‘What the Hell was that?’ Jessie asked, her voice sounding dead and hollow in her own ears.
They had scrambled down the library’s narrow staircase, covering their faces against the red spores which swarmed after them. The memory made her feel sick to her stomach. Those things had been inside Melcom. Inside his rotting corpse.
How did he get up there if he was dead? What the Hell is going on?
‘You shot him, sheriff,’ Deputy West said, sitting in the back of Tom’s car with the librarian sobbing in his arms as they shot down the high street, the hint of a question in his voice.
Tom gave Jessie an uncertain look. ‘Did I?’
‘You missed.’ Speaking made Jessie want to vomit again and she clapped a hand over her mouth.
‘What happened then?’ West asked. ‘A bomb?’
‘He was already dead,’ the sheriff replied, looking at Jessie again for confirmation. ‘A dead man can’t detonate a bomb.’
‘Then what was it?’
The realisation hit her like a hard slap to the face. Her hand shot out and gripped Tom’s arm, making him lose his grip on the steering wheel for a fraction of a second. His face twisted in alarm.
‘Doc knows,’ she said, breathing in short, rapid breaths. ‘He knows what’s going on.’
They found Doc in the same place Jessie had left him, hunched over the report. He glanced up when they came in, not seeming to notice their pale faces, Emma’s tears or the vomit stains down Jessie’s front.
None of this surprises him. He knew before any of us.
‘How high did he get?’ Doc asked, his voice seeming distant. But his eyes were keen as daggers. They stared out at Jessie and the sheriff. Two dark, glistening points in his lined face.
‘How high?’ Tom asked, his brow creasing in confusion.
‘He wasn’t -’ Deputy West began, interrupted by a distorted cry crackling out from the radio on his belt. He stepped through the clinic’s door and out onto the deserted street.
‘How high up did he climb?’ Doc asked, rising to his feet and letting the sheaf of papers fall to the floor.
‘He went out the fourth floor window of the library,’ Tom answered. ‘How did you know?’
‘And the spores?’ Doc’s voice was almost frantic and Jessie felt the urge to back away from the old hippie. ‘How were they released?’
‘He…’ Tom swallowed and she realised for the first time that he was afraid. ‘He blew up.’
Enough damned riddles. How long does he think he can keep us in the dark?
‘What’s going on?’ Jessie demanded. ‘You know what it is. Tell us.’
Doc opened his hands wide and, to her disgust, he smiled at them. ‘We stand on the verge of one of the greatest discoveries in mankind’s history. Cross-species infection. You remember the dead man’s curious insect bite?’
‘It was from an ant. A very particular species of ant and one which was infected with a fungus. The fungus affects the brain, effectively taking control of the ant’s body like… like driving a car.’
‘What does it do?’ Jessie asked, feeling her nausea return.
‘Exactly what you’ve seen it do!’ Doc cried, clapping his hands together and making them all jump. ‘The host climbs to the highest point it can reach and then… blam!’ He clapped his hands again. ‘The spores are released to infect more hosts.’
Tom snatched the radio from his belt and strode outside. For a moment, Jessie couldn’t figure out where he had gone. Then it hit her. The people standing in the street outside the library. The other deputies. They were all infected.
‘Is there a cure?’ Jessie asked, feeling a knot build in her stomach as she dreaded the answer.
Doc looked puzzled. ‘A cure? No. There’s no need for a cure. It’s all part of nature’s balancing act. One species grows too numerous, too dominant, and the fungus cuts down its numbers.’
Nature’s balancing act? We’re not talking about ants any more. This is humanity we’re talking about. Cutting down numbers… all of those people are going to die.
‘How does the fungus make the ant’s brain work again?’ Emma asked.
Jessie had forgotten the library assistant was still standing behind her. It was stupid, but she felt a surge of envy when she saw how quickly the young woman had recovered her composure. Emma had the same intrigued expression as Doc, but soured by a twist of disgusted horror in her eyes.
‘Work again? No, the mind never stops working.’
‘Melcom was dead,’ Jessie said, feeling none of the satisfaction those words had brought her before.
‘Of course.’ Doc sat back down on his examination bed and picked up his papers. ‘That’s the problem.’
That’s the problem? No. The problem is thousands of people dying from some ant fungus. What the Hell are we going to do?
Want to know where the inspiration for this series came from?
The video below explains all… It’s well worth watching!