Curiosity. It’s played a part in my life since I first learned to read. What kept me turning to the next page was wanting to know how the story ended, wanting the full experience, to feel accomplished in having finished the story ahead of everybody else. Ego too, I suppose, wanting to feel better than the next kid. I never lost that sense of curiosity, or my sense of being better than the next guy, but it never really came to full fruition until after the outbreak. Death had always played a part in life, even if I never asked it to, rearing its sometimes ugly head and, more often than not, revealing something inside of me that I felt more comfortable denying than realising; morbid fascination.
Freaks like that typically don’t last long where I’m from. Doing violence back in the day wasn’t a daily reality but it wasn’t too far away from the mind either. Usually it was for a good reason, family, friends, honour, something that people usually get riled up over. Nowadays, people will kill you, rape your woman and slash your dog for just about anything, even looking at them the wrong way. That’s how this all started, way back when Alena was still alive and breathing. It was early days, barely a couple of months after the bulk of the military moved west, we met shortly after the outbreak began. We decided to help each other out, she was looking for somebody who turned up dead a month after we met, and I was looking to stay alive with someone to watch my back. Her being ex-CDF and me being… well, I didn’t have much to offer but I guess she took pity on some scrawny kid being on his own during the chaos of an epidemic. It was fortunate that she did too otherwise… well let’s just say I owed her a debt that could never be repaid, even if I lived a dozen lifetimes.
After we found her friend had turned into one of those things, the infected, something inside her changed. It was like she was getting used to the world as it is, rather than the world as it was. I think, for us both, this was the beginning of her little mentorship of me, teaching me basic survival skills, how to scavenge, how to shoot straight, how to muster up the will to shoot something else if it wants to kill me. Alena was tough, smart and reliable. Maybe a little on the rough side but who wouldn’t be after everything that had happened.
Another month passed, I was learning more every day, Alena kept saying I still had a lot to learn before I could be a reliable partner, and as it turns out, she was right. They came shortly after dark, while I was on watch, or supposed to be on watch. Waking up with the thud of my head against the floor, followed by Alena’s grunts as they subdued her, then a scream as shots cracked off in the room. Ears ringing, I went for my gun but felt a heavy boot crush my hand against the floor, then a colossal strength hauled me up and swiftly disarmed me. I was piled into the room, spotting a dead man on the floor, four more surrounding the now beaten and disarmed Alena, defying her to make another move with true hate in their eyes. It would seem that, even at the end, she was a fighter. One of the men, the leader I presumed, began to talk, threatening us with death, torture and, for her, he said he would have his men defile her one at a time until she was a broken mess, then they would kill her.
That was their mistake and how I escaped. Alena knew it was unlikely that she would escape, though the same could not be said for me, as all of the men had their attention focused on her. With just one look as her farewell to me, while the grating voice of the talking man continued in the background, she shot up and snatched a pistol from the talker’s belt. Before she could even fire, shots were lit off, some of the men even hit each other, but it was just enough time for me to escape out the door and down the stairs. With nothing to my name and infected closing in on the house, I bolted through the front door and out into the night, sprinting as quickly as I could into the trees, not looking back even when the shots stopped.
Never seeing those men or Alena again wasn’t as harrowing as you’d think. I felt guilt, obviously, but in truth even if I had been awake I doubt we’d have been able to resist those men. There were so many of them and only two of us. Even though she was lost to me, in truth, I think her death was the most valuable lesson she could have taught me. Strength alone, which she had in abundance, was not enough to survive. The will to be brutal, the will to act and commit violence are what separate the weak from the strong now. Those men killed her and nearly killed me because they were brutal, vicious and more accustomed to how things are now than either of us had been.
I’m not certain of what the next day will bring, or if I will even be alive by the end of it, but I am sure that whatever the outcome is, it’ll be another lesson on post-outbreak life.