“God in heaven, would you look at that,” Charlie said, pointing to the growing lake of blood beneath Butch.

“But no matter what, we can’t touch him.”

Butch’s blood was shimmering under the white lights like silent waves of electricity were moving through it. Then without warning, the dark red blood began to change color as if it was hit with drops of blue food coloring. Ripples of blue expanded from the innermost cells of the plasma until the entire pool of blood had turned a shade of sapphire.

“We gotta get out of her now!” Gus hollered as he tugged Charlie’s arm.

Charlie didn’t budge. “We can’t leave him here like this. What if he starts choking again?”

“Dammit man. Don’t you see?” He pointed to the blood. They both had witnessed the color change and were now staring in disbelief as the blue liquid grew darker and started bubbling like the onset of boiling water. “Butch is a goner, and if we don’t get out of here, we’ll be next.”

Charlie breathed in with what felt like an anchor sitting on his chest. “Fuck.”

Both men hurried out the door to join the rest of the men, but no sooner had they gotten into the light were they knocked to the ground and covered by a thick cloth that smelled of strong chemicals.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Gus heard Charlie scream out.

He struggled but it only made things worse. Gus could feel the weight of at least three men holding him down. Charlie continued to scream but it didn’t help the situation. Gus decided it was better to resist the urge to struggle further and stopped moving. As soon as he did the bodies on top of him eased up a little and he was able to shake the cloth loose enough to create a peephole.

The warm morning sun washed over a scene of chaos and confusion. In the narrow window of visibility created by a fold in the cloth, Gus could see men—his men—lying on the ground, each covered from head-to-toe by a metallic looking blanket. There were people in hazmat suits walking around waving wands that beeped and booped in high pitch frequencies. Windowless vans squealed to quick stops as more men got out. Some sped away after plucking some poor factory worker from the ground like hawks snatching mice from a field. The efficiency of these people—who Gus assumed worked for the government—left him in awe. If only he could’ve gotten his guys to work like that over the years. Gus chuckled at the thought.

When his time came the pair of large men who were holding him down hoisted Gus from the ground like he weighed next to nothing. Then they tossed him into one of the vans with no real care. This made Gus think of the way the guy from the uniform cleaning company threw the sacks of dirty clothes around. I wonder what that guy is up to, he thought to himself. Then he realized he was acting too calm about what was happening. But as the idea of shouting came to him, he just as quickly abandoned it. What good would it do? There were at least 15 other men shouting outside, and their fates weren’t changing one damn bit. Gus didn’t fight the hopelessness. Especially after he looked down and saw the blue bumps developing on his palms. And as the van began to move, only one question came to his mind, What killed Gord Stimpson? The question was more pertinent to him now than ever. Because now, what killed Gord Stimpson was most likely going to be, what killed Gus Tomlinson?

From high above the factory the scene unfolded like the ongoings of a busy ant colony. But after an intense 20 minutes, most of the vans had driven off, with the exception being the few tasked with removing the body of Gord Stimpson. They’d already removed the body of Gary “Butch” Donahue and had taken it away. He had passed before the hazmat team entered the building, which was fortunate for ol’ Butchy. The survivors were set to spend the rest of their short lives in agony, and he was the only one who received the privilege of checking out early.

By the time the team reached Gord, his body had bloated to at least three times its normal size. His face had melted into a fleshy blob of purple goo, and his navy blue skull peeked through the missing chunks of skin and muscle. Much to their dismay, the team spent the next four hours removing Gord one piece at a time.

After loading him up in countless bags and sending him away, a backup team came to clean the mess. Because of the paint, they couldn’t burn the place to the ground like standard protocol, so they had to treat the event like a nuclear accident. And once they had loaded the experimental bio-paint—which they’d nicknamed the Blue Nightmare because of the way it changed the flesh and caused wild hallucinations—they spent the next month sterilizing and sealing the factory away in a concrete dome.

If only they knew how futile their efforts were, though. Because even with such an extensive cleanup project, no one had noticed the tiny set of blue paw prints leading from the docks and out to the nearby woods. Had someone noticed, the small town of Eckley might not be known today as ground zero, or what 21st-century writers had dubbed in the following months after the factory incident, The Blue Death.

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