Extract from As The Sun Goes Down

October 13th, 2000 • Posted in Extracts |

An extract from “The Beach”: A short story:

“Sunday,” Ray said.

I nodded. “Sunday. Day of rest.” From behind us, the regular crack of rifles.

He sighed. “I’m dead beat. Stiff as a bugger. Do you think there’s any hope?”

Without looking at him, I uttered something between a giggle and a sob. I’d been feeling pretty weird lately. “There’s always hope. So long as we have bullets, there’s always hope.” I drew a shape in the dew-speckled grass, but did not know what it was meant to be.

“Cliché King strikes again.”

We faced the house because it implied normality, a façade from the past. It stood alone on the plain, a supposed retreat from all that was happening. We had come here because we thought it would be safe. We though nobody else would know about it. Our complacency had marked us out.

Behind us, another cascade of rifle shots. Ammunition was running low. The snipers were using their rounds sparingly, trying to line up two or more to make the most of the shot. Each miss was another two steps closer to the end; each hit was merely one.

“I never thought it would end like this,” Ray said. “When we came here, I mean. I thought it would be safe. We can see for miles around. I thought it’d be safe.” He often used the word safe; as if repetition could imbue it with power over unrelenting reality.

I glanced at my watch, but did not know the time. The smashed face recorded forever the instant of my fleeing the city, where I had abandoned Gemma to her fate. She had been dead already, but I could have done so much more for her. I hated myself for that. I hoped she did not hate me too.

Sometimes I thought I saw her on the distant hillside, shuffling towards the house with interminable, relentless steps. I prayed every night that it would not be my shift when she arrived.

“Our shift,” I said. Ray and I stood, turned from the house – the mental placebo for our sickness – andfaced the real world.

I took a rifle from Dawn. I smiled encouragingly, but she had been at the barricade for two hours, and her face was moulded grim.

The gun was still hot. The rack of magazines was sadly depleted. I’d have to make every shot count. There must have been a million of them. They seemed to be coming here from all over the world. Dead but walking, all their stagnant attention was focussed on our house. We were the centre of the world, and it was hopeless. I wished they would all turn around and walk back the way they had come, but eventually, I knew, they would simply travel around the globe and reach us from the opposite direction. I took aim and fired. A head exploded into dry brains and shattered skull.

We were an island in a sea of moving dead. They walked over the pathetic corpses of those we had already shot. They came slowly, like a glacier of doom, guaranteed to sweep us away eventually but content in the knowledge that they need not rush things.

I took aim and fired. One went down with half a head, the bullet ricocheting and punching through the spine of another. A bullet well spent.

In the distance, flaming red hair. A smile borne of decomposition, not love. Gemma.

It would be another hour or so before she was near enough to be worth shooting. It was an hour I spent reliving our time together, like an extended flashback experienced by a drowning man. And I was drowning. Choking on the inevitability of things. Putting off the end, as mankind had for decades, the difference being that I had no faith in redemption. I was not waiting for God to intervene; I simply wanted a few more hours of life.

At the end of the hour, when she was close enough for me to see the empty sockets where once resided the eyes I loved, I took aim and pulled the trigger. But there were no more bullets left.

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