Dr. Ann stood up and carefully scrutinized David’s body.
“It’s only temporary,” she answered, not taking her eyes off of him. “It will…slow him down. It will last long enough for him to calm down.”
“And then what?” Bruce asked. “We have seen things calm down for a little while, and then–
“They got worse,” Dr. Ann finished for him, not even as a question. “We need to carry him back to the lab,” she said right away. “I want to run some tests.”
And with that, Bruce and Karen lifted their fallen soldier and they retreated back to where they came from, the journey only more difficult with the newly gained cargo.
“At least we found him,” Cassandra said, looking from David to Dr. Ann, who was leading the way ahead of them. She eventually got so far ahead of them that the three (well, four) of them were alone.
“Do you trust her?” Karen asked, struggling with one of David’s arms slug over her shoulder.
“Do we have a choice?” Bruce countered.
“Why? She seems like she could be the one to help.”
“She didn’t turn on us yet.”
“Do you think she could?”
“That guy at the clinic was sure of it.”
The others took in the sincerity of Bruce’s tone, even struggling on their path a little.
“What guy? That zombie hunter that almost killed us?”
Bruce hoisted David up some more. “Yeah.”
“Right, because he totally knows what is going on,” Cassandra scoffed.
“Why do you care about what he says? He’s just a testosterone-charged NRA advocate that is just aching for an excuse to go hunting something,” Karen said.
“Yeah, but that being said,” Bruce continued. “He tried to warn me. He actually said to me to be careful at the car dealership parking lot when I was chasing after Guppy. He said that she was going to turn on me in a matter of time.”
“He is partially right.”
“Well…that obviously sounds like it’s coming from personal experience,” Bruce stated.
Blocks away, “that zombie hunter” was sitting in his living room, on his sofa chair, staring at the TV. He reached over to the coffee table to pick up the mug he was drinking from. He instead picked up a mug that was five days old, with a filmy ring around the inside, and recoiled in disgust before grabbing the new one. There were three mugs there, all in different stages of mold, but he did not care. He drank the remaining coffee in it with one last gulp while the news droned on about…nothing. Nothing important, nothing exciting. That was how it was for a few days, and no matter what relief it brought, it had also brought doubt.
“It’s over,” Hector had said.
“There aren’t any more,” Mercedes insisted.
But, Ruff shook his head at them. “It can’t be.”
His friends could not understand what he was thinking, and dismissed it as sheer boredom. The need to fill something missing, the need to be a hero in a self-fulfilling prophesy. Ruff was the poster child for the hero wannabe. Either that, or they just did not want anything to do with it or him. They did not want him to repeat what he had done.
They saw the wreckage and the aftermath. He finally snapped and went too far. He shot them. He shot all of them, and was blinded by his aggression he nearly took the lives of innocent doctors who were still human, and still well.
Most of them were, anyway.
It couldn’t be done. It couldn’t be done at all. Ruff had a sinking feeling that it was only getting started.
“Dr. Ann?” Bruce said, for the third time, as they tiptoed in the mostly darkened area. He only repeated it with more alarm due to the sounds they heard, the sounds of shuffling…and squishing. The three of them jumped back when they heard the snapping of a bone.
“Oh God…” Karen breathed. “Dr. Ann?”
They knew that they were calling out to her, and not for her. They could see the humanoid mass before them that was bent over on the floor, providing the visual that matched those sounds. Their feet scraped on the floor, afraid to move, especially since the scraping of their shoes made their own sounds. The figure stood up and they froze in place.
“There is another body here,” said Dr. Ann.
She came back to them in the time it took for them to go from scared to confused.
“From what I can tell it’s very old and has since decomposed.”
“What–” Cassandra started.
“What was all that?” Karen finished.
“What was all what?” Dr. Ann asked. Too calm, too composed.
“Something broke,” Bruce declared. “Something…snapped.”
Dr. Ann turned back around to the direction she came from, almost like she was trying to notice that for the first time.
“Well…that was an arm. I broke it by mistake. I didn’t realize just how badly decomposed it was. It was an accident. But, if there is one body here…there must be more.”
She paused for a moment, all of them listening for whatever else they could hear.
“Let’s just hope there are more living than dead,” Cassandra said.
“That’s just what you don’t want,” Dr. Ann said quietly.
Ahead of them, they could catch more movement in the deep recesses of the sewer.
“David!” Cassandra called, a bit louder than anyone would have liked, for they all put warning hands on her to shush her.
“No, it IS him,” Cassandra insisted, pushing them way. “Look.”
The shadow of a man moved again, torso tall and wide enough to be a full grown man. They saw his head, the shape of his hair that was always a bit puffy at the top, and there was no mistaking him. David was moving, but moving slowly, heavily, like he had a body he was not used to.
“David!” Cassandra called again. This time, everyone watched that shadow of the man come towards them, but come towards them quietly. He did not answer, but still he came.
The face that came into the dim light was not one they recognized. At least not anymore. It was the face that never slept but looked like it desperately wanted to, the eyes so sunken in they could have disappeared inside his skull. Maybe it was his brain that ultimately disappeared inside his skull. His lips fell open but made no sort of communication.
“David,” Karen and Bruce said at the same time. He stood at the start of the sewer gazing at all of them, especially at Dr. Ann, with a newfound interest. He sauntered towards them and the three scientists moved forward to greet him, only to be abruptly stopped by Dr. Ann.
“No,” she said, as David kept walking and did not appear to stop.
“Don’t be foolish!” Dr. Ann said interrupting Bruce.
“We know he has a little–
“It’s more than a little,” Dr. Ann interrupted him again. “I know that look.”
They saw his jaw open wider than they ever thought possible for a human, a jaw unhinged and able to open as wide as it wanted to. And sure enough, it wanted to, wanted to bad enough to chomp down on whatever was it front of it.
Like old friends.
David chose that moment to lunge forward, a deep growl coming out of his throat, reaching his arms towards the four of them.
Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra skidded out of the way as they watched Dr. Ann tackle him to the ground. This only agitated David further. Dr. Ann had two hands on his shoulders pushing him down. In a split of a second, she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a large syringe. Karen saw that the liquid in it was the color of moss, the same color vial Dr. Ann herself drank from before. Dr. Ann wasted no time in jabbing the needle into David’s neck, and the effects were instant. He struggled enough against Dr. Ann’s strong hold, but now turned those struggles into uncontrollable jerks and twitches that reminded them of a different kind of patient.
“What did you give him?” Karen demanded.
He jerked and he kicked and he sounded a roar that echoed off of the sewer pipes. As quickly as he became agitated, he suddenly stopped the jerks and became completely lethargic. His eyes rolled in his head and his entire body slumped in submission. He lay unconscious on the floor.
Cassandra spun her head towards Dr. Ann. “What did you give him?”
“Oh my God…”
“No,” Dr. Ann interrupted them. “It’s not him.”
“How do you know that?” Karen looked at Dr. Ann as she leaned in to inspect the body, the only one that could and would do so.
“For starters, your David left his jacket behind. This was is–was–still wearing one. Also, this one appears to be female.”
Bruce inched forward. “Can you read the name on the jacket? Who is it?”
“No way to tell,” Dr. Ann said. “It’s burned too much. But, I can tell you this: Whoever this is…whoever this was…was very, very much infected.”
The three of them leaned in as much as they could; they had no more chances of being burned by the fire, but then again had no more light to rely on to see it better. The smoldering remains had one or two embers left as proof it was still there.
Dr. Ann looked at them. “Can you see anything unusual about this body?”
Bruce sighed, at once reminded of a professor he had in college who would ask questions that she thought were obvious to the class, while they became puzzled and felt stupid about them. He looked to the others who shrugged.
“Does Venus de Milo ring a bell?”
Her answer came in the drip dripping of a leaky pipe. Bruce still felt like he was back in college.
“The statue?” Karen asked.
“The armless statue?” Cassandra suggested.
Dr. stepped away from the furnace to inspect the ashes, to see if there were any larger remains.
“This infected woman lost her arms…I can tell by the way the bone stubs are sticking out. They were broken off, or they fell off in deterioration.”
“You can tell that?” asked Cassandra.
Dr. Ann considered her. “I have seen many cases like this before. The body in various cases…of various stages.”
No one would admit it, but they could all swear that for a moment Dr. Ann’s eyes flashed.
“That means that they were coming down here,” Bruce said. “More of them. More of our co-workers…and others in general who probably use this building.”
“No one else does,” Karen insisted. “The other part of this building hasn’t been used in years. It has been empty.”
“Well, we’re going to find out.”
Dr. Ann ventured forward before turning to them. “Just how many co-workers do you have?”
“Not that many,” Karen said.
“Not anymore,” Cassandra stated.
The boiler room area stretched on for a while, as they still met nothing but the damp darkness in between brick walls, and heard nothing but the occasional dripping from a leaky pipe.
“No one has a light, do they?” Bruce tried.
Karen patted the weight in her jacket, feeling foolish. “I do. I forgot I had my phone on me.”
She took it out and turned it on, a square beam of light showing the scoff of dirt across her shoes. She turned the flashlight on and raised it to view Cassandra and Bruce. Ahead of them, there was only dark space.
The three peered as far as the phone light would go, but it was just the three of them.
Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra lingered a bit when the area they got in became considerably darker. Judging from how the air felt and smelled cool and damp, they knew they were in a back part of their building.
“Let’s wait a second…for her to catch up,” Bruce suggested.
“It smells so…muggy,” Cassandra said.
“We’re probably close to the sewer,” replied Karen.
“Can’t say I’ve ever been down this way,” Cassandra noted.
“No, actually, none of us have.”
They listened to approaching footsteps and soon Dr. Ann rejoined the party. She avoided eye contact. She did not want them to see the vibrant redness of her eyes, surpassing any regular bloodshot. She avoided looking at any one of them at all, and just waited to be taken somewhere.
It was Karen who asked her.
“So do you…smell anything?”
Dr. Ann lifted her head a little and inhaled. “Yes,” she answered. “But it is not the same smell.”
“Wait,” Cassandra said. “I smell something, too.”
They all leaned forward, but did not move yet. They were all waiting for Dr. Ann’s reaction. Her nostrils flared at whatever she picked up, but it was part pleasant and part disgust.
“A body?” Bruce suggested very quietly.
She gave a short nod. “Infected…at least.”
“Well” Karen said with a slight gesture forward.
“Where does this lead to?” Dr. Ann asked as they walked cautiously, avoiding a small puddle here or there or what they thought could be rat droppings.
“Don’t know,” Bruce said. “Never been down here. “
“I think it’s closer to the boiling room.”
The minute Cassandra said that they all inhaled and turned to one another. The stench of burn, of rot, and decay made them gag. It was a particular burn, the type of burn that no one ever wanted to smell. They crept forward, now quickening their pace as they thought more and more about David and what his fate could be. Above their heads along the wall they could see where the pipes ran and used them as navigators. They were stained with rust in some places, but in the ongoing darkness it could be anything. They heard the drip, dripping of the occasional pipe leak, and even a scuttling in the corner. So far rats and mice have been the only living things to dominate this part, but they all had a feeling that that had changed.
The walls on either side of them morphed into a brick pattern and the hallway got a little more narrow…and the burning smell only got thicker. A sudden flash of amber ahead told them where they were.
“Furnace,” Bruce muttered.
“So it is probably rats that burned,” Karen said fiercely enough to try to make it so. Everyone wanted that to be the solution, and no one argued, but no one wanted to look at Dr. Ann as she slowly shook her head.
They approached the upcoming area that was the boiler room, the furnace stood before them as large and looming threat, a danger to anyone who crossed its path. The slit grates across it made it look like the helmet of a knight who might not let anyone cross its path. By now, the smell was overbearing. The three lingered back but the one, of course, ventured forward.
“Well, I don’t see any rats.”
“And we don’t see anyone else.”
The furnace lit up, bright red blazing through the smoke escaping from its openings, revealed near the top and next to each other. Right away, they jumped back as the mild explosion took place and lit up the furnace to reveal what looked like a face: Two narrow eyes and a grate for an angry grin. The fire and smoke that lit up the holes and grate made it look like a very angry face, indeed. And, there was something else.
They all saw it, stationed near the side latch that had been opened. It was no longer white, but they all knew it had once been a lab coat. Scorched to a rumpled red and black mass, they knew it had once been a body, too.
Their eyes stayed locked on each other for some time, even when the zombie doctor walked around the zombie child and looked her up and down. Even when she gently held her arms to feel her skin, and even when she pressed on her lips to view her teeth. No matter what Dr. Ann did, Guppy let her.
“Very low aggression,” Karen stated.
“Almost none at all,” Bruce added.
Dr. Ann nodded. “At what point did you see any aggression in her?”
“When she was being protective,” Bruce answered. “Or, just basic hunger. She chased after mice, but never people. It’s like she’s still mostly human. She is more human than any of the adults we have encountered…infected or not.”
Dr. Ann crouched down on her knees in front of Guppy, who acknowledged her as a friendly grown-up, an ally, someone she could trust.
“You know it’s bad to hurt people?”
“You want to do it, but you stop yourself because you know it’s wrong?”
Guppy nodded again.
Dr. Ann smiled. “Well, she is a good start.”
“She stays the same,” Cassandra said. “In all the tests we’ve done, she never gets any worse, but she never gets any better either.”
Dr. Ann stood back up and looked around the lab.
“Why don’t we check on David?” Karen said. “Guppy honey, why don’t you go back to your room and play for a while, okay?”
Dr. Ann heard the anxiety behind the name and could only identify him as their Patient Zero, the one that snowballed it all.
“We’re not sure if he’s–
“It’s all right, just take me to him,” Dr. Ann interrupted Karen. “I can assure you I can handle him…or anyone.”
The three looked to one another and led Dr. Ann through the lab to a set of doors, smeared with greasy fingerprints and splintered wood. They hit the lights, casting a weak dimness to the rooms where Dr. Ann could see sets of doors, all dark, all shut, nothing she was not expecting. She had to look again to notice that one of the doors was actually open…open a slight crack, far enough into the frame to appear to be shut, but she saw the extra inch of shadow.
“Looks like someone must have slipped out,” she remarked. Bruce sped down the hallway first, putting his hand on the knob before pushing the door in to reveal the inside. Empty.
“He’s gone,” he said.
The others joined him in the room, Dr. Ann stepping in to observe the conditions: bed in disarray, sheets and blankets torn and shed to the floor. A lab coat hung over the bed rail delicately, with care, the only part and side to this patient that remained civil. His professional persona laid to rest.
“Back this way,” Bruce suggested. “All the front doors are shut…we may be able to catch up to him.”
“The other patient rooms are shut, so they are safe.”
“We need to worry about him getting out.”
They ventured down the hallway and went through a set of double doors, leading them to another hallway which was otherwise plain, sans a few storage rooms. Dr. Ann thought that was all, until she noticed a nook to the left that opened into a room. From what she could see there was the end of a long, white table. She suddenly lifted her nose in the air, catching a scent that no one else could pick up. She arched her neck, allowing it to fill her head and fill her drive for hunger.
“This way,” she said.
“Where?” Karen asked.
“Through that room.”
“How do you know?”
The others watched her walk over with her nose in the air, eyes closing halfway in bliss. “There is something this way.”
They hung back, disturbed at what would be a pleasant scent to a half-zombie, and and disturbed as to what caused it. They followed her into the room, where the long white table stretched against the wall. At the end of it there was that something: Small, yet splattered enough to spread and look bigger, chunks of various sizes of various somethings.
The three expressed disgust not only at the discovery of the vomit, but the red-brown color of the vomit that could almost pass for a different kind of waste.
Cassandra flicked on the light switch and the three recoiled, the one leaned forward and stuck her finger in it.
“Cold,” she said.
“Whoever did this was not here recently.”
“Look at the bits of skin in it.”
“And blood tissue.”
“Someone fed, and either their body was not ready for it and rejected it, or they made themselves reject it,” Dr. Ann said.
“David,” Bruce said. “He doesn’t want to be this way.”
Karen turned around to the counter behind them and grabbed a small beaker. “Let’s get this tested.”
Before she could do anything, Dr. Ann took the beaker from her.
“You all go on ahead. I will take care of that. And then take care of the rest.”
She paused by the table, beaker at the ready,but waiting for them to leave. They figured it out, not looking back when she first scooped up a sample in the beaker. They turned their backs and left the room in time for Dr. Ann to bend her face down to the table.
The three scientists told her that she could just follow them, so she did. She followed them to their lab, almost expecting to know what to find. When they entered she saw the blood splotches on the floor, the discarded and broken lab equipment across the tables. She smelled the stench of rotten flesh and desperation.
She almost smiled. She felt right at home.
“How many do you have?” she asked, getting to the important part.
“Staff? About twenty or thirty,” Karen answered.
“And how many are…infected?”
Dr. Ann didn’t need an exact number, it was either some or all. There was no in between. Judging by the conditions of the lab, she gathered the latter.
“Everybody has been exposed in one way or another,” said Bruce.
“And the different solutions you had all had various results?” Dr. Ann asked picking up a beaker that was empty sans a few drops. She lifted it to her nose, but could not catch any scent.
“Different, and all various forms of harm rather than help,” Cassandra admitted. “One of our own received the worst.”
“Don’t say it,” Cassandra interrupted Bruce. “We’re not labeling it that…yet.”
“But he is still…problematic.”
“You can help, right?” Karen asked Dr. Ann.
“Well, let me see him. And all the rest. Where are they?”
“Most ran off after the outbreak to avoid any more exposure,” Karen explained. “Others…
“Didn’t make it,” Bruce said. “Look around you, in case you didn’t figure out what the rest of the story is here.”
“They’ve reached the level of rabid aggression,” Dr. Ann said. “I need to see those first. Where are they?”
No one answered, instead listening in the silence for the sounds of the lab to answer for them. A pound at the door, an experimental turning of a locked doorknob. A moan, a yell. If anyone even yelled words. If anyone was stable enough to have speech. They heard nothing, and thus that was the answer.
“Locked away,” Karen simply said.
“They’re safe in rooms, mostly resting, we’re just–
“Waiting to see when, how, and even if they’ll get better,” Dr. Ann assumed. They all considered her, the one who knew exactly what was going on, and they feared knew exactly what was going to go on before they did.
“So, take me to the worst,” Dr. Ann said.
She noticed the emotional tug to their body language. Before Dr. Ann knew it, she experienced her own emotional tug, and one that she did not see coming. She did not see her coming at all until she circled around the lab table and stood right next to her, standing at about elbow length and causing her to slightly jump.
“Looks like instead you’ll be starting with the most docile,” Bruce said. “Dr. Ann, this is Guppy.”
Dr. Ann stared down into a face of a child that was equal parts adorable and grotesque. There was a sweet resemblance that looked like an old doll, but one that had been lost at sea and eaten up by fishes before washing up ashore. Her body smelled like it was still soaked in sea salts. She was looking up at Dr. Ann with curiosity, but mostly recognition and understanding. Dr. Ann looked back with the same kind of recognition and understanding, at once noticing the child’s eyes and how much they fixated on her. This child stood by her side, and gathered closer so that she was almost attached to her arm.
“We found her. Well, Bruce actually found her,” Karen explained.
“She was near the beach.”
“The beach,” Dr. Ann repeated. “I read an article about people coming from the sea with the start of the infection! Something with the fish, or something spilled into the ocean. Was that what happened?”
“We believe so,” Cassandra said. “And before you ask us, we don’t know how it started.”
Mercedes and Hector were mostly paralyzed with fear to do anything but be in the background watching this scene, but it took enough tension built up to have them come forward.
Mercedes put her hand on Ruff’s arm.
“Ruff, let’s just go,” she said.
The others stood around uncomfortably. Hector was on the other side of him voicing the same words.
“Come on Ruff…this isn’t our problem.”
“Let them take care of it now. Let’s get out of here.”
Ruff resisted at first, still keeping a trained eye on Dr. Ann.
“She’s going to turn any minute now,” he said in what he thought was certainty and warning. “We’ve seen what happens and I am pretty sure you have to.”
Mercedes and Hector tugged on his arms again and this time he turned around with them, turning their backs on the doctors, and the zombie that could pounce on them. The three civilians left in haste, pushing out the double doors and disappearing for good.
The three remaining were considering Dr. Ann with Ruff’s parting words as well as their initial first impression.
“Um, maybe we should–” Karen trailed off.
“Check the rest of this place,” Cassandra finished.
“Is there anywhere else to look?” Bruce asked.
Dr. Ann gave a noncommittal nod. “Yes. Why don’t we do that.” She stood stiff and tense and turned her back to them.
“Are you all right?” Bruce asked her.
“I am good,” Dr. Ann answered, facing all of them again and sighing. “It has been something to get used to. You have nothing to worry about, all right? I’m…fine. Where else to look?”
They went down the last hallway of rooms. These doors were shut, dark, and empty of anything living or dead. The three grouped together once Dr. Ann was off in another direction.
“What should we do?” Cassandra asked first.
“We take her back with us like we said we would,” Bruce answered without a second thought. “She does not seem dangerous.”
“Yet,” Karen interjected. “But she looks the same way David did.”
“But she knows more than we do. We have to chance it. She needs to see David…and the others.”
“Imagine if she can fix David. Turn him back to his old self at least.”
When they all turned around, the sight of Dr. Ann standing behind them made them all jump. It was her silent approach, her posture, and her overall countenance. She was regarding them…or sizing them up.
“Find anything?” Karen broke the silence.
“I guess there’s nothing else here.”
“It’s time to show you our lab,” Bruce said.
Dr. Ann nodded. “Come on,” he gestured.
They made their way back through the hallways they came in, but once they reached the first set of double doors Dr. Ann hesitated.
“I would rather go back the other way,” she stated.
They turned to her, not getting it at first.
“It would be best not to go through that way,” she said.
They could see the doors at the other end of the hallway, glass fragments opaque with the blood that has already begun to dry. But, it was still fresh.
“What are we going to do about–” Cassandra blurted out.
“What is there to do? We can’t do anything,” Karen reasoned.
Dr. Ann already bypassed that particular hallway and everything that littered it, turning her back to forget what occurred. It must have upset her, and they thought they understood.
That might not have even been the real reason.
Dr. Ann turned around.
“They are still people, who are sick, who could be treated…like me.”
“Not everyone thinks so,” Bruce pointed out. “They see them as monsters and think it’s okay to go to places and go all open season.”
“Which is why we need to say it is not okay,” Dr. Ann stated with firmness. Her blood eyes narrowed. “Let them try to get in my way.”
“You are going to get yourself–and us–killed!” Karen hissed taking two steps closer to her. Two steps closer than any of them had dared. “We need to rethink this.”
“What else is there to rethink?” Dr. Ann countered. “There are intelligent human doctors here that can talk this all out…and there might even be more here. Isn’t that what we’re trying to find out?”
Hector turned his head in the direction he heard the voices. “Ruff,” he said, pointing an unsure finger towards another set of doors. “Did you hear that?”
Ruff and Mercedes turned just as they heard him speak, or they heard someone else speak.
“It sounded like more than one someone,” Mercedes said.
“People that need to be rescued,” Ruff concluded. “Come on!”
He led the other two down the other hallway. At the same time the three pushed through the double doors, the four jumped and turned around, Ruff raised his shotgun and pointed it right at Dr. Ann and the other three doctors shouted for him to stop.
They all stood frozen in place: Dr. Ann and Ruff holding eye contact, Mercedes and Hector staring at Dr. Ann, and Karen, Bruce, and Cassandra staring at Ruff.
“Stop! She’s not–
“Don’t shoot she’s–
“Infected,” Ruff finished. He held the gun steady between those two Hell pit eyes, reddened by disease, madness, and who knew what else. He just knew that he had to take her out. “Get back, all of you.”
“The only thing that is infected here is your sense of morality,” Dr. Ann said coldly.
Ruff had the gun down before she finished her sentence. “You still talk.”
“Of course I still talk!” Dr. Ann exclaimed. “I am not a rabid animal to put down, and quite frankly no one else is.”
Ruff leaned back, stepped back, bumping into Hector and Mercedes until he was sandwiched between them in subconscious protection.
“Is this your place?” Ruff asked.
“No,” Dr. Ann answered, looking to the other three.
“None of us works here,” Cassandra said. “But we are doctors and we did come here to check on it and the patients inside once we learned it was…shut down.”
“Until you came in here and shot them all,” Bruce stated.
Ruff looked from one to the other to the other, almost trying to avoid eye contact with Dr. Ann, but she was a train wreck he could not help but look at.
“You saw them, you saw them all then? Do you know what the infected in that stage are capable of?”
“I’d like to think those of us here are more experts than you are. Especially me.”
Ruff, Hector, and Mercedes all shuffled back when Dr. Ann talked.
“Yeah, and you’re the one that is going to turn next!” Ruff exclaimed. “You’re the most dangerous of all being a doctor…that just means you will spread it faster.” He looked from Bruce to Karen and Cassandra. “She’ll come after you before you know it, she–
He stopped short when his eyes landed on Bruce again.
Bruce frowned. “Do I know you?”
Ruff was pointing at him now. “You were that guy at the car lot with the infected kid.”
Karen and Cassandra jerked their heads toward Bruce.
“Guppy,” Karen murmured.
“You were the maniac chasing her!” Bruce at once recognized.
“How many of them do you know?” Ruff asked. “How many of them are running around?”
“We don’t,” Bruce said sharply. “We are just trying to find as many infected as possible.”
“Yeah, so are we,” scoffed Ruff.
“We’re doctors,” Karen snapped. “We’re trying to help these people!”
“What if they can’t be helped?”
“What if they can?”
“So you can stop this from spreading and turning the world into a zombie apocalypse?”
Ruff, Hector and Mercedes looked to the doctors, who remained still, and remained silent. No one gave an affirmative answer. The infected doctor was the only one who displayed confidence, yet she was the one they trusted the least. When she spoke, flakes of her dead skin snowed to the floor. Bruce already imagined her joining the hordes roaming the streets and drooling.
“We are working on that,” Dr. Ann said.
Ruff lowered the shotgun.
Behind him, he heard the shuffling of Mercedes and Hector rushing down the hallway to catch up to him. They still held their baseball bats, ready at the shoulder, as if they would even use them.
Ruff didn’t turn around.
“Look at them,” he said. “We need to make sure they are…dead.”
The piles of torn up hospital gown and skin lay still as could be, sans the pools of blood forming around them in defeat. The look of it and the coppery smell of it was the only thing that made them human, after all. The bits of decayed gray flesh and bones just made them ghouls.
Hector lowered his bat and pointed it at one of them whose eyes were still open, fixated on him, glossy and bulging.
“It’s dead,” Mercedes confirmed.
The three of them one by one started to tiptoe across the carnage.
“There must be more,” Ruff muttered. His mouth thinned to a straight line as he strained his hearing. Mercedes and Hector looked to the new set of rooms, expecting to experience deja vu. They all had their weapons ready and walked on the balls of their feet as to not even make a stepping sound.
“There’s more,” Ruff said. “You better believe there’s more.”
Bruce, Karen, Cassandra, and Dr. Ann stayed under the table even after they no longer heard the shotgun. They no longer heard anything, not even the sounds of their own breathing. Bruce stuck his head out first, and Dr. Ann stuck hers out further. Before anyone could say anything she crawled out.
“Wait!” Cassandra whispered.
Dr. Ann stood and surveyed the doors that were destroyed only a moment ago, the zig zag knives of surviving glass still in the window frame. Through the blood splatter, she could see the bodies that piled up on the floor. She could not see anything–or anyone–else.
“Well, he’s gone,” she said to the three.
“Gone, but still here,” Karen pointed out. “Did you get a look at him? Could you see who it was?”
“No,” she answered. “Not a good view. Just a guy with a shotgun taking out all the infected.”
The others scrambled out from under the table, still crouching low and not standing all the way up.
“I think it’s time we high tailed out of here then, huh?” Bruce suggested.
“Before we get killed.”
“No, no,” Dr. Ann shook her head. “It’s not us he’s hunting. He shouldn’t be hunting anyone, for that matter.”
“You’re not suggesting we try to stop him, are you?”
Ruff barely paused at the stop sign.
“Hey man, watch it!” cried Hector from the backseat. “You want to get us killed?”
Ruff still kept his eyes on the road. Next to him in the passenger seat, his gun collection shifted a little. He didn’t bother moving it when he picked up Hector and Mercedes and just asked them to sit in the back. Their baseball bats were toys compared to that. From the backseat, they could see his eyes in the rearview mirror, and could see the new kind of hunger that grew there. He wasn’t an animal, but he longed for something else. They could see that he turned into a different kind of animal.
“What…what is it you want to do?”
Ruff sighed at his question, like he had already answered it.
“Stop them,” Hector repeated.
“Yeah just…stop all of it.”
He turned the car in the parking lot, noticing a few cars and wondering how long they had been there. They all got out, staring dead ahead at the entrance doors. Right away, they noticed the bright pink sign.
“It probably says it’s quarantined and there’s no hope and to get out of here because they’re all zombies inside.”
Hector and Mercedes shared sideways glances. They both looked back to Ruff who slung his shotgun around his arm.
“Do you really—
Ruff brushed away their concerns. “They’re animals! Rabid animals that need to be put down. Do you agree? Or don’t you?”
Hector and Mercedes still held their bats at their sides, feeling their weight, and the weight of the moment.
“I am only going to use it when necessary. Okay? Just…just follow my lead and your own instincts.”
They walked up the door and were able to read the entire sign. Ruff smirked to his friends.
“What did I tell you? Full blown quarantine! They all got it!”
Mercedes went up to the door and shielded her eyes against the glass. “I don’t see anyone.”
Hector leaned in as well. “I don’t either. Should I ring this buzzer and see what happens?”
“No need to,” Mercedes said with a point. “Looks like it’s open.”
Bruce, Karen, Cassandra, and Dr. Ann Ty-Byotik all jumped at the same time, just as the patients in the rooms came out of them—at the same time. Dr. Ann kept her eyes steady on the doctor…but he was not the pied piper she thought him to be. He looked at her now as he continued to groan. Now, it sounded more like a warning. That light clicked in Dr. Ann’s head. He was still in there.
As the doors exploded open, those patients poured out and their jaws snapped. She pushed her new companions back.
“Come on, get out of here, they’re ravenous!”
The four of them rushed back to avoid the sea of carnivores while Dr. Ann sought out the zombie doctor’s attention.
“If you’re still in there, I can save you. Follow us. Come on.”
She motioned with her hand as she and her new comrades fled from the patients. The faster they moved, the faster the infected did. And infected they were. Their skin was splotchy gray like it was glued on and stretched, and their hospital gowns were so discolored it was difficult to tell where one began and the other ended.
“Let’s get him out of here safely first,” Dr. Ann instructed the others. “Then we can find out how we can save the others. Quickly!”
She urged the three back through the set of doors, while still motioning for the zombie doctor to follow her. The horde of the infected kept piling out and forming a congestion in the hallway that prevented her from seeing anything beyond it. She urged and urged the man, who seemed to be walking slower as the horde moved faster.
“Dr. Ann,” Bruce warned.
The horde swarmed the zombie doctor…and he knew his chance was lost the minute they swallowed him inside their monstrous sea. Dr. Ann did back up, and gasped when Karen grabbed her from behind and shut the double doors. Bruce already pushed against the doors before the horde could bust it open.
“Find something to hold them off!” He cried.
Karen and Cassandra scrambled about until they found a long set of chains, in which they wasted no time coiling around the door handles.The chains clinged and clanged, and clinged and clanged faster with the pushing from the other side. They pulled them as tightly as they could and backed off from the doors. The four of them watched the horde pile against the rectangular windows, parts of faces and bodies merged in a clashing jigsaw. Then, out of nowhere they heard the explosive bang…the shot heard around the world.
Dr. Ann and the others scrambled away in panic, recognizing the sound for what it was, but staying put to learn the source. It sounded again…and this time they saw some bodies drop. Then came a closer one…causing the patients in the front to turn around to confront the newcomer. They did not have much time. Shots fired through their heads one after the other and splashed bursts of blood at the windows. They all went down. Through the blood splashes, the doctors could make out a man with a shotgun standing at the end of the hallway. His attention immediately diverted to the left and he shuffled down another hallway, firing off a few more shots as he went.