by C. T. Hill
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1881844
The world changes... we can but change with it.
July 2012 Round
"Journey Through Genres: Official Contest"
by C. T. Hill
A rasping breath echoed off the dumpster, lost to the night. Erin tucked herself into the dark corner as the patrol roared by, shaking the pavement. She relaxed and let out a long, slow sigh. A shudder made its way through her body. After taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, hoping to calm her nerves. Everything was so surreal, bogged down by a reality she could not comprehend, a past she could not recall. She rubbed her hands through her auburn hair, attempting to stop the flowing images that made no sense to her. The destruction of the city was evident. Even in the night’s sky the smoke was visible, the flickering of fires a constant reminder.
“Get it together, Erin,” she said to herself.
She had a Walther tucked into her belt, though she wasn’t quite sure where it came from. Something shuffled just down the alley from her, spiking her heart rate, coursing adrenaline through her veins. Erin produced the small pistol and stalked out from behind the dumpster. Each step proved to amplify her anxiety. A dark figure leapt at her from behind a pile of trash and caught her shooting hand in a crushing grip. A scream escaped her lips just as her feet were swept from under her. The air rushed from her lungs after she crashed into the pavement. She gasped for breath.
A figure stood over her, pistol trained at her head, features shrouded by the night. A confused look crossed her face after the man placed the pistol in his belt and offered her an outstretched hand. “Come now, they will be looking for you.”
He pulled her up with minimal effort and headed down the alley. Erin, despite every fiber telling her to flee, followed the mysterious man.
“My name's Erin.” she said, matching his pace.
He looked over his shoulder. “Trace.”
“Okay, Trace, where we are going?”
He stopped for a moment. “Nowhere.”
“Well, can I at least have my pistol back?”
“No,” he said.
Erin huffed. “Why, are you afraid I’d shoot you?”
“I’m afraid you don’t know what you are doing.” He peeked around the corner. “When I say, move across the street. Keep a low profile.” His directions didn’t leave much room for argument, so Erin only nodded.
He nodded, and they set off across the street, heads down, bodies crouched. They flattened against a stone wall, hidden by the shadows. Trace pressed a finger to his lips and motioned for her to get down, though there was little cover in the alleyway. A Humvee crept forward. A soldier sat in the gun turret on top of the vehicle.
“We are going to have to make a break for it,” he whispered. “On my go.”
Erin nodded. The Humvee stopped at the alley entrance and the spotlight began moving back and forth, clearing the narrow space.
Trace produced a large pistol from beneath his jacket and launched into action. The spotlight found him, but not before he had buried two shots into the gunner, slumping him over his weapon.
“Run!” he bellowed. Erin jumped off the wall and sprinted away. Trace unloaded the rest of his clip into the side of the Humvee. He took off after her once the pistol emptied, just before the alley exploded in a symphony of gunfire. They ducked their heads and ran faster, harder. Bullets crashed into the walls, spraying them with fragments of broken concrete. They darted left and dove down a small flight of stairs. Trace landed a kick on the sweet spot of the door, crumpling it in. They entered the building and continued moving. He replaced the spent magazine and chambered a round.
“They will come in force now,” he said, hardly out of breath.
Erin struggled against the oxygen debt. “What?”
Trace paused at a doorway. “They authorized a citywide cleansing operation.”
“Cleansing?” It made no sense.
“Anyone they deem a threat of infection they will put down.” They continued on through the large, empty building until they reached an outer door. “Where have you been?”
Unshakable images flooded her mind of piles of countless dead. She possessed memories, but they lacked any sense of time. Instead, the onslaught of images left her disoriented, confused. “I… I don’t know.”
Trace raised an eyebrow. “Then you are the lucky one.”
“How bad is it?” she asked, her eyes scanning the broken city that surrounded them.
“The last report established mass casualties in the major cities on the east coast. They were quarantined, though no one is sure if it worked.” Trace placed the pistol under his jacket. “Soldiers have been grabbing up survivors, promising a cure,” he said, disgust latent on his voice. “But, the truth is that they want them for their blood.”
Erin frowned. “Their blood? Why?”
“The virus jumped, which means that every soul in the city is infected, or has the potential to be infected. The virus has an almost ninety percent kill rate, yet only about seventy percent of the population died of it. They want to know why.”
“Human testing,” she gasped.
He glanced back. “You are surprised?”
“How long ago?” she asked.
“Months, I can’t say for sure, maybe four.”
Her face slackened, she wondered how much of her life she was missing.
“How did it—” They felt the rotor wash before they heard the chopper. They broke into a sprint, dodging debris as they moved. Bullets rained down on them, cratering the pavement and smashing holes in nearby cars. They dove behind an SUV. Trace pulled out his pistol and unloaded a clip at the hovering chopper. It veered away, allowing them enough time to dash across the street and into a small alcove that led to an office building.
“Where now?” she said, panting.
He loaded his last magazine and chambered another round. “There is a group of survivors a few blocks down in the basement of an old hospital.”
They made it inside after avoiding a few patrols and ducking through a broken window in the back of the building. Erin was surprised at the large amount of people there. At least a couple hundred people were gathered in the main room alone, some of them sick and dying, others injured, but mostly they looked tired and hungry.
“You are bringing in the sick?” she asked.
Trace nodded. “Everyone who isn’t sick at this point can’t get sick. Besides, what kind of people would we be if we abandoned them now?” He could not bear the thought of needlessly losing more people.
Erin smiled. “Perhaps the world isn’t lost.”
He flashed a subtle grin. “Come, I’ll show you around.”
The tour was quick. They ended in a series of labs that, despite the disaster, remained in stellar condition. A small, pint-sized man appeared from one of the offices in the back.
“Trace.” The man half walked, half waddled in front of them, and looked Erin over closely. “Blood workup?”
Trace shook his head. “Just showing her around. Erin, Perry, without a doubt the best doc—”
A series of muffled gun blasts permeated the walls. Trace straightened up, his face a mask of concern. His eyes met Erin’s. They bolted out of the lab and down the hallway that led to the main room. The door leading to the room was locked. They peered through the window, watching in horror as people, healthy and sick alike, were dragged out of the large room. Soldiers were moving systematically through, taking those that cooperated, shooting those that didn’t. A soldier looked towards the door.
“He sees us,” she said, her voice taut with fear. “Is there another way out?”
Trace nodded and they took off down the hallway. The gunfire was consistently growing closer. They bounded up two flights of stairs, but gunfire turned them into a vacant room. Trace glanced out the window as the pounding of boots moved closer. He positioned himself between the door and Erin, his pistol at his side, his face calm.
The soldiers stopped outside the door, but didn’t enter. Trace and Erin waited in the room, dipped in apprehension, when a man in an expensive suit stepped in, hands raised.
“I come in peace,” he said, and let out a quiet chuckle. His eyes met Erin’s. “I know you can't remember, it will wear off.”
Trace tightened his grip on the pistol.
“I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here for her,” he said, his eyes returning to Erin. “And I must thank you, my dear.”
Uncertainty wrapped her face as she glanced to Trace then back to the suit. “I’m sorry?”
“For leading us here,” he gestured to the hospital surrounding them. “We could have never found it without you. They were careful.”
“I don’t understand,” she said, but she did understand. It was all coming back to her—the bodies, the test subjects. Vertigo overwhelmed her and she took a step backward.
“You are patient zero, dear. The only remaining untainted, non-mutated form of the original virus, right there in your blood. Somehow it remained asymptomatic in you. So, as it turns out, you are kind of important.”
The pistol slipped from Trace’s hand and clattered to the floor. He flicked his gaze over his shoulder to Erin, and slid a small, cylindrical grenade out from his pocket, just out of the suit’s line of sight. “It’s okay,” Trace whispered, and a moment of understanding passed between the two.
The world slowed down as Trace pulled the pin and tossed it towards the door. He jumped in Erin’s direction. They both dove behind the large hospital bed. The grenade blew. Soldiers screamed and wailed in agony. Trace stood just as the suit came around the edge of the bed, pistol out in front of him, hair partly singed off.
A bullet escaped the barrel just as Trace checked the gun with the side of his arm, knocking it from the suit’s hand. Trace ducked a cross, dodged a jab, and landed a devastating hook just under the cheek bone of the man in the suit. He caught the suit’s wild counter-strike and stuffed his elbow against his side, breaking it in a clean motion. The suit screamed in agony as Trace threw him over his shoulder, slamming him into the tiled floor. Trace scooped up his pistol and stood over the man, the sights trained at the center of his forehead.
“I think it’s time for you to leave,” he said to the writhing man.
A hammer cocked back with a threatening click, but it wasn’t Trace’s. He looked back into the barrel of a small Walther pointed directly at his skull.
“Don’t look so hurt,” Erin said. “I liked me better before as well.”
Trace didn’t take his eyes off of her. “Why?”
Erin shrugged. “I worked in a special weapons program, long before the outbreak. We didn’t know what the virus was capable of at first. As it turns out, occasional amnesia is a side effect, but most people just crash. I guess I slipped out after an episode, not aware of who I was.”
“But why this? Why kill us?”
An evil smile snaked across her face. “Who do you think created the virus?” She pulled the trigger and felt the hammer sound a harmless, empty clank. Astonishment covered her face as she noticed the missing magazine, the empty chamber.
“Let's just say I have trust issues. You deserve worse,” Trace said. His trigger worked. The bullet tore through her forehead and sent her sprawling through the window behind her and to the pavement. He turned the gun back down to the suit and put two in his chest.
He tucked the pistol in his jacket and looked out the broken window, at a world he no longer recognized or understood. He lowered himself from the window and stepped off into the night, not quite sure where he was headed.
Word Count: 1996