Industrial Epidemic

Zombies! Steampunk! Guns! A short idea I once wanted to develop into a full novel or companion piece, that might see some use in the future.

He cranked away at the valve, the squeaking never ceasing to echo, the steam condensing up and down his arms, the wrench in his hands nearly slipping out with each pull. Only minutes until they’d be breathing down his neck…he shook off those thoughts as he shook the sweat that built up in his unkempt hair. Another lurch, another blast of steam, and another step closer to the exit…but suddenly something blocked the light coming from the hallway! He looked over his shoulder…

Shambling, rotted effigies of humanity were hobbling toward him at a pace that sent chills down his entire body. His synapses shook with fear; he had expected this valve to agree with him just this once but it didn’t budge. “Come on!” he cried, giving it one last burst of torque–KKRRRRSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!! Columns of steam shot out from all directions in the hallway. The horrors stumbled and collapsed from the gaseous heat bombarding them. He smirked, satisfied with this small victory, and dashed eagerly to the exit.

He splashed through pools of condensation, crashed through double doors, and dashed around the wreckage of the factory. Glancing upward he noticed the intricate machinations of the facility were breaking down. Some gears stopped turning while others turned much too fast, causing other machinery to malfunction and plummet to the ground. He adapted quickly and moved efficiently, his suspenders digging into his shoulders like the claws he so desperately sought to evade. The exit was but thirty feet away. His eyes lit up for the first time in months as sunlight graced his battered, drenched skin. Once again, however, those creatures had other plans. The intelligent ones shut the door in front of him, that light fading as quickly as his hope. A few small groups caught up, and the lot of them surrounded him. He clenched his fist around his wrench, chuckled, and bellowed, “Well? Who’s first?!”

They all lunged at him at once, as if in response. He evaded them and broke from the crowd, much to his surprise, but–

“GAAHH, dammit! Shit shit shit…” – the group behind the first got close enough to graze his arm with their teeth. He used his portable vacuum to remove the infected bodily fluids from the wound, causing him to stumble and hit the floor rolling. As he looked up at the next group of three just inches from his face, he took a mighty swing of his wrench, downing two and giving him room to shift around the last. Now he was less than a yard away from the door, all he needed to do was jump–

His outstretched hand landed on something soft, human. Luckily this was a firmer patch of skin, it couldn’t be the rotting flesh of his pursuers. “Watch out!” she shouted, alerting a nearby, feeding pack.

He had grabbed the shoulder of a mysterious woman who was worse for wear. She was of similar build to him, but much better equipped for this hellish scene. The woman threw his arm to the side and bid him follow her out the door, and he naturally complied. With cover fire raining down from the woman’s bayoneted rifle the duo made it out, closing the doors of the building behind them. They turned their backs on the collapsing facility, leaving the shuffling masses to their fate.

The sunlight bathed his skin in long lost rays, the fresh air stinging his tired lungs. He and the woman didn’t stop to take in all the sights, setting course for the city in the distance. She called back to him, “So how long has it been?”

“Since what?”

“Since you started fighting them! It looked as if you’ve been at this for weeks!”

“Well…” he trailed. He debated whether to respond with the truth, that he just got off of a half-year shift of work and today happened upon the horde, or that he’s had much experience and would be a valuable asset.

“I’ve been in there for quite a while, I couldn’t really say–”

She nodded, but quickly pressed her bayonet against his throat. Her eyes darted between his face and his shoulder as she demanded, “Tell me what that is!! Were you bitten?!”

“Yes, but–WAIT I’M CLEAR I’M CLEAR!!!”

“How the hell are you clear?! Look at yourself!”

“I have this!” He cried, producing his portable vacuum. She continued to heft her weapon single-handedly as she grabbed the vacuum.

“Wait is this one of those…are you a mechanic?” she queried, her weapon not budging.

“Yes yes, I’ve been working on the pipes most of my life! Dammit could you get that thing out of my face?!”

She hesitated before lowering her weapon, her eyes still locked on his. He was still shaken, but appeared less so every second she moved her weapon away. He let out a sigh and asked her what he had been meaning to since his rescue. “Before we get going, could you at least tell me your name?”

“Well if you must know,” —she stopped and turned to face him— “It’s Victoria.”

“Huh. Well I’m–”

“Save it. I don’t want to hear it till you at least survive the night, no point otherwise.”

He was immediately struck with anxiety. Was this going to get worse during the night? How likely was he to see daylight again? Victoria read his face quickly. “Look, just don’t go wandering off. Stick close to where I’m at, I’ll do the same for you and we just might make it.”

He looked away, surveying the field in front of them. “Wait, make it where?”

“To tomorrow morning.” She said, glancing in his direction before beginning to clean her rifle

He took a seat and looked at the stars. They seemed much clearer tonight than they’ve ever been, even more so than when he’d go to the roof on those night shift breaks. Then it hit him. “Victoria?”


“How wide has it spread?”

“Pretty far, I’d say half the country.”

Silence was all he could muster as he nodded in response. He had been extremely lucky that day, for the factory is a rural one, detached from civilization. He meditated on his isolation briefly, but what became more important was the clarity of the sky. He appeared pale as he finally asked, “You look like you’ve been around, what’s the city looking like?”

Victoria overshot the tip of her rifle with her cleaning rag. “…I don’t think you want to know.”

“Look, I can already guess what happened to the city…I need to know how bad it is.”

She closed her eyes, drawing a long breath as she turned to face him. “The city’s been taken. All of it. There were no survivors.”

He put his hand to his mouth, his eyes wide open, staring at the ground. “How are you sur–”

“I’m part of the evacuation team! We scoured the whole city and found no one, me and my partner were the only ones who made it out! I had heard from dispatch that there might be someone still alive in the boonies, so I went to investigate. That’s how you and I met up.”

He couldn’t believe it. His entire family, dead? No, they’re a hardy bunch, there’s no way they’d let a few shambling husks take them down. He looked up and then at Victoria. “Where are we headed in the morning?”

“To Valeton, why?”

“That’s it! Should’ve known…”

“What are you driving at?” Victoria quipped.

“My family’s hiding out there, we have a panic bunker set up in the middle of town. We’ll just need to make it there and we can hide out, resupply–”

“Well tell me more tomorrow. Good night.”

“…Good night, Victoria.”

He lay awake, counting the stars as he would on those lonely nights when he had the roof of the factory to himself.

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