This Is Not A Test
2009 Tag(s): "short story" horror zombie
HICKS WOKE slowly, wiping the crud from his eyes, his limbs leaden, and his brain slow anduncomprehending.? Water ran in the distance and it took him a couple of minutes to recognisethe sound.? The shower.? His eyes took in the rumpled sheets next to him, the depression in thepillow.? He let the fan blow cooling air across his naked torso for a few moments.? It helpedhim think.?? She had stayed the night again.? That much was clear.? He ran a hand across hisstomach and chest, winced as he grazed the raw skin there.? She had done more than stay thenight.? He laughed and allowed himself to doze away his hangover, sounds of traffic wafting inwith the breeze.
He woke again as the smell of cooking bacon drifted through his apartment.? For him.? He knewshe wouldn’t eat it.? She never would.? Not now.? The bitter aroma of coffee mingled with thebacon and it was enough to rouse him and make him join her in the kitchen.?
‘Good morning,’ she said, as she saw him.? She looked good this morning, really good, andHicks, although he knew he would have to tell her soon, was content to keep quiet for one moreday.
‘Morning,’ he replied, lifting a steaming coffee to his lips, burning away the last of hishangover.? ‘How were your dreams?’
It was a joke between the two of them.? She dreamt often and vividly, remembering the minutiaefor days, treating them like they were prophetic.? She had dreamt him into being, she said, andhad dreamt their life together.? She had told him this after their second night together.?What
he had asked.???You’ll see, she had answered.? He had been disturbed and flattered inlife?
equal measure and told her so.? She had laughed at him and his insecurities.?
‘Good,’ she replied now, looking over her shoulder at him.? ‘As always.’
As he looked at her smile, and the way her buttocks swelled against the cotton of his shirtthat she always wore after showering, he thought to himself, Damn but it’s going be tough to
He ate the bacon and fried mushrooms that she heaped onto his plate.?
‘Are you having some?’ he asked, knowing her reply before she did.? The fact that he had timeto phrase the reply in his head before hearing it from her worried him.
‘I just don’t feel hungry.’? This, accompanied with another smile that looked forced, with aslight furrowing of her brow, as if she knew she should have some other response for him, butjust couldn’t phrase it.
He took a second cup of coffee out to the balcony that overlooked the city to the south.? Thesun was high by now, beating a sweltering path down through the high trees that flanked hisapartment.? In the distance, where the sky met the horizon, there was sufficient gap in thebuildings to see the ocean.? He wasn’t near enough to hear it, but could imagine theinsistent, soothing lapping on the beach, fancied he could smell the salt in the air and the
faint tang of fish scales and sweat from the fishing boats.? He was near enough, however, to
see the hordes of looters that raided the beachfront houses, left vacant and desolate by theoutbreak.?
Most of these looters moved with speed, but there were a number, more each day, Hicks noticed,that paraded the slow lolling shamble that generalised those infected.? They still had theirwits however, and more than once he had seen fights break out among the infected and the clean,with equal winners in both camps.? Of course, the infected were far more successful at theirrecruiting, and in the last few days, Hicks had seen a marked increase in the distance keptbetween the two camps.? Both sides were getting smarter, it seemed.? The fact that there wereany sides at all worried Hicks, but not so much that he lost sight of his aim.? Remain on the
the winning side.? Be there when the infected were no more.? It would bewinning side, become
his biggest challenge, his greatest victory.? He could be a hero.?
He felt that he was being tested, had felt it all his life.? This was yet another test for him.? Ride out this infection, do not succumb to it, protect those he cared about.? He had no ideawho was setting these tests for him, but he knew one thing.? When he succeeded, he would beamong the elite.? One in a thousand.? One in a million, perhaps.
The news channels and the papers all spewed hyperbole, reassuring readers and watchers alikethat the infected were non threatening, that there were medical stations located no more thanfifty miles from any citizen that would be able to deal with anything the outbreak had tooffer. The fact that the numbers of infected seemed to be increasing either meant that theseclaims were false, or that the infected had neither the wits nor the inclination to visit them.? They played down the reports coming in that the infected were violent, uncontrolledcriminals, intent on nothing more than causing damage and finding stuff to eat and steal.? Theymade no mention whatsoever of the report that had been played on a local radio station thatpurported to detail an infected killing a reporter and then eating him.? He looked over at thelooters in the distance, and wondered just how gullible the papers and the TV people reallythought he was.? No matter, it was just another demand among the thousands already placed uponhim.
Hicks scratched his stubble and swallowed the dregs of his coffee.? He rose and turned to enterthe house. He stopped when he saw her in the kitchen, head bowed, swaying slightly as if onunsteady legs.? He saw her raise a hand to her mouth and swipe it across angrily as if she werewiping drool.? She heard his footsteps and turned to him.? The smile on her face broke hisheart.? She was trying so hard, and it made the hairs on his arms prickle.? It would have to betoday.? He would have to tell her.
‘I need a shower,’ she said, and he mentioned nothing of the shower she had already taken.?He nodded slowly, and smiled at her.?
‘I’ll join you,’ he said, walking towards her, holding his hands to her.? She grasped atthem, grateful for their strength, and kissed him on the lips. Her lips were cool and dry, asthey had always been, and she smelled of shampoo and sunlight.? They showered and loved andslept the day away as the warm breeze explored his apartment.
The dusk came with fitful unease.? It came with the sounds of crashing glass and car horns andthey woke to the ever encroaching sound of shuffling feet.? Hicks stood on the balcony, coffeein hand, his memories with the afternoon.? His thoughts now, however, were fully fixed on thescene in front of him.? There were crowds of people milling across the main road in front ofhis building.? They stretched right back to the ocean, although Hicks could not be sure whetherthey were filling up from the ocean side, or just accumulating and swelling in numbers at thisside. He was too far up to see, but there seemed to be no clean among them as far as he couldtell.? Even now, however, fully two weeks into the infections, they were moving deliberately,with thought and without too much noise.? They were nothing like the stories you heard.? Yet.?The noises that could be heard, Hicks presumed, were from the panicking clean population making
their escape.? He was fine for them to be there as long as none turned their gaze his way.? Hetrusted in his Government when it told him there was help coming for those affected and so hewas mildly content to drink his coffee and watched the crowd increase like a Petri dish ofmagnified bacteria.
She came up behind him and clasped her arms about his waist.? She spoke, but he understood nota word of it.? Alarmed, he turned to her and was shocked by the look in her eyes.? It wasvacant.? He dropped his coffee and the sharp crack seemed to rouse her.? She blinked rapidlyand pressed her face into his bare chest.? ‘Hi,’ she whispered.??
‘You OK?’ he asked, his voice dry and cracked.? He felt her nod against him.?
Are you really? ?was the question he didn’t ask.
‘There is something I want to tell you,’ he started, keeping her pressed to him, unable orunwilling to see her face as he spoke.? ‘I think you are… ’ Here he stopped, the wordscatching in his throat like a fish bone.? She caught his eye, and held his gaze, testing him,challenging him, daring him to finish.
He failed this test.? ‘Beautiful,’ he finished.? His head dropped to rest on hers, and shetightened her grip on him.
The infected.? One day they were fully sentient but mindless scavengers, wanting nothing morethan to find food and shelter.? Crowding like animals on the African plain.? Shuffling like themachines they were, but essentially harmless.?
And now.? He steeled himself now as he looked down onto the crowd.? The night had wrought adevastating change.? Half of those he had seen from the previous day lay dismembered anddestroyed on the ground.? The remainder feasted upon them, sounds of tearing and sucking fleshmingling with their growls and senseless yammering.? Even from this distance, Hicks could seethe rot that infested their bodies, skin turned grey, eyes and ears leaking fluids, fleshsloughing from their bodies like the pulp from a ripe fruit.
‘Ride it out, Hicks,’ he whispered.? ‘This is the final test.? Ride it out.’
He turned on the TV and there was nothing but static.? The radio hissed at him.? It seemed thenewscasters had got it all horribly wrong.? A noise behind him flushed him with cold fear andhe turned to face it, eyes shut.? He drew a deep breath, bringing with it the smells of rot anddespair that flooded the air.
‘Ride it out,’ he said to himself. And opened his eyes.
‘Dah linnn, dor.’ the thing said.??
‘Ahhh,’ he moaned, dropping to his knees.? ‘Why didn’t I tell you? I should have told you,baby.? We could have beaten this thing.’
She cocked her head, and a portion of loose skin slid down her cheek.? She batted it away.?With her arms held out in front of her, she edged toward him, the shirt that she still woreriding high on her thighs.? Her legs were blue and grey and running with black fluid.? Her feetdragged as she walked, loose jointed and turned to pulp.? A sickening trail of ichor fanned outbehind her.
He backed off, shaking his head.? It couldn’t end here.? He couldn’t let this thing win.? Herushed at her suddenly, stopping as she tore the shirt open, revealing her naked torso.? A boneshowed through her chest.? Skin and flesh lay ruined upon her.? He screamed and renewed hischarge.? He hit her at full speed and knocked her off her feet.? She emitted a wail that waslike nothing he had ever heard.? He backed off, clamping his ears shut against the sound.? Shefell backwards and her head burst as it hit the ground.? The wailing stopped, and the floorbehind her was disguised with acres of greying brain and blood and skull fragments.? He wassick suddenly, the acrid bile adding to the stench in the apartment.? Tears flooded down his
cheeks.? He sank to his knees again, crawled slowly towards her corpse.
‘Not a test, not a test, not a test,’ he murmured, beating his palms against the sides of hishead.? ‘What have I done?’
It was only then, as he reached the body and saw past it, that he saw the door to the apartmentstood open.? Had she opened it? Was she offering him escape, was that what she trying to tellhim? It mattered little what scenario he created, for the door was open and the wailing,muttering insanities that edged closer down the corridor outside were the only reality.
He stood to face his end, smiling as he prepared to meet the one who he felt had foreverchallenged him.? As the first grasping hands clamped wetly on him, he saw his life boiled downintimately to this one final test.? He would not give in.? He would not.
Hicks shut his eyes, knowing he had passed.
From the same author onFeedbooks
In a forest not far from here, against a backdrop of gently rolling streams and dappledmoonlight, a feathery fairy tale is unfolding. Ultimately it goes to prove that you shouldn’tbelieve everything you were told as a child.
From Darkness, They Came (2009)
Darkness is a venerated and much revered Prophet. He is also only human. On the eve of imminentalien contact, one that could decide the fate of all life on Earth, it is his responsibility toread the future, and perhaps prevent catastrophe. What he sees will change everything.
I Am The Box (2009)
A man wrestles with madness and reality and discovers Hell is not quite what he expected. Init, he finds friends and pain and ultimately, his calling.
Things You Should Know (2009)
What if the next virus outbreak that threatens populations wasn’t flu? What if it wassomething else, something hungrier?
Grains Of Bone-White Sand (2009)
A homeless man questions his fate and his life. He thinks he finds the answer in the gleam of aknife edge, but fate has a final surprise for him
The Brothers Of Abraham (2009)
A story of competition, love and death within a brotherhood. When does sacrifice becomenecessity for the survival of a species? There can be only one...
The Ladder (2009)
A ladder to another world appears. A young boy becomes fascinated with the possibilities. Whatfollows is inevitable. A story of horrifying loss and of faith and belief.
A man faced with the theft of his mortality has a choice. Accept the gift thrust upon him, orreject it, whatever the cost.
Quaid's Millions (2009)
How much money is enough to lose your morals? George Sutherland is posed that question, and tohis horror, he finds that even he has his price.
Food for the mind