"I’ve got the last census records, and added the phone and power company records. So we know who was here for the first Overlap. And we’re going to find every single one of them and visually check them for signs of necrosis." Daniel Nolin was a techie, usually tracking down hackers, he looked a little petulant at this simple chore.
Hugh raised a hand.
Les winced. Oh shit! Another damned surprise from the Hick Cop.
"Would that be the first of the concentrated overlaps or the first reported outlier event?"
"Outlier . . . ?"
/// update the dates///
"September eleven, about six pee emm. Then there was one on the twentieth of October, about ten pee emm. Those are definite, there were two other incidents that in retrospect might have been overlaps."
"Well . . . there may be a few people who moved away between then and August twenty one. We’ll track them down too."
"Might not be necessary, in as much as there were no fatalities, nor did anyone turn into zombies within days. But I thought I should mention it."
Schulenburg snorted. "Thank you Captain Barclay. I may need to bring in even more of you locals. Your familiarity with the situation is useful. I hope you don’t have family locally?"
"No. My brothers both live out of state, and hopefully not near another hotspot."
"Good. I like to know that I can count on your fairness, getting people in for treatment."
Hugh cocked his head. "How are the other hotspots doing?"
"Los Angeles and San Francisco have major problems, as a good number of their zombies were either violent gang members and drug addicts, or gay AIDs sufferers. You think getting bitten by a possibly rabid zombie rat is bad? How’d you like to try to wrestle down a drag queen who was trying to bite you?"
A shudder ran around the room. Hugh looked amused for a second, then suddenly fierce. "Have they started shooting them on sight, yet?"
Schulenburg sighed. "Yes." He shrugged. "I hope it doesn’t come to that, here. Now, inspecting everyone. How are we going to go about it?"
"There are still quite a few people left at the Fair Grounds. We could escort them into town, a few at a time, to inspect their homes." Hugh bit his lip, for the first time looking worried. "The overlap effect seemed to start in the north east and sweep across, west and south. Should we start with the closest homes, or the furthest?"
"Closest. We don’t want the zombies to have an extra week to . . . Well, we don’t know, do we? Drop dead in the street? Start eating human flesh? Sorry, I know that’s stupid. Should never have used the term zombie."
"Yeah. Now, a second thought. Do we want the trash from here to go to the dump for burial, or do we want to incinerate it first?" Hugh must have sat up late working it all out. "The vacant corner at Red Snake and Coyote Bar, where they’ll eventually build the high school. We could tell every one to bag up their trash and leave it there, use all the trash wood around to burn it there. And should we incinerate all the rats we’re catching in the traps we’ve put out?"
"Definitely." Tasman spoke up from near the head of the table. "Cathy died this morning, we’ll be using a crematorium and burning even the mattress she was on. She sort of . . . liquefied."
"Right. So, why don’t we do a sweep for the traps, then Barclay could get the Chief to organize the house inspections, and I suppose we’d better check anyone being reclusive at the fairgrounds." Les colored a bit. "If that sounds about like what you had in mind, Director?"
"Yes, Agent Bishop, that is about right. I’ll see the Mayor about a government grant for hiring cleanup workers, and expedite a burn permit."
Tasman’s minions had heavy duty plastic bags and tongs and gloves. They gladly handed them over to the agents and returned to their nice clean labs.
They split up, four Feds and equal numbers of policemen or Sheriff’s Deputies with each of the three groups.
Les’s group returned to Gabby Feisle’s house and circled, clearing the traps and resetting them, keeping their eyes open for any movement that might be a cat or rat, or worse, human. Rustling in the fallen leaves or long grass a street away started bothering him. He suppressed visions of zombie rats stalking them.
"Eighty two. That makes eighty-two rats. Who would have thought a nice town like this would have so many?" Ron was in coveralls, gloved, tongs in hand, paper mask down around his neck. He dropped his voice. "I’ll drop these bags off and circle around to the other side of the block, eh?"
"Yeah, they should have the burn piles ready to go soon." Les rubbed his arms. He hadn’t thought in terms of listeners, stalkers, who could understand. But the biker was still out there. Unless he’d liquefied. He turned back to the traps.
Ron returned, looking worried. "Saw a man, might have been that biker. But he ran off between houses. The weird thing was the number of rats around. In plain sight. And they followed him."
Les swallowed hard. He tried to engage his brain. Stalked by a zombie. "A biker with a serious infection. That’s all, nothing supernatural or weird here. Let’s get back to work."
"Right. They aren’t real zombies." Ron visibly braced his shoulders and grabbed a new garbage bag.
Jerry rubbed the bandages around his neck. The doctors had gone heavy on the topical antibiotics. "I’m going to have nightmares about that old woman."
Les winced. I think we all will.
"High time we got back to our homes. I hate those showers at the Fairgrounds, they just don’t get you really clean. And I suspect they’re just coated with that MRSA staph thing you hear about. I mean, I washed the cuts out very very thoroughly and they’re still nasty." Maria strained to speak without an accent, to sound as American as possible. Because she’d been three years old when her parents crossed the border with her and whatever the law said, this was her home, the only one she’d ever known. She’d thought marrying David would take care of that problem . . . instead it had devolved into farce, as she discovered David’s other three "wives." None of their marriages legal, due, according to the defiant bigamist, to his first wife never having divorced him. The judge had come down hard on him, but not sent him to jail. After all, he had rather a lot of child support to pay. And Maria had only one of his eight children. And she was not going to go on welfare. Even though Davey junior, born right here in Placer County Hospital, would qualify and keep his mother from being deported.
"We’ll irrigate them with an antibiotic solution, and get you a prescription antibiotic. That ought to take care of the problem. I’ll send in the nurse."
The doctor was horribly young. They look younger every year! Maria wasn’t used to being older than someone who’d gone through medical school. It was unnerving to think that she was a year away from turning thirty. And suddenly unemployed, as the store she’d worked for was a collapsed ruin. I have to get well, get home so I can get my good clothes and start job hunting immediately.
The nurse bustled in, stopped dead. "Whew! Honey, I know things are bad at the fairgrounds, but you’ve gotta keep these scratches clean so they heal."
Maria hung her head in shame. I stink! Even Davey doesn’t want to hug me.
Hugh chatted casually with the people he knew. Everyone who’d lived in Reilly Creek while he’d been growing up, and a good part of the new people as well. He’d been splitting them up into small groups, neighbors, and sending them off with Sandy, Juan and Francine. The Chief and Theresa had gone off to pick up two new cars. Well, used cars. Two years old, and lacking all the police modifications, but they’d have to do. To say there was no more money was like saying the Sahara was dry. For now they were using the single surviving squad car, and Sandy and Juan’s private cars. Hugh’s pickup had been the obvious choice for carrying bags of dead rats to the bonfires. He’d handed George the keys with relief.
But perhaps he’d have been better off with rat disposal.
"Maria, and now Justin have gone to see doctors? At County?"
"Si, the Urgent Care center they have there, not the emergency room. Justin had a cut that was all pussy and disgusting."
"I expect they’ll fix him up in no time. I’ll gig the Rec department about getting out here with more chlorine for the bathrooms. But I expect it was just not being able to go home and wash up right after . . . the earthquake . . . that’s the problem."
Old Xavier snickered. "Earthquake, my ass. Do they think we are estupido?"
"No. But they seem to think they can keep all that weirdness a secret. Maybe they can." Hugh shrugged. "Let me know if anyone else gets sick. Not that I can do much, but maybe I can get the Feds to bring in a doctor."
Hugh wandered off, and called Dr. Lee. Tasman. He wondered a bit about the name. She didn’t sound at all Australian.
"Doctor? Two people from the Fairgrounds have gone into the County hospital’s urgent care center, one with a cut that had gotten all nasty, no details on the other. Do you want to be hands off and see if conventional care will work, or do you need to be more aggressive?"
"Aggressive. I think I need to push several other therapies as well. And go absolutely Nazi about cleanliness. Give me their names and I’ll get right on it."
Hugh ended up compiling a second long list of names, of who had gone where and when they were coming back. With a lot of blank spaces. Modern neighborliness too often began and ended with polite waves of semi-recognition. And people returning often managed to circumvent the road blocks and get home.
The Howlers had returned. They’d all checked out the facilities at the Fairgrounds, and moved in with every sign of delight. Eleven of them. Grant, whom the rest called Grandfather, looked about forty. Three other adults, four teenagers and three little kids, all three in second grade. Grant, Michael and Ed apparently disappeared nearly every day. In theory, working. In practice, anyone’s guess. Amy was a kindergarten teacher, she stayed at the fair grounds and kept an eye on all the children around. The teenagers played loud music and ate junk food.
In the old town, the damage was greater and the residents less likely to stay. But all around the fringe, people were moving back home, and who was he to say it wasn’t safe?
He prowled, house to house at the southern end, checking on people, reminding them to check their smoke detectors, in case of problems with their wiring, and check the state of their plumbing, where the water mains were unbroken.
"It might be a good idea to shut off the power before you go to bed."
He added the occupied houses to his list, and noted that he’d neither seen nor smelled any zombies.
Good. We’re getting back to normal. Strain he hadn’t been aware of seeped out of his shoulders. A few more days of work on the mains, and everyone will have water to their houses. Then people can check for interior leaks.
He drove the car back to the station, and talked to the Chief about all night patrols and extreme caution. He left his list of inhabited houses and walked up to Madison Street where the Feds were working. It was five, and already getting dark. The cold wind was picking up, rustling leaves. Behind him. Just out of sight. The hair on his neck was standing up, and he shifted out to the middle of the street, baton in hand. He could hear scrambling noises. Just rats. Or squirrels. Nothing that ought to be triggering your fight of flight instincts. Just calm down. The damp chill didn’t help a bit. The rain started pattering down, and a freezing gust whipped leaves down the street. He gave into his nerves and turned, backing and side stepping all the way into the poorly lit working area. The Feds had lined up their two cars, and the sheriff’s squad car so the lights shone along the house fronts.
Les looked over and frowned, taking in his stance. "Problem?"
"Probably just my nerves."
Les started to nod and froze. Hugh whipped around.
A flood tide of rats swarmed up the street, hundreds of them. Barely visible in the dark.
Hugh backed away, his hand reached for his holster, then fell away. Damn, damn, damn.
The rats were still coming. A faint squeaking, a chorus of a thousand rats rose over the mass.
The hair and his arms was standing straight up, and his stomach rebelled suddenly. He tried to control it. Kept backing away.
"Damn it rats don’t attack people like this!"
"Front and center! Head count! Get in the cars!" Les bellowed, and men scrambled.
Hugh turned and ran, dived into the back seat of the nearest car.
Les took the wheel.
Hugh swallowed. "Ron?"
"He just took your truck to the bonfire." Les got the car moving, turning it to face the rats.
Hugh lunged half over the seat and grabbed the radio mic. "Is everyone accounted for? Les, seven men?"
"That’s right. Let’s go." He drove straight at the rats, swerving to light up the shape of a man dodging into the wreckage.
Hugh cursed. "Please don’t tell me Manny’s out here playing with the zombie rats." Something stirred inside his head. I don’t like this at all. Hugh stomped on it. Not because he didn’t agree, but because he didn’t like a voice that didn’t sound like his in there. No. Evil. Wizards.
Do you realize how much help you need? I can kill rats wholesale. I can show you how.
They drove to the bonfires, and unloaded a few more bags. And tried to hide their nerves as they made light of the rat swarm.
Hugh swapped to his truck and headed home. He sat in the parking lot headlights on the dark building while he thought about the absence of neighbors and the short distance to the rat pack. Four miles, at the most. Longer by street. Would they come? Manny isn’t a local, he has no idea where I live.
But I won’t get any sleep.
He put the truck in reverse and headed for the Fairgrounds. There were worse things than sleeping bags and cots.
Les kicked back in a big chair in a moderately private corner of the hotel lounge.
What am I going to do about hundreds of infected rats? He closed his eyes, and tried to not see that rippling wave of furry bodies.
In the back ground someone was explaining the Mayan Calendar. Tzolkin and Haabs and K’in. Ceremonial calendars and agricultural calendars. All counting days in base twenty, except when they weren’t. It didn’t seem to make any sense.
"Agent Bishop? Could I have a word with you?" A warm female voice from much closer.
"Tasman!" His eyes popped open, and he grinned wryly. "Dr. Lee. Sorry. What am I going to do about thousands of infected rats?"
"Yeah, we’re killing them about as fast as we can put traps out. But as soon as it was dark they closed in on us. It was right out of a Hollywood horror movie. Except no one got eaten."
She dimpled. "For proper Hollywood, you have to add, ‘This time.’ Except it isn’t funny, is it?"
"Not a bit. And I don’t know if all the rats were infected or not. It would be comforting to think they were, then I could plan on them all dying inside of a week or so. As it is, I’m really spooked. I’m going to ask the Boss for shotguns and well, I doubt he’ll let me have a flame thrower. But I could have used one about an hour ago." He studied her. Tired, stressed. "How about you? How are your patients?"
"Multiplying. Red is, I think, improving. Gabby is sinking. John holding steady. I have two new patients, with just minor infected lesions. The Urgent Care staff have seen a number of what they thought were minor infections and, well, poor hygiene. So there are probably a dozen more people out there with hopefully minor problems. Their doctors are going to contact them and get them on an antibiotic and vitamin regimen and give them my phone number to call if it gets worse. And I talked to the local vet. He’s been seeing a lot of what he thought were just ordinary sores. Hot spots on dogs and so forth. We need to get notices out to pet owners, and visit all the local shelters." She ran a hand through her hair. "If the truly wild animals, squirrels and rabbits and so forth have . . . zombied . . . I mean, rats depend on humans for a habitat. The other animals can and will go off anywhere."
Les leaned forward and took her hand, to catch her attention. "But there’s no sign that this is contagious, right?"
She nodded. "Right. And that’s very good news. However horrible, it’s limited in scope." She straightened her shoulders and smiled. "Have you had dinner?"
"No. Care to join me?"
Les gladly tossed all further speculation about the zombies. I need to find out about her family, where she grew up . . . and everything. And tell her about me.
Ron gave him a discreet thumbs up from across the room.
Wednesday 26 August 2020
The Wednesday morning meeting was grim.
"In the cities, it is clear that we’re being deliberately stalked and targeted." Schulenburg had flown back in the morning. "The same things that you are seeing have happened in Southern California. What they’ve started calling a zombie master seems to draw other zombies, human and animal, to his vicinity, and they more or less follow orders. They’ve got three areas, LA proper, Orange County and San Diego. A higher percentage of people with single merges, but so many people that they’ve got many more multiple merges, and more people to hide them in. And more people for them to attack. The four main zombie gangs have killed thirty-two people in four days. That total does not include the eight policemen killed in gun battles with the regular gangs. The relationship between old normal gang and the new zombies is complicated. Old friends and family haven’t given up on the zombies yet. The rodents are getting the blame for many of the deaths. Publicly. And pets. We’ve written off four fatalities as dog attacks. Which they were, partly.
"I don’t know if we can keep the curtains closed over this much longer. I want as many zombies gone as possible, by the time I have to deal with panicking civilians. I want some good news to calm people down with.
"So I’m authorizing the new rules of engagement. The President has approved of their use when the director in the field feels it is necessary. And I do. Shoot the damned zombies on sight."
Les opened his mouth to protest. Froze. Career destruction opportunity dead ahead. He took a couple of careful breaths. I don’t have to shoot zombies, but I’m covered if I do. It will be all right.