Walking Hosts

January 22, 2013
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I walk along the ruined, pothole-ridden path that used to be California’s Highway One, not used since back when one could still justify having roads; and there were still people that were able to use roads, for that matter. I am walking northwards, from my hometown of Anaheim. I do not know where I am going. I do not know why I am going there. I just know that I am where I am at this current moment, and I know that I need to keep moving. I cannot stay put. I won’t. I slow, looking around me and seeing nothing, save wilted plants and wispy grasses, long since dried brown and slicing against each other, sounding as if they were whispers of lost voices floating in a feeble wind. I turn back to my path ahead to nowhere, letting one foot after another guide me to wherever it was they had decided to take me.

I am twenty-three. Almost twenty-four. My birthday is in a month or so, but birthdays stopped mattering over a year ago. All that matters now is each day. People don’t really realize how much we as a whole take for granted; life, health, family, friends, a stable place to live, food to eat, a source of income. Not that any of those matter anymore. Not to me. Not to anyone.

I was one of the people who the government called “the lucky few” back when I still cared what the government thought. Back when there was a government to listen to. It was my genes that had saved me; they are saving me now. Well, actually, one gene. A certain gene, a much-wanted gene, and quite a rare one, as I was told. This gene was not what the government said it was - a blessing - but more of a cruel joke; this gene had allowed me to watch helplessly as those I cared about shriveled before me as I watched, helpless, unable to do anything but watch. And wait. And cry. Oh, I cried. But I don’t cry anymore; not for myself, anyways. I only cry for the lost. And there are many lost; innumerable lost.

17 months ago, a new weapon was released for use by the United States military. It was a weapon that threatened to do what no other weapon had previously done: directly target enemies and transmit itself among them until they had been eliminated as a threat. It was a biological weapon, supposedly stable enough to just effect the intended areas and their inhabitants, then it would kill itself off to prevent further spreading. The new virus, officially named “HEA-V4” by those who created it, was originally commissioned by the government to leading bioengineering companies as an experimental trial over a decade ago, just after the Drone War of ’85, to help aid in protection against future threats.

HEA-V4, or Human Eradication Agent - Version 4, was never released for use in warfare; they didn’t have time to get it that far before it had mutated. The changes in genes had caused the virus to become unstable to the point where it began to kill itself before it had infected the host; so, it mutated to resist itself, effectively killing its ability to prevent itself from spreading. At least, that’s what the President had said. Some were immune to this virus. I was. My family was not so lucky. Those who weren’t didn’t get the luxury of being able to watch the news so they could hear the President talk about their eventual fates. Not with their face swollen with bloody patches all over their bodies. Not with the water-thin, disease-ridden blood that pulsed through their veins. Not with their slow paralyzation and later cardiac arrest. I have decided to leave behind what was before. There’s nothing there for me now, anyways.

I walk for a number of weeks, seeing no other people, no other life, save for the calls of the wild animals that roam the cities I walk through occasionally, looking for and feasting on the remnants of foods over a year old. I am now almost to San Francisco. I have not been walking fast. I have had no need to. I need to be nowhere, not at any particular time, not for any particular reason.

I trudge through the chill morning air, densely packed with ashen-white fog as it suffocates the frigid waters beneath it. I am crossing the Bay Bridge, gently swaying back and forth in the wind. I could have taken a more direct route, but since I have nowhere to go, I figured I’d be the last living person to cross the Bay Bridge, despite the longer trek to get there. I may even cross the Golden Gate on my way out. I rub my hands together, trying to create some feeble warmth to fight off the windchill. Walking along, I see cars stalled in the middle of the bridge; to my left, one is turned over, a dull glow burning inside where a fire was burning out. “Who had made the fire?” I ask myself. “Is there really a fire at all?” I do not know anymore. One’s mind does funny things to him, when he’s alone for so long. It seeks out human company, it thrives on conversation. When it is alone, it wanders. It pulls at one’s subconscious - my subconscious - and looks deep. It knows what frightens me, and it shows it to me. I can’t stop it. I can’t shut it off. I can’t.

I don’t know what it is that I’m afraid of; externally, at least. Images of the virus’ victims run through my mind on loop on occasion, coming from nowhere and seeming to return there after a little while. Shadows become menacing creatures that lurk about behind corners and cars that dart away when I turn my head. Maybe there are others with the virus who haven’t entirely succumbed to its dastardly effects as of yet, just waiting for someone to take vengeance on to help cope with their own self-pity. I’m not really sure. Maybe I’m afraid of ghosts, when I get a sudden chill down the back of my neck, yet there is no breeze whispering through the air. Maybe I’m afraid of myself.

I get off of the bridge, walking a little brisker now. I can hear calls of wild animals, even though it is almost midday. The sky is a leaden gray-purple, overcast, no sun shining through the shroud of clouds overhead. I haven’t eaten in three days. I have to eat what I can find, and San Francisco is bound to have something to eat. As I near the entrance to the main part of the city, I see the red booths with the large yellow-and-black biohazard sign stuck to their roofs. It’s comical to see them now, as they tried to require a check before people could enter the city. The disease managed to find its way in, anyway. I remember the waves of panic, the running, the bombings to try to stop its spread. The frantic studies of trying to create an antidote, its eventual success, and the virus’ mutation to work against it, rendering it useless. The mourners in black, the burning of coffins, the piles of those human-shaped black bags handled by the men in the puffy white suits. All of the screams.

I am in the city now, walking along what used to be El Camino Real. I am heading towards North Beach; I’ve always loved Italian food. I look up at the buildings that tower above my head, long since fallen into disuse and disrepair. Posted at a street corner, I see a sign with the infamous yellow-and-black color scheme and the logo for the virus they had appointed: a red needle on a black silhouette of a person’s face surrounded in a red circle. I can just make out the faded words “Biohazard: Entering Quarantine Zone” that had so commonly surrounded certain areas of large cities.

I am in North Beach. I am eating some very stale crackers. It’s mostly dust and crumbs by now, but it’s better than starving to death in a world already filled with so much of it. I’ve taken a backpack from a convenience store, along with a couple bottles of water (still unopened, amazingly), a pack of beef jerky, and some canned corn. This should be enough to keep me fed for a day or two, should I not be able to find any other food. I keep walking, taking in the ruins of a once-great city, it’s streets filled with trash, muddy water, and rodents, and its buildings with shattered windows, crumbling walls, and long-burned out “Open” signs.

I have explored San Francisco for two days now, and am currently sleeping at the edge of the old Golden Gate Park. I have been finding plenty to eat. I have to confess that something is strange, though. Very strange. I have found a number of ashes from fires, though they appear to be only a few weeks old. I also hear noises, like voices from those who used to live here, drifting in the wind. Sometimes I swear I see a silhouette of a person standing in the fog, just out of my reach, like a reaper watching me with an envious gaze. I don’t know if these things are real, or if they are my mind playing with my sense of reality. “Am I going crazy?” I ask myself. Unfortunately, I can’t give myself an answer.

I awake the next morning to see a column of smoke rising into the air from the distance, somewhere towards the middle of the park. “You’re hallucinating,” I tell myself. “There is no smoke. You are alone.” I don’t know if my inner thoughts are right or not, so I walk towards it, checking the sky clouding over once more, threatening to bring rain. If it rains, I may never find the source of that smoke. I will go crazy on my own, I know it. If I’m not halfway there already.

I am drawing closer to the smoke. I am not hallucinating. I can smell the smokiness of a fire burning in the air. I keep walking. I hear voices. Not the voices in my head from before. Human voices. Real voices. With different pitches and tones and languages. I hear laughter. I miss laughter. I keep walking. I keep walking. I keep walking.

I awoke a week and a half later, as I was told, covered by a tent pitched over my head. I don’t remember what happened during the gap of time when I had been asleep, though I’ve been told they’d thought I was dead for sure. It turns out, there are others like me. Immune. Survivors. I am not alone. We are together, the eight of us. How we found each other, I am not quite sure. Luck? Maybe. One thing is for sure, though, is that we found each other for a reason.

I exit the tent in the park, and see four people sitting around a fire, which they are trying to keep burning despite the breeze. The other three are out looking for food, they say. I step out from under the tent’s awning, looking up to the gray, clouded sky above us as the first drops of the next rain begin to fall on my face, running off like tears from a last goodbye. What we had before is gone, I know. We will have to start anew. I know there are others like us. We are not the walking hosts those who have passed were, slowly losing what all of us take for granted the most. We will find the other survivors, those who are immune. The only question I have is: where?

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AliceTheZombie said...
Jan. 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Brilliant! I'm always a fan of sci-fi/distopia-esque fiction. The apolyptic overtones are really cool to be able to assume, and the peice itself would be great to start off a larger. All I can say is that you started really strong with your discription, but I guess it was lacking a bit in that quality by the end. I guess all I can say it proof read! Awesome work, man! :D   Cheers.
BigCaseyDog replied...
Jan. 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm
Thanks so much. I really appreciate the feedback, I may have to revise and repost or write a similar story in the future.
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