The Infection

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Max and Casey

Scientists had been studying this ever since Jacob Sax, since Abigail Gonzalez had been written off as nothing but a statistical error or perhaps the inevitable madness of a wild woman. What they found infuriated the environmental activists around the world when the governments started to sanction the introduction of potent pesticides into fields, marshes, and water supplies. There were accusations of corporate domination, of eco-terrorism, of government conspiracies. Protests and riots started up despite scientific papers trying to assuage the crowds by pointing at the mosquitoes.

This diseases is being carried by mosquitoes! We need to eliminate as many of them as quickly as we can!

Riots, public unrest, and large crowds of people gathered together in one place for a common cause, just meant that the disease would spread faster.

Don’t worry, the scientists also told the public. From human to human, the only way to contract the disease is the transfer of saliva into unprotected body tissue and broken skin. They advised people to stop sharing food and drinks, to press all kisses against unbroken patches of skin instead, and to wear gloves regularly and wash your hands frequently.

Half the population was convinced it was the end of the world or the Spanish Influenza reborn, and the other half scoffed at the hype and continued on their normal lives.

If you do encounter the ill, the government was blare onto television sets like tornado warnings, run in the opposite direction and find a member of your local police force! Quarantine zones will be set up outside major cities to allow family members and loved ones a place to rest until the doctors can come up with a cure.

The ill are slow and unable to form complex thought, and thus is no real danger to a healthy citizen unless they are too close. A closed door will effectively stop one in your house, and their lack of running and climbing abilities mean that the easiest way from the infected is just that. Don’t worry! Signs of infection include: discoloration of skin, inability to answer questions, burst blood vessels in eyes, rage, the gnashing of teeth, and stiffness of movement.

“That sounds like Aunt Andy,” came the comment right behind my shoulder, and I jerked away hard, hitting my elbow painfully against my desk. The resulting flare of pain made my fingers twitch even as I used my other arm to shove away my laughing brother.

“You ass!” I shouted as he dodged, cackling. I shifted in my seat to kick at him as well, but he was far too adept at predicting my movements. “I could have killed you!”

“With what? Your bony fingers or your sharp elbows?”

I lifted up my pen threateningly and clicked it twice in his direction.

Casey only laughed, but raised his arms in a classical sign of surrender. “C’mon, Max. Chill. I was just coming to check on you. Liv made some snacks, and she said she saved a portion for you after you finish your homework.”

“That’s what I was working on, you jackass.” I turned back around in my chair and rubbed at my eyes for a moment to clear the words in front of me. I squinted and frowned, wondering for the nth time whether I needed glasses or not.

“You’re missing a few facts.” He pointed out, slowly making his way over again. “The zombies can totally answer questions. They know how to open doors and locks, and they’re not slow at all.”

“They’re also not zombies,” I told him with a shove at his hovering face. “They don’t die, they just get taken over. Besides, I’m doing a report on the early days of infection, not now.”

“If only it stayed like that, huh?” He mused, unmindful of my manhandling.

It made me wince. Three years following the infection, and the government’s initial analysis had proven so wrong. With every bite and transfer, the disease grew and evolved. By the end of the first year, the infected learned how to run and climb and open doors. By the end of the second year, they started tricking people with simple words and responses, luring them into a false sense of security before attacking.

One famous case had been Alyssa McAllen, four years old, who had been infected and taken to a research facility by her father in hopes that through studying her, a cure could be found. The scientists had been so amazed when Alyssa continued crying out for her father, holding her arms out in a sign to be picked up, that they perhaps thought she was the rare person with some kind of immunity to this virus. That maybe she only half-turned, but didn’t lose her mind after all.

That theory was dispelled by the person who went in to give her food, only to have her run straight at him like a mad thing and sink her sharp little teeth into his neck, biting through even the thick hazmat suit.

“...Yeah.” I agreed sullenly.

Three years after the infection, and all communities were gated things. With the virus’s greater intelligence, attacks became harder to fend off. But when not confronted with potential bite victims, it seemed that the infected were passive and even docile. Cameras had picked up that without fauna life around them, infected sometimes just stood still or sat down for days at a time, and some areas had infected people who would literally starve themselves to death from inactivity.

But somehow, they always knew when something alive was in their proximity and would wake up with a ferocious hunger to spread the disease.

The disease. We didn’t even have a name for it anymore. It was the disease. Everything else had a name— “Oh, it’s just the cold.” or “Oh, it’s just a sinus infection.”

Three years after the initial spread, and the virus didn’t take days to incubate anymore. Now, it was an hour before someone turned. Two at best.

“Stop rubbing your eyes like that.” My brother complained, catching my wrist. “You’ll make yourself blind.”

“Don’t you have better things to do with your time than annoy me?”

He reached down and pinched my cheeks, hard, just like mom used to do when I said something cute. “Don’t be like that! What else should I be doing other than bugging my favourite sister?”

“Only sister.” I groused out around his hands, and pulled away. Dad had died in a car accident before the infection even started, and mom went missing last year after a failed supply run. Casey had been the one to carry me on his back in the middle of the night when our last settlement was attacked, running through the woods after I hurt my ankle badly in the attack, all the way up to Cassandra Nguyen's settlement… old Aunt Andy to everyone living here.

She didn’t do the blood tests that everyone required, but instead set aside quarantine spaces for anyone entering her settlement. Anyone who left and came back would be subjected to a five hour quarantine, and if no symptoms appeared in the duration, then they were allowed to come back in.

For me, I was quarantined for a week when we first arrived, due to the severe rash around my hurt ankle. My brother Casey tried to argue it off as passing stinging nettles, or poison ivy, but none of the adults would budge on their observation. After a week, they finally decided that I wasn’t actually infected, although my ankle seemed to be permanently discoloured. That would be the scar I carry for the rest of my life of that night.

“You can’t be too careful,” old Aunt Andy would mutter in her aged and dry voice from time to time. “The infected keep getting more and more clever each year.” And then she’d say a phrase in Vietnamese that no one else would understand.

Everyone in the settlement other than Aunt Andy had moved here after the infected started evolving, and no one knew what she had been like before the spread.

“Don’t take too long.” Casey told me, and messed up my hair. “Or I’ll eat your snacks, too!”

“If you’d let me write,” I told him, “then I might eventually finish some time in the next year.”

He just chuckled and gave me one more pat on the head before leaving the room.
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