The Carrington Effect
Argent Jaeger Press
Andrew B. Dill
This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought
against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their
feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their
mouths. On that day people will be stricken by the Lord with great panic.
They will seize each other by the hand and attack one another.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a
roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Dawn broke over the ruined facade of the once famous eatery, its glass shattered in mute testimony to the violent upheavals of the very recent past. Reflections of a bright age, promise within its grasp, now darkened by the cloud of madness that had descended upon the earth. In the shadows, shattered glass reflected the darkness like the broken dreams of a naive and weak world, self-absorbed in its own presumed superiority. The crushing weight of the death of that world, ancient in its wonder, weighed heavily upon the man, like a fading dream upon his awakening to the harsh, brutal reality that all of this could have been prevented. Or at least planned for.
Angus cursed under his breath, "Where the hell is Justin?" He waited, crouched under the cover of the establishment's tables, his face blackened with the soot of the fires burning in the mall's hallways. His breath came slowly and evenly, one of the positive effects of his daily yoga. Amazing that he was still able to do ten minutes a day, even now. Almost every day. His bad back was to blame, an old injury on labor and delivery in residency training, a dozen or so years ago.
His brief military career had prepared him for the possibility that things could go wrong, sometimes really, really wrong. After family practice residency, he had volunteered for the Air Force and he had started his training at the rank of Captain. It seemed the military counted being yelled at by surgeons and working 110 hours per week in medical school as time served.
He had been a Major in the USAF and family physician for his base in California and his extra duties had included a two and a half year stint as the Base's Clinical Response Team Chief, a job he had both loved and hated. He always laughed at the duty requirements listed in the personnel manual: "To maintain unit mission readiness during a disaster contingency." Ha! To translate into plain English, his job was to keep his friends in his unit alive during an end of the world event. He and his base trained for wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters found in the local Northern California region. But they also trained for EMP events, terrorist bombings, nuclear catastrophes and biological contagion. And that last type of event was the thing that had kept him up at night for the two and a half year period that he held the job.
He could remember, with surprise, the first time he received a Department of Defense, or DOD email detailing the most recent figures for the possible spread patterns for worldwide emerging diseases. None of the data that he reviewed that day had ever been, or ever would be on the news. He would never be able to tell anyone any of the details of those reports. And none of it was conducive to restful sleep. Plagues started for a number of reasons. The reports never explained whether the diseases being tracked were bioweapons intentionally released for small scale testing, accidental lab releases or naturally occurring germs either transitioning from animal species to our own or evolving from prior infectious diseases already present in humans.
He would frequently wake up in a cold sweat, his wife Gwen concerned over his worry. He told her what he could, what he was allowed to tell. Work was stressful, and she figured out enough to know that the world was a much more dangerous place than they had ever dreamed of in the beautiful East Tennessee town where their marriage had blossomed.
They had met at a mall clothier, working in the men's shoe department. He had brushed the hair from her forehead and won her heart. They had loved each other truly from the first day they met. They were together before he started medical school and they had their first child and adopted their second child and settled in the Nashville area after his military minimum service obligation was completed. They had settled in a small city just north of Nashville, and had been at peace with the world for several years before the madness had started. He no longer got the terrifying DOD Weekly Report. He no longer spent his days and nights rewriting Base Standard Operating Procedures for disaster contingencies. No longer did his thoughts turn to gas masks, level C suits, decontamination systems and antibiotic caches. He was a civilian. He slept well at night, the dreams of terror and fear forever behind him. Or so he thought.
A slobbering wail echoed through the darkened interior of the kitchen, sending chills of near panic through Angus. "Damn it, they're here!" he muttered under his breath again. A dark figure moved slowly towards the commotion at the front of the restaurant. Angus silently thanked God for His blessings. It appeared that the creature had not seen him yet.
She must have been beautiful at one time, before the infection had stripped the sanity from her mind and left a shell of raw edged emotion and psychosis. Her clothes were torn but mostly intact, the remains of a grisly feast still splashed across the dingy white of her designer blouse. Her high heeled shoes were still attached to her ankles and feet by the straps, the heels long since broken off.
They hated the light, but were not hurt by it. Most certainly weren't intelligent in the traditional sense, but could still think clearly enough to plan and coordinate efforts with more of their kind: to attack, gather food together, work for long term goals. The psychosis imparted by the plague hit each of the infected differently. You couldn't tell how much of their problem solving skill remained.
Suddenly, rocket fire shrieked across the parking lot; an overturned produce cart burst into flames. The heat of the explosion spread across Angus' neck, the heat of fear mixing with explosive impulse, causing sweat to bead on his brow. His plate armor carrier, and ACH helmet added to the sweltering conditions typical for a Nashville late summer. He keyed the mike of his 2 meter Ham radio handitalkie twice, a signal that could be heard by his team without giving away his position. The Yaesu radio complied, sending a double static break across the 144mhz band. Angus prayed again, this time asking that his distress signal be heard.
Concussions of small arms fire slapping through steel doors of cars and the rat tat tat of semiautomatic rifle fire rang through the air. Angus' radio crackled three times. His signal had been heard. He looked over the table that he was hiding beneath and saw three men in mixed civilian clothing firing AKs at a group of the infected walking out of the restaurant kitchen. The infected had no weapons save some kitchen knives and wooden rods, possibly banisters from the restaurant decor. One of the infected howled and charged headlong into the fire, 7.62x39 caliber rounds impacting its torso with pops of red spray. It continued running until it reached the line of men and stabbed the first directly in the chest. The man tried to scream but could not draw breath, the knife wedged into his sternum with incredible force.
His companion pointed his AK at the creature's head and fired, sending it slumping over, its brainpan rupturing like a watermelon dropped from a window. The third man screamed as several of the infected rushed forward, his shots impacting some, missing others. One of the infected was hit in the neck, grabbed the bleeding artery and fell sideways, its lifeblood emptying onto the pavement. Several more rocked back as the long barrelled RPK emptied its drum magazine in the group. More infected dropped as the man finished firing the RPK and threw it down, pulling what looked like a Mossberg 590 12 gauge shotgun from a backpack rifle sheath. The man cycled a round into the chamber just as one of the infected, a small Asian woman, lunged toward him, fingernails reaching out like claws. The buckshot round blew a tennis ball sized hole through the creature's upper chest, and it gasped a gurgling breath and fell forward onto the pavement. Fingernails grasped at the asphalt, then stopped. Several more men appeared, firing rifles and shotguns into the restaurant.
Angus ducked, just as gunfire zipped over his head. He held his position and heard the sound of more gunfire and screaming. Barked commands were heard and then silence, the racking of slides and the sounds of rifle magazines being exchanged. He could feel movement to his left, and he froze in the shadows. He heard trucks rumble and debris crunch as large tires rolled through the parking lot. Doors opened and shut, engines roaring to speed and smashing sounds that must be cars pushed to the sides as the trucks rumbled away.
The sounds receded into the distance and his ear mike chirped to life. "Echo 2, Foxtrot 1, Echo 2, Foxtrot 1."
Angus keyed his mike, "Roger Foxtrot 1, how copy?"
"Five by five. Await extraction, ETA three minutes."
"Roger wilco," Angus spoke through the mike as he glanced at his watch, marking the time mentally. Running footsteps sounded through the parking lot two minutes later and Angus peered over the table and saw Justin and John running at a trot, AR-15 rifles held muzzle down to the left side, at the low ready position, both scanning side to side as they ran. Angus yelled, "Snake, snake!"
"Palmetto!" was the extraction team leader's reply, as the footsteps approached. Angus slowly stood up, saw John glance his way, and key his mike, "Foxtrot 2, we have heavy, over."
"Roger that, Foxtrot 1, standby for exfil," they all heard over their ear buds. Justin looked over as John took a knee facing the direction that they had come from. "Sorry man, we saw those guys come in and had to wait. We didn't know if they were cannibals or not, so we sat tight."
"You did the right thing, man. Don't worry about it, I'm good." Angus answered, trotting over to where John was kneeling. "Scared the hell out of me though! Thought you were goners. Glad you are O.K."
A large military truck appeared, rumbling through the parking lot, following the path cleared by the others. The Deuce and a Half maneuvered up and stopped just long enough for the three men to climb into the truck, and then rumbled down the street, engine revving up on the used motor oil filling its antiquated fuel tank. The sun continued its slow climb across the Middle Tennessee sky. The cicada chirping receded into the distance, a wild symphony for a dying culture, its bones bleaching in the sun, like some giant sea creature washed onto the barren shoals of an uncertain future.