𝐕𝐈𝐄𝐖𝐈𝐍𝐆: 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐋𝐄𝐕𝐈𝐀𝐓𝐇𝐀𝐍
He’d spotted the building as he’d emerged from the protection of trees, and immediately felt the lifting of hope in his chest. A greenhouse, nestled atop the rooftop. Left unattended, he would expect it to have been fruitful beyond belief. The dead had no interest in tomatoes and cucumbers, but he sure as hell did. The ache of hunger unquenched in the pit of his abdomen was a testament to such.
Still, Lukas was a careful man, and he’d first taken to scoping out the building that accompanied his new Eden. As he ascended levels through quiet and calculated steps up the staircases, something began to dawn on him. With every higher level, the place was devoid of the dust he’d might expect it to be lightly coated in at least... and some haphazardly placed items gave him the nagging suspicion that whoever had been here had not left long ago. If anything, it almost seemed as if there might be a community of people here—which was unheard of. In the nearly six years since the world fell to the virus, he had come across only a handful of the alive. In most cases, that did not ring true for long either. In a time where a man might kill another over the smallest sip of water, another human was not to be taken with any sense of comfort. These days, the violence of man rivaled that of even the evil that awaited its cannibalistic reign in every hidden corner.
All this discover meant to the SEAL was that he had a time limit on his loot now, and that the clock was ticking down. If there was a community of people living in this building, he did not want to wait around and find out. That was not because he was afraid. Rather, very much to the contrary, the only person he truly feared anymore was himself—the things he’d discovered he was capable of out here. With his family dead, at his own hand, Lukas hardly feared another human. He feared being the reaper of what little was left of the human race. He feared becoming slaughterer, in the name of his own continuum. Some time, long ago, doing so had felt so natural. When indoctrinated into the concept that murder was justified if he had a dog tag about his throat, such murder was simple. Guiltless, until the reality of it came avalanching down on him in the night.
Now, with no justification other than his own self-preservation, Lukas grappled with such guilt within his loneliness. Nights spent secured to the base of a tree, trying to fall asleep on a branch he wasn’t sure could even hold his weight, while the remorse seeped in through the hum of crickets and snarls that lay below.... In such a loneliness, where the sound of another human’s voice might serve as more nourishing than any meal, Lukas was left to ruminate over the things he’d done, knowing he could never take them back. Ruminate over his contemptible actions, which he had come to know too intimately as a framework for who he was. In his story, and in all others, he was the villain.
The dirt and blood on his clothes, hands, and face were all a testament to that. Blood of reapers. Blood of humans. Blood of animals. It was all the same. It seeped, mahogany and rancid into his clothes; into his skin, as the search for any pool of water substantial enough to bathe in would stretch on for days and weeks. He couldn’t even be sure anymore of which state he was in. Some eons ago, he lived in California with his wife and daughter. Some eons ago, he shot his wife and daughter in their heads and watched that rancid mahogany paint the walls of the cabin he’d rushed them off to. His wife had thought he was crazy, when he came home one day from a meeting in which his unit was advised they might have to do “population control” to “manage the illness”, and began sitting outside on their porch with his gun at night. The day he’d packed them all up and drove them out into the middle of nowhere, Washington, he’d argued with his wife the entire way there. She thought he was crazy. It was here where his wife and him argued into the night. She called him insane, and told him she was taking Opal back to California—she was going to miss kindergarden and they had dinner with the Masons, didn’t he remember? She didn’t listen to him when he explained what was happening, the direness of the situation. She didn’t listen to him on the day she left their cabin and went into the nearest town to get fresh produce and cupcakes for Opal, and came back with a fever of 110.
The virus moved quicker than anything the world had ever seen before. They’d believed it was some super-strain of rabies at first—but as more and more people began attacking others, with such an unhinged rage, bleeding from their eyes and ears, and holding a distinctive guttural wail that could make any grown man’s stomach drop... it became too apparent that this wasn’t rabies at all.
They never even got the chance to give the infection a name.
It ripped through entire cities in weeks, crippled life in the worst pandemic ever known to man. Perhaps that might have been a good thing. In the beginning, virologists predicted that the infection would burn itself out. It would move too quickly, kill too quickly, and be unable to infect others... What they hadn’t anticipated was for the dead to awake again. Awake as the quintessence of animal—mindless in their need for sustenance. How humans could evolve to survive even death... they adapted to then, too, kill for their continuum. Those that rose from the dead were nothing but instinct, without need for anything but energy.
Infection continued in some terrifying nightmare that few could hardly believe was their reality. Those who lost religion began praying to foreigners’ gods. Those who refuted the paranormal adamantly found themselves begging for mercy at the very mouths of those they swore did not exist. Lukas had been privileged enough to know about the infection in the first few days of its spread, solely due to his high rank in the Navy SEALs. The following day he’d abandoned his post, because he knew what needed to be done. Three days later, he killed Maria and Opal in the middle of the woods in Washington. That night, he killed the first cannibal that tried to seep its venom into him. And the following morning, he went out into town to take things into his own hands, and execute before the spread. How evil he felt, shooting a bullet threw another man’s son right in front of him. Still, Lukas knew the real evil was what had lurked inside of the boy’s veins.
The following weeks he’d killed more people than he could count. In different circumstances, he might have been arrested and charged as a serial murderer. But the world was falling into chaos around him. Viciously maimed bodies were laying in the streets. The concept of court and trial was already so far beyond comprehension. Now the man could hardly remember what it felt like to walk through a grocery store. To eat a warm meal. To watch television. To take a hot shower. To sleep... knowing he, and his family, were safe.
Now the man found himself an echo of who he once was—still adorned in the same all black uniform he’d worn during mission. Still holding the same automatic rifle, still taking careful, careful steps along scattered glass shards. If there was one thing being a SEAL had gifted him with in this new world, it was the ability to be quiet, even in his 6′3 two-hundred-forty pound frame. The next thing was the mastered ability to hear. Hear for even the lowest whisper of another’s presence.
As he navigated through the top floor, skating along walls with his back pressed up against them and rounding corners rifle-up, Lukas took in the new surroundings. He knew better than anyone how silent the dead could be until they sensed food nearby. Silent, and then, all at once, chilling and violently loud. Every footstep he took was preceded with the understanding that it could be his last if he wasn’t careful, so the man ghosted his breaths in through nostrils, and moved with the ebb and flow of the noise that was already there—a window, banging against its hinges with the cooled wind that carried through it. The soft scuttle of rats zooming across hardwood. Until he came upon an open doorway amongst the rubble of overturned couches, dead bodies, and rot. The doorway led into a bedroom, which seemed... too neat. And then — the final ascension up, to the greenhouse he’d spotted outside.
It was boarded up well. Was that to keep people out, or protect the ones that were inside? He couldn’t imagine anyone would pass up the opportunity to live out their post-apocalyptic days surrounded by growing food. It was smart. But if it was to keep people out, they’d have to try harder... as the man’s heavy boot then came ramming into the locked doors, until the hinges came loose just enough that he could see a chain was secured around the handles inside. There was a pause in his advance, as he dissected the situation—which route to take next. He’d already been loud enough that if there were reapers lurking behind the door, they would have sprinted in the direction of the thuds. But if there was another human behind the door, he’d have to outsmart them.
Very quietly, he pushed his back against the heavy doorframe, to bring the chain into view again, and try to peak through the tiny sliver of opening. Then he saw—it was chained up, but not very well. Looped around the handles with no real attempt at knotting the chains up. He was able to squeeze his hand through, and tediously unloop the chain, while trying not to cut circulation off mid-forearm.
The chain fell with a heavy thud to the ground, and then Lukas was able to push open the door. The stairway up was eerily well-kept. No overgrowth. No blood. No dirt... or, at least, nothing like he might have expected.
Lukas drew his carbine close, keeping forefinger close to the trigger, and with one preparatory inhale he pushed open the final barrier between him and Eden. The door swung with a heavy creak on its hinges, but that was the only sound that could be heard as he emerged, barrel up and ready to fire. He stopped, and just listened, for a moment. The loudest thing he could hear was his own breathing, and the birds chirping above.
He had been lucky in a sense, to have had such vigorous training before the entire world came crumbling down on the human race. Whereas he used to head into treacherous territory as a ghost in the night, all of those years translated nicely into the continuum of the present. Much like he’d been then, Lukas still possessed a soldier’s stoicism, and ever-calculating eye for movement. Still, despite his skill, he did have the disadvantage of being very large in stature. And, in being such, silence wasn’t always possible to achieve. As he neared the greenhouse, his footstep met another chain—this of a trap hidden amongst the overgrown weeds poking through the concrete outside of it. Now, at least he was certain someone was guarding this place. None of the threat reached him, however, as he began forcefully removing the boards that blocked its entry, without regard for how it might be detrimental to the original owner. In a world ruled by the dead, no one owned anything. Until Lukas pulled open the greenhouse door, glass showering down to the earth below his feet, and he stepped in, only to meet shard with carbine, and lock oceanic eyes onto her doe-like brown gaze, terrified in its stare. Movement quick and certain, the soldier now aimed his rifle directly at her head.
The leviathan then spoke to the stowaway in the gruff, demanding tone this world had hardened his deep voice into—to perpetuate his own continuum. “Put it down now, or I’ll kill you.”