Under the radar

Sometimes, I just feel like giving up. I mean, is there really anything so wrong about saying, "I've done all I can do" and just letting go? Is there really anything so bad about looking at everything and saying, "Okay, That's plenty," and just moving on? Why do I feel obligated to continue moving forward, continue trying so hard, even though I've already made it so much farther than I ever thought-ever think is possible? Today, I quit. Present tense.I'm quitting, currently. I quit on caring. I quit on trying. I quit on everything. I don't want to die, per se, but I just don't feel like living anymore. I give up. It's too difficult to wake up, look at the day in front of me, look at the years behind me, and say "here is the purpose, this is the goal."

Sylvan had his assistant, Denise, meet me in a small ghost town, and I followed her through a maze of forests and foads till we finally got back to this wall in the middle of a forest. Denise got out of her truck and walked up to the wall. She pressed her had flat against it, and after a moment she took a step back as the wall divided and lifted in the middle, revealing the rest of the road we were on. She got back in the truck and we followed her inside. There were cement barriers along the road for about 200 feet, and then you were fed into this underground parking garage. When we got in, we parked and we followed Denise to an elevator and she pushed the "L" button. I tried to make small talk, asked if she had a family, how she liked working for Sylvan, but all I got were cold, flat answers everyt time, so I figured she probably didn't feel like talking with me. Nora was being very quiet, too. I think I would have felt anxious if I wasn't so wrapped up in my own head.

When the elevator stopped, she stepped out so Nora and I followed her. We walked through a large white room with blue trim, lots of uncomfortable-looking chairs, and over to a window with a circle cut out. There was a man sitting on the other side of the glass and he looked at us with a bored expression.

"Linz," Denise barked at the man, whose name tag read "Mike," and Mike typed something into a terminal. I heard a "shhhhhhhTHNK" Noise, like an automatic air lock going off, and Denise walked me toward a heavy metal door. We pushed through and into a hallway lined with glass doors and metal coat racks. The airlock noise went again, and Denise started to strip.

"Down to your underclothes, ladies. Gotta disinfect." So we took off our clothes down to our underpants and stepped into the disinfectant chambers. We got hosed down, sprayed with some kind of chemical-smelling stuff, which made my skin tingle a little bit, then we got hosed off again. Then a long warm shot of air to dry off and the doors unlatched. I went to put my clothes on, but they'd been replaced with a white shirt, white pants, and a blue smock-lab coat type thing. I got new shoes, too. Blue sneakers with velcro instead of laces.

"The Jeep keys were in my pants pocket, by the way, Denise," I explained, "All my samples and data are locked inside. You'll need them for research, so I just want to make sure you know."

"Okay," was all she replied. We followed her through another airlock and out into this crazy awesome place. There were healthy, green trees everywhere. Green lush grass that sprawled over shallow hills, cut by crisp white sidewalks and dotted with small, stout buildings. There were even flowers. It was bright and a little chilly, I looked upward and noticed that we were still underground--there was a ceiling above our heads, covered in light bulbs glowing warm light down. a group of them were lit and all the surrounding ones were dim. I looked back down and noticed that while Nora and I had been taking in the view, Denise had been walking away quickly toward one building down the way from us. I nudged Nora and we tried to hurry to catch Denise without making Nora too winded. By the time we reached the building Denise was headed for, she was standing there, holding the door open for us.

"Sorry, I forgot you can't go too fast right now," she said quietly.
"It's fine," Nora said, winded, "We're here now, so I can sit, right?"

We stepped inside the building, and found it decorated very similarly to the original room we started in. White walls, blue trim. This time, though, there were black plaques on the walls at each corner, with white words and numbers and little arrows. One of them read "Watts, Sylvan, 209". We walked toward that corner and followed the little arrows down two more hallways, past several doors numbered 201-208, even numbers on the left, odd numbers on the right. Finally, we got to the room numbered 209. Denise opened the door and ushered us inside the small office. There wasn't much of anything in there. The only things on the walls were a few framed certificates. I didn't really care enough to look at them to see what they were for. There were two office chairs in front of a modest pine desk. On the desk were a few manila envelopes, some red folders, pens and paper, a laptop, and a pair of man hands. Attached to those hands was Sylvan Watts. He was smiling a small smile of relief, I assumed he was happy to see that Nora had made it back alive. He looked a little confused, though.

"Dahlia," he said and unfolded his hands to offer me a seat, "I'm so glad you're finally here. I've been worrying."

"Sorry," I answered, "But we're here now. Safe and sound. I brought samples of the water Nora drank from, all my data on her blood. So you and your people can start working on finding out what happened to make her able to live so long with PTA."

"My people? You mean you won't help us?" He looked more confused than happy now.

"I'm done. I'm so tired, Sylvan. I'll answer any questions I can, but really I think I'm done working right now. I'm sorry. Maybe in a couple days I'll feel differently, but for right now, I just can't."

"Have you been feeling depressed? More than usual, I mean? I know it's a depressing world we live in. But have you been thinking of harming yourself?"

"Not in so many words, no. I mean, I just feel like giving up. I feel like that's an okay option at this point. I mean, I've worked hard, I got Nora here. I got both of us here. I feel like it's been a long time since I got a good night's rest, since I had some downtime. Some me-time. I know that's selfish, but I really want to be selfish right now. Even if I just sleep outside on the grass. It's so beautiful here. I think this is a good place as any to take a break from life."

"Okay, well, you don't have to sleep on the grass. I've got an apartment for you downstream. It's about a twenty minute walk from here. I have a lab set up for you, if you change your mind. Denise is, as you know, my assistant, and she'll be at your service as well as mine. I know she's a little...intimidating at first, but she's not difficult to get along with. And she is very trustworthy. I trust her with my life. As you can tell, this place is very safe. Only approved people can get in the front gates. And I am alerted and I monitor every coming and going. Everyone here is handpicked and interviewed by myself. So, in other words, you're safe here. And I understand your exhaustion, so you'll be free to do as you please for the next day or two. I'll have food delivered to your apartment at meal times. All I ask is that you do come and see me at least once a day so we can talk. I don't want you going off the deep end without my prior knowledge. Understood?"

"I think that sounds fair. Where will Nora stay?"

Sylvan looked at me weird. I don't know what it meant. It was kind of this mix of pity and confusion and hesitance. After a little awkward silence, he said, "I've got a room for her in the clinic. She'll be looked after. Unfortunately, we're not going to allow visitors unless they're working, so until you're back in the practice, you'll have to stay away from her. There are only two classes of people here, civilians and personnel. Civilians do work like cooking, cleaning, gardening, and hospitality. Personnel does the work like medical care, research, and other dangerous jobs. Personnel aren't allowed in some areas for contamination reasons, and civilians aren't allowed in the clinic and research facilities for the same reasons. I can't code you as both, so if you're going to live as a civilian, you're going to be separated from her. But I think that may be for the best anyways."

"Because I'm too attached, I know, I wouldn't be able to be objective in my research anyways."

Another strange pause, and he answered quietly, "Yes."

So I got permission to just stop everything. Stop feeling. Stop caring. Stop working. Stop worrying about being found and being in trouble. Of course, I couldn't stop right away, so when I got settled into my new digs, I sat down and I cried myself to sleep over Belle, my mom, my brother, my aunt, and my gramma. And then I dreamed about mom again, but I can't remember anything except she stood there in front of me repeating the words, "you look just like me when I was your age," Over and over and over again.


Maslow's Hierarchy: physiological needs

 I've attached a scrambled document to explain where we can meet. You may have some trouble reading it, but you're a smart girl, and I think you'll figure it out. If I haven't seen or heard from you in two weeks, I'll assume something happened to you. I pray that it doesn't.
Sylvan Watts
It took me two days to figure out all the puzzles and get a fairly certain idea of where I was going. I emailed Sylvan back and deleted all our correspondence from the harddrive. The morning we left, I packed up some bottles and tubes, left a note for my grandmother, and we sneaked away, taking with us all the bottled water and canned foods I had earned. We stopped at a gas station where I spent all the cash I had saved up on gas, filled up several gas cans for the trip, and got some more bottled water. The trip itself would take us about 3 hours by my calculations, but we needed to stop and find the pond that Nora had drank from.

The forest that we decided she must have been in was about thirty minutes away, in a place called "Corridor G". We followed the Route 60 highway, drove up a long, hilly, windy road, 119S, til we got to the corridor. It looked awful. All the pavement was cracked, parts of the overpasses were crumbling, it was terrifying driving over the chasm between the many hills and small mountains there. Nora confirmed that she kind of remembered this place a little bit. We were on the right track.

As we drove past little BP's over run by moss and vine, narrowly escaped driving off the edge of the battered road, I could almost remember, almost picture what this place was before. My mother had at one point worked out here. Not on this side, but we sometimes would go down to the forest and hike. Suddenly, I knew the creek Nora was talking about. I pulled off and started going down the old dirt road. It was severely overgrown, but we were able to drive down it a little ways in the jeep before the underbrush and saplings were too dense to drive through or around. I pulled the jeep off the side of the road.

"Dahlia, we'll get stranded, and lost if you leave the jeep behind! And all our food and water!" Nora cried weakly. "And I can't walk like this. I'm too tired."

"It's really not far, Nora. I remember how to get there." I assured her as I shut down the jeep, pulled two bottles of water out of the back seat, and began climbing out.

"How do you know where it is? You weren't there." She whined through her open window.

"Because, I remember being here as a kid with my mom. I know the place you described. It's the old shooting range. Mom used to take me out there to watch people shoot because she missed her grampa and it reminded her of him."

"Okay, but if that's not it, we come straight back to the jeep. I don't want to get lost out here again. You're sure it's not far? I walked around this forest for so long..." Nora's eyes started to glaze over a little bit, so I opened her door and helped her get unbuckled.

"Positive. I wish I didn't have to make you walk, but I need you to confirm that it's the right place, that way I can get my samples. Okay? It's maybe a mile out yet. We can do this. And look, we won't get lost. There's a gravel trail. It's hard to make out, but we got this. Come on, let's get it over with."

We walked for about forty five minutes or an hour and then we got where we were headed. The gravel was really overgrown, but as long as I kicked it up every few yards to make sure we were still on the right track, we made it there without issue.

"Is this the place?" I asked as we got to the stream. Without human interference, what I remembered as a little trickle was now a good two feet deep.

"I think so. I think I was up that way a little more though," she said as she pointed upstream.

"That's fine, as long as we're shortly downstream from where you were, we should be okay. Are we close enough you can see where you were?"

She looked up and down the banks for a moment, then said, "Yeah, I think that rock right there was where I bent in to drink."

I took a few tubes of water and sealed them up. Then I took some dirt from the bottom of the river and sealed it up. Finally, I took a few plants from around the bank. We turned to go, but Nora caught my arm and said, "Dahlia, wait a minute. I want to drink some of the water."

"But it's not clean, Nora. It's not good for you," I argued, already knowing what direction this conversation was going to take.

"I don't care. I'm a dead girl walking anyway. And it made me feel better last time. If there's a chance it'll do the same thing again, I have to try. Please, let me try to feel better," She begged me, her sunken eyes wide and desperate.

"But it could ruin the experiments, it could ruin your blood sample..." I argued weakly.

"But what if the treatment is repeated exposure, like chemo therapy. Please, Dahlia, I can't stand feeling this way. You have to let me try." I could see the tears welling up in her eyes, and for a moment I thought of Belle. My whole body was overcome with this shaking heat, I took a sharp breath in, it hurt. I couldn't say no. Not now. Not after everything. I didn't want her to die. I didn't know what the right answer was, but she had a point. The things obviously helped once; Nora was still alive, albeit barely, she was still standing in front of me, begging to drink dirty water. I couldn't say no, not while I could see Belle's eyes looking at me through Nora's face, not while I was thinking of someone I just lost, who I would give anything back. I needed to stop this train of thought before mom and Drake and my aunt and everyone I ever loved, and every friend, and all that sadness and grief and regret came back to kill me.

"Okay," was all I could get out before the tidal wave began to escape through my eyes. I was so worried for Nora, so sad and angry about everyone I've lost, so tired and done with it all. But Nora needed me to at least get her to a safe place with Sylvan. She needed doctors. After I took care of her, I could take care of me. In this day and age, death was easy to come by, weapons, illness, it didn't really matter at this point. I was just so tired of everything, so tired of wearing a brave face and standing alone to challenge reality. I had a mission, and when that was finished, I would be free to find relief. Just get through another day. So we made it back to the jeep and started driving in silence as the tears poured down my face.


((Out of Character Post--SORRY!))

Hi guys, Alex here, how's everyone doing today???

I just wanted to say hello, and welcome! And explain a little bit about the blog, since I've got so many new people visiting this week!

So this blog works like a tv-show (that's how I explain it in my head) where every time I update, I build on what's already been happening. Now, I try to make it so that you can sort of pick up anywhere along the way and still enjoy what's going on, but to keep everything from being unbearably redundant, if you start in the middle you'll miss a lot along the way.

If I could change the way that blogger arranges the posts, I would make the oldest ones appear first on the home page, but alas, either you can't or I'm not savvy enough to do that!

SO, instead of it being easy, you can either move around using these dates on the right of the screen
Starting at the bottom and working your way up...

You can use the "show older posts" button on the bottom, again going all the way to the bottom and working your way up

OR you can visit the facebook page which is linked at the top of the page and every few weeks I like to post them in an order where the first post is at the top of the feed and you can catch up that way. The link is www.facebook.com/theundeadjournals, and it's linked up top.

So welcome to the story! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Alex (the author)



I need to get out of this place I've been staying. Belle is dead, and my patient, Nora, is in bad shape. I need to get her to a real hospital, with real medicine, if there's any hope that we can harness the information that she's producing with the bdelloids. If there's any hope that we can save her. Tell me where you are, and I will find a way to get there.

After my conversation with Bea, I went home to find Nora on the floor, convulsing. This was nothing new, PTA tries to overtake your spinal chord and nervous system on its way to your brain, and since her experience was basically PTA in slow motion, she had been prone to spasms and full blown seizures at this point. Her existence was misery, and we both knew it, but she was determined to survive, and I was determined to find a way to make that happen. By the time I had geared up to go in her small, ventilated living space, the violence had ended. There she lay, in a crumpled heap, her eyes barely open. Exhaustion. I knelt in front of her and placed my gloved hand on her shoulder. She smiled, weakly. I knew it was not enough, a gloved, impersonal hand groping her bare arm, but for that moment, it sufficed to keep her trying. I gave a sympathetic smile and moved to put my hands under her thin arms and lift er up and onto the small, ugly couch that I had found at the dump, which she now used for a bed. I sat her down, and took my place beside her. We must have been a sight to see--if there had been anyone around to see us. A fully dressed, suited HVAC monster, complete with welders' gloves and breathing apparatus, aside a tiny, shriveled, black and blue wisp of a thing, nearly all her hair fallen out and her eyes sunken in... the epitome of juxtaposition.
I rested my arms on my thighs and said, "You're getting worse."
"Every day," she joked between whistling breaths, "What else is new?" she rested her head on my shoulder and let her eyelids drift shut.
"How did you manage to get both? The bdelloids and PTA I mean. What happened? Where did you come from?"
"I don't want to talk about it," She answered with a little more spunk in her weak voice, "I told you that already."
"YEah, I know. But sometimes you have to talk about things you don't want to. I need to know how you got those things inside you, so I can find them and run some tests. Outside your body. Outside the culture that's been created in you. Because who knows..." I couldn't finish the thought.
"How long it'll last? Yeah, I know. You don't have to remind me. And if it gets to that point, I'll tell you." She broke into a short raspy cough before setting her jaw and furrowing her brow. She looked like a pissed off skeleton.
"Well, we're at that point, Nora. Your seizures are getting more common, more violent. You're so malnourished, you look like you could break in half. And your blood is so thin that I don't want to draw it for fear that you'll bleed out. No matter what I do, your body just isn't working, Nora. We're down to the wire here.
"Nora, you have to tell me. Soon. I'm begging. I don't think I can save you, I'm trying, god I'm trying. But I don't think there's much time left. But, if I could get ahold of some bdelloids, raw, I could use what I've learned from you to help other people. Maybe if I could find them soon enough, I could use them to help you! I don't know, but I'll never know if you don't help me!"
As I spoke, Nora pulled away and watched my face as I spoke. I couldn't make eye contact, as the tears were welling and threatening to force themselves down my face with every word. But I could see her expression go from angry, stern, accusing, and offended, to scared, alone, confused, and hopeless. By the end, she was looking at her feet, tears rolling, apparently defeated, deflated, and ready to talk.
"My dad. My dad gave me PTA. Well, he let me get it anyways. He made me sleep in the basement. See, he's really religious, but I'm not. And he thought that the disease was, like, in a way, god's punishment for all the evil that people like me let into the world. Like another flood. Only that god can't do another flood because he promised, but now he's killing all the sinners with little monsters in their brains. That's what he said when the news broke.
"I argued with him, and he pushed me in the basement. He said it was because he loved me, but he couldn't associate with me in 'times like these', and he said that to save me from the illness, he had to show god that he could punish me and help me get right.
"So I lived down therefor several years, and my mother threw table scraps whenever she could, when he wasn't paying attention. And he would stand up at the top of the steps and yell down sermons and scriptures, and he would pray. And sometimes, he'd just stand up there and weep.
"Then, my mother died. She got sick, and she died. And he threw her body down at me, screaming about how I'd helped bring this disease into the world, into his home, and how I had killed his wife, how I killed my moma because my sins had been cast onto her. That god had punished her for raising up a daughter that wasn't right with god. He said that I might as well have did it with my own hands.
"Of course, being that close to her is where I probably got the PTA from. I mean, she was still warm from first death, and wet with the blood from the shotgun that kept her that way. Her blood got all over me..." Nora started to shiver a little, with a distant look in her eyes. I put my gloved hand on her knee to comfort her. She continued on.
"Anyways. I started to get sick then. It was just a sniffle, but I knew what was happening. My mother was decomposing right beside my bed, I knew what was next. I didn't have much time left.
"A couple nights later, my dad got really pissed off at the world. He wasn't seeing straight. He came downstairs, didn't even stop at the top like normal. He came all the way downstairs and just stared at me for like ten minutes. He was crying, but he was mad. Then he started to mumble to himself, and I couldn't understand what he was saying. Then he yelled, "ANSWERMEDAMMIT!" so loud that it scared me. So I said, 'I can't understand what you said? What did you say?' and he asked, really quiet this time, really creepy-calm, 'Are you a child of god or of satan?'And I said..."
Nora choked, coughed hard for several moments, took a breath and swallowed hard. She looked guilty, sorry, ashamed. Her face looked dark and horrified, like I'd never seen her look. I put my hand on hers and nodded for her to continue.
"And I said, 'Neither, Daddy,' I said, 'I'm your kid. I always have been, and I always will be till the day we're both dead. There is no god, and that's why the world is like the way it is, and that's why I have to live in a basement with my dead mom's carcass, even though I never did jack shit! And that's why you're like the way you are, because HE ISN'T REAL!' and he just... he lost his shit, Dahlia, he started screaming with no words, and he attacked me. That's how I got that gash on my leg. He pulled a beam straight off the railing for the stairs, and he hit me with it, hard.
"Somehow, I managed to get behind him and I ran up the steps and I slammed the door and I locked it. And he was hitting it and slamming against it, and I knew he'd knock it down, so I ran out of the house, and I locked everything up. And I knew if I kept still eventually he'd get out and come find me, and who knows what would happen then.
"I kept running til I couldn't run anymore. And nothing looked the same as it did before the basement, Dahlia, everything was all run down, and there were no people anywhere. There was no food anywhere, no water.
"So when I got to the point I couldn't run or walk anymore, I sat down, and I tried to think of what I could do. I was really thirsty, and I had run into this little forest, so I rested til I could walk again. So I started walking again and I found this little pond. I mean, it looked little, but I got in and it was real deep. One of those places that probably doesn't even dry out during drought because there's an underground well or something. Anyways, I drank water from there, and I slept there that night, because I was sure I was getting ready to die. I had PTA for a week by then, there was no way I wouldn't be undead by morning. I just hoped a bear or something would find me and eat me first. But I woke up the next morning, and I was wondering if I was undead yet, but I was really thirsty still, so I drank more water from that pond. By a couple days later, I was pretty well convinced I wasn't undead, because I was hungry and thirsty and I was still sleeping at night, so I ate some roots and wild onions, I didn't think about how they might be infected from being around open water, but what did it matter anyways? I was already infected. And I had drank that water. The worst that would happen was I died, which I was ready for anyways. But I didn't. And a little while later, I actually felt good. Like, the cough went away and everything.
"I walked and I walked, until I got so tired, and so hungry, and I had no idea where I was, and the cough was coming back, and I was just so hungry, so I stopped walking. I went to sleep in this pile of rubbish, and I waited to just die already. That's about the time you came around."



I keep dreaming of Belle, of my mom, of Imena, of John... It's all so crazy. My gramma knows a woman who used to be a shrink, so I went to see her the other day, hoping she could tell me why I was dreaming of these things.
"Hi there, Dahlia, your gramma told me that you needed someone to talk to... for a second opinion. I'm Bea, would you like some coffee?" She's a short woman, with red hair and a friendly old face. She's probably about the same age my mom would be. She brings me into her little apartment and sits me down on a big, squishy, old leather couch. It's black. To the right is a big red armchair with only a few tears in the arms. There's a black ottoman between us, and a window looking out over the old main street. On the walls are photographs in frames, of a much younger version of Bea, more like my age, with a baby boy and a man about John's current age. In one, they're at the beach, in another there's snow everywhere, the boy is a bit older there, and they're all in big puffy jackets and hats. There are paintings as well, most of them in warm colors, red, orange, purple. A little yellow flecks here and there about the room, but the overall feel is calm and warm.
As I'm taking everything in, I hear her preparing the coffee in the next room over. "Sugar, hon?" She calls. Her voice is kind of soft and light, very kind and calm.
"Yes, ma'am, but just a little." I watch as she glides back in the room, slippers, loose slacks and billowy blouse. She reminds me of a friend of my mothers' from way back when, "Yogi" she was called.
She gingerly places the tray of mugs down on the ottoman between us, kicks off her slippers, and curls up with her mug, little tendrils of steam hugging her face. I lift up my cup and take a sip. It's bitter, a little gritty, but very warm. The smell of coffee, as always, makes me feel relaxed and open.
After a moment or two, Bea smiles at me, and places her mug back on the tray. She tucks her knees over to her left, and begins speaking in a way that is at once comforting and in control.
"Well, like I said, my name's Bea. Before PTA, I was a therapist, and now I help in the gardens with things like watering and gathering and that sort of thing. I live here alone, and I've lived here for very, very long. I love to talk to people, and in my spare time, I counsel people who still need it. I very much enjoy meeting new people, and even more, I enjoy helping the people I meet. Most people who come to me in this capacity, though, are going through difficult times in their lives. I can give advice, or I can just listen, whichever the speaker needs. So, Dahlia, tell me about yourself?"
Throughout the speech, I watched her eyes and listened to her voice. She had this way about her, this love that emanated out of her, I felt at ease.
"Bea, I've been having dreams about my... family. I don't know if you can give me advice about it, but I need an objective opinion. I really want to trust you, but some things about my story... I can't tell you without risking a lot--on both our parts. So, I guess I'll just tell you what I dreamed about about."
Bea wasn't smiling anymore; she had a concerned, but encouraging frown along her brow, and nodded for me to continue. It seemed like she was listening intently, so I went on to tell her what I had dreamed about that night.
"Well, the first thing I remember, I was in this prison. I knew everyone there, but at the same time, I didn't. I felt like I couldn't trust them, but I wanted them to trust me. I remember, though, that Belle was there. You don't know who Belle is. Belle was this girl... I lived with her for a long time. We were like sisters, I guess. She was a lot younger than me. She could have been my daughter, biologically. But anyways, she was there. And her girlfriend, Imena, she was there. See, before we moved here, Belle and Imena were very close, and you hardly ever saw them apart. They were lovely. Imena was there, and in the dream, she and Belle were together, and they were bunked together. Well, something bad happened, so we had to run away from the prison. I can't really remember, but we ran away in the night, me and Belle and Imena. And we ran a very long way through a forest, and then we came to this little town, where my mother was still alive.
In reality, my mother died a few weeks before PTA officially broke, and in this dream, she was living in this little po-dunk town. She was a waitress. We found her, and we stole her away in the night to run with us. We went all over, the four of us, until we got to this city, and we stayed in a hotel. I don't think PTA was a thing in this dream, because while we were staying there, there were no checkups to get in, there was no viral security, and we weren't even worried about breathing unprocessed air without worms or pills.
Well, so we check into this hotel, and John, who in reality is my ex, is there. And the hotel has three separate rooms, one for Belle and Imena, one for mom, and one for me and John. Well, I was visiting with my mom, just shooting the breeze, when she hands me this pregnancy test. You know, like the old fashioned kind that you peed on and it would tell you if you were pregnant? I've never used one, but my brother had had a girlfriend when I was a kid, and Mom had bought them a few, 'just in case', and I had seen them. Anyway, she hands me one and says, 'you need to check.' So I go in the bathroom and do it, and it says I'm pregnant.
"So I go back in the room, and I give it to John, and he just looks at me, and says 'get out.' and I ask him why, and he just gets angry and starts throwing things, so I grabbed Belle and yanked her away from Imena, and my mother runs after us.
"As we're running out of the lobby, there are these three dogs made of stone, and they're all lined up against a wall facing the wall. Belle starts to freak out, and Mom just yanks us down the hallway. The dogs are following us, every time we look away. We're all afraid, and we're running, but the lobby is turning into this crazy labyrinth, and we just can't figure out how to get away. So Mom just picks Belle up like a baby, and throws her to the dogs. I scream and try to run after her, but Mom won't let me, she just drags me away, and we're suddenly on the steps, and Belle is being ripped to pieces, and Mom just stands there, with her arms wrapped around me so tight I can barely breathe, and makes me watch. And then I woke up."

Bea took a moment to gather her thoughts, before asking, "How did your mother die?"
"She... She killed herself," I didn't want to say it, but what else was there to say?
"Are you afraid of turning into your mother? Do you ever think about it, like wondering if you're similar to her in different ways?"
"All the time. Just about every decision I've ever made has been influenced by her in one way or another. I try to stay busy so I don't have to think about it, but here... without Belle... There's just no way to avoid it."
"Where did you live with Belle before?"
"On a military sanctuary in Pennsylvania."
"And you decided to come here... because someone was chasing you?"
"Yeah, John. I... crossed him. Belle and I decided that it would be best to just get out."
"But why here? Why to this town? Was it to see your grandmother?"
"I guess. I wanted to know if she was still alive. I wanted to know what she was like now. What mom might have been like."
"Dahlia, what happened to Belle?"
"She... died...."
"How, Dahlia?"
"I... It was my fault, really... I should have known to be more careful... I should have checked.... I don't know, it happened so fast... She got... shot. By a rifle. It was an accident. A misfire...." I started sobbing uncontrollably, and the coffee mug that I had been clenching so tightly rolled to the shaggy gray carpet, spilling rich black liquid along the fibers, which quickly sucked up the moisture into a big, dark stain.
"Dahlia," Bea pleaded as she moved to the couch beside me and pulled me into her arms. She was such a tiny thing, but she rocked me and cradled me as if I were the small one. "Dahlia, it's all right. What's done is done, and can't be taken back. But you're still here. You're still alive. Belle and your mother are gone, but you have to keep continuing on. You've got to figure out why you're still here? You've got to come up with a reason, even if it's temporarily constructed, for being here? What's your purpose? You seem to be afraid of motherhood, but you took Belle in, did you not? You're capable of good, just like your mother was. Just because she made a poor decision, doesn't make her evil. Everyone makes mistakes. Some of our mistakes are a little more... consequential. It's unfortunate that you've had to survive so much death, but then, everyone who is alive today lives alongside death, battles it, constantly. You've got to find a way to make it mean something, Dahlia. You've learned from your mother's mistakes, and from your own, yes?" I nod, feeling an epiphany coming on. "Yes, you have. And I know you can find a way to make your time here count. And in the meantime, I'm here if you need to talk. I swear on my life that I won't share any of your secrets, and I won't judge you for any of it. The way I make my survival count, Dahlia, is by helping other people, and when that means that I must be silent, I am silent. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah, it does." I answer, gaining composure.
"So, Dahlia, how do you think you'll make your time count? Have you ever given any thought to that?"
"I used to know what I was meant for, I was born to research and help find a cure for PTA. But they don't need me there, anymore. Bea, this is a part of what you can never breath a word about okay? Please, swear you won't ever talk about this, you won't ever think about this, after I say it? But I have to say it out loud. I can't keep it in anymore. Please swear, on something that matters."
"I swear on my husband's soul, I will not tell anyone what you tell me in confidence."
"They've found the cure for PTA. I can't tell you what it is, but they know how to do it. And my purpose, since you asked, is to find a way to keep them from using it."
"But why, Dahlia, why would you want to stop something so important, so amazing, like the end of all this suffering?"
"Because, Bea, whoever has this technology, and the willingness to use it, could and will rule the world, by use of threats, and torture, and favoritism, and death. And I would rather see our world continue to work together to find the right cure than fall apart using the immediate one."



I understand your concern. But I believe I can trust you, and I know you can trust me. So, here's what I know:
The government is hiding something, I'm not sure what, but it has something to do with PTA. I think that someone has found something that may be dangerous. Perhaps they've found the source? Or maybe it's a way to create a weapon? I'm not sure, but it can't be good. I know that there are about 45 individuals who are working with full knowledge, give or take, and I know that their assistants and colleagues are completely in the dark. You are the only person outside of the loop who even knows that there is something to know--besides myself. I am not in the loop officially, and as far as anyone with any power is concerned, I have no idea that there is even a secret.
I was getting concerned about a conspiracy when I tried to contact a long-time friend of mine, who told me he was going to be busy about a week before you disappeared. I wanted to set up a meeting with him to reunite, just check in on each other, and he had never been one to avoid me before. When I asked him what he would be busy with, he evaded the question. Then, a week later, I hear that a young biologist has uprooted herself and her daughter and vanished without a trace--and stole a gun and jeep from her base. When the official word got out, it came in the form of a warrant for your arrest. When I saw the name on the release, I almost couldn't believe it. I've seen your input in different conferences, and spoken with people who have worked closely with you, and it didn't seem to add up. So I got in contact with your immediate supervisor, who told me that she was confident that you were okay, but that she had no idea where you were or what happened to you.
Among those signs were other, more abstract indicators that I won't go into detail about at the moment. However, I figured if anyone would tell me what I wanted to know, it would be someone who was off the grid. And I figured that there was little chance of coincidence that people would start acting strangely right before you disappeared with a mark on your head. (Figuratively, of course--they want you arrested, not dead).
I didn't know how to contact you, though. So I just started praying that God would take care of you, and would help our paths to cross. I know that you won't see it as divine intervention, but Dahlia, I am thankful that the lord provided this path for us to converge on. I'm glad that I had something that could help you, and I'm glad that my reputation was positive enough for you to seek me out when you needed a friend.
This is all I know, and I hope that it inspires you to find trust in me. Now, here is what I am asking of you:
I would like to know what the secret is. Or, at the very least, the possible political implications of the secret breaking the public. I don't want to break the secret outright, I just want to know why it is so important to keep it secret, that way I can, in good conscious, continue to not spill the fact that there is a conspiracy of some sort going on right now. And I would like to use my connections and influence to help the public and my friends prepare for the inevitable day when this secret becomes public. So please, share with me what made you so afraid that you fled, and tell me why you don't share your knowledge with the world.
I know why you may not want to share with me: I have power. I have influence. I have contacts. If I knew where you were or what you knew, there's always the chance that I could betray you and capture you. But you have the power of anonymity right now. You could tell the public, but you've chosen to stay silent. Why?



Thank you for your help. It's been a few weeks now, and while her condition is not improving, she has not died yet, which is, as you know, a miracle considering she's been infested with PTA for so long. I'm taking every precaution with her so I don't communicate the disease outside of her living quarters. I won't gross you out with all the gory details of our current living situation, but it's not pleasant.
As to your questions of my current political standing: You may have known that I was involved with John Smith for a while. And you may know that his name is one that is involved in the current rumors circulating the upper crust of scientists and politicians. Well, he got me involved in a way that I wasn't prepared for--or willing to participate in. Essentially, my only two options were to work for free or get out. I chose to leave. I had no way of knowing that things would get so out of hand that I would literally be on the run. My original plan was to leave for a few months, a year at the most, until everything blew over or John moved somewhere new. I had every intention of continuing my work in the future, but as you can see, that is proving very difficult.
I don't want to get you involved in the way that I am involved with the secrets of the state right now. If I had the choice, I would prefer to be in the dark right now. Many things have changed, and I am sorely unhappy with the result of my life choices. So, until I know exactly how well-trusted you are within the scientific community (ie, how much do you know on your own???) I will regretfully not be able to share any information that  I have gathered from within the government with you. I'm sure that you'll understand. And I recognize that this is a sort of catch-22, considering that I don't know how much you know and you don't know how much I know, so neither of us can, in good conscious, share with one another any important information without a great amount of trust and treason. I'm already in enough trouble for what I may-or-may-not know, so I can't be certain that anyone not currently working at my side isn't trying to peel a confession out of me, which is not going to happen any time soon.
So, Sylvan, that leaves us with only one option if we're going to be discussing anything confidential: You're going to have to tell me what you know first, or else this communication is going to have to cease immediately, for my safety and your own.
Thank you for your support and your help with identifying the creature in my patient. I hope that we can work out an agreement, if not, then it's been a pleasure corresponding with you,
Dahlia Lynz



To: D.Linz@scientist.com
From: S.C.Watts@theorist.com

You did the right thing coming to me about this. I had one of my friends look at that image you sent, it appears to be a bdelloid, a microscopic organism found in some freshwater. If your patients have these in their systems, they must have ingested unfiltered water at some point. That's probably how they contracted PTA, as well. What must have happened is this: your patient had to drink from a lake or pond, where she contracted PTA and simultaneously ingested the fish. Both creatures met up in her stomach after ingestion. The way this fish mutates is by absorbing DNA from its food (in this case PTA) and that's how it got to be as aggressive as it was when you found it. Usually these fish are very passive. They live to live, essentially, by only eating creatures smaller than themselves. By the time you found one, it must have been several generations old, since the originals you've described are aggressive already. They are able to reproduce like worms, when they're split instead of one end dying, they just become two animals. I imagine that at some point, the PTA in your patient's system started fighting the worms and that's how they've adapted so quickly.
If only we had any idea what an average generation is for a bdelloid, but unfortunately we don't know how long they live without interference of humans, we don't know how long they live before being able to reproduce this way, so we have no idea how long they've been dwelling in your patient.

I hope this helps. Also, I'd like to keep contact with you, Dahlia. I want to know what you find with these creatures. If this could have even the slightest possibility of leading to a cure... We have to know. I assume that your excommunication has something to do with recent murmurs on the part of the government, right? I can't tell you anything before I know what's going on with you. So maybe you could give me some explanation as to why you're on the run? I want to help you, Dahlia. I don't think you're a bad person. I don't think you've done anything bad--at least not on purpose or by choice. Let me help you, please. I will delete these messages as soon as this is sent, and I'm going to give you my encrypted address in an attatchment so you can send me messages without fear of detection. I'll be praying for you and your patient, Dahlia. Best of luck to you.




Email to Sylvan Watts

To: S.C.Watts@theorist.com
From: D.Linz@scientist.com
Dr. Watts,
You and I have spoken before. You have probably heard my name a few times lately, since one John Smith is trying to find me for so-called-treason. Please, before you report me, let me say that I am innocent. I will explain to you if you like, but at the moment, you're the only person I feel will be trustworthy in my situation.
Please, hear me out. I've found something strange in Eastern USA that I was hoping you could get some answers to. Obviously, due to my current political situation, I can't reach out to the scientific community like I would prefer, but this is urgent, and you know people. Good, honest people. That's what I need right now.

So, the point. I've found two subjects who are suffering from PTA in a manner in which we've not previously dealt. In their blood, obviously, is the parasite, however, there is something strange going on. Instead of the usual time table of death and reanimation, they suffer through the stages of decomposition very, very slowly. Upon blood analysis, I found one thing in common between the two subjects. These creatures:

A microscopic organism that eats DNA instead of having sex

I don't know what they are, but I've never seen anything like them. I can't kill them. I tried freezing them, dehydrating them, heating them up, microwaving them, dissecting them... to no avail. Nothing. Kills. Them.

BUT. It appears that they are doing something to the subjects' PTA parasites. They're only a hair larger than the parasites, but when put together, it seems as though they're eating the PTA. They move and attach like a leech, and by the time they're finished, the parasite is nothing but a husk, a shriveled husk. These could very well be a cure, however, after they're done with the PTA, they start to move on to any other organic material around them. Before introduction to PTA, they seem harmless to anything larger than their mouths. However, after they ingest the parasite, they become aggressive and start to chew on anything, and the symptoms are similar to that of PTA, but much more drawn out. They don't try to assimilate the tissue at first, they just eat it.

Please, help me, Dr. Watts. One of these subjects is a girl, about my age, and she's scared. I don't know what to tell her. I don't know how to help her. Please, help us.

Dahlia Linz


Dr. Linz

So, I met someone yesterday. Her name is Nora. She's two years younger than me. We met in the market. I saw her walking into the building as I was walking out. We made eye contact for a split second, and I got a chill down my neck. So I hung around outside and waited for her to come out, made myself totally visible, and waited to see if she introduced herself. She did.

"I saw you walking out. And. I don't know, I felt like I needed to say 'hi', so... Hi." She seemed to be having trouble making eye contact and kept rubbing the corner of her shirt in her hand.
"Hi. I'm Dahlia," I answered, "How are you?"
"Dahlia... I'm Nora. I'm okay. I just got here, I've been walking a while. Is there anywhere I can meet with a doctor?" She looked tired. Her hair was dirty, dusty, a little matted in places. Her skin was loose and she was rail thin.  She looked like she was starving.
"Nora, where did you come from? And what kind of doctor do you need exactly? You've got a worm, right?" I took a little step back, just in case.
"Worm? Yeah. It's still working, but it needs cleaned. I came from... I don't know. I came from my dad's house. I got out and ran and ran... I need someone to look at my leg. I fell when I was running, and I cut it. It hasn't healed yet. I'm getting worried. Is there a doctor anywhere?" She swayed a little and I worried that she might be about to faint.
"Honey, I'm a doctor. I can help you. Let me take you back to my place and I'll see what I can do about your worm and your leg. I can't touch you til we get there and I get you decontaminated, though. Just in case. Will you be able to walk about half a mile?"
"Yes, I can, I think."

I led her up to the house. Took her around back as quickly and quietly as possible so Gramma wouldn't see her. I gave her a clean outfit and we used the hose and alcohol soap to disinfect her before she got dressed. Afterwards, I looked at her leg. It wasn't healing. That was for sure. It also wasn't bleeding, though. I have never seen anything like it. I did some more basic tests, checked for little things like fever and brain damage and such. Basically gave her a little checkup. When we tried to test her eyesight, though, I found out that she can't read.
"Daddy never let me go to school. He was scared I'd get sick," She apologized when she couldn't name any letters I wrote and held up at the other side of the room.
"Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal right now. We can worry about that later," I said as I sat on the chair in front of the couch she was sitting on.
"So, I'm going to be okay, right?" She looked worried, although she seemed less dizzy now that she had some food and water in her.
"Well, I don't know what's wrong with your leg. It's not healing, it's still as raw as if you had just cut it today. You said you did it a few days ago, so it should either be oozing some white stuff, starting to mend itself into a scar or else it should be bloody and painful from being reopened. It's doing neither. It's like it's dead. You can feel it, right?" I asked.
"Yeah, it hurts. And, this will sound weird, but it's bigger than it was when it happened. It was just from here to here," she pointed from the middle of the abrasion down an inch. "Now it's almost three times as big. I've been very careful with it. Haven't touched it. But after the first day, it stopped bleeding and started to just hurt, deep into my flesh. Down to the bone. And now it just aches all the time."
"Well, I'm going to draw a little blood, and I'm going to look at it under a microscope and see if I can find anything that might help us figure this out. Is that okay?" I stood and walked to the sink and started washing my hands.
"Yeah, whatever you have to do," She said with a sigh.
I used some rubbing alcohol and a rubber tube and pulled out a little blood from the inside of her elbow. It wasn't easy, as the blood didn't seem to want to come out. It dripped very slowly down the tube. When I finally pulled the needle out, there was a little red dot where it had been. There wasn't even the usual bead of blood that comes out of the most anemic patient.
"Okay," I said. "Let's get you set up and ready for bed. I'll work on this blood in the morning."

I smiled as I left the building to find some blankets and pillows. She had mentioned during our walk to the house that she enjoyed drawing, so I dug around and found some old crayons and blank paper and asked her if she could draw me a picture if she got bored. She said she would.

Anyways, I just woke up, so I need to go out there and check on her and start working on her bloodwork. I think I'm going to make some biscuits for everyone's breakfast.


[Non story related post]

Have you ever had any questions you wanted to ask Dahlia? Want to interact with the blog via suggestions or just shooting the breeze with Dahlia? Now you can! You can send her a personal email at


Your email is never shared with 3rd parties, never spammed, and never charged. Go ahead, make a friend. She's pretty lonely out there in St. Albans!

Define "mistake"...

I have been here for two months now. The thing about having time on your hands and no real way to spend it is you get ideas. I got one about a month ago to use my current job pulling weeds as a doorway to my true calling-researching the monster that destroyed my world: PTA. So, I've been collecting pieces and trading extra food at the market for special requests. I traded my green beans for a child's science kit from Mr. Toren, which was only missing a petri dish and a couple slides (which I easily replaced with screens from old cell phones I've been collecting.)

I found an unused file cabinet and some plexiglass windshields from a dump a few miles away. Along with other various supplies. I've been going down there once a week. It's quite an experience. I got the directions from Gramma, and I take the jeep. It's just a huge lumber yard, full of stuff. Trash, furniture, tools... Some things are whole, most things are broken or damaged. I walk through with a large tote and the second time I came out here, I actually found a dolly that works pretty well. So I use that for big stuff. It's strange walking around that place. Just random stuff piled around. Out of use. Probably most of the original owners are dead.

Yesterday when I went, I got to the center and as I lifted a beam to inspect an electric cooler underneath, a dead body rolled out at my feet. It was a young woman, her hair was gone and she was wearing nothing but torn white underpants and bra. Her skin was so thin that in some places it was translucent. I could see her rib-bones peeking out of her skinny chest. Her eyes were stuck open. Green. Dead.

I didn't really know what to do at first. It didn't really look like PTA, at least not the way I'd ever seen it. It's possible that she had contracted a slight version, different from what happens in large cities, and had simply starved before PTA could take her. Either way, I didn't want to touch her with my bear hands. So I got in the jeep and pulled on my respirator and gloves, and wandered til I found a tarp that had only a couple small holes, and was large enough to wrap around her several times.

I know, bringing her into town was stupid. Bringing her this close to my grandmother and myself was idiotic. Keeping her in the makeshift lab I've constructed is insane. But I don't know what came over me. And now she's here, and I don't want to get rid of her. I did a biopsy, and according to the patterns of erosion on her brain, she seems to have been infected, but I think the parasite was in a severe state of lethargy, because there are big patches where it dug in instead of around. Like it got stuck, or tired, and just sat there and ate until it got energy enough to move again. I've never seen or heard of anything like this before. This could be my chance to make myself safe from the government! If I can decode this new strain before it becomes another pandemic, it would make me infamous. They wouldn't dare to touch me if I were that kind of hero. And there's the chance that this strain can be cannibalized into something that actually destroys the parasite. What if this is the answer? I could pretend like I never knew about the whole brain thing at all! That I left the base to study this strain, to find a cure, like I never even knew about any of this at all! I could say I wanted a change of scenery.

So I can't return her body. I can't dispose of it. Of course, if Gramma knew what I was doing.... She would be mortified. Kick me out and burn the lab. I know it. And she probably should. I probably should. But I can't. If this could be the answer to the question I've been asking for so long... If there's even a chance that this could help...

I'll be careful. And I'll pretend like nothing's going on. But I can't just abandon this. It's my responsibility, my duty, my calling, to do anything and everything I am capable of to kill this bug, once and for all, without harming healthy people. And besides, she's dead. Really really undead. The bugs in her head are dead. So there's no threat. As long as nothing unforseen happens, the bugs will stay dead in her head, and everything will be fine.


Culture Shock

Life is horrible. For the first time ever, I feel useless. I can't do any research. I don't have Belle to talk to. I am happy that my grandmother is here, and we do talk a lot and have been catching up. But the days just go on forever, and I feel like I'm in limbo waiting for something to happen.

Don't get me wrong, there are tons of chores to be done every day. This is one of the few places that food is actually grown in the ground. According to my gramma, before the outbreak there wasn't much open land in this town, there were mostly schools and houses. And because of the red clay in the ground, people could garden but it was enough of a hassle that most only used gardening as a hobby, not for sustenance. However, as it turns out, that red clay did end up saving this community. In most of the world, when PTA got into the soil, it would spread to the plants and then to livestock, essentially poisoning everyone who ate local food. (we're fairly positive that's how the outbreak initially started to spread). In the areas where the soil was rich and healthy, the spread was even more rapid. However, wherever the ground was made mostly of clay or rock, the parasite would spread through the local food either very slowly or not at all.

So the little bits of gardens here were expanded, and when houses became empty, they were torn down and plowed by neighbors and volunteers. The locals were finding that they simply couldn't get food from the outside world, so they had to grow their own. Which believe me, is not a simple task in unhealthy soil. But as a community, they took care of each other. Whoever worked was given as much food as they needed, whoever was too old or too young to work was given jobs they could handle, and as long as they did those jobs they got as much food as they needed. My gramma is on the edge of being able to help work. She can't stand or walk for very long anymore, so she only has to do labor one day a week, and it's usually sorting the edible food from the rotten. The rest of the week, she babysits for people who do labor every day. She has one day off a week, and she only comes to the door at dawn to meet the parents and children on the days she babysits. If the kids aren't there within twenty minutes, the parents can't work that day. It's a community rule and everyone abides by it as much as possible. She explained this to me a few days after the accident, and it's why she answered the door with a gun that day...

But we had enough food for me not to work for about a week, then gramma took me to the community meeting on Sunday. We explained the situation to everyone, minus the part about Belle, and after a nurse had checked me out and made sure I was healthy and my worm was working properly, I was given a work schedule. So, from dawn to noon seven days a week, I go to a plot of land (which was once a soccerfield and track, which is why they call it 'The Track') at the bottom of the hill and I pull up weeds. I've always been in pretty decent physical shape, but I never knew muscles could hurt so bad as they did one week into the work. I also apparently get sunburned pretty easily. After noon, I walk back up the hill and over a few blocks to where they store the food, what used to be a high school.

I show an old man behind a counter my time card, which is punched down at The Track by an old fashioned time clock. They do a lot by trust here, but of course if one of my dozen coworkers saw me faking my work hours, I've been warned that they won't be gentle in correcting my laziness. Anyway, I hand my card to that old man, Roger, and he initials it and gives me a bag of food, twenty dollars, and asks if I have any needs. Anybody who needs some help with anything from roofing to childcare to medical attention gets put on a list and gets a ticket number, and someone for a team comes to help you as soon as it's your turn. The wait is usually about two weeks for common chores like broken windows or furniture. Medicine is the one thing that you're not first come first serve. If it's not an emergency, you're given an appointment usually about two or three weeks out. If it is an emergency, and they can't fix it with a bandage or some aspirin, you get put on a list based on priority.

Outside the food storage, there's a sort of market, where good people trade food during the day. For instance, if you're allergic to peanuts, you may trade your peanut butter ration for a few eggs from someone else. Every day, everyone gets the same things as everyone else, and it's up to them to find a trade if they need something different. During the night, however, the trades may be for anything, including drugs and sex. Of course, sex trading is illegal, because it's so easy to spread PTA that way that anyone caught is charged with attempted murder. So that's not really very common, but it does happen. Drugs, however, while technically illegal aren't really governed unless they're being used as a weapon. So there are a lot of those.

There's not much you can do with cash anymore, besides buying gas or guns. So most of the people who are trying to get out of town are the ones who will sell half their food for cash. I don't know if I'm going to leave or not, but who knows? Hopefully I'll find a reason and I don't want to be stuck for months without a way out if that does happen. Better the plan for the unknown.

After noon, I'm basically free to do whatever I want. Even though everyone takes good care of each other like we did back home, there's not a very tight community here. Back home, we all lived in the same few buildings and worked at the same few places. Here, there are about as many people but they're all spread out. Everyone's got a house. Families who didn't have homes before the outbreak eventually overtook the many abandoned homes in the central part of town. Many of the people who did have homes, but found that they were too far away from the center of town to feasibly and safely get there and back for food and supplies ended up moving into town as well. But there are always the hermits, and the people who would rather fend for themselves, and the people who were just too attached to their homes to leave who are still scattered on the outskirts. And since nobody's home is connected to anybody else's like they were back home, nobody sees each other much. Even with the worm, and the slightly cleaner air here, it's still not that safe to be outside. The eight hours we spend working outside every morning, and the fact that there are no decontaminating air locks anywhere are worrisome enough that everyone is mandated to get checked up once a month. Even with properly working worms and the medication everyone has to take, they still require everyone to wear an old coal mining respirator, long sleeves, gloves and long pants if they're going outdoors for more than thirty minutes.

Gramma watches kids til dark, so sometimes I go home and help her, but usually I don't really want to. For some reason, hanging out there with all those children just depresses me. So instead, I usually just put my food away and sneak out the back door and go to the garage. Back there is an old computer with connection to the internet, so I can look around and see what's going on in the science community.

Belle was right about John. There's a warrant out for my arrest for treason. So I can't log in to any of my accounts and see anything private, for fear of the government tracing it back to me. Instead, I just watch what's going on in the news and on public forums. There's not been a breath about what they're really working on. They're doing a really good job keeping the fact that human brains secrete the cure to PTA. I guess they would arrest me if they did find me, just to keep my mouth shut about that. Not that I would tell anyone. I understand the implications, and I don't want my brain to be taken away from me so someone can try to save their loved ones. It's not that I'm selfish, I just don't want to die. And people get PTA every day still, heck, even here there are five adult deaths a year and at least twenty newborns die every year because of PTA. With a population just shy of two thousand, that's a lot. So the government's concern about letting this knowledge slip is legitimate.

I've tried to see if John is even still an active member of the community, but all I can find is that he is the one who provided my photo for the police. Sometimes I worry that someone here in St. Albans will tip off the people looking for me, but most of them aren't too concerned with the news, according to gramma. And the ones that are usually are not big fans of the government that essentially left the community to die. They've got an unwritten law here, as long as you act like us and don't harm us, you're one of us. So that's a comfort. I don't know what the police would do with me if they found me. Lock me up? Force me to help them find a way to replicate a cure? That last one wouldn't be so bad. I wouldn't mind working on it as long as I can put my name on my research. But, who knows, there aren't really any precedents set forth about treason anymore. Would they use me for research? Use me to immunize the politicians and powerful people? I don't really want to find out. So I have to lay low until they decide I'm not worth looking for anymore. In other words, I'm stuck in limbo, without Belle, without any friends, without contact to the people of my field, without anything that has made my life worth living for the last ten years. This place is boring, so much so that sometimes I secretly wish for someone to contract PTA so I can have a cadaver to study. I know, that's terrible, but it's the truth. I feel like I'm losing not only my mind, but my intelligence. This place is purgatory, and I am so homesick I can't sleep.


Today I Mourn

I never realized how much I missed my family until I stood across the doorway from my grandmother. Every fleeting moment of reminiscence I had felt over the last five years rushed me at that moment, every half dream and memory fleshed out in my heart and I felt like I was going to explode right then and there. Thankfully I didn't.

"Gramma, it's me, Dahlia. Your granddaughter..." Were the words I finally got out, while tears were forming in my eyes. I couldn't believe it. I had been so afraid to hope she would be here, and then here she was. Standing right in front of me, touting a rifle in her hand and a disbelieving frown on her brow.

"D... Dahlia...?" Her shoulders slumped and she bit her lips as tears rolled out of her eyes, before dropping the gun to reach out to me.

Suddenly, there was a deafening sound, then nothing but a rinnnggggg and I could hear nothing else for several seconds. It felt like time was moving in slow motion, and every second felt like an hour as I realized what had happened.

The gun had misfired when Gramma had dropped it in shock. When I saw the look on her face, I worried that I had been hit and didn't realize it, but when I realized I was fine... I was too scared to look... I didn't want to know what happened... I... I just can't... I couldn't... I don't want to think about it! I don't want to talk about it, but it's all I can see right now... Belle, lying there, bleeding, crying....It was all in slow motion but it happened so fast, and I tried I really did. I tried everything they taught me in first aide, but it wasn't enough... Her neck.... The artery was.... She died right there in my gramma's living room in my arms...

It was an accident. I know that. But gramma is so distraught. She's just... inconsolable. I am, too. I just... This pain...This pain is so much more than anything I've ever felt before. I try to sleep, but all I can see is Belle's face. I try to think about tother things, but then I just see my brother... I can't do this.

Se was my girl, Belle was like my daughter, my best friend, my sister. She was so young, and she had the potential to do amazing things for the world, for herself. And now, she won't even have a funeral. This god-forsaken town is so scared of their own shadows, they torch the dead, even if they died of natural causes. Or... violence. We buried her in Gramma's back yard. In a fucking garbage bag.

This is just so... just... It's just so wrong... And there's not a damn thing I can do about it. So I'm recording this in her honor. Because maybe someday, someone will find this... Maybe I'll have someone to tell her story to or something. But maybe someday she'll be remembered for the amazing girl she was and the spectacular woman she would have been. And how terrible this accident is.

I hate the fact that the world has come to this: Old women answering their doors with rifles in hand... None of this would have happened if not for this damn virus! It's taken everything from me! They've decoded the stupid thing even, but it's still got a grip on the psyche of the world. Especially since they won't tell the public they're working on a damn cure! It's not the government's fault, though. The wounds on society will never heal, the mistrust, fear, insecurity... The virus has only had a twelve year reign over the world, but in twelve years everything has gone to hell. And I don't think we're ever going to recover. I don't think we'll ever make up the ground we've lost. The world has been emptying for over a decade, and yesterday it completely drained. I don't know what to do... Where to go...Perhaps I'll just stay here for a while...



We finally made it to where my grandmother lived all those years ago. It wasn't easy to find. Luckily I had that book my mother had kept with her phone number and street address. We got as close as I could remember how to get, and we stopped to fuel up. Lucky for us, there was a man, about forty, there who had lived in the same county as my grandmother. He wasn't familiar with that street, and the book didn't list the city or state, but when I told him her old phone number,  his eyes lit up in memory.
"Yes, seven two two, that's probably Saint Albans or Nitro. I don't know anything more specific than that, but it's not that big of a town. If you were there much as a kid, you'll probably remember how to get to her house when you get into town."

He reached under the desk and pulled out a map of the tristate, and used a red pen to mark the highway and circled the exit. "This is St. Albans," he told us. "You can't get to Nitro without swimming anymore, unless you want to go way out of your way. There were more 722's in St. Albans than in Nitro, though, so you're more likely to find that Saint Albans is what you're looking for." He handed over the map with a warm smile.

I looked at the map and saw every few miles what appeared to be little bridges spanning the blue streak marked 'Kanawha River'. "What are these?," I asked, pointing to the one between the highway and the next town, marked 'South Charleston'. "It looks like that would be perfect for going back and forth."

"Well, that bridge is still in the middle of reconstruction. Unfortunately, nobody's working on it right now. They haven't been working on it since the initial breakout on the West side of the river. See, they were rebuilding the Nitro bridge when that happened. They were right smack in the middle of the project. A lot of people who normally commuted from one side to the other for groceries or work or what have you had either found places on their side to get their things done whenever possible, or they had commuted. They tore that bridge down for two years, and people had started to adjust. They still went back and forth a lot, but they'd been separated enough that when one side broke out, they could easily survive staying on their side of the bridge. For three months, nobody on the East side got sick, so all the bridges from down here," he pointed at the interstate bridge, "All the way to here," now he pointed at a bridge halfway down the river, "were put out of use. Anybody who crossed from East to West was stuck there, sick or not, and anybody over there who tried to come over got shot. Eventually, they decided to just screw all and blow the rest of the bridges up like the Nitro bridge. After that, the uninfected on the West Side tried to swim it, but the people on the East Side were so scared, they kept vigil for months with shotguns, and shot anyone trying to cross, zombie or not. The tap ran red and black for a week after the bridges came down. Everybody had to drink bottled water and rain water for weeks. That was six years ago, and the illness crossed the river eventually, but there wasn't really any point building the bridge back up. Everybody who left went up north, like me. There's still people down there, though, and you might even find somebody who knew your granny. People out there are real familial. Until they think they're going to get eat."

Belle and I thanked him, paid for our fuel and got back out on the road. It was only two hours before we got off the interstate, and I started to feel like I had been there before.

We drove down a few streets, and I made turns just wherever I felt like I should. It was a strange kind of spatial memory guiding me, something I didn't feel entirely in control of. It was like a dream, and I made a few wrong turns here or there. I would go down a dead end road sometimes, or wind up back where I started a few turns ago, but eventually, we found ourselves on a wide road with no lines, dotted with rusted unused cars, and bordered by wild tangled lawns hugging decayed porches. The place looked old and unwanted, and it looked markedly more gray than when I had last been here, but as we drove slowly, I remembered riding a bike along that sidewalk, and on the left there was the school with the hill we would sled down on Christmas break from school. A few blocks down, and there was the hill we would walk up and down to get ice creams from the Mayberry's on the corner. I turned up the hill, too the first left, and here we were.

The front was in terrible shape. The porch was trying hard to be red and blue, but after six years of disrepair, it looked sad and blue-gray and bloody red. The windows were dirty and cracked with duct tape holding out the weather. Someone was living here, there were shotgun shells glinting out of the uncut grass, and the tree that I remembered shading our games of tag in the summer had taken its rightful place as the king of the yard, but the roots were broken enough that you could fit a car in the driveway. I parked along the street, and we sat in silence for a moment.

"Do you think she still lives here?" Belle asked me.
"I don't know. Possibly? She was a little paranoid, so maybe. She was ready for this, according to my aunt."
"Those shells... in the yard... Do you think?"
"I don't know if she could shoot. She didn't seem like she would when I was a kid, but I was a kid. I wouldn't really know, I guess. She would be seventy by now. It's possible."
"Well, do we go in or what? Somebody's lived here in the last year or so, that driveway is almost clear."
"Yeah. We have to make as much noise as possible, so nobody thinks we're trying to ambush them."

We fooled around with the buttons on the jeep for a minute and found a panic button. The thing blared and flashed and made a fool of itself as we walked openly to the front door. Up the creaky steps, one of which had a hole to the side. Something stank. I took a deep breath, swallowed my heartbeat back into my chest, and opened the screen door. I gave the aging door a few good hard raps, and waited. The windows at the top of the door had been boarded up, and a hole about the size of an eye had been drilled through. A covering on the other side slid away and I saw a green eye with a start of white cataract on the side peep in and out three times before the door flew open and an ancient version of my mother screamed at me, "Anais?!"

"No, gramma Missy, It's Dahlia, Anais' daughter."


Long Roads

There aren't many stops when you drive cross country. Every few hours you'll pass a fueling station, and usually a little community is cropped up nearby. People today treat gasoline the way they treated water in pioneer days, it seems. It's a very rare commodity. With fewer people around to work, and with a focus on PTA prevention, most people are working in that field. A lot of the time, oil miners and refiners are orphaned teenagers, homeless people, the otherwise destitute. It's a very bloody business these days. But it's necessary, so we keep the plants open and running. Of course that means that gas and oil prices are tremendously inflated in order to keep the machinery moving and the people working. Nobody wants to do it for very long, so they have to pay a lot of money to keep workers on. Not to mention the fatality rate of having unskilled workers doing that sort of thing. So right now, gas costs about 13$ per gallon. So Belle is going to have to figure out where we're going, since all the money I had saved up from work was only a couple thousand dollars. It's been two days, and we've already spent about two hundred dollars filling up the jeep twice, plus food and water refills.

Last night, we parked at the top of an old parking garage. It probably was originally used for a mall or a hospital. Now it's just empty except for a few old rusty cars that probably belonged to people who didn't have time to come back for them. Some areas got hit suddenly by the virus, unlike my hometown where it crept in and stole two or three people at a time. We parked in a corner on the top floor, and we stretched and ran laps and just got some space from one another. Belle's never had to drive a car before, so she's been sleeping while we ride, and I've been sleeping when we find a parking space while she keeps lookout and reads my old school books and manuals.

I dreamed about my grandmother last night. We're sitting in the living room of her house. The walls are a light salmon color, and there are nick knacks, pictures, children's drawings and paintings everywhere. She's sitting in a big, brown fluffy couch and I'm on a green armchair catty corner from her. In the middle of the room is a coffee-table sized storage hamper, light color tweed, with a wooden top and leather accents. The top of the hamper is open and she's going through photographs. We're talking about her children, and she starts to talk about my mother. "She was such a sweet baby. I just wish she would have stayed that way. You look so much like she did when she was your age. Except her hair. Her hair was jet black from the day she was born." She pulled out a little envelope of pictures and started flipping through them. She then handed them off to me.

"You see that boy there?" She asked as she pointed out a face in a photo of my mother at age fifteen and some boy about the same age. "That was her last boyfriend before your father. He was a sweet boy, very responsible, but he just couldn't handle her. She really cared for him, you know, but she was going through puberty. That's when her illness really started to..." She trailed off. She always did that when it came to talking about mother's mental health. The whole family did, really. It wasn't something openly discussed. It was something you hid from the world, something shameful. In the dream, as I'm looking at the photo, the figures start to move. They look away from the camera, towards each other. They're talking, but I can't hear them. Mother laughs, she steps out of the frame of the photo and comes back with something in her hand. She shows it to the boy, and he looks at her... strangely. Like he's confused, then angry. Then he walks away and she drops the thing and I can't see it because the photo is only waist up. Then she puts her hands to her face and sobs. Then I wake up.

"Belle," I said groggily as I rose from the backseat. "I need to stop somewhere before we go anywhere..." My eyes were still closed, til Belle responded, "We have some more pressing issues right now, Dahlia."

I opened my eyes and looked out the window. There sat a little girl, eating a live rat, at the opposite corner of the garage. "It's just one little girl, Belle. You've seen this before. It's PTA. She's all the way over there, she doesn't even know we're here, and we're leaving anyway. We're in the jeep, she can't get to us here."

"But Lydia, what if there are more downstairs. It's dark now, and if they've been living on rats and other animals, like that girl there, it's pretty likely that they've trained themselves to come out at night to hunt nocturnal animals. There's a good chance she's not alone."

She had a good point. It was a pretty common occurrence in deserted towns. The Undead don't really work together, but they can be trained after many months or years. As with any natural selection, only the strongest will survive. Somewhere, deep down, a primal sense of fear still survives the bacteria to a point (or maybe the bacteria comes with fear, who knows?) but when the playing field is narrowed down to only alphas, they stop trying to hurt each other unless they have to. At least, that's the theory behind Undead communities. It's still not been studied, because we've never watched a community form, we've only ever stumbled upon them and that's the easiest explanation. However, it happens, though, if that's what this was, we were in trouble.

"Belle, that's a little girl. I really doubt she's an alpha. If there's a community here, and she's a part of it, they're not nocturnal. She would hide while the alphas are around and only come out when they're gone. There's no way she could coexist with them. The worst case scenario, there was a local orphanage and there's going to be a ton of little bodies running around out there, just like her. And we can handle that. So we're going."

We put on our seatbelts and I started the engine. The Z heard it, and turned toward us, I turned on the high beams, which was something she obviously wasn't accustomed to, because she immediately threw her arms over her head to shield her eyes from the light. I sped off toward the exit spiral and we made our way down quickly but carefully.

Upon reaching the bottom, we found that I was mostly right. There were undead children all over the place, as well as other weaker or injured Z's trying to find some fuel. Many of them were eating rats and birds, some were fighting each other, but not many. I supposed that many of them had only survived so long on animals dead from natural causes. All of them, though, left us alone after seeing the bright lights on the jeep. Some of them, obviously afraid of dawn and the alphas that could come with it, started to go back to their hiding places.

"There must be a group of alphas that come out at dawn to feed on the betas who aren't fast enough to hide. That's why we didn't see them when we first got here, it was almost dusk. They don't want to come out until nearly dawn."

It was gruesome. Belle cried a little. I wanted to cry, but I had to keep my eyes on the road. Even when you know what they are, you can't help but hate driving past a seven year old girl, bleeding from her head and arm, missing a finger and an eye. You can't help but your heart break from the sight of a little boy beating another boy to death, and clawing at his face. Even when you know they're already dead, even when you know they can't register these events in their brains, it's human nature to defend children. It's in our genetic code, and so it literally hurts every cell of your being to watch this brutal scene and know you can't do a single damn thing about it.

But we had to get moving. I had to see if my grandmother's house was still there. I had to see if those photos were still there. I needed more than anything a tie to my family right then. It felt like she was trying to contact me, all these dreams about her. I needed to see if my mother had left anything at all that could make these dreams stop.



Meetings have finally adjourned for John. Apparently, the corporates have agreed to let some more people in on the project. So each current member can nominate one more person to help with the research. That means John can pick one person for the board to consider letting in on the project. Obviously, I figured that would be me, since I'm already working on it in secret.
I was under the assumption that I would be John's obvious first choice as representative for his branch. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed when he said, "Oh, I think I'm going to nominate Dr. Thompson." I couldn't help but let my jaw slack for a moment.
"But I figured..."
He wrapped one arm around my shoulder and pulled me in as he said, "Oh, you thought...? I'm so sorry, but I've already brought you in on it anyway. And I figured, the more great minds we can get working on this thing, the sooner we might find a way to replicate the RA."
I tugged away from him, and answered, admittedly with some venom, "Yeah, but I have to keep this secret from everyone. At least you're allowed to say 'I'm working on a top secret project.' I can't even tell Belle that! How long do I have to live this way? And what if I find something? I hate to sound greedy, but I'm not trying to work for free here. If I found something that I'm not even supposed to be looking for, I won't be able to present my findings without getting both of us in trouble. So you would take my work? I don't think so, John."
Then the jerk had the nerve to tell me, "It's either that or you quit working on this project. Forget you ever had anything to do with it. I would prefer to have both you and Nikki Thompson working on this project, but if I had to choose between the two of you, for this work I would choose Nikki. She has a history of dealing with synthetic bio-chemistry, and she is just as bright as you. I need that kind of expertise. I can't let personal feelings get involved in something like this, Dahlia."
I couldn't argue with his logic, Nikki was an obvious choice, and had I been in John's shoes, I would have considered her as well. But as far as emotional logic is concerned, I sure as hell can come up with a good argument. He should never have invited me into this in the first place if he wasn't going to follow through! Needless to say, we no longer speak.

I finally told Belle what was going on, everything from the discovery, to the project, to the fight, and we talked about what might happen next. Belle made one very good point: John has some unknown-to-us levels of power with the people who provide our food, medicine, jobs, and housing. And I just basically called him a piece of crap to his face. He's probably not very happy with us. So, we are packing our things and getting ready for what we see as probably inevitable. Belle's finally going to have to find a career, and I'm probably going to have to find a new field.
I'm sure I'll still be able to do some independent research on this, but I'm satisfied. We know what stops PTA. So my original mission statement has been fulfilled. Obviously, the work isn't finished and refined yet, but they came across this partial answer by total accident. There's no telling how long it'll take to synthesize the stuff without a similar miracle. Either way, we're leaving tomorrow morning. We've collected all the food we can carry, two water filtering bottles, spare oxygen generators for our Worms, and I packed my box of mementos in the bottom of my bag. We've both talked to the people who matter. Belle went and talked to Imena Michaels (Who she finally admitted she is dating. What a relief, I thought they were plotting something). And I told my boss in very vague terms what was happening, "Well, I'm going to have to discontinue my service here. I've made a mistake in trust, and as it turns out the person I've trusted is more powerful than I originally expected. I'm very sorry, but I promise that soon, very soon, you'll be keen to what good has been done and you'll find you don't really need me anymore anyway." She smiled, but I could tell by the dip of the corners of her mouth she was disappointed. "I think I understand, Dahlia. But if you're leaving, you may need some protection." She took me to a storage closet in a hallway I had only crossed a few times during my stay here, and in the back she pulled out a small, black plastic gun. "I don't know how to use that," I said. The only time I'd ever seen one was when the military or body guards used them. I had never held one. I don't even know what kind it is. "It's okay. You just put the bullets in here," She showed me how to load the thing, "You put in six, and then you pull this hammer back and pull the trigger." She pointed to the parts as she explained. "When you're not using it, and this is important, don't forget this, you see this orange bit here? When you're not using it make sure you can fully see that orange bit. When you go to use it, slide this piece to cover it. That's called the safety. If you don't have the orange bit showing, the gun could misfire. No matter where you go, you can get bullets for this, and almost everywhere you'll be able to find someone who can clean it or service it if it needs. Remember, aim for the head. I'm going to give you a box of bullets for this, and every time you stop somewhere, buy a box. You can never have too many."

I thanked her, and hugged her, and pocketed the gun after being double sure the safety was turned on. Belle and I just checked all our things, checked the rooms to make sure we weren't missing anything, and Imena is spending the night, I guess as a final goodbye between her and Belle. I kind of wish John could come over and stay and hug me. But it wouldn't be the same now. Besides, we've already gone too far to turn back now. The wheels are in motion, and we're leaving in the morning. I don't know if I'll ever get to sleep...


Problems always appear in three's

While the thought of a cure for PTA is overwhelmingly awesome, you can't help but worry about the indications this particular cure presents. Not only is the overabundance of this protein in most humans harmful, it's also a very very limited resource, not to mention the fact that it comes from human brains.

I guess that's what John and the rest of the corporates are discussing right now. Do we go public? If not, who do we let in? It's nice that John's letting me in on this stuff (even though he would definitely be in hot soup in anyone found out) but for some reason the fact that he's an executive is sort of bothering me somehow. It's not that I'm jealous of his position, I definitely wouldn't want to have to make the decision he's making right now. I think it's more of a slight destruction of trust between us. He has been charming and social since he arrived, and he is definitely intelligent, but somehow I didn't know just how into the CDC he was. Based on his chosen field of study, I figured he was some kind of latch on, just a guy with a high enough score to get in and get paid, but not actually working for the CDC. A freelancer. And he never really tried to argue my vision of him that way. But now I find out he's actually this powerful leader I've never heard of til now? It makes me wonder what else I could be overlooking about this person I thought I knew.

That's not important right now. What is important is the fact that I have a lot of work to do. And I have to do it relatively quietly. I'm trying to study SA so we can recreate it, grow it, or clone it, in such a way that it will be harmless to humans. But if anyone but John finds out, we'll both be shut down and, as I mentioned before, in a ton of trouble for sharing this information. So that means working only with John. And since he's having his corporate conference about whether or not we even pursue this cause, that means I'm mostly working alone, while he's busy. Needless to say, it's not easy, and it's quite stressful, and honestly, I think we're both feeling a little tense toward each other right now.

Unfortunately, this means that now I've got a secret from Belle, as well. Which I never thought was going to happen, and I really don't enjoy it. I'm trying not to blame John for this fissure between Belle and me, but it is, sort of, his fault for telling me. It feels like Belle's pulling away from me, and every day that she asks me how's work and I have to lie and tell her "nothing new", I'm adding another lie to the pile that is heaping up between us. She doesn't tell me about her friends anymore, even when I ask. She hardly ever brings anyone around the apartment anymore, even when I promise to stay out of the way, most of the time simply opting to go to their place. All I get anymore are names and ages. Most of the names I don't even recognize, but it makes sense that there are teenagers here I don't know. A lot of kids who want to do biology will spend some time as assistants in the labs, so teens pass through different towns a lot. Belle still hasn't decided what she wants to do, and every so often I suggest she work with me in the lab. She usually says she'll think about it, but last night she barely even responded. Probably because I didn't mean it. She could probably tell. She's usually pretty keen like that.

I hope something resolves here soon. I am so ready for a good day.


Tainted Hope

Technically, I work for a subdivision of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Every office in the country reports up to the main office in Atlanta, and based on our findings, every year they write a new set of rules of healthy conduct. Since the Pre-PTA standards of wash your hands and cover your coughs doesn't really hold true for any disease anymore, because a weakened immune system can override the precautions you take against PTA, they've been forced to re-write everything. They're no longer absurdly simplified, and there are nuances so minute as far as what you should and shouldn't do, they write a book every year. The if/then section of that book is so extensive that the manual (and correlating training program) is a college-credited course now, if you don't already work for the CDC. Every year in spring, existing employees participate in these conferences like the one we just finished. They make sure everyone is on the same page, that we're retaining the crucial information. The running joke right now is that the greatest responsibility for us is not spreading helpful information, but to refrain from spreading misinformation. They say a wrong answer can hurt more than no answer when you're dealing with PTA. The result is an organization run on fear of mistakes, fear of being out of the loop, and fear of leaking possible misinformation.

That is why, at the end of this conference, they took into trust only a few key players into confidence and revealed what had been discovered last month. I'm not saying that it should have been publicized, in fact, it's a good thing the man who found it kept his mouth shut til he could talk to his boss, because there would have been a serious fallout, had people listened, and an even more tragic fall out had he been wrong. But as far as all accounts go so far, he's right. One month's worth of research shows improvement, and now the CDC is calling in the experts and they're conducting clinical trials, as secretively as possible, of course.

No, I'm not one of the trusted elite in my business. I don't want to be, because that would require more of myself than I am willing to give to this business. I am dedicated, but I've also grown since I started this job. I love Belle like a sister, and I think I may love John, too. I don't want to give up my time with them, or relocate to another area and risk losing one or both of them. So I do my job, I do it well, and I stay off the charts as much as possible. No, I'm not one of the few who was let in on this secret, but my boyfriend is. Who knew he had any influence? I always figured he was a theoretical origins expert, but it turns out he's also well versed in the study of brain function. He's also very bad at keeping anything from me.

And so, with little prodding on my part, I came to know what's got the CDC so excited and terrified: The difference between the very few immune and the susceptible is the overabundant presence of one protein in their cerebral spinal fluid: Serum Albumin.

At first I thought John said "Albumen" and wondered how we could have missed egg whites, but he corrected me and told me he was actually referring to the protein which keeps the osmotic pressure of bodily tissue in check. In other words, it keeps out unwanted bodily fluids from certain tissues and intravascular compartments. Until now, we've found that too much or too little of this stuff can be harmful, and humans on the whole have quite enough of it to survive. However, there are just a few who live healthily with an amount previously thought harmful, and they see no ill effects. There are two reasons we didn't see this coming sooner. Firstly, it's never before been heard of that someone could have that much Serum Albumin in their systems, circulating with absolutely no effect, until now. Secondly, generally in medicine up til now, SA is not used, but rather we use saline. Saline in normal humans is much safer than SA, and much easier to come by. But we tried Saline. We had completely ruled it out. For whatever reason, SA holds against PTA where everything else in the world does not.

It's reasonable to believe that eventually the human race would have either died out or would have repopulated and evolved without ever figuring out what the difference was in their biology as opposed to their predecessors (us). Luckily for those of us living now, we can now devise a test to find out if we're really immune or not, other than just the old, 98% deadly, exposure method. Unluckily, however, is that you've got to get the SA from somewhere. And, while the bovine type has been attempted and failed, the human type is working splendidly. They've tried it on six patients at a hospital in Atlanta. All six survived. As soon as the patient got sick, they started a drip directly into their brain to help fight off the parasites, and it worked. Within a week, they were all still alive, and by the second week they were starting to regain mobility and were able to think clearly again. The proteins they got for those treatments, however, required donation. This isn't like donating plasma, because as soon as you loose some of your own, you become more susceptible to PTA. We can't synthesize it, and we can't use the generic, cow brand. It's human.

So, the reason the CDC is afraid to release this information should be pretty obvious. While old zombie horror movies are considered distasteful and crude, they do still exist, and there are still people who watch them. It's been several long years of training to teach them that the brain is not the only thing they're after, and that bites are not the only way to contract the disease, and now we have to find a way to retract the previous statement, because as it turns out, brains DO cure the disease (sort of). Not to mention the fact that we presently have no way to distribute SA in a humane way, so would-be scientists who have the technology or can steal the technology to isolate SA could and probably would go into business making, using, and selling cures that may or may not come from the people whose heads they lobbed off.

It's messy, it's frustrating, it's tainted hope, but at least it's hope.