It was a beautiful day. The temperature was somewhere in the mid-seventies, the humidity was low, and the sun gleamed radiantly in a sky that seemed to get more blue with every day that had passed since the dead collectively decided they were no longer going to stay all the way dead. Mike had always assumed he would die on a gloomy day. To his knowledge, since the virus, he was one of the last people left on earth. He assumed the universe would mourn his passing and provide an appropriate setting. The picturesque afternoon gave him mixed feelings. While it seemed wasteful to die during such perfect weather, it would be nice to have a pleasant backdrop for his final moments.
Mike snuck a quick peek over his shoulder. The horde was maybe twenty yards behind him. His destination was several hundred yards away. He thought he might be able to make it if he wasn’t dragging Jeff’s near lifeless body or constantly screaming at him to keep moving and pick up his feet. It took every ounce of willpower Mike had to not drop the man and take off running. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to stay alive and keep what was left of his sanity without his last living friend, though. He’d lost so much, and Jeff was all he had left. A familiar pang hit him in the gut and chest as memories of his wife and daughter hit him, as usual, at the worst possible time. The pain was less severe every time, but Mike suspected it would always be there, even if he lived through that day and a million more afterward. He tried to focus on the radio transmission. He’d committed it to memory, and he played it back in his mind to give him hope.
If anyone can hear this, if there’s anyone left, come to Frederick, Maryland and go to Fort Detrick. The United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is located there. It’s a secure place with weapons and enough food to last many people for a long time. The cure for the virus is there. Hope for the world is there.
It had been a recording playing on a loop. There’d been three of them then, and they listened to it four times before anyone was able to speak. After months without any sign of another living person, even a small glimmer of hope was enough to send them into a temporary state of shock. Danny had been the one to finally speak up. He wanted to go immediately, which surprised Mike. Danny had always been the one who seemed to want to give up and die the most. Mike didn’t like to rush into things, and had to be the voice of reason yet again. It could be a trap. It could be an old recording, the person who made it long dead just like everyone else. It was too far away. All of these things were true, but in the end, they decided that the risk was outweighed by even a very small chance for such a great reward. They were all starved and near death, anyway. Might as well die trying to make it than lie down and give up. They’d made it most of the way when they’d lost Danny in Hyattstown. Jeff got himself bit in Urbana, and Mike had used the last of his zombie bullets just inside the city limits of Frederick. There were still two in his pistol, but those weren’t for the ghouls.
Mike was so deep in thought that the Humvee was halfway to them before he finally noticed. For a second, he thought his mind and starvation were playing a very cruel trick on him. It was no mirage, though. They still had a shot. Jeff still had a shot. The cure for the virus is there. Hope for the world is there. Another peek over his shoulder. Twelve yards. Maybe thirteen. The Humvee was flying toward them, kicking up a dust storm. He screamed at Jeff to keep moving, that they were saved. He hoped that he wasn’t lying.
When he was ten yards away, the driver veered to the right and swung around, putting his vehicle between the horde and the survivors. He screamed through a cracked window for the men to get inside. Mike needed no such instruction. He already had the back door opened and was shoving Jeff inside. The horde hit the other side of the Humvee as he crawled in and weakly told the driver to go as he was shutting the door. The vehicle rocked from the force of so many bodies colliding with it at once. They began to crawl onto the Humvee and pound on the windows, but were thrown as the driver floored the accelerator and sped away. A few tried to hang on, but didn’t last long. When the dead had first begun to rise, they’d been strong and quick. With most of the humans gone, they’d become as starved and weak as Mike and Jeff. The only real strength that remained was their numbers.
Mike stared up at the beige headliner of the Humvee and tried to catch his breath. The adrenaline rush that had kept him going up to that point was wearing off quickly, leaving him with an exhaustion that weighed on him heavier than anything he’d felt since he’d lost his family. His eyes began to flutter and close.
“Hey!” the driver yelled without looking back at them. Mike’s eyes shot open. “Hey, no passing out back there just yet. Are either of you bit?”
“Jeff is. Been about five hours.”
“He still has some time, then,” the driver said as he pulled into a huge garage. Behind them, the door began to close. He handed Mike a bottle of water. The starved man looked at it for a few seconds as if it weren’t real.
“Thank you,” he finally said before taking a few small sips. He knew better than to guzzle the whole bottle down like every fiber of his being wanted to. Jeff had passed out, so he poured a little bit of the water in his mouth. “Thank you,” he repeated absently, wondering if he was dreaming, if they’d really made it to safety or his dimethyltryptamine-soaked mind was providing him a pleasant fantasy to distract him from the torturous death his body was going through at the hands and teeth of the undead. He got out of the Humvee and looked around. The garage was full of vehicles, but there were no other people there. “What is this place?”
The driver smiled. “They used to call it a biodefense facility, but that wasn’t entirely true. We did develop some countermeasures against biological weapons, but we made quite a few of our own here, as well.”
Mike raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Is this…”
“Yes,” the driver cut him off. “This is ground zero. This is where it all started. It wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did, of course. One of our scientists was so impressed with his own creation he decided to sneak it out of the lab and share it with the whole world. The rest is history, if that word applies to anything anymore.”
Mike was floored. He felt like he was standing in a place akin to Auschwitz or The Killing Fields, but somehow worse. Billions of people had died because of something that was created there. He didn’t know how many people, if any, were left. Last he’d heard, the war against the undead was being lost all over the world. Last he’d heard had been a long time ago. It occurred to him that Jeff didn’t have time for him to sit around and ponder the enormity of the situation.
“You can still help my friend, right? ‘The cure is here,’ that’s what the recording said. There’s plenty of food and water and we’re safe from them in here, aren’t we?”
“Yes. Your friend will get the cure, but I need to know some things first. Where have you come from? How many other people are out there? Have you seen any signs of communities or camps?”
Mike was incredulous. His friend was dying and this guy wanted to take a census instead of saving him. “Buddy, it’s a fucking wasteland out there. We came all the way here from Savannah through that fucking wasteland and didn’t see a thing except zombies and cockroaches. We had to eat a few of the cockroaches and thought about eating a zombie. It’s been months since I’ve seen even the slightest signs of life. For all I know, we’re the last three people on earth. Now please give Jeff the cure before we’re the last two people on earth!”
“Okay,” the driver said calmly. “That was all I needed to know. I have the cure right here for both of you.” He pulled a gun out of his jacket and fired. Mike fell back on the cool concrete floor, confused and in shock. He heard some footsteps and the gun fired again. More footsteps, and the driver stood over him, pointing the gun at his face. He looked past the man to a skylight over his shoulder. The sun was shining and the sky was bluer than ever. It was a beautiful day. The driver pulled the trigger.
Dr. Jenson looked at the gun in his hand and wondered how many were left. He’d had so few visitors in recent months. Could it be that they were all gone, like the man had said? Had he finally wiped the virus off the face of the earth? There really wasn’t any way for him to ever know. Someday, he’d just have to trust that his creation had done its job. Then, he could stick that gun in his mouth and deliver the final cure for the virus.