Containment. Short Story.

Mary could feel it, moving its way through her veins, spreading through her body. It was an odd feeling, a hot burning that was strangely pleasant. She was afraid, of course she was, it was burning away herself, burning away everything she had ever known, would ever know. When it was over, it would leave her as an empty husk, a deformed and reviled person, primitive and violent. Her hand rested on the phone. She needed to call the number on the news. Not that she needed that reminder. Most people had it memorized before they knew their home number. She felt a burst of anger, why was this happening to her? What had she ever done to deserve it? Nothing. That was what. She was a good person, she volunteered, she gave to charities. She wasn’t unkind or evil, or bad. But she would be soon. It wasn’t just taking away her life, it was taking away everything that made her, her. Taking all the good and removing it, amplifying the bad until there was nothing left. The news continued on, the number scrolling across the screen. Mary closed her eyes and took a deep breath, she picked up the phone, then lay it down again. She would ring them, of course she would, she had to. She couldn’t risk hurting other people either through her actions or by spreading the disease, but that didn’t mean she had to call them straight away. She still had time. Mary shuddered as the heat moved up slightly.

It had been in the food, the goddamned food. Terrorists had tainted it. There were different kinds of food being listed, Mary stopped listening about after she heard the first one she had eaten. Numbly she had stood and went to the kitchen, digging through the rubbish until she found the empty bag. She had eaten it last night for dinner. She had returned to the sitting room and sat on the couch, bag clutched in her hand, not listening as the anchors prattled on, what did it matter at that point? It was already too late for her. She had been feeling the burning since she woke this morning, but she had managed to dismiss it. She had a long day yesterday and her feet were just a little sore, that was all. Mary knew she should have known better. That was part of the process. Hiding itself in plain sight, making the victim think of reasonable excuses as to why they had symptoms. She picked up her glass and took a drink of water, then, with a frustrated yell she threw the glass across the room, it shattered against the wall, sending water and shards glass everywhere. She put her head into her hands and sobbed.

The terrorists had been getting bolder the last few months, making a greater effort to attack, no one really knew what it was they wanted and Mary didn’t really care, she just didn’t want to be a part of it. She wanted a nice, quiet life. A normal life. She sobbed again, then sat up, her heart beating wildly. She looked at the remains of the glass and the puddle of water and felt a stab of fear, she had never done anything like that before. She had never felt anger so bright and intense, she had always been a calm person. That wasn’t her, it was the disease. She looked down at her palms, at the thin layer of tears that coated them and cried out, she moved her hands away from her body, it was there, in those tears. Oh god, it was on her skin. She got up and ran to the kitchen, clipping the table with her hip as she went passed, she ignored the sudden flare of pain and stumbled to the counter. At the sink she turned on the hot water and started to scrub at her hands, scrubbing and scrubbing until they were bright red and the water was too hot for her to keep her hands under it anymore. She stepped back from the sink, hands still dripping. This wasn’t right. She wasn’t supposed to be like this. She was supposed to be calm, rational. Not an emotional wreck. Her feelings took on a new intensity, a new sharpness. No. That wasn’t right. It wasn’t how things were supposed to be.

In the sitting room Mary cradled the phone in her sore hands. There was no cure, everyone knew that, but there were holding facilities, where you would be kept until such time a treatment could be found. Maybe they weren’t all that bad. Anyway, she wouldn’t really know, would she? After all, she wouldn’t be herself anymore. She laughed, once, sudden and high. The noise was brittle and it frightened her. She gave a hiccupping cough, sniffed, then she finally started to dial.

She lowered the phone gently. They were on their way. She stood and went to her front door and opened it, then she returned to her sitting room and sat down on the couch, hands carefully in view. Mary didn’t want any misunderstandings to occur. As she waited fear and anger rolled through her, occasionally her body would start jerking uncontrollably.

The people who came into her house were not what she expected at all. She had pictured them dressed all in black, with guns drawn. They were dressed in white lab coats, wearing gloves and thick masks with goggles. After confirming who she was, they gently lifted her from the couch and guided her to a van. The back of it was separate from the front, but the seats were comfortable, two of the people sat either side of her. Another closed over her front door and joined them. Mary didn’t talk, she didn’t think she would be able to without throwing up. One of them patted her knee, causing her to jump “It will be okay Mary, you’ll see.” She smiled at them briefly. A brittle, harsh smile. It was all very well and good for them to say that, they weren’t the ones who had their entire lives destroyed. Condescending asshole. She could reach out and pull off those stupid goggles and spit in their fucking face before they’d even be able to react. Mary jerked her hands close to her body, afraid that they might just start moving on their own. That wasn’t nice, that wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be thinking things like that. She was a good person, someone who would never, ever do something like that.

The van finally stopped. Those around her stood up and gestured for her to do the same. Mary stood and was lead out of the van. They were in a wide, open area, in the distance Mary could see fences and walls, all lined with barbed wire. People walked along the top of one of the walls, she couldn’t quite see it from here but she suspected they all held guns.

They brought her to a low, squat building. There they moved into an elevator and waited. When it finally opened again a few moments later, they lead her down a large hallway. “You will be placed with the new arrivals, as the disease progresses you will be moved to a long term cell where you will be kept safe and will be well looked after. Once the change occurs we will provide you with more information.”
“More information? I thought when the change happens I’d have no higher functions.”
There was no response. There was noise ahead of them, steadily getting louder. They stopped at a door and then it opened, Mary gasped and stepped back. She didn’t want to go in there. She didn’t belong in this hell.

There were cages set up, none were touching and all had thick bars. As they lead her through them Mary had a good look at those in the cells. Some were sitting quietly, others were begging to be let out, tears streaming down their faces. Others were laughing uncontrollably, while still others beat at the bars and screamed. They stopped at an empty cell and gestured for Mary to enter. She hesitated for a moment. Could she run? They’d shoot her down sure, but wouldn’t that be better than all of this? Someone nudged her gently and she started to move forward. The cell door closed with a loud clang. She was stuck here.

They came by with food and water regularly. Mary didn’t care, she just wanted to sleep. She was so tired. The burning feeling made her feel warm, reminded her of something as a child. Some kind of illness she had had. She slept and woke seemingly at random. Then finally it happened, the disease reached its end stage, Mary started to scream as it flooded over her, she could feel them all, everything. All the emotions that had been dulled and repressed came to the forefront. Her mind replaying everything that should have made her angry, happy sad, making her feel them all.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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