Such is the unnatural body of this god, which has no kinship with the dust of our world; indeed, it is not flesh as we know flesh, but as crystal or glass, and soft so that during his dreaming death it often breaks apart, but when it breaks it at once reforms itself, held in its pattern by the will of the great one. Such is the unnatural nature of this sleep, which has no kinship with those who were left standing…
I remember almost everything before it happened; I grew up in a small almost-no-name town in the interior of Alaska. I was never used to an abundance of people being around during the early parts of my life. All the same, waking up in a cell the first time and not knowing where I was, felt incredibly jarring. The contagion had nearly converted all of the human population into mindless, soulless killers—small pockets of humanity were able to somehow hold on to hope long enough to stay alive throughout the last surge of the dead before the cure came. It’s not like they weren’t well prepared, Alaska is an open-carry state after all.
The beginning of the pandemic was all rumor, but then the major news stations started going off the air, permanently. Our communications systems went down and that’s when I truly felt alone for the first time in my life. I remember that day like it was yesterday—the process of infection from the time it hit the United States until it reached Alaska took a week at most. Cities and other largely populated were run through in a matter of a day or two; after the shit hit the fan, doctors and scientists became incredibly scarce throughout the world, not to mention in Alaska. Within the last year in no less than a miracle, they had somehow developed a serum, but I suppose since it wasn’t a matter of money, test subjects were widely available—albeit a touch aggressive—and there were no federal regulations anymore it was just a brassy, ballsy, group of nerds who saw a problem and figured out how to tackle it. Without knowing any organized cure was being sought after, the last pockets of uninfected people had all but given up, or at least that was what I had been told. I missed a great deal of it while stuck in a dark cloud of calamitous hunger, the melodious satisfaction of hot copper—it felt like a lifetime ago, but they told me my treatment had started a month ago. I only remember the last week of scientists observing me in their dirty spacesuits, the look of fear in their eyes, and perspiration looming on their temples as they gave me my daily injections.
A metal hatch opened in the door of my small cell, a smell wafted in, an odor that fell rancid upon my tongue. My stomach felt like it was twisting in a vice, I wasn’t used to this kind of hunger anymore, but being met with the smell of what I used to know as the food was enough to make me nauseous. The tray was sparse, just powdered eggs, tomato soup, and no appetite for any of this; I could only assume they were still working with the supplies they could scavenge, but I wasn’t privy to the way things worked just yet.
“When am I going to be let out of here?” I asked the person on the other side of the door, but I got no response. “Please,” my voice was hoarse, my throat still raw from the guttural language of ravenous growls and screams that had abused my vocal cords over the last year. Standing up was still a chore, but I blamed that largely on the black and purple swollen mass that used to look like my right foot. I hobbled over to the tray of what my brain recognized as food, while my body’s reaction to it argued that it was anything but. “Is there anything else to eat, this smells rotten…”
“I assure you it’s fresh,” the mousy whisper of the male voice on the other side of the door infuriated me “but I heard them say your trial group will be out next week.” I found myself wondering how a meek young man had made it through an apocalypse unscathed when I hadn’t. I took the tray and he snapped the hatch back up so quickly that it startled me; I ended up splashing the red soup down my white jumpsuit. I watched it trail down my front, the lurid clash as it stained the fresh white fabric brought me back to the present; then, a pang of hunger electrified my body.
It reminded me of blood, one of the only pleasurable things I could remember in that vast nothingness and aggression that I had been lost in, but then I knew that my hunger being aroused by the thought of blood wasn’t exactly a normal thing. Their cure had restored my logical brain, the one that reminded me I was human, that gave me control over my body, and allowed me to make more than just knee-jerk choices. It had begun the process of healing that the last year of rot and walking death had brought upon my body—surely if I had been found any later, I would have been amongst those who could not be brought back. In the last week, I had heard at least two separate incidents of screaming, gunshots, sobbing, followed immediately by a glimpse of a body bag being carried past my door. I only knew as much as I could pull from my brief interactions with the people bringing my meals and the medical staff that came with my daily injection; some of them had hardened severe expressions, but most seemed nervous or frightened that at any moment I might be a failed experiment.
The constant feeling of being observed was unsettling, like being stalked on a dark street with predatory anticipation. We were experiments, now—lab rats that could communicate—living only to satisfy their need to control an uncontrollable pandemic that had reduced the world population to just an eighth of what it had been. Where the diseased walked freely in more than doubled the numbers of the uninfected. It was easy to see why they approached with such trepidation, but feeling as if I were a rabid dog that would no doubt bite their hand was at best dehumanizing. Falling asleep was getting progressively more difficult as I got closer to having my condition “contained.” That night was no exception, the only difference was the nightmares started sooner, but I was starting to believe they were memories.
Another week went by of feeling the cool indifference of those who were treating me—it was the day before I was going to be released into a controlled population where I would be observed for my interactions with the uninfected. The discharge process was a five-hour lecture on how I needed to complete my daily outpatient treatments for the following month. Considering it had been almost two years since I had last had a job and I still wasn’t being told whether or not my family was even alive. Then again, with the whole state of the world still being without much of the former technological triumphs, finding people was more of a chore than finding a cure for the rising dead. In the end, it didn’t seem like it would be a chore to walk back to the clinic from the rehab facility in order to get my daily treatments. I was finally allowed to go outside into the fenced yard where I was able to see the other people in the trial treatment with me; according to their limited research, it was not possible to get reinfected, so they weren’t exactly worried about us. I sat in the yard in the shade of a large birch tree that day when a girl a bit younger than myself sat down next to me.
“Did they find your family?” Her voice sounded as ragged as my own, I shook my head and examined the dandelion fluff that I had plucked out of the grass at my side. There was a moment of clarity as I stared at the dandelion, I remembered sitting in an overgrown field during the summer as a child, making wishes and blowing the fluff into the wind. “I’m Elle.” The woman offered her hand to me and I didn’t recognize the urge to shake it, it felt like an alien tradition that was lost to me now.
“Um—Molly,” it didn’t feel like my name either. “Why didn’t they let us out here until today? Aren’t we getting released tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but only because they have to make room for the next batch of… well,” Elle gestured broadly to everyone in the gated yard, “what we used to be. What we still could be…”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m not sure, I’ve heard other patients talking about something they call ‘the reversion’ but as far as I know, it’s just a rumor.” Her shoulders rose to her ears and the uncertainty in her voice was clear, “apparently some of the others they thought they cured, the treatments just… didn’t stick.”
Oh is that all? No big deal, I guess.
The next day we were woken up early and there was such a strange anxiety when they handed me clean street clothes and directions to the rehab house I would be staying in. The sunlight was exceptionally warm on my cold skin and burned my eyes as I stepped out of the lobby of the converted police station. The fresh air was a nice reprieve from the stale, sterile air they had managed to maintain within the makeshift labs. I shielded my eyes and glanced either way down the street; the pavement was devastated, broken, and overgrown. The brick facade of the library across the way was in shambles and when I made it down the steps I turned and saw that the police station was similarly crumbled. There were only a few signs of life on the streets outside it was an eerie sort of isolation that left me feeling as if the world were ending all over again.
I found myself wondering if Elle was going to be at the same facility as I was, it had been so long since I had seen a friendly face and she was the first person to actually talk to me like a human being since… I don’t know, I didn’t have any sense of time anymore. There were several people outside tending to a community garden as I turned a corner. They all stopped working when they saw me limping by them, I’m sure I was a sight to see—a pale, hobbling former dead girl, walking among them, reborn back into this shit show. I just kept my eyes on the ground in front of me, before I knew it was I standing in front of the house where I was going to be staying.
That’s when the screaming started. It instantly made my blood run cold. Glass shattered in the alley just around the side of the house which caused me to take a couple of steps back. Then suddenly my face met the pavement as I was knocked violently to the ground by the people who had been tending the garden. They had their guns raised and ready as they dashed toward the sounds of struggle, I rolled, dazed and watched as this large man tear a woman apart in the alleyway—her screams were enough to draw a small crowd of people on the street behind me. Where the hell did they all come from?
One—Two—Three—and a head-shot for good measure. The people behind me were murmuring amongst themselves, “I thought they were cured!” I pushed myself up from the pavement onto my knees and watched the rest of the scene play out, “what if they all change back?” “We don’t know that!” “Are we going to take that chance?”
I felt their eyes on me again, I wasn’t even on my feet at that point, but I was beginning to feel as if there were no second chances here.