Chapter 1 - Entry 3
April 15th cont – April 16th
Not more than five minutes passed after I’d heard Gomez breathe out his last ragged breath before he started to moan and struggle to rise. I’d been trying to break the metal railing off the bed in the meanwhile as a few obviously dead people shuffled by the door’s broken window. Most walked in a stiff, awkward gait. A few had better coordination and moved at something closer to the human norm. All looked dead, though to varying degrees. Bluish skin tones, pale lips, cloudy eyes and prominent black veins set the basic template. The shufflers showed signs of violence; chunks of flesh missing and covered in blood. The quicker sort seemed mostly intact.
Some part of me expected Gomez to get up. Knew it would happen despite logic screaming otherwise. Unfortunately that part of me didn’t really have any answers as to what I should do when it happened. Gomez was very much dead, his tanned skin now a pale grey. Skin hung in tatters where the twice-dead doctor had ripped away a chunk of his neck. Blood soaked his uniform shirt. A cloudy haze covered once-brown eyes as they rolled around in their sockets. Eventually they locked onto me.
“Come get me motherfucker,” I hissed.
The gun fell from his hands as they reached for me, clanging onto the blood-slicked floor well out of my shackled reach. He leaned forward to try and bite me, cold hands clutching my cuffed arm. I punched out as hard as I could with my free hand, connecting solidly with his jaw and feeling bone break. He didn’t even flinch. Before I could recover from the awkward position my swing had left me in, I felt teeth sink into my bicep and tear through muscle. Hissing through the pain, I jabbed my thumb into his eye, digging into the socket as I felt teeth ripping meat free from my arm.
I pushed deeper, trying to scramble his brain through the ocular cavity until the webbing between my thumb and index finger pressed hard against the clammy flesh of his nose. Blood, my blood, and bits of meat hung from his mouth. I watched throat muscles work as he swallowed down a chunk of my arm, uncaring of the damage my finger was doing to his eye. Finally my thumb reached some tipping point in its destructive burrowing and his body fell forward, unmoving, onto my chest.
I remember only bits and pieces for awhile after that as shock and blood loss took hold. Fumbling in his pockets for the handcuff keys. Grabbing his gun off the floor. Stumbling into the bathroom and pulling the door shut behind me. Puking. Shivering in darkness on the cold tile floor. A roll of toilet paper wrapped around the gaping arm wound where I’d been bitten. Laughing hysterically at the thought that I’d die here after being cured of a terminal disease and saved from death row. Then nothing.
I woke up shivering in a puddle of vomit, blood and piss. My bare feet slipped in something wet when I tried to rise, causing me to fall against the toilet and black out again.
I was a bit more clearheaded when I woke up again sometime later. My arm throbbed where I’d been bitten and my head was pounding but at least I could think. Still shivering, I slowly crawled my way up to a seated position on the toilet and fumbled around blindly for the bathroom’s light switch. It took several moments for my vision to clear once the harsh florescent lights had flickered on overhead. Agony lanced through my stomach, curling up like a snake with razor scales and gnawing at me from the inside. I struggled to push through the pain and rose on shaky legs. Tugging off the ruined hospital gown made stars dance at the edges of my vision.
With one shaking hand I carefully unwound the makeshift toilet paper bandage from my arm, wincing in anticipation of what I expected to see. Dumbfounded, I stood staring at the spot Gomez had eaten, my mind unable to wrap itself around the view presented.
No huge, gaping wound met my view. Instead, a large Technicolor bruise in lovely shades of yellow, blue, black and green surrounded a thick circle of raised scar tissue. It hurt like hell, throbbing from shoulder to fingertips, but the arm moved when and how I told it to.
A wave of vertigo crashed over me then and I doubled over, dry heaving into the sink. I could feel the filth between my toes but it hardly seemed an issue, all things considered. My hands fumbled with the faucet until cold water was flowing and I could splash it on my face. Bending down to rinse my mouth out made my vision swim again but I fought it off with a growl. Slowly I straightened and looked at myself in the mirror.
The fluorescent light cast a stark glare against my pale skin. You don’t get much of a tan in prison. My normally full cheeks looked too thin and slightly sunken in. They’d always made me look younger than my thirty three years. Always implied a bit of lingering baby fat. Now my cheekbones stood out sharply. I looked wasted. Starved.
My blue eyes had faded to a pale gray and were bloodshot with dark bruises surrounding them, giving me a raccoon's face. But it was my hair that shocked me the most. Normally dark brown and curly, it now hung messily around my face in straight white lines. The eyebrows too. A glance down my bare body showed me the carpet matched the drapes as even my pubic hair had faded to white. Shaking my head slowly, I scanned the rest of my body to see if any other surprises were waiting.
At five feet and six inches tall, I was average height for a girl and had a pretty good body. Perky breasts and wide child-birthin hips, as my Grandma used to say, gave me modest curves but nothing outlandish. A little chub usually clung to my waist in the form of subtle love handles and there was always a bit of extra belly despite millions of sit-ups done in my cell each day.
All that was gone now. In fact, it looked like every bit of body fat was gone. It left me with ribs sticking out sharply and overly pronounced collar bones. I looked starved and gaunt. Skeletal. There were no black veins though, I was relived to note, but my finger and toe nails weren’t right. Like my hair, they’d turned solid white. It wasn’t until I’d turned on the shower and stepped inside to wash off the filth and blood that I noticed all my tattoos were gone.
Pain flared in my stomach again as I bathed and forced me to plop down hard on the shower floor. Far too little padding on my backside didn’t make the abrupt motion pleasant. For a long time, or at least for what felt like a long time, I sat there beneath the scalding hot water as knots of agony tore through my belly.
The pain had eased a little by the time the water ran cold. My legs were a bit steadier as I pulled myself up and stepped over the messy puddle to grab Gomez’s gun, a Glock 21, where it’d fallen beside the toilet. My stomach growled loudly as I checked its action and ejected the magazine to see what was left for ammunition. Eight rounds remained. I chuckled when I glanced at my reflection in the mirror. Naked, wet, and holding a pistol. I looked like some B-movie heroine. With a grin I rocked the clip home and chambered a round before opening the bathroom’s door a crack.
The hospital room was quiet as a grave beyond, since, you know, that’s what it had become. Gomez’s corpse still lay in a pile on the floor and Doctor Mai’s body remained draped over the door’s window frame above a thick puddle of congealed blood. Ash fell like a heavy snow outside from black clouds that blocked most of the daylight overhead.
I took a few cautious steps into the room and looked around for something other than my bright orange prison jumpsuit and plastic shower shoes to wear. Moans drifted from the hallway, causing me to duck down and crabwalk during my search. In the end I stripped off Gomez’s dark blue BDU pants, cinched them tight with his gun belt, and threw on another hospital gown for a shirt.
He’d been several inches taller me so I cuffed and rolled the pants legs up over my calves like I was about to hit the beach. At least the belt gave me a place for his holster. Two additional magazines for the Glock were still in their little leather pouches on the belt along with a handcuff case and small canister of pepper spray. Unfortunately his shoes were several sizes too large for me to wear so I decided to just go barefoot.
For a moment I sat with my back to the wall while peering out the room’s window, trying to get my shit together and steady my breathing. Ash was still falling. The wall clock read eleven, which meant fourteen hours had passed since Gomez died. Not enough time to explain why my arm was mostly healed or how I’d lost so much weight so quickly though. Police should have been crawling over the hospital by now too. Since they weren’t, I had to assume the same crazy shit was happening all over the place. At least throughout this part of Connecticut.
I needed a plan. Needed to set some priorities. Escape from the hospital. Find transportation. Water. Food. Boy did I need food. The stomach pain throbbed constantly in between horrible cramps that curled my toes as I thought about food. It was getting hard to focus on anything else.
My gaze drifted over to the now pants-less Gomez, lingering on a pale, beefy thigh far longer than healthy. I swallowed drool.
I took a few deep breaths and ducked under Dr. Mai’s corpse where it lay draped over the window to open the door a crack. A body lay twisted in the hallway just beyond. It looked as though most of the flesh had been eaten or torn away, leaving little more than hair and wetly glistening bones. Blood and shredded bits of a hospital security uniform littered the floor around it. Moans echoed down the hallway.
Opening the door a little further, I risked poking my head out for a quick look left and right. A dozen walking dead men and women, some in hospital scrubs and others in gowns, milled around the nurses station to my left near the elevators. Two, who seemed to be of the faster variety, stood off to the side with their chins raised, nostrils flaring as they sniffed the air. The rest were slow moving shamblers. Bodies, and parts of bodies, lay strewn about the bloody floor like discarded dolls. One blocked an elevator door, causing it to open and close over and over again against the corpse.
A pair of men wearing hospital scrubs stood to my right, midway between my room and the emergency stairwell twenty feet beyond. Soft sobbing started up behind a supply closet’s door nearby, prompting the two men to shuffle forward and bang against the wooden surface. I could see both were dead; blood stained their clothes and one was missing most of his forearm. Their moans grew louder and a few from the nurse’s station answered in kind.
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” I cursed softly under my breath after closing the door. I needed a distraction. Duck-walking on bent knees, I waddled around Gomez’s corpse to the hospital bed, grabbed the TV remote and pressed the CALL button. Waddling back, I pressed my ear against the door and heard a Ding Ding chiming insistently at the nurse’s station. For a moment I held my breath and waited, then sighed softly in relief as the moaning duo shuffled by to investigate.
I counted to twenty, took several deep breaths, and fully opened the door. The crowd of them gathered around the nurse’s station were moaning and shuffling in what could best be described as agitation. My bare feet slapped wetly as I dashed down the hall, leaving bloody footprints all the way to the emergency stairwell’s access door.
I pulled the door open and quickly checked the landing for more walking corpses, gun leading the way. Moans drifted down from overhead, mingling with the loud growling of my stomach, but the landing was clear. No sooner had I closed the door behind me than two bodies slammed against it hard enough to shake dust loose from the frame. One of the sniffers peeked through the little glass window set high in the door, faded eyes locking onto me instantly. They were faster then the others and used their noses to track prey, but apparently too stupid to use a door handle. I beat feet down three flights of stairs to the ground floor and squatted against the wall to catch my breath.
I laid my head against the stairwell door and listened for a full minute but heard nothing other than my own breathing, thundering heartbeat and fists banging away on the door three flights above me. Still crouching, I slowly pushed the door open with one hand while the other held my gun ready. Beyond my position was a tiled hallway with four doors flanking either side. It ended in another door with a small window at face level. Emergency lights flickered overhead but no scenes of apparent violence marred the floor’s polished surface. Groans drifted down from the stairwell, urging me to move forward and carefully close the door in my wake.
The soft slap of my bare feet seemed terribly loud as I moved for'ward, pausing halfway to the other door as a wave of pain ripped through my abdomen. It dropped me to my knees for several minutes and left me panting for air before finally passing. I heard soft crying coming from the door to my right beneath a small sign that read 'Staff Breakroom'.
The door wasn’t locked when I tried the knob so I pulled it open and entered quickly, handgun leading the way. Inside was a pair of long tables, several folding chairs, a row of counters with a sink in their midst, and a refrigerator. Huddled together in the room’s far corner were a man and women, both crying softly as they tried to make themselves invisible behind a microwave cart near the window.
I heard a slam come from the stairwell door outside, followed by the sound of running feet. “Sssssh,” I ordered, lifting a finger to my lips and slowly closing the door behind me. Both nodded and quieted themselves down in a hurry.
I took several steps back from the door and got into a firing stance, waiting for the runners to burst inside. They didn’t and after a few moments I heard banging from further down the hall accompanied by a woman’s muffled scream. There was no lock on the breakroom door but I took a gamble that they wouldn’t think to turn the knob. That refrigerator was calling to me.
The food inside was still cold but I wouldn’t have cared if it was black and moldy. My suddenly shaking hands reached for an opened packet of hot dogs and didn’t seem capable of shoving them into my mouth fast enough. The pain in my stomach released its grip after the first few bites.
I was halfway through someone’s leftover meatloaf when the man whispered to me from across the room. “What the hell are you doing?”
“She’s the convict we’re doing testing on,” The woman hissed, trying to pull him closer to her somehow. I ignored them both and tore into a jar of peanut butter. Who the hell puts peanut butter in the fridge?
“Where…did you get a gun? What are you…are you going to hurt us?”
I swallowed down a mouthful of nutty goodness and turned to regard them. Both were my age, in their mid thirties, and wearing dress pants under white lab coats. There was a bit of blood on the woman’s coat sleeve but neither appeared to be injured. “Do you have any idea what the fuck is going on?” I asked, moving to take a seat facing them with my jar of peanut butter. The Glock rested on my knee, barrel pointed their way.
“We think it has something to do with the ash. From the volcano.” The woman began after a few moments, voice a shaky whisper as her eyes stayed glued to the gun’s business end. “People started dying when they breathed it in. Not everyone. But a lot. Then they got back up and started…eating people.”
The man glared at me and hugged her tight as I smacked my lips on peanut butter. He picked up where she left off. “Whatever caused them to change, it’s contagious. Anyone who’s bitten or gets the infected blood in a wound, dies. So everything went to hell pretty quick. I’d say about twenty percent dropped dead when the ash started falling. They seem to retain better coordination and muscle control than those infected by blood and bite. Nothing stops them. Any of them. Our security personnel couldn’t even make them slow down.”
“That’s cause they’re trained to target center of mass. Headshots drop em.” I said, tapping the side of my head with a grin. Neither asked how I knew that bit of info and I didn’t feel like sharing with the class. Both seemed more worried about me at that moment than the infected duo still banging on the door down the hall.
I cocked my head to the side and stared hard at the woman’s face. It seemed familiar. “You’re one of Doctor Mai’s assistants right?” A nod was given in reply.
I tossed the empty peanut butter jar on the counter and started looking through cabinets, grabbing cans of soup and tuna fish for the next course of my meal. The stomach pain had stopped entirely but I was still feeling pretty hungry as I put a can opener to work.
“I got bitten but I didn’t die. Or if I died, then I got better. In fact, the big ass chunk of arm meat my guard swallowed down seems to have healed up completely.” A can of cold chicken soup slide down my throat before I went on. “Any idea why? Or why all my hair turned white and I dropped close to fifty pounds in a dozen hours?”
My fingers shoveled tuna fish into my mouth as I leaned a hip against the counter facing them. Both seemed surprised and neither spoke for a few minutes. Thinking about something other than the walking dead seemed to help them out a little. Pulled their minds off the unthinkable and onto a problem they might be able to solve.
The man surprised me by standing up, both hands raised, and walking over. “May I check your vitals?”
I shrugged and kept the gun in my hand as he pulled out yet another impossibly cold stethoscope. They must all buy them from the same Arctic distributor.
“Brenda, can you see if there’s a thermometer in one of the drawers?” A few minutes passed as he poked and prodded me, hands shaking slightly when they moved over the large scar where I’d been bitten. Even the bruises were gone by then. “Your temperature’s 105.6 and your heart rate’s about twice as fast as it should be while at rest. I noticed the bruising around your eyes faded in the five minutes you’ve been eating. Obviously your body has reacted in an odd way to whatever infectious agent is causing all this. Possibly a genetic trait.”
“The stem cell treatment,” Brenda offered softly, keeping a hand on the doctor’s arm. “It must have interacted with the infection once she was bitten.”
I nodded and started on my second can of tuna. “What about the weight loss and my hair turning white?” I asked, still chewing. “Hand me that soda.”
“I don’t know. Maybe your body needs to burn extreme amounts of calories in order to sustain itself or to facilitate the rapid cell regeneration. It might have pulled protean from your hair in an effort to fuel the healing process.” He shrugged. “The coke or sprite?”
“The coke. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why these dead guys are trying to eat everyone? I know my stomach was on fire before I started getting food in me.” The thought made both of them shiver and glance towards the door.
For awhile I searched the cabinets and drawers, eating everything that wasn’t bolted down. My two companions whispered to each other from time to time as they watched me warily but didn’t make any effort to interfere. The sound of wood splintering and a woman’s screams came from down the hall. Silence followed after that.
“Alrighty then. Well thanks for your professional opinions. Feel free to send me a bill. Oh, and give me your shirt.” That last was for the male, my point being highlighted by aiming the gun in his direction. I watched his Adams Apple bob up and down as he swallowed loudly and nodded.
“Wait. What about us?” The woman asked after I’d rolled up the sleeves on my new white dress shirt and stood before the room’s window. “You can’t just leave us here.” I shrugged and kicked the glass out, barely feeling the cuts along my sole as they healed.
For a moment I actually considered her question, weighing the pros and cons of taking them along. Kneeling down to peer into the parking lot, I traced my finger along a jagged edge of glass, then lifted it to show them the cut as it healed. “I don’t think I’ll be needing a doctor anymore, much less two.” And with that I stepped through the window.