“Check,” said the cloaked figure in front of Veronica.
Veronica lazily swayed from one side to the other in a chair she didn’t remember. In front of a chess game she didn’t remember starting, and with a person she had no recollection of knowing before now. The room was completely void yet pure white. She could not make out walls, but yet she felt trapped. Where was she?
The cloaked figure’s head tilted up, but there was only darkness, no face to be seen. “Check,” it repeated. “It is your turn. What will you do now?”
Veronica looked back down at the chess pieces that were strewn amongst the table. Some had already fallen, and some were still in play. She wasn’t even sure she had played this game more than a handful of times in her life. Why was she playing it now?
“What do you mean?” she asked but when she looked back up there was Tabitha instead. Her face gave a look of confusion as she leaned all the way to the left into the couch armrest. Her eyes opened and closed slowly as she heard Tabitha’s voice, frantic, but unable to make out the words.
“Narcan!” the paramedic demanded.
Tabitha stood at the opening of the back of the ambulance. She watched another paramedic hand over a syringe and her heart dropped. Tears streamed down her face and her hands trembled. The paramedic injected Veronica and Tabitha breathed a sigh of relief when Veronica’s eyes opened.
“V!” she yelled out. She watched as Veronica seemed to register her voice but her head fell back onto the stretcher.
The paramedic closest to the door moved to close it. “We’re going to Saint Mary’s,” he said while he slammed the doors in her face. The ambulance rushed off with lights and sirens blaring.
“But… I want to be with her,” Tabitha whimpered, confused why she wasn’t allowed into the ambulance.
Tabitha, still in her work clothes, jumped into her car and drove with her emergency blinkers on to the hospital across town. She had no idea what Veronica had done, or what she was thinking. Tabitha had been working a double at the restaurant when she got an odd text from Veronica. I love you… don’t let them wake me!
What does that even mean? Don’t let who wake her? Did she OD on purpose? What is going on in her head to think that’s okay? She’d never been so much as depressed, let alone suicidal! All these thoughts consumed her as she sped toward the hospital, nearly keeping up with the ambulance.
Veronica looked out over the hilltop she stood on. It was dark, and the flora among her feet were rotted, decayed into nearly ash. The smell of sickly sweet death clung to her nostrils, but no matter where she looked she couldn’t quite find what would cause such a smell. There was no carcass, only the dead flowers. Slowly, she lifted her arm toward her nose, but before she got to close she realized it was her. She was the smell. She gagged, having to swallow back bile. What was wrong with her?
“You are sick,” the familiar voice caused her to look behind her. The cloaked figure made her chest ache.
“I’m only twenty-two, I haven’t even had the flu before. How am I this sick?”
“Pestilence does not care for your age or who one is.”
“Pestilence?” Veronica’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“They are coming. You are the beginning of an end.”
Veronica shook her head. “Now you just sound like you’re quoting scripture… I don’t-”
“Believe? No one believes until it is too late. There are many things one must believe in, and sickness and death will always make one a believer in them.”
“I can go to a doctor.”
“They have no cure for what is eating you from within.”
Veronica choked on a cry before she quickly turned away, only to fall to her knees from the dizzy spell. “I can’t leave my loved ones behind.”
“They will follow soon enough.”
“Will anyone survive?”
“No. Humans are the vermin, and we must cleanse.”
Veronica shook her head. Despite the putrid smell that came from her hands, she lifted them to her face to wipe the flow of tears. “I can stop it. If I stay away from everyone and end my life, I can stop it.”
“You can try…”
Tabitha burst in through the doors of the ER, explaining to the man at the front desk who she was and what was happening. He checked with a passing nurse who gave a shrug and a nod, so he buzzed Tabitha into the open ER past the waiting room. She hurried into the room that she saw Veronica in, convulsing. Whether or not she was meant to be there was a wholly different story, but to her it didn’t matter the rules of the ER. She pleaded over and over for someone to help Veronica before two nurses pulled her from the doorway of the room. As they tried to console her, Tabitha couldn’t hear a thing, nothing more than noise in the background as medical staff tried to stop Veronica from convulsing. The foam from her mouth getting into her bright pink hair.
One nurse maneuvered Tabitha to walk with her away from the scene, but Tabitha just looked over her shoulder until they rounded a corner and she could no longer see inside the room. She then looked to the nurse and shook her head repeatedly. “Please. I’m begging you. Help her.”
The nurse sat Tabitha down at a table in a break room. “They’re doing all they can, ma’am. Please, take this and calm down.”
Tabitha looked at the can in front of her and carefully she took it from the nurse and nodded as she gave a few light sips. It only soured her stomach, despite the ginger she tasted, so she set down the can and began to sob. The nurse rubbed her back gently as if to comfort her, but Tabitha found no comfort in the memories embedded in her mind of Veronica convulsing.
Veronica went in and out of consciousness. She saw the bright lights, heard the frantic demands of doctor and nurse alike, even felt the harsh punctures of syringes and that of the needle prick of an IV. She kept trying to beg them to stop, to let her die, but couldn’t form the words. The heroin had either done quite a number on her, or all of this stress was traumatizing her. She wasn’t sure. She had never touched drugs before, but she was sure she had done enough to end her life. So why was she still alive? Why weren’t people just letting her die? Didn’t they see? Didn’t they know she was already dead? That they would be too if they allowed her to live?
“Stop,” she whispered, but in the midst of all the frantic noise, she fell on deaf ears.
“They won’t stop, and neither will what’s inside you,” the voice came to her as if in a dream once more.
Veronica looked to her left and instead of machines and nurses, she saw the cloaked figure. Decay rained down upon them both in a soft shower. She smelled that distinct rot again. “It’s going to get on them, make it stop!”
A haunting chuckle emerged from the void. “They were infected the moment you arrived.”
“Stop. Please,” she begged.
“I only collect. I am the warning, ignored.”
Veronica turned her head to see the rot that was coursing upon the nurses and the doctors. They didn’t see it, but she did… she knew, and they were blind.
The faint beeps were lulling Tabitha to sleep as she sat beside Veronica’s bedside. They had gotten Veronica calm enough to put her out of the ER and into a room for further testing. The doctors tried to explain to Tabitha that the blood work they did was inconclusive. That besides the heroin something, odd, was in her blood. They took more to review, considering it a fluke for now, but to be safe wanted to keep her for observation.
Just as Tabitha’s eyes were shutting she heard her name. Her eyes shot open and she saw Veronica’s worried face.
“Tabby… why? I told you not to do this.”
“What? Are you really upset with me to want to save you?”
“You don’t understand. I was trying to save you; all of you.”
Before Tabitha could speak, an alarm rang out. Codes were being listed frantically, but the only thing she understood was the word, QUARANTINE.
“What is going on?” Tabitha whispered.
“It’s happening,” Veronica said, voice weak and her bottom lip quivered. “It’s begun.”
Tabitha turned to Veronica seeing small, red welts appear on Veronica’s body. “V?” she questioned in a shaky tone.
Veronica looked to Tabitha. Her right eye bulged and then rotted from her skull. Black ooze trickled from the open space. “You should have listened.”
Tabitha screamed. She looked down and saw small, red welts appearing on her own skin. Before she could call for a nurse there were many more screams which echoed from the hall. There were so many and so loud. It was almost deafening as Tabitha drew closer to the door to open it. The scene in the hall was enough to make Tabitha’s blood run cold.
Some nurses were running toward patient rooms, others were sitting in the floor clawing at their red, welted skin. A patient was face down in a pool of dark blood that seemed more like oil. Tabitha shook her head. Her vision tunneled as she felt nauseated. As she felt the bile rise to her throat she felt herself falling. She passed out before she hit the ground.
“Checkmate,” the cloaked figure said.
Veronica sat upright and rigid in the familiar chair. Her eyes scanned the game of which she still doesn’t remember playing, but the figure was correct. It was checkmate. The game was over.
“Did I even play?” A chuckle from the void had her arm hairs stand on end.
“Not willingly, no,” it replied.
“You were merely a random means to an end. It could have been anyone, and now it is slowly becoming everyone.”
“Will I see them again? My friends? My family?”
The cloaked figure looked to a door, one that Veronica hadn’t noticed. “Walk through there and you may find out.”
Veronica sat in silence for a moment. Her head slowly turned back to the cloaked figure. “I’ll play you for it. This time, I'll actually play.”
“Play me for what?”
“For the human race.”
Deep laughter filled the room. “It is over. What has been done, is done. I only collect.”
“I tried.” Veronica choked on her cries. “I tried to warn them.”
“Yes. You did, child, you did.”
Veronica felt tears fall as her mouth opened and she spoke with the figure, “I am the warning, ignored.”