Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Silence

Here's a little short story I wrote. Our culture has been pretty into zombies for the last several years, and I've wanted to throw my hat in the proverbial ring, but I have too many other projects on my plate. This short story came to me a few weeks ago... I enjoyed it so much I thought I better post it.

"The Silence" 

The silence would soon become eternal.

I sighed with relief as the fire at last took hold, burning away the kindling and grasping the logs with hands of flame. I’d settled between two dunes to block the wind, but even so my hands weren’t what they used to be, and lighting the blaze had taken time. I could hear the quiet, sliding whispers of the tides not ten yards off. In the distance, insect-song. Silence had already taken this part of the world. All that remained now were the old sounds, the sounds that had been here all along. 

Nearby, the hulking wreck of a ruined tanker leaned at a disconcerting angle. To see something so large from the wrong side, in the wrong position, it was dizzying. I didn’t like to look at the ship. I always avoided ruins, but there was something about the great ships that especially bothered me. A building that had fallen into disrepair could still be restored to use, but a beached boat with a ruined hull would never sail again. 

That was the greater ruin, a body that could never be used again. 

The world was full of ruins. 

Human ruins had once been everywhere. Humans that had once been alive with bright eyes and red blood had become monsters, living corpses that wandered urban wastelands, seeking easy prey. 

I poked the fire with a stick, staring at the flames until my eyes hurt. I didn’t want to look at the world. I just wanted to see the fire. The fire was my kin, in a way. I had wandered the wastelands of Earth for time out of mind, bringing an end to the shambling, skulking monstrosities that roamed, the zombies that had once been human. 

I had inherited their curse. The same disease that had brought down humanity had also made me indestructible. Pulling a chipped and well-used whetstone out of my bag, I began to sharpen my sword. The blade must be kept sharp and ready, lest it catch in the vertebrate of the living dead. 

I did not sleep. I no longer needed sleep. I just rested next to the campfire and I sharpened my weapon. A broadsword with a long, two-handed grip. 

I rose early, the sun casting vivid bands of color across the blues of sea and sky, and made my way North. In the distance, I could see ruins. The dark towers of fallen man skulked in the shadows, overgrown and unruly. My final destination.

Every one of the animated corpses on the planet has an extra sense, a prey-sense that tells when a truly living human is near, a beating heart that can be ripped out and devoured. This too had gone wrong in me. I couldn’t sense humans. I sensed only the roaming monsters. I had been using that ability for decades now. 

The signal was weak. There were almost none of them left. The world would be reclaimed by silence soon enough. I marched on across the beach. Ravaged beach houses lay to my left, all of them like giant tombstones, testaments to a long-gone past. 

I came into the city at dusk. I was weary again, but I was too close now. I had to finish. 

The streets were green. Weeds and creeping vines grew with wild abandon, snidely reclaiming their lost lands from human civilization. The signal was stronger now, but I could tell even more clearly that it was almost over. There was only one of them. 

Not the last. The next to last.

Every one of the skyscrapers rearing above me looked like it was ready to fall. Their shadows made me nervous. Finding it prudent to hurry, I stepped up my pace. I expected to find the last of the living dead in one of the buildings, maybe a basement or a closet, somehow missed the first time I’d been through. But no, the odd sense in my brain led me to Central Park, which now looked for all the world like a forest. 

The vegetation was so thick at the edge of the pavement that I had to slash my way in. I cut a path and found myself in a narrow green tunnel. Displaced stones lay on the ground like a miniature mountain range, rising and falling in peaks and valleys. After a careful walk, I stumbled upon a ruined brick plaza that was slowly being reclaimed by trees. A vine-choked fountain lay not far off. The creature was there. It had fallen into the fountain. 

I walked closer, sword held at the ready. The thing had no legs, and could not seem to find the coordination to haul itself out. Dingy water lay at the bottom of bowl, thick with grit and rotting leaves. The monster itself gave off a powerful stench. Its skin was green with rot, peeling away in thick swatches. This one had once been a woman. I could not tell what she might have looked like. Her face was little more than a grimacing skull. She snarled when she saw me, reaching out with fingers that were missing most of their knuckles. The nubs oozed pus and black blood.

It had come to this. I had killed every zombie in the world. Every zombie save this one, and myself.

I brought my sword down. 

The creature gurgled once, then went still. The battle was over. 

I turned my sword around. I would fall upon it, and the silence would descend. There were no people left, but there also no zombies. The world would be empty. I would have liked to have been able to save the world for humanity, but they had been gone too fast, and most of the immune like myself had worn out over time, their bodies unable to handle the strain of living forever. 

“Wait!” a voice called. I stumbled in shock and nearly fell on my sword regardless. I looked up and saw a young girl with startlingly blond hair was staring at me, one arm held out in supplication. “Wait,” she said again. Her hair was clean and bright like sunlight. Her clothes were rough, knitted by hand and ill-fitting, but they too were clean. She was whole, she was human. She was not a zombie.

“Are you the Wanderer?” she asked. The one who travels the world killing the zombies?” 

“I am,” I said. My voice was rough. I hadn’t spoken in years. I had almost thought I might never speak again. I had been so certain there was no one left to speak to. “There are… more, like you?” I asked.

“Yes, many! We hid in the subway tunnels. We hid for years, but we heard about you…” I saw you walking and I thought… I thought I’d talk to you.” 

"Where are these multitudes?” I asked. 

“Still underground. The old folks are afraid of the upper world.” 

“Are you afraid?” I asked. I stepped forward, and the girl gasped. Though I had taken care of myself, my body was worn. My fingers were smooth, and almost bone-like. My face was little better. The skin was dry and brittle like old leather. I was not meant for this. I didn’t belong in the new world. I was an in-between man. Not a relic of the past, not a piece of the future. I had served my purpose in ending the zombie menace. I had thought the silence was my goal, but I had been wrong. It was this girl. This girl with bright sunlight in her hair.

The girl had not answered my question. She was staring, her hands at her side, clenching and unclenching.

“My time is done,” I added. I waved with my sword. “You should go.” I was tired and ready to die.

“Wait,” the girl said a third time. “Come back with me. You’re a hero. You don’t have to…” Her eyes were averted. She couldn’t look at the sword in my withered hand. 

I shook my head. I couldn’t imagine being around… people again. It had been so long. So much time had passed in quiet solitude. 

The sun-girl reached out her hand. My whole body began to tremble. I looked down at my sword.

I dropped the weapon. 

I reached out, and I took the girl’s slender offering. We walked away together, out of the wilderness and out of humanity’s long dark night.