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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Steven's Adventure

            Steven found himself on the main street of Liberty Cross without much of an idea of where he was headed or what he should do. It had been a good four hours since he had last seen Bernie, and he had begun to accept that he probably wouldn’t see him again.
            The city looked about how he had expected it to, and in his overwhelmed, terrified mind he kept repeating the reports from a local physician named Dr. Wagner that he’d familiarized himself with like a mantra.

            Two weeks earlier, at 1300 hours a report had come in detailing that a group of people being seen to by Dr. Wagner had been exhibiting signs of intense flu-like symptoms. None of the people had previously come into contact with each other, so the doctor hypothesized that they had all handled a similar contagion. An hour later, Wagner reported that the symptoms had abruptly taken a turn for the worse: intense sweating, hallucinations, vomiting and high fevers took over, and twelve of the twenty patients became increasingly violent and had to be restrained.
            At 1500 hours, the first death had been reported. It had been a man named Henry Thrush who was thirty years old and a personal trainer. The suddenness of his death and the manner in which he died were troubling: his illness had turned into a hemorrhagic fever which had killed in him exactly twenty minutes from his first blood-filled vomit. He had become severely disoriented, and despite hemorrhaging blood from his orifices, the patient attacked a physician’s assistant with a surprising amount of strength and ferocity.
            At 1800 hours, all but six of the patients had died in the exact same manner as Mr. Thrush. Their bodies underwent autopsies, revealing a surprisingly low amount of damage to the internal structures of the patients, which was completely incongruent to any form of known hemorrhagic fever. Wagner had reported his extreme concern over the strangeness of the disease, and let the record show that he had contacted the CDC fearing that his town was afflicted with some form of Ebola.
            Steven turned the corner and noticed a small group of people walking aimlessly along the street, many of them coated in blood and all of them slack-jawed and moaning softly. He shrank back against a wall and pulled out his gun, his brain snapping once again to Wagner’s reports.
            At 0100 hours the next morning, the physician’s notes had started to devolve into the ramblings of a man in a deep panic. He reported that over one hundred and thirty patients had been admitted to the hospital, and even though he was only a physician he had been asked to assist the understaffed and overwhelmed doctors there. They set up a triage center to try and weed out the extreme cases and keep them contained, but violence erupted there and dozens of people were hurt or succumbed to their illness before they could be treated.
            At 0500 hours, the coroner at the hospital, a woman named Andrea Feld, added a report of her own. She stated that Mr. Thrush, who was reported at being Patient Zero, was exhibiting signs of life. He had begun uncontrollably thrashing and seizing inside the morgue locker, and when she and her staff opened the drawer, he had apparently shifted position so extremely that at first they thought that they simply had not restrained the corpse correctly and that rigor mortis had wrecked havoc on him. This theory was thrown out when the man had reportedly sat up and lunged at one of the orderlies, injuring him terribly with his mouth and hands before he had been effectively stopped courtesy of a trocar to the temple. Feld later added that the orderly that had been bitten displayed the same symptoms, although highly accelerated, and had attacked the others within a few minutes. She and two others were bitten, and that was the last that she reported.
            From across the hospital from eleven different sources came the same report of seemingly dead people returning from an inert state to attack and bite at others. The secondarily infected people succumbed much faster to the fever and died after several minutes of violent hematemesis.
            Dr. Wagner’s final report made little sense. He spoke of the dead rising from the ground by the dozens to tear apart the living and devour their flesh. He began to rattle off a list of hypotheses ranging from a weaponized form of Ebola to the second coming of Christ, and ultimately he left an apologetic personal note to an estranged daughter of his in Newark before he locked himself in a closet and shot himself.
            Before he had arrived in Liberty Cross, Steven had thought that the man must have merely gone insane from the horrors that he had witnessed, and it wasn’t until he had seen the fight between Bernie and Mordecai that he had allowed himself to believe that Dr. Wagner could have been right. Now that he peered around the corner and watched a man with light from the streetlamp behind him shining through the gaping hole that had once been his sternum walk as easily as a six-year-old, he found that he was having trouble keeping rational thoughts in his head as well.
            His hands shook as he tried to flick the safety off of his gun, and he let out a deep breath so that he could concentrate. The creatures in the street, although they had obviously been human at one point in time, were no longer amongst the living, that was obvious, but they were different from whatever the thing that had attacked Bernie had been. The more he thought about it, the less he thought that Bernie himself was human either.
            At the end of the fight, Steven had rushed out of the car to help his compatriot, and just when he was about to get a shot off at Mordecai, Bernie had reared up with a surprising amount of strength for a mortally wounded man and had looped his piano wires around the creatures left hand, severing it entirely. As Mordecai screamed and writhed, Bernie had turned bright red, horrible eyes to Dr. Yeats and had yelled, “Get out of here, you fucking idiot!”
            Steven didn’t remember the specifics of what had happened next. All he knew was that he had run faster than he’d ever thought possible directly into the heart of the town. He had kept running longer than he had really needed to, he came to realize later since nothing had bothered to follow him, a fact that he was deeply relived and strangely offended by.
            He finally managed to get the safety off and carefully turned the corner, his eyes wider than he though possible as he watched as the cluster of creatures turned from what they had been doing to look at him sleepily. Strings of guts hung from their open mouths and hands, and it took him a full minute to realize that the giant reddish smear on the pavement had once been a mounted police officer and his horse.
            Steven leveled the gun at the first of the creatures, who had once been a middle-aged woman in a mumu and he said in little louder than a whisper, “Stay where you are or I will shoot you.”
            The woman cocked her head to the side and her jaw yawned open wider in a hiss. She started to shamble closer to him and the others followed, their face curled into hungry snarls.
            Steven let off a single shot, and it passed through the woman’s chest with enough force to knock her flat. However, she didn’t stay flat for long: instead she was on her feet and at him impossibly fast, hunger turning her shambling walk into a sprint. Steven fell backwards hard, but instead of feeling the woman’s contorted claws on his skin, he instead heard an inhuman roaring and the creature exploded into a rain of blood.
            Steven let out a scream as he noticed the shape of a man moving amongst the creatures faster than his brain could track with a metal bat. The creature’s heads were crushed like melons, and when the man-shaped blur finished with them and turned to Steven, the CDC man managed the best shot of his life and hit a bull’s eye directly in the center of the thing’s forehead.
            It stumbled backwards a pace, and Steven finally got a good look at it. The man was obviously the same sort of being that Mordecai had been, but this one looked like it had just wandered off of a beach in Florida: he wore torn green cargo pants and a none-too-clean red Hawaiian shirt that had obviously seen better days. All he needed was a smear of sunscreen on his nose and a camera on a cord around his wrist to be the perfect stereotype of a tourist.
            Roland spat the bullet out of where his muscled had worked it down to his mouth and snarled, “Holy shit! You are a grateful son of a bitch, aren’t you?”

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