Episode 9: Warning: Graphic Content
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It's another insufferably bleak night in Metro Vancouver for a young man holding up at his parents' house. Both mom and dad had fallen victim to the superbug, going through an excruciating death and reviving as stinking, rotting ghouls wanting to feed.
Wearing a gangsta hoodie, cap and baggy pants pulled half-way down his butt, the forlorn young man managed to drag both, while still deceased, into a bathroom and barricaded the door with a heavy sofa. The creatures now groan and scratch demanding their release as if it's still their house, their rules.
In a way, it is, but the young man has no intention of being ripped apart. There's got to be someone still alive out there, but going out to look around is far too dangerous.
Spray painting HELP on the exterior of the home provided no results either.
The young man just sits in a corner in his living room listening to commercialized gangsta tunes on his oversized headphones while waiting, waiting for something to happen. It's as if he's the last prime number in a world belonging to composites.
Sure enough, something finally happens when he takes off those ridiculous headphones and decides to call it a night.
The light beige motorhome carrying several survivors slowly rolls past, prompting the excited young man to leave the safety of the house and bolt down the driveway. Rescued? Nope!
The motorhome turning a corner, the young man is suddenly confronted by something that appears out of nowhere. It's weird...magnificant and weird!
What appears to be some kind of man, white as a sheet with petrifying deep blue eyes, stands there with a knowing grin. What's more, several swaying plague monsters, their clothes dirty and in tatters, stand obediently behind the stranger.
The young man, not knowing how to react to this ungodly encounter, is oddly curious. Curiosity usually conquers fear, even more than bravery, but it won't do him any good here.
So very thirsty, the stranger plunges its fingers deep into the young man's eye sockets and gets a firm grip, lifting the convulsing victim a couple of feet. His legs thrashing, the young man doesn't scream but does provide an appropriate gurgle as blood streams down his cheeks.
At least his troubles will be over, and there's one less gangsta wannabe in the world.
Days later at the cemetery, Sarah still doesn’t want to talk much but it doesn’t take long for her brother Johnny to open up and want to get to know the rest of the gang. A real chatterbox.
One morning, Ray the rock-a-billy king sits on a cool tombstone after doing his patrol, feeling a tad frustrated. Now more than ever, his mind is fuelled by anxiety and self-doubt, both of which he contains an endless supply. He's feeling they must be bereft of their senses for leaving this place for some island, but, on the other hand, it may be their only option. Maybe there, the grotesque facial features of all the plague monsters he's had to fight off won't be indelibly stamped on his brain.
"Come on, god, let me make it. Let us all make it. Come on, just let us make it through this."
Ray's starting to believe there is no higher power out there or that the universe will answer an intent. He wants to believe but the idea there's just nothingness is starting to take over. You have to believe in order for all that jazz to work, but those self-righteous celebrity astronomers managed to plant plenty of doubt.
Holding the machine gun, he sees Johnny cutting through the graveyard seemingly eager for a chat. Ray doesn't mind the terrible cologne the stinky Johnny grabbed on one of their supply missions, but the others openly gag.
The others are inside the office building trying to pass the time by playing a stash of board games they discovered in a closet. As for Leo, he found an electric shaver in a desk drawer, still having some charge left, so gets rid of his beard. Anna likes his new look.
Outside it's hot, muggy, the air is sickly stale and there hasn't been a breeze to offer even a little relief. And still no rain. Is it like this across Canada? Soon, they'll have to hit the highway and work their way out of town, driving into god knows what.
“It’s kind of depressing, isn’t it….I mean, staying here, no?” the insecure Johnny asks his new Japanese bud, handing him a bottle of water before sitting on a tombstone.
“I don’t know, I mean, except what’s in the chapel, maybe with the fence and all it’s not such a bad place. Just never thought we’d end up here. The dead are everywhere else. Do you think we can make it to a boat and make it to that guy’s island?” the skinny young man inquires.
“Got to tell you, I think so. I’ve been with Anna for a while and she knows what she’s doing. All I know is we have no choice. It’s funny we’re still around when most of humanity has kicked the bucket. It’s all so weird now. I just wish everything was back to the way it used to be, ya know. I’d love to go to a concert or soccer game again. That’s all over now,” Ray responds. “It’s like, all of a sudden it’s over. What do you miss?”
“Everything I guess,” says Johnny. “I miss my online gaming. My friends. I just wish this wasn’t happening. I guess I miss everything. I miss not being scared, but I guess I was before, but about other things. Sound goofy, huh? Did you ever skin a deer or a bear? Guess we’ll have to learn all that outdoor stuff.”
Ray laughs, agreeing that, like it or not, their city slicker days will soon be over and they’ll become outdoorsman. Only thing, Ray can’t grow a beard. It’s actually funny.
Impressed with Ray's attire and the way he carries himself, Johnny feels comfortable enough to talk about his obsession collecting vintage pro wrestling magazines. He then asks something out of left field. "So, you have a pretty cool look. Were you, you know, ummm, a ladies' man back in the day?"
Ray grins and chuckles, "Well, no. To be honest. OK, I'll tell ya, this one time I decided to try one of those massage parlours and was talking to the girl at the front desk, just asking about prices. Well, damn, my belt buckle fell apart and onto the floor right as I was talking to her. Had to hold my pants up so they wouldn't fall down. She looked at me like I was a weirdo and I just left."
It's nice to share a good laugh. Hopefully they'll still be laughing in the great outdoors.
Speaking of being an outdoorsman, that’s exactly big handsome Lance, someone who loves to hunt and fish and has the basic skills to live off the land. That’s in addition to being a drug-free, god-fearing American hero fighter pilot and astronaut.
How can Leo compete with that? Leo starts to feel unhinged if he doesn’t smoke a joint and certainly doesn’t have the skills to live downtown, let alone the wilderness.
And guess what……It turns out Kate as a scientist was in on information filtering through from the highest levels regarding the outbreak, well before the media got wind.
Whatever they were dealing with went hot real fast, faster than any computer simulation predicted - total word-wide saturation. This deadly mystery illness made the 1918 flu pandemic, also known as the Spanish flu, which made up to forty percent of the world population ill, look like a Sunday stroll. Now, there's not a safe place anywhere you go. The entire planet went down the bloody drain.
Early on, Lance knew what to do and got in contact with friends who spend a lot of time in a remote area of northern Alaska.
These men and woman who built their own cabins and self-sustaining community live off the grid and have the means to stay up there for a long time. Lance was certainly astute to realize things were going to be worse than first thought, making arrangements to send himself and his family by plane to the remote camp.
The goal was to get as far away from the disease and other people as possible.
Problem is, Kate made the difficult decision to stay behind and save mankind. Unenthusiastically, she felt it was the right thing to do, but the fervid chief scientist at her facility, a real Type A personality, also played a big role in persuading her. As long as her family was safe, she’ll stay.
The normally unflappable Lance was genuinely scared for her but agreed with her decision for him to take the boys up north without her. Lance also had to bring Kate’s brother Andrew, a math and computer geek who always admired Leo's care-free ways, and quietly continued to buy pot from him long after Kate and Leo were splitsville.
Now Kate, for some odd reason, is starting to think about her former stoner boyfriend and having an odd feeling that Leo is still alive, out there somewhere probably high.
She’s one of the few still left at the military medical research compound just north of Seattle. A barbed wire fence and a handful of soldiers surround the top secret facility, although many of the soldiers and staff had fled to be with their families.
Solar powered generators are keeping things going. Cocky and rude head scientist William Hagstrom is in charge of this morbid show and his team, up until a few days ago, had been in contact with few confused surviving members of the American government, including the secretary of the interior, a couple of generals as well as a handful of completely useless bureaucrats.
The remnants were huddled in an underground bunker in Washington, DC and had been communicating through military satellite, however, for some reason all feeds had ceased.
Doctor Hagstrom’s group up until a day or two ago was also in contact with the CDC and a few labs still working across the country. They even talked with counterparts in Russia, Japan and Great Britain. But you guessed it…..one by one all communication with them had ceased as well.
However, the Seattle team was staying, decreed Hagstrom.
A seasoned combat veteran who has distinctive scar on his face that he never wants to talk about, Ford is about as tough as they come. He does not suffer fools lightly, although everyone's got their quirks and Ford's is an all-consuming love of orange marmalade. He'd eat marmalade sandwiches all day long if he could. He'll even spread the damn stuff on anything such as sushi, impassive how others react. Too bad he stripped the pantry of the remaining jars - not that anyone was too upset about it. What's worse, he hasn't been able to find any on supply missions. Is that the first thing the panicked masses take off the shelves?
As far as Kate, she’s going along with all this but is having her doubts the ill-mannered Hagstrom is directing the scientists and lab techs on the right path.
The problem they face is that everything exploded everywhere at the same time - an entire planet being one big hot zone.
Kate and the team of epidemiologists and other scientists are still working hard but the douchebag in charge is making the job onerous.
“Doctor Hagstrom, well here are the results from this sample. Again, negative. The result has been consistent. It’s been like this all along,” an annoyed Kate tells Hagstrom as he walks into a lab to check up on the team fiddling around with beakers and bottles and looking into microscopes.
In an adjoining room a couple of other scientists wearing bright orange biohazard suites examine deadly samples.
“That’s all right sweetheart, just keep at it. Start on the next batch and have a report on my desk tomorrow morning, all right?” he tells her in his usual condescending voice, patting her shoulder. He then begins to wipe his glasses. “Listen up people, we’re having our meeting in two hours, so have all your reports filled out properly and in duplicate this time, all right, hmmmm?”
Hagstrom strolls out whistling. Idiot!
“He can call you doctor and by your name…why do you let him talk to you that way? Come on Kate,” says Charlie, a microbiologist seated next to her. “I’m going to say something…want to kick his teeth in!”
“No, I can handle that jerk. What I’m most angry about, Charlie, is that he’s still stuck on this stupid idea we’re dealing with a protein strand. He’s too arrogant to admit he’s wrong but we’re wasting our time here. Charlie, come on, it’s not that and we all know it. These indicators are all wrong. There’s only a dozen of us left working on this stupid thing. How much longer can we keep going?”
Charlie and the others in the room nod in both agreement and frustration.
"I told him it resembles the Marburg virus, something with a funny new structure, we should do some tests, but he just dismissed me. Moron!" Charlie notes.
“Besides, he’s got chuckles, you know, Ford and his boys backing him up, so as long as he has security in his back pocket it’s probably not a good idea to kick him anywhere,” Kate adds. The others laugh.
They don’t say it out loud but the group knows that if they don’t make any headway soon and figure out what’s behind the plague, this fiendish pandemic, they’ll have run out of time.
Back up in Canada, what was supposed to be a few days for Leo’s group at the cemetery, meantime, turned into more than a week.
Leo and the skater dude have enjoyed acting like school kids, sneaking off to a corner of the graveyard to smoke up. They think Anna’s doesn’t know, but she’s fully cognizant what they’re up to and finds it somewhat amusing. What is this, Leo, high school?
Ned's welcome humour also helps the group, his endless variations on line deliveries and facial expressions never ceasing to amuse.
On the eighth day Anna finally decides it may be safe enough for the group to leave the safe confines of the cemetery and hit the road.
The goal is to make it to a boat - simple. Ned suggests they wait it out a while longer but the French fireball isn't keen to stay, especially considering the sadness in the chapel.
As far as the goofball Leo, he's fine following Anna's assertive directive. Funny thing, though, the other night he had one of his inexplicable dreams, visions long quelled with cannabis. This one had him sitting on the ground, his back against a cool concrete wall, talking to a man, a loyal ally, about the nature of the universe including dark matter. Leo can't recall what the man looked or sounded like, nor details of the enlightening discussion other than it included the dude's incalculable position in all this madness. Whatever.
Young Johnny isn't keen on staying at this eerie bastion, too, but also isn't looking forward to driving out into the uncertainty beyond the gates.
While the group packs the vans, Johnny strolls back into the office and takes a seat on a coach. He's soon joined by Laszlo who's bouncing a dirty tennis ball. Laszlo wonders what's up with the kid.
"Wow, we're doing this.....kinda scary, huh?" Johnny asks, irresolute.
"You wanna know something, me and Sarah, when were with that cop guy and the rest of our group back in the woods, well, they did stuff. I mean, I just stood by and watched, but they.....well, they robbed people, killed guys who wouldn't share their stuff. How come I get to live, good people die. This is messed up. Never thought I’d be involved in that bull, you know….don't know why I'm telling you. It's screwed up. I'm probably going to hell, oh well."
The skater chucks the tennis ball out the door and takes a deep breath. Leaning back, he reaches into his pocket for his last two sticks of refreshing mint gum.
He's the last person who can offer any kind of absolution, his misdeeds in the old world, especially what he put his family through, gnawing at his brain lately. Guess they had too much time to reflect while hunkered down here.
"Ya, guess things are kind of messed, dude, but hey, you're not a bad dude, you're not a scum bucket," Laszlo answers, assuredly.
"We all did some really rough stuff, but that's not what you are, who you are. Know what I'm talking about it? Being thrown into this crap, crazy, but you can come back, I guess. This isn't you. You can come back. Just sayin' it's not you, John."
The skater shoves a stick of gum into his mouth and gives an obliging grin. He hands over the last stick to the perturbed Johnny, and finally provides a quick pat on his shoulder. Before departing he tells the skinny guy, "By the way, man, you really stink."
Johnny wants to just sit here a little longer but doesn't have time to ponder as Anna yells for him to get his butt outside. That Quebecois accent of hers is sure cute.
Well, here they go! It seems all right as the two vehicles leave, moving cautiously through the empty streets.
Anna drives the lead van again and Leo, with his gun between his legs, rides a dutiful shotgun.
He has no idea Sarah has taken a school girl liking to him - it must be that charm and the way he talks...oh Leo!
Anyway, this will be tense but so far the coast is clear. It’s just a little depressing having to see several buildings where people painted desperate messages for help on the exteriors, especially since they should have known better that someone would be coming to the rescue.
They drive by a few staggering infected but there’s no real danger.
They glace briefly at one kneeling over and devouring an old man at the side of the road, the blood soaked monster pulling out and squeezing an organ before taking a big, eager bite…eww…gruesome.
The poor old guy is still wearing his bright red baseball cap with a white maple leaf. A baseball bat lies a few feet from the victim’s hands. If he only had a gun, but then there’s stupid Canadian gun laws, eh?
Several more rotting plague monsters join the party and begin shredding the victim with one lucky newcomer making off with most of the large intestine.
Things look so ruined out here. In a while they come across something odd. Another survivor? Holy crap, it’s true!
How did this one survive? Anna slows down when a middle-aged Chinese lady emerges from a grouping of vehicles waving her arms and yelling for help.
Anna immediately stops and the lady provides a thankful smile.
Story by Sandor Gyarmati
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