Authors: Deirdre Gould
The 40th Day
The 40th Day
Copyright 2016 Deirdre Gould
All rights are reserved to the author. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, character, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Rickey and Melissa E.: Thank you for letting me shamelessly use you to rebuild the world
And for all of the readers who loved all of these characters as much as I did. These books wouldn’t exist without your support.
Christine slowly realized she’d long ago lost all sense of where they were. They walked through another grimy, damp intersection that looked the same as all the previous ones. Marnie held the map in front of her, glancing up only long enough to note the next section of tunnel. Christine’s legs were tired and she could feel the muscles wobbling on the edge of a series of cramps. Stress and the pregnancy sucked away her energy. Marnie paused to mark where they’d been again, streaking a red pen across the filthy map. Christine bent down to rub her calf muscle, trying to coax it into relaxing. She’d have to see if she could find some source of potassium when they got to the surface. Maybe that was why she’d suddenly had such strong cravings for meat. It was something she hadn’t really missed in years. Except for eggs from the handful of chickens she and Sevita had kept, meat wasn’t available. But she’d been dreaming about hamburger all week. Rare hamburger. The kind that mushed and bled in the middle. Christine stood up.
No good thinking about what doesn’t exist anymore,
she told herself.
Get yourself and Marnie out of these filthy tunnels and into fresh air and there’s a protein bar in the pack for you.
Marnie turned back toward her. “It’s not so much farther. We’re getting near the power plant tunnels, there should be an exit in a few blocks, we can peek out and see if it’s safe on the street.”
Christine nodded and followed after her down the long tunnel. It stretched on and on. The thicker dark and the quick chilly breath of openings at her side never failed to make Christine nervous, expecting some dark creature, something oozing infection and skeletal to come shambling out of an intersecting tunnel to grab her or Marnie. The girl seemed unconcerned though, jumping only at the infrequent pop of gunfire or thud of something moving on the street above them. The dark, the seeping rotten leaf smell of stagnant water, the rustle of rodents didn’t make her hesitate at all. Christine wondered about her life Before. It wasn’t the first time since meeting Marnie that she’d thought about it. But she didn’t ask.
asked in the City. A person was how they acted after arriving. It was too dangerous to be nosy about what had happened, what they’d done before walking through the massive entry gate. It was never a happy story. Christine tripped and went down onto the muddy floor, her arms stretched in front of her to protect her from slamming her belly into the cement.
“Whoa,” said Marnie, reaching to help her up, “Are you okay?”
Christine wiped her arms on the front of her pants, trying to clean the slimy grit from her skinned elbows and scraped forearms. “I’m fine,” she said, “Just clumsy.”
Marnie swung the flashlight around. “What’d you trip on?”
“I don’t know. It didn’t really felt like I bumped into anything, more like I got tangled up in my feet. Must just be tired. I’ll pay more attention to what I’m doing.”
Marnie helped her get up and retrieved Christine’s flashlight. “Do we need to do anything for the baby? Did that hurt it?”
“The baby is okay. It wasn’t a bad fall and it’s still very early.”
Christine finished brushing herself off and hitched her pack a little higher as she started down the long tunnel again.
“Why did you— wouldn’t it have been easier to adopt?” Marnie asked, and then quickly added, “I know that’s too personal, you don’t have to answer that.”
“We wanted to make sure that if the plague came back someday, maybe centuries later, there’d be humans with immunity. So Sevita and I agreed to the pregnancy, so our baby would have two Immune parents. We didn’t know a different strain was out there until after. It wasn’t so hard, the City arranged it all, I just had to go to the hospital one day for an hour and it was done.”
“I didn’t mean
you did it. I meant— I don’t know what I meant. Maybe that babies shouldn’t be born anymore. Maybe that having a baby is dangerous. For you
the baby. There’s not enough medicine, not enough food. Never enough of anything. Except people hurting each other. Maybe we aren’t supposed to make more of us.”
Christine frowned. “That’s pretty cynical for someone so young. Yeah, I guess things weren’t great. Especially outside. I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. For what we’ve all been through. But the City has been secure for a few years now. We didn’t have excess, sure, but everyone had enough. Some things are scarce, like medicine and some foods, but that isn’t going to change for a while. Should we just let ourselves run down to extinction because of some lean times? Why go on at all?”
“But you don’t even know if your baby is immune. Maybe it’s infected right now. Maybe it’s going to kill—”
Christine turned to face the teenager behind her. Marnie stopped talking. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“It’s not infected,” said Christine. “Not yet anyway. It won’t be in danger of infection until delivery. That’s how the bacteria works. By then we’ll be far enough away that we’ll never have to worry about infection.”
“Look,” Christine continued, “I know this is scary, especially at your age. But women have been doing this for millions of years. Through plagues and wars and starvation. Is it right? I don’t know. Would it have been better if the baby were an accident instead of planned? Maybe it’s selfish. Maybe it’s not fair. But the world needs babies. It needs hope or what’s left will fade away.
need this baby. It can’t bring Sevita back, I know that. It can’t undo what’s been done. But the baby’s world won’t be what happened eight years ago or a hundred years ago. Its world will be what happens once it opens its eyes. And those days are still ahead. I have to believe those days are beautiful and loving and worthwhile. Without this baby, those days are just an empty span of waiting to die, immune or not.” She stopped for a moment. “I’m sorry for whatever you’ve been through Marnie,” she said, “and I wouldn’t blame you if there were days where you wished your parents hadn’t made the decision to have you, that it’s all more grief than it’s worth. But it wasn’t always this way, and someday it
get better, for you too. There are good reasons that we keep holding on, even when it seems pointless. One day, you’re going to wake up and the sun’s going to seem warmer and the food’s going to seem better and you’ll find your purpose again. We all will. Maybe it’s in someone you haven’t met yet. Maybe it’s in doing some real good in the world. You’ll find it. So will this baby. As difficult as it is to believe, someday, this will all be worth it—” She stumbled again as something launched into her from a side passage. She hit the side wall of the main tunnel with a thud. Marnie yelled and jumped after her.
Christine slid down the wall as she struggled to keep the man on top of her from biting. She pushed his jaw up and away and flinched as his hands flailed and scrabbled across her. He was growling but it turned into a deep gurgle as saliva pooled and dribbled from his jaw. She could tell he was smelling her and it only made him hungrier. Marnie yanked on his shoulders trying to pull him off, but the man just shrugged her off.
“Marnie, no! Stay back!” Christine yelled. She tried to wriggle out from beneath him, the grit from the floor grinding and smearing into her back. She tried to kick, but he straddled her legs and sat down. His hands seemed to remember their purpose and began closing around her neck. Marnie swung her large pack, aiming for the man’s head. It hit his shoulder and he rocked back for a second. He reached up and yanked the pack from Marnie’s arms and threw it behind him while Christine twisted and broke partially free. He shrieked, upset at the near escape of his prey. He clamped down on Christine’s arm with one hand and turned his face, slavering, back to her. Christine panted, pushing his face as far upward as she could.
“Help! Somebody help,” Marnie yelled, not knowing who she meant to call out to. “What do I do?” she asked, hovering over the man’s back. Christine didn’t answer, her face flushing red in the bright halo of her dropped flashlight. She just grunted and strained as the man above her snarled and twisted, trying to get closer. Marnie glanced around. There’d been no weapons in the bunker, not even a kitchen knife. A pair of scissors had been all, Marnie had looked, missing the hunting knives that had been confiscated at the City gate. She’d left the scissors behind. She’d thought the other people would need them more. And now she had nothing. She glanced down at Christine. There was more bend in the other woman’s arm, and her chest heaved with exhausted, whooping breaths. The man was going to kill her in only a minute or two.
I should run,
Marnie thought, the idea growing from her very bone. Christine groaned. She glanced up at Marnie, and the girl could see that Christine knew she was about to give up.
“Run,” she wheezed, echoing Marnie’s own instinct.
Marnie shook her head, unsure whether she was denying Christine’s command or her own. She groped for her pack in the side tunnel and pulled it out by a strap. She could hear Christine gagging as the man’s grip tightened around her neck. Marnie leaped onto his back. Christine let go of his face, tearing at his hands as she choked. The man lunged forward, mouth stretched wide in a roar. Marnie dropped the pack’s canvas strap over his head and pulled back. The strap pulled against the man’s throat and Marnie yanked backward, using her body weight to force him up and away from Christine’s skin. He released Christine’s neck, trying to pull the strap away. Marnie spun the pack until the strap closed behind his head in a completed loop. She twisted it farther as the man stumbled off of Christine and flailed, trying to reach the pack behind his head. Christine scuttled away, still wheezing, while Marnie clung on. The pack swung and rocked as he struggled to stand and Marnie was lifted off her feet, but she didn’t let go. For a few seconds, he tottered and then bashed into the tunnel wall. Marnie yelped as her shoulder hit and bruised. The man slowly collapsed to his knees, clutching at the strap that cut into the skin of his neck.
“Stop,” panted Christine. “Stop Marnie, that’s enough.”
“What?” asked Marnie, staring at her.
“You’ll kill him. Stop.”
Marnie didn’t let go. The man slumped forward more, his shoulders touching the floor as he gasped for a tiny breath. “He’s going to kill
. I can’t stop.”
“He’s just sick, Marnie. You have to let go. He’s a human being.”