Authors: A. R. Wise
By A. R. Wise
Copyright 2011 Aaron Wise
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CHAPTER ONE - INFECTION
The apocalypse began with people being stabbed by tiny needles in crowded subways. Victims reported a stinging sensation on their thigh, as if someone in the crowd had jabbed them. They returned home to discover a swelling, purple lesion where the sting had occurred. Most people didn't pay much attention to it the first day, but the infection spreads quick and soon people crowded ER rooms around the world.
Rumors of other causes of the disease started as well. People got cut by razors taped to the handles of gas pumps, water supplies were tainted, cafeteria food was infected; there was a never-ending stream of new theories on how it had been spread. I assumed it was paranoia, but I was wrong. This was far worse than anyone's worst fears.
The moment the paranoia turnad.ed to panic was caught on film, but I'd been panicked all morning. Not because conspiracy theorists swore the world was ending, but because mine had fallen apart around me.
I planned to leave work early that day. My wife, Laura, was going to drop off our daughters at a neighbor’s house and pick me up at noon. I found a lump on my left testicle a week ago and Laura insisted I get it checked out. After a physical, the doctor said he wanted me to get an ultrasound. That test came back with concerning results and I had to follow up with a serum tumor marker test.
They got the results back from the lab yesterday and asked me to come in as soon as possible. We knew it was bad news. If the test came back negative they would have told us over the phone.
Everyone else in the office was focused on the terrorist attacks. The burgeoning panic allowed my disease, and the concern it caused, a level of anonymity I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I was able to slip into the office, my face drained of color and my palms wet with sweat, and duck into my cubicle.
My best friend, a short, tubby man named Barry, had started working here around the same time as me. He sat in the cubicle next to mine and always had someone in there, usually chatting about the latest episode of a new, favorite reality show or some other exercise in wasting time. He'd been written up more than once for watching shows on his computer during work. I could hear his computer now, blaring the local news. The difference today was that the sales managers were in there with him.
“What hospital are they at?” asked Jerry. He was supposed to be managing the floor, but he had no interest in telling people to get back to work on a day like this.
“Saint Peter’s,” said Barry.
“A bus full of kids just showed up." Gloria clasped her hand over her mouth. “This is horrible.”
“Has anyone died?” asked Jerry.
“Not yet,” said Alan, one of the company’s accountants.
“How many kids are sick?” Jerry pushed his way past the others to get a better view of Barry's screen.
“They didn’t say. They’re taking the camera over to the bus now,” said Barry.
Everyone silenced and I could hear the reporter telling the viewers he was going to get on the bus. After a few moments of rustling, which I assumed was the reporter’s microphone rubbing against his coat, he asked, “What happened here? Are these kids okay?”
“Oh my God,” said Gloria. “How terrible. Look at them, the poor babies.”
Then the screaming started. Everyone in Barry’s cubicle jumped and caused the walls to shake as people pressed against them. Barry’s speakers crackled with the shrieks of children.
My daughters are three and five, so I was studied in the various screeches a child can make, and these werrope a mix of pain and terror. The pained screams weren’t the sort that came from a stubbed toe or skinned knee. These were a violent expulsion of every ounce of breath and energy the child could muster. I can still remember the sound that came from that speaker as if it were happening now. It was horrific.
I couldn’t ignore this event anymore. I got up and peered over the divider.
“What are they doing?” asked Gloria. “Why are they doing that?”
Barry turned off his monitor, but the sound continued to wail through his speakers. He scurried to turn them off and eventually had to rip them away from his desk. The cord whipped out from behind his computer tower. He held the speakers and stared up at me, his face drained of color and his eyes wide and unblinking.
“What happened?” I asked. “I didn’t see. What happened?”
Jerry had his hands on his head and sounded like he was going to hyperventilate as he stumbled through the crowd and fell back against the wall outside the cubicle. James and Marcia announced they were going home and Jerry just nodded his acceptance.
Work was officially over.
“What happened?” I asked again as I went out into the hall.
Gloria came out of Barry’s cubicle and steadied herself against the threshold. “They were killing each other.”
“The kids…” she couldn’t continue.
“They didn’t just kill each other,” said Barry. “They were eating each other.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, Dave, I saw one bite another girl on the neck. He ripped that little girl’s throat out. He fucking ate her throat, man.”
Gloria said something about this being the end times, but I ignored her when I heard sirens outside. This would've been part of the normal ambiance of working in the city ten minutes ago, but now it terrified us. I ran to the floor to ceiling windows that lined our third floor office.
The street below was packed with people that milled about like normal. The traffic was bad, as it always was, but no one seemed to move faster than you would expect on a normal Wednesday morning. Most of them were on cell phones, but there was nothing unusual about that. No one was acting as if there was anything wrong at all.
“What’s going on?” asked Barry as he came up behind me.
“Nothing from what I can tell,” I said and turned away from the window. “Are you sure you saw what you said? On that bus?”
Barry nodded. “It’s pretty hard to not see something like that. I can’t stop seeing it. It just keeps replaying over and over in my head.”
“Can I get everyone’s attention?” Jerry stood in front of the large whiteboard where the employees gathered each morning for their sales meeting. His voice was more timid than usual and his hands shook as he waved them in the air to get our attention. “We’re calling it a day. We want everyone to head on home. We’ll send out an email about how we’re going to move forward. Go be with your families until we can get this straightened out.”
“Do they know what’s going on?” asked Eugene, the IT manager, as he stuck his head out of his dark corner office.
“I don’t know,” said Jerry.
“They said people are going insane." Gloria was on her cell phone. “My husband’s watching the news. He says they're telling people to stay away from hospitals.”
“What hospital?” I asked.
“What hospital?” Gloria asked her husband. She repeated his reply, “All hospitals.”
“What the fuck?” Barry shook his head in disbelief.
Gloria continued, “Stay home. Come home now.” Gloria then directly responded to her husband, “I will, just tell me what they’re saying. I’m telling everyone here. What else are they saying?” She continued her announcement, “Stay in your homes, lock the doors and windows, and keep watching CNN.”
“Always worth keeping viewers, I guess." Barry smirked and patted me on the shoulder.
“I’m going to need a ride home,” I said.
“Yeah, no problem. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
I glanced at my watch and realized that Laura would be leaving to pick me up soon. I tried to call her on my cell, but the service was dead. “I can’t get through.”
“Let me try mine." Barry couldn’t get through either.
I was about to tell him to leave without me when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw that it was Laura.
“Oh thank God,” said Laura. “I’ve been trying to call you forever.”
“Did you see what happened at the hospital?”
“No. Did you see what happened in Central Park?”
“No. What happened?” I switched the phone to speaker so Barry could hear.
“I can't find any local news. They just have information coming out of New York. Twenty people were murdered. Eaten alive. People just started eating each other. The cops started shooting people, but they just… they just wouldn’t stop. They kept eating each other. It was on the news. I saw it happen.”
“Stay home, Laura,” said Barry. “I’ll get Dave there safely.”
“Okay." Her voice quivered. “David?”
“Yeah, honey, I’m here.”
She started to cry. “I’m scared.”
“I know. I’ll be home soon. Just get the girls upstairs and lock all the doors. Get some knives or something and just get upstairs. Okay?”
“Okay. I think I see Alfred coming over from across the alley. He might be able to help. I’ll take the girls up to the attic. We’ll be safe there.”
“Good idea. Tell Al and Kate that they can hide with us if they want. I’ll be home as soon as I can get there.”
“Trust me.” It was something I said to Laura all the time and had become a joke over the years. I was a salesman after all, and you should never trust a salesman.
Barry and I told everyone goodbye and started to make our way to the hall, past the wall of windows that looked onto the street.
“Why the hell does everyone outside look so calm?” I asked as I stared out the window. If this was turning into such a catastrophe, why did everyone look so serene? What would happen when they learned about the attacks? I was afraid of the chaos that would engulf the city once that happened. We had to get out as soon as possible.
A man limped out of the alley across the street. He was a homeless man I recognized from my years working downtown. I'd never seen him walk in such a jarring manner before. His arms were pressed against his chest as if he was lying down and his legs wobbled beneath him as he walked. His feet struck the pavement in haphazard flops and his mouth sat open as he stared at the sky.
Barry and I rushed to get out of the office, but when I saw this guy walk down the alley I couldn’t help but stop and stare. There was something wrong with him that grabbed my attention.
“What’s with that guy?” I asked Barry. He had to turn around and come back to me.
“What? The bum? Since when do you get freaked out by the drunks around here?”
We watched the man attack. He emerged from the alley and took sudden notice of the people around him. It was like watching a starving man emerge from a desert to find a buffet stretched out before him. He reached out and grabbed the first person his fingers grazed in the flow of pedestrians. It was a young woman, in her mid twenties, with her hair tied up in a bun and a well-fitted, striped blouse and skirt. He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of her steady pace. She stumbled in her heels. Her right ankle crumpled and she fell up against him. I could see her expression turn from anger to terror and she slapped her assailant's chest.
The homeless man bit her face.
Barry and I screamed out a slew of curses and everyone still in the office ran to the window. We watched the scene unfold, as if staring at a massive television screen that couldn’t be turned off. The man’s teeth latched onto her with inhuman ferocity. She pushed and hit him with her clutch, but as she pulled away he stayed attached.