The Smart Cell Sickness

By Taylor Oudenhoven

It’s been two days since our last encounter with one of those ‘things’, and I’m trying to think of a long-term survival plan. gray shadowy figuresI can’t seem to focus for long without my thoughts drifting back to them. Their stench is enough to make your stomach turn, let alone their yellow-stained eyes resting in their ugly, decomposed faces. Some call them zombies, but I know better. Either way, they are not human.

I have not slept well in a while; those things have a way of keeping you alert. I have been surviving the chaos along with myroommate Mike. We are both trying to get some sleep, but trying and succeeding are very different things.

“You hear that?” Mike asked. There was a faint voice coming from the radio in the corner of our dorm room. It was PresidentClinton with a message for the nation, what was left of it.

The voice we hear from the semi-broken radio we found said, “We’ve lost all major land operations to the sickness. There will beno evacuations in the near future. We advise that everyone stay at least fifty miles from any major city. An estimated three...“ She cut out. I adjusted the dial to get a better frequency only to hear her fervid voice briefly. “May God be –.” Again, she cut out and all that remained was white noise. I had hoped for better news, more information, something, but no luck so far. The only other station that came in was a Daytona weather report, and it was on loop, giving the forecast for the week before.

It was October 2nd, 2017. The only reason we knew that was because we checked off the days on the old, “Sports Illustrated,” calendar on the wall of our dorm room. Technology was scarce. After the sickness hit, it only took two weeks for the power grid to fail. It was all so fast. Before that, though, I remember seeing a report on how it all began.

Chinese scientists had a biological breakthrough. They created the world’s first self-sustaining synthetic smart cell. The cells were able to communicate with each other so they could target free-radicals and diseased cells. These scientists were set to transport their new product to America for debut to the world. It was supposed to cure cancer, cure the un-curable, and all was good and well until… until that plane crashed just east of Beijing.

They hadn’t been tested on humans, but after the crash these cells had become airborne and we soon saw the consequences. Those near the site became ill and died very quickly, but they didn’t stay dead. After death the ones affected regained motor function and were not themselves. They seemed harmless at first, almost like dolls, but then it was like someone flipped a switch. They began killing and eating people. I thought the story was crazy, and I expected them to retract the story and fire the rogue journalist who thought it was funny and posted it as a hoax. But the sickness wasn’t a joke.

The confusion was in part because the Chinese government tried to keep things quiet.They started putting down those who had the sickness, but the infected still had some motor function so they killed however they could, infecting more and more. Soon they overwhelmed their exterminators, and yet the Chinese government took two more weeks before requesting foreign aid to help with a ‘virus.’

It only took three weeks for America to fall. The disease was vicious. They were rare, but some of those ‘things’ had smarts. They could use guns and even drive vehicles. Fast forward another week and here we are, me and Mike. Riding out the storm in our dorm.

The last few days were uneventful, so I brainstormed our options for when our food supply ran out. Our Embry Riddle dorm was a more than adequate place for us to hold up, but food was a problem. Most or all of the other students had left as soon as they figured out how real this all was. I guess Mike and I just didn’t want to accept it so we missed our chance to head home. Home was a thousand miles away anyway in Wisconsin, and we are stuck here hungry and alone but safe.

I started to hear the sounds of someone who was still human screaming from the direction of the cafeteria. Mike was already on his feet. From our partially boarded third story window we could see what looked like and older woman and a child being pursued by four of those ‘things’. They were headed for the cafeteria doors, the ones we barricaded two days ago. We wasted no time. We grabbed the one shotgun we found while foraging and went to see if we could help.

We arrived as fast as we could, opened the door and I yelled, “Hey! Quick! It’s safe in here!”

They made it, thanked us, and soon we were all back in the dorm watching them eat whatever food we had left. Shirley, was the older woman’s name. She didn’t look well. Shirley and Jonathan, the child, have been on the move for nearly a month, scavenging what they could from stores and abandoned homes. In another life, Shirley was a retired cop. Jonathan was her grandson. I didn’t ask about his parents.

“Where are you guys headed?” asked Mike.

“We’re going to the coast,” she said. “The USS George Washington will be anchored near Daytona at noon tomorrow in search of survivors. There were more of us. We were a part of a caravan headed for the ship, but we were overrun.” Jonathan began to cry.

“Everything’s is going to be fine,” I assured. “You guys can stay with us tonight and we’ll head for the shore tomorrow.”

The beach was only about a mile away from our building, and so the following day we left around 11:30.It was a difficult walk, and it was made worse because of all of the bodies we had to go past. I hadn’t seen one up close in a few days, but as we passed a cadaver of one of them I was reminded very quickly how eerie they were.

Luckily, we made it to the beach and could see a carrier in the distance. Just seeing the ship somehow made me feel safe, like everything was going to be fine. The others waived their hands and whooped in excitement. Their cheers were answered by the moans of a mass of the reanimated approaching the beach behind us. This crushed every sense of safety I had. We quickly ran to the end of the dock and tried to start a boat, no luck. The herd was about 100 yards away and closing in. We didn’t have much time. As they got closer I knew we had no choice.

“We have to swim!” I exclaimed.

“No,” Shirley said. I can’t go on anymore. I have a gun. I’ll slow them down while you three escape.”

“No way,” Mike said. “We’re in this together.”

I nodded, and made Jonathan climb onto my back. Mike grabbed Shirley’s hand, and then we all jumped in.

We swam for what seemed like an eternity. Every stroke of the arm brought us closer to safety. As we neared the ship we could make out something dropping off the side one after another. As we got closer yet we realized what exactly was dropping off the side. They were people, hundreds of people escaping an overrun ship. Then I realized just how far from safety I was.

This wasn’t the USS Washington, and the beings onboard weren’t coming to rescue us. Then I heard a single gunshot and looked over to see Shirley had taken her own life. I guess she couldn’t see a way out of this. Neither could I, to be honest. We were just floating there, numb.

A few minutes went by, and then somewhere far off we heard an old clock strike twelve noon. Then we heard an engine and saw small rescue boats began appearing from behind the carrier.

It seemed like forever, but we waived them down and were picked up minutes later. The boats came from the USS George Washington, and had been sent for by a distress call from the overrun carrier we thought was the rescue boat. I cannot imagine what Jonathan is feeling right now. I can’t even describe what I’m feeling.

Regardless, we are safe now. Safety is a scarce commodity in this world we now live in, the one run by smart cells.

Taylor Oudenhoven is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. He’s a first year student at College of Menominee Nation, majoring in Pre-Environmental Engineering. He is also the eldest of seven and enjoys spending time with his little sisters.