It all started with a nuclear explosion. The mushroom cloud could be seen for miles and miles, the odour that followed, was distinct, unmistakeable. When your nostrils filled with the tainted and ruined air, you knew the effects were bound to be long-lasting and devastating. That, coupled with the smell of melting flesh, could ruin anyone’s day. The smell never faded.
Everyone that worked at the nuclear plant died. Everyone within a ten mile radius of the plant also died, but their remains weren’t completely deteriorated and disintegrated.
Evacuation attempts were made, unsuccessfully, which only became harder when the reanimated corpses of those killed by the blast started hunting those that tried to escape. The type of radiation that was released by this explosion, created a perfect breeding ground for the survival and sustenance of parasitic fungus that survives at the base of the brain stem.
Thus creating the Zombie apocalypse that humans thought we’d only ever see in movies.
While television did give humams some tips on surviving the zombie apocalypse (they are killed with headshots), there are some things the human race had to figure out on its own. Yes, a zombie biting you will kill you in minutes and will turn you into a zombie too, but dying of natural causes will also turn you into a zombie because the air is so severely contaminated. Also, zombies are not slow. They are brainless, hungry and already dead, which means there isn’t much standing in their way of eating you. They are relentless, fast and unless the reanimated corpse died of old age, they are as fast as they were when they were alive.
It has been more than 50 years since the nuclear explosion, and the human race has done quite well under the circumstances. Yes, it has been thrown back into the stone age, but babies are being born, humans are perfecting the art of killing zombies and shooting their loved ones in the head before they fully transform. But for the next hundred years or so, there will always be zombies – it is as certain as death.
I was born long after the zombie apocalypse. My parents were already living in a well-established colony that they entered as very young children, and because they were so deep underground, I was born without any deformities and with a higher chance of survival than most. Others weren’t so lucky. We’ve seen women give birth to severely deformed babies that die within a couple of hours. And while seeing zombies walk around has become a norm, there is nothing more disturbing that seeing an infant zombie, struggling for food but ultimately withering because they can’t eat, what with having no teeth or means of moving. Killing zombies has become a part of our daily lives, but I still can never come to terms with bashing in the head of a baby, no matter how undead they are.
The human race learnt of survival in numbers and in the colonies we formed. One colony realised that if you avoid an area long enough, the zombies will deteriorate and become inanimate. They will lose the energy they have to pursue food. However, once they consume food or have human flesh forced into their mouth, they come back just as strong and fast as they were before.
Obviously, we never try to reanimate them on purpose, we usually just work our way around them to the supplies and groceries that are usually left untouched by the zombies, that is, if another group or colony didn’t get there before us.
According to my folks, and some of the other elders in our colony of 67 people, things could be getting back to the old normal, provided the unanimated zombies stay that way and each person that dies gets a bullet through their skull.
I don’t know much about the old world aside from the stories I have heard. Those things seem like a myth, or too good to be true. Electricity, technology, cars that could move easily, guns – they ran out of ammunition pretty quickly after the onset of the apocalypse which rendered guns obsolete.
Our colony is situated under a large town above the surface. We spend a decent amount above the surface, soaking up sun, gathering supplies, maintaining our water purification systems and keeping our boundaries clear of zombies and other people. The only problem is, whenever we’re above the surface, we have to wear radiation masks to prevent us from being killed a slow and painful death.
But things are seeming like they are going to change. I’m only 19, so I’m not allowed in a colony meeting. These meetings are run by the ten chair leaders of our colony, my dad is one of the chair leaders. According to him, we might be getting electricity soon.
“We’re situated about ten miles south from the nearest power plant. We might have a shot at rebooting the system and supplying electricity to the town above the surface and providing a supply down here for us,” dad stands over a map showing mom the execution of their plan.
“It all seems pretty straightforward, and we’ve cleared out the area for miles and miles in every direction, its unlikely the team that goes out will run into any kind of danger,” mom says with joy dancing on her lips. “But how would we reboot the system?”
“Well, the only person with any computer expertise, the only person who as ever seen a computer, let alone operated one, is Mr Beau Jackson.”
Mom’s face dropped.
Mr Beau Jackson is rumoured to have been the person who established our colony. But how someone so hard and distant would have enough space in their heart to welcome others to safety, was lost on me. He was a hard man, an old man, a stern man. He had many experiences, most of them bad. He watched his entire family turn and try to kill him. They became his own personal monsters, but what haunted him wasn’t that they tried to kill him, but that when he hammered in their skulls, the eyes looking back at him was completely devoid of life or familiarity.
He was 86 years old, but he was a just-barely fit 86. He was an 86 that could, and had to, fight for survival. After all, he wouldn’t have made it to 86 without a fight. His features became hard since I was little to now. He gained more scars, talked less and became the man parents would use to scare their kids straight. The Mr Beau Jackson that bound up my scraped knee and taught me how to make and shoot my crossbow had seemed to disappear. Life, age, depression all catching up with him. He hardly left his bunker and he gradually became less reliable, willingly passing the reigns of his colony onto the other, fitter men.
And now, our hopes at a more normal life, laid in his brittle, ever aging and calloused-from-hard-work hands. I could see and understand mom's worry.
“He barely leaves his bunker, how are you going to get him to venture up to the power plant successfully?”
“The strange thing is, it was his idea. He said he knows he doesn’t contribute to the colony the way he once used to, but before his time is up, he has to do this. Speaking of this, I actually think it would be a good idea for Lyle to join the expedition this time,” mom shot dad a cold and icy glare. “Ah, ah, ah you said yourself its safer and has been cleared of most danger,” dad practically wiggled his finger in her face.
“I know what I said, but that’s my son.”
“Mom, come on. I know how to handle myself. And we’re way past the onset of the apocalypse, I need to be able to survive.”
“Yes, but we’ve spent our lives trying to create a safer one for you and…”
“… And this is another way we try to make it safer for him. This is how we keep on guaranteeing his survival,” dad interrupted mom and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. And just like that, the battle was won.
We’re all saddled up, we’re ready to go. This should only take us a day, so we carry basic supplies, something to eat, something to drink. My focus is fixed on Mr Beau Jackson. The old man looks weak, every movement looks laboured. I find myself wondering if he’d even survive this easy journey. I look at his hands and fingers with the permanent cuts and bruises. I see his missing pinky finger that Mr Johnson, who has long passed away, chopped off when our colony was attacked by a multitude of zombies. I’ve only ever seen pictures of computers but it’s hard to imagine his bulky fingers moving along the keys. My mind is blown that we have someone in our colony that potentially knows how to use a computer. This is extraordinary. Its beyond anything I could have ever imagined, given the world I live in.
We have classes at the colony, and no one, not even the people that teach us, have ever seen computers. With the fight against the zombies, the use for computers, or what they called ‘technology’, quickly became obsolete as the fight for survival took preference. And now, right here beside me, stands a man who practically has a superpower.
Our ragtag band consists of multiple father and son duos owing to the simplicity and ease of this adventure. My dad isn’t even going with, but that’s because Mike, his best friend who is Carl’s dad, is going with. Among others are Mr Lochson and Jack, Mr Schnide and Johnno (who just happens to be my closest compadre) and, because of the low threat of death, the least expected member of our mission is Tommy. Tommy has always been very sickly, very weak. He keeps to himself, but he has suffered a great loss, losing both of his parents about six years ago. In all honesty, I don’t know how they survived that long anyway. Let’s just say that little Tommy is a lot like his parents, weak, slow, sick. Maybe we’re living through natural selection.
We leave our colony and in two and a half hours, we approach the tall, looming building of the power plant. Its faded, grey walls have been devoid of life for the longest time. It looks a lot like Mr Beau Jackson – old, frail and tired. Mike cracks open the metal door and it bursts open with a loud clank. The smell of death and decay coupled with damp and mould fills our nostrils. I almost think I see movement, but even if there were zombies in there, they’d all be immobile.
“Right, remember our mission, up to the operations unit on the 6th floor, Mr Beau Jackson will do his thing, and we come straight back out. Don’t go left or right, no distractions, no complications. Got it?” Mike is stern and makes sure we all agree.
Slowly, we start creeping up the windowless building. Its eerie and spooky, the wind howling through a window somewhere high up makes us aware of the living ghosts that are littered all around us. We pass each floor, barely glimpsing into each doorway. Its only by the time we get to the 5th floor that I notice Tommy isn’t behind me. Mr Beau Jackson is already entering the 6th floor doorway so I don’t think too much of it. I’m more excited about watching this magician do his magic at a computer. Besides, Tommy did mention something about his grandad working here, perhaps he went to go look at his desk or something.
I file in behind everyone and Mike is already hooking the computer up to our power pack. Mr Beau Jackson touches one button, and like magic, the computer whirs to life, lights flashing. It is absolutely beautiful. This man has literally created magic before our eyes. Watching him is like watching a superpower being used. A ‘wow’ escapes my lips.
“Yeah, I know. This used to be so mundane many years ago, and now it’s a superpower,” he says with a haughty hint to his voice. He begins tapping buttons. Whether he is doing it on purpose of not, we are all thrilled and impressed. He becomes one with the machine, man and computer fused at the fingers, a telepathic magic flows between them. The monitor feeds light and telepathic knowledge into his eyes, a language flows between man and computer, creating a bond that we could never understand. It is mesmerising. It is beautiful. It is breath taking. In this old grubby building, with this old grubby man, history is being made. This man is our superhero, revealing his superpower. It’s as though her never forgot how to use it.
And that’s when we hear the ear shattering scream. Its Tommy. Of course it’s Tommy. Why wouldn’t he have run into trouble. I should have told someone about his detour, but now we’re all frantic. Mr Beau Jackson stops working his magic and a whir around us, that we didn’t even notice begin, immediately stops. There’s havoc in the stairwell, and Tommy bursts through the door, hysterically screaming with half his arm missing, bite marks all around his legs. He is followed by about six zombies. I don’t count, I don’t keep track. All I know is I’m shoved out the door, down the steps, I don’t even make it down the last few flights, I fall down and hit my head.
I wake up in our colony to the sombre faces of my parents, Mike, Carl and Johnno. I’m told we are the only survivors. I’m told that, even with his excruciatingly ordinary superpower of operating a computer, Mr Beau Jackson didn’t make it. And he died before he could turn our lights on. I guess some of us are not meant to experience magic. And those of us that do experience it, are only mean to experience it for a short time.