Her teeth grew sharper by the day, the length of her arms extending at least ½ an inch since the last time she checked. Her hair fell out in clumps at first, then grew back full and thick, like a shiny coat. The whites of her eyes tinted sickly pink, her gums bleeding with each chew or swallow. Her skin was cold, but she felt warm as if the 105-degree fever she had meant nothing.
When she injected herself with the final 11th vial of the serum she knew it wasn’t completed but it was the only chance she had of survival.
She watched her family die in a little under 16 months. The dehydration unable to quench. Her children died first, the fever raged and tore at their brains and nervous systems. They burned from the inside out. Her husband died next, a more painful death – the blood red foam gathering in his eyes and the corners of his mouth. He died in the grass in the yard behind their house.
She buried them all.
Communication was sporadic at first and she knew that something was happening as ambulance sirens became the music of everyone’s day. When there was everyone. Now there was just them.
It was weird, the evolution that occurred and how swiftly they all changed. It was necessary as the sun burned human beings to the ground where they stood. It was hard to understand that night is where they were meant to exist. It was when most prey hunted, and the most sacrifices took place. The cover of night, its shadows were the perfect place to miss the infection, to hide the transformation.
When the plague spread no one understood that it wasn’t actually a plague but more of an extinction level event. There wasn’t supposed to be enough time to even try to find a cure, never mind develop variants of the disease. Yet, they had time. They found the time.
She took notes when things began to change. When packs of animals roamed quiet daylight streets. Dogs were the first to exhibit symptoms, a bite would send an infant into cardiac arrest within hours. It was almost always too late, and children died by the thousands. Either they burned from the fever or the dogs devoured their flesh, ripped them limb from limb.
Mothers lost battles with the animals, they were bitten too and soon succumbed to the fever. Women were first to experience the blindness. Then they died in heaps. The men burned the bodies, first to prevent the disease from spreading, then to protect the tent cities from the animals.
Soon, the dogs became immune to the smoke and attacked the cities by the hundreds. Men climbed into the mountains only to be met by wolves, and most suffered the same fate. The men who survived began taking on symptoms as well. It took longer than expected, but the water became contaminated and the sky turned to a constant purple haze. It burned to breathe the air after a while, then the sun disappeared.
Sixteen scientists escaped on a jet into the Andes. She was one of them. Four of them were still living. The others were in cages, being automatically fed by machines they had set long ago. Before they knew this would be this big, a pandemic – something that would kill off more than 75% of the population. Possibly more.
They were running out of food and the four of them left were injecting thenselves with different versions of what they hoped was the cure. They didn’t know what was left beyond those walls, but it couldn’t have been much worse than what was in there.
She knew that she had changed, and was now an adaptation of herself, but not in a way that proved as a cure. She was turning into something different, not as vicious as the others but the complete genetic transformation was not complete. She had two more vials, and she wasn’t sure if her body could take the pain or vicious assault on her brain the injections caused.
She hallucinated, and she wasn’t sure if it was what was in the vial, or the fever which had wracked her body for weeks now. Her head ached and her jaw was falling in and out of place as her ligaments loosened and it began to widen, like a woman’s hips preparing for birth.
Jeff, her partner was in the cage next to her. He hadn’t moved in days and she thought he might be dead. He was the only one with the PIN to her lock if she survived this, if they all survived this they would be able to open each other’s cages. His back wasn’t moving anymore and if it did, it was ripe with sputters that could only be the blood that ran from his mouth. It had pooled and oozed from his ears. The drip made a sickening bloop that made vomit rise in her throat.
The last stage was supposed to be the teeth, her skin was already cracking, the downy hair that had grown turned coarse and thick as pine needles. To her that hurt more than her nails falling off, which they did one by one, replaced by nails sharp like diamonds. She hadn’t slept in days, it wasn’t necessary now and she watched Jeff for any sign of life, at all.
There were times when he stirred, as if in a fit of a nightmare. He called his wife’s name, although he had watched her take her last breath more than a year ago. She was pregnant when it took her. He cried and whimpered for his dead child. Tears filled her eyes for his pain, besides the physical of transformation, he was also changing emotionally. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to let it go, and finally, it would take him too.
She prayed if she survived that Jeff would too, and be able to let her out of the plexiglass cages they lived in. Without Jeff she would surely die there. Even if she was cured there was no way to override the system in order to open the doors. They tried to create a program on such short notice but weren’t successful, if one door opened, they all did.
If someone was still infected that means they would be amongst people that might be cured. So the PIN idea was the only thing that could work. They partnered up, chose pods and with remotes entered the passcodes for the room adjacent to them.
She recorded what was left of her voice. She heard her weakness, her fear as she gave their coordinates and prayed for a different outcome with the next vial. Possibly a variant of the vaccine that was actually the cure.
One more left, the one she feared the most.
She stared into the cages ahead of her as the system shut down for the night, the conservation of energy became necessary since the system realized that something alive was still inside, being fed, being kept alive. An atrocity, created by something in our atmosphere. While the rest of the word died.
Though everyone around her died. She lived.
Then Jeff woke up.
Desiree Roundtree was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY where she still lives with her husband and daughter. By day she crunches numbers, but anytime in between, she is writing words. She is a lover of hip-hop, acoustic guitar, and a well-timed curse word.