I grew up very awkward. Still, even as an adult, I don't talk to people unless I have to. I think it was ingrained in me as a kid. "Don't speak unless spoken to." That or my programming just took "don't talk to strangers" very seriously. That being said I don't have many friends. I'm not trying to throw a pity party - I don't even have money for the balloons - it's just a fact. I met my best friend in fourth grade. We only talked because we sat at the same table and I didn't see a way out. But nonetheless, we're still friends.
That being said, I wanted to try to break out of my shell, so to speak. Later than I should have, I found one of the many uses of the internet: connecting to other people. So I looked around, trying to find a community I could belong to. Unfortunately I don't have much in the way of a personality. I like things, sure, but not enough to be an enthusiast. I did find a zombie forum, though. I tried to think my way into talking to someone. I like The Walking Dead. I like the Resident Evil movies. Maybe this could work?
I hung out on there for a while, making an account but never posting. As interesting as zombies are, you'll eventually run out of things to discuss. As was the case with the forum. There were a few threads about survival plans. Another thread was about The Walking Dead, the show versus the comics. The same thing was going on with Resident Evil on the forum as well.
Out of zombie ground to cover, someone had started an off topic thread about conspiracy theories. There was some debate about JFK - people blaming everyone from the CIA to the Catholic church. There were also a lot of things about the Illuminati and Area 51. It was a thread about conspiracy theories, what else could one expect? As ridiculous as a lot of it was, it was definitely fun to read. I wasted a lot of time on there. I would lose track of time and look over at the clock finding it to be almost three in the morning. That was something I did a lot, actually.
I logged on one night and saw some people ragging on someone who believed zombies were real. They were being pretty ruthless too. That's something that seemed to have been born on the internet: brutal, anonymous assaults. However, the guy they were going after didn't seem fazed. He just kept insisting on the reality of zombies. Just before leaving he left a lengthy message.
I'm telling you, they exist. Whatever the bacteria/parasite is, it's everywhere. It's something ancient or extraterrestrial. All I know is that it's spreading through the soil. I've hacked into secure files and I know it's emerged in at least four small/rural towns so far. You'll know when it's coming, look for the signs. I don't know how, but they can track it! Look for military vehicles, men in hazmat suits. Get out while you can and prepare!
After that he didn't post anything else. Everyone on the thread started making fun of him and laughing. Well they laughed digitally. I found that really odd considering the nature of the thread. Then again, I had seen people make fun of each other's theories all the time. I guess maybe that was an unwritten purpose of the thread.
A few days later, on my way home from work, I saw a man in a containment suit coming out of a manhole. He walked over to a white van and climbed inside. My first thought was of the zombie guy. The second was rational.
They must be checking to make sure it's all good down there, I thought. Or maybe it's something to do with the water supply.
The next day my co-workers were talking about it. Apparently the man in the suit had shown up a few places the day before, popping out of the sewers. The news got around pretty fast, given the size of the town. We weren't the smallest town, but we weren't a metropolis either. Our "downtown" consisted of a mall. Other than that the only places to go for fun were a small dollar theatre and a lake a half hour out of town.
A few days went by with a few more appearances by the hazmat man. Except rather than lurking around in the sewers, he seemed to be testing the air. Well, he had been seen waving some sort of stick around. I jumped to the conclusion that he was testing the air on my own.
What if the virus is airborne? But that guy said it came from the soil, right? Maybe it starts in the soil and is released like spores or something?
I was getting myself all riled and panicked for no reason. At least that's what I told myself. But sure enough, later in the week hazmat man was seen taking dirt samples. That's when I lost it.
The soil! Oh god, what if an outbreak happens here? I... I couldn’t shoot someone. Even if they were a zombie, I don't think I could do it. Hell, I don’t even own a gun. And even if they’re the slow ones and not the World War Z ones, I can't run a block without wheezing. I've got to get out of here.
Fortunately I still had work to keep me grounded. As much as I wanted to just run away and save myself, I didn't have a day off for almost another week. I may not like working but if I'm scheduled, I'm going to show up. That's just the way it is. But at work that Friday my fragile peace was broken one more time.
"Hey! Did you hear?" My co-worker Jess was all flustered by Tim's desk.
"Yeah, my sister was there. My ma just got to the hospital now."
"I hope she's alright... I hear there were at least ten kids out at the lake and they all came back sick."
"Yeah, I'm heading there after work to check in on her. My ma is really worried. I keep telling her it's probably nothing serious but she's stubborn as ever."
"Maybe the lake's just dirty?"
"Ha, ha. Yeah. Maybe that's why that weird som'bitch is out here poking around."
The two of them laughed and tried to lift what had been a slightly somber mood. I tried to laugh it off too, to myself. But the talk about the lake... Maybe it is contaminated? I thought. And on my way home, while the sun was all but set, a military jeep rolled into town. Not many of the people were still out so I was probably one of the few that saw it. That jeep was the last straw.
When I got home I started trying to think through how to protect myself. With the military in town the outbreak had to be imminent. There is no way I'm going to work tomorrow. Why would I go out just to risk infection? I gathered what I could in the living room to protect myself, just in case they broke into the house. In the end I had a knife, an old hammer, and a dull samurai sword I had bought off of the internet.
I'd never been inclined to attack someone, or something. So I picked up each weapon in turn and practiced swinging it. The knife was easy enough. It was light and easy to move. Next I tried the sword. I had seen Kill Bill a good number of times so I tried to be like Uma Thurman. I held it over my head and swung it down. My grip was shit though and it went flying into a wall. It sunk itself in pretty deep and prying it out was a hassle. God, I'm an idiot. I didn't even bother to put my toys away, I just went to bed regretting everything I had done in the past ten minutes.
I woke up the next day to a loud bang. It sounded like I imagine a canon would. I jumped and fell off of my bed and onto the floor. My nose hit the carpet first and my eyes watered from the pain. When I pulled my hand away from my face there was blood all over my finger tips. I went to the bathroom to clean myself up when I heard knocking at my door. I plugged my nose with a wad of toilet paper and went to see who it was. But when I looked out of the peephole I didn’t see anyone. So I headed back to go take a shower.
As soon as my back was turned the knocking started up again. Only it wasn’t knocking anymore, it was a furious pounding. It’s them! The outbreak happened while I was sleeping! I couldn’t control my fear anymore. I had to barricade the door. I moved the couch up against it as the pounding increased. I grabbed my sword and huddled in the kitchen, trying to keep my distance. Suddenly the pounding stopped. Maybe they left… They’re attracted to noise, so if I just stay silent…
But they didn’t leave. They shattered the window in the living room. I ran. I ran straight to my bedroom. I struggled to move my dresser in front of the door. I’m so weak, I thought as I pushed with everything I had. If they get in here, if they find me… I’m dead. I backed away from the newly blocked door. With my back against the wall I tried to calm down. I remembered a line from the novel Dune about keeping all entrances to a room in front of you. No one can surprise you, assassinate you, if you can see them coming. I at least couldn’t be flanked by one of those things. That was a relief.
But the relief was short lived. I had unknowingly backed against the window. An arm burst through and wrapped around my throat, trying to pull me out. I started crying, blood running down my face from the saturated toilet paper.
“No!” I screamed. I started swatting at the arm with my sword. If it was sharp it might have done something. The thing wouldn’t let me go. My head started to get light, my vision blurry. I’m going to die with a nose bleed, in my underwear, with a blunt samurai sword. I cried but I couldn’t fight anymore. It was over. I didn’t get out in time…
“Nate,” John called from the van, “we gotta go.”
“Two seconds!” I was almost done with my cigarette. Really, I was just stalling. John and I were being sent to some little town a few hours away. Seismic readings had come back showing that a small tremor had occurred just outside of the town, beneath a lake. But I didn’t want to go. Small town people always made my skin crawl. They made me think of inbred cannibals. I have got to stop watching horror movies before I go to bed. I stomped out the cigarette and made my way to the van.
After far too long stuck in a van with no A/C we made it to the site. John and I decided to do a sweep of the whole town, sewers and all, just to be on the safe side. After the town was cleared we would make our way to the lake and assess the danger.
“Rock, paper, scissors?” John said while we sat parked outside of a dollar theatre.
“Yeah. I’ve got to warn you, I’m a pro.”
“And yet you’ve still lost every time.”
We threw down and of course, I lost. My luck was doubly worse, given that we decided the sewers would be our first sweep.
“I’ve got to ask,” I said while putting on the hazmat suit in the back of the van, “how do you always win?”
“I read a strategy guide once,” he laughed.
The sweep of the sewers didn’t show anything. All it did was get us a few stares from the locals. John and I decided to try to take it easy, make this into a vacation of sorts. Neither of us wanted to be here and our pay was a little higher while out in the field. No reason to rush it. We made our rounds of the rest of the sewer system. After that we checked the air content, looking for raised levels of CO2. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in town. The only thing left was the lake.
Friday we made our way down to the lake. This time John was in the suit while I kicked back in the van. There were some kids out playing in the water. They all seem to be fine, I thought as I lit a cigarette. John came trudging back from the water in his suit.
“Mm hmm, hm mmhm mmhm mhm.”
“John I can’t understand you with that thing on.”
“You know,” he said as he breathed fresh air, “you really shouldn’t smoke.”
“How did the readings come out?” I asked blowing smoke in his face.
“They’re high, Nate. Not explosive, but high.”
“We should probably -" But I stopped when I saw the kids all passed out on the lake shore. “Fuck!”
John and I ran to collect the kids before they could get any worse. They were all unconscious, but they were still alive. We got them to the hospital and told the staff what the situation was with the kids. After that John and I made the decision to call in a team, should an evacuation be necessary. In the case of a limnic eruption that would be the first priority.
The next morning John woke me up, shaking me violently.
“Nate, we got a problem. We need to start evacuation now. There was another small tremor and with the levels being what they were - "
The explosion cut him off. We radioed to the team to start evacuation procedures, beginning with those closest to the lake. Everyone was equipped with oxygen tanks, with spares in the vehicles for the civilians. John and I shipped out and saw the team at work. We got to the first unattended house we found and busted down the door. We were close to the lake from here, so the danger was high. The only person home was an elderly woman. She was on her knees in the kitchen, gasping for air. The sound of her throat trying desperately to swallow oxygen… It was like a fish flopping on the deck of a ship. Wet, almost hollow choking. John rushed in but by the time he got the mask on her she was gone.
The team cleared a large portion of the town and John and I rolled out to try to save at least one person. We stopped close to the edge of the town and pulled over. John grabbed an extra oxygen mask and we ran to the door. We knocked, looking through the windows beside the door. No one came. I started pounding the door, the memory of the old woman in my mind. I won’t lose another one. We heard movement inside but no one came to the door. Finally I stopped banging and John went to one of the windows. With the oxygen can he smashed the glass. We didn’t have time to waste. Whoever was in there was going to die.
John worked his way in and I ran around the building, trying to see inside. Towards the back of the house I found a window, and through the blinds I could see a large man standing against the glass. I didn’t think, I just acted. I broke the glass, trying to grab him and pull him out. Soon the shock wave from the exploding lake would reach us and the man would suffocate. I got a hold of him and tried my best to pull him out. The man was heavy and I didn’t want to cut him on the broken glass. All of a sudden he went limp. Fuck, I’m not going to lose him! I heard John on the inside, he was making his way into the room. I called out to him and he helped me inside.
John got an oxygen mask on him and we worked together to carry the man out of the house. It took a long time to make our way back to the van, and by then my tank was running low. They were emergency tanks and weren’t made to last as long as we had been pushing them. I stayed in the back with the man and John stomped on the gas.
“What are the readings?” I yelled through the mask.
“Well over twenty percent. That’s instant death. This one’s lucky!”
We kept moving and I asked John to keep me posted on the air content.
“Twenty percent… Seventeen-percent…. Fifteen percent!” The readings weren’t going down fast enough. I checked my tank. It was damn near empty. Anything over a ten percent concentration of carbon dioxide was fatal. I looked down at the large man and tried to decide. I could take his tank and live, or risk it and possibly die. Choosing my life over someone else’s seemed so wrong. But I had a wife and kid to get home to. They needed me.
I held my breath and ripped off my mask. I could just take a breath and give it back. Yeah, that’s it, I thought. Sharing is caring. Before I could get a hold of the other mask I heard John yell “Shit” as we hit a pothole. Judging by the impact it must have been big. Involuntarily I gasped. That was my last mistake. It felt like there was no air. My throat almost closed shut immediately. I got a lungful of almost pure CO2. I was done. But still I kept fighting. As I started to shrink, shrivel into nothing, I clawed at the air like it meant something. It hurt, my trachea smacking against itself. The sound and feeling made me nauseous. Bile rose in my throat and went down the wrong end as I still struggled to breath. There was nothing I could do. Like a movie, life faded to black. I didn’t make it out in time.
Written by Jurodinhero