World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Page 4


I almost laughed. It was so ridiculous. Maybe Superman had slipped up, misdiagnosed him, if that was possible. Maybe he’d just risen from the bed, and, in a stupor, had tried to grab on to Doctor Silva to steady himself. There had to be a reasonable explanation…and yet, there was the blood on her uniform and the muffled noise from Herr Muller’s room. I went back to the car for my gun, more so to calm Graziela and Rosi than for myself.
You carried a gun?
I lived in Rio. What do you think I carried, my “pinto”? I went back to Herr Muller’s room, I knocked several times. I heard nothing. I whispered his and Silva’s names. No one responded. I noticed blood seeping out from under the door. I entered and found it covering the floor. Silva was lying in the far corner, Muller crouching over him with his fat, pale, hairy back to me. I can’t remember how I got his attention, whether I called his name, uttered a swear, or did anything at all but just stand there. Muller turned to me, bits of bloody meat falling from his open mouth. I saw that his steel sutures had been partially pried open and a thick, black, gelatinous fluid oozed through the incision. He got shakily to his feet, lumbering slowly toward me.
I raised my pistol, aiming at his new heart. It was a “Desert Eagle,” Israeli, large and showy, which is why I’d chosen it. I’d never fired it before, thank God. I wasn’t ready for the recoil. The round went wild, literally blowing his head off. Lucky, that’s all, this lucky fool standing there with a smoking gun, and a stream of warm urine running down my leg. Now it was my turn to get slapped, several times by Graziela, before I came to my senses and telephoned the police.
Were you arrested?
Are you crazy? These were my partners, how do you think I was able to get my homegrown organs. How do you think I was able to take care of this mess? They’re very good at that. They helped explain to my other patients that a homicidal maniac had broken into the clinic and killed both Herr Muller and Doctor Silva. They also made sure that none of the staff said anything to contradict that story.
What about the bodies?
They listed Silva as the victim of a probable “car jacking.” I don’t know where they put his body; maybe some ghetto side street in the City of God, a drug score gone bad just to give the story more credibility. I hope they just burned him, or buried him…deep.
Do you think he…
I don’t know. His brain was intact when he died. If he wasn’t in a body bag…if the ground was soft enough. How long would it have taken to dig out?
[He chews another leaf, offering me some. I decline.]
And Mister Muller?
No explanation, not to his widow, not to the Austrian embassy. Just another kidnapped tourist who’d been careless in a dangerous town. I don’t know if Frau Muller ever believed that story, or if she ever tried to investigate further. She probably never realized how damn lucky she was.
Why was she lucky?
Are you serious? What if he hadn’t reanimated in my clinic? What if he’d managed to make it all the way home?
Is that possible?
Of course it is! Think about it. Because the infection started in the heart, the virus had direct access to his circulatory system, so it probably reached his brain seconds after it was implanted. Now you take another organ, a liver or a kidney, or even a section of grafted skin. That’s going to take a lot longer, especially if the virus is only present in small amounts.
But the donor…
Doesn’t have to be fully reanimated. What if he’s just newly infected? The organ may not be completely saturated. It might only have an infinitesimal trace. You put that organ in another body, it might take days, weeks, before it eventually works its way out into the bloodstream. By that point the patient might be well on the way to recovery, happy and healthy and living a regular life.
But whoever is removing the organ…
…may not know what he’s dealing with. I didn’t. These were the very early stages, when nobody knew anything yet. Even if they did know, like elements in the Chinese army…you want to talk about immoral…Years before the outbreak they’d been making millions on organs from executed political prisoners. You think something like a little virus is going to make them stop sucking that golden tit?
But how…
You remove the heart not long after the victim’s died…maybe even while he’s still alive…they used to do that, you know, remove living organs to ensure their freshness…pack it in ice, put it on a plane for Rio…China used to be the largest exporter of human organs on the world market. Who knows how many infected corneas, infected pituitary glands…Mother of God, who knows how many infected kidneys they pumped into the global market. And that’s just the organs! You want to talk about the “donated” eggs from political prisoners, the sperm, the blood? You think immigration was the only way the infection swept the planet? Not all the initial outbreaks were Chinese nationals. Can you explain all those stories of people suddenly dying of unexplained causes, then reanimating without ever having been bitten? Why did so many outbreaks begin in hospitals? Illegal Chinese immigrants weren’t going to hospitals. Do you know how many thousands of people got illegal organ transplants in those early years leading up to the Great Panic? Even if 10 percent of them were infected, even 1 percent…
Do you have any proof of this theory?
No…but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen! When I think about how many transplants I performed, all those patients from Europe, the Arab world, even the self-righteous United States. Few of you Yankees asked where your new kidney or pancreas was coming from, be it a slum kid from the City of God or some unlucky student in a Chinese political prison. You didn’t know, you didn’t care. You just signed your traveler’s checks, went under the knife, then went home to Miami or New York or wherever.
Did you ever try to track these patients down, warn them?
No, I didn’t. I was trying to recover from a scandal, rebuild my reputation, my client base, my bank account. I wanted to forget what happened, not investigate it further. By the time I realized the danger, it was scratching at my front door.
[I was told to expect a “tall ship,” although the “sails” of IS Imfingo refer to the four vertical wind turbines rising from her sleek, trimaran hull. When coupled with banks of PEM, or proton exchange membrane, fuel cells, a technology that converts seawater into electricity, it is easy to see why the prefix “IS” stands for “Infinity Ship.” Hailed as the undisputed future of maritime transport, it is still rare to see one sailing under anything but a government flag. The Imfingo is privately owned and operated. Jacob Nyathi is her captain.]
I was born about the same time as the new, postapartheid South Africa. In those euphoric days, the new government not only promised the democracy of “one man, one vote,” but employment and housing to the entire country. My father thought that meant immediately. He didn’t understand that these were long-term goals to be achieved after years—generations—of hard work. He thought that if we abandoned our tribal homeland and relocated to a city, there would be a brand-new house and high-paying jobs just sitting there waiting for us. My father was a simple man, a day laborer. I can’t blame him for his lack of formal education, his dream of a better life for his family. And so we settled in Khayelitsha, one of the four main townships outside of Cape Town. It was a life of grinding, hopeless, humiliating poverty. It was my childhood.
The night it happened, I was walking home from the bus stop. It was around five A.M. and I’d just finished my shift waiting tables at the T.G.I. Friday’s at Victoria Wharf. It had been a good night. The tips were big, and news from the Tri Nations was enough to make any South African feel ten feet tall. The Springboks were trouncing the All Blacks…again!
[He smiles with the memory.]
Maybe those thoughts were what distracted me at first, maybe it was simply being so knackered, but I felt my body instinctively react before I consciously heard the shots. Gunfire was not unusual, not in my neighborhood, not in those days. “One man, one gun,” that was the slogan of my life in Khayelitsha. Like a combat veteran, you develop almost genetic survival skills. Mine were razor sharp. I crouched, tried to triangulate the sound, and at the same time look for the hardest surface to hide behind. Most of the homes were just makeshift shanties, wood scraps or corrugated tin, or just sheets of plastic fastened to barely standing beams. Fire ravaged these lean-tos at least once a year, and bullets could pass through them as easily as open air.
I sprinted and crouched behind a barbershop, which had been constructed from a car-sized shipping container. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do for a few seconds, long enough to hole up and wait for the shooting to die down. Only it didn’t. Pistols, shotguns, and that clatter you never forget, the kind that tells you someone has a Kalashnikov. This was lasting much too long to be just an ordinary gang row. Now there were screams, shouts. I began to smell smoke. I heard the stirrings of a crowd. I peeked out from around the corner. Dozens of people, most of them in their nightclothes, all shouting “Run! Get out of there! They’re coming!” House lamps were lighting all around me, faces poking out of shanties. “What’s going on here?” they asked. “Who’s coming?” Those were the younger faces. The older ones, they just started running. They had a different kind of survival instinct, an instinct born in a time when they were slaves in their own country. In those days, everyone knew who “they” were, and if “they” were ever coming, all you could do was run and pray.
Did you run?
I couldn’t. My family, my mother and two little sisters, lived only a few “doors” down from the Radio Zibonele station, exactly where the mob was fleeing from. I wasn’t thinking. I was stupid. I should have doubled back around, found an alley or quiet street.
I tried to wade through the mob, pushing in the opposite direction. I thought I could stay along the sides of the shanties. I was knocked into one, into one of their plastic walls that wrapped around me as the whole structure collapsed. I was trapped, I couldn’t breathe. Someone ran over me, smashed my head into the ground. I shook myself free, wriggled and rolled out into the street. I was still on my stomach when I saw them: ten or fifteen, silhouetted against the fires of the burning shanties. I couldn’t see their faces, but I could hear them moaning. They were slouching steadily toward me with their arms raised.
I got to my feet, my head swam, my body ached all over. Instinctively I began to withdraw, backing into the “doorway” of the closest shack. Something grabbed me from behind, pulled at my collar, tore the fabric. I spun, ducked, and kicked hard. He was large, larger and heavier than me by a few kilos. Black fluid ran down the front of his white shirt. A knife protruded from his chest, jammed between the ribs and buried to the hilt. A scrap of my collar, which was clenched between his teeth, dropped as his lower jaw fell open. He growled, he lunged. I tried to dodge. He grabbed my wrist. I felt a crack, and pain shot up through my body. I dropped to my knees, tried to roll and maybe trip him up. My hand came up against a heavy cooking pot. I grabbed it and swung hard. It smashed into his face. I hit him again, and again, bashing his skull until the bone split open and the brains spilled out across my feet. He slumped over. I freed myself just as another one of them appeared in the entrance. This time the structure’s flimsy nature worked to my advantage. I kicked the back wall open, slinking out and bringing the whole hut down in the process.
I ran, I didn’t know where I was going. It was a nightmare of shacks and fire and grasping hands all racing past me. I ran through a shanty where a woman was hiding in the corner. Her two children were huddled against her, crying. “Come with me!” I said. “Please, come, we have to go!” I held out my hands, moved closer to her. She pulled her children back, brandishing a sharpened screwdriver. Her eyes were wide, scared. I could hear sounds behind me…smashing through shanties, knocking them over as they came. I switched from Xhosa to English. “Please,” I begged, “you have to run!” I reached for her but she stabbed my hand. I left her there. I didn’t know what else to do. She is still in my memory, when I sleep or maybe close my eyes sometimes. Sometimes she’s my mother, and the crying children are my sisters.
I saw a bright light up ahead, shining between the cracks in the shanties. I ran as hard as I could. I tried to call to them. I was out of breath. I crashed through the wall of a shack and suddenly I was in open ground. The headlights were blinding. I felt something slam into my shoulder. I think I was out before I even hit the ground.
I came to in a bed at Groote Schuur Hospital. I’d never seen the inside of a recovery ward like this. It was so clean and white. I thought I might be dead. The medication, I’m sure, helped that feeling. I’d never tried any kind of drugs before, never even touched a drink of alcohol. I didn’t want to end up like so many in my neighborhood, like my father. All my life I’d fought to stay clean, and now…
The morphine or whatever they had pumped into my veins was delicious. I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t care when they told me the police had shot me in the shoulder. I saw the man in the bed next to me frantically wheeled out as soon as his breathing stopped. I didn’t even care when I overheard them talking about the outbreak of “rabies.”
Who was talking about it?
I don’t know. Like I said, I was as high as the stars. I just remember voices in the hallway outside my ward, loud voices angrily arguing. “That wasn’t rabies!” one of them yelled. “Rabies doesn’t do that to people!” Then…something else…then “well, what the hell do you suggest, we’ve got fifteen downstairs right here! Who knows how many more are still out there!” It’s funny, I go over that conversation all the time in my head, what I should have thought, felt, done. It was a long time before I sobered up again, before I woke up and faced the nightmare.