This Wild Abyss
By: Michael A. Arnold
I was under my bed, my shotgun's safety off. The shadow was back.
It looked like a tall man in a wide awake hat like something out of the Wild West. Whoever it was, they probably knew someone was in here. I had put a corpse in my clothes and laid it out on the bed. I was hoping that behind the thin curtains, and through the darkness, a rotting corpse in clean clothes would look just like someone sleeping. That had not been a pleasant task, but you have to do these things.
The shadow soon walked off. I knew they would be back tomorrow night.
I fell asleep thinking about traps I could set up.
Things lose their menace in the morning light.
In the kitchen I ate a tin of chickpeas and thought about going out back to boil some water, and make a cup of coffee, but that would be far too much work. The wind was flowing up the valley behind the house and slamming into the back wall. It was the only sound that could be heard, and it sounded like the world was screaming.
Nothing in the house worked anymore. I don't remember when the power cut out, past events had started blurring together, turning into a big and useless mess of information. It had been long enough for me to not miss it anymore. The only thing I really did, and do, miss is the Internet. I did almost everything on it, before the old world died. That's how I like to phrase it, 'before the world died'. I think I got that from a book I read once. It feels and sounds somehow right.
The plan for the day: go out and hunt for more tinned food, then get things to make traps with, come back, set up traps around the house, wait for the unknown person to come back (there was absolutely no doubt in my mind they would) and mentally prepare myself to start shooting. It was a good itinerary. If I wrote it down I know I would have smiled at my own use of the word 'hunt' too.
Hunting was something I was thinking more and more about. Dogs were becoming increasingly aggressive and hungry, without any humans left alive to feed them all, and they were hunting in sizable packs now. Before the world died, eating dog (and other pets) would have been totally objectionable but it was something I might have to start doing.
Anyway, maybe it was a good idea to take a gun everywhere anyway, for my own protection.
I hadn't had to think about that for a long, long time.
I studied the street before leaving the house. I put my shotgun on the floor of my passenger seat then got behind the wheel. Pulling away I kept looking everywhere. There was no one in sight.
Maybe it was the familiar process of driving, but I soon felt a lot better. I was almost out of fuel, had not been keeping an eye on that, but my friend, AJ, had a petrol car I could siphon more from. The petrol stations needed someone to unlock the pumps with a button and I couldn't work them out, so siphoning fuel was the only way I could keep myself on the road. There was a little funnel in the boot for doing just that (cannot remember where I got it from) so I went to his house and took what was left from his tank. It only filled my car a little way, but that was fine I wouldn't need much. As I worked I didn't think about his and his wife's remains barely 50 meters away, lying in their bed upstairs or at least. It was better to not think about these things.
I drove to the big ASDA, beside the leisure center and police station. Getting in through a large hole in the windows, one I'd made weeks before (or months before couldn't remember) when I drove into it in someone else's car. I couldn't damage my own car, of course.
That was in the early days, back when I was still showering every time I touched something new.
The inside was cold, ghostlike. I filled up my car with whatever food tins were left. There wasn't a lot. I'd have to start expanding my search soon. As I was leaving, to amuse myself, I went to the book and magazine aisle and said out loud 'Heh, another month and still new to read'. Laughter came bursting out. That felt good, you had to do things like that.
The image of the shadow at my window came back.
After finishing in ASDA I grabbed the towel and hammer from the boot of my car and went out into the streets surrounding the supermarket. I took my shotgun from the car, the gun was unbelievably heavy but it made me feel a lot better.
The wind blew through the streets, and birds were happily hopping on the roads in every direction. I only saw one or two human bodies. If it wasn't for them, I could have almost convinced myself everything was normal. At one point I heard a noise, just like a single footstep. I stopped, turned and lifted my gun ready to shoot.
Was it the shadow in the hat?
It was nothing.
The camping shop was on Woodhorn Road. There was a huge, literally echoing series of crashes when I smashed the window in. My 'shadow' could probably have heard that all the way across town but I was willing to risk it. When I had knocked enough glass out, I put the towel over the bottom of the window's frame to cushion my hands from any stray glass. Inside I found some fence wire, tent spikes and other things I would need to make tripwires.
Most of the things in the camping shop did not need any cleaning or maintenance; they were designed for heavy use, which suited my purposes perfectly. While there, I took another camping coat, just in case I would need it.
I saw him as soon as I turned onto my street. I stopped the car, and pulled the shotgun from my passenger's seat. As I got out, I took the safety off. I didn't know if I had it in me to kill. I had always been sure I would be able to, but reality is so very different from the world inside your head.
I walked up slowly, the shotgun still very heavy. I said, 'Hey.'
'Hey,' the man said.
There was an uncomfortably quiet moment. He was obviously weighing me up, and I was doing the same.
His hat was the only obviously new thing on him. He was wearing clothes that looked like they had seen some bad weather, and his face looked skeletally thin.
'I don't want any trouble, guy,' he said.
'Then what are you doing here?'
'I was looking for other survivors. I saw you sleeping last night, and thought I'd come by today introduce myself'.
'You came by the night before,' I said.
'Yeah It was obvious that there was someone alive in there,' he said.
For some reason this made me so angry. My hands gripped tighter around the shotgun, and I pointed it at him.
'Wo now hang on, man.'
'Are you alone?'
'If I find out you're not, I'll kill you.'
'You don't need to, man, trust me,' his face looked like his whole world had just fallen apart, 'What can I do to prove it, man? I'm lonely! I've been wondering around for I don't know!' he said.
'What?' I said.
'What can I do to here, look,' he said, and he pulled something out of his pocket and threw it toward me.
I wasn't going to be picking it up.
'What is it?'
'GET BACK OR I'LL BLOW YOU AWAY!'
He backed up. I kept the shotgun trained on him while I bent over. With one hand I flicked the wallet open and looked inside. A few cards, some notes, and a driver's license. The picture on the license did look like him.
'Ok, Sam,' I said, 'help me get this food out of my car and I'll let you have some,' I said.
The guy worked hard, clearly wanting to get on my good side. When everything was in the house, I tossed a tin of beans at him and went into the living room to eat. He sat on the floor across from me. I didn't look up, pretending to be far more interested in shoveling spaghetti hoops. There was a silence.
I thought I'd try to open up a little. 'You know,' I said, 'I wasn't always this much of an asshole.'
'It's okay,' he said, 'I understand.'
There was another silence.
'So, what's your name?' he said.
'My name's John Miles.' I hesitated when I spoke, I don't know why.
'Is this your house?' he said.
'No,' I said, 'I used to live in Newcastle. This is my home town, though.'
'So this your parents' house?'
'It's a nice little cottage, ha. How long have you been living here?'
'I don't know, I don't remember. Not long after it happened,' I said. I was debating telling him I had been planning traps in case he came back that night. 'Where have you been living?'
'Anywhere. Seems pointless staying in one place now,' he said, 'besides I've been looking for people. Anyone that survived,' he said. I'll admit it, the tone of his voice made me a little emotional.
'I had no idea the world could end so quickly.'
'What do you remember?' he said. The question took me by surprise at first it seemed like such an odd question somehow. I would have thought I could remember it all, but (honestly) as I looked further back in time my memory became more clouded. I had always thought that the end of civilization would be burned onto any survivor's memory, but it wasn't really.
'Not much. I remember panic buying,' I said, 'and the virus started in Russia? I think?'
'Something like that, yes. But, do you ever feel like that's not real, somehow? Like this is how it's always been?'
'I ' I had thought that, 'I do.'
'It's weird, right?'
'Yes, it is,' I said. I did not like admitting that.
He finished his tin of beans and said 'thank you'. He went to get up but I held my hand up to stop him, and went to get the bin. He thanked me again. I took him into the alleyway with my shotgun, a box of shells, and the bin full of empty tins. Maybe it would be good to bond with the guy. I was certainly trying to enjoy myself.
We shot a few cans before either of us said anything.
'Where did you get the shotgun?' he said.
I paused, aiming the shotgun barrel at the last can. I would need to line up some new ones after my shot. 'Out by the airport (about a mile, or half a mile, from it) there's a shooting range they sold shotguns there. For Clay Pigeon shooting, you know?'
'Yeah, Newcastle airport?'
'No, I mean, isn't that dangerous?'
'I dunno,' I said. I had not thought about that.
'How did you find out about it?'
'A friend took me there once, back before the world moved on'.
'That's a nice way to put it,' he said, 'I like it. Poetic.'
'Thanks,' I said. And I smiled honestly. I was starting to warm to the guy.
'Are you going to look for others?'
'Other survivors? I'm sure that since we both are alive, others might be too?'
'I don't know.'
Sam was clearly not completely happy with that, I could see the disapproval in his eyes I like to think I've always been good at judging other people. There was a flicker of an emotion I knew I did not like. It looked like anger. He said 'Sure. Got any beers?'
'Yeah sure,' I said, 'in the fridge old time's sake, you know?'
'Ha, that's funny.'
Even though I was starting to warm to Sam, I still did not trust him.
When the sun disappeared from the sky we went inside, still talking about our lives after the world moved on. Sam eventually told me that since the old world died, he had been going from town to town, trying to find other people still alive, and that helped alleviate loneliness because he was travelling in the hope of finding someone else.
That made sense.
'And besides, I like exploring the country, something I did not do before everything died never felt brave enough, or that the time was right, or for some other stupid reason,' he had said.
I said it was time to go to bed. He agreed, and mentioned again about traveling south, and maybe reaching the continent, because maybe there still might be one country, or at least one group of people that had survived somehow. I was saying it would be a good idea to go to sleep. 'Fine, okay' he said, and I showed him to the spare bedroom.
For some reason I could not get to sleep.
I suppose it was a blessing. My brain was keeping me awake to make sure everything was alright.
At some point there were creaks. The house settling? That was my first thought. But soon there were more, and just outside my room. I had been still for a long time, and I hoped it would look like I was fast asleep. My shotgun was by my bed. I may have been tipsy but I wasn't stupid, I heard him pause. And then a breath. I silently reached for my gun.
There was a clunklike sound, like the rustling of metallic leaves. He was turning the handle. My head was clear, but my stomach tightened with heavy fear. The door started to softly slide open. I could hear the hair of the carpet complaining as the door waved over it. Sam started to slip himself in, and I could smell him. The smell of the wind and rain mixed with body odor.
I opened my eyes. I saw his hands coming up to me.
'Er,' he said.
He was going to kill me.
There was a moment before I threw myself at him, and pushed him against the door with such force the whole house seemed to rattle. I pushed him into a table things like my car keys and a few books were pushed across the room. There was a sudden shooting pain in the side of my head, he had punched me.
I rushed back to get my shotgun. He lunged at me, so I thrust my fist into his stomach. He staggered back and let out a yell of surprise. I grabbed hold the shotgun and turned. He rushed me again. Luckily, I had picked the shotgun up in the middle, so the barrel flicked up and hit him in the chin. That obviously did not hurt him, but it surprised him enough to force him back. It was just enough time for me to grab hold of the stock, and then quickly put my hand onto the trigger.
'Why?' I yelled, out of terror and adrenaline.
'Why?' he said.
I pulled the trigger and my gun barrel exploded. The first shell just went into his side. He howled with the pain, and had just enough time to look back at me before I fired the second chamber. Sam's body was now a heap at the foot of my bed. I sat down on the floor and started to cry.
I told myself I'd move him when the sun rose. I sat up looking at Sam's body all night, and I had to force myself to move when the sun came up; I threw it into the valley behind my house. After that I drank the rest of my alcohol reserves and tried to think.
I knew then that Sam had been right, I would have to move on. Maybe, Sam could have been right, a community of survivors could be out there, somewhere. It would be crazy to stay in one place until I died. Sam had survived after all, so maybe there were other people alive, and not like Sam but like me? I never got to use the fence wire and tent hooks for tripwire, but with a bed sheet or something I could make a large bag to carry extra food incase I'd need it. That was a good plan. You couldn't let things just go to waste.
I knew then that I would have to start preparing. Gathering supplies, getting on the road, and start looking for others.
The idea really scared me, but I had to do it.