The man was found in the street in a pile of his own filth: sick, waste, and blood…and maybe even the sick, waste, and blood that was not his own. Whatever–and whomever–he had his encounter with had taken off and left behind nothing but traces of DNA. At least she had that much to work with.
Dr. Ann had this man sitting upright in one of the examination rooms seeming to be calm and cooperative, but also unresponsive. Most importantly, he was clean. They had washed away all of the coats of grime so there was nothing left but him, and nothing left to see but what he was really made of. And what he was really made of was his own layers of grime. The skin was opaque and milky with patches of green here and there, subtle and scattered as birthmarks. They shaved the briar patch from his face where Dr. Ann could see the green continued.His eyes were blank and tired, and his mouth was mostly closed, but open enough to allow a pendulum of drool to swing by his chin.
Dr. Ann sat on a stood across from him at eye level.
“Now, I want you to think about my question again and give me an answer: Were you attacked, or did you do the attacking?”
The man said nothing, his line of drool growing heavier in mass and descending further past his chin. He emitted a low growl and it fell to the floor. He had his hands cupped over his knees and periodically squeezed them, but she could still see the dried blood that stuck underneath his fingernails.
She leaned in. “Did you attack someone, or did someone attack you?”
The man’s nostrils flared, picking up her scent, recognizing it for what it was and for what she was. The specific, familiar smell, but also the one that was still human. Partly human.
Dr. Ann smirked at him and took something out of her pocket, still vacuum sealed in its plastic bag, but with a small notch made at the top. She peeled at that notch and watched his reaction as vapors of the contents released in the air, and no doubt he could already pick them up. She looked for the signs of the dilated pupils and flared nostrils, which happened almost instantly. She dangled that carrot…and pulled away when he lunged.
“You like that, don’t you? You know exactly what you have an appetite for and you have no problem going after it. You have gone after it…by any means necessary.”
The man still wanted to grab that bag, and for a moment he looked like he was carefully thinking about it, like he was calculating his moves and hers. He might not have been as far infected as she thought and possessed some intelligence…but only some. She believed this man was still in the early phase and still might be able to be saved. Dr. Ann held the bag by her side and held eye contact.
“You’re still in there somewhere, and I will get you out again.”
The man made a low growl once he looked at the bag again and kept her eye contact for only a minute, but only for a minute before he jumped out of his seat.
He tackled Dr. Ann to the ground and pushed against her shoulders. She scrambled under him and then he squeezed her arms, nails digging into her skin for one purpose and one purpose only. They were still sharp enough. She pushed him off with her knees and kicked him in the stomach, his low growls turning to aggressive roars. She got to a sitting position and almost stood up until the man lunged at her again and pinned her to the ground. Within seconds he stretched his jaw open the widest it could go, and wasted no time driving his teeth into her shoulder.
Dr. Ann cried out at the impact of the bite and at the fingernails, but it was mostly the bite, especially when it clamped down tighter through her lab coat and into her flesh. With both hands she grabbed a hold of his ears and pulled back hard enough for that bite to loosen and release. Once his face was out in the open she gave him a strike to the nose with the heel of her hand, sending him off balance and stumbling about the room. It gave her time to inspect her wounds. The blood seeped from the perfectly circular gash on her shoulder, the bite of a beast and not a human. It throbbed as she moved it, but she had little attention to give it as the man regained his balanced and faced her again. His own blood poured from his nose, flesh crooked in the break and already bruising up to his eyes, mixing with her blood he had around his lips. He swiped his tongue around, tasting them both.
Dr. Ann’s shoulders heaved up and down with heavy breath and heavy pain. The blood soaked her coat and she winced with each breath, but it was her move and she had to make it count. She had to show him her own bite.
While the man stumbled, she she timed it for when he was closer to her, then she put her good shoulder into him, and her own set of jaws on his arm.
The man screamed and began clawing at her back, but his grip loosened the more hers tightened. She bit down and easily tore through his shirt to his flesh and tasted his blood. She bit harder and got more blood. He screamed again and fought to get her off of him ,but that only made the flesh tear easier. The man weakened with each loss of blood and she was finally able to push him down to the ground.
She stood over his withering body, her shoulders still pumping up and down with pain and adrenaline. He would need medical care very soon…but she knew that she needed it sooner. The man was starting to become hazy in her view. Before she did anything else, she needed to take her pill.
Dr. Ann exited the exam room straddling her arm. She was not surprised to see a few curious–and concerned–faces peer around the corner. She walked out and was faced with more: Co-workers unable to hide their shock at what they heard and what they saw. She walked along with as much authority and confidence as she could muster.
“Patient is subdued,” she said simply.
Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin…
Dr. Ann Ty-Byotik opened the fridge and leaned in, pushing aside labeled bottles and tupperware containers that were not hers until she found the one that was, all the way in the back and wrapped in double, triple, and quadruple layers of aluminum foil. Everyone knew that one was saved specifically for her, and they all knew the reason, but never said so. They just accepted it for what it was. She brought it out and shut the door, leaving that part of the lab and heading back to her office quickly.
She stopped abruptly at the co-worker who stepped in front of her, addressing her timidly. He noticed what she held and acted even more timidly, backing up a little like he just encountered a tiger.
“Ma’am, sorry, bad time?”
“No,” she answered. “No, it’s all right. I am just about to take lunch.”
“Okay, all right,” the man said, backing up even further. “Then I’ll talk to you later. Sorry. Not important. Have a…nice lunch.”
The man disappeared down the hallway before she could say anything. Dr. Ann sighed. Some days were better than others. Sometimes there wasn’t anything she could say or do to make others feel comfortable around her.
She continued down the hallway where her private office was. She told herself it was her experience and hard work that got her her perks and nothing else. She put her lunch down at her desk and was just about to sit when her phone rang. She pressed the speaker button.
“There is a package for you.”
“Okay, thank you.”
Not quite lunch break yet, she went back out towards the reception area. The girl at the desk smiled at her as a young man in a brown uniform stood holding a small box and clipboard.
“Dr. Ann Ty-Byotik?”
“If you’ll just sign here…”
The man’s voice trailed off as he got a better look at her, and did a double-take at her face. She was used to it by now. Most of the staff was too, but whenever someone new came around it was a shock all over again. Dr. Ann smoothed her hair down on that side of her face and avoided eye contact while she signed for the package.
“Thank you,” she said, taking the box and pretending to be immensely reading the labels while she walked away. She shut herself in her office again, leaning over her desk phone and pressing the “do not disturb” button. She placed the box on her desk next to her tupperware container and made it her priority over eating. She grabbed her scissors stuck in a mug full of pens and worked on opening the box. She tore a perfect line down the clear tape holding the box flaps together and pulled them apart. Inside was a pair of plastic air pillows cushioning two bottles. She brought them out right away and examined them, weighing one in each hand in decision. She decided on the one in her right hand and popped the top off. The contents were brown pellets that could have been rabbit food…or rabbit droppings. They were gritty-looking and gritty-feeling. She put one in her mouth, taking a sip from the water bottle next to the phone. She felt it slide roughly down her throat and took more gulps of water to help it move downstream.
Dr. Ann took one breath and already felt her heartbeat relax; the smile on her face could have been involuntary. Her door was shut. Her phone was on mute. She could now have her “me” time. She pushed her box aside and put her attention on her lunch, crinkling the foil as she unwrapped it from the container. With one hand she reached out to her top desk drawer and pulled out a fork and a steak knife, stainless steel, waiting to be used and still slightly stained from their last use.
She held the fork and knife in each hand and looked down at her meal as an exaggerated cartoon would, the only thing she did not do was lick her lips. She stared down at those squiggles of meat, the gelatinous pound of the cerebrum made up of tons of curly rows. She stuck her fork and knife in to pull apart those squiggles, even attempting to break them up enough to twirl around her fork like spaghetti. She almost laughed at the absurdity of it, remembering that spaghetti represented brains in ghost stories. Children would pass around a cold pound of spaghetti to each other in the dark and laugh whenever someone screamed.
Dr. Ann cut off a section of the medulla sticking out and took her time chewing it. She scooped up forkful after forkful into her mouth, enjoying the taste immensely, but almost wishing she had some sort of sauce to go with it.
But what would go good with it?
Bruce asked her once they got in the car. She moved her head like a nod and made small noises, which was the best affirmative answer he would get. She seemed okay. She was, but he was not so much.
He could not get the image of that man out of his head…and the audio track of his words kept playing on repeat. He knew about the disease. He knew more than he should, which meant that it had spread quicker. How? What happened? The reports on the news talked about it. They talked about mass infection and schools closing, but it could just be a coincidence. It was not the same thing. It couldn’t be. There was no way it was connected.
Bruce stole another glance at Guppy once he came to a stop light, mostly because the pungent smell of her roadkill roast filled his car. She munched away at it like it was a cheeseburger, like she was the kid who liked to get the head start on the drive-thru food.
“Easy, will ya?” Bruce said fanning his nose. He cracked open both windows front windows and stifled a gag.
Guppy chewed away while Bruce went ahead at the green light, the breeze roaring in the opened driver and passenger side windows. He rested his cheek on his left fist and didn’t even notice Guppy avert her attention to something on the passenger seat floor, right next to his umbrella. She bent over and picked it up…and a moment later Bruce jumped in his seat and nearly swerved the car. The fingers were long and the nails were cracked and sharp enough to snag on his shirt sleeve…which almost happened the way it touched him.
Guppy extended the arm and tapped him on the shoulder once more.
“I forgot about that,” he said calmly and looked at the child holding the dismembered arm.
“Did you find that?”
She kept eye contact and made a slight nod.
Bruce wasn’t sure how to word the question bothering him the most. From the way she held the arm and touched him with it, she was treating it like a prop or plaything, a backscratcher, just an arm. It was the animal carcuss she treated as food. Bruce bypassed this thought knowing the child did not have the strength. She just found it, that was all.
They turned into the lab parking lot, Bruce anxious to get both Guppy and the speciman under everyone else’s eye…and to see how other things were going. He brought her inside…but not before disposing of the roadkill leftovers.
“You’re finished, right?”
She looked up at him and tilted her head, and he didn’t hesitate to toss it away.
Bruce hastily made his way to the labs, spotting Karen and Cassandra in a break room silently drinking coffee. They jumped out of their chairs.
“You found her!”
“She didn’t get far. She became cooperative when she saw me again. I also found…this.”
Karen and Cassandra froze with cups in midair at the sight of the arm.
“And when I found this, and her, I found someone else. I bumped into this man while I was chasing Guppy and he was…trying to warn me about her. He thought that she was my kid and was telling me about the disease that spread and he could tell she had it and that I was next!”
” ‘The disease,’ ” Karen emphasized.
“I know. We need this time more than ever to create this antidote.”
“It is still circulating the news,” Cassandra said. “From what I’ve heard there are other teams of doctors and scientists trying to do the same thing we are.”
“But they aren’t the ones that started it,” Bruce said in a low voice.
Karen shook her head. “Stop that.”
“I just have this bad feeling that the test solutions we had did the exact opposite of healing and must have gotten out somehow…”
Karen and Cassandra drank from their cups and looked at Guppy. She acknowledged them with familiarity, holding Bruce’s hand and behaving.
“We’re glad you found her safe.”
“Yeah. How is everything and everyone else?”
“Resting,” Cassandra said. “Those injured are all resting… including David.”
“How is he?”
“He was still sleeping, and hasn’t stirred at all. That’s it. They are all minor injuries that can be taken care of. It isn’t his fault. It’s David, after all. It’s just a side effect. He isn’t going to just turn into a monster.”
Guppy gave Bruce a little squeeze and he squeezed back, assuring her he did not think she was a monster, even though he knew she was responsible for some of the attacks. He did not want to bring it up.
“What do they mean by other teams of doctors and scientists?” Bruce asked them.
“They’re doing testing on the victims in the hospitals,” Cassandra stated.”They are going to be just as baffled as us, but even worse.”
Karen snickered a little. “It’s not like there is a scientist out there who specializes in the zombie virus.”
At first, Bruce was filled with fluttering relief as Guppy herself crawled out from that last car in the lot, but his fluttering rose to anxiety as he saw the man that stood on the other side of her: large and woodsy, like someone used to being out on a hunt. It seemed like Guppy was his target by the way he looked at her.
She reached the gutters in the street, crawling through the two-inch rain pond. She was drawn to the sound of the water rushing down the sewer, but there was something else that drew her more…her sense of smell dominated her sense of hearing. The waters ran red on the pavement and swam to her outstretched fingers. The sky above her growled and rumbled, reminding her of the call of a hungry stomach. She advanced on the pool of red in the gutter as the smell of the fresh kill became stronger. The mangled body was tiny and furry, the naked rope tail and forked teeth of a rat, but too large in size, so it might have been a possum. It used to be a possum, but now it was just a crushed mass of bone and fur left over from the tire marks. It lay discarded on the side of the street as another piece of waste, another piece of meal for select carnivores. Guppy cupped her hands in the water to enjoy the Kool-Aid mixed just for her, drinking handful after handful until she wanted to go straight to the source. She pounced upon her prize and wasted no time enjoying the main course. She was preoccupied enough not to notice the two men.
They at once ran toward her, and at once noticed the other in a sheer state of panic.
“Stay away from her!” They both yelled. At once.
Guppy recoiled back, roadkill roast in her grasp.
Bruce stepped in front of her protectively as Ruff advanced. They sized each other up and down as they tried to figure the other out. As Guppy backed up towards Bruce, the animal blood and meat bits washed down her face to be rid of the evidence, but it was still there.
Ruff’s tone was out of terror, or warning, or both.
He waited for Bruce to respond, but he did not.
“Haven’t you been paying attention to the news?” Ruff demanded. “It’s contagious! You and anyone else who makes contact with the infected will catch it too and it will keep spreading!”
“I’m taking care of it,” Bruce stated. He scrutinized Ruff carefully, from his attitude to the way he was looking at him and Guppy…and the baseball bat he carried. “I’m taking care of her and we’re…we’re doing our best.”
“They’re everywhere now!” Ruff explained. “They’re everywhere and they’re brutal. They’re not even human anymore. The disease takes them…takes them completely. It turns them into something nasty. Something not even human anymore.” Ruff shuffled backwards a little bit and pointed the end of his bat at Bruce. “And it looks like you’re going to be next, buddy.”
Bruce was beside himself. Just how far had this gone? He blinked raindrops from his eyelashes that fell just as fast as tears would.
“Everywhere?” He repeated.
“Yeah, everywhere! And we have to do whatever it takes to stop it. This could be the beginning of the apocalypse, man. I’m sorry…but your kid’s not your kid anymore. Sooner or later she is going to attack someone and turn them, and it might be you.”
Ruff still held the bat, still maintained distance from Bruce and the girl, still looking at them like he was almost expecting to be attacked by either of them at any moment. Bruce did not know what to say.
“We’re…we’re going to take care of it,” he said again, shielding Guppy. “Come on sweetheart, let’s go.”
He hastily took the girl under his arm and walked with her through the flooded lot. Ruff watched them leave, and still watched them as they got in Bruce’s car and drove away, fording the water-filled streets.
“Damn straight we’re going to take care of it.”
Bruce knocked balloons out of his way as he trailed that one lone balloon, and across the way, Ruff did the same. It didn’t help that the wind started to pick up as the afternoon matured to evening. Every which way they turned they had to pummel the flying balloons aside. Their target moved down another aisle and they were both more convinced it was what they wanted it to be. Only, it was the wrong one.
Bruce circled one corner and Ruff the other, two men with two different purposes and eye on the goal, not noticing the other until they were out in the open. And then, they both hastily backed up as the toddler waddling in the too-big diaper ran down the lane towards his parents. They cried out in relief when they saw him, and he ran faster to them, bouncing his very own balloon tied to his little wrist. They scooped him up and left together, sorry they lost him for even a second, and grateful the little prize floating above his head helped them out.
Bruce backed off first, barely noticing Ruff, and Ruff left the scene barely noticing Bruce. Bruce became crestfallen, his hopes had died down believing he would leave the parking lot the same way the family did. He had to find the child…not just for her sake, but the lab’s…the world’s. The carrier of the unknown disease was lost.
The child, of course, had not gone far. She maneuvered her way in and out of car aisles to avoid the people there… especially those pursuing her. She lost the one woman and man who looked like they carried tools with them. The other man, the large scary one with a beard to hide his angry mouth, was still around there. He was still searching for her, and so was the scientist man who was kind to her. She had run away from the lab, but deep inside, she knew that going back was the right thing to do. The scientists would take care of her…even if she was a monster. She was now in back of the dealership lot, facing an empty parking lot. Going out there would put her out in the open, which was a risk she was not sure she could take just yet. She lost track of the scary man and the scientist and knew she had to find one before the other found her. He knew she was a monster…and he wanted to hurt her. She lay on her stomach to look at the strips of ground underneath the cars, watching carefully for the feet walking across them. Above her head, she heard the sky rumble.
The raindrops were few at first, but fat, and they hit various places on her body and on the pavement…and then they came down faster.
Bruce scowled as drops smeared across his glasses and soaked spots through his shirt. The only satisfying thing they did was create a tiny drumline of sounds each time they hit the balloons, starting a never-ending percussion thumping all around him. He cleared his glasses off and refocused, at once noticing the sky light around him to be a warning shade of yellow. Too bright for evening. The rains drummed down harder on the balloons as Bruce sloshed in freshly made puddles, promising himself he would not leave without Guppy. He knew she was there because he saw her. He saw the way she crawled on all fours behind cars. He would get her back. He advanced down the last aisle of cars, just as not too far away, the scary man did the same.
She recognized both pairs of shoes: the worn work boots and the simple black ones not meant for outdoor use. She had a hard time keeping track of one or the other, especially at the same time,and when she spotted one pair she lost the other. She looked for those black ones and saw the points facing her: they saw her too. They walked towards her the same time she crawled toward them, willing to risk her position to get out into the open. All around her the rain splattered and the thunder crashed. She felt the torrents downpour all over her, recognizing the coolness from her time in the sea, washing off the day’s dirt and grime. She saw the shoes move toward her and finally meet her halfway out of the dealership lot and into the adjacent parking lot. The rain showered down her face as she looked up at the man who saved her once and would save her again. She also looked up at the man who wanted to do the opposite of saving.
He almost missed that stop sign, but paused long enough for it to count. The driver always thought they were the best judge of that, right? It was not like he would get into an accident the way he was darting his eyes across every and any direction, alert as a hawk circling for mice. Bruce drove down the next street desperately trying to single out the one mouse out of the rest, but those hawk eyes found a different kind of clue.
Bruce slowed down on the side of the street, pulling into the first parking lot he saw. It fit snuggly under the street curb so well that he almost didn’t see it, but there was no mistaking the torn flesh and bone. It was either torn off, or fell off, it did not matter. All that mattered was that it was a human arm.
He found a place to park in a very full lot and got out. The arm lay palm up as though it were reaching out to him. He walked over it to crouch down and stare, not quite sure what to do with it. The skin was falling off in weakened bacon strips and he could tell by the way it frayed that it was the work of teeth. He prayed no one was watching as he lifted the arm and carried it with him to his car. The others would also need to see it. They would need the skin and bone samples. They had to run tests. This of course also meant Guppy could be around. He put that arm speciman on top of his umbrella on the passenger side floor. It looked like it was holding it and ready to open it up for rain. He shut the door and finally looked around his surrounding, realizing why the lot was so full. It was a dealership.
It was a dealership, and they were having a grand opening sale. He noted the bouquets of red balloons tied to just about every other car, and the way they blew in the wind like they did not want to be there. Everywhere he looked he saw the flash of red, until he saw the flash of something else red.
It was a child’s bloody handprint smeared across a car window, that no doubt now went down in value. The way it glistened in the sun made him think it was recent, so he dashed out in the direction of that car. Along the way, he got pelted by the balloon bunches that dove out in his path. One balloon string tangled his glasses and nearly took them off. Another rubbed against his head enough to electrically charge his hair, making him the rod of attraction to all the other balloons. They took to him easily. Bruce brushed more balloons out of the way as he walked up and down the aisles. He saw nothing but the red in front of his face, as well as the red that was imprinted at the back of his eyes.
He ducked behind cars, searching for the child that would be scuttling on all fours to remain unseen. He wondered if she were hurt. He also wondered if she did the hurting. He continued up and down the rows while the child herself still remained unseen on the other side of the lot…hidden behind a Jeep wheel…hidden from the other one pursuing her.
Ruff went down another row, followed by his two friends.
“I saw it,” he said. “Seriously, we have to do something about it.”
“You need to take it easy, no need to smash a kid’s skull in,” Hector said, trying to keep his voice low. The three of them did not look good, not by any means, walking around sprinkled in blood splatters and carrying weapons. “Seriously.”
Right on cue a man in a blue suit jacket approached them, first confidently, then hesitantly.
“How may I help…you?” The man asked the three, instantly noticing Ruff’s baseball bat.
“We’re…” Ruff started, hiding it behind his leg. “We’re hunting down a…rabid animal. Could…be kind of dangerous. It went past here. Might not even be here.”
“I see,” the man said, backing up. “Er, I will…alert my supervisor.”
“We’ll be on our way,” Hector asserted, pulling Ruff and Mercedes back. They watched the man leave and then approach another. He said something to him, and then they both turned to look at the three.
“Great. Calling attention, just what we need,” Mercedes said. “Look, this has gone far enough. We only followed you to make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”
They went down another row to throw off the sight of the employees, finding themselves distracted by the obnoxious amount of balloons tied to the cars. There were far too many of them, and made their search all the more difficult each time the wind blew them in their faces. Ruff grumbled something about a circus while not too far away, Bruce fought off these similar annoyances. He pushed a grouping of them out of his way as he scanned the lot, only to have them float back in his view and make him see everything through rose-colored lenses. He turned around and saw something that made him stop in his tracks and give him a glimmer of hope. Across the lot, Ruff noticed the same thing.
One lone balloon danced by itself down the aisles. It traveled from car to car as though it were attached to something…something small enough to be hidden by the cars…something small enough to want the company of a balloon.
Bruce walked as far as the neighboring streets, scanning them frantically with the urge to keep going, keep looking, until he found that child. She could be anywhere…but could she have gone that far? He tried to surpass the sinking feeling in his gut that the key to finding her would be through a disaster: Find the breadcrumbs trail of blood to a dead body, find the zombie child. Bruce inched his heels backward, thinking about getting into his car for the safety and speed.
He walked around to the front of the building where his car was parked, tempted to go back in the building. No, he would not need to. His colleagues had them under control. The infected were being taken care of. David was locked up…and Guppy was missing. Guppy was the bigger problem. He had to find her and bring her back.
Ruff set off in the direction the child ran. Behind him, his friends called out to him and attempted to keep up.
“Ruff, wait!” Mercedes yelled. “Are you insane?”
He kept going, eyes trained on the grass and sidewalks for those drops of red to betray her direction: the trail of blood the child made bringing that dismembered arm snack with her.
He turned around to face Mercedes and Hector once again, both of their eyes pleading with him.
“Look,” Ruff said. “She left us a nice little breadcrumbs trail of blood. We can track her down.”
Without another word, he took off. The other two had no other choice but to follow him in his mad spree. They passed through a gas station and ended up in a grocery parking lot, dodging honking cars and people pushing carts full of bags. Ruff stopped where he was, lost from the trail. He turned to a lady gathering empty carts, an employee.
“Hey, have you seen….anybody infected?”
The lady crossed her brow. “Nobody around here! They rounded up most of them already.”
“Who? Where do they take them?”
Mercedes and Hector caught up with him, just as the employee saw them and eyed him. “Why? Are you looking for the infected?” She backed up behind the carts. “Are you infected? If so, stay away from me! Stay away from here! Keep it out of the store, or it will spread to all the food!”
Mercedes and Hector grabbed Ruff and dragged them out of there as people–on foot and in cars– started to stare. They ran back the way they came by the gas station and stopped for a breath.
“You don’t want to cause a scene!” Mercedes hissed. “You think you want people thinking you’re one of the infected?”
Ruff did not answer, allowing the moment to speak for itself.
“Let’s just get out of here, man. The kid’s gone. There is nothing you can do about it,” Hector coaxed.
“She was….” Bruce trailed off and Karen came back before he had time to answer.
“Steven is with the others, they are all doing blood tests.”
Karen looked at him with a pointed stare. “You expect me to know that?”
Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra moved about the lab in haste, searching underneath tables and ducking under desks.
“She could not have gone far,” Cassandra assured.
“But wouldn’t we have found her by now?” Karen asked as she gestured around the lab. “Either she is hiding somewhere or she is still attacking other people.”
“No, no one has seen her,” Bruce declared. “They are all treating their wounds, testing them. David is…resting. I don’t know who is spreading the virus, him or the child. He is shut away and she is nowhere to be found.”
“We have to keep looking, then,” Karen said.
“I’ll go check down the southern wing,” Cassandra volunteered.
“I’ll check outside” Bruce said. “There is a possibility she left the building. We have to get her back. It’s not safe. For anyone.”
Bruce went out a set of side doors, analyzing everything in his head from the start, overwhelmed by the ever-growing sense of guilt. It took one little thing for something to slip up, and now they were facing something they never imagined they would. They meant to find an antidote, but instead found a medical anti-matter that was destroying the build of the human body, one cell at a time.
She raised her head once she heard the footsteps, her senses stronger than a cat’s on the prowl. These footsteps were heavy and uncertain, fearful and defensive. They were not the protective footsteps of those scientists…so she stiffened against the dumpster, listening in case they were to come her way. She saw the shadow of a man swim over the wall, the point of his nose the only thing shaping the shadow as a human. Guppy scampered behind the dumpster as the shadow shrank to the ground and the stranger approached. He was a skinny man holding a baseball bat, looking more frightened than she was. He came around the corner and scanned the area.
“Hector!” the man turned his head in the direction of his name.
“Hector! Get over here!”
Guppy peeked at a slit between the dumpster and the wall and watched the man leave. She saw his long legs running in the sun and imagined chomping on them. She inched her face out to get a better view of where he was going, and then she got out.
Hector ran in the direction of Ruff’s voice, ran all the way back to the street he came from. He found his two friends on the side of the road standing over something in the dirt.
“Don’t you wander too far!” Ruff said. “Check this out.”
Hector leaned over to see what they were blocking from the street. Mercedes poked it with her bat, particles of dirt falling from the blue sleeve of fabric. It was still bent into the “L” shape like it was still crossed over a breathing belly. The top end was torn into strips in horrible confetti of skin, fabric, blood and bone. The other end still had its hand, fingers curled up and buried underneath the dirt like it already knew its fate.
Hector’s lips curled in disgust. “Now what is that supposed to mean?”
“What do you think it means?” cried Ruff. “There’s an undead walking around here somewhere and we’ll know which one it is, on account they are missing an arm!”
Guppy hid behind a parked Jeep and watched them, her little face peeking out by the nose of the car. She at first was only interested in these humans, but once she saw what they were looking at, she knew her pupils dilated the moment she saw it. There was shredded up flesh at the end of it where something started a feast. She licked her lips, knowing she wanted to finish it…but first she had to wait for the live ones to leave the scene. They were three grown-ups and they all carried things that could be weapons: baseball bats and shovels. They might be bad people…but she still knew that attacking people was bad. She watched them talk and gesture to one another before finally turning to leave.
They disappeared around the corner and left that drumstick where it was for her to claim. She stuck her head out to be sure no other cars were around before crossing the road to get that prize. Her full instincts taking over, she leapt toward that arm and scooped it up, instantly getting started on that shoulder. The flesh was still warm and fresh like it had been torn off recently, feeding more than just her appetite. She tore at it and for a moment closed her eyes in bliss, ripping away the skin and muscle and bone and the remainders of the shirt sleeve. She didn’t even see those dangerous grown-ups come back…but they did and stood there before this scene.
“It’s a kid!” one of them cried.
Guppy jerked her head up, face full of skin tendrils hanging from her mouth.
She scampered up to flee, hugging that arm to her chest. The three grown-ups stood there watching her dash down the street, trying o decide if they should follow her.
“There’s no way a kid did that,” Hector said shaking his head.
“We don’t know if she did,” Mercedes countered.
“We also don’t know that she didn’t,” Ruff argued. “At this point nothing matters, age, size, nothing. They’re all just brain dead psychos. Can’t put anything past them.”
Hector and Mercedes turned to go back where they came from.
“Come on Ruff,” Mercedes prompted. “Nothing else here.”
But Ruff was already walking in the direction the zombie child went.
“Ruff, what are you doing?”
He turned to them. “What do you think? We have to go after her!”
“She’s just a kid!”
Ruff shook his head. “She is not just a kid. Not anymore. You saw that arm. If she is capable of that, then imagine what else she is capable of. That means no exceptions.”
She remembered what it meant to cry.
The first small sob escaped her when she finally ran out the building and hid behind a dumpster, finally alone, and finally feeling like it was all right. It was a short cry, but when she felt finished, she went to wipe the tears from her cheeks…just like she used to when she was alive…only to discover she could no longer produce tears.
She remembered feelings; she mostly remembered feelings of regret and guilt. She sat behind the dumpster and lined up her thoughts and feelings together, replaying in her head the scenes that caused them.
The woman was trying to help her, but like any kid would be at a doctor’s office getting tests done, Guppy was scared. She was scared mostly because she did not know this other woman, as she was not as gentle as the others were. She became more scared when the woman brought out a sharp object and said she wanted to check her blood. Guppy reacted with a knee-jerk reaction and nearly knocked the object out of her hand. In her struggle the woman accidentally pierced herself on the arm and made Guppy stop in place.
She did not mean to, first smelling the blood on the woman’s arm and then her instincts just kicked in. It caused her senses to awaken, her pupils to dilate and her desire to get more out of her. The scratch on the woman’s arm was small but it was enough pollen to lure the bee to the flower, and before Guppy could think about it, she attacked her. She lunged at the woman and clawed at her injury, making new blood beads while she yelled and tried to fight her off.
She shoved the child away and the next time Guppy lunged at her, her teeth did the work. Guppy bit down hard and fast and when the woman shoved her once again, she took away some of her flesh in her teeth. She fell against the wall while the woman desperately tried to cover her arm with her shirt sleeve. She ran in agony, leaving Guppy at the wall to suck at the blood in her teeth.
She licked her lips and watched her as she ran way, at once recognizing human pain and agony. Those human instincts took over her predatory ones, and her stomach sank in guilt. The child in her—the age that she was in life and would be from then on—made her hug her knees and duck her head down. She could not help it. She did not mean to. But the blood was so fresh, and the flesh that went with it only made her appetite grow. She had to get away from it, so she got up and ran.
She ran around until she found another open, private room, and there she sat against the wall to be by herself. She did not trust herself and needed to be alone. She heard the adults running around in the chaos of the infection. Some of them became aggressive, and those not affected were struggling to get it under control. Guppy hugged her legs tighter when she heard the familiar voices of those who were nice to her, who were trying to help her. The one man, David, the one whose condition was very similar to hers, found her.
He came in the room and sat next to her, attempting to talk to her. Guppy relaxed for a moment, but only for a moment, because David’s own instincts started to kick in. Guppy licked her lips and realized he was envious of her snack. He lifted his head with the scent of living blood in his nose…and took off in a pursuit.
Guppy stayed by the dumpster, not entirely sure if it were safer inside or out. She didn’t know which adults would be helpful—or harmful. She kept her head down until she heard footsteps not too far from her hiding spot.
“Steve!” Cassandra cried, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him. She took his chin and looked at his eyes, vacant and looking around, but seeing nothing.
“Steve, answer me!”
Her coworker did not answer, and instead pulled himself out of her grasp to continue walking aimlessly down the corridor. Cassandra did not try to stop him again. She instead watched the way that he moved with a growing sense of fear: slowly, painfully, like he did not even know he had legs but they were doing the moving for him anyway. She noticed his attempt at speech was slurred and was involuntary rather than responsive. She did not want to connect the dots, but she did so anyway.
She turned in the direction of Karen’s voice, finding her and Bruce together and accounted for.
“Have you seen—
“Let me guess,” Cassandra answered her own question. “Not…okay.”
“I gave him a sedative and we put him down to rest,” Karen said.
“It’s true then?”
Bruce and Karen exchanged glances. “He attacked people.”
“Contaminating people with…what he has,” Cassandra said, watching the coworker Steven drag himself down a hallway. She turned to them.
“Right, so we round up everyone who is affected by this…rabies infection.”
“And everyone who has been in contact with it,” Bruce finished. “Starting with him.”
Cassandra looked down the hallway again at Steven.
“David attacked him,” Bruce explained. “He bit him. David seriously bit Steven. When I saw him he was in a lot of pain. Now…now I don’t know what it means. ”
They all started to follow him.
“He doesn’t look like he is in pain,” Cassandra said.
“Yeah, and why do you think?” Bruce countered. No one said anything else as they tailed the victim.
“Steven!” Cassandra tried again. The figure halted, but not abruptly as though stopping at a stop sign. He was a wind-up toy slowing down by bouncing off of the corridor walls. Once he turned to face them they knew that the engine was still running, but no one was behind the wheel. The skin on his face sagged into dead weight and his eyes sank into his skull. Headlights officially turned off.
“Steven…” Cassandra tried again. “Come with us.”
The man staggered a little but didn’t move, lips parting to attempt speech, but instead he answered her in an animalistic moan.
“He is just disoriented,” Karen said, beckoning him to come forward. “We can monitor this and get him back—
A high-pitched scream interrupted Karen and pulsated though the halls. She turned to the other two who already went to their coworker and linked arms through his. They guided him through and made their way to one of the labs, where they saw two co-workers with their jacket sleeves rolled up and comparing freshly printed bruises.
“You two all right?” Bruce asked them.
“We’re fine,” they answered. “They…they just got violent.”
“What happened? And where are they?”
“We don’t know,” one of them said. “They looked like they were bleeding from the mouth and they fought us off when we tried to help.”
Far off in the building they all heard another muffled yell.
“I’ll get him somewhere safe first,” Karen said, steadying Steven. “I will be back.”
Bruce and Cassandra made their way towards the yells while Karen escorted one victim to safety.
“David’s safe and now Steven will be, wonder who else needs to be,” Cassandra said while they brisk-walked.
Bruce turned to her in panic. “Where’s the child?”