Relax. This is a work of fiction.

City and state officials remained tight-lipped Thursday following continued reports of strange happenings in Columbia neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, at least one scientific expert remains concerned that years of pollution in the Capital City’s rivers could finally have reached a breaking point, and might even have a connection to what some have described as “peculiar” behavior among certain local residents.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Police Chief Skip Holbrook held a joint press conference Thursday on the steps of City Hall in an effort to diffuse what they called “rumors” and “idle talk” of an alleged rash of incidents over the weekend in which residents claimed to have been bitten.

Police concede they responded to several calls for service for what were described as “simple assault” incidents in a number of area locations, including downtown Columbia, Olympia, Forest Acres, Eastover and Five Points.

When pressed as to whether the alleged assaults were actually biting incidents, the mayor and chief declined comment. Free Times has filed a Freedom of Information Act request in an effort to obtain various incident reports.

There is clearly a sense of unease growing in the community. Chet Strickland, a part-time vape store clerk and “lawn maintenance technician,” is a resident of the Old Shandon neighborhood, where he shares an apartment with 7 other men and an alpaca in a King Street quadriplex.

Strickland says he saw something weird late Saturday night.

“I was out in front of my house, grabbing a Gin Blossoms CD from my car, when this guy came walking by,” Strickland said. “He looked really, really bad. He was white as a sheet, he was moaning and was kind of shuffling along. Almost stumbling, actually. I was like ‘Bro, are you all right?’ He looked at me with these dead eyes and said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. Just walking home from Pavlov’s.’ Of course I asked him if he wanted to vape with me.

“Anyway, while we were vaping we saw my neighbor bite a huge chunk out of her husband’s neck, which we thought was kind of harsh.”

Numerous residents have told Free Times stories of friends or loved ones acting aggressively in recent days, particularly after swimming or fishing in area rivers.

Dr. Lucio Romero heads the regional scientific think tank Brotherhood of Researchers, Analysts and Investigators of Neuro-Science (BRAINS). Romero says BRAINS has offered its services to the city, but has thus far been kept on the sidelines.

What: “Outbreak” - Free Times Best of Columbia 2016

When: 7-11 p.m., Aug.10.

Where: South Carolina State Museum

Tickets available, click here.

Critics are quick to point out that Romero and his organization have their own controversy to deal with in connection with the recent unexplained activity in the Capital City. A young woman — identified only as Patient 1203 — recently walked out of the BRAINS facility on Two Notch Road in the middle of an examination. Lab officials and law enforcement have been looking for her ever since.

University of South Carolina student Tad Devereaux told Free Times that he spotted a woman he believed to be Patient 1203 shambling around outside the State House.

However, Devereaux, a USC senior from Ware Shoals who is majoring in advanced dubstep, said when he called 911 and told them he saw a person with pale skin, grotesque lesions and blood dripping from her mouth at the capital, dispatchers responded that it was “probably just a lobbyist.”

Meanwhile, some in the Capital City have taken notice the proliferation of National Guard and other government vehicles at the State Museum in recent days. At least one area law enforcement officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the activity was connected, in some way, to the recent “strange behavior” of residents and the BRAINS study of area river water.

When reached by Free Times, a National Guard spokesman would only say that the recent presence of units at the museum was “classified.”

Again, this is a work of fiction.

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