Among Others: 3rd Chapter

Wow! Only Day 3 of NaNoWriMo and I’m already sitting at over 6k words. Most are decent, I think. I hope. Maybe. Probably not.

Either way, if you’re interested, here is Chapter 3 (edited and revised 12/21/11):

Two days later Collins attempted another trip to her office. She hated to but applied concealer. Her pale face had begun to show faint blue spider veins. Not tender to the touch or otherwise painful, she tried to ignore the truth as she put the finishing touches on her mask.

Local news reports showed footage of pale blue, lethargic people stumbling around town. Many started to beg for change on busy street corners. Peppered between stories of infected people begging for change on busy street corner were occasional stories of “infected people acting like nothing was wrong.” As she walked across campus, she witnessed more of the latter.

It was not unusual to find homeless and destitute throughout the University grounds. Buskers always outnumbered beggars. Today was no different.
An ashen man with a three day beard and newer but well-slept in clothes stumbled into Collins’ path with a small whiteboard with “Will answer any trial question for $” written on it. Collins shook her head and Signed, “I can’t speak either.” The pale man appeared to understand her as he backed away to request attention from someone more giving.
Feeling guilty, she turned back to give the man the few dollars in her pocket. Before she pulled her hands from her pocket, three young men with backpacks surrounded the man.
The gang went quiet for a moment. Then laughter emanated from it. One of the younger men put his arm around the disheveled busker. The three men tightened their circle around the man with the three day beard. Together the four of them walked into the University Center not fifty feet away where Collins watched through the wide windows one of the younger men purchase something. He handed a drink and something in a small bag to the busker before the four of them sat down.
If this infection becomes permanent, perhaps it’s not a guarantee that we will be outcasts. There is hope yet.
She smiled.

Pinned to her office door was a note signed by her boss telling her to take home whatever she needed from her office and not come back until she had seen a doctor. Apparently her concealer really did only mask the truth. Either her boss saw through the layers of skin toned paste or he was his usual self-absorbed self worrying only about his own health. Unwilling to let her boss detract from the altruistic scene she witnessed earlier, she did as the note suggested. Besides, there was no reason to come to the office other than to do her research. The few books she collected before she fell ill would suffice until all this blew over. Collins grabbed three books, including History of Madness, and closed her office door before she left.

Back home but not wanting to try to read just yet, she turned on her television for any updates on the situation as if it were a substitution for her visiting her physician. The same ditsy blond news reporter rambled on about a local high school band’s winning accolades before sounding even more excited.
“This just in,” with the joy of a child at Christmas, “The President is set to speak in just a few minutes. We have no word yet about why he speaking or what it is about, but you can bet it has to do with the outbreak. We’ll take a short break but when we come back, Dr. White, our in-house doctor, will talk with us about this outbreak. Then we will hear from the President. Be right back.”
Why they were speaking so fast, Collins could not ascertain. She feared it related to her slowed system. While she moved slower but did not feel so held back, the world around her continued in real time. Slapping on a final slather of her makeup, she threw the container of concealer into the medicine cabinet and made her way to her television in as fast a manner as she could.
“Welcome back,” Collins heard just as she gave her full attention to her television perched at eye level. “Here with us to talk about this outbreak is our own in-house doctor, Gordon White. Welcome, Dr. White.”
“Thanks for having me.”
“We only have a second before the President speaks, but give us a sense of what this outbreak is. Should we be worried.”
“Well, for starters, we really aren’t sure what exactly is causing this behavior.”
“Should we be worried about this at all?”
“To be frank, I think so. What little we do know is quite troubling. It’s as if…”
“Some people have used the term ‘Zombie’. Would you agree with that?”
“That is so ‘sci-fi’ or ‘horror movie’,” Dr. White said with disdain, “But the term is not far off. You see, what we do know is that in most cases, the body ceases to circulate blood.”
“What?”
“That is precisely the response from most of us in the medical field as well. Now, this loss of blood flow causes a significant decrease in mental capacity.”
“Meaning what exactly.”
“Well, to put it plainly: those who find themselves with this condition tend to see decreases in their IQ of a range from twenty to thirty points. Rather than simply dying as one would suspect would happen when the blood stops flowing, the brain starves for oxygen while the body refuses to stop functioning.”
“What evidence do we have of this?”
“Scientific studies are still a ways off since this is such a new situation. But, just look at them.”
“So how can we protect ourselves?”
“As of right now, all I can suggest to your viewers,” and the younger than possible physician turned to face his studio audience and those at home, “is that those unaffected steer clear of those affected. Do not associated with these people. Do not even acknowledge them. Many lost much of their mental capacity. They will likely not engage you unless you engage them first.”
“How can we know who’s affected?”
Turning back to the ditsy blond, “Their skin tone.”
“Their skin tone,” the newscaster ask, as if this information was brand new, “You mean the color of their skin?”
“Precisely. Those affected have no blood flowing through their veins. Therefore, their skin turns the color of a cadaver or a dead person. Usually pale white or powdery blue.”
“Now I have to ask this.” As dramatic and serious as possible, the ditsy newscaster paused for effect before continuing, “There have been reports of their urges for human flesh.”
“Yes, well,” Dr. White chortled, “those reports have been unconfirmed by any serious medical association.”
“But?”
“But my suspicion is that if these are actually the living dead, they will have to feed on something eventually. And loss of appetite is a a common side effect.”
“So these creatures could attack us at any moment?”
Collins wished she saw true fear in that ditsy newscaster’s eyes but what she witnessed was excitement, a hunger stronger than the one gnawing at her stomach. She shuddered a slow, cold shudder.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to call them creatures. They are still human beings, of course.”
“But if they’re dead, how…Oh, I’ve just received word that our President is about to speak, we’ll take you live to the podium where the President is set to speak in mere moments.”
While waiting for the President to speak, Collins became acutely aware of herself and her condition. There was no way she was dead. She was thinking. Speaking to Miller and her boss. Even eating. Though her palate could only be satisfied with raw meat and even then she felt a longing for something more just behind her navel. She placed two fingers on her wrist.
There was a pulse. Sure it was slower than she hoped or expected. Then again, she did not know what she truly expected. Having felt a pulse, though, she was convinced she was not dead nor the living dead. They were wrong. Then the President spoke.
“My fellow Countrymen. Recent events have changed the course of this great nation. The economy is not what it was. Our global influence is receding. And, yesterday, an outbreak of unknown origin began engulfing our entire country. Rest assured, your government is working diligently to ascertain the cause of, and solution for, this grave situation.
“It is believed that this situation we find our nation in is an attack on this country’s sovereignty. Those responsible will be brought to justice. And, those affected, if found to be aiding and abetting those responsible will be held equally liable. Actions against the stability of our economy when it is so fragile, and actions against our people when they are so vulnerable cannot be tolerated in a democratic society. These actions will not be tolerated by this administration.
“In the meantime, I urge all those who are not infected to wear or continue to wear face masks. They can be purchased at any local pharmacy or department store. It is of the utmost importance that normal citizens continue to go about their lives. If normal citizens are too afraid to conduct business, the economy crumbles and the terrorists win.
“Likewise, those infected are strongly urged to segregate themselves from the greater population…”
At this point Collins turned off her television. She could not stay in her home forever. This illness showed no sign of abating. Sooner or later, if this remained a constant infection like herpes or, God forbid HIV, one would have to learn to live with this infection. Those not affected by this disease would have to learn how live with those who are. Collins wondered what accommodations would be made. She wondered if any accommodations would be made. That ditsy newscaster had the IQ of a dish rag but his concerns were broadcast across national airwaves. His fears probably became those of his viewers. Adding to this fear was the President’s speech, a speech that never comes without grave necessity. Collins feared the worst.
Who are ‘normal’ citizens? What evidence is there to suggest a terrorist attack? I feel fine. With exception to my odd hunger pangs and retarded reaction time, I’m fine. And I’m certainly not a terrorist myself. Nor am I aiding any such people. This probably won’t end well.
She feared the worst, but, then again, what she saw today with the group of men and the busker kept her mind from wandering to deeply into despair. And, since she convinced her boss of her health, at least briefly, perhaps she could continue this rouse. Most people were less intelligent than her not-so-humble boss, though she retained a higher IQ than he.
At least until this damn infection, she thought.
Others must be easier to persuade. She could sidestep any negativity likely to arise from a community of fear perpetuated by her government and national media. But Collins’ concealer makeup was nearly gone. A department store trip to restock was in order. Her growling stomach commanded her to restock her fridge as well, with something other than lentils and yogurts.

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