of white daisies. Only after his death could the plague touch him though, as it turned his body to mush slightly faster than it would have otherwise. A week later, all the daisies in the field turned red, and then roses rose up and took their place. For, in Herman’s old worn-down jeans were two different things: ripped bags of seeds and several opened bottles of rose scented hand sanitizer.

By Maximilian Hodsden, Contributor

Maximilian Hodsen describes himself as an”18 year old visionary, lover of cheeses, [and] loves using the word ectetera.”

Featured photo by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash

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