a novel of terror by
F. Paul Wilson
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction by J.A. Konrath
Draculas — A Novel of Terror
Interview with Crouch, Konrath, Strand and Wilson
“Cub Scout Gore Feast” by Konrath and Strand
“Serial” by Crouch and Kilborn
“A Sound of Blunder” by Konrath and Wilson
Draculas Deleted and Alternate Scenes
Excerpt of Crouch’s Desert Places
Excerpt of Strand’s Dweller
Excerpt of Wilson’s The Keep
Excerpt of Konrath’s Shaken
Biographies of Crouch, Konrath, Strand and Wilson
Bibliographies of Crouch, Konrath, Strand and Wilson
Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Making of Draculas
Coming in 2011
I grew up reading books where vampires were scary.
This novel is an attempt to make them scary again.
When I thought of the premise that became DRACULAS, I knew it needed to be a group project. Take four well-known horror authors, let them each create their own unique characters, and have them fight for their lives during a vampire outbreak at a secluded, rural hospital.
This is NOT a collection of short stories. It’s a single, complete novel.
And it’s going to freak you out.
If you’re easily disturbed, have a weak stomach, or are prone to nightmares, stop reading right now. There are no sexy teen heartthrobs herein.
You have been warned.
For Bram Stoker, with deepest apologies
DRACULA’S SKULL UNEARTHED IN TRANSYLVANIA! A Romanian farmer discovered a skull with unusual properties while plowing his field near the town of Brasov. The relic, which appears to be ancient and human, has thirty-two elongated, razor-sharp teeth.
VAMPIRE SKULL A HOAX? Discovered in Transylvania, the humanoid skull with sharp fangs is considered by many to be a fake. Fueling this speculation is the owner’s refusal to let scientists analyze the discovery, claiming it embodies an ancient curse.
—THE INQUISITOR STAR
MILLIONAIRE BUYS DRAC’S HEAD! Eccentric recluse Mortimer Moorecook of Durango, Colorado, has apparently purchased the so-called “Dracula skull” for an undisclosed sum, from the Transylvanian farmer who unearthed it a week ago. It isn’t known what Moorecook, who made his fortune on Wall Street during the late 80s, plans to do with the skull, though many are hoping it will be turned over to scientists for study. Moorecook, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, couldn’t be reached for comment.
—THE DRUDGE REPORT
MORTIMER Moorecook opened the massive oak door of his hilltop mansion just as the FedEx deliveryman was reaching for the doorbell.
“Hi, Mr. Moorecook, I have—”
“You have my package.”
“Yeah. Must be special. Only thing on my truck. Never been called out on a Sunday evening before.”
Mortimer looked at the cardboard box, covered in FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE stickers and some Romanian customs scrawl. His mouth went dry, and his already bowed knees threatened to stop supporting him.
The old man glanced up at the buff FedEx driver, thinking how he’d once been that young and vital. Never could’ve imagined how quickly and completely that sense of immortality deserts you. So much taken for granted.
“Just need you to sign for it so I can keep my job.”
Taking the pen in his trembling grasp, Mortimer scribbled in the window of the electronic tracker. Then the box was in his hands. It barely weighed three pounds, but the magnitude of its contents made his arms shake.
“Shanna! It’s here! It’s here!”
Mortimer limped through the atrium as quickly as his thin, frail legs could manage, breathless by the time he reached the study. He set the box down on the coffee table in front of the hearth and eased back onto the leather couch just as his legs were about to give out.
His hospice nurse—a zaftig, forty-something woman named Jenny—rolled his IV bag into the study and plugged the line into his arm.
“Oh, stop it!” He swatted air in her general direction. “I ought to get a restraining order against you people. Everywhere I go, you’re always stalking me with that thing!”
But even as he spoke, he could feel the morphine-push flooding his system like a good, wet dream.
“Mr. Moorecook, you know what happens if we have any lapses between dosages.”
“Yeah, I might actually feel something.”
“Is writhing around on the ground in unimaginable pain the kind of feeling you want?”
Of course not, he thought. That’s the reason I…
“Mortimer!” Shanna appeared in the doorway of the study. “It’s really here?”
He nodded, eyes twinkling, then turning cold again as he glanced toward Jenny. “Leave us.”
Shanna walked past the nurse and came around the sofa. Mortimer could smell whatever body wash she’d used in the shower that morning as she sat down beside him, her brown curls bouncing off her shoulders like an honest-to-god shampoo commercial. She was thirty-five, had been single when she moved out to Durango at Mortimer’s request, but in the eight weeks she’d been here, she’d met a sheriff’s deputy and inexplicably fallen for him. It remained beyond Mortimer’s comprehension how this gorgeous biological anthropologist had seen anything in that redneck, who, as far as Mortimer could tell, was the epitome of what made the world throw-up in its mouth when it thought of Red State America.
Then again, he was old and dying, and maybe just a little bit jealous.
“Help me up, Shanna.”
With the morphine flowing, it felt like he floated over to his desk.
He opened the middle drawer, glancing out the big windows into the San Juan Mountains beyond a gaping canyon. The peaks were flushed with alpenglow, the snowfields pink as the sun dropped over southwest Colorado.
Lost in thought, Mortimer hitched up his tailored black pants—so loose now he had taken to wearing the gold-buckled belt left to him by his father—and ran his fingers over the Ouroboros insignia sewn into the breast of his red, silk robe. Then he reached into his desk drawer and took out the bottle he’d been waiting years to open, fighting a moment with the wrapper and cork. At last, he splashed a little of the rosewood-colored liquid into two tumblers.
“I’m not really much of a whiskey drinker,” Shanna protested.
Mortimer raised his glass, already catching whiffs of the fierce dried fruits and peat wafting toward him.
“To you, Shanna,” he said. “Thanks for spending these last few weeks with me. I haven’t been this happy since my Wall Street days, raiding companies. I ever tell you—”
They clinked glasses and drank.
“That’s disgusting,” Shanna said, setting her glass down.
Mortimer shook his head.
“What?” she said.
“Nothing, it’s just that this is a fifty-five year Macallan. I paid $17,000 for that bottle many years ago, knowing I wouldn’t crack it until a night like this came along.”
“You paid too much,” she said.
“Some things are worth the price. Shall we?”
They returned to the couch, and Mortimer sat down and dug the Swiss Army knife out of the patch pocket of his linen shirt. It shook in his hands as he opened one of the smaller blades.
“Let me,” Shanna said, reaching for the knife.
He recoiled. “No!”
Mortimer inserted the blade and gently tugged it through the tape. He put the knife away and opened the box, pulling out wads of crumpled, foreign newsprint until he felt the smaller box within the larger. He lifted it out, set it on the glass.
It was some kind of black composite, sealed with a steel hasp on each side. He’d had the box specially made, then sent it to the farmer to ensure safe delivery of the item. Its key hung around his neck on a gold chain.
He unlocked the hasps and flipped them open, gingerly lifting off the top half of the box, bringing it onto his lap as Shanna leaned in. They could only see the back of the skull, the bone deep brown, heavily calcified, full of hairline fractures and several larger cracks, one square-inch piece missing entirely. He worked his fingers down into the hard black foam that had protected the skull on its journey across the ocean, and carefully lifted it out.
Shanna said, “Oh my God.”
Mortimer stared into the hollowed eye sockets, and then the teeth, which more resembled the dental architecture of a shark than a human being.
Not at all what he’d been expecting, and it didn’t match the artist’ conceptions in any of the scandal rags. This wasn’t a skull from an old Christopher Lee Hammer film. This was an affront against nature. Mortimer found it difficult to breathe. But he also registered something else, something he hadn’t felt since his diagnosis.
“May I?” Shanna asked.
Reluctantly, Mortimer handed Shanna the skull. He didn’t like it leaving his grasp, had to remind himself that this was what he’d been paying her so handsomely for.
Shanna examined one of the yellowed teeth.
“Coffee-drinker,” she quipped, and then her eyes narrowed and Mortimer watched as her inner-scientist took over. “They’re at least an inch and a half long, every one of them, even the molars. Huh, weird.”
“These canines are hollowed.”
“What’s the significance?”
“I don’t know. It’s not dissimilar to venomous snakes.” She opened the mandible. “Look at the articulation. That range of motion is unbelievable. The jaw structure is…reptilian. There are literally too many teeth to fit in this mouth. See how they overlap? They would’ve shredded the lips off, most of the cheek, exploded the gums, ripped apart the ligaments in the mandible.”
“What are you saying? It’s fake?”
“It looks real. No doubt. But it’s just anatomically impossible.”
Mortimer leaned closer. “Is it human?”
“Does this look human to you?”
Shanna’s words hung in the air like a crooked painting.
“So…what is it?” Mortimer whispered.
“It’s certainly hominoid. But unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Nothing like this exists in the fossil record. This shouldn’t exist.”
“But it does exist. It must be real.”
“Look, we’ll have it tested. It’s possible the skull is authentic, but the teeth have to have been implanted.”
“Do you know what I paid for this?”
“Just give it back.”
Shanna handed Mortimer the skull and stood up, smoothing out her slacks.
“Mort, I’m really excited for you. Really. And I can’t wait to get started studying this.”
Mortimer’s eyes went wide with surprise. “You’re…going? Now?”
“I want to stay. But I promised Clay. He wants to take me—wait for it—to the Tanner Gun Show in Denver. We’re supposed to hit the road tonight.”
“Jesus Christ. He must have elephantine genitalia.”
“Mortimer!” She gave him a playful bump on the shoulder.
“What? There’s no other explanation. I mean, really? Another gun show?”
Something in her eyes…trouble in paradise? He hoped so.
He held up the skull, cradling it in both palms. “This is the reason you’re here, Shanna. This is what we’ve been waiting for.”
The mandible was still open. The old man grazed one of his liver-spotted fingers across the points of the teeth—razor sharp. He was sure he was only imagining it, but they seemed to send an electrical current through his body.
“Mort? You gonna be all right?”
He looked up at Shanna. Beautiful, youthful, Shanna.
To be young enough again to satisfy a woman like that.
Mortimer smiled. “I hope so.”
Then he pulled the skull into his neck, clamped shut the ancient jaw, and the last thing he felt before losing consciousness were those razor teeth sinking through the paper-thin flesh of his throat.
JENNY, the hospice nurse, had acted quickly and professionally. Within two minutes, she had bandaged the wound and controlled the bleeding, but that was the least of Mort’s problems. Seconds after stabbing himself with those horrid fangs, he’d dropped to the floor in a violent seizure. Shanna had been ordered to stick something between his chattering teeth to prevent him from biting off his own tongue. She’d tried to use a ball point pen, but her benefactor had snapped it in half, blue ink mixing with the white foam that churned between his lips.
“Get something under his head,” Jenny told her, her voice up an octave. Shanna removed her jean jacket—a gift from Clayton—and balled it up for Mort to use as a pillow. Mortimer’s hand shot out, grabbing Shanna’s shirt. She yelped in surprise, pawing at his wrist, trying to free herself, but Mort had a grip like stone.
The warm, acrid smell of urine wafted up as he wet his pants, and the convulsions intensified, his limbs banging against the hardwood floor with enough force to split his skin.
When the seizure refused to abate after two minutes, the nurse scurried off to call an ambulance.
When it passed the five-minute mark, Jenny shot Mort full of sedatives and anticonvulsants. At ten minutes, Jenny was practically crying in despair, Shanna right there with her. They each had their full body weight on Mort, trying to pin his bloody hands and feet, but they could barely keep him down, Mort choking and gagging on his own blood, coughing out bits of his lips and tongue that he’d chewed off.
Twenty-three minutes later, when the ambulance finally arrived, the nurse and Shanna had to assist two burly paramedics to get Mort strapped to a gurney, where they finally jammed a rubber bit between his snapping jaws.
The ride to the hospital was a blur, Shanna physically and emotionally drained. She managed to call Clay, but got his voicemail and had to listen to his outgoing message of Clint Eastwood saying, “Go ahead…make my day. BEEEEP!”
She left a monotone message that Mort had had an accident. She was on her way to Blessed Crucifixion Hospital, and he’d have to pick her up there.
Then she wept.
Arriving in Durango two months ago, Shanna had thought she’d landed her dream job. Being paid—and extremely well—for pure research. While many of her contemporaries loved field work, Shanna got off on studying what others had found. She was an expert on the evolution of primates, and when the so-called “Dracula skull” had been discovered four months ago, she’d regarded it with the same blanket skepticism as the rest of her colleagues.
When Mortimer had hired her to research the Dracula skull, searching for its pedigree, she’d had no idea he’d actually bought the thing. For the past two months, Shanna had been poring over research materials, trying to make a case for a human skull with vampire teeth. Other primates had oversize canines, but within the Homo genus, from australopithecine to modern humans, evolution had reduced tooth size with every subsequent speciation. She’d followed various fossil trails, even the barest and flimsiest of leads, but kept coming back to that same conclusion.
Mort had taken her failures in stride, encouraging Shanna to follow historical and genealogical lines, even though that wasn’t her expertise. Between bouts of sitting with Mort and enduring his endless stories, she had managed to find a few more leads. The latest and most promising dated back to the Middle Ages—the Wallachian Order of the Dragon and its founder, Oswald von Wolkenstein. Supposedly, Oswald had a son with severe birth defects, which might have included dental deformities. There was scant historical evidence to support that rumor, but when combined with some other facts about the era…
Mort jerked against his restraints, making the cart rattle. The paramedics had pumped enough drugs into him to kill an elephant, but the convulsions hadn’t abated. Shanna wiped away another tear, wondering if she should have seen this coming.
How could he have done something so ghastly? Senile dementia? Reduced mental capacity because of the morphine? Or had the old man planned to bite himself all along?
The whine of the ambulance siren faded as the vehicle shuddered to a stop. An intern opened the rear doors and slid out the gurney with one of the paramedics. Jenny, Shanna, and the remaining paramedic stayed behind.
Jenny touched Shanna’s hand. “You okay?” she asked.
Shanna nodded, regarding the older, shapely nurse.
“I’ve been doing this for a decade,” Jenny said. “Never saw anything like that before. You did good.”
Shanna took little comfort in her words, but she managed a weak smile. “Did I have a choice?”
“You could’ve fallen apart.” Jenny looked around. “Deputy Dawg coming to pick you up?”
“His name is Clay.”
“No offense. That’s just what my ex used to call him. No love lost between those two, let me tell you.”
“I had no idea.”
“Before your time. Randall would drink too much in town, and I’d wind up bailing him out, seemed like every other week. Think Clay’ll give me a lift back to Mort’s? I need my car.”
“I’m sure he will.”
And then what? Shanna wondered. She’d been planning to break it off with Clay tonight. He was a good guy and they connected—really connected—on a visceral level. But once the heady rush of novelty waned, reality had set in. The more time they spent outside the bedroom, the more she realized how little they had in common.
But she felt so drained right now. She didn’t know if she had the energy to tell him. Or was she just making an excuse?
Maybe. Because Clayton Theel was one of the good guys, and she knew he genuinely cared for her. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him. But their heads were in such different places. The gun thing, for instance. Guns frightened the hell out of her. But Clay loved them—lived for them. If he wasn’t shooting one, he was modifying one or inventing one. She could not take another gun show, and she might claw her own eyes out if she had to watch Dirty Harry or Unforgiven again.
“Son of a bitch.”
Both women turned to the paramedic, who was squinting at his finger.
“What’s wrong?” Jenny asked.
“I think the old bastard bit me.”
JENNY Bolton entered the ER through the automatic doors four steps behind the paramedics pushing Mortimer’s gurney. Though Jenny knew she was tough, she hadn’t yet steeled herself to Mortimer’s eventual demise. Being a hospice nurse meant losing patients—it was how the story ended every time. Much as she tried not to get attached—and then have to deal with the inevitable depression when they passed—Jenny wound up admiring, and even liking, most of the terminal people she cared for.
Seeing Mort so near death, weeks before his diagnosed time, brought a lump to her throat. This lump was made even bigger by her uncomfortable surroundings.
Once upon a time, Jenny had worked in this facility, in this emergency room. She’d loved the job, and since Blessed Crucifixion was the only hospital within sixty miles, it had been her sole option for being a fulltime caregiver.
But last year she’d gotten into a disagreement with one of the holier-than-thou physicians on staff, and his lies and bullshit had led to her dismissal.
God, she hoped that prick Dr. Lanz wasn’t working tonight.
“Dr. Lanz! Code blue!” the intercom blared.
Jenny kept her head down as the six-foot, broad-shouldered Kurt Lanz, M.D. paraded past, looking every bit as self-important as the day he’d gotten her fired. She knew he would have her escorted out of the hospital if he spotted her.
While Lanz barked orders at his cringing staff, Jenny slunk over to a nearby house phone.
She reached for the handset, then paused.
Should I call him?
Her ex-husband, Randall, had left no fewer than thirty-eight messages on her cell phone since being admitted two days ago for a job-related injury. Her brain-deficient, former significant other—a lumberjack—had somehow managed to cut the back of his own leg with a chainsaw. She wondered if he’d been drinking on the job. He’d fallen into drinking far too much off the job. Drunk on the job seemed the natural next step. He’d sworn time and again that he was off the sauce, but he’d made many such promises during their marriage, only to relapse.
Aside from the occasional glimpse of his bright red Dodge Ram Hemi driving through town, she hadn’t seen Randall since their divorce was made final two years ago. Jenny hadn’t been responding to his messages, even though they were increasing in frequency and urgency. But now, stuck in the hospital with Randall only two floors above, she might as well bite the bullet.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the automatic doors opened and a clown entered the ER. At first, Jenny assumed it was a candy striper come to entertain the ill. But then she saw he had a child attached—by the mouth—to his left hand. The girl was screaming through clenched teeth, blood dribbling down her chin.
A distressed woman followed the clown and the child, patting the girl’s back, and when she locked eyes on Jenny she said, “There’s a nurse!”
Jenny glanced down at her white uniform. She was about to correct the woman’s assumption with an, “I don’t work here,” but noticed the entire ER staff had surrounded Mortimer, who was coding.
“You have to help my daughter,” the mother demanded.
Jenny looked at the little girl, whose teeth were embedded in the skin of the clown’s left hand.
“Oasis’s braces are stuck,” the woman said.
“Oasis. My precious little girl. This horrible clown ruined her eighth birthday party, and now he’s going to ruin five thousand dollars’ worth of orthodontia.”
Jenny appraised the clown. A very sad clown, despite his painted-on red smile and matching rubber nose. He stood six feet tall, six-six with the green fright wig. His green and red polka dot clown suit bulged at the middle—a pot belly, not a pillow—and his size twenty-eight shoes squeaked like a chew toy when he walked. A large, metal button, opposite the fake flower on his lapel, read “Benny the Clown Says ‘Let’s Have Fun!’ “
In a low, shaky voice barely above a whisper, Benny the Clown said, “Please help me.”
Jenny fought to conceal her smirk. “What happened?”
“This terrible clown squirted my little girl and she defended herself. Now she’s stuck on his filthy clown hand.”
The little girl said something that came out like, “Mmmmhhhggggggggg.”
“I was making the birthday princess a balloon poodle,” Benny the Clown said, “and she reached up and squeezed my nose. That activated the flower.” Benny the Clown pressed his rubber proboscis and turned his head. A stream of water shot out of the center of the flower, sprinkling onto the tiled floor. “When the birthday princess got squirted, she locked her precious little birthday chompers onto my hand.” Benny the Clown leaned closer to Jenny. “You can’t tell because I have a smile on my face, but I can feel the wire digging into my bone.”
Jenny nodded, trying to appear sympathetic. “I wish I could help, but I don’t work at this hospital. I’m just here with one of my hospice patients.” She pointed toward the gurney where doctors and nurses swarmed around Mortimer. “You’ll have to check in at the front desk.”
Even with the painted-on grin, Benny the Clown looked suicidal.
Jenny hated to turn away any patient in need, but she could be sued for administering care in a facility she’d been fired from. She watched them trudge off, then turned her attention back to the phone.
Just do it. Get it over with.
Jenny picked up the receiver and dialed Room 318. She knew it was 318, because every one of the thirty-eight messages she’d received from Randall had begun with, “Hi, Jen, it’s Randall, I’m in Room Three-One-Eight.”
Before the first ring ended, Randall was on the line. “Jen, is that you?”
The last thing she expected—or wanted—to feel was comfort at the sound of his voice, especially with all the chaos going on around her. But it was so familiar, like they’d just spoken yesterday. The comfort died in a surge of anger at the memory of all the heartache his drinking had put her through.
“Hello, Randall. How are—?”
“You coming to visit?” Randall interrupted. “I’m in room Three-One-Eight.”
Jenny sighed. She watched Dr. Lanz charge the defib paddles. “Yeah, I know. You said it on every message you left for me.”
“You listened to them? All of them?”
“All thirty-eight, Randall.”
“Thirty-eight? It couldn’t have been anywhere near that many. But I wasn’t sure you were getting them. You been having a problem with your phone?”
Yeah, you keep calling me. “I’ve just been busy. So how are you doing?”
“Dry ninety-seven days now. I don’t even want to drink anymore, I swear. I’m a changed man, Jenny.”
So he’d said in all thirty-eight messages. She was impressed if it was true, but he’d done a lot of lying in his drinking days. And even if it were true—too little, too late.
“I meant your injury, Randall.”
“Oh.” His voice suddenly lost the excited, almost child-like tone. “I got seventy-seven stitches. Everyone thinks it’s real ironical that I cut the back of my leg.”
“You mean ironic, Randall,” Jenny corrected. She’d been the one to teach him the meaning of the word, but he had yet to get the pronunciation right.
Winslow—a wisp of a woman who became head nurse when Jenny was fired—squirted conductive gel onto Mortimer’s bare, hairless chest. Jenny’s patient was convulsing—v-fib or v-tach. Even from across the room, she could see that Mort’s eyes had rolled up into his skull, the whites protruding like two eggs. Flecks of foam and blood still sprayed from her patient’s mouth, dotting Dr. Lanz’s face and his pristine, white lab coat. Lanz’s expression twisted in disgust as he wiped his sleeve across his lips, and the fastidious, meticulous doctor actually spat over his shoulder.
Should have put on your face mask, Dr. Jack Ass.
Jenny spotted Shanna, looking a little green, scurrying through the doors into the main hospital. Everyone in the ER looked on as Lanz applied the paddles, even Benny the Clown, Oasis, and her mother.
“Jenny? You there? Hello?”
Jenny only turned her eyes away for a second, trying to gather herself, not ready to see Mortimer die. Rude and self-important as he was, she’d found things about the old man to admire, and even like. She also wondered when she would work again. This was a small town, and hospice nurses weren’t in constant demand.
Full of shame at the selfish thought, she forced herself to look back, to say a final, silent goodbye.
She was shocked to see Mortimer—standing—on top of the gurney, restraints broken off and dangling from his ankles and wrists, his mouth wide and—
Is he hissing?
The sound came from deep in Mortimer’s throat, less like a threatened cat, more like a tea kettle coming to boil. It kept rising in pitch until it became a shrill whistle, the noise unlike anything Jenny had ever heard.
It was inhuman.
“Jenny? What’s wrong?” Randall said.
“Oh my God.”
“What? What, Jen?”
Mortimer’s teeth. Something was happening to them. They were falling out—no—he was spitting them out, spitting them at Lanz and the nurses who were frantically trying to coax him off the gurney.
“Randall, I have to go. There’s something happening in the ER.”
“You’re here in the—?”
She hung up the phone and started toward Mortimer. No doubt Randall would be trying to call her back on her cell, but she had the ringer turned off—the hospital took its no cell phone rule seriously.
Mortimer abruptly stopped hissing, and Jenny could hear Dr. Lanz ordering him down off the gurney.
Stiff as a plank, Mortimer fell face-first onto the floor.
Jenny rushed to him. She didn’t care anymore about hospital protocol, or Lanz having her thrown out. Mortimer needs me. Jenny had never seen anything like this in twenty-five years of health care.
She pushed her way through the nurses surrounding Mortimer and knelt at his prone body.
“Jenny Bolton? What the hell are you doing in my hospital?” Dr. Lanz demanded.
“This is my hospice patient,” she said, touching Mortimer’s neck and seeking out the pulse of his carotid. To her surprise, she didn’t have to press hard. His entire neck was vibrating, his artery jolting beneath her fingers like a heavy metal drum solo. The only thing she could compare this to was a crystal meth OD, the heartbeat raging out of control.
Jenny patted the old man’s back, checking to see if he was conscious.
“Mortimer, can you hear me? It’s Jenny. I’m right here. We’re gonna help—”
“I’m going to help him. Somebody get security.”
She felt Dr. Lanz’s hands grip her shoulders, dragging her away from Mortimer just as her patient grabbed her hip.
Jenny felt instant pain, and not only from the pressure of Mortimer’s grip. Something sharp was digging into her skin through her uniform.
That can’t be Mortimer’s hand.
It was more like a claw. A bloody, ragged claw. Jenny stared, mouth agape. Mortimer’s finger bones—the phalanges—were extending out through his fingertips, splitting the skin and coming to five sharp points.
The old man hissed again, a high-pitched keen, and when he turned his head to look at Jenny, calm, stoic Nurse Winslow shouted, “Sweet Jesus Christ!”
Mortimer’s cheeks exploded like a grenade had gone off inside his mouth, white points bursting through his lips, shearing flesh, digging rents into his face.
Oh my God. Fangs.
He’s growing fangs.
His new teeth began to elongate—an inch, two inches, bursting through his bleeding gums in rows that ended in wicked, dagger-like tips. They shredded Mortimer’s face into jagged strips, and he began to snap his jaws, chewing through the inside of his mouth, grinding off his cheeks all the way back to his earlobes, making room for his monstrous new dentata.
Then Mortimer’s lower jaw unhinged, thrusting forward and hanging open like some perversion of an angler fish. He stared at Jenny, his eyes wide, pupils dilating beyond anything human, spreading until they eclipsed the whites.
For the first time in her life, Jenny screamed a scream of abject, primordial terror.
She jerked back, trying to pull away from Mortimer’s grip, but his sharp, bony fingers had embedded themselves into the meat of her hip. She watched her skin stretch through the holes in her clothing—stretch, but not tear—and realized that the bones protruding from Mortimer’s finger tips were barbed like fish hooks.
Then he jerked his hand back, taking Jenny with it, knocking her onto her butt, her face inches from his snapping jaws.
Mortimer rolled on top of her, like a lover, blood and saliva dripping onto Jenny’s face and neck. She reached up to push him away, but as terror-stricken as she was, Jenny couldn’t bring herself to touch him. It was like willingly sticking your hand into a box of angry rattlesnakes. Even as his jaws drew near, Jenny’s revulsion wouldn’t allow her to fight back. She stretched out her hand—her face imploring—to Dr. Lanz, who stood within reach. But he shrank away from her beckoning fingers, retreating into the safety of the nurse’s station.
This is it, Jenny thought. I’m going to die.
“Get the fuck away from my wife!”
Jenny turned, watching her bear of an ex-husband limping toward her, his hospital gown flapping from the speed of his approach.
He raised something large and red over his head.
Mortimer’s misshapen head jerked up as Randall swung the fire extinguisher, connecting with the jagged nest of teeth. A clang resonated over the screams of the onlookers, and Mortimer flew back, his terrible claw disengaging from Jenny’s hip, several of his fangs breaking free and tinkling like icicles on the tile.
Jenny found herself being dragged across the floor, Randall’s hard, calloused hands under her armpits, pulling her to the water cooler.
“You okay, babe?”
She started to respond, but then saw Mortimer, or whatever he had become, rising to his feet. His head swiveled on his shoulders one hundred eighty degrees, taking a quick, predatory scan of the emergency room.
His eyes locked onto Oasis and Benny the Clown as they retreated through the opening automatic doors.
Mortimer crouched, then leapt after them, soaring three meters into the breezeway.
As the doors slid closed, Jenny heard the most God-awful screaming and Benny the Clown shouting, “No! I’m getting bitten! Again!”
His shoes were frantically squeaking and blood sprayed the automatic glass doors, which opened and closed over and over.
As Mortimer feasted on Benny the Clown’s neck, little Oasis desperately pulled on Benny the Clown’s arm, trying to disengage her braces, shaking her head like a rabid dog while her mother tugged on her waist. Suddenly the child broke free, falling backward onto her screaming parent.
Mortimer’s eyes zeroed in on the movement, and his head jerked up, blood draining out of his mouth and down the front of his shirt like a sieve.
He dropped Benny the Clown and hissed.
Oasis’s mother was trembling. “Please,” she begged. “It’s her birthday.”
Mortimer attacked Oasis, savagely biting her arm, and tossing her back into the ER.
Then he burrowed his ravenous jaws into her mother’s stomach, tearing into intestines, pulling out her glistening liver and snacking on it like a slice of watermelon.
Randall stood in front of Jenny. “What is that goddamn thing? A fucking dracula?”
Mortimer abandoned Oasis’s mother and moved back into the ER, lured by two large men in softball uniforms, one with a black eye—probably a casualty of playing the game while drinking beer. They’d been screaming at Mortimer to leave the woman alone, and now the monster had obliged them. Apparently realizing their mistake, they turned and ran through the ER, pushing through a pair of double doors and disappearing into the bowels of the hospital.
Mortimer pursued, bounding after them on all fours, his body stretching out like a cheetah.
Then the ER stood silent except for the groans of the dying and the injured.
Jenny turned to ask Randall something, but he was already moving away from her, limping toward the automatic doors.
She grabbed his arm. “No, Randall,” she pleaded. “Please. Stay with me.”
“I’m just going out to my truck,” he said.
“I need my chainsaw.”
He pulled his arm free, starting toward the doors again.
“For what?” Jenny called after him.
“I’m gonna cut that son of a bitch in half.”
KURT Lanz, MD, rose from where he’d crouched behind the nurse’s station.
What…what had just happened?
He surveyed the carnage of the ER—his ER—trying to comprehend what he’d witnessed, but his mind kept balking. All he saw was the blood. God, you so quickly got used to blood in an ER, but this…the sheer quantity. It had sprayed everywhere, Pollacking the walls and soaking the privacy curtains and sluicing down to join the pools—pools—on the floor.
And that thing…it had come in as Mortimer Moorecook in cardiac arrest, as good as dead until he’d applied the paddles. No, not as good as dead—way dead. But he couldn’t bill for a resuscitation without at least one defib jolt, so he’d hit him with 300 joules and the guy had come off the table like some wild—
The screams reached him then, and a woman’s voice, close by, shouting, “Kurt! Kurt!”
He looked and saw skinny little Janine Winslow at his shoulder, nurse’s uniform splattered with red, eyes bulging, skin chalky, chattering away at ninety miles an hour.
“That’s Doctor Lanz, Winslow.”
Hell, he didn’t even think of himself as “Kurt.” He wasn’t about to let this mosquito of a woman do it, even if she had given him head a couple of times when he first arrived. Proper respect was integral to proper functioning.
Not that you could expect proper anything at Blessed fucking Crucifixion Hospital. How the hell had he wound up here?
Nobody with decent chops wanted to practice out here in the middle of nowhere. So hick hospitals like Blessed Crucifixion put a lot on the table—nearly twice what big metro hospitals offered. Lanz had owed six figures worth of education loans coming out of training. This was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
He knew what the hospital was thinking: Get the sucker out here, seduce him with our country charm, let him put down a few roots, and he’s ours for life.
No fucking way. He’d suffer in silence and sock away for a few years, then get the hell out of debt and the fuck out of town. To tell the God’s honest truth, Blessed Crucifixion was lucky to have him. He was way over-trained for a hick community ER. Like hiring Picasso to teach a ladies’ auxiliary art class.
Winslow kept going. “Oh my god! Oh, my god! What do we do? This is awful! I’ve never seen—”
He grabbed her bony shoulder and shook her. “You shut up and get a grip, that’s what you do!”
That seemed to break through and she quieted. Good. Now…time for him to get a grip. He looked around again, focusing.
The good news was that the thing that had been Moorecook was gone; the bad news was that it had escaped into the hospital instead of the parking lot. But at least it was out of here.
An inpatient—a big guy in a hospital gown—was limping out the exit. Smart fellow. If Moorecook came back, Lanz would be right on his heels.
The little girl was kneeling on the floor by her mother and screaming. With good reason: Not only had her left arm sustained a deep gash, but her mom lay flat on her back with her intestines spread over her torn abdomen like a wormy apron. She stared blindly at the ceiling as one leg gave a weak kick or two.
The clown lay unmoving in a huge pool of red.
The EMT who’d brought in Moorecook stood behind Winslow. A new LPN and two orderlies—Ralph and Benjamin—stood behind him. All awaiting instructions. That insubordinate bitch-nurse Jenny Bolton stood back, looking horrified. He’d deal with her later.
Okay. This was his ship and he was captain. He pointed to the orderlies, then to the mom and the clown.
“Get gurneys ready to move those two to the morgue.”
“But they ain’t been pronounced,” one said. Ralph? Benjamin? He never could tell them apart.
“They will be in a minute.” To the LPN: “Get the little girl’s wound cleaned up and ready for suturing.” To the EMT: “Help her.”
“Hey, I don’t work here.”
“Then get lost.”
The EMT held up a finger, showing a puncture that had already stopped bleeding. “But the old guy bit me. I need a tetanus. And penicillin. And hepatitis. And rabies. Did you see that goddamn guy? Fucking give me every shot you got!”
“You’ve got a forty-eight-hour window to get boosters. Make yourself useful or get lost.” He turned to Winslow. “Call security and get everyone down here, then call the sheriff. I need to speak to him.”
He wanted armed guards here in case Moorecook returned. He’d have them kick Jenny Bolton out too.
He stalked over to the clown. Glazing eyes stared out of his white-face makeup. His throat was a gaping, red ruin. His costume was soaked but Lanz could still read Benny the Clown Says “Let’s Have Fun!” on the big button.
Not a lot of fun going on here.
He closed Benny’s eyes and motioned to the orderly. “To the cooler.”
He heard the little girl start to scream and saw the EMT and the LPN dragging her to the treatment room. Her kicks and screams grew more frantic the farther she was moved away from her mother.
Sorry, kid, but that wound needs closing.
He looked down at the mother: as dead as Benny.
He still wore the latex gloves he’d donned at the start of Moorecook’s code blue. Ignoring the fecal smell from the torn intestines, he parted the loops. The abdominal cavity was filled with blood.
“Good lord,” said a woman’s voice. “Did he get the aorta? How could he bite that deep?”
He looked up at Jenny Bolton. “What the hell are you still doing here?”
“My patient is still here.”
“Your patient is a goddamn monster.”
“What happened to him?”
“You tell me.”
“I have no idea.”
“Then you’re of no use to me. You’re a GOOMER.”
Even though the acronym referred to annoying, unwanted patients—Get Out Of My Emergency Room—he figured she’d catch his meaning.
“I’m waiting for my husband—ex-husband.”
“Then wait outside. I—”
The doors flew back and Lanz almost screamed, fearing Moorecook’s return. But he managed to bite it back when he saw the two fat softball players stagger into the ER. Both were blood soaked. The bearded one was limping as he half-carried the younger blond guy.
“Oh, God!” Jenny said.
Then Lanz saw why: The blond guy’s left arm was missing at the elbow. He was squeezing the stump, trying to stanch the hemorrhage.
“He bit his arm off, doc!” the bearded one said. “That animal bit his fucking arm off! And he bit me in the ass!”
As the pair struggled past, Lanz saw that the man’s ample right buttock was missing a sizable chunk—mostly fat, but a little of the gluteus was exposed.
Lanz looked around to find Bolton staring at him. “Still want me to wait outside?”
He was about to tell her exactly what she could do when Winslow called from the nurse’s station.
“Doctor Lanz! Sheriff’s on the phone!”
If he turned down an offer of skilled help, fired employee or not, and anyone died, some lawyer would have his ass.
Lanz pointed to the ball players. “Take care of that arm.”
He stripped off his bloody gloves and took the phone from Winslow.
“Sheriff, we’ve got one hell of a problem here.”
“Well, doc, I’ve got one hell of a problem myself. Let’s compare. You first.”
Bet you mine is bigger than yours? Was that how they were going to play this? Fine. He’d lay it on with a trowel. Christ, he hated these hicks.
“We’ve suffered what can only be described as a terrorist attack. I’ve got two dead and three wounded, one of whom has lost an arm. The terrorist is still loose in the hospital wreaking God knows what kind of havoc. I need a SWAT team here.”
The sheriff put on an aw-shucks tone. “Now, doc, I’m sure it ain’t that bad, and you know we ain’t got no SWAT team—”
“Then call in the fucking National Guard! This is no joke!”
“Well, even if I did call in the Guard, no way they could get to you. One of Joe Loveland’s cows wandered onto the tracks and got hit by the four-seventeen freight.”
“Who cares whose cow it was! It’s a fucking cow! I’ve got dead and wounded people here, and maybe more on the way!”
“Now hold on. You’re not letting me finish. The collision occurred in such a matter of fashion that the train jumped the tracks and came to a stop flat on its side across the highway.”
The collision occurred in such a matter of fashion…who talked like that?
“Thank the Lord, nobody got hurt, it being a freight train and all, but let me tell you, we’ve got one hell of a mess out here.”
“Just send me some deputies, goddamn it!”
“Well, that’s just it. Dave Howard’s off on vacation to Navajo Lake and Clay Theel’s got the weekend off and he’s on his way to a gun show in Denver. You got security there at BC. I know those boys. They’re good. Turn ’em loose and they’ll keep the lid on till we can get somebody over. Gotta go.”
The line clicked dead.
You got security there…was he kidding? Blessed Crucifixion security was some good old boys who got off on wearing uniforms and carrying guns. They might, just might, have the cojones to eject Jenny Bolton, but they weren’t going to handle the Moorecook thing.
Okay…stabilize these people, get them admitted, then get the hell out of here. First, the softballers.
He turned to Winslow. “What orthopedist and general surgeon are on tap?”
She checked the call list. “Manetti and Schwartz.”
“Get them. Tell Manetti we’ve got a traumatic amputation for him and a major avulsion laceration for Schwartz.”
He walked over to the softballers. Jenny had stabilized the amputee. Bleeding had stopped but the guy was as white as his uniform used to be and looking shocky.
“Want me to start an IV?” she said, nodding to the amputee as she cleaned the butt wound on the other softballer, prone on a gurney.
He wanted her out of here but needed the help.
“D-five in NS. Open it up. Type and cross-match him.” He was going to need a transfusion. “I’ll be sewing up the kid.” He jabbed a finger at her. “Don’t do one goddamn thing without checking with me first. Understood?”
“Loud and clear,” she said with a defiant look. Then it crumbled. “What if Mortimer comes back?”
His worst fear, but he hid it. “We’ll handle it.”
“Oh, like before? Hiding behind the nurse’s station?”
He was about to tear her a new one when three rapid gunshots sounded from somewhere in the hospital. A pause, then two more.
“Oh, God,” Jenny whispered.
And then the doors burst open and two burly security guards backed in, each dragging two bloody bodies.
“What the fuck is going on?” one of the guards screamed, wide eyes showing white all around. “There’s some kind of creature going crazy in the lobby. We walked in and it was behind the snack bar. It ripped Ernie’s head off!”
Sure enough, one of the corpses had been decapitated.
The other guard said, “I shot that fucker five times—I know I had at least three killshots—but they hardly even slowed him!”
Lanz felt his knees go rubbery. He tried to speak but words wouldn’t come.
“We’ve got to evacuate.” Jenny said.
He glared at her as he found his tongue. “Evacuate where? We’re in the American equivalent of Outer Mon-fucking-golia. Plus the highway’s blocked. What do I do? March or carry a hundred and fifty patients out into the woods?”
That shut her up—almost.
“Okay, then. If the patients can’t leave, neither am I. When my ex comes back, we’re going up to pediatrics and make sure nothing happens to those kids.”
“Like hell you—”
And then he saw one of the guards start back into the hospital.
“Where are you going?”
“To get Ernie’s head. I ain’t leaving his head out there!”
Lanz wanted to scream not to leave him and that Ernie didn’t care about the location of his goddamn head at this point, but bit it back. He was the captain of this ship and he had to hold it together, despite the fact that this corner of the world had gone insane.
SHANNA turned away as she saw the prissy doctor poised over Mortimer’s exposed chest, smearing a clear gel on the defibrillator paddles. She’d spent the last two months studying some of history’s worst atrocities. In fact she’d often perused accounts of mass impalings while eating lunch—no problem.
But this? Uh-uh.
She headed into the hospital proper. She’d been here once before, when they’d thought Mortimer had OD’d, and remembered a snack bar in the lobby. A cup of coffee would hit the spot, especially after that Scotch. She wasn’t used to hard liquor.
The short middle-age man with “Ernie” embroidered into his shirt hung by the coffee kiosk at the end of the snack bar.
“Latté?” he said as she approached.
“Just a regular coffee, please. Black.”
She glanced around the nearly deserted lobby. By this time the day’s surgeries were done, the second shift was ensconced, the doctors had left for their offices, the kitchen was readying to serve dinner, the day visitors were gone and the night visitors weren’t home from work yet.
Quiet. Like a morgue.
She grimaced. Probably not the best analogy for a hospital.
She paid Ernie for the coffee and pulled out her cell. She had to call Clay to make sure he’d received the message that she and Jenny needed a ride back to Mortimer’s for their cars.
And then what?
Clay was expecting her to spend the weekend with him in Denver. She didn’t see how she could do that without losing her mind. Another gun show. When not at the show, however…her pelvis tingled with warmth that coursed up through her abdomen and settled in her nipples. The non-show activities would almost be worth it.
The sex…she’d miss the sex. They were so good in bed. But the parade of gun shows and all the machismo…she’d had her fill. She had to call a halt.
She checked her phone’s display: no bars. Then she saw the sign: No Cell Phones!
Did they really need that exclamation point?
She glanced back along the lengthy hallway to the ER, then toward the lobby entrance. That looked closer. She pushed through the heavy glass doors to the outside, found a bench, and sat. She tried a sip of her coffee and winced as bitterness stabbed her tongue. Yuck. When had this been made? This morning?
She’d have to have a word with Ernie. But right now…
She stared at the cell display. Still no bars. But tucked in the corner of the room was a pay phone.
And say what? How could she tell that big cuddly guy that it wasn’t working? That she needed more than the best sex she’d ever had in her life. She needed a life of the mind as well. He was extremely bright, but his focus was so narrow. Guns and action films and his job—he loved being a deputy sheriff, so much that a lot of other stuff in his life was pushed to the side.
She knew what would happen when she told him. He’d promise to change. Spend less time at work. Take her ballroom dancing.
At least she assumed that would happen. This was all new to her. What if he just said, “Okay. See you around.”
She almost wished he would. It would shake her to know she’d been that wrong about him, but at least she wouldn’t be hurting his feelings.
God, I’m such a coward.
Do it, Shanna.
She found some change in the bottom of her purse and plunked it into the payphone. Four rings and then his voicemail came on. Oh, no. She gritted her teeth and listened once again as Clint Eastwood said, “Go ahead…make my day. BEEEEP!”
She definitely had to break this off.
“Clay, it’s Shanna. Don’t know if you got my last message but Jenny Bolton and I had to rush Mortimer to the hospital. Our cars are still at his place. Could you swing by the hospital and give us a lift back?” She bit her lip. “And Clay…about this weekend…” No. She couldn’t. She owed him a face-to-face explanation. “Talk to you later.”
She hung up the receiver and thought about that. Face-to-face. How could she look into Clay’s warm brown eyes and tell him it was over?
A woman came out of the lobby and lit up a cigarette. The smoke drifted Shanna’s way. She thought about asking her to move downwind but decided to move herself instead. Shanna dumped her coffee and returned to the lobby. Ernie smiled at her as she passed. She wanted to tell him to brew some fresh coffee but decided against it. She wasn’t looking for conversation. She needed a quiet place to think, to rehearse what she was going to say to Clay.
She checked the time. She’d give the ER staff another ten minutes to deal with Mortimer, then she’d return. Poor guy. Such a kind man. He’d been so good to her. Why on Earth had he jabbed himself with those fangs?
As she passed the elevator she saw a plaque: CHAPEL 2ND FLOOR.
Not a bad idea. She wasn’t religious, but it would be quiet and no one would be smoking.
She hit the UP button and a pair of doors slid open immediately. She rode one stop and was stepping out onto the second floor when three sharp reports echoed faintly through the elevator shaft from somewhere in the hospital. She froze. They seemed to come from below. They almost sounded like…
The elevator doors pincered against her and retreated. Puzzled and curious, she stepped back into the cab and punched the LOBBY button. On the way down she heard two more reports, much closer now, and immediately wished she’d stayed on the second floor. Because she knew that sound—knew it all too well from all the shows she’d been to where dealers and collectors demonstrated their wares.
Somebody was shooting up the lobby.
Her heart began to thud as she hammered her palm against the button bank, pushing them all, any floor, she didn’t care, just not the lobby. Wasn’t there a way to stop these things? No sooner had the thought cleared than she saw the red STOP button. But as she reached for it the doors slid open.
Ernie looked up at her from the floor just outside the doors.
No, not Ernie. Just his head.
She screamed and began banging on the floor buttons again. She caught a flash of movement beyond Ernie’s head. Someone racing for the elevator.
No—something. It was shaped like a man and dressed like a man, though its shirt was in tatters. But there the resemblance stopped. Splattered head to toe with blood and its face…a horror of bloody jutting fangs and black eyes.
And it was charging her!
Shanna screamed again. As the elevator doors began to slide toward each other, she pressed her palms against them and tried to speed their progress. Through the narrowing opening she saw the fanged monster with its arms extended, its taloned hands scoring the air as it raced toward her.
The doors…just a few more inches…an inch…
Steel met steel just as a heavy weight slammed against the other side. The cab began to rise.
Shanna sobbed with relief and slumped to the floor.
That thing…its wild, insane teeth resembled the skull Mortimer received earlier…the teeth that had pierced Mortimer’s throat.
And despite all the blood, Shanna had recognized the gold belt buckle on its pants.
She sobbed again, this time in disbelief.
“HER name’s Oasis,” the new LPN said from the head of the gurney.
Her nametag read Rodriguez and she was all dark eyes and mocha skin and black hair. Not bad looking if you went for the Hispanic thing. Lanz preferred blondes.
He shook his head. Oasis…was that who her mother was listening to when she conceived her? He brushed the question away and tried to focus on the girl’s arm.
Not an easy thing. But at least the ER was secured. The guard had returned Ernie’s head to his body, Winslow was escorting the orderlies and the four new corpses down to the cooler, and two gun-toting uniforms were ready for trouble.
Okay. Now to Oasis. The kid was sedated with a little diazepam but strapped down anyway. She had five tears in her forearm where she’d been bitten. The EMT stood by to help restrain her if she started struggling.
Lanz held out his hand. “Lido.”
Rodriguez placed a syringe of local anesthetic on his palm. He was about to begin injecting when the EMT backed away.
Lanz glanced up at him. He wore a strange look.
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of needles.”
“No, man.” His voice was slurred. “I stick ’em in people alla time. I just feel like shit alla sudden.”
He rubbed a hand across his face and Lanz noticed that one of his fingers was red and swollen to twice its size. Hadn’t he said he’d been bitten by Moorecook? Cellulitis already?
“Sit down before you fall down.”
Christ, was the EMT going to wind up a patient too? What else could go wrong?
He turned back to the kid. She began squirming as he injected the local—burned like hell for a few seconds going in, then the area went numb. He heard a hiss off to his right and glanced over to where the EMT slumped in a chair with his head lolling back. His mouth hung open and he was breathing funny.
Lanz had heard that sound before…just a little while ago—
Suddenly the EMT choked and bent forward. He hacked and spit. Not mucous.
He looked up at Lanz, his eyes tortured…and red. “Doc, I feel like sh—aaagh”
A claw exploded from his infected fingertip, and then his other fingers followed.
Just like with Moorecook.
And then huge fangs extruded from his jaws, ripping through his cheeks and lips.
Just like Moorecook.
Oh, Christ, was it contagious?
Another hiss, closer. He looked down at the girl. Her red-rimmed ebony eyes were wide open, and she was spitting teeth, but rows at a time, the braces linking them like bloody little fence posts.
Lanz backed away. Both bitten, both changing. It was contagious.
Oasis ripped her clawed hands free of the restraints as fangs ripped through her face. The EMT was up now, approaching the gurney as Oasis sat up. Both had their eyes fixed on Lanz and Rodriguez. The LPN was backing away too. She bumped into Lanz. Instinctively he grabbed her and shoved her toward the gurney. She screamed horribly when the claws pulled her forward and fangs tore her flesh. As blood sprayed, Lanz turned and ran.
Out of the treatment room, into the ER proper. Ignore the terrified, questioning faces. Find a place to hide. A door—SUPPLIES. The handle won’t turn. Locked. Of course. But he has a key. He fumbles it free, unlocks the steel door, ducks inside, closes and locks it behind him.
Safe! OhgoodChrist, safe!
Lanz slumped to the floor and leaned with his back against some shelving. Gradually he controlled his breathing, felt his heart slow.
He got a grip. He had control.
Okay. Assess the problem.
Some sort of contagious agent—viral, chemical, whatever—had invaded the hospital. Moorecook seemed to be patient zero, at least in Blessed Crucifixion. The two who’d changed had been bitten by him, which was a good indicator it was blood or saliva borne.
He quickly checked himself for cuts or scratches. None. Good. He was infection free. He had a steel door between him and the contaminated. He—
Something in his mouth. He spit it out.
AS Randall marched down the corridor, it occurred to him that limping out to his truck to retrieve a chainsaw in order to cut up a feral beast that gobbled intestines was exactly the kind of “acting without thinking” behavior that had caused so many problems in his marriage. Well, that and the drinking.
He was in no shape to be walking around like this—he was, after all, hospitalized with a severe leg injury. He didn’t actually need his chainsaw—it was a hospital, so they probably had giant bone saws or other tools for dismemberment that were closer than the parking lot. Not to mention that by the time he actually limped out there, got his chainsaw, and limped all the way back, somebody else probably would have already dealt with the dracula creature issue. And hospital security was probably not inclined to let a gown-wearing, stitched-up lumberjack enter the facility with a chainsaw, even in a time of crisis.
But when Randall got set on an idea, he saw it through. No matter what. He wasn’t going to turn around and sheepishly say, “Ummmm, changed my mind.” Jenny had little enough respect for him as it was. Whatever respect he’d earned before their marriage he’d pissed away during it. He’d let the booze turn him into someone he’d never choose to be, someone he never wanted to be again.
But when Randall Bolton started something, he finished it, whether it was building a treehouse for the son that he hoped to have someday or sitting through an entire wedding for somebody he didn’t know because he’d gone to the wrong church.
And if he did manage to protect his ex-wife with his chainsaw, maybe he’d regain some of his dignity. He loved his chainsaw. Loved being a lumberjack, even if other people liked to sing that cross-dressing song by those British assholes. Loved the sound of falling trees smashing to the ground. Loved the outdoors. Even loved the word “lumberjack,” despite the fact that a couple of his buddies insisted on being called “arborists.”
But the day before yesterday, he’d been humiliated. Oh, sure, he could see where it would be funny to the other lumberjacks—he would’ve been laughing his ass off if it happened to somebody else—but his face burned red just thinking about it. He knew people thought he’d fallen off the wagon, but he hadn’t touched a drop in almost a hundred days. And you know, it used to be a struggle—that whole one-day-at-a-time thing—but now it felt good to be sober.
The accident wasn’t his fault. Really. He hadn’t done anything stupid or careless. He’d been happily chainsawing away, and as the tree started to wobble a squirrel was dislodged from the branches, landing on his hard hat and then scampering down his back. He hadn’t shrieked like a girl or anything, but anybody would yelp if a goddamn squirrel dropped on their head from thirty feet. Randall flinched, twisted around, and his chainsaw blade hit the back of his leg.
He couldn’t hear his buddies laughing over the chainsaw motor, but oh, they were in hysterics. Blood was gushing from his shredded flesh and they were having themselves a great big ol’ guffaw. Again, he would’ve laughed too…but still, fuck those guys.
He refused to let them drive him to the hospital. He’d drive there his goddamn self. He only needed one good leg to drive, so those giggling bastards could burn in hell for all he cared.
Of course, he’d started to get dizzy as he drove, and realized that because of his stubbornness he was bleeding all over his own truck instead of somebody else’s. But he didn’t pull over. He drove all the way to the hospital (while Jack and Frank drove behind him, presumably to make sure he didn’t pass out at the wheel) and checked himself in.
Randall desperately wanted to make peace with his chainsaw.
Putting it through the head of a dracula would do just fine.
He picked up his pace as he walked out of that big room where they made you wait. A nurse covered in blood was having a panic attack while a doctor shook her. Randall didn’t like seeing that kind of shit—you didn’t put your hand on a woman like that even if she was freaking out—but he had to focus. Ignore the chaos. Think only of Jenny and his chainsaw.
He exited the hospital, half-expecting somebody to say “Hey! That gown is hospital property!” He’d grabbed his shoes on his way out of his room and put them on during the elevator ride down, but hadn’t taken the time to grab his pants. He wished he had them. His chainsaw-the-monster redemption would be a lot better if his ass wasn’t hanging out.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t parked close. By the time he’d driven to the hospital, woozy from blood loss, he’d misjudged the distance to the building by over a hundred yards. He had a vague recollection of Jack and Frank helping him get into the ER, but couldn’t for the life of him remember where he’d left his Dodge. The lot was full, and apparently every other driver in the county owned a red pick-up. He weaved through the rows, wishing he had one of those little clicky-things he could press to make his horn honk.
When he finally caught sight of his Dodge, he picked up the pace even more, but that seemed to pull at his stitches and he slowed his pace again to something that wouldn’t rip his leg back open.
It never occurred to him to just get in the truck and drive away. It occurred to him that maybe he should think about that, but no way in hell was Randall going to abandon Jenny. He had more flaws than he had stitches in his leg, but fear was not one of them. Jenny could be a complete bitch to him—and probably would be—but he’d make sure she got out of there safely.
Of course, you could have done that better by staying with her, instead of limping out here to get a chainsaw…
Fuck you, brain.
Thirty-eight calls. Wow. He’d thought it was more like ten. He could blame about thirty-five of them on the heavy-duty painkillers, but the last three…well, he’d just really wanted to talk to Jenny. He wouldn’t have minded if she laughed about the squirrel. At least he’d hear her laugh. He missed her laugh. They used to laugh a lot, but he’d killed that.
Focus. He needed to focus.
He walked up to his truck. The chainsaw rested there on the seat where he’d left it. (Normally it went in the back, but it hadn’t been a normal day. And would Jack and Frank have brought along their chainsaw if it cut open their leg? Hell no, they wouldn’t have. They could laugh all they wanted, but the proof of his manly nature was right there.)
There was dried blood all over the seat. It was going to cost a fortune to have that cleaned, assuming it could be cleaned. He might have to just rip the seat out and have it replaced. Shit.
He focused again.
Then he cursed as he realized that the truck door was locked. His keys were in his hospital room on the third floor. Son of a bitch.
He let out an angry sigh. No possible way was he returning to that hospital without a chainsaw. Not a chance. He walked to the back of the truck and picked up his metal toolbox. There were plenty of other tools in the back, including a hatchet, but he’d rather have a broken window and his chainsaw. If he were wearing actual pants, he could’ve wedged the hatchet into the waist, but the gown left little opportunity to…
No, wait. He had a utility belt. He quickly lifted his gown and put on the thick belt, which had a nice assortment of tools, then slid the hatchet in there. Cool. He looked absolutely ridiculous, but he had lots of toys now.
He returned to the passenger-side door, turned his head to avoid getting glass chunks in his eyes, and used the toolbox to smash through the window. He unlocked the door, opened it, and grabbed the chainsaw. Yes!
It still had his blood on the blade. He kind of liked that.
He limped back toward the building.
Screams from inside. Lots of them.
What the hell was going on?
He’d seen that Dracula movie when he was a kid, but that slick-haired guy didn’t do anything like this.
Randall walked back inside. The room (it was the Emergency Room, right? Or did they take people to the Emergency Room after they waited in this room?) was absolute chaos. He could barely process it all. People were screaming and panicking and getting ripped apart and eaten. He’d known that things were bad when he left…but he’d only gone to the parking lot for a few minutes!
“Jenny!” he called out.
A small, scrawny teenaged kid in a hospital gown noticed Randall. His chest was covered with red as if he’d just enjoyed a messy Italian meal, but it was blood not sauce, and the blood seemed to be his own, the result of the lower, non-pimply half of his goddamn face being mangled. He had huge, sharp teeth, and it looked like they’d ripped right through the skin.
Okay, maybe Randall was feeling some fear now. That was fine.
The dracula smiled—as well as you can smile when the lower half of your face is a pulpy, bloody mess—and rushed at him.
Randall tugged the cord of the chainsaw. It roared to life.
He raised the tool—now a glorious weapon—in front of him, absolutely loving the feeling.
The chainsaw sputtered and died.
Out of gas.
And then the teenaged dracula was upon him, mouth open wide. Randall screamed with rage and bashed the chainsaw into its face as hard as he could. Randall, who was lumberjack-sized, had a good eighteen inches and a hundred pounds on the little monster, and the impact was severe. Blood sprayed.
A second hit and the creature dropped to the floor.
Randall smashed the chainsaw into its head, over and over, as the dracula kept thrashing and trying to grab him. The chainsaw held together fine—Randall didn’t buy cheap chainsaws—and after a good dozen or so blows the dracula stopped moving.
Randall wiped the gore from his face. He hoped the hospital security cameras had caught that.
There was still chaos everywhere, and people who needed help, but once again Randall had to focus. He stood back up, wincing, and forced himself to get moving again. Though there were probably much better options for bashing draculas to death than his chainsaw and it would just weigh him down, he couldn’t bear to leave it behind.
Time to find Jenny.
He crouched, felt the new power coursing through his system, and then he was soaring through the lobby, everything slow and fast all at once, and he came down on the shoulders of a man behind the snack bar—the smell of his blood so pure and rich—and as the man screamed, he took his head between his claws and twisted and ripped until a geyser of glorious red erupted in two ropes and he drank from the larger of the two like a water fountain. Had tasted nothing better in his seventy-six years, not even the Macallan fifty-five, not the models he’d fucked back when he could still get it up. The taste of it he couldn’t begin to explain, only how it made him feel, each drop running down his throat—sweet warm salty rust. Like he’d never breathed before until this moment and had finally taken his first hit of oxygen, knowing the more he drank the better…
Already the blood flow was ebbing. He had to lick it off the floor now, where it was cooling and congealing, and that beautiful euphoric push had begun to pull away, leaving something black and terrible in its place.
A headache descended, like someone driving an ice pick through his frontal lobe.
Something stung his shoulder. He jumped up onto the snack bar, fire blooming down the corridor, streaking toward the doors to the ER, men screaming at him, the gunshots distant, like he heard them from underwater, and with some of the lights came a brief but violent sting, and he could smell blood, his blood and their blood, still muted under their clothes and skin but it was there, calling to him, and he was moving toward them before he realized what he was doing, the men retreating, yelling, more points of light opening and dying like fireflies.
These men would fight him.
He didn’t want to fight.
He just wanted to drink, and there must be a hundred or more of these blood containers on the floors above him.
Sick. Drugged. Helpless.
He leapt off the snack counter and bounded through the lobby toward the elevators.
RATHER than dwell on why this was happening—which wouldn’t help things make any more sense—Jenny fell back on her training. After applying antiseptic, lidocaine cream, and a compress to the claw wound on her hip (which thankfully wasn’t serious), she administered a cryoprecipitate IV to a softball player with a transradial amputation of the forearm, and put a Celox compression on the stump to control bleeding. Jenny repeated the procedure with his friend who was missing half his ass, and also gave him a shot of synthetic morphine because the guy was screaming so loud it made her ears ring. Once both patients were stabilized, she allowed herself a bit of pride at her efforts.
This was the reason she’d become a nurse. To help save lives.
Focusing on that, she turned her attention to the hallway, remembering how close the pediatric ward was. Jenny Bolton had no idea what Mortimer had become. But if he got to the children…
Screams, from behind her. She spun and stared in disbelief. The ER had become a war zone.
Somehow, Mortimer’s affliction had spread, infecting others. Jenny counted three—no, four—of the fanged creatures, and a fifth in mid-transformation, spitting out teeth as longer ones grew in. Those still human tried to make it to the exit, but the EMT Jenny had ridden here with was blocking the doors, snapping and slashing at anyone who came close.
That a-hole Lanz was nowhere to be seen, but bending over one of the infected, smashing its head in with a chainsaw, was…
Her ex-husband’s neck craned up at the sound of her voice, and he caught Jenny’s eyes and smiled at her, big and stupid.
That’s what Randall was, at his core. Big and stupid. But despite all he’d put her through, seeing him there, alert and sober amid the horror and the chaos, gave Jenny a burst of hope. More than anything, she wanted him to spirit them both out of here.
But they couldn’t leave. Especially now. With more of these…things…in the hospital, someone had to protect the children.
Randall limped over to her, that familiar, lopsided grin on his face, as Dante’s Inferno raged around them. She met him halfway, and when his huge, hairy arms closed around her in a hug, she endured it.
Hell, against her better instincts, she welcomed it.
“We’ve got ourselves a dracula outbreak,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”
Jenny pulled away. “I can’t leave. There are kids in this hospital. Sick kids. They won’t have a chance on their own.”
Randall’s brow furrowed, and he pursed his lips. “Okay. I’ll take you to the truck, then I’ll come back and—”
“No time. I have to go now.”
“It’s too dangerous, Jen. Let me do it.”
“Do you even know where pediatrics is, Randall? Can you even spell pediatrics?”
Randall frowned. “That’s low.”
He was right. And Jenny wanted more than anything for Randall to come with her. But she couldn’t ask that of him. She’d divorced him, kicked him out. Even if he had sobered up, she couldn’t ask him to risk his neck in such a deadly situation.
During their courtship, their engagement, the early years of their marriage, Randall had been the sweetest man on Earth, a big, loyal puppy dog. Not the brightest bulb in the box—really, she could do the New York Times crossword while Randall couldn’t even spell crossword—but that didn’t matter. Randall was…Randall—insanely devoted, who always had her back. Here was a guy who was there for her.
Until he started drinking. Then a new Randall emerged. Violent. He never touched her, never even raised a hand to her. But he’d break things and pick fights with other people. She’d finally given him an ultimatum: Jenny or the bottle. He chose her—or rather said he did, but kept sneaking drinks on the side. Finally she’d called it quits.
Now he seemed more like the man she’d fallen in love with.
“Get out of here, Randall. Save yourself.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Jen. You know that. Let’s go save those sick kids.”
Jenny shook her head. “Don’t do this for me,” she heard herself say. And at the same time, part of her hoped he was doing it for her. She still loved him. After all, she’d never been able to bring herself to go back to her maiden name.
“Of course it’s for you. But it’s also so those little diseased children don’t become dracula snacks. We need to get them safe so they can be sick and die in peace.”
A dracula launched itself at the duo, and Randall pushed Jenny away and swung the chainsaw at its head. Though the saw wasn’t running, the blade hit with such force Jenny heard the creature’s neck snap as it fell to the side. When the dracula hit the floor it thrashed and kicked and screamed, its head gyrating at an odd angle.
Randall grabbed Jenny’s arm and marched her through the double doors into the depths of the hospital. After a few steps, Jenny took the lead, pulling him to the stairwell, tugging open the door.
“Maybe an elevator?” Randall said. He stared down at his leg, which was dripping blood from torn stitches.
Dropping to her knees, Jenny tore at the hem of his hospital gown and began to wrap it around his leg to stop the bleeding. As she was tying off the cloth, she noticed Randall’s gown beginning to extend in front.
“Sorry,” he said, turning red. “Ain’t been with anyone since you left.”
“Really?” Randall wasn’t smart, but he was handsome and charming, and he’d had a steady stream of girlfriends before they met. Though Jenny was comfortable with her could-stand-to-lose-a-few-pounds body, she’d known that Randall usually dated much hotter, thinner women. If he truly hadn’t had sex with anyone, he’d definitely turned down some offers.
“Well, five-finger Mary, if you know what I’m saying.”
Jenny did. She’d been celibate herself—Randall had left her more than a little bitter about the opposite sex. Still, she had a sudden, completely irrational urge to reach up under his gown and grab him.
Or maybe it wasn’t so irrational. In times of stress, humans often regressed to base behaviors.
“Have, uh…you?” he asked.
“Been with anyone since the divorce?”
“That’s not your business, Randall.”
“Yeah.” He looked away. “Sorry.”
Jenny stood up. “We need to get to pediatrics. The elevator is this way.”
He moped along behind, and when they reached the elevator, Jenny pressed the call button. For all the commotion in the ER, the hall was disproportionately quiet. Perhaps some people had already evacuated, despite Dr. Lanz’s proclamation that there wasn’t anywhere to go. Though this area of Durango was currently under development, with lots of new construction up and down the highway, the only other inhabited building within three miles was a gas station. But at the current rate this disease was spreading through the hospital, even the uninhabited woods at night would be preferable to staying here. Unless they were able to stop the infection, Jenny predicted everyone would be either dead or turned within a few hours.
The elevator dinged, and when the doors opened a dracula darted out, tackling Jenny.
She fell backward, the creature atop her, snarling and gnashing its horrible teeth. Jenny caught a quick glimpse of the nurse’s uniform, and the nametag, Fortescue, as she reached up to grab the dracula’s shoulders, keeping its fangs away. The snap snap snap of the jaws, like mousetraps going off, flecked blood and spittle all over Jenny’s face. She turned away, scrunched closed her eyes and mouth, worried more about getting the infection than being devoured.
Then, as quickly as she’d been pinned down, Jenny was free.
Randall had jerked Nurse Fortescue off Jenny and pinned the monster to the floor, his bare foot on her chest, his chainsaw tearing at her neck. He moved the saw up and down, a combination of weight and brute strength causing it to tear through the dracula’s throat, blood spraying out three-hundred and sixty degrees like a lawn sprinkler.
The thing that was once Fortescue thrashed and hissed, and Randall dropped his big knee onto the monster’s ribcage, pressing on the edge of the blade with both his palms, shaking it back and forth until Jenny heard the audible pop of the spinal cord severing.
Still, the teeth gnashed and feet—claws bursting out through the gym shoes—continued to kick and writhe. It wasn’t until Randall had the head completely severed and pushed away from the body, that the monster was finally still.
“You okay?” he asked, staring up at his ex-wife.
“Wouldn’t it be easier if you turned the saw on?”
“Outta gas. Still works pretty good, though.”
Jenny carefully wiped some blood from her face, avoiding getting any in her eyes, nose, or mouth, and then walked over to Randall.
“Nurse Fortescue is from pediatrics,” she said. “We need to move. Now.”
SINGLY and in pairs, all but two teeth had fallen out of Dr. Kurt Lanz’s gums. He cupped them in his hands. He’d counted them.
How? Why? He’d been racking his brain for a reason. He hadn’t been bitten or cut. He—
Oh no! Moorecook had been seizuring when Lanz arrived, spraying bloody saliva everywhere. Some had landed on his face. A fleck must have reached his lips. He’d been contaminated through his mucous membranes instead of directly into his blood. A tiny inoculum. A delayed reaction. A slower transformation.
Screams erupted on the far side of the door, followed by gunfire. He rose and pressed his ear against the steel. Sounded like chaos out there. Good thing—
Something slammed against the door. He jerked back as fists began pounding the other side and someone screamed to be let in.
No fucking way, Jose.
The pounding and screaming stopped abruptly. Shaken, Lanz sat again. If he could just hold out here till the cavalry rode in, he’d be—
The faint sound of a siren filtered through the door. Had the sheriff sent someone?
Okay…he could control this. Maybe not the physical aspects, but he refused to become a bloodthirsty beast like the others. He was a doctor, for fuck’s sake. He was educated. And he was certainly more intelligent than any dozen of these yokels combined.
His last two teeth dropped from his gums.
Didn’t matter. He was better than the rest. He’d beat this.
Sudden blasts of agony shrieked from his fingers and drove him to his knees as hooked claws burst from the tips.
And then indescribable pain from his jaws as the fangs erupted and tore through his cheeks and lips, like he’d forced his face into a wood chipper.
His vision blurred, then cleared. He saw everything in such detail now, like switching from a blurry black-and-white TV to hi-def. Same for his sense of smell. A delicious, mouth-watering odor was wafting through the door. He recognized it: blood. Beautiful, warm, red, delicious blood. He had to—
No! He was better than this. The cops were here. He’d heard the sirens. He’d stay in here and explain through the door what had happ—
Hungry! So hungry! That smell was driving him crazy.
His hand seemed to move of its own volition. Hard to turn the knob with those claws, but he managed. And when the door swung open the blood smell enveloped him, banishing every desire but to feed, every feeling but hunger.
He saw a pair of wary EMTs—fat woman pulling in front, middle-age guy pushing from behind—hesitantly wheeling a stretcher through the door. The siren hadn’t been police, it had been an ambulance.
Blood! Fresh blood!
Lanz leaped up on the nurse’s station and launched himself at them. The claws of his left hand pierced the side of the fat, lead EMT’s face as Lanz sailed by. The hooks caught and set. Lanz felt a tug and then a give as the face ripped free.
By then he was upon the second, sinking his fangs into his exposed throat, tearing the flesh, chugging the hot gush of blood as it rushed into his mouth. The guy went down, kicking and trying to scream but he had no throat so how could he scream? And then he stopped struggling and the blood stopped flowing.
Lanz turned and saw the fat EMT on her knees, screaming as she held her ripped face in place. He lunged at her and tore into her throat.
Again, the rush of the gush. For the first time in his life Lanz truly felt alive. He couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop!
THE two big orderlies emerged from cold storage into the autopsy suite where Janine stood by one of the tables, gripping the stainless steel so her hands wouldn’t shake. She’d been head nurse at Blessed Crucifixion since Jenny Bolton had been fired, and nothing had rattled her up until now, not even the ten burn victims who’d come through her ER six months ago when the Doublespruce Hotel had gone up in flames.
But she’d just watched Ralph and Benjamin roll a man past her on a gurney whose head had been ripped off, and she didn’t have a filter for that. They’d set the victim’s head in his lap with his hands positioned so it appeared as though he was holding his own noggin, one of them cracking a joke about Ichabod Crane as they wheeled past, and she would’ve dressed them down right then and there, but it was all she could do to keep standing, her legs threatening to give out at any moment.
Nothing about this was right. They’d brought that rich old man in several weeks ago on a morphine OD scare, and he’d barely had the strength to get himself around without a walker.
She looked up. Ralph was standing in front of her.
“Anything else, Ms. Winslow?”
Low, booming voice. Bloodshot eyes suggesting a healthy marijuana habit.
“No, but go check with Dr. Lanz.”
She followed the orderlies to the entrance of the morgue. “I’m going to lock myself in,” she said. “Call me when they’ve caught the old man.”
She closed the door and turned the deadbolt, knew she should feel safe now—no way to open that door from the outside unless you had a key—but something about being down here in the basement with six corpses still unnerved her.
Janine drifted over to the coroner’s desk and eased down into the metal folding chair. God, she was tired. Her shift should’ve ended an hour ago. Couldn’t wait to get home, crack open that four-pack of Bartles and Jaymes Strawberry Daiquiri wine coolers, and watch the newest episode of House she’d TiVo’d last night.
Even now, she felt that warmth between her legs. House would know how to handle a situation like this, no doubt. She’d never admitted it to anyone, but she often imagined that Lanz was House, and she was Dr. Cuddy, took the whole fantasy quite a bit farther than she was comfortable admitting, even to herself, especially after two or three wine coolers and her lounging in a bubble bath with her Natural Contours Personal Massager.
It had suddenly grown very quiet. She never liked coming down to the cooler. Not even in the middle of the day with the medical examiner and his team buzzing around. The chill that radiated out of cold storage just plain creeped her out.
She rubbed her arms, gooseflesh spreading across her skin.
Her navy scrubs wouldn’t keep her warm down here.
A sound perked her head up.
Soft, muffled. Sourced from cold storage.
Temperature gradient, she figured. The metal doors of the refrigerated morgue drawers contracting and expanding.
She glanced at her watch: 9:12 P.M.
She should be home by now, dammit, already into her second—
Another sound. Unmistakable. Like someone had thumped one of the drawers. She stood up. If Ralph and Benjamin were fucking with her, she’d make certain they were drug-tested next week. Would bet her next two paychecks they’d both come back with hot UAs.
She walked through the autopsy suite toward the large door to cold storage, which stood wide open.
From what she’d heard, practical jokes were a common occurrence down here, but she couldn’t believe even those two stoners would try to pull something on a night like this.
She stepped through into cold storage and put her ear to one of the drawers.
Sounded like fingernails scratching against metal.
The scratching stopped.
She jumped back.
What the hell?
BANG. BANG. BANG.
Janine stood facing the refrigerated nine-drawer cabinet, and she could see the metal vibrating.
The body in there was still alive.
Winslow rushed to it, fingers locking around the stainless steel handle.
Then she paused.
The woman was in there. The mother, who had her entire intestinal tract torn out. The orderlies had used a snow shovel to scoop her insides back into her body cavity.
How could she still be alive? There was no way.
The banging had stopped, and Winslow wondered if she’d somehow imagined the noise. Fear and stress could make the mind play tricks. After what she’d seen in the ER, Winslow might even be exhibiting symptoms of shock. Or post-traumatic stress disorder. Auditory hallucinations weren’t unheard of.
The loudest yet, the handle vibrating so hard it stung her palm.
And it was accompanied by a scream. The loudest, rawest, most agonizing scream Winslow had ever heard.
My god! How can that poor woman still be alive?
Heart thumping, throat dry, Winslow tugged hard on the handle, putting her entire hundred and ten pounds behind it, the drawer sliding out with a metallic ring.
Yes, the poor woman was alive, her eyes wide, the pupils dilated. Her guts were strewn all over her body, and her head thrashed back and forth in unbearable pain.
No…not pain. It wasn’t pain at all.
The woman’s head shook because she was trying to chew her way through her own intestines.
She held a loop in both of her hands—her twisted, clawed hands—and her mouth tore at the tough, stretchy tissue of her transverse colon, which was still attached to the gaping hole in her abdomen.
The woman screamed again, her wide eyes locking onto Winslow’s.
Then she spat out her digestive tract and reached her horrible hands out for the nurse, her hideous, fang-filled mouth yawing open to an impossible size.
Winslow reacted instantly. She pushed the handle, leaning into it, her rubber soled nurse’s shoes squeaking against the polished tile floors as the drawer slid closed.
The mother creature rolled onto her chest, sliding off the drawer on a pool of her own blood, slipping out and plopping, face-first, onto the ground just as the door slammed shut.
Winslow backpedaled, tripping over her feet. The mother creature shrieked at her, scrambling across the floor, closing the distance between them. Janine opened her mouth to yell for help—the orderlies might still be near. But her throat had locked in fear, and she could only manage a soft squeak.
Crabwalking backward, Winslow felt and saw one of those claws grasp her shoe. Its grip was a vice, and its pointed finger bones dug into the thin flesh of Janine’s ankle. She kicked out with her other leg, trying to break free, her rubber soles bouncing harmlessly off the creature’s hand. Then it began to pull, its jaws snapping so hard and fast it almost sounded like a tap dancer.
Against her every impulse to pull away, Janine Winslow leaned forward instead, pawing at the Velcro straps on her shoe, ripping them free, then yanking her foot out of the mother-creature’s grasp and crawling into the corner of the room by the desk.
Catching her breath, filling her lungs, Nurse Winslow let loose with the loudest scream of her life.
The mother creature had Winslow’s shoe in its mouth, chewing the leather and rubber to shreds. Its wide nostrils flared, and it began to scurry toward Winslow once again.
Ten feet away.
Five feet away.
“JESUS CHRIST HELP!”
Two feet away, its wicked claws reaching out, Winslow curled up fetal in the corner, her knees tucked into her chest.
Then the creature jerked to a stop and hissed. It writhed for a moment, its whole body shaking, but it didn’t come any closer.
Winslow saw why.
Its intestines. They’re caught in the drawer.
They stretched out the length of the morgue, a slimy, bloody rope keeping the creature away like a dog on a leash.
“Ms. Winslow? Holy fuck!”
Ralph. At the door, peering in through the small, square window. Winslow watched the knob shake, but not turn.
Locked. I locked myself in.
“Get the key from Kurt!” Winslow cried out.
Ralph nodded, then disappeared. Winslow faced her attacker, which had stopped trying to reach for her. Instead, the mother creature, eyes bulging, was chewing on its own hand, scarfing it down like it hadn’t eaten in weeks. Winslow watched the blood spurt, listened to the tiny bones crack and splinter, and then turned away from the spectacle, her attention zeroing in on the desk.
A weapon. I need a weapon.
She yanked open a drawer, pencils and desk supplies raining down on her. A stapler. Some Post-It notes. Paper clips. She picked up some child’s safety scissors with blunted tips, and stared at them incredulously.
It’s a morgue, goddamn it. Where’s a goddamn scalpel?
A choking sound from the creature. Winslow dared a glance. It had bitten off and eaten all of its fingers, and was jamming its own stump down its throat, gagging obscenely. Then, suddenly, it twisted around and began gnawing at the taut loop of intestines tethering it to the drawer.
Winslow got onto her knees, opening up another drawer.
There. A trocar.
It was heavy. Sharp. Formidable. A hefty metal tube, hollow and pointed on the end, used for aspirating body cavities. This was a large model, wide as a garden hose and close to eight inches long. Winslow gripped the base and faced the monster, which had gnawed its way through its own entrails and lunged toward Winslow, its mouth so wide it looked like it could almost swallow Winslow’s head.
She thrust the trocar upward, using both hands, punching the razor tip through the creature’s ribcage and into its heart.
Blood immediately sprayed out the base like a spigot, drenching Winslow’s clothes as the monster flopped onto her. But instead of latching onto Winslow’s neck, those hideous, snapping jaws kissed the floor, a mangled tongue lapping at the tile.
Blood. It’s licking up its own blood.
The creature hoovered it up as the red stuff pumped out of its own chest, smearing it across its face, sucking it in with a sound like slurping soup.
But it wasn’t quick enough. Winslow watched, horrified, transfixed, as the creature’s blood output overtook its input. The trocar was too big, pumping out blood faster than the mother could take it back in. The crimson pool grew ever wider, even as the thing’s frenzy increased.
Eventually, it toppled onto its face, limbs splayed out, tongue still licking feebly at the sticky floor, until finally even that was still.
Winslow’s head spun at the sound.
Another drawer. Something alive inside.
And another one.
BANG BANG BANG!
BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!
All of the drawers were shaking, rattling, the cacophony so loud it drowned out her wail of fear. Then the hissing started, spliced with that horrible shrieking, Nurse Winslow’s brain telling her to move, get out, but by the time her legs received the message the first door had burst open, and along with a blast of cold air, a clown popped out onto the floor, landing on all fours. Awful teeth, black eyes, fright wig, its fangs already chomping as it stared across the room at Winslow.
Now, finally, Janine’s legs were moving, and she was sprinting toward the exit. She collided into the door and jerked on the handle out of pure instinct, but it didn’t budge.
The clown, on its feet now, its comically oversized shoes fitted with joke squeakers, which got louder as it plodded closer.
Winslow’s fingers found the lock, and as she turned the deadbolt, pulling the door open, she heard a flurry of squeaks as the monster ran at her, crushing her with its bulk, and her last thought as its fangs sank into her face…
I’ve always hated clowns.
Benny the Clown
FOUR hours earlier, Benjamin Jamison Southwick had been sitting in a cheap motel room, a gun in his mouth. Most clowns were crying beneath their painted-on smiles, and Benny the Clown was flat-out suicidal under his.
After deciding that, yes, he was finally going to do it this time, Benny the Clown had spent a while trying to figure out if he should do it in his clown costume. It would get a lot more attention if he did. Local Clown Blows Brains Out, Declared Unfunny. But he came from a long line of clowns, and did he really want to disgrace the Southwick name?
He’d thought about it, weeping much of the time, and then decided that yes, he would kill himself in his clown suit.
But he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t pull the trigger.
Just like the last three times.
Finally he’d checked his watch. He was scheduled to do a birthday party in half an hour. Might as well keep his commitment.
Getting bit by the birthday girl made him sad.
Having her braces get stuck in him made him sadder.
Sitting in the hospital with the girl and her awful mother, Benny the Clown had never been so sad in his life. If he’d had the gun with him, he thought he could have pulled the trigger, no problem.
He didn’t remember any of that now. Because now, with the taste of blood in his mouth and much of the nurse’s cheek between his teeth and no thoughts beyond how to get more more more MORE MORE MORE, Benny the Clown was happier than he’d ever been.
WHY had Mom never told her that people were filled with delicious red candy? It was better than jelly beans. Way better. She’d only gotten a taste of it, but she needed more. Right now. That mean, brown-skinned nurse had punched her in the face when she’d bitten her arm, and then everyone had rushed out, leaving Oasis alone in the treatment room.
She looked down at her hands—they weren’t really hands anymore. They looked like monster claws.
The pain in her face was going away.
She could hear a lot of screaming on the other side of the door.
Screaming meant people.
People meant warm red candy.
Oasis jumped down off the gurney and opened the door.
Candy everywhere! On the walls, the ceiling, people covered in it, and straight ahead, two monsters were licking it off the floor by the nurses’ station.
She bounded over and crouched between them, but she hadn’t even touched her long, spongy tongue to the puddle when one of the monsters hissed at her and swung its claw at her face.
The blow knocked her back into the wall, and Oasis screamed, It isn’t fair, you stupid dumbhead! But the words came out as a loud hiss, and now that monster was moving toward her.
She leapt away and exploded through a pair of double doors, sprinting now—faster than she’d ever run before, faster than she imagined possible—down a long corridor.
She came around a corner and skidded to a stop.
A man in pale blue scrubs stood before the closed elevator doors, pushing the UP button over and over and saying bad words.
When he noticed Oasis staring at him, he said, “Holy fucking shit,” and backed away.
Oasis asked him if he would share some of his candy, but again, her words came out hissing, and the man screamed, “Get the fuck away from me, little girl!”
She was moving toward him now. He was so tall and big she figured he probably contained more red candy than most. She could smell it through his skin, and the odor made her legs crouch, and before she’d even considered it, she was jumping toward him, her claws outstretched, screaming with pure joy at the thought of sinking her pretty new teeth into the man’s—
A metal trashcan connected with the side of her head and she slammed into the elevator doors.
She cry-hissed. Why was he—
The trashcan crashed into her head again.
She screamed, “Stop hurting me!”
The man hit her again.
Why was he beating her? She only wanted his—
That third blow was the hardest. Felt her skull crack open.
She blacked out and came back as the elevator doors were closing, the big candy-filled orderly gone.
All she could think about was her thirst for that candy, her head throbbing with her need for it.
She leapt to her feet.
Heard noise coming from the emergency room, and she wanted to go back, but it was full of adults.
Adults were strong and mean. They would fight her, maybe hurt or even kill her.
Her black eyes fell upon a placard between the elevators:
The words were too big for her to read except for the last line.
She smiled, and her huge teeth split her cheeks the rest of the way to her earlobes.
Maybe there would be babies there. Smaller, yes, not as brimming with red candy as adults, but…
How could they fight back?
AS the doors closed and the elevator began to ascend, Randall frowned.
“What’s wrong?” Jenny asked.
“The elevator music. I think it’s a Metallica cover.”
She listened for a moment, then nodded. “I think you’re right.”
“When did it become okay to do that to Metallica? There’s no more decency in the world.”
Jenny didn’t reply.
Honestly, Randall didn’t care about the elevator music—he was just trying to distract himself from the fact that his feelings were hurt.
Yes, in a hospital full of flesh-eating, blood-drinking creatures, moments after being responsible for a bludgeoning death and a decapitation, Randall’s feelings were hurt. So what if he couldn’t spell pediatrics? He could spell most of the word, and even in a time of crisis, even after he saved her life, Jenny seemed to go out of her way to make him feel dumb.
Of course, Jenny had never made fun of him before he started drinking. He guessed that was the only way she could get back at him. Since the divorce he’d tried to smarten up. He’d read books—real books—but he had to admit that while he sort of understood them while he was reading, the words weren’t staying in his brain.
But just like getting sober, he kept trying. Because he loved her.
He’d always love her.
And maybe someday—
The elevator doors opened.
Focus. Time to save the kids.
Randall held the non-running chainsaw out in front of him. He could hear screams coming from several different places, but at least there weren’t any draculas in the hallway.
A dracula ran around the corner into the hallway.
“Get behind me,” said Randall, though Jenny had already done that. The dracula was absolutely drenched in blood—it even dripped from his hair—and he wore a black leather jacket and a pair of jeans that you could sort of tell had once been blue. He clearly wasn’t a patient or a doctor; it was probably somebody visiting a friend or relative.
The dracula rushed down the hallway toward them, mouth wide open.
The elevator doors started to close. It was hard for Randall to believe that he was in a situation where he didn’t want heavy metal doors to close between him and a bloodthirsty monster, but those kids needed to be saved. He bumped the doors with his elbow and they slid back open.
The dracula extended his arms and opened its mouth even wider.
“Hold this,” said Randall, handing Jenny the chainsaw. As she took it from him, he slid the hatchet out of his belt. Though he wanted to shout a battle cry and rush to meet the creature, he couldn’t run on his injured leg, so he clutched the hatchet tightly in his fist and steeled himself for the creature’s approach.
He let out the battle cry.
The dracula let out an animalistic screech.
Randall stepped forward and swung the axe as hard as he could. Perhaps he couldn’t spell “arterial spray,” but he could sure as shit make it happen. The blade of the hatchet wasn’t large enough to completely sever the dracula’s head, but Randall’s aim and the force behind the swing were inarguably fantastic. The blade went completely through the dracula’s neck, bursting out the other side, and its head flopped to the left, dangling by a small strip of meat.
The dracula was knocked off its feet, landing hard on its back.
Randall slammed his good foot onto its head, crunching through its skull. Its body twitched. He stomped it again to make the twitching stop.
“F-U-C-K Y-O-U,” he spelled out.
So, the draculas had a weakness: they didn’t know how to duck out of the way of a goddamn hatchet.
He glanced over at Jenny to see whether she was amused, horrified, or impressed. She was horrified. Not because of the gore, but because two more draculas—one in a hospital gown, one in a dress shirt—were running toward them.
Randall stepped forward to keep Jenny out of harm’s way and out of the splash zone. He ignored the jolt of pain in his leg, let out another battle cry, and swung the hatchet so hard he thought he might have popped his shoulder out of socket. The blade slammed into the dracula’s chest and smashed the creature into the one behind it. The bloody handle popped out of Randall’s grasp as both draculas hit the floor.
The first dracula got up more quickly than Randall would have anticipated or hoped. It stood, blood pouring down its chest. Randall yanked a screwdriver out of his utility belt. A very small screwdriver. One designed for screws instead of skulls.
The second dracula grabbed the first dracula’s foot, pulling it to the ground. It wrenched the hatchet out of the first dracula’s chest wound, tossed the weapon aside, and then bit down into the bloody gash.
Randall knew that he shouldn’t be standing there, staring at them in horror, but he couldn’t help himself. Those bastards would drink each other’s blood, too? That was messed up.
Jenny nudged him forward. “Let’s go!”
As the two draculas wrestled on the ground, Randall and Jenny rushed past them, with Randall quickly grabbing his hatchet on the way. There would be more draculas to chop up, that was for sure.
He winced as they ran.
“How’s your leg?” Jenny asked.
“Crappy. But I’ll live. Where’re the kids?”
“Just around the corner.”
There was a terrible scream as they rounded the corner, but Randall couldn’t see the source. His leg was really, really starting to hurt. If he wasn’t careful, they’d have to find the place where the hospital kept its wheelchairs.
Jenny pushed open a door marked “Pediatrics.”
Randall was an optimist at heart, and he wasn’t one to envision ghastly scenes of carnage. That said, he fully expected to see a giant room full of child parts, tiny arms and legs strewn everywhere, bloody, ripped-off faces sliding down the walls, and a shredded teddy bear at his feet to drive home the tragedy of it all.
Instead, the first room in the wing was filled with sobbing children, but none of them were dead or even bleeding.
“We have to get them out of here,” Jenny said.
Randall shook his head. “You can’t lead that many kids through this place. We need to keep them here and defend them.”
“You’re right, you’re right, I’m not thinking straight.” Jenny squeezed her eyes shut, then re-opened them. They widened as she looked at something behind Randall, in the direction from which they’d come.
He spun and caught a glimpse of a dracula, a really old fucker. The dracula disappeared from sight and Randall returned his attention to Jenny. “It’s okay. He’s not coming after us.”
“No, I think he’s the one who started this.”
“What do you mean?”
“He was the first one to transform into one of those things.”
Randall frowned. “So you mean he’s…I dunno…the leader or something? Kill the queen and the rest die, like ants?” Randall hoped that didn’t sound stupid. He didn’t mean that he’d expect the rest of them to suddenly burst into dust if he killed the leader, but what if the leader was giving them signals? Was that dumb?
He stared into Jenny’s eyes. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just…I don’t know.”
“I’ll be right back,” Randall said. “I’ll kill him. If it doesn’t do anything…well, he should be killed anyway, before he kills somebody else. Barricade yourself and the kids in here as well as you can. Here, I’ll trade you.” He handed her the bloody hatchet, took back his chainsaw, and turned to go.
He stopped. He’d never heard Jenny so upset before. When he turned and looked at her, she seemed close to tears.
“I need you here. Please don’t leave me.”
She held out her hand to him. He took it, the warmth of her touch penetrating his rough, calloused hands and working its way through his whole body.
I need you here…
Did she have any idea what those words meant to him? He felt the start of tears. He blinked them back and managed to speak around the lump in his throat.
“Okay. I’ll stay.”
Clayton Theel, Jr. tossed his cell phone on the passenger seat as he pulled out of the Gulf station. He’d been filling up his Suburban—a feat that required a small business loan at current prices—and had missed Shanna’s call. His return call had hit instant voicemail. She had her phone off.
Sure, he’d pick her up at the hospital. Jenny too. Not a problem. But her voice had sounded a little funny. Prolly just a woman thing. Never knew how they’d react to something.
He dug the little cube box out of his pocket. He flipped up the top and checked out the diamond sparkle. He did know how she’d react when he handed her this and asked her to marry him.
Then again, maybe he didn’t know. Maybe she’d think it was too soon. They’d known each other only six weeks, true, but he had no doubt in his mind that she was the one. And he knew he was right for her. In all the schools she’d gone to, she’d probably never met a man like him. Just wimpy brainiacs and stuffy professors. She dug him almost as much as he dug her. Almost, because no one could be as crazy for anyone as he was for her.
She might say it was too soon, that he was rushing things, and maybe he was, but he wanted her to know that this wasn’t any fly-by-night relationship for him, wanted her to know he was committed. He’d wait. It was only a matter of time.
All that sparkle had cost him a bundle, but nothing was too good for—
His phone rang. He snatched it up and said, “Hello, darlin’.”
“Why, Clay! I didn’t know you cared!”
He winced as he recognized the male voice.
“Sorry, sheriff. Thought it was—”
“Someone else?” the sheriff said, laughing. “After I gave myself to you?”
Clay laughed too, despite his discomfort. Sheriff Seward was a good guy, but this stuff wasn’t all that funny.
“What’s up, boss?”
“Got a situation.”
Crap. He wasn’t going to call him in, was he? Clay had been planning this weekend, at least the gun-show part of it, for a loooong time. And looking forward to it even more with Shanna coming along. He needed this weekend.
“Got a train off the track and on its side, flat across the highway, but we’re handling that.”
Good, good. So far, so good.
“But I got a funny call from the hospital.”
Clay’s neck muscles bunched. Shanna was at the hospital.
“You know that tight-ass, his-shit-don’t-stink ER doc—?”
“Yeah, him. Well, he calls with some story about being terrorized by a monster running loose in the hospital. We’re all tied up here, so I was wondering—I mean, I know it’s your weekend off, but—”
“I’ll go take a look right now.”
A pause on the other end, surprise most likely. “You will?”
“Not a problem. Can’t have monsters running around Blessed Crucifixion, can we? I’ll check it out and call you back.”
No need to tell the sheriff he was headed there anyway.
“That’s damn white of you, Clay. I won’t forget this.”
Clay forced a casual laugh. “Damn right, you won’t. I won’t let you.”
The sheriff hung up laughing. Clay hit END and frowned. A monster at the hospital? What kind of crap was that? Was Lanz on drugs? Well, drugs or for-real monster, didn’t matter. Shanna could be in danger.
He stomped the gas.
An ambulance sat outside the ER entrance, lights flashing, rear doors open. Clay pulled his Suburban in beside it, popped the glove compartment, and removed his Glock 23. As he stepped out, he stuck it in the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back. He was out of uniform and didn’t want to freak anyone by going in hot.
He didn’t have to rack the slide because he always kept a round chambered. An empty chamber was worse than useless, it was just plain stupid. He’d filled its extended mag to the brim with .40 caliber, 180-grain Hydra-Shok hollow points.
Enough to stop any “monster.”
As he stepped toward the two-stage entrance, he saw someone in a hospital security uniform standing with his back to the inner doors. The outer motion detector caught his approach and opened one of the doors. The guard turned and Clay froze.
His face. He was wearing some sort of Halloween mask, except Halloween was a long way off. The blood and most of the mask looked pretty damn realistic, but the teeth didn’t work—too big, too many of them. Just plain unreal.
Then it opened its impossible jaws and wiggled its tongue as it hissed at him.
That was no mask.
…some story about being terrorized by a monster running loose in the hospital…
This was the monster.
It charged him, talons extended.
Clay backpedaled and pulled the Glock.
“Stop! Stop right there!”
If the thing heard him, it gave no sign. In fact it seemed to increase its speed.
Clay raised the Glock in the official two-handed grip as it burst from the entrance.
“Last warning or—!”
Those claws…too close. Clay squeezed the trigger three times and put three .40-caliber Hydra-Shoks into its center of mass. The impacts spun it 180 to the left, but it stayed up—staggering, but still on its feet despite the three gaping exit wounds in its back.
How was it standing? Those Hydra-Shoks with the little center post in the hollow expanded like mad. Its lungs and maybe its heart had to be confetti.
It staggered in a circle, completing another 180, then started for Clay again.
What the hell?
Clay went for the head this time. Three more straight into the face. He saw blood and brains form a crimson halo behind it as the head snapped back. It went down like a felled tree, arms spread like branches, to land flat on its back.
Clay watched it for a few seconds. When it didn’t move, he stepped up for a closer look.
One round had entered through its fangs, snapping off half a dozen of them. One through the nose, and the third through the left eye. He’d never seen anything like this thing. One ugly mother.
With the toe of his boot he flipped it over. The back of its skull was gone, the brain pan pretty much empty.
Well, Lanz hadn’t been exaggerating about a monster terrorizing the hospital, but now it was a dead monster. He hoped to hell Shanna was all right.
Clay was just about to turn away when he thought he spotted movement. He turned back and saw the creature slipping an arm under itself, trying to rise.
“You gotta be shittin’ me!”
He pumped two more rounds into the back of its neck, all but severing the head from its body.
It slumped and lay still. Clay watched a full half minute to make sure it stayed down and still. It did, so he turned and hurried toward the entrance.
He didn’t know what he’d just killed, didn’t much care. Worry about that later. His only thought right now was Shanna…if that thing had hurt Shanna he’d—
What? Nothing much left to do to it except dowse it with gas and set it on fire.
He increased his pace to a fast trot. The doors slid open…
And he entered hell.
Blood everywhere—everywhere. An EMT on the floor with his throat ripped out, a patient on the stretcher, likewise, and another EMT with her face ripped off and her throat torn open.
Had that monster done all this?
Jesus, where was Shanna?
And then movement to his right as a bloodsoaked nurse charged him from a side room, and she had the same goddamn teeth as the EMT outside, the same claws, and the same maniacal look in her black eyes.
No warning this time. He put three slugs into her face, knocking her back, brains and blood and skull and scalp splattering the wall behind her. For insurance, he put two more through her already ruined throat into her spine.
He did a quick 360 with his Glock extended. More bodies—a couple in softball uniforms on a floor awash with blood. But all quiet.
What the fuck?
Back to the nurse. Her bloody name tag read Rodriguez. Her throat had already been torn open when he first saw her. She should have been dead—as dead as she was now—but she’d been on her feet, charging.
What was going on here?
A noise. A hiss. He wheeled.
A guy in a Blessed Crucifixion security uniform was getting off the floor. Clay knew most of the guards but no way he could identify him: he had those same fangs, those same eyes, those same talons.
Clay emptied the Glock into his face, putting him down.
Out of ammo. Not good. He had a feeling there were more of these things. As if to confirm his worst fear, a second security guard started hissing and twitching on the floor as giant fangs began to shred his face.
He was going to need a bigger gun.
Not a problem.
Still three centimeters.
Was this baby ever going to come?
And where was Adam? He’d gone to find a nurse five minutes ago when no one had responded to the NURSE CALL button. This hospital wasn’t that—
A series of distant explosions broke the silence of the maternity wing—balloons popping several floors below. Probably some clown or candy striper entertaining the sick kids in Pediatrics. She started to pray for the umpteenth time that their child would be healthy, but the pain stopped her.
Stacie turned over onto her side and groaned.
Here it came, that vise in her belly, and she was really having to breathe through this one—more intense than the last, and it had come faster, too, by almost a minute. Maybe she was finally progressing. Her obstetrician, Doctor Galbraith, had already warned her that if she wasn’t at least eight centimeters dilated by midnight he’d have to perform a cesarean section. It got her emotional just thinking about it. She wanted a vaginal birth, not some doctor sawing her stomach open so he could rush home.
Her uterus relaxed. According to Nurse Herrick, these were still mild contractions, and honestly, that scared Stacie more than anything. Her birth-plan hadn’t included having an epidural. She didn’t want to be drugged for this experience, wanted her mind and body present for every moment, wanted to feel her first child coming out of her, hear those first cries with a lucid mind. But she didn’t know if she could take much more pain than this.
She heard footsteps approaching.
Adam appeared in the doorway, still wearing his black dress shirt and clerical collar. It didn’t exactly match his blue jeans and black Justin boots, but then again, Durango was hardly the epicenter of fashion, especially for a young Lutheran minister. They’d rushed straight to the hospital from the Sunday morning service when her water had broken during communion.
“You all right, honey?” he asked.
She nodded. “I just had another contraction.”
He came around and sat down beside her on the bed.
“Rub my back?” she said.
His fingers went to work on her lower back, her muscles tighter than steel suspension cables.
“You find the nurse?” Stacie asked.
“Yeah, but just as she was stepping onto the elevator.”
Stacie stared into her husband’s face—smooth-shaven, still carrying a little baby fat that made him look younger than his thirty-two years. Kind, deep eyes that made him seem wiser. Listening eyes, she called them, and in this moment, she had the feeling they were holding something back from her.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Stacie asked.
“Nothing. Everything’s fine, Stace. You just focus on—”
“Nothing for you to worry about. I guess there was some disturbance down in the emergency room, and Nurse Herrick was called down to—”
“What kind of disturbance?”
“I don’t know. She said she’d be right back.”
Stacie thought about the balloons she’d heard popping several minutes ago.
No. Adam was right. She had one thing and one thing only to focus on—getting this baby out.
“Tell me what you need, darling,” Adam said, touching the back of his hand to her forehead, which had broken out in tiny beads of sweat.
Stacie smiled. “I’m really thirsty.”
“But you can’t have water. In case you have to go into surgery.”
“Yeah, but a bucket of ice chips would really hit the spot.”
SO he hadn’t exactly told Stacie the truth. Not all of it at least. Nurse Herrick had actually been a little more specific—one of the patients in the ER had apparently injured some people and hospital security was involved. She’d also told Adam to stay in the room and keep the door locked, and as soon as he got back with the ice chips, he planned to do just that.
But Stacie didn’t need to know the details. She had plenty on her mind.
He was so proud of her for wanting a natural childbirth. Not that it mattered to him one way or the other, but he thought it showed real bravery on Stacie’s part.
He’d been teary all day thinking about holding his son (or daughter—they’d chosen not to know the sex beforehand) for the first time.
After blowing Stacie a kiss, he closed the door to their room and started down the corridor.
Quiet up here on the third floor in this nine-bed maternity ward, and aside from the door to their room, only one other was closed.
He passed the first, heard a woman moaning inside.
The nurses’ station stood vacant.
Adam took a wrong turn down a short hallway that dead-ended at the OR. The doors were closed, windows dark.
The hall on the other side of the nurses’ station led to a nursery, and across from it, a waiting room and a kitchen.
Adam walked into the kitchen, searched the cabinets until he came to a stack of plastic buckets.
The ice machine hummed in the corner.
As he filled the bucket, he thought he heard those distant pops again over the racket of the falling ice, several floors below.
Back out in the hall, Adam stopped at the big window and peered into the nursery.
None of the glass isolettes was occupied.
His son or daughter would be in there soon.
The doors to the maternity wing swung open and footsteps padded quickly down the hall.
Nurse Herrick emerged around the corner. She was a cute, petite, thirty-something blonde, bit of a cowgirl twang in her voice. He thought he’d seen her at his church before with a seven or eight-year-old boy, but he couldn’t be sure.
Adam called out to her.
She stopped and looked at him.
Something was wrong, very wrong—he could see it in her sheet-white face long before he was close enough to notice the speckles of blood that dotted her pink scrubs.
When he reached her, he put a hand on her shoulder—couldn’t help himself, comforting was engrained into his nature.
“Carla, what’s wrong?”
She shook her head, tears welling.
The ice cracked and settled in his bucket.
“There’s been…some kind of outbreak,” she said softly, almost too evenly. “It started in the ER, and it’s spreading. Fast.”
“What do you mean, ‘outbreak?’“
She finally met his eyes, and in them, he glimpsed real fear. “People are changing. They’re killing each other.”
“Where’s hospital security?”
Adam quickly turned around. “I have to get Stacie out of here.”
He started down the corridor, but Herrick grabbed his arm and pointed back toward the thick, automatic doors she’d just come though, thirty feet beyond the nurses’ station.
“That’s the only way out, Pastor. You need to understand—the other nurses tried to leave.” Her bottom lip quivered. “They didn’t make it. I didn’t come back up here to help you and Stacie escape. I came back to lock you in, because that’s the only chance we have.”
AS the elevator climbed slowly toward the third floor, Oasis felt like her stomach was turning itself inside out.
She bent over, vomiting up a pile of black bile laced with birthday cake into the corner of the elevator car.
She cried out, mewling like a kitten.
The bell dinged as The car lifted past the second level.
She stared at her arm, and an idea occurred to her—both comforting and horrifying.
She was filled with red candy.
Oasis turned her talons over, stared down at the periwinkle veins running like a highway system under the skin of her forearm.
Her teeth would pass so easily through her skin, it probably wouldn’t even hurt. Just a little taste was all she needed. She swore she could smell the blood through her flesh. But what if she loved it too much? What if she didn’t want to stop and kept sucking and sucking and—
The bell dinged.
The elevator doors parted.
Oasis crossed the threshold and stepped onto the third floor.
Two bounding strides brought her around the corner into a long corridor of rooms.
A fat, old nurse in purple scrubs had been torn apart twenty feet ahead. Oasis sprinted toward her and buried her face in the open chest cavity like a dog into a bowl of Alpo, but nothing was left. The body held only the faintest scent of red candy.
Oasis stood, big tears trailing down what was left of her face.
She sulked down the corridor, and had just started to think about eating her own arm again when she saw a sliver of light escaping from a room up ahead.
Even as she approached, she could smell it, and when she pushed the door open with one of her black, scythe-like talons, she let out a sharp, involuntary cry of joy.
THERE were seven children and three adults in what was called the playroom—an area with several activity tables, a toy chest, and various dry erase boards and easels for watercolors and crayon masterpieces. Running along the far wall was a room-length window, decorated brightly with finger paint. A crudely-drawn bird caught Jenny’s eye, its oversized head reminding her of one of the creatures.
When she first became a nurse, pediatrics was her favorite ward. Children, even sick children, had a wonderful innocence about them. They were optimists, even when they were scared and facing death sentences. Though she and Randall had tried, Jenny hadn’t become pregnant. If she had, divorcing him would have been so much harder.
She cast a glance at her ex, and saw he was barricading the door they’d entered through, piling chairs and tables against it. Randall…he really seemed to be back to the old Randall. It was almost too much to hope for.
His leg was still bleeding, and Jenny knew she’d have to re-stitch his wound. But first things first. When doing triage, it was important to assess who needed immediate care. She turned her attention back to the sobbing families.
Three of the kids—two boys and a little girl—were sitting with their backs to the window, holding hands. No blood on them, though the boy on the right was bald from chemo. One pre-teen was with an older woman—probably Grandma. They clutched each other tightly, and Jenny wasn’t sure who was consoling whom. Another little boy clung to his mom, whose slack, pale expression was an obvious indicator of shock. The last boy, the eldest of them, knelt next to a man, prostrate on the floor, who was bleeding from a neck injury.
Jenny set the bloody hatchet on a table next to some coloring books and hurried to them. The blood pooling around the man was significant. The boy—no more than fifteen—was holding a towel to the man’s neck. Before looking at the injury, Jenny checked his radial pulse. The man’s skin was cool, sweaty. His face lacked color. Tachycardia—his heart was beating wildly—accompanied by rapid breathing.
Hypovolemia. Stage three or four.
This man was bleeding to death.
“Help my Dad. Please help him.”
“Can you hear me, sir?”
Glassy eyes. No response.
The man needed a transfusion, but the hospital’s blood bank was in the basement, and even if she made a run for it, and survived the dracula gauntlet, there was no guarantee the man would still be alive by the time she got back.
Jenny hurried to a closet in the corner of the room, the door decorated with crayon pictures. Inside were supplies. No blood, but a saline IV that would help restore some blood volume, oxygen, noradrenaline…
Her finger attacked the keypad over the lock, punching in the four digit code by memory.
A red light came on, and an unpleasant raspberry buzz indicating she’d gotten it wrong.
She tried it again, slower this time.
Another raspberry. They had changed the code. Son of a—
“Lady, can you help me find my mommy?”
Jenny stared down at the little girl tugging on her uniform. Then she cast a frantic glance around for Randall, who was barricading the second entrance.
“Randall! I need to get this door open!”
His head cocked up at the sound of her voice, and after tossing another chair onto the pile he limped over, pulling a screwdriver off of his tool belt.
Jenny stared back at the bleeding man, but even at that distance she could see his chest was no longer moving.
“Got it!” Randall had jammed his screwdriver into the door jamb and popped the lock.
But it was too late. Even if Jenny tried CPR, the man had lost too much blood, and his wound was still open.
She walked to the teen, put a hand on his shoulder, and then he hugged her legs, squeezing them hard as he cried.
“Ah, shit,” Randall said, noticing the dead man.
Jenny tousled the boy’s hair, then motioned for her husband to come over.
“You need to clear a path to one of the doors, so we can drag this man out of here, before he turns into…”
Her voice trailed off, but Randall got the point, limping back to the barricade he’d made. Jenny helped the boy to his feet.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Peter. Peter Bernacky.”
“Peter, my name is Jenny. I’m very sorry about your dad. We’re going to put him in another part of the hospital.”
“I know he’s dead. But I need you to be strong for me. See those little kids sitting by the window? They’re really scared right now. Can you help me try to calm them down?”
Peter nodded, and Jenny took his hand and led him to the two boys huddling together, crying hysterically. Peter knelt next to them, his face a mask of tears, and dragged over a toy fire truck. Jenny watched as he tried to engage the younger children, and had to turn away because she felt her own tears coming.
“Please help me find my mommy. One of the monsters took her away.” The little girl was tugging on her uniform.
“I’ll help in a second, sweetie. But first I need to help Randall. I’ll just be a second.”
Her husband had pushed aside the pile of chairs, returning access to the door. Checking to make sure Peter wasn’t watching, she wrapped her hands around his father’s collar and began to drag him toward the exit. He was a man of average size, but the blood loss not only made him lighter, but functioned as a lubricant. She managed to get him three quarters of the way there by herself, and then Randall joined her.
They tugged the dead man into the hall, outside the picture window.
“We can’t leave him here,” Jenny said. “Peter can still see him.”
“We’ll take him around the corner. He won’t be able to—”
The little girl sprinted past, beelining down the hall.
Jenny automatically sprang up to run after her, but her husband’s strong arm wrapped around her waist, holding her back.
“I’ve got to get her, Randall.”
“I’ll get her. You’re staying here.”
Randall shoved her back into the room, then limped off after the child.
Damn him. He probably won’t even be able to catch her with that bad leg.
What a stupid, stubborn, selfless fool.
“Randall!” she called out after he rounded the corner. “Be careful! I…”
She almost said I love you, but stopped herself. Old habits die hard. Though, if she were forced to tell the truth in a court of law, Jenny still did love the hopeless dope.
Staring down the hallway, she wondered if she should have just said it.
Wondered if she’d ever get another chance.
It was such a familiar sound. Jenny could swear she’d heard it before. Just a little while ago.
What could it be?
Then Jenny remembered.
Benny the Clown’s shoes.
She took a fearful look behind her and saw him standing at the other end of the hallway. Just standing there, watching her, his clown outfit drenched in gore. The dracula teeth had broken through his lips and cheeks. But, incredibly, he still wore the red clown nose and the fright wig.
The clown sprinted at her, its hands outstretched, talons wiggling. Jenny barely had time to scoot back when it pounced—
—on Peter’s dead father. Benny the Clown’s fangs tore into the corpse’s throat, and it shook its head like a dog and pulled away, stretching out the carotid artery as if it were a long string of spaghetti. Jenny managed to get to her feet. Then she danced around Benny the Clown and sprinted toward the playroom. Slamming the door after her, she got behind the nearest table and braced it up against the entrance.
“Help me! Everyone, help!”
Peter and one of the boys began to stack chairs against the door. The others watched through the picture window as Benny the Clown feasted. The woman—the one Jenny guessed was in shock—had locked her eyes on the spectacle. They widened abruptly, and the woman began to scream.
When the door was as secure as Randall had had it, Jenny told Peter and the one boy to sit on the other side of the room and look away. Then she rushed to the screaming woman.
“Miss, you need to be quiet. You’re upsetting the—”
“What is that terrible clown doing?” the Grandmother cried.
Jenny forced herself to look. Benny the Clown had torn open the man’s abdominal cavity, his claws cradling several loops of glistening intestines. But rather than gorging on them, the clown was stretching and pulling the bloody loops, twisting the organ into knots.
“Is that…a flamingo?” asked the old woman.
Jenny couldn’t answer. She stared, slack-jawed, as Benny the Clown continued to make balloon animals out of that poor man’s innards.
One of the boys passed out.
The screaming woman passed out.
The old woman threw up, her dentures plopping into the puddle of puke.
Besides the flamingo, Benny the Clown also created a wiener dog, a giraffe, and what could have been either a lion or a poodle—some animal with a poofy mane. Jenny summoned up her last bit of courage and rushed the window, banging her palm on the glass.
“Get away from here! Get away from us, you fucking evil clown!”
Benny stared at Jenny. Stared without moving. Without making a sound. Jenny saw cunning, there. Cunning, and the same kind of cold, watchful malevolence that alligators had.
Then Benny the Clown reached up and squeezed his red nose, the fake flower on his chest squirting blood on the window, blurring Jenny’s view.
A moment later, the clown was gone, his oversized shoes squeak-squeaking down the hallway…
In the same direction Randall went.
HE couldn’t get enough of the blood.
It had the same punch as coke. The same rush as an orgasm. The same high as morphine. The same satisfaction as a huge meal when starving. All wrapped up in one overwhelming sensation that made Lanz’s eyes roll up and his body quiver in absolute fucking ecstasy.
But the feeling didn’t last. The moment the blood ran out, so did the jolt. And in its place was a longing, an ache. That ache became painful after just a few minutes, and the pain turned into crippling, mind-searing agony, getting worse and worse until more blood was consumed.
The part of Lanz’s brain that still had some higher functioning recognized the symptoms of addiction, but also knew this was something more. He’d become a higher life form. Sharper vision and hearing, a sense of smell so powerful he could detect a drop of blood from a hundred meters away, faster reflexes, accelerated healing power, abnormal strength.
But unlike the other infected, who seemed to be operating at a reduced mental capacity, Lanz still had some reasoning powers, and some memory of his previous life. He realized this could have been due to the locus of the disease. The others were all infected intravenously, the agent making direct contact with their bloodstream. Lanz had ingested contaminated blood. This could have resulted in a different variation of the infection. Different transmission meant different symptoms.
Medicine certainly had precedents for this. Yersina pestis—known as the black plague—was a bacteria that could infect a host in three entirely different ways, and cause different symptoms as a result. Perhaps this dracula bug was similar.
Or perhaps Lanz’s strong will and extraordinary intelligence were too much for the bug to cope with.
Either way, Lanz felt like the proverbial one-eyed man in the land of the blind. While other creatures ran around, blithely attacking anything that moved—people, each other, and even themselves if the blood urge became strong enough—Lanz could still use his cognitive faculties.
As the disease spread, turning more humans into creatures, Lanz decided competition for blood was getting too fierce. But he knew of a good source. A source that would be like picking low-hanging fruit from a tree.
Children would be easy to catch, and not put up much of a fight. Plus, there was an added bonus.
That bitch nurse, Jenny, had said she was headed to the pediatric ward.
Lanz would enjoy tearing her sanctimonious throat out.
He’d enjoy it quite a bit.
SHE’D fought a long and valiant battle against the diabetes, but it had finally claimed her right foot, the infection spreading into her blood, sepsis hours from killing her before the amputation.
Now she rested peacefully in a morphine slumber.
Fresh, clean blood flowing into her body and dreaming of a picnic she’d had just last summer up at Vallecito Lake, her two sons with her, and their children, the apples of her eye—six-year-old Benjamin, and eight-year-old Vicki playing by the shore. Grandchildren. Was there anything better? They were like your kids, but without the hassles. A perfect relationship, a dynamic where everybody won.
A crack ran through her dream like a fracture through glass, and she could feel herself tumbling out of it, the phantom pain in her right foot spoiling the memory.
She opened her eyes, but she must have still been sleeping because what she saw made about as much sense as a nightmare.
A little girl who looked to be the same age as her precious Vicki was standing at her bedside with her back turned, sucking down the chilled contents of the blood bag through the needle that had been attached to her left forearm.
It was an image that simply didn’t compute, and because of this, she was certain she was dreaming, but God, it felt so real, especially the pain in her right foot, or rather, where her right foot had been. Maybe if she tried to speak, to engage the little girl, it would shatter the illusion of the dream and she would wake.
“Excuse me. Little girl?”
The little girl didn’t answer or even move. Grammy Ann eyed the blood bag, watching the level of the dark liquid quickly lowering.
Then there was only a sucking noise, like slurping down the dregs of a cup of soda.
The girl let go of the clear, plastic tube and turned around.
Grammy Ann recoiled, the beeping of the heart monitor accelerating.
Oh God, that face!
This was a nightmare. It had to be. Those black eyes, the shredded cheeks, the long, terrible teeth, shellacked with blood.
She reached for the NURSE CALL, her thumb punching the button over and over.
It happened so fast, the movement was catlike—the little girl leapt off the floor and came down on Grammy Ann’s chest, blood running down her chin.
Her head tilted, and her lips moved, an awful noise coming out of them that sounded like a question in some demonic language.
Grammy Ann screamed, “Nurse!”
“CAN I have your red candy?” Oasis asked, and she asked nicely, like the nicest she’d ever asked for anything, but the old woman only screamed.
She would have been gentle, or tried at least, but the screaming hurt her ears, and so she lunged into the woman’s neck, and the screaming got louder, the woman pulling her hair now, and she was strong.
It wasn’t fair!
The old woman jerked Oasis’s head back before she could dig in, and hit her in the cheek.
Oasis roared and swiped one of her talons at the woman’s face, but it missed and sliced across her neck instead, and suddenly—
Red candy everywhere!
—and the old woman still flailing and thrashing but the smell and taste of the red candy drew Oasis in and she was at the woman’s neck again, biting, tearing, sucking, the blows still coming, but slower and softer, and the screams dissipating, and then the old woman lay still, and Oasis didn’t have to struggle anymore.
Instead, she just curled up beside the old woman, whose arm was around Oasis, and, come to think of it, it reminded her of her Grandma Betsy, and it was just like those times when she stayed at Grandma’s house and Grandma would read a book to her before bedtime, except instead of cozying up with a book, it was cozying up with that delicious red candy running out of Grandma’s neck, right down into Oasis’s throat in a steady stream, and she lay with the old woman in her bed for five minutes, until the last of her candy was gone.
ADAM walked into the room and locked the door after him.
He sat down on the bed, offered her a shard of ice.
“How you feeling?” he asked.
“Gigantic,” she said.
“Stop it, you’ve never been more beautiful.”
The water felt so good sliding down her throat, despite the micron-size portion.
“You just locked the door,” she said. “What’s that about?”
“Just hospital procedure when there’s a disturbance. Nurse Herrick came back. Do you need anything else?”
“I’m all right for now.”
Stacie thought he seemed distracted, and she was about to ask him what was wrong, but he was already up again, heading toward the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m thirsty now.” He smiled, but there was anxiety in his eyes. She’d seen this before—his strong face. Hiding pain with a smile. God forbid anyone ever think a minister could have a hard day, a sleepless night.
“They had some apple juice in the Fridge,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
ADAM came up behind Nurse Herrick at the entrance to the maternity ward. The double doors were closed, and she was kneeling, fighting to slide a lock into the floor.
He stepped up to one of the small, square windows at eye level and stared down the corridor on the other side of the door.
Linoleum floor shining dully under the ceiling panels of fluorescent light.
“Please don’t mention this to my wife.”
“You haven’t told her anything?”
“Just that there was a disturbance and we’re on a mandatory lockdown. Have you informed the other patients on the wing?”
“Yes. Well, sort of. I told them there was an outbreak in the ER, and we all have to stay put until help arrives.”
“How many in this wing at the moment?”
“I have a single mother who’s alone in her room.”
“So it’s only the four of us?”
Adam pushed the deadbolts up into the ceiling and glanced once more out the window before turning to Nurse Herrick.
“Can you deliver our baby?” he asked. “If the time comes and there’s no doctor?”
“Yes.” She wiped her eyes, crying again. “I’m sorry.” Her hands had begun to shake.
“What exactly did you see down there, Carla?”
“Do you want me to pray with you?”
She nodded, and Adam took her hands in his, had just opened his mouth when a scream came rushing up the corridor beyond the doors.
It didn’t sound human.
Felt like someone had run a cold finger down Adam’s spine and he took an involuntary step back.
“What’s out there, Carla?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can these doors stop it?”
“I don’t know.”
A thunderous succession of gunshots splintered the silence several floors below.
Adam stepped toward the window in the door.
The view through the single square foot of glass was of a long corridor that extended for a hundred and fifty feet to a sitting area.
One of the fluorescent lights halfway down had begun to flicker.
A figure appeared at the far end, turned the corner, and sprinted up the corridor toward the double doors—a woman in black scrubs and white tennis shoes, her curly brown hair pulled back in a scrunchie.
Adam could hear her crying and gasping, and she’d covered twenty strides when three others ripped around the corner in pursuit, chasing her, fast and low to the ground like pit bulls.
Carla whispered, “Oh God, that’s Pam from Radiology.”
Three seconds, and they were upon her, bringing her down in a violent tackle under that flickering light, the woman screaming, pleading for them to stop.
“We have to help her,” Adam said, reaching up to retract the top lock.
The nurse grabbed his arm.
“There’s nothing we can do.”
And they stood watching through the windows as two of the creatures held Pam from radiology down while a third swiped a bone-white talon through her jugular.
A stream of dark blood rushed out across the floor and they screeched and descended upon it, lapping it up off the linoleum with a ravenous intensity as their prey’s twitches became more sluggish.
“Dear God in heaven,” Adam said.
The creatures fastidiously sucked up every drop of blood, their long, black tongues digging into the crevices between linoleum tiles.
They had human hair and human clothes, but there the similarity ended, their faces literally exploding with prehistorically savage teeth and their hands deformed into talon-like claws.
The blood was gone, like someone had spit-shined the linoleum to a high-gloss sheen, and then one of the creatures looked up, down the length of the corridor toward the maternity wing.
Adam grabbed Carla’s arm, pulled her down.
Too late—footsteps already on the way, claws clicking across the floor.
Adam and Carla plastered themselves against the door as something bumped against the other side.
Adam craned his neck and looked up, saw a nightmare face peering through the window.
He whispered under his breath, The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not—
Something crashed into the door, set the bolts rattling in their housings.
Five seconds elapsed.
Adam’s heart slamming in his chest.
It came again—twice as hard, enough force to jar them both onto the floor.
Adam reached into his shirt, came suddenly to his feet, knees like jelly, but he spun around, despite the fear, and held up a small gold cross his father had given him on the day he’d graduated from seminary.
The monster running toward the door pulled up short two inches from the glass.
Its head tilted to the side—a fleeting moment of curiosity as its breath fogged the bloodied window.
Adam pressed the cross against the glass and spoke with as much authority as he could muster, “By the power of Jesus Christ—”
The talon that punched through came within a half-second of driving into Adam’s eye socket, but he parried out of the way, the thing screaming now, trying to climb through the square foot opening, jagged glass slicing into its head, but the moment the blood began to flow, the creature was sucked back out of the window.
The two others ripped it apart amid a chorus of screams, took less than a minute for them to fully exsanguinate the creature.
When they’d finished, they crouched motionless for a moment, as if briefly at peace with the glut of blood filling their stomachs.
One of them turned and looked at Adam and Carla. It stood, then ambled over, stopping ten feet away. It wore a knee-length, floral-print dress, its blond hair still pinned up with silver barrettes.
Adam realized its black eyes weren’t looking at them. They were studying the doors, the locking mechanisms.
At length, it turned away from them, cried out to its companion, and the two monsters loped back down the corridor.
Adam looked over at Carla when they had disappeared around the corner at the far end.
“We have to barricade this door.”
He turned to head back toward the nurses’ station, but stopped in his tracks.
Stacie stood twenty feet away in her hospital gown, hands cupped around her enormous belly, a look of pure horror on her face.
“SHERIFF, Lanz wasn’t kidding. There’s a bunch of monsters in the hospital.”
He stood by the open rear of his Suburban with his cell pressed against his ear. He’d thought a few moments before making the call. Decided not to say that formerly normal people were turning into those monsters. First he had to get the sheriff on board with the simple existence of the monsters.
“Okay, Clay,” the sheriff said. “I know it’s your weekend off, so it’s okay if you started drinking early, but—”
“Sheriff, I just blew three heads off. And they were not—I repeat, not human heads. The ER looks like a slaughterhouse and Lanz is nowhere in sight.”
“Not even a nurse around?”
“Not a live one.”
“Where’s hospital security?”
He decided not to mention that he was the cause of their passing.
A long silence on the other end, then, “You’re not shittin’ me? You better not be shittin’ me, Clay.”
“I’m telling you I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I think you need the National Guard, or staties at the very least.”
Clay clenched his teeth. This was no time to get territorial. Something was going on. He was sure that nurse hadn’t shown up for work looking like that. He’d seen enough vampire and zombie movies to know that if you get bit you turn into one. That seemed to be what was happening here. And that meant more monsters were running loose inside—with Shanna.
Shit, what if she got herself bit?
“Sheriff, just send help, okay?”
“I’ll free up somebody—”
“Somebody?” he shouted. “We don’t need somebody, we need a fucking platoon—a full company. The people in that hospital are in deep shit, sheriff. You send in the troops. You send in the fucking cavalry!”
“Okay, okay. I’ll call in the staties. But this better be worth it. I’m trusting you, Clay. Meanwhile, you’ll stay?”
“Not a problem.”
“I love when you say that. Just hang around outside until—”
“That will be a problem, sir.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, shit. Just wait where you are and—”
“I’m going back in.”
He ended the call and slipped the duffel bag’s strap onto his shoulder.
The bag weighed a freaking ton. Clay could feel his collarbone bending under its weight as he walked toward the ER. Well, why not? It held just about everything he’d been working on since last year’s show—all his new pieces and the ones he’d been modifying. They’d been on their way to the Denver convention where he’d planned to show them off and demo a few. Now it looked like he was going to have to put some of them to use.
He had to admit he was excited about this. No, scratch that—he was ecstatic. He had murderous, blood-thirsty monsters to fight. He could throw anything he wanted at them and it was all good. If only Shanna were back home and out of harm’s way, this would be perfect. This had a gun show beat to shit.
He had an old friend and a new piece out and ready. His lovely lady, Alice, the nickel-plated Taurus Raging Bull .454 Casull revolver he’d owned for years, was loaded with Cor-Bon 300-grain JSP flat heads. The .454 Casull could take down a cape buffalo. These babies had a muzzle speed of 1800 feet per second and kicked like the devil himself. He stashed Alice in his belt.
In hand was the newbie, an AA-12 automatic shotgun. Its drum was loaded with thirty-two three-and-a-half inch twelve-gauge shells loaded with #2 titanium alloy shot. He could shoot one round at a time or hold down the trigger and fire at a rate of 300 per minute. A true street sweeper.
It might have to become an ER sweeper.
He stopped inside the doors and looked around. Everything seemed quiet and still—no, wait…
The patient on the stretcher, an elderly, gray-haired woman, was writhing under the safety straps, hissing and spitting teeth. Shit, where were the two EMTs who’d been dead on the floor a few minutes ago?
Suddenly the patient sat up, ripping through the straps. Clay watched, fascinated, as those unreal teeth shredded her wrinkled lips. He hesitated. A little old lady…someone’s granma. But as the teeth sprouted further and talons popped out of her fingertips, he realized this lady would eat her grandchildren without a second thought.
Holding the AA-12 chest high with the stock clamped under his arm, he let fly a round. The number-two shot took off most of her face and slammed her back on the stretcher.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
But then she began to rise again.
His second shot knocked her flat again and left only her lower jaw hanging, swinging from one hinge. This time she was down to stay.
“Sorry, granma”—and he truly was—”but you weren’t granma anymore.”
His ears were ringing from the loud reports. He always wore ear protectors on the range and had a set in the duffel, but didn’t dare wear them now. He needed to hear these things coming. The racket must have attracted attention. A bloody blond guy in a softball uniform was stumbling toward him with only half the usual complement of talons because he had only half a left arm.
Took two head shots to stop him.
And then a second softball player—bearded with a black eye—lurched around the corner and charged him. He took three rounds.
Toughest damn sonsabitches to kill. He had only 25 shells left in the AA-12’s drum and it was taking two or three shots each to put these monsters down. He hoped there weren’t too many more. He’d brought a shitload of ammo, but not an endless supply.
But what a weapon. He was firing major shot with barely any recoil.
He scoured the ER—all the treatment areas and the wide-open supply room. All clear. He could move on. But how was he going to locate Shanna? He checked his cell and got no service. The in-house lines were useless if he didn’t know what extension she was near.
He moved toward the doors to the hospital proper but stopped just before he pushed through. Anything could be waiting on the other side—a whole army of monsters.
He placed his duffel on the nurse’s station counter, then stepped back toward the entrance where he grabbed granma’s stretcher. He got behind it and started pushing it toward the door. Hard to get traction in the congealing blood all over the floor but he wheeled through it and had built up decent speed when he rammed it through the double doors.
All hell broke loose.
Half a dozen monsters leaped onto the stretcher, tearing at its occupant in a wild, hissing frenzy that lasted all of maybe twenty seconds. They soon realized she was dead and looked around for a new victim.
Clay was already backpedaling when they spotted him. They charged and bunched up at the doorway on either side of the stretcher, elbowing and clawing at each other to be first through. This slowed them—not much, but enough to let Clay put some distance between him and them. He set his feet and raised the AA-12 to his shoulder. He sighted down the barrel, pulled the trigger, and kept it pulled.
The AA-12 went to full auto then, firing five rounds a second. He sprayed back and forth, two quick passes, left and right at first, and then more deliberate, aiming for the heads, watching them explode. The drum emptied quickly, but during those five seconds he shredded those monsters, all six of them. They went down and stayed down, leaving the doors, the walls, the ceiling, the stretcher dripping blood and brains.
He’d done it. Wiped them out. All of them.
Well, all except one. A guy in a torn-up bloody suit with the back of his head gone was trying to crawl toward him.
Clay watched him and couldn’t resist: “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire thirty-two shots or only thirty-one?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself.’ “
He was reaching for the Taurus when two more of the damn things appeared in the doorway and charged him.
Not trusting a hurried shot with the kind of kick a Casull delivered, Clay turned and ran for the supply room. Slipped and almost went down as he tried to grab his duffel from the counter. Missed the handle but kept on going. They were right on his tail. He could hear their hissing, could almost feel their talons slashing the air at the nape of his neck.
How many of these things were there? Had the whole hospital turned? Weren’t there any humans left?
What about Shanna?
He ducked into the supply room and whipped the door closed behind him. Almost closed. One of the things managed to shove its hand through. The door caught its wrist. Clay heard bones crunch as he threw his weight against the door. More weight hit from the other side, pushing it open a few more inches.
Needed a wedge, or something to block it. A metal shelf behind him. He grabbed it and pulled it toward him. He ducked aside as it crashed against the door, sending bandages and bottles of disinfectant smashing to the floor—but not before the thing shoved its arm and shoulder through.
Clay stayed out of reach of the slashing talons as the thing gnashed its awful teeth and hissed. It wore a jacket with the emblem of the ambulance outside. One of the formerly dead EMTs. He saw a second one right behind it, trying to push its pal through the opening. That gave him in idea.
He pulled out Alice. Only half a dozen rounds in the Raging Bull, but they were .454 Casulls. He aimed between the eyes of the lead monster and squeezed off a round. The report was like a punch in this small room, and the kick damn near sprained his wrist, but when he looked, the doorway was empty. Cautiously, he peeked through and saw both monsters on the ground, both with holes through their foreheads and enormous exit wounds.
“A two-fer! Awriiight, Alice!”
He wished someone was around for a high five, or at least a knuckle bump. So he settled for kissing Alice.
“There’s my good girl. You’re the best.”
Then he noticed the first one twitching.
Aw, not again. He wasn’t going to get up, was he?
No. The twitching stopped and it lay still.
He spotted the phone at the nursing station and had an idea. But first…
He grabbed his duffel from the counter, locked himself in the supply room, and began to reload the AA-12’s drum.
“EVERYONE!” Jenny said. “I need everyone’s attention! I want all of us to move away from the window, to the other side of the playroom. Now.”
The hallway—just beyond the room-length finger-painted window—was filled with draculas.
They’d run up en masse after sounds of firecrackers came from the lower floors. Jenny guessed it hadn’t been fireworks, but rather gunshots. These monsters seemed to have been retreating, but stopped when they’d caught sight of the children through the window.
At least eight of them. Maybe ten. Clawing at the glass, pressing against it, knocking on it. Some smeared blood and bits of gore across the surface, while others fell into line to lick the blood up with spongy, misshapen tongues and thick, ropey strands of saliva. Saliva right out of that movie Randall loved to watch over and over again. Aliens, with Sigourney Weaver.
“You kinda look like Sigourney Weaver,” he’d told her, every time he played that VHS tape. “Cept you got better boobs.”
As the children gathered around her, Jenny wondered where Randall was. She hoped he was okay. She also hoped that once he found the little girl, he wouldn’t try to bring her back here. Too many of those things out there. Even her husband, whom Jenny thought was damn near indestructible, wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Will they break the glass?” Peter asked.
“No,” Jenny answered firmly.
But that’s what she feared, and why she ordered everyone away. The glass was thick—a necessity in the children’s ward—and would be tough to crack bare-handed. These creatures were strong, but so far the glass had resisted their pushing and pounding.
If they did get in, Jenny needed a weapon. Preferably one like Sigourney had in that film. Keeping her eyes on the window, she walked over to the old woman, the one who’d thrown up. The stains on her dentures and fingers were telltale signs of a smoker.
“I need your lighter,” Jenny told her.
The woman didn’t answer. She just stared, wide-eyed, at the window. The draculas continued to knock and pound at the glass. Some bit at it, their teeth leaving scratches with the sound of nails across a chalkboard.
The boy holding the old woman’s hand nudged her. “Grandma, the nurse lady needs your lighter.”
The old woman stared at the child like she had just now realized he was there. Then, without a word, she handed her purse to Jenny. Jenny dug around until she found it; a cheap, plastic disposable brand. She flicked it once, and the flame came on big and bright.
She heard a CRUNCH, followed by squeals of fright from the children. Jenny stared at the window and saw that one of the monsters had picked up an office chair and was bashing it against the glass. Jenny didn’t even need to read the dracula’s nametag on its lab coat to know who it was. She recognized the hair.
After the second hit, the window spiderwebbed, but stayed intact. It had a plastic safety coating, similar to the one used on car windshields, so children throwing toys wouldn’t get showered with shards.
Lanz tried twice more, but the glass held. His eyes met Jenny’s, and his toothy mouth yawed open, a hiss escaping the crosshatched fangs. He tossed the chair aside and scurried off, probably to look for something bigger to throw at the window.
Moving quickly, Jenny went into the supply closet Randall had gotten open. She immediately zeroed in on a portable oxygen tank. It was the large MM size, brushed aluminum with a painted green top, almost the size of a scuba tank. A good start, but she needed more. Contrary to popular belief, pure oxygen wasn’t flammable.
Luckily, the hospital had something that was very flammable. And it was stored in the same closet as the oxygen.
Jenny walked past the medical supplies to the extra stock for the coffee machine at the nurse’s station. She bypassed the packages of regular and decaf, the filters, and the sugar, and took down a full box of non-dairy creamer. Twelve bottles, 15 oz. of powder per bottle. Enough to set a whole building on fire.
Finally, she found some rubber tubing, a large cannula, and a bottle of rubber cement.
Working quickly, Jenny removed the caps from all twelve creamer bottles. A plastic seal covered the opening, keeping the product fresh. She applied a big dollop of rubber cement to the top of each, and set the box next to the doorway.
Next, she hooked the cannula—a large, metal tube with a pointed tip—up to one end of the hose. After pulling over the oxygen tank on a hand truck, she attached the other end of the hose to the nozzle, and pulled the toggle lever to give it a try. O2 hissed out of the cannula, strong enough to blow her hair back.
“Miss! I need your help,” Jenny said.
But the old woman, like the other adult in the room, appeared to be catatonic.
Dr. Lanz had returned, resuming his assault on the window. But rather than attack it with a chair, he was now wielding a fire extinguisher. It was heavy, compact, and would easily break through the glass in another swing or two.
Jenny patted her pockets, frantic, afraid she’d misplaced the lighter. She found it in her hip pocket.
Jenny studied the lighter, and frowned when she saw it had one of those child-proof locks on it.
CRACK! Some glass tinkled onto the tile floor, a medium-size hole appearing in the window.
“Quickly! Can any of you children operate a child-proof lighter?”
Every child raised their hand.
“Peter!” she said, calling the oldest of them. “Come here!”
The hole was now big enough to crawl through, and one of the draculas got ahead of Lanz and forced itself through the opening, sliding on its belly into the playroom.
“Light the tops like this!” Jenny ordered, bending down and touching the flame to the rubber cement on the first bottle of creamer. It glowed blue, and Jenny picked up the bottle, jabbed the cannula through the plastic bottom, and then pointed it at the creature scrambling on all fours toward her.
“Everyone get back!”
She cranked the nozzle, the compressed air blowing the front off the bottle, showering the dracula with white powder.
A moment later, the powder ignited in a tremendous fireball, the powerful WHUMP! hitting Jenny with a blast of heated air that burned off all the fine little hairs on her arms.
The dracula fared much worse. Every square inch of it was throwing off flames. It twisted around on the floor, slapping at the inferno it had become, oily black smoke swirling up into the air and smelling a lot like bacon cooking.
Bacon, with a hint of artificial vanilla.
Thank you, Mythbusters.
Jenny turned off the oxygen. While non dairy creamer had nothing in it that made it flammable, it was a fine powder, and many powders were ignitable simply because they had such a huge surface area. Flour, sawdust, dust in grain silos—they’d caused countless fires and explosions throughout history. The oxygen worked as an accelerant, and also dispersed the powder so it spread evenly through the air.
“Light the next one, Peter!”
Jenny knocked off the smoking, melted plastic container from the end of the cannula, and jammed on a burning one just as Dr. Lanz flopped into the playroom.
“Now you’re fired, Lanz!” Jenny yelled. Then she hit him with her makeshift flamethrower, dusting the doctor in a cloud of powder.
But at the same time, Lanz had emptied his extinguisher, putting out the flame before it had a chance to ignite the cloud of creamer enveloping him.
Son of a—
Snarling, Dr. Lanz rushed at Jenny, far too quick for her to prep another creamer bottle, his hideous mouth unhinging at the jaw and a look of smug satisfaction in his predatory eyes.
Jenny threw herself backward, Lanz’s claw swiping the air a few inches in front of her face. A cloud of sweet-smelling vanilla non-dairy creamer floated above his head and shoulders, and a ropey line of drool escaped his cage of teeth, dripping down his neck.
“Die, you monster! Die!”
Peter Bernacky, his teenage face defiant, stuck his arm into the dust plume, his hand on the lighter.
The flash blinded Jenny, a wave of superheated air sunburning her face and bare arms, singeing her eyebrows, instantly drying out her mouth.
Both Lanz and Peter instantly burst into flames. Lanz scurried away, still holding the extinguisher, turning it on himself and dousing the fire as he fled back through the hole he’d made in the window.
Peter screamed, but the sound was instantly muffled by the flame entering his lungs. He staggered away from Jenny, arms pin-wheeling, heading straight for the grandmother with the dentures.
She tried to push him back, but Peter wrapped his arms around her, setting her clothes ablaze. They did a burning dance for several steps, then fell over in a tangle of screams and flailing limbs and burning flesh.
The sprinkler finally came on, dousing the pair, and Jenny turned her attention toward the broken window as another dracula climbed through. She charged it with the cannula, pulling it free from the oxygen tank, and spearing the creature through its left eye. The monster hissed, blood and bits of brain matter spraying out of the hollow end, arcing across the playroom, and landing directly in the mouth of the catatonic woman who’d been watching the entire scene unfold with her jaw hanging open.
Children screamed. Flesh sizzled and popped. Jenny cast a frantic look around, seeking a weapon as the dracula flopped through the window, crashing at her feet where he squirmed and undulated like a landed swordfish. Jenny looked up as another dracula snaked into the opening. But rather than attack her, it pounced on the other creature, positioning its mouth over the fountain of blood and tissue pumping through the cannula, and locking its lips around it like a drinking straw.
Jenny spotted the oxygen tank through the steam and hefted it, adrenalin giving her the strength to lift the eighty-plus pounds. She slammed it onto the new intruder’s skull, driving it to the floor, squashing it like a stomped pumpkin. Then she hoisted the tank again and pancaked the monster with the cannula eyestalk.
Another dracula slid in through the window. Then another. They descended upon their fallen comrades, chewing and tearing and lapping up the gore.
We need to get the hell out of here. Now.
“Everyone! Come on!”
There weren’t many left to follow her order. The grandmother was down on the floor, convulsing. The mother was keeled over, throwing up. Most of Peter’s hair had burned off, his eyelids and nose were scorched away, and he was blessedly still. That left five children. Three listened, running to Jenny’s side. The son of the vomiting mother stood there, eyes wide, immobile. The grandson had curled up fetal, hugging his knees into his chest.
“Into the storage closet!” Jenny yelled.
Then she grabbed the shirt collar of the boy on the floor and tugged him away from his grandmother, dragging him to the closet. She turned to go back for the other boy, but more draculas had infiltrated the playroom, and they were tearing through the rest of them like a piranha tornado. Forcing herself to back away from the slaughter, cursing herself for not being able to do more, Jenny grabbed the storage room door and slammed it closed, hoping that whatever Randall had done to open it hadn’t damaged the lock.
She gave it a cautious push, saw that it held, then watched through the small, square window as the creatures turned the playroom into a blood buffet. Horrified, yet fascinated, she couldn’t help but wonder how they could drink so much. She squinted at one of them, gorging until its belly distended to practically bursting, like a pregnancy that had lasted twenty months.
But only seconds after it stopped feeding, its belly began to shrink.
Once again she thought of Randall and his old horror movies. One of his favorites was actually relevant to their current situation. The Killer Shrews, a black and white cheapie infamous for dressing up dogs as the titular rodent monsters. The film’s heroes were trapped in a house, the bloodthirsty shrews everywhere, clawing to get inside and devour them. Like their diminutive counterparts, the shrews had to eat ninety percent of their body weight every day, or else they’d starve—a byproduct of their hyper-metabolism.
Apparently, the draculas also functioned at a highly increased metabolic rate, which explained why Jenny and the others had been able to get to the closet without being slaughtered. These creatures had to eat constantly, and they took the path of least resistance to do so. So they’d leapt upon the dead and dying, the small and weak, even if the injured were other draculas.
Jenny tore herself away from the spectacle and tried to focus on what needed to be done. First, barricade the door. Next, look for weapons. Then attend to the wounded.
But even though she was trained for emergencies, Jenny found herself paralyzed by worry.
Strangely, it wasn’t fear for herself, or the people she was with.
It was for her husband.
Please, please, please, God, let him be okay.
DR. Lanz tore at his face, the burned flesh coming off in strips. The pain was unbearable, but not as overwhelming as the heavenly odor of his fried skin. Hunger pangs doubled him over, the agony even worse than the fire damage, and Lanz momentarily lost his self-control and began shoving his own toasted flesh into his mouth, including a walnut-size chunk that was quite possibly his nose.
That bitch nurse Jenny had done this to him. Jumbled as his thoughts were becoming, Lanz could still recall firing her ass. She’d had the audacity to question one of his treatments—right in front of the patient and the other nurses. Granted, he’d been a little coked up at the time and had inadvertently prescribed penicillin to someone who had an allergy, but he couldn’t allow that kind of blatant insubordination. Not in his ER.
The bloody nurses’ union tried to fight him on it, but Lanz had ultimately prevailed by threatening to walk. A bluff, but he knew the hospital needed him more than it needed some know-it-all nurse.
But she’d gotten back at Lanz. She’d burned him good.
No matter. Even as he peeled off his face and neck and shoved them into his toothy maw, he could feel the skin regenerating, regrowing.
I’m invincible. You think you can stop me, Nurse Bolton? I know how to deal with your insubordinate ass.
Gliding down the stairs, Lanz reached the basement. He’d brought Winslow down here a few times, let her blow him near the furnace. Even with the lights off, Lanz’s vision was perfect. Yet another enhancement, courtesy of the virus. He hurried past the boilers, chewing on the charred flesh of his right hand, until he found what he sought.
The circuit breaker.
I can see in the dark, Nurse Bolton. Can you?
“HEY, kid!” Randall shouted. “Little girl!”
Crap! He limped down the hallway after her, cursing silently with each step. He couldn’t blame a five-year-old kid for freaking out, and yet…okay, maybe he could. She was going to get both of them killed. If his leg wasn’t so messed up he could’ve scooped her up in about three seconds, but she was already halfway down the hall, sobbing and screaming as she ran.
“Little girl!” he repeated, trying to use his friendliest tone of voice. “It’s going to be okay! I can keep you safe!” Also, little girl, there’s a Santa Claus and an Easter Bunny and a Tooth Fairy.
He wasn’t going to let her get eaten. No way in hell. He was going to return to Jenny with a safe little girl on his shoulders, no matter how many draculas he had to splatter to do it.
Though she was a fast little fucker, his legs were a lot longer, and he’d almost caught up to her by the time she rounded the corner. She darted into an open doorway, then screamed. Randall limped in after her.
He was in an office. A pretty nice one. Clearly the guy who used it worked with numbers instead of patients. Randall thought that might be him behind the desk, a bald middle-aged man with a dracula chewing on his neck.
The dracula’s face was buried in its meal, and it didn’t see them. Randall grabbed the little girl’s hand and tugged her back out into the hallway…
…where six or seven creatures emerged around the far corner. Randall yanked the little girl back into the office and slammed the door shut.
Shit! Shit! Shit!
The dracula twisted its head and looked over at him, its mouth so laden with gore that Randall could barely see its fangs. It regarded him for a moment, then slammed its mouth back onto the number-cruncher’s wound.
So they weren’t homicidal. Just…hungry.
The door had a push-button lock on it. Randall quickly locked it but didn’t feel all that much safer. He had no idea if those things in the hallway would come after him or not.
“It’s okay,” he told the little girl. “They can’t break down a door.”
He was saying that based on absolutely no proof. For all he knew, they were wandering around the hospital kicking down doors left and right. The little girl seemed to have gone from pure panic to frozen terror, which made things a little easier for him. He hoped her mind wasn’t permanently damaged.
Randall still didn’t know much about how these things behaved, but he figured this one was unlikely to finish guzzling the blood and then settle down for a long nap. He had to take the offensive instead of waiting for it to come after them.
Damn, he wished he still had his hatchet. Though the chainsaw had worked nicely before, it really wasn’t intended to be used as a club, and he didn’t want to ruin it before he had the opportunity to find some gas. He’d have to think smaller.
Screwdriver through the back of the head? That should do it.
He set the chainsaw on the floor and pulled the screwdriver out of his belt.
What if the change was only temporary? Randall hadn’t felt any guilt about slaughtering the other monsters, but what if they could be saved? What if the dracula that was slurping blood right in front of him was a nice guy, with a wife and two kids at home, and this change—this horrific creature he had become—was reversible? Didn’t that make Randall a murderer?
A fountain of crimson jettisoned from the office man’s neck as the dracula opened a new vein. The dracula lapped at it greedily, letting it spray all over its face. Randall decided that he’d rather have a bothered conscience than his own body parts strewn across the hospital.
“Close your eyes,” Randall told the little girl.
She squeezed them shut immediately. Good. She was still hearing him, at least.
Randall slowly walked over to the desk, clutching the screwdriver in his fist, looking for the best place to jam it. Probably the forehead. The dracula seemed aware of his approach, but was apparently not concerned enough about the threat to risk losing some of that scrumptious blood. What was the appeal?
The dracula made a soft, almost inaudible sound, like a lion protecting its kill. It thinks I’m gonna steal its dinner.
It was time to move fast. Randall stepped forward…and his leg, which he’d abused so relentlessly this evening, finally couldn’t take it anymore. It twisted, popping some more stitches, and Randall hit the floor, several trickles of blood streaming from his calf. He gritted his teeth and winced but didn’t scream.
The dracula pounced.
Randall swung the screwdriver at it, bashing it in the fangs. Unfortunately, none of them broke off. The screwdriver popped out of his hand and fell to the floor.
The dracula, jaws open wide, jerked its head toward him. Randall punched it between the eyes, knocking a spray of blood out of the side of its mouth—the number cruncher’s blood that it hadn’t swallowed yet.
He slammed his hand against the creature’s neck and held it tight, trying to keep its jaws away from his flesh. Some droplets of blood fell from its fangs and pattered onto his cheek. Shit! What if it was infectious? He pressed his lips together as tightly as he could and prayed that none of it would drip into his eyes.
He squeezed its neck with one hand while feeling around for the screwdriver with the other. He’d seen this trick work remarkably well in a zombie movie, although in that case the guy had actually been able to find the goddamn screwdriver! Where had the stupid thing gone? It’s not like it was round and would’ve rolled away!
A large drop of blood hit his lips.
Forget the screwdriver. He reached for his belt and grabbed the first thing he touched: a pair of pliers. He opened the pincers, pounded them against the creature’s throat, and squeezed them shut. Then he yanked, tearing off a chunk of the dracula’s neck. A shower of blood poured down upon him.
He did it again, getting one half of the pliers into the hole he’d just created, and tearing off an even larger strip.
The dracula flailed and spasmed and helplessly clawed at its throat but remained very much alive.
Randall ripped out two more pieces of its neck. Then he bashed it in the nose.
It struggled quite a bit less now.
After the next chunk, the dracula gave up the fight. Its lifeless body collapsed on Randall. He rolled it off him and pushed himself up to a seated position.
He had blood all over his face, but none seemed to have gotten into any orifices as far as he could tell. He at least wasn’t snorting blood. He lifted his gown and used it to mop off his face, although it was difficult to find a part of the gown that wasn’t already wet.
He couldn’t feel too bad for the creature. Even if it could revert to human, its face would be all mutilated from where the teeth broke through. Nobody would want to live like that.
The little girl stared at him, unmoving.
The man at the desk moaned.
No fucking way…
Randall grabbed the top of the desk and used it as leverage to push himself up. His injured leg really didn’t like that. He shoved the pain out of his mind.
“Help me…” said the man. How was he still alive? Randall was probably the least qualified person in the entire building to make such a diagnosis, but he figured the man had a minute left to live, tops. “Get me to…” The man paused to cough up some blood.
“I don’t think I can help you,” Randall said, feeling absolutely sick to his stomach.
“Get me to surgery,” the man whispered. “I can do it. I just need you to take me there.”
Even regular surgery wasn’t going to help him, much less self-performed surgery. “I can’t,” said Randall. “My leg is ruined. I can’t carry you.”
“I can’t. I would if I could, I swear, but there’s nothing I can do for you.” Randall knew he should lie to him—the man was a goner anyway—but he just couldn’t bring himself to do that.
The man stared at him with dying eyes. “You’re going…to burn in hell.”
Randall watched helplessly as his eyes went blank.
What kind of asshole would do that to somebody? Randall had no time for guilt; he had to focus on the person he could actually save.
He looked over at the little girl. She recoiled.
Why was she scared of him?
Oh, yeah. He was a giant-sized blood-soaked man in a hospital gown who’d ripped the neck out of a monster with a pair of pliers. Her fear was justified.
“What’s your name?” he asked, again trying to use his kid-friendly voice.
She didn’t answer.
“I’m Randall.” He set the bloody pliers down on the desk, hoping that might help. Even though it hurt, he got down on one knee, bringing himself closer to her level. “I’m a lumberjack. Do you know what that is?”
She just stared at him.
“Do you know Paul Bunyan?”
She nodded. Randall smiled.
“I’m not Paul Bunyan, but I’m one of his friends. He’s a good guy. Have you heard of Babe?”
“His blue ox?”
“Yeah. I get to ride him sometimes. Now, Paul gets really mad if his fellow lumberjacks let little girls get hurt on their watch, so I promise you that if you listen to me and do what I say, I’m going to protect you from the monsters, okay?”
“What’s your name?”
Tina. That’s what Randall had wanted to name his daughter, if he and Jenny ever had one.
Well, okay, it was one of about fifty names that he’d considered. Not a huge coincidence. But still…
He stood up again, promising himself that if he lived through this he’d spend the next five years on a beach not moving his leg at all.
A peek through the tiny window in the door didn’t offer a wide view of the hallway, but at least there were no draculas in the immediate vicinity. Had the others just moved on past, or were they still there and just out of his viewing range?
The lights went out.
Tina made a single, high-pitched scream.
And then came a sound on the other side of the door.
Squeak, squeak, squeak…
Shanna paced the perimeter of the chapel—the Catholic chapel. Blessed Crucifixion had two. One non-denom and, since the hospital was run by nuns, the other Catholic. Very Catholic. This one ran slightly longer than wide with about a dozen folding chairs set up in three rows. Crucifixes, stained glass windows—fake, illuminated with fluorescents behind them—and even the Stations of the Cross. The whole enchilada.
Shanna wasn’t Catholic, wasn’t much of anything as far as religion went, but for the first time in her life she was taking comfort in depictions of some poor man suffering horrific torture.
Maybe it was because of seeing Mortimer down in the lobby—or rather, what he’d become. She’d barely escaped with her life. But she couldn’t get the image of his face out of her mind.
He looked just like the “Dracula skull” that he’d jabbed into his throat.
And the Dracula part had driven her to seek the company of crucifixes.
Irrational? Absolutely. Comforting? Absolutely.
She slowed her speeding, panicked thoughts and forced her brain into analytical mode. Take it in order:
1) Mortimer had received the “Dracula skull.”
2) Mortimer had stabbed himself—deliberately, it seemed—with the skull’s fangs.
3) He had been brought to the hospital.
4) Shortly thereafter she’d seen a blood-soaked man in Mortimer’s pants and belt but with a head identical to the Dracula skull.
5) Ernie’s head had been removed from his body.
The only conclusion she could draw from what she knew was that Mortimer had changed into some sort of murderous creature and that the blood all over him was Ernie’s.
Come on, Shanna. That’s horror-movie stuff.
Obviously it wasn’t the only possible scenario—she could be the mark in one of those hidden-camera spoof shows, but somehow she didn’t see Blessed Crucifixion going along with that.
No, as bizarre and way out and insane as it seemed, that was the only scenario that fit all the facts.
Something supernatural was going on, something to do with vampires, or something like vampires. Maybe the creature that had started all the vampire stories, the wellspring of the legends, had returned. She didn’t know what, or how, or why. And if a vampire was out there, she wanted to be in here, amid crosses and crucifixes and stations of the cross.
Did the police know?
Probably on their way. She’d heard shooting, lots of it, so hospital security must have gotten involved. Probably all over now.
The ER would know. She’d left Jenny there. Maybe she could find a phone and call down. There—one on the wall. She lifted the receiver and pressed the “O” button. After four rings a message came on, telling her that all lines were busy and to please hold. Okay, she’d—
“Shanna? Shanna Davies?”
She dropped the phone and spun. The voice came from the ceiling. She looked at the big crucifix at the far end of the room. Had Jesus just called her name?
“Shanna, if you’re in the hospital and can hear this, please call extension two-seven-nine-four.” It came from the speaker in the ceiling—the hospital paging system. “Shanna Davies call extension two-seven-nine-four.”
Clay’s voice! She never thought she’d ever be this glad to hear that voice. The police were here.
She cut the call to the switchboard and punched in 2794.
“Oh, Clay, where are you?”
“The ER. Where are you?”
“The chapel on the second floor. I’m coming down—”
“No-no-no-no! Stay right where you are. I’ll come to you. Stay put. Whatever you do, stay out of the hallways.”
Her gut clenched. Stay put?
“What are you saying? What’s going on?”
“All hell’s broken loose, babe. Monsters everywhere.”
Monsters…more than one?
“What do you—?”
“They’ve got two chapels, as I recall. Which are you in?”
“The doors—do they have loop handles, the kind you could stick something through?”
She looked. One on each.
“Find something—anything—to stick through them till I get there. Don’t let anyone in but me, and I do mean anyone. Got that?”
“You’re scaring me, Clay.”
“Good. Scared’s a good thing to be right now, considering what’s roaming the halls. You sit tight. I’m on my way.”
Shaken, she hung up.
…considering what’s roaming the halls…monsters everywhere…
That didn’t sound good, not good at all. But it dovetailed with the vampire thing…they created more of themselves. But didn’t you have to die and get buried and rise from the grave to become one? Didn’t it take—?
She heard the elevator open. Clay?
No. No way he could make it from the ER yet.
Don’t let anyone in but me, and I do mean anyone.
She was going to take that to heart—her own picked up its tempo as she looked around. Something to stick through the handles…
Her gaze settled on the crucifix. No, too big. Never get Jesus’s knees through those handles. But the slim cross in the side alcove ran about six feet along the upright.
She hurried over to it and yanked on it, expecting resistance. But it was hung on a nail like a plaque. It came loose and toppled toward her. She tried to hold it up but it over balanced her and she fell backward into the folding chairs with a terrible racket.
No way anyone—or anything—in the hall hadn’t heard that.
The cross had landed atop her. She pushed it off, jumped to her feet, and lugged it toward the doors. This wasn’t some plaster casting, this thing was solid wood, and not light. She’d chosen an academic field to avoid exercise. Now she wished—
She froze for a second. A sound outside…like a hiss? Panic lent her strength, lunging her forward to shove the long end of the upright through the loops of both handles.
“Did it!” she whispered.
Then something hissed and hit the other side of the doors.
Shanna couldn’t help it. She screamed.
And instantly wished she hadn’t because it seemed to incite the thing outside. It slammed its full weight against the doors, moving them inward an inch or so, but the cross held and kept them closed. This seemed to infuriate the thing. It threw itself against the barrier, and she could hear claws gouging the outer surface.
Mortimer…trying to get in?
She backed away from the ferocity of the attack as the thing repeatedly hurled itself against the doors.
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
Didn’t it feel pain? Didn’t it get tired?
And where was Clay?
As the assault continued she noticed a faint diagonal line begin to stretch across the cross’s upright between the door handles. A crack? Oh, no!
She stepped closer. Yes! The wood was breaking under the relentless onslaught. She pressed her own weight against the doors to take the stress off the cross but was knocked back as the thing outside rammed them with shocking force.
She had an awful thought. When Clay did arrive, what could he do? He’d be powerless against that raging thing outside. No, wait. What was she thinking? This was Clay she was worried about. He’d have a gun—Clay always had a gun. But would a gun work against these things?
Meanwhile, she had to fend for herself. She needed to slide the upright farther through the handles so the cracked part was no longer between them. She got a grip on the crosspiece just as the thing rammed the doors with a particularly vicious blow.
That did it. The upright split and the doors flew open, knocking her back. Shanna staggered but didn’t fall. She still had her grip on the cross. She held it up as she looked at the thing.
It wasn’t Mortimer—or rather what Mortimer had become. This one wore a bloody orderly’s uniform. A piece seemed to be missing from its neck. Its skin was cocoa colored but the fangs were the same as the “Dracula skull.”
The thing saw the cross and cringed.
It’s afraid of the cross! Yes!
“Back!” she cried, hoping to drive it out of the chapel.
It looked around and crouched as if the walls and ceiling were closing in on it.
“Out! You chose the wrong place to break into. This is God’s territory. Leave!”
The creature looked again at the cross, then straightened. It gazed at Shanna with its black, black eyes and shook its head. If it had any lips left, it might have smiled.
“No.” She backed away. It had been toying with her. “No, please!”
It leaped—literally flew through the air toward her. She angled the cross to fend it off. The upright had split diagonally along the grain, leaving a ragged point. The creature landed on it, driving Shanna back. This time she did lose her footing, but kept her grip on the crosspiece as she went down. The head of the upright caught on the carpet, and its other end plunged a good foot deep into the creature’s chest.
As the impaled thing hissed and thrashed, Shanna scrambled to her feet and backed away, waiting for it to die. Staked through the heart—that was how you killed vampires, right?
But it didn’t die. Shanna watched in horror as it lifted the cross and tried to pull it out.
“No!” She stepped forward and pushed against the crosspiece. “No way!”
It clawed at her, raking the air in front of her face with its talons, but couldn’t get closer. If it ever connected, her nose and lips would be ripped off.
Now it pushed against the cross, taking her by surprise. She couldn’t hold against its strength. The thing was backing her up. She flashed on what it was up to—trying to pin her against a wall, or better yet, into a corner. Couldn’t let that happen.
She angled them around, keeping open space behind her.
Not so open. The back of her legs hit a chair. She went down. The thing was above her, slashing with its talons.
Through her scream she thought she heard someone shout, “Hey!”
As the thing looked up, a number of things happened almost at once: A black steel tube punched through its fangs into its mouth with a sharp crack, followed almost immediately by a blast that slammed her eardrums; the back of the creature’s head dissolved in a red spray, taking a good deal of the forehead with it, leaving a pair of black eyes with an oddly surprised look.
Shanna held back a surge of bile and shoved against the cross, toppling the creature backward as Deputy Clayton Theel pulled her to her feet and wrapped her in his arms.
“Christ!” she heard him say through the whine in her ears. “If I’d been half a minute later…”
Shanna sobbed as she returned the embrace. She’d never been so glad to see anyone in her life.
“Not a problem.”
“I don’t know what they are, Shanna, but they’re multiplying.”
“How many have you seen?”
“I’ve put down fourteen of them already.” He looked at the thing on the floor. “Make that fifteen.”
She pushed back and stared at him. He was carrying that strange-looking, rapid-fire shotgun he’d shown her a couple of weeks ago, and had a huge duffel bag slung from his shoulder.
“Yep. Everything from ER patients to nurses to orderlies to operators.”
Shanna’s insides twisted. They were spreading like wildfire. It seemed impossible. All starting with…
“Was one of those patients you saw Mortimer Moorecook?”
Clay shrugged. “How could I tell? All their faces look the same.”
He had a point.
“He was wearing black slacks with a gold belt buckle.”
“No. Nobody like that. Why?”
“I think he started it all. I think he’s patient zero.”
“What are you talking about?”
She gave Clay a quick rundown of the “Dracula skull” and seeing Mortimer in the lobby.
“You know,” he said, staring at her when she finished, “if I hadn’t seen what I’ve seen in the past thirty minutes, I’d think you were on crack.”
“It’s somehow contagious,” she said, her mind racing. “But is it airborne like a flu, or does it need an open wound?”
“Everybody I put down was bloodied in one way or another.” He pointed to the dead thing on the floor. “Him too. Look at his neck.”
Shanna shot a quick glance, then away. The red-and-gray lumpy spray on the wall behind it made her want to gag.
“Then it’s like HIV.”
Clay looked disgusted. “You mean those things go around raping—?”
“No-no! Bites. Think vampires and werewolves.”
“Oh. Makes sense.”
“But it’s happening so fast.” An awful thought struck. “Do you know what a geometric progression is?”
His mouth twisted. “Would you believe…no?”
“It’s a way an infection can spread to astronomical numbers. Mortimer infects one, and so then there are two infected. If they each infect one more, we’ve got four infected. Then eight, then sixteen. By the fifteenth go-round they’ve infected almost fifty-thousand people. By the twentieth, we’re past the million mark.”
Clay paled. “We can’t let these things out of here.”
She shook her head. “Not even one of them.”
“But you’re getting out of here.”
“I’m taking you down to my truck, giving you the key, and you’re driving the hell home.”
That sounded absolutely wonderful. But…
“What about you?”
“Gotta stay till reinforcements arrive. I’ll patrol the outside and contain the perimeter.”
He shrugged. “Wish I had help, but I don’t see anyone else around to do it, so I guess that leaves me.”
Just like the heroes in those movies he loved to watch—and quote. Was that what he was doing—quoting? If so, she didn’t recognize it. No, this was just Clay, who he was.
“You could get hurt.”
A hiss from the doorway. They both turned at once to see one of the creatures charging. Almost upon them. Shanna screamed.
Clay fired his auto-shotgun from the hip. Two quick blasts to the chest knocked it back but not down. He raised it to his shoulder. His third shot blew away half its head and it crumbled.
“Gotta get you out of here.”
“I’m all for that.”
But somewhere inside a voice said, You’ll never make it.
“You’re gonna need some heat,” he said.
“A weapon. A gun.”
“Don’t argue, Shanna. It can be the difference between life and death.”
She wanted to tell him she hated guns, that they terrified her, but she could see he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
He pulled something big and silvery from his belt.
“This here is Alice. A Taurus Raging—”
“Wait-wait-wait. You named it?”
“Well, sure. She’s special.”
Well, sure…like it was the most natural thing in the world.
“But it’s a woman’s name.”
“No. Not ‘of course.’ Why a woman’s name?”
He got a sheepish look. “You don’t want to know.”
“Yeah, I do. Humor me.”
“Well, when my daddy was teaching me to shoot he always said never pull the trigger, always squeeze it like…”
He sighed and looked away. “Like your girlfriend’s tit.”
“Your father said that?”
“How old were you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Seven or eight.”
“Did you even have a girlfriend?”
“No, but I gathered he meant slow and easy.”
Note to self: Never meet Clay’s daddy.
“But anyway,” he went on, “Alice is a Taurus Raging Bull, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow a head clean off.”
That sounded familiar, almost like—
“You’re not quoting Dirty Harry, are you?”
He looked sheepish. “Well, not exactly. His was a forty-four Magnum.”
“This isn’t the time for Clint Eastwood fanboy stuff, Clay. Dirty Harry is a made-up character in a movie. This is real.”
He gave her a funny look. “I know that, Shanna. But it…helps, okay? Because I gotta tell you, Harry Callahan seems more real to me right now than what I’ve seen here today.”
She couldn’t argue with that.
He hefted the huge silver pistol. “Alice here fires a heavy-duty, four-fifty-four Casull, even more powerful than Harry’s forty-four Mag.” He held it toward her.
She raised her hands, palms out, shoulder high. “No, I can’t.”
“Just till we get to the truck, okay? Please, Shanna? Just to the truck.”
“Okay. Just to the truck.”
She took it and it immediately dragged down her arms.
“God, it’s heavy.”
“Make sure you hold her with both hands and get ready for a helluva kick. Wait till you can’t miss and aim for the head. The muzzle velocity of the round is so high it cuts through a skull like paper and the shockwave of the impact purees the brain.”
She couldn’t help making a face. “Lovely.”
“One hit from Alice is enough. Don’t waste them. I didn’t bring many Casulls.”
She raised the pistol with both hands to eye level. So heavy. She wished she’d been working out.
Suddenly a hissing face out of a nightmare, all bloody fangs and tongue and black eyes appeared at the other end of the barrel. Shanna screamed and pulled the trigger. The gun lurched toward the ceiling with such force it toppled her over backward. She almost lost her grip on it but managed to keep hold.
Still screaming she rolled and rose to her knees, ready to fire again, but the thing lay flat on its back in the hall. It had a hole where its nose once resided and a widening halo of red spreading out beneath its skull.
“Great shot!” Clay said, grinning like a proud father.
She stared at the dead creature. “I did that?”
“You sure did! You killed the hell out of that fella!”
That too sounded familiar. “Unforgiven?”
He shrugged. “Sorry.” He helped her to her feet. “You okay?”
She stared down at the dead creature. “That fella” wasn’t a fella. It wore a bloodstained maroon pantsuit. She stepped closer and saw the nametag: Marge McGuire.
Shanna felt sick. “That’s Marge from admitting! I had a long sit-down with her when Mortimer was admitted for that possible overdose. She had pictures of her kids on her desk. She…” A sob broke free. “What have I done?”
“It was her or you, Shanna.”
“I killed Marge!”
Clay knelt beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “That wasn’t Marge from admissions anymore. Marge was already gone. You killed something else, something that had taken her over.”
“But her kids—”
“Had already lost their mama. You just kept this thing from fouling her memory by killing you and who knows how many others, and turning them into things like her. You did Marge a favor.”
Clay seemed to understand and was making sense, neither of which she’d expected from him. But she couldn’t take her eyes off the thing Marge had become.
“No need to watch her,” Clay said. “She’s down for good.”
“I’m…I’m just wondering if she’ll change back, now that she’s dead.”
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t hold my breath. Once you become a pickle, you can’t go back to being a cucumber.”
“I feel so bad for her.”
“Us or them, Shanna,” he said. “Who do you want to walk out of here?”
“Us, of course.”
“And who are the attackers here?”
“So we’re going to walk out of here, and along the way we’re going to leave them alone. But if they try to kill us, we need to do what we have to do to protect ourselves—and that means kill them first.”
Yeah…she could see that, but doing it was something else.
He pointed to the Taurus. “I’m sorry she knocked you down.”
She? Oh, the gun.
“It’s okay, Clay.”
“No, it’s not. Alice is too powerful for you.” He took it from her. “I’ll give you my Glock and—”
“And what’s its name? Janet? Sophia? Rhianna?”
He gave her a strange look. “No. It’s just a Glock.”
“But I thought—never mind. I don’t want it.”
“You’ve got to. We’ll—”
She backed away a step. “I said no, Clay, and that’s what I mean: No.”
A mixture of anger and dismay flashed across his features. “You’re making a big mistake.”
He sighed. “All right, but—”
The lights went out.
SHE stood in the corridor, the floor cold against her bare feet, staring at the blood and glass around the double doors leading into the maternity ward.
Screams—awful, tortured screams—had drawn her out of the room, and now she was staring at Adam who had a look on his face like a seven-year-old boy debating whether to jump off the high dive for the first time.
Nurse Herrick looked even worse, her skin a pale gray, and she’d wet her pants.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Adam came over, catching himself, reapplying the strong face, but she wasn’t having any of it.
“No.” She stepped back. “You tell me right now what’s happening. The truth. Every bit of it.”
He stopped in front of her. “Let’s just go back into the room, and you can focus on—”
“No! Stop treating me like a child!”
“All right. All right. These…things…they’re people, or they were, and they’re running through the hospital, killing everyone they see.”
“For blood, I think.”
Nurse Herrick walked over.
“Look,” she said, opening her hand. “One of the teeth broke off when it tried to come through the window.”
Stacie lifted it out of the nurse’s hand.
A two-inch fang.
Still slimy with blood and a pungent-smelling saliva.
“They have a mouthful of these,” Adam said. “And their hands are like a bird of prey’s.”
Stacie turned the fang over in her hand.
She was a biology teacher at the local high school, and she could feel that inquisitive, scientific current coursing through her, despite the horror.
“This is a fang,” she said. “And it’s hollow. See the opening at the end?” She tossed the tooth away. “We should wash our hands. The saliva is probably brimming with neurotoxins. I bet it’s how they transmit the disease.”
She could feel something inside her solidifying, this primal need to be someplace dark, quiet, and warm. It reminded her of her favorite calico she’d had as a little girl. Whenever she was carrying a litter of kittens, Samantha became a different animal altogether. More guarded. More apt to lash out. And when it came time to give birth to the kittens, she always retreated to a corner of the deepest closet in the house.
Three words kept rushing through her brain, on a loop like a stock ticker—This isn’t happening This isn’t happening This isn’t happening This isn’t happening This isn’t happening This isn’t happening
But it was.
And she couldn’t curl up into the fetal position and cry and wish things weren’t the way they were. She had something more important than herself to protect.
“I’m going back to my room now,” she said.
“We’re going to barricade the doors,” Adam said. “I’ll come be with you when we’re done.”
As Stacie started back toward her room, she felt the first rumblings of a new contraction coming on.
THEY pulled the dressers out of two private rooms and pushed them up against the double doors. Nurse Herrick grabbed several sheets of paper from the printer and stapled them over the square windows.
“There’s no other way in here?” Adam asked. “No stairwell? No—?”
“Just the windows, but we’re three stories up.”
“Do you keep any firearms in this wing?”
She shook her head.
“No weapons or—”
“Nothing. We deliver babies here, Pastor. We bring life into the world.”
“How are we supposed to defend ourselves?”
“I suppose we could check the operating room.”
It was something, but not much.
“Where are the saws and the drills?” Adam asked, staring at the cold, steel operating table.
“First floor, orthopedics. That’s where all the fun is.”
Adam lifted a small scalpel, tried to imagine defending himself, his wife, his unborn child, from one of those monsters.
“How’ the single-mom-to-be doing?”
He slipped the scalpel into the side pocket of his jeans.
“Shanna? Shanna Davies?” A twangy, male voice boomed over the hospital paging system. “Shanna, if you’re in the hospital and can hear this, please call extension two-seven-nine-four. Shanna Davies call extension two-seven-nine-four.”
A soft, female voice inside Room 12 said, “Come in.”
Adam smiled and opened the door, left it open as he walked over to the bed where a young woman—nineteen, maybe twenty—sat propped up against a mountain of pillows.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, stopping at the foot of the bed.
She didn’t have to answer. Her face said it all—terrified.
“Are we going to die?” she asked.
He didn’t know how to answer that, so instead he gestured to a chair.
He pulled it over to the side of the bed.
“My wife’s two doors down.”
The girl smiled. “What are you having?”
“We haven’t found out yet. We’re going to let it be a surprise.”
“I’m having a boy.”
“How wonderful. Do you have a name picked out?”
“Tristan. What about you?”
“We’re thinking Matthew if it’s a boy, Daniella if it’s a girl.”
“I’m Adam, by the way.” He offered his hand and she took it.
“You’re here alone?”
She nodded. “My baby’s father…he left six months ago. My parents didn’t want me to keep it, said if I did they wouldn’t be involved. I didn’t think they’d actually keep their word on that, but…” She gave a wry smile and he caught a whiff of the sass Brittany sported underneath the present fear. “…here I am, alone.”
“You aren’t alone.”
“Oh, because God’s with me?”
“I believe He’s with all of us.”
“Even those people who are getting slaughtered out there?”
“All of us. Brittany, would you like me to pray with you?”
“No thanks. How old are you?”
He laughed. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re the youngest-looking pastor I ever saw.”
“Do you like being a pastor?”
“Sometimes I love it. Sometimes…it sucks.”
Nurse Herrick appeared in the doorway. “Pastor, could you come with me?”
She smiled. “Nothing. Just that your wife is getting ready to have a baby.”
As he came to his feet, the lights went out.
TINA screamed when it happened, but the complete darkness lasted only a second. Then a backup generator or something turned on, and dim lights came on in the hallway, though not the office. Of course the hospital would have backup power, and of course it would be funneled to things like breathing machines and not to somebody’s number-crunching office.
Right outside the door.
The sound of squeaking was not typically something that chilled Randall’s bones, particularly in a situation that had involved lots of screaming and wet splattering sounds, but there was something oddly unnerving about this squeak.
He looked through the tiny window in the door. A clown stood outside, staring in at him. Just staring. He had a fright wig, a big red nose, and, yes, a lower half of his face that was shredded and bloody and laden with fangs.
A clown dracula. Wonderful.
Randall hated clowns.
He was not, he had hastened to point out in the past, scared of clowns. Grease-painted weirdos with shiny red noses did not fill him with terror. He simply hated clowns. He’d never seen a funny one. Never seen one that was anything more than an annoying, obnoxious freak.
“Is somebody out there?” Tina asked, her voice trembling.
Randall shook his head. “Nah. Just a clown.”
Even in the mostly dark room, Randall could see Tina’s eyes widen. “A clown?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about him. He’s like Ronald McDonald.” A Ronald McDonald who will devour your face like a Big Mac and large fries…
Tina put her hand over her mouth, as if trying not to throw up. Then she looked as if she were going to hyperventilate.
“I’m not gonna let the clown hurt you,” Randall promised. “No way. I didn’t let the other monster get you, so there’s no way in the world a stupid rotten clown is gonna do anything to you. Okay?”
The little girl didn’t seem convinced. She struggled for breath—deep, wheezing gasps that sounded a lot worse than just a kid getting spooked by a clown. Did she have asthma?
“Are you all right?” he asked. “Do you…do you need an inhaler?”
She nodded vigorously.
“Do you have one?”
She shook her head and pointed to the door. He assumed she meant that she left it in pediatrics. Son of a bitch. A sick kid in a hospital—who’d’ve thunk it?
“What can I do to help?” Randall asked.
He had no idea what you did for people having an asthma attack except giving them a honk off their inhaler. There weren’t a lot of asthmatic lumberjacks out there.
She couldn’t answer. Tina didn’t seem to be suffocating—at least some air was getting in—but this was definitely serious.
Randall glanced back at the door. That goddamn clown was still staring in at them. Why was he doing that? Why wasn’t he clawing at the wood and snarling like a wild animal? Weren’t these things supposed to be all feral and stuff?
Randall wasn’t scared of clowns, he swore he wasn’t, but this was becoming creepy.
“Fuck off!” he told the clown.
Shit. He shouldn’t have said “fuck” in front of the little girl.
The clown just stood there. Randall couldn’t tell for sure if he was grinning—all of the creatures kind of looked like they were grinning—but he had a sadistic glint in his eyes.
“Okay, Tina, I’m gonna get you to your inhaler,” Randall said. “I’m gonna take you on a piggyback ride, okay?”
“How do…” Tina gasped for breath, a long, pained gasp that tore at Randall’s heart. “…we get out?”
“Through the door. Past the clown.”
“I can handle Bozo, don’t worry. I’ll pop his head like a water balloon. Hop on.”
“Tina, there’s no other way out of here!”
Randall inwardly raged about the stupidity of the building designers to not have included another way out of the office, then immediately decided that architects did not typically have “homicidal monster infestation” on their list of situations that required safety precautions.
“He’ll eat us!”
“No, he won’t. He’s too lame and stupid to eat us.” Randall was one step away from shouting “Goddamn it, Tina, get on my back!” but kept himself in check. “Cross my heart, the clown isn’t gonna hurt you, I promise. But we have to get out of here before more of them come. How do we know there isn’t a clown car downstairs? There could be more of them on the way!”
Randall wasn’t sure if that was a necessary lie or sheer cruelty, but it got the job done. He crouched as Tina climbed up onto his back. She was nice and light and her weight didn’t make his leg hurt any more than the unbearable agony he was already feeling from it.
The clown was still staring at them.
Now Randall had a decision to make: chainsaw or no chainsaw? It didn’t have any gas, and was hardly the most effective bludgeoning weapon available to him, but leaving it behind would be like leaving behind his…well, maybe not his penis, but rather…well, he supposed it was just like leaving behind his beloved chainsaw. He couldn’t do it. If refusing to do battle with a clown without his chainsaw made him insane, fine, he was insane. Plenty of insane people had done great things for the world.
“Are you ready?” Randall asked.
Tina gasped for breath in reply.
Randall unlocked and opened the door with his free hand. The clown stood motionless for a split second, then sprung to life like an electrified Frankenstein and lunged at him, mouth wide open.
Randall thrust the chainsaw blade at him, as hard as he could. The blade went straight into the clown’s mouth, making a cringe-inducing fingernails-on-chalkboard screech as the metal blades scraped against his teeth. The blade did not burst out through the back of the clown’s neck, which would’ve been helpful, but Randall settled for leaving it there for a moment, deep-throating the white-faced son of a bitch.
The clown did not gag as it reached for him, arms wildly flapping.
Randall yanked out the chainsaw blade. A few of the clown’s teeth came with it. The clown’s suit was completely soaked with blood, and dangling from the waist of his pants was a short rope of twisted intestine that Randall didn’t think originally belonged to him. A blood-streaked button identified him as Benny the Clown.
Randall slammed the chainsaw blade back into Benny the Clown’s mouth, taking out most of his lower row of fangs.
Benny the Clown was notably less sedate than he’d been while peeking through the window. His claws scraped against Randall’s arm, hurting like hell but not cutting very deep.
Randall gave the chainsaw a violent twist, and that took care of most of Benny the Clown’s remaining teeth. He turned the blade in a complete circle. Twice.
Tina was, quite understandably, shrieking. Randall wished she wouldn’t do that, because it could attract more of the creatures, but he wasn’t sure he could convince a five-year-old girl to stop screaming while he was in the process of mutilating a monster clown.
Randall yanked the chainsaw out again. A spurt of blood soaked Benny the Clown’s already-blood-soaked oversized squeaky shoes. Using his good foot, Randall kicked the clown in the nuts.
Benny the Clown clutched at his groin and fell to the floor.
Now that was a clown pratfall Randall could enjoy.
Three separate bottles of pills had fallen out of Benny the Clown’s pockets as he struck the tile. Fuckin’ clown was probably thoroughly drugged up. Maybe that was why he wasn’t in total “wild animal” mode like the others.
Benny the Clown was far from dead, but he was disabled enough to suit Randall’s purposes. The extra ten seconds he spent beating the fucker to death might be ten seconds he needed for running away, especially if…
A pair of draculas came around the corner.
Randall didn’t want to lock himself in the office again—he needed to make some progress. But this was going to take him farther away from Jenny and pediatrics.
Nothing he could do about that. It was a hospital, so there had to be more than one place he could find an inhaler.
With Tina still on his back, he limped down the hallway as quickly as he could.
Then his blood-soaked chainsaw popped out of his hands and dropped onto the floor.
Damn! Shit! Piss! Crap! Ass! Fuck!
He couldn’t stop to pick up his chainsaw without gas with a little girl on his back and two draculas on his tail. It wasn’t worth dying for.
Fuck! Fucker fuck frick fuck! Fuckleberry!
His leg twisted just a bit, because, apparently, it hadn’t hurt quite enough before.
Ignore the pain…ignore the pain…imagine that your leg is a mighty redwood, standing straight and tall…
Goddamn my leg hurts…
He pushed through a swinging door. A sign overhead read Rehabilitation Therapy. Ah, yes. He’d get to know this place well…in another hospital, of course.
He heard the draculas rush right past the door. Then a scream. They must’ve found a more helpless victim.
Not the squeak of Benny the Clown’s shoes. A different squeak.
Though Randall didn’t have time for stopping and gaping, he couldn’t help but stop and gape as the dracula in a wheelchair rolled across the room toward him.
BEING wealthy, Mortimer Moorecook had thought he’d understood power.
But he hadn’t truly known it until now.
He was fast, with the speed and reflexes of a jungle leopard. Pouncing and tearing. Drinking and devouring. Going from hospital room to hospital room, attacking patients, staff, visitors.
He could see in the dark. The talons on his feet and hands were so strong he could climb walls, even hang upside-down from the ceiling. He bolted into a woman’s room, her screams like hot fudge on a sundae, her supple, weak flesh unable to push him away as he sank his fangs into her warm, wet neck.
Seeing her fear, feeling her revulsion, was a rush better even than the sex he’d so desperately missed. But even more wonderful than that was all the precious blood blood BLOOD BLOOD BLOODBLOODBLOODBLOODBLOOD…
He released the girl he’d been slurping, even though she still had some blood left. She’d been dead for a few minutes, but if he drank all of her blood, she wouldn’t turn.
Moorecook wanted them to turn. He wanted as many of his kind as possible.
When not overwhelmed by bloodlust, he was capable of higher brain functioning. He knew he was different from the others he had created. Smarter. Better. Still evolving, in a different kind of way.
The others sensed the difference. They attacked one another, but gave him a wide berth. He’d even been able to screech at them, get them to follow some rudimentary orders. Direct them where to go.
He found three of them on the third floor, fighting over a pathetic pool of blood on the tile floor. Mortimer hissed, clacking his teeth together, commanding them to follow. They avoided the gunfire, going down an empty stairwell, slinking outside into the parking lot.
There were many cars. Cars meant chances for humans to escape.
Moorecook couldn’t allow that. He showed them how to attack the tires. Directing them to each car, biting and tearing through the rubber treads with the sound of thunderclaps as they popped.
As they were finishing up, Mortimer heard the distant bray of police sirens, closing in. He directed his brood to hide near the entrance. Two went into the bushes flanking the ER doors. One crouched behind the BLESSED CRUCIFIXION HOSPITAL sign. Moorecook easily scaled the wall and pressed into a corner like a gecko, letting the darkness hide him.
Three police cars pulled up, two men in each. They exited their vehicles with practiced skill. Alert. Armed. Cautious.
They didn’t even get a single shot off.
His brood attacked from all sides, slashing their talons, snapping their jaws. Moorecook hung down, his feet gripping a security camera, snatching a cop trying to run into the building. He pulled him up to his perch and bit into his face, tasting his blood and his bubbling screams. Moorecook chewed into his skull until his prickly tongue pierced down through bone and cartilage and sinew all the way to the carotid artery.
He drank until the man was empty—he was too damaged to turn—then leapt down on his brood, hissing and chasing them off, ensuring that three of the cops would join his brethren.
More. They needed more.
The bigger their numbers, the harder they would be to stop.
Mortimer stared up at the moon, painfully bright in the dark sky. He listened to the squawk of a police band radio, then leapt into an open car and ripped the radio from the dashboard. As he did, three of his talons broke off, revealing nubby white bone beneath the skin.
There was no pain. In fact, something deep and primeval in him had expected this to happen.
Moorecook was the first. He’d been infected by the original source. That made him special.
He knew he was going to change into something else.
Something even more powerful than what he already was.
Something that would allow him to infect the whole world.
Oasis moved through a corridor. The hospital lights had gone out and come back on, though much dimmer. Just these soft blue lights above the doorways, which left lots of shadows.
She didn’t like shadows. The dark scared her even though she could still see so much better than before.
She came around a corner and stopped.
A big sign on the wall read, THE BIRTHPLACE.
Oasis moved carefully down the corridor.
She’d learned her lesson. You couldn’t just go running into things when you were a little girl. Adults were strong and mean, and none of them wanted to share their red candy.
She passed a woman lying on the floor, but the others had gotten to her and been thorough.
Finally came to a set of double doors. She hooked a talon through the handles and pulled.
They didn’t budge.
She looked up at the window in one of the doors—the glass had been broken out, and someone had stapled a piece of paper across the opening from the other side.
She reached up, punched a talon through the paper, thinking there must be something really good on the other side of these doors if someone had gone to the trouble to lock them.
She crouched and jumped.
Got her arms halfway through the window frame.
She struggled to pull herself the rest of the way inside.
It was a tight fit, really tight, but she had a good feeling now that she was going to make it through.
SO stubborn! he thought as he led Shanna down the stairs.
Didn’t she realize that two people had a much better chance of survival when both were armed? But no. She was too scared to pack even a little heat.
He didn’t understand fear of guns. Guns eased fear. They were equalizers.
“Are you mad at me?” she said, close behind him.
Lucky for them, all the stairwells had battery-powered emergency lights. Still, he didn’t want any shooting in here, especially with a shotgun. A miss would send buckshot ricocheting every which way.
“No, honey. I understand.”
And he did, sort of. First time she ever pulled a trigger she killed someone she’d known. Even though that person had no longer been the person she’d known, it still had to give one pause.
“I wish I were like you.”
“Now that’s a surprise.”
“I mean with guns. You seem so at ease with them.”
“Shanna, I’ve been preparing all my life for this moment.”
“What do you mean?”
“My daddy. He was what people called a survivalist.”
“You mean with the bomb shelter and the freeze-dried food and…?”
“The guns? Yep. The whole nine yards. He bought the whole package. And he made all of us buy into it too.” He remembered the emergency drills, the nights spent underground in the shelter, the constant target practice. “At least until we were old enough to go out on our own.”
“What was he afraid of? Aliens? Minority uprisings? Islamic fanatics? Economic holocaust?”
“None of the above. Daddy was old school. For him it was commies.”
“I know, I know. But he believed they tore down the Berlin Wall to fool us. They never let go of their quest for world domination. Especially the Chinese commies—they were the ones who scared the crap out of my daddy. Because there’s so many of them. He kept saying, ‘They’re coming, Clay. A human tsunami. They’ll overrun us because we won’t be able to shoot fast enough.’ Can’t tell you how many times I heard that.”
Shanna gave a soft laugh. “He wasn’t so off about the Chinese, just about how they’d take over.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re practically buying the country.”
“Yeah, well. Daddy prepared us for invasion. We grew up to think he was crazy, but he wasn’t. It’s happening right now. Except it ain’t commies, it’s these monsters.”
They reached the ground-floor landing and peeked through the slit window in the steel fire door. Empty—at least as far as he could see. But instead of opening the door, Clay turned to Shanna. He dug in his pocket, pulled his truck keys from where they snuggled up against the ring box, and handed them to her.
“All right. Here’s the plan: We’re gonna cut our way through the ER to the parking lot. When we reach my Suburban, you’re gonna jump in and hightail it out of here. I’m gonna stay.”
“That’s it. No discussion. I’ve got to hang around until the staties arrive, and that shouldn’t be long. When they get here, we’ll team up and clean up this mess. But a couple of things first. You called Moorecook ‘patient zero,’ said he started all this. From what you said, it sounds like he cut himself on purpose to get this going. Any idea why?”
Shanna shrugged. “He was terminal with cancer. Maybe he was trying to prolong his life.”
“By turning into a monster?”
“You’re assuming he knew what would happen. I can’t believe he’d want to become the thing I saw in the lobby.”
“Can you tell me anything else? I’m going to have to fill in the staties on what I know, and the more I know, the better. Even if you don’t think it’s important, tell me.”
Shanna pursed her lips, and her nose crinkled in that cute way that indicated she was trying to make a decision.
“It’s kind of complicated, Clay.”
“I can handle complicated.”
“Okay. You ever heard of a secret society called the Order of the Dragon?”
“That’d be a no.”
“It was formed in the early Fifteenth Century, ostensibly to fight the Turks and Ottoman Empire.”
He winked. “You mean the people responsible for the furniture you rest your feet—”
“Hang with me, Clay. Members of the order were called Draconists. Around this same time, the black death was raging throughout Eurasia. Today, historians and scholars believe it was the bubonic and pneumonic plague that caused the black death, but there has been no absolute evidence to support this hypothesis, only educated guesses. My contention, based on all the research I’ve done for Mort, is that the black death caused dracula-like symptoms in some of its hosts, especially in people with certain genetic precursors. Certain royal bloodlines.”
“You lost me, girl.”
“I’m saying the black death, in some cases, caused a mutation, resulting in vampirism.”
“Mutation. Got it. Like in Blade II with Wesley Snipes. Remember the scene with Ron Perlman when he—”
“Do you want to talk about movies, or about what I think is going on?”
Clay would have preferred movies, but he needed to hear what she had to say. “Okay, tell me what’s going on.”
“The son of Oswald von Wolkenstein, a member of the Order of the Dragon, was afflicted with horrific dental deformities. While the Draconists were killing vampires, Oswald hid his son, kept him chained up in a cellar. But the son escaped, went on a killing spree, ending up in Transylvania and causing a dracula epidemic. Ever heard of Vlad the Third of Wallachia?”
Clay knew that from the Coppola flick. “That guy who went around impaling folks?”
“Exactly. Legend has it that Vlad, because of his brutality, was the original Dracula, but my contention—”
“Just love how you contend everything. It’s cute.”
“So my um, my…”
“Go on, you know you want to say it.”
“I hate you…contention is that he didn’t impale thirty thousand of his innocent subjects and countrymen. He impaled thirty thousand of these monsters in an epidemic started by Oswald’s son! Vlad saved his country! And what better way to stop these monsters than to impale them on twenty-foot stakes, immobilized so they starved to death?”
An explosive round to the brain pan was a lot better, but they didn’t have that hundreds of years ago.
“What about Oswald’s son?”
“Vlad caught him finally, beheaded him, and buried his head in a field in the Romanian countryside.”
Clay smirked, finally getting it.
“You going to tell me that Oswald’s son’s skull is the same skull your buddy Mort paid several million for so he could bite himself? Didn’t he need those genetic precursor thingies?”
Shanna’s eyes got wide. “Shit! How’d I miss that? Mortimer’s robes! They all have an Ouroboros insignia on them! A dragon eating its own tail! That’s the symbol of the Draconists!”
“So old Mort is a Wolkenstein.”
“He’s got the bloodline, and the genetic precursor. Do you know what that means?”
“That we need to kill the son of a bitch.”
“It means Mortimer’s not only predisposed to getting this disease, but perhaps he also carries the antibodies within him.”
“He carries the virus that makes the vaccine.”
“You mean like a shot?”
“Yes, Clay. Like a shot.”
THE children had begun to scream when the lights went out.
Their screams lured the draculas to the storage room door. They thumped and scratched and pounded on it, jerking and rattling the knob, pressing up against the square window in the door and blocking out the faint emergency lights from the playroom, which plunged the closet into complete darkness.
Working from memory, Jenny flailed out her hands until she found the shelf on the wall, then followed it until she came to the children’s art supplies: boxes of crayons, construction paper, bottles of finger paint, balloons…
Dammit, where are they?
Her probing fingers found their way into a cardboard box, locking onto a cylindrical, pen-shaped object. She shook it vigorously and bent it in half with a faint CRACK. Immediately, it gave off a faint, green light. Glow sticks. Essential for any underage patient afraid of the dark.
Apparently encouraged by the light, the monsters outside the door became even more frantic in their zeal to get in. The glass window shattered, and a taloned arm forced itself through, slashing at the air inches from Jenny’s face.
Jenny lurched away, tripping over someone’s legs, falling onto her ass. The children continued to scream. The dracula thrashed and swiped its claws. It even managed to push its head through, scraping its face against the jagged, broken glass, its neck kinked at an odd angle.
Jenny tore herself away from the horror, reaching for the box of glow sticks. To quiet the screaming of the children, she began bending, shaking, and passing them out as fast as she could. There were different colors, red and purple and yellow and orange, all giving off a diffuse, pastel light that reminded Jenny of another of Randall’s favorite VHS tapes—the movie Tron.
But rather than pacify the kids, the increased illumination allowed everyone to focus on the spastic dracula stuck in the window.
“Shh. Quiet. Everyone quiet down. It’s okay. The worst is over.”
She was wrong. The creature went from hissing to screeching, its head and arm flopping around as if in the throes of a grand mal seizure. Its eyes rolled up, showing the whites. Froth, then blood, sprayed from the torn vestiges of its lips. It began to shake its head, faster and faster, beating it against the sides of the windows, shredding off its own ears in the process.
Then the monster’s eyes bulged, protruding like hardboiled eggs. With an audible POP, they escaped their sockets, dangling by their optic nerves.
No…not the nerves. The eyeballs were pierced on the ends of two talons.
Another dracula had dug into the back of this one’s skull.
A millisecond later the dead creature was yanked free of the door. Jenny and the children listened to the frenzied feeding. Growls. Snapping jaws. Gurgling blood. Wet smacking.
It was like listening to a BBQ in hell.
Jenny sat back in the corner of the room, four children desperately clinging to her. Their hysterical screaming eventually subsided to steady sobs. Jenny kept her arms around them, patting arms, tousling hair, trying to figure out what to do next while nervously waiting for something else horrible to happen.
But nothing did. Eventually the feasting sounds died down, then vanished all together.
Jenny began to count her heartbeats. At any moment, she expected another dracula to try and force itself in through the window.
By the time she reached two hundred, all sounds had ceased.
There was only silence.
Dreadful, expectant silence.
“Are they gone?” one of the kids asked.
“I don’t know,” Jenny answered. “Is anyone hurt? Did anyone get bit?”
“I wet my pants.”
“It’s all right,” Jenny told the little boy. “We can take care of that later. You’ve all been very brave so far. I need you to keep being brave.”
Jenny tried to stand, but eight little hands clung to her.
“I have to check to see if they’re still there.”
“No! Don’t go!”
“It’s okay. I promise I’ll be fine. I need to get to the intercom and call my husband.”
“Is he the big man with the chainsaw?”
“Is he going to save us?”
Jenny pictured Randall.
Big, clumsy, stupid Randall.
Loyal, loving, brave Randall.
“Yes,” she said, surprising herself with the certainty of her conviction. “He is.”
KURT Lanz, MD, inhaled through the scorched, gaping hole in his face where his nose used to be. Part of him—the rational, thinking part—knew that when he’d yanked off his burned nose to eat, he’d managed to deviate his septum. But that didn’t matter now.
All that mattered was blood.
After killing the lights, he’d scampered to the geriatric ward, giddy with the thought of defenseless old people. But it had been picked clean.
Next, he’d gone to the Birthplace, but found the entrance locked. He couldn’t fit through the small window hole in the door, which infuriated him, because he could smell humans in there.
Oncology was next and yielded similar results. The beds were empty, the ward in disarray. Lanz tried to squeeze a few drops of blood from a severed leg he’d found on the floor, but it had been sucked dry. He made do chewing on a blood-soaked bed sheet, swallowing the torn strips.
The many others roaming the halls had sensed their blood supply gone and begun to turn on each other. Lanz even joined in, pouncing on a smaller creature—a teenager—that was being eviscerated by a group of larger adults. Lanz got away with a kidney and half the liver.
Neither soothed the growing ache in his belly.
He craved blood.
He wanted it more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life.
Half-insane with bloodlust, he remembered that bitch up in pediatrics. Jenny. Assuming she’d been resourceful enough to fight off the horde, perhaps she was still alive. Maybe she’d even managed to protect some of the children.
The innocent, defenseless, delicious little children.
Only one way to find out…
Lanz slunk into the stairwell, taking the steps three at a time, his mouth salivating at the thought of the nurse’s sweet, warm blood.
AT first, she thought she’d lost consciousness, but the pain was still there, like her back was ripping itself apart, and then the lights returned, only in a much diminished state—nothing but a cold, blue glow emitting from the battery-backup above the door to her room.
Two figures emerged out of the shadowy corridor—Adam and Nurse Herrick hurrying back.
“What happened to the lights?” Stacie asked through gritted teeth.
“I don’t know,” the nurse said.
“Epidural,” Stacie moaned. “I didn’t want it, wasn’t part of the plan, but now—”
“I’m sorry, sweetie.” Nurse Herrick patted her hand.
“What do you mean ‘sorry’? I can’t keep…” Her voice trailed into another groan as Adam came around and put his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t touch me,” she seethed through the pain.
“Baby, this too shall—”
“Oh my God, if you quote another fucking bible verse, I’m gonna rip your eyes out of your head. Nurse, get me the epidural.”
“I’m not qualified to administer it.”
Desperate now, she pleaded, “How hard can it be?”
“It’s a spinal block. I could accidentally paralyze you for life. You could get an infection and die. It takes a high level of skill that I don’t have.”
Stacie glared at Adam, felt a rush of anger flooding through her.
“You can do this,” he said. “I know you can. You’re so beautiful.”
She shook her head. “You did this to me. You did, and I will never forgive you as long as I—”
The nurse perused one of the cabinets, finally emerging with a flashlight. She came around to the foot of the bed and lifted Stacie’s gown.
“I need to push,” Stacie begged. She’d never wanted anything so badly.
“Why?” She could feel the nurse’s hands probing under her gown.
“You’re almost fully dilated,” Herrick said. “I can’t believe how fast you’re progressing. Wait until the next contraction, and when it comes, you grab your husband’s hand and push like you’ve never pushed before. But not on this one.”
She thought about crushing the bones in Adam’s fingers and this made her briefly happy.
“Don’t push,” Herrick warned.
“I’m not! Adam?”
He was suddenly right there.
“I’m never doing this again.”
And suddenly she could breathe again, her chest heaving, sweat running down into her eyes. A break between the bouts of torture.
She could hear more gunshots blasting in the hospital.
“Are the doors out there holding?” she asked.
“Don’t think about it,” Adam said.
Her husband hustled out of the room as Nurse Herrick fed her another ice chip. “This is the threshold, Stacie,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of women at this point, where you think you can’t go on, and you know what?”
“Babies get born, every day.”
“So what do I do?”
“You breathe through it. Just breathe. The baby’s coming no matter what you do.”
Adam returned. “The barricade’s still in place.”
And then it came, a contraction a step above all others, a new revelation of pain, and Stacie felt the ring of fire her girlfriends had joked about—nothing in the history of language had been so aptly named—and the voices in her ear all swirling, yelling, Push! The head’s coming! You’re almost there! Just a little longer!
Three minutes of the most intense pain of her life, and all she could think was, There better be a motherfucking baby at the end of this contraction, and when it finally, mercifully passed, it was like coming up for air after three minutes underwater.
She didn’t hear any crying, just her husband’s voice in her ear, distant and echoey, telling her how great she was doing.
Nurse Herrick was right at her ear.
“The head is halfway out. Baby’s in a good position. You push it out next contraction.”
She was nodding, and before she could wrap her head around the concept of “next” she was pushing again, her throat raw from screaming, screaming for what seemed like hours through unending pain, and then her head fell back into the pillow. She was done. She had nothing left. She quit, because the contraction was over and still this thing was inside of—
A small, precious cry brought her head instantly up off the pillow.
Nurse Herrick stood at the foot of the bed, holding a tiny creature, suctioning its mouth and nose, and then a baby-cry erupted and this living, squirming creature was on Stacie’s chest, blue and covered in vernix, all the anger, fear, and pain replaced by a shot of the most all-encompassing joy she’d ever known, and Stacie was sobbing, and Adam right there with her—strong, beautiful, loving, perfect Adam—and he was crying and patting their baby’s back.
“You’re amazing, baby,” he said, laughing. “Both of you.”
She could feel the umbilical cord pulsing against her stomach.
“I’ll leave you two for a minute,” Herrick said, and as she slipped outside, Stacie looked at Adam, touched his blue-lit face.
“Should we check?” she said.
“If this is Matthew or Daniella.”
Adam laughed. “I hadn’t even thought of it.”
“Introduce us,” Stacie said.
Stacie turned her head away as Adam lifted their cooing baby and then eased it back onto her chest. He had tears in his eyes when she looked back.
“Stacie,” he said, and she looked down into the little face, eyes struggling to open, staring cross-eyed right into hers. “I’d like to introduce you to your daughter, Daniella.”
“Hey, baby girl,” Stacie said, touching the back of her finger to Daniella’s little cheek. “Meet your mom and dad. We’re going to…”
“Stace? You all right?”
She was. She was great. The pain was gone, just a little dizziness. Well, maybe a lot of dizziness, and it was coming on stronger with every passing second.
“Yeah, I just…little light-headed.”
Adam moved around to the end of the bed, said, “Oh, God,” and Stacie watched him rush out of the room, heard him calling Nurse Herrick, something in the tone of his voice that unnerved her. She couldn’t take her gaze off Daniela, but she was having a hard time keeping her eyes open now, and the last thing she noticed before she descended into unconsciousness were the bloody footprints—Adam’s—leading out into the corridor, dark as crude oil in the lowlight.
HE found Herrick at the nurse’s station, making entries in a chart by flashlight.
“She’s bleeding,” he said. “A lot.”
Herrick dropped her pen and came around the desk into the corridor, practically ran down the hall.
“Is this normal?” Adam said.
They passed through the open door into Stacie’s room and Herrick stopped, staring at the bloody sheets, the dark drops falling into a puddle on the floor.
“Stacie!” she yelled, and Adam followed her to his wife’s bedside. “Stacie. Can you hear me?”
Stacie still held the baby in her arms, but her eyes were closed, and even in the lowlight, Adam thought she looked pale.
Herrick lifted Stacie’s wrist, checked her radial pulse.
She turned on her flashlight and lifted Stacie’s hospital gown.
“Is she gonna be okay?”
A beat of terrible silence, and then Herrick turned and faced him.
“She’s postpartum hemorrhaging.”
“What does that mean?”
“She passed the placenta immediately following birth. What I’m guessing is there’s still a piece of it in there.”
“Why is that bad?”
“Because it’s stopping her uterus from contracting.”
“How much blood has she lost?”
“I don’t know for sure, but at least half a liter, which is past the point of being okay.”
“Listen to me.”
“Can you fix her?”
“Yes, but I need your help.”
“I think I can stop the bleeding, but she’s lost so much already, she’s gonna need a transfusion.”
“You have to go down to the blood bank.”
Adam felt a tremor of fear ride down his legs.
“Where’s the blood bank?”
“Oh fuck, fuck, fuck, are you fucking kidding me?”
Herrick actually took a step back from the minister, her eyes going wide.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“It’s quite all right, pastor, we’re all under a great deal of stress. You’ll need this.” Herrick lifted his overnight backpack off a rocking chair. Adam overcame the tremor in his hands, finally managing to unzip it and dump the contents—a change of clothes and some toiletries.
“How do I get there?”
Herrick walked out of the room into the corridor, pulling him along.
“Through those doors, then you go to the end of the hallway and take a right. Go to the end of that hallway and take a left. On your next right, four doors down, you’ll see a door leading to the stairwell. Go all the way down, and when you come out, go left, right, left, and then right again, all the way to the end of the last corridor. You’ll see the sign for the lab. Refrigerators are in back. Grab at least five units of O-positive.”
His head was swimming.
“Help me with this.”
They slid the furniture back from the door, and then Adam stared through the window. The paper that Herrick had stapled over the opening had blown away.
“Coast clear?” she asked.
He heard the locks sliding up, his heart beginning to pound at the thought of going out there.
He looked at Herrick.
“I know you don’t want to go out there, but your wife will die if she doesn’t start receiving new blood in less than thirty minutes.”
Adam’s daughter began to cry at the other end of the wing.
He wondered if he’d seen the last he would ever see of her.
“I’ll take care of your girls, Adam,” Herrick said. “Now get going.”
“I’M just going to see if the playroom is empty,” Jenny told the clinging, whimpering kids. “I’ll be right back.”
Amid cries of protest, the nurse extracted herself from the tangle of children and stood up, holding the glowing green light stick in front of her like a talisman. She crept to the closet door, making sure her footing was solid. Jenny prayed Randall was on his way back for them. The desire to hear his voice again was overwhelming. For his many faults—the gullibility, the temper, the drinking, the inability to think ahead—the old Randall had been a rock. He’d also been one of the most reassuring, nurturing people she’d ever known, and all of her friends were nurses, so that was really saying something.
If the old Randall was back—and she sensed he was—he’d find a way to reach her, even if he had to walk barefoot through hell.
The intercom was near the front door, which was still barricaded shut. Jenny wanted to tell him to find an intercom, to let her know he was okay, to come for her and the kids, and…
To tell him I love him.
Funny how that worked. During the dark days of their marriage, she had felt less his wife, and more his mother—always scolding him, trying to make him straighten up and fly right. But now that the shit had hit the fan, he was the one person in the world Jenny needed. She closed her eyes, for just a moment, imagining his embrace—like being hugged by a big, friendly bear.
Jenny hoped she’d be able to feel that embrace at least one more time.
He’s alive. He’s got to be alive. Randall has survived countless accidents and mishaps. Countless drunken bar fights. He’s indestructible.
She opened her eyes, focused on the door. Holding her breath, she stopped just an arm’s length away from the square window, listening for sounds.
The silence was so loud it made her wince.
Jenny let out a slow sigh, then took a cautious step forward and—
“STOP! A monster is going to pop out and grab you! I know it!”
Jenny’s bladder clenched at the child’s outburst. The courage she’d stored up seeped right out of her.
“It’s okay,” she said.
But it really wasn’t okay, was it? Monsters—real monsters—were running around the hospital, killing people. Her husband was gone. Jenny had no weapons. And now she was about to peer through a broken window when there was a pretty good chance something would pop out and grab her.
Maybe staying put was a smart idea.
She was about to give in to cowardice when she remembered something her husband had said to her on their honeymoon. They’d spent the week at the ridiculous sounding “Camp Kookyfoot Waterpark” because Randall was nuts about waterslides. Jenny had initially resented him for it—it had been his “surprise” wedding gift to her—but it ultimately didn’t matter because they spent most of the trip in bed. During one of their rare ventures out of the bedroom to eat at the suitably hokey “Kookypants Famous Bar and Grill,” Randall had cut his sirloin into pieces too big to swallow and wound up getting one stuck in his throat. Jenny had calmly gotten behind him and applied the Heimlich, saving his life.
“Thanks, babe,” he’d told her once he could breathe again. “It’s nice to have someone I can count on. You know you can count on me too. Always and forever.”
Well, “always and forever” had taken a detour, but Jenny sensed it had come full circle and was true again. And if so, she knew she could count on Randall coming back. Knew it like she knew the sun would rise tomorrow and water was wet.
Now Randall was in the hospital somewhere, surrounded by monsters, possibly hurt, maybe even dying, and she wanted, needed him to know she felt the same way.
Eyeing the window, Jenny took another tentative step toward it, squinting into the playroom, looking for signs of movement, listening for any—
“Kids!” Jenny admonished, turning around. “You’re going to give me a heart attack! Shush!”
Shaking off the adrenalin, she moved even closer to the door. Her imagination took over. Jenny could picture a monster crouching behind it, waiting to grab her once she got close enough.
Funny how just two hours ago she never could have thought such things existed. Now she was worried about one popping out and biting her head off.
Creeping ever closer to the door, too scared to even breathe, all Jenny could hear was the thrumming sound of her own pulse. The door loomed nearer.
Two feet away.
Finally, Jenny could peek through the broken window into the playroom. She saw…
Severed limbs strewn everywhere. Entrails festooned on the chairs and tables. Half-chewed organs speckled the floor and unidentifiable lumps of fatty tissue and brain matter splattered across the walls. Some of the pieces were human—the people Jenny had left behind when she fled into the storage closet. But the majority belonged to the creatures. They had slaughtered each other.
For all the gore, there was surprisingly little blood. Jenny could smell raw meat, and the sickly-sour butcher shop odor of liver and sweetbreads, coupled with a deep, smoked pork scent courtesy of her dairy creamer weapon.
“Are they gone?” one of the children whispered.
Repulsive as it was, the playroom seemed to be empty.
“Yes,” Jenny said. Her hand found the doorknob, sticky with fluid that had been squeezed from the slaughtered dracula stuck in the window.
“It’s okay,” Jenny said. “I’m just going to use the intercom. I’ll be right back.”
Touching the knob gingerly with just her fingertips, she swung open the door and immediately wiped her hand off on an unstained part of her uniform. The intercom was on the wall, right next to the barricaded door. Jenny moved carefully out of the closet, undecided on whether or not to leave the door open. On the one hand, she didn’t want to put the children in danger. But the door locked automatically, and if she needed to get in there quickly, she didn’t want to have to wait for one of the kids to let her in.
She opted for a compromise—closing it most of the way, but leaving it open a crack.
Then she focused her attention on the twenty-foot space between her and the intercom.
Slow and steady? Or run like hell?
Jenny ran, watching her footing but still feeling fleshy bits squish under the soles of her shoes. She reached the intercom in the space of a few seconds, then had a bad thought.
The power is out. What if it doesn’t work?
Jenny hoped it would be powered by the generator. Like life-support and operating room lights, the intercom was essential for patient care. Earlier, amid the chaos, someone had used it to call Shanna. But Jenny couldn’t remember if it was before or after the outage.
Only one way to find out…
She pressed the button and spoke into the speaker, “Randall, I’m still in pediatrics with the children. I need you to…oh my God!”
Jenny froze, immobilized by fear.
Dr. Lanz appeared in the hallway.
She spotted him through the spiderweb cracks of the room-length window, the children’s finger painting now frescoed with bits of tissue.
Lanz hadn’t spotted her yet. But he’d heard her. The intercom worked fine, Jenny’s voice blaring throughout the hospital, announcing her location.
Lanz reached the hole he’d broken in the glass, and locked eyes with her. His white lab coat was charred, his nametag a melted blob.
His face was also a melted blob. The doctor’s nose was nothing but a blackened hole, and his hair stuck to his scalp in sticky, burned patches.
Did he just call me a bitch?
Quick as a cat, he pounced through the window and sprang at Jenny, bounding toward her on all fours, closing the distance between them with astonishing speed.
Jenny reached for one of the chairs piled up against the exit door and held it in front of her like a lion tamer, keeping Lanz at bay. He swiped at it, hitting hard enough to sting Jenny’s palms and make her arms shake. He repeated the move, batting the chair to the other side, but she refused to let go, not letting him get close enough to touch her.
Then Lanz paused his attack. He sniffed the air, the ragged skin around his nasal cavity vibrating. He turned his head slowly toward the storage room.
No! Not the children!
Lanz leapt toward the closet, but Jenny had anticipated the move. She tossed the chair aside and threw herself at him, tackling the doctor around his ankles, causing him to sprawl face-first onto the floor.
Every cell in Jenny’s body screamed at her to let go, to get as far away from the hideous creature as possible. But Jenny Bolton had seen enough death that day. Horrible, pointless, unexpected death. If she had to kill Dr. Lanz with her own two fists, she would, because she would be damned if she let that monster harm another innocent.
Lanz twisted on the floor, reaching back for Jenny, his claws outstretched and tangling in her hair. She grabbed onto one of his talons—long and bony—and snapped it backward, hard as she could, so quick and violent that his knuckle split the skin and popped out to say hello.
Lanz immediately released her head—
—and shoved his bleeding finger into his mouth.
As the creature cannibalized its own hand, Jenny scurried off to the side, got her feet under her, and sprinted toward the closet door. She reached for the knob, yanking hard.
The door didn’t move.
It must have closed shut on its own.
Jenny glanced back at Dr. Lanz, who was sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth, chewing on his hand and shuddering with either agony or ecstasy. Or maybe both. His misshapen, angler-fish teeth were shredding the appendage to hamburger.
She stuck her head into the window.
“Kids! Open the door and let me in!”
The children didn’t reply.
“Come on! Open the door!”
When she got a response, it was tinged with tears. “I’m scared.”
“I’m scared too. But you need to let me in so I can protect you.”
Jenny stuck her arm through the window, waving the glow stick and peering inside. The four children were huddled together on the far side of the closet.
“Come on, kids. Please open up.”
She glanced over her shoulder toward Lanz. He was still chewing on his hand, but it wasn’t as frenzied. He’d grown calmer, almost contemplative about the task. As if deciding which part of the turkey leg to bite into next.
Even if Jenny made it past him, where could she go? No doubt the hospital was crawling with draculas. The closet was the safest place. Besides, she couldn’t leave the kids.
She stuck her head through the broken window. No way she’d fit through. Maybe ten years and twenty pounds ago, but all that would happen now was she’d get stuck like that monster had.
Another quick glance at Lanz.
He was no longer eating himself.
Instead, he was standing, staring at Jenny, a line of bloody drool stretching down his chest.
She banged on the door with both fists. “Open this goddamn door now! Right now!”
Jenny chanced another look behind her.
Lanz was holding his hand—now a ragged stump—up to his mouth. His misshapen, hideous tongue gave it a long, slow lick, like he was enjoying a popsicle. His black eyes bore into Jenny.
Then he took an easy step forward.
“JESUS CHRIST JUST OPEN THE—!”
Lanz broke into a run, and just then the knob turned. Jenny slipped into the closet, managing to get the door closed and to brace her back against it just as Lanz hit full force. His claw—the one he still had—shot through the window and latched onto Jenny’s throat. She twisted away, crabwalking backward, watching in helpless terror as Lanz tried to force himself into the square window.
He got his arm in.
He got his head in.
But that was as far as he could go.
Jenny feverishly looked around for a weapon. Besides the art supplies, there was medical equipment, but none of it formidable. Bandages, sutures, iodine, splints, tape. Where were the scalpels? Where were the syringes? Where was the—
Crash cart! Why hadn’t she thought of that before?
The cart was a set of aluminum shelves on wheels, stocked with everything needed to resuscitate and treat life-threatening conditions. She crawled to it, yanking open a drawer, looking for something, anything, to hurt Lanz with. Her mind was thinking syringes and drugs.
But her eyes locked onto the defibrillator.
It was a manual model. Perfect. She flipped it on, cranked it to 970 joules, and grabbed the paddles while the battery charged the capacitor.
“You want something to eat?” Jenny said, pressing the electrodes on either side of Lanz’s head. “Eat this, you son of a bitch.”
The unit beeped, and Jenny pressed the button to deliver the jolt. Lanz screeched, then immediately pulled out of the window. Jenny charged the unit again, waiting for him to return.
The bastard did, jamming himself into the tight space, his outstretched claw swiping at her head. Jenny ducked it, brought up the paddles, and juiced him once more.
He jerked away, but this time he had the presence of mind to take a paddle with him. Jenny pulled on the other end of the wire, struggling not to lose it, but Lanz had weight and strength and he ripped it from her grasp, pulling it out of the defib unit.
One paddle wasn’t enough to complete the circuit, so the weapon was useless. But it didn’t seem to matter.
A minute passed.
Dr. Lanz didn’t reappear.
“Is the monster dead?” one of the children wailed.
Jenny didn’t think so. The shock he got was no doubt painful, but probably not fatal.
“I don’t know.”
And she had no desire to check. If he was lying outside the door, dying, that was fine with Jenny. But she wasn’t going to risk peeking through the broken window and getting her face bitten off because Lanz was playing hide and seek.
Better to wait and see.
“Who let me in?” Jenny asked the children.
“What’s your name?”
“Tommy, you’re a brave boy. When we get out of here, I’m taking you to the Camp Kookyfoot Waterpark.”
“Can I come too?”
The other two also chimed in the chorus.
“Okay,” Jenny said, “I’m taking you all to Camp Kookyfoot.”
“Is your husband coming too?”
Jenny’s thoughts flashed to Randall. She pictured him trying to balance on an inner tube far too small for his massive frame, that goofy, perpetually confused look on his face.
“Yes. Him too.”
She closed her eyes and prayed the big lug was okay.
RANDALL was all in favor of the crippled. Not in favor of them being crippled, of course—that would be deranged—but of their rights and stuff. They definitely deserved their own parking spaces and ramps and everything that would let them live normal lives. So when the legless dracula wheeled itself toward him, he felt bad that his first reaction was to laugh.
Not a belly laugh or a “laughing and pointing” type of thing, but it was still a very definite laugh. He couldn’t help himself. The creature just looked so…ridiculous.
As the dracula reached him, Randall stuck out his good foot, stopping the chair from bashing into him, and then gave it a nice big shove. The dracula wheeled backward, jaws snapping.
Randall laughed again.
Now he was relatively certain that his was not the cruel laughter of ridiculing the handicapped, but a more insane sort of laughter—the kind of laughter that would come out of a man whose mind just couldn’t handle all of the shit it had seen tonight.
Yeah, he was losing it.
That was okay. No shame in a little dracula-induced brain-snapping. It was kind of relaxing, actually. Like alcohol without the hangover.
The dracula wheeled forward again.
Randall shoved it backward.
Hell, he could do this all day. Or at least for an hour or two. It’d make a great YouTube video. People would protest the shit out of it, but it would get millions of hits.
Tina shifted her weight on his back. Randall snapped back to reality.
When Randall was in fourth grade, his teacher, Mrs. Quimbal, had told him that when he felt his concentration fade from the task at hand, he should imagine red laser beams coming out of his eyes. It had worked. He’d sit there at his desk, imagining red laser beams zapping into his math book, and he’d keep his focus. His grades were still crap, but at least he wasn’t getting into trouble.
Randall imagined red laser beams zapping into the dracula as it wheeled back toward him.
Gotta keep yourself sane. Gotta protect the little girl. If you screw that up, then you’ve lost the one positive thing that could possibly come from this nightmare. Focus. Focus. Focus.
He lifted his good foot to shove the dracula back one last time. Suddenly the dracula pushed itself up with its arms, practically leaping out of the wheelchair and onto Randall. The creature was significantly more threatening when it was latched onto his chest.
“Get off! Get off!” Randall shouted, stumbling backward.
Tina shrieked. For one terrifying moment Randall thought he was going to lose his balance, falling onto his back and crushing the little girl beneath him, but he managed to keep himself upright.
He punched the dracula in the head as hard as he could, getting it right between the eyes. Though a bolt of pain shot through his knuckles and he let out a loud grunt, this did keep the dracula from biting out a sizable chunk of his torso. He couldn’t get at his utility belt with the damn monster wrapped around him like this.
He jerked his body around, trying to shake off the creature, but the thing had an iron grip around him (apparently its lack of legs meant extra strength in its arms) and he couldn’t get it off. Tina, meanwhile, started to slip off his back and wrapped a panicked arm around his neck, immediately cutting off his air supply.
Then, Jenny’s voice: “Randall…”
It took Randall a split second to realize that Jenny had not suddenly appeared in the room with him, but was speaking to him through an intercom. He’d heard that asshole Clay use it earlier. Jenny’s voice was much nicer.
“…I’m still in pediatrics with the children. I need you to…oh my God!”
The message ended.
Randall punched at the dracula again. It tilted its head back and his fist almost plunged into its open mouth, but he struck it in the chin and its teeth clacked together, pinching off a small piece of its tongue.
What did Jenny want him to do?
Go for help?
Find some dynamite and blow this whole fucking place to smithereens?
Was something attacking her? Had she died in these last couple of seconds?
He had a mental flash of one of those things—no, three of them—dragging her to the ground, their jaws digging into her flesh, eating her alive as she screamed for Randall to help her and cursed him for abandoning her and the children.
Randall had felt plenty of anger in his life, much of it aimed at Jenny—oh, he’d broken more than one piece of furniture in those days after she left him—but none of it compared to the rage he felt right now, knowing that these creatures might be feasting upon the one love of his life.
He punched the dracula again.
He wasn’t sure if the blood was from his knuckles or merely on them, but he kept punching that monster until its grip loosened. He tossed it to the floor. It quickly began to crawl toward him, squirming actually, and he kicked it in the head with such force that what little remained of its cheeks split open.
Another kick and it slid several feet across the floor.
The poor amputee had not had the luxury of an electric wheelchair. This meant that its existing source of mobility was relatively lightweight, which meant that Randall was able to pick up the wheelchair and slam it down upon the creature, splattering it underneath the wheels.
God. Randall had never in his life been so politically incorrect.
“It’s okay, Tina,” Randall said. “It’s dead.”
Actually, it wasn’t, the ghastly thing was still writhing around under the wheels, but Randall turned away so the little girl couldn’t see the mess.
Now, what to do? Try to get back to pediatrics? Get Tina to safety and then try to get back to pediatrics? Why hadn’t Jenny said anything else on the intercom? Should he try to find an intercom himself and talk back to her? Should he start searching corpses for cell phones?
Something dropped onto the back of his neck and slipped down his hospital gown.
Then something else. Small, like a pebble.
Or a tooth.
More teeth dropped against the back of Randall’s neck, followed by some warm blood. He couldn’t see Tina, but from the wet sounds of shredding flesh he could picture exactly what was happening to her.
When the hell had she been infected?
All he really wanted to do right now was howl in frustration. Scream and scream and scream and make the whole cruel world go away.
Instead, he speed-limped backward toward the nearest wall and bashed himself into it.
Tina snarled as he smashed her between him and the wall a second time.
She was a tiny little girl, a sick little girl, a helpless little girl, and so the third time he struck the wall she stopped moving. Her hands slipped away from his neck and she dropped onto the floor.
Her skull, and the entire top half of her body, crushed.
He’d done that to a five-year-old girl. A little girl he was supposed to save.
He bellowed. There may have been words in there. He wasn’t sure.
Randall didn’t want to focus. Didn’t want to stay in the moment. Didn’t want to know what was happening to him.
He’d lost Tina. Probably lost Jenny. Hell, he’d even lost his goddamn chainsaw. Why shouldn’t he just march his ass right over to the largest crowd of draculas he could find and offer them his throat? He could rip out a chunk himself, help them out. “Eat up, boys and girls! You might as well get a decent meal out of me—it’s the only value I’m going to contribute to the world today!”
Nobody was going to miss Randall Bolton.
Well, the other lumberjacks might. If he was dead, it would be harder for them to have another hearty laugh at his expense. “Haw, haw, haw. That dumbass Randall couldn’t even save a little girl. Can you believe it? Big guy like that and he can’t even protect an asthmatic five-year-old. Waste of skin and bones. Can’t even hold a chainsaw right.”
He didn’t know that Jenny was dead. Even if her message was interrupted by a dracula, she was strong. She could handle herself. Probably had a six-foot-tall pile of dead draculas in the room with her. And if there was any chance that she was still alive, even a tiny sliver of a fraction of a percentage of a chance, then Randall was going to find her.
He could still hear the legless dracula struggling behind him.
Randall ignored it. He shoved the image of Tina’s corpse out of his mind, then left the Rehabilitation Therapy area. He didn’t care how many of those creatures stood in his way, he was going to get through them—a thousand of them if he had to—until he found his way back to pediatrics and the woman he so desperately…
Randall stopped for a second. Looked to the right and then to the left.
Which way had he come from?
Despite what many people said about him, Randall was not an idiot. But when you were losing blood from popped stitches and carrying a kid on your back and wandering around in barely existent lighting with monsters all around you, it was easy to lose your sense of direction.
All of that for nothing. Jesus. He should’ve just let Tina run off and get eaten by draculas. At least then he’d still be with Jenny, there to protect her from whatever interrupted her intercom message.
Or, he would’ve been there to helplessly bumble around while those things tore his wife apart. That was probably more likely. God, he was pathetic.
No, wait—he wasn’t lost at all. There was a stairwell right next to the swinging door to the rehabilitation area. He hadn’t passed one of those. Good, good. He was back on track. Ha! Those bastards could kill a little girl, but they couldn’t get him lost!
Actually, you killed the little—
He started to turn around, but maybe the stairs were the way to go. Instead of backtracking where he knew there were draculas, he should find a different route back to pediatrics. Up the stairs, across the hall, down the stairs, and get back just in time to put his fist through a dracula’s stomach. Good plan. Solid.
Going up a flight of stairs was gonna hurt.
So what? More pain? Quite honestly, he could barely even feel his injured leg. So long as it remained attached to his body and didn’t collapse like an accordion, he could deal with it.
Accordion music sucked.
He pushed open the door to the stairwell and took his first step up.
So far, so good.
His second step was less good.
He bashed his jaw on the edge of the step as he fell forward. He lay there for a moment, hurting and trying to work up the energy to try again.
Had he lost consciousness?
No, wait, yes he had, because now a clawed hand was wrapped around his ankle.
He twisted to see what it was. Holy shit. The legless dracula, covered in blood and with at least one visible internal organ, was still after him. He hadn’t squished it enough.
Randall yanked his foot out of its grasp, kicked it in the head, and then began to crawl up the stairs. He could hear it crawling after him. This had to be a hallucination. No way could he actually be in this situation. This was absolutely batshit insane!
Move! Move! Move!
His leg wasn’t cooperating at all, and the dracula, pulling itself from step to step just using its arms, kept pace with him all the way up to the first landing. Then it grabbed his foot again.
I’m losing a race with somebody who doesn’t have any goddamn legs!
The dracula snarled, opened its mouth wide, and bit at Randall’s foot just as he pulled it free. With those jaws, Randall had no doubt that the creature could take off his entire foot. Maybe not in one bite, but two or three would do the trick for sure.
Can’t get bit. Don’t wanna turn into one of those things!
Randall scooted backward, his butt squeaking against the floor (squeaking just like that damned clown) until his back struck the wall. The dracula, several ropes of bloody drool dangling from its fangs, crawled after him.
Fuck it. He needed to make this problem go away.
Not giving a shit how bad it hurt, Randall forced himself to stand, grabbed the dracula under the shoulders, then heaved it. It bounced on the stairs twice before it hit bottom, where it lay with its neck twisted at a grotesque angle.
Still trying to come after him.
Jesus Christ. He’d just thrown a cripple down a flight of stairs. Dracula or not, Randall was pretty sure that hellfire awaited him in the afterlife.
And now he most definitely gave a shit about how bad it hurt to stand up. Wincing the entire time, Randall made his way up the second half of the stairway, wondering if any hidden cameras would see him should he decide to curl up and cry for a few days.
Finally he made it to the third floor. He stepped out into the hallway, expecting to see something that continued his streak of bad luck. Maybe two, three thousand of those things, all charging him, desperate to avenge their legless brother.
Aw, for God’s sake…
Randall couldn’t honestly say that he’d rather have had two or three thousand draculas waiting for him, but, c’mon, Clay Theel? Really? The dickhead who’d thought that his gun and badge gave him the right to stick his nose into Randall’s business?
Clay was with a frightened-looking woman. Neither had seen him yet. Randall took a deep breath. He couldn’t let that guy see him looking weak. Had to act casual. Maintain his dignity. Nothing he could do about the blood and the ass-exposing hospital gown, but he certainly wasn’t going to let Clay know that he was mourning his failure to save a five-year-old girl.
He steeled himself, tried to think of something sarcastic to say, then walked forward.
“ALL right. Let’s get you out of here.”
He put his hand on the knob but used the slit window to give the lobby another look-see before stepping out.
“What?” Shanna said, trying for a peek.
While they were talking, half a dozen monsters had gathered in the lobby. If Clay had only himself to worry about, he might have charged out and given it a go. But with Shanna along…no way.
He put his lips to her ear. “Let’s go back up to the second floor and see if we can find another stairway that doesn’t open on the lobby.”
He let Shanna lead the way up and covered their six, keeping his shotgun trained on the door in case one of those things decided to check out the stairwell.
But when she reached the second-floor landing, she said, “We’ve got a problem.”
Clay reached her side and peeked through the slit and saw what she meant: at least three monsters prowling the hall. One was dressed like a clown, but all its teeth were gone—shattered. Clowns looked weird enough in full light, but in this shadowy half-light, this bugger was about the most terrifying thing Clay had ever seen.
He could feel his temper rising. He sort of prided himself on being able to stay cool in any situation, but he was getting pissed.
“Are we the only people in this goddamn place who haven’t turned?”
Shanna shuddered. “What an awful thought.”
“Okay. The third floor. If it’s the same up there, I’m just gonna have to step out and do some population control.”
But the third-floor looked empty. Clay stepped out, shotgun ready. All clear. He spotted an EXIT sign glowing in the shadows at the end of the hall. He motioned Shanna out of the stairwell and pointed.
“We’ll try that one,” he said, keeping his voice low. No telling what was about and he didn’t want to attract any attention.
She nodded and gripped the strap of his duffel. They hadn’t taken two steps when a loud voice froze them.
“Well, well. If it ain’t Deputy Dawg!”
As he whirled, Clay’s finger tightened on the trigger, ready to fire. When he recognized that asshole Randall Bolton stepping out of the shadows ten feet away, he almost fired anyway.
“Stay right there, Bolton.”
“Or what? You’ll shoot?”
Clay took in Randall’s bloodstained face and hospital gown and didn’t like what he saw. He looked almost crazed.
“Absolutely. You’ve been infected. How long ago?”
“I’m not infected.”
“You got blood all over you.”
“Well, shit, you’ve got blood on you too! Everybody in this goddamn place has blood all over them! You want me to hire some guy in a white coat to scrape this stuff off me and put it under a microscope? This blood ain’t mine!”
“Why should I believe that?”
“Do you see any dracula wounds on me?”
“Maybe on your leg. Looks like that one took a lot of stitches.” Clay, of course, couldn’t even see Randall’s leg wound from the front, but he’d certainly heard about it.
Randall’s eyes narrowed. “You think that’s funny?”
“Hilarious. Whole department knows about Randall Bolton damn near cutting off his own ass. Drunk again?”
He couldn’t remember how many times Jenny had called the department to come and subdue her drunken husband. He had no respect for bums like Randall Bolton.
Randall’s face reddened. At least Clay assumed it did, beneath all of the blood. “Takes a small man to bring up something petty like that when we’re in so much shit. I been dry ninety-seven days now.”
Clay snorted a laugh. “Believe that when I see it.”
Randall took a step toward him. “You’re seeing it right now, you dumb fuck. I’m standing right here.”
“Stay where you are!” Clay raised the shotgun to his shoulder. “You might turn any second now.”
Randall stopped and shook his head. “You know better’n that, Theel. We’ve got monsters everywhere in this place, but you don’t want to deal with that, you just want to wave your gun at me like a schoolyard bully. You think you’re hot shit, but without your badge and your big bad gun, you’re just a coward.”
Clay’s temper had already been frayed when he’d stepped out into the hall. Now it snapped.
“That so? Okay. My badge is off.” He shrugged off his duffel bag and handed Shanna his shotgun and Alice. “And now my big bad guns are gone.”
Shanna stared at him with eyes so wide he could see white all around. “What are you doing?”
“Shanna, meet Jenny’s ex-husband.”
“Never mind him. Are you insane?”
“No, just gonna see who’s a coward.”
“Clayton Theel, you stop this macho bullshit right now!”
“Sure, honey. Right after I stop his bullshit.”
He stepped away from Shanna and faced Randall, raising his right hand and doing the Bruce Lee come-hither thing with his fingers.
Randall stared at him. “Did you get that from a kung fu movie? Are you Chinese now?”
“Are you two kidding?” Shanna said, her voice rising and getting all screechy. “We’re in the middle of a slaughterhouse!”
“If Theel wants me to knock him on his ass in front of his girlfriend, I guess the draculas can wait a little while,” Randall said.
Clay started circling. “Is that what you call them? Not bad for a dumbass.”
Suddenly Shanna was between them as they circled each other. “Stop this! Stop this now!”
Clay looked past her at Randall. “I saw one of your draculas downstairs in a clown suit.”
“Oh, you’re friends with a clown? Figures. Birds of a feather, and all that. Well, when I finish kicking your ass, I’m going down there and kicking his ass, then I’m gonna dress you in his clown suit.”
“Well, shit, looks like bad circumstances bring out our perverted sides, huh? Should I act like a little choir boy when you dress me up? As for that clown, I greased that rat-fuck son of a bitch but good.”
Something familiar about that line, but Clay couldn’t place it.
“I don’t believe this!” Shanna cried. “You’re trash talking when we should be getting out of here!”
Clay remembered the clown’s broken teeth. “You the one who messed up his teeth?”
“Yeah. Think I may take up dentistry on the side during the slow lumber months.”
Clay was impressed—not about the threat but about the number he’d done on that clown. Wouldn’t ever admit that to Randall, of course.
“Well, there’s plenty more where he came from.”
Randall grinned. “That’s because we got draculas coming outta the walls. They’re coming outta the goddamn walls.”
Clay stopped circling and stared at him. “Aliens?”
“Hell yes Aliens! Beat the shit out of the original.”
“I know. I loved that movie.”
Randall stopped and puffed his chest. “Seen it eighty-three times.”
“Wait-wait-wait!” Shanna said, staring at Randall. “You were quoting some movie?”
“He sure was, honey. You saw it. Aliens, remember? With Newt, the little girl who—”
“You mean there’s two of you?”
Clay wasn’t following. He looked at Randall. “I guess there’s hope for you yet.”
Shanna looked ready to cry. “Can we get out of here, please?”
“Yeah, okay.” Now that he was closer, he noticed Randall didn’t look in exactly top form, anyway. “We’ll settle this some other time.”
“Count on it.”
“You really dry?”
“Bone. Day one hundred coming up.”
If true, he deserved at the very least a pat on the back.
“Well, good for you. Seriously.”
Clay picked up Alice and the shotgun from where Shanna had laid them and shouldered the duffel. As he took Shanna’s hand and started for the end of the hall, he noticed Randall wasn’t following. He stopped.
He shook his head. “Jenny’s down in pediatrics somewhere.”
“She was with a bunch of kids. I think she’s hiding them.”
Jenny…Clay had always liked Jenny, but Shanna was his number-one priority. And Randall looked kind of all in. He might need a little edge if he was going to bring Jenny out.
“Can you shoot?”
Randall smiled. “Not as good as I chainsaw, but I can pull a trigger.”
Clay hesitated, then walked back to him.
“Here.” He didn’t believe he was doing this, but he handed him Alice. “Four rounds left. She kicks like a mule. Make sure nobody you care about is behind whoever you shoot—or even in the next room.”
Randall looked from the Taurus, to Clay, to the Taurus again. “You sure?”
“Take good care of her. Don’t make me regret this.”
He took one last look at Alice, then turned and walked away, wondering if Randall had enough left in him to get Jenny out on his own. Maybe not.
“Be back ASAP to help you find Jenny,” Clay called over his shoulder.
“You don’t have to do that,” Randall said.
“Yeah, I do.”
Benny the Clown
BENNY the Clown was sad again.
His teeth were gone.
Half of his tongue was also gone, and it made new blood while he licked up what was on his clown suit. His whole mouth was leaking faster than he could lap up the new blood. The taste had made him happy before, and he still wanted MORE MORE MORE but now he hurt too much to be anything more than sad.
He realized that one of his siblings was gnawing on his leg. This made Benny the Clown even sadder.
It was an old woman. Very old. He could kill her.
Benny the Clown killed her.
He drank her blood.
He was happier now.
But it didn’t last. He hurt again.
He hurt so bad that he wanted to rip his face off.
He tried, just a little, but it didn’t make him feel better.
Not at all.
Benny the Clown got up and walked down the hallway, looking around for something to make him happy. The screaming didn’t make him happy. The sobbing didn’t make him happy.
Nothing made him happy.
He looked at the thing on the floor. He seemed to remember something like it. One of his friends used to juggle them. Or was it his mentor? If he remembered correctly, somebody got badly hurt juggling them, and the other clowns had been sad, even though it was kind of funny.
He picked up the chainsaw and began to lick the blood off the blade.
CARLA relocked the double doors and pushed the dressers back into place.
What a night.
The doctors gone.
A woman dying on her watch.
Another young woman, by herself, that patient already at seven centimeters.
Could things get any worse?
There was a part of her, growing stronger by the minute, that just wanted to hole up in a supply closet and wait for help to come.
But she couldn’t do that. She had patients depending on her.
A sudden scream erupted from one of the private rooms.
She ran down the hall, the noise getting louder.
Maybe she was finally fully effaced and ready to push?
Carla opened the door. “How we doing, Brit—”
What the hell?
Brittany was pinned to the bed on her back by a little girl.
“Hey!” Carla shouted.
The little girl turned and looked at her and…hissed through a mouthful of hideous canines, her face a bloody wreck.
Carla backpedaled involuntarily out of the room as the little monster hopped off of Brittany and crawled in her direction on all fours, coming faster and faster, talons clicking on the linoleum.
“Lock yourself in, Brittany!” Carla screamed as the girl rose up on two feet and sprinted toward her.
The door to Room 12 slammed shut and Carla heard the deadbolt turn as the little monster leapt at her, talons pointing toward her like a full set of knives.
Carla lunged out of the way as the girl crashed into the nurses’ station.
The Murray’s baby daughter was screaming at the far end of the corridor, and Carla scrambled back onto her feet and hauled ass toward Stacie’s room as the girl-monster climbed out of the nurses’ station and came after her.
There was a delivery cart against the wall, and she opened the top drawer and grabbed the first thing she touched, a pair of episiotomy scissors—”bajango scissors” she called them on better days. She closed the scissors, took them by the end, turned, and threw them toward the little girl, knowing, even as the blades left her hand spinning end over end and catching glimmers of that weak, blue light, that stuff like this only worked in bad movies.
The little girl suddenly stopped ten feet away and went quiet.
She looked down at her chest where the scissors were embedded, and then up at Carla, and she made a sound like a mewling cat or a depressed banshee.
There was an extension cord in the bottom drawer of the delivery cart, and Carla pulled it out, her hands shaking as they unwound the twist tie.
The little monster-girl sat in the middle of the floor. At first, she’d been trying to pull the blades out of her chest, but her own blood seemed to be distracting her now.
Carla approached slowly.
“I’m Carla,” she said. “What’s your name?”
The monster screeched something unintelligible.
“Well, I’m a nurse, and you look like maybe you’re not feeling so well.”
She was five feet away now, and getting her first look at this perversion of a child, wondering what kind of a virus could cause this. Something worse than Ebola.
Carla had grown up on a ranch ten miles from here, and by God she’d hogtied a calf or two in her day. No this wasn’t anywhere near the same, but similar principles applied. Flip her on her stomach, hard and fast, knee digging into her spine, and get the cord around her wrists. Tie her ankles last.
Three feet away now. She squatted.
God, the closer she got, the more awful this thing looked. This wasn’t a little girl. Not anymore.
Carla slowly uncoiled a four-foot length of cord, the monster eyeing her now with the distrust of a psycho cat, and licking the blood seeping out of her chest with a long, spongy-black tongue.
The Murray’s baby wailed now, grinding down Carla’s nerves.
She had to get back to Stacie.
Now or never.
She tightened her grip on the extension cord and lunged at the little monster, but it recoiled with terrible speed.
Carla felt something puncture the skin of her left arm, and by the time she looked up, the little girl had fled back down the corridor and disappeared around the corner that led to the operating room.
Carla stood up.
The bite to her left arm wasn’t too bad.
Bleeding a little, sure, but considering those awful teeth, it could’ve been so much worse.
She walked a little ways up the corridor and opened the door to the supply closet, grabbed a dose of Pitocin out of the refrigerator, praying it would stop Stacie’s bleeding. She should’ve already had the Pit ready for an IV-push just like she did for every single birth. What a fuck-up. If it didn’t stop Stacie’s bleeding, and without a doctor on hand to intervene surgically, the poor woman didn’t stand a chance.
DR. Lanz exited the playroom through the broken window, his head clear and his thoughts surprisingly rational. Perhaps that zap to the head had helped alleviate the urge to feed. Or perhaps he’d sucked enough of his own blood to gain a bit of perspective on things.
Because Lanz had a plan.
It had come to him, semi-formed, while he’d been chewing his fingers. Halfway into gnawing off his thumb, his fangs worrying the proximal phalanx, he’d noticed his breathing had become obstructed. Not because of the injury he was doing to himself, or because of the physical pain involved with chomping on his own flesh and bone.
His breaths were labored because his nose was growing back.
Obviously, his increased metabolism had resulted in preternatural healing powers. It wasn’t unheard of in the animal kingdom to regenerate body parts. Insects, starfish, and newts could all regrow limbs. Humans could regenerate their liver, ribs, and even fingertips.
Which gave Lanz an idea. An extraordinary idea of how to get to Jenny and those delicious little children. Plus, it would result in a bonus energy snack for him. Win-win.
But first he needed clamps and a bone saw.
He loped down the deserted hallway, heading to the Surgery wing, barging into Operating Room A. Unlike the rest of the hospital, which was spackled with gore, this area was so clean it shined.
Lanz would rectify that.
He raided the stainless steel equipment cabinet of two ring-handled bulldog clamps with curved tips, a scalpel with a no. 20 blade, and a nine-inch Saterlee bone saw. The hospital had cordless electric models, but Lanz couldn’t get his finger in the trigger guard with his talons. He’d have to do it the old-fashioned way.
Lanz tore off the remnants of his lab coat and shirt and examined his left shoulder. He could have bitten his arm off without much difficulty, but he wouldn’t be able to get close enough to the glenohumeral joint with his giant teeth. Instead, he awkwardly picked up the scalpel and decided to make his first incision just above the acromion, on the end of the clavical bone. With a deft, precise stroke, he parted the skin and sliced into the deltoid.
When the wound filled up with blood, Lanz’s tongue extended on its own volition and lapped it up.
Even better than a suction hose, he mused.
Cutting deeper, his blade sliced through the coracoacromial ligament, then scraped tender cartilage. Continuing to slurp up his own blood, he wielded the bone saw and nestled it into the wound, between the humerus and the glenohumeral ball joint.
The pain was exquisite, causing him to scream in between bouts of sucking at his own torn flesh. When he finally cut through the ligaments and joint capsule, he finished off with the scalpel, severing the infraspinatus muscle on the underside.
Blood squirted like a fountain, and his insane hunger tempted him to stretch out his own brachial artery and suck it like a straw. Instead, he used the bulldog clamps to seal off the brachial, as well as the cephalic vein.
Once the bleeding was under control, he shoved his severed arm into his mouth, chewing and sucking and drinking every last drop of moisture from it. Then he fell onto all fours (actually all threes) and vacuumed up every bit of blood he’d spilled onto the tile.
Momentarily sated, he examined his handiwork. The wound’s edges were ragged, but already beginning to heal. He decided to leave the clamps on for the time being, fearing that taking them off would make him lose his self-control and drink himself to death.
Lanz had no idea how long it would take his limb to grow back, but he wasn’t concerned. He had plenty of time.
With his arm gone, he’d be able to fit through the tiny window in the storage closet door.
He figured the blood of one adult and four children would sustain him for quite a while.
Benny the Clown
“ISN’T that burning your lips off?” Benny the Clown had asked, in another life.
Rupert shook his head. His lips were cracked and covered with blisters. Either his fire-spitting trick was indeed burning him, or it was a ghastly case of herpes. “It’s not that bad.”
“It looks painful.”
“Sacrifices must be made in the name of show business. Stick with me, Benjamin, and you’ll learn a lot.”
Benjamin hesitated. Rupert had gotten him this gig, and though it didn’t pay anywhere near what he’d made at Office Depot, he didn’t want to risk destroying his career as a children’s entertainer before it even started. But still…
“Y’know, Rupert, most fire eaters don’t use rubbing alcohol. They use something like lamp oil. I mean, your lips are…they’re…I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but what you’re doing could actually…you could get…can I see your tongue?”
“No, you may not. I know it’s unsafe. I’m not stupid. But let me ask you a question, Benjamin: when was the last time you crashed on somebody’s couch and found a bottle of highly purified lamp oil in their bathroom?”
“Never, I guess.”
“Damn right, never. Now how many times have you found a bottle of rubbing alcohol?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever looked.”
“Well I have, and let me tell you, if that house has a woman, it has a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I spend four or five nights a week crashing on a stranger’s couch, and when I leave, they may check their jewelry case, but they aren’t saying ‘Uh-oh, better check the bathroom cabinet to make sure our rubbing alcohol hasn’t been pilfered!’ If you want to be successful at this business, you have to learn to cut expenses. So you go buy your fancy lamp oil if you want, but I’ll stick with a good old fashioned bottle of stolen rubbing alcohol.”
“I’m sorry. Do you really need that much?”
“Tell me, Benjamin, how many chainsaws do I juggle in my act?”
“I haven’t seen it yet.”
“Three. Three chainsaws. What do you think chainsaws run on?”
“Have you seen the price of gas? It’s obscene. Flat-out criminal. But do you know what makes a chainsaw run just as well?”
“Uh, rubbing alcohol?”
“That’s right. You try to siphon gas from your neighbor’s car, you’re going to jail. You steal rubbing alcohol, nobody ever notices.”
“Is it safe to juggle chainsaws that are fueled by…y’know, something that wasn’t really meant to fuel a chainsaw?”
“Haven’t lost a limb yet.”
“Yeah, but that can’t be good for the engine, can it?”
“You need to quit worrying about that kind of stuff,” said Rupert. “Trust me. I’ll groom you into the funniest clown the world has ever seen.”
Benny the Clown licked the last of the blood from the chainsaw blade.
He hurt, but he was happy.
He walked around for a while.
He couldn’t smile any more, but he wanted to smile when he saw what was on the shelf.
He took down the bottle. Stared at it for a while. Tried to remember.
He filled the chainsaw.
He couldn’t wait to use it. It would be funny.
STANDING on the other side of the double doors, he heard Nurse Herrick locking him out.
Adam started down the corridor, making the sign of the cross as he passed what was left of the nurse in black scrubs who’d been chased down and slaughtered an hour ago.
Felt like so much longer. Like days had elapsed.
The only lights in operation were those over the doorways, and this left long, deep shadows in the spaces between.
Already, he was breathing so fast he had to stop and lean against a wall and close his eyes, slow everything down until the lightheadedness receded.
He went on, down the long, empty hallway, until he came to the waiting area at the end.
Only the thought of Stacie and the blood she needed bolstered him enough to peer around the corner.
The rubber soles of his shoes were deafening on the recently-buffed linoleum, so he took them off, abandoned them, and continued on in sockfeet.
End of the hallway, take a right, go to the end of that hall, take a left, on your next right, four doors down, you’ll see a door leading to a stairwell.
He was coming up on the end of this corridor, and he stopped two feet from it.
No sound but the lights humming over a doorway just ahead.
He peeked around. There was movement at the far end, two hundred feet away…something dragging itself across the floor.
Adam stepped out into the new corridor, jogging in his socks.
Four doors down, you’ll see a door leading to a stairwell.
He passed the first two doors, perfectly quiet save for the swish of his socks sliding—
He slid to a stop.
Footsteps. That’s what he heard. A pack of them pounding the floor, and he’d just started moving again when the first…demon, no other word for it…came tearing around the corner at the far end of the corridor, followed by a dozen others, and they all began to scream and hiss when they saw him, Adam running now, door number three up ahead, then flashing past, door number four still twenty feet in the distance, and it occurred to him that he was actually running toward these things as they momentarily disappeared into a long black shadow.
He torqued his feet to the side like he was making a full stop on skis and skidded just past the door.
The demons close now, getting louder.
He pulled open the door and bolted through, slamming it shut behind him.
Harsh, blue fluorescent light flickered overhead.
Spun around and looked at the door, praying for a lock, but there was none.
He raced down the steps, taking them three and four at a time, hands sliding down the rails, his footfalls clanging on the metal steps.
Go all the way down…
He made it down four flights of stairs, to the ground level, before the door to the stairwell burst open above him, the noise of numerous taloned claws filling this cinderblocked-column with scraping metal and the echoing clang of those demons taking entire flights in a single jump.
The stairs ran out and Adam tore through the door leading into the basement floor…
…into pure and total darkness. No emergency lights, no exit lights, nothing.
When you come out, go left, right, left, and then right again, all the way to the end of the last corridor. You’ll see the sign for the lab. The refrigerators are in back. Grab at least five units of O-positive.
He could still hear those things rushing down the stairwell, and he hurried along for several steps in the dark, expecting at any moment for the basement doors to bang open.
And he kept expecting…
And kept waiting…
A minute passed.
He stopped moving.
He could still hear them, but the sounds of their snarling and hissing were fading away.
They’d all run into the hospital lobby.
Thirty seconds later, the silence was back, humming again inside his head.
His legs trembled, and he slid down against the wall until he was sitting on the cold floor. Unshouldered his backpack, hands shaking so badly he could barely unzip it.
He pulled out his Kindle. He’d been reading through the Book of Acts on it, and he couldn’t help but smile at the bible verse on the screen as he turned on the small light that was clipped to the top of the device.
Your word is a lamp unto my feet. A light unto my path.
NONE of this was fair! Her Mommy always gave her everything she wanted when she wanted it how she wanted it and as many times as she wanted it and now all these stupid big people like that nurse—
Ooooo. Red candy. She’d missed a drop that was now congealing around the blades of the scissors still sticking out of her chest.
—who wouldn’t let her have any red candy, and you weren’t supposed to run with scissors much less throw them at people!
She crouched under the operating table. Strange how there was no light in the room, and yet she could see everything so perfectly in shades of gray and green.
There was red candy at the other end of this corridor. She was sure of it. The smell was better than cookies baking in the oven.
It called to her.
And in that moment, something occurred to the thing that used to be a little girl, something she’d heard her Mommy tell her Daddy a thousand times before Daddy went to live in Texas.
If you want something, you have to go out and get it. Stop asking people for things. Start taking them. It’s called initiative.
Maybe that’s what she needed.
Quit asking for red candy like a goooooood little girl.
Start taking it.
She had big sharp teeth and razor claws.
She just needed to be a little bit smarter, a little bit braver, and a whole lot meaner.
THEY made it down to the ground floor without meeting any draculas. Despite the fact that it was Randall’s term, Clay’s brain had latched onto it for the monsters—a perfect fit. The door carried the usual emergency-exit/alarm/blah-blah-blah warning. Well, son, if this wasn’t an emergency, he didn’t know what the fuck was.
Sure enough, bells started ringing as soon as he pushed it open.
He and Shanna stepped out onto a walk on the north side of the main building. No dracula-filled lobby or ER to blast through. Dumb-ass. He should have remembered that the corner stairwell opened directly to the outside.
Shanna leaned against him and started to cry. To tell the truth, Clay felt his own throat tightening. He took a deep breath and swallowed a sob of relief.
Shanna was safe. The ER parking lot was just around the corner.
“Let’s find my truck and get you the hell out of here.”
They turned that corner and walked into a circus.
The first thing he saw were three empty state police cars, stopped with their doors open and lights flashing. Parked a short distance away, a white van emblazoned with KDGO with a dish on its roof. A guy with a camera on his shoulder was shooting a woman speaking into a mike.
How the hell—?
Then he realized what had happened. Crime reporters always monitor the police frequencies. They must have heard the sheriff call the staties for help at the hospital. Whatever they said must have sounded newsworthy because they’d sent a video team.
Wup-wup-wup overhead: A KREZ helicopter flew by.
Must have sounded real newsworthy.
He spotted an emergency rig on the far side of the state units. Two EMTs were pulling an empty stretcher from the back of their rig. Why?
Then he saw the six bloody lumps scattered before the ER entrance.
“What?” Shanna said.
He pointed to the TV truck. “Wait over there.”
He rushed over to the bodies and reached them the same time as the EMTs.
“Stay back!” he yelled.
They froze. Normally they would have ignored him—they had their duty to the injured—but people tend to listen to a bloody man carrying a semi-auto shotgun.
“They need help,” one of the EMTs said, a stocky Hispanic woman.
She pointed. “No. Some of them are moving.”
Clay turned and checked them out. All state cops, all bloodied. Two of them were torn up something fierce and sprawled like rag dolls, but the other four were still breathing and twitching.
“Okay, they’re gonna be dead.”
“You a doctor?”
“Then how can you say they’re going to die?”
“I’m not just saying it, I’m guaranteeing it.”
“Listen, we need to get them—”
Clay wriggled his badge holder from his back pocket and flashed his tin. “Deputy Sheriff Clayton Theel. Who called you in?”
The male half of the team pointed skyward at the copter. “The KREZ pilot saw the bodies and radioed it in.”
He pointed to their idling rig. “I’m ordering you to withdraw.”
They glanced at each other, then complied. He turned and saw the reporter and her cameraman approaching.
A good-looking brunette. Clay had seen her on the tube, but usually looking more composed. “I’m Carmen Ro—”
“Yeah, I know. I want your guy here to keep his camera trained on these cops.”
“Why aren’t you letting the EMTs help them?”
“Because in a few minutes, we’re the ones who’re gonna need help.”
“I don’t under—”
One of the staties coughed and lifted his head. He spat half a dozen teeth. Another rolled over, also spitting teeth.
“Here we go.” Clay looked at the cameraman, a young white guy with fuzzy, dirty-blond dreads. “You filming this?”
“It’s not film,” he said with the hint of a sneer. “It’s digital.”
“Whatever. What’s your name, son?”
The sneer vanished. “Um, Tony.”
Clay didn’t have that many years on him, but asking a guy his name and calling him “son’ often took the starch out of them.
“Well, listen, Um-Tony, since you can’t film these guys, your job right now is to digital them.”
Carmen said, “We can’t broadcast victims injured like this, especially police.”
“Well, fine, but it is being recorded somewhere, right?”
“No matter what happens,” he told him, “you keep digitaling or whatevering. Got that?”
Clay knew people would think he was crazy if he told them what was going on inside Blessed Crucifixion. So he was going to show them.
A picture was worth a thousand words, right? This video would be worth millions of them.
When the first fangs began ripping through lips and cheeks, Clay heard Carmen cry, “Oh my God!” and the cameraman say, “Holy fucking shit!”
Without looking at them, he said, “Back up, but keep rolling.”
He removed his eyes from the newbie draculas only long enough to check the AA-12’s magazine. Only a dozen shells left. Very little slack. Had to make every shot count. No wastage. He raised it to his shoulder and waited.
Didn’t take long.
The first statie—fully-fanged now, with all ten talons extended—pushed itself to its feet, looked around, then charged the nearest fresh blood—Clay. Much as he disliked state cops, he’d never imagined shooting one. Well, okay, maybe once or twice. The uniform caused Clay to hesitate just a second, then he emptied two twelve-gauge shells at the new dracula when it was two feet from the muzzle. The proximity concentrated the cone of the #4 shot and literally dissolved his head into a spray of blood-and-brain Slurpee.
Behind Clay, Carmen screamed long and loud while something went splat! on the pavement. A quick glance back showed Tony losing lunch.
“Keep filming or you’re next!”
The guy straightened and his camera wobbled as he raised it to his pasty face. “It’s not—”
“Yeah, I know. It’s digital. Just do it.”
He turned back in time to see the second statie dracula leaping through the air—but not at Clay. It landed on its headless fellow and began tearing into it with loud grunts and greedy slurping noises. Clay stepped closer and aimed at the top of its lowered head. Two more twelve-gauge blasts pulverized the brain inside and popped one of its eyes from the socket. Clay took out the next two just as they were starting the change. One blast each did the trick for them. The remaining pair were still down and gave no sign that they were going to change.
Carmen had lost all her reportorial cool. Tears streamed down her cheeks. “Wh-wh-wh-what just happened here?”
“The same thing that’s been happening all over Blessed Crucifixion.” He pointed to Shanna, approaching with tentative steps. “I don’t think anyone can explain, but this woman here can background you some. You’ll have to catch up to her later, though. Right now, she’s on her way home.”
“In what?” the cameraman said. “Check out the tires, man.”
Clay did just that, and found every tire in sight flat.
He hurried over to his Suburban and saw that it hadn’t been spared. Four brand-new Goodyear Wrangler SilentArmor tires, ripped to shit.
He kicked at one of them until his leg got tired, then turned and saw Shanna walking his way. Carmen stood back by the truck on her cell phone. He calmed himself and then looked at the hospital. He was going to have to go back in. He didn’t want to, but…
“It’s okay,” she said. “Carmen said I could stay with them.”
“I want you gone.”
“But I can’t go. And help is on the way.”
“What? Another TV crew?”
“No. The news director at the station saw what Tony was recording. He’s calling the state police, the National Guard, even the governor. I told Carmen to tell him to call the CDC too. This has got to be contained.”
Okay, maybe Shanna would be okay. Another look at the hospital. But what about him?
This could be their last time together—ever. He might not make it back from his next trip inside. Had to do this now. Might not ever get another chance.
He dug into his pocket as he turned back to Shanna.
“I want to give you something.”
She shook her head. “I told you: I can’t do it. I can’t shoot anyone.”
“Not a gun.” He held out the ring box. “This.”
Looking confused, she took it and opened it—and gasped when she saw the sparkler.
He didn’t want to die with the ring in his pocket. If it came to that, better she had it, to remember him by.
“OH, Clay. Ohmygod!”
It was beautiful, but it was so wrong!
His words filtered through the cotton that had suddenly filled her brainpan.
“I was going to ask you to marry me this weekend—you know, when we were in Denver.”
“Get married? This weekend?”
Has he lost it?
He laughed. “No-no. Ask you this weekend—do the whole down-on-one-knee thing. We’ll get married later.”
Tears filled her eyes. “Oh, Clay, I—”
“But it doesn’t look like we’re going to Denver, and I won’t get to take a knee here and ask you to marry me, because I know this is a moment every girl dreams about all her life and I want it to be special for you. But I want you to have the ring now. We can talk about getting married later.”
…because I know this is a moment every girl dreams about all her life…
What planet was he from?
God, she was going to break it off with him and there wasn’t going to be any Denver this weekend. How was she going to tell him that she could not accept this ring?
“Clay, I can’t—”
“You can take it. I really, really want you to have it.”
She shook her head and sobbed as she stared at the ring. “Clay…really…”
“If anything happens, I just wanted you to know, beyond any doubt, how I feel about you.”
If anything happens…
What was he talking about? They were out, safe, free from those…draculas.
…I just wanted you to know, beyond any doubt, how I feel about you.
The ring said a whole lot about how he felt, and about how long he expected to go on feeling that way. But she simply could not reciprocate.
“I…I don’t know what to say.”
“Not a problem. I understand. Women get overwhelmed with emotion at a time like this.”
She looked into those loving brown eyes…oh, you clueless, clueless man. But then, weren’t most men clueless? She had to tell him now, this instant. She couldn’t let this go one more second.
But then he wrapped his arms around her and pressed his lips against hers, and the memory of those lips elsewhere on her body, all over her body, awakened a heat. But before she could respond, he released her.
“What? Where? What are you talking about?”
He cocked his head toward the hospital. “Back inside.”
“Are you crazy? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“Believe me, that’s the last thing I want—not when I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you. But I promised Randall.”
“You don’t even like him.”
“Don’t matter. Told him I’d be back to help him find Jenny. And Jenny’s good people. You know that.”
Yeah, she did, but…
“You said you’re almost out of ammo.”
“For the shotgun, yeah.” He opened the back of his Suburban and reached inside. “But I’ve still got my biggest and baddest.”
He pulled out some contraption that looked like a sawed-off shotgun from outer space.
Shanna blinked. “What is that?”
“An MM-One—a semi-automatic grenade launcher.”
It looked familiar.
“Wasn’t that in one of your movies?”
“Good memory. Christopher Walken carried one in Dogs of War.” He leaned closer. “That’s just another reason we belong together—we love the same movies.”
She felt her eyes roll of their own accord. “Did it ever occur to you that—hey, wait. Did you say grenades?”
“Isn’t that kind of extreme? I mean, aren’t you afraid you’ll blow yourself up?”
Clay laughed. “Not a problem.” He patted the gun. “It’s designed to hold a dozen grenades, but I’ve got ‘er loaded with 40-millimeter M576 buckshot rounds. They don’t explode. They’re like giant shotgun shells. Each one unloads twenty-seven balls of double-ought. I don’t expect to have to shoot any of those draculas twice with this baby.”
He transferred his backup ammo for the MM-1 from the duffel to a small backpack and slipped his arms through its straps.
She felt the ring box in her hand and realized this was why he’d given it to her now—he didn’t know if he’d survive. No way she could give it back. At least not now. Send him back inside feeling he had nothing to lose? Uh-uh. She wanted Clay Theel to have every reason to survive.
A brave, decent man stood before her—one of the good guys. And she loved him for that. And, well, for the good sex too. She might not want to marry him, but he’d make someone else an amazing husband.
She’d tell him when he came out.
She hugged him. “Come back to me, Clay.”
He smiled. “Do my damnedest.”
For some reason, as she watched him trot toward the hospital, she began to cry.
WHEN you come out, go left, right, left, and then right again, all the way to the end of the last corridor. You’ll see the sign for the lab. The refrigerators are in back. Grab at least five units of O-positive.
He must have mixed up one of his rights or lefts, because Adam was lost, wandering through a pitch black corridor guided only by the faint glow from the light, which was fading quickly, its battery drained by some recent sleepless nights spent reading.
Figured he could see, at most, ten feet ahead of him. Same claustrophobic creepiness as driving in dense fog with no idea what might emerge at any moment from the mist.
He passed radiology, coming up on another blind corner.
Adam stopped, because something was coming—a faint scratching noise just around the bend.
He extended his Kindle and in the glow of the light, watched a skinny, gray rat waddle around the corner.
It stopped, sniffed the air, then turned to face Adam.
He tripped over his feet backing away from the rat, which was scurrying toward him now, its head nothing but massive brown fangs that were snapping shut with increasing ferocity the closer it got.
Adam climbed to his feet, thinking, Don’t miss, on the verge of stomping the rat when he realized he only wore socks.
So he kept backing away as the thing came toward him, squeaking and hissing, and after twenty feet of this, he was starting to feel ridiculous. He had the scalpel in his pocket, but that didn’t seem feasible.
“Oh you stupid, ugly rat!” he said.
There were a few chairs along the wall outside of radiology and he picked one of them up and lifted it over his head and brought a wooden leg down on the rat’s rear haunches with a juicy crunch, blood and entrails exploding across the floor.
He lifted the chair again, the rat still scrambling toward him with its forepaws, albeit slower, and crushed its head and teeth and brains, over and over, until it was nothing but a soup of furry, gray-pink globs.
Adam charged on ahead, rounded the next corner, the realization coming that if he didn’t find the lab in the very near future, his wife was going to die.
He was running now, suddenly found himself at the end of the corridor, staring at the word LABORATORY in block letters over a door inset with glass.
He rushed in, past a waiting area and reception desk, through an exam room, until he reached the lab.
Almost no light remained.
He negotiated several desks, work stations and tables boasting microscopes and centrifuges, until he came to a tall refrigerator in the back, still humming off some battery power.
He pulled open the doors and knelt down, letting the weak light fall upon the trays of blood bags, labeled by type.
He slid out of his backpack and ripped open the main pouch.
Loaded in six units of chilled O-positive.
He zipped up, stood up, started out of the lab, then stopped.
Ravenous as these things were, maybe it wouldn’t be such a terrible idea to stock up on a little more blood.
A lot more blood.
He transferred the units of O-positive into a smaller pocket, started loading the main pouch with as many blood bags as it would hold, and when he finally zipped the backpack and hoisted it onto his shoulder, it sagged with the weight of thirty units.
Adam started running, made it out of the laboratory and halfway through reception, when his Kindle light finally faded to black.
He froze, waited a moment, thinking his eyes would adjust, that he would be able to see something, but it never happened.
His first instinct was primal, animal panic, a sense of the walls both closing in and spinning until he’d completely lost his bearing.
No. You haven’t lost your bearing. You can’t see, but the doorway is straight ahead. Take it in ten step increments. You can do this. You have to do this.
He left his Kindle on the floor and moved forward with his arms outstretched until they touched the glass inset of the door. Fumbled for the handle, found it, pulled the door open.
When you come out, go left, right, left, and then right again, all the way to the end of the last corridor.
So reverse that.
He stepped out into the corridor, turned left, wandering down the hall with one hand outstretched, the other trailing along the wall. Seemed to take forever to reach the end of it, but his hand finally touched the intersecting wall.
One down, three to go.
He prayed as he walked in the darkness, prayed Stacie would hold on just a little longer, prayed for the safety of his new daughter, prayed for his own—
A noise echoed through one of the corridors behind him—a snarling-hissing, soft at first but getting louder, and then the click of footsteps—no, not footsteps, talonsteps—became prevalent.
These weren’t rats, and there were more than one.
A legion of them.
The fear paralyzed him, his first instinct to run, that sightless disorientation setting back in, his heart racing as they drew closer.
Think, think, think.
He slid out of the backpack.
Felt around for the main pouch’s zipper in the dark, ripped it open, pulled out one of the cold blood bags.
Still couldn’t see a thing, but he heard the sound of talons sliding across the linoleum, those demons skidding as they rounded the corner, wondered how they could still see.
The things that had murdered the nurse up on the third floor had obsessively licked up every drop of blood. This was either going to work, or he was going to die horribly in about ten seconds.
His fingers struggled to tear the pack, but the plastic was too thick, and then he remembered.
Dug the scalpel out of his pocket, and the moment he drew the blade across the top of the plastic bag, those demons started screaming.
Adam shouldered the backpack and came to his feet, backpedaling, holding the blood bag by the top.
Please God let this work. So my wife can live, so I can be a father.
He slung the bag into the darkness, heard it hit thirty feet down with a splatter, and as he turned and sprinted through pure darkness, the shrieking of the demons filled the basement of the hospital, their screams resonating inside his head, and he knew that even if he survived this night, never in his life would he forget that sound.
He crashed so hard into the next wall, he felt his shoulder pop, but he didn’t stop to think about the pain, just righted himself and kept running, gasping so hard for breath he could no longer hear what, if anything, pursued him, and then he crashed into another wall, felt certain he’d bruised or fractured his arm, but all he could think was, This is it. The door to the stairwell, to Stacie, is on this corridor, and he jogged now, running his hand along the wall, trying every door he came to.
Breathing normally again, finally, but he could hear something coming now, the horrific clicking of the talons just around the corner, one corridor back.
He picked up speed, and ten feet later, came to the next door, which he pulled.
It swung open.
His eyes burned in the flood of light and he rushed into the stairwell and up the steps as the door closed after him.
He got up two flights, then fell to his knees and ripped open the pack again, pulled out four blood bags, zipped up, went on.
By the time he’d reached the second floor landing, he heard the door to the basement bust open beneath him, glanced down, saw one of those demons leap up to the first landing in one bound—a three hundred pound man in a janitor’s uniform who had no business moving at that speed.
Adam reached the penultimate landing as a door leading to the ground floor opened and a stream of demons rushed in and up the steps.
He pounded up the last ten steps and grabbed the first blood bag, cut a rip in the top, and threw it down to the second floor landing.
It struck the metal flooring and blood exploded everywhere, streaking the walls, the steps, demons screaming, a half dozen diving instantly to the floor and trying to lick up what hadn’t seeped through the metal grate, but another half-dozen still coming.
Adam pulled open the door and ran out into the third floor corridor, slicing into another blood bag as he skidded to a stop at the next junction.
He spun around just in time to see the stairwell door fly open, watched at least thirty of those demons fighting their way into the corridor.
Adam slid the blood bag toward them across the floor like an air-hockey disc, blood jetting out across the linoleum, and he was running again, full on sprint, tearing through light and shadow, and as he reached the next junction, he glanced back, still saw a dozen of those monsters chasing him.
He didn’t stop in time to take his next turn under control and slammed into the wall again.
Saw the double doors to the maternity ward a hundred and fifty feet straight ahead, and this made him run faster than he’d ever run in his life.
They were closing on him.
He could hear the talons clicking, and when he dared another glance back, four of those demons had rounded the corner and were moving toward him at a dead run.
Adam made an incision in the final blood bag and hurled it over his shoulder like a grenade, heard the screams and the screeches when it splattered on the floor.
The doors were straight ahead, and he collided with them.
Adam pounded on them.
“I’ve got the blood!” he screamed. “Let me in!”
He grabbed the handles and tugged violently on the doors, but the locks held.
Fifty feet down, two of the monsters fought over the empty bag, one slurped the blood off the linoleum, and another had taken notice, again, of Adam.
Adam beat harder against the doors and through the tiny window, saw someone moving toward him past the nurses’ station.
“Hurry!” he screamed.
Glanced back again.
The fourth demon had stood up, still torn between Adam and the bloody floor, its head craning back and forth, back and forth, as if—bird in the hand, Adam, bird in the hand, Adam, and…
…It started forward, working up to a sprint, Adam thinking he should get another blood bag out, but it didn’t matter. There wasn’t time.
On the other side of the door, he heard furniture scooting back across the floor, and the locks sliding out of the ceiling, out of the floor.
“Carla, please,” he begged.
One of the doors swung back.
Adam stepped inside, his backpack catching on the handle.
Gave it a fierce yank, and then he was inside.
“Help!” Carla screamed, and together they rammed their shoulders into the door, but a talon shot through a split second before it closed.
Adam could feel the terrifying strength of the creature driving them back as those razor talons gripped the side of the door.
“Oh, God!” Carla screamed. “More coming.”
Adam reached into his pocket, fingers curling around the scalpel, and he stabbed the blade into the demon’s claw, dark blood running out onto the floor.
The thing shrieked, its claw retracting for a fleeting second, and the door slammed shut.
“Lock it!” Adam yelled, and he crouched and slid a bolt into its housing in the floor, then reached up and drove the ceiling lock home as a tremendous force crashed into the doors, hinges quivering.
“Your side locked?” he asked.
She nodded. “Let’s push the table back.”
They braced it against the doors as the demons on the other side took turns running at full speed into the barricade, Adam watching the hinges for any sign of weakening, but they seemed to be holding.
He looked over at Carla. “How’s my wife?”
“Not good. We need to get her transfusion going right now.”
They turned away from the barricade, Adam glancing over his shoulder as they hurried down the corridor.
“A little infected girl got inside through the window, so keep a look out,” Carla said, the doors rattling behind them, the monsters calling after them in some demented, primal tongue.
“Where is she?”
“Hiding in the OR. But don’t worry, she isn’t as scary as she looks.”
“I wet my pants again.”
“How about we sing a song?” Jenny asked the children.
She was also pretty frazzled. Since Lanz left, there hadn’t been any other monsters trying to attack them, but a few minutes ago a pack of them had run down the hallway. A large pack, maybe thirty or forty. Jenny knew that on an average day there were over a hundred and fifty patients in the hospital. If you figured maybe eighty people on staff, plus a few dozen visitors, there could be almost three hundred of those things roaming around.
While Jenny had no desire to draw their attention, some quiet singing was probably less harmful than four young boys wailing uncontrollably.
“Does everyone know Old MacDonald?” she asked.
The boys nodded.
“Okay, we’ll start with chicks. And let’s use our indoor voices. Are you all ready? Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-Ohhhh. And on his farm he had some chicks…”
The kids fell in with the E-I-Os. Jenny kept a strained smile on her face and sang through the cluck-clucks, and the moo-moos with the cow, and the oink-oinks with the pig, and just as she began the fourth verse she forgot what the next animal was. A horse? A duck? A dog?
“…and on that farm he had a dog, E-I-E-I-Ohhhh. With a—”
Jenny whipped around and stared, open-mouthed, at the creature at the door.
Lanz had returned.
He was cramming himself into the door’s broken window. But rather than getting stuck this time, his whole body slid through, flopping onto the floor of the closet.
The children screamed in horror. Jenny didn’t think, she reacted. In preparation for an attack, she’d filled every syringe on the crash cart, ten in all.
She was going to stop the fucker’s heart.
She grabbed the first two needles, one in each hand, gripping them in her fists with her thumbs on the plungers. Succinylcholine, a powerful paralytic. Etomidate, an anesthetic. Both went into Lanz’s back, and as Jenny injected him she noticed, with a combination of horror and revulsion, that he was missing his left arm. Two clamps dangled from the fleshy stump, their stainless steel handles clack-clacking against the tile floor.
Lanz screeched again, his remaining hand locking around Jenny’s ankle. She left the needles sticking in his back and reached behind her, managing to snag two more just as he yanked Jenny off her feet.
Fighting the urge to pull away, Jenny sat forward, stabbing him with two more overdoses. Lidocaine and diazapam.
Lanz opened his horrible mouth, his teeth locking onto Jenny’s foot, beginning to chew. She tugged her foot away, pulling free of her shoe, and then scrambled back toward the children.
She’d injected Lanz with enough drugs to put a track team into a coma. But that didn’t seem to matter. Spitting out her gym shoe, Lanz began to slither toward her, eyes wide, mouth wide, his talons outstretched and his massacred face shuddering in what looked like ecstasy.
The bitch nurse had jabbed him with a few needles, but that didn’t matter. He’d just amputated his own arm without sedation. A few measly shots weren’t going to stop him. Dr. Kurt Lanz M.D. was invincible.
Inching forward on his belly, he undulated in Jenny’s direction. Her terrified face—a rictus mask of pure fear—was delightful. She kept the delicious children behind her, as if she could somehow stop the primal force that was Kurt Lanz using just her sheer will.
He reached forward, stretching out his arm, a talon hooking into the cuff of her pants.
Then things started to get strange.
First, his lungs stopped working. They seized up, unwilling or unable to take a breath.
Then his head began to feel full and heavy, and the floor beneath him seemed to shift.
His vision blurred, going dark along the edges.
The drugs! It’s the drugs! My body can’t metabolize them fast enough!
Lanz snarled, tugging Jenny toward him by her slacks, sliding her across the floor until she straddled his face—an obscene imitation of a sex act.
Blood! Blood will revive me! Blood will get these drugs out of my system!
Lanz stretched open his jaws, ready to bite Jenny’s pelvis in half.
Then something punched into Lanz’s back. Something sharp and cold. He felt it stick up under his scapula, straight into his left ventricle. The pain made him gasp.
“Potassium chloride,” Jenny said.
KCl was used to treat hypokalemia and digitalis poisoning. But in large doses it was the primary drug used in lethal injections for death row inmates.
Potassium chloride stopped the heart!
Lanz moaned, the drug working instantly. He curled up, twitching and spasming, the pain stormtrooping through his entire body in agonizing, dizzying, pounding waves. He vomited, but it wasn’t the contents of his stomach. It was his stomach, hanging inside-out from a slimy loop of esophagus, spilling out the precious blood he’d been digesting.
Even with everything going on, the smell of blood activated his biting reflex, and he chomped down on his own regurgitated organs, screaming as he chewed.
“You always were an asshole, Lanz,” he heard Jenny say.
As his eyes rolled up into his head and his brain kicked out its last few beta waves, Dr. Kurt Lanz MD thought, Smart, smart girl. I probably shouldn’t…have fired her…
“DID you stop the bleeding?” he asked.
“The Pitocin stopped it, but she’s lost about fifteen hundred milliliters and her vitals are way down.”
They entered Stacie’s room, and something inside of Adam broke apart seeing her still lying unconscious and bloodless in the bed.
“Where’s my daughter?”
“Resting peacefully in the nursery. The blood?”
He took his pack off and unzipped the pouch, handed Herrick the first unit of O-positive.
She already had the intravenous line lodged into Dee’s arm, and she hung the bag on the metal stand’s hook and plugged the IV line into the plastic, Adam watching the line of darkness push down the tube toward his wife’s veins.
He touched the back of his hand to her cheek—clammy and cool.
“Is she going to make it?”
Herrick didn’t answer.
Adam glanced over his shoulder.
Herrick stood with her hand cupped to her mouth, spitting blood and…were those teeth?…into the palm of her hand.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
She looked up at him, confusion brimming in her eyes. Tried to speak, but more teeth were loosening, and she plucked one of her back molars out—root and all.
Said something that sounded like, “I don’t feel right.”
Adam reached out to touch her shoulder, but she retreated and ran out of the room.
He turned back to Stacie, took her cold hand in his.
“I’ll be right back, sweetie. You’re going to be okay now. Just rest.”
He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, and as he turned to leave the room to see what was wrong with Herrick, something standing in the doorway stopped him cold.
A little demon-girl.
“You get out of here,” he said.
She hissed at him.
He noticed a pair of scissors protruding from her chest.
“Go on!” he shouted.
But she didn’t go on. Just stood there, drooling out of those horrific teeth, black eyes gleaming in the blue-glow of the emergency lights, watching him almost like she was gearing herself up for something, and then he realized she wasn’t looking at him.
It was the blood bag.
She moved forward and before he knew what he’d done, Adam swung and hit the little girl with a devastating left hook to the face, felt her nose sink in, his knuckles pop, and she went sliding back across the floor.
Something possessed him—a livid, white-hot jolt of rage, and as the little girl tried to sit up, the minister rushed forward, grabbing a knot of her hair as he shot past, and dragged her out into the corridor.
He could feel her struggling, trying to regain her feet, so he ran harder, hit a full-on sprint as he approached the junction, and then he gave one hard tug and sent the demon-girl careening into the nurses’ station.
She crashed head-first into the wood paneling and lay unmoving on the floor.
Adam could hear noise everywhere now.
From Room 12—Brittany’s room—God-awful screams, figured she was pushing the baby out, and he hoped Nurse Herrick was in with her.
The barricade was rattling, too, a demon trying to squeeze itself through the square window-frame.
The demon-girl jumped to her feet, hit the ground running, coming straight toward Adam, talons out, screeching like some battle cry, and it happened so fast Adam didn’t even react, just let the monster slam into him at full-speed.
They crashed hard to the floor, the little girl’s talons digging through his black pants, pinning him to the linoleum.
He looked down, saw her head moving toward his crotch, those shark teeth snapping.
Adam reached out and grabbed another handful of the little monster’s hair and torqued her head a half second before she decapitated his johnson.
He brought his legs up around her and squeezed her between his thighs, straining to crush her ribcage.
She screamed, tore one of her talons out of his leg and swiped it at his face.
Adam could hear those demons trying to break through the barricade, couldn’t see them from where he lay, but he could hear the ominous crack of wood splintering.
The girl struggled to inch toward him, close enough now that he let go of her hair and started punching—direct, solid blows to her face, her eyes swelling shut as she screamed.
And then suddenly he felt her talons close around his neck, and her face—the nightmare wreck of it—inches from his.
He stared into those black, soulless eyes that glistened with…
It was unmistakable.
This little demon-girl looming over him, saliva dripping in long, bloody strings from her fangs, was pleased as punch, as if she’d finally managed to catch her first real prey.
I can’t be killed by a little girl.
Not like this.
Wait! Someone had appeared behind the girl—he craned his neck to see who it was as those monsters ravaged the barricade beyond the nurses’ station.
Brittany! It was…Brittany?
Brittany stood in bare feet on the cold linoleum, her head tilted, watching Adam.
Her face had exploded, and her stomach too, and in the cavity a little eight-pound demon with a face full of half-inch razor whites was slowly chewing its way out, Adam thinking…
This is a hell worse than any I ever read about. Please God, please…where are you?
IN a night filled with countless horrors, killing Lanz had to be the worst one of all.
Jenny huddled with the children once again, not even knowing what she was saying, but continuing to speak in soothing tones until their hysterics leveled off. Then she found a spare blanket and draped it over Lanz’s body so they wouldn’t have to look at it. She kicked something wet and lumpy—is that his stomach?—underneath the cover and then retreated back to the corner of the storage room.
“It’s okay now,” she said. “We’re all going to be—”
But she heard something that stopped her.
Could it be…?
The boys screaming in unison, so loud and shrill it hurt Jenny’s ears. She whipped her head around, following their shocked stares and saw…
That clown. That damn clown.
It stood next to the window, peering inside. Benny the Clown’s teeth were gone, and it looked like he’d been gumming barbed wire. But the red nose and the fright wig remained, as did patches of white make-up, reflecting multicolored hues of pastel in their glow lights.
Jenny summoned up courage she didn’t know she had and said, “It’s okay, kids. It’s okay. He can’t get in.”
“I hate clowns!”
“That’s not a real clown,” another boy said. “That’s just some guy dressed up like a clown!”
“It’s a monster clown!”
She hugged them. “Don’t worry. The monster clown is out there. We’re in here.”
“He’s doing something!”
Jenny didn’t want to look at the creepy thing again, but she felt compelled to. Benny the Clown was holding something in his hand and waving it into the broken window.
A blue handkerchief?
Squinting at it, Jenny realized it was sticking out of the vest pocket of his clown outfit. Benny the Clown gave the cloth a sudden tug.
The first handkerchief was tied to a second, yellow handkerchief. He fed both through the window and kept pulling.
Attached to it was a red one.
Then a green one.
“Go away, you goddamn clown!” Jenny ordered.
But Benny the Clown continued to pull out handkerchief after handkerchief. Five…ten…fifteen…then…
That’s not a handkerchief.
The next thing he yanked from his pocket was a human spleen.
The spleen was attached to a kidney.
The kidney was attached to a gall bladder.
Then a lung. A bladder. A descending colon. And something that might have been a trachea.
Jenny was speechless. Not only because this horrible perversion was being presented to her and the kids. But because of the effort that went into it. Benny the Clown had taken the time to tie all of these unconnected parts together.
Finally, with flourish, he ended the ghoulish display by tugging out the last organ. A human heart.
Then the bastard actually bowed.
“You sick son of a bitch!” Jenny screamed. “Get the hell away from us!”
But Benny the Clown didn’t go anywhere. He continued to stare at them, as if expecting a round of applause.
Jenny turned away, hugging the children. “Don’t look at him, kids. We don’t have to worry about him. He’s just a big bully, trying to scare you. He doesn’t even have any teeth. He can’t hurt us. The big loser can’t even get in.”
Then Jenny heard a sound that chilled her to the very core.
A sound that was both familiar, and totally out of place.
The starting and revving of a chainsaw.
The blade poked through the aluminum door like a finger through a wet tissue.
The children screamed. So did Jenny. She screamed for their lives, and hers, and for Randall’s, because she knew it was her husband’s chainsaw, and he never would have let Benny the Clown take it, which meant he wasn’t going to save her because he was dead.
As Benny the Clown cut the door off its hinges and stepped into the storage closet, Jenny’s biggest regret was that she hadn’t gotten to tell Randall how much she loved him.
HE hated to admit it, but Randall felt a lot better after his encounter with Clay. The new gun helped. But, really, the guy wasn’t a complete dickhead after all. Oh, he was still a dickhead, but perhaps a smaller one than Randall had originally thought.
Randall turned a corner. The emergency lighting in the corridor wasn’t nearly bright enough to give him a full view of what was happening, but he could see blood all over the floor, and two draculas on their hands and knees, greedily slurping it up.
Two draculas. He had four bullets. If Clay’s advice about making sure that loved ones weren’t behind what you wanted to kill was correct, then Randall could line up his shot carefully and take them both out with a single bullet.
Then again, they seemed really distracted by the blood. And there was a lot of it.
Maybe he could just walk on by. Save a bullet for when he desperately needed it…or at least for when Jenny could see him shoot it.
He kept the gun extended in front of him and picked up his pace as much as he could. The draculas continued slurping up the blood. Hard to believe that Randall was so concerned with the blow to his own dignity when these things—human beings who probably would’ve had a good chuckle at his injury just hours ago—writhed on the floor like animals. Disgusting. Pathetic.
He quickly stepped past them. They didn’t look up from their meal.
How much blood did they need? If you tightened the muscles in your arm just right, you could get a mosquito stuck as it was sucking your blood, and the little bastard could keep drinking and drinking until it popped. He’d love to see one of these draculas pop.
Wow, he’d done it. Walked right by the distracted draculas.
If not for the absolute shitstorm of misery he’d gone through tonight, he’d almost think that the rest of this was going to be easy.
Okay, his mind had more or less returned to where it needed to be to get himself back to Jenny and the other kids. He’d be fine now. Nothing but redemption from this point forward.
He continued down the dark hallway, still ready with the gun.
More blood on the floor. Better not slip on it.
There was some sort of commotion behind a closed door. Randall didn’t open it. He kept moving forward.
He tried to focus on the layout of the hospital. He was a floor above pediatrics, but distance-wise, he hadn’t really gone that far. If there was another stairwell close by (or an elevator, if by any chance they were still working, which they probably weren’t) he’d be in good shape.
A dracula burst through a swinging door, less than ten feet in front of him. He had a pasty complexion and too much gel in his hair. The dracula saw Randall and immediately charged, arms outstretched.
For a split second Randall considered conserving his bullets, but the stupidity level of being ripped apart while holding a handgun was more than he was willing to commit to, so he pulled the trigger. The top half of the dracula’s head virtually exploded. The creature kept running forward for a moment, as if the message that it was dead hadn’t quite reached its legs, and then it collapsed to the floor.
Clay Theel was a man who knew his guns. And that kick felt good.
Randall continued down the hallway, his confidence further boosted. He moved quickly, probably fucking up his numb leg beyond repair, but for right now he didn’t care. There were a lot of shadows, lots of places where something with claws could hide and jump out at him. Though Randall couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t scared, nothing was going to stop him.
Another dracula stepped into view at the end of the hallway. Looked like a teenage girl. She wore a hospital gown, had long blond hair, and much less blood on her than most of the other creatures he’d encountered. Randall imagined that she was rather adorable in her previous life. Not so much now.
She rushed him. He aimed for a spot right between her eyes and pulled the trigger.
His aim wasn’t spot-on, but he got her in the neck. It burst in all directions, her head flopped backward, and she tumbled to the floor just like the other one.
Half of his bullets gone. Damn. Randall needed to pick up the pace.
He reached the end of the hallway. Left or right? Both looked equally spooky. He was pretty sure pediatrics was to the right, so hopefully there’d be a staircase close…
He laughed out loud. There was. Right there. Finally some good luck.
Randall opened the door to the stairwell carefully, half-expecting dozens of draculas to tumble out and make him look dumb for having believed that he was having some good luck. But the stairwell seemed clear.
He sat and scooted down the stairs on his butt. It wasn’t comfortable or dignified, but it got the job done.
When he reached the bottom, he heard some screams.
And a sound that was…familiar. Couldn’t be, though.
As he pulled open the door at the bottom of the steps, the noise became much louder. Thought he had to be imagining this, because it sounded a hell of a lot like a chainsaw.
He stepped into the hallway. Definitely a chainsaw. How in the world…?
Randall walked down the hallway. Yes! This looked familiar! Now he knew exactly where he was! He was getting closer and closer to the sound of the chainsaw, and hoped that it was being put to good use on one or more of those monsters.
There it was. Pediatrics.
He pushed through the door, and the first thing he saw was that goddamn, motherfucking, toothless, unfunny son of a bitch clown holding his chainsaw.
This was blasphemy! Fucking blasphemy! You could dunk a cross in a pool of urine while environmentalists burned the American flag and Randall would not have been more outraged than he was at the sight of Benny the Clown holding his precious chainsaw. The grease-painted fuckhead didn’t even know how to hold it properly.
Heroes in the movies that Randall so dearly loved said cool things before they blew away the bad guy. But that would mean a few extra seconds of the clown holding his chainsaw, and that was unacceptable. Randall pointed Clay’s gun at the clown, who stood in front of a closet or something, and pulled the trigger.
Benny the Clown turned to look at him. He tossed the chainsaw from his right hand to his left, and then back again.
What the hell was he trying to do? Juggle?
Somebody inside the closet screamed. Even over the roar of the chainsaw motor, Randall recognized it.
Randall was not going to miss a second time. That shiny red nose was just begging to have a bullet rip through it. He stepped forward, focusing on the spot with every bit of concentration he could summon, narrowing the distance between them. He’d fire into that clown’s head from just out of chainsaw range. His brains could make shadow puppets as they scattered against the wall.
He continued walking forward.
His foot came down on something slippery and wet.
His legs flew out underneath him and he landed on his ass.
The gun went off, blowing apart a chunk of the ceiling. He winced as a large piece of plaster struck his eye. Dignity, gone.
With his other eye, he saw what he’d slipped on: a tied-together string of guts. What the hell…?
The clown tossed the chainsaw from one hand to the other again, then pointed the blade at Randall and took a big squeaky step forward.
Randall realized that he might very well be about to die, and he was going to die pissed.
He threw Clay’s gun at Benny the Clown.
He needed something else to throw.
There wasn’t much in the way of dracula-killing equipment left in his utility belt, but he yanked out a tape measure as he scooted away from the chainsaw-wielding clown. His left eye kept blinking by itself—the falling plaster had really gotten in there.
The large, bloody hole that comprised most of Benny the Clown’s face curled up slightly on one side, as if he were trying to smile.
Randall threw the tape measure. In a battle of chainsaw versus tape measure, Randall would put his money on the chainsaw, but the tape measure was enclosed in metal and he certainly wouldn’t want to get hit in the face with it.
It struck the clown in the forehead.
His head snapped back.
The large, bloody hole curled downward.
Randall kept scooting away. The clown was less hyperactive than the other draculas, but Randall still didn’t want to get in the way of a waving chainsaw. There had to be other stuff to throw at him. Something heavy.
Jenny emerged from the closet, holding a plastic bucket. Randall hoped it was full of acid.
She swung the bucket with both hands, bashing the clown on the back of the head. His shiny red nose popped off and fell to the floor. The clown stumbled forward but maintained his footing. He turned around, chainsaw still roaring.
Sawing up my wife with my chainsaw? I don’t think so.
Randall got up and rushed at him, tackling him like the football player Randall might have been if he hadn’t decided to become a lumberjack. The clown maintained his grip on the chainsaw, damn it, and the two of them spun around in a complete circle.
“Stay with the kids!” Randall shouted at Jenny, praying the kids weren’t all dead.
Jenny hesitated, as if she didn’t want to leave him (was such a thing possible?) but when the chainsaw swung at her head she retreated back into the closet.
Randall grabbed the clown’s arm. He was sure he could tackle him to the floor without much trouble, but that carried the very serious risk of falling on the chainsaw blade. Benny the Clown struggled, trying to twist the chainsaw blade around into Randall’s stomach, and though he was a lot stronger than the clown, Randall felt off-balance and vulnerable.
Fuck it. Who said these draculas were the only things that could bite?
He leaned his head down and sank his teeth into the back of the clown’s neck. He then yanked his head back, tearing off a chunk. A small chunk, but a chunk of dracula clown neck nevertheless.
The clown convulsed.
Randall spat out the flesh.
Then he howled in pain as the goddamn chainsaw blade bounced against the back of his good leg.
Randall let go of the clown and took a step back. It’s okay. Just a superficial cut, he told himself, even though he knew no such thing.
The clown spun around, facing him.
There was no time to turn chickenshit. Randall threw a brutal punch at the clown’s face. His fist landed right in the clown’s open mouth, smacking against the back of his throat. The clown twitched, gagging, then his mouth closed around Randall’s fist.
Sucking on it.
Randall pulled his blood-and-saliva covered fist out and punched him right in his “Benny the Clown Says ‘Let’s Have Fun!’“ button, crumpling the metal.
He still didn’t drop the chainsaw.
In fact, Benny the Clown swung the chainsaw with more enthusiasm than ever, coming unnervingly close to spilling Randall’s insides out onto the floor. The clown swung the roaring weapon back and forth in a wide arc as he walked forward. Randall moved back at an equal pace.
Not enough of a gap between the swings to charge him.
Randall decided to retreat. Get the clown away from Jenny and the kids.
“C’mon, clowny clown!” he shouted, moving back toward the exit to pediatrics. “C’mon, Bozo the Prick! Let’s do this!”
If he ever got to relate this story to others, he’d come up with something better than “Bozo the Prick,” but for now it worked.
The clown followed him as Randall moved into the hallway, wishing that his newly cut leg would hurry up and go numb like his other one.
He picked a door, any door, with the clown in hot pursuit.
Stumbled into some sort of storage room, not much bigger than Jenny’s closet when they’d lived together, with a large metal shelf on each side. No way out except the way he came. Very little room to maneuver.
Randall tried to focus like the Terminator, imagining red lights flashing around the things that might be useful. An android from the future wouldn’t need to stumble around the room, looking for something to kill a clown with.
Benny the Clown’s chainsaw swing very nearly took off Randall’s arm, missing by inches. Randall continued his robot-scan as he tried to keep from being dismembered. In a few more steps he was going to smack against the back wall and be very deeply screwed.
Something caught his attention. Metal tanks in the middle row. He grabbed one of them, not knowing what was inside. How awesome would it be if it was laughing gas?
He threw the tank at the clown. It struck the chainsaw blade, creating a shower of sparks, but that still wasn’t enough to knock it out of his hands. Benny the Clown had one hell of a grip. The tank hit the floor, landing on the valve, and then the tank shot like a rocket, whizzing past Randall’s feet, bashing into the back wall, then spinning in a wild circle. He had to jump out of the way to keep it from tripping him.
Yeah. He could work with this.
The clown stared at the spinning tank. Maybe it reminded him of some sort of circus trick.
Randall grabbed another tank and slammed the nozzle against the shelf. He tried to hold it steady long enough to aim it, but the tank shot out of his hands, and flew straight into Benny the Clown’s stomach. The clown doubled over…and dropped the chainsaw.
Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
The clown stood back up. No guts exposed, which was disappointing. Randall couldn’t even tell if the clown was in pain, though the tank had to have shattered some ribs.
Deciding that he would stick with what worked, Randall grabbed a third tank. Making sure he gripped it tighter than before so he wouldn’t lose control, he bashed off the nozzle, then lunged at the clown with it.
Poor clowny bastard. What a lousy time to have such a big mouth.
Randall slammed the tank into the clown’s gaping, bloody mouth, then pounded it hard with his fist to get it in a couple more inches. The clown clawed at it and stumbled back against the shelf, knocking over a bunch of medical supplies, including an inhaler.
The clown didn’t exactly inflate—not like a beach ball or anything—but his stomach definitely expanded as if he’d been gobbling down a really big meal, really fast. Randall grabbed his chainsaw from the floor and knew he should get back to Jenny as soon as possible, but he couldn’t look away from what was happening.
Is he really going to…?
Benny the Clown popped.
He stood there for a moment, the inside of his torso carved out all the way to his backbone, and then fell. His final gift of laughter to the world was a short but intense blast of flatulence. It might have been natural, or it might have been him landing on a whoopee cushion. Randall didn’t much care, though dying with a fart sound was a pretty ironical way for a clown to go.
Perhaps once he had been a good clown. A noble clown. But he’d stolen Randall’s chainsaw, and had to die.
Randall clenched it tight, close to weeping with relief.
Finally. He had it back.
The motor sounded kind of weird. He wondered what kind of fuel they’d put in it. This baby only ever got premium.
He returned to pediatrics. Jenny had left the closet, and she threw her arms around him and squeezed tight.
“Randall! Oh, thank God! I knew you’d come back!”
“You know you can count on me, babe. Always and forever.”
“Always and forever,” Jenny repeated. And damn if she wasn’t looking at him like she hadn’t in a long time. Like she used to. Bright and happy and lovey-dovey.
Randall felt a bunch of emotions at once. Pride, that he was able to come through for her. Love, that had never faded. And hope.
Hope that they might actually have a future together.
Then Jenny asked, “Where’s the little girl?” and Randall’s spirits sank.
Lie. Tell her that Tina got out safely. You lowered her out a window or tossed her out to some firemen with a trampoline. They took her away in an ambulance. She’ll be fine.
Randall lowered his eyes. The plaster in his left eye started to hurt again. “She didn’t make it.”
Jenny put her hand over her mouth, then nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“But we’re going to save the rest of the kids. I’ve got my saw back. I’m going to cut through these motherfu—” He caught himself. “—motherhuggers all the way to the front door of this place. I’ll lead the way. We’ll all squish together close. You follow behind the kids. We’ll keep moving, I’ll clear our path, and we’ll be okay, I promise.”
“I believe you,” Jenny said. And Randall thought she actually meant it.
“What’s that between your teeth?” Jenny asked.
“Part of the clown. He tasted funny.”
JENNY had never been so happy to see Randall. She had so much she wanted to say to him. But her training took precedent over her emotions, and she immediately went into nurse mode.
“We need to wash out your mouth,” Jenny said. “Right now.”
“I said motherhugger, not motherfu—”
“Now, Randall! The infection is bloodborne. We don’t know…”
Her voice caught in her throat. She needed something antiseptic. Hydrogen peroxide, or something that could kill germs.
“Gargle with gas,” she said, pointing at his saw.
Randall stared at her as if she were nuts, but he uncapped the tank on his saw and lifted it to his mouth. When he titled it back, his eyes bugged out.
“Kids, stay by me,” she told the boys. “Now swish it around, Randall. Keep it in there as long as you can stand it.”
Randall’s cheeks bulged side to side. Jenny returned to the storage room for two compression bandages, and bent down, wrapping up Randall’s old chainsaw wound, and his new chainsaw wound. Neither was pretty, but he’d live.
“Mmmm-mmm-bbmbmb,” Randall said.
“Yeah, you can spit.”
He turned his head, ejecting a stream of pink liquid.
“Rubbing alcohol,” he said, after clearing his throat. “What kind of person would put rubbing alcohol in a man’s chainsaw?” He quickly looked down at Jenny. “But I didn’t swallow any. I’ve been dry—”
“For ninety-seven days,” Jenny said. “I know. And when we get out of here, I think we should go somewhere to celebrate your sobriety.”
Randall’s face brightened. “You mean, like a date?”
“I promised the boys here I’d take them to Camp Kookyfoot, and that you’d come with us. But I was thinking of someplace more immediate.”
Jenny wound tape around the bandage. “I was thinking as soon as we get out of here, we go straight to my place.”
Jenny nodded, feeling her whole body grow warm. “Randall Bolton, this is one lady who knows how to show appreciation for a man who comes to her rescue.” She lowered her voice. “I’m going to do things to you that will make your toes curl.”
“Jenny,” he said, “Don’t talk to me like that in front of the kids.”
Jenny stood up, locking eyes with her husband. “This is the part in all your movies where the hero kisses the girl.”
Randall hacked spit once more over his shoulder, wiped his mouth on the back of his arm, and planted one on Jenny that was so passionate it made her toes curl.
When they both came up for air, Jenny knew the moment was right to tell him that she still loved the big lug, and she wanted to give their relationship another shot. But Randall seemed to suddenly realize that they were still in grave danger. He looked away from her and at the kids.
“Everybody stay close,” he told the four boys. “I don’t have any fancy hand grenades, but none of those boogeymen are going to get past my saw, okay?”
The boys all nodded, their eyes wide and terrified.
“Everyone put your hands on the waist of the person next to you. We’re not going to lose anybody. I’ll take the lead, and Jenny will be squished up right behind you. Is everybody okay with that? Good.”
Jenny knew they had to get moving, but she didn’t want to lose this moment. “Randall, I—”
An explosion rocked the hallway.
“Get behind me,” Randall said, stepping in front of Jenny and urging his chainsaw to life with a quick pull of the cord.
MORTIMER spat out the last of his fangs, watching it drop onto the tile floor. He tore at the remnants of his underwear, and his naked, gore-slicked body doubled-over.
His distended belly—laden with blood only moments before—began to flatten. He screamed as his spine twisted, the vertebrae cracking like exploding popcorn.
Water. He needed water, and a place to hide while his body continued to change into its new form.
As the long muscle fibers in his legs broke down and realigned themselves, Mortimer half- ran/half-stumbled through the hallway, coming upon a door that read LAUNDRY. He threw himself inside, rolling across the floor, crying out as every nerve in his body seemed to catch on fire.
But this wasn’t the pain of death.
It was the pain of rebirth.
Even as he writhed, Mortimer could feel his brand new teeth growing in.
HE was puffing by the time he reached the third floor landing. He knew he didn’t exercise as much as he should, but was he this out of shape? Or was it plain old fear stealing his wind and making his heart pound like this? Because with each flight he was realizing more and more what a stupid stunt this was. Should have listened to Shanna and waited. First thing they teach you is always wait for backup. But waiting hadn’t seemed an option. The situation in Blessed Crucifixion wasn’t just deteriorating, it had run off the edge of a cliff.
But he couldn’t back off now, couldn’t return to that parking lot with his tail between his legs. What would his daddy say? Well, he’d say what he always said: A Theel don’t back down, not from no one, not from nothin’—’specially from a commie.
Well, these things weren’t commies. They were worse. They were a disease. They had to be wiped out and—
A hiss and a silhouetted shape diving at him from the next flight.
Clay had the MM-1 held at ready. All he had to do was pull the trigger. Which he did. The kick was a helluva lot more than the nearly recoilless AA-12. A good thing, because it lifted the barrel. Instead of a center-of-mass hit, the double ought tore a hole in the dracula’s upper chest, flinging it back and taking a good chunk of its spine out through the exit wound.
It sprawled on the steps, gnashing its teeth, unable to move its legs and only enough nerve supply to its arms to twitch its talons. A head shot would finish it off, but Clay needed to conserve ammo.
Most of all, he had to save one round for himself, in case he got bit. No way he was ending up like these folks.
He left the dracula behind and continued up.
On the fourth-floor landing he peeked through the little window and saw…nothing. Absolutely nothing. Black as the inside of a coffin.
Shit. He hadn’t thought to bring a light. His Maglite was back in his cruiser in the sheriff’s parking lot. Wait…
He pulled out his cell phone. He’d charged it up for the weekend trip. He hit a button and the display lit. Wimpy illumination, but it would have to do. With the MM-1 in his right hand and the phone in his left, he pushed through into the darkness…
Which swallowed the feeble glow from his phone. He took a step forward and heard glass crunch under his shoe. One or more of the draculas had smashed all the battery-powered lights. He couldn’t see shit. He had no idea what was lying in wait.
Okay, new plan.
He backed into the stairwell again and pulled off his backpack. He pawed through his backup ammo for the MM-1 until he came to his one and only M583—a white star parachute flare. He removed the empty from the drum and inserted the flare. Problem solved.
He’d fire this baby down the hall. It would light up when it hit the far wall and give him forty seconds of 90,000 candlepower illumination to get the lay of the land.
He stepped back into the dark, raised the launcher, and thought he heard a noise. He hit a button on his phone and—
A dracula, jaws agape, was four feet away and closing fast.
Clay pulled the trigger. The white star round hit the thing in the face, smashing through his teeth and into the back of his throat, lifting him off his feet. As he staggered back, the flare’s little twenty-inch parachute popped out of his mouth and opened. The four-second delay ran out and the flare lit, illuminating the inside of the dracula’s head like a paper lantern. Clay could see the brain boiling before the skull exploded.
The flare rolled free, revealing half a dozen draculas lying in wait. A trio of those leaped on their fallen comrade while the other three charged. Clay let the lead pair get close and put them both down with one round, then laid out the third with another. They weren’t dead, but they were disabled, and that was as good as being goners, because their buddies were already on them, chowing down.
Now what? Could he sneak by the others without wasting precious ammo? The flare glare revealed a sign next to the stairway door. A floor directory. He spotted the word Pediatrics. Shit, it was on Two. He was on the wrong damn floor.
He slipped back into the stairwell and headed down.
SHE stood by Clay’s suburban, watching the dark, blocky mass of the hospital. A faint, faint glow lit some of the windows, probably backwash from the emergency lights in the hallways, but for the most part it looked dead and deserted. But looks were deceiving. She knew it crawled with—what had Jenny’s ex called them? Draculas. Right. Jenny and her ex were in there—still human, she hoped—and so was Clay.
She prayed for his safe return. Yes, she was going to break his heart when he did, but she wanted him back. Because somehow the world seemed a better place with Clay than without him.
Ten minutes ago the army had roared in and heavily-armed soldiers had piled out of their trucks. A large black trailer had followed the soldiers into the lot but had parked away toward the rear. The people who had emerged were civilians.
And then something scary: The army set up spotlights at the emergency entrance, around the main entrance, and at each stairwell exit. Then they’d positioned soldiers with flame throwers at each point. Looked like they’d been convinced it was contagious. She’d expected officialdom to scoff at the stories of what had gone on in the hospital, but she guessed the recording Clay had insisted on making had convinced them.
Well, she’d never said he was a dummy, just not on her wavelength.
Just then, to her right at the corner of the building, flames lit the night.
Screams echoed, died.
Her heart stumbled over a beat. That was the door she and Clay had used to escape, the door he’d re-entered. They wouldn’t have burned him by mistake, would they? No…those screams had had an unearthly quality. Had to be draculas trying to escape the building. Still…
On the way down, he passed the dracula he’d shot near the third-floor landing, still where he’d left him, still hissing and twitching its talons.
“Yo, Twitchy. How goes it?”
He passed him and continued down. As he approached the door to the second floor, he heard a raw buzzing coming from the far side. Almost sounded like—
The door blew open and the sound assaulted Clay. He almost fired at the shape plunging through when he recognized Randall and his chainsaw.
“Shit, Bolton! I almost—”
“Watch your mouth,” he said. “Got kids with me.”
And sure enough, four kids crowded into the stairwell behind him, followed by Jenny.
“Oh, Clay,” she said. “Am I glad to see you.”
Clay nodded. This was going to be easier than he thought.
Randall was staring at the MM-1. “Whoa. What’s that? Looks like a pregnant Tommy gun.”
“Let’s hope we can get out of here without using it. There’s an exit door just two flights down. Follow—”
A noise below, like a door slamming open, then a blast of firelight and hideous screams. Clay pelted down to the next landing and saw two flaming draculas writhing on the floor, screeching as they burned. Black, oily smoke rose, filling the stairwell. He hurried back up.
“What happened? What’s burning?”
“A couple of our friends.”
“What?” Jenny said. “How?”
“Don’t know, don’t want to find out. We need to find another way.”
“Another way where?”
“The roof. I saw a TV helicopter. I’ll call it down to pick us up.”
“No TV copter’s going to hold us,” Randall said.
“The kids, then. The kids, then us.”
“Yes!” Jenny said, grabbing Randall’s arm. “The roof. We’ll be safe up there till help comes.”
Clay didn’t necessarily agree with that, but the roof held their best chance.
Randall hesitated a second, then nodded. “Okay. I’ll lead. But…” He was staring at Clay. “You came back…to a place like this. Why? A man like you…why?”
A man like you? Clay was going to tell him to fuck off when he remembered. “Magnificent Seven, right?”
Randall’s mouth twisted as he nodded.
“Oh, don’t tell me,” Jenny said. “Tell me you’re not—”
“ ‘I’m afraid you’ve misjudged me,’ “ Clay said.
Randall did the pistol point. “Magnum Force.”
“I’m telling Shanna!”
Randall gave him an appraising look. “You said you’d be back and here you are. Either you’re as stupid as everybody says I am, or you’re some kinda guy.” He stuck out his hand.
Clay shook it. “The safe bet is stupid. Man, you look just like I feel.”
Randall barked a laugh as he started limping up the steps. “Aliens again. You’re all right, Deputy Dawg.” He turned back to the kids. “I’m gonna lead the way up. Everybody stay as close together as you can. Remember not to let go of the person in front of you.”
The kids stayed behind Randall and Jenny stayed behind the kids. Clay brought up the rear.
“You’re not staring at Jenny’s butt are you?” Randall called from above.
Well, when not checking behind him, yeah, he was. Nice butt. Not going to tell Randall, though.
“Would if I could, but this smoke…”
The draculas below had stopped screeching—at least Clay couldn’t hear them over Randall’s idling chainsaw—but apparently they continued to burn. Foul, stinking smoke thickened in the stairwell.
“I think I’m going to throw up,” one of the boys said.
“Hang in there,” Jenny told him. “Soon we’ll have all the fresh air we need.”
As Randall reached the third-floor landing, the door burst open and a dracula leaped through and ran straight into Randall’s blade. The children screamed in panic and turned. They would have all tumbled head over heels down the stairs had Jenny and Clay not been there to catch them.
Randall gunned the saw and cut right though the thing’s head. It crumpled in the doorway, keeping it from closing.
“Don’t look!” Jenny said as she ushered the kids by.
Clay said, “And don’t worry about Twitchy up near the next landing. He’s harmless.”
He’d paused at the door to kick the dead dracula back through so he could close it, when he thought he heard a very human scream from somewhere down the hall.
He froze and listened. With Randall’s chainsaw buzzing he couldn’t be sure—
There! Again. No doubt now.
He looked up the stairs at Jenny’s butt. The way it swayed as it retreated reminded him how badly he really wanted to get back to Shanna and—
A third scream.
“Hey, Bolton,” he called. “I think someone’s in trouble here. I’m gonna take a look.”
Jenny turned and stared at him. “Really?”
“Yeah. What floor is this?”
“Like babies and stuff?”
“Exactly like babies and stuff.”
“See you upstairs. When you get up there, call KREZ and say Deputy Clay Theel wants them to land their copter on the roof. You’ve got sick kids that need evacuating.”
“What if they won’t?”
“A news station passing up the chance to be heroes and make news instead of just reporting it? What do you think?”
“Will do. But you be careful.”
“Careful is my middle name.”
Actually, Clay’s middle name was Rambo, but tonight he’d make it Careful. Rambo…sheesh. His daddy loved that movie, but he hoped Shanna never found out.
“Hey, Bolton,” he called. “Any shots left in that Taurus?”
Randall was out of sight but his words echoed back. “Used them all.”
“Good man. Keep my baby safe.”
“Um, I had to leave it.”
“What?” Clay couldn’t believe this. “You left Alice?”
“Well, it was empty and—”
“Alice is a Taurus Raging Bull four-fifty-four Casull, the most powerful handgun in the world—”
“And would blow your head clean off…I know. But it—she would’ve made a lousy club. Sorry.”
Sorry? Sorry didn’t cut it. Alice was—
Another scream from down the hall. Damn. Okay, he’d worry about his baby later.
He quickly reloaded the MM-1, making sure each of the twelve chambers in the cylinder had a live round, then headed down the hall.
“WE need to change this up,” Randall said, stopping and looking back at Jenny. “Can you take the lead? I’ll make sure they don’t hit us from the rear.”
Jenny looked a bit confused, but nodded. “Sure. Why?”
“I’m not so good with stairs right now. I don’t want to fall and crush anybody.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just a little dizzy. If I fall, it’ll be better if I’m in the back.”
“All right.” Jenny appeared concerned as Randall stepped out of the way and let her get in front, but she said nothing else. They resumed their ascent. Randall felt like he was slowing them down and almost told them to leave him and go on ahead…but, no, it was better to move at his slow pace if he could help keep them safe.
They’d all be fine.
Happy endings for all.
As far as Randall was concerned, if you couldn’t defend four boys from a dracula invasion with a roaring chainsaw, then you didn’t deserve to carry a roaring chainsaw, right? He’d get them and Jenny to the roof, no problem. Then they’d all get rescued, drop the kids off at a fun water slide, get his leg patched up, and hurry back to Jenny’s place. A quick stop at the kitchen for a couple of cold beverages, and then they’d stampede into her bedroom. She’d have to be on top because of his injuries, but he could live with the bottom position until he healed up. They’d get remarried, take their honeymoon on a luxury cruise through Alaska, and have a daughter who looked just like Tina, who would go on to live a long, healthy life.
An excellent plan.
He knew it wasn’t really going to happen like that. Hell, ten seconds after they flew off in that helicopter, Jenny might say “Oh, sorry, Randall, but you can’t expect me to honor something I said while we were in the midst of a dracula attack. I can’t be with you.” Then she’d use a big word that she knew he didn’t understand, laugh about his injured leg (legs now, goddamn it), and rush off for a Clay/Jenny/Shanna threeway.
Jesus. What was wrong with him?
He knew exactly what was wrong. Right now, almost every part of his body hurt, but what concerned him most wasn’t the parts that hurt, it was the part that tingled.
A mild, unpleasant tingle, like that moment after you’d had a filling when the Novocain was just starting to wear off.
A tingle right under his teeth.
Why the hell had he bit the clown? What kind of stupid idiot would do a thing like that? He’d saved the woman he loved, was probably going to save a bunch of kids, and he might have irreparably fucked it up by getting caught up in the heat of battle.
Or not. They didn’t know how this dracula stuff worked. They couldn’t. Not this quick. Blood might not have anything to do with it. There could be some fuckin’ sorcerer in the basement, waving his Harry Potter wand and creating these things. And he’d washed his mouth out with rubbing alcohol.
He wasn’t necessarily screwed.
Jenny glanced back at him.
He smiled. See? No dracula teeth.
He was fine. The tingling meant nothing. Could be anything. It wasn’t even that bad. He could barely feel it unless he concentrated. No way was he going to get this far, go through this much crap, and ruin his happy ending. Randall Bolton was going to be a hero, a muscle-bound lumberjack taking out dozens of monsters with his trusty chainsaw, not the asshole who turned into one of them.
Or the asshole who suspected that something was happening and didn’t tell anyone.
She stopped. “Yes?”
“No, keep moving. We’ll talk while we walk.” His mouth had gone dry. “Jenny, I…I really shouldn’t have bit that clown.”
“No, no, no, don’t panic. I’m not…I haven’t…I think I’m fine. None of the other draculas are as big as me, and it would take longer to affect me even if I were…I think you were right, swishing around that rubbing alcohol helped, but I just…I didn’t want to not say anything, in case, but I swear I feel fine.”
They passed the next landing. At least there were no draculas in the stairwell. That was something.
Almost to the magical helicopter that would whisk them away from all this.
“I just want you to know, I’m not gonna be dumb about this if anything happens,” Randall said, hoping that the kids didn’t pick up on what they were talking about. “I’ll never hurt you. I promise.”
He was just overreacting. He posed no danger to anybody but the draculas. Hell, he was going to get Jenny and the kids out of danger, not put them in—
He wanted to scream as one of his bottom teeth fell out.
HE came to an intersection and stopped, unsure of whether to keep going straight ahead, or take the hall to the right. A cry of pain to the right—a man’s voice—firmed up the decision. He made the turn and increased his pace to a trot. At the end of the hall he came upon half a dozen draculas pounding and clawing at a door, slamming themselves against it. That could mean only one thing: live humans on the other side.
As Clay raised the launcher, he heard a loud CRACK! and saw the doors start to swing inward. No time to lose and he had to make every shot count. The buckshot rounds turned the MM-1 from a grenade launcher into a super-size sawed-off shotgun. He didn’t even want to guess at the gauge of something that fired a 40mm shell—two, maybe? No matter. Sawed-offs were great at close range, crap at long range because the cone of shot spread so rapidly.
So he stepped up behind the draculas, squared off around six feet from their clustered backs as they began to push the doors in against whatever was barricaded on the far side, and fired high. The first shot put four of them down, totally ruining the heads of two and carving good chunks out of two more. He angled a little to the right and fired again, splattering the brains of two more, then pulled his Glock from the small of his back. He had three backup magazines of .40 cal hollowpoints for the pistol, so might as well use that for coup-de-grâce duty. He double-tapped the skulls of the two draculas that were down but still kicking, then stepped into a new corner of hell.
The first thing he saw was a guy in a clerical collar on his back on the floor holding off a mini-dracula in a party dress.
Aw, no. A kid.
It got worse. Approaching the minister and the mini was another female dracula, this one full grown, but it had a baby dracula chewing through her stomach like the creature in Alien. Looked like some human-kangaroo mutant with her baby in a pouch. Clay stood frozen in horror. He’d seen some awful things today, but this…this…he had no words for this.
He shook himself. What to do? The minister’s most immediate problem was the girl-dracula. Couldn’t use the MM-1without taking out the minister too, but he still had his Glock in hand, so—
The momma-dracula solved the problem for everyone, grabbing the girl-dracula by both sides of her head and ripping her off the minister. The girl-dracula screeched in rage but only for an instant. The screech was replaced by a sickening crunch of bone as the momma-dracula gave her head a full one-eighty twist. Then another. Girl-dracula’s head faced front again but her jaws had gone slack and her eyes were rolled up in her head. Then momma-dracula bit her throat. As blood squirted, she pressed girl-dracula against her ruptured belly where baby-dracula began to suck.
Clay couldn’t take any more. He pulled the trigger twice and blew all three to pieces.
He shuddered, feeling sick. He’d just killed a little girl, a new mother, and her—what?—nursing baby.
He shook it off. No, they weren’t people anymore. They’d become things. He’d done them a favor.
So how come he felt so rotten?
Clay was stepping forward to help the minister when he caught a flash of movement to his right. Another female dracula, this one in a nurse’s uniform, was charging him. As Clay swiveled the MM-1 and fired, he heard the minister yell, “Carla, no!”
Carla stumbled a step but kept coming, her head intact, but her face a pincushion mass of darts.
He’d mistakenly loaded a Beehive round into the launcher. He’d been taking one along to Denver as a novelty. It fired a swarm of forty-some steel flechettes. Beehives weren’t used much because of their low stopping power, which was being demonstrated right now as the dracula lunged at him. Clay ducked to the side and she went right by, talons raking empty air. The flechettes hadn’t stopped her, but multiple darts in her eyes had blinded her. He waited till she wheeled around, then blew her away.
He helped the bloodied minister to his feet.
“You okay, padre?”
“I think so.” He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off what was left of momma-dracula. “Poor Brittany.”
Clay was doing a slow turn, looking for more surprises.
“Let’s get you out of here.”
“No—my wife and baby!”
Clay glanced at the momma-dracula, then away. “Oh, God, I…I…”
“Oh, they’re fine.” His face fell. “Well, not really. Stacie lost a lot of blood after delivery. She’s getting transfused now and—”
“Can she walk?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Why?”
Clay pointed back the way he came in. “Because those doors aren’t stopping anything anymore.”
As if to prove the point, a dracula came around the corner, saw them, and charged. It looked like it was going for the dead draculas, but Clay let it get within six feet, then blew its head off anyway.
The only good dracula…
The minister looked both repulsed and impressed. “That makes it look so easy. Almost doesn’t seem fair.”
“Like my daddy likes to say, ‘If you find yourself in a fair fight, you obviously didn’t plan right.’ Besides, ‘fair’ is a matter of opinion, depending on what side you’re on. These things here probably think it’s unfair you’ve got all this blood running around inside you and won’t share it. Anyway, it’s not safe here. We need to get your wife to the roof.”
“Roof?” The minister shook his head. “Gosh, I don’t know…”
“Good chance a copter will be doing pick-ups. Women and children first.”
Sudden resolve solidified his expression. “Really? Then we’ve got to get her up there.”
Clay followed him into a room where a pale young woman—so pale she faded into the sheets—lay in bed with a blood pack dripping into her arm.
Clay shook his head. No way this gal was walking up to the roof. He glanced at the minister. Kind of scrawny.
“She’ll need to be carried, padre.”
“We can get a gurney and—”
“The elevators are out and a gurney will never make the turns in the stairwells. I’ll carry her. You take the baby and my Glock—”
“No! I couldn’t!”
“Jesus! Another one!” He sounded like Shanna.
“Please don’t take the Lord’s name in—”
“Jesus could have used a Glock. Wouldn’t have wound up with see-through hands and feet if he’d had one.”
“All right, all right. Here’s what we’re gonna do…”
The minister nodded. Clay had learned his name was Adam, his wife was Stacie, and their screaming newborn—swathed in a baby blanket and cradled in the crook of Clay’s left arm—was Daniella. As per Clay’s instructions, Adam had stuffed her ears with cotton. Clay knew his own ears would never be the same after today, might as well give the kid’s a break. While Adam had stuffed cotton, Clay had stuffed rounds into the MM-1’s cylinder. He was just about out of ammo. Only two buckshot rounds as backup for the dozen in the cylinder. He had the two H-E rounds but they had no practical use.
Stacie groaned from her place on Adam’s back, but didn’t open her eyes.
They’d transferred Stacie to a gurney, hanging her blood bag from an IV pole and leaving her blood-soaked mattress behind. They rolled her to the stairwell door where Adam tried to carry her in his arms, but her dead weight was too much for his left arm. He’d messed it up going for the blood. But still he insisted on carrying her, so Clay helped get her onto his back and wrapped adhesive tape around them to hold her in place.
So, Adam stood ready with his elbows hooked under the backs of Stacie’s knees. Clay, with Daniella in his left arm, the MM-1 in his right, and the tab atop the blood bag clamped between his teeth, led the way up. As long as he stayed higher than Stacie, gravity would keep the blood running into her arm.
“Stay close, padre,” he said through his clenched teeth and over the baby’s wails. “We’ve got four flights to go and then we’re home free.”
The baby had to be hungry—no one left on the OB floor to feed it, and she sure wasn’t going to get much from her mother. He just hoped its cries didn’t attract any draculas. Spraying double-ought shot in a stairwell was a last resort.
He heard a door squeak open below, turned and looked over Adam’s head. A dracula leaped through the doorway onto the landing below, followed by another. They’d heard Daniella.
Keeping Daniella in his left arm, he gripped the barrel of the launcher with his left hand and used his right to take the blood pouch from between his teeth and shove it between Stacie’s chest and Adam’s back. Then he pressed against the railing to let Adam pass.
“Keep on going. Move your ass. I’ll slow them down.”
“I’ve got her. You’ve got all you can handle. Just keep moving!”
The minister lacked the wind to say much else, so he kept on a-trudgin’. As soon as he was past, Clay clutched the MM-1 by its rear pistol grip and dangled it over the railing. A heavy sucker—especially with a full cylinder—designed for two-handed use. It kicked and all of its weight was forward of the trigger—hence the second pistol grip on the front end of the stock. Clay had only one free hand. He had strong wrists, but not strong enough to fire the launcher one-handed—unless he was firing it downward.
“Hey, ugly!” he shouted to the lead dracula as it spotted him and rushed up the flight below.
It looked up, its face not twelve inches from the muzzle of the launcher.
“Say hello to my leetle fren’.”
Clay fired, splattering its head all over its torso and the stairs with virtually no shot scatter. The second leaped upon it and began feasting. Clay didn’t want to leave it there, because he heard more coming, so he started shouting at the top of his voice, and when the second looked up, it got the same as its buddy.
Daniella had probably increased her screaming, but Clay couldn’t hear her over the ringing in his ears. He carried her halfway up the next flight and shouted for more draculas. He’d leave a combination buffet and obstacle course all the way to the roof.
“MOVE, Padre!” the man named Clayton screamed, and Adam was moving—moving as fast as he possibly could, one step at a time, his wife strapped to his back with several rolls of adhesive tape. He sweated buckets, his legs cramping, and two flights of stairs still to go, warm blood—Stacie-blood—sluicing down the back of his legs.
The deputy fired that freakishly huge gun again, the noise so loud it jogged his fillings, and when his hearing faded back in he heard the deputy screaming, “Come on! Come on! Come and get it, fucker! Come on! I don’t got all day! Come on!”
“Come on, you bastard! Yeah, you! You want some of this? You got it!”
They rounded another landing and at the top of the next flight, he saw a door with a sign above it glowing under the emergency light—HELIPAD.
It gave him a burst of energy, small to be sure, but enough to push him those last fifteen steps, the deputy firing behind him and screaming to go, and then Adam buried his shoulder into the door and burst out into a cool, dark night.
Made it fifteen feet before crumbling to the concrete.
He’d lost Stacie’s blood bag on the ascent.
A man with a chainsaw stood with a woman and four kids on the far side of the helipad, and they were waving their arms toward a sea of headlights, spotlights, flashlights, ambulance light bars on a steady burn, highway patrol cruisers sending out a manic frenzy of blues and reds. Every law enforcement and first response agency in the Four Corners had to be out there.
He reached back and began ripping the tape from his shoulders as Clayton broke through the door and then spun around and kicked it shut.
“Bolton!” he screamed. “Get your ass over here!”
Adam watched the man with the chainsaw limp quickly back across the helipad, the woman in tow.
When they reached Clayton, the woman took Adam’s swaddled little girl out of his arms.
“Incoming,” Clayton said.
“More than we can handle.”
Adam ripped off the last bit of tape and eased Stacie onto the concrete. She shivered under her hospital gown and the insides of her legs were streaked with blood.
So, so much of it.
Adam had brought his backpack along, carrying it on the front of his chest. He unzipped it and grabbed another unit of O-positive, plugged Stacie’s IV line into the bottom, then held it up so the blood ran down into her veins.
“Baby?” he said. “Can you hear me?”
Stacie’s eyes opened.
“Where’s Daniella?” she asked.
Adam glanced back toward the door, saw the woman who held his child hurrying over. She knelt beside them.
“That’s our baby girl,” Adam said.
“She’s beautiful. I’m Jenny.”
“I’m Adam. This is Stacie, my wife.”
Even in the lowlight, he saw the concern darken Jenny’s face.
“Here, would you take her?” She handed the sleeping infant—its neurological system shut down from all the mayhem—to Adam.
“Hi, Stacie, I’m a nurse. My name’s Jenny.”
Adam heard the sound of metal clanging nearby, saw Clayton and the man he’d called Bolton kicking one of the huge air conditioning units mounted to the roof.
Jenny took Stacie’s wrist and held it for a moment.
“That’s what Nurse Herrick called it.”
Jenny looked down at the blood still pooling on the cement between Stacie’s legs.
“She’s bleeding again,” Jenny said. “Had they stopped it before?”
“I think so.”
“Can I hold my baby?” Stacie whispered.
“Sure, sweetie.” Adam laid their daughter in the crook of Stacie’s arm.
Jenny said, “Could I speak with you for a moment, Adam?”
“What about this bag?”
“It’s okay. You can put it down.”
He laid the blood bag on the concrete and followed Jenny for a few feet toward the edge of the roof. Clayton and Bolton were struggling to push an air conditioning unit that was bigger than a refrigerator in front of the door to the hospital.
Jenny stopped and took both of Adam’s hands and said, “I am so sorry, but I’m afraid your wife isn’t going to make it.”
Like someone had shovel-punched him in the gut.
Jenny continued, “It probably jarred the clots loose when you carried her up from the birth unit.”
Adam felt a rush of emotion coming on.
Fought against it.
“How long does she have?”
Jenny just shook her head. “Go be with her.”
Adam turned away from her, stared down at his wife lying on the helipad, stroking Daniella’s head with her fingers. He had never been more scared, including the previous hour.
He walked back over to his family, sat down beside his wife.
“She’s beautiful,” Stacie said.
“She looks like you. Your eyes for sure.”
Clayton and Bolton were muscling another unit toward the door, metal scraping against concrete. Thought he could hear inhuman screaming echoing from inside the hospital.
He laid his hand against his wife’s forehead—cool and sweaty.
Closed his eyes. Prayed harder than he’d ever prayed in his life.
“I’m so cold, Adam.”
He started unbuttoning his black shirt.
“I hope you won’t lose your faith over this.”
He wondered if she meant her death, if she knew it was imminent, or everything else.
“Of course not,” he said, wondering if he was lying to her.
Stacie looked down into the face of her daughter, and as Adam pulled his arms out of his shirtsleeves and laid it across Stacie’s chest, she said, “You’ll tell her about me?”
“Stacie, stop, you’re gonna be—”
“I know what’s happening,” she said.
He could barely get the words out. “Every day, darling. Every day. I love you, Stacie. I love you so much.” Tears streamed down his face.
Her eyes were going glassy, filling slowly with a kind of stunned emptiness.
“Stacie! Do you hear me?”
She turned her head, and stared up into his eyes, one last and fading beat of lucidity.
“I know you love me, Adam,” she whispered. “You know I love you?”
“I’m scared, Adam.”
He laid down beside his wife as the demons started beating against the door, their faces turned toward each other, staring into Stacie’s eyes as the life inside them drained away.
JENNY turned away from the dying woman and her newborn. Yet another tragedy in a night filled with them.
She pushed her emotions back, maintaining the guise of a professional, and looked for Randall. He and Clay had finished barricading the door and now Randall stood alone, staring off into the sea of blinking, flashing emergency lights. Jenny walked over and stood next to him, slipping her hand into his, welcoming the familiarity of his calluses.
“Do you think we’ll be rescued?” she asked.
A silly question, because there was no way he could know, any more than she did. But Jenny wasn’t seeking an answer. She just wanted to hear his voice.
“I’ll make sure you and the kids get safe, Jenny.”
His voice was cracking, and he looked away from her.
“Randall? What’s wrong?”
He coughed and covered his mouth, but not before something fell from his lips and bounced onto the tar-papered roof.
He stared at her, his eyes hooded, his pupils already starting to enlarge.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said. “I won’t hurt you or the kids. I’ll…I’ll throw myself off the building before I let that happen.”
He tried a pathetic smile, and more of his teeth dropped out. Jenny watched, revolted, as new ones breached the gums and began to grow in.
Clay was walking over.
“Randall, I need your help guarding the barricade…holy fuck!”
Clay raised his weapon, pointing it at her husband’s head.
Without thinking, Jenny stepped between the men.
“Get out of the way, Jenny! He’s—”
“He’s my husband! You’re not going to kill him, Clayton Theel!”
Randall made a grunting sound, then doubled over and dropped to his knees. Jenny shoved Clay’s gun away, and crouched next to Randall, keeping her arm around his shoulders.
“Jenny, you need to step away from the dracula.”
“I know Randall. He won’t hurt me. Will you, Randall?”
Randall violently shook his head. “Won’t…hurt…no one. I…can…fight it.”
Clay reached for Jenny, grabbing her arm, tugging her away. A millisecond later, Randall was on his feet, getting inside Clay’s aim and grabbing the deputy by the throat.
“If I…lose…control…kill me. But…until then…fuck…off.”
Randall released Clay, who immediately pointed the gun at him again. Once more, Jenny interceded, protecting Randall with her body.
Clay stuck out his jaw. “My girl, Shanna. She said if we find that Moorecook guy, we might be able to find a cure. His blood could have a vaccine, or antibodies, or something.”
Randall cried out as his teeth tore through his cheeks. Then came an ear-splitting sound of screeching metal.
“They’re here!” one of the boys screamed.
Jenny looked at the roof entrance, hoping she’d see cops and the military and rescue workers flooding in. But it wasn’t the good guys. It was the draculas, pushing open the door, the air conditioning units scraping across the roof.
Randall pulled her tightly against him.
She felt his hot breath on her cheek, his warm, bloody drool dripping onto her neck.
“I…love…you…” her husband whispered.
Then he picked up his chainsaw and limped toward the oncoming horde.
IT was like someone dimming the lights from inside her head.
No pain, but so dizzy.
She could still sense her daughter lying asleep in the crook of her arm, though she couldn’t feel a thing.
There was noise all around her, but Adam—sweet, wonderful Adam—his voice cut through, lips pressed against her ear.
“I will extend peace to her like a river.”
Thinking, I cannot be dying. This is not happening. I’m a mother now.
“And the wealth of nations like a flooding stream.”
Please God, undo this.
“You will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knee.”
There’s so much I want to experience.
“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted.”
Nothing to do but latch onto his voice as the darkness flooded in and unconsciousness loomed like both the heartbreaking end and the answer to so many questions.
“When you see this your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass. Peace like a river, Stacie. Peace to you. I love you Stacie.”
His voice fading.
“I love you Stacie.”
She could feel herself slipping, and she didn’t fight it anymore.
RANDALL admitted, often with pride, that he could be one of the most stubborn bastards to walk the planet. He’d always been that way, and even though his stubbornness hadn’t always helped life to work out in his favor, it was deep inside of him and he’d figured it would never change.
But at some point you had to accept that things weren’t going to happen the way you wanted, no matter how desperately you stuck to the plan.
At some point you had to accept that you were doomed.
Randall did not accept his fate as he rushed onto the roof with Jenny and the kids.
Did not accept his fate as he and Jenny encouraged the children to scream as loudly as they possibly could, jump up, wave their arms, do anything they could to attract attention.
Did not accept his fate as he and Clay dragged the air conditioning units to create a barricade against the draculas.
Hell, he didn’t even accept his fate when Clay had a big-ass gun on him. He’d be fine. He’d recover. He was a lot stronger than the other people who’d transformed. He was a goddamn lumberjack!
Even as he vowed to throw himself off the roof if needed, he knew it was an unnecessary promise. He’d never hurt anyone. Not a chance. No way.
But when the pain began, he knew he was fucked.
It seemed like tonight had been nothing except pain, but not like this. Nothing could compare to this. It was as if every single tooth in his mouth was simultaneously attacked by a sadistic Nazi dentist, drilling deep into the nerves, not simply without Novocain but with drugs to enhance his senses, pain so incredible that he thought he might finally take that next step and go completely insane.
His new teeth burst through his gums and then through his cheeks in a shower of blood, flesh, and bone. One of his old teeth, a molar, went down his throat. As the gore spilled out of his face, he saw the barricade fall away, the draculas coming through the doorway, pouring out onto the roof.
This was it.
Randall Bolton’s final scene.
Maybe he could fight whatever homicidal impulses struck the other draculas, but he wasn’t coming back. Wasn’t going to grow old with Jenny. Wasn’t going to have the last laugh on the other lumberjacks, or even get a slap on the back for a job well done. He couldn’t even help get the kids on the helicopter if they successfully got one to come over here—they’d just scream and run away from him.
This was the end of Randall’s life, and he was leaving this world as a monster.
And so there was only one way for him to go out with his head held high: kill as many other monsters as he possibly could.
They could take away his humanity, but not his fucking chainsaw.
He pulled the cord, relishing the sound of the motor. There was a whole forest of trees in front of him, and he was going to cut down every last one of them.
He swung the chainsaw blade, hitting the first dracula so hard that it felt more like knocking its head off than slicing it off. In the same arc, his chainsaw dug a deep bloody line along the chest of the dracula next to it. The return swing finished off that dracula and two more.
He couldn’t shout anything coherent, not with his face so mutilated, but he let out a primal scream, screaming out a lifetime’s worth of rage and sorrow all at once. The draculas parted beneath his whirring blade, some of them ripping into his flesh before they died, some not getting the satisfaction.
There was so much blood spraying at him that he could practically gargle with it.
Arms fell away like branches.
A dracula stumbled forward and fell upon him, its teeth tearing into his side. Randall didn’t even feel it. He twisted the blade around and drove it deep into the dracula’s skull in a spray of brain and bone chips.
No need to tell himself to focus.
A dracula’s jaws clamped down upon his left hand, biting off all of his fingers except his thumb, but it didn’t matter. That wasn’t the hand with the chainsaw.
Did he have talons instead of fingers now? He’d barely noticed.
Another dracula and its head parted ways. How many had he killed so far? He couldn’t even estimate.
A squirt of blood shot directly into his good eye.
So he was mostly blind. So what? Didn’t matter.
The chainsaw stalled for a split-second, right in the middle of a dracula’s torso, but he yanked it out and the blade started whirring again.
Blood dripped from his hair, his ears, his chin.
He shook off whatever urge had suddenly come over him. He wasn’t going to drink any of that shit.
There were dismembered bodies piled around him.
He almost lost his balance, but stayed upright.
He wasn’t going down just yet.
Not while there were still monsters around.
LIKE a YouTube clip from hell.
Demons fighting to squeeze through the partially open door, and Randall—now one of them himself—wielding a giant chainsaw and slashing at everything in sight—legs, limbs, heads, guts strewn across the helipad—and a pang of fear now cutting through Adam’s grief.
He clutched Daniella to his chest and backed away from Stacie’s body as one of those things stalked him in full scrubs with a surgical power drill, revving the tiny motor.
It stopped suddenly, attention drawn to Adam’s wife and the pool of blood she lay in.
When it fell to the ground and started hungrily licking it up, something came unhinged in Adam and he ran, six steps covered in no time, and kicked the former surgeon squarely in the face.
The monster tumbled back, but quickly righted itself, jumped to its feet, and charged. Adam held Daniella in his right arm, his left raised to fend off the attack.
The demon sank its teeth into Adam’s forearm, and just as he felt those fangs slicing into muscle, a chainsaw screamed and Adam watched Randall bring the blade straight down on the top of the demon’s skull, the smell of friction between bone and chain filling the air with an acrid stench, the motor straining, and then the saw broke through and Randall brought the spinning chain through brain, face, neck, between shoulders blades, stomach, until the saw emerged from the crotch and the demon-surgeon stood staring at Adam, massively confused as it separated like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich slowly pulled apart, two halves falling away from each other to the concrete, leaving Randall, or whatever he had become, to face Adam.
He looked every bit as horrific as the others, perhaps more so holding that chainsaw drenched in blood and sinew.
A great wind was kicking up.
Its eyes narrowed, and for a moment, Adam’s heart stopped, but Randall only pointed the blade of his chainsaw toward the news helicopter whose skids were five feet from touching down on the big, white H in the center of the helipad.
Randall screeched something unintelligible through his fangs, then turned and ran back toward the door as another pair of demons climbed through, the lumberjack’s chainsaw singing like the cry of an angry God.
JENNY stood beside him, the kids clustered around them, all watching the running lights of the silhouetted KREZ copter easing down toward the helipad. Its strobe was almost blinding. He leaned toward her and cupped a hand around her ear.
“Soon as it touches down, we get these kids on board. You too.”
She gave him an uncertain glance. In the strobe flashes she looked devastated.
He added. “Randall will want that.”
Still no reply. Jenny turned back to the carnage and the thing that was once her husband, and Clay saw the pain strip her soul bare.
She couldn’t stay. Whatever love or loyalty she felt, Randall was gone, and she’d be gone too if she stayed.
“I won’t leave him, Clay.”
He stared at Randall, who had somehow found the strength to single-handedly wipe out at least ten draculas. But he was nearly dead himself.
“I’m not letting him die alone!” she screamed.
Clay noticed a change in the tone of the copter’s engine and looked around. The skids hovered about a foot off the helipad, but instead of continuing to lower, they’d begun to rise.
Clay saw the woman in the open bay pointing to Randall, who was putting the saw to one final dracula. The pilot was looking that way too as he throttled up to leave.
No fucking way.
Clay charged forward and jumped onto the skid, tilting the copter. The woman scuttled back as the pilot looked around. The bay was lit by an overhead fixture. Clay leaned into the light. He didn’t have to fake a fierce expression—his teeth were already bared in rage—as he gave the pilot a good look down the bore of the MM-1. He pointed toward the roof.
“Down or you’re dead!”
He knew the pilot couldn’t hear him so he spoke slowly and carefully, giving him ample opportunity to read his lips.
The copter resumed its descent.
When it hit the deck, Clay motioned the kids forward, ducking and squinting against the wash from the blades, Jenny led them up in a bunch. The strobe gave their approach an old-time movie look. Together they hauled the children up and in, one at a time, until all were aboard. Then he motioned to Jenny to follow but she shook her head. He was tempted to grab her and toss her in but spotted Adam approaching with the baby in his arms.
Aw shit. Adam was bleeding.
A headless dracula dropped in front of him, adding to the pool of blood, and Randall realized that there was nothing left to kill. As if sensing this, the chainsaw gave one last sputter and died.
A helicopter landed on the roof.
But not for him.
He gestured to the helicopter with his dead chainsaw, then staggered toward the door. More draculas would be coming through it. He’d kill them. Saw them up even without the chainsaw running.
When he reached the door, his legs finally gave out and he collapsed.
He sat there, chainsaw on his lap, trying to blink the blood out of his eye, too exhausted to use his hands to wipe it away.
He couldn’t stay human in his mind for much longer, but he didn’t need to. He didn’t have long to live as a monster or a man.
If he could just stick around long enough to see Jenny and the kids fly off to safety, he’d shake hands with God and call it even.
But Jenny didn’t get into the helicopter.
Instead, she began to walk his way.
All Randall could think about was the day she left him, and how his one wish—the one thing that kept him sober and sane—was that one day she might come back to him.
Her timing was ironical. Not only was he dying, but he was a dracula, and she was putting herself in danger instead of getting the hell out of there.
But at that moment, when she reached down for him with tears in her eyes, Randall Bolton was the happiest guy on the planet.
HIS mind raced as he headed toward the helicopter, shielding Daniella from the wind-blasting rotors. He hadn’t steeled himself to look at his arm. It hurt badly, and he thought he felt the evaporative cooling of blood on his skin, but maybe, maybe, please God—maybe he was imagining it.
He glanced down, saw the shimmer of blood on his left forearm with every flash of the KREZ helicopter’s LED strobe.
The fangs had punctured skin.
He looked over toward the door to the hospital. Randall sat alone with his chainsaw amid a battlefield of gore. Nothing trying to come through the doors at the moment. Just a few dismembered demons squirming on the concrete.
Couldn’t be sure, but Randall looked injured.
By the time he reached Clayton, he knew what he had to do, knew there was no other choice. Randall seemed to be controlling his will in the face of the infection, but what if he couldn’t? What if Adam harmed his own daughter?
Adam sidled up to Clayton, who’d just loaded the last child onto the helicopter.
Clayton looked at him, at his arm.
“You get bit?”
“I’ve been praying that I’ll be protected from any—”
“Keep praying all you want, preacher, but you will be a full-blown fucking land shark in T-minus ten minutes.”
Adam tried to fight back the tears, not wanting to cry in front of this lawman, but he couldn’t help it.
“Is there room?” Adam yelled in Clayton’s ear.
Clayton’s brow furrowed. “For your daughter, absolutely.”
“You know I can’t let you off this helipad.”
Adam nodded. He looked down at his daughter, tugged back the blanket that shielded her face. Somehow, she still slept. Adam, crying so hard he couldn’t see, spoke into her ear, “May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you and grant you peace. Your daddy loves you, Daniella, and he always will.”
“It’s time!” Clayton yelled.
Adam handed his child to a young woman in the helicopter wearing a pair of headphones, who was already extending her arms to his baby.
He passed Daniella to her, yelled, “Her name is Daniella!”
“What?” the reporter yelled.
Adam stepped up onto the skid, yelled into her ear as she lifted the headphone. “This is my daughter! Her name is Daniella Murray! Her mother’s dead, and I will be soon! Please take care of her!”
The woman nodded and Adam felt a hand drag him back from the helicopter—Clayton’s—and then Clayton signaled to the pilot and the rotors wound up and the skids eased off the helipad.
Adam stood watching in disbelief as it flew his daughter away from him into the night.
She’s safe now. These demons can’t touch her.
That piece of news was the only thing in the world keeping him from sprinting toward the edge of the roof and taking a swan dive into the parking lot.
Randall—now a bloody mess, was on his side, surrounded by the monsters he’d slaughtered. Adam watched the nurse, Jenny, go to his side.
Then he looked at Clayton, something roiling inside of him. Anger. Fear. Confusion. All wrapped up in a single emotion with a clear objective—kill.
“I want your gun,” Adam said.
“Your gun. Show me how to shoot it. I’m going back into the hospital to kill as many of these things as possible.”
Clayton nodded, his eyes twinkling. “You hold that thought, padre, but I may have a better one.”
“What?” Adam said.
“If you’re gonna go down fighting, let’s make it really count.”
“You still got all that blood in your backpack?”
“Run and get it, and meet me over by the door.”
SHE knelt next to her husband’s torn, bleeding body as the helicopter flew away. There was little left of him that was recognizable. She gripped his hand, feeling his talons gently wrap around her fingers.
“You did it, Randall,” she whispered. The tears were running down her face, and her shoulders shook from sobs. “You saved us.”
He blinked, tried to say something. All that came out was a low growl. Jenny cast her eyes down his body, looking at all the tears and gouges. He wasn’t bleeding as badly as before. Either he was almost out of blood, or…
Healing. These creatures had accelerated healing powers.
“Bite me,” she told her husband.
His eyes got wide.
“Take my blood, Randall. It’ll revive you.”
She pressed her wrist to his teeth. It would turn her into a dracula as well, but that was okay. They would be together. Maybe Clay was right, and they could find Moorecook and a cure. Jenny closed her eyes, waiting for the pain.
She felt his breath on her arm, but the bite didn’t come.
Instead there was only the faintest brush of what remained of her husband’s lips.
“Please, Randall. It’s the only way.”
Randall gripped Jenny’s arms—
—and shoved her backward.
Jenny fell onto her ass.
“Damn it, Randall!” she yelled. “Stop being so goddamn stubborn!”
She crawled back to him, figuring if she crammed her hand down his mouth she could force him to bite down. But as she brought her fingers to his mouth, Randall caught her wrist. His eyes were glassy.
“Nuuuhhh,” he said, shaking his head.
And then Jenny fell apart. Great, wracking sobs shook her body. She’d spent her entire professional career being strong in the face of death. Compartmentalizing grief. Priding herself on being practical rather than emotional.
But this was more than she could bear.
“You son of a bitch,” she sobbed. “You can’t die. Please, please, please don’t die.”
Randall reached up, held her hands. A monster’s hands, but they still had the calluses.
Still had the warmth.
They held each other, for the last time.
“Remember the first day we met?” Jenny said, her face a veil of tears. “You came into the ER, your arm all swollen, and you asked me out on a date while you were getting your X-ray. You had a broken arm, but you were still flirting with me. I thought you were so brave.”
She touched a part of his face that wasn’t all ripped up.
“And you are,” she said, smiling through her tears. “You’re the bravest, sweetest man I’ve ever met. I was so wrong to leave you. I wish we could start all over. I wish I could erase all of that time we were apart, and instead fill it up with all the good memories we missed out on. But I never stopped loving you. Never. Being your wife was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Jenny leaned over and kissed his forehead.
“I love you, Randall Bolton.”
She continued to hold his hands long after he’d stopped holding hers.
CLAY and Adam hurried through the dimly-lit slaughterhouse that had once been the happiest floor in the hospital.
“To make this work,” Clay said, “we need a good-size room.”
“There’s an education center where they have Lamaze classes and lectures on infant care. It’s right over here.”
He followed Adam to a rectangular room that ran twenty feet by thirty. Multicolored lights flashed against the outside windows. Clay stepped to them and glanced down at the parking lot. He thought he could pick out troop lorries among the vehicles and milling people. Either the army or the National Guard had arrived. Good. They’d keep Shanna safe.
Couldn’t think about her now…
He turned back to the room. It had windows onto the hallway as well. Good thing, because the hall had the emergency lights. None of those in here.
In the lowlight he picked out rows of folding chairs—a bonus.
“Perfect. Now I need the blood—lots of it.”
“You’re in luck,” Adam said. He pulled open the backpack, revealing dozens of units. “All types.”
Clay had been thinking about killing a couple of draculas for their blood, but this was easier, safer. Despite the gravity of the situation, he couldn’t help smiling. “You’re a regular Boy Scout, aren’t you.”
“I made Eagle.”
“Well, you sure are prepared.”
“I’m not prepared to turn into one of those things.” He held up his bloody arm. “You said you could solve that problem and make it count—really count.”
Clay fished one of the two 40mm M433 grenades out of his backpack. A couple of days ago someone had emailed him about carting an old wrecked car out into the wilds during the gun show and shooting the shit out of it. He’d figured on administering the coup de grâce with these babies. But now he had a better use. He handed it to Adam.
“This is a high explosive grenade. It’s got a kill radius of fifteen feet. That means a thirty-foot circle of death. I don’t know if that’ll apply to the draculas since they’re so damn hard to kill, but two will definitely do the job.”
Adam was nodding. “I see where you’re going. If we can fill this room with them, and set off both rounds, we may be able to turn the tide.”
Clay looked at him. “What do you mean, ‘we,’ kemosabe? This is going to be your show, padre, your Alamo.”
“You’re gonna die, padre. And real soon. You can die here as a man and meet your maker without a mouth full of fangs, or you can die as a dracula when I blow your head off at the first sign of change. Take your pick.”
Adam’s face had turned a light shade of green. “As a man, of course.”
“Good for you. And what better way to go out than taking a bunch of draculas with you? But that’s only going to happen if I can modify these rounds.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they’ve got a minimum arming range of forty-five feet.”
“They’re designed not to detonate until they’re like forty-five to ninety feet from the launcher. I need to hack the arming mechanism if this is going to work.”
“You can do that?”
Clay’s gut clenched at the prospect. He’d modified the buckshot rounds, changing the gauge of the shot and such, but the H-E grenades were lots more complicated. He hadn’t ventured into one of them yet. No point in letting Adam in on that. He had enough on his plate.
“Okay,” he said. “While I do my tinkering, I want you to stack all these chairs in a circle in the center of the room, but leave enough space for you in the middle.”
“Coupla reasons. I’ll explain later, because we don’t have a lot of time and it won’t matter if I can’t arm the grenades. So circle those chairs, then get every drop of blood you can find and pour it around them like a moat. But you’ve got to keep the door closed as you do that. When those draculas smell blood they’re like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Let’s get to work.”
Clay left him there and went in search of a quiet cubbyhole to work on his H-E grenades, hoping he could pull this off without turning himself into Bolognese sauce.
SHE was sitting there, exhausted, devastated, clutching her husband’s lifeless hand, when she heard the whine of propellers.
Jenny glanced up, thinking the TV helicopter had returned.
But it hadn’t.
This was something different.
HE battled with his conscience as he unpacked the transfusion bags in the lecture room.
Suicide was a sin. The bible said so. The Lord gave each of us life and only He could take it away. Suicide was self-murder, and “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” The meaning was pretty clear: no eternal life meant banishment for all eternity from the presence of God. Adam didn’t believe in the old-school Lake of Fire, but he did believe in hell.
The inner debate continued as he closed the door and began arranging the chairs as Clay had instructed.
But wouldn’t it be worse to allow himself to become a foul, murderous abomination? To kill indiscriminately and, far worse, turn others into similar abominations? Wouldn’t that earn him hell just as quickly?
With the chairs circled in a double stack, he began creating the “moat,” slicing open the transfusion bags with the scalpel, and dumping their contents around the chairs.
You weren’t allowed to take your own life, but you were certainly allowed to sacrifice it for your fellow man. And woman too, of course. John 15:13 said it all: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Was any act more noble?
That was what he wished for himself.
He was feeling funny and didn’t know if it was the smell of the blood or the first symptoms of something worse. He was just squeezing the contents from the last bag when Deputy Theel slipped quickly through the door. He didn’t look so hot himself.
Clayton shook his head. “Had a couple of bad moments there, but I’m still in one piece.” He shook his head. “Man, it stinks in here.”
Adam had been thinking that same thing for a while, but now it didn’t smell so bad.
Dear Lord, was he starting to change?
“Let’s not waste any time,” he told the deputy. “What do I do?”
“First thing is you put yourself in the middle of those chairs.”
As Adam squeezed between two double-stacked pairs, he said, “Care to tell me about the chairs now?”
“They’re gonna make excellent shrapnel.”
Adam’s knees softened but didn’t give way.
The deputy stepped over the blood moat and handed one of the high-explosive grenades through the chairs.
“This one goes on the floor. Do not drop it—it’s armed. You’re right handed, so—”
“How do you know that?”
“Habit. Always know a guy’s handedness. Put it by your right foot.”
Adam complied. “Now what?”
The deputy hesitated, started to hand his grenade launcher through the chair maze, then pulled it back. He cradled it, hugged it, actually kissed it, then handed it through.
“You have no idea what it took to find one of these, and what it cost me when I finally did.”
Adam took it but didn’t know what to do with it. His confusion must have shown.
“See the pistol grip there?” the deputy said. “Hold it by that but keep your finger outside the trigger guard. Do not touch that trigger till you’re ready to squeeze it.”
Adam did as instructed.
“Good. Now, lower the launcher until the muzzle’s pointing at the floor.”
“Position the muzzle directly over the round on the floor.”
Again, Adam complied.
“Okay. Now, you’re ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“I’m going to open the door and run like hell. The draculas are going to catch this stink and come in like sharks. They’re going to start lapping up the blood. They’re going to start fighting with each other, which will bring more. Eventually they’re going to run out of blood and notice you. That’s when you pull the trigger. You’ve got one H-E round in the chamber and the other on the floor. The former will hit the latter and they’ll both explode.”
“Yeah, God. If He’s paying attention at all, this will express mail you straight to Him. You won’t feel a thing, padre, but you’ll reduce every dracula you’ve managed to lure in here to meat confetti. That’s what I call a blaze of glory.”
“Yes. Glory. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’“
“Yeah, there’s that,” the deputy said, shaking his head as he stared at his weapon. “But how about, ‘Greater love hath no man than giving up his MM-1 for his friends?’“
Adam felt his muscles beginning to cramp.
“I think you’d better go.”
The deputy looked at him, then nodded. “Gotcha.”
He pulled a pistol from the small of his back, stepped to the door, and yanked it open.
“Don’t let me down, padre.”
“That would mean letting myself down, letting God down.”
The deputy smiled and nodded again. “You’ll do fine, padre. We’ve all got it coming. You just happen to know when.”
And then he ducked out, leaving the door open behind him.
It didn’t take long.
The deputy had been uncannily accurate in his description.
They came like a school of sharks. First the scouts. He spotted them through the windows onto the hall, dark shapes weaving through the shadows, popping into view when they passed through a pool of light.
One darted through the door and dropped to the floor with a screech. Two more followed, then a dozen, then a dozen more, pushing, shoving, fighting for a place at the blood buffet. Their struggles spread them further and further around Adam’s chair barricade until they completely encircled him.
The sight of the huddled, struggling shapes, limned by the light from the hall and the flashes from the parking lot, chilled his blood. But the sounds were worse. Adam couldn’t see the blood moat, but the frenzied lapping, the hissing and screeching made his gorge rise.
And then two of them got into a fight, tearing at each other. Others joined the fray in a cannibalistic orgy that drew even more of their kind to the room.
But worst of all for Adam…the room no longer smelled bad.
In fact, the aroma was almost…mouth watering.
No, wait…that wasn’t water in his mouth. It tasted like blood. It tasted good. And something else there. Three, no, four hard lumps. He knew what they were: teeth. He’d seen Nurse Herrick’s teeth fall out before she became…
God help me, it’s happening!
He spit them out and moved his finger from alongside the trigger guard and curled it around the trigger.
How long to wait? To maximize his impact, he had to delay until the room couldn’t hold any more draculas, but not so long into the change that he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—pull the trigger.
He had to hold out in memory of Stacie, who had sacrificed everything for Daniella. And especially for Daniella. She had to live. She’d grow up without her mother and father. They’d miss her first steps, her first day at school, her wedding day…but at least she’d grow up. His parents or Stacie’s parents, or maybe all four together would raise Daniella, and he prayed they’d tell her that her folks loved her so much that they gave their lives for her.
So hold off…hold off as long as—
The creatures decided for him. When the smell of the fresh blood he’d spit out with his teeth reached them, they froze. Then slowly, almost as one, they turned toward him, noticing him for the first time.
“I forgive you,” he told them. “You’re not responsible. You didn’t want to be what you’ve become, and I am going to relieve you—us—of this hideous affliction.”
Oddly, instead of a passage from the bible, the last lines of A Tale of Two Cities came to mind. He didn’t remember them exactly, but he did his best: “Listen to me and believe this,” he said to them. “It’s a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it’s a far, far better rest we go to, than we have ever known.”
With a chorus of shrieks and hisses, they leaped at him as one.
Adam pulled the trigger.
HE ducked into the report room—a landlocked cubicle just off the OB nursing station, where one shift briefed the next on the floor’s patients and their status. He’d been tempted to head straight for the stairs but didn’t know how many draculas he’d run into along the way. Once they caught the scent of that blood, they’d come swarming from all directions. He had north of fifty .40 caliber rounds for the Glock, but knew from his first foray into the ER that it took a good three hits to put down a dracula. One on one, that was okay, but if he got swarmed he’d go down.
He closed the door and plunged into perfect darkness.
Didn’t know if his hacks on the H-E rounds had been successful. No way to test them.
So he locked the door, found a chair, and waited.
Soon he heard movement outside—feet scraping the floor as they passed. Someone rattled the doorknob. A dracula had probably smelled him—no surprise since he was pretty much covered in dried blood. He raised the Glock, ready to fire if the creature somehow managed to break in, but it moved off. The smell of the fresh blood in the education room had to be more enticing.
Okay, Part A of the plan was working—the draculas were taking the bait. Part B depended on two factors: the hacks and the padre. Clay was pretty sure about the hacks. He’d rotated the firing pin in each round to line up with the detonator. Any impact would—should—set them off.
Adam was a bigger unknown. Pulling that trigger would take a certain level of intestinal fortitude. He didn’t know if a noncombatant and officer in the God Squad like the padre had it in him. Just have to wait and—
The explosion shook the walls and floor, practically knocking Clay off his seat. Even through the locked door, the compression wave from the blast popped his ears.
Sorry for doubting you, padre.
Via con Dios.
He waited half a minute, then unlocked the door and stepped out. He’d expected smoke but instead felt a cool, clean breeze. Outside air?
He looked left and saw that windows on the far side of the building, opposite the explosion, had been blown out. He made his way through the rubble to the education room—or rather where it had been. The hallway wall and windows had been blown out. Everything in sight was coated with gore. The outer windows and wall were gone as well. He could look out at the night and see the flashing lights in the parking lot.
The parking lot…that was where he wanted to be. With Shanna.
He saw the TV copter idling in a clear corner of the lot. Great. The kids were safe.
But he heard another copter—a much heavier engine noise than the KREZ bird—though he couldn’t see it. Sounded like it was directly over the hospital. Another pickup? Jenny was the only one left up there.
But would she go? Maybe, maybe not. Women were crazy sometimes.
He headed for the stairs. He’d get up there and force her onto the bird—even if he had to sling her over his shoulder and carry her aboard. She felt she owed it to Randall to stay with him, but that was the last thing her ex would have wanted. Last thing Clay wanted too. She was a good nurse and good people. Not enough of those around.
Randall…man, he’d misjudged him big time. But then, he’d known only the drunk Randall. The sober one was one helluva stand-up guy. Come to think of it, he’d underestimated the padre as well. Hazard of the job, he supposed. As a cop he saw too much of the worst side of people. After a while he couldn’t help but start expecting it.
In the stairwell, he made it up one flight before stumbling to an abrupt halt. He wasn’t going any farther. The flights above were packed with draculas.
Earlier, when he and Adam had made their way down, they’d had to climb over the pile of dead draculas Randall had sliced up. It had been a tight squeeze. Now the surviving draculas were feasting on their brothers, fighting each other for a place at the table. Probably what it had looked like on the way to the roof that last day at the US embassy in Saigon.
He started back down, hoping Jenny got some sense into her head and boarded the chopper. She could return to Randall later, after the army or National Guard or whatever mopped up the surviving draculas.
SHE stared up into the night sky at the helicopter. But it wasn’t the one from the TV station. This one was dark, with guns mounted on the front and sides.
Jenny waved her hands over her head, but the aircraft gave no indication that it noticed her. It continued to hover, not making any attempt to land.
Then the building shook and Jenny heard an explosion from the lower floors. One of Clay’s toys? Or had the cavalry finally arrived?