I examine the bodies from afar for a little while, trying to figure out if anything made these specific creatures any different than the others roaming around the forest. Maybe someone was angry and upset, got infected and wanted revenge. Maybe someone had a colleague who fell ill and was upset. They could have been caught in a swarm. Somebody could have made camp near here and disposed all of the bodies here over a span of days, though all of them look as though they were killed in nearly the same time span. There are many other possibilities, but for now, I can just continue on.
There seems to be a trail of footprints leading away from the bodies. They aren’t the usual close, shambling footprints of a creature - they’re spread out, indicating someone had been walking briskly or running away. They are straight and lead in a specific direction, instead of being all over the place, leading wherever in a random pattern. This could lead me to the person, if they are still alive, and could earn me a colleague, someone to talk to besides myself or a creature.
The map that I have been following indicates some kind of school in the area, but I’m not sure if it’s still standing. Many buildings have either collapsed or have been purposely torn down. Some of the maps are old enough to have structures that are no longer standing, even before the epidemic. It seems that the footprints are leading to the school, but I may be mistaken. I continue to follow them.
I look up above the treeline and see smoke rising, a thick, black smoke that can only mean a bonfire. It could be similar to the house I saw earlier that was burned down, but it could also mean a camp of some sort with other survivors.
I might as well head towards the fire. A fire that big has to mean at least two people, if it is a camp. The more people, the safer I am, as long as we stay on good terms.
Heading towards the fire, the building starts to come into view. I confirm that it is a camp, as there is a bonfire built outside with a few adults standing around it, all wearing black shirts with pins on them. They’re chatting but I can’t hear them over the crackle of the bonfire.
The building is large and square, with bare walls and a few stories. I’ve seen advertisements for the camp all around, posted on poles and on trees and houses. I dare not get closer, for one outstanding reason.
I don’t know what the overall goal of the camp is, but it is run by the government, and, knowing that they started this whole thing, they might have some sort of plan for everyone inside. They could torture people, or test on them in inhumane ways. No matter what, I’m pretty sure that it’s not safe, even if they are working towards a cure. People will die there, and I have no doubt of that. I wish I could help save people, but I could only do that if I had more people on my side. If I walk into there, I’m not getting out easily.
I watch the camp for a little while, spying on the adults outside by the bonfire. I wish I could hear them - maybe then I’d be able to rescue some people. I feel terrible for everyone in the camp, even the workers. Everybody in there is in danger.
The sun continues to creep upwards in the sky and I turn to walk back into the woods. Exploring a bit, heading in different directions than I had come originally, I come across a small shack in the middle of the woods. It’s secluded, and I think it’ll be a great place to set up camp for a little while. It’s small enough for me to constantly check my surroundings and not have to worry about a creature hiding around the corner in the house. However, it’s large enough for me to set up all of my equipment and have room to spare.
I take out the beakers and lab equipment that I had been keeping in my bag and set them out on a dresser in the room. There’s a bathroom in the back and a bed. Even though it’s not large or very furnished, it’s useful and has all of the necessities I wanted. I could stay here for a while, if I wanted.
After setting up, I head back out to find something, anything to study. Maybe I could find a creature that hasn’t been Bloodied yet. It’d give me something to do and I’d be able to complete some research.
I head back out into the woods, closing the creaky door behind me. Surprisingly, I can’t find any creatures for a long while.
Then the screaming starts, and this time they’re full of emotion. Someone alive, being attacked. I head towards it, pulling up the hood on my jacket, and see a young boy being clawed and scratched at by three creatures. I can’t tell from where I’m standing, but I’m sure that the one in the middle isn’t a Bloody yet. I shoot the other two with my gun expertly, and they both fall to the ground. The remaining creature stands to follow me, and I start heading backwards to get it back to my little shack.
On the way, I fall over a protruding root and scramble to my feet, the creature gaining on me. My heart is pounding, but I’m able to get up in time and get it back to the shack, opening the door behind me shakily.
I get the creature down on the bed by kicking him hard in the shin. He falls, flailing, and I start to finish up the concoction I was creating to study. I’m not sure what it will do, but I would love to test it out to see its reaction.
I keep muttering to myself, trying to keep track of everything I want to try. The concoction that I had been testing on might be able to help somehow, but I am not sure if the ingredients and chemicals I used will be enough. Maybe they’ll be too much. There’s no way to find out unless I try it.
Writing things down in the notebook laying on the dresser, I take great care not to smudge anything in case it actually happens to work. I finally feel as though I’m finished.
It looks as if it was a young boy, a teenager, around my age. He hasn’t been infected for long - for one thing, he’s not a Bloody, and his skin is still plump, not taut.
Wearing some protective padding, I pin the creature down, vial in one gloved hand, and am able to feed it to the creature, watching it get stuck and bubble in his mouth. I hold down his right thumb, stopping the gag reflex, and he swallows.
I jump up, taking more notes in my notebook, and take off my gloves. It either worked or failed, but either way, I have nothing to lose.
He starts to cough. In my experience, the creatures cannot cough when their memories are gone.
“It works!” I shout, then stop, trying to contain my excitement. I don’t want to get myself over excited just to have it fail, like some experiments have in the past.
“Hello,” I tell him. “How are you feeling?”
He coughs again, a rattling cough, and I can tell he’s uncomfortable. “It hurts,” he explains.
“Can you remember?” I ask eagerly. “Like, before this whole thing went down?”
“I remember…. my family. And life, what it was like to live. It felt like I was dead, I couldn’t move… I could just sit in silence and watch myself torture others. It was awful.” His face is contorting as he speaks, showing more emotion by the second. He’s examining his hands and fingers, turning them over.
I offer, “I’ll take care of you until you’re a bit better. And sorry for being so rough with you earlier. Can’t risk being infected, my studies would cease.” At that, he coughs and laughs at the same time, and I give him a smile.
“You’re okay now, though.” I tell him. “You’ll be alright, as long as I can stay around, take care of you. Do you have any family left that you can remember?”
“No, they’re all gone. I know that my mom died, and when she was gone the rest of us got infected. I’m pretty sure they’re all dead too, my dad and my sister. Even if they aren’t, they will be soon.” he states grimly. “Who’d you lose?”
“Mom and Dad. Plus our family dog. Ran away. So,” I say, changing the subject, “can you tell me your name yet?”
I can see him thinking extremely hard, letting the memories rush back to him. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, he opens his mouth, takes a deep breath, and answers, “Miles Brooch.”
That means it works, that it remembers. The name is always the last to go, the last memory that you’re able to hold on to. After you forget your own name, you’re done; you’re just a blank slate. According to Miles, you can still think and feel, but not outwardly. You’re trapped in your own mind, unable to control your body. It’s like sitting inside a giant robot that’s taken control, leaving you to watch the destruction it causes as it wreaks havoc. I bet the entire situation is terrifying.
I get Miles some food and start to nurse his wounds. He looks pretty badly injured and keeps looking at his leg. Maybe I hurt him a bit too much kicking him onto the bed. I didn’t mean to; I was concerned for my own safety, as well as his.
Now that I know it works, I can go and help people, find a cure. There’s just a small problem.
Well, a couple small problems.
The first is that I’m nearly out of ingredients, chemicals. That’s why I wanted to find a hospital, but I’m afraid that it’ll either be raided or overrun. It could quite possibly be both.
The second problem is that one of my ingredients got mixed up. I wasn’t taking as much care and precision writing everything down in the beginning, and I’m not sure what ingredient I used - there are a few possibilities of what it could be. I regretted it the next day when I couldn’t figure it out, but I couldn’t start over - I kept working. That’s what got me here, anyway.
Now that I have a colleague, maybe Miles can help me. We can beat this thing together, I know it.
I’m glad that I finally have someone to talk to.
Congratulations to everyone who's made it this far. Whether you're at 5,000 or 25,000 or 50,000, I know you're doing amazing. Keep it up!
We're officially at the halfway point, and I'm so grateful for everyone supporting me. It gives me so much hope. Thank you.