The Last (Zombie Ocean 1), p.1Michael John Grist
THE LAST - Zombie Ocean 1
7 billion zombies. 1 man.
When the zombie apocalypse hits America, not a soul is left alive.
Except Amo. He's a comic book artist. He's a video game world-builder. He's just a regular guy living in New York City, with only his wits, creativity and basic decency to guide him.
He's alone against 7 billion zombies.
Will he survive?
ZOMBIE OCEAN SERIES
The Last (Book 1)
The Lost (Book 2)
The Least (Book 3)
Box Set (Books 1-3)
The Loss (Book 4)
The List (Book 5)
The Laws (Book 6)
Box Set (Books 4-6)
The Lash (Book 7)
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For SY, as always.
11. THE DARKNESS
14. PIED PIPER
15. ONE MONTH LATER
22. UTAH, ARIZONA, NEVADA
The Lost (Chapter 1)
One day and two nights before the zombie apocalypse kills every person I ever knew, I become mayor of Sir Clowdesley.
Sir Clowdesley is a cozy little independent coffee shop in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, on 23rd street and 2nd Avenue, decked out with soothing shades of teal and raw wood shelving. I come here every day to make storyboards, drink decaf lattes, and perpetuate the routines that have kept me alive this long. Now I've become mayor, which is dangerously exciting.
I lean back from my laptop in the mezzanine area of the shop, called the 'library' for all the donated books lining the walls, and watch the little twinkling Jeo badge revolving on my phone's screen.
I feel flush with pride. Baby steps they said, when I was finally released from the hospital. This feels like a baby victory.
I survey the low bustle of hipsters I have come to rule, spread out on mismatching vintage sofas and benches. They wear skinny jeans and neck beards and plaited ponytails, all clutching phones like the sawn-off hilts of swords in a war. I suppose I look much like them, a 28-year old artist with dreams of becoming relevant, though I'm now their leader.
I sip my decaf latte and shuffle through the Jeo option screens. It seems Sir Clowdesley have made a few mayor's rewards available, so I can bestow such favors as free coffee, reserved seating, and double-speed Wi-Fi upon whomever I please.
I don't know anyone here though. I've avoided the Clowdesley chat room so far, to keep the headaches at bay.
Who wants a free coffee? I have five to give away. Make your case.
I type and send the message, geo-locked to the Clowdesley coordinates. Across the room I hear a few low chimes jingle as my decree arrives. The first answer comes within moments.
I'm pregnant. Baby needs caffeine.
I reward this bold soul with a cup of decaf. I watch out for someone to rise, a pregnant lady perhaps, but MichelleGondry42 doesn't seem to want to claim his/her prize just yet. No problem, I slap a sixty-second countdown on it to flush them out.
A skinny guy by the window springs up out of his bucket leather seat and hurries over to the counter, holding up his phone like the Olympic torch. I get a kick out of that.
God wants me for his messiah. Coffee will fuel his second coming. His wrath will rain down on the unjust.
Double espresso. I do the timer again and now a portly girl in skinny black jeans makes her dash to the counter. This is probably too much fun.
"So you're the new mayor, huh?"
I look to the side.
It's the gorgeous auburn-skinned waitress, standing there looking down at my phone. Immediately my heart starts to race. She's some kind of coffee-nut blend as rich as hazelnut cream, Afro-Caribbean with a French touch to her eyes, with these lovely dark ringlets of hair that circle down her cheeks. I've noticed her many times. I've been coming here every day for months.
"We haven't had one for a while," she goes on. "The spec is set pretty high."
I put the phone down and smile, belying the terror I'm feeling. "It's the culmination of all my plans."
She snorts. "You are in here a lot. It would probably be me, for all the shifts I do, but they don't let staff on Jeo."
I shrug. "I'll bring it up with the council."
She laughs. Her eye-whites are truly sparklingly white. "So what are you doing here every day, writing a novel?"
I follow her eye-line to my laptop computer on the table, open on a page full of text.
"Ah, yeah," I say, "it's not a novel, actually. It's storyboards for a graphic novel. I make them here then I do the art at home."
Her eyes light up a shade brighter. "Really? I'm into comics. What's it about?"
My smile goes wry. "Zombies."
"Ha. That’s cool. Do they run?"
I laugh, then rein it in. This is the closest I’ve come to flirting since the incident, and my head is already starting to twinge with the pressure. "They do. Do you want to see some panels?"
"Panels is like pages? Sure."
I lean to the laptop, swizzing the word processor screen away and bringing up my latest work. I full-screen it and angle the display so she can better see.
Her jaw drops a little. This and mayor makes it a great day.
"You are kidding me?"
I go all bashful. "No, it's mine. It's the penultimate panel, actually, I'm brainstorming what to do with the last one."
She leans over my shoulder and studies the screen closer. It's a view of New York from high up, around the 30th floor of the Chrysler building, but everything is destructed fitting the post-apocalypse; all cracks and weeds and toppled skyscrapers with leathery corpses strung on telephone wires.
The zombies are there too, but they're heaped in the middle at the Times Square intersection, in a tower of contorting limbs reaching up many stories high. They look a bit like they did in World War Z, climbing up to pull down a helicopter, but in my image they're climbing toward nothing we can see.
Drawing it laid me up in bed for a day. I could barely move for migraine-twinges and thinking I was going to die. It's worth it though.
"This is amazing. But what's going on?" Her breath touches my neck as she leans closer. My pulse starts to race. Not good, really, but I can't slam the laptop and run off now. "What are they trying to get at?"
I swallow down my dry throat and spit out words. "That's the question. At this point all the humans are dead, so it's just zombies left. You'd think they'd roam around mindlessly with no brains left, but in fact they stack up like this. I'm not sure if I should give the reason for it in the last panel, or sort of leave it open."
"Yeah. It's not aliens or anything. They're not climbing up to the mother ship."
She chuckles. I should probably stop this now while I'm ahead. I don't. "I'll show you if you like," I say. "I'll be here tomorrow. I come in here most days."
There's a bashful quiet. Of course I've seen her before, for the past five months, but I had no notion if I’d registered on her radar. We never talked, and really I'm not supposed to be talking to her now. It could kill me. I should just shut up.
"Dinner," I say instead. It comes into my head and I say it. "I'll show you at dinner tomorrow night. There's a great modern French spot nearby, they do logarithmic art on the walls and they have a cat that sings for its supper. My treat. I'll show you the panel. You render judgment."
Her left eyebrow raises a fraction. "A date? I approached you, though, it's true. I suppose I was asking for this."
"I'm the one asking. I think it'll be fun."
She laughs. "Points for opportunism, then. And for being the mayor. What if I say I have a boyfriend?"
"Then you'll have to buy the comic yourself. No free peeks at the last page."
She laughs again, and her bright eyes narrow, appraising me. "Well, you seem OK. No scurvy, rickets, nothing like that. It's a deal. Give me your phone."
I hand it over solemnly. She taps on it deftly then hands it back. "I'm not in here tomorrow," she says, "but we can have dinner. The cat better sing. I want good logarithms."
"Only the best."
She raises the eyebrow a little higher. I'm not entirely sure I know what a logarithm is, so I hope she won't ask. I saw it on a flyer.
"Lara," she says. "That's my name."
"Amo. It means love in Latin. My parents were hippies."
"Amo the mayor, OK. I'll see you."
She turns and goes. There are other people's novels to check on, probably, and my constituents to serve. Also they profit-share here, there's a career path and everything, which has got to be motivating. Next month Lara could be the manager, next year the world.
Ah shit. My heart is racing. This plus mayor is probably too much excitement for me to take. I sincerely hope I don't fall into a coma and die.
* * *
A year ago I fell into a coma and died.
It lasted for two weeks, and in fact I died many times, with my heart stopping and all brain function fading. Many times they somehow brought me back. I don't remember any of it and no one knows why. When I woke up it wasn't because of anything the doctors did; the fit or infection or whatever it was had just passed. It left me with a severely weakened heart, and a severely weakened mind.
"Think of it like diabetes," my doctor said, a serious Indian man with bright red glasses, which I found galling. Who wears bright red glasses when they go to see a man coming out of a coma? It's not a catwalk, man. "Your brain and body chemistry has changed," he went on. "Now you have this condition, you can't go back, and one lapse could lead to serious complications."
My head was already starting to hurt. The first twinge of many, many more. "Complications like what?"
"Like more comas. Like death. Honestly, we don't know."
I was sitting in my hospital bed in a lovely clean white ward that looked out over Central Park, a bright green contrast against the hospital's sterility. My family had all come in and out hours earlier, quietly of course, bringing bobbing foil balloons in the shape of skeleton and zombie heads, and now my doctor didn't have a goddamned clue what he was talking about.
"So I need to avoid death," I said, squinting against the rising pain. "How do I do that?"
He actually took off his glasses then. I suppose this was sincere. He wagged them in his hands as he made his points.
"Your family tell me you were under a lot of stress when it happened. You're an artist, yes?"
I gave a little nod.
"Art is tricky. It does things to the brain we don't understand. You don't seem to have any other risk factors, nothing genetic, nothing in your system, only the stress of what you were working on. Was there anything else stressful in your life at the time?"
I cast my mind back, but I couldn't think of anything. It was work; I was making the panels for my biggest project yet, an anthology horror piece I was editing that several online stores had already agreed to feature prominently. I'd set it up, bringing eleven other artists on board. It was a big deal for me.
"There was pressure, but not overwhelming. I can't think of anything else. I guess I just collapsed while I was working on that?"
He sighed. "You won't like to hear this then. I'll put it bluntly. We think you may be allergic to art."
He held up his hands. "I know, that's not possible. But your brain is highly abnormal, Amo. Over the course of your coma we've studied you a lot. Some of the best researchers in the country were here, trying to untangle the maze of contradictory data. For all the world it looked like your brain was a fever map, with lights flashing on and out, changing constantly. Some areas seemed to burn out, the ones we normally ascribe to creativity, then just as quickly they reformed. We thought we saw cancers growing, we were ready to operate, but they receded. You died and you came back multiple times. Your brain is essentially entirely new, having regrown itself many times. We don't understand it at all. You'll be a case study for years to come. I honestly don't know how complications will manifest."
I sat there dumbly.
"So I can only advise," he went on. "I'd advise you to avoid stimulation of any kind, particularly any kind of artistic endeavor, plus the parts of the brain associated with romantic love- they lit up some of the brightest. It was like fourth of July in your head."
I frowned at him. He seemed to regret that last phrase. He put his glasses back on and nodded, as though confirming something I'd said.
"Don't do art," he said. "Don't fall in love. It's what I have to advise. I'd prescribe you drugs, Xanax or another sedative mood-stabilizer, but I've no idea what that might do with your fragile brain chemistry. We can't take the risk."
I mull this over. No art? No love? "So what can I do then?"
"You can recover. Read old books you've read before. Boredom is your bandage."
"What about movies?"
"If they're very dull, or old. Black and white would be best. I have to also advise you against any act of sex. The stimulation could trigger a relapse. However it may be wise to masturbate once a week, as clinically as you can, to avoid any kind of hormone build up. Again I'd prescribe for that, but I don't think it wise. There's too much risk."
I stared at him. Already the first of the twinges was beginning to kick in. "You want me to masturbate clinically?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "As clinically as possible. Use very soft porn if you must."
"Because if I get too excited, I might die?"
"Or worse? What could be worse than dying?"
The doctor shrugged. "Some would say a never-ending coma is worse. I've never been in a coma so I wouldn't know. I imagine if you never wake up though, then you may as well be dead. It's just a horrible, powerless delay."
"I woke up this time."
"You did. Who can say, really?"
"Who can say?" I repeated, then slumped back on my pillows, with the twinge in my head ramping up to migraine proportions.
For the last hour at Sir Clowdesley I fight off the headache, but it comes anyway, rolling over me in waves. I close my eyes and pretend I'm listening to music, when in fact I've got nothing but white noise coming through my headphones.
Lara pops in and out of my thoughts, bringing twinges of excitement. I can't believe I actually asked her out, taking such risks, but then it has been an exceptionally boring year.
I leave Sir Clowdesley at 7pm, checking out as mayor before I step through the door. New York a
Halfway to the subway my phone vibrates in my pocket as a message slots in. I fish it out and bring up the notifications. It's a message from Cerulean, my Deepcraft friend.
The darkness awaits! Fresh bric-a-brac available.
I smile and tap out a quick reply.
Ready to do my duty.
I take the stairs down to the subway 6-line platform, filled with sweaty commuters irritable after another day's work. An advert scrolls lazily across the tunnel wall, for the big superhero movie they've been building to since 2016, the concluding part to the trilogy that took the world by storm: Ragnarok III. They say everyone's going to die. It looks great, but I don't suppose I'll be watching it. I try every now and then with tamer movies that pop up on Saturday mornings, but when I feel a twinge I switch off.
I get on the train and ride it home, to my redbrick building in Mott Haven, South Bronx. On the street there the air feels clearer, with few skyscrapers looming overhead and Willis Playground just across the way. It's a nice place to live. I rent a room on the block's top floor, a tiny rooftop garret fit for a starving artist; all I need and can afford.
The sloping roof cuts it in half diagonally, with a big skylight and a little window at the end. On the walls I have my street art; some Banksy prints, a Space Invader, some JR. In the kitchenette corner I brew a cup of decaffeinated green tea and warm up some frozen spaghetti bolognese. I don't eat much these days; I just don't have the appetite. I take a sip of green tea while the microwave blasts the food. The bitterness is refreshing, and the tannins help with my brain's ongoing detox.
I slot into my chair with the bolognese on my lap and bring up the darkness. Cerulean is already in there waiting for me. I slide my view screen goggles over my eyes and enter our shared world: a Yangtze shopping fulfillment warehouse in a private Deepcraft mod.
My avatar pops up by his side in the darkness, our name for the warehouse. Long, tall shelves stretch away on either side like train track rails, packed with all kinds of products, fading away into the dark. The ceiling is high above and shrouded in shadow. That's why we call it the darkness.
The Last (Zombie Ocean 1) by Michael John Grist / Science Fiction / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes