If you read my Friday Fictioneers stories Invasion – Step 1 and Alone and were left wanting more, you’re in the right place. They are actually two pieces of the same story. The following is a longer piece (roughly 2700 words) that goes into a bit more detail, but may still elave many unanswered questions. It doesn’t delve a lot into the story of the hunter in the first story, only hints at the involvement of his kind in the world of the character in the second story, who is a minor character in this longer piece.
The Diary of Walter Jakobsen
The diary of one Walter Jakobsen, as noted on the interior cover, was found in the fall of 2183, sheltered from the elements in a rusted metal chest beneath a pile of rubble within the remains of one of the great cities of the past. Historians refer to the ancient city as Los Angeles. The following excerpt was the first and only entry in the largely empty journal. What happened to the writer and the others mentioned within the few brief pages remains a mystery that may never be solved.
January 1st, 2019
Life is funny. Just when things are going great a wrench gets thrown into the mix and stops up the gears nice and tight. For me, that wrench came on June 14th, 2018. That was the day they decimated us. We weren’t prepared. How could we have been? Most of us didn’t even believe they existed.
They didn’t go all War of the Worlds on us like one would expect. They didn’t come in peace either. Why would they? They didn’t travel all this way to say hello. Nearest I can tell, they came to colonize our world. Thing is, our world posed a bit of an issue. The air composition wasn’t quite right- almost, but not quite. Even worse, the planet was infested with a virus: humans.
We never even knew what hit us. I’m only going on theory here from the things I’ve seen during my travels and the few others I’ve encountered since everything went to hell, but it seems they used some sort of airborne poison. I woke up on June 14th, but most of the world didn’t. I don’t know whether to say I was one of the lucky few or one of the lucky few. Sure, I woke up, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot when all of our major accomplishments are failing and there isn’t anyone to maintain the infrastructure. Maybe the lucky ones are the ones who didn’t have to wake up to this world. Most of the world simply went quietly into the night without a fight. That’s not technically true. Can’t be. I’d just rather think the folks on the other side of the planet went in their sleep rather than imagine everyone dropping where they stood in broad daylight. Might not be true, but it’s easier on all of us to picture it that way. From what I can gather I’m immune to their poison. So are Otto and Melissa.
I got up that morning and went to work, same as every other Thursday of my adult life. I noticed the deserted roads, but I had no idea what they signified until I hit the empty parking lot at the office. Even then it didn’t completely hit me that everyone else was dead. Normally I’m one of the last through the door. That day it wasn’t even unlocked. I tried to call a few people to ask what was happening, but no one answered. I left a couple messages asking for them to call me back. I never did hear back from Jeff or Vicky.
It wasn’t until I went further into the city that I caught my first glimpse of the true horror that had befallen. The streets were partially clogged with stagnant traffic. I threw my car into park at the back of the pack and walked among the accidents and traffic jams, some cars still idled but most had run out of gas and stalled. Every car had at least one person inside- all dead. At that point I still couldn’t piece together what had happened, but at least it told me why no one was at work.
For the next three days I sat locked in my apparent, scared out of my mind and no idea what to do. I left town on the fourth day. I got in my car and drove south. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew that I wanted to be far away from anywhere snow might start falling in the coming months. Trapped in the cold after the electricity inevitably failed, surrounded by dead bodies, was not an ideal prospect, so I left. I packed up a sack of food and a garbage bag full of clothes and I walked out the door. I always felt bad that I left town without burying my mother. At the time I only wanted to be away from the hell that had overtaken my world. I had no idea everywhere else had the same problems. If I could go back and change it I would have buried her before I left. I’d like to say under the apple tree in her back yard, but having dug my fair share of holes in the yard over the years I know how difficult it is to get through that many roots. Odds are it would have been beneath the flower bed, but that’s neither here nor there.
The first time I ran out of gas on my journey south, I walked two miles before it occurred to me that I had my choice of pretty much any car I wanted. Lord knows there were plenty of them just sitting there. Most of them even came with keys. All I had to do was pull out the dead guy behind the wheel and I was set for a ride, assuming the car still had gas.
Turns out pulling a dead guy out of a car isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when he’s been sitting cooped up in the heat for almost a week. I vomited six times getting him out of there. The stench that hit me when I opened the door brought about the first two rounds. The next three came after my hand brushed against skin that was loosely attached to his wrist and easily tore free. I went down over the shoulder and puked my guts out. Twice I tried to come back up, but lost it when I spied his torn, decaying flesh. The final bout was just a round of dry heaves as I drove down the road thinking about what I’d done. I made a mental note to be more respectful to anyone else I carjacked after that. I let that guy drop to the ground in a twisted heap after that clump of skin broken free, and I just left him like that. I also made a mental note to check how much fuel was in the tank before I went through the trouble of removing the driver. I’d gone through the ordeal for less than an eighth of a tank.
It was during that drive that I noticed the changes in the sky. First it was just during sunrise and sunset. Instead of fiery reds and pinks, the sky started taking on green hues. After the first few weeks the blue was slowly replaced by a dull green across the entire sky. That’s when my alien theory really started to pick up steam in my mind. They solved two problems with one genius move. Change our atmosphere and kill the competition. No notable loses on their end, just an issue of waiting out the metamorphosis.
Sixteen cars- hard to find one with much gas- and two days later I came across Melissa. I spotted a fire just outside of Paris, Tennessee. I hadn’t seen any signs of life since the evening of the June 13th. When I first saw the fire I thought maybe it was just the remnants of a house fire or something that had gone unchecked in the un-chaos. Chaos isn’t really the right word. There was no chaos, just a bunch of dead people inhabiting a mostly lifeless world. A good many of the plants had even started dying off by that point. I approached with the intention of cooking a can of beans I’d taken from a grocery store I’d passed. I don’t know why I didn’t just take them. I left money on the counter for the few dozen cans I’d taken, as if money is still any good. I was sick of eating them cold by that point. I try to stick with the canned stuff. The fresh didn’t stay fresh very long. Occasionally I’d happen upon a freezer that still worked with some ice cream or a bit of meat in there, but those finds become more and more rare with each passing day. So did my subconscious need to pay for the things I’d scavenged.
It never even occurred to me to build a fire to cook them. That’s how out of touch I was with reality in those days. Let me tell you, you’ve never experienced hunger until you’re willing to eat a raw chunk of steak. I was just drifting through life, alone with my thoughts and a deep sense of survivor’s guilt. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about ending my own life at least once before I met Melissa.
Turns out Melissa had built the fire. She hugged me when I came walking up. Didn’t say a word, just hugged me and cried her eyes out. I didn’t stop her- hugged her right back in fact. To know that we weren’t alone, that made things a bit more bearable. It kind of gave life meaning again. I don’t know how long our hug lasted, but the fire had nearly died out by the time we let go of each other.
We talked all night long. She confirmed my fear. She’d actually seen one of the devices go off. It was in the back of an eighteen wheeler. The thing just started spewing green smoke from vent holes all over the trailer. The handful of friends she was with at the time dropped in an instant. She looked up and down the street while everyone around her dropped like dominoes. She had the presence of mind to call 911. Not sure I can say the same for myself if our roles had been reversed. I was a raving lunatic once I figured out what was happening.
Kicker is an operator answered, asked what her emergency was then just stopped talking in the middle of the next sentence. After that, Melissa hadn’t heard another voice or seen anther living person until I came across her at that fire. If I’d taken a different route, just one single turn more or less and we never would have crossed paths. I’m not sure what to make of that. How can two people in a world so large and so devoid of other life find each other like that? Was it God looking out for us? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. Being an atheist, I’m sure Melissa would disagree, and I can’t say I don’t see where she is coming from, because I do. Though, I’m not ready to give up my faith yet. I hope I’m never ready to make that sacrifice, but that’s not a bet I’d be willing to take at this point.
She said she saw six other trucks over the span of the twenty or so miles she’d covered since our mutual wrench had found its way into the gears of our lives. She chose to go by foot. The bodies in the cars were too much for her stomach. I probably passed by countless other death trucks not knowing what they were, assuming they were just like any other trucks on the road. That is to say, full of both the necessities and excesses of the American people. She never considered the possibility of aliens until I pointed the sky out to her. She had seen it, but she’d also see the green gas. She assumed it had been some sort of terrorist attack, but even the most well funded terrorist organization couldn’t pull off an attack on such a large scale, could they?
We continued south together. I always pictured myself as a bit of a ladies’ man, but she wasn’t having any of it, and for the first time in my life I was okay with that. I was happy just to have someone to talk to. I didn’t need any more than that.
We crossed the border into Florida three days and eighteen vehicles later. I tried filling up at a gas station once, but the pumps wouldn’t accept my card and I didn’t know how to turn them on- if I even could have. Power in most places had already started failing by that point. It was just easier to switch cars and hope I picked one with a mostly full tank. I’d like to say I was getting used to the smells coming out of those cars by that point, but that’s a smell you just never get used to. At least I can say I was more respectful with their bodies. I didn’t go as far as burying them, but at least I didn’t leave them in a twisted heap on the side of the road.
The key when switching vehicles is to give the new one a few hours to air out and always travel with the windows down, even if it’s raining. Pick one with the windows already down if you have the option. Those ones tend not to be tombs for the noxious odors. Sometimes the option doesn’t present itself and you just have to suck it up until you can find a store stocked with an inordinate supply of Febreeze.
We picked Otto up outside Pensacola. I have no idea how that blind S.O.B. (and I use that term as a brother would, not as an insult) survived for nearly two weeks on his own. From his description, it was nothing short of hell. He didn’t have the benefit of seeing what had happened. He only had the sudden absence of the sounds and smells of a once bustling world to go on and it scared him. He was lost and confused. He ate so much that he puked when we first picked him up. He was so hungry and weak. Logically speaking, he should have been dead. Somehow, he’d managed to find some food along the way, but after he ventured past his comfort zone he couldn’t find his way back and hadn’t eaten since. How exactly does a blind man manage to survive in a dead world for that long on his own? He didn’t even know he was headed north. I took it as another sign from God when we found him. Melissa chalked it up as another coincidence. I guess we just see the world differently, but then, we likely always have, even before things changed. Chances are we’ll never see eye to eye and the subject. Perhaps that’ll be enough to keep us sane in this wasteland of a world.
We don’t know if there are others like us. There almost has to be. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to seek out other survivors even though we have no way of finding them. If we’re even a mile away from them we could drive by without even knowing they were ever there. Even still, we will continue searching. Perhaps one day there will be enough of us to put up a fight against whatever threat is coming.
I’m not optimistic about our odds, but I won’t admit that to the others. They look up to me like I’m some kind of leader. Really, I have no idea what I’m doing and that terrifies me. They’re depending on me and I don’t want to let them down, but I’m just as scared of this new world as they are.
May God have mercy on our souls.