Last Call on Earth, a scifi story
Short Scifi Story by Tamara Wilhite
The cell phone is ringing, and I don’t want to touch it. It’s partially due to the fact that it is my father’s ring tone, and I have never liked talking to him. And it’s partially due to the blood or gore on it. But I have to. With the way tech is falling apart, it might as well be the last call on Earth I’d ever get.
The monk we stopped seemed normal for a monk. Castrated, he admitted, to ensure he stayed out of temptation. He must have converted after the war, which made his sacrifice all the more amazing, no real anesthesia left and such. So Kevin let him in to talk. We were so short of new entertainment. The other guys on guard duty were unsure but listened to stories of massacres and death bonfires and new religions and other fringe communities holding on like us.
News, especially something other than the short and sanitized broadcasts on the short wave radios dug up for World War 2 type times, was limited. Who was sick, who died, maybe a birth or wedding mentioned. Some weather data. But no one admitted where the infection line was, except by their silence.
I was silent now. That might give me away and lead to my family and cousins and neighbors deciding to cleanse everything now, just in case. I picked up the phone. After brief thought, I pushed the gore off the “answer” button with my thumb. If there was risk of infection, I’d already achieved it. “I’m here.”
“Shawn! What’s going on? Why didn’t you pick up?” A lot of other questions rattled by, but I couldn’t seem to care. Emotional shock from the massacre? Or from having to kill the infected?
“I picked up now.”
“Look, if you won’t answer my questions, give the phone to Devon!” A few more sentences of how inept I was rattled by. It felt good not to care about how badly he treated me.
“He’s dead,” I answered when his insults paused, likely as he was taking in a breath.
“Of what?” my father asked me.
“Lansing killed him.”
“He was acting erratically.”
“Lansing’s going to have to explain that when he gets back here,” my father demanded.
“He’s dead, too.”
“Of what?” my father asked, his voice eerie as a sudden whisper. He realized that Devon wasn’t just a suicide or the murder of someone who’d cracked. This was worse.
“He died trying to kill the monk.”
“The monk Kevin let in.”
“You simply called in a visual confirmation of a person on the road. You never called in a request to make contact or begin quarantine.” My father paused. “Oh, God, you didn’t quarantine!”
“He was a monk,” came my reply, as if it were an all encompassing answer. It was, to me, at least.
“People dressed up as Jesus and Mary and Buddha when crazy from the war. And even before the war, evil men dressed up as police for the raiding opportunities – how could you trust someone dressed like a monk?”
“I didn’t trust him. But Kevin met with him. After a couple hours, it all seemed fine, so Kevin brought the monk in.”
“To the perimeter gate?” my father asked. I felt a flare of habitual hatred for my father and a desire to let out a string of profanity. But that wasn’t right, so I kept my mouth shut as my dead mother had always wished I could. “To the outpost?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I admitted. I wouldn’t have let a monk in for all the worry of strange ideas getting in the way of survival. The monk’s shaved head could have hidden radiation sickness. The spindly body hid hunger or vicious diseases that messed up the metabolism. The lack of a weapon under the light robes might be a sign of insanity, but a growing minority already was totally nuts these days, and the lack of a weapon at least said the monk wasn’t trying to kill. It seemed a friendly reminder of the days we made fun of Moonies and Mormons. But the guy didn’t mind our quiet laughter at him. He’d shaken the hands of several guys and hugged Kevin warmly … “Close quarters, too,” I added.
The monk was clear and lucid, though in an enlightened state. We’d have thought he was high if he didn’t smell of marijuana. His eyes were white, not infected with the blood red of the crazy virus. His skin was smooth but for scars. No weird lesions, just bug bites.
“Who else is alive?” my father asked.
“I don’t know.” I admitted.
“Who else is dead?”
“Mostly everyone.” The truth was so easy to say now, though the words have frightened me even hours before. There might be others hidden, dying or waiting. I did not care either way.
“Who else might be alive?” my father asked.
“LaBron.” He’d been strong enough to run for it into the woods, hightailing it like a terrified deer. I pitied him now. I’d been angry with him then.
“What happened to him?” my father asked. He’d always liked LeBron. Maybe even more than me. I’d been a military school drop out after being a high school drop out. LeBron had been an honorable marine who had saved my family’s lives more than once.
“He was running into the woods, the last I saw him.”
“Was he exposed?” my father asked.
“I don’t know.”
My father started asking many questions. His questions mattered as little as my answers likely did. I answered honestly, as well as I could, not treating him any differently than a stranger. Was this the concept of detachment the monk had described? It was a lot better than the fear, the worry, the anger, and all the negative emotions from before the war. Much better. If this was infection, it felt good. Did that make this infection a good thing?
“Can you kill yourself?” he asked me.
“No,” I answered.
“I’ll send someone to help –“ my father offered. He might not have had a choice to say it. Or they would have sent a clean up crew, anyway, to fight what they thought was a new threat.
“I want to live.” It was the only certainty I could feel through this new glow. Life. Choose life. To live. And to share that desire to live.
“Where are you going to go?” he asked. I heard a mix of fear and awe in his voice. I couldn’t tell if he was horrified or delighted.
“The monk said –...“ Thoughts of wild animals, unenlightened people, swarming the refuge of faith and peace the monk had said held back the name of it from my lips. I wouldn’t lie, but I didn’t have to say what would create chaos and death. Not if my father was already sending men with guns to kill this cure for the evils of the world. “He said there was somewhere that offered hope for the infected.”
“Do you really think they’ve got a cure?”
“The alternative is death,” I said. The truths the monk had said felt more certain with each breath. The world before was chaos and destruction, and after the war was only more chaos and death. Only a radical change could bring the peace all sides had said they wanted. If faith were infectious … yes, it was infectious, and now I was infected. And this state was light and hope and good … all that I’d ever been told we should be. How could this be denied to anyone? Especially if it didn’t have to kill them as the speeches before the War had killed?
“Hurry up and get where you’re going, Son,” he said to me. “The sooner you get there, the sooner you can get help.”
“The sooner I leave, the sooner I get farther away from you,” I retorted. Habit to say such, a bad habit. “The sooner you feel safe again.”
“Promise me, you won’t come back.” It was a desperate plea, unsettling to hear.
“I promise, I won’t come back.” A dozen vague emotional responses floated through my mind. “Given all the EMP damage and generators running out of gas and fuel, this is probably my last call to you.”
He tried to say more. I hung up on him. He was right. I threw the phone down and broke it on purpose so he couldn’t call me back, delay me until death came.
The sooner I left, the sooner I would be gone and in less danger from those who knew they might kill me for this infection. The farther I got, the harder it would be for them to follow. After all, I had no more fear of infection to hold me back. My infection was a relief. Perhaps for everyone.
I took my backpack with its three days of supplies in it. After some hesitation, I pried two packs off the wall from under the bodies piled against it. Killing those who had gone into the rage version of the plague had been easy. I’d killed dozens of that violent, crazy kin. Killing friends who had tried to kill me for being infected was harder. They thought what they were doing was self defense. So did I.
I took several guns and as much ammunition as I could reasonably carry; I might have to kill more of those who refused to accept the only hope left for humanity. Jokes of “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” passed through my mind. It didn’t quite feel right. The monk’s words of hope and peace, certainty and sharing, those felt right.
I started to undo the tight locks and chains on the front gate. We always made it so that no one could just walk in or sneak in. And so that one person couldn’t sneak out, whether spying or from going stir crazy. About half an hour into the effort, I heard a gun’s safety release.
“Quit it,” the familiar voice said. I turned to see Ramirez’s paling face. The scratches on his face were growing in a red zigzag pattern of the crazy virus. “Quit it!” he screamed. A moment of lucidity, and he managed a sentence. “You’ll let the infection in.”
“Did you try to go over the wall?” I asked him. My own hand was smoothly gliding back to one of my pistols. A calm, non-descript action to prevent an adrenaline response from Ramirez. The virus he had hit the adrenaline centers, pumping anger and fear, rage and hatred. What I had was the opposite.
“I couldn’t get past the dead bodies. The last ones we killed. The last rampage,” he said. “Get away! You’ll let them in!”
“The infection’s already in,” I told him gently. “I think you got it from the dead bodies on contact.”
“Did not!” Ramirez cried. His reaction was fear, not anger. “Didn’t! Didn’t!” His hands were starting to shake from the effect of my words. I reached out with the hand not resting on my pistol and took the gun from his hand. I deflected its aim before he could get a shot off. I then grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back with my hand holding his pistol. This close, I didn’t want to get his blood on me. I didn’t know if this bliss was a cure for the rage or something that merely fought with it.
He started shouting, “No! No!” I pushed him onto the ground with my knee in his back the way a former cop had taught me. His fast heart rate spread the virus faster. He forgot speech and just screamed. Ramirez started trying actively kill me. I tried to tie him up but he fought too hard. It got me agitated so I twisted his head in my hands to try to talk sense into him. That broke his neck by accident. Did the gift the monk gave me make me stronger? Ramirez fell limp and silent.
I took a few deep breaths to calm down. I heard other sounds of motion. Yeah, others had been hiding. I looked at the blood on my hands. Just a little. Not much time, probably. I started to look for the others. If they were infected like Ramirez, I owed it to my father to see them dead before they’d infect others before I died. If not infected, I could give them hope by making the world safer for everyone else.
I talked to the dying, to give comfort and release. I was lucky – most had shifted into fear mode and curled up in corners, a response strong soldiers at the end of the world likely had now that they could, after killing so much.
Another man infected with the rage virus had a noose on his neck but hadn’t the sense to do himself in before it took his life. I thanked him for stopping the spread of that violent form of insanity and giving permission, in a way he could, to do what I needed to do. Then I put a bullet through his brain.
I stopped by my old quarters and checked the mirror. No, no bloody red eyes of the insanity virus. No violent red lesions that indicated that infection. Clear white eyes of sanity and certainty. Had it been an hour or more? Two hours? I was fine. With this much contact with bodily fluids, I should have been raving by now. The monk’s “disease” was protecting me from the insanity virus. Unreal! It was a cure! It was a miracle!
The sounds of others trying to hide or further arm themselves brought me back to the situation. They’d seen me deal with the crazy virus. They either feared the known threat or the unknown. I smiled. I’d tell them what they needed to know.
The harder part was dealing with those who were not infected but refused to listen, refused to learn, who refused to see the light and take my outstretched hand. I tried to speak to them, but they leveled guns at me instead. But I was a good shot and had no fear of shooting them after they threatened me. I did not want to kill, but I had to protect the hope inside me. Those still living and willing to receive it needed it.
No one else was alive and unaccounted for. I finished the work and I swung open the gate to our outer perimeter. I started to walk gingerly through the mine field we’d laid so long ago. I heard a shout behind me. I turned around, almost fearing to see my father ready to kill me. At a fast jog or horseback, he could be here by now.
It was LeBron.
“Where is everyone else?” he shouted.
“All the others are dead.”
“Where you going?” he asked.
“To where the monk came from.”
LeBron nodded in understanding. “Good luck,” he said. “I know how you feel.”
“Can you help my family understand?” I asked my friend. It felt good to see him, a warm burn in addition to the feelings the monk had shared. I wanted to share the words, the hope, and the freedom from fear.The image of the broken cell phone appeared to me. There would be no more long distance phone calls, only meeting face to face, to spread the word of peace.
LeBron smiled joyously in understanding and nodded again. He then turned and jogged off toward home, carrying his rifle ready in case of the worse and his heart ready for the best.
For the first time in a long time, I felt unrequited joy as I headed off into a world made new. I would spread the new hope as far as I could on my journey. Phones might not work, but I would call on them the old fashioned way. It felt good, knowing that in person was the best way to bring the hope I carried to them.