Keenan wasn’t law enforcement but military, a lieutenant in the army and he wasn’t from Washington State but had been behind a desk for the last 10 years in New Mexico. After joining the army when he was 18 and serving his country for 30 years, he was shelved 5 years earlier at the age of 48. As he spoke, I looked at him, surprised that he was only 53. His grey hair was shot through with bits of black and his years behind a desk certainly had worn on him; he was about 50 pounds overweight and I could see harsh yellowing on his right index and middle fingers from heavy smoking. Even his skin bore the marks of a slovenly lifestyle in the desert- prematurely wrinkled and marked with sunspots on his face and his hands. I wondered if he had always bore the marks of an unhealthy lifestyle or if it was in fact the result of being benched. I think Keenan could see my curiosity and the faint bit of disgust I was feeling at how an officer, a man who would be my superior, had degraded.
“I know, I look good for my age.” Keenan laughed and patted his gut, then lit a cigarette causing Scott to cough as smoke trailed into the air. Keenan’s formerly self-satisfied smile quickly faded to anger. “You have something to say kid? Am I offending you in my home?”
Scott looked at the older man bewildered, clearly unaware of what he had done to insult Keenan; the cough was unintentional or maybe it was a subconscious reaction but it was clear that he in no way meant it as an insult. I tried to smooth the waters, telling Keenan that we didn’t mind and asked him to continue telling us how he ended up here. Scott looked relieved as Keenan’s eyes moved from him back to me and he continued his tale. I watched Langley during these awkward moments and noticed that he sneered at Scott, pleased by the discomfort that the older man had caused the kid. My own discomfort with him continued to grow.
Keenan insisted that this wasn’t the location where the disease started and that it wasn’t really a disease or virus at all. He said it could be classified more as a parasite or some sort of alien organic material but it wasn’t man made, it didn’t come from a lab, well sort of but not really. This is how Keenan’s story went for a good 10 minutes; him saying it wasn’t one thing but maybe another thing but really wasn’t.
“Sir, I’m not following what you’re saying and not saying. What hell is this thing that is making people into monsters?”
“Jesus Henning, pay attention.” Langley was refilling his glass and bent over Keenan to pour him another. “If it’s not manmade then obviously it’s alien. Like it came from space and was brought by aliens. You know little green men or are they grey?”
I had nothing to say to that. In spite of the situation and that there were zombies walking around, this was just too ridiculous to believe or really comprehend. Scott started to giggle in a disturbingly hysterical way and the look on his face was a mix between humour and horror; the two other men looked at him, annoyed and affronted. Keenan stood up next to Langley who had stopped pouring the whiskey and looked uncertain for the first time since we arrived at the Sheriff’s house. The older man looked at Scott then turned and slapped Langley, knocking him off balance and sending the whiskey bottle flying across the couch, drops of amber liquid falling on my head and the bottle smashing behind me on the floor. I didn’t know if the assault was because of Langley’s mocking tone or if it was because he had spilled a big secret. I was now fully doubting this pursuit of the truth. If Langley’s words had any creditability then both him and Keenan were off their nut and an unstable man with Keenan’s temper and ego, was a dangerous man. The alien talk and these men were rapidly increasing the atmosphere of uncertainty and danger.
“Sit down and shut up Langley.” Keenan sat back down and stared at Scott until the kid stopped giggling, which was within seconds as the big man stared daggers into him.
I remained quiet but noticed that at some point during Langley’s admonishing, Scott had moved his hand under his shirt and it looked like he was holding something hidden. I knew it was the gun but it wouldn’t be obvious to the others that the kid was hiding anything. I looked away but kept the observation in mind as I prodded Keenan to explain, not breaking eye contact even as his baleful look made me twitch; I was just hoping to keep any attention from Scott.
Keenan sighed and lit another cigarette as Langley sat back down, a childish pout on his face. Keenan started again by saying that Langley was right, in a way. No, there weren’t little green or grey men running around infecting the human race with a zombie virus but whatever this organism was, it was something that had never been seen on earth before.
“But not little green men , just something alien? Beings from outer space aren’t responsible?” I kept my tone inquisitive but I was beginning to think this was a dead end. Either they were purposely feeding me bullshit or they were batshit crazy. I was betting on the latter for Keenan.
“No. This is an alien substance from somewhere else, I don’t know where but it wasn’t concocted in a lab just….refined in one.”
“For what purpose? How do you know it’s not manmade? From what you’re saying-”
“Do you want me to continue or are you just going to keep interrupting?”
I bowed down and let him go on. He didn’t know the specifics of what it was, just that it looked like some sort of black oily substance. He said they were using it on volunteers, soldiers, to help enhance their immunity during combat in foreign countries and promote quick healing. Langley jumped in and called it a super soldier serum made from this alien substance. Keenan shot a silencing look.
“I saw one of the soldiers 2 weeks post injection. He didn’t look like a super soldier, he looked sick, pale and weak. A couple of days after that we had a security breach. He had been kept in a quarantine cell on the 3rd level, below ground. The nurses said he had been lethargic for days but when they went in to check his vitals, he attacked an orderly and the doctor and was able to make it to the first floor where I was stationed. I shot him with a taser to no effect, then put 3 bullets in his chest, he still ran at me and I finally put one in his head. He dropped but didn’t bleed blood. It was the same thick oily shit that I had seen in the test tubes in the lab. It scared the shit out of me.”
“When did that happen?” Scott spoke up, his voice quaking and fear peppering his huge brown eyes.
“About 2 months ago. We thought it had been contained with that one. But now I’m beginning to think there was another breach.”
“You were at this mysterious lab 2 months ago.” I let it roll around in my head. I wasn’t convinced about his story about the virus; something just wasn’t feeling right and I didn’t like the feeling that I had suddenly been plunged into an episode of the X-Files. “Why were you and Langley and the other soldiers set up in that town? What do you know about the little village that was…cleansed a couple of days ago?” I tried not to twitch at the memory of gunshots, fire and blood; blood on my hands.
“We are there to contain any outbreak. There are three other locations with soldiers to ensure containment. The village was one of them. I don’t know what happened and why your troupe was called in and clearly my town has been breached.”
“Can’t you call someone. Find out how bad this thing is?” Scott was getting anxious, making me more nervous about the gun in his hand.
“Huh. I think we’re fucked here kid.” Langley had found his courage to speak again. “Two of the four bases have fallen, that we know of. Could be the others too. Time to head for the hills I think.”
“We aren’t going anywhere soldier.” Keenan spoke with military authority as he put his glass down, moved to the gun cabinet and grabbed a riffle and started loading it.
“Yes Sir.” Langley remained seated, swirling the remains of his whiskey and staring at the bottom of his glass as I looked between him and Keenan.
“I’m not saying this is the end of the world. It’s an outbreak that will be contained one way or another and as far as I know, at this moment, the 4 of us are the only ones who know about it’s origins; aside from the other bases and the lab of course.” He slid the bullets into place, resting the rifle on the side board and reached for a shotgun. “And we’re going to keep it that way, aren’t we boys?”
The first shot exploded through the left glass door of the gun cabinet, sending shards of glass into the side of Keenan’s face. He shrieked and tried to shield his face then quickly recovered and started to scramble for the rifle, abandoning the shotgun. The next shot caught the Sheriff in the gut and he went down, wailing in pain and trying to keep his insides, inside him. I was up and over the sofa, ducking for cover before I had a chance to connect the shots to Scott. Langley was equally shocked and waited a good 20 seconds before he pulled his gun and aimed at the kid. He didn’t fire, not right away, giving me the chance to tackle the kid and prevent the bullet from going through his chest and only nicking his shoulder. Scott tossed me off easily, jumped up and fired 3 more shots at Langley, getting him in the right leg; his reactions clearly slowed due to the booze. I didn’t know what was happening and decided to cut my loses before I got caught in the crossfire.
Langley took shelter behind his chair, Keenan writhed in pain and blood on the floor and Scott just stood in the centre of the living room, breathing hard, the gun slack at his side. Moving slowly into a standing position with my arms up, I told Scott I was leaving and I wasn’t going to interfere. I faced the kid while walking backward trying to remember where the entry into the living room was without taking my eyes off him; my foot crunched down on the whiskey bottle and I froze.
“Stop! Please.” I had no choice and did as Scott asked. I should have just run. “You, you bastard. You made me do this.” Scott yelled but it wasn’t at me, he yelled at Keenan, then shot him in the chest, silencing the man’s cries and protests for good.
Langley shouted and Scott knew he had run. He pushed past me, knocking me off balance and I landed on my back on the rest of the broken bottle. I squinted in pain and saw Scott bolt for the front door as Langley regained an impaired mobility, gritting his teeth and dragging his wounded leg as he gave chase. I remained on my back for a few minutes, listening to Langley yell at Scott. One, two, three shots sounded; each one quieter than the previous. Silence filled the house and the dawning morning.
© 2014, Denise Pasutti