I stumbled backwards, my heart caught somewhere between my chest and my throat.
Had they been fucking sleeping?
I pressed myself flat against the wall and inched back to the window. Their awkward bodies had rustled awake, wandering disjointedly like demented puppets. Their sickly skin glowed in the sunlight, their movements relaxed enough for me to take a good, long look at these remnants of human beings.
They didn’t call for me, there was no sudden snap to attention, no realisation that fresh prey was spying on them from above.
I backed away from the window, keeping myself flattened into the wall until I was far enough away from the windows that I could move more freely.
There was little in this building to interest them, judging by the lack of total destruction. Something had been through here – or tried to escape – but whatever had happened, it was over quickly and cleanly compared to what had gone down out on the streets.
I was stuck here. I trembled under the weight of the sudden fear that swept over me, the pressing terror of being trapped. I gave myself into a long, shuddering minute of paralyzing fear, my body convulsing in gasps and sobs. I let the heavy fear weigh me down completely, pushing me to the brink of losing everything.
I brought myself back from the brink slowly, my free hand gripping the edge of the desk, pulling myself up from the floor. There were things to do, information to look for – and Annie.
It was always thoughts of Annie that were my raft, pulling me back to the shore.
I set the knife down on the desk and looked through the mess of paperwork that had been left here.
Infection Control Practice - Proposed Model Journal of Infections and Drug Resistances Infectious Diseases Laboratories
The sheets were all the same – printouts from medical directories around the world, all with heavy highlighting and messy notes scrawled all over the margins.
No reported infections from previous cases
Infectious exposure risk to lab staff
Decrease incubation period ?
I could understand enough of the papers to feel a deep, tingling sense of unrest, but not enough to make sense of the big picture.
Frustrated, I looked around the office. Medical journals lined the bookshelf. A desktop computer sat beside me, uselessly still plugged into the wall. I pressed the power button anyway, more out of habit than any misguided sense of hope.
I looked through the good doctor’s drawers. Pens, pencils, a near empty notepad. A packet of cigarettes and empty gum wrappers.
As an afterthought, I put the cigarettes in my pack and headed down the hallway into the next office.
Dr J. Miller, the frosted glass door read.
The other offices had clear glass, but Dr Miller’s was frosted glass from floor to ceiling. The long list of credentials following his name suggested he might be the one in charge of this operation, and obviously he required a little more privacy than his peers.
I pushed the door open and let myself in, keeping clear of the windows.
His desk was tidy, paperwork lined up neatly, all with sticky notes on the front and filed into appropriate document trays. The first trays were labelled consecutively – TS037, TS038.
I edged as close to the window as I dared, looking out on the street below. The zombies had thinned out, but some remained, shuffling mindlessly on the road. There was no hurried movements and no sound from elsewhere in the building. Confident in my safety for the time being, I shrank away from the window and sat hunched over in the doctor’s chair, pulling the tray for TS037 closer.
TS037 infection successful with strain developed from TS036. Incubation period - 3 days.
Nauseous, I let the documents fall back into the tray. Infection successful? My head spun with dark possibilities.
Cautiously, I flicked to the end of the notes.
They ended noting that the subject was showing greater strength and awareness than “previous subjects” and that the shorter incubation period hadn’t affected the impact of the infection.
Sickened, I pushed the tray away. This had been deliberate – researched, observed, documented.
These subjects – people? – had there really been so many of them? Dr Miller had been collecting notes about numbers 37 and 38… Were there thirty eight of these subjects? What the hell had happened to the others?
Wanting to avoid the notes for now, I slid open his drawers. Ignoring the mostly useless contents, I picked up a small dictaphone from the second drawer.
You saw it sometimes in medical clinics still, doctors who didn’t want to adopt the online systems, who made comments into their handheld dictaphones about each patient and got their staff to type them out, rather than just noting everything into a database on the fly. They were usually the kind who still kept thick paper files and printed their own business cards too, despite the shabby look.
After a heavy pause, I located the play button and pushed.
“He presents with – ”
The sound of someone else’s voice, after so long, made me jump. I cycled the volume down until it was just barely audible.
“ – numerous skin lesions all over the body. Closer examination has proved difficult due to the high levels of strength and awareness he is capable of. At this stage, treatment of these lesions has been impossible, but the condition does not seem to have worsened.”
Dr Miller let out a heavy breath into the microphone, creating an eerie sort of wind tunnel effect, before he continued.
“037 shows strength and general capability much higher than that of any previous subject. 038, despite being administered the same strain, remains unresponsive and dormant by comparison. I have placed an urgent request with our sponsor to make facilities with higher security available immediately. It is my concern that 037 will prove difficult to contain, as will more modified strains of the same virus.”
I stopped the tape, my insides quivering. The details were still fuzzy, but a picture was being painted by the notes, the recordings, the desolate emptiness that surrounded me.
I stuffed the dictaphone into my pack. I had no way of knowing how long the batteries would last, but it seemed wise to listen through the tape with the others.
My eyes skipping over the document trays, I reached over and flipped open his laptop, sitting idly on the now useless charging dock. I pressed the power button, diving to rip the laptop out of the dock when the bright blue screen came to life. I pulled it down to the floor behind the desk with me.
It was unlikely anything would notice the glow in the daylight, but it wasn’t worth the risk. I chanced a look over the top of the window ledge. Mindless hordes still dragged themselves around below me – they’d definitely thinned out, but the slow, unsteady ones were still half-standing below. Some dragged themselves on all fours.
I wondered if they were the same as 36 had been – unresponsive, dormant.
Sinking back to the floor, I was greeted with a familiar screen:
Press CTRL + ALT + Delete to unlock this computer. Miller, J is logged on.
I tried a few arbitrary passwords, my fingers skimming over the keys, knowing it was useless before I pressed enter each time. Switching user and logging on as a guest only sent me to a near empty desktop, and half a dozen network connection error messages.
Frustrated, I closed the laptop and left it on the floor. It was too heavy to bother taking with me, and completely useless without the doctor’s passwords.
Instead I emptied every page from TS037 and 038 into my pack. They may not contain anything useful, but we could go through them together. I was spurred forward by a sudden, itching desire to keep moving, to come up with some kind of escape plan.
I left the office and headed for the opposite end of the floor, back past the waiting area. I kept walking – avoiding the windows – until I was at the very end.
There was a body here. His form was now just a twisted mess, covered in dried blood. It looked like he’d been knocked to the floor, unconscious.
CAUTION: Doors close automatically. Keep clear at signal.
I wondered how many times the doors had tried to close on his body before the power had failed.
I slid through the lab door, stepping over his body. I had such a non reaction to his death I was sickened more by my own feelings than by his body.
The lab area was a long hallway, lined with what appeared to be glass holding cells. The entire area was chaos.
Blood was streaked down the floor, as though someone – maybe the man at the door? – had tried to drag himself away. There was shattered glass everywhere – the thick glass walls of the cells had been smashed to oblivion.
The cell on the far end had fared the worst. Two bodies were still slumped on the floor, badly beaten and mangled.
I tightened my grip on the knife.
This must have been where they’d kept the… the subjects. My mind stumbled over the thought. Where had they found these people?
Just what the hell had they been doing here?
The lab didn’t offer any more clues to my uninformed eye – it was fairly clear the subjects had broken out before they’d followed Dr Miller’s recommendation of more secure facilities. Whoever the lab staff were, they had been completely unprepared for it.
The whispers we’d heard at the start, then, they’d been right. A medical clinic had failed to contain an infection. There had been no talk of it being man-made… But that was what everything was now screaming at me. Worse, some unnamed third party had been sponsoring the facility, their research…
My eyes fell on a bloody handprint marked on the wall that smeared down to a large, dried splattering of blood all over the floor. Repulsed, I backed out of the corridor, stepping gingerly over the body in the doorway.
I crept back to a window, peering out over the edge. They’d thinned out even more now, but there was still no clear path away. It was only late morning, and I knew I’d be waiting until the middle of the night to even try attempting an escape.
Afraid, exhausted, I made my way back to the waiting area on this floor. I pulled some of the seat cushions loose and set them up behind the receptionist’s desk, fashioning a sort of hidden burrow to nestle myself into.
It was growing cold in this silent building, and I knew I was in for an uncomfortable afternoon. I wedged myself among the cushions and pulled the notes out, rifling through the sets for both subjects, pausing to drink a few small mouthfuls of water in between pages.
Eventually, making little sense of some of the more complicated doctor’s notes, I felt my eyelids drooping. I still had no real plans of escape, but sleep beckoned…
Lost in the uncanny silence of a once bustling inner city building, I drifted into an uneasy sleep, visions of mad doctors chasing me with viral fluids swimming in the dark recesses of my mind.