That Day

“Are we safe here?”

“No where’s safe these days.”

“I don’t mean to question but–”

“Then don’t.”

“Sorry. Have you been here long?”

“Weeks.”

“I barely stay put more than a few days. They seem to know where you are after a while don’t they?”

“Depends if you’re smart about it.”

“I must be dumb then.”

“Maybe.”

“Did you lose anyone?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“Sorry.”

“And you apologise too much.”

“Sorry.”

“My point. Yes. I lost my wife. You?”

“Yeah. And my brother was over seas when it happened too. He got infected.”

“Bad times for all of us. Are you hungry?”

“Starved.”

“Tinned peaches or cold chilli?”

“Peaches. Thank you.”

“Slow down. Supplies aren’t easy to get.”

“They taste so good. Never thought I’d be so happy to taste tinned peaches.”

“If you want to stick around you’ll need to pull your weight.”

“Doing what?”

“Scavenging. Watching. Fighting.”

“My brother was fighting. That’s how he got infected. He was part of the relief effort in Iceland just before they closed their borders.”

“Too little too late.”

“Who knew, right?”

“Someone knew.”

“I guess.”

“He’s dead then? Like the others?”

“I don’t know. Last thing I heard was a choppy phone call. Someone bit him on his leg and he’d been feverish all day. Said he was feeling better so… What’s so funny?”

“That’s what happens. You get bit. You burn up. The fever breaks and you feel right as rain. Then you collapse.”

“Maybe the medics in Reykjavík found a way to, you know…”

“Your brother’s dead. Deal with it.”

“Your bluntness sucks.”

“Really? You know where the door is. You can leave the peaches.”

“Wait. Okay. Sorry. I guess I don’t like thinking of him…like the rest of them.”

“Don’t think. Accept it and move on. I’ve had to.”

“Your wife? Did she…?”

“Same way.”

“Infected?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Eat your peaches.”

“I think it’s better to talk about it. Helps the grieving process.”

“I can’t grieve.”

“Why not?”

“Because she’s not dead!”

“Oh come on. That’s a waste of food. Throwing it away like that.”

“I scavenged it. I can do what I like with it.”

“But–”

“No. You listen to me. They took her away from me. One bite was all it took. I’ve spent weeks trying not to think about it. She’s gone but not gone. Every time I see her I want to rush over and tell her everything will be okay. But it won’t. So I have to deal with the best way I can.”

“Okay, okay. Here, take it. Come on. There’s still some left. Cold chilli isn’t great but we have to keep our strength up.”

“Why?”

“Because…”

“Peaches and cold chilli. Not much to look forward to.”

“Maybe we can get out of the city. Find a safe place.”

“Then what? Start again? Sophie and me were married for twenty years. I don’t want to start again.”

“Long time. Don’t you think she would–”

“What? Make a fresh start? Put the past behind me and move on?”

“Sure I guess.”

“Were you a comedian?”

“No. I’m a Post Man.”

“Were. You were a Post Man.”

“Right. Were. Takes time to get used to things. What about you and your wife?”

“Jesus wept. Leave it be.”

“Sorry. Can’t help it. People expect me to be cheery. It’s part of the job.”

“Was.”

“Right.”

“We owned a coffee shop if you must know. Down the street. And before you ask I had to get out of there because the windows got smashed on that day.”

“Did they take Sophie?”

“In a way.”

“You said every time you see her you want to rush to her. But if she’s infected…you know, one of them…”

“They took her from me. The fever brought her back. For a time. I tried to help her. Kept her from doing harm to herself.”

“How?”

“Doesn’t matter. When we go out tomorrow we need to look for a gas burner. I can’t stomach more cold canned shit.”

“Want to swap? Peaches aren’t too bad.”

“Sure.”

“I see what you mean. Cold chilli doesn’t taste right.”

“Gas burner. Water. Blankets.”

“That’s your list?”

“You got a better one?”

“Blankets?”

“Winter’s coming on. You’ll thank me when it gets frosty.”

“But it’s only September.”

“I thought Post Men had to be good at planning.”

“They are.”

“Then we’ll need blankets for winter.”

“You think we’ll still be here then?”

“Where else?”

“Well…I don’t know. Away from the city and the danger.”

“Like everyone else you mean?”

“There are others? You’ve seen other survivors?”

“A few. Lots at the start. Not many these days. They mostly stay hidden.”

“Shouldn’t we try to find them?”

“What for?”

“Sorry. Have I missed something? I thought we were supposed to help each other.”

“No one helped me. Or my wife.”

“And that means you turn your back on everyone?”

“Helped you didn’t I?”

“Only because I killed one of them before it attacked you.”

“And I saved you right back. We’re even.”

“I guess. But why stay here?”

“You’ve moved around a lot, right?”

“Yes. I don’t stop.”

“Then you don’t stop to think either. Lots of survivors have left the city. More leave every day. I watch them from the roof top. They scurry away when they think it’s all clear. They think the best thing to do is get out of built up areas, away from the dangers.”

“That is the best thing to do.”

“No it isn’t. They’re being followed. Hunted. The infected are chasing their food supply. Soon every city will be an empty waste land because every survivor will have left and the infected will hunt them down.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’ve seen it happen. I have a telescope. I watch them. When the survivors cross the river the infected swarm out of every nook and cranny and kill them. It’s like watching rats swarm over a piece of cheese.”

“We have to warn people.”

“How?”

“Go out and tell them.”

“Like I said. Comedian.”

“You must know where the hideouts are if you’ve been watching. We should go and find them. Warn them. Maybe come up with a strategy.”

“It won’t work.”

“It has to.”

“They won’t listen. People are scared.”

“Obviously.”

“You don’t understand. Scared people are unpredictable. You want to go and lead them to salvation where none exists. How long do you think you’ll be leader for? How long until someone doesn’t like your decision-making? Yesterday I saw two guys fighting over a couple of carrots. They were so intent on killing each other they didn’t see the pack of infected closing in around them.”

“All the more reason why we should gather people together. Get organised.”

“I can’t believe we’re talking about this.”

“Someone has to make a start.”

“The Army tried that. Guns and rockets and tear gas. What a joke.”

“At least they tried.”

“Look. I can’t leave.”

“Because of your wife?”

“Here. Take a look at this. I can’t leave it powered up for long. There’s not much battery left.”

“That’s the street outside.”

“I took it on that day. Probably the last photo I’ll ever take. And it’s useless as a phone now.”

“No photo of Sophie?”

“No. That day was supposed to be our twentieth wedding anniversary. The night before…here, take it, I can’t look at it. I’d uploaded all my photos to a photographers in the city centre. I planned to surprise Sophie with a big glossy photo album, the last two decades in full colour. Real photos. Not some irrelevant pixel on a screen. I wanted to give her something special.”

“Bet she would’ve loved it too. Sorry. I didn’t mean to–”

“I know what you mean.”

“I guess she never got the album?”

“No. I was on my way to pick it up. The streets were kind of empty. I didn’t think much of it at the time. You get quiet days like that. I took that photo outside our coffee shop. Don’t know why. Maybe I thought I’d add it as an extra photo to the album. A sort of ‘here we are now’ kind of thing.”

“Not a bad idea. Like a chapter mark.”

“Something like that.”

“So what happened?”

“It was quiet but the few shoppers I saw seemed to be hurrying somewhere. I followed them to the end of the street. That was when it hit me. The strange virus. All that stuff on the TV about people going nuts. Cities closing. Ports jammed with refugees. You know.”

“You saw the infected? You best turn your phone off. Here.”

“They moved like water in a stream. Rushing down the streets, washing over people, biting, grabbing, eating.”

“You were lucky to survive.”

“I wish I hadn’t.”

“And Sophie, she got caught?”

“I ran full pelt back to our shop but it was too late. The infected had come in from the other end and were in every shop, rampaging like animals. I heard Sophie screaming.  They had her…they…”

“Stop. I’m sorry I pushed. I didn’t mean to. You don’t have to talk about it.”

“Maybe you’re right. Talking is a way to grieve.”

“I’m wrong just as much as I’m right. Letters don’t always get delivered to the right address.”

“I bundled them out of the shop. Took Sophie upstairs to the little staff room. I locked the doors and prayed no one would come again. They didn’t. Not for a day or so. By then it didn’t matter. Sophie’s fever had broken and she seemed okay. We planned to leave the city like everyone else.”

“But you said–”

“That was then. Before I knew better.”

“You didn’t make it.”

“Didn’t even get out of the shop. Sophie collapsed. Shaking and moaning. Blood and froth in her mouth. I didn’t know what to do. Her skin was pale and cold. I never knew the human body could go from furnace hot to ice-cold so fast.”

“I heard that too. TV said the fever burns out some receptors in the brain or something.”

“By then I didn’t know if she was dead or just suffering the effects of the virus.”

“No one really knew what the effects were.”

“Till it was too late.”

“Like my brother.”

“Maybe someone did the right thing and killed him. It would’ve been the most humane thing to do.”

“Is that what you did?”

“No. I couldn’t. There was no way I could throw twenty years away just like that. I carried her into the courtyard at the back of the shop. By then she was having some kind of fit. All her veins had popped up on her skin. Her eyes stopped focussing on me. I knew she was gone. The virus had her. From a tiny bite on her thumb. Jesus what a joke.”

“You left her there?”

“Hey. Don’t give me that look. Don’t you dare make me look like some kind of monster.”

“I’m not. I’m not. I just said–”

“Bullshit. You have no right to judge me. No one does. I would not kill my wife.”

“Okay. Easy.”

“I watch over her. I keep her safe. Every day I guard her from the roof top. She’s still my wife and I won’t abandon her so I can run off and hide.”

“They say the infected lose almost all their memory and personality.”

“I don’t care. I will stay here and protect Sophie until she rots.”

“That could take years.”

“So be it. I made a vow, for better or for worse. I don’t break my promises.”

“What if I were to…you know…”

“Don’t.”

“But you said maybe someone did that to my brother.”

“That different.”

“How?”

“Were you married to your brother?”

“Obviously, no. But technically we were together for a lot longer than you and your wife.”

“The answer is no.”

“Then you won’t come with me?

“I can’t.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t expect you to understand.”

“I do. I know you don’t believe me.”

“How can you understand? Your brother was in Iceland.”

“I guess it’s a bit different from your situation but it doesn’t mean I don’t understand exactly what you’re going through.”

“You’re trying to push me aren’t you? Do you want to fight the guy who saved you?”

“I saved you too.”

“Swings and roundabouts.”

“Believe me or not I share your grief.”

“How? What makes your experience so similar to mine? Don’t talk shit. We have nothing in common. You were a Post Man. End of.”

“Yes. I was a Post Man.”

“Good to hear we’re in agreement.”

“I was also a father of two and husband to one. On that day the infected pulled them limb from limb in a toy shop while I stood at the ATM outside. There was no fever. No reunion. No chance to say goodbye. Just blood and screaming that I can still hear. I don’t have a photo album. I have memories and nightmares. I talk about them to keep their spirit alive. They deserve that much at least.”

“I…you never said.”

“Everyone has lost someone. You’re no different.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I believe we owe our loved ones the respect to keep fighting to our last breath so their death won’t be for nothing.”

“Last breath.”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“We have to try. Others are out there waiting. They need help.”

“What if we fail?”

“Failing is worse than not trying.”

“How will you know what to do? What if your choices get people killed?”

“I don’t. But if I sit here they will die anyway. Wouldn’t you rather try to make a difference than hide away and forget it all?”

“I am making a difference.”

“You watch your dead wife.”

“I protect her.”

“From what?”

“From…”

“You have to let her go.”

“She needs me.”

“No. She needs you to give her peace.”

“I…I don’t know if I can do that.”

“It had to happen eventually.”

“She’s…I can’t believe she’s dead.”

“Like you said, sooner or later the infected will run out of food. I’ve seen them eat each other before.”

“They must have heard her and climbed the wall.”

“Yes. I can see blood on the bricks. Take a look.”

“I’ve seen enough. It’s cold. Let’s get back inside before we freeze.”

“Not yet. Take a look at this. Not your courtyard. Something else.”

“What? I can’t see anything.”

“Pan to the right a fraction. See that roof top behind the church?”

“No…oh wait. What is that?”

“It’s a CB Radio Ariel. I’m a bit of an amateur radio enthusiast so I know what I’m talking about. I doubt it’s been there very long. Someone propped it up with plastic crates.”

“Survivors?”

“Most definitely.”

“They could all be dead by now.”

“They’re not. While you were asleep I came up here. See those pots and pans by the door?”

“What are they for?”

“Collecting rain water. I counted fifteen earlier.”

“I only see four.”

“Survivors.”

“We need to get a radio. There’s an electronics shop not far from here.”

“Gas Burner. Water. Blankets and a CB Radio.”

“It’s a good list. I still wish none of this had never happened.

“Everyone wishes that. But if we keep trying then on that day our loved ones will not have died in vain.”

“You know, for a Post Man you’re not what I expected.”

“Life has a warped way of changing your outlook.”

“You think we have a chance?”

“There’s always a chance.”

“I hope so.”

“Always some of that too.”

This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write between 50 and 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 5 photos as a prompt. The twisteroo this week was to write a story purely in dialogue. I love dialogue! I originally started out with the Dark Wizard image but felt this one more to my style.

Incidentally the reason why I switched to this picture prompt is because it reminded me of the research I did last year for my novel The Range. There are a lot of twisty streets in Cambridge that look just like this one. I took a lot of photos and walked them over and over to get a feel for how people might sneak around them in the aftermath of a terrible incident like a virus outbreak.

Also, as I’m currently editing The Range I thought it would be kinda cool to stay focussed on that theme and use that story setting to show how a couple of characters reacted to the same epic disaster. Think of it as background or extra footage to the actual novel.

NOTE: Indigo Spider has moved to a new domain – http://www.indigospider.org –  If you were a previous subscriber to her blog you’ll need to re-subscribe.

This picture prompt is called Recession Hits by Michelle Orai – http://takingsnaps.wordpress.com

Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.

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16 thoughts on “That Day

  1. WOW! The dialogue in this is so compelling, I had to read it right through without stopping! There were no points where I wasn’t sure who was talking, it’s very clear. Excellent dialogue and creative piece too. Quite an example 🙂

  2. Eeeek… this was creepy, scary and I can see how it fits within The Range. It’s like a glimpse of how it all started shortly after the virus. Really well done with dialogue only. It propelled the story forward smoothly. The dialogue was filled with enough information to not even notice there were no other descriptions. You really are a great writer 🙂

  3. Wow, you’re amazing….how does your brain work? Absolutely fascinating….I feel chuffed to bits that my photo inspired such a piece of writing!! I’m not sure if I can post this on my blog or not….do I reblog????

    • Thank you for your kind comments! I’d love to know where that photo was taken because it does look like one of the little back streets in Cambridge city. I love a good picture prompt and Indigo picks suburb ones.

      Reblog away for sure, I’ve no problem with you sharing this on your blog. Thank you for taking such an intriguing photo!

      • It was taken in Kingston upon Thames…it was the table with the cloth that caught my eye! Notice they couldn’t be bothered to put any chairs out…they obviously didn’t expect any customers!!! I would love to be able to write like that…I just can’t put words together…if you know what i mean…my point being demonstrated nicely there!!! All the best, I shall follow your blog with interest. Oh and thanks again.

        • Likewise with the photography. I love snapping away but I seldom capture quality shots, more out of luck than anything else. I did notice that table, not a very good advert for a restaurant is it! But what caught my eye was the Detective Agency sign on the other side, makes me wish I had a reason to go in there!

          • I know it’s fascinating isn’t it….there’s obviously a need for it in the area!! Ha! Thank you for the follow…who knows you may find another photo that inspires you!!

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