In 2019 the plague had been beaten into submission. My regiment went back to England. I didn’t care when I was told my home was no longer within the zoned boundaries. I was allocated an apartment and a job cleaning sewers. The war was over but for many it raged on inside their heads, their memories forced them into a life of drink and drugs, anything to dull their pain.
I kept busy, worked long hard hours, ran the streets in Zone 2 and kept a diary. I wanted to forget but I wanted to record what I could before I slipped.
I knew one day I would.
It was inevitable.
Whilst the rich sat safe in their city fortresses, the war machine battled against the infected, and thus became infected themselves.
I don’t understand the medical jargon for what ex-soldiers called “slipping” but it has something to do with being in close proximity to the infected. Some element of the plague is embedded within the soldier, no one knows how and few scientists believe it’s even possible. Maybe it’s passed via the air, from the dying breath of the infected. It doesn’t show up on scans or blood tests but soldiers know it’s there, waiting to attack their memories.
A few weeks ago an old army buddy came to visit me.
He was slipping fast.
His nightmares from the battlefield had crossed over into his waking life. He was seeing the infected on the streets and at work. He knew they weren’t really there but soon he wouldn’t be able to tell what was real and what wasn’t. He was scared that one day he would mistake a memory for a normal person, that his trained reactions would take over and he’d be responsible for the death of an innocent.
In the darkness of my kitchen he wept and I sat in stunned silence. That soldier, my friend, had saved my life countless times. We had watched each other’s backs as the infected hordes surrounded us. His courage and honour was untold. I had never seen an ounce of weakness in him, yet there in my apartment he broke down and cried about the war and the unspeakable things we had done to protect our country.
I told him to request MET but like most of those living in Zone 2 he couldn’t afford it.
The next day I saw on the news that he had jumped to his death from the Zone 1 wall.
That was the day I slipped for the first time.
And it scared the shit out of me.