“YERSINIA-Z” by Brian Bowyer

YERSINIA-Z

In the passenger’s seat of their stolen motorhome, Sally coughed. She retrieved a tissue from the glove box and blew her nose. She wadded the tissue up and tossed it out the window.

Steve, behind the steering wheel, took a drink of whiskey and then handed the bottle to Sally. “Yersinia-Z?”

She took a drink. “No. My bronchitis is acting up.” She screwed the cap back on the bottle and placed it between her feet.

“Good,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

She lit a cigarette. “Same to you.”

Yersinia-Z struck the planet six weeks ago. It was far more destructive than the Black Death that killed millions of Europeans in the middle ages. Yersinia-Z was a new breed of pneumonic plague that swiftly claimed the lives of billions worldwide. No one knew what caused it. It spread too quickly for anyone to pinpoint its origin. It was a global catastrophe, wiping out the majority of citizens on all continents equally.

At the plague’s onset, before the TV screens went blank, most of the newscasters had denied reports of chemical and biological terrorism. A few of them indicated that perhaps Yersinia-Z began in Africa. They had spoken of AIDS victims raping babies to cure their illness in some filthy village that worshipped gorillas.

On conservative radio stations, religious broadcasters had preached about how this pestilence had been prophesized two thousand years previously.

Ever since Yersinia-Z struck the planet six weeks ago, Sally and Steve (both nineteen) had been living like kings amongst the deceased. The dead of Greater Los Angeles were everywhere: in the streets and drainage ditches, decomposing; rotting in clusters of thousands in shopping malls; wasting away atop the palisades in ultramodern mansions.

They pillaged the city relentlessly, Sally and Steve, filling their stolen motorhome with firearms and ammunition looted from abandoned pawn shops, alcohol lifted from empty liquor stores, and a fortune in currency swiped from cash registers, ATM and bank-teller machines, and the purses, wallets, and pockets of foul corpses crowding the rotten metropolis.

The new rule was lawlessness, all men, women, and children for themselves, but chaos rarely ensued. There were too few people left living in Los Angeles for competitive warfare to bloom.

Curious was the fact that most survivors—like themselves—happened to be chronic alcoholics.

Sally grabbed the bottle from the floorboard. She unscrewed the cap and took a drink of whiskey. “Where are we going?” She handed the bottle to Steve.

He took a drink and screwed the cap back on the bottle. “To the beach at Santa Monica.”

She relieved him of the bottle. “Do you promise to blow my brains out if I contract Yersinia-Z?”

He stared straight ahead at the road. “Of course. But I believe we’re immune to the disease. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that we’ll be fine so long as we keep guzzling this whiskey.”
*
Justin had always known that nature—like himself—was a serial killer, for all things born are only born to die. But now that nature had lost its patience and unleashed this plague upon the planet, there were precious few creatures left to slaughter.

Yersinia-Z didn’t merely exterminate humans exclusively. The horde of feline and canine carcasses in the streets was voluminous, and the dead birds outnumbered the multitude of human corpses decomposing in Los Angeles enormously. Justin had never realized how many birds existed until they started dying and dropping from the sky in feathery swarms. He now scarcely noticed when their hollow skeletons crunched beneath the tread of his feet.

Even the rats were succumbing to Yersinia-Z, emerging from sewers with red whiskers to asphyxiate on the misplaced blood oozing out of their snouts.

Justin did, however, encounter a few humans occasionally, all of whom were—like him—chronic alcoholics.

He murdered these people, of course, these survivors of the new pneumonic plague, and consumed them, because he didn’t much wish to eat infected meat.

Sometimes he cooked the flesh and sometimes he didn’t.

But he always chased his meals with a fifth of whiskey.
*
Steve turned west off Pacific Coast Highway and parked the motorhome behind Santa Monica Visitor Center. The streetlamps were still glowing six weeks after the end of civilization, and though the chance was minimal that anyone would attempt to steal their belongings, Steve nevertheless locked the doors and engaged the alarm system when he and Sally exited the motorhome.

Human and animal corpses in varying stages of decay were literally everywhere, but with the sun’s absence and the night wind and the salty scent of the sea, the stench wasn’t quite as putrid as it was during the day.

Sally took a drink of bourbon and handed the bottle to Steve, then lit a cigarette and looked up at the cloudless and moonless sky. All the stars of the firmament were on display, like diamonds on a vast black satin cloth. Tears welled in her eyes at the lack of airplanes passing by, which was ludicrous, of course, for she had seen no aircraft flying in quite some time. She shivered, though not from cold, while puffing on her cigarette.

Steve took a drink. “This is eerie.”

“Yes,” Sally agreed. “Would you like to take a walk up to the pier?”

“Sure.” Steve handed the bottle back to Sally.

They traversed the bicycle path to the stone-walled sandbox at the foot of the pier. The corpses of four children decomposed in the sandbox, recognizable as three boys and a little girl by their clothing and their hair.

They ascended a wooden staircase to the pier. Hundreds of dead bodies littered the promenade, the arcades, the souvenir shops and the carousel still turning round and round. Other than a few blown bulbs here and there, all of the bright multicolored lights and beeping video games remained functioning. The dried blood covering the white plastic horses of the carousel was abundant, a shockingly mute reminder that these people had been living lives before the new pneumonic plague had forced them to bleed to death from their lungs, nostrils, and mouths.

To their right was Pacific Park, still lit up like a Christmas tree, with its tall unmoving Ferris wheel and high motionless roller coaster that jutted out over the ocean.

“People used to fish here,” Sally said. “Just six weeks ago and even over a hundred years previously people used to fish from this old pier.”

“I know,” Steve said. “And they watched these same waves, and danced beneath those same shining stars.”

“They shopped for souvenirs,” Sally said. “They played volleyball down there on the beach.” She drank and handed the bottle to Steve.

He drank. “They dined in all these ocean-view restaurants.” He gave the bottle back to Sally.

“I can’t take much more of this.” She swilled deeply from the bottle. “Let’s walk down to the shore. I need to hear the indifference of the sea.”

They finished their whiskey on the coastline, with the surf caressing their bare feet whenever the waves languidly licked the sand.

They made love beneath the stars. Afterward, they reminisced about how things used to be.

They passed out holding hands. The tide—dragged by an unseen moon—provided a soft soundtrack for their dreams.
*
Justin drove around the sprawling urban jungle of Los Angeles, guzzling bourbon from a bottle behind the steering wheel, searching for a survivor to murder and consume. He was hungry, and not just any food would do. He was in the mood for human flesh.

Justin had been a serial killer and a cannibal since his teens, and now that he was pushing forty—and despite the fact that he was a heavy smoker and drinker—he could easily pass for a man ten years younger. His thick dark hair wasn’t graying or receding in the least. His face was still fresh and utterly devoid of lines. He had retained his lean physique with only minimal exercise, and in his heart he had lost nary a bit of his boyish capacity for astonishment and wonder.

None of this surprised him. The key to extended youth wasn’t a mystery, for when he killed someone and ate them he absorbed their very essence, their vitality, their life force.

But Yersinia-Z had certainly reduced the smorgasbord of humanity to limited morsels….

Tonight, however, he happened upon a club in East L. A., off the Santa Ana Freeway, in which six Mexican male survivors had gathered. Three sat at a table, engaged in a game of cards. Two were playing eight ball on the pool table. One stood behind the bar. Their Spanish chatter ceased when Justin walked in with a machine gun slung over his shoulder. He strolled up to the bar, tossed a fifty on the counter, and said, “Give me a glass of whiskey.”

The bartender had thick tattooed forearms and a broad chest and black eyes and a sullen scowl on his bearded face. “You got the fucking plague, man?”

Justin smirked. “Do I look like I’m dying to you?”

“Why the fuck are you bringing that gun in here?”

“It’s a new world out there,” Justin said. “I carry a gun everywhere I go. So, unless you have something against white, Anglo-Saxon heterosexual males, I would greatly appreciate that glass of whiskey.”

The bartender smiled, and Justin shot him eight or nine times in the chest, neck and face before spinning around and introducing the five remaining patrons to instant annihilation with a casual spray of automatic gunfire.

He then crossed the club and locked the door.

He feasted.
*
Before the plague, Polly Crawford—twenty-two years of age—had been an aspiring writer working on her first novel while battling her addiction to alcohol. But now that Yersinia-Z had wiped out most of the planet’s population, she saw little logic in stopping drinking anytime soon. Besides, according to the broadcasters on the few radio programs transmitted during the lonely hours of night, the only people still alive were chronic alcoholics.

How ironic was that?

The booze that she had feared would be the death of her was perhaps the one thing keeping her alive.

She was, however, still writing that first novel, despite the fact that there were now no agents or publishers to accept it, no audience to receive it, no one left alive on Earth to even read it. But finishing her book was all she cared about these days, for there was something inside her that needed to get out, and that something was the story’s conclusion. And when you cut to the heart of the endeavor, isn’t that what genuine art’s truly about anyway? If the artist is honestly pleased with the final product, what could possibly matter more than the satisfaction of accomplishment?

Nothing.

Or at least that’s what Polly told herself this morning while drinking whiskey and stepping over corpses on the shore of the beach at Santa Monica.

The sun was a low yellow orb in the eastern skies when she happened upon two people who appeared to be still alive but merely sleeping, half-naked, holding hands on the straw-colored sand, a male and a female no older than twenty or twenty-one if not teenagers. An empty liquor bottle rested at their feet, and a pair of semiautomatic pistols lay within their reach.

Because she had no desire to be shot, Polly pulled her own 9mm pistol and clicked the safety off. She wanted to wake them up, but she didn’t know what to say, so she fired a bullet into the ocean.

That did the trick.

Both of them opened their eyes immediately.

“Good morning my fellow survivors,” Polly said. “I was beginning to think there was no one around here left alive but the homeless drunks wandering downtown. I believe their brains are so fried they don’t realize everyone’s dead and they can now move into their choice of a thousand mansions.”

She introduced herself. Sally and Steve followed suit.

Polly put her gun away. “I apologize for waking you. I’m obviously smashed and starving for conversation.”

“All will be forgiven,” Sally said, “so long as you strip out of those clothes and share your whiskey.”

Steve was sitting cross-legged on the shore, and his big stiff penis was pointing straight up at the sky. “We hope you’re into threesomes. Sally likes to lick pussy almost as much as I love to fuck.”
Polly smiled. She handed the bottle to Sally and got naked.
*
Justin abandoned the car he was driving when it ran out of gas on Sunset Boulevard, and though his metabolism, as always, was racing on the stored life energies of all the people he had killed and eaten over the years, it was simply too hot and early in the day to travel very far on foot. Besides, there were numerous stranded vehicles on the road from which to choose.

He selected a late-model Ford Expedition because (1) he liked SUVs, (2) the keys were in the ignition, (3) the fuel tank was almost full, and (4) there were no corpses within stinking up the interior.
The engine started without remonstrance.

He drove south down Harbor Freeway toward Central Los Angeles, searching for a survivor amongst the dead. Looking for breakfast.
*
When they finished making love on the beach at Santa Monica, Sally and Steve offered Polly—who’d been up all night drinking—a place to sleep in the back of their motorhome.

Polly accepted their invitation. How could she refuse? They were the only appealing people she’d encountered in six weeks, since Yersinia-Z.

But the fact that she’d drunkenly fucked them didn’t mean she trusted them completely, and though two doors and a long hallway between the lounge area and the bathroom separated the motorhome’s cockpit from the back bedroom, Polly was wise enough to click her pistol’s safety off before locking the door and lying down on the bed.

She heard the engine start and the brakes release, and she stared at that door.

A child could kick it in.

Polly was pleasantly smashed, on the verge of passing out, but consciousness wouldn’t surrender just yet. It forced her to crawl beneath the bed and hide with her finger on the trigger before falling asleep.
*
Up front in the cockpit, Sally poured shots of whiskey for them both in the passenger’s seat while Steve drove the motorhome eastward. The morning star was so bright through the windshield that they had to keep their eyes squinted perpetually despite the dark lenses of the sunglasses they wore.

Sally muted the stereo. “I’m glad we met Polly.”

Steve nodded. “So am I. Not only is she beautiful, but she’s cool.”

“I think she likes us.”

“Well,” Steve said, their threesome still vivid in his memory, “if she doesn’t, she’s one hell of an actress.”

“She wasn’t faking those orgasms,” Sally said. “She came all over my face at least five times. And I’ve been thinking, for the past half hour or so, that perhaps the three of us should start a family.”

“Start a family? You mean, like stay together?”

“No, silly,” Sally said. “I mean that maybe you should get me and Polly pregnant. We could be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, only with three of us we could multiply more quickly.”

Steve smiled. He tried his best to keep even a trace of condescension from his voice. “Honey, this is post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, and we’re a long way removed from the Garden of Eden.”

Sally lit a cigarette. “It was just a thought. But someone has to begin the process of repopulating this planet eventually. Why not us?”

“Okay,” Steve said. “Suppose we do create babies. What are we going to do once they’re born? Feed the babies vitamins and whiskey to keep them from contracting Yersinia-Z? Their developing livers couldn’t process the alcohol. They’d be dead of cirrhosis before they learned to walk.”

“You’re right,” Sally said. “It was a horrible idea. I apologize for even suggesting it.”

Steve patted her leg. “At least we have each other.”

“For now,” Sally said, and frowned.

It was then that a Ford Expedition pulled up beside them at an intersection.

Steve rolled down his window when a man wearing a trench coat exited the SUV and approached the motorhome.

“Good morning,” the man said. “I didn’t think there was anyone left in this city alive. Name’s Justin. Mind if I climb aboard for a brief discussion?”

“Not at all,” Steve said. Moments later the three of them were swilling shots of whiskey in the lounge area.

Justin, taking visual inventory of their horde of firearms, ammunition and currency, said, “It’s best to be prepared, I suppose. For danger has a way of appearing when you least expect it.” He then retrieved a Colt .45 revolver from the small of his back and shot Steve once in the face at pointblank range. The heavy-caliber bullet all but decapitated Steve, and he crashed into the built-in sofa, instantly dead, before sliding off onto the motorhome’s carpeted steel floor.

“You son of a bitch,” Sally said, and then she lunged at Steve’s killer with her bare hands to claw his eyes out because there was no time to reach for a weapon.

Justin easily overpowered her. He knocked her out by slamming his gun’s barrel twice against her temple, then taped her mouth shut and bound her hands and feet with rope he’d been carrying in a pocket of his trench coat.

Next, he searched the bathroom, the closet, and kicked in the locked door of the back bedroom.

There was no one else onboard.

Justin drove the motorhome off the boulevard, parked behind a shopping mall, and then settled down to feast on human flesh.
*
Lying on her stomach beneath the bed, sleeping the dreamless sleep of alcohol, Polly nevertheless awakened instantly at the sound of gunfire. The single shot was followed by Sally calling someone a son of a bitch, and, after a brief ensuing struggle, she heard footsteps approaching out in the hallway.

Polly had been sleeping with her feet toward the headboard, and she was therefore facing the bedroom door when, moments later, it was kicked in. She saw a man’s black sneakers and the rumpled ends of his blue jeans straight ahead. She aimed her pistol at his shins, held her breath, and hoped he didn’t peer beneath the bed. She would shoot him in the face if he exposed it, of course, but, uncertain of the number of intruders, she didn’t want to draw attention to herself in this vulnerable position if he wasn’t acting alone.

Curiously, the man didn’t search beneath the bed. Polly watched his feet turn around and walk away. Was he that stupid? Why would the bedroom door have been locked in the first place if no one occupied this chamber? Perhaps he’d smelled the whiskey vapors seeping from her pores and he was toying with her, teasing her like a cat playing with a cornered mouse, creating an illusion of escape when there was none.

She waited, listening, but heard him speak to no one, and when, moments later, the motorhome began to move, Polly crawled out from underneath the bed.

Her bladder felt on the verge of bursting, and her mouth literally burned with thirst. Pistol thrust out before her, she risked a glance into the hallway. It was deserted. Only two steps were necessary to transfer from the bedroom to the bathroom.

Once inside, she sat down on the commode and relieved herself. When finished, she wiped dry with toilet paper, then stood and pulled her pants up immediately.

Suddenly the motorhome was no longer in motion.

She parted the curtains to peek out the lone bathroom window when the engine stopped, and discovered that whoever was driving had parked behind a shopping mall.

At least a thousand rotting corpses decomposed on the asphalt in the blind blazing glare of the morning sun.

Polly waited, listening, the internal pounding of her heart like a ticking clock, and she’d never needed a shot of whiskey this badly in her life.

Eventually, she could wait no longer. She stepped out of the bathroom, tiptoed down the hallway, and stood at the threshold of the lounge area.

Sally was roped across the surface of the coffee table, naked, bleeding from a gash on her temple, mouth taped shut but still very much alive, with bright wide-open eyes.

The intruder was also naked, on the floor before the sofa, eating Steve’s raw flesh with a butcher’s knife and bare bloody hands. When he saw Polly standing there pointing her pistol at him, she could tell by his expression that he was baffled by her unforeseen arrival. He tossed aside a piece of dripping meat, and then stood with an erection. His stiff penis was far thicker and perhaps two inches longer than his blade. He smiled. “You must have been hiding beneath the bed.”

“Did you hear that, Sally?” Polly said. “We’re dealing with a regular Einstein here.”

“For all of his genius,” Justin said, “Einstein died in 1955. He discovered that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, but he couldn’t unlock the secret to everlasting life. I, however, am immortal. The flesh, the blood, the very souls I absorb from my victims shall sustain me through all eternity.”

“You’re a psychopathic cannibal with delusions of grandeur,” Polly said. “And nothing more.”

Justin clutched his erection with the hand not holding the butcher’s knife. “You mistake my enlightenment for insanity. It’s a common blunder that’s occurred repeatedly throughout history.”

Polly cocked her head. “Do you believe in God?”

“No,” Justin said. “Of course not.”

“Well I do. And I also believe in Satan. And when you get to Hell, I want you to tell the devil that a female sent you there.” She then emptied her clip into the nude intruder, filling his chest, neck and face with eighteen rounds of 9mm ammunition, exposing Justin’s claim of immortality for what it was: a sham; a fraud; a self-deception.

Polly removed the tape from Sally’s mouth and unbound her from the coffee table.

Sally sprang to her feet. “That crazy hateful son of a bitch killed Steve and fucking ate him.”

“I know,” Polly said. “But you’ll see Steve soon enough again. As surely as the sun will explode in a few billion years, all souls that once loved will reunite afresh in the great beyond.”

“How can you be so certain?”

“With faith,” Polly said. “Without faith, we’re as lifeless as the masses that have perished in the wake of Yersinia-Z.”

Sally got dressed. “I wish I shared your optimistic outlook.”

“It could be worse,” Polly said. “At least we have each other.”

“For now,” Sally said, and frowned.

In the meantime, there was little else to do but guzzle whiskey.

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Brian Bowyer has been writing stories and music for most of his life. He has lived all over the East Coast. He has worked as a musician, a banker, a bartender, a bouncer, and a bomb maker for a coal-testing laboratory. He currently lives and
writes in the mountains of West Virginia, although this may change at any moment.

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3 thoughts on ““YERSINIA-Z” by Brian Bowyer

  1. Great blog. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Loved it. Amazing writing and imagination.

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