Sunday 12 June 2011

Gunship Afterlife

Muted thunder terrorises the city. Somewhere along the line the gunships forgot the distinction between ‘infected’ and ‘survivor’. They thrash the air with carbon-grey blades, savagely keeping themselves aloft, scouring the streets for movement, scouring them clean of life, and unlife.

The curfew is permanent now; the punishment hard, hot and fatal. We scurry from safehole to safehole, field mice afraid of the hawk’s shadow. Great black hawks that glide between the tower-block corn stalks like death’s own birds of prey.

They are the dominant life form now. Top predator.

I am always the first out of cover, and the last back in. I am not a mother or a child, I am not an engineer or a hunter, I am the leader. My people are the future, I just have to get them there.

I listen, I look at my boy, Martin, he is listening too. He has better ears than I do. I nod at him, he nods back and I slowly step through the shattered glass front of the foyer into the street. I cautiously look to the sides, to the street and the sky. Nothing, yet.

I walk to the middle of the street and look around. Still listening. Nothing but a low wind stirring the grey dust.

I catch Martin’s eye. He sends Brad, Carson, Jimmy over: the army boys. We’re lucky we ever ran into them. I join them on the other side and we pair off to check the building out. The odd floors for me and Carson, even for the other two.

To be honest, the zees never pose much of a threat, they are slow and uncoordinated, but they have an eternal patience. It must have been a decade since the bombs, and you’ll still find one just sat in his chair, doing nothing but waiting. We found a whole family just sat around the dining table once, food untouched. It’s more normal to just find the one zee, and a bunch of gnawed corpses.

They were worse at first, but I guess as the food ran out they slowed down. Something keeps them ticking over though, the mould, maybe. That rust-like growth around their lips, eyes and ears. It spreads inside them too, some symptom; non-contagious, thank god. I got a lung-full once when I hacked a zee’s head off with a fire axe. Only the bitten get infected now. Maybe whoever dropped the bombs got something wrong. I guess somewhere in the world people might even be rebuilding, somewhere in the world they didn’t set those damn gunships in the sky.

We finish our sweep. Nothing for me and Carson. Jimmy and Brad had to take care of an old couple they found lying side by side in bed; hard to tell their age now, of course, but there were photos. A lot of the flats seemed well stocked, we always give the kitchen cupboards a cursory glance, looks like we might be able to stay here a couple of weeks.

Back at the front door something’s wrong. I can’t see Martin across from us. I wave the others down and peer along the street, then to the grey sky. Nothing. I open the door a crack and listen. Nothing.

The army boys look from the windows with me. Still nothing.

I send Jimmy and Brad off to find a higher window and push an earphone into one ear. We use our two radios sparingly, the battery supply’s limited. I remember, back when we had leisure time, how they used to say it was ‘too quiet’ in books and movies. The city’s always too quiet these days; except for those horrible, crazy moments. Hadn’t been too many of those recently though. I guess the gunships are getting one part of their job right.

Jimmy calls in. Nothing.

The tribe, Martin, should just be hiding. They should all be over there, safe, out of sight. But if they’re hiding, what are they hiding from?

I’ve got to go out. What else can I do?

Even the wind has stopped. The low clouds always keep the air packed and humid, a breeze is good. Heat haze and sweat is bad, the sick half-light of day is bad. I slowly walk out into the street. Peering. Listening. Maybe there is still a ‘too quiet’.

Then I see it.

A gunship, with the patience of a zee, perched on the rooftop two buildings down, on our side of the street. I’ve never seen one stopped before. I don’t know if it’s something they do. Maybe it’s broken. Maybe it’s not.

I swear it’s watching me, waiting to see where I scurry. I want to go to my son, my tribe, but I mustn’t show it where they are. I want to run, but I daren’t move. I slowly reach round for my binoculars and bring them up to my eyes.

Impossible to tell where the thing’s looking with those sensor globes. There’s no way it can’t see me though. I tighten up the focus.

Oh. Damn.

No way. No goddamn way. How is that even possible?

Around the sensor globe, along the carapace seals and the jointed wings is a rough, orange-brown growth. It might just be rust, but I know, I know, it isn’t.

Somehow, the gunship’s infected.

Gunship Afterlife was inspired by this image by Daniel Graffenberger

Recommended Reading:

Starfall by Kevlin Henney.
Great little alternative history, alternative science, flash.

Djinn's Klämdagar by Aidan Fritz
A teasing glimpse of a last stand in a magical alterverse.


  1. Zombie gunships? No wonder they're targeting the living!

  2. Cracking read this - filled with great ideas. Thought the gunships alone were genius but... zombie gunships... shudder. Only tiny criticism would be early on you've used a lot "I did this", "I did that" sentences which threw the flow for me a little bit. Great work though!

  3. I know, FAR... it's all gone a bit wrong... ;)
    (but then, when do apocalypse's go right...?)

    Thank you, David. I see what you mean, actually, one of those things you miss by being too close to a piece. I'll definitely work on that if I edit this up some time. =)

  4. Ohhh YESSSS!!!! Oh yes, now I have to go process information... crap, does that mean I'm a machine? As always LOVE your words & the tales & dimensions you spin them in ;)

  5. I love when writers find a new angle on a well known topic. You always seem to be able to do that with your stories! I've been on somewhat of a zombie and post-apocalyptic world binge lately so I especially enjoyed this piece. I love the mood you set by describing how quiet everything is.

    Zombie gunships... how terrifying would that be? Worrying about people AND technology at the same time? What's safe?

    Great job, John :)

  6. Wow, thank you, Shelle, glad you liked it so much! *^_^*

    Thanks, Zaiure. I wasn't trying for new territory when I set out, but I guess I ended up there... isn't that just the way sometimes...? ;)

    There's plenty of zombie/ post-apocalypse fiction out there right now... but if you haven't come across the Reapers are the Angels then I definitely recommend giving it a go. =)

  7. This is supreme work. The first-person worked for me (I find it difficult to craft, myself); totally put me THERE. I'm entirely a fan.

  8. Thank you, Daniel. =)

    I quite like working in first person, you just have to make sure the head you put yourself in is an interesting one... ;)

  9. zombie gunships?! great idea.

  10. Well-written apocalyptic fiction always hits the right chord for me, the idea of infected HKs is both original and extremely frightening.

  11. Thanks, Sonia. =)

    And thank you, Steve, high praise from the master of the inventive zombie flash. =D

  12. Nice, fast-paced read. The bomb-caused contagion felt fresh, as did the age of things and the different details from the usual zombie writings. Liked that red rust, the gun-ships and their cross-contamination.


  13. Thanks, Stephen. =)

    It's difficult trying to find any new territory to tread in zombie fiction nowadays. Glad you liked it. =)