Chemical Manila 7

Friday, December 19, 2008

"We really didn't know what was happening, not until it was too late," one soldier said to me as I stood at the overlook, staring at the hypnotic dancing of the distant flames. I nodded. I did not want to take my eyes of the flames. I felt if I stopped, I'd eventually have to face the reality what I was hearing.

I heard him walk towards my side, his boots thudding on the wooden platform I was standing on. "You lost many friends today kid," he said in a consoling manner, "but everybody here's lost somebody dear to them today too."

I didn't quite understand what he said but I looked around and saw everybody's faces at different a light. It was true, they all had rigid facial expressions, but the eyes of everybody around me had a certain tinge of sadness accentuated by the glow of the road lighting. There was well-hidden grief in their faces, even that of the foreigner lady.

After a few minutes, one of the soldiers motioned that we should press on. The group started walking on the road again in pairs. The soldier who talked to me stayed by my side, and I found some comfort in that. He introduced himself as Mario, a private from a regiment of the national army stationed in Mt. Makiling whose main role is protecting the forest from poachers, loggers, and the occassional escaped criminal.

At least, that how things were before this day.

There was still a long ways to go to the top, and I felt the need to start figuring out what was happening. The sooner I knew what was going on, the better. Half-hesitant, I asked him to tell me what had happened, and promised myself I'd try my best to let it all sink in, no matter how unbelievable it would sound.

Unbelievable would appear to be quite an understatement.

Mario told me how the situation had unfolded while we were in the forest.

It started that morning, when everybody woke up to see even the most polluted of waters of Laguna became sparkling clean. People rejoiced and called it a miracle.

Several hours later, people living near the waterways who tried to drink the water began to die one by one. People started running away from the water sources while panic and hysteria spread all over the towns. The local police force tried to contain the population but they were too many, too late. Various military units were deployed along the towns, along those from Mario's regiment.

Soon, the households far from the waterways started reporting people dying after drinking normal water from the faucets. The sick people were sent to the hospitals that soon overflowed with the dying, the grieving, and the dead.

The dead, however, did not stay dead long, as Mario grimly narrated.

A person who died from drinking the supposedly "miracle" water died a clinical death, but would later wake up, ravenous. People who self-resurrected appeared with animal-like behaviour, similar to patients suffering from late-stage Rabies.

Victims of "the miracle" had bloodlust, and wanted to eat any living creature it would set its eyes on, even fellow human beings. Those who were wounded by the victim had the infection spread to them as well, with the infection taking effect much faster than when affected by just the water. Soon enough, everybody was infected, and the refusal of people to accept what was happening led to one kin infecting another until very little could be done to prevent the spread of the infection.

The army eventually had to pull out of the towns. Those who could not were infected themselves. Mario's regiment was one of the lucky few who were able to move out in time.

I felt my knees become weaker and weaker as I listened to Mario's tale. His eyes were distracted, twitching left and right as though he were reliving what he saw. The other soldiers remained silent, listening just as intently as me.

The whole idea of finding oneself in the middle of a holocaust of such proportions is simply unimaginable that anybody would find it easy to accept that it was all a dream. That wasn't my case, however. I remembered how my classmates had chased me, and how Mr. Santos had killed off the soldiers from earlier. I felt nausesated once again, but only for a while.

After a few more bends, we arrived at a clearing on the road closed off with steel mesh fences as tall as two men, reinforced with sandbags at the bottom and barbed wiring on top. We went towards one area where there was a small heavy-looking paddock door. Several towers behind the fence illuminated the entrance with floodlights and there were at least ten men armed with guns watching our every move. A doctor stood close to the entrance, jotting down notes while glancing at us every now and then.

As I entered the gate, I saw a domed structure looming a few hundred meters behind a row of trees. "Welcome to our temporary base," Mario said while patting me in the back.

There were rows of army lorries parked just beyond the gate. I got to wonder why they had not used those to pick us up instead, but kept the thought for some other time. We headed for an army tent just a few meters across the gate where doctors examined me and Toffee, who looked like she was much better now than a few moments ago.

We were ordered to sit down on a table where they gave us bread, cheese, and bottled water. People looked happy everytime they watched us, and though I did not understand why, it soon became apparent that there were no other children in the base but us. At the moment, I didn't care.

I was just happy to be able to finally eat again.

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