It’s been ten years since it all started. Since the world changed. Since the balance of power shifted. It’s no longer our world, now it belongs to the creatures that walk our streets, looking for living victims to feed on. Now it belongs to the dead.
I remember when it all started. I was a fresh out of school drop-out going to work on Pop’s auto shop. He taught me a lot about cars as I was growing up. It’s probably why I was able to help so much in the settlement. It didn’t matter in the long run though, not when the power ran out.
The first night things got bad I remember standing with Pop and Joe in the town hall, trying to figure out why Mom wasn’t going to be around anymore. Those things, demons as Pop had called them, had shown up at our house. I’ll never forget the first time I looked into one of their faces. Those lifeless, empty eyes somehow focused on me, not Joe even though he right next to me, but me. Just me. I’d heard Mom scream from the garden as Dad dragged us out of the house with a look I’d never seen on him before. Part of it was disbelief, but there was something else as well.
I realise now what it was. It was fear. I’d never seen Pop scared before. He’d never had reason to be scared. He was a big man who drove a big truck. Everywhere he went people respected him. And when the first reports of the dead attacking the living started to come in, he just laughed right along with the people on the news. They said it was just a scare tactic sent out by the Liberal Media. Pop agreed with them. He agreed with everything he heard on that news station. The damn fool.
We had always voted republican, and always lived in a Red state. ‘Red state and proud’ Pop always used to say. We hated everyone who wasn’t republican. Dad never even looked anyone he thought was liberal in the eye, and I remember beating up my fair share of their kids at school. That got me into trouble a few times. One time in particular Ray Parker’s father came to house that night after school, furious with me and my dad. Pop had just told him to step back if he knew what was good for him, and that if he set foot on his property he wouldn’t hesitate to use his gun.
He’d always had his gun. His lucky revolver. Bought me one once even though I wasn’t old enough to use it legally. I always used to go out with it, hidden of course. The sense of power it gave me was amazing, like I was a god. Pop used to take me shooting on weekends, just cans on a fence. I always used to imagine them as the liberal kids at school, or the fags, or those who never went to church. We always went to church every Sunday. Looking back I don’t know if any of us really believed in god or not, but it was our life. It was what we did, and it made us feel good.
I never even knew what the word liberal meant. When I asked Pop one day he just said “It’s those who hate America, and want to destroy our values.” Pop was always one for values. We believed in America, or at least he did. He believed in the republican party and he believed in that news station. I can’t even remember the name now. I never paid that much attention to it at the time. I’m glad I didn’t, if I had I probably would have turned out like him.
We lived in our bubble of superiority. We were American. Not only that but we were the heart of America, the true patriots. We would always defeat the enemy and nothing would ever hurt us. But that bubble shattered the night they came. They tore it apart just like they did the rest of the town. Like they did to Mom. I never saw it but Pop’s face that night had said it all. I’m glad I didn’t.
For Pop it was worse. These things weren’t supposed to be real. They were supposed to be a liberal lie made up to scare America. But now they were real. Now they were coming through our houses. They were killing us. Something changed in Pop from that moment on. It was realisation that we were not as in control as we thought. That there things out there that could hurt us. That it hadn’t been a lie. And if that hadn’t been a lie then what else had been true? Had the networks been lying to him when he thought they were telling the truth? It had been a smack in the face for him. His whole world had come crashing down. He never recovered after that. He was never the same man he once was, never as confident. He barely spoke and when he did it was like he wasn’t there anymore. It was like he was one of them.
When the town hall was eventually overrun he didn’t do anything. He just sat there, looking at the wall. Joe and I screamed and screamed at him, but he didn’t hear us, or didn’t want to. I don’t think he even noticed as they surrounded him. I hope he was so far out of it that he didn’t feel anything.
That night seems like a hundred years ago now. The sun beats down in the midday heat as I move through the alleys behind the buildings I once knew or shopped at. There’s not much left now. Fires have destroyed most of them and rest are just metal skeletons glimmering in the sun. My home isn’t far from here, only a few blocks. I haven’t seen any of the dead yet, but I know they’re around.
Something moves behind me.
I turn to see one of them slowly trying to haul itself out from underneath the trash that is lying over it. I wonder how long it’s been lying there. Did it just drop years ago wait all this time for someone to walk past it? It’s little more than a skeleton with bits of skin and clothing still attached to it now. It struggles to get up. It’s one remaining eye is trained on me, just like the first one all those years ago.
It raises to it’s full height; it’s only about five and a half feet. I can’t even tell if it was a man or a woman it’s too far gone. It’s so far decomposed it was probably one of the first ones to turn. It takes a step towards me and falls forward with a sickening crack. It’s left foot falls away as lands, the bone snapped. It doesn’t even notice. The eye remains focussed on me, always on me.
I reach to my leg and withdraw my machete. I only use bladed weapons now. Guns take too long to reload and the sound draws them from miles around. I have an axe strapped to my back but I only use that when there’s more than one. This one I can just take out quietly.
It crawls towards me with skeletal hands. A rasp of breath escapes it’s mouth, the same death rattle I’ve heard for ten years now. They don’t make it as often any more. Some of them don’t have any lungs or windpipes left to do it with. Others just have gaping holes where there mouths used to be.
I crouch down to the decrepit creature struggling to reach me. The muscles, or what’s left of them, do not work as quick as it wants. The eye watches me vigorously, never wavering. The rest of the body does not match it. It’s flesh peels away on the ground as it drags itself along.
A last wisp of breath escapes the thing as I bring the blade down on it’s skull. What little light is left in the eye goes out as it makes contact with the brain. No blood comes out, it most likely dried up years ago, leaving only the crawling husk before me. I place my foot on it’s shoulder as I yank the blade free. The creature’s head falls to the floor, never to move again. Pieces of brain stain the blade as it is wiped on my pants leg. I don’t mind if it smells. I won’t notice it later.
Creeping forward I can see the old church we used to go to further down the road. I wonder how many people fled to them expecting to be saved as we did. If they did I hope some of them eventually saw sense and fled, unlike us.
We were with a group of refugees, all of the people who had made it out of Dallas before the dead took it. Joe had died a few days earlier when one of them bit him. He’d said he felt fine, but now I know that was just denial. He turned just as our centre was overrun. If one of the others hadn’t shot him I’m sure he would be walking around, I was paralysed in that moment. It was only when he hit the floor that I came back to reality.
When we came across a church outside of town a small group of us broke off. Our leader, Reverend Collins, had told us for days how this was God’s judgement on a corrupt world with no morals. How we had brought it on ourselves, for denouncing God and allowing for same sex marriages which he decreed as ‘an affront to the Lord’. He told us that the time for judgement had come, and that the our time had come to be saved while the rest of the world destroyed itself.
It made sense to me in that moment. This was what the liberals and everyone else had brought on. We had been right and God was punishing the world now because of the evil that those people had done. This whole thing, the dead rising, was a test from God, to find his true followers while the unworthy would be killed and burn in hell. This was God’s final judgement on the world, but we, we the pure, would be saved from Satan’s minions as they destroyed the world.
We stayed at the church, and moved all of the pews and tables in front of the main doors. Collins said we wouldn’t need them, as the time had come to get on our knees. The swarm was soon to be heading out of Dallas, and we could hold them off for enough time while we begged God for forgiveness.
And we did. We barricaded the main doors and we got on our knees and we prayed. We weren’t even following a particular prayer we were just saying our own, begging for salvation. Some people were crying, some were whispering and others screamed out for their salvation as outside the dead began to bang on the doors. Ironically I guess our praying drew more of them than there would have been if we had remained silent.
All throughout this Collins was standing on the alter above us, screaming his own praise to God and begging him to save us, his children. But our salvation never came. Even when they ripped down the doors and then us, we were never saved. Many were dragged down still in prayer, Collins among them, devout to the end. Some tried to run but others just stood shocked, unable to register anything as they were ripped limb from limb.
I’m still not sure what made me run. Perhaps it was basic survival instant, or perhaps I was never as devout as I thought. But at that moment, something inside me clicked. I turned and ran from the massacre in front of me. I think the only reason I managed to make it out alive is because we hadn’t thought to barricade the doors at the back. Emerging into the night I saw the fires from Dallas, and they illuminated what had to be thousands of them, all pouring out, and all heading for the church.
Soon after that I came across another group and we joined a settlement near the mountains. It was one of the better structured ones that had been set up. While the others were falling to the armies of the dead we were able to hold out. Our electric fences would work as long as the generators did, and they would work for years.
But then years came and went, and eventually the generators ran out. We had no more fuel for them. Everything runs out in the end. All those years of safety came crashing down. It was almost the same as the church, except instead of praying to god to be saved, we were praying to technology. The result was the same.
A few of us made it out, but they’re dead now. Terry was killed by when they ambushed us a few nights later, and Jill went to sleep one night and never woke up. I think she just gave up. When you have nothing to live for then what’s the point of living. The only keeping me alive right now is my motivation to return home.
I don’t know why I want to. I learnt a lot over the years in the settlement. I learnt how to survive, and how to kill those things. I also learned to love and then deal with the loss afterwords. But mostly I learnt about how stupid we were before, how we let such petty differences interfere with out lives. Now I see that it doesn’t matter if you’re republican or liberal, gay or straight, or black or white. I’m sure Pop would hit me for saying such things, but that’s why he’s dead. He let those differences rule his life. The dead don’t, they dead don’t discriminate against each other. They group together, and together they’re unstoppable.
Stepping onto the road I can see a few of them further down, but they’re nothing to worry about. They can’t see me. There aren’t enough left around here be a problem. Most of them headed for the big cities in the early years and then out towards the settlements. Now they’re just drifting around, aimless. I don’t think they’re after anyone because I don’t think there’s anyone left. Over the years in the compound we tried to raise anyone on the radio. Eventually no one replied. I may be the last living man on earth.
I can see our old house now roughly one hundred metres away. It looks unchanged. The infection took our town so fast there wasn’t time for any struggles, everyone was wiped out too quickly. Pieces of a body remain on the road as I pass it. I wonder if Mom’s remains are in the garden. I decide I don’t want to know.
Cars and vehicles litter our street. I don’t remember much from the night we fled, I’m guessing all the carnage happened later. We were probably lucky to get out in time.
As I approach the house now I can see several windows on the ground floor are smashed. Whether this was looters or the dead trying to get in I don’t know. I can’t see any movement inside. I wonder briefly if the windows were smashed from inside by survivors desperate to get out.
The house looks the same as I enter it, except from streaks of blood across the now peeling walls. No looters have been here. There are no smashed pictures, and the televisions are still in the living room. I can’t tell if they’re on or off. It doesn’t matter; they likely won’t ever work again. There is a body at the back of the living room. From the remains it looks like it was torn apart by a group of them. I guess there were survivors hiding here after all.
I cross the living room to the seat next to Pop’s that used to be mine. It’s moth eaten and covered in dust now, but I don’t care as I sit down in it. The wood creaks from what must be close to a decades worth of neglect.
I’ve finally made it. I’m finally home.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the revolver Pop gave me, the one that I’ve held onto all these years. Inside is the single remaining bullet I’ve been saving for this moment. The only thing that has stopped me doing this sooner is the desire to return home. Without it I would likely have fallen asleep like Jill and never woken up again. What is the point on going on in a world that isn’t ours anymore. Maybe it never was and this was just natures way of putting us in our place. I haven’t heard a single other human voice in the months since the settlement fell. Since that day, all I have felt is the pull towards home.
Now I’m here, it can all finally end. I raise the revolver to my temple. The shot will likely attract the others down the street, but I don’t care anymore. This is my escape from the world. The is my salvation. I look to Pop’s chair.
I pull the trigger.
I am free.