Testing the Waters
Preston switched on the radio. Normally he didn't
like distractions while he was driving, but given the present circumstances, he
just couldn't resist the primal urge, like everybody else had, to hear any
update on the pandemic.
He fumbled with the radio for a few
seconds before settling on a generic news station. A few gentle twists on the
volume knob and the monotone droning of a man's voice quickly became coherent
through the car's speakers.
“The latest study suggests that the
Pro1967D Pandemic has been spreading at an alarming rate. The pathogen, being
both air and water-borne, has thus far eluded virtually every effort to curb
its spread. The CDC has recently announced that the virus, a derivative of the
flesh-eating strain Heights-02Sterling, named after its supposed point of
origin, is now capable of infecting animals as well. Dogs, cats, and any other
domesticated breeds should be handled with care and caution and probably tested
if any symptoms like clouded-over eyes or nervous twitching of the extremities,
such as the hands, occur.
In addition, the president held a
Preston sighed with disgust and
switched the radio off. As the pandemic increased its lethal grip on the world,
he found himself becoming more or less desensitized to all around him. As each
day passed, he cared less and less for other people, for animals, and even for
Coming to a gradual stop, he rested
his arm on the armrest and cupped his chin in a sweaty hand. His mind was a
tempest, a swirling maelstrom that was barely contained within his skull.
“Pro-1967D,” he mumbled under his
breath. “Sounds like some sort of vitamin supplement.”
His words slipped from his mouth and
hung in the stuffy air of the car. Somehow he remembered saying something just
like it seven years earlier. Back then, and it was still fresh in his mind,
another disease had spread across the continent. Dubbed Secul-CV85, it was
similar to malaria, but with a dash of cancer-like venom tossed in for good
measure. It resisted the best efforts from the top minds in the country to stop
it for nearly 12 months, and by the time it relinquished its hold on the US it
had killed more than 15 million people.
And before that, 14 years ago by his
recollection, another scourge had had its way with the people of his home state
of Michigan. Originating in the dank suburbs of Detroit, apparently from an
abandoned house used by drug dealers, the disease escaped its dire confines and
wreaked havoc with frightening speed. Ovid Flu, as it was dubbed by the media,
in reference to the street the house was located on, became something of an
icon in the annals of pathogens. It killed indiscriminately, slicing through
racial, gender, and age barriers with relative impunity. No one was safe,
regardless of their social or financial status in life.
The disease did, however, seem to
remain within the state. Not one case of Ovid Flu was reported outside of
Michigan. In fact, there were even reports about people who were infected with
the disease, and after traveling to another state for one reason or another
(different treatment options, family or job obligations, etc.), became healthy
again. No trace of the pathogen was detected in their bodies. The doctors could
not explain it, which led some (most notably religious zealots and the like) to
explain it was an act from God Himself.
The streetlight switched from red to
green, momentarily pulling Preston away from his thoughts. He removed his foot
from the brake and slid it over to the gas pedal, firmly pressing it down. The
custom-designed, gold-plated Rolls-Royce Phantom immediately responded then by lurching
forward, the 12-cylinder 6.75-liter motor filling his ears with its smooth,
Preston loved his new toy. Even in the
midst of a global crisis where people were dying from a disease that resisted
attempts to treat it with seemingly-supernatural ability he still loved driving
Supernatural. The word stuck in his
head after all other thoughts had left.
Preston felt a trace of sorrow creep
into his conscience. When he had accidentally summoned the creature, a result
of foolish tampering with the talisman he found while on a hike in the
mountains, he had no idea what he had unleashed. One minute he was simply
minding his own business, taking in all Nature had to offer, and the next he
was facing the diminutive figure that swirled with a collage of nauseating
colors and sported a visage that alternated between blinding evil and warm
empathy, the latter heavily underlined by the former. Its tiny arms, no longer
than a man's finger, swayed at its sides like a pair of wet noodles, and its clawed
feet clicked on the sun-baked stone, creating a disturbing sound reminiscent of
a chorus of drunk tap dancers.
“Greetings, young gentleman,” the
creature said in a polite tone. “I bid you a gracious welcome.”
Preston found himself rooted to where he
stood. Any fear he felt was diluted substantially by simple fascination and
curiosity. He was standing before a supernatural phenomenon.
The creature then started rambling on
and on about how mankind had ruined the world, all the while black spittle spiraling
out of the corners of its oversized mouth.
Preston caught glimpses of
green-stained serrated teeth, too many to fit comfortably within the maw.
Its words, however, struck a nerve in
him. He couldn't deny it. Mankind was ruining the world, there was no doubt
about it, and this stark revelation, having hardened his heart to his fellow
man, cushioned what the creature said next.
It was a proposition. It offered
Preston anything he wanted, except for wishes that would interfere with its
main goal, if he would do one thing: simply wish for the end of the world. It
then went on to explain that it was not a demon, that demons in fact did not
exist except in man's own mind, but was a harbinger of sorts, an entity who had
watched mankind since the first Homo Sapiens had entertained a reasonably
coherent thought, and from that first thought it had waited, tallying up the
number of dark impulses, however inconsequential, until the one that tipped the
scales, so to speak, in its favor.
Preston had to admit that the notion
of ending mankind did appeal to him to a small degree. As long as he remained
alive and unharmed he could do anything he wanted, have anything he wanted, be
anybody he wanted. He had no family, no friends, no interests in anyone's
well-being outside of his own, so his conscience really didn't factor into the
Plus, there was the chance that the
pulling his leg. It couldn't have been more than a foot tall and probably weighed
less than a plump rat, so he did doubt it was capable of a display of such
But then before he could answer, the
creature waived a sinuous hand above its head, displacing the air as if it
radiated intense heat. Its eyes bulged outward, nearly splitting open, and tiny
wisps of green smoke streamed from its tensed fingertips.
It had readily agreed to Preston's
condition, having probed his mind for the answer it so hungrily sought.
And then it was gone, vanishing in the
blink of an eye.
Deciding that he had imagined the
whole thing, Preston simply went on his way. And since he couldn't do anything
about it, he called out a wish.
“I want ten million dollars!”
Instantly, an enormous stack of fresh
$100 bills, all tied with bands that had $50,000 stamped on their front,
materialized a few feet in front of him.
Snapping out of his thoughts, Preston
drove along the mostly deserted road. He noticed a few people here and there,
but they were either in the terrible death throes of the virus or were dead
already, their lifeless bodies bloated from the disease.
He felt sick with himself. He had
caused this, he was responsible. He had unleashed the creature to destroy the
And all so he could be rich, and have
the fancy car he wanted, and worst of all: remain healthy and alive.
That was the toughest part for him to
deal with, the fact that he would live while everyone else died.
He came to a stop on the side of the
road and shut the engine off. The Military hadn't reached his part of the state
yet, so he wasn't worried about it. They only occupied the densely populated
areas first instead of bothering with the smaller locales, such as where he
Preston closed his eyes and let his
mind wander, the cries of the stricken fading as he drifted into a troubled
daydream. But no sooner had it started when it was shattered by something
slamming into his car. The jolt was powerful, like a starved lion tearing into
a bloody carcass.
With shock dictating his reaction
Preston flung his disoriented gaze to the passenger side of his beloved car and
immediately saw the diseased face of a woman, who when healthy would no doubt
have been very pretty, smeared against the glass. She looked dead but her
violent twitching and rotating clouded-over eyes said otherwise.
Preston felt sick to his stomach. He
had never been this close to someone with Pro1967D before.
He instinctively pushed himself into
his seat in an attempt to put as much distance between himself and the poor
woman as he could.
The woman slid to the ground, her
mouth and nose leaving greasy trails on the glass.
The creature was perched on a large
stone next to the shoulder of the road. It looked as it had when he first
encountered it, except for some added weight. Despite maintaining its same
height it was now undoubtedly heavier, perhaps by as much as 50%. It also wore
the same expression as it did before, although now the evil seemed to be in the
“Greetings, young gentleman. It's good
to see you again.”
Preston found himself staring at the
diminutive abomination; words eluded him.
The creature sensed his hesitancy so
“I must say that I finally think I got
it right this time.” It hopped off the stone and strode toward Preston's car.
“Don't you think? The virus is quite effective, you must admit.” It gestured
toward its surroundings with wiry arms. “At this rate mankind will be wiped out
within a week, perhaps two. The first batch, I believe they called it the Ovid
Flu, was not much more than an experiment. I was testing the waters, so to
speak. The second batch, however, proved much more effective. Secul-CV85 was a
big improvement over its predecessor. It was much better quality.”
Preston was pushing himself into his
seat so much his back began to hurt.
The creature reached the car. Standing
up to the door, its short stature prevented it from being seen by its lackey so
with a slight twist of a finger it raised itself up to Preston's eye level.
Preston could hardly look at the
swirling colors of mankind's destroyer.
“Not to worry though, young
gentleman,” the creature slurred, its pointed nose scraping against the window.
You are wealthy in a world of poverty. You are enlightened in a world of
ignorance. You are strong in a world of weakness. You are alive and well in a
world of sickness and death. Surely you are a lucky man.”
And with those cryptic words the
creature lowered itself. Then with a flick of its sinuous finger dispelled its
foul form into sheer nothingness, leaving Preston alone with his tormented
“Alive and well in a world of sickness
and death,” he muttered to himself over and over again. “Everyone is dying but
I'm alive and well.”
He started the car, momentarily losing himself
in the finely-crafted hum of the motor. He slipped it into gear and the Rolls
Royce crept forward, the loose gravel on the
shoulder crunching under its weight.
“Alive and well. I'm alive and well.”
The Rolls gained traction on the
pitted and cracked asphalt.
And when Preston looked into the glare
of the rear-view mirror and noticed, at the same time his hands began to twitch
on the custom-made steering wheel, that his eyes had become clouded over, foggy
windows into a damned soul.
Rick McQuiston is a horror fan who has over 400
publications to his credit. He has written seven novels (three published), and
read at various schools and libraries in Michigan. Currently, he is working on
his eighth novel.