I thought I loved you for a short while back before the caterwauling of the recently undead. Back in those short days of peace we knew in the Way Back When. We didn't understand at the time that what we had was a gift. We thought it was simply every day and ordinary. We thought the world would be that way for the ever-and-always-amen of our ancestors. We took our blessings for granted and they fled from us. They fled out of the world altogether, never to return.
They say it started in India. I've never been. Once I wanted to go there, to see the snowy white dome and intricate craftsmanship of the Taj Mahal. But that was only the travel-guide image of India. The streets were crowded and the poverty level was high, and not all who lived there were very conscious of cleanliness. It would certainly have spread swiftly in the sweltering heat of that land.
Some scholars nowadays propose it was actually related to the AIDs epidemic in Africa. I do not understand enough of the science behind it to know if there could actually be a link. You'll have nutjobs who insist it was our own government that formulated the strain in our own tax-funded laboratories. Paranoia in the extreme. Or if they didn't intend to do this to their own population, that it was an experiment in biological warfare gone very drastically wrong. As in, 70% of the world's population wrong. And that number is rising...fast.
But the most common story is India, and I like to imagine it that way. Oceans and continents away as we are, we still see the consequences of that first fatal transmission - wherever and whenever it was. Like a deadly poison in the blood stream, it is slowly tainting the whole world.
What scares me most is actually the animals. Humans I've seen in a similar state in the old fictional Hollywood versions of what they imagined might happen along these lines. They never really got it right. Too much limping and gore. It's not an I-want-to-rip-you-to-pieces-and-eat-your-guts kind of disease. It's the mere touch that can get you - make you like them. Like computer hard drives wiped completely clean. But the sound on those old films was nearly right: grunts and groans and an occasional guttural shrieking and wailing. There is no sense in it, and no reason. The brain doesn't connect to the body's functions in the same way after the sickness takes hold. The voice, the throat - they are very much their own free entities by then, and they wheeze and moan and rend the air with their sounds at random.
But the animals. Oh, to see them like that. It's wrong. It's terrible and wrong. I'm used to what humans do to each other, but the animals have always seemed blameless and above it somehow. They follow their own code, the natural law. But now that they're infected, they are almost human in their appetites and cruelties. The instinct of the hunter, mutated by the hunger of the disease, turns them into destructive homing missiles of contagion - they seek out any living thing for the sole purpose of infecting it. I said nearly 70% of the world's population had turned, but that's only the humans. I would guess nearly all of the animals are gone by now, perhaps with the exception of some of the more elusive birds and creatures in the deeper parts of oceans.
I don't know why I'm writing this to you like you don't already know it. Like you haven't been living in it as long as I have for these many years. But the truth is I don't know what you've seen and what you know because i haven't seen you since that one September after the news that the outbreak had reached Atlanta. I saw you through your car window as your mother backed out of your driveway. You never came back.
I look for your face sometimes when I see crowds of them milling in the distance. The soldiers glance at me in disapproval; we're not supposed to go out near the perimeters, and especially not after the warning alarms have gone off. But I go because I'm afraid that I might find you. I don't know what I'd do if you really were there, sallow-skinned and dead-eyed and wailing that god-awful screeching of the damned.
I thought I loved you, but recently I've been trying to talk myself back to sense. That was years ago now, and you are gone, and the world mocks me for my hoping. It's not a matter of dying, for none of them are dead. And if you walk among them, that is some small relief. It's just hard to believe anymore when even the sparrow outside my window could with the brush of a single feather instantly erase me. The way it watches me it seems to want me gone.