July 2008, a sinister collection of gruesome tales is released under the banner Demonic Tome. These stories were originally offered for free directly from a site that no longer exists. This issue was lost and forgotten, until it was discovered by a historian that wishes to be anonymous. This brave sole found the July 2008 edition of Demonic Tome, and with his help, we’ve revamped the issue.
Deadman’s Tome July 2008 edition is reformatted and improved so that it will read better on Kindle devices and smartphones (obviously with the kindle app).
Buy a copy today for .99c or tweet at MrDeadmanDT to get a free digital copy. It’s not about the money. It’s about sharing the content. And this issue has some very potent stories. One in particular is so brutal even I had to walk away for a bit.
The Best of the Demonic compiles an assortment of editor picks as a way to celebrate our two years of publication. Loaded with ten gruesome, horrific tales that will pull you to the edge of your seat, this greatest hits anthology will deliver back-to-back a complimentary sample of what Deadman’s Tome is all about. Fans of our thriving ezine, you already know that this purchase will be totally worth it. Those passing by, you don’t need to hold on to your doubt. As a growing monthly electronic magazine, the quality of our releases has increased phenomenally, and this anthology is a sort of snapshot of what we become.
If you crave horror, if you enjoy a good chill running down your spine, then look no further. Deadman’s Tome delivers.
Celebrating three years of publication is nice, but without friends and associates to share the moment with, the party would grow very boring, very fast. To that end, we reached out to everyone that has ever helped us in the past for their personal favorite picks and reasons why they enjoy this online magazine of the macabre.
Featuring fifteen tales designed to instill fear: Plain Old Wrong by K.S. Riggin, Solitary Man by M. R. Nelson, Inky Beast by M.J. Nichols, Armstice Day by D.D. Bell, and a lot more.
Deadman’s Tome Best of the Demonic (POETRY EDITION)
The Best of the Demonic: Poetry Edition is tailored with the same respectful touch we used with its counterpart. We gathered all of the poems out from the depths of our archives and scanned each and every one of them for a handpicked chosen. The fruits of our labor means for your guaranteed enjoyment. Every poem included in this anthology has earned its spot, and that means for a collection of quality poetry for your eyes to feast upon.
Reader beware, however, that even through the simple lines of poetry can madness be instilled.
The cobalt dress was taut around Carter Graham’s hips, the nylon thigh-hose stretched smooth and the blonde wig that he made out of Janet’s scalp fit radiantly snug over his short, salt-and-pepper hair. The pumps were far too small so he had to slit the sides of the black leather to make his feet slip into the shoes. Sitting at the dressing table, Carter fumbled about in Janet’s jewelry box, primping and fussing, trying on different pieces to achieve that distinctive look. The make-up strategy was harsh and gaudy, the scarlet lipstick a bit too thick and became smeared from his unskilled attempts to apply it. An synthetic pearl necklace was selected and Carter clasped it around his neck, followed by a pair of pearl studs which he punctured through the lobes of each ear. He stood before the full-length mirror and turned, spun and swayed, mugging at his reflection. Small plastic bottles, pills, capsules and tablets were sprinkled on top of the tawny carpet. Clozaril, Depakote, Zoloft, Luvox, Trazadone – a gathering of pharmaceuticals; slow-motion comfort and fast-frame, accelerated nourishment. A magnificent cocktail that swept your life under a national security rug and wrapped you in medicated swaddling. The simple, country songs of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline pervaded the bedroom, while hearty swigs of luscious bourbon smoothed the edges.
The erratic, unpredictable emotional and psychological behaviors began just a few months upon his return from the unforgiving deserts of Iraq. Discharged from the stifling heat, the desiccated terrain and aggressive sunlight, Carter was tossed back into a frightening and now unfamiliar society. The slap-and-tickle life that everyone sloshed through, bickered, quarreled and moaned about, yet so coveted. There was never any comfort, no time for contemplation, just an incessant barrage of flashing, strobe-light images, blaring, yap-yap-rapping sounds and thundering bass-lines saturating the American way of life.
When Johnny comes crawling home again, hurrah! hurrah!
No parades were given, no handshakes offered and no keys to the city were ceremoniously granted. The cracks to fall through were becoming wider these days and the darkness below the grating was hostile and unmerciful.
Carter found out that he could not adjust to any of it. He couldn’t fit in and eventually caved-in and decided that he did not want to.
After the turmoil he had witnessed, the sanctioned use of brutal aggression and premeditated terror he knowingly participated in, Carter could not simply return to Wheel of Fortune after supper, Starbucks Colombian or baggy-pants adolescents. Entertainment celebrities, sports stars and corrupt CEO’s were strutting up and down the red carpet, saturated with ludicrous salaries and worshipped in their respected fields as role models. Fifteen minutes of fame became hour-long, weekly television shows where the hateful, self-absorbed, soft-headed, two hundred-dollar-hair-styled herd clamored for the million dollar prize by demonstrating to obese couch potatoes just how rugged they were by eating grubs and holding their breath under water for two minutes. Carter knew the sadness, the incongruity of it all, the pain and isolation of being abandoned and betrayed by a nation and by those he trusted and confided in.
They could never walk in his shoes, never have gone through, let alone survived the hardship and severe stress he faced on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis. His wife tried to understand, at first she attempted to support him but eventually sought to only pacify him then she too became an outsider, an intruder into his lost world growing ever distant and ignorant of the blight that ate its way into his soul, wormed its way deep into his psyche and obliterated his humanity. He went into the Gulf War as a confident, dedicated, clear-headed man and he returned as a damaged, slack-jointed toy prone to vicious, demented outbursts and psychopathic fantasy. All of the physicians, the medical personnel at the Veteran’s Hospital encouraged the excessive liberal use, the cover-your-ass, inexhaustible procession of eclectic anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, anti-anything-and-everything medications to try and keep his – as well as all of the other war victims – mind swerves from going off the standard charts.
They told him that his symptoms were temporary, stress-related from the field of combat and that other servicemen similar to Carter had gone through it and recovered with remarkable success. PTS-fuckin’D, but with the contemporary treatments and one-to-one and group therapies that were available today, an effective transition to a post-war life had become relatively unproblematic and quite commonplace.
The doctors persuaded him, patronized and humored him to have total confidence in their learned knowledge and trust in the established government protocols and the procedures that guided their enlightened hands.
After all the declarations that rolled off of their tongues and the axis diagnoses and the official reports that were hot off the presses, he reasoned that his medication was a vulgar, document-driven conspiratorial joke played against him and Carter eventually discontinued taking his doses.
He knew best. Theirs was nothing more than folly.
“So what do you say now, girl?” Carter screeched at the mirror and waved his fingers at the ludicrous image, shifting his hips back and forth and kicking his legs up in an awkward, barnyard dance. He pranced over to the bathroom and looked at Janet’s plump body which was kneeling and bent over the edge of the bathtub. Carter sashayed, wiggled and giggled as he pranced across the cool ceramic tiles. He stood over his scalped wife’s body, leering, then stuck his tongue out and wagged a saucy finger at her.
“My dear sweet Janet, you are such a nasty tease!” He squealed childishly as he kneeled down behind her, pushed her dress up around her waist and pulled down her panties. His mind was spinning, soaring and roaring on the whirlwinds of a chemical climax bubbling straight to the top of the charts. No feelings of regret or sorrow encroached his domain. He became a sadistic changeling, a blazing, savage entity from a dimension of the absurd, the abstract plane of lunacy.
“OH, NO! A STRING? NOW, THIS WILL NOT DO!”
Carter screeched as he yanked the tampon roughly out of her flinging it over his shoulder where it slapped onto the white-tiled wall, then slid snail-like, downwards until it plopped atop lid of a hamper basket.
He beat out a frenetic samba rhythm with his hands, slapping her milky-white, pudgy and dimpled thighs and all the while wailing a nonsensical, improvised song. Grinding his hips and groin against her exposed bottom, Carter was overwhelmed by the satiny feel of the sheer dress material on his hard penis.
Raising the front of his costume he went in slowly, smoothly, then pushed jaggedly, sadistically and deep, then finished quickly. He fell forward across his wife’s back where his hands massaged her bloodstained shoulders. He lay his sweated head down softly between her shoulder blades and closed his eyes.
Pleasant voices once far away, now drifted closer on the slightest of air currents. The sound possessed him, gripped him intimately amidst meandering, sinuous harmonies. Unrestrained, he absorbed this primordial song as it filled his gluttonous belly with a sun-burst of dazzling and splendid jubilation.
No scorching winds blowing through dry sands. No unrestrained screams from inside burning personnel carriers. No innocent families thrown alive and breathing into improvised, bulldozer-ready graves. No malignant plumes of gas belching from concealed, concrete underground bunkers or the slow-moving, toxic, emerald mists that hugged the rocky terrain, kissing you so sweetly as if it were a cat’s whiskers.
Carter spoke very softly, his voice lethargic and slowing to a dead-man’s crawl. His eyelids fluttered over dilated pupils and the cadence of his heart diminished, spreading outwards like ripples gliding across a lake. Passionate, delicate arms urged, soothed and nurtured him as wings fluttered overhead ever so silently, lifting him from this place, from this earth.
A clearly over-worked, under-dressed waiter bumped my elbow as he rushed to the kitchen. His momentum placed my watch squarely beneath my nose, and I saw that Professor Gray was now fifteen minutes late.
Finally, when I was about to start packing my things and call the interview a wash, the professor blew in the door, as if pushed by a particularly unforgiving wind.
“Madame Calau…you must accept my deepest apologies. It’s-well you see…” the professor looked around the mid-sized café frantically before throwing his coat on the chair next to him and sitting across from me.
The professor wiped the corners of his mouth with a shaking hand. “He’s dead.”
“You are joking.” I placed my pen on my notebook and crossed my arms tightly.
“I assure you, Madame. I would never joke about something like this. I have just returned from identifying his body.”
The Professor removed his glasses and began to absently wipe them with his napkin. “I apologize for this, Madame. I know you traveled quite a way for this interview. I should have known…well, I should have been aware of his situation a bit better. You see, Monsieur Kinar had been in ill-standing for quite some time. He died in squalor, Madame. The same squalor he had been rotting in for several years.”
“I don’t believe it. News gets to London quite slowly sometimes but nobody ever heard ramblings of poverty. Last I heard, he had retired to Nice.”
Professor Gray shook his head slowly. “Non, Madame. He never left Paris.”
“But what about his paintings? One fetched several thousand dollars at Southeby’s just last week.”
The professor sighed before removing a piece of crumpled paper from his pocket. He placed it on the table, never removing his hand from what I assumed was garbage.
“Madame, what do they know of Monsieur Kinar over in London?”
“Well, not a whole bloody lot to be honest-that’s what this interview was all about, wasn’t it?” I snapped. I instantly felt horrible. “I’m terribly sorry, Professor. It’s been quite a long trip.”
Professor Gray held up his hand. “It is completely understandable Madame. I promise you will go home with a story. It may not be the story you were looking for, but I believe that it is one that must be told.”
I nodded, and opened up my notebook to a fresh page. “Go on, Professor.”
He took a sip from the water that had been waiting for him for twenty minutes before withdrawing a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lighting it, in an almost hypnotic daze.
“I was Monsieur Kinar’s closest confident for many years. It’s true we had fallen out of touch in the past decade, but when he was just starting out as a struggling artist, painting cans to sell at street fairs, we rarely went a day without seeing one another.”
I jotted down the Professor’s words as he exhaled thick, magical smoke into the air above him.
“We met at one of these fairs when I was passing through on my way to the library. I was obtaining my degree at the time. I remember being in such a rush-until I saw this man arranging a collection of cans into a small pyramid. They had portraits on them. Small, painfully detailed portraits of people.”
“Famous people?” I asked, rubbing my cramped hand.
Professor Gray shook his head. “Non…non. They were just normal people. Neighbors of his, prostitutes, paupers-despair ridden people really. But they were beautiful-all of them.”
He took another sip of water and stubbed out his cigarette. “That’s right, Madame. The reclusive, respected Monsieur Kinar started as nothing more than a caricaturist. But he was happy. Poor, of course, but getting by the way only a young, hungry artist can. You see, Madame, there is a difference between a starving artist and a hungry artist. A hungry artist is moving up the food chain, while a starving artist has been reduced to begging for scraps. Monsieur Kinar was hungry-and getting noticed.”
“And the first day you met-you could tell all of this?”
The professor nodded thoughtfully. “Oui, I absolutely could. You see, I was rushing along and these caught me. They drew me towards the young man and his sorrowful art. We had a wonderful conversation that day, after I purchased a can. For the life of me though, I can’t remember what about. I just remember thinking that this man was a true, modern artistic genius. I used my father’s contacts in the art world to give Monsieur Kinar’s work showcases at museums all over Europe.”
“But why did you take such an interest in him? To go to such trouble, I mean?”
Professor Gray considered his water glass for a long moment. “Because I would have never forgiven myself if I didn’t. It’s incredibly selfish to not urge along talent if you have the means. I happened to have the means so I did what I thought was right. It was all so wonderful for a while. He was popular and young and in demand. That’s when he started to do portraits. See, your art world in London doesn’t know about these portraits, do they Madame?”
I shook my head. “No. We have no record of him being a portrait artist.”
“There’s a reason for that, Madame. You see, once Monsieur Kinar had gathered a bit of fame, the elite started to clamor for him to paint them. Commissions were sinful, and hard for any young artist to ignore. It started with the daughter of a count. She was a young, beautiful thing, barely sixteen years old. Monsieur Kinar was thrilled to start his portrait career sans cans, and she was a perfect first subject. The sitting took three months, and by the end, he had produced the most beautiful portrait that anyone had ever seen. It was both hyper-realistic and fantastic. But you see, as soon as he dragged the last stroke across the canvas, the girl crumpled in her chair, dead. The doctors said it was heart failure, but a child?”
The professor held his hands out to me, pleading.
“It affected Monsieur Kinar, this death. But he pressed on with his work. His next sitting was with a banker, who wanted his portrait to hang in the lobby of his bank. When the painting was done, so was the banker who died only a week after it was hung. Next, a young bride sat for him, and she too succumbed shortly after completion of the portrait. Shaken, Monsieur Kinar vowed never to paint again.”
“Did you keep in contact with him when he stopped painting?” I asked.
“I did. It was getting increasingly difficult to track him down, as his money was disappearing and he was slipping down the ladder, as we say. He was still selling his paintings, but not producing anything new. I thought it would all change for him when he met Maribelle. She was a dancer at one of the noir jazz cafes. He fell in love with her immediately, according to his letters. She was just what he needed to mend the years of despair he had deluded himself into having. Maribelle made his guilt fall away, and he no longer believed he was somehow responsible for those deaths.”
I swallowed hard, and motioned to the waiter for more water.
“And you know what she begged of him, the night before their wedding, Madame? She begged that he paint her.”
“No.” I whispered.
“Oui, Madame. They were married the next day, and on their wedding night, she fell asleep but never greeted the day. That is when I stopped hearing from him altogether. I would receive updates from my artistic friends on him. He completely stopped living, according to them. He took to wandering the streets, drunk, sick and starving. I have no idea how he stayed alive, but I feel as though his guilt must have worked as a tonic for a long life. A curse, really.”
I put my pen down on my filled notebook, as the professor dabbed at his eyes and pulled out another cigarette.
“He died in the attic of a boardinghouse. The maid found him, next to this.” The professor finally loosened his grip on the crumpled paper that he had been guarding.
I picked up the paper and unfolded a crude picture, drawn with what looked like a crayon. The picture was of a man-a hollow, terrifyingly skeletal man with patches of hair missing from his beard.
“That’s a self-portrait, Madame. Of Monsieur Kinar.”
I turned the paper over and noticed a date on the back. It was dated April 2. Yesterday.
“He finally broke the curse.” The professor attempted a tired smile.
I turned the portrait over once more to look into Monsieur Kinar’s eyes. Even though they were crude and sketchy-with runaway lines and blurred edges, these were the most real eyes I had ever looked into. Bubbling pain brought them to life on the last page he ever touched.
“I’m afraid that is all I can tell you, Madame. I must get to the university to teach a class but I feel I must apologize for not being able to secure the interview with the Monsieur himself. I feel somewhat responsible. I just thought foolishly, that I could pull him out of the gutter for one last hurrah. A bit stupid, no?”
I looked up at the professor, who had already retrieved his coat from the chair next to him.
I shook my head. “No, professor. This was the story to be told.” I handed the picture back to him, but he held up his hand, refusing. “No, Madame, you may keep this. It was his only personal effect and I prefer it go home with someone who can truly appreciate the Monsieur’s work.
With that, Professor Gray threw down some bills, smiled and turned to leave. Before he reached the door, he turned back around.
“Be sure to tell them back in London, Monsieur’s work is beautifully cursed.”
With that, the professor vanished into the softly falling rain drops outside the café, leaving behind his only existing burden, just as the serpent did when he left paradise in ruins.
Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s horror stories, ghost stories, monster stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre dark fiction, classic horror literature or erotica. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.
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Doctor Steve Zimmerman jerked his Mustang into the parking lot and cut off a blonde nurse in a Honda Civic to take the last space in the emergency employee’s lot. When she honked at him, he flipped her off without a glance.
This was his fourth straight week of working the ER night shift. The past month had been monotonous. Sure an occasional real patient came through the ER, but the majority was the dregs– drunks who got into bar fights or fell down stairs, drug overdoses, and every hypochondriac in the county. They all seemed to converge on his hospital and, more specifically, his shift like vultures to a fresh corpse. He didn’t spend all those years studying and working through his medical degree to waste his talents on trivial, meaningless cases.
Chuck, the night security officer, glanced up from his newspaper as Steve walked in. “Evenin’ Doc. How you doing tonight?”
Steve screwed on a tight smile, “OK I guess, just another night of dealing with idiot drunks and patients who think a runny nose is a 911 emergency.”
Chuck snickered and snapped his newspaper, “Yeah, we do get a lively crowd, but it pays the bills I guess.”
“Yeah, I suppose so,” Steve sighed as he scratched his name into the log. He turned and strode away from the desk, hoping to avoid further conversation.
“Have a good night, Doc,” Chuck called after him.
Without turning around, Steve mumbled, “Yeah,” and made his way through the lobby and into the ER.
The evening lived down to Steve’s expectations. He checked the log and found that there had been three patients in. A twelve-year-old boy who had broken his arm playing football, he’d been treated and released shortly before Steve’s arrival. The second was a frequent flier– tonight’s complaint was a mild fever with chills which she self-diagnosed as avian flu. The third was a man who had been brought in an hour or so before Steve’s arrival. He had apparently been mugged earlier in the evening and had suffered numerous minor injuries.
Susan Hamilton, night shift head nurse, approached Dr. Zimmerman. She was in her late thirties, with strawberry blonde hair and a figure that turned heads. She said in a heavy English accent, “Good evening Doctor Zimmerman, how are you feeling tonight?”
Steve scanned the charts again. “Why hasn’t the hypochondriac in room two been sent home yet? She was released almost an hour ago by Dr. West.”
Susan smiled, “She wants a second opinion before she leaves. She’s not convinced that Dr. West’s diagnosis is correct and insists she has avian flu. I told her she could wait for the next shift and they would have another look at her to confirm Dr. West’s diagnosis.”
“Why do these people waste my time? That woman has been in here four times this month and there’s not been a damn thing wrong with her. I’ve wasted enough time with her. Get her out of here.”
“I apologize Dr. Zimmerman. But she was quite insistent on a second opinion.”
Steve’s cheeks flushed, “I don’t care what she insists on. She has been diagnosed and released…”
Susan interrupted him, “I realize that, and I’ll thank you to mind your tone, I’m simply doing my job.”
“Not very well as far as I can see,” Steve snapped. “I’ll go have look at her and release her from care, again. If necessary, have the moron at the security desk drag her out of here, I’ve got better things to do.”
“Yes Doctor.” As Steve headed off to room two she added under her breath, “Arrogant little git!”
Susan opened the curtain to room seven where Mr. Garcia was sitting upright in the bed. He had been brought in earlier in the evening after being mugged.
“How are you feeling Mr. Garcia?” Susan asked.
“Dios mio, my arm hurts like a son of a bitch, and my head hurts so bad it feels like it’s going to explode,” he replied, gripping the bandage on his arm.
Susan smiled reassuringly, “I’ll get you something for your pain. The Doctor is with another patient. It shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.” She placed the blood-pressure cuff on his uninjured arm. After a few moments, results appeared on the display. She placed the digital thermometer in his ear. Susan noted the results of the tests in his chart. “Why don’t we take a look at that arm,” Susan said as she removed the bandage. She saw that lesions had begun to form around the wound and his face was flushed a darker red than when she came in. She smoothed the bandage back into place. She smiled at him again and said, “I’ll be back in a few moments.”
His breathing somewhat labored, he raised his head and managed a weak smile, “Gracias.”
Dr. Zimmerman was at the desk filling out paperwork when Susan approached him. Without looking up from his papers he sighed, “Yes, what is it now?”
“Doctor, Mr. Garcia in room seven is complaining of a serious headache and his arm is still hurting. Dr. West started him on Tylenol and antibiotics an hour ago. His temperature elevated–99.1 to 100.7. BP is also elevated. He’s flushed and lesions have formed around the bite on his arm.”
Her report sparked his interest, “What’s his BP?”
Susan glanced at the chart, “When he arrived–9:32 this evening–his BP was 127/89. Last reading was 142/110.”
“I’ll look in on him in a minute.”
“Good evening Mr. Garcia, I’m Doctor Zimmerman, Nurse Hamilton tells me you’re not feeling well.”
Mr. Garcia opened his eyes slowly and looked at the Doctor. Both eyes were fiery crimson and a tear drop of blood trickled down the left side of his face. His forehead was beaded with sweat. Mr. Garcia tried to catch his breath to speak; the only sound he made was an unintelligible croak. His breathing had become labored and erratic. Steve pressed the “Nurse Call” button on the man’s bedrail. Moments later, Susan walked through the curtain and asked, “Yes Doctor Zimm…” She stopped when she saw the patient’s condition.
Steve glared at her, “Step outside with me for a moment. Mr. Garcia, I’ll be right back.” Once out of earshot, Steve rounded on her, “What the hell is wrong with you? You didn’t say anything about the sclera or bleeding from the eyes—I would have expected even you to have noted. Not to mention the man can barely breathe.”
Susan flushed, not backing down; she looked right into Steve’s eyes and whispered, “Doctor, he wasn’t like that when I was taking vitals. Those symptoms must have manifested in the last few minutes.”
“I’m not interested in excuses. Get Doctor West in here. We need to run a full work up on this patient stat.”
Doctors West and Zimmerman and the entire night shift nursing staff bustled around Mr. Garcia. The room was filled with the stench of vomit and human waste, augmented by the unmistakable smell of decaying flesh. The lesions had spread and completely covered his arms, and were weeping thick yellow pus. His temperature reached 104.1 and his blood pressure was off the charts. The man was bleeding from the eyes, ears, and nose and was completely unresponsive to all attempts at communication.
The nurses checked and rechecked the patient’s vital signs while the doctors waited for blood test results from the lab. West had his suspicions about the etiology of these symptoms, but had never seen any disease manifest and accelerate at this rate. “Susan, would you please join us outside?” He motioned for Steve to follow.
“Certainly Doctor,” she said.
The three stepped into the hallway. Doctor West sighed and spoke very quietly, “I think we may be dealing with a form of hemorrhagic fever, like Ebola, but I’ve never seen it firsthand. Susan didn’t you spend some time in Africa a few years back? I thought I heard you mention Marburg outbreaks? Have you seen anything like this?”
“You’re asking her?” Steve whispered in exasperation. “She couldn’t even tell me in the beginning what was going on with the patient. . .”
“I’d like to hear from Nurse Hamilton, if you don’t mind,” Doctor West said.
Susan suppressed a grin and said, “I spent several months in the Congo in 1999. The World Health Organization was called out as well as the Red Cross–a massive outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever at a village in the Orientale province. This patient shows many of the same symptoms. But his condition is worsening at a rate far faster than any I saw during my time in Africa. I’m at a loss.”
Dr. Zimmerman sneered, “She’s at a loss, what a surprise.”
Doctor West’s face hardened, “Doctor Zimmerman, I have had enough of your abusive attitude and insults. One more word out of you and I will see to it you are dismissed from your post. Is that clear?”
Steve gaped as if he had just been gut-punched, “I was only…”
“Do you understand?” Doctor West interrupted.
“Yes sir,” Steve muttered, looking at the floor.
Doctor West continued, “Susan, please go to the lab and find out about those blood tests? If this is a strain of hemorrhagic fever, protocol is for us to isolate the patient and alert the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Doctor Zimmerman, call ICU and have them get a unit ready. Tell them the patient is to be quarantined immediately. All attending staff should observe level 4 protocols. I’ll get CDC on the line.”
“Yes sir,” they replied in unison and rushed off. Doctor West returned to room seven. Mr. Garcia’s condition had deteriorated. The bleeding from his eyes, ears, and nose had worsened; his breathing had become more labored than an asthmatic during a major attack. He thrashed around as he growled and snapped at the staff. Doctor West picked up the phone and dialed security, “Chuck, code postal room seven, stat!”
Chuck burst into the room, breathing heavily, “What’s the problem Doc?” Chuck panted.
“We need restraints–this patient is becoming violent. I have to sedate him, but I need him under control.”
“Yes sir,” Chuck left faster than he came in.
Mr. Garcia screamed; his eyes were wide open and completely red, blood flowed from every orifice and he was soaked with sweat. He thrashed violently and knocked over the I.V. stand next to his bed. As it fell, it pulled the tube from his arm.
Chuck returned with restraints in hand.
“Chuck, give me those. Put on a mask and gloves and hold this guy down, we’ve got to get him under control before he does any more harm to himself, or us.”
Chuck nodded and donned his protective gear. He grabbed Mr. Garcia’s arms and held them tightly to the gurney. The man thrashed and snapped at Chuck. “Hurry up Doc!” Mr. Garcia kicked and screamed like a madman, a wet gurgling noise accompanied the screams.
Once the restraints were in place, Chuck released his grip. He saw huge black bruises on the man’s arms where his hands had just been, they were oozing a yellow pus-like substance mixed with blood.
Doctor West ordered the nurses, “Atavan stat.” As Mr. Garcia continued to thrash in his restraints, the Doctor and Chuck held his arm while the nurse administered the sedative. Mr. Garcia slowed his thrashing, and became still. “Hook him back up and give him a Valium drip until we can figure out just what the hell is going on.” He left the room and returned to the nurse’s station. He punched up the emergency contacts and located the number for the CDC.
April 20, 2011-12:10 A.M.
Doctor West paged all night shift department heads to report to ER nurse station two. In seconds, beepers went off all over the hospital.
Doctor West stood and calmly addressed the department heads, “For those of you not aware, we have a patient in isolation right now exhibiting symptoms of what may be viral hemorrhagic fever. We’re waiting on blood tests to verify this diagnosis. I’ve alerted the CDC and briefed them on our patient. They’ll be sending a team as soon as possible and have advised instituting level four protocols, which I have already done.” With this remark, the staff began to whisper to one another, shifting nervously on their feet. After a moment, Doctor West continued, “As of now, no one is to leave the hospital under any circumstances until the CDC team arrives and assesses the situation. All incoming patients will be redirected to Fairfield Hospital. Security has locked down all exits to the building. These are all precautionary measures. The CDC team should be here within two hours.” The murmuring began again as many member of the staff stared at Doctor West, many appeared to be in a near state of shock. Doctor Zimmerman began, “Doctor West, what are we supposed to…”
Doctor West interrupted, “Doctor Zimmerman, would you please report to ICU/Isolation and ensure our patient is receiving aggressive antibiotic treatment and sedation? I’ll join you there shortly. Nurse Hamilton, I would like you there as well. Everyone else please report back to your departments and quietly inform your staff, we don’t want to cause a panic among the patients.”
Doctors Zimmerman and West stood by Mr. Garcia’s bed in the ICU/Isolation ward. Nurse Hamilton, on the other side of the bed shook her head in silence.
Doctor West spoke, “Time of death?”
Susan looked at her watch, “Just now. 12:37 A.M.”
Steve turned to Doctor West and asked, “How could he have died from a viral infection in what? Three hours? I don’t get it.”
Doctor West, shaking his head replied, “I don’t know, I’ve never even heard of a virus that kills this fast.”
Cheryl Chapman, one of the duty nurses knocked on the window and held a clipboard up, “I have the lab results.”
As Susan pulled the sheet over Mr. Garcia, Steve and Doctor West entered the adjoining negative flow scrub room, removed and disposed of their protective clothing, scrubbed up, and walked into the hallway.
Doctor West took the clipboard from Cheryl and scrutinized the results. As his eyes moved back and forth across the paper, they grew wide. “No trace of viral or bacteriological infections in the blood? Are you sure you brought me the right labs?”
“We need answers, not more questions,” Steve said, a tremor in his voice.
Doctor West handed the clipboard to Cheryl, “OK. Stay calm. The normal screenings wouldn’t necessarily turn up something like this.” He looked up at her, “Please take new blood samples from Mr. Garcia and prep them for CDC. Since I’ve contacted them, they’ll be interested in the results. “
“Yes sir, I’ll get right on it,” Cheryl stepped into the scrub room.
Doctor West turned to Steve, “Call the morgue and get a team up here to help you transport him downstairs and get him prepared for an autopsy. Let’s hope the CDC has a pathologist with them. Remember, level four protocols—we can’t have this thing spreading,” Doctor West turned and headed down the hall.
Steve donned his protective gear and entered the isolation room just as the Cheryl finished drawing blood.
With a disdainful glare at Cheryl he said, “Make sure you do it right this time.”
She tried to maintain a civil tone and was almost successful, “Yes Doctor Zimmerman, I’ll make sure it’s done correctly, again.” She placed the fresh vials of blood in the biohazard container, sealed it, and left the room.
Steve picked up the phone and dialed the extension for the morgue, “This is Doctor Zimmerman, I need a gurney and two men up in isolation. We have a subject in need of transport to autopsy.” After a short pause, “Just get up here, this is top priority.” He hung up. “Once, just once, I’d like to have people around me who are competent.” As he began to remove the patient’s restraints, the man twitched. Steve stepped back and watched the man for a few moments. He didn’t move again. Steve chalked it up to his imagination, and went back to removing the restraints. After freeing the patient’s arms, he turned and began on the leg straps. With his back turned on Mr. Garcia, Steve heard a low rasping moan. His heart skipped a beat at the noise, he heard moans like these before with deceased subjects, he quickly convinced himself it was simply a case of gas.
The man who had once been Mr. Garcia sprang upright in his bed, grabbing for the doctor. Steve turned on the spot, and barely escaped Garcia’s grasp. He clawed at Steve’s face as he fell forward, tearing through Steve’s protective mask and leaving three long scratches on his cheek. The man’s eyes were feral, there didn’t appear to be anything human left in them. He snarled and lunged at Steve again, his left leg still partially strapped, he toppled over the side. His leg twisted and broke with a wet snap and his head smashed into the tile floor, opening a gaping wound.
Garcia tried to rise, but still strapped to the table he kept falling. He lunged again at Steve and snapped like a wild dog. The leg strap gave way and he stood, unbalanced by the broken leg. Steve ran from the room screaming.
As he cleared the door, Steve slammed into the two men from the morgue knocking all three of them to the floor. The infected appeared in the doorway. Its eyes fixed on the men on the ground. It limped toward them, dragging its broken leg behind it. It dropped to its knees right on top of one of the orderlies and sank its teeth into the man’s bicep. The orderly shrieked and punched the infected’s head as it ripped away a large chunk of flesh. The other orderly sprang to his feet and grabbed the infected by the shoulders, pulling it away from the screaming man on the floor. The infected spun and sank its teeth into the orderly’s throat, savaging him, spattering blood on the walls and floor. He fell, choking as the infected continued to tear at him. His partner picked up a metal clipboard that had been on the gurney and smashed it into the infected’s head, tearing away a flap of the scalp and splattering blood on the wall; the infected turned and threw itself on him. Its teeth sank into the man’s neck. He shrieked as blood flowed like a river down from the gaping wound and held his hand out to Steve, “Get this guy the hell off of me…” he gurgled and gasped, spraying blood with his last exhalation. Steve wind-milled backward as the now-dead orderly sat up and began to move toward his former partner. Panic-stricken, Steve spun and ran down the hallway, ignoring the man’s screams.
Chuck stared out the ER lobby window at the scene unfolding in the parking lot. He counted as thirteen large army trucks pulled into the lot, from each of these, men in black suits and gas masks armed with rifles jumped out and took position around the front. With the new distraction of the armed soldiers, he lost count of the vehicles as they steadily flowed onto the access road and headed to the other side of the hospital. He went to the security desk and picked up the phone.
Doctor West listened as Chuck told him about the developing situation outside. Susan watched West intently. This wouldn’t be good news, but then, it seemed tonight wasn’t about good news. West nodded a few more times and then spoke, “Thanks Chuck, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Doctor West hung up the phone, closed his eyes and lowered his head. The lines on his face seemed to deepen as he grimaced; he brushed his disheveled graying hair from his forehead with a sweaty hand and took a deep, slow breath. It seemed to Susan that he had aged ten years since the beginning of the shift.
Susan leaned in close to Doctor West, “What’s going on? I’m guessing it isn’t good news.”
Doctor West glanced around and lowered his voice, “It appears our CDC ‘guests’ have arrived.”
“Isn’t that a good thing? It means help is here.”
“Apparently it isn’t just a team of doctors. From what Chuck said it’s a full military convoy–a small army. They’ve surrounded the hospital.” He shook his head and grasped the edge of the counter. “I thought I was scared before, but now I’m terrified. These people know something we don’t, something really bad.”
“Perhaps it’s just a precaution?”
“That’s what worries me the most Susan.” He shook his head again, as though trying to dislodge something. “I’m not sure I want to know what precautions like this could be for.”
She patted his shoulder, “I’m not sure I want to know either. But the way I see it, knowing is better than not knowing.”
Doctor West cracked a weak smile, “I hope you’re right Susan, I really do. Page Doctor Zimmerman and tell him our guests have arrived and I’d like him to join me here in ER. I’m heading outside to speak with them.”
“Of course Doctor West, right away.” Susan picked up the phone as Doctor West went to the front entrance.
Steve huddled in the maintenance closet, terrified to make the slightest sound. In the hallway outside, chaos reigned. He could hear people screaming, furniture and glass breaking, and a constant low moaning punctuated by wet slurping noises. In the minutes since Garcia died and began to walk, most of the floor had become infected. All who died in the attacks got up almost immediately and began to kill. The situation had cascaded out of control. A loud crash–someone was flung against the door outside. The door shook in its frame as whoever it was kicked and thrashed against an attacker. Shrieks filled the air and a trickle of blood flowed underneath the door. Steve buried his head between his knees and said something he hoped resembled a prayer.
Doctor West stood in the ER lobby and looked out the large glass windows into the parking lot. At least one hundred men stood, knelt, and crouched about fifty feet from the front entrance. They were all heavily armed and dressed in protective clothing. The officer in charge barked out orders and directed his troops to take position behind makeshift barriers they had constructed. Doctor West waved his arms over his head, trying to get the leader’s attention. The officer looked his way, but did not return the wave and didn’t acknowledge the doctor.
“This doesn’t look good, Chuck,” said Doctor West. Chuck nodded, too nervous to speak. A few of the nurses and other hospital staff had also come to the lobby. They murmured and shuffled around nervously.
Doctor West picked up a house phone. He dialed nine for an outside line but instead of the expected three beeps and a dial tone, it was silent. He hung up and tried again, twice with no better luck. He then dialed the extension for the nurses’ station. After two rings he heard Susan’s voice on the other end. “Station two,” she said.
“Just checking to see if the internal system is still working. I can’t seem to get an outside line. Would you try from there? I want to talk the CDC.”
“Just a moment,” Susan said. After a pause she was back, “I’m sorry Doctor West, I can’t seem to get an outside line either.”
Doctor West took his cell phone from his pocket, flipped it open and frowned at the screen, “How about your cell phone?”
“No service,” she replies.
“Thanks. Please call me at the security desk when Doctor Zimmerman gets there.”
“Will do,” Susan replied.
Doctor West turned to Chuck, who had his cell phone in his hand. He looked at Doctor West and shook his head.
“This keeps getting better and better. I’m going out there to talk to them.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea Doc? They don’t look sociable.”
“I’m just going to talk to them. Everything will be fine. Unlock that door for me, will you?”Chuck nodded, fumbled with his keys and unlocked the latches. “Doc? Be careful, huh? I don’t feel good about this.”
Doctor West placed a reassuring hand on Chuck’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”
He walked through the door and into the entry foyer of the hospital, wishing he felt as certain as his words. The moment he stepped outside, several bright lights flashed on and focused on him.
“Stop where you are, go back inside, now,” an amplified voice ordered. Against the bright lights, he couldn’t see the source. He saw dozens of red laser dots dancing on his chest as the soldiers aimed their rifles.
He raised his hands and said, “My name is Doctor West. I’m the senior member of the medical staff. I need to talk to whoever’s in charge.”
“Go back inside and stay there; the CDC team will be arriving shortly. You can speak with them when they do,” the voice responded.
“But…,” Doctor West began.
“You have ten seconds to return to the building. This is your last warning. Ten . . . nine. . .”
An icy hand clutched Doctor West’s heart. Whatever this disease was, these people had no intention of letting it escape the confines of the hospital. He walked slowly backwards, his hands still raised in the air. After passing through the entrance door he turned, his eyes wide and sweat flowed freely down his face, “Chuck, lock up please,” he sighed and collapsed into one of the hard lobby chairs.
In the cardio ward on four, a floor beneath the ICU/Isolation ward, Judy Michaels sat at the nurses’ station, completing paperwork on her patients. Sarah Turner, the other ward nurse walked up to the desk, “If I work too many more nights, my husband is going to get a girlfriend.”
Judy chuckled, “What do you mean going to? He’s a real catch.” She winked at Sarah.
“Ha ha, very funny.”
Someone slammed into the stairwell exit door and was now pounding on it, as if frantic to get in.
“What the hell was that?” Judy asked.
Sarah, shrugged, “Don’t know, better call security.” The pounding at the door continued. It was joined by more noise from the stairwell, as if several people were now banging at the door. They heard loud moans and grunts.
Judy dialed security. “Hello…Hello? Come on, pick up the damn phone… Chuck? We have a problem here in Cardio. Yeah. Several people are in the stairwell, pounding on the door and making a lot of noise. Can you send someone up?” As she listened to the guard’s response, the stairwell door sprang open and people came running out, some in hospital garb and others in patient gowns. Their eyes were red; most were covered with vicious wounds, as if they had been mauled by wild animals. One man’s throat was ripped open; another’s upper right arm was stripped down to the bone. Every one of them was covered in blood. Judy screamed and dropped the phone, staring at the infected, frozen to the spot. The infected zeroed in on the two nurses and charged them. Judy and Sarah screamed and tried to run, they were overtaken and torn to pieces. Eight of the infected walked away with an arm or a leg while the others tried to grab what they held. On the other end of the phone Chuck yelled, “Judy? Sarah? What’s happening? Judy!” Droning moans were the only answer.
Sarah’s head lay in the middle of the hall, her once beautiful face caked with her own blood. Her body had been torn to pieces and hauled away by the things that had killed her. Her eyes flicked open and began to scan the limits of her vision, looking for prey.
Doctor West called Susan over to the desk. “Chuck just got a call from Cardio, something’s happened to the nurses there.”
Susan’s eyes widened and her jaw hung slack for a moment, unable to voice her feelings. “What the hell is going on here?”
“I don’t know. Alert the department heads to lock down their sections until we get this under control. Chuck and another guard are checking out the problem on four. Have you seen Doctor Zimmerman?”
“No,” Susan looked over her shoulder, “I haven’t seen him since we left ICU.”
Chuck and Paul, the other night security guard, heard the pandemonium when they entered the stairwell. A few floors up, people screamed, furniture and equipment crashed against walls, glass shattered and rained to the floor. A nurse burst into the stairwell from the fifth floor, screaming. She ran down the stairs and tripped over her own feet. She tumbled down half the flight of steps and hit the landing. Chuck and Paul ran up the stairs. When they arrived on the landing, they saw her neck had been broken by the fall, and she had been covered in bite marks. Blood stained the white fabric of her uniform.
They heard several more crashes and shrieks coming from the door. They peered around the door frame and saw perhaps a dozen people, covered in gore, running through the halls. Chuck recognized several of them as hospital employees. The rest had been patients. He saw the man he had restrained earlier in the evening. He looked nothing like the man Chuck had seen barely an hour ago. His face, hands and limbs were swollen, his leg was horribly twisted and broken and there wasn’t an inch of the man’s body that wasn’t covered with sores and blood. Chuck looked at Paul, put his finger to his lips and motioned to head back down the stairs. Paul nodded agreement and followed Chuck’s lead. This was too much for them to handle alone. They crept down the stairs as the screams and moans continued on the fourth floor. The door on the third floor landing burst open, several more of the infected poured into the stairwell. Chuck and Paul drew their batons, “Get back, I…I don’t want to use this,” Chuck stuttered as he brandished the weapon. The infected paid no attention to the warning and rushed forward. Chuck brought his baton down on the first one’s head, caving in the skull. Paul screamed as he swung his baton wildly, hitting anything that moved in his direction. The infected on the fourth and fifth floors heard the cacophony and rushed into the narrow stairwell, leaving the guards nowhere to run. Chuck swung his club again and again, cracking the skulls of the infected, dropping them to the ground. He heard Paul scream and turned, one of the infected had dragged him to the ground and others jumped on top of him and sank their teeth into his flesh. “Paul!” Chuck yelled. Although Paul was only five or six feet away, it might as well have been miles. In the second it took for Chuck to turn and start for Paul, the infected had dragged Chuck to the ground as well.
Panicked phone calls had been pouring in to the nurses’ station for the last few minutes. People on every floor reported the same thing, infected attacking and killing everyone in their way. Doctor West and the other staff pushed desks, chairs and equipment in front of the stairwell doors in an attempt to barricade it. One of the infected reached its hand through the narrow opening of the closing door just as Doctor West was pushing a desk up against it. He managed to shove it back into the stairwell and secure the door before more arrived. The infected pounded on the stairwell door, trying to get in. There were dozens of them, moaning and pounding against the door. Doctor West turned to Susan and the two other nurses from the ER, “I have to go outside and try to get help.”
“They’ll shoot you on sight!” Susan protested.
“What choice do we have? We’ve got to do something.”
The nurses hesitated for a moment and Susan gave Doctor West a silent nod.
“Ok, follow me, move!”
They ran to the lobby. The spotlights shining in from outside were blinding.
“Get behind the security desk.” Doctor West panted as he ran for the front door. The doors didn’t move when he came near. They were locked. He pounded on the glass in terror and frustration, “Chuck’s got the damn keys!”
He picked up one of the hard wooden chairs from the lobby and slammed it into the glass; it cracked, but didn’t break. He slammed the chair into it again and again making a little more progress with each blow, small pieces of the chair splintering away each time. On the sixth try, the glass gave way and came free from the frame. He used the chair to push the glass out, dropped it and ran outside waving his arms frantically.
“Stop where you are and return to the building, this is your only warning. Repeat. Stop where you are and return to the building,” the voice boomed through a loudspeaker.
Doctor West continued to run; he waved franticly in the air, “Wait! Help us! Help us, damn you, something is loose in there and…” The chatter of automatic weapons fire filled the air, blood, tissue and bone erupted from Doctor West. He fell to the ground, dead before he landed.
Susan held her hands over her ears and screamed. She screamed so loud and so long that her throat seemed to catch fire. The other two nurses with her did the same. In a moment of silence, Susan heard the barricade in front of the stairwell give way, the sound of running feet filled the hallway leading to the lobby. They had broken through. Susan grabbed the hands of the other two nurses and ran to the restroom; she dragged them in with her. They slammed the door. Susan locked it and prayed it would hold. She pushed the two others into a stall and followed them. She locked it. They were all sobbing and gulping air. Susan deliberately slowed her breathing. “Quiet,” she said firmly. “If they don’t hear us, they may forget we’re here.” The pounding continued on the door. She heard shrieks, moans, and growls as the infected swarmed into the lobby. Suddenly the pounding stopped, even though the moaning was just as loud. It was getting softer by the moment.
The infected closest to the ER door ran through it and into the parking lot. Others followed closely. As they ran, the soldiers opened fire, hundreds of bullets ripped through the infected, tearing them to shreds. Pieces of them flew through the air, hitting the building and sidewalk like confetti at a parade. The gunfire continued and infected were ripped apart. Then, as quickly as it started, the gunfire stopped. Dozens of bodies lay on the ground, covered with bullet holes, other injuries and blood. Two soldiers with canisters that looked like fire extinguishers moved in and sprayed the entire area.
The sound of sporadic gunfire echoed through the hospital as the soldiers conducted clean and sweep operations for any remaining infected. The team of doctors from the CDC arrived and were debriefing and examining the nurses. Susan sat in the lobby, waiting for her turn.
A large man sat down in front of Susan, he wore the same black protective clothing as the other soldiers. “We’re going to need you to answer a few questions about tonight. After our doctors finish, please report back to me. My name is Colonel Ortiz. My men will know where to find me.” Without waiting for a response, he went back outside.
As she sat for a moment, breathing deeply after her encounter she felt a tear trickle down her cheek. She heard the sobs of a child and saw a small boy huddled in the corner under a green army blanket. She wiped away the tear with the back of her hand and went to sit beside him. Susan put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Hello, my name is Susan. What’s yours?”
The soldiers of second platoon cleared out the fourth floor. They checked each room for infected. Most of the stragglers had already been put down, but their orders were to sweep and clear the entire hospital.
The platoon sergeant led his men down the corridor past the isolation rooms. They checked each room before securing the door and moving to the next. They turned the corner and saw a body lying in the hallway outside a door marked “Maintenance”. The sergeant ordered two squad members to check the body out. One soldier kept his weapon trained on the body as the other used his foot to turn it over. The solider closest to the body retched and vomit splattered the inside of the mask, covering the lenses The body had been torn open, entrails splattered onto the floor, there were bite marks all over the body and its head had been crushed. “Get another body bag over here. Extreme caution with this one, he’s not exactly in good shape,” the sergeant ordered. Two more members of his team came and dragged the body away from the door. The sergeant heard a thump from inside the closet, he held up his hand, signaling his men to be quiet. He motioned for two of his men to take positions on opposite sides of the door. Once they were in place, he held up three fingers counting down. Once the count hit zero, the men threw the door open as the rest took aim. A man in a white lab coat was sprawled on the floor. His name badge read ‘Dr. S. Zimmerman M.D.’, the man was soaked with the blood that had poured under the door, and his face sported three long, deep scratches. His eyes, nose, and ears were bleeding. The sergeant raised his weapon and covered the Doctor. “Medic, give me a sit rep, now.”
The medic rushed into the closet and inserted a small probe into the man’s ear. It beeped and turned bright red after several seconds.
“Infected. Stage three.”
“Get a gurney over here,” the sergeant ordered. “Get this man strapped down and get him outta here. The Colonel wants a subject. Looks like this poor bastard just volunteered.”
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Join Mr.Deadman, writers, and other guests as they share stories and generally have a good time. Tonight, you’ll meet Corey Niles (Beached), and hopefully Mike Mitchell (When The Engineer Knocks). Why would you want to meet these two guys? Well, their stories were featured on this site this week, and I’m sure they would love to talk about them.
A turbulent blue sky washed across his open dead eyes before I shut the trunk over his ugly assed face. This was the third one today, and there was plenty of room in the oversized trunk to accommodate many more guests. Once a hundred years ago I smuggled eight friends and acquaintances into the Twin Drive-in, and there was still room for beer and rotgut wine in the trunk. The car is a beast.
I checked on Katie. She was frozen in the front bench seat, her mouth still open after that long piercing scream that brought me running from the lake where I was filling a bucket of water for the radiator. Lucky she was in the car and could roll up the window before the Maniac got to her. He was still scratching and kicking at the passenger side door when I caught him from behind with my tire jack, which fortunately I had carried with me to the lake for protection. I ran out of bullets the day before, thanks to the Maniac’s trunk companions.
“It’s ok,” I said. I tossed the jack handle in the backseat. Realized there was blood on it and reached over and wiped it with a greasy towel that covered the basket of food and beer we had scavenged from an abandoned house a few miles back.
“We should have stayed there,” she said in a quivering thawing voice.
I moved around and opened the driver’s side door, took a good clean look around us to make sure we were truly alone, then pulled myself in the car like one of those astronauts squeezing into a Mercury capsule. “No,” I said, “Not a good idea. We got to keep moving. We got gas, we got hope.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. I could see she was running through all the crazy shit that had happened to us the past two days. I could see, too, that she was stuck. She wanted to stay put somewhere, hole up and wait this thing out. I was determined to ride out of trouble with my tank of a car. “What if…”
I cut her off. “Don’t go there,” I said. “We get out of this county, out of this country, we’ll be all right. I just know it.”
“You left me alone,” she said.
“The car was locked. I didn’t want to wake you up.” Now she was letting it settle in. Puffs of blonde hair fell to her forehead. Streams of tears fell too as she really shook this time. I thought she was beautiful and I wanted to do it right then and there, in the front seat, but she was so scared, so… helpless. “The car was overheating. There was steam coming out and everything, so I stopped to get a little water. No way I would’ve left you here alone if I thought one of those Maniacs was nearby.” I brushed her face with my fingers. She didn’t pull back. Good. I scooted closer. How long have I owned this car? Six months? And I never had the opportunity to make love to a pretty girl in the front seat. Until now.
I cupped her breast. She slapped me so hard my head bounced off the leather seat like a basketball hitting the metal rim.
“Shit.” I rubbed my cheek.
“You left the window down you stupid shit. That Maniac could’ve gotten me, and all you’re thinking about is getting laid. Fuck you.” She crossed her arms. I stared at her for several minutes, noting the crust of blood and grease on her arms and legs, delicate blonde hairs poking through in spots, a rebirth of life in the ash after a volcanic explosion. “I’ll get the water,” I said.
Twenty minutes or twenty years later we were on the road again, zigzagging past empty rusted cars and the carcasses of dead farm animals placed strategically in our way like some sick obstacle course. Katie didn’t say a word, just stared ahead and took deep breaths every time I swerved or ran over something.
Katie was all I had. I was convinced, somehow, she loosened the radiator hose, fucked up my car so we would have to stop, make a stand, stop running. How else did she get grease on her fine arms and legs? If we stopped anywhere I was going to sleep where I could keep an eye on the car. My Ford Galaxy was everything. I loved that car.
I swear I didn’t know Katie before this, didn’t know she existed. I found her just outside what was left of Carlsville, standing by the side of the road like a mileage sign. I should have assumed she was a Maniac like everyone else, but I didn’t. She didn’t look crazy. I stopped. She had to have given up to be standing there out in the open, waiting for who knows what.
She must’ve been waiting for me. Maniacs don’t drive cars. She got in the car before I said a word and we high tailed it out of there, my 1963 white Ford Galaxy blazing a slippery trail through the wilderness of bloody guts and farm machinery, car hulks and skin shredded splinters of horse and cow legs, and the occasional dead Maniac in or off the road. The smell of death numbing and reassuring after we gave in and rolled the windows down due to the stifling heat. We’ve been together a long time now. Two days maybe. Time being a pretty screwed up concept.
I can’t remember when it happened, the Change, although I’m sure it wasn’t too long ago. It seemed like I only had my car, my first, a few months, and although everything is a little hazy, memories of driving to and from high school, my buddies Chad, Nolan, Bill kicking it up, partying like there was no tomorrow. Kidding me about my Mayberry car. I have no memory before the Ford Galaxy. I suppose it’s the trauma. Snapshots of my parents as we looked over the car before buying it. A 1963 Ford Galaxy500 KL, 260 V8 Cruise-A-Matic, three years old and the only one like it in the entire county. My dad saying nothing bad could ever happen to me with thatcar.
Then the Change. I woke up in the backseat of my car after a hard night partying and it had already happened. I slept right through it. Dead bodies everywhere. Most of the buildings crumbled shells, including my house and my high school. Everyone I knew and cared about was gone, and in their place were unrecognizable rotting bodies. And Maniacs who come out of nowhere like surprise jack in the boxes, who try to hurt and eat you.
I have five in my spacious trunk. Chad and Bill were the first occupants. They were gnawing on each other in front of the main library, or the rubble that had been the main library. I drove up on them, then over them when they came at me with mouths agape, grunting and wheezing like they each swallowed a longneck bottle of Strohs. I cried like a baby, then lifted their crumpled bodies into the trunk. Don’t know why I’m keeping them in my trunk. Guess it makes me feel safer, knowing where they are and all. They can’t come back when they’re locked in my trunk.
I drove out-of-town. I drove and drove through the valley of the shadow of, well, you know, the point being that things were really screwed up. There were occasional gas stations that somehow escaped the carnage, and I was able to fill up, add oil and water and all that stuff. I missed the full service. I missed the parade of cars cruising through the main street of Carson City, engines revving, the smell of exhaust and fried food. The music, loud, each passing wave of lyrics. Tell me over and over and over again, my friend, we’re on the eve of sugar pie honey bunch, you know papas got a brand new bag don’t let on, don’t say she’s broke my heart…
There are cars scattered everywhere but their radios are silent now. I think I drove about a thousand miles before I stumbled across Katie. She didn’t say a word at first. Just stared at me and the car that was around me, a look of disbelief that we were actually moving. Then she spoke. “I know you,” she said. I must have looked puzzled because she followed that with, “The Frisch’s Drive-in. Carlsville?”
My eyes stayed fixed on dodging all the debris in the road. Still, I managed to shake my head. You’recute, kinda, but I don’tremember…
“I was a car hop. I remember you, your friends, this car.”
“Yeah. I guess we did hit the Carlsville Frischs a few times.”
“I remember this car because one of your asshole friends hit me with a beer can, hit the tray I was carrying spilling shit all over the place. You tore outta there like a bat outta hell.”
I said nothing. “This car doesn’t go very fast,” she said. “At least it’s roomy.”
She tried the radio knob. Nothing. Static. She cried in a subdued innocent way, the way a fox might after stumbling into a trap and exhausting itself trying to find a way through the steel mesh. We drove on and on. I had never been out of Dearborn County. I was eager to see the rest of the world.
* * *
It seems so long ago, but like I said time is so screwed up. I thought Katie was sleeping again, but she must’ve been thinking about the Maniac who almost got into my car. “I think he was just trying to get in,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“I think he was scared.”
“You were the one scared. He was a Maniac. He wanted you for lunch.”
The road bumped on and on and I was all over it, the engine grinding and struggling to haul the metal beast strapped to it. I felt her eyes on me the whole time waiting, then she said, “I think they’re like us. Only scared. They have nowhere to go.”
“You’re thinking too much,” I said.
“Those two we killed this morning, I bet they just wanted in the house. This guy wanted to get in the car. I don’t think he wanted me.” She looked helpless. Guilty.
“Well, he’s in the car now.”
* * *
She’s not really all that helpless. She was stirred up enough to help kill those two Maniacs who stormed the house this morning. Or was it last month? I don’t remember how I came to have a hand cannon that took off one of the Maniac’s hands, nor what happened to that same gun after we drove away. I have this fleeting image of Katie swinging a baseball bat at the head of the other one and connecting with a home run, but there it is again. I don’t know what happened to the bat.
Don’t know where the food came from but it’s there in a basket in the backseat suggesting we are on our way to a picnic. Andy and Helen and Barney and Thelma Lou, me and Katie.
Katie doesn’t talk about her family or her friends or anything at all really, the words that bubble out are elusive and distant, the way a hitchhiker would be careful about not sharing too much.
“We’re still in Dearborn County,” Katie said after a long bout of silence.
“I don’t recognize anything,” I said. “I know every inch of every road in Dearborn County and we should be halfway across the country by now.” I swerved to avoid an overturned tractor with a glistening arm bone jutting out from underneath it. Bare leafless trees leaned over us on this stretch. We were so far out in nowhere.
“Should be a city somewhere,” she mumbled. She drew her legs up under her and closed her eyes. Her trembling fingers not too far from my knee. I sped around a curve then another unexpectedly, the back wheels sliding just enough to jolt us both into thinking we were going to melt into any number of lifeless trees. I braked hard and slid to a stop.
A Maniac stood in the road. She was naked and dirty and wore a grin that reached around her face like Bozo the Clown. She was screaming at this marvelous white machine in front of her, screaming something about missiles, and mushrooms, and the Russians and the Red Threat, and Lucy and Cuba, and clouds that shouldn’t be, and she came at us. So fast I blinked and she was on the hood of my car, my 1963 Ford Galaxy XL, scrambling toward the windshield on gnawed to the bone fingers like some sort of crayfish skittering on a wet rock.
I screamed. Katie screamed. I stomped the gas pedal throwing the Maniac flat squished face into the windshield. Then she, it, the Maniac tumbled off. I sped away at top speed, looking in the rearview mirror to see if the thing was getting back up, then the car dropped over a rise and the image was replaced with empty road. I thought about going back, making sure it was dead, adding it to the trunk. But Katie was already freaked. There was no turning back.
We didn’t talk. I knew what she was thinking. That maybe getting in this car with me was not a good idea. That maybe she was giving up. If I slowed down she would toss herself out, end once and for all. I didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t slow down.
Stars streamed past the Galaxy as we neared light speed. Maniacs fell from the sky in blooming parachutes. The wipers scraped them off the windshield. Katie huddled against the door with her eyes closed. I heard her thoughts pounding away like a jack hammer. Whyarewe stillinDearbornCountyafterallthistime? Whatif thatladywasn’t a Maniac, likeyousay? Whatifshewastryingtotellussomething? Her thoughts ran on and on. Thiscarisancient. It doesn’tbelonghere. Wedon’tbelonghere. That’swhywehavetostop.
The world flipped a switch and all that remained, all that mattered was my 1963 Ford Galaxy500 XL, still in pristine condition after three years and forty odd thousand miles. Katie thought it was slow but it was steady Eddie and true, true as could be, what the fuck did she know, anyway?
Dearborn County is as big as the United States of America, hell it spreads into and over the ocean like a baby’s blanket, and some of these roads could be in France or Germany, anywhere. The scenery doesn’t matter. Yes, Katie, wearestillinDearbornCounty. YesKatie, theManiacsare a figmentofmy260horsepoweredbrain, thereisnothingtobeafraidof. Katie, I toldher, youareluckytobewithmeinthiscar. Nothingbadcanhappentousinhere.
“No”, she said. “We have to stop. Find out if there are others. Give them a chance.” She said she couldn’t go on, not like this. Not with me.
I didn’t say anything. We were the last two. She should be grateful for that. And every Maniac we come up against is a painful reminder that the world has ended as we know it. She needed to embrace the truth. The Maniac behind her closed eyelids could never do that.
“Isn’t it obvious?” she said. “It will always be 1966 and we will always be stuck here in Dearborn County, and there will always be Maniacs in your head chasing after you. I don’t want to be a part of this any longer. I don’t want to be in this fucking piece of junk.”
At some point I knew we would run out of road, or gas, or Maniacs, and we would have only each other. Right. The hate that seeped from her eyes told me otherwise. There was no us, not in her mind anyway. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to stop. I knew what I had to do.
There was plenty of room in the trunk. I love this car. The road straightened out. Before us was an expanse of flat untended farmland. A house in the distance, a blip on the horizon where the green sun was setting into swirling blue clouds, death’s feather finally dropping onto the earth.
He took a deep breath, followed by another, and yet another. He had to relax, he thought. Must clear his mind, cleanse it of distractions and complications. Only a clear mind could cope with the delicate and vital situation he was now in.
He wondered where Danny, Bruce, and Sherry were. If only he could contact them somehow, find out if they were all right. See if they were as nervous as he was. Part of him hoped they were, misery does love company after all, even in a situation as important as this one.
Sherry’s silky voice echoed in his head. It sung like a nightingale, flowing smoothly between verses that were almost hypnotic in their beauty. She was calling his name, saying she loved him, and didn’t want Bruce or any other.
Was he imagining it, or did she really love him?
His thoughts snapped back to attention. Distractions; complications, he must focus on the job at hand. Surely the others were doing the same. He pictured Danny with his sandy blond hair jutting straight up like some punk rocker. He envisioned Bruce, his tanned and muscled body flexing with anticipation underneath the army fatigues he always wore. Then he thought of Sherry. Her smooth, tanned complexion and piercing eyes wrapped around him like a blanket. She was a petite thing, small and feminine almost to the point of being frail, but in an attractive way.
Too many years had passed between them with little or no showing of affection other than the brotherly-love type that was not acceptable to him.
Random memories of them rolled through his head, each vying for recognition: the time he first saw her wear makeup; the games they’d play in Danny’s basement; the trips up north to her parent’s cottage. They all were ringed with true affection, far beyond mere infatuation.
Distractions again! More complications attempting to divert his concentration from his mission.
5:47. The time stuck to his brain like velcro.
Not much time left now he thought out loud eliciting more than a few stares from passersby, including a stocky, blond-haired security guard who seemed to dislike troublemakers in the mall.
Lee straightened up and smiled weakly at the guard. He couldn’t risk any problems now, not when it would be 6:00 p.m. in 9 more minutes.
After the guard walked past him, Lee decided it was time to bring out the box.
Sweat trickled down his forehead as he reached inside his coat and pulled out the center of his universe: a small, silver container that was trimmed with gleaming gemstones. At its center was a pentagram composed of a dark red substance that resembled dried blood. It contrasted strikingly with the overall polished look of the box.
As a whole, it was a very attractive antique, probably priceless to wealthy artifact collectors and archeologists.
But he knew its true worth, its real purpose.
6:00 p.m., November 14, 2004. It didn’t matter which part of the world or what time zone as long as it was 6:00 p.m., November 14, 2004 somewhere. That seemingly common day and time that, unbeknownst to mankind, would be Judgment Day…Armageddon…Ragnorak…Holocaust…whatever one wished to call it.
Admittingly, Lee was unsure of the whole thing. He never did have an interest in religion, much less Satanism, and as far as he knew neither did Danny, Bruce, or Sherry.
Sherry, even her name cut through his heart like a blowtorch.
Distractions again! He vowed to himself to concentrate even harder on his destiny.
It wasn’t until Danny found his box, the last one to do so, that the dreams started. All four of them began receiving strange images that they eventually interpreted as instructions.
Each of them was to transport their box to an assigned location on the aforementioned day. His was Friarwood Mall in Cleveland. He was lucky, he at least got to stay in the U.S. Danny had to go to Brazil. Bruce was somewhere in Germany. Sherry was in Australia, near Sydney he believed.
The boxes provided them with adequate cash, passports, and even plane tickets to allow them quick and easy passage to their destinations.
It was all too easy. Their parents were the only ones who would miss them right away, and by the time they realized they were gone, it would be too late to anything about it.
It was the boxes that showed them what their real destinies were and how to fulfill them.
Lee glanced at his watch: 5:58 p.m.
His head swam with images of glory and fame. Their names would go down in history as saviors, messiahs…as gods. The boxes promised them this, and much, much more.
He wondered if Sherry was uncomfortable in Australia. It had to be hot and dry there. He knew she didn’t like hot weather, and hoped she didn’t give up and turn herself in. As for Germany and Brazil, he didn’t know what the weather was like, nor did he care, Bruce and Danny could handle themselves.
A wry smile formed on Lee’s face. Surely their parents had noticed they were gone by now. They probably had the local police searching for them, but it wouldn’t be in time, because now it was half past 5:59 p.m.
Only thirty seconds to go.
Quickly, Lee fumbled in his coat for his pocketknife. The small but sharp blade gleamed in the fluorescent lighting in the mall.
Trying his best to be inconspicuous, he covered it with his left hand, and then quickly glanced around to make sure no one saw the knife. Satisfied, he plunged it into the palm of his left hand. The burning pain nearly caused him to pass out, but he bit his lip and managed to stay conscious while stifling the intense urge to scream.
“Oh my God!” the elderly woman said. “What happened? Are you all right young man?”
Her genuine concern for a complete stranger touched Lee’s heart, but he suppressed the feeling and quickly looked away from her.
Only ten seconds left, he had to hurry now.
He slammed his hand down hard on top of the box. The blood seeped out around the edges and dripped down its sides, eventually coating the box completely in a crimson sheen.
“Thy might will be done. Oh see the plate of the world at thy feet, Scourge of God. Taketh what thy need, Fallen One. Mouthat silg stha deccos.”
His watch was stopped dead at 6:00 p.m. He felt the box grow cold beneath his throbbing hand as a strange substance began to ooze slowly and methodically from it. It resembled pea soup, although much thicker, and speckled generously with bulbous lumps that looked like bloodshot eyes.
The nauseous stench that emanated from it was like decayed flesh. It filled his nose and burned his eyes.
Lee yanked his hand away and pushed the box off his lap. He jumped up as fast as he could and started to sprint down the walkway, but it was too late. The substance was spreading like wildfire, coating everything in sight.
It engulfed the old lady who asked about his hand in less than a second, and enveloped dozens of shoppers who were passing the early evening in the mall.
Moving up the walls of the nearby stores, it insured everything had a sickening coat of green, and blotted out the skylights above. Screams began to fill the air, only to be silenced immediately afterward.
Lee was held fast by the substance, completely at its mercy. It was rapidly crawling up his legs, producing intense, burning pain as it did so. “My God,” he screamed, fully aware that it wouldn’t help.” What have I done?”
And before he could utter another word…he went under.
His final thought was hope that the others had somehow failed in their missions, although he knew it wouldn’t make a difference.
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