by Hugh Howey

Abandon Hope…

…and bash in her skull before you go.

Part I • The Hunger

Gloria • Michael Lane • Jennifer Shaw

1 • Gloria

There was a hole in Gloria’s smile the size of an apple. When she ate, much of what she chewed passed through her cheek and spilled down her neck. And when a scent caught her attention—usually the smell of the living—she would lift her head to take a sniff and feel the air pass through her open face to hammer her rotting teeth.

Gloria was dead, and so were her teeth, but they were all still sensitive to the pain.

Bowing her head back over her meal, she tried not to watch what she was doing. The stench and texture were visceral enough, the taste both revolting and sickly soothing. A pack of five or so ripped into the man, the scene calmer than a big feed. There were grunts and contented smacking sounds, not the angry roars from those on the outside clawing to get in. Instead, she and four other monsters huddled together like hyenas on the Serengeti. They rubbed shoulders and listened to the sounds of flesh tearing and tendons snapping, the hotness of the man up to her elbows, blood dripping from her chin.

Gloria ate, and much of what she chewed spilled down her neck.

The revulsion she felt was mental. Gloria wished it were physical. She wanted to vomit, dearly wanted to vomit, but she couldn’t. The meat of the man tasted too good. It satisfied too deep and strong a craving, this new hunger that reminded her of all her old and equally primal urges.

There were two years in high school when Gloria had tried to become a vegetarian. This monster she had turned into reminded her of those years, of the meals that came after she’d given up trying to be good. She remembered how badly she had felt for that chicken even as she tore through its meat. There was a night out with friends, laughing, spilling beer, a hundred screens of sports she cared nothing about, and baskets of wings. She had held one, fingers sticky with sauce, a bite taken out of the flesh, and she had looked down, had seen those tendons and bone, and had realized what she was doing.

Even then, Gloria had known it was wrong. But she loved it too much. The taste was always stronger than her compassion. And so she ate and felt sick at the same time. She loved the meat and hated herself.

The dead body in the blue jeans and ruined button-up reminded her of that chicken wing. It was barely recognizable as a person anymore, covered in its own sauce. The pack grew to seven, and the man’s lower half was dragged away and fought over. More yummy disgustingness spilled out from his torso and spread across the warm pavement. The monster across from Gloria scrambled for the same slick ropes as she. The purple meat slid through both of their hands, their lips dribbling sauce back down on their food, fighting for scraps.

This other monster’s fingers were missing from one of his hands, bitten off, leaving him with a stump. Gloria saw the familiar black char of an original wound, the bite that had infected this man, working its way up his wrist. Still, he clawed for the meat with what was left of his hand. Like Gloria, he was only half in control of what he was doing. They were along for the ride, each of them. At the wheel—but without the power steering.

2 • Michael Lane

Michael remembered being a boy. He remembered the times from before. Michael could remember everything.

He remembered doctors in white coats telling him that his mother was still in there, that she was still alive behind those glassy eyes and that distant stare. In his more hopeful moments he would sit by her side, hold her hand, and believe them. He would pretend it was true.

And when her wheelchair squeaked and rattled with another shaking fit, Michael would squeeze her withered and trembling hands and talk to her, try to reason with her, ask her to please stop.

These were the times when he believed the doctors, when he thought his mother was still in there, peering out. He would talk to her like this when he was most hopeful. He would talk to her calmly.

And then there were days when he didn’t believe, when he couldn’t believe—and he would have to scream.

Michael Lane remembered screaming at his mother. He remembered this as he staggered through the apartment, knocking over furniture, chasing her hissing cat.

“Wake up!” he would yell at his mom, back when he could yell at anything.

“Wake the fuck up!”

And he would shake her. He would want to hit her, but he never did. At least, he didn’t think so.

It had been tempting at times. Not because he thought it would do her any good or snap her out of the degenerative palsy into which she had fallen, but because punching a hole in the wall didn’t make him feel any better. He wasn’t pissed off at the wall. Walls were supposed to just sit there. That’s what walls did.

His mother’s old black cat stood in the corner by the radiator, its spine arched, fur spiked, pink tongue and white teeth visible as it hissed at him. The damn thing was thin as a shadow. Starving. Michael was starving, too. He closed in, remembering the doubts he’d had about his mother’s condition. Those doubts had nagged at him for years.

What if his mother was just acting? What if this was her way of avoiding the world? He hadn’t been able to stop thinking these things. Michael had watched his father crawl inside a bottle and die there just so he didn’t have to get up and go to work. It wasn’t long before his mom retreated behind a vacant gaze, leaving him and his sister to pay the bills, to change her stinking bags, to roll her from one sunny patch by the window to another. His mother had become a potted plant they fretted over. No, that wasn’t right. Couldn’t plants at least turn their heads and follow the sun? Weren’t they better than her in that way?

Falling forward as much as lunging, Michael seized the weak and cornered cat. Sharp claws gouged his hands, burning where they broke the skin. He ignored this—he had no choice—and concentrated on the past. The times he had screamed at his mother were painful memories, so Michael orbited those. Pain was a distraction from what he knew he was about to do. And so he tried to remember if he had ever hit his mother, even a little. He couldn’t. Couldn’t remember. Maybe he had.

The cat clawed at his face as he bowed his head into its fur. It batted at his unblinking eyes, and Michael— the memory of Michael—recoiled in fear. But the body he was trapped inside did not pull back. The hunger was too great, that mad craving for meat too strong. Not this meat, perhaps. Not cat meat. But he was barricaded inside his apartment with little else. He had locked himself inside, thinking he was safe, that he’d be okay. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t safe. He wasn’t okay.

Michael’s teeth sank past the fur to tear at the animal’s flesh. The cat was a screaming, writhing blur. It

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