Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.” – Revelations 6:7
I may be insane, but I feel I should write this down while I still have the chance. I’m locked in my apartment, and I’ve barricaded the door, but I know I won’t be safe here. I just have to try to get this crazy goddamn story straight in the time that I have left. Before he comes for me.
I need to back up some. I’m Josh. Hi. Three days ago I was a normal person, with a normal car, normal apartment, normal life. I worked a desk job for Golden Image LLC. Stupid name, right? We were a small image consulting firm, specializing in political appearance management. In other words, when a politician fucked something up and fell out of favor he would come to us, and we’d make the public forget how shitty he was at his job. And recently what with the war and these Midwest droughts, business was going great. It was dull work, but it kept the bills paid, so I didn’t complain. Much.
And then all this started just a few days ago, specifically while I was riding the bus to work, like I always do. It’s about a thirty minute commute to the office, and sure it smells funny, but I’ve always loved watching the other passengers. You never see a cross section of Americana quite as interesting as when you’re on the public transportation system. Anyway, that was when I saw him for the first time.
At first it didn’t seem that unusual. I was just sitting there ignoring the urine smell, looking at the other passengers. Man With the Ponytail, Mullet Woman, and Mr. ‘I Don’t Need to Wear a Shirt in Public’ were all present. The driver had his typical thousand yard stare, and seated towards the back there was a woman who was a regular like me. I don’t know where she rode the bus to, but she was on it almost every day at the same times as me. I remember she looked a little under the weather that morning. Her hair was disheveled, her eyes watery, and I saw about a million tissues overflowing from the massive floral handbag she always carried. But, hey, it was flu season. I didn’t think anything of it other than to remind myself to use some hand sanitizer once I was off the bus.
What did catch my eye however, was the man standing in the row behind her. He was wearing a black suit, and I mean it was all black. Black jacket, black shirt, black shoes, black leather gloves, neat black hair, irises so black they were indistinguishable from the pupils… The only thing that wasn’t black about him was the pale, sallow skin on his face and neck, which was white as a corpse. And this guy just stood there, staring at the woman with the floral handbag. It wasn’t the normal bus pervert leer, but a simple, steady gaze of what could have been mild curiosity that was somehow more disturbing than any sexual advance.
Despite not being the object of his unsettling attentions, I think I was more freaked out than the woman. She was ignoring him like a champ, and for that matter so was everyone else on board, so eventually I followed their lead. Mr. Black was definitely a creepy character, but I’d seen worse. Welcome to public transportation.
Work was pretty typical. Eight hours of familiar monotony in your average mid-American office, complete with artificial ferns and buzzing fluorescents. The only breaks from normality were that we were all a little disorganized that day, since Dave the receptionist was out sick, and me getting a random text from Sean, an old friend from college who I had deliberately lost touch with. “u seen the news?” Weird question. The answer was no, I hadn’t watched the news since the war broke out, and I didn’t particularly want to have a discussion about it during work, so I deleted the message without answering.
The other big event of the day was during lunch my friend Michael from accounting talked me into finally asking out Rachael the cute new girl after work. I’d been keeping an eye on her for a while, but it was time to make my move, so once the shift ended I gathered my courage and “bumped into” her as she was headed out the door.
“Oh hey,” she said, or something like it, “You headed out?”
“Just about,” I replied, suave as hell. “I just gotta drop these papers in
the boss’s office and then I’ll be gone.”
“Cool. I can’t wait to get home myself. Maybe some tea will help with this head cold,” she said.
“Yeah, maybe.” Awkward pause. “Hey, do you maybe want to get some coffee or something? With me, I mean. Say, after work tomorrow?” I asked, and God help me, she smiled, and it lit up the room.
“Yeah,” she said, “That sounds cool.”
I smiled too. “Cool.”
After another, less awkward moment we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I dropped off the papers and paused by the window in the boss’s office to admire her as she walked across the twilit parking lot to her car. And something caught my eye. On the other side of the parking lot, half in shadow but still unmistakable, stood the man in black from the bus. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t freak me out. If seeing him twice in a day was a coincidence, it was a hell of a strange one.
Rachael didn’t seem to notice him, but from where I stood it was clear that he was watching her, not just in passing, but intently. I got out my phone, and was ready to call 911 in case he made a move, but he never did. He just stared from the shadows as she walked to her car, fumbled the keys a little, got in, and drove off, and then he turned and walked away.
What do you do in a situation like that? Maybe I should have called Rachael and told her what I saw, but at the time I thought the guy was probably harmless, if a little creepy. The rationale of “there’s no point in worrying her and making myself sound crazy” seemed awfully rational. In the end I decided to pretend it never happened. I dropped the papers on the boss’s desk and caught the bus home.
At the time it didn’t even strike me as unusual that the woman with the floral handbag wasn’t on it this time.
I had one missed call and one new message when I woke up the next day. The call was from work. I figured they probably wanted me to come in early, but I was already late, so that wasn’t going to happen. The message was from Sean. “u seeing this?” Weird. I didn’t know what he kept texting me about, and if I weren’t running late I might have replied, but the fact is I hadn’t talked to him in years. It was easier to ignore him.
I remember feeling strange as I got ready that day. There was this persistant prickling sensation on the back of my neck, and my heart would flutter nervously at odd moments. It wasn’t anything serious, all things considered, just more of a general sense of unease than I was used to feeling while I brushed my teeth. I think it was because of the weird dreams I had the night before. They were the confusing, frightening kind that you can almost never remember, not that you’d want to.
In the end I just decided to put the nightmares and the anxiety out of my mind. It was probably nothing anyway, right? Still, I caught myself several times on the way to the bus stop glancing back over my shoulder, convinced that I had seen a figure dressed all in black from the corner of my eye.
As I got off the bus and walked the last block to the office I idly wondered what it was that Sean was so eager to talk to me about. Normally I would have asked the bus driver what he might have meant, since he was usually pretty up-to-date on current events and we discussed them from time to time, but there was an unfamiliar man driving today. When I asked him what had happened to the usual driver he shrugged. “Flu season,” he said.
I was snapped out of my reverie by the police surrounding my office building.
“Sir, Sir! You can’t go in there,” one of the officers said.
“What? Why not? What’s going on?” I asked, confused. Had I walked to the wrong building by mistake? No, doubtful. I’d walked this way a thousand times.
“I’m sorry sir, we’re not supposed to say. Just go home for now and wait for more information.”
“Please, officer, I don’t understand. This is where I work. Can you please just tell me—,”
“Look buddy,” he said, “What did I just say? Work’s cancelled today. Fuck. Off.”
So, rebuffed, mind racing and for lack of a better thing to do, I turned and started walking back to the bus stop, pulling out my phone as I did. I dialed Michael from accounting’s number. It rang a good seven times before he answered. “Hello?” His voice sounded hoarse, but maybe it was just the connection.
“Mike! What’s going on, man? The office is surrounded by cops, and they won’t let me in. What happened?”
There was a pause. “You’re serious? You didn’t hear?”
“Hear what?” This was doing nothing to calm my nerves.
“Jesus, man,” he breathed, his voice grave. “You’ve got to start answering your phone. Are you sitting down?”
I was a little panicked by now. “Fuck dude, would you just tell me what’s going on?”
There was another pause, and Michael’s voice cracked when he next spoke.
“Dave is dead. Rachael is in the hospital. Whatever he had wasn’t the flu, and they think he spread it to her. They’ve shut down the building until they can be sure—,” he tried to continue, but I had already hung up and started running.
I’m not sure why I reacted the way I did. Granted, I wasn’t close to Dave, but Jesus, we worked together. I’d seen him on Monday and he was fine, and now I was supposed to believe that he had just…? And Rachael…
I think part of me wouldn’t believe something that awful had really happened until I saw it for myself. On top of that, maybe I felt protective of Rachael and our fledgling relationship. Or maybe I took some kind of responsibility for what had happened to her. I had this awful feeling that whatever was wrong with her had something to do with the cold, black eyes that I’d seen fix on her the night before. If I had warned her about the man in black, maybe she’d have been ok…
Or maybe I was cracking. Either way I didn’t stop running until I reached the hospital, eight blocks away. People do strange things in the thrall of grief.
The place was packed. When I finally burst in through the doors (as much as one can burst through automatic sliding doors), sweat soaked and wheezing, I was actually shocked into stillness by the sheer number of people crowded into the room. Keep in mind, this was not a proper waiting room. It was an entranceway for visitors, but it was still full to bursting with sick, sniffling, coughing people trying to gain admittance. Some of them just looked a little green, others were nearly catatonic, but every one of them had this haunted look on their face, like they could break into a panic at any moment. Trying to make my way through the crowd of diseased felt like parting the Red Sea. I remember stupidly wondering if the hospital looked like this during flu season every year.
After a solid ten minutes of effort I managed to fight my way across the room to the exhausted-looking woman behind the counter, and tell her who I was looking for.
“I’m sorry sir,” she sighed in a practiced response, “but none of our patients are allowed to have visitors right now. If this woman is related to you, you will be contacted once the crisis has passed. Now for your safety, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the building.”
I very politely and graciously accepted her words, and then slipped past her into the hospital proper the second she looked away.
Again, I’m not sure why I did this, especially since there was no plan beyond “Find the girl, make sure she’s alright.”
And how did I expect to execute this plan? Simple. I was just going to check every room in the hospital until I located the one with Rachael in it.
The place was massive. For two hours I walked from room to room, peeking inside each one, looking for her. I kept my head down and tried to look inconspicuous the whole time as an army of doctors and nurses scurried past, but I really shouldn’t have bothered. Every member of the hospital staff looked harried and rushed, and in some cases on the verge of tears. They were all far too busy to stop and ask one lost looking me where he was going.
For two hours I looked, and I didn’t see any empty beds, apart from a handful that looked freshly vacated, and featured ominous reddish-brown stains. The hospital must have been far beyond capacity, and I started to fear that I would never find her in the crowd.
And then I found her. God help me, I found her.
I stumbled into the room where she lay. Rachael. She was the kind of girl who could make even a sickly green hospital gown look cute.
She could not, however, do anything to make the blood seem appealing. It dribbled from her nose and ears. It filled up her mouth and ran down her cheeks to pool on the thin pillow underneath her head. It poured out of her eyes in silent mourning of her own bloody passing.
She must have panicked at the end. Her limp hands were colored red, and the sheets and her gown were covered in thickening splatters of it. I could clearly picture her trying in vain to hold the blood in, as if she could stop it by simply clamping her hands over her mouth, and then flailing in a panic when it kept coming.
Rachael was still when I found her. Pale. Cold. It was pure luck that I happened onto her before someone came to take her away.
I walked back into the hallway.
And the man in black was right fucking there, walking from room to room, much as I had, focusing his black gaze on the occupants of each one just for a moment before moving on to the next.
I’ll be the first to admit that at this point I really lost it. I dimly recall screaming something along the lines of, “You fucking bastard!! What did you do? Look what you’ve done to her!”
That got the attention of some of the nurses. “Sir? Sir!” they said, “Who are you yelling at?” and then when I didn’t reply, “Code it! Get him restrained and to take him up to mental health.”
But I didn’t hear them, because when I started shouting, once he knew that he’d been seen, the man in black looked up from the patient he was inspecting, and fixed his eyes on me.
Something clicked. Cold pierced me on a profound level, and without making any conscious decision to do so I ran faster than I ever had in my life. I didn’t spare a single thought for where I was running to, or why for that matter. There was a primal fear coursing through me, and I knew that no matter how much distance I put between myself and that thing dressed up in the suit it would never be enough.
I lost myself for a while there, but eventually I somehow ended up running back to the bus stop. They say that in times of crises you just want to go back to what’s familiar, so I guess it makes sense. I really just wanted to go home to my apartment, but when I got to the stop there was a notice hanging from the marker.
“For your safety, all public transportation has temporarily been shut down. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
I sighed. That made sense. I was calming down now, and putting things together. It all made sense. I turned and started heading to my apartment on foot. I didn’t rush. I wanted to enjoy this walk.
I looked around as I walked, trying to really take the view in, and retain it. There weren’t very many people on the street anymore, and those that I did see were drifting along in the same dreamlike state as I was. I sighed again. The city was kind of an ugly place, really.
Suddenly my phone rang, and I jumped. It had been a long day already. Sean was calling me. I answered.
“Holy shit, thank God you’re alive,” he said breathlessly by way of greeting.
I smiled a little, without quite breaking into tears. “Hey, Sean. I’m alive.”
“Shit, just thank God, man. I’ve been calling everyone in my contacts and you’re the only one that’s answered. I haven’t heard from my family in days…” He sounded like he was at wit’s end. Poor guy. “Dude, have you seen the news?”
“Not recently. Fill me in?”
He took a deep breath. “There’s some kind of disease spreading all over the world, man. They’re calling it a pandemic, and the fastest spreading disease in recorded history. Something to do with modern transportation. Apparently there have been outbreaks on all seven continents, the number of infected keeps skyrocketing, and they haven’t even begun to count the, uh…” he swallowed. Could he really not even say it?
“Well what are the people on the news telling us to do?”
“Oh God, dude, most of them aren’t even on the air anymore. Just these emergency broadcast screens. The ones that still are though, they say that things don’t look good. They just keep on telling us to barricade ourselves inside our homes, and stay safe.” He paused. “I’m scared, Josh.”
“Yeah. Me too,” I said, and I meant it. “Ok. I’m gonna go barricade myself in now. I’ll talk to you later, when all this has blown over.” I tried to clear my throat quietly. I didn’t want Sean to hear me start coughing.
“Ok, just… Be safe, dude.”
“You too.” And I hung up, and kept walking back towards home. After a minute I smiled again, thinking to myself. I’d forgotten how much I had missed talking to Sean.
So here I am, locked in my home with a fever of 102, typing my story up for whoever might get to read it. I’m sorry if it wasn’t climactic enough for you, but I think the truth rarely is.
Now, I’m pretty sure this is the part in most stories where I would express my confusion and fear of the man in black, and talk about how I don’t know who he is, or what he wants, but honestly meeting his gaze in the hospital like that really brought a moment of clarity for me. My eyes are open. I’m absolutely afraid of Him, but I also know what He is, and why He’s here, and I bet that if you think really hard you can figure it out too. Hell, He’s on the news every day.
I’m not sure why I took the trouble to barricade myself in, when I know full well it won’t stop Him, and it certainly won’t stop me from hemorrhaging when the time comes, but I suppose it’s in our nature to try and hold Him off for as long as we can. After all, He is why we run and hide.
Like I said, I may be insane, but I really believe this is the end, ladies and gentlemen, for me and in the broader sense. It certainly feels apocalyptic. I’ve got that “this is it” sense of dread that you only get when things are really bad. I guess the only thing that still surprises me is how fast it all went down. Two days is all it took for my life to go from normal, to falling apart, to over. My ego tells me it should have taken longer than that. But I suppose that’s how it is for everyone. He sneaks up on you.
Ah, and He’s here now, with me. It’s time to go. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared—God, look at my hands shaking—, but there’s no sense in fighting. If my family ever gets the chance to read this, know that I love you. I thought about you in the end, and I want you to know that—
Credit To – DRick