The May First Selected Writer is Matthew Munson
Please feel free to email Matthew at: email@example.com
THE NEW DAWN
The day I died, I was in the supermarket.
Becky and I were doing the weekly shop. The twins were in their pram, laughing and gurgling away as nine-month-old babies often do. Becky and I were in the sauces aisle talking about mayonnaise, of all things. It’s weird how the mind remembers the little things. I still can’t remember the colour of my wife’s eyes, but I can remember that we were arguing about mayonnaise.
“I don’t see why you’re so fussed about buying a brand,” I said to her. “Mayo is mayo.”
“Except that this own-brand stuff tastes cheap.”
I couldn’t argue; it tasted cheap because it was cheap. But cheap was good; with Robert and Sarah in our lives, and me being the only breadwinner, as far as I was concerned we could do with a few more own-brand products.
“Becky, it’s not as if --”
I gasped as a shaft of pain shot up the base of my neck and into my head. It felt like a poker had stabbed into of my brain. My hand shot round to feel what had happened.
I blinked in surprise – there was nothing there.
“Babe?” Becky asked, her face screwed up with concern. “What’s wrong?”
My eyes rolled up in my head....and I died, right there in the supermarket.
Atheists have always believed that when you die, you die. Nothing more, nothing less. I wasn’t ever bothered about life after death; after all, if the atheists were right, I wouldn’t know about it anyway.
Turns out there is life after death. It just wasn’t what I expected. My life after death began about eight hours after I died.
My eyes opened and looked around. I was in a dark tube and felt bloody cold. There was no way I could sit up -- while it was about eight feet long, it was barely a foot in height. I was confused -- I didn’t know why I was here. I couldn’t imagine the designers of these tubes expecting many people to wake up from death.
I could hear the muffled voices of two people outside the tube; I felt a sudden surge of anger well up inside me at their freedom. They were out there, and I was stuck in this stupid, sodding box.
Turning out onto my stomach, I saw a small door in front of me; it was securely locked -- from the outside -- with no key or handle to grab.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Can anyone hear me? You’ve made a mistake, I’m still alive!”
I listened carefully, but the two voices had fallen silent. For a brief second, I felt scared....and alone. Those feelings were quickly replaced by something else; it was anger, a deep, bubbling anger that started in the pit of my stomach and then blossomed to my chest and throat. I felt my fists clenching and my teeth ground together as the anger throbbed through my body.
I had never really been an angry person before; I liked to think of myself as being quite laid-back, so this anger coursing through my veins was a new sensation for me.
It felt good.
My left fist lashed out and smashed against the door. It ploughed through the hard, cold metal like paper and I instantly felt the warmth of the room beyond.
The room looked like the morgues I’d seen on TV shows; cold and clinical, with a couple of tables near to each other and various pieces of equipment -- knives and things -- dotted around the room. A couple of women were stood in the middle of the room. They were staring at me in shock.
I felt invincible.
My teeth plunged into the old man’s neck and ripped away a chunk of his flesh. I barely registered his cry of pain as I felt his blood splatter across my face and down my throat.
I roared with pleasure as the taste of his blood and flesh hit my taste buds; it made me feel alive and satiated my hunger, at least for a moment. For that brief, pleasurable moment, I felt whole.
I watched the old man’s body drop; he was dead before he hit the floor. That was good; it always was easier when they didn’t fight. It meant I could enjoy my food without having to waste time chasing after them first.
The chunk of flesh vanished down my throat; the hunger was still there, gnawing away at me and urging me on. I glanced down at the old man, his body still intact and ready for me to feast on.
I knelt down beside him and began to eat.
Three corpses were on the floor, ripped to shreds. Limbs were torn from torsos and heads from necks. There was the smell of death and blood everywhere. Two of the corpses were the women I had seen when I punched through the door; they must have been doctors, judging by the white coats....or what was left of the coats. The third person – a man - had some sort of uniform on.
Was he a security guard? I wondered.
It took me a moment to realise that I wasn’t upset by what I could see. In fact, all it was doing was making me hungry.
I froze for a moment, almost intoxicated by the sight of the fresh meat in front of me. This isn’t me, I thought. Why don’t I feel something other than hunger?
I could feel my mouth drooling at the site of so much blood and flesh. I was thrown by the sudden craving and needed to get away from it, to give me time to think. There was a set of automatic doors to my right, although they didn’t open as I approached them. A sudden surge of anger flooded through me -- and the doors folded in on themselves under my fists; it was like they were made of paper.
“What the hell…?” I muttered.
I stared at the doors, trying to figure out what I had done to make them cave so easily. Gingerly, I reached out and touched a piece of the door. It was folded back on itself, showing the corridor beyond. It felt like metal – cold and smooth – and looked like metal.
Metal it is then, I thought. So how did I manage to punch through it?
I looked over my shoulder. If I can punch through doors, I could kill someone without breaking a sweat.
As I looked over the carnage, that same deep, feral hunger started to gnaw away at me again. I could feel my mouth drooling at the sight of so much fresh meat; the logical part of my brain couldn’t understand why I wanted it so much, but it didn’t feel wrong.
I turned away, making myself focus on getting out of the morgue. I stretched the doors wide enough apart to let me through. As I stepped through, I look left and right, but each curving end was empty. I was alone.
I’d usually feel nervous when I was alone in an unfamiliar place, almost apologetic. Becky would always get annoyed at me, but I couldn’t help it; it was just me. Now, however, I felt different – I was more assured and confident.
Wanting some answers, I turned right and began walking – to look for anyone. I passed a few side rooms, but they were either locked or empty.
As I rounded the corridor, I came across a laundry cupboard, its contents spilling out over the floor. Seeing pyjamas amongst the laundry made me realised that I was naked. After I’d dressed, I walked over to the nearby lift and pressed the call button; it “pinged” immediately and the doors opened.
Abruptly, I was on my back, feeling the tiled floor slamming into my shoulder blades. I called out in shock; that had hurt. My head snapped up and I was confronted by a snarling, angry face directly in mine.
I was battered by my attacker’s arms, and I suspect that I would have been bitten if my hands, placed firmly against a growling throat, weren’t keeping those teeth away from me.
I strained against his arms, but he was at least as strong as me. I thought back to the morgue and how I had managed to destroy the doors without any apparent effort.
My god, he’s like me! I thought with sudden exhilaration. Maybe he knows what’s going on!
“Stop it!” I yelled.”I need to talk to you!”
The attack suddenly stopped -- and the face changed, became immediately calmer. It was in that instant I realised that my attacker, despite the boyish haircut, was female.
She was shorter than me a foot and slimmer – I was 6’ 4” and fairly stocky from my days playing rugby league – and we looked like polar opposites. Where I had dark hair and green eyes, she had blonde hair and blue eyes. She looked calm and collected now that she wasn’t trying to attack me.
I pushed myself off the floor as she climbed off me.
“Sorry about that,” she said pleasantly, as if she had done nothing more than bump into me. “I didn’t realise you were one of us.”
One of us? I thought. What does that mean?
Despite her aggression a minute ago, I knew – somehow – that I could trust her, and she seemed to think the same of me. The rage....the anger ....in her face had been total and awesome, and I found myself wondering if I had looked like that to the people back in the mortuary.
I abruptly hoped I had – I’d enjoyed it.
“What’s your name?”
I blinked. “Sorry?”
The girl snorted with dry humour. “What were you thinking about?”
“I was wondering what’s happening to me ... us,” I replied. “I feel different ... and my name’s Ryan, in answer to your other question.”
“Mine’s Alexandra,” she said, “but I’ll break your legs if you call me that. Alex will do.”
I nodded, smiling at the thought of her breaking my legs; I knew she had the strength to do it. “Do you know what’s happening?”
“Not a clue, my friend.” She smiled. “I don’t think that’s what you wanted to hear, was it?”
“How did you guess?”
“I was a psychologist before it happened.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Before what happened?”
She gave me an odd look. “You know....before I died.”
I didn’t react; my brain couldn’t process what she had just said.
“You’re dead?” I asked.
“Ryan,” she went on, “we both are.”
Alex drew in a breath of cold air and slowly released it as she looked out over the car park. We’d gone straight there from the morgue; I hadn’t wanted to stay there as I thought about what she had told me.
Alex turned to face me.
“Yeah, you’re dead. You’re also stronger, fitter and more assured than you were before.”
“Stronger....” I muttered, and looked over the car park. “Yeah, I’ve already encountered that. It felt.... good.”
“I know,” Alex replied. “We’re beyond human.”
As soon as Alex said the word human, I tensed. Bile blocked the back of my throat for a moment and I growled. My eyes darted around the silent car park, checking for any invaders.
“What’s wrong with me?” I breathed. “Why do I get so angry when I think of ...”
I couldn’t finish the sentence, as the bile started to rise again in my throat; I opened and closed my mouth a few times, but no words could come out.
I looked at Alex, needing answers; the smile had vanished from her face and replaced by understanding.
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked. “You know, don’t you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you,” she replied. “You’re more alive now than you were. Your body knows what it wants. It doesn’t like the living ... they feel wrong, don’t they?”
“All the emotions that clogged up your thinking are gone,” she went on. “You’re free.”
I was silent for a long while, digesting what Alex had told me. It had taken me longer to wake up than the others, having been slowed by the coldness in the morgue, so Alex knew more than I did. I couldn’t deny what she was saying, though; I did feel stronger, better, more powerful than I had done before ... and unencumbered by worry or doubt.
A thought suddenly occurred to me.
“My wife,” I said. “My children. Where are they?”
“They’re probably still human. They’re not us.”
The bile flooded back and I screamed with rage. I hated humans, I knew it, and they needed to die – all of them. I no longer cared who I hurt. My hunger returned, and there was only one thing that could satiate me; human flesh. I welcomed the change as it flooded over me.
Alex smiled as she saw the change in my eyes.
“You’re free,” she said. “Welcome to the new dawn.”
Alex and I remained together for four months, hunting humans for the meat. Some put up a good fight, but others ... they just cowered. They acted like nothing more than sheep – frightened, terrified sheep running from wolves.
Until one day, when the sheep fought back. We had hunted a herd of weak, defenceless humans to a barn where they cowered from us like the aforementioned sheep going to the slaughter.
I could feel my mouth drooling as I heard them barring the doors.
I need to feed, and a couple of barred doors won’t stop me.
We climbed the side of the building silently and quickly; our reflexes having been expanded along with our strength, it was easy to find tiny hand-holds along the wooden slats of the building. We were quickly on the roof and stood over the skylight.
Alex looked at me. “Ready?”
I licked my lips, ravenously hungry now.
“Do you even have to ask?”
She and kicked in the skylight. I immediately heard screams from below; they had forgotten all about the skylight.
I jumped through and landed on the muddy ground. Thirty or so villagers were cowering at one end of the long barn; they were a mixture of adults, old people and children.
Oh yes, I was going to feast here.
One of the older men charged forward with a scythe, ready to attack. I deftly stepped to one side and pushed him to the ground. His arms – and the scythe – flailed out as he fell. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alex drop through the skylight and land on the ground ... but didn’t get up again.
I caught the look of stunned shock on the old man’s face as he lay there on the floor. His scythe suddenly had a film of blood covering it.
It wasn’t until I looked round did I realise what had happened. Alex had dropped through the skylight just as the old man had started falling – and the curve of his scythe had cut her head clean off.
She was gone. Just like that.
I felt numb with shock. She had been my ally, my sidekick for the past four months. We had fought, killed and feasted together. We were the undead – we weren’t meant to die again. We were meant to live forever.
Rage surged up through my body and I roared. The old man looked terrified and tried to crawl back, pushing himself as far away as possible from me as I lunged for him. I missed his leg by an inch and I stepped forward to try again when –
I looked over my shoulder. A woman, in her twenties, called out to me. She didn’t look scared; she looked determined.
“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” she shouted.
“You wouldn’t want to fight me, little girl,” I growled. “I will feast on your liver for breakfast.” A grin formed on my lips. “Wait your turn.”
The woman took a step forwards. “I think it’s your turn now.”
I looked behind her. Suddenly, the group of villagers weren’t acting like frightened sheep; they were stood together, shoulder to shoulder, and they look angry.
They had seen Alex die. They now knew that the undead could die again – and stay dead.
Things had taken an unexpected turn. I managed to push down the rage that was consuming me and use my head. I couldn’t fight off thirty villagers determined to hurt me, not without doing some serious damage to my body.
And I don’t heal anymore.
For the first time in my death, I had to run. I had to leave fresh meat behind and get out of here, for the sake of my own existence. Before they could react, I climbed up the wall and pulled myself through the skylight. While they were still pulling the furniture away from the doors, I was already deep into the forests.
Two days passed. I hid deep in the forests of the Scottish highlands. Occasionally, I would come across a solitary human. I ate them. I savoured their taste and chewed through their flesh bit by bit, keeping my hunger at bay.
I then saw a black helicopter flying overhead. I watched it circle round for a moment and then release a cloud of dirty-coloured gas from pumps in its tail end.
I can’t escape it, I realised. Even if I run, I’ll still breathe it in. Damn. This is how I’m going to die.
Calmly, I sat down on the ground, leaned against a mighty oak tree – and closed my eyes. If I was going to die, I was going to die with dignity.
The Apocalypse ended that day.
A group of scientists, working under heavily armed guard somewhere in Kent, had found the genetic marker behind my death and rebirth. Their vaccine mitigated its effects; it removed our hunger and gave us back our emotions.
It was a cruel vaccine. I wish it had killed me outright. Instead, I lived. I lived and could feel again.
I’d expected to feel guilt, but I didn’t. All I could feel was fear for my family. Were Becky and the twins safe? Were they even still alive? Were they still human?
I hadn’t thought about them in four months; I hadn’t had any need to, after all. I had loved my new world, pushed on by my hunger and desire for human flesh.
Now that my hunger had gone, I remembered what my life had been life before my death. I had loved my family, and I wanted them back. I wanted to go back to my old life; I wanted to kiss my kids goodnight and argue about mayonnaise with Becky.
I wanted normality. So I headed home. I stood up and walked to Dover.
I lost track of time. It must have been months – it could have been longer than that, for all I know – but I knew I’d been walking for a long time. Eventually, the scenery became more familiar and I began remembering portions of my old life. Driving out to my parents’ house, out here somewhere in the suburbs, or going to the out-of-town shopping centre ... or just going out for a drive with Becky, back when we were dating.
I’m nearly home, I realised. I’m so close.
I was startled out of my reverie by a cheerful voice from behind me. I checked that my hood was still in place – it was – and turned round.
A middle-aged man was walking across the green; a Jack Russell was on a lead at his feet, but looked desperate for its freedom.
I knew how it felt.
The man knelt down and fiddled with the leash.
“E-evening,” I replied.
I was terrified of being discovered. I couldn’t risk it. As the Jack Russell darted off across the green, I turned to go.
“Are you new to the village?” the man asked.
Before my brain caught up, I replied; “Erm, no, I’m ... just a visitor. I’m passing through.”
In the rapidly-fading dusk light, I could see the man nod. He walked towards me, and my stomach did a back flip. Quickly adjusting my hood, so that it covered as much of my face as possible, I took a step back and looked down.
“A lot of people do,” the man said. “Visit, I mean. It’s a nice little village – always has been, despite the recent ... problems.”
Oh god, he knows, I thought.
I started to panic, and wished I could still control the sensation like I had done when –
No, don’t! You don’t want to go back to ... then!
The man stopped right by me and looked for his dog over the green.
“I can’t see Henry,” he said, peering into the gloom. “Can you?”
I shook my head. I genuinely couldn’t, but didn’t trust my voice not to quaver with fear.
“It was a terrible time, wasn’t it,” he said abruptly. “All those ... dead people, hunting and killing everyone. We lost ... well, we lost more than we should have.”
I was glad I had hidden my hands in my jeans; I didn’t want to get recognised, not when I was so close to home.
“Yeah,” I replied. “No one was safe.”
“Did you lose anyone?”
“What? I – er, what?”
I was caught off-guard by the question. As I fumbled for a plausible lie, the man glanced at me.
“I asked if you’d lost anyone during the outbreak,” he patiently repeated.
“My wife and two children,” I said. I immediately hated myself for the lie.
“I lost my brother and his wife,” he replied. “They were butchered, just over there by the post office. I didn’t see it happen, thankfully.”
I glanced towards the post office, then quickly looked away. I heard the Jack Russell barking excitedly in the distance and found myself wishing I could be that carefree.
The man stuck out a hand.
“Samuel Hiller,” he said. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr ...?”
I felt another surge of panic; the second I put my hand in his, he would know what I was. The clamminess of my skin and the missing fingers were giveaways.
I just want my family back, I thought. Please don’t do this to me!
I was saved by Henry. He came bounding back across the green, still full of energy and excitement. Both Samuel and I looked round; the dog appeared from the gloom and barrelled into my legs. He immediately righted himself and began weaving himself in between the two of us.
I laughed at this little dog, full of energy, obviously happy to be back near his owner. I knelt down and reached out to stroke him. As soon as I touched him, however, he yelped in shock and jumped back, quickly moving behind Samuel’s legs.
“Henry?” Hiller said. “What’s wrong with you, you silly boy?”
He knelt down and grabbed hold of Henry, stroking him to stop the little dog from shaking. Samuel looked up at me and smiled.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “I don’t know what’s got into him. He’s never normally like --”
I instantly knew why he had stopped. Knelt down there opposite Samuel, my hands were visible. Pale white with occasional purple patches showed up even in the darkness of the evening. The ring and little fingers on my right hand were also gone.
Henry the dog, emboldened by being in his owner’s arms, started to growl; his teeth bared and his eyes became wild. Samuel kept a tight grip on his dog, though.
“You’re an abomination!” Samuel hissed. “You don’t belong here!”
“I don’t belong anywhere!” I exclaimed, a rush of emotions suddenly coming to the surface. “I’m scared and I just want to go home!”
Samuel scoffed. “You don’t have a home – except in a cemetery. You belong in hell!”
“Please don’t tell anyone!” I begged. “Please ... let me leave. I don’t mean you any harm. I just want to find my family.”
“Why shouldn’t I call for the authorities?” Samuel demanded. “You deserve to be exterminated!”
I flinched at the word exterminated; it sounded so harsh and final.
“Please ...” I pleaded. “Please, let me go. I’m heading for Dover to find my family. I don’t want to hurt anyone. The cure saved me of all that hate.”
Samuel paused; surprise suddenly showed on his face.
“Dover?” he repeated. “You’re going to Dover?”
I nodded. “That’s where I lived before ... well, before all this happened. I’m looking for my family.”
Samuel blinked, and hugged Henry close to his chest.
“You ... you haven’t heard?” he asked me.
There was a quaver in his voice. His fear seemed momentarily forgotten.
“What haven’t I heard?” I demanded. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m a goddamn zombie, Samuel! I don’t really keep up with the news!”
Samuel took a step back, his fear showing again. His dog snarled, but I hadn’t noticed. I knew I needed to apologise for my outburst.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I said, holding my hands up in a sign of surrender. My voice quavered with emotion as I went on; “I’m just tired. I want to see my family again.”
“I don’t think you’ll find them,” Samuel said quietly. He glanced away, suddenly unable to look me in the eye.
“What do you mean?” My stomach started churning. “Please tell me, Samuel. What’s happened?”
Hiller glanced down at Henry for reassurance. The dog had stopped growling for the moment, as if it had somehow picked up on my desperation. Samuel looked back at me.
“Dover was hit badly by the virus,” he said. “Over two-thirds of the population became zombies. A lot moved out the area, to find ... fresh meat elsewhere, I assume. But a lot stayed.”
“I know,” I whispered. “I was one of those that left.”
“The government couldn’t control them all,” Samuel went on. “The army were overwhelmed; there were just too many of them. So they scorched the town.”
My knees buckled and I fell to the ground. The earth and grass were hard beneath my knees but I didn’t care.
“They ... scorched ...” I tried to process what Samuel had said, but I couldn’t. “No ... they can’t ... my family ...”
Samuel’s eyes had filled with tears. He nodded
“No one survived,” the old man said softly. “The zombies fried. Anyone trying to leave the town’s boundaries was shot on site, human or zombie. They couldn’t tell who was who. I’m so sorry.”
I barely heard what Samuel was saying. All I could see, in front of my eyes, were my beautiful children screaming as the flames consumed them ... held by my burning wife.
My throat burnt as I screamed with grief. I didn’t care who heard me now. My reason for living had gone.
I wanted to die. But I was already dead. I had a half-life, and I wanted it to end.
I looked at Samuel.
“Kill me,” I begged. “Burn me. Let me die and be with my family.”
I finally welcomed death.
Matthew Munson has lived in Kent all his life and is a natural-born Englishman with strains of Irish blood somewhere in his ancestry. Despite writing his first story at the tender age of ten, he only began aiming for a professional career almost two decade later.