Maniacs by Guest Author David Rhodes

David Rhodes

1

I killed a maniac today.

It was my wife.

I am not a cold-blooded murderer, and I have never had a flair for violence, but when it came down to it, I had no choice. She came at me with a butcher knife, and she had that all too familiar look in her eye, like that of a wild animal, perhaps a rabid dog, and in another second it was over. I put a bullet in her head. God help me, I killed her.

I fear now that I, too, may soon be dead; not from the virus, mind you, but at the hands of someone else inflicted with the deadly germ. I am of the minority that is immune, considered lucky, but I wonder just how lucky I really am.

The future is uncertain, to be sure, so I’m writing this down in hopes that one day, after all this is over, someone in a normal state of mind will know what happened, will maybe figure out a way to avoid it happening again. I’ll try to show you as best I can, and then I’m going to call the police and tell them what happened.

But first…

I live in a small city in Utah called Compton. It’s a college town, with a great football team to match, and the stadium sponsors a great Fourth of July fireworks show every year. To the east, the mountains loom up close, monoliths of pure beauty standing tall and proud, adding to the quaintness of this town. Center street is a small avenue that runs down the middle of the historic part of town; it has red brick crosswalks, and grassy islands lined with trees that separate the two tiny lanes on each side, and the street is crowded with shops and book stores, restaurants and buildings that have survived a great many years. Compton is just big enough to have everything you need, small enough to be comfortable, void of the chaos that plagues larger cities. This town is very peaceful, unobtrusive, and for the most part people here are friendly. This is precisely why news of the murder reverberated through Compton like the shockwaves of an atomic bomb.

All the local news stations carried the story, and there was even a spot on CNN. People could not stop talking about it at work (I work as a quality assurance engineer for a major frozen food manufacturer in Springwood, but I’d just as soon keep their name out of it), in stores, on the radio, and just about anywhere you went. But for all anybody knew, it was an isolated incident, and would eventually become old news.

We could not have been more wrong.

I guess it all started for me about a month ago, when the first case here in town was discovered. By some weird twist of fate, it involved one of my best friends, Ritchie Davis. Ritchie is, or was, one of the best mechanics I have ever known. He was the only grease monkey I would ever take my wheels to, and I knew a lot of other people who felt the same way. The guy was a natural – he had the magic touch. Every time you saw him, he had the same telltale lines of grease around and under his fingernails, and in the lines of his hands. Ritchie was every car’s best friend. But

he was no murderer; it was just impossible; he was a very easy-going guy, with no enemies to speak of. That’s why I was so shocked to see his face on the news.

On that particular day, I had just gotten home from work, and I grabbed myself a cold pop from the fridge, and went into the living room to watch the nightly news. I like to keep up on world events. My wife thinks news is boring, and I tell her that this is the world around us, the world we live in, so we had better pay attention. She still thinks it’s boring.

I plopped down on the couch, and propped my feet up on the coffee table; I could get away with it because Marina was outside hanging laundry on the clothesline (we own a washer and dryer, but the dryer conked out on us a while back). I picked up the remote, switched on the TV, and there it was.

I recognized the place the minute I saw it – a corner gas station with only six pumps, white and green streamers that stretched from the building and the corners of the lot to the services islands and back again. And of course, the big sign raised high on a rusty metal pole next to the building:

Mike’s Stop and Go

There was the two-door garage with both doors raised, but now there was yellow police tape across both openings. Most the area from the pumps to the garage had also been taped off to keep any crowds away, though a crowd had already gathered by the tape perimeter, watching with great interest the goings-on of the various uniformed and suited police personnel that kept ducking under the yellow tape as they entered and left the two service bays. It all looked very bizarre.

A reporter from one of the local TV stations was saying something, motioning to the scene behind him. I turned up the volume on the TV: …and at about three o’clock this afternoon, a local resident of Compton, a man whose name has yet to be released, drove into this station today for a simple tune-up, and ended up dead, apparently at the hands of the chief mechanic here, Richard Davis, also of Compton. Police say that Davis told the customer to stand in front of the car while he got in and started the vehicle. The other mechanic here, who wishes to remain anonymous for the camera, was present on the scene and claims that Davis stated he just wanted to listen to the vehicle. Police say this is when Davis put the car into drive and drove into the victim, crushing him against a workbench at the back of the garage. Now, police have not commented on any possible motive for this brutal killing. The victim was pronounced dead on the scene, and was transported to the morgue at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center pending notification of the family. Again, let’s take a look at the scene here earlier today…

I watched the video in shock as police hustled Ritchie toward one of the black and whites, Ritchie tall and lanky in his greasy blue overalls, hands handcuffed behind his back. The camera closed in on his face, and that was my first glimpse of those wild eyes, that horrid stare that would become so common, so widespread. I realized my mouth was hanging open.

I heard a noise behind me, and turned to find my wife standing in the doorway, and the look on her face told me she had seen the video of Ritchie as well.

“Oh my God,” she said.

“I’m going down there,” I told her. “I want to talk to Mike.”

“Please be careful,” she said.

 

2

 

I climbed into my car, disturbed by what I had seen on the TV. I just could not fathom Ritchie doing something like this. I had known the guy too long. I was confused and frightened, but I would soon learn that this was only the beginning of the confusion, the fright.

I came to a red light, and looked across the street; there was the gas station, with police cars marked and unmarked parked aside the front curbs, some in whatever space could be found in the small parking lot. A few bystanders remained, still watching the activity beyond the yellow tape. The light turned green, and I turned through the intersection, parking several houses down from the already jam-packed station. I hoped that the people whose house I had decided to park in front of were understanding, and not one of these families who would decide that towing the car away would be a good lesson for me.

I walked up the street and soon found myself standing at the yellow police tape with those who had stayed. Mike, the station’s owner, was standing near the glass doors of the entrance, surrounded by policemen drilling him with questions. He looked nervous, edgy, and kept shifting his gaze to the audience on the other side of the tape. And so, with Mike occupied, I had to look elsewhere for answers.

The other mechanic was standing in front of one of the open bays smoking a cigarette. I recognized him, but couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. He seemed distant, and his cigarette trembled in his greasy right hand. I did manage to get his attention, however, and I motioned him over. According to the patch sewn onto the left breast of his blue coveralls, his name was Perry. Now I remembered.

“What the hell happened?” I asked. He dropped his smoke and twisted it into the ground with the toe of his boot.

“Ritchie is what happened, dude. He went nuts, just totally nuts. I still can’t believe he did it.” He pulled out another cigarette and lit it with a greasy lighter he produced from the same pocket of his overalls. His hand was still shaking.

“I don’t believe it, either,” I said. “I just can’t comprehend why he would do such a horrible thing. Do you know if he was drinking or maybe doing drugs?” I immediately felt stupid asking, like I was grasping at straws, but I was just trying to make sense of everything.

“He wasn’t doing anything, I would know,” Perry said, blowing smoke into the air. He hesitated. “He was in the office with Mike, and a customer came in for a tune-up. Just some guy, you know. I told him to pull his car into the garage, which he did. See? It’s still over there.” He pointed toward the garage, and there was indeed a blue station wagon parked in the bay closest to the office. “I went and grabbed Ritchie, and he went out and was talking to the guy. Next thing I know, the guy is opening the hood of the car, with Ritchie sitting behind the wheel. Ritchie! I remember thinking how crazy that was because it’s usually the other way around. You know, mechanic under the hood, owner behind the wheel. I heard the engine rev, and then the car just jumped, and I mean jumped! I’m telling you, it happened so fast that my heart almost jumped out of my chest! The car rammed right into the guy, man! Oh my God, I mean, I had to look away because I didn’t think my brain was ready for that shit.”

“What did Ritchie do? It was an accident, right?” I was digging for straws again, wanting to hear the right things.

Perry’s face went pale – I could tell he was reliving something terrible. “No, dude, it was no accident! I ran into the office and yelled at Mike to dial 911, and when I came out, Ritchie was just standing by the front of the car, and he was talking to this guy, and this poor guy was just

moving his lips, like, trying to talk. Except blood was coming out of his mouth. And Ritchie kept saying, ‘Does it hurt? Huh? It should, cuz your guts are falling out,’ you know, some shit like that. Man, it still creeps me out thinking about it.”

“He just freaked out?” I asked. “Just like that?”

“Just like that. And there’s more. This poor guy stops moving, like he’s dead, and he’s just propped up with his mouth hanging open, and Ritchie starts yelling, ‘Wake up! Wake up!’, and then he gets back in the car and starts it again. I couldn’t fucking believe it! He started smashing the guy again! Back and forth, back and forth. And he was still doing it when the cops got here. They yanked him out of that car but good and hauled his ass away! I’ll never forget that look on Ritchie’s face. I swear, he looked like the devil or something.”

 

3

 

Over the next week, reports began to surface all over the country about incidents eerily similar to Ritchie’s. I guess that was about the time they started looking for a cause, but it was already too late. But how could anyone have known?

When they first incarcerated Ritchie (they took him to the state mental hospital for a routine evaluation – it’s only a few miles from my house), they ran all kinds of tests, including a blood screening, and even a lumbar puncture, but they just did not know what they were looking for. In the meantime, countless people were exposed to Ritchie, and they in turn exposed to others, and so on and so forth. There was no telling how many there were like Ritchie living in Compton.

It took some time, but the doctors did finally discover the virus, and suddenly pictures of the deadly bug that had managed to keep itself hidden for so long were being shown on virtually every station – pictures of a tiny, imperfect circle edged with minuscule wavy cilia. This was the culprit, the new enemy of the state, and it was spreading like wildfire. Special isolation wards were set up in hospitals, jails, and mental institutions all over the country to try to deal with the ever-increasing number of cases.

Meanwhile, authorities were still searching for the source of the virus. There were a lot of rumors flying around, but none that seemed to connect with the truth. People were starting to get edgy, and back in Compton things were starting to get outright crazy.

 

4

 

I believe I came from a good upbringing, a good home life. My family wasn’t overly religious, but my parents injected a lot of morals into my childhood, morals that as a young man I didn’t always follow, but as an older man I live by.

Although my family now only consisted of Marina and me, it is nonetheless my family, and I vowed to always provide for and protect that institution. Violent attacks were happening everywhere, so I decided to do something about it.

I never really had a reason to own a gun, although I’ve always kept a baseball bat under the bed – you never know, and Marina would never allow firearms in the house, but I thought what with everything going on and all, it might be a good idea. Marina was dead against it, but I finally won her over with reason and a lot of persistence. Believe me, it was never easy going up against my wife, but is it ever easy for any man? It is, and always will be, one of the greatest battles men will ever have to endure.

On this particular day, I was driving over to AAA Pawn on Center Street, intent and a little nervous about buying my first gun, when I noticed some activity out of the corner of my eye. To my right, two policemen were chasing a man through the huge trees of Pioneer Park. I didn’t think it was that unusual; vagrants and train jumpers are always hanging out or sleeping there, begging for spare change at the grocery store just across the street. It is a way station not only for the homeless of Compton, but for those just traveling through to whatever destinations the road takes them.

But when the man being pursued changed paths and was suddenly headed in my direction, I saw his face. It was familiar and gruesome, and sent a cold shudder down my spine. His eyes were enough to turn anyone’s blood cold. He was flailing his arms, and I could faintly hear his incoherent screams. His face was twisted into a semblance of insanity I had seen before – the day I had seen Ritchie’s face on TV.

As I drove by, the policemen wrestled the man to the ground and cuffed him. I think that was the moment when the true severity of the situation sank in, and it not only filled me with worry, but with dread. This safe, docile world was changing, suddenly becoming the opposite of the suburban ordinariness in which I had grown up; this normal environment was what I had wanted for Marina, a world where we could be safe and happy, grow old together. Now the dream was being threatened.

I thought about Marina. She was my life, and I would have to be strong for the both of us. Gradually, I felt more comfortable about buying a gun.

I bought a Smith and Wesson .38 Special revolver, silver with a black grip, four hundred dollars, and thank you very much. Nonetheless, I think it was worth the price. Although the law dictated that I couldn’t pick it up for five days, I already felt more secure. I would be able to protect everything in my life that was important to me, not to mention my own skin.

Reports of violence continued to rule the airwaves, and even here, things seemed to be slowly deteriorating. Scientists were still wracking their brains for a cure for a virus they had never seen before, and nobody was coming forward to claim responsibility or offer any helpful information.

A government germ lab back east had suddenly come under fire, and the President commissioned a special committee to investigate reports of “suspicious activity beyond the directives set forth by the government and the possibility of mishandled materials.”

Because of the mysterious qualities of the virus, scientists had dubbed it “The X Virus.” The mainstream public had another name for it: “The Maniac Virus.” Truly, this seemed the best name for the bug; all one had to do was watch the news to see the bizarre effects in had on people. And while watching CNN, I was not surprised to hear them also refer to The Maniac Virus.

The eggheads back east were leaking information out to the public in bits and pieces, and the more you heard, the worse it got. Although it was still early in the game, they had determined that there was more than one reaction to this virus: The most common was the insane, violent behavior that dominated the new. Another was a more docile reaction, a slow deterioration into madness. A third was simply a flu-like death, over a period of about three days. Then, there were people like me – immune, and only God knew why. Of course, I wouldn’t find out about my own immunity until my wife fell victim herself. God rest her soul. For the time being, I considered myself lucky enough to have been spared the ill affects of the deadly bug.

The government was also issuing warnings about coming into contact with strangers, or people known to have the virus, and the best way to do this was to cover all exposed skin, especially the arms and hands. Wash your hands constantly. They also warned that the virus could be airborne, but until testing was conclusive, no one could be sure. The best defense, they stated, was to stay home, and go out only if you had to. Those who worked were urged to go straight home after work.

I am of the working class, and I had to work to make ends meet, but things were getting scary at my plant; security personnel were stationed outside, checking everybody who entered, talking to people to ensure that no loonies got through the door. Personally, I thought it was ridiculous. If someone really wanted to get inside, all he or she had to do was act normal enough and smile casually as they walked in. And who knew who was carrying the damned bug, anyway.

This management realized, which is why notifications of a possible plant shutdown were plastered all over the bulletin boards. We were told the government could step in anytime and close us down. The outlook was grim, and I think we all felt like we were walking on thin ice. Less people were showing up for work, and production was way down. It was only a matter of time.

 

5

 

Three days after I bought the gun, officials at the plant I work in announced that it was shutting down for an indefinite amount of time. The chances of spreading the virus through food sources were just too great a risk. I had a week’s vacation pay coming (I was a lot luckier than many of the other employees), but after that, I was on my own.

On all the news stations, radio and TV, they were advising citizens to stock up on food, toiletries, etc., in case the situation reached emergency status; I thought we had already reached that point. I always did think it funny that the government always downplayed crises such as this. Christ, people were getting killed left and right, or altogether losing their minds; hospitals were overflowing, with no end in sight. If this wasn’t emergency status, then I didn’t know what was.

I decided to take the advice seriously, though, and do a little extra shopping. Marina was busy with her daily household grind, so I offered to go myself.

“That’s sweet of you,” she said, and kissed me on the cheek. Then she looked me in the eye, her face clouded with worry. “Please be careful.” I assured her that I would, that a thousand maniacs couldn’t keep me away from her.

On the way to the store, I saw National Guard soldiers on several corners, standing in pairs and waving at the folks who honked as they passed by.

The soldiers were wearing gas masks.

I passed an Army transport filled with masked soldiers, rifles pointed skyward. They were seated around the perimeter of the truck bed, and they swayed back and forth in unison as the truck rumbled down the street. As I pulled into the store parking lot, I noticed a couple of soldiers patrolling along the front of the store. This was all beginning to feel like some kind of bad dream, a scenario that only happened in movies.

The obvious thing I noticed in the store was that I wasn’t the only one there scrambling for extra supplies. Some had carts filled with canned goods, water, toilet paper, soda (it was almost funny how people just couldn’t survive without that), and lots of dry goods as well. The canned goods isle looked like it had been raped; most shelves were more than half empty, cans scattered across the scuffed floor. It was the nightmare aftermath of a blue light special at K-Mart. I hurried to gather what I could, along with anything extra I could find, and headed to the crowded check stands, taking a spot in the shorted line I could find.

There were several people in front of me, including a hugely obese woman in a flowered dress, oddly enough holding only a gallon of milk clutched to her breast as if it were a child. In front of me was a scrawny old man in western clothes and a cowboy hat that dwarfed his head. His back was bowed from years of bad posture. He was holding a plastic basket filled with veggies in plastic bags, and he kept clearing his scratchy throat and looking around impatiently. At the head of the line was a bald man of about forty with a long handlebar moustache.

The checker finished totaling his items, and he wrote the amount on a check imprinted with motorcycles, tore it from the book and handed it to her. She ran in through the check verifier and waited a moment. The small blue digital display read PROCESSING, then switched to CONTACT BANK.

“I’m sorry, sir, it says to contact the bank. They’re still open if you want to talk to them,” she said, pointing at the in-store branch of Compton Bank. She smiled. “I’ll keep all of your things here for you, sir. Ok?

Her smile faded as the man said, “What you’ll just do is run the check through again, little lady.” A red anger was visibly rising in his rough facial features.

She ran her fingers through her hair and smiled nervously. “Oh, certainly sir, I can do that for you.” She ran the check through, and for the second time it read CONTACT BANK.

“Sir, it still says to contact bank, if you’ll just — ”

“If I’ll just what, you bitch? HUH?? IF I’LL JUST FUCKING WHAT?” His voice climbed to a roar, and heads turned to see what the ruckus was about. Baldy’s face was turning bright red, and his eyes were bulging from their sockets. The checker seemed to shrink right in front of him.

“Please, sir…”

Before she could finish her sentence, Baldy lunged forward and thrust his ball point pen deep into her left eye. Vitreous fluid ran streamed from the wound and down her face as she cried out in pain and terror. Both of her hands shot up to the eye as if to pull out the pen, but both hands stopped short, trembling on either side of the object, too afraid to touch it. The obese woman dropped her milk, which caused the top to pop off, splattering milk everywhere like Old Faithful. The thin old man likewise dropped his basket and backed into a magazine rack, his wrinkled hands clutching for support. There were other screams and gasps as people in other lines witnessed the spectacle. Somebody called out, “Call 911!” That seemed to silence everyone in the store.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” Baldy bellowed, and headed toward one of the exits. Time stood still for a moment, and I realized my heart was pounding out of control. Through the large windows that lined the front of the store, I saw an employee, a man in a gold store vest, run out the other exit and waved down the soldiers outside. He pointed desperately at the bald man that was heading across the parking lot directly toward them. The soldiers approached Baldy. Baldy strode up and ripped the gas mask off the guy nearest to him, and turned to do the same to the other, but the soldier had already drawn a nine-millimeter from a shoulder holster, and was pointing it at Baldy’s head. I could hear faintly the shouts of the other soldier, now without his mask, urging his partner to shoot. There was a muffled report, and Baldy’s head snapped back. He fell lifeless to the ground, and another gasp went through the crowd in the store like a giant whisper.

I had had enough. I left my basket where it was, and headed out the exit. As soon as I hit the pavement there came a loud crash! from the nearby intersection of Fifth and Center. A black sedan had tried to make a left turn in front of a truck that was going straight through the intersection, and both vehicles had kissed metal to metal. People jumped out of their cars and ran toward the scene. The man in the truck got out and staggered over to the sedan. The man behind the wheel of the car was semi-conscious, and his head lolled from side to side. The man from the truck reached in and pulled the other out through his open window, and threw him like a rag doll on the hood of the car. A woman in the street screamed. The man from the truck grabbed him and slammed him down on the hood several times, then he picked the man up by the back of his shirt and pants, and literally hurled him headfirst through the windshield. Once again, I heard people screaming. The man’s head had gone through the glass to his shoulders, and he now lay limp on the hood.

I felt panic rising, but I was frozen where I stood, shocked by the scene taking place in front of me. I heard sirens blaring distantly, and the two soldiers from the parking lot (the one had replaced his mask, but it may have been too late for him anyway) ran past me toward the street, breaking my paralysis.

I ran for my car, passing Baldy’s bleeding corpse on the way, and seconds later I was on my way home.

I picked up my gun a mere one day before the government put a ban on all firearms sales in the United States. I had to go through two military checkpoints and a police blockade to get to the pawnshop. Each time I stopped I had to answer pretty much the same questions: Where was I going? Why? How long had I been in the area? Had I been to the local hospital for blood tests? I lied, and said I certainly had. More questions: Have you ever been convicted of a violent offense? What was I feeling like today? The results of the blockades were long lines of angry motorists. One had to put on a smiling face in front of the soldiers and police, or risk being yanked out of your car and detained even longer.

On the way home, while waiting at one of the check points, I saw police and army vehicles parked on the lawn of a two-story, red brick house, and personnel were pouring in and out of the front door, all wearing the masks (all police as well as military were required to wear the ugly things now, even much of the public had taken to it, as if we were some kind of bizarre alien race). A man ran out and opened the back doors of a black, unmarked panel van before rushing back into the house. A moment later, small groups of men emerged carrying body bags. The bags sagged heavily between the men as they brought them out and swung them into the back of the

van. Someone inside the van yanked the bags further in and out of sight. Two of the bags were noticeably smaller, and it made me sick to my stomach to think that children must have been inside them. Even so, the whole scenario seemed all too routine, and that made me sick and disgusted, as well.

A man in fatigues and mask spray-painted a bright red X on the front door, and then jumped into one of the trucks that were now pulling onto the street and driving along the shoulder past the backed-up traffic. Cars honked angrily as they passed.

When I got home, Marina was curled up on the couch reading a romance novel. She looked up and smiled as I walked in. I felt like I had just walked out of a bad dream and into reality; I had just left a world where everyone was going bonkers and killing each other, martial law was taking over, and entered another world where nothing bad ever happened, a place where I had a wonderful wife who took care of me as well as she could, and I took care of her. A wife who was sitting on the couch in the pink sweats I had given her last Christmas, her long blonde hair tied back, and who was now staring at me as if I had gone crazy.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, jumping up and running to the window. She peeked between the slats in the blinds.

“Oh, nothing, the whole world’s just going crazy. They’re even painting Xs on doors like it was the plague or something,” I told her. Then I thought about that last statement. It really was a plague, and millions of people were going to be killed, or just wither away at the hands of a tiny bug no one could stop. Marina must have been thinking the same thing, for she put her arms around me and laid her head against my chest.

“What’s going to happen to us?” she asked worriedly. She looked up into my eyes, waiting for an answer that would perhaps make everything better, give hope in a hopeless situation, but at that moment I had no answers and even less hope.

“I don’t now, dear, I just don’t know.”

That night, we made love for the last time. Outside, the world was in turmoil, a well-ordered society falling apart at the seams, and there was nothing anyone could do but fall apart with it.

 

6

 

The following day, the President addressed the nation, and it was the first time I had ever seen him look so grim, so old (any president for that matter). The lines in his face had deepened; the stress was taking its toll.

He declared a national state of emergency, and put a ban on all public firearms sales. He urged all Americans to stay in their homes. Temporary stations would be set up at various points throughout all US cities to supply food and medical supplies, with supply trucks making continuous runs like ice cream trucks, making sure people had enough to eat. Army and National Guard, along with local law enforcement, had total discretion concerning the use of deadly force. If you left your home, you could be mistaken for a loony and killed.

After the broadcast, the local new stations showed video captured from New York, where gangs of maniacs were attacking and killing citizens right in the streets. Police wearing riot gear

were running through the mobs, clubbing people down, blocking blows with their shields, and shooting people point blank.

In all my days living in this messed up world, with all the violence and chaos that has plagued our world since the beginning of time, I have never seen anything quite like this. Maniacs were running everywhere like ants, gathering in groups and overturning cars, attacking police and other more docile maniacs, who were simply sleepwalking through the city streets, unaware of the world around them. Smoke rose from scattered fires – cars, buildings, dumpsters; the maniacs seemed to have torched everything they could, even people, which was much too horrible to describe or watch for those faint of heart.

Police clubbed, shot, and screamed as they suffered injuries of their own…

The news shows video from other US cities, and a few foreign cities, and it was like watching a world-wide riot. Compton was relatively small, but there were thousands of people here. Already the town had been affected, but how long would it be before our fair town was just another nest of mayhem and murder?

I looked out the window, and saw armed men in fatigues and gas masks patrolling down both sides of the street.

It would not be long, I decided. It would be not long.

 

7

 

We stayed inside and watched newscasts of the world sliding slowly into a realm of a lunatic society. It was strange how one day I was watching Ritchie losing his mind, and now order and rational thinking were no longer the norm. We had gone to war with an alien race, and we were the aliens. Cities were like battlefronts, the streets savaged and in ruins, and our own city was beginning to taste the chaos.

Once, while staring out the window, I spied one of the supply trucks rolling slowly by, and I ran out the front door, raising my arms in surrender. “Stop,” I yelled. “I need food. Just some food.”

The truck jerked to a halt, and a couple of men jumped out of the cab and ran toward me. “Stop right there!” they ordered, their voice muffled by the gas masks. They had their M-16’s pointed right at me. I was not very comfortable, to say the least. After all, how often does the average person had a gun pointed at his or her head? “Turn around!” I kept my arms raised and turned around.

“What is it you need?” one man asked, as if I hadn’t already made that clear.

“I just need some food. It’s just my wife and me. I swear I’m not crazy,” I said. They looked me over for a few moments, and then looked at each other.

“All right, put your arms down,” one said. The other went to the back of the truck and raised the sliding door. He produced a couple of boxes and set them on the grown in front of me.

“You say it’s just you and your wife? he asked.

“Yes, just the two of us,” I said, and I noticed the two of them visibly relax a little.

“Is everything ok in your household?”

“Yes, everything is fine.”

“Alright then. I’m sorry I can’t give you more, but if it’s just you and your wife, this should last a little while.”

“This is fine, really,” I said, relieved that their guns were now pointed at the ground. “Thanks for stopping.”

“No problem. I would advise that you take your supplies and get back inside immediately. It’s not safe out here anymore.” It’s weird, but even through the muffle of the gas mask, I could detect a note of sadness in the soldier’s voice. They climbed back into the truck and continued down the street. I stood there for a minute, taking in my surroundings. I saw two houses across the street with bright red X’s on the front doors. Further down the street, they were dragging more body bags out of a house. I picked up my boxes and carried them inside.

 

8

 

A few days after we received the food mostly canned goods, some dry stuff like macaroni, dehydrated soup), Marina decided to do the laundry, against the wishes of yours truly. It would mean she would have t go outside to hang up the laundry.

“What could happen in our own back yard?” she asked. “I’ll just go out, hang it up, and come right back inside. Besides, I think I’ll go crazy myself if I don’t get a breath of fresh air.”

“At least let me get the gun and come out with you,” I said, and she shook her head.

“No way, buster. I don’t want that damned thing anywhere near me,” she said, heading for the laundry room.

“Well, I’m getting it out anyway, just to be safe,” I called after her.

I went into the bedroom and took the .38 from its hiding place in my sock drawer, and loaded it. I then placed it in the silverware drawer, right by the kitchen window, where I could keep my eye on Marina.

A little while later I heard the back door open, and I ran to the kitchen window. Marina was lugging a basket of damp laundry out to the clothesline. The mid-morning sun was a beacon in a clear blue sky, and it exaggerated the color and beauty of the outside world, giving it a false façade of calmness and security. I watched as she hung up the laundry, sheets billowing brightly in the slight breeze. She picked up the empty basket and, as she headed for the house, saw me watching her, and promptly stuck her tongue out at me. I returned the gesture.

We curled up on the couch to watch TV and catch up on the latest events. Marina picked up the romance novel sitting on the coffee table, obviously not interested in the downfall of civilization. I thought deep down she was just too afraid of the reality of it all, a reality that was changing our way of life; she simply did not want to face what was happening.

Someone was talking. A man was talking about something indiscernible, foreign, and then the words became clear – it was the voice of the President, airing another press conference on the television. I had fallen asleep. Marina was gone. Her book lay split open, face down on the couch next to me. I sat up and rubbed my eyes.

And heard a short scream.

I ran for the kitchen, almost tripping over the coffee table, and looked out the window. Marina was standing on the grass out by the clothesline, holding her hands out in front of her. She was slowly backing away from a man who was saying something to her and gesturing wildly. The man was wearing what looked like green hospital scrubs. His baldhead glinted in the hot sunlight.

I grabbed the .38 out of the silverware drawer and dashed out the back door, using both hands to aim the barrel at the intruder.

“Hey buddy, what’s up?” The man turned to look at me. It was Ritchie.

 

9

 

I have to say, I was dumbfounded at the sight of Ritchie, to say the least. Indeed, he wore scrubs, and a worn pair of tennis shoes. He was shaved completely bald; there were red patches of skin on his temples, and he had a glare in his eyes that reflected the in insane buzzing in his head. He wore a senseless grin.

“Ritchie, what are you doing here?” I asked. Marina’s eyes widened with terror. She took a step back, and Ritchie moved with her.

“They let me out, old chum. They’re all as crazy as I am, you know. They let everyone out. Ain’t that a fuckin’ gas?” He had a sickly laugh that reminded me of a witch.

Marina stepped back, still holding her palms out in front of her.

Ritchie moved with her.

“Stay away from her, Ritchie,” I warned, and continued aiming straight at him.

His grin faltered, and the glare in his eyes seemed to fade. “They hurt me, man, they hurt me. They cut off all my hair and shocked me. They put wires on my head. Shocked. They put me in a straight jacket and locked me in one of those padded rooms. Where the crazies go. Have you ever been locked in a room by yourself forever, huh?” Tears were rolling down Ritchie’s cheeks.

“I’m sorry, Ritchie, really.”

“NO YOU’RE NOT!” He screamed, cords in his neck bulging. Marina flinched. “DON’T MOVE, YOU!”

The light was back in his eyes, electric, unnatural. Beads of sweat formed all over his head. He was less than a foot away from Marina, his body moving in unison with hers. She was shaking and looking sideways over to me, silently pleading for help.

“Ritchie, I’m warning you!” Now I was shaking, starting to lose control, and the thought of that frightened me, because anything could happen.

“What are you going to do, shoot me? I don’t care. I’m nuts, remember? I don’t give a shit what happens to me. It doesn’t matter. We’re all going to be crazy, in the end. You. Me. Her. You’ll want to taste blood, to kill. The streets will run red with blood. Rivers of blood. DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?”

I pointed the gun at his head. “Get out of here, Ritchie,” I said, trying not to look shaken. My palms were sweaty, and I gripped the .38 tighter, taking care not to squeeze the trigger. He was standing just too close to Marina.

“Ok, chum,” he said, “but first, a kiss goodbye.” Before I could blink, he had reached out and grabbed Marina by the cheeks, and pulled her lips to his. She whined and tried to push away, but he held fast, forcing his tongue into her mouth. I stood defenseless, anger rising in my cheeks.

He shoved her to the ground, and wiped the slobber off his chin. “We’re all going to die, you know. Everyone will die, and a new world will be born. And it will happen all over again. And again. Later, chum.” He ran off toward the chain link fence at the back of our yard, and I followed him with the gun, my brain telling me to shoot, to kill the bastard, but my hands wouldn’t obey. A second later, he was over the fence and gone.

Marina was still sitting on the grass, and I ran over to help her, but she held up a hand.

“Stop, don’t come near me!” She trembled and tears welled up in her eyes. “You can never touch me again!” she proclaimed, and buried her face in her hands. My hear was bursting; I couldn’t imagine the terror and loneliness she felt at that moment, but I knew my life was nothing without her, and my love for her refused to let her suffer alone. I knelt on the grass and put my arms around her. She struggled at first, and then slowly gave in, sliding her arms around me and sobbing into my shoulder. I would share her burden, no matter what it may be, and we would see this through together to the uncertain end.

 

10

 

That was the day I discovered my immunity. Hours after our encounter with Ritchie, Marina was already showing signs of the sickness. I felt nothing. I guess I had known something was different about me, because I had been exposed to so many people and yet nothing had happened. I was relieved, but not for selfish reasons, no – I was relieved because now I would be able to help Marina, stay by her side, and comfort her. I would be of no help at all if I were withering away alongside her.

I had seen announcements on the television urging anyone who was immune, or thought to be immune, to visit a local hospital for testing. I was not about to submit myself because I knew the government would somehow be involved, as they always are, and would probably take anyone immune and lock them up in a secret lab somewhere (Area 51, maybe) and test them like guinea pigs. I did not want to be part of that game. They would say it was for the good of mankind, but there was always a secret agenda, wasn’t there? The race to be number one.

I tried to make Marina as comfortable as possible. By nightfall, she was feeling dizzy, and running a fever. Later, she was having trouble breathing, and was choking up phlegm. As far as her mind was concerned, she was as normal as ever. I wanted to call the hospital to see if there was anything at all they could do for her, but she refused.

“It’s no use and you know it,” she said, her voice hoarse, broken by the fluids that were clogging her throat. “Besides, if they find out about you…well, I just don’t know.” She looked me straight in the eyes, and I had to look away. “Did you think I didn’t know? C’mon, honey, you’re as healthy as the day you were born. A little heavier, maybe.” She laughed, and the laughter turned into a harsh coughing jag. She spat into the small garbage bin next to the bed. She looked me straight in the eye again. There were dark circles under her eyes, and a thick yellow fluid was building up around the whites of her eyes. I silently prayed to God she would

simply die, and not turn into one of those crazies running around out there. I say this out of love, and I am sure that those of you with a proper sense of thinking will understand.

“Promise me one thing,” she said. I already knew what was coming. How many times had I seen this in the movies? I just didn’t think I had it in me.

“I want you to, you know, take care of me if…if I…change. You know. I just don’t want to be one of those things. Please.” Tears poured down her cheeks, mixed with fluid that ringed her eyes. I wiped her face clean with a washcloth, trying to hold back tears of my own.

“I can’t do that, and you know it. It’s not going to happen anyway. You’re just going to be sick!” Now, I had tears of my own. “You’ll get better, just wait and see!”

“Come down to earth, damnit!” she said, going into another coughing fit. When it was over, she said, “ You need to face it. I’m not going to make it either way. And I’m so afraid to die, so afraid.” She was trembling. “But I’m more afraid of what I might be. I-I don’t want to be that. I would rather be dead. There is just no way out of it. You have to promise me.” She waited for an answer, but I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. I left the bedroom, and went to the living room window to peel out the blinds. There was an old man with blood running down the side of his face shuffling along the sidewalk in front of the house. He stopped and slowly turned, as if sensing me, and I let go of the blind and backed away. After a moment, I chanced another peek, and I barely caught sight of him as he disappeared from view. I could not imagine my wife out there among them, moping around like a zombie. Marina was right, as usual. My love for her would not allow it. There was no was out of it.

I went back into the bedroom, sat on the bed, and took her hand.

“I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise.”

“I love you,” she said, and closed her eyes. A few minutes later, she was sleeping. All I could do was stay by her side and wait.

 

11

 

Marina’s symptoms persisted all night and through the next day, not worsening, but not improving, either. She stayed in bed, and I kept her updated on what was going on, read to her a little, and watched her sleep. Her eyelids would flutter, and she would mumble incoherently, as if in some dream world of her own.

That night, I moved the television into our bedroom. I wanted to be with her as much as possible. I feared whatever her end would be would be drawing near, and I wanted to be at her side.

As the night deepened, rain fell, pattering lightly against the window. Thunder rumbled distantly. I watched on the news as two senators, one in Washington, one in California, argued on a split screen about possible solutions to the crisis.

Marina lay on her side facing away from me, her form rising and falling under the blanket to the rhythm of her heavy, liquid breathing. Thunder, a little closer. The voices began to fade. I slept.

Pounding, like a hammer against wood. Had I really heard something? The rain was really coming down. Lightning flashed, illuminating everything momentarily, and a second later thunder rattled the entire house. I sat up quickly, as the pounding came again.

Someone was pounding on the front door.

I looked over at Marina. She lay flat on her back, mouth wide open. Her skin was eerily artificial in the light of the television, colors flashing and changing across skin that was plastic, lifeless. But still, she lived.

Again, the pounding reverberated throughout the house, and I started, the little hairs rising on the back of the my neck. I looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. Two-thirty four a.m…I got up and padded into the living room. I approached the door quietly, and press my ear against the coolness of the wood. I heard rain pattering the street, dripping out of the rain gutters and splattering the ground. As I leaned over with my ear pressed against the door, I realized I was hardly breathing. I took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Then the pounding came strong and swift against my head, and I almost went through the roof. I stood a few feet away from the door, clutching my chest, feeling the thumping of my heart. Lightning flashed, and again thunder rumbled the house. Then silence. The pouring rain.

After a few minutes, I checked on Marina. She had not moved, had not awakened. I opened my sock drawer and pulled out my .38. I never thought a gun would be so much a part of my life. I went back into the living room, and peeked through the blinds. I could hardly make out anything; the night was black against the rain- spattered windows.

I went into the kitchen and peered through the blinds on the small window above the kitchen sink. I could make out nothing in the back yard. A second later, lightning flashed and I saw a dark figure standing in the yard as thunder rocked the house. I backed away from the window, the gun shaking in my right hand. I backed away from the window again, but I imagined seeing a face pressed against the glass, a face filled with insanity, murder, eyes leering at me, teeth clenched, ready for blood. I went into the darkness of the living room and sat on the couch, pulling my knees up to my chest. I rested the gun on the arm of the couch, and gently rocked myself to sleep, waiting, listening.

When I awake, the sun had already risen. The rain had ceased, the only sound being that of a couple of sparrows flirting in the tree outside the living room window. I stood and stretched.

A slight shuffling sound came from the kitchen, followed by the metallic clink of silverware. I picked up the .38, the bones in my neck cracking from sleep as I bent over. The gun felt cold and alien in my hand.

A slight shuffling came from the kitchen. I peeked around the corner and saw the familiar white terry cloth robe that Marina always wore in the mornings. I saw the spill of blonde hair over the collar. The blinds on the kitchen window were raised, and she stood gazed gazing out at a damp world glowing with crystalline sunlight.

“Honey?” I whispered?

“So. You’re up,” she said, her voice raspy and unrecognizable.

She slowly turned around, and before me stood a woman whom I did not now. Frazzled blonde hair surrounded a face of insanity and chaos, of uncertainly and doom. Veins bulged through waxy skin, pulsing through her forehead. Her eyes protruded from her sockets like over inflated balloons. Snot ran from her, nose and over her lips, which were spread upward in a mindless grin.

“I’m feeling much better today,” she croaked. She suddenly came at me, screeching and raising a large steak knife she has clenched in one hand.

Before my brain had time to react, my arms went into motion, raising the .38, and pulling the trigger. Marina’s head snapped back as blood and bits of skull and brain matter splashed the window behind her. Blood suddenly down the middle of her face in a tiny river from a perfectly round hole in her forehead. I thought I heard several bones break as she collapsed to the floor. My legs were weak and shaking, and I sat down on the spot and began to weep.

I called the police a few minutes ago, and told them what happened. Of course, but of course, it didn’t matter anymore. Marina was dead, and I no longer cared. Not that didn’t love her, or cared, but the world seemed to be coming to an end, and in a way, I was glad that she had moved on. It was better for her.

I covered her body with a sheet to try to give her some dignity. She deserved it.

Maybe someday someone will read this, someone normal, sane; someone who would try to avoid all the bloodshed. But now, I hear vehicles pulling up in the driveway. I hear voices. A knock on the door. My time here is done.

 

12

 

Two police cruisers pulled up, one in the driveway, one on the front lawn. From the car on the lawn emerged a large man in a dark blue uniform, two more from the other car. They all wore gas masks.

“Wait here,” the large one said. He strode up to the front door and knocked. A man with disheveled hair and a five o’ clock shadow answered the door, and motioned the officer inside. He waited in the living room while the officer went into the kitchen. A few moments later he returned.

“Are you sure she was infected?” he asked, muffled.

“Yes, I’m sure,” the man said, “I was here when it happened, the day before yesterday. She was overcome by the virus and attacked me. I had no choice.” His voice wavered, his eyes on the verge of tears.

“What about you? Are you showing any symptoms?”

“No. I’m immune. At least I think I am.”

“Well, we can’t have that now, can we?” the officer said, pulling his service revolver. The man’s eye’s widened in disbelief as the officer put a bullet straight through his head. “There, now we have a matching set.”

He looked around the room, at the man on the floor growing a pool of blood around his head; and then he spied a brown book lying on a desk. In embossed gold letters on the front it said “JOURNAL”. He picked it up and read a few pages, then tossed it down on the desk.

He went outside and approached the other officers. “Torch it,” he said. One of them opened the trunk of a cruiser and produced a bright red five-gallon gas can. They all had smiles.

They headed into the house, began splashing gasoline everywhere, and after emptying the can, an officer returned it to the trunk of his cruiser. One of the officers produced a book of matches from a shirt pocket. He tore out a single match, struck it, and threw it into the open doorway. There came a fwup! as flame and gas became one, flames instantly filling the room. All three officers watched as the flames ate away at everything, including the man lying on the floor. This brought particular pleasure to the lawmen.

There was a ruckus from across the street, and they turned to look.

Two more officers were chasing down a man on the front lawn of the house directly across the street. The man’s face was filled with panic and fear – was, in fact, bright red from terror. He knew what was about to happen.

The man tripped and fell, and rolled over to face his pursuers. That they wore uniforms meant nothing; it only added to the fear.

“No, please!” he screamed. “I’m not crazy! I’m immune, I tell you, I’m immune!”

One of the officers raised a double-bladed axe high into the air, and brought it down like a lumberjack splitting wood, but instead, he separated the man’s left arm from his shoulder. He screamed in agony as blood jetted from the wound, and then his mind lost some bit of sanity as his other arm was separated in the same fashion.

He rolled back and forth on his armless trunk, and then lay motionless, in shock, staring at the two men, his life blood draining from the gaping wounds in his shoulders. And then each man grabbed a leg and dragged him away, leaving his arms on the grass.

The three firebugs across the street nudged each other on the shoulders, and began to chuckle. The fire crackled behind them, flames licking out of the doorway and up toward the overhang of the roof. They removed their masks and began to outright laugh. They laughed so hard, that tears rolled down their cheeks. Five minutes later, they were still laughing.

 

One Response to “Maniacs by Guest Author David Rhodes”

  1. R.B. Clague says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of this, but what I did, I really liked (and I will get around to the remainder soon). There are few authors that can pull of a first person perspective effectively. I love the hook at the beginnng, which grabbed me straight away and pulled me in.

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