Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Stonewall's Secrets

Stonewall Brutus was not the type to break orders. Nor was he the type to fall asleep at his post. Since the mass infection (no one had the guts yet to call it an epidemic), no one from his unit had heard from their loved ones, and morale was really low. Last night’s poker game was the first time he had felt normal in weeks, and though he was tired, he wanted to enjoy the few meager moments of amnesia granted him.

He had been stationed in Pekin, Illinois to help with the bio-contamination containment experiment, when the shit started hitting the fan. One of the other experiment hubs must have failed, and not contacted the proper chain of command to be shut down, and all of a sudden there were infected everywhere. Of course, this was more confidential than who killed JFK. He couldn’t help but feel ashamed that fellow soldiers had made a mistake that might have caused this nightmare to come about, and he was going to work his tail off to make up for the shortcomings of those responsible few, once he got through the quarantine, anyway.

But the only emotion strong enough to overcome his sense of duty, responsibility, and shame, was grief. His mother was old. She was in a wheel chair, and though he couldn’t be sure, it could only be assumed that she was infected. Just the thought of her dragging her limp, lifeless legs behind her in search of food, or the low moans she would make to signal to the others that she had found food… it was enough to turn his blood to ice, and his stomach inside out. He hoped his brother had gotten there in time, he hoped that he had known it would have been humane to kill her in her sleep, but as the saying goes, ‘hope in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up faster.’

His Christian name was Cesar, Cesar Brutus—his mother had been an English teacher with a sense of humor. But since he was fourteen, even she called him Stonewall. Fact is, he was built like a brick shit house. Standing at six feet seven inches, pushing three hundred pounds, he had always stood out in a crowd. He had big shoulders, a washboard stomach, and a will stronger than all that combined. He had a hard body, solid will, and strong convictions, but he had soft eyes. His mother said it seemed he was built to be a soldier, and though she had her heart set on a college education, she wasn’t na├»ve enough to think her aspirations were going to keep him from his calling.

As he sat in quarantine, solitary and resentful, this was all he could think about. His mother, his orders, his imprudent poker game… anything but to think about the infection that was coursing through his veins. Luckily, he was a slow-changer, so they were able to help him. Most people changed within minutes, but when they realized he was bitten but not infected, they rushed him to the medical quadrant for the vaccine. They had used the antigen with success in Pekin but there wasn’t enough research yet to know if it worked, or to determine the proper dosage. Despite his size, they had to err on the side of caution—with so many unknown side effects, they didn’t want to kill him with the cure. He had only time now, forty eight hours with his thoughts in an empty gymnasium. Their research had concluded that slow changers take up to forty eight hours to complete the infection. He hoped the vaccine would work, but he wasn’t sure yet if he would be intact when his time was up.

Why had he stayed up to play poker? He knew why, and he knew his humanity was to blame for his weakness, and nothing more. But still, he was so ashamed to know that this was the reason he was infected. After a long night of Poker and moonshine, he had gotten little sleep before his day duties were to begin. Then after a long, exhaustingly hot day of digging latrines, he found that since Cagney and Lacey were still not back from the semi-trailer transport that crashed the gates a few days ago, he was on first watch. Not an ideal circumstance, but he had to do his part for his country, his camp, and himself. He was too proud to ask for reassignment, and this was his tragic flaw.

He had fallen asleep at his post, and though the watch tower had spotted the crawler in time, his timing was groggy and slowed, and he had been bitten. He’d been given the antigen within fifteen minutes, like they were supposed to, and he knew that protocol meant forty eight hours in quarantined lock-down, but he couldn’t help but feel let down and deserted by his friends and poker buddies. He knew it was for his own good, as well as the welfare of the camp. His mind wandered to the campers he was quarantined from—anything to keep his mind of his shame, or his mother.

He thought of the young mother with the cropped hair and her strawberry-blonde, infant son with the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen. He had given her an old pair of fatigues and boots so she could help with the labor in the camp. He saw no reason why an able bodied woman should be resigned to dishes and childcare duties when she was willing to do so much more—and all that held her back was her clothing. He also respected that she wore her baby on a sling around her chest or back instead of leaving him in child care while she worked. It had to make the work harder, but she never complained. He always felt it was important to teach children the value of hard work, and that you couldn’t start early enough. It was for her sake he was in here. He scratched his beard and laid back, thinking it was probably time to try to sleep

He woke covered in his own sweat and blood, though he didn’t know where the blood was coming from. He was hot, sweating, and seemed to have lost control of his bladder. His head pounded, his eyes watered, and it took him a few minutes to remember where he was and why. He made his way to the steel doors; he was in trouble, and he knew they would need to document every moment of his case… his transformation? He hoped they would give him more of the vaccine, but since it was in short supply, that was quite unlikely. He banged and screamed with all his might, and waited. He knew they heard him, but there was no reply. He banged again, this time with the feracity of a cornered animal, with the same result. They were not coming… they were really not coming.

He thought he heard arguing from outside, but the sirens in his ears proved too difficult to translate through. He did not know how much time had gone by since he last banged on the door. He was cold now, his head still throbbed, and his eyes still watered, and he was still covered in blood, urine, and surprise-- feces. It occurred to him that suicide was the only dignified option at this point, but they had left him with no tools of that kind—surely for their own safety, in case he did change.

He felt more terrible than he thought possible, and knew death would come soon. Every aching, pounding, bleeding moment seemed to last for hours as he prayed for death to come. It shouldn’t be long now, it couldn’t be. He pled with himself, willing himself to let go before he was crushed by the impossibility of the pain. He went limp, and there were hundreds of tiny, colorful explosions under his eyelids as he felt his body quaking on the hard linoleum floor beneath him. He heard the sound of the door behind him opening, and more hollering, as he slipped out of consciousness.

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