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Authors: Christopher Hoskins

Project Pallid

BOOK: Project Pallid
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PROJECT PALLID

 

This is a work of
fiction. Names characters, places, and events are a product of the author’s
imagination. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or
locales is entirely coincidental.

 
 

Copyright 2012 by Christopher
Hoskins

All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PART I:

FIGHT THE WHITE

May 8
th:
Day 7

 

This
is a root cellar, that turned into a bunker, that became my prison. It’s hard
saying when I’ll be able to climb back up again. Maybe never. I keep waiting
for the time to pass when I no longer hear them searching the floor, but it’s
been seven days already and they just keep coming. The rapid inhales and
exhales of disease-ravaged noses still sniff between cracks of planks overhead.

Can
they smell me?

Do
they know I'm down here?

There's
never more than one at a time anymore, but there used to be. The blood from
above reminds me of that. It collects in pools that swell and stretch, and it
speaks words that my silence can’t.

The
sounds they make now are as identical to each other, as they are different from
the people they used to be. By the fourth day of infection, words turned
indistinguishable, whirling together into metallic, grinding pitches—like
circular saws fighting through sheet metal. I hear them all around me; they
echo through the trees, rattle the windows, and pulsate through the walls of my
sealed-up house. And even though they’re less and less with each passing day,
they’re still there. And as alone as I might feel, I know I’m not. Not
entirely. Not yet.

In
my first days of hiding, ten, twenty, even more, would show up at the same
time—all day, every day. There was always a fight to the death, and only
one would scramble back out. By the third day, there were fewer than a handful
at any given time, but even those numbers only lasted another day or so.

And
now that it’s been almost a week, and even though they’re still out there, I
can’t imagine there’s too many left; it’s been two full days since one last
scurried through our door.

But
she was different than the ones before.

She
was more desperate.

Hungrier.

 

The
soft light that filtered through the wide, overhead planks—blocked out in
parts by the distortion of bodies that continue to accumulate above—told
me it was early morning.

She
came in on all fours, sprung to two feet, and moved back to four before she was
upright again. She covered the entire kitchen in seconds. Her breathing, deep
and deliberate, was clearly targeting me. She was tracking, and I worried she’d
find me down here.

Her
fingernails clawed at the floor.

They
sunk into the boards above, and there was an audible tear of tissue as nails
ripped from her fingertips. A hardened, white one fell through and landed by my
feet, but she … it … whatever they are now … was totally unfazed. There’s no
pain. There’s no feeling left inside them.

She
came closer to finding the door than any of them had before, and that has me
worried the most, now. How long before the need to feed eventually leads one to
finding me? They used to give up easily and move on, but the few that remain
are more committed now. They stay longer. They search harder.

It’s
like I’m becoming one of their final options.

If
it does happen, and if they are able to find the entrance that’s built
seamlessly into our kitchen floor, will they figure out how to get it open?
Will the jam I’ve rigged actually hold? I look to the stairs and to the hunk of
wood, shoved through the iron door handle and across what would be the opening,
and I doubt it.

And
if they do manage to get it open, is a pocketknife really going to help me?
I’ve heard what they can do to each other, and I know exactly what they’ll do
to me.

I’ve
had days to myself to assemble the pieces in my head. Tomorrow will be a full
week. And while I was there for almost everything, and even though I might know
more than anyone else—if there still
is
anyone else—I don’t
know it all. At least, not yet.

What
I do know is that whatever it is, and however far it’s traveled, it’s all
because of him. And as soon as I’m free from this underground tomb, I’ll find
my family first and Catee second.

And
then I’ll kill him myself.

September
3
rd:

 

I
was nervous about moving to middle school, even in the third grade, and I’d had
reservations about high school, ever since the sixth. And when I stepped off the
bus, in a totally different town, for my first day of ninth grade, I couldn’t
have felt more nauseous. As I looked to all the kids who clustered outside the
buses, excited to see each other and with a summer of stories to tell, I
thought I might be the only one who’d empty their breakfast on the sidewalk. I
didn’t fit in then, and I didn’t care to, but I’d fight, kill, and die for that
first day uneasiness right about now.

Being
from a small town on the outskirts of a slightly larger one with a high school
of its own, Platsville kids like me were bussed into Madison when we hit high
school. If I scanned the crowds long enough, I probably could’ve found a
familiar face or two from my eighth grade class, maybe even some sophomores who
were Platsville natives, too. But if we weren’t friends by then, after years
spent trapped together in a one-convenience store town, why would things be any
different in a bigger place with better options?

My
seclusion was my own doing, though; I’d never really gone out of my way to hang
with anyone else. I guess I could’ve gone to birthday parties, dances, or any
of the other tedious things that’d happened over the years, but it wouldn’t
have made much difference. I never had much in common with most of the other
kids. The things that mattered to them, never mattered much to me.

“Hey,
Damian!” A familiar hand gripped my shoulder from behind.

“Hey,
Bryce. Long time.”

“Welcome
to the big city, man. Bet you’re pumped to finally be outta Platsville!”

“Something
like that,” I shrugged and answered.

“Well,
let me know if you need anything. I know this place like the back of my hand,”
he added, and continued on his way to impose himself on a couple that walked
by, hand in hand. His arms landed across each of their shoulders and his head jutted
between theirs from behind. “Matt! Matilda! M&M!. Still going at it I see!”

Bryce
is, or was, one of the few kids I’d ever been friends with. He sort of imposed
himself on me the same way I saw him doing to other kids that day (he’d left
M&M by then and made his way through a couple more rounds of nameless faces
within minutes). He was always a decent enough guy, but the way he threw
himself on anyone and everyone he ran across was like he was running for mayor
or something, He’s been that way for as long as I’ve known him … or knew him.
Who’s to say what’s left of him now?

He
and I didn’t really talk much after he moved to Madison, but there was a time,
back in the fifth grade and before his family moved away, when he and I would
hang out pretty regularly. It wasn’t anything big. We were just neighbors who
were in the same grade, and the closest house to either of ours was a mile
away.

It
was a relationship of convenience that we both gave up after he moved. I’d only
seen him a couple times in the three years that led to that first day of
freshman year, and even those run-ins were entirely by chance—when I was
running Madison errands with my mom.

The
idling masses began moving toward the entrance of the school, and I followed in
suit, not really sure where I was going or what I was supposed to do when I got
inside. Still, I imagined it best to blend in with the crowd and to do what
everyone else did at the time.

Through
the steel, double doors, teachers and staff lined themselves shoulder-to-shoulder,
creating a barricade that pushed us forward and into the auditorium. They
greeted kids they knew by name and with friendly pats on the back.

“Welcome
to Madison High!” A young, enthusiast teacher extended her hand to greet me.

“Thank
you.” I clasped hers in my own, and we exchanged a weak, double-pump, as I
casually took note of her crisp, back-to-school outfit: three-pieces, including
a jacket. The whole package suggested it was her first day on the job. Ever.
Teachers only get more frumpy with age.

Inside
the auditorium, signs, painted onto white paper and taped to the walls above
the bleachers, made it clear where we each belonged.

Closest
to my left, red lettering screamed out “SENIORS!” Next to that was a royal blue
“JUNIORS!” To my right, and across the gym, a green “SOPHOMORES suspended
proudly from the concrete walls. And to the far right, a hastily taped “FRESHMEN!”
sign flapped in the breeze—its yellow letters rippled in the air
conditioning.

 

I
got to our area in the middle of the freshmen pack, took a seat in the center
of the middle row, and tried to blend in as best I could at the time. A few of
the kids around me talked to one or two others they knew—most likely
friends from whatever town they’d been bussed-in from—and I was selfishly
glad to see a handful there who looked as alone as I felt.

Most
of the kids around me that day were from Madison; they made up almost our
entire class. The same was true of the sophomore, junior, and senior classes,
too. As an out-of-towner, you were pretty much done from the start at Madison
High. You started out by climbing your way from its trenches.

The
energy of the “SENIORS!” that first day was a palpable one; they were
comfortable from the start. It was their home turf and they’d already spent
three-full years in the school’s confines. They talked loudly, clustered
casually, and exuded a dominance that the rest of us, especially us newcomers,
couldn’t.

It
was clear where the “FRESHMEN!” fell in the hierarchy of the school. Any casual
observer would know who we were, simply by the volume that came from the other
quadrants compared to our own. The “SENIORS!” area was obviously the loudest.
They were at the top of the food chain then, and they made that point
abundantly clear to the rest of us by the way they took their time in taking
the stands. Most of them congregated on the floor of the auditorium instead of
taking their seats. Some even grouped at center court, like dogs marking their
territory.

The
“JUNIORS!” area was nearly as bad, but at least they were in the bleachers
where they belonged.

Our
“FRESHMEN!” section was the quietest of the four, though its sounds were still
deafening to me. Had I had the opportunity, I would’ve slid out a side door and
trekked the almost twenty miles home, just to escape it.

Eventually,
the teachers from the lobby moved into the gym. Some took position along its
empty walls, at far ends of the court. Others gravitated to the center of the
gym and began herding the “SENIORS!” up and into their empty stands.

And
when everyone finally settled into place, half a dozen bodies remained at
center court, and a microphone clicked on.

“Good
morning, Madison High!” a small man in black-framed glasses yelled out.

Voices
sounded their replies from around the gym. “Good morning, Mr. Smmishkwskin!”
There was no harmony to the response, and I couldn’t make out his name through
the thick blanket of crisscrossing conversations that continued from all sides.

“I
said, GOOD MORNING MADISON HIGH!” Mr. Smmishkwskin repeated.

“GOOD
MORNING MR. SMITHSON!” Most of the attention shifted to him, and his name rang
out, loud and clear.

“It’s
great to see so many familiar faces!” The three quadrants of returning students
began to cheer and whoop loudly. Several of the “SENIORS!” even stood to pump
their fists in the air.

BOOK: Project Pallid
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