I couldn't help but to think...this is the part when the concept of foreplay becomes less of a carnal delight and more of a burden. How much can we get away with in the time we have left together?
That question was answered seconds later as the sound of hard bottomed shoes approached the classroom door from the outside. Muffled voices speaking to one another with a sense of urgency. And then, they were close enough to put their intrusive hands on the door to our private paradise!
In an instant of near hysteria, both Alex and I disentangled ourselves and looked at one another, wide eyed, before doing the only thing that we could do in this situation...
We ducked down to the floor and crawled up under the desk as swiftly and as silently as we could, hearing the classroom door open in the background. Alex thought to put a hand on the teacher's chair, as it had wheels on it, and if anybody heard the sound of it rolling, their attention would be drawn to this corner right away.
I had to hold my breath in order to keep from making any noise. Please don't turn the lights on. Please don't turn the lights on. Please, oh PLEASE, don't turn the lights on!
The first voice I heard was the doctor we saw down in the infirmary not long ago. He was obviously flustered about something, rushing into the room and immediately taking off his glasses as three more men entered the room behind him. Alex and I remained dead silent. Thankful that this corner was dark enough to hide us in a shadow even darker than the rest of the room. "This can't go on! This is serious! Do your soldiers have any idea what they've done?"
"Calm down, Dr. Vega. I assure you, the boy was checked out. No bites. No scratches." The second voice was Sergeant Brower. After his morning and even speeches and safety lectures, we could recognize that voice anywhere. I started to lean forward to see if I could silently peek around the corner of the desk to see what was going on. Alex grabbed my wrist, shaking his head, but I pressed my finger to my lips to let him know that I wouldn't make a sound.
"You don't understand...I don't think it's all about physical wounds." Dr. Vega told him. As I peered around the desk, I saw the doctor, Sgt. Brower, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Snyder, and one of the other soldiers who had his head bandaged and his arm in a sling. Dr. Vega said, "We initially thought that this 'sickness' went viral simply through blood and saliva, and that these creatures were merely products of a direct attack. But...it appears that we may have been wrong."
That definitely got Sgt. Brower's attention. "I can't say that I like the sound of that, doctor. Please continue." He folded his arms and stepped closer. Even standing still, that man can be intimidating as hell.
"That father, the one who brought his boy in sick, he may have passed inspection, hey bothmay have passed inspection, but...we've been looking for open wounds...not the symptoms of the disease itself." Dr. Vega said. "Initially we thought that maybe we could cooperate with law enforcement and figure out what happened by tracing everything back to the earliest reports of violence in the various areas around the city. Possibly finding a 'patient zero' and figuring out a way to reverse the effects and keep the pandemic from getting any worse. But the problem didn't originate in just one area. Or two. Or ten. The outbreak, seemingly, came from hundreds of different locations at once. No rhyme, no reason. And once the carnage began, their numbers double or triple every 24 hours. That's why the chaos came down on us so quick. The city fell to pieces so quickly because whatever started it all exists in dozens, maybe even hundreds of silent carriers."
"You want to take the short way to the part where you actually tell me what this all means? I don't have the luxury of a drawn out campfire story, doctor." Brower said.
Mr. Snyder chimed in and said, "The outbreak is coming from within. It is highly contagious when it comes to bite marks and scratches...but it started in a wide variety of hosts. All over the city. Perhaps all over the country." Again, Brower wanted to know more. After having Mr. Snyder two years in a row for science classes, I could already see him getting into 'teacher mode'. "Think of it like...the chicken pox. You may have a bad case of it when you're a kid and it's gone in a couple of weeks, you go on with life and you don't think about it anymore. But the truth is, that virus doesn't ever go away. It simply lays dormant in your system for the rest of your life, waiting for your immune system to weaken to miss a step so that it can suddenly be 'reawakened' from within, causing Shingles." He said. "With this particular outbreak, however...there doesn't seem to be any previous illness attached to the sleeping contaminates. Something within the carriers that was previously inactive was suddenly 'triggered' somehow, and it simply took over. From there...it was just a matter of violently spreading the illness to a variety of new hosts. Their earliest victims never saw it coming."
"Are you trying to tell me that we can't distinguish who's a carrier and who isn't?" The sergeant asked.
Dr. Vega replied, "Not until it's too late, I'm afraid." He peered over at the soldier that he had given medical attention to, and said, "Private Harries? Can you tell him what you told us?"
The soldier stood at attention at first, but the sergeant let him know that he could rest at ease. The soldier's voice was trembling slightly when he said, "I was on security detail at Hillside, sir. I stood at the gates, I watched the convoys come in...the people..." He swallowed hard as he remembered the horror of the bloodbath that supposedly took place there. "...Soldiers and doctors were working day and night to save as many civilians as they could. They were exhausting themselves. I was called in to assist. I checked new visitors from head to toe, looking for any signs of injury. Anything. There was this...this boy. He couldn't have been more than fourteen or fifteen years old. I remember him because...when I handed him his clothes back I noticed that he was wearing red sneakers. Bright red sneakers."
"Go on." The sergeant said.
"He was clean, sir. One hundred percent free from injury. I checked him myself." He continued. "A week later...people began to disappear. Civilians. Soldiers. Medical staff. By the time we realized what was happening, we had an entire basement full of those things. They crawled up from beneath us and...we didn't stand a fighting chance. They multiplied so fast. So very fast." A single tear rolled from the Private Harries' eye. We tried to hold them off by blocking off that part of the school, and we checked the surveillance tapes to see what we missed. The first attack came from that same boy. Red shoes. He was a carrier and he didn't even know it. It was like...someone had flipped a switch inside of him. He was FINE before that! But...he wasn't the only one. Another teen boy and a preteen girl made the next few attacks. According to our staff, they all checked out. The adults were all fine as long as they hadn't been bitten, but the kids...the goddamned kids..." The soldier began to break down, and Mr. Snyder stepped in again.
"I've heard similar reports from many of the other people we brought here, Sgt. Brower. Not just from the Hillside massacre, but from other places as well. Always the same scenario. The teenagers pass inspection with flying colors, but they're the first to trigger the outbreak. It's the adolescents that are the carriers. They are the ones being awakened, and contaminating everyone around them. They don't need to be bitten. They don't need to be turned. Whether the sleeping virus gets activated or not is completely random."
Brower asked, "Well, what's triggering the virus?"
"We don't know yet."
"Well, how can we tell which kid is a threat to us? What are the symptoms?"
Dr. Vega said, "We're still working on that. For now, it's anybody's guess. It could be a severe change in look and behavior...or it might just look like the common cold. We simply don't have enough information yet to determine what we need to be looking for and what we can dismiss as simply being a 24 hour flu bug."
"This isn't comforting me at all, doctor." Brower said. "You do realize that we have fortified ourselves in a high school for safety, don't you? What you're telling me is that sixty five percent of our inhabitants may be ticking time bombs?" There was a moment of silence between them. No one wanted to answer. Sgt. Brower said, "Alright, first thing tomorrow morning, I want the teenagers in this facility rounded up and counted and sent back for re-evaluation. You said we're looking for ages between fourteen and fifteen, correct? Maybe a year on either side, give or take?"
Snyder said, "I'm afraid that won't do us any good, sergeant." When asked why not, he answered, "Well...I know that it's a common perception that teenagers are teenagers and that's all there is to it. They should be 'this' developed by age 13, and 'that' height by age 15...when their voice should change, when their shoulders should broaden, etcetera. We classify them by averages and quick studies in order to put them all in one lump sum. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is, it would be really difficult to find any two teenagers alike. They grow at different times, they mature at different ages...some teens keep a baby face until they're twenty five, others start growing mustaches at twelve. We can't figure out if this violent trigger is connected to their rapidly changing biological development, if it's hormonal, or if it just strikes certain teens at random. It might affect five kids in the whole complex, it might affect ten. Maybe none of them will be affected. Or..."
Mr. Snyder stopped there, but Dr. Vega said, "...Or it could be all of them. We have no way to know for sure."
"Are you folks telling me that we may experience a future breach in our security if we let the wrong people in here?"
Dr. Vega said, "Sergeant Brower...right now I've got a 12 year old boy in the infirmary who is so traumatized by what happened to him that I can't even get him to speak. And another boy, brought in by a police officer, who seems like he's just got a bad case of the sniffles...but for all I know, he could be halfway through the change himself." The men all looked at one another with concern. "Alert your troops, sergeant. The 'wrong people' may already be here."
"You have to call off the other search and rescue convoys, sergeant." Snyder said. "At least until we figure out a surefire way to detect potential carriers and separate them from the 'normal' teenagers. Otherwise, there's nothing to stop this school from becoming another Hillside."
Sgt. Brower walked over to the window...and he looked at the bloodthirsty horde of zombies still pawing at the gate. I made sure to pull my head back behind the desk and hold my breath so as not to be discovered. "Separate them from the 'normal' teenagers, huh?" Brower looked back over his shoulder. "And then what? Are we just going to toss them out there? With 'them'?"
"It's a matter of survival, sir." Dr. Vega said. "What happens when we start letting these infected children in with their families?"
"I've got a better question for you, Doc..." He said. "...What happens when we start turning them away?"