What Dad Taught Me
Fiction by David Smith
People are scarce now, especially grown ups. I’m alone, so I watch for them every day. I gotta be careful though, there’s howlers everywhere.
My Dad was a salesman. He used to sell guns, not the shit you get in Wal-Mart, top of the range stuff. He specialise in high velocity rifles, the sort hunters used, the one’s I use now.
It wasn’t the spores that got him. You won’t believe this. It was a banana skin. Mom kept nagging him to put them in the trash but he said they were bio-degradable, so wouldn’t do any harm. He’d been out jogging, just coming down our lane, slipped on the skin and fell under the wheels of a bus. Squashed his head. I was just coming home on my skateboard. I saw it. He still had a face but it was flat, like a cartoon. I miss him. He taught me how to survive. We used to go camping in the forest every summer since I was a kid, hunting our own food, skinning and cooking it, making every mouthful count. Thank God we did. That’s why I’m still alive.
The religious nuts that contaminated the water supplies really believed they were doing God’s work, helping folks get to paradise quicker. The President described the attackers as wicked and evil, but I don’t think so, misguided perhaps, wrong definitely, but not evil. If you’ve got religion you’re screwed. It’s a kind of madness itself, so I can’t blame them.
No one knew what was going on. People started to go crazy, acting like animals, hiding through the day, hunting in packs by night, just like in those Zombie films. By the time the government found out what was happening it was too late. Just about everyone was infected. I was lucky. I’d gone off to the woods for the summer, just like I used to when Dad was alive. I’d taken enough bottled water.
When I headed for home at the end of the summer break there were signs everywhere, ‘Don’t Drink The Water!’ Nobody was about to read them but me. I thought I was the only one left alive till it turned dark and I heard the howlers. They’re like the alpha-males. They howl like wolves when they’ve found food or made a kill. That brings the others along. I played safe, found a spot high in a tree and watched. Saw two howlers tear each other to pieces the first night. Boy, can they bite! When the fight was over the others came out of the shadows. I breathed real shallow till they’d all eaten and move along.
The spores are real resilient little suckers. You can’t nuke ‘em with Chlorine, UV light or filter them out. If you get them inside you, even just the one, it floats around in your blood till it reaches your brain, and hooks on real tight. Days later, when it’s fattened up, it bursts open, sending millions of microscopic parasites into your brain, munching away. You don’t last long, but before you die you go crazy, turn into one of those night creatures.
I didn’t think there was anyone else but me left uninfected in the town. I thought I had the run of the place to myself through the day. I know how to keep safe at night so I was bumping along okay. The howlers can’t climb. So, I’d built a cabin at the top of a tower, a radio mast. I could see the whole of the town from there. I could sleep safely, and during the day I could scavenge for supplies. I had everything I needed in my little fortress.
I’d set up this beacon at the top of the tower. Every day I’d burn a tyre in it, so it belched black smoke. You could see it for miles. If there was anyone left alive they couldn’t miss it.
So, one sunny afternoon I was sitting up there chewing on a bar of chocolate when something flashed in my eyes. I stood up and looked around at the ground below me. I saw where the light was coming from, a clump of bushes at the other side of the car park. Someone was trying to catch my attention, another survivor! I picked up my binoculars and scoured the area. There! A man, proper skin, not like a howler. He was flashing the mirror up towards my tower. He’d seen the smoke and had come to explore.
I stood up.
‘Hey!’ I waved my arms above my head.
‘You okay son?’ he hollered.
‘Hey, I’m great. Over here! There’s a ladder at the bottom. Come on up.’
He checked around him in case the noise of the shouting had drawn the attention of a howler. Stupid. The sun was still up high. So he crept out, and then stood up. He waved his arms above his head again as he walked across the car park. I guessed he was about thirty, in good condition, well nourished, no injuries. He was wearing a big baggy camouflage jacket and trousers and was carrying a rifle. He smiled up at me as he made his way across the car park.
I waited till he was half way across, well into the open before I popped him. It was a clean shot, straight through his head. He dropped like a stone. I left him a minute to see if he was still alive but he didn’t move, not a twitch. I climbed down the tower and slipped into the bushes at the base, circling the car park, and then I hunkered down. I breathed real shallow and stayed still, like Dad taught me. Sure enough, after about an hour the bushes moved the other side of the car park. Whoever was there hadn’t yet plucked up the courage to go see if his pal was still alive.
But I could see him now. I lifted my rifle and focused. It was a kid, a boy about ten years old. I popped him in the chest, a great shot from that distance. He exploded with an almighty blast, threw me onto my ass. When the dust settled I scuttled back to the tower, gathered my shit together and skedaddled. If they were a tribe they’d have heard the blast and come looking. Lately they’d started doing that, the tribes of survivors, making the kids wear suicide jackets just in case the howlers got them.
I moved through the woods to the other side of town where there was another tower just like the one I’d left. I could set up another trap.
With a bit of luck I’ll have cleared the town of any other survivors before winter sets in, so I can keep whatever’s left for myself. The thing is, when there’s a limited amount of food and water, you don’t want other suckers using it up, do you? That’s what Dad taught me. God bless you, Dad.