User:Mr.Peaches/Have You Heard About the TFORs

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Have You Heard About the TFORs

Author: Mr.Peaches
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Pig and Whistle story universe

Thursday August 30th, 2009

Sweating bullets in a small Mexican village in the dead of summer, a rugged ex-cop straddling a pile of dead bodies expended his last pistol round and went down under a sea of writhing undead monsters.

"Damn." Roark Peterson set his hand-warmed video game controller down and fumbled for his soda among the army of empty cans on the nearby nightstand. A rustling from the apartment's kitchen caught his attention. Ash Norrington, his roommate, was unfolding a copy of the "Oregon Post," his heavy Nordic brow furrowed seriously. Roark nocked an eyebrow.

"Newspaper? What's the occasion?"

"Blowtorch Fever," Ash responded, "It's hit New York really bad, and they say it's popping up all over the world! It's..." He shook his head. "Intense."

"Uh-huh." Roark resumed his game. "Well, is it in Oregon yet?"

"No. They say..." Ash's finger made a popping noise as it poked the paper, "'In the United States, so far, the virus hasn't proceeded any farther east than Indiana. Citizens of nearby metropolitan areas such as Chicago are advised to take extra precautions against infection."

"Hmm." Roark absorbed this with mild interest, transfixed on the screen. "Another AIDS, sounds like."

"Dude!"

"What?"

"It says here the death toll is, like, sixty six percent!"

"Yeah, for, like, old people and babies." Roark's small hand finally found his Pepsi and he took a sip.

"How do you know?" Ash jibed over the paper, pale face awash in skepticism.

"It's the *media,*" Roark replied. "They *always* exaggerate viruses and stuff to scare people and sell papers. Remember bird flu? That was supposed to kill everybody. Didn't kill everybody. This blowtorch stuff is the same thing." Ash grunted noncommittally. "What time is it?"

Ash checked the microwave. "5:45."

"Reckon we aughter go, then," Roark sighed in a drawl, saving his game. "Ready, Mr. I'm-In-The-Lead-and-I-Left-My-Buddy-Stuck-in-the-Chorus?"

"Shut up!" Ash pouted in good humor. Cracking jokes and such, the friends departed.

They headed to the college, SAU, which was having its opening night of the Pirates of Penzance starring, among others, Roark and Ash. It wasn't a long trek; heck, you'd be hard-pressed to find a long trek to *anywhere* in Port Stand-Alone, Oregon. Even at its peak the town had never been more than a brief stop-over for traders on the way to the Pacific coast due to the fact the Elk River neatly bisected the town. With the modern age had come utter ignonomy... ignonomy and a smattering of college youngsters drawn to the community college, which didn't charge out-of-state tuition. Yet it was a peaceful town, full of fruit trees and old red brick buildings and infuriatingly convoluted roads built in the days before city-planning.

Roark entertained himself and Ash with talk of all sorts of silly things as the pair hiked up the steep incline to the campus, stepping over the occasional dropped chestnut fruit. Ash was quiet and let Roark's rich imagination do most of the talking; his thoughts were not in the moment, but were in fact approximately fifteen hundred miles to the east.

The thoughts of the rest of the Pirates cast were there as well; Blowtorch Fever was the hot topic of conversation for the night. Talk of death floated between crimson dresses and ornate sashes. Whispers of bodies piled high with no one left to bury them floated through the mists of water and powders given off by hasty costuming. Ash listened with mounting fear. Roark applied his stage make-up.

However much Roark tried to avoid this morbid topic, it seemed that he was destined to learn it anyway. Fifteen minutes before the curtain, a dirty pirate in beige fabric approached and gave him a wooden pistol, saying:

"Dude, did you hear about the TFORs?"

"T4's? Are those... planes?" Roark guessed, tucking the pistol into his emerald sash.

"No, man!" The pirate (whose name was Rico) admonished. "I was reading today on CNN.com about how, like, a third of all the people that get the Blowtorch Fever... *mutate!*"

Roark pursed his lips and focused on pulling on his boots. "Into what--zombies?" He mused.

"No. I mean, I *don't* know, but they won't even show it on television! They say it's too nightmarish!"

The stage manager leaned in through the dressing room archway. "Five minutes!"

"Thank you!" The cast responded in chorus. The hazel-haired Roark turned back to the Asiatic Rico.

"TV won't show something because it's 'nightmarish?' Yeah, right."

"Hey, man, I just thought it was some freaky shit. Makes you wonder who's next..."

Rico floated off, leaving a lovely pall of gloom over Roark. Grumpily, he finished pulling on his boots and merged into the stream of gaudily-costumed actors flowing to a small room designated for pre-show warm-ups, trying to dispel the shadow of plague from his mind. Flashing pirate "yars" to friends, he eventually succeeded. Besides, news just didn't come to Oregon, and it *certainly* never came to Port Stand-Alone. That was the way things were.

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Watching them go, a metal shop student forced by cruel fate to work overtime on his pet project shook his head, wondering why actors got so into dressing like fairies in public. Lowering his safety goggles, he brought a diamond-drill press down through a quarter-inch of steel plate, sweeping the curled shavings and powdered residue into a huge garbage can three quarters-full. Eventually the actors came back from whatever voodoo they did before performances. He stopped the drill a moment, cracked open a Sobe and listened to the opening song.

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For an opening night, the show did well. Ash messed up on a few lines, and Roark was pretty sure his timing was off on the policeman's dance in the second act, and sometimes the singers could have had better pronunciation, but the rest-- the entrances and exits, the changing out of sweat-soaked costumes into fresher, musty-smelling ones, and the sequence of light cues that followed one another like sunrises and sunsets-- these all went smoothly. Indeed, the only surprise came to the cast when the show was over-- when faces were being washed and clothes re-hung. It trickled through the 40-something actors until it reached Roark in the men's dressing room, scrubbing furiously at his stubbled face with soap and wet paper towels:

All actors were needed in the now-empty auditorium; the Judge had come early.

Roark found the director, Larry Mendell, a genial and pleasant man, just inside the buzzing proscenium.

"I thought the ACLU guy was going to judge us later..." Roark said.

"I just found out, like, *as* the show was starting." Larry shrugged. "But he said he'd have to give us a few points more, so... I guess it'll even out."

"Huh." Roark made his way to a center seat a few rows back and pulled out his doodling pad, drawing a lopsided circle with his pencil and adding limbs onto it, hoping to make a monster. Ash and the rest of his theater friends took places around him. Soon a mousy-looking, ginger-haired man with a tiny nose and olive eyes got up from his chair in the middle of the floor and began his feedback. Roark let the subconscious half of his brain file the advice pertinent to him while he continued doodling. Only two moments really caught him up from his paper. The first was the judge's opening line:

"Ah, hello! I'm Donald Hughes and... I'm sorry I came so early. I just had to leave New York a little early-" A palpable ripple of exchanged glances had gone through the room after that sentence. Roark rolled his eyes, thought ye gods and resumed his art.

The very end of the judge's critique also imprinted itself in Roark's mind, when Ash had inquired of Donald: "How is it? In New York?"

After a silence, the red-haired man replied "Not good," and had shortly thereafter excused himself and left. The rest of the cast filed out slowly after, resuming their pre-show talk of the omnipresent Blowtorch virus, the judge's critiques the last thing on their minds. Roark and a few other die-hards made it a point to speak *only* of the show, trying to bring the emotional actors' thoughts back onto the *really* important matter at hand--using the judges' critique to put on a better musical tomorrow.

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11:30 P.M that evening

"Ah... burgers." Roark tossed his pack into a corner and kicked his shoes off after it as Ash closed the apartment door after. While muted, the celebratory Dinner at Denny's had still been pleasant, and both actors were ready for bed. In a domestic ritual performed ad infinitum, the two said their good nights and departed to their individual rooms, where Roark browsed the Internet awhile before at last stripping and burying himself in his bed. Scenes of the show played back in his head as he drifted into sleep, and he smiled.

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Friday, August 28, 2009 12:14 PM

"Urg..." Awakening from a vivid dream about zombies piling pirates on top of the Statue of Liberty, Roark sat up in his tall bed and reached over to his computer desk with his foot, kicking the mouse so the screen would give him the time.

"Twelve?! D'aww... I set my alarm and everything..."

As if to reassure him that he had, in fact, done this, his cell phone started playing a merry digital tune. Its face read "ALARM-- 8:30 A.M." ... Had he really slept through three hours and forty minutes of alarms?

"Whatever." The fit youth reached over to turn off his phone, and stopped when he observed that his arm-- yea, his entire body-- was covered in cold and clammy sweat. Clearly the blankets had done their job.

"Brr." Grabbing some clean clothes, he exited his small room for the shower. Some twenty minutes later he emerged fully clothed and freshly-shaved, his stomach growling fiercely. Fixing a large bowl of oatmeal, the Caucasian lad breakfasted in front of the television, playing video games when his hands were no longer occupied.

A half-hour later, he was hungry again.

"Huh?" The young lad paused and looked at his stomach inquisitively. "Hmm." He procured an apple and had another glass of milk, sneaking morsels in between gaming.

Five minutes later his stomach growled again.

"Okay..." He stared at it uncomprehending. He should have been full until at *least* four in the afternoon. A profound sense of confusion and discomfort came upon him as the gurgling emptiness continued. Roark was sure that when people were still hungry after eating, there were a million different reasons for the feeling, but one's stomach was still full of food. When the stomach gurgled however... that pretty much meant that it was *physically* empty. Either he had eaten phantom oatmeal... or something was wrong in his digestive tract.

Resuming his game, Roark endeavored to ignore this confusing issue until it went away, but when the next hunger pang doubled him over, he was on the phone with a physician. It did about as much good as debating the economical necessity of fast food restaurants with a blind and deaf yoga instructor who didn't speak your language; Roark was assured that unless he had extreme pain in his midsection, food was staying in his digestive tract and, as long as the rumbling continued, he was free to continue eating. All this only served to make this almost trivial issue even more incomprehensible to Roark, and eventually he threw everything out the window and merely agreed with the doctor, hanging up the phone as a groggy Ash emerged from his bedroom, rubbing his eyes and goatee.

"Who 'you on the phone with?" He inquired.

"Ah... nobody," Roark mumbled. When this didn't fly, he added: "Fine. I was talking with a nutritionist."

"'Bout what?"

"*Stuff.*"

When Roark would say no more, Ash shrugged and said:

"Well, anyway, Nick just called and wants to know if we wanna do the Orient buffet for lunch-"

"Yeah!"

"You must be hungry."

"You have no idea."

"Didn't eat breakfast?"

"..."

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Some two-odd hours later the pair returned, Ash exclaiming:

"Six plates. Six *big* plates. Damn, dude." He shook his head with manly admiration. "I can't be-"

"Ssh."

"What?" Ash turned from kicking his sandals off into the corner and stared at Roark, who was standing in the living room with his head tilted as if listening, one hand on his stomach. Although his shirt was loose, one could tell his belly was filled quite to capacity. After a few minutes of silence, Ash's averagely-built roommate became visibly relieved and shook himself out vigorously.

"You OK?" The Nord inquired.

"Yes. Yes I am." He replied happily.

So he was, and so he continued to be up through the evening, despite a warm brow and fleeting moments of dizziness. It was the second night of Pirates, and again the backstage areas swarmed with actors slipping on boots and coats and swords, dresses and leggings. Like ants on a lollipop they scuttled about, and scurrying merrily along with them was the feverish Roark, highly grateful that his odd hunger was gone and vanished forever and ever, amen.

Then came the scraping, and things rapidly went from "fine" to "apocalyptic."

Scudding along on the floor, its bottom tapping and catching on the concrete, the welding student had finally run out of room to put his steel scraps in the can and was unceremoniously kicking and shoving it out the double doors that connected the shop to the loading bay, hoping that by placing it in a spot that the garbage man could see, it would finally get emptied.

Roark watched it go, watched the light play off the can's ridges, watched the spiraled metal sticking out of the top bob seductively.

He found himself drooling.

"*Shit.*"

As the lobster claw snapped on his torso and his forehead began boiling with heat, the terrified man collapsed into a nearby wicker chair.

"Augh... oh God, help me..." He slammed his head into his hands and jerked them back as if touching a hot furnace. "Augh! Hot..."

He was attracting attention; his fellow actors were beginning to take notice as the welding student returned from shoving the can outside. The punk-rocker-esque boy left without noticing Roark's plight in the slightest, and here he departs from our story, his strange yet critical destiny fulfilled.

Roark's vision swam. They were going to ask questions. He couldn't let them ask questions. They'd discover he had the BLOWTORCH FEVER what else could it be it was hotter than any fever

Sixty six percent mortality

Things were destabilizing--the room was tipping, time was speeding up! God *damn* how could it be so fast?! He needed a plan! A doctor! Yes... but...

TFOR TFOR TFOR TFOR too horrific too horrific zombie monster TFOR monster hey Roark are you dead or are you a monster

"Unngh..." He pushed himself up and put on a fake smile, addressing his fellow cast members.

"It's cool. I was

I need that metal

just trying to remember a riddle I heard. Yeah..." Pacified enough, or at least more willing to accept this than the possibility that their friend was dying/something worse(?) from Blowtorch Fever, the crowd dispersed.

Current resources are insufficient

He staggered over to the nearby water fountain, trying not to stumble. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the open double doors of the shop letting in the cool evening air, some fifty feet to his left. Beyond them was

metal need metal

The can... the CAN!

METAL METAL METAL METAL METAL

"HAAAUGH!" His guts squeezed like a toothpaste tube! He hit his knees then

SUPPLIES INADEQUATE ROARK

He was up, flailing, spinning!

INTENSIFY SIGNAL PREPARE OVERRIDE 66%

A spare scrap of metal--sharp, sharp, sharp! Roark slashed his forehead open, trembling and spitting! This would get him out of the show! The shop flew by as he presented his blood-soaked face to the horrified Larry Mendell.

"Oh, God, Roark! What-?" The director tried to grab the young man but Roark wriggled free because THEY MUST NOT KNOW OF THE INFECTION

"I cut myself in the shop, teacher!" It was not Roark speaking these words. "I MUST SEEK HELP NOW!" He wiped the blood out of his eyes and bolted for the door.

"Roark, no!"

"SUPPLIES INADEQUATE!" Silencing the shocked director, Roark kicked open the door to the outside and took a sharp left, the cool night air stinging his bloody slash. Operated by a tyrannical biological imperative, Roark's conscious was forced deep into his psyche, so that all he felt as he circled the building back to where his precious metal waited was a distinct sense of loss... a sense of things slipping away.

The garbage can rested in yellow light on the raised cement patio reserved for receiving raw materials for building. A section of concrete wall separated the patio from the rest of the campus, with a break to permit passage. Behind this wall Roark waited until he could hear the opening song of the musical... yes, yes the show had to go on, didn't it?! When the shop was empty as empty could be and there were no witnesses to spot him through the open doors, Roark snatched the can and vanished into the shadows, only spatters of blood and a few steel shavings as evidence of his presence.

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Sat Aug 29th 1:06 AM

It was dark, and he was awake.

His mouth was full of coals, his lips hot and crusty to the touch--cut and scabbed over. He was lying on his side, and in his mouth was the sharp, harsh taste of steel. A little bit more of... something... slipped away, and the young man found himself weeping. He curled into a fetal position around his bloated stomach. Distended and stretched, a beach ball could have easily fit inside, the metal compressed economically, sliding sickly around in a great heavy orb on a thick coating of mucus.

"Jesus..." the afflicted one croaked, "Just tell me what I did... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..."

He wanted to sleep, wanted for his body to realize the impossibility of what he had done and die, but Blowtorch Fever wouldn't let him. It grasped him again and bade him rise, clutching both hands under his pregnant-looking gut. It tore the location for its final push out of Roark's head, and soon his body was staggering off into the night, burning with fever, a plague zombie.

The security system at Port-Stand-Alone's BiggMart was utterly standard for its class. When the doors were forced open at any port in the building, the intruders were video-taped and private security was called. What the system was not apt at catching, however, was someone bashing in a ventilation grate from the roof and falling corpselike thirty feet to the laminated floor below. such heist-like entrances were understandably out of BiggMart's league. Thus Roark knew that he had all in the time in the world to acquire more energy for his flesh... all the time in the world to feed.

Time slipped sideways and was sucked into a rat hole. All was lost. Roark's subjugated mind knew that whatever the result of this madness was going to be, there was going to be no going back. He watched from out of his eyes as his body systematically devoured whole aisles of goods, swallowed cuts of meat and roasts whole, and downed gallon after gallon of whatever beverage it could find. His stomach expanded more and more, and even when the plague zombie was dragging it over the cold ground it would not burst.

By some miracle, Roark regained his senses some time later, leaning back drunkenly with a searing phosphorescent light staring him in the face. The stink of warming food scraps permeated the air. The ravenous hunger, as if it knew it had satisfied some cosmic dictum, quietly faded and perished, leaving the young brown-eyed man alone with his shame. Only once could he gather the courage to look at his stomach, to view the results of Blowtorch Fever upon him.

His belly was translucent. Stretched so far that one more loaf of bread would have split the thing wide open, spilling out the digesting contents into the aisles, Roark's stomach was a titanic multicolored mass of food, its contents rolling around in a sac the size of a van. One glimpse was more than enough; Roark leaned back again with tears streaming, feeling victimized and deeply, deeply ashamed.

"I... I wanted..." he wept. He vomited once, and only once--something hot and oily. He knew no more after that.

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Donald Hughes holed up in a chintzy hotel room. Munching on walnuts, we watched the television for the latest news on everyone's new favorite subject.

"News studies now indicate that someone infected with Blowtorch fever can be an unsuspecting carrier for up to a week before the virus takes hold," the announcer said.

"Oh, dear..." Donald intoned with a slight twinge of uncertainty.

"New research also indicates that odd food cravings can occur before the main fever sets in, especially in the case of the enigmatic TFORs. Citizens are advised to be wary of sudden cravings and to seek immediate medical attention should they occur."

Donald's eyes flicked over to the remains of his bag of chocolate-covered peanuts, his bag of chocolate-covered almonds, his bag of walnuts, and his peanut-butter and Nutella sandwiches. "Oh, dear."

"At the end of the incubation period, symptoms of the fever can set in quickly, adding yet another layer of mystery to this terrifying new pandemic."

"Oh, dear." Donald collapsed into a coma. The television continued on over his burning body.

"In local news, a terrifying disaster has erupted from an Elk County BiggMart just half-an-hour ago. The entire town is advised to evacuate immediately before the..."

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Three times the Earth spun around before our story continues.

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Sep 1, 2009 3:40 PM

Sometimes waking melds perfectly from sleeping and leaves you feeling refreshed all the way around. So it was when Roark came to his senses. He was lying in something soft and warm that contoured to his body, which felt slightly numb. A pleasant white noise filled his ears, and the air smelled clean.

"Hmm.." Rumbling happily, he rolled over on one side.

Four limbs and a heavy tail hit the ground, followed by two wings.

Roark opened his eyes.

White fire. He was adrift in a sea of it. It towered above him, linking arms with the ashen sky. The sand (Dust? Ash?) below him was a gentle gray. The fire burned savagely but would not burn him. Roark was soon to find out why.

His hands were three times their normal size, clawed, and covered in silver scales, scales which were welded to the rest of his body as well. That body was perhaps the size of an extremely large horse. Roark brought his claws up to his face as he sat on his haunches, his tail curling itself around his legs for stability.

His face had grown long and chiseled, his boring human nose stretched out to a large sculpted snout. Air whooshed in and out of his nostril slits as Roark dazedly grasped the lance-like horns growing out of the back of his head, the taloned fingers weaving through a spiky mane to get there, a mane that echoed Roark's penchant for spiked hair.

"Rrooo..." the frightened creature leaned forward onto all fours, his weight settled on strengthened finger joints. His wings, masterwork frames of bone and skin joined to the middle of his body by stocky trunks of scaly flesh, stretched themselves as Roark shut his silver eyes. Emotion welled up in his barreled chest and rose through his vocal chords.

"Rrrooooooooowwwrrr..." the former man tilted his head back and emitted a cry of a very frightened and lonely dragon.