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.
“I am sure,” Hector said, pushing back the blinds in his kitchen to view the house next door. So far, no more signs of movement. “She ran into the house hysterical, and her arms and face were all scratched up and bloody.”
“Was she a zombie?” Ruff asked from the other line.
“No,” Hector answered. “But she is going to be soon. I just know.”
“Go back to what you were saying.”
“So, it was the clinic over on the other side of town. The place was on lockdown and she had to be buzzed in by the receptionist. She was going in because she already had something of the infection and apparently, so did the receptionist chick. She let her in and attacked her. Straight up almost bit her a few times and just scratched the hell out of her! She ran out of there.”
“Did you get a good look?”
“Not really,” Hector said, still peeking through the blinds. “She drove in the driveway and ran out and her husband came out to see what was wrong. She was freaking out and talking a mile a minute, but that was everything I got out of it.”
There was a beat, and Hector had the blinds pulled down with one finger. The lights were still on in the kitchen next door, and he watched and waited for them to leave. To see how his neighbor turned out. To see how they both turned out.
“Do you know which clinic it is?” Ruff asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Hector replied. “But, no, you don’t want–
“Want? No Hec, no, it’s a need.”
“Need,” Hector exhaled.
“We NEED to at least go there and look. People are getting attacked for God’s sake. Who is helping them? Who is stopping those sickened undead freaks? They all need to be stopped.”
Hector sighed. “Yeah, but it’s also a clinic. They are probably working on treating them all as we speak. Don’t think anything or jump to anything, man.”
“Like what? That it is overruled by people with the disease and they already infected all the doctors there and now it’s a zoo?”
Dr. Ann looked back at the group as she approached that hallway. “We have to go down there to see,” she insisted. No one said anything, and they all heard the moaning. This time, louder. This time, closer. She considered them for a minute. “You are all new to this, aren’t you?”
“Kind of,” admitted Bruce. “It’s just that we have seen the worst possible side effects in such a short time and imagine that they could only get worse.”
“And you’re not new to this,” Karen said, and it was hard to tell whether it was a statement or a question.
“More than I’d like to admit,” Dr. Ann answered as she stepped down the hallway and peeked into the room windows. “Once we find them we can see how bad they are…and what we can do…the best we can.”
No one knew how bad it would be until they saw what came down the hallway just then. He was massive, but he was slow-moving, and his jaw hung open and down like his scream was so powerful it broke it right off. There were blood spots on his clothes, and they noticed right away that they were not patient clothes. This man was a doctor. Emphasis on the was.
“My God,” Cassandra said.
“Just like David,” Bruce muttered.
Dr. Ann put a hand behind her in protective mode. “You stay back. Let me see what I can do here.”
She tentatively stepped forward, looking like a knight tiptoeing towards a dragon.
“Can you understand me?”
The man thing just continued to move his feet forward, more shuffling than walking. He groaned at her and a line of drool fell from his lip.
Dr. Ann blinked. “I think that was a ‘yes.’ Sir, I am going to need you to take it easy and cooperate with me. Do you understand?”
Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra stood there helplessly on the sidelines watching this scene, still not knowing what to do or think. The only thing they did was walk backwards as Dr. Ann was in command of the other zombie doctor–the one way worse off than her.
“Where are you taking him?” Karen asked her.
“I am working on that as I go.”
They walked down another hallway nice and steady, the creature eying them all like they were his own buffet but still remaining calm. The others looked into rooms they passed but did not see anything. Dr. Ann glanced behind her to do the same. The man then groaned, and groaned louder. His jaw swung as he moved, which caused more drool to trickle down to his chest. In a second Dr. Ann noticed that the next time he groaned louder, he lifted his arm. His fingers twitched. One stood up at attention.
They heard more groaning, but this time they sounded like they were coming from the rooms they all thought were empty. The four of them–the humans and one partial human–reacted when the faces appeared in the door windows. All of them pale, all of them sickly, and none of them with a breath of life in them. They all appeared at different times, making each window occupied. The doctor man groaned. They all groaned back and bumped themselves into the doors. He groaned and they groaned back again…as though in command.
Bruce, Karen and Cassandra still acknowledged the zombie woman—the zombie doctor—with both curiosity and discomfort. She looked like she crawled out of the cemetery and put on a lab coat. Even though her makeup job covered up most of her ailments, the more they stared at her face, the more they could make out that she definitely was not all human. At least not anymore.
She looked to each of them, avoiding aggressive stare-downs but wanting their full attention.
“It’s…a start,” she said. “And if you’re telling me you made the same start I did, then we need to go over all of our results and procedures and everything.”
“So you’re….” Cassandra started but her words trailed off.
“You have the infection,” Karen finished.
“And you’ve figured out how to control it.” Bruce said.
The zombie woman blinked. “For the most part.”
The three looked back to the victim on the floor, still knocked out, and yet any moment they expected her to wake up and start crawling at their feet.
“She’s fine,” the zombie said again.
“How do you know?”
“She’ll be out for a while.”
“How can you be so sure? At our lab, something happens at every second with them.”
The zombie took a few steps forward and she saw the three of them react, but catch themselves and act unbothered.
“I do want you to take me to your lab. But first, this place needs to be checked out fully.”
“Of course we will,” Bruce said. “We need all the help we can get.”
“That’s what we’re here for,” Cassandra said. “We know it got worse.”
“Where did you say you were from again?” Karen asked.
“All over,” the woman replied. “I was recently in Wisconsin…and I found out about what was going on here and had to come and see for myself. Try to find some common ground and answers. Trust me, I have been here before, and when I tell you it spreads fast, it spreads fast.” She looked to the woman on the floor. “We need to move her somewhere comfortable first.”
“Here,” Bruce offered. “I can lift her and bring her to one of the rooms.”
He bent down, carefully assessing the victim, still believing this was a scene out of a George Romero piece waiting to happen and waiting to attack. He carried her over to the first room they saw, his colleagues checking inside first to make sure it was empty. He placed the woman on the bed and stepped back.
“There may be more like her, there may be more that are better or worse. There may be more doctors somewhere.”
The zombie woman stood in the doorway, not looking at anyone but the patient she just put out.
“What’s your name?” Karen asked.
“I’m Dr. Ann Ty-Byotik. People call me Dr. Ann.”
“Well, Dr. Ann,” Bruce said. “If you heard about this pandemic here from Wisconsin then it is worse than we thought.”
They filtered out of the room, craning their heads down the hallway to listen for voices, or footsteps, or anything.
“Do you…do you really think that you know how to stop this?” Karen asked.
Dr. Ann glanced in a few room windows, finding them empty.
“I’m…working on it,” she finally said with what sounded like forced confidence. “It’s been very unpredictable in some cases. Isn’t it the same for you?”
“It is,” Karen agreed. “We have had…co-workers that—
Dr. Ann interrupted her with a shush and an outstretched hand. The moans sounded from all the way down the hallway, deep and subtle, loud enough to know what they were.
“Someone is in pain!” Bruce said.
Dr. Ann shook her head. “No. Someone is hungry.”
Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra approached the door with the pink sign. Just as Cassandra was explaining to them about it, she stopped and stared at the door.
“It’s open,” she said.
They stepped near it and she gave it a little push with her arm extended, like she was afraid of whatever was going to come out. Even through the glass they saw no one, but she knew someone else was there.
“Hello?” Cassandra called out. “Kristen?”
The usual, strong odors of medical clinics reached all the way in their heads and made their eyes water, but it was the sounds that made them stop short. Somewhere nearby was a woman being attacked. They heard her shouts and shuffling of shoes on the floor, and they heard a table and a chair fall over. Without thinking, the three of them rushed in the direction of those shouts, and that was when they saw them. Cassandra recognized the girl Kristen from her first visit, but it was her pursuer that made their blood go cold in horror. She was being attacked by another woman who had the full virus.
The zombie woman had blood-red eyes and a good part of her face already rotted away. She was bent over like was already down and had gotten back up, eying her prey she was getting ready to take out. Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra stepped in and made like they were going to interfere, but no one knew what to do, really. Kristen stumbled in weakness and stood up, and it was then they all noticed she too, had the virus.
“What are you doing? Get out of the way!”
To everyone’s surprise, the one that shouted in alarm was not the clinic personnel,but the zombie woman with the red eyes.
“Move!” she cried again. “She is already at the biting stage!”
The three dove out of the way just as the zombie woman lunged at Kristen and plunged a needle in her neck. They watched her–in terror or awe or a mixture of both–bring the weakening body down to the floor and lay her down. She treated the matter delicately, and medically, so that was why they assumed her also to be personnel. She rolled up the victim’s sleeves to examine the skin, which had some splotches of open sores.
Bruce cleared his throat.
The zombie woman looked up, giving them all a clear view of her own skin…and how very much worse she was than the one on the floor.
“You, uh, can still speak.”
And her response to that was to say nothing, just stare at them impatiently. They found that her gaze made them very uncomfortable and they couldn’t hold it for long. Bruce tried again.
“What…what did you give her?”
The woman still held the syringe, and with Bruce’s acknowledgement of it, she almost acted protective. She brought it down by her side.
“It’s…it will keep her out for a while,” the woman explained. “Until I can see more of what is going on.”
She stood up and gave the three people standing there her full attention.
“None of you are infected, are you?”
“No,” Cassandra answered.
“But you are and that’s what we can’t–
“I need to see the rest of your patients,” the zombie said, cutting off Karen and giving them all another surprise. She was looking at them not only with a sense of purpose, but a sense of authority. “The sooner and the more, the better, then I can look at their progress.”
“Wait, we don’t–
“This isn’t our place.”
“You mean it’s not yours?”
The woman stepped away from the patient and approached Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra. By instinct, they all promptly retreated back.
She sighed. “You can relax. I’m not going to eat you.”
“Who are you?” Cassandra asked.
The zombie folded her arms. “The only one who understands what they’re going through.”
Dr. Ann paused for a minute with her hands just positioned on the steering wheel, replaying the scenes from that visit. How long did it take? Weeks? Months? How many stages did they go through? If she were there, she would have done everything she could to save them. She would have saved them. This made her squeeze the steering wheel. She would have.
“It could help!” Cassandra insisted, pleading her co-workers. “We could help. Why don’t we go and see their patients?”
Bruce just kept shaking his head.”How can it? How can anything we have help others when it barely helped any of ours?”
No one said so, but they all thought of David secluded in his room, his exposed skin areas smoothed down in a gelatinous substance, and oozing a mixture of blood, pus, and something else. Something green-black and reminding them of tar pits.
“It helped some,” Cassandra reminded. “The child is almost back to being a regular child, even though not completely cured, but she is still…all right.”
“She could also have had the least amount of exposure,” Karen pointed out. “Nothing else progressed in her. Some of the other lab workers got too far in and have suffered for it.”
Neither Karen nor Bruce said so, but Cassandra could see it plain in their faces: The hidden guilt. The risks. Everything they had worked for, and everything that had gone wrong. Bruce finally looked at Cassandra.
“How close it is?”
The next clinic Dr. Ann was going to see was completely quarantined. Apparently it was a smaller one that took in everyone it could and then some…to find that it did not take long for the rabid chaos to overwhelm. It might not be too late. She might able to get in there. So, she searched for the place and directions and set off as quickly as she could.
It was a small clinic.
And it looked almost abandoned.
When she got up to the entrance she noticed a bright pink sign on the door, no doubt either a warning, an apology, or both:
Due to overwhelming activity, we have reached maximum capacity and cannot admit any more patients at this time. We apologize very much as we understand how dire the situation might be for you, but please understand that it is worse fr us. We are working very hard with treatment but we DO NOT HAVE A CURE as of yet. We appreciate your understanding and patience.
If you have any other needs, please ring personnel.
She peered through the glass window, but did not see personnel of any kind. She rang the buzzer again, believing it to be coming from the front most desk. The one that had no one sitting there. The longer Dr. Ann looked the more deserted the place seemed, and the more details she picked up that something was not right. She saw scattered papers on the floor, and as far back as she could see, she saw a chair or two overturned. Signs of struggle.
A shadow passed in the corner of her eye near the back and Dr. Ann finally saw a sign of life…if it could be called that. This approaching figure looked like someone who just emerged from a car wreck: It was a young woman whose hair had gone astray and her jacket was torn. Dr. Ann pounded on the window, pleading for eye contact, and when she turned she revealed all the open cuts and wounds that she had. Dr. Ann also got a good look at her face. The woman’s face was hallow, skin sucked down to the cheekbones in sickly shades of green. Her eyes widened at the sight of the visitor at the door, and she walked in that slow-motion walk Dr. Ann recognized too well. She felt around in her bag for the syringes–specifically, the larger ones–but did not bring it out yet. She waited.
The sick woman approached the door and Dr. Ann read her name tag: Kristen. This Kristen used to have a personality, used to have a brain, and used to have a regularly beating heart. Now, she was a walking meal that never got finished.The thing that used to be Kristen pushed on the door to let Dr. Ann in, perhaps believing this was new prey. It was parallel to a scene from the movies when a main character entered an abandoned place only to be live bait for the danger that lived inside. Everyone knows that scene. Dr. Ann knew that scene. You could say she went in because she welcomed that scene.
“What else did the receptionist say?” Karen asked Cassandra. In the passenger seat, Cassandra continued to rummage through the vials she brought as though she could not check and double check them enough.
“That was all I was able to find out,” Cassandra said again. She looked up out the window to the upcoming street signs.
“Up there,” she indicated. “Turn right and it’s right there.”
Bruce pulled the car in and Cassandra turned her head to the new car in the parking lot.
“There’s someone here!” she hissed.
“There is. There.”
Once he got to a complete stop, Bruce pointed to the woman who just entered the building. They all saw her go in, but no one saw her whip out a syringe and stab someone in front of her.
Dr. Ann Ty-Byotik wasn’t sure what was harder to get used to: The towering palm trees that were not decorations, the endless gift shops selling theme park merchandise and tickets, or the pictures of the skin disease from the beach posted everywhere, especially at the airport. The skin that looked just like her own.
She stood in front of her hotel bathroom mirror for a little while longer, thinking, analyzing, wondering what else she could do. She picked up makeup to work on a better foundation. With enough practice, she did a better job of covering up that bad side of her face, and did a little extra on her neck. She used a raspberry lipstick to make her lips pop and draw any attention away from her face. As far as her eyes went, the only thing to do was cover with sunglasses. She realized she would have to invest in some contact lenses somewhere down the line. They had definitely become more red than brown. Dr. Ann smoothed down her hair and picked up her satchel to hit the road once again. She would visit as many hospitals and clinics and she would on her second attempt, but this time, she was going to find out as much as possible.
She set out for another place near her hotel. She brought her paperwork with graphs and images of her research as well as lab experiment results. She even brought with her her own sample vials of solution…
The hospital she visited housed its own wing of the infected, sectioned off in an acceptable and necessary quarantine. Dr. Ann Ty-Byotik walked right in and up to the desk.
A woman with a weak but pleasant smile greeted her. “Can I help you?”
“I am looking for the doctors in charge of the infection.”
The receptionist hesitated. “Are you infected?”
Now Dr. Ann hesitated. “Sort of, but I am a doctor and I am experimenting with treatments. I want to meet with the head doctors to discuss patient progress.”
“I see…” the woman said. “Well…uh… let me just see who is available. Hang on.” She picked up the phone and hit a few buttons, turning her back so that she could talk privately.
Dr. Ann stepped back from the desk just in time for an emergency gurney to roll down the hall, but she could smell the blood before it even got there. It hit her nose and sent her on her tiptoes, and she turned to view its arrival. The patient was covered head to toe in a blanket to contain the mess hiding underneath, but she would not allow herself to look at it. Looking at it would only grow those urges into actions, so she acted fast. She stepped away to the seated area and rummaged through her bag, allowing pens and receipts to fall out until she found her stash. She popped two pills in her mouth and grabbed a paper cone of water to wash it down, taking gulp after gulp to make sure they went down fast. She blinked, she squeezed her eyes shut, and she sighed. She almost shut out the world around her until she heard the receptionist calling for her.
“Ma’am? Dr. Addison is here.”
Dr. Ann looked up to see the older gentleman waiting for her, staring at her curiously. She stood up.
“Doctor, I’m Dr. Ann Ty-Byotik. I’m here visiting for a while.”
The doctor came over and raised a hand like he looked like he was going to offer a shake, but then changed his mind.
“Dr…Byotik. So, you have been doing lab work specific to this disease?”
“And my understanding is you also have this disease?”
Dr. Ann removed her sunglasses. “Only minor. So far, I am able to keep it under control and stop it from getting any worse. My team and I are studying it extensively in a lab in Wisconsin. I wanted to ask of your patients. What symptoms do they have? What are you doing for treatment?”
The doctor’s face remained sullen, as he looked at her as both a colleague and ally as well as just another patient that could not be helped. Dr. Ann could see that in his face: It was the face all doctors make when they could not wave the magic cure-all wand. It was the face they make when they have to deliver bad news.
“Come with me,” he said. “And you’ll see.”
She followed Dr. Addison down the hallway and through that set of doors. This was the section that was reserved for this particular ailment. The staff in this part was, to her surprise, scarce.
She figured it out when he led her into one of the rooms.
It was a larger room with multiple beds, but here the privacy curtains were parted to show that no privacy was needed, as all beds were empty. They were stripped of all sheets and blankets, right down to where the horrifying stains on the mattresses were revealed. They were not just bodily fluids as there were some drops of medical solutions that seeped through, rejected from those chaotic bodies.
Dr. Ann scanned the room and also noticed the HAZMAT suits and gloves hung up at every bedside.
“Well, this is where we cared for those affected. As you can see…we are no longer treating.”
“You lost all of them?”
“Yes. They all passed in different stages.”
“Where are they? The bodies?”
“This was weeks and weeks ago, Doctor. They’ve all been taken care of.”
“They weren’t buried, were they?”
“They were cremated. The families wanted it that way, of course.”
Dr. Addison saw the look on Dr. Ann’s face, the look of relief that could only come with what thought passed through her mind. Cremation destroyed the form. Nothing could reanimate there.
Mercedes clocked out on her lunch break and went to her locker to check her phone. She had eight missed calls, and most of them were from Hector. He picked back up instantly.
“I’m at work,” she explained. “What’s going on?”
“How IS everything at work?”
She paused, crossing her brow. “Um, as normal and boring as selling paint cans is. Why?”
“Anybody call out sick?”
“No. Nothing here.”
“Well….” Hector’s voice trailed. “We’ve had a few more call-outs.”
Mercedes waited for more.
“It could just be a bug going around, but you know…I don’t think so…”
She sighed and tried to be encouraging.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s…the other thing.”
“No, but, in the restaurant business, it is a little more serious. Some people have brought it up and everyone else immediately hushed them up to keep it quiet. If it is that virus…well…contaminating food is one problem but just the rumors of food being contaminated is even worse.”
There was a beat, and Mercedes could still feel the tension from Hector through the phone.
“Ruff bought a rifle.”
“He…you know how he is. He is really starting to get into this and take it seriously. He really thinks that this is going to turn into a zombie apocalypse. He snapped. Remember the day we left him and he ran off?”
“Yeah, that was when he said he saw a zombie kid or something.”
“Well, he did, and get this: He chased that zombie kid to a car dealership where he met the kid’s dad and he told the dad that he was going to get infected from her and he needed to watch out.”
“Oh, God. It’s a good thing he did run into the dad, otherwise…
“I don’t want to think about that.”
“Do you think he would..?”
“No! I mean, I hope not. I mean…that was a little kid.”
“What else has happened lately?”
“Well…what did he say he was going to do with it?”
“He said he just wanted to have it, just in case,” Hector continued. “I could just picture him sitting in his living room with it propped against the wall, all ready and the minute he sees one bad news report he’s gonna jump up and grab it and fly out the door.”
Mercedes wanted to laugh a little as there was so much ridiculousness to that, but only a little, as there was much more truth to that.
“Yeah, that’s totally what he would do.”
“And we both know that’s not good.”
Cassandra stepped out of the car, noticing the sign on the door. No one could miss it, as it was bright pink and smack dab in the middle of the door, but there was enough wording on it to almost fill the sheet. It only made her slam the car door and rush up to it quicker. She already had an inkling as to what it said.
There were not that many cars in the parking lot, sans the employee side. That side was full. Very full. She ran up to the set of entrance doors and that pink sign loud enough to get its point across:
Due to overwhelming activity, we have reached maximum capacity and cannot admit any more patients at this time. We apologize very much as we understand how dire the situation might be for you, but please understand that it is worse for us. We are working very hard with treatment but we DO NOT HAVE A CURE as of yet. We appreciate your understanding and patience.
Cassandra noticed that the phrase “do not have a cure” was in bold, but someone also took a pen and underlined it. She instantly though of all the people that stood in the very spot she did, reading those very words and feeling their only hope shatter before them. Diseased people. Desperate people. She wondered how many there had been up until that point.
She tried the door, not to shocked to find it locked. She shielded her hands above her eyes to peer through the glass. There had to be signs of activity if the place was so busy, but it felt like a ghost town. When she stepped away she noticed the part of the sign she did not read:
If you have any other needs, please ring personnel.
The intercom was on the right, not even hidden by a few strings of cobwebs. Cassandra pressed the button. What followed was a beep and a hurried voice.
“Um,” Cassandra fought with herself on what to say. “I need to speak to someone.”
The curt reply threw Cassandra off.
“I’m a doctor, and I wanted to stop by and touch base and…check on your progress.”
“It’s no good here,” the voice continued. “Why? Are you making progress?”
“I mean, kind of. I’d like to–
“Come in and wait in the lobby!”
The intercom buzzed the door and Cassandra pulled on it. The smell of astringent and antibiotics immediately flew up her nose, along with something else. Something familiar. Something rotten.
She braced herself when she heard the clack-clacking of heels on the floor. They were quick and hard steps and they sounded like they were coming from the elevators. It did not take long for the owner of the heels to appear. She was younger than Cassandra, possibly fresh out of school, as well as thinner,but she had no time for envy. The look on the girl’s face alone said she was not in a good place.
“You’re a doctor, too?” she asked Cassandra. “Where?”
Cassandra stepped away from the doors. “Not practicing, really. I–we–myself and my team have been working on some new formulas–
“You found something?” The girl’s voice increased in pitch, and it was the pitch of hope that Cassandra did not want to disappoint but was about to.
“Not… quite yet,” she answered. “I’m Cassandra. My team and I operate a private lab right now where we have been doing research and conducting experiments, but it’s all behind closed doors and nothing is being talked about. We are also dealing with the …disease.”
“Do you know where it came from?” The girl’s arms were crossed as though she were cold, or protective. In hype of talking to Cassandra she did not introduce herself, but Cassandra saw her name tag read “Kristen.” She noticed Kristen was also clutching the sleeves of her jacket.
“No,” Cassandra said. “But…we’re trying very hard. Tell me, how are your patients? What sort of symptoms do they have? Are they….feral? Docile?”
Kristen scratched part of her arm with her thumb. “Some if not most can be aggressive. They would attack us as we try to give them something and many had to be strapped down to their beds. Some got worse than others.”
Cassandra nodded. “Ours too. We have just a few. Some can be treated and some can’t. We have a little girl that was found by the beach who isn’t really aggressive anymore, but we still don’t know what to do.”
“What are you giving her?”
Cassandra paused. “One of our formulas.”
She saw the hunger in the girl’s eyes and knew what question would come after her response.
“Can you bring us some?”
“I…I don’t know,” Cassandra forced those words out as she felt that desperation linger between them. “I can try. We don’t have that much and we don’t know what works–
“It doesn’t matter, it sounds like it’s better than what our doctors have! Please…..please bring some. Whatever it is they can probably replicate it!”
Cassandra exhaled. “I’ll see what I can do.We’re trying our best too…”
Kristen smiled weakly. “Thank you so much.”
Cassandra willed herself not to look back when she left, pushing on the door and letting it shut behind her, almost knowing that Kristen did not leave the lobby just yet. She knew that she stepped up to the door and watched Cassandra walk all the way to her car. What she didn’t see was Kristen pushing up her jacket sleeve…and rubbing at the growing red sores on her arm.
Meanwhile, back in Florida…
“On the count of three!”
Karen and Cassandra held their positions against the door, Karen’s feet slipping a little, watching Bruce out of the corner of their eyes. He held the long piece of wood in between the door handles.
They backed away and watched the doors throb in place, held together with that piece of wood they found they hoped would last. At least, for the time being. The three of them side stepped and watched the sea of heads at the door windows push and push and push on them.
“This is…I don’t know,” Cassandra started.
“Getting out of hand?” Karen finished.
“It got out of hand a long time ago!”
Bruce just stared at the hands pawing on the door windows and leaving clouded fingerprints.
“But it’s only getting worse,” he said, mostly to himself.
“We’ve got to go to the other hospitals now,” Cassandra urged.
“And do what?” Karen asked.
“Someone somewhere has to have something! Someone has to be able to have something…better than what we’ve got.”
“And what makes you think they do?” Bruce countered, turning around to look at Cassandra. “What makes you think anyone has any idea of what is happening and how to stop it?”
They avoided looking at all those on the other side of the doors. Co-workers, people they knew, people they thought they knew. They were not…themselves. They had to be kept in.
“What you gave them now,” Karen said addressing Bruce, “it’s supposed to get worse before it gets better.”
The three of them saw some of the desperate, howling faces press against the window, open-mouthed on the glass in an attempt to bite through.
“Do you see any of that getting better?”
“We have to try,” Cassandra stated. “Look at them. They’re animals now. All of them.”
“Not all of them…”
Karen and Cassandra looked in the direction Bruce was to see Guppy coming into the room drinking a McDonald’s milkshake.
“She’s drinking the milkshake.”
“She’s not attacking anyone and she’s not ravenous.”
“Right, so if she can be subdued, others can too. Even David.”
A beat passed as the pushing on the doors carried on.
“What should we do now? Wait until they get bored?”
“We need to get away from them first,” Karen said. “Our presence is only agitating them more.”
Guppy approached them, still clutching her milkshake like an ordinary child, but looking around with the beady eyes that were unlike an ordinary child. Her lips wrinkled at the straw. It was cold, chocolately, and good. She could at least maintain an ordinary appetite…from time to time. She went from watching the grown-ups to the people pushing on the other sides of the barricaded double doors. They turned to leave the room and she followed. They did not look back and she did not, either.
“Well,” Cassandra said once they were out in a hallway. “I say we check on that walk-in clinic that was mentioned on the news.”
“The one with the full capacity already?” Karen asked.
“Yes. That one.”
“And what do you want to do once you get there?” Bruce asked.
“See if they know anything.”
No one said a word for a minute. Bruce petted Guppy on the head.
“We shouldn’t all leave while things are the way that they are,” he stated. “We need to get them all back to their rooms once that serum kicks in and monitor their progress.”
“Then I’ll go,” Cassandra declared before Bruce even finished his sentence. She folded her arms and stared at Bruce and Karen, daring them to oppose. “I’ll reach out to them there and–
“Don’t tell them anything,” Karen interrupted.
“Anything” was a broad description. Cassandra ran through dialogue in her head, the means of getting other personnel to tell her what was really going on with the patients in the clinic. What they were not telling people on the news. She could find something out for them. She could. There had to be something.
She left the building with an air of confidence, a determined eye, but her co-workers did not share the same countenance.
Bruce shook his head once Cassandra was out of the room.
“This falls on our shoulders and no one else’s.”
Dr. Ann took the most satisfying sip of coffee she’d had in a while, still dripping hot from the Keurig, which made it its freshest. She almost chugged it despite the heat, desperate to attach herself to a different kind of craving right then and there. When she brought the mug away, there were clear signs of leftover blood smeared around the rim, sealed with a kiss, running red tears down the porcelain. She reached over to grab from the stack of napkins on the counter and clean it off. Clean off the mug, clean off herself. She took another gulp while tossing the waded up napkin in the trash can. She was about to leave the break room when she saw how noticeable it was: red and moist and looking like a human organ. She took a newspaper sheet and smashed the garbage down, covering it up.
She walked out with her coffee, tasting nothing else but the french vanilla with cream and sugar. She passed one of the other doctor’s offices and stopped before going completely past it. There was a small ensemble of co-workers crowded around the computer monitor, and it was the expressions on their faces that stopped her. They were not insightful, they were not curious, they were not concentrated. They were disturbed. She hung back a bit, hoping to catch the eye of one of them or some of them, or anyone. A few noticed her and she stayed still, waiting for the invite.
“Doctor?” someone acknowledged her.
She leaned over the doorway.
“What’s everyone looking at?”
They pulled away from the computer, shifting eyes, each hoping someone else would provide the answer.
Dr. Ann recognized the alarm and went in, circling around the desk as her fellow doctor scrolled up the webpage in question. She saw the words “mass,” “spread,” and “disease” in the paragraph and even the word “zombie.”
“Looks like there is a mass infection of something that spread in Orlando,” he stated.
“Orlando?” Dr. Ann asked peering at the monitor.
“Yeah. We’ve all been reading this and noticed how familiar it is.”
The doctor stood up and motioned for her to sit in his seat, and then he stood behind her. They all waited while she read the article, watching her scroll the mouse and lean closer to the screen.
“They are all the same signs, Doctor. Same symptoms.”
She reread a few paragraphs. “How did you find this?”
“We were doing research based on other similar symptoms and this came up in the news feed. It looks like it was somewhat recent, and it has been ongoing.”
She read the beginning again, how the story and the outbreak started, almost similar to how her own had started. It took one or more infected persons to be around others for it to spread, and once it did, it did not stop. She read that the infection started at a beach when some swimmers came back on shore not looking so good…and it carried from there. But, who could that have happened? Was there something in the water?
“It does not make sense,” Dr. Ann said. “People just came up from the ocean covered in sores? Were they attacked by some sort of poisonous sea life? There is little to no information here.”
“Whatever it is it is easily spread to others, one doctor said.”
“And whatever it is, it didn’t come from the ocean. Someone or something must have brought it there first,” said another.
Dr. Ann frowned.