Saturday, February 03, 2007

Identity

Here's something I've never done before on my blog. I am presenting a short story by my youngest son. He has just turned 18 years old, no longer a child, now a young man. I guess identity is something we all pursue throughout our lives, but probably with both more passion and less certainty when young.

I enjoyed reading his story and think others would find it interesting too.

******

The thick, motionless smoke that crept in front of a jagged skyline seemed to cover more and more of the city each day. The silhouettes of the lamps that lined each street led into a black abyss. Inside the crowded office buildings were monochrome portraits of boardrooms long abandoned. The broken cars still seemed to push for space, as if there was some place to go. The streets themselves were petrified. There was no movement save the occasional flail from a lifeless corpse, and a single shifting figure darting amongst them.

His feet sifted through the bloody mess. He should have heard them moving through the thick puddles of God-knows-what, but there was the deafening noise of a helicopter overhead. Without that repulsive sound his job didn’t seem so bad, the peace derived from the beating blades of the helicopter made him forget just how bad Mondays like this could be. It had been several years since the outbreak, and ever since the Health Department put him to work, any sort of peace was hard to find. His eyes dropped down and focused on the taut, misshapen figure before him, and he fell back into reality. Slipping his hand into the pocket of the misshapen man, he pulled out a wallet. The driver’s license read ‘Sam Dalton’; the name was familiar to him, but the face was unrecognizable. He copied the information from the card onto his clip board and moved on, ignoring the fact a piece of lurid skin from the corpse had stuck to his hand.

He found, as he took down more names, he had to reassure himself of his own - Allen Silvain. It was not a memorable name. People would always come up and ask him if he was in fact Mr. Silvain, even if they had met him only a day before. His slender stature and the plain, government-issued blue cargo he wore made him forgettable; after all, most public safe houses were a sea of restless, worn, blue material. This being the case, he felt it was his duty to marry the first woman who could remember his face. Fours years ago, he lucked out amidst all the madness - he married a nurse named Mary. There never was a honeymoon, or a reception. The small weathered chapel in which the ceremony took place was one of the few concrete memories of their short time together. Just months after the wedding, she was lost. There was an outbreak in sector Z8, somewhere between 8th and 15th Street, and she seized the opportunity to give a helping hand. Allen had been on duty across the city, and he came back to find his wife missing. No search parties were being assembled, her face wasn’t posted on walls, and no one spoke her name. In these times, many were lost, many were forgotten. Since then Allen has always carried a pocket-sized picture of her. Wrinkled, white lines stream across the photo, and her face, along with much else, is fading, but he still keeps it, just in case he forgets.

The next man was very much the same. It was faceless, soulless, stricken of its dignity. It’s cold, empty eyes could stare through anyone. Allen bent down to find his ID; his hand grasped a small paper in its front pocket. He froze. A form loomed over him. The figure’s shadow cast over Allen’s head - it was like the change from day to night. How did it get so close without him noticing? The sun, hidden poorly behind the thick cloud of dust and dirt, beat furiously, disguising the figure’s appearance. Allen’s free hand crept towards his holster; it might be one of them.

“Don’t do it!” the man commanded, his voice was coarse, and he breathed heavily.

“I ju-”

“Shut up!” Allen took his advice. His hand crept away from his holster up to his head. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Allen Silvain. I work for the Hea-”

“That’s enough, your name is enough, now what the hell do you think it is your doin’ with that body” demanded the man.

Allen hesitated; he leaned his head up slightly, and strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of his enemy. The man was sweating profusely, like he had just run a mile, although that scenario would have been unlikely considering his shape. He was bulbous, short, and bore a tattered yellow baseball cap. His face was covered in a thick layer of dirt and his lips were so small that one would think there was an invisible force pushing his cheeks inward. The constricting, pale green shirt he wore was drenched with something that made it several shades darker. It was refreshing for Allen to see something other than the government-issued clothing though. What Allen found most intriguing however, was the shotgun held tight against a thick shoulder and a pair of tiny squinted eyes. The man’s appearance was so unexpected, Allen forgot to answer his question.

“Well?!” He was getting impatient quickly.

“I, I… I was just looking for I.D., it’s my job, I work for the Health Department all I-” Allen was interrupted by a violent boom that echoed through the streets.

He frantically tried to cover his head, but before he could, he lost his footing and crashed into a savage scene. The boom quieted down to a whisper, Allen opened his eyes and found himself face to face with Sam Dalton. Kicking his feet furiously, he pushed himself away; the bulbous man was holding his smoking gun up in the air. It hurried back down to his shoulder.

“Give me somethin’ to prove it then.”

He took a few steps forward. The bulbous man’s walk was unique; his gimp gave the illusion of a waddle. Allen took out his papers and held his arm tight; the man’s stubby fingers tore the page from his hand. His eyes only glanced at the page before devouring it in his fist and tossing it aside. He then came closer to Allen and pulled the gun from his holster, tossing it aside just as he did with the I.D.

“Come with me, I need a doctor like you, and don’t even think of runnin’ man, or you’ll never see the light of day again.”

Shocked by the response, Allen stood up and paced nervously behind him. During the short time of standing up from the ground, Allen perceived just how desperate his situation was. Not only was he captive to a madman, but he wasn’t even a doctor and for all he knew, that was the only thing keeping him alive.

Night fell faster than usual. They had been walking for an hour now. The shortening distance between the two, and the fact the bulbous man hadn’t even cared to look back to make sure Allen hadn’t run off, created a mutual trust, but Allen wasn’t ready to honor anything. Exhausted, Allen finally spoke up, hoping the man wouldn’t react as earlier,

“Where are we going?”.

“We’re here” he said.

A transport truck materialized in the middle of the road. It was run down, rusty, and looked like it had been through a war or two. The words “Storm Transportation” were painted in massive red letters on the side. There was no question in Allen’s mind why they were stopping here. Food out here was scarcer than miracles. He had probably set up a living quarters amongst the mounds of preserved food and he could trade the food for anything else he needed in there.

The locking gears on the hold’s door were archaic. The spots and flakes of brownish orange had over taken the fresh white paint on the handles; opening the lock made a high-pitched screeching that made Allen cringe. The bulbous man pulled back the yawning doors, stuck his gimpy leg up on the floor of the truck bed, and rolled himself in. As the doors opened, Allen was hit with a blast of reeking, humid air. It was repulsive; the enclosed space of the truck made it a cesspool of rotten stenches. Allen was more than reluctant to go in. A sudden gust of wind from behind him cleared his nostrils; it made the damp shelter look a bit more hospitable. Mustering up all his courage, Allen lifted himself in. The doors closed behind him with a resounding slam, and he walked into the pitch black truck bed.

“Don’t move”.

The voice sounded like the bulbous man but Allen couldn’t be sure. There was a small click, and a generator lit a line of green Christmas lights that illuminated the metal hall. The space was tight and hot - it was like an oven, Allen instantly began to sweat. Two more people occupied the back of the truck. They sat as still as rocks. A hand grabbed Allen’s arm and led him to the rear, each step bringing the poor condition of these people into focus. One was a young man. His hair was withered and the green tint of the lights made it impossible to tell exactly what he was laying in, or even the colour of his skin. It was clear he did not have the strength to lift his head to look at Allen. The other was a young woman, curled up in a corner like she was hiding from a monster.

Pushing the barrel of his gun harshly into the back of Allen, the bulbous man said

“His foot, look at his foot.”

He talked as if he was completely unaware of his surroundings, as if he was impervious to the smell.

Allen took a white handkerchief out of his pocket and held it tightly to his face, so not to catch anything. He took one look at the foot and instantly snapped his gaze away. The foot was putrid and decayed, it was dead. A gaping hole fell right in the middle of it, only thin slices of bone in the bottom of the heel kept it together. It was evident to Allen that this man was dead, or else he would have been screaming in pain constantly. The only thing on Allen’s mind now was whether or not this man had been infected. He looked back at the bulbous man who was leaning to one side, trying to get a better view of what was going on, and gave him an unsettled look.

The bulbous man raised his voice,

“It’s O.K. John, I brought a doctor. He’ll fix you up right O.K. He’ll give you all you need to get better - Ya hear that John, a doctor.”

The corpse sat still as it ever did, leaning in the far corner of the hold.

“Well don’t just look at him now, do somethin’!”

“I si.. I ju.. I can’t do anything.” Allen pleaded.

He began to stutter not knowing how volatile the man may be.

“Maybe I can help her,”

“No! Forget her! She’s just sleepin’, just give him a shot or whatever. Do it!”

Allen turned back towards the corpse. Sweat dripped into his eyes. He didn’t know what to do. He patted himself down for something to wipe his eyes. His handkerchief was already too tainted to use. Finding nothing, he grabbed an empty syringe from his first aid pouch and falsely prepped a shot of morphine. He rested his hand on its calf, his fingers sunk into the formless skin, and he stared at the skewed head of the corpse for what seemed to be an eternity, like he was waiting for a sign to go ahead. At that instant he stopped, and locked eyes with the woman in the corner. She watched what was happening intently with wide eyes, but lay still, not ready for anything that was about to happen.

“No, it can’t be her” he thought.

The picture in his pocket itched. He wanted to pull it out.

“Go on!”the bulbous man said.

He startled Allen. Allen raised his arm, syringe in hand, making sure the bulbous man believed what he was doing was genuine. Allen prepared his nerves. The needle plunged in and rooted itself deep in the leg. His fist almost fell through the elastic surface of the skin. Allen closed his eyes as he did it, expecting a climatic finish, he sat beside his patient waiting for something to happen.

“Well?” the bulbous man said.

His tone implied he wanted immediate results. Allen didn’t answer. His hand still sat stuck in the patient’s leg, and his eyes surveyed for it for any movement. After being suspended in that moment for a few seconds, Allen faced the bulbous man readying himself for a reaction.

“Look, I don’t know what to say.” Allen paused. “He’s dead. There is nothing I can do about it.” The bulbous man didn’t seem to listen.

“No he’s not. Look! You saved him! You saved my brother!” the bulbous man cheered.

Allen turned and saw the thin, emaciated neck of the patient slowly pull up its head. It stared through Allen. Its mouth opened wide, exposing green teeth that were veiled in a fall of blood. It was infected. Allen stood up and found himself confronting his captor.

“You have to shoot him, he’ll kill us both! Shoot him!” Allen said while clasping the bulbous man’s shirt.

In the back of his head Allen didn’t know who ‘both of us’ was - the man in front of him, or the woman in the corner. It added to the confusion. The bulbous man assaulted Allen with his gun, shoving him back against the steel walls. \

“You have to kill it!” Allen screamed.

“Never!” he yelled as spit came off his lips.

The cadaver stood up and inched closer. Allen burst off the wall onto the bulbous man trying to pry the shotgun from his hands. Even pulling as hard as he could, Allen couldn’t get it to move. Taking a step back, Allen swung his elbow violently through the air and with all his weight struck the bulbous man in the head. A stripe of red sprung from his mouth and he fell so hard he shook the truck bed. Allen seized the gun, aimed the barrel at the creature limping towards him and squeezed the trigger. The creature’s head exploded creating shrapnel that stung his skin. Horrified, Allen stared at the mess in front of him. The rising ringing sound in his ear prevented him from having a clear thought. Allen’s left eye still stared down the barrel of the gun, while his right was shut so tight it seemed uneager to open because it was only logical that it would just spot another problem.

Coming to his senses, Allen began to ponder his situation while pacing back and forth in the cramped truck. The hands on his watch became far more important. Time was a factor. Helicopter pick-ups only came once a day, there were twenty-two hours until the next one, and the checkpoint was a mile away. By the time he made it back, the Health Department would have had declared him missing and hired someone in his place. The bulbous man who lay unconscious was Allen’s biggest problem next to the hordes of infected who may be lurking outside the truck. He could get up at any time. Allen had pressed the gun up to the unconscious man, but could never bring himself to fire. The string of lights began to flicker, for each part of a second they went out, he caught a glimpse of what he would have to deal with when the generator ran out of power. In that glimpse of darkness, Allen saw the same two, clean, white eyes that had stared at him earlier. He walked up to the woman. She didn’t blink. Pinching the picture of his wife in his fingers, he first took a good look at the fragile woman laying in front of him, and then then at the picture.

“No…” Allen said under his breath.

The picture was ruined. A congealed spot of blood had been smeared across the fading face of his wife. Allen’s throat closed up, and he took a deep breath. Staring once again at the woman, he knew he would never know if this was his wife. It was far too much.

1 comment:

Virtual Lisa said...

Absolutely awesome ! I wanted to read more. I'm a huge consumer of Stephen King (just read Cell before Christmas - lots of gore). Tell him to keep it the episodes coming. Reminded me of Mad Max & The Stand rolled into one.