AN: Apologies for the long delay and mediocre chapter. Real-life hates me.
[James McShane, the owner of a leading engine manufacturing company in Cook County, would not strike you as someone who held out in a zombie-infested Chicago suburb for nearly 10 years, surviving by scavenging and frequently dealing with the infected and hostile fellow survivors, but that is what he did during the war. McShane, a veteran of the wars of the noughties, successfully held out in Evanston, Illinois for the duration of the war, and following the military rescue he has successfully returned to normal society. It is a rare opportunity to speak with someone who was once what is known as a LaMOE (Last Man on Earth), and it is an opportunity I cannot pass up.]
Trust me; I get a lot of questions about this stuff in my day-to-day life. My neighbours, my employees, random journalists who, unlike you, lack the common courtesy to arrange an appointment and just knock on the door uninvited. I'll be bluntly honest; the main reason I agreed to this interview was that even if it stopped only ONE person from asking the same old questions I always get asked, it's been worth it. I mean, it's great that people are curious and it's great when someone asks an original or interesting question, but, and I don't mean to sound selfish, it DOES get annoying to get asked the same questions every other day.
I mean, I can understand the curiosity. Hell, I welcome it. It's not every day you meet a real, breathing LaMOE. A lot of them are dead or in some psychiatric ward now. Most of the others just keep quiet about it or become background characters in society. And that's all very well and good, but I can't do that. That's not me. If someone asks me where I was doing the war, I tell them straight. If I'm asked how I got this wound or learnt this trick, I tell them. Word spreads, and soon the whole neighbourhood and their moms know. And, well, you can ask nearly everyone what being a soldier or refugee or whatever was like, but it's a rare moment to meet a LaMOE who's willing to talk bluntly and honestly about his experiences.
But, sometimes, it gets annoying. And you have the urge to tell them to just shut up. Just to shut the fuck up and leave me the fuck alone. But you can't, especially if they're a health and safety inspector or a seven-year old.
Well, now that that's out of the way. Formalities are over.
First question I usually get asked is "Oh, how did you become a LaMOE in the first place?" Well, there wasn't a point when I actually knew I'd crossed the line and became a LaMOE. It just…happened. Gradually. Over time. Nowadays, if I'm in a hurry, I usually just say "everyone died, I was left alone and then I became a LaMOE". That isn't false, but I'll be the first to admit I'm leaving out some pretty crucial details.
A multinational company had recently opened up a factory of sorts in Evanston. They manufactured engines; in fact, I owe a vast majority of my knowledge on engines and business to them. Now, Evanston residents who didn't have jobs at the local university or the local healthcare industry had been hit hard by the double-dip recession, particularly the second dip, and I flocked to this new place of employment. It was a nice place to work; decent health insurance package, decent pay check, decent co-workers and bosses. I mean, it wasn't perfect, but it was decent. Better than sitting around unemployed all day with your hand up your ass.
When the Great Panic started, the company fared better than most. A few of their factories overseas were closed, but that just meant more jobs opened up in the Evanston plant. They secured a few nice contracts, and when other local businesses began failing and Evanston residents began fleeing, they helped prevent the town's unemployment level getting too high. Then, the company offered the plant's employees and their families company-funded evacuation from Evanston. As zombie attacks in Illinois were becoming so much more common, how could we refuse? It was a great offer, would have helped save a large chunk of the town, and I'm sure that what happened next was beyond their control.
We'd all massed up at the assembled evacuation point, a local warehouse the company had hired a while back to store excess stock. They were using military-style jeeps laden with spare cans of gas to get us to the nearest military evacuation point. They were focusing on the families first. Now, being a single, childless war vet in my late 20s, I didn't really fit that description…
No parents? Siblings?
Families with children, sorry. Kinda obvious, really.
But, yeah, they'd gone about one-third of the way through the big crowd when the dogs they had screening all the evacuees spotted someone carrying the infection, probably in the early stages. I don't know the details, but the person was reluctant to be taken away from their family, a rather nasty scuffle broke out, the guards let their attention slip and sooner a later a couple of zombies had broken in and began causing a massive panic. I'm not sure if they were fellow evacuees who'd turned while inside the compound or just stray zombies who slipped in unnoticed, but there they were, eating masses of unarmed, panicky civilians. People were being eaten, pushing and shoving to get to the front of the crowd.
Well, the two Humvees they still had there fled after nearly all the evacuees got eaten, and they presumably told their superiors that most of us were dead or infected and not to send any more. As they drove off, I saw a few desperate people try and latch onto the bumpers or the mirrors, and even a couple of people trying to throw their injured children or bags of luggage through the open roof of one of them. Yep, I saw quite a lot of my workmates and neighbours get eaten that day. So, as they drove off, half-empty, as the crowd either scattered in various directions or got cornered and devoured, I found myself in the middle of a small group, slowly being pushed back by the zombies into a corner.
By the time we were backed into the corner proper, only five of us remained, and we were trying to fight them off with whatever we could get our hands on. One of us was using a chainsaw. He'd found it on the side of a tool shed while leaving his home, and decided to take it along with him in case any shit decided to collide with the proverbial fan. Now, the pre-war media had very much given us the impression that chainsaws were the pinnacle of zombie-killing technology. And, well, maybe it was the best sort of weapon to use on the weak, pathetic run-of-the-mill zombies they had in those stories, but against these zombies? I mean, it was better than a lot of stuff, but it had plenty of drawbacks, as we all soon realised much to our discomfort. Poor guy.
The primary problem with chainsaws is, well, you need to destroy the brain when dealing with these fuckers, as we all know. You can tear their body into fifty separate chunks and scatter them all over the fifty-one states, but as long as their brain is still connected to at least part of their body, they can still bite and claw at you, even if they can't move. A few times he chainsawed one of the fuckers' heads off, only for it to land at our feet still trying to bite any exposed flesh. The only way he could kill them was if he actually sliced their heads up into a billion little pieces of brain confetti, and accurate aiming of your swings with something as cumbersome as a chainsaw is hard, especially for a normal guy, like he was.
Secondly, when you're swinging a chainsaw around like mad to try and repel some zombies, it's very hard to not accidentally hit a fellow human. A chainsaw's hardly a precision weapon, and we were very lucky….well…our collective chances of survival were slightly benefited by the fact he was a very careful guy with it and managed to avoid giving any of us major injuries.
Thirdly….chainsaws needed fuel, to make the two-stroke engine work and to get the chain to cut. Now, I ain't an expert on chainsaws, and I'm sure any expert will point out I'm getting facts wrong or using the wrong terminology, but without fuel, a chainsaw is just a mediocre cutting weapon and a cumbersome bludgeoning weapon. As I understand it, longterm chainsaw use also requires quite a lot of maintenance to prevent the blades getting blunt or bits and pieces getting clogged up, but we didn't last nearly long enough for that to be a problem.
But yeah. Long story short, the fuel ran out. The rest of us couldn't really talk though; we had to make do with pretty shit weapons ourselves. I was using a long metal pole. This one chick, Sonia her name was, was using a fire axe though, which I guess is pretty good, in comparison to the pieces of shit we had.
Eventually, well, the zombies breached our shitty defences. Not a single person survived that day. Not even James survived.
[He stares at me solemnly for a moment, before bursting into laughter.]
Sorry, but I gotta be allowed to have a laugh and crack a joke every now and then.
In all seriousness though, when most of my group were eaten, it was just me and Sonia backed into a corner against a shelving unit. It was obvious by then help was not coming, and those who had been killed were reanimating in their dozens by now. So, even though we were hardly the best climbers in town, we decided to just bash the nearest zombies away, the ones that posed the biggest threats, and quickly climb up the shelves. It was hard; a few of the shelves were rickety or cluttered with awkwardly placed bits and bobs, but we made it. Kicked a fair few zombies in the face on the way as well.
From this vantage point, we could see a few others had also made it to the shelves. There was this one teenage boy, must have been about 15 or 16, just sitting there on his knees a couple of shelves away from us, sobbing to himself. We tried talking to him, reaching out to him, but he was clearly too distressed to want to listen. He just mumbled under his breath, fidgeting with his sleeves, told us to fuck off once between some sobs when we were being particularly persistent. A couple of people were just standing there with guns, trying to calm us all down, acting like rescue would arrive to help the small number of survivors and it was just a matter of patience. There were also a couple of corpses with a bullet-hole in their skulls. Clearly people driven to suicide by the mayhem.
And, in the garage of the warehouse, a small group of survivors had locked themselves inside. I really don't like to think what happened to them, seeing as how there was no escape that didn't lead right into a big horde of zombies. I'm pretty sure the one jeep there was inside that garage was not in use for a reason, and even if it was salvageable by a bunch of panicky civilians, I doubt they could all have got inside it.
Me and Sonia, we noticed this smashed window on the next shelf along from us. It may have been hit by a stray bullet in the chaos, but considering the size of the hole, we reckoned a fellow survivor had smashed through it and escaped to the outside. So, we jumped over to it, the gap between the two shelves was luckily not as big as it looked, and we fled the warehouse through there.
And then we quickly deduced that, judging by the long line of abandoned cars on the main road, the growing number of zombies on the streets and the general chaos there was in Evanston, that our city had finally become overrun. I mean, you could still see people running through the streets or shooting at the fuckers from rooftops, and electricity and running water and the internet and all those niceties were still up and running at mostly full capacity.
At first, Sonia and I decided to head to her house. It was much nearer to the warehouse than my home, which was a first floor apartment near the centre of town and hardly designed for anti-zombie warfare, and according to her the spare room was rented out by a crazed survivalist, an Afrikaner refugee from South Africa, who'd stockpiled on non-perishable food and other basic supplies. When we got there, we found her parents and the tenant in question infected and….can dogs get infected? Yeah, they can. Of course they can. Why shouldn't they be? I mean, it was acting like it was, and we had to put it down along with the infected humans, but I guess I never learned for certain if animals can get bitten and infected. Never really thought about it much before for some reason.
Hell, I spent a good chunk of my life living amongst the fucking things and I don't even know basic knowledge like that.
But yeah, it looked a bit rough around the edges, bite marks, those…strange, unblinking eyes, so I…we didn't hesitate in putting it down. Was awfully traumatic for her, seeing all these beloved elements of her everyday life having to be killed right in front of her eyes. After the house had been cleared, we grabbed a few extra supplies from the surrounding houses, destroyed the stairs and grabbed a spare ladder from the shed just in case. You know, basic common-sense zombie survival techniques. The sort of easy-to-do stuff they teach 6-year olds in school. Being quiet and quick was pretty much a necessity. Attracting a stray zombie to come check out our hideout was low on our list of things to do. If it wasn't for some much louder survivors trying to hold out in the school down the road, I'm sure the growing local zombie community would have decided to make their interruptions much more frequent.
So, yep. We managed to hold out on the second floor of her house for quite a while. Turned out the Afrikaner's supplies were…well, they were decent. He was good at packing a lot of crap into a small space, and as someone who is terrible at organising stuff, I have to respect that. With some rationing and stuff, we managed to hold out purely on those supplies for a few months, and for a couple of months afterwards, any outside raiding we needed to do was still minimal. But, well, a lot of the space he'd been telling Sonia's family he was using to store supplies…he was using to grow cannabis. Now, I'm pretty much neutral on the whole topic of marijuana legalisation, but, well, secretly growing the drug, which was still illegal at the time, in someone's house under the guise of preparing for a zombie invasion, that's kind of a fucked up thing to do.
And, well, we had a couple of quick brainstorming sessions on whether there was any use at all for the cannabis, but we couldn't think of anything, and since neither of us were really big fans of recreational drugs, the cannabis stayed there for a long time.
Did you have any communication whatsoever with the outside world?
Well, as I said earlier, for the first few weeks, parts of the internet were up, mainly governmental info sites. Very sporadic, long black-outs, and eventually it went down completely, but it gave us some useful information. I guess they finally realised how badly they'd cocked up in providing reliable information before hand, and were now compensating by uploading every tiny piece of trivia onto the internet. Still, it was useful. Useful in the sense we realised that rescue was not coming and that Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and every other state nearby was almost completely overrun.
Aside from that, very little was working. We didn't even try accessing the TV; it was downstairs and lumbering it upstairs to our safe zone would have been very difficult, and it probably would have created enough noise to attract half the zombies in the neighbourhood. We did try phoning for help though; but as we predicted, if the network or lines weren't down and we were actually able to contact someone, no help would be willing to make the dangerous journey and rescue us. But yeah, for those first few months of relative safety, we were alright. Even encountered quite a few other survivors back then, much more than we encountered later on, but most of them moved on fairly quickly.
Then, and I don't know how this started, but me and Sonia were on the roof of the house, getting some fresh air, when we saw a massive plume of smoke from the very warehouse we'd escaped from about five months back. At that point, the supplies we had on hand were running low, and the first floor was filled with zombies who knew we were up here. But yeah. The warehouse was burning. Maybe it was a dumb zombie tripping on something and starting a fire, maybe it was a sudden gas leak, maybe a trapped survivor decided to go down in a blaze of glory. That was irrelevant, and still is. What mattered was that the warehouse was burning. We got a bit sick of the smoke after a while, we thought the fire would go out on its own, and so we went back inside and went to bed.
A few hours later, the fire had spread, and the houses a few blocks away were on fire, and smoke was drifting through the windows. Now, the fire in the warehouse itself, on its own, wasn't that big a threat. Even without a fire department on hand, the warehouse had a big parking lot; it wasn't like the fire could have spread easily. What had happened was that…well, zombies can be killed by fire. Eventually, it reaches their brain and torches it beyond repair. But that takes ages, giving them plenty of time to run to a nearby office or house or apartment and spread the fire to there. Eventually, half of Evanston between us and the warehouse was burning, and you could see loads of mindless flailing burning zombies running about in the streets spreading the fire to everything they touched.
We had to move.
That became apparent very quickly.
We didn't really have time to grab much of our supplies by the time the fire reached our little hide-out. We didn't really have much in the way of supplies in the first place, but still. We were just forced to jump out of the back window, ducking and weaving through the small mob of zombies that were waiting for us, and had to jump over fences and run down alleyways until we were about twenty blocks away. At that point, we climbed onto the top of this barbershop, so we could get a bigger view of the fire.
It was massive. It was spreading to surrounding suburbs and whatnot; it wasn't just Evanston that was burning. Luckily, the fire seemed to have for the most part bypassed the neighbourhood we were in at the time, but the smoke and fumes in the air…they were suffocating. So we hid in the attic of the barbershop. Luckily the owners had long since destroyed the stairs leading up here, but for ages there was this concern that…well, unless we were lucky, that the fire would reach the barbershop and we'd be trapped.
I'm still here today, so I guess I got lucky.
And that was the Great Evanston Fire?
Yeo. As you know, it burned down quite a bit of Chicago's northern suburbs, and was one of the biggest fires in the Midwest during the early part of the war. But, eventually, the fire slowly petered out, and when we realised that, we emerged from our shelter. Stayed in that attic for about 4 days. We'd been close to starving in there, very little food stocks within reach, and damn the place stank, and also you could hear the groans of the zombies in the barbershop itself that'd decided, like us, the place was a good place to hide, and so we never really missed that place much. It was an abomination to pretty much all your senses.
But, as I said, when we got on the rooftops, it wasn't a pretty site. All the major buildings in the town, the Northwestern University complex, the big offices and apartment blocks, they'd nearly all been burned down completely or reduced to scorched brick and framework. This small family-run barbershop had, within the space of a few days, gone from an insignificant two-storey building with a cramped attic and a…peculiar scent to one of the tallest buildings left standing in the whole city. But, the fire was gone, that's what mattered. I mean, you could still see piles of rubble burning, and a few areas in the distance were still burning full-on, but it was clear there wasn't much left to burn in Evanston.
What I was worried about were the zombies. They were still there. The fire had killed a good chunk of them, but whole streets were still filled with big mobs of lumbering, angry undead monsters. Me and Sonia, we climbed to a neighbouring rooftop and got to street level via that building, as there weren't any zombies in the bottom of it.
Evanston after the fire was a different place. Not only were most of the buildings fucked up beyond all recognition, but a lot of the streets themselves had been seriously damaged. The tarmac had melted on some of the streets, and on a few the roads had fallen apart and you could see zombies milling about in the unmaintained sewers below. Supply runs were a lot harder now, as most of the houses and businesses we once looted were gone, and most of the food we did find was rotten and mouldy. Yes, falling victim to malnutrition and starving to death is a horrible way to go, but dying because of crippling food poisoning? No thanks.
There were whole months when Sonia and I had to go by with hardly any food, just scraps of canned food we found in crashed trucks or small stockpiles in the remnants of destroyed survivor holdouts. After a while, we found this house with a large garden in the back, and the plants there had been growing fairly well despite their owner's death. That served as a replenishing source of food for us for quite a while. Was near useless during most of the year, but every little helps, I guess. Sonia's father was a skilled gardener, so she was able to handle most of the necessary maintenance we needed to do on them and any other plants.
Food wasn't the only sort of supplies we needed. Water was a constant issue as well; especially with the waterworks in disrepair and most of the water sources we could find leading straight out of a sewer or some other undesirable source. You could get the infection from untreated water, and that was one way we did not want to go. Any water we did get, we had to boil before drinking, and if we had anything like iodine pills, we used them. A few times we even tried chewing on house plants that still looked alive, try and get the water in the stems. Not sure if that helped at all though.
Not only was there little food and water, but we had to deal with shortages of all the basic things we take advantage of when living in a functional, civilised society. Luckily, neither I nor Sonia had any disease, allergy or illness that required constant medication, but we still needed supplies like first aid kits, toilet paper, stoves, etcetera. Adjusting to life without shampoo, shaving foam and soap was disgusting, you smelt like shit, your beard went all over the place and your hair ended up getting a ton of dandruff, but once you adjusted to it, it was acceptable. Not enjoyable, but acceptable. Toilet paper…different story, especially when suitable substitutes were lacking, but let us swiftly leave that topic of conversation and move on to less disgusting topics.
Did you encounter any other survivors?
From time to time. Often they were small ragtag groups of starved, disheartened survivors, usually either fleeing Chicago or heading towards Chicago. The ones fleeing Chicago thought that areas that weren't big cities were likely to be less populated with zombies, the ones heading towards the Windy City thought that a bigger city meant more supplies and a bigger chance of meeting up with organised survivor holdouts. Sonia and I tended to keep our distance from most groups, let them go about their business looking for whatever they wanted. We'd built up our own way of surviving and adding any more people to the equation that we might have formed emotional links with might have made things more difficult. A few times we ended up talking with them, sometimes forming temporary alliances and sitting around a campfire together telling our stories, but we never really stayed with them for long, and while we mutually assisted each other, we never put our lives on the line for these folk.
Just wished them luck when they went on their way. There was no real appeal in staying behind in Evanston, some of the groups thought we were pretty stupid for not moving to more easily defendable towns, but we knew where everything was, I guess. We knew the supply stockpiles we hadn't looted yet, we knew the attics safe from zombie reach that wouldn't fall apart thanks to negligence in the middle of the night, we knew the buildings that were too dangerous to step into. It was a matter of familiarity more than anything.
What was that saying again, better the enemy you know?
Did you ever fight with other survivors?
Rarely. There were a few gangs of looters desperate enough to attack fellow survivors for supplies, and a few groups of really paranoid, almost xenophobic survivors who shot at anyone who came close to them out of a fear they were hostile or infected. Most of them fled the moment shit hit the fan, but a few were really brutal, the sort of gang that would enjoy the anarchy and freedom a zombie apocalypse creates, people who'd relish the free realm to just rape and murder and pillage and burn shit.
Early on, I saw this bunch of teenage thugs. First bunch of humans I'd say were enemies to me. They were just messing about, vandalising whatever and looting stores like flat-screen TVs still had a purpose. They were clearly cocky young brats who didn't realise how fucked over they were, and instead they just spent their entire time finding imaginative ways to kill lone zombies. They weren't hostile to us on sight, but they looted from us, vandalised our barricades and power lines, generally were a nuisance. After a while, they disappeared. The virus caught up to them, I bet, and the poor fuckers probably got eaten.
One time we encountered this group of really friendly, worryingly optimistic survivors. They were super-organised, never stopped chatting about the rumours they heard and the grandiose plans they had for after their rescue. It was obvious they weren't blood-related, but they treated each other like they were, right down to the sibling-like bickering the youngest two members of the group had. We sat down with them for a while, shared some stories, they helped treat a small wound Sonia had when she was climbing over a broken window to escape from a particularly ravenous zombie, and they fed us probably the most filling meal we'd had in ages.
By the time they turned on us, and tried to chop us up and eat every part of us, Sonia had, behind my back, nicked one of their sharp, rusty knives. She slit the throat of the most intimidating one, a real brutish, maniacal guy, a former cop and war vet, as he abandoned the subtlety and politeness and made to grab us, and injured a couple of the others. We both fled before they could cause us any more problems. They threw swears and rocks at us as we went, but we never saw hide nor hair of any of them ever again.
And how could I forget the outright crazies? Every LaMOE has a tale of running into at least one over-the-top nutjob indiscriminately murdering everything he or she sees. Hell, some LaMOEs even became those nutjobs. There was this one guy in an old, tattered suit who was "defending" a nearby Wal-Mart. It wasn't in Evanston itself, but we encountered him a few times when we strayed outside the city boundaries. He was sniping everything he saw, blaming everything that moved for killing his family and ruining his life. You could hear his ranting at night, really deranged conspiracy theorist shit. Wish I could remember some of the specifics, but yeah, he was blaming everything from healthcare reform and our pre-war celebrity culture to local charities for what was going on. He'd talk about the people and the zombies he'd killed, give them new personalities and names and act like they were bad people to calm his conscience. He was a damned good shot. When we first saw him, before we realised he was batshit insane and thought he was the last "true American" left standing, we called out to him just after he blew up the brains of a zombie down the road. He missed us by an inch.
We never fought him directly, but he was a threat for a few weeks. At one point, we just found him hung from a noose from the roof of a nearby music store, slowly decomposing. A zombie had been chewing his leg, but he hadn't reanimated. We killed the zombie by smashing her head in with an electric guitar, and then looted the guy to see if he had anything valuable. His sniper rifle only had three bullets left, and from the looks of it he was in the store salvaging metal so he could try to make more bullets. There were a few other crazies, but in hindsight, very few of them sound interesting or unique.
Any encounters with ferals?
What, those kids who grew up without parents and went batshit?
Encountered a few. Most of them ran off in fear the moment they saw us. At worst they were an accidental nuisance. Never really had much to do with them.
A few. I have a really vivid memory of an encounter with one.
I think it was the second or third winter, maybe the fourth, and it was really frosty, most water pipes still functioning had frozen and burst and most plants had died, but on the bright side most zombies had frozen solid, their bodies incapable of even basic movement, allowing you to wander down the snowy streets and pick them or leave them be at your own will. You could put your finger into their gaping, crusty mouths and wiggle it about with no threat involved, should you so desire. I wouldn't recommend it though, I knew someone who died acting like that when the zombies hadn't fully frozen yet.
But, as I was saying, the zombies were frozen solid. Me and Sonia were exploiting this opportunity to get some supplies and secure a new safe area, and while the threat of the cold presented its own set of challenges, we were happy with the few weeks of relative rest.
So imagine our surprise when we were rifling through some containers in a grocery store, hoping for some still-edible supplies, a scrawny zombie decided to charge straight at me, clawing and biting at any skin it could reach. We were caught off guard, and as Sonia was on the other side of the store and it took her a while to reach me, by the time she pushed it off and smashed an axe through its skull, I'd been bitten a couple of times on my hands.
Sonia was preparing to put me down. It was a tragic event, but we both knew it was necessary. How the zombie wasn't immobile didn't cross our minds at first; the store, thanks to the fire and general decay, was pretty open to the elements and we'd already encountered a frozen zombie on the premises, so with hindsight it was pretty obvious this zombie wasn't a normal one. However, what made Sonia hesitate was what she noticed when she pulled the axe out of the zombie's distorted face and prepared to swing it into my own.
The blood pouring out of the massive, open wound was regular human blood. The blood splattered over the axe and myself was normal, red human blood. Not the sickly, tar-like concoction zombies have in their veins.
I remember begging Sonia to shrug it aside and that it was better to be safe than sorry, and to go through with putting me down, but she said no. She was curious as to why this so-called zombie had none of the zombie characteristics aside from the blind bloodlust. We both didn't know it at the time, but I'd been bitten by a Quisling. The next few days were among the scariest times of our lives. The probability that I could turn at any moment was significant, and we were both paranoid and upset about it. But, after a month or so had passed, we decided that for some weird reason I was not going to turn.
Happiest moment in my whole life.
Did you ever consider moving during the winter months?
So how did your time as a LaMOE come to an end?
I'd say the beginning of the end was about a year, maybe more, before the military arrived in Chicago in force. Sonia went off to get some supplies, and, well, she didn't return. After a day or so had passed, and searches had turned up blank, I got worried beyond belief. I didn't wanna wander off into unknown territory unless she came back late, but I was still worried as shit.
Unlike what the name "Last Man on Earth" implies, I never really believed that I was the last person on the planet, even after Sonia disappeared and encounters with other survivors began to dry up.
What I did believe though, was that humanity was screwed permanently, or at the very least by the time sentient human society was re-established in Illinois, I'd be long-dead or suffering from a nasty case of being a zombie.
So, imagine my surprise when, out of nowhere, halfway through a boring, particularly cold day, a day where I think I was genuinely more afraid of dying of thirst, hunger and the flu than the zombies at my feet, I heard Led Zeppelin. Years away from functioning human society and culture, and I could still recognise a Led Zeppelin song from a mile away. At first I thought I'd finally given in to the inevitable and completely lost my shit, and that I was hallucinating songs as well as…visual stuff.
But then I saw hordes of zombies coming out of the woodwork; from Chicago, from the direction of Lake Michigan, from everywhere, shambling towards the source of the music, apparently oblivious to me peeking my head out of the window of my shitty amateur hideout to get a better view. And then, just as the music began to fade down, I noticed gunshots. A lot of them.
Now, I had noticed a surprisingly large number of helicopters and planes flying above my location, and Zach's behaviour had been a bit erratic at that point, but I hadn't thought anything of it, and I didn't want to get my hopes up; just in case it was a drawn-out, complex hallucination, or a bunch of psychopaths going zombie-hunting, or if the whole operation was just a final stand of some stray soldiers or doomed to fail regardless.
But, eventually, the sound of gunshots and zombie moans began to die down. Now, not being able to hear a single zombie within a short distance was pretty rare. A good sign. But I wasn't going to be optimistic.
It was only when a squad of the soldiers marched down the street that I let myself relax. I came out slowly, hands up; didn't want to get this far, only to get shot because some military grunts who were meant to be saving me thought I was a zombie late to the party or a quisling or some egomaniacal psycho.
God, it was surreal. The military using Led Zeppelin as a key tactical component of zombie elimination tactics? Awesome, yes, but surreal. The military using guns that looked more like Wild West-era repeaters than modern assault rifles? It should have been obvious why they were doing that, but still took some explaining for me to get over it. The squad that rescued me consisting of my former Senator, a Colombian porn actress, an old lady with back problems and some rich kid Yale student from France? Sounds like the set-up to a joke, in hindsight, as opposed to a sample of the members of the army that saved my life.
Finding out Sonia had been mauled by a quisling, rescued by a group of advance scouts, and before she knew it waking up in a Coloradan army base and eventually being the fifth member of the group that found me?
Well, guess lucky breaks do happen sometimes.
And then you got married to Sonia?
Yep. It's kind of hard to spend several years relying entirely on someone and not ending up forming a pretty strong bond with them.
[He is silent.]
God, my story really does have one of those shitty fairy-tale endings.
[He swears under his breath.]