The speedboat chopped through the waves as it raced toward the island. Beth tugged on the strap across Lizzie’s chest. The makeshift harness held firm.
Three others forced to board the craft with them were strapped to a bench at the boat’s stern. The two women displayed varied stages of the disease. Both of their skins grayed. The larger female’s scalp riddled with bald patches where clumps of hair had fallen free.
The third, a boy of maybe ten, stared back at Beth with weepy swollen eyes. His arms and legs were rigid like her friend’s. She glanced at Lizzie, whose head bobbed with the boat’s abrupt movement. She was glad Lizzie was still in the first stages.
Water splashed over the gunwale and soaked Beth’s arm. A chill rushed her body, and she pulled the hood of her jacket over her head. She didn’t understand how the virus traveled so quickly. Unprecedented speed. Unrivaled reproduction. Tenacious virulence. These words described the pandemic. Beth tucked herself against the helm seat and their home grew farther away.
Fourteen days ago, both of Beth’s parents died of complications brought on by this new and strange disease. Lizzie’s family took her in and promised to raise her as their own. She didn’t mind. Lizzie was her best friend.
Beth had no idea that when she moved in, she carried the deadly virus with her. None of them did. Even the CDC hadn’t figured out how to stop the deaths. Their town’s population dwindled in a matter of a few months. The mortuaries couldn’t cremate the remains fast enough.
Officials decided to transport the corpses to a nearby, forsaken island for mass disposal. And, as the death count continued to mount, a quarantine of the infected became the next viable option. The Department of Infectious Disease canvased door-to-door on a sanctioned roundup. When the hazmat-suited men knocked on Lizzie’s front door, Beth knew her friend would test positive.
Lizzie’s parents didn’t try to prevent her from going with their daughter. Despite Beth’s negative results, the mother handed Beth her coat. She insisted Lizzie be kept safe, or Beth died trying. This was the least Beth could do. Most likely, she already infected them both. The odds of not succumbing weren’t in anyone’s favor.
A surge of empathy caused Beth to reach out and grab Lizzie’s hand. The girls’ skin pushed back and exposed the tissue below. Beth flinched, and her eyes darted at her friend’s. She searched for any remnants of familiarity. But Lizzie’s eyes offered rings of blood, which encircled her once beautiful, gray irises.
While confined on the boat, Lizzie’s condition advanced. If Beth lost Lizzie, fate would alienate her from everyone she ever loved. Her only hope waited on Misery Island. She withdrew her hand and stared at the waves, unprepared for what came next.
The boat slowed. “Are those the rocks?” the helmsman asked.
Beth gazed over her shoulder and found the man pointed straight ahead. She glanced at his colleague, who wore a holster, and his right hand rested on the gun’s grip.
This man replied with his eyes locked with hers. “Steer between them. It’s the only passage.”
The boat passed between the jutting rocks. Beth could have touched the one on her side as they crept through the narrow pathway. A muffled moan sent shivers down her spine. She couldn’t recall an inbound engine ever making quite the same sound.
The island came into view, and death hung above it in a vile stench.
“Come on, man. Tie off. Use the piling,” the helmsman said and tossed the bowline to the man with the small black gun.
“Throw the stern line,” he called back.
The helmsman remained steadfast, but gestured to hurry along.
A pair of orderlies met them on the dock. Both carried a folded wheelchair under each of their arms. The chairs popped open, and their wheels locked in place.
“Let’s do this,” said the orderly with the name tag Bob.
The gunman released the harness holding the two women and the boy. He grunted as he hoisted the heavier one over his shoulder. He plopped her in a wheelchair and she let out a painful groan. He took the other female, and then came for the boy.
He carried the boy, like a small mannequin. At the boat’s edge, he stood the stiff child on the dock. Bob snatched the boy and secured him underarm, faced away, and the child gnashed at the putrid air.
Beth unlatched Lizzie’s safety but waited for the man to collect her friend. She followed, and as Lizzie was situated, Beth stepped out on the wooden planks. Only four chairs had been made available. They knew she wasn’t ill.
She released the brakes and gripped the handles on Lizzie’s chair. The gunman hollered he’d be right back, and pushed the boy to the end of the dock. The orderlies followed, as did Beth.
Wails and whimpers emanated from the trees, but through the dense foliage, Beth couldn’t identify the source. She paused to study the woods. As the man with the gun passed by her, he whispered good luck.
An uneasiness washed over her. She turned around in silent panic. The man was gone, and the boat raced away. Lizzie needs the doctor, she told herself. He would help her, and the two of them would have their old lives back. In truth, nothing would ever be the same, but Beth lied to herself anyway.
She struggled over clumped dirt and short, tufts of grass, until the chair’s tires found the stone path. An abandoned resort, now a hospital and the only research and development center with a cure waited ahead.
Bob rushed past her to retrieve the boy. The child, still restrained, stood stiff-legged in front of the wheelchair. The wheels lifted off the ground as he hobbled their way.
Half with curiosity, and half with horror, Beth anticipated the man’s actions. The orderly didn’t attempt physical persuasion. Instead, he injected something into the boy’s neck, and the child’s resistance slipped away.
Behind their silhouette, the sun flowed into the ocean. Shadows illuminated below the water’s surface. Things, like schools of fish, hovered near the jutting rocks. Except, these things were not shaped like any aquatic life she had ever seen. Whatever they were, they grumbled moans of their own.
“Get inside. It’s almost dark,” Bob said.
Beth realized his haste was for his own safety and not the child’s.
“Why? What happens at night?” Beth hurried after him.
“Nothing good.” He waved his badge in front of the security pad and the hospital doors opened. “Come on.”
The vestibule was dark. As they passed into the lobby, Lizzie, who remained silent the entire trip, moaned. Her arm flung, unbent across her face, and covered her eyes.
“What’s a matter with her?” Beth asked.
“The fluorescent bulbs.” He nodded up. “They’re sensitive to direct light.”
He wheeled the boy to a corridor.
“Where is everyone?”
Bob scanned his badge, and the double doors popped open. “Wait here.” The doors closed behind him.
The corridor was empty. The lobby remained empty, too.
“Stay here, Lizzie,” Beth said, knowing the girl couldn’t go anywhere even if she wanted to.
Beth hurried toward the windows, drew the curtains back, and peered out. Something still moved by the trees. She couldn’t tell what, so she pressed her face to the glass.
There were people out there. She ran to the doors and pulled on the latch. Locked. She shoved and pounded on the door. “In here. We’re in here!” she yelled.
The double doors squeaked behind her and Bob entered. “What the hell are you doing?”
“There are hundreds of sick people outside! We have to let them in!”
“Be quiet. If they hear you, they will force their way inside.”
Beth stared, unable to sort it out, as he pushed Lizzie through the doors.
“You can’t leave me here.” Beth raced to the closing doors. “I have to stay with her. She’s my best friend.” She tried to force the doors open, but the hydraulics were too strong. “I promised her parents!”
Unaffected by her words, the orderly kept walking.
Beth ran back to the windows, and in a fury, drew every pair of curtains open. She staggered back. A horde of infected hobbled toward the hospital. Alerted by her screams, now the tempered glow lured them.
She spotted the light switches and flicked them to the off position. With the lobby darkened, the horrid spectacle came into full view.
Hunks of missing tissue and flesh revealed bone. Some across their arms and legs, and on others, the chunks hung from their faces. Their hair gone and their leathery, gray scalps exposed. Yellowed eyes bulged from their sockets. The same blood ringed the colored part of their eyes like Beth saw in Lizzie’s.
All dead. The rancid odor proved that, but they didn’t stay dead. Not on Misery Island. The doctor’s cure created hordes of the undead.
The corridor doors screeched.
Beth spun around. The doctor entered the lobby and her body quaked with anger and disgust.
He advanced toward her with the two orderlies close at his sides.
She backed into the entry door and jiggled the latch from behind her.
“You can’t go out there. They’ll rip you apart.”
“I’ll fight past them. Anything would be better than in here with you.”
He laughed. “Even if you did pass the ones on land, the water is rigged with stone-weighted zombies.”
The moving shadows from earlier flashed in her mind. Not fish. They were hands reaching up toward the surface.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you. I need you alive. You’re part of the cure.”
“You haven’t cured them!” Beth screamed.
“No, I gave them immortality.”
“You’re sick. No one wants to live like that.”
“Smart girl. Experiments. All necessary to find the right combination. The right substance from the immune. You, and others like you, keep me alive and uninfected.”
The orderlies grabbed Beth and dragged her down the corridor. They forced her in an elevator. She thrashed her arms in rage, but the men never let go. Instead, their grips tightened.
They exited on the fifth floor and dragged her exhausted body. She pressed her heels against the tile floor with little effect. “He’ll kill you. You know that, don’t you?”
The men said nothing and threw her in a dark room at the end of the long hall. The door shut, and the key clicked inside the lock.
Beth had to find a way out of this. Her mind reeled. The place used to be a resort. She must be in one of the guest rooms. She walked forward with caution, her arms stretched out, and searched for the perimeter. Once found, she slid against the wall, careful not to trip. She bumped into a piece of furniture. A desk. She continued until her hands discovered the window.
Beth would take her chances outside. She would probably die, but she wouldn’t be part of keeping that twisted doctor alive. The latch was gone.
She grabbed the desk chair and bashed the glass. Again, she slammed the chair into the window until the pane cracked.
At some point, the spindles broke free and scattered on the floor. She cleared the jagged shards and lifted herself to straddle the frame.
The doorknob turned. Beth swung her leg around. She rested her waist on the sill, and her legs dangled over the building, uncertain of the drop.
A stream of light hit her face as the door opened. Bob’s eyes widened with fear. The other orderly seemed undisturbed.
Beth let go.
Her death came quick and certain as she landed in a twisted, unnatural way. It was fortunate. She never felt the zombies rip her flesh away.