||[Nov. 11th, 2010|11:31 pm]
What I have so far for Nanowrimo. Behind a cut for length. The dates stuck in are for me, I like to keep track of when I start writing. They're not part of the story.|
The coffee was always brewing. Glazed donuts laid limply beneath a smudged glass bowl. The fluorescent lights crackled. A girl sat behind the counter with a textbook propped open, a yellow highlighter in her hand. The light cast a sallow glow over everything and highlighted every imperfection from her uncolored roots to the spots on her face. Everything was supremely ugly at two a.m. and she wondered why they had to be open when almost no one stopped at this diner at this time anyway. Not when there were flashier places closer to the clubs.
“More coffee, Mr. Arbogast?” she asked.
“Yes, please. Some of the fresh stuff this time,” said the white-haired old timer.
She scowled. “It’s all fresh and you know it is.”
“Last batch tasted like battery acid,” he said.
“Here you go,” she said. “If you don’t like it you shouldn’t drink it. You know my dad wouldn’t charge you.”
The old man shrugged and grunted.
She went back to her underlining. Another woman came from behind the counter.
“Take a break if you want to, Laurie,” said the older woman, Peggy. “Get away from this old codger.”
“Thanks,” said Laurie with a grateful smile.
Laurie strode outside where the cold was bracing but refreshing after the stale air of the diner. A beat-up station wagon pulled into the rutted parking lot.
Here comes trouble, she thought. Teenagers, probably drunk. Loud, rowdy, annoying.
Of course, Laurie was still a teenager. But she was part of a family that was insanely proud of their business that her great-grandfather had started as a little stand at the turn of the century. So she worked hours serving the old-timers, drunks and commuters that still came here in favor of the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.
Two people left the car, a boy and a girl, about her age.
Laurie stretched and got back up. She wouldn’t normally work this late at night but their usual waitress, Dolores, was getting too old for the night shift. They were trying to hire a new worker but who wanted such a shitty job? Laurie knew that if her dad weren’t the owner that she wouldn’t be there. She’d be volunteering or working at some unpaid internship, trying to add to her post-high school resume like her friends were doing.
“I’m back,” she announced to no one in particular.
“Good,” said Peggy. “Bring this over to them.”
The two teens were sitting quietly in a corner booth.
“Who’s the Coke?” said Laurie.
“I am,” said the girl.
“So that makes you Sprite. Did Peggy take your order?”
“Yup,” said the girl and went back to talking quietly with the boy.
“Okay, you let me know if you need anything.”
Laurie returned to her book.
“Could you put on the t.v.?” asked Mr. Arbogast.
“Sure,” she said and turned it to one of those twenty-four hour news channels that she knew he liked.
Soon the smells of breakfast cooking filled the air. A blond woman with heavy lip-gloss was talking on the t.v.
“In news from the odd side, random acts of violence are being reported in cities across the nation. Most recently, there was an attack on a camera crew in Atlanta, Georgia, filming a shooting outside of the projects.”
Her male coworker looked mildly amused and said, “Remember, we just report the news, we don’t make the news.”
“It must be a full moon,” said the woman.
Peggy deposited the tray full of food to the two teenagers. Laurie tried to stifle a yawn.
“How much longer do you have?” asked Peggy
“Just an hour.”
She put down her book and started to wipe the counter clean. Laurie was halfway done when movement caught her eye. Someone was walking in their parking lot, silhouetted by the street lights.
“Must be drunk, by the looks of it,” said Peggy.
The man was indeed walking in a stumbling gait. He slowly made his way across the lot. Laurie gasped when he reached the front door. His face was caked in blood.
“He’s hurt!” said Peggy.
She crossed to the door and opened it. The man just stood there looking at her with dull eyes.
“Do you want us to call 911, mister?” asked Peggy. “Come on in.”
He continued to stare vacantly and with shocking speed ran full force at Peggy. Her scream turned into an awful, wet gargling sound as he clamped onto her throat.
“Holy fuck!” shouted Laurie.
Mr. Arbogast almost fell out of his stool in his haste to get away from the door.
“What’s going on?”
Laurie’s father emerged from his back office. His eyes grew wide at the scene that greeted him. Tendons snapped like overtight cords as the man pulled at the flesh of Peggy’s neck.
Her father ran behind the register, pulled out an ancient pistol, and shot the man in the shoulder. He may as well have thrown a danish or a cotton ball at him for all the good it did. He shot the man again, this time in the chest. Dark blood stained his shirt and the man fell backwards with a grunt. His mouth worked angrily. He made a wheezing noise as he started to slowly return to what remained of Peggy. Finally, her father shot him between the eyes. He fell backwards, a wide puddle of blood spreading out under him.
Laurie’s face hurt and she realized that she was digging into her cheeks with her nails. She forced her hands to relax.
“We have to call 911,” her father said with amazing calm.
“Let me help Peggy,” said Laurie.
“I don’t think there’s anything more that can be done for her,” he said.
Her father took out his cell phone and started to dial. Laurie carefully picked her way over to Peggy, trying to avoid the widening pools of blood. A sudden crash startled her and she jumped.
“I’m sorry,” said the teenage girl in a shaky whisper. “My drink, I spilled it.”
Laurie took off her sweater and pressed it to the side of Peggy’s neck. What was left of it. God, there was so much blood. Her sweater was instantly soaked through but Laurie kept applying pressure.
“What? How can 911 be busy?” said her dad.
“Try the hospital, Sam,” said Mr. Arbogast. “They can send an ambulance.”
Sam nodded and went to the list of emergency numbers that they kept by the phone.
“What’s going on?”
A voice startled them all. It was just Esteban, their night cook.
“I don’t know,” said Laurie. “This guy just attacked Peggy and dad shot him. But it was self defense, right? Right?”
Mr. Arbogast nodded.
“You have a room full of witnesses. He was probably strung out on something.”
“She’s not breathing. I don’t know what to do,” said Laurie. She tried to wipe the tears from her face with the part of her arm that wasn’t blood-stained.
“I think that it’s too late for her,” said Mr. Arbogast. “Go wash your hands.”
“What’s going on? I’m just getting this stupid recording at the hospital that all the lines are busy. How can all the lines be busy? What’s going on?” Sam repeated. His face was white and cheese colored under his five o’clock shadow.
“Put on the news,” said Esteban. “Not this CNN shit, try the local stations.”
Mr. Arbogast changed the channel.
“I’ll try calling my old station,” said Mr. Arbogast. “They can send a squad car, let the M.E. know what happened.”
Even old Mr. Arbogast had a cell phone. He took it out and dialed his former employers.
“Dot, it’s me, Ewan,” they heard him say. “I can’t chat, I have an emergency at Strode’s Stand down on 22. A man attacked one of their employees, the owner shot the attacker. We have two bodies here, I need a squad car.”
He stopped and listened for a moment. Laurie went to the kitchen behind the counter and started to wash her hands. The blood went down the drain in rust colored swirls but she couldn’t stop thinking of its sticky feel.
“What do you mean there are no available cars? Where could they all be, this time of night? The hospital? Fine, fine, can you radio them, see if you can send someone over? Okay, thanks Dot.”
He hung up.
“There’s something going on at the hospital. The PD is there. They said they might be able to send someone here but don’t count on it.”
There was silence, except for the t.v. There was an old Law and Order episode on.
Laurie stepped from behind the counter and made her way back to Peggy’s body. Funny, how she no longer thought of her as Peggy but just her body. Just her meat shell.
“What are you doing, Laurie?”
“I want to close her eyes. They’re still open, dad. I left her eyes open.”
She knelt next to what was left of Peggy. Then she nearly fell over backwards.
“She made a noise!”
“Sometimes bodies do that,” said Mr. Arbogast. “It’s like they’re...settling.”
“No, she groaned. She’s still alive!”
Laurie brought her face closer to Peggy’s.
“That’s not a good idea. Not a good idea at all,” said the teenage boy with a dry laugh.
Peggy’s hand swiftly clutched Laurie’s arm and pulled Laurie closer to her. Peggy’s eyes were blank and her mouth worked furiously.
“Peggy...?” said Laurie as she tried to pull herself free from her suddenly strong grip.
Peggy let out a growl, and actual growl and tried to pull Laurie closer.
“Get her off of me!”
There was a sudden crash and an explosion of glass. Peggy slumped down. Mr. Arbogast had hit her on the head with a pitcher of water.
“She’s like that guy, that crackhead over there. I don’t know how,” said Mr. Arbogast.
“He bit her, duh. Haven’t you ever seen a Romero movie?” said the teenage boy.
“Shut up, Jim,” said the girl.
Laurie slumped down on the floor and then shrieked. She’d sat in a puddle of blood. She ran over to her father.
“What’s going on? What do we do?” she asked.
They all looked up at the t.v. expectantly. Mariska Hargetay was questioning a perp. Sudden movement on the floor caught their eyes. Peggy was struggling to get up again.
“How is she still getting up?” asked Laurie. “Why isn’t she dead?”
“Give me another pitcher, I’ll knock her out again,” said Mr. Arbogast.
Sam shook his head. “We can’t keep knocking her out. We need something more...permanent.”
He took his gun out and shot her in the head.
“Dad! That was Peggy!”
Sam looked at his daughter sadly. “Does that thing resemble the Peggy we knew in any way?”
“I’m going to change my pants,” said Laurie. “I have some sweats in my bag.”
Laurie went into the employee break-room, grabbed her knapsack, and went to the bathroom. The circles under her eyes were like bruises. She washed her face quickly and pulled her hair back. Laurie rummaged in her bag and pulled out her cell phone. She clicked the number for home. Her phone made a couple of long high-pitched beeps and then the call disconnected.
Sighing, she made her way back to the front of the diner.
“I think the first thing we should do is turn the sign outside off, shut the blinds and lock the door,” said Mr. Arbogast.
“That’s a good idea,” said Sam. “I’ll put down the grill too.”
“Wait, what ‘we?’” said Jim. “I’m not staying here. Selena, come on, let’s go.”
“Is that a good idea? What if there are more of those...things out there?” asked Laurie. “I tried to call home and let mom know what was going on but it wouldn’t work.”
“Everyone’s probably trying to call home,” said Mr. Arbogast.
“I don’t care!” said Jim. “Come on!” he said to Selena.
“We should wait,” she said. “See if the news comes on. 11/5/10 We don’t know what we’re facing out there.”
Sam went to the front window and started turning off the neon signs. Then he turned off the light in front of the door.
“I’m going to have to go outside to turn off the big sign. And to pull the grills down,” said Sam.
“I’ll go with you, dad,” said Laurie. “You shouldn’t go out there alone.”
Sam shook his head. “No, you stay here. Try to get through to your mom on the land lines. If anyone else has any calls to make you can use our phone too. Esteban, you come with me outside.”
“Wait,” said Jim. “Do you have any other weapons besides your gun? And how much ammo do you have?”
“I keep it loaded but I don’t have any spare ammo here. I’ve never had reason to use it before.”
“There are some big knives in the kitchen,” said Esteban. “Cleavers.”
“I still have my service revolver,” said Mr. Arbogast. “It’s in my car. Fully loaded. I’ll go get it with you guys when you go out.”
The three men lined up by the door. “I have my keys with me. Lock the door after me. But keep an eye on things in case we have to make a quick return.”
“Okay,” Jim waited by the door.
The door closed and Jim stood, keeping an eye out.
“Are there any other ways in?” asked Selena.
Laurie nodded. “The back door. It’s through the kitchen. I’ll check and see if it’s locked.”
Selena nodded and went to the phone.
“You know, I don’t even know my home phone number without my cell now?” she said. “Stupid.” She started to dial.
Laurie came back and dropped something on the counter with a clatter. Jim jumped.
“Sorry. Knives,” she said.
“I’m usually a pacifist.” Jim said. “I protested the wars. But I would really, really like a weapon right now.”
“Fuck,” said Selena, slamming the phone down. “I can’t get through. It just rings and rings but we have an answering machine. Why doesn’t that pick up?”
“I don’t know. Call my mom’s house. She’ll tell your mom where I am.”
“How will she do that if there are no phones?”
“My mom’s probably at your mom’s house. We’re neighbors,” he said to Laurie.
Laurie nodded. “We should do something for them.”
“For who?” said Jim, peering out the window.
“Them. THEM!” said Laurie, pointing to the two bodies. “We can’t just leave them like this!”
Jim turned from the window and looked at her.
“I’ll help when they get back. If I’m not leaving, that is. Don’t get me wrong, you guys have been really nice and all, but I don’t want to be at some shit diner when this weird stuff starts to happen. I want to be at home.”
“No answer at your house either,” said Selena. “And it won’t even let me get through the cell’s numbers, it just clicks and disconnects me halfway through.”
A sudden deep, rumbling noise made all of them jump.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” said Laurie. “It’s just the grills. They’re pulling the grills down.”
Indistinct shapes loomed outside the front door and the sound of keys rattled metallically in the door as Sam, Esteban, and Mr. Arbogast stepped back in.
“I got my gun,” said Mr. Arbogast. “It’s in working order. Unfortunately, I don’t have any extra ammo.”
“Were there more outside?” asked Jim, squinting through the gloom.
“We thought we saw some on the road, it may have just been some drunks though. We really don’t know what’s going on yet,” said Sam.
“Except that the phones aren’t working, a dead woman attacked someone after being attacked by another dead person, and that there’s some crisis at the hospital keeping the police tied up. Where’s that car they said they’d send?” asked Selena.
“I’ll try the department again,” said Mr. Arbogast.
“Use the land line,” said Lauri. “Our cells haven’t been working.”
Mr. Arbogast went behind the counter and dialed.
“Didn’t even let me finish the call,” he said, hanging up. “It just said that all circuits were busy. Anything happen while we were out?”
“No,” said Laurie. “No news, nothing. We should really cover them up or something.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Arbogast.
“No,” said Jim. “We’re leaving. Aren’t we, Selena?”
“No. Look, it’s night-time out and I don’t want to go out there if there are more of those things,” she said. “They said they think they saw more. Let’s just wait until it’s light outside. Then we can see what’s attacking us. Maybe we’ll have more news then.”
“A wise plan,” said Mr. Arbogast.
“Fine,” said Jim, but you could see that he was pissed. He slumped in one of the vinyl booths.
“Can I use some tablecloths, dad?” asked Laurie. “I want to wrap them up.”
Sam nodded. “You know where they are. We should probably move them too.”
“Where should we put them?”
“The basement. For now. We want them to be…okay when the medical examiner gets them.”
Laurie went into the back closet and pulled down two tablecloths. She returned to the dining area and put the tablecloths on the counter.
“I don’t know how to do this,” she said.
“I’ll help,” said Selena.
She spread out one cloth on a clean part of the floor.
“Wait!” said Esteban. He ran into the kitchen and came back with two pairs of yellow rubber gloves. “You don’t know what’s wrong with them, you might catch it.”
“Good idea. Thanks,” said Laurie gratefully, and slipped her pair of gloves on.
Her and Selena carefully laid Peggy on the clean cloth.
“There’s no graceful way to do this,” said Selena. They slowly rolled Peggy up in the cloth.
“Do you have any twine?” asked Selena. “A stapler, even, would be helpful.”
Laurie wordlessly retrieved the stapler from the desk with the cash register. Selena stapled the ends of the shroud shut.
“It’s not great but it will do. I’m really sorry,” she said to Laurie. “Did you know her long?”
“A couple of years. She worked here a couple of years. She had kids,” said Laurie. “They have a baby sitter tonight but what’s going to happen in the morning?”
“We’ll call,” said Sam. “We can drive there after we go home.”
The anonymous man that had attacked Peggy was more difficult. His head was in shards and Laurie grimaced as she scooped them up and put them on his remains. Her and Selena rolled him up too, and stapled his shroud shut.
“We can’t lift them, dad. They’re too heavy.”
Sam nodded and took one end of Peggy’s shroud and Mr. Arbogast took the other end as they carried her to the basement. Jim and Esteban took the other man. They stood in the glaring light of the bare bulbs downstairs.
“Should we say something?” asked Laurie. “It seems like we should say something.”
They all looked at each other earnestly. There was much foot shuffling. Finally, Mr. Arbogast stepped forward.
He coughed and then said, “’…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’ That’s all I know. I’ve been to too many funerals if I remember that much.”
“Thank you,” said Laurie.
They proceeded upstairs.
“There’s blood everywhere,” said Laurie.
“We should leave it,” said Sam. “The investigators might need it.”
“I suggest that you all try to get some sleep. Mr. Arbogast, Esteban and I can keep watch.”
“Sleep, yeah right,” muttered Jim.
“We don’t have pillows and blankets but we have more tablecloths. Lots of tablecloths,” said Laurie. “The booths aren’t bad to sleep in. I used to do that when I was little.”
Laurie pulled a big stack of tablecloths from the closet and piled them on one of the tables. Then she got her knapsack and brought it into the dining room. It was almost comfortable with her knapsack as a pillow and a tablecloth as a blanket. The t.v. was still on and her dad had turned off most of the lights. If only she could stop worrying about mom.
She took out her phone and saw that she still had a strong signal and full batteries. Laurie dialed but the phone cut her off before she even finished the number. She flipped the text screen of her phone up and tried to check her email. Her inbox popped up but there were no new messages. She started composing a message to her mom.
“Mom, I’m at work with dad. I don’t know what’s going on but some bad stuff is happening here. A crazy guy attacked Peggy and he killed her and dad had to shoot him. Then, I guess she wasn’t dead, I don’t know, but she attacked me. Dad shot her! But I think she would have killed me if he didn’t. There are some other people here with us. We’re locked in but we’re ok. I’m so scared, though. I’ve been trying to call all night but I can’t get through. I love you mom. Please be okay. Laurie.”
Laurie hit “send.” After what seemed like an eternity the email finally went out. She leaned up in her booth.
“Jim? Selena? Are you guys awake?”
“Yup,” said Jim.
“Do your phones have email? Because I just sent an email to my mom. That worked, it went through. If you want to use my phone you can,” she said.
“That’s a good idea,” said Jim. “Do you guys have wireless? I have my laptop in my bag.”
“Yes. I convinced dad to get wireless here.”
“Awesome,” he said, perking up for the first time. He walked to his bag and pulled out his laptop. His face was illuminated by the glow of the laptop as he eagerly typed.
Laurie laid back down. She closed her eyes and finally started to drift off.
A huge explosion woke her up.
“What was that?” she asked, bolting up.
Her dad was sitting in a chair pulled back a bit from the front door.
“I don’t know,” he said. There was an orange glow on the horizon to the west of them. “I think it may be one of the gas stations.”
At the same time, as if to highlight the explosion, a loud tone came from the television. The channel’s theme music started playing quite loudly.
“Good morning, everyone. This is an emergency broadcast by your channel four local news team. We’re sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled program.”
The anchorwoman’s attitude and tone couldn’t have been more different than the woman in the first news program that they had caught.
“We’re here to report incidents of shocking violence in hospitals in the tri-state area.”
Everyone was awake now.
“The first reports came in from Bellevue hospital in Manhattan. Local eyewitnesses say that a man was brought into the ER for a possible case of alcohol poisoning. The man allegedly attacked other people in the waiting room, even biting some of them.”
Their faces were bleached white in the illumination of the television.
“From there an infectious disease spread throughout the ward, causing fever, nausea, and aches and pains. The spread has been incredibly rapid and the Bellevue is currently under quarantine.
“Bellevue is not the only hospital reporting such incidents. NY Downtown Hospital, St. Luke’s Roosevelt, and Presbyterian-Columbia Med have all reported similar outbreaks.
“The incidents are not limited to the Manhattan area, outbreaks have also been reported in New Jersey at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, and AcuteCare Hospital in Millburn, NJ.”
“That’s where the P.D. went,” said Mr. Arbogast.
“Here’s Ross Champion reporting live from Bellevue.”
“Thanks, Tina,” said a very blonde, very tan man. He was standing in front of a large white building surrounded by police barricades and tape. Burly men in riot gear were in front of the door and there was a crowd of people pushing against the barricades.
“I stand in front of a scene of chaos at Bellevue Medical Center. According to reports, chaos broke out around ten p.m. tonight when an unnamed homeless man was admitted with the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Eyewitnesses say that he violently attacked people in the waiting room. Casualty reports vary from four people to as many as ten people. The names of the deceased are currently being withheld pending family notification.
“We were able to speak with one of the doctors in the ER earlier this evening.
“Dr. Mitchell,” said, Champion, “You were in the ER when the chaos broke out. Can you tell us what happened?”
The camera panned to a haggard looking doctor with a surgical cap on and a white coat covering scrubs.
“I didn’t witness the initial outbreak. The victims of the attacks in the waiting room were brought to me. I don’t know what caused the initial attack but the victims were suffering from what appeared to be extensive bite wounds. They later exhibited behavior similar to the initial attacker.”
“What kind of behavior was that?” asked Champion.
“Initial disorientation, turning to unprovoked violence.”
“How many people have died?”
“When I was there—“
A man in a suit suddenly appeared.
“This interview is over,” he said. “This doctor is not authorized to speak to the press.”
“The people have to know!” said Dr. Mitchell.
The video stopped and Champion returned to the screen.
“Meanwhile, relatives of those admitted in the hospital are desperate for information about their loved ones.”
The picture switched to a tearful Latina woman.
“My son was admitted this afternoon with appendicitis! We heard what was happening and came here right away. No one will tell us anything! He’s only eight-years-old, I don’t even know if he’s dead! We can’t get a straight answer from anyone!”
“I’ve just received word that the mayor has called an emergency press conference in front of City Hall, which will begin in twenty minutes. I repeat, the mayor of New York City will be addressing the press in twenty minutes.
“Here at Bellevue a scene of chaos reigns.”
An ambulance came up the street, driving slowly as the crowd parted for it. Two men pushed someone on a stretcher out of the back of the ambulance and up towards the door. The riot police parted to make way for them while the crowd surged around them.
“Sir,” asked Champion, “Can you tell us if this person was a victim of this unknown disease?”
“Let us through!” shouted the EMT. “This person will die if you don’t let us through.”
The shot returned to the studio.
“Thank you, Ross. The CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, has compiled a list of symptoms of this heretofore unknown disease. Initial symptoms include disorientation, fever, chills, muscle pain, and headache. These symptoms could easily be mistaken for the flu or a form of meningitis. Later symptoms turn into loss of muscle control, violent behavior, and eventual paralysis and coma. A spokesperson for the CDC says that the disease is far too unknown to speculate how it is spread but that it may be spread through bodily fluids including blood, saliva, and semen.
“My studio has just informed me that Joe Kelly of the New York Police Department has issued a statement for the city of New York.”
A video of the police commissioner standing in front of a police station came up.
“People of New York, due to the highly infectious nature of this disease, the following hospitals are under quarantine; Bellevue, New York Dowtown Hospital, St. Luke’s Roosevelt, and Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center. No new patients shall be admitted and no one will be permitted to leave. The New York National Guard will be providing food and medical supplies for the afflicted hospitals.
“If you have a loved one in one of these hospitals, I urge you not to go to any of the hospitals as you will not be allowed admission. You will just clog an already panicked system. Instead, call 311. We have a fully-staffed hotline if you require information about a patient at one of the listed hospitals. Do not call the hospitals, they need to keep their phone lines open. I repeat, you may find out information about loved ones admitted in any of the quarantined hospitals by calling 311.
“Furthermore, to stop the spread of infection, a curfew has been issued. No one who isn’t a member of the NYPD, New York Fire Department, or someone directly involved in our infectious disease safety unit, may be on the streets before the time of six a.m. and after the time of nine p.m. I repeat, no one may be on the street before six a.m. and after nine p.m. Those found to be in violation of curfew will be taken into custody.
“The National Guard will be working in our city to help contain the spread of disease. I ask that all New Yorkers help our servicemen and women in our time of need.
“I would like to take this time to remind New Yorkers not to go to the hospitals that are under quarantine. Your loved ones will receive the best care possible. But we need you to stay away from the hospitals, to prevent infection, to allow the doctors to do their job, and to prevent panic.”
“Too late,” said Jim.
“The CDC has created a list of symptoms of this unknown disease. If you think that you are infected, please contact your general care provider as soon as possible. Do not go to the emergency rooms, as this could spread the infection further. The National Guard will be setting up clinics to treat the ill throughout the city. We request that you only visit these clinics if you don’t have a general practitioner.”
The video shifted from the police commissioner back to the hospital. Ross Champion was at the foreground of the shot.
“Violence has broken out here at Bellevue Hospital early this morning.”
The camera work was jerky. Riot police were scuffling with the crowd, which seemed to be larger than it had been earlier. Some people were chanting and there were even hastily made signs. The crowd surged towards the police and the police pressed back with their clear shields. What sounded like gun shots sounded from within the hospital and there were shouts of “What was that?” The crowd redoubled their efforts against the police. One of the police fired a canister into the crowd and white smoke billowed out. The tear gas seemed to only ignite the crowd’s furor. Shots rang out into the crowd.
The camera panned to the door of the hospital amidst the screams and confusion.
“It looks like we have a patient trying to leave,” said Ross Champion to the camera as he hurried with other members of the press to the woman wearing a hospital gown standing in profile on top of the stairs.
She had long red hair that streamed down her back like a banner.
“Miss, what are conditions like in the hospital?” asked one of the reporters.
She didn’t respond. She took one step, then two down the stairs.
“Miss, were shots really fired in there?” asked the same reporter.
She turned fully towards the cameras. The right side of her face—well, there was no right side of her face. Her right eye hung limply out of its socket. The red mass of tissue that had been her face gleamed wetly in the camera’s light and the reporters took a collective step back.
“Someone needs to get this woman a doctor!” shouted the reporter.
He ran to her side, perhaps intending to guide her back to the hospital. He touched her arm and she clamped on to his throat. He was at least six inches taller than her but she knocked him over. They tumbled down the stairs locked together, his head making sickening thuds. The reporter lay still but the woman continued her assault on him, finally pulling out his throat. A great spurt of blood came from his neck. The man spasmed and then was still. The picture went black on the television.
“What the hell is happening?” said Laurie. Her hands were clamped to her face and tears were streaming from her eyes.
“Was that real?” she asked.
“That was real,” said Selena. “No effects wizard is that good, not even Tom Savini.”
“Is it just New York?” she asked.
“We all saw those things,” said Jim.
Sam stared out through the chink in the grill over the glass door. There was an orangey glow outside where the gas station burned.
“How many people die every night, Ewan?” asked Sam. “How many shoot each other or have heart attacks? How many just fall asleep and never wake up? How many people die in our town, every night, and then multiply that by all the towns around here? How many people die in places like Newark or Camden or Trenton? Even in a little town like Plainfield.”
“Calm down, Sam,” said Mr. Arbogast. “We don’t know what’s happening yet. This is still early.”
He went and stood next to Sam and looked out through the grill. There were black shapes silhouetted in the flickering light, walking slowly towards the flames.
“What time is it?” asked Esteban.
“4:52,” said Jim.
“Is that very late or very early?” he asked.
No one answered.