Chapter 16:

Stalk

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero


“That’s her!” I exclaimed rather fervently. Murry was startled at my reaction, to say the least. I didn’t know why or how, but in some way, the girl who had recorded the tapes on the flash drive- the only reason I was alive- was connected to Murry.

Murry looked around wildly. “H-how? Where did you- where was she when you…”

“She-” I cut myself off. Now was the moment I had to decide. If I told Murry that I was responsible for this mess, it would worsen his view of me and my view of myself. If I didn’t, Murry would never know how I’d seen his friend. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything before.

“S-she…?”

“I found a flash drive with all sorts of tapes on it near the Laboratory. She was on all of them. I watched a lot of them, and I recognized her face,” I explained. I tried to omit any detail that would incriminate me, which meant sacrificing a lot of the context.

Murry pondered this for a moment. “Why would she have recorded stuff on a flash drive? And why was it near the Labs?” he questioned.

“I dunno, man. All I know is that it’s her.”

“D-do you have the flash drive? So I can see what was happening?” Suddenly, I felt its weight in my pocket multiply. I would have started sweating if it weren’t for the cold.

I steeled myself. “No. I left it at home before I ran off here,” I lied. Murry’s face after was one of sincere disappointment, and I would have been lying if I’d said I didn’t want to tell him the truth then. He mumbled to himself as he walked back to the medical tent, where I knew Sammy was staying. It didn’t matter to me if he told Sammy. What I was worried about was if Sammy asked me about it herself, and I provided a different answer on accident.

I wandered the perimeter of the territory on my own, recollecting myself. Lying to Murry had diminished whatever talking spirit I was in. I wanted to get away from everything. I wanted to go back to normalcy. Even if normalcy was just how it was before Thanksgiving, that was better than now. We’d lost two of our family members to the dead of night, and two to the monstrosity on our own camping grounds. Even if it was more mouths to feed, I wanted them back. I knew it wasn’t possible, but it was my Christmas wish.

When I went to sleep that night, locket clutched in my hand under the research table in Chad’s old tent, I tried to hold on to that hope. I quickly came to realize that Christmas wishes were just that- wishes. The only wishes that ever came true were the ones that would haunt me for life.

So, as time went on, creeping closer to our lifelines, I made it a priority to return to studying the virus. I didn’t have a choice, really. I was still indebted to everyone who’d lost their lives, and the guilt of that wouldn’t dissipate until I could say I’d paid it off. I edged closer to finally discovering what exactly was making Sammy’s cells tick, but I was starting to lose hope.

It was near our lifelines, around the beginning of February, when I decided on something. We would all return to the city, and if even one of us managed to rid themselves of the virus, they would return to civilization without the rest of us. Maya asked me why, and I replied, “Do you wanna stay living in this hellhole forever?”

“I would rather have a home in an unsightly area like this than be homeless on the streets of a rich world,” she replied.

Murry butted in. “You wouldn’t be homeless, though! You probably have relatives willing to take you in, right?”

“Perhaps. It would take some time to locate them, though. Add onto that the loss of contact with the three of you, and it seems more advantageous just to stay and endure the pain until Niko has finished the cure,” Maya reasoned. I didn’t have much to disagree with her on, but I didn’t want her to suffer.

We left Chloe zipped in her tent while we left for the city. I put on more reasonable clothes so I didn’t seem completely unsightly. I was so close to my lifeline that I was indistinguishable from a normal human- apart from the tattered clothes and awful stench, that was. Murry and Sammy obviously were not. When we arrived at the still-busted rail on the interstate, I ignored it as best I could. Any memory of those two would only make it worse.

We seldom talked while we walked the empty interstate. It was late at night, and since the electricity in this portion of the city had been wiped out months ago, the night sky was clearer than ever before. I could see the millions of stars around us like tiny flashlights dotting the hazy dark blue. When we came to the police station, which we found to be still operational, Sammy made the bold decision to go in and negotiate for us.

“I’ll be right back. If I show one finger when I come out, they’re friendly. If it’s a two, they’re not there. If it’s a three, they’re hostile, and we need to flee. Got all that?” she described. It was good to have signals in case of situations like these. Murry and I nodded, and Maya gave a thumbs-up. She pushed the doors open and they swung closed behind her. I could only imagine what was happening inside.

After about three minutes, she walked out holding up a ‘two’. There was no one inside. I wondered why the lights were on, until- “All of y’all put yer hands in the air!” a deep voice yelled from behind us. I spun around and fell to the ground when I saw the man. He looked in his mid-forties, and he was holding a pistol straight between my eyes.

I raised my hands up against the wall. I noticed everyone else had, too- there were other police officers around. I wondered if it was a tactical maneuver, or if they’d just come back from their patrol and found us by coincidence. “P-please, sir, we don’t mean any trouble! We were just trying to ask a couple of questions, that’s all!” Murry squealed.

“Right to remain silent, all of y’all! I’mma bring you in one-by-one ta question you, got it? Say a word and you get the bullet!” the man closest to me snapped. “Scraggly blonde kid! You first!”

He handcuffed me and pushed me along while the other officers watched over the rest of the group. I found myself next at the interrogation room in the department, somewhere I’d been before. When I had last run away, my parents hired a state therapist to find out why I’d done it. I would visit her here so long as there weren’t any actual interrogations being held.

“Okay, kid. Question one. What the hell you doin’ at our door? Tryna sneak in an’ steal documents? Weapons?” he growled at me. Under the weary flickering light, I could see stubble across his face. I wondered how long it had been since I’d shaved.

“We came to ask you guys a few questions. Like, stuff about the infection and laws on it and whatever,” I told him.

He smirked at me and leaned in. “What, ‘cuz you homeless and worried ‘bout gettin’ infected?”

“No, because I am infected, sir. You better stay away from me unless you want the virus, too,” I replied. He laughed in my face and leaned in closer.

“If you knew what that virus gone done ta people, you wouldn’t be fakin’ it like that,” he said lowly. “You know what that thing does? You still think it’s corona or somethin’?”

I looked him straight in the eyes. “Sir, I know exactly what it does. I’ve been infected for six months and stared death in the face. So unless you want to see death’s face, too, you should really step away.”

He didn’t seem to take me seriously, but I noticed him step away from me a little. “It turns people into animals, kid. It takes their DNA an’-”

“Rewrites it in each cell using a genetically modified technology similar to gene therapy?” I finished his sentence for him.

“Interrupt me again, I dare you!” he snarled, gripping his taser. I shut myself up. “Next question, know-it-all. The other ones. Put a name on each a’ them and tell me their status.”

I grimaced. “Maya’s the short Hispanic one. She’s ten, and she’s had the virus for six months, like me. The boy with the light-brown fur is Murry. He’s sixteen, and he’s had the virus for five months. The last one’s Sammy. I think she’s sixteen, too, and she’s had it for five.”

“I need full names, not nicknames, idiot.”

“Maya Johnson. And I don’t know Murry and Sammy’s last names. I heard Sammy call Murry ‘Muriel’ once, so that’s about as much advice as I can give.”

The officer stared down at his clipboard, which he’d grabbed from the wall. “There were five of you out there, boy. Who you leavin’ out?”

“No, I’m pretty sure there were only four-”

“Female. Long, curly, black hair. Looks Hispanic. She has welts on the sides of her torso and her eyes are bloodshot. Ring a bell, kid?”

I knew who he was referring to, but I tried to ignore it. I must have been hallucinating. We zipped her up at camp. She couldn’t have left. “What’d you say?”

“I can play good or bad. You wanna talk about ‘er or do you want capital punishment for lyin’ to a government authority?” the officer threatened. My mind started doing flips, trying to escape the situation. I didn’t want to bring her up. Didn’t want to mention her, didn’t want to let her in my life in any capacity. But it was that or certain danger.

“Her name… her name’s C-Chloe, sir. Chloe Johnson. S-she must have followed us without us realizing because we never intended to… to let her anywhere. She’s dangerous, sir, she’s dangerous!” I found myself nearly pleading with the officer. What was I doing? I stopped promptly and clasped my hands together. I couldn’t let it all get in the way. The past was in the past. It didn’t matter. At all.

He wrote something on his clipboard. “Alright. Now give me yer name and yer relation to all them,” he ordered.

“I’m Niko Sumisu, sir. I-”

“S’cuse me? You lyin’ to me again, young man?”

“What the hell are you talking about?!”

He thrust a bony finger into my scarf and nearly missed my locket underneath. “What kinda last name is that? ‘Sumisu’?”

“It’s my name, sir. I’m on record. You can find me, sir,” I replied. He groaned and kept on writing.

Before he told me to continue, he asked me, “Sumisu. How you spell that, kid?”

“Exactly how it sounds. S-u-m-i-s-u. And Niko has a ‘k’ in it, not a ‘c’. Just so you know,” I explained. He erased quite a bit of his writing and scribbled it all in again.

“Alright. Relations.”

I sighed. “Maya’s my cousin. So’s… Chloe. Murry and Sammy are friends,” I told him. He wrote all that down before turning to me one last time.

“Anything else I should know before I letchu run off?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, until a couple of months ago, there were two more of us, my other cousin and her fiance. They ran off one day and we don’t know what happened to them. Tori Johnson and John McClair, if you wanna find them.” I wanted to tell him that Chloe was a psychopath, that she was a cannibal, that she had killed my brothers. I didn’t. I couldn’t form the words.

“Got it. They’re finishing up interrogatin’ the one you called Muriel. After that, y’all can leave. But don’t come back, got it?”

I still hadn’t asked what we’d come here for. “Sir, if someone recovers from the virus, they’re allowed back in society, right?”

“Yeah, but that ain’t possible. Ya can’t recover from the virus. It’s incurable,” he spat.

The moment he said it, I was filled with the determination to prove him wrong. As he and another officer conversed about the events, they let me and Murry out, back to the other two. When I left the building, I immediately looked all around, trying to find where Chloe had gone. I was trembling.

Murry tilted his head at me. “W-what are you looking for? They all cleared out. We’re, uh, supposed to be going home…”

“They said Chloe was here, Murry. They said she was with us. She’s here somewhere. I don’t wanna die, Murry,” I pleaded, grabbing onto his shoulders and looking up. “I can hear her crawling! We gotta…”

Sammy grabbed me by my scarf. “Chloe’s not here. Dear Lord, Niko. Don’t tell me you’re hallucinating now,” she scorned, flapping her wings.

I looked over her shoulder and between her wings and found bloodshot eyes staring at me. “She’s right there, Sammy!” I hissed. She turned around and caught a glimpse of our worst nightmare before it disappeared into a dark alley. I didn’t know what Chloe had planned to do, but I was terrified.

“Could she have ripped through the tent?” Maya suggested. “It was already beginning to wear. She may have just taken advantage of it.” She, too, looked uncomfortable.

“We’ll find out when we get back,” Sammy said loudly, marching forward despite having seen Chloe in the alleyway. “She shouldn’t follow us back if she knows what’s good for her. She’ll get shot through the chest with an arrow, then sliced a hundred ways with a knife, then-”

“We know, Sammy…” Murry sighed. It occurred to me that was actually her way of threatening Chloe indirectly. It also occurred to me that Chloe might have been a masochist, so threats might not have had any impact. We would have to find out when we got back to the camp.

When we did get back to the camp, we found exactly what Maya had described. The tent was ripped open on the side like someone had run it through a paper shredder.

“D-did she hear us talking about going back to town and follow us because of it?” Murry questioned, mostly to himself. “Oh, God, what if she…”

“It’ll be fine, Murry. She won’t stray far from the forest. If we get any notices about her, just be on guard,” Sammy replied. She seemed more worried than she usually was about these sorts of matters, but even then, it wasn’t by much.

The next day was my and Maya’s lifeline. We made sure to get a decent rest so the virus would have a better chance of exiting our bodies, just as Aru had said on the files. I wasn’t exactly invigorated, but the extra sleep did give me time to write another letter to Aubrey and contemplate the situation in general. Chloe was out there somewhere, wreaking havoc on the innocent. I sighed aloud. At least those innocents weren’t us.

We all made sure to be as sanitary as possible in the off-chance one of us actually lost the virus. Getting rid of it didn’t make the victim resistant to reinfection, so once it was gone, we had to act quickly and carefully. Of course, we didn’t expect anyone to get that off-chance. It was so far off, our only plans for it were ‘make whoever’s clear run to the city before they get reinfected’.

So, of course, we weren’t prepared when we did virus tests the next day. We weren’t prepared when we found out Maya had pushed it out of her system. But we had to do something about it, didn’t we?

BlipXP
icon-reaction-4
Supersession
icon-reaction-4
OscarHM
icon-reaction-6
otkrlj
icon-reaction-5
Momentie
icon-reaction-4
Abraham B. A.
icon-reaction-5