The Preserved (Chapter 3)
A burial chamber. That's what it felt like.
The metallic buzzing of the Uzi had ceased. Now that familiar sound again. That vibration.
In that moment, I imagined the patients. Panic. Fear, welling up inside of them. Nurses and doctors thinking – not here, not now – we are unarmed! Why this hospital?
Will they call it the Lake Sinai Hospital Massacre? I didn’t want to be a part of that. Unfortunately, I was here – and I had a weapon.
Time to protect...and kill, I thought -- again. At the same time it felt as if I was not in charge. Same as yesterday.
More buzzing and screams. Machine gun fire. Short bursts. Methodical. Something or someone with a specific goal in mind. A room to room search.
Jesus, I thought. No remorse, just a plan. Were they after me? Something told me they were.
Time to find out for sure.
Hell of a career field you chose, I told myself. Should’ve been an accountant or a truck driver. But who was I kidding? If I wasn’t after bad guys, what sense was there to my life? Maybe I was warped after all, I thought. Who else enjoys this kind of shit? Not my ex-wife. Not most of the guys at the station. I did though, except when people had the discourtesy to be murdered at three in the morning. Heck, I was getting old. I liked my sleep now.
I slowly turned the doorknob. To my surprise, it was unlocked. I gave it a gentle tug and let it slowly swing open to...darkness. Like a sewer at midnight. Until my eyes adjusted.
In the corridor, that seemed more like a tomb, the boxy fluorescent lights were flickering now. Seconds later, they went out completely. A near total blackout. Sunlight filtering in from a window somewhere, but not enough.
I waited. Crouched low. Pistol ready. Already sweating.
Dull emergency lights suddenly buzzed to life, casting a vaporous glow over the Nurses’ Station, shocking my over-alert senses. The transformation was disconcerting. A Nurses’ Station in shambles. Plants and photo frames riddled with gaping holes. Cheap desks, a frozen tsunami of scrap wood. Flat-screen monitors, toppled. A floor littered with bodies?
My assigned guards. Two of them. Pools of blood forming beneath their still forms.
Samantha Gallagher was crouched low behind the debris that were now the remnants of the Nurses’ Station. Her head popped up.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She nodded, then pointed left. Gestured again. Scared.
I understood. He was just around the corner – waiting. A slight sound, then rapid breathing. Like small air pump, a compressor, working overtime. I recognized the wheezing from yesterday. That weird rasping breath from my Uzi friends. This one was close and out of breath.
“Hey, pinhead,” I said. “You missed me.”
I was gambling, but I had a sneaking suspicion I was dealing with an ego-maniac or maybe a crew of them. It fit. They were easy to irritate, careless in gun fights and easy to kill.
The breathing stopped, the compressor had clicked off? I crawled away from my doorway, leaned into the shredded pile of furniture ten feet away. Waited. Hoped the things were as stupid as the others.
It did not disappoint. The shape brazenly stepped into the open. Back-lit in one of the emergency lamps. Its Uzi pointing at the space I had recently vacated. It fired a quick burst too late. Now realizing that its prey was not there.
I clenched my teeth as the carpet peeled away under the barrage and fired three times into its gut, slamming it into the wall. The thing didn’t even register surprise. It just collapsed like a doll. Bright blue flesh slipped from the wall where I’d blown chunks out of it. Unmixed paint, dripping.
“Is this what you saw?” I said, as Samantha crawled from her hiding place.
Samantha looked over. The unblinking diminutive man-thing lay still. She was checking on the two deceased guards now.
“I’m not sure. They ran by so fast, shooting. Could be one of them.”
“One?” I said, incredulous.
“Yes, there were more,” she said.
“How many more?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. Two, maybe three.”
Great, I thought. One at a time and I might be able to deal with, but two or three? Just think of the task Percy, I told myself. Focus.
I felt vibrations. Shit. Here they come again.
“Get behind that -- !” I pointed at the debris, that once was a Nurses’ Station. Samantha squeezed under desk pile again. “Keep quiet.”
I moved to disarm the dead thing, this time taking a few extra seconds to examine it. I needed its gun.
I yanked at its hair. Sure enough, it had a black wig. A type of skull cap was next, glued on snugly. I peeled it away. There it was, that pointed head and coppery skin tone. It was cold to the touch. I shook its head from side to side, grabbing the chin. It seemed unusually light, almost buoyant. It was like a doll, I thought. A big fleshy mannequin with an empty skull? It did not appear to have bones, however. The under-structure – that’s what it felt like to me – was flexible. Flesh wrapped over a rubbery inner case? A simple elegance of frame. Functional, I thought. What the hell was it?
“These things aren’t…” I couldn’t find the words. “They aren’t real.”
Samantha said that she heard something now. That I should hurry. She was feeling the vibrations.
I ripped open the thing’s shirt. It was hairless. I saw the entry wounds. Two, where a normal person’s heart would be and one in the stomach. All bright blue holes, but none leaking. Same as before. If this thing had a heart, it had stopped beating the moment I shot it.
It had a flat torso, like a box and no apparent rib cage. Its chest was an illusion – like a painting in three dimensions. At different angles, it appeared almost human. From up close, a mirage.
I lifted its arm. It was as light as a feather, but wiry -- strong. Jointed like a –”
I looked up. Samantha was pointing again. The vibrations were getting worse.
In the dim, I crawled forward. I felt, more than heard them. A machine-like shaking, in the floors. It was unmistakable. One of them was coming fast now. Maybe two of them.
“Here!” I told Samantha.
She stared at the pistol in her hand, like it was a foreign object.
“Same as yours, just smaller, semiautomatic.” I handed her the two full mags. “You have 14 rounds left, 17 rounds each. No more than three shots at a time. Go for the gut.”
I had trained Samantha years ago, after the pimp incident with her daughter. She vowed never to be a victim – or allow her family to be at the mercy of thugs.
Her hands were shaking.
“It’ll be fine,” I said. I actually believed myself. It seemed to reassure her.
I picked up the thing’s Uzi and leaned into the hallway. There was a slight haze now. Each emergency light in the hallway was masked in a ring of mist. Icy orange moons. I made sure the Uzi, which didn’t feel real, was loaded and ready.
I couldn’t see anything at first. Just felt it in the soles of my feet.
The hallway stretched nearly the entire length of the hospital, then curved around a central hub, like the long spokes of a giant Ferris Wheel.
“They must be coming up one of the hallways,” I said. Which meant that they should be converging on this one. Probably homing in on their buddy.
“Is there another exit?” I couldn’t recall the nearest one.
“Just the elevator, up,” Samantha said. “The emergency exit – the closest one – is that way, to the right.”
She pointed toward danger. I glanced at the elevator. Had an idea.
If they did track each other, then just maybe. The elevator was at the end of a short corridor, completely closed off on three sides. It’s a funnel, I thought. A killing field.
What if? I wondered. What if I could lure them in there? We stood a chance then.
“What are you doing?” Samantha asked.
I had grabbed the human-looking thing and easily dragged it into the elevator. It flopped stiffly, but it was as taunt as a wound-up spring. Bits of bluish sludge, dripped as I adjusted it.
“You can’t send it up! There are people –”
I pulled the stop button. Let the doors to the elevator stand open, then went back behind the pile of desk rubble with Samantha. A shield of broken furniture, with a clear field of fire.
The human thing was standing dead, as best I could wedge it. One knee, unusually high, was slightly buckled, but it would pass. I shoved its black wig over its face. He or it, looked drunk leaning there like that, hands shoved into the railing.
We both heard them coming. A far-off rustling.
“Is it real?” Samantha was looking at the blue stains on the wall.
“I’m not sure what they are, but…”
“They are really pissed-off at me,” I was whispering now.
“I think I crashed their party yesterday.”
She stared into my eyes. “You have that look again.”
I knew what she meant.
Samantha was peering ahead. “You’re trying to get them to go there?” She gestured.
“Yes. It’s a good kill zone. A nice trap – if they take the bait. And…”
“We can’t retreat,” I said.
The things flashed under the emergency lights at that moment. Three of them scrambled into the open elevator. A flurry of movement followed. They began to lift their buddy. One shoved his fist into the dead thing’s mouth. It began to convulse, eyes blinking. Were they reviving it?
Too late, I thought. Fish in a barrel. I unloaded as soon as the first one turned. They danced to the music of their own Uzi – in my hands. Flailing as they shot each other but trying to shoot me. Collapsing together into a tangled heap. It was a blue-bath, I thought. A morbid knot of red coats and green ties, all stained in blue blood?
I hadn’t realized it, but Samantha was still shooting. She emptied the magazine.
I set the Uzi on the floor – it had become oddly overheated. Put my hand on her shoulder.
“Feel better?” I asked. She relaxed.
I crawled to the hallway again. “Looks clear.”
I crept back, knees aching. There was an empty magazine on the floor. I pocketed it. Samantha had already reloaded. Had a strange look on her face.
“You have a phone?” I asked.
She looked over at the dead guards. “They were new,” she said. They didn’t deserve this.” She took a breath.
“What are those things?”
“We can’t do anything for the guards now,” I said. “And,” I shook my head, “I have no idea what they – those things – are. I just know how to kill them.”
“I’m glad they’re dead,” she said, letting the pistol drop.
Samantha reached into her pocket, pulled out a phone, handed it to me. Just as I started to dial, I saw the photo under the icons. A young girl. Brown hair. Cute. Familiar.
The waitress, I thought. The one at the Sentinels of the Sea, yesterday.
“Who is this?” I asked. Hoping it wasn’t.
She looked, smiled. “Margaret, my granddaughter. You never met her.”
Samantha scanned my face. “Why?”
“I met her.”
“Yesterday, at the place…”
Samantha grabbed the phone. Dialed. Ignored me.
“She was a waitress –"
Samantha held her hand up, interrupted.
“It went directly to voice mail,” she said. “She’s not answering.”
Frantic now. “I need to go!”
“Wait,” I said. “Call your daughter – her mother.”
Samantha lowered her head.
She’s dead, I thought. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. You did what was right, but she fell back into it. Overdosed. I –”
“You don’t have to explain.” I hadn’t known.
“Margaret is headstrong, a good girl – woman and – she’s been dealt a crappy hand.”
“We’ll find her,” I said. Samantha sighed, relieved.
I looked around. Two dead guards. An elevator full of…
I couldn’t believe it.
“What?” She followed my gaze. “Where are they?”
Even the blue wall stains had vanished. Only the trail of bullet holes remained. Gashes in the walls. Torn carpets. A decimated Nurses' Station.
“That explains a few things,” I said.
"Like I'm probably not crazy."
I glanced over. "Not again," I said.
I had placed the Uzi not a foot away. If anyone had tried to take it, I would have noticed. It was gone.
“Give me that gun,” I said. She handed it over. I gripped it tightly. Checked the chamber. It was hot. Real.
Sirens now. The police were arriving.
“Shit,” I said.
"I shouldn’t leave, but they are sure as hell are going to hold me – and there’s no time for that.”
Samantha was already pulling her car keys from her purse.
“I’ll drive,” I said.
© 2018 Jack Shorebird