Wednesday, 8 February 2012

After the End - Short Story

They say it takes a man of resilient courage and fortitude to make it through the darkest of days. A hero of a man, strong in body and mind, to survive anything the world can throw at them and come through, sometimes unscathed, sometimes not. A paragon of humanity, to lead by example during the hardest times that we as a species have faced.

I tell you, this is wrong.

All it takes is a coward to survive the end of days.

I am that coward.

How has it that it came to be that everyone's gone but me? That I am to face the end alone? Because I was responsible for the Armageddon, the Ragnarok, the Apocalypse, whatever you want to call it.

I was there when the infection started, in that government lab at Porton Down in England. I am responsible for it all happening, all this death and destruction, but I did not create it. We were testing a type of counter-virus to fight against most common CBRN biological type stuff, I forget which virus it was designed to counter exactly. One of the test subjects reacted weirdly to it, and unbeknownst to us at the time, we had started the end of days with him. In our pride to fashion a cure against all harmful attacks, we had outdone ourselves, and made something that was more than human.

To my everlasting shame, I was responsible for the subject escaping. The infection spread within the subject faster than we thought possible, and granted him inhuman strength, as we would find out. We were studying him on what was termed Z-Day later by an over-active media, when the signals flat lined completely. He was clinically dead in both brain and body, and lay there in the bed in the room that he was assigned to. My colleague, Dr Ross, went against every rule in the book, and entered the room where he was, to check on him. Like some horrific cliché from a late night movie, the subject lurched out of bed, and attacked Dr Ross, swiftly biting through the man's jugular. I can still remember the man's choked screams and the spray of bright red arterial blood splashing against the window as the subject attacked him.

To my eternal shame, and indeed, the now-familiar shame of knowing that I am responsible for the fate of humanity, I ran for my life.

I should have stayed and sealed the subject in the room, but my panic had overridden my common sense and my training, and that was what sealed our fates. The subject escaped through the open door, and managed to overpower another of my colleagues. I kept running, so I know not what happened next, apart from the fact that the subject escaped from Porton Down, and ran amok. As we were to find out soon after, Dr Ross and Dr Clayton, the other colleague who was attacked, had been infected and had risen a few hours later, but amidst the chaos at the test lab, we weren't thinking straight and they were also able to escape.

The infection burned brightly in those three people, and from those three, the infection spread across the world over the course of months. Like the original rabbits released in Australia that caused so much carnage and destruction, our three zombies caused such chaos to the ecosystem but on a far grander scale.

I fled for home, not explaining myself to anyone. I just needed to get out of there. My cowardice and sense of preservation, my shock and revulsion for the killings that had been committed, didn't allow me to stay and think about the consequences of my actions. All I knew that I had to get to safety, and for me, safety was my home. Funny, isn't it, how such a weak man can break so easily?

I stayed at home with my family, somewhat safe, whilst the rest of the world burned slowly, caught in the grip of the infection. We watched on the television as the infection spread, and more and more drastic countermeasures were used to try and stem the tide of the undead. Panic gripped the world in an ever-tighter squeeze as the major cities started to fall from both within and without, as both the undead and the alive fought for supremacy. Gone was the thin veneer of civilization as we battled for domination. But with all things, we cannot fight our fate. With every person that died as a result of the zombies killing them, the hordes gained another member, and we were further weakened.

My wife and I watched our world fall apart slowly, and two events marked the end of my world as we knew it. Well, two major events that I am willing to talk about, and a third that I'm still unwilling to discuss properly. The first was the east coast of America being nuked, in a desperate attempt to stop the zombies from overcoming them completely. This started what us survivors called the Nuclear Countdown, as city after city was razed to the ground by nuclear blasts, without fully understanding what effect this would have. As we were to find out later, the zombies were unaffected by the radiation, and if anything, became even more dangerous from the radiation that permeated their skin and internal organs. Water became a precious commodity then, as did tinned food, as the very earth we lived on was poisoned beyond repair for our lifetime, if not more.

This was the lesser of the two events that changed my world. Or at least, the two events that I am willing to talk about.

The other was my wife.

I do not think she ever forgave me for starting the end of the world, despite the bit in the marriage vows about staying true during both the good times and the bad times. We had married young and impulsively, and were on the verge of splitting up when she announced she was pregnant with our first child. Feeling a sense of duty, but mainly the cowardice that had marked my life, I stayed with her because it was the easier option, rather than split up and face being alone. Our first child was born, a son, followed soon after by a daughter and then another daughter, and all the while, me and my wife were drifting apart ever more slowly. What was once a quirky habit of hers or mine early in the relationship and marriage became an eternal source of annoyance and grievance later on.

So it really came as no surprise when, during one of our rare heartfelt conversations we had over dinner whilst watching the latest atrocity on the television on silent, that she admitted she had been having an affair. It was to be expected, given that she was deeply unhappy with the relationship and I was too cowardly to make an end of it, and was far too tied up in my work besides. So I don't blame her for wanting to start afresh elsewhere, though I do wish she had at least split up with me before doing so. At least, that's what I told myself after all the pain and hurt had subsided enough for me to think vaguely rationally.

With those two events, the wife first and the nuking second, my world was forever changed. We tried to retreat further away from major cities, but given that we lived in England, this was nigh-on impossible. I must end this journal for now, as I have to go scavenging for supplies.

I can hear the zombies outside.

Always moaning.

I may not return from this trip.

-

I don't know who I'm writing this journal for, given all the events that have happened. I don't know if anyone is still alive out there any more, or if anything else is out there apart from the walking dead. Even now, I hear them, shambling, moaning, scratching at the walls of my refuge.

I am all alone here, apart from the dead.

Earlier in my journal I gave details of the two events that changed my world completely. I wrote of a third event that I wasn't willing to talk about at the time. I have been forced to revise that opinion since then, since it concerns what is happening at the moment.

I talked about my wife cheating on me, in my previous entry. What I did not say was that she was bitten by one of the zombies as well, and her cheating on me was the catalyst that made it easier for me to overcome my natural cowardice, and kill her, or so I thought. We got the kids to a safe place, a hunting lodge out in the woods that we had borrowed from a friend at times for holidays, back when the world was a sane and ordered place, which we barricaded up and made as secure as we could, the entire family helping out, and then me and my wife went out into the woods with the knowledge that only one of us would return and look after the children in our new home.

Or so we thought.

The deed was done quickly, and I hope painlessly as I smashed the rock down on her head and she went limp and boneless and crumpled to the floor, and I left her body out there in the woods. I didn't have time to dig a grave for her, as I could hear the dead nearby, that curious shuffle and snuffling interspersed with the revenant moaning at times. I guessed there was a large group nearby, judging by all the moans, and so, fearing for my life even more than usual, I abandoned her body and went back to deal with the kids. The two eldest knew what had transpired, but the youngest was still oblivious of the deed I had done, and we agreed to keep it that way. She didn't need to know that her father was a murderer, and had killed her mother, no matter that it was for the best. Such things stain the soul regardless of the intentions.

That wasn't the third event.

The third event was me having to kill my entire family.

I was out on one of the scavenging trips, when it happened. I would like to say that I sensed that something was wrong whilst I was out acquiring food in the ruins of the local town, but I only sensed it when I got near to our hideaway. The door was open, something that I had emphatically told the children never to do whilst I was out, and there were signs of a struggle. Dropping the food I had gathered and ignoring the sounds of it bouncing into the undergrowth nearby, I pelted pell-mell into remnants of the shelter that we had acquired, and found my family in there.

Or what remained of them.

As I ran in, four sets of eyes fixed on me, and hisses and moans greeted me as I stopped in my tracks. Blood coated all of them, rips and tears in their clothing showing their pale flesh criss-crossed with welts and gouges as I looked at my family, including my wife, slowly lurching towards me. As I looked at them, I gathered my wits and figured out what had happened. She must have been transformed into one of the walking dead, and retained some small memory of our family, and gone to be with them as the infection, the hunger overtook her. I do not claim to know how each ghouls mind works, nor would I claim such arrogance to understand each individual ghoul. That is my best guess, is that she had some memory of her family. For all I know, she happened to get lucky as a zombie, or I botched the job of killing her and as she tried to crawl back to me to get medical attention and she was infected on her journey back.

I cannot say what happened to her before I got back to the shelter, but I can say what happened to her afterwards. As the saying goes, it's not angels that give men wings, but fear. Fear gives men wings, and in my case, my wings was my sense of self-preservation kicking in and overriding my sense of cowardice. I grabbed the nearest weapon, which happened to be a chair leg, and managed to fend all of the undead off long enough for me to despatch them all. Overcome with despair and sadness, I carted the bodies outside and locked the door, and slept for what felt like a week. I was broken by the events that had occurred, and for the longest time afterwards, almost went outside to join them in death, or undeath or whatever you want to call it.

But my cowardice always kept kicking in, and I never did join them. I could always hear zombies outside though, sometimes moaning, sometimes just stumbling along in the silence, but always present. My own personal hell, both inside and outside my head. For the first time in a very long time, I was completely alone, separate from human contact and voices, and I hated it. I've grown to accept it now, but there are still times when I lay awake at night, and listen to the faint moans of the ever-present undead.

There is nothing to do here, except write in my journal, recording my thoughts and dreams and hopes and my past, and just survive as best I can. I have noticed though, that as the human race regresses, the undead, the zombie race, has started to evolve. Whenever I go scavenging, they seem to hunt in packs, attacking wildlife, and once I saw, another survivor. They tore him apart patiently, limb from limb, before feasting on him, all while I could hear his screams. Even as I close my eyes nowadays, I can still hear him, still see him, pleading to be put out of his misery by some divine force, the screams echoing in the sky, unanswered.

I have to stop writing now, for my supplies are running low and I need to get more of them.

Hopefully, I will not end up like that other nameless man.

-

I barely survived that last trip. A group of them seemed to ambush me, despite the precautions I took. I managed to escape with no bites, but the experience has left me feverish and flushed from adrenaline. I gathered the bare minimum I could before bolting home like a frightened rabbit who has seen the headlights and watched them swerve away from him. This wasteland is hard to traverse even fully fit and well, but I managed to get away as if equipped with wings. I lie here in the shelter, sweating, still fearful for my life.

I can hear them outside.

I think they followed me back to my shelter. I can hear more scrabbling outside, as if they seem more determined than ever before to get inside and at me. The moaning is fitful, and if one were to anthropomorphise them, one could argue that their moaning seems angrier than usual, as if they were frustrated that they could not break in and make me one of them.

I am going to try and sleep, as there is nothing to do but wait and see if they will disperse, or if they will finally succeed in breaching my barricades, unlike so many other of their brethren who have beat futilely against the walls and door. I can only hope and pray that they give up soon, though I do not think they will, not this time. They seem to have changed further, becoming more organised and efficient and more... patient, for lack of a better term. They seem to hunt creatures, both human and non-human more efficiently, and I fear that this may be the end for me. I sweat with the knowledge that I have, and I fear for my safety. But I must try and sleep now.

-

I tried to sleep. The feverish response of adrenaline earlier seems to have triggered some form of proper fever in me, as I tossed and turned on my bed, first too hot to sleep, and then too cold, and back to being too hot.

All the while, the incessant moans of the restless dead haunted my ears.

In the end, I gave up, and sat in the corner of the lodge, sweating and occasionally gibbering to myself as I slid into fevered madness, before surfacing from the depths of madness and composing myself again, before the routine started again. I did this for several hours, not daring to do anything else lest it stir the demons outside into a more frenzied assault on my humble home, and hasten my end. Eventually, I gathered what strength and resilience I had left, and stirred myself to start writing my journal again. My fevered thoughts dance across this page as I write, and as I write more, I become more numb to the noises from outside, but more susceptible to the fever within.

It feels like I'm losing my mind as this fever progresses. I pause every now and then, and realise that I am unaware of time as it passes. All that seems constant is the scratching of my pen across the paper, and the moans of the undead outside. I am going to try and marshal myself to attempt to sleep again, before I lose myself completely.

-

Woke even hotter. Too sick to sleep properly. Tried to shower. Saw scratchmarks along back. Must have come from ambush earlier in week. With info comes horror and relief. I am infected. I write this info down for anyone who finds it. Soon I will join them outside. Soon I will be free from my cowardice. But if you are reading this journal, beware.

Soon I will be after you.

I am sorry.

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