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A Different Virus: Heartfire

A Different Virus: Heartfire

Fantasy ・ Science Fiction

Crystal Scherer


In the future, everyone who's bitten by a zombie turns into one... until Diane doesn't. Seven days later, she's facing consequences she never imagined. ***** As civilization collapses under a relentless wave of zombies, Diane and her friends take shelter in a military base. However, while she's rescuing another survivor, Diane gets bitten by one of the monsters. She knows if anyone finds out about the bite she'll be driven away, so she keeps it hidden. But she soon discovers she isn't turning into a zombie, she's turning into something else.


Ch. 1

I checked the clock as I scrambled some eggs for breakfast. I expected my phone to ring any moment now. It was the first day of April, and that meant it was April Fool's Day. It was a good thing that I lived a ten-minute drive from my friend's house since Kailey might blame me for what Evan did.

My phone started ringing, and I glanced at the call display before answering it. "Hey, Kailey."

"I can't believe it! Diane, do you see this?!" She was always so overexcitable...

I pretended to have no idea what she was talking about. "See what?"

"Turn the TV on to the news. You are not going to believe this..."

That wasn't the response I expected. "Give me a second."

I pulled the eggs off the burner and went into my living room to turn the TV on. Images of people screaming and attacking one another like rabid animals filled the screen and assaulted my ears.

I rolled my eyes at her oversight. "Kailey. What day is it?"

"Uh... Saturday. Why?"

"What day of the month? Remember that online blog you showed me last week?"

"April first - Ohhh... Right, that huge computer group promised to try hacking the news stations. Wait a second – Diane, what did you do?"

"Nothing. I am innocent this time."

Kailey's voice rose in disbelief. "I don't believe you! What did you do?"

"Check with Evan, he may have an idea. I have to run, talk to you later!"

"Dian-" Click.

She would probably still blame me even though I was actually innocent. I grinned as I imagined her face and looked over my shoulder as I double-checked that the front door was still locked. A bag of Doritos was already taped to the other side of the door as a peace offering in case she did show up and somehow managed to acquire a key to sneak inside.

Chuckling, I walked back to the kitchen as I put my waist-long brown hair up in a ponytail. I put the frying pan of eggs back on the stove as the news reporter on the screen continued to speak rapidly, "People are developing rabies-like symptoms and trying to bite anyone they can catch. Reports are coming in from numerous countries, and they are all reporting the same thing. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and people are advised to stay inside-"

Gunfire interrupted the news reporter. I glanced over at the screen to see people in foreign police uniforms firing their handguns at people with red eyes. Their bodies jerked with the bullets, but otherwise, they didn't show any sign of pain as they kept walking towards the officers.

Zombies... How much more unrealistic could they get? If someone bled out, then they died. Or at the very least, they collapsed since the muscles no longer had any oxygen. Those hackers apparently forgot to run this by a few of their friends for quality assurance purposes... Or perhaps they were being good citizens by ensuring that most people would realize that these videos were obviously fake.

Ring. Ring. My phone was ringing more than usual this morning, which wasn't always a good thing. I cautiously peeked at the name on the display, but it was only Evan.

With a relieved grin, I answered it. "Good morning, Evan. I assume Kailey called you?"

I could hear laughter in the background, along with power tools. Evan's voice was light in amusement as it came over the phone. "Yes, did you tell her what I did?"

"No, I didn't, but she is trying to blame me. What's all the laughing in the background about? Did you prank someone there too?"

"No, everyone at work is watching the news and laughing at this lame April Fool's joke. A pandemic couldn't appear in over half of the countries worldwide in twelve hours."

I glanced at the clock again. "Why are you at work so early?"

He snorted faintly in amusement. "Just to make sure that Kailey can't easily find me. Once she thinks about it, she'll know I am guilty of putting glitter in her hairdryer. She watched me buy it last month."

"Well," I said, "have fun!"

"People are not supposed to have fun when they are in hiding." Evan hung up the phone as someone in the background called his name.

       Kailey and Evan silently sat beside me on the couch while we listened to the old radio. No one was laughing now. In fact, at least a quarter of the world's population was either dead or undead. We hadn't been the only ones to brush off the videos as an April Fool's joke - it had cost many people their lives.

Zombies were real.

I was still trying to wrap my head around that one. The first cases shown on the news stations had appeared five days ago, and it had been our folly to dismiss them as a joke. Most countries had fallen silent, and were no longer sending out any sort of communication as entire cities became zombie playgrounds – and the virus was still spreading insanely fast.

The highly populated areas all around the world had been hit hard and fell fast, although the effects were even being felt in our remote Alberta town. Canada's more spread-out population had helped, but even though there hadn't been many zombies reported in the country, we had lost power this morning, forcing the three of us to dig through my outdated camping supplies.

A woman's voice still came through my battery-powered radio as she relayed the latest piece of news they had. We had already heard all of it this morning, but we couldn't bring ourselves to change the channel. Besides, there was nothing on the air other than this latest event that was bringing humanity and civilization crashing down to its knees. Turning it off would result in silence – something that we didn't really want either.

"The lab reports claim this virus is actually a mutation of a lab-created variety that was designed to fight viruses and bacteria. It is highly contagious and any contact with body fluids will spread it. Many people reported having a migraine minutes before they turned, but otherwise, there are no symptoms until the seizures hit."

The original virus had been spread by sneezing with no other side-effects, which was how it travelled to almost every country out there without suspicion. Somehow, the virus had an internal timer that caused it to mutate at roughly the same time and with the same effect.

"This is really bad," Evan said, groaning faintly in frustration. "Even if the current virus can only be spread by blood or saliva, the incubation period of this new virus varies so widely that it makes containment next to impossible."

Neither Kailey nor I responded. We all knew that it was spreading like wildfire. People fleeing the chaos were running blindly as they tried to escape the danger, and some would certainly be infected, but it was the zombies themselves that were the main danger.

These zombies weren't adhering to Hollywood's rules either. Several cases were reported where someone had gotten blood splatter into their mouth or eyes while shooting a gun at a zombie. They had turned into zombies themselves.

Kailey's eyes nervously flickered to the various windows, looking even more worried than Evan. She glanced at me, her light brown eyes meeting my dark brown ones, before she turned to Evan again.

She said, "The worst part is that we have no way to tell if someone is infected or not. No one has said how much time the infected people have before turning into a zombie. For all we know, that allergy attack I had two months ago was actually the first virus and I am just a ticking time bomb."

"No," Evan said, shaking his head in disagreement. "That was the weekend you tried to dust your attic. I warned you to use a dust mask, but you didn't. We aren't infected, but who knows how many people travelling through might be."

We all glanced towards the windows. The blinds were open to allow light in – and also allow us to see a paved backroad where an unusually high number of vehicles were all streaming north. Considering how many vehicles had been racing down this tiny, remote highway over the last four days, Evan's words weren't exactly reassuring.

Kailey broke the silence. "So, until someone goes into seizures and suddenly gets up with bright red, bloodshot eyes, we are more or less safe? The zombies have overrun almost every southern state in the USA, and the northern states are barely holding out. There is no way that the zombies are just going to stop at the border and politely ask if they can come in."

She was correct. I wasn't sure I even wanted to consider how clogged the main highways were. People were fleeing north into Canada in an attempt to escape the horrors behind them. The virus – and zombies – were bound to follow. And to make matters worse, these zombies were nearly impossible to take down for good. Nothing seemed to faze them.

They could bleed out with no reaction and couldn't be knocked out cold. I recalled the video from the news channel showing police dumping hundreds of rounds into a couple of approaching zombies, and other than the backward impact from the bullets, they weren't affected or even slowed down much by the wounds.

Evan snorted faintly in amusement at her unintentional joke. "The zombies in the movies never asked, and I severely doubt they will in real life."

"Remember those movies that said that any injury to the brain would kill a zombie?" Kailey asked. "Could you imagine if this was like Shaun of the Dead? This would be so much easier if it was like that..."

Evan shivered slightly. "Yeah, they were wrong. So many people thought it would be that simple, and they aren't exactly alive to regret it. The only way to kill those things is to completely sever the head from the body, and that isn't exactly easy – especially if you consider the blood splatter."

I continued to remain silent as I took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes tiredly. People who had been relying on guns didn't live long enough to learn from their mistakes. The governments had prepared for many situations, such as war, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and even a meteor impact...

Zombies. Go figure.

Even the zombie survival plans by extremist individuals had counted on brain injuries to stop zombies. A zombie invasion was nowhere near as easy to survive as people had anticipated. A few were probably tucked up nice and safe in some underground bunker, but the majority were simply trying to survive – and that meant keeping away from zombies.

Many movies had portrayed zombies as slow, stumbling, and disoriented creatures that had a lot in common with a severely drunk teenager. Once again, Hollywood missed its mark.

The news stations had broadcasted as many videos as they could convince the news crews to film. Most zombies could manage a pace faster than a speed walk. They could also see fairly well and had a decent sense of smell. Although, in typical Hollywood-style, they never grew tired. It was a dangerous combination that had permanently ended the career of more than a few of the news crews.

However, zombies were not the brightest of creatures. They were more or less incapable of truly climbing, to such an extent that they failed to realize they could climb over a six-foot-tall chain-link fence. But they were strong, and if a couple dozen zombies pushed on such a fence while trying to get at someone, the fence would not last long. Once an infected person turned, they moved slower, but were much stronger.

Except for Swifts.

For some reason, every once in a while, a zombie would not be slow. In fact, they could move faster than most of the survivors. They were very dangerous since they were strongly attracted to movement and would leave a wounded victim in favor of going after others who were running away. Due to their speed, they had been nicknamed Swifts by the very few survivors who had managed to get out of the vicinity alive.

Kailey slowly leafed through numerous pages on the table. I was very glad that I had printed them before the power went out. Most of what I had printed out were guides on edible plants, although I already knew more than most people in my area due to my love of the outdoors.

Without electricity, my computer and printer were no longer an option, although our phones were still working. That wasn't saying much though, since more and more websites disappeared into a cyber wasteland – their server rooms likely powerless as well. And with my computer out of order, I also lost my favorite reference guide - Google. I finally realized just how often I used Google to look things up, and being trapped indoors during a zombie apocalypse made me truly miss its presence.

Kailey and Evan were staying in my house since their homes were in the middle of town and they wanted to avoid people in case of infection. We had been hoping that this would all blow over in a few weeks and life could more or less pick up where it had left off. Considering how many countries had already collapsed, it was a dubious hope – and everyone knew it.

Kailey put down the papers and picked up her cell phone for a quick check. She inhaled in alarm, and both of us looked at her in worry, wondering what she was seeing. With wide eyes, she held up her phone so we could see it.

"This is that new Twitter feed for Alberta Zombie Spotting. There have been over a dozen zombie sightings in Calgary in the last hour."

Goosebumps ran up my spine as I murmured, "This isn't good. Calgary is only a couple of hours away from here by car."

Kailey tapped her phone a few more times as she quickly tried to sift through the clutter for more information. When she spoke, her voice shook, "There are confirmed cases in at least a dozen other cities in Alberta as well."

Evan groaned before dropping his head into his hands, mumbling, "Well, we knew that zombies would show up in Canada eventually. What about the other provinces?"

"Ummm... Let me check." She silently stared at the screen for a while before simply passing her phone to Evan.

He took it in confusion, peering at the small print on the screen. After a moment of silence, he glanced at me and began to speak with a tight voice, "Zombies have been spotted in every province and territory in Canada – and the sightings are skyrocketing." He paused, taking a deep breath before continuing, "Right now, the city of Toronto's online social media pages for tracking zombies are swamped. A quarter of the posts are from those who are still reporting new sightings, a quarter of the posts are asking if zombies have been seen in certain areas, and about half of the posts are from people pleading for help as zombies are trying to break into their home."

All I could do was sit there and gaze at him in shock. Kailey had checked those feeds yesterday evening, and other than a few isolated incidents where the zombies were quickly confined or trapped, things had seemed fairly normal. It sounded like things were much worse in Eastern Canada at the moment.

Kailey and Evan also sat quietly, unwilling to break the silence. None of us wanted to say it, but we all knew the truth. Life wasn't going back to normal anytime soon.

The sound of static made us all look at the radio. The station we had been listening to was no longer broadcasting, further proof that civilization was collapsing. Kailey reached over to grab the radio and began tinkering around with the dial as she tried to find another live station. Most radio stations had been going down one by one over the last few days. It had taken us almost five minutes to pick up this one this morning.

Evan gazed at the cell phone still in his hand and sighed. "With the power outage, the cell towers are running on backup batteries. You do realize that those batteries aren't going to last more than a day tops, right? The landline phones have already gone dead."

Kailey and I looked at each other as we received this unpleasant news. I had thought that her cell phone's battery was going to be our limit. It hadn't occurred to me that her phone relied on those towers to access the internet.

Kailey ventured a response. "Umm... I guess we know now?" She looked down in the silence as she fiddled with the radio, only to be rewarded with static.

The radio suddenly had words, which just as quickly disappeared into static as she accidentally scrolled past the channel.

Evan jumped up in excitement. "Go back! Turn the dial back, quick!"

Kailey had already been trying to locate the random frequency she had inadvertently found. Moments later, words filled the room.

"-not leave your location if you are safe and see infected outside. I repeat, please do not leave your location if you are safe and see infected outside. For those who are not in a safe location and are unable to find one, the Wainwright Military Base in Alberta is still functioning..."

The broadcast went on for about five minutes before repeating itself. We turned off the radio and looked at one another. Should we stay or go? Wainwright was northwest of us, roughly a two-hour drive away - if we didn't encounter any delays or problems.

After some discussion, we decided to stay. We could run later if we needed to.