Serum (Part 2)

“You hear that?”

I thought she was just trying to get my mind off what she’d done, but I stopped to listen.

The crawlies have this noise they always make. They can’t stand anymore, so they scrape themselves along the ground. Something about the virus makes their skin harden, so it’s like leather rubbing up against concrete or asphalt, like papers sifting against each other.

People say ‌they’re called crawlies because they’ve lost their balance. I say that it’s because they give people the creeps; creepy crawlies ergo crawlies because you want to sound like you’re older than twelve when you’re about to get your face gnawed off by a hyper-rabid freak.

But this ain’t that.

“That’s the wind.”

“You sure?”

“Shut up and I’ll listen some more.”

I was pretty sure it was the wind coming off the Pacific. When it gets to the buildings it smashes into them, modulates by waves and shapes, and transforms into something different.

“It’s the wind.”

She shrugs, bright like a flame in the thermal night vision, and we carry on. It’s hard to see what the buildings used to be. It’s been almost a year now, and they built everything here for a six-month tourism season.

Coast got hit hard. Anywhere people stacked on top of each other. The natural immunes couldn’t make it out. The virus doesn’t quite kill people; it gets close, but it stops. And it’s airborne. Get a couple hundred crawlies and they’ll contaminate a place so bad that nobody can do anything.

Out where I lived, in the mountains?

It was rough. The rabies vaccine helped a little, but it wasn’t the same virus. If you weren’t immune, you were probably going to catch it from the air.

Then the serum came along. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s enough to keep people from losing their minds. You still get a case, and it’s not fun. You burn up with fever, get blisters. If you aren’t lucky, you come away with some nerve damage. But you live, and you’re not reduced to slithering on your belly like a snake.

Not to underestimate the crawlies. They can be wicked fast.

We moved carefully. The goggles were good at showing contours, but you couldn’t see through glass or water. The thing nobody expected was how all the streets would flood, at least outside the dry places like Arizona. Drainage systems only lasted a couple months before they got clogged up with debris and stuff growing in the stagnant water.

Nobody wants to drown after falling through an open manhole. I shifted my pack, idly thinking about the best way to get it off in a hurry if I had to.

Then I see the light of something hot as I glance down an alley.

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