“My name is Dr. William Matras,” he said in a calm, clear voice that was entirely at odds with his appearance. “I am—I was; I suppose I’m not anymore—an epidemic researcher for the Centers for Disease Control. I have been working on the issue of the Kellis cure since it was first allowed into the atmosphere. I have been tracking the development of the epidemic, along with my colleague, Dr. Christopher Sinclair.” His breath hitched, voice threatening to break. He got himself back under control, and continued. “Chris wouldn’t sanction what I’m going to say next. Good thing he isn’t around to tell me not to say it, right?
“The news has been lying to you. This is not a virulent summer cold; this is not a new strain of the swine flu. This is, and has always been, a man-made pandemic whose effects were previously unknown in higher mammals. Put bluntly, the Kellis cure has mutated, becoming conjoined with an experimental Marburg-based cure for cancer. It is airborne. It is highly contagious. And it raises the dead.
“Almost everyone who breathes air is now infected with this virus. Transmission is apparently universal, and does not come with any initial symptoms. The virus will change forms under certain conditions, going from the passive ‘helper’ form to the active ‘killer’ form of what we’ve been calling Kellis-Amberlee. Once this process begins, there is nothing that can stop it. Anyone whose virus has begun to change forms is going to become one of the mindless cannibals now shambling around our streets. Why? We don’t know. What we do know is that fluid transmission seems to trigger the active form of the virus—bites, scratches, even getting something in your eye. Some people may seroconvert spontaneously. We believe these people were involved with the Marburg trials in Colorado, but following the destruction of the facility where those trials were conducted, we have no way of being absolutely sure.
“Let me repeat: We have been lying to you. The government is not allowing us to spread any knowledge about the walking plague, saying that we would trigger a mass panic. Well, the masses are panicking, and I don’t think keeping secrets is doing anybody any favors. Not at this stage.
“Once someone has converted into the…hell, once somebody’s a zombie, there’s no coming back. They are no longer the people you have known all your life. Head shots seem to work best. Severe damage to the body will eventually cause them to bleed out, but it can take time, and it will create a massive hot zone that can’t be sterilized with anything but fire or bleach. We have…God, we have…” He stopped for a moment, dropping his forehead into the palm of his hand. Finally, dully, he said, “We have lied to you. We have withheld information. What follows is everything we know about this disease, and the simple fact of it is, we know there isn’t any cure. We know we can’t stop it.
“Early signs of amplification include dilated pupils, blurred vision, dry mouth, difficulty breathing, loss of coordination, unexplained mood swings, personality changes, apparent lapses in memory, aphasia…”
* * *
If you have been infected, please contact authorities immediately. If you have not been infected, please remain calm. This is not a drill. Please return to your homes. Please remain calm. This is not a drill. If you have been infected…
July 31, 2014: Berkeley, California
Marigold felt bad.
There had been a raccoon in the yard. She liked when raccoons came to the yard, they puffed up big so big, but they ran ran ran when you chased them, and the noises they made were like birds or squirrels but bigger and more exhilarating. She had chased the raccoon, but the raccoon didn’t run. Instead, it held its ground, and when she came close enough, it bit her on the shoulder, hard, teeth tearing skin and flesh and leaving only pain pain pain behind. Then she ran, she ran from the raccoon, and she had rolled in the dirt until the bleeding stopped, mud clotting the wound, pain pain pain muted a little behind the haze of her confusion. Then had come shame. Shame, because she would be called bad dog for chasing raccoons; bad dog for getting bitten when there were so many people in the house and yard and everything was strange.
So Marigold did what any good dog in fear of being termed a bad dog would do; she had gone to the hole in the back of the fence, the hole she and her brother worked and worried so long at, and slunk into the yard next door, where the boy lived. The boy laughed and pulled her ears sometimes, but it never hurt. The boy loved her. She knew the boy loved her, even as she knew that the man and the woman fed her and that she was a good dog, really, all the way to the heart of her. She was a good dog.
She was a good dog, but she felt so bad. So very bad. The badness had started with the bite, but it had spread since then, and now she could barely swallow, and the light was hurting her eyes so much, so very much. She lay huddled under the bushes, wishing she could find her feet, wishing she knew why she felt bad. So very bad.
Marigold felt hungry.
The hunger was a new thing, a strong thing, stronger even than the bad feeling that was spreading through her. She considered the hunger, as much as she could. She had never been the smartest of dogs, and her mind was getting fuzzy, thought and impulse giving way to alien instinct. She was a good dog. She just felt bad. She was a good dog. She was…she was…she was hungry. Marigold was hungry. Then she was only hunger, and no more Marigold. No more Marigold at all.
Something rustled through the bushes. The dog that had been a good dog, that had been Marigold, and that was now just hungry, rose slowly, legs unsteady but willing to support the body if there might be something coming that could end the hunger. The dog that had been a good dog, that had been Marigold, looked without recognition at the figure that parted the greenery and peered down at it with wide-eyed curiosity. The dog, which had always been ready with a welcoming bark, made a sound that was close to a moan.