|[Edit #5] PM's and comments welcome.
The Day it happened was an ordinary day. Cassie had sent her brother and sister off to school and settled in to check her messages. She worked from home selling herbs and natural healing medicines and books from home. She had to quit school at 16 to raise her younger brother and sister after their parents died. Thankfully, ten years later, she had matured the talent to work with herbs and selling remedies recipes.
There had been reports of a strange flu-like virus going around. So bad that nearly half the small town she lived in was sick. Either in the hospital or at home. Cassie brushed her blonde locks back from her face and filed through her orders. She had been getting so many requests that she offered her services at the clinic for a day. Wanting to personally assess the situation and to see what the cause was.
She had several orders for Echinacea. An immune stimulator. It did help in aiding to ease the symptoms of a cold but was not a complete cure. She always told her customers that. Because her herbs were not inexpensive and sometimes needed to be taken more than once, and over time. A little lost in her thoughts, Cassie jumps when she heard the sound of a voice behind her. She turns to see who it is,
She smiled and jumped up from her computer,
Even through the porch screen she could tell on his face he was still fighting the flu-like symptoms. That the virus was still ravaging his system. She opened the door and let him in, while asking him,
"Are the herbs helping at all?"
David shuffled into Cassie’s home like an elderly man. His once lustrous hair and luminous eyes were dull and listless. His already lean body looked gaunt and sickly.
"Gosh Dave you look like hell."
He replies to her softly,
"I feel like shit Cass."
He leaned against the island in the middle of the kitchen. Cassie felt his forehead. He was ice cold, though he was sweating buckets. He had a gray tinge to his skin and his fingernail beds were turning a dark color. Cassie immediately knew how to assess certain things when looking for illness. It was out of habit really. Still, this was her friend. She was wary of him being contagious but she wanted to help him reqardless. She Puts her arm around his waist and he gratefully leans against her for support. Cassie leads him a few steps into her living room, towards her couch, instructing him,
"Let me take your temp. Lie down on the couch."
Cassie went to the drawer to get the thermo-tab. A device that would take his temperature and was disposable.She found David with one leg hanging over the side of the couch and one arm thrown over his eyes. David spoke Cassie applied the tab,
"I feel dead Cass. I mean I been sick before but this takes all my strength right out of me."
The tab beeped. The reading stunned her.
"This can't be right. Something is wrong."
She applied another tab. Same results. Cassie was silent so long David finally removed his arm from his eyes and looked over at her, concern pinching his features,
"What is it?"
Cassie focused on the tab that was stuck on her friend rather than look at her friend directly. She couldn’t look him in the eye and confront what might stare back at her. Cassie whispered,
"You. You’re not. You’re dead."
Cassie placed two fingers over David's carotid pulse. She counted. Only 20. Her brain kicks into information overload,
"Your pulse is barely beating. Brain and nervous system active. You can breath and move but, you shouldn't be walking around, Dave."
David's skin feels chilled. Like she was touching chewing gum that had been pressed against ice. Color remained in his skin but a pallid flush began to set over his features.
A small snore was her answer. He was asleep. Had he heard her say he was dead? The phone ringing gave her a start. Cassie went to the kitchen and picked up the receiver.
"Cassie. Thank goodness your home. Can I come over?"
The voice on the phone was her best friend Taylor. Cassie turned to check on Dave. She couldn't quite see past the island to the couch.
Taylor was saying something but Cassie was only half listening. She took a couple steps towards the couch but could not see David anymore. Maybe he decided to stretch out. Taylor’s voice came back to the receiver,
"Bubba is so sick. I don't know what's wrong. Sam is driving me. I'll be there is 10." She hung up without saying bye. Cassie hung up the phone. Moving with trepidation the shadows seem a little more ominous that just a couple minutes earlier. Cassie called out,
She walked back into the living room. David wasn't on the couch anymore. On the couch where he lay was a shell. A transparent-like cradle of thin flesh and membrane. Cassie could see the thing quiver and pulse. Disgust made her stomach clench as she looks around the living room. There were only a couple places to escape to or hide in. The window overlooking the pastures, the closet and the basement door. Plus the archway she stood in that lead to the kitchen where she was. She did not see David run past her through the kitchen and down the hall to the bedroom. The fleshy membrane seemed to move more when she had to move past it to go check the closet. Cassie grabbed an umbrella from the stand next to the closet. She placed her hand on the knob and slowly twisted. She was barely able to pull open the door before Dave jumped. He pushed the door wide open. His condition, to say the least, had worsened. He no longer had a face. Thin red, slimy vines sprouted from his ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. David staggered blindly. Then stood still. The vines, no, they were veins and they swayed gently as if caught in a breeze. As he stood there they dripped dark red blood and a slimey ooze down his body. All at once the veins swept towards Cassie. She threw up the umbrella and avoided being sprayed. She rushed Dave screaming like crazy.
Cursing the thing that was no longer her friend. The metal spike at the at the tip of the umbrella plunged into the David-thing, then through the David-thing, pinning him to the wall. Cassie did not wait. She turned and ran for the kitchen. Her foot caught on the edge of the rug. Her ankle rolls and she knows she has badly damaged the ligaments. She does not fall thankfully. Now, every step is fiery pain. She scans through her memory. Where did she last see her cell phone. It was not an everyday item. For emergencies only and this definitely counted as such. She could hear the Dave-thing screeching and making awful noises. It was making it difficult for her to think, her pain coupled with the sheer horror that that thing was. Former host of her friend. She could not fall apart. Not now. She forgot about the cell phone and just figured making it out of the house was a better alternative. She broke for the screen door. As she stumbled down the steps she saw down the road. She saw a truck ambling up the dirt road. She waved her arms. Tears coursed down her face and she felt like collapsing in the grass. The screen door behind her slammed. She never looked back. She never stopped running even though the pain in her injured ankle was building with every step.
The truck picked up speed. Cassie could see the plumb of dirt spit up behind them. But it was too late. David tackled her to the ground. She felt the hard packed dirt scrape skin from her knees and elbows. The air was knocked from her lungs. Behind her David's bloody veins dripped slime on her. He gurgled as if he were attempting to speak but the sounds only came out as choking noises. Cassie tried to take in a breath. Cassie then felt a sharp wriggling sensation just under her skin. The vein things on David were piercing her! She fought and bucked,
She screamed and kicked. Then David shrieked and threw her away. Cassie rolled over and turned. The ends of the appendages were blackened and shriveled. Like they'd been burned. They continued to shrivel and crisp as David stumbled back and his shriek died into desperate sighs.
The truck slammed into David with such force his spine snapped and he was folded over the hood before being dragged under. Sam yelled as he threw open the door and jumped out. He saw her injuries. The blood and thought the worst,
"Are you OK?!"
Cassie was sunned but not dumbstruck. She rolls over onto her side and Sam is there pulling her onto her feet. She winces and he frowns in concern. She'd seen a lot of strange events in such a short amount of time to last a lifetime. Taylor cocked a shotgun and aimed at the undercarriage of the truck. Sam helped her to the truck. The cab was able to seat 4. Cassie was speechless qand had yet to answer Sam when Taylor repeats the same question,
"Are you OK?"
Sam slammed his door closed. Taylor pulls the shotgun up from under truck when the creature no longer poses threat. Cassie nodded and Sam threw the truck in reverse. The sickening thump and crunch as they backed over David was when Cassie lost it totally.
The parasite had a poison in its blood that was slowly killing the Red Creeper. That and the fact its David host lay in a mangled, broken mess. The metal machine on wheels they had not been aware of during the last Plague. Then, they had been but mere cells. They had developed now. Taking from the soil, food, medicines and nature itself. From the world the Creeper fed until they found suitable hosts to overtake. But that bitch. That parasitic whore. She had something that is causing the Red Creeper to decay. To rot. To be no more.
Taylor looked at Cassie through the rear view. They did not have to ask what just happened. They knew. The Red Creeper was something that was happening overseas and,as though it now had began it's descent on the United States. They drove in silence while Cassie thought to herself. Why had David gotten sick? Why had the Creeper turned black when it touched her? Taylor announced after a couple hours,
"Hey pull over here a minute. Potty break."
Sam obeyed and pulled off the dirt road. Trees lined the road and bushes making it private enough for them to use it. Sam reminded Cassie as she hopped down after him. The pain in her ankle flared. She favored her right leg. She would have to find some way to treat the spain or risk further injury. Her friends were extra protective of her,
"Don't wander too far."
Taylor got Bubba, their Airedale canine, from the bed of the truck and walked him from tree to tree. Cassie did not have an immediate urge to go so she scanned the area. She noticed something strange and went in for a closer look.
"Hmm. Weird." It was a Starburst Warden. A carnivorous plant with thick red xylem, so the veins throughout the leaves looked blood red as well. The arrangement was much like half a cabbage head. Whenever something touched the leaves in would fold in and trap the insect. Dissolving it in its acidic digestive liquid. A hand grabbed Cassie and she jumped.Sam questioned Cassie with interest in the same plant,
"Oh weird what is that."
Sam was an old flame and Cassie felt a faint pull of desire whenever he was near. The familiar musk of man and cologne reminded her of times they spent together. In bed. Cassie flushed then answered,
"Something that shouldn't be here."
Cassie looked up into Sam's eyes. Crinkled at the edges with age. Still she wanted him but the time for needing and wanting were over. Then the screams started.
Sam's reaction was instant. He ran towards the screams. Shotgun held with the barrel pointed towards the sky. Taylor came into view first. She was frantic and jabbing her hands at a dense gathering of bushes,
"Bubba! Bubba! Oh my God!"
Cassie went to pull Taylor back and Sam approached with caution. The whimpering sounds and squishing noises made adrenaline flood Sam's system. Something had a hold of his baby boy. Bubba yelped then was quiet. The eerie squishing noise was magnified without Bubba's sounds of pain. Sam pushed through the dense bushes and came to a clearing. He felt bile rise to his throat but was able to keep it down. Something resembling a human in shape only was kneeling by Bubba. Red dripping veins plugged into Bubba by the hundreds. When Sam cocked his gun the thing turned. Sam couldn't see eyes but felt the menacing stare pierce him soul deep. Sam stepped right up to the thing's face, it still was attached to Bubba. Sam pointed the shotgun barrel towards where the mouth would have been if it had a face. Sam pulled the trigger,
"Suck on this you son of a bitch."
When the thing exploded Sam tried his best to avoid being splattered, by trying to back away. An awful rotting meat and ammonia stench burned his eyes and nose. He covered his face. Regardless he felt the slime and gore hit him. It burned like acid. Immediately Sam's skin was sizzling and blistering like hot oil was being poured on him,
He ducked through the bushes, the leaves and branches scratching him felt like razors. He ran towards the truck and shoved the gun towards Taylor and grabbed a bottle of water that had fallen on the floor. Blood poured down his arms as his skin began to peel off. Taylor and Cassie were yelling but Sam was barely able to stand,
The pain was comparable to having his arms in boiling water while someone raked razors down them. Water splashed one arm then the other. Like balm on a burn the stinging slowly dissipated. Sam replied,
"Bubba's dead. I saw one of those things but it was covered with those red creepy things. I ended up being splashed by slime when I shot at it. I didn't think water would work. But it is helping."
Sam looked down at his arms. They looked shredded. Taylor asked
"How do you think it is spread? The Red Creeper? What is it?"
Cassie had a feeling the Starburst Warden was at the center of this strange outbreak.
Cassie was able to find aloe vera for Sam's arms and then wrapped them with Sala leaves that would keep the infection from spreading. She explained while she treated him,
"We need to get to a hospital. Shelter first. Being out in the open is not an option. When Dave tried to...bleed me for lack of a better term the Red Creeper turned black and dried out. They need to sample my blood."