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Jordandvan Scottlynn Plummer
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But we also have an added treat. A bonus excerpt for your enjoyment! Check out this bonus excerpt from the novelette Mutation Z: The Ebola Zombies by Marilyn Peake. Now go out and do some trick-or-treating! Happy Halloween!
About the book
Ebola, one of the most feared of the hemorrhagic diseases, has begun spreading across the borders of West African countries. The CDC and the World Health Organization have admitted they are losing control over the disease. Some hint at a possible worldwide pandemic. At exactly this point in time, Emma Johnson graduates from nursing school. She takes a job in an Ebola treatment camp inside Liberia, West Africa. The camp is state-of-the-art. It’s run by the CDC and the World Health Organization, and protected by the U.S. military. Emma uncovers a secret about this facility: medical experimentation is being conducted along with treatment. Whether or not Emma can ever escape the camp, she’s determined to get the story out. She has intimate knowledge of a biological horror being secretly unleashed upon the world. NOVELETTE. GENRES: Apocalyptic Science Fiction, Zombie Fiction, Horror, Conspiracy Fiction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marilyn Peake is the author of both novels and short stories. Her publications have received excellent reviews. Marilyn’s one of the contributing authors in BOOK: THE SEQUEL, published by The Perseus Books Group, with one of her entries included in serialization at THE DAILY BEAST. In addition, Marilyn has served as Editor of a number of anthologies. Her short stories have been published in seven anthologies and on the literary blog, GLASS CASES.
AWARDS: Silver Award, two Honorable Mentions and eight Finalist placements in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards, two Winner and two Finalist placements in the EPPIE Awards, and Winner of the Dream Realm Awards.
My name is Emma Johnson. I’m a prisoner in Liberia, inside West Africa.
I came here as a volunteer nurse, young, naïve and idealistic, back when Ebola had just started spreading across the borders of countries inside Africa—from Guinea into Sierra Leone and Liberia, and then into Nigeria. At twenty-four years of age, I felt invincible. (I’m now only twenty-five years old; but I feel ancient, close to death.) I had graduated nursing school the previous year. I didn’t have a job yet and had moved back in with my parents. Truth be told, I had only been an average student, but the economy was tough and I was resourceful. I knew I just had to challenge myself. Having grown up in the United States, blond, blue-eyed, privileged, I was sick and tired of my perpetual state of ennui. I had grown bored with putting on makeup, filling out job applications, reading romance novels and playing video games, and yearned for something better. I decided to volunteer in Africa and make a difference in the world. I had also hoped to meet a doctor. Nothing prepared me for what I would find on the African continent.
Now I just want to get information out. There’s more here than an Ebola crisis. That CDC serum that cured a couple of American volunteers? That’s only one type of serum being tested. Other serums are raising victims from what looks like near-death, but is actually death, and many of those side-effect victims are roaming around West Africa as zombies. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put us on lockdown and are keeping things quiet. Serums continue to arrive from several different countries.
This is my story, from the beginning…
A group of us, volunteers through a program that had been recruiting medical personnel in the United States to help with the Ebola crisis in Africa, landed at the Roberts International Airport in Liberia. I had been nothing but jitters and panic the entire trip. Thank God for the availability of liquor on airplanes. I drank a fair amount of it that flight. Had I not fallen asleep after knocking back a few strong drinks, I’m sure I would have stumbled off the plane into the airport, another American behaving badly.
My mind was clear enough upon landing to realize that Africa was not what I had expected. The airport was decent. Somehow, I had expected to land on a dirt strip, but we landed on a normal runway. Liberia isn’t as modernized as some of the other places in Africa that I’ve heard about, places like Lagos, Nigeria; but the airport was OK.
In the terminal, we shuffled through the Immigration Department with our Passport Cards and hastily filled-in Landing Cards. I was so nervous, it took all my self-control to keep my hands from shaking. I had convinced myself that if my hands shook or I showed any other sign of nervousness, the security officers would suspect me of being a terrorist, clamp my wrists in handcuffs and haul me off to some remote prison where no one would ever hear from me again. Of course that was ridiculous. The worst that happened to me in the Immigration Department was being asked direct questions by a surly, overweight female officer with hair on her upper lip: Where was I intending to go inside Liberia? What was the purpose of my trip? When I explained that I was a volunteer coming to help with the Ebola crisis, the officer’s own hands shook. After that, she seemed happy to get rid of me. In the baggage claim area, we were greeted by drivers holding signs with the name of our organization on them. The drivers smiled courteously, but seemed anxious to get us out of the airport. After our suitcases arrived, they whisked us away to waiting vans, four vans in total. And so began our journey into the African continent.
The effects of my drinking hadn’t worn off completely. I nodded off in the van, despite my determination to stay awake and take in the sights and sounds of Liberia as we drove through it. I awoke intermittently to such different scenery and road conditions, my mind had difficulty patching it all together as one country. At times, our van jostled over dirt roads. Later, we passed through a small city: paved roads with congested traffic, honking cars and spinning bikes, crowds of people walking around outside, a gas station, a bank; but low, mismatched buildings, a few painted bright turquoise, most plain white or tan, reminding me of beach houses back home in the states.
When we got stuck in traffic and only inched ahead like snails on molten tar, I fell asleep for what felt like hours. I jolted awake when the driver lurched to a stop and yanked on the parking brake. Once again, I found myself in a new environment.
The driver, a short African man with a clipped moustache and even more tightly clipped speech, announced: “We are here: Liberia Treatment and Research Camp. Grab your belongings. Line up over there.” Waving a clipboard in the direction of a dirt strip in front of three enormous trees with leafy branches twisting and turning to form a canopy, he added, “Don’t wander off by yourselves. Wait for your guide.” Up in the trees, monkeys screamed and shook the branches. After we unloaded our suitcases, our driver sped off, clouds of dust obscuring his exit.
The other volunteers and I surveyed our new home and then each other. Off in the distance, long, squat turquoise buildings appeared littered throughout the forest, thrown there like Lego blocks from the hand of a careless God. Other buildings—some turquoise, others white, orange, yellow—were lined up along a dirt road that curled like a snake past their front doors.
Behind us, a gray cement wall with thick iron gates provided security. Our driver stopped in front of the gates and waited until security personnel let him through to the outside world. The gates opened and closed, like the eyelids of a sleepy metallic jungle beast.
We heard a couple of people shouting somewhere on the camp grounds. More unnerving was the sound of deep, rumbling moaning and a few screams more piercing than those of the monkeys.
Few of us had dressed appropriately. I wore khakis and a black T-shirt, also thick socks and sneakers. I thought I would die in the sweltering heat. Also, I had curled my long, blond hair before leaving the U. S. Frizzy tendrils had become plastered to my forehead and trapped heat against the back of my neck.
A young Asian-American woman standing next to me laughed and introduced herself. She had come even less prepared for the climate. Tan suit, silk flowered shirt, stockings and low heels. Even a pearl necklace and matching earrings. She extended her hand. “Hey. I’m Zoe Kinoshita. I can’t believe this weather. Ugh! I’m going to faint if we don’t get air conditioning and a place to change into shorts in the next few seconds.”
A black guy pacing nearby, wearing shorts, a white T-shirt and hiking boots, leaned over and added, “I don’t believe there’s air conditioning. We’re in Liberia. In the middle of an Ebola epidemic.” He paused. “I’m Sebastian Stone, Ph.D., Infectious Diseases and Microbiology.” He shook our hands.
At that moment, we saw a man in a white coat walking down the path that ribboned past the brightly colored buildings. As he approached, golden sunlight spilled upon him through an opening in the canopy. He was gorgeous: swarthy, muscular, golden sparkles dancing through his thick, dark hair. I silently prayed he was a doctor.
When he reached us, he smiled. Which completely lit up my world. He said, “Hello. I’m Dr. Gustavo Tovar. You may call me Gus, except in front of patients. Then I’m Dr. Tovar. I’m one of the doctors in charge of training volunteers, as well as treating patients. I and the other supervising doctors will be taking you on a tour of our camp and showing you to your quarters. Tonight, we’re hosting a mandatory Meet and Greet for you guys. And trust me, you all want to be there. You don’t want to be working out here in the African wilderness with patients who are suffering from one of humanity’s most terrifying infectious diseases without having friends and forming close bonds with your colleagues.” He then offered a half-smile, which I found adorable, but less than reassuring in regard to our safety. Thinking back on it now, that half-smile was full of foreshadowing and a little bit creepy.
We trundled down into camp, a motley group following our pied piper, Dr. Gustavo Tovar. After sticking her heels several times in the dirt path, Zoe finally kicked off her shoes and carried them, her feet covered only in nylons. I winced as I saw her foot land on a juicy bug and crush it.
As we entered the area with buildings, Dr. Tovar noticed Zoe’s exposed feet. He instructed her to put her shoes back on. “Bodily fluids have spilled in this area: blood, vomit, etc. You do not want to put yourself at risk.”
We walked past several buildings. The sound of moaning became painful. It had the same effect as crying babies: a tug at your heart and soul, motivating you to do something. I felt relieved that I was a nurse. I couldn’t have handled being at that camp had I just volunteered to help with accounting or cooking or something not directly related to patients.
Dr. Tovar halted in front of the fourth building, turquoise with white shutters, dried mud splashed along the bottom of its outside walls. “OK, volunteers. I’m going to divide you into groups of five. Each group will be assigned to a different team in a different building. Each team is supervised by a different doctor.” Then he pointed to one of us at a time, repeatedly assigning us a number from one to five: “One…Two…Three…Four…Five…You all work in Building Number 1. One…Two…Three…Four…Five…You’re assigned to Building Number 2.” He did that five times, so it turned out there were exactly twenty-five of us.
A red-headed woman, freckles splashed across her face, sensibly dressed in shorts and a tank top, started heading toward her assigned building. Dr. Tovar stopped her. “Whoa! Where do you think you’re going?”
“To my building? To get started?”
Tovar opened his eyes wide in exaggerated shock. They were deep brown, warm. I felt about to swoon, and not just from the tropical heat. He said, “OK. I cannot impress enough upon all of you: you’re not to go wandering off anywhere alone. Exploring or finding your own way around our facilities is strictly forbidden. We’re dealing with Ebola Virus Disease here. You can’t possibly know which areas have been contaminated. Here…I want to show you something…” With that, he turned his back on us and waved us forward.
We followed him around the side of Building 5, the building to which I had been assigned. There were touches of cheer: two pink flower boxes under small windows, a single yellow flower poking its head out of one of the boxes, polka-dotted curtains in the windows.
Then we entered the backyard.
Workers dressed in protective gear surrounded a human-shaped mound covered by a white sheet. A foot, twisted at a weird angle, stuck out the bottom edge. Dr. Tovar said, “Under that sheet is a dead woman. Before expiring, she bled out from Ebola. The ground where she’s lying has no doubt been seeded with her sloughed-off gut and bowels. In a few minutes, she’ll be cremated and the backyard sanitized. You wouldn’t want to unknowingly walk across that stretch of land between the time the body was removed and the ground sanitized, now would you?” Gesturing toward Zoe, he added, “And you’re all to wear shoes at all times, hear me?”
We shook our heads in agreement.
Dr. Tovar instructed us to gather in front of our assigned buildings and wait for our supervisor to invite us in. He gave strict directions on the exact path each group should take to get to their destination.
Sadly, Dr. Tovar wasn’t my supervisor. He ran Building 1.
We left the backyard. My team walked around to the front and waited, wondering about the conditions inside.
A few minutes later, a woman in a white coat came through the front door. She had piercing blue eyes and a halo of frizzy black hair. “Hello. I’m Dr. Angela Steele.” She didn’t smile. “Thank you all for volunteering your service. We’re on the frontline here, battling an outbreak of Ebola. It has only recently arrived in Liberia. Our job is to contain it. As a result, we’ve been given license to administer experimental drugs sent to us by several countries, developed by a variety of pharmaceutical companies and approved by both the World Health Organization and the CDC for this purpose. I’m going to take you over to another building where you’ll be instructed on how to use protective gear. Then we’ll return here and you’ll be introduced to your patients.” No small talk. Right down to business. My heart raced. My palms grew sweaty.
Crossing the dirt road, we entered a building with a sign over the front door designating it: Safety Station 5. Inside, the walls were lined with shelves marked Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and benches. The shelves were filled with things I recognized from my infectious diseases training back home: yellow protective overalls, clear aprons, white hoods, masks, goggles, respirators, turquoise gloves, overshoes, and turquoise rubber boots.
Through a door in the back, Dr. Steele led us to a separate building marked: BIOHAZARD: Disinfecting Station 5. She pointed out a path that led from the road directly into this building. She said, “Never, ever pass through a Safety Station Building, sometimes referred to as a Protective Personal Equipment or PPE Building, to get here. Only use the outside path for your Disinfecting Station after being in a patient treatment facility or coming into contact with Ebola in any way.”