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A Superfluous Introduction

The disease came out of nowhere. Most of the medical field didn't pay much attention at first due to the nature of the case. A girl from a rural part of North Korea was reported to have arrived at a nearby medical center with a very concerned father. All along the girl’s arm were a number of small holes that looked like a hole puncher had been taken to her skin. The father said that these had only shown up this morning and the girl hadn't had any real history of illness. At first the doctors assumed it was the result of a caustic fluid spattering against her skin and she had suffered some form of neglect, but her father was insistent that she wasn’t being abused nor had she hurt herself in any way. She was put under patient assist until the attending psychiatrist could confirm whether or not she was suffering any abuse at the hands of her father.

North Korean officials stated that in the ten minutes it took for the attending psychiatrist (although these reports have been debated due to the fact that progression from the initial stage takes anywhere from twelve to twenty-four hours so the wait was likely much longer), the series of holes had spread from her arm to her torso and other appendages. Given that both the girl and father had been under surveillance, the attending psychiatrist declared it a physical disease rather than physical/emotional abuse. The case was heavily documented by the attending physician who quickly disseminated photos of her condition in an attempt to earn her some prestige and notoriety. Most medical communities denounced her reports as a hoax, but as the symptoms progressed and the photos became more graphic, people started to pay attention.

Wanting to be the first for something, even if it was for an anomalous affliction, North Korea coined the original name for the disease; Gender-Related Idiosyncratic Disorder (G.R.I.D.). The second person infected was the attending physician who had attended patient zero. The attending psychiatrist (who was male) was unaffected by the disease. The earliest patients were all women, and they were all people who had come into contact with the girl. At first immunologists assumed that it was an unknown pathogen that only affected females, but they were quickly proven wrong.

The world watched in growing interest and concern as G.R.I.D. quickly spread and infected people. The third patient was a male orderly that had been decked out in full H.E.V. gear. He stated that he hadn’t had any breaches or skin contact with the girl, whose condition had now enveloped her entire body with the holes growing in size from a few centimeters in diameter to the size of a quarter that bore inches deep into her body. The pictures slowly stopped being released as the physical symptoms grew more grotesque. Many doctors and scientists theorized whether the disorder was parasitic, viral, or environmental in nature, but in the end it really didn’t matter. Their attempts to quarantine the afflicted did nothing to stop its spread.

When their attempts to cure or even quell the disease failed, sources say that the infected North Korean patients were summarily executed and incinerated in an attempt to quarantine the disease. Some people cried about the inhumanity of their treatment, but they were overshadowed by the overwhelming sigh of relief from the rest of the world. That reprieve would last only a week before the other cases began cropping up. People came forward from wide-spread locations like Managua, Madrid, Kampala, and other locations on multiple continents. It wasn’t long until the anomalous condition formerly known as G.R.I.D. spread to the rest of the world and became a pandemic.

Down in a Hole

The Tryp twitched as she walked up the street. She was so far along that if a strong gust of wind blew, she would have likely shrieked in agony like a banshee. Layne watched her carefully, alternating between being petrified and pitying her. No one knew how the infection spread and it was communicable to anyone. Filters, antibiotics/antivirals, and herbal supplements hawked by homeopathic ‘professionals’ did nothing to resist the condition or slow its spread. No one was safe from the disease, the only constant was that most of the afflicted had come in contact with a Tryp at one time or another. Layne had to remind himself that this was a person. Sometimes it was easier for him to just see them as plague-carriers and not people. They were people and not monsters. He had to tell himself that as he looked at her.

The name Tryps started when one of the scientists started calling the patients inflicted with the mysterious disorder Trypoids. The word “-trypos" is Greek for “hole”. It was a fitting name for them, but most people balked at the awkward sounding name. People were looking for something easy to say that didn’t make their family or friends seem like aliens. Tryps/Trips was an easier title and sounded more commonplace so the condition became colloquially known as being afflicted with Tryps. They could name the sufferers whatever they wanted, but Layne knew it didn’t make them any less horrifying or human.

As he watched the Tryp he noted that she was likely still in the first stage of the illness, but it was more severe than most. Whereas most people’s bout with Tryps started at their appendages, hers had likely taken root at her face. Dozens of tiny holes in her skin had worn through and exposed the musculature underneath. He could see the red mass contracting and relaxing through the gaps in her skin as she winced and whined. Layne wondered why they never bled. Sometimes the holes deepened and extended into their arteries and veins, but they never ruptured. As he watched her from his hiding spot behind the pharmacy counter in the supermarket, he swore he could see her teeth through the numerous holes in her lips. While he knew that most Tryps were just sick people, he still didn’t want to risk getting close to them and getting infected.

The first stage typically resulted in dozens of tiny tears appearing on the skin over the course of a few hours. As they entered stage two, the gaps widened and began to penetrate deeper into the body. Sometimes the holes would be so wide that they would bore through parts of the body completely. Layne remembered seeing one picture online of a hand where the knuckle had been completely obliterated and the thumb was hanging on by a few sinews. No one went beyond the third stage. Most died of trauma; either self-inflicted or perpetrated by others, exposure to the elements, going into shock from exposed nerves being stimulated, or infection. Sometimes Layne wondered if there was a fourth stage to the disorder where the person was completely consumed by the encroaching holes. He had never seen the third stage personally and he wanted to keep it that way.

The Tryp walked off the street and entered the supermarket Layne was hiding in. At first he thought that he had been spotted, but as she slowly walked through the aisles, he realized what she was really looking for. Most hospitals had shut down and the few that were still running were so swamped with the infected that no one could really get any assistance. Even though they had no cure, people still flocked there in the farfetched hope that antibiotics might delay the disease or that anesthetics might numb the pain. Layne knew that the woman was here for medicine and that he would be discovered as soon as she entered the pharmacy.

Layne realized that they weren’t monsters. This disorder didn’t turn people into zombies, body snatchers, or vampires that would indiscriminately attack people. It made them into something much worse. It made them desperate. He remembered the early rumors that one of the tallest buildings in town was being used as a makeshift helipad to evacuate citizens out of the city and into D.C. for treatment. Hundreds of people rushed to the building and crowded on the roof waiting for a helicopter that would never come. All it took was one person to say they heard the approaching propellers and then the chaos started. People fought, bit, and shoved each other in an attempt to board a helicopter that wasn’t coming. A few people were thrown off the roof and others were fatally stabbed and beaten in the melee. Distraught people are dangerous, and desperate people looking for hope can be devastating.

Layne ducked behind the counter as she drew closer and held his breath. He heard her grab onto the metal grid barricade and begin shaking it. He mentally patted himself on the back for locating the keys to the employee entrance rather than tearing down the grating. The woman cursed and jerked at the metal in an attempt to pull it open, but didn’t have the strength to rip it off the track. When the sound of clanging metal stopped, the hiding man realized that she was going to go around to the door. Layne would then be trapped in the pharmacy with the Tryp.

Layne heard the door click open and he knew that this was going to end poorly. His salvation came from the oddest of places. He heard a door bang against the wall and assumed that someone else had been in the supermarket (likely the bathroom) and they had just come out. He heard the woman hastily walk away from the door and towards the source of the noise. He hoped that they would be distracted enough so he could slip out without being seen. He carefully peeked up from the pharmacy counter and watched the scene unfold.

The woman ran towards the man and before he could do or say anything, she grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. He shouted in surprise and tried to pull something out of the back of his pants, but she was tugging at his shirt in her panic, jostling and shouting at him. He tried to tell her to get back, but she was too busy repeating the same words over and over as if it would change their situation any: “You got to help me! Please, I’ll do anything!”

The man tried to step away so he could pull the object loose that he had tucked into the back of his jeans and in doing so slipped on a loose can of split peas. He slipped backwards and she tumbled on top of him, her face pressing into his shirt. There was a brief pause where the man tried to convince himself this was some sort of sick nightmare and the woman tried to hastily apologize. The reality of the situation drove into him like a drill into the forearm and he lashed out. He shoved her off of him and struck her in the face.

He got to his feet and growled at the downed woman, “You bitch!”

She tried to get up and apologize, but he was lost to his fury. His boot lashed out and caught her in the jaw. Layne wasn’t sure if he had seen her teeth through the holes in her lips, but now he was certain as he saw a few of them skip across the linoleum floor like little white mice running from a cat. She drooled blood and kept trying to apologize, but he kept kicking at her. Layne knew where this was going and desperately tried to distract himself from the assault by thinking about days that were more stable.

Unfortunately the only place he could retreat to were his memories of the month before, before all this craziness. The last sane day of his life, the day he split up with his girlfriend. Layne had just broken up with Courtney. They had been dating for about three months and it was one of the longest relationships he had had. She said she wanted him to let her in, but he couldn’t. Same verse, same as the first. They ended up fighting when Layne asked her if he could skip going to a party at one of her friend’s house. He thought it was a small and stupid thing that really didn’t matter, but it apparently meant a lot to her and it was the catalyst for the fight.

The man kicked at the downed woman targeting any open area. He was screaming vulgarities (his favorite phrase in his tirade seemed to revolve around the phrase ‘pock-faced cunt’) and stomping on her. She tried to shield herself with her hands, but he switched targets to any area that she wasn’t guarding. He went from booting her in the stomach to kicking at her exposed face. Blood drooled from her shattered teeth and broken nose. During the entire time he ranted, spat, and cursed.

Layne and Courtney said a lot of ugly things to each other during their fight. Layne told her that he thought her friends were boring and self-centered. She fumed and said that her friends had warned her about him. He snapped and told her that her friends were two-faced and only talked shit about other people behind their backs. She countered by telling him that she had to beg her friends to invite him along. It was then that she said the worst thing she could have ever said. In her anger she said that if it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t have any friends at all and that he was going to die alone. She told him that no one would care about him when he went.

The woman was trying to crawl away, but the man wouldn’t let her go. He walked alongside her and stomped down on her exposed legs before moving up to her arms where he jumped up and down on them. He delivered a flurry of stomps and kicks until she stopped moving. He raised his foot one final time and brought it down on the back of her head with all of his weight and force. She didn’t groan, she didn’t move. There was no way that she had survived his fury. Layne knew that it was just about over.

Sometimes Layne would lie awake at night and wonder if something was wrong with him. His friends were acquaintances at best and his relationships never really became anything more than failed flings. Sometimes he would google behavioral disorders like Avoidant Personality Disorder or Social Anxiety and compare them to himself. He felt like he was drifting through life without anyone he truly felt comfortable opening up to. Sometimes he would feel alone even though he was surrounded by people. He would put on a smile, joke around, and tell humorous stories, but they would feel like empty words. They weren’t the only things that felt false, sometimes it felt like he was hollow too. Sometimes when he got home from visiting he would cry. Sometimes.

Layne watched the man look over at the brutalized body of his victim and realized now would be the best time to try and slip away while he was still dealing with the shock of his encounter. The man was probably scavenging the supermarket too and he knew that he would likely look in the pharmacy for medicine eventually. Layne quietly opened the door and slipped into the main area of the supermarket trying to be as noiseless as possible when the man looked up from woman’s corpse. They made eye contact and Layne knew what was coming next.

The man rubbed the sweat and possible tears out of his eyes and tried his best to put on a smile that might distract someone from the blood spattered on his boots. Once he realized that Layne had made the connection to the dead woman and the man and had likely seen the attack, the words poured out of him like juice from a squashed watermelon:

“Hold up! I’m fine, she didn’t infect me. Bitch must have lost her mind, she attacked me. Everyone knows it only affects women after all, right? Some people can’t deal with that knowledge and they lose it. You’ve probably seen a few people like that. Let’s talk for a second, I’m sure a young guy like you knows of a lot of good places to scavenge, lay your head at night, …and maybe get some scrapes and pulled muscles checked out. Let’s work togeth-”

Layne had heard all he needed to within the first few sentences. He twisted around and sprinted towards the entrance. Layne had hoped his unexpected retreat would catch him off guard but the man was prepared for this. In one fluid motion, his hand snapped behind him and he drew a handgun from the back of his pants. Just as Layne ducked into an aisle, the man squeezed the trigger. The resulting gunshot made him flinch, but adrenaline and fear kept him moving. The man wanted Layne to stop so he could press him for information at gunpoint. He didn’t know if the man was willing to shoot him or not to get those details. Or maybe he thought that he could deny the likelihood that he had been infected by removing any witnesses. He didn’t want to find out whether or not the contaminated man was that delusional.

“Goddamnit, don’t run from me you little cockmuffin!”

Layne could hear the man’s boots slapping against the linoleum as he gave chase. He knew that the man’s exertions had likely left him winded, but the man didn’t really need to chase him down to stop him. He just needed an open line of sight to shoot Layne down. He sprinted towards the end of the aisle just as the man rounded the corner and squeezed off another shot that went wide and tore through a liter of soda that sprayed the area. He covered his face with his hands to shield him from the spraying carbonated drink as he ran by it.

The pursued man grabbed the side of the aisle and twisted his body in an attempt to round the corner a bit faster and put a bit more distance between them. This idea backfired as the spraying soda had made his fingers slippery and he lost his grip. Layne’s feet slipped out from under him and the built-up momentum made him fall right on his ass. The man came around the corner and pointed the gun at him just as Layne had gotten up to one knee.

The man wheezed, “Fuckin’ dickbag. I just wanted a place to lay low. Now I gotta-”

Layne swung his right arm into the nearest aisle and swept the contents, which happened to be bottled sodas, at the armed man. He didn’t have many options but he didn’t want to be filled with holes without having done everything he could to prevent it. As he was still in a kneeling position, the six pack of bottles came in low at the man. The man with the gun was expecting the downed man to be deflated and plead for his life, so he was almost too shocked to react when he saw a pack of glass bottles rocketing towards his waist.

The man successfully jumped back before the bottles could hit him, but his attempt at evasion brought him into the liquid puddle where the punctured soda had been spraying and he lost his balance. He tried to steady himself on the shelf with his right arm without thinking about the gun that he still held in that hand and it slipped out of his grasp as he slammed his wrist onto the surface. The handgun fell to the linoleum and clattered a few feet away.

There was a brief moment of shock that passed between the two. Layne reacted first, he scrambled to his feet and sprinted towards the store’s entrance. The man recovered and threw himself towards the gun he had dropped. He grabbed it with his left hand and swung towards the entrance. He squeezed off a shot, but his aim was terrible with his non-dominant hand. The bullet shattered the store window which was about six feet away from Layne. The man crawled to his feet while cradling his right hand in the crook of his elbow and gave chase.

Layne ducked down an alley and came out behind the store. He looked up and down the street before realizing that he really didn’t have anywhere to go that wasn’t a wide open area where the man might have better luck shooting him down. His only option seemed to be a nearby dumpster where the supermarket pitched food that had gone bad and its garbage. Layne took a deep breath before lifting the lid and crawling inside the foul smelling metal box.

Layne could hear the man’s boots stomping out from the alley a few moments later. He held his breath and tried to prevent himself from gagging with the nauseating smell of trash around him. The man swore up a storm as he looked around for any sign of his target. Through a small space between the metal and the lid, he could see the man come into view. He was cradling his right hand in his left and it was obvious that his wrist was either sprained or dislocated. The man’s eyes fell on the dumpster and a smile cracked across his lips as he approached it with his gun in his left hand.

Layne shimmied deeper into the trash and pulled a plastic bag over his body. He felt something dripping onto his face and he wanted nothing more than to retch. He heard the lid being lifted and he froze in place. He could only hope that he was deep enough to not be seen from the surface. In that moment, there was nothing but silence, Layne could have sworn that he could hear his heart beating outside of his body. After what seemed like forever, the lid was slammed back down on the dumpster and the man roared impotently: “Fuck!”

Layne listened to the man storming away and knew that he was almost in the clear. He had to hide for a while to make sure he was really safe. He wondered how much Courtney would have loved to see him cowering in a dumpster. Instead of pushing that thought away, he embraced it. He imagined the smirk that would play at her lips as she took in the pitiful scene. Thinking about it distracted him from the smell and the sensation that insects were crawling all over his exposed skin. He hoped that feeling was imaginary, but he couldn’t bring himself to check.

Fifteen minutes later he pulled himself out of the dumpster. Layne tried to suck in fresh air to replace the stench, but everything smelled like garbage. His skin crawled when he wiped at the liquid that had dripped onto his face and realized that it was a murky brown. The realization that he had been moments away from a bullet-filled death made Layne come to a decision.

The city wasn’t safe. There were too many people and not enough rational thinking. If he stayed here any longer, he would either be infected by a desperate person seeking help or killed in the insanity that seemed to follow Tryps wherever it went. He needed to find some isolated place where he could ride this out until they discovered a cure. Layne decided that his family’s cabin in the woods would likely be the only place which was away from civilization where he knew the area. He decided that that was the best idea he could come up with after today’s madness.

Layne would spend tonight trying to wash off the stench and tomorrow he would leave for the woods. A part of him wanted to call his friends and invite them along, but he knew better. Other people were unknown variables. All it took was one mistake or misjudged person to get him either killed or worse. Layne was alive, and that was all that mattered. Courtney’s hateful words about him dying alone twisted in his mind. He wouldn’t die alone, he would survive by himself.

We Die Young

As Layne drove towards his family cabin in the woods he tried to desperately distract himself from what was unfolding in front of him. What started out as little shadows on the dashboard of his car began to deepen. At first he assumed they were the shadows of bugs that had splattered against the windshield as he drove. As the tiny shadows grew in size, he shifted his mind away from the impending realization. He was only thirty minutes away from the road up to the cabin and he really didn’t want to try and walk twenty miles alone without any real means of defending himself other than the hammer he picked up from his house.

Layne imagined what was happening to the government officials who pompously deemed themselves worthy of preservation and sequestered themselves away in bunkers or on ships. They likely watched the outside world from monitors and toasted champagne to their prestige and pride which dictated that they needed to survive while everyone else was expendable. They would likely never know what it was like to see Tryps up close in all its gruesome glory. As he drove and distracted himself, he entertained a dark fantasy about those people.

All it took was one person. One person to show signs of infection that chose to hide the symptoms and hope they would develop a cure while they were sequestered away from the outside world. He imagined the horror that built inside that person as they realized that there was no cure and they would fall apart. Layne imagined the disease sweeping through the bunker like wildfire as the politicians, celebrities, and business tycoons had nowhere left to run and were forced to accept their mortality. As they desperately tried to quarantine themselves from the others, they only succeeded in driving the final nail home into their metal coffin. There was no salvation. There was no escape. And Tryps held dominion over all.

Their power, prestige, and possessions meant nothing to the sickness. As their lives were slowly and agonizingly snuffed out, they would learn that Tryps held sway over all. The disease was the great reducer, it didn’t care about gender, race, social standing, philosophy, or religion. Everyone it touched would eventually be reduced into a hole-y mess. He knew that his only hope would be to stay as far away from it as possible until it burnt itself out or a cure was discovered. Those were the only choices before him.

His eyes darted back down to the dashboard and now he knew he could no longer ignore it. The shadows were larger than they had been previously. Layne swore and pulled the car over onto the side of the road. He carefully got out of the car with his backpack of supplies while trying to minimize skin contact with everything. He took a wide berth and examined the damage. Dozens of tiny holes dotted the car’s windshield. He tried to explain it away by saying that the glass had probably taken damage from some unseen debris, but what he saw next would obliterate those excuses.

The car’s hood looked like someone had drilled hundreds of holes through the metal. Layne didn’t know how to explain it, but he knew that this was tied to Tryps in some way. Was Tryps an undetectable corrosive agent that bore holes into anything it came into contact with? If so, why was this the first time he’d encountered an object that was showing signs of the disorder? He didn’t like the fatal nature of that explanation so he distanced himself from it. He knew that the more he learned about the disease, the worse off he’d be mentally. He held on to his belief that the cabin would be safe and he could ride everything out there.

He reasoned that the cabin was only ten or so miles away and he could make the trip on foot easily enough. If he kept a steady pace, he could make it there around midday. He opened his bag to check his supplies. He had taken a couple of power bars, ramen packages, and bottles of water from his house before he left. The water would be enough to get him to the cabin where he could use the well to replenish his stock and he could make the trip down to town to raid a few stores when he felt comfortable enough with his surroundings. He began walking and planning out his next move.

He would hole up in the cabin and make sure it was well fortified. He could barricade the doors and board up the windows. His father had an old hunting rifle that was practically an heirloom but still serviceable that Layne could use to scare off any Tryps or scavengers. He remembered the cabin had a pantry where he could stock food that he took from surrounding stores. With any luck he could ride out all of this without having to encounter another soul. He knew that he would survive all of this by isolating himself. Having to depend and rely on other people were added variables he didn’t need. He let his mind wander as he walked.

Layne knew that it was best to avoid people, all they seemed to do was take pieces of him. They do it slowly so you don’t even notice as they drift in and out of your life. The things you used to enjoy become little barbs that prick at your heart. He used to love going to the movies with his first girlfriend, it gave them something to talk about to fill the silence. When they broke up he stopped going to the cineplex near his house. He enjoyed listening to music with the next girlfriend before their relationship imploded and suddenly the bands they listened to together just reminded him of his flaws. He gave each one something personal and they ripped it from him when they left. And Courtney, she took that last little bit. He didn’t know that for sure until he woke up one day and realized that there was very little of him actually left.

The thoughts slowly became a mantra that he repeated to himself as he headed up the trail where the family cabin was. When people open themselves up to heartache and loss, I stay away. He didn’t see any signs of people along the trail. When they are forced to care for them for nothing in return, I stay away. The house wasn’t close to any river and was so out of the way that he expected to spend weeks there without actually seeing another person. While their tears soak and result in a callous heart, I stay away. He repeated those words to himself as he drew closer to the cabin.

I stay away, I stay away, I stay away.

It was an hour later when he first laid eyes on it. The sight of the old two floor cabin triggered a rush of pleasant memories. The cabin was always a quiet place. Even when his parents took him here on vacation and there were other people around, the silence felt pervasive. He would always find a place far away from his parents in the woods where he could be by himself and do what he wanted. He would whistle to himself as he walked around the woods and took in the sights. Every now and then he would hear his parents calling out to him as the sun began to set and most times he would return. Sometimes he would enjoy the silence for just a bit longer before returning to the cabin and enduring a scolding. The cabin was rustic enough to reflect simpler times, but had enough modern amenities (water, electricity, heating) to make the experience comfortable.

His parents weren’t particularly wealthy, but his father’s old construction business did give him the materials and manpower to hire out help to build this tranquil place on a small plot of land they owned. They spent years building this small cabin. It was their little home away from home and it gave them something to do before he was born. When his father passed away a few years ago after his mother’s death a decade earlier, he left it to Layne. He always debated renting it out, but he could never bring himself to put up an ad and deal with constantly monitoring the property to make sure the tenants were taking care of the place. He also didn’t want to deal with maintenance so he just left it as it was. The wood was beginning to rot in places but it still looked sturdy enough. The second floor had a small balcony that overlooked the town which almost looked golden when the sun set.

He remembered marshmallows and campfires, quiet walks in the woods, and reading old hard-boiled noir novels by candlelight when he should have been sleeping. Ushered on by those memories, Layne took a deep breath and drew the mountainous air into his lungs. It was reinvigorating and for a moment, he forgot about Tryps and what he had seen earlier that day with his car. He gave himself over to that moment and those memories. The house looked just like he remembered it. He put the old house key into the lock and twisted. Layne was too excited to notice that the lock had already been disengaged. He walked into the cabin and took in the nostalgic smells and sights.

The rugs on the floor smelled musty, but they always did. It was smaller than he remembered, but that didn’t matter much to him. If it could fit three people when he was a young kid, it would be enough for one person. He set the keys on the table, not noticing the lack of dust on them and walked into the kitchen. He wanted to go up on the balcony and look out at the land below him, but first he wanted to make sure the water and electricity worked. He stepped into the small kitchen and flipped the light switch. There was a brief flash of light and then a pop as the lightbulb lit and immediately went out. Layne made a mental note to look for extras and went to the sink to try and run the water.

He turned the faucet and watched as water began to trickle out. Eventually the pressure built up and the quick drips turned into a steady stream. He remembered the way his mother used to get on his father about the water whenever they first arrived. She had once went directly to the shower forgetting that the built-up rust was still in the pipes and screamed bloody murder when she was hit with a deluge of brown water. Apparently he had needed to change out the rusty pipes or at least leave them running to wash out all the rust. Judging from the clear color of the water, maybe his father had done that before he passed away or hired someone to do that. Layne turned off the water and began heading out of the kitchen when he stepped on something that froze him dead in his tracks.

The glass crunched under his foot like the sound of a bone being ground down. Layne stepped away and saw a few small shards of glass on the floor. The weight of his body had crushed one piece completely but the second looked like a shard of dusty glass. At first he thought the light bulb that had just gone out had burst, but the material wasn’t thin or curved like the fixtures he was familiar with. The glass was thick and straight, like the kind someone would have on their windows. He had been too distracted by the excitement and memories to see the signs that were before him. He didn’t notice the rust-free water, the dust-free countertops, or the broken window by the back door. Something was very wrong here, but he didn’t have the time to put all the pieces together before the man slammed into him from his hiding spot in the pantry.

It took a second for Layne to process what was happening. One minute he was standing up and the next he was sprawled on the floor with a man sitting on his chest. He desperately gasped for air as the man’s weight pressed it out of him like an accordion in a trash compactor. He tried to squirm free but the man had him pinned under about one hundred pounds. His hammer was still in the bag with the rest of his supplies. In his dazed state, the first thing Layne noticed was the man’s height and weight. He had to have been about six feet tall and he looked deathly thin. The second thing Layne noticed was that this man was a Tryp.

This was the worst case Layne had ever seen. The Tryp was likely in the third stage judging from his physical appearance. The holes that blemished his face were more like craters. One eye had been completely obliterated and his left cheek was entirely missing. A viscous line of drool hung from the side of his face. In one of the holes on his face, he thought he could see through the man’s head entirely. The gaps were wide enough that you could stick three fingers into it and not touch the sides. The man wrapped what was left of his hands around Layne’s neck and squeezed tightly.

The Tryp spoke through a mouth whose teeth had fallen out or were hanging by tiny ted ribbons of flesh: “It’s over now.” He repeated those words as he strangled Layne like he was trying to convince him to just give up and die. The strangled man tried to draw air into his lungs, but his aggressor’s hands were too tight around his windpipe to allow air to pass. The combined effect of the man sitting on his chest and choking him made Layne’s vision blurry.

The squatter’s grip tightened and Layne felt his Adam’s apple bouncing against the Tryp's hand in an attempt to dislodge it. The Tryp snarled, “It’s over now,” again and a thick glob of saliva broke free and dropped onto the bridge of Layne’s nose. The man began to throttle and rock Layne’s neck in an attempt to kill him faster but it had the opposite effect. The instant his head smacked against the wood floor, Layne experienced a brief moment of clarity. The shock of the attack was wearing off and his self-defense response was kicking in.

Layne had only one recourse left in his oxygen-deprived mind. His left hand pawed feebly at the Tryp’s face until he located the orbital socket. The man realized what was happening but didn’t react in time. Layne’s thumb hooked into his eye socket until he found resistance and then pulled as hard as he could to the left. The man screamed in agony as the thumb jabbed into the socket and scraped against what remained of the optical nerve. With all the strength left in him, the pinned man shoved his attacker off of his body and crawled away.

As the Tryp rolled on the floor in agony, Layne desperately sucked air into his lungs. Every attempt to draw in air felt like he was swallowing a lit match. Layne managed to recover first and struggle to his feet just as the other man rose to one knee. The fact that the man was emaciated likely was the only reason that he was able to stand first. The starved man looked up at Layne with his remaining eye and all he could see was delirium in it. The last rational thought in his head had leaked out days ago like saliva through the swath of flesh missing from his cheek.

With a sudden burst of manic energy, the man lunged and clawed for his throat again, but Layne was ready for this. He lashed out with his foot and caught the man square in the jaw. Layne felt something give way as the few remaining teeth in the man’s head rattled free and fell to the floor with tiny little red drops staining the enamel. The man pirouetted away from the kick and fell directly onto his back.

Layne didn’t want to fight, he just wanted the man to leave his house. As his assailant tried to get to his feet he did his best to look imposing and growled at him: “Get the fuck out of here!” If the man heard the demand, he gave no indication. He shakily rose to his feet and for the briefest moment, Layne could see something rhythmically pulsing under his shirt. He tried to sound more aggressive as he shouted: “Don’t make me-” The man didn’t wait for him to finish that sentence before he attacked.

He charged forward in an attempt to knock his opponent off his feet, but Layne was ready with another kick. This time however, the Tryp was also prepared. He side-stepped the attack and caught his leg at the trunk while pushing forward with all his weight. His feet instantly went out from under him and the two men crashed to the wood floor. Layne’s head smacked the ground and the room exploded in a bright flash. For a split second, he tasted purple in his mouth and everything went numb.

The man crawled back on top of Layne and began throttling him again. The pinned man tried to reach his hand up to his assailant’s face again, but the man knew that attack was coming and was able to avoid his pawing hand. The sudden pressure on his already injured throat was excruciating. As his consciousness faded he knew there was no other option. He wanted the man to leave, but he wouldn’t stop attacking until either Layne killed him or he killed Layne. He said that he’d do anything to survive and now he proved it in the most visceral way he knew.

Layne’s hands snaked under the man’s shirt and traveled up his chest, palpating for that area he had seen earlier. In the madman’s moment of triumph, he didn’t connect the dots with what the pinned man was doing until it was too late. Layne’s hands located the hole in his chest and he drove his hand inside. He clawed out until he felt something spongey in his hands and he squeezed it as hard as he could. The object tore and ripped open.

The Tryp managed one last shocked cry before his left lung was crushed like a rotten apple. His grip around the pinned man’s neck loosened and he fell backwards. Layne quickly straddled the man and raised his shirt. The sight was even more horrifying than he imagined, but he knew that he had to end this quickly. Tryps had rent holes along his stomach and chest. Through a fist-sized hole, he could see the small intestines nestled away like large pink worms. The hole in the man’s chest was the size of a softball and Layne could see the remains of his pulped lung through the space where the ribs should have been. Underneath it, he could see something frantically beating away.

Fighting back the urge to run out of the room screaming, Layne ended the man’s suffering quickly. The man had slipped into shock, but he would likely survive for a couple of minutes in sheer agony as his remaining lung tried to pump enough oxygen to fuel his body in a futile attempt to sustain his life. He reached into the man’s chest again and pushed past the crushed tissue until he felt the heart weakly pulsing against his hand. His right hand could barely grasp the entire thing, but he finally managed to. It pulsed against his hand, but he squeezed it tightly until he felt it stop moving.

Layne looked over the remains and said the only thing he could think of, “Shh, it’s over now,” before he threw up next to the man. The sick leaving his mouth through his bruised throat was unbearable. The sticky substance that coated his hand made his skin crawl and his stomach turn. He slowly stood up and wiped his mouth before running to the shower. He needed to wash and attempt to remove any trace of the man and pathogen.

He spent nearly an hour in the shower swinging between sobbing and scrubbing his skin raw. Nothing he did made him feel any cleaner. Layne tried his best to clean the gore from his fingernails, but even after an hour of picking there were still a few red flakes under the free edges and his cuticles were stained pink. Eventually he gave up after the water turned cold and it started to sting his now red and irritated skin. He dried himself off and threw on a new set of clothes. He took his old clothes down to the kitchen and threw them into the trash with the remains of the shattered window, while doing his best to not make eye contact with the corpse in the lobby area.

On his way back upstairs, Layne forced himself to look at the body. He wanted nothing more than to pretend that it wasn’t there or that he wasn’t responsible for any of that, but he knew that wasn’t true. He had done this. He had killed that man and he would have to deal with the consequences of it. The Tryps had eaten away most of the man’s identifiable features, but Layne could tell that the man was in his mid-to-early thirties. He had short blonde hair and he was deathly thin. The body reminded him of a crack addict he’d seen once when he was living in a more run-down apartment. Part of that appearance came from the Tryps but the fact that he probably had run out of food weeks ago had likely also contributed. The sight of the hunting rifle that had been taken down from the mantle and the box of empty cartridges supported that theory.

Layne stared at the body and burned the mental image into his brain. He would eventually have to drag the body outside and bury him somewhere but right now he didn’t have the strength for any of that. He would have to face that fact and entertain the possibility that he himself had been infected. He was in close contact with the man and while science hadn’t been able to determine how Tryps is transmitted, most people agreed that it had something to do with coming in contact with afflicted people. He eventually decided that he would cross that bridge when he came to it, but right now he wanted to force himself to remember this man. This was the first person he had killed and hopefully it would be the last. Something told him that that was wishful thinking.

If he came across another person, he would fight. He would survive. If he had to kill again to protect himself or his resources he would, but he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to risk encountering another person who would put him in another position like that. That was why Layne was out here in the middle of nowhere. He was much less likely to run across other people in the middle of the wilderness. He was safe here and knew that being alone was a more tactical option. At least, that’s the reason he told himself for why he was so far away from everyone he knew. He convinced himself that he was being rational when he decided to isolate himself. He waved off that thought in the back of his mind that this decision was born out of his issues. He told himself that at least.

Layne decided to head up on the balcony and look out at the town. He wanted to focus on something else, anything to distract him from the body in the lobby of his cabin and the quickly dawning realization that this trip may have not been the smartest decision. His fight with the Tryp had left his entire body feeling sore and his ragged breaths felt like he was inhaling acrid smoke. He opened up the door at the top of the stairs and stepped out onto the balcony. The sight of two beat-up wooden chairs next to a table ringed with beer bottle stains triggered memories of his dad.

His dad used to love spending time out on the balcony. It was a pretty common occurrence to see him out there with a cigarette (Marlboros: ’If God smoked cigarettes, they’d be Marlboros,’ he’d always said.) and a Red Dog beer on the table. He remembered watching his dad through the glass in the door as he looked out at the land below. He had been invited out numerous times by his dad to keep him company while he enjoyed an after-dinner smoke and drink, but he usually turned down the offer. The last time he had actually gone out with him, he remembered the awkward silence that settled on them. Layne opted instead to watch his father and imagine what was going through his head and the wonderful conversations they could have had had he been privy to that knowledge.

The sun was still high in the sky. For some reason Layne had thought it would be darker by now, but that thought didn’t bother him too much. After all, it allowed him to see the breathtaking landscape below that his father had always enjoyed. He walked over to the wooden railing and leaned against it. He looked out over the forest, hills, and the city that lay before him. It didn’t take Layne long to figure out something was wrong with the scene.

Large craters dotted the landscape before Layne. At first he thought that it had been recent construction as the holes appeared large enough to have been made by a Bobcat excavator, but the placement was too random. They riddled the land and were perfectly circular holes. Layne felt a chuckle coming on and once it slipped from his lips he couldn’t stop. Animals, objects, and now the Earth itself. Was there nothing that Tryps would leave untouched? He raised his hand to his mouth to stop the manic laughter and the sudden stinging sensation as his warm breath puffed against his hand hit him like a one-two punch to the gut.

Layne laughed and pressed his index finger into the tiny hole that he had just noticed in his thumb. It stung to apply pressure to the area but it felt better to have something in the hollow spot rather than nothing except inevitability. His mind recalled the image of the murdered man downstairs whose insides were torn open and exposed to the air and he tried to banish the thought, but it was too late. It flooded into his mind and sank into the crevices and holes of his brain where it took root. There was no denying it now. He could try to run all he wanted, but the hollowness that was Tryps would not be ignored.

The laughter he tried to bury surged back up his throat and he couldn’t stop it now. It made him feel slightly better to laugh at the pointlessness of everything he had done up to this moment. Layne spent hours looking out over the land that was rife with holes while pressing against the skinless area on his thumb which marked the early manifestation of Tryps. It was at this point that he knew what was coming next. He knew what was waiting for everyone and everything at the end of it all. It was Tryps. It would not be contained. It would not be denied. It would not stop until it infested everything. The frantic laughter eventually stopped when he accepted that one realization:


Tryps held dominion over all.

Hollow

A few weeks passed and life continued on. Layne spent the first few days wallowing in self-pity and drinking himself senseless with whatever wine or liquor he could find in the cabinets. Once he finished off any bottle he could get his hands on, he could only watch in abject horror as the tiny pinprick-sized hole in his left hand multiplied and snaked their way down his arm. It only took one day for Tryps to manifest in his right hand and a few days after that, it had spread to his feet as well. He didn’t know if that was because he had accidentally touched those areas or if something else was spreading it. He compared the sight of it creeping up his arms and legs towards his torso to watching a fatal car crash in slow motion. He used to wake up every morning and look at Tryps' progress in the mirror until he noticed a small hole in the center of his forehead that looked like a put-out third eye. He stopped looking after that and just resigned himself to his fate.

Oddly enough it was that resignation that actually allowed him to slip away from his depression. He reasoned that there was nothing he could do about the situation and opted instead to focus on surviving. He hiked into town every few days and raided nearby shops and houses. Once in a blue moon he ran into people, but most ignored him when he didn’t approach them. Some shouted threats at him trying to get him to leave but as he ignored them, the situation generally deescalated and they simply chose to avoid him. A few people were infected like he was and Layne avoided them as most were unstable. While he was able to accept his fate, others chose to go mad and chase delusions of rescue and treatment.


Layne quickly stockpiled an excess of food when he realized the uninfected wouldn’t salvage items that were showing signs of Tryps. As the number of those items grew with each passing day, Layne soon found himself with more food than he could ever eat. This proved to be a blessing in disguise when he realized that Tryps was quickly beginning to take its toll on his body. By the time he realized that he likely wouldn’t be able to make the trip from his cabin in the mountains to the town, he had already accumulated a few weeks' worth of food and water. It was enough for him.

Layne rapidly progressed from stage one of the disease to stage two. The holes were beginning to grow in size and were now present all over his skin. He wore long-sleeved clothes to protect his body from outside infection, but every now-and-then an errant gust of wind would slip through his defenses and make him wince. It was after that experience that he decided that he had enough supplies to carry out his last actions and that he didn’t need to risk trips down into the city anymore. That decision was both comforting and horrifying as he knew that it wouldn’t be much longer until he reached stage three. He tried to accept the inevitability of his condition because the other choices didn’t seem much better.

The man he had buried in the front yard had been unable to do that. When confronted with the fact that he was infected with Tryps, he had tried to deny it and began his descent into madness. He cut off his big toe in an attempt to save himself, but it had spread regardless. He amputated a few more Tryps-infected toes before he realized that it was a fruitless endeavor. It spread up his body and seeing that was enough to make him snap. He had gone mad and stopped caring for himself when he was confronted with his mortality. He stopped eating and sleeping regularly. He even tried to kill himself a few times but he was never able to bring himself to do it. Layne knew all of this because he had come across his diary.

The man had likely been sleeping in his parents’ bedroom for a month or so before Layne arrived. He catalogued his daily routines and struggles. He had lost someone named Alyssa before he had come up here and he wrote about her endlessly. He described her features as if he was terrified he would forget her. The entries were relatively normal (given the circumstances) until about four weeks ago. It was at this point that the handwriting became more jerky and the entries became more disjointed. The last entry written weeks before their confrontation just read: “It’s over Alyssa.”

Layne read each entry multiple times and imagined what was going through the man’s head. For some reason it brought him comfort. Here was someone going through the same thing and this was how he chose to respond. He knew how easy it was to sink in depression and entertain thoughts of suicide. It would be easy to do that, but it didn’t feel right to him. The man’s journal entries convinced him that he didn’t want to die like he did. He didn’t want to lose that last remaining light as a gibbering, incoherent mess. He wanted to face the end with a strong front. It convinced Layne of one more thing too. He wasn’t ready to die without completing one last goal. He wanted one last chance to leave something behind to let someone know his story.


Layne knew what he had to do. He got off the bed where he had been laying motionless in an attempt to not agitate any of the gaping holes in his flesh. The slightest contact in any of the openings felt like he had gotten citrus in an open cut. He slowly moved towards the office where he knew his dad had his computer. It was an old system he picked up to keep up to date on work going-ons while he was on vacation. Layne pressed his knuckle into the power button and listened to the machine slowly power up. He sat in the computer chair and opened up a Word document. He blew out a breath and prepared to type out his story.

Layne tried to write his story, but touching the keys felt like he was pressing tacks into his skin. The pads of his fingers had eroded away and the Tryps had completely eaten through a few of his nails. He could see the keys through his fingers which made it easier for him to type as he had a tendency to hunt and peck anyway. He continued typing, knowing that it was better than the alternative. The alternative was focusing on what was happening. He was worried that he’d spend his final moments looking at the mirror. Layne was terrified of becoming like them; feeling his tongue drop out from the bottom of his jaw or watching as his eye slid back into his head through the hole in his orbital bone. He knew that if he actually saw what the disease was doing to him, he would kill himself, and he didn’t want to do that.

He wanted to see what was coming next. It was a weak excuse for living, but it was all he had. Tryps had started off infecting people and then it progressed to riddling holes in random objects before it targeted the Earth itself. Layne knew that the holes he had seen almost a month ago had only widened and deepened. A macabre part of him wondered if those holes would eventually bore to the other side of the world. If someone jumped into them, would it be possible to fall for miles until they reached the other side of the planet? Layne wanted to see how far this would progress, what would happen in the end. He wondered if the world would eventually just vanish. What would happen once that occurred? Were they slowly phasing into another world or out of existence entirely? These thoughts occupied his mind as he slowly wrote out his story.

Layne spent hours in front of the computer desperately writing. A small part of him knew that the end was coming. The Tryps had progressed to the point where he could put a finger through any of the holes present on any of his extremities and not touch the sides. He realized that he probably only had a few days left before the disease progressed to the point where exposure and infection would kill him. He knew that he was in the third stage and if there was a fourth stage, no one had ever experienced it without succumbing to their injuries. He continued typing and focused all of his energy on telling his story effectively.


Layne was almost finished with the story when the computer began to deteriorate. It started off as small, tiny pin-prick sized holes dotting the screen. Tiny cracks spider-webbed out and spread across the screen. He knew what was about to happen and without thinking, he tried to save the file and print the document. He didn’t want to lose all of his work. Just when he pressed the print button, there was a brief, bright flash as something sparked behind the monitor before the entire screen went black. He turned to the printer to see if the document was printing, but it wasn’t even lit up. He traced the cord and found a large hole that had completely broken through the connection. This was just one more thing that Tryps had taken from him.

Layne sat in silence for a few minutes as he tried to come to grips with what had just happened. He thought about tracking down a pen and paper to continue his memoir, but a thought stopped him. The Tryps had infected and devastated the computer within the space of a few hours. How long would it take before it spread to the paper? How long would it take until it consumed him completely? He looked at the growing spaces in his hands and was entranced by them. It was like he could almost see the holes growing and swallowing him up. He watched for what seemed like minutes but was more likely hours as the tiny penny-sized spaces deepened and grew wider.

He knew that he didn’t have much more time. Even if he did have the time to write something out, what would happen when that item was infected? Would it vanish alongside him and leave nothingness behind? Even if he could write something out that wouldn’t deteriorate, who would be left to read it anyway? There was nothing left to do. There was no time left to do anything. Everything was falling apart and he would be joining them in a few moments. He didn’t know if he had hours or days left on his life. He only knew that he didn’t want to die in this cabin. He didn’t want to lay in bed and watch the thing his parents had devoted a large portion of their life to building fall apart. He had great memories of this place and he didn’t want to imagine it becoming riddled with holes before the structural integrity was weakened to the point where it would collapse in on itself. Tryps had taken almost everything from him, he wouldn’t let it take this. He was at least going to choose where he was about to die.

Layne slowly walked up the stairs. Every time he put pressure on his foot, he could feel a stabbing pain radiating up his legs. He tried to ignore it and move slowly, but it felt like he was walking on raw nerves. He would have steadied himself on the banister but one look at his fingers showed that they may not be able to take the strain. He imagined putting his hand on the rail and his fingers snapping off under the weight. The holes now went clean through his fingers and it looked like the only thing holding them together was a few strips of skin and a slice of sinew. He reached the top of the stairs and moved through the disintegrating cabin towards the balcony.


Layne made it outside and moved towards the railing. He passed his father’s chair which looked like it would crumble away if he sat in it and came to a stop at the railing. The land below looked like meteors had rained from the sky and torn craters into the earth. As he stood there, he could hear the wood creaking under his weight. Tryps had probably made the balcony a death trap. It wasn’t going to be stable for much longer. He decided to move downstairs and out into the backyard. He could at least be there without worrying about the ground giving way below him and dropping him fifteen feet to the ground below.

The steps protested under each footfall, but Layne continued until he reached the bottom. All of this moving was agonizing. It felt like his entire body was covered in blisters that were constantly being ruptured and smothered with salt. The clothes rubbing and catching each divot sent tremors of pain through his body. It didn’t really matter anymore. Layne kicked off his shoes and shucked his shirt. He looked down at the mass of holes and saw muscles and bones underneath. He was past the point of caring by now. It didn’t matter what happened at this point, he just wanted to lay down and close his eyes.

Layne laid back on the grass and felt the air stinging his exposed flesh. He wondered if he laid here long enough if the grass would eventually grow up and through him. Would it weave through him and bind him to this spot? He dismissed the macabre thought and rested his head on the ground. He looked up into the sky and tried to suppress a chuckle. Layne failed, and it came out as a weak rasp of a laugh. He didn’t have the strength to really laugh anymore. He gazed up at the hundreds of holes opening up in the sky.


He watched as the holes slowly spread across the sky. It wouldn’t be long until there was no sky left, there would only be Tryps. It wouldn’t be long until there was only darkness and desolation here. Layne spent his final moments thinking about Courtney. She said that he was going to die alone, and at the end, no one would care. She was right. There was no one likely left on this world to care. It really didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Layne embraced that feeling of emptiness and let it spread throughout his body. A part of him wondered if that was the true nature of Tryps all along. It wasn’t a disease, it was the human condition made into something physical, something terrible. Tryps was apathy, it was that incomplete and inconsequential feeling that tugged away at you in the middle of the night. It was that hollow feeling you tried to fill with mirthful moments and memories. Tryps would ravage everything and not even the universe was safe from it. Layne waited for the hollow and empty feeling he fought all throughout his life to consume him fully.



Wr ten by EmpyrealInvective
Content available nder the CC BY-NC lincen e