The rock is cool against my fingers. Cold and black as lost fragments of memory. A black hole where no thought exists.
That’s what I imagine when my fingers touch the polished surface. My bedroll the only comfort against the obsidian. The stone absorbs slivers of light. Escapees from the metal slats covering a narrow window. I press my face against the bars. Where is the reverence I once felt as a child when crisp wind brushed against my face? I can almost taste the tang of the sea and hear the faint crashing of waves.
A howl pierces my solitude. Then another moan. At once broken and enraged. I cannot tell if this one comes from a man or woman. In here is there a difference? We all scream the same. Alone and afraid in the dark.
How did I arrive in my prison? I don’t know. Nor can I fathom how many days have passed since I’ve seen anything but my cell and the man who visits me every night. A man who carries a tray covered with needles.
Track marks scar my arms. Black and blue bruises that paint my skin. My legs ache and I falter when I try to stand.
I used to believe I was special. But now, in this place, I am no one. Tossed aside and used. Even my own name escapes me.
Heavy-laden footsteps warn me of his impending arrival. The thump of leather boots echoes down the corridor. He stops at my door, his massive frame intimidating as his silence.
Four needles lay atop a tarnished tray.
He never speaks. Only stares at me with mahogany-colored eyes.
He enters my cell and I shrink against the wall, wrapping my arms around my waist. He uncorks the first needle and taps it several times.
“Please,” I say. “Please don’t.”
The skin under his left eye twitches and he grasps my arm with a hand so large his fingers encase my bicep. He checks for an area not bruised. Tonight I spot a single gray in his thick, shoulder-length black hair, pulled away from his face in a man bun. He smells like leather boots and sandalwood. Like the morning after a fresh spring rain. Hints of pine and cotton masked by disinfectant. I want to spit in his face. Tell him he’s ruined such scents forever. Instead I turn away when the needle pierces my skin.
Liquid fire spreads through my veins.
The room becomes awash in flame. Black walls shatter into obsidian crystals and two eyes, the color of ice, stare at me from the darkness. A whimper of sound. Cries in the distance. Hands that once held me fade, and slowly, so slowly I disappear into the darkness. Out of the shattered obsidian crawls a middle-aged man. Blue eyes like ice. Skin so pale he appears to glow in the dark. Smooth bald head. Misshapen fingers with pointed nails.
I know you.
He smiles and I scream. Over and over in the dark.
Teeth gnash until blood coats his lips and a pale, white tongue laps at the black fluid like a man starved.
I wake to an empty cell.
The walls remain their solid obsidian, only now, no light seeps through the metal slats. My limbs spasm and I am unable to move.
Bars remain shut. My bedroll soaked through with sweat. My body scraped thin.
I notice for the first time my own bony fingers and sharp pointed nails.
Who are you?
The clink of keys is my only warning of his return. I snarl at the tray balanced on his left hand. A tray with four more needles. I attempt to escape but my legs seize in another powerful cramp. A whimper escapes my throat and I curl into a ball, daring him to look.
Moisture swims in his mahogany eyes. He averts his gaze and picks up another needle from the tray. This one aimed above my collarbone. He hesitates.
“Why?” I ask. “Please tell me why.”
He says nothing, and when I resign myself that tonight will be the same as every other night, he sighs.
“Turn around little one,” he says, his voice laced with sadness.
He stops before the needle pierces my skin.
“You understood me?” His eyes desperately search my own.
“Of course. I’m not an idiot.”
He smiles and a single bead of moisture trails down his clean-shaven face. A face comprised of harsh angles and edges that somehow work. I am dizzy on his scent. The smell of pine and cotton surrounding me like a warm blanket.
The prick of the needle breaks his spell.
“Soon,” he whispers, “Soon this will be over.”
Another cramp wrings a shriek from my throat. My limbs lock and convulse. My bowels empty and I scream raw. Pain whitens my vision. Every bone fragile like a shard of glass. My body squeezing and condensing as though trying to expunge some rotten essence.
“Who are you?”
I open my eyes upon feeling his breath on my face. He’s holding me, trying to coax me through my seizure.
“No one,” I whisper, and he gasps, before his face fades into the darkness.
I’m sitting in a room, surrounded by red curtains with windows boarded and nailed shut. Fortified with heavy wooden beams. Slivers of light seep through cracks. The silence of my sanctuary shattered by howls and shrieks outside.
In my dream I am shaking.
In my dream I am waiting.
There are others. I sense their energy in a nearby room.
A quiet sob causes me to stand.
The sob turns into a wail coming from the far corner.
A man and woman lay intertwined on the floor. Pale bodies naked; bite marks on their hands. They writhe together as their limbs elongate. Both are beginning to lose their hair. Large spotted patches dot their scalps. Both turn their gaze to me. Their eyes in mid-transition. An icy blue blotting their warm browns and hazel.
I run to them, wanting to help.
Jamie wails and the pain in her voice stops my approach.
“Run,” she cries, even as another spasm takes her and she clutches her side and shrieks. “Go now child.”
“Please Jamie.” I can’t leave her. I won’t. Not after her and Jeremiah found me on the streets struggling to survive and adopted me as their own.
“You need to go. Run, child. Run.” Another bone breaks and she screams. Jeremiah is already too far gone, his elongated body, pale and deadly.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, trying to stem my tears as I run.
Rain soaks through cotton as I wander vacant streets. There’s nowhere left to run five years after the outbreak began. Shells of rusted cars litter the streets like garbage. Homes boarded, glass shattered, and doors marked with faded, spray-painted X’s. The homes of the infected.
My childhood home bares its own red stain. Five years since I ran away after mom jumped the stairs and dad pushed me aside. Strong hands protected me even as they held firm to mom. Keeping her focused on him. Blue eyes never blinked. Never showed any recognition as she ripped into her husband. Blood splashed against lavender walls as I ran.
I open my eyes.
“Mom. Dad. Jamie. Jeremiah.” Is it possible to ache until all that remains is a carnivorous hole?
A basin of water sits next to my bedroll. A bar of soap. Shampoo. My scalp itches with the beginnings of peach fuzz.
Footsteps approach and I can’t help but wonder if this is all that’s left of humanity.
Pain stabs behind my eyes and I groan wishing my head didn’t feel like a rotten melon.
“How are you feeling this morning?”
“Oh, is it morning? I hadn’t noticed.” I glance over my shoulder and find his hands pleasantly empty. “No shots of death today?”
“Afraid not. Would you prefer I grab some needles?”
“God no.” My limbs remain stiff and useless. “An asprin would be nice though.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
I dip my hands into the water and nearly sigh.
The bars open and I shift as he approaches. He squats next to me and grasps my fingers. Startled I pull away practically crab walking into my chosen corner.
“You don’t have to fear me.”
“Right. Says the man who’s spent the last several days torturing me with needles.”
“Do you know how long you’ve been here?”
“How the hell should I know.”
“Take a guess.”
“Closer to four months. We found you in Upper Montclair when we swept through the surrounding areas of New York. Do you remember anything?”
“Needles. An old man crawling out of the wall. Family long gone.”
“Who are you?”
“Do you really not know?”
Vague thoughts of laughter, of arms providing warmth in the dark. Brown eyes. Familiar. Intense.
He sighs and runs his fingers through his hair.
“Get some rest.”
“Not tonight. Maybe never again.” I try to make sense of this strange man.
“I’ll be back later this evening with food.” He touches the top of my head and I lean into his warmth. Less afraid than ever before.
No one knows where the virus originated.
There is movement in the shadows. Five years running for what? The front door hangs off its hinges, and the surrounding homes are either boarded or marked with large X’s on front doors.
Scientists warned of the infected remaining in places familiar to them before their transformation. No one knew why. Perhaps some small semblance of memory remained?
If I were to turn, what then? A shriek carries on the wind.
I turn and see a single figure. Features torn and twisted. My own legs ache, my hands, my head. He steps closer and I see nothing but hunger.
Make it quick. Bite me until the world disappears and I fade into nothing.
Cold fingers grab my hair and twist until my throat is bare. The infected look alike once the change has occurred. He sniffs my skin and I whimper.
“Sabrina,” he whispers, “You came home.”
He’s in my cell again when I wake. This time with food.
“Who are you?” My fingers burn to touch him. This man who brought pain, redemption, and rebirth. Who even now keeps me in a cage.
“I know you,” I whisper. I sense it, a memory hidden, yearning to escape. His gaze intensifies as he studies my face.
“Yes, you do. You remembered your father?”
“Who are you?”
“Do you trust me?”
His breath hitches and I wait for the inevitable. The reconciliation of the push and pull, building from our first meeting. He leans forward and caresses my face. “Please trust me.” He hesitates then bridges the distance between us. His lips are soft and warm and intuitively I open for him.
He tastes like mint and rain and —
The final piece comes together and he groans into my mouth before pulling back.
University tenure. Laughter. Scientific conferences. Hushed whispers and shared dreams.
“You were halfway around the world when the infection hit. How did you —”
“I never gave up searching. I figured you would eventually find your way home.”
“There’s a cure?”
He hesitated. “Yes, but it doesn’t always work and we’re not sure why.”
“My father. He whispered my name before turning me.”
“I need to show you something.”
A man’s howls echo down the corridor followed by a woman’s. I freeze at the familiar cadence.
“Are they —”
He nods and leads me from my prison cell, my quarantine.
We step aside as a young woman, restrained and sedated, is carried to my former prison cell. Two men wearing hazmat suits remove my old bedroll, and hurry from the room.
“I’m never going back?” I say, needing to hear his confirmation even after staring at a mirror image of myself from only months ago.
“No, you’re never going back. Come. Your mom and dad are waiting for you.”