You’ve gotta have a reason to get up in the morning, otherwise there’s no point in living.
Me, I’m a collector. A collector of rarities. I figure it’s the sort of hobby most people would get into gradually, but hey, not me. My interest came in a flash of inspiration, right as I was about to pull the trigger of the shotgun in my mouth. It was the only thing I was living for. It’d been two years since I’d seen another uninfected. As far as I knew, I was the only goddamn person left in the world that hadn’t turned into a walker. They were eating each other for sustenance, or simply fading away. It took a surprisingly long time.
I kept their parts in jars.
The thrill I got from the danger made it worth it. Some times I’d lure a single one away and then take what I wanted after dispatching it, others I’d pick one in a group off from afar, usually with the rifle, then barrel in guns blazing on the others, slice off a piece and run. Smash-and-grab.
But those thrills were nothing compared to the ones from finding rarities. I got a rush of excitement, a surge of pure joy when I discovered my first on the inexplicably undecayed back of a man: a beautiful giant Oriental tattoo of tigers hunting in the jungle. I think he must have been a biker before, or some kind of criminal. Others followed: a nearly perfect, almost normal-looking human ear from a young girl; a glass eye from a fat salesman-looking type; a hand with six fingers; a double belly-button; and the list went on. Soon my cellar was lined with jars filled of pickled oddities. I was becoming a regular sideshow purveyor and had never felt happier, despite having no one to share it with.
It happened when I was out in the badlands, far outside the city. The engine made strange noises as I drove there in the Jeep; I worried that I might have to find a new one soon.
The Eagle remained unfired at my side. I felled the lone walker I found with the hatchet instead, and the adrenaline coursing through my veins afterward felt amazing. He’d almost bit me. One of these days I was going to get infected, I just knew it. But my adrenaline rush soon fell flat in disappointment when the body turned up nothing of interest. I kicked the rotting corpse aside, then kicked it again in frustration.
When I got back to the Jeep, there was a man in sunglasses and a slouch hat leaning against it. He was grinning widely and his teeth shone in the bright light of the afternoon.
“Hello,” he said, and raised a strange-looking gun.
That’s the last thing I remember before I woke up. It’s very dark down here but my eyes have adjusted. I can see there are others too, chained up like I am.
It seems I’m not the only uninfected after all. Nor the only collector.
The explosion tore through the terminal like shattered glass through sinews and flesh.
Then gunshots came – shotgun blasts, I thought they were, though of course I wouldn’t know – and people screaming. Then it was just this rising wave of panic that I could absolutely just feel in the open air of the terminal, and more blasts, echoing down the glass-roofed atrium past the ‘D’ gates, and screaming, and people were running, and the din of the wheels of their luggage rolling on concrete was deafening.
I stood, frozen, like a stone in a stream with a raging river passing around me.
Farther down I saw two security guards running, the crisp white of their shirts beneath their bullet-proof vests soaked red with blood, and behind them a man giving chase. Two men. Then a whole horde came stampeding around the corner. They were all bearing down fast on me and I just stood there like a deer in the headlights.
Finally I found myself and joined the fleeing throngs around me, the wheels of my luggage joining the cacophonous chorus being played, and I tore down the floor of terminal.
The second blast came from the other side of the airport in front of me, and this time the screams of everyone around arose immediately and loudly and the palpable panic in the air grew even higher. I saw more people come running around the other side on the far end, rounding the corner near the Mexican restaurant. They were waving their arms and their mouths were open. They were making horrible noises. They were covered in blood.
I heard the loudspeakers all around come alive into too-loud static, then into the voice of a woman, trying to sound as calm as she urged everyone in the terminal to be: “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm… this is an Emergency. Proceed to the nearest exit as quickly as you can. Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm, and proceed to the nearest exit. Emergency response personnel are on their way… please remain calm. This is an Emergency…”
They were closing in and I was going to be pinched in the middle. Something overcame me, something hard and sharp and tight in my chest and I ran, ran and turned sharply and before I knew what I was doing I ducked into a handicap bathroom and locked the door behind me.
There was something wrong with them. Something in their eyes. Their skin too, I saw, at just the last moment. The screams are so loud now, they’re everywhere, and gunshots. I can hear them, those people, those things – growling, and sounds, wet sounds.
They’re eating them. They’re… they’re monsters. What do I do?
The pale white moon hung bright and full in the dark sky of night. Sheriff Michaels back up slowly, back towards the center of the street, his revolver held out in front of him, his hand steady and firm, and joined the circle of the other men doing the same. They stood in a cross, backs pressed against each others’, weapons held outward, on high alert.
“It’s madness,” said Fricks, the town doctor. “Madness! This cannot be real.” The shotgun he cradled atop his forearm shook violently.
“It’s as real as the nose on your face,” Stevens replied from next to him, not turning his head, eyes sharp and scanning the dusty deserted street and town buildings. “Though wish to God it weren’t. Fightin’ braves ‘ll be easier than falling off a horse after this.”
“Is it just us left?” the last one chimed in, Patterson, who kept the general store. He had a six-shooter in either hand, one from his own holster, the other a rusted, blood-smeared affair he’d pilfered from a fallen corpse.
“Quiet everyone,” Michaels said, waving his downturned hand. The wind howled and kicked up dust against the boots of the four men. “Quiet.”
Then the noise came, the one for which they’d all been waiting. It began as a low groaning, a growling, then rose, many voices together as one. Ten voices. Twenty. More. The sound rose in pitch and volume into a frantic kind of screaming, coming from all around.
“They’re everywhere!” Fricks shouted. “We’re doomed!”
“Quiet!” Michaels scolded him. “Stand ready, men.”
Doors of the town’s buildings swung open, fell open, were knocked off their hinges, as townspeople exploded out of them, screaming their inhuman cries and running toward the group of terrified survivors. In the darkness they could see the horrible distorted bodies, covered in blood, chunks of flesh missing, bones showing through.
The dead swarmed the circle of men.
“Fire!” Michaels said. Gunshots rang out into the cold sky of the desert.
They were doomed.
“Howdy Folks, this Chip Thompson with your early morning traffic report, brought to you by Sunny Brand Orange Juice. It’s a beautiful day here on the South half of the island, and a great one to be alive! Pack up your swim trunks and grab your surf boards because today’s also a great day to head to the beach and forget all about the traffic on the 317 because it is a disaster out here!
“I’ve seen some bad snare ups in my day folks but this is one for the record books. Me and my co-pilot here Jon Spence have a view all the way from the South Beach up to the city core, and my, every single lane is backed up as far as the eye can see. I’d recommend just enjoying the beautiful sand and surf today and forgetting all about making it downtown for work today if you’re commuting, because things do not look like they’re going to be getting any better any time soon!
“We here at KRCH-11 haven’t received any word of major accidents so we’re not sure what the problem is, alright… alright… we’re just coming up around the bend now and… my God… this is a disaster! There’s cars on fire! Overturned vehicles. It’s a big accident folks and it sure looks like a bad one, a real bad accident, a tanker truck’s overturned and is spilling gasoline onto the road and…
“Jesus Christ, there’s people down there running around! Even from up here I can see blood. It looks like they’re surrounding one man… my God… my God! What are they doing? Oh Jesus! Sweet Jesus! Jon, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. What is this? What is this? Oh God, they’re overturning some of the other cars now and pulling people out… sweet Jesus, there’s blood everywhere…. everywhere…. on the pavement, I can see it even from here…. they’re covered in it… more of them are coming out of the others cars now and.. oh God they’re eating each other. They’re eating each other! What is this? What is this? What is happening?!”
Lightning streaked in the night sky, illuminating the soaked mud of the cemetery grounds in a flash, then booming thunder followed. One lone man stood in the center of the field, surrounding by rows of tombstones and ornate mausoleums. One lone and frightened man, cold, soaked to the skin, and afraid.
The boom of thunder was followed by that of his shotgun. One of the approaching bodies fell.
Antonio shivered violently. This was insanity. He didn’t believe in ghosts. He didn’t believe in monsters. And zombies were definitely just something from the movies. But here he stood, the center in a circle of them, approaching reanimated corpses moaning with arms outstretched, shuffling toward him to feed.
Boom. Antonio pulled the trigger and the gun bucked in his arms and rammed his shoulder hard. The zombie’s head exploded into a pile of blood and bone as lighting flashed again. Thunder rumbled over the cemetery.
Chuck-chuck. Boom. Another fell, never to rise. An empty cartridge flew. Chuck-chuck. Boom. Another fell, its torso a gaping hole. Chuck-chuck. Boom. Blood. Chuck-chuck. Boom. Rotting intestines splattering everywhere, then the shuffling undead falling atop them. Antonio shivered.
There was only one left, off in the distance and obscured in the darkness. He could hear her groaning, calling out for his flesh. With shaking red hands Antonio lowered the gun and fished shells from his pocket and pushed them into the bottom of the 12-gauge.
He raised the weapon, finger on the trigger, ready to fire. He hesitated as he stared into approaching monster’s rotting face.
The face of his wife.
“I don’t wanna,” Timmy cried, holding the rifle in his shaking hands. “I can’t…” His face was wet with tears and his cheeks flushed.
“Ya gotta,” said Pop. “Ya gotta, Timmy! Remember what I tolds ya. Remember what they is.” The man shook his finger at his reluctant son.
“But they’s people!” The boy sobbed. “They’s people, Pop! I can’t do it to them, I just can’t. They’s people!”
John Angrum knelt down next to his young son. He clutched the boy’s shaking arm around the wrist, the one closest to him, the one that sat beneath the forestock, and slowly brought it up, leveling the weapon at its end with the milling crowd in the distance.
“You know what they is, son,” he said, looking him in the eye. “Tell me what they is.”
“They’s dead, Pop,” Timmy said quietly. The metal of the barrel glinted in the noonday son. “They’s dead.”
“That’s right Timmy,” John said. “They’s all dead.”
Timmy closed his one eye, just as his father had taught him years ago, and pulled the trigger.
John was the first to go. We were in the interior, exploring, collecting wood for the fire, and trying to find something, anything, we could eat, when it happened.
One little misstep and he was enveloped by a grey cloud. He screamed and he screamed and he thrashed and thrashed but there was nothing we could do to help him. Soon he lay dead on the dirt of the jungle floor, covered in thousands of tiny welts. Killer bees, just another thing to watch out for on this god-forsaken little island.
After he died we heard strange sounds coming from the jungle. Moaning, and sorrowful howling, like that of a lonesome wolf.
The next day the blond woman – Jenn – tripped and a machete came flying end-over-end out of the trees and caught her dead center in the forehead. At least she didn’t suffer. But when we looked down and saw the tripwire she’d sprung lying limply across the path our collective horror only grew.
There was something else out there besides us. Other intelligent life. And it wanted us dead.
We were demoralized, in shock, but we had to keep surviving. Two days with only the little water salvaged from the boat and already some of us were weakening. We headed further into the interior and the bodies mounted.
Armand fell through what looked to be a pile of palm leaves on the ground, into a pit of sharpened bamboo spikes. I’ll never forget the horrible twisted look on his bloody face staring up into the jungle canopy, his one eye pierced through from behind with one of those wretched spikes.
Alastair stepped into a snare and was yanked into coils of rusted barbed wire hidden in the underbrush. We found the sapling with the other end of the rope attached afterward, sprung by what foul mechanism we could not ascertain.
There’s just three of us left now. As we sit around the fire in the darkness of the beach, tired, hungry, thirsty, demoralized, I hear the howling, the inhuman cries coming from the all around us.
I look into the jungle and see them coming out – the skin on John’s face is porous like a wasp’s nest made of dried mud, thousands of the tiny creatures crawling on him and buzzing all around. The machete still juts from Jenn’s forehead as she lumbers toward us. Armand is already rotting away, the bamboo stakes still protruding from his torso and through his pierced eye. Alistair is falling apart, his entrails spilling out of him as he slowly shuffles forward. And there are others, others I don’t recognize: a man with a caved-in head, a woman with a giant jagged scar all down her body, children missing their arms.
I knew there was something else out there. I don’t know what kind of island this is we’ve run aground on. But now I know that even the dead get lonely.