A chill breeze blew across the sleeping village, plucking leaves from the orange tree and casting them onto the ground. A full moon shone overhead.
A dog howled, and then was joined by others.
In his room, Uwadiegwu shivered on the bed and crossed himself. The breeze rushed in from under the door and around the window shutters, rattling them. He pulled his covering wrapper over his head and tucked the edges tight around his body.
Uwadiegwu froze. The hairs on the back of his hands rose sharply.
‘Uwa, are you awake?’ The voice was closer.
He had not heard Kenechi come in, but now that he recognised her voice, Uwa relaxed.
‘Yes Kene,’ his throat was dry and the words scratched the back of it; he swallowed. ‘What are you doing out of bed?’ he dragged the wrapper from his face and sat up.
‘I saw Papa again.’ Kene said. ‘He was trying to tell me something, but every time he opened his mouth all that came out was a groan.’
‘Come here,’ he beckoned and when Kene was nestled in his arms he said in a soft voice, ‘Papa is dead. I know you miss him, I miss him too. But he is not coming back.’ His voice broke.
He felt a tremor run through Kene and he looked down at her.
‘I am afraid.’
Uwa felt her fear too, but he was the older brother, the man of the house now; he was not allowed to admit to being afraid.
‘I wish the dogs would not howl so. I wonder what is bothering them.’
Out in the forest where the bodies of those that died from the bleeding sickness were cast, the earth shifted. Rich, dark brown loam and dewy foliage fell into crevices as the forms moved.
A bony hand, gnawed by some animal, moved. It was bathed by the white light of the moon, and was followed by another. A low moan emanated from the ground, as though from the belly of the earth. The forest floor seemed to come alive as, one by one, the bodies scattered across the forest floor took on a semblance of life and began to rise.
They headed towards the village, swaying as they walked, their legs wooden, arms dangling and heads lolling forward. Strips of flesh dangled from their limbs and face as they moved, and bones showed through in some places. A few were dressed in rags now coated in the reddish-brown of the village sand, but for the most part they were naked.
The rain beating against the window pane roused Zite. He cast the duvet off and rolled out of bed. In the bathroom, he soaped his hands and let the hot water rinse the suds off. He splashed some water on his face and mopped the droplets up with a towel.
Back in the room he turned on the TV and, on the news, a female correspondent was reporting live from one of the health centres in the outskirts of town.
Rain lashed at her and the wind tugged at her clothes, blowing her hair in every direction. Words were torn from her mouth by the wind so that only snatches of chatter was heard over the howl of the wind.
Zite felt the now familiar kick in his gut every time he saw her and his lips curled. They had dated when both their careers were just starting and had been in love. But between the crazy hours they worked, and the demand of their jobs, it was only a matter of time before they gave in and packed the relationship up. The split was her idea, and Zito had resented her for it.
Amina clutched the raincoat tight around her neck and blinked back the rain as it stung her eyes; it was the first rain of the year. The torrents of falling water would have been easier to bear if the almost gale force wind had not decided to play escort.
She struggled for a semblance of composure, trying hard to project her voice above the howling.
Zite worked at the Centre for Tropical Diseases, and was currently researching a cure for Ebola Virus Disease.
Two months ago cases of haemorrhaging and fever were reported in parts of the city. It presented with the same symptoms as the Ebola Virus, but there was a quicker onset of some complications usually experienced only in prolonged cases: hair loss, a swelling of the genitals, peeling skin, hyper sensitivity to light, excess tearing and in some cases, blindness.
This was the largest outbreak since the one in 2014 when the region was still broken into countries and several of them were affected.
After Nigeria’s success dealing with the virus, the leaders of the countries of the region came together and, through their concerted efforts, the outbreak was contained. A vaccine, CRADA was developed by a team of the region’s brightest virologists. Back then they were called Crucell. CRADA proved successful against the Ebola Virus.
CRADA did nothing for this current strain though, or so they thought, and it confounded the scientists at the CTD.
The fat which typically encased the Ebola Virus was absent here, making it less susceptible to alcohol or chlorine.
Zite’s team of researchers made a startling discovery two nights ago, but were sworn to secrecy until they had irrefutable proof.
Something in the vaccine mutated this strain of the virus which, when introduced into some mice, put the mice in a catatonic state and they acted in a bothersome way.
Now, watching the live feed on the news from the health centre, a feeling of dread came over Zite.
As he watched he thought he heard a groan carried on the wind.
The door of the health centre hissed open and there was that groan again.
Amina must have heard it because a frown crossed her face. She whipped her head round and the image on the TV wavered as the motion sensitive HoverCam3000 moved with her.
Mist swirled, rising from the ground up and out of that mist a ghostly figure appeared in the doorway. It stood there a moment, its limbs hanging limply by its sides and its head lolled. Zite looked on in shock as it reached a bony hand towards Amina who let out a screech.
Goosebumps broke out all over Zite’s arms.
The image shook and soon became a whirring blur as the HoverCam3000 followed Amina who was running out of range of the ghoulish figures, more of which were now coming through the door, their movement tentative, their eyes vacuous.
Zite walked to the drawer beside his bed, picked up a black earpiece which he plugged in his ear. He tapped the screen on the wristwatch from beside which he had picked the earphone. The dark screen dissolved and a bluish white light cast its glow on Zite’s features. He tapped the screen again and waited, his head cocked.
‘Hello,’ he said into the mic that extended from the earpiece. He listened for a moment before continuing. ‘Are you watching the news? It is beginning…’