February 19

1847 — A Rescue Group Finally Reaches the Donner Party

 

“You’re a little late to the party.”

The Center for Disease Control team were greeted by a single representative as they entered the quarantined high rise.  The tall man with an unkempt beard stepped down the staircase behind the unattended reception desk.

Where are the others? Ciprian wondered.

Broken glass and empty tear-gas canisters littered the floor of the high-ceilinged lobby.  A residue of lachrymatory smoke lingered in the air, but the man seemed unaffected, and the fourteen members of the CDC team were protected by bright yellow Positive Pressure Personnel Suits (PPPS).

In their suits, Ciprian realized, they looked like spacemen visiting an alien world.  The irony wasn’t lost on him.  The real aliens, the changed ones, were still able to wear street clothes.

“Late to the party,” the man said.  “See what I did there?”  He reached the bottom step and walked closer to the cluster of CDC staffers. Ciprian got his first in-person close-up look at the man they’d come to know as Renzo.  Insane.  Strangely charismatic.  Fancied himself a bit of a comedian.  “That’s what they say when somebody’s behind the trend.  When the person learns something important, just a little bit too late.”

He singled out the team leader, held his hand before the protective plastic shield over Ciprian’s face, and pinched his forefinger and thumb together.

“Where are the others?” Ciprian demanded, his voice echoing in the hollow chamber of his helmet.

Renzo shrugged.  “Eaten.”  Then his mouth opened in a broad, wide smile, revealing teeth that had been filed to sharp points.  He hadn’t bothered to floss the dark red gristle out of them.

Behind Ciprian, members of the CDC team raised their weapons.  He hoped they’d be more effective than the tear gas.

“Allow me to extend the phrase a bit.” Renzo walked backwards for a few steps, raising his hands over his head in apparent surrender.  “You’re a little late to the party, as the Donner survivors said to the first rescue team after theyd eaten half their own group.

“Half?” Ciprian said.

Renzo smiled again, his arms still lifted.  His feet hovered a few inches above the ground, and his body began to rise.  “Peel and eat,” he said.

A series of screeches whistled from the lobby’s high ceiling.  Waiting forms, dressed in street clothes and smiles of sharpened teeth, appeared overhead.  They descended on the suited visitors for a fresh feast.