Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero
Winds whistled in the dark sky, sending a shiver down my spine. I didn’t like it out here, where an ally one day could be your enemy the next. The forest around me wasn’t a kind one. I adjusted my sleeping tarp and stared at the ink-black void above. I hadn’t been able to sleep for days; sickness, soreness, and stress subsumed my waking hours. Suddenly, a wooden snap echoed through the woods. I bolted upright and slid out of my resting place.
As I clambered to my feet, my arm slipped in mud, and my knee smashed against the murky ground. I prayed to whatever god was out there that it wasn’t shattered- the only thing holding me together at that point was gauze wrap. A lone hunting knife laid discarded on the ground next to me. I snatched it up wearily and pocketed it in case whatever was approaching was armed. I strained my ears to hear faint murmuring.
“...was… loud?” A soft, warm voice whispered. I could only hear a bit of what he had said over the crackling chirps of cicadas.
“Yes! Very! Come, now. We’ve no time to waste, lest…” Another voice, this one more boisterous, broke the spell of silence. She had a British accent, and though she was much louder than the boy, her voice was less full.
I followed my ears to the source of the sound, weaving through trees to approach my targets. When I caught a glimpse of lamplight, I fell back into the shadows and stalked the couple like prey. “Wh-what are we looking for…?” the boy asked, a parasite clinging to the girl’s cloaked shoulder. An angelic wing wrapped around his side, casting long shadows onto the grass behind.
The girl extended her other wing in a shrug. “Anything that could be of help to us. Shelter, game, medical supplies. Otherwise, your arm will stay like that forever.” I snuck around their backs to get a better look at the boy’s arm. It was held in a sling across his torso, bent at an odd angle. At the twist of his elbow, I caught a glimpse of red-soaked fabric and winced.
“It… it won’t stay like this for that long, right? Usually they, uh, heal, and it’s all fine…” the boy said. It seemed like he was more so trying to reassure himself than anything else.
“You haven’t seen the wound. You’ve not a clue how badly you’re injured,” the girl replied, turning away. She spread her wings out further into the clearing, nearly hitting me. “So be on the watch, you hear me? Anything is a blessing if you treat it as one.”
I decided I should say at least something to the two of them before they disappeared back into the forest. I stood up quietly and stepped out of the bushes behind them. “If anything’s a blessing, the virus must be the Pentecost for you two.”
The couple jumped back- the boy even added a small shriek. With a whip of her hand, the girl drew a makeshift bow from her back. I saw where it had been secured before she turned it on me. “Explain yourself, fiend!”
“Fiend? Yeah, sure. You all are the ones in my territory,” I retaliated. I hesitantly gripped the handle of the knife in my worn-out pocket, hoping I wouldn’t have to use it.
“As far as I’m concerned, lad, there’s not a single marker around. The forest isn’t your property.”
“Then you haven’t been here very long, lemme tell you that straight.” I took a step forward to seem threatening, despite my small stature compared to these two. “When’d you get here, anyway? Nice clothes you got. They aren’t even ripped yet.”
The boy offered to speak up. “We… uh, we got here, I think, um, three days ago…?” He stammered his speech- either he had lost too much blood to form coherent sentences or he was nervous. Perhaps it was both.
“He’s wrong. It was four days ago,” the girl corrected, sighing. “And what’s so special about public decency? I’ll opt to have clothes, thanks.” She was taking a shot at my clothing. I had just a raggedy patchwork shirt- if it could even be called that- and a pair of ripped khakis.
I ignored her rude remark. “So you got no idea what’s going on?” I asked her, tilting my head just the slightest bit.
“Just about,” she replied.
I took in a deep breath and let it all out, letting go of the grip on my knife. “Well, uh, good luck then. We’re a little scarce on food right now.” It was hard for me to say, but these two weren’t feeding six other mouths. They could sustain themselves.
“Wait just a moment, kid,” the girl interrupted. She presented the boy’s arm like it was a trophy, much to his distress. “Might you have gauze? Or any sort of bandage? He’s hurt, and I’ve nothing to help him with.”
“Nope. We don’t have any more gauze. Scram.” I wasn’t telling the whole truth- at camp, we had a supply of gauze, enough to last us another half a year given we weren’t getting mortally wounded every day. I wanted to conserve it as long as I could.
The boy frowned, staring me down. “B-but… you have gauze on right now…”
“Hey, wait, yes! You do have bandages! Why the hell would you lie to us like that?” the girl added. The corners of her mouth were turned up in a smile, but she seemed furious. My face went hot, and I realized I had messed up.
“...You know what, fine. If you really are dying, stay at my camp for the night. We can get your boyfriend patched up before I kick you back out here,” I offered with a small shrug.
Suddenly, the boy let go of the girl to hug me. He was a bit taller than I was, so he nearly knocked my weak legs over. “T-thank you…! It’s s-so cold out here…” I didn’t return his embrace, but I smiled weakly.
“Okay, dolts. Follow me. And you, the boy. Don’t trip,” I said, taking his puffy-sleeved wrist. “Hey. You. The girl. Lantern. Here.”
The girl put away her bow and picked up the lantern by her feet. “I can hold it, thanks,” she scoffed, swinging it by the handle. “And we have names, you know.”
I almost laughed. “Who gives a shit? You’re a girl, and you’re a boy. That’s all I need to know.”
“Yes, but consider it from my perspective; you’re both guys!” she complained. “Abandon your scathing postmodernism for a moment and consider the benefits of using names like humanity has for generations.” That certainly did put a different light on it.
“Arright, then tell me your names, if you want to so badly,” I responded, leading the way back to camp. I knew the forest- or, at least this part of it- like the back of my hand. Though, maybe that wasn’t the best analogy, since my hand was covered in bandages.
The girl stepped up closer to me and the boy to better illuminate the path. “My name is Sammy. My boyfriend here is Murry. And you?” the girl said. I hadn’t realized the boy- Murry, as she called him- was actually in a relationship with her. Looking back just a few moments, it should have been obvious. I had even called them lovers, but only as a joke.
“Just ‘cause you wanna tell me your name doesn’t mean I have to tell you mine. Identity shit and whatever,” I hissed, to Sammy’s disappointment. She scowled at me but continued to light the way. Eventually, we made it back to camp.
Murry faltered at the sight of it. “I-it’s not doing so well, is it?” he noted. The tents that made it up were torn at the corners and faded from use. They still retained their color, luckily, though it was hard to tell the difference between orange and red under the lamp’s light.
“Hey, it’s home. Never said it was gonna be a mansion,” I replied. I guided Murry over to the red medical tent and opened up the flaps with my free hand. The place had seen better days- some of the rations were long-expired, and bugs infiltrated the corners. Still, most of the actual supplies were protected and intact. As Sammy stepped in, I pulled a roll of gauze out from under a sheet of tarp.
Murry’s eyes lit up like the lantern at the sight of it, though it could have just been the reflection of the actual lantern. He had a hood on, so it was hard to tell what he looked like, but judging from what I could see, he had a soft jawline and a fair, light brown complexion. Whatever hair did poke out of the low-hanging hood was curly and similarly light brown. “S-so do you just, uh, wrap it around the wound?” he asked innocently.
“No, you’re gonna have to take the sleeve off, otherwise I can’t stop the blood,” I told him. He looked away uncomfortably as Sammy kneeled next to me. She slid her thumbs into his sleeve and began rolling it up past his elbow. She held the lantern close to it so I could see the damage, and suddenly, I wished I hadn’t.
I could see now what made up his complexion- his arm, and presumably the rest of his body, was covered in soft brown fur. Sammy parted the fur inside the crease of his elbow to reveal the wound. It was grotesque; it looked like a spear had been driven into his elbow and twisted. I could catch a glimpse of bone, which only made me want to vomit more. I quickly grabbed a bit of ointment and applied it to the gauze before wrapping it tightly around the wound.
“Is it done? C-can I move my arm around now?” Murry asked.
Sammy shook her head. “Murry, please. I thought you were the smart one. You of all people know wounds don’t work like that.”
“Yeah. It’s covered, but it isn’t healed. It’ll take, like, a half a day for the blood to stop flowing, then you gotta wear it in the sling for another week before you can let it hang. Even then, you shouldn’t be using it. Basically, you’re not gonna have a left arm for a while,” I explained to him.
He wiped his face with his other sleeve. “D-dammit. That’s my dominant hand…”
“You’re a southpaw?” I asked.
“What’s that?” he asked in return.
Sammy cut in. “It means you’re left-handed, Murry.”
“Oh. Uh, then, yeah.”
I felt a twinge in my heart. This kid, who quite obviously had no idea what he was doing, had lost his left arm in just four days. He might not have even known the forest was populated- and with killers, no less.
“So, why’d you come out here? Couldn’t you have stayed in your houses? God knows it’s safer out there,” I asked them. It was more pointed at Murry, but Sammy decided to answer anyway.
“We didn’t have much of a choice, I reckon,” she replied. “Got forced out! Damn those stupid-”
“Sammy, he d-doesn’t need to know about that…” Murry interrupted. He wasn’t angry at her- in fact, he seemed a little nervous. Of course, he had been nervous the whole time, but more so now.
Sammy huffed. “I suppose you’re right. Still, though, it wasn’t our fault we’re here, and now Murry here’s been infected. Might you have something to stop it?”
“Something to stop it? The hell? The thing’s only been wrecking my life for a month. Nowhere near enough time to make a cure,” I snarled. “You can see it’s affecting all of us. If he’s got it, you got other things to worry about.”
“Like what?” Sammy challenged.
I held out my fingers and began counting them off. “Food, water, shelter, tools, warmth, sanity, truces, allies, enemies, borders, weapons, government, and a couple other things. It isn’t easy out here.”
“Hold on… government? Weapons? W-what do you mean?” Murry asked.
“It’s a long story.” It wasn’t- the government was after the infected to stop the spread of the virus. We used weapons to fight back since their quarantines were the modern equivalents of concentration camps.
Murry nestled onto the ground, which was padded with a tarp. “C-can we sleep here?”
“Sure. I don’t care. Just don’t go out during the night. You might wake someone up, and trust me, you don’t wanna do that,” I replied. “I’ll come wake you up in the morning, and you help me hunt, got it?”
“Hey, why must we help you hunt? Why can’t you do it yourself?” Sammy questioned, crossing her arms and leaning forward.
I looked away. “I helped your boyfriend out. You do something for me.” When I glanced back, I found her sullenly nodding in agreement. I stood up and backed up to the flaps we called ‘doors’. “Okay, nighty night, dolts.”
“Before you go…” Murry called after me. “How did... you get here? D-did you get thrown out like us?” I had already closed the flaps on them by the time he finished his question. It wasn’t something I would answer- at least, not for a while.
Every time I thought of it, I shuddered. Since I tried to live in the present, I had the story locked up in the back of my mind, never to be seen again. It wasn’t tragic, but I feared guilt would weigh on my shoulders until I couldn’t move anymore.
There was a terrible infection plaguing the world- a horrendous monstrosity of mankind’s creation. And it was all my fault.