Excerpt from Interludes in Hell
By David P. Forsyth
I’m a dead man walking, but I’ve been having the time of my life. If everything goes according to plan there might not be anyone left alive to read this, but I still want to record my experiences during this apocalyptic odyssey. Yes, it is quite possible that nobody will ever read this. So why write it? Under normal circumstances nobody would believe it anyway. Yet maybe aliens or some other species will arrive or evolve and wonder about us. Like we wondered about dinosaurs. So I am using my tablet to record the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Before this plane lands in Sydney I will upload my testimonial to several secure servers and embed a time delayed release. Some people may read it and learn the truth before they die. And, if there are any survivors, they might be curious about how the world ended.
We are all dying. We don’t want to face it, but it’s true. From the moment you are born the clock is ticking. Most of us never know when the timer will hit zero. For me that all changed four months ago when a doctor told me that I only had six months to live. It’s cancer. Brain cancer. An inoperable tumor. Hopeless. I know some of you will think, “Ah, the tumor made him crazy,” but you would be wrong. The modern world is the disease that did this to me and I am the cure. For the past ten years I held a cell phone next to my head for at least three or four hours a day. Damned unlimited talk plans! I’m pretty sure that is what gave me the tumor, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. Besides, that is not what I want to tell you about. It is only important as far as it goes to explain how I got into this.
My name is Alistair Dane Lukan. You might have heard of me, but probably not, at least not yet. I was a blogger and small time fiction writer, when I wasn’t selling life insurance for a living. Is that ironic, or what? In my spare time I used to blog about politics and write cheap science fiction eBooks. Some of my stuff was well received, but after my diagnosis everything changed. Prior to that I had written several blog posts about the problem of global overpopulation in which I promoted birth control and abortion. One of my first blog entries after the diagnosis expanded on that subject, telling people they should be happy that my death would be a small contribution to solving the problem of overpopulation and encouraging folks to kill themselves and take other people with them as a way to further the cause. It was a bitter, tongue in cheek satire, but not everyone took it that way. I got a lot more hate mail than sympathy, especially after a right wing news program linked to my blog and excoriated it. Of course that only made me angry, as if I wasn’t already, and I lashed out with additional postings in which I listed all the human suffering caused by overpopulation, as well as the resulting environmental destruction from our exploitation of the planet. Some of my blog posts included impassioned pleas to God or governments to rid the world of the burden of mankind through plague or war. The hate mail grew and simply fueled my hatred of the human race at large. I was, quite simply, sick in the head.
Then, about two months after my diagnosis, I got a very different type of message on my personal email. The sender was sympathetic to my plight and agreed with my positions on overpopulation, even offering to help me spread the doctrine in the little time remaining to me. All they asked me to do, if I was interested in learning more about their offer, was send a reply within one hour of opening the email. I thought about it for at least half an hour before drafting a reply. Even then I hesitated, unsure if I should proceed. My mouse hovered above “send” as the hour expired. What happened next both frightened and excited me. The original message deleted itself from my inbox! I had heard that high tech programs could now send messages that would self-destruct, but had never witnessed it. This was like something out of Mission Impossible. My outgoing reply window was still open and I clicked on “send” more out of curiosity than conviction. The reply went through and what was left of my life changed dramatically.
One week later I was sitting in a first class seat on a flight to Seattle, paid for in full by my new and still nameless online friend. What convinced me? The offer was quite sweet. The person, or persons, who had contacted me would pay for me to live in luxury for the time I had left and help me spread my philosophy to others around the world. It sounded as if I would be a poster-child of sorts for the cause of depopulation. It certainly sounded better than sitting in my apartment waiting to die, with nothing but morphine to look forward to in the way of comfort before the inevitable end overtook me. Of course there was more to their offer than met the eye and I should have known it. Yet even now I think I made the right decision, although you probably won’t agree with me.
When I arrived in Seattle there was a limo waiting to take me to a hotel near the airport where a prepaid room was reserved in my name. Actually it was a luxury suite with more square footage than my apartment at home. A note told me to use room service and watch as many movies as I liked, but not to leave the suite or make any calls until I was contacted the following morning. It was a pleasant night. The next morning at 9:00 sharp there was a knock on my door. I was almost finished with my room service breakfast. My appetite had suffered as the cancer progressed, but I could still stomach eggs and juice. I pulled on a T-shirt and opened the door to admit who I assumed would be my benefactor.
Two people stood waiting in the hallway. One was a genial looking middle-aged man with greying hair and wearing a tan suit. The other was a young and quite attractive woman with black hair and penetrating eyes. They introduced themselves as Bill and Linda. I welcomed them into the living room of the suite. There was some small talk, which I can’t remember at all, having been focused almost exclusively on Linda’s body. It’s a strange thing about dying. Even for someone like me who opposed reproduction on practical and philosophical grounds, the biological drive to procreate is strong. When facing certain death it gets even stronger. I was captivated by the curves of Linda’s breasts when Bill brought me back to earth.
“You need to make a decision now, Alistair,” he intoned. “If you are truly committed to the philosophy that you have been promoting online, we can help you set it in motion before you die. You, and several others, have been chosen to leave a legacy unlike any other in history. But once you leave this room with us you will be sworn to secrecy and committed to the cause. Are you ready for that?”
Slightly taken aback, I said, “Can you be more specific? Exactly who are you people and what do you want me to do?”
“Those are questions that can only be answered after you have sworn an oath of secrecy and committed yourself to the cause,” Linda answered softly. “But after reading all of your work, I am sure that you will be in full agreement with our plans.” This was a brilliant approach on her part, playing to my vanity as a writer.
“In that case,” I smiled, “let’s get this show on the road. I will agree to keep your secrets. That shouldn’t be too hard anyway, seeing as how I only have a few more months to live. And if your plan includes giving me the VIP treatment like this, then it can’t be too bad.” Little did I know how wrong I was.
Without disclosing more information, but taking my commitment on face value, they waited while I repacked my bag before escorting me out of the suite. Upon entering the elevator I was a bit surprised that we went up instead of down. Exiting onto the roof area I was delighted to see a helicopter waiting for us. I had never been on a helicopter before. What an adventure this was turning out to be!
My excitement peaked as the helicopter lifted off from the roof and headed towards downtown Seattle. I could see the Space Needle in the distance and hoped we would fly close enough for a good look. But excitement turned to trepidation when Linda pulled out a black hood and slid it over my head.
“What are you doing?” I said, reaching up to remove it.
“Leave it on,” Bill said firmly. “This is part of operational security. It’s vital that you don’t know exactly where we are taking you. We will divulge many things to you, but the location of our base of operations is not one of them. No matter how committed you are to the cause, we can’t take the risk of the wrong people finding us.”
This cloak and dagger stuff didn’t sit well with me, but I must admit to being intrigued. I felt the helicopter bank steeply and it must have circled several times before straightening onto a course that I had no way of guessing. The flight was not long, perhaps half an hour, and I was taken by surprise when the wheels hit the ground, bouncing slightly. Without removing the hood my new comrades (coconspirators? captors?) escorted me off the helicopter, across a paved lot, and into a building. Only after we were deep inside did Linda remove the hood from my head. I blinked at the bright lights in the white hallway and tried to regain my bearings. “Where are we?” I asked. “And who are you people?”
Linda smiled as she led me into an opulent bedroom without windows and said, “We are the Tabula Rasa and this is our North American base. This is where you will learn our secrets before embarking on a grand adventure. I will do everything I can to make sure you enjoy your stay here.” Before I could react to any of that, she leaned towards me and planted a kiss on my lips. Not just a friendly kiss either. Suddenly her tongue was in my mouth and all other thoughts escaped me. My time with Linda was too personal to share with you in detail, although those moments still replay constantly in my mind. Linda proved herself to be quite a minx and the consummate hostess. After assuring me that she was using birth control she proceeded to show me what would undoubtedly be the time of my life. No pun intended.
Over the next few days, when I wasn’t otherwise occupied in bed with Linda, I learned that the Tabula Rasa was a secret society dedicated to reducing the global population to sustainable levels. It was exactly what I had been preaching, but it sounded like they had a real plan to make it happen. They didn’t disclose the whole plan immediately, not until I was in way over my head. By that time I was hopelessly in love with Linda (or maybe it was just lust) and had expressed full agreement with the goals and objectives of the Tabula Rasa. I was hooked and willing to agree to do anything to support them. That’s when Bill and Linda dropped their bomb on me.
“Alistair,” Bill began, “I truly wish that we could cure your cancer and invite you to join our long-term mission. You seem to be fully dedicated to the cause. Unfortunately, the medical tests we put you through over the past two weeks have confirmed your prognosis. You have less than two months to live and I’m afraid the final month will be quite painful.”
I thought I had moved past the stage of denial, at least to anger, if not acceptance, but Bill’s words stung me to the core. I had tried not to think about the tumor growing in my head during my time at the Tabula Rasa base. The Vicodin and Oxycodone were keeping my splitting headaches in check. And I was starting to think that I could find purpose and contentment in whatever time I had left. It just wasn’t fair. I had a woman that I was falling in love with and a cause that was dear to my heart. Bill pulled the rug out from under my fantasy. Life is not fair. But you know that by now too, don’t you?
Linda stepped into the silence and said, “There is still a way for you to make a difference for our cause and help bring about the kind of world we dream of.”
“What is it?” I asked without displaying my emotions.
“We want you to help us trigger a depopulation event,” she said softly.
“Huh?” I guess I was still a bit dense, or maybe the shock and pain killers slowed my thought process. “How?”
“We want you to spread a virus that will reduce the global human population to sustainable levels,” Bill explained. I just stared at him.
“It’s what you talked about on your blog,” Linda chimed sweetly. “You really can make a difference by reducing world population before you die. You can fulfill your vision and we can ensure that you have a great time doing it too.”
“I don’t understand,” and I didn’t. Not at first anyway. Bill had to spell it out in detail. They wanted to send me on a final vacation around the world, spreading some virus at every stop and on every flight. I asked them what kind of virus I would be spreading and told them I didn’t really want to kill millions of people. Bill and Linda exchanged glances. Then Linda made it sound like a good thing.
“It’s just a sterility virus,” she said. “It won’t actually hurt anyone, but it will keep them from having children. It will reverse the astronomical growth rate of the human race. Only those who receive the antidote will be able to reproduce. Within a few generations the scourge of humanity will be reduced to numbers that our planet can sustain. All you have to do is take a grand vacation and release a little bit of the virus at every stop. Will you do that for me, Ally? For us? To help make your vision of a better world come true? You’ll be remembered as a hero to the cause!”
What could I say? She had me pegged and I was a sucker for flattery. I wanted to be remembered for something, even if the vast majority of people would curse me for cutting off their bloodlines and posterity. Still, the plan made a certain kind of sense to me. I’m not sure if I would have agreed to do it, even then, had I known the true nature of the virus I would release. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The long and the short of it is that I agreed to be a martyr for the cause. I would become their Trojan horse carrying a virulent pandemic on a “make a wish” odyssey to oblivion.
It was the first week of March when I fully committed to the plan. They told me I would have one more week to spend at the Tabula Rasa base memorizing the details before leaving on a two week all-expense-paid trip around the world. All of the reservations and tickets would be pre-paid and retrievable online, but they wanted me to memorize the details of the lengthy trip, down to the flight numbers and addresses of hotels I would be using, as well as popular tourist sites I would visit. I followed their instructions, but truth be told I spent more time memorizing Linda’s body and the things we did together. It was hard to imagine my global journey being any better than the time I spent with Linda in that underground bunker.
Bill and Linda handled most of my training during that time. I can see now that it was as much brainwashing and indoctrination as education, but I doubt that made much difference. Eventually they succeeded in convincing me to look forward to my final adventure. “Just think of all the places you’ll see!” Linda would say. “You’re going to Mexico City, Panama, Rio, and Buenos Aries… And that’s just the first few days. Then you’re off to Cape Town in South Africa! And Cairo, Egypt. We even made time for a helicopter flight to the Pyramids. Then Athens, Rome and Paris with a day in each! You’ll take a train to London for the final flight to Sydney, Australia, with a short layover at home in Los Angeles. I wish I could go with you!”
“Me too,” I replied honestly. I guess the meds I was taking were effecting my thinking, because it took me quite a while to ask the most important question. “But what do I do after that last flight to Australia? How do I get back here to see you again before I die?”
“Don’t worry about that, honey,” she replied. “It’s all taken care of.” I should have seen through her lies right then, but I was still thinking with my smaller head and we were in bed at the time. It wasn’t until my final days at the Tabula Rasa base that the cat was let out the bag.
My final phase of training involved learning to operate the instrument I would use to spread the virus around the world. It was quite ingenious. An oversized bronchial inhaler like they gave to people with asthma. The one I trained with was inert, of course, but they wanted me to get familiar with it. The man who introduced it to me was some sort of big shot in the organization. The others called him Dr. Strangelove, but I knew that wasn’t his real name. Nevertheless, that’s how I was told to address him. He was sort of spooky and confined to a wheel chair, so I could see how he got the nickname. He was also a bit absent minded, which is how he let the true nature of my mission slip.
When Linda and Bill introduced me to him they seemed to stress the fact that I was the one who would release the sterility virus. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, assuming Dr. Strangelove would already know that. But in the course of a private conversation during my last full day at the base, when Bill and Linda were occupied elsewhere, I asked a question that was still bothering me.
“Dr. Strangelove?” I said. “What happens after my final flight to Australia? Should I get rid of the inhaler device?”
“No need,” he replied. “By then it won’t matter at all. In fact, you should probably use up the rest of the charge in the canister while you are still on that plane. But within a few hours of your arrival it won’t matter what happens to it. And it certainly won’t matter to you.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“That is when you and everyone you have infected, as well as everyone they spread it to since being infected, will all turn at roughly the same time.”
“Turn?” I asked softly.
“Yes, the virus will complete the process of mutation and convert the hosts.”
“Convert them into what?”
“Come now, young man!” Dr. Strangelove exclaimed. “They told me you were a willing volunteer. A martyr for the cause.”
“Yes, sir, I am a volunteer. I have terminal cancer and I want to help release this virus so that my last acts will promote the cause of reducing global population to sustainable levels.”
“Indeed it will,” the doctor replied in a calmer tone of voice. “It’s good that you are doing this willingly and for the right reasons. Too many of the other carriers are being sent out to do this blind. We had to hire stupid thugs, even terrorists, to disperse the virus in some parts of the world. Of course they have no idea what they are really being paid to do. I might worry about them compromising our organization, if I wasn’t certain the virus will take care of them before anyone starts asking questions. But it’s much better to have a true believer such as yourself.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, trying to keep the shakiness out of my voice. “But since you are the expert here, can you tell me what to expect when it comes time for me to turn? What will happen to me when I arrive in Sydney?”
“Best not to dwell on it, young man. Suffice it to say that one form of existence will end and another will begin, but I can assure you that both will be dedicated to your goal of depopulation.”
“And the people I infect?”
“Exactly the same thing will happen to them at almost the same time as it does to you. This virus is a brilliant construct. Once activated it mutates at a steady rate, even inside the canister you will use to release it. So everyone you come into contact with after you leave here will unwittingly join you in your mission by spreading the virus to every person they come into contact with. Then, after the transition from passive to active phases, you will all continue that mission together. In a very real way you will be leading a legion in furtherance of a good cause. Does that make you feel better?”
It did no such thing, but I wasn’t stupid enough to say so. Instead, knowing my voice would betray me, I simply nodded dutifully and turned away. I spent the rest of that day and most of the night conflicted with feelings of horror, disbelief, and delusions of power. Yes, power. I had already felt it when I thought that I would be ending the population explosion through sterility and attrition. To think that I could actually do it immediately, myself, was a heady concept. It sounded as if a lot of pain and suffering would be involved for a lot of people, but I faced the same thing alone if I tried to live out my final month of life with terminal cancer. The idea of bringing a meaningful percentage of humanity with me had more than a little appeal to it. I was also angry. No, I was mad. Mad at God. Mad at the world. Mad at myself for not being strong enough to fight off the cancer. And mad at Linda for lying to me. I probably could have taken it out on myself by committing suicide right then and there, knowing no other way to avoid the fate I had agreed to. But I was not strong enough to do that. For my weakness and sins countless others will pay dearly.
I probably should have killed Linda on that last night at the Tabula Rasa base, not that it would have changed much of anything, but I couldn’t bring myself to even discuss what I had discovered. I settled instead for rough and even sadistic sex. She seemed to enjoy it. I know I did. We were spent and exhausted when we fell asleep together. She whispered that she would miss me. I pretended to already be asleep.
I left the Tabula Rasa’s secret base the same way I had arrived, on a helicopter with a blindfold hood over my head. I can’t tell you much about where it was, aside from being less than an hour by helicopter from Seattle, and I smelled the ocean. Other than that I only saw the inside of the building, which was quite large. If anyone out there survives to read this, I hope you hunt down those bastards and kill them all. I really had no idea what I was getting into until I read the notebook I stole from Dr. Strangelove’s office. Oh, did I fail to mention that? No matter. It didn’t come into play until days later, but perhaps I should go back and tell you about how I acquired it.
It was pocket size black notebook that had fallen under a desk where I was told to sit while the others prepared the infernal inhalers for my mission. It turns out the virus needed to be activated before I could release it. The mad doctor and his assistants were busy activating several of them while I was waiting. I even overheard where some of them were going. “These three go by overnight FedEx to your carriers back east. Those two are for Japan. We already sent the ones for China, Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia this morning. I’ll activate the ones for Central and Eastern Europe next, but I’ll hold them for the carrier to arrive.” Or something like that. Anyway, while I listened to all of that I saw a little black notebook on the floor. I bent down to tie my shoe and slipped the book into my sock. It was a crazy thing to do, but so was the rest of the mess I had become involved with. I just didn’t know how crazy until it was too late.
So I flew away from the secret base with a hood over my head, a little book in my sock, and two deadly inhalers in my carry-on bag. The helicopter also carried packages with other inhalers destined to be shipped across the country and around the world. I almost felt like James Bond, except I knew that he would be trying to kill me if this were one of his movies. I was the bad guy and I knew it. What I had learned about the virus did alter my perspective, but they had done a good job of convincing me that the cause was just. So, instead of putting up a fight and trying to kill the pilot and bring down the chopper, I sat there meekly and plotted my own revenge on the human race. Yes, I was a sick fuck, or hadn’t you figured that out yet? I could blame the cancer, or the oxycodone, or the brainwashing, or the girl, take your pick, but the truth is that I knew I was going to die and didn’t mind taking as many of you with me as I could.
The rest of my story is more of a travel diary than a confession, but some things still need to be explained. I was dropped off on the roof of the same hotel and I asked Linda to accompany me to the airport to say goodbye. I could see her hesitate and hardened my heart to act there and then, but after a moment she agreed. I was glad, but not for the reason you might think. There was a limo waiting for me, just like before, and I asked the driver to close the privacy divider when Linda and I got into the back. Nothing unusual about that, right? I just wanted to cop a final feel. Well, not exactly. I brought my carryon with me, having been instructed to never let it out of my sight. During the short trip to the airport I did kiss Linda, passionately. But as I was doing that I withdrew an inhaler from the bag and sprayed a dose into her face. It went into my face too, of course, but I had nothing left to live for.
Linda’s reaction was priceless and unforgettable. It was as if her whole life flashed before her eyes, followed by the comprehension that it was soon to end. She pulled away from me and started to scream, but I put my hand over her mouth and said, “Shush…. It’s all part of the plan, right? You don’t want to bring children into the world any more than I do. So now you can join me on my journey.” I removed my hand slowly and saw that she was shaking in terror, her eyes wide in fright.
“You have no idea what you’ve done,” she blurted.
“But you told me this virus was harmless, except for making people sterile or infertile. You even said there was an antidote. You didn’t lie to me about that, did you?” I’m sure that some bitterness leaked through my words because her eyes narrowed and her breath quickened. I saw none of the love or compassion she had shown me over the past few weeks, just anger and fear. “So why not join me on my vacation?” I pressed.
“You bastard!” she blurted. “Of course it’s more than a sterility virus. I just told you that to make you feel better about spreading it. And what’s the harm in that? You were going to die anyway. But now you’ve killed me too! What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that I don’t like to be used and lied to,” I replied as smoothly as possible. “I was thinking that since you want me to take millions of people out with me, it’s only fair for me to take you along for the ride. So what do you say? I’m sure the credit cards you gave me will pay for your tickets to join me on this adventure. We could have another few weeks of fun and games.”
“Fuck you!” she screamed and tried to attack me.
I backhanded her across the face and sprayed another dose of the inhaler between us. She cringed away from me and started to cry. The limo was pulling up to the terminal and it was time to make a decision. I could have killed her right then and there, but I figured I already had. Better to leave her in terror for the next few weeks to spread the virus herself. With any luck she would go back to the Tabula Rasa base and infect the rest of them. But I doubted she would.
As I grabbed my bags and got out of the car I turned back to her and said, “Let’s start over with a clean slate, a tabula rasa so to speak. No hard feelings. I actually enjoyed our time together. And just so you know, I’m still going to follow through with the plan. My options were always limited, more so now that I let the genie out of the bottle. But it puts us on even ground. So this is your last chance to come with me on the vacation of a lifetime.” Linda just cowered and cried on the far side of the limo. I turned away and strolled casually into the airport, smiling sadly as I walked through a crowd of strangers.
“Lukan” is continued in “Interludes in Hell” ($2.99) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FPNUI1I which is composed of three prequel novellas to David Forsyth’s “Sovereign Spirit Saga” series that began with “Voyage of the Dead” (currently a FREE download @ http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006Y3XF4A).
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The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie
AND so you don’t miss any of the posts in June, here’s the complete list, updated daily: