Viral Desire

Part 3, Day 1

The ability to adapt rapidly to any situation is what makes humans so remarkable and successful. This includes dealing with psychological trauma. The mind takes each blow and absorbs it, routing around damage and focusing on just getting things resolved. The result is a being optimized for survival, no matter the circumstances.

Survival of course just means getting out of the dangerous situation at hand. What happens afterwards is a completely different story. Adjusting to a non-threatening situation means reintegrating the traumatic memories, somehow combining the two distinct realities of safety and security and that of events aimed at causing or inflicting trauma or even death. In how far this is possible depends on many factors, such as the severity of the trauma, the mental strength of the victim and the care he or she receives afterward.

An ice cube suddenly shifts in the red liquid, causing streams of clear liquid to form on its surface like veins. Sarah sighs. It's the loudest noise during the past twenty minutes or so that the four friends have been sitting here in this cafe. The school has been largely cordoned off and classes have been suspended for today while the police investigation takes place.

The four of them have just been sitting like that, staring at their drinks while occasionally glancing outside where the sunny streets are virtually devoid of people. News must have gone around. All of them feel that something is off. About the city. About the people. About everything. So much violence, suddenly and unprovoked.

After sitting down at this cafe, itself located near the school, the local news station's broadcast being shown on the TV on the cafe's wall informed them that there have been more sudden outbreaks of violence throughout the city. Primarily involving young males turning against each other or on random passersby. The city's police has been brought to the uppermost state of alert with all off-duty officers called in, as they find themselves scrambling to keep up with the incoming reports. The city's mayor has been reported to have asked the government for support in handling this sudden crisis.

Lifting her condense-covered glass to her lips, Sarah takes a few sips of the ice-cold liquid. Grapefruit juice. Part of her brain tells her that it's very tasty and refreshing with this warm weather, but most of her just feels numb and too shaken to care about anything so trivial. Briefly thinking back to how simple and fun life seemed only a day ago, she just wants to give up right then and there. Burst out in tears, run through the streets giggling like a mad woman. Something.

You think classes will resume tomorrow?” Tom asks, sullenly. Looking startled by this interruption of his private thoughts, Jake looks up from his drink and responds: “Maybe. I'm sure they will be done with forensics today. Everyone will want things to return to normal as soon as possible, I'm sure.”

After he finishes speaking that one word seems to take on solid form in the air. They all know that they would like nothing more than for that one thing to become reality.

Shortly after they finish their drinks and prepare to head home. Tom and Jake as usual accompany each other. Sarah finds herself walking together with Nick, who wishes to visit Meril before he heads to his own home. A bit of company never hurts, she agrees.

What are you thinking, Nick?” Sarah asks, looking at him expectantly as they make their way down the street. The summer's heat has been trapped between the buildings and absorbed deep into the stone of the pavement, making it feel as though they're walking through an oven. Dry dust can be felt in the air every time a mild breeze picks up. Summer really is in full swing. At least it's nice weather to have an apocalypse, she finds herself thinking. Beats cold, rainy weather.

Sarah hates to think of herself as weak, but she really can use something, or someone, to give her some support at this point. Someone like Nick, who she has always admired. In some ways he's like the older brother she never had but always wished for, being the oldest child. Someone who would be there for her whenever she needs it the most. She has to admit that she can not imagine Nick ever being upset or afraid.

At first Nick doesn't even seem to hear her, then he turns his thoughtful gaze towards her and smiles at her. “I'm not sure, to be honest. Something is going on; something big, but I don't think anyone in the city yet knows what it is.” This frank response catches Sarah by surprise. Feeling her stomach sink towards the vicinity of her knees, she asks: “So what do we do? Just act normal?”

Shaken, she can hear a note of hysteria creeping into her voice. Things are all going wrong. Nothing that is happening right now is normal in any way. This is the kind of situation you see in a bad Hollywood horror flick, or yet another video game about some weird outbreak. Things like that do not happen in reality. Taking a few deep breaths she focuses on the calm, empty street around her.

We wait.” Nick says, staring at the end of the street, as though he can see the answer to all their questions shimmering there in the heat haze. “But we stay vigilant. We know something is happening. All we can do is wait and be as prepared as we can be.”

Suddenly Nick grimaces. “This all sounds like something from a bad movie, doesn't it? Sorry about that.” He turns towards Sarah who suddenly bursts out in laughter. “What?” He asks. “Nothing... just...” Sarah tries to say before fits of laughter take her breath away again and she has to lean against Nick to keep her balance.

Holding her steady, Nick asks: “Just what?” while a smile forms around his lips. Taking a deep breath, Sarah looks up at him while wiping tears from her eyes. “I just really hope that it's not zombies this time. That would be so cheesy, don't you agree?”

Saying nothing Nick looks at her with a puzzled look on his face before he throws back his head and laughs out loud. Sarah joining in again, they laugh until they both feel weak in their knees and pleasantly empty-headed. Still snickering they resume walking, their pace markedly lighter compared to before.

Drifting in and out of sleep, Meril does not recall much of the day beyond hazy images and remnants of confusing and terrifying dreams. Based on the light coming in through the curtains she can tell that it's late afternoon. It is warm and stuffy in her room, but she doesn't mind it. It feels like warmth and safety to her. A protective cocoon keeping her safe from the outside world. In here, wrapped into her blanket nothing can harm her. Closing her eyes again, she suddenly hears again that which woke her from her restless sleep. Voices from below, now in the hallway and coming closer.

Suddenly she can hear footsteps on the stairs. As her heart starts racing inside her chest she tries to suppress feelings of sheer terror as her body moves as far as possible back into the safety of her bed while adopting a foetal position. Then a soft knock on the door to her room sounds, followed by the soft voice of her mother. “Meril, darling? Nick is here to see you if you are awake.”

At the mentioning of Nick's name a sudden sensation of warmth spreads through her chest and she can feel her whole body relaxing. Excited, she tries to speak, but nothing comes out beyond a dry croak. Swallowing, she tries again. “Yes, I'm awake.” As the door opens, she can see the concerned face of her mother smiling at her while she lets Nick into the room. Smiling back at her mother until she closes the door again, she sinks back into the pillow. All energy seems to drain from her.

Nick glances at the closing door. He doesn't move or say anything for a few moments. As Meril begins to feel worried he turns towards her and smiles. Walking over to her bed, he sits down on the side. Rising up from her bed, Meril is taken into his embrace.

I missed you.” he says.

They just sit there like that for a long time. Safely in the cocoon, with the inevitable progress of time momentarily halted.

Summer is Sarah's favourite season for sure, even with the heat making it impossible to not be covered in sweat most of the day and night. Something about it makes everything feel energetic. Maybe it's just that no energy is being wasted on staying warm. At any rate she is in pretty good spirits after saying goodbye to Nick at Meril's place.

Walking alone now on the sweltering streets, she deftly moves from shade to shade, eventually cutting through a park. Here underneath the leafy trees it is very comfortable. Slowing her pace to enjoy the moment, she is quite aware of the silence around her. Normally a park like this on a hot summer day would have countless people spending time here, with children running around and couples getting far too intimate on the grass. Right now she only sees a few people, making their way through the park. Nobody must be feeling like staying outdoors or in public places in general with the current news going around.

Near the center of the park she can see the usual ice cream vendor in his van. He must be really considering packing up for today and heading home with virtually no customers. Suddenly a pang of... wrongness overwhelms her thoughts. An ice cream van should be a center of happiness and innocence. Not an almost cliché reminder of impending doom. Reaching for the wallet in her shoulder bag, she walks over to the van.

As she thought, the vendor is sitting on a chair behind the counter on the side of the van, fanning himself with a stack of napkins. At her approach his face seems to brighten and he almost jumps from his chair as she looks at the colourful chart with his refreshing offerings.

An ice cream cone with one scoop of vanilla and one chocolate, please.” She says, smiling at the man. As he puts together her order, she inquires about his sales today. “Not too well, I'm afraid. It's the perfect weather, but this news that's going around... nobody is leaving their homes. I was just thinking of calling it quits for today.” The vendor responds glumly.

Putting the coins on the counter for the ice cream cone, she accepts the snack gratefully and wishes him luck today. The man tips his white cap and she resumes her way home through the shadowy park.

Walking here like this, shaded by the trees, with the temperature being quite pleasant and the ice cream both very tasty and very cold, she can feel the sense of panic she felt before slowly fading. What was she thinking anyway? A full-scale invasion of the city by violent, rampaging criminals and derailed youths? No way. This is just a spell of rioting due to something which probably was covered in the news before, but which she missed. Or something.

To her left she suddenly spots a brilliant red-brown butterfly near a bush. Following it for a few moments she notices more of them. How curious to see so many of them at once. Before she has any more time to think about butterflies, however, she hears quick footsteps behind her. Turning around, she feels something heavy impact her on her right side before she has any time to react.

Grappling for anything to hold on to, she lands heavily on the ground, with her attacker partially on top of her. She's lying on her stomach, so she can not see much. Her attacker is obviously a male, with heavy breath. Where his hands touch her she distantly registers that his skin feels feverish.

As part of her wonders what will be next, she is horrified as suddenly this... beast starts to tear at her shirt on her back. With the sounds of ripping fabric she can feel a surge of almost primordial energy coursing through her system. He will not do this to her. Not here. Not like this.

Bucking up, she dislodges her attacker enough that she can turn on her left side and use her right elbow against him. She feels cartilage crack as her elbow hits home, followed by the feel of liquid on her skin. Her head turning further, she can see the attacker staring at her wild-eyed, one hand covering his injured nose. For a moment the thought flashes through her mind that he's just a boy, younger than her. Yet the memories of those guys at school today, not to mention the rapist, quickly push that thought away. There's just survival.

Before she realizes what is happening, the guy recovers from his shock and renews his attack. Pinning her to the ground with his full weight, he resumes his attempts to rip off her clothes, now at the front. As shock and humiliation make way for full-blown rage, Sarah feels herself fading away. There's a sensation of power, of sharp nails, a soft, exposed neck. Warm blood gushing over her face, its strong smell and taste of iron making her feel sick.

Then nothing.

I don't like this, Tom.” Jake says. He picks up a small stone from where he is sitting and throws it at the water, where it skips three times on the surface before sinking to the cool, dark depths. They're both sitting underneath a bridge not too far from the cafe they were at earlier, enjoying its shade and the water's coolness.

I know, and I agree.” Tom answers. Picking up a stone himself he perches up as he throws it only to sink back as it sinks after just a single skip.

We shouldn't be walking all around alone like this right now. It's just... wrong. Plus, I'm sure we'd all feel a lot better if we stuck together, don't you agree?” Tom nods in agreement at this. “With everyone at home with their families I'm not too worried, but Sarah just now... she'll be walking the last part home on her own.” He says.

I'm worried about her.” Jake says, gloomily, as he reaches for another stone. Suddenly Tom gets up and says: “Let's go check up on her.” “You know she won't like that.” Jake counters. “She always wants to be treated like an adult, mothering over us and all that.”

True,” Tom admits grudgingly, “yet don't you feel something is... off?” Pausing for a moment, he resumes while grinning sheepishly: “Besides, we can always claim we were just wandering around, browsing stores.”.

Getting up as well, Jake nods approvingly. “Not like we had anything else planned for today, now did we? Might as well go check out some stores near the center of town.”

Making their way up the embankment of the river, they retrace their steps to the cafe.

A brown-red-winged butterfly makes its way past a bush, hovering near a group of flowers which appear to be feeling the summer's heat, ultimately making its way to the path next to the bush where it strikes down on the hot surface. Slowly flapping its colourful wings, it seems to be in no rush to go anywhere. An onlooker might wonder in how far the insect is aware at this point of the reddish, rapidly drying liquid only centimeters away from it, or the bodies lying a little bit further.

To the butterfly likely only survival matters, not any of such irrelevant questions. At the sensation of vibrations from multiple feet rapidly approaching it decides to take wing and seek shelter elsewhere.

More sirens tear apart the fragile silence as the relentless summer sun beats down on the city which should be gearing up for summer vacation and tourists flooding the city.

Viral Desire – Part 3, Day 1 Revision: 0

Author: Maya Posch Draft version Date: 2013/06/01 Page: 5 of 5