Death is not the end, but it used to be.
It started small. Microbial life. We, they, thought it was just how they lived. Something so small was almost expected to break the rules we had made up about life. When they saw these things, these tiny little creatures, come back from what was meant to be a death, researchers celebrated.
More were farmed. More were experimented on and more were killed. Numbers were needed. Answers sought. No one made the connection.
No one made any connection. When bats started to die en masse in a swamp not far from the labs, it was declared to be something else. Mammals weren't tested in those labs. The bats must have fallen prey to something else. A chemical leak or the wrong pesticides in nearby farms. Whatever it was, it wasn't coming from the ultra secure bio-engineering labs. Zero percent.
Most of the bat corpses were gathered in small piles away from their roosting places and burned. It was the easiest and most effective way to deal with them. A few, a handful, two dozen at most, were sent away to be examined. A collective autopsy. As usual, there had to be a reason. Not an explanation. An explanation would take too long. What was needed was a headline. Something to shut people up. Something to point the finger at. Something that wasn't important enough to actually do something about.
Something was done about the bats, though. Someone, no one knows who, claimed the dead bats, or whatever was killing them, was making other animals sick. Maybe even the children. And when you start talking about sick children, when you start saying that someones negligence was killing kids, that's when you get men in black suits on your door. That's when you get politicians visiting. House calls. It was cheap advertising and there was always something to advertise for.
No sick child was produced, though. A few sheep and some cows. But no kids. And the animals didn't look like they were affected in the same way the bats were. They weren't rotting before peoples eyes. They weren't just liquefied inside their skin. They were just dead.
The bats were just dead, the start of the report said. That was expected; that was known. The corpses of the bats were shipped to several locations across the nation. No one made the connection, but they would soon.
The second paragraph of the report said that they were all alive when they arrived at the labs. People thought it was a joke. There were noises coming from the containers. Some of the containers were opened and the bats were set free.
The third paragraph of the report stated, in hurried, rushed terms, that these were not the bats that had been sent. The dead bats, the ones that had succumbed to the chemical leak, or to the pesticide poisoning, they were small. Fruit bats. Almost cute. These bats, the ones that had arrived for their autopsies, were not small. They were not fruit bats and they could never be described as cute.
“They were like monsters,” a recording said. There is more to that recording. But it’s not for the squeamish.
No conclusion could be drawn. No headline would be written. There would be no answers. You can’t provide answers when you didn’t know the questions.
Questions were asked. Answers were given. Not then, of course. But later.
Video recordings confirmed it. The containers, which each held four or five corpses were almost bulging at their seams when they were unpacked and when they were opened giant animals flexed their enormous wings and forced their way into the sky. They did resemble bats. In a vague way. They had leathery wings, connected to the underside of their thin arms and down along their body. They had two long, strong legs each with large talons at the end. They were bats, just different. Changed. They were the idea of a bat if you only saw them in your nightmares.
Any person unlucky enough to be in the area when they flew up and out was almost guaranteed to get raked by the long, sharp claws on their feet. Some of the creatures were shot, but even with large calibre bullets peppering them, they just flew away. Many people saw the future then. These creatures, whatever they were now, they were out there.
They were out there. They didn't hide. They were seen everywhere. Within days they had exploded in number. From a dozen or so to hundreds. Spiralling out from the lab locations. Darkening the skies as they sought food and shelter. They fought each other for territory and prey. Farmers would find half a sheep, or a bull ripped in two and two of the bat things flew in opposite directions, each holding one end of the animal. No one ever went out at dusk or dawn. Their screeches filled the air as they kept their daily rituals. Farmers kept watch from purpose built blinds, ensuring their livestock were safe. Families with pets that lived outside didn't have that luxury.
The outdoor pets were the first to change. Cats and smaller dogs. The ones that weren't enough to feed the bats started turning up dead in gutters and in garden beds. Children would look out the window and see the beloved family dog almost turned inside out. They would cry and show their parents who would look at each other as if saying your turn.
And then the animals would pop like a water balloon. Whatever was left of their insides sloshed out into the dirt leaving just the skin and fur surrounding a skeleton.
If you saw that, if your luck was, is, that bad, then it is almost definitely too late for you. At that point the air is full of the microbes. Yeah, those ones. From the start. I told you no one made the connections. Not at first. Now it’s so damn obvious.
But if you breathe them in, and it’s impossible not to if you see the creatures pop, then they're inside you. Forever. Nothing you can do about it. No cure, no treatment. We can detect it, but we can’t do anything about it. It’s like rabies. Once it’s there, it’s there and there's only two paths to take.
Two paths. It takes longer with people. Humans. Something about us is resistant. Makes us fight for longer. But that's all it is. A resistance. No one has yet fought it off. Everyone who has had those things in them has ended the same.
Two paths. You know what they are already. You either incubate them. Let them colonise your body. Allow them to grow and multiply until they reach a critical mass at which point you die. All of your organs turn to mush and escape through whatever hole in your outer skin they can find or make. Then you change.
You turn into something.
The bats, they became a bigger, scarier bat. Still a bat. The dogs turned into something that makes full grown wolves look like poodles. Don't even begin to imagine the moose.
And us? Humans? Well, you've seen them. They've definitely seen you. They’re out there and they think. They plan.
That's why we have the other path. That's why we all carry guns with us.