A Ravaged Society
â€œExperience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.â€
â€• Thomas Jefferson
In a world ravaged by a doomsday apocalypse, it's hard for Oswald Roberts to figure out who he fears more: the zombies; who are predictable, or the tyrants of humanity; whose human nature threaten the peace they claim to preserve.
The Beginning of the End
"What's it say?" Oswald asked.
"'Prepare yourself for the most awesome zombie movie of all time, as apocalypse survivor Anna Robinson bands up with her friends to find an antidote that may save mankind'...talk about self advertising," Quinn laughed humorlessly, throwing the case down next to him.
"The actress playing Lyra's really good though," Oswald remarked, clutching the bowl of freshly made popcorn to his chest.
"Your stepfather doesn't mind that we're staying up late to watch movies, right?" Quinn asked.
"Nonsense. My stepfather wouldn't care less, matter-of-fact, he's not even going to come home until late tomorrow morning. He's probably at that pub he always frequents. Besides, tomorrow's Sunday. The person you really should be looking out for is Miriam," Oswald said.
"Your little sister?" Quinn asked, his eyebrows raised.
"She's not that little. She's 18, just one year younger than us. She hates it everytime we stay up late because she claims we turn the volume up too much and she can hear us from her bedroom and can't sleep. I'll get screeched at in my years at breakfast tomorrow," Oswald muttered bitterly.
"Well, let's turn the volume down then," Quinn suggested, reaching for the remote.
The movie began to play. The opening scene was inside a laboratory, where a scientist with ratty hair, large black-rimmed spectacles and buck-teeth was pouring chemicals into beakers, muttering gibberish to himself in a frenzy.
"Wow. What a cliche. Almost every zombie movie ever begins with an experiment gone wrong," Quinn grumbled.
Meanwhile, across the country from Oswald and Quinn, President Eugene Harrison sat behind his desk at the White House in the United States, rubbing his temples wearily.
Griffin, one of his men, stood in front of him, looking frazzled.
"What's the situation, Griffin?" he asked.
"There was an accident. The McKinley power plant situated in the countryside...there was a radiation leak. It's spreading across the country," Griffin muttered.
Harrison put his head in his hands. "How many are dead?"
"Everyone who worked in the factory. Well, they're not...they're not technically dead," Griffin said, biting his lip. "There's a lot of radioactive fallout. Infection's spreading towards the US. Soon, it's going to spread across the world."
"Okay," Harrison said, looking back up. "Well if that's the case, we're going to have to think of a solution and quickly. Look at your data; how fast will it take for the fallout to clear?"
"The men at the McKinley station were working on a different type of radiation. It was an experiment gone awry. Before he died, Professor Quentin told me the fallout would clear on its own. As long as we don't breathe it in, we'll be fine," Griffin said. "That's just one problem."
"What else?" Harrison asked.
"The men at the factory...they're not exactly dead."
Miriam Roberts scowled, folding her arms as she stormed out of her bedroom. She'd been awoken after less than a minute of shuteye by the sounds of explosions on TV.
"Oswald, really? Another one of your dumb movie marathons?" Miriam snapped, emerging into the living room.
Oswald whirled around to face her. "Oh, you're awake."
"Not like I could sleep with all that noise," Miriam scowled fiercely.
"Sorry. We're at the scene in the movie where Marshall's hideout blows up." Quinn jerked a finger at the television screen.
Miriam sighed, rubbing her eyes. "Oswald, please do me a favor and tone down the volume, or there's going to be a real explosion."
"Alright, M. Go back to sleep," Oswald reassured her. "I'll fix it."
When Miriam opened her eyes next, she thought, for one wild moment, that it was still nighttime.
Reason being was that she could still hear the sounds of explosions in the distance. She was about to reprimand her brother for not turning down the volume when she realized: light was flitting through the window in her bedroom, squeezing through the slits between the curtains.
"He was watching until morning? That little-" Miriam sighed, getting out of bed. "Honestly, it's almost as if I'm the older sibling instead of him."
Oswald shook Quinn awake. The other boy jerked up instantly. "Wha-? Is the movie over?"
They'd both dozed off halfway through their second movie.
The sound of distant explosions reverberated through the living room, but it came from outside.
The ground shook.
Miriam clutched the handle of her bedroom door as the tremors unbalanced her, making her knees go weak. Oswald and Quinn clung onto the armrests on the sofa as the entire living room shook and shuddered violently.
"Earthquake?" Quinn asked, looking scared.
"No." Already the tremors had stopped, but with the stability came the noises. From outside the apartment, down five storeys below on ground level, Oswald could hear the screaming.
Cries of panic. Crying. Shrieking. The distant boom of explosions in the distance. The explosions in the vicinity that shook the ground.
"Check the news!" Oswald yelled.
Quinn snatched the remote off the ground and turned the television on. Miriam hurried into the living room. "What the hell was that?"
"Explosion," Oswald muttered, breathless, his heart pounding.
They all turned to the television screen as Quinn flipped to the morning news channel.
"...emergency news broadcast. Reports have just come in that a power plant in McKinley county has caused a radiation leak that is spreading in gaseous form across the country. Inhalation of said radiation is witnessed to cause spams and turn people into, unbelievably...z-zombies."
The female newscaster laughed shakily, her face pale.
"I...uh...I never thought I'd say that...ever."
"This is not a joke, though. Witnesses say that these c-creatures are potentially hostile. Police would like to advise citizens to barricade their doors and windows and to not let anyone inside their homes. President Harrison has issued a nationwide warning; the radiation will clear up on its own, however, the zombies are another problem. Police will demonstrate their best to secure the situation. Gather your family and stay indoors. We here at the studio wish every citizen best of luc-"
The newscaster's broadcast was cut off by crackling static. Another explosion knocked Oswald and Miriam off their feet.
Quinn rushed over and pulled them up just as someone began knocking frantically on the front door.
"Hey! Oswald! Miriam! Open up!"
"Who's that?" Quinn asked, his voice shaking.
"Don't worry, that's...that's our neighbor, Aunt Gemma," Oswald murmured, leaping to his feet and rushing over to unlock the door.
"Oswald. Miriam. Are you two okay?" Gemma asked as soon as Oswald let her in.
Gemma was roughly in her mid-forties, with grey strands of hair streaked within her usual blond curls. She was fit, for an older woman; many years serving as an army had done that to the retired female soldier.
Oswald and Miriam's mother, back when she was alive, had often asked Gemma to babysit the pair of them. Gemma had complied; the two siblings had grown close to their neighbor, she'd often babysat them several times throughout their childhood.
"Aunt Gemma, what's happening?" Miriam asked, Quinn helping her up.
"Did you see the news?" Gemma asked, wasting no time in shutting the door behind her. She crossed to the windows quickly and peered out.
"Yes...yes, zombies and all that whatnot, but it can't...it can't be real? Can it? No, no, zombies aren't real. That's fake. That's...that's stuff we make up in our heads, stuff we see in movies and books and computer games, it's not real!" Oswald protested.
"Oh yeah? Well, look down there. Look!" Gemma instructed.
Oswald moved to the windows tentatively, risking a peek. His jaw dropped. Outside, the streets were crowded with people. Citizens were running wild, screaming as they were chased by...
Even from here, Oswald could see them. They looked almost human, except for the sagging, mottled grey skin, the tattered bloody clothing, the sores on their faces and necks and the blood dripping down their chin and leaking out of their eyes.
They were much faster; much much faster than normal humans. Oswald watched with ever mounting horror as a group of them converged on one lone man who was running for his life. They caught up to him easily, pouncing on him and keeping him pinned down.
Oswald shut his eyes. He could just barely hear the man's scream of terror over all the noise.
"Aunt Gemma, what do we do?" Miriam asked worriedly.
Gemma clenched her fists. "In all my eyes serving in the army, through all my years of war, I've never...ever seen anything like this."
"Why would you have?" Quinn snapped. "If you had, everyone would know; zombies exist. I'm Quinn, by the way."
He held out a hand to shake, but Gemma ignored it. "Listen to me, all three of you. I want you to pack your bags and meet me outside the house. We're going to get out of here. I'll take you guys out to the countryside. We can hide out there until it's safe."
"Is that a good idea?" Miriam asked.
Another explosion shook the apartment. "Where are those explosions coming from?" Oswald asked.
"There are people out there, trying to fight. Our city has dispatched its military and police forces to fight the threat. Everything's gone to hell. What the newscaster said about barricading yourself at home; it's bull. If we stay at home, we risk being blown up like ragdolls. The people down there, they've gone mad. Desperation does that to people. One wrong misfire and a missile's headed our way. The President's gone into hiding. I always knew President Eugene Harrison was unfit for governing this country. We can't count on him. I never have, though I served in the army. I only trust my own instincts and right now, we need to escape. Find shelter. Only then, when all this has calmed down a little, can we assess the situation. We need to work together on this. Do you trust me?"
It took five minutes.
Five minutes for Oswald and Miriam to gather all their things.
Oswald tossed in as many clothes and supplies he could keep in his bag; supplies like canned food, bottles of water, a torchlight, a Swiss Army knife, his phone, his wallet, his house keys and a phone charger.
Perhaps the last four were kind of useless. Still, unlike most zombie-themed stories, he didn't exactly keep a gun in the house or anything like that. Besides, a phone could be used to communicate with people. To power his phone, he needed a charger. If he ever was to come back home, no matter how unlikely it could be, then the keys would come in handy. And his wallet had money; you never know when money might be useful, even in an apocalypse.
Even thinking it, Oswald didn't think it felt real. He was in an actual zombie apocalypse.
Part of him actually felt excited. But he was terrified, mostly. If every movie and book he ever watched and read on this topic was to be taken seriously, he could be dead quickly. If not him, it could be Miriam, or Quinn, or Gemma, or his stepfather...
"Oswald, come on!" Miriam beckoned as Oswald rushed out of his room, his bag over his shoulder.
"What about Dad?" Oswald asked.
The two addressed their stepfather as Dad, because their real Dad had left them. Their stepfather Gale may not have been the best substitute they had, but he kept their school fees paid, kept them fed three meals and in a nice house, so for that, they were grateful.
"Damn...what do we do?" Oswald asked Miriam.
"You're asking me? Let's go first. We can check on him later," Miriam said.
The two rushed out the house. Quinn was already there. Oswald had lent him a spare bag, into which Quinn had dumped a few clothes of Oswald's that fit his size.
"Come on," Gemma beckoned.
Oswald shut the door behind him, almost about to lock it when he realized that seemed kind of foolish, locking his house while caught in explosions and an apocalypse.
"We have to move quickly," Gemma ordered, leading them to the stairs at the far end of Dream Towers' fifth-floor landing.
"How will we get to the countryside?" Miriam asked.
"I don't know. We can take a car or a bike...one thing's for sure, we can't walk. They'll catch up to us quickly," Gemma said. "So quickly we won't even know what hit us-"
Oswald turned just as he felt Quinn's hands shove him from behind. He toppled backwards. Miriam and Gemma dropped to the floor.
Oswald's eyes met Quinn's as he fell to the ground. It was at that very moment that the missile met its target.
The building shook violently. The misfired explosion from the ground floor hit the fourth-floor landing. The place shook and smoke filled the air, along with a combination of heat and light that blinded Oswald.
Coughing, on all fours, he staggered upwards, spitting a bloody tooth out of his mouth. He winced, clutching his leg. It was scuffed and stung badly, but he'd live.
He hurried over to where Miriam lay, on the ground, and shook her. "Miriam? Miriam!"
"I'm...I'm fine..." she groaned, rolling onto the back.
Gemma, who'd fallen on her side in the explosion, hurried over. Oswald's eyes wandered over the place.
Half the fifth-floor landing had collapsed. Debris was littered across the area. The building shuddered ominously; it would collapse any second.
And to think, less than one minute ago, Oswald had been worried about not locking his front door.
"We have to go. Now! Before the whole building collapses!" Gemma ordered. "Where's your friend?"
Oswald whirled around. Quinn was not there. Quinn, who had pushed him out of the way of the an explosion, who had pushed him to safety and saved his life, was missing.
"Quinn?" Oswald cried out, hoping for a response. It was useless. He could see with his eyes that Quinn was not there. The entire fifth-floor landing was either covered in debris or about to collapse. There was no sign of his best friend anywhere.
"Oswald. Oswald, listen to me."
Gemma's words were muffled. Oswald barely heard them or felt Gemma's hand on his arm, restraining him from moving forward to check the debris. His eyes scoured the area, looking for any sign that Quinn had survived. There was none. There was no body buried in the wreckage, nothing.
The explosion had incinerated him. His last act had been to save Oswald.
"Oswald, please. We have to go." It was Miriam this time, grabbing his shoulder, tears spilling over her cheeks. "Listen to me. We have to go. The place is going to-"
The remainder of Dream Towers shuddered as the structure tried feebly to hold on to itself. From down below, the screams of citizens and the sounds of gunfire and more explosions wafted up to them.
"We need to move, Oswald," Gemma said firmly. She grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "The grief can come later. For now, we have to act. Do you understand me?"
Oswald's mind was still lost in fog as they ran down the street. Gemma's car had been carelessly blown to smithereens; the three of them stole bicycles from an abandoned bicycle rental shop across the street and pedaled away, heading for the pub that their stepfather usually frequented.
"After this, we head to the countryside. No arguments," Gemma called up to them as Oswald and Miriam cycled ahead of her.
"Dad has to be alive. He has to," Miriam murmured, more to herself than to Oswald.
Oswald tried to believe her, tried to have hope.
He had none.