“Don’t you remember?” I ask myself in the broken mirror. I am in the bathroom. Alone in a house. The former occupants have been consumed. The horde has moved on.
My cheek is slashed open from a previous encounter. I can see my teeth and gums through the hole. I move my tongue over my teeth and touch the hanging skin.
“Worse and worse,” I thought. Regardless, I considered myself lucky. I had made it out of the first wave relatively unscathed. Most of the horde suffered broken bones, gouged eyes, bullet holes, burned skin, missing limbs and all manner of injuries from the makeshift weapons used by the remnants of humanity. Save for decapitation or complete immolation, we ‘survive’ any injury.
It just feels different now.
Everything feels different.
My life is simpler. I am animalistic, prokaryotic in nature. I hunger, so I seek to be sated. The horde protects me, so I am drawn to them. These are my thoughts.
It is a paradox. My success at remaining alive is directly proportional to how large the horde is, yet the amount of food I get is inversely proportional to how large the horde is. This makes sense ontologically. A herd of gazelles only grows as large as their environment allows. If they get too large and there isn't enough food for everyone, birth rates decline; or in a bloodier, more realistic, example: predators exist.
But that doesn't seem to matter. For lack of a better word, I love the horde.
“Fucking hell!” I hear from downstairs. Followed by the cocking of a shotgun.
“The horde must have passed through an hour ago,” I say to my crew. I am surrounded by four of the toughest warriors in the apocalypse.
Bill Sparks: automotive. Bill has the inexorable perma-stink of motor oil and the indelible stain of grease on his fingers. If it has an internal combustion engine, Bill knows how it works. Additionally, he monitors and controls our petrol consumption. As long as we have gas we survive. In the before-times, he lost his license for a series of felony DWIs. Luckily the world ended, so he no longer worries about this.
Jane Buleman: hand-to-hand combat. Jane lost her entire family to the hordes; three children and a husband. A disambiguous tragedy. Before the end, she was a mega-mom. Lived for her children. She insisted that they all involve themselves in non-stop activities. Everyday was a mad dash to complete the schedule; moving disparate components to their separate locations (often at the expense of meals). Along with the summer jobs, mathclubs, and SAT prep, the kids’ activities included: krav maga, judo, taekwondo, aikido, and karate. She took all of the adult classes parallel (but not with) with the kids’. Doing so turned her body into a weapon.
Timothy Conderosa: artillery. Pre-apocalypse, Jim owned and operated multiple gun ranges. He built an emergency bunker in his basement filled with more guns and ammunition than food and water. He had a feeling that survival depended more on killing rather than eating. He was not wrong.
The fourth man had no name, we referred to him as “The Shadow.” He never spoke, but he was our communications expert. He managed to keep a line open with what was left of the government. Through the Shadow’s work we knew where we were meant to be, and how we were to fight the zombie menace. Indispensable.
“What's that?” Jane says as we circle back to back. Any new threat or information would have to break through our defensive posture. For the moment, we are safe. We hear a rattling in the bathroom.
We break into an attack formation. Jane kicks open the door to the bathroom and we see a zombie standing idly in front of the mirror.
I don't bother to say anything. He wouldn’t understand anyway.
I fire the mega-taser and the zombie crumples to the floor. Based on his size, I anticipate that he will be immobile for three to four hours.
We throw him in the ice cream truck with the three other zombies we picked up.
I am sitting in the mobile lab. The hunters will be here in a few minutes.
“Hunters?” Nothing could be further from the truth. They grab up the left-behinds after the horde passes on. A single lone zombie-infected-human (ZIH) is no more threatening than a dandelion.
Still, they impress me. Even in the chaos and upheaval of the world ending, they seem to know themselves. They know their purpose. They feel it like I feel the temperature on my skin. They are a cohesive unit. When I watch them, it is like they are psychically connected.
That is more than I can say for myself. My work with the zombies doesn’t matter. I know how this ends. I’m not being dramatic or nihilistic. From the party-line to the hearts and minds, from the top scientist to the conspiracy theorist, we know there is no way to stop this. The infection has spread too far and for too long.
But we will persist.
What was left of the government decided that our sole purpose is to find a cure. So our collective resources: people, minds, money, power, military, are now put to capturing and studying the ZIHs. And I am at the epicenter of it.
Even if we impossibly found a cure in time, we also need to find out how to administer it. Usually not a problem, but when you are literally outnumbered 99 to 1*, and your patient wants to kill and eat you, it is a challenge.
I proposed that since the zombies only eat human flesh, and they die when they don't eat**, we could hide and wait out the apocalypse. Eventually they would starve. But that was soundly rejected by…
“Hey doc!” Captain Steve Smith interrupts my train of thought. “We got something for ya!” He shouts from outside the bus. He thinks that I like it when I get a new crop of subjects.
I do hate them, but not like the hunters do. If they reacted at all, I imagine that I could feel some masochistic pleasure at their suffering. But working with them is more like working with plants than with animals.
I find it interesting. Ever since I was a kid, I was compelled by new knowledge. I am fascinated by what I am learning about them: their physiology, psychology (for lack of a better word), social structure, history, et al.
But it kills me knowing that it's all for nothing.
*there are only 75 million unturned left in the world.
*Recent studies showed that a ZIH will die in 3-5 days without eating.
-That geeky fuck thinks he can cure these assholes.
-If there were any way for them not to be zombies, they would have figured it out by now.
-Yeah, best we can do is figure out better ways to kill them.
-Every single one
I am no longer in the darkness. I haven't slept since I turned. I am in a constant state of restless seeking. The imperative is to “remain alive.”
I am pressed against three others.
The tallest of us has half of his face left. The wound smells fresh, like burned skin, like he was shot recently.
“Horde…” His mouth tries to say but his jaw is broken and his tongue is loosely hanging by a thread of tissue. He’s right.
The smallest of us, a girl child, emerges from the dark next.
“Hunger,” she says. She hasn't fed in a while.
I hear noise outside of the truck.
“Horde!” I say, then pointedly shut my eyes tight attempting to indicate my plan to the girl. She nods in understanding. She forcefully shuts her eyes and pantomimes unconsciousness.
I open the ice cream truck to see the undead fuckers limply folded into each other. A pile of alive yet immobile flesh. A mass of cells organized to be a consumption machine. They did nothing but move and eat… A waste of life for sure.
I push aside the girl to grab the one I truly despised. First on the chopping block.
Most zombies that we pick up are trapped or wounded to the point where they can't move. Otherwise they'd still be with the horde. This idiot was just standing there, staring at himself in the mirror.
His body is thin and obviously weak. He has delicate, feminine fingers and paint splattered on his clothes. My best guess is that he was an artist. So that means he was just as useless before the apocalypse as he is now.
I assume what he was like in the before-times: liberal, woke, over-educated. Doing nothing. Painting shit like a four-year old and calling it “art.” Not contributing to society in any way at all. I am glad he is a zombie.
“Fucks like you are why we are in this mess,” I say as I grab him by the shoulder, knowing the tortuous fate waiting for him. I live for this.
As I am grabbing the artist, the girl's eyes open. She bites down and her teeth sink into my arm.
“Horde…,” it's a half thought that runs through my brain again and again. The mobile lab is in wreckage around us as the last of humanity is consumed.
I no longer remember being a scientist, a soldier, or an artist. I only know hunger and the horde now.