Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero
For weeks after, nothing major happened. Each day was as painstakingly long as the last- the only thing new about it was the addition of Murry and Sammy to our list of mouths to feed. Sammy was much better at hunting than I was, so we consistently had more food than before.
As those weeks passed, the effects of Han Hito pressed further into our lives. My vomiting occurred more frequently and with more intensity, and at its peak, I couldn’t go twenty minutes without puking up my own guts. I was constantly weary and sore, and I could tell much of my family was, too. Maya especially found it hard to breathe, and occasionally I had to take her to the nearby stream. I noticed the hair on my own body growing coarser, but I tried not to pay it any mind.
It was right around the end of October- Chloe’s birthday- when our status took a turn for the worse. I was the only one in the group still keeping track of the days, so I was excited to tell Chloe it was Halloween, but when I entered her tent to break the news, I noticed something was off. Chloe, who was already not faring so well, was curled up in the corner.
“Hey, Chloe, you alright?” I asked. She didn’t respond at all. “Hello?” She twitched. “C’mon, get up. What’s got you down?”
She rolled over, and I saw the issue. There was a large red stain on the part of her shirt just under her chest. I flinched and crawled closer. “S-sstayyy… back,” she hissed, swinging a useless proto-arm at me.
“I need to fix it up. Is it a rupture?” I asked her. She shook her head. “What is it, then?” She reluctantly pointed to a small object in the corner. I blinked and focused on it. At first, I thought it was a light, but when I moved, I realized it was the shine of metal. I moved over to it and picked it up.
I turned it in my hands in disbelief. It was my hunting knife, and there was blood covering the sharp edge. I looked back at her, and she smiled eerily. “C-cannn I have it b-back?”
“What the hell? No! Don’t you dare kill yourself on my watch, idiot!” I snarled, sheathing the knife. I didn’t recall giving it to her, so she must have slipped it from my belt when I wasn’t looking. I rushed out and found Murry near the medical tent. He slept in there now, since we didn’t have the courage to try and steal another tent from the store.
“N-Niko! What’s wrong?” he asked, seeing the worry on my face. “Did something happen?”
“It’s Chloe. First aid kit. Now,” I snapped. He dashed in and out of the tent and tossed my kit to me. “She tried to kill herself with my knife.”
“W-what?! How’d she- I’ll help!” Murry offered. I silently obliged, and the two of us ran into her tent. She cringed at the sight of us.
I snapped open the kit and pulled up her shirt, much to her displeasure. The wound was just under her breasts, so I didn’t have to pull the shirt any further. I reached into my kit and rubbed some ointment on the wound. It didn’t seem to run deep, but it was bleeding profusely. My worry was that she would die from blood loss. Murry rubbed on a patch of gauze, which I then packed on around the wound to keep her from picking at it. Since it was in the middle of her body, I doubted it had hit her lungs or other vital organs. At worst, her intestines would be punctured, but given the shallowness of the cut, even that was unlikely.
“Okay, Chloe, what the hell? We’re running out of resources and you make us waste gauze on you? Why?!” I barked at her. She didn’t seem to react much.
“Niko, she just tried to… b-be nicer to her, okay?” Murry told me. “If you keep saying that, she’ll just do it again.” I sighed and turned back to Chloe, who still wasn’t moving much. I knew she wasn’t dead, but I was still unnerved.
I tapped her shoulder. “Chloe?”
“S-something's happening to me… N-Nikkunnn. So… tried to… stop it. Stop before… worse, and worse…” I noticed my breathing begin to quicken. “Before… hurt… else.”
“Chloe, you gotta speak up,” I said. “I can’t hear you.”
“I… I keep on stopping myself, and… don’t know how much longer before… I can’t anymore, and…” She breathed in suddenly, startling me and Murry. “I hurt someone.” She crumpled into a ball again and shivered.
Murry was about to ask her another question, but I put my arm out and guided the both of us to the exit. I closed the tent and kneeled down. “Shit. The virus is doing a number on her,” I stated.
“Y-yeah. But what was she… Holding back? Stopping before it got worse? Before she hurts someone? Do you know what she’s talking about?” Murry asked. I saw a shiver run through him, straight from his black-tipped ears to his ripped shoes. I had an idea of what she meant, but I hoped I was wrong.
“Well, this is just a guess,” I started. “But what I think is happening is, the virus is making her malicious. Because she’s turning into a spider- you already knew that, right?” Murry nodded. “Alright, so because she’s turning into a spider, she’s gonna start trying to bite people. That’s why we kept her in the tent before, but it’s only getting worse, it looks like.”
Murry embraced himself as a cold breeze flew through the forest. He was finally able to use his left arm again, but we still had to keep the gauze on the wound for a couple of weeks longer. “Y-you told me about how the virus doesn’t do anything to the brain until the deadline, though. So why is it doing something to her?” he asked.
“Well, I haven’t really narrowed it down. It might have something to do with instinctual behaviors, like when I bat my tail subconsciously, or when my ears twitch. Biting might just be subconscious for her, and she’s trying to combat it,” I explained. It conflicted with what the tapes had told me- supposedly, at least for the actual virus and not the prototype that we all had, the virus wasn’t supposed to touch the brain until the deadline. Somehow, though, it did for Chloe.
That got me thinking. Perhaps a bit too late, but better late than never- perhaps the virus wasn’t actually in Chloe’s brain. What if she’d just been this messed up from the start but knew to mask it? Was it possible that the only reason she was acting this way now was that the virus drained her so much she could no longer hold herself back? I pushed the idea away. It would take a lot of effort to mask something like that her entire life. After all, if it were true, she’d never cracked before, so why would the virus make her now?
Then I remembered- she had cracked before. Before we’d left for the national park the day I found the virus, she had acted strangely. ‘But why can’t we stay here awhile’ was what she’d said. After, she’d talked it off like it was nothing, but it was definitely something. I also remembered other times in my life that she’d been strange- like when she’d play in her room with Chad and lock the door, or when she drove away sometimes during the day with no explanation, or when she… I didn’t want to remember that.
“Niko? N-Niko?” Murry called softly, snapping me back to the present. I shook my head and sighed. “U-uh, why were you visiting Chloe anyway? You don’t usually check on her until the afternoon…” he asked.
“It’s her birthday. I wanted to let her know,” I replied.
Murry gasped. “You’ve been keeping track of the days?”
“Yeah. When’s your birthday, Murry?”
“Well, what day is it today?”
He slumped his head. “I’m already sixteen,” he sighed. “M-my birthday was, uh, nine days ago. Sammy’s was ten.”
“You’re sixteen?” I exclaimed. I hadn’t meant to say it as loudly as I had, and he covered his ears. He seemed to be much more sensitive to sound than I was.
“Y-yeah…? How old did- uh, did you think I was?” Murry stammered, pulling on the cuffs of his sleeves.
I chuckled. “Like, fourteen. Your voice is high and you’re short,” I told him.
“H-hey! Bold words for someone shorter than me!”
“You’re bringing the virus into this now, huh?”
“W-wait, I didn’t mean-” I cut him off with a laugh. “Oh, you’re joking, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. But I still used to be taller than you,” I replied.
Murry stared at the ground. “Shouldn’t we, uh, be worried about other things? Like, where’s Chad? Isn’t he usually on patrol by now?”
“Shit, you’re right. I swear, if he’s not awake by now,” I muttered, trotting over to Chad and Benji’s tent. “Chad! Do you have any idea what time it is?!”
“Go away,” Chad grumbled, swatting at me with his spotted hand. He, too, had grown coarse fur over the weeks, though his was more profound than mine. Benji was still sleeping, so I couldn’t thrust the curtains open to blind him. I felt a tap on my shoulder and came face to face with Murry.
He smiled weakly. “Can I try?”
“I mean, okay, sure.” I backed away and he poked his head through the curtains. I only heard him faintly through the flaps of the tent, but whatever he said must have been convincing, because, within thirty seconds, Chad was marching out with his spear.
“How’d you do it?” I asked him later.
“Do what?” he replied.
“Wake Chad up. He usually stays in bed for an eternity.”
Murry clasped his hands together. “I promised him double rations.” I staggered back, exaggeratedly shocked and offended.
Murry put his hands up in surrender. “N-no, let me explain! Sammy said she’d get something really big tonight, so there’ll be enough for Chad to have extra!”
“And you’re sure she’ll follow through?”
“W-well, she usually does,” he replied. “If she doesn’t, we can just say the normal amount of rations would’ve been half, so he technically got double rations. Or we can give him nothing and say two times zero is zero…”
“Damn, Murry, I didn’t know you could be so dirty.”
“I-I’m just kidding! I’d never do that!” he claimed, blushing under his fur. “I couldn’t! I’d feel so guilty afterwards!”
I clicked my tongue. “But you’ve got the ideas, don’t you?”
“Well, I never woulda thought it. Who knew Murry was a con artist?” I said loudly, hoping to attract attention.
Murry covered his face with his hands. “T-that’s not- Niko!”
That night, like Sammy promised, we did have a sizable meal. I considered not giving Chad any as per Murry’s suggestion, but I felt that would be mean. We all slept peacefully that night. That is, except for me.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to find my sleeping bag moist with sweat. It felt like a sauna inside, so I pushed it off and sat up. I tried to recall why exactly I had woken up- it seemed like I was having a nightmare, but I couldn’t really remember it.
Then I did remember. It was a blurry, hazy memory, and it seemed mashed with my current circumstances. I was myself from before the virus, running away from some unknown threat. As hard as I pushed my welted legs, they wouldn’t carry me any further, so it felt like I could do nothing when I fell to my hands and knees and turned around to see what was coming after me.
I saw a many-limbed black menace crawling closer, and all I could do was sit in terror. When it was within five feet of me, it became Chloe, stabbed through the chest, still moving towards me. I shuffled back, but it was no use- I was suddenly against a wall. I couldn’t scream when Chloe forced herself onto me. When I bolted upright in bed, I still couldn’t scream. I couldn’t find my voice.
I pushed the nightmare away. Reliving it would only make it worse. I already had enough to deal with here in the real world. I stood up and walked to the camp, though I wasn’t quite sure why I did. I grabbed Sammy's lantern in the dark, which I realized still had no batteries in it. I could hear her and Murry sleeping in the medical tent, and I didn’t want to wake her up to ask her for batteries. I just let my eyes adjust to the darkness.
My awakening was well-timed, too. I felt the urge to vomit and made it to our ‘bathroom’, which had since expanded beyond its original confines. We also placed tarps around it instead of socks, so that whoever was doing their business would have some level of privacy. This was done because Sammy claimed she couldn’t defecate without taking her shirt off. That, of course, probably wasn’t true- she just wanted privacy, so we granted it to her.
I wandered around for a few minutes, bored. My mind was already awake, but my body was tired. I fidgeted with my tail for a little while- it felt strange to the touch, like an extension of my spine, but still somewhat alien. I almost understood those dogs that chased their tails all day. When I found myself bored again, I made a lap around the territory. I saw a couple of pairs of eyes in the woods, but they were obviously animal and not humanoid. When I made it back to camp, I went back to my own sleeping bag.
I suddenly heard whispers from where I knew my sleeping bag was. “Nikkun… where are you? Come play with me…” it said, hunched over my bag. “Fuhuhu, are you hiding from me~? Hide-and-seek was always your favorite…” I struggled not to scream. I cupped a hand over my mouth and watched as Chloe shuffled around. Deranged as I thought her to be, she could speak in fairly complete sentences now.
As she mindlessly whispered to herself, I realized that if I hadn’t had that awful nightmare, I would’ve been where Chloe was now. By random chance, I’d saved myself from what could have been death. I hid behind a tree and watched her scuttle back to her tent and fall asleep. Quickly, I ran over and zipped the tent up.
She must not have heard my heavy breathing, but it took a lot of energy to calm myself down. I would make certain her tent was zipped during the nights then. I wanted to wake Murry and Sammy up, but I feared they wouldn’t believe me- after all, there was no evidence to prove it. I crept to my bag and slid in, still shivering. I couldn’t tell anymore whether it was the cold or my own fear that caused my shaking.
That morning, when the sun rose and warmed the air again, Murry asked me why I was still shivering.