I can still see my family when I close my eyes. I can still see them writhing in agony as they started to change. It plays like a movie projected on the back of my eyelids. My youngest, Lily, started to change first. It was subtle, a strange yellow rash appeared on her back. She would complain that her back was hot. Then my oldest daughter, Claire, had the same rash on her legs. After about a week their hair began to fall out and the rash began to spread. My wife started showing symptoms about that time. All their hair fell out, the rash covering their entire bodies. They stayed like that for weeks. And in those weeks I slept and ate less. Little did I know what was happening to me.
At the time I just chalked it up to worry. and that’s when all hell broke loose. Their skin began to slough off in slabs, leaving behind this wrinkled, leathery layer, Lily started lashing out, kicking, scratching and biting at us, her eyes growing wild and bloodshot. It got so bad I had to restrain her until she passed out from exhaustion. Her nails grew rotten and jagged. All but a few of her teeth rotted away within days. I didn’t even recognize my little girl any more. But she was still my baby. And the next day my baby was gone.
In the middle of raging, trying to break free, she let out a gasp and her eyes went dull. I don’t know if her heart gave out or if whatever was happening to her killed her. I guess my wife couldn’t take what was happening to them anymore. In the few minutes i slept that night, she disappeared. All she left was a hastily scribbled note with four words: I love you guys. I hated her in that moment.
I felt betrayed, abandoned by the woman who was supposed to stay by my side until the bitter end, whatever that end may have been. My oldest, Claire, didn’t talk anymore. She just sat silently in the corner, suffering in silence. Her skin was wrinkled and slimy, her flowing red hair was gone, replaced by a prickly substitute. Over the next few days she became unresponsive as she lay on the cement floor of our basement, eyes darting wildly across the ceiling. Her bones began to pop and crack as they grew longer. Her left hand rotted away completely, leaving a jagged, bony stub. She would lay there and whimper in pain as she changed and growl in anger as the pain subsided. I would sit there for hours trying to soothe her.
I wasn’t sleeping anymore. I wasn’t eating. I was just trying to prepare myself for the inevitable. I had lost one daughter already and my wife was gone. Claire was getting worse by the hour and I didn’t know what to do. It’s the worst feeling in the world watching your children suffer, knowing there’s nothing you can do. I stood up from beside claire to get a some water for her, trying to take care of her the best I could. I was so lost in my thoughts of sorrow and pain that I didn’t notice Claire had gotten up.
When I turned to go back to her, she was across the room staring at me, her wild eyes contained a look I had never seen. I was whispering her name, the air caught in my lungs. I said her name louder. Before I could finish, she lunged At me, a screeching snarl escaping her lips. She plunged her jagged wrist into my shoulder, clawing and gnawing at my neck and face. The pain was unbearable. I tried to fight off this wild thing that use to be my daughter. I pushed against her, knocking her into the wall. I’m able to escape her grasp and I back myself against the opposite wall, hands searching for something to defend myself as I beckon for my little girl to stop. My hands come across a length of 2 by 4. I picked it up and screamed at my little girl to stop, begging her to go back to being my little girl.
What happened next feels like it happened in slow motion. Claire lunged at me. In the microsecond it took her to reach me I saw a piece of my life flash before my eyes. I saw this beautiful baby girl come into this world, watched as she took her first steps, heard her say her first words, watched her walk up to the doors in her little pigtail on her first day of school. I watched her grow up into an amazing young woman and enter high school. I saw her get her learners permit, knowing she had an amazing future ahead of her. And then I swung.
I opened my eyes and looked around. I was back under the tree I had rested under, the bleak landscape still a shock to me. In the distance, I could see the remains of a town, and could hear the screams of the Cursed that inhabit it. I rose to my feet and steadied myself, heart still recing from the memory of my family. I took a deep breath, adjusted the sling pack on my back, and headed for the town.
The world has changed. No more are the days of innocence and fun…