EVERYBODY BUT LAZARUS – LIVING DEAD GIRL by Kellye Parish
October 11, 2010 Short stories Tags: Kellye Parish
“This is the last one.”
Matt Baker glanced up from taking the safety off his gun to the one-level ranch house his partner was pointing at. A large picture window was shattered in the front–glass jutted up from the sill like broken teeth. Blood stained the driveway in streaks and splatters that trailed onto the immaculate lawn. A single red hand print was smeared across the aluminum mailbox, which now hung at a sad, abused slant.
It was the only blank house left on the block. There were no marks on the wooden siding to give any indication whether its inhabitants were living, dead, or somewhere in between. The only identification on the front was a sprawling line of graffiti that said, BABYLON IS FALLEN, IS FALLEN, THAT GREAT CITY.
“You ready to finish this sector and head in for a cheeseburger and a cold beer?”
“Very funny,” Baker replied in a mumble, too hot to be agreeable. His ears were filled with the sound of his own rasping breath in the helmet of the HAZMAT suit, and every exhale hit the inside of his face-shield in a warm moist fog. His entire body was coated in a film of sweat beneath the heavy yellow plastic. On a nearby street, an unknown dog–most likely abandoned in the chaos–let out a single mournful howl and was silent.
“Let’s get this over with so we can call it quits for the day. This place gives me the screaming meemies,” Baker said, with no reservations. He thought that was one of the great unspoken pleasures now–it was socially acceptable to admit to soul-numbing terror at any time.
“Just a day in the life, my man. Welcome to the brave new world.”
Together, they walked up the driveway to the front door, avoiding the path of the automatic sprinkler wetting the lawn in a sparkling arc. When they got closer, Baker noticed the front door of the house was slightly ajar. It didn’t make Baker feel any better about the house or its broken bay window glaring out onto the street like a single jagged eye. When they reached the door itself, he knocked on it with all the authority he could muster, clearing his throat before he spoke in the eerie stillness.
“Federal Emergency Management, is there anyone alive on the premises?” he called through a hole in the stained glass. It looked like someone had put their fist straight through the door. Nobody answered. He felt that old child’s fear of knocking on an unknown door.
Trick or treat?
“We’re coming in.”
He pushed open the door, holding the gun out in front of him. The first body they spotted was lying half-in and half-out of the foyer. It was a woman in a state of advanced decomposition, her face a sunken collage of ruinous flesh. One hand was still reaching out in a frozen claw; her mouth gaped in a silent scream. A kitchen knife was shoved beneath her chin.
In a fluid motion, Hosseini drew his pistol and fired. What was left of the woman’s brains exploded against the wood paneling in a green-gray fan. Baker jolted at the sudden noise and glared at his partner with vague disapproval behind the speckled gore on his face-shield.
“You got her juice on my suit.”
Hosseini shrugged back at him. “Better safe than sorry. Yeah?”
Baker gave a brief nod and shook off the momentary horror which had begun to clutch at his heart as soon as he saw the zee, even though a glance confirmed that she was already deanimated before they got there. He felt that sinister animal panic more and more often these days, creeping up on him like a black dog in the dark. Bastions of civilized society or not, he never expected his disaster readiness duties would extend to helping soldiers round up American suburbanites in cattle trucks and line the infected up with their backs to the guns.
“You take her out to the burn truck,” Baker said. “I’ll scope out the rest of the house.”
Hosseini rolled his eyes and complied, grabbing the woman’s corpse by the ankle and dragging her body towards the door. It left a putrid slick in its wake.
Baker toured the rest of the house, starting with the back rooms. Signs of a struggle here–blood smeared down the hallway, a family portrait cracked and ripped off the wall. The two bedrooms and bathroom were clear. He took out a small can of spray paint from his bag and marked a big black C on each door, followed by the date. Not that any day before Z Day mattered much anymore.
As he moved back down the hallway to check the kitchen and living areas, his ears registered a low, harsh breathing sound he hadn’t heard before. The sweat coating his body suddenly felt like a scrim of ice, and he broke into a jog.
Fluorescent task lighting illuminated the kitchen. In the far corner beneath the remains of a kitchen chair and an overturned wooden table lay the battered corpse of a man. He was sprawled face-down on the floor, and the back of his head was smashed to a crimson dripping mass. It was impossible to tell whether he was a zee or not without turning him over, which was something Matt Baker had no intentions of doing. Deadhead or not, he didn’t have much of a head left at all, so he wasn’t that worried. He wouldn’t bother wasting a bullet on the guy when someone already put him out of commission. Waste not, want not, as his mother always said.
For the first few seconds, he was so busy taking in the sight of the dead man that he didn’t even see the girl sitting on the floor behind the kitchen island in a pool of her own blood. One of her eyes was freshly missing–a raw socket. Her flesh was ripped back from her chest, revealing a snapped clavicle. A set of human teeth marks stood out distinctly on one shoulder. The original color of her wife beater shirt might have been white, but it was nearly impossible to tell.
None of these terrible wounds, all of which never failed to produce a feeling of deep and human pity in Baker, was the most amazing thing that caught his attention. He’d seen all that and more before. Her breath, that was the important thing.
Oh my God, this girl is still alive. How can she still be alive?
Suddenly, as if she heard his thoughts, the girl’s remaining eye fluttered open. A gray iris as calm as a waveless sea stared up at him. The pupil was ebony and clear, not the cloudy cataract blue of the infected.
The girl was whispering something between cracked and bloodied lips. Baker kneeled next to her, gun pointed directly at her temple as he did in case she began to turn.
“What did you say?”
“Kill me,” the girl repeated. Her eye closed again. Baker was awed to see a drop of blood suspended on one long black eyelash.
“I’m not going to kill you, sweetheart,” Baker replied, even as his heart hammered in his chest and his finger squeezed the trigger more tightly. No matter how much he tried to avoid it, his eyes kept sliding helplessly back to that perfect bite.
The girl showed no symptoms of infection. Baker forced himself to put the gun down; he turn the girl’s temperature and blood pressure. Her blood pressure was low, but not the plummeting figures that accompanied mitonecrosis. Her heart was not stopping. Her temperature was slightly low–a figure Baker would associate with shock, rather than Resurgumviridae, which caused an intense, short-lived, and raging fever.
No signs of internal hemorrhaging or vein tracks, no seizures, nothing. Based on how dry most of the blood in the kitchen was, she should have been showing overt symptoms of Lazarus syndrome.
But she wasn’t.
“What’s your name?” Baker asked.
Her answer was a whisper.
“Diver.” The girl’s voice was stronger. If nothing else, Baker thought, the girl had no intentions of dying.
“That’s a beautiful name,” Baker said. “All right, I’m going to pick you up now. Hold on.”
The girl didn’t answer him this time. He holstered his gun reluctantly and picked the girl up, praying she wouldn’t take this prime opportunity to try and chew his ear off the side of his head. She put her good arm around his neck and laid her head against his shoulder in weary resignation.
As he turned to leave the house, Baker suddenly heard a noise that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. It sounded like a diesel motor, but it was coming from the other side of the kitchen door, which lead out into the backyard.
That kitchen door has a dog door. Dog door means–
He barely had time to get his gun out before a bloodied black retriever bolted through the back door, letting out a sound closer to a roar than a bark. Baker shot twice–once as the dog was running, and once when it was in mid-leap. It hit the linoleum twitching.
Baker ran with the girl through the front door and laid her out on a cool, dry part of the lawn. Birds were chirping with cheerful indifference to the horror that had befallen mankind only weeks before. It was a gorgeous October afternoon.
Hosseini came up behind him. Baker heard him cock his weapon. His voice was a furious hiss.
“What do you think you’re doing? For Christ’s sake, she’s bitten. Look at her.”
“Forget her, keep your eye out for dogs. I just almost lost my face.”
“For one, the zombie lab I just took out in the kitchen back there.”
“Well damn.” Hosseini re-targeted on the girl. “Speaking of zombies.”
Baker put his hand in front of the muzzle of Hosseini’s gun. He shook his head at his partner and turned back to the girl’s still, somehow tranquil face.
“She’s not getting sick. She would have turned already. Radio in the paramedics. This girl is still alive and I want to keep her that way until we can get her to a viriologist.”
“Yeah? And what if she’s just slow to sicken, cowboy? What about when she starts raising all kinds of holy cannibalistic hell in the back of that ambulance? You know the rules about transporting the infected.”
Baker looked down at the girl, who was still lying there with her eyes closed. If she was listening to their conversation, she didn’t give any indication of it. He stood up and took Hosseini’s shoulder, drawing him across the lawn and out of earshot of her. Once they were on the side of the house, he turned to his partner again.
“What exactly do you want to do, Hoss? Drop her right here in the front yard? Some college kid that isn’t even dying, as far as we can tell?”
“You don’t know that,” Hosseini shot back. “Last I heard, you weren’t a doctor.”
“I’m not a murderer either, and neither are you.”
Hosseini stared back at him with defensive resolution, crossing his arms over his chest. But Baker could tell he was thinking about how quick on the draw he had been with the female zee. He had once drawn on a fellow FEMA agent after witnessing the guy take a bite. That guy hadn’t even really started to turn yet. Baker couldn’t fault him for his survival instincts though–after all, he was still alive.
“I don’t like it, dude. I don’t like it one little bit.”
“You don’t have to like it, you just have to trust me on this one.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about.”
“Please,” Baker said. “Look at her.”
Hosseini continued to look at him for a few silent moments, searching his face, then he looked at the girl. He shrugged.
“All right, but if she goes batshit on us, shoot her in the face and don’t say I didn’t tell you so.”
“Good deal. Now you want to help me get the medics over her while I drag Fido and the other body I found out of there out?”
“I guess. But if she looks at me funny, Matt, even the tiniest little myoclonic twitch, I swear I will blow her head off without thinking twice about it.”
“With my blessing.”
Hosseini argued no further, only headed to the burn truck to carry out his orders. As he fired up the CB, Baker dragged out the remains of the man in the kitchen and the dog. Hosseini helped him shove the two corpses into the back of the truck. Its doors closed with a groaning racket and Baker walked back to the truck’s cab, pressing the INCINERATE button. When he was done, he went back to sit on the sidewalk and hold the girl’s clammy fingers in one gloved hand, listening for the sound of distant sirens. He kept his gun within easy reach.
Hosseini went around to the side of the truck and lit a cigarette while they waited; faint wind whipped the tendrils of blue-gray smoke down the deserted street. As he took a drag, the same thought crossed his mind that had just crossed Baker’s a moment before.
Immunity is the cure.