The Cellar.

What a waste of life I am.

36 days of my life had gone by, each chalked tally of my languished existence wasted away within the cramped confines of the cellar.

36 days of the euphoric alcohol, my only pitiful distraction to waking up in this new hell each day.

36 days of eternal solitude, not a whisper of a word from anyone but myself, devoid of even the small solace of an an intact mind. For those screams and whimpers outside the locked door had to be figments of my imagination, nothing more.

As the last of both food and alcohol were coming to the end of their stores, I knew that I had no choice but to leave the squalid, rank quarters of my basement and face the real world.

And yet, my body refused the thought, unwilling to even look to the doorway through which the nightmare of our ravaged world lay just beyond my perception.

And so I lay there, my atrophied limbs listless and defeated. I can’t say for certain how long I remained in that state, my only awareness for the passing time being the detached feelings of hunger and thirst. Yet even as my physical body lost its strength and vitality, I felt as if my mind cleared. Like the more separated I found myself from a deranged hope, the more transparent I found my thoughts to be. I reflected on my past, my false triumphs and meaningless accomplishments, my mistakes and failings. After all, I realized, nothing that I had ever done truly amounted to anything. That sweet old lady whom I would help to carry her groceries every week- long gone. The friends I had strived so hard just to keep around- dead, most likely. My family…

Even as I tried to come to terms with the situation and the withering of my life, the memory of what had happened to my family was too much to bear.

I sighed to myself, for I was past the point of tears. There was always more I could do. I had always convinced myself that holding open doors for sweet old ladies and making my friends laugh was enough - enough, in fact, to warrant doing nothing else with my life. No lives saved, no lives to remember me, no lives left living, almost.

I never considered myself the last living person, for I knew there must be others out there, struggling to survive, scrounging out their lives in the horror of our new and terrible era. But why struggle so? The world had become a place without joy or any degree of tranquility. The fear of death was an excuse that seemed delusional. I feared living far more than my inevitable judgement.

I kept thinking this one question for what could've been hours, or days. As I lay there, I did not sleep, for I did not want to pass away in the night- rather I die while awake and thinking, contemplating that which I could not fathom.

It was sometime later that I thought of the answer. Something simple, and yet I was unable to comprehend it. People continued living for each other. Though I felt content to fade away, others pressed on, feeling an innate need to survive, to continue society, no matter the cost. For their loved ones, and for future generations. I wondered to myself. If I could catch a glimpse into the lives of these survivors, then would I crawl out of this basement? If I felt their selfless devotion would I recover that conviction?

And yet, though I had thought that the answering of this last question would be the end of my discontentment, my final release from a despairing existence, there was still something nagging a small corner of my mind. In my childhood, I had aspired to become a policeman, or a firefighter, uncaring of the true ramifications or risks of such a career. Though I used to scoff at those early ambitions, now I only felt a pang of sadness. Never before had I truly accomplished something worth doing. Never before had I saved a life.

Could I truly have peace without that spark of achievement, to have done something useful for once?

A rumbling.

I opened my eyelids to the familiar darkness that I had grown accustomed to long ago. I had fallen to sleep soon after I had the discomforting thought that shook my body out if its long lasting stupor.

I felt a hollow pain in my stomach, a dryness in my tongue, and a new agony in the back of my head as my body was roughly shaken against the stone floor.

The quaking soon stopped, and I took a moment to regain my bearings.

Yet before I had another thought, I felt something fall into my hand. I turned my head towards it, but even that motion was difficult. When I came to eye level with my outstretched hand, I found a jar containing a piece of bread.

Weeks ago, when I had first entered the cellar, I found a loaf of bread, and, knowing that it would spoil the quickly, made it some of my first meals, until I came to the end and realized that there was a small amount of mold infesting the crust. I then threw that piece of bread into a small jar and closed it, slightly fearful of even breathing the same air as it, even if I wasn’t willing to open the cellar door.

Now, that bread had turned white, spotted with an acrid green color, and spore-like spheres were spread around inside the jar.

In that instant, I knew I would have to make a choice; relax my hand and let the last remaining food leave my grasp for good, or give myself a second chance.

I grimaced as I tightened my grip on the jar. Perhaps I, too, could regain my desire to live. Or at least find the peace to die.

While my time in the cellar was a blur, all the feelings that I had previously suppressed through my passing all came back to me in a rush. I had just been in the midst of standing up when the overwhelming mix of thirst, hunger, and exhaustion hit me, and I collapsed like a doll. I knew that if I were to fall asleep here, I would never again wake up. And so, with a great effort, I clumsily rose to my hands and knees, and reached up for the doorknob so high above me.

Through the door, I slumped down, to my elbows and knees, staring into the ground.

If there happened to be any monsters still there, there was no doubt in my mind that that would be the end of my worthless chapter.

Regardless of such worries, food was what I needed the most at the moment, and so my limbs started clawing their way towards the kitchen. Even in my exhausted state, I was able to feel my way through the path I must have made thousands of times before.

My trek towards the kitchen was hazy and cloudy, driven only by the insane hunger in my gut. But after some... time, I finally felt the grained wood floor give way to tiles, chilling my hands numb. Either that or I had started losing feeling there. I raised my head and forced myself into a crouch, then nearly collapsed to the side. I reached up and grasped the counter.

I opened the cabinet nearest to me, where there should have been… food, or something. Instead, I found nothing- not even a crumb- to greet my hungered gaze. I had forgotten that I took all of the food into the cellar. At least, I took all the food that could last.

With the realization, I collapsed fully onto the cold floor, still fighting to stay awake. I crawled towards the refrigerator.

The horror that awaited me inside those stained metal doors would have been too much to bear, had I been of clear enough mind to fully register the sight. As it was, my shrunken and hollow gut heaved into itself.

The raw chicken breasts were the first I noticed. They were covered in green and black mold, and one was ever so slightly pulsing, flies and gnats flying around it. The other piece of rotted chicken was half destroyed, and maggots writhed and wriggled within, plain in sight.

I looked away from the gruesome sight. Still, though, I couldn’t ignore my need for food. I reached to the next shelf, where the eggs were. When I opened the box, I blindly reached for one. I knew that they could last for a time outside refrigeration, but when I touched one and brought it to where I could see, I found it to have darkened to a dark blue hue. I hesitantly tapped it against the countertop, and it gave in with little resistance. I opened it to a rank stench that immediately filled my nostrils. I dropped the egg, and it crashed to the ground, oozing a blackened yolk.

I was at a loss. I just stared at the gruesome sight for however many minutes as the sun took to reach me through the murky window.

Numbly, I put forward my trembling hand, toward what had once been chicken. I put my thumb and forefinger and picked up a maggot. It squirmed at my touch, and almost slipped away, but I kept a determined hold on it. I held it in front of my face, and without allowing another thought, threw it in my mouth and ground it with my teeth. I felt it pop, and a horrible taste nearly left me gagging. I swallowed it down, pushing past the awful sensation.

The feeling was horrible, but I had to keep going. I ate another, then another, then two, five, ten at a time. I needed the food so badly that I scarcely even paused to retch. I started swallowing them whole, and I could feel them squirming down my throat, like they would burrow out of my intestines.

I finally gave pause when sunlight from the windows reached my hands, coated in rot and maggot innards. I had to swallow down the bile that my rebelling stomach forced upwards. It took all of my power over my body to keep my churning gut in check. My legs gave out from underneath my awfully twisted stomach, and I collapsed to the floor in a pitiable heap.

I whimpered in pain, but that cry for help- for mercy- gained me nothing. I could only lay there until sleep overpowered the mental and physical torture.

I next woke up feeling, not starving or in horrible pain, but tired. I had slept enough, though, so I stood more strongly, and took a step forward. I stumbled my way through the house, trying to ignore the cracked red smudges carpeting the flooring. At the door, I paused. I had no clue as to what could be waiting on the other side. I cracked it open slowly.

All clear

I moved out the door, staying low in a crouch, and further took in my surroundings. Only when I spent another minute peering for any sign of life did I dare relax and breathe freely. It was then that I noticed that this was the first breath of fresh air I’d had in over a month. I wish I could have said that it revitalized my spirit - that I gained a renewed appreciation for my life, but the reality was not so fantastical. That fresh air was only a sore reminder of days long past, where I might have the simple ability to relax and savor the sweet air that smelled of daisies and daffodils.

I started down the steps from the house, taking great care in my steps. I drew myself to full height, growing more confident, but on my next, less tentative, step, something inside me just snapped, and my leg gave under the weight of my body so suddenly that I yelped in surprise and fell forward, hearing a sickening crack just before darkness took over my sight and mind.

The next I woke, my thoughts were muddled. I felt as if a great force was keeping me flat against the ground. I wanted to pass out once again, but some worm of thought in the back of my head kept me from returning to a comatose state. Perhaps it was the resounding pain I felt radiating from my head, or my gangled position on the sidewalk. Whatever it was, it kept me awake long enough for me to regain my memory. And as memory of the past… however many days slowly filtered into my damaged skull, I came to the realization that I cared little for getting up at all. After all the suffering I had been through, there was nothing left within reach that I felt could revitalize me. To save me.

So instead I lay there for an indescribable eon of time, a broken kid. Broken, both in body and spirit. I could only imagine the wretched state I looked to be in, for any sane man could look upon me and see neither living nor dead. A rotted demon in the making. I knew that I had told myself to do something with my half life, but my existence itself was pain, pain of a world long gone, of a family long beyond the point of death, of a hopeless and broken spirit.

I became aware of the puddle of warm blood pooling at my head, but I could not bring myself to even close a blood infested eye, or to stop the tears that dropped freely from my nose, muddling into the drying crimson gore before me. How fitting, for my blood and tears to so directly mirror my own soul of pain and defeat.

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