Daniel has been sick for as long as he can remember. But his memory isn’t what it once was and losing the war didn’t help…
I’m sick. I’ve been sick as long as I can remember. What’s weird, is that I remember how it started like it was yesterday.
It began early, far earlier than I normally wake up. I had a nightmare. Nothing out of the ordinary, just fire and fear, the same as usual. I think everyone must have these dreams. I don’t see how you could have lived through the last twelve months and dream of anything else.
So I sat up in bed, sweating and staring at the wall until my heart stopped trying to escape. Except, it didn’t. It kept thumping and thumping, like I was running a marathon, like I was still caught in the fires, sprinting across the killing grounds.
It did slow, eventually. It took half an hour or so, during which I thought about all the things I’ve ever done wrong in my life whilst wiping away the sweat that covered my forehead with the corner of my bed sheet. When it did slow, I stumbled into the shower and tried to scrub the nightmare away. It went, but the dizziness stayed, so I stubbed my toe when I got out, and banged my hip on the door handle.
It’s nice having a shower. I’m the only one in the block with one and not having to wait until someone else wakes up is a small blessing. Not many blessings in this place anymore. Not much of anything, really.
The rest of the day was the same. Dizzy, almost throwing up but not, no energy. Normally I’d ignore it, but it was bad enough that I went back to bed and spent a sweaty afternoon tossing and turning. I slept well that night. I remember that, too. I woke feeling fine, like the previous day had been a strange blip on my otherwise excellent health record.
I was halfway through breakfast when my heart sped up. Thudding and thudding and thudding until my spoon clattered into my bowl and I shoved away from the table, clutching my chest. At first, I thought it was a heart attack. Then I remembered how I’d woken up the day before and relaxed. Big mistake.
The thudding got worse until I couldn’t breathe. I was laid out across the table, panting and writhing, when it stopped. It didn’t just stop, either. It went from a gallop to a complete halt. The tiny scraps of air I was still managing to suck into my lungs dried up and I was left, a beached whale, with nothing left.
My heart stopped. I can remember it vividly, because I lay there, unable to move, and counted the seconds. I got to ten before I began to question why I wasn’t dead. Why, in fact, I was able to count at all. But I did count. I reached 22 seconds, slow ones, before it kicked back into gear. But this gear was quite different.
I’m a fit guy. I’ve always been fit, but the war made me something else. 12 months of running and fighting, surviving against all the odds made me a whole new level of strong. I can run a 100 metres in 12 seconds, and a mile in just over four minutes. I can stay awake for 24 hours on the trot, without taking a rest.
When my heart restarted, it felt like it was mired in sludge. I got about fifteen beats a minute, on a good day, and that only after I’d run down the 12 sets of stairs that takes me out of the block into the wastelands.
So yeah, that freaked me out. But at the time, I was just aware of this lump, sagging in my chest making the occasional attempt at shoving blood around my body. I crawled off the table and shoved the rest of my breakfast down my gut. A few minutes later, it came straight back up again. The weird thing was, I didn’t feel hungry.
So yeah, I remember how it all began. But the time in between, the waiting time as I’ve come to think of it, is a blur. More than a blur, really, because I get flashes of detail sharper than anything from before my sickness.
I remember last week, when I ventured beyond the safe zone and into the killing grounds. I found myself there without any idea of why, but when the guns started up, I barely managed to scramble back behind the barbed wire. I remember screaming at them, like I used to, pleading with them, asking them why they were doing it. My only answer was the guns, same as always.
I remember a couple of days ago, when I bumped into Mr Schafer. He lives on the bottom floor and he’s been turned over more times than I can remember. The inspectors came through the previous night and his flat looked like the war had happened all over again, only in his lounge.
I stayed to help clear up.
‘Daniel, are you alright?’ He asked me after the third time I dropped something. I’ve been ignoring the shaking. What’s to be gained from focusing on something you can’t change?
‘I’m fine.’ I lied, offering up a smile in the hope he was blind as well as deaf. ‘Just a fever.’
‘A fever…’ I can hear him watching me, those thick eyebrows crowding together in concern. ‘You’ve had it a while, now, eh?’
‘Just a week or so. Not a surprise with what we’re eating.’
He chuckled at that and let it go. We tidied the place and I lurched off, not wanting to give him another chance to ask about my shaking hands, or constant headaches, or worsening eye sight. I’ve been avoiding the last one myself. My eyes are excellent. I was a shooter during the war, but now anything beyond 20 feet is a blur. I couldn’t hit a car if it was coming straight at me, not until it was too close to make a difference.
Not that I’m ever going to get the chance to shoot again. The last of the resistance petered out months and months ago. I know, I was one of them. But I’ve always known when I’m beaten and I knew it then.
I knew it just the same way I know what’s wrong with me. I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve been lying to myself, over and over, in every way possible. But the old soldier in me won’t let me get away with it. So I’ve kept my diary and today, I’m going to take a look, take a proper look, and admit to myself what I already know.
I stumble through my tiny lounge into the kitchen. I’ve got windows here that let me look out across the wasteland. It’s a view that never fails to make my heart lurch. There used to be a park here, a huge green park covered in trees. Now it’s nothing but mud and barbed wire. They left the lights up and the edges of the killing ground are still marked by white pools of illumination.
But my eyes go elsewhere, same as usual. They go left and right, to where the city lies, torn and battered. The skeletons of buildings stand against a slate grey sky, dotted here and there by the incongruous colour of life. I can see an old beach towel hung up to provide privacy to someone living in one of the buildings. There’s no wall on this side, but there’s a floor and half a ceiling, and that’s still better than the thousands who are living on the streets below.
They hate me, lots of them. Somehow I’ve ended up with a proper house. I’ve got all four walls, running water and, on the good days, electricity.
The powers say everyone will end up with a house. They say they’re going to start rebuilding, just as soon as the quarantine’s over. No one believes them. No one believes the quarantine will ever be over. There’s a world out there, still terrified of what came from here, and that fear isn’t going away. So they’re just building one giant prison.
I blink, seeing white dots appear in the street. I grab my binoculars and take a closer look. Inspectors. They’ve stepped up the searches recently, like they’re expecting an outbreak. I let out a long breath and shake my head.
I’m still lying.
I dump the glasses on the table and reach for my diary. Nine days. That’s how long I’ve been sick. I’m trying to pretend it’s longer, because incubation is typically between 10-14 days, so if it was as long as it feels, I’d know it was just a fever. But it’s not. It’s been nine days and this morning, I felt my heart turn over for the last time. One torturous, lazy thump before my blood congealed and something other took over. And that other, is hungry.
The curse hasn’t left. They’re right to leave the killing grounds there. They’re right to be inspecting. I wonder who’ll get my flat, once I’m gone. I wonder what it’ll feel like. I wonder what the inspectors will taste like.
It looks like they’re coming here. Maybe they’re coming for me. They should be. I’m sick. I’ve been sick for as long as I can remember. But my memory’s not what it used to be.