Pandemic

This short story was originally written for my 2015 horror anthology, Random Number Hotline, but I scrapped it in favor of another story.

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My legs shook as I stood before the front porch of the Carner family house. I still questioned my reasons for volunteering for this grisly mission in the first place. Perhaps I felt obliged to undertake the task because of my past with the family. I knew them better than anyone else in town ever did.

Maybe it was because nobody else on my street were exactly keen on volunteering to murder a family of four. It was understandable. There was something terrible happening. Some kind of disease, or virus, or…something. Nobody knew for sure what it was exactly, or where it had come from, but from what we had heard about it on the news before the stations went down, we were all living on borrowed time.

It hadn’t arrived in our town yet, as far as we knew. We had an agreement, those who hadn’t decided to run for the airports, harbors or bus depots. There was no point in running. Where would we go? So we stayed here, and tried to hold down the fort and survive for as long as we could. If anyone showed any signs of the sickness, we were to put them down, right then and there without hesitation. Since there was a lack of firearms and people trained in their use left in town, we had to find alternatives.

And here I was. Standing outside the house of my oldest and dearest friends at the crack of dawn, carrying a huge container of gasoline in each hand and a box of matches in my jacket pocket. The cold winter snow drifted to the ground, like ash from a volcano. I stared ahead at the front door, face grim, taking slow, deep breaths as I prepared myself.

The Carners hadn’t checked in with the rest of our group before heading home for the night. They hadn’t missed a night since we started our last stand. So we had to assume the worst, that the Carners were sick and now a risk to the rest of us. We made the arrangements the next morning: contain the spread of the disease, any way we could. Send a volunteer into their house to confirm the Carners were gone, and then burn the house to the ground.

I glanced back at my neighbors, watching me anxiously from a distance, making sure I did what had to be done. Nobody said a word. They all knew what was at stake here.

For a second I considered dousing the building and razing it from outside. The old wooden house would go up in flames in moments, and I wouldn’t have to go inside and look each of the Carners in the eye and tell them that they were going to die.

No.

I had known this family for nearly fifteen years. I owed them this much. They didn’t deserve to die like that. A part of me still hoped that they were still alive and well in there. Maybe they just went home early the previous night and forgot about the arranged check-in time. But it just wasn’t likely. The Carners had been the first people to show up for the check-in, every night, right on the hour. They were punctual. It wasn’t like them to forget something as important as this. Yes, they were definitely gone. I just had to see it for my own eyes.

Taking a slow, deep breath, I finally took another step forward and opened the front door, slipping inside and closing it behind me. I froze mid-step at the scene inside the house.

A thick pool of blood had accumulated on the floor of the house. There were no bodies so far, just blood. There had to be gallons of the stuff, covering the floor like a crimson carpet. I cautiously stepped inside, taking care not to slip on the incredible amount of blood in the house. It was unreal. What did this stuff do to the Carners? I clutched the gasoline tighter as I rounded the corner of the entrance hallway and turned left into the living room. I immediately noticed a body lying face down, amidst flipped tables and broken furniture.

My heart sank when I realized who it was. Jen Carner. A lovely woman, always friendly and full of life. Seeing her like this almost brought me to tears. She didn’t deserve this. From here I stood, her skin appeared to be unnaturally pale, like she didn’t have a drop of blood left in her body. Judging by the horrific volume of blood flooding this area of the house, for all I knew, she didn’t. I guess this was how the sickness killed its victims. It was beyond horrific.

I tore myself away from Jen after saying a quick prayer for her and moved out of the living room and through to the kitchen. Again, the tiled floors were slick with blood. It seemed to be separate from Jen’s though. But I couldn’t see the other Carners in here. I racked my brain, trying to remember the layout of the house. There was the kitchen and the living room down here on the first floor, the stairs were near the kitchen, which led up to the bathrooms and bedrooms.

The stairs. I navigated around the blood and left the kitchen getting a clear view of the stairs. They were glistening with blood, the source of which seemed to originate from somewhere up on the second floor. Some of it had started to solidify, forming a still, macabre waterfall down each of the steps. I dreaded going up there, but what choice did I have? Someone could still be alive, although my hopes were deteriorating by the second.

Step by step, I climbed the stairs, taking care not to slip on my way up. About halfway, I stopped, and listened. Silence greeted me at first, but then I heard it. A sound from upstairs, muffled, most likely behind a closed door in a bedroom or one of the bathrooms. It sounded oddly like a…sob.

With new hope in my heart, I pulled myself upstairs and listened again. Another quiet sob confirmed it. One of the Carners was still alive up here. I searched the bathrooms first, finding nothing. And then I reached the master bedroom, and as I reached out to open the door, I noticed the floor beneath my feet was bright with blood. A lot of it. It seemed to be coming from under the door of this bedroom. I reached out and pushed the door open and took a look inside.

There were three people in here. A man, a young boy and a teenage girl. Two of them were motionless, silent and deathly pale. The girl’s head glanced up at the sound of me entering the room, as if waking from a long slumber.

It was the rest of the Carners. Lukas, Aaron and Isabelle. I carefully moved towards them, but Isabelle weakly rose a quivering hand.

“No…don’t…oh God…the blood…you’ll catch it too,” she rambled. I stopped in my tracks. The poor girl could barely move, and she was clearly in a lot of pain. She clutched her stomach. “Oh…please. Kill me…it hurts…I can’t take this anymore.”

I stared at Isabelle, my lower lip quivering. I had to do something for the girl, I owed her this. God only knew how long she had been here, with only the company of her dead brother and father. But there was nothing I could do for her like this. The Carners didn’t own a gun, and I wasn’t about to go and club this girl to death with a baseball bat. She had suffered enough.

Isabelle looked up at me with pleading eyes, and before I could even say a word to her, she convulsed violently, shaking as if she was having a seizure. After a few seconds of this, she stopped, and vomited blood all over the ground. To my absolute horror, she had started to bleed almost explosively out of her nose, her eyes, her—

I shut the bedroom door and backed away, trembling. They were all gone. I couldn’t help them. Memories flooded through my mind; having beers with Lukas at the pub, playing video games with Aaron, bouncing baby Isabelle on my knee when she was just a toddler. All the good memories this family had given me, now replaced with nightmarish visions of their lifeless, bloodless bodies.

My wits returned to me soon enough. There was still a job to do, and I couldn’t leave until it was done. If I didn’t torch this place, there was every chance that any one of us would wind up like the Carners. And that wasn’t an option.

I unscrewed the lid of one of the gasoline cans and poured it out onto the ground as I walked around the rest of the house. There was more than enough here to ensure that this place would be reduced to ashes by the time I was done with it. The horror I had seen in here would be destroyed forever, and would hopefully allow the rest of us to live our lives untouched by the pandemic. I could go home and drink myself into oblivion, and try to forget about today.

The last of the gasoline dribbled out of the first container, so I discarded it and cracked open the next one. As I fumbled to get the lid off, I felt an uneasy sensation in the pit of my stomach. It felt like its contents were starting to boil over. For a moment I thought I was going to throw up, but it eventually passed, and I degenerated into a coughing fit instead. I covered my mouth with my jacket sleeve to muffle the sound, but it did little good. When I pulled my arm down, I looked at the jacket and froze.

There was blood everywhere.

I couldn’t move after that. There was just no point. I knew now what Isabelle had been trying to tell me with her dying words. The blood spread the infection. I had no way to know that as soon as I had walked into the Carner house, I was a dead man.

My head felt faint. There was no hope for me now. The only thing I could do was destroy this place, to at least try and halt the spread of the infection. With the last of the gasoline, I sat down on the bloody steps and tipped the container over my head, continuing to cough uncontrollably.

I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the matches I had brought in with me. The box was still full. There was no chance of screwing this up. I pulled out three and held them together against the side of the box. Taking my last breath, I prepared to strike the matches.

It would all be over soon.

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