Sunday, April 17, 2011
FICTION: HOPE By R. S. Pyne
Beech came in from the Red Zone before infection rates went critical and the Zone extended everywhere outside the camps. A Slayer by choice, he was one of those who took the fight to the Changed instead of waiting for the end behind razor wire and electric barricades. A man without a past but, since Dead Fall, many people chose to forget.
When the last corpse stopped moving, we were only too happy to leave the camp to a brave new world but he hated it. He never said so but I saw it in his eyes on the day the disbanded. I stayed with him because by then I had nowhere else to go. It seemed like a good idea at the time for those were dark days of learning to live again. Free at last from the daily attacks, wave after wave of rotting nightmares frying on high voltage wires. I grew up in an armored camp where children could be shielded but Beech never had that luxury. He joined the Militia when he was nine years old; highly organized hunting packs that allowed us a life line. That was before numbers got too great. The militia fought almost to the last, their names added to the Book of the Dead. So many names, the record keepers had to write very small to get them all in. They went through three ledgers just in the last year of the war, the closest we came to extinction. The Camp moved seven times in seven months. Seven times breached and rebuilt in a fighting retreat. People died and then they came back
In the first year after Last Solution, my daughter entered a world we all fought so hard to save for her. A fighter from the start, we named her Hope to commemorate someone who did not survive.
Of all of us, Hope Kinsella should have made it but we were never friends. The first time I met her, she was smashing a friend’s head into pulp as the walking dead poured through a breach.
“Thought you were crow bait,” she said as Beech moved to guard her back. He would not talk about the past – when they first met and why they parted – and she had her own reasons not to share. I felt no jealousy. I was too busy trying to stay alive. By that time, anyone fit to hold a weapon had been drafted into the New Militia, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ that once separated hunter packs from everyone else dissolved.
“Enough talk,” the Camp Commander snapped. “Now is not the time.” A shambling hulk in clerical vestments almost tore her throat out, Undeath removing all respect due a man of the cloth. She screamed a savage curse and sent him back to his God. Hope and Beech fought together with terrible symmetry, a fierce energy and nothing touched them. I just tried to stay alive, a spike pole as good a way as any to keep Re-Viv’s out of biting range.
Surviving members of the Old Militia lived every day as if it was their last. They taught other how to survive and never forgot the early days. Old loyalties surfaced in the heat of battle, hunter pack survivors moving to stand together. They carried on building walls with the dead, so many that it took days to clear them. A fence flickered ominously until someone kicked the generator. It obliged with a grudging whine as the zombies charged again. We worked to repair the breach, cobbling together barricades until electricity came back on line. It was kill or get eaten, fight or die and rise again and they had the advantage of numbers. Things that had once been human swept on and there was no more time for talk. They walked into a hail of bullets, cut to pieces with others quick to take their place.
Someone handed me a rifle. Just choose a target, point and fire; don’t think about it, forget they were once your friends, relatives, lovers, children or parents. Shoot before you end up like them, keep doing it until the time comes to reload, repeat until your shoulder feels like it is broken. Watch the dead tide break against your defenses, funneled into the killing ground and dropped by head shots. On nights when sleep does not come, I still hear those sounds – the survivor’s curse. It took two months for numbers to rise again. The days of honey were all too brief. We used the time to catch up on sleep and trace friends in the Book of the Dead. Beech and his kind could not cope with down time and so they found things to do. Mostly, it was pest control, reverting back to the hunting packs of the early war years.
They brought the child in on the seventh trip out. Found wandering, five years old, six at most, she should not have lasted a day. Many said she was dangerous, but what harm could a little girl do? Next morning the gates breached, electricity shut off by a child too damaged to know what she was doing. Fifty people died that day, the Commander pulled down by a husk that had once been a lover.
I look at my daughter and see a future. Because of me, Hope Kinsella did not have that luxury. Teeth sank into her arm as she pushed me backwards. Beech did the last duty for a friend without hesitation but the first thread of sanity snapped forever. Two weeks after that, a bio-weapons scientist released a pathogen that ate only dead flesh. Favorable winds carried it across the country and the Piranhagen Virus reduced a zombie to a skeleton in minutes; bone eating symbiotes completed the deal.
My milky breathed firstborn smiles in her sleep. When she is older, I will tell her about my war but that is a tale for the future.