The Rot

by Jamie Murphy

Odious and infirm, it spreads in unwavering apathy. We are too few to stop it now, if we even knew how, for it is in us, each and every one. At night, when our bodies writhe with its presence, we know it is near, and once again we must run, lest the rot take us. We pass through empty cities, untouched by its fear. The cold concrete buildings know little of the rot that follows us, but stand still and silent as they always have, content for the rot to pass by in its pursuit of us. Yet, once we are gone, and the rot has won, the quiet cities will be all that remain, a footprint of mankind’s legacy imprinted in the mud, a heart without a beat, and then they too shall know death.

We flee steady and slow, little more than a brisk walk, but always we flee. Sometimes we pass by other survivors on country roads, begging for food or water. They think it will help, perhaps to rejuvenate them, give energy to their wilting legs. It will not help them, not like it used to. They do not see that the rot has already taken hold in us all, content to crawl through flesh and bone to what lies beneath, until there is nothing left. We are all touched by the rot; we cannot escape it. All we can do is continue to move, to keep our distance, and hopefully slow the spread. We ignore their laboured requests for food and do not look back, pressing onwards, aimless and lost.

In the absence of understanding there is hate, and it would be a welcome guest in our hearts, but we have no hate for the rot. Sometimes, when we’re out of the cities, surrounded by acres of farmland, we look back without binoculars, and see the rot that follows. It is a grey, shuffling figure, stumbling evermore towards us with its eyes and hands raised upwards to the sky. The body and head is covered in a sludge that ripples endlessly with every laboured step. But the face is dry, even cracked, like sun-scorched fissures that rip through the ground. It has a haunted face, crying almost, with dark, empty swirls where eyes should be. We have decided it does not know why it follows, only that it must. Its own uncertainty as to its provenance is as curious as it is terrifying. We do not hate the rot, we pity it. And as the rot feels its way into a new victim, we pity them, too.

Sometimes we watch it for too long, and its rot begins to crawl inside us, even when it is still far away. Some surrender themselves to it, unable to carry on. We don’t try to convince them anymore. The rot is a festering wound, and we are the pus oozing forth, but there is no sanctuary in our flight, no haven or heaven, just more days of quiet desperation. So we leave them to their fate, whatever that may, never looking back, for one day we may also give up, and it is better to dream than to know.

We’re tired now, more so than yesterday, and tomorrow will be the same. The rot takes life before it bestows death. Our days are long and empty. We walk under the rising sun with no thought but to survive, never finding time to actually live. And if we stop to try, to eat or talk or laugh together, the rot cares not, shuffling closer still under the oppressive heat, fetid, inevitable.

They leave me now, those few who can still bear it for a time, as I sit broken and defeated. I will not move. I hear their cries as they leave another to a fate they all share, then soon all is quiet in this very still world. I smell it first, its scent on the wind, oppressive and awful. Then I see it, the rot, as it shuffles from behind an old car, untouched by its presence. It is only feet from me now, and I can already feel it inside me, stronger than ever before, coursing through my blood as my flesh turns grey and wet. Its eyes turn downward from the sky into my own, and I reach out for its embrace. It holds me as the skin falls from my bone, pulling me deeper into the rot, and through my tears I hear it clear, laughter.

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