Trash.exe Rules the World

By Gary Morton , 7,000 words

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Fatigued, Tomas looked up and found the gentle earth tones of his study room faded to shades of dungeon gray. After hours of tapping away, he had no answer. He'd been on-line so long his eyes felt hard and glassy, spilling occasional tears like he'd become a stiff android that could fake emotion.

He’d learned from the search that Trash.exe didn’t exist as a program, virus, or malware. It didn’t exist at all. Going back to his file manager, he hit the delete button for a file. A message popped up – ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TRASH.EXE TO SELF-REPLICATE AND ADAPT TO NEW ENVIRONMENTS. He clicked okay and as before Trash.exe scanned his system in seconds, duplicated itself and then deleted the previous file it had infected.

Thinking it over, he decided he was going about it the wrong way. Switching back to his browser he typed self-replicating into the advanced search and chose the most comprehensive document, which turned out to be a file posted by an artificial intelligence research lab in Toronto. A science teacher, Professor James Morton intended to create new artificial intelligence by releasing self-replicating programs on the internet. His very optimistic expectations were that they would eventually evolve to new life forms.

Clicking on Trash.exe, Thomas studied the effect. It came up like a screen saver -- a pond of soft light flowed with gentle patterns of flickering colors. It certainly was odd, a display that put the idea of the primordial soup into mind. The flickering played on his eyes and mood, soothing him, giving rise to dreamy thoughts. He leaned back, letting his heavy eyes slowly close -- just a blur of lights, and then he caught something in peripheral vision. Shadows were creeping on the walls. He shot up straight, his vision drawn to the wastebasket. The garbage swirled inside; he was sure he saw a banana peel crawl halfway over the edge before falling back.

Startled, Thomas seized the desk and pushed, rolling his chair back from the computer. Was it madness or was Trash.exe invading his mind and environment? Thoughts of the flickering pained him - if it really was a program designed to evolve on its own, maybe it was taking the next step - keying its info into the human brain, using light signals as the input. What had this nutty Morton guy done? Didn't he know enough to avoid playing with fire? An evolving computer program would be inimical -- a virus that evolved like sharks evolved, by devouring other things.

Thomas thought about phoning the university, and then ruled it out. They'd check his background and it would be game over. He might even be arrested again. His personal history always did him in when it came to dealing with educated people. He'd started his career on the net as a Christian extremist, managing to harass thousands of people at universities and other establishments before his faith faded, leaving him stuck wondering why he’d done it all. Now he was known as a former Christian lunatic and a mad hypochondriac -- a label he found unfair. It certainly wasn't his fault that he was genetically weak and prone to every sort of disease. Sure, he'd been wrong a few times -- like last week when he'd e-mailed the university health centre then jogged down to the lab claiming runaway microorganisms were eating his feet. It turned out to be athlete's foot and not deadly organisms and like always he got a lecture and the blame.

This time he was on to something deadly, there was no doubt about it. Perhaps it had already replicated other similar organisms. Thomas rolled the chair back and typed in the search engine, and to his amazement, a page began to open. It was titled Trash.exe's Trash Compactor Page, home of environmentally friendly computer organisms. His breathing got heavy as a graphic of a trashcan appeared. He clicked on it and a mail program popped up. Canceling it, he looked at the list below, which named a number of mirror sites where Trash.exe was available for download. Sweat began to bead on his forehead. He feared the consequences of clicking anything on this page. He hit the view source button and saw that the author of the page code really was Trash.exe itself. “My God,” he said, “it's been done. This lunatic, Professor James Morton, has created runaway computer intelligence. Trash.exe has proven its intelligence by creating its own web and download page.” Going back, he scrolled the page. The design wasn't all that hot, and the graphics Trash.exe used were all stolen from other pages. But it was still a pretty fancy web page, and Thomas knew the purpose of the page -- it was a headquarters, a site hosting a new Frankenstein monster computer intelligence that intended to evolve by spreading trashy replications of itself across the world.

He decided to power down. His system was infected, which meant he'd likely have to destroy it. He rolled his chair back as the hum dropped to silence, then stared in amazement at the pattern still flickering on the monitor. His eyes were so heavy from the long hours he thought that maybe he was seeing patterns where there were none. He tried to clear his thoughts, but found them getting odd -- a moment later muddled pre-dream logic took over and he fell asleep in the chair.

. . . in dreams, Thomas felt dizziness rush in and the feeling shook him with confusion. It was like being a picture fading in and out of lines and distortion. He couldn't quite get a handle on the trembling. In everyday life, Thomas prided himself in being sharp, neat and clean -- a crisp suit, skin always scrubbed pink, a self-image cut to perfect glass. But now his vision was clearing, showing the frayed cuffs of a blackened white shirt.

This dream hit with power and he forgot himself, like an actor that gets involved and thinks the play to be all that exists. It was shocking to find himself ugly, and he knew it would happen again. He turned to the mirror, feeling terror rise in his blood. A tramp Mr. Hyde showed in the glass . . . hair wild, frayed, yellow-gray and unkempt. He had blood-webbed eyes sunk in the ashen craters of a face gone leathery, creased, and tar-stained. He wore a wrinkled white shirt with worn dress trousers that looked all the sillier being held up by shabby suspenders.

Nails in the floorboards penetrated his paper-thin soles as he slowly turned to the window. Horrible odors rose from rotting food in the corners of the room. The sun was a silvery smear behind a shifting wall of gray clouds, but the street looked to be clean. Hobbling over he slid the glass up and took a breath of fresh air. The streets had been scrubbed clean by spring rain -- walls steaming fresh, spotless asphalt and brickwork leading off to a misted rainbow at the centre of town. It was an irresistible sight that sent him out the door, hobbling hurriedly down the rickety stairs, wiping his foul nose in anticipation.

He heard nothing but ghostly echoes of the wind and his footsteps on the way down, and he was thankful for it. Bursting out the door, he took a deep breath, then fell to his knees, choking. He’d swallowed something so bad he felt a squirming fish in his lungs and withering poisons shooting into his blood. It’d been a trick, a ghastly trick -- he looked around, seeing trash spilled everywhere on the cobblestones, and not a soul, unless some of the heaps of old clothing were people.

Thomas stood up, his usually straight back irritatingly stooped. Covering his nose with his ragged sleeve, he began to walk. Rounding the corner, he came to some rusty autos and a view of the avenue. There was no end to the garbage, and he saw rats scurrying on the rubbish heaps. Just the thought of all the germs nearly knocked him down, and in that unsteady moment he became aware of something malevolent watching him. It existed in the garbage, a being or evil force. The thing that had caused this mess. He knew it was ancient; it had always been around - an evil force of filth . . . the unclean thing that nature and God had fought for eternity.

Now it wanted his body and soul. Panic-stricken he began to run. His gait crooked, the mounds of garbage passing above like slow clouds, the cans and swirling paper tripping him up below. Rats squealed, he saw vultures circling and dogs began to howl. Ahead a mound of tar came to life, twisting itself into a giant human form. Like an evil spirit made of rubbish it spread its arms wide and was about to seize him, then he woke up.

The computer screen was blank. He began to rise, but his legs were asleep and he fell forward to the floor. The tingling subsided only to be replaced by a terrible body itch. Thomas got up, scratching his balls like a gorilla. Somehow, the trash in the dream had irritated his skin. His clothes felt suddenly filthy so he took them off and headed for the shower. Grime stained the walls; he'd been too busy to notice how filthy the place was getting. Entertaining thoughts of bringing in a fumigation and cleaning crew, he stepped into the shower.

Showering was a bit of a ritual. Thomas cleaned the stall with hospital disinfectant each morning, and would never step in unless it was spotless. The taps needed a touch of chrome polish, but considering the state of the house, he decided to let it go. A smooth rush of steaming water emerged from the tap, and he waited until it was nearly scalding hot before popping on the showerhead. It was a special massage head that cleaned with power, and he immediately aimed it at his genitals - the area of his body that was usually the most unclean. As the head pounded scalding water on his testicles, he fancied that he was washing old Mr. Hyde down the drain. But not quite, that would really take a brush. Taking down a stiff scrub brush, he went to work. When his genitals had been scrubbed pink, he went to work on the rest of his body. Breaking into song was his method of killing the scrub-brush pain. It had been hymns a while ago. Now he sang old Frank Sinatra tunes. “The summer wind!” he sang as he ripped the brush across his ass.

The garbage strike was endless and Thomas wiped his brow as bright sunlight sent black ghosts skittering across his mind. Old as brass and as hot as a magnifying glass, the sun melted the shadows and revealed the twisted scrunge existing in every corner. He walked down Harbord Street shaking his head. A good shower, a crisp suit, but just step outside and you're ambushed by the filth. The rain and wind … nothing is renewed any more. They only carry the filth, water it down and stain the world with it. Halting, he picked up a Mars Bar wrapper with his cane and flicked it away. As a boy, he'd stepped over every crack. Now he was sure he'd survived because of it. Somewhat satisfied, he watched the wrapper flutter into the gutter, and land right in front of a rat - a stinking fat rat. Furious, Thomas charged, breaking open a fallen garbage bag as a whip of his cane missed the fleeing rodent.

Cheeks reddened, he continued down the street, happy he'd missed and not fouled his cane with rat crap. A mountain of trash was heaped against Angela's board fence, and he saw it like a conspiracy. They knew he was coming and put the trash wherever it would block him. Damn government had promised an end to garbage strikes when they sold the services to the private sector. Now the private companies were union and on strike.

Odors of sweet rot mingled with the fragrance from Angela's lilac hedge. The air was so thick he could've spread garbage honey from it. Homeless tramps were loafing out front of the drugstore, picking about in the trash beneath a giant tampon marquee. A sight so sickening he had to grind his teeth to keep from throwing up. Thomas had once thought cutting people off welfare was a great idea, but now that the streets were filled with the unwashed, he hated the government for doing it.

Jumping the fence at a low spot, he got into Angela's back yard, and found himself looking about a little slice of heaven - a blossoming cherry tree, an apple tree, corner rock garden, lush grass and the lilacs. It all ended at the fence where he could see a curtain of stink heat rising above the boards.

Her house was cottage style, and it looked homey and not out of place among the larger structures. Thomas had lived here once and moving back would be nice if Angela didn't come with the house. He knocked on the door, pondering the situation, remembering that she was still angry about the trouble he'd caused during his days of salvation.

She answered, fresh out of the shower, her honey blond hair blow-dried and her robe clean. It brought a smile to his face and he felt an erection rising as he stepped inside.

“Thomas, I was about to phone. I didn't think you’d go out in this.”

“I've not much choice, do I,” he said as he took out his pocket book. He produced a check. “The alimony,” he said. “Three months, so I'm up to date now. But, er uh,” he cleared his throat.

She snatched the check. “But what . . . but more excuses for next month. Is that it?” She bit her lip, her large eyes and tiny nose giving her the look of an angry doll.

“Well, sort of . . . a terrible thing has happened. I might need money to hire a private eye. There's this university professor, James Morton. He's released deadly trash organisms onto the internet and …”

“The answer is no. No money for more of your crazy conspiracy theories. I don't care if the professor’s little bugs are straight from Hades.”

“They're using screen savers to invade our minds. I'm sure they caused this garbage strike. They sent me dreams of being Mr. Hyde.”

“You're nuts, Thomas. And as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Hyde is what I need. Mr. Hyde would at least know that his wife wants to get screwed once in while.”

“Please, Angela, you make me feel so terrible when you use that word. And the way you want to do it. It's unclean.”

“No money, Thomas. If you want to know about this Morton guy go there and talk to him. And be smart enough to avoid being put away.”

Smoke drifted on the street, fingers of a giant hand formed and it was like a monstrous hand of filth that would molest him when he passed the fence. The bums were drifting south, and a few guys in university computer science jackets were out front of the drugstore. Two of them went inside and the rest walked away. Perhaps they’d know where to find Professor Morton. Thinking it as good a place as any to begin his investigation, he crossed and went inside.

An attempt to be decorative had failed, making the place cheesy. A tiny restaurant area was at the back and the university guys were there ordering. Thomas slid into a booth beside them and picked up a menu. Peeking over it, he studied their behavior, finding them to be classic nerds … pimpled litterbugs, already making a mess with pop and napkins. These were the dipstick propeller heads of yesterday, suddenly made cool by the popularity of sexy pseudo science and the internet. They were naturals for the new Trash.exe army; members of a fraternity that stank with college-boy sweat gathered in close rooms and apartments that were dumps full of candy wrappers, pizza boxes and crumpled notes.

The waitress was young and a pleasant-faced blond, busty and attractive and no doubt these fat brained nerds came here to ogle her. Thomas tipped her as she put down his milk. He took a sip, thinking how much he'd hate it if he saw her on a date with one of the slimy nerd balls. Giving them another glance, he saw one of them spill ketchup on a dirty part of the table, nonchalantly wipe it up with a fry and swallow it.

Thomas grunted then grimaced in disgust. “Looking at something, pal,” the guy said, ketchup foaming at his lips.

“Don't be offended,” Thomas said. “I admire you university boys. I couldn't help but notice your computer science jackets.”

“A loser,” ketchup lips said to his friend, who was likely nicknamed stretch dick or zit ass.

“You got work for us?” Stretch said.

“Ah, no. As it happens, I’ve been reading about the university and Professor Morton’s new life forms. What do you know about this exciting new discovery?”

“Morton,” Stretch said as he took a bite of his hotdog. Then he swallowed and burped loudly. “He's one of my teachers. I can't tell you anything about him. His project is top secret.”

“Secret,” Thomas said. “Well, what would you say if I told you his experiment has gone awry? And that I happen to know that those intelligent bugs of his have built their own web site?”

“I would say that you look like the type of guy who thinks bugs are building their own websites.”

“Wait a second,” ketchup face said. “If this is true, genuine computer intelligence has been created.”

“Not really,” Stretch said. “One of Morton's bugs could've attached itself to a web design program and built a page without being intelligent.”

“You sound skeptical,” Thomas said. “Aren't you afraid of what might happen?”

“Not really. Professor Morton’s idea can't work. He's released his artificial intelligence into a pond that's too big and has no control handles. The internet won't aid it in forming a new kind of intelligence. It's like releasing bacteria in a pond and getting a formation of green scum. There has to be a centre for intelligence, an intelligent life form needs a brain. His critters can't evolve, they can only do freak things. Like create a web page, or screw up some server's software.”

“I'd like to talk to Professor Morton about it,” Thomas said. “Know where I can find him?”

“For some cash I do. But don't tell him I sent you. I want to get more than an F this year.”

Stretch played a couple raunchy tunes on his laptop then the boys got up and left. Thomas pondered Morton and pond scum. He studied the mess the college boys had made -- ketchup, mustard, crumbs, pop, and wrappers. They'd even got coffee stains on his table. Kids today were definitely dirtier. Some kind of bug had already infected them. They were a ready host for new trash intelligence. Once it found a way, it would spread out of control and the whole world would be garbage-strike pond scum.

He watched the waitress bend over to clean the table, her rising dress revealing clean pink skin that soothed his mind. It occurred to him that if Stretch knew the pond scum theory, Morton had to know it too. A fanatic like Professor Morton wouldn't let his plans be blocked by that so what would he do? “Hum,” Thomas thought. “What he'd do is have a human host prepared for the new intelligence.” No one would volunteer for it so that meant he’d probably use himself. That was it - of course . . . Professor Morton intended to open his own brain to them. That was why Trash.exe had been set to use screen saver flashes to code into the human brain. It was possible that Professor Morton was already infected and breeding a new Trash.exe super organism of disease. Thomas' eyes opened wide at the realization, and as they did, the waitress looked back and caught him staring open mouthed at her ass. “Creep,” she said as she carried the tray away.

Red-faced, Thomas put a generous tip down and left, nearly running to the door. He stepped out into blinding sunshine and found himself surrounded by panhandlers. Their appeals for cash might as well have been blows. He ducked back in the entrance, not wanting to be touched by them. He could phone a cab, but that wouldn't get him past the scum. Getting an idea, he hurried to the washroom. He looked approvingly at the clean tile floor then crossed to the window. It opened on a broad alley. He could see dented dumpsters, auto wrecks, trashcans, rotted clothing and the usual muddy carpeting of flattened litter. There were no bums or rats. It appeared to be a clear avenue of escape. Jumping to the sill, he climbed out and dropped, landing in something squishy. Looking down he saw that he was standing in a huge pile of dog crap. As he grimaced, he saw a tramp moving at the far end. Jolted, he took a step, slipped, and banged his head on the side of a dumpster. Then the scene exploded like a rotten melon as he blacked out.

His tongue was thick and sour, feeling foreign like moldy beef instead of flesh. Gloom whirled in his head, and then a lead sky faded in. The air hung heavy, thick with a reek that sealed his lungs . . . atmosphere so oppressive it was like being squeezed in a trash compactor. The tiny bit of light stabbed at his eyes with the power of something unholy.

Blood pounded in his heart, some type of adrenaline rush buzzed through him. Arteries pulsed explosively. The reek of urine and feces aroused him like ether, and then he felt something crawling on his leg.

It moved to his genitals. Releasing a hoarse breath, Thomas tilted his head and watched a dim form shift into focus - a shabby tramp, picking his pocket with one hand and molesting him with the other.

Thomas pushed up and punched him in the face. He groaned and staggered back as Thomas got to his feet. Without hesitation, Thomas charged, seized the man, and threw him into some garbage cans.

Tin clattered, rotten meat and peelings were spilled, the bum rolled, arms flailing. Thomas howled and held his hands up in strangler's pose. Unearthly rage burned in his throat. He saw that his hands were crooked, strong, and grotesque. Muscles and hair bulged from his torn sleeves - he'd become Mr. Hyde again.

Yellow miasma rose from a sewer grate, he saw crumbling bricks and decay, felt rancid water flowing over his toes - the reek of refuse and his hatred of the human refuse, it all added up to strange fury.

He stepped toward the tramp, finding his right leg to be as stiff as wood. It made him growl, irritated that even as Mr. Hyde he was handicapped. Grabbing a heavy bin of trash, he hoisted it and tossed it fifteen feet down the alley. A rat squealed as it crashed, moldy bread hit the wall and stuck. He turned back to the tramp, bloodlust fueling him now. The man was on hands and knees, so he stepped over, picked him up, and bounced him off the brick wall with such force he heard his bones break. Then he watched, huffing quietly as the body tumbled across a heap of discarded tires. It split in the middle - mattress stuffing, straw and marbles popped out, then it turned to red sawdust and collapsed in a heap.

Thomas grunted with satisfaction. Hunger ached in his belly. Smelling pizza he went to a trashcan, lifted the lid and was suddenly blinded by sunbeams.

He awoke in the alley, his head aching, the smell of dog crap and garbage turning his stomach. Brushing himself fiercely, he rose. He had to get the shit off his shoes so he stepped over to an oily puddle. His reflection showed in the water, a purple goose egg by his eye. He grimaced, bothered more by the Hyde dream than anything else. It should’ve been a nightmare, but in it he’d been about to eat garbage and enjoy the act. It was proof that his brain had been infected and it meant that he was deteriorating mentally and would soon be trash or Mr. Hyde. The trash man was a better description. He was becoming a trash man, and Professor Morton's evolving internet bugs were the root cause of it. Somehow, they'd got their pattern of decay into his brain.

Fumbling in his pocket, he found the note with Professor Morton's university address - 548 Madison Way. It was within walking distance so he strolled out of the alley and headed down Sheridan Boulevard in the direction of the campus. The unhealthy environment had worked like disease, wearing him down, his usual snappy walk and erect posture now the shambling gait of a defeated loser. He grimaced as a damp wind rose, the gusts kicking up the lighter debris. Foil, cellophane, yellowed flyers and newsprint slid and flew like colored rain, taking his thoughts back to Trash.exe and his fear of it. As a self-replicating internet entity, Trash.exe couldn't survive as anything meaningful. It definitely wanted to evolve to more than on-line pond scum, so it had to pattern its code into the human brain, using light flashes from screen saver programs. No doubt Morton had arranged it so the most evolved replication of Trash.exe would return to his brain and enter to retrieve implanted instructions. Once in the brain, Trash.exe would be in a hostile environment, always fending off disobedient brain systems that would want to clean it up. Eventually it would have to take a new form and escape.

Chunks of wet cardboard whirled into his eyes; a potato chip bag hit his face and stuck. As he brushed it away, it occurred to him that in the outside world the safest and simplest form for Trash.exe to take was that of real trash - gum wads, wrappers, plastic bottles, discarded personal items . . . things people see as innocuous.

If it were true, if it had already happened, any piece of refuse could be a copy of Trash.exe. An old boot, a cereal box, nearly anything could be a piece of hostile trash intelligence - part of a monster web of neurons in a brain taking over the planet. As a conspiracy, it was the cleverest ever devised. Self-replicating, evolving trash - he chewed on the idea and it brought back a memory of his black sheep brother Jacky, saying, “The world is the junk heap.” Jacky had killed himself with junk - on the needle.

Now the world really was the junk heap; Mr. Hyde's junk heap and trash was appearing everywhere. Professor Morton's sloppy hopes of getting in Nature or winning a Nobel Prize had killed the planet. It was all but over now, and not only had the dream gone sour, it was garbage that stank like hell. The only hope left was that he might be able to confront Morton and reverse the process.

Morton's building turned out to be an eight-story concrete structure with neat rows of windows in embossed vertical slits. It had a few marble faces and some decorative sculpture. Mainly it was a product of the functional fortress style of architecture. A style that brought budget cuts to mind. Thomas preferred memories, nostalgia - the ivied towers and quads of yesteryear.

The building did have grounds but would have been more attractive without them. Rather than mowed lawns, flowerbeds and bushes, it had fields of colored stones and sickly evergreen scrub.

Fields of stones are at their most appealing during garbage strikes, so much so that only a few patches of colored gravel still showed. Trash dunes covered most of the area; the garbage rotting and releasing smelly hydrocarbons. Waves of potent gas rose, blurring the higher ledges like heat distortion. Gulls wheeled through the oily smoke from the incinerator chimney, and a few hundred more were perched on the dunes.

Thomas' eyes went from the stack down to the rows of sawhorses holding the trash back from the walks at the front and side of the building. A few men in drab navy uniforms and a security guard were near the entrance. Placing his hands on his hips, he pursed his lips. His expression soured. This place was more like the guard tower of a new city dump. The smoke from the incinerator was probably from animal corpses those crazy professors were burning. Visiting Morton wasn't going to be fun or at all appetizing.

Shivering with revulsion, he concluded that entering at the front wasn't a good idea. Security would stop him and they might refuse him entry. Following the perimeter of the dunes, he got to the side of the building, jumped a sawhorse, pushed aside some evergreen scrub, and walked toward the rear. The lower windows were all barred so there was no way he could break in. Cupping his hands, he looked in at eye level and saw lab equipment and a dead rabbit on its back on a table. Dogs snarled, Thomas jumped back, and then realized the sound had come from the rear.

It wasn't a good omen. He took quiet footsteps to the back. A fence topped with barbwire protected the back parking lot, but few cars were parked in it. The dogs were louder now, their barking dangerously vicious. A quick glance showed three stray dogs beneath a guard post. Two guards were inside, under siege from the dogs.

Moving behind a mound of stones, Thomas got a better look. Two huge mongrels and a shepherd had the guards at bay. Red-eyed, frothing, and rabid the beasts leapt at the Plexiglas, nearly knocking it out with the force of their blows.

Keeping down, he thought it over, guessing the rear to be another dead end. There was a storage door, but it required magnetic access, and if he went for it, he'd get his butt chewed while the guards watched from the safety of the booth. He couldn't give up so he waited then took another look, seeing a slot in the guards' access window open. The snarling shepherd muzzled up to it - and exploded. Thomas saw the head pop – like a Roman candle, leaving a torn neck stump spilling crimson as the quivering body fell to the stones. “Hollow-point bullet,” Thomas muttered, completely sickened as he watched the other two mongrels howl and flee, blood dripping from their coats as they leapt the fence to the garbage heaps.

The dogs didn't return and the guards never left the safety of the post. “Cowards,” Thomas thought, “can't even clean up their own mess.” Bushes rustled to his rear. Spinning to look, he saw one of the dogs creeping up on him. The beast stared, whined and whimpered. Snapping his fingers, Thomas drew it to him and it rubbed his legs then sat as he scratched its head. It didn't appear rabid now, and that meant that animals could sniff out the infected. He'd suspected it from the first moment; the guards and likely everyone else in the building had been contaminated by Professor Morton and an advanced version of Trash.exe.

“This calls for strategy,” he thought, and a moment later, he had a plan. He picked up a stick and threw it, sending the dog into the bushes to fetch it, and then he ran out, waving as he headed for the guard post. A whip thin, gray-haired guard trained a Glock on him, but he lowered it, confused by Thomas' distressed approach.

Thomas pounded on the safety window. “Let me in quick! The dogs are coming!”

They saw the dog running for him and opened up immediately. A burly, fat-faced guard pulled him in and slammed the door. “Got ID?” the guard said.

“No, I've been robbed,” Thomas said. “Tramps got me and put the dogs on me. I'm a friend of Professor Morton's. I have to see him. It's important news.”

“It's okay, Joe,” the thin guard said, “so long as he's a friend of the Professor.”

“Oh-oh, here come the dogs,” Thomas said, wiping his brow. “Shit, there are three of them now.”

“Bastard animals,” said the thin guard. “They've gone so loco we can't kill them fast enough. I better shoot before that big one breaks the window.”

“Watch you don't shoot it out,” his partner said.

“I have a better idea,” Thomas said. “I'm a crack shot. I was a sniper in the forces. Give me the gun. I can open the door real fast and pick the devils off.”

The guards looked at each other and nodded. “Okay, we'll try it,” Joe said.

Thomas took the Glock and motioned for them to keep back. He watched as they got tight to the wall, then he flung the door open and rolled out, the dogs tearing over and past him as he hit the dirt. As he expected, they didn't go for him, but went straight for the guards - turning the booth into a screamer's butcher-shop . . . the guards yowling like a couple more crazy dogs as they went down.

Getting to his feet, he dusted himself off. He suddenly realized he'd forgot about the access card. He could hear the dogs ripping at the corpses and likely chewing the card. Walking up to the service door, he fired a shot at the lock. It winged back into the gun, the force nearly spraining his wrist. “Bulletproof, damn,” he muttered. There was one other option. Biting his lip, he moved a pile of the garbage bags that'd spilled over the fence with the leaping dogs, leaving them against the guard post. Dashing up them, he jumped, caught the ledge, and swung up. Another hop and he was looking in a second floor window. Darkness was all he could see so he kicked out the glass and stepped in fanning the gun.

His eyes adjusted to the florescent gloom. This was an empty lab - gray gunmetal cabinets and desks, a computer with a bank of dials. A flat screen hung on the wall.

Nothing really stood out, and then white flashed in the corner of his eye - a rabbit running on the sill. He aimed, took a step toward it, and nearly jumped out of his skin. A body was slumped on the desk in front of him. Painful throbbing in his sore hand stopped him from pulling the trigger, then the odor hit him and he choked. It was a rank corpse; he tapped its shoulder with the gun and it moved, causing the chair to creak. It rocked then collapsed, throwing the body backward to the floor.

The face was female, the neck torn open and the gashed flesh swollen to a giant welt. His eyes flashed back to the rabbit and he saw blood on its fur. Without a doubt, it had ripped the woman's throat out. Its present timidity meant that he wasn't in as advanced a state of infection as the woman, or more likely, he was infected by a more benign replication of Trash.exe that animals didn't detect.

Professor Morton's version would be the one on the loose here, and it’d likely caught everyone by surprise. Clearly, Morton had moved his office here for security and maybe the chance to do some illegal experiments on animals. But he couldn't have known that animals would turn on his new intelligence.

His eyes drifted back to the corpse. If Professor Morton's superior form could get killed off by mad animals, maybe it was possible to exterminate all varieties of Trash.exe. This woman's corpse could be bagged and studied.

He wondered where he could get a bag or blanket, and then he noticed something moving in the corpse's throat. Folds of rot parted in the welt and something yellow appeared, moving like a slimy insect, cutting its way with a mandible. Caked blood crumbled, he saw letters on its back. “Holy shit, its back is a chocolate bar wrapper,” he said, then his hand began trembling uncontrollably and he opened fire, the shots flying wild as he emptied the entire clip.

The entire head and upper body of the corpse splattered and the trash bug flew to the ceiling and then dropped to the floor. He'd missed it of course and the thing was now crawling towards his foot. Dropping the gun, he turned and ran.

Crashing through the stairwell doors, terror lifting his hair, he realized that it was too late. There was no use even looking for Professor Morton. It had really been over when the genie got out of the bottle. Insanity swept his mind, like maybe he could survive by escaping into the bowels of the earth. Stumbling, staggering, he ran down and burst through a door into basement 3, the lowest level - the incinerator room.

The level was enormous, like a gloomy cavern. He came to a halt, leaned against a concrete post, and caught his breath. Faint odors of smoke and corpses and the hissing of the furnace caught his attention. The furnace base of the huge stack stood on the far side of the room. Thomas passed another post, drawn by the heat. Then he saw someone sitting in the shadows and heard paper rustling.

Slow careful steps took him to the man and his eyes began to adjust to the bluish florescent light. The chest rose and fell, so it wasn't a corpse. Then the face came clear and Thomas knew it was Professor Morton. The man's eyes were gone, pouring with blood lava. His ears also bled and that meant that beyond a doubt Trash.exe had exited his brain, leaving him nothing but a vegetable.

“You've really done it now, you madman,” Thomas said. And he became as surprised as he was angry when Professor Morton lifted his face to him, appearing to hear.

“Ah, Thomas, you're here,” the Professor said. “Your wife called. She told me to call the police if you get violent. She thinks you're mad, Thomas.”

Rage boiled in Thomas' brain. It infuriated him that even his wife had betrayed him. The professor was giggling like a lunatic now, and it was more than he could bear. He lifted his hands and firmed them to claws. “You monster, I'll kill you,” he said. Then he heard his shirt rip. He saw his chest expand to barrel size and his arms grow muscled and hairy. Behind Morton, a chute suddenly opened and yellow wrappers began pour down. After that, Thomas' vision went red and he saw no more.

Some people believe the world will end with a bang. And the poet said not a bang but a whimper. But there has to be order, even in decay and the end. So the world began its ending with Thomas, or was it Mr. Hyde? Howling like a devil, running down an alley, banging the dumpsters with his fists, the baying pack following at his heels. Overhead, two million gulls wheeled and began an angry swoop toward city hall. In other alleys the trash rustled, popped bags, bins and can lids and rolled in waves, pouring for the main streets as it itched for life and fresh blood. At police headquarters, the chief wondered why his men were watching strange patterns, and then he saw his computer screen start to bleed. Professor Morton laughed his last mad laugh and fell dead on the floor as thousands of Trash.exe chocolate bar wrappers fluttered up the incinerator chimney and floated off on the wind.

---The End ---