Jeff Parsons

The January Editor's Pick Writer is Jeff Parsons

Feel free to email Jeff at: jeff_95630@yahoo.com


by Jeff Parsons

He woke up.

His face was mashed up against a cold slab of dirty, gritty, concrete pavement. A mottled brick wall was close to his head. He was laying in a puddle of sour smelling urine, and something dark—blood. 

That’s when the pain hit him. All at once, all over, there was no escaping it. His head radiated the most pain. It was a pounding behind the eyes, like lava seeking a way out, shifting between his temples with each movement of his head.

Where am I?

Dazed, blinking, lost between the city’s glaring lights and dark shadows, he found himself inside an alleyway, about a body’s length away from a busy street’s sidewalk. The relentless chatter of night people and honking taxicabs echoed in the steamy air.

He was disoriented, not knowing the time. His watch was gone. And the familiar bulge of his wallet was also absent. He couldn’t feel the shoes on his feet. Maybe they were gone, too.

He turned his head slowly and looked behind him.

Farther down the alleyway, there were other people slumped against the walls or sprawled beneath the garbage. Derelict drunkards by the looks of them.

His body ached, stiff and raw, wracked with pain. He coughed and spit up a massive wad of blood; sticky and gooey, it dribbled in rivulets down his chin. He tried to roll over, but there was no way in hell—it hurt too much. Maybe some ribs were broken.

The flash of streetlights strobed intermittently through the parade of people walking past the alley’s entrance. Staring directly at the lights elevated his headache to a new level. His gut clenched and up came a black-speckled spray of bloodied vomit. Weak and dizzy, he consequently passed out again.

He woke up to the dry heaves. More blood coated the pavement. Throwing up blood was bad. It was called hematemesis. He knew that—somehow.

How do I know that?

Yes, he knew about medicine. That was it. He was involved with medicine—a lab technician? A nurse? A doctor?

He began to cough up more blood. He tried to clear away the frothy phlegm from his lips, but when he reached for his mouth, his arm muscles cramped up. He groaned through cracked lips as he let his arm droop back to his side.

And still, the people walked by, ignoring him and his occasional moans for help—so typical of big city people. That was it. He was in New York City. The revelation brought him no joy.

He felt his throat become swollen and sore and his lungs were clogged. He couldn’t seem to take in enough air. He needed to sit up. A burst of feverish throbbing made his head swoon with dizziness and his movements sent scorching bolts of agony throughout his sweaty body. Still he persisted, and he was able to push himself up into a sitting position against the wall. He coughed violently, and out came a thick blob of coagulated black blood.

Able to breathe again, he gazed at his dark reflection in a puddle. Underneath the purple bruises, his swollen face had an odd expression, almost as if a porcelain doll’s face had been cast in a gaping of intense suffering. And, most startling, bulging from his crusted eyelids were fiery red eyes. They looked like they were about to fall out.

He probed his abdomen with his fingers. He’d been hurt badly by a group of punks, at least a dozen of them. Now he remembered. They had surprised him at the nearby subway entrance. They had quickly beaten him, robbed him and left him for dead, tossed into the alley. 

If only he could get some assistance from a passerby, but he was in a dangerous-looking alleyway, and to them, he probably looked like a wino.  

Moving slowly, he reached up and touched his tender head. Underneath his matted hair, there was a large, angry bump, a concussion in the very least. Hopefully, there would be no permanent brain damage.

He knew about brain damage. He definitely had some medical knowledge.

Who am I?

His name, his name was…

William Chung!

William's foggy thoughts were violently interrupted as his body shuddered with another onset of wet coughing. As the coughing fit subsided, he reached out to the crowd of people passing by. They continued to ignore his feeble attempts at getting attention, walking past him briskly.

His memories were coming back to him. It occurred to him that he was suffering from short-term amnesia. He knew that because he was a Medical Technical Specialist.

But how did he wind up in New York City? He knew he lived in Minneapolis. Wait—he worked in New York City.

Why am I here next to the subway?

William closed his tired eyes and struggled to remember.

After a few moments, it all came back in a startling flash of recollection.


William was a technical specialist in a small private R&D lab undertaking classified viral DNA work for the U.S. government. When government cutbacks left the lab without work, his boss was forced to lay off everyone except William, who was needed to close down the project.

On the last business day, his boss was contacted by a business interest. The potential client had some Pentagon R&D work that needed to be completed despite the widespread government cutbacks. They offered just enough money to keep the lab going and the two of them employed. His boss took the contract, even though the lab work involved mutating the Zaire Ebola virus. The virus was classified as a Biosafety Hazard IV pathogen because it was extremely contagious and had up to a 90 percent lethality rate.

His boss was confident their lab containment setup could be quickly upgraded with some procedural modifications. They would simply have to be extremely precise, careful and conscientious. They wore a special respirator mask that filtered airborne particles, called an N95 mask, and also wore pressure suits.

After signing a surprisingly short stack of paperwork, they received a secure travel case of Zaire Ebola virus samples and a standard document of generic lab safety procedures.

Even with the space suits, the entire situation seemed far too lax in its security protocols. This was a deadly virus, after all. There were no high-level containment rooms that had negative air flow and no chemical showers for emergency decontamination.

But then again, it was work, so it was best not to ask too many questions. Especially since it was the military that contracted for them.

After two months of creative frustration, they got lucky. Extremely lucky. They created an unexpected mutation, a variant of the Ebola. When they tested it, the lab rats died within the same day of exposure. The contact and airborne transmission vector had an estimated 100% lethality rate. Quick and deadly.

William and his boss were ecstatic—they had created nature’s ultimate weapon. Better yet, they controlled it. The knowledge gained from future experiments would also provide a wonderful opportunity to advance the field of virology.

And only they had the cure.

With unrestrained enthusiasm, his boss contacted their employer and explained the successful outcome. The response was rather unexpected. Representatives of the business interest would be coming by within the hour to collect all of the samples, including the new strain, along with any related documentation. His boss objected strenuously, saying that variant Ebola needed to be further studied. They hung up on him in mid-sentence.

With sad resignation, his boss told him to prepare the virus samples for shipment and meandered away to collect the documentation.

Something was wrong with these people. They just didn’t understand how important it was to learn from this work. William decided not to let them have the virus. The future of viral R&D was at stake.

He quickly did what he had to. And without the boss being able to see him. William slipped into a bio-environmental suit and entered the isolation room’s airlock. After a disinfecting cycle, he left the airlock and walked to the storage refrigerator. He removed the stubby glass vials of variant Ebola, placed them inside a biohazard bag and made sure the seal was perfect. He then created new vials that looked like the variant Ebola vials. These he left inside the refrigerator as replacements.

After leaving the isolation area and removing his suit, he placed the bag in his shirt pocket and exited the building through the back door. As the door eased closed behind him, he heard yelling and some of it was his boss’ voice, shrill with fear. And gunshots. 

Terrorists! I have to run for my life!

William bolted.

Maybe the feds could protect me?

They wouldn’t use the variant Ebola for medical R&D. They’d use it in their weapons arsenal. That was unacceptable.

He had always been altruistic. He had always believed in the greater good. It was his passion.

Maybe he could force the government to be sensible? They’d have to listen to him if he threatened to release the virus. With this kind of absolute power, maybe he could demand an end to all worldwide violence? Then people would finally be able to care about each other. He could do it. Because he’d be the one in charge!

He was about to enter a subway entrance when something hit the back of his head.


The tragic memory haunted him. He noticed that his thoughts were rapidly becoming scattered, fuzzy and tenuous. 

As he opened his eyes to watch the New Yorkers go about their lives, he wondered about his earlier plan. He wasn’t so sure about what to do now. He was confused.

This virus is too dangerous. In the wrong hands, he thought, just before he hacked up a chunky stream of blood, and then continued to cough again many times, gagging with a shaky rattle, trying to clear his lungs.

In the midst of his convulsive outburst, he witnessed a young woman approaching the dark alleyway entrance with alarmed trepidation, saying something comforting, reaching a hand out to him, but being pulled back at the last moment by her group of friends, one of whom said William was drunk and to leave him be.

The spastic cough stopped.

Damn, those muggers beat the crap out of me. Wait, something else is going on here…

The rats. The lab rats had the same initial symptoms he had right now…

The rats had bled out everywhere, from every orifice, including the dark unseen spaces within the body, shutting down vital organs, filling the lungs; a certain death by hemorrhagic nightmare.

Oh no…

He slowly reached for the vials in his shirt pocket. His shirt pocket was damp and no longer bulging—jagged glass shards poked through the shredded fabric into his hand. The bio-bag had not protected them.

The vials were broken! The virus had been released. Airborne, for hours and hours, before a constant stream of people passing by! And it was near a subway access stairwell.

Oh my God—the subway!

In Zaire, the virus’ origin, the contagion wouldn’t have spread beyond any of the small isolated villages because anyone infected would be dead before they reached another village. Here, in the Big Apple, it would spread like a raging firestorm.

William had been a fool with naive dreams of creating his own benevolent dictatorship. He had caused this tragedy. He simply hadn’t counted on getting mugged—how appropriate that the senseless arrogance and cruelty of mankind has caused its own downfall. The vaccine cure was in one of the busted vials, unusable.

WiIliam’s vision became sporadically blurry as he slumped onto the cold concrete.

Sometime later, through a bewildering mental haze, he realized that someone was kicking him in the leg, trying to rouse him, apparently. It was a cop. One who gasped and quickly withdrew several steps after rolling William over.

William went unconscious then awoke again.

He saw a flicker of hazy images. EMTs hovered over him, an oxygen mask approached his face and cops held back a curious crowd.

He finally succumbed to eternal sleep.

The world began the process of dying along with him.

Jeff Parsons has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He is well-known for being unnoticed in the literary field.

In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst. He was also published in The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4.

For more propaganda, visit his author page on Amazon.