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Birds startled and flew of as the quiet before daybreak was broken. The scream started as a high ear-piercing pitch and ended on a long, dark wail. Mrs. Gilmore knew what it meant, she had heard it before. She had wailed it before. Someone lost a loved one.

Mrs. Gilmore dressed as fast as her creaky bones would let her, which wasn't fast at all. But eventually, heart palpitating, lungs begging for air, she opened her front door to be of whatever help she could possibly be to her neighbor.

The lights were on in the cabin across the way. For Annette to waste electricity in almost the dead of night meant things must be grim. 

Mrs. Gilmore shot a look at the small cabin to her left. She'd once saw a program called Tiny Houses and thought the homes were ever so cute. This little clapboard structure was smaller than that. But it was the place someone from the Watch stayed overnight to help make sure everything was safe in the little glen. The door stood ajar, and Mrs. Gilmore could see a recliner and an open book haphazardly laying on the floor as if thrown.

Reaching Annette's cabin, Mrs. Gilmore grabbed the stair railing as she pulled her arthritic body up the three steps to the porch. She heard a loud snap in the trees and stopped for a moment staring into the inky woods before speeding her pace up the final stair. An icy shiver ran down her spine as she reached for the silver front door handle and looked again in the direction the sound had come.

Mrs. Gilmore knocked, giving three short raps, and walked in. She reckoned no one would be around to courteously greet her, too much was going on for that.

When she opened the door, she heard weeping. Long groans and gasps. There was no doubt of the emotional anguish, and in an instant, Mrs. Gilmore was transported to when she had lost her own dear husband. The sharp ache sliced through her heart almost as fresh as the day he died. However standoffish Annette had been in the past, Mrs. Gilmore could understand this emotion.

Annette's living room was bare but neat. Just moving in, it was to be expected that creature comforts would be in short supply. The bareness of the room made it seem large compared to Mrs. Gilmore's own rather over-decorated living room, but in reality, they were about the same size.

Mrs. Gilmore later thought it was strange what one remembered after a crisis. When she walked in, she had stepped onto a small, though thick, entryway rug and looked down. It had a dark brown background and was decorated with large orange, yellow and red leaves. On it was written, "Happy Fall!". It seemed overly vivid given the mood of the room.

She realized now that her subconscious had already taken in the gruesome scene, and in staring at the rug, she was putting off the inevitable. But she continued to avoid it. 

There was a large canvas above the fireplace of a small sunlit field, horses, and cows calmly enjoying the day. 

Too many different styles of curtains covered the six windows Mrs. Gilmore could see, she wondered if that bothered Annette and if she should offer to help make her matching pairs.

The old woman's eyes inched closer to the victim as she examined the hardwood floor. They were in excellent condition, better than hers. 

The edge of one of the two tan club chairs came into view. Her eyes skittered away.

Mrs. Gilmore looked wide-eyed at Mark, the person on watch in their small part of the woods tonight.

"Mrs. Gilmore," Mark kindly said, "you don't need to be here."

She nodded her head but didn't move except to turn her gaze to Annette. The weeping woman sat in the second club chair, her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking.

"Mrs. Gilmore?" Mark asked.

Again, Mrs. Gilmore nodded as she let her eyes fall to the floor and slowly travel the wood floor back toward the first club chair. A bright rainbow-colored footstool sat at the foot of the chair. It was, in Mrs. Gilmore's opinion, entirely out of keeping with the rustic style of the place.

A man's dark brown hiking shoes, a man's legs, encased in jeans, crossed at the ankle were on the footstool. Someone just resting. Her eyes reached the hands that relaxed on his lap and skittered away. 

She swallowed hard. Then let her eyes travel back again.

The hands curved like the claws of a bird, at complete odds with the repose of the remainder of his lower body. And they were dark, not the bluish color the AgFlu caused, but deeper, darker. Almost black.

She stared at them, trying to imagine what would cause this. What had he endured? Why were his hands in such a disturbing display?

The man's arms hung normally at his side, his green flannel plaid shirt laid smoothly over him. Mrs. Gilmore deeply stared at that shirt for a moment, unable to let her eyes lift any higher.

She pulled in a breath and held it as her eyes continued, without her permission, to drift further upward. 

Mrs. Gilmore hadn't seen this man much, but she had seen him enough to know that his normal skin color was no more than tan. Now it was black. Not the various lovely shades that nature had bestowed on her fellow humans, but something sickly and abnormal.

His black lips pulled back over his teeth in a death grimace, but it was his eyes that truly frightened her. Opened wide, as if he witnessed a more terrifying scene than himself, what should have been the whites of his eyes were no longer white.

His eyes bulged from their sockets. Every vessel exploded with the trauma that they had been dealt. No, they were not white, Mrs. Gilmore repeated to herself as she trying to unsuccessfully drag her normal eyes away from his abnormal ones, any healthy color had been shoved out of them by another more insidious one.

The dark color of his face created a background that intensified the color of his orbs. Mrs. Gilmore gasped, not for the first time, unable to understand what had happened to this man. Skin as dark as night, eyes as crimson as blood.


Later, as Mrs. Gilmore sat on the porch with her arms wrapped around a mourning Annette, she ignored her shivering body and remembered what Doc said. But it didn't help. Her quaking had nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with what she had seen in that house. It was a sight that would never leave her.

Inside, Paul examined the man Annette called Bob. According to her, he'd had a cold or allergy problem on and off for a few weeks. Nothing unusual for this time of year, and it often took him a while to shake respiratory issues since he also had asthma.

Annette blamed herself for not insisting that Bob go to the doctor, but Paul wondered if he would have seen this coming. No matter what he'd told Annette, Mrs. Gilmore, and Mark, this was odd.

If this had followed an ordinary course of events, a cold could lead to pneumonia. But it should take at least a bit of time for this kind of cyanosis to develop. The man should have had shortness of breath, phlegm, coughing. None of which he had complained of or that Annette had noticed.

From the dead man's posture and face, it seemed to Paul as if he'd suddenly woke just as he failed to pull in a final breath. This had been fast, lightning fast. That was odd. Something Paul had never seen before. He chewed his lip as he contemplated the next course of action. 


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