Chapter 2:

Pandora’s Box

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero

It happened only a month ago, maybe less. It was the day before my birthday. I was sitting in my brother’s car, waiting for him to grab my cousins from the airport. As it happened, it was a Saturday, so I didn’t have to worry about getting to school on time. I stared blankly out the window, wondering when I was going to overheat and die.

The sliding doors outside the airport opened for maybe the hundredth time, and finally, my brother Chad stepped out carrying a roller bag. His short black hair, buzzed on the sides, contrasted his light skin. Not as light as mine, of course. I was pale as a ghost. I would also burn in sunlight.

Chad used his foot to pry open the car door. “Ayo, how you hangin’?” His deep voice did nothing to snap me from my eternal suffering. “Seriously, dude, help me out here.” Oh.

“Right, right, coming…” I moaned. I had almost forgotten about the baggage. Since Chad’s car had so much space, we usually only carried a couple of other family members and stuffed the entire family’s luggage in the back. That way the adults wouldn’t have to worry about the dozens of bags coming in. One could consider it child labor, but that’s just how my family ran.

The moment I flopped lazily out of the car door, my cousins stepped out of the airport. Usually, this was the moment I could tell whether the car ride home would be fun or not. The world bowed its head in pity as I found wavy black hair blowing in the wind.

“Well, look who it is. How wonderful it is to see you.” Maya’s voice carried an air of regality about it, contrasting her short stature. I wondered how her ten-year-old self managed to act so maturely.

Next to her stood her older sister, Chloe. She was the one I was worried about. “Oh, Nikkun!” she squealed, embracing me with a crushing force. I felt my rib cage snap like pencil lead and my shoulders crunch like a trash compactor.

“H-hi, Chloe…” I choked through the blood building up in my windpipe. She let go, and I nearly dropped to the ground. “Shit, I think I’m gonna die…”

“Dude, she’s literally right there!” Chad hissed at me, bumping my cracked shoulder. “Don’t cuss in frun’na Maya, dumbass!” I almost let out a chuckle, but that would definitely have earned me a pounding. Chad started for my high school’s varsity football team and would truck my ass.

Maya gave Chad a condescending glare. “I do not mind. I have more right to use the word ‘shit’ than any of you.”

“Didn’t mom tell you not to curse?” Chloe’s voice was sweet and kind as always, but Maya looked pale as a ghost. That was much harder for her than it was for me, considering her Hispanic descent. She swallowed and nodded her head.

After a moment of silence and a few more bags packed, Chloe opened her mouth again. “So, how’s school, Chad? Did you get all B’s?”

“Yeah. One close call with a bad test, but it got curved and I got an 80.” Chad pushed another bag into the back of the sedan. “Varsity loves me, though. Kicked off the second-string for talkin’… uh, crap about me.” What a save.

“What about you?” I couldn’t tell whether Chloe was talking to me or Maya for a second, but then I realized I was a dumbass, because she was staring straight at me.

“Uh, got a couple C’s. Got an A in chemistry, but I liked biology better.” An A was an understatement. I hadn’t missed a single question on any test the entire year. I was the only freshman in the class, too. A shame I sucked at just about everything else.

Chad frowned. “That’s not what you told mom and dad.”

“Why the hell would I tell mom and dad I nearly failed two a’ my classes? I’m not a masochist!”


Maya poked her head through the bags. She had been playing on Chloe’s phone while we packed. “I still do not care.” She slithered back into her habitat.

“Any giirrrlllfriends?” Chloe asked the two of us. I hadn’t had any, of course. Not a single girl would fall for a brat like myself. I wasn’t really interested in any girls, anyway.

Chad chuckled in what I only could assume was nervousness. “Yeah. Two.” Chloe clapped her hands. “At once.” Oh.

“That’s not what you told mom and dad.”

“Oh, you shut the hell up!”

Chloe smirked. “That’s definitely something you would do, Chad. What happened when they found out?”

“Uhh… it don’t matter.”

“Well, if you won’t say, I won’t ask,” Chloe whispered. “Tell me about it later.” She shoved the last bag into the back, squeezing it in along with the rest.

Chad walked around to the front of the car. “Aight, everybody, load up. It ain’t a long ride, but we need to get there before the others.”

“I am already in the car,” Maya pointed out.

Chad glared at her. “No one asked you.”

“You said everyone, so I assumed you did actually mean everyone. Thus I responded with my own sentiment.”

“Shut up, Maya,” Chloe snarled. She shut her mouth so quickly I could hear the clack of her teeth. Chad shut the driver's seat door and twisted his keys to start the engine. Air whistled through the vents, cooling the car down to a somewhat less hellish temperature.

I reclined in the seat next to Maya as Chloe closed her side of the car, buckling her seatbelt. “Don’t get too comfy. It’s only, like, a ten-minute drive,” Chad said. Strange. It always felt longer.

“I don’t see you sittin’ like a soldier,” I replied under my breath. Chad always nitpicked me for the stupidest things. I ate a slice of bread once and he consoled me for not eating the crust separately. Last time I checked, there weren’t rules for how to eat bread. Nor were there rules for sitting upright in a car.

Meanwhile, Chloe relaxed too, but Chad didn’t say a word. “So, you ready to take your driver’s test?” she asked me. “How many days ‘til you turn sixteen?”

“Uh, lemme count.” I pretended to number the days on my fingers. “One, you moron.”

“Oh, you’re turning one? That’s amazing!”

“You know what I mean, dolt.”

Chloe threw her hands up in surrender, sending her frizzy black hair into a mess. “Yeah. I didn’t know it was so soon though, jeez! I would’ve gotten you a present!”

“Yeah, right.” I’d never once gotten a birthday present before, at least not from my family. That wasn’t likely to change until I started doing my homework, and not even God knew when that would be.

“Hey, what’s with the attitude? Dude, you’re almost sixteen! And your cousins are all here! Why’re you so mad at everything?” Chad questioned, turning around.

“Eyes on the road, dumbass,” I snarled at him.

“That’s exactly what I’m talkin’ about, kid!” Chad snapped back, still turned away from the windshield. “You gotta stop bein’ so quick to-”

Maya’s eyes went wide. “Eyes on the road, Chad!” He looked at her, confused. “Chad! Look! Now!”

He whipped around to find a line of cars stopped for the intersection up ahead. And there he was, flying at them at a solid hundred kilometers per hour. “Shit!” he gasped, trying to slam the brakes.

He accidentally jerked the wheel to the side, sending the car barrelling over the rails and into the forest just beside us. It landed on its wheels, somehow, but it was still flying. Chad pushed as hard as he could on the brakes as the car rocketed towards one of the many trees. It was hard to tell what happened after that, since I blacked out for a moment after we crashed.

“Sumisu. Sumisu, are you well?” Maya hissed. I blinked open my eyes to see the airbags filling the car like balloons. She was grabbing at my arms and pulling me out of the smashed car door, much to my disapproval. My arms weren’t broken, I realized, but they would definitely stay bruised for a while.

“Hey! Hey! I can get out on my own!” I yapped, yanking my arms away from hers and sliding out of the car. I felt my shoes hit mud when I landed and caught myself on my seat to keep from slipping. “What the hell happened?”

Maya looked at the car from front to back. “Well, it is not pretty. Chad drove us straight into a tree. The hood is split in two. We’re lucky we made it out alright,” she explained.

I stood up fully and studied the damage. It was just as disastrous as Maya had described. A tree, now damaged in its trunk, split the front of the car in half. I could see where the pistons had been hit. I was just about to return to Maya when I caught Chad on the other side of the tree.

“Niko!” he screamed. I flinched at the sound of his voice. “What the hell! Look whatchu did, you little shit! Oh, when mom finds out about this, she’s gonna be so pissed!”

Chloe rounded the car, but for some reason, she didn’t seem very angry. I wondered if she was a masochist. “It’s okay, Nikkun. It’s not your fault,” she said. Her voice was strangely soothing, though the situation was too stressful for me to be truly calmed down by it.

“Hell nah! It is his fault! Distractin’ the driver! Ain’t that against the law?!” Chad yelled, stomping around the damaged tree. “That makes you a criminal!” He pointed at me.

“I didn’t do nothing! I toldju to keep your eyes on the road! It’s your fault we’re in this mess!” I snarled back. I could feel the tension between us; a cord was being pulled thin.

“Now, now! Did you not learn emergency protocol in your schools?” Maya intervened. “Cease your pointless argument and call 9-1-1, you idiots.”

I looked back at Chad. “You haven’t called 9-1-1 yet?!”

“No shit I haven’t! I was too busy tryin’ not ta die!” he shouted. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone- or at least, he tried to. He pulled it out with a grunt, letting it drop to the ground. His hand was cut on the glass; the phone was shattered.

“Hah. That’s what you get.”

“Niko, I swear Imma beat the shit outta you later! Does your phone work?!”

I reached into my own pocket. My phone wasn’t damaged, but I remembered that I had forgotten to charge it before we left the house. “Dammit! It’s dead!”

“Shit…” Chad groaned. He paced back and forth, trying to decide what to do. I noticed Maya murmuring to herself near the smashed car door, so I looked her way. I noticed she still had Chloe’s phone and was calling someone on it.

“Are you calling mom- uh, Aunt Sarah?” I asked her.

She put a finger up to quiet me. “Emergency services. I figured I would call for the four of us, since you all seem so sidetracked. Literally, in this case.”

“Chad! Maya’s got it!” I called.

“Shut up!” he replied. This was his way of acknowledging my statements when he was angry at me. If he hadn’t heard me, he wouldn’t have said anything.

We stood there for a moment, listening to Maya. “Just off I-480, yes… Terrible crash, really. We all survived unscathed, but the car will surely never function again… Yes, ma’am. He had his eyes off the road and nearly hit another car. He swerved to avoid it and went over the rail.” Chad was furious. He looked as if he were about to sock Maya in the cheek.

“Say Niko was distracting the driver. I didn’t do shit,” Chad fumed.

“Sorry, wait a second,” Maya said to the other end, pulling the phone away for a moment. “No.” She put the phone back up to her ear. “Apologies. You were saying?” Chad roared and banged his fists on the roof of the car, creating a further dent.

I wandered around the wreck, looking for anything to do. My phone was dead, so using wasn’t an option. I walked away from the crash hoping one of the nearby buildings would have someone who could help us. The closest building was tiled white with panes reflecting the color of the sky; I approached it quickly but didn’t find an open entrance. There was one door with a password lock, but it looked tough and uninteresting. What was interesting was the collection of various scientific instruments discarded in the forest.

“Woah! What’s all this?” Chloe gasped. I jumped as her voice emerged from behind me- I hadn’t known she was following me.

“Uh, I dunno. Looks like some weird science shit.” Among the trash were a couple of shattered flasks, a few dirty syringes, and a metric ton of drilled disk drives and monitors. One of the syringes was still full of some sort of liquid. Either the company got hacked, or they had a recycling fest and threw everything out into the forest. There was something that caught my eye- it was a metal box, similar to the monitors scattered about. It stood out, though, because it was not a monitor. It had a compartment on its side and a smudged steel sheen. I walked over and picked it up carefully.

Chloe followed behind me closely. “Ooh, Nikkun, what is that?” she asked.

“Like I know,” I replied hesitantly. “Looks like a metal box.”

Her innocent smile turned into a grumpy frown. “No duh, it’s a metal box. But what is it? What’s inside?”

“Probably metal.”

“Okay, hand it here, idiot,” Chloe hissed, grabbing the box from me and turning it about in her hands. She found a small silver key attached to the bottom with worn-out tape. “I wonder what this is for.”

I remembered the keyhole on the side, where the compartment was. “Can I have it back?” I asked her. I had just picked up the full syringe and pocketed it. The liquid had the consistency and physical appearance of anesthesia, which could sell for a good profit.

“Sure.” She tossed me the box, and I stepped back to catch it. I ripped the key off the back and plugged it into the keyhole on the side; the compartment hinge unlocked, and a small, red flash drive fell to the dirt.

“Ayo, there’s actually something,” I remarked. I snatched up the flash drive before Chloe could.

“C’mon, Nikkun! You’re gonna have to show me what’s on there later!” she whined. “I’ll bet there’s some corporate information on it. We could get rich!”

“No. I could get rich. I’m the one who found it,” I snarked. “And there’s still more in this thing, anyway. They wouldn’t have this big a box for one stupid little drive.” I scanned the entire box over, but I couldn’t find a single hole other than the keyhole we’d already opened.

The side of the building at our level was mostly concrete, so I had an idea- if I smashed the box against the concrete, maybe we could find what was inside. It seemed Chloe had the same idea. “Hey, before you go throwing that thing against a wall, don’tcha think we should show it to the other two?”

“Hell no. You can go get them if you want. This is my thing.” I shooed her off with one hand and stepped through the glass shards to the wall.

With one resounding smash, I busted open the corner of the box. Chloe came running back with Chad, who asked what the hell I was doing. I hadn’t thought about it then, but maybe I should have.

Maybe some things were enclosed because they were never meant to be opened.