I couldn't tell you how long it's been since I've last seen the outside world. I remember the sun, and its warmth, the grass and the way it would tickle my skin. But time had become a tool and since we didn't need it, we stopped using it. Clocks stopped being watched after about the 34th year, or so that's what my mother says.
She says a lot, nowadays. Her latest grand idea is that the world has ceased turning and so we're destined to suffer an eternity like this in the depths of our houses that have absolutely no real connection to the lives we used to live. But, according to her, the life we used to live wasn't that great either. Sure, people still die now, but it's not at the hands of their fellow humans. The only thing people die of now are old age and the parasite. Not that the parasite is what kills you, you kill you, but they say that it's the parasite that makes you do it.
I had a friend once, his name was Rick. He had the most sound mind out of anyone that I had ever met in my short time before the world went to shit. He would teach me the name of every species in our neighborhood and promised to teach me the names of anything that we would ever come across. I didn't know why it even mattered at the time, but I knew it was something that I cared about because he cared about it. We had been friends for about 4 years when he was infected.
It started with his speech. He started to say things incorrectly. To most people, it was considered a simple slip of the tongue, but I knew better. There was no way that Rick would ever confuse the binomial nomenclature of any species he'd ever encountered. He was smart like that. One day we were out in the fields when I noticed it. The most beautiful Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly we'd ever seen. It sat perched on a Quercus Robur, commonly known as an oak tree, one of the first trees Rick ever showed me.
"And this one, is my personal favorite, Tiara." Rick smiled with his hand extended toward the butterfly that walked along the sturdy trunk of the tree we had just finished taking measurements of. "The Polyxenes Papilio, or the Swallowtail butterfly. You know, back when I was your age, I'd catch these all the time with my father."
It slipped out of his mouth, as if it was the most normal thing in the world for him to say. I assume that the first thing the parasite latched onto was his brain. The part of it that controlled the things he said. The things he knew. Rick was a scientist. An amazing one who had discovered nameless species, cured many illnesses among animals and plants, and even invented his own patented method for crossbreeding species. By the time I'd met him, Rick was back to his basics, studying the local species so that he could fix our ecosystem.
"Rick, you mean the Papilio Polyxenes, right? The same butterfly you showed me last week when we came here." I giggled at his mistake, not paying much mind to it. Rick was getting older so I had expected his brain to start slowing down soon. At 70, he was still as sharp as the day he moved into the neighborhood, but I knew it was a matter of time until his age caught up with him.
"You're right. I must have forgotten." Rick rested a hand on my shoulder as he walked past me. "It seems you're beginning to surpass me, little one."
I beamed up at Rick. My father had told me stories about the mysterious scientist that was Richard Montello. He had never made a mistake in his entire life, according to my father. He was always one step ahead of humanity and that was what made him the perfect host for the most vicious bug we'd ever faced.
For a while, Rick's slip ups were minor. Forgetting the proper names for things, mixing up the names for certain formulas, he even forgot my name a few times. It took a long time before we realized what was happening, but it was Rick who figured it out. The parasite had finally taken over full control of Rick's body. He would move spastically, and almost as if he didn't know how to move his own body. The parasite had tapped into Rick's vault of scientific information and used it to create more of its own kind.
Once Rick figured out what was going on, he killed himself. He left behind a letter that outlined exactly what was to befall the human race.
Tiara & Fred
Since I'm sure you will be the ones to find me, I am leaving you very specific instructions. You must instruct the others to hide. This thing that I have created is going to kill us all. It knows no morals, no bounds, no humanity. It sits in your brain and creates a new reality, where everything is not what it seems. The only way to fight it, is to stay away from it.
I have done the unthinkable. I have released the parasite in the streets of our own community. You have to stay off the streets to save yourselves. Don't trust anyone. Don't even trust yourselves.
Your brain is your strong point, but it is also your weakest asset.
None of us knew what he meant, at first. We had decided that Rick was confused about what had been happening near the end of his life until it started. People started to walk around the streets like they were being yanked around by strings. People we had come to know as our neighbors and friends spent their nights wailing through the streets. They screamed about nonsense, but they stayed in the streets, rummaging through the garbage that had amassed on the curb. That was so long ago that I can't remember exactly how we ended up here, in a boarded up office building that has a mess of underground tunnels connecting the sane to the sane.
"Tiara, I need you to run over to the medical sector. I need some more medication for my knee. It's starting to hurt again." My mother nagged. She limped around the room while I flipped through the pages of a book my father used to read to me.
"Ma, I just went over there, what, last full moon? They're definitely not going to give me more of those pills you want," I replied. My mother was beginning to become addicted to the pills that the medic sector was giving out. They had created pills that used the genetic make up of the person who takes them to asses and treat whatever illness they were suffering from. I had never taken them, but I'd heard from the others that the pill would have an effect on your brain if you took too much of it.
"T, just tell them it's for you. They know you've never filled your supply."
I stared at my mother for a while. Wondering, silently, how she ended up like this.
It could have been around the time my father was infected. He had been my mother's sanity for years but when she found that he could barely look her in her eyes anymore without his body threatening to crumble under him, she had to let him go. We wrapped him in the warmest clothes we could find and watched him wobble his way into the streets filled to the brim with the infected. My father got infected around the same time that we found out the true extent of the parasite's power.
According to my father, the parasite had the power to alter the reality of the person who it had infected. There were no bounds to what we would do. My father went on to kill another infected before he killed himself. The informants who told us about his death told us that the scientists who ran tests on him found an abnormal amount of parasitic activity in his brain. They say that it's possible that he ingested more than just one other infected and took on their parasites but I think otherwise.
I think my father was immune to the first attempt. Maybe even the second. They kept coming to try to infect my father until he was nothing but parasitic remains. And when my mother came to that conclusion, she tried to find any way that she could to keep herself detached from reality. I guess it was too painful for her to live with my father being gone and me as a reminder.
I shrugged on my sweater, that had been worn so much that it had faded many, many months ago. My mother wrung her hands softly as she watched me. Everyone else that lived with us was tucked away quietly in their office rooms. The only sound that I could hear was the young child down the hall who loved to giggle relentlessly at nothing.
"Make sure you grab anything else we need to stock up. I haven't made a list but I think we could use some more food," my mother said.
I looked up at her, nodding. "No problem. I'm going to take the tunnels towards the Northern side. I don't think the medics in Southern want to see me again. Not after..."
She silently agreed. We knew that some people in the city didn't like us. They would sneer at us as we passed them in the tunnels or refuse us the rations we needed. They hated us for things outside of our control. There was nothing I could do to change their minds, either, because their issue wasn't with me, but with my father.
They thought it was bullshit that he had been so strong to deflect any attempts at his mind but he couldn't cure the world. Some say that he would come into their houses at night and torment their families. Others told stories of how my father would roam the cities and attack anyone in sight. They were all wrong, though. My father would never hurt a fly.
I walked quickly through the poorly lit tunnel, cautious of the sounds around me. The familiar dripping of water somewhere in the tunnel was eerie but somewhat comforting. There was a soft moaning of some kind, coming from one of the pits up ahead. Before I was able to comprehend my own actions, I was standing in the entry of the hospital pit. Where people would go to give birth, fix broken bones, and treat their illnesses.
At first glance, everything seemed normal. There were a few bodies lying on beds, IV poles scattered around the room, and that faint moaning. The hairs on my neck stood at attention. I wanted to turn away from the room, but my body stood rooted in its spot. That's when I saw it. A nurse hunched over a bed in the far end of the room. She wasn't the person moaning, but I was pretty sure she was the cause of it. Her hands seemed to have grown nails with the sharpness of kitchen knives. They were tearing into the woman lying on the bed. Blood dripped slowly onto the floor and spread like syrup over pancakes.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Hey, leave her alone!"
The nurse's head snapped over to me. "You? You think you can stop me?"
"We'll see about that!"
The nurse launched herself off of the bed and tore across the floor towards me. I didn't know where I was going to go but I let my feet carry me out of the room. I knew I couldn't lead it to the office building, or to the medic station. I could lead it outside, but that would expose me. What if this woman, this thing, was already infected and I had already been exposed? Outside it is.
My legs carried me faster than I expected. Pits flew by in an unrecognizable blur and I could hear snarling coming from behind me. The nurse was on my heels. I didn't need to look behind me, but I could hear her footsteps echoing off of the poorly molded sides of the dirt tunnel. Ahead I could see the bright lights indicating that we were approaching the streets. I could see the dirty streets, lined with trash and overturned cars. There were bodies strewn all over the place, on top of garbage piles, under cars, and even laying in the branches of the trees.
I ran over to the nearest building and turned into the alleyway next to it. I looked back toward the tunnel to see that there was nothing there. I wondered if it was possible that the nurse had stopped chasing me halfway through the tunnel, but I had heard her footsteps. All the way out here. I could have sworn I had even seen a blur out of the corner of my eye when I rounded the corner of the building.
"You don't belong out here."
I swung around, scared out of my mind. I hadn't heard anyone walking up behind me, and when I ran into the alley there was no one here. When I turned around, I saw it. My eyes landed on the nurse from inside the tunnel but something was different this time. Her nails weren't as long as kitchen knives anymore and her face wasn't painted with blood. She looked like a normal human being. One not infected with the parasite.
"I came out here because of you! You were in the hospital pit tearing apart this lady. I saw it." I reasoned, backing up as she walked towards me.
"No, you came out here because you didn't want to be taken back into the research lab." She explained, raising her arms as if she was approaching a vicious dog. "We were coming to move you from your hospital bed to the research lab. You have the highest parasite levels we've ever seen in a human."
I looked at the nurse as if she had 100 heads. "I was going to the medic sector for my mom. That's when I ran into you."
"Tiara Davin, 16 years old, infected with a vicious parasite. Patient number 3798." A voice boomed from behind me. "You've been hallucinating for quite some time now, Tiara."
I know that voice. Rick was standing behind me with a needle the size of a meter stick. His mouth was curved into an impossible grin.
"Rick? You're alive?" I reached out to pull him into a hug. "I've missed you so much."
I wrapped my arms around him, smiling when he wrapped his arms around me. I reared my head back to look up at him when I felt a sharp pinch in my neck and everything went black.