That last thing he said to me before he died was what really disturbed me. It wasn’t anything particularly disturbing. In fact, it was kind of cliche. I’m afraid of the dark, mister. I’m very ‘fraid of it! The way he looked at me, his eyes turning bluish white and blood dripping out of his nose and running down his beard. The man had been homeless, I’m sure. We’re all homeless, I guess.
I had met this old codger just outside the YMCA a week ago. He was the first living person I’d seen in months, and the last I’ve seen since. He had been bitten and clawed pretty badly when I found him there on the sidewalk in the midday sun. He had been pushing a rusty shopping cart with a missing wheel and had apparently collapsed from blood loss beneath a broken telephone pole. At first I thought he might be infected. But he started talking to me, saying something about the darkness. I knew he wasn’t infected then because the infected lose the ability to speak pretty quickly. I assume he was immune like myself. I’ve only met three other persons who were immune to the virus. Two killed themselves. The last ran off one night during a storm. I found his body a few days later, bloated, soggy, and half eaten. By the looks of it, he hadn’t been eaten by the infected, though. I saw pig tracks all around him. Apparently, he got disoriented during the storm and wound up wrapping himself up in a bunch of loose barbwire. Then the pigs got him. Pigs around here are known to go feral and will feed on just about anything. They’re almost as dangerous as the infected, being a bit smarter but slightly less ravenous.
Anyway, this old man gave me something before he died. He held out his hand and grasped mine, placing in my palm a small, dirty conch shell. He said to hold it up to my ear. I sort of just looked at him wondering if he was serious. He persisted, so I did as I was told. He said I could hear the ocean. I didn’t feel like spoiling his time by mentioning that a conch shell isn’t a magical telephone to the big blue sea; it’s just the sound of your own blood rushing through your head and echoing back to you. But I heard something strange when I held the shell up to my ear. I heard water. Not the normal sound you get when you put a shell to your ear. I mean real water, like a bubbling brook or something. I looked at him, wondering what the hell was going on. He smiled an unfortunate grin. Then he got scared and started talking about being afraid of the dark.
I’ve been alone in this library for four and a half days now. Thank god there’s a fucking snack machine or I would probably be dead. No, that can’t be true. The human body can survive for a few weeks without food, and I just ate a box of grape nuts the other day from somebody’s kitchen cabinet. There was blood on everything, all over that kitchen. I had walked through the open front door, carefully examining the stale air for signs of life. There weren’t any; there never were. The summer air was thick and I could smell mold in the place. This was all on the corner of Casper and 22 nd where I had ended up after a couple weeks of traveling from house to house in search of food. I stepped into the living room. Nothing was peculiar apart from the smell of rotten meat, a smell already too familiar.
In the kitchen I saw the body of that woman with the straight red hair. Her arm was stuck in the sink drain. From the looks of it, she had got her hand stuck in the garbage disposal and probably either died of blood loss or starvation. I hoped it was blood loss, because the thought of starving in your own kitchen seemed unbearable to me. That kitchen is where I found the grape nuts.
The library is quiet. The only sound is that of the summer breeze out the window and some birds. I find it strange at times that the virus didn’t affect other animals. Only humans became infected. I suppose it’s not too surprising. There have been many cases of this sort of thing happening to other species. Maybe it was just a matter of time. For instance, there was that fungi that affected ants a few years ago in the Amazon. This fungi would grow into the central nervous system of the ant and cause it to lose its sense of direction. The ant would wander mindlessly for a while until it dropped off the trees and fell beneath the tree canopy. Then, at midday, when the conditions were perfect for this fungus to spread, the ant would instinctively latch on to the main vain of a leaf, where it’s jaws would remain locked until it starved to death. Then its body would fill full of spores and it would fall to the ground where it would be encountered by other ants. Zombie ants. Incredible.
But it was only a matter of time before something like that would happen to humans. All that was needed was a sufficiently complex virus. One that would shut down the prefrontal cortex of the human brain while allowing other functions to go unharmed. Essentially, the virus that hit us was like a form of rabies. The one thing the movies didn’t ever prepare us for was just how quickly the virus would spread. It never went airborne, but it didn’t matter. Trust me, when the virus is transmitted through the blood, and you’re going around shooting the infected, or swinging golf clubs at them, there is plenty of ways for you to get the disease. A minor cut on your skin, or an accidental rubbing of your eyes is enough to infect you. But I’m immune, for better or for worse. Probably for worse.
Now I’m all alone. I’m all alone in a dark library listening to the chirping of birds and to the sound of a world that is moving on without the human race. I’m surrounded by books'”thousands of them. I’ve been reading a few. It just makes me terribly sad. All the great works of a once great race, all for nothing. Or maybe for something. So that one terribly lonely guy in his mid-thirties can marvel at the fact that, while in the dark and surrounded by the history and glorious memory of his now dead race and all their wonders, all he can think about is the chirping of birds and the mysterious sound of water emanating from a broken conch shell.