Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero
It only took a few minutes to get to the forest from my house, but traversing it to find the Laboratory would take much longer. We’d been trudging through the greenery for about thirty minutes when we started showing the first signs of hunger. We tried to space our rations out, but with seven of us, we had to decide who was hungry and who wasn’t yet if we wanted them to last.
Tori was the first to pass on food, and John swiftly followed. I also admitted I had eaten just before we left, so I didn’t need anything. The other four ate a bag of chips each, and Benji had a bottle of water. The seven of us continued on our path, and when the looming paned building appeared above the trees, we knew we were close.
After no end to Benji’s complaining for more food, we finally found a clearing and set up camp. Our idea of camp, though, wasn’t quite what one would imagine- we had a fire in the center, which we used a lighter to ignite, and makeshift beds around it. Our beds weren’t incredible, either. Since most of us brought only clothes and food, we had three actual sleeping bags from Maya, Chad, and Benji, and only piles of clothes and pillows for the other four of us. It wasn’t very comfortable.
Luckily for us, though, the weather was generally warm that time of year. It was still summer, after all, so the nights weren’t very cold. The fire was for cooking the food we had, not for warmth. About two nights in, I started vomiting more frequently, so we set a part of camp aside as a ‘bathroom’. As it turned out, many of the socks Benji had brought had holes in them, so we hung them in a triangle with a clothesline around the ‘bathroom’ so we wouldn’t step in feces.
After six nights of relative ease, our food ran out. It seemed Benji had been sneaking some while the others were asleep. Maya was aware of this, and when she called him out for it, he claimed he was ‘protecting it from the animals’. I knew basic hunting skills- I could make a snare or basic trap- but without any weapons other than a simple hunting knife, I wasn’t going to catch any big game. John, who’d been working at a survival training camp for three years, helped me set up traps while Chad and Chloe were unsuccessful in finding any edible plant life.
When we were fifteen days in- we had to start tallying the days in the dirt because all our phones had died- we got our first glimpse into the horrors that awaited us. That glimpse came in the form of a realization. We weren’t alone anymore.
I was out hunting with a makeshift bow when I found a man alone, wandering the woods with just a backpack. I could tell that his ears were deformed and that his posture wasn’t quite what it should have been. By that point, my ears had already made a full shift to the feline ears I would later get accustomed to. When the man saw me, he shrieked and backed away, as would become commonplace.
“How many of you are there?!” he yelped, clinging to a tree. I realized I was holding my knife, and when I pocketed it, he relaxed a little. I wasn’t exactly sure how to handle interaction in the woods, so I put my hands on my hips and tilted my head.
“What do you mean, ‘how many of you’?” I questioned him. “You mean there’s more than just you?” He nodded briskly, and I felt the hope drain from me. If there were others, that would mean competition, that would mean territory, that would spell disaster. And then I realized- we’d run to the woods so that Han Hito wouldn’t spread. Yet, somehow, this man, and perhaps many others, still had it. Our efforts had been useless.
He unpinned himself from the tree and backed away. “I’m trying to find unclaimed territory. Have you seen any?” I shook my head ‘no’. “Shit. Well, I’ll keep looking. Bye.” He ran the other direction, away from the Laboratory. I walked back to our camp distraught. When Maya asked me why I was so worried, I told her we had to mark our territory.
“That is absurd, Sumisu. Why would we mark territory? We are not animals,” she responded.
“Well, uh, I ran into a guy while I was hunting and he told me a couple of things.” She looked at me with apprehension, and I wasn’t sure how to continue.
She then spoke somberly. “So our plan failed, did it now…?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “But, there’s a good thing about that, I just realized.”
“What would that be?”
I rubbed my hands together. “It’s probably anarchy out in the city, right? So if I were to steal a bunch of tents and tarps and stuff from a camping store, they couldn’t punish me. Our quality of life would be way up.”
“Sumisu, that is illegal!”
“So what? So’s hiding in the forest and killing its game, but we’ve been here for more than two weeks, and we’re doing just fine,” I remarked. “Besides, if it really is anarchy, there aren’t any laws, so nothing’s illegal!”
Maya put her hand to her chin and thought for a moment. “I… I suppose you could walk along the side of the highway and find a store. We are just next to the city, after all. But if you never come back, it is your own fault.”
“Got it. I’ll be back, I swear.” And thus began my journey to shoplift camping supplies. I let Maya tell the rest of the group where I was headed so I could make it back before dark. It was already some five o’clock in the evening, so I had little time to spare.
I started out by walking on the side of the highway as Maya told me to, but as I walked along, I began to realize a harrowing truth- the cars on the highway, once packed in every possible way, were sparse and slow. I was able to cross to the center and walk on it without worry. This would allow me a better vision of both sides of the road ahead.
I began jogging a bit later on- the store wasn’t as close as I had thought, and the sun was beginning to set. The wind also felt nice through the holes in my shirt and pants. By the time I made it, the sun was a semi-circle on the horizon. I crossed the street with ease and ran through the empty parking lot to find that the store was closed.
Taped on its glass doors was a piece of paper, which read, “DUE TO THE HAN HITO EPIDEMIC, THE STORE IS TEMPORARILY SHUTTING DOWN. WE LOOK FORWARD TO CAMPING WITH YOU SOON.” I wondered how the general public was able to discover its name; I was still the only one in possession of the flash drive.
I looked through the doors and found no one inside. Excellent. I took my worn-down shoe and kicked it as hard as I could. It cracked but didn’t shatter- my leg, however, felt like it had shattered, so I tried again with my other leg to crack it some more. The glass must have been reinforced, but after a few more attempts, the bottom pane of the door busted open, and I was able to crawl through with my slightly smaller stature. The body mass I had expelled via vomiting certainly contributed to my loss of height. In fact, I believed that was the main reason I was vomiting at all; that I could lose enough mass to properly become a cat.
I walked through the store after stepping warily through shards of glass and found a section for tents. I nabbed seven bags and slung them over my shoulder. I also snatched bags to carry my loot in. I was able to fit five of the tents in one of the bags and two in the other. I used the extra space in the second bag to grab supplies for hunting and two first-aid kits. As I prepared to leave, I also grabbed a bunch of fabric and a floppy beige scarf. I nearly forgot to grab sleeping bags, and as it turned out, that was where the tarps were located, too. I stuffed them in both bags as best I could. My final steal was a pair of sandals that curved around on the backs. I planned to adjust them to my foot shape when it was necessary.
I unlocked the door and opened it to take all my stuff out. Then, setting it all down, I reached through the broken pane and locked the door again. I wasn’t sure why I did it- it wouldn’t cover up any crime, anyway- but I did. I put on the scarf and slung the two bags over my shoulders, feeling ready for anything. Then a police car pulled into the parking lot. I was not prepared for that. I began to book it to the road before the policeman inside could stop me.
“Stop it, kid! Kid!” the officer shouted from his car. I recognized his voice from somewhere, so I slowed down to catch a glimpse at his face. Though he wore a mask, a combination of seeing his dark skin and hearing his voice led me to realize this was the same officer who drove me home from the accident a few weeks ago. I stopped fully and let him roll up to me.
“What are you doing with the stuff in those bags?” he questioned.
I decided to be honest. “We’re out living in the woods. We need these supplies if we’re gonna make it any longer than another week.” A week was an exaggeration, but I thought it would suffice.
The officer looked at my ragged form in pity. “Han Hito hit you pretty bad, huh?”
“Officer, with all due respect… uh, yeah.”
He chuckled. “I get it. I was gonna take you in, but you look like you need all that.” He tipped his hat to me. “Good luck out there.” He began to roll away.
“Hey, hold on a second,” I called. He stopped again and rolled his window down. “You were the one who drove me home from that car crash a little while back.”
He gasped. “I was, yeah. You ever figure out what was in that box?”
“Um… yeah, we did. The thing came with a flash drive telling us everything we needed to know,” I replied, anxious. Would it be a good idea to tell him I was the one who had released the virus? “Hey, I have another question. You said you worked at Nock. Do you still have the newsletter?”
“Yeah. Fun- well, not so fun- fact: the guys at Nock made Han Hito. This thing is actually supposed to be a prototype for something else that got destroyed a little while after my coworker died. They announced it over the newsletter and sincerely apologized for the damages. I don’t think no apology’s gonna cut it, but okay. Though, they did mention that they had no intention of ever releasing it and that they had no clue how it got out,” he explained to me. I felt guilt rush over me.
I decided I would tell him. “I know how it got out.”
“I know how it got out.”
“No- no, I heardju. Whatchu mean you know how it got out?” His accent totally switched, and I realized he had been covering it up until then.
I inhaled. “I, um… that box, and the flash drive, sir. That was how it got out. With all due respect, sir, I’m patient zero.”
His face turned to stone. “Well. That explains it, then.”
“Uh-huh,” I said in reply. He was speechless for a few seconds, so I began walking away again. He pulled up closer to me, so I stopped.
“Have you alerted any authorities?”
“Nope. I mean, other than you, y’know.”
He groaned. “So this is all your fault?”
It took courage, but I nodded my head. Something about hearing it like that made me feel like the scum of the earth.
“Then you owe it to the world ta do something about it, kid,” he said. His window rolled up and he drove ahead, out of the parking lot, away on the highway. I watched in silence as the gleaming police lights dimmed, and the parking lot became empty once again.
I sighed and picked up my bags before walking back to the highway myself. I didn’t bother to jog this time- it was already dark, and our territory was located close to the edge of the woods. It was actually safer on the road as long as I could stay on it.
I began to think. Somehow, I had gone from a dumb high school student to a survivalist in the woods in just three weeks. It all started with a single box, a single impulsive decision, a single flash drive. And now, because of that, there was a virus rampaging through the city like a bull seeing red. Until then, I hadn’t considered the weight of my actions and how my decision had managed to affect the entire area and beyond. But then, at that moment, I did.
It started as a rising feeling in my stomach, but I knew what it was. It was my own guilt. It was my fault the world had to suffer now. It was me who, in my idiocy, unleashed a monstrosity upon everyone I knew and loved. It could’ve been stopped had I just kept the box, had I just not smashed it against that wall. And so, when I walked through the busted rails on the side of the road and saw the scrape mark on the laboratory wall, I had to swallow my feelings and keep on walking back.
When I made it back to camp, I set the bags down next to the fire and pulled a sleeping bag out. The others were all asleep, except for Maya, who wasn’t much in the mood for talking. I grabbed my bag and walked to the edge of the clearing, away from the fire. I set the bag down and began to unzip it.
The feeling began to rise in my throat again. I tried to distract myself by focusing on the sleeping bag, but I found myself lost in thought. The words of others swirled around me like a hurricane. ‘So this is all your fault?’ ‘Sumisu, what have you done?’ ‘You’re just tryin’ to give whatever idiot out there who opens it up hope!’ ‘Are we going to die…?’ ‘A bioweapon! You released a bioweapon!’
I felt my legs wobble like the weight of guilt was actively pushing me down. I desperately wished that I could go back. Back to when I found that box, back to when I decided to smash it open. That was the moment I knew I never could. I could never undo what I’d done.
I fell to my knees and sobbed.
Five nights later, I sat in the same place, oblivious to everything but myself. We had tents and tools then, but we were fighting for territory and game. That night, winds whistled in the dark sky. That night, I got up and chased after a rustle in the bushes. That night, by the whims of fate, I met Murry and Sammy.
(That’s the end of Part I of Han Hito. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey so far. From here the the end of Part II, the story will be more linear, but it does get a lot more morbid and grotesque. If you’re not into that (why would anyone be?), you might want to exhibit some restraint reading the rest of the story. Thank you for reading, and make sure to leave a comment! It helps me figure out what I’m doing right, what I’m not doing right, and whether people are actually reading it or not. Thanks!)