Life used to be so different, I used to be a whole other person, my existence was something else entirely. I don’t quite know what happened to me, I’m not really sure how I became this.
Actually, that’s not totally true, I do know, I know all too well what happened, the end of the damn world. Before this virus unleashed hell on everyone, before people starting changing into something totally inhuman, something cannibalistic...zombies, for want of a better term, that’s when I was me.
I lived in a nice house with my wonderful husband, John, I was enjoying my retirement, life was warm, comfortable, happy. Okay, maybe every now and again I would wish for some excitement to be injected into my existence, but I never expected this. I did assume that our trip to Italy would help spice things up, but I didn’t know quite how much.
When John suggested it, talking about some possible business opportunity that’d come his way, all I could see in my mind was the wonder of the Venetian canals, gondolas, art museums, I thought it’d be wonderful, I bragged to all my friends about it.
Now I wish we’d never come.
Even if this virus is a worldwide issue, rather than an Italian one, I’d much rather be at home where I know people, than here. If we’d been among friends and family, then we’d have been able to deal with it in a much calmer manner. We never would’ve ended up here.
Then maybe John would still be with me.
When the chaos exploded, we were at the Piazza San Marco, laughing and giggling like a couple of schoolkids as the pigeons landed on our arms. I was high on life, happier than I’d ever been before, maybe that should’ve been my first sign. Maybe I should’ve guessed then that life as I knew it was about to end.
All I can remember after that is blood. Screaming, yelling, fighting, and lots of blood. I don’t even really know what happened, especially not to John. One minute he was with me, holding onto me for dear life, the next he was gone. If he hadn’t vanished, then maybe we could’ve escaped together, but I couldn’t leave without him. I needed to know that he was safe.
I waited, I hid and I waited. During that whole time, I had no clue what was really happening, but I didn’t care. John was out there looking for me somewhere, I just knew it. All I had to do was wait for him.
“Hey, are you okay?” When a warm and comforting voice finally came to my rescue, I was totally gutted to realize that it wasn’t him.
“Oh, thank you, I’m fine, just waiting for my husband.” My initial instinct was to act standoffish, which maybe I should’ve stuck to. “He’ll be here in a minute.”
“Well actually I’m rounding up the rest of the survivors of the attack, we’ve got a little group of people not too far from here. Maybe your husband is there, waiting for you?”
As I glanced at him, drinking in his piercing hazel eyes and dark features, I realized that he was probably right. John was sensible, if there was a smart option available to him he would take it.
If only I’d been smarter.
“Okay, take me to him.”
I followed the man, who I would later learn was called Dave Suscheck—or, at least that’s what he told me—far much further than I should’ve. The warning signs were there for a long time, but I chose to ignore them out of sheer desperation. I was so keen to see my husband that I would’ve gone anywhere.
That’s how I ended up here.
As I glance my eyes around the cold, dirty, small cell that I’ve been stuck in for God knows how long my heart sinks once more. Remembering John has helped me to survive this far, but it never lasts because he’s out there somewhere—hopefully still alive—and I’m in here with no hope of escaping.
As it turns out, this situation has brought the absolute worst in Dave, he’s become an utterly insane person. Maybe he always was, and this just helped him to unleash that, I guess that’s just something that I’ll never know. He’s the sort of person that I can’t fight off either, even if I wanted to escape. He’s tall and muscular, incredibly strong.
And now he has a bunch of sicko helpers on his side, making it even more challenging.
“Time for The Games!” I hear someone yell out in a singsong tone of voice. “You verses the morti che camminano. Who will it be today?”
An icy cold terror splashes over my face and waves through my body, but I don’t allow myself to react visibly. I’ve learned the hard way that nothing works; if I cower into a corner, I get chosen, if I sit proudly with my head held high, I get chosen, if I do nothing, I get chosen, so the latter is preferable. At least that gives me the false sense that I have some dignity left. As the first of many women brought here, I need to at least have that.
The Games are the worst thing about this place because they can literally be anything. I’ve suffered one-on-one fights with the infected, with pitiful weapons to help get me through, degrading, embarrassing act designed purely for our humiliation and their amusement, and fights to the death. Okay, so I was only involved in one of those and I somehow managed to get away without doing any fighting, but I still had to witness it.
The girl who killed the other person has died since...suicide, or so I heard from the whispers of one of the guards. I don’t blame her, I know she had to do it, I know that it could’ve so easily been me, but I guess she just couldn’t live with herself afterwards. I’ve considered opting out myself a few times in all honesty, only I’m just too much of a wimp. I just can’t seem to actually go through with it. I guess that’s also because a small part of me still holds on to the silly, naïve dream that I’ll be able to find my way out of here and back to John again. Maybe he isn’t alive anymore, maybe even if he is neither of us will be the same and it’ll be a bittersweet reunion, but I have to dream about something. It’s the only way that I stand a chance in hell of surviving.
“You,” I hear, and my heart thunders in my chest. I clasp my hands together and fiddle anxiously with my fingers. Maybe today will be different, maybe they’ll give me a break, maybe I’ll get a bit of luck for once. “You and you.”
I don’t even have to spin my head to know that I’ve been included, his voice is too near to me to be pointing at anyone else. It’s me again, I’m being dragged up, my life thrown into danger, and all to keep these vile animals smiling. How the hell is that fair?
Why, oh why did I have to follow that horrible man into this nightmare? Why didn’t I just stay where I was the whole time? I might not have survived but it’d be better than this.
I take in a deep, ragged breath and force myself up onto my unsteady feet. I want to flip out, to finally lose it, to take some damn action, but I won’t. I’m too afraid to do anything other than I’m told. I’m the perfect little prisoner.
“Well, come on, hurry up.” The man grabs my arm and yanks me violently from my cell, throwing me against two bodies who look just as frail and scared as me. “Dave won’t wait around forever.”
Dave, the man who stole me away and brought me here, the man who created this sick, twisted place, the one who haunts every single one of my nightmares. He’s the one I want to kill the most. I want to take a knife and drive it right into his heart. Then I want to laugh at him as he dies, just so he knows what it feels like. I didn’t used to be such a sick, twisted person, but the constant humiliation has made me feel that way.
We follow behind, as we walk I keep shooting anxious glances at the other girls, but clearly, they aren’t feeling as rebellious as me because their eyes are fixed on their shoes, right where they’re supposed to be. People have been killed for much less than glancing at someone else. I probably should be behaving too, but for some reason, I don’t want to anymore. I want to rebel...I just wish I didn’t have to do it alone.
This is a nightmare! I want to scream and yell as the idiots, to make them see some serious sense. We should all be working together, trying to rid the world of infection, not wasting time doing this, this is madness!
“Well, in you go.” The man shoves us all forwards, and we find ourselves in the room smack bang in the middle of the prison, that they’ve specifically designed for this exact, sick and twisted purpose. “Let The Games begin.”
I can’t take this anymore, I just can’t do it. The fear, the sickness, the horror of it all. It’s absolute hell. My eyes flick from side-to-side, my heart pumps hot, violent blood around my body, I shake so hard I fear my bones might snap. I just cannot keep on going through with this, I need it to end before it absolutely kills me.
The first zombie staggers through the door, snarling, snapping, clawing the air. It wants us, it wants to bite us badly, and if we don’t find something to take it down soon, at least one of us will be claimed. I wish I could yell out, to get some help from the others, but we can’t talk to each other. The last thing they want is for us to make friends, that could lead to a rebellion or an escape. This whole thing is very carefully crafted so that can never happen. If I was caught even trying it, I dread to think what’d happen to me.
A fate a whole lot worse than death.
I stagger backwards instantly, my survival instinct kicking in. I’m not sure that feature of me is useful really, it won’t let sacrifice myself even when I think it’s the best idea. It keeps me going, even though I would be better off dead.
I need to find something to defend myself quickly, especially as I can hear the door clicking open and another dead one falling through it. These guys must have a cage full of them somewhere, like pets, ready to be unleashed upon us whenever they’re bored.
As I spot the second one it makes me feel sick to my stomach, it’s in a terrible state. Black blood dripping noisily to the ground, chunks of flesh falling as it moves, so my bodily damage that I’m not even sure if it’s male or female...what the hell happened to this zombie?
I hate to remember that these creatures used to be human, that they once had lives, loves, joys, anguish, families themselves, because it makes it that much harder to kill them when the time comes. It makes me want to weep for what they’ve lost, and also out of sheer jealousy because they don’t have to endure this hell. Their brains are switched off whereas mine is still way too active.
My back hits the cage wall and in an instant, someone shoves me back in. I spin around, ready to send a pointless glare, but before I get the chance to something connects with my skin and everything jolts with shock inside of me.
“Help me,” I hear a hiss. “Save me.” It’s a girl, another one of the ones who was shoved in here with me, and she’d giving me an intense panic-stricken look. I’m so shocked to have someone speaking to me that it takes me a while to answer. “I’m bleeding.”
I glance down at her arm to see blood pumping rapidly from her, cascading down her body. Instantly I’m transported back to a time when none of this was real, when I was in my surgery fixing the bleeding limbs of animals. I can almost hear the new wave music playing lightly in the background to calm me down.
“Tie it up,” I whisper quietly back, almost forgetting that I might get caught. “Tie it above the wound to stop the bleeding.”
“With what?” There’s a sheer terror in her eyes, one that’s making her act way out of character.
“Material...your tee shirt, or maybe you can find something in here.” I flick my eyes from side-to-side, rapidly spotting danger coming at me from every angle. All I want to do is help, but if I do I risk myself. Again, I want to do the right thing, I’d love to be able to sacrifice myself to help someone else, but the icy cold fear was telling me to run. “Maybe you should hide for a while until all of this is over.”
“But what if they kill me...”
I run, needing to find something to look after myself with. Her too, since she can’t fight. I hope she takes my advice because from the looks of that gash if she doesn’t, the blood loss will slow her down and she’ll be killed for sure.
Oh God, there are infected everywhere now, coming at me from every single angle. Everywhere I look my eyes are bombarded with the image of death, which causes an unbridled panic to overwhelm and consume me. I can’t do this, not this time, this is the time that I’m going to die...
The breaths spill from my body like desperate pants, my heart pounds heavily against my rib cage, all I want to do is throw up, but it’s as if there’s nothing there inside of me to actually come out. Blood...I’m covered in blood, I can’t even remember where it all came from. All I know is that one moment I was in a pit of chaos, and then I found myself back here, back in my cage.
One more day down, God knows how many more to go. I don’t think I can take this anymore...
I spin my eyes around slowly, every single horrifying emotion inside of me heightening. This can not be happening, haven’t I been through enough today? I’ve just been called into the ring, there’s no way they can be doing this to me again. I know they’re sadistic here, but this is on another level entirely.
“For what?” My voice is raspy, difficult to hear, but I need more information before I can even think about going anywhere. My butt is on the cold, hard ground now, I don’t want to move it again unless I really have to.
“Dave wants to see you.”
“Dave never wants to see anyone anymore!” In the beginning, he came in here to torment me all the time, but ever since his little project has grown, he’s been around less and less. He lets everyone else do the dirty work for him.
Oh God, a cold fear strikes my heart. What if he’s decided to get back in the whole torture game and he’d picked me as his victim? I really don’t want to go, I would do literally anything to get out of it, but as always I’m not in control of my destiny here. I have to do exactly as I’m told.
“Dave wants to see you, so I suggest you move before I’m forced to move you.”
My knees knock together as I stand, my whole body trembles with an intense all-consuming fear. I was wrong before, this is far worse than getting ready for The Games, at least then I know where I stand. I’m at the bottom of the ladder, the victim in a messed up fantasy concocted by a madman, with this I have no idea. Only that it won’t be good.
As we walk through the hallways of this building, I’m taken past the other cells for the first time since being here. I can’t resist peeking in, just because I know I might not get another chance, and what I see makes me sick to my very core. Sure, I probably look as messy, as screwed up, as twisted as these girls but I haven’t seen myself. Seeing it is way worse than anything I could’ve imagined.
That’s when another idea starts to form in my mind. I’m actually in a lucky position here, I’m going to be in the same room as Dave, without bars separating us. Maybe I should use that, and I should finally put my murder fantasies into action. It’s risky, I might not make it out alive, and maybe someone equally as bad will take over, but if I don’t do this I’ll probably regret it forever more.
It’s worth thinking about anyway.
“Here.” The man pushes me forwards. “He’s right through that door.”
“What, you want me to just go in there?” I point towards the door, as an incredulousness overtakes my tone. “Are you serious?”
He rolls his eyes exaggeratedly at me, and shoves me once more, making his feelings on the subject clear. I don’t mean anything to him, I’m just a pawn in this whole madness, it wouldn’t mean anything to him if I lived or died.
Well, that’s just fantastic!
I push the door quickly before I can totally bottle in and I slide my way in, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, but of course, that’s totally pointless. Dave is waiting for me, and by the looks of it so is his guest. His very undead guest...
“You might know my little friend,” he smirks and points towards her, seemingly relishing in my discomfort. “You spoke to her earlier today.”
Oh God...oh no...
Yep, it’s her. Everything in me flip flops and churns at the sight of the poor woman I abandoned in the ring earlier on today. Maybe this is my fault, maybe if I hadn’t left her she’d still be alive.
“Oh my goodness, will you wipe that guilty expression from your face? She was already bitten. Where do you think the blood came from?”
What does he expect me to say to that? He’s staring at me expectantly as if he thinks I’m going to respond, but my lips are sealed shut. It’s taking all that I have not to keep staring at the beast-like version of her behind him. Even if her death isn’t my fault, I still feel to blame. She’d been through a horrible time here, she was at death’s door, I could’ve at least seen her off in a comforting way.
What the hell has happened to me? Who have I become?
“What is this?” I eventually spit out, accusation lacing my tone. “What are we doing here? What are you doing here?”
“I’m just enjoying the end of the world,” he extends his arms outwards, indicating towards his new world. “What are you doing?”
“You know that all I want is to find my husband. You tricked me here, now you’ve brought me into this room and I want to know why.” I fold my arms across my chest, trying to show him fury, but really all I’m really doing is covering up my fear.
“Who were you?” he shocks me by asking. “Before all of this, I mean.”
“Huh?” I furrow up my eyebrows, trying to work out exactly what his game plan is right now. It’s never straightforward, there’s always something he’s playing, and not know what that is scares the living hell out of me.
“Well, I mean, I see a tall, slim, terrified woman standing before me, one that could really use a shower...but that wasn’t always you, was it? So, why not tell me more about yourself?”
“So, suddenly you want to know about the people you’re torturing?”
“Oh don’t be so mean, I don’t see it as torturing. I’m just having a little fun.” His head falls back as he lets out a barking laugh as if all of this is totally hilarious. “So, come on tell me all about you, Beverly.”
The only way to work out what this is, is to play along for a while. “Okay, well my name is Beverly Denuse Laude, I live in a small ranching community in New Mexico.” Talking about home sends a bolt of intense pain coursing right through my body. “I used to be a vet, but now I’m a volunteer EMT....”
“EMT, emergency medical technician? Damn, you should’ve told me. I would’ve brought you out onto this side of things much sooner if I knew you were going to be useful.”
I’d never be useful for you, my brain screams, but I keep that thought inside. Some things don’t need to be said just yet, not until I’ve worked out what’s going on. “Right, so is that everything, or do you need to know more?”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” he muses for a couple of minutes, tapping his fingers on his chin.
“What about you?” I might as well blindside him a little, get something back from this nightmare. “Who did you used to be?”
“Does it matter?” He looks uncomfortable for the first time since I’ve seen him, I need to go in for the kill!
“Well, if you need to know everything about me, then surely I get to ask you some questions too?” There it is, that laugh again. “I’m so glad that I amuse you, but I’m not joking.”
“Okay fine, shoot. Ask away.”
I wasn’t expecting that, but now I need to roll with it. “Okay, what’s your full name?”
“Dave Suscheck, I wasn’t lying when I told you that. I might be a lot of things, but never a liar”
“Where are you from?”
“Why are you in Venice?”
“Work. I’m an English Professor.”
There’s a heat circling us, a battle brewing. The quicker I fire off questions, the faster he replies.
“How old are you?”
“Who are you in Italy with?”
Silence. For the first time, he purses his lips together and says nothing. Have I hit on something here? Maybe there doesn’t need to be any more death, maybe I can get us all freed another way entirely. I stare at him, refusing to break eye contact for even a second. I need to break him...
“No family?” I’m not stopping, not now. All I need to do is remember all the horrible times I’ve been through to keep me strong. There’s a growling monster straining behind him as a constant reminder of that.
“Not in Italy, no.”
“In America then?”
He stands up and pounds his fists on the table, his skin reddening with temper. I’m there now, prickling under his temper, much as it scares me this is where I need to be.
“Will you just shut it?” he commands loudly. “I’ve answered enough of your ridiculous questions...”
“Well no, you know about my marital status, so why can’t I know about yours?”
“I’m a survivor,” he growls while slamming his thumb hard into his chest. “That’s all you need to know. I’ve kept you alive this far, haven’t I?”
“You call this alive?” I’m actually shocked to hear him say this, does he really think he’s doing us a favor. “I think I speak for everyone when I say that we would all rather be dead than suffering your stupid Games.”
He moves closer to me, and it takes everything within me not to freak out and step back. I know that I’ve gotten to him, I can sense him struggling, so he’s reverting back to his default mode: intimidation. “You’re trying to tell me that The Games aren’t the best part of your day? They’re certainly mine.”
“That’s sick, you’re sick.”
As the warmth of his body almost connects with mine, my breath hitches in my throat. I’m trying to keep my brain intact, to keep myself going, but it’s really hard with him here.
Then my eyes spot it, very briefly but enough to know. A gun.
Oh my God if I can just get hold of that gun, it’ll all be fine...
“Oh, you’ve seen that, huh?” he slides it from his pocket, looking pleased as punch with himself. “She’s a beaut, isn’t she?”
I don’t even know how he knew that I was looking, but now I’m really scared. Especially as he’s waving it in front of my face, bringing my closer to the barrel of a gun than I’ve ever been before.
“Want to see me fire her?”
“Erm, no thanks,” I shake my head maybe a little too vigorously. “Look, you’ve obviously called me in here for a reason, so why don’t you just tell me what it is?”
“It hasn’t gone unnoticed that you’re breaking the rules a lot, and I want to know what it is that you want,” he shrugs casually but keeps his hand firmly wrapped around the gun. “I’ve killed people for less.”
“So why not me?”
“I don’t know, maybe because you’re my first. None of this would be real if it wasn’t for you. If I hadn’t found you hiding away like a little beaver that day, maybe I never would’ve been able to...”
“Oh don’t pin this on me, you had this place planned out for something just a sick and twisted as this. You must’ve thought about doing this before the virus, maybe you just got lucky.”
“You think this is mine? God, I wish.”
“So you just happened to find it?” He’s lying to me, I just know it. There’s no way in hell that’s the truth, when he brought me here he knew exactly what he was doing. “Are you serious?”
“Okay, I did know about it before it all hit the fan, but I never had any plans.”
“One more question, what was it before?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe just one more, why did you decide to turn it into what it is now?”
He moves around the room, sliding like a snake, all the while unease settles firmly in the pit of my stomach. Something big is going to happen soon, it has to. Am I going to roll over and let Dave take control, or am I going to do it for once? My heart thunders painfully in my chest as I try my best to find some bravery inside of me somewhere.
“I have nothing left, I’m never getting home, I’m stuck here in a country that I hate with no one, and if no one comes up with an answer to this nightmare anytime soon then I’ll never get back there.”
“I understand that,” I reply slowly and deliberately, trying to edge delicately around this. “But we’ve all lost people, there’s no excuse for going out and treating people this way.” I can’t imagine the rest of the world has reacted in this way to this nightmare if only I can make him see that. “Maybe you need to focus your attentions on trying to find a way back home. Put all of this to bed, let everyone go, and get back to your family.”
He stops dead on the spot and turns his head slowly, freakishly so to look at me. My heart skips, hope rises, I start to think that just maybe I’m getting through to him...
“Don’t you get it, you freak? The world has ended, this is it, this is us now.”
“No way, someone out there will be working on a solution. I bet something’s being concocted as we speak.”
I near him as I speak, slowly reaching out my arms to touch his shoulders. I try to seem like I’m comforting him, but really I’m reaching, trying to grab anything to end this right now.
“I guarantee that you’ll be back home soon, and all of this will be a distant memory.”
My fingers move down.
“What you should do is end it now, before this whole experience changes you forever. You don’t want to end up totally unable to move on.”
This is working, he’s actually getting sucked in by my words. Any minute now, I’ll have that gun and everything will be done.
“I think it might be a little too late for that,” he smirks at me, staring deeply into my eyes.
“What are you...?”
I don’t know why, but something down below catches my attention and my eyes flicker downwards. I don’t know exactly what I’m expecting to see, but it certainly isn’t blood dripping on the ground. Where is that even coming from?
Then a hot pain radiates from my chest, and a horrible realization dawns on me. The blood, it’s coming from me, from my chest. That means...
“Yeah, sorry, I didn’t really want it to come to this, but I can’t have your ridiculous optimism bringing this place down. It doesn’t matter what happened in my past, this is my present, this is your present...or at least it was. Now I guess you’re done for and it’s just me on my own.”
My head fuzzes up, my body feels heavy, I might be falling I’m not totally sure.
“It’s a shame, I don’t want to get rid of my first, but there’s no other way it can be.”
The room whirls, everything blackens, a pain strikes my back. I’m on the ground now, Dave is above me, I feel like I should be fighting but there’s nothing left.
“Anyway, time to go...”
He spins around and uses the knife covered in my blood to slice the girl zombies head open. Things spilling out of her is the last thing I see before everything goes totally black.