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I say my respectful goodbyes to David, adjusting my pack of supplies, and shut the door behind me.
It's a hot summer day in the middle of the desert state and the ash has finally let the sun through again. Other than being empty, the streets haven't changed at all. There are no signs of riots, no scorched buildings, no mangled bodies. Everything just happened too quickly.
It is six-and-a-half miles from David's hideout to mine and I make it there in twenty-six minutes. The seven-speed does just fine over the uneven ground, even though there is a large bubble in the tire. The sun beats on my neck, but the wind in my face is cool enough to stop me from complaining.
Surprise was a small city in Arizona. It was founded in 1938 by Homer Ludden and he named it after his hometown in Nebraska. There were no riots or fires like the larger cities, but once the infection hit, it spread like wildfire. Nearly all of Surprise was infected before Patient Zero started losing it.
Patient Zero was all over the news, the first victim of a brain parasite. Her name was Sarah Thompson and she begged on live cameras to be killed. Sarah, in the last few days of her life, reportedly pulled most of her hair out and skinned her arms with her fingernails. Some of them were lost in her flesh, but she was completely silent until the last five minutes of her life, when she started screaming quotes from books and detailing childhood memories.
Sarah supposedly killed herself, but the way she did it wasn't released to the public.
The house I've taken refuge in means nothing to me. I never lived here. I never knew the person who lived here, although from the pictures I can see that they were a family. There are no traces of them leaving, nothing missing. It's as if I woke up and was the last person on earth. Once upon a time I was a devout Christian, so this couldn't be the Rapture.
They can't open doors, so after I slam the door shut behind me it's useless to rush to the lock. Through the window, in the daylight, I can see that nothing followed me anyway. When I turn around to examine the house, I feel safe. I've stripped away some of the carpet to safely build a fire, and I've made a hole in the ceiling for both ventilation and quick escape. Water bottles and jugs have been gathered from the stores and other locations, and my food stock is nothing to worry about.
There's a reason David and I live so far away from one another. We both have resources, we both have adequate shelter, and we don't trust each other in the least. Greed is human nature, and we've accepted its existence. We try to hold on to things like greed.
David and I met at gunpoint in an abandoned Target a few seasons ago. We helped one another for as long as we could stand, but eventually our eyes began to covet and our empty hands began to hunger and thirst. Those days are known as The Fall - the three years when humanity died more than humans. Again, there's a reason why we try to hold on to things like greed. Those things are our legacy, our nature. It's ironic, but things like wanting are all we have left.
I set the backpack down on the ground near my sleeping bag. My body is covered in a thick layer of dry sweat and grime, and my shirt stings my nostrils when I pull it off and over my head. Doing my best to get comfortable on the treated carpet, I close my eyes and listen to the silence.
For the record, I hate the silence. It means that there are no animals. It means that there is nothing. There's never anything.
Birdsong wakes me in the night. According to my watch, it is three. The house is pitch black and I feel a draft. A door or a window is open and I instinctively run for the rope that will deliver me to the attic. I hear shuffling that is not my own and I climb fast. The shuffling comes closer until stopping right under me and I feel a very light swipe at the bottom of my shoe.
There is a flashlight and a handgun in the attic in addition to those I keep next to me when I sleep, and I reach for the flashlight. Shining it below me, I illuminate the face of the intruder.
Her face is very pale and there are almost no signs of decay. The meat on her arms has been slashed and lacerated; it is the same with her legs. She has no shirt on and blood has splattered the chest that rises and falls as she struggles to breathe. Her eyes were gray, lifeless, and her head cocked to the side while we examined one another.
Her arms reached up to me and her fingers bent like a baby's, so I cocked the gun in response. Her mouth opened and she tried to snap at me. I extended my arm and her fingers grew more coordinated. A low growling appeared in her throat and rose to a loud wailing. She began trashing at me and jumping up and down, screaming inaudibly and snapping her jaw.
The first shot struck her shoulder and drew no blood. She paid no mind, but when the second shot struck her forehead she fell limp to the ground and laid there.
Silence returned to me and it was rushed along by the birdsong a few seconds later. I couldn't move until I felt the sun's warmth, and I pushed myself up and off the dusty ground to climb slowly back down.
Flood detected my ass.
She had somehow pried the unlocked sliding glass door open and made her way in. Some of the water bottles had been emptied onto the carpet. Most of my food except for the canned items had been opened and devoured or strewn about. I gathered my essentials and moved onto the house next door, a two story.
The parasite makes them like cows, I've noticed. Cows mourn their dead. If a cow is buried on a hill, the other cows will make sure to avoid that hill. One of the safest places to be in the Post-Fall is right next to a body. So long as you don't disturb it and let it rot, the cows will make sure to avoid it.
The infection isn't like it is in movies. The parasite is found in your fecal matter and can be transmitted through the air. While the infected feel no pain, they are still human. Enough shots to any point on the body will kill an infected individual. I've never seen one as it eats, fortunately, but I've been hunted by them; they're clever and persistent.
The bubble has grown a quarter in size. The sun once again beats on my neck as I ride to David's house, and there is no breeze. The streets are still empty and the ash is still falling like snow.
According to the news, the ash is from an entirely different continent. Somewhere in Asia, they just nuked everything. Sometimes I think something like that would have saved me a lot of trouble.
David is dead when I force the door open. I shut it quickly behind me and watch him lay still on the carpet, covered in his own blood, and I let out a heavy sigh. No maggots have found their way into his collapsed skull, but I suppose it's only a matter of time. I watch him out of the corner of my eye while I reach into his fridge and remove a water bottle; to my pleasure, he seems to twitch only slightly.
I send a quick kick to his head and it rolls on the ground, connected limply to his neck. His eyes are in the back of his head and he is still dead. I frown. I drink. I swallow and pour some of the water on his head, smirking.
Again, as if it has become my addiction, I trace my fingers along his writings on the wall. I can hear his voice screaming at me while I whisper the desperate phrases and I lose my mind as I investigate how he lost his.
attacks the brain
what the fuck is a HOT ZONE?
I'm not sick
I'M NOT SICK
T.V. IS OUT, FIND RADIO
The charcoal rubs off on my fingers and I wipe it on my pants. David's body is completely still as I heave another sigh and take a long drink of the water. Gathering some canned foods and a few bags of potato chips, I say goodbye to David again and head out the door, shutting it behind me.
The tire blows out halfway home and my mind immediately begins to race. The tire's failing - although it wasn't the loudest sound one could make - was in sharp contrast to the silence of a summer day. I drew my gun, scanned the horizons, and crouched to see if I couldn't repair the tire.
I use a knife to take the tube out. I've tied a roll of masking tape to the bike's frame and I use the last of it as an improvised patch. Footsteps come from behind me and I turn to see one of them charging at me, its mouth agape and its eyes empty.
I fired four shots into its chest and watched it fall, then rushed my bike and tube over to its body. More came out of the woodwork, but they would not approach their fallen kin. I replaced the tube and pumped it with a small pump I retrieved from my bag.
They all have their mouths open, snapping at me but not moving any other part of their bodies. Their eyes are empty and they all hum quiet and low.
The tire is fixed and I flip the bike right-side up. My gun drawn, I take aim at one of them. A single round to the head drops and it lays motionless. I take aim at another, clearing a route for my escape. The shot misses and my heartbeat quickens even more. Another shot hits its chest and I curse loudly. Their humming grows louder and I'm suddenly aware of how much I'm sweating. Another shot kills it and I aim for a third. I miss again and scream at it when the gun reports that it is out of ammo.
The humming becomes a sort of yelling and I throw the gun down into the dirt. The bike's seat is warm when I sit on it and I pedal hard toward the survivor. They all begin to wail like the girl did and I pedal faster.
I'm pulled from my bike on contact, but I hit the ground, stumble, and start sprinting away. I hear teeth snapping behind me and their wailing becomes a screech. I'm just over three miles away from shelter and my legs become loose and weak. My lungs burn and it becomes hard to breathe.
I feel a hand tug at my bag and I gain renewed vigor. My legs move faster and my arms pump harder but the adrenaline only lasts for a few seconds. Two hands tug at my bag and I throw it off, stumbling again. More hands reach for my shirt and I draw my knife. I turn around to be tackled onto the ground, but they all freeze when I cut one's throat.
Its body falls on mine but doesn't bleed. I lay there, looking up at them as they stand with their mouths open, catching my breath.
The night comes and the cool breeze has returned. It is silent. They still stand around me and I haven't moved.
I slowly begin to push its body off of mine and they stand still. Rising slowly and cautiously to my feet, they don't sway at all. Their breaths pierce the silence; they are slow and deep. They're sleeping.
My legs are running before I can tell them to. I run through the empty streets and hear nothing behind me. The door swings open in front of me and I am under shelter. I slam it shut and lose my balance, falling on my side.
Heat and exhaustion force me to vomit. I wipe at my mouth and retch a few times more. The house is silent and the air is still. I hear no birdsong. I hear nothing but my own dry heaving.
My legs barely move. I've gotten little rest and exhausted myself. Looking around for water, I find my lips are dry. I drink. I choke. I vomit again.
My arm itches.
My fingers run up and down desperately before I can tell myself to stop, before I can tell myself that I'm okay. Soon my mind isn't comforting enough and I have to speak out loud. It's calming to hear that I still sound human. It's calming to hear someone's voice.
But soon, even my voice isn't reassuring enough. I have to see my words, to run my fingers over them as I whisper them to myself.
I search the house for some sort of writing tool and settle for a pen. The doors are all wooden and painted white, so they seem a beautiful place to start.
I'M NOT SICK
I'M NOT SICK
PLEASE, GOD, I'M NOT SICK
David is just sleeping
I'm not SICK
it's safe here
it's safe everywhere
SOMEBODY SAY SOMETHING
SOMEBODY TELL ME I'M OKAY
I stop to scratch furiously at my arm. It inflames the itch instead of extinguishing it. I scratch harder, faster. Blood is drawn. I try to keep writing while clawing at myself as well.
WAKE UP DAVID
WAKE UP DAVID
How did I get this way?
No one else
No one else exists
I AM THE LAST ONE
I AM NOT INFECTED
THE PARASITE IS DEAD
IT IS NOT INSIDE OF ME
I run out of room on the door and scream with frustration. My second gun is by my sleeping bag, laying on the ground with no one to hold it. I pick it up and cock it, screaming into the barrel.
My finger pulls the trigger.
I curse loudly and start clawing at my neck. I feel a fingernail break off and the sound excites me. I pull the trigger again and again, slouching down against the wall.
My finger pulls the trigger.
My finger pulls the trigger.
My finger pulls the trigger.
A draft enters the room.