Frankie kept his promise and came round that night. He had talked to his 'contacts' and told me that everything Brent had said was true- he had slept with Cindy. I knew it might be true, but hearing it confirmed made me sullen. Jimmy and Frankie knew me well enough to know that I just needed time to process what had happened. Silently, we did the farm choirs together. Afterwards, while Jimmy went to an old barn a half mile away to check on his still and moonshine, Frankie and I sat on the porch.
"Did Cindy have anything to say for herself?" I asked. "I tried calling, but she won't answer."
Frankie looked uncomfortable.
"I heard her talking to that flock of sheep that follow her around. It's like you said. You were too straight laced for her. She said Brent was more adventurous," Frankie mumbled.
We sat in silence until Frankies dad and younger brother, Ryan, came to collect him. After he left, I ambled inside and switched on the news. It was full of reports of it spread. Most of Eastern Europe seemed to have outbreaks now. There were sketchy reports of an illness like the one in the east springing up in Berlin, Madrid and Paris. All the sick appeared to be aid workers. England and Ireland had closed their borders and suspended some treaty that allowed free travel within the EU. They had an interview with an English Doctor stationed in Poland. She was trying to calm everyone down by saying that the best minds in the world were working on the outbreak. I fell asleep around the third or fourth time they played her interview.
Dr. Elizabeth Swanson marched through the painfully white corridors of the research facility that the Polish government had provided, making her way to the observation room. She was part of an international research team trying to understand the plague. Despite what she gad said in a news report earlier, everyone was befuddled by the virus. Apart from the fact that it invaded the brain like meningitis, they knew Jack shit other than the symptoms.
She swiped her security card at the sealed metal door and it slid open with only the barest hiss. Dr. Swansons ears were immediately assaulted by the hum of the lab. Scientists and lab technicians hurried about, delivering reports or compared notes. Dozens of voices rose and fell in several different languages, and in the centre of it all, the test subjects.
There were six in total. Two were an elderly couple who had been near the epicentre and were in the final stages of the infection. They lay side by side on a double cot, moaning in pain at their swollen joints. Their wrinkled faces were pale, sweat dripped from their foreheads and they were numb to any external stimuli except the pain in their joints and their hunger. When fresh meat was introduced to their cell, they came out of their stupor and attacked it like feral beasts. Roumer had it that the military had found a young woman in the final stages hiding out in a meat factory. She had gorged on so much meat that her stomach was so swollen she couldn't stand. The elderly couple here had been lucid enough for a short while to describe the initial airborne virus as smelling like ammonia. The airborne virus only had a range of fifty miles. After that, it was spread by bites. That they were sure of.
In the beginning, someone in the early stages of the infection suffered extreme thirst and bouts of extreme tiredness. As it progressed into the sscond stage, they suffered agitation of the epidermis- itchy skin to the common person, coupled with blurred vision and trouble with balance. The third stage was the most frightening. Whatever the virus did to the brain, it turned the infected person completely savage. It wasn't umcommon to see people in the third stage alternatly ripping at their clothes or battering some object until their hands bleed, all in a fit of rage. In the fourth stage, they stood completely still, not even twitching, barley breathing. It was postulated that this was the virus working its way through the nervous system. There was a brief lull between the fourth and fifth stage where the person seemed to regain a brief period of clarity. They were able to communicate and dress themselves if they had torn off all their clothes during the third stage. Then the fifth and final stage hit, and they would end up like the old couple.
Dr. Swanson looked in the old couple briefly, before gazing at the four other stages. There were two males and two females. It was easier to think of them just by their genders instead of seeing them as people. Otherwise, Dr. Swanson didn't think she would be able to face them. The were all in their mid to late teens, and all represented one of the four stages! and all were kept in special isolation cells made of transparent, and very hard, plastic.
Stage one was a young girls, maybe fourteen. She was lethargically draining a bottle of water. She had a nasty bite wound on her hand. Her sixteen year sister was in the cell next to her, alternating between yawning, itching or drinking. The third cell was occupied by an eighteen year old soldier, and he was well into the third stage. He had ripped off most of his clotes with the exception of his underwear and he was beating his hands raw trying to get out. Blood ran from his cracked knuckles, staining the clothes pooled at his feet. Dr. Swanson eyed him wearily. Off all the patients, he could do the most damage. He had the body of a pro bodybuilder, all large, hard muscle. Even though the plastic was meant to be solid, she could see it bulge under his fists. Finally, she turned her eyes to the stage four patient. He was fourteen and unlike the patient beside him, he had shed all his clothes. He stood there, his slight chest hardly moving. She checked his chart. He had been in this state for eighteen hours. That was normal. Pretty soon, he should be lucid. Even for a short while.
Between her morbid fascination to hear what the child had to say, and the news that she was to be transferred to the CDC in Atlanta with her research, she didn't notice a test tube of one of the subjects blood heating over a Brunson burner, giving off the faint smell of ammonia. Only much later would they find out that blood given by a living host could give off the virus in its airborn state if heated.
School had been canceled. Jimmy and I sat around the dinner table one evening , talking about a special summer dinner when my grandad rang to tell me. I liked school, but any chance not to see that runt I called my brother, well, I would take it. Uncle Jimmy offered me a shot of moonshine to celebrate, but I turned it down. Instead, I turned up the radio and listened to the reports of infection. Judging by the outbreaks here on American soil, the infection was entering the country through our larges airports in New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angelus. Jimmy cleared his throat to get my attention.
"I ever tell you I was a doomsday prepper?" he slurred.
"I sorta guessed with all the guns, ammo, food and booze you have stocked up."
"No need to get cocky kid," he grumbled. "Listen, tomorrow I need to to go into town. I need you to fill up my prescription for my heart pills and to get a few other things."
"Like what?" I asked
"Fill up the truck and a few Jerry cans with fuel. I put in an order to fill up the propane and fuel tanks, but the less we use them, the better I will feel. Also, food, whiskey and swing by your house and collect the last of your clothes. I will stay here for the fuel guys to arrive. And I will pay for everything, so don't you go at your savings kiddo. Here's a list," Jimmy said, sliding several sheets of A4 paper towards me. I glanced over the list.
"No problem old man," I grinned, and then danced away as Uncle Jimmy playfully tried to swat me wig a rolled up newspaper.