Ken recoiled from the man’s grab and fell on his butt. He glanced at his chest where the man had touched him and saw red stains. His heart jumped at the sight of the possibly infected blood. There was another howl; this time it was closer and numerous. Tom dashed out the tent. The man began to whine like a dog in submission. Ken picked himself from the ground.
“Ken!” Tom roared his name even before he entered the tent again. He was panting again with renewed terror in his face. “There’s a pack of dogs headed this way.”
“Since when did dogs travel in packs?”
“They are not ordinary dogs, Ken,” Tom replied, trying to deepen is breathing. “They are … changed. Could it have been caused by the virus?”
Ken thought about it for a moment. If the virus could accelerate human flesh mortification, why couldn’t it affect animals? But on some level, Ken still couldn’t believe all this was happening. He believed he would soon wake up from this terrible dream. He took one more look at the injured man. Dogs that had claws as sharp and deadly as to cut out chunks of flesh with a swipe?
“Yes,” Ken said. “Maybe.”
There was another howl—this one caused the hairs at the back of his neck to stand on end. The sinusoidal sound died down to a throaty growl somewhere behind the tent. A huge, dog-shaped shadow played across the tent. Ken tried not to panic, after all it was just a dog. One look at the man, and Ken lost control.
“Ken!” Tom whispered, waving his hands for him to come. “We have to get into the car now!”
“We can’t leave him here,” Ken replied, gesturing to the wounded soldier.
“Go,” the soldier said. “Save yourself.”
The creature behind the tent howled again. Ken’s eyes widened, his senses gripped by fear. The distant herd responded, letting out heart racking hoots into the evening sky. Worst of all, darkness was falling quickly. Dogs saw better at night.
The creature sniffed twice as if it had caught a scent. It approached the tent. Ken knew this because its shadow grew on the tent to the size of an imposing grizzly bear. Ken placed his index finger on his lips and mouthed, keep still. The man’s eyes widened as the creature sniffed more and drew closer. It had definitely caught their scent. Ken swiveled to face Tom. Grab a weapon, he mouthed, we are going to make a run for the car.
What weapon? Tom asked waving his hand around to show him that there was no weapon in the barren enclosure. Ken shrugged and silently approached the man. “I’m going to lift you onto my arm. We’re making a run for my car. Do not make a sound.” The man’s face was twisted in pain; tears fell off his eyes. He shook his head. Ken couldn’t tell if he was resisting his help or pleading for death. It tore Ken’s heart.
“Shhh,” Ken said before helping the man to his feet. A pistol Ken hadn’t seen dropped out of his lap. “Tom,” Ken called. “Gun.” He gestured at the ground where the gun lay. Tom came and picked the gun. The creature had reached the tent. It was now poking at the stretched material with its nose, sniffing furiously. Ken helped the man to the doorway and into the night. Tom followed them from behind and silently, they edged toward the main road. They moved as fast as a caterpillar not because the man was brutally injured, but because there weren’t a whole lot of places Ken could hold on the man’s body.
Ken stole a glance behind him. A chill ran down his spine. A little bit in the distance, a herd of about ten, no twelve, dogs made their way through a web of car wrecks towards the road block. They were huge—way huger than normal dogs—and black just like the night. Their fur had on it a thick, slushy liquid; their eyes glowed bright yellow and glowered with a carnal desire for flesh; their incisors were thick, long, and razor sharp. Their claws … God, their claws were long, black spikes that stretched the length of a grown man’s foot, sharp enough to rip the head off the neck of a toddler, effortlessly.
“Where did these creatures come from?” Ken muttered in disbelief, watching as they ripped flesh off dead bodies with rabid intensity. Ken got to the edge of the road and tripped over the embankment. Together, he and the man he carried stumbled to the asphalt. A short wail escaped the soldier’s lips. Sudden silence flooded the night. Ken, for a desperate moment, hoped that the creatures hadn’t heard.
Ken heard Tom’s warning before he heard the howls of the creatures. He scrambled to his feet, and throwing caution to the wind, he jerked the man to his feet and dragged him to the car. The man screamed—a high-pitch sound. Barks and howls filled the night, mingled with the scratch of metal against metal as the creatures thumped from car roof to car bonnet, in their direction.
At the car, Ken turned to see how much time they had before the first creature attacked. The creature lunged for him, and he knew he was dead. Its dagger sharp claws glinted in the rising moon’s light. It’s dripping canines were poised to rip and rend his throat, mere seconds away. Ken eyes closed of their own accord. The powerful blast of a gun assaulted his ears. It was quickly followed by a muffled sound. Something heavy slammed the side of the vehicle jeering it a bit.
“Get inside,” Tom yelled, grabbing the injured man from Ken’s hands. Ken couldn’t move nor could he think. He opened his eyes to see the creature dead on the floor. A large chunk of its abdomen had been blown away. Where it had hit his car, there was a deep dent. Ken looked up and saw the vicious creatures bounding towards them; they were less than a minute away. A hand grabbed him, pulled him around the car, and opened the door. Tom shoved him into the vehicle and slammed it shut after. He ran around the car once more, aiming his gun at the creatures. Several ear splitting blasts rocked the vehicle. Two creatures fell. Tom entered the car and locked the door immediately just as the first creature threw itself at the car. It rebounded against the door. The rest of the herd threw themselves at the car in turn, jeering it with each impact; the car remained intact.
Tom grabbed his right shoulder, shaking him vigorously. Ken shook his head as though he had just woken from a dream. “What?” he stuttered. “What happened?” he glanced at Tom, then turned to glance at the injured man in the backseat. “How did we get here?” Ken asked. “What happened?”
Tom eyed him for a while. “You froze,” he said. “You went into shock.”
“I froze?” Ken said, turning away from Tom to look at his bloody hands. He removed his head gear and took in a deep breath. Then he looked out the window. He saw flashes of canines, slick black claws, and bright yellow eyes that glowered with hatred. They pelted the body of his car with strength and intensity.
“The car isn’t going to take much of this,” Ken observed.
“My thoughts exactly!” Tom said. “Turn around and drive back to Umuahia. From there we’ll get the guys and move to Abuja.”
Ken shook his head. “No. We’ve come too far.”
Tom’s face twisted into a frown. “What’s wrong with you? Must you—”
The rear wind shield cracked and shattered. The next wolfish creature came through the opening. Tom pointed his gun. Ken’s fingers came to his ears, still the powerful blast almost knocked him unconscious. The bullet went right through the creature’s mouth, splattering gore and tissue all over the trunk. The slamming continued. The creatures didn’t seem to know that there was already an opening in the vehicle.
“Quickly. Take the gun,” Tom said, handing him the weapon. “I’ll lead them away. Take the soldier and head out into the forest. Head north, I saw smoke rising from that direction.”
“A house?” Ken muttered. “A living, breathing person…”
Tom nodded, gesturing for him to take the gun. Ken took the gun, surprised by its weight. “Are you sure about this?
Tom nodded. “I’ll find you after I’ve led them away. These creatures might be strong and dangerous, but they don’t have much in the way of sense. Immediately they chase after me, leave the car.”
Tom got ready at the door. When the next creature threw itself at the car, he pushed the door open and smacked the black form. Then he jumped out, slammed the door in, and ran off in the opposite direction of the car. The creatures ceased their movements for a second and stared at Tom’s running figure. Then they hooted at the moon and took off after him. Seconds later, the party had entered the forest and silence returned. Ken opened the door and dropped out of the car. He moved to the passenger’s door, and helped the man out. They limped into the forest.
They had not gotten two meters into the dark forest that they heard howls. Ken gripped the gun tighter and walked faster towards the column of smoke in the north. His eyes darted left and right at the slightest rustle of leaves. The wind blew softly, playing tricks on his mind. His heart hammered in his chest. The howls multiplied across the forest, a reminder of the ever present threat. Ken glanced at his cargo. The man’s condition had deteriorated since they had met in the tent. He was now shuffling between consciousness and unconsciousness—most times unconsciousness. He had lost a lot of blood. Ken concluded that if they didn’t get help now, the man would die in his hands. And Ken didn’t even know the man’s name. However, Ken was intrigued by the man—why wasn’t he dead like the rest? Had he managed to develop immunity against the virus or had he taken a herb that worked against the virus? Ken knew that right there in his arms was the key to containing the virus.
They got to the house without incidence. It was a small wooden house with a thatched roof, surrounded by a high fence of barbed wire. The wood was black and old as was every other aspect of its architecture. In the middle of the compound, a woman sat on a stool and stared into a small pot that sat on a fire. The light cast a shadow of the woman on the house; the shadow danced to the soft wind.
“Hello?” Ken shouted, ambling to the makeshift gate. The woman jerked her head towards him, startled at first. But then her eyes fell to the unconscious soldier dying in his arms. She shot to her feet and ran to the gate.
“Quick, she said when she had let them in. “Let’s get him into the house. He has already lost a lot of blood.” She strode into the house with Ken on her tail, dragging the man along. At the woman’s instruction, he laid the man down on the couch. The woman came back into the front room from the back room with a first aid kit and gestured for him to step aside. He obeyed; he stepped aside and watched the woman work. She cut open his clothes using a sharp pair of scissors until nothing was left except a bloody boxers. She cut that too, exposing the man’s bare body. Then she retrieved a clean, white napkin, soaked it in alcohol, and began to clean the man’s wounds. After that, she went into the back room and returned with a bucket of water and another napkin. She cleaned the body until there was no trace of blood on the man. Then she set up a drip into the man’s veins and injected a fleet of drugs that Ken didn’t bother knowing.
When she was through tending to the nameless soldier, she glanced at him, then looked down at his hand. “You want to drop that and clean up?”
Ken looked down at what she referred to. He saw the gun and blood and remembered Tom. “Shit!” He swiveled and barreled out the house. He stopped short at the gate, worked the lock, and headed out into the dark.
“Where are you going?” the woman called from the open doorway of the house.
“My friend is still out there,” he shouted his reply without slowing down. When he had raced a good way towards the highway, he yelled. “Tom!” He ran faster, panted harder. The wind rushed against his face, filling his nostrils with the smell of fresh leaves. “Tom!” he yelled and received a distant howl for a reply. He slowed down, raised his weapon, his heart pounding his chest. The blurry barrel of the weapon, illuminated by the light from the overhead moon, led him towards the highway.
The creatures howled again, closer.
“Tom!” Ken risked another yell and was rewarded by a soft morn somewhere to his right. Ken headed in that direction.
Tom’s body was sprawled on the floor. “Don’t touch me,” Tom whispered, clutching his hand and mourning. “I’ve been bitten. It’s over for me, Ken.”
“Nonsense,” Ken replied. He grabbed the huge man and helped him to his feet. He half dragged, half carried Tom back to the house. The woman met them at the gate. “Don’t touch him,” Ken said, “He’s infected.”
The woman ignored his warning, pulled Tom off him, and carried him into the house. She laid him on the couch, where the army man had been.
“He’s asleep in the back room,” she replied as she started on Tom the same process she had gone through with the army man. Ken sat in the arm chair, placed the gun on the table, and stared at the lantern on the dining table near the door. He felt feverish and tired. His breathing was shallow. He felt depressed. Because of him, his best friend was going to die.
When the woman was through setting up the drip, she glanced at him with sad eyes. “I’m afraid he’s already infected. He’ll die in under three hours.”
“Why three hours?”
“My husband,” replied the woman. “He died of the infection. Three hours was what it took.”
“How are you still alive?”
The woman sat in the other arm chair opposite his. She wore a short sleeved Ankara cloth. “I got infected too. For a while I was sick. But then I got better.”
Like a bulb, a glimmer of hope lit up in his head. “Immunity,” he whispered.
Ken glanced at the woman. “When did you fall sick?”
“Yesterday,” she replied. “Just when my husband went to see the crash site. I reckon he contacted the infection from the crash site.”
“Ma, I’m going to ask you for one favor.”
“What is it?”
“I need a sample of your blood,” Ken said excitedly. “You have somehow developed immunity to the virus. If I inject my friend with a purified sample of you blood, it might save him.”
“There are several things wrong with that idea,” the woman said. “We might have incompatible blood types. I don’t have the means to extract a blood sample and purify it. And the antibodies that were developed may no longer be in circulation.”
“You were once a doctor or a nurse?” Ken asked with a smile. She merely nodded. “Then you must know that by now, the virus is already working its way through your blood and you are producing antibodies to combat it.” Ken shot to his feet and picked up the gun. “As for the equipment,” he said. “Leave that to me. I’ve got everything we need and more in my boot.”
Ken’s journey back to the main road was short and uneventful. The creatures had long moved on. All the light he needed came from the moon. He quickly retrieved a large, silver box from the boot. He marveled for a little while at the great damage the wolfish creatures had inflicted on his vehicle, for it bore no resemblance to what he had driven out of his house in Umuahia. The surface was a web of deep indentations and claw marks. As he stared at the government issued vehicle, he believed that this would be the last time he would set eyes on it. Ken turned away and ran into the forest, leaving behind the vehicle, the ghostly military blockade, and the morbid desolation of a weaponized virus.
Halfway to the house, he was hit by a massive wave of nausea. He’s knees buckled. And propelled by a strong anti-peristalsis, he vomited. He spat out the remaining taste of Russian vodka and struggled to his feet. He was incredibly weak now and a hammering headache was developing in his head. Ken picked up the large box and hurried on his way. By the time he got to the door, his body burned with fever.
“I’ve got it,” he said the moment the woman opened the door. He strode into the house and set the container on the table. He opened it, pulled a small, battery powered centrifuge, and placed it on the table. The woman closed the door and stood beside him, watching, silent. Ken retrieved four test tubes, a test tube rack, two pieces of 5ml syringes, and one 10ml syringe.
Before he could ask, the woman stretched her hand, exposing her vein.
Ken tore the wrapper of the 10ml syringe and attached the needle to the barrel. Then he found the vein and slid the needle through the skin. The woman flinched slightly. Ken drew blood. He withdrew the syringe and transferred 5ml each into two test tubes. Then, he placed the tubes into the centrifuge and started the machine.
He collapsed into the chair to rest as he waited for the machine. But he doubted if he’d be able to stand again. His body felt like it weighed a ton—he was sluggish, and his eyes were heavy as if they hadn’t closed for weeks.
A chime indicated that the machine had finished centrifuging.
He tried to stand up, but he was just too weak even to lift his hands. The room blurred until all he saw was darkness. He felt his head fall until it rested on the arm of the chair. The woman was whispering in his ears; how she got there, he couldn’t tell. But he tried to make out what she said. He wondered why she spoke so incoherently. Did she have something wrong with her tongue? If he could just rest a little bit…
A vigorous shake brought him back. “What next after centrifuging the blood sample?” the woman bellowed directly into his ear.
“2ml. From the bottom of the tube,” he managed a reply.
The woman dropped him. Things grew quieter and darker until all he could see was darkness and all he could hear was silence. He slipped deeper and deeper into darkness until he felt a sharp sting in his arm, like a needle piercing his skin. Then he lost consciousness.