Caden had never thought much about death. The moments leading up to that final breath and all that would follow. He had known many who had passed away, but he always spent more time grieving his losses than thinking about what might have become of them. He did not fully believe in spirit or soul. He wanted to think that the essence of a human being was nothing more than cells, and once time took its toll, and one had died, they returned to the earth- they became worm food. Nothing more.
Caden looked around his bedroom. He had awoken sometime in the night and had been lying down, staring at the tiny cracks in his ceiling. He never realized how many there were.
The old house had been built in 1900 and he had inherited it from his mother, who had grown up there. It had been in the family for at least three generations now. It was his responsibility to keep up on the maintenance. Though Caden was single and had no children, he figured he had least keep the house in a suitable living condition.
He rolled over to his side to stare out the window. He could hear rain falling against the roof. It was so loud, almost too loud for him to fall back asleep. As he stared out the window at the tree in the side yard, he was overcome with a feeling of unexplainable dread. The solemn tree stood tall, a dark giant with a hundred bare arms reaching toward the night sky. Everything seemed unfamiliar to him. He had lived here his whole life, taking care of his mother when she got sick. In the moonlit bedroom everything seemed so foreign, so far away. He looked at his dresser and night table. They were the same, but somehow, different. Caden flipped onto his back and began to stare at the ceiling again. He knew sleep would not come and so he decided to venture downstairs. Reading usually put his mind at ease.
Slowly, Caden reached for his bathrobe, which lay crumpled at the side of his bed. He made his way out into the hall. It was dark, with only one window at the very end where moonlight spilled and pooled on the hardwood floor. The floorboards creaked as he made his way to the stairs.
Something was definitely different, something was eerie about this scene. Everything appeared to be the same as it had before he’d fallen asleep but it was almost as if he were a stranger in someone else’s house. A house that happened to look just like his. As he approached the bottom of the stairs he was startled by a loud thump. He jumped at the mysterious sound. It had come from the kitchen, right around the corner of the stairs. Caden tried to peer into the blackness, he wanted to turn on a light but something stopped him. He was incapable of reaching for the light switch. He tried to move his arm, but it would not respond. He then tried to move his right foot, it too would not budge. A wave of panic began to take over Caden.
The thumping sound became louder and more repetitive- it was moving closer. He tried to let out a yelp but no sound came to his lips. He tried to turn his head, but it was as though his neck were made of molasses, causing his chin to become stuck in its position. It was coming closer, he could feel its presence. He could make out movement from the wall that ran along the stairs and bordered the kitchen. Something was coming around the corner. He saw, what appeared to be, a face slowly emerge from around the corner. But it was wrong, terribly wrong. In the moonlight he could make out long hair, but no features. The face seemed to move unnaturally, twisting and folding into itself. Caden again tried to run, this time he got his feet to respond. He trampled, quickly, up the stairs.
As he reached the top he felt it behind him. He couldn’t turn around, not that he’d want to see it there in the better lit hallway. He tripped on the long rug that ran from the top of the stairs to the door of his bedroom. Just as he hit the floor, he felt it grab a hold of his legs. He saw it crawling up him. There was nothing he could do but watch, his body would not respond. The face he saw before him was gruesome and inhuman. Deep, black sockets peeked out from behind long black hair. The skin was a deep purple where it was still attached. White bone shown through gaping holes where the cheeks should have been. It opened its mouth as if to let out a terrible shriek. An awful buzzing came from its mouth, the sound was not that of a person, yet it was somehow familiar to Caden. The sound grew louder.
Caden shot up in bed. His alarm was going off. He was drenched in sweat, the sheets around him were damp and cold. His mouth was unbelievably dry. He realized then that he had been dreaming. He leapt out of bed and hit his alarm clock. It was 6:22 in the morning. His alarm always went off at 6:00 am. Had he been sleeping through it for nearly half an hour? Caden walked back over to the side of his bed and reached for his bathrobe. It wasn’t there. He always left it at the side of his bed. He made his way to the door, he needed his morning cup of coffee, especially after the terrible dream he had had. He always hated that early morning feeling after a particularly realistic dream. He knew it had not been real, but he was unable to escape the terrible feeling that followed him around like a thick fog. As he stepped into the hallway he noticed something that made his heart jump. In the bright light of morning he saw that the rug in the hallway was rumpled and his bathrobe lay at the top of the stairs. He remembered tripping on the rug in his dream. Had he been sleep walking? He carefully tiptoed to the top of the stairs, afraid to see what was below. He crept slowly to he base of the stairs and peeked his head around the corner, into the kitchen. An empty glass lay on the tiled floor. He must have slept walked in the night to get water. He was not a frequent sleepwalker but it had been known to happen.
Caden felt better after seeing the glass. It had not been there the night before, so he was reassured that his nightmare was nothing more than an episode of sleepwalking. He picked the glass up and turned on the coffee grinder. Once the pot was going he walked to the living room and turned on the TV. His little morning ritual was always coffee, a few minutes of news and then a shower. The weather report was on, there was going to be more rain. That was the only problem about living in the Northwest. October always meant rain. To most, with their routine office jobs, the rain didn’t mean much, but to Caden it meant it was going to be a slow week.
Caden was always into the outdoors. He was a fanatic hiker and camper, it was why he never bothered leaving the state of Washington. With the foothills of the Cascade mountain range only a few hours drive away, he had no reason to leave. Since he had graduated from high school he had been in the outdoors business. His first job was a part-time sales associate at R.E.I. outdoor’s equipment. That of course led into many group hikes and camping expeditions. When Caden had turned 25 he branched out on his own to start a trail guide business. His work was perfect. People, mostly tourists, paid him to do what he loved most. He usually worked out of Marble Mount, taking groups of people for hikes and short camping expeditions. Work was great in the summer time, but once fall came the customers dwindled. He usually took winters completely off, as the snowfall had steadily increased over the last few years and the passes closed down.
Caden popped over to his computer to check the week’s agenda. He knew he had at least a small day trip planned for today and was hoping he wouldn’t have any cancellations due to the inclement weather. He opened his email and scanned through his new messages. It was mostly spam, all five of the individuals, hoping to become hearty outdoorsman for at least one day, were still on for the expedition.
It was not a terribly long drive to the meeting place. Today’s hike was a bit farther out than he’d normally gone, but everyone had been okay with an early start. They were all meeting at the base of the dirt road to Twin Lakes. It was a beautiful spot, nestled in the Cascades. It was about a half day’s hike to the top. There everyone could take in the scenery while enjoying their packed lunches, and by 2:00 pm they would be able to head back down.
Caden arrived in the small parking area at the base of the hike and saw that he was the first to arrive. After parking he flipped open his glove box and pulled out his map. He rarely needed maps anymore, but he wanted to familiarize himself with the area, as it had been awhile since he’d done this particular hike. It was one of the easier trails he took people through. Mostly tourists came for this day hike, people from places without any mountains. People who wanted to enjoy the beautiful scenery the Pacific Northwest had to offer without over exerting themselves too much. Caden heard a car pulling up next to his. He peeked out the window and saw that it was Mr. Tom Sassor. He had led Tom on several hikes before. Tom was from Oregon but had a vacation spot on Whidbey Island.
Caden nodded at Tom and stepped out of his vehicle.
“Morning. How’ve you been?” Caden reached over and shook Tom’s hand.
“Good, sure am excited for today’s hike.” Tom walked back over to his car and started removing his gear from the trunk.
“How’s the cabin treating you?” Caden had always wanted to own a little place on Whidbey, so he thought he’d live vicariously through Tom.
“It’s great, although I hardly got any sleep last night. There’s more rain this month than I think there’s ever been during my stay up here. At one point I could have sworn it was hailing.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t much better in Big Lake.” Caden agreed that the rain had been terrible where he lived, as well.
As the two men discussed the weather the other hikers arrived. There was Mrs. Joanne Kannings and her 20-year-old daughter, Heather. He had led them once before on a three day excursion along Mount Baker. They were originally from Northern California but now lived just outside of Seattle. After them, pulled up Mr. Sloan Fanner and his younger brother Teddy. He had never met Teddy before but Sloan had also accompanied the Kannings on the Baker trip.
“How’s everybody doing? You all bring something for lunch and lots of bottled water?” Caden scanned the small gang to make sure they were well equipped. Everyone nodded and introduced themselves to the ones they hadn’t met before. After about fifteen minutes they were on their way. Caden took the lead and Tom followed right behind him. Sloan and Teddy kept in the middle and Joanne and Heather stayed in the rear. Caden could hear the three men behind him engaged in a conversation on the current state of the stock market. Tom was an investment broker and the other two were fascinated with his line of work. Joanne and Heather talked about the plants and birds they saw along the trail.
Caden loved hiking in the Pacific Northwest. It was almost like meditation to him. As he walked his mind would wander and the fresh air felt wonderful coursing through his body. Up ahead was a large tree, it reminded him of the one in his side yard. His father had hung a swing from it when he was about five and his mother would push him on it for hours at a time. His mind flooded with thoughts of his mother. How long had it been since she passed? It was about four years ago. It was from her that he knew he received his love of the outdoors. She had worked in the Archaeology department at the University of Washington for most of her life. She only worked two days a week, so she had a small apartment nestled in University Village. Sometimes, during summer and winter break, she would bring Caden with her and he would get to explore the department.
He felt like it was a place of great treasures and mysteries. There were artifacts from all around the globe, and though they were contained behind glass walls, occasionally Mr. Smith, the department head, would pull out items and let Caden look at them. They were wonderful memories. Sometimes Caden’s mother would be sent on excavations lasting up to a month. Once or twice Caden got to join her. He had been to Egypt and Brazil. He was the most traveled child under 15 that he knew. His mother’s last trek was to a little place on the Gulf of Mexico. He had not gone on this trip, as he was working at R.E.I. by then and unable to get time off.
“Look at that!” Caden was jerked out of his memory laden trance when Tom shouted. He was pointing to something in the tree top.
“What is it?” Heather and Joanne had caught up with the boys and were looking at the tree as well. Caden lifted his gaze to peer at the tiny brown, speckled shape above them.
“Owl.” Caden said, nodding. “It’s rare to see them out this time of year, especially this late in the morning.”
The hikers continued walking, hoping to see more interesting wild-life. So far the skies were overcast but rain had not begun to fall. Caden was hoping it would stay that way. He had told everyone to bring rain gear, just in case, but it would make for a better trip if they wouldn’t have to use it. As the group continued on their way, Caden once again began to meditate. He was never able to quiet his busy mind, but his best form of meditation was always memory. His mother had gotten back from the Gulf about four months before she had passed away. Apparently she had been present for an amazing discovery. An archaeology team from France had been exploring the Gulf for signs of the breaking of the continents. It was a common held belief in his mother’s field that the Gulf was a giant crater. Archaeologists had been searching for years for remains of a meteor there and had yet to find any definite evidence.
Caden remembered the day his mother got the call from the university. She was so excited. She had been in such a bad way since Caden’s father had left. Caden, himself, had an easier time getting over the loss. He was never particularly close with his father and when he walked out Caden thought good riddance. He was tired of the bickering and yelling that had filled the house throughout his early childhood. His parents were never able to get along. When the call came Caden’s mother told him that his aunt would be staying at the house while she was gone. He was so upset with her that he could not go. He didn’t have enough to pay for his airfare, and the university would only pay her way. He also could not get out of work. He had been promoted to floor manager and most of the staff were students, it was in-between quarters at Western Washington University and so the R.E.I. staff was slim. Caden would be working many hours.
She had written him several post cards while on the trip. When the first had come in the mail he was unbearably excited to read it. She wrote to him of what the French had found and what her main job was going to be. He could still remember what it read.
Caden, I arrived safely and am staying at a small campsite. There are archaeologists from around the globe here. It’s more incredible than I could have thought. The French created a special drill that allowed them to get under the outer crust of the sea bed. They pulled up samples that date back long before the sea floor around them. They’re sure it’s from a meteor. One that’s carbon dating back earlier than the planet! I’ll be here collecting samples until the university sends me back. Love you muchly!
Caden had thought this to be so exciting. He remembered reading the postcard almost every day during the following weeks after its arrival. His mother was sent home at the end of the month due to illness. She had started suffering a terrible flu while on the trip and so the university sent her back until she could recover. She never did. She went from sick to bed ridden. She refused to eat and would only drink water, so slowly she began to waste away to nothing. She could never seem to drink enough water, the doctors said her body was having an impossible time staying hydrated. Caden remembered being by her bed the whole time. Toward the end of it she experienced terrible violent fits. Her body would seize and convulse. She clutched at the bed sheets and tried to bat at the doctors. It was when she tried to attack Caden that she was moved to the hospital. He didn’t remember much about her last few months, just that the doctors said they had to keep her heavily sedated.
Caden was drawn out of his trance yet again as the party reached the top of the trail. Sparkling, blue-green water rippled in front of them. They stood before one of the twin lakes and the hikers oohed and awed in its glory.
“Okay guys, time to take a breather!” Caden motioned to the grassy patch ahead of them. They all sat their gear down and began to open their lunches. As the others ate, Caden began to feel light headed. He realized he forgot his own water bottle in his car so he told the others that he was going to pop down to the lake. He slowly crawled down the shallow hillside and stepped onto the small beach. The ground was covered in tiny stones and he crouched down to the water. His reflection caused him to jump back suddenly. He was reminded of the face from his dream. His skin appeared to have a sickly purple tint to it, he knew it was just the color of the water playing with his reflection, but he still felt uneasy. He scooped up two hands full of water and sipped from his palms. He drank several handfuls of the cool refreshing lake water and then turned to head back. He realized he was still unbelievably thirsty, he realized he must have over-exerted himself on the hike up. The lake water was not satisfying him enough so he decided to head back up and sip off of one of the other’s canteens.
As he approached the group he sensed that something was wrong. The others looked different than they had when he had left them. Tom was still wearing a red flannel shirt, but his arms seemed misshapen where they stemmed out from the rolled up sleeves. It looked as though he had terrific boils, bubbling and popping at the surface of his skin. His face looked like a rotten tomato. It too blistered and oozed down on his sandwich. His eyes were glassy and grey, a fog seemed to float over them. To his horror Caden looked at the others. All of which had changed.
They appeared as the living dead. Heather’s bright blue eyes were now sunken and shriveled black pellets, set deeply in her decomposing skull. Joanne was missing clumps of her fantastic red hair and most of her jaw seemed to have been eaten away. Blood dripped into her open canteen. He didn’t see Teddy or Sloan anywhere and his heart began to race. He needed to escape, get down the mountain. What was happening? He needed to flee before the awful creatures saw him and so he turned to make a run for it. As he turned around he came face to face with a terrifying figure. It was Sloan, or at least it had been. The flesh from his face was sliding down his neck like great globs of melting butter, exposing bone and the muscle underneath. As the creature lumbered closer, Caden grabbed his walking stick from his back pack and swung at its head. Sloan, or what was once Sloan, slumped to the ground and Caden slammed the walking stick into its head until its skull was sufficiently smashed in. It reminded him of the piñata his mother had sent to him during another trip to Mexico. He had set it up and blasted it repeatedly with a baseball bat until candy came tumbling out from all sides. Just as the candy did, bits and pieces of Sloan’s skull came cracking away and soft tissue and brain matter splattered Caden’s walking stick and pant leg.
Caden heard a commotion behind him and whirled around to see that the others had seen him. Tom, Joanne and Heather began running at him. Caden knew the stick would not be enough to fend them off and so he frantically looked around for another weapon. There was a large sharp rock next to his foot. He picked the rock up and threw it as hard as he could at Tom, who was in the lead. The rock hit Tom in his temple and he fell to the ground at Caden’s feet. Tom’s rapidly decaying body flapped and writhed on the ground before Caden, before the thing could pull itself up, Caden brought the walking stick down on its head. Tom’s skull caved in and the thing lay still on the ground.
Caden didn’t have time to look around for another weapon, as Heather and Joanne were almost to him, running frantically with their arms reaching toward him. He remembered the pocket knife he always carried with him and drew the blade from his back pocket. Just as Heather leapt toward him, Caden thrust the knife into her neck. The skin felt tough and hollow as the blade sunk in. Heather fell to the ground as black liquid oozed from the gaping wound. The monstrosity flopped on the ground like a fish out of water for several seconds and then lay still. As Caden glanced back up he saw that Joanne was on him. They tumbled to the ground. Her body was cold and her flesh was breaking away in large chunks and sticking to Caden’s clothes. He wrestled the creature to a vulnerable position and then stuck the knife into its heart. Joanne stopped moving, the monster clutched at it’s chest and then went still.
Caden was horrified. He hadn’t had time to think about what was happening as his instinct to survive had instantly kicked in. He didn’t see Teddy anywhere and thought this would be a good time to make a run for the trail head. Caden stood to his feet and cantered toward the opening in the trees. It was then that he saw Teddy. Teddy looked even worse than the rest of them had. His flesh and bones were falling off in larger pieces and black liquid spat out from the stumps that had once been arms. Teddy ran at Caden, its mouth open wide, jagged, decaying teeth bared and ready to bite into Caden. He swung the stick at it and knocked it to the ground. Again, Caden brought the stick down onto Teddy’s skull until he too had stopped moving. Before Caden could make a run for it, the light headed feeling was back. He saw spots of light, then he fell to the ground. Then, nothing.
Caden’s mother had sent him other postcards. In the second she told him even more about the great discovery.
Caden, my darling boy, I miss you terribly. I’ve had a terrible headache for the last few days, this morning I have a fever. They tell me it’s probably from the drinking water and that I should be fine by the end of the week. Hope things are well at home. We brought up more samples and it appears that there ARE remnants of an ancient meteor buried under the sea floor. So far I have been the only one to work with all of the samples, as I have the most experience. So, be proud of your old mother for that! They’re sending in more crews to review my findings. It’s possible that we’ve discovered the first form of alien life!! In the samples were microscopic spores. These spores are amazing as they date back about a million years before the creation of our solar system. I’ll write again when I know more! Love you always.
Caden suddenly realized he was on the ground. He must have had another nightmare. What time was it? Caden sat up and scratched his head. Fear ran through him when he saw the bodies of the others. It had been real. Terrible creatures had tried to kill him out here in the middle of nowhere. He thought it unlikely that other hikers would be out this way as it was now the off season for camping. Caden’s head throbbed and his fever had worsened. He knew he had to get back to his car and get help. But what if there were more of these things? What had caused his companions to transform? Caden began running down the trail. He ran until he reached the bottom. He threw open his car door and flung himself into the seat. He could not believe he had had enough stamina to run down the entire mountain side, but now that the adrenaline was wearing off he felt another wave of lightheadedness take over him. He would not pass out, not again. He needed to get away from the mountain- to get back to town. He started the engine and peeled out of the dirt parking area.
Caden felt relief flash over him as he jutted down the paved road. His mind was racing. What had happened? It was all so sudden. He began to feel light headed again so he gulped down his entire canteen of water. He didn’t have time to fully panic as he saw something to the side of the road ahead of him.
There was a tiny diner to the left of the highway. He had been there once before and knew that they had a payphone. He pulled his rig over into the parking lot. As he got out of the vehicle he sensed something was very wrong. He ran into the diner and banged his hands on the counter. No one came to the register.
“Hello?!” Caden hollered frantically. He heard someone in the kitchen and tried to poke his head over the counter to get a better look. He was relieved to see that someone was back there. He called again, yet the person in the kitchen still did not respond. There seemed to be no one else in the diner. It was typical as this time of year not many people headed out in this direction. Caden decided to walk around the counter to try and get the cook’s attention. He walked through the saloon doors and called out again.
“Hello? There’s been a terrible accident.” Caden wasn’t sure how to explain his predicament and still sound rational so he thought it best to give little information for the time being. He saw that the cook was a short, fat man, wearing a white apron. The little man slowly turned around to face Caden. Caden’s relief quickly turned to panic as he saw the cook’s splattered apron. Even more alarming than what appeared to be large blood stains was the fact that the little man looked like the hikers had. His eyes sunken in their sockets, his skin grey and lifeless.
The cook slowly walked toward Caden, his arms stretched out in front grasping at him. Caden pulled a large pot off of the stove to his right and splashed the little man with scalding water. While the cook was down, scratching at it’s badly burnt face, Caden crept up to it and brought the pan into its head. One strong blow and the cook lay motionless. Just as Caden turned to run, the dizziness took him again and he passed out.
He was overjoyed when the university sent his mother home early. Though she was not terribly ill, she had been suffering from insomnia. Her supervisor thought it best that she be sent back to Washington. Rather quickly, her illness worsened. Soon the fever had taken such a hold of her that she could hardly leave the bed. Caden remembered seeing her when she first arrived home. His aunt had told him that she needed plenty of rest and that they weren’t to disturb her. She had arrived at the door step with a doctor from the university. When she saw Caden and his aunt she began to thrash around, almost as though she wanted to hurt them. The doctor held her down and gave her a shot. Reassuring them that it was a side effect of the fever and that she would be okay with some bed rest.
Caden remembered her last day at the house. She had tried to hurt him. He was at her bedside, reading, when his mother began to thrust on the bed. He quickly threw the book down and stood to try to calm her. He saw panic in her eyes as she swiped at him.
“Mom, mom, it’s okay! Calm down!” he had tried to hold her arms down to keep her from injuring herself. He remembered this is when she swiped at him. Her fingernails dug into the flesh of his arm as he had pulled away. He still had the scar, it had bled off and on for days. After his mother was admitted, he had visited her at the university hospital.
“How’s your arm, sport?” he hated it when the doctors called him that. His arm had been hurting a lot so he felt it best to show the doctor. Sure enough it was infected. He was given antibiotics and sent home to rest, as well.
Caden woke up on the kitchen floor. He looked around, his arm was throbbing. The skin around his scar was swollen and red. It almost seemed to pulse and quiver with his frantic breathing. How long had he been out this time? He stumbled to the doorway. It was dark outside, he had been asleep for quite some time. He scrambled to the payphone and quickly called the police. Caden went to the waiting area of the diner and sat down in one of the great brown chairs. His fever was so terrible he could barely keep his eyes open. Caden did not remember falling asleep. He did not remember the police showing up, or the ambulance.
He awoke to the sounds of beeping equipment and the smell of sterile latex. The noises and scents reminded him of his mother’s last days. Was he in the hospital? Caden realized he could not open his eyes. He couldn’t move. He felt thick straps around his wrists, ankles and forehead. He tried to thrash free, but was stuck in place. He heard foot steps approaching and a curtain being drawn back.
“Is he awake?” a man’s voice asked.
“His heart rate has increased and he appears to be more responsive. We have the straps as a precaution.” a woman’s voice responded.
“Where are the officers he attacked?” the man’s voice inquired. Caden was not sure who they were talking about. He wanted to scream to them. He wanted to beg for help, to tell his story. The hikers, the cook… it had all been so terrible.
“They’re in the other room. The one has a nasty cut on his arm, we’ve given him antibiotics so it should be okay. They found the body of Joe Ransom at the diner where he was picked up. Looks like Mr. Caden Hoag bludgeoned him to death with a pot from the kitchen.”
Caden tried to speak, it had been self defense! Had they not seen that the cook was a horrible monster? Perhaps they thought he had done that to the cook, when he killed the creature to save his life.
“We heard back from the crew that followed his tire tracks. There are more bodies up at the Twin Lakes. It looks like Mr. Hoag murdered the hikers, as well.”
Caden couldn’t believe what he was hearing! He hadn’t killed any one, no living people any way. Those things weren’t human beings, they weren’t the hikers. They had been terrible walking corpses. He wanted to explain but he was to weak to talk. He felt himself slipping away, into a deep sleep. The voices trailed off into the distance. How could they know? How could they know what those things actually were?
Caden remembered his mother’s funeral. The university hospital had made all of the arrangements, his mother’s colleagues had thought it best that there be a closed casket. In her last days she had apparently shriveled away to nothing. The doctors wouldn’t let Caden see her. At the funeral he could hear the whispers of the university staff. He wasn’t able to make out what they were saying, but he sensed a feeling of utter wrongness. The whole situation. His aunt told him he was in shock, but he could not believe that his mother was dead. He had wanted to see her body. His aunt had told him that they cremated her remains and that he was going to receive a small urn containing them, as would she.
Caden awoke some time later. This time he was able to open his eyes. He was in a hospital, still strapped to a bed. He saw a green curtain enclosing him. He was hooked up to a variety of machines. He could hear voices on the other side of the curtain.
“Cases are being reported from France. So far they’re keeping it as quiet as possible. They have the same symptoms, horribly violent behavior…” the voice trailed off. Caden felt relieved yet again. What had happened to him was happening to other people. The voice continued, “the symptoms seem to be sped up by water. The reactions intensify with every exposure.”
Caden was trying to put the pieces together in his head. This must have been what happened to the hikers. The violent symptoms, the reaction to water, they had been at the lake after all. It was lunch time when they turned, they were eating and drinking. He remembered the water bottles. And the cook, the boiling water on the stove. It clearly had intensified the little man’s reaction to him. But why was Caden unaffected? He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. If this was happening in Washington, as well as Europe, where else could it be spreading?
“We’re running as many tests as possible.” the voice continued. The puzzle became clearer to Caden. He was here because he was unaffected. It seemed obvious that they would want to test him for antibodies, or whatever it was that doctors did in situations like this. Caden was relieved that he wouldn’t be on the hook for murder, but terrified that waves of zombification were sweeping the globe.
“We’re keeping him down here with patient zero. It appears they’re related, we think he’s her son.” the voice again paused. Caden felt his heart jump inside his chest. Were they talking about his mother? She was here? It was impossible, he had been at her funeral four years ago. He saw the casket, he had the urn. Suddenly he remembered how the doctors would not let him see her body. Could she still be alive? Caden heard the curtain draw open. He could not believe his eyes. A terrible creature in a white lab coat leaned in over him. The eyes, they were the same as the others, shrunken black seeds. The skin rotted around the mouth and giant sores oozed on its forehead. Caden tried to scream, he could not. He began to thrash, trying to claw at the creature. As he twisted, fighting to get away, another terrible monster came up beside him. The undead were everywhere! He had to escape, but he did not know how. As he twisted and turned he felt a prick in his arm. One of the zombies had poked him with a needle.
Fear and confusion swept over Caden as he lay paralyzed in the bed. He could not move, he could only stare upwards at the ceiling. The tiny cracks there reminded him of those in his bedroom. He could hear the monsters conversing.
“It looks like he’s as far gone as his mother was when we had to put her away. As soon as the drugs take effect we need to move him downstairs into the chamber, with the others. Let’s just hope we can get a handle on this thing before it spreads even further. This one only killed six people, that we know of. His mother took down her entire crew in the Gulf. She was rambling on about zombies just like Mr. Hoag here was at the diner. We found that the spores contain very strong hallucinogens. The hallucinations seem to become stronger the more the subject is exposed to water.”
Caden was helpless on the bed. He was sure the creatures were real, not hallucinations. Could they be right? Their voices seemed calm and humane, not those of what their appearances would predict. Another voice came from beyond the curtain.
“It’s spreading, reports are coming in all over the country. People becoming homicidal, killing their families and co-workers. All of them rambling about the living dead.” Caden now understood what was happening. His mother, the fever, the hikers and the cook. He wasn’t a carrier of the disease, he was a victim of it. This was his final thought before the paralysis took a hold of his body and he was moved to the chamber. They laid his still body down next to the others. He was still alive, but unable to move. All he could do was stare vacantly at the ceiling above him.