I sometimes think about what I was doing this time last year.
If I walk over to the south side of my floor, I can almost see the house that I had lived in. I dream about going out and chopping down that tree so that I could see all of the way to my old house. It would give me a connection to the past. So much of that life has faded to gray in my head. I am the Here and Now man. And it really feels like this here and now has been going on for the better part of forever.
Instead of going to the window to remind myself of the futility of that damn tree, I'm going to lay here. Just like I did yesterday. Just like I would have done the day before that, had it not been my shift. That's really all that anyone around here does. We lie around, then we go melon-popping for a day (although day before last and I got lucky. Not a single shot needed firing.), then come back the next to lie around some more. Some still make a half-hearted attempt to read books, salvage papers and trash from any of the not-picked-clean floors that still remained of the original fifty-two. My current floor, six, is bare of everything but me, my threadbare jacket, and someone who had taken up residence in the big manager's office in the corner. I used to hang out on the fourteenth floor where the light is better and there are still enough papers floating around to wipe your ass with, but after a month or so of hauling my ass all the way up fourteen floors each morning, I elected to make half the trip. Too much longer and I may join the crowds on the second or third.
This time last year, my biggest worry was whether I would have enough money to go see the mountains with my girlfriend. We were planning that trip for months before the big V hit. I wonder if that money is still sitting in some database somewhere, associated with my savings account. Obviously money will never matter again, but old habits die hard. If only I had known, I would have lived a little higher had someone told me that the world would end this year.
Back then I would wake up every morning and look forward to each day, even though it mostly consisted of watching TV, playing games and smoking pot. It was a low-stress, comfortable life. I would be up late, wake up early and I was glued to that screen at all the times in between.
These days I'm not sure if I'm actually asleep, just drowsing, or dreaming whenever I wake. Sometimes it's just the thin rays of sun that make it down to our home here on the sixth that do it. Sometimes it's the scream of another man or woman who can't take it anymore as they fall from the fifty-second past the sixth on the way to their meeting with the first. We're seeing less jumpers nowadays, as most are electing to wander out into the city to take their chances. They almost universally head south, some movie-inspired instinct to try to make it to the largest mall. The Mall of America may only be about ten miles away to fly, but to walk through the neighbourhoods intervening is just suicide. Some sickos disappear in the night, and we know that it is because they are heading west. There were rumours of all kinds of sick shit going down in the warehouse district.
"Bordeddos" they call them. Converted buildings made to accommodate the sex trade in the most vile ways possible. Three months ago, a guy came to us from over that way. He said that they have Afflicted victims chained up in all manner of poses, settings, and you can get whatever you want. Young women, little boys, old women, fat men. They were all on the menu. Once they figured out that it was the saliva that infected, someone happened upon the bright idea that as long as an Afflicted was muzzled, you could do anything you wanted to it. Apparently the first thing that came to mind was fucking them. You can do other shit like cutting them up, beating them around, it didn't matter since almost nothing kills them short of actual trauma to the head. People trade actual goods for the 'privilege'. It's always good to know that disaster never dampens the human capacity for evil.
Yesterday, a food team failed to report back. That's the second that we've lost this month. Between our dwindling reserves and the coming onset of winter, it doesn't look very hopeful for any kind of long-term tenancy here in the IDS tower. Even ammunition is becoming scarce. When it's your turn to pull guard duty, you're told to only pop the crawlers. Those are the ones that start up the stairs to the second floor but always inevitably break a leg as they try to navigate the steps. Even with their lower body destroyed, they'll keep on crawling up those stairs, the smell of untainted flesh too irresistible to them. Thankfully, the majority of the Afflicted either are too far gone to comprehend what the stairs are for, or they try to conquer the stairs and their own desiccated body gives way and they just fall back to the ground floor and thrash around ineffectually for a few hours. It used to be amusing to watch them keep throwing themselves at that stairwell like water at a rock. We used to line the balconies and watch. Laughing when they fell, gasping in horror as one of the guards on duty would wait until a crawler was almost to his feet before blowing its brains all over the carpeted landing in a moment of "Is it going to get him?!!"-style horror. That seems like a lifetime ago. Being on guard. Their diseased, puss-filled, oily innards spilling out as they fall apart no longer entertaining, but sickening. As much as I abhor sitting here, bored almost literally to death, I prefer it greatly to taking my turn with the shotgun downstairs.
I don't remember when it was that I gave up hope of being rescued. It must have been about a month ago, because five or six weeks ago I vaguely recall helping some industrious-seeming girls from down on third build a large "HELP" banner that stayed connected to the top floor of the building for all of four days before being swept away by the wind. It seemed like an important and intelligent thing to do then. Maybe my optimism fluttered away with that banner. My last plaintive cry for "HELP".
Some parts of the city still have power as evidenced by the occasional lighting of buildings out on the outskirts of downtown. We suspect that there are people in some of them, but most are likely just automatic timers. The light acts as a beacon to any nearby Afflicted so I would guess that they will all be automatic timers eventually. Sometimes it feels like we may be the only bastion of real humans left. If us tower dwellers don't make it through the winter, all that will be left of a once great civilization will be those assholes out west, who keep the black market trade intact, all the while fucking dead girls.
Looking their way, the setting sun framing the landscape in copper red, the city seems so peaceful. No cars moving, no pedestrians rushing to lunch. It makes you feel like going for a stroll, until you remember that doing so would likely result in your becoming a chew toy for some walking corpse. Plenty try anyway. They wait until it seems clear out, then they begin jogging down the road, trying to get to Godknowswhere. Few make it more than a full city block before a mass of bodies suddenly surge off of a side street or out of a broken storefront and take them down under sheer weight.
Doesn't mean that we don't all think about doing it anyway. From time to time, I get a wild hare up my ass and I start thinking about wanting to go out and face my death rather than wait quietly for it come, I usually make it as far as throwing on my jacket before looking down from the sixth to see the pool of gore that has collected in the fire zone out in front of the building. If I don't retch, it at least gives me a sense of disgust strong enough to make me not even want to risk trudging through that muck. There have been talks of attempting to commandeer one of the street sweepers that lie dormant on the streets, but I think it's better that it's there. It's a nice deterrent for those of us entertaining foolish thoughts. Besides, I'm not risking my ass getting eaten alive just so we can have a clean sidewalk, that's for damn sure.
Something suddenly feels different. I'm not sure if the air pressure just changed, or it's just my senses still struggling to come alive, but something is definitely off.
There it is, a growing sense of horror now that there is a woman in a dusty blue suit-jacket standing in the stairwell door. I almost know what news she brings before it escapes her mouth.
"Fire." I almost move my lips in sync with hers, my mind putting two and two together.
"Where?" I ask, but she's already gone. Doesn't matter. If there's a fire anywhere in the building, we have to get out. The sprinkler systems don't work anymore, and the fire will just keep spreading throughout the tower. Standing now I almost look around for anything I might leave behind. It's almost funny that I still think that I have possessions to be concerned about. Might be funny if I didn't know that I was going to my death in just a few minutes.
"Wake up, man!" Yelling feels weird. With the exception of the occasional gunshot ringing up the stairwell, everything has been quiet and still for months. The guy in the corner office is stirring, but he doesn't seem to be awake yet.
"Hey man, you gotta wake up." Walking over and kicking him lightly seems in order, but I still dislike doing it. I can see the question in his eyes.
"You gotta get up, man. We're on fire." Even now I can't really muster up any strong feeling. I figure that we're dead whether we stay here or go out there. He clears his eyes with the back of his hands and squints at me, still looking confused.
"The building's on fucking fire, man. We haveta find a new home." I can't help but let a smile tug at the corner of my mouth at the idea of this cesspool in the sky being our home.