Chapter One: Nikolai
I remember it like it was yesterday, and not four years ago. The virus came from nowhere but seemed to be everywhere. It came on so fast that scientists never stood a chance to figure out what it was, let alone how to fight against it. I was considered one of the lucky ones. None of the virus ever entered my system, the scientists said that I was one of a few that were immune to it. The others, the ones that ended up infected by the virus, they were left in horrible conditions. There were two forms of infection, which was another thing that the scientists and virologists were never able to figure out. The first form was like the Ebola virus. It caused intense bleeding. Though anyone who got infected this way seemed to bleed enough from their nose, ears, mouth, and eyes to run them dry, it was the internal bleeding that took them out. No one infected this way lasted longer than a week. I might have been lucky to be immune to the virus, I was not lucky enough to be able to save my sister. I watched in horror as she bled out in front of me, nothing that I could do. Sure, I am college educated, but I am not a doctor. I barely knew what to do for colds and the flu. She was sick for five days, each day getting worse and worse, until one morning I woke up and she was gone. While I knew I would miss her, I was glad that she had finally given up the fight. She was in pain, that much I could tell, and no amount of pain medication seemed to help. At least in death she would find peace.
As bad as that might sound, the second form of infection, I think, is even worse. The second form never made it past the brain, which is where both infections began at. The second form robbed you of the person that you were. Robbed you of your humanity and your ability to feel anything. For some reason, this second form ate away at the memory and emotion portion of the brain. Everything that made you human was completely wiped away, and you were left void less. That was not all the virus did though, as it was eating away at your humanity, it set up roots in the amygdala, taking away the individual’s ability to control their anger. I have only ever encountered one of these individuals since the virus boomed four years earlier, and it was the single scariest thing I have ever encountered. Not because I knew that they could kill me, and likely would, but because of the void look in their eyes. There was nothing behind the color anymore. Blue spheres of blankness and anger was all that had survived the virus. The reason I think this form is worse than bleeding to death from the inside out, is because death will come for them. It might be painful, and it might be the most horrific thing you have ever had to witness as a loved one, but death would still come for them. There was no death for the void less, the ones that we now refer to as Virials. Just endless days of anger and hunger. The only thing that separates the virials from zombies, is that virials are still very much alive. They have a heartbeat, and most of their brain is still alive. Zombies are just dead beings, and they are not real.
It was two days earlier that I received a letter from a friend of mine that I had not seen since before the virus outbreak. I had assumed that she was likely dead, much like the rest of the country, at least until I received a letter. A man I had never met before dropped it off at the remains of a building that about twelve other people shared. How this man knew how to find me, or why my friend was trying to get a hold of me, I have no clue. I debated about whether I should read the letter. I knew that it could not be good news. Then again, in the state of our country, there was never any good news. So, I had shrugged and opened the letter. The contents inside shocked me more than anything. It had not given much in the way of details, just stating that she needed help… more specifically, my help. How could I help? I am not a warrior type of guy. Before the virus hit, I was an accountant. I am slender in size, and meek. I tend to stay to myself; a loner is what I had been called in the past. How was I going to help her? She graduated medical school when she was only sixteen. Cassandra Walker was literally the smartest person I knew, if anyone could get her out of trouble… it would be herself.
Even still, I found myself clawing away at the darkened road before me. Walking slowly, watching the wooded areas off the side of the road, fearful that a virial could appear at any moment. I knew that I was not the kind of guy that could survive an attack from a virial, at least not without weapons to help me. Which was why I had raided the weapon cache at the abandoned building that I resided at. I tried to only take what I felt was necessary to get me from point A to point B, without dying along the way. I didn’t want to leave the others without a way to protect themselves. If they were to be mad about anything, it would be the fact that I hadn’t asked first. All the weapons had been accumulated over the past couple of years. Stuff that had been found lying around … or lying near someone that had been unable to protect themselves. If the virials didn’t get you, then the winter’s around this area would, especially if you didn’t have adequate shelter from the sub-freezing temperatures.
Grabbing tight on the swath of cloth around my neck, ensuring that the greatest of my arsenal of weapons is secure. An automatic rifle of some sort, likely an AK or AR, but my knowledge of weapons is little to none. I also have a shoulder holster that holds two nine-millimeter pistols in it, a belt that houses extra magazines for the pistols, and one extra cartridge for the automatic rifle, on one side, and a bowing hunting knife housed on the opposite side. I also have one extra knife fastened to my lower left leg. Whether or not the arsenal of weapons that I carried with me would be enough to get me from my current location, which if the road sign I had just passed was correct is somewhere just outside of Indianapolis, to Cassandra’s location, which if the information on her letter is correct, is a cabin in the woods outside of Muncie, Indiana. On a low traffic day, driving the interstate, it would take about an hour or so to travel from Indianapolis to Muncie. I, however, am traveling by foot, so I should arrive in Muncie within the next couple of days. That is of course if I don’t stop to rest but a couple of hours every ten to twelve hours. Though, I am almost certain I will not be able to keep up that kind of a pace for long. Even if I were, I don’t feel like I would be any help to Cassandra when I arrived. No, I would be dead weight on my feet, and whatever … or whoever she needs help with would likely end up killing us both.
I know that I should be driving, and being truthful, I was. I stole one of the old Ford trucks that had been left for the use of anyone that lived in that abandoned building, and while I said I had a college education, and am a smart individual… I do not have those types of smarts. So, I started the truck up and left the compound, as we referred to it. It was about three miles back that the truck started to smoke, jut back and forth before giving a final wheeze of smoke. I have no idea what was wrong with it, but the hot and cold meter on the dashboard was all the way on the hot side. My guess would be that it overheated, but what would have caused that is beyond me.
I’m shivering in my thin, down jacket, the only form of warm clothing that I currently own, and the wind is picking up outside of the bustle and warmth of the city lights. The trees off in the distance on both side of the road are becoming denser the further I walk. I am angry with myself for not knowing more about the mechanics of a vehicle, because at least I could be warm in the heated truck, if only the damn thing would start.
The further away from the city I get, the darker it seems to be. The crescent shape of the moon, more prominent away from the city lights, seem to create odds shadows in the darkness. I know that I should find shelter somewhere, anywhere really. If it has a door that locks, it is safer than walking out in the darkness alone. That’s when the virials come out to hunt. From what the remainder of us survivors can gather is that there is something within the virus that causes the virials to wither and die if they encounter sunlight. I have never witnessed a single virial out in the daylight, which is why that is the safest time to travel. The darkness though, it hides them in the shadows, and you can’t necessarily see them coming. At least not until it is too late.
That said, I see a shadow in the roadway up ahead, and while virials typically travel in packs, I have heard of lone wolf’s that have taken people by surprise, so I grab hold of one of the pistols stored in my shoulder holster and remove the safety. I hate the idea of killing any living thing, and while most don’t think so, virials are still living beings. I aim in the direction of the shadow, my hands quake at the thought of pulling the trigger.