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Daniel Bird Daniel Bird
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They Used To Be the Living

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She had a friend.

Listening to Al Green's "How can you mend a broken heart" and came up with this. Wow!

They Used To Be the Living

Chapter 1

     Topeka Bay, (A.K.A. The Island of the Living Impaired) Population, used to be 900, 000
     Today: 50 or so, living. Maybe. Probably less now.

       Like a new born child, like salvation on the breeze lighting his way to the stars, like going home to Lacey’s arms – the sweetest place he had ever known – he held onto the big machete with both hands, his fingers wrapped around good and snug, his arms ready to deliver death. Drowning in a wave of disbelief, a squall of misery and fear rising up in his racing heart, his mind flooded with grisly images of his own bloody end. With the single shotgun shell and two, maybe three rounds in his pistol – that, coupled with such numbers mounting, surrounding him on all sides the sound of gunfire would just bring more. Fucking bastards...! It wasn’t a safe place, no, not at all. And certainly it was not the most comfortable spot he had ever found himself in, but...well, this was it, there was no other way.  

       Another thought leapt out at him catching him where he lay, the weight of his circumstance bearing down on him like a bad omen. God...please...don’t let it fall. If I’m gonna die, let me go out fighting! Don’t let it fall. Don't let this rusty bucket of bolts come down on me. Please let it hold! Please just give me one more day. Please... The old truck, held up by rotten steel, decades of rust and wear, could crush him at any moment. Being crushed was better than the alternative but for a single driving instinct telling him that was not ‘fighting the good fight.’ No way. Dying like that was just plain old bad luck. With adrenaline shattering all thresholds, racing through his blood like fire he watched them race by, a forest of scurrying legs and feet, the sickly waft of rotting flesh, infectious lungs grunting, roaring, screeching into the dusk. On they went, lead by sheer savagery, their limited brain function, their hunger and thirst, supremely driven, lashed and whipped by some great beast deep within them, pushing them forward, rotten fingers feeling out in the darkness, ears on high alert, their gathering forces searching, searching, searching.

       With his body crying out for oxygen after such a daring sprint every breath was caution, his lungs tip-toeing on the edge of disaster, straining to catch that much needed air while trying so hard to remain quiet. If one thing was certain it was this: while their sense of sight had been deteriorated to mere shadows and blurry movement, their sense of smell unable to catch anything beyond their own rotten cloud, their sense of taste and touch, virtually done away with...their sense of hearing seemed to have developed greatly, and at this range – three feet from where he lay – they could hear a pin drop. He had made it through some intensely bloody moments, had experienced pure terror; that awesome confusion that racing hordes of Guido’s inspire in one, causing them to run as fast as their bodies would allow in any one direction, down alleyways, into dark buildings, up fire escapes into derelict offices, hospitals, schools, backyards and into empty homes – anywhere in their bid to escape.

       With the machete gripped hard in his hands, sweat dripping over the bridge of his nose, crashing to the ground like crumbling buildings, he slowed his breathing, all his senses focused on just staying still and quiet – the fact that he was still alive to fight another day seeming to mend his broken heart. And like that, his soul still shaken and trembling – senses ever alert – he watched the mindless horde shuffle past, their deathly mass wandering off into the sunset, disappearing in and out of the shadows of leaning office buildings and crumbling structures. Everywhere they went they contaminated the air with infection, their sluggish pace slowing, lurking in dark hallways, behind abandoned vehicles, wandering aimlessly in the streets, beneath dark tunnels and shady overpasses.

       And like death on a mission they did their job incredibly well, that sad slow song of patience stealing them over, hunger never ending, thirst never to be quenched, putrid guts gurgling, failing lungs grunting, bodies lurching in their misery, any vestige of the former life translated into pure killing machines. Like a virus with a highly developed sense of hearing their job was to listen and wait for the sound of prey – a glass breaking, the sound of gunfire, screaming, the sound of footsteps hauling ass. Determined to stay alive he laid quiet and still, making no noise. Lost amidst his own rising torment he was alone now, all alone and deeply wounded, without the blood, the guts, the cuts, the infection to douse the fires of melancholy that were gathering with the darkness. “Holy shit!” he whispered to himself through tears and whimpers, ravaged by disbelief. “Lacey...! What the fuck...?” He began to cry.

       A deep pang in his heart ruptured his senses, filling his mind with painful images hauling him down, somehow sapping his strength, attacking his will, hitting him hard where the angels cry their gentle songs, filling his halls with sorrow and fading light. Jesus Christ Lacey! Why the hell did you have to go and get yourself killed! Why? How many times did I tell you to be careful? Be patient. Count your bullets! Hide and wait. A large bulb rose up in his throat and he was not fully aware that he was trembling. Oh God, baby...why? Why, God? Why? What the fuck am I going to do now? Jesus Christ...Lacey! Jesus... Oh my god!  Weeping quietly, with the horde in his sights (just down the street) he closed his eyes allowing his mind to clear, allowing the only natural thing to settle in for the night, memories: bliss and love, light and tickles, hope and faith, gems and starlight.

       With no way to stop it, his mind went back to that morning they met; like music and poetry colliding in one final assault of the soul, rising up through the heavens, all darkness dissipating, relinquishing the fear of dying alone, of surviving alone. And truly, they had found one another, amidst a brutal world fuelled by darkness and rage and death and infection. It was one of those mutual tensions: the nervous awareness rising up inside them both – the very same beast that happens when two killers determined to survive at any cost meet for the first time yet need each other to make it out alive. It was a moment of sheer terror, their worlds uprooted by fear and uncertainty, weapons cocked and loaded, a thick horde of monsters racing up the stairs to have at them, a split second decision to work together somehow ending in love and loss of distrust of the living – of the human spirit.

       And somehow, in that moment of existential bleakness it had become clear, like a light opening up in the heavens shining over the land: not all humans are bad, there are still those very few who could love, who still have real compassion in their hearts, those who do care, who still hold to tight their humanity, who could look another in the eye without the need to rape and pillage and plunder. On that morning, so very hungry, covered in sewer grime and dirt, bad hair, bad breath, their beauty was real and untarnished, truthful and bleak at the same time, somehow creating the perfect cocktail for love and unity.

       Like waves of a beautiful Tsunami, countless images slammed him in the chest, crashing through his world with a destructive force, crippling his morale, dousing his spirit, lighting him up in his brain like an endless meteor shower, the image of her dying tearing him apart inside. With a well of emotions spilling over his world one memory forced itself on him relentlessly, and even now, having just barely escaped with his life, the conflicting sensation of the very moment he saw her for the first time haunted him. The haunting memory of that first day in her light carried with it the sweetest tune, seeming to sing softly in his ear, like the wings of an Angel wrapping him good and snug, ‘I’m safe now baby. You just keep on fighting. You come home when you’re time is up. I’ll be right here waiting. You’re doing great! I love you. With all that I am and ever will be...I love you.’

       With the setting sun splashing its red-orange tint into ruined coffee shops, dilapidated book stores, looted clothing stores and fancy boutiques, countless shadows danced merrily about wild growth – trees, shrubs and foliage, the wilderness of the world taking back what is rightfully hers. And nothing could stop her from reaching out, rising up, infecting the world with leaf and tree and flowers - not brick, nor asphalt, glass or stone. And again, a creature all its own, his mind stole him away from this bad place, this cold dark world, taking him back to the moment his eyes met her own – like infinity embracing him in kisses, the never-ending wall of vines, grass and moss – the great span of green growth – swallowing up buildings, sprouting through highways and city streets, the never ending art of broken windows, looted buildings and ravaged landscapes....somehow disappearing, the loneliness just all melting away.

      With his eyes closed – a prisoner of his great loss – he seemed to rise up and out of the shadow of a rusted-out vehicle, rising up over wilting office buildings far out over beach front avenues, past boardwalk shops, beyond docks, jetties, ravaged debris and sunken boats, where the seagulls still played their silly games, unfettered by the world. On he went, out past the break, far beyond the cool dark waters to a place where the endless trash of the world could not touch him. It was a place he and Lacey had dreamed about for so long, a place where her beauty could lock him in her eyes without worry, a place where she could take him by the hand and lead them off through fresh wilderness to a little cabin on the edge of a crisp clear ocean, arm in arm beneath the sweetest sunset, with geese flying over and birds singing away in all directions.

      And somehow – no matter how many days went by without a bath, without a change of clean clothes, without good fresh food to offer colour to her skin, to warm her chilled bones, her beauty was constant, alive in her grit, her hardy constitution, alive in her will to fight the good fight. It was that magical quality of her personality – that of bold spirit, of courage, of doing what had to be done that encouraged her thick lips, her wide blue eyes and golden hair to shine through the dirt and grime. And he smiled thinking of the moment they met – bow and arrow pointed directly at his forehead. And never had the thought of death seemed so beautiful, so genuine and inviting – to die in those eyes...a dream that would never come true.

       He cried softly, unable to pull himself from his loneliness, not wanting to depart from this magical place that seemed to bring her back in full colour, all her little intricacies lofting through: her brute Viking mentality, her strong, unwavering personality, that survival quality that are born to the most cunning and ferocious creatures. And he would ever be grateful that he was the one man she allowed inside, making him a home behind her mile thick walls. He prided himself the one man to tame such a beast, to bring its long lost love back to the surface. “I’ll miss you forever baby. You just go, and be at peace. I’ll come for you when I’m done here. Promise.” Once again, by sheer luck, he had – for the umpteenth time – dodged a bullet. For as mindless as they went about there were those ‘smart’ Guido’s, popping up in rumours and late night stories – those  who had somehow evolved, those tougher ones that could take many bullets and keep coming, those one who would not go down unless you took their heads completely off. By luck and chance there were none of those ‘Guido’s’ among the dispersing horde. The Guido’s he had been hearing of as of late – those smart ones – would surely have taken a peek beneath the vehicle itself.

       He would have to spend the night. The hideout was too far away and the shadows were growing heavier. Darkness would bring out the ‘Big Guido’s’ and that thought too, chilled him to the bones. Readying for a cold, dark and scary night he settled into his tears, wrapping himself around – his long leather coat, backpack and weapons somehow lacking that special security that a living, breathing, beautiful lady in his arms offered. Thirst and the night were his infections, dangerous a combination as staring down a bullet. This ominous feeling of being lost and alone and afraid offered him little hope, but Lacey would say otherwise. She might just tell him that the only thing he could do now was fight. ‘Fight the good fight’ and waste any motherfucker who gets in your way. Soldier-Up and keep on fighting. Don’t stop. You got blood in you? Then you can afford to lose some! You got fear in you? Good, cause you’re gonna need it! You got legs? Then keep running!

       And no matter what, she was there with him, in the darkness, beneath the rusted vehicle, in his heart and soul, safe and sound, clean, fresh and beautiful, watching over him, whispering in his ear, “You’ll make it baby. Don’t stop! Don’t give up! Don’t hate them. Never forget that they used to be the living.’ And like that he closed his eyes to the night, whimpering dreamily, “yeah...they used to be the living. But not no more.”

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