Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
They’ve killed you three times now, but you’re still standing. The first one was an annoying butcher who planted his cleaver in your skull. He came creeping up from behind, and before you knew it, a blade was deeply embedded in your brain. Within the hour, you were stumbling around the city again, searching for flesh. The second one was a gorgeous blonde who bashed your head in with a baseball bat; the third one a sniper hiding on a supermarket rooftop. He put you down with a dry crack from his rifle.
A lot has changed since the virus broke out. The city is dead and deserted. Cars have been abandoned left and right, the front doors of people’s homes are hanging wide open. The panorama of skyscrapers has been reduced to a collection of bleak glass skeletons and the roads, always so congested before, are empty spirals in a no-man’s-land. Nothing leads anywhere. The air tastes spoiled. The original inhabitants have either fled, were bitten, or have committed suicide. Except for a few small groups hiding out in supermarkets or fortified buildings, armed to the teeth.
It is becoming more and more difficult to find flesh. Every now and then, with a bit of luck, you manage to grab some dickhead trying to be a hero. Or a lost child. But there is not enough food for everyone and you wonder who will starve first: you, or the last remaining people.
Even though you are dead, you feel more than ever before, despite the fact that your muscles and nerves are no longer capable of expressing it. It’s not easy, crying or laughing with rotting jaws and popping eyeballs. All you can utter is a combination of rattles and rusty, guttural noises. Your senses are failing, except for your sense of smell; that one works perfectly. You can smell flesh from dozens of feet away. Unfortunately, you can also smell yourself, especially now that the scorching heat is starting to accelerate the decomposition of your dead body.
Another thing you still have is your memories. They roam around inside your head, echoes of bitter guilt. Every minute of every day you think of Lilly and your daughter Ella. You wonder where they are. Are they still alive? The last time you heard from them was when you called Lilly to ask if she could pick Ella up from school. You were at the dentist, the asshole who bit you. Now that the sun is setting and darkness is spreading its ominous shadow across the city, you miss Lilly and Ella even worse than during the day. It is almost as if the night wants to remind you how lonely a bitten one’s existence is.
The sun has set completely now, and the pale crescent of the moon floats in the black night sky like a threatening scythe. It’s time to go out hunting. This is the time when groans in the distance swell and the eerie shadows of stumbling corpses populate the streets. Sometimes you hear a brief yell or long, drawn-out screams from a human – male or female, the distinction is often unclear. You hate it, but you have to eat. Your insides are tearing with hunger.
You spot a man around the crossroads. Food is your first thought. He is all alone. Guarded, the man glances over his shoulder and then enters a corner gun store. If you handle this right, he’s yours. You try to move toward the store as quickly as possible, though your partly decomposed leg muscles are a hindrance. Your left leg drags across the asphalt. Ten yards are all that separate you from your prey. Your reflexes suck, so you will have to surprise him.
A horde of a dozen or so of the dead come lurching around the corner. One by one, they squeeze themselves inside the store. It isn’t long before you hear piercing screams followed by two gunshots, glass breaking, and then groaning noises from the eaters. Their mouths bloody, they file out of the store again. They took him. You missed your chance.
Sometimes you wonder how long you can keep this up. The city isn’t what it once was, just like the inhabitants are not what they once were, or ever will be again. Even the moon doesn’t seem the same as it was two weeks ago. You feel like it’s grinning at you. Everything has changed in a very short time, beyond recognition. The thought chills your insides, as if everything you hold dear is crumbling before your eyes.
Lost in thought, you almost miss a subtle movement in the corner of your eye. In the shadow of a dilapidated church, a girl glances around anxiously while moving down the street with small, nervous steps. She looks lost.
This time you can’t let your prey escape. You stumble toward her, skirting the moonlit sidewalk. It is dead-silent. You can even hear the wind whispering, cold and ominous, and for the first time in days there are no screams or groans anywhere in the background. You are all alone with her. She moves so hesitantly you manage to approach her without being seen. The girl glances around occasionally, but she is probably so terrified the truth does not register with her. When she stops in an alley to tie her shoelaces, you quickly move ten yards closer. The distance between you shrinks with every step you take. You hope she can’t hear your foot dragging. Fortunately, you are upwind from her, so maybe she won’t smell you.
Judging by her soiled and torn clothes, she has been living on the streets for a while. She is wearing a short skirt with holes in it and there are smudges on her bare, pale legs. One of her knees is scraped. The smell of the gash drives you crazy. Her hair is tousled, so you can’t see her face properly, but you are dying to sink your teeth into her young flesh.
Just five yards now.
When your foot accidentally hits an empty beer can, the girl looks up, startled. For a second she freezes, terrified, but then she bolts. Even before you have a chance to curse yourself for blowing another opportunity, she trips on the curb and falls. She stays down, crying. It looks as if she twisted an ankle. She tries to get up, but her leg gives way, and she starts to crawl away from you. Between sobs, she screams, “MAMA!”
You were afraid to hope it would be this easy. She’s just lying there, ready for the taking. When the distance between you is just two feet, you hurl yourself on top of the girl, who turns her face away in horror and yells in fear of the pain to come. You bite her where her flesh is the juiciest, in the neck, right next to her windpipe.
While she tries to get you off her, kicking helplessly, your teeth sink into her white flesh. She screams. Her voice breaks, echoing around the empty street like a macabre symphony. Then her screams die away and she offers no further resistance. You rip another chunk out of her.
And then you hear a shrill female voice crying, “Ella!” The woman sounds furious, scared, and desperate at the same time. It is only when the meaning of that single word sinks in that you realize what you have done. You turn the girl’s corpse over and stare into her dead eyes. In your frenzy, you failed to recognize them. How could you not have seen that this frail body belonged to your darling little daughter? The hunger must have blinded you.
And the voice screaming her name, over and over, is Lilly’s. For days you dreamed of seeing her again, and now you wish this moment had never come. When Lilly sees the carnage, she storms at you like a hellcat. Of course she doesn’t recognize you. To her, you are just one more member of the living dead, an eater, a killer. She grabs the revolver tucked beneath her sweater. Without blinking, her face wet with tears but a look of cold hatred in her eyes, she aims the gun at your head and pulls the trigger. You make a futile attempt to stop her, to show her who you are. While toppling backwards, you can still hear the echo of the shot.
The stinging pain in your head is paralyzing. Within two seconds you are dead, but just for a little while. Before long you will probably be stumbling around this cursed city again. All you can hope for is that this time you won’t wake up.
Credit : Tom Thys
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