06 September 2014
Varun stopped his motorcycle in front of the shuttered clinic and squinted at his fuel gauge. Soon, he will have to refuel it. But that can wait, for more important errands needed to be completed first. He removed his knapsack and placed it on the ground. From his saddle bag, he removed a straight sword - a broad black flat blade, and strapped it to his back. He then pulled out a bolt-cutter and a crowbar. He looked around and made a note of his surroundings. It needed to be done quietly and quickly, he thought as he walked firm footed to the shutters, it was already past mid-noon and I have a long way to go.
In front of the shop, he stopped abruptly, the lock was broken, someone had been here before him. He could just walk away, but it needed to be done. He dropped the bolt-cutter, and jammed the crowbar between the shutter and the concrete threshold. He carefully pulled out his sword and gripped it in both hands. His palms were sweaty, and he licked his salty upper lip. He took a step back and kicked the impromptu lever created by the crowbar. The shutter rattled up and stopped at his chest height. Gandmaraya.
The entrance had been blocked with a signboard and several carton boxes. Someone had tried to barricade himself there. Varun took a few more steps back and dropped onto his haunches. He tried to peer into the shop, but with the sun behind the shop and glaring into his eyes, the interior of the shop was pitch-black. “Hello? Is there anyone in there?”, he inquired in a loud voice, but not daring to shout. An old tattered newspaper rolled past in the brief breeze, bringing a slight relief from the scorching heat. But, no response came from the shadows.
Getting impatient, Varun continued, “I am coming in, okay? I am not infected or a mutant, I swear.” That was a lie. Okay, a half-lie. He took a step forward. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.” He really hoped he would be able to keep that promise. He took a few tentative steps forward. Now, he was standing in the shadow of the shop’s awning. The shadow was growing longer every minute. Then, it will be dark and it will no longer be safe.
Some shuffling sounds came from inside the shop, Varun tensed up. But, he relaxed slightly seeing that the boxes were being moved out of the way and a shape, darker than the shadows, was moving towards him slowly. He began to speak, “Hello there, is it okay if I...” His request was cut short by a shrill shriek. The dark shape darted at him with inhuman speed. He brought down his sword, as fast as he could, but he missed the timing. The zombie impaled itself on the long blade.
The length of the blade kept the flailing arms from reaching Varun. But, he would have preferred a blow to the head or neck. There was a black viscous fluid oozing slowly from the shoulder of the creature, where the sword had pierced it. Varun looking the creature, deduced that he was one of the hunters who had been caught with his pants down. A gun hung from the zombie’s belt, now completely ignored. The man must been chased down by a pack and bitten. Then, he had probably crawled in there, hidden inside and turned.
Varun looked around to find a way out. The shadow had moved and engulfed several more feet in the past few minutes. Varun tried to pull back, the sword held in front of him. But, the zombie shuddered and his grasping fingering came precariously close to Varun’s face. Varun stood there and saw that the zombie was impaling itself deeper onto the sword, immune to pain. Soon, the sword’s point would be sticking out from the zombie’s back and Varun would be within its reach.
Looking around for resources, Varun saw the unused long-handled bolt-cutter lying at his feet. He slowly bent down, the black fluid flowed down the sword’s length, wetting his had. He reached down, grabbed the bolt-cutter and stood up. The sword was now held in the left hand, trembling from the movements of the mindless zombie, and the right hand held the bolt-cutter. Both hands slick and smelly with the blackness, that was not blood.
Varun grunted and pushed the shrieking zombie back left-handed with the sword. The shriveled and starved zombie staggered back. Varun began to walk backwards rapidly. The zombie lurched at him. Varum aimed and threw the bolt-cutter at its head. The projectile made impact with its target, making a wet thud, more fluid flew into air, black as bitumen and thick as treacle. The creature went down. Varun turned and ran for the sunlight.
Gripping the sword in both hands, he wheeled around. The zombie was already on his feet, staggering jerkily towards Varun. Varun stood firmly and hunched, ready to strike. The bolt cutter had left an ugly wound in the middle of the creature’s forehead, from which more tarry fluid was oozing. The zombie launched itself at the Varun with a few feet left between them. Varun swung the sword catching it midair at its neck. This time though it did not get up, but it tried to keep crawling towards the whiff of fresh meat.
Varun walked out of the reach of the quivering hands and swung at the prone figure. He keep swinging and hacking, splashing the black tar on the white dry dust. The zombie kept trying to catch the man, turning this way and that, dragging itself on the dirt, spilling more black ooze. Varun keep sidestepping the grasps and hacking until he was sure that the zombie would not get up again. Varun thought of burning the corpse to be sure, but there was no time. The sun will be setting soon.
Varun wiped his sword on the zombie’s coat. He walked to the threshold with the sword in front of him. He waited a second to let his eyes adjust to the dusty gloom and stepped inside. There was old cartons lying in the alleys. The shelves were toppled and there were broken glass bottles and ampoules on the floor. Varun sighed and began hunting for supplies using the list provided by Shreya.
The glass barriers at the counters were shattered and stained with dried blood. The cash registers were open and some money still was in the slots, now worthless in the era of banter. Varun scanned the labels of cartons and began stuffing them into his backpack. Suddenly, he felt a slight chill. He cocked his head and listen. A soft hum seemed to come from beyond a stack of cartons. He carefully approached it.
As he got closer, he began to smell familiar the metallic aroma. He hurried tossed away the cartons and a large refrigeration unit was revealed. Much to the joy of Varun, it was still running on some kind of emergency power backup. He twisted open the lock and in the sterile florescent light lay several pouches of blood. He reached into the foggy shelves and picked one with trembling fingers. His fangs punctured the plastic and he began to quench a deep old thirst.