Authors: Joseph Talluto
Born in the Apocalypse
Copyright 2016 by Joseph Talluto
“Do you think it’s one of them?”
“I dunno. Has it moved?”
“Not for the last ten minutes.”
“How do you think it got here?”
“Dunno. Was it here before?”
“Don’t remember seeing it, but the wind last night might have blown the leaves off it.”
“Throw something at it.”
My friend Trey Chambers and I were looking at a body. It was a middle-aged man about forty five, although my only reference to middle-aged men was Mr. Greyson over the ridge. It looked about as old as him and about the same color, so maybe it was all right. It was lying on its side under a holly bush with its arms crossed on its chest and its head was turned away from us.
“Should we go around it, look at it from the front?” Trey asked.
“Well, we have to if we want to get home,” I said. We’d been hunting for the better part of the morning, checking our snares and having a fair amount of luck. We had three rabbits apiece, and I had an extra squirrel I managed to knock out of a tree with a well-thrown rock. We had seen the tracks of a deer, but we had nothing on us that would take down a large animal. We had our packs and our knives, but that was it.
We walked carefully through the brush, trying to keep to the game trail that ran a zig-zag pattern through the woods. Behind our houses was a decent-sized forest, and we had both grown up exploring and hunting its depths. There wasn’t much to the forest we hadn’t seen, so to come across this body suddenly was having to admit it wasn’t there before. And in that case, there was a really good chance it was one of
We slowly walked around the man, trying to see its face before it saw us. If it was one of them, it would have dark splotches all over its face. If it wasn’t, it would look normal. That was the easiest way to tell, although not all of them had the splotches. A few were normal-looking, and you couldn’t tell they were a problem until they tried to get you.
Trey bumped my arm. I looked over at him, and he pointed to the body once, then pointed to his own eyes. He shook his head, and I took him at his word. I couldn’t see the face at the angle I was at, being taller than he was, but Trey was telling me he didn’t think it was one. We’d seen them before, and we knew what they could do, so we were naturally cautious about approaching one. We’d also seen plenty of dead bodies as well, so if this was another one of
, no big deal.
We worked our way across the path and moved away from the body. I’d tell my dad about it, and he would probably come out and drag it over to the burn hole. It was a deep pit about fifty feet across and was originally thirty feet deep. It had started out as a retention pit for the floods we would get, but it served another purpose in the end.
“Hey, Josh?” Trey said as we followed the trail again.
Whatever I was thinking of answering flew out of my head as the bush over the body suddenly exploded in sound and flying leaves. The corpse, which it now obviously it wasn’t, thrashed and tore at the clinging shrub as it tried to free itself.
Trey and I took one look at the monster coming after us, and we didn’t have to think twice. We turned and ran for our lives.
Behind us, the infected person tore free of the foliage and came after us in the typical fast walk of someone who had fallen prey to the disease that had killed so many. It seemed they couldn’t quite work out the mechanics of running, but walking fast was the next best thing. Of course, when you were twelve years old like Trey and I were, a fast walking adult was almost on par with as fast as we could run.
“Go, go, go!” I yelled, pushing Trey on. He was the slower of the two of us and the most likely to trip on something. If he had been behind me he wouldn’t have made it. I could hear the man stumbling, wheezing, and trying like crazy to get at us. If we fell or stopped, he’d tear us apart.
“Where can we go?” Trey yelled, running past a small stand of trees. That was a landmark for us and told us we were close to our homes.
“Head down the hill; we’ll get him with the rocks!” I panted, stealing a look behind me and wishing immediately I hadn’t. The man was moving fast, and his walk was pretty steady, which on these people meant he had been infected fairly recently, and his mind still remembered how to move. Thank God he had forgotten how to run.
“Are you nuts?” Trey wheezed, turning left anyway. “We’ll get in trouble for sure!”
“Gotta risk it unless you want to run forever,” I said, moving down the hill. The forest we emerged from led out onto a huge man-made hill which extended for a quarter mile in front of us. The top was flat and grassy, and the sides were steep enough to give even a healthy person a case of the heaves. Going up was hard enough, but going down was a piece of cake. We just let gravity take over and slid down the grass until we reached the rocks at the bottom.
The rocks themselves were huge, the smallest of them being larger than my fist. The larger ones we couldn’t even move if we tried together. But we didn’t need those, we just needed ones that were about the size of a pumpkin. Trey and I each picked up a rock the size of a shoebox and lay in wait for the diseased man to come tumbling down.
We heard him before we saw him. Those infected with the Tripp Virus wheezed a lot since we were told they were missing a lot of their lung tissue, and their throats were messed up. It wasn’t too bad in the daylight, but at night it really creeped me out.
In a minute, the man walked off the edge of the hill, and fell right onto his face. He slid that way for a while and wound up crashing head first into the same rock pile we did. Blood poured out of a deep gash on his cheek, and the impact stunned him just enough for us to move.
“Get him!” I yelled at Trey, heaving my rock up and dumping it on the prone man’s shoulders. The man wheezed suddenly and tried to turn his head, but it was wedged in between two rocks and not going anywhere.
Trey tossed his rock onto the man’s back, and then jumped on top of the rocks, adding his weight to the stones. The combined heaviness was too much for the infected man, and he couldn’t do anything but lay there and bleed.
Trey looked over at me. “You gotta kill him, man!”
I looked down at the pathetic creature with a mixture of loathing, disgust, and fear. I had seen these things since the day I was born, and I never got used to them. But that didn’t stop me from doing what needed to be done, and I picked up the biggest rock I could lift. Pushing it over my head, I brought it down with both hands onto the head of the infected man. The rock cracked into the man’s skull, stunning him, and I lifted the rock and brought it down again. This time there was a serious crack as the rock broke the skull and penetrated the brain. The man’s thrashing ceased, and lay there as blood leaked out of his head and stained the rocks around him.
Trey climbed off, and we looked down at the dead man.
“That was close, man,” Trey said.
I nodded. “Yeah, but we got this,” I said with bravado I didn’t really feel.
“Let’s get home,” Trey said, looking around.
“Better get our rabbits back,” I said, starting to climb up the hill. We had pitched our catch when the Tripp victim started chasing us.
“Ugh,” Trey said. “I hate backtracking. Stupid Tripper.”
We called them Trippers after the virus came. According to my dad, it was a little thing that suddenly became a big problem. It started with the street junkies, the homeless, and the runaways. No one really paid any attention to the spread because it was out of sight. The way things worked, if it wasn’t seen it wasn’t a problem. But according to the rumors, the virus came in with a load of marijuana. It was ingested, and from there it took off in its new host. It attacked the neural pathways in the brain, causing the victim to forget everything about themselves, turning them into mindless husks. After that, it went to work on the nervous system itself, eating away at the pain receptors. People with the virus could lose a limb and not feel a thing. Finally, the virus slowed down the body systems, with the heart beating only ten or twelve times a minute. But they could still move nearly as quickly as they could before they caught the disease. The weird thing was they seemed to just keep going even after they should have died from starvation, exposure, or dehydration.
We heard the virus transferred from host to host through bodily fluids, and could live for seventy-two hours in open air. That was how it spread. The virus turned the victims into mindless, rabid animals, attacking anything they saw as a threat. My dad explained, as we learned later, that they were territorial which was why they attacked everyone they saw on their turf. Trippers, being mindless, didn’t stay in one place but wandered about, which made their territory just about everywhere. They didn’t attack each other, and my dad said it was because they didn’t see other infected as threats. They lived in a constant state of high alert, ready to fly at anything. But all of this was just rumor; we really didn’t know anything.
I didn’t see any of this, because on the day I was born I saved my dad’s life. My father was a policeman, and just as my mom went into labor, his station was called up to help put down an outbreak of Trippers. Every single officer who answered the call that day died. My dad called me his luck, and I suppose for that one day I was.
Dad took Mom and me home the next day, and three days later the hospital we had been in was overrun. There were too many Trippers out there to deal with, and the police couldn’t handle them all. Eventually things just fell apart, and we’d been on our own ever since.
We managed better than most at first, and it was probably my dad that returned the favor by saving us all during the really bad times. Once the Trippers took over and the police were gone, people started banding together for survival. Problem was, desperate people put in desperate situations with death right around the corner tended to tear themselves apart from within. My dad told me stories about finding several groups of people all lying dead in a bunch, and it looked like they had just simply killed each other.
We probably also survived because we lived pretty far away from main population centers. We had a house on the far end of a small town with a forest in the backyard and a creek nearby. It was all I had ever known.
Trey lived across the street, and the creek that wound its way around the area went directly through his back yard. Water was never a problem for his family. Trey’s mom used to be an accountant, and for lack of anything else to do, she took it upon herself to educate Trey and myself in math. Since she didn’t have to follow any curriculum, we probably got a better education than we could have in the normal world. Trey’s dad was a pipefitter, and before the end of civilization he had owned a small but successful business. These days, he occupied himself with figuring out how to bring more water to larger areas of growing vegetables and fruits.
I threw a wave to Trey as he headed off around the front of my house and took off for his own. I hung the rabbits from a small branch, taking care they didn’t reach low enough for a scavenger to get them. I felt like I earned the jumpers today.
“Mom! I’m home!” I yelled as I entered into the garage through the side door. I took off my gear, putting everything in its proper place. Dad taught me that trick. If I ever had to leave in a hurry, and if it was dark or light, I always knew where my stuff was and could get it without delay. Dad taught me a lot of tricks. Some Mom knew about; some she was better off not knowing.
“How was the snare line?” Mom asked like she always did. I never knew if Mom actually cared about it or was just being polite. She didn’t go outside much, and usually went to bed right after dark. Dad said she took the end of the world pretty hard, but I couldn’t see the big deal.
“It was good; I got three decent rabbits,” I said, washing my hands in the sink.
“Good for you,” Mom said absently. “Are you going to clean them or let your father do it again?”
I ducked a little. “I’ll go do it right now,” I said, moving to the door.
“Josh?” Mom called out as I stepped into the garage.
“We can spare one of the rabbits for the Simpsons. I heard Lucy’s mom isn’t feeling well, and they haven’t had much luck with their traps,” Mom said.
“All right,” I said, closing the door. Under my breath I added, “That’s because they can’t bait worth a damn, and their traps are too big anyway. This ain’t Africa.”
I spent the next hour cleaning and washing the rabbits. I didn’t bring up the Tripper to my mom since she would have freaked out, and I don’t need that today. I was a little shaky the more I thought about it, since I had never actually killed a Tripper before. I had seen my dad do it a hundred times, and there was that big attack where I loaded guns for my dad while the Trippers attacked the house, but I hadn’t ever had to do it myself.
I didn’t know what to feel about it. On the one hand, I felt glad I was alive. On the other hand, I had killed someone. I guess it would be different if I had to kill someone I knew, but I don’t know. I guess it was just him or me, and I made it him.
I finished with the rabbits just in time to see my dad come back from his rounds. When everything went south, as he called it, he knew people would fall apart unless there was some kind of order being kept. So my dad, being a police officer, decided to keep his badge on and handle the normal, everyday problems that came up from people trying to survive. He didn’t call himself a police officer anymore; he just called himself the Law. He wore his badge and gun, and went around the homesteads checking on people, making sure things were okay, dealing with Trippers if they showed up, and generally keeping the peace. He told me at first he was a little freaked by the responsibility, since he was essentially judge, jury, and executioner, but people seemed to realize it was necessary and were glad someone was willing to step up and do it.
I walked into the house the same time my dad did after he put up and took care of his ride.
“Hey, pal! How’s things?” my dad asked me as he gave my mother a kiss. Mom’s worried faced looked calmer now, like the stress of being alone was gone now that Dad was home.
“I caught three rabbits today; they’re in the tank right now. Mom wants me to take one over to the Simpsons later,” I said, looking up at my dad. He was a big man, broad shouldered and strong. I must have sounded different because my dad looked at me sideways and squinted slightly.
“Good for you! Let’s go take a look at them and see which one we want to send to the Simpson’s.” My dad took me by the shoulder and led me into the garage where we kept the water tank for the cleaned kills.
We closed the door behind us and walked over to the tank. It was a small stock tank my dad picked up from somewhere, and we used it for cleaning game and keeping the flies off our kills.
I pulled out the jumpers, and dad’s mouth turned down as he nodded and looked appraisingly at the rabbits. I had the pelts hanging up, and I would cure them later.
“We can give them that middle one there; that should keep them for a day,” Dad said. As I put the rabbits back, Dad asked the question I worried about since this morning.
“Anything you need to tell me?” Dad asked, putting a hand on my shoulder. I was tall for my age and developing broad shoulders myself, but at the moment I felt like a three-year-old who just got caught stealing the cookies.
I looked down. “Trey and I killed a Tripper today.”