Robert Neville is one of the rare survivors of a plague that turns humans into the living dead. But little does he know that among all the madness, something will change his life even more...forever. Horrifying suspence has never looked this good.
1: Just Another Day
Christmas didn’t have meaning anymore.
He tried hard not to remember what the sacred holiday used to be like, and this wasn’t a hard thing to accomplish. The memory seemed so distant, that he was sure that even if he willingly tried to access it, he would come across nothing more than a faint blur. So long ago these things happened, he found that his brain started to slowly but surely eliminate them from his mind altogether, so that soon no traces of what was previously “normal” could be left.
In fact, the only reason he knew that it was Christmas morning that day, was because of the absentminded glance that he cast on the calendar he hung on the wall. Each day he crossed off the little square that represented it, and went to bed as soundly as was possible, knowing that he survived another 24 hours’ worth of hell.
That morning, he felt complete indifference as he observed the tiny writing under the number 25 in the box. How strange, he thought, to feel complete disregard to something that used to be so very meaningful to him. Searching his mind, the only trace of last Christmas that he could find was the faint glimpse of Virginia’s eyes twinkling as she unraveled the diamond broach he took great care to place on top of a soft, velvety cushion. Shaped like a snowflake, each diamond was perfectly aligned with its neighbors, creating the illusion of flowing movement. There was no need for words at that moment, and he could almost feel Virginia’s rich, chocolate-tinted lips connect with his. The electric shock that her kisses produced each time jolted through every square inch of his body, and he knew that if he was given the choice, he would choose to stay like that forever, never moving a muscle or blinking an eye. Drifting back into reality, Robert found that his fingers were gently moving through the air next to his face, as though caressing something that should have been there. Shocked at this, he let his hand fall immediately back down, his eyes wide. Did he really think that someone was going to be there in front of him? Had this one mere memory triggered such a falter in his previously perfectly composed nature? If this was true, he would have to be careful to refrain from digging in his head for more back flashes. Slapping himself across the face with as much might as his still slightly numb morning hands could, he stepped onto the icy tiled kitchen floor to make himself some breakfast.
He heard about people (when there was still anything to hear) who gathered up large collections of foods, raiding their local grocery stores and using the last of their strength to drag it into their homes. He found it hard to understand the reasoning behind such actions. Were they, unaware of the facts, simply getting ready to confine themselves into the comfort and false security of their homes? Against his better judgment, he guffawed. If one of the living dead came running at you, his sharp teeth bared and his white face so prominent against the night sky, you wouldn’t scare him off with a stick of pepperoni. Feeling slightly giddy, Robert decided to give himself his morning buzz, and began to rummage in the cupboards. In the morning, he took care to make as little noise as was possible, letting his head rest from the never-ending concert that took place at night. He poured two cups of water into the coffeemaker, with two cups of raw coffee. He hesitated, then dumped a third cup into it. Better more than less, he decided as he turned the appliance on. His generator was fully operational, hidden in the most creative of hiding spots. He was able to sleep as soundly as the night after he soundproofed his house, knowing that even if they once again managed to get into the garage, the generator would be safe from harm. Rummaging in the fridge, Robert pulled out two items, the key components of his breakfast: a plate of oatmeal-raisin cookies and a bottle of vodka. The vodka was new – he obtained it no more than a week ago after making a particularly lengthy ride north to the small town he’d been meaning to visit. But he couldn’t remember a time when things seemed to be going so well for him, that he’d actually found the free time to go. As well as a fair share of numerous other foreign drinks, he obtained whole wheat bread, bananas, and aftershave. That day seemed to be like – dare he say it? – like heaven. He tried to avoid making any comparison of where he was to the holy white place. It was like standing in a pot of boiling hot oil with your skin peeling off and your flesh set to white hot flames, and thinking, “Yup, this must be what love feels like.” But Robert did not linger on the thought, as he eyed the three priceless items he gained. The wheat bread tasted like sugar after months of dry, white bread. It used to be that toasting his bread was a treat, now he had variety. And the bananas…oh God! How long had it been since he had a banana? When he took that first bite, his taste buds went crazy, trying to savor the juicy flavor as long as possible. Robert thought of the three remaining bananas that he kept wrapped up in layers of plastic bags in the refrigerator. He was doing whatever he could to make them last as long as possible, and to keep them from rotting. Trying to prolong heaven, he thought with a melancholy grin. And the aftershave. It was a pointless thing, indeed. Not as useful as shaving cream, and definitely not as useful as new razors. He couldn’t put it on and go outside, trying to pass off as a courteous, neat, mannerly gentleman. But it was a new scent. He couldn’t quite place a name to it, but it was so very different from the everyday smells he was used to: coffee, alcohol, garlic, and rotting flesh. He took the time to spray the entire house with it once, intoxicating himself in its aroma.
“Enjoy,” he had said quietly to himself, as he sprayed the outside of his front porch generously. Gives them something different to obsess over.
But thinking of new razors did lower Robert’s seemingly cheerful mood that morning, as he found himself slitting his chin once more, and watching the bright red blood spill over, dripping onto the sink. He was on his last razor, which was already dulled beyond anything. He didn’t know why he still used it, for instead of getting rid of unwanted facial hair, it made him look less human with each cut. Maybe he was trying to keep up the human routine of morning hygiene with this process, no matter how bloody it got. He grinned at the irony of the whole thing: the more he tried to make himself stay human, the more he looked like one of them.
Robert’s breakfast was very well thought out, and perfectly distributed. When the coffee was done, he poured it into his thermos, just enough so that half of it would be full. Then, to even it out, he added an equal amount of vodka (or whatever alcohol he had around) to it. He never swished the two around, preferring to let them mix as they pleased. If he was in great need of the morning buzz, he was able to finish the entire concoction in three gulps. The first would be pure alcohol, which made his eyes peel open and become alert to his surroundings. The second would be a mixture of the two, which made his head feel a little less light, made his blood circulate faster. The last would be pure coffee, and that was his favorite part. After the slightly bitter taste of alcohol, he was able to sober down with the now sweet-tinted flavor of coffee. Then he inhaled seven of the thirty cookies that he took time to make a few days ago, and felt ready to get on with his day.
Such a routine never bored him, and his body did not crave diversity. But when, on the first morning after that faithful trip, he decided to eat a banana for breakfast instead of the cookies, it felt like something clicked into place in his brain. He suddenly felt more refreshed and alert than he had in months. He took care of ninety of them that day.
There was no time to enjoy life, as Robert glanced at his watch. He had gotten himself into the habit of re-setting it every day, so that it would be right down to the last second. Time was too precious now to waste, he thought, and in his hurry, almost knocked over a chair, as he headed back to his room. Glancing outside, he took note that the sun was only partially risen, and remembered that in winter, there would always be more dark than light.
He used to love winter. It was his favorite holiday, and Virginia never understood what it was about snow that he found so appealing. Robert didn’t know either, but at that point, it didn’t seem necessary to have answers. He liked the way the snow sparkled in the occasional sun, and how, sometimes it would fall from the sky so slowly, he could trace the path of a single snowflake for over a minute, before it landed in a white mass of its colleagues. He loved the feeling of the icy cold wind on his skin, taking a moment to inhale deeply each time, craving the wild fresh air.
He couldn’t say that he detested winter with a passion, but it was certainly very inconvenient for him. It limited the amount of time he could stay out of his domain, and limited the amount of work he could get done. But being inside his house wasn’t as bad as it was before, and he once more praised himself mentally for soundproofing the walls. It was so much nicer to be able to sit in his home, sipping on his nightly mixture of drinks (which varied from a cup of warm milk to a cup of warm sake), without the necessity of hearing them outside.
He shuddered at the thought of all those sounds – sounds that his brain seemed unwilling to forget. The hoarse deeps growls from the men that wanted to make Robert one of them. The wild weeping and moaning of the women, who begged for sexual intercourse – and his flesh. The less dominant, but no more agonizing screams of the children, who sounded more like animals than anything. Robert remembered the sound of their fingernails, scraping against the sides of his house. The bangs of their fists against his windows, attempting to break them. And then there was the occasional call of, “Neville! Come out, Neville!” from individuals such as Ben Cortman.
He stepped into a spot on the floor that was not shadowed by otherwise things, and felt warm under his feet. He closed his eyes and looked outside, letting the sun heat him. “Fool!” something inside of him screamed, and kicked him in the gut. “How dare you feel this good when the world around you is dying?!” But Robert already took the blame for his recently more active feelings. Pleasantness, calmness, relaxation – they were all becoming more increasingly common lately. He wasn’t not sure why. After all, it was not as though a miracle happened, and there were suddenly less of them. No, their numbers stood still, perhaps even rising at times. So why did he feel such optimism? He didn’t know, and ignored the voice in his head. There was a time when he felt utterly disgusted with himself for feeling like this. He should be crying. He should be in a state of immense depression, on the verge of suicide. The thought being the last man on earth ought to have destroyed any will to continue this seemingly pointless life. And yet here he was, standing in his house, sunbathing. Yes, there was a time when he would have slapped himself silly for it. But he found that these feelings were occurring far too often, and decided to accept the title of the world’s greatest sinner and move on.
It was not as though this…”situation” had caused him to be any more religious, and rely on faith for support. Quite the contrary, Robert found that he was becoming more and more of an atheist than ever. Looking up to the sky, he was not contacting some spiritual and mighty being – he was looking up to see something that was not screwed up completely and utterly.
When his watch beeped, he knew it was time. He went into the bedroom and grabbed his bag of steaks as usual, preparing to start the day off a little earlier than before, in hopes of accomplishing more in his limited time. He glanced in the mirror before heading out into the garage, and did so without a purpose. His voice, however, seemed to think it was in vain. “Look at you,” it said bitterly, and Robert thought he could taste it’s irritation in his own throat. “You look like hell. You carry around a bag of steaks and reek of garlic, coffee, and poison. Your face is cut and you resemble a monster more than a human being. Are you happy now? Because that is what your reflection is like. Now stop looking in the goddamn mirror and get to work!” Robert greatly wanted to shut the voice up, but this was an impossible feat to accomplish, for part of him enjoyed hearing it, no matter how angry. It was almost like having company.
He made his way out to the garage, and locked the door behind him securely.
He got ready to load himself into his station wagon, and drive off to rid the world of impurities.
He turned around.
And he froze.
“Goddamn,” he whispered.
The garage door was shut, as properly as he remembered closing it last night.
The door from the garage to the outside world was also closed, and he noticed the chain lock properly attached, as it should have been.
He snuck a peek at the generator, which was emitting a smooth vibrating noise, and looked untouched since he last messed with it.
The light in the garage was also turned on, as he remembered leaving it. Everything seemed to be in perfect order, except for one thing. The thing that caused a ripple in Robert’s pattern of breaths.
His car was gone.
It is a perfectly normal thing to scream when one is in a state of surprise and shock, but only in normal circumstances. And after Robert did so, in the lowest of monotone voices, he realized that that was probably not the smartest thing to do.
He raced back to the door, fumbled with the keys and dropped them with his trembling hands, and flew back into the house, slamming the door shut. He made his way across the house to his bedroom and glanced out the window. Then the living room windows. Then the kitchen windows. And then out every other window in the house. It was purely for stress relief, because Robert’s subconscious knew that he would never leave his car out of the garage for the night. But perhaps he longed to see some trace of it left, if they got to it. A ripped piece of tire, or part of the exhaust engine. But there was nothing to suggest that the car had ever left the garage. Robert ran back to the garage to see. Then again. And then again. Eventually it became clear that no matter how many times he would look, the car would not reappear.
He sat down in a chair, his hands covering his stony face. “Goddamn,” he whispered again. It seemed impossible. The memory was fresh in his mind – he clearly remembered parking the car in the garage last night. He closed the garage door. He made sure that the other door was locked. He checked up on the generator, making sure that it was okay. He went into the house, checking that the door was locked again. He made himself dinner, which included a turkey sandwich, a piece of cold pizza, and a small glass of heroin. He read from his book, Great Expectations, turned off all the lights, making sure the garage one was on, double pulled on all the windows, making sure they were securely latched, with a slightly uneasy mind, retired for the night. Nothing in this list seemed out of the ordinary, and Robert scratched his head, puzzled. Then he got out his mind.
There wasn’t much he could do without his car, but he wasn’t going to stay cooped up in the house all day long, wondering where it might have gone. He didn’t think that they were capable to figure out a way into the garage, start the car, open the garage door, drive out of the garage, and close the door again. Their animal instinct would not physically allow them to perform such tasks.
But if it wasn’t them, then there could only be one other possibility, which Robert stubbornly refused to consider. He would not, could not afford to get his hopes up, only to be severely let down later. Though it seemed like the only possible alternative, Robert did not allow himself to linger on it. Not now. Now, he would have to find ways to maneuver around his tasks without his car.
Of course, there was plenty of work to be done locally. He could clean up the streets a little bit, or take the time to scrape out the ashes from the fire pit and bury them. No, that particular task would have to wait. He’d already managed to kill at least an hour of his time through pointless actions, and that task would require a minimum of five hours to complete. He might even have to wait until spring, if he kept up this sort of squandering behavior. But winter always tended to do that to him – make his mind process thoughts slower, taking the time to smell the roses.
He could go through all of the houses once more, just to see what he may have missed. And in doing so, he could dispose of a few of them. That seemed like a good enough plan for now, and Robert settled on it. He grabbed his bag of steaks, his keys, and stuffed a couple garlic cloves into his pocket. Why not? With this, he exited his house through the front door – something he hadn’t done in what seemed like forever, and began to walk down the street, with the lingering though that the last man on earth was not alone on his mind.