Sam crouched low as his platoon trudged through the thick Appalachian Forest looking for traitors and deserters along the DMZ of the Reorganized Eastern States. The worst post imaginable for a grunt in summertime during the last civil war. Nearly a hundred degrees and ninety-eight-percent humidity.
The day had been routine so far. They killed those on the known terrorist list on sight, interrogating the others, often ultimately eliminating them also. Taking prisoners was too heavy a liability. The country was overcrowded, even after five years of war, so there was no place left to build any kind of prison.
Much of the day and all through the night, they battled Sam’s most hated enemy of all, the relentless bugs. He had an irrational but intense aversion to insects, and a special hatred for mosquitoes. Fate was providing plenty of payback now for all the times he killed the pests on site, whether or not they were actually doing me any harm.
It was around dusk when the events of that day turned from mundane to remarkable.
Suddenly, they heard some damn fools shouting in the distance. Responding quickly–mostly to get the perpetrators to shut the hell up before they drew unwanted attention–the platoon found three drafted civilian scientists huddled around a corpse. Oblivious to the soldiers’ presence, they continued their work with great haste, checking readings on their field equipment.
Sergeant Corelli snapped at the civvies. “What in the name of Mother Mary are you clowns sounding off about?” Before they could answer he continued his barking. “You dumb asses are gonna get us killed. The cowards are everywhere and some of them are armed, you know.”
While Corelli continued his abuse, Sam saw their faces.
These are white coats, he thought as he looked into their eyes.
They had certainly seen plenty of disgusting shit in their laboratories. Their guinea pigs, human and animal, dying in horrific ways as the Reorgs searched for an effective biological means of combat, knowing all the while the rebels were doing the same on their side of the border.
Still, these white coats look scared. No, more than scared. Petrified.
Their reactions suggested the corpse rotting on the ground was more significant than just another casualty.
One of the white coats managed to get a word in between Corelli’s tirades. ”Listen, sir, you need to hear us out, and quickly. We’re all in deep shit already if what we suspect is true.”
While he spoke, all three scientists put on their masks and without waiting for orders from The Sarge, the grunts did the same.
Once the airflow on Sam’s tank returned his breathing to normal, he examined the body causing so much distress. No gunshot wounds or any other signs of combat injury. The only blood visible was seeping from his eyes, nose, and in a puddle flowing from the seat of his pants. But the real horror was the poor bastard’s flesh. It looked doughy, flabby, as though barely hanging onto his bones.
“We found this body twenty minutes ago,” the civvie continued. “Most of the deterioration you are seeing has transpired since then.”
“What are you saying?” asked Corelli.
“We think the enemy exposed this subject to their newest agent of destruction and then just dumped it off here.”
“To expose us,” one of the others added.
“Airborne?” Puzzled, Corelli’s scrunched his eyebrows together.
“We put on our masks as a precaution but the tests we just ran seem to suggest blood borne.”
“So what’s the issue? He isn’t going to be infecting anyone now as long as we steer clear of him. Get that flame-thrower over here and burn him.”
“It’s not that simple,” the civvie doing most of the talking stated gravely. He pointed to the sky. “When we found him, he was covered in those.”
The sky was blackened with an immense swarm of mosquitoes. The enemy must have seeded the woods with the ravenous insects before leaving the host of their new virus behind.
Darkness fell as the swarm descended, fed, and then moved on, indifferent to their significance in a bloody human conflict over petty differences.
© George Wilhite
George Wilhite is the author of the short fiction collection On the Verge of Madness. His work has also appeared in numerous anthologies and online at House of Horror, MicroHorror and The Fringe.
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