He laid on the floor of the small room where he slept at night. It was early morning and a ray of sunlight shown through a crack in the door. He watched it as it slowly made its way across the room.
He shut his eyes once again and thought about his old life. If you asked him what he missed most about the old world he would tell you that it was the luxury of time. He would explain that in the old world the basic necessities of life came easy. That people didn’t have to spend all of their time gathering food and supplies necessary for their survival. These things were kept on hand or could be obtained easily enough with a quick drive to the grocery store. In the old world people didn't have to worry about their next meal or whether or not there would be enough food for them to eat in the same way that they didn't have to worry about their safety. No, people didn't have to constantly look over their shoulder for signs of danger. They could sleep peacefully at night knowing that there was food in their refrigerators and that they were safe within their homes. Simplicity in the old world bought a person the most precious resource of all – time. Instead of a constant focus on obtaining ones basic needs of survival, a person could be spend their time doing other things. Things that brought them joy and which nourished their spirit.
For him that was Aikido.
In the old world Aikido was not only his passion, it was his life. He spent most of his time practicing Aikido and also teaching it to others. He loved its art form and philosophy.
A slight smile formed on his face with the memory and a conversation began in his mind. He no longer had anyone to talk to. Everyone was gone now. So in rare moments like these, in the morning when he felt safe, he would sometimes have conversations with himself.
“You see, Aikido is a self defense practice that is as much spiritual and intellectual in nature as it is physical. It teaches an individual to have a sense of relaxed focus during the moment of an attack and to use an opponent’s aggression against them. In a confrontation, the defender proportionately redirects their attackers will to do harm in a way that neutralizes them as a threat.”
He paused and thought for a moment and repeated the idea a few times over in his mind.
“Generally, we do not discuss this underlying principle outright. Instead we teach it experientially through movements and practice. The movement of Aikido is fluid and emphasizes circular or spherical effort.”
He had had this conversation many times in his previous life and the words flowed out of him with minimal effort.
“By maintaining a stable center and blending ones movements with those of their opponents, an individual can defend themselves from an attack from a larger and stronger opponent.”
For him, Aikido wasn’t just a job or a strength building exercise, it was a way of life. It brought enjoyment into his world and it gave him hope. Most importantly, it nourished his spirit by giving him purpose. He would strived to live by the philosophy of Aikido and to be the best at it that he could. He strived to master the practice and pass on his knowledge to others so that their spirit would also be nourished.
“Aikido translates to the way of harmony with Ki, which is the creative principle of life. A person practicing aikido seeks to balance their own internal Ki with that of the Ki of the universe until the two become fused in harmony.”
He stopped again as a new thought arose.
“This is the problem in this new world. There is no balance or harmony.”
With this last thought he opened his eyes and soberly pulled himself out of bed. He didn’t have time to think about personal passions and spiritual pursuits. He didn’t have time to think about aikido anymore. In this new world, time was a luxury that he didn’t have.
He needed to spend his time doing other things. More important things. Things related to his survival. He needed to find food and he needed to think about his safety. He needed to think about his safety more than anything. He had not seen one of them for quite some time now, but he knew that he would again. He needed to always be prepared for the day when one of them came for him. Deep inside himself he knew that it would happen eventually. He had seen it happen to others.
He once saw a woman chased down by one of Them from over 100 yards away. The woman tried to run from it but it was no use. It ran her down like it was nothing. The woman didn't stand a chance. She may as well have been standing still. She may as well have just given in and allowed it to happen.
He didn't like to think about that memory, but the horror of it still popped into his mind periodically. It was as if the violence of it seared itself into his mind. There it laid dormant until it decided to make an appearance, unpredictably and unexpectedly. The images of the event haunted him and tried to overtake him. Sometimes he would feel the memories approaching and would start to panic. The memory a reminder to always be on guard and to always be safe.
Another conversation began in his mind.
“You see, something that you have to understand about these creatures is that they aren’t like how they are portrayed in the movies. They aren’t slow and dim witted creatures that moan with outstretched arms reaching desperately for living flesh. Not all of them anyway.”
“It’s true that some of them are slow. They tend to stumble around at a glacial pace trying to get their hands on anything that moves. Those ones are pretty easy to get away from as long as you don’t get yourself trapped in a closed off area or caught in a swarm of them. That tends to happen a lot actually - swarms. There is something about slow moving objects that make them all seem to get caught and tangled up together. It’s almost as if gravity has more of an effect on slow moving things. It call them together and invites them to form a vile sort of cesspool…”
He paused gazing at the ground in front of him as new memories appeared in his mind.
“Anyway, as I was saying, some of them are slow but others are fast. Like really fast. Like top Olympic athlete, 100 meter dash fast. Like lion taking down a gazelle – or a woman, fast…”
“There is no outrunning a fast moving zombie. No getting away. The only way to not get caught by a fast one is to not be seen by it. The only way to survive a fast one is to see it before it sees you and to get the hell out of there.”
“Why the discrepancy? Why are some fast while others are slow?”
He had given the subject a lot of thought since the day that he witnessed the attack on the woman and after many sleepless nights he believed that he had figured out the answer.
“The answer is pain. You see, pain is an extremely effective mechanism for controlling a human’s speed and efforts in general. Pain is what makes us so much slower than them. Pain stops a person from pushing themselves to their limits. When a human runs fast they begin to feel discomfort and soon a little voice in their head starts telling them to slow down so that they don’t hurt themselves. The muscles in their legs start to burn. They experience pain in their chest. They get cramps. If they stub their toe or roll their ankle they stop.”
“Human’s experiences pain and the pain slows us down. It tells us that we are reaching our limit and to pull back and pump the brakes. Pain is a reminder to not push ourselves too far.”
“They do not feel pain though. They don’t feel anything. When one of them sees a living human, it runs. It runs completely uninhibited and it doesn’t stop running. It runs passed the point that would normally cause pain and then it keeps going. It doesn’t matter if there is something in its way and it doesn’t matter if it injures itself. It just keeps running, until it catches what it’s chasing. Until it catches you.”
He stopped again, thinking that that was what happened to the woman. One of them saw her and took off running and in a matter of seconds it had her. The woman didn’t stand a chance. She may as well have just stood there and waited to die.
“Anyway… There is a silver lining to the whole ‘feel no pain’ situation because running at top speed does come with a price, even for them. In fact, especially for them. You see, when a human runs fast, even for a short period of time, their muscles get damaged. Tiny microscopic tears begin to form within their muscle tissue.”
In the past he had had to explain this process to new students in his Aikido classes who complained about being stiff and sore after some of their workouts. He would explain to them that stiffness was a natural effect of healthy stress on the muscles and that their body’s immune system would heal them in only a few days. He explained that the process would even actually make them stronger than they were before. The students always loved it when he spoke about getting stronger.
“Now as far as I can tell, the muscles of these creatures also experience stress when they exert an effort – like say, sunning at top speed. Their muscles begin to break down from the friction and from the strain, just like ours do. But here is the kicker. Zombies are dead. They have no living tissue. No living cells and no immune system to heal them. So when their muscles break down they don’t ever repair themselves.”
He smiled to himself with the thought.
“So when you think about it, their speed and their aggression is actually their undoing. After a while the muscles break down from all of the exertion until they can no longer run at all. Then they get slow and stumble around on their busted legs. I guess every fast zombie is actually just a slow one in the making.”
After peeking through a crack near the door he silently and cautiously moved outside into the streets.
Today was a different sort of day for him. Today was moving day. Today he would be moving to a new territory and a new home. Foraging had become his only means of obtaining food and supplies and over the past few weeks he had completely exhausted all of the resources that his current area had to offer.
His habitation system was something that he had perfected over the past few months. First he would establish a safe place to sleep at night. A place that was secure that would act as his base camp. From there he would begin to forage the surrounding homes for food and supplies, progressively expanding his territory incrementally into larger and larger concentric circles until the entire area had been wiped clean of any food or supplies. This method had the added benefit of allowing him to become more and more familiar with the territory with each passing day until eventually he would get to know the area inside and out. He would come to know of all of the safe spots and quick getaway routes and so on.
Eventually though, the area would become too large for single day trips and he would have to move to the outskirts of the territory and start the process all over again. Moving days were always a dangerous time but luckily he knew exactly where he was headed. It was a spot on the outer edge of his habitation zone, a place that he had scoped out several days before and which he had already equipped with most of the essentials for safety and survival. Today was mostly just about getting to the location in a timely manner, while it was still light outside.
He moved slowly through the streets stopping every so often to listen. Stop, look, listen, move forward and repeat. It was a slow process, but it was how it had to be done. Avoiding them was the key to staying alive. It is far better to see them before they see you. If one of them was spotted than he would leave the area as quickly and as quietly as possible.
Being a ghost was an important skill to have in this new world.
By midday he was getting close to his destination. Again he stopped and listened for any sound that might indicate danger. Silence. Slowly and quietly he removed his backpack from his shoulders and retrieved a bottle of water from a side pocket. He unscrewed the lid and took a small sip. He looked up at the sky and swallowed. The day was sunny and warm and he took the moment to shut his eyes and let the warm sun gently heat his skin. He felt content in the moment. It was a feeling that he hadn’t experienced in quite some time. A slight breeze passed over him and rustled the leaves in a nearby tree. With his eyes closed he followed the sound as it moved around him into the plastic garbage bag of a nearby city trashcan and then into some loose flyers strewn on the sidewalk. Then a new sound came to him. A gentle patting in the distance.
A small shiver moved up his neck and down his spine. His eyes immediately shot open. He stood up and began to scan his surroundings. His vision was blotchy. The sun had penetrated his closed eye lids.
Pat pat pat pat pat
The sound was coming from behind him and to his left. It was rapid and quickly getting louder. He turned to face its direction and began to walk backwards. His backpack was still on the ground where he had been crouched just a few moments earlier. He didn’t bother reaching down to retrieve it. He dropped his water bottle.
Pat pat pat pat pat
Cars parked on the street blocked his view but something clicked in his mind and he immediately recognize the sound. Bare feet slapping the hard pavement. Someone, or more likely – something, was running towards him. He didn’t wait to see who or what it was. Instinctively, he turned and took off in the opposite direction. He ran as fast as he could but could tell that he was losing ground. He searched for somewhere to escape but saw nothing. He became frantic. Desperate. Images of the woman being chased down flashed in his mind. She never had a chance. He knew that he would be caught if he kept running. He had to find a place to hide.
Ahead of him was an opening between two buildings and he turned into it. An empty alleyway and a dead end. Thick concrete walls and all sides of him. He was surrounded and trapped. There was nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. He touched the back wall. The surface was smooth and hard and cold against his palms.
He spun back towards the entrance just as it turned the corner and entered the alleyway. It didn’t slow down. It was barefoot and lean and moved toward him with an inhumane ferocity. He stepped away from the wall and faced it. He had never seen anything move so fast. It was pure rage. Pure aggression. He closed his eyes and a strange sort of peace came over him.
A harmony. A balance.
The sound of feet slapping the pavement grew louder. It was almost upon him. The moment was inevitable. Its aggression meant certain death and in only a few short seconds it would all be over. He breathed in and began to exhale slowly as the zombies arms reached out to grab him. In the last possible moment he took a step forward and grabbed its wrist. In one fluid movement he gently pulled it toward himself while taking a step to his right. With the most minimal effort he allowed the zombies momentum to carry it into the concrete wall behind him. The creatures head hit the cement with a blunt smack. Its skull split instantly and fell to the ground. It lay their completely still. He stepped over the lifeless body and went back to retrieve his backpack. There would still be a few hours of sunlight left in the day.
Plenty of time to make it to his new home.
He picked up his pace a bit to make up for the delay.
Thanks for Reading
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