Updated: Apr 4
I heard heavy breathing as a strangled groan chased after me. Grasping hands were inches away from my head. My feet slid on bits of concrete flaking off the old, worn down steps that led to the basement apartment, located under the weight of city apartments stacked on each other like office mail cubbies.
I slammed the door shut and slid the three deadbolts in place. I never thought I’d be so happy on a lower level, but it benefited me these past few days as the world fell apart. Anyway, it’s far too hard to see in the moment.
One reason I lasted so long was because I happened to be passing by this conveniently unlocked and empty apartment when I saw the first hoard scramble into the cars of the people stopped at the red light at the corner. Traffic and time stood still, then erupted in an avalanche of hunger and horror.
In my panic, I grabbed at the first door I found. It was like winning the lottery if the prize for winning the lottery was a dirty, abandoned studio with canned soup and junk food. But there were bolts on the doors and no windows, so I felt safe for the time being. Ironically, the food that would sustain me for those days in wait was food I never would have eaten before. Fatty. Processed. That glorious comfort food made it seven days.
And then, when the daily rounds of screams had quieted and my innate need for fresh food and a sign of human life got the best of me, I ventured out the door and back into the world. It was only after I’d made my way to the supermarket through silent streets of abandoned cars that I ran into Barb.
Barb was my friend in the world before. She was a beast then, too. We met taking cycling classes at Burn Cycle in the old strip mall. Barb was strong. She could bench 150lbs. I was your average run of the mill, middle-aged woman who worked out a lot. I trained like I was prepping for the apocalypse, but Barb was perfection, so it surprised me when she took The Cure. And I felt a pang of guilt because her quest for perfection was the foundation of our friendship. Her pain and misery made me feel better. Less alone. If she was unhappily perfect so that I could be happily imperfect, then that was the friendship balance.
The Cure started out as the answer to all our problems, hence the no-frills name. The Cure was to fix our obesity problem. And it did. A little too well.
I don’t know how The Cure passed human trials. I think it went black market so fast it and shortly after, it spread through gyms and middle-class homes like wildfire. The problem was not The Cure; it was that it wasn’t working fast enough for some. Those who went above the recommended dosage were filled with an insatiable hunger and could eat all they wanted and never gain a pound. In fact, they lost the weight, but more than they wanted. Stories circulated that those on The Cure would become so hungry that they couldn’t control themselves. Their bodies took over.
And when that first story came out about the woman stuck in traffic, eating her baby girl.
Once you started on The Cure, your body became dependent on it. That’s where the real downward spiral occurred. You know what, though? It worked. It cured us of many things. Of boredom, vanity, self-pity. All of that went away. I’m pretty sure that I’ll never worry about my looks again, and I didn’t even need to take The Cure.
So here I am, alone, getting all the workouts I’ll ever need. I wish I would have spent more time with family and friends, more time tasting all the good food out there, more time as a practiced human being rather than a human doing. That’s what I was. Just doing. Never being. Like I said, it’s far too hard to see in the moment.
Look at her now, Barb. That face. Like she used her head as a battering ram. I can see her through the hole she’s dug in the door. I guess those deadbolts won’t save me. Her right eye is crusted closed with blood, but there’s still a trail of false eyelashes dangling loosely from the corner of her eye. When I saw her at the store, my first thought, before she ran at me, was she’d be embarrassed her leggings were ripped exposing her ragged underwear. She’d be embarrassed she looked anything less than perfect.
Oh well. At least, I can pride myself that I made it longer than most people I knew, but probably not for too much longer because Barb is almost in. She’s still as strong as ever. And her eyes, though dead, sparkle when she looks at me, as though I am a dim memory flickering in her short-circuited brain. There’s a reason she’s digging through the door with her raw fingers. And when she finally gets to me, I’ll be done. Then I really won’t have to worry about anything anymore because it’s just the end of the world, and I’m about to be cured.