A day ago.
Stanley Kirby usually took his lunch breaks at the Circle Q at the other end of the campus. It was his one chance to hang out with his buddies and catch up on the goings-on around. His own corner was probably the most boring because it was the same faces that turned up every day, and they barely ever struck up conversation beyond official greetings.
Not to say he hated his job. Being security guard at the Greenhouse had its perks. For one, it was one of the most beautiful fixtures in Providence with its colourful interiors. Rumour had it that the kids called it Eden because of the exotic plants, like in that story in the Bible. He’d even brought his girlfriend here on a date once and she’d loved the fragrance so, perhaps it wasn’t all bad.
But, today of all days, his car would not move. He was certain he’d gotten that oil change two weeks prior, but even the ignition would not start. He grumbled as he popped the bonnet and checked the oil. Or maybe it was a battery problem…
But then a scream from within the greenhouse caught his attention. He realised he had been hearing that sound intermittently for the past thirty minutes or so, but he’d just assumed it was some over-excited kids in the distance. Now he was concerned.
He wandered in, the plethora of fragrances overwhelming him. Usually the enclosure greeted him with a barely imperceptible hum of silence. But now he was hearing more. A crash. Another crash. Screams coming from Doc’s office. Had someone come in without him noticing?
“Hello? Hey!” He walked cautiously towards the office. “Who’s there?”
Good thing he still had his radio. If he needed backup he would call for it.
Doc’s office was usually quiet, as Doc would usually keep her door closed. There was little if ever any noise or chatter from her until that kid came along. It was uncharacteristically boisterous this time and now Stanley was actually worried. He stopped by the window.
A hoarse growl. And a voice.
“…It’s OK, Eva.” It was the kid. He sounded in pain. He was talking between gasps. “You gotta do this. You don’t understand it now … but I’m doing this for you … AAAAAAARGH! Oh God, Father, this hurts!!!”
Good heavens! What crap are these guys into? He wondered if he should bust in or not.
It took another scream before he rushed into the room. Nothing could have prepared him for the sight he met.
“…ohmiGAAAAD, I’m gonna diiiiieeee…” The young man was screaming, flailing as much as he could on the floor.
The office was upside down. Table broken, cabinets wrecked, papers floating, blood splattered on the everywhere. Doc was on all fours facing away from the door, her hair undone. The kid was on the floor before her, fighting for his very life. A choke escaped his lips and he went quiet.
Stanley was frozen. “D-Doc?”
With a swiftness that sent a chill down his spine, Doctor Maundy turned to face him. Her pupils were shrunken to slits and she was breathing hoarsely. Like an animal. Her mouth was dripping with blood, and so were her hands. Before his eyes, Maundy’s pupils dilated and her breathing slowed. She blinked and stared around. The ferocious glint in her face was gone.
“Where am I?” she said, her voice choking. She stared at her hands and then at the bleeding kid in front of her. He wasn’t moving anymore.
Andy was spread eagle, blood sputtering from his neck.
Oh my God!
Stanley couldn’t hold it in anymore. He rushed out of the door and threw up. It was a full minute before his nerves had calmed down enough for him to call for help.
Eva, now in sound mind, was cuffed to the desk with her interrogator taking notes. The pictures depicting Eva’s recent beastly episode were strewn on the table. He had shown her the security footage on his tablet, and she never wanted to look at that again. It only brought home further what she had done.
If they didn’t finish piecing this puzzle, many more could turn out like Andy. And worse, who knew how many more would die?
But some things had been made abundantly clear.
Fact One: the rodents introduced into this environment probably carried a pathogen hitherto unidentified that was capable of affecting the nervous system and, as such, made their hosts feral.
Fact Two: they had bitten Dr Maundy, transmitting these hypothetical pathogens to her. She had turned feral and lashed out at her assistant, killing him.
Fact Three: these rats had possibly escaped from the enclosure, infecting other individuals in the vicinity and turning them into feral mindless zombies like Eva once was. And while officials out there were now on the lookout to identify possible bite marks on the infected, there was still one more factor to consider.
Final Fact (for now): Eva was cured within an hour of infection, while other victims seemed to be getting worse. What had made the difference?
“I’m going to jail for this, aren’t I?” she said staring at the glass of water in her hand. Overwhelmed by the revelations, she finally agreed she needed the drink. “Who am I kidding? Jail would be heaven compared to what I’ve done.”
“Day is not over yet, Eva,” he said. “We can work through this. Now did you take any vaccinations within the last three months?”
She was still staring into space, shaking her head. “I’m nothing but a monster.”
She pursed her lips and looked up at him. “Vaccinations? No. If I did I would remember.”
“Ever been bitten by a rodent?”
“Not that I can remember.”
The man’s tablet was propped with its keyboard, and now he was typing on it. “So there’s no chances you’ve built up immunity over time.”
“Not to this, no. As far as I know.”
“Closest thing we’ve seen that can be caused by rat-bite is streptobacillosis, but that’s majorly a fever and infection, not a catalyst for delirium or psychotic episodes of this scale.”
She wasn’t listening anymore. I did this.
“So what made you different?”
That’s what she was still wondering. A thought made its way through her mind but it was too crazy to even consider. All that was true now was that she had unleased this biological menace. For all intents and purposes, she was an unintentional bioterrorist. “There’s no way I’m moving on from this. My life is over.”
She closed her eyes, trying to focus. But what was the point anyway? “None of the cases have recovered yet?”
“Except you, none has.”
She had a theory, a very weak one at that, but at this point there was no reason to hold on to anything. She had lost everything in her stubbornness. “Nothing makes sense anymore.”
“Come on, Eva. You were on to something. Don’t stop now.”
She bit her lip and exhaled. “The victims, the infected, they’re getting violent. Just like I was.”
“We’ve got fatal injuries inflicted, yes, but no deaths yet. But the cerebral degeneration we’ve detected will ultimately lead to death if we don’t narrow it down to a solution soon.”
“And these injuries were from biting and scratching?”
“Yes. Until now.”
“Any … cannibalistic tendencies?”
The man paused before responding. “Cannibalistic—“
“You know that’s how I must’ve done it, right?” She knew this was going to sound crazy, but it was the only thing she had at the moment. “How I killed Andy? If there’s a reason I’m not infected it has to be tied to that.” She shrugged. “It has to be him.”
He closed his notepad and set in on the table. “Eva…”
“I …” Her stomach churned at the very thought “I … ate him. I bit his neck and ate his flesh. I tasted his blood…” She felt sick recounting it, but it was true. She pointed to one of the pictures on the desk. “This – the cavity in his neck – that had to have been me. I know I sound crazy right now, but that’s the only difference I can think of.”
Whoever thought vampires were an appealing concept? The very thought of what she knew she had done this time was sickening. This is so messed up.
“I don’t know if he knew all of this was going to happen,” she said. “He’d been in my office earlier, and I practically shut him out. But he came back. Did he know what was going to happen?”
“Andy came back.” Hearing him repeating her words to her made her realise just how it must sound. He probably thought she was crazy. She thought she was crazy.
She nodded toward the tablet. “The footage. We saw him show up. Maybe that’s the solution. If any of the victims bite a human, maybe they’ll get cured. Human blood must be free of those impurities. Like a vampire thing.”
He shook his head. “We’ve had three maulings now. None of them have turned back.”
She shrugged. “Maybe it’s just a matter of time. Or maybe it’s just Andy. Something in his body chemistry could have altered something in mine. Ugh, I can feel centuries of scientific pedigree rolling in their graves right now. I’m a total screw-up. I don’t know what to do.”
He cleared his throat. “Let me go over what you just said. So if we identify and isolate the pathogens that caused this incident, and extract a blood sample from your deceased assistant, we can find a cure?”
You do realise you’ve gone insane, don’t you Eva? She shut her eyes, but the thoughts would not stop.
She stared at her cuffs. This was her reality now. “What have I become? Is this what I wanted? To change the world, make us something more. Well, I made us something more alright. Now my life is over…”
“I mean, look at all this. I’ve cursed them all. I’m a mental case. A total screw-up! The very thing I’ve always wanted to get away from caught up with me. No matter what, I still fail. And maybe Andy’s right. Maybe I do these things to escape the fact that I really am messed up. Couldn’t save my Mum. Couldn’t keep my marriage. Couldn’t get the job I wanted and I had to settle for this. And the grant I got this time was way out of my league.” She shook her head. “I’m cursed.”
“Don’t do that—“
“It’s just like you said; immortality doesn’t cure evil. It sure wouldn’t cure stupid. If we were screw ups when we could die, we’d be even worse screw-ups when we can’t. Better that there’s an end because I really want this to end. I just want to go home and forget all of this ever happened. But then again, hope … what’s the use?”
She was trembling now. She really had no idea what to do or what would happen here. “And now I’m talking garbage. I’m losing my sanity in front of a total stranger, and I don’t know what to do.”
Her statements hung in the air for a moment when no one spoke. But could it be true?
“Andy knew the danger I was in. And if I’m right, and he knew that he would be the cure, then he did that for me. He came back for me.” She shrugged. “I can’t explain it better. I don’t understand it. But that’s all I’ve got.”
The man turned in his seat and stood as he exhaled loudly, shoving his hands in his pocket. She wondered how much of a nutcase he must’ve thought she was. “If you’re right,” he said. “Then we need to start working on it. How to effectively get it across to everyone.”
The lights in the room flickered on one by one. She had to shut her eyes from the swift transition to brightness.
“But you’d be surprised how much we agree,” he said.
Just take me to prison already! She really didn’t want another long discussion.
“I’m sorry you had to go through all of this, Eva. Really I am. But if it helped you come to terms with the truth then it’s worth it.”
“What ‘truth’? That for all my strengths I was helpless where it mattered? That this was all my fault and now my life is over? That Andy died because of me?” She still couldn’t see well, so she lowered her gaze and blinked away the pain in her eyes.
“It’ll take a moment for your eyes to adjust, sorry about that. See, coming from the dark to light is like when we come to Truth. It hurts at first, but it’s what really sets you free. It makes you free, Eva. That’s when you can really see.”
She ran a hand through her hair, shielding her eyes from the light with the other. “Well if anything, it just makes me see myself for the idiot I really am. This feels nothing like freedom.”
“Your hands say otherwise.”
In that moment she realised something had changed. She actually had one hand in her hair and the other in the air.
Her heart skipped a beat. Her handcuffs were undone.
They lay broken on the table, and her chains dangled as they dropped to the ground. What the –? She jumped to her feet and staggered away.
“What just happened?”
“It will take a moment for you to understand, but you will. Eva, you are free.”
She turned to the man, questions on her face, but then everything changed. She could now see the person that had been speaking with her all this time. But it was impossible! It was crazy!
She placed a hand over her mouth to restrain the gasp building up. It can’t be!
He smiled. “Took you long enough.”
The story continues in CASE FILE-004