Chapter 3: Don’t Talk to Strangers

Hiraya woke up to a dreary day in the middle of the makeshift lab she and Dr. Carlos has called home for the past few weeks. She knew she must not take it for granted—how many people can say that they awoke nowadays anyway, when nearly all of them cannot sleep?—but she saw the gray sky and immediately felt disheartened.

She kicked off the mylar sheets and looked for her protector and found her in a chair near the tented lab’s entrance. Dr. Carlos had her back against her; she was still and silent, and for a moment, Hiraya thought that she had been sleeping.

“Dok?” She called out to her. No response.

Hiraya walked around the chair and saw that Dr. Carlos was very much awake; there were dark circles under her eyes, like everyone she saw nowadays. Her eyes themselves were red and dry, as the doctor hadn’t blinked the entire time she was staring at her.

“Dok? Dok please wake up!” It was an odd request for Hiraya to make, because she knew the kind doctor was very much awake. But like her mother and father and older brother before her, this was what happened before they completely lost the ability to sleep. Some of them became violent; some cried and laughed—but all of them eventually fell into this kind of stupor, where no one or nothing can seem to faze them.


“Hiraya, tell me again what you are going to do when I enter stage three of the infection?”

“Stay put and wait for help to come,” she had answered confidently. The kind doctor swept the hair from her face.

“Good girl. Remember, your life is very important, and you must protect it at all cost. No matter what you do, do not trust people so easily. And do not ever talk to strangers!”


Dr. Carlos was running a medical mission then in their place in Pampanga when she met Hiraya. Hiraya’s mother was pleading—she mentioned to the doctor how her husband and son had some sort of disease that made them unable to sleep, and that she was afraid that she had it too. “Please take care of my daughter! We cannot let her catch the disease, too!” Her mother never came back, and she was stuck with the doctor ever since.

The doctor acted quickly upon seeing how many people got infected; she moved Hiraya and the lab tent somewhere in the middle of a forested area where there were no people. The doctor said that it was this seclusion that saved them. But she was wrong. She eventually became sleepless, too, and they both thought all they did was for nothing.

Until Hiraya continued to sleep.

Dok performed a series of tests on her, making sure that her findings were correct, and then one day she told Hiraya something strange. “Hiraya, you are immune.”

“Immune?” She asked, not hiding her confusion.

“It means you do not show any reaction to the virus. This is great, Hiraya! This must mean that there are others like you. But until then, we need to make sure that you are safe.”

But now, she cannot keep the promise anymore. Now that the doctor is catatonic, Hiraya feels restless and trapped. Surely, anything is better than to stay with the dying doctor in the middle of nowhere? But maybe she can find help for them. Maybe.

Hiraya packed what little food and water she had remaining and walked towards the direction of their old house. Surprisingly, the unpaved roads were menacingly empty; It was only a few months on since the disease took over, but already the signs of disrepair due to lack of life were showing—vegetation left uncut were allowed to grow rowdily, the carabao grass already as tall as her. There was no smoke in the air due to car pollution, but there was the unmistakable smell of decay and burning bodies instead.

She eventually made it to their small shanty, where it was expectedly quiet. “Inay! Itay! Kuya!” Hiraya shouted as she pounded the bamboo door. At first, she only heard the echoes of her own screams. But soon, the high-pitched squeaking of feet putting weight on the bamboo floors made an ominous cadence. The door opened slowly.

“Inay?” Hiraya recognized the gaunt but familiar face that emerged. “I missed you so much! Where is Itay and Kuya?”

Hiraya’s mother didn’t answer, but slightly turned her head to the right. Hiraya followed her line of vision and saw two mounds of earth, seemingly freshly dug, in their front yard. “Inay! I am here now. You don’t need to worry. We will be together again.”

Suddenly, however, the expressionless face of her mother turned to that of fury; guttural and primal noises emerged from her voicebox as she lunged at her daughter, alternately pounding both fists to her torso.

“Inay! Stop it! You are hurting me!” Hiraya begged, but it was for naught. It was like her mother was not her anymore. But she knew she was not. Dok also told her about this. This is how some Stage 3s manifest as well: uncontrolled rage. The most violent and dangerous kind.

Hiraya’s vision started to darken, and she was sure that she was about to die at the hands of her own mother. She closed her eyes, preparing herself for the inevitable, when a loud explosion disturbed her. She opened her eyes to blood spattering across her face and her mother dead on her chest.

“Nǐ hái hǎo ma? A voice called at her. She looked up and saw someone wearing pure white, his whole body and face covered. Hiraya didn’t understand what he was saying, and soon she just heard herself crying.

“Please help me!” She didn’t even have the time to think about her mother anymore. She was dead before being shot, anyway, so she realigned to her original mission of finding help for the doctor.

Don’t talk to strangers.

Hiraya heard the echo of the doctor’s words as the stranger, who turned out to be a man, started to approach her. “Gēn wǒ lái, xiǎo nǚhái he said. She felt like she had no choice. She grabbed his hand and started leading her towards the tent lab.

“Come on! We need to hurry!” Hiraya screamed, and the man in white seemed to just follow her.


Cao Yuan had one order: he needed to kill as many infected as possible and look for any survivors. With society in shambles, it was actually pretty easy to do this. China may be the epicenter of the outbreak, but they also maintained a central government despite it. The same thing cannot be said about the Philippines, whose own corrupt politicians fled once the virus penetrated the country’s shores. And with their ally, the US, busy with its own viral outbreaks, it was a no-brainer for China to finally conquer the island nation.

“Private 420, report your status and coordinates, over.”

“14.9021° N, 120.5509° E. Target acquired, over.”

There was a slight pause in the walkie-talkie. “Then are you coming back to the camp, over?”

“Negative, over.”

“Then what are you doing? Over.”

Cao Yuan simply slotted back the device back to his pocket. He saw the little girl look over at him with curiosity, but he just returned a smile. He didn’t know she would be this adorable. He almost regretted having to bring her back to the Chinese camp in Clark where a world-class virology lab was built basically overnight. But it was for the fate of the world, and he knows it.

Bringing her over can wait. He just has some unfinished business to attend to. And this girl is leading him right to it.


Jay-ar G. Paloma

Jay-ar G. Paloma is an HR executive by day and a frustrated artist by night. Jay-ar likes to read and write fiction and opinion pieces relating to LGBTQ, social media, and culture. When not engrossed in a book, he is probably playing a tune on his guitar or keyboard. Leave your love notes to Jay-ar here: jr@voxpopuliph.com.

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