Originally Posted: 14th June 2013
We made our way into what used to be Virden, Illinois. They still maintained the name for prosperity’s sake, but no one really cared about states or territories anymore after the blasts. Becca and I left Chicago when the radiation freaks and scavengers became too dangerous to ignore. We left with the clothes and goods that we could cram into our backpacks and we abandoned everything else we’d ever worked for.
We weren’t alone. There were hundreds, probably thousands, just like us. A constant stream of people leaving the ruined city for the promise of a future in the wilds of the countryside. Funny that the suburbs of Chicago, USA could be considered a wild land, I thought. But it was true. I’d grown up in the city, spent my youth playing along Lakeshore Drive and doing stupid shit in the park of the same name. Now the city was a wasteland and everyone who was smart was getting the fuck out of Dodge.
I’d been married to Rebecca for almost ten years before the Chinese or Russians (hell, maybe even the French, I don’t know) bombed the shit out of us. We stayed for almost three weeks, living on water that we’d saved in the bathtub and whatever we could trade for down at Salaam’s Corner Market before everything went to total shit. Once the freaks and scavengers began to show up, we knew it was time to leave.
The freaks were easier to deal with than the scavengers. They were people who’d been caught outside during the nuclear detonations and were so fucked up by the radiation that all they wanted to do was to rip and tear apart the normal folks. The scavengers though, they were another breed entirely. Don’t get me wrong, they were completely human, but they did whatever the hell they wanted and didn’t care about anyone else but themselves. They raped, tortured and murdered just because they could. There was no negotiating with them, it was kill or be killed. No one knows if they always existed in our society and the laws kept them in check or if the apocalypse flipped a switch in their brains, but whatever it was they were messed up and they loved to inflict pain on everyone else. Think of all the supervillains in every movie you’ve ever seen combined into one devious son of a bitch. Then multiply that one person into thousands, maybe millions, and you had America’s scavenger population.
The final straw that sent us over the edge and forced us to move from Chicago was when Ali was butchered. Ali owned Salaam’s Corner Market and was somehow able to keep his shelves moderately stocked with foodstuffs during the first weeks of the crisis. Without him, I’m sure that Becca and I would have starved, but now he was dead, like everyone else we knew in in the city.
I went down to the market that morning to get our weekly supply of can food and some naan bread that Ali baked in his shop. When I opened the door I was almost overwhelmed by the metallic smell of blood and the unpleasant odor of voided bowels. I didn’t know what to do other than call out for Ali to see if he was alright, but of course he didn’t answer. Something else did.
I heard and even sensed the thing before I saw it and stepped back just in time. The market’s security bar-reinforced glass doors opened inward, so the creature slammed into the doors and actually shut them for me. It literally threw its body against the glass over and over. I know that some of them are still smart enough to pull a door open now, but it was the first time that I’d seen a freak up close. Sure, I’d seen them pass by in the alleyway from the safety of my fourth floor apartment, but nothing prepared me for what came running towards me from the depths of that darkened shop.
Nobody really knows what the freaks are. Some people call them zombies, they certainly act like a zombie, and others call them victims. I don’t know how I feel about the ethical part of the discussion, but I know they’re dangerous as hell and should be avoided or dispatched. They are people whose body is so ravaged by radiation and disease that their minds have been literally fried and they are crazy as fuck. They attack whatever they see. People, animals, each other, it doesn’t matter. If it moves, they try to destroy it. Fortunately for us there’s not too many of them, relatively speaking, and their bodies still follow basic human anatomy, so they have to eat and if they lose enough blood, they’ll die. Every encounter with them, even if they don’t kill you, is potentially deadly because of the radiation and the various diseases they carry. The illnesses they carry would have been nothing more than a minor inconvenience before the blast, but if you contract something these days, it’s likely to kill you.
The creature trying to reach me from behind the doors used to be a woman. Most of her hair was gone, either fallen out from malnutrition or ripped out somehow, and her disgusting, deflated breasts sagged almost to her navel. Her skin was covered in lesions that leaked pus and her face was covered in blood and shit, I guess she’d been eating poor Ali’s intestines when I interrupted her. I stood there staring at her. I mean, I was literally transfixed by what I saw. Even though we’d been dealing with the windblown ashes, food shortage and loss of all basic utilities, we’d been pretty much spared the worst of the holocaust for the past few weeks that far south of Chicago. The big blasts had happened to the north and wiped out everything up there, but we’d been sheltered. This was the first time that the realization of our hopeless situation hit me and I began to think it was time to leave.
Before too long, a couple of the neighborhood’s other residents came along, either for their normal grocery run or attracted by the sounds of the freak banging into the market’s safety glass. I saw several people that I recognized from the apartment building, but I didn’t actually know any of them. The more people that gathered, the more intense and frantic the creature seemed to become. I made small talk with a couple people as we idly observed her repeatedly throwing herself into the glass. I guess she ended up cutting herself of the metal bars somehow because the view into the shop slowly began to cloud with smeared blood.
Several minutes after people began arriving, she’d cut herself badly enough her blood began to freely run under the doors. Eventually, her attack on the doors became less pronounced and it seemed like she had to gather her strength each time before the next shove against the doors that wouldn’t budge. Finally, thankfully, the creature’s assault ended entirely with her body pressed against the cage. My first encounter with a freak ended with it killing itself while it tried to reach me. I still remember the single-minded determination that those things have to kill the living and I will have nightmares about it for the rest of my life.