I’m Steel Baby.

by W.M. Butler

I stood looking out the window from the eleventh floor of my apartment building; in this monstrosity of a city the Chinese had named Shanghai. Gazing out at cumulus clouds, stained orange by a bloody sun, hanging listless in an anemic sky.  The clouds as if formed by the ink glands of giant octopi were left to hang heavy, brooding over the charcoal smeared silhouettes of the city’s skyscrapers.

I swiped my hand across the horizon and was startled when it remained untouched, the view was clearly at odds with reality. It took me a moment to adjust, to make the connection between what my eyes were seeing and what my brain was telling me I saw. The view from the window was eerie ­— beautiful yet troubling. I couldn’t look away. I realized that I was humming softly to myself. I forced myself to stop.

My eyes lingered a moment on the wreck of a horizon, then as I cast my gaze downwards towards the street I flinched, shaking myself awake. My head swam with half remembered dreams. Nightmares. The streets were in chaos. Cars lay overturned — burning, smoldering bodies lay in piles. Mobs of people scavenged and dug through twisted metal and human remains.

I watched as a woman clutched the body of a small child to her breast. The child was mangled, its intestines pulled and stretched out across the sidewalk, trailing out into the street.

I could hear the screech of sirens and further away the horrible screaming of loss, pain and fear. In the distance buildings burned, people ran through the streets, looting, killing each other. Others just wandered aimlessly or stood staring at nothing, raising their hands to the skies to pray, to damn, to curse. All of them, the sick, the dying, the killers and the thieves; they all played their part yet each one of them had a hounded look as if they were being hunted. As if they were waiting for something or someone.

With one hand pressed to the window, the other holding a cup of coffee I watched as the world went mad. I raised the cup taking a moment to savor the rich, heady aroma. Then took the last drink. It was the last cup made from the last grounds I had left. Black. Strong. The cup was empty. I couldn’t help but think that the cup was now meaningless. Its soul purpose was to hold coffee. There wasn’t any coffee left to hold thus the cup no longer had any purpose.

If I wanted to survive I knew I would have to let go of the things in my life that held no meaning or that served no purpose. I let the cup drop. It hit the floor and shattered.

I turned from the window and lit a cigarette. My mind started to wonder, twisting itself inside out asking questions, formulating plans and thinking about all the people I knew. If I could only save them, find them. I started to feel the fear creep in—

NO! I had to let it all go. I had to be strong. I wiped everything from my mind. I started turning it into steel. Steel was strong. Hard. If I wanted to survive I would have to be like steel. Steel was useful. It had a purpose. The fear for my family, my friends, the anger at what had happened or was happening to them; it was nothing.

They were already dead or would be soon. I was steel. I felt nothing, feared nothing. I was steel and I would forge myself into a sword, a blade. A weapon.

A dull thumping started pounding in my head, started getting louder—

No, not in my head, it was the door. Somebody was pounding on my door. Frantic, desperate pounding. I stood looking at the door on the eleventh floor in my apartment, in this monstrosity of a city the Chinese had named Shanghai trying to fight off the rushing sensation of claustrophobia. The room closed in, I had to fight it. I took a drag off my cigarette, exhaled slowly and counted back from five.

Four — three — two — one.

I walked towards the door. Carefully I put my eye to the peephole, making sure my body was angled to the side instead of the door’s center.

It was a man that beat my door, yelling incoherently in Chinese. I could only make out something about him seeing me — seeing me from the street. He was a mess, all tattered clothes. Soot and grim covered his face. He had a small bloody wound on his forearm. He was weeping, screaming, begging for me to let him in.

Suddenly he knew I was there, watching him from the other side of the door. He must have noticed a minor shift in light through the tiny lens. His pounding turned to clawing. He stuck his eye to the peephole vainly hoping to see inside. As quietly and as slowly as possible I reached my right hand behind my back and pulled out the revolver from my jeans. Carefully, I raised it to the peephole. I cocked the hammer. I pulled the trigger.

I waited, listening for any sound from the man.


I lowered the gun to my side and peered through the newly blasted hole in my door. The man lay sprawled on the floor, his brains splattered across the hallway, his left hand still twitching. What remained of his face and head was a pulpy mass of chuck beef. He was dead. No doubt about it. As dead as could be.

You couldn’t be too careful, not now. Not anymore. I did the man a favor. I had seen wounds like the one on his forearm before, on other people. He was infected. He would have turned sooner or later. I opened the chamber of my revolver. Five bullets left. A strange smile curled my lips.

I spoke out loud for the first time in weeks.

I’m steel baby. Yeah, a weapon.