Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our Empty Streets (pt. 1)

Here's a story that might not end up so short, and it might not end because I'm bad at these things. Whatever, you're reading this for free.

            The apocalypse happened. Then, just as suddenly, it was over. We had been reading tales of the dead taking over the Earth for years, and in fact it had been quite the trend in my younger days. It was all in good fun. The only people you could unrepentantly shoot in video games were Nazis and zombies, so that’s who they cast. But let me tell you this: When it’s your girlfriend clawing at the bathroom door with the trademark black irises, you’re not thinking about power-ups and high scores.
            No one knows why it started. Airborne virus, parasite, evil demonic possessions, whatever. Everyone who was in charge of telling us this type of thing stopped checking in. One day in early May, something like 98% of Americans and 80% of others around the globe suddenly woke up wanting to partake all the normal zombie stuff. Of the 2% that didn’t wake up infected/a host/ possessed, 1.5% woke up next to another person who did. Luckily I always woke up before my girlfriend did, and was in the shower for her… episode.

            In everything we wrote about this particular kind of apocalypse, there was a steady wave of the sickness. Infection, attacks, spread, metaphors about capitalism and/or communism depending on who you ask- Only the first two happened for real. Because of the virus or parasite or whatever’s apparent dormancy, it spread around to just about everyone before it took off. There was no contagion factor when the carrier kills. No infected bites, just death. And since just about everyone woke up one morning with it, there wasn’t the cliché martial law, military resistance, mowing down waves of zombies thing that makes for pretty cinematography and a hero in the third act. One day society is intact, and the next morning 99% of the population is trying to murder the remaining percent.
            Oh, and each other. Turns out a sickness that makes you incredibly violence-prone doesn’t cancel out when in contact with another sick person. It doubles. Zombies sprinted towards each other in the streets, clawing each other apart. I saw two locked in combat that morning, from my bathroom window. One tore the femoral artery out of the other, before the latter killed the former by bashing its face into a fire hydrant. Then, the second, with a huge bite out of its leg limped towards an uninfected man hiding in a cab before bleeding to death in the middle of the street.
            The guy in the cab didn’t make it: even with the zombies taking each other out, there were too many for him to get out alive.
            The rest of the zombies died out in a manner of weeks. In fact, after centuries of apocalyptic literature, I was a little disappointed at the reality. There was no firebombing campaign, no cure spread to the survivors. The zombies started dropping dead because, of all things, they never drank water. They may have lost all of their humanity but they were still trapped in human bodies. Ultraviolence doesn’t hydrate. From what’s left of the internet, I hear those in the southern hemisphere just froze to death at night. All the neckbeards in basements across America must have thrown down their feverishly jotted “Zombie Apocalypse Plan” notebook in frustration. Of all things to solve the apocalypse, thirst seemed anticlimactic.
            So now, I can live in whatever apartment’s door can be kicked in. Anytime I feel like a change, I have a different building around Midtown Chicago, but most mornings I look out onto Lake Michigan from a penthouse. It’s not a bad life. I mean, everyone I’ve ever known is dead, and I haven’t seen another person in weeks, but I get to drink and sleep and pee off of balconies with freedom. I don’t have to go to work, I don’t have to deal with traffic… It took the end of the world for me to just “be.”
            Once a couple weeks ago, I broke into an apartment with five dead bodies, all with black irises. They clawed, bit, and smashed each other to death. The worst part, other than the smell, was the beer bottles strewn around the apartment, and the bong sitting on the coffee table. Best friends had sat down for a great night of drinking and getting high, just enjoying each others’ company. Then, they woke up and murdered each other.
            In the dresser I found some shrooms and later that day tripped balls in Millennium Park. I shot a rifle at that huge reflective sculpture, the Cloud Gate, just to see what would happen. Let me tell you, that thing is wild when you’re all alone and already messed up on hallucinogenics.
            I wasn’t afraid of being interrupted. There are somewhere around 4,000 survivors left in the entire Chicago metro area.  That means we have almost 3 square miles to ourselves. I did the math: believe me, I have the time. In The Loop and Midtown, there’re six of us. I’ve only met one other, a black kid named Marcus that wasn’t much in the way of conversation the day I spotted him exiting a CVS, eating a candy bar. The rest of us met up through the internet. Even in an apocalypse, Craigslist and Facebook still makes friends come together. Mark Zuckerburg and those like him are most likely decaying in a street somewhere in California, big black irises clouding their eyes, but their creations live on. You become adept at finding any and all accounts that are still active, no matter how tenuous your connection to this person.
            Six of us. Me, Marcus, two women, Marilyn Hoenecker and Erin Redding, and two more men: Darius Johnson, and Han Lo. Han’s not great with English, but I’m sure that my Georgian grandparents would have told you Marcus isn’t either. Six of us in the high rises of the Loop, trying our hardest to stay out of each others’ way. Well, actually, word amongst us all is that Marilyn and Erin have moved in together. Our society may have crumbled, but we’re still social animals. Not to be misogynistic, but the women most likely needed someone to talk to. I’m happy walking down Lake Shore Avenue, busting in the windows of cars with vanity plates, but I never was one to drag people into a conversation.
            I don’t carry too much with me. I’ve left most of my heavy stuff in that penthouse, but still carry a bag with a change of clothes and my laptop. I don’t have stupid entertainment blogs or ridiculous photoshops to catch up on anymore, but old habits die hard, even after the world ends. Every one of the Loopers has my cell number, so I suppose I could rely on that in a pinch. Even now, three months later, cell signals and even Wi-Fi is still going strong, though for how much longer, I’m not sure.
            In fact, everything is going strong. Street level windows were broken in the rampage, but refrigerators, street lights, air conditioning, everything; it all still works. I flip switches when I walk into rooms and for the most part, the lights come on. Only those that had been burning when their owners went insane have burnt out. If I really needed, I could find more than enough replacement bulbs at department stores that are never more than a couple blocks away. Infrastructure was left intact even after a week of chaos. If something major breaks, we’ll feel the pain, because there’s no one to fix it, but until then we’re sitting pretty.
            Instead of a zombie apocalypse, it feels like the rapture happened. It seems if one day, everyone just disappeared. They didn’t. Us nonbelievers are left to plug our noses at their stench whenever we walk into a room full of them. From one day to less than two weeks later, 99.5% people in Chicago had ceased to live.

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