Alone by Myself by Daniel Barajas

The radiation suit is getting uncomfortable. He’s starting to think a trip to the power plant for a new one would be a worthwhile risk. Ben looks around the gas station. None of them for now, and with no place for them to hide or sneak up. Everyday he has to travel farther to reach new supplies, something he regretted when he first started surviving.

Looking around, he spots canned goods, gold among trash. He stuffs it into his duffle bag, and continues to look for anything else worthwhile. He likes taking novelty items when he can. Newspapers, bobbleheads, anything to keep him entertained. Power went a long time ago. So anything good while at room temperature was a must. He gets out of there with a good haul, a blessing.

It’s been 2 months since Russia attacked the east coast of America. Or at least that much. The bombs were a small problem, not nuclear. He doesn’t know why, maybe they want us to suffer what comes next. They sent dirty bombs with an experimental pathogen as well. It was extremely effective. 

He doesn’t know the true name, so he calls it ‘Red’. The parasite causes hypotrichosis, growing hair at a rate usually impossible. It changes the hair into muscle tissue, and surrounds the body. The host by week one is paralized, and in 1 month they lose consciousness and the parasite tries to spread to another host.

Looking for food is always risky. The CDC says survivors should go to survivor camps to avoid Red encounters. But they were overrun, not enough military support. They said the military would arrive in 4 months. They have a lot of promises they don’t keep.

There was no noise. Just wind blowing in the city that used to have inhabitants walking around or driving in cars. Now abandoned buildings and unsturdy architecture lay there instead. There was no noise but the wind, which made him jump when he felt pain in his ankle.

Looking down, a shiver went through his entire body. The radiation suit was torn, and a bite mark was left there insead. He wasn’t bleeding much, but that’s not what scared him. The Red next to the bite was. He pulled out his pocket knife and stabbed. They never let out any noise. Not a hollar of pain or a groan of agony. But their muscled covered face showed it.

He pushed it away and ran out the door. He didn’t stop until he reached the single story wood house he called a base. It was rickety, and didn’t match the surrounding 6 story tall buildings, but it was comfortable. He got inside, put a wood block over the door, and went to the storage room. He took a jug of water and applied it over the bite mark. He already had a sense of dread though.

He knew that he was infected. There was no doubt about it. No one ever recovered from a bite. The parasite digs into your scalp and starts the change of cells from hair to muscle very fast. He had a week till he couldn’t move. He felt hopeless. He felt like he lived all this for nothing. But he knew a place. The facility was located in Vancouver. It was a few miles away, but he could probably drive most of the distance.

He won’t let himself die. He has nothing to live for except to live. To him, a reason isn’t necessary to keep going. He grabbed his biggest bags, and stuffed them with food. There wouldn’t be time to think. The virus works fast, so any second wasted would mean a risk being late.

There are no other humans, at least not near him. Seattle has long been abandoned. Overrunned by Reds. There was a car he kept fueled by a gas station. It was a 2 minute walk, and he made sure that car was in pristine condition. It was a black hybrid car, something he thought was perfect for this situation.

He drove for a while, only for 30 minutes. His supplies wont last long so he needed to utilize the extended range of the car to find even more supplies, maybe even survivors. He stopped at a place called Lynnwood. Looking around it was just like Seattle, crumbling down because of the bombs. No one was here, but he still stayed on his toes. He was ignorant to Reds before.

He found a firearms shop, something that he couldn’t find in seattle. Looking around, he found a six shooter revolver, with only 2 extra clips of ammo. Still better than nothing. He scavenged for supplies, staying quiet. He did see a few Reds, but he felt there should have been more. He didn’t mind, less is better. He moved slowly and methodically.

He saw a grocery, and decided to move in. There were two Reds in there, but they were on opposite sides of him. He grabbed what he could in canned goods and condiments. He moved rubble away to try and get towards the back but he made a mistake. As soon as he moved the rubble, something dropped from the ceiling. It was a russian bomb.

He  ducked for cover and the bomb sent an ear piercing explosion out. He got up, still shellshocked. He couldn’t hear anything but ringing, but he knew that the Reds heard. He bolted out of the store, back to his car. There he found a truly terrifying site. More than a hundred Reds were on the streets, probably wondering what the noise was, and all of them turned to him.

He couldn’t die here, he thought. He wants to live. Because of the Reds’ increased muscle mass, they could jump, run, and swim faster than possible. The parasite doesn’t care for the body, or if bones break. He has a head start to his car, with the Reds behind him, but they would catch up fast. As he was running, he spotted another bomb, undetonated. He had an idea.

As soon as he heard them come just a bit closer, he pulled out the revolver and shot blindly at the bomb. First shot, miss. Second shot, miss. Third shot hit a Red instead, Fourth shot, hit. The bomb sent another lound wave of destruction. He didn’t check if the Reds got hit or not. He got into the car, through his bag to the passenger seat, and drove out of there.

The car drove silently, so the heartbeat was more noticeable. He was glad to be alive. Then he remembered what happened. His family was dead, his hometown is gone, and he is almost certain that the military lied about coming. They probably put the entire west coast into quarantine. There wasn’t anybody coming for him. And there was no family to cheer him up. No survivors that he found, no animals he cou make companionship with. He was alone, by himself.

There wasn’t much point to think about that though. To him, a reason to live is because we can. Suffering is living, or at least in his head it was. He never really felt like he needed a greater reason. But then again, he never really felt the need to think about it before now.

After sleeping on the empty highway inside the vehicle, he felt more relaxed. Just then, the car made a weird sound. It seemed like it went into battery mode. He forgot that he didn’t get gas when he stopped back at Lynwood. The car said he had 20 minutes before it would run out of both. He had to stay at what felt like a snail’s pace, going 30 miles per hour on an empty freeway.

Some time had passed and the car made its final breath. There were no towns nearby when it ran out either, so walking was going to be it. He was at a lake. He remembered going here with his family. Lake Samish. There were no boats near him. The only way to go would be to use the path to go around it.

Surprisingly, there was noise here. The bombs did not affect much of the mountain. Birds chirping, water flowing, the sound of win hitting the leaves. It was a nice refresher compared to what had happened before. A sharp pain filled his head as he thought of this however. He touched his head and felt not hair, but muscle. It was beginning to start its transformation. He had about 3 days left.

Following the side of the river, he felt some memories come back to him. Walking here with his father when he was young, when his mom spilled jam on his favorite shirt. The lake gave off a very nice feeling to him. He felt a bit of peace in this chaos. A break from reality. The blue water reflects the sky’s overcast perfectly. 

He went to the end of the river in no time, sparing no second. It felt so serene and at peace, but he knew that he needed to get that cure. Dying here a peaceful death wouldn’t be right. He had to live as long as possible. To live because he can. He wanted to live. All that time living won’t be for nothing.

Suddenly, he heard growling from behind him. He turned around and saw in horror a beast of flesh. A coyote head was present, but the rest was the red disease. It’s legs were elongated and muscley, the fibers near its neck pulsing. It had a second mouth near the end of the head. The disease didn’t just affect you by making hair into muscle. With enough hair it would probably make more teeth, just like a tumor.

It charged at him, the coyote head atop the mass of meat looking like it didn’t know where it was. He ran, but he knew there was no escape. He wouldn’t make it to the forest adjacent to the lake, and going into the lake would resort to him dying faster. Running wasn’t an option here. He ran, and took out the revolver.

He shot at the head, but to his surprise, it had no effect. It kept running almost if it hadn’t been hit. He shot a second shot into the leg. This time, the bullet was much more noticable, and the pile of meat limped before toppling over. A meaty bulge was located at the rear of his body, previously hidden by the being height. He aimed the gun and fired. No response. He forgot to reload at the town.

The beast quickly arose once more, and began to charge at him again. He ran as fast as he could, fumbling the revolver in his hand. Trying to unload and chamber a revolver with little experience and also running with fear in your heart was not an easy task. He managed to put 3 bullets in the chamber. He turned towards the creature, but it leaped on him.

He felt an impossible amount of pain in his left arm. He tried firing but the gun didn’t respond. A misfire, caused by himm not aligning the barrel with the firing pin. He tried again. This time with effect. The creature loosened its grasp on him and back just a bit. Enough for him to see the damage. 

Everything past his elbow was mauled. It wasn’t ripped off either. It was chewed, his hand looking like it went into a blender. He wanted to let out a scream of pain, but he didn’t want to risk the chance of more creatures like this. He aimed with a  shaky fist and fired the gun once more.

He shot at the previously shot leg, and the hunk of flesh reacted again. He could see the muscle reacting when the bullet pierced it’s writhing flesh. The creature took a step down once again. He then released a bullet to the flesh lump he saw before. The creature let out an agonizing whail, then fell limp near the water.

A weird pear shaped creature came out of the body. It looked like it was squirming around looking for something. He understood what this thing was. IT was the parasite. It usually is around 5 micrometers in size, but this one grew to be as large as a human hand. It crawled towards him, probably looking for another host. He stopped on it, at least 12 times. 

He ran across the lake. He knew his adrenaline would bring the pain back soon. There as a small building on the side of the lake. Probably a fishing shop for those who wanted to boat out on the lake.  He entered the building and searched for medical supplies. A small medical kit was located on the underside of the cashier’s desk.

There was enough gauze in there to heal him up, or at least stop bleeding. His arm was mangled however. If he truly wanted to patch it up, he would have to get rid of unwanted space. Thinking this alone sent shivers throughout his body. I want to keep going, he thought. He found a knife near the side of the building. Probably for gutting fish. He sent a powerful blow to his arm, and let out a scream. The nerves are still connected. 

He quickly patched it up with bandages and gauze, but there was barely any in the kit. He downed the pills in the box, they were penicillin. He was still bleeding too much. There wasn’t any other cloth he could’ve used, all of the medical supplies were used. As he thought of trying to use his shirt as an additional block, he fainted from blood loss.

He awoke to crickets chirping, and the world around him very dark. He had awoken in the middle of the night. His head was still in a daze. He looked around the shack. He remembered what the previous events were, the creature by the lake. He remembered seeing his beaten arm, and how much blood he was losing. He took a look at his arm.

Red tentacle-like muscles pulled at the wound, they looked to be blocking it. He touched his scalp. The parasite inside him had made sure his host did not die. It used the muscley hair to cover the injured part of his arm, to stop the blood loss. He breathed a heavy sigh, and fell onto his back. Being kept alive by the thing that’s going to kill him. He felt at his neck, sure enough, there was a peanut sized bulge at the back of his neck.

Moving the arm revealed that it functioned well, nothing interfering with the stub. He took time to realize his situation for a second. Before, he just needed enough food to survive. Now, living was going to become much more difficult. But he was too weak and tired to think things through. He reloaded his revolver, chambered it correctly, made sure he ate some rations, and went back to sleep on his sleeping bag.

Ben had never really cried. He stopped doing that when he was around 12. His dad had come up to him and said ‘crying does you no good, action can solve the problems you cry about’. He followed those words through highschool, work, and even his fathers death. He never cried much. He wanted to be strong for his dad.

Waking up at sunrise, he got all his stuff, and continued past the lake. He kept his gun at his side for the entire time near the lake. He had no other interaction with Reds. 

He finally got back on the highway, and walked for what seemed an eternity. There were only a few interactions with Reds. Most of them were dealt with fairly quickly however. The border to Canada should be near by now. He’s gone far, farther than he thought he would. He didn’t die. He could make it.

At the border, there were cars all lined up with each other. Frantically trying to get through to Canada before anything worse could happen. They were abandoned now. Nothing in them. Nobody in the little boxes, where the border guard would stand. The entire border looked barren. Where did the people go? Did they simply run past the guards? Were all of them infected with Red?

He didn’t know much about the rest of the world. In his head the rest of the country was just watching how the west coast had been totally annihilated. Maybe they didn’t tell the world about the virus. Too many questions he had, he couldn’t control them. He decided to continue to the city the lab was.

The lab looked like what a lab would look like. It was away from other buildings, and was white all around. It has hospital-like architecture, with pieces of the building rising from the top, like towers that go off the building. It had simple letters on the entrance. ‘Welcome to Thunder’. The company’s logo was the shape of a lightning bolt reflected.

He entered the abandoned building. He knew it was abandoned because of the quietness when he entered town. There weren’t even Reds here. Why was this place devoid of Reds? What did the Canadians do that America didn’t? At the front desk there was a screen. It had the words under it ‘RaNDY’

The screen suddenly lit up. It had 2 eyes, in the shape of ovals. Suddenly it’s voice boomed up. “Hello!, welcome to the Thunder Research and Medical Facility. If you are here for an appointment, please enter your information into the screen. If you have questions, speak up! I can answer many things.”

He was a bit shocked at first. Medical bots were making an appearance in America as well, but he had never seen one actually have a voice, or be able to answer questions. He decided to ask some things.

“Do you know where everyone is?” Ben asked

“Sorry, everyone has left the building” The robot answered back. “ A parasite known as Onki Engudan has reached America, so everybody Near the border of Canada was evacuated into the Country to avoid Russian and American conflict.”

“Is there a way to cure the effects?”

“Sorry, but the only way to get the parasite out of the host’s body is if the host dies early, or a surgery done by professionals. If you have a friend in need of surgery, you must wait for surgeons to get back.” The robot said in a lower pitch

“But I need to be cured now!”

“I’m sorry. You must wait for surgeons to get back”

He felt defeated. Was there really nothing he could do? How many days has it been? Four? He doesn’t have time or resources to go to Canada’s Inner land. He traveled all this way to get cured, but he didn’t even know whether or not it would be possible. He only heard of the lab in a pamphlet, so he should have expected this.

He had a thought however. “Hey”, Ben said. “Are there any experimental cures?”

“The robot chipped up. “Of course. The research branch has been working on a cure that starves the parasite of food.” It is located in room B2F1, in hallway 7G. The side effects that follow are-”

Ben moved quicker than he had ever done. Maybe this was it. Maybe he would finally get cured. That everything he had experienced wasn’t going to be for nothing. He wanted to live to make sure he would prove to his father. To prove he wouldn’t cry, and to prove he would make it.

He reached the room, and suddenly fell. When consciousness came back to him, he looked around at the room. Black vials were there, one inside a needle. He got up and tired to grab it. But his hand did not respond.

Instead of 5 digits and a palm, his right hand was a mass of flesh, just like the coyote he saw by the lake. His infection was different somehow. He should have realized this earlier. The muscles grew, but he never was paralized. He should have realized when the muscle-like tentacles covered his left arm.

The growth wanted food to grow. He felt a sense of starvation. Like he needed to eat something or he would collapse. But the cure was right in front of him. He just needed to inject that in and he would be good. He felt pain in his legs as he got up to walk. Then he felt nothing at all.

He fell on his face and turned around. His legs were ripped off and his left arm was eating it. Eating it with the tumor like a head on the muscle tentacle. It had teeth. Just like the coyote. This time, he did sceam. He felt unimaginable pain, somehow more than the arm. Both of his legs were ripped off by this thing. But the muscle hair just grew on top of the stumps. The parasite made sure the host would not die.

He continued to the vial, crawling with one arm. His left arm was unresponsive, controlled by the parasite. He grabbed the injector and felt the bump on the back of his neck. He sure hoped it would work, otherwise this would be for nothing. He had to live. He pressed the plunger

All of the muscle hair he had on his head disconnected at an astounding speed. Maybe 20 pounds off his head. He didn’t even realize how much the hair weighed. The wriggling bulge on his neck suddenly popped. Instead of a parasite, it was oozing. The cure melted it. It worked.

He felt a sense of relief as the muscular flesh started to shrivel at an unnatural rate. But the pain that he felt was coming back. His legs were gone, and his left arm was also unusable. There wouldn’t be enough time to crawl for gauze, he was in the research part of the hospital. There was no one to call out to. But he finally decided that it was enough. A tear left his eye as the blood pooled around him. He was free from this hell.

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