The day I died, I was in the supermarket.
Becky and I were doing the weekly shop at the time. The twins were in their pram, laughing and gurgling away as nine-month-old babies often do. Becky and I were in the sauces aisle talking about mayonnaise, of all things. It’s weird how the mind remembers the silly details. I still can’t remember the colour of my wife’s eyes, but I can remember that we were arguing about mayonnaise.
“I don’t see why you’re so fussed about buying a brand,” I said to her. “Mayo is mayo.”
“The own-brand stuff tastes cheap.”
I couldn’t argue; it tasted cheap because it was cheap. But cheap was good; with Robert and Sarah in our lives, and me being the only breadwinner, as far as I was concerned we could do with a few more own-brand products.
“Becky, it’s not as if –”
I gasped as a shaft of pain shot up the base of my neck and into my head. It felt like a poker had stabbed into of my brain. My hand shot round to feel what had happened. There was nothing there.
“Babe?” Becky asked, her face screwed up with concern. “What’s wrong?”
My eyes rolled up in my head….and I died, right there in the supermarket.
Atheists have always said that when you’re dead, you’re dead. Nothing more, nothing less. I wasn’t bothered about life after death; after all, if the atheists were right, I wouldn’t know about it anyway.
Turns out there is life after death. It just wasn’t what I expected. My life after death began about eight hours after I died.
I was in a dark tube and was bloody cold. There was no way I could sit up; while the tube was about eight feet long, it was barely a foot in height. I couldn’t imagine the designers of these tubes expecting many people to wake up from death.
I could hear the muffled voices of two people outside the tube; I felt a sudden surge of anger well up inside me at their freedom. They were out there, and I was stuck in this stupid, sodding box.
With some difficulty, I managed to turn onto my stomach and saw a small door in front of me. It was securely locked – from the outside – with no key or handle for me to grab.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Can anyone hear me? You’ve made a mistake, I’m still alive!”
I listened carefully, but the two voices had fallen silent. For a brief second, I felt scared….and alone. Those feelings were quickly replaced by something else; it was anger, a deep, bubbling anger that started in the pit of my stomach and then blossomed to my chest and throat. I felt my fists clenching and my teeth ground together as the anger throbbed through my body.
I had never really been an angry person. I liked to think of myself as being quite laid-back, so this anger coursing through my veins was a new sensation.
It felt good.
My left fist lashed out and smashed against the door. It ploughed through the hard, cold metal like paper and I instantly felt the warmth of the room beyond.
The room looked like all the morgues I’d seen on TV shows; cold and clinical, with a couple of tables and various pieces of equipment – knives and things – dotted around. A man and a woman were stood in the middle of the room. They were staring at me in shock.
I felt invincible.
My teeth plunged into the old man’s neck and ripped away a chunk of his flesh. I barely registered his cry of pain as I felt his blood splatter across my face and down my throat. I roared with pleasure as the taste of his blood and flesh hit my taste buds; it made me feel alive and satiated my hunger, at least for a moment. For that brief, pleasurable moment, I felt whole.
I watched the old man’s body drop; he was dead before he hit the floor. I immediately knew it was a good thing that he hadn’t fought back or ran away. It meant I could enjoy my food without having to waste time chasing after them first.
The hunger was still there, gnawing away at me and urging me on. I glanced down at the old man, his body still intact and ready for me to feast on.
I knelt down beside him and began to eat.
I was conscious again. I was me. I felt weak, all of a sudden, and my legs were shaking.
Three corpses were on the floor, ripped to shreds. Limbs were torn from torsos and heads from necks. There was the smell of death and blood everywhere. Two of the corpses were man and woman I had seen when I punched through the door; they must have been doctors, judging by the white coats….or what was left of the coats. The third person – a man – had some sort of uniform on.
Was he a security guard? I wondered.
It took me a moment to realise that I wasn’t upset by what I could see. In fact, all it was doing was making me hungry. I froze for a moment, almost intoxicated by the sight of the fresh meat in front of me. I could feel my mouth drooling at the site of so much blood and flesh. I was thrown by the sudden craving and needed to get away from it, to give me time to think.
There was a set of automatic doors to my right, although they didn’t open as I approached them. A sudden surge of anger flooded through me and the doors folded in on themselves under my fists.
“What the hell…?”
I stared at the doors, trying to figure out what I had done to make them cave so easily. Gingerly, I reached out and touched a piece of the door. It was folded back on itself, showing the corridor beyond. It felt like metal – cold and smooth – and looked like metal.
Metal it is then. So how did I manage to punch through it?
I looked over my shoulder. If I can punch through doors, I could kill someone without breaking a sweat.
As I looked over the carnage, that same deep, feral hunger started to gnaw away at me again. I turned away and tried to focus on an exit. Accepting that I seemed to have developed new strengths, I stretched the doors wide enough apart to let me through. As I stepped through, I look left and right, but each curved end was empty.
I’d usually feel nervous when I was an unfamiliar place; apologetic, even. Becky would always get annoyed at me, but I couldn’t help it; it was just me. Now, however, I felt different. I felt more assured and confident.
I began walking down the corridor to begin look for anyone. I passed a few side rooms, but they were either locked or empty. As I rounded the corridor, I came across a laundry cupboard, its contents spilling out over the floor. Seeing pyjamas amongst the laundry made me realise, for the first time, that I was naked.
No-one needs to see that.
After I’d dressed in some doctor’s scrubs, I walked to the nearby lift and pressed the call button; it “pinged” immediately and the doors opened.
Abruptly, I was on my back, feeling the tiled floor slamming into my shoulder blades. I called out in shock; that had hurt. My head snapped up and I was confronted by a snarling, angry face directly in mine.
I was battered by my attacker’s arms, and I suspect that I would have been bitten if my hands, placed firmly against her growling throat, weren’t keeping those teeth away from me.
I strained against her arms, but he was at least as strong as me. I thought back to the morgue and how I had managed to destroy the doors without any apparent effort.
My god, she’s like me! I thought with sudden exhilaration. Maybe she knows what’s going on!
She seemed to realise that in the same moment, and the attack stopped. Her face changed and became calmer.
I pushed myself off the floor as she climbed off me.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I didn’t realise you were one of us.”
‘One of us?’ I thought. What does that mean?
Despite her aggression, I knew – somehow – that I could trust her, and she seemed to think the same of me. The rage….the anger ….in her face had been total and awesome, and I found myself wondering if I had looked like that to the people back in the mortuary.
“What’s your name?”
I blinked. “Sorry?”
“What were you thinking about?”
“I was wondering what’s happening to me … us,” I replied. “I feel different … and my name’s Ryan.”
“Mine’s Alexandra, but I’ll break your legs if you call me that. Alex will do.”
“Do you know what’s happening?”
“Not a clue, my friend.” She smiled. “I don’t think that’s what you wanted to hear, was it?”
“How did you guess?”
“I was a psychologist before it happened.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Before what happened?”
“Before I died,” she replied.
I found myself struggling to understand what she was saying.
Alex nodded. “We both are.”
We’d gone outside to the car park. I hadn’t wanted to stay inside the morgue as I’d contemplated the subject of death.
Alex turned to face me. “Yes. You’re also stronger, fitter and more confident than you were before.”
“Stronger….” I muttered. “Yeah, I’ve already encountered that. It felt…. good.”
“We’re beyond human.”
As soon as Alex said the word human, I tensed. Bile blocked the back of my throat for a moment and I growled. My eyes darted around the silent car park, checking for any invaders.
“What’s wrong with me?” I breathed. “Why do I get so angry when I think of …”
I couldn’t finish the sentence, as the bile started to rise again in my throat; I opened and closed my mouth a few times, but no words could come out. I looked at Alex, needing answers; the smile had vanished from her face and replaced by understanding.
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked.
“Nothing’s wrong with you,” she replied. “You’re more alive now than you were, ironically. Your body knows what it wants. It doesn’t like the living … they feel wrong. All the emotions that clogged up your thinking are gone. You’re free.”
I was silent for a while, trying to absorb what Alex was telling me. It had taken me longer to wake up than the others, having been slowed by the coldness in the morgue, so Alex knew more than I did. I couldn’t deny what she was saying, though; I did feel stronger, better, more powerful than I had done before … and unencumbered by worry or doubt. A thought suddenly occurred to me.
“My wife,” I said. “My children. Where are they?”
“They’re probably still human. They’re not us.”
The bile flooded back and I screamed with rage. I hated humans and they needed to die – all of them. I no longer cared who I hurt. My hunger returned, and there was only one thing that could satiate me; human flesh.
Alex smiled as she saw the change in my eyes.
“You’re free,” she said. “Welcome to the new dawn.”
Alex and I stayed together for four months, hunting humans for the meat and the sport. Some put up a good fight, but others just cowered. They acted like nothing more than sheep – frightened, terrified sheep running from wolves.
However, even sheep could sometimes fight back when in a pack. We had hunted a herd of weak, defenceless humans to a barn where they were cowering from us like the aforementioned sheep going to the slaughter.
I could feel my mouth drooling as I heard them barring the doors. We climbed the side of the building silently and quickly; our reflexes having been expanded along with our strength. It was easy to find tiny hand-holds along the wooden slats of the building. We were soon on the roof and stood over the skylight.
Alex looked at me. “Ready?”
I licked my lips, ravenously hungry now. “Do you even have to ask?”
She kicked in the skylight. I immediately heard screams from below; they’d clearly forgotten about that.
I jumped through and landed on the muddy ground. Thirty or so villagers were cowering at one end of the long barn; they were a mixture of adults, old people and children.
Oh yes, I was going to feast here.
One of the older men charged forward with a scythe, ready to attack. I deftly stepped to one side and pushed him to the ground. His arms – and the scythe – flailed as he fell. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alex drop through the skylight and land on the ground … but didn’t get up again.
I caught the look of stunned shock on the old man’s face as he lay there on the floor. His scythe suddenly had a film of blood covering it. It wasn’t until I looked round did I realise what had happened. Alex had dropped through the skylight just as the old man had started falling – and his scythe had cut her head clean off.
She was gone. Just like that.
I felt numb with shock. She had been my ally, my sidekick for the past four months. We had fought, killed and feasted together. We were the undead – we weren’t meant to die again. We were meant to live forever.
Rage surged through my body and I roared with fury. The old man looked terrified and tried to crawl back, pushing himself as far away as possible from me as I lunged for him. I missed his leg by an inch and I stepped forward to try again when –
I looked over my shoulder. A woman, in her twenties, had called out to me. She didn’t look scared; she looked determined.
“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” she shouted.
“You wouldn’t want to fight me, little girl,” I growled. “I will feast on your liver for breakfast.” A grin formed on my lips. “Wait your turn.”
The woman took a step forwards. “I think it’s your turn now.”
I looked behind her. Suddenly, the group of villagers weren’t acting like frightened sheep; they were stood together, shoulder to shoulder, and they all look angry. They had seen Alex die. They now knew that the undead could die again – and stay dead.
Things had taken an unexpected turn. I managed to push down the rage that was consuming me and use my head. I couldn’t fight off thirty villagers determined to hurt me, not without doing some serious damage to my body. And I don’t heal anymore.
For the first time in my death, I had to run. I had to leave fresh meat behind and escape. I climbed up the wall and pulled myself through the skylight. While they were still pulling the furniture away from the doors, I was already deep into the forest.
Two days had passed. I remained hidden deep in the forests of the Scottish Highlands. Occasionally, I would come across a solitary human. I fed on them.
On the third day, I saw a black helicopter flying overhead. I watched it circle round for a moment and then release a cloud of coloured gas from pumps in its tail end.
I can’t escape it, I realised. Even if I run, I’ll still breathe it in. Damn. This is how I’m going to die.
Calmly, I sat down on the ground, leaned against a mighty oak tree – and closed my eyes. If I was going to die, I was going to die with dignity.
The Apocalypse had ended that day.
A group of scientists, working under heavily armed guard somewhere in Kent, had found the genetic marker behind my death and rebirth. Their vaccine mitigated its effects; it removed our hunger and gave us back our emotions.
It was a cruel vaccine. I wish it had killed me outright. Instead, it had given me back my life, without actually giving me back my life. I was practically human again.
All I could think about was my family. Were Becky and the twins safe? Were they even still alive? Were they still human? I hadn’t thought about them in four months; I hadn’t had any need to, after all. I had loved my new world.
Now that my hunger had gone, I remembered what my life had been life before my death. I loved my family, and I wanted them back. I wanted to go back to my old life; I wanted to kiss my kids goodnight and argue about mayonnaise with Becky.
I started the long walk home.
I lost track of time. It must have been months, but I didn’t know how long. I was walking from the Scottish Highlands to the southern tip of Kent, and it was taking forever.
Eventually, after so many months of walking, the scenery started to become more familiar. This started to give me flashbacks to my old life; driving to my parents’ house, out here in the suburbs, or going to the out-of-town shopping centre … or just going out for a drive with Becky, back when we were dating.
I’m nearly home, I realised. I’m so close.
I was startled out of my reverie by a cheerful voice from behind me. I checked that my hood was still in place – it was – and turned round.
A middle-aged man was walking across the green; a Jack Russell was on a lead at his feet, looking desperate for its freedom.
I knew how it felt.
“E-evening,” I replied.
I was terrified of being discovered. I couldn’t risk it. As the Jack Russell darted off across the green, I turned to go.
“Are you new to the village?” the man asked.
“Erm, no, I’m … just a visitor. I’m passing through.”
In the rapidly-fading light, I saw the man nod. He walked towards me, and my stomach did a back flip. Quickly adjusting my hood, so that it covered as much of my face as possible, I took a step back.
“A lot of people do,” the man said. “Visit, I mean. It’s a nice little village – always has been, despite the recent … problems.”
Oh god, he knows. I started to panic, and wished I could still control my emotions like I had done when – No, don’t! You don’t want to go back to … then!
The man stopped in front of me and peered after his dog.
“I can’t see Henry,” he said, peering into the gloom. “Can you?”
I shook my head. I didn’t trust my voice not to quaver with fear, so stayed silent.
“It was a terrible time, wasn’t it,” he said abruptly. “All those dead people, hunting and killing everyone. We lost … well, we lost more than we should have.”
I was glad I had hidden my white, dead hands in my jeans; I didn’t want to get recognised, not when I was so close to home.
“Yeah,” I replied. “No one was safe.”
“Did you lose anyone?”
“What? I – oh, er, yes. I lost my wife and two children.”
I immediately hated myself for the lie, but it was said now – I couldn’t change it.
“I lost my brother and his wife,” he replied. “They were butchered, just over there by the post office. I didn’t see it happen, thankfully.”
I heard the Jack Russell barking excitedly in the distance and found myself wishing I could be that carefree. Abruptly, the man stuck out a hand.
“Samuel Hiller,” he said. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr …?”
I felt another surge of panic; the second I put my hand in his, he would know what I was. The clamminess of my skin and the missing finger were giveaways.
I just want my family back, I thought. Please don’t do this to me!
I was saved by Henry. He came bounding back across the green, still full of energy and excitement. He barrelled into my legs, righted himself and began weaving in between our legs.
I laughed at the dog, so full of energy and happy to be back near his owner. I knelt down but, as soon as I stroked him, however, he yelped and jumped back.
“Henry?” Hiller said. “What’s wrong with you, you silly boy?”
He knelt down and grabbed hold of Henry, stroking him to stop the little dog from shaking.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “I don’t know what’s got into him. He’s normally –”
I instantly knew why he had stopped. Stood opposite Samuel, my hands were visible. Pale white with occasional purple patches showed up even in the darkness of the evening. The ring finger on my right hand was also gone.
Henry, emboldened by being in his owner’s arms, started to growl.
“You’re an abomination!” Samuel hissed. “You don’t belong here!”
“I don’t belong anywhere!” I exclaimed. “I just want to go home!”
Samuel scoffed. “Your home’s a cemetery. You belong in hell!”
“Please don’t tell anyone!” I begged. “Please … let me leave. I don’t mean you any harm. I just want to find my family.”
“Why shouldn’t I call for the authorities?” Samuel demanded. “You deserve to be exterminated!”
I flinched at the word exterminated; it sounded so harsh and final.
“Please …” I pleaded. “Please, let me go. I’m heading for Dover to find my family. I don’t want to hurt anyone. The cure saved me of all that hate.”
“Dover?” he repeated. “You’re going to Dover?”
I nodded. “That’s where I lived before … well, before all this happened. I’m looking for my family.”
Samuel blinked, and hugged Henry close to his chest.
“You … you haven’t heard?” There was a quaver in his voice. His fear seemed momentarily forgotten.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m a goddamn zombie, Samuel! I don’t really keep up with the news!”
Samuel took a step back, his fear showing again.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I said, holding my hands up placatingly. My voice quavered with emotion as I went on; “I’m just tired. I want to see my family again.”
“I don’t think you’ll find them.”
“What do you mean?” My head started throbbing. “What’s happened?”
“Dover was hit badly by the virus,” he said. “Over two-thirds of the population became zombies. Some moved out the area, to find … fresh meat elsewhere, I assume. But a lot stayed.”
“I know,” I whispered. “I was one of those that left.”
“The government couldn’t control them all,” Samuel went on. “The army were overwhelmed; there were just too many of them. So they scorched the town.”
My knees buckled and I fell to the ground. The earth and grass were hard beneath my knees but I didn’t care.
“They … scorched …” I tried to process what Samuel had said, but I couldn’t. “No … they can’t … my family …”
Samuel’s eyes had filled with tears. He nodded. “No one survived. The zombies fried. Anyone trying to leave the town’s boundaries was shot on site, human or zombie. They couldn’t tell who was who. I’m so sorry.”
I barely heard what Samuel was saying. All I could see, in front of my eyes, were my children screaming as the flames consumed them … held by my burning wife.
My throat burnt as I screamed with grief. I didn’t care who heard me. I wanted to die. But I was already dead. I had a half-life, and I wanted it to end.
“Kill me,” I begged. “Burn me. Let me die and be with my family.”
© 2016 Matthew Munson
Thanet-based author Matthew has two novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.