The Plague of Gandesh
A Short Story
By Leigha Bauder
The ancient jungle of Gandesh, located on a small continent on the planet, Kesey, was a relatively unpopulated place. During the past century, a few research stations were set up to discover some of the great unknowns of the mysterious region, but after the first few groups had settled in there had been problems. Some of the researchers had returned so scarred by what they had endured, that they would not speak and were eventually placed in asylums. Those who had gone and stayed were never heard from again. It was through the middle of Gandesh one seemingly perfect morning that a young woman dressed as a researcher crashed through the brush. She sprinted through the jungle as fast as her legs could carry her.
“At least Jojo is safe.” she thought, glad it was only her in danger.
Little did Tamara know that her friend was lying face down in the safe house, cold in death. The Ludren were getting stronger. Every day there was another person lost to the infection, it seemed. It was a disease of the brain. It twisted the victim’s intellect until he or she wanted to recruit more people to their appalling cause: the so called purification of the human race. They captured people and if they didn’t meet the qualifications, they were eliminated. Those were the lucky ones. The ones who were unfortunate enough to be selected by the Ludren for their group had to endure the transformation from human to the mindless creature everyone feared. Sometimes you could hear their piercing shrieks as they evolved in the midst of the stomping and chanting of the monsters.
The majority of people thought that what the Ludren had was an incurable disease, but Tami knew better. Those papers she found in the floorboards of the archaic safe house explained everything. This entire plague was the result of a science experiment gone bad. Dr. Fredrick Becket and his assistant Edmond Easton had tried to create a drug to improve intellect. The plan was to use Easton as an prototype to promote the drug and prove its worth and then sell it to the general public to make a fortune, obtain power and influence, and place himself in the history books. Regrettably, the procedure did not go as planned. Easton became the first Ludren and Dr. Becket was last seen fleeing the area with a group of villagers. What he did not tell anyone was that he had the antidote. He had planned on quickly reversing the mistake but by the time he found out about the unwanted effects, other people had already been infected. He had been a coward and run, keeping the only bottle of the antidote in case he, himself, was infected.
It was wrong and Tami was determined to find him. She and her teammate and friend, Josepha, were running from a small group a Ludrens when they tore into a cave. If it had not been for Jojo’s observant eyes, they would have been captured. She spied a small opening with a short rope hanging out in the corner. If you did not stand a certain way you couldn’t see it. They scrambled up into what was a small room built into the top of the cave. It had rock walls and a rock ceiling, but whoever had made it put down a wooden plank floor. It had a couple crates with some water and cans of food. A pile of trash filled one crate. By the way everything was scattered, it appeared whoever was here had made a hasty exit. While they were waiting for danger to pass, Tami had stepped on a loose floorboard and it had flipped up and scraped her shin. It was worth the pain to discover what was hidden there. They had then decided that Tami would go find the doctor while Jojo stayed behind due to her constitution, which had been sickly as soon as she had set foot in Gandesh. As soon as it was deemed safe, Tami started her expedition.
With those important documents safely stowed in a pocket on the inside of her coat, she started walking towards the border of the jungle. She found and followed a trail that the group of villagers were said to have taken. She had been walking along after a few hours when she heard a crunch! She took off sprinting but they were close behind.
“I have to find Becket! I must run faster!” she thought.
The ground was starting to get softer when all of the sudden she realized she was in a swamp. There was water up ahead. She was sloshing through the murky water when she tripped on a root and her head hit a stump. Everything went pitch black.
When she awoke she found her feet and hands were tied to a plank. The ropes were not new. If she had something sharp she could probably break them. As it was, they were too tight to slip out of. She noticed she was in a disintegrating wooden shed with cracks in the walls. Suddenly, she heard someone untying the rope holding the door shut. She pretended to be still unconscious. The door creaked open and she felt more than heard the footsteps cross the room to end right in front of her.
“I know you are awake, Tamara,” a deep voice slowly began.
Her head snapped up. She knew this man. He had been in her research group when she first arrived at Gandesh. He had been one of the four people that she had set out with. A few days into their studies, they had been attacked by the Ludren. Kristen was killed and Jeff had been taken, while Tami and Jojo were lucky enough to escape. What was he doing here?
“Jeff!” she stammered, “What are you… You’re not… infected are you?”
“No. You’re not either. Yet. I have a working agreement with the Ludren. If I catch them four people a month, they will not harm me.”
Realizing what he was going to do to her, Tami pleaded, “You wouldn’t do that to a fellow teammate, would you? After all we’ve been through…”
“Quiet! Don’t make this harder than it is or you’ll end up like Jojo. The Ludren are coming to evaluate you in three days.” Jeff hissed.
Tami panicked, “Jojo? What did you do to her!?”
“She’s dead, Tami. She didn’t pass.”
“Is that all you have to say?” she quietly asked, “Don’t you have feelings?”
“Three days, Tami. I’m sorry.”
And with those words he hurriedly walked out. She knew he didn’t retie the door. Maybe she could escape. She was too worn out to do anything tonight, though, so she drifted off to sleep wondering if she would make it out of this jungle alive.
As dawn was breaking, Tami woke up sore from the bonds that were holding her in an uncomfortable position. The rays of the morning light seemed to bring hope with them. Just then, something caught her eye. To her left, maybe a few inches, was a rusty nail. She flung herself over there and felt the ropes snag. She started tugging with renewed strength and about five minutes later the bindings gave way. The door was not secured, as she had thought, and she looked around before finding the path. The surroundings looked familiar. She was only a couple hours away from the border. She just hoped the Ludren would not come early, find her gone, and start a chase.
About a mile from the border Tami started seeing signs of civilization. As she got closer she started thinking of how she would enter the camp. She knew there were strict rules to letting people into the camp. You didn’t know who was or wasn’t infected anymore. She just hoped they didn’t shoot her before she had a chance to explain herself. She heard voices. Here she was. It was now or nothing. She burst from the treeline, and the moment she saw the group, she threw her hands up and screamed, “Not infected!”
“How can we be sure?” demanded a middle aged man, suspicion clearly written on his face.
“I wouldn’t be alone. The Ludren always stick together. I am looking for Dr. Fredrick Becket,” she explained. By now everyone had gathered where they were.
“I am Dr. Becket,” a tall man said, stepping forward, “What do you want?”
“You need to stop this,” Tami stated.
He glance around angrily, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The Ludren. Cure them! You can help all those innocent people.”
“What is she talking about, Fred?” the first man asked.
“I don’t know, Chris!” Dr. Becket insisted.
By this time everyone knew he was lying.
“Everyone in the main hut!” the man, who Tami now knew was the leader, commanded.
The doctor tried to bolt, but was seized by some of the men. Once everyone was seated and Fred tied to a chair, the meeting commenced.
“Who are you and what do you mean by curing the Ludren?”
Tami pulled the documentation from the pocket and handed them to Chris.
“My name is Tamara Jepson. I am a member of the second Aberdeen University research team sent to study plant life in Gandesh.” She told them her story and all that had happened these last few days.
Surveying the papers, Chris asked, “These are the papers you claim prove Fred’s mistake?”
She nodded. After the people carefully examined the papers, Tami was led to a small hovel to rest in while the group made their decision. That evening, she was feeling much refreshed when they called her back to the main hut. Chris stepped forward.
“We have come to a verdict,” he explained. “Dr. Becket has agreed to help the Ludren. We have a plan. We all know the Ludren will follow your trail here. We usually fend them off, but this time we will capture one. Fred will use the antidote on him and we will see if we can use one person’s antibodies to cure the rest. Thank you for you’re help.”
“Well, I think the hardest part is done.” she mused. “Now all we do is wait.”
The next few days were fairly uneventful. The doctor profusely apologized for his cowardice. During late afternoon the fourth day after Tami’s arrival at the camp, the first Ludren sighting was shouted. Shortly after, five more emerged from the brush. Tami ran to the small barricade and peered over at them. She inhaled sharply. The group was being led by a Ludren Jeff! Before she knew it they already had one captured. The others were getting too close so the young men headed by Chris readied their machetes and charged. It was going well until Jeff cornered Chris and was about to finish him off. Tami knew she couldn’t let Chris die. She had led the Ludren here and he was supposed to head up the new village that was to be created when enough Ludren were saved. With a sudden burst of daring audacity, she leaped onto Jeff and tackled him on the ground, but she was no match for his strength.
“Jeff! It’s me, Tami! Stop what you’re doing. We have the cure!”
Chris quickly recovered and beheaded the Ludren, but not before the mentally warped man had plunged his spear into Tami’s abdomen. Her life’s blood was draining out quickly.
“Tami, I told you to stay back!” Chris said, quickly trying to stop the bleeding.
“You are not going to die. You have to return to your home. You have to appear in all the news papers and history books,” he tried to keep her conscious.
Tami knew she wasn’t going to survive this time.
“Thank you…” she whispered as her life ended.
The plan was never fulfilled. Although the antidote worked on the first person, they couldn’t cure the rest of them. By the end of the week, only one sane person was still on that continent. He had been exposed, but was well enough that he escaped and told the general population what was going on in Gandesh before he succumbed to the infection and was executed. The authorities of the planet gathered together and consulted on which course of action to take. It was decided that they would obliterate the small continent using explosives and it was done quietly and discreetly.
For many millenniums afterwards and to this day, people have been looking for the remains of what was once and still is a mysterious location with many secrets. Some people don’t even believe it happened, but others will continue to hold to the old tale. The disaster of Fredrick Becket and the saving mission of Tamara Jepson will always be remembered and told to many more generations as the story of the plague of Gandesh.