The End Came With a Kiss(10)

By: John Michael Hileman


Helen’s face soured. She still didn’t believe him, but she didn’t have the belly to prove him wrong. Cartwright put the knife back in his pocket and proceeded to wipe more of the blood off his cheek as he made his proposal. In his estimation, the world wasn’t ready to hear all of what his product could do, and it wouldn’t be profitable to give it to them all at once. Instead, he proposed a rollout. Beauty creams, health supplements, cold elixirs—as he put it. With each product the company would get richer, and the world would slowly accept the possibility of becoming something new. Something more than human.

But what my company created did not have the same effect as the original organic substance. What we created did not bring eternal life. It brought eternal death.

My eyes refocus on Ashlyn. "They’re not turning into something else. The change is done. They just can’t die—you know—completely."

She tilts her head. "What do you mean?"

I pause, but only for a second. I know where this questioning is going. But there is no sense in hiding what I know or my involvement in all this. She’s going to find out anyway. It’s best to rip the Bandaid off quickly.

"Your observation is impressive," I say, choosing my words. "Most people think this is a disease. You’re the first person I’ve seen who recognizes that it’s much more."

"You make it sound like you know what’s going on."

"Sadly, I do. My company created this."

As the words leave my mouth, I fully expect disgust to appear on the face of my guest. After all, it disgusts me what I’ve done. How many people have suffered and died because of my short-sighted meddling. But there is no response in her countenance. Does she not believe me? No. There would be doubt in her eyes. Maybe she’s in shock.

"Wow," she says at last, snapping her head back. "I don’t know what to do with that."

"Yeah," I say, stuffing my hands in my pockets. "I don’t know what to do with it either."

"So what are we talking about here? I mean, cause, like, you don’t look like an evil mastermind. So what… Did you stumble onto this or something?"

"The lab I work for is mostly R&D for a major pharmaceutical company. We monetize developments in science."

"So all this is like a beauty cream gone wrong?"

"That’s a pretty precise guess," I say. Not hiding my suspicion.

She looks at me as if I have bugs on my face. "Hello? Have you looked around? They’re all pinups."

Her teasing expression makes me laugh. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to grill you."

"Is there a lot of espionage in your line of work?"

"We do tend to keep our guard up."

She got to her feet. "Well if anyone should be suspicious, it should be me. Here I thought you were just some guy in a parking garage, and now I find out you're the one who turned everyone into veg heads."

"Not single handedly," I point out.

"Still," she says, leaning back against the wall, folding her arms. "You were involved."

"Yeah. I was involved."

"So, are you going to, like, fix this?"

"We’re hoping."

"We?"

"Yeah. Me and the others."

"A bunch of you survived?" She rolls her eyes. "Of course you did. You made this thing."

"Only three of us survived, that I know of."

She turned her head. "Sorry."

"No. It’s no problem." It is my intent to keep going, to apologize for my role in all that has happened, but I’m interrupted by the distant squawk of my ham radio. I turn and head through the kitchen.

"What is it?" she says, following.

"It’s the radio." I flick on the light as I head down into the basement.

I hear her voice behind me. "Whoa! Looks like you were prepared." Her wide eyes scan the room when she gets to the bottom.

"This house belonged to a friend of mine. He was a bit of a nut. He was always talking about the end of the world. That’s why he built this. It’s reinforced with steel and has an air filtration system in the wall."

"He has everything," she says, picking up a package of batteries from one of the shelves lining the wall. "Food. Guns. Ammo."