An Illness in the Water

📅 Published on November 5, 2020

“An Illness in the Water”

Written by Elise Mathers
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 7.00/10. From 5 votes.
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Part One: The Beginning

I’m calling it Black Vein Blues. It makes sense if you think about it.

About a month ago it started, slow and quiet. I had just come home from school to find my father prodding at the corpse of a gator that washed up on the bank a couple of paces from our home. At the time I had been furious, thinking his redneck ass had killed it even in spite of the numerous charges he’d get slapped with for killing a protected species. Only when I approached did I realize just how bad it was.

The thing was bloated and pale, with ink-black webbing sprouting just under the skin. My father had been prodding it with the tail end of a fire poker so the belly of it had opened and spilled onto the ground, its guts a grease black spill on the deadened grass.

I remember retching at the sight and smell, turning away and cursing out loud for my father to get the fuck away from it. He hadn’t been too happy to hear his own spawn yelling at him like he was a simple fool so I ended up being charged with cleaning the thing off our property, but only after he skinned it to sell the leather once he finished it up.

He never got to sell it. He didn’t last that long.

Later that evening, after a long shower, I had gone up to the store to buy some things for dinner. Nothing big or costly, so it only took me a half-hour to get the shit and hike back. I remember the store had been eerily silent, all of the other customers lost in some sort of daze. Some didn’t even notice when I knocked directly into them, their glassy eyes flying to be and back to whatever they were focused. I wrote it up for being a sign of the times, what with the preexisting illness wracking the land long before this one ever touched the lands.

The cashier had been just about the only person with half their wits, but only enough to warn me to look out for sick people on my way back to the house.

Little did I know I would find out just what she meant the moment I entered my driveway.

There my father was, stood in the center of the road, completely nude and coated in inky black blood. It was like something out of a horror movie. His eyes had reflected in the shine of the headlights, already dead focused

“Dad, what the fuck is wrong with you?” I had asked, throwing open the car door and stepping

Something stopped me then. Self-preservation, probably. An instinct buried within my mind that warned not to go near the man drooling ropes of blood and mucus.

It was a good thing too because when he let out that animal shriek and lunged for me I had enough time to get right back into the car and slam the door behind me before he hit the metal behind me. He was so maddened that he slammed his face over and over into the window not five inches from my face, blurring the glass with the blackened blood.

I was so petrified I didn’t even think for a minute, just staring at the thing that had once been my father as it gored itself against the windows of our old truck.

My call to the cops had been frantic, and I almost thought they might not believe me until the operator let me know someone would be coming up to check the property in the next couple of minutes. I wanted to scream at them to hurry, but I simply shut my eyes and prayed the windows held up.

Then, as if it knew what I had done, it just stopped. I could see its white milky eyes through the haze on my window, watching me intently. It was the closest I’ve ever been able to observe one of them. I saw what the disease did to their body, bleeding through their skin and veins until it looked like they were coated with blackened cobwebs. They no longer had pupils or eye color really, replaced by bluish milk-white circles that shot from side to side as their blind gazes sought out who knows what in the dark.

He was so still and calm that for a second I had thought he might have come to, but then its broken jaw opened wide enough to hit its chest and it let out a shriek that pierced the night and shook the entire car before it turned and sped into the wild.

I hadn’t seen him since. Not in the trees, not in the town. It was as if he had disappeared off the face of the earth.

The cops had arrived an hour later but he was already gone, and so they left with a shake of their head, muttering about crazed teenagers. I wonder if they knew what they were going to be walking right back into when they went home later that night.

My father hadn’t been the only one affected, leading me to believe that it wasn’t the gator that turned him mad. In twenty-four hours the town had gone from normal to complete chaos. The disease had taken over, turning a good portion of our population into drooling monsters.

It attacks your mind first is what I think happens. Your brain overheats, scrambling like eggs in a hot skillet and leaving behind something mindless and violent. Not quite like turning into a zombie, but close enough to where some of the townsfolk went by those old rules.

Any bites and you get a bullet to the head. I witnessed that myself on day three, just when I had been brave enough to venture out into the silence. Needless to say, I stopped traveling out in the open after that.

From what little I could gather the town went completely nuts. The sane people turned right into something out of an atypical apocalypse novel where the people went right into savage mode in order to “keep order”. Law enforcement had been quick to interfere, but only enough to establish themselves as kings of the castle and wall off any resources the rest of the townsfolk may need.

From what I heard from the one actually sane person I met they had put away some of the people affected with Black Vein in the jail’s cells to “experiment” with. I shuddered at the thought of what that might mean.

Still, that wasn’t the worst of it. You know that phrase, the one popularized by modern movies and media. “What if humans were the real bad guy?” God, they were so wrong.

Nothing could compare to what those things were doing.

You see the difference between them and zombies is that they still are entirely human, or at least think like them. Even as they turn into slobbering, rage infested creatures they still have the presence of mind to hunt.

I’m lucky enough to have witnessed it before I got caught in one of their traps. In the middle of the night one day I had decided to use the darkness in order to head into town to grab whatever supplies I could loot from unguarded businesses. Just as I had reached town I saw them gathered in the middle of a road, looking up at something strung to a streetlight.

They were people, caught in one of those hunters nets meant to trap large game. Their wails of terror had filed the night as the three of them had been slowly lowered to the ground and promptly ripped to shreds at the hands of those monsters. They had taken their time, seeming to bask in the horror and degradation as they killed them one by one.

I couldn’t look away, something within me refused to believe it was even real. I had seen terrible shit happen on TV before, but watching your neighbors laugh and shout in delight as they remove the organs of people you once shopped side by side with was a whole new ball game.

It didn’t stop there though. The evidence of their rampages was more and more apparent as you snuck down the streets. There were stores that had been burned to the ground, others splattered with blood and gore. There were clear stains on the street where you could see victims had tried to flee before being drug into whatever hell was awaiting them.

I didn’t even make it to the store before I turned and ran all the way back to my house. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that day. Nothing could erase the memory of the horrific things I had witnessed, or the shit I would continue to see every time I gathered the courage to leave my home.

I’m stuck, utterly stuck in my decaying cabin. I can’t trust the water anymore because I’m almost a hundred percent sure where it came from. It would be the only explanation for the gator washing up with the disease a day before it affected our first townsfolk.

I have enough food to last for a while, but it’s not food I’m worried about. It’s the water. Even with my stockpile, I’ll only last the next month or so.

I know what some of you are going to say. Get the fuck out of there, take your truck and speed right out of town limits before you’re claimed too.

It’s too late for that. I saw the trucks arrive not hours ago, the barriers set up in record time. Anyone brave enough to go near them gets snatched up by the men in yellow or shot right in between the eyes.

I know well enough about our government to know those who got taken won’t end up well and safe on the other side.

I beg of you, if you have any information I could use to help myself out in this situation, please tell me. I’m running out of options here, and I don’t know how far this has gone.

Part Two: The End

I suppose some of you are going to be disappointed with me. After all, there is no good end to this story. I wish I could tell you everything turned out fine in the end and I used all those survival tips to flee into the woods, but I hardly had enough time to read them before the end had already begun.

Things have gone south since I last posted, and like the disease, it happened fast. It was like something sparked in the air, catching all at once and starting the blaze that would end it all.

It was rain. A storm so thick you’d end up soaked just by looking at it. I knew it was the end even before it wetted the very earth on which I stood.

There is something I should admit. I’m not entirely immune, as some of you might have thought. I just haven’t been claimed by the rage the others seem to have fallen victim to. My veins went black, but my head remained the same, a cool 98.0 on the thermometer.

I thought for a moment, even with the sickness taking root in every corner of my body, that I might somehow be fine. That I was just not affected like the others.

But then there was the pull. It had seated itself right on the back of my brain, whispering to my consciousness with every hour that went past. I couldn’t make out the words, but I could feel the impact they had on my mind as each time I felt the caress of its shadowed touch I’d find myself leaving my own mind for a split second.

Sometimes it was so strong I’d find myself opening my eyes what seemed like a split second after last closing them standing in the water right outside my house, staring emptily down into its inky depths.

It was part of the reason why I hadn’t joined up with any of the other survivors. Well, that and there was no way I was going to trust them when half of them were willing to put a bullet in an innocent if there was even the slightest amount of question about their behavior.

I didn’t even want to think about what might happen if I had the guts to approach one of those men in yellow stealing people right off the streets. They never took the survivors. They weren’t here to rescue us or to try and help us survive within our town’s quarantine. They stole the infected and shot anyone who they thought might interfere.

Perhaps it was luck or just some sort of twisted fate, but I had seen them in action, speeding into town in their armored little vans and grabbing the infected one by one. One of the ones taken had been the cashier from day one. I almost wanted to laugh.

“Look out for the sick,” she had said. Famous last words.

As much as I wanted to, I knew the best option for me was remaining hidden until something drastically changed and I was forced to relocate. Unfortunately for us all, that something was the rain.

Something drew me out of the house that day, that voice in my mind calling me to come into the open and see what it had in store for me. I didn’t think of my safety, or much of anything else. It was a mindless gut feeling that had me putting one foot in front of the other until I was standing right in front of the section of town that had housed the rest of the survivors.

Most of them had made their home in the town hall, the only stone and brick building in the next ten miles that could potentially protect from a threat like this. It had been a smart idea, being as it’s not easy to burn down a brick building, made even smarter with the obvious defenses they had set up.

Though it hadn’t been enough if my being brought there meant anything.

The doors were wide open, tables and barriers spilled out its large entryway. Blood oozed out of the building, its impossibly bright red color making still-fresh stains on the pristine white steps.

I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to see, but whatever burned in my skull didn’t care about my wants. It dragged me step-by-step into the building until I stood right in the center of the storm.

Right in the center of the screams.

They were everywhere. On the walls, in the rafters. Hundreds of infected sat laughing around the ring in the center of the room where the blood ran thickest. It was a bone-chilling laugher, one of pure madness and glee.

There was only one survivor left. A man, unfamiliar to me lay on the center of the floor. I won’t describe what they had done to him, for I would rather not inflict that terrible knowledge on anyone else. I will say though that there was no way the man should have been alive.

Not with as little of him as there was left. Still he was, eyes wide and mouth open in an endless silent scream. The blood in his mouth muted anything he might have been trying to say, but I doubted he could have done anything other than beg for mercy at that moment.

I was almost sick. Almost. If what I saw hadn’t numbed me I might have fallen to my knees and retched my guts out, but I was already long past that. I only watched, feeling nothing but numbness and pity as my ears began to burn.

For some reason, they did not attack me, maybe because they sensed the illness that had already consumed my body. Maybe they were so distracted with the show they didn’t care. Either way, it wasn’t a blessing.

I would have preferred death over watching them make playthings of the bodies of the last stragglers left of the town’s survivors.

I don’t know how long I kept going through the downpour until I found myself staring down one of the couple exit roads our town has. It was one of the places where the barricades had been set up, this one larger and made mostly for the purpose of keeping the diseased in and those fortunate enough not to be caught in the massacre out.

Only when I got there it was completely void of any meaningful life. No men in yellow, no military guards. Not a single sign of life, that is apart from the Black Veins.

I can see them standing there, completely still as if they all were listening for any movement. Only one acknowledged my arrival, its blind white eyes snapping up to me. It remained like that, completely still as it monitored my movements.

All of the Black Veins I’ve seen as of late have been doing exactly that.

Standing still. Listening. Hunting.

How many poor uninfected souls had fallen victim to them, I wondered? How was it I hadn’t? I had a million questions, all burning like hot iron through my quickly overheating mind.

As much as I wondered, I knew the answer. I felt the answer burning bright, right behind my eyes.

I don’t know if this has spread, or how I made it this long, but it hardly matters. It’s over now.

Time is ticking for me, this I know. I already see the veins in my arm darkening even further with the illness. I feel my very humanity peeling away like layers from an onion. Soon there will be little left of me but the vessel that is my body.

I couldn’t take the injustice of it all.

I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I stayed in the shadows, I didn’t talk to anyone. I followed the rules and did as my father asked and never got in trouble.

I was a good kid. So why is my mind filling with those sickening thoughts?

I see him now as I sit at my computer chronicling what I know is the final moments of my sanity. He’s standing out in the woods, completely still as he looks directly through my window right to where I sit. It’s as if he knows what’s come over me.

Maybe he knew from the start and he’s just been waiting this whole time for me to realize it too.

One thing I did think was weird that I thought you should know before I log off for good was that he wasn’t alone. None of them were. They had never been.

Look out for the shadows. That’s where they go to hide.

Rating: 7.00/10. From 5 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Elise Mathers
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Elise Mathers

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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