Authors: Greg Hanks
Cover Art by Samuel Happonen
Copyright © 2009 by Greg Hanks
All rights reserved.
Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
First Edition: September 2009
Second Edition: April 2012
Third Edition: August 2013
Fourth Edition: February 2015
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity or real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
“Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
curdled through my vein, spewing its offspring out of my fingernail. I lied on my apartment floor, struck as if witchcraft held me in place, frozen in an iceberg of razorblades. The pain never got old. It never got easier. This was Edge. This was worse than death.
The television played in the background. The voices seemed to mock me. Reporters still shared news during the world’s worst crisis, trying to enable our minds with images of resolution, courage, and a sense of duty. Duty to what? The only duty that claimed my life was that of waiting. Waiting for another attack. Waiting for more blood to fill my apartment. Waiting for more people to drop dead around me.
I was sick of waiting.
My arm was getting numb from the loss of blood and the weight of my head resting upon my shoulder. The smell of the oily, crimson surge brought instant memories of my mother. I saw my arm as her arm. My heart, her heart. My corpse . . . and hers.
I could only wish.
Why wasn’t I moving yet? It was the longest I had let the blood run out of my fingertip. I just watched like a cancer patient as some imaginary idiot tried to cheer me up. And wouldn’t
be the life—cancer. At least then I’d know I’d be dead sooner or later.
The daze soon withdrew, and I started to feel my legs stir. Blood soaked my wooden floorboards. The dark blend stained my jeans and t-shirt. It’s hard to protect my clothes when I’m seizing on the ground like a fish in a net. It wasn’t anything new. The articles would return to the decrepit pile of other garments that had seen similar days.
This was routine. The constant scrubbing, bandaging, and recuperating held me by chains. Changing clothes twice, sometimes three times a day, had me quickly losing interest in doing my laundry. Some days there was no changing at all.
As I washed my finger, I listened to the current anchors, their voices tuning into focus.
“Moving on to the statistical report. As of May 2041 it appears that two-thirds,” she paused for a moment, like the words had struck her dumb. “Two-thirds of the world’s population is gone. These losses—” the worn anchorwoman coughed into her fist. “Excuse me. These are terrible losses.” She shuffled her papers and forced a weak smile.
A thin man with charcoal hair straightened his suit coat and smiled at the camera.
“As Deanna said, the world has definitely taken a toll from this pandemic. Again, we assure you that Volunteers all across the globe are working to find a cure. That’s why we need to focus on one thing.
The anchorman seemed to be from another planet. His personality came off as robotic, yet cheery, almost excited to tell nothing but garbage news. All of his attributes—the gleaming comb-over and silken suit—made his partner look penniless and frankly, embarrassing. He acted as though he had never been graced by Edge’s presence.
“Thanks to the worldwide corporation, GenoTec, surviving is what we do best,” he said, with a weird twinge to his smile. A picture materialized to his right, depicting the 72-story GenoTec building, standing tall and clean amongst its surly, forgotten peers. “The sole reason we’re still on the air is
of GenoTec. GenoTec’s strings hold us up daily, and with thousands of Volunteers, the curse of Edge is being slowed down
. Archturus Slate, and everyone within GenoTec, is giving us hope, and we have
to respond. We ask that you press on, seek out churches, synagogues—find anything that gives you comfort—and just
. GenoTec is here for us, and in time, there will be a cure—”
The screen beamed white as the next program cut off the news anchor’s “dramatic” speech. In large gray lettering appeared the words, “Rewind.” An automated voice spoke in an annoying, optimistic tone. “Let’s take a look back shall we?” The program went on as if nothing had happened.
I’m glad GenoTec knows how to run a show.
I rubbed my face. The damp fingers wiped at unwound areas. My eyes pinched from a sleepless night. I raised my weighted skull and stretched, feeling my ligaments pop like packaging bubbles. I limped toward my big window, the best view of the city. It was one of my escapes—with its expansive, double-paned, impenetrable glass, reaching six feet across. I peered down at the gray below; empty cars were strewn about the city streets as if a junkyard had vomited. I ran my fingers through my jet-black hair, smoothing out the irritating fur.
Cold and silent, the city drew weak breaths. I imagined myself the only soul in the entire sprawl. Me, Mark Phillip Wenton, alone and alive. My apartment building overlooked a menagerie of sullen counterparts. Some more than 40-stories, some less, and some only a few high. Even when the stagnant atmosphere tried to convince me that nothing else existed, lower Manhattan—my home—was where most of the east coast survivors had come to live.
I moved as a sloth back to the sofa. Life hadn’t always been like this. I used to be more than a twenty-seven-year-old scrub living in a dilapidated apartment, hopelessly surviving like a rabid animal. Frustration and depression rose within me and I lied back. I closed my blood-stricken, turquoise eyes and started to feel a little heavy. My body welcomed the drowsy slumber. Or was it death? I hoped for both and tried to relax.
Life for me wasn’t exactly a party. In fact, life was so dull these days that people prayed for their bodies to expire. We
the black unknown. At least the unknown aroused emotions that weren’t tied to malice, self-flagellation, and denial.
Every day I would wake up to the same torpid smell—something like mold and dirty laundry—mixed with blood of course. Make no mistake; I had become accustomed to it. I chose when to escape the covers of my bed, or roll off the old, faded, plaid sofa that was more of a sorrowing man than a couch. I chose when to eat, when to drink, and when to watch the Fuse—a television made of two posts, separated by a wide, holographic display. Everything went according to my timetable.
Such freedom . . .
On occasion, I would venture outside—out to the stinking, devolving streets of New York City. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the putrid odors of a nearby decaying body, or hear the regular moan coming from an apartment or alleyway? Who wouldn’t like living in a society where the government is something living inside of your bloodstream, working to annihilate you into nothing but a pile of ink-red sludge?
No, not even the sadists would. Mostly because they’re all dead. Probably.
Edge: the ultimate monarch. No matter what anyone said, Edge had total control over our lives. Since the virus broke out, the world’s economy collapsed. Money had become simple souvenirs, forgotten by most and hoarded by collectors. Businesses imploded. Governments capsized by the sudden burst of anarchy. Technology halted. Most of all, working to maintain a civilization became nonexistent, which meant total loss of power, food sources, and everyday minutia that suddenly became visible to our “take for granted” eyes.
As the fires of degeneration swept the Earth, GenoTec was well underway in providing an escape. First, the Sterile Communities rose up—tiny infrastructures that contained pure humans. The ones who hadn’t tasted blood in their mouths for months at a time; the ones the rest of us resented.
After the quarantines began operation, great migrations took place—lost souls looking for aid. No matter how “free” things had gotten, we all came to a realization that we needed to survive. Over the course of five years, everyone grouped near a GenoTec outpost, or in my case, the headquarters itself.
In short, GenoTec saved our lives, which in my opinion has been the paperweight to my gratitude.
Though recently, thankfulness began to drift away.
My mind wandered. A few days ago, while the day was still clear and the rotting stench of Manhattan wasn’t so bad, I had spent time with Kaden—a good friend of mine. He was picking at his fingernail, pondering the virus. We were supposed to go out and just enjoy the day, but he got carried away again, caught in the spiral of his own depression.
. He probably didn’t have much time left either. I began to worry about him, only to have the thought fade away in a mere moment. Even for friends, developing anything less than an attitude of carelessness would seem out of place.
I continued to sift through old memories. I reached a pocket of nostalgia containing a woman. Vanessa Wheeps. Earlier that week we shared a moment on the blown away portion of our complex—the Loft, as we called it. The apartment building rose only seven stories, nestled on the southwest corner of Beaver and Broad—a vicinity now referred to as “The Cuts.” Makeshift housing, alleys filled with garbage up to your knees, constant bonfires, and some of the dirtiest people outside of the Dustslum—don’t get me started on the Dustslum. Our complex, however, was the only one in The Cuts to be fixed up before GenoTec moved on to bigger projects, like feeding starving populations and recruiting thousands of motivated people. You know, adult stuff.
I grabbed my thoughts again. Vanessa and I sat on the rubble, talking and reminiscing about our past—each with horrific detail. Two inhumanly depressed souls, trying to have a conversation. Even with such a breathtaking view before us, death remained the only subject of hope.
I shot up, having new direction and purpose. I wanted to be with her. I wanted to tell her how I felt.
This could be my last day, who knows. Why not?
I left my room without bothering to shut the door behind me. The sixth floor corridor was gray and putrid, filled with rotting garbage and peeling wallpaper. The aroma of marijuana and blood numbed my nostrils. I marched down the hall to find her room, but for some reason, my courage began to flee.
Maybe I could just say “hi?”
I knocked twice, the wood hurting my brittle knuckles.
There was no answer. I switched hands and gave three more sharp jabs at the door.
Still, nothing. My heart started to race.
No . . . not yet.
Horror flooded my system. With one frenzied motion, I burst through the door and stood at the threshold in a dazzling manner.
Fresh blood splattered the walls. The floor beneath me was smeared with crimson, as if someone had tried to slide themselves to the door in an attempt to call for help. The trail of death continued into the living room, where a strong, meaty odor was coming from.
Hearing the scratchy melody from her radio, I gingerly tilted my head into the opening where the kitchen met the entryway. On the cracked and grimy tile floor laid a few spilt pills and Miracle Medpods. I checked the countertops on either side—nothing but piled dishes and leftover food. The radio continued to hum away with its soft indie tune, the guitar’s strings like icicles falling onto my eardrums.
After learning all I could about the kitchen, I knew I had to face the truth. Reluctantly, I peered around the edge and realized my fears. First, I noticed the remains of her eyes, littered in pieces across the room. Her body was curled up into a ball, lying in a pool of blood. Her skin was red, her fingernails gone. I did nothing but stare.
I couldn’t gag. I couldn’t cry. Those emotions were long gone. But something else gurgled within my stomach. The new feeling was familiar, but like an old friend it brought distance and awkwardness to my mind. It was here, standing in that disgusting apartment that I understood a very crucial lesson.
I was still human.