Jennifer dreamed she was in darkness. Horrible things she didn’t know made sounds she didn’t recognize. There was no hope in any of this. She smelled something dying very close to her and she could hear someone moaning in pain. She couldn’t remember how she’d gotten there. She only knew escape was impossible and her end was certain….the only question was when…there was loud, rapid breathing….her breathing…..she could feel something jabbing against her now and she screamed….

She woke up slowly. She was covered in sweat. She pushed all of her covers off and lay still. She was pouring sweat from all over. She’d had the same dream at least twice a week for several weeks now….or maybe months. What the fuck was it about? She reached for her phone so she could make a quick recording of what she remembered.

The room was dark and the light from the screen hurt her half-awake eyes. There had been a text ten minutes ago from Ron:

“Jenn, how quickly can you get here? This chemical is really reacting. Fast!”

“I don’t know,” she texted him. “I’m in bed and it’s three in the morning. You need me there now?”

“If you don’t want to see it firsthand, that’s fine. It’s only a year and a half worth of work finally coming to fruition, that’s all.”

“Okay, okay! Pants and shoes are going on now.”

She found her sweatpants and shoes in a sea of unwashed laundry. How long had it been since she’d done it anyway? She sprinted down the stairs of the house she was renting a room in and snatched her ID card off the table.

She started to drive on the 88 highway towards Western Illinois. She had slept maybe four hours in the last two days, but she was wide awake now. It was a 22-minute drive to the lab, but there was no one on the highway, so she’d arrive in 15 if she sped. The traffic outside of Chicago wasn’t too bad at this time of night. She was still sort of dreaming and the alien light from the highway stabbed right through her head like a dagger.

They had placed a chemical into an isolated observation dish earlier that day. They’d been trying various chemicals on the Erdouanese parasite without much success. They had tried probably five dozen or so over the last year, and they were starting to take failure as a given. If this wasn’t just Ron being trigger happy again, then this could be a big development. There would be more grant money now to do further research and that might mean more lab time and less time spent on writing grant letters to justify cost. It was a strange world where someone could easily get government money to build weapons to kill people, but not so easily to find out things about the world they lived in.

She could see the lab in the distance now, an immense, all-white building with floor-to-ceiling windows. The parasite research facility where she worked was somewhere in the middle of it, near the stem cell research wing. The phone buzzed again. Probably Ron. Wasn’t there some protocol about cell phones not being allowed in labs?

She drove into the building and headed through the labyrinth of parking lots towards the central research facility where she worked. If this was actually happening, she’d probably call her mother in the morning. Also a scientist, but in a different field, she would be happy to hear the news. Her father and her two siblings would be happy also, but it wouldn’t be the same explaining it to them. It would be a comfort to hear their voices, though, because when they talked, it made the miles between here and Tulsa seem not as significant. She hadn’t been home in the better part of two years, save for a few holidays.

She parked her car in the lot and headed for the entrance doors. Her phone buzzed again in her pocket.

“Goddamnit, Ron, I’m coming,” she muttered under her breath. The three tacos she had scarfed down for dinner were playing hell with her digestive system and it was entirely possible she would miss the death of the parasites for want of a stronger stomach.

She stepped inside the building. It was half-lit, as it usually was at night. She pulled the phone out of her pocket as she headed for the elevator. She was opening the text message app when the lights for the entire building turned off. There was a loud, metallic clinking sound that signaled all the building doors to shut and lock at once, an emergency protocol. She looked down at her phone. She read the text from Ron and dropped her phone to the ground. There was an audible shattering of glass…

“Jennifer, scratch that. GO HOME! DON’T come anywhere near here! It’s too strong! The chemical didn’t kill the parasite. It seems to have enlarged it…”

She picked her phone back up. There was a large spider crack running through it.

It beeped again with another text. It was from Sadaf, one of the lab technicians.

“Jennifer, please tell me you’re not at the lab right now…something is definitely wrong.”

“What the hell is going on?” Jennifer said. “I’m down in the lobby and everything is sealed off. Where are you?”

“513 A.”

“I’m coming to you.”

“Be careful, Jennifer.”

Jennifer pushed the elevator button and there was nothing. Those things usually went off when the building was on reserve power. She found a stairwell and pushed the door. It opened slowly because of how heavy it was. The stairwell was almost entirely in darkness, except for a lit-up exit sign on every other floor. She turned the light on from her phone and took the first few steps up the stairs.

She stopped…

There was a sound from somewhere in the building like things being shuffled around…heavy things….chairs and tables, maybe. It was all followed by a screech that came from something she didn’t recognize, other than that it was alive and definitely not human.

She sprinted the rest of the way up the stairs until she reached the fifth floor. At each landing, she prayed that whatever had made the noise wasn’t close.

She stopped at the door of the fifth floor and waited. Exhausted from running, she took a couple of deep breaths and bent over, hands on her knees.

“Jesus Christ! It’s a fucking chemical and a parasite…there is literally nothing bad that can happen. It’s not scientifically possible for this reaction to cause anything catastrophic. Someone here probably just hit the emergency lockdown on accident is all.”

She tried giggling at herself, but it didn’t feel much better to do it. She crept towards the lab where Sadaf said she was. She found 513 A and knocked on the door. Sadaf answered it. All the color had gone out of her face. She was shaking and Jennifer took hold of her shoulders.

“Sadaf…Sadaf…what’s wrong?”

“Ron….Ron…Ron’s dead.”

“Sadaf…what the fuck are you talking about?”

Jennifer’s heart was still banging against her ribcage and it was picking up its pace again.

“Before the power cut out comple…com…completely…I saw on the…on the monitor…it was like the parasite overtook him…he just fell forward in his chair…head on the desk. He started decomposing fast…his skin turned color…it never touched him, it just sort of vaporized towards him. Like it was shooting off one of its limbs…it’s difficult to explain, exactly.”

“Sadaf, what? Is this a fucking joke?”

“NO! NO, it’s not! Jen, the chemical…I don’t think we put in what we think we did.”

“What the hell do you mean?”

“Xycolohobine 23…it’s supposed to shrink things…disincorporate small-mattered objects…not make them bigger.”

“Bigger? What do you mean bigger?”

Sadaf was quiet now. Her body tremored with tiny jittery movements.

“Who was the last person to have access to the chemical supply?” Jennifer asked.

“Probably Marshall…”

“Shit…any way you can get a hold of him?” Jennifer asked.

Sadaf was shaking now.

“Sadaf! Snap out of it for a second. We have to figure out what the hell is going on here, and sitting around being terrified isn’t going to do anything for us. What did you mean the parasite is big?”

“Big….really big….it’s nothing you want to see with your eyes…’s really awful, Jen.”

Jenn pulled her phone out and dialed 911. A small circle appeared on the screen and started revolving around itself, but the call wasn’t going through.

“Come with me, Sadaf! We need to find somewhere in the building to make a phone call. If this is what you say, we need to warn people.”

“I’m not going out there,” Sadaf said. She wouldn’t look up from her feet anymore.

“What are you talking about? We have to!”

“You go out there if you want. I don’t want to be anywhere near that thing.”

Jenn pushed the door open and headed out into the hallway. There was another sound like someone screaming on another floor, human this time. She headed for the windows at the far end of the hallway and dialed 911 again. Before she could put the call through, there was an incoming one from Marshall. She took it.

“Marshall! Thank God! Things are really fucked over here right now.”

“Well, I guess that means the dosage was effective,” he said.

“Yeah, no shit! Ron is fucking dead or sick or I don’t know what….what the hell did we put in those things?”

“Oh, I documented it, don’t worry. I’ll be sending it on to a couple of the peer-reviewed magazines I trust. I’ll be excited to see how this all concludes.”

Jen’s face was burning now, and her stomach felt like a rubber band was being pulled around it.

“Marshall…what the fuck are you talking about?”

“Well, it’s like I told you guys: I never thought the experiments went far enough. I didn’t think they were that well focused either. I mean, all this dwelling on killing the parasite, no one ever considered the idea of a stronger parasite…something that could potentially eliminate disease if properly controlled…”

“Marshall….what the fuck do you mean?


“Did you do this?”

“I improved upon our work…how can you be upset about this? This so far exceeds anything we could have dreamed of when we started.”

“You switched out the goddamn chemicals…you son of a bitch…..and do you mind telling me what we went ahead with for this test instead?”

“It’s a slight variation on Xycolohobine 23. The composition is less stable….it’s technical so I don’t have a ton of time to get into it….I’m about to get on a plane.”

“Do you have any idea how many rules you broke to do this?”

“Jenn, listen, I’ve got to run. The only thing I can advise if you encounter this thing is to run the other way and try to find cover somewhere until they revert the security system and open the building. I’m truly sorry to have involved you in this. I was hoping no one would be there tonight when the reaction started. I hope you can understand my having to keep this quiet and maybe even forgive me some day.”


There was no noise from the other side of the phone.

She picked up the phone and started to dial the emergency number again, but she could hear police sirens in the distance now. The parking lot looked ghostly in the sodium light, and all that was visible from the window was the long black striped field of empty spaces. She turned to head back towards Sadaf. Her call to the police station had gotten through…

“Hello ma’am, what’s your emergen…”

The call was dropped. She’d moved too far from the window.

She turned the corner and headed into the room where Sadaf was. She found her lying face down on her desk. She wasn’t moving. There was a book about Jungian dream interpretation on the desk next to her. She moved towards her to feel her wrist, but thought better of it. If it was the parasite, this could be communicable. She turned back towards the door and started to open it…

She heard another noise outside, like furniture being moved around. Using her feet, she rolled her chair over to the door and put her ear against it. Whoever was out there was close to her room. She was coated in sweat now and her body stuck against the door as she listened. Her dinner was on the verge of evacuating itself, whether she wanted it to or not. She opened the door a crack so she could see out. As she did this, she saw something tall and black pass out of another office and head down the hallway. It moved like the sail on a boat. She thought she’d seen spores all over its body, but had she actually seen that? Had she actually seen anything at all? She’d had almost no sleep during the last couple of days, and she’d seen plenty of articles about people hallucinating when they’re tired. She closed the door to the office and turned around. It was hard to see in the room with only the light from a small battery lamp, but she could see Sadaf’s skin was turning from brown to a greenish gray that looked like food mold. There was an odor like bad Swiss cheese. Jennifer dry heaved.

There was no way she could go out there and face…whatever the thing was she’d seen, but there was no way she could stay inside with this decomposing corpse either. The battery-operated lights in the building would only work so long. She could hear faint noises outside, like several police cars….maybe dozens of them…perhaps a bullhorn. But they were far away, and the overwhelming sound now was the silence in the room with Sadaf’s rotting body.

She pushed the door of the room open and headed down the stairs. The air in the building was heavier now, as though something was moving in it, but nothing seemed to be.

There was a connecting walkway that would take her to a different wing of the building. She opened the door to floor three and found herself in the hallway that led to the break room that everyone in the building used. She opened the door to it and saw five people she didn’t know anymore…their skin was gone and all that remained was skeletal structure. The stench in the room was unbearable. She shook her head violently and stumbled back out into the hall. Her heart was thudding like a jazz drum solo. She beat a path over to the walkway and went into the stem cell wing. She moved with abandon now, running down the halls. She didn’t scream or stop moving. She didn’t dare. She passed a maintenance man who had fallen on his face. It was unclear if he was dead or unconscious.

She turned a corner.

There it was again. Black. Black with spores. Its dimensions were different now. It had been tall and narrow earlier; now it spread out, as if trying to encompass the entire hallway in front of her. Its hole-ridden head now reached up to the ceiling. A side of its body seemed to subdivide and break off. She turned fast and ran the other way. Her stomach gave out and she soiled herself as she ran, but she no longer cared. She saw an exit sign and ran towards it. Directly in front of her was another black thing, albeit a smaller version, thus confirming her idea about the subdivision. She reached the exit door just as it was starting to head towards her….did these things have to touch you or was this airborne? Why the hell did she have to shit her pants NOW?

Into the stairs and sprinting down, she was pouring sweat. She fell into the door exiting the stairwell and ran out into a large room with windows. She grabbed a chair and hurled it as hard as she could. As she did it, she recalled that doing this would likely release whatever contagion was in the lab directly out into the world. The chair hit the window with a dull thud and did nothing more than bounce off it like a boomerang. Safety glass.

She ran to the door in the lobby and tried pulling it open, but it wouldn’t budge. All the entrance doors were solid steel, and whenever someone hit the emergency button, it triggered all locks. She pounded against the glass on more windows and they rocked against her punches without so much as splintering. If they had voices, they’d be giggling at her. After a few minutes, she stopped hitting the windows. Her hands were sore and had started to turn a deep shade of pink. In the distance, she could see the large mass of parasitic cloud making its way slowly and steadily down the long lobby towards her. She was screaming.

She went into the first room she could and locked the door. It was a computer lab. It was dark, but there were no dead people now….or at least none that the dim overhead lamp revealed. The lamp would be gone in twenty minutes, and then it would be dark as a grave in there. She locked the door and sat in a chair with her back against a wall…or at least what felt like a wall. She put her hand on the surface behind her and felt around until she was satisfied that it was the surface of a wall. Every time she breathed, she felt the urge to throw up because of how horrible she smelled. She felt in her pocket for her phone to call her mom one last time…it wasn’t there.

Her tears started to come hard now….at least she could have been able to tell her mom that they had accomplished something there…even if it was this. At least she could have heard her voice one more time, even if it were a voicemail message. She would call all of them if she could, her dad, her brother Andy, Sonia, even though she was only ten…just to hear all of them one last time.

There was nothing to do but to wait. The police would break down the doors…or someone would reset the lockdown mode. They had to….something had to happen, some deus ex machina. She closed her eyes.

It was dark all around her. Horrible things she didn’t know made sounds she didn’t recognize. There was no hope in any of this, no way out. There was no telling how soon the end would come; or, worse yet, if an end would come at all. There was always that lingering tease of survival, like a kidnapper in a bank offering to let someone go….maybe it would be you. Her sweat pooled and her body shook without pause as she waited for the end of the worst and maybe last fever she would have…something was breathing close by.