I’m walking through a world in ruins. Disease has ravaged humanity; one single disease that’s wiped out most of the human race. There is a quarantine area that spans 4 zones. These zones are the size of small countries where those that have the disease live in slums and squalor. Outside the zone there is no life. At the centre of the zone the few unaffected left in the world live in relative comfort.
Each zone is a different stage of the disease with zone four being for those in the last few months before death. People are forced to go into zone one if they contract the illness. They are moved from each zone as the disease slowly kills them. Nobody wants to move down the zones but the others that live there force them to for fear of their own illness worsening. This makes the zones dangerous and violent.
I’m in zone 4. The Dead zone. All around me I see people in the throes of death. Limbs rotting on their bodies, sores across their skin. They lie in tents wasting away. I know I am dying too but I’m not yet meant to be in zone 4. I’m here for the cure. The cure is with me and I have to get it out of the infected zones.
The cure is a boy.
The boy is 8 or 9 years old with short black hair and eyes that have no iris, just round black pupils in a haunted pale face.
We travel through the zones, sneaking past border gates under the cover of darkness. We try our best to avoid people, keeping our faces shrouded beneath cowled robes.
We know the border patrols will try to kill us if they see us. They are paid by those inside the high walls of the central zone. The government of the uninfected know about the cure too. They want to kill me and keep the boy for themselves, or at least his body. They can harvest his blood and control the cure. They can profit from the cure. There are those who want to help outside of zone 1. They want to cure everybody of the disease, not just those privileged few. We must reach them. We must reach the right people.
We hide from people, scurrying like rats across the zones, day after day,
We make our way to zone 3. The infected have heard news of us. They have heard news of the cure. They are looking for us. The boy is their way out of the slums. They want to take him from me. We are easy to spot, our robes are filthy from dust and travel. We look almost dead but we slip through to zone 2 scared and pursued.
The government have now stepped up their pursuit. We see their agents more often, their black leathers uniforms and those sinister polished helmets. Tubes run from the base of the helmet and creep round the agents’ neck to the air canisters on their back. The agents do not breathe infected air.
We find friends in zone 2. The infected start to help us. They hide us from the Government agents. They distract agents as we slip past the border gates.
We are in zone 1 and we are running. Agents chase us as gunshots zip past my ears. The boy’s hand is in mine. I am running for my life dragging the boy behind me. He screams. He cries at me, ‘ don’t let me die! Don’t let me die!’
I see the zone 1 gate ahead. There is a crowd of infected in our way. They see us running, they see our enemies behind. They part and allow us a path toward the gates.
‘Run!’ they yell at us.
Shots continue to ring out.
The crowd close behind us, coming between hunter and prey. They are shot. I feel blood soak my face as the infected are killed. A man’s head is blown off his shoulders. A woman runs past me a knife raised. Her body shoots back a second later like a discarded rag doll, a gaping hole in her chest. People are falling everywhere. The ground is a river of red.
The gate is just ahead. We are almost safe. The boy grips my wrist.
‘Don’t let me die,’ he tells me. I look down into those black eyes and see my own terror looking back at me.
That’s when the bullet enters his back and explodes out of his chest.
I catch him and the world falls silent.
I wake up breathless, sweating.
I didn’t save him. I couldn’t keep him safe.
I can't get back to sleep. I can't get back to him and now I'll never know what happened. I'll never know if he is safe or if anyone was saved and all I'm left with is guilt.