C O N T A M I N A T E
By: Hunter Ding
Don’t get any ideas.
You can’t strike them down.
These words ran through my head as I approached the towering university.
You can’t reason with them. If you see them and they see you, consider yourself screwed.
They will pursue you to the ends of the earth. They’re slow, but they have infinite stamina and patience–You don’t.
Run, and they’ll catch up eventually. Hide, and they’ll find you.
I don’t know what you’re thinking. This is a suicide mission, but if you think you know what you’re doing…
You do you.
I don’t know. What was I thinking?
You can’t reason with them, said an insistent voice in my head.
Screw you, I shot back.
My brain could be very callous and inconsiderate at times. It decided to yell out some more doubts until I said an expletive and smacked my head. It shut up after that.
I considered the university again. I remembered that I had wanted to attend for a long time. During high school, when we had to finally think about the future, me and Lyra…
Remember what you’re here for.
Then, my parents died.
I just came home, and they weren’t there. I didn’t spend any time looking for them, just finished my homework and got dinner.
Then my phone dinged. AMBER Alert: Local man and woman missing. I still didn’t think much of it.
Then I saw their names.
A month later, they were officially pronounced deceased. I had no doubt they were dead.
I knew it wasn’t healthy to bottle up grief. But I remember that in the months that followed, I didn’t cry. I accepted condolences and moved on.
After that, Lyra went to that very college. I didn’t have the money or the motivation.
REMEMBER WHAT YOU’RE HERE FOR.
I’m beginning to think that my brain is a sentient being that hates it when I reflect on the past. But it was right– there’s no point thinking about that now.
Not when I’m facing down the very place that I may die in.
We didn’t give them names. We didn’t make an official one. We simply called them “those bastards” and “Oh hell no”.
I don’t know how, where, or even when the virus started. But now the state is sealed off. No one can get in or out. It sucks to be here, but it’s good to know the government can finally do something. I knew they couldn’t tell the difference. It took a while for us to catch on, but the government couldn’t afford to wait.
So, at this point, we’re the unofficial wards of the apocalypse.
“We” is the colony that I joined the moment that the strange epidemic began.
They always do it in movies. I never got the point of that– when our enemies evolve and develop strategy, they could cut us all down in one fell swoop. In movies, however, the heroes seem to pull through in the end. At this point, I’m going to have to believe in movie logic.
And we’ve pretty much figured them out, though we don’t like what we now know.
When they see you, they go straight for you. They were like zombies, but very much alive. They had a pulse, their internal organs were still working, but…
We categorized them into two groups. There are ones who were Turned with absolutely nothing in their hands. They were the safest. They can’t do anything but infect. Though being infected sucks, the government is working on a cure. But if said encounter has anything in their hands, they’ll kill you. I heard that voice in my head: Doesn’t matter what they have, they’ll kill you. They can have a marshmallow on a stick– scratch that, just the marshmallow, and they can kill you with it. They’re not very smart, but when they kill, they can get very creative.
They even made a rhyme about it. Hands are clear, no need to fear. Hands are full, farewell to your soul.
Now I’m facing down an entire stronghold of these beasts.
Remember what you’re here for. Lyra’s here. Make this chance count.
I stepped in.
I certainly expected no one to charge up to me and hug me, but the completely anti-climactic response surprised me. I was half-bracing myself for walking in and everyone just turning their head my way and staring into my soul. Too much to hope for, I guess.
I stalked through the first floor, checking every single classroom. Nothing– then the second floor. There, I paused in the chemistry classroom. There were quite some dangerous things in there, and I had the urge to take all of them.
I remembered the words that I have kept in my mind ever since I was first taught them: Don’t get any ideas.
You can’t strike them down.
I sighed and picked up a blowtorch and a pack of matches. They couldn’t be killed with fire, I knew that. But I pocketed them anyways. I scanned the room again.
Gunpowder. Propane canisters. Why are they all explosives? What have they been teaching here?
I looked at my matches, the blowtorch, and the explosive material.
“This looks like a stupid way to advance the plot in a bad novel,” I said aloud.
Then my eyes slid to the doorway and there was a human there. I’ve had to survive here for a year. I know the difference. Words echoed inside me: They aren’t zombies. They aren’t feral, either. They’re not covered in blood or have foam coming out of their mouth. Their expressions aren’t any different from ours. What sets them apart is what kind of… vibes they give. You just feel wrong about them.
But, you know, if you get close enough to see what kind of presence it has, it may already be too late.
I felt it. I definitely felt it. It was wrong. But that’s not the worst part. My gaze slipped to his hand, and I saw the snapped remains of a ruler.
Hands are full, farewell to your soul.
God damn it.
I snatched up the blowtorch and aimed it at him. He not only didn’t flinch but strode forward with an uncanny smoothness, as if he was eager to get his face scorched. I didn’t hesitate. I aimed at his eye and opened fire. He stumbled backward.
I grabbed as many explosives as I could and made a run for it, hurtling past the unseeing Infected. Behind me, the remaining explosives reacted to the fire.
I left a lot behind. The door choked out a burst of fire.
I flung back a packet of gunpowder and a couple of propane canisters. The spreading fire touched the incendiaries and produced a sizable explosion. It barely touched my back.
I knew this was dangerous. That I should stop for a bit, make sure I was far enough away.
But I needed to make sure the fire never stopped. I needed to make sure that this place was obliterated.
We’re doing what? my brain said vaguely. I couldn’t help but agree with it. Why am I all of a sudden trying to blow up a university? An entire stronghold of the Infected.
I thought with bitter amusement, When a university burns down, all students immediately graduate with a bachelor's degree.
I threw back some more volatile substances. The detonation was immediate, and I wasn’t quick enough to get away this time. I was flung down the stairs.
I got up and picked up my pace. The inferno chased after me. Finally, I threw what I had left.
The explosion was huge. I was entombed in a casket of fire. I finally was close enough to choke on the smoke. I was knocked off my feet as blisters began to form on my skin.
But this can’t go on. I clawed my way across the floor, then crawled, then summoned up the willpower to run.
I made it outside, out the front doors, out of hell. I looked up.
Don’t get any ideas.
You can’t strike them down.
Those words ran through my head as I scrambled back from the towering, burning university.
Perhaps I couldn’t.
But all I felt was a grim satisfaction as the foundations of the university crumbled to ash and with a sickening crack, like bones breaking, it collapsed to the ground.