Sunday, March 7, 2010

Viral Misconceptions

Holloway High School, an average public high school, has the unfortunate honor of resonating in the same vein as Columbine. Both were unexpected tragedies, real life horror stories, cutting people down before their lives even began.
For years, Holloway has been the subject of increasingly outrageous rumors and tall tales. The most persistent of which is the story of a zombie outbreak. Were the victims of Holloway the shambling, rotting corpses of Hollywood horror films? Did they deserve the fate they got? Was it such a supernatural event? Or is there a more scientific explanation for the tragedy?
Here we aim to find the truth behind the years of exaggerations. We will uncover the real story behind that fateful day at Holloway High School, and we will do our very best to finally give the victims a voice.

Donnely, Andrew. (2008). Holloway High School: Origin of the Hanged Man Virus.

The outbreak first occurred at Holloway High School, located in Hiram County, a suburb off Atlanta, Georgia. It was a clear September morning when local police were flooded with calls from the school. Built with a capacity of 1,800 students and holding just over 2,000, the incident at Holloway was the biggest catastrophe the county has ever dealt with. When police arrived, the scene was reportedly empty, with the majority of the staff and student body remaining inside the school. It was just after 7:30 a.m. when the first calls went out to 9-1-1, and the entire ordeal was over by noon. In that four and a half hour stretch of time, two-hundred thirty-five students died. Students and families are currently coping with this loss. You may send your condolences to Keeping you up to date with all the breaking news, this is Linda Montenegro...

Nimes, Isabel. (2007, November 14.) WPBR News. Atlanta, GA: Richardson Broadcasting Corporation.

Scientifically speaking, it is called the Strick-Hotchner Virus...
Originally, scientists thought it was a strain of the necrotizing fasciitis due to the rapid muscle decay...
Research was halted for nearly a year after the outbreak of the virus due to ignorance fueled vandalism, often perpetrated by a group our readers might have heard of, called the Executioners. They take their name from the virus' layman name, the Hanged Man's Virus. Mindful of the risk of another outbreak, the government warned that the persons of this group would be held solely accountable for any more lives lost, but luckily for them, there had not been- and there has yet to be- another outbreak.

Carrol, Lee. (2008, December, 9.) Hanged Man Virus and You. Retrieved from

We'd like to thank Sandra Dearing for coming in to speak with us today. Ms. Dearing was a senior at Holloway High School when the outbreak of the Strick-Hotchner virus occurred.

Andrew Donnely: What do you remember from the morning of the outbreak?

Sandra Dearing: I was in the bathroom when it happened. I was going through my bag looking for my eyeshadow when I heard shouting from the commons. I thought there was a fight, you know? People get really excited when there's a fight, but it kind of makes me sick, so I didn't want to go look.

AD: When did you realize it wasn't a fight?

SD: Someone screamed. A girl, I guess, but she screamed like she was freaked out, scared, or whatever. Not how people do when it's just a fight. So I grabbed my bag and went to go see what was happening.
Out in the commons, out there everyone was freaking out. It took me a second to realize what was happening. At first everyone looked normal, save for the screaming. Then, I saw the blood and- Oh, God.

AD: You can take a moment, if you'd like.

SD: No, no. It was like half the people looked normal but terrified, and the other half were messed up. They were bloody and stiff. Their mouths were open, and they were moaning, like something from Dawn of the Dead. I tried to ask someone what was happening, but everyone was running. I just followed people down a hallway, got carried into a classroom. People kept pushing in, and it felt like no one else could fit when two guys managed to shut the door. The doors lock automatically when they close, but the guys still stood there, pressing on it.
The room was like a furnace. I was so close to people, I could feel their body heat. Everyone was on their phones, calling the police. I kept trying to call my mom, but I couldn't get service. That's what I get for using Verizon.
People were still coming down the hall, banging on the door, but the guys wouldn't let them in. Or, we all wouldn't let them in. I don't know if we could have overpowered the two guys at the door. They looked like football players. People would come to the door, kick it, hit it, yell at us, and then take off for another classroom when we didn't open up.
Eventually, the flow of people let up. I guess everyone was locked up tight in a classroom. We were all relaxing in the shocked kind of way your body does when it just can't keep up with the panic and adrenaline anymore. I remember I was leaning against the person standing next to me, I was so tired, just exhausted, when something banged into the door again. Someone screamed. I looked at the door, and he had his face pressed against the little rectangular window. I was so close, I could hear him breathing these loud, strained breaths. His face was pale, and there were these awful black circles under his eyes. Blood was smeared across his chin. That's probably what made someone scream something about him being a zombie. It was the first I'd heard anyone say it. But his eyes were wide and desperate, his mouth was open. I could see blood in the cracks between his teeth, and he was groaning. Nothing intelligible, just these awful pained sounds, for the most part. But after it felt like he'd looked at all of us, I swear to God, I think I heard him say 'Help.' I don't know if one of the football players heard it too, but one of them kicked the door, yelled at the kid, and he fell back from the door, layed on the ground for a while, crawled away eventually. It all felt like it took years, but I couldn't take my eyes off him. It wasn't until he was gone that I remembered we'd had the same Algebra teacher. That poor kid.
Eventually, the police came. I don't know how long it took them to get there or to get inside. From what I heard, they didn't know what was going on when they got there. Thought someone might have had a bomb or something. I guess it's more plausible than zombies. They came to the door carrying guns and took us out of the school. We were all quarantined after that. I still can't forget how the commons looked as we were leaving. All those bodies...

(A. Donnely, personal communication, October, 2008)

Kripke: Welcome to Daily Life With Kripke. Today, we're talking about the Hanged Man's Virus. While the government has said any more outbreaks are virtually impossible, well- we all know how reliable the government is, right? So, we're going to be discussing the signs and symptoms of what is formally known as the Strick-Hotchner Virus. Our guests will include Doctor Eileen Grand, a specialist on Strick-Hotchner, and a surprise guest you won't want to miss. Please, welcome Doctor Grand!

(Doctor Grand enters stage right.)

Kripke: It's good to have you on the show Doctor.

Grand: It's great to be here! Really, I do enjoy giving people the most reliable information about this disease.

Kripke: You're area of expertise is completely centered around the Strick-Hotchner Virus, is it not?

Grand: It is, yes. I began working on Strick-Hotchner not long after I was out of grad school, and I've never looked back.

Kripke: Are there many specialists in your area?

Grand: Not, really, no. Right after the virus broke out, there was a huge need for us to figure out what it was and where it might strike next, but once we figured that out and had the virus contained, the majority of people, at least those in my department, were no longer needed.

Kripke: But, you stayed on?

Grand: I did. I find it fascinating, the way this virus works. We're currently running spontaneous outbreak scenarios in our lab.

Kripke: Why don't you tell us about the virus?

Grand: Of course. The Strick-Hotchner Virus has only been seen active once-

Kripke: This was the infection at Holloway.

Grand: Yes. It broke out within the school, seemingly indiscriminately.

Kripke: Seemingly?

Grand: At the time, the virus appeared to attack randomly. For months after the outbreak, we were unable to get a living sample from the school. All we had to go on were the observations of a couple hundred terrified teenagers and rather grainy security camera footage. It wasn't until we actually exhumed bodies that we were able to find a testable sample. After these tests, we learned that the virus does not attack randomly at all. In fact, the reason it broke out within a high school is due to the high concentration of teenagers. It is a survival mechanism of the virus to attack young, strong bodies. They decompose at a slower rate.

Kripke: Decompose, now that's just awful. But, before we get into that, why don't you tell the audience what the signs of Strick-Hotchner are, and what exactly those signs mean?

Grand: Well, the first sign is a nausea said to engulf the sufferer, which is usually felt in the head and the stomach. It is followed by dizziness or a light headed feeling as the blood drains from the surface of the skin, and, subsequently, from the brain.

Kripke: Is there any way to tell between a stomach ache or a passing faint spell and the beginning stages of Strick-Hotchner?

Grand: In this case, the devil is in the details. What makes the nausea of Strick-Hotchner unique is the fact that it really is encompassing. Someone who is suffering through it will feel nauseous in their stomach, head, and chest, as if they may throw up or faint within seconds. It is not just a small stomach ache.

Kripke: So most people would notice if they were feeling nauseous at the Strick-Hotchner level?

Grand: Oh, yes. But, to be frank, if one were that nauseous, and it was Strick-Hotchner, there really would be no use in knowing that. The other symptoms come on so fast that there is no way to help someone once they have become infected.

Kripke: That's encouraging. Now, you said the blood drains from the surface of the skin. Why is this?

Grand: The blood drains from the surface of the skin so the white blood cells can fight the invading virus. However, the virus is much stronger than a healthy body can fight, and it loses the battle. When this happens, the blood pools in the extremities, causing the fingers, feet, and tongue, most noticeably, to swell, as well as causing the veins to bulge against the skin. This is highly visible. The fingers, for instance, will appear bruised, purple or red. The fingernails will be deeply discolored, and often times blood manages to sluggishly squeeze out from beneath them. The veins will be a dark purple color and will press out against the skin, often as they do after strenuous activity. Finally, the tongue will swell with the blood. This is one of the most debilitating symptoms of Strick-Hotchner because the tongue's size increases so much, past what the human mouth can accommodate. All of these occurrences are going to be rather painful for the infected person, not to mention very stressful and frightening, especially when the tongue swells, making it harder, but not impossible, for the infected to breathe. As one would expect, the infected is going to try to talk to get help. This isn't possible due to their swollen tongue, but they will undoubtedly try, and during this attempt, they will bite their tongue. Because their tongue is so full of blood, the wound, regardless how small, will bleed profusely, and this lends itself to the monster image of the infected that was held by many of the students at Holloway High School.

Kripke: Let me just stop you there for a moment. We have to go to a commercial break, but we'll be right back with Doctor Grand.

(Commercial Break)

Kripke: We're back here at Daily Life With Kripke. Right now, we are sitting down with Doctor Eileen Grand, a specialist on the Strick-Hotchner Virus. Before we went to break, we were discussing signs and symptoms of Strick-Hotchner. Would you like to continue, Doctor Grand?

Grand: Of course. As I was saying, the virus causes the blood to swell in the extremities. As this is happening, the face will change. We found two common types of color changes happened to Strick-Hotchner victims. The face will become very pale, with either a blue or green tinge to the skin and will often be marked by red blotches of busted capillaries under the skin. This symptom is not consequential in the long run, but it is highly visible. As all of this is happening, the muscles are rapidly deteriorating, cauisng the infected to be stiff and pained when they excercise their limited range of movement. The final symptom, which, like all the symptoms save nausea, happens almost simultaneously with the others, is that of a bruised ring forming around the front of the neck. This is caused by the internal body pressure, as well as the blood rushing from the surface of the skin to distend the veins. It is this symptom, which is seen as a dark purple, black, or red ring around the throat of the infected's neck that gives the virus it's layman name, the Hanged Man's Virus.

Kripke: That's quite awful. Now, I noticed earlier you said you had to exhume bodies to retrieve a sample of the virus.

Grand: Yes.

Kripke: Were people not upset by this? Furthermore, were you not risking the chance that the virus might get into the air and cause another outbreak?

Grand: Let me say, I was not actually a part of these proceedings. I merely worked on the bodies once they were on the table. People were, understandably, upset and scared at this development for the exact reason you noted. The government felt, however, that this was too important to let that interfere. Also, and I'm not sure how public this has been made, those infected with Strick-Hotchner were buried in a quarantined graveyard. The bodies were thoroughly radiated and sanitized before being buried, and the coffins are buried 12 feet below the surface, surrounded by three feet of concrete on all sides which ensures the local water table will never even chance being infected by their remains. The highest precautions have been taken.

Kripke: Is it true, that the location of the coffins is a secret?

Grand: Only known to loved ones listed on a registry somewhere in the bowels of the Center for Disease Control.

Kripke: Almost makes one think of cover ups.

Grand: Lets not make this out to be more than it is. This was an unknown disease apparently capable of decimating hundreds of people in a few hours. To start spouting conspiracy theories would honestly be a little ridiculous in my book.

Kripke: I don't mean to give you a hard time. These are the things the public wants to know.

Grand: I understand.

Kripke: Okay, on that note we will break for commercial. When we return, we'll be discussing one of the biggest secrets in relation to Strick-Hotchner. Stay tuned.

(Commercial Break)

Kripke: Welcome back to Daily Life With Kripke. I'm here with Doctor
Grand, discussing Strick-Hotchner. Now, Doctor Grand, earlier you said that you had to exhume bodies to get a sample of the virus, yes?

Grand: That's correct.

Kripke: You said the only accounts you had of the virus and its effects came from the students and staff of Holloway High School and security footage extracted from the school's cameras, is that right?

Grand: Yes, it is.

But, wasn't there a student who would have been a viable source to retrieve a sample from?

Grand: I'm not sure-

Kripke: Was there not a student who was infected with the Strick-Hotchner Virus and lived?

Grand: There was, yes.

Kripke: His name is Neil Avery. He was infected during the outbreak at Holloway High School, and he is the only one to survive the virus. In fact. he was the only infected to survive that day. Please, welcome Neil Avery!

(Neil Avery enters stage left.)

Kripke: Neil, it's great to see you. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with us today.

Avery: It's no problem, really. Happy to be here. My mom is at home taping this, so. Couldn't miss my opportunity to shine.

Kripke: Now, tell us who you are. Very few people actually know.

Avery: Sure, I love to be repetitious. I'm Neil Avery. I was a junior at Holloway High School when the Hanged Man's Virus infected the school in the fall of 2007. I am the only person who was infected with the virus and survived.

Kripke: What is that like, being the only infected to survive?

Avery: Most days, it's like nothing. Most days I don't think about it. But, every once and a while I come on talk shows. On those days, it's devestatingly lonesome, like no one will ever understand me again. The American public eats that up, right?

Kripke: You do have a tongue on you.

Avery: That's what my mother says. She says some day it'll just cut its self right out of my mouth, it'll get so sharp.

Kripke: Seriously, though, how do you feel being the only survivor?

Avery: When I think about it? When I stop to think, I feel awful. I don't know why I lived, and I don't know why others didn't. I'm sure you've heard those conspiracy theories about how the government actually sent out some secret poison to kill the infected kids. In that scenario, I'm just a lucky fool with a price on his head.

Kripke: Do those stories bother you?

Avery: No. What bothers me is the parents that call me and demand answers or justice or whatever. I don't have the answers. I don't know any more than they do. I'm really no help, but to sit on the phone and listen to them plead for their child like I can bring them back.

Kripke: They say the other students were murdered.

Avery: Yes, that is what they say. I don't honestly think it's true, but it must be awful to believe that happened to your child, and you couldn't do anything to save them.

Kripke: Do you have any words for the parents of former Holloway students that may be watching?

Avery: Besides what I just said? No matter what you believe, you're kid isn't coming back. They loved you, and they wouldn't want you losing everything to mourn or avenge them. And, I get that an idea like that is too hard to stomach if you're the kind of parent who is watching this show, so let me try again. Stop what you're doing. You need to stop having the only thing you remember about your kid be his death. They had lives before they died. They were happy. Watch a movie they loved, look at their clothes. Open up those dusty rooms you closed off two years ago, open a window, and sit inside. It hurts, but it's better than having the only memory of them being one of anger and regret. Just try that, please. If it doesn't work, you can always call me. I'm happy to listen to stories of your kid's first loose tooth any time. But try this first. For them.

Kripke: That is very insightful. We're going to a commercial break, but when we get back, we'll being talking more with Neil Avery.

(Commercial Break)

Kripke: Welcome back to Daily Life With Kripke. We're here with Neil Avery, discussing his life after Holloway. Neil, I'd like to ask you, could you tell us about your rescue from Holloway?

Avery: I could tell you, but I'd be telling you second-hand stories. I don't remember leaving Holloway.

Kripke: What were you told happened?

Avery: From what I was told, by, uh, doctors, cops, and my parents, the virus broke out right before the bell rang in the morning. Police were unsure what was happening inside. They pieced the situation together more through phone calls with people inside than through what they could see through the windows.

Kripke: Why was that?

Avery: Come on, a bunch of teenagers staggering around? It must have looked like a drunken ho-down to them. Anyway, once they understood the situation, the building and a good bit of land surrounding it was quarantined. The boys in blue donned hazmat suits, and managed to open a few windows in empty halls and such and set up infrared cameras.

Kripke: Infrared cameras do, what, exactly?

Avery: They sense heat emitting off an object or person and project it as an image.

Kripke: Okay, I wanted to clarify.

Avery: So, after they set up these cameras and sensors, they monitored the school. All the students put off heat images, including the infected kids. But, around 9:00, the temperatures of the infected students dropped sharply, causing their infrared images to change. While the cops watched, I guess the bodies got colder and colder, and they weren't moving anymore. At some point, someone had the bright idea to enter the school and check the situation out.

Kripke: Let me interrupt you. When you say the temperatures dropped, what do you mean?

Avery: Just that. The body temperatures of the students dropped so low it would have been impossible for them to be alive.

Kripke: So the police went in?

Avery: Yeah. I'm told they were very careful about it, methodical. They searched the school, evacuated the students, and descended on the dead bodies. They say they checked to see if every body that appeared dead was before they were removed, but I'm guessing after so many bodies, they got a little frustrated. Apparently, an officer picked up a body, and, instead of being stiff and dead like he expected, it screamed and kicked him.

Kripke: And that was you?

Avery: So I'm told. He must not have been gentle enough, because I was yelling and kicking all over. Only, I was dehydrated to all get out, so it was more like wheezing loudly and twitching with a purpose.

Kripke: Did your body appear at normal temperature on the infrared camera?

Avery: Yes. I'm told I must have been buried under the others to be missed like that.

Kripke: Do you remember being sick?

Avery: Not- No. Not like I think you mean. What I remember is very confusing and blurry. It'd make for an awful narrative.

Kripke: Would you like to tell us?

Avery: Sure, uh. I guess I slipped in and out of consciousness a lot. I remember flashes of the school, when I was inside. I remember the other students, everyone freaking out, and being terrified and feeling so cold it hurt in my bones. I remember it felt like my fingernails were going to rip off, and whenever anyone ran into me, it ached beyond belief. Any pressure hurt, really. I remember crawling through the halls when they were empty, and being in the commons, with the other infected students around me. I was on the ground, and the room was warm. Everything was getting fuzzy at the edges, and it felt like I wouldn't ever move again. I think I remember someone crying. Um. Then I remember what felt like iron chains digging into my arms and legs. They were so tight it felt like they were cutting into my bones, but that might have been one of the officers carrying me. I remember flashes of doctors in quarantine, my parents faces, snippets of conversation.

Kripke: Were you lucid when you were conscious, once they'd taken you out of the school?

Avery: I guess. Mostly, I was asleep. I had the idea that I was awake, though, and wandering around some desolate place. Or- that was probably a hallucination, huh? Guess I wasn't too lucid after all.

Kripke: Now, not many people know an infected from Holloway survived. Why is this?

Avery: I guess the government has been keeping me on the down low. You know, very hush hush, at least while I was sick. Since I've gotten better, it's just that no one has thought to ask. I mean, obviously people know now, what with this being national television.

Kripke: International, actually. We're broadcast in China and most of Europe.

Avery: International, even better.

Kripke: What would you say the lasting effects of the Strick-Hotchner Virus would be?

Avery: Well, it still hurts like a bitch when I get my blood drawn, and that happens every week. I probably won't risk getting a tongue ring. I'm terrified if I get a hang nail, it'll get snagged on something, and the whole nail will just rip right off. I found out I look really nice in blue, though. Blue and red are just completely my colors.

Kripke: And what were the lasting effects of being at Holloway?

Avery: I, uh. I learned not to take life for granted and not to take myself too seriously. I learned that there are bad things good people will do, and that doesn't make those people bad. I learned what it feels like to be alone and utterly lost. And, I guess I got a second chance at life. So, that's cool. Going to be famous, this time around. Going to really appreciate what I have, too.

Kripke: Words to take to heart. We've been glad to have you here, Neil, Doctor Grand. This has been Daily Like With Kripke. Tune in next week to see an exclusive with Shaun White.

Kim, Ashley. Walstern, Sean. ( September 5, 2009). Strick-Hotchner: The Facts. In L. Ansley, Daily Life With Kripke. Los Angeles, CA: Lugosi Studios.

Everyone is Moving On...
and I am, too. Next month I'll be starting classes at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. It will be the third year anniversary of Holloway, and I'm saying my piece early. Holloway was a tragedy. My friends, familiar faces, teachers I loved and hated, they died that day. I don't know why. No answer I've heard makes it hurt any less or diminishes the shock and guilt. For months after I got better, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror without my stomach dropping out. My chest would freeze, like I couldn't breathe at all, and I would be hit with what happened and how we could never go back. I'm getting past that now, but I need to make my stance clear.
For a long time, I regretted surviving because I had the memories from inside Holloway. I had the images and sounds from all these kids' last moments of life. I need to make it clear that they weren't, we weren't, monsters. We weren't at fault for getting infected anymore than anyone is when they come down with the common cold. They weren't zombies. No one dined on flesh. They were scared kids who were suddenly sick and in horrible pain, left alone by their friends who were terrified of them. They didn't know what was happening anymore than the students in the classrooms or the frantic parents outside.
For the record, their last moments were horrible and beautiful and sickeningly real.
For the record, I could see people praying even when blood ran down their chins.
For the record, some of the best people I have ever met died that day. And they died together, holding each other because we were the same. We were in our own private hell, crawling on the ground, terrified, but we atleast we were there for each other.
For the record, the best thing I can think of most days is being back in that school, right before everything gets blurry. It was warm, and I was so tired, but I felt amazing, laying on the cold floor, the pain barely on my periphery, surrounded by this infinite calm.
Someone said to me, it must be awful to feel so connected to people who are all dead and gone. But, I feel like I have to be here. If I wasn't here, if it was only the students who didn't get sick, no one would know what really happened. I'm not trying to be a martyr or a cliche. I'm not rising above anything or giving anyone their voice.
I'm just saying, these were normal kids, and they don't deserve your lashing tongues.
God, I'm going to watch I Was A Teenage Werewolf before I drown in my own silly angst. If you'll be in Savannah soon, look me up. We can hang out and studiously not talk about any of this. It'll be great.

Catch you later!

Avery, Neil. (August 7, 2010). Neil's at SCAD. Retrieved from

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