WHAT THE PLAGUE DID TO US

Auston Habershaw is busy making a name for himself with his science fiction novels, which include The Iron Ring, No Good Deed, Dead But Once, and others. You can find him online at aahabershaw.com.

 ***

I was going to be one of the survivors. Seven days into the apocalypse, I’d already outgrown civilization, you know? Me and my AR-10 had kicked some serious zombie ass and had plans to kick some more. I wasn’t going down, no sir. Not like my parents had.

I had been forced to kill them. They were trying to bite me, to infect me. Pure them-or-me shit, right? No shame in that.

That was the moment, I thought. The moment when I went from shit-for-brains suburban burnout to badass survivor. I grabbed Dad’s rifle from the basement and blasted them both away—blam, blam, blam. Headshots. Didn’t even hesitate.

A week later, it was me and a couple other people—those who made it out of the city as it began to implode. We were slick, mean. Had a chick with a crossbow, big dude with a wood axe, kid who knew how to use a chainsaw. Woe betide the undead scum that crossed us, right?

That day—day seven—a supply run. Gonna bust into a big box store and see what wasn’t looted yet. Expecting to find company. We gear up—football helmets, machetes, garbage can lids we’d spiked with nails. I’m sporting five clips of ammo I boosted from a place on day three. My rifle—Wanda, I call her—she’s cleaned and oiled and ready to go, her steak-knife bayonet duct-taped in place.

Long story short, the raid goes wrong. It’s zombie central, right? We’re surrounded by, like, fifty of the bastards. Wanda’s jammed and I can’t seem to clear it. Fuck fuck fuck. They reach for us, their pale, bloody hands grasping. The moans. The drool.

Crossbow chick shoots a zombie in the chest. He falls backward. Wood axe dude is down, screaming.

The jam clears. I shoot the closest zombie.

The sound of gunfire makes all the zombies jump. They freeze.

Wait…they jumped?

Like, in surprise?

It’s like time stops for a second. The zombies aren’t coming for us anymore. It’s…it’s like something changes in the air. I can’t describe it.

A zombie—a girl in a blood-slicked greeter vest, nametag that said “Kim”—coughs a bit. She blinks. Her eyes—so vacant a second ago—they seem clearer. Focused, like somebody waking up. “Hey…what’s…what’s going on?”

We—zombies and survivors—stare at each other. It gets, like, awkward.

Zombies start rubbing their eyes. One little girl zombie starts crying that she’s been bit by a dog. A big fat zombie rubs his bald spot, sits down, and pulls out a battered cell phone. “Jesus, I feel like shit. Hey…anybody got bars?”

“Kim” looks down at the zombie I just shot. “Oh God! Frank! Are you okay?”

I clear my throat. My voice squeaks. “What the fuck?”

Kim looks up, cradling zombie Frank’s head, blood still running down her chin from her last victim, her skin still sallow. “You killed him!”

I didn’t know it at the time, but this same scene was happening all over the metro area.

They got better. It was crazy. So crazy. The plague, turned out, ran its course in about a week, give or take a day or two. They all needed water, medical attention, rest, but…they were okay. Just like they’d come down with…well…

…with a virus. Like the flu.

They were just sick. Not undead. Sick.

And me and my crew had killed them. We killed them when they were sick. I killed twenty-five people.

I…

I murdered my parents, you guys. I just…just saw Mom’s eyes all glassy and saw the bite marks on Dad’s face and I…just…

Jesus.

Twenty thousand people died. Most of them were “zombies.” A lot of them died from exposure, dehydration, stuff like that. The rest were killed by people like me. By people who thought they were already dead.

And, like, it wasn’t like we hesitated, right? We just started bashing away, right off. See your roommate groaning and staggering, his eyes way off somewhere, and you just crushed his head with a bowling trophy and didn’t look back. It was our moment to shine. To show the world we were tough enough to survive. To prove how badass we were.

But then the world didn’t end. It, like, wasn’t over. Was never going to be over. If we’d just holed up in our houses like the government said—like so many people did—it all woulda blown over.

But we didn’t.

We’re a bunch of murderers. Bloodthirsty psychos. Sure, sure—there was an amnesty issued. A time of panic, they said. Totally understandable. But people know. You still get the looks. They showed some of the funerals on the news—the weeping, the anger, all over what we did. I get on the bus, and it’s like there’s a bubble around me—a bunch of ex-zombies, not wanting to get too close. Like they can see their blood on me still.

Turns out I’m no survivor at all.

I’m the thing they all survived.

Copyright © 2019 by Auston Habershaw