Authors: Timothy Long
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Zombies, #Occult & Supernatural, #Action & Adventure, #End of the World, #living dead, #walking dead, #apocalypse, #brian keene, #night of the living dead, #the walking dead, #seattle, #apocalyptic fiction, #tim long, #world war z, #max brooks, #apocalyptic book
Among the Living
Timothy W. Long
Published by Permuted Press.
Copyright 2009, 2011 Timothy W. Long.
Cover art by Zach McCain.
Lost, and for a time so is he. Breath rasps in and out as her lungs begin to fail.
Cold, and so is she. Her hand is ice, a rigid claw that grips with the force of a newborn. Skin translucent, wisps of gray hair that struggle to rise as he strokes her arm. Bone thin, old, past her prime and yet barely in her fifth decade.
Hours spent by her side, and for it her eyes opened but once. She stared past him at the ceiling as if it held less recrimination than his gaze. Milky and gone to smoke, at least the one on the left, while the other is clear and the bluest blue he has ever seen. They pulled him in from the first, dug into his soul and now, twenty-two years later, it continues to haunt.
The syringe is cool as he rolls it across the tabletop. He picks it up again to feel the weight of the world. Clear and languid, the liquid rests, unassuming.
If it does what he asks, what he hopes, it will be her savior and perhaps his.
The brush of alcohol, but she doesn’t stir. Then a stab and the deed is done. Just a waiting game now, and for all the long months he has been away, he will not leave her side until it works—or kills her.
It may be some time before the tumor shrinks. That thing that looks like a balloon in her head. It grows daily as if pumped full of air; the pressure must be immense.
The virus is ‘programmed’ to seek out the tumor and enter it. There it will begin eating the thing with a vengeance, his vengeance. Minutes are all it needs to start working, maybe days until she is coherent.
She sighs and her head stirs. He leans over and presses his lips to dry skin next to her pale mouth. Then she is silent once again, and he waits.
The light from the window paints landscapes across the blankets. Mountains made of knees, hips for land fall, waist a pool of lake water. Later, night slips in and the painting is reversed.
She stirs again, and one eye drifts open. It is clear for the first time in as long as he can remember. The other is still milky and may never recover from the damage.
“Herb ...” Just a whisper, and he has to lean close.
“Herb, I feel strange … like my blood is on fire.”
“Try to relax, my love. Everything will be back to normal soon. Very soon now.”
“It’s not okay; it hurts. My head feels like it’s going to explode. “
“I did it, Ruth. All those years of research and I have the cure. Finally. I gave you a shot that is killing the tumor.”
“I don’t think so, Herb, I don’t think so.” Her eye moves back and forth as if trapped. Her head shakes, and her body shifts under the blanket. The dead eye turns and looks past him at a spot on the wall.
Blood pours into the other one, beneath the surface of the cornea. Within seconds, it is crimson. One side of her face slopes down as if it is about to slide off her head. Oh God, a stroke! He grabs his bag from the floor and paws through it as she starts to shake. She thrashes on the bed, foam bubbling from her mouth.
He flips the bag over her body and continues to look through it as he holds her down. He is sure he has Coumadin, but Aspirin will do as well, just in case, oh God—just in case. She writhes, and he feels her heart beating through her chest. It rumbles, pounds and then, to his horror, slows down and shudders to a halt.
“Ruth, my God. RUTH!”
“Herb,” she sighs then sits up in bed and sinks her teeth into his exposed neck. He screams, but not for long.
Dead, and so is he.
The day starts with a blast of rain that matched my dark mood, a teasing precursor to what will, much to my surprise, be one of the best days of my life. Bus so full I’m left standing in the aisle for the twenty-minute ride to Seattle. A portly man who reeks of mothballs bouncing against me with every bump and turn. He carries an old-style briefcase that keeps bashing into my knee. I want to slap the top of his shiny bald head and tell him to pay attention to his stuff, but he has a pair of white ear buds pushed so deeply into his ears that they look like wires running into his head. I keep imagining they are electrodes and I hold the controls so I can zap him every time he touches me.
There is a woman standing behind me who looks pissed because none of the men offered her a seat. Probably because she is wearing a skirt that barely reaches mid-thigh, and they want to stare at her legs. Hell, pissed or not, I wish I could stare at them too. Beats looking at a shiny head.
Headphones cup my ears, but the morning show guys are just a droning buzz of background noise. I don’t know what they’re saying, because other things weigh heavy on my mind. It is the third of July, and it is the third anniversary of my son’s death.
The day before Independence Day. We used to spend it shopping at the reservations for fireworks. I would come home with a box of them to Rita’s disapproving eye. But she would relent later, after a few drinks; then we would sit outside and fight the bugs while we launched rockets into the sky.
I was haunted from the moment I opened my eyes to the second I stepped into the shower. Every movement thereafter was mechanical. I went at the morning like an automaton, convinced that if I just got some momentum going, the rest of the day would fall into place.
A trip to Starbucks saw me staring slack-jawed at the barista when she asked for my order. I knew she was talking, but I had somehow zoned out. I snapped back to attention and babbled that I wanted a latte, tall. Not my favorite drink, but it was the first thing that popped into my mind.
I waited in line behind other customers and remembered a time when Andy had been with me, mouth armed with a big grin for a cup of hot chocolate. He wanted extra whipped cream, which made me stop and think of what Rita would say; only she wasn’t there, so she never had to know.
He got his cup from the smiling woman and blushed at her “You going to work with Dad today?” then sipped at the pile of cream puffed on top. He got some on his nose, which elicited another ‘ah’ from the girl. It was a greeting card moment, the kind of thing you see on TV and brush off as too melodramatic. Only it wasn’t; he was my son and he was beautiful.
We did spend the day together. I gave him a tour of the office and the press where we printed the tiny Seattle Metro Weekly newspaper. It wasn’t running at full tilt, it was just spitting out some of the middle sections like entertainment and want ads. He marveled at the machine, at how fast it worked, moving paper, pressing and folding. It was a good day. He kept me entertained when I broke away from writing, and I kept him busy with our laptop when I was working on something.
The name is Mike Pierce, by the way. I used to be a reporter for one of the Seattle bigs, but downsizing led to layoffs a year ago. I don’t blame the paper for the run of bad luck. I understand. I’m the first one to log into the PC in the morning so I don’t have to read a real paper.
The Metro Weekly has been good to me. I maintain a small section that focuses on some of the weirder lifestyles around Seattle. I meet interesting people like restaurant owners who put dollops of maple syrup in their martinis, and professional dominatrices who run things we aren’t supposed to call brothels. I was assured over and over and OVER that no payment for sexual services was ever rendered. Instead, I was told to think of it as a massage. Right. A massage where a guy gets the shit beat out of him.
After zoning out at Starbucks, stumbling on the bus and then jumping off at the wrong stop, I had a half-mile walk ahead of me. At least Mr. Mothball left the bus three stops ago.
The sun is making an appearance, and the mugginess of July is just starting to settle over the city. The smell is pure Seattle. A breeze wafts off the waterfront, carrying with it the scent of seawater mixed with an undercurrent of piss and old booze from alleys along Second Avenue.
The traffic moves right along, barely stopping at red lights before zipping up and down side streets. I approach Bell, a cross street I can take down to the waterfront. I’m still in a daze, thinking of the past, walking an all-too-familiar route on autopilot when a series of honks interrupts my reverie. I turn, expecting to see someone driving too slowly or asleep at a green light. Thanks to the countless coffee stands in the city, people tend to be highly caffeinated and a bit on edge.
But they are making a fuss at a homeless man who is fighting with a guy dressed in a suit. The two are locked in combat, arms reaching for each other’s throats. They move around in a circle, neither giving ground, like they are performing a waltz. A red stain soils one side of the well-dressed man’s suit jacket, and he is grunting as if in pain. I turn to help out, then wonder what I can do. A car stops, and a pair of younger men gets out.
Not my problem, I decide, and walk the rest of the way to work.
* * *
I step into the office a few minutes late. Jim is always cool about it. In fact he never mentions my hours. He is the sort who expects stuff to get done; if it takes longer to do it, then you burn the midnight oil. The office is darker than usual, but a steady stream of daylight pours from multiple windows. It is a green day for us, and the lights will be off until the sun goes down.
Erin has her long legs up on her desk, skirt riding dangerously high. What is it with the skirts today? She also has on what she calls ‘smart-girl’ glasses, which have a catlike frame and look like they came straight out of the sixties. Locks of her dark hair have fallen across half her face; a folder lies open on her lap. She is the closest thing I have to a best friend. It doesn’t hurt that she is very attractive.
“‘Sup, Chuck.” Her favorite greeting. She looks up, and I get a quick smile.
“Have you seen this? Some guy down by Fort Lewis said he saw a guy die from a virus. Said they got it while taking care of that big gas leak up on Queen Anne. He claims the guy lay dead for more than five minutes before rolling to his feet and attacking another soldier.”
“What? Like those horror movies?”
“Right? Only those movies are bullshit. You can’t come back from the dead. Unless you’re Jesus, I guess.”
I’m trying to wrap my head around this. Ask anyone I know and they will say that, despite reporting the weird, I am the biggest skeptic they know.
“Do we know anyone there, any contacts?” Then again, what would we do … look into it and write a feature that wouldn’t even hit the stands until next week? By then people would have forgotten about it.
“Jim doesn’t want us to get involved; it’s too far outside of Seattle.”
“Good. I got enough stuff to keep up on without a trip to Tacoma.”
I plant myself at my Dell and fire up the old rig. I’ve had the same machine for a while, and it was a hand-me-down when I started. It works well enough as a web surfer and word processor, so I choose not to complain.