Story – Yours For the Taking

In the early days after the world went to hell I used to go up on the roof. I’d take my hunting rifle with me, telescopic scope attached and practise my shot. As the weeks and months went by, I got better and better but then, there was never a shortage of things to shoot at.

I should explain I’m a collector. Not by occupation, but by nature – and that of course, runs deeper. At first I was a collector of weapons and the things I needed to survive. Canned food, a fresh water supply, fuel for the building’s generator.

And when I was up on that rooftop I was a scalper, a collector of heads. The infected were plentiful and I was without mercy. I collect other things too, but more on that later.

I robbed a gun store early on, just days after the first announcement. It had already been looted, but idiots on foot can only carry so much unlike me in my armoured RV. I carried back enough weaponry that day to kit out a small army – not that I’d end up using much of it.

The main room had been bled dry of course, but I soon found a small untouched stash upstairs – the late shopkeeper’s most likely. There were a few assault rifles, some pistols – nothing heavier of course but I didn’t mind that. I’d already got baseball bats and a few grenades back at the penthouse and there were plenty of traps I could rig up myself. Despite what my ex-wife claimed, I could do a hell of a lot more than put up some shelves.

My ex-wife. Heh. That was cute. We’d divorced two years before everything went to hell anyway. She’d gone off with a tennis player – some tall, bronzed dude called Clive or Clint or something. My guess is neither of them lasted long after everything collapsed. Not that I cared.

At first I thought we might get rescued, that the government would send in the marines, all that cliché rubbish. The last news broadcast I heard said the government had toppled and there were riots in Washington DC. I laughed. There were riots across the whole rotten country, or what was left of it.

I was safe in my penthouse though. I’d moved in 24 hours after everything went to shit. There were no security people left to stop me. Well, just the one but he’d already got infected and as he slavered towards me I capped him in the head. There were a few stragglers wandering about in the lobby, driven by hunger and pain but I soon finished them off. The bodies I burned outdoors a day or two later once I’d found the perfect suite on the top floor to set up my base.

There’s no real need to describe my little security arrangements for you. If you have made it up this far, dear reader, you know all about them. You know how I rigged up explosives around the building perimeter. You know how I installed explosive trip-wire traps across the doorways leading to the stairwells. The fact you made it up here to the summit of the world proves your resilience and for that I salute you.

You and I have never met and of course we never will. But if you saw me in the street and you had to guess what job I’d done – before the world went to shit of course, you might think I’d been a cop, a bouncer, maybe even something in the forces. I’m not, of course, but I’ve always looked after myself. And you could be forgiven for the mistake.

I’ve never seen any other survivors. As far as I know, I could be the only one. But I have to at least consider there could be others out there. Being tough and resilient is all very well – you’ve proved that if you’ve made it past my booby traps and anti-personnel devices. Rebuilding the world will require not just warriors. It will need poets, visionaries, those who will learn from the past and not repeat its horrible, horrendous mistakes.

I’ve spent the last two days loading up the security room. A 24-storey joint like this was built by rich people for rich people. Every room comes equipped with one of these little beauties. A digital safe the size of a large pantry. I searched every room on the top floor until I found one lying open. Eventually I got lucky – lord and lady muck had obviously vacated, taking their diamonds and emeralds with them. Not that it would do them much good.

As I told you, I’m a collector and every collector whether they know it or not makes their collection a part of their soul. I’m now at the stage where all my music has been packed away. Every vinyl I ever owned, every cassette tape, every CD. Hoarded over thousands of hours from trips to countless record stores – when there still were record stores.

Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, the Four Tops, Bob Marley, Shostakovich, Gershwin, Miles, Elvis – all filed away ready for a new owner to find them and incorporate them into a new world. The core’s my own collection but I’ve looted every house worth looting for miles around and taken their stuff, too. Anything workable and decent. You can think of me as a cultural curator, if you like. Or a thief. Whichever floats your boat.

Sadly I won’t be here to see the new world arise from the shattered remains of the old. The shaking has already started and while the medication I looted from a dozen different pharmacies can keep it at bay it cannot stop it. Pretty soon I won’t even be able to pull a trigger or set a trip and will be a liability.

You can kill, and eat and shit and fight to survive if you want – but if there’s no world left to fight for, what’s the point? These records may never be heard again, but they are the treasures of my life and of course my generator fuel and weapons are yours to do with as you will. I hope unborn generations may one day get to hear them.

Here’s what I will do. I will close the safe door and key in a new password. I have chosen ‘sphinx’ – the guardian of knowledge. This note will be placed in an air-tight container and hidden somewhere in the room. Anyone ingenious enough to find it – you, if you are reading this – will earn its secret and get the reward. Anyone punching in two wrong choices will lock the safe permanently and nothing bar dynamite will open it again – which would set off a little device of my own, destroying the contents.

I will go up on the roof for one last round of target practice with my hunting rifle. I will blow the brains out of the infected polluting the streets below one last time. I will fire and fire and fire until my gun is hot and empty. I will have my trusty mini-stereo at my side with its batteries, blazing out my favourite songs across the mid-day skies.

One last salute to the indomitable triumph of the human spirit before I throw myself off the roof, the hand grenade taped to my hand, the pin already pulled as I fall towards the inhuman faces of the infected waiting to devour me.

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