The Labyrinthine Helix

This week’s Chuck Wendig challenge on his blog was yet another Random Title one. Where you pick a word from each column and that’s your title. I got 7 and 3, and therefore here’s my story, The Labyrinthine Helix.

Josephine had always wanted to be a scientist. Because she wanted to help people she said. It was what she told everyone. because it was the truth. At least that was the original idea. that was back when Josephine was naive and believed in an ideal world. When she believed her fellow scientists wanted to help people. How quickly  things change.

Josephine had believed what she had been working on, what she and others had called the Labyrinthine helix a gene modification project would be the stepping stone to curing most of the diseases and illnesses that affected humans.

Everything was going well. Until it wasn’t. Something happened during a coding sequence. Some little switch in a gene turned on. And that was the start of the end. It was so subtle by the time anyone realized something was wrong it was too late.

Josephine laughed to herself. Who would have thought something as innocuous as a slight cough would hail the start of the zombie apocalypse. she tried not to think of the fact that she was the cause of it. The labyrinthine helix was her baby after all. And her baby had mutated into a monster.

Not that they were the kind of zombies everyone thought of before it actually happened. these zombies didn’t eat people. So that was a positive. But it didn’t make them any less dead. The living dead people called them. But were they really living if their hearts had stopped beating and their bodies began to decay? somehow they could still move. And they still had some brain activity but not one that could be called human anymore. They were more like wild animals. And like wild animals, they needed to be treated with respect. you had to keep them fed otherwise they would turn on you even though they seemed to prefer small animals like chickens, rabbits and squirrels. sometimes sheep.

People had started keeping them almost as pets or working animals. They seemed to be trainable to do odd jobs.  But that was before they realized the mutation was communicable and sometimes it seemed like there were more dead around than living. They only had a fairly short shelf life. You could only be around someone that was decaying for so long. Then they had to be put down. It was ruthless and heartless Josephine thought, but then she remembered they weren’t really human anymore and you didn’t want them to suffer did you? They could go on indefinitely if their decay was stopped.  Was that really living? She wasn’t sure.

But she couldn’t place blame. Doing that would make her a hypocrite. After all, she had some herself as…she shuddered at the thought, slave labor. But could they be slaves if they weren’t really people anymore? They looked like people…depending on how much of them there was left that was. They wore clothes like living people. Only because to not wear anything would be revolting and she couldn’t bare to look at them.

They had had names, of course, but Josephine called them by their patient number. It depersonalized them. Made it easier for her to accept. She called hers VP1, VP2 etc. for Virus Patient. Except for two, of course.  They were a daily reminder of her failure. That she had not only failed herself, but failed everyone, failed humanity.

She stood still as one of her workers helped her to button up her lab coat. She had given up insisting she could do this simple task on her own, without their help. But they seem to like being useful. She smiled at the woman who was struggling to do up the buttons with her grey fingers, her skin not yet dead since she had given them one of her serums. That didn’t help the huge gaping hole in the woman’s left cheek that exposed teeth.

Josephine looked instead at the woman’s eyes once a vivid blue, just like her own, but now they had dulled to a stormy ocean grey.  She reached out instinctively to brush away a strand of stringy dirty blond hair. Josephine had tried to get them to wash their hair, at least in the nearby creek, but nothing seemed to help bring life back into it and it looked like dirty straw. The woman had reached the buttons at her chest but was having trouble with the last few.

“It’s okay, mother,” she said patiently, brushing the woman’s stiff paper-dry hands away. “I can do these on my own.

The woman raised her eyes to her daughter’s and what Josephine took to be a smile stretched across what remained of her lower face, her dry lips cracking.

In the kitchen she heard a loud thud. Someone had dropped a frying pan, again. She sighed and went through to the kitchen. “You’re going to make me late again, Charles!” she complained as she leaned down to pick up the dropped pan, saving her brother the difficulty of bending down and standing up again. Once you became a zombie, your tendons and muscles become stiff and unyielding, making what used to be easy, fluid motion very difficult.

Josephine stood, and grabbed Charles’ elbow, helping him upright from his half bend. He moaned a thanks. At least that’s what Josephine took it to be.

“Remember, I told you I can’t be late today. I told you and mother that the other day. Today is the big day. I have to get to work early, before anyone else. You know more than anyone how it is over there,” she said, looking at her brother’s eyes for signs of recognition at his past life. Charles worked in another section of the hospital from her. “You know how security is. Since…” She shook her head. She couldn’t think about it. She just had to get in and do it.

She wondered how long it would take for someone to notice a single vial of the virus was missing.

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