In the beginning of 2015, if you had said the world as we knew it was going to end, you would be labeled insane. By the end of the same year those who labeled you would be dead.
Shay Claire stood before her mirror, clicking her tongue against her mouth. She carried a look of displeasure in her dark brown eyes, pursing her lips as her cellphone vibrated against the countertop of the bathroom.
"Shay, sweetie, you have ten minutes before the bus comes!" Her mother called from the kitchen, voice accompanied by the delectable smell of waffles. Groaning, she hurried out of the bathroom, wisps of her rather long blonde hair falling around her face as she did.
"I'm coming!" She said, stopping on the stairs to complete her reply to Marena.
Although she found it a hassle at the time, she would discover how much she missed the normalcy when it was no longer around.
The morning was slow, even slower than usual, for there was no excitement to dance within her fingertips. As a child, even the mere uttering of a field trip could exhilarate a child. Now? It just settled dread of a long, boring day in her bones. It was less than two hours before she found herself surrounded by a sea of white, both walls and floors boasting the hollow pigment. The guide, an employee, was just the same, clean and professional, speaking in a voice that threatened to lull her into unconsciousness.
The guide halted in the middle of the hallway. The group of about thirty students paused before him, waiting for his next few sentences to be droned out. Shay and a few other classmates drifted away from the group, gravitating towards the wall on the opposite side. She rested her back up against it and crossed her arms, gazing on in an unimpressed manner. Rolling her tongue, a mint-flavored bubble snapped against her lips. Her mother would of told her she looked like a snob.
"This is the BSL-2 lab," the guide spoke, his voice causing her to roll her eyes in exasperation. At least try to make it interesting, she thought. The guide gestured to three windows that spanned the length from the ceiling to the floor, people in scrubs and air masks moving inside. "The diseases kept in here are more dangerous than BSL-1, but they carry only moderate hazard to personal health. Think along the lines of Influenza A, Salmonella, or Lyme Disease."
Her phone, nestled firmly in the denim of her back pocket, vibrated. She watchfully eyed her teacher, checking to be sure she was just as absorbed in what the windows withheld as the students. Assessing it was safe, she slipped her phone out, never once taking her teacher out of her vision.
I'm starting a game of hide and seek. Owen's counting. You have forty seconds. (;
The sender was no other than the infamous Katrina Odell, who was probably the crudest and wildest person Shay had ever met- which had instantly sparked a friendship between the two. Katrina had troublesome tendencies, yes, but misbehaving on field trips was a new one for her. Usually her misadventures occurred when nobody was around to deliver a reprimand. She reread the message, hoping her eyes had been creating an illusion.
"Should we do it?" A voice whispered into her ear. She twisted her neck around to see the speaker, revealing the familiar big chocolate eyes of her boyfriend.
That question coming from Carson Bradley came as a shock. He was not a troublemaker nor did he carry the look of one, his dusky hair kept short and spiked forwards, always dressing clean and comfortable. He was fully aware he needed to stay out of trouble to stay on the team.
"Uh, no." She said back, firing an angry glance in his direction. He smirked, a glint igniting in his large eyes.
"You and I both know even hide and seek with Katrina is better than this," he said back, gesturing his head towards the group. She found the way he emphasized Katrina's name as odd, like it was toxin in his mouth.
"You make it sound like Katrina isn't fun to be around," she replied, smirking at him. Carson bit his lip, struggling to his wry grin.
"Come on, she's… obnoxious, to put it nicely," he expressed. A suppressed snort of quiet laughter followed.
"I don't want to get in trouble, Carson. We could just stay here and let her get caught, but when she does she'll throw us all under the bus. She sent a group message, so everyone involved will get in trouble." Her attempt at being deathly serious must of failed, for the boy did nothing but laugh.
"Oooooo, she sent a group message! Shit got serious!" A couple heads across the hallway turned. She shot them a quick glare and they turned around just as fast, a few muttering quick apologies as they did.
"Oh grow up! I'll get Marena to do it!" Carson shrugged, as if he didn't care, still chuckling at his own sarcastic comeback. It wasn't even your best one, babe, she thought bitterly.
Marena McGrew turned her head, twirling a lock of blonde hair between her long, skinny fingers in blatant boredom. She raised an eyebrow at the couple, amusement flickering in her eyes.
"What?" she whispered as she slipped away from the group of students, covering the space between herself and the duo in a few seconds. Shay greeted her by blatantly thrusting her phone in her face. Marena didn't even recoil, seemingly expecting the blunt greeting, and began to dart her hazel eyes across the screen.
"Well, you're screwed." Marena said, grinning widely.
"Yeah, about that… I was wondering if you could go get her. If she's caught, we all go down with her," Shay informed, attempting to sound as smooth as possible. Instead of nodding and gladly offering her assistance, Marena broke out into hushed chuckles. Dammit.
"Remember the time I told you if I got in trouble, even if you were involved or not, I was taking you down with me? Sure, I'll go herd her back, if you and Carson agree to go along," she stated. Shay shook her head, but couldn't bite back the smile on her lips. Some promises, even those made in fifth grade, could not be forgotten.
"Marena, please, if I get in trouble one more time I'll be screwed." She pleaded.
"Oh no, you 're coming with me. It shall be an adventure!" Marena crowed, a childish grin plastered to her narrow features.
As soon as the girl finished someone came barreling into Marena, uttering a squeak of shock as they did. The tall, skinny girl planted her feet, cursing as she struggled to keep from crashing to the floor. Her balance waivered, but she did not crash.
"Watch where you're going!" Marena hissed as she straightened her posture. The girl who'd run into her was a familiar one, the bouncy blonde curls and round blue eyes hard to forget.
"Sorry," Kyleigh Abercrombie hissed back, one of her infamous looks pressed upon her soft features. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm trying to hide!" She said, nearly whining, as she tried to shoulder her way past Marena. Nobody moved. "I'm serio-"
"You're it!" a male voice cut her off as he playfully tapped her on the shoulder. Kyleigh sighed slowly, pursing her lips in obvious frustration. She slowly turned, shooting the shaggy-haired boy a look as sharp as knives. He rolled his oversized blue eyes in annoyance, parts of which were hidden by the ends of his dirty blonde hair.
"Oh, and you, and you, and you," Owen crowed, pointing to Shay, Carson, and Marena in their respective turns. She and Carson both rolled their eyes, clearly unimpressed by his childish musings. Seriously, she thought. Who plays hide and seek in high school? Right, Katrina and her boyfriend and do.
"Look what happened because of you three!" Kyleigh whined, shooting her old friends furious glares.
"Oh bummer, Kyleigh. Nobody's it- I'm officially ending the game." Shay said firmly. "Do any of you want to get in trouble?" She looked to Kyleigh and Owen specifically, who both shook their heads. "Good. Now, we're all going to find Katrina before she gets caught and avoid an end-of-the-year detention, got it?" Owen nodded in begrudging obedience.
"Whatever." Kyleigh spat, crossing her arms across her chest. Cry me a river, airhead.
A sudden retching came from the group behind Marena, followed by several disgusted squeals. The other students were fanning out, leaving one poor boy surrounded as he was doubled over vomiting. The teacher and guide instantly rushed to his aid, gesturing to students to back away.
Nobody had to say anything, for they all knew this was their one sole opportunity to slip away. Shay moved first, quickly sneaking past the student body and heading back down the hallway. The others caught on to the blessing of the moment as well, some following more hesitantly than others.
With each foot put between Shay and her proper place, her nervousness intensified. How stupid could Katrina possibly be, starting a game of hide and seek in a CDC, a building with BSL-4 labs, and how stupid could they possibly be for going after her? I know what's in this place. My Mom knows what's in here, too. She'd skin me alive if she ever found out my dumb ass took a leisure stroll through to heart of one.
Her phone vibrated again. She darted her eyes downwards to discover another message from Katrina, whom seemed to be the root of all her problems. She sighed mournfully as she read the text, knowing this would be when the water moved in over her head.
Take the next turn in the hallway and go down. I already know Owen's found you all.
She turned her head to the right and found it. A sharp whistle gathered the others' attention and they turned as well, following the blonde down the hallway. She couldn't shake the apprehension growing in her stomach, but she could try to ignore it. Everyone else seemed to share the feeling, for they walked in an uncharacteristic quiet.
After a few more minutes the silence grew unbearable. It was heavy, pressing down upon her shoulders, threatening to snap her bones. Dread and apprehension seemed to vibrate within it, amplified by every soul around her. Thankfully Carson struck up a tune, whistling poorly to a tune she didn't recognize.
"You're a terrible whistler." Shay froze mid-stride, her heart skipping a beat. Busted already. Shit.
Instead of a teacher she found two girls sitting right out in the open, instantly recognizing her classmates. Neither of them was in her circle of friends, but Laylia Perry's long, black brown hair had always been hard to miss, and Jaycee was well known for being an incredibly sweet-natured being. Both of them had memorable faces, although one was all spite and angles, another filled with warmth and welcome.
"What are you doing here?" Kyleigh butted in, her voice laced with disgust. "Katrina invited us, not you. She doesn't like you guys. Nobody likes you guys."
Laylia chucked, amused. "More people like us than you, Kyleigh," she retorted. Kyleigh instantly shut up, her bottom lip trembling. Those big blue eyes of hers, undoubtedly her best feature, were swarming with hurt.
"Well, we aren't playing- we're going to find Katrina before she gets everyone in trouble," Shay butted in; stopping the conversation before any more insults were fired around. Surely Kyleigh could find another time to be a brat. "And, obviously, as you are part of the game, you two have to come with us."
Laylia and Jaycee slowly stood, maintaining their distance from the others. No more words were exchanged between the teens, but even the numbest member of the group could feel the tension- it was practically igniting in the air. She prayed Katrina would be found soon, so the group could disband, and thus the tension diffuse.
The hallway's end seemed to just pop up, almost as if it had appeared from thin air. The long stretch of tile and wall ended in two large, heavy blue doors that looked highly out of place next to the sea of whites. BSL-1 was written on a sign above, the white words illuminated by small, luminescent bulbs. She can't get in there, even if it's just stuff like a cold. She doesn't have an employee card.
I see you. Go in the doors. Well, shit.
She sighed as she read yet another of Katrina's texts, knowing it would all be downhill from there. She wrapped her hand around the metal handle and pulled back, surprised when the door refused to budge. Slipping her phone in her pocket she tried again with both hands, but the door merely jerked in response. Shay yanked back harder, frustrated, but did nothing more than send a jolt up her arms.
"Here, let me try," Carson scoffed as he playfully nudged his girlfriend out of the way. "You're probably just weak," he said sarcastically, winking at her as he did. He too tried his hand at the door, but it still did not budge. Just weak? My ass.
"Please show identification."
Horror rocketed through her veins and straight through her head. Being discovered by a teacher would have been bad, but caught by one of the CDC's own employees? That was indescribably worse. Looking around frantically, she expected to find a woman. Asides from her comrades, she was alone. It was then her eyes settled upon a touchscreen secured into the wall, the outline of a hand glowing on the translucent screen.
"Did you guys really just think you'd be able to walk into a Biosafety room?" Laylia said bitterly, hovering towards the back of the group. The others chose to ignore her.
"Carson, you have big hands. You try it; otherwise we won't be able to get in. It's locked." Marena piped in, taking a step towards the screen. She hovered her fingers over it for a few moments, almost as if she planned to touch it.
"Thanks, Captain Obvious," Carson said, shooting her an angry glare.
"Welcome, Sergeant Smartass," Marena shot back, smirking. The group instantly burst into laughter- even Laylia was chucking a little.
How the hell did you get identification, Katrina?
I didn't. Slipped past a worker (;
She felt her stomach plummet to her feet as she read Katrina's message. Well, we're fucked. Even more so than we were before.
She turned her back to the doors, releasing a string of profanities under her breath. A few seconds after the doors began to whine in metallic pitches. Look who's finally admitted defeat, she thought as she turned, rearing to go off on her idiotic friend. The person standing in the doorway was not Katrina- she was meek and golden-haired, the total opposite of the person they'd come here for.
Cassie Willis was just another pawn in Katrina's little game- friend for a year or not. It made sense she was here- Katrina needed another sidekick besides Owen. Sweet and gullible, the girl presented as excellent candidate for her schemes.
"Come on in. Katrina says to find her," Cassie replied with a silly grin. She doesn't know how much trouble we could be in for being here, she thought as she filed in through the doorway. Or she doesn't care, the pessimist in her hissed.
"No." Shay said firmly. "This isn't some janitor's closet. It's a fucking Biolab."
"It's only a BSL-1," a voice called from inside.
"Was that Katrina?" Marena whispered in her ear.
"Then where's your gloves and facemask?" Carson pointed out. Cassie looked down at her hands.
"There weren't any." That should have been a red flag, but she was too furious to think about the inconsistencies.
"As I said, it's fine! I don't even think there's anything in here, just a bunch of computers I could never afford!"
"That's definitely Katrina." Shay said, answering Marena's prior question.
She took a peek inside the doors, only to find another set standing ajar twenty feet away, held open by Katrina. BSL-1's don't require two sets of doors, she thought, eyeing everything around her. She could see little of the room inside the second set of doors, but it looked little like a laboratory. Maybe this isn't a Biolab at all. Curiosity sparked and premonitions ignored, she stepped inside the first room.
Stepping cautiously, she walked all the way up to Katrina. She stood a few inches taller than the other girl, having to tilt her head down to look her square in her light brown eyes. Katrina was of average height and of slightly larger size, but her booming personality could make up ground for anything she lacked. She narrowed her gaze for a few moments, hoping she would snap, but the reddish-brown haired girl held her ground.
Looking through the open door, the room was large and square, the ceiling towering twenty feet above. With walls lined with metal desks, sleek computers and touchscreens poised on every one, it did not give the appearance of a Biolab. An ever-growing number, 10,234,044,098, was projected on the back wall, growing almost as fast as she was blinking.
"Welcome to my lair," Katrina said, a wide smirk forming on her face. She was right- the place didn't look dangerous, but Shay had been taught to know better.
"It's beautiful Katrina, we were just leaving." She hissed as she snatched her hand. Katrina's cocky grin was instantly wiped from her face, replaced with a genuine look of surprise. She began to pull her towards the first set of doors, trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. "And so were you," she continued, voice lined with ice. The room gave her negative vibes. She wanted to leave as soon as she could.
Unfortunately, the others seemed to have followed, and had begun to enter the room. Carson and Marena hovered behind, uncertain expressions pressed upon their features.
"What are you doing?" She said. The others froze, turning and staring as if they'd been caught with murder.
"You didn't say it wasn't safe, so…" Her curiosity was pulsing, but her logic was stronger. Situations like this required logical decisions, not irrational, emotional-driven ones. She knew it was best to get away. She opened her mouth to command them to get out, but another cut her off.
"What is this?" Owen said, pointing to a glass structure in the center of the room. Her jaw tensed as her eyes fell upon it, every part of her knowing that was why the room was a BSL-1. However, it stood ajar, and if not sealed, how dangerous could it possibly be? Shay was a hungry student, always curious and exploring, some keen wanderlust trapped in her that couldn't be quelled, and in that moment, her logic was muted.
The remaining four stepped into the room, following the others towards the structure/
"You know we shouldn't be here, Katrina." she said sternly. The chill at the base of her neck refused to weaken, although she pushed along anyways.
"I just want to look, Shay." Katrina replied, shooting her a glance. She sighed and followed, knowing she was making a bad choice. Carson and Marena followed her. It will only be for a few minutes.
"Are we really gonna go in there?" Marena muttered under her breath to him, her voice just loud enough for Shay to hear.
"The door's open, and it's only a BSL-1. There weren't even any facemasks in here, so how dangerous could it be?" She hoped Carson was right.
"Look but don't touch!" She ordered as she shuffled inside the box, instantly registering she made a poor decision. Nine bodies were crammed together in the tight space, the ceiling no more than three feet above Carson's head, who was the tallest of the group. Although he stood at six foot even, Marena was not too far behind him. It was going to get very hot inside very fast.
"Get out of my way, freak," Kyleigh snarled as Jaycee accidentally bumped into her. She watched on as Jaycee looked up, eyes clouded with hurt, while Kyleigh roughly shouldered her into a touchscreen on the back of the glass wall. The moment her body touched it the screen changed, flashing words the sprawl of Jaycee's narrow figure blocked out. It shuddered and went dark within seconds.
"Doors closing. Please prepare for infection." A robotic voice informed them, identical to the one they'd heard outside. All nine heads whipped around to face the direction in which they'd come, finding the door now securely shut. Panic blazed in her chest as the words repeated over and over in her mind, driving a frantic look into her eyes.
"What the hell does that mean?" Carson shouted as he shoved his way through the crowd. He instantly began catapulting his entire body against the door, aiming to force it open or shatter the glass. Somewhere behind Shay, the first sounds of chaos were beginning to rise.
Others followed Carson, first Marena, then Owen and lastly Shay, all moving in sync against the door. No matter how much force they put against it the glass did not break, nor did the door move. The desperation had begun to take hold by then, and he ran at it with a final cry of war. His impact did not even scratch the glass. As Carson's lean body crumpled to the floor after the final collision, a dazed look glistening dark eyes, all hell broke loose.
"Shay, are we going to die?" Katrina asked, voice cracking as she stood in the corner, back pressed up against the glass. Her amber eyes had grown wide, taking on an animalistic glint, and color was slowly seeping from her face. She looked as terrified as Shay felt.
She didn't have time to respond, for the robotic voice cut her off the moment she parted her lips.
Thank you for reading! Tell me, did you enjoy the first chapter? Think you'll read on? What were your initial reactions to the story? Any opinion at all would be helpful.