by Michael Pixley

 First place, fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

            I’m alone and am so terrified. My bones are rattling as if I am in Antarctica and the night chills are overwhelming to my soul. But where I am, it is lukewarm although you couldn’t tell by the pebbles of sweat that sit on my forehead. The bathroom is completely blackened as I lay down in the tub with the curtains closed. It is eerily quiet other than the steady “thumps” that continuously tap the door, hoping to make their way inside. I know that she knows that I’m here. I just pray that she forgets about me. Oh I pray.

            As the tears strain to leave my eyes, I cringe at the burning sensation that sits behind my eyelids. I told everyone, “This is an Apocalypse. This is the end of times,” but “Nooo, Alijah, you watch too many late night cartoons,” they say. Now it’s just me, alone, with blood-stained pajamas on and to be honest, I’m truly devastated as these colorful power ranger pj’s were my favorite and are now ruined. If I make it through this, I’ll never look at another Toy Ranger as long as I live. I mean it’s God, I wish those “thumps” would just go away!

            This all began the spring of 2020. I remember sitting in my 3rd grade classroom, listening to Ms Clark teach division. Honestly, math isn’t my best subject, let alone division, however, when Ms Clark uses food analogies in her math equations, I find it generally easier to understand. As she cheerfully showed 12 slices of pizza drawn on a whiteboard and began dividing it by half…….I first noticed something. A cough. It was nothing out of the ordinary but it wasn’t the arbitrary cough that piqued my interest, it was what happened after.

            Tommy coughed again and again and again…..until blood trickled on his bottom lip. “Tommy, dear, are you okay?” Ms. Clark asked nervously. The whole class looked at Tommy and was wide-eyed as Tommy slid off his chair like rain slides down a window pane and began convulsing profusely. “Oh, my God,” screamed Shanice. The children followed suit with their own outbursts until Tommy suddenly stopped moving. Ms Clark, at his side, ordered my classmate Bryan to go grab the school nurse immediately, while she ran to her desk wistfully to call the principal, Mr. Jones. My mind was numb with anxiety, and awe as I sat still watching the whole spectacle. I’ve never witnessed anything like this before, although my youngest sister experience mini asthma attacks occasionally, they in no way mirror this situation. Several school officials rapidly rushed in the room, attending to Tommy who was now breathing slowly with closed eyes and trembling lips. He was drenched in sweat as if he just got finished playing handball. That was the last time I saw Tommy.

            Things got extremely hectic after that day, and I can honestly say, things have never been the same. A week later, Shanice suddenly began missing class, amongst Jessie and Laura. The school informed weary parents that similar sicknesses to Tommy’s were reported in several other children from the same classroom. They were taking precautions by advising students to wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths if they sneeze or cough. Those precautions became futile when different kids (and teachers) throughout the school developed these horrifying symptoms. The superintendent closed the school in hopes to contain whatever germ seemed to be spreading. After a week without school, a news broadcast flashed across the television, shaking the nation.

            “A new virus is spreading uncontrollably throughout 15 states and counting, as many are hospitalized with cold sweats, flu like symptoms and a cough that induces blood,” chimes reporter Tasha Gray. “If you inherit these symptoms, please go to your nearest hospital to receive proper treatment before they worsen! And please, cover your mouths as the CDC proposes that the strain is extremely contagious.” I remember my mom’s eyes terrorized with worry as she glared at the screen. She glanced my way, beckoning me to come close to her as she reached out for my arm. “Alijah, baby, I don’t think I’m going to let you or your sisters return to school for the rest of the year. Whatever this is seems dangerous and I won’t let my babies turn ill,” my mom insisted. Little did she know, schools would not reopen. Not only did learning facilities shut down but so did restaurants, swimming pools, amusement parks and even National Sports abruptly halted as the virus took its toll.

            By the month of July, the world was brought to its knees. The virus now prototyped as “The Claw” (due mainly to the fact that people who caught the virus reported feeling a “tight constriction” wrapping around their bodies as if it has its claws dug deep in them) was monstrous to say the least. People would get sick, go to the hospital, get better in 3-4 days and leave perfectly fine. Or so it seemed. People who were seemed : “recovering patients,” began doing abnormal things. Some would forget their names all of a sudden and walk aimlessly around not knowing who or where they were. Others would laugh uncontrollably in the middle of their sleep until they stopped breathing and blacked out from a lack of oxygen. But the most interesting were the ones who complained how incredibly hungry they were, eating their whole fridge, even if the items were raw or uncooked. Then they would eat their fingernails, dirt, plants and worst yet, even their own pets.

            My mom began working at home (she works on a computer with numbers painted on the screen, (she’s an accountant ((I think))) and constantly monitored Angel, Asha and I hoping that we would never show signs of “The Claw.” One week ago from today, my mom was cooking my favorite meal, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, when we both heard a loud thud upstairs. “Baby, go check on your sisters, I told them to stop jumping off that bed,” my mom shouted distractedly as she opened the oven. “Ok, mom,” I chuckled. I ran upstairs by two’s and checked Angel’s room first. I could hear voices bouncing off the walls from her Ipad, that was sitting untouched on her purple dresser. “Angel,” I called out. “Where are you?” I heard a soft whimper and walked hastily to Asha’s bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. “Alijah, look,” Angel cried. What I saw made my stomach churn. Asha was laying on her floor, blood running down her eyes and mouth, as her legs were distorted at an odd angle underneath her. “Mom, come quick!” I yelled with panic oozing out of my voice. As my mom entered the room, she let out a shriek as she scooped Asha up and rushed her to the garage. “Both of you, put something on quick and meet me at the car. Let’s GO…GO!” she screamed. Angel and I broke out of our trance and put our clothes on hurriedly and ran to the car to accompany our mom and Asha.

            Arriving at the Washington Trauma Center (WTC) was a traumatic experience of it’s own accord. Doctors running around hectically with bloody scrubs and shifting eyes, nurses screaming names over clamoring patients and families huddled together, issuing silent reassurances to each other. The scariest part were the bright yellow space suits. Many hospital officials had them on as they attended to patients. It all looked so surreal. “Please help my baby. PLEASE,” my mother cried; breaking my thoughts and bringing me to reality. Many spacemen rushed to our aid, taking us immediately to an empty room, closing off the sounds of Armageddon. Two days in an insulated, air filtered corridor, Asha amazingly recovered rapidly. The doctors did explain that she was diagnosed with “The Claw” but suffered no major inflictions. With no cure to offer, she was ordered to drink plenty of fluids, eat lightly and rest as much as possible. The doctor advised my mom to bring Asha back if any underlying symptoms returned.

            A day later, things were grimm as my mom and Angel grew sick. They both barricaded themselves in their rooms in an effort to prevent me from catching “The Claw.” Yesterday, Asha began giggling in her sleep so much, it became a nuisance. I walked in her room to find her laughing so ridiculously hard, it looked like it hurt. I tried to wake her, but she flailed wildly, kicking and swinging, while laughing at the top of her lungs. She punched me twice on my forehead and just as I grew angry enough to slap her, she abruptly stopped. I called her name repeatedly to no avail and to my unerving dismay, I knew at that instant, I was going to be one sibling less.

            I ran to tell my mom about Asha until I heard a weird slurping sound pertruding from Angel’s quiet domain. I stumbled into the door and what I saw nearly knocked every ounce of breath out of my lungs. “Ali…jah, I…..can’t…..stop eating…..so hungry,” the woman who could no longer be my mother uttered to me as she stuffed handfuls of Angel’s innards into her mouth. What was left of Angel was indescribable. Because I wish I could forget what I saw, I won’t even begin to indulge in that painful memory. My mother rushed to me and grabbed my shirt with blood soaked hands. “Just let me eat one finger my love,” she exhaled. I pushed my mom away with all the might a 10-year old could muster and ran into the hall. I debated on going to my room and hiding in the closet but that’s the first place I’m sure she’d look. I locked eyes on the bathroom door down the hall and immediately sprinted towards it. Once inside, I locked the door and placed the dirty clothes hamper under the knob. I jumped in the tub and laid on my back, as I closed my eyes and prayed I’d wake up from this horrendous nightmare.

            “Thump….Thump….Thump….Come out sweetheart, mommy’s going to feed you. Aren’t you starving?” Her voice drips with a musical serenade that almost makes me open the door and believe she’s genuinely going to give me some food. Trust me, it’s been a whole day (I think) and my stomach is growling like a mountain lion. My mind is racing in a million directions as I contemplate my options.

            I cannot stay entombed in this bathroom forever. I’m sure my mom will eventually walk away. “Thump….Thump….” Please just go away! Who knew “The Claw” would grasp the world with a deathly grip, consuming anyone who enters it’s presence. It has left it’s imprint on society and I don’t know if things will ever be the same. The house phone goes off like an alarm for 3 long, loud rings and then suddenly it’s quiet. An engrossing silence enveloped the house that hasn’t been heard of in hours. She must have finally given up. I edge out of the tub and creep towards the door and gently place my ear to the center of it. Nothing. I guess I’ll take my chances. Before I lose courage, I move the hamper and turn the knob. Light brushes through the hall windows and it looks unnaturally peaceful on this unpredictable morning. I tiptoe pass the rooms and head down the steps. One step creaks and I hold my breath and stand as still as a Michael Angelo statue. Nothing. I continue my journey to the front door and I notice red hand prints smeared up and down the wall adjacent to the entrance. The door is wide open. I step outside without ever spotting my mom and begin running down the street until my legs burn and my chest hurts. I see an ambulance up ahead and paramedics standing outside of it in their flamboyant space gear. As I get closer, I see them placing a woman on the back of the vehicle, strapped to a stretcher. “Hey, that’s my mom,” I yell out. The paramedics look my way and begin to approach cautiously. I’m sure I’m an outrageous site. A little boy with soaked rusted PJ’s in the middle of the street with only socks accompanying my feet.

            As the spaceman begins to ask me a question, I hear a horrible sound echo. I can’t even believe my ears. It makes my heart stop in my chest, prickles of goosebumps dance on my arms and sweat trickles down my face. And then I hear it again and I know it’s all over. I’ve met my foe. It is no superficial being. It is an entity that does what it does best. As I cough once again and again and again…..I realize the tight vice grips squeezing and clutching at my body instantly introducing itself as nothing other than…………The Claw!

            The End

            I dedicate this to my 3 beautiful children Alijah, Ariyah and Aliyana. My oldest child Aliyana and I trade endless scary stories and I was so intrigued that I manifested this story through my growing inspirations. I am truly inspired by their creative minds and will continue to implement what I learn from them and place it on paper, in my heart and in my daily stride. Thanks for reading!!