Ravenous

PROLOGUE

August 2050, New Orleans.

It is the year 2050 AD. The world lies in rampage and in ruins. 

We live in a post-apocalyptic period that saw the utter fall of mankind by a tiny entity, smaller than the smallest bacteria. A mutated, viral particle. A microbial creature that took us by the collar and gave us a good shake. We did everything in our power to fight it – but while the men and children succumbed to the infection, it did something far worse to the women of the world. Far more sinister. It devoured their bodies as well as their souls. 

We have men living like animals, and the animals themselves are on the verge of extinction. As for the women, well, they are simply conspicuous by their absence.

We live in an era, a crazy time-warp of a time, when days go by in a flash and nights seem to go on forever. When the weather has gone haywire bringing us the chill of a frosty winter, in a month that used to be balmy and bright. 

Nature’s resources are almost extinguished, like the flickering of a dying candle on a windy night. We make do with what we have. Or we beg, borrow and steal. Some resort to more violent schemes.  

There is no government, no aid. They themselves snatch the scraps off our hands to feed their own bellies. After all, it has always been the survival of the meanest, isn’t it?

We are living a nightmare of global proportions. There are deaths, disease and destruction everywhere.

Yet nothing quite prepared us for ‘It’. 

My name is Mark Cuthbert. I am twenty-eight years old and I live with my father, in the ravaged outskirts of a dying city. 

This is my story of survival. Or my attempt at it. 

****** 
THE GHOST OF A PAST

The winter chill had set in. 

Which was absurd – it was still July. Too cold for this month of the year. Perhaps the climactic change was only a harbinger of something worse yet to come?

The prospect of the coming days looked bleaker. Supermarkets’ supplies were dwindling further down. The streets carried a deserted look and people were starving… dying. The bare trees devoid of leaves looked like their dancing skeletons. Even through my gas mask, the foul air carried a whiff of something decomposing into my nostrils. What was it? It was something far more sickening than poisonous or infectious fumes. This wretched thing called humanity? Like the earth itself, it was bleeding itself dead. 

“Mark!” Dad yelled for me. He was done picking up the basic suppies for the week.

“Let’s go, Son. Before it gets dark and well… you know!” He gave me a knowing look. 

I knew that look. I nodded my head briskly and headed out. 

We rode home in silence in our capsulated vehicle. The horizon ahead was cast, a smokey grey. The grey reflected in our moods as well. Dad chose to play a few of my mother’s favourite tracks on our way back. It eased his mind when he missed her. It’s been decades since she was taken, snatched away from us. Consumed by the contagion. 

The sound of music filled my ears. As I listened to the slow love-ballad, I tried to remember what my mother was like. She caught the terrible viral infection and underwent the maddening mutation, when I was barely out of my diapers. Naturally, I found it hard to remember the details. 

“Do you remember what she used to be like?” Dad asked, reading my mind.

“Honestly? No.” I honestly answered. 

“Well, she loved country music for one thing. Her favourite song was Faith Hills’ ‘Breathe’. She was a very good dancer as well, your mother! And as funny as a stand-up comedian.” He smiled at the thought. He obviously missed her.

“Hmm,” I replied. He turned to look at me.

“No milk supplies for the next few weeks at the store, by the way. We would have to do without it,” he said at length, changing the topic.

He understood my inability to make a conversation about her, someone I couldn’t remember anything about; a ghost of a mother. My memory of her was only limited to the face I saw in the old family photographs on our paint-chipped walls, back home.

And right now, she was somewhere out there. 

Dead, yet quite not deceased. Lurking in the dark, hiding, waiting. Waiting to strike at us – the very people she once loved – and reduce our numbers as an enemy would. There were steady reports and evidences of horrific, tragic deaths. Every, single day.

The very thought of her was repulsive. I shut my eyes tight and tried to obliviate whatever remnant of a memory I might even have had of her.

As much as I hated my very existence at this moment, I only hated my mother more.

****** 
THE THING CALLED “IT”

It came out at night with its ilk to forage and feed on the leftovers of life in the city. 

Nobody had seen it and the likes of it with their bare-naked eyes and lived to tell what they might look like. 

But what were ‘they’? How did ‘they’ come into existence? Well, nobody knew for sure. 

The experts theorised it began with a viral mutation of blighted human female gonads. They served to bring about a mutation not otherwise seen in the male counterpart of the species. You could say, it was a gonadal infection gone wrong. But it led to a thorough, viral wipe-out of the human female species. And we witnessed the dawn of the accidentally-conceived progeny of one of the world’s most virulent forms of the virus. In the female species of Homo sapiens. A freak accident of Nature. And what resulted in the death of mankind, gave birth to a new “womankind”, albeit her Frankenstein: “It”.

This perfectly new, DNA-deranged, species – the rabid, beastly forms, the ghosts of what women used to be, roamed the earth at night, emitting strange, grunting sounds while foraging and far more ominous, vicious sounds when hunting down a live prey. They could devour anything that had the warmth of life in it. Anything. Or anyone.

The dead and decaying was left for us. In a cruel twist of fate, we were the scavengers.

****** 
THE BIRTHDAY RITUAL

I woke up with a start. 

The smoke alarms had gone off. I spluttered for air. Smoke filled my small room.

It was late evening. I must have dozed off while working. Ever since the American Dream economy crashed, I worked from home. It didn’t fetch much, but was just enough to put bread on the table and help us get by.

Coughing, I made my way out. The blaring music hit my ears. Faith Hills crooned with all her might.

“Dad!” I yelled. It appeared he was in the kitchen. That explained the smoke. 

Now every year on her birthday, there was something that my father would do. He called it his way of celebrating her. Her memory, of what she once meant to us before we lost her. He celebrated this day with his most outrageous display of love: cooking.

But he had burnt the turkey dinner. Which was a shame because it was the last of our animal-protein for the month. I shook my head at him and proceeded towards my room. Now on this particular day, had he not burnt the turkey, there had been no smoke. Had there been no smoke, he wouldn’t have opened the living-room windows. 

That’s when he saw it, lurking in the shadows. 

“Mark”, he whispered hoarsely and pointed in the direction of the open window.

I looked out the window and froze. Within a couple of a few yards from us, there it was. It sat in the unkempt lawn under a moonless night and stared back at us. The light from only the stars served to  illuminate its hideous form. It had undoubtedly, a feminine form, was buck naked and crouched on all fours. It was predominantly skeletal. The scaly skin on its bare surface was covered with festering wounds and scabs. But it wasn’t just that. This was a mutated species, rabid and ravenous. And evolution had already done its damage. There was an unmistakable brutality in its eyes. And that putrid malodour! There was a stench emanating from it that reminded one of rotting carcasses. It just sat there and considered us, as a hunter would consider its prey. I sprang towards the window and pulled down the steel blinds in one swift move. Then in a frenzy, I did the same for the rest of the windows. My dad followed cue. 

We stopped only after we had secured all the windows shut and re-checked the door locks. Only then did the two of us stop to look at each other. We were drenched in sweat. Neither of us spoke for a while. 

Finally my dad broke the silence, “Boy, that was close!”

I said nothing. Faith Hills crooned on, in the background.

It was our first encounter. But it wasn’t to be our last.

****** 
INTO THE MOUTH OF MADNESS

“Dad, may I ask? What exactly are you doing?” 

“I am baking her her favourite apple-cinnamon pie, Son!” He appeared to be in bouyant spirits. I hadn’t seen him like that in ages.

“And preparing to burn them as well?” The sarcasm was not lost on him. He chuckled but continued, nonetheless. 

“But we just celebrated her birthday last week! Well, and almost didn’t.” I added.

“Yeah! But that doesn’t mean we can’t again, Mark. She would like that.” A smile. I stood there looking at him. 

“Just make sure you don’t burn these, okay?” I replied, a tad anxiously. 

The fact that he happened to see one of them and yet came out alive, did something to my father. It drove him almost to the brink of insanity. He began arguing with me that the “thing” we had encountered that ill-fated night, was my long-gone mother. I often laughed off his absurd assumptions but the truth was, I feared for him. 

He had seen it and wanted to, no, hoped to!- see it, again. It all seemed like a kind of an elaborate, extravagant invitation. It made my stomach lurch. 

I spent the next few weeks keeping a watchful eye on him. But despite all my efforts, nothing prepared me for the events of that fateful Wednesday night. 

I remember it was the night of the full moon. It was also the night of mayhem and madness.

I walked into his bedroom and found his bed to be empty. I was about to check the bathroom, when a cold draught blew in through the open window. I inhaled sharply. The sight that greeted my eyes terrified the living daylights out of me.

Dad was perched on the window with his arms raised and flung out into the dark unknown. Out from the safe security of our home. He seemed to be waiting, calling out to someone. His wife! Or so he thought. I completely lost my composure.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” I yelled. It was the deathly hour, in the dead of the night. But I threw caution to the wind. My booming voice jolted him back to his senses. He turned towards me.

“Mark! Would you believe it? She woke me up!” 

“Don’t call it that!” I cut him short. “You know, It’s not her. It’s not who you think it to be…”

“Boy! Are you even listening? She woke me up! She scratched at my window and woke me up!”

Before I could respond, the odour hit me. That fetid smell! I froze in fear. Not a muscle twitched.

That’s when I saw it. For the second time.

The despicable creature was standing right outside the window!

And in the light of the moon, I only saw it too well this time. 

******
FLESH OF HIS FLESH

I will never forget its face as long as I live.

Its eyes were sunken, hollowed into bony sockets. It stared at us in animosity, with those dark, lifeless eyes. It appeared to have been slightly scalped, probably an attempted act of defence by its last victim? The underlying skullbone showed through, in a horrid mangle of congealed blood and secondary bacterial infection. Its mouth was pulled in a malicious scowl. It snarnled at us revealing jagged, sanguineous fangs  A dribble of insalubrious saliva oozed from the jaws of this rabid beast. It lurched forward in small crouching steps, making a low, grunting animal sound. 

My reflexes kicked in. Without missing a beat, I reached for the loaded gun that I knew Dad kept in his bedside top-drawer. 

This lunacy had to end tonight!

I raised my hand and pulled the trigger. And instantly regretted it. With my peripheral vision, I was appalled to see my father hurl himself into the target range. It was too late. The bullet pierced his chest. I saw him about to fall. But before he hit the floor, he flung himself towards the open window. My heart sank. He had intentionally thrown himself at the creature – at its disposal. I couldn’t believe it: 

He died believing it was her!

As soon as his body hit the ground with a thud, all hell broke loose.

I heard it before I saw it. The low, angry growl that told me distinctly, we weren’t alone. There were others, indeed hordes of them, as they came into my clear view. They all leapt upon him, ravaging his corpse in a frenetic act of feeding. 

I collapsed on the floor, faint and nauseated. As the room swam in circles before my eyes, I could hear their frenzied feasting on my poor father’s flesh. The sound of his sinews being torn apart and devoured so savagely, set my bones on fire. I looked up towards the heavens and roared. A heartbreaking cry of rage mixed with grief.

And just as soon as I did, I realised my mistake. The window was still open ajar! 

I felt intensely uncomfortable. The atmosphere grew oppressive; I couldn’t breathe. I knew in an instant what was going to befall me in the next minute. I looked down at the gun. No, there weren’t enough bullets for all of them. I hugged my knees and waited. I shut my eyes and began praying.

I was overcome by a repugnant reek the very next moment. I smelled them before I heard them. And then I heard them advancing towards me! They hissed and snarled, savagely. They grunted and growled, menacingly. In my mind’s eye, I could see them hovering at the window, looking down at me… their prey. I prepared for the worst to come. I remembered my father. Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead and at the back of my head.

That’s when an ear-splitting howl pierced the still of the night. My eyes peeled open. Just in time to see them move away from the window towards the source of the sound. It seemed to be some sort of an acoustic signal for the others to follow. As they disappeared from view, I mustered enough courage to stand on my own two feet again. I saw them, their backs facing me, leaping on all fours, retreating into the shadows.

Wait a minute, I don’t understand!

And then I saw it. It stood there in a corner, half-hid behind a thicket, looking at me. It was the same creature that had led to the ghastly death of my father a while back. We locked eyes for the briefest of moment. I think I saw a shadow of something that once used to be very much human, in those eyes. A flicker of remembrance reflected back at me from those bloodshot, hollow eyes.

Was Dad right, after all? Could it even be possible?

It turned away then, brusquely and disappeared into the night.

There will always be questions that will haunt me to eternity.

******
EPILOGUE

The passing away of my father made me more reclusive, more pensive than I ever was before. It’s been two weeks since he’s been gone. Two weeks since that condemned night when he was tossed away like a used, menstrual rag-cloth. A similar fate awaits me? God alone knows.

And it may sound melodramatic, but the night I lost my father, could it be the night I found my mother? It’s funny, because I had even forgotten what she looked like. But as I saw my father giving himself up to feed that ugly monster of a being, which he believed to be the woman he loved, I found a semblance of, or rather, a shred of a tattered humanity, in those eyes that saved me. Yes, it saved me that night.

And as I finish writing this account of my survival, I leave it to you, dear finder and reader of my story, to ponder this great question that presently troubles me:

Am I even right to be angry?

Wasn’t it us who ravaged the earth, first? With our own prideful lust, arrogance and greed? Now as we are at the receiving end of a payback, are we really right to be angry?

For payback it is, really. This viral mutation that took our women and returned with a vengeance to ravage mankind itself. Pitting them against us.  We tried also in desperation, foolishly, to manufacture offspring in our great scientific laboratories… and utterly failed. Now they increasingly outnumber us, by devouring us. Apparently, nature is on their side and they’re winning.

Someone wise once said, “Women hold up half the sky.” But now, with no women around, to hold up this broken bit of our sky? Well, I am afraid I can see it already falling upon us.

______________________________

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