So instead I closed my eyes and put my feet in the blocks. 400 metre hurdles. It was always cold at the track, the one where I used to spend every morning in the rain or shine, running and jumping. My coach would fire the gun and start the stopwatch. It’s twenty strides to the first hurdle and I’m staying relaxed. Fifteen strides to the next, over three, four and five. Stride pattern slowing down on the back straight. Wind driving against my legs, causing resistance. Seventeen strides for the home stretch. Over the line in forty-eight-and-a-half seconds. I catch my breath in the morning air, my coach hands me an energy drink, pats me on the back. Stretch the muscles out. Feel good.
Then I remember. As I crawled out of the wreckage of my car a Zombie approached, tripping and falling just in front of me. It continued its journey towards me, grabbed either side of my leg and bit deeply onto my right calf, taking a mammoth chunk of skin with it and gnawing almost down to the bone. I let out an almighty roar, smashing the heel of my left boot forward to crunch its nose into its face. I continue to clutch my leg and limp away from the wreckage of my vehicle. I stagger around the block, where by chance the hospital is in view. I fall into the reception, bawling for assistance. Nurses and doctors are wary of my pleas. I’m taken into another room. I’m drifting on the edge of consciousness. I can hear doctors saying that my lower leg is gangrenous, and they must amputate. I disappear.
I opened my eyes. My stump had bled from the wound, trickling down the chair and twisting through the floor tiles over to the window, right under the Zombies. The base of the window had folded under immense burden. They could sense the blood. The glass gave way and all of them dropped forward into the room. The doctor at the front. The woman I couldn’t save a few feet from me. The other six providing able support. I thrust the glass to my throat again and closed my eyes tightly as the eight Zombies inched towards my chair.
Then, machine gun fire, knives in brains, boots stomped onto rolling heads. Blood spattered across my face. Parts of bodies lay all around me. Eight Zombies despatched within seconds, sparing my life. Six Preservers stood before me.
“WERE YOU BITTEN?” demanded the foremost, masked, member. I couldn’t speak. He yelled again, this time moving towards me with weapon in hand, searching for a wound.
“YOUR LEG – WERE YOU BITTEN?”
He held a knife against my forehead and as I continued to stare blankly forward he motioned to hammer the blade through my brain just as one of his collaborators spoke and spared me.
“Sergeant, look at this.” He peeled a notice from the outside of my room door and handed it to his superior. Scrawled in black marker pen was the message:
‘PROOF THAT AMPUTATION CAN STOP NZ’
The Sergeant absorbed the text and looked at me. I found my voice.
“I’m fine. I’m FINE!”
I had been bitten already. But I wasn’t one of them. Someone had severed my limb and stopped the spread of NZ into my bloodstream. Merely the limb had died, not the rest of me.
The sergeant took a step back. Two Preservers came forward and lifted me under my arms through the corridors of the hospital. I was barely able to engage with the scene, just glimpses of red, dispersed corpses, through double door after double door, out into the street, and into an RV. The Preservers laid me out in the back, closed the doors and vanished. I lay on the cold surface staring up at a metal roof before my woozy head got the better of me and I passed out once again.
Days later I woke up at home in my old bed, in my old room, one that had been kept just as I had left it when I moved out years before. My parents were there tending to me, both of them healthy and unaffected by NZ. I was so delighted to see them and tell them how sorry I was for all of the years where I had ignored them and cast them aside in search of a goal that seemed inconsequential in this new world. Their understanding only helped to make me feel even guiltier. I looked down and saw a prosthetic limb attached neatly onto my healing stump. The men who brought you here fitted it, my father said. He never asked a single question about what had taken place, nor did my mother. They didn’t care and felt they didn’t need to know. All that mattered to them was that I was here now.
A few months passed as I recuperated, the horrors of NZ in London miles away from the rural cottage my parents resided in. After some time my parents could go for a walk to collect essentials from the nearby shop, and do all the other things they had been accustomed to doing months previously. At times it felt like watching a broadcast from the war in Iraq, or Afghanistan; it was something to be concerned about but difficult to completely engage with because it seemed so distant from the life I was now living. I had been there, in the very middle of it when the Blood Turned. Now I felt like a war veteran looking on from a distance.
I know that the Preservers saved my life. I am forever indebted to them being out there, protecting us. But whenever a leaflet would arrive through the post or an advert would blare through the TV promoting the Commandments, I would recoil from the one in particular that refuted my very existence.
No. 3: Once bitten, there is no known procedure that can halt the spread of Neurological Zombosis.
Nothing can stop it, they claimed. And yet I did. My body resisted it.
I obsessed over whether I should do something about it. No. 3 does not represent me. If the Alliance was working to this assumption, were people needlessly dying? And what about the other Commandments? How could I be sure of those when I knew one of them was so obviously wrong?
I was totally isolated. I didn’t have contact with anyone other than my parents and so I felt trapped. Should I turn myself in? Could my body prove useful in finding a cure for NZ, should we need it? Had the soldiers passed on the message on that piece of paper to their superiors? Surely they hadn’t; in which case, why not? Questions, questions, questions with no clear way to answer them.
Then, one afternoon maybe about five months after I was rescued, a man in a white coat stood on my doorstep. In his right hand he carried a silver briefcase. He introduced himself as an MD at King’s College Hospital and claimed to have treated me when I entered A&E as the Blood Turned. Until that point I still had no idea which hospital I had even woken up in. He asked for a cup of coffee. With my parents out I made the decision to invite him in.
I asked him his name as I flicked on the kettle; he said it didn’t matter. The magnetic clip badge on his coat had the number #46692 stamped on it, but nothing else and I found him unlike any other doctor I’d ever met. He moved unconventionally and spoke in a low, almost inaudible, tone. He wore thick-rimmed glasses but the rest of his features…. He was immaculately presented, with a trimmed beard, hair neatly shaved, and skin pockmarked but moisturised. But then when he opened his mouth to speak, though it was rare, the teeth that remained were yellow and cracked and his hands, from a distance, seemed drastically older than the rest of his body. It was impossible to categorise this nameless man standing before me.