The Eden Virus [Part 2]
By M. Greene published January 26, 2018
SummaryA world without women or children...
Chapter 2: Year 1, Day 60
Sven Olsson squeezed the trigger incredibly slowly and expertly rolled his shoulder away from the recoil. Far down below in the parking lot, the head of the convict leader exploded into a red haze and his body dropped to the ground, limbs still flailing and twitching in the dust.
“Good shooting, Chief! You got him!” Mike Farrar exclaimed from his position next to him on the flat roof. “Look! The others are retreating…”
Together they watched as the remaining orange clad men scurried quickly away to the cover of the nearby woods.
Olsson nodded and spat a wad of phlegm over the side of the building. “Yeah, but they’ll be back before long. Fucking low-life scum…” He switched on the safety catch of his automatic rifle and swung the weapon over his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go down and join the rest of the men…”
Before the virus struck, Sven Olsson had been enjoying a well-earned retirement after a lifetime of service as a police officer. At the age of 58, with three grown up daughters, he and his wife Alison had only just returned home from a fantastic vacation in Asia. He was glad now that they had not postponed their amazing trip as his poor wife was now dead and buried and he had received no word from his three girls for the past two months. They were almost certainly dead too, cut down in their twenties by what had to be the most catastrophic virus that had ever hit the human race.
According to rumour, the virus had wiped out half of humanity in the space of less than a week. That would have been terrible enough, but the even more dreadful twist was that the infection killed all the women and boys and spared all of the men. No matter how old or young they were, the females had simply burnt up; their body temperatures rising uncontrollably until their brains boiled and they passed away. Sven had watched this happen to his wife and several of his female friends and neighbours. Boys below the age of around fifteen went in exactly the same way. The only positive thing that could be said about it was that the end came rapidly and they were all unconscious by the time it did. The older men had all caught the virus too, but for them it had merely been like a mild dose of twenty-four-hour flu, from which they had all very quickly recovered. So far as Sven could determine, not a single male past the age of puberty had died.
For the first few days most of the male survivors had stumbled around, grief-stricken and disorientated. Very few had been able to go about their usual routines, so hardly anyone went to work or did anything ‘normal’. It was understandable; they were all too busy burying their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. To Sven’s personal knowledge, quite a few guys had taken their own lives in those first few grey and lonely days.
Due to the demise of the women and the fact that no work was done by any of the men, power and telecommunications had almost immediately failed. Within just a few hours, it seemed, civilization and civil society had completely collapsed. Nothing much worked anymore; televisions, phones, computers, cash dispensers, even more modern cars; all of them were totally useless.
By the time decent law-abiding citizens like Sven and Mike looked up from the graves of their loved ones and wiped the tears from their eyes, buildings were being set on fire and robbed and raided by armed gangs of youths who seemed bent on survival at any costs. Of course, it was possible to have sympathy for these young men. Without power, refrigeration failed, causing meat and frozen supplies to quickly rot. Within a few days folks began to starve and desperate hunger drove the braver men out to forage for themselves. All of the stores in the area were hurriedly stripped of canned and packaged foods, which were all looted and stashed away by the punks. There was also a large penitentiary five miles to the south from which all or most of the prisoners appeared to have escaped, adding to the town’s many problems.
Sven, Mike and about fifty friends and acquaintances from various local military and emergency services departments had begun to organise themselves towards the end of the second week. They had the distinct advantage of not only possessing their own firearms or ones issued by their occupations, but also that of being expertly trained in their use. Together, they loaded up as many vehicles as they could drive with whatever supplies and possessions they wished to keep and drove to a large shopping mall on the northern outskirts of the town. Luckily, this complex was still intact and possessed its own generators. Within a few days they had secured the perimeter and were in the fortunate position of having heat, electric light and enough food stocks to last them for several months.
Towards the end of the first month groups of semi-organised men, presumably having consumed what food was left in the town itself, began attempting to raid the mall. So far, Sven and the other ‘Rangers’, as they called themselves, had easily warded off these attacks, but lately, desperate convicts from the penitentiary had also begun attempting to breach their defences and some of them were actually armed and knew how to use their weapons.
To date, however, the Rangers had beaten back all assaults and felt relatively safe and secure within the walls of the shopping mall. Now, after six weeks, the place was almost beginning to feel like home. Beds and mattresses from the furniture stores had been moved to various offices and small shops in the complex to provide living accommodation and some privacy for all of them. Some of the larger stores had their own bathrooms, the showers and toilets in which still presently worked. How long it would be until the plumbing failed, they were not sure, but they had plenty of bottled water to drink for the time being. Food supplies were moved to a secure, central location and guarded day and night. A system of strict rationing had been introduced to ensure that they made their stocks last as long as possible. Given the stress of the entire situation, many of the men had taken to drinking and smoking rather more than was good for them, but luckily, the mall seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of liquor and tobacco…
As Sven and Mike entered what they called the ‘mess-room’, originally a coffee house near the centre of the mall, the twenty or so Rangers lounging inside all rose to their feet and saluted them.
Sven returned the salute. “The enemy has retreated,” he announced, leaning his rifle against the wall and taking off his camouflage hat. “Gimme a latte, please, King.”
“Coming up right away, Chief…” Lamar Kingston, or ‘King’ as he was known by everyone there, a muscular Jamaican with a shaved head, began operating the coffee machine. For some strange reason, he managed to produce better-tasting hot drinks from it than anyone else. There was no logical reason why this should be so; he had been a fireman before the virus struck.
They all called Olsson ‘Chief’ now. Sven was not sure exactly how it had come about, but he had gradually become recognised as the undisputed leader of the Rangers. He guessed it was his decisiveness and long years of experience as a county Sheriff that gave him the edge. That and his new-found fitness and strength, or course…
Another strange quirk of the recent virus was that, while it had killed all the women and boys, it was actually enhancing the surviving men. Although he had always tried to keep himself in good shape with regular jogs and visits to the local gym, for the past decade, Sven had been fighting a losing battle against the ageing process. Even Alison had recently started to complain about his growing paunch and had threatened to place him on a strict diet if he didn’t slim down soon. To look at him now, it would be impossible for anyone to guess that he was in his late fifties. Over the past eight weeks, not only had he gradually regained all the muscle tone that he had possessed when he was in his twenties, but his face had lost all the lines and wrinkles it had accumulated over the years too. Now when he looked at himself in a mirror he saw the young Sven Olsson, surely no older than twenty-eight. Even the hair on his head, last seen before baldness struck in his thirties, was growing back as thick as ever. Not only that, it was not the grey of middle age, but the ash blond colour he remembered from his youth!
The same rejuvenation process had occurred to all the Rangers over the age of thirty. Mike had been as flabby as hell before the virus, but now he looked the way Sven remembered him from their twenties. Like Sven, Mike’s hair had grown back thickly and, despite him being nearly sixty, it was jet black with no traces of white or grey. It wasn’t just their looks that were enhanced; they were all really fit now too. The weakness, timidity and indecisiveness of approaching old age had given away to the strength, confidence and poise of youth, with the wisdom of maturity to go with it. They all just wished that their wives and girlfriends had lived to see their wonderful transformation…
“These raids are getting more frequent and violent,” Sven said as he sipped his latte. “Word has obviously gotten around that there’s food here, and now that they’ve presumably exhausted their own supplies, they’re going to get increasingly desperate…”
The other Rangers gathered around him nodded. The Chief was right. There had been three major raids in the past week alone. Right now, almost half their number were stationed on guard duty on the roof and around the grounds outside.
“Suarez, how long have we got before food supplies run out?”
Miguel Suarez sucked on his cigarette, inhaled deeply and blew a stream of smoke out through his nostrils. He had given up smoking years before the virus, but with his wife and five young kids all dead within two days of each other, he no longer saw any point in preserving his own life. “Under our present rationing regime, around nine months, Chief,” he announced.
This news was greeted with whoops and sighs of relief by most of the Rangers, but Sven shook his head, his expression grave. “It’s not long enough. If we’re going to survive in the long-term we need to start organising renewable food supplies.” He set down his empty coffee cup and looked round at them all with his cool, ice-blue eyes. “We need to be growing food to eventually replace the preserved food that still remains. If we consume our supplies before we’ve grown fresh crops or raised some animals, we will inevitably starve to death…”
From behind the bar counter King spread out his muscular brown arms. “How we gonna do that? We can’t keep animals or grow fuck all here inside a shopping mall, Chief,” he said.
Sven nodded. “Precisely my point, King,” he said. “We need to head out of here with everything we want to take while we still have enough strength, gasoline and ammunition to fight off any enemies. Before winter comes we need to find a place where we can become self-sufficient that has a supply of fresh water, perhaps some nearby game and plenty of arable land to grow vegetables and possibly grain.”
A few moments of silence followed as the twenty or so men present digested these ideas.
“Where is such a spot to be found, Chief?” Mike asked at last. “Do you know of such a place?”
Sven nodded. “A couple of years back, my wife and I bought a hunting cabin in the mountains about four hundred miles away from here,” he said. “We only used it one summer for a couple of weeks, but I think it will be an ideal location for us to establish a permanent community. There’s plenty of arable land, a freshwater lake and an abundance of timber to construct buildings. Best of all, it lies in a valley accessible by only one pass, which would make it pretty easy to defend.”
Mike looked troubled and let out a deep sigh. Although he had regained the fitness and looks of his youth, he had always been inclined towards laziness and the Chief’s plan sounded like it involved a lot of hard, physical labour. He was quite comfortable holed up here in the mall… “It sounds risky to me. When do you think we should make this move?”
“In a few days from now. We can take the five delivery trucks we found parked outside as well as the jeeps and smaller trucks. Once we’ve siphoned all the gas out of the cars we’re leaving behind, we should have enough fuel for the journey with plenty to spare.”
King clapped his hands excitedly. “Those five big motherfucker trucks will hold all the food and drink left in this place with room left over!” He had felt cooped up in this place over the past few weeks and longed to roam outside once more. To him the scheme seemed ideal.
“What if some other folks have had the same idea, Chief?” Suarez asked. “We don’t know if this valley of yours is unoccupied…”
Sven nodded. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that there’s nobody up there,” he said. “But if I’m wrong about that…” He picked up his automatic rifle and lovingly stroked its butt. “That’s what weapons were made for…”
Chapter 3: Year 1, Day 90
Axel, Neville, Harry and Tom were out swimming together. It was still very early in the morning and the sun had only just risen behind the mountains, so the lake was icy-cold, but all four men found the experience totally exhilarating. Axel’s strong arms cut through the water powerfully as he propelled himself forwards toward the little wooded island a couple of hundred yards away. Many years before, when he was still studying for his medical degree at university, he had been a champion swimmer and had almost been selected to represent the US in the Olympic Games. He reached the tiny island long before his three companions and pulled himself up on the jetty to wait for them to catch up.
“Man, you’re way too fast for us,” Tom once he eventually hauled himself onto the slimy wooden planks.
Axel, whose skin had already practically dried as he sat waiting for his friends, smiled. “It’s been a long time since I swam that quickly,” he agreed.
Harry, Tom’s father, and Neville, the young nurse, were even farther behind and it was another few minutes before they both struggled out of the lake to join them. Together, they sat together in the sunshine looking at the beautiful scenery and watching the birds circling above the lake’s surface in their endless search for fish. All four men were completely naked, partly because they had forgotten to take any swimming trunks with them and partly because they knew they wouldn’t be disturbed by any women or children in any case. With only men around, there was little point in modesty these days.
“It’s just idyllic up here, Harry,” Axel said. “I know I said it many times before, but I’m gonna say it again: it was real good of you to let Neville and me stay with you.”
Harry, still slightly winded by his exertions, shrugged his shoulders and picked up a stone to lob into the water. “I couldn’t very well leave you in the city,” he said. “Word is that it’s total hell down there…”
Axel nodded. The four of them had been staying up at Harry’s mountain cabin for nearly three months now, and, although the TV and internet were still down, there were a few local radio stations operating sporadically for those who were lucky enough to have electricity. The word from them was that their city and other conurbations in the state were subject to a great deal of looting and violence. Large gangs of armed men, half crazy with grief and starvation were running amok smashing and shooting and stealing and burning. Some members of the police, fire service, National Guard and the army were attempting to impose some order, but there was a general lack of leadership and organisation in the face of such an unforeseen catastrophe.
So far, Axel, Harry, Tom and Neville were the only people living up here in the secluded mountain valley. There were six cabins clustered together at the vacation resort altogether, but none of the other residents had arrived to claim their own holiday homes, which still lay locked and empty.
Although Harry’s cabin was spacious enough for the four of them, and there was still plenty of fuel to keep the generator running, even with rationing and a supply of fresh fish, their food supplies were starting to get pretty low. Presently, they were debating with each other about the ethics of breaking into the neighbouring cabins and helping themselves to what they could find inside.
“We could start with the Everett sisters’ place,” Harry reasoned. “Elspeth and I knew them for years and they were unmarried and had no children or other close relatives. Nobody’s going to come claiming anything of theirs…”
The unspoken assumption behind this suggestion was that the Everett sisters had died in the pandemic, along with every other female human on the planet…
The truth was that every man left alive on the planet was still in a state of profound shock. All of them had lost wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. Only a very few lonely or sociopathic individuals could fail to be deeply affected by such a tragedy. Men were all different and, while some could face a world without females in a calm way, at least on the surface, others appeared to have been driven totally crazy.
“It’s the end of the world,” Tom was fond of saying in that lugubrious tone of his, but as the days passed, Axel and Harry were less and less sure that he was right. Every morning since the disaster hit they had both woken up feeling fitter, stronger and younger than they had the day before. This phenomenon was particularly marked in Axel, who had only been expected to live for another couple of weeks at most when the influenza pandemic struck. He had been a wizened up old crock in his eighties, riddled with cancer and crippled with arthritis. Now, he appeared to be no older than his late twenties and was incredibly fit. Harry, who had always been inclined to put on weight, had lost several pounds due to the fact that his metabolism seemed to have sped up considerably. Even more incredible was the fact that both men, almost completely bald before, were now starting to grow hair on their heads once again.
Axel looked down at his rejuvenated body and smiled. It was such a pleasure to look at himself again after decades of wincing every time he caught sight of his withered, scrawny old self. He was developing a nice, tightly defined chest and stomach and days of running, swimming and fishing outside in the sun had given him a healthy-looking golden tan. He thought again about the virus and about how strange it was that, in the midst of so much death, an old man like him had been given the gift of renewed life. Perhaps the most incredible transformation, more remarkable than his new-found fitness, stranger than his rejuvenated features and even more impossible than his full head of hair, was that he had grown a whole new set of teeth…
Although Axel, being a medical man, had taken very great care with dental hygiene, by the time he was in his mid-seventies, his dentist had advised him to have the few sad, brown stumps that still remained extracted so that he could be fitted for dentures. He had in fact still been wearing his false teeth when they had arrived at Harry’s cabin almost three months before. It was towards the end of their first fortnight here that he had first experienced difficulty getting his dental plates to sit correctly on his gums. Mystified as to why this should suddenly be, he had summoned Neville to shine a torch into his mouth and have a good look.
“You’re not gonna believe this, Doc,” Neville said, “but it looks to me as though you got some new teeth comin’ through…”
Axel stuck a finger into his mouth and poked around at his gums. Sure enough, he could feel the sharp ridge of new teeth pushing their way up through the flesh!
Now, a mere ten weeks later, his teeth were fully restored and he was able to chew again in a way he had once despaired of ever being able to again.
Reason told him that all of this was impossible. Folks simply could not grow a third set of teeth. Although he had read someplace that sharks could grow replacements for any teeth they might lose, he had never heard of humans being able to do so. He looked down again at his bronzed and muscular thighs and calves. People didn’t get younger either. Such a thing was unheard of in the whole of human history. No forms of life got younger. Life on the planet was a cycle of birth and death. You were born, you aged and you died to make way for the next generation…
“Oh my God!”
“What is it?” Neville asked, startled by the sharpness of the doctor’s exclamation.
“I’ve just worked it out!”
“Worked out what?” Harry was smiling. Axel could be so funny at times with his weird hunches and ideas.
“Due to the virus there are no more children and no more women, right?”
“Yeah,” Tom said morosely. “It’s the end of the fucking world…”
“That’s just it!” Axel cried out. “There’s going to be no more fucking, at least in the sense of breeding…”
Tom shrugged. “Yeah, obviously. How can we breed without women?”
“We can’t!” Axel said. He rose to his feet in a state of considerable excitement, ideas whirring though his brain. “That’s it; we can’t breed and so we can’t die either!”
“What do you mean?” Harry was looking up at him with a slightly concerned expression on his face. Perhaps Axel had been out in the sun for too long…
“Look at me!” Axel almost shouted, pointing to his muscular pectorals and biceps. “I’m in my twenties again.” He opened his mouth and revealed his perfect set of gleaming white teeth. “I’ve got new teeth!” He grabbed at his hair. “I’m not bald anymore!” He turned to Neville. “You remember what I was like in the hospital, don’t you…”
Neville nodded, his large eyes looking sad. “You was a-dying, Doc, so you was…”
“That’s just it!” Axel said, his voice quavering with exaltation. “When we still died we needed a supply of new babies to keep the human race going. The virus has seen to it that there are going to be no more births, so, logically, it seems to have ensured that, at least for the male gender, there will be no more deaths!”
“You mean we’re immortal?” Tom was just beginning to see what Axel was driving at. The transformation of his father and the old man he had called ‘Uncle Axel’ when he was a kid was certainly fantastic. They now both looked around the same age as him! Then he thought of something else and his face clouded. “Wait though; when I drove the jeep a few miles south last week I saw two dead guys lying by the roadside. I told you all about it. They’d been shot to pieces.”
“Oh, I’m sure we can still be killed,” Axel said. “I’m not saying that we’re completely invulnerable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re pretty disease resistant and I’m almost certain that none of us will die of old age. You only need to look at me for proof of that!” With a joyful whoop, Axel suddenly jumped high into the air and executed a perfect dive into the smooth, still waters of the lake. The resulting wave soaked his three companions, who all laughed and tried to splash water back at him with their hands.
Their joyful mood was brought to an abrupt halt by Tom, who had stood up and was staring across the lake towards the hunting cabins. “Oh fuck; it looks like we got unwelcome visitors…”
The others all turned to look and saw to their horror that an entire fleet of trucks and cars was now parked in front of their home…