The Fast and the Dead - Day 5

He turned his attention back to his task. He had to go painfully up another storey on the next building and then down two to the building beyond that, bringing him to the end of the block and facing his inevitable descent to street level.

He looked about for any way to cross without going down, but there was nothing; in years gone by, there could have been power cables he could try to cross, but if they’d existed in this location they were gone now. Worse, he was at the height he’d started at, three storeys up, and this building didn’t look like it featured roof access.

He was doing his careful rounds of street inspections when he realized that for the past few minutes he’d not been hearing the silence he normally heard. He shivered as the low moaning tide broke over him, and he looked up and down the streets, stretching out to see as far as possible.

Movement, out on the street crossing the one he was following. It was coming his way. Shading his eyes from the late afternoon sun let him make out a familiar sight; a single figure, too distant to note any details, running for madly his or her life. Behind the figure, still some distance back, a slow, unevenly moving tide of hunger.

As his eyes soaked in the details, he felt his body go rigid with terror; a few hours was not enough to forget that earlier that very day, that lost, terrified fleeing figure had been himself. Another one thrown into the grinder for sport, he thought. The idea was sharp, hot, painful and horrifying. That was the reason he was here, the reason he was fighting for his life, for escape.

Over a decade ago the first reports had come in; the dead weren’t staying dead. Not all of the dead, of course. Talk shows, blogs, Twitter, Google+, all the major media outlets had buzzed with speculation over the cause, but the original source was always kept murky, elusively out of reach. Mainstream news sources had reported merely widespread incidents of violence, but as it spread faster and faster, with more people dying and then refusing to stay dead, the truth became impossible to hide.

People reacted as they always did when something terrible and frightening is going on. They clustered together. Safety in numbers and all that. The cities became refuges, havens from the craziness outside.

That lasted all of a day. Maybe not even.

They’d underestimated the danger. They’d believed you had to be bitten to turn. People entering the security zones were screened for bites, any bites, human or otherwise since nobody knew whether animals were affected. But people who’d been scratched, they were let in. And they turned.

Less than 24 hours after the security zones were populated, they were all but consumed. People inside turned sometimes within a couple of hours of their injuries; others almost a day later. But those few who turned fast were enough. The plague had spread fast and hard through those concentrations of humanity, and it didn’t matter that security zones hadn’t been completely filled. People were panicky, crowding outside the zones to get in, and so when they realized their danger and tried to get away, they couldn’t do it fast enough.

He’d been one of the lucky ones. He’d been outside the cities, been on the road. He’d heard some of the early reports, had known something was going on, but not how bad it was. He was saved by his music collection, his digital library that meant he hadn’t had to put up with news or commercials. If he’d had the radio on, he might’ve crowded into a city himself, but he hadn’t.

The figure was closer now, enough to get a read on the growing exhaustion of the movement, but still not on any real detail. He found himself moving, good leg swinging over the lip of the roof, his hands taking hold of the edge securely. No no no no nonononono, his brain tried to tell him, but his deeper mind knew what it was like to be that person, couldn’t let that person go it alone, didn’t want to be going it alone himself any more.