What if R and Julie hadn't met outside the city? What if R had been captured, to be used to train the children inside the fortified city of the Living? A different version of the R/Julie story, one where they meet in her world, not his.
Isaac Marion owns Warm Bodies. I just enjoy playing with the characters.
Dark Negative of Love
Chapter 1 - Ambush
I feel the stirring inside, the one that means hunger. It's a different type of hunger than when I was still alive, though. Back then, it was focused in the stomach, or at least the abdomen. Now, it's an all-over feeling, as if I'm running out of fuel. If I don't get something, I will eventually collapse. Lots of us do, just kind of slow down, moving less and less, until one day becoming Fully Dead.
Realizing I will have to go to the city to hunt, I decide to wait until I meet M at our usual airport sports bar. Looking above through the terminals' glass ceiling, I note that the sun has reached the highest point in the sky, the time we used to call noon, which is when he and I meet each day. I make my way from the conveyor walk-way I was riding to the escalator that leads to the food court. As I get to the top of the escalator, I see him sitting at the empty bar, with the usual filthy, spider web filled beer glasses and white plates covered with molded food in front of him. Those are artifacts from the days of the Living, when this airport would have been bustling with lives, hundreds of people passing one another without making contact, all on their way to somewhere else.
I was undoubtedly one of those travelers at one time myself, though I have no memory of that life. I wear a suit, so I think I must have been a businessman. I just wish I could remember, just as I wish I could remember my name. For some reason, not knowing my name has been one of the hardest parts of this existence.
Upon reaching the bar where M sits waiting for me, I motion towards the outside, to the city, with a jerk of my head.
He surprises me, though, by shaking his head. When I pause, surprised, he gestures towards several young girls sitting at a nearby table. They are gnawing on an arm. Something flashes through my brain, and I'm reminded of a group of people, sitting at a similar table around a plate of appetizers, from a time long ago. Everyone is laughing. The moment passes, and I'm left in the current world. I shake my head to clear it.
So M doesn't want to go with me today. Seeing the group in front of us, I understand. He must have gone out earlier, and brought back food for these girls. M is a popular guy with the ladies. I can't say I see it, because he is older, bearded and bald, and his attire is somewhat disheveled. He is tall, around 6 foot five, though he carries a lot weight, both muscle and fat, on that frame. Perhaps it is his almost-ability to speak that wows the ladies. For me, though, my attempts to speak just seem to puzzle them. Some guys just seem to have it. Or did have it, and carry it with them past the graves that none of us now lie in, into this existence. He wears what must have been a white t-shirt at some point, but now is gray and stained. Bad choice for an eternity, I think. But then, I doubt any of us had any choice of when we chose to die.
Certainly none of those I will hunt today have any choice, though they undoubtedly expect us. Every trip to the city we find fewer and fewer of the Living. Many are locked up in the city's center, behind a fortified wall surrounded by armed guards. But some don't live there. I don't know what choice led them to staying outside, behind the flimsy, unfortified walls of ordinary houses. Were they turned away from the large, fortified complex? Or did they stay outside by choice, hoping to get help more quickly if it ever arrived?
Whatever their reasons, the end result is that there are still groups of the Living in small clusters in the city, waiting for us to find and feed upon, so I don't wonder too hard about their reasons.
I nod my good-bye to M, and begin my shuffle towards the Arrivals Gate of the airport. Once it is clear I am heading towards the outside, and not just another extended walk around the airport, riding the escalators, the usual group of eight to ten Dead assemble, and we begin our slow trek into the city.
The dusty road to the city takes a long time for us to travel. But then again, time is what we have a lot of, now. I see movement along the side of the road, but it doesn't interest me. Four-legged animals, including deer, lift their head from eating grass along the road as we walk. But their scent doesn't interest us. We've certainly tried, but their flesh doesn't satisfy. It's like trying to put Diesel fuel into an electric car. There is on one scent, one flavor can satisfy our hunger: human.
The scent of our former selves, and our future food.
We move along, slowly and stiffly, without grace. But our progress is steady. Soon we reach the outskirts of the city. I can't help but wonder if this is near where I might have lived, when I was still human. However long ago that was.
As we get closer to the houses, I look forward to the flashes of memories that I get as I consume a fresh brain, the sparks that appear like dreams, reanimating my brain's neurons as the rest of the Living's body will animates my own limbs. Soon our hunting efforts are rewarded, as the wind picks up and brings us a whiff of the Living. In slow motion synchronization, the entire group turns together, and heads towards that scent almost as one.
We find a boarded house, and sense the lives behind it. I feel a second group of Living not too far away, but I focus on this group in front of us. No need to be greedy, we can find the second group on a future hunting expedition. We surround the house, pulling down the boards they have put up in a futile effort to keep us out. They should be able to outrun us, but they have not left enough escape routes, and we easily block their escape.
It is a large enough group that we won't even have to share bodies. A few of the Living have guns, and we are quickly pummeled by bullets, but we keep moving, attacking the shooters first, and ripping into their throats. True, a few of our members take a hit to the head, and go down with soft thuds beside us, but soon everyone left has pulled down a victim except one young girl, new to our world. She tries a gentle tug at the body of my kill, and I start to pull it back, glaring at her, but then I see a lone living figure trying to sneak upstairs from the scene in the living room.
Deciding to follow the escaping human, I yield the dying human whose arm I have torn off to the young one. She won't be able to finish, and I'll be able bring back left-overs to feed those who remain behind. I start up the stairs when the wind brings a whiff of the second group of humans closer.
I pause. Usually humans flee us. Unless…we are now the hunted.
I wait on the upstairs landing, watching the hallway below, holding the whimpering young Living girl by her shoulder. Suddenly the doors we had just crashed through are entered again. I hear heavy footsteps downstairs, the sound of men in boots running. There is the sound of shouting and gunfire, and the moans of the Dead, now dying a final time.
The human I had pursued tries to pull away, desperate to get back down the stairs to the rescuers. Instinctively I tighten my hold on her, and she screams.
Two armed men wearing helmets and facemasks rush up the stairs towards us. They pull her from my grasp and grab for my shoulders. I snap at them, but they are wearing heavy, protective clothing and gloves. The put a metal ring around my neck with a bar attached, and pull me down the stair behind them.
I stumble as they shove me out the front door and down the steps of the house. They almost pull my head off when they force me back to my feet. They walk much more quickly than I do, and as a result I am almost dragged behind them.
Soon, their individual scents, which are maddening enough, are lost in the scent of many Living as we approach the fortified wall. The aroma surrounds me like a mist, driving me nearly crazy with hunger. We approach the fort's gate, which has armed soldiers in front of a barricade. The men holding me have a short talk with those guarding the gate, and the gate is opened and we enter. I am now behind the towering walls, those walls I had long sought to enter.
Inside, there is near chaos of inanimate objects, stacked oddly. It appears that they are building houses, but with limited supplies, inside a limited space. The result is almost a Dr. Seuss-style medley of mismatched, misshapen objects, towering upwards on wobbly foundations. There is maze of narrow paths around these structures, mostly muddy, but in some places covered with Astroturf.
As I am pushed forward, around the twists and turns of these narrow paths, my hunger grows exponentially as the human scents flood my consciousness from all directions, driving me to new depths of desire. I am surrounded by a Living feast, and all out it of my reach.
My escorts stop at a wide metal building, very different from the other oddities we have passed. They open the front door, and we enter a long hallway. Long glass windowed rooms line the hallways, and from behind the glass, curious eyes peek up at me, as the young Living look up from rows of tables. I realize this must be a school. In some rooms, they are working on assembling guns; in others, they labor on various engines and motors. But the sight that terrifies me is the room where a girl works on a body strapped to a table, a body that moves as the Dead man turns in his restraints and gazes out at me, until she removes his eyes. As we move deeper into the building, I begin to smell other Dead nearby, others like me.
Soon we exit the building and reach an enclosure, the walls made of stacked furniture, old cars, and other solid items from past civilizations, and partially lined with chicken wire. A sentry opens the make-shift gate, my collar is loosened, and I am pushed inside.
Immediately, I am shoved to the side by some of the Dead already inside the enclosure, as they struggle to get at the Living soldiers on the other side of the gate. There is a much larger group here than there had been in my hunting party.
Why are we here? As I watch the Dead at the gate, I can see that they are ravenous, much hungrier than I am.
After the other Living soldiers walk away, the Dead inside this enclosure begin what must be their routine. They pace our small enclosure, much as I paced the airport. But whereas in the airport we had lots of space, here there is only a small space about the size of the airport bar M and I used to meet at. There is a small track that hugs the inside of the enclosure, and I realize that it must have been worn by the feet of the Dead, in their slow, circling of our cage.
This is my new world. For however long, for what purpose, remains to be seen.
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