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Oct 25 2011

The Outbreak

The following is closely based on a very vivid dream I had last night. It was interesting enough that I wanted to type it up as a fun creative writing exercise – enjoy.

—-

A plane skidded to a stop on the runway. I hoped it was hers – I didn’t want to spend another moment in this parking lot.

Though I suppose I felt safe in the car. Relatively safe, at least. The outbreak had recently spread to Seattle, though the viral levels in the air were still low enough that you could risk going outside. Not that you’d want to go outside, with the constant drizzle and gloom and all. But sitting in the car felt like there was some sort of vacuum seal keeping me safe. I tried not to think about all of the cracks in my old Camry that were plenty big enough for viruses to squeeze through.

“Stop looking so bloody cross,” said my friend Matt, who was hunched over in the passenger seat fiddling with his phone. “Weren’t you excited to see her just a week ago?”

I glared at him. “Yes, you know, before an unknown epidemic started sweeping across the nation. No biggy.”

“Jen, it’s probably just a new strain of the flu. Like…I dunno, what animal have we not had a flu hybrid from yet? Lizard flu? Do lizards get the flu?”

“It’s not just the flu. Why is the media saying to stay inside?”

“Don’t they say that in Seattle in October anyway?”

I was about to reply to his smartassery, but my train of thought was derailed by another car pulling into the spot next to ours. Terrible grunge music blasted so loudly that the frame of my car was shaking. It was a stereotype on wheels. Three teen boys slumped in their seats, with the type of clothes that looked like they had specifically been selected to make them look homeless. The driver had long, bright red hair that had never seen a hair brush before. For some reason this offended me more than the outdated grunge music they were subjecting me to.

“See, you’re on edge,” quipped Matt. “Ignore them, they’re just punks.”

“Why have my friends in Eastern Washington stopped answering my Facebook messages?”

“Because they’re too busy sleeping off the flu?” I glared at Matt again. “Look, that’s all it does. It makes you sleepy. Consider it a blessing if you get it – you’ll have an excuse to not go to the lab.”

“I don’t understand how I’m apparently the only one concerned about an unidentifiable virus rapidly spreading through the population with unknown long-term symptoms.”

“Jen.”

Whose ground zero is only a couple of miles away from me.”

“Jen!”

“I’m not overreacting!”

“It’s not that – isn’t that her?”

I turned my attention back to the car of hooligans. And sure enough, there was Greta Christina. I heard a muffled “You must be from the Secular Student Union!” before she got into their car. And not mine.

I jumped out of my car, vacuum seal be damned. “Greta!” What the hell was she doing?

The red-head turned to me with a devilish grin before throwing the car in reverse and peeling backward across the parking lot. I saw a look of confusion and dart across Greta’s face, but then the car zipped off.

Matt hopped out of my car. “What the hell is going on?”

“Get the fuck back in the car!” I screamed, throwing myself back into the driver’s seat. Matt’s legs were still dangling out as I threw it into reverse, before peeling off in pursuit of the unexpected kidnappers.

“You’re driving like a madwoman!” he cried, desperately trying to buckle himself in. I ignored him as I weaved through the cars on I-5, even more upset than usual with their sluggishly slow driving. The car with Greta was far ahead – I was losing sight of it with every twist of the windy interstate. Faster, I needed to go faster.

“Why would she even come?” I cursed, cutting off another car.

Matt clutched the dash as he gave me a bewildered look. “That’s what you’re on about? Not “Why did my friend just randomly get kidnapped?”"

“They have to be related.” The bus lane was mine for now. Screw the consequences.

“What does kidnapping have to do with the flu?”

“Shit, they’re going onto the 520?” I hardly glanced at my mirrors as I swerved into the exit  lane. Matt let out a squeal.

They were far ahead, too far ahead. I hit a clump of traffic – fucking Seattle drivers – but I couldn’t even drive along the shoulder. The 520 bridge over Lake Washington was too goddamn narrow. I tailgated the car in front of me, honking, hoping they’d get a clue. There was empty road ahead, but of course these drivers felt the need to drive side by side. Finally they took the exit once we were on dry land. I gunned it on the winding road, trying to peer ahead through the thick evergreen trees on the hilly landscape. Suddenly, the street was filled with blinking lights.

“Jesus fuck!”

I slammed on the brakes. There was a barricade of police cars – at least, there used to be a barricade.  The kidnappers’ car had slammed into the nearest police car – the kids were apparently driving more recklessly than I was. I drove up slowly, and to my relief, Greta got out of the car unscathed.

I parked the car and hopped out. “Greta! Greta, over here!”

“Jen!” She waved excitedly, apparently unperturbed by the situation. “You got me good! For a second I thought that was a real kidnapping! What a thrill!”

I looked at her like she had declared her intention to become a nun. “…Just get in the car, we should go back to campus where it’s safe!”

“Oh, but how about your friends?”

My “friends” had also gotten out of the car. The stared at Greta coldly, almost hungrily. That’s when I looked past them. We weren’t alone. There were dozens of people slowly walking toward us, climbing over the police cars. The police cars which were devoid of police officers. I fixated on the mob. They were unkempt, scabby…some looked like they had been shot, though were unphased by their wounds. I focused in on a woman whose face was sloughing off.

Even for Eastern Washington, this was not normal.

Fuck.

I ran forward and grabbed Greta’s hand. “Get in the car, NOW.”

“Oh, it’s already 6pm? I guess we shouldn’t be late for my talk.”

I didn’t have time to give her an incredulous look. I spotted a shotgun and extra rounds out of the corner of my eye, haphazardly left by an unfortunate police officer. Leave it to Seattle police to leave their guns lying around. But if this was what I thought it was…I might be needing this.

I darted back to the car, speeding off before the shambling horde could close in. Matt and Greta exchanged pleasantries as I nearly vomited from the stress. I knew we needed to get to the university. We could lock ourselves in the lecture hall, call for help, maybe wait it out. Maybe someone there would know what’s going on. Maybe someone there would care.

We arrived on campus in record time, and I shuffled Greta and Matt into the large lecture hall. People were already sitting at desks, anxiously awaiting her talk. Someone had brought piles of candy in honor of Halloween, and people were giggling as they gobbled up the sugar. I still couldn’t believe it. Why in the world did people care about a talk about atheism when – dare I say it – a fucking zombie virus was on the loose? Were they all on drugs?

Was I on drugs?

Like some sort of scientific blessing, my department head walked in and headed for a seat.Thank god – thank whatever that he was coming to this talk. He was intelligent and level-headed – I knew I could talk to him.

“Bob!” I panted. I didn’t even realize I was panting until then. I was a nervous wreck, sweat dripping from my face. “Do you know what’s going on with this virus?”

He smiled at me. “It’s good that you’re concerned, but don’t worry about it.”

I blinked. “But…we’re scientists. Aren’t we the people who are supposed to drop everything so we can go slave away in the lab, looking for a cure? I know this isn’t a movie, but-”

He laughed and put his hand on my shoulder. “Already ahead of you. Why look for a cure when you can prevent the disease to begin with?”

I narrowed my eyes. “We…we have a vaccine?”

He put a finger up to his lips. “I’m really not supposed to tell you, but yes. Most of UW has been working on it since the initial outbreak. It was an excellent way to test our new mechanism for delivery, too. Pumped it into the whole West Coast’s water supply, and now everyone should be fine.”

“You…what? That’s…that’s unethical!”

“Well, it’s good that it has the side effect of…well, it’s like being a little stoned, I suppose. You’re relaxed and don’t really care about what’s going on around you. As you can see,” he said, gesturing to the crowd of people who were more interested in an atheist blogger than a zombie attack, “everyone is very content.”

Everyone was on drugs, apparently.

“Well I most certainly am not content. We…we have real life zombies. Zombies, Bob.” I grabbed his shoulders. “ZOMBIES. Zombies are coming and nobody cares!”

“Ah, well you must have a rare genetic variant that makes you immune to the psychoactive effects. Very interesting, you should get Debbie to sequence your genome-”

“Bob, do we even know if this vaccine will work?”

He paused. It was like concern was desperately trying to work its way across his face, but the drugs were too strong. Rational Bob was buried in there, but far, far down. “Jennifer, we slapped together an experimental vaccine for a newly discovered virus in a matter of weeks. As great as our institution is, there’s a large probability of failure.” A look of horror swept over my face. “At least if we do fail, we’ll be happy in the end. …Well, most of us.”

“Braaaaaiiinnnnnsss.” The groan came from the far door, which swung open to reveal my other professor…in a more decaying state. At least, apparently decaying. It was tough to tell if it was movie makeup or genuine zombification. Halloween was just around the corner, after all.

I cradled the shotgun defensively. “Mike, now is NOT the time to fuck with me.” Bob was oblivious to the situation, and went off to find a seat for the upcoming lecture.

“Urrrrghhhh” he groaned, shambling down the steps of the auditorium toward me.

“Mike, I’m serious.” The last thing I wanted to do was shoot a professor who was playing a dumb prank thanks to being high on who knows what.

“Uunnffffff.” Closer still.

Scratch that. The last thing I wanted to do was to be wrong, and to be turned into a zombie. I needed to show him that I was serious. I aimed the shotgun forward.

“This is your last chance.”

Another step forward.

BANG.

The door frame now had a singed hole.

“Christ,” cried a startled Mike. “That gun is real? …You were going to shoot me?”

“I was showing you that I would shoot you. A zombie wouldn’t have cared.”

A groan and a thud came from the back door. I glared at Mike. “Really, you had your grad students dress up too?”

He shrugged. “Nah, they thought it was dumb.”

My breath caught in my throat. Still gripping the shotgun tightly, I quickly made my way to the back door. I peered through the freshly made shotgun hole.

I was pretty sure undergrads don’t typically look that decayed.

With a gulp, I flipped the lock and dragged a desk in front of the door. I cursed myself for putting a not-insignificant hole in our last defense against the undead.

“What, are we not letting any more people in?” Greta asked.

I stared at her blankly. They all had no idea what was going on. No one did. I was the only person here with any grasp of reality, and I had no clue how to reload a shotgun. “At capacity. Why don’t you start the talk and keep everyone entertained?”

“Sure thing!” she said excitedly, and made her way to the lectern.

“Sorry if I don’t pay close attention.” I perched on a desk and pointed my shotgun at the hole. A rotting finger slithered through from the outside. “I’ve heard this talk before.”

27 comments

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  1. 1
    DSimon

    Bad. Ass.

    You need to get John Woo on this right away. Or maybe Quentin Tarantino, though you’d have to add some more swearing in.

  2. 2
    DSimon

    Oo, oo, or who directed District 9? Get *them*.

  3. 3
    Alison Cummins

    It sounds like the kind of dream that seeps into the next day so that you have to keep sorting through your memories (oh, that memory has a zombie in it, must be from my dream… right?). Fun!

    Um, do you mind me hijacking your comment thread to tell you about a Very Cool zombie app for your iDevice? My beloved found a way to put zombies to work for you.

    http://zombies.lickmyscreen.com/

    Happy hallowe’en!

  4. 4
    Mike s

    This needs to be a novel. Right now.

  5. 5
    Keely

    That kicked. ass.

  6. 6
    Brian

    Nice! You can kind of tell it was from a dream — it has some of that uneven pacing that dreams always have — but for storyline it beats the hell out of any dreams I’ve had in recent memory!

  7. 7
    Michel

    Absolutely brilliant! You’ve got a knack for twists and reversals! Seriously this is very, very good!

  8. 8
    Sharon C

    I had a really vivid zombie dream a few months ago, where I was the only one that knew they could be cured with cough syrup, and had to administer it myself.

    I spent the whole next day *extremely* jumpy.

  9. 9
    Jenny

    The world always needs more zombies – I love it!

    Perhaps in the sequel we learn that the Alaskan Way tunnel was actually being built to serve as a bunker for this very kind of scenario, but sadly the outbreak occurred too soon.

    I have one question though: when you say Eastern WA, do you mean actual Eastern WA (east of the mountains) or The Eastside (of Lake Washington)? I need to know where my imminent death is coming from.

  10. 10
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I was pretty sure undergrads don’t typically look that decayed.

    I see someone’s never had one of Dr. Ziegler’s take-home exams…

  11. 11
    Ashton

    Holy crap that’s a detailed, freaky dream! Are you on anti-depressants? I know you mentioned mental health issues a while back. When I went on Celexa I started having crazy psychedelic but mostly harmless dreams. They were things I could laugh about afterwards. I figure if I ever want to write a novel I can go back to a dosage of 60mg and it’ll practically write itself.

  12. 12
    Jen

    Nah, I just always have really, really detailed dreams.

  13. 13
    Mike McCreight

    Well written Jennifer — but you need to be careful what you eat right before bed time.

  14. 14
    Josh V

    Is this British Matt from Purdue? I can see him acting like this, very funny. I could envision the whole thing… Fantastic!

    I’ve been watching The Walking Dead recently so this really resonated, too. :)

  15. 15
    Jen

    Haha, it is that Matt! No clue why he was in Seattle.

  16. 16
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Odd. I started dreaming again once I took myself off Welbutrin.

  17. 17
    Ashton

    Wellbutrin is an entirely different class of drug. I think the dreams are a side effect of SSRI’s. I have strange dreams along with other weird effects like spontaneous orgasm (though not often thankfully). I had some nausea and fatigue when I first started taking them but the nausea went away after a few days and the tiredness ended after a couple of months. Yay drugs!

  18. 18
    bildungsroman

    That was AWESOME! I had a zombie dream I still remember where I was guarding my parents’ neightborhood from atop a monster truck (also with a shotgun), and I wish I had written it down like that while the details were still fresh.

    Also, this line rocks: “It was a stereotype on wheels. Three teen boys slumped in their seats, with the type of clothes that looked like they had specifically been selected to make them look homeless.”

    I love that the zombie virus turns its victims to grunge lovers…

  19. 19
    Lauren Ipsum

    I love it! I loved the fakeout with Mike.

  20. 20
    Alt+3

    Wow. Your dreams are much more coherent than mine. In my dreams I’m always either late for work or the whole thing is just shapes and numbers. However, I have a good way to tell if I’m dreaming, my dreams never have people in them, so if I can see people I’m not dreaming. I just need a good way to tell if I AM dreaming.

  21. 21
    Athywren

    Yeah, no, flu does that. One time I caught the flu and turned into a flesh eating zombie for a week. On the plus side, I did get to watch a lot of recorded tv and eat chicken soup so it wasn’t all brains and shotgun wounds.

  22. 22
    Robert B

    Very F.E.T.I.D.U.S. – Good podcast novel, uses the word maw too much, but still fun.
    http://www.fetidus.org/

  23. 23
    NathanDST

    Well damn. I never had anything that fun happen when I was on an SSRI.

  24. 24
    John Stumbles

    I was seeing Simon Pegg in that!

  25. 25
    Stephanie Zvan

    Niiiice. Love the ending.

  26. 26
    julian

    They all had no idea what was going on. No one did. I was the only person here with any grasp of reality, and I had no clue how to reload a shotgun.

    Just shoot off screen!

  27. 27
    Tex

    And this is a very good reason for everyone to have a passing knowledge of how to use a gun (safely) :-D

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