I loved my little sister, but she could be such a giant pain in my ass. The concept was simple enough: if you are going to borrow something, please ask first and then bring it back, preferable in the same condition as it was when you got your grubby little mitts on it. Especially if that something is my brand new iPad that has several apps on it that I need for my three-hour biochem lab this afternoon.
But no, she borrowed it without even telling me, then left it at her friend’s dorm room after their study group last night. And since that girl lives all the way on the other side of campus, I was going to have to take an earlier bus and schlep all the way over there to get it back. I could drive there, but I didn’t want to lose my parking spot.
I yawned and scrubbed my eyes. Okay, so it wasn’t a big deal. I was just grouchy because I’d been up late studying. That and there’d been an incident with one of our housemates last night.
I glanced at the closed door to Gwen’s room as I shuffled my way to the bathroom. The whiteboard on Gwen’s door still had the last messages that were left there by our various house mates, her little glitter-covered foam stars were still stuck on the now crooked frame. As I reached out and straightened it, my memory flashed back to last night, when the containment officer had slammed Gwen against the door in an attempt to subdue her so they could get the restraints on.
I pulled my hand quickly away and turned my back on her door. There wasn’t any point in straightening it anyway; a hazmat crew was going to come in this afternoon to remove all of her belongings and sanitize the space.
I pushed open the door to the bathroom and cried out in surprise as a tiny white ball of fluff bolted out, barking madly. “Damn it, Barney! You scared the crap out of me!”
The little Schnoodle (a weird cross between a schnauzer and a poodle) jumped up and snipped at my arm. I backed away quickly, anxious to keep all of my extremities as far as possible from those sharp little teeth. Barney was a yapper, but not a biter, which is the only reason my sister had been given permission to keep him this long.
I realized that he must have been locked in the bathroom last night while the containment officers were taking Gwen away, and we all must have forgotten to let him out after they left in their big armored van. I stared at Barney as he continued to bark and growl at me, and wondered if his little brain had finally snapped. The little dog, usually playful and sweet, was beginning to salivate as he growled, and I watched as the ropy strands of his saliva turned to thick black goo as it dripped to the floor.
“Oh shit.” I began to step backwards, very, very slowly. There was no way I was turning my back on the little monster and I couldn’t risk any sudden movements. And the door to the bathroom opened inwards, so there was no way to lock him inside again.
Gwen’s room was only a few steps away; if I could lock him in there, it would keep him away from the other girls until I could call the containment officers. I continued retreating up the hallway, stepping so gently, so quietly as the mad little dog snarled and matched me step for step, trailing his viscous black saliva as his nails clicked on the hardwood floor.
Just a little further—that’s right, follow me, Barney…
The door immediately to my left swung open and Lana blinked sleepily at my stiff posture, not even noticing Barney in his defensive crouch. “What are you doing, Rhys?” she yawned.
Barney erupted into savage barks at her voice and I threw up my hands to get his attention back on me. But that little movement was too much for his damaged brain, and he leapt at us, his goo-blackened teeth bared. I shoved Lana back into her open doorway and Barney latched onto my left wrist.
There was no time for delicacy or mercy – I slammed his little skull hard into the wall. But he wouldn’t let go, so I slammed him into the hardwood floor, again and again until he finally went limp. I sagged to the floor and stared at his little broken body, then looked at the black sludge covering my wrist.
Shaking, from both adrenaline and fear, I examined the swollen but unbroken skin on the top of my wrist. Barney had gotten a good hold, but maybe his teeth were too small to do any actual damage. I turned my wrist over to check the underside. There was one puncture, with just the tiniest bit of blood oozing from the small hole.
I slumped back against the wall, staring at my wrist.
Lana crawled towards me on her hands and knees, looking fearfully at Barney as though he could jump up and lunge again at any moment. And she was probably right to do so. We both stared at the small, life-altering wound on my wrist.
“It’s really small, Rhys. Maybe it will be okay?”
It was sweet of her to think so, but we both knew the truth. Right now, the phage was actively attacking my blood cells and distributing the virus throughout my body. The decades of life I thought I’d had ahead of me had just been reduced to maybe a year, if I was lucky. Mere months if I wasn’t.
I looked at the little dog that had just ended my life and flinched when he twitched. The little bastard moaned and rolled over, shaking his slightly misshapen head as he stumbled to his feet. Lana backed away into her room as I stared at the cute little furry bastard that my sister hadn’t been able to bear parting with when he’d been bitten by an infected squirrel six months ago.
The most incredible burning sensation filled my body, coursing like red-hot lightning through my veins. This wasn’t anger; anger was what happened when some idiot cuts you off in traffic or the barista somehow manages to get your coffee order wrong for the third day in a row. That pale feeling had nothing on this. This was rage; pure, unadulterated, scalding rage that had me darting forward and wrapping both hands around the dog’s little neck, savagely breaking it before he could destroy anyone else’s life.
I wanted to blame my feelings on the phage, but it was far too soon for my mind to have snapped. No, this feeling was all me, all for revenge against the stupid dog that had just killed me.
The door to my sister’s room opened and she gasped as she saw the limp body dangling from my hands. “Rhys, what happened to Barney?” She exclaimed as she darted forward to grab him from me.
I pulled away from her, keeping myself and the dog out of her reach. “Get back,” I snapped at her as I clumsily staggered to my feet and down the hall to Gwen’s room. I opened the door, tossed the dog inside and slammed it closed. Hazmat could deal with him too. I looked dimly at the trail of black slime on the floor. Well, we’d have to do something about that before it was tracked all over the house.
Becs grabbed my shoulder and I jerked away from her. “Don’t touch me,” I snarled at her. “Your stupid dog bit me.” I showed her my black ooze coated wrist and she took a hasty step back.
Her pale eyes were wide with fear. “Did he break the skin?”
I looked away and nodded. I shouldn’t have said it like that; my only excuse was that the rage was still possessing me. In a more rational state of mind I would have been able to realize that those harsh words would only make her blame herself even more: Barney was her dog and she refused to get rid of him even though she knew how dangerous it was to keep him. And now I was going to pay the price for it. The rage began to dissipate into desolation, but I couldn’t focus my mind enough to come up with any words right now that could possibly take away the pain and guilt she must be feeling.
I saw her sag back against the wall, heard her soft sobs, but couldn’t bring myself to look at her. It wasn’t fair that this happened to me, and it wasn’t fair that now she was going to be all alone. Becs was only a little over a year younger than me, but since we’d drawn the short stick in the parental department, I was more of a mother to her than our real one ever was. And since I was used to being the one in charge of everything, I wasn’t expecting her to brush her tears away and take charge of the situation.
“Get dressed. We’re going to the clinic. Right now.”
“What’s the point?” I muttered. My viable lifespan was now pouring away like sand from a broken hour glass. My hopes and dreams of getting my degree and someday working on finding the cure for the phage were over.“Rhys, we’ve got to do something. I can’t just sit here and watch you die. You know Dr. Ootori has been working on an immune system booster that is supposed to help if it is administered immediately after infection. We’ve got to go and see if he will give it to you.”