August 13, 2014
In the Beginning
It rained last night; the fog is rolling through the hills this morning, blanketing the world in silence, while amplifying it at the same time. It shades the land, hides us from the world. Curls of fog wrap around the mountains, blending with the unmuted green to turn the world into a gray and black abyss. I can hear the lonely cry of a bird and it echoes in the fog. I love how the fog transforms the world.
I sit out on the porch with my morning coffee, having a cigarette, petting the dogs, when I hear the blasting break the peace I’ve managed to strangle out of the beginning of my day. A new owner has reopened the old coal mine behind the mountain where my house sits. They’ve decided the best way to get the coal out is to blast the top of the mountain off and shovel up whatever comes out. It makes my house shake, pollutes the area with noise from all the machinery, dust flies everywhere around me, and the whole thing is generally a nuisance. My day has barely begun and already it has been ruined. I can’t get away from the noise, with the blasting full operations have begun. The noise comes from the railroad tracks outside my door, it comes from the loadout a half mile down the tracks where machines work to move the coal down to the conveyer belt where it empties into the train cars, and it comes from the never-ending cycle of hungry trains with their squeaky, screeching brakes and other strange noises that emanate from the hunks of metal. There is always noise! Oh, what I wouldn’t give for those few minutes of peace to return.
I know it won’t be quiet for the rest of the day so I go back into the house, turn on the fan to drown out most of the noise and sit with my laptop, reading the news of the day. Time slips away, for now, and my world becomes the sound of the fan and the typing of my fingers as I write an article for the free-lance service I work for. Time slips away, and I have no clue of what the day has really wrought, what that moment of blasting will bring to the world.
Berwind, WV-1.7 miles away
August 15, 2014, 5:00 pm
On top of what remains of the mountain a lone excavator operator steps out of his machine. The machine is used to load the giant dump trucks that carry the coal that has been blasted from the top of the mountain down to the area where the coal is dumped at the conveyer belt, to be taken to the loadout. Because the man had stopped on an incline, he stumbles as he exits the machine. He lands hard on the ground, cursing as something pierces his hand.
He looks down to see something sharp, white, and pointy sticking out of the palm of his left hand. Around six inches long four inches of it was stuck right in the plump part of his hand. It was nothing more than a sliver really, not even a whole piece of whatever it was. Pulling his hand up to his face he thought the shard was a bone but wasn’t sure.
He panicked a little as he examined the sliver, he needed his job, he had a family to feed, bills to pay. If he had dug up graves the operation would be shut down. He’d been on other operations where work had been shut down due to human remains being found and his family suffered while he was out of work. He didn’t want that to happen again but he was worried about what was sticking out of his hand. Maybe it was just the carcass of an animal. Thinking he was the last one on the mountain and nobody had seen him fall the man took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wrapped his hand in it, hoping it would go unnoticed if anyone did happen to see him.
Climbing into his truck, the man finally realizes he has something dirty, something dead sticking out of his hand. As he tries to drive down the wandering road to get off the mountain the thought that he might need to have this cleaned up finally enters his head. He has been more concerned about losing his job than his health. Looking closer at the protrusion as he drives he can see dirt and detritus on the bone. His hand hasn’t really bled that much, which is surprising, but he figures the fragment lodged in his hand is blocking most of the bleeding. He stops at the loadout, clocks out, and drives on to towards home, which was in Tazewell, VA, about twenty minutes from Berwind. He thought he’d stop at the local hospital on the way home and make sure there was no damage, get it cleaned up, and head home. He calls his wife to tell her he’ll be home a little late, that he’s hurt himself and going to run by the hospital, but then he’s coming home to her and the kids. No, it was nothing major, he’d just hurt his hand, needed to have it cleaned up.
When she asked how he’d hurt himself he lied, he told her he’d fallen when he stopped on the side of the road to relieve himself. He didn’t want her to know he’d hurt himself at work; she’d insist he report it and the company executives would look into it all. He didn’t want that to happen so he lied to his wife.
He lied to the hospital when he checked in; he didn’t want them to report the accident either. He told them the same story; he’d fallen on the side of the road when he stopped to check a tire that was leaking air. No, he didn’t know what kind of bone shard was sticking out of his hand, but he suspected it was a deer bone, he said, and no, he didn’t want to keep it. He lied when he drove home to his wife and their three kids; to their two young cousins that were staying the night, and said the doctors declared him fine. Had no idea what he had brought into the world, to his family, to humanity. He lied to his family doctor the next morning when he started getting sick and said he’d not come into contact with anything that could make him sick. He lied to his wife and told her the doc said he’d be fine, again. And died three days later with no one being any the wiser about how the most devastating plague to ever hit the world began. Patient zero needed his job to sustain his family so he lied, it took him three days to die and die he did suddenly after a flu-like illness that he also lied about. Lies killed the world.
The bone was not just an animal bone, it was the shard of a rib, a rib attached to the skeleton of a man that had died over 1000 years ago of the worst plague to ever hit America, even if it wasn’t America yet. This plague had hit the native populations of America at a time when Europe had yet to invade. There were no newspapers, no television crews to spread the word, no radio or internet. Some stories were passed down through various tribes and generations of a curse that had befallen a certain area of the world, in the isolated mountain range of Appalachia. It wasn’t a large area, the size of homestead, perhaps, the site of a great battle between a fragile group of very pale-skinned, very blond people that had emerged from the underground caves dotting the region and a group of local natives. The natives won the battle and then the sickness had come.
The natives did not walk into the area because they were afraid of walking into the sickness without knowing it. As time passed the land was covered with new dirt and leaves, rain and snow made the landscape slowly change; the bodies of those that developed the sickness, left behind and abandoned, were covered and forgotten. The world forgot the area existed as time, war, and greed changed the landscape and the people that ruled the land.
Before the world forgot the place, however, the disease proved so deadly that people walking through the perimeter of the wooded area would fall sick within a few hours, in a day or two they would be dead. Before time covered over the place a hunting party moved through the area without knowing about the disease.
They all grew sick with only a few surviving the illness but enough did to tell the stories, of people just falling down with no warning, never getting back up, and simply dying where they fell, before those that recovered could even bring them home. This frightened the people so much, those who had become sick and lived and those that never got sick, that the area was pronounced cursed and avoided.
The bodies were left where they lay, nobody willing to bury them. The people that had survived the sickness were banished from their groups; the others feared they would bring the sickness to them, somehow. Entire villages were abandoned as people moved away from the survivors and the sickness the people feared they now had inside them. Over centuries the stories were forgotten, the bodies were buried further under layers of leaf-fall, and the area was once again populated with people. European blood mixed with native blood and the country grew into America.
The land eventually turned into hunting grounds for the Shawnee, Cherokee, and other tribes. White men moved in and laid claim to the rich farm soil along the river paths. Wars were fought, people died, people were born, and coal was discovered in the area. The land was invaded, mined, raped, and became what is present day West Virginia. A land of hardy people, descended from various races and populations, a slurry of rich and poor, living under the thumb of coal. West Virginia would become ground zero for an extinction level disease that would change the entire human story because one company decided that mountains were no longer needed while coal was in such high demand and because one man made a decision to keep his job rather than tell the truth. The few survivors of the plague would pass down a weak immunity to their progeny. For some it would save them from the sickness altogether, others it would keep from dying but they would not go unscathed. In the end, most Americans would die but a few would remain to rebuild, to carry on.
August 31, 2014, 10:30 pm
I don’t know what’s going on anymore. The world has gone crazy, that’s all we can figure. The powers that be pushed and pushed the “common” people until we couldn’t stand anymore. Now the cracks are starting to show. People are running around in Florida trying to eat each other, people here in WV are killing each other for pills and money to buy pills. Mothers buying groceries are sexually harassed by drunks in front of their children while onlookers do nothing. Crazed people are going into theaters and shooting innocent bystanders, or going to concerts and shooting each other. In other countries fanatics are going to summer camps and hunting children down and killing them for sport. It sounds like the plot of an Armageddon/zombie movie but it’s not, it is our reality. A very strange reality we live in, but ours nonetheless.
Drought and the economy have pushed up the prices of everything. People have been panic buying food for months because of the dire predictions for food prices this winter, which in turn drives the costs up more. We seem to be teetering on the edge of some calamity. One almost wonders, almost WANTS this to be the endgame, the destruction of humanity. With this new sickness sweeping the area we’re left to wonder even more, is this it? We almost want it to be, so we can get it over with and start over.
It’s come out of nowhere, one day a family went to the hospital sick, pustules forming all over their skin, feverish, the next they were dead. The only clue was the husband had died a few days earlier of some unknown ailment after receiving a puncture wound to his hand. Tests were done, nothing could be found, no explanation, no diagnosis. The medical staff and patients in the hospital quickly became sick as well, that was the rumor I heard anyway. That was the explanation for the quarantine from most people.
Rumors were flying all over the area from Tazewell, to Berwind, to Welch, to Bluefield, as rumors usually do. Nobody knew what it was but we were all becoming afraid. After the family died medical staff at the hospital became sick, and some people were saying there were sick people in Tazewell that couldn’t get to the hospital because hospitals were refusing to take in patients with similar symptoms to the first family that died. The reality was it was spreading and though many tried to protect themselves it was not helping. People washed their hands, covered their faces in face masks. It still burned on, however, none of us really knowing just how bad it was.
The local news barely covered the situation, simply advising people to avoid the hospital because it had been quarantined due to legionnaire’s disease. Tomorrow is the first and a lot of people in the area get their food stamps and Social Security checks. They’re worried about going to Tazewell, they’re afraid of getting sick. All we’ve heard is rumors but we’re scared. Nobody has caught it here yet and none of us want to be the one to bring it in. To get all the monthly groceries and supplies, however, we have to go to Tazewell., jobless or not Elijah and I fought last night; he doesn’t want me to go to Tazewell anymore. Generally I avoid shopping at the beginning of the month. He has his own money from being in the army in the United Kingdom; I work as an independent contractor for various internet companies, tutoring, writing articles and such. I’m worried, however, that this might be the last time the stores will be stocked for a while if people are going to keep getting sick and nobody brings more supplies into the stores. I sometimes take some of my friends and neighbors that don’t have a vehicle out with me if I do venture out at the beginning of the month but nobody has called this week, that worries me too.
Elijah would rather I just stayed in the area, shopped in War, but there are things we need from either Tazewell , or Bluefield which is over an hour away. We can’t get everything we need here, and if this sickness is going to last a while I only want to make one trip out. So we settled it with the promise that we’d both go, we’d both cover our faces and our hands, and we’d not linger. We’ll also be very liberal with the application of hand sanitizer. We’ll see how it goes.
September 2, 2014, 8:30 pm
It’s worse than we thought! We got to Tazewell and most of the gas stations were closed. We’d thought to bring extra gas cans with us and we managed to get them filled but it was like finding a needle in the haystack to find one open. Employees weren’t showing up for work and the rumor was that Interstate 77 and Route 460 had been shut down in Princeton. No traffic was being allowed in or out. Nobody had official confirmation, the news or police weren’t saying anything, again, but anybody that tried to leave, even from the rural routes through Grapefield in Virginia, was being turned around. No shipments were coming in and what we managed to find at the store was all we were getting for a while.
I’m starting to not only worry but be frightened now. Why aren’t we being told anything? Why the secrecy? Surely somebody has to tell us something, this is America, after all, we have a right to know what’s going on in our own back yards! And what if no more food comes in, or gas? What are we supposed to do? I have to go; Elijah just started coughing and said he’s not feeling well. Hopefully he’s only got a cold…
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About the Author
Miranda Bailey is an expert at multi-tasking and is not afraid to explore new roles. She is a romance author with a penchant for stepping into darker realms, a horror writer with a penchant for pushing the envelope, and lover of staring at walls as plots play through her mind. A traveller on the road of life, eagerly inspecting the odd things she finds along the way, Miranda currently finds herself an American in Portugal, learning about new ghosts, monsters, and demons that may find their way into her future works. She can be found poking globous wobbly things with a stick over on her website or you can find her work on offer at Amazon.