The Afflicted – Patient Zero

The Afflicted

Wow. It’s been so long since I’ve written anything for The Afflicted. June 13th and February 8th to be exact. Each time I saw the beautiful cover for it, I was sad that I wasn’t finishing the story. Like many professional writers down here in the dregs, I have many unfinished stories rattling around. As one of my favorite “new” authors, Chuck Wendig, has said again and again and again, “Finish your shit, yo!”

Well, I may be misquoting him, but it’s what I’ve synthesized from him. It’s fitting that the prompt today from terribleminds works in nicely with The Afflicted. I was actually pissed that I had to stop at 1000 words on the nose, but I’d rather this be a slow burn instead of a flare-out. I may wrestle another from The Afflicted this weekend. Hey, Matt! Hey, #fridayflash!

* * *

Matt opened one eye. He closed it and forced them both to open. The room was fuzzy on the edges, but he at least had a small field of clear vision. He blinked a few times and the image retained more focus.

I’m in a hospital, he thought, followed by, I’m hungry.

Matt couldn’t remember the last time he was so hungry. He tried to swallow, but something made his throat hurt. He reached to feel his throat, but a pair of hands gently held his.

“Please don’t move, Mister Siebert.”

The face of a woman in her early twenties shifted into focus, hovering above him. Even though his vision had mostly cleared from the haze, her face was still blurry. It took Matt a few heartbeats to comprehend what his eyes were telling him: The nurse was wearing an isolation suit.

He could hear a soft whir coming from what he could only assume was a rebreather. Flares of condensation appeared on her mask as she breathed steadily. “I’m going to remove a tube from your mouth. On the count of three, I need you to breathe out as hard as you can.” She smiled a blurry smile. “Blink twice so I know you understand me.”

Matt’s world became nothing, a black void of gnawing hunger, twice in quick succession.

The nurse smiled again and started the count down. When she reached ‘three,’ Matt forced air from his lungs. The pitiful wheeze startled him, but the insatiable hunger overpowered his fear.

“Hung…”

“Don’t talk yet, Mister Siebert. I’ll get you some water.” She placed a plastic cup to his lips and he drank greedily. “Not so fast, there’s plenty of water.” She produced another cup and he drained it immediately.

Matt coughed and he felt his entire body shudder. Pain radiated from everywhere, but that pain was nothing compared to the hunger that dominated him. He reached up to rub his throat, but realized it wasn’t the nurse’s hand that kept him from moving but a strap across his wrist. Matt struggled to lift his head, to take in his situation, but it was also strapped down.

“What’s going on?” he whispered.

“I’m sorry, Mister Siebert, I’m not supposed to be talking to you.”

“Well get someone who can!” This time he said it forcibly. He still felt weak, but he knew he was not a man to be trifled with.

The nurse forced a smile. “I’ll be right back with the doctor.” And she disappeared from view.

Matt listened to the sounds around him. The steady beeping from a machine matched thumping in his chest. An occasional beep belonging to another machine interrupted the steady beep of his pulse. The lights above were wrapped in plastic and the light given off would’ve been wan, filtered through the plastic if it wasn’t so oppressively bright. The light made his eyes hurt, but he fought to keep them open.

How long have they been closed? He wondered to himself. Then the only other thought or feeling he knew crept into his brain. I’m so hungry!

The harsh light was interrupted by another isolation-clad figure. Where the soft features of the nurse were seen through the mask, this new face had sharp features. Bags clung to his eyes and a few days of stubble showcased the beginnings of a grey beard.

Matt forced a smile. “You’re not looking so hot, doc. What gives?”

The doctor felt Matt’s pulse on his wrist and looked at a machine, presumably a heart rate monitor. “What’s the last thing you remember?” the doctor asked, not looking away from some machine.

“I…” Matt stammered, “I, uh…” He closed his eyes and said, “I’m hungry.”

“I understand, Mister Siebert. Do you remember anything before you were hungry?”

Flashes of disturbing imagery invaded his mind. Blood was prominent in each flash. The flashes only enhanced his hunger. Tears formed in his tired eyes. “What have I done?” he pleaded, whispering. Feelings of shame flooded into him, but that shame was quickly doused by the unending hunger.

“You attacked three people while you were out for a run.”

Matt’s vision clouded as tears welled up. The nurse from before gently dabbed his eyes with gauze. He was subjected to more images from the perspective of an animal or some monster devouring flesh. The hunger became a dull thumping he felt in his ears. He couldn’t hear what the doctor was saying, the hunger was overpowering. He strained his head against his restraint and a pounding in his ears grew louder and louder. He felt the strap loosen and his hunger spiked to a level beyond unbearable. His vision got dark around the edges, threatening to take his sight from him once again.

The doctor nodded to someone out of sight and a moment later Matt felt as if he were wrapped tightly in a blanket. It was a blanket of peacefulness the hunger was forced in a corner of his mind, ever present, but no longer a concern. His vision continued to fade, but he no longer cared he had raised his head an inch or two. He didn’t care what the doctor said he did. The disturbing images faded into the background. He surrendered to the peaceful embrace he now felt. He let his body go limp and as his head returned to the bed, it lolled to one side. With the last of his remaining sight, his eyes were drawn to a mirror.

The last thing he saw was an emaciated figure strapped to a bed. Eyes and skin sunken, ribs clearly visible against the skin exposed where struggling had loosed a sheet. Hands and arms so thin, they might not have eaten in years. A mouth so thin, broken teeth were discernable as a smile turned into a sneer.

The last thing Matt felt was not the hunger that gnawed at him, but horror, sympathy and pity for the grotesque monster he saw in the mirror.

Next: Isolation

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About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degree in Computer Systems and Applications and is currently attending Northern Arizona University. View all posts by Mark Gardner

8 responses to “The Afflicted – Patient Zero

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