(12 minute read)
by Emma Overton
Do not come here, do not try to find us, we are all dead. I repeat – do not come here, we are already lost. My name is Lydia Valente, I am the grade 2 Peacekeeper of Roanoke Colony. I am the only one left alive at the time of this recording but by the time you hear this I will be dead.
This land is littered with ghosts and now we are added to their number.
It all started with Eoin. It always seems to start with Eoin. He spreads disorder like a dog spreads fleas. The first time I met him he said, ‘I don’t do small talk, it bores me’. As if the rest of us just love the mundane minutiae of other people’s lives. That’s the kind of person he is… was.
Anyway, he went off-piste, like an idiot, found something he shouldn’t have found and brought it back, proud as punch, to doom us all. He said he’d been chased by ghosts, out in the forest, said they’d hunted him until he found refuge in an old-time building, from before the end. He said it was like a hospital. The ghosts didn’t follow him in. He thought he was safe.
None of us believed his story, the ghost part anyway. It wasn’t hard to believe he was stupid enough to go exploring. He brought back some souvenirs, things from a med kit he found. He thought they were funny. Relics of a bygone age he called them. Showed them to everyone, handed them out like sweets. Doc Coombe thought it was interesting. He even tried to show them to me, but I was in no mood to indulge him. Ghosts? Who could believe that? In retrospect, maybe we should have. But everyone knew Amorica was empty, desolate. No one survived the end times here. That’s why we were re-colonising, right?
The comms went down the next day. They’re temperamental, we didn’t think anything of it. Luca was sent to fix it. He was kinda pissed because it meant he’d miss the grand opening of the new rec-centre, a converted old-time building we’d repurposed. There was a big celebration planned- music, food, dancing, drinking. Luca said he’d get back for the tail end of it. He never showed but we didn’t notice. We were all drunk by then.
Eoin started coughing. We thought he’d just swallowed wrong until blood came up. That sobered us up quickly. Doc Coombe examined him, swaying all the while. He always was a bit of a boozer. He said it was probably just over excitement, that the alcohol had exacerbated an injury to his throat lining or something. Dumb old quack.
By the next morning five other people were coughing. By evening the number was twenty-one. Doc Coombe was coughing too. He grew a bit more concerned then but nothing he tried seemed to help.
Luca still hadn’t returned. The comms were still down. We needed to contact the other colonies, let them know what was happening and see if they could help. Rod Peterson, the mayor, said Luca was probably sulking and sent out Luca’s boss, Paulette, to fix it and find him. Paulette didn’t come back either. By the time we started to get concerned, half the colony was showing symptoms of the illness.
The superstitious among us thought it was related to the opening of the rec centre. Rumours spread like wildfire. It seemed everyone was whispering about angry spirits and ancient curses. The sicker people got, the more ridiculous the theories became. I tried to ignore it; I had a lot to do because it wasn’t just the regular folk getting ill. Many of the leaders – civic, martial and peacekeeper – were succumbing to the disease. I had to keep the colony running. Peterson had barricaded himself in his office. He wouldn’t even come out to piss.
I sent out another engineer, our last, this time with an escort. The hunters, I figured, would be able to keep him safe. Two days later I was forced to admit no one was coming back.
Then Eoin died and everything went to shit. He was the first, the first of many. Doc Coombe was next, taking much of our medical knowledge and skills with him. Not that he’d been much good to begin with, but people saw him as a symbol. Without him, this plague was free to run its course, all unfettered by our chains. Peterson took Coombe’s death hard. I had to shout it through the keyhole but I could hear him talking on the other side of the door, that there was no hope. He was a defeatist. I don’t know how he got elected. Politicians should be better at lying about hope than that. I thought he was broken. Maybe he was a better liar than I thought.
He slipped away like a thief in the night, sometime on the sixth night. We’re not sure exactly when, but Neil’s rowboat was missing that morning and the ship we were expecting never arrived. I believe he intercepted and persuaded the captain to turn around. I don’t know if they’re living or dead. I hope Peterson didn’t infect them. He’d been locked away so long, maybe he hadn’t been exposed. I hope so anyway. The idea of a dead plague ship rocking up on the shore of some country chills me to the bone.
News of Peterson’s defection hit the colony hard. As the most senior Peacekeeper left standing, I declared martial law. I figured if everyone were confined to their homes, I could limit the spread of the disease.
I set up patrols with the other three Peacekeepers, to ensure quarantine was maintained. We were outnumbered, but most people saw the sense in it, or at least were too sick to complain. I was patrolling the north side of the colony when I heard someone whistling. I followed the sound. Stopping, when my torch caught on wet paint on the wall. Someone had written, ‘Tonight the streets are ours’, on the back of Maisey Kelstedge’s house. I searched the area for the culprit. The paint was fresh and whoever had put it there must be close by. I figured it was some kind of rebellion against the quarantine. I was about to call for assistance when the whistling came again. I decided it was more important to get people off the street than to wait for backup. This was a mistake. While investigating, I was clubbed from behind and didn’t wake up till morning.
When I came round my gun was gone, along with the key to the weapons locker. I went looking for aid but found nothing but the dead and dying, mostly of disease. I say mostly; Arnold, my second-in-command, I found in the main square. He’d been shot in the head. I couldn’t find the other two peacekeepers and several colony members were missing. I headed back to the station. On my desk was a note and a gun. The note said ‘Quarantine is death. Make your own choice.’. The gun had only one bullet in it. My choice was easy. I was going to find the one who shot Arnold and make them pay.
It wasn’t difficult to track them. They’d left by the main gate and followed the road, heading for the nearest other colony. I was on the road for maybe thirty minutes. I came to Dead Man’s Gorge and found blood. Bodies further along, flies and ravens picking over the corpses. It was the renegade colonists and my two missing peacekeepers. They’d been slaughtered down to the last man. I had no idea who or what had done it.
Standing among the dead, I tried to think of what to do. Everyone, the whole colony, was dead or close too, of disease or this new threat. I was scared.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard a noise close by. I drew my weapon, prepared to fight, thinking whatever had done this was coming for me.
It was an unfamiliar face that drew me. Someone who didn’t belong, among the corpses of my friends. He lay amongst the dead, the only thing still breathing. Though, from the wound to his belly, he wouldn’t be for long. It took me a minute to gather the courage to approach him, not because I was afraid but because I feared what he represented. But I did. I knelt by his head, my knees sinking into the blood-soaked earth.
I asked him who he was. He told me he was an Amorican, descendent of the few to survive the end times. I didn’t believe him at first. Everyone knew Amorica was a ghost land. But as he spoke, his accent was strange and different, I wondered.
He said he’d seen one of our people go into the disease centre, a place the Amoricans know not to go. He said they’d tried to scare him away from it but he’d gone in anyway. They thought he’d die in there. It was only when their scouts saw him in the colony square the next day, they realised he’d brought death back with him. They destroyed the comms tower, to isolate us and enforce a quarantine, all without us knowing. It was them who killed Luca and Paulette and the hunters, and them who’d killed the colonists who tried to flee. He told me that there was no cure and if we weren’t already dead, we soon would be. He begged me to end his life. His own people had gone, thinking him dead and even if they had known, he’d been too close to the colonists, become infected. They wouldn’t be back for him and he’d suffer a drawn-out death from his injuries. I knew there was no hope for him. I hope I did the right thing.
I could have ignored his words as the ramblings of a dying man but there was too much truth in them to dismiss them outright. But my decision was made for me.
I coughed and I could taste the blood on my lips.
I returned to Roanoke. I cared for those still alive until they left me. And now I’m alone. I did my best to care for this colony but it was not enough.
But maybe this message will be enough – to keep our memory alive and to keep others safe. I’ve set this recording on a loop. And so, I beg you. Do not come here, do not try to find us, we are all dead. I repeat, do not come here, we are already lost. My name is Lydia Valente, I am the grade 2 Peacekeeper of Roanoke Colony. I am the only one left alive at the time of this recording but by the time you hear this, I will be dead.
Copyright © 2021 – Emma Overton. All rights reserved.
About the Author
It is with reluctance Emma Overton accepts she lives in the ‘real world’ (the lack of mermaids and werewolves found in nature has long been a sore point). She has settled on writing fantasy worlds to make up for this disappointing dearth. She has so far published Failing Baili on Amazon and hopes to add other adventures in the future.
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