So Bloody Poetic

Sunrise

The sun rises and I begin to cry.

Of course, my life was always so bloody poetic. How the gods love their irony; the morning of my last day on earth begins with the most stunning sunrise I’ve ever witnessed. Oh,  yeah, sure! Humanity is lost! Everyone will die alone, shit-scared and without dignity; but gosh darn it, isn’t the sky just sweet today? The subtle blend of hues one hundred years ago would’ve inspired Monet to paint! Today’s sunset is predicted to be equally lovely… but luckily for me, I won’t be sat here in this truck weeping over the fucking colour of it.

I thought I was gonna die last night. When the city walls fell, I was so sure of it. But as Zack got closer to the apartment, flocking to the screams like hyenas to carrion, I went primal. Guess it was the ‘fight or flight’, but I don’t remember any of it – just disjointed snapshots, as distant from me as someone else’s holiday photos.

A broken-down door, muddy with footprints. Staircase – too many floors to count. A coiled bullet belt, empty. Glass-stained streets. Rotting carcasses; a dead baby, stomach bloated. A water bottle, empty. The most beautiful rusty old truck.  AK47, empty.

I do remember clambering into the truck. I drove through the night, didn’t stop once. The people by the side of the road were exhausted, desperate, dying. They plead, beg for the lives of their children, pray out in a foreign tongue. But how do you know that they’re people? Don’t trust anyone. Let them in the truck, they could start coughing and before you know it you’ve got Zack riding shotgun. Don’t trust. Humanity died the day they got out the grave.

The stupid fucking sunset blurs before my eyes. What good did it do? Running away bought me extra time, but ultimately I’m just as screwed. By the time the sun sets, I will be dead; whether by dehydration, human hands or Zack bite, it doesn’t matter. None of us matter. I squeeze my eyes shut, feel hot tears on my cheeks. When I look again, the rainbowed sky is so gossamer-clear I can see the morning stars.

A sunset like that is a good final memory.

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Reaper

The last words of a dying man. They’re supposed to be profound, aren’t they? Something that will sum up the life they’ve lived, be the conclusion that they’ve reached, the fatal punchline to their joke.

In my experience, there is nothing profound about them. They are always confessions; of love, of murder, of sin, of hope. Questions. A last minute redemption plea. In my job, I’ve heard them all.

You can always see the moment that they realise that they are about to die. Then the terror takes hold, the frantic fear that the secrets they’ve tucked into the creases in their cardboard faces, the urgent words that they never voiced out loud – all these things that are so important will die with them, and no-one will ever know.

That’s where I come in. I will come and stand by your shoulder, watch your time-torn face. Then bring in the king. Enter death as a beautiful woman. Enter death as a scar-flecked monster. The edge of a blade, a bullet to the heart, a needle in the dark. And kneel beside you, performing death’s wake. I am the reaper come to untie your soul.

I am the last person to hear you. I carry the confessions of generations. And your questions, as sweet as they may be, mostly go unanswered.

Except for sometimes, when I just can’t help myself. When you seem so lost and so scared and so hopelessly young that I want to cry, ‘No, this is a mistake – send her back, she is just a child’. It’s times like this when I will embrace you and tell you the story of your life. I will share with you the way that the last confession of your parents was one of love. They died with the words on their lips, just as you do now.

And I will move on, to my next body, to their last words. But the confessions take their toll, and the memories of humans fills my head. It is always the young ones are the ones that hurt me the most.

Priority Call

PRIORITY CALL, PRIORITY CALL.

White noise. Turning, blank look at the TV screen. What’s happening?

PRIORITY CALL, PRIORITY CALL. CALLING ALL PERSONNEL. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Tense, tight, constricting. Clammy hands, reaching for comfort.  It can’t possibly be-

WE HAVE A CONFIRMED CASE OF KOSONG-NI IN THIS COUNRTY.

Terror. No breath to gasp, eyes wide, hammering heart. No.

DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE. ALL PERSONNEL MUST WEAR FACE MASKS AND BIOHAZARD GEAR AT ALL TIMES. IF YOU OR ANYONE CLOSE TO YOU BEGINS TO SHOW ANY SYMPTOMS OF KOSONG-NI, IMMEDIATELY BEGIN QUARANTINE.

Throat too tight to swallow. No. This can’t be happening. Wrapped in my mother’s arms, but not safe, not any more. No, all safety is gone. This disease can get through locked doors.

IF YOU HAVE A CONFORMED CASE WITHIN YOUR DWELLING, NOTIFY YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITIES IMMEDIATELY. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.  I REPEAT, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.

Lies whispered in my ears. It’ll be okay. It’ll be just fine. We’ll survive this.

We won’t. There is no cure.

THIS IS THE END OF THE RECORDING. PLEASE STAY CALM AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.

We’re all dead.

“Of What Remains” extract #1

The inside is even worse.

The signs of a struggle are everywhere – smashed vases, ripped furniture, torn curtains. Shards of glass lie like ice over the soiled carpets and a foul odour of mould and rotting food fills the house.

Alex is searching through the rubble almost robotically, without emotion, the only clue to her rising panic the wild look in her eyes.

I hang back, gazing at the debris. My eyes are on Alex as she continues to rifle through the heaps in desperation. I can’t help but feel sorry for her, despite knowing that she would rip me apart if she ever felt my pity. I can feel her tension building like storm clouds.

Turning away, I clamber over an overturned desk into a study. The window is a gaping, jagged hole and a bitterly cold wind blows through the room, making me shiver. I shine my torch around the room, searching for survivors, when the beam of light falls across and armchair and I freeze.

“Alex,” I call, softly.

She hurries over, frantic. “Have you found someone? Who is it?” She snaps her head back and forth.

I wordlessly shine my torch on to the armchair. Beside me I hear Alex gasp, the air roughly sucked in between her teeth.

Scarlet red – burgundy red – crimson red, soaked deep into the fabric. A chair dripping with blood. Someone had sat there, on that seat, someone that was bleeding profusely. Enough to turn a light green armchair the colour of old rust. I can smell it now, and I feel slightly sick.

Alex let out a strangled sound.

“No.” She stepped forward. “No, they’re fine.” She took a deep breath. “They’re not here, but they’re fine, they escaped.”

“Alex.” I spoke quietly

“No bodies means no deaths, they’re just in hiding, they’re fine.” She continued as though she hadn’t heard me, her words beginning to blur into one panicked rush. “I’ve just got to find out where they are, so we can meet up. It’s all good.”

“Alex!” I said, more forcefully.

“If the gangs had taken them, they would have left their sign on the wall, and they haven’t, so they’re safe.”

“Alex!” I screamed her name. She turned, her babbling cut short, shocked by the volume of my voice.

“Even if the gangs don’t have them yet, this is bad,” I pleaded. “Look at this. Look at that blood. This is too much for us, and we can’t go after the gangs alone. See reason, Alex!”

There was a moment of silence. Then the storm clouds broke. Fury twisted Alex’s face and she stepped towards me, threateningly.

“I’m not going to give up on them! We came all this way to find them, and we’re  going to keep looking, you hear me? They’re my family!”

“If you get killed too, that’ll prove nothing!” I shot back.

“If they’re dead, then I don’t want to live!”

My eyes widened. Her anger fell away as quickly as it came, leaving an expression of absolute exhaustion. Her voice was broken, soft, and she spoke to the floor.

“I’ve… I’ve lost enough. I can’t – not anyone else. They’re all I have left. Please.” She looked up, and the loneliness in her eyes making her look like a child. “Help me find them.”

She has always been strong, the survivor, the girl that lost everything but stood tall. I envied her strength, her tenacious attitude. But who is she really? An orphan, traveling two hundred miles on foot in search of any surviving members of her family, completely alone in a world at war with itself.

Alone – accept from me. I looked at her and smiled, hesitantly.

“I’ll help you find them.”