Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero
A week from my nightmare, a living nightmare showed itself in our lives. It had been ninety days since I’d contacted the virus, as it was for many of us. Our deadlines were fast approaching.
By then, it was easy to see what strands of the virus everyone had. My DNA was that of a common housecat’s, Chad’s was a leopard’s, and Benji’s was a fox’s. Maya was to be an electric eel- she had her own separate territory on the stream so she could breathe properly. Tori lost the use of her arms quickly as they grew feathers- she would be a falcon of some sort. Murry’s ears had totally changed over the months- he closely resembled a lynx. John and Chloe had it the worst- their DNA was being replaced with that of an ant’s and a spider’s, respectively.
The only mystery was Sammy. The most mysterious thing about her was that in the entire couple of months she’d been with us, her phenotype hadn’t changed one bit. She still had the same angel wings and dark fur as before. I asked her about it, and she told me it must just be slow-acting on her systems, but I doubted it. Something was different about her.
It was on the exact day of my deadline that I realized how little progress I had made in studying the virus and developing a cure. I had been so preoccupied with everything else- staying away from Chloe, securing the safety of the group, getting to know Murry- that I’d forgotten my only method of redemption. My guilt laid heavily on me that day. I might have been the first to die of Han Hito in the world- wouldn’t that have been ironic- but something in my body wouldn’t let me give in without fulfilling my promise. So I lived on.
Maya reported feeling a lot better, so I assumed she’d passed her deadline. Chad also managed to struggle through it- he claimed working out when it happened would increase his chance of survival, so he sat doing crunches and push-ups half the day. I didn’t check on Chloe. I didn’t want to. I hadn’t seen her at all since that night; I’d been purposefully avoiding her.
Sammy made sure to keep us all well-fed during our deadlines just in case one of us didn’t make it. Her skill hadn’t waned one bit since she first caught the deer for us, so she was always able to serve up a meal. I knew it was straining for her, so whenever I got the chance, I thanked her. She never reciprocated my appreciation, but that was just the way she worked.
As the next few days passed, we found that by the grace of God, not one of us had died by the first deadline. For a moment, I almost thought that maybe the virus wasn’t so bad, but when I started hearing rumors flying through the woods from other groups, I realized we had just been extraordinarily lucky. Since most of the forest’s inhabitants had first gotten the virus in August, November was to be the end of Cycle A for just about everyone. Murry was a key exception- his Cycle would end at the start of December.
I was still tallying the days- by now, I had switched to writing them down on a piece of stationery so they couldn’t be wiped away. I was also still writing letters to Aubrey, despite the chaos in the world. I wondered constantly what it was like at her boarding school. Were they safe? Had the virus even spread that far? Did she know her brother was the one who unleashed it?
It was the 26th when everything went wrong. Sammy arbitrarily decided it was Thanksgiving, despite us having no way to know what day of the week it was. She was determined to have a feast that would leave none of us hungry. “You’d better be stuffed like a turkey by the end of the night!” she said before leaving to hunt. “If a single one of you complains of hunger pains, I'll take to stuffing you until you explode!”
Chad woke up that morning on the wrong side of the bed. He quickly got riled up at me after I poked fun at his messed-up hair. Things escalated quickly, and soon Murry was having to pull him away from me. It was just senseless fighting by then, but I was still pissed at him.
That day would also be the first time I’d seen Chloe since my nightmare. Tori, unaware of my experience with her, unzipped her tent to let her at least have Thanksgiving with us, if she wasn’t dead. Fairly quickly, we realized she was not. I always made sure to stay as far away from her as I could.
At about one in the afternoon, I found Chad grabbing a spear. I wondered what in the world he was up to, so I asked him.
“Goin’ hunting, dumbass. Why else would I need the spear? What, didja think I was just gonna-” he thrust the spear at my chest and pulled it back at the last second. “Gotcha. Oh, and don’tchu dare come with me. Last thing I need’s a brat clingin’ on while I hunt.”
Benji suddenly rounded the corner, holding a spear of his own. “Chad! Are we gonna go soon?” he called joyfully. “It’s gonna be so fun!”
I felt my ears get hot. “Dude, what the hell?!”
Chad shot a rude scowl at me. “Well, what else can I say? Ben’s just not as big a friggin’ brat as you are!” he shouted. “What, you want kiddy lessons now? I thought you were sixteen, not nine!”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that’s projection! What kinda immature shithead goes and calls his brother a nine-year-old just for calling his hair bad? Oh, right! You, you dolt!” I snarled in return. Benji backed away, confused.
“Watch this immature shithead kick your ass!” Chad hollered. He thrust his spear toward me for real this time, and I dodged to the side. I grabbed the spear while I could and held it in place so he was unable to move it.
I was seething. “Woah! Chad, you could’ve frickin’ killed me! The hell was that for?!” I spat.
He suddenly let go of the spear, and I was confused for a moment. Then, out of what felt like nowhere, a sharp pain shot from my cheek, and I staggered back. I saw Chad with his claws unsheathed and realized what he had just done. “Could an immature shithead do that, bitch?!” he growled at me.
I didn’t have it in me to keep fighting. “Leave me the hell alone! Go hunt, I don’t give a shit! Don’t come back!” I screamed, pressing my hands to my cheek.
Chad turned away and dragged Benji with him into the woods, but not before picking up his spear. He shot a menacing glare at me before he was out of sight, which made me want to hurt him even more. I kicked a tree out of anger, and if I hadn’t been injured already, I might have kicked it down.
Maya caught me kicking the tree with all my might and stopped me. “Sumisu, it is not going to fall over. You are doing your dignity a disservice,” she commented.
“I know that, dolt,” I groaned, turning to face her. She gasped when she saw the other side of my face. “What? How bad is it?”
She closed her eyes for a moment. “It is not awful, I was just surprised. What animal gave you that cut?”
“A certain animal named Chad Sumisu,” I replied. “So? What’s the cut look like?”
“It is four claw lines, streaking downwards. It is still bleeding. You also have blood on your hands. Did you get in a fight?” Maya asked, clueless.
I huffed. “Well, it wasn’t much of a fight. More like Chad trying to kill me because I called him a shithead. He started it,” I muttered. Maya must have thought me childish, of course, but I felt she deserved to know what happened.
“I do not doubt he will be displeased to see you again. The cut on your cheek is not deep. I recommend you-”
“I know what to do for shallow cuts, Maya. I’m not an idiot,” I cut her off. I walked tentatively to the medical tent and found Murry messing around with the gauze.
He looked up at me and flinched. “O-ow! How did you get that?” he asked, peering at the wound. “Oh, wait, you, uh, need bandages, right?”
“Well, I need a towel for the blood, first,” I ordered. He shuffled through the boxes and handed me an off-white towel with a red plus on it. I dabbed at the blood on my cheek and on my hands until it was clear. He then handed me an antibacterial wipe, which I’d nearly forgotten about. I might have been rubbing off on him. By the time I was finished wiping down the wound, he stood up and stuck the bandage on my cheek for me. I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Y-you can’t see where the cuts are, so I just put it on for you,” Murry explained, stuttering. I nodded and began to walk out of the tent. “Oh, uh, I wanted to tell you something.”
“Your eyes are… uh, they’re really pretty. I-I didn’t know they were green. And your lashes are really long, and…”
I blinked. “Uh, Murry, are you… hitting on me?”
“W-what?! No! I have a girlfriend! No, I just saw them and thought you’d want to know, because they look nice. Whenever this whole thing is over, you’re gonna get a lot of girls, haha!” He shot finger guns at me. “‘Go get ‘em, tiger’ and all that, y’know? So I just wanted to, uh, let you know that. Kind of random.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” I whispered to myself as I walked back to Maya. I found that Tori and John were also talking to her. When I arrived, Tori was quick to notice my bandages.
“What happened to you? Got in a boundary scuffle or something?” she asked. I shook my head. “Uh, attacked by an animal?”
Maya butted in. “Chad clawed him across the face before he and Benji left to hunt. Rather improper of him,” she explained.
“I could’ve explained it myself.”
“And yet here we are,” Maya replied.
One of John’s antennae flicked. “Has anyone seen Chloe?” he queried. I hadn’t seen her since the early morning, which I was quite glad about. The less time I had to revel in her existence, the better.
“Nope,” Tori responded. Maya responded with a simple shake of the head, as did I.
“Jesus. Where is she? Don’t tell me she got out into the woods again,” John groaned, looking around with his insectoid eyes. “She must be around here somewhere. I saw her just a few minutes ago.”
“Have you checked her tent?” I offered tentatively. He stumbled over and cracked open the zipper.
“Wow, okay. Yeah, she’s right in the tent. Wonderful,” John remarked, zipping it back up. “Worried over nothing. My general state of being.”
Tori looked down at Maya. “Hey, she’s your sister, right? Why don’t you let her out? Might reflect nicely on you. I mean, it’s not like she can do any harm right now. There’s nothing for her to mess up.”
“I… doubt that is a great idea. Though I will try it, if it makes you happy,” Maya agreed, stepping towards the tent. “Hello, Chloe. I am going to let you out, alright? Do not harm me.” She unzipped the tent, and Chloe crawled out slowly. She looked around in wonder, then approached the four of us.
She pushed her arms together. “What day did you say it was…? Thanksgiving?” she asked in nearly perfect English. The other three were shocked. I was, too, but for the opposite reason- that she had shown she was fully literate in front of others was absurd to me.
“Yeah. It’s Thanksgiving. We got three people out hunting. Gonna have a big meal tonight,” John said hesitantly.
“Hunting… May I hunt? I promise you I’ll catch something big~!” Chloe replied. I was shivering again- she was talking in the same way she had that night.
John looked at Tori nervously. “I don’t see the problem with it,” she said. “You can hunt if you want. There’s a spear right there.” Chloe scuttled around her to pick up the spear, which she studied for a moment.
“Fuhuhu! We’ll have a wonderful meal tonight~!” she promised, scurrying into the woods with her spear. When she was out of sight, I nearly fell to my knees.
“Woah, what the- Niko, you good? You’re pale,” John pointed out. I was actively swaying back and forth, trying to keep balance. I shook my head and steadied myself.
“Uh, yeah. I’m… I’m alright. Just a little shaken up from earlier,” I lied. “Lost some blood, so I’m not doing great. I’ll be fine by dinner, though.”
Tori laughed. “You better be, or else Sammy’s going to kill you!” She and John walked back to their tent talking about something I didn’t pay attention to.
“You barely lost a drop of blood from that cut. What has gotten into you, Sumisu?” Maya questioned, pointing a malformed finger at me.
I didn’t want to break down, so I put my shields up. “I’m just really tired,” I told her. It wasn’t a lie- I was very tired, after all- but it wasn’t the reason I had gotten so nervous. She still seemed inquisitive.
She put her hands on her hips and coughed before speaking. “Sumisu. You are not as convincing as you think. There is something going on with you, and I want to know what it is.”
“There’s nothing going on with me! What the hell are you talking about, Maya? I just got dizzy ‘cause I was tired, okay? There’s nothing else to it!”
She leaned close to me. “You are scared of her, are you not?”
I let out a shaky breath. I couldn’t defend myself any longer. “More than scared, Maya. I’m terrified,” I admitted, hanging my head. “I know she’s family, but… I feel like if she ever touches me again, I’ll lose everything…”
I wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore. Maybe I was crying. Maybe I was smiling. I didn’t feel physical anymore. I felt like a memory. “Maya. Three years ago, Chloe… She did something to me. I don’t remember all the details.” I remembered every detail like it was the present day. “But she forced me to… to do things I didn’t want to. And I guess I was just scared because she was being demanding and assertive. But she had full control over me then. And I felt like I’d lost everything. And I don’t want to feel like that again. Not ever.”
When I opened my eyes, I found her staring down. “I know, Niko. I knew my sister was… awful. I said nothing of it in hopes my parents would discover it on their own. Perhaps I should have spoken up sooner,” she whispered. “I never knew she… she did that to you. I knew what was happening with Chad. I just thought you were safe.”
“If we kept her in that tent, I just thought… maybe we’d all be safe,” I choked. “I just want her away from me.”
Maya inhaled and stood up. “Niko, you should get some rest. When you awake, perhaps dinner will be ready.” I reluctantly stepped over to my sleeping bag and threw a tarp over my face to block out the sun.
“Next time you see Chad, tell him I’m sorry, okay?”