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Ghost Town

By Gabrielle Renae All Rights Reserved ©

Horror / Scifi

The Sickness

Aislinn stared straight ahead not saying a word, and tried to ignore the strange man sitting in the passenger seat. Aside from the coughing he was silent as well and she thought for a moment that maybe he was falling asleep. A quick glance over at him confirmed her suspicions, and she couldn't help but smile a bit behind her mask at the way his eyes were drifting shut, his head falling forward onto his chest. It reminded her a bit of when her dad would fall asleep watching the news, a cup of coffee still clutched in his hand. With a sigh, she returned her gaze to the road, feeling rather homesick.

It wasn't until over an hour later that the man began to wake up, his eyes blinking open slowly. Aislinn looked over at him, slightly concerned by his now raspy breathing. He had sounded bad before, but she assumed that some of that had to do with having walked for miles before getting a ride from her, and she figured he would be fine after resting for a while. But instead it had only gotten worse. She stared at him out of the corner of her eye, wondering if maybe he needed medical attention. She hadn't learned much in short time at med school, but she knew the basics, maybe she could help him?

That was when she noticed the sloppy stitching job on the strap of his gas mask. Her heart clenched in her chest and she broke out in a cold sweat. No, he couldn't be infected, he was fine. It was just some ordinary illness, nothing abnormal about it. There was no reason to panic. She looked over at him again, turning her full attention to him this time. The man's eyes were still shut, but now that she was looking for it, Aislinn noticed just how sick the man looked. Not only was he already falling asleep again, but his skin was a pasty white, his lips nearly the same shade. The bags under his eyes looked as though they'd been painted on they were so dark. All of this could have been ignored however, passed off as just being signs of the flu, if not for his eyes. In between slow blinks, Aislinn could make out the dull gray that his eyes had become. She guessed that if she were to reach over and touch him, his body would be cold.

The infection has three stages, she remembers learning. At first, it seems a lot like the flu, it’s not very pleasant, but still manageable. The second stage is worse, it becomes difficult to breathe and your body becomes stiff and cold,  you are constantly exhausted and your vision becomes blurry. By the third stage, the infected have most likely become demented, and somewhat berserk. They seem less tired, but their bodies are still rather stiff, their eyes are a dull gray color.Trying to talk to someone in this condition is pointless, and depending on how far gone they are, dangerous. They’re a lot like zombies, however they have no taste for flesh, at least not most of them, just violence.

Unsure of what to do, Aislinn began to panic. She knew she had to kill him of course, he was infected and there was no way to cure him of that. But the infection hadn’t spread to his mind yet, meaning some part of him was still human in there. She’d never killed anyone who wasn’t already completely demented. Maybe she could take him outside, let him take off his gas mask and breathe some fresh air, maybe say some last words before she--

The man’s head shot up, his eyes which had previously been drooping closed again were opened impossibly wide and staring directly at Aislinn. It was as though he’d read her mind, which she knew was impossible, yet the look he was giving her was like he knew. All of a sudden he reached across and grabbed the wheel, swerving it to the left. The van swerved sharply, driving off of the road and into the nearest building, which for the few seconds Aislinn had to see it before they crashed, appeared to have been be store of some sort. As soon as the van crashed, Aislinn felt a sharp pain in her head and chest where the seat belt crushed against her body, before she blacked out.

When Aislinn woke up, she could already see the beginnings of what appeared to be sunrise. Had she really been unconscious for that long? It had barely been midnight when they crashed, right? Slowly, she began to lift her head from where it had been lying on the steering wheel. Sharp pains shot through her head and neck, and she gently prodded her forehead, expecting to find blood. Though most of it was dried already, some still dripped from her fingers when she pulled her hand away. With a groan, Aislinn sat back in her seat, her body stiff and aching.

After a few moments of trying to regain her senses, Aislinn remembered exactly what had happened. She glanced over at the man whose head was smashed into the dashboard in front of him. His dead, grey eyes were still wide open and staring at nothing. The rest of his face almost entirely covered in blood, at least, most of it was blood. There was some slick black fluid dripping down his chin and smeared across his forehead that didn’t resemble anything Aislinn had ever seen, but she assumed it was due to the infection. Whatever it was, it smelled far worse than just blood, and it occurred to her briefly that it probably wasn’t a good that she could smell it through her mask.

She had to bury the body, or burn it, something to get rid of it. Couldn’t just leave it sitting in the passenger seat. She’d have to clean up the blood too, it wasn’t healthy to leave it smeared all over the van where she was exposed to it, not to mention disgusting. She was sure she had some unopened cleaning supplies somewhere. Maybe some old seat covers that her dad had never used?

Figuring she’d put it off long enough, Aislinn reluctantly got out, stepping carefully around the broken glass on the ground. She couldn’t tell if the majority of the glass was from the shattered windshield or the window of the building they’d crashed into, but it was everywhere. And while her boots would most likely protect her feet for a while, a big enough piece could easily pierce through them, and the last thing she needed right now was glass stuck in her foot.

Despite her mask, when she pulled open the passenger side door the smell was even stronger than it had been before. Hesitantly, Aislinn grabbed the man under his arms and pulled him out and dropped him to the ground. She wasn’t normally squeamish, but this entire situation had her feeling disturbed. How close had he come to killing her? To infecting her? She had been careless, letting him in and trusting him for no other reason than that she had felt sympathy for him. She had learned a long time ago that you couldn’t feel sympathy for anyone without possible consequences,  but yet here she was.

It didn’t take long to dig a shallow grave just half a mile off of the road, and as she dug, it occurred to her that she had never learned the man’s name. Had she not asked? Or had he simply refused to tell her? Aislinn got a sick feeling in her stomach when she couldn’t remember. She knew there was no reason to be feeling guilty, there was nothing she could have done for him, he was already too far gone by the time he had found her. For all she knew, he may not even have remembered his name. But as she unceremoniously dumped his body in the hole, bending his knees slightly so that he fit, she still felt responsible.

After she finished burying the man, she stood over his unmarked grave for a moment considering what to should do next, before walking back to the van. She had to clean it, wipe away the blood and clear out the broken glass. After a bit of searching, Aislinn managed to find several small towels, half a bottle of bleach, and a pair of old gloves. She replaced her nicer gloves with the older, more worn ones so as not to get them any bloodier than they already were. She started on the passenger side, and worked her way through the entire van. Although he’d never gone farther back than the passenger seat, she felt the need to wipe down everything else anyways.

It took nearly an hour before she felt satisfied that she was finished, her eyes burned, her fingers ached, and she guessed that the bleach could be smelled a mile away. She pulled the gloves from her hands and added them to the pile of grimy towels, before lighting them on fire. It certainly didn’t help the smell, but what else was she suppose to do with them? She had no way to wash them and even if she did, it probably wouldn’t cleanse the infection from the blood soaked fabric.

Feeling rather drained, Aislinn leaned back against the side of the van, watching the flames with a heavy heart. How did she get here? She’d had a life at one point, a family that loved her, she’d enjoyed school for the most part, and was looking forward to graduating. She’d had quite a few friends, most of which she’d never been all that close to, but had enjoyed their company all the same.. She’d had problems too of course, who didn’t? But overall her life was good. When the infection had spread through their small suburban neighborhood nobody had been expecting it, and nobody was prepared. She remembered it so vividly, how all it took was just a few sick people to cause panic to spread like wildfire, and how the few police officers left tried in vain to evacuate the remaining healthy residents. However nobody had wanted to leave their homes, preferring to barricade themselves indoors for as long as possible.

Aislinn knew that there were still plenty of places where people lived relatively normal lives. Small towns where people had less contact with each other last the longest, however they don’t have any good places to quarantine the infected and so eventually, it will spread. And even if it doesn’t, people will panic and flee, leaving the town abandoned. She’d seen it happen before, a few months ago in a town she’d stopped by to restock on supplies. She had only been there for a few days before half of the town had left after hearing about a young girl showing signs of infection. Large cities were also faring well, despite the amount of people living so close together, they tended to have better hospitals and more efficient methods of quarantining the infected. Aislinn had only ever been through one city and she’d hated it. While most of the people she noticed seemed perfectly content with the amount of people crammed into such tight spaces, she was anxious and fidgety, constantly holding her mask tighter to her face. This of course didn’t last long, and as soon as she had fueled up her van, she had left. She’d never understand how people could simply go about their daily lives in a place like that, with such a high risk.

After the smell began to be too much, she pulled herself up and made her way around to the driver's side of the car, still feeling rather unsteady on her feet. It wasn’t until she had her hands on the wheel that she realized the chances of the van actually working after a crash like that were very slim. And sure enough, it was pretty clear after a few minutes of trying to start the engine that it just wasn’t gonna happen. With a groan she grabbed her bag and began preparing for what she assumed was going to be a rather long walk to civilization.

The road they had been on had been long and they’d been driving for miles before they crashed, but she could see what looked to be a small town up ahead. Unfortunately, as she got closer it became obvious that while the town itself looked perfectly normal, there was nobody living here. Buildings lined the roads, but most of them looked completely wrecked inside.

As she walked down the desolate road, Aislinn let her mind wander back to a much happier time, when the streets would have been filled with cars and the buildings with neon signs in their windows, inviting people to come in. With a sigh, she shook the thoughts from her mind and picked up her pace. Despite knowing there was nobody around, she couldn’t help but feel as though she was being watched. It occurred to her that it could be miles before she found someplace that wasn’t entirely deserted, she was pretty far out. Pausing a moment to survey her surroundings she decided she’d just have to try and fix it herself. Surely, she thought, there must be a hardware store or a mechanic shop nearby. Not that she’d have any idea what to do once she found one, she knew next to nothing about cars or mechanics in general, but she assumed that this was a place to start. If it came down to it, she could go back to her van and collect the rest of her thing, stock up on supplies and continue on foot as she’d originally planned.

It wasn’t long before she found what she had been looking for, a small building that appeared to have been some kind of hardware store, the garage attached to the back of the building gave her reason to assume they’d have what she was looking for. The doors weren’t locked, however the place was a mess inside. Shelves knocked over, everything from tools to gasoline covered the floor. Thankfully the smell wasn’t too bad, at least not through her gasmask. Not wanting to waste anymore time, Aislinn left her bag near the front door and began to dig through the wreckage. The majority of the mess she had no use for, but some of it looked promising.

Nearly an hour had passed and she had gotten through most of the store without finding anything truly useful when she noticed something outside that caught her attention. Standing across the road from the hardware store was what appeared to be a man, dressed in what looked to be a military uniform of some kind. He was standing with his back straight, arms to his sides, and his head facing directly forwards. Aislinn cautiously watched him for at least a few minutes from inside the building, and in that time, he didn’t appear to move at all. It was then that she realized that it may not even be a man at all, but an android. She knew about as much about androids as she did about cars, and so she wasn’t entirely sure what she should do. Would it attack her if she went outside? Or could it maybe be of some use? However the question that was really bugging her was where the hell had it come from? Obviously she couldn’t just stay sitting here, not that she had anywhere else to go exactly, but she would have to leave eventually. Deciding that there was nothing for her here, Aislinn would just have to exit through the back and find another way back to the van.

Over the last couple years she’d gotten incredibly good at sneaking, both in life-threatening situations and not-so-life-threatening ones. Avoiding creaky floorboards was one thing though, but this was different. The back door lead to the garage she’s noticed before, and to her horror the whole space was completely cluttered. The ground was littered with nails and screws and bolts, several toolboxes lay empty with their contents spilled across the floor. Not to mention the scrap metal leaning precariously against the walls just waiting to be knocked over with the slightest touch. Despite the danger she might be in Aislinn felt a twinge of annoyance. Why couldn’t she catch a break? Slowly she began to tip-toe through the mess, narrowly avoiding stepping on several nails.

She had almost made it through when she noticed that she could see the android, still standing across the street unmoving. It was only for a few seconds, but while she had been distracted she hadn’t been paying close enough attention to where she was stepping. The wrench her foot landed on didn’t hurt exactly, but it was enough to knock her off balance. Quickly she threw her hand out to catch herself, but unfortunately whatever it was wasn’t enough to hold her weight and both Aislinn and the scrap metal she’d tried to hold onto toppled to the floor with a loud crash. The pain in her side was nothing compared to the fear she felt when she looked up and saw the android marching quickly towards her. Franticly she felt around her for something to defend herself with, but she knew that there was no way she’d be able to fight it off even if she had something to defend herself with.

Running out of options, Aislinn simply decided to play dead. She knew the chances of this working weren’t very strong but it was all she had left at this point. Within seconds the android was standing over her, and damn was it terrifying. From across the street all she’d been able to distinguish was the military style clothing it wore, but now that it stood less than a foot away, she realized it wasn’t an android at all, but a robot. Apart from it’s shape, there was nothing human about it. The head was a large metal sphere, dented in some places. Attached to it’s head was what appeared to be a camera lens that was, at the moment, focused directly on her. It’s body was bulky, and as she’d noticed before, dressed in a military uniform of some kind, with several weapons on it’s belt. The uniform covered everything from it’s neck to it’s feet but she guessed that it’s body was made of the same rusted, dented metal that it’s head was made from.

“You are beyond the borders.” It spoke, it’s voice low and monotone. The fact that the voice wasn’t all that robotic made Aislinn uneasy. For a moment she simply stared at it, not registering what it had said until it repeated itself, in a slightly louder yet still monotonous voice. “You are beyond the borders, please state your purpose.”

“Borders?” Aislinn asked in a shaky, quiet voice. As far as she knew, she hadn’t crossed any borders. What border would she have crossed? Her mind was racing, trying to figure out where exactly she was. What state was she even in now?

“Please state your purpose or return to border.” It demanded, still staring down at where Aislinn sat huddled on the floor. She noticed that it hadn’t pulled any of it’s weapons, maybe she should stand up? At least then if it did try to attack, she could run.

“I’m lost,” She stated, trying to speak calmly. “I was in an accident, my car--” her voice cracked, but she took a deep breath and was prepared to continue, before the robot interrupted her.

“If you do not return to the borders force will be necessary.”

“My v-van, it’s b-broken down.” She stammered, trying desperately explain. This thing may be able to understand her, it may be able to help if she could just explain. “I’ll be leaving as soon as I ca--” Suddenly the robot pulled something from it’s belt-- it looked to be a syringe of some kind-- and Aislinn pulled herself to her feet as quickly as possible, staggering backwards into the wall. Given that the robot was both faster and stronger than she was, it didn’t take long before she was caught tightly in it’s arms with the syringe jabbed painfully in the back of her neck. She tried to struggle of course, but in a matter of seconds her body was numb, she couldn’t think clearly and  her vision was beginning to blur. The only thing she remembered after that was being tossed over it’s shoulder and carried from the garage before everything went dark.

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1. The Sickness
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