Alone At Last


There were three hundred million people before. Three hundred million lives, three hundred million stories. Damn near three hundred million violent, gruesome deaths. Every cliche from every late-night cable TV movie. The family struggling to save the bitten one, the valiant but ultimately overwhelmed cops, the hospitals full of desperate people and futilely struggling doctors. There must have been good people and bad, cooperation and treachery. And the good Samaritan whose kindness is repaid by… Well, I guess cannibalism isn’t exactly the right word. That implies the eater and the eaten are the same, somehow. And they weren’t. Not any more. Those who didn’t see that right quick got killed themselves. Whatever happens to a person, they aren’t a person any more. Not after they come back, anyways.

I had to shoot a few myself. Everybody did, least in the early part. I don’t know what happened in the big cities. One day it was oddball news, the next week it was an unexplained illness, then it was quarantines and martial law and emergency broadcasts. Then the TV and radio quit showing anything at all, right before the power failed and that was it for anything far away.
A bunch of folks made it out here from the cities. They filled the hotels, the campgrounds and rest stops, then the fields. But they went back to the cities, or they brought infections with them, or they moved on. Some died here, and some of those came back. We took care of those fast, but not fast enough. Only took one or two to get the sickness in the local people. The plague took eight good men before we could stop it. Five of those -well, they used to be men- took out their wives and families one way or another. Saddest was Bill Swenson. Just a little scratch, he said. But when he fell sick he knew it was too much. He shot his two cute little boys, six and four, and his wife before he put the rifle in his own mouth. I’d had a big crush on Amy Swenson back when she was Amy Thomas.
Father Mark down at St. John’s wanted to give the local people a decent burial. Would have been a good idea if he’d done it quick. But he waited long enough and they got back up again right in church. That must have been the worst funeral mass he ever done. Lord knows it was the last.

You’d think those paranoid survivalists up on the ridge would have been good and ready for something like this. At first, they were all smug about it. But, way it panned out, there was some disagreements about whether outside relatives would get let in or not. Disagreements plus heavily armed and not real stable people is a bad plan. It went from a dozen families down to not much shooting in about five hours. I don’t know what happened to the last bunch, and I don’t plan to get within rifle range to try and find out. All I know is ain’t nobody come down out of there since that big firefight.
If there’s anybody left up there who can work a can opener, he’s in good shape. But word is they booby-trapped the woods all around and maybe even got some home-brew bombs or land mines from god knows where. And I’ve always taken their “trespassers shot on sight – no warning” signs pretty seriously, even more so now. I can’t help wondering though. You’d think there’d be a sign, smoke from a chimney or something.

Out here, we used to think nothing of driving twenty miles to a movie or forty to a fancy restaurant, meaning one with stuff other than burgers or steaks and cooked fresh instead of from a freezer. Now, with no more gas, twenty miles is a long ride on horseback. And there’s no movies and damn all for restaurants either. I got plenty of grain from the fields for me and a horse, since nobody was around for the harvest. At least, what I need here for a winter, if it ain’t too hard, and long enough into the spring to at least get planting again. I’ll have to figure out vegetables. Julie was the gardener, before the cancer took her. I’m glad that happened a while ago – wasn’t glad then, no, but a mercy she didn’t have to see what happened.

Me, I’ve always been a lone type anyway. I haven’t seen anybody, live nor dead nor in between, since August. Mostly I don’t miss ’em, neither.

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