After The Virus (novel excerpt)
Chapter Two: Judgment Day
Chapter 2: Judgment Day
Aria’s Journal, Entry #656, 06:17hrs, March 13th, the year 2024
“I just woke up in a cold, panicked sweat again. I don’t know how many more nights I can do this…
It’s just that the memory, the reality of it all is so… potent. I remember, it was one of those hot, humid, lazy summers. No one could pinpoint exactly when it started, though, just the season it started in. Or when it ended... if you can call it “ended.” I still can’t believe it but it’s true, it happened. The World ended.
I need to repeat that to myself sometimes. The word that always comes to mind is “apocalypse.” A word I never thought I would be able to use in my own true story.
It wasn’t a “big bang” or nuclear war or a second coming of Christ or anything to do with the reversal of some sort of magnetic pull, like all the experts, psychos and religious leaders were predicting. It wasn’t expected. It wasn’t a quick and easy end, it certainly wasn’t painless and no one believed it was happening until it was too late. We had no warning. And now, even though life as we know it is over, here we are, a handful of us compared to the numbers we used to have, we’re here. We have survived it; we have somehow managed to exist, still, in this empty, lonely world, among its overgrown, abandoned cities with their crumbling, sun bleached buildings poking out of the dusty ground like fossils, traces of tragedy, fading whispers of what we once were…
I remember it all clearly, even though it still feels like a dream – well, a nightmare. I can still taste the blood and sweat. I’ve never fought harder for my own life. I can still hear my heart pounding out of my chest. I was so scared. And alone; I was alone for what felt like a lifetime. Sometimes I wish I had “disappeared” too, like the others. I wish I didn’t know. But knowing makes dying even more terrifying, so I’m kind of stuck with myself. At least it’s over now.
We still don’t know if it’s over, come to think of it. We keep waiting for an ending that never comes. We’re caught in limbo, somewhere between ending and beginning.
It was only two years ago, but it was a lifetime ago, too, a different era. I remember – I was at home with Jonah the day it all began, and we were eating lunch. Sandwiches and milk. I had my usual swiss cheese and pickles with mustard. Jonah was a PB & J person. Sometimes he’d slice up a banana and put it in there too. We’d share a bowl of chips between us as we munched on our simple meal, unaware of what might come around the corner. I can’t remember the day, but I know it was sometime in July. I’m pretty sure, anyway.
The news was on – it would remain on for weeks after that point too, and we would sit there, day after day, soaking up the information with pale, stony faces in silence, clutching each other’s hands and wishing we knew who to pray to; wishing that if we did pray that our prayers might be heard, but not believing in our salvation enough to try it.
But on that hot July day, as we enjoyed our lunches and each other’s company, newly married and still in love, we didn’t know what was going to happen. We had been talking about our upcoming trip to Hawaii in between bites of our sandwiches. We didn’t really care about the wars and poverty and stock market crashes as the news anchor carried on – we were in love and excited. We were simple, and we wanted simple things, things like getting to the airport on time, packing enough sunscreen, deciding which books to bring, agreeing that we would try scuba diving… these were our chief concerns. Then they mentioned the virus. It was a downward spiral after that first report.
As the weeks flew by they started to talk about the increasing number of sick people at the hospital, where they were running out of space, and they talked about the unidentified, deadly virus. Then there were deaths – lots of them, and suddenly too, and now the morgues were the ones running out of space. Then there was the mystery of the missing bodies, disappearances which the police repeatedly chalked up to foul play, but they had no witnesses. As more missing bodies and disappearances took place the reports started to fizzle out and were eventually forgotten. Just like everything else. It just didn’t matter anymore.
Most of our neighbors put their homes up for sale. Some of them up and left, whether their house was for sale or not. I secretly wondered where they expected to go to escape all the insanity, as it was being broadcast world-wide. It seemed that no where was safe from the virus.
It’s all a little fuzzy after that. There were discussions about quarantine. There was a lot of talk about evacuation and some cities even tried to do it, but the virus and the mania that came along with it was so widespread at that point that it was too late. There were rioters, “Save The Infected” picketers who were eventually overcome with the illness themselves, horrific murders in broad daylight. The news anchors started to look sweaty, overworked, and unkempt. Serious. They stopped making witty banter, stopped making pithy comments about the weather or sports or entertainment, stopped flashing their bleached teeth and dimpled, glossy smiles. TV shows dropped off the networks, because the actors, directors, crews – everyone – stopped showing up for shooting. Eventually the news reports stopped as well. Everything slowly stopped happening, everywhere.
The city streets were rapidly emptying and the hospitals and morgues filled with people. The airports shut down (we never got to go to Hawaii) and the churches were filled with praying, crying church-goers. But even they started to disappear, God or no God. The world, it seemed, was teetering on the edge of something huge. It was fragile, hanging on by a thread.
Then things got really, really quiet. So quiet that you could almost hear the thread when it snapped.”
Aria stopped her furious typing and stared at the computer screen. She hated reliving her nightmare; she hated feeling the familiar hot bead of sweat creeping down her temple as she recalled everything, time and time again. But Dr. Bachman told her that it was important to accept the reality of the situation, especially because she was on Compound Patrol and needed to keep her head about her.
And because she kept reliving it in her dreams, night after night.
“Your subconscious is trying to sort through the rubble, you see,” Dr. Bachman had said to her, her mouth curled into a gentle but somehow creepy smile that made Aria think she might be secretly enjoying having a subject like her to study, with such an entertaining, messed up brain. “You can’t deal with the reality of everything, of the Infected, of Jonah, of what happened, so it breaks free when you dream. You need to get it all out, so – keep the journal,” she urged sternly as she peered at her through her smudged, crooked spectacles, her giant blue eyes magnified like an insect’s, “keep the journal, Aria. Just like everyone else.”
Aria sighed and ran a hand through her thick, sun-bleached hair as she stared at the screen, longing to be outside again, her crossbows securely in her capable hands, taking out the scum that remained a threat to her, to her home. She longed to release her anger on the Infected. How much more real could it get, honestly? If anyone could accept this reality it should have been Aria. She didn’t need a journal to remind her of what happened then or to convince her of what was going on now. But, everyone had to keep a journal – it was a requirement, apparently. Bachman’s sole purpose in life, she’d told them all frequently, was to keep their sanity secure as we try to “rebuild our society.” Bachman had a husband once, and children. They used to be her purpose in life, but now, since they’ve been lost to the virus, her joy now appears to be the psychological state of each and every messed up head in the Compound.
Aria heard an ever familiar echo of a rifle shot outside, and subconsciously rested her hand on her customized duel-crossbows, nestled in their holsters on her hips. She closed her eyes and suppressed a sudden wave of sadness, twisting the ring she still wore on her left hand.
So much had changed, so much had been lost. Two years ago, she’d never known what a duel-crossbow WAS, let alone how to become one of the best shots in the Compound. She’d never have had to go on patrol, one of her father’s faded old military caps to shade her eyes. She’d never have known the sound a once-human skull makes when it gives under the force of her axe, and she’d never have wondered if the Infected could be saved instead of destroyed.
She wondered if there was anything in them that remained human, if the guilt she felt every time she killed one of them wasn’t, in fact, a waste of emotion.
They weren’t really human though, not anymore. They were bloodthirsty, hungry, insatiable beasts, now – faster and stronger than humans, and absolutely wild. They had taken so many… she had to be so careful, when on patrol, to avoid their constantly gnashing teeth. She’d seen what could happen if you weren’t always on guard.
They were so fast… too fast.
Aria could almost laugh when she thought of it all, if it wasn’t so tragic. The living dead. Monsters. Zombies. They were real.
Boy – were they real.