The first time it happened, he woke up in the middle of the forest covered in blood. A dead doe was draped over a rock nearby. Behind her limp body, a trail of feathers, fur, and red led him back home. The back door was wide open, the paint scratched off in patches on the side that faced inward. He placed his fingers against the spots were white paint once was and matched the markings. It was still early morning then. The moon hung behind him in the sky, higher than the rising sun. Ahead of him at the horizon, a bolder red than the dark shades he left behind in the woods bloomed into the fading darkness. Dazed, his only priority that morning was to get inside and wash off. What happened, he didn't think on it consciously, but his left hand kept returning to the too hard love bite on his neck the girl he picked up at the bar a day ago left. He didn't remember her name. He didn't intend to. Her face was already blurry in his mind by then. She was hungry for the same thing he wanted that night, and she left long before dawn. Rather than think on that, he looked in the trash at the number of empty beer cans. There weren't enough to make any sense with his amnesia over the previous night. He checked the percentage on an unopened can to confirm to himself nothing had changed. The number was the same it always was. He convinced himself that was the reason anyway. He never could hold his alcohol well. There must've been more empty cans somewhere else in the house, underneath some furniture somewhere or laying about in the backyard gathering ants. That's what he told himself. The previous night was wiped away from his thoughts and he got ready for work. A month passed and though he avoided the backyard and the woods, he mostly forgot about that strange morning once the door was repainted. He went out on the weekends looking for fun, but struck out each time. It'd been like that a lot lately. He was lucky to come home with that woman. A lot of the regulars were people he didn't have any interest in seeing again. The woman from that one night, he never saw her again. Since he never got her name, he didn't know what to listen for among the gossip spread around by drunken voices. He left early frustrated, bored, and hungry. The next morning, he woke in the woods again. A rabbit's heart rested in his hand, the beast itself beside his head. He jumped up in fear and ran home. His feet crossed through another trail of blood leading to his back door. Fur decorated the blades of green and red, scattered here and there. His own clothes were covered in hairs. They were too short and coarse to be human, he thought. He wanted to believe that and kept his eyes ahead in the hopes of seeing nothing that would challenge that. Like the first time, the back door was covered in scratches on the inside. He showered, then went down to the local clinic to ask about getting a sleep aid. A few weeks passed and he stopped thinking about those mornings again. At work, while sweeping the floor, he absentmindedly listened to the TV playing in the lobby. The local news was running a story about another murder. He normally tuned out stories about death. Every day was some new tragedy. A missing person, a murder, a rape. He was growing numb to it. His mind couldn't process that amount of constant negative news. Today was different. Someone was caught. "The suspect has been taken into police custody. According to a statement issued by the police department, the female suspect has refused to identify herself and was found with no ID on her. They are currently investigating who this woman is. This is the suspect in question." The newswoman said as the screen showed a young woman's mugshot. He glanced up to see what she looked like. He didn't know her, but he couldn't shake the feeling he'd seen her somewhere before. "If you know this woman or have any other information about the victim's whereabouts after his disappearance on July 7th earlier this summer, please contact the number below." The newswoman said. After the announcement, the news shifted to talking about one of the usual roofing scams that always went around after a big storm. He kept thinking about the woman's face. 'Where did I see her? Maybe at a grocery store?' It was no use. He couldn't remember. Two months after that first blackout, he spent the evening at the bar looking for company. A group of college girls came in to celebrate someone's birthday. He gathered from eavesdropping about half of them would be graduating from college in the fall semester and the others would be doing so in spring. Thinking about college made him a little uneasy. Some of the girls he recognized as having been juniors at his school when he was a senior in high school. He never showed much initiative at anything education related and went to work full time as soon as he finished high school. Few people went out of their way to go to the universities in his state. It was mostly locals. Still, he felt inadequate being near those kinds of people. He always thought of himself as below average, and took his slipping grades in the latter part of his public schooling years as proof of that. He wanted to meet someone new, but he didn't have the courage to talk to any of those women. As the night went on, to his surprise, one of the women at the table came over to him. His insecurities got the better of him. He struggled to hold a conversation with her, but she remained persistent. In spite of anything he did, he ended up accepting her offer to go back to her dorm. This was his first time being on a college campus. The tall buildings gave him anxiety the same way being in a big city did. Strangely, the more anxious he got, the more his thoughts refused to focus on anything but the heat building inside him. He fixated on her frame and how the moonlight illuminated her exposed skin. The full moon seemed to follow them as they walked through the night. Unconsciously, he lagged behind her as they went up the stairs to her dorm room. Once they were inside, her grabbed her from behind and bit at her neck. She laughed. "Not so hard." He let her go. Clothes were discarded to the floor. Her bed was cheaper than he expected. In his head, he imagined someone in a place like this would have nicer things. Her bed creaked worse than his. He noticed the small room had two beds. "Your roommate?" He asked. "She won't be back tonight." The woman said. Her pretty face was clear to him in the moonbeams from the window. Her expression changed to one of shock. She leaned up slightly and touched his face. "Whoah. Your eyes...I've never seen that color before." He was confused by her words. His eyes were dark brown. They were very dark, he thought. People often said his eyes were black. He assumed she must've thought they looked like a true black shade in the dark and didn't ask what she meant. He didn't really care. His mind was on other things. His body felt like it was on fire. He couldn't stop thinking about her neck, how delicate it was and how easy it would be to break through the skin. He wanted something. His mind conjured the taste of iron on his tongue. Thinking was getting harder, but that wasn't strange to him. He rarely thought much in the middle of this. He bit her again. This time much harder. "Ow! Stop it!" She yelled at him. His thought were fuzzy. He wanted that taste. He needed it. His body wouldn't let him let go. He sunk his teeth in deeper. She hit him and kicked him off. "What the fuck is wrong with you?!" He looked up at her from the floor, her blood dripping from his lips. He couldn't process what she was saying to him. His eyes stared hungrily at the red on her pale skin. He wanted more. "You can leave. Now." She grabbed his clothes and threw them at him. He put them on and left. For a moment, he lingered outside her door. He clutched his head. 'What the hell am I doing?' He wiped the blood from his mouth. The scent of it made him hungry. He licked the blood off. His nervousness returned to him. He didn't know this place, or how to get around it. He wandered the campus in the dark for a while, trying to find his way out. The moon weighed on his back. He felt its presence beaming down on him, putting pressure into his brain. For a while, he blacked out again. Somehow, he'd made it into town. He couldn't recall how he got there, but he was in his car. He recognized the area. Frustrated and confused, he wanted company and he knew where to find it. He checked how much money he had in his wallet. Down a familiar road, he saw a face he was somewhat ashamed to admit he knew so well. He invited her into the car and parked out of sight of the main road. "You're being a little rough today." She commented. "Sorry." He said. Tonight, her floral perfume stayed strongly in his nose. He could smell everything more than usual. The leather seats in the car, the alcohol on his own breath, her lipstick and mascara, the condom he opened. Everything was overpowering. Through all of that, he could smell her blood through her skin. He wanted to taste it. "Did you miss me that much?" She played with his hair. He didn't want a repeat of the last hour. His strange desire was at a height he didn't understand and, like his sense of smell, overpowered every part of him. "If I pay you extra, can I bite you?" "For a bite? You don't need to do that." She giggled. "No, I mean...I want to be really rough." Consciously, a part of him felt something wasn't right with him or what he was doing, but he couldn't get himself to think the way he normally did. His craving was only growing the higher the moon rose. "Like how hard?" She asked. Her demeanor changed. "Enough to draw blood." "That's...I don't know about that. Can't you get diseases that way?" She glanced away from him. He sensed fear rising in her body. Somehow, he could hear her heart racing through her chest. It rang in his ears. "I don't have anything." "I don't know. I don't mind it a little rough, but blood..." He opened his wallet. "I'll give you everything in here." Her eyes widened. Her body tensed with her speeding heartbeat. She looked at the amount in the wallet. "Are you feeling alright today?" "Sorry, I'm just in a weird mood." He caressed her cheek. "Can you just indulge me this once?" She squinted her eyes. "What's with your eyes? Are you on something?" "I haven't been sleeping well lately." He said. "I've got a prescription for that, but it's not working." "Oh. Your eyes look really red. I didn't know insomnia could make them look like that." "Yeah, that's all it is." She looked over at the wallet again, then held out her hand. "Well, you know I always want payment first. Just once, and that's it." He handed her the cash. She braced herself for his teeth. When he bit into her neck, he noticed something about his bite felt different. It was like his teeth were sharper and longer. He didn't need to bite her as hard to draw blood. Her heart raced like a hummingbird's wings. She laughed nervously. "Well, your body isn't cold." He didn't grasp what she was implying. He didn't care. Her blood tasted sweet. He wanted to bite her again, but he resisted. He offered her a rag from his glove compartment when they parted ways. It was very late into the night now. He knew he needed to go home. His hands shook as he drove. He wasn't satisfied. The road ahead of him shifted and blurred. Then, the sun blinded him. He blinked. It was day. Trees surrounded him. He wasn't in his car anymore. His face and hands felt sticky and grimy. He sat up. Red-brown dyed his clothes. Spots of the same shade drew his attention to his left. He screamed. A body, face down in a pool of red, was only three feet away from him. The man wasn't breathing. Bite marks covered his arms. With a large stick, he lifted the body slightly. The man's empty eyes were wide open. Part of his face was missing. At his abdomen, a bulge was forming. As the mixed mass of shapes pushed against the shirt, he realized what he was looking at and let go of the stick. He threw up, then ran into the woods. Soon, he realized where he was. These were the woods behind his house. Just like the last two times, he'd ended up back home. He called the police and turned himself in. The police questioned him, but he couldn't tell them much. "You're saying you have no memory at all of how you got home or what happened to that man?" The officer asked him. "I don't remember. I can't remember much from that night." He shook in the chair. He couldn't bring himself to look at the officer. "When I woke up, he was there and there was blood everywhere." "Do you remember taking anything unusual that night? Did anyone offer you some drugs?" "No. I didn't take anything that day other than my medication. I did go out drinking, but I'm not...I didn't drink enough to blackout, and I don't get violent when I'm drunk." He said. "Are you sure?" "I'm pretty sure." The officer's words made him second guess himself. He thought he wasn't violent then. What if he was and didn't remember? "Where were you drinking? Was anyone you passing around any party drugs? Do you think someone could've gave you something without you knowing it?" The officer asked. He shook his head. "No, not that I know of. I wasn't at a place like that. It was just a bar. I don't think anyone would be doing that there." "Do you remember leaving the bar?" "Yeah, I left with a girl. I went to her dorm and then..." He tried to remember the night. He couldn't remember the woman's face anymore. "She threw me out...for something." "She threw you out?" "Yeah...I think I was..." He couldn't picture the night. He could recall bits and pieces of that. He remembered the college campus terrified him, and how anxious he was after she threw him out. The moon wouldn't leave him alone. "It was...really bright out. So bright..." "Why did she throw you out?" The officer asked. "I think I made her mad. I don't remember why." He said. "What was this woman's name?" "I don't know. I didn't ask." "You said you went back to her dorm. What college is she a student at?" "University of Montana." He said. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's where we were." "You went quite a ways. And you don't know this woman's name?" "Sorry, I don't." The officer wrote notes down on a notepad. "And what happened after she threw you out?" "I left and went back towards home...then I met up with another woman." He said. "What happened with her?" His face flushed. "Um, well, uh, we met to hook up. Nothing really happened then." "Are you sure?" The officer stared at him. He couldn't remember anything much, other than he paid her extra for something. What that was, he didn't know. He shook his head. "I don't remember anything happening. I was going home after that." "Do you know the name of this other woman?" He hesitated. "Y-yes...well, I know her first name is Abbie. I'm not sure about her last name. I think it's Simmons? We're not close." "Do you know where she lives?" "Yeah...I can write it down for you." The officer passed him a sheet of paper and a pen. He wrote down her address and passed it back. "I'm pretty sure she still lives at that apartment." The officer looked over the paper. "Alright. So, you were driving back home. Then what happened?" "I don't remember anything after that. The next thing I remember I was in the woods and it was morning." He said. "When you were driving home, can you recall around what time it was then?" "I think...four-something in the morning? It wasn't five yet." "Has anything like this happened to you before?" "What do you mean?" He asked. "Have you ever lost periods of time before like this?" The officer clarified. "Actually..." He shifted in his seat. "This is the third time I've blacked out in the last three months. That's what I got the medication for. I woke up in strange places those other times too. I haven't been sleeping well. The doctor I saw said he thought I might be sleepwalking. He recommended I be observed, but I can't afford to take off work. So he gave me a prescription to help get my sleep back to normal, but I don't think it's really been working." "The doctor you saw, can you write his contact information and the name of the medication he gave you here?" The policeman handed him the same piece of paper. "I don't remember his name. Is it alright if I write out the information for the clinic?" "Write out whatever you remember. We'll be able to track down who you saw." He wrote out the information the cop asked for. "Does anyone else in your family have a history with sleepwalking?" The officer asked. "Not that I know of, but I don't know much about my family's medical history." He said. "Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?" The officer asked. "Anything at all?" "Um, what's going to happen to me now? Am I...I'm going to be charged for murder, right?" He finally faced the officer. "We aren't charging you with anything yet. I'm going to look into what you told me and see if it checks out. If what you say is true, we might put you under medical supervision." The officer said. "It's rare, but there have been cases of murder and rape committed by sleepwalkers. If doctors can confirm you did this unconsciously, we can't charge you." "C-can that really happen?!" His stomach turned. "But...but why would someone do that in their sleep?" "I don't know. Sleepwalkers have done some crazy things. Break into houses, scale bridges, drive cars. You name it. But we'll see. I'm going to look into everything. If you're making up some story to try and get out of this, we will find out." The officer warned him. The following day, he was transferred to a sleep center to be monitored. The head doctor there suspected that he might have more than one sleep disorder. Three weeks passed, but he didn't once sleepwalk while there or abruptly fall asleep. The doctor noted he had very unusual sleep cycles though and wanted to observe him for longer. A week after that, he woke up strapped to a gurney. His body was covered in blood. Men and women in white coats he didn't recognize were talking with the head doctor. None of the regular staff would come near him. The head doctor finally went over to him. "You're awake now, aren't you?" "What happened? Why am I on this?" He asked, his heart ringing in his ears. The doctor, eyes cold, said to him. "We're transferring you to a different facility. These people here have the resources to take care of someone like you." "Who are they?" He asked. "These people run several research labs and mental health facilities in the southeast. They're from a company called Moone & Wolfe Corp. They're going to get you the help you need." The doctor started to wheel the gurney toward the door. "Mental health? Wait? What does that mean? Am I crazy? What are they going to do to me?!" His heart pounded so hard his chest hurt. "What about my home? I need to pay my rent and get my stuff." "I'm sorry, but you cannot leave. You aren't fit to leave until you receive proper care." The doctor handed him off to the strangers in white. They loaded him up. He didn't know how much time passed before he was allowed to move freely again. It felt like several days passed. When he arrived at the new place, they blindfolded him before unloading him. They didn't let him see his surroundings until he was inside a small room. The room reminded him of the holding cell he stayed in. There was a thin mat for a bed on a frame, a toilet, and a sink with a mirror above it. Two men stayed in the room after the others brought him in. Neither of the two men had been present when he was taken from the sleep center, and one of them was dressed in ordinary clothes rather than white. The man in white introduced himself. "Welcome to our facilities, Mr. West. My name is Dr. Tom Summerfield. We'll be taking care of you from here forward." "Why did you blindfold me?" He asked. "Sorry about that. Some of the research we do here is top secret. The general public isn't allowed to know the location of this place." Dr. Summerfield answered. "Am...am I at some kind of government place? What's wrong with me?" He asked. "While we are not part of any agency, we do receive many grants from the federal government and we do share information with certain people. Our company studies a wide variety of things, from mental health to weather. This specific location studies unusual conditions and illnesses." Dr. Summerfield said. "What's wrong with me?" He asked. "You've heard of werewolves, haven't you?" Dr. Summerfield grinned. "I...what?! That's...you can't be serious." His eyes widened. "That can't be possible." "There's a lot of things in this world that are possible that you don't know about, Mr. West." Dr. Summerfield handed him a folder. "Since you have been afflicted with this condition, it's alright for us to share these with you. These are other cases we've studied." He opened the folder. Photos of strange looking beasts and humans with bizarre proportions filled it. Several documents were underneath the photos. He didn't read them. He couldn't look away from the pictures. "What is this?" "From what we've gathered, it's a viral infection carried by a parasitic worm originating in Europe. Patients are usually infected by being bitten. The worms reproduce inside the human body, and the virus uses the worms to replicate inside their eggs. The virus exits the eggs, then attacks the human brain to make the human act aggressive or manipulative in order to attack another human. The worms themselves then gradually devour the brain after the eggs are passed on until it kills the human host. Most die one to four months from first being infected, roughly." The man in white said to him. He tried to take in the information. It was too strange. "But...what about the body? Why does it look like this? Will this happen to me?" "After the infected person starts to get uncontrollably violent, their body undergoes a strange transformation, taking on a canine-like appearance gradually. Once the physical changes have accelerated to such extreme appearance changes, the individual will indiscriminately attack and feed on anyone and anything before the worms devour enough of the brain to result in death. How quickly a person dies is very dependent on how fast this change occurs." The doctor said. He could feel himself sweating. "Is...is this what's going to happen to me? But it's been three months now." "Yes, that's unusual, but you may undergo more changes this month. We have heard of historical cases where some were able to survive years like this and had minor body changes until their body finally approached death, but no modern cases. You haven't changed one bit, beyond your teeth. We want to find out why. We wouldn't normally use someone like you as a test subject, but it appears we have no choice." Dr. Summerfield grabbed his chin and titled his face upward. The doctor looked over at the man dressed in ordinary clothes. "Please, take no offense, Jake. You're different." "I didn't say anything." The man named Jake laughed. "What are you going to do to me?" He asked, terrified. The hatred in Dr. Summerfield's eyes chilled him to the bone. "We're going to run a lot of tests and monitor you. If we can, we'll cure you." Dr. Summerfield's disappointment at that last statement was plain as day. "But that will be useful for us in the long run. You will cooperate, or you won't be leaving here even if we cure you. Do you understand, Mr. West?" He swallowed hard. "Yes, sir." Dr. Summerfield grabbed him by the hair and pulled it hard. He slammed him against the wall. "Good. If you're a good boy, we might let you have anesthesia one day." He looked over at Jake. The man's eyes were empty, but his fist was balled. Dr. Summerfield let go of his hair, then turned to Jake. Jake immediately put on a smile. "Jake, why don't you stay with him for a while. Being in the same room as him is tiring and I already have to deal with that hellhound Beaumont later." Dr. Summerfield sneered. "Beaumont? You're going to see her?" Jake asked. "She's been more nosy than usual lately. I thought I'd stop by her apartment and collect something of hers, then dispose of it somewhere nice. A nice patch of kudzu or perhaps I'll let it rot along a river." Dr. Summerfield laughed. "Which do you think would scare that bitch more?" "Kudzu would be more discrete." Jake said. "Yes, but I was thinking the river might be more entertaining. I'll decide when I get to that. Inform the test subject of the plans for later." Dr. Summerfield walked out of the room. Jake waited to say anything until he couldn't hear any footsteps in the hallway. He put his hand in his pocket, then said. "Well, that should shut the camera off in here for now. Your name's Erin, right?" Erin nodded. "You shut the camera off?" "Don't tell him I did that." Jake smirked and put a finger to his lips. "It'll be our secret. I had a few other cameras malfunction right now too, just to make it less obvious it was me." "Who are you?" Erin asked. "What is this place really?" "Some really unethical shit our government is funding. You know, the usual." Jake laughed loudly. "I'm sure I don't need to explain that to you." "What're you working here for?" "Can't say." Jake laughed again. "Not for anything good for them." "Is this werewolf stuff real?" Erin asked. "Yeah, it's real. Weird as hell. Looks like someone from Britain brought it over back in the 1700s. Typical." Jake said. "Am I going to die?" "I don't know. You are different. As far as we know, the only groups we've found infected with this were white and black people. It spread through the southeast for a while pretty badly, but it was covered up to not panic people." Jake sat down on the bed beside Erin. He took the folder and looked through it. "So, you're a first. Doesn't look like it hits you the same way. I wonder if it's something genetic. That'd be nice. For me. But I'm sure he's got some nasty plans for whatever medical data he can get out of you." "What's he going to do to me?" Erin asked him. "Prepare yourself for a lot of pain. They're definitely going to cut into you. I'll see if I can persuade them to give you some kind of anesthesia at least." Jake said. "He said he wouldn't." Erin said. "He looked like he wanted to kill me." "If I can, I won't let him." Jake closed the folder. "I can't promise anything. My mission comes before anything, but if I can get you out of here, I will." "Mission?" "Can't say." Jake stood back up. "He's going to be pretty ecstatic after he kills. I'll try to convince him then." "Kill?!" "You understand then?" Jake looked at him with a serious expression. "Don't do anything to get on his bad side, or his sister's. And even I can't help you if you piss off his father, Alexander. If you make him angry, they'll do things much worse to you than death. You'll meet him at some point. Tonight, they're going to take you to one of the research rooms. Do your best to survive it." Jake didn't stay long after that. Some time during the night, a group of people in white coats took him to another room. Dr. Summerfield was there. He was smiling and laughing with a young looking woman and an older man. They all looked happy about something. The other people put Erin on an operating table. Jake entered the room shortly after. He approached Dr. Summerfield and smiled at him. They walked outside of the room for a few minutes, then returned. Jake came over to him. He prepared a needle. "Hey again." Jake said with a smile. Unconsciously, Erin weakly smiled back. "Hey." "We're gonna put you under. You shouldn't feel anything. At least, not while it's going on. You'll probably be in some pain tomorrow." Jake said. He may have been smiling, but Erin saw great sadness in his eyes. "It's okay." Erin said. "Thank you." "Sweet dreams." Jake said. Erin felt some pain in his arm, but quickly fell asleep. He had a dream about a coyote crossing his path. In the dream, he was uneasy about its presence. He turned around to go the other way, back home, but the land moved underneath his feet. He ran, never getting anywhere. Home was always too far away. When he woke, he was in the small room again. His body was bandaged up all over. Everything ached. He felt something inside his pillow case. A bag of pills were inside it with a note that it was aspirin. Erin got up and filled up a glass sitting on the edge of the sink. He took two pills and washed his face off. Just raising his arms stung. 'What did they do to me?' He asked his reflection. No one saw him until six in the afternoon, when he was finally given food. He was given an MRE and a can of instant coffee. He was shaky after eating. Jake didn't come see him that day, nor did Dr. Summerfield. He didn't see anyone for a full week outside of when someone came to feed him. He was given a single MRE per day and a can of coffee. Aside from that, all he had was the empty glass to refill with water. At the end of the week, he was taken to a room to shower where he was observed by three men, then brought to the research room and strapped down on a metal table. Dr. Summerfield wasn't in the room today, but Jake was. He spoke to the older man Dr. Summerfield was with the previous week. The older man had an angry look on his face. Erin couldn't hear what they were talking about, but he could tell that Jake was nervous despite him laughing. Jake walked over to the table and looked down at him. "Sorry, I couldn't convince them today. You're gonna have to be strong." Jake said. "Alexander isn't as easy to persuade as his children." Erin looked over. He assumed the older man must be Alexander Summerfield, Dr. Summerfield's father. Erin looked up at Jake. "What are they going to do today?" "They're going to cut you up here. They'll stitch you back up, so try not to panic." Jake motioned down Erin's chest. "There?!" Erin's body tensed. "How deep?!" "They want to look at your organs." Jake said. "Couldn't they just do some kind of scan of my body?! Or stick a camera in me?!" "They don't want to do it that way. I don't get their methods." Jake held up a piece of cloth. "When we're done talking, I'm gonna put this in your mouth." "Why?" "So you don't kill yourself." Jake glanced away. "I recommend not looking down when they start cutting. Just stare up or to the side. Don't look down." "Are you going to be in the room?" Erin asked. "No. Not today. Alexander's forbidden me from being here once they start. He says I'm bad luck. I'll be outside, on the other side of the door. I'll take you back to your room." Jake said. "Next week, it'll be Edith. I can convince her. I don't think he'll stop by much going forward. He's not interested in you as a test subject. You just gotta live through this one time, and the next times won't hurt like this." Erin's eyes watered. "Okay." "I'm sorry." Jake gagged him. He left the room. Erin braced himself for what was next. His thoughts jumped from one thing to the next, moving anywhere to bring his attention away from what was coming. This was unethical. They knew that. He should be allowed to leave here. He'd rather be in jail. He wished he'd never gone out that night. He was hungry. He needed to go to the bathroom. The room smelled liked a hospital hallway. The lights hurt his eyes. One of the people in white pushed a cart over with several metal tools on them. His eyes immediately focused there. The sound of the pieces clanging against each other when one of the women sifted through it was louder than thunder and sirens in his ears. The woman handed the item she was looking for to another person. She then picked up something else. It looked like a tiny electric saw to him. 'Why are you doing this to me? Won't it be easier to do this if I'm unconscious? I'm gonna move when you cut.' Erin thought. As the lights flickered above him, he realized something. His stomach turned. The gag muffled his screams. He struggled to stop himself from moving, but it was useless. His body wouldn't listen. He forced himself to not look down. He wanted to see what they were doing to him. He wanted to run away. He wished for the moon to haunt him again. In three weeks, he thought, he might be able to rip himself free. The lights moved above him before they all dimmed and the room faded away. He could still hear his own cries before he lost consciousness, but the noises sounded foreign and distant. When he woke, he was in the small room again, resting on the hard mat they gave him for a bed. His clothes were different. Jake was watching him. Beside him was a bucket of wet rags, an MRE, and a can of coffee. Weak, Erin couldn't move. He looked down finally. He was covered in new bandages. "Is it over?" Erin asked. "For this week. Yeah." Jake picked up the MRE and worked on getting it ready. "Sorry. I washed you off while you were asleep." "Why?" "You pissed yourself." Jake said as he got the heater ready. "With all those cuts on you, didn't think it'd be good to risk waiting for you to wake up to ask you about helping you wash off." "I don't remember..." "Yeah, I heard you passed out." "Yeah." Erin tried to sit up. He couldn't. "Don't move much. I'll prop you up when the food's ready." Jake said. "What are they looking for? I thought this virus or whatever attacks the brain. Why are they looking at my other organs?" Erin asked. "Dunno." Jake said. "But you saw the pictures. Other people who get this virus, their bodies change in really weird ways. They might be looking to see if your organs and bones are changing, or if there's anything off-looking about them compared to normal. But I dunno. That's just my guess." Erin took a deep breath. He grit his teeth. It hurt to breathe. He tried taking in smaller breaths. "Hey, they want to hurt me, don't they?" "Moone & Wolfe encourages their staff to treat all human test subjects and patients like that. They want their doctors to dehumanize the people under their care." Jake sat down on the bed and propped Erin up with a pillow. He put the food in front of him. "Can you move your arms?" Erin lifted his left arm. Moving hurt so much worse than the previous week. He held back tears. "I-I can." "Here. I'll do it." Jake picked up a spoon and scooped up some of the food. He brought it to Erin's mouth. "Sorry. Don't mean to treat you like a baby. But this will hurt a helluva lot less." Erin opened his mouth. His cheeks burned. He had never felt so helpless. No one was strapping him down or cutting into him now, but somehow, this was more humiliating and terrifying. He looked down at his heavily bandaged legs. He couldn't move them. There were so many bandages on him he looked like a mummy in a museum, and he felt just as dead and carelessly on display. Erin ate quietly, wanting it to be over with quickly. Jake put him back down against the pillow. He took two small bags out of his back pockets. One bag was full of jerky, the other of pills. "Here. Let's keep these hidden in your pillow case." Jake slipped the jerky bag in first. He took two pills out of the other bag before hiding that one away. He helped Erin take the pills. "That should help a little with the pain, but I don't know how much. They cut you up really bad this time." "If I die, they won't care. Will they?" Erin asked. "No, they'll find another test subject. Since your reaction was unusual, they may make someone else sick on purpose just to see if you're an anomaly or it's genetic." Jake sighed. "Knowing them, they'll do that regardless." "No one knows this is going on, do they?" "Not anyone who it'd matter to tell." Jake looked him over. "Are the shorts alright? I think I got the same waist size as your pants." "They fit." Erin said. He was dizzy. From all the cuts on his body, he expected he'd be more terrified right then. More than fear, emptiness sunk in. "You said they were going to cut open my chest, but they did a lot more than that." "I didn't know about that until after. Alexander was there. He probably wanted them to for his own amusement. He has a sick fascination with seeing inside a living person's body. Dead ones though, he'll run from that." Jake took the thin blanket from the edge of the bed and put it over Erin. "Who is that man?" Erin asked. "Alexander Summerfield is the head of Moone & Wolfe Corp., but he's planning on stepping down in a few years and handing it over to his son, Tom. That man's really disturbed. Oh, the sick things I've heard he's done from his daughter, Edith." Jake said. "That's how I got on her good side. She's the third in command around here, you could say, but nobody respects her. They like the head of the company being a man. Their top position for a woman is something Ms. Edith doesn't qualify for either. I listen to her vent a lot, and she lets me get away with a lot too." "The other one...Tom? He's the one you convinced to give me anesthesia last time." Erin said. "What do you give him?" "Tom..." Jake looked down and laughed. "I can't really tell you. I think he might be into me. He lets me get away with a lot of things for no reason at all. So long as I don't do anything blatantly against them, he always looks the other way. I'm pretty sure he suspects I'm out to destroy him, but he thinks he can manipulate me to be his toy." "Into you? Is he gay?" "No clue. He has a weird interest in me, but I can't tell if it's sexual or something else." Erin stared at Jake. He took in his features and mentally compared them to the others he had seen in the building, then to himself. "And what are you after?" "Just a little revenge." Jake openly stated. "Let's just say they didn't treat my baby brother well, and I'm kinda mad about it." "What are you going to do?" "Who knows." Jake grinned. "And you're not going to say a word about any of this, right?" "What would I get out of that?" Erin tried to readjust himself on the mat, but it hurt too much to move. "Since you're betraying these people, can you get me out of here?" "I already told you I'd try." Jake leaned against the wall opposite the bed. "If I can, I'll get you out, but I can't promise anything. Sorry, not to be cold, but my goals come first. It's not like I can free everyone anyway." "Right." Erin laughed under his breath at his own misfortune. 'So, I can't rely much on you either. Will I die here?' "You might want to wait a while anyway. They're interested in seeing if there's a way to cure your illness. If you leave now, you'll kill someone again and you may die yourself." Jake reminded him. Erin laughed louder, his chest aching. "You could sneak me a gun at least. With a silver bullet." "Gonna take yourself out?" "Better than this." Erin smiled and stared down at himself, eyes empty. "I can't even pull the trigger right now. They'll kill me before they cure me." "I'll see what I can do." Erin stared directly in Jake's eyes, his cold smile widening. "And what do you want from me?" Jake hesitated in answering him. He smirked. "You don't miss anything. But it's not like that. You look a lot like him, and it's making it hard for me to keep up my act." "Like him?" "My baby brother." Jake walked toward the door. "When I look at you, I see him on that table and I want to rip them to pieces even more." Erin didn't know whether to believe Jake or not. Something told him that Jake was far more dangerous than anyone else he'd encountered in this strange place. "Are you going?" "For now. I have a lot of work to do for Tom." Jake opened the door. "Don't die on me." He didn't see Jake for another week. He made the jerky last as long as he could, but he was very hungry by the end of the week. The days started to blur together. There was no window in the room he stayed in, and the lights inside him room and the hall stayed on 24/7. He measured the passing of days by when he received his next MRE. The week passed and they took him in for another surgery. He was given anesthesia this time. Jake talked with him after the surgery and snuck him some more food and pills. He couldn't get a feel for the man's intentions. Whatever Jake was after, it had nothing to with him. If he could use that man to escape, he would, but he wouldn't place any more trust in him than anyone else here. The third week followed the same pattern. He was given his daily ration of food, they cut him open, and he saw Jake for a while around the time of the experiments. The fourth week was mostly the same as the others, but on the last day of the week, they moved him to a different room. He asked Jake about that. "What is this place? Are they doing a different experiment today?" "Tonight's the full moon. They're going to keep you in here for four days, to observe and for everyone else's safety. You won't be breaking through that door." Jake said. "The moon...if this is a virus, how is the moon connected?" Erin asked. Dr. Summerfield answered him this time. "The worms' reproductive cycle follows a lunar pattern. They attempt to reproduce once a month, at the full moon, though why is not known yet. Perhaps we will find out from your body." "Why do I need to be in here for four days? When I blacked out before, it was only for a night." Erin said. "Strap him down. Let's see what he can break through." Dr. Summerfield ordered the other staff. The men and women in white grabbed Erin and strapped him to a gurney. Erin didn't put up a fight. They weren't gentle in touching him. By the time one week passed and some of his wounds were starting to heal, they'd reopen him up and the process started again. Anything touching his body hurt. They should know that, he thought. He was certain they did. He bit his lip. A slimy sensation was building up inside his chest. Erin turned to the only person he thought he could get sympathy from, however transactional it may have been. "Jake?" "Yeah? Did you need something?" Jake asked. "No...I was asking about the number of days." Erin said. "Oh that. Well..." Jake started to say. "Jake, I'll be taking my leave. If anything interesting happens, call me." Dr. Summerfield walked out the door. "I will." Jake waved at him. When he was gone, he turned back to Erin. "Sorry, what did you ask me about?" "The days." "Right. So, for the people who have this for a few months, sometimes the number of days they black out for changes. The max we know of is four days. That's why they're going to keep you in here that long." Jake explained. "How fast does the change happen?" Erin's hands shook. "Could...could I die in the next four days?" "I don't think so. If you were close to death, you should have more changes right now than you do. I don't think it'll be this time." Jake checked over Erin's body. "We can't come in here for the next four days either. There's water in the room, but no food." "How would I get it? What about the bathroom?" "You won't be on this thing for long. You'll definitely break through it. There's a toilet over there." Jake pointed to the far end of the room. Erin couldn't see what he was pointing. His heart raced. Erin could smell Jake's cologne and sweat. He looked at Jake's arm where his sleeve ended. "You're wearing cologne today. Do you always wear cologne?" Jake's demeanor changed. He backed up slightly. "Yeah, I do." "You smell like pine resin...smoke...castoreum...something spicy...leather...musk..." Erin wasn't sure how he was able to identify all those scents so well. Normally, he was terrible with picking out notes in perfume and cologne. He'd read or be told what something was supposed to smell like, and fail to identify anything. Today, it was clear. It was so clear he was thinking back to colognes he'd smelled before and what parts were what notes was now obvious. Jake smelled distinctly masculine, like a wild animal in a forest. For some reason, he wanted to smell him more. Through his skin, he could smell his blood too. He could almost taste it. Jake stared down at him. "Your eyes...they've changed." "Changed?" "They're red now. That's...that's not in our records..." Jake ran to the door. "Get me a camera!" Erin watched Jake at the door. He wanted to get close to him. He pushed against the restraints. They broke easily. Jake froze when he heard the restraints snap. Erin and Jake locked eyes. Erin got up off of the gurney. Jake started to leave the room. Before he could close the door, Erin was already over to it and holding it open. "Why are you running away?" Erin asked desperately. He grabbed Jake's wrist. "Please, don't leave me." "Sorry, but it's time. You need to stay in there. It's for everyone's sake." Jake told him. He tried to pull his arm free. "Please, just a few more minutes." Erin begged him. "You know, you look really nice today." "Uh, thanks, but I have to go now. Stay in the room." Jake tried again. Erin walked out into the hallway with him. A group of people in white shove Erin back into the room. He was locked in. There were no windows in this room either. He could smell everyone through the door. Jake smelled the most attractive to him. The others had more sterile scents. Erin felt his body getting hot. He banged on the door. "Please, let me out!" Erin slammed his hands down as hard as he could. He made small dents in the metal door, but it wouldn't budge. He kept hitting it. "Jake! Please...please come back. I'm lonely. Help me." He could hear Jake's footsteps coming toward the door. His sounded a little heavier than everyone else's. His scent was strong through the door. Erin clawed at the metal barrier between them. "I'm sorry, but I can't see you right now. I'll see you in four days." Jake said from the other side of the door. "Please, come see me now. I'll do anything you want." Erin begged. "I want you to stay in there for the next four days." It was getting difficult for Erin to maintain any train of thought. He clawed at the door more softly. "I want to bite you." "I know. I can't let you do that." Jake said back. "I want to taste you." Erin's thoughts came out unfiltered. "I need to bite you. I need to. Please." "I'll let you bite me when you're cured, if you still want to." Jake offered. Erin clawed harder at the door. His nails felt sharper and slightly longer. The sound echoed in the room. "Stay here by the door." "No." Erin heard a loud scream, but he wasn't able to identify it as his own. He blacked out and woke up on the floor of the room beside the toilet. The gurney was flipped over and broken into pieces. The walls and floor were covered in scratches. Somehow, the toilet and sink weren't damaged. Erin didn't know how much time had passed. All he knew was his stomach hurt and there was no food in the room. He looked around for a glass. There were shards scattered beside the sink of what he assumed was the glass they left for him. He turned on the sink and put his face down to the water to drink. Erin noticed his claws when he turned the sink off. He wished there was a mirror in the room, though he likely would've broken it. He wanted to see his own face. With his tongue, he felt over his teeth. His canines were much bigger than they should've been, even longer now than they'd grown the previous month. He fell to the ground and cried. "Why...I don't want to die..." A day later, they took him out and brought him to the room where they always cut him open. He overheard them mentioning a video being reviewed. Jake put him under before Erin could ask him any questions. When he woke, he was in the small, white room. Jake was sitting on the floor beside his bed looking through a stack of photos. "Oh, you're awake." Jake said. "Yeah." Erin moved his hands and arms to see how badly it would hurt. Surprisingly, his body didn't hurt as much as usual. "Did they cut me up less?" "No. Why?" Jake asked. "It doesn't hurt as much." "Really?" Jake looked at him strangely. "Try walking around." "Okay." Erin sat up and got up from the bed. He walked a few steps, then collapsed. His legs gave out from under him. "What the..." "What happened?" "I don't know." Erin stood back up, but couldn't balance himself for long. He fell again. Jake caught him and helped him back to bed. "Something wrong with your legs?" "I'm not in pain, but...it's like I have no strength." Erin sat back down on the bed. "No pain?" Jake knelt back down. He held up Erin's left leg and undid the bandage on it. Erin watched him. His left leg was cut deeply, patched up with careless stitches. "This doesn't hurt at all?" Erin reached down and felt over where they cut him. "No. It doesn't. I can feel my legs just fine...why can't I feel any pain?" Jake redressed the leg. "That's not a good sign." "What does that mean?" Erin's heart skipped a beat. Jake stood up and took hold of Erin's chin. He opened his mouth and touched one of the long canines inside. "These stayed, and they're longer too. Sometimes, the changes revert early on. It's starting to make major changes to you now. Those idiots haven't made any progress either." Erin's heart sped up. His eyes watered. Jake looked down at him with sad eyes. He forced a smile. "Just try to hang on, okay? Maybe they'll figure something out. There's another person they caught recently. A woman. They're studying her too." "Where is she from?" Erin asked. "Why?" "Did I..." Erin looked away. He was too ashamed to finish his question. "She's from the same area as you. So, probably. Her name is Abigail Simmons. Do you know her?" Erin's eyes widened. "Abbie?!" "I take it that's a yes then." "My god..." Erin put his hands to his face. "I told her I didn't have anything." "You couldn't have know you were carrying this." Jake said. "Is she your girlfriend?" Erin shook his head. His face flushed. "She's...she works the streets. I visit her a lot." "Oh. So it's like that, huh." Jake laughed awkwardly. "Well, she's in the room beside yours for now. They might make more progress with her anyway." "Why's that?" "She's been in their hands before." Jake picked up a briefcase off the ground and opened it up. He took out a folder. "Abigail Simmons, Abbie as you know her, stayed at one of their mental health treatment facilities in 1978 when she was 12. They did a lot more than give her therapy sessions." "What did they do to her?" Jake flipped through the pages. "They liked her appearance and wanted to use her in medical research. They collected a lot of samples from her, and eggs too. Seems her eggs were used to make some test subjects for them." Erin's eyes widened. "Ex-excuse me?! They did what?!" "You heard me right. Only one of them lived past the age of one, a test subject they dubbed AB14. They're still using him as a test subject. Ms. Abbie doesn't know about of any of this. She was unconscious when all these things were being done to her. They would change her meds up whenever they wanted to mess around with her." Jake said. "Doubt it'd be of any good to tell her now." "You don't think she has the right to know?" Erin said. "She might die in the next thirty days. She's already terrified. I don't think we should tell her even more horrible things happened to her that she wasn't even aware of. If she lives, that's another story, but there's no sense in making things worse if she might not make it." Jake sighed heavily. "I suppose." Erin stomach turned. "Hey, why was she here to start with? Why'd they let her go?" "Haha, should I really be telling you that? Why she was here isn't really your business." Jake said. "You don't really know her." "I know her as more than a customer." Erin said. "My mom died when I was young. She got cancer and went to the doctor too late for anything to be done. My dad died when I was too young to remember him. He killed himself. I got bounced around between families all across Montana, and I ran away a lot. When I was in my senior year, I spent the entire year in a homeless shelter. I was in and out of shelters a lot until the last year and a half. I met Abbie there, when I was nineteen. We both found somewhere to live around the same time, and I'd talk to her sometimes whenever I saw her. She started working the streets a year ago when her regular job cut her hours. I jokingly asked her how much she charged, and then I just kind started seeing her on and off. I don't really have good luck with women, but since we're not dating, I don't really worry about anything when I'm with her. I've paid her extra before because I knew she was late on bills." "Sounds to me like you care about her a lot more than you want to admit." Jake smirked. "I..." Erin blushed. "I'm not in love with her. It's not like that. She's...it's complicated. Besides, she definitely doesn't feel that way about me. I know she feels guilty taking extra money from me because I'm younger than her." "You're twenty-two, right? That's a four year gap." "Yeah. I doubt she'd ever be thinking of me like that." Erin leaned forward and sighed. He wiped his face off with his hand, then put his hand against his forehead. "And now look what I've done. She's gotta hate me now." "I don't know about that." Jake shut the folder. "Regardless of all that, that still doesn't mean you get to know all the personal details in her file either." "But you told me about the other stuff." "That was because it was related to what we're dealing with now. They have a lot of prior biological information collected on her. That may mean she has a better chance than most. Maybe. That was the only reason I told you that." Jake put the folder back away. "As for why they let her go, her parents stopped paying the bill. It's as simple as that. She wasn't brought in here like you. She came in as a regular patient." "Can I see her?" Erin asked. "Sorry. I can't let you out of here right now." Jake picked up the briefcase. A picture fell out of from one of the folders inside. Erin reached down to pick it up. He looked at the photography. It was of a young boy with blond hair and brown eyes. Without thinking, Erin flipped it over to look for a name. "AB14...this is the boy you mentioned." Erin said. The boy had Abbie's face. It frightened him how much the child looked like her. Jake took the photo from him and put it away. "Yeah." "Do you know where he is?" Jake closed the briefcase. "I told you. They're still using him as a test subject." "Hey, could I ask you a favor?" Erin stared at the ground. "You probably can't help me at this point. If there's an opportunity, do you think you can get that boy out of here?" "I don't know if I can do anything." Jake said. Erin felt Jake's eyes on him. He looked up to face Jake. He saw in Jake's face a deep pain. Jake quickly hid his expression with a smirk. "But if I can protect him in some way, I will. I can't promise you anything. My mission comes before everything, but you know, if that mission ever overlapped with protecting him, that'd be nice." "How would that happen?" Erin asked. "Dunno. Can't see how that would happen, but who knows." Jake picked up the briefcase and walked to the door. "I'll let you know if they learn anything useful from that lady." "Jake...could you do me another favor?" Erin asked. "What is it?" "Could you tell Abbie I'm sorry?" Jake lingered at the door. "Yeah." "Thank you." Jake looked back at him. "Scott." "What?" "That's the other name they call that boy. Scott Thomas." Jake spoke quietly. "If it looks like they might kill him, I'll try to sneak him out and keep him safe, if I can. But I didn't tell you that." "I didn't hear anything." Erin said. "Don't die on me, okay?" Jake waved and closed the door. Erin wasn't sure if he should believe what Jake said. Jake had no reason to help him. He may have been saying those things simply to comfort him. Erin likely didn't have much time left. He got up again from the bed. Erin stumbled over to the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror. His eyes were blood red. Erin opened his mouth to look at his long canines. He touched them, pressing his finger hard against the sharp edge. It drew blood. He licked them, putting pressure on them with his tongue. It was easy to prick himself with how sharp they were, but he did need to make effort to make it happen. When he examined them in the other room, he didn't hurt himself then, but he may hurt himself if he ate too carelessly. Erin looked at his hands and touched the claws. He pushed the edge of one into his palm, then scratched across. It took much more effort to cut himself. His fangs were sharper than his claws. Erin checked his feet next. He hadn't noticed before, but he had claws there too. He compared his claws on his feet to his hands. The ones on his hands were slightly longer and sharper. Erin noticed something else as he examined himself. He saw something that looked like scar tissue. Erin pulled his short sleeves all the way up on both sides of his shirt. Erin saw stretch marks in places he previously didn't have any. Erin took his shorts and underwear off. He checked his thighs. Erin had a few long stretch marks on each side since late middle school. Between those, he found several more. Erin put his clothes back on. He leaned against the sink, his legs still weak. Erin forced himself to stand upright. He was certain of it. He'd grown. 'I can't be growing taller. I'm too old.' Erin thought about the other changes on his body. 'What am I turning into?' Earlier, when Jake was there, he took some comfort in asking Jake to protect that young boy. In that moment, he thought, if he had to die, at least he could in some way contribute to someone else's survival. That feeling vanished. The changes on Erin's body now only reminded him of his own mortality. He was going to die soon, transformed into some unrecognizable monster by something inside his body he couldn't even see. "Help me." Erin cried out softly. There was no one there to hear him. "Please, I don't want to die." Erin had been existing in a lifeless state for a long time. Nothing ever seemed to go right in his life. If he survived this, he'd still be poor, alone, and with nothing going on in his life. He used to think about dying often. He always thought one day he'd leave the world like his father, with a bottle of alcohol and a quick shot to the head. Now that he was really dying, he wanted nothing more than to live. He would rather take fifty years more of his worthless place in life than die alone in this horrible place. There was no getting out of this place right now. His only hope was surviving, something he had no control over. Erin thought about the worms Dr. Summerfield mentioned to him when he first arrived. Some parasite was crawling around inside him, somewhere he couldn't feel. He wanted to scream, but there was no point. No one would come to him if he did. Erin took himself back to the bed. He stared up at the ceiling and waiting for his body to sleep. There was no way to tell how much time passed. The minutes and hours blurred together, but sleep came eventually. In his dream, Erin was with his mother. He was an adult, though she died when he was six. She was standing at the edge of the river his childhood home was near, clutching her lower abdomen. The river shimmered in a strange way. Erin reached down to touch it. She grabbed his hand and pulled him away. 'Don't go in the water.' She whispered. At her words, the river ran red underneath the strange shimmer. 'There's poison in the river.' The river rose higher, washing their feet with that deep red. His mother put her hands back over the same spot she clutched before. She knelt down in pain. Red soaked through her clothes and fingers, bleeding out into the rising water. 'There's poison in me.' She said. Erin sat down in the water with her. His neck bled from the scars of the bite mark his waking self had long forgotten about. He opened his mouth to speak. Blood dripped from his teeth. 'I'm sorry, Mother. There's poison in me too.' Down the river, a small boat floated. A coyote sat in it, watching them. The creature made Erin uneasy. He tried to help his mother up to run from it and the water. 'Mother, let's go.' He said to her. She sunk deeper. 'Get out of the water.' The boat got closer to them. He grabbed at his mother's arm, but couldn't budge her. 'Get out of the water.' She said again. The coyote smirked at him. Erin fell over as the boat touched his back. He got back up and started to run away from the water toward his old home. No matter how hard he ran, his home stayed the same distance away, but the water continue to rise. The water rushed in more and swept him underneath the shimmer into the deep red. He struggled toward the surface of the water, but like his home, it stayed out of reach. The water pulsated in rhythm with his heartbeat. Black orbs floated around him. Each one cracked, and a worm emerged. The black worms swarmed around him. They entered through his mouth, his eyes, anywhere they could find an opening, they swam into him. His nails turned to claws, his teeth to fangs. His limbs contorted in strange ways. A hand reached into the water. Erin couldn't see who the hand belonged to. He was too afraid to extend his own hand. Erin woke with his heart pounding in his ears. He sat up and looked over himself. His body hadn't changed any since he was last awake. Erin got up. His legs were as weak as yesterday. He barely managed to get to the sink. Erin took his glass and filled it with water. He thought about what his mother told him in his dream. The water before him didn't look strange, but the river by his old home did change. His mother used to wash clothes in the river. He would play there while she washed. One day, she wouldn't let him go in the water anymore. He noticed his mother was in pain a lot then. Erin asked her what was wrong, but she just told him it was something that boys don't need to worry about. Then, one day he found her on the ground. Erin begged his mother to go to see a doctor, but she refused. 'Why won't you go? Please go.' He had begged her. She shook her head, tears streaming down her face. 'They'll kill me anyway.' 'But they're doctors.' She shook her head again. 'They killed my sister. They'll kill me.' His mother lived through that day, but she became weaker every day after. He often found her hunched over in pain. She tried to hide her blood soaked clothes from him. One morning, she didn't get out of bed. He went to her room to check on her. She wouldn't wake. He ran to his grandmother's home and got her. She drove the both of them in an old pick-up truck. He sat on the floor of the truck to give his mother more room to lay. She turned in pain, briefly waking for moments. His mother died shortly after they handed her over to the doctors. When he was little, he blamed her for refusing to see someone when she was clearly sick. In a fit of grief-stricken rage, he yelled about her to his grandmother. She wiped his tears away and told him a story about his aunt and his father. His mother had a sister a year younger than her, but she became pregnant first by the man who was his father. They married, and some months later, his aunt went to a hospital to give birth. She was dead by morning. The doctors claimed she died in childbirth, and the baby along with her. His grandparents, his father, and his mother felt something was off. His aunt went in very healthy and there was no indication anything was off with the baby either during her pregnancy. His grandfather was able to get information out of the hospital through other staff and through his aunt's medical records. The baby didn't die. They sent the girl off to an adoption agency. His aunt didn't die in childbirth either. The doctor performed a hysterectomy immediately after she gave birth. His grandfather saw that the papers had been signed, but the signature looked too sloppy to tell what it was supposed to say. It didn't look like his aunt's usual signature. She died during that surgery rather than during childbirth, due to an accident one of the nurse's made. The hospital covered everything up. His grandfather took the information forward to local police, who then sent it higher up to let the information sit in limbo. His grandfather died shortly after, his heart broken. His father and his mother, in their grief, grew closer and married, but his father never recovered from that event. His grandmother told him it was the final wound that pushed him over the edge. His father took his own life less than a year after he was born. His mother, terrified of being in the care of the same doctors who hurt her family so deeply, gave birth at home and nearly died then. He asked his grandmother what had happened to his father before. 'Why was he full of so much pain?' She teared up and shook her head. 'You're too young to hear such things yet.' Before she could tell him what happened, she passed away three months after his mother died. She told him about her coming death in that final month. His grandmother had been hiding from him and his mother that she had cancer too, and she was suffering alone for a little longer than his mother had. When she passed, he was tossed around between foster homes. No one wanted him for long. He learned in his teen years more about what his grandmother meant about his father, but he had no family left to talk to. Unlike his mother, he went to the doctor. He was going to die anyway. The doctors here were actively enjoying his suffering. They hated him. He'd done nothing to them. Erin ran through the possibilities of what he could have done different. Once he was sick, his only other real option would've been to kill himself. If he didn't come to these people, he would've gone on to hurt or kill others, and continue to spread the virus. The only thing that would've stopped this from happening would've been to not have gotten the virus to start with. How could he have known to do anything about that? Erin drank the water and sat back on the bed. "Mother, there's poison in me. I can't get it out." Erin heard someone crying. He pressed his ear to the nearest wall. The crying was coming from next door. He recognized the voice. It was Abbie. There was something he could have done differently. If he had gone to the doctor immediately, that man he killed would still be alive and Abbie wouldn't be sick. Those animals wouldn't have died. There was no telling who else he might have bit during those hours he couldn't remember. He cried with her, though he doubted she could hear him. His mind ran through more possibilities, and more regrets. He could've stayed put at any of the foster homes he went to if he behaved better. Then he might not have ended up at any homeless shelters. He might not have met Abbie. He shouldn't have ever paid for her services. He shouldn't have given into his loneliness. His mind found anything it could to make him feel more shame and guilt. He recalled the first time he paid Abbie. They were joking around. Abbie mentioned that she hadn't had many customers yet, and with a laugh, said she'd appreciate it if he paid her for something because she needed just a little more to pay her rent. He shrugged and said, 'You know, why not?' She seemed taken aback at the time, but went along with it. If he wasn't trying to get together with a specific girl at the time, he usually paid her about once a month. Their connection was casual. He knew where she lived. He had dropped her off there before on nights they met up really late, but nothing personal was ever exchanged between them. He wasn't sure he got her last name right when the police officer asked him. He'd rarely ever used it. When they were both homeless, he only knew her as Abbie, the unluckiest lady in town, as she called herself. She would tell everyone how she became homeless, laughing through it. Having lined up a new job, she quit her terrible job one day. She walked out and came home, only to be greeted with a phone call from the person who hired her that there had been a change of plans and they wouldn't be taken her on. She drove back to her old work place to beg for her job back, got rejected, and came home to her house on fire. Some neighborhood kids were setting off fireworks in the early evening and accidentally hit her house. Because the locals all wanted to gawk at her burning home, the firetruck made a wrong turn trying to go around them and totaled her new car. She told this story all the time, but never the before or after. And Erin never once asked. He could've. He didn't tell her much of anything about himself either. They might as well have been strangers. Before, he found that made things easier. Whenever he got involved with someone, it turned into a mess. He was just alleviating his loneliness without involving anyone in his disordered nonsense and that happened to help pay her bills. 'Maybe the world would be better off without me.' Erin thought. The door opened. Erin's train of thought derailed. He sat up, fearful of who may be coming to see him. It was Jake. Erin exhaled. "Oh, it's you." "Haha, who'd you think I was?" Jake asked. He had an MRE and a can of coffee in hand. "Is that for me?" "Yeah." Jake handed the items to him. He pulled another package out of his back pocket. It was a dessert item. "Snuck this one too. Do you like apple pie?" "Thank you." Erin took it. He opened that first. "So, what hell are they planning on putting me through next? Are they gonna cut my arms off?" "Haha, you don't miss anything. But it's not something like that. They actually want to try some kind of treatment on you." "Really?" Erin took a bite into the pie. "Yeah. I told you they might have better luck with that lady. They ran some tests on her when she first got here, and they think there's something they can do to at least slow down the effects. No cure yet, and no guarantee it'll work on you, but maybe." Jake shrugged. "But she hasn't been here that long. How could they already have figured something out like that?" "She may not have been here in person, but her genetic material has been, namely her son. Seems something from an experiment they did on him gave them the idea." Jake sat at the far end of the bed. "They're going to give you the treatment in about an hour." "Do you think it'll work?" Erin asked. "They seem pretty confident about it. It could buy them enough time to come up with a cure." Later in the day, the people in white took Erin to the room they always cut him up in. Today, they put an IV in his arm and gave him something. They wouldn't tell him what it was. Abbie was brought into the room right after him. He passed her in the hallway, but there was no time to say anything. Erin was led away as quickly as Abbie was being dragged in. They gave him this treatment once every day, then every other day after two weeks. Three months passed and Erin's symptoms didn't escalate once. When the full moon came, they locked him up behind the big metal door for four days each time. The amount of time he blacked out for varied between one to three days, and the damage he did to the rooms was less than the first time. However, in the hours prior to when he blacked out, he repeated the same behaviors as before. He attempted to get close to staff to bite them. After another month of the treatment, the staff had collected enough information on Erin to know around what time his pre-blackout symptoms started. He was locked in the metal room two hours before he was expected to start changing behavior. In those four months, Erin didn't get a single chance to talk to Abbie. He got updates on her condition from Jake. She was fairing the same as he was. Jake saw him frequently, giving him food and medicine in secret, along with little bits of information he wasn't supposed to. In all that time, Jake never opened up about himself or his motives any more than what little he had told Erin months ago. Erin didn't expose much about himself either. As kind as Jake was to him, he couldn't sort out his real motives. Jake did work for those people. For all he knew, Jake was putting on some kind of act in front of him when they talked and nothing he told him was real. Erin had no way of knowing. One day, on a whim, Erin decided to test him. "Hey, before, you told me you were working for these people to get back at them for hurting your brother." "Yeah." "What's he look like? Do you have a picture of him?" Erin asked. "Why?" "Just curious what kind of person he is, since you're working under these people for him." Erin said. "I don't think you told me his name." Jake took out his wallet. He opened it and pulled out a few photos. He handed them to Erin. The top one was of a teenage boy. The same boy was in all of the photos. Jake was in a few, along with two other boys. They all looked related. Out of the four, two had black hair and two had brown hair, three had dark brown eyes and one had blue eyes. The boy in the first photo had blue eyes and dark brown hair. He was the lightest out of the group, his skin a light russet color. "Cyrus." Jake said. "That's my little brother's name." "Who are the other two?" Erin asked. "My other brothers. I'm the oldest. That one's Todd. He's the next oldest. And that one's Chris. And Cyrus is the youngest." Jake took one of the photos and pointed to the other two. Todd and Chris both had black hair. Chris had much darker skin than his brothers. Todd and Jake were the in the middle between Chris and Cyrus in that regard. Jake shared having dark brown hair rather than black with Cyrus. "Is one of your parents white?" Erin asked. "My dad." Jake said. "Huh. How old is your little brother?" "Cyrus? He turned 16 a few days ago." Jake said. "He's trying to get his license by the end of the month. I promised him a car." "When's his birthday?" Erin asked. "February 15th." "It's February already? Wait...then, it's 1993 now. Has that much time really passed?" Erin knew months had gone by, but he didn't think that much time had passed. "Time flies." Jake took the photos back and put them away in his wallet. "Speaking of which, I'm about to finish college in May." "You're a student?!" Erin stared at Jake. "How old are you?" "Gonna be twenty-two at the end of July, the 30th." Jake laughed. "I'm doing a double major in Archeology and History." "You're allowed to do that?" "Yeah. I've been doing extra classes every semester, straight through summer and everything. I haven't been working here as long as you probably thought. I actually started working here a little before they brought you in." Jake put the wallet away. "Surprised?" "That...how do you have time for all that?" Erin asked. "I'm a busy guy." Jake didn't give him a proper answer before moving on. "You're pretty nosy today. Why the sudden interest in me?" "I dunno. It's not like I have anyone to talk to." Erin said. He took in the information that Jake told him. Hearing that Jake was in college and about to complete two degrees at the same time made him suddenly more intimidating than before. Erin's insecurities about his own intelligence came flooding to the forefront of his mind. "I guess you must come from a family of smart people." "Smart? I'm not that smart. More stubborn than anything. That's probably the only trait I share with all of my brothers. Trust me. Smarts and going to college have nothing to do with each other. My brother Todd's ain't some genius. Not one lick of common sense. He has a 4.0." Jake said. He laughed. "One time, I swear, he walked right into a brick wall because he was too busy talking to me about some game show on TV. He wants to go study lions in person. He's going to give me a heart attack." "Isn't it kind of mean to talk about him like that?" Jake waved his hand. "He'd talk shit about me to my face. I know there's plenty he could say. He knows I love him regardless." "But still...two majors, that's gotta be a lot of work." Erin lowered his head. "I doubt I could even get into college." "Why's that?" Erin shook his head. "I barely graduated high school. I can't do something like that." Jake shrugged. "Well, if you can't, you can't. It's not a big deal. You were doing something else anyway, right? You did have a job." "Yeah." "Then who cares if you don't go?" Jake stretched his arms. "Do you think you're dumb because you can't do it?" "Isn't that true?" "I've had professors who I wouldn't trust to change a light bulb, and I've had others that were tenured and could barely teach the subject they had a doctorate in." Jake held up his hand and rubbed two of his fingers against his thumb. "Money will buy you a lot of things in life, a whole lot more than book smarts. The way they test people in school is biased anyway, and reading Shakespeare won't help you fix your car, you know? I'm sure you're 'smart' about something." "I dunno." Erin was unconvinced. He couldn't think of anything he was good at. "Your other brothers, are they going to college too?" "Chris is going in the fall, but Cyrus already told me he's not going to after he graduates." Jake said. "Why not?" "He doesn't think he can do it. And he's probably right." "Why do you say that?" Jake said matter-of-factly. "I don't know what's wrong, but there's something there. Something I don't know how to help him with. Whatever it is, it makes it hard for him to do school stuff. But he's great at other things. He gets hung up on stuff like that too. Whether he's smart or not. Neither one of you need to worry about that." "Do you think whatever is wrong with him is something they did?" Erin asked. Jake shook his head. "He ended up with them to start with because something was already wrong. They were supposed to help him. They didn't. Now he's terrified of doctors, and ashamed to ask my parents for anything." "Ashamed?" "He feels like he wasted their money when he went to that place and didn't get any better. It wasn't cheap. He's afraid of doctors, but he places all the blame on not getting better on himself." Jake's eyes were dull and empty. "That's why I'm buying his car. He'll never ask my parents for something like that now." Erin thought about his mother, but didn't want to tell Jake about her. He changed the topic. "The first month I was here, you said I reminded you of your brother. Now that I've seen him, I don't really see it." "It's less about looks and more what I can sense about you." Jake grinned. "But don't worry about that." Erin took that as a sign that Jake wouldn't tell him any more than that. "You probably won't tell me, but where are you from?" "Georgia." Jake said. "That's where my dad's side of the family was from." "Where's your mom from?" Jake laughed. "Montana. My mom was born right near the border of Wyoming, but my grandfather moved pretty far from there later toward the Canadian border when I was a little kid." "Did he want to go to Canada?" "Haha, sometimes he thought about it. He wanted to be near the border to run in whatever direction seemed safer. Sometimes, he thought about moving down toward the Mexican border, but in the end, he stayed put." Jake laughed. "Doesn't matter where you run. It's fucked everywhere." "Yeah." Erin laughed at his own misfortune. "Lower Montana, huh? Are you Apsáalooke?" Jake laughed again. "Figured you'd sort that out." "Did you know that I'm...?" "Yeah, I knew you were too. I read it in your file when they snatched you from that sleep center." Jake said. "Gotta say seeing that on paper may have gotten me a little riled up again." "A little?" "Just a little." Jake grinned widely. Underneath Jake's playful expression, Erin could sense the seething rage in him. "Some of their oldest records were accidentally destroyed, along with a building catching on fire. Very mysterious." "Does Dr. Summerfield suspect you did anything?" "I'm sure he knows it was me." Jake's grin suddenly reminded Erin of a wild animal exposing its teeth. "I told him it wasn't me. He didn't do anything about it. He never does anything to me." "What about that man, Alexander? Does he know?" Erin asked. "I don't know. He might." "Aren't you afraid of what might happen if he finds out?" "If he tries to do anything to me, at the very least, I'll make sure he doesn't live past that day." Jake cracked his knuckles. "They're lucky that they didn't hurt my brother more. If they'd have killed him, I'd have already done something much worse to them." Erin's body went cold. "What are you planning on doing? I thought you didn't really know what you were going to do yet?" "It's taking me a while to really get a feel for these people. It's not just weird experiments being funded by corporations and government grants. There's stranger things at play, and I need to know more before I can act." Jake paused and looked over at Erin. "If you survive this, did you want to help me?" "I don't know. I don't think I could. There's no way I could maintain my cool the way you do in front of those monsters." Erin said. "Just being near those people makes my skin crawl. How do you do it?" "It's easy." Jake laughed again. "I can't forget that they've made me a little angry." Erin didn't understand. "How does that help?" "Don't worry about it. It's better if you never understand." Jake said. He softened his tone. "Do your best to keep living. Once they cure you, I'll get you out." "But what will I do once I'm out of here?" "I'll sort that out. Just focus on surviving." Jake wouldn't answer his questions directly anymore for that day. Shortly after, Jake left to do some work for Dr. Summerfield. Two more months passed and Erin's symptoms stayed the same. For once, one week they scanned his brain rather than cut him open. Jake informed him there appeared to be no major damage. X-rays on the rest of his body showed some bone damage in his legs and arms. From blood tests, Jake told him he was also severely anemic. He was given iron supplements, but the supplements didn't help. Through Jake, Erin learned that they had found similar results in Abbie. Her brain was safe, but her bones were becoming brittle and she was even more severely anemic than he was. "Why would it be worse for her? Are they giving her less food?" Erin asked. "It's a lot easier to become anemic if you're female. We don't have to worry about periods." Jake said. "They're giving her more iron than you to compensate for that, and it's not helping any." "What about our bones? Do they know why that's happening?" Jake nodded. "That was an expected side effect of the treatment they're giving you. Unfortunately, that's the trade off to keep you from dying." "Have they gotten any new ideas about how to cure this?" Erin asked. Jake shook his head and sighed. Erin opened up a bag of jerky that Jake brought in for him. "Hey, are you giving any extra food to Abbie?" "Yeah, when I can." Jake said. "They don't let me be alone with her for too long." "Why's that?" "Some of the staff think I'll get her pregnant." Jake laughed. "Ridiculous." "Why do they care about that?" "They don't want anything interfering with their experiments and tests. A baby complicates matters." Erin shook his head. "They didn't mind snatching up her eggs and making a baby without her consent, and she can't get pregnant on their watch either. Given all you've told me, I'm a little surprised they wouldn't see the baby as a new test subject." "Oh, I'm sure if they find a cure, that's something else they'll look into later. But given the company's belief sets, it wouldn't be me they'd be using as a donor father." Jake said. "Beliefs? What do you mean?" Erin asked. "I have a meeting to get to soon. We'll talk more later." Jake walked toward the door. "But you know, Abbie's room is much bigger than yours." Jake left Erin to think over that. If Jake told him that, something about Abbie must be more special in their eyes than him. He went over the differences and similarities between them in his mind. They were both poor and lived in a poorer neighborhood. Both of them had been homeless before and had troubled experiences in their younger years. Abbie was female and white. She used to be much better off before the fire and the job situation. He didn't think it would be anything like that. Erin thought over other things he saw since arriving. His eyes widened. 'I need to get the hell out of here. If Jake doesn't get me out, they'll definitely kill me after they cure me.' Erin's body shook. He recalled something else Jake said to him before. This company received government funding. His stomach turned, but he wasn't shocked. Erin stared around the room. There was no window, and no way he could get that door open either. The floor was metal. In the ceiling, there was a vent, but he doubted it'd be anything he could get through and he couldn't reach it anyway. His only chances to run away would be when they moved him from room to room, and there was always so many people around then. He didn't know anything about the layout of this building or even where he was. He curled up on the bed and pressed his ear to the wall. Just barely, he could hear Abbie pacing around in the room beside his. He knocked three times on the wall. Abbie stopped. "Hello?" "Can you hear me?" Erin asked through the wall. "Erin?" She asked. "Where are you?" He knocked on the wall again, a little louder this time. "Next door." He heard her walk over. Her voice came through louder. "How long have you been here?" "I don't know anymore." Erin said. "I'm sorry. I didn't know I was sick." "Have you met Jake?" She asked. "Yeah." "Okay. I wasn't sure if he was lying to me about things or not." "I think we can trust him." Erin's hand slid down the wall. "I'm so, so sorry..." He heard her lean against the wall. "They're coming. I hear them." "Is today one of the days they take you for tests?" He asked. "I think so. I don't know." She said. The door in her room opened. Erin heard the voice of a man. He recognized the voice as being one of the usual staff. Erin heard lots of footsteps, then the door closed. The room filled with silence. "Abbie?" No one answered him. He resigned to his hopelessness and tried to go back to sleep. Two more months passed. In that time, he sometimes spoke with Abbie through the wall, but their conversations were always brief and painful. He sometimes simply listening through the wall to hear anything other than the quietness of his room. In June, his condition worsened. While he was confined to the room with the big, metal door, he blacked out for four days straight and woke with longer claws and fangs. Eating became difficult. He grew two inches and his body was weaker than ever. Erin had been on the shorter side to start with. He was originally 5'9". Now, he measured at 6'1". In the time since he was infected, he grew four inches. He was certain too, that his fingers were slightly longer than they used to be. Stretch marks covered him. The undertones of his skin had changed too, giving him a strange, almost bloody glow. Everywhere on his body, his hair came in thicker. As usual, tests showed that he was severely anemic and the bone damage had worsened. A brain scan showed some minor changes, but no major damage. After he was brought back to his room, he cried. "It's not working anymore." Jake sat with him. "I'm not so sure. Your brain looks okay, despite everything that's happened. Given the changes that have happened, you should be worse off than you are." Erin stared at his hands. "What about Abbie?" "She's not doing quite as well. Her brain is fine, but her bones...they're taking a hit more than yours are. They don't know why." Jake said. "But you said they were doing this with data based on her. Why am I doing better?" Erin asked. "Dunno. The child was male. That could be related. Could be anything, really." Jake said. "You're not as far into this as you think you are, anyway. Neither of you are. Your bodies are still pretty unchanged." "Unchanged? Look at these!" Erin held up his hands. "Yeah, I see 'em. And other than those changes, you look human. Do you remember the pictures you were shown when you got here? Eventually, if they don't cure you, you won't look like you were ever human." Jake reminded him. "You still have time. Don't give up yet." "It's hard not to when every week is the same. I don't know if I can make it." Erin touched one of the walls. "I don't remember when I last saw the sky. I can't...I can't stay in this place. I wish they'd just kill me already." "Fresh air, huh?" Jake got up. "I'll talk to Tom. Maybe I can persuade him to let you guys go outside for a while. The outside area is fenced off." "I thought I wasn't allowed to know where we are." Erin said. "You aren't, but you wouldn't know from the outside view. We're too far away from anything to tell you." Jake shrugged his shoulders. "By the way, we're in Rome, Georgia." "I...you're not supposed to tell me that!" Erin blinked. He had no idea where Rome, Georgia was, or that there was a place by that name in Georgia. Erin couldn't picture where he might be. Was he near Alabama or Florida? Tennessee or South Carolina? "Oops." Jake laughed. "Oh well. Anyway, I'll talk to him. Doubt he'd let me take you both out at once, but I might be able to get him to let you come out one at a time once a week." "They've never let me outside before. How are you going to persuade him?" Erin asked. "I'm sure I'll think of something." Jake waved at him. "Tom usually gives me what I want." Erin wanted to believe Jake could pull that off, but he shuttered to think what accomplishing that would cost. 'I shouldn't have said anything.' The following day, Jake took him outside. He said nothing of what he had to do for Tom. It was a stormy day out. The sky was so dark Erin thought it was near sunset, but Jake told him it was only three in the afternoon. Abbie wasn't allowed to come outside with him. As Jake expected, he was only allowed to escort them out one at a time. "Sorry about the rain. He gave me a date and time, and a time limit. You've got one hour and you'll get another hour in two weeks. That's the best I could get out of him." Jake said, holding an umbrella over the both of them. "It's fine." Erin said. He didn't mind the rain drenching the shoulder that the umbrella couldn't cover or the wind sprinkling the rest of him. It was hot out and he could see the clouds moving above them. Erin took in a deep breath. He could smell the grass and wild flowers so much more strongly than he remembered being able to before. "Hey, is it close to a full moon?" "About another week. Why?" Jake asked. "I can smell everything." Erin said. "Even you." Jake raised his free arm and sniffed himself. "Did I forget to put on deodorant?" "No, not like that. I can smell your cologne, really strongly. And your shampoo." Erin laughed. "I can smell the scent of your soap on your skin. Before, I could do that when the moon was full." "It might be progressing more again." Jake said. "Your sense of smell may stay like this." Erin looked over at Jake's hand that was holding up the umbrella. His wrist was partly covered with a watch. Erin's mind wandered over to a strange place. He was certain he could rip through the watch and Jake's skin with ease. "I can smell your blood too." "Are you going to bite me?" Jake asked, standing perfectly still. "No." Erin said. "I want to." "Are you sure you can control that?" "I don't know." Erin walked out from under the umbrella. He let the rain wash over him. "I don't want to." Erin closed his eyes and listened to the wind. He could barely hear anything going on outside from his room. The heavy storm meant there were no birds for him to hear, but he could hear cars aways off in the distance. An ambulance passed through the area. Briefly, the clouds parted to reveal the moon hanging in the sky during the day. Seeing it shining down on him made him think more on his body and everything surging inside him. As briefly as it appeared, it vanished again, hidden behind swirling clouds. Erin looked back at Jake, his red eyes piercing through the darkness the storm brought. His mind forgot the cars and the wind and the flowers. All his mind could think of was the blood hidden by delicate skin and the metallic taste he knew it would have. Erin forced himself to look away. Staring at Jake was only making the urges worse. "I'm really dying, huh?" "What?" Jake asked. "When we go inside, put me in the containment room and leave me there until four days after the full moon." Erin said. "Are you sure?" "I want you to." Erin said. He held his palm up to catch the rain. "I don't want to go." "Which is it?" "I don't know." The hour passed quickly. As asked, Jake put him in the room with the big metal door. Erin could feel himself losing his mind. His thoughts were scattered. He couldn't maintain anything for long without his mind shifting to some violent urge. Erin did his best to suppress it. He got through the rest of that day without blacking out, but he felt like he was losing all control of himself. Erin fell asleep by the door, listening to far off footsteps down the hall. This part of the building, he gathered, wasn't very busy. Few people came through. This room's smell nauseated him. It was too clean, too sterile. The smell reminded him of when his grandmother took his mother to the hospital. That place had the same smell. As he lay on the floor, he remembered how his mother looked in the truck. She wasn't really conscious then. She writhed in pain on that seat, clutching her stomach. He was so small then he didn't have any trouble sitting in the floor beside her. Young as he was, he didn't know what he could do for her at that point to help her. He'd put his little hands on hers and whispered, 'It's gonna be alright, Mama. Please, don't cry.' She wasn't alright. Some part of him knew what was coming, though he couldn't fully comprehend it at the time. He didn't understand her not being alright meant her death. He was scared of whatever unknown, unnamed thing was coming the same as his mother was afraid of whatever unknown, unnamed thing shimmered on the water in the river. His body had grown weak, but he wasn't in the kind of pain she had been in. His agony was mostly of the mind, of what he knew he was losing and what he was becoming. And this time, he knew very well what was waiting at the end for him. With him, that was the end of his branch of the family as far as anyone knew. His aunt's child wouldn't know where she came from, and he had no children himself. He never thought about having children either. His life had always been so worthless in his eyes he didn't see a point in starting a family. Lying there on the floor, he wished he had tried more. Maybe it didn't have to be this way, he thought. Between the urges he forced down, his soothed his mind with regrets and shame. 'Mother, will I see you again?' He thought in his mind. The room remained as silent as before. When he finally fell asleep, he was driving his grandmother's old truck to the hospital. His mother sat in the passenger's seat beside him. She was bleeding everywhere. 'No, don't take me there.' She told him. 'It's gonna be okay. We can't wait. We have to do this now.' He said. 'Please, stay. I'll take you somewhere where there's no bad people.' 'What place is that?' She asked him. 'I'll find it. So please, stay.' He floored it, but the truck didn't go anywhere. The river rushed in underneath them, turning the ground to mud. The tires turned over and over, sinking deeper in. He got out of the car and ran over to the passenger side door. He grabbed her and carried her over the water. He ran, but the land moved away from him in all directions. Her blood soaked them both and the ground beneath them. Around him, fences sprung up from the ground. Men in white and men in green stood outside them. He looked to the north and looked to the south. There was no escaping out. To the west and east, the river overflowed and hid away the land. The strangers on the outside got in boats and watched them. 'There's nowhere to escape to.' Jake walked up to him. 'Why?!' Erin cried out to him. 'Please, help me! She's dying!' His mother's body slipped through his arms and vanished. Her blood remained on him, staining his clothes. The water from the west and east rushed in through the fence. It rose higher. Jake stood beside him, letting the water pull him under. 'Wait! Please, help me!' Erin called out again. 'I'm dying. Please, don't leave me here alone.' A hand rose from the water and grabbed his wrist. It pulled him under. He sunk into the water and came out on dry land. His old home was before him. The red on him had changed to blue. Jake stood beside him, holding a bottle of something shimmery and black. 'What is that?' Erin asked him. 'A little poison.' Jake threw it in the air. Erin looked up. The water floated above them, filled with patches of red. He could see the fences on the other side. The bottle shattered upon touching the water. The shimmering black spread through the water like spider lightning across the sky. Erin saw the strangers on the other side becoming sick. The fences rusted as some of the people decayed away. The others turned into monsters and consumed each other until he could see nothing more through the water but the purest shades of red and black. A rainbow glittering on that surface sparkled beautifully in the sunlight to the east of them. Erin reached up toward the dark water. Jake pulled his hand away. 'My mother...' Erin said. Jake shook his head. Erin noticed Jake was covered in blue too. 'Whose blood is that?' Jake led him toward the house. 'My own.' Erin followed him to the house, but hesitated at the door. He couldn't open it. He listened. Footsteps were coming toward the door from inside the house. The knob turned. Erin woke up, heart pounding. He wiped his face off and got a drink of water. Dazed from his dream, he looked down at his arms and remembered the weight of carrying his mother. She felt so much lighter than she should have. Then, his thoughts turned to Jake. "Save me? How could you really?" Erin blacked out by noon, six days early. He didn't come back to his senses until four days after the full moon, losing ten days of consciousness. He was so weak when he came to that they didn't take him back to his room. He went to the room they always experimented on him instead, hooked up with all sorts of things they would tell him nothing about. When he was allowed back to his room, they increased his food rations and had a nurse come to him every six hours. It was the most care they'd shown him since he arrived, but he could feel in the nurse's careless touch that it wasn't out of sympathy. He was, after all, their test subject. They needed him alive, at least for a little while longer. Later into the day, the nurse told him she wouldn't be back again until morning. Erin presumed it must be late into the night. When she left, Erin heard three knocks from the other side of the wall. Erin leaned against the wall. "Hello?" "Erin? Is that you?" Abbie asked. "Yeah." "Where did they take you for so long? I thought...I thought you must've died." "I had them lock me up early. I blacked out for ten days." He said. "Did you feel it coming on?" "Yeah. I don't know...what that means." Erin slouched down. He was dizzy. "I don't feel well. It might be...I don't know how many more times...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I did this to you." "Erin, I'm not...I'm not mad at you." He heard her body move against the wall. "I've accepted it. Sometimes, people get sick and there's nothing you can do about it. My grandmother was healthy and then one day, she had a stroke and died. My mom passed away from cancer. I guess this is what will take me." "Jake told me your odds are better than mine. Maybe you can make it." Erin said. "I don't think so. He told me that too, but I'm declining faster than you." She said. "You don't know what I look like right now. If I get better, if I stay looking like this, I can't go anywhere ever again anyway. It'd be better to die." Tears slid down Erin's face. "I'm sorry." "It's not your fault. Someone gave it to you too, right?" Erin could hear she was crying too. "And I gave it to at least three people. They told me. They're all dead now. There's probably more. What if I killed somebody and they haven't found them yet?" "I don't think you..." "You did it. You killed someone. I bet I did too." Her cries grew louder. "I just want this over with already." Erin listened to her cry. He couldn't offer her any comforting words. They were both dying, and no one was coming to save them. Erin cried with her, over both their fates. Meekly, all he could manage were words too quiet to hear. "I'm sorry." Two weeks passed, and Erin's health continued to rapidly decline. He was no longer given MREs for meals. He was switched to a diet of liquids loaded with nutrients and calories. Erin struggled to eat them. His declining health didn't stop the people in white from cutting him open. The worse he got, the more frequently they did tests on him. Over those two weeks, he went from testing done one day out of the week to every single day. He overheard them talking about needing to make the most of the time he had left, as he was dying in an unusual way compared to the others who had been infected before him and they needed to record every change happening in his body. At the end of those two weeks, Jake came to take him outside again as promised. He had to be taken outside in a wheelchair. Erin looked up at the gray sky. It was raining again. Erin paid more attention to everything compared to the previous time. This would likely be his last time outside, he thought. He wanted to enjoy it as much as he could. "Jake." Erin said. "Yeah?" "You get away with everything, right? Could we go back in a little late?" Erin asked. "Yeah." He held the umbrella over both of them. Erin stared out at the fence. He couldn't see much beyond the trees on the other side, but what he could see told him they were up somewhere high. "Are we on a mountain?" "A small one." Jake said. The pines bent in the howling wind. The chain link fence chimed along with the howling as the strong winds shook them. Erin looked up at the clouds again. The sky shifted from dark gray to green. He then turned to Jake. Jake was staring up at the sky with fierce eyes. Absentmindedly, Erin watched the rain bounce off the umbrella. The rain drops came down hard, then loud and heavy. Erin looked down. Mixed in with the rain were quarter sized pieces of hail. Jake turned the wheelchair around. "Sorry, I can't up hold your request today." A loud siren went off. Jake hurried him back inside. Erin tried to stop him. "Just leave me out here. What's the point?" "You still have time left. Every minute you've got is a chance you can turn those minutes into years." Jake said. "I'm not giving up yet, so don't you." Erin got out of the wheelchair with what little strength he had. Jake grabbed him and dragged him inside. Erin struggled as best he could, but Jake was stronger. "Come on. We've got to get to shelter. There's a tornado coming." "We're on a mountain. Will it really hit us?" Erin asked. "Of course it can." Jake said. "Damn it. We've got to get underground, but there's no way they'll let me bring you into those labs." "Then leave me behind." Erin said. Outside, a loud noise echoed all around them. It sounded like a train, but they both knew it wasn't. "I'm not leaving you." Jake knelt down and pulled Erin close to his body. He covered Erin's head and neck with his own head and his arms. "Don't move." The door they came through moved, then opened wide. Jake helped Erin up and pulled him into the closest room nearby and closed the door. Erin was dizzy and nauseous. He tried to push away from Jake, but Jake wouldn't let go. Erin puked up blood. In his blood, he saw a small, black lump. He touched it. The lump disbursed into tiny black strings that moved through the pool of blood. The tiny, writhing creatures made him sicker. He puked again, and more of them came up with the blood. Erin, out of fear, managed to find enough strength to push Jake away. Jake tried to come close again. "Don't!" Erin yelled. "You'll get sick too! Please, don't..." Erin puked again. The black creatures crawled up his pants. He swatted them off and crawled away from the pool of blood, then collapsed. The world was spinning around him. He clutched his stomach. He could feel something coming up again. Outside, it went quiet. With his heightened hearing, Erin heard someone walking in from where the outside door was. He could tell the person was wearing heels, which he found odd. All the women he'd seen in the building didn't wear shoes like that. The person walked directly to their room and opened the door. A tall blond woman walked in. She had wavy hair down to her chin and brown eyes. Her dress was not like any of the other women he'd seen there either. She wore a light blue, low cut top with a blue dress coat and a matching blue mini skirt and high heels. The woman was wearing silver earrings with diamonds and bright red lipstick. She smiled at them. "There you are. I've been looking for you. It's time for his final treatment. I have to do the girl's after this." "Who are you?" Jake asked. The blond woman smiled at him mischievously. "You can call me Rini Black. Dr. Summerfield asked me to come here today to show you what I learned in my research abroad." "Research? What are you talking about?" Jake narrowed his eyes. She laughed. "What, do you know everything that goes on here? You should be familiar with my department's work. We've been studying this virus over there, more from a historical lens. I stumbled upon some information in an old text that I wanted to try out here. It could be useless, but it may save this man." "Oh? And what did you find in this book, Ms. Black?" Jake crossed his arms. She pulled a knife out of her pocket. "We're going to need some fresh blood. Would you like to donate?" "A knife seems a little crude, don't you think?" Jake laughed. "Oh? I thought nonsense like this was preferred these days." Rini circled around him. She looked upward. "We need to do this quickly. He's dying. I need you to make a decision. If not you, bring me someone who will." Jake shrugged. "Alright. What do we gotta do?" "Where would you like me to cut?" She grinned. "Haha...how deep is this gonna be?" Jake laughed. He held out his arm. "Is this good?" "That will do. Don't move." The woman cut across Jake's arm. The blood pooled out. Erin's eyes could focus nowhere else. His body was hot. He wanted to get closer to Jake. Rini led Jake over to Erin. She held Jake's arm out above Erin's face. The blood dripped down onto him. The taste was as he expected it would be. He savored it, but couldn't tell himself why he wanted it so badly. "The virus tricks the brain into using methods to acquire blood. It wants the person to bite another person to pass it on, by whatever means necessary. But more than biting you, he wants to taste blood. That's what he's craving. If we give it to him, he won't attack anyone." Rini said. "Couldn't we have just gotten some blood somewhere and gave him a pint?" Jake winced as he bled. "No, it must be fresh. That's what he wants. Old blood won't satisfy the craving." Rini pulled Jake's arm away. "We'll do this again in a few hours. This will take all night." "So, what is this going to accomplish?" Jake asked. "It'll kill the worms, and the virus with it." Rini said. "When he consumes another's blood, the worms begin reproducing, which begins the viral replication, but they can't complete the process. Hopping to a new host is necessary for both. The other person's immune system's reaction to the worms is part of the process. When left in this state for a prolonged period of time, the worms die and take the virus with them." Jake looked over the woman. "You're quite flashy, Ms. Black. Seems a little out of dress code." She smiled at him in a way that sent shivers through Erin's spine. "I had to do a little undercover work with someone I'm sure you're aware of, Mr. Corbin." "Oh, so you know of me then, huh?" Jake gave her a terrifying smile back. "You're not hurting him, are you?" "Of course not." Erin spoke up. "Um, Ms. Black...could I ask you something?" "Yes?" "How...do you know why they're still in me even though I've passed this on to other people?" He asked. "The worms can reproduce several times in the same human, depending on the conditions inside the body. Passing it on won't get it out of you or kill you right away. This is the only way to free you." She said. As she instructed, a little at a time, Jake gave Erin some of his blood. In the morning, she had Jake stop. "That should be enough." She said. "Let him rest and in time, his body should begin to shift back." "Wait, what?" Jake asked. "In theory. We'll see. I have to tend to the other child now. The girl should take a little longer. Her body is in a worse condition than his. I must go now. Transport him to a safe room." She said and walked toward the door. "Oh, and tell Mr. Summerfield his buildings defenses against storms are rather weak. They need more improvements. This place is quite disappointing." Jake watched her go, his eyes not leaving her. Once she was out of sight, Jake turned to Erin. "How are you feeling?" "My stomach hurts." Erin said. "I don't know. I don't feel any different." Jake narrowed his eyes. He got in close to Erin's face. "Your eyes are brown." "Yeah." Erin said. His eyes widened. "Wait, they're brown again?! They're not red?!" "Nope!" Jake smiled. "Then...maybe it did work!" Erin smiled with him. "We'll have to get you tested to check." "Who was that lady? Why didn't they have her on the research team to start with? All those tests they did were pointless." Erin said. "I don't know. I've never heard of a Rini Black, and I work for the other company she's claiming she was undercover at. I'm going to have to look into her." Jake said. Erin couldn't care less who she was. If he was cured, then nothing else mattered. Jake led Erin out of the room. They finally got a full view of how much damage the building had taken. The roof was gone from most of the building, and a few wings of the building were ripped apart. Debris was everywhere. Erin had to be given a new room. His old one was gone. The fence around the building was gone too. After several tests, Erin was considered cured. He was kept in the new room for a month. As the woman said, all of his physical changes reverted. He looked normal again. The only issue that remained was the bone damage. He was given medication to help with that. Erin heard through Jake that Abbie was cured too. One morning, on the day of the full moon, Jake came to Erin's room with a suitcase and a change of clothes. "Hey, you awake?" He asked. Erin sat up. "What's going on?" "Time for you to go." Jake said. "What?" "You're leaving. I'm taking you out of here." "What? Where am I going? What about Abbie?" Erin asked. "She's already left. Don't worry. I've got everything set up for you." Jake tossed him his clothes. "I couldn't get you your old place back. That would be too much work, but I managed to get you a place and a job lined up for you." "How did you manage that?" Jake scratched the back of his head. "Haha, you don't want to know. Anyway, let's go before anyone around here starts to change their mind." Erin didn't ask any more questions. He put on the new clothes as fast as he could. Jake took him out of the partially rebuilt building to a car full of boxes. "This won't be that long of a drive. We'll be there in an hour or so." Jake said as he pulled out of the parking lot. "So...am I really free? They're not going to come after me again, are they?" Erin asked. "They'll keep an eye on you, to make sure you're definitely not still carrying the virus, but they shouldn't bother you. I'd forget about them." Jake said. "Actually, as part of the deal, you're not allowed to talk about them to anyone but people who know about this. If you talk to anyone else, they might come after you. So, this'll be our secret, okay?" Erin grew nervous at hearing that. "Then I'm not entirely free. I have to be quiet." "It's the most freedom I can get you right now." Jake said. "Sorry." "It's fine. At least I'm not in there anymore." Erin leaned his arm against the window and looked up at the sun. "Can I roll down the window?" "Sure." Erin looked for the window crank handle and rolled down the window. The air blowing in felt good on his skin. "Thanks." "For what?" "For everything." Erin said. "Hey, did you ever find out about that lady?" "That woman, the one who came in and cured you, Rini Black." Jake said as he turned down the road. "Yeah, I found out some interesting things about her." "What'd you find?" Erin asked. "There's no one who works at Moone & Wolfe by that name. Never has been." Jake stared ahead. Erin sat up straight. "Then...who was she? How did she get in? I thought that location was supposed to be top secret." "It is. The only people who would know of the location are certain staff at Moone & Wolfe, a selection few in the federal government, and a handful of people at another company, Aurora. Rini Black doesn't work for any of those people. I can't find any trace of the woman we saw that day existing." Jake pulled onto another road. "Then...who is she?" "I don't know. She's not Rini Black, that's for sure. That's gotta be a fake name." Jake sighed. "I don't know what her goal was, or how she got in, but she did cure you. I guess that's really all you need to worry about with that. I'm gonna have to do a lot of digging." "If anyone can figure out what was going on there, you can." Erin said. "What do you think she was after?" "I don't know. Nothing good, for them at least." Jake laughed. "Who knows. She could be an ally for me, if I'm lucky." "That'd be nice." Erin returned to staring out the window. "Hey, do you know where they took Abbie?" "Yeah, she's somewhere safe. I set her up with a place to stay and a job too. Took her there yesterday night. From what she said on the phone, she's doing fine." "That's good." Erin looked at the scars on his arms. That was something else that didn't go away with time. He would need to keep quiet for the rest of his life about something that he would need to explain to anyone who looked at him. Erin started to think up convincing lies. The ride went by faster than he expected. Jake pulled into a driveway where a small, one story house sat. Erin looked it over. It was old, but in good condition. Another car was already there. "Um...so...is this where I'm going to live?" "Yeah. I set up everything. You've got a stocking job at the local grocery store. I wrote the address and directions here. Sorry, that's the best I could find on short notice. Here's the key." Jake took a key and slip of paper out of his pocket and handed them to Erin. Erin accepted them. He looked down at the items in his hand. "Is this really the end of the nightmare?" "Let's hope so." "So, this is my new home." Erin looked at the small house. From his best guess, it was about the same size as the one he used to rent. "Um, where am I?" "This is Smyrna." Jake said. "Are we still in Georgia?" "Yep." "Smyrna. Never heard of it. Is that part of Atlanta?" "The metro? Yeah. The city of Atlanta itself isn't far from here." Jake opened his glove compartment and took out a map. He handed it to Erin. "Here, take this. This is where we part ways. I hope the city in the forest treats you well." "Wait...will I see you again?" Jake forced a smile and shook his head. "Sorry. I can't. It's too dangerous. But you'll be alright on your own. After everything you went through, learning to live around here should be easy." "I see." Erin sunk down in his seat. He had hoped he might get to see Jake again after today. "I guess there's no helping it. Hey, your little brother...is he okay?" "He's alive. I intend to make sure that's true for as many decades as I can." Jake said. "Since I can't see you after today...is it okay if we talk for a while? Or do you have to go?" Jake unbuckled his seatbelt. "I've got time." They talked for a long time in the car. Erin didn't keep track of the time, but he knew hours had to have passed. At some point, Jake checked his watch. "I'm sorry. I've got to get going." He said. "Oh, I see." "There is one more thing I have to tell you." Jake said. "What is it?" "It's about the boy, Scott." Jake laughed. "Looks like he escaped on his own." "What?" "They can't find him. Not a clue." "Do you think he'll be okay?" Erin asked. "He's got better odds out here than with them." Jake said. "I plan on finding him. I promised you I'd keep him safe, if I could." Erin forgot he asked that of Jake. "Do you think you can find him?" "If I can't, nobody can." Jake said confidently. Erin smiled. "Right." "Well, I really gotta be going. I'll help you get the boxes to the porch." Jake said. Erin's mood dropped back down again. They quietly moved the boxes. Jake waved to him for the last time. He watched the car drive away. The area around him suddenly felt very empty. Erin sighed and took out the key Jake gave him. He reached down to open the door, but the door opened before he could put the key in. Erin stepped back. "Hey, roommate." Abbie stood on the other side of the door. She smiled. "They moved you here too?!" Erin asked. "Yeah. Guess this was the easiest way." She said. Abbie opened the door wider. "So, you coming in or not?" Erin picked up his suitcase and walked in. He never saw Jake again, and most days he didn't think about his time in that place. Sometimes, he wondered what ever happened to him, the boy, and if he ever found out who that strange lady was. He would never know. Few people asked about his scars. They were so deep most didn't want to bring them up at all. He got along well with Abbie, enough so that they moved into the same room and found a new purpose for the extra bedroom. Eventually, he got used to seeing doctors again, though he always brought Abbie with him just in case. His life stayed mostly peaceful and uneventful for a long time. The moon, however, never stopped being on his mind.
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