Pigeons Duomo Florence 550 l

When you live in a big city for a certain amount of time, you stop noticing some things. Crowded sidewalks don't seem bad anymore, you learn to ignore the police sirens at all hours of the night, the smell of trash mixed with exhaust and street food. But the first things you get used to are the pigeons. They're everywhere, all the time. Aside from occasionally taking a shit on your car, they really don't do anything to draw attention to themselves. They're pretty much content to sit on buildings and run around sidewalks trying to eat crumbs of food that people drop. At least until three weeks ago.

I was walking across the campus to get to the library, since I needed to work on a paper and needed to have physical sources for some reason. I stopped by one of the dining halls for some breakfast (or if you name meals by the time you eat them, lunch), and as I was leaving it I saw a group of people standing in a circle in the outdoor eating area. Curious, I walked over to see what was happening.

There was a pigeon in the middle of the, wandering in circles and making the oddest sound I've ever heard come from a bird. It was making a very low rumble, almost as if it was belching. The sounds came at odd intervals, but always lasted two seconds. Occasionally its wings would flutter as if it was about to fly away, but it never lifted off. There were scraps of food on the ground, apparently someone had tried to feed it. Someone in the crowd suggested that the food had been poisoned, and it certainly seemed to be a reasonable explanation when the bird fell over and went silent.

With nothing left to keep their attention, the crowd began to disperse then while some lingered as they tried to upload the video they took with their smart phones. I was in the former group, and as such wasn't right there when the screeching started. It was a horrible, shrill sound. The closest I could get to describing it would be the sound of squealing tires, but an octave higher and more organic sounding.

At first we weren't sure where the sound came from, but when one of the people who had stayed by the pigeon started screaming we knew. It was a girl that I vaguely recognized as a theatre major who had a bit part in some Shakespearean comedy last year. She was grabbing at her face and spinning as she screamed over the screeching, and it looked like she was bleeding. Everyone was stunned by the sights and sounds in front of them, and it took a while before anyone thought to help her.

Another guy who had stayed went over to her and, from my vantage point, it looked like he grabbed her face. The stood, fighting with whatever they had in their hands, until he pulled away and threw some grey and red thing to the ground. The girl ran away, and he looked down at the still screeching thing. He was about to crush it with his foot when it flew up at his face, and at the same time the pitch of the screech began to sharply rise. It stopped suddenly as the grey thing disappeared into a flash of red, accompanied by a slight popping sound like uncorking champagne.

It didn't take long to figure out that the grey thing had been the pigeon we were watching before. The circle began to reform, some looking at the bits of feather and skin laying on the ground and others looking at the man with bird blood and guts covering his face. He was in shock, it appeared. It couldn't have been more than a minute before the campus police and an ambulance showed up to take care of the theatre girl and her rescuer. Her face was cut up fairly badly, but she had managed to protect her eyes. The guy was uninjured as far as they could tell, just shaken up and covered in the bird's remains.

At that point I continued on to the library. I tried to work on my paper for some time, but I was distracted by the scene I had witnessed earlier. Jumping on the Internet, I searched for exploding pigeons. I expected to see some videos from earlier show up amongst clips of pigeons being obliterated by various firearms. I wasn't prepared for news articles from all over the world about similar situations.

It seemed to be happening most frequently in Venice of all places, where at least one person was confirmed to actually have been pecked to death by one of the frenzied birds before its explosive end, and several others had drowned after falling into the canals. There were also unconfirmed reports of other birds exhibiting similar symptoms, as it was believed to be some kind of disease, but so far the only physical evidence supported it just being pigeons that were affected. It was eerie to read the news while listening to the occasional screeching pigeon outside the library walls.

This outbreak continued the rest of the day, and then waned during the night. The next day there were a lot fewer incidents, but it was noted that there weren't many pigeons around anymore. The media looked to science for an answer, which was incredibly stupid as this had only been happening for one day. There was no chance they had already figured it out. Of course this didn't stop the interviews with rather unscientific minds jumping to conclusions about what was happening.

I followed the news rather closely the rest of the day, but I couldn't the next day because I had class. So now I was left with getting news in the afternoon, which I did for the rest of the week. There wasn't much. Constant "no progress in search for a cause" updates, a few continuing outbreaks, and still more guessing games about what new disease or solar radiation or government conspiracy was causing this.

Nothing changed the weekend after the beginning of the event, and it seemed that most of the students here had stopped caring. I hadn't seen a pigeon since Wednesday evening, so it seemed we were done with the outbreak.

In class Tuesday morning, two weeks ago, I was in class when when I heard this odd sound. It was a rhythmic banging, coming from the classroom on the floor below mine. I honestly didn't pay much attention to it until I heard the sound of glass shattering, and the thumping sound stopped at exactly that moment. The professor told us to stay in the room while he went down to check it out. After he left the room several people declared class over and left. I left for a different reason. I wanted to know what had happened.

My professor, the one who had been teaching in the room below us, and several professors from other nearby rooms were standing around the door, looking in through the glass window on it. They were talking to each other in hushed tones, but I heard three things clearly: "police," "bit me," and "bath salts." I got closer to the door and tried to look in over the professors but one saw me and told me to get back to class.

I decided to go back to my dorm to get my laptop and watch for news about what happened here, so I left the building. I looked over on the side and saw that one room's window was broken. I knew that was the room, and I knew that what I was thinking was incredibly stupid. But there was no way I was talking myself out of it. I crept over and peaked in, and saw someone wandering about the room in jerking bouts of movement. I also heard something.

Every now and then there was a low, gurgling moan coming out of the room. It was almost the same sound I heard the pigeon making on the day the outbreak started. I pulled out my phone to get a video of it, hoping the sound was loud enough to get picked up, and then I left as quickly as I could while keeping quiet.

I watched the video when I got back to my room. I wanted to make sure the sound was captured before uploading it anywhere. That was when I recognized the face of the man. It was the same guy that the pigeon exploded on in front of the library. This seemed to imply that the blood had infected him, but it seemed odd that a disease would be able to jump species that quickly.

Checking the news, there was nothing new again. Nothing about the species jump. At first I thought that it may not have started in other places yet, or possibly that this was just a coincidence and had nothing to do with the pigeons. But then I remembered what that professor had said, and I searched for news about bath salts. And the reports were everywhere. No one seemed to notice that the most new incidents were occurring in the cities hit hardest by the birds. Moscow, New York City, Venice. Assuming that these were just people on the first day, it looked like things were going to get bad.

Bad didn't begin to describe it.

As the cases poured in, it became clear that this was not just an increase in bath salts use. It only took a few hours after people began to exhibit symptoms for someone to notice the connection with the pigeons. The media was putting down any insistence that the two were related, bringing in CDC officials to say that it simply was not possible. There was no way for a disease to have appeared so suddenly and then jump that quickly. Other news sources began going with the government conspiracy angle, or at the very least calling it a biological weapon test gone wrong.

On Wednesday, reports came in that Venice was almost 100% infected. Helicopters flying above the city reported no one who appeared unaffected. The news ran this story along with the fact that the ratio of pigeons to people in the city had been three to one. It looked like they gave up on hiding the connection. Venice also taught us something: the infected had a sense of self preservation. They kept away from places where they may fall into the canals, and the few that did end up in the water were unable to swim.

My parents called me around noon that day and begged me to leave the city and come home. I agreed to and started packing immediately. On my way to my car, I saw the professor from the attacked class and thought I'd go talk to him about what he'd seen. I was walking over and called out to him, but he ignored me and just stood there facing away from me. I walked up to him and tapped on the shoulder, asking what was going on. Slowly, he turned around towards me in a horribly spasmodic way. He looked at me, let out a low, gurgling moan, and tried to grab me.

Luckily the infected are slow, otherwise I would be dead right now. As it is, I managed to get away from him very easily. Getting out of the city was difficult as the traffic was slowed to a halt by the shear number of people trying to escape. Emergency service vehicles didn't help the travel times at all, nor did the infected roaming the streets. Eventually I abandoned my car and took an unattended bicycle from the sidewalk. It may have been riskier, but it was faster. It was while I was biking out of the city that I realized the infected didn't explode like the pigeons did.

I managed to get out of the city just a few hours before the military showed up and set up barricades. They were keeping everyone inside because they had no way of knowing who had been exposed. I managed to hitchhike my way back to my home town by that night, and slept in my old bed for the first time in over a year. My dad stayed up patrolling the house with a shotgun, and my mother and I slept with guns on our nightstands.

Thursday television went down, replaced by a government warning to stay away from large cities, to keep stocked up on emergency supplies, and to report any infected seen outside a city to a hotline number.

Friday we saw one in our back yard. My dad blew its head off with one shot. It fell over and laid there for several seconds before getting back up. It wandered aimlessly without eyes, ears, or a nose to give it sensory information about where prey was. A second shot, this time to the chest, brought it down for good. We didn't go near it for fear of infection, but we used a digital camera to get a closer look at the body, and there was something inside it that didn't belong. An extra organ growing in the chest. It had been shredded by the shotgun blast, so now we knew why it lived through losing its head. It didn't need a brain anymore.

Over the weekend we had several more infected come, but we never reported them for fear of the government putting our small town on lockdown like the cities. Our neighbors talked of everyone moving into one large, easily defended building and sharing food. My dad didn't agree but my mom and I thought it was a good idea.

On Monday last week we moved everyone who wanted to go into the school. We sealed the windows and the classrooms that had them as best we could, and mostly set up on the second floor, with some people staying in the cafeteria to keep our food supplies safe. We blocked some hallways too, so that they would be more defensible if necessary.

Tuesday and Wednesday were uneventful, but Thursday the infected started gathering around the school. The worst part was some of them were military.

On Friday, they started looking for a way in. We shot some from the second floor windows, but decided to save our ammo in case they actually got in. One of them did on Saturday. We're not sure how, but it was walking around the school and managed to attack an older woman before it was killed.

On Sunday, that woman became infected. Biting transmits the disease faster than blood. The room she was killed in and the hall with the infected body were blocked off, and we started having organized patrols of the school.

This Monday, someone picked up a radio signal from a military patrol. Two men were discussing the Russian's use of nerve gas to exterminate several cities full of infected. One of them called it deplorable, but the other said we should be doing the same thing.

Tuesday, we were all woken up by a horrible screaming. It was coming from the infected. Their chests were pulsing in a horrible way, and they were frenzied. They attacked each other, the school, everything around them. It went on for about two minutes before we thought about what was happening, and I told everyone to get away from windows. I was the only one who had actually seen what happened with the pigeons. We got people away from any open windows in time, and most of them had no idea what happened when the screams stopped. I was smart enough not to go look, but some others did. I heard them puking when they saw the exploded bodies.

We called in to the hotline at this time, and found out that all of the infected the government knew of had done the same thing. It was over. They said they would send a helicopter out to our school to pick us up from the roof. We would be put under observation for some time, and if we didn't develop the infection we would be sent to a safe part of the country to live until our homes were cleaned up.

Today, Saturday, I write from my room in quarantine. The CDC takes good care of us here. We're all given televisions and radios, and we were allowed to bring anything we had with us so I have my laptop and cellphone too. We're given three meals a day, and some of the researchers like talking to us to keep our spirits up. But today, when I talked to them it didn't make me feel good like the other days.

Today, I was told that a bluejay had exploded on one of the researchers.

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