Collin Englewood snorted with derision. Stupid old man, he thought, as he wiped off the counter where he’d been working for the past six hours. The lab’s cleaning crew would be in to decontaminate the room after he left, but he prided himself in his fastidious ways. His toe kicked the lid of an empty Petri dish and he scowled, shaking his head. Seeing no label, he tossed it on Dr. Flynn’s cluttered desk and brushed his hands together. There.
Collin left the lab a little after six in the evening. On the way out, he waved to the two receptionists who manned the front desk. They waved back and the cuter of the two blessed him as he sneezed.
Pulling through the first checkpoint, Collin dropped his identification badge during another burst of sneezes. The guard picked it up for him, wishing him a good night before opening the gate.
Collin was quickly waved through the second and final checkpoints as both guards had families and didn’t want to bring the cold or flu home with them. By that point, Collin was coughing spasmodically and his nose had become nearly faucet-like with its continuous running.
Before heading home, Collin pulled into the EZ Drug and Grocery two blocks from his apartment building. He held the door open for a young mother overburdened by three bags, a stroller, and a rambunctious toddler. In the wellness aisle, he picked up a bottle of Echinacea and helped an elderly woman by pulling an herbal laxative from the top shelf. The checkout girl handled his cash with her fingernails, not wanting to catch whatever it was that he had. Catching his reflection in a security mirror, Collin flinched. He looked like death.
The foyer of his apartment building housed a bank of mailboxes. Collin grabbed his mail along with Mr. Hartwell, Mrs. Glover, Maxine from down the hall, and the guy from 2B. The elevator was nearly full, but Collin was able to squeeze in next to Bambi, the girl who owned the flower shop on the next block. He tried to smile flirtatiously, but she swallowed in disgust at the yellow goo rimming the edge of his eyes and edged a step away from him.
Finally reaching his apartment, Collin fumbled with his keys, dropping them twice before getting the door open. The door remained open as he stumbled into his living room, dropped face-first onto his sofa, and passed out.
Sleep quickly turned into a coma as the C-143x permeated Collin’s system. His central nervous system shut down completely; its destruction guaranteeing him freedom from pain. His brain underwent what amounted to a rewiring, and its function was reduced to a primal, feral survival instinct. In six hours, Collin Englewood was little more than a walking, hungry corpse. The same could be said for the nineteen people he’d encountered on the way home, the forty-seven people they’d encountered, and ninety-six people beyond that.