Full Moon on Friday August 28th
Tasman had made it a habit to check all the patients herself, early in the morning, and before she quit for the day. Red was sinking. Gabby? Tasman couldn’t believe that she was still breathing without assistance. Maria and Justin were holding steady. The new boy, Mark Hastin had required major abdominal surgery. The only good part was that the abdominal cavity was now completely clean of necrotic pus pockets. Hopefully his intestines would heal, and not just rot. She’d added the steroid protocol that Dr. Zealand thought was having the best effect on the zombie rats. She huffed out a tired breath. We’ll just have to wait and see how he does.
Of the non zombies, Robert’s horns had kept growing. They were a good six inches long. One of the nurses was taking in his breakfast.
"If we got you leather cap with holes in it, you’d look quite the Viking."
"Will you be my Valkyrie?" The horns might be scary, but the man wasn't having any problems with self-control.
The Vlascovitches, neither mother nor daughter could regulate their temperatures yet. They huddled in blankets and picked at their food.
They still hadn’t discovered a name for the black haired teenager. "Wolf" and "Blackie" were being used. Tasman was trying to stick to John, but it was difficult. Today he was down behind the bed. Whining, as always.
"Good morning, John. How are you feeling?" Tasman stepped into the room and froze.
The boy was not acting like a dog. The boy had turned into a dog. Black, wolf-like. Whining. Rushing the door.
Tasman leaped to close it, but she was too slow. The boy-wolf skidded on the polished vinyl and bolted toward the end of the hallway. Trapped, thank god! She backtracked for the nurse.
"Nancy, the boy is out, and umm . . ."
The fire alarm beeped and the metallic crash, bang, slam of the fire escape door echoed down the hallway.
"Oh no. No. Oh . . ." Hell. He may look like a wolf, but he knows how to open doors, knew which one was the exit. Tasman slowed, stopped. It’s going to be easier to explain an escapee than a werewolf.
So long as he doesn’t eat people.
Tasman squared her shoulder. "You stay here. I’ll see if he’s left the hospital altogether." She took the stairs down, and on the first floor found a fuming manager reaming her staff for allowing a dog, "a filthy damn mutt," to bring dirt and germs into her beautiful hospital.
Tasman retreated further and asked a receptionist what had happened.
The older woman looked furious. "A dog! Can you imagine it! It ran right past me and out the doors." She pointed at the main entrance. "Mind you, it was a pretty smart dog, it hit the button for the wheelchair door."
"Sounds like he may have had service animal training."
The receptionist raised her eyebrows and nodded. "Maybe it got away from someone who came in a different entrance."
"Whoever owns him needs to work on his training a bit more." Tasman sauntered on and out through the doors. No large black dogs in sight. I hope that poor boy knows how to get home.
"We’re starting to get reports in from all over the world. The zombie attacks are getting more organized, and more deadly." Jason Mata looked like he hadn’t slept at all. Not surprising. Four men lost in two days. "They’re still waffling over whether earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can be triggered by an Overlap. But with all the obvious structural damage in the vicinity of the hot spots, and problems with airplanes that were fairly distant, they are examining every bridge and overpass and dam in the US and most of the world is doing likewise. The biggest disaster looming on the horizon appears to be the eminent failure of the Three Gorges Dam in China. Or, of course, more volcanoes.
"The USGS reports increased activity at almost every volcano they monitor, including Mount Lassen a hundred and seventy miles away, and Mount Shasta that’s about two hundred and fifty miles from us. The damage from either of them erupting is tiny, compared to Mount Rainier, which is uncomfortably close to Seattle. Yellowstone . . . also has an increase in activity, but less than the others."
"Earthquakes. The fault zone that was a part of the problem here runs through the Yosemite hotspot and seven other, more remote hotspots. Including Lassen and Shasta. They admit to having no idea if things will settle down or build up to more quakes and eruptions."
Mata flipped through several pages. "Some of the problems seen overseas aren’t relevant to us. Ships . . . fortunately most of them were away from any watery hot spots, and being under way, would have moved out quickly. None-the-less, there was a bump in the number of ships sinking over the last week and a half. Satellites: communications, GPS, Weather and Science. All have been affected. Some are still working but out of place, others are no longer functional. Replacements are months down the line.
"The International Space Station reports an unusually high flux of micrometeors hitting it. Their electrical system is failing, and the last cosmonauts on board will be leaving as soon as the Russians have tested the rocket they have on the pad.
"But. Back to what is of the greatest importance to us. Zombies. Nowhere have they had more success with treatments than right here. And we have one of nine patients showing improvement. A cure, even for mild cases, is still out of reach. So do not feel too bad, do not hesitate to shoot a zombie that is threatening you. Even ones that seem friendly need to be kept at a distance. Shoot on sight. At worst, you are sparing a good person a horrible slow death.
"We will be doing mostly car patrols today. I want a quiet but constant presence all through the town. If you see a zombie, call it in and we’ll respond with a strike team. You do not pursue on foot. Now be careful out there."
Les was shivering a bit as he left the meeting. Shoot on sight. It had finally come to this. He walked down the street to the hospital. The nine patients here were "safe" from being shot. But Mrs. Sanchez was the only one showing improvement.
He was surprised to find Hugh’s truck in the parking lot. Local. Knows these people. Merged over and over. He merged with a dinosaur. A carnivore. What is he up to, here? Looking for a quick snack?
The elevators opened to the central lobbies on each floor, everyone was clearly visible as they walked out. Les walked down to the end of the north wing and took the stairs to the third floor. He took a second to loosen a wire on the door alarm, then eased out silently. Hugh was standing in the middle of the corridor, facing away. A woman with short curly brown hair was leaning on one of the observation windows. One of her hands was making gestures, as if she was trying to get the patient to come to the other side of the window. She was saying something over and over, but he couldn’t catch it. A what?
She staggered back from the window, shaking her head. "That’s all I can do. Maybe tomorrow I can try again."
Hugh slipped a supporting arm around her shoulders and they walked away.
Les waited until the elevator had taken them away, then walked down to the room where she’d been leaning.
The window was splattered with pus and blood. Red McAiever lay quietly in bed. Soft restraints on his arms left him a reasonable freedom of movement. He was wiping off his arm. Revolted, Les took a look around. Another splattered window. This one not as gross. Maria Sanchez wasn’t in sight, the door of the bathroom closed. Les headed for the central nurses station.
One of the CDC staff looked at him and frowned. "I thought there was an alarm on the stairwell."
"Really? Hmm. I’ll check it out on my way out. In the mean time, what happened to Red? Shouldn’t his room be cleaned?"
Her mouth rounded in horror. "Oh no! He hasn’t . . . liquefied, has he? He was such a comic . . . " She bustled down the hall and recoiled. "Good Lord! That’s disgusting." She unlocked the door. "Mr. Red, are you all right?"
"Hey Cutie. Yeah, all this stuff just started draining and spurting. It looks disgusting but better out than in, eh?"
"Well, yes, but what a mess! I’ll be right back."
Les kicked back and waited while she called up the rest of the CDC folk, then grabbed clean sheets, a huge box of gauze squares and a bottle of alcohol.
Tasman led a general rush off the elevator, and put two others to work cleaning floor and window. "Odd how the spray was all in one direction. Well, Mr. McAiever, I’ve got to say your skin tones look better than I’ve seen them yet. This sudden loss of fluids worries me, though."
"Mrs. Sanchez seems to have had something similar happen to her as well." Les stepped out of the way as half the people headed for the room across the hall.
Maria was in a clean gown, her hair damp, sitting in the chair away from the icky side of the room. "I hate to go near, I feel so clean, for a change."
Tasman nodded. "You look good. Come on out, lets get you a different room, this one is disgusting, right now."
The Chief of Police was asleep, his hand clean, his fever receding. He blinked slowly as the medical team invaded his room. "Funny, I had this dream that one of my people and his girlfriend showed up and cured me with a magic spell. Then I woke up, cleaned up and . . ." He shrugged and looked at his hand. There were several sunken areas, and weeping lesions, but they weren’t leaking pus, just clear lymph fluid. "You know, I think maybe you won’t need to amputate those fingers after all, Doc."
Tasman pressed on his hand, studying the lesions. "Yes, I think you may have expelled all the remaining necrotic cells."
Les hung around as all the patients were checked. Red and Maria were also vastly improved. Possibly cured. The others were continuing their slow slide.
He finally slipped out, reattaching the stairway alarm circuits on the way.
"A witch. I will not have anything to do with a witch." He walked out and headed for the hotel. "Stop being a superstitious fool, Les. She helped. She’s the Good Witch. And Hugh. Yeah, he’s merged over and over, and every single time I’ll bet he was stronger. That dinosaur, he grabbed control of that dinosaur and kept the other one off Ron. And me." He shut his mouth as he walked into the hotel lobby. And retreated to his room. He looked at himself in the mirror. The horns didn’t show, but he could feel them. They were larger. He met his own eyes. "Get over it, Les. You are through the Looking Glass and Down the Rabbit Hole. You need all the help you can get. You need an expert." He eased back from the mirror and paced. "It’s time to eat crow and see Hugh about a zombie problem."
He walked back out of his room, requisitioned a car and headed for the fairgrounds.
I hope that woman feels up to returning to the hospital tomorrow. If she was doing anything. If I’m going insane, might as well believe she had some effect, some magic spell, calling some weird word from the other side of a window.
Mitzy growled low in her throat, and Boris scampered to join her, ears pricked. He skidded to a halt and started barking. Mitzy joined him. The entry hallway echoed their noise.
Mary Elizabeth trotted over to check on the problem.
She jerked to a halt in horror.
Big brown rats were squeezing through a spot where the plaster had cracked, widening the hole with every new rat. There were already a dozen inside, staggering and wobbling. Every single one had pus filled sores, they were damp with corruption and the odor of decay rolled down the hallway.
Mary Elizabeth screamed. Backed frantically away. She bumped the little lamp table, knocked it over, tripped, scrambled backwards like a crab, unable to take her eyes off the rats. The dogs went into a frenzy of barking, with little rushes forward, trying to stop the horde of sick rats.
The danger to her family snapped Mary Elizabeth out of her panic. "Boris, Mitzy, come." She scrambled to her feet, and turned to run.
Lenny stood at the mouth of the entry. He reached for her.
She froze. For just a second, doubt and terror . . . then she flung herself into his arms.
He whisked her around behind himself, and advanced on the rats. A stomp of his slipper and one was dead. A crunch signaled the end of another. The swarm seemed uncertain, rats darting toward the sides, toward the two dogs, but avoiding Lenny.
Mary Elizabeth sagged in relief. They won’t eat another zombie. "Boris, Mitzy, come." Her brave little protectors backed away, and she scooped them up.
Something squeaked behind her.
She spun, eyes searching. Just one.
Where will we be safe? Her eyes lifted and she eyed the patio. The pool.
"Lenny, I think we’ll be safe in the pool." Her voice wavered. She broke suddenly, running past the rat, rats. She put the dogs down, fumbled at the latch, hands shaking. A crunch and squeak behind her. Lenny was coming. She slid the door open, twisted through, ready to slam it closed. Mitzy ran out, turned, barking, a sharp note of desperation in her voice. Boris screamed in pain.
Rats tumbled out the door.
Mary Elizabeth whimpered. Held the door open. "Lenny! Get out! Boris!"
Lenny lunged through the door, Boris in one arm, the other plucking at the rat that had its teeth locked on Boris’s ear.
Mary Elizabeth slammed the door on a rat, opened it and slammed it home again. Saw a rat coming at her and kicked it across the patio. Slammed the door one last time.
Lenny tossed a rat aside, scooped her up and marched across the patio, stomping two rats as he went.
The pool was freeform, and he set her down on the little peninsula that marked the change from shallow to deep water, and also made an excellent place to set drinks.
Mary Elizabeth gulped, then squared her shoulders. She picked up both dogs, to keep them safe, and prepared to kick anything that got around Lenny.
"The leopards had no fear of us, they strolled the streets and lived in the houses. We found no remains, so we believe that the villagers fled the . . ."
The radio quit abruptly as Hugh turned it off.
"Thank you, Hugh. And?" Les studied the woman from the hospital.
"I’m Les Bishop. I . . . find myself in the rather awkward position of needing to apologize to Captain Barclay, and beg him for help. After your performance this morning at the hospital, I suspect you could help as well."
She looked him over thoughtfully. "Rumor has it you’ve got a problem with zombie rats."
"Yes. Hundreds of them. Thousands. I’m thinking of getting a flame thrower."
Hugh snorted. "Right. Hundreds of flaming zombie rats fleeing back into these old buildings. You know, even in the center of the city less than half the homes are unsafe. So burning the whole town down might raise a few eyebrows."
Les winced. "Hadn’t thought about that. Down in LA, the zombies have started killing and eating people. Here, because you evacuated and kept everyone out, the zombies haven’t had the opportunity. But people are leaking back in, and the rats are going to find them."
The woman nodded. "That was street knowledge, down in LA. Everyone is trying to get out of certain neighborhoods, because of the zombies. But the zombies seemed to be both attracted to, and frightened of the thin spots. I suspect the zombies won’t go too far south or west. And to the east there’s nothing but federal lands for miles. Which means my aunt’s house is probably infested."
Hugh shook his head. "I’ve been out there every morning to feed your critters, and there’s been no sign of them. Haven’t seen Fang, either, I’m afraid."
"Good, except for Fang. I’ll have to check the pound. Not that he’s really mine, he’s just a stray I was trying to make friends with." Delphi eyed the Fed. "I have a few methods that might help you, but I haven’t tested them. And . . . you may have trouble accepting them."
Les released a deep breath. "Lady, I’m standing here talking to you about fighting zombies."
Her teeth flashed in a quick grin. "Right. Let’s go someplace private and do a bit of practicing."
Hugh stirred protectively . . . no, possessively.
Delphi dimpled at Hugh. "Don’t worry. I wouldn’t dream of leaving you out of this. I want to see if your memories of the wizard contain anything useful."
Les opened his mouth to say something about Oz, then snapped it shut. Did not touch his head above the ears.
They took the federal car and headed back to Reilly Creek.
"Let’s get around to the far side of the thin spot, there’ll be less chance of anything scary interrupting us."
Les shifted his shoulders uncomfortably. Miss Hyde is a bit scary.
The headlight shone briefly on a small shape darting across the road.
"That was a rat, headed north." Hugh leaned and frowned, but nothing more was visible.
Les bit his lip. "Actually, it moved normally. Like it was healthy." At the corner he turned south. "Let’s just see if it had a reason to be running away."
The headlight fell across more brown shapes. Lurching and uneven in their movements.
Zombies. "I didn’t think anyone had moved back in, this close to down town." Les tried to keep an even, natural tone. He let the car slow to a stop.
"Yeah." Hugh peered. "They’re concentrating on the Wooten’s house. I don’t remember seeing either Mary Elizabeth or Lenny at the Fairgrounds."
The back door of the car opened and Delphi stepped out.
Les gawped, then fumbled with the controls, getting the car into park. Hugh bailed out, cursing. Les was a half a second behind him.
"Zaromuot. Zaarrraah mu ought. Zarramout." The idiot woman was saying something . . . and rats were falling over. Unmoving. Running away, squeaking.
Les recoiled, backed up against the grill of the car. Swallowed. Cleared his throat. His mind blanked.
Hugh had stopped. He was scanning around, looking for anything. Anything had apparently decided to slink off.
Very intelligent of it, can I run away too? Les took slow deep breaths, until he felt in control again.
He pushed back from the car. "Right. Was that . . . like a magic spell?"
Miss Hyde looked around, nodded. "A word of power. Don’t repeat it unless there’s no one around, especially right in front of you. Note the area of effect. A wedge that goes out about twenty feet, and covers perhaps a thirty degree angle. It appears to be quite limited."
Les swallowed. "Were you like this, before the Overlap?"
She frowned. "Maybe. I didn’t believe, and I didn’t know any words of power. But I’ve always understood animals. The Overlap gave me the words, and made me believe it was possible. I compared experiences with a fortune teller in Los Angeles, and we worked out a few things. I didn’t think about range. Judging from this, you have to be insanely close to anything to affect it."
Hugh nodded. "Insanely close. So, let’s check the house, then go get in some . . . target practice."Les took two steps then stalled, shaking his head. I actually meant were you an analytic robot, before. Are you afraid of losing yourself? I’m bloody terrified.