We heard a shriek coming from one of the nearby rooms while we were playing cards one day. By then we were more or less settled into our new routine, living each day as it came. It felt as if there nothing was wrong with the world outside us if one were to look at how we spend our life everyday. But something was indeed wrong. If you listen closely, you could hear scattered gunshots coming from a distance and the occasional roar of a distant jet every now and then. One could even hear explosions every now and then too. However, we became so used to hearing these sounds every day that it had become part of our lives. It became something that we subconsciously ignored.

In addition to that, the electricity supply had stopped by this time, and the air had taken a burning smell to it. To deal with the sweltering heat, most of us had discarded the norm of dressing up by this time. The guys were mostly only dressed in shorts while the girls in their bra and shorts.

It was awkward initially of course, especially when you have never seen a girl half naked up close in your life before. However, just like the sound of the occasional gunshots and jet roars, I got used to it after a few days. It made living much easier too. Like all of the choices that we made during those days, it was a practical choice.

When we heard the scream, it caught all of us off guard. We never had to deal with the zed problem since day one, and without the internet or any link to remind us of what was happening outside, we almost forgot that we were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. We got complacent, relaxed, trapped in the little bubble of ours. We almost believed that everything was going to turn out okay.

Amy, one of the girls, was the first that rushed out from the common room. I followed closely behind her. The scream had come from Tracy, another girl who left with James the night before. They had been spending quite a lot of time together as a pair ever since the beginning, and we did not question much. Companionship was one of the few things that kept us sane during those days. For some of us, we naturally gravitated into pairs. The reason why I was running behind Amy had something to do with this too. I have always had a crush on her ever since the first day that I saw her, but the few days that we have spent together as a group brought the two of us much closer together.

It just so happened that the rest of group were in the common room that day too, and they all followed closely behind me and Amy. We ran down the flight of stairs to the first floor where the Tracy’s scream came from.

Just as Amy was about to open the room's door, it swung open from the inside. It was Tracy. She had the panicked and hysterical look on her face, her eyes running wild and out of focus. If it was not for the zombie apocalypse, you one would be forgiven to think that she looked like as if she had seen a ghost. She was running from something. Her white t-shirt was covered in patches of red and her hands bore the unmistakable marks of being bitten. Before we could do anything, she was pulled back into the room and in that instance, James leaped from behind her. Both of his arms were opened wide and his hands shaped like claws, like a tiger pouncing at its prey.

He ploughed straight into Amy, and the force sent them both tumbling on to the floor. I was able to dodge in time to avoid them from crashing into me, but was only able to look as Amy reacted instinctively by her raising her hand in self-defense. And that's when James sank his teeth into her hand.

For a brief moment I was too stunned to do anything. My brain somehow was unable to process what was happening around me, my feet rooted to the ground. I saw Amy struggling with the now turned James, grey all over, a signature characteristic of a zed. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as I looked at the others running towards me and back to Amy again. It was the sound of my name being called, along with the sight of a sharpened pole being throw at me, that brought me back to reality. One of the guys, Kevin, had just managed to find a weapon in the nick of time.

I grabbed the pole with my right hand and using all my might, brought my feet unto James. His body was flung to the wall from the force of my kick. A piece of flesh hung unmistakably from his jaws. We had reacted too late. Amy howled in pain. I cursed under my breath as I rushed for him.

Adrenaline had taken over me now, and seeing that James was still sprawled on the wall, I brought the pole that I was holding right through his stomach. The sound of flesh tearing filled the walls of the corridor. A brownish liquid, instead of the bright red blood that I had expected to see, gushed from the wound. It flowed down the pole that I was holding. Some of them landed on my shirt and hands. I moved my head away to prevent any from entering my mouth.

A moment of silence ensued as all of us froze there, waiting to see what would happen next. As we feared, James was far from dead. He continued to growl menacingly and to everyone’s horror, began walking towards me, ignoring the pole that was now pushing parts of his insides out. I reacted immediately by swinging the pole in a 180 degree arc, slamming him into the vending machine that was behind me. It was incredible feat, as James was half a head taller and of a bigger build than me. Where I got so much strength that day, I will never know.

“Quick, bring that machine down on him!” I screamed as I tried to keep him pinned to the machine using the pole. The two guys rushed to the machine immediately. James was trashing about, obviously annoyed at my effort to keep him from moving. The pole had moved sideways towards the side of his stomach from the middle where the initial stab was. Anymore and the pole would come out, leaving a vertical straight gap in between his stomach and him free to come after us. The guys gave the vending machine a few heaves, and with one final roar from the both of them, the machine came crashing down and with James beneath it.

We could hear the sound of bones breaking and the sound of organs being crushed. Blood was splattered around the machine with traces of human organs here and there. Even so, James continued to squirm under the machine, with his hands clawing at the floor and feet swinging violently about. At least for now, the machine was keeping him from going anywhere.

I immediately rushed to Amy. One of the girls had tied a tourniquet around her arm, but I could see from her pale white face that she had lost some blood. Even in her condition, she still asked whether Tracy was okay. She leaned on me as we walked towards the room. Inside, we saw Tracy squatting on the floor, still with the terrified look on her face. Her head was facing downwards, her arms over her head and she was rocking body back and forth in her position. She did not respond when we called her name, instead repeating the same sentence over and over again in between her sobs, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” Blood dripped from her hands and unto her legs. No matter what we do or say, she only continued to stare at the floor, mumbling the same sentence, ignoring us. We tried to bandage her hands, but it did not want to move. She was as stiff as a rock.

“She has to go.” Someone piped out. As heartless as it sounded, we knew that has to be done. Kevin ordered the girls to stay with Tracy first, and ordered us guys to finish up the important task first before worrying about Tracy and Amy.

It took us about an hour plus and by the time we were done, and the smell of charred flesh and burnt metal was lingered in the air. James was still struggling to get out of the machine when we went out and we all decided that one way or another, he has to be taken care of. As we had no idea of how to effectively “kill” him during that time, we decided that burning him would the best option. Dave, one of the other guy, managed to find a can of petrol earlier when he was going through the belongings of our residential professors. Dave went and fetch the petrol can, and proceeded to empty half of the petrol can unto the vending machine and the still struggling James underneath it. Kevin then took out his lighter, remarked about how the lighter is finally useful, burned a piece of paper and released it unto James.

It took a full thirty minutes for the entire machine and James to burn. During that time, most of us could not bear to look. The fire licked through the metal and flesh. The zeds did not know how to feel pain, so the body that used to belong to James just struggled about with the flames without indicating that it was in pain. After a while, the still burning body went limp. This was my first experience of seeing a zed die in front of me, and it was something that I did not dare tell Mike because of the method we chose to kill James. I was ashamed of admitting it. Killing a zed by stabbing it through the heart was something that we did not know back then.

“I have to go too,” Amy said as we returned to the room, her eyes on her arm. It was wrapped with t-shirts with a tourniquet tied above the wound, and she still looked pale white. “To accompany Tracy,” she added. Her voice sounded sad, with a tone hinting some sort of dejected acceptance of her fate.

“And I’ll go with them both.” I automatically added. Amy looked at me with a stunned look. I did not know what came over me. No one in their right mind would want to stay near an infected person, let alone accompany them on their final trip but somehow, I did not want Amy to venture on this path alone. Somehow, I wanted to be right next to her, even until the moment that she turned. It was the least that I could do for someone who held such a special place in my heart. I guessed everyone sensed that too because no one tried to talk me out of it.

In the end, the two guys carried Tracy to the gate that guarded the entrance to our hostel while me and Amy walked alongside them. The rest of the girls followed behind us. Most of us were still too shocked to say anything, and we walked the entire journey in silence. After all, what can you say to a person who knows that he/she is going to die later, and upon death, become something else, stripped of everything that the person used to be? Silence seemed to be a better option.

The padlock that we tied around the gate unlocked with a dull clink. After the electricity supply was cut off, we had no choice but to resort to using traditional locks to secure our gates as all our gates used to be secured using an electronic magnetic system. The eight of us walked silently towards the bus stop facing our hall, with the now incoherent Tracy in tow. We put her on the bus stop seat, still in her traumatized state and proceeded to stand around her in silence.

"So I guess this is goodbye then?" said Dave. He was still holding the half used petrol can in his arms. None of us answered his question, but from the look of all our faces, there was no need to. We all knew the answer in our heart. We hugged each other for the last time, with Tracy in the middle, and by the time everyone let go, tears were streaming down most of our faces. The past one week had been nothing but one of the best moments that have been in our life, a moment solace admist the storm. The experience that we shared, the bond that held us together in that hostel, gave us something to hope for during that bleak period. For a moment back there, we almost thought that we could all make it out unscathed, together.

"Here, take this. You may need it." The petrol can, along with a lighter, was hanging from his outstretched arm. There was no need to say what it was for, as we all knew it. It was time to say goodbye.

We watched as the six of them made their way slowly back to the hostel gates, turning their heads back to look at us every now and then. I tried to force a smile to signal to let them know that things will be okay and not to worry, but what came out was a weak one that felt fake to me. They padlocked the gate back as me and Amy looked on, and after a final exchange of glance, they headed back in. Normally, I would have been angry at them for turning their back on us, but I realized that desperate situations call for extreme choices and to survive, emotions and attachment is something we cannot give in to. Despite what my brain was saying, I was standing there, ignoring the thought that kept going in my head about how I have just made the stupidest decision ever by being outside the gate rather than inside.

We took a look at Tracy, who was still in the same state that we found her. Amy sat next to her, arms around her back, and tried to console her by saying that how things are going to be okay, that she can calm down now. Her only reply was still the same sentence. Amy looked at me, dejected and with the eyes that expected me to do something. But I could only look helplessly at Tracy. For all of my years of study in Psychology, nothing prepared me for this. Still I tried.

I knelt down in front of Tracy and put my hand on her shoulders. Even with me so close to her, she continued staring blankly on the floor, wearing the same expression from when we first found her. I tried calling her name, shouting it out loud and even shaking her, but she just sat there, unresponsive. I could see patches of grey beginning to form on her skin and I know that she would turn before long. She was too far gone by that time and there was little I can do. I stood up and shook my head at Amy. She seemed to understand what I meant and gave a sigh. Our surrounding seemed surprisingly deserted and after staring at Tracy for a few more seconds, Amy asked, “Shall we go for a walk?”

Normally in zombie movies, you would normally see the characters immediately kill one of their own if they got infected but both Amy and I could not bring ourselves to do the same to Tracy. At least not in her current stage. One could argue that they are in fact helping the individual before they turned but I could not bring myself to do that at that time. We had after all not found a way to effectively kill a zed yet and I certainly would not want to torch Tracy alive. Even the thought itself sent shudders down my spine. So I left the petrol can and lighter at the bus stop.

It was not long before when we heard the sound of liquid being poured and then sound of something being set ablaze and when we turned behind, we looked in horror as we realized Tracy had set herself ablaze. Perhaps the most terrifying thing that continues to haunt me until today was how she wailed in agony as the flames covered every part of her body. Just like James, her body slumped over and her cries stopped soon after. In its place, only a lifeless charred body remains.

We never did find out why did James turn, he was a health freak all along with all his health supplements, and never once did he go for the CGT. Prior to that, he did complain that he was sick with headache and fever, which was why he went to rest with Tracy accompanying him. Nevertheless, never once did we thought that he was infected with the virus. I guess this is all part of being human, that we would never expect something bad to hit so close to home. They say that part of the experience in living out an apocalypse is how you learn to grow detached and immune to all the carnage that you see around you. So much so until you forgot how being human was like and what the value of a life used to be. That day served as a rude awakening for me that nothing lasts forever in an apocalypse.

As I watched the smoke rise, I felt something holding my hand and as I looked down, my heart jumped a little when I noticed it was Amy’s hands. She noticed that I was looking and smiled weakly to me. Seeing her pale but beautiful face under the evening sunlight, every part of my body wished that this moment could last forever. In the four years that we have met, this was the first time that we were holding our hands like any couple would, fingers intertwined with each other. At least in that brief moment, I could almost bluff myself that everything is going to be okay. But as grey patches began to form under her eyes, I knew that this moment of bliss will not last long.



P/s: As this is a work in progress and as I am trying to finish the story before November ends and not forgetting that I have work from 9-6 everyday, there might be grammar errors here and there and if you spot one, I would sincerely apologize for it. I am looking to publish this story, so if you spot any spelling or grammar mistakes, I would greatly appreciate it if you could let me know by dropping a comment after each post. Proofreading your own work is confusing after all. I won't forget your kindness!


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