There’s something about the stench of rotting flesh. You can get used to almost anything else. I had a friend whose cat pissed on everything—every single day, that cat would piss on a chair, or up against a wall, or hell, just in the middle of the goddamn floor. The stench was incredible. If you went to visit him, you could smell it in the hallway when you got off the elevator. Going into his apartment you would hold your breath, gag, try to breathe through your mouth, anything to avoid smelling the air. But he never smelt a damn thing. He was completely oblivious, and if anybody ever said anything, he’d look at them like they were nuts. The fact is that if, for whatever reason, you had to spend a couple of hours there, you’d start to forget about it too. Your nose would just gradually adjust, as if the air had always smelt of cat piss. But flesh, human flesh rotting is something entirely different. It permeates everything, just like the cat piss, but it never goes away. You smell it all the time. It fills your mouth—you can feel it on the back of your tongue when you breathe, taste it, practically see it in the air. It’s everywhere. Not particularly helpful then—before there were so many of them it worked almost like a warning. You could smell them coming before you could see them, before you could even hear them moan. But as their numbers grew, the smell grew too. Now it’s everywhere, even if you’re alone. There isn’t one for miles, so far as I can tell, and I can still smell it. It’s like the world is rotting with them.
Jim succumbed to the infection last week. I never even noticed they got him—almost didn’t realize he was infected until it was too late. Still don’t understand why the bastard didn’t tell me: none of us wanted to end up like that. I ended it when the fever took over. Dumped the body off the roof. So that’s the last of us. I’m the last of us.
I’ve started talking to the monkeys. Nice thing about being trapped in a biodome—even if I’m the last human alive, at least I’m not the only animal in here. If the things were any bigger they’d probably be dangerous, but as it is they mostly stay out of my way, clambering around high above me, chattering furiously. I guess they’ll die when the generator goes, when the reality of a Canadian winter finally sets in. Poor little buggers. I feel like I should find some way to save them, or at least to put them out of their misery. I guess we’re all as fucked as each other. Some of the animals are saveable—I could break the skylights in most of the other habitats, at least let the birds escape. Can’t really see any way to help the land animals, though, and the sea creatures are super fucked. The predators will finish off their food supply and then gradually starve to death. I wonder if that’ll happen to the things outside. Somehow I can’t imagine them starving to death. But what are they going to do when there are no more humans? Maybe they’ll die, really die, as soon as the last of us does. Or maybe they’ll just wander the earth, mindless, purposeless and hungry until they finally rot away. With enough supplies, in the right place, we might even outlast them. But I’m not in the right place, and I sure as hell don’t have enough supplies. I can’t even catch the fish in the ocean habitat—as a matter of fact, I’m kind of scared of them. The fruit in the tropical enclosure will only last so long, and we exhausted the crappy sandwich supply from the café a week ago. The plan wasn’t long-term survival. The plan was to come to the biodome, hang out for a couple of days in a comfortable and attractive environment, and then get picked up by rescue helicopters by noon on the third day. But the rescue helicopters seem to have missed the memo, and the radio’s picking up nothing but emergency signals and static—I’m on my own here.
I’ve been sleeping in the security office since Jim died: I was in there last night, fast asleep—or as fast asleep as I ever get these days—when the motion sensors went off. It’s lucky the generator’s still up; it’s the only warning system I’ve got. I switched on the security monitors as I loaded my handgun. Only three shots left. Not like I’m going to find more ammo any time soon. The enclosures were dark, simulating night in the animals’ natural habitats. I squinted, peering intently at each screen and checked that the security office’s door was locked. There was movement in the tropical habitat. Shit. I hoped there was only one of them. I grabbed a flashlight from the equipment cupboard—no sense leaving it until morning. Might as well deal with it while I knew exactly where it was. I turned the lock with exaggerated care, and waved the flashlight’s beam in a wide arc across the foyer. Empty as I’d left it. I edged along, pressing my back to the wall as I went, holding the gun and the large, heavy flashlight out in front of me. At least if I ran out of bullets I could use it as a weapon. I just wished I were a better shot. A dark, slippery trail wound its way into the tropical habitat—one of the thing’s legs must be dragging behind it. It was barefoot, but only one of the feet left proper, human-looking prints: beside it there was just an extended drag mark, shining a dark brownish red in my flashlight’s glow. The smell intensified as I stepped towards the curtain between me and the door to the jungle. I tasted bile at the back of my throat—can’t complain, though. It sure as hell tasted better than that smell. I thought of the old-fashioned plague masks, long-beaked and featureless, full of flowers and herbs to cover the scent of death and disease, and I wished that I had one now. What do they say about wishes and horses? I swallowed hard and stepped through the curtain, pushing open the door, listening intently for the tell-tale moan. That was the only advantage we had with these things: they never come at you silently.
I heard a moan off to my left, and turned, shining the light along the walkway. Damnit—where the hell was this thing? I held the gun out in front of me, aiming along the flashlight’s beam. I could hear the moaning, closer now, and I shivered as every hair on my body stood to attention. Where the fuck was it? Another moan, to my left again —but there wasn’t anything to my left. It was off the walkway. I heaved a sigh of relief. Holy crap. The damn thing had fallen straight into the crocodile enclosure. I held my flashlight close to my face, staring down its beam until I saw a croc’s eyes glowing red, half-concealed in the water—it held the creature clamped tightly between its jaws. As I watched the croc leapt upwards, muscles rippling as it tossed its head back, prey still firmly in its grasp, ripping off bite-sized chunks of the thing’s rotting flesh. Its strength was incredible. Its sense of smell must have been non-existent. The light attracted the once-human thing’s attention—it looked up at me and reached out, its hands opening and shutting uselessly. There was nothing left behind those eyes. The croc lashed upwards again and the thing’s head snapped back, bones shattering as it was flung upwards again. Below its waist, its legs were a mangled ruin. The croc dropped it into the shallow water and dug its teeth into the creature’s torso, writhing furiously, ripping its head from side to side to pull out the thing’s innards. I gagged, spitting bile over the railing. The creature reached down, pushing at the croc’s head uselessly, mouth opening and shutting as its intestines were pulled out, a long, tangled rope, pale and malodorous. Jesus. Poor fucker. I couldn’t even tell if it had been a man or a woman. Who were you? I thought as I stared into its uncomprehending eyes. I remembered the last meal I had shared with Jim—we’d been trying to remember all the best lines from Ghostbusters, laughing and arguing over what they would have done in this situation. I raised my gun, aiming carefully at the thing’s head. I squeezed the trigger slowly, exhaling, but the croc reared up suddenly, ripping another chunk out of its stomach, and the bullet slammed uselessly into the earth. High above me, the monkeys screamed and chattered as sound of the shot echoed through their woods. Birds screeched in surprise, taking to the air.
“Fuck,” I muttered. As if I could afford to waste ammo like this. Still, I took aim again. I counted slowly in my head as I stared down into the thing’s ruined face. One. Two. Three. I fired. Its head snapped back as the bullet shattered its skull seconds before the croc tossed it into the air again. I stood for a moment, listening to the offended cries of the animals, the splashing of the water as the croc enjoyed its meal. A bead of sweat rolled down my neck. Then, watching the shadows around me carefully for movement, I walked back to the security office and locked the door behind me. I flicked the monitors on again, staring at each in its turn, over and over again, until the hum of electricity lulled me into a fitful sleep.
When I woke up, the monitors showed the bright, warm light of early fall spilling into the foyer. I picked up my gun and took the heavy flashlight for backup as I patrolled the dome, checking each door and window. How the hell had that thing gotten in here? Glass crunched under my feet as I rounded a corner. Shit. One of the massive windows stood before me, utterly shattered—how could I not have heard it? How the hell was I supposed to fix it? How the hell was I supposed to fix any of this? My shoulders slumped—I was suddenly filled with a strange sense of relief. There really was nothing I could do now. No haven to wait in, no rescue forthcoming. They would get in.
I’ve been sitting here for a couple of hours. One of the tamarins came down pretty close, and I’ve been having a chat with him. Cute little guy. I wish I could do more for him. I climbed around in each of the habitats, smashing windows, opening up vents. Nearly broke my neck—cut my hand pretty badly, too. Most of the birds have flown out already. The monkeys are good climbers—I’ll bet they could get out, too, but I don’t know where they would go. Hell, maybe they’ll head south. I’d say they’ve got about a month before the first frost. How fast do monkeys move, anyway? I don’t know. It’s just nice to think they might get out of this alive.
My stomach is aching a bit—it’s been a while since I ate this much, even if I did share half with the animals. I ate all of the fruit I’d collected over the past couple of days. No more supplies now: no going back. The light through the smashed window is incredibly bright, lancing down through the thick canopy above me. The air is still warm and wet, but for once I don’t think I can smell them. Everything is fresh and green and alive. I can still hear the birds calling to each other, squawking and flapping high above. It’s a little weird to see them all mixed together like this—huge blue macaws and pink ibises, little grey and black catbirds and bright bluebirds from the Laurentians, black guillemots and king eiders from the arctic habitat, all flying around at once. Makes me laugh. It’s such a beautiful day that I could almost believe the past few weeks have been nothing but a dream. But I guess I’m in luck: I’ve got one bullet left.
Tessa J. Brown
© 2011, Tessa J. Brown