5: The Last Days of Humanity
Hardships often prepare ordinary people,
for an extraordinary destiny...
Fredrick glanced out the wide front gate, watching as the men carted steaming piles of manure into the fields. Since Leza promised to keep her zombies away, Thomas decided it was the perfect opportunity to develop their property beyond their gated walls. Virtually everyone in the compound—small children, nursing mothers, barking dogs and squealing pigs—were involved in the day’s activities. As Fredrick’s responsibilities remained in the scientific realm, his duties lay elsewhere; formulating a plan to glean as much information from Leza and her revelations as possible. Without a specific plan, he let his mind wander, hoping it would work its magic while he was distracted. While that approach often produced excellent results, it left him alone with his personal demons—not always the best place to wallow.
He remembered the details of civilization’s end vividly, though he actually experienced few of them directly. As a young graduate student focused on his dissertation, he possessed little time for the real world outside his insular educational cocoon. His dissertation concerned the effect of lipid residues on brain plague, hoping to discover a new approach to slow the onslaught of Alzheimer’s. Still, he pieced together the relevant details over the intervening years and possessed a decent idea of how they unfolded at the time.
The most significant event—easily the most spectacular—was a bright flash over Chicago late in the afternoon of November 23rd. No one identified what it was or what it represented, but it marked the arrival of the zombie apocalypse and the collapse of human civilization.
There were various guesses what the explosion might have been. They ranged from a chemical weapons bomb detonated high over the city where the prevailing winds carried its viral toxins across the country, to a defensive strike against such a weapon, unwittingly unleashing the plague upon mankind, to the outlandish: a meteor exploding in the upper atmosphere releasing an alien pathogen on an unsuspecting public. In any event, life on Earth would never be the same.
Fredrick Peters Sinclair, III was a 23-year-old graduate student at Southern Illinois University, roughly 300 miles south of Chicago. He was so focused on his PhD program, already behind schedule, he never heard of the incident until after a cascading series of disasters unfolded.
Those near the city stared open mouthed at the spectacular display, speculating on what was occurring. While the Chicago electrical grid briefly faltered, the power returned. Yet that didn’t mean the answers were easy to obtain. The military wasn’t speaking—if they played any role—and the government was focused on restoring order, unable to waste time speculating on subjects they didn’t comprehend. That night, the electricity went out in various areas of the city again. Radio communications were intermittent, at best, and the National Guard was busy preparing emergency shelters and ferrying supplies and personnel. Then, the entire city fell silent, and similar occurrences befell surrounding cities in an ever widening circumference.
Knowledgeable people suggested the hospitals were the first to fail, after them the associated emergency services, followed by the overwhelmed city services. No one understood what went wrong, but by late evening a massive exodus from the city occurred. The roads were swamped, cars traveling mere feet per hour. People in their desperation abandoned their cars—making the situation worse—and fled the city on foot. The majority never got far.
In the months before, a medical crisis unfolded. An unknown condition resulted in people entering a vegetative state. More dead than alive, they hung on to life despite all expectations their systems would shut down. With thousands requiring around the clock intensive care to breathe, it was a huge financial strain. Hospitals couldn’t provide sufficient staff. Even if they could, insurance companies weren’t about to cover the treatment of an undiagnosed condition, leaving millions without care.
As a result, few reliable statistics documented the extent of the problem. The CDC in Atlanta was called and a team sent, but they were never heard from after they arrived. It’s thought whatever was released by the explosion produced a radical mutation in the unidentified virus infecting so many. The many sufferers who’d held on for so long, perished overnight. The morgues were filled to overflowing and the city mobilized to perform massive burials. Only, the dead didn’t remain that way. Instead the virus which found a way to keep people alive indefinitely, developed into an alternate virus which regenerated life after it ceased.
There was never any documentation of any of this. Events transpired too rapidly for anything to be recorded, but as the night progressed into daylight, the contagion spread.
Without any knowledge of these details, the first Fredrick knew was when he went to breakfast two days later, only to find an empty campus. There were no students, staff, services and little to identify what happened. He found a few lingerers packing their meager belongings, but they offered scant information.
“There’s some disaster up north,” they said. “Everyone abandoned campus hours ago. The highways are clogged, the trains are shut down and the airports are all closed.”
“Why’s everyone so desperate to leave?”
“We don’t know, but there are reports of millions of deaths and rioting in the streets.”
“Where? St. Louis?”
“Wait, people fled Southern Illinois because of protests in Chicago? That doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s not protests, man. There’s something major going down!”
“I’m guessing it’s the Russians, Chinese, Iranians or possibly the North Koreans,” the man’s friend suggested, waving the cannabis smoke from his face.
“What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m on the meal plan. Are there any alternatives? Any youth hostels I can crash at?”
“Man, if you want to survive, I suggest you get out of the country. Whatever it is, it’s said to be spreading fast.”
“Wait, you only said there were riots. What’s this about ‘spreading fast’?”
“There’s some plague, it’s disrupting the country and killing millions. Everyone wants to flee before it reaches here.”
“I find that doubtful,” Fredrick argued. “If the plague hasn’t affected us yet, why would everyone run?”
“It’s not a normal disease,” the second student said. “It’s disrupting cities, causing social disruption. Apparently it makes people crazy, causing them to kill one another. No one’s heard from anyone in Chicago or the neighboring communities for days.”
Fredrick glanced around, evaluating his options. “Isn’t the school running any buses?”
“Man, you don’t get it. There’s no one left. The administration was the first to take off. The professors followed suit. The students were the last to know, and by the time they called home, their parents were already long gone.”
“So what the crap am I supposed to do?”
“I suggest you grab as much food as you can carry and start hiking south. We’re hoping to reach the coast before all the fishing boats are gone.”
“Wait, how are you going to get to the coast if all the roads are—”
“Man, we can’t sit around arguing all day. We gotta get all our crap loaded and get the hell outta here. Say, has anyone seen my burrito?”
Fredrick remained the last man on campus, assuming he couldn’t reach anywhere safer in time to escape whatever was wrong. His decision worked to his benefit. Rather than searching for others, he holed up in his room with his books, catching up on his reading. He figured his thesis was kaput until the university reopened, so spent his time on other pursuits. The power eventually gave out, but his toilet still flushed and after working like a dog for so long, he enjoyed the chance to sleep in and recover.
Despite the closing of the school’s cafeterias and restaurants, he experienced no problems with food. Every struggling student has tons of Ramen noodles lying around. After he’d been alone for a couple of days, he tried the other rooms in his dormitory—which still utilized entry keys rather than the newer electronic keycards. He was surprised how many were unlocked. Apparently, when everyone fled they didn’t stay long enough to lock up behind them. They also didn’t empty out their refrigerators or even take most of their possessions. Being conscientious, he dutifully noted what he ‘borrowed’ from each room, fully intending to make restitutions once everyone returned, which he remained convinced wouldn’t take long.
One day, he glanced out his window to forecast the day’s weather, when he noticed a couple men ambling across the campus. Their gait was odd, provoking him to study them. The fact one man’s shirt was soaked in dried blood and he bore three bullet holes gave him pause. If some looter was that bad assed, he didn’t want to be loitering around anyway. He knew they weren’t likely to gain entry to the dorm. The first floor was set off the ground, so there weren’t any windows or other ready access points.
Those two figures continued across the grounds, but Fredrick stuck to his room, not knowing their intentions. He monitored them to determine if they were up to something until they passed from sight. Over the next few days, he observed various people in distressed conditions: missing arms, half their faces blown off or large gaping holes in their gut. He slowly came to the conclusion something was seriously amiss.
The figures were never numerous and passed through without remaining. Early one morning—when he assumed ne’er-do-wells wouldn’t be active—he grabbed his baseball bat and set out, searching for something to defend himself with. Like the rest of the school, campus security was abandoned. They hadn’t even bothered to lock the building. Fredrick walked right in. They took many of the guns, but left plenty of backups. It took a while to break into a few locked cabinets, but they weren’t designed to resist a prolonged effort. He equipped himself with several weapons: a rifle, two pistols and a flak jacket. He also liberated a couple serious knives from the apartment of some ‘good-ol’-boys’ from Louisiana.