Hannah died two or three days ago. I can’t remember how long exactly. I held her hand and watched helplessly as the fever consumed her. I stayed with her until she rose, said my goodbyes and wept as the bullet tore through her undead head.
She deserved better than that.
We all did.
I feel numb.
I’ve lived in this compound for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall a time before the plague took hold, but was told that I had four years of carefree life before the dead started to walk and we had to lock ourselves away from them.
I buried her this morning. I’ve buried thirty-eight people in my time but Hannah took longer than most. I could swear she was talking to me. Accusing me. I stopped to talk to her so many times but always found her staring back at me with dead eyes. She’s really gone. They’ve all gone.
There was a vibrant community here once, 80 or 90 people living together, working the land, cut off from the rest of the apocalypse and in all my years, I’ve never once left the borders of this haven. The rest of the world has collapsed; society no longer exists.
As far as I know, I’m the last of the living. When this all started we still had regular contact with other survivors, but as the years went on, messages lessened and eventually ground to a halt. We kept the radio on just in case someone tried to call, but for the last 15 years, all we’ve had is dead air. I used to look forward to my shift at the radio station, finding the empty hiss soothing; the smell of warm bakelite filling my nostrils. I moved my bunk into the radio room last night but all the noise does now is remind me of how alone I am.
I could stay here until I died. I have supplies and live-stock to last me for another 30 years, at least. I could spend the rest of eternity talking to pigs and chickens, growing vegetables and just getting on with my life. I could explore the whole building, I’m sure there are rooms I haven’t been in and there are so many books in the library, I could read until I went blind.
I could die of loneliness long before then.
Hannah and I knew that after the troubles, the community wouldn’t last for long. Something as devastating as the Chapel Massacre would have a profound and divisive effect. Unfortunately, we weren’t wrong.
About three years ago Martin, a priest in his former life, decided that the dead rising was a sign from God because we had abandoned the ways of Jesus. He’d always seemed perfectly normal, for a Priest I mean, but I think the ungodliness of the situation got too much for him. One evening, after drinking himself almost incomprehensible, he claimed to have had a revelation from God that this was a test. God would continue to resurrect the dead, as Jesus resurrected Lazarus, but until we gave ourselves completely over to Him; until we prayed hard enough and believed strong enough, those resurrected would come back as the undead. Once we’d prayed ourselves back to a state of purity, he reckoned, the resurrected would come back as Lazarus did.Some people believed him and set up the Church of the Lazarine in the Chapel by the stables.
I guess that in the aftermath of the apocalypse, it was comforting to have something to believe in and, to start with at least, it seemed harmless. That is, until he took it upon himself to beat his parishioners until they bled stating “we must bleed as Jesus bled”. Sometimes, the children would have their bones broken because of his beatings and that was too much for the non-Lazarines to handle. Some of the Lazarines, too. The council told Father Martin in no uncertain terms, any more beatings and man of the cloth or not, he’d be thrown out of the compound.
So he, and some of his goons, broke the perimeter and caught one of the undead; chained it up in the chapel. He’d lost it by now. Crazed. During the next service he offered himself to the creature, convinced that he would rise as Lazarus rose, once the creature had killed him. His rebirth would be the sign that God was with us and that we could cleanse this world of the undead curse. The council tried to stop it, of course, but the Lazarine followers had prepared themselves with guns. Nothing was going to take their moment of glory away from them, least of all the heathens!
He stepped forward to just within reach of the beast, which lunged forward and ripped out a huge chunk of flesh from his shoulder. Had it hit the jugular, Father Martin would have probably died from blood lose in the space of fifteen minutes. As it was, the infection killed him slowly and painfully. He refused medication and died almost two days later.
The creature howled for twelve hours, furious at having been denied a willing meal, before Malik shot it through an opening in the chapel roof.
For two days, as Martin lay dying, the followers of the Church of the Lazarine, chanted, prayed and spoke in tongues. Father Martin had issued strict orders for his body to laid in state across the altar and draped in white silk. We didn’t have any silk in the compound and the followers had to settle for some white canvass. All we could do, outside the chapel, was to wait for the inevitable and hope that there were survivors.
About eighteen hours after his death, the followers observed the canvass twitching. We heard cries of ‘He is Risen’ and much excitement. One of the survivors told me afterwards that one of the favoured Elders had been given the task of removing the shroud on the first signs of ‘life’. He did as he was instructed and screamed. Father Martin, or rather what was left of him, sat up, saw the Elder and with an inhumanly fast move snapped his neck. As the congregation screamed he dragged the body towards him and gorged on his face and throat.
The council, on hearing the screams, sent in a tactical squad and took Father Martin out, but not before he’d managed to injure or kill at least a dozen more people. The Lazarines with guns had frozen in terror as their faith crumbled and then shot a number of people some of who hadn’t actually been bitten. One turned his gun on himself. I’d grown up with these guys and to my shame I can’t remember their names.
The heart had been ripped out of our community and among the Lazarines, there was a speight of suicides. Some of the non-Lazarines followed suit out of despair more than anything; some just left the compound and were presumed dead.
I went back to the graveyard, near the copse, and wrote down the names of everyone who lay buried in it, not just the Lazerines. Everyone. I stopped to touch the wooden cross I had made for Hannah; the sun had warmed the green wood, which steamed slightly releasing fragrant oils from the sap. It wasn’t much, but it’s all I had time for. I looked at the list and tried to remember something about each of the names. I couldn’t remember any of them, except her.
I put the list in my shirt pocket, went back to the house and picked up some supplies. I picked up a bible and a gun and stood at the gates to the compound. I decided where I was going.