The Nothing Man
Michael killed himself two days ago. We lost Elliot a few weeks before that. Without his brother, I guess he figured it was all too hard, so he simply gave up. Too much pain, too much misery. I found him dangling after he threw in the towel and hung himself in the barn. I know it must have been hard for him to do, to leave me. I don’t blame him and I try not to hate him, but it is a bitter painful pill to swallow. After all, he was the man, I am the woman. Instinct drives a man to protect. Turbulent, crashing emotions threaten to drown me. Though, somehow, with feelings of pity and mercy, I hope to forgive him.
Elliot would be super pissed at him. All the effort he’d gone through to save us all those times, wasted. Poor Elliot copped it cheap. An unfortunate choice of soft soggy wood he’d used to pulp a zombie’s head left him scattered full of infected splinter shrapnel. He knew what it meant, and he couldn’t ask either of us to do it for him. Neither of us was brave enough to offer.
While Michael and I pretended to sleep, Elliot went and did what needed to be done. Quietly, so as not to bring any unwanted guests, nose diving head first off the top of the barn. The courage, conviction and self-control it must have taken not to put his hands out to make sure the job would be done properly, brings me to oceans of tears. Michael and I never spoke of it. Michael, I think he fancied me. Sometimes the heart wants what it can’t have, which is probably why I longed for Elliot. Perhaps Michael’s guilt or his confused feelings at failing his younger brother at the end was what pushed him over. I guess I’ll never know.
Outside the temperature has to be over 40 degrees Celsius, and it has been for the last week or so. Conditions are unbearable. It’s dry and hot. I ran out of stored food. I’m low on ammo, and we haven’t seen another living soul for months now. The Australian outback is just about as harsh and unforgiving as the zombies that want to feed on us. By luck, good or bad, I have yet to decide, we made it through the collapse of civilization. We witnessed loved ones dying first hand. We stood by while the life left their eyes, and we closed them again after death had reopened them. We struggled within ourselves, almost losing the fight to madness and the unconquerable mountains of depression and stress. But I would not yet call myself a survivor. A memory perhaps, or maybe a reminder of the old world, but not a survivor. By definition, nobody survives an apocalypse. Now I fight starvation, infection, disease, and worst of all, loneliness. Everything just wants me dead.
For so long it had been just the three of us, bunkered down in an abandoned farm house, making do as best we could, then two. Now it’s just me. No Elliot to keep me comfortable. Alone in the world of the undead. Nights are the hardest, sleeping by myself on the second story of the barn, struggling with the heat and twitching to arms at every noise. I have some decisions to make. Do I go resupply my water rations or should I check on the fences, maybe I should kill myself, or maybe I should prepare to move?
Who would know? More importantly, who would care? Michael did it, why can’t I?
Madness stole his health. He was sick and wasn’t getting better, physically and mentally destroyed. I pity and forgive him.
One word keeps running through my head. WHY
Why should I continue?
Why did Michael have to get sick?
Why the fuck is it so hot?
Why didn’t Elliot choose a more sturdy piece of wood?
If there is a God I ask him…WHY? FUCKING WHY?
I turn to the only form of company and solace I have left. Elliot’s handwritten, ragged journal. Since he has been gone, I have carried it everywhere with me. I have read it almost to the point of being able to memorize it, but I feel the need to read it again. In it are his thoughts all lined up and organized. I can almost hear his self-educated voice as I read the words. The pages are dirty and ruffled. Slowly my fingers turn the pages to find his last few entries.
My body decides I should walk the fence line while I read. Old school six-shooter dangling loosely in one hand and Elliot’s penned thoughts in the other, I walk. I walk and I read and I ponder. I don’t look up, see or hear, but my body moves along the fence line.
Evidence via Observation. Senses. Touching. Seeing. Hearing. Smelling.
Everyday I see the dead walking, hear the dry clicking of their hungry mouths and smell the rotted meat that is their flesh.
My proven senses, they are the things I believe in.
Lazily as I walk I tap my gun against each wooden fence post, just like I use to on my way home from school. Oblivious of my surroundings and trapped in a world of Elliot’s deep thoughts, I don’t notice the surrounding bush land conspire with the weather and start to whisper evil plans. The mood in the air changes.
Tradition. Authority. Revelation – Lies!
I don’t believe them. Never have I witnessed a divine miracle or seen any signs of a God. The biggest lie is the tradition of religion. Someone made something up and told everybody it was true. Where is the evidence? Just because it is old and written in many books and because so many other people believe in it, I’m supposed to as well? It isn’t any truer now then it was when it was written. How can it be? There are so many variations of even the same religion. How can they all be right?
I don’t notice it when the air pressure drops and changes, but the birds in the high branches talk about it and the lizards in the scrub dance about it. Wind swirls and lifts and pushes on the trees, slyly testing the weight of things for what it knows is brewing.
I have issues with authority. Just because an individual says so does not make it so. Show me the Evidence. Let me see it, let me touch it or let me hear it. Let me observe your ‘truth’.
…Click…A distant noise pulls on the sleeve of my consciousness.
To have a really strong feeling about something with no evidence other than a gut feeling. Every time I bought a lotto ticket I would convince myself that I was going to win. Look how that worked out for me. Of course it is important to follow your feelings and to be led by instinct, but a gut feeling is still guided by unconscious wants and needs, chemical reactions in the brain and environmental upbringing. Who is to say that my gut is more right than your gut? Evidence is!
Click…Click…Click…the familiar noise pricks my ears and stirs deep inside. It threatens to wake me from my thoughts, but it is distant and not important enough to distract me from finding the answers I so desperately seek. In Elliot’s journal I hope to find the epiphany that will surely save my soul.
When revelation and authority mix, look out! A man with a really big hat or seven wives may try and convince you, based on the ‘beliefs’ of others and a really old book, that you are going to be punished for an eternity when you die. Punished if you don’t do what he says. Most likely because of that old man you’ll have trouble adjusting to society and work the graveyard shift at a gas station with an idiot named Geoff for most of your adult life; an early glimpse of hell.
Faith and Hope!
Both good words. We can share faith in mankind and hope for the survival of our race. Together we should strive and believe in this.
Should I have faith and hope that we can find more survivors? That we can re-create what we once had?
Click …Click…CLICK! Such an annoying familiar noise, “WHAT!” I scream in frustration. It’s then and only then I look up and notice I have undead company. Six of them just on the other side of the fence, clawing and scratching and Click-Click-Clicking their dusty mouths in that sickening way they do. They are walking bug specimens, petri dishes full of disease. Maggots and all sorts of creepy crawly creatures fall from half ears or from between exposed rib cages, while thick clouds of flies buzz unnoticed around them. Barely clothed and with nothing more than mutilated steaks for feet, they do their little hungry dance for me. There are six of them and I have six bullets.
Oh, I really shouldn’t…BAM! Spaghetti and Meatballs.
Really…other Clickers will hear.
BAM! Roaaaaad kill.
I’m low on ammo as it is.
BAM! Dropped Pie.
I could run and get the…BAM! Fucking die! Fucking click your mouth at me?
Two of them left, and two bullets remain. They stand one in front of the other, with no value for personal space. They don’t fight over me. They will be happy to share my warm blood.
This time I appreciate the moment. I take careful aim and prepare to shoot through the gaping, yellow-teethed mouth of the dead thing in front. Hate makes my trigger finger tremble in anticipation. Because of these things , I am where I am. I have lost what I have lost.
BAM! Shish kebab!
Perfectly timed, the two dead things wobble their heads in tandem. My bullet exits out the back of the mushy head of the first, and in and out of the second. Two Clickers with one bullet. They fall in a sloppy heap with the other four.
One bullet left.
Pleased with myself, I continue to read.
A dog sees the world in mainly black and white. Fruit bats see nothing, but sense the world. The reality of their world is so much different to ours. A schizophrenic’s reality may include a voice telling you to stab your friends, and a man with an inner ear problem experiences a much more wobbly reality. Reality is in the eye of the beholder.
Perhaps we don’t have the right eyes or the correct senses. Perhaps, as human beings, we are unable to observe the true reality of our existence. I believe this to be true. I don’t know what is out there. I don’t know why anything happens, but logic tells me not to follow blindly. If I do, how will I see what is ahead of me?
I do believe that when I die, I will I become NOTHING!
The weight of the gun is heavy in my hand, and as I come to the edge of the property I remember, one bullet left.
As I have done a hundred times, I repeat to myself Elliott’s final word etched hard and deep in to the page ‘NOTHING’. Reproachfully I look up to the heavens, smile and ask myself the big questions.
Do I believe in an afterlife, reincarnation, heaven or hell? Should I strive to survive? Am I scared of the nothing? Of becoming nothing, just as Elliot did the second his head spilled out?
A woman, alone in what’s left of this world. Then I ask myself, is it worth it? Am I dead already and is this my own personal hell? Surely the nothing is better than this?
Drawn to it, I find myself by the barn, near a scattering of sharp, up turned rocks. The heap where Elliot landed. The clouds have come in dark and aggressive. The sun is leaving too. Do the clouds care that I carry a gun in my hand? Do they know what I plan to do with it? Sinister clouds, they urge me on. Troubled by the weight of my existence, I drop harshly to my hands and knees. Broken, defeated, and empty. A non-believer, prostrating myself. Lightning flashes and thunder laughs, daring me to do it. The cruel world in all its misery mocks me with sticky hot weather, thunder and lightning but no rain to ease my woes. Not a tear shed by any witness.
Elliot’s journal lays open on the ground. The wind turns its pages at random.
One bullet left.
My stomach is angry at me and it growls with protest and hunger. My mouth is blistered and dry, my pretty lips and gorgeous smile taken. They don’t exist anymore. My entire body aches and cries for sweet relief. The safety is off. The hot barrel is on my temple. My finger on the trigger.
Tears fill my eyes, and dirt and grime run down my face like cheap mascara. Physically, an easy twitch of the finger is all it will take.
A thunder bolt sent from a God I don’t believe in bellows its authority and shakes my reality.
From nowhere a strong, boney, weathered hand grabs hold of my pistol.
Fear. A throat squeezing, chest crushing, bowel loosening fear. That is what I feel. Releasing my grip on my only weapon, I scuttle away like a startled crab as quickly as my limbs can scuttle. Snatched away at the last second, my decision has been made for me. With gut wrenching relief, I agree with every inch of my being. Crystallized, I want to live. After coming so close, I want to live. Anything is better than nothing.
Would I have done it?
I don’t know.
With the sun’s glare setting behind, standing tall in a cloud of kicked up dust is the owner of the boney, weathered hand. Wearing snake skin boots, tied tight. Black and blood stained denim jeans, a flannelette shirt tucked in with sleeves rolled up. Looking out to the distant, tree populated, dry hills is a man. No, click-click-I want to eat you-mouth clicking. A man. A living, breathing, soul filled man.
In one hand he holds a sturdy old wooden axe handle, good hard wood but no axe head. In the other, my gun.
Grateful but shocked, I follow his gaze. Already the sun has begun to flee behind us in the west. Mean, black clouds hover impatiently above us, and to the hills in the east is a soft orange glow of light. Gentle and warm. A small city? Car headlights?
Elliot’s calming voice rushes into my head again. This time quoting a line he use to always say to try and keep us going, “The key to happiness is to be happy with what you’ve got.” I desperately miss Elliot. On some level, he would probably have enjoyed the irony of my current situation.
Off in the hills lightning strikes, beginning hell on earth. An uncontained, out of control bush fire. If I thought it was bad before, then this must be that cruel bitch Fate showing me that things really could always be a lot worse. Thick, dark plumes of smoke curl and play on the wind. The stinging scent of it being brought to us by that other nasty bitch, Mother Nature. With all the variables in place, harsh drought conditions, unkempt, overgrown bush and dry, hot, tornado force winds, it is going to be fierce and quick. Everything is combining to form the recipe for my own personal second apocalypse.
A murder of crows fly overhead in a panic, flying west at top speed, away from the orange glow. Dirt whips up into our faces, stinging eyes and drying lips. The surrounding trees groan and creek with dread, dropping branches and letting leaves run free. It’s an ominous warning that both the stranger and I understand.
Though I have to squint to see, I get my first glimpse of the stranger’s face. He wears the familiar face of the undistinguished man you see in every crowd, trustworthy, unremarkable but oddly forgetable. His eyes intrigue me. In them, I see nothing. Not fear, not hunger, not love or hate. I see the Nothing Man. An outstretched hand offers me back my gun. Still shaking with emotion, I accept it and nod my thanks.
There is no formal greeting, no friendly catch up or even cautious sizing up. We know what needs to be done. No time to discuss it. We need to get the fuck out of dodge. Fuelled by adrenaline, I sprint to the barn without looking to see if the stranger is following. The breeze has picked up and the lightning and thunder must be nearly on top of us. Smashed by the winds, the barn doors slam forcefully closed and reopen only to test the rusted hinges and slam shut again. Because of the constant dry heat, half of the fuel has vaporized, and I spend what seems like an eternity using the hand pump to refuel one of the quad bikes. Girls don’t grow up out here without knowing how to handle a farm bike.
Deciding that some fuel is better than none, I give up with the hand pump, jump on and kick the guts out of the bike until it starts. To my left, the stranger is trying patiently, but in vain, to start the only other quad. With vacant eyes he looks over to me. I scoot forward on the seat, and he puts those snakeskin boots on either side of me. I can’t help but think how much Elliot would have liked those kicks. Off to one side, he holds his sturdy axe handle.
Looking around quickly, I don’t know what I feel as I realize I will never see this barn, my safe home for the past few months, ever again. Forced by nature and chased by fire, I have to venture out into the world again. Tears of sorrow, relief, fear or regret? Who cares? I rev the shit out of the bike and in a blaze of glory, scream out of the barn leaving a trail of dust in my wake.
The fire is already visible. Flames dance above trees and thick black smoke chokes the skyline, blocking the sun. It’s only early evening, but I have to flick the headlights on to see. Like little demons playing hopscotch, the flames hop and skip from here to there, with us ultimately in their path. In no time at all we skid to a halt at the western gates of the property. The Nothing Man is off the bike and at the gate, but he struggles, fumbling with the lock. He doesn’t seem to care if we live or die. I look back over my shoulder and wish that I hadn’t. A wall of fire reaching up to the heavens is rushing down from the hills. Flames first lick, then swallow, turning everything in their path to black. The devil has sent its angry pet here to devour everything. It makes its presence known with a bellicose, deafening roar. The heat is so intense, I can’t tell if I’m sweating or melting.
Rooted to the ground, the trees have no escape. They crack and shriek and pop. The wind howls, thunder still booms. The fire roars and here in front of us, a small herd of four or five Clickers …Click…
Impending doom in the form of a raging inferno threatens our existence, but still they hunger.
Anger boils in my stomach. I get off the bike and easily knock the useless stranger out of the way. Death threatens from every possible angle. Sweat drips in my eyes. My hands shake with petrified excitement, and the metal locks are extremely hot to the touch. The pressure of the situation asks me to rise, and so I do. Forcing my mind to calm, I manage to quickly undo the lock on the gate and push it open, knocking down two Clickers. Back on the bike, we take off again. I throw a leg out to knock a third Clicker down and maneuver to dodge the scrambling others.
Scorching flames now racing alongside us, pushed on by the winds faster than the top speed of my old quad bike. I risk a quick glance off the beaten path to look behind us. Framed by a horizon of bright red flames, an undead creature arcs it back, drops open its jaw, lolls its cracked tongue out, and shambles down the rocky path after us. Moments later a bigger, more cruel, less forgiving beast attacks it. Like a small shark getting swallowed by a bigger shark, the fire consumes the Clicker. Skin melts off its hands but still it claws its boney fingers at us. What meat is left on it sizzles and blackens until it cannot walk and tumbles down the path. Still a flaming mess, it opens its mouth, begging us to let it feed until, pop! Its head explodes.
More of them come out of the bush, some on fire, some not. My passenger makes little work of them, swatting them away with his flaming axe handle. Trees tumble around us, squashing the rest. Flames toy with us, betting we can’t out run them, keeping close on our tails. Grey, mud like smoke attacks my eyes and burns my throat down to my lungs. My chest heaves in and out, struggling to find oxygen. The heat on my back is so intense, I struggle with the pain and fight to keep conscious.
Everything goes quiet.
Everything goes black.
Everything turns to nothing.
A flicker of an image remains, those eyes, the eyes of the Nothing Man. They are close, we are face to face, and he is laying me to rest.
Little, gentle, wet kisses all over my body stir me to life. The soft, pitter-patter sound of water landing in water. A sound so kind and welcoming greets me. My eyes sting, but I force them open to see rain, a mercy gift from the skies. I lie afloat in a tin dinghy in the middle of the farms dam. Dead fish bob up and down all about me. The jetty is destroyed and turned to cinder. Charred earth and smoldering fires hiss in protest as the rain hits them. The sun is well and truly asleep, not daring to bear witness to the atrocities down here. I can’t tell how long I’ve been unconscious, but thankfully the fire has passed. I see half of the quad bike sticking out of the water by the bank, and I see more rain clouds coming in. By the light of glowing embers, I see the horizon is clear for miles, everything flattened, dead and black. Not even the roaming Clickers survived.
I see all this, but I don’t see the Nothing Man. As mysteriously and quickly as he came, he has vanished. Whether he was a wandering stranger or an angel from up above, he came when I need him most. I am thankful for his existence. Unfortunately, I don’t think he survived since he was sitting behind me and my back is blistered, bubbling, and pretty badly burned. I owe my life to him.
I cannot move because of the pain. It hurts to breathe, and smoke has damaged my vision. Involuntarily and against the best wishes of my body, I smile. I laugh until I cough and gag, and then I laugh some more. The heavens truly open up in response and pour down heavy with cool water.
I have nothing, not even clothes on my burned back.
Nothing but my life…but I am happy with that.
* * * * *
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