Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Righteous Fever - Contagion

The night was a howling nightmare of sirens, deranged screaming, gunshots and explosions. When a gang of rioters moved up the street near the apartment block Julie had broken down in Austin's arms.

"I want to go home, Austin, I want my family," she sobbed.

"We can't go home now, its too late," he whispered as he stroked her hair. The shotgun rested on the ground nearby, but the safety catch was off.

"I don't give a shit about the rules, I just want to go home. Don't you get that," she said, starting to shout. She pulled from his embrace and got to her feet. Austin knew he had to keep her quiet. The last thing they needed was a bunch of thugs knowing they were in here. A woman and a man were no match for a mob. Julie did not want to face up to it but nothing was safe, no one was safe. The hooligans of the world had nothing left to loose. A pretty young woman like Julie was a tempting target. There are far worse things than dying, all of them live in the black hearts of men. It was his job to keep her safe even if she could not see it herself.

"Sush Julie, don't let them hear you for God sake," Austin said taking her in his arms.

"I want my family," she sobbed into his chest.

"Ok, ok- just a few more days and we will be ready, we can make a run for it."

"You said that last week," she said accusingly.

"Jules, by next week I don't think we will have a choice, but I don't want to be shot trying to run a road block either."

"Ok," she sniffed "I trust you."

The mob outside had moved off but only after breaking into a shop across the road. Nothing was left in it anyway, there was nothing to loot. Smoke began to drift out under the pried up shutter as the alarm called shrilly for help that could care less. Austin watched as the smoke thickened, finally the glass window  blew to smithereens letting a ball of smoke and flame loose into the night sky. Even across the road and four stories higher Austin could feel the heat of the blaze. No crowds gathered to help or watch. The little shop was consumed without a hand being raised to stop it.

When dawn came, it rose on a war zone. Fires blazed across the city, barriers and barbed wire straddled the main roads but even this early some had been abandoned by the solders that had guarded them. On the radio, presenters continued to hold out the accepted line of 'stay home, talk to no one'.

Belfast was in lock-down but it was a futile gesture. Austin was sure quarantine was still the way to go, only it was not keeping people in that was required, it was keeping people out. The problem with cities is there are just too many people. After several hours of nothing new from the TV or radio, Austin turned to the inter-net. Belfast did not have a case of 'BFV' it had a swarm of  fever cases. Phone footage showed running battles on the streets, bodies lying in the road and smoke blotting out the skyline. Children were dragged screaming by crazed parents. The only universal constant was that every single person was covered, not an ounce of skin was left showing.

One particular clip showed a crazed man, standing in the middle of a street spitting at people who got to close to him. A solder walked up and pumped 6 bullets into him before continuing on his way, he even waved to the camera as he passed. The crazies have taken over the asylum. By six the internet was carrying stories of cases popping up in all the major cities in Ireland.

As night fell Julie was trying to phone her parents in Cork but the lines were jammed solid. In the end she tried Skype but held out little hope. They had a laptop, but were more likely to use it as a teapot coaster. Julie was amazed when a fuzzy image of her mother appeared on screen. It all became too much and she broke down crying.

"Mom, Mom can you hear me?" she balled.
"I can sweetheart, are you all right?"
"We are fine Mom, We are coming, tomorrow or the day after." Julie said
"Don't Julie, the TV said we should stay home," Julies mom worried at the corner of her cardigan.
"Julie, I think your father is sick, he is very hot and I have not been able to wake him all day."
"He can't be mom. You didn't leave anyone in the house did you, or answer the door?"
"No honey but yesterday, he started sweating and drinking gallons of water." Julie could not take it anymore and ran away to the bedroom, I sat down in front of the computer.
"Mrs Ryan, its Austin, how are you coping?"
"I will be fine Austin, I phoned the emergency number, help is on the way but you must promise me, keep my Julie away from here. Keep her safe."
"I will Mrs Ryan, I will take .." just then the door bell in Julies parents  house rung.
"It must be the doctor," said Mrs Ryan jumping to her feet leaving the Skype connection running.

Austin could hear voices in the corridor, Mrs Ryan telling someone where her husband was and about his symptoms, the other voice was muffled like they were behind glass. They faded, as if they had gone up stairs. A couple of minutes later, there were three short blasts of automatic gunfire, then silence. Austin heard the even footsteps of at least two people coming down the stairs, they were moving around the house in no rush to get out. In of the corner of the screen he could just see the adjoining kitchen. A figure in black chemical suit and full face mask appeared, sloshing liquid from a drum he was carrying. Slung across his back was an evil looking gun, stubby but deadly. The back of another person appeared close to the computer. He was also throwing liquid on the furniture and the curtains. He pulled an oven lighter from a pouch in his suit. It was strange seeing a harmless kitchen implement being used for such a grizzly purpose. The man ignited the curtains before turning to leave. He noticed the computer screen and calmly walked over until his mask  filled the picture. With dead eyes the man closed the cover and the picture went black.

Austin had to tell Julie what he had seen or she would have insisted on going to her parents. She would not believe him and tried to get connected on Skype, when that would not work she called the house and the mobile. In the end she got through to a neighbour who in a panic told her that the house was in flames, then she believed.
Austin crushed three sleeping tablets into a glass of brandy which Julie had downed without even tasting. It did not take long for her cries of grief to subside as she slid into heavily drugged sleep. Julie needed it but Austin needed to be able to work even more. Austin had to make the final preparations for the journey. He began loading the food and water into suitcases. He opened the door to the apartment and listened. No one was moving in the block. Austin dragged two cases to the lift and pressed the button. When the carriage arrived, he pushed the cases inside and went back to the apartment for the rest. That was when the power went out. Austin stumbled back to the lift in the dim emergency lighting but the doors were closed solid.. Austin strained and the doors and kicked them in frustration. He was not going to be able to open them and half his supply of food was stuck inside. It was more important to get on the move, he would figure out the shortage on the way. He dragged the remaining bags and equipment down the stairs into the underground car park.

In depths of the car park Austin's Nissan four wheel drive was covered with a dust sheet. He had been busy working on it since the beginning of the outbreak. It was not a disguise that would stand up to close inspection, but approaching a check point at speed, it just might be enough. When he whipped the sheet off the Nissan Patrol it was transformed under a coat of mat green spray paint, attached to the front bumper was a stripped down fly rod bent back and attached to the roof. The rubber cover from the gear shift hid the cork handle where it sank into the bumper. On the sides, thick red cross were made from shiny red duct tape. Grill metal cages had been screwed over the windscreen and the windows. From a distance it looked like the First aid units he had seen driving through town. Austin had taken lots of ribbing for driving a 4 wheeler while working in a bank. How many soccer mom jokes had he endured, but who was laughing now.

Austin pulled the dust sheet clear and parked the jeep up near the lift. He loaded the rest of the equipment in the back. Once packed he covered the cargo with a sleeping bag. The night had nearly vanished and he was far from ready. The early hours were his best chance to break out of the city and into the country. It was time to wake Julie.

"It's time to go baby," he said as he shook her awake. Austin was already dressed in his green coat. It once had a fur trim but Austin had cut it off to make it more military looking. He helped dress Julie in a matching outfit before pulling a double layer of plastic gloves on their hands. Before leaving the apartment Austin and Julie put on the full mask breathers, and raised the hoods of their parker coats. Austin carried the shotgun and his pockets were full of shells

Julie was very groggy from the combination of drugs and alcohol, she slipped twice trying to make her way down the stairs and Austin had to half carry her the final few flights. The car park was nearly pitch black as Austin loaded Julie into the passenger seat. The batteries in the emergency lighting were running out one by one. Austin heard a scraping noise behind them. He turned to find a man stumbeling towards the jeep carrying a woman in his arms.

"Thank God your here, we need help," the man said struggling under the weight of the woman.

"Stay back," said Austin levelling the gun in at the man.

"She has to get to hospital," said the man taking more steps forward. The woman in his arms was drenched in sweat and the first signs of weeping sores were visible around her eyes.

"You don't understand, we are not who you think we are. We cant help you, JUST STAY BACK" said Austin flicking off the safety catch.

"I don't care, your going to help us," said the man and stepped forward with the dying woman in his arms. Austin did not know he had pulled the trigger until the mans chest exploded in a shower of blood. The man was blown backwards five feet, dead before he ever hit the floor. Austin only knew he was holding his breath when he struggled to breathe in while his lungs were full. He looked down at the smoking gun in his hands and noticed the spatters of blood on his coat.

Austin raced back to the apartment, he was shaking when he poured bleach over his coat, wiping away splatters of blood with a tea towel. When he was sure all the blood was cleaned away he dumped the coat anyway and raced back down to the car park. Julie had passed out in the car, they were on the move again long before she woke up. Austin was filing sick to his stomach, he had killed a man in cold blood. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The jeep cover worked fine for the first few checkpoints, they were just waved through without a second glance. They had nearly reached the western edge of the city when a checkpoint solder stood out in the middle of the road with his hand raised for them to hault.  Austin moved down the gears, Julie sat up straighter in her seat.
"Move you fucker," growled Austin as he was forced to drop into second gear. 50 feet, 40 feet 20 feet. Austin knew the guy was not moving, the other guard was off to one side talking to a man in a Ford Escort.

"Fuck it," said Austin as he mashed the accelerator into the floor. The solder's hand was still raised as the bull bars crushed into his rib's. Austin could see the whites of the man's eyes when he blasted through the roadblock. Julie screamed in the seat beside him as the solder slid off the bonnet, under the wheel's of the car causing it to bump wildly into the air.

"Shut up, SHUT UP Julie! shouted Austin. Shots pinged off the body work off the Nessan as it swerved into a side street and raced into the distance. The houses soon thinned and green fields began to appear. They were running now but at least they were on home ground. Austin had killed two men in less than an hour, he wondered how much worse things were going to get.

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