Monday, October 13, 2008

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still

When you have nowhere to go, it takes a hell of a long time to get there. I realized this as I ran, my exhausted lungs ripping oxygen from the air around me and converting it into carbon dioxide, exhaled in ragged but rhythmic bursts. I ran and breathed and dragged my family behind me cruelly, heedless of their cries.

I was callousness embodied. I had to be. I had through my inaction sentenced two boys to die, and so mercy became a liability I could ill afford. The game was changing now. I could feel it in the air that burned in my lungs like the fires of hell that would greet me for what I had become and I didn't care. Colleen couldn't keep up and I couldn't ask her too. She began to cry as I dug my fingers deep into her arm and forced her along, her feet bouncing and jumping against the ground more than actually running. Her cries meant nothing to me.

Having moments ago been reborn into this protective running machine by Finn's cries, the irony of my dispassion was not lost on me, nor did it change anything. Let them cry. Let them scream if it came to that, but even as the lactic acid began to set tiny fires across the internal landscape of my person, I didn't slow. My body had changed since this began. It was leaner now, made of the kind of grit and gristle that has woven together the bodies of working men throughout all time. More than that, my mind had changed, grown harder. There was no more room in it for contemplation of ideals and ideas. It didn't matter that I couldn't run anymore, that I was exhausted, that my family couldn't keep up. That was all hypothetical. That was the world as it should be; the world as a place of sanity and reason. That was no longer my world and so we ran and if anything my pace picked up. I accelerated my stride and although my ravaged unnourished sleep deprived body should have broken down, though I should have collapsed upon the floor of the earth in a heaving desperate pile, I ran. I ran to try and match the hellish determination of those who pursued me and the singularity of my focus consumed me.

Colleen had stopped crying now. I doubted she could spare the breath. Finn took up her slack, ratcheting up his protests. How hungry he must have been, how tired. This new world ill suited to the needs of a child. But if I survived so would he, and so would Colleen. I would leave a thousand boys behind to die screaming if only to ward off the demise of my family for a moment. I realized this and ran faster still, trying to outrun any need for redemption, to outpace the realization of my biological selfishness. It followed me like a shadow. I was an atheist in search of a respite from hell.

I would not find it. I found instead a farmhouse and its outbuildings just over a small hill up ahead. My pursuers were still coming, but I had lengthened our lead, given us a few precious moments to slow as I surveyed the area. The house appeared to be old, but sturdy and in good repair. It seemed the obvious choice until I saw the sun glint from a window and I shook at my near miss. It wouldn't take five minutes for the glass to break, social contracts shattered by undead heads and hands, snapping teeth and desperate hunger. We would have been consumed withing an hour had I not corrected my intial judgment, murdered by my poor decision as much by my poor decision as by the hands of the undead. I changed course in mid stride, almost sending Colleen to the ground, but yanking up on her arm to keep her up. I charged forward toward the massive concrete dominance of a grain silo. Gratified that there were no doors, I skid to a halt at the face of the thing.
Rebar rings circled the structure every three feet or so, creating a widely spaced but not impossible ladder. I had no idea what we would find inside had no idea if the silo would be empty or full or if there was a way to climb back down on the interior wall of the thing. It didn't matter. The house was certain death; the dilapidated barn no better. I looked at Colleen who appeared ready to pass out, then back at our pursuers. A hundred yards behind us the first of the undead was, of course, still running (when did they learn to run like that?) after us, only slightly hindered by a horribly mauled leg that looked as if it might bend entirely in the wrong direction with each ungraceful but effective lurch. I took Finn from Colleen's arms and began to climb. I motioned for her to follow.

Thankfully, it was not just my own body that had hardened during our ordeal, but Colleen's as well. She climbed grimly, but with competence. We made it six rings up, about a third of the way toward the zenith of the six story monolith when the first of the running undead hit the concrete wall at full speed. The sound of bone and flesh impacting the immovable concrete wall was gruesome, but the impact was of no consequence. The thing clambered to its feet as quickly as it was down, moaning through its ruined skull as it reached vainly into the air for the meal it had gamely chased. For the moment at least, it didn't seem able to climb, and without another glance back, Colleen and I struggled upward.

It was, I reflected later, a day for irony. Taking shelter in a grain silo was very nearly like storing ourselves in the refrigerator. Man had poured grain into silos for hundreds of years to store food for later consumption. Now it was we who were the food, climbing desperately into the larder.

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