None knows how or where it started, only that it did. no one took it seriously at first. Everyone called it fake news.
And with that, society built the means of its own collapse.
The sun catches my eye through my heavy curtains. As I slowly rise from sleep, I can almost hear the warmth seeping into the room through the crack. Tomorrow night I am going to have to double and triple check that I do not leave the curtains opened again. Its just a crack, just a sliver, no wider than a hair. In this world, that can be the deciding factor between life and death. I have become careless these past few weeks. Slowly descending deeper into my depression. What irony, my personal hell is mirrored in the world outside.
Climbing out the my sleeping bag on the floor, I allow myself to stretch out. The hardships of having a sleeping bag designed for a child. I am intensely aware of how quiet it is outside. This is a good sign. It means they haven’t gotten in. Yet. I know and tell myself every day, it’s just a matter of time. I am a dead man walking. But the will in me to survive is stronger than I ever thought. Primal instinct, hrmf. The grumbling from my stomach makes me jolt. Must be breakfast time. I take my sleeping bag, and roll my shotgun into it. The dark, still air of her room is becoming hotter by the minute. It must be summer. How many summers have passed since? I really can’t remember.
I start the process of unlocking my cage, my cell. What once was my daughters room, is now the only thing that ensures I will survive another night. It’s still quiet outside. The only noise is the deadbolts sliding back. Then the cage door protesting its rusty hinges as I swing it open. I head downstairs, straight to the kitchen. Today I need to start early. I’m almost out of food. Scrounging in what used to be my dishwasher, I pull out a can of beans and a hunk of stale bread. It’s not much, but to my grumbling stomach, it’s all I can think of right now. I move over to one of the cupboards. Opening it to examine how much dew I managed to catch the night before. For a moment I allow myself to be impressed with my ingenious. It took me a two full days to find the pieces, and another day to construct, but I now have a funnel from the roof to the kitchen, allowing me to capture any rain water or dew. And it even has an overflow so as not to flood me out. It’s amazing what lengths one goes to when having to survive. Not much water from last night, but if I am stocking up today, then I will be going past the lake. I can get two days’ worth of water with one trip, but end up with less food and other miscellaneous supplies. Tough choice.
With breakfast done, it’s time to move. I only have 7 and a half hours of daylight left, I have to make them count. Actually, I might have longer. It is turning to summer, I am sure. Best not get over confident. I have 7 hours of daylight.
The door to what once was my house is secured with another cage door. This one doesn’t make a noise. I can’t afford it to. Closing the door behind me, as quietly as possible, I allow myself a moment to enjoy the sun on my skin. The only sound is my breathing and it sounds like the whole world should be able to hear it. Time to move. I sling my pack over my shoulder and make a dash for the brushes across the road. Once there I have a better vantage point. This used to be Mr Adams’ garden I recall. Looking up and down the road, I can’t see any movement. Best to keep out of sight anyways.
It takes me an over hour of navigating overgrown yards to make it to the center of what used to be the city. The first time I came here, I was terrified. Without the sounds of cars, bikes, people or even birds as my companions, my despair grew until I was operating on autopilot. To feel means death I told myself. It took me three months to crawl out the hole in my head. I find myself at the back of a WallMert. The biggest mall in the city, and my source of food. One day it’s going to run out and I have no idea what I will do then. I hope that day never comes. Time to make this quick. In, out and back before the dust has a chance to settle.
Climbing in through the broken window, I always tense at what might be waiting for me. Waiting in the dark. I used to bring a touch when I still had batteries, then a candle. Now I can navigate through the dusk. How long have I been doing this, I wonder. No, I can’t think like that. It just slows me down. First things, second floor. To the canned food. Then to the fifth floor for building supplies and finally back to ground level for anything of use or any space I have left to carry. This is the path I have memorized. This is the path I know is safest. Crouching down, I take off my pack and pull out the folded up bags that were inside. The first is a green duffle bag, army issue. I sling that over my back. Ready. Go! I take off like a sprinter. Down the centre aisle. One bench. Two bench. Three bench. Left turn. Through the fire door. Up the stairs two at a time. Out the door. Right. Straight ahead. Enter the store through the smashed display window. Right turn, into aisle number 14. To the back and stop.
Breathing heavily I crouch and wait. Listening. I hold my breath. Straining my ears. Was that a footstep? Is that movement? After a while I am certain it’s just me here. I haven’t let out my breath yet, and it rushes out, disturbing the dust on the shelves. I rise slowly. Let’s get this done. All the long life stuff, the cans, the powdered food, all shovelled into my bag. I reflect on how I used to read every label when shopping. Checking for trans-fat and whatever else was the big cancer scare this week. Always looking for the “Lite” or healthy option, least Anne get down my throat. Anne. No, I cannot think of her. Not here. Not now. How long has it been? I can’t remember. I sent her away. I sent them both away. No. Thoughts need to be reined in. You cannot ever hope to find them if you allow yourself to be weak. I take a deep breath and try to blink back tears. Let’s just get what I came for and get out of here.
With the bag bulging from the cans, I race to the entrance of the fire door. Dropping the bag at the foot of the stairs, I climb up two at a time. Past the Floor 4 exit. One more story. Floor 5. I stop. They were here last time. I need to be careful. Looking through the little window, I can’t see much. Easy does it. I pry the door open just enough to stick my head out. Looking around I can see nothing but the silhouettes of the décor. Fake palm trees. Benches. Signs. I look at the ground. The dust looks disturbed. Should I risk it? I need more nails, steel rods and chicken wire. I decide to risk it. But better take it slow. Moving as quickly and as quietly as I can, I move from side to side, taking cover behind anything that can hide me. I’m getting close. Wait. Is that a noise? It sounds like a voice. Crap crap crap. It’s getting louder. I haven’t heard a human voice in so long. I can’t know if it’s real. It might be a trick. They might have learnt to talk. Up a head, I can see a light. It’s a torch. Someone is moving towards me. Not just someone, someone’s! Without a second thought, my instinct takes over and I bolt for the fire door. My shoes slapping against the floor. I am sure they can hear me. I don’t care. I have to get away. The voices are following me. I can hear they are running as well. Crap crap!
Down the stairs. Pick up the bag. Through the ground floor. I don’t have time to pick up my other pack. The voices are now shouting. Is that English? They have seen me for sure. Out through the window and into the bushes. If I can get into the overgrown gardens, they will never find me. My brain is trying to tell me they might be friendly, they might be able to help, but my body has its own idea. Got to go to the gardens, my brain keeps saying, but my legs are taking me down the middle of the road, straight to my house. No no no. They can’t find me there. I can’t lead them right there. A minute later my brain catches up and I veer off to the left, down a side road. I have never been here before. Quick into that house. The door is open. Diving in through the door and crawling up the stairs, I can hear the voices as they rush past me. I still climb up the stairs and lay on my stomach. Watching the door.
I don’t know how long I have been lying there, but I notice that it’s starting to get dark outside. I need to be at home. They can only come out at night. I remember the news broadcast when it all started. Something about being ultra-sensitive to UV, the way eyes were mutated to be blinded in sunlight. It’s so long ago I can’t be sure. All I know is that I have to be home and secure before the sun sets. My legs are stiff. I must have been tensing this whole time. I know I’ll pay for it tomorrow, but right now I cannot afford to be here. Getting up, I start to make my way down the stairs and towards the open door. I look outside. No movement. No sounds. Good. I set off through the overgrown suburban gardens at a jog. Navigating through unkempt lawns and uncut bushes. Back before all of this, every garden was manicured and kept neat enough to show our dominance over nature. Now that everyone is gone, nature is coming back with a vengeance.
I get home a few minutes after sunset. Heart beating fast. I still can’t hear anything or see any movement. I do a double take before climbing my steps to my porch and entering. There is an unnerving feeling. I am being watched. Don’t have time to think about that now. Its dark, and soon they will be out. I enter my house, shove the duffel bag under the sink. I ‘ll deal with it tomorrow. Right now, it’s time to lock the cage. Starting on the ground floor, I secure my door with its deadbolts and then with steel bars. I move from window to window, still in the dark, and attempting to make no visible movement. I check the bars on each window, making sure none are lose or have been tampered with. I can’t be too careful after forgetting the curtains this morning. Once that’s checked, I move into the kitchen and retrieve a can of what looks like processed corn. Time to move upstairs.
Upstairs in Holly’s room, I go through the same motion. Locking the door. Moving the bars into place. Once the heavy curtains are closed, only then do I risk a light. I light my little gas stove which illuminates the room. The light flickers on her photos. The first day of school. Her birthday party. I can’t bear to take them down. In the center, a photo of Anne in the hospital with her. She was so small. We were unsure if she was going to make it. Her first three weeks were spent in an incubator. I move to pick up a pan to start cooking my dinner when I hear a noise. Something’s on the roof. Without a moment’s notice, I kill the gas. The light flickers and dies without much fanfare. I can hear it crawling on my roof. And another has just joined it. So tonight is one of those nights. When it first started, they came every night. I never slept through it. Now it’s almost familiar, like rain on the windows. After a few minutes, the sound moves off and onto the next door roof. Thank goodness. I relax my muscles and realize I had grabbed my shotgun. I force my shaking hand to put it down. The adrenaline pumping through my veins has robbed me of my appetite. Looks like its an early night for me then.
The room is stifling. I find it difficult to breathe as I rouse myself from sleep. Thank goodness for my internal clock. Years of waking up early to go for my morning jog before Anne would wake up. And even earlier when Holly came into our lives. Crawling out the sleeping bag and stretching out, I make my way to the curtain. I peer out. The sun has just started to rise. Yes, summer must be coming. Or maybe it’s here already. I can’t really tell. I used to have a watch. I can’t even remember what happened to it.
I start the process of unlocking my cage. Running through the daily tasks in my head, I head downstairs to the kitchen. I need to go back and retrieve my pack, and I still need to get proper water. So engrossed with my thoughts I barely hear the noise from outside. Almost to late, I hear the door knob start to turn. No animal can do that, and they only come out at night. It takes a moment for me to figure out that I am staring dumbly at the door. Crap, my shotgun is still in my cage. The door is locked. I have time. Suddenly the door is rattled from outside. What ever it is, it sure does want to come in. Torn, I am frozen. My shotgun is upstairs. The escape is at the back.
Before I can decide, the door is bashed, hard, and starts to give. Shotgun… Now! I race upstairs as the door surrenders to the final bash. They still have the cage door to get through I think. Getting to the top, I notice the bashing has stopped. There are now voices outside. I can’t understand what they are saying. They sound almost… human. I grab my gun and race down the stairs. My emergency pack is near the back door. I can get it and get out before they even realize I was ever there. Racing to the back, I get the pack. Start opening the door – its not as secure for this very reason. It shouldn’t take this long but my hands are shaking. Finally getting the door open, I bound out. In one leap I clear the small porch and stairs and run straight into two men. In my surprise, I stop and look around just in time to see a third man swing a pipe at me. Red pain turns to blackness.