The lobby is empty, saved for the light jazz music. The receptionist is gone. Bubblegum blowing, tattoo-baring old gal who wore make-up too thick for her own good. She is Pablo's ex-flame or landlord or something. Lost in translation. A nosy rosy as well. Insisting to check our luggage. Maybe the fat MJ asshole on the plane was right. Maybe all they want to do is to steal from us.
There is a bar across the street from the hotel and seeing that most establishments remain closed due to the influenza scare, he has to eat there. He wonders if he can get chicken soup from a bar? Sitting in the barkeep's counter and staring at the menu, it turns out that he can order chicken soup. But he didn't order any, consumed again by the thoughts of Dini suffering through a suicide attempt, medical resuscitation and a miscarriage all for the price of loving him... How could he get comfort food while his loved ones suffer? He knows that he can't stop fighting with Jen ever since they gotten married. As much as it sounds dainty that he have the love of two beautiful women, he is nevertheless tired. Soul-crushingly drained to play this game any further. He really wants to be a good person but every corner he turns, he has either been hurting Jen or breaking Dini's heart. And now, an innocent life was cost.
"Hey." Paul asks the strapping bartender, "What's your name?"
"Name? Gianni" The barkeep replies in broken English, "For what?"
"Since I'm going to be here the whole night. Let's just might as well get acquainted, Gianni."
Paul orders an assortment of alcoholic beverages. He knows that it will not bid well for his current condition to drink that much, and he is counting on it. He needs a good rest. A dreamless sleep where he will no longer feel his tiredness, his sickness or that spot where his heart should be.
At midnight Paul is still not back yet. He left a note on the hotel's dressing table that he was grabbing dinner, but this late? When Jen returned to her room and found that Paul was gone, Pablo and Nico offered for Jen to stay in their room until Paul is back. The accident in the afternoon was traumatizing. No one said a word for they simply did not know what to make out of it. Should they be happy that the boy survived the tour bus, or should they be freak out that he was alive when he shouldn't be?
The image of the bloody boy crawling his way up from the mess was too much for Jen to bear. His arm was a skin tear away from completely detaching from his shoulder. And goodness, so much blood! If she have to hear another word of 'Mommy' again, she might throw up.
Not wanting to trouble Pablo and Nico any further because she knows that they are equally as shell-shocked as her, she returns to her room. And there alone in a strange room in a strange land with an even stranger day, she waits for her husband.
At midnight Paul is still in the bar. There are sirens wailing all over Treviso. Long and short horns of ambulances backing up, helicopters thundering across the night skies and heavy armory rolling across the cobbled streets.
Besides Paul sipping his fourth Bourbon and Gianni closing up the place, all that remained are the two backpacking boys from Australia and an old drunk by the corner. The Australians go out to the streets to watch the midnight parade of chaos. They come back, all fired up and request Gianni to work the television to an English-speaking news channel. As Gianni surfs through the channels, every channels are either reporting news of soldiers rounding people up, looting, rioting, buildings in flames, experts in lab coat with grim faces or advices from the Italian Health Service. Paul gets up from his seat and joins them when they chance upon BBC.
The veteran anchor Price Gleeson is on. The usually ruddy and megawatt smiling gentleman tonight has an intense and somber look, fleshing out all his crows' feet and worry lines on the tired contour of his features. Thick red captions stream at the bottom with sentences like '...hundreds are looting pharmacies and hospitals for Aciclovir... '
"The World Health Organization has just classify the new MEV-type 3 influenza strain a pandemic." Gleeson reports, "This latest strain of the Mengio-Encephalitis family has estimated to infect over 50 millions globally. WHO will be working around the clock with communicable diseases centers from each countries to establish outbreak centers to identify, quarantine and treat infected individuals. Meanwhile, major cities such as Britain, Canada, Australia, France, China, Indonesia and Italy have joined Zurich Health Protection Pact which include plans to close off borders, airports and docks. More information about the pact is as follows..."
Paul catches the two Australian boys looking severely at him. They get up and move away from the television with hands on their noses as if Paul is smelling badly. "You have been sick the whole night. Have you got MEV3?" The one with a red scarf around his neck asks. He now ties the scarf around his nose and mouth.
Paul shrugs and puts his palm facing out, showing that whatever he is, he means no harm.
"Sickos like you have no business walking around." His friend with a Nike cap chips in and then he points to Gianni, "You best be careful there! You have been serving him the whole night."
"I serve you drinks too, didn't I?" Gianni asks.
"Let's just go." Red Scarf grabs his bags and pulls Nike Cap along. Nike Cap spits on the floor and exits the bar.
Gianni mops up the floor, "You should also go. It's late."
Paul looks at his phone and sees that he has 25 missed calls and two messages from Jen. She has been waiting for him back at the hotel.
"After this drink." Paul goes back to his seat and nurses his Bourbon, while Gianni moves to wake up the drunk.
Then - Bam! Bam! Bam!
Red Scarf and Nike Cap push their way in and almost tearing down the door in process. They look like they have seen a ghost.
"There is a mob outside!" Nike Cap cries, "They... they rush us! They just come around the corner and start to attack us for no good reason!"
Paul go over, "Are you injured?" The two boys shake their heads. Gianni goes over to lock the front door. He peeps through the binds to see what is going on.
"Seven, eight of them?" Nike Cap looks at Red Scarf. "It was such a blur, they were running towards us."
"Running and screaming." Red Scarf shivers.
"I can't see a thing." Gianni says as he tries to make out what's outside of the foggy glass window. Then a hand smack boldly on the window, startling him. More hands are piling onto the glass window with their fingernails scratching the panel wildly. Red and yellow goo are smeared across the panel.
"The door! Get the door!" Red Scarf screams as the doorknob starts to turn violently. The people outside starts pounding on the front door. Nike Cap pushes a couch from a corner and blocks the entrance.
"Looting." Gianni says as the television plays a scene of looters storming pharmacies and supermarkets all over the world. He starts to shout out in Italian to the looters, probably telling them that there are no medicine or food here. He goes to the back door where maniacally scratching pounding perpetuated there as well. "Unbelievable! This is crazy." Red Scarf moans. Together, they block the back door up with beer crates. Gianni moves behind the counter to call the police.
Red Scarf and Nike Cap move around the bar, opening cupboards and drawers.
"Hey! Hey! What you guys are doing?" Gianni shouts with the phone on his ear. It has a loud automated message signaling that the police line is busy.
"You have anything tougher than this?" Nike Cap asks as he tests the durability of the pool cues. Red Scarf holds up two Vodka bottles and whispers to Nike Cap about something they seen on the net.
The Drunk as the corner of the room gets up and captures the attention of the room by making disturbing retching noises. His face is bloated with puke, eyes rolling to the back, fingers crawling for his throat and he thrusts his chest forward and pukes. Dark foul smelling blood explodes onto the floor. He does it again more forcefully, squeezing out lines of blood from his eyes, nose and ears at the same time. It looks like his head is going blow up from the pressure any moment now.
"What the fuck is wrong with him?" Nike Cap asks.
The television is heard playing in the background where Price Gleeson is now seen on the news with a doctor. Dr Kim makes his presentation on how to identify a common flu from MEV-3. Thick red captions streams, '...new symptoms include - internal hemorrhages, personality changes, excessive vocal tics, accelerated mania, compulsive biting disorders...'
Dr Kim advices, "Do not come into physical contact with infected individual. While MEV-2 was considered transmittable with air-borne communication, the mutated RNA genome in MEV-3 is now transmittable through blood and bodily fluids. Complicated by the psychiatric symptoms of compulsive biting disorder, MEV-3 is reported to commonly spread through open wounds..."
"We need to do something about him." Nike Cap demands. With Red Scarf, they break pool cues into two, picking the ones with sharper ends.
"What are you boys doing!" Gianni smacks the phone back to the holder in frustration of call waiting and comes out of the counter, "This man here is a friend of mine."
Paul nods and says, "He obviously needs medical attention. If we could get through..."
"Save it, sicko." Nike Cap sneers at Paul, "You are just scared that you will be next."
Gianni moves in to try to talk to The Drunk which is about the same moment that The Drunk lunges at Gianni. Despite his compromised gait and frame, The Drunk manages to pin the taller Gianni to the floor. Nobody moves because they don't know what to do. The Drunk stretches his bloody mouth and goes towards Gianni's jugular, but is stopped midway when Gianni's hand closes onto The Drunk's throat. They squirming and struggling on the floor like a pair of jellyfishes out of water.
Price Gleeson then asks Dr Kim on the television, "From what you describe, the infected victim behaves essentially like someone who has rabies?" "Well, I wouldn't call it that," Dr Kim smiles, "but it is certainly a layman's way of recognizing the physical signs and symptoms of MEV-3..."
With his leg arching, Gianni boots The Drunk harshly away. He gets up with the blunt pool cue and yells something in Italian to The Drunk. It sounds like a warning. For a minute there, The Drunk cocks his head, spewing more blood from his mouth and scans around the room quickly as if this is the first time he realizes that there are others in the room. He clenches his bloody teeth like an attack hound, choosing quickly. With his ferocity, there are easier targets but he remains focused on the biggest man in the room, Gianni and bolts towards him once more. Gianni chooses to drop the only defense he has - the pool cue and readies himself like a goalkeeper waiting for the ball. He shuffles left, right, left, right, without taking his eyes of his drunken friend. Right on cue, he deflects in time, missing The Drunk's grip of death and moves out of the kill zone. The Drunk goes smacking into the window. Fingers, arms and legs thrash in from the window and grab The Drunk. With a united and mighty pull, they tug The Drunk, shattering the window and make their way in screaming for blood.
When the boys have a good look at the looters, they look nothing like looters. Everyone of them have the bloodshot eyes, pale venous complexions washed with dark blood from noses down. They are all sick. With mouths and teeth chomping wildly at nothing, releasing a symphony of retching and growling noises, there are at least a dozen of them.
This. Is where everything becomes a blur.
Nike Cap ignites a slapdash Molotov cocktail made from a Vodka bottle and a rag. He throws the Molotov at the window. However, the Molotov is already dripping fire before it is released from his hand, douses him with flames. Still, the ill constructed Molotov finds its way to the window and explodes a rain of fire burning the Sickos and effectively setting the bar on fire. Nike Cap screams and flaps around as he is now catching fire entirely.
The room now reeks of burning flesh. Barbeque in the bar.
The back door bashes open, sending crates of beer crashing onto the floor. A dozen of Sickos rush in.
Gianni pushes Red Scarf and Paul into a harrowing staircase by the counter. Two Sickos attack Nike Cap who is agitating around the room in flames, his shrieking is turning into muted despair. Red Scarf watches as the two Sickos engulfs in Nike Cap's blaze and pin his friend to the ground and chew his face. The rest of the backdoor Sickos follow them into the staircase.
Gianni is on top of the stairs fumbling to find the right key to the door. Someone roars for him to be quick. Gianni find the key, jams it into the lock, twists the door open to the roof. Someone screams in the dark passage and the three of them fall. The nearest Sicko has grabbed Red Scarf by his hair and bites down hard on his shoulder while Red Scarf grasps onto Paul as he falls. Paul turns to look at Red Scarf and sees that he has a funny look on his face. Red Scarf scowls and frowns painfully. As he is doing that, copious blood gashes from his mouth. His eyes turn blood-shot, pupils dilate and he grabs onto Paul's ankle tightly, trying to tear the limb off. The Sicko behind Red Scarf lends another claw forward and reaches maddeningly for Paul. With a jerk, Gianni drags Paul through the door with an impact that sends Red Scarf and the Sickos tumbling down the stairs. With his back pushing against the door, Gianni hollers for Paul to bring him something, anything from a construction pit at the roof. Paul runs back with a spade and they stick it under the door knob. The door bangs and pushes from the stairs, shaking the spade beneath it. They will break down the door in the next minute or two.
Paul sees that there is some primitive construction going on the roof, some scaffoldings and tools, perhaps they are trying to add a second level to the bar, but it looks like it has been stuck in developmental hell for a long time now. Both of them are pacing around the roof reviewing their options. The scene outside is a bizarre one.
There are tons of cars on the streets, congesting into a heavy traffic. People are running everywhere. Some of them regular screaming folks, the rest Sickos. There are a few helicopters in the night sky. Their headlights looming in circular motions as if the city is a prison. The nearest one, a few blocks down the bar is wobbling uncontrollably in the air. It is so close that they could hear the radio on the chopper squawking asthmatically while the bird spins around in the air. As the chopper spirals into the luminous glare of headlights, it appears that there are people all over the hulk of the helicopter. These daredevils are pulling and crawling on the chopper like ants on a lollipop. The chopper flies into a tall church and rockets a loud explosion fuming black smokes and bright flames. Then, a deafening siren throttles and pounds the entire city. The kind that says 'Danger, danger!' The choppers are now flying in the same direction, away from Trevsio, not looking back.
Gianni, the big man, now breaking into sweat grabs one end of a long wooden plank from the construction pit and beckons Paul to join him on the other end. They move the plank over the edge of the roof. Flanking the bar is another establishment selling novelty and souvenirs, leaving a man size gap between them. They flop the plank across the gap and start climbing on it. The door bursts open, sending the shovel flying away. Red Scarf is the first to run towards them, the rest of the Sickos follow closely behind, gargling and streaking blood and saliva. Gianni balances himself on the plank, dribbles and walks himself over the gap quickly. Paul on the other hand is inching on the plank and moves with his hands and feet. Red Scarf jumps at the plank and tries to grapple Paul. Gianni reaches out a hand hoping to catch Paul. Paul closes his eyes to the height of the buildings, and tunnels desperately towards Gianni. His heart is pumping mightily fast for him to concentrate his task. He feels everything that the horror has to lend, the thunderous siren in the starless night, the thought of falling to his death and the hot breath of Red Scarf closing behind him. The half a dozen of Sickos pile behind Red Scarf at the plank, rocking the balance. Paul takes Gianni's hand and throws himself over the edge of the plank. With a loud puff, they push against the plank and shove it away from the wall. The plank falls, toppling Red Scarf and five Sickos down the building, smacking them onto the sidewalk.
To their disbelief, two of them manage to get up and walk it off. They then run into the streets, joining the chaos, with mangled limbs and broken necks. Red Scarf remains motionless, his head has dived first into the pavement, smattering into bloody pieces.
They see that on the adjacent rooftop are several people still waving at the possibilities of a chopper rescue. Gianna shouts to get their attention. Paul's pants start to vibrate, his cell phone is ringing. Paul brings to his ears and Jen's cries to him under the blaring sirens to which he could not get a single word in at all. Jen. Oh my god. Jen is still back in the hotel. "Jen! Listen to me! Lock yourself in! Do not let anyone in! Stay in your goddamn room!"
"We can't stay here. I have to go. My wife is still back in the hotel room!" Paul wails at Gianni.
"No! I'm not going down!" Gianni shouts back. He points to the adjacent rooftop, "They're okay. Maybe the army will pick us up."
The folks at the adjacent rooftop start screaming. A few Sickos manage to break in their rooftop entrance and attack them. One of them determining not to be violated, jumps from the roof for a clean fall. She ends up like Red Scarf. The Sickos spot Gianni and Paul. They run back down the rooftop entrance.
"We have to go! We have to go! We're next and we will die if we stay here!" Paul blabbers, "The hotel is a fucking fortress. We will last longer in there."
They look down the streets. Hotel Di Nino is just across the street. If they can get down from the rooftop, hurries across the streets of vehicles and can be in the hotel under a minute. There are less people on the street now too. Gianni nods and they kick the rooftop door down.
Going down in the dusky souvenir store, they hear a rasping noise in the dark. They cover their mouths and move stealthily by the chests of the wall. Someone is walking around in the store, bumping into corners. That someone is coughing laboriously to death. They feel their way to the entrance of the store. The someone lingers towards them, under the scorching firelight from Gianni's bar, they see that it is an elderly lady, still in her uniform. Her badge says 'Welcome! My name is Eloisa'. Underneath her badge a metal key glisters. Elosia is inching near the door, attracted by the immolating bar. She doesn't seems to mind that she is bleeding from her facial orifices. Blood are tickling down her skirt as well. She admires the firelight blankly, making soft rhythmic noises from her swollen lips. Elosia is singing to herself. She is barely three feet away from them.
They have to get through her to get the key for the door in order to get out. Seeing that Elosia is oddly distracted, Gianni reaches out a finger to her breasts and curls it around the key chain. Outside, the booming siren halts and Elosia as if awaken from a long dream peers around for signs of prey. Her twist of motion causes Gianni's finger to get entangled with key chain. Gianni suppresses a yelp when the metal slices into the flesh of his finger, but it is too late, Elosia realizes that her preys are right under her noses. She snarls her filthy mouth at Gianni. Gianni pulls hard at the key, splicing the top of his index finger instantly, and pushes Elosia out of the way. He throws the key to Paul and run his shoulder into Elosia's ribcage, throwing her off. Paul twists open the lock of the entrance and turns to call out to Gianni.
Elosia already has her teeth sunk into Gianni's arm, biting off a hefty chunk. No. Not Gianni too! Not the strongest, fastest sane man on this planet too! Gianni shoves Elosia off and with a throaty bark, his eyes are now streaking blood and he manages a blank smile while looking through Paul. "Name? For what? For what?" Gianni repeats like a broken toy. He advances towards Paul.
Paul slams the door on his face. Sorry! Sorry! I'm really sorry, man! Paul sees a clearing on the street and bolts towards Hotel Di Nino. Gianni smashes his way through the door and goes after Paul. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I'm fucked! He sees an entire mob of Sickos, dozens and dozens of them coming out from every corners of every locations. They are waiting for me! It's a freaking trap! He dives headfirst into the hotel lobby, gets up and watches the feral mob fighting through the lobby entrance to get him. Their howling attracts the rest of the Sickos from the hotel and more are pouring down the stairs from level two. Paul is fatally outnumbered and surrounded.
He dashes into the caged elevator which is located at the center of the lobby and slams the metal door shut. The mob closes in, pressing their grotesque features onto the pocketed steel of the cage and squeeze their greedy hands in. Their fingers wringing for Paul's flesh.
It's like a shark cage on dry land.
Struggling to hold the cage doors together, Paul knows that the elevator has to move for him to save his life. He boots the elevator button to his level and the floor indicator on top lights up. The cage is now bent out of shape and is groaning in metallic agony with the bearing and thrashing weight. Still with that dumb smile on his bloody face, Gianni rips manage a corner of the cage awry to his hymn of "Name? Name? For what?"
The elevator jerks in a retaliation disgust, speeds upwards and lacerates their wringing arms off in the process.