Chapter 5:

Tension and Turmoil

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero

“Who is this… slimy child?” Sammy asked hesitantly, eyeing Maya up and down. “What happened to her? Can she even speak with a body like that?” She stood in front of a large, bloody deer with a steel arrow poking out of its skull. Once we found a way to lug it back to camp, we’d have a feast.

Maya put her deformed hands on her hips and scowled as best she could. “How rude of you. My appearance says nothing of my intellect,” she remarked, leaning her head forward. She was much shorter than Sammy, but she still found ways to seem imposing. “Perhaps I should not tell you my name. Scoundrels like you may not deserve such information.”

“Hey, I get, like, you’re mad… b-but, uh, that’s my girlfriend, so, could you not call her a scoundrel, please…?” Murry offered politely. Sammy stood in shock at Maya's extensive vocabulary.

“Erm. Well, little girl, if your intellect is so high, might you have any ideas on how we should transport this corpse back to your camp?” Sammy quipped as quickly as she could, not to be outplayed.

My eyebrow twitched. “Yeah, we were the ones who asked you that question first. So, what I’m gettin’ is, you don’t know, do you?” I ratted on her. She seemed offended for a moment before realizing my statement was accurate.

“Well, yes, I haven’t the faintest clue what to do. I only asked the girl as a joke. A bit of light-hearted humor, you-”

“You were throwing shade at her, you hypocrite,” I cut her off.

“Okay, yes, that’s what I did. I regret it now. That doesn’t change our issue,” Sammy shot back. “The deer’s here. The camp’s there. How do we move it?”

Murry raised his hand. “You don’t have to raise your hand like this is school, Murry. Just answer the damn question if you have an idea,” I scrutinized him.

“W-why don’t we… um… drag it?” He looked like he was going to say something else, but changed his mind at the last minute. “It might take a while, but it’s simple and easy enough…”

“Well, if there is an easier way, dragging it is a waste of energy- something we do not have much of to waste. We are trying to devise a plan which costs less energy for greater distance,” Maya explained to him.

I walked around the corpse. “So, simple machines, right? If we got wheels on this bitch, it would move like an ice skater on a frozen lake,” I said. “So, choppily and dangerously, but effortlessly.”

Sammy butted in. “What do you mean, choppily and dangerously? A frozen lake is perfect for-”

“Have you ever seen Lake Erie? That thing’s a mausoleum in the winter. So many people think they can just skate on it easily. It doesn’t work like that,” I told her.

“H-hey, why does that matter? Weren’t we talking about moving the deer?” Murry said, trying to steer the conversation back.

Maya suddenly perked up. “Actually, I believe Murry is right. There is not much else we can do than drag it, not if we do not want it to rot while we set up a contraption,” she said. “So, like I said, get on with it. Use the legs as handles and pull.”

“Since when were you the boss, little girl?” Sammy objected. “It isn’t like you’re going to help pull it.”

“Correct. I am not even certain my hands are capable of pulling such an odd shape. I am simply offering advice as best I can. I would hope to be thanked for my efforts at the very least,” Maya replied, shaking her head. “You truly baffle me.”

“Maya, go wake up the others. Well, except for her. But, y’know. Most of them,” I commanded. She ran ahead like I said. “She’s just a little mad that she can’t do shit. She really got thrown a bad hand. Uh, literally, yeah, but I meant it figuratively.”

“So her name is Maya?” Sammy snorted. “Well, tell her to be less snobby about her disability. What relation does she have to you anyway? She doesn’t look a bit like you,” she asked, watching where Maya ran off.

“She’s my cousin. Her mom’s from Latin America,” I explained.

Sammy recoiled. “I don’t recall being slimy and misformed as a part of Hispanic heritage…”

“Not that, idiot. I meant the hair and the skin color and stuff. That part’s totally separate.”

The three of us that were left each grabbed a leg of the deer and dragged it back where Maya ran, heaving it over and over until it finally reached the edge of camp. Sammy ripped her arrow out of the deer’s skull and wiped it on a cloth before placing it back in her quiver.

“I didn’t know you… uh, r-reused arrows, Sammy,” Murry noted nervously. He fiddled with his fluffy fingers as Maya ran back from the tents. She had woken the others up very quickly.

Sammy looked back at him strangely. “Of course I do. I reuse just about everything when I get the chance. Arrows are easy- use, wash, repeat.”

“B-but, there’s guts on the arrow when you take it out, and…” Murry shielded his eyes and squealed. I took note- he was not immune to blood and guts.

“Well, it isn’t anymore, correct? That’s the beauty of that ‘wash’ step,” Sammy joked.

Murry had nothing to say on this, so he kept his mouth shut. I went through the nitty-gritty of gutting the deer before cutting it into pieces for consumption while the other two talked with Maya about how to split it up.

“I caught the thing. Isn’t it fair I get the largest portion?” Sammy protested loudly. I worried some of the family would hear her before ever seeing her.

Maya was having none of it. “Sumisu said you caught it for us because he let you stay. Thus we should split it up evenly, and whatever leftovers there are should go to us at the camp,” she refuted.

“My name’s not Sumisu,” I butted in.

“Why can’t we just… I dunno, all have the same amount and split the leftovers in half?” Murry added softly. He wasn’t heard, though, because Sammy and Maya were deep in argument.

“But I caught the damn thing!”

“And why does that matter? You caught it for us!”

While they quarreled, I took the pieces of deer and placed them on a rack above the fire. Within about thirty minutes, we would have reasonably cooked food. It would lack seasoning, but it wasn’t often I complained about a large meal.

As I racked the meat, I heard the slow opening of a zipper behind me. I whipped my head toward the tents and found a demented face staring through my soul. It climbed out of its tent in a delicate manner and brought its limbs through. First came its arms, then its proto-arms below them, where a second set of appendages were developing. Its stringy black hair draped it like a waterfall, and from under it I could see four eyes.

“And I’ll have you know I’ve caught far greater- EEAAAAH! What the hell is that?!” Sammy shrieked. She jumped back in shock and nearly fell over onto Murry, who barely caught her.

Maya turned and shuddered. “...Family, Sammy. She’s family.” The creature walked to me with its legs bent strangely- I could tell where proto-legs were forming near its rear.

“H-hello, N-n-n. N-Nikkuuuunnn,” it whispered, choking on its own raspy voice. It sounded like nails scratching on a chalkboard.

I blinked. “Hi, Chloe.”

She scurried around me and poked one of the slabs of meat. “W-where’d y-ouu get all of thisss?” she questioned, eyeing Sammy and Murry. “Was it themmm...?”

“Yes. I caught the deer. We’ll only be here for a little longer, so you mustn’t mind our company,” Sammy explained with some level of hesitation. “Because we certainly mind yours,” she said in a much quieter voice. Murry reacted to it, but no one else did, so I assumed we were the only two that had heard it.

She scuttled across to Sammy and circled her like a vulture, studying her every detail. “...sshhe’sss s-strange, N-Nikkunnn. Her hood has so much hair underneath. I can’t sssee her eyes.” I looked at Sammy- I could see her aqua-blue eyes clearly in contrast to her midnight skin. I was beginning to think it was fur, like Murry’s, because of the way the sunlight bounced off it.

“Yeah, you forgot the angel wings, dolt,” I said. Sammy instinctively flapped them back and forth and lightly hit Murry in the face. He recoiled in shock, but he wasn’t hurt.

Chloe was fascinated. “Sshee’s… interesting,” was all she could make out. The virus had been getting to her mind more than it had mine, so she couldn’t fully express her ideas.

“If you disregard her blaring entitlement,” Maya sneered.

“Speak for yourself!” Sammy shot back.

I watched the two argue for a little while longer before Chloe slithered off into her tent. I wondered whether it was the smell of food that had allured her, or whether it was me. I hoped the former.

“Niko, are you alright? You’re just, uh, staring at me…” Murry stammered, flustered. I had gazed off in between Sammy and Maya while they argued- Murry just so happened to be sitting smack-dab in the middle.

I regained focus and raised an eyebrow at him as if I had done it on purpose. “I’m fine. Looking at your elbow. Still not healed up?”

Murry adjusted when he heard me explain. “O-oh. Uh, yeah, no. It’s n-not bleeding anymore, b-but it hurts to move it…” He demonstrated this to me by flexing his arm. He flinched and unflexed very quickly, hissing some air through clenched teeth.

“Yep. That’s how it works,” I told him. I found myself mirroring his movements to see if they would hurt me. They didn’t, of course. “It’ll be a while. Don’t wait on it to heal.”

I sat in front of the makeshift grill, waiting for the venison to cook. Sammy and Maya quit their fussing- they agreed to just split it up evenly, a decision that may have been influenced by Murry. Sammy decided she was bored and walked over to me, standing over me as I crunched down in front of the meat.

“So. This virus is perhaps an issue, right? Could you work on curing it rather than sitting like a fool?” she pestered. She leaned forward over my head- I could feel the fabric of her clothing on my hair.

“Who the hell do you think I am? I’m sixteen. I don’t know shit,” I replied. I considered standing up abruptly and knocking Sammy over.

She snorted and stood back up. I had missed my opportunity. “I assumed you were doing something, at least. I could hear you lot from where I caught that deer. You sure know a bit without having studied it.”

“Repeat what I said back to me, then,” I challenged.

“Urk! Why, of course! You said, erm, the virus affects individuals in cycles, and that-”

“What’re the cycles? What happens between them?”

Sammy flustered and turned away. “I was busy catching the deer, you know! I can’t have heard everything!” she spat.

“Alright, then shut up. It doesn't matter whether I’m trying to find a cure or not. And, if you’re wondering, I’m not.”

“Then how do you know so much?” she pressed.

“Oh my God! Why do you give a shit?” I snarled, standing upright. “You’re literally gonna leave! In, like, twenty minutes! What you already know about the thing is all you need to know!” I wanted to shove her, but I held myself. That level of anger could have implied I was hiding something.

Sammy refused to speak any further, and so she stormed away to Murry. She whispered a few words to him before heading back out into the woods with her weapon. I couldn’t quite hear what was said, but she glanced at me while she spoke.

“Suits her right.” Maya broke the silence. “Nosy bimbo.”

“W-watch your mouth. She’s still my girlfriend,” Murry hissed. He seemed hurt by Maya’s comment; that was something I would never understand about relationships. They weren’t the same person- why did they feel insulted when their partner was called out?

Maya lowered her eyebrows. “Then perhaps you should reconsider your relationship, Murry. Niko, you should be his temporary girlfriend,” she suggested jokingly. Murry blushed and scowled at Maya. I couldn’t tell what my own expression was like- if anything, I would have looked confused.

“W-wha? No, that’s not how- what?!” Murry stammered.

“Maya, I dunno how long it took you to figure it out, but Murry’s probably not gay…” I added. “I mean, the girlfriend part seemed convincing to me.”

She sighed. “It will be a long time coming until either of you learn to take a joke. At least you have that in common.” She glanced at the deer to see the fat beginning to boil. “Perfect timing. Murry, call your partner back and we will feast. Then you leave, and we never deal with you again.”

Murry reluctantly stood up and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Sammy!” As soon as he called it, she appeared from around a tree and groaned.

“Food’s ready. Got it,” she said. She stepped over a stray twig and evaded Maya’s glares. With a sudden halt, she stared into the woods on the other side of camp. She stood there, frozen like a deer in headlights.

“What is it?” I asked.

She breathed and resumed walking. “Nothing, I just… I thought I saw something. It wasn’t anything. Call me when it’s fully cooked.” With that, she closed the flaps of the medical tent behind her.

(This is Chapter Five. Wow, I think that means I’m past School of Magic, huh? I’d like you guys’ feedback in the comments if you ever get to reading this. Do you like the way the characters flow so far? Is the setting alright? Is the plot coherent enough to follow? Don’t be afraid to tell me if something’s wrong, either! Thank you for reading. Love you guys!)