Disclaimer: Prototype is the property of Activision Blizzard.
Summary: She had come down with a bug. It wasn't major, certainly not the one making the news. She'd be fine, right?
She had come done with a bug.
Must've been the stomach flu; that passed between people like wildfire. She felt light headedness and an undulating discomfort, running from her throat down to her guts. Running a fever. Her phone rang. She got to her feet, ignoring the aching in her back. Her feet ached; walking the stairs of the Gardner building sucked. The cheapskate management had to get the elevator fixed, yesterday.
Stepping over to the counter, she picked up the vintage Nokia brick where it lay plugged into the wall. Checked the caller ID, "Bossman". She made sure to add a little extra strain to her voice as she answered it, not that she needed it. She sounded as shitty as she felt. "Look, Brad, I know I'm supposed to be on today, but I feel fucking terrible."
"You skip out early yesterday, and you don't even bother to call in today? We're, uh, down people as is." It had started yesterday, light headedness and the beginnings of a backache. Business was slow, not surprising given current events. Probably weren't any customers there. But the imperious fucking day manager had to get it off by lording over his food service peons.
"I'm really sick."
"Then why didn't you call in when you were supposed to start?"
"Doing what?" Wrong thing to say. You weren't supposed to be too busy. You could never be too busy for the diner. The diner was life, hope, and spiritual fulfillment. Or, at least that's what Brad seemed to think. "What's so important that you couldn't pick up the phone and..."
"Puking my guts out." That was a lie. Despite the nausea and chills, nothing had come up. Still, it felt like any minute now she was going to puke, or otherwise empty the contents of her digestive tract. Close enough to the truth. "Really think the diners would appreciate that with their meal?"
There was a pause on the other end. She coughed. Finally, Brad grumbled "Look, just call next time. That said, I don't think we'll be open tomorrow. Too many people taking off, and not enough customers."
Feeling slightly vindicated that she had called it in regards to the how business was going, she said "Okay. Bye, boss."
Brad's reply was just a perfunctory "Get well soon."
She clicked the END button with her thumb and set the phone back on the counter. She had debated taking off work when she woke up way too early with a sore throat and headache. The job sucked and she could afford to miss the day, but for some reason she just wanted to get out there and be with people, coworkers, customers, random people in between her apartment and work. A look in the bathroom mirror, with her skin pale and sweaty, disabused her of that notion.
If she showed up, she'd get chewed out for coming in sick when the Health Department was breathing down their necks and they had so many notes from last inspection. But, Health Inspectors be damned, if she stayed home, regardless of whether or not she called in, she'd be chewed out for not showing up and leaving a gap in the ranks.
So she decided to stay home. Gave her an opportunity to get some housework done. She picked up the phone again and glanced at the clock. It was nine. Wait, nine? She woke up some time after four, couldn't sleep at all past that as something was scratching around behind the walls; had to remember to complaint to management about rats. She was supposed to be at work at eight. Where did those four hours go? Wait... five. She got up, got dressed, saw she looked terrible, decided to stay home, called Brad... no, Brad called her.
She got up, got dressed, decided to stay home, and sat. Sat until Brad called. She glanced at the chair she had been sitting in. A magazine was lying on it the armrest. She stumbled back from the counter to the chair, on the "far side" of her cramped combined living room/kitchen/dining room. She felt light-headed and listless, and flopped on her chair, inadvertently dumping the magazine to the floor. She really did need to get to cleaning. Where to start?
She couldn't focus. She had a lot to do, actually, and couldn't decide what to start on. The skittering reached her ears again. She rapped on the wall behind her, hoping to at least startle whatever was behind it, but it kept on going steady. If she wasn't going to scare it off, she decided to at least drown out the noise. On the opposite side of the room, an old, second hand CRT TV sat atop bookshelf. Pirated the cable, everything came in fuzzy and weird, but it beat paying the ridiculous amount the building management charged. And, at least the sound came in okay. She fumbled around, trying to reach the remote for the television, and almost fumbled it.
She turned it on. News. A talking head, generic blonde woman, repeating the same thing that the talking heads had been repeating for the two days. Helicopter shot of Madison Square Garden, like showing the building above Penn Station would in any way clarify what happened in Penn Station. Archive footage of the actual Penn Station… mid-nineties, maybe? A twinge ran through her guts when the talking head mentioned "Bioterrorism".
Could it be? She was feeling ill. The unsettling in her stomach and headache, and backache, and everythingache. No. It couldn't be that, she assured herself. She was nowhere near Penn Station, and according to the news reports, people had been dropping like flies there; if she got whatever was released there, she wouldn't be sick. She'd be dead. She was fine. Stomach flu. Just stomach flu.
She wasn't doomed.
Fuck it. She sighed and forced herself to stand, itching her right wrist as she did. She was fine, just under the weather, that was all. Worrying herself over the news wasn't going to help. Hell, the thrust of the newscast was "please remain calm". She just had to get her mind off things, do some chores that'd been piling up. Laundry basket was full.
She had left it next to the door, because she wasn't feeling good when she cleaned it last night and didn't feel like folding and putting it in drawers. No… she meant to wash it last night, left it because she didn't feel like going down to the washers and dryers with the elevators out. She picked up a shirt and looked it over, her eyes unfocusing. Clean. Probably. She dropped it into the basket, then, back protesting all the way, and carried the whole thing to her bedroom.
She half-set, half-dumped the basket on her bed and got to work folding. Her hands shook, and it was hard to remember her way of doing things. It was frustrating, going over the same shirt five different times and ending up with a crumpled ball of cloth. She finally let out an exasperated "Fuck!" and quit when she got her thumb caught in a belt loop of a pair of jeans and ripped the denim.
Wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, she returned to the living room. She felt their headache when they decided to turn to their man on the street, Joe Anderson. Joe was doing what he always did; state the obvious and gesticulate towards what he was talking about. In this case, Joe was waving his arm at a troop of gunmen in drab camouflage. Apparently Marines were being deployed all over the Island, and more details would be forthcoming. Back to the studio. Graphics department had a field day; Manhattan and biohazard symbols.
Yep, that was about enough of that. She flipped the channel. Other news, other talking head, same story. Same stock footage. Ticker on the bottom of the screen mentioned the Knicks. Talking head discussing the need to report any unusual illness or sights to the authorities. She just had the stomach flu. Nothing major. No need to call it in.
The skittering at the walls grew louder.
The footage shifted to a shot of a man in a military dress uniform standing before a podium, American and New York State Flags on either side of him. No need to panic, quarantine only precautionary. The Marines had the situation well in hand, and would be turning control of the situation over the CDC. Your government would appreciate your cooperation, citizens. Q&A cut short after a blanket denial of reports of "monsters". Make sure to contact your doctor if you're feeling unwell. Fake smile, another fancy graphic.
While that was going on, she had begun to dust. And promptly began hacking and coughing when she cleared off the top of the bookshelf, she mainly used to pile up all the random crap she accumulated, like the TV. She ended up knocking over her collection of empty bottles, which she resolved to return for the deposit once she finally had enough to make it worth the trip. Picture of her and her parents went to the floor, causing her to wince at the crunching noise.
She picked it up, staring at the spiderweb of cracks running from her outward. She moved to set it back on the bookshelf and missed, dropping it to the floor again. Fuck. Frustration had passed, she was getting pissed off. She wasn't exactly graceful, but she was trashing her apartment like a rockstar on a bender, and all she was on was some Tylenol that hadn't worked.
A spasm hit every muscle in her abdomen at once and she groaned, feeling bile rise in her throat before inexplicably sinking back down. This news was starting to bug her. Same shit. She didn't need to be reminded of bioterror. She was fine. Just nausea, something intestinal, and some aches. Didn't need to see the same file photograph of the chief suspect and his sister, who was a person of interest.
Forgetting her dusting, she went to her chair and fumbled for the remote. Where'd she put it? Oh wait, she left it on the counter. Flipped the channel. Cartoons. Elmer wasn't dressed with the stupid hat… looked like it was in the burbs, not the woods. Elmer talking about making rabbit stew. Bug was going to make Elmer look like a dumbass, obviously. Foregone conclusion. Flipped the channel. Cooking program.
She wasn't hungry. Not particularly. But seeing Chef Whatsername and a cut of some type of meat made her forget the roiling chaos from her throat downwards. She hadn't eaten at all that day. Her back and head protesting all the way, she got up from the bed and drunkenly went to the kitchen while the Chef talked about the value of tenderizing.
She wanted some meat. Really, wanted meat. But it was all frozen aside from some capicola in the fridge. She was hungry now. So, sandwich and a side. She rummaged through the cupboard, eventually retrieving a box of macaroni and cheese. How much milk did she need? She blinked repeatedly, the instructions dancing before her eyes. She rubbed them, felt like she had been staring at a monitor for way too long.
Pulling her hands away, she saw the underside of her right forearm had a mottled pink rash on it, running from the wrist up halfway to the elbow. Might've been a bugbite or something.
She went to the sink, poured water in a pot, and set it on the stove. Dumped the noodles in. Retrieved a measuring cup, put her best estimate of how much milk and butter she needed in, and got to work making a sandwich. Got the capicola out, dug up some bread, paused for a while…
She was startled by a knock at the door. She rushed over, and pulled it open about a half-foot. One of her neighbors. Short latino guy. "Uh, hi… um…"
"Jim" he replied. Jim. That was his name. It wasn't like she hadn't been on the same floor of the building with him for months. Hard to remember three letters. Fuck her memory was shot.
She had a hard time reading his expression. Concern maybe? "Can I… can I, um… help you?"
"You smell something burning?" Jim asked, craning his neck to glance over her shoulder. She turned to see black smoke pouring from the pot on the stove.
Several half-articulate swears, a staggering, lurching dash, and the sizzling of tapwater hitting extremely hot metal later, the situation was resolved. She must've zoned out for a while, the water she had set to boil had gone completely and the noodles had burned in the pot. Now that it had cooled of, black curls of char floated lazily on the surface of stained water in the sink, where the noodles hadn't burned to the bottom.
Returning to the door, where whathisname… Jim waited, she sheepishly apologized. "Surprised I… the alarm didn't go off."
"Yeah" he replied, and in her eyes he seemed to be getting closer and farther the longer she looked at him. Still had some odd expression on his face. "Are you okay?"
She wiped sweat from her brow and answered. "Just a little under the weather. Must've dozed off while cooking. Sorry."
"No problem." He said, continuing to stare. "Maybe you, uh should see a doctor?"
"I'm fine. Trust me, it'd probably get worse if I went to a waiting room and picked something up while I was there." She was fine. Would be fine. She didn't know he was being diplomatic, and avoided discussing the pink, raised rash crawling up her arms to her neck and running down to her bare feet, or the bloodshot eyes As she unconsciously itched her face, she felt the need to change the subject. "When's uh… your wife… um…"
"Rosa, yeah. Uh, when's she due?"
That did the trick. Jimmy talked all about it, how it was going to be a boy but they were definitely not going to call him Jimmy Junior, or how she had three months to go and how he had a promotion lined up at work, so they could move into a bigger place before then. Normally she'd be bored to tears, but it got her mind off of her illness. Come to think of it, she was starting to get hungry again.
Jim left, after wishing her well and asking her to turn down the TV. She waited until he was down the hall before trying to turn it down. The scratching continued, but it was… murmuring, almost. She was just hearing things. The TV hadn't really done much to drown it out, and now that the cooking show was over, and it was back to local news. The ticker on the bottom read something indecipherable, and they somehow managed to get time in for the weatherman. Was going to be cool in the morning, back to News Ten at Ten. Wait… it couldn't be ten o'clock already.
She turned her head towards the window. It was dark outside. Wait, she woke up at ten, no Brad called her at ten… it was the other ten now? Or the same ten the next day? It was light out when she was making the food, right? Then Brad called and she had to get to work… no, that wasn't right. Not right at all. She wiped the sweat off her hands on her jeans, rubbed her eyes. They were tired. It was probably bedtime. That's why that guy asked her to turn the T.V. down. Way too late, though how he could sleep with that whispering was beyond her. Walls were paper thin, if she could hear it, so could he.
But she was still hungry. Hadn't eaten anything… actually… she looked at the counter. The bread was still in place, but the plastic bag for the cold cuts… Capicola, right? Or was it ham? Probably something from a pig. Whatever, the plastic bag was on the floor, torn up and empty. Maybe she at it all? Still… she was hungry. But her eyes watered and drooped. She eventually settled on a compromise; she'd get out something to cook a big meal later. She'd go to bed, then wake up and eat. That was the plan.
She got up and lurched to the fridge, scratching at her face all the way. Took a package of frozen ground beef from the freezer and tossed it in the sink, it bounced off the pot. She picked it up and set it on the counter, spilling some dirty water. Whatever she'd clean it up later.
Turned the tap on warm; she wanted the meat to thaw fast. She was tired. Quick nap, then food. When the sink was full, she went back to the freezer. Did she want beef? Nah. Chicken. Bag of frozen vegetables. Needed to let it thaw. No, not chicken. Hamburger. Let that thaw. No, she had some bacon. After agonizing for an unjustifiably long time, she placed the food in the sink and walked back to bed.
After first dumping the blanket off the bed, it was way too hot out, she flopped facedown on her bed and shut her eyes. The murmuring didn't stop, it got louder. How could anyone sleep like this. Her fingers and feet twitched restlessly, her joints ached whether she moved them or not, and she began coughing into her mattress. The murmurer just didn't want to shut up. Goddamn, all of her was itching, and she scratched and something in the walls scratched and murmured.
Eventually she drifted off, still fidgeting and wincing when the murmurs got loud. When she woke up, her mouth, nose, and throat burned and was lying facedown in a rancid puddle on the floor. Dimly aware she must've fallen out of bed and vomited in her sleep. She laid there for a few minutes, still resting on her side, before it struck her to stumble to her feet and head to the bathroom to clean herself off.
Had she flipped on the light, she would've noticed the deep red color of the vomit, and the little black flecks and chunks of odd meat inside it.
She turned the bathroom light on, and immediately swore and slammed her eyes shut. It was too damn bright. Her head was throbbing now, and the light was blinding. Had she managed to have kept her eyes open, she would've noticed the bloodshot irises and discoloration of her retinas from brown to a dull red. Instead, she fumbled for the switch until she found it.
Even with the light off, it was only tolerable to open one eye in a half-squint. The shape in the mirror blurred and danced in the darkness, protruding in places she didn't and bent to one side. Her entire world had a reddish cast to it for some reason she couldn't quite figure out.
Nothing to worry about, of course. She just had the stomach flu.
After peeling off clothes that clung to her, sopping wet with sweat and other things, she stepped inside the tub and turned the water on. It made things worse. The itching in her skin turned into a stabbing, roiling pain. She ran a hand across her collarbone, feeling a patchwork of tiny bumps. Putting slight pressure on one, it popped, leaking something not entirely liquid. She dug her nails in and scratched.
She had clawed deep red furrows into her torso at the collarbone, her belly, and her forearms. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Shoulder blades. Thighs. She scratched her head, clumps of hair coming off and clogging the drain. It hurt. Everything. But opening up brought relief. It's what's inside that counts.
She collapsed in the tub, exhausted. It didn't hurt anymore, once she finished scratching those itches. She sat, half submerged in a baptismal font of water, purple-red blood, ragged patches of epidermis torn loose, and a deep amber-colored matter, not that she noticed the colors. Her eyes still ached and she kept them shut. She burned with fever and was wracked with a cough, but she felt better. That murmuring was louder still, but it was so melodic. She wondered why that chorus had bothered her so much earlier. She just wanted to sit and listen.
For a moment. Then came the hunger.
As if a switched was flipped, the tiredness was forgotten. The chorus was forgotten. All that mattered was food. She slithered out of the tub and hobbled to the kitchenette. Had she been lucid, she have noted the wastage from leaving the freezer door open and its contents arrayed in the sink, on the counter, on the floor; none of that could be refrozen. But she was so hungry.
She tore packages and ate and ate. No time to cook, just needed food. Lots of meat. Went through two pounds of hamburger and four chicken breasts before even touching the vegetables. But she needed food. Ate all of the food, along with some plastic and Styrofoam, and three teeth that had been dislodged in her scavenging.
When she was done, she was tired once again. But… the bed wasn't a good place for her. No. The chorus let her know that. She needed to be somewhere nice and safe and dark and high.
She found herself climbing the stairs. Upwards and upwards, the chorus chanting words of encouragement to her. Keep going. She climbed up the stairs, stumbling into walls. Her vision wasn't what it used to be, but she did hear well. She had no clue what time it was, but she could hear snoring. She could hear small things skittering in the walls, not like the chorus, and they made her hungry. She heard a measured, repetitive keening in the distance far below, but couldn't remember their significance. There were so many things she couldn't remember.
Knew the way to the roof, sort of. She didn't remember how she knew. Some pain had returned, though she couldn't remember why every step she took hurt, or why several fingernails were missing (or that they were lying in the bathtub in a congealing pool of ichor).
There'd be time to figure that out when she was safe. She needed to get high to get safe.
She was finally in open air. She breathed deep, but the air was too thin. It was too bright, the light assaulted her eyes. Her eye. She couldn't open the other one, and a tentative hand run over it felt a misshapen mass of spongy material she couldn't pull away covering it. Did she have two? She didn't think so. Didn't think she even needed the one.
But… She needed something. She struggled, had to remember. Had to. The chorus reminded her. Somewhere nice, and safe, and dark. She stumbled around, blindly, faltered. Her face and forearms met the gravel, wounds reopening. Another set of sirens… above her? Something light landed on her back, and began stab into her. She shifted, and the thing on her back started wailing again, and the weight left her back with a rhythmic flapping. She needed somewhere nice, and safe, and dark.
She rose, her weakened legs threatening to give way all the while. She staggered some more, before finding something. Maybe it was the wooden, cylindrical shape. Possibly, the word "Rosenwach" stenciled in large print on the side, although the blocky white letters didn't register with her and she couldn't remember its significance if they did. This was it, her safe spot. Climb.
She found a means of ascent, and she climbed. Her gnarled hands and open wounds didn't stop her. Knowing safety was near, that weariness that weakness had left her. The keening, fluttering things continued to harass her, but they would have to stop soon, she'd be safe.
At the top, she fumbled. Something was blocking her. Top of the container? Whatever it was, she needed in. Open. She pounded on it, beat it until her hands were a bloody mess, hit it with her head until the skin on her forehead was raw and bleeding and the wood began to crack. She looped her fingers in the fissure and pulled. The skin and bones of her left hand gave way before the wood did, but she managed to rip apart some weathered and rotting wood. Made it.
She pried an opening just wide enough to fit her in, and forced herself down, slithered in through the crevice, tearing herself further on jagged and splintered would, and landing with a splash. It was dark and safe and wet. Breathe. She didn't even feel the tepid water filling her lungs or soaking into her wounds as she sank to the bottom of the tank.
She had stopped coughing. The itching and burning had gone away.
She was safe.
And as the virus continued to ravage her mind and body, she was in the dark
Author's Note: This fic was inspired in part by the books The Hot Zone and Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston. Preston was very effective at going to lengths to discuss what infectees of Marburg, Ebola, Smallpox, and Anthrax would suffer. I've also been reading a lot of horror stuff, including stories involving the Cthulhu Mythos; the title of the chapter is a reference to Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies, a short story anthology written by Dennis Detwiller, head writer for the first game.
Also, I'd like to thank Ferric for reading through this and providing suggestions on how to express a progression and giving some extra symptoms.