Toxic

This is an old one for me, but it’s one of my favourites to be honest. It’s the longest complete thing that I’ve written that I’m actually happy with: my longest is something like 14k words but it was all atrocious garbage. My fantasy novella will probably turn out longer, but this one is still a nice bit of history for me. I could probably go back and touch it up, I finished this one a year ago. It’s probably also the darkest thing I’ve ever written: which is saying something for me!

I woke up one day and couldn’t remember a thing.

Well, maybe some things. I knew how to breathe. I knew how to speak. I knew that I was a girl. But not much more.

I opened my eyes and saw a white ceiling. I began to wonder why it was there. I didn’t remember going to sleep in a room with a white ceiling. Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember going to sleep. After pondering this for a few moments, I sat up. As I moved, there was a harsh sound, almost like a long, drawn out squeak. I froze and looked down. The bed that I was lying in seemed to be made entirely out of plastic. The blanket was plastic, the mattress was plastic, even the clothes I was wearing seemed to be plastic. I winced as I slid out of bed, the sound of the plastics sliding against each other assaulting my ears. I stretched my arms and looked around. There wasn’t much to see. Apart from the bed, there was a sink and a toilet, but nothing else. The walls were the same bleached white as the ceiling was. Only the grey metal door wasn’t that horrible white. I walked slowly to the door, footsteps echoing around the room. The door was basically a hunk of iron. I rested my fingers lightly on the latch, wincing at the cold. The latch rattled loudly as I fiddled with it, but the door refused to move. I tried the doorknob next, but with the same result. I stepped away, looking over it for any weakness. There were none, of course. My heart started up a rapid rhythm, doubt and fear pulsing through my blood. I leaned against a wall, breathing heavily.

“Calm down.” I said to myself. “Someone’s going to get you. Just chill for a bit.” I didn’t really believe it, but panicking wasn’t going to get me anywhere.

I then turned my attention to the clothes that I was wearing, if you could call them that. It was a softer, more malleable plastic, but plastic nevertheless. It had adhered to my skin during the night, and I spent a few uncomfortable moments loosening it. It had to almost be peeled off. The stench that came wafting out made me retch, but the feeling of relief was worth it.

I quickly realised there wasn’t much to do in here. I washed my face and hands at the sink, and gave my skin a quick rubdown to clean off the dried sweat. As I washed, I took the time to examine myself. My amnesia was clearly pretty bad. Everything about me was unfamiliar. From the tiny, delicate hands, to the pallid white flesh, and the dark waxy hair that I had to continually brush from my face. When I had finished washing, I stared at the plastic garment I had been wearing. It was disgusting. The smell was horrible. The inside was still slick with the sweat that hadn’t fully dried. But, there was nothing else around that I could wear, and I didn’t want to walk around completely naked. I sighed and gave the inside a quick rinse. After that, I flipped it inside out and slid that on. It felt absolutely terrible. I wanted actual clothes. Not this lump of malformed plastic. It didn’t even fit right, far too tight around the stomach. Still, there wasn’t much other choice. After I was somewhat comfortable, I tried to get out again. I knocked on the door. No response. Knocked louder. Nothing. I banged on that door and yelled for what felt like an hour, even as my hands started going numb and my voice hoarse and reedy. I couldn’t keep going. Everything hurt too much.

I sat on the bed for a while, deep in thought. There was nothing even remotely familiar here; I didn’t know where I was, why I was trapped in this room or how long I’d been here. Knowing you know nothing about yourself is a strange feeling. Not a single thing; not even my name. Did I have family? Friends? A place to call home? None of that mattered now. I was trapped, alone and getting awfully hungry.

you will forget

I was mulling over this predicament when I heard a noise. The doorknob was turning. I stood slowly, staring at the door. My skin prickled up with excitement and fear. There was someone, I wasn’t forgotten. The door swung open with a groan. A figure stepped in, clothed from the neck down in a grey hazmat suit. There was a big mask fitted over their face, black, with grey circles over the eyes and a long nozzle extending from the front. The tube lead towards the waist, feeding into their belt. They stiffened when they saw me. I approached slowly. Even a person I didn’t know was better than no one.

“Can you help me?” I asked quietly, with my still hoarse voice. The figure didn’t answer. Instead, they began to back up. I moved quicker, extending my hand out to them.

“Please!” I said desperately. “I don’t know what’s happening, you have to help me!” Still no answer. The person  made it through the doorway, grabbed the door and moved to slam it shut.

“No!” I yelled. I couldn’t let them trap me, I couldn’t. There had to be people outside, and I wasn’t going to be stuck in this place for a moment longer. I managed to brace myself against the frame as the door swung shut. The sudden slam into me hurt, but it stayed open. I began to struggle out of the door when the masked person talked.

“Get back! Back inside, now!” The voice came out garbled, and I couldn’t tell if they were a man or a woman. I didn’t care.

“Please, no,” I said, “I’m all alone in there. Can’t we talk? Please?”

“Back in the room, right now!” A furrow crossed my brow. I wasn’t going to be abandoned again. With a furious yell, I flung myself forward and tackled the figure. I brought them down onto the cold metal floor with a loud thud. My hands found their throat and squeezed it tight. Almost immediately they twisted and threw me down to the ground. Their hands slammed into my shoulders and held them there. It was impossible to determine their true bulk under the thick suit they wore, but I was just a scrawny, hungry girl. I was no match for them. Wildly, I clutched at the long nozzle hanging from the face and pulled it down. They moved their hands from my shoulders and grabbed my wrist.

“Don’t touch that!” They screamed. “Don’t you dare!” I should’ve listened to the tone; the desperate, terrified warble of their voice that came through even the garble of the mask. But I didn’t.

I grabbed the mask with my other hand, at its edge where it connected with the suit near the shoulder. Before they could react, I tore it off their face with a single, swift motion. I saw the face of a man, sweaty and ridged with lines from the mask. His eyes were wide, jaw slightly open. He let go of my wrist and flung himself from me, backing up against a wall.

“You…” He said, voice shaking nearly as much as he was, “took… took it off…” I stood and threw the mask to the side of the thin corridor and glared at him.

“I did.” I said, with as much confidence as I could muster. “I want to talk now, you owe me that.” The man coughed and shuddered.

“No…”

“Please!” The desperation had returned to my voice. “I don’t know… I don’t know where I am… I don’t even know who I am! Please, I just want to know…” He had started coughing again, louder and longer. Soon he was bent double, hands on knees, body wracked with barking coughs. I looked at him awkwardly, unsure of what to do. Hesitantly, I stepped forward, watching him suspiciously.

The man’s fit continued. He barely had time to gasp for breath between his coughs, and began to stagger towards the far end of the corridor. He planted a hand on the wall and dragged it along behind him, the other arm wrapped tight around his stomach. I watched him go, my anger subsiding. I couldn’t hit a sick man, could I?

But then he stopped. His whole body spasmed randomly. The coughing slowed, and grew quieter. He started to stand up straight again. I walked closer, ready to ask a barrage of questions. He suddenly bent over again, hands slamming onto the ground, and started vomiting. I stepped back, eyes widening in surprise. He didn’t seem that sick when he was wrestling with me. But there he was, shaking and vomiting on the cold metal ground. As he kept going, I realised how there must be something wrong. It’d been almost half a minute and there was no sign of him stopping, or even slowing. But there was nothing I could do. I stood and awkwardly watched as he continued to spill his guts.

It took me a second more to realise just how bad the situation was. The vomit had blood in it now. It started with just a few red tinges, but became more prevalent until all that was coming out was a constant stream of blood. His arms shook, then buckled, and he collapsed in the large puddle he had made. My heart skipped a beat. I ran forward, gripping him by the shoulders and spun him around to face me. What met my gaze made me drop the body and jump back with a scream.

His face was crusted with hundreds of boils. Hundreds and hundreds, red and swollen, filled with pus. His eyes had been swallowed by the boils, invisible under the mounds of mottled flesh. I stood and stared for nearly a minute, tears stinging my eyes and my throat tightening. He was dead, that was plain to see. Just a minute ago he was fine, but now he lay in a puddle of his own blood and vomit, with a face covered in giant open sores. I stepped away. I could feel the blood draining from my face, my stomach tying itself into knots. He must’ve been sick, but what could kill so quickly? So violently? Was it contagious? Maybe I had already caught it. I slid down the wall, hands to my face. I didn’t want to die. Not like that.

they will die

Finally, I gritted my teeth and stood up. I had to find someone and tell them that someone had died, and that I needed help. Gingerly I stepped around the corpse, avoiding the mess of blood and vomit. The smell was starting to get to me. It smelt horrible and sickly, and I felt like throwing up myself. I choked down what little stomach content I had and kept moving. The end of the corridor also had a metal door, but this was built larger and thicker. There wasn’t even a doorknob or any obvious opening mechanism. I searched the door for a few minutes before noticing the button on the wall. I sighed as I pressed it and the door slid open. Clearly I’d lost some wit along with my memories. This opened into another bleached white room, much wider than the corridor and room I was in before. All it seemed to contain was a chute built into one of the walls, and another giant door. As I walked to the next door, the first one slid shut behind me. The place was clearly automated. I moved to the chute and took a quick look. The sign above it said “Incinerator Chute. All outer clothes to be disposed of immediately.”.

I decided to disobey the sign and continued to the door. I certainly wasn’t going to try and strip the dead man of clothes, and I had nothing else to wear. This one also had a button, and the door slid open just like the last one when I pressed it. This room wasn’t white, instead the same metallic grey as the doors. In this room there was a showerhead, and knobs underneath it. There were also clothes hooks studded along the walls, but all of them were empty. This was vexing. I continued along to the door. This one had a doorknob, and was more like the door to my previous room. I tried the door, and it was happily unlocked. With a click and a squeak the door swung in, and I peered around the door. There were people there.

I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face. There were about ten of them in the long, wide room. They had lab coats and safety glasses, and seemed to be hard at work. Whatever they were working on was less important than what had just transpired though. Someone had died. I stared for a few moments, thinking of what to say. I cleared my throat, and they all turned towards me. They all froze in place, eyes widening and jaws dropping.

“Um… hi.” I said awkwardly, smiling slightly. “I need a bit of help…” No one responded, they were far too busy scrambling back and fumbling with doors. I walked into the room, staring at them with confusion.

“Please?” I asked. “I think someone’s died in there, and I don’t know what to do…” They managed to throw open one of the doors, and there was a mad rush to get through.

“No, wait!” I yelled, and sprinted after them. I managed to clutch the hand of one of them before they got out, but my fingers were too loose and they easily broke my grip. I stopped at the door frame and watched them go. There was no way I’d be able to catch them now.

“Why are you running?” I called to them. “Please, come back!” I knew they wouldn’t listen, why would they start now? Dejected, I slunk back into the room and examined it. It was full of notes.  The tables were plastered with hundreds of overlapping papers, the chalkboards covered with strange scrawls that I couldn’t understand. Even the walls were written on. I picked up a piece of paper and squinted at it. It was covered with symbols that didn’t make any sense, written messily with black ink. As I stared, the paper crumbled apart in my grip, breaking into tiny pieces which fluttered to the floor. Confused, I grabbed another piece, with the same result. They didn’t seem wet or otherwise weakened. I ran my hand over one of the tables. After a few moments, the paper on it also began to break apart. I grabbed a handful of the pieces and absently let them sift through my fingers.

again

I decided I wasn’t going to find anything in here and walked out the door where all the people had left. It opened into another long corridor. I was beginning to get sick of these. This one was different though, it branched and split into other areas, and there were other doors along the walls. There was no sign of life either way, so I turned to the left and followed the corridor. I tried each door I passed, but these ones were all locked as well. The doors that had windows on them I tried to look through, but I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t tell whether the lights were out in there or if the windows were tinged. I came to a fork in the corridor, and looked along both sides. There seemed to be an odd lump on the floor in the right path, so I took that way to see what it was. As I approached, a foul smell hit me. I gagged and staggered back, fighting for the second time today to not throw up. Even though I was only a few meters away from it, I still couldn’t make out what it was. I stepped back a bit, took a big lungful of clean air, then powered forwards. I reached it, and crouched down to examine it further. It looked like a mound of black mold with a white coat stretched over it.

Gingerly, I grabbed the coat between thumb and forefinger and pulled at it. It came away in my fingers, it was thinner than I had thought. Underneath it was more of the black stuff. I didn’t want to touch that. But my curiosity was getting to me. I took another deep breath through my mouth, screwed my eyes shut and poked the mass with a finger. It was cold and clammy, and horribly soft. My finger went straight through until I touched something solid. I began to pull away at the mass, wondering what would be under it. It wasn’t long before I saw it. A speck of bleached white under the blackness. I grabbed it and pulled. It didn’t budge. I pulled harder, with both hands this time. There was a crunch, a snap, but it still was stuck. After the third attempt it came out. As soon as I saw what it was, I dropped it with a shriek.

It was a bone. Human bone. It looked like part of the spine, splintered from my attempts to remove it. Tears stung my eyes as I jumped away, staring at the mass and realising what it was. Some poor bastard, flesh rotted into that slimy black gunk. It had fallen away mostly, but some parts still clung to the bones underneath. It looked like they’d died running, landing face first with arms spread wide out. The lab coat seemed to be affected by what rotted the flesh as well, it had fallen apart completely.

“Oh god.” I murmured to myself. My hands were coated in the foul smelling juices and stained black. I backed away from the corpse cautiously. What could do that to someone? And how had no one else noticed? I turned around and ran away, blindly staggering along the corridor. I was sobbing now, sobbing and gasping. Panic had seized me fully. People were dying. Dying of terrible, terrible sickness. How long would it be before I caught it? I’d stuck my hands in a pile of rotten flesh, I probably already had. It wasn’t long before I stopped running, slumping against the wall and sliding down to the floor. I sat, sobbing and shaking, head buried in my knees. I just wanted to know where I was, who I was. But here I was, trapped in a cold, empty place with two corpses, and scientists who ran whenever they saw me. I sat for about ten minutes, sobbing to myself wordlessly. Eventually, my eyes ran dry, and I began to remember that I was ravenous. I stood up again, almost placing my hands on my knees before remembering what was on them. I stuck my arms out to the sides instead. My first priority now was to wash my hands. The stuff had dried and become hard. It felt even more disgusting than it did before.

and again

Walking down the corridor was daunting. My footsteps sounded terribly loud in the silence. The noise reverberated off the metal walls to become louder and louder. Before long it gave me a big, thumping headache. I wanted to massage my temples, and nearly did, before once again remembering why that was a bad idea. So I just kept walking. I called out every so often. Tried every door. Made as much noise as possible. Maybe someone would hear me, I reasoned. It was a slim hope, but what else did I have? I began to notice subtle changes in my environment as I moved through it. The colours of the walls changed as I moved through areas. The doors had different numbers on them, and the windows had slightly different tinges. They were all still locked, though.

It wasn’t long before I realised I was profoundly and deeply lost. Not that it really mattered. At one point, I found a massive door barring the way. It was basically a slab of metal stretching across the corridor, thick and imposing. I examined it for a few moments before giving up and backtracking. Eventually, during my wandering, I found a bathroom. I saw the sign hanging off the ceiling, and immediately broke out into a run. My hands had felt worse and worse every minute, and I was already fantasising about scrubbing it all clean. I grabbed the door handle, pulled it down hard, and pushed. It was locked. I think my heart skipped a beat at that moment. I rattled it, pushed and pulled, growing more desperate each minute. Even the most simple things were denied to me, it seemed. I knocked, and yelled.

“Is there anyone in there? Hello?” No response. “Anyone?” I sighed and stepped back, examining the door. This door was different to the others, it wasn’t a big sheet of metal. Clearly whoever ran this place thought a bathroom wasn’t worth protecting. Instead, it was a far more aesthetically pleasing wood. Aesthetically pleasing perhaps, but far weaker. I took a few more steps back, then charged at it, shoulder first. I bounced off with a loud smack. I winced, bit my tongue and staggered back. That hurt a lot more than I was anticipating. The door was completely unscathed, it didn’t even rattle. Clearly brute force wasn’t going to do much. I braced my hands on the door and tried to get a good look at the lock. Unfortunately, the lock was a chain design. I wasn’t going to be able to pick that. But I wasn’t going to give up. If the door was locked, there had to be someone in there.

I examined the door closely, looking for any weakness I could use. As I pushed and prodded, I realised there was a foul odour in the air. It was worse than what lingered on my hands, something I didn’t even think possible. I coughed and spluttered, nostrils burning and eyes streaming. I staggered away from the door, and took a few minutes to clear my nose of the terrible smell. I turned back, and noticed something odd. The door was sagging in on itself. It looked like it had been punched in the center. The middle was sunken and wrinkled, with the ends curled outwards and folded into the center. The colour had changed as well, I noticed. Before it was a deep rippled brown, now it was nearly completely black. As I watched, the wood groaned, shuddered, then collapsed in on itself. I stepped forward and cautiously poked what remained of the wood with a toe. It fell apart into a shapeless mass as I touched it. A fresh bout of the stench came out when I touched it. I gagged, stood, then jumped over the remains of the door.

you’re a monster

What greeted me in the room made me sink to my knees and start gagging again. There was a body with its head lodged in the toilet bowl. The bowl had overflowed with a horrifying mix of water, vomit and blood, and had begun to pool on the floor. The arms of the body were covered in massive open sores, still slowly leaking blood and pus. Their hands were clutching the edge of the bowl tightly. I sat and stared at the corpse for a few minutes, dumbstruck. They’d died the same way the first man had. I couldn’t tell if the face was covered in boils, like the first one. I didn’t want to know anyway. I realised that they couldn’t have been dead long. Those wounds were still seeping blood, and the flesh showed no signs of decay. I stood up and moved to the sink slowly. There was nothing I could do. And even if I was desperate enough to strip the corpse of clothes, their lab coat was sodden with blood. I took a deep breath, then turned back to the sink. I grabbed at the soap, and watched it disintegrate. It turned into slag at my touch, and dripped uselessly through my fingers. I washed the goop off my hands, then crouched and rummaged through the cupboard under the sink. After a brief search, I found a bottle of methylated spirits. I liberally covered my hands in it, wincing at the sting, and began to scrub. The smell was refreshing though, it almost took my mind off the corpse just a few short steps away.

As I washed, I looked up in the mirror and examined my face for the first time. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it still wasn’t a pretty sight. My face looked almost hollow, with sunken brown eyes and cheeks. Massive dark patches underlined my bloodshot eyes. The darkness against the pale of the rest of my skin gave me an almost ghostly look. My hair was a wild mass of black tangle, also a great contrast to my milky skin. It was a sobering image, to say the least. I sighed and splashed my face with water, then took a long drink. I backed cautiously out of the room, taking great care not to look at the corpse or step in the rotted door. Then I was back in the endless expanse of narrow, nondescript corridors. The smell behind me was still lingering in the air, assaulting my nostrils. I took a left and continued my aimless journey.

there is no escape

After a few minutes of wandering, a sudden noise echoed through the halls. I stopped dead and listened. The noise continued, distant but sustained. It seemed to be coming from behind me. I turned on my heel and trotted off towards the noise. The noise directed me through the twisting passages better then any map could. As I approached, the sound grew more rapid and frenzied. Finally, I turned a corner and saw the source. There was someone banging on one of the big metal doors I’d seen earlier. They were wearing one of the big, bulky grey suits that I had seen before.

“Hello?” I called out. They turned to me, revealing an unmasked face, dwarfed by the massive suit that they wore. I couldn’t make out details from the distance, but I could see a mass of brown hair tied loosely in a bun, and facial features contorted in horror.

“Don’t move!” She said in a shrill voice. “Don’t you come any closer!” I frowned, but kept my distance.

“I just want to talk.” I replied. The woman had run to one of the small doors and was rummaging around in a pocket.

“I know,” she said, sounding noticeably calmer, “but not now. Just give me a minute.” She pulled out a key and opened the door, almost bounding inside. I leaned against the wall and waited, drumming an aimless tune on the metal. Someone had finally talked to me without screaming bloody murder or dying, which was a nice change.

“Okay, come in.” She said. The voice was garbled now, but still recognisable. I walked to the door and stepped inside. The room was small and full of open lockers. The lockers had a variety of things inside. There were more of those big suits hanging inside, as well as masks, unmarked gas tanks, and a few lunchboxes as well. The woman was sitting on a bench, staring at me through one of the masks. The long nozzle led into a gas canister sitting beside her. I sat on the opposite bench and leaned forward.

“You’re talking to me. No one else did, apart from the first guy. And even then, not much.” I babbled out, barely able to believe that there was someone else.

“I am.” She replied. “But the others had good reason not to.”  I looked at her blankly for a few seconds, before she sighed and continued. “You’ve probably noticed some of the bodies.”

“I found… three. I think.”

“There would be more.” Another sigh. “I think I’m the only one who survived.”

“Survived what? Two of them died the same way, I know. Is there some bug going around? A disease?”

“You could say that.”

“Does that mean I’m going to catch it?” My throat tightened as a chill ran through me. “Have… I already got it? I touched one of the bodies!” She shook her head.

“You really don’t know, do you?”

“Don’t know… what?” She reached out and took one of my hands in the massive glove. She stared for a few seconds longer before speaking. Even through the distortion of the mask, the pain in her voice was apparent.

“You’re not going to catch it. You already have it. You’re the vector. Everyone is getting sick because of you.” Instantly I broke out on a cold sweat. I was vaguely aware of my jaw dropping open unbidden. My shoulders sagged, and I dropped my face into my hands.

“But… how…” I said, voice muffled.

“We don’t know. We’ve been working on you for months, and we still don’t know anything.” I snapped up and glared.

“Months? I’ve been here for months?”

“You have. We’ve kept you in that room, drawn blood, taken samples, run tests, and we haven’t figured out a thing.” I stood and began pacing the room.

“You mean I’ve just been killing everyone? By existing? Because I have a disease?”

“Worse than that.”

“How can it get worse? I killed so many…” My voice was growing higher and more shrill. I stopped myself and took a breath as she continued.

“It’s not just that you kill people. Any organic material rots within a few moments to a few minutes after you touch it. The only exception, of course, is yourself.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“That’s what we all thought as well. We didn’t think it possible. But it’s true. Let me demonstrate.” She stood, grabbing the tank next to her, and walked to one of the lockers while I watched. She crouched, rummaged around inside, and stood again.

“Catch.” She tossed something through the air at me, a gentle lob. I caught it easily and looked at it. A bright red apple, gleaming in the bright lights. After a second, something began to change. The skin darkened and wrinkled before my eyes, shriveling in on itself. A foul smell permeated the room, and spots of mold started to appear on the surface of the apple. Disgusted, I threw it away. It hit one of the walls with a splat, and slid down, leaving a trail of black gunk behind it. When it reached the bottom, it was nothing but a slimy mass of rotten flesh.

“My god…” I murmured. “I touched one of them. I touched one of the scientists, and that…”

“That killed him.” She had snuck up behind me, and was standing at my shoulder. I turned my head to face her.

“But what about the others? I didn’t touch anyone else.”

“No, but that’s not the only problem you have. Maybe not even the worst.”

“Not the worst? I kill everything I touch. What could be worse than that?”

“Follow me. I might be able to show you.” She walked out the door, not bothering to see if I would follow. Part of me wanted to stay in this room and hide. But the fear of being left alone came crawling into my mind, and before long I could think of nothing else. Meekly, I left the room and followed.

you will kill her

“While we’re walking,” I said as I jogged up behind her, “I have some questions to ask.”

“Go for it.”

“Who am I?” She chuckled.

“We were hoping you could answer that. Honestly? We don’t know.”

“Surely you would’ve had to find me somewhere? A city? A house? You must have some idea.”

“Not even close. We found you unconscious in a cornfield. Rural America, I believe.”

“Just… just lying in a field. A cornfield.”

“A dead cornfield. With a dead farmer nearby. The first officer to set foot in the field died within two minutes. The second officer died in a minute and a half.”

“Because of me…”

“After that, the hazmat suits got sent in. They expected you to be just another casualty, but you were unharmed. Not healthy, mind. You were severely dehydrated and emaciated. Your feet were covered in calluses and blisters.”

“This sounds like something I should remember. But I don’t. Not a thing.”

“Mm. You’ve shown quite a severe case of amnesia. More than once.”

“I’ve done this more than once?”

“You’ve never actually escaped before. You’ve woken up, banged on the door, and we’ve sedated you. That was meant to be procedure.” I stopped and glared at her. When I spoke again, my voice took a harsh tone.

“So you kidnapped me and kept me hostage for months on end, and whenever I’ve woken up you’ve just knocked me back out again?” She sighed and turned to me.

“We had two choices. We could keep you for study, like we are… were doing. Or, we could put a bullet in you. Quite a few of us voted for the latter.” I blinked and frowned.

“Kill me? Why?”

“Because you’re more dangerous than anything else on the planet.” She shook her head and unlocked one of the nearby doors.

“Because I rot everything I touch.” My voice had dropped. A lead ball had settled in my stomach and was weighing me down.

She walked inside and beckoned. I swallowed, steeled my nerves, and walked in. The room was massive. It looked to be a science lab, walls and floor a gleaming, polished white. The marble tables were covered liberally in beakers, bottles, burettes and microscopes. Some of the burettes were still dripping, and I began to notice many uncleaned spills.

“This is our pathology lab.” She said, gesturing broadly. “I was working here when the alert went out. About three others with me, I think.”

“The alert for me escaping?”

“That’s right. You triggered the silent alarm that signals lockdowns. There was an evacuation procedure, but people just started panicking. Some might have escaped before the lockdown doors turned on, but who knows. I went straight to get a safety suit, and the doors were shut when I finished. I hadn’t gotten my mask on when I first saw you, though.” I walked around the tables and tried to identify some of the experiments.

“And everyone was working on me, I suppose.” I started fiddling with some of the glassware while she nodded.

“Right. We’ve been working overtime, trying to discover how you tick. We had no real clue, to be honest. And there were numerous fatalities slowing the proceedings.”

“How exactly were you going about that?”

“Examining blood, skin, saliva, trying to identify the viruses and bacteria. What we were able to find, was… disturbing.”

“Go on.” I was dreading to find out what could disturb a pathologist, but this was something I needed to know.

“Keep in mind, we have no idea how this occurred. Any attempts we made to replicate the phenomenon failed spectacularly.”

“I imagine all the subjects died?”

“What we have seen seems to be almost a symbiotic relationship between your body and the pathogens.” I raised my eyebrow and shook my head. She sighed and elaborated.

“Basically, it’s as if your body has come to an agreement with the bacteria, viruses and whatnot inside you. They get a place to breed and mutate at a shockingly fast rate, and you are unharmed by the diseases.” By now my mouth was hanging open.

“How…. how is that possible?”

“We don’t know. Your body is full of pathogens, most of which we can’t identify. They are incredibly virulent, and can multiply to lethal numbers in a matter of seconds. Our antibiotics don’t halt the spread, and some even seem to feed the bloody things.”

“And so all this… stuff in me killed the people I saw? All the scientists?”

“Yes. You’ve probably noticed this mask I’m wearing, and the suit.” I nodded and she continued. “While there are many diseases in you, they survive in different vectors. The organic material devouring microbes live exclusively in your skin and sweat, different ones live in your blood, and some still can survive on your breath and in the air. Essentially, you have an invisible field around you full of deadly microbes. I’m breathing through an oxygen tank to make sure I don’t inhale any.”

“The first man I saw, my face was close to his.” I muttered to myself, trying to remember. “And he died in just a minute or so.”

“Sounds about right. Anyway, these suits are specifically designed to protect the wearer from whatever kind of diseases you have. They’re man made, so your flesh eating type doesn’t do a thing. They even have a gel coating to trap some of the potential vectors. Prevents as much cross contamination as possible.”

you will forget

I began to speak, but was interrupted by a loud, blaring siren. I flinched instinctively, and the scientist stiffened.

“What’s that?” I yelled above the noise, clutching my hands to my ears.

“They’re opening the lockdown doors.” She said. “The retrieval team must be coming in.” She turned to me and clasped a hand on my shoulder. “You need to be as non-threatening as possible, you understand? Most people here would much prefer you dead, they think you’re too dangerous to control. The military teams are particularly aggressive about it. Don’t give them a reason to shoot.” I nodded. “Good. Let’s go.” We walked out into the corridor and stood still. The siren was still going, as loud as ever. She was holding onto my shoulder tight. I was clutching my arms close to myself, head bowed.

“Be non-threatening,” I murmured to myself, a little mantra, “non-threatening, non-threatening, then they won’t shoot.” She squeezed on harder, and I looked up. Three figures were approaching quickly. It was hard to make it out from the distance, but they were clearly holding guns. I shrunk back instinctively, while the scientist released her grip and walked forwards.

“Don’t worry.” She said calmly, raising her hands slowly. “She’s not going to do a thing.” The figures came closer. They were wearing similar suits and masks to the scientist, the masks leading down into tanks at their belts. The only difference was the colouration, the three had jet black suits and masks.

“Get the girl.” One said coldly. The other two stormed towards me. One shoved the muzzle of his rifle into my face, the other jammed it painfully between my shoulderblades.

“Don’t move.” The one in front of me growled. The first one grabbed a radio from his belt and talked into it.

“Location 37-C. Found target and survivor. Bring containment suit, stat.” He paused briefly, listening intently, then nodded. “Roger that, sir.” He attached the rifle to his back, then turned to the scientist.

“Have you touched the specimen?”

“Yes, I have, but these suits…” She didn’t get time to finish before she was shot. As soon as she said yes, his hand dropped and yanked a pistol free from his belt. Her voice barely had time to trail off before he had raised the gun and fired three quick shots. They all bored into her skull, splitting it into a shower of blood and bone. It took a moment for the realisation to sink in, but the thud of her body hitting the floor jarred me back to reality. Tears streamed down my cheeks unbidden as I screamed. The man behind me gave me a shove with the rifle and growled into my ear.

“If you don’t shut up, I’ll shut you up. Get me?” I bit my tongue and nodded gently. The first man slid the still smoking pistol back into his belt and approached. I turned my gaze to my feet and refused to look him in the eye. For a few minutes, nothing happened. I heard footsteps as the murderer paced the room, the strange breathing coming from the masked men, and the rapid thumping of my heart. Finally, I felt another jab from behind.

“Look up, girlie.” Hesitantly, I raised my head. There was a whole crowd of the masked men, rifles raised, staring right at me. An empty suit was thrown roughly at my feet, followed by a mask and an oxygen canister.

“Put those on. Now.” It was impossible to tell which of them was speaking, but I did as I was told. The gun was no longer pressed to my back, but it was almost more nerve wracking to know that they were just trained on me, awaiting any false move I made.

The suit was far too big for me, the belts around the waist went well up to my mid stomach. I floundered around, searching vainly for straps and buckles to adjust. It was a long process, legs in first, arms next, but finding the holes was a nightmare. Whenever I looked up there was a gun barrel pointed squarely at my face, and I’d immediately look down again. Finally, I got the suit to stay on slightly. Even with all the buckles strapped to the tightest setting it was sagging in many places. I picked up the mask in gloved fingers and slid it over my face. This one was loose as well, and it took several moments of adjusting to align the eyeholes with my eyes. I pulled as much excess material of the mask down, and slotted it into the neck of the suit, sealing it shut. I bent down and attached the rubber hose to the gas canister, where it slid in with a hiss and a click.

As soon as the suit was sealed, they rushed me. My hands were grabbed and wrenched towards my back, my ankles were caught and hoisted into the air. I started to struggle, but a sudden fist in the gut brought an end to that. The breath in my lungs was forced out in a pathetic squeak, and I could do nothing but wheeze as I was thrown roughly over a shoulder. My face was pressed into the back of one of the masked men, and began to jolt with every step they made. Resigned, I hung my limbs loosely, and felt them sway and shake erratically. An arm was wrapped tightly around my waist and held me firmly in place. The tube leading to my gas can followed a path upwards towards my waist, but I couldn’t actually see it. After a couple of minutes of dead silence, I heard a voice from somewhere. I almost considered raising my head to find the source, then I realised how pointless that would be.

“Sir. There was a body?”

“They touched the skin of the specimen. They were a potential vector. Orders were to neutralise all vectors.”

“Killing the girl would be easier.” My blood ran cold at that. They were talking about me like I was just an animal.

“It would. But the higher ups think the study is more important.”

“She’s a living biological weapon. No study is worth that.”

“I don’t make the orders. I follow them. Discussion is not important.” There was a brief lapse in the conversation, before the apparent leader spoke again. “Were all the charges laid?” There was a chorus of agreement. “Good. As soon as we’re at safe distance, we’re blowing this place to rubble.”

“Not taking the bodies?”

“The bodies are a potential vector. And you know orders.”

“Forgive my questioning, sir, but isn’t it procedure to identify the bodies? Inform next of kin?” A different voice growled in response.

“Fuck procedure. Did you see what that girl does to people? I wouldn’t touch the bodies with a ten foot pole.” The leader spoke again. I was learning to discern the voices, distorted as they were.

“Corpse identification is not required. This entire wing was exposed to the girl, they were all vectors. Total death count of twenty-five.” Another voice.

“Didn’t some reach the lockdown doors before they closed?”

“They did. They were disposed of.”

“Surely they couldn’t have been in contact with the girl if they lived.”

“We can’t take a chance. All vectors must be destroyed.”

until the very end

I closed my eyes and tuned out the chatter. I could feel dried tears on my cheeks, the lonely few I had shed for my only friend. No more came, despite how much I thought about my situation. Was I really that detached from it all? Blood started thumping around my temples, rushing painfully through my head. My mind turned back to my empty stomach and my dry throat. Another difficult thing to ignore was the sweating. These suits did not breathe at all, but the mask was the worst.

I stared at the floor, watching the tiles go by. Anything to take my mind off the situation. The floor was much nicer here than it was before. I turned my head and let my gaze wander the room. The place was well furnished. There was a TV on the wall, a half circle of soft chairs around it, and even a couch on the far end of the room. The walls were a pleasant yellow, unlike the bleach white of the corridors. The only thing marring the view was a body propped up against the wall. The head was split open, a wide splatter of brains and blood providing a morbid backdrop. They were dressed like the scientists I’d seen earlier. I swallowed the lump that formed in my throat and turned back to the floor.

The floor evolved as I watched. It changed from the tile, to flat marble, to plush carpet, and finally a set of stairs. I clutched onto my carrier instinctively when we reached the stairs, a vain attempt to resist the rapid bouncing. My teeth rattled together in my mouth painfully and split the roof of my mouth. I spat out the foaming mass of blood into my mask. As we approached the top, I heard a curious noise. A small hissing, quiet and barely noticeable.

I looked around for the source for a few moments before realising it was coming from in my mask. I grabbed at the nozzle of my mask and pulled it away from my face, looking for where it was coming from. Trails of smoke were coming out of a small patch where my spit had landed. It was bubbling intensely now, hissing furiously to itself. I watched in shock as it ate through the thick rubber and fell away to the floor. I plugged the tiny hole with my thumb and hoped that they wouldn’t notice the breach. They were still talking to themselves. I tried to listen, but it was so full of military jargon I could only understand every third word or so. The ground changed again, now a dark asphalt. I was thrown roughly to the ground, landing face first. Slowly I propped myself up, gasping for breath.

“Sir. Our transport?”

“It should be here. Everyone else has evacuated, but I was told there was an armoured escort…” His voice was interrupted by the sudden sound of gunfire, and the horrible whistle of bullets sailing through the air. One caught a soldier in the throat, piercing through the layers of rubber and flying through the other side of his neck in a spray of blood. While he collapsed and died, the others raised their rifles and returned fire. I took the chance to begin crawling away, near deafened by the sudden cacophony. A bullet bounced off the ground just an inch away from me, whistling by my ear and scarring the concrete with a crack. There wasn’t anywhere to hide, the carpark was totally barren. I flattened myself as low as I could and covered my ears.

Before long the gunfire started to die down, I could now hear the screams and moans of the dying through it. I considered getting up, but a bullet sailing over my back was enough to change my mind. Finally, the gunfire stopped and was replaced by the sound of running feet. Before I could stand, I was grabbed roughly at the scruff of my neck and hoisted into the air. The face that met mine was covered like everyone else, complete with oxygen tank. But this one was different somehow. It was worn and faded, obvious scuff marks around the forehead and cheeks.

“Gotcha.” I could hear the smirk in his voice. “Aw, they even bundled you up for us. How considerate.” I reached out and grabbed the nozzle leading into his gas tank.

“Let me go.” Even I was surprised by the detachment in my voice. It sounded flat and dead. He chuckled and slapped me roughly in the face. My fingers slackened with the stinging pain, and he dropped me onto the concrete.

“Happy now? Come on boys, bring her back.” For the second time today, I was picked up like a ragdoll, slung over yet another shoulder. It was far easier to tell this group apart. Every suit was different, some were roughly strapped together from separate parts, and the colours ranged from dark purple to a bright green.

“Wow, we lost a few. How many of us left, huh?” This was the first man, sounding as smug and arrogant as before.

“Er…” There was a brief silence. “Looks like five, boss.”

“That’s good. Less ways to split the ransom, huh?” A hearty laugh rang out while I looked up.

“You’re going to sell me? Doesn’t seem smart.” The man carrying me paused while the leader jerked back. I couldn’t see his eyes, but the harsh glare was obvious enough from his stance.

“Not smart? Are you blind, kiddo? Just look around.” I was flipped and placed roughly on my feet. The ground was littered with twisted, broken bodies, blood already baking dry in the sun.

“So you can shoot.” I said. The waver in my voice was long gone. “Is that meant to be impressive?” He stalked forward and jabbed a finger into my chest.

“Oh, look at you. So brave. We could kill you whenever we want. You might want to watch the lip, little girl. Or you’ll get worse than a slap.” I raised my head to him, licking my lips.

“But you haven’t killed me. And you won’t, will you? You want me alive.” He hesitated for a few seconds, then bent in close.

“Okay, you figured it out. You’re not as stupid as you look. Yeah, we’re selling you. A ransom. Do you have any idea how much you’re worth? They’d do anything to get you back. They’ll pay whatever we ask for. Maybe even double.”

“Money doesn’t matter when you’re dead. Have you seen what I do to people?” He chuckled again, humorlessly this time.

“Seen? No. But a friend of mine at this facility, boy, has he heard horror stories. People dying in thirty seconds. Eyes melting out of their sockets. Corpses exploding into clouds of spores. Lots of fun stuff. We’re gonna keep you locked up tight. Then we can demand a ransom, and wait for the cash to come rolling in. If they refuse, we’ll drop you in a city somewhere, then pick you up and run off again. Then they won’t have a choice. It’s genius, isn’t it, boys?” A murmur of agreement came from behind me while I concentrated.

“You listening to me, girlie? Nothing you can do. Might as well be nice, quiet and cooperative.” I didn’t dignify him with a response. Instead, I spat.

The spittle arced through the air perfectly, flying through the small hole I had made and splattered on his chest. He grunted and looked at my mask.

“You got a little hole there, huh? Such a mighty act of defiance. Truly, I shudder at your presence.” I paid him no mind, instead staring at his chest. That little spot was beginning to fizz. Tiny wisps of smoke floated out, growing in intensity by the second. He noticed and looked down, grunting in confusion.

“What the…” With that, I turned and ran. Cries of anger and confusion started up behind me as I ran. Almost immediately my legs started burning with the strain, and the sound of footsteps behind me was growing louder. I ripped the mask off my face and hurled to the ground while I sucked in a lungful of fresh air. I heard a cough from behind and smirked slightly. But that moment of victory was fleeting as I remembered my situation. The coughing was growing louder and the footsteps were slowing. I hoped that they would be too worried about their boss to chase after me. I ripped off the gloves next and licked my palms. Thankfully, there was no hissing or smoke. I didn’t know how acid could be selective, and frankly, I didn’t care.

Gauging from the sounds, there was still someone close behind. I slowed, then whirled around and pushed my palms into my pursuer’s stomach. The hissing started immediately, but my efforts were rewarded with a smack in the head with his rifle. My temple exploded into pain as I staggered away, dropping my head into my hands. My shoulders were grabbed and yanked forwards. Mustering what little strength I had left, I kicked up sharply and hit him right between the legs. The noise he made was halfway between a scream and a whimper, and he dropped to the ground. He’d already started coughing by the time I’d turned away. My feet hammered a frantic tune while my heart pounded desperately in my chest. My head was still reeling from the blow and I was beginning to feel faint from hunger. But somehow I kept going, sprinting across that carpark like there was no tomorrow.

There was brushland I could see not far from where I was, I changed my course and veered towards it. I could hear screams of anguish in the distance, along with those terrible wracking coughs. Risking a look over my shoulder, I saw that no one was chasing me, or was even upright. All of them must’ve touched that acid one way or another. Finally my feet broke away from the asphalt and landed on soft earth. With each step I sunk slightly into the ground, leaving a clear trail behind. I was still puffing like a bellows, and my lungs burned more with every breath. I allowed my pace to slow, then stop, bending over and gasping for breath.

The grass in front of me began to shrivel before my eyes, wilting into tiny black stalks. I forced myself to stand and keep walking, away from my prison, away from the world.

It wasn’t long before the day’s events took their toll. The adrenaline in my system wore off after only a few minutes, and I could feel my muscles slacken in response. My breathing was ragged, heavy, my footsteps slow and unsteady. My eyelids drooped of their own accord, and the world grew fainter and colder. I could barely feel my hunger or the throbbing headache anymore. My skin was numb, so horribly numb. Suddenly the ground was coming closer and everything was getting dark and cold and

You will forget. They will die.  Again.  And again. You’re a monster. There is no escape. You will forget,

Until the very end.

I woke up one day and couldn’t remember a thing.

Well, maybe some things. I knew how to breathe. I knew how to speak. I knew that I was a girl. But not much more.

My face was pressed into the ground when I opened my eyes. There was no grass or any other plants in sight, nothing except for my bare hand and the dry earth. Slowly, I stood, wincing at my aching muscles. The whole field was barren, from what I could see in the pale moonlight. I shivered and hugged myself tight. I was wearing an ill fitting rubber suit over most of my body, but the wind was still cold and harsh, biting deep to the bone. A barrage of questions filled my mind. Where am I? Why am I wearing this suit? Do I have friends, family, or even a place to call home? And, perhaps most importantly, who am I? Shivering again, I walked off into the gloom, in search of someone to talk to.

Maybe someone will know who I am.

Someone has to.

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