I didn’t know quite what to expect when I arrived. Even more, I wasn’t quite sure why I came. To cheer him on? There was no ‘him’ anymore.
The ruined hulk of Yankee stadium contained just enough people to fill the first few rows of the infield. They were an unclean sort, the sickening filth that would cheer on a dead man’s humiliation, reveling in blood-sport while the world crumbled around them. The tourney was a nighttime activity for a nighttime crowd.
The remaining stadium lights cast long shadows onto the muddied ground. They focused on two men, completely bare save for the sharpened scrap metal held aloft in their hands. One man was small and wiry, wild looking with tangled beard and hirsute chest. The other man was tall and lanky, messy brown hair and clean shaven. I knew the second man’s image too well: he was my brother.
The dead men circled each other; jerky movements of the reanimated. In the shadows stood two others, holding onto an antennaed controller, moving furiously at the knobs.
There was a charge by the wiry man, slashing and low to the ground. My brother took a hit on his leg, a heavy ‘thunk’ resonating up into the stands, the scrap embedding itself in his shin. The sound drew a disgustingly enthusiastic applause from the crowd around me.
“I’ve got twenty more on the little one!” a nearby man shouted, waving a fistful of bills at the bookie. Other hands soon followed his into the air, the frenzied exchange of money too much for me to follow.
The shell of my brother carried on the fight. He brought a crosswise swipe to the side of the wiry man’s skull, his jaw crushed beneath the weight of the blow. The force sent him crashing to the ground.
What followed was a mockery of who my brother was. The man at the controls brought my brother’s weapon down again and again on the unmoving form of the wiry man. Metal and bone met with a sickening crunch. The crowd cheered and the blows hastened.
I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned and exited, out into the halls, to the vacant concession stands that smelled of urine and rot. I leaned heavily against a wall, resting my head back upon the concrete, uncaring for the moment about the filth of the place.
Melissa had warned me not to come. She told me there was no reason, that he was no longer her husband; that the figure in the stadium wasn’t Andy anymore.
I thought I knew better. Somehow I thought the Andy I had grown up with still had some fight left in him. Dead a week and somehow I expected the corpse to carry my brother’s soul.
But the jerky movements below were too alien. The response, the lack of emotion as he pummeled over and over… it wasn’t my brother.
I reached into my pocket and grabbed hold of a pack of cigarettes. The box had previously been empty for over a year, but, try as I might, my pocket never felt quite right without it. I tapped it in my palm, my trained response steadying my nerves. My breathing evened.
I glanced down at the red and white box, running my thumb over its label. It’s strange the symbols that gave us comfort; some people took hold of a photo of loved ones, or perhaps a bible… mine was an old box of packaged cancer.
I flipped the lid open and then closed it again, catching the slightest glimpse of the vial within. Somehow, someway, things had forced themselves full circle.
The truth was that we deserved every bit of this hell. We weren’t the survivors, we were the selfish. We hoarded our goods, holed ourselves up as the virus swept along its path. Now we were left to rot on this ‘island’, separated by miles and miles of utter silence.
The crowd let out another monstrous cheer, taking me off of the wall and down the hallway towards the bleachers. I pushed forward through the crowd, trying to get another glimpse of the infield. I was greeted with the sight of the wiry man being dragged across the infield, dumped into the trash bin by his handlers.
My brother they took and tossed haphazardly into the dugout; there were many more matches to go tonight.
If Andy made it, somehow, to the end of the tournament… if some higher power had deemed his family worthy of the winnings… then what? Go on the same as before, under the thumb of the thugs that owned this city? What use was money when it went right back to them?
I glanced upwards to the shadowed figures in the press box, watching as they looked over the spectacle of their game.
I let my cigarette box fall to the ground. There it sat for a moment as I considered the point of no return. We had sixteen months of canned goods saved. We had enough water to last nearly two years.
I took my mask from the deep pocket in my coat and placed it over my mouth; I brought the heel of my boot down upon the cigarette box. The crunch of the vial was faint against the commotion of the crowd.
I headed towards the exit ramp and into the dimly lit streets. There were a few people still entering the stadium, a slow trickle at this hour. I kept my eyes downcast, watching my own feet, hiding the presence of the mask with my shadow.
The first time around, the virus was a horrible mistake. It was a cruel twist on the cure I thought I had created — decaying the brain tissue it was supposed to repair.
Perhaps this time the virus could be the cure — wiping the underground from this city. Perhaps I could pay for the mistake that took my brother.
Rich Matrunick occasionally finishes stuff that he’s started. You’ve been warned.