In my dream I was driving.
Big car, eight cylinders probably. Leather interior, chrome on the wheels. Hell, let's give it tailfins. A big-voiced throaty roar whenever I stepped on the gas and one of those radios with a luminous needle that rolled back and forth across the ozone layer scratching for hits. My hands on the scalloped steering wheel were huge and strong and brown.
It was night, and I was driving through the desert. Moonlight picked out the brush and the weeds and the rolling hills of sand and the dead. It was dark inside the car except for that luminous needle and the reflections it made in Sarah's eyes. Inside, in the dark Sarah looked just like Ayaan but it was Sarah. It was Sarah. Outside the dead were running alongside the car, keeping up pretty well even though the speedo was pushing ninety. I poured on a little more speed and saw Helen smiling at me from the left, her legs pumping madly so she could match velocities with us. Her teeth fell out. Her skin peeled away, she was running so fast and soon she was nothing but bones but still running. She waved and I nodded back, one big round elbow hanging out my open window. My body rocked as the car just rumbled along and my dead wife's skeleton kept up with an easy lope. One hand on the wheel, one out the window, feeling the breeze.
"Dekalb," Sarah said, "iga raali noqo, but what's that?" She was staring at my hand on the wheel.
I switched on the dome light and saw my shirt was covered in blood. Great pools of it filled my lap, stained the leather of the seat beside me. "Hell, girl, that's nothing," I drawled. "Just a little fluid. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about." Her pretty little head, yeah. I smiled over at Sarah and grasped her ear between my thumb and index finger. She was the last living thing anywhere and she was good and bright and warm, she felt so warm as I tore the ear right off the side of her head and reached for another handfull.
I woke in sweat. I opened my eyes but there was nothing to see – without power Manhattan was as dark at night as the depths of the country. Darker since the skyscrapers blocked out even the starlight. I lay on my side, stiff and uncomfortable and chilled to the bone. Something wet and sticky had pooled under my hand – sweat, perhaps, or maybe the dream had been so disturbing I soiled myself. Nasty.
I sat up slowly with a groan and flexed my knees to try to get some circulation back in my legs. I thought I could hear something moving nearby but I presumed it was just the dead outside, waiting for us to come out and be eaten. Ignoring it I rose to my feet. There had been a bathroom next to the manager's office and I went there, careful not to step on any of the sleeping girls. It wasn't easy – my eyes had adjusted to the darkness but there was still barely enough light for me to discern individual shadows in the gloom. I urinated noisily into the dry toilet and then, despite the obvious fact that the water couldn't still be turned on I reached out for the lever in the murky darkness and flushed. Strangely enough it worked. I don't know what kind of water system Manhattan has but it must be a marvel – six months after the last living person was around to maintain it, the plumbing in the Virgin megastore was functioning perfectly.
Impressed and relieved I went back out onto the floor and wondered if there was any food left in the cafe's pantry. I kind of doubted it but I was hungry enough to make a cursory search, at least. Halfway there I heard the noise again, the movement I'd heard immediately after waking. This time I was certain that it was inside the store.
Fear, of course, clears the mind. Adrenaline pumped out from my kidneys and spread through my body in a rush. My back prickled and the skin beneath my earlobes started to sweat. It could have been a rat, or one of the girls stirring in her sleep. It could have been an animated corpse that had somehow found its way into the building at a time when we couldn't see to defend ourselves.
I took my flashlight out of my pocket and clicked it on.
"Dekalb." It was Gary, the world's smartest dead man. I began to turn and point my light in his direction but he said, "no, please, don't look yet." I stopped and switched my light off.
I heard him come closer. Maybe he could see in the dark – he wasn't stumbling around like me. "Dekalb," he said, "I need your help. I need you to explain to them. They have to understand."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said.
"I can be a great asset to you," he said. His voice was soothing, almost hypnotic in the darkness. "You need to find those AIDS drugs before you can leave, right? I can walk anywhere in the city and be safe. I can get the drugs you need and bring them to your boat. You can sit on the boat and be safe and just wait for me to come to you."
"Gary," I tried, "did you do something – "
"Let's not go there yet. I have something else – an idea about how you can get out of here in one piece. Right now you're screwed, right? You can't walk out that door without getting pulled to pieces. You have no food, no radio. There's nobody coming to save you. You need this. You need this solution I've come up with."
He was right about that. "Tell me," I said.
"Not until you speak to the girls for me, okay? You have to keep them away from me, Dekalb. That's what you do, right? You used to work for the UN. You, you mediate disputes. You have to mediate for me, you have to help me, come on. Just say you will."
I might as well have just eaten twenty snow cones. My belly was full of ice. "I'm going to turn my light on, Gary," I started.
He moved so quickly he could have snapped my neck if he wanted to. Instead he merely grabbed my hand and forced me to drop my flashlight. I could feel his body very close to mine, smell the decay of his flesh – and something else, something fresher but no less gruesome. "You help me, Dekalb. Damn you, you're going to help me," he whispered in my face and I smelled salami. "She was going to die."
CLISH-CLACK! The sound of the selector lever on an AK-47 being switched from SAFE to SINGLE FIRE (I couldn't see it happen, it could have been FULL AUTO but it was Ayaan and she never wasted bullets). "Dekalb, what is this? Why are you making so much noise?" Her light speared through the darkness and showed me Gary's face. There was blood on his chin, red, wet blood.
Unh-uh. No, I thought, that wasn't in the plan, no, I didn't plan for this.
"I can get the drugs for you, Dekalb. I can get you out of here!"
I could feel Ayaan staring at the back of my head. Waiting for an order. In a second she would make a decision for herself and lift her flashlight to point it in the corner, where we'd left Ifiyah unconscious in an office chair.
I could feel Gary's body spasming in dread, only inches away. "You can't do it without me! Dekalb!"
The cone of light drifted up and over. The three of us must all have seen the trail of blood on the floor. I remembered the pool of sticky liquid I'd woken up in and my throat squirmed.
"Dekalb! Save me!"
As revealed by the flashlight Ifiyah's body had undergone a sea change. Her jacket and shirt had been removed. As had most of her torso. I could see yellow ribs glinting in the dim light. I couldn't see her face or her left arm – they might have been lost in the shadows. They might have been.
"Ayaan," I said, softly, "let's think before – "
I heard the bullet snap through the air. I heard it splinter Gary's skull. I felt something dry and powdery splatter across my face and chest as Gary's body slumped away from me, spinning down to collapse on its side. I reached down and picked up my own flashlight. Switched it on and pointed it at him.
The smartest dead man in the world had a finger-wide hole in his right temple. There was no blood but something grey oozed from the wound – brains, I would imagine. His body flexed and twisted spasmodically for a while, then it stopped.
Together Ayaan and I picked up his rubbery form and threw him over the railing into the pit of darkness below, down into the DVD section of the megastore. Neither of us could stand to look at the dead thing, the twice dead thing that had moved and talked but didn't anymore.
END OF PART ONE OF MONSTER ISLANDREAD MORE >>