I was hungry. We were all hungry. I was no different from the others.We were all the same. At least we all looked the same now. It was all around us, flakey yellow skin. It fell off our naked arms and our open faces each time we moved. It left a fine outline on the floor of the ship when someone uncrossed their legs to leave. It left behind a mark. Our peeling skin looked like snowflakes. It has a featherlike quality to it and weighed next to nothing. It resembled yellow snowflakes, whose whiteness had been eroded by the dog piss that now stained it. There wasn’t much food to go around for all those who traveled on the vessel. So we literally started to shed ourselves in order to live.The more we cast off what we didn’t need-first our fat, then our muscle and finally our skin, the less we needed to get through the day. Perhaps this is why we survived, or maybe this was the beginning of the end. No one really knew, and everyone was too afraid to ask.
The indelible mark of the virus that had wrecked our lives for the last many months was palpable around the cabin. No one knew how it had started, the infection that had led the fifty of us here on this ship. Like all terrible things, it came at us unexpectedly, out of nowhere. It crossed into our world,and with the precision of a grandmaster embarked upon creating his finest work yet, it took us down, stroke after stroke.
First came the fever. Our body temperatures systematically rose degree upon degree every few hours. Just when our bodies reached the point of combustion, our temperatures dropped, just like that. Most people’s hearts gave away at this point, unable to cope with the erratic change in their inner atmosphere. Those that made it through the waves of heat and ice bled to death soon after.
From their eyes and their nose and their ears came rivers of scarlet that left them dry. Capillaries swelled and burst, and what lay inside them gushed out of nearly every orifice. No one could explain why this happened. No one lived long enough to investigate. Did it come from the apes? The monkeys? The chickens and the cows fattened on synthetic feed made to resemble real food but wasn’t? No one really knew, and finally no one really cared. Dead people aren’t good at doing any research. They are just corpses. Corpses give no answers.
Not everyone met the same fate though. That would have been almost too simple. It would have ended this story right about now. We were the lucky ones, the charmed fifty, the last few that had survived the terrible virus that had succeeded to wipe all of humanity in a matter of a few months. We were the last living humans on earth, now packed like sardines in an airtight container set sail to God knows where.
As fate would have it (perhaps as a cruel joke) there were a few among us who had a vested interest in seeing us make it till the end. After all, we had gotten this far. They were hell-bent on ensuring that we lived, at least till we docked. Then we were free to die afterwards as we pleased (most likely of starvation). Once the last triumph of humankind over adversity was recorded, no one cared what happened to us after. It didn’t matter that there would most likely be no one left to marvel at the laurels of the resilient few.
They were men of faith, they were scientists. They monitored us day and night. They tracked our movements, they measured our breaths. They became the de facto leaders of our lot. There was no room for error, if mankind was to surmount this unsurmountable calamity, we had to stay pure, we had to stay clean, we had to stay free from the virus. They ignored our flakey skin, our chipped, yellow nails and our protruding bellies that betrayed our will to live.
In the biggest room on the vessel, one that doubled as our living, dining and sleeping quarters, they installed a ticker. It kept count of us. It said there were fifty of us. Same as the number that had boarded the ship. We had gotten far without anyone of us giving up. Land was only a few days’ worth of sailing away. This gave them hope. Hope made them fierce.
Our wish to die was far weaker than their combined force to make us live. There’s no such thing as free will on a vessel full of survivors of an apocalypse. You take on the will of the strongest amongst you. Those many months had slowly peeled away that which set each one of us apart. Our hair lost its individual luster, our eyes slowly drained of its color, and our skin lost its sheen. Rich mahogany browns, ivory whites, midnight blacks gave away to the jaundiced, yellow pallor that was now the dominant feature in the room. Our faces had started to resemble the color of shit that erupted from our bodies without our consent.
We now looked like the watery, yellow diarrhea that had gushed out unabated from the bodies of our mothers, our fathers, our lovers as their final breath gave away. The virus drained away their life matter. It had left behind putrid waste that was undistinguishable. That was them dead. We were alive. We had long turned foul.
Fifty men and women carrying the last vestiges of life had set sail to an unknown destination. That was until this morning. That was until a few minutes ago.
The piercing scream of the silent girl that was curled in the corner of our container shook us all awake from our nightmarish slumber.
Fifty one said the ticker. There was one more of us now. And just like that the silent girl that no one had paid much attention to before had added to our count. Not even the scientist suspected that she carried within her a new life. Maybe she hid it will, perhaps she didn’t know herself. We didn’t get much time to investigate.
Forty nine, the ticker blinked. Our count was down by two. No one dared to look around them, fearing that the person standing next to them would be on the ground. That it would be their turn next.
The child wailed again.No one cheered.The blinker read forty seven, and just like that, we began to wither away. Like our fathers, like our mothers, like our lovers. Our temperature started to swell. Our blood started to boil, our capillaries started to froth to the point of bursting. All the while our ship sailed east.