By Sam Graham

I’ll never forget the first time I killed a man. The anguish I felt moments after as the realisation struck me like the man had done only seconds before. Even in death, he continued to haunt me. That nauseating feeling deep in my stomach, the breathlessness as time were marred by vertigo and events ceased to be, then it all shot back into place so suddenly like I had breached the surface of the ocean and fear bit into me with its serpentine fangs, coiling itself around me with a deathly embrace and then just as I felt the pain of fear reach its zenith, it were exorcised from my body in one fluid vomit…

But that was so long ago. This man who lay dead before me now, I had killed him without the blink of an eye. I didn’t know him, nor vice-versa. What was his name? What did he do before the dark times? I didn’t know. Did he have a family? I sincerely hoped not for I did not want to be the messenger of pain to them. They were the angels of death, not me. I knew that all I should concern myself with was that if it were not him lying still on the withered concrete now, it would have been me.
I had seen this sight all too many times over the previous years. The dead strewn about the streets like litter waiting to be collected. He would lie here for a day or two and one way, by one species or another, he would be devoured.
Life was such a tragic thing to have, because ultimately it would all end the same way: Lying outside somewhere, waiting to be devoured when they came. The dead man’s blank expression was not one I wished to bear witness to any longer and so wearily and poisoned with melancholy, I carried on my way.

The old and broken concrete ended shortly and the pathway was adopted by sandy dirt-track. Bits of rubble and small stones covered both the concrete and dirt like a rash. The sky overhead looked down upon us with blood red pigment and pink clouds littered it while the ground I trod on mirrored the same nauseating colour. The world had not seen blue sky in many years, since before they first came. After that first night, we awoke to find the sky scorched the sickly red that had remained up to today. I did not like to look upon it as several people had gone crazy in the first few months just from looking up at their sky. As captivating as it was, there was something of a foreboding about gazing at it. Lately the red seemed deeper, the clouds seemed lower, and we all felt the heat become more intense. A storm was brewing.
When I had first awoken to it, I had thought I was the only one left. I wandered the streets on that first day, confused, frightened and alone. The blood-red sky washed over everything and it awoke a primordial fear within me. I believed it to be the apocalypse at first, but after the first night, I realised that we had passed that. This was a Hell.
We didn’t know what they were, where they came from. To my knowledge nobody had every killed one and if we don’t know the thing, we can’t fight it.
Maybe somewhere in the world the sky is still blue and the people enjoy their Eden without the fear that vexes our every move. Such a place I have heard in stories told to the children, but deep down I know they are only stories.

The wind whistled the dead mans ghostly shrieks from behind me as though to alert anyone in the vicinity to my most recent sin. Dogs joined in the chorus and arched their heads upwards as though to alert the God who never came to help us. I inhaled a deep breath of the Earth’s musty, sulphur-laced air. The fumes given off by the ashes of this jaded world burned my lungs and I coughed the noxious air back out, yet only to breath in again as though I were perpetually locked in the painful atonement of humanities sins.
As I walked steadily along the dry-mud path, I couldn’t help but observe the decay around me. The remains of a few dead plants lay charred at my feet, the buildings that once stood unblemished and whole, now wreckage and ruin. The remains of bodies lay here and there, some decayed, most burnt away leaving only charcoal. In the early days, I would spend my time lamenting our fall from grace, but all my tears had been dried up by the noxious atmosphere. I glanced at people as I passed them. They scurried around trying to find some shelter like ants fleeing from a magnifying glass. Their clothes were as tattered and drab as my own, fashion was way down on the list of things to care for now. Worn grey with stains of red ash camouflaged them against the rubble which they lingered in. Their faces were all the same, like my own, all grey from dirt and ash. It removed in-equality. It this desolation, we had achieved an equal society: we were all scavengers, no Kings or Queens, Presidents or governments. All had been burned away, devoured and maimed.

An unsettling feeling presided in my mind. I looked around and saw that the dogs were also unsettled. They scanned the sky while moving to and fro in their kennels, yelping portents to us. My God the sun was setting!
I thoughtlessly dropped my knapsack and sprinted down the dirt-track. The fearful crescendo of the people calling to each other, to get inside, echoed throughout the streets beyond. My lungs burned more from the malodorous and toxic air, but that was the least of my problems now. Recalling my way to shelter, I turned left at the large grey tree and carried onwards down the ruined street. I heard the shouts of terrified people as I passed them. Each man and woman knew their fate if they did not hide. My legs ached, my lungs burned and my throat was hoarse, but I ran onwards lest I stop and die.
I could almost feel them behind me, their essences, their scent closing on my back, their hunger driving them into a frenzy that made them salivate as they caught the scent of my fear tinged blood. I raced faster, more through panic than anything else but deep down I knew that they would not come out so long as there remained some sunlight.

I reached my home; the light had abandoned us and things outside began to shriek and descend upon us as I slammed the iron door shut behind me and bolted the lock. I stood silent for a moment, cursing that I had dropped my bag in the confusion. From outside I heard the screams of the unlucky people who could not make it in time. They were shrill and horrific, then they ceased abruptly. Their screams were eclipsed by their shrieks and all I heard was a crunching as the things feasted on them.
I turned to face the three others who all looked down with sad expressions that were barely recognisable by the small lamp in the centre of the room. It was not light as such, just a brief respite from darkness. I prayed my bag would lay untouched until tomorrow when I could go and reclaim it. We had not eaten in days and we were starving. I did not know these people very well, we had simply banded together out of the common goal: survival. We tried our best to make a living with each other, but I could see that lately, one of them was becoming increasingly agitated. We may have to abandon him for our own sakes.
Their jaded faces avoided me with disappointment and I too followed their gazes to the ground. Our combined moroseness was suddenly overshadowed by the nightmarish shrieks of the creatures outside. They sounded so close. The sun had descended fully now and they were all awake. We all leapt in fright as we heard them scratching at the door. They dug their claws in and bit at it, chipping away the layers we had created. They knew we were in here and they knew that eventually, the defenses would fall.
I and the three others all huddled around the lamp and whispered silent prayers to ourselves as we all knew what that night could bring with it.

Tomorrow we would count the dead, but that is if we survived the night…

They are coming…



Joined April 2010

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Wrote this in I think January 08. Had it published in the Lancashire Evening Post on December 09.

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