Wednesday, June 19, 2013

7 - 06-20-13 Interlude

Isaac had begged Kennedy to have the baby but she was set on an abortion.  She'd already apologized for cutting each other with a razor blade leaving long, thin scars across both their bodies, but Isaac didn't care.  He wasn't out to win any beauty pageants.  It was the baby he wanted.  He and Kennedy had decided to marry but, in hindsight, neither one of them had their heart in it.  At the time it was just something that seemed to be the right decision what with the baby and all.  But after several months of pregnancy and bickering, Isaac had asked Kennedy if she was happy.  Her response was a wordless sigh.  It was enough to tell Isaac that things had taken a wrong turn.

Yet still. Kennedy was pregnant with their child.  That was the most important thing to Isaac.  He already had a name picked out: Layla.  It was from the Eric Clapton song.  At this point, he knew the child was a girl.  Kennedy was days away from giving birth, but their relationship had been strained.  He had taken a job working for a carpentry company, and between the hours, and Kennedy's predilection for wild behavior, it was enough to drive a hard wedge between them.

After many months of arguing back and forth, the day came.  Isaac had convinced Kennedy to have the child (under the false belief that they would give the baby up for adoption), and she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  Of course, after she found out Isaac had no intention of giving up Layla for adoption, Kennedy was more than upset.  It was as though Kennedy didn't want anything to do with the child.  Apparently, motherly instinct was not all inclusive.  Isaac took to raising her as best as he could.  He doused her with love and attention any chance he got.  Kennedy moved out of their city apartment, and then one day Isaac received a package in the mail with instructions on where to sign to dissolve their marriage.

In the end, he didn't care.  He signed the papers, put them back in the mail, paid the last month's rent, and made for a countryside manor left to him by his late parents.  It needed a lot of work but he was up to fixing up the place.  Besides, the warning he had been given by his friend from the Special Forces, however surreal it had been, was a constant thing inside Isaac's mind.  Killing his friend was one of the worse things Isaac had ever done.  Shooting someone you know is a lot harder than shooting an nameless enemy as it was in Afghanistan.  But after seeing was the only thing he knew to do.  Since that time, Isaac had stashed the revolver away in a lock box inside his closet.

Ham and eggs became the staple diet along with a variety of vegetables Isaac was trying to grow in a contained garden.  Layla was growing fast, and Isaac knew it was important to interact with her as much as he could.  Isaac continued to work as a carpenter for a local farming contractor in charge of erecting barns, and other such structures.  In his off hours, Isaac would spend time with little Layla teaching her everything he knew about the world, which wasn't as much as he would like to tell her.  Kennedy had been gone and unreachable for some time.  During his divorce, Kennedy had surreptitiously worked in a monthly child support fee that was way beyond what Isaac expected.  He thought perhaps she was getting money from the government somehow but didn't question it.  At this point, he hadn't spoken to her in several years.  But the money kept coming.  Isaac was at least grateful that the mother of his child wanted to help in some way.  Then, one sleepy Sunday afternoon, he gets a call.  Kennedy was dead.

He'd heard about the ordeal with the New York City Influenza.  That must have been hard on Kennedy.  The things she had to do to survive while the FEMA and the CDC were trying to sift through the rubble one stone at a time.  In Isaac's mind, it was just another Katrina.  The failures of the government to act in time to save the optimal amount of people.  Isaac had never spoken directly to Kennedy.  The conversations always took place through a mutual friend who happened to work for a very specific branch of the CDC involving highly contagious diseases.  Isaac wasn't exactly sure to what degree his friend was involved, but it seemed high up; like top shelf liquor.  You want the good stuff, you pay for it one way or the other.

Being a survivor of the disease, Isaac had guessed that Kennedy was something of an anomaly.  He imagined her bantering on about her experience and how helpful she could be to the right test market, and for the right fee.  The last Isaac knew, Kennedy had volunteered for a very hush-hush experiment, and that no other details were given.  He didn't know what exactly she had volunteered for but he had a feeling it was not good business.  A month later, Isaac received a check for $150,000 dollars and a note from Kennedy that simply said "Take care of her for me.".  A week later, a Sunday, the phone rang.

"Hello, is this, uh, is this Isaac?"
"Yes.  Who is this?  How did you get this number?"
"I don't have time to explain.  I just thought you should know.  K, I mean Kennedy, she's, well she's dead.  It was the experiment.  I can't go into details.  I am afraid I've said too much already."
"Who is this?"
"My name is Andrew.  That's all I can say.  I'm sorry for your loss.  K, er Kennedy seemed really nice.  Listen, I've got to go.  I hear something.  I think there is..."

The phone went dead and Isaac slumped onto the floor with the receiver still in his hand.  He sobbed.  As if on cue, Isaac could hear Layla begin crying in the background.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

6 - 06-08-13 The Experiment Part 1

The experiment was a wild success.  At least to the observers.  Andrew had recently graduated With Honors with his Psychology degree from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor.  Of course, it wasn't until his second year in an internship for a psych assistant that he got the call for another, surprising opportunity.  Andrew hesitated at first.  The caller, a Mr. Felder, asked if Andrew could keep a secret.  The clandestine nature of the conversation made Andrew nervous.  Eventually, though, Mr. Felder explained that the research was restricted, and that only the select few researchers would know the complete details.  Being his first real job offer just out of college, Andrew accepted.

A female subject had agreed to spend the week in an isolated testing facility.  At first, no other information was provided.  When Andrew arrived at the facility the following day, he was given more information.  The subject, a Ms. Kennedy Walsh, had signed a non-disclosure agreement, as did all personnel working on the project.  And for that week, surprisingly to Andrew, she had agreed to spend the entire time handcuffed in complete darkness.  The purpose of the experiment wasn't completely clear to Andrew, but he went along with it just the same.  His involvement in a high profile experiment of this nature would definitely increase his chances at other lucrative job offers in the future.  How could he say 'no'?

Cameras had been placed throughout the facility, which was no more than the size of a one-bedroom apartment.  Day and night, Kennedy would be watched by researchers in her little part of the world.  Andrew had never met her personally but she seemed like a nice enough girl.  From her photos, he had noticed a series of scars across her body, which made him think of abuse and neglect, although he didn't mention the observation to the other doctors.

From what he was told, Kennedy was a survivor of the New York Influenza outbreak just a few months ago.  The plague had all but wiped out a large portion of New York City in just a few weeks, but eventually the virus became less infectious and died out.  Kennedy was a volunteer nurse in one of the last remaining medical facilities in the city.  She was also apparently immune to the NYI virus.  According to her file, ever since the event her behavior had become somewhat erratic and unpredictable.  Andrew didn't blame her but then again, he had never spoken to nor met her so it was all conjecture.  How does one behave after being holed up in a hospital for weeks, eating the dead for survival, and coming out on the other side only to be told it was just a local thing, and the CDC couldn't get there in a timely fashion?  Andrew just shook his head at the failures of the government but in the end it wasn't the government that bothered him.  Science will find a way to overcome no matter what.  He supposed that it wasn't really his job to question the 'whys' of everything and just get on to the 'hows' and whatnot.

The experiment was simple from an observer's perspective.  Ms. Walsh, or K, as she was commonly referred, was to be handcuffed to a stable beam in the middle of a dark room.  No one was to come or go except for to offer her food and water.  To Andrew, this seemed like an awful waste of time until the variable was introduced.  There was a dog, if one could call it that.  A dog that was hideously deformed from what amounted to a myriad of scientific experiments.  Andrew was appalled at the idea of introducing such a creature into the darkness with the subject.  He had heard gossip of what the animal might do to poor Ms. Walsh.  Eat her alive was the general consensus.  Andrew would have spoken out in protest had it not been for the chief medical officer Dr. Donald Regan expressing his concerns over the livelihood of both patient and project.  Little did Andrew know at the time but Kennedy was the project, not the patient.

The dog was named Henry.  He belonged to Dr. Regan and while many people would protest the various experiments to which Henry had been subjected, the truth of the matter was, Dr. Regan was trying to cure him.  Henry suffered from Canine Influenza, a newer virus that was generally easy to overcome for the animal.  Dr. Regan, a firm believer (and probable share-holder) in the unnamed pharmaceutical company had a vaccine administered to Henry when he became ill.  In most cases, the vaccine is safe, but there are rare cases where it can cause negative side effects.  Andrew didn't exactly know if Henry's current physical state was a result of the vaccine or Regan's efforts to cure him, and he wasn't about to ask.  Clearly, the Doctor had a lot of love for that dog.  It just didn't seem professional to bring it up.

The main research observation facility was located just a few feet away from the house being used for the experiment.  In the event of a problem, researchers could abort the project at any moment to save either the dog or the girl. Or both depending on what everyone expected to happen.  The cameras placed throughout the house were extremely sophisticated: thermal vision, night vision, motion-tracking, even electromagnetic field reading.  These cameras were accompanied with various audio devices scattered throughout the small building.  Every little sound made inside that shack would be recorded.

Andrew stared at the bank of monitors inside the observation room in awe.  He suddenly began to wonder why he was actually here.  What was a Psych major doing in this room with all of this technology?  No one had ever really given him clear instructions on what he would be monitoring.  For the second time, Andrew thought about how this would boost the hell out of his resume' and decided not to question it.  Movement on the monitor shifted and caught Andrew's attention.  They were bringing her in.  This was the first time Andrew had actually seen K in person (well, via camera at least).  She seemed calm and willing.  That made Andrew relax just a bit.  Then he watched as the guards pushed K to the ground and handcuffed her to the beam, leaving one hand free to feel about in the pitch blackness.

Without a word, the guards left and K just sat in the dark room.  Andrew could tell her eyes were trying to adjust to the darkness, but he knew probably before she did that she wouldn't be able to see anything at all no matter how hard she tried.  There was simply no source of light.  Every single crack, window, doorway, and splitting seam of the old house had been meticulously filled in.  She might as well have been blind.  But yet, she did not seem panicked or afraid.  Perhaps living through a biological disaster somehow strengthened her against such fear.  Andrew would never know the answer as to why she wasn't afraid.

There was a back entryway into the house that was separate from the main quarters, with a double door access to keep out the light.  Apparently that was a very important part of the experiment.  Andrew watched as a second team of guards brought in Henry.  He was even more hideous than his photos.  'Jesus' Andrew thought.  How is that thing still alive?  Henry limped into the first entryway, gasping and heaving through tumors sprouting around his snout.  His body was half-limp like a stroke victim, but he managed to drag his legs, covered in oozing boils, across the linoleum and into the second door.  The guards closed the first door to keep out the light, and the opened the second to let Henry loose inside the house; the very same house where K found herself handcuffed.  Andrew couldn't help but sit down in a chair in front of the monitor.  The gravity of everything hit him all at once.  Suddenly, he felt like he was watching a horror film.

Henry sniffed around the room, seemingly aware of the presence of another creature.  His movements were slow, and looked painful to Andrew.  After several minutes of walking/crawling around in front of the second entry door, Henry decided to make his way into the main living area, which is where K was handcuffed.  Andrew could tell K also sensed something.  Suddenly realizing he couldn't hear anything, Andrew grabbed a pair of headphones and threw them over his ears to get the full experience.

"Hello?" K asked into the darkness.  Her voice carried a slight tone of concern at not knowing who or what was in the room with her.  Apparently she had not been told the details of the experiment.  Upon not getting a verbal response to her question, K repeated herself. "Hello?  Who's there?"  Andrew noticed on another screen that her vital signs were also being recorded.  He could see K's heart rate and pulse climbing rapidly. She was afraid.  Then the grotesque sounds of Henry's heaving and squishing along the floor became more audible.  He was moving toward the sound of K's voice.

K squirmed against her handcuffs, flailing an arm out into the darkness to try to feel whatever was around her.  She was out of reach of everything.  The bed was just a few feet in front of her but her reach was just not quite long enough.  Andrew wasn't sure she would be reaching for the bed if she could see anyway.  He did think she would probably be reaching for the nightstand where the baseball bat rested.  Wait.  A baseball bat?  Why was that there?  Was it part of the experiment or just a simple oversight by the setup committee?  Suddenly, a thousand unanswerable questions flooded Andrew's mind.  One particular question stood out among the others.  Why was he in here by himself?  Where were the other researchers?  Andrew had become aware of certain things that did not make sense, and had the sneaking suspicion that he was also a part of this little experiment somehow.  Still, he could not take his eyes off the monitors despite his own fears.  He had to keep watching.

Henry, the monstrous dog, made his way around the beam where K was cuffed.  He seemed to be able to see her in the pitch black of the house.  The dog stopped to study her.  Andrew and K could both hear the sick sounds of Henry's raspy breathing.  No doubt at this point, K could probably feel his hot, stinking breath wafting across her face.  She didn't move.  Andrew glanced quickly at the vitals monitor and saw that her heart rate was spiking.  Her pulse was elevated.  She was indeed afraid.  But Henry just sat there and stared at her until he eventually got tired and laid down on the hardwood floor in front of K, and fell asleep.  His snoring wasn't any more pleasant to listen to than his breathing, but it sounded more subdued.  K's vitals evened out a bit once she realized that death was not immediately forthcoming.  She too fell asleep.  Andrew could hear them both snoring in a cacophony of snorts and grunts.  He looked at his watch.  It was 2 AM.  Andrew, all by himself, settled in to a reclining seat in front of the monitors and dozed off.  It was the scream that woke him.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

5 - 05-22-13 The Diary: Addendum to Part One of The Beginning

<Official Document> Excerpts from unedited diary log of Dr. Michael Anderson found on scene.

May 1: I received a call from a Dr. Mosango, a resident physician in the Kikwit region of Zaire, Africa. He had some exciting news about a new strain of Ebola.  I was less than enthusiastic about taking on a new venture, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had agreed to pay my way out into the field for further examination. As a side note, I was not particularly prepared and had to have a second rate professor take over my classes for the semester.  I do hope the students do not suffer as a result of incompetent tutelage.

May7: The flight to Africa was long and uneventful.  Even the in-flight film wasn't particularly entertaining.  I landed just after 3pm.  After meeting with Dr. Mosango, who has insisted I refer to him as Carl, I am convinced that something more is happening than a simple classification or reclassification of the Ebola virus.  For a long time, many in the scientific community have thought bats were the reservoir of the virus. Carl has found a new strain that behaves in very peculiar ways.  I need to get to my hotel and get some solid sleep before I can examine the evidence at hand.

May 8: After grabbing a soft bagel from the hotel's lobby, I met with Carl to discuss the day's plan.  I must say that, for a scientist, he is extremely robust and energetic.  I find the change most welcome.  Here is a large man who is truly enthusiastic about his work; not a common thing among my colleagues back home.  Carl sits me down in front of a bifocal microscope to examine a cell cluster.  At first, I assume that the virus he discovered is a bacteriophage as all of the bacteria in the growth medium appear to be dead.  As I look on, however, these bacterial cells suddenly appear to be reforming, or, dare I say, rejuvenating.  I turned to Carl astonished, and he simply smiled back at me as though he knew that something amazing was happening.

May 10: After some experimentation, Carl and I have learned that the virus will attack and kill a cell, but then somehow it will infuse the dead cell with the power to regrow itself.  We still do not know the mechanism behind this process, but clearly we are not dealing with Ebola or any such hemorrhagic fever.  This virus was something new.  I don't want to presume too much, but, if this works the way I imagine, it could very well unlock the potential for human beings to extend life indefinitely.

May 24: It has been some time since I have written in my diary.  Carl and I have been hard at work trying to make sense of a remarkable discovery.  The military showed up today, at no surprise to myself.  Carl seemed a bit unnerved but I explained to him that any scientific discovery that could potentially benefit the military was routinely visited.  This seemed to calm him somewhat, although I fear the US government will take over this project, thus wresting it out of our hands and taking all the credit.  General so-and-so did his cursory overview of our project, seemed unimpressed, and then left without a word.  In truth, I was relieved that Carl and I could continue our research unabated.

June 17: I came across something today that both Carl and I find extremely disturbing.  In an effort to apply the unique attributes of the virus to human cells, we chose mice as our test subjects.  An injection of a small portion of the virus caused the mice to die.  This was not unexpected.  The surprising part was that, after a few moments, depending on how much of the virus was injected, the mice that had clinically died had come back to life.  Normally, this would account for a significant scientific breakthrough.  Unfortunately, it was a matter of moments before the reanimated mice began attacking and eating the unaffected mice in the same cage.  I think back to George Romero's "Night of the Living dead".  Have we discovered the mechanism that reanimates the dead?

July 24: The infected mice have gained control over the population.  Carl and I decided that the best experiment for this type of pathogen was to expose it to a neutral atmosphere.  Affected and unaffected alike behaved in ways that were anticipated.  The infected overcame the uninfected in mere minutes.  Imagine if there were human subjects.  My primary goal now is to find a way to somehow disable the reanimation process of the virus, or, at best, find a way to kill it without harming the host.

Aug 18: Carl is dead. He tried to escape from the lab and the armed guards shot him.  Apparently they know that this experiment is more important than human life.  I don't agree with their decision but I think Carl is now free from all the terrible things that I am now expected to perform.  The Maker Rest his Soul.

Sept 1: I can't help but stare at the microscope.  I know now that any efforts I make are all being recorded.  Honestly, I don't mind. I just want all of this to be over. Let's hope that all these crazy, religious bastards slip up and let me go.  I may be a scientist, but I am also a man who has a family.  I'll be damned if they take that away from me.  I will do my best to get in touch with some important people that I know.  If I could only get out of this mess...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

4 - 05-20-13 The Beginning

Had it been him six months ago, he would have said it was the find of the century.  Hell, even the Millennium.  Scientists from around the world had been asking the same question about how the virus spread, and more importantly, how to disable it.  The important thing to note about viruses in particular is that their simplicity is almost what makes them so difficult with which to deal.  A mere several thousand genetic sequences versus a more complex organism that contains millions of sequences.  Humans may have cataloged the human genome but understanding it takes time.  It is as though we have figured out how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids, but we cannot, for whatever reason, find out where the stones came from.

And the rocks are what is important.  Dr. Anderson stood in front of his class dumbfounded after hearing the news that a new virus was on the loose.  How could one man say to a body of young adults that the world they knew to be true was about to come to an end?  How do you convey the end of the world?  Of course, all the major news stations were spreading their information, but in truth it was all speculation.  This virus, found in the deepest part of Zaire was more than an Ebola spin-off.  It was the killer plague all over again.  Most of the science community knew it.  Anderson watched as trusted colleagues hopped in their SUVs and drove off into the sunset to spend what little time they had left with their family.

The thing people should understand and respect about scientists is that, we have families too.  We don't just sit around near some government alarm waiting to pull the switch.  If there is something terrible on the horizon, we are people too.  Yes, we will alert the authorities.  But, honestly, do you think the authorities would even tell you if a nuclear missile was just overhead?  A lot of people refer to this as 'collateral damage'  or even 'acceptable losses'.  People are pawns on a giant political chess board.  As long as the powers that be continue thriving, the rest is just an acceptable loss.  But here is the catch.  Here's the kicker.

Dr. Anderson, he knew about the virus long before DC got wind of it.  He knew how to control it.  Hell, I even think he knew how to cure it.  Sure, he pretended that he was coy and ignorant, but I have a diary that spells out his intention to the letter.  No, I will not share with you what he wrote in said diary.  You haven't given me nearly enough money.  Besides, if it was money I was after, I would have contacted the FEDS already.  They have deep pockets when it comes to proper intel.  No, the reason I wanted you to know, Isaac, is because I know you are a man of action.  I heard you had a daughter.  This is no world for such a sweet girl to grow up in.  I'll tell you how to kill them.  I'll teach you how to stay safe and away from the city poison.

I can see you doubt me.  I promise you I have no agenda.  You see this bite mark on my arm? Dr. Anderson bit me.  I was trying to help him find a cure but he turned faster than I could blink.  I have mere moments.  Take this gun and finish me but only after I say that there is a way out.  You may not think but if your sweet daughter gets infected and you don't want to live through the pain of dying so that she may live as a creature, you aim straight for her head, and then you aim straight for yours. God speed, Isaac.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

3 - 02-09-13 We Ate Without Question...

"Six weeks had passed since the surviving director locked the doors to the hospital. No one knew exactly what was going on outside.  The city was noisy for a long time, but now the wind seemed to be the only thing living outside the barred doors of the hospital.

As a volunteer nurse, I hadn't known what to expect.  I remember my father telling me that if I ever wanted to run for a political office, having a little volunteer work under my belt was never a bad thing.  It all seemed like an easy decision at the time.  When the director pushed the waiver forms in front of me all they received was the scrawl of my half-hearted signature.  I didn't even read the fine print. 

Of course, that was before everything went to hell.  I was an idealist.  I admit that.  I believed in the system; in something greater than myself.  Every time I looked in on a patient, whether they had cancer or the common cold, I treated them warmly.  It was all about duty.  That is until things fell apart.

First, the bodies were being shoved into the hospital at an alarming rate.  We were full within less than a week.  All of the cases were similar: a terrible fever than burned through the victims like a violent storm.  Antibiotics were useless, antivirals were marginally useful but only for the freshly infected.  Those who came in at the latter stages of development were too far gone to do anything but give them large amounts of morphine until they slipped away.  That was the worst part.  People died and we couldn't do anything to stop it.  We were powerless. At maximum capacity, the director barred and shut the doors.  Employees could go home, but no new patients were allowed inside.

The hospital population had literally died down to a fraction of people who were not infected by the terrible disease, but few were suffering from other ailments.  Many of us were at first so dedicated that we didn't want to leave.  Eventually that dedication turned into fear.  We didn't want the disease to find its way back into our locked-away part of the world. 

It had been a while since anything other than the wind and the occasional gunshot was heard out from the city.  There were no lumbering dead like one might expect from a supposed zombie apocalypse.  There was no overwhelming force of courageous military groups to swoop in and save us.  We just sat around amid the dead and dying waiting for instructions.  Instructions never came. The television stopped working after four weeks.  The power was there but nothing was being broadcast.

Then the survival instincts kicked in.  Those of us who had managed to stay alive this long without being infected assumed we were simply immune to the disease somehow.  But we weren't immune to starvation.  With the vending machine completely empty by the sixth week or so, I remember seeing two doctors scrabbling over the last Snickers bar.  I was appalled.  These were highly educated men fighting like school boys over a scrap of candy.  Then it hit me.  We were all going to need food soon.  It was only a matter of time.

Water was easy to come by.  The hospital had tanks full of sterilized water for medical use, and it made for excellent drinking water.  Tasteless, but it did the job.  One afternoon, or was it still morning, the days just seem to blur together as we all sat around waiting for something to happen.  I saw some orderlies pushing a gurney down a side hallway with a body on it.  The body was covered and was not moving.  Out of curiosity, I followed them at a distance, careful not to arouse suspicion.  The orderlies themselves seemed like they were trying very hard to appear inconspicuous, and failing miserably.  Their desperate eyes alert, and glancing down every dark hallway.  They never did see me.

I ducked behind a medical supply tray when they rounded another corner and I heard a door open and close.  Carefully, I slipped down the hall and peeked around the corner.  I saw the door they had entered.  It was some sort of access door leading to the underground maintenance tunnel.  Sliding up to the door, I slowly lifted my eyes just above the bottom of the window in the door.  I could barely force back a gasp of horror.  There were the two orderlies with a makeshift fire pit.  They had rigged some sort of metal spit or harness, and had impaled the dead body of the patient across it.  They were cooking her.

The smoke billowed out through an exhaust hatch high above the tunnel.  I shrank down below the door windows quickly, still trying to shake off the terrible act I had just witnessed.  My first thought was to run and tell the director.  He had to know what atrocities were being committed.

Running down the hallways, racing around corners, I reached the director's office winded and gasping for air.  I took a moment to compose myself, and then knocked on the door.  'Come in.' replied a dry voice from behind the door.  As I opened the door, I saw the director sitting calmly at his desk as though nothing had happened to the world.  His demeanor was unfazed.  'What can I do for you?'

'Director.  I think there is something you should know.' He held his hand up to stop me as if he already knew.  Then he motioned me to sit down.  I sat pensively, unsure of what would come next.  Would I be exiled from the hospital like some sort of traitor?  Or worse, would I be on tomorrow's menu?

The director folded his hands in front of him and leveled his gaze at mine.  'After some consideration, a group of our managerial team have made some tough decisions.  We don't know when or even if help will arrive.  We don't know the current state of things outside the hospital.  What we do know is that those of us who are still alive are immune to the disease.  We have tested this on several volunteers, and no one has contracted the disease thus far.  Our facility is overrun with the dead and dying.  Those who have died have been placed in cold storage.  We have enough, well, supply to keep the rest of us fed for months if necessary, at least until we can come up with a plan to move out of the hospital and find out what happened to the world.'

He could tell I wasn't taking any of this well at all.  I imagined the shocked look of disgust broke him from his purely clinical rationale.  'Look, goddammit!'  I recoiled at his outburst.  He calmed his voice but it was no less stern.  'We have people out there who are starving.  We don't have any other options.  If you want to go out there and jump on some moral soap box, be my guest.  But you just remember that, when people start dying from starvation, they will forget all about your sense of ethics and do whatever it takes to survive.

We're doing our best to keep it low key.  I have instructed the cooks to present the meals as being something we had in storage.  No one is being told what they are eating, and we think it's better they not know.  Telling them will only incite the kind of moral dilemma that you seemed to be stuck in right now, and will not do well.  I urge you to keep this to yourself.  We will be feeding staff and patients soon so I suggest you make your decision to get with the program or get out of my hospital.'

With that, the director pointed me toward his door.  Hanging my head, I turned and walked out, careful to close the door gently as I left.  A part of me knew he was right.  Even if I resisted now, soon I would join in with the rest of them.  At least most of the others were ignorant as to the source of the meat.  They would only be happy that they were being fed, and that had to be enough.  My father told me that sacrifice was the only way to make a difference.  'You have to make some hard choices in life' he would say.  Hard choices, but necessary.

Plodding along toward the cafeteria, I bumped into Kennedy, another volunteer.  She had a look of bright excitement on her face despite the sunken features.  'They have food!' she said.  'I can't believe it, but they said they found some emergency rations.  Isn't this wonderful?'  Kennedy turned and half-ran to the cafeteria where the announcement came that food was being served.  As I pushed my way into the cafeteria, I saw two different types of faces in the crowd.  Most of the faces were beaming with joy and hope.  There were some, like me, that looked sad and defeated.  Those were the ones who knew what we were actually doing. We were cannibals.

As I crossed to the line forming in front of the serving station, I grabbed a tray from the stack.  My hands were shaking.  As I reached the orderly who was serving the food, he looked at my face and instantly knew that I was aware.  'We're doing this for the good of everyone' he said, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself more than me.  He handed me a plate.  I looked at the cooked meat on the plate for a long, awkward moment, and then turned to find a corner table; preferably somewhere dark.

Those of us that knew all seemed to prefer eating in the dark, alone.  I saw several bleak faces choking down the meat in a mixture of revulsion and satisfaction.  It was an odd combination.  Most of the others were joined together.  I heard laughter and happiness for the first time in many weeks.  Ignorance was indeed blissfulness. The rest of us, well, despite our own misgivings, we ate without question."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2 - 11-07-12 The King and Queen Danced

"Kennedy's head was full of bubbling, dizzying fun by the time she left the bar.  It wasn't her usual routine to go out with the girls for drinks.  She was more of a recluse than anything.  But some wild streak took hold of her when Monica had asked her, practically pleaded with her to go out for the night.  For once, Kennedy said 'yes' and she was presently very happy that she had.

The crowd of girls from her work all made their cheers and downed shots of Lemon Drops; a potent but sweet mixture of vodka, sugar, and lemon flavoring.  Kennedy hadn't drank much alcohol in her 25 years of life on Earth, but she found this particular drink to be enjoyable.  She didn't feel as far away from her peers as she did in the office, that stuffy and cramped beige land of cubicles and whispers.  Out here, the other girls seemed to treat her differently.  Like she was one of the crowd.  

It hadn't occurred to her that, come Monday morning, when everyone was still managing to slough off the toxic reminders of the weekend that she would revert back to being just that one girl who filed paperwork for the manager.  Just that one unimportant girl with whom no one spoke, and whose life was as plain and simple as the manila folders she used to file away all the supposedly important documents for her supervisor.  

No, right now in this moment, Kennedy was the Queen of the World.  She was sharp, vibrant, and quick-witted.  At one point she had all the girls laughing hysterically at a dirty joke she heard once but never had the courage to tell in public until now.  The sensation was empowering.  As the discussion between the girls became increasingly sexual in nature, Kennedy began to feel a warm longing within her.  It was almost savage, this longing, and it took on a mind of its own.

She began scanning the bar, moving from face to face until she fell upon a handsome young man who seemed all at once as paradoxically out of place and the center of attention that she felt she had become.  They were both belonging and pariah at the same time.  His smiling eyes flickered once as he captured a glance upon her.  Then the glance became a stare.  It wasn't uncomfortable to Kennedy.  She wanted him to stare at her.  She wanted his focus.   And she got it.  

Kennedy could half-hear the perverse stories of sexual achievement being lauded by her cohorts, but she couldn't take her eyes off the young man.  He seemed to be having a similar issue; a taller man leaned against a wall and shouted into the young man's ear, trying to overcome the music.  But the young man's interest in the words being shouted at him was null.  It was clear to Kennedy that their locked eyes had become the beginning of a ritual of courtship.  

He said something to the taller man, and stepped away from the wall.  He walked straight to where Kennedy stood, a half-drunken smile of confidence resting upon her lips.  'I'm Isaac,' he said as he thrust out his hand in an awkward attempt to introduce himself.  Shaking hands seemed so formal and business-like.  Kennedy just smiled broader, leaned in, and for some reason unknown to her, she kissed his cheek.  'Hello Isaac' she said in her best mock-seductive voice.  He smiled firmly and waved down a waitress to bring more alcohol.

In the first hour, Kennedy and Isaac had gone from discussing work to religion to politics to social status.  The final conversation teetered on the edge of sexual innuendo.  Would she take him home for the night if she knew he was a good person?  It was a question that crossed her mind.  His question was much simpler than that.  Would you take a stranger home if you felt like it was appropriate?  Of course it was a baited question, and she thought they both knew where this was headed.  Finally, after someone had handed her another shot of something green and bitter, she grabbed Isaac by the hand and said 'Let's go'.

The cab ride home was a blur of kissing and fondling so passionate that Kennedy almost forgot to pay the driver.  She shoved a pair of what she thought were twenty dollar bills into the hands of the driver and dragged Isaac toward her apartment door.  It was maddening trying to open the door while still keeping her lips pressed against his, but she managed to find the keyhole and unlock the door.  They fell into the doorway still locked in passionate embrace.     

Kennedy was drunk and she knew it at this point.  The small part of her rational brain kept screaming at her to change the situation.  'You have not been with a man in a while' it said.  'You don't know him' it cried.  But the rational brain was a small voice, and had no effect on her determination.  Pressing play on her stereo, she heard the sounds of The Cure reverberate around her.  She began to dance, removing bits of her clothing as she went, and Isaac watched with intense interest.  

In a far away corner of her mind, Kennedy knew she would fuck Isaac tonight.  To her, it wasn't a matter of if so much as when.  As if on cue, Isaac stood eagerly and began to press his body against hers as clothing drifted off both of them to the point of complete nudity.  They stretched out onto her bed, feverishly entwined and writhing in intoxicated passion.  Then a small voice crept into Kennedy's mind.  Like an echo it grew.  She wanted more of him.  She wanted it all and no one was there to stop her.  He was her king and she knew what kings desired.  

She reached for the nightstand drawer.  Her hand darted quickly inside and withdrew a razor.  For a second, she could sense Isaac's nervous glance at the blade, but his animal instinct took over and he was quick to return to pressing his hardness against her thigh.  A few inches more and they were dancing wildly as he thrust into her again and again.  Kennedy held the razor in her hand, and as an experiment she ran it across his cheek in a light and quick motion.  A small swell of red developed and he smiled at her playfulness.  

Their joint passion grew as the pounding became harder and more determined.  She took the blade and slashed lightly at his shoulders, his chest, and finally turning the cold surgical steel on her own body.  She drew a deep red 'X' across her chest, and Isaac lapped at the blood in a frenzy of uncontrolled lust.  The pain was sharp but it felt good.  She etched out more patterns in her skin for Isaac to suckle.  In a tantrum, she swung her hand across both their bodies, leaving red lines that flowed generously, the alcohol leaving the blood thin and easy to draw.

The thrusting was strong but then with a final few pushes it became weak with release.  Isaac slumped over onto her as he heaved in great breaths from the strain.  She felt numb but satisfied.  Yet warm, wet fluid still dripped around them, covering their bodies.  She hadn't noticed at first but now saw the bed soaked in crimson.  Part of her mind screamed that she should do something to stave the tides of red spilling forth.  But that was a small and insignificant part.  The rest of her mind made peace with what she had done.  

She couldn't tell if Isaac was still breathing.  His heavy frame had been resting on her for a while now but had not moved.  If he was breathing, it was shallow.  She didn't mind.  Come Monday morning, she decided she would not be that meaningless girl with whom no one spoke.  She was not the manila folder.  As she cradled Isaac's limp body in her arms, she knew that somehow this night she would be better than all of them."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

1 - 11-06-12 The Laying of the Hands

Excerpt of Madness 1:  The Laying of the Hands

"Isaac stared at his hands.  His fingers were rough and thick, like ragged stones jutting from his massive palms, equally as hardened from years of labor.  He was a woodworker.  He made desks mostly, but there were times where his craft would be used to create any manner of object.  A shelf here, a table there, even a house once although he was only marginally involved in its creation.  It was August and the air was hot, dry, and unforgiving.  Isaac wasn't sure how long the air conditioner had been out.  Had it been hours, days, perhaps weeks?  The power was out, too.  Isaac was reminded of this fact by the motionless ceiling fan that hung apologetically above his head.

The fan was only a minor part of Isaac's attention.  It was his hands he was most interested in; particularly the object they held.  It had been a slow build to this point, and Isaac couldn't recall the exact details as to how everything managed.  In his mind, a series of flashing images, faceless voices repeating the same useless mantra "stay calm, stay indoors" over and over again.  In hindsight, the words seemed feeble; a desperate attempt to make sense of an increasingly maddening world.  He rolled the object in his hands over and again, marveling at its smooth surfaces, the curves and mechanisms.    

The wind outside blew dust and debris like an inland hurricane coursing through a dry prairie.  The wooden shutters Isaac had made slapped against their frames in rhythmic cacophony against the hard wind.  But it still didn't quite muffle the sounds from across the room.  Briefly, he remembered how Layla, his daughter of 10 years, had asked him to carve something special in the shutters.  Flowers.  He had meticulously carved out dozens of roses in the shutters, and in a special place near the bottom of each wooden slate, he carved her name.  Layla.  He must have carved it 100 times, but he never grew tired of it.

Layla's mother had passed on years ago, and Isaac had spent almost a decade caring for his child the best his brutish ways allowed.  But he was always gentle with her no matter how hard he worked at anything else; no matter how hard he leaned into the wood to force it to his will.  Layla was his rose and he cherished her so deeply.  The object in his hands felt heavier than it should.  Almost like lead weighing him down.  But Isaac knew the object's purpose, and what it had meant for him to use it.    

As the sirens off in the far distance eventually died down, so did the rest of the world.  The food from the land was still good with corn being shucked, and a pig or two slaughtered.  Isaac and his carefree little flower had found a way to keep out of harm's way.  But something carried on the wind.  At first they said that it was only the bites that infected others.  Some well-to-do panel of scientists came on the T.V. and said that the blood was infectious.  Water should be boiled before drinking, avoid contact with others who appear to be listless or somehow infected.  It was all well and fine to Isaac.  His house was miles away from any major city, and even the neighbors were just a speck on the horizon.  But something carried in the air.  That was the only explanation.

The night sweats had kept her awake, and him.  At first he thought perhaps it was a terrible cold, or perhaps one of the pigs had sickly flesh.  Yet he had eaten the same meat and he was fine or so it appeared.  Her soft, summer skin became pallid and slick with moisture.  He tried a broth his mother used when he was sick, but Layla fell deeper into illness.  It wasn't but four days before her frail body passed on leaving the great beast of a man kneeling at her bedpost, weeping like a forlorn child.  On the fifth day, she came back.

It is a nearly indescribable feeling for a father to tie his own daughter down to a bed, but he had done it.  Layla was a shell of her former self; not responding to her name or food offered to her.  Isaac tried to ignore the obvious but he couldn't shake that it was the plague on the T.V. that had somehow found a way into their home.  Small sores began to develop on her once sweet face, and saliva dripped from her mouth incessantly.  Once when he tried to feed her a spoonful of broth, she nipped at his arm, seeming to long for a taste of his own flesh.  This was exactly how they described the symptoms on the television.

Isaac sat at the kitchen table, across from the open door that led into the room where Layla was strapped.  He wasn't sure how many days it had been but he could smell the odors of her body become more inhuman. Digging out his closet, he found the object.  It was his one final course of action to ensure that his daughter could find peace.  He wiped the cold sweat forming on his brow across his forearm.  Isaac could tell that something was inside him too.  Just like Layla.

Sitting up from the table, Isaac turned and slowly pushed his way into the darkness of the bedroom where Layla had been tied.  He heard her constant moaning, a sound that had been perpetual since she had come back from what should have been her eternal sleep.  It was a terrible, rasping moan that spoke of an animal desperation.  He would be there soon if he didn't do something.  As he leaned over the sunken frame of his daughter, lashed onto the bedposts, writhing with a slow, serpentine manner, he took the object in his hands, aimed it at the girl's forehead and mercilessly pulled the trigger.  A sharp blast from the handgun issued forth, and a blinding light in the dark of the room showed a deep red splatter before falling quickly to black.

Isaac stumbled out of the bedroom, coughing and in a state of surreal disbelief.  His rose had wilted away and by all accounts he was next.  His chest hurt, his skin was cold and wet, his muscles felt achy and tired.  He remembered one of the faceless voices from the T.V. say something that seemed important; vital even.  They said, aim for the head.  That was the only way.  And so Isaac pulled the object in his hands up to his temple, pressed the hot barrel against his skull, closed his eyes and thought about the roses once more before pulling the trigger."