Are you a Walking Dead fan?
The Turning by Darryl Foster
My eyes flicker open.
A soft ambient glow fills my vision. I strain to focus and what at first appears to be a chalky blackboard sky solidifies to become the moon hovering like an apparition, floating among wisps of cloud. I feel peaceful lying here, somewhere, looking up at the drift of moonlit clouds as they slip through my vision. Each cloud a morphing fractal, a kaleidoscope of changing shapes pushed by the wind, curling, twisting, and then moving far away, leaving me to consider my thoughts and what seems to be my complete loss of self regard and place. The sudden realization that my careless mental drift with the night sky overshadows my current situation trips my consciousness. A tightening in my chest triggers a panic concerning my wellbeing and sends me crashing into the question—where am I?
I attempt to recall my thoughts, reaching back before I woke: What was I doing? How did I arrive here? Who am I? But nothing seems to snap my memory to attention. I am left to wonder if I have any memory of anything. I search my mind again, trying to recall something that could postulate my being here, and the only thing rising from my thoughts is a taste; a coppery bitterness in my mouth, as if I’d been sucking on a penny for days. It seems, for now, I have regained a tiny measure of feeling as my sense of taste returns to life, and with it, a rising intensity of a thousand pricking needles barrels through my body. It feels like I’m a dead limb waking after hours of poor circulation. And as my body comes back to life I regain some muscle control and turn my head. There at eye level, a curb and sidewalk perpendicular to my perception. I’m on my back. I’m lying down on a road, and my revived nerves send forward my sense of touch. I feel cold, and realize I’m shirtless, my skin pressing against clammy tarmac—get up—that’s all I can think.
I take a deep breath. The damp air quickens my senses, sending a flood of activity that rifles my brain, and all my muscles are sore; throbbing with pain. Something is wrong with me, something terribly wrong. A heavy feeling in my body, as if pinned by gravity, makes the road feel like it’s holding up my weight, and suddenly the tension in every muscle fibre seems to loosen as though waking from a bout of temporary paralysis. In that revelation all the pain is gone as if cast out by miracle, but strangely there is something left behind, not a tangible ache, but an encompassing apathetic clarity. Suddenly I’m no longer consumed by the questions plaguing me. It doesn’t matter who I am, where I am or what I am doing. All that matters is what I feel now; the rise of some new found sense of freedom composing itself in my mind. The sensation is: consuming, euphoric, limitless, and whatever questions I have of my past life lift away. This new life without bonds, without care, is far better, and something else—something growing inside—an instinctive reflex: to be, to live, to feed.
I summon my strength and roll onto my side. I push my hands against the cold asphalt and stand. A survey of my body reveals coagulated blood stains on my blue jeans, scrapes across my chest—as if I’d been dragged across pavement—and I notice my right forearm appears mangled as if mauled by a dog trying to wrestle out the bone. There’s no initial shock, and I can clearly see a streak of moist white sinew deep within the jagged valley of the laceration which extends from my elbow to my wrist. The wound is missing fatty tissue and muscle, and it’s easy to see the torn bloody ends of my arteries and veins, but oddly the sight doesn’t seem to concern me; it captivates me. I’m staring at my injury, observing it, picking at it with the hand on my good arm, and there is no pain. Perhaps I no longer understand pain. It doesn’t seem to register in my mind that I’m, hurt, and I don’t feel a need to seek help.
I take another deep breath; a taut pressure in my head releases, and I feel an unhinging of my mind, a mental bon voyage, and suddenly any emotion, desire or forward thought begins to numb. My original self succumbs, relinquishing its hold on this body and fades into oblivion. There is no sense of before or after, and the present doesn’t seem to register any measure of time—there’s only empty space in my thoughts. Regardless, I know I am something. I am alive, and although I may be absent of pulse, I know I exist in some state of living animation, perhaps as a shell, a vessel for whatever minuscule piece of consciousness I have left. And although that remaining part of me seems suppressed, it’s still able to comprehend my surroundings, and detects far-off screams of terror reverberating in the night air.
Those resounding cries of horror are like a beacon, and I’m attracted to whatever distant chaos is unfolding; the scent of it smells like blood spilt into the ocean to spur a frenzy of sharks. The louder the shrieks the more excited I become, and with the excitement a memory rushes through me—a memory of absolute panic—in which I’m running and trying to stay ahead of a tsunami of hysterical people. We are all being chased, unable to outrun a closing horde of clamouring, rot-smelly things that appear human and decayed. A woman on my heels is picked off, sideswiped by one of the creatures. I recall the hollow thud of her body and the crack of her skull on pavement—the sound of instantaneous death—and in the back of my mind I imagine it like a lion taking down a gazelle. The driving fear of her death—and mine pending—kept my legs moving and my senses sharp as I looked for any escape route—and there, ahead is an alley. I charge right, hoping to evade, but one of those things pursues. Its necrotic scent and sour breath looms over my shoulder. I breakout of the alleyway, dash across a sidewalk and race left onto a street, and the thing digs its fingernails into my neck. I feel its bite and jaw lock onto my arm. My eyes shut, and I cringe in breathless agony. A few last steps and this thing wrestles me to the ground. My eyes are wide, my screams choked by horror, as my nemesis hovers over me: vicious, manic and tearing into my arm. It is a hideous figure, appearing as a mangled man with bloody sores, lacerations and missing layers of skin and hair. Its bite is unrelenting and the sting of an acidic like saliva is mixing with my blood and tissue. I’m the gazelle now, surrendering to the kill, submitting to natural selection, and knowing my place in the food chain—blackness consumes, and the memory is gone.
More distant screams and something begins to pump my heart. I can feel it inside, moving in my chest—something has control of my body. Pressure builds in my veins; a wetness above my lip forms and a drip of blood runs uncontrollably from my nose. My eyes feel heavy as if sunken in their sockets. I feel aged, and decayed. My body quivers then turns with a jerk toward the direction of the screams searching out the scent of death in the air, and my eyes fall upon the streetscape ahead of me. The way forward is littered with the carnage of awkwardly splayed bodies reeking with a stench of soured organics. Maybe some will rise and wake like me. Maybe they will see the moon in the sky as I did, luminous with shape-shifting clouds and perhaps they too will wonder where they are, who they are, and perhaps they too will see the world in a different way, a new boundless way. I stumble forward, lurching toward the sounds of the frantic living, churning with a mindless hunger.