Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cannibal Corpse

We're at our next stop, a community that's set on top of a tall shelf of rock only approachable on one side. The residents call it Black Mesa. It's not actually a mesa, but it's almost as defensible as one. Some of you will recognize the name Black Mesa from the Half-Life series of video games. The locals took to the name with abandon, and for a pretty good reason. 

They're almost all teenagers. 

There are a few people over twenty here, but all of them are in their late thirties or better. Maybe ten or fifteen out of more than two hundred and fifty people. The rest are all twenty or less. These folks are what remains of an evacuated school. The adults are teachers and one of the vice principals, who made the choice to stick with their students when the evacuation order came instead of trying to make it home. 

The mesa (that's what I'll call it for lack of a simpler term) used to be a very large hill. It's been blasted away on three sides, turning it into a raised plateau twenty feet high at the lowest point. It's very, very big. It was part of a development site for a shopping center that had ceased construction due to the worsening economy. The military, I'm told, stocked it with weapons, a temporary wall across the narrow band of ground still connecting it to the large field it's located in, tons of rations, sleeping bags, and the like. Its proximity to the school made it a perfect evacuation point for the kids. 

Things didn't go as planned. When the order to run came, the army was supposed to be manning the mesa. They weren't. No one knows why. More than two thirds of the students who ran from the school died, either on the run there, from injuries shortly after, or during the last eighteen months. 

Those left behind have done amazing things to stay alive. This place has had a lot of work done to it, but to be honest it wasn't even our next stop until the rash of strange mutations in the zombie populations became known. We were heading to a place farther west, but when the kids here finally managed to get a message out, the contents sent my team and I running as fast as we could. 

Communications with Black Mesa have been limited and short. We've known a group was here, but they're self sufficient enough that they haven't asked for any help from outsiders. They're frightened and young enough to be terrified about giving away the fact that half of them would still be minors if the world hadn't come to an end. 

They didn't call us for help, or for trade. They called because they've seen something so potentially dangerous that they were willing to risk exposing themselves to get the news out. 

Here, they have zombies that eat other zombies. That's completely new. Until now we thought it wasn't possible, that the flesh of the living dead was somehow incapable of sustaining another zombie. We've only been here since last night, but we've seen it happen right in front of us. It isn't just a matter of one zombie tearing another apart. That would be bad enough. No, what I witnessed was more horrible...

You see, we've theorized that the organism that reanimates the dead somehow communicates from host to host, keeping them from eating each other. Likely through smell, since that seems to be the most powerful sense they have. I watched a group of three zombies corner a fourth against a large boulder. For a few seconds, they all stood there, the three gazing with empty eyes at the one. 

Then the lone zombie began to thrash where he stood. After a few moments it looked like he'd begun bleeding through his skin. I was watching the whole thing through binoculars, and it wasn't that far away. It took me a bit to realize what I was seeing wasn't blood. It was pieces of the organism animating the zombie, forcing its way through the thing's muscles and skin. Trying to escape? Looks likely. 

Then the zombie fell over. Totally motionless. It didn't twitch as the others tore it to shreds. If you aren't breaking out into a cold sweat right now, you may want to reread this post and think hard about it. 

There are still millions of them out there. Many die off from lack of food, a greater number go into hibernation to conserve the reserves of protein they keep in their bellies. Far more of them simply slow down when starvation begins to set in, barely getting by on whatever scraps or animals they can find. The thing is, even a recently fed zombie is always hungry. And if they can eat each other now, a plentiful source of very easy food, they'll be at the peak of their strength and speed (and god knows what other advantages the damn things are evolving) when they come for the gourmet dish: us. 

Let this serve as a warning to you. Tell everyone you know. The game has changed. 

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