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ORIGINAL FICTION

THE RISE : PART ONE


By Adam Owen



Chapter One: Life Imitates Death Imitates Life

John had been sleeping outside in the woods for almost a year now and the world had been going to hell for almost twice that time.

Waking, he realized it was Saturday. After a routine search for twigs and thicker John piled his findings into a makeshift tee pee. From his pocket he found some scraps of paper he had found floating on the breeze of the last empty town he passed through. Wadded, he carefully navigated the paper inside the little soon to be blazing structure. His fingers began to shiver as the warmth from sleeping bled away. He put his hands into his jeans pockets and curled his shoulders inward. Thought wrapped in thick flannel layers the morning always carried a case of the shivers. In his pockets he found a book of matches barely damp from his body's perspiration, pulling them out and making hands naked again to the cold John attended the starting of his fire. Remembering back to the summers of his youth, the standing in front of the giant ocean that had been his father's swimming pool. John would stand in front of it for what seemed like hours and stare. He would ponder the swells the waves made or the shapes of light that danced across the surface. He would ponder an ever-pressing question... "Do I get in? Do I let the shock of cold overwhelm me or do I sit here and watch and stay warm?"

Far beyond those thoughts John made quicker decisions now. "Do I stand here comfortable and a little chilly or do I put up with a moment or two of freezing cold to get to a place where I am warm again?" The latter was the obvious choice.

The match seemed to sink into the carbon of burning paper and fell into the unseen. Within moments the familiar corona of the fire bathed over John in a simple but wonderful sensation. The smoke of burning pinewood was sweet and fragrant mixed with harsh and earthy. Eyes closed John breathed deeply while mornings chill left the premises. When the fire became coals John reached into his back pack and produced a can of... something. In his wanderings through deserted towns he found many of the wrappers of canned goods to be gone. Rats. The rats had eaten what could be eaten and probably had yellow dye #5 shits for a week. To his luck the can turned out to be peeled whole potatoes. John found a long skinny stick to skewer the potatoes on and dangle over the fire. The potatoes were stewed and good to eat as is but he needed something warm and cooked in his belly and by god he was going to have it. Sitting on a smoothed over tree stump John ate his potatoes, they were a bit too charred, smokey and still a little cool on the inside, all this aside their flavor was wonderful. Swallowing the last piece, John could feel his stomach thank him as it curled around inside of him. Looking deeply into the burning embers John saw the million glowing specs of light inside shadowy black carbon. The random shapes mixed with the light reminded him of the city at night. It could have been any of its average nights or its last night when he watched it burning to the ground. Life imitates death imitates life.

Two years ago Scientists in the centers for disease control discovered a virus they dubbed The Lazarus Strain. The virus did three things to humans: Nothing, muscle and joint irritation, or death. The people on whom the virus had no effect comprised about fifty percent of the population, the people with minor irritations, twenty percent and the fatal cases the remaining thirty. Originally the disease was called "The Fact 40" virus, for reasons John had never knew, and it was a widespread panic sort of epidemic. When thirty percent of the world's population falls away it is referred to a plague or epidemic. Those who died did so quietly and painlessly with no symptoms whatsoever. Aside from their passing no connection was ever made to those who fell to the virus. Were a geneticist to scrutinize the inner workings of their cells, connections could be made. Sadly everything happened so fast that anything preemptive was never acted upon. Simply put those who would have died did. The other symptom was the muscular aching. John pondered this detail as he felt a small tide of pain sweep through him. The pain was nothing he couldn't handle, subtle an insignificant given the time it took up once maybe twice a day. John had in fact gotten used to the pain, as had many others of the twenty percent. Eventually given what happened in the year that followed John felt blessed by the pain.

About one month after the burying of the deceased "the fact 40" became known as "the Lazarus". The passing of a month seemed significant to astronomers because of the lunar cycle and to chemists and biologists as a gestation period. In reality the passing of one month was the approximate time it took break ones self free of a casket and dig ones self free from six feet of dirt.

Before everything fell apart John had been a white collar working inside a small prison like cubicle. His one-eyed computer monitor had stared back at him as he keyed in numbers for forty hours a week. He could still remember the infectious silence breaking in his office when people began to run toward the media department. The Media department was the only place in the office with wall-to-wall televisions. Images of staggering masses filled the screens. At first glance you appeared to be looking at just another crowd scene. People were overlapping people and slowly milling amongst themselves. As the camera focused it became readily apparent what was wrong. The face of a fiercely professional woman filled the screen, anchorwoman Maria Santoya. She began quoting details about burial procedures followed in the preceding month. Autopsies, it seemed, were rarely performed. The dead were put coldly into the earth without any fluid injections or medical stitches or anything else that could impair them should they choose to stand up and walk again.

The thirty percent lost to Fact 40 were now up and walking around. The dead were alive. Death imitates life. There was no suspense or build up to what followed the rise, the zombies, as the TV was quick to reference them, were too true to their reputations in film and pulp comics. The dead were consuming the living.

John kicked some stones over top of the dying embers. Morning was firmly planted and the sun was making its way into the sky. John picked up the empty can, scrounged the ground for some fairly sharp small rocks and dropped them clanging inside. From his backpack John produced a large coffee can packed with a black powder easily mistaken for what its outside advertised. John scooped into the potato can and then firmly packed down putting the larger can away he produced a much smaller one filled with tiny crystals that looked like rock candy. And finally sealed the can back off with its own lid then wrapped it in a piece of torn denim, also removed from his bag. He was no chemist, but he knew this would make a big explosion when thrown with enough force. Concealed in his backpack but easy to access John packed his belongings and moved on. The morning's hike through a vertical maze set a minor cramp to his legs, a pain only about half as bad as the symptom of the twenty percent.

Immunity to the virus turned out to be a bad thing. Staying true to the genre in horror or more specifically staying true to biological attributes of infection and contagion, anyone bit would become. That wasn't exactly true though, the people who suffered from the minor aches and pains were immune to bites and scratches from the zombies. Further study of these people showed that when they died, reanimation did not occur. The last days of the city, John had been bitten only once and it was enough to make him keep his guard up at all times. Just because he could survive a bite didn't mean he was open to the idea.

He had been looting a store after the general order came to evacuate the cities and most citizens had. One of the creatures bit deep into his fingers when he reached down into a dark area that he had seen a can of food roll into. The pain was instant and overwhelming. Human nature tells us to recoil and quickly as John did. His hand flooded over with blood from the three deep wounds on his three central digits of his right hand. He gritted his teeth, staggered back and fell hard backwards. Lucky for him a roll of toilet tissue sat still neatly rolled up within reaching distance of his wounded hand. As he covered his wounds he could see the once man staggering up and out of the shadows in a slow forced fashion that was half animated and half gravity. John didn't have his handmade grenades then; all he had as a weapon were his wits. Standing John postured himself defensively holding his backpack in front of him as a shield. There wasn't any need to attach ones self to food or possessions and John could survive without his backpack, could easily replace it. The dead thing lurched at him and John pushed it back using his pack. The dead thing grabbed it and worked it away from one of John's hands and let go. The pack, free of the creatures grasp and still held in part by John, swung down striking John in the leg. In a flash of idea, John swung the bag twice and brought it crashing down on the creature's head. The dead thing swayed for a moment then fell to the ground immobile.

John reached his hand out to clear away low hanging branches. Sharp pain jolted John for a moment. The hand with the spared three fingers had found the thorns on the branch and the thorns had found the blood in his hand. The pain was more of an annoyance than anything else; John rubbed his hand on his pant leg and kept on. Fingers were carefully landed between thorns as John pressed on. After miles of hiking through thick woods, John saw light ahead of him and this usually meant a clearing. The hot of the day was creeping up on him and soon he could smell warming tar and a distant echo of exhaust. John was coming to a road.

The solid pavement of road was a treat. Soft ground and uneven terrain tended to be murder on your ankles and you never made good time that way. The fact that he had no destination or timetable didn't occur to John. Moving seemed the ideal thing to do right now. The road was a rural two-lane type. The center stripe was worn away and had most likely been long before everything else fell apart. Ahead of him the road rose to a hill and obscured his view. Atop the road's hill John saw something. The something locked in his gaze was a battered old car.


-- END --



You can e-mail Adam Owen at abenaiah@lycos.com and visit Adam's website at Greenpiece.net.



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