It’s the Apocalypse and Bruce Springsteen Isn’t Pulling His Weight

The weirdest short story you'll read today.

After a rapid series of apocalyptic events that I’d rather not rehash here, the world has descended into chaos. Many of us are separated from our families, food and water is increasingly scarce, and there’s rampant, unchecked violence. Our group is on the move, trying to find a more permanent home.

The following is a collection of my journal entries detailing what happened when Bruce Springsteen joined us.

May 8: It’s been a few days since I’ve written, and there’s quite a bit to catch up on. Some of us are still struggling to accept the nothingness of our new reality. Each day seems to make less sense than the one before. Rand banished Cindy for hoarding a box of Twinkies at the bottom of her sleeping bag. Seemed harsh, especially since the Twinkies were rendered an inedible mess in the initial explosion, but I get it. Other news…I think my hair is falling out. Not sure if due to diet, sickness, or both. I know it’s the apocalypse and I should be past vanity at this point. But still.

None of that matters, though, because Bruce Springsteen (yes, THAT Bruce Springsteen) turned up in camp today! Despite all the death, decay, and trauma around us we totally freaked out (well, everyone except Rand) when it registered who our new denim-jacket-wearing visitor was. He was visibly exhausted, and humbly asked us if he could “rest his bones on [our] patch of dirt” for a few days. After getting over our initial shock, we voted unanimously to move Deb out of her tent so he could get some rest. Before he ducked in, he told us we should call him Bruce — not Mr. Springsteen. (Paul asked if he could call him “The Boss” and Bruce said no.) I saw him at the Wells Fargo Center back in 2012, and now he’s here, trying to survive with us. We are so lucky!

May 9: After waking up and milling about for twenty minutes this afternoon, Bruce is sleeping again, just like a normal person. Don gave him some beans (a very generous portion, though Bruce asked for a little more) before going back to the tent. I’m not surprised he’s famished — no telling how long he’s been on the move. How far is Jersey from here?

Michael said he heard rumors of another camp that claimed to be with Donovan McNabb, but this is way better. Well, it will be when Bruce wakes up, haha. Also: yeah, my hair is definitely falling out.

May 11: My brain is still rattling from this morning’s events. Marie developed a particularly foul infection over the last 24 hours and had to get her leg sawed off below the knee. Rand did it. (I think he enjoyed it.) Her screams were almost unbearable. I’ll never, ever be able to wash that from my memory.

But, meanwhile: Bruce is up and about! He said that he was “road weary” and happy to find “good, regular folks” and appreciated us taking him in. Most of us are a bit afraid to talk to him, not wanting to bother him and all. Aside from that, he hasn’t said much (he loves those beans, though), but I think I heard him humming last night! Couldn’t make out the song — maybe something new he’s working on?? Is it possible to be creative in these circumstances? Probably when you’re a genius like Bruce.

May 13: A group of us left to scout for supplies this morning. These trips are getting more and more difficult as resources dry up, our group grows smaller, and outsiders get just as desperate. Rand asked Bruce if he wanted to join us (without putting on any real pressure) and Bruce sort of smiled and said, “I’m gonna leave this one to the experts” and just walked away. I mean, I get it, he’s probably still recovering from his journey, but none of us are experts. It would be one thing if he stayed behind to protect the children and elderly, but when we got back, he was just eating beans in his tent, reading a book someone found. The third Harry Potter, I think.

May 15: I’m at the point where I don’t have the vaguest sense of what day of the week it is. Could be because I’m entirely detached from the life I led just a few months ago and ache for the reassuring structure of an organized society. Or, maybe it’s because I’m SO excited about what happened at the campfire last night.

All of us were just sitting quietly, not saying much. Then, it happened: Jaclyn breaks the silence and says she has a surprise. She comes back a minute later with a beat-up, amateurish-looking acoustic guitar and sort of “presents” it to Bruce. For a minute, he didn’t reach for it. Nobody makes a sound. The only thing you can hear is the crackling fire. Finally, the tension breaks when Bruce reaches to grab the guitar, and says “Hello, old friend.” There was an audible group exhale and a couple muted laughs as Bruce tuned and messed around with the thing, before breaking into a soft, rumbling rendition of “Nebraska.” Like Marie’s leg being sawed off, I’ll never forget it. After finishing, he looked around, smiled a bit to himself, and without a word, retreated to his tent (well, Deb’s tent really, though not anymore). The man definitely knows how to make an exit. I wish I had that sort of gravitas. Wow.

May 19: Bruce has started to play on an almost nightly basis. (BTW, the other day, Patty asked him to, “do one of your old ones, like ‘It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” — thankfully he pretended not to hear her. I hate Patty and always have.) Bruce’s playing has become one of the few things we look forward to.

I need to get this off my chest, though, because if not here, where? Bruce is not pulling his weight. He’s not. Look, the playing every night, it’s great. Definitely lifts our spirits, sure. But we’re down to 19 people. We’re trying to survive here.

We were on a scouting trip earlier this afternoon and narrowly avoided a skirmish with another group. We would’ve been badly outnumbered. Before we left, Bruce again said he wouldn’t be joining us. He says he’s “an old man” and can’t help us, but the dude is stronger than anyone here. When we got back, he was actually lifting weights. I don’t even know where he found them. But it’s like, you can’t get your workout in by helping us move a ton of supplies? We could’ve died and you’re out here pumping iron?

Again: he’s not a bad guy, he tells good stories, and I’m very grateful for the music every night, but come on. He’s also eating four times as many beans as anyone else.

May 20: OK, Bruce played a haunting version of “I’m on Fire” tonight. Despite my best efforts, I had one of those Bruce-Springsteen-sleeps-two-tents-over-from-me moments.

May 21: It wasn’t even Bruce’s shower day and he used up enough water for three people. Are you kidding me? Brian is going to smell even worse now.

May 24: That’s it. Bruce is a lethargic, sociopathic fraud, and he needs to go.

As I write this tonight, I have cracked ribs, a bruised face, and a makeshift, blood-soaked bandage wrapped around what remains of my right ear. On a supply run, I had what I can only describe as the fight of my life with a man from another group. There’s no other way to say it: we tried to kill each other. He bit off part of my ear. Bit it off. The whole situation was brutal, sad, and pointless. We could have just walked away, silently agreeing to avoid a struggle. Instead, we both left worse off for the encounter, nothing gained.

Bloodied, I came back to camp and told my story. Now, I’m not much of an attention seeker, but I had to get it out, you know? Well, I’m not being dramatic when I say that nobody cared. Yeah, we’ve all been through a lot, but still. Rob offered a single band-aid. The one person who listened with more than bare minimum interest? Bruce. But then he started probing: Did I think I was going to die? What was it like holding someone else’s life in my hands? Was my wife’s name Mary, by any chance? Finally, he just says “Hmm,” and goes back to his tent. At least someone listened.

Then tonight we’re by the campfire and Bruce gets this sheepish look on his face and goes, “I’ve got a new one.” He breaks out a harmonica (like, where’d he get a harmonica?) and starts a song we had never heard before. I have to say, it was pretty amazing to hear him cook one up…at least until the words came. About a supply run gone wrong. About getting into a fight that changed his worldview. About losing an ear! A ballad. In the first person, no less! He called it “Blood on the Ground.”

He finishes and everyone — except me, of course — breaks into reverent applause. Even Rand. At this point, I speak up: I TOLD YOU GUYS THAT. That was me! That’s my story, and when I told you, you didn’t care. Everyone sort of shrugs, and someone mumbles “Yeah but he said it better.” I glance at Bruce and he’s pretending to look at something interesting on his hand. What a bastard.

May 25: Well, that’s it, I guess. This morning, Bruce, awake earlier than usual, all packed up, called out to Deb and told her she could have her tent back, and said he was gonna hit the road. He grabbed one last can of beans and nodded to the rest of us. Even though I had grown tired of his shtick, it was a let down — he really was our single source of entertainment. I stopped Bruce for a minute and told him that, hey, after sleeping on it for a night, I had to admit the song was good. Really good. “I know,” he said. Then he was gone, just as quietly as he arrived. And the campfire wasn’t nearly as fun tonight.