DINING IN THE APOCALYPSE
Campbell stood beneath the twisted corrugations of the iron as he rain tumbled from the dark skies, drummed incessantly. It had been the same these past six months: dark fell quickly, the rain started. It was a particular rain, a rain the consistency of oil. A rain that painted the devastated city in grease.
It stopped, as it always did, after ten minutes, leaving the humid air chill and smelling of copper. Campbell pulled the collar of his ragged coat up, and hawked the film of dust from his mouth.
On the horizon the red eye of the moon crested the broken-toothed remains of buildings.
Hunger gnawed at his insides. Two days ago he came across a can of peach halves in syrup – a gourmet feast in straitened times like these – but now the lingering taste deserted his mouth, replaced by, what he presumed, was the first bitter tangs of death.
Shrugging the thought from his mind, he set foot onto the rain slick corridor between the ancient abandoned cars and trucks. His worn heeled boots danced on the glutinous pools of dark water, and he was forced to steady himself on a rusting wing mirror. Inside the grimy windows, its mummified owner smiled out as if saying 'have a nice day.'.
Campbell grimaced, straightening immediately. He'd gotten used to meeting the past residents of his once great city; just this one looked to have greeted death with open arms, and that unnerved him. Six years he fought hunger, six years he refused to contemplate death and it nearness. His body refused too, his soul would not allow it. The rictus grin of the cadaver seared through his mind as he gathered his thoughts, then dissipated as all grotesque scenes did, when one got used to them.
A low growl brought him back to his senses, and he reached down to the pat the empty space between his ribs; the growling persisted, much to his distress.
Looking up, he noticed its owner. A feral beast, all fur and teeth. Its ribs stuck through the skin like elongated piano keys, the ridge of its back a dark saw blade in the lighter gloom. Once it could have been a pet, maybe even played with children, lay in its basket at night, and chased after sticks. Now, it was a hungry, snarling thing with meat on his mind.
As it stood there and gauged the likely outcome of the battle, three comrades joined its flanks. The steady dripping of water from the cars' roofs was replaced by the thrumming growls of the pack.
Campbell thought about running, and realised the futility of the option. His legs would never cover the distance to safety, if such a thing existed? Instead, he un-slung the nail-bar from his back, and hoped his aim was true. He planted his feet apart, and took a batter's stance.
The lead dog crouched low to he ground, his muzzle spraying froth as it opened its jaws with a crack. Bayed on by his pack members, it pounced in one sinuous movement.
Campbell braced, flexing his fingers round the hard steel of the bar, and waited for impact. His tired eyes watched the snarling form grow ever nearer, till it spun in mid-air and started snapping at its side. It landed its own length from his feet in a frenzy of whines, its attention focused on its rear. Campbell stood dumbfounded as the rest of the pack raced in to tear their leader to pieces.
“You waiting till they're finished?” The voice came from above, a female voice.
Campbell swung round as the night filled with desperate howls and rending flesh. Above, on top of an old city bus, stood a slim figure silhouetted against the angry red of moon glow. “Thanks,” he managed, stretching out an arm towards his rescuer.
With alarming ease, the figure hoisted him to the rounded roof. As he lay there, she bent to retrieve a steel crossbow down at her feet. “Name's killer.”
Campbell looked to the fencing mask covering her face, then down to the tight wetsuit that hugged her body. She didn't look starving, she looked strong, virile. “Nice... the name I mean. Campbell... the name's Campbell.”
“Boring.” She glanced down to the killing ground, the howls replaced by crunching bones and contented growls. “We need to move, they're almost done.”
Campbell slid on his belly and peeked a look below. Turning he peered directly into the fine mesh of the mask. “Can't you kill 'em?”
“And waste quarrels?”
“Point taken,” he sighed, lifting himself erect. “Where are we going?”
But she was off, with the grace of a ballerina she glided over the grimy bus roof and dropped out of sight. Campbell followed, with less grace.
He found her perched cross-legged on the hood, her fencing mask removed. “I asked where were we going?”
“You wanna eat, don't ya?”
He grunted a reply.
Killer pointed out across the sea of wrecks and crumbling buildings. “Well we gotta head that way. A bunch of us got a nice little bunker out there, filled with canned goods, bottled water and even a generator.”
Campbell followed her outstretched arm. “Why me? Surely you don't want to share your... booty with others?”
She smiled, a tired, warm smile, that creased her boyish face. “You think just 'cause the world's shot to shit, we'd leave a fellow human behind. We need to start again, and we need people for that.”
Inside, he cringed, how could he have doubted her? Is this what he'd turned into – a pessimistic loner? “Sorry... I... I just haven't met another... person in the last year. I'm afraid I've become quite the misanthrope.”
Killer glanced towards him, her face screwed up in confusion.
“ A loner, not fond of human company?” he explained.
Killer shrugged and levered herself from the hood with her weapon. “Well, are you ready for some company for dinner?”
He smiled for the first time in months. It felt strange, as if the muscles of his face didn't know what to do – it also felt awkward. “Lead on,” he said, covering his mouth.
She giggled at his action, and slid from the hood to run in a crouch to a car opposite. Popping the handle, she dove within. Unused to sudden movement, it took Campbell a moment to realize she was gone, when he did he stumbled clumsily to the narrow path. Glass shards crunched under his boots, and made pock marks on the flat of his foot through the worn sole. He winced at the noise, more than the pain.
Killer had left the door open, so he followed her in. She stood at the opposite door, brushing the bone dust off her suit. Campbell glanced round the interior. All that remained of the owners were a few fine fragments of bone, mingled with rotting rags. In the back seat, still strapped in a child seat, sat a child no more than three. Its bones reminded him of a bird- a small trapped bird.
“Close the door, and come on. This isn't the time for sightseeing.”
Campbell tried to say something glib, the empty eye sockets of the corpse robbed him of his voice. Reaching back, he slammed the door shut. The sound boomed out across the dead city.
What followed was a maze of cars, rubble strewn corridors. His lungs burned in his chest. Once he thought he saw a freshly killed corpse, a corpse with a quarrel protruding from its neck. He wasn't sure... he wasn't sure of anything, any more. Thick spit congealed at the front of his mouth, made bitter by the falling dust. Hallway followed destroyed hallway. Then, ahead, she slowed at the corner of a fallen wall. There was a squeal of metal as she grabbed some unseen handle, and wrenched a trapdoor upward.
She smiled, her dust veiled face a web of dripping sweat. “Were here, down there.”
Campbell looked in horror down the dark hole at his feet. A drop of cold sweat careened down his spine. He shot a nervous grin over at Killer, she arched an eyebrow in response.
Campbell returned his gaze to the abyss beneath the door. “I thought you said you had a generator?”
Killer slung her bow across her shoulder, folded her arms and tapped a foot, like people do when they're impatient. “Enough to power a few single lights, not a whole city.”
Campbell nodded, and jumped, fetid air gusted by his face. Hitting he ground, he rolled and ended up against the cool concrete of a wall. He lay here groaning.
Killer came down the unseen ladder. She laughed as she sauntered by.
“You could have told me?”
“You should have asked.”
Further down the hallway, he heard her open a door. A chink of light flooded the dusty corridor. Feeling stupid, and a little sore, he rose and stumbled towards the corridor's end. When he entered the small room, Killer sat on a large crate by the door. A single bulb swung from a flex.
“Make yourself at home,” she smiled, her face pale in the harsh light.
He staggered to the nearest crate, where he gratefully sat down. Killer rose, barring the door. “Dinner's up!”
Campbell frowned over at the bellowing woman. Boots scuffed in the darkness.
“Jesus! Killer, I've had more meat trapped between my teeth,” a rasping voice cursed.
“You do the shopping then, psycho.” The last bolt shot home as she turned. “I told ya we should a ate Birch.”
Out of the darkness, five massive forms entered the circle of light. Sharp blades glistened in their hands. “I ain't eating my own kin, woman.”
“Well, he'll have to suffice,” Killer pointed to Campbell, whose mouth worked, but no sensible sound came forth.