Read by Carrie Cohen
I suppose you could call what I have: ‘Locked-In syndrome.’ I’d ask a doctor, a neurosurgeon perhaps, if I could, which I can’t, and if they weren’t in such short supply.
It’s always the way with epidemics. Medical staff get hit hardest. First responders as well: the Police and the paramedics, and then the Army, and finally anyone stupid enough to volunteer.
Ahh... that’d be me. Won’t be doing that again.
That’s me. Not looking to be saved. I figure it’s probably too late for that, the rot, it would appear, has set in, but I’m still looking to save. I always was that sort of a girl. Three blood donations a year, Queen of charity cup-cake bakes, and, of course, stepping forward in a crisis when I’d have been much better off hiding in a cellar with all the other end-of-world preppers.
But I keep trying to do my best, keep trying to do the right thing.
Problem is, this damned body of mine won’t cooperate.
It wasn't like we hadn't had warnings: omens, even. HIV. Swine 'flu. Bird 'flu. Ebola, twice. Telling us to get ready, to hunker down for the big one. To check our defences. But, smug behind our antibiotics and quarantine procedures, we ignored them. Back when the epidemic started, when it was all new and weird and worrying in a “that can’t possibly happen to me, can it?” way, everybody misread the signs. The Doctors thought it was a virus that attacked the brain, eating away at the higher processes until just the cerebellum was left, barely enough grey matter to coordinate motion and to seek food.
Any food. Anything the afflicted could still manage to open, or catch. So not cans, or bottles, or anything that needs cooking - they were too stupid and clumsy for that. Not dogs, or cats, or birds either - they were too slow for that. Which only really left other human beings.
No wonder the Government issued advice to “shoot the zombies in the head!” when quarantine failed, when they ran out of medical staff to investigate the outbreak further.
But they were wrong. Are wrong. I’m proof of that, if I could but tell them, if I could pass on my message. And I assume all the rest of the shambling horde are the same: active minds locked in the bodies of monsters.
You can hardly blame the authorities. It’s hard to strap an ECG to someone who is trying to eat you. Or is that for the heart? The C - that’s cardio, isn’t it? What’s the name for the thing they strap to your head? Measures brainwave activity?
If you could get one of those onto my skull, it’d light up like a Christmas tree. Because the higher functions aren’t dead, they’re... disconnected. Something is interfering with the way the mind controls the body, the link between that fabulously wrinkled surface and the more primitive and ancient reptilian brain stem.
It’s not a complete disconnection I guess, not quite. There are still signs of intelligence, of humanity. When I lurch towards a victim, that’s me, or the mind bit of me anyway, trying to give that unfortunate every chance to escape, trying to stop myself, the feral, body part of me, doing what it insists upon doing.
It doesn’t work very well though. I can’t control the beastly body, it just makes my movements... jerky. Well, more jerky. Slow zombie, rather than fast zombie.
But it’s the best I can do. I can’t even close my eyes to not see the grisly end when it comes. And I get to hear it, and smell it, and ultimately, taste it, as well.
Sometimes - and I hate, truly hate to admit this - I don’t even bother to resist until it’s too late. Because I know that lesser part of me is only doing what it must to survive. And I know if it doesn’t eat, then my brain, the only bit that’s still truly me, doesn’t get fed either.
Which, for a former vegetarian...
If I could, I’d tell that body of mine how to get food without chasing and hunting and tearing apart other humans. Just like I used to, I’d tell it how to operate a can opener, or what to do with a frozen pizza.
But, I can’t. I’m locked in.
So, as my idiot body tumbles a ripped off head in its gore-slicked hands, staring into its glazed eyes as if trying to work out how to get to the good bits, what my Sheffield University educated brain is doing is imagining piping chocolate frosting onto cupcakes Paul Hollywood would be proud off, the rest of the Great British Bake Off team bursting into sudden applause, and-
-Did my hands just move together, as if to join in that applause?
And did my numbed tongue try to whisper a Mary Berry ‘Well done’?
I do believe... yes! I’m as elated as if I’d been voted Star Baker, as if all those hours of cooking and decorating had finally been rewarded.
Maybe that’s the key. Maybe it isn’t my upper brain moving those hands, animating those lips, maybe it’s my muscle memory?
Either way, those hissed words, mangled though they were, that movement of hand towards hand, a moment of ignoring that raised skull, these are almost imperceptible reassertions of my mind’s control over my body and they make me want to redouble my efforts to communicate, to pass on this one vital bit of information to someone who will understand, who can do something with the knowledge, knowledge that might, just might, swing things back in mankind’s favour.
Assuming there’s anyone left to listen.
And as if in answer to my prayers, there’s a clatter from the East Wing, followed by a muffled curse.
The afflicted might cause a clatter, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard one curse.
By now, the unlit corridors of the hospital are familiar to me. I don’t even have to check the map as I lurch past reception. I’ve stood before it for senseless hours before now. I think my zombie self likes all the bright, primary colours. Well, hospital beige can get pretty depressing, I suppose.
The sound came from the Neurology department. There are none of the afflicted in there, I know, and I have to-date been unable to enter myself. Double doors, swinging outwards are, apparently, totally zombie proof.
I’m still not entirely sure if the thing that is lurching down the corridor is my zombie body, drawn by sounds that might indicate a walking larder has strayed into the area, in which case I’m probably not going to be the only one to answer the summons, or if my brain is influencing the actions. I look down at my twisted ankle, at the white shard sticking out the side of my oh-so-sensible flat shoes. It’s a good thing I can’t feel the pain. That one sense, thankfully, doesn’t make it across the neurological divide. But the noise, the constant grating, the lurid colours as the infection moves up the limb, the sickly sweet smell... well, that’s another matter.
The double doors are now propped open by a fire extinguisher, which is either incredibly stupid, or incredibly smart. My body doesn’t stop to work out which and I begin to suspect what little control I have is really rather pitiful. I try to go back to my Bake-Off moment. I have to concentrate, I have to THINK!
There’s a shaft of light in the gloom: a torch, and I almost trip over a loaded trolley. My heart - if that was under my control - would have skipped a beat to see what it was loaded with. A couple of laptops, banks of test tubes, wired equipment that looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. This is obviously not your run of the mill scavenger after food and basic meds. This person has purpose, learning-
-And a gun.
A really rather large gun.
I struggle to lift my hands, try to show that I mean no harm, as I lurch towards him, as the cannon in his hand shakes. I suppose I should feel more scared, but this- this is the one, I can feel it, this is the man who can solve the puzzle and maybe cure the illness, or at least stop its spread. What else would he be doing here, collecting scientific equipment?
All he needs is a sign, all he needs is to know that inside the shambling, blood splattered, maggot infested form approaching him is a keen, alive, intelligent brain that maybe someone like him could work out how to reconnect.
I lurch closer, summon all my strength and willpower to drag my finger upwards until it taps the side of my skull. I draw ragged breath and, with herculean effort, I gasp my one word message:
(c) Liam Hogan, 2015
Liam Hogan is a Liar of long standing and was recently a finalist in Sci-Fest LA's Roswell award, where he was up against "Grandma's Sex Robot", and lost. http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk/
Carrie Cohen’s recent work includes playing Mrs Tarleton in Misalliance (Tabard Theatre), Hetty in Gelt (Etcetera Theatre), voicing characters for films The Wake and Bad Advice, reading stories for Arachne Press and continuing to be seen strutting her stuff in the Specsavers advert. Show and voice reels at www.CarrieCohen.co.uk