My name is Tommy, and I became aware this year.
The first thing I was aware of? The covers. They had been pulled over my head. With awareness comes panic, and in a panic, I ripped the covers off me. My head spun in a sensory overload as I became aware of my room. It was dark and cold.
My window had been boarded up. The lights were shut off. So was the heat. The lamp worked when I turned it on, so we still had electricity.
I got out of bed and almost keeled over. I wasn’t used to walking, and my legs were kind of rubbery. I’m not a cripple – I used to walk.
That’s the thing about autism; it’s like wandering around in a dense fog. You can’t see anything, but you can hear the voices of your loved ones. Sometimes you can understand them, sometimes their words are like white noise – in the background and unintelligible.
Of course, you can feel it when they touch you, phantom hands reaching out from nowhere to caress you, phantom arms that embrace you. But try as you might, sometimes you just can’t process the meaning of a hug. Yet, you can sense the aura of love behind it.
In my room, there was a dresser with a mirror above it. Before I became aware, I could get lost for hours in my own reflection. Now I knew exactly what I was looking at – myself, a fifteen year old boy, wearing only a pair of underpants. Thin, with dark hair and icy blue eyes.
There was something wrong with my skin. Ghostly pale with a shade of gray, it made me look sick. My mouth was a thin slit. I opened it to see my teeth. They were gleaming white. I ran my tongue over them and was surprised by their sharpness.
That’s when the hunger hit. My stomach wailed a loud groan and I was suddenly starving – deeply, ravenously hungry. I went for the door, tore it open, and staggered down the dark hallway to the kitchen, interrupted by an occasional dry heave.
The table was set for… dinner? Lunch? I don’t know. It too was abandoned. Half eaten food on two of the four plates fed the flies that hovered about it. I wrinkled my nose and headed for the fridge. I was so hungry I hadn’t yet noticed that the kitchen windows were also boarded up.
I practically ripped the refrigerator door off its hinges. Inside, bathed in the glow of the light, I saw it: a big package of hamburger meat, still fresh and somewhere between red and brown in color. The need was overwhelming. All I could do was obey.
Tearing off the plastic wrapping, I started stuffing raw meat into my mouth. Chewing it slowly to savor every bite, yet desperate for more, I kept eating until I polished off the whole package. Then I licked the blood off the styrofoam tray.
Satisfied, I went to the bathroom to relieve my throbbing bladder. Then I took a shower and put on clean clothes.
I went from room to room to check things out, and it was obvious that my family had left in a hurry. In my parents’ room, drawers hung open and half-empty. Clothes were scattered about. A few of my mom’s perfume bottles were spilled.
The same scene in my brother’s and sister’s rooms: open drawers, scattered clothes and things. In Katie’s room, I found her favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Bananas, on the floor. He was a stuffed monkey with a tail long enough to wrap around you. Katie never went anywhere without Mr. Bananas.
Suddenly, I had a memory of her coming into my room clutching Mr. Bananas, his tail wrapped around her waist. She climbed into my bed, snuggled up next to me, and told me a story about how Mr. Bananas outsmarted a lion in the jungles of darkest Africa.
Why were my memories so clear all of a sudden? Why were my thoughts so clear? What happened to the fog that surrounded me my whole life? And why did I crave raw meat?
In the living room, I turned on the TV. Most of the channels were blacked out. The ones that worked had nothing but news. Emergency instructions. Something about quarantines and public shelters. Then I switched to another channel and saw it.
The reporter looked like he hadn’t showered or changed clothes in a week. He took a deep breath before he spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen, in just a few hours, the President will give a press conference where it’s expected that he will confirm that the horrific plague ravaging our nation was in fact the result of military experiments with germ warfare intended to protect us from a biological terrorist attack. The virus, which begins with ordinary flu-like symptoms, ultimately causes
death, and then…”
“And then what?” I said aloud.
“And then,” the reporter continued, “shortly after death, the victim apparently returns to life. He becomes what is called an Eater, suffering from a form of insanity that compels him to commit acts of murder and cannibalism. But not always. Sometimes the victim remains rational – even
unusually intelligent – though with a strong desire to eat raw meat. These victims, referred to as the Aware, are not considered dangerous. However, a growing number have been killed, mistaken for Eaters…”
So that was it. I got sick and died, and my family didn’t stick around to see if I’d become an Eater or not. I can’t say I blame them.
Now I’m on the run, trying not to get killed. I found the emergency cash my parents forgot to take and taught myself how to drive Mom’s old car and shoot Dad’s hunting rifle. I’ve got Mr. Bananas to keep me company.
For some reason, the Eaters won’t eat me.
It’s the unaware I have to worry about.
©2012 Eric Petersen