When hell is full
the Dead shall walk the Earth
-Dawn of the Dead
How long had it been? Iris wondered. It seemed like a lifetime ago when she didn’t need to fear for her life or others’ every few seconds. The ordinary yet peaceful life she was oh-so accustomed to had unravelled before her very eyes as bloodshed and chaos reigned hand in hand over all lifeforms on Earth after a deadly epidemic.
Two years ago, a strange new virus surfaced in Africa. Thinking nothing of it, people continued on with their daily life, work and travels. The virus became more and more prevalent in central Africa over time, but still, no one was overly concerned. It was not deemed important enough to be mentioned by the media. So when it eventually reached Asia, no one was prepared. No one was expecting it. It was the perfect, silent and slow killer.
After some thorough research, the virus was eventually found to be waterborne—something that no one in remote Africa could avoid due to the lack of access to clean water. Symptoms of the virus usually appeared after one week of contracting it through consuming contaminated water. The symptoms resembled that of a cold: excessive coughing and headaches. They seemed like something that could easily be overcome with time or simple antibiotics. But by the time it was truly noticeable, it was too late. The symptoms morphed into something far more sinister. Thought processes were being altered, genetics were evolving and new chemicals and hormones were coursing through the veins of the unlucky ones.
The disease rendered the cognitive function of their brains useless and they turned rabid, running solely on their primitive need to eat. Some took days to turn, some took weeks. And some only took a few minutes through salivary contact with an infected. The victims would forget who they were, what they were doing, who their loved ones were and become mindless killing machines.
The only country in Asia safe from the infected was North Korea. Under 48 hours, every civilian had their teeth extracted willingly or not to prevent the spread of the virus. That way, any of the newly infected wouldn’t be able to transmit the disease no matter how much they tried to shred open human flesh with their fleshy gums. Meanwhile, America had closed off from the rest of the world and Europe was teetering on the outbreak of an apocalypse.
But possibly the worst part of the epidemic was that some people were immune. They had to watch their family members die; witness their friends being stolen from them; see the whole world descend to madness and not be able to do anything about it.
The immunes were considered to be the lucky ones. But Iris saw it as a curse and nothing more.
The first thing they usually tell everyone when you step foot into the camp in Pulau Ubin was this: you will be safe here. Beyond the camp clearing, across the jetty and further into the uptown area, the rest of the country was a barren wasteland. The infection had already spread as far out as Indonesia and even the Philippines. Cities were reduced to debris and wreckage with the walking dead prowling about and savagely hunting down anything that moved.
No one else in the camp called them “zombies” quite frankly because, despite it all, it was still ridiculous. But that was just what they were. That was what happened. The fucking zombies had taken over. Officially, the creatures were given the term ‘Night-walkers’ which was as accurate as it could get, considering they were more active during twilight.
“Zombies are technically still alive. They can move and speak…if grunting and growling are considered speaking; maybe that’s just the language of zombies,” Kat would say, all philosophical, like some camp elder. She would sharpen her parang knife with a flintstone as the seasoned warrior she was and look up at them with a pensive frown. “Those things aren’t dead. They’re just sick.”
“They’re as good as dead. Their hearts no longer beat and their brains are practically mush at this point. The virus simply jump-starts the brain and nervous system sometime after death, allowing the corpse to stand up and move,” Yoorim would put in sagely.
“As good as dead still isn’t dead,” Kat would retort, nudging the older female with the hilt of her weapon.
Li Rong would just stare at them, deadpan, wishing they would stop bringing up the same argument every few days. She would then respond with a scathing, “Stop arguing like a married couple, would you? If you two don’t have anything better to do, do each other instead.” before tossing back her ponytail and trotting away with a huff. The two squabbling females would then return to their responsibilities of scouting and gardening with matching furious blushes on their face.
It was nice to see Kat being deliriously in love with her girlfriend, Iris thought. Even in such a bleak situation with the inevitable prospect of Armageddon hovering over humanity, there was still somehow time for Kat to sort out her pent-up teenage angst and come to terms with her sexuality.
And as always, Iris would feel the ugly green monster—jealousy—in her rear its head. Kat, just like the rest of the world, was able to move on even after the losses they had suffered on their way to reach the Shelter in Pulau Ubin. But Iris, on the other hand, was still stuck in the same vicious loop of yearning for a ghost and reliving the day she lost him.
She could still see haunting images of her past and the day of the outbreak even when she closed her eyes. Every death, every corpse and every life she took was branded into her memory; she could picture everything clearly like a rapid Powerpoint slideshow in her mind starting over and over and over–
Whenever she woke, her sheets were damp with cool, salty tears that arrived in the dead of night, quickly and suddenly, like the unbearable pain entering her world without the decency to knock first. She numbed the remorse and grief with distractions given to her through the daily tasks at camp. It was somewhat comforting to have a ritual again, something to anchor her in a world she no longer recognised.
But when night came, the suppressed pain would always morph into a hollow sensation and sit in her chest no matter how hard she tried to will it away. She didn’t know what was better—feeling too much all at once or not feeling anything at all.
Jisung told her it was survivor’s guilt. But she thought it was just the brunt of her loss finally settling into her consciousness.
Death does that to people; lock the truth in a cage and warp love into something strange and awful. Loving him meant she would have traded places in a heartbeat, fought until they either both lived or died. And so, for her, mourning was a tedious process she had to endure; it was only the start of the longest and darkest night there ever was.
This was hell. And they made it through alive.
But there was another level they still had to face.ns 22.214.171.124da2