To catch up on this two-part horror short fiction, read Duology of the Damned: Part 01 — When the Sickness Reached Alaska
Part 02 — The Monster Inside of Me
Such is the unnatural body of this god, which has no kinship with the dust of our world; indeed, it is not flesh as we know flesh, but as crystal or glass, and soft so that during his dreaming death it often breaks apart, but when it breaks it at once reforms itself, held in its pattern by the will of the great one. Such is the unnatural nature of this sleep, which has no kinship with those who were left standing…
It took an effort to open my eyes and when I finally did, I couldn’t see much of anything but a blur—someone was moving in the room I was in. I was feeling groggy and that unbearably painful hangover ache—except, I stopped drinking a long time ago. Didn’t I? Why did I feel so different? What’s wrong with me? My eyes blinked rapidly of their own volition, in an attempt to clear the blur, but my vision barely improved. It wasn’t until I tried to move that I realized I was strapped down and a panicked groan—I suppose that’s when the person realized I was awake.
“Do you know your name?” The pale white blur asked me with a muffled voice, what an odd question, I thought to myself.
“Of course, my name is—,” what the fuck is my name?
“Don’t worry, the memory loss is normal, it’ll come back to you soon,” a flash of white hit each of my eyes, it must have been a flashlight because the pain hit the back of my head. There were more questions, I had fewer answers—the more he probed me for information, the more I realized I didn’t know who I was, let alone where I was. He was talking about my vision and memory coming back as my brain regenerated.
“Wait, what do you mean? What happened to me? Where am I?”
“Easy answers first, I suppose. We’re in Whittier—,” how the hell did I get to Whittier? According to Dr. Blur, it was very nearly the end of the world. The next few weeks were a little more revealing; I slowly began remembering things from before it all happened. I remembered where I had grown up, a small almost-no-name town in the interior of Alaska. I was never used to an abundance of people being around during the early parts of my life. All the same, I would still wake up in a cell and not know where I was for a time. It was all incredibly jarring.
The medical staff weren’t very talkative, which was understandable. The few details I was able to pry out of them painted the picture clearly enough. The contagion had nearly converted all of the human population into mindless, soulless killers—small pockets of humanity were able to somehow hold on to hope long enough to stay alive throughout the last surge of the dead before the cure came. It’s not like they weren’t well prepared, Alaska is an open-carry state after all. A lot of people died.
My first thought was Trudy, she was the closest thing I had to family, but I was hundreds of miles away from home; there was no way I would know. The beginning of the pandemic was all rumor, but then the major news stations started going off the air, permanently. I eventually remembered the day that our communications systems went down and that’s when I truly felt alone for the first time in my life. Now I remember that day like it was yesterday—the process of infection from the time it hit the United States until it reached Alaska took a week at most.
Cities and other largely populated areas were run through in a matter of a day or two; after the shit hit the fan, doctors and scientists became incredibly scarce throughout the world, not to mention in Alaska. Within the last year in no less than a miracle, they had somehow developed a serum, but I suppose since it wasn’t a matter of money, test subjects were widely available—albeit a touch aggressive—and there were no federal regulations anymore it was just a brassy and ballsy group of nerds who saw a problem and figured out how to tackle it. Without knowing any organized cure was being sought after, the last pockets of uninfected people had all but given up, or at least that was what I had been told. I missed a great deal of it while stuck in a dark cloud of calamitous hunger, the melodious satisfaction of hot copper—it felt like a lifetime ago, but they told me my treatment had started a month ago. I only remember the last week of scientists observing me in their dirty spacesuits, the look of fear in their eyes, and perspiration looming on their temples as they gave me my daily injections.
Although I hadn’t been told much about where I was being kept, I had to deduce based on the limited information I came across. As an example, the armed guards weren’t opposed to taking book requests—since there had been at least a few individuals who had hoarded books for fear of losing humanity completely. That meant that there had to be room for a library. There were obviously cells already present since I was in one. There were dedicated medical rooms and on my escorted journey from my cell to the hospital wing we passed what looked to be a dilapidated and rotting movie theatre. There was also evidence of covered graffiti on the walls, covered in white paint.
I had only been to Whittier a handful of times before, but it was the thick concrete that made up the walls, floors, and ceilings that ultimately gave it away. I was being kept in the Buckner Building. It was created to be a city under one roof, but the last time I remember seeing it, there had been a lot more degradation than this. They must have finally gotten the financing to refurbish the property before everything went to shit and it seemed as if the first steps they took to reclaim the property from the elements was to install all new windows and doors. Or maybe they just painted over the doors, but the ones I was shuttled in and out of looked new to me. I was curious, though, why it seemed as if the jail cells had been refurbished as well—but it was a pretty historic monument to the Cold War, so maybe they had been planning to turn part of this creepy fortress into a museum. Who knows, I just had a lot of time alone in my cell to think and still missing chunks of my memory, even the most boring topics were enough to keep me entertained during those long sleepless nights.
After one such night, a metal hatch opened in the door of my cement cell, and I sat up in my cot. A smell wafted in, it was an odor that fell rancid upon my tongue and it caused my stomach to twist. I wasn’t used to this kind of hunger anymore, but being met with the smell of what I used to know as food was enough to make me nauseous. The tray was sparse, just powdered eggs, tomato soup, and no appetite for any of this; I could only assume they were still working with the supplies they could scavenge, but I wasn’t privy to the way things worked just yet.
“When am I going to be let out of here?” I asked the man wearing protective gear on the other side of the cell door, but I got no response. “Please,” my voice was hoarse, my throat was still raw from the guttural language of ravenous growls and screams that had abused my vocal cords over the last year. Standing up was still a chore, but I blamed that largely on the black and purple swollen mass that used to look like my right foot.
The doctor had told me that it was healing, but it was still immensely painful so I would have to take their word on that. I was one of the lucky ones who hadn’t sustained many injuries. Other than the initial bite that turned me, I was intact, but through the course of traveling with a roaming horde of other revenants, I must have had a bad fall. I hobbled over to the tray of what my brain recognized as food, while my body’s reaction to it argued that it was anything but. “Is there anything else to eat, this smells rotten…”
“I assure you it’s fresh,” the mousy whisper of the male voice inside the suit infuriated me, “but I heard them say your trial group will be out next week.” I found myself wondering how a meek young man had made it through an apocalypse unscathed when I hadn’t. Maybe he had been here all along. Whittier itself was a port town that was only accessible by boat or through a single-track train tunnel. If they had been desperate enough they could have collapsed the tunnel, but it had been much more effective to simply barricade the entrance and brave the outside world to hunt and scavenge during the summer months. To be honest they probably went the entire time with hardly a run-in or a disturbance until they began the medical trials here.
I took the tray and he snapped the hatch back up so quickly that it startled me; I ended up splashing the red soup down my white jumpsuit. I watched it trail down my front, the lurid clash as it stained the fresh white fabric brought me back to the present; then, a pang of hunger electrified my body. It reminded me of blood, one of the only pleasurable things I could remember in that vast nothingness and aggression that I had been lost in, but then I knew that my hunger being aroused by the thought of blood wasn’t exactly a normal thing. Their cure had restored my logical brain, the one that reminded me I was human, that gave me control over my body, and allowed me to make more than just knee-jerk choices. It had begun the process of healing that was much needed after what the last year of rot and walking death had brought upon my body. Surely if I had been found any later, I would have been amongst those who could not be brought back.
I hear a scream from down the way, it was followed by the sound of footsteps running down the hall and more yelling. I pressed my face against the bars to try to get a glimpse of what was happening. There was a blood curdling, inhuman screech and the commotion just became louder. I heard someone yell, “just shoot her!” and that’s when the gunshots rang through the jail. After that, I heard the head doctor curse loudly, something about what a waste of fucking time. Ten minutes later, they were dragging a body bag past my cell—another incident happened a couple of days later. It was worrisome, to say the least, they had been here longer than I had. If they were reverting, what did that mean for me?
I only knew as much as I could pull from my brief interactions with the people bringing my meals and the medical staff that came with my daily injection; some of them had hardened severe expressions, but most seemed nervous or frightened that at any moment I might be another failed experiment. The constant feeling of being observed was unsettling, like being stalked on a dark street with predatory anticipation. We were experiments, now—lab rats that could communicate—living only to satisfy their need to control an uncontrollable pandemic that had reduced the world population to just an eighth of what it had been.
The diseased walked freely in more than doubled the numbers of the uninfected. It was easy to see why they approached with such trepidation, but feeling as if I were a rabid dog that would no doubt bite their hand was at best dehumanizing. Falling asleep was getting progressively more difficult as I got closer to having my condition “contained.” That night was no exception, the only difference was that the nightmares started sooner, but I was starting to believe they were memories.
Another week went by of feeling the cool indifference of those who were treating me—it was the day before I was going to be released into a controlled population where I would be observed for my interactions with the uninfected. The discharge process was a five-hour lecture on how I needed to complete my daily outpatient treatments for the following month. The clock on the wall ticked each second by languidly with each new presenter. Considering it had been almost two years since I had last had a joy, I didn’t expect it would be too difficult for me to adhere to their demands to keep the uninfected safe.
Then again, with the whole state of the world still being without much of the former technological triumphs, finding people was more of a chore than finding a cure for the rising dead. In the end, I resolved to keep up my end of the bargain and walk back to the clinic from the rehab facility to get my daily treatments. I was finally allowed to go outside into the fenced yard where I was able to see the other people in the trial treatment with me; according to their limited research, it was not possible to get reinfected, so they weren’t exactly worried about us. I sat in the yard in the shade of a large birch tree that day when a girl a bit younger than myself sat down next to me.
“Did they find your family?” Her voice sounded as ragged as my own, I shook my head and examined the dandelion fluff that I had plucked out of the grass at my side. There was a moment of clarity as I stared at the dandelion, I remembered sitting in an overgrown field during the summer as a child, making wishes and blowing the fluff into the wind. “I’m Elle.” The woman offered her hand to me and I didn’t recognize the urge to shake it, it felt like an alien tradition that was lost to me now.
“Um—Molly,” it didn’t feel like my name either. “Why didn’t they let us out here until today? Aren’t we getting released tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but only because they have to make room for the next batch of… well,” Elle gestured broadly to everyone in the gated yard, “what we used to be. What we still could be…”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m not sure, I’ve heard other patients talking about something they call ‘the reversion’ but as far as I know, it’s just a rumor.” Her shoulders rose to her ears and the uncertainty in her voice was clear, “apparently some of the others they thought they cured, the treatments just… didn’t stick.”
Oh is that all? No big deal, I guess.
The next day we were woken up early and there was such strange anxiety when they handed me clean street clothes and directions to the rehab house I would be staying in. The sunlight was exceptionally warm on my cold skin and burned my eyes as I stepped out of the lobby of the old fortress. The fresh air was a nice reprieve from the stale, sterile air they had managed to maintain within the makeshift labs. I shielded my eyes and glanced either way down the street; the pavement was devastated, broken, and overgrown. There seemed to be people living across from the Buckner Building when I finally walked out of the front. I turned and saw that the Buckner Building was similarly crumbled—so it was just the inside that they had improved. There were only a few signs of life on the streets outside it was an eerie sort of isolation that left me feeling as if the world were ending all over again.
I found myself wondering if Elle was going to be at the same facility as I was, it had been so long since I had seen a friendly face and she was the first person to talk to me like a human being since… I don’t know, I didn’t have any sense of time anymore. There were several people outside tending to a community garden as I turned a corner. They all stopped working when they saw me limping by them, I’m sure I was a sight to see—a pale, hobbling former dead girl, walking among them, reborn back into this shit show. I just kept my eyes on the ground in front of me, before I knew it was I standing in front of the house where I was going to be staying.
That’s when the screaming started. It instantly made my blood run cold. Glass shattered in the alley just around the side of the house which caused me to take a couple of steps back. Then suddenly my face met the pavement as I was knocked violently to the ground by the people who had been tending the garden. They had their guns raised and ready as they dashed toward the sounds of struggle, I rolled, dazed, and watched as this large man tore a woman apart in the alleyway—her screams were enough to draw a small crowd of people on the street behind me. Where the hell did they all come from?
One—Two—Three—and a head-shot for good measure. The people behind me were murmuring amongst themselves, “I thought they were cured!” I pushed myself up from the pavement onto my knees and watched the rest of the scene play out, “what if they all change back?”
There were no second chances here.