DEAD WRANGLER

by Justin Coke

 CHAPTER ONE

Mississippi

 

He clung to the spire of the Chrysler building. He was wretchedly thin, his ribs jutting out of his shriveled chest.  They were coming.  He could hear them scratching and screaming and moaning.  They were almost through.  The barricades worked too well.  It was easier just to go through the walls.

He looked down.  For miles and miles, dead bodies packed so tightly they could barely lift their arms.  From this height their moans almost sounded like the babbling of some peaceful creek.

He was the last man in New York.  The rest had given up days ago.  There had been nothing to eat except one another for weeks, nothing to drink but piss and rainwater.  And one look at the mass below was enough to know, without a sliver of doubt, that they were really and truly doomed.

He knew that now.  He accepted it.  He was fine with it.  He'd had a good twenty five years to live.  That wasn't as long as he'd like, but it was longer than many.  And until a few months ago it had been a good life.  Under the circumstances, he felt that the rule against suicide must be temporarily waived. Fate had certainly fucked him, there was no argument there.  But that didn't mean he was willing to accept the form of immortality on offer if he stayed.  He deserved that much. 

The wall caved in and they came poring through below. He knew who had sent them and he'd left them a surprise. He was going to enter the afterlife right after the few thousand zombies he had just detonated, and right before a few thousand more that were going to get crushed by ten thousand tons of debris.  He wondered for a second whether they would be his slaves in the afterlife.

He closed his eyes and kicked out hard. One Mississippi. The wind roared in his ears, so loud he could barely hear the explosion.  He felt it deep in his chest.  Three Mississippi. The top ten floors of the Chrysler building detonated and sent shards of metal and glass flying. Five Mississippi.

The shards were flying nearly as fast as he was.  Seven Mississip.

 

 

 CHAPTER TWO

13 June

 

The plague began somewhere.  It spread so fast that no one knew exactly where.  It barreled through big cities.  It burned like a slow fire in small towns. It even came to towns with no zombies, but scared people stopped to buy gas or to find a place to sleep for the night.  A few days after they left, one or two people didn't show up for work.  Maybe one night one of them, with dead eyes and bloodless cheeks, would break into someone's house.  Maybe they would kill someone.  Maybe they would get shot in the head.  It didn't matter.  Most of the time anyone who came within ten feet of them--they would change to.  Even if the corpse failed to eat, it still succeeded.  The only way to be safe was to be  isolated.  Did you know even the most extreme shut-in can't escape contact with other people for long, at least on a microbial level?  It's much harder than it sounds.

It wasn't obvious either.  No fever, no gangrene.  They didn't even feel queasy.  They just got a little forgetful, and a little stupid.  And then they slept.  When they woke up they had been replaced by whatever it was.

The plague was Airborne.  And it caught easy.  Seemed like about one in three people couldn't catch it from the air.  But even they could get it if they got bit.  But some people could get bitten.  Didn't do anything to them.  The confusion was immense, and the TV didn't help.  The government was saying it was some new kind of disease.  It wasn't bacteria.  It wasn't a virus.  Too complicated to be a prion and to aggressive to be anything but furiously alive.  It changed our brains first.  It overrode our souls and turned the brain into a broken thing, like an engine with bad spark plugs.  It used our instincts to feed to make the propagation of the disease the brain's only priority. It changed our bodies too.  As it converted us into it, we became difficult to kill.  We didn't starve.  We didn't drown.  Our hearts didn't beat and our intestines didn't absorb nutrients.  But somehow it seemed to defy the laws of physics and keep going in perpetual motion.  The only thing we did was burn.  And we burned like sparklers.  That was the only way to truly kill us then.  See, if you destroyed the brain you destroyed the zombies ability to maul you. Without the brains ability to sense and sort reality, it didn't know how to attack.  But it still laid there and propagated copies of itself into the ether.  It just couldn't bite you.  A lot of people died because they forgot that.  I knew a guy who was immune to the Airborne.  Then one day he was hauling a zombie that had been dead for a week to the pit and his hand slipped.  Scraped his knuckle on the zombies tooth. Two days later I was hauling him to the fire pits.

It was a terrible time.  Everyone was so afraid.  You could never really be sure that you were immune to the Airborne.  And even if you were pretty sure--what about a bite?  The only way to figure that one out was to get bitten.  If you were wrong, and you most likely were wrong... finding out was even worse than wondering.  And you couldn't be with other people.  If they turned in the night, and you were in bed next to them? 

Let's just say a lot of marriages ended in the late night hours in those days.  One way or the other.

 

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