The Last Of Them

In an unknown city in the United Kingdom, a man lives by himself in an ancient, scenic city. An ancient, scenic city decimated by a fungal infection which has destroyed humanity as he knows it.

In the man's past is trauma and horror. The loss of family and friends and everyone he could ever think of meeting. Yet more importantly, in his past is the secret to where the world-ending Cordyceps fungus originated.


5. V.

Neville walked through several streets into the labyrinth of the city’s North side. Every street looked identical in the green smog.


He thought he heard something in the distance. A high pitched roar. He worried some people in advanced stages of infection may be lurking in the neighbourhood.


This was the farthest he had ranged in his scavenging runs. He left a white napkin on the door of his most recent conquest. In each building he usually found at least a cupboard of collected bits; packets of stale pasta, tins of baked beans or chopped tomatoes, tinned fruit if he was lucky.


As he picked up the napkin, and turned to walk to the next building in the tenement block, he heard the roar again, and as he turned to look into the green darkness of the street, it suddenly lit up, as if a beacon of light from a lighthouse was cast around the next corner.


A car charged out of the darkness towards him, its headlights on full-beam bursting light into the back of his eyeballs.


Before he knew what to think- the first normal individual he had seen in four years?- he realized too late the car was charging at him. Its front tire crashed up onto the curb, and nearly collided side-on with the building wall. Neville was directly in its path. In the sporecloud, it was impossible to tell how far away the car was or how quickly it was approaching.


Before he could realise how quickly it was moving, the bonnet slammed into his knees, breaking them both backwards. He was thrown, bent double, forwards into the windscreen. Up close he could see it was a Land Rover, a Jeep. The vehicle’s relentless movement cast him over its roof, and he fell sideways onto the sidewalk behind it. It stopped for a moment past him. Neville wondered, blood pumping from his broken legs and smashed nose, if the driver was realising what he or she was doing. Did they just realise they hit an uninfected person with a gas mask on? A survivor they should band with, a survivor they could increase their chances and share knowledge with?


When he raised his head to turn and look at the car, Neville realised his gas mask was off. He was breathing in spores. They tasted like pumpkin seeds. They stuck to his tongue. He tried to refrain from swallowing them, but couldn't; they were already in the back of his throat.


Dread seeped into him, beginning with his toes like when one steps in a too-deep puddle, and in a moment the emotion swept into his chest and clogged it. No matter what happened, the next seven or eight hours would be his last before he started feeling migraine-like pain and feelings of aggravation. Before his mind would start numbing into a pattern of aggression and energy and confusion. Within a day he would be an aggressive, sprinting retard, looking for any living or dead thing to tear apart. The fungus would be eating his frontal lobe. In a year, it would have grown out of his eyeballs. Within several years, his head would be mostly fungus, and he would navigate by a high pitched clicking noise, like a cricket rubbings its legs.


His next six hours were precious, no matter what his end would be.


The car’s white reverse lights lit up.


It reversed at him and turned slightly so that its back tire aligned with his chest.


The tire crushed his chest and he felt his ribcage crumple and he felt his lungs and bronchial system squeeze up his throat and out of his face. His eyes and mouth and nose and ears burst out with blood and his fingernails fell off.


He watched himself and saw the tubes of blood from his eye sockets turn yellow. They became yellow stalks streaked with red and white. The fountain of blood which was his head congealed into a mushroom like pus-coloured sponge.


A wheezed breath emanated from his shroom-shrouded lips: 'Bronwyn, please.'


Neville Mason wakes up.


He is lying on his back. It takes him a moment to realise he is in the garden behind the penthouse. Consciousness comes slowly and painfully. The dream is the first he has ever had in the last four years. He wonders why he hadn't had one yet. His head aches. He lifts it slightly, and groans, before abruptly holding his breath.


Through the lenses of the gas mask, he can see figures in front of him. A spore cloud is still residing over the garden, making the greens of grass and overgrown weeds look like a rainforest floor. The figures walking in the garden are all around him, shuffling slowly and snapping their heads from side to side. They are infected people. Infected years before. He tries to figure out how he ended up lying in his garden surrounded by advanced infected- who can’t see him with their sound clicks as long as he remains stationary.


At least his gas mask is still on.


He looks at his penthouse and sees, in its place, rubble. It is almost completely gone. His and Bronwyn’s house, attached on the right hand side, had fallen in on top of it. He could see their bedroom, exposed. The paled wallpaper and dust-coated furniture. The spores are all over it now.


Neville recalls his last trip.


It went as he dreamed; albeit without the homicidal car and death which still wrenched his guts at the thought. He had reached the furthest house in his travels, and scavenged it. It wasn’t particularly fruitful. There was a lot of rotting fruit which he could taste through his gas mask. He found several tins of food which he cling filmed and put into his rucksack. He returned home with a half-full rucksack, and set about sterilising it in the back of the basement. He lit a candle and, bothered again by the damp stench, went to find it.


He found out what the damp stench was.

In the corner of the basement's back room stood several cannisters of paraffin. He knew the chemical liquid inside by its actual name: kerosene. Hunting around behind them he saw that one of the cannisters was corroded, rusted brown and cracked. From the bottom of the crack liquid slowly seeped. He looked at his feet and saw it all around him.

'Good christ,' he had spoken aloud, 'Ged, Bronwyn, get everyone out.' Yet, once he had said the words he realised who he had addressed. The loss struck him anew. Once more, he remembered that he was alone. The agony shot from his heart to his head, and more importantly, from his heard to his hand. He dropped the candle. 

Lying on his back in the garden he shuts his eyes. Memories relived had nearly skilled him. The sprint outside had been frantic. The explosion toppled most of the house; luckily, not onto his thrown body. And obviously, it had also drawn any still-living infected individuals to his location. His head aches, he must have been struck by flying debris and fragment.

Neville remains silent where he lies, surrounded by stumbling figures, but begins to shiver. I'm in shock, he thinks, yet the thought didn't help the fact. From inside the gas mask his face suddenly feels constricted. He struggles not to shout and tear it off. The spores around him have thinned, but green orbs still float about. Very slowly, he sits up and looks around. A single noise or quick movement and he will be set upon in moments by the figures who surround him. 

He counts seven of them. Judging from scrabbling and crumbling sounds behind the wrecked house, there may be more searching. Who knows how many. 

Neville figures his only hope is the car. His back garden wall is high and cement. Impenetrable. 

Slowly, slowly, he turns and climbs to a squatting position. A dizzy spell nearly sends him sprawling. To his fortune, none of the infected are facing his way. He slowly creeps towards the garden lane to see if the lane is in any way intact. It isn't. His only route is across the rubble. A noise-making endeavour. 

His only option was distraction. He scours the ground near the rubble for an object to throw against the back wall. There is nothing of use: hunks of granite too large, or small crumbled brick too small which falls apart as he grabs at them. Suddenly he hears a click over his shoulder. A slow building crackle of mandible vibration. 

He turns and immediately behind him stands an infected woman. The fungus has burst the top of her head open, a yellow flowering red-streaked rubbery substance. Half of her jaw hangs, with teeth and a lolling tongue hanging left out of where he mouth was. Bits of her neck and shoulders have been pushed outwards; her breasts are exposed where a dress has fallen, now hanging double from her waist. 

Less than half a yard away, Neville squats as still as a paused video image. From behind the gas mask lenses his eyes stare, opened wide in terror. He tries not to breathe.

The woman's head suddenly tilts to one side. The hole which her tongue emanates from emits the sound he fears; Neville imagines an angry rattlesnake sat inside her ribcage. Her head tilts quickly to the other side like a confused dog. One shoulder lurches forwards towards Neville, who very slowly takes another step towards the demolished building. The woman mirrors his step.

Neville's slow salsa of stealth continues for several seconds. The infected woman's sound clicks must be clocking his position. He sees, by his knees at last, the first reachable piece of throwable rubble, his godsend.

 It is a plank. A short wooden plank, the bottom of it sodden with dirt.

He notices four more of them nearby. One is snapped in half. He gasps. The memories come and his chest knots; but he ignores it. In one quick movement he throws the small stick in his hand against  the wall of the lane to his side. 

The woman's bones crack and groan as she wrenches her frame around, and a thousand clicks burst from her head as she lurches towards the stick's crash against the wall. She bends and scrabbles against the weedy corner where the stick lies. Her red mottled hand brushes against the short plank repeatedly. Neville watches for a moment, crouch-walking slowly onwards. He looks the other way, hearing several more clicks and working limbs. The whole garden of hazy figures shuffle, contorting towards the lane wall. 

Neville collects the other sticks. He lobs one of them over the crowd of infected. It crashes against the back garden wall. A thousand more clicks. The horde swing towards the end of the garden.  

Neville scales the crumbled building clutching his stack of planks. He half sobs. Every several awkward steps over wooden shrapnel and dusty broken stone, he has to stop to check he isn't being followed by the infected.

At the top of his ruined home he finds that the tidal wave of spores is finally passing by. The street is clearer. Patches of sunlight sweep across the street. His mood momentarily improves, he can see the car; until he notices them. 

The infected. Swathes of them. Swarming over the street. His car remains untouched. One man bent forward, shuddering with each outburst of clicks, stands nearby. 

Neville looks at the planks in his arms. He sits back on a small outcrop of slate roofing which had fallen straight downwards from the roof which once covered his head. He remembers burying them. He remembers that he couldn't do anything, couldn't construct a proper grave. So he made use of planks which Ged had stacked up for making a garden conservatory. It seemed fitting.

He sat atop the ruinous outcrop and broke the planks over his knees. One of them was already broken. He didn't know which one was which.

Once all were split, he lay them out in front of him on the slates. 

One by one, he picked them up, and with vehemence driven from his soul, he cast them down the street at a pair of parked cars. The split planks clattered against the cars and landed on the road. One after the other, he threw them. As the whole street of anthropods turned with one movement, and the clicking was so loud that Neville had to clutch his head. They all stumbled away from Ged and Doris' house down the street. Neville slid down the last of the rubble to the street, and reached his car.    

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