A wet clump of snow had gotten down the back of Benny’s jacket and burning a cold streak along his spine into his underwear. There was nothing worse then getting a clump of snow under relatively warm clothes. Well, almost nothing worse.
“Come on, man,” Benny groaned to the freak, “you don’t have to do this.”
HE said nothing. HE simply jammed the barrel of the Luger into the middle of Benny’s back and gave a stiff shove. He didn’t have to ask what that meant. Benny just bowed his head and marched further into the snow.
Two hours later.
“Mr. E, are you there? It’s me.”
The ham radio squawked, the tube turned a bright pulsing red and it finally came to life.
“Yeah, I know who it is,” the radio snapped. “It’s the end of the fucking world, kid. Who else would be calling me?”
HE recognized that this was rhetorical. There weren’t a lot of canvas calls coming in on ham radios after the apocalypse. HE found himself nodding silently to this thought, saying nothing.
“Where’d you put him?”
The sudden pop of the ham radio made HIM jump. It took HIM a moment to recover before he keyed the mic to answer.
“O Heights bridge.”
There was a little chuckle before Mr. E said “smart”.
“Save on gas getting him there. Plus it’ll serve as a good warning for the raiders to back off,” he asked. “Did you have any problems placing the bait?”
“Not really,” HE replied.
“What’s ‘not really’ mean, exactly?”
Panic had taken hold the moment Benny heard the hammer cocked on the gun. It had progressed well beyond that as they marched into the three foot blanket of snow. Panic had given way to desperation.
“Talk to me, man,” Benny pleaded. The freak said nothing.
“Okay. Fine. Don’t talk to me,” he grunted. “If you’re not gonna talk then you can listen. I can help you out.”
HE didn’t need anything from the raider. Well, that was a lie. HE didn’t need anything from this piece of scum while he was alive. He would be useful as a message to those who sent him.
“I was a security guard before the outbreak,” Benny lied. “Bank of America, down own. When the shit hit the fan and everyone bugged out they didn’t grab anything out of the vaults. It’s all still there, man. Safety deposit boxes filled with gold, jewels, bearer bonds. You name it! It’s all right there! We could be rich!”
Benny stopped walking and started to turn his head to make sure that the armored bastard was still behind him. He caught the barrel of the old gun on the base of his neck sending a blast of pain down his spine and deep into his skull. He gagged as vomit filled his mouth. He spit partially digested stale bread and creamed corn into the snow. Then he went back to walking.
“Fucking moron,” HE thought as he followed in the path the raider was cutting through the snow. “What good is any of that shit now?”
They walked on another twenty yards before Benny could collect himself enough to make another pass at the situation. Appealing to the freak’s greed was a dumb move. He only prayed that he hadn’t completely burned the bridge.
“Okay, okay,” Benny groaned. “I never worked at a bank but I was in security. I was in Cambridge at MIT. They were working on a cure! You’re smart, right? You might be able to figure out how to cure this shit. You could be a fucking hero, man!”
When he didn’t get another pistol whipping Benny turned all the way around. The freak just stood there with the pistol raised next to his helmet. There was no face to read but he could tell that the man in the armor was considering what he had to say.
“I might make it,” he screamed over in his head.
Suddenly he was filled with hope regardless to the fact that he couldn’t find MIT on a map if his life depended on it. That all died when the man in the armor lowered the gun and pressed the barrel into the middle of his forehead. He cocked the hammer.
Tears rolled down Benny’s face. He turned and pushed on into the snow.
HE held the mic against HIS mask. HE held HIS breath, trying to find the words that would make it all okay.
“There’s no chance of a cure being out there, is there,” HE asked, already knowing the answer.
The tubes on the old ham radio seemed to glow red with the angry fire of long dead gods. They pulsed and throbbed. HE could feel the anger in Mr. E’s silence.
“Do we need to go through the laws again,” the voice on the other end asked. It was the tone you would hear from an angry parent asking an ill-behaved child a question that they already knew the answer to. HE hung HIS head and nodded.
“No, sir,” HE whispered.
“There’s no cure. We’re done as a species. That’s it. Period. Besides, you don’t exactly want there to be a cure, do you? A cure means that you’d have to deal with what you’ve got tucked away in the back room. You’d have to deal with that and what you did.”
HE felt the crushing weight of HIS choices. It was suddenly very hard to breathe.
“Get your head in the game,” Mr. E sizzled, “and tell me about the bridge.”
The Frank Scarpa Bridge wasn’t all that impressive to start with. It was a tiny hump of concrete and steel that allowed the MBTA Blue Line to pass under traffic on its way into Boston. Time would have torn it down anyways if HE hadn’t blown it up to keep the world away from his little slice of the world.
HE’d secured the chain and collar into what was left of the pavement at the edge of the gaping hole months ago. HE’d set several of them on HIS side of the bridge in East Boston as well as a variety of places around Winthrop. They were unsettling to see even before the bait was taken but much worse once the job was done.
HIS body trembled slightly as a gust of wind caught HIM square. HE was still shaking a few minutes later when HE pushed the snow away to uncover the chain. HE tried to tell HIMSELF it was because of the breeze.
HE grabbed the chain just below the collar and turned to the raider. This was always the hard part. It was made harder by the fact that HE hadn’t followed the normal protocol. During the winter it was harder to keep them alive in the raised cage HE had erected outside the house. This man hadn’t been starved for three days and wasn’t as weak as other pieces of bait HE’d left out in the past.
“Strip,” HE said as HE leveled the gun at the raider’s head.
“What,” Benny asked. The freak couldn’t have possibly of asked him to take his clothes off in the middle of a Boston blizzard. That was just…
“I SAID FUCKING STRIP,” HE screamed as HE pulled HIS arm back to pistol whip the scumbag again.
Benny raised his arms and went down in a ball to protect himself. All the while he whimpered “okay okay okay”.
“His name was Benjamin Fitzhugh,” HE said as he thumbed the Massachusetts State ID card. “Funny thing. Even during the end of the world most folk still carry some sort of ID with them.”
HE picked up the old metal file box and opened the lid. It was getting full. HE made a note to try and look for a new means of holding all the identifications HE found out in the world. HE filed Benjamin Fitzhugh away between Fiandacca and Forte and returned the box to the coffin.
“He didn’t deserve to be remembered,” the ham radio crackled. “He wasn’t human anymore. Remember?”
“We all need to be remembered somehow,” HE said. HE hadn’t cued up the mic but HE knew that Mr. E understood. They had the conversation before when HE killed other raiders. It was just part of HIS routine.
“Let’s wrap this up. I got things to do. The bridge.”
HE shook HIS head and muttered “right”.
Benny was shaking like a leaf. He’d only been naked for a minute and already he knew he was in the grips of hypothermia. Snow was caking to his withered, pasty frame.
“PUH-Please, man,” Benny begged as he shuffled towards the armored freak. “Y-Y-You d-d-d-don’t have toGUG!”
The collar around his neck cut off his words as the chain pulled tight. He wasn’t going anywhere. The pin was hammered in tight. The chain was strong. The base was solid. He’d be here until he froze to death if he was lucky.
HE came crawling up from under the bridge and looked down at HIS work. The manhole cover was opened and the grate in place. HE gauged the drop to be about ten feet, give or take, from the top. HE slipped the crowbar back into the sling on HIS back, giving it a twist to lock it in place.
Benny was shaking so bad that he could barely see straight. He was well into hypothermia. He needed to get warm somehow. He was getting sleepy.
“Don’t bother,” HE said with a cold, flat voice.
HIS hand moved to the sheath on HIS hip. The trench spike had been collecting dust in the background until the outbreak. It had been something “cool” that HE had collected before HE knew how functional and useful it really was.
HIS fingers slid into the brass-knuckle styled grip. The spike slipped easily from the soft leather sheath. This was no blade. It was a spike. It had one purpose.
“Whu-Whu-What,” Benny stammered as he saw the freak lumbering towards him. He went back on his back and threw his hands up to guard himself.
“No,” he screamed. “I WANT TO LIVE!”
“There is no living,” HE boomed as he drove the spike through the raider’s palm. “There’s only survival.”
Benny felt the warmth of his own blood moving down his right forearm. He opened his eyes wide out of pain and surprise. Pain from the wound and surprise that there wasn’t another blow to follow it. What he saw was confusing.
The freak was backing away towards the edge of the bridge. Benny clutched his hand and tried to form the word “why”. He was having a terrible time formulating words. His cognitive abilities were shutting down along with the rest of his body.
HE took one last look at Benny before stepping over the edge. It would be the last time HE saw the man. HE wanted to remember the look on his face.
“1,” HE counted as HE fell over the edge. HE fell straight down and through the manhole, rolled with the pipe and pulled the grate closed behind HIM. All the while HE continued to count.
Benny was alone and shivering. Alone. Shivering. Bleeding. The sound of creaking wood behind him said that he was no longer alone.
He wanted to say “no”. He wanted to scream it as they came from everywhere. He was bleeding. They came for the blood. They smelled it like sharks smelled the same in water.
They came from under the heavy snow. They came from under broke down cars and piles of trash. They poured like water from the windows and broken doors of the three floor homes that lined Saratoga Street. They rushed towards him like they were compelled by an absent God almighty.
Benny tried to pull away but the chain held fast. He lurched back, pulling at the collar around his throat. There was nowhere to go.
The first one grabbed him by his left ankle. It was crawling beneath the snow like a mole burrowing in the dirt. Its broken, shattered teeth sunk down into his calf and suddenly Benny found his missing word.
He was shocked at how quickly the pain passed. He could hear himself screaming but it all seemed so far away. He saw one of his arms, his left he thought, pulled away from his body and disappear into five hungry, dead forms.
Then a leg.
Then the other.
He was filled with pity for them as they tore him limb from limb. They looked so cold and tired and lost. Their skin was malted and rotted. He could see bits of bone poking through worn flesh. They were men and women, young and old. They were so lost. He wanted to help them, the way he had helped Lil A as he patched him up on the living room floor. He wanted…
The infected breached Benny’s chest cavity and ripped through to his heart. He was dead before he could finish his loving thoughts as the swarm of fifty finished their work leaving nothing but pink snow in their wake.
HE uncovered HIS ears and listened. The screaming had stopped. This one had only lasted about 45 seconds. The infestation had gotten worse by the bridge. Some fresh pack must have wandered in. HE’d have to burn down a few more of the buildings to clean them out.
HE would wait another fifteen minutes before pushing the grate free and crawling up the tunnel to the surface. By then most of the infected would have wandered off and HE could start the trek home. The pink stain would remain for several days and would serve to warn any further spying in the future.
HE wouldn’t take chances though. It was time to increase the number of booby-traps in the area. Another point HE would have to discuss with MR. E.
“So another rat gets fed to the pigs. So what?”
Mr. E was far from compassionate when it came to raiders. HE had never asking the mysterious voice on the other end of the ham radio what had happened. HE didn’t need to. HE knew it had to be something heartbreaking. Or maybe that was just something HE’d inferred from talking to the man; just something in HIS own head.
“They’ve lied to me before,” HE said in a voice that barely escaped the mask’s mouth piece. “This one…he said he wanted to live.”
“Fuck,” was what HE got in response. “We all wanted to live. Those that just wanted to live, where are they now? Huh? They’re either dead or amongst the infected. That’s why you’re special, kid. That’s what makes you different. You gave up on living a long time ago. You want to survive.”
HE took a moment and let it all wash over HIM. This is why Mr. E was so important. He kept HIM going.
HE put the mic down and double checked the locks on the door. HE said a quick “thanks” before HE secured the rebar with the heavy lock.
“Don’t mention it,” Mr. E said. “Now get your head together. You need to get back on the routine.”
HE put the radio away, checked the position of the sun and got back on the routine. Six years, two months and fourteen days down; the rest of HIS life to go. A life filled with nothing more than survival.