So, about those zombies…
Editor’s note: I mentioned going to work on a novel-length zombie manuscript two months ago. So, about that … c’est finit! After laboring through my epic surrealist literary wank dissertation, writing a zombie novel felt like playing drunk kickball on a nice spring afternoon. I could do it for hours. And I did. So it’s done, and I’m sending out queries to agents. Obligatory fingers crossed, please. Below is a little mis-en-scene taster from a flashback that occurs in the course of events. If you’d like to know more about the plot, check out the synopsis of PRISON CAMP 26 here.
Sasha knew it was getting bad, real bad out there in the world. But, to be honest, she didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. She was married to her work, basically living out of a brand new researchers’ dorm at the CDC campus. The cafeteria always had food. The fact that the rest of the world was starving was irrelevant to her, not her problem. She could only focus on what she could control, and that was nasty, population-decimating viruses.
But with all that crap going on in the world, she couldn’t understand why the top dogs at DSR were so preoccupied with her research. She sure as hell couldn’t understand why they would give Carl an order to start Virus 26 trials on human test subjects.
No, she told Carl point blank. It’s not going to happen. It’s the same as killing people.
“Adam’s alive.” That’s what the idiot said to her. And then that fat, flaccid, worthless man turned red as a tomato, swelled up with a conviction she didn’t think him capable of mustering, and with all the authority of the DSR behind him told Sasha she didn’t have a fucking choice in the matter. Either do your job, start sticking the virus in people, or we’ll find someone else to do it.
Sasha thought she was clever asking Carl where he expected her to come up with human test subjects for trials. He said don’t worry, the DSR will take care of that. And that’s exactly what happened. Sasha was staring at her infected hairless monsters clawing each other apart trying to climb over each other to get at her, gnawing away at the bars, while Carl led 20 adult males into a lab that had been converted into what amounted to a jail cell by order of the DSR. Sasha didn’t want to know who they were, where they came from or how they ended up there.
She just wanted to make sure none of them were ever infected with Virus 26, and she was going to do whatever was within her power to make sure that’s exactly what happened.
“I need you to come talk to these people, Dr. Emerson. Make up something nice about the tests they’re going to be part of. We were … vague … on that matter. We just let the money do most of the talking.”
Carl had entered the cage room. He was wearing his nice suit to welcome in all the new residents, a bleak brown affair with a jacket that was too tight in the chest and too long in the arms and pants that were frayed at the bottom because he had never bothered to have the cuffs properly hemmed. He wore a necktie with all manner of muted colors exploding in sunbursts that looked eerily like Virus 26 under the high-power microscope.
“I thought I told you never to come in here without your biohazard suit on, Carl.” Sasha’s visor was slightly fogged, but she could still see the guilt on his pathetic, jowly face as he meekly absorbed the weight of her rebuke.
“Sorry, Sasha. We just need to tell them something soon. Now that they’re in and see all the crap around here, they’re nervous. And you need to start tests soon. Like ASAP. Washington is breathing fire down my neck. They want results. They have plans for this thing.”
It was the first time Carl had ever come right out and said it, like presenting her with a peace offering of knowledge for violating the cage room rules. Sasha suspected as much, but it was different hearing it put so bluntly. Straight from the horse’s mouth. If the government had plans for a virus that created zombies – and that is what Sasha had come to accept them as now – it could only be for a few things, and none of them good. They’d see it as a weapon, most likely. She didn’t really care. They weren’t going to get their hands on it. She had every known sample of Virus 26 with her right there in that room. Except for Adam, and she knew what to do with Adam. She was sorry, so very sorry, but Adam didn’t exist anymore. When she punched in the code to sterilize the room, the isolation chamber’s decontamination system would incinerate everything, Adam included, and Virus 26 would be gone. Unless whoever sent it had more.
“Come here, Carl. I want you to see what you want me to do to these people up close.” She moved to a cage full of docile rnu rats, their wrinkly hairless bodies wriggling and writhing like normal, having grown used to the stink of the infected rats in the cages around them.
“I’ve already seen it. I’ve seen it a hundred times. You’re not going to guilt me into compassion. This needs to be done. Besides, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Adam doesn’t seem that bad off.” Carl’s eyes instinctively sank to the ground, averting Sasha’s piercing glare. “I mean, he’s not dead. And you could find a treatment. Or they could end up like those rats that don’t show symptoms. Think positive, doctor.”
“The rats that don’t show symptoms. That’s exactly what I want to show you, Carl. That’s what these are, right here.” Carl edged further into the room as Sasha spoke. “You’ve seen it yourself; one out of every 10 shows no evidence of symptoms. The virus lives in them. They’re still carriers. As dangerous to others as any of the zombie rats.”
“Don’t use that term, doctor.” Carl was close to her now, also in front of the cage of shriveled, pink-skinned rats.
“Carl, what are we going to do when two of the men in that room don’t turn? When they’re completely human, asking us questions. When do we get to leave? When do we get to see our families? We won’t be able to send them back out into the world. They’ll be too dangerous.” She reached into the cage and plucked out a mouse. It wriggled in her gloved hand, but put up no real resistance. They were used to being handled.
“Keep that thing away from me,” Carl said.
“Look at it, Carl. Its eyes are normal. Its behavior is normal. It is a docile creature. Are you going to be able to look the two men in that room who come out OK in the eyes and kill them? Because I’m not going to do it. It’s on you, Carl. You’re going to be the one.” She held the hairless rodent up to Carl. He grimaced, but didn’t move away.
“You say these ones – the immune ones – are completely normal? Nonviolent?”
“But if they bite you or inseminate you or, possibly, bleed or spit on you.” Sasha left the rest unsaid. Carl was reaching toward the rat, as if he wanted to pet it, to comfort it, let it know everything was going to be ok. Sasha saw her opportunity. She pinched the rat’s hindquarters, pinched it hard, and it instinctively lunged at Carl’s hand, biting down hard on his index finger.
“You bitch,” he shouted. Blood dripped on the floor as Carl pressed down on the bite with his other hand. Sasha threw the struggling rat into the open-lidded glass tank with Eve, who had been watching the whole scene unfold in a lethargic stupor. Carl made like he was going to hit Sasha, or worse.
“Your time’s already short, Carl. You better get to the med unit now. If you’re quick, they might be able to amputate your arm to stop the virus from spreading. If not, you’ve got two hours before it takes over your central nervous system.”
He hesitated. Looked at her, then at the door.
“Tick-tock,” Sasha said. He bolted out the exit, screaming for help as he went. Thank God he didn’t look at the glass tank, Sasha thought. Eve was tearing what remained of the uninfected rat to shreds. Adam would be the last strain of the virus to eliminate, no loose ends. Just like in West Africa.
By the time she had dumped all the rat cages down the incinerator chute in the cage room, the alarm was sounding. She was surprised it took that long, but everyone at CDC resented the DSR’s presence and thought Carl was an idiot. He had zero presence of authority and in his panicked, blathering state, it must have taken him some time to get anyone to take him seriously. To convince anyone that Dr. Sasha Emerson, rising star of the virology division, had gone off the deep end and attacked him with an infected rat. Sasha almost broke a smile at the thought of it, or maybe it was the act of plucking Eve out of her tank with a pair of forceps and chucking her down the incinerator chute.
Fueled with a bulging stomach full of rat, Eve had her fight back. She scrabbled so ferociously against the forceps that she nearly pulled her torso in half stretching toward Sasha’s fingers before Sasha tossed her and the forceps down the incinerator.
“That’s for you, Adam. It’s the least I could do.”
That wasn’t true, though. What she had to do next was what she truly owed him, the Adam who solved crossword puzzles and Sudokus and cryptograms like they were child’s play. That Adam would thank her for what came next.
Sasha moved quickly down the hall to the elevator. Adam was two floors up, still underground, but on the same level as the medical unit where Carl was hopefully now sedated. The doctor’s never would have amputated his arm. First of all, they never would have just started hacking at the word of some crazed lunatic. They would have tested his blood first to confirm the presence of the virus. Second, they never would have risked everyone else’s lives by exposing the operating room to Carl’s blood. If he was infected, his blood would be everywhere after an emergency amputation, and they’d be at risk of a major outbreak. Sasha had personally briefed every doctor at CDC headquarters that they were never to take that risk.
She burst out of the stairwell and took a left. She felt so slow, but kicked against the restrictive biohazard suit and started to run, feeling her window closing, her chance to end this before it ever started. She punched in a code to get access to the wing. She entered a hallway with a long row of isolation units lined up one after another like jail cells, only with bullet-proof Plexiglas sealing the rooms off from the outside. The lights in the hall were all off, operating on motion detectors as people passed by. All of the isolation units were dark, too, except for the one at the very end. Adam’s unit.
Sasha moved toward it, walking now. Something felt wrong that kept her from running. As she moved down the hall, a new bank of lights came on with every few steps as the ones behind her cut back off. She felt like she was suspended in a cube of light, like she was a hamster in a plastic ball, walking against it to propel herself down the hall.
Then she realized what was bothering her. She could hear Adam. The sound was muffled, barely noticeable behind the thick glass seal, but it was there. The sound of it scratching and biting and clawing against the other side. That was wrong. It should have been in a state of almost suspended animation, unless something had provoked it. That was her final thought before the last bank of lights in front of Adam’s unit flicked on.
No more than 10 feet in front of her, Carl stood completely still, blood staining his bandaged hand and a gun held in the uninjured one.
“Row 3, column 14. That’s the cage you took that rat from.” He raised the gun and pointed it at her chest. “Isn’t it, Dr. Emerson? You think I’m such an idiot, but you don’t know me. You know nothing about me. You never gave me any credit for how closely I paid attention to your work. I really admired how … meticulously … you work, doctor.”
Sasha was about to tell Carl he wasn’t a killer when he squeezed the trigger and shot her in the chest. As she looked down and saw the blood start to trickle down her suit, she thought, “He’s right. I don’t know anything about him.”