The First One

posted by rez @ 12 April 2005 21:14 CST

The man was obscenely fat. It was at the grocery store, too. I imagine that he was trying to feed whatever he was feeling as best as he could. That may be my preconceptions talking.

He was my first glimpse of what was to come. I had just stopped in to get some more soda and cigarettes. The way he fell over in the checkout line two over from mine inspired some instinctual desire to run to his aid, to be part of the drama. Just as quickly my own self-instilled need to avoid the herd took effect and told me that there were enough people to aid the man already present. That moment of selfishness probably saved my life that day.

Besides, I really needed a cigarette.

Swaggering my way out of the store, trying to balance the twelve-pack under my arm and open the cigarette pack at the same time, I reached the curb outside, gave up, stopped and set the soda down while I opened the pack. I leaned back and looked at the bright April sun. A woman inside screamed. That might have been his wife, realizing that he was dead. Might have been anybody, realizing that he wasn't really. Never know now because that was about the time I decided to head out before the paramedics arrived.

I remember that this grossly obese man, and I mean grossly, at least six-hundred pounds here, barely registered in my mind as an event. His symptoms didn't seem like much more than a man having a heart attack at the time. The clammy complexion, the shortness of breath, the sudden birdlike motions as the muscles spasm, it's the mark of death now. The only reason I remember the guy was because he had taken the last big bag of peanut butter cups, which I had guiltily looked for on my way back from the soda aisle.

I didn't even hear anything more for a long time after that. The news reports, normally sensationalistic, were oddly silent about the strange epidemic that people were beginning to talk about on the street and on the Internet. It was almost a month before the cries of the damned began to encroach upon my little world. Of course, by then it was too late.

Rob, one of the guys that I met up on the Eighth, told me that he heard from someone who knew someone who blah who said that the Government had tightly controlled all media so that a general panic wouldn't break out and that they had kept it contained here in Minneapolis for a while but it had found a way out. From what we heard before nearly all communications went silent, most of the other big cities had fared much worse than us. LA was the first to go, unsurprisingly.

It was over in three days. Some gala event was being taped live, when three of the Afflicted burst through security and began randomly attacking the throng of gawkers along the sidelines. A local network affliliate there to catch the proceedings was too far in the crowd for the police to get to right away and shut down like the other cameras, whose feeds were immediately dumped for a talking head or a technical difficulties placard. Millions across the country, and soon the world, watched as the first of the dead were caught on live television. The ferocity with which they attacked was frightening, even more so the screams of the wounded. The most chilling image, the one that kept us all sitting up all night and oddly silent the next morning at the proverbial water cooler, was the final, as cops in riot gear showed up and begin firing upon anyone and everyone in the crowd. When they struck the cameraman, he dropped the camera as he went down. It was slightly out of focus, but it was mistakable that the red, burgundy and creme coloured object in the center frame was the still, bloody leg of that one hot young starlet that was in that pirate movie two years back. This was at about eight in the evening, local time.

It was enough that it gave everyone the heebie jeebies and conversation among coworkers the next morning was terse. Business went on as usual, but at a very subdued pace as everyone awaited further news. Around ten in the morning, the spin machine was already going at full pace. There were happy-faced reporters from all over Los Angeles telling the whole world how the whole thing was some terrorist attack and there wasn't time to distinguish who the attackers were, and that an investigation was under way to determine which officers had fired upon innocent civilians. The suspects were all being suspended, and no one should worry because something like this could never happen again, and yadda yadda it went. All day, all they could talk about was how fine LA was. By the time I got home at six, there weren't any signals coming out of nearly the entire West Coast.

San Diego and San Francisco had probably disappeared during the day, but everyone was so focused on that gala that no one seemed to notice. Presumably the local government blacks out all signals once it begins. By seven, there was no way to hide the fact that so many cities were no longer broadcasting. There were tickers running non-stop along the bottom of every show that night, like there was an impending storm. Newspeople from all over the US opined openly on the sudden loss of communication. The Government wasn't letting anyone any further west than Butte, or Albuquerque, so no one knew the real cause.

The chat rooms, messenger traffic, and blogs were abuzz with speculation. Is it an outbreak? Aliens? Terrorist attack? I have to be honest here, I stopped paying attention about an hour into it. For all I know the truth came out ten minutes after I shut down my browser and started up a game. I went to bed that night, barely thinking about it.

The call at six in the morning from my boss telling me not to come into work that day was nice. I assumed that I had been fired, which was fine by me. I didn't wake up until noon.

I pissed, checked my emails, watched a TV show that I had downloaded overnight, and was just about to fire up another game when my roommate came home.

"Haven't you been watching the news?" She asked, acting as though this was the most idiotic thing that I had ever done.

"No, should I have been?" She replied by walking over and turning on the TV.

It was all over every channel. Even MTV was airing a direct feed from some camera crew in downtown Denver. There were Government agents, cops and military everywhere. Some of them were firing at some unknown enemy out of view of the camera, but it was immediately apparent that they were losing ground. Others were shown fleeing, many of them just passing through on the way back from whatever post that they had been maintaining on the outskirts of town, keeping anyone from crossing the Rockies. One of them looked directly at the camera crew and gestured with his rifle toward the East. "GO! GET OUT OF HERE!" he seemed to be mouthing. Moments later, the camera went to static, the last signal to come out of Denver. Someone later pointed out that it would have been impossible for the creatures to have crossed the Rockies in just a day, so it has to be assumed that they had been on the move for some time.

Flipping through the channels, there were reports coming in from all over the country. Miami was next to go, followed shortly thereafter by Atlanta. There was an attempt made at blockading DC, but that only lasted a few hours before whole downtown blocks became battlefields. The advance seemed to have slowed down by eleven that night. Almost the entire southern half of the United States, and all of Mexico, was no longer transmitting signals of any kind. I don't think that single person in the whole world slept a wink that night. All night long reports came in of heavy fighting in the inner cities of nearly every major city in America with a few notable exceptions. Seattle, Minneapolis/St Paul, New York and Boston remained strangely untouched. Local authorities had blockaded all roads and highways leading into these cities and were determined to hold off this threat that no one really understood as yet. It seemed ridiculous to refer to them as zombies. Most people seemed convinced that it was a viral outbreak of some kind. The news took to calling them "The Afflicted".

Things had boiled down to a stalemate by the end of the third day. My roommate and I decided to sleep in shifts, one down while the other watched the news all night long. It was on my shift, around three in the morning when the power went out. It took me a minute to comprehend what was going on. I slowly got up and went to the window. It wasn't just our building, it was the entire city. I remember thinking how pretty it was to be able to see the stars above the black outline of the buildings. As I turned away, the horror slowly dawned on me that it was here. They were here. I headed toward my roommate's room.

There were preparations to be made.