And Then They Come Back

by tccorbett

The Zombie Apocalypse isn’t ever how you think it’s going to be, or what it’s like in the movies.  The walking dead are not slow, mindless shamblers.  They’re your friends, your mother, your boyfriend, crying, screaming in agony and pain, begging, terrified that they don’t want to die. They don’t want to become their own nightmares.

First the infection starts, after a bomb hit, from nowhere, because no one admits to being the aggressor, or after the flash burn from another asteroid, which might as well be another bomb or missile for all the scientists safe in their underground bunkers admit to knowing about where they’re from either.  After the bang and screeching flash of light in the sky the screaming starts. 

“Why don’t they get to somewhere safe?!!  Why don’t they just duck and cover!?”  The frustrated, angry doctor yells rhetorically into the camera, on the twelfth broadcast in as many weeks since this round of infections started. 

Because they can’t.  Because people want to be people again, doing what people do, having picnics, sunbathing, swimming, outdoors, away from buildings, away from bomb and riot shelters.  Because they’re with family, children, who can’t run or just be corralled, like cattle into the nearest bunker.

Thousands, millions at a time in all the world’s major metropolitan centers now know what it’s like to slowing be burnt alive from the inside out.  The screaming at the beginning is probably the worst.  You know to get out of the way then if you weren’t hit.  You know what’s next.  Red and white pustules and full, spreading, seeping blisters on every exposed surface of skin erupt on the bodies of those caught completely outdoors. Those standing by open windows, under awnings or at bus stations often don’t fare much better. If they can’t make it inside to a building with a shelter in the ten to fifteen seconds it takes the security doors to come down, God help them.    

In suburbia things are a little different, but not much.  Supplies of over prescribed generic painkillers are plentiful, unlike the days when they were a constant threat around addicts.  Now they are desperately needed.  But the effects of addiction are ironically similar.  With almost every nerve and skin cell on fire the pain is almost unbearable.  Some can’t take it and will black out in spats while begging for anyone around to help them. 

“Please, please, give something to me and my daughter so she can make it to a bunker in time to get antirads and burn pads.  I don’t care about me, but please, I beg you, let her live!!!” But that’s just one voice among dozens and the others are your family, your pets, needing the same medicine and pain meds you already don’t have enough to divide among them.

Then the real terror starts, the blood and violence, the fighting and wretching.  Mobs break into store fronts posing as dupes for pharmacies, sometimes stocked with p-pills, kill pills to end it all quickly, for those with the courage.  The real pharmacies are in the back of armored buses now, never in the same place at the same time.  Buildings, houses, apartments ransacked regardless.   

‘No Zycs!’ In large red letters on the front of a college dormitory.  And it’s true. Blood spattered teenagers huddle in corners after their lives and dwellings have been torn apart and shattered by the doomed, skin boiling masses looking for zycodone the cheapest generic antibiotic and painkiller combination, that before the rations the busses would give out by the hand full. 

A few will survive the day, almost none still caught out in the open or behind less than brick, concrete and fortified dwellings will survive the night.  Those that do will live long enough to rapidly decline over the course of the following week, being mostly inadmissible to medlink shelters.  Those who make it to a stocked shelter with medlinks and the right meds have a fighting chance if the infection hasn’t spread to the brain.   But those who don’t make it, and you will know at least a few personally, you always do, will gather around you, and any other negs who weren’t hit by the flash and still have access into the shelters after a twenty minute quarantine, waiting for drone Zyc drops that will come within a few hours if you’re lucky. The infected can’t be trusted, right?  Just the pain makes them crazy, violent and unpredictable.   At least that’s the rationale for why the drop zones are only around shelters, and negs with tracking implants, because they’re the ‘safe’ designees of aid in a crisis. 

As you hold their hands pustules bursting and running down graying, ashen faces, spreading more contagion, adding to more pain and physical anguish, you feel both guilty and relieved that you are not them.  Your father caught washing the car or girlfriend on a jog apologizes, skin oozing and burning, lungs on fire with long standing regrets and missed opportunities coming fast and frightening.  They say they always thought it would be them getting the Zyc drop and risking their lives, camped outside the shelter with dying loved ones.  There is no shushing.  There is no telling them to save their energy, when you have only an hour or two, before the noise, racket, scrambling and violence start all over again.

If you’re lucky the worst of the more energized and enervated ones keep breathing, so the rest can pass gently and you can finish quarantine before they are on the move in the dark among the first night’s building and street fires. The ghost scent of warm flesh and blood must somehow linger on their burnt nostrils, confused with furious terror and anguish, like a base animal memory of what it was like to starve in agonizing pain or have unquenchable thirst. They sit or lie there silently as if the pain might be easing, as if they had just forgotten something important, unblinking, unthinking.  And then they come back.