Delusion – A persistent false belief. In a rare type of psychosis named folie a deux, two people have the ability to “share” a delusion (often one chooses to share the symptoms or delusions of the first). folie à famille denotes a condition where an entire family shares the delusion. It is not clear at what point a belief considered to be delusional escapes from the folie à… diagnostic category and becomes exempt because of the number of people holding it
I. Folie à Deux
“I really don’t want to go either, Thomas, but…”
Thomas’ knuckles turned white around the steering wheel of the Lexus. His nails bit bloody marks into his palms as he turned the car towards his version of hell on earth. “Then why are we going?” He already knew the answer.
“We can’t just ignore – ”
“Yes, we can. I thought we proved that.”
“But Thomas, it’s a – ” his silence told her to stop. Her mouth hinged on the word and clamped it off.
“I was right…there is no room in hell for that child…”
“She was a baby! You sound as crazy as my sister about this.”
“Get out of the car, Jill.”
Jill shook her head and heaved her frame from the car, still acclimating herself to long-gained weight. Before the two of them made it to the front step, the door was opening.
The last nine years had been eerily kind to her single sister. Her skin was radiant, almost that of a fifty year old, even though Eve was pushing eighty. “Hello, Jill, Thomas, please, come in.” Jill relaxed at the even, musical tones of Eve’s voice and barely brushed past her sister; Thomas mumbled a greeting and fell silent as he crossed the threshold.
Thomas wished the house was a mess of animals and filth, but was instead greeted with obsessive cleanliness. Jill navigated through the once-familiar house and settled herself on the couch. Thomas slumped next to her. Eve stood and considered them for a moment before she sat in a chair facing them. The light from the bay window that overlooked an empty, groomed field turned her blue eyes to ice.
“Thank you both for coming,” Eve started, looking through Thomas. She could see the thin shadow the girl’s body cast behind the French doors to the dining room. “She’s been looking forward to meeting you.”
Thomas couldn’t keep the scowl from his face. His eyes scanned the walls, searching for something, anything that would validate his discomfort. The memories pushed to somewhere in the front of his head and settled behind his left eyelid, which twitched. He knew Eve saw it.
“Laurie,” Eve called, “Come meet your grandparents.”
Thomas and Jill collectively thought their individual hearts were going to explode. They both thought they would have more time to prepare, more time to ask questions, before they were faced with her.
It wouldn’t have mattered; nothing could have prepared them for the girl who joined Eve at her side. Her hair was such a light blonde it was nearly colorless, her eyes seemed to be white with burning shadows of green and blue. Her skin was colorless parchment, neither healthy nor sick. Her entire being stood in stark contrast to the long, black dress she was wearing. To Thomas, she was breathtakingly close to nothing. To Jill, the tiny girl was more substantial than she had imagined.
She stood for such a long time examining them in claustrophobic silence that they wondered if she could speak at all. They could sense the truth, but not its particulars — they were the first people, besides Eve, that the girl had ever remembered seeing.
Her voice broke the confining silence — low emotionless tones that blended into the cream colors around them. “It’s nice to meet you. Can I get you something to drink?” Laurie averted her unblinking gaze, staring through the floor that lay between her and her grandparents.
Thomas’ jaw trembled. Laurie’s eyes met his, trapping him, her cold glare tangled with the impotent rage in his. He thought of how lucky she was to feel nothing and she wished she could feel anger.
“You should answer the girl, Thomas,” Eve’s voice was mocking and flat.
When she relayed what she thought of their visit to Eve later, Laurie told her great-aunt that she wanted to ask her grandfather if a cat had his tongue, but was too afraid of pushing him over an edge. Eve would laugh and pat the girl on her sleeve, but knew that if she had said anything, Thomas probably would have died of a heart attack on the spot.
“Why don’t you get them some iced tea, my dear,” Eve said. Laurie nodded and turned, everyone’s eyes pierced her back as she walked out.
“She’s extraordinary,” Eve commented, keeping her voice as low and as comforting as she could. “You have no idea. I could swear she never sleeps.” Eve shook her head. “She could do so much, but she needs to be safe…” Eve gestured the thought away before continuing. “She’s exceptionally bright, she reads voraciously.”
“That’s not why we’re here, Eve. You really scared me on the phone the other day, talking as you were.” Jill laughed the giggle that told everyone she was frightened. “Genetic anomalies, backwoods prophecies, other crazy talk….If other people hear you talking like that, they’ll –”
“They’ll what? Believe it? They’re already curious, with our grandmother … with the way that Matthew and Deborah died –” Eve stopped when Thomas flew to his feet.
“Don’t mention that little crackwhore! Especially now.”
“Your son loved Deborah, and though young, she loved him back, with all her heart. If you had ever bothered to accept them, you would have seen that.”
“It was foolishness!” Thomas exploded. “A man his age with a little high school tramp like that…That freak of a child is what that addict deserved! The rest of us shouldn’t be saddled with the curse of their mistake!” He stood, shocked, in the echo of the blast.
“I hardly believe a day in nine years is saddled with anything, Thomas.” Eve examined him. “Did you pray for it? Did you pray for your God to seek vengeance on them for what they did?” She examined his face and got her answer. “I knew it. You meddled with something you have no understanding of — over what, hopes and dreams you lost out on? What about their hopes and dreams?” Eve shook her head. “If you believe what Cochran had to say at all, which you seem to believe convenient parts of it, then you know that Matthew died trying to help his wife.” She turned away from him. “You can’t blame Laurie forever. She is, as you have made her. Her very own person. Unlike any other.”
Laurie took that moment to walk in and serve the iced tea. She had heard the whole conversation, save Thomas’ bit about curses (she was dropping ice in the glasses at that point). She studied her grandfather as she moved to set his glass down on the coffee table in front of him. He moved forward to take it; his hand brushed her cool one and stuck there for a long moment.
Laurie looked at him, knowing how he felt about her father, that all the pain inside him was infantile grief and denial that boiled outwards, towards her, and she absorbed it, took the part of his life that was wrapped up in shielding himself from anguish, pulled it into herself. His hand trembled, grasping for hers, the glass tumbling to the floor and doused his leg with a coolness that didn’t match the heated, sharp cold from her. He watched her, his mouth slacked open, his eyes watching for breaths that didn’t happen. The eyes that gazed back at him now were his own – deep swells of brown pulsed into her irises as all that grief, anger, and loneliness flowed away from him. Now, he could hear her, could hear Eve tell her of great responsibility and great loneliness, could feel the emptiness of an existence without history.
Jill yanked Laurie away from Thomas by the sleeve with a yelp. “What have you done?” she screamed. Laurie looked at her, unblinking.
“It’s okay,” Thomas said, his voice soft. “Jill, she’s – ”
Jill’s lip curled as she shook her head. “No, no! That little freak, she’s nothing! Come on, Thomas, you were right. This is nonsense!”
“No, Jill,” Thomas began as his wife brushed past him and her sister to the door.
“Thomas. Come on.” When he didn’t immediately follow, she stomped loudly out the door.
Eve smiled knowingly at him. “You look relieved.”
Thomas was watching Laurie as he began, “I have one question. Jill never told me,” He paused and his eyes flicked to Eve. “What did your grandmother believe?”
Laurie’s flat voice answered him, “That another great healer would be born from a curse, someone that would divide the living yet blur the line between the living and the dead. A scourge, a minister…” Eve’s eyes grew restless in their sockets.
Thomas shook his head, “She was mad,” he muttered, believing every word the girl said. He jogged to catch up to his wife.
Laurie turned to Eve, ready to talk about the experience, but Eve waved her away. “Go in front of the mirror and practice blinking, I have to rest.”
Less than a minute later, Laurie was in her room, staring at herself. She waited until she could think about something other than blinking. It wouldn’t be practice if she was so focused on it. Somehow, she had to remember to blink when she wasn’t thinking of it. She picked up a clump of her hair and examined it. Unnatural, she acknowledged.
She studied her face in the mirror, the forgotten hair slipping through her slackened fingers. No wonder, she thought. She could understand her grandfather now. Somewhere through the years with Eve, she had managed to take that feeling and hide it…
She wondered what more she could have done. Was she really all that different? Or was it that she couldn’t hide her flaws? She focused her eyes to her own reflected forehead.
Damn, she forgot about breathing.
She wondered when Eve would call to her again. Laurie once cherished holding her hand, seeing her life dance in front of her. She once revered Eve’s pain, relished it. Now she thought of those moments as nothing more than one more tick on a long list of freakishness.
She frowned, recognizing everything she saw in her grandfather, everything from those moments paraded back in front of her in a flash. She thought of Eve hollowing, Eve who did nothing more than be for “just a few moments,” her hands reaching…
Those came easily. Laurie made the mental note that it looked bad to do both at once. She thought of her grandmother, how her grandfather ached. She flinched from the thought.
She wondered how long it would take her to empty her grandfather of those hated, elongated minutes that he kept so carefully locked from her. She wondered when he would call for her. It was milk souring, inevitable – she knew it. She could see it in Eve. She looked at her hands, marveling that her skin showed no signs of their aging.
She wondered how long it would take before she pulled that last bit of her aunt to herself, when she enveloped all that raving, all the life. How long until she pulled that last, defining memory…and how could that ever be, when Eve had so many memories, and Laurie had so few?
‘So close to nothing.’ She remembered feeling that part of him, it was the first thing that had washed over her when they touched. Why had he touched her? She almost could have pulled it off, if it hadn’t been for that one, fatal touch.
She decided she should have a somewhat random pattern, just in case it wasn’t always two blinks to one breathing. She had noticed her aunt, grandfather, and grandmother all blinked and breathed in different rhythms.
As always, their feelings. She didn’t understand why they would want to throw them away, why that when there were so many other things that she could do…
II. Folie à Famille
Jill wished that she didn’t have to answer the door, but knew that Thomas wouldn’t stop raving about it until he saw her, so she answered the doorbell after the first ring.
Laurie was still small, but nine years contributed to her now filled-out, feminine frame. She dyed her hair black, and her eyes were a pleasing cerulean color that blended well with the pale tones of her skin. “Grandmother,” she said with a nod. “I’m sorry to hear about him.” She remembered to make herself breathe, and then mentally slapped herself for the delusion.
Jill nodded. “The doctors say any day now,” she said, throwing herself as close to the wall as she could to let Laurie pass without having to brush against her. “He’s been sick for a while.”
“That’s why you couldn’t make it to Aunt Eve’s funeral.” Laurie’s voice was without accusation, but Jill was still shocked at the words.
“Yes, of course,” Jill said. She shivered under Laurie’s unblinking gaze. Laurie accepted the lie. “How long will you be staying?”
“I have a flight out tonight.” Laurie saw no reason to act nice. Jill stood silent and uncomfortable under her gaze. “Don’t trouble yourself, I can find him.” Laurie took her coat off and handed it to her grandmother, careful not to touch her, just the fabric. “This shouldn’t take long,” she said, skipping the stairs two at a time, hoping to leave the storm of thoughts in her wake.
She could sense him the way she could sense them when she let herself, and she found his deathbed easily. She wrote it off as an easy feat because of the heavy smell of impending death as she closed the door behind herself. “Hello, grandfather.” She kept her back against the sturdy door.
“Laurie,” his weak voice moaned her name, the sound caught up in the pulse of the ceiling fan. “Laurie, take my hand, take…”
She shook her head. “Don’t you remember? It’s mad…” her voice trailed.
“Then how do you know?”
“Know what? That my grandmother called me to you after nine years, that…”
“No, that’s not why you’re here. You wouldn’t come for her.”
“Why should I come for you?”
“Because I believe her, I believe your…” his voice disintegrated into a rattling sigh.
Breathe. She wondered when her secret madness would stop, when she could stop acting. She hoped it was when she walked out the door. He struggled until he was sitting up, and then pitched himself forward, his limbs shaking under the strain. She wondered when he had moved last.
“Please, Laurie…” his voice was a crackled moan that split the foul air. He dragged himself towards the end of the bed, his reaching hand only inches from hers. She was trapped between him and the door.
“Please, don’t do this to me. just leave me alone…”
Her hand was caged in his fingertips in the next moment. His cry of relief filled the air around them, and her eyes rolled back in their sockets, the blue-tinted contacts stuck in place. The pain, the promise — everything he had — poured towards her and she backed away, her hand dropped away from him. She gathered Eve’s strength, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Always meddling with what you don’t know,” he cast a short, recognizing glance at her.
“It’s not madness…my desk, look on my desk…” Her face flinched.
“No, grandfather.” Laurie’s voice was now solid. “Enough.”
“Eve was right…” He pulled himself up onto all fours before throwing himself back into a sitting position. He reached his hand towards her.
She wanted to teach the lesson he needed so badly to learn. She watched his hand tremble, recognized the pain warping and disintegrating his stance. She grasped his hand in hers, its warmth flooding her arm. His eyes rolled back in their sockets, years passed between them in a moment. His eyes opened and locked with hers, his fingers gripping her as he began to see slim flashes of her life intermingle with his.
Her home education, the parade of people lead by her great aunt pleading for her touch, the night she ran away all blended in flashes with his own. She saw her dead father through his eyes, the son destroyed by his own fatal choice, the mixing of his blood with Deborah’s. She saw herself – silent, tiny, covered in their blood, those creepy, often colorless eyes. It was his last glance at her before seeing her nine years before. Even now, as the life that hurt him so badly flowed from him, she knew he hated her.
He thought her hand grew warmer around his, still the cold warmth of her pierced his skin to the point of pain. She tightened her grip and helped him to sit back. They lived the first onset of cancer, the chemotherapy, the radiation, she felt him began to relax. She squeezed her eyes shut, pulling it all away, feeling it rot her away. Her chest tightened and she gasped, a strangled sound coming from the back of her throat in the wake of the unplanned sweep of air. “Forgive…” he sighed, a question and answer. Laurie nodded, shaking as she released him, the final, rattling pain ripped through her, and with blurred vision she watched the change as fell back onto the pillow.
She closed his eyelids, watching for his chest to move, not bothering to mimic the motion in her own in that moment of tentative loneliness. She thought of her father’s gasping, wet breaths and she jerked backwards, as if motion would interrupt the flood of shared and new memories.
“Please don’t come back,” she whispered. She turned to his desk and found a large three ring binder on it. She flipped it open a few pages, skimming articles about feral attacks that were sweeping through the less populous areas of the country. “Madness,” she muttered as she closed the binder and tucked it under her arm.
III. Folie à Monde
…Of course, Laurie didn’t like the fact she was insane, but she did her best to adjust her life around it. At first, when she began to realize it was all just a delusion, it was difficult to stop some of the thoughts from coming. For instance, she still seemed to have episodes of selective memory (she still was unable to ever recall having slept – she would close her eyes and allow her mind to wander through a dark, waking dream, but she didn’t sleep. And she couldn’t remember having a period – but always remembered having an unopened box of tampons in the bathroom). Because of her odd, sheltered formative years with her great aunt, she had never been to a doctor when she was younger. She didn’t need to go to one now (and indeed, she couldn’t) to find that it was a psychiatric disorder that now drover her away from them – a rare breed of instilled paranoiac delusion – folie a deux.
Her grandfather’s insane deathbed ramblings only served to amplify that mad, delusory part of her thoughts. In the years following his death, she changed her name, moved erratically from town to city to suburb to country and back to city again. She moved northward, away from the oppressive heat of unconscionable memory and towards, she hoped, some sort of settled existence.
But still, even in Pittsburgh, her cruel subconscious would sneak up on her. Behind her eyelids, in the vein-lit world of visualization, she would see them. Sometimes she would sense them first, sometimes she would catch them from the corner of her closed eyes, and sometimes she would hear her name whispered beneath the moan of the wind. She wished that with the deaths of her family that her dreams of the waking, walking dead would fade – that the delusion would suddenly sever itself from her thoughts forever with the last of its dreamers. Still they were there, fumbling towards her, shuffling, gaining volume and ferocity as time wore on. Even with the distance separating them, they were as real as the people she had touched, perhaps even more so. They were not bound by the unwritten – from them was complete stability – memories that were unclouded by desire or nostalgia, everything objective with the knowledge of the end. They were unchanging but complete. Sometimes, behind the sealed windows to her soul, she would wish she could join their mindless, restless ranks – to be lead without spirit instead of in spite of it. She would sit up and shake the delirium and move as quietly as possible through the rest of her day, intrigued by the textured depths of her own emptiness.
Inevitably, someone would wander close. They would ruin it – all it would take was one stray brush of their hand on hers – one pale, thin strand of knowledge coursing through her, one more suspended moment of disbelief, one more mental slap, and eventually one more move. Her only chosen constant companion was the isolation born from too much that was impossible to share. How could she share it when she couldn’t understand it? How could she understand it without believing it? And still, there she was – those stubborn steel strands of thought reaching back towards the crowd, their whistling, rasping breaths rattling her name somewhere in the ether of imagined sounds and real silences. No, she could never show that most fundamental part of herself, her madness, especially not the part of her that wanted to bask in the knowledge that it was her own cursed, corrupted blood that began it all. No room…
Laurie sat up and shook the offending train of thoughts from her mind. She sighed and turned on the evening news. “The epidemic of mass murders has been spreading northward from Georgia…” Georgia…her grandmother…she blinked twice, a flood of thoughts and her grandfather’s memories (Jill with Matthew, laughing…thin…STOP) beat against the floodgates of her logical mind. “So far there has been no apparent pattern or reason…” she thought of her name caught on the breath of a darkened sky, “though the assassins all appear to be in a trance, possibly under the effects of a biochemical attack. The mayors of Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh have requested the assistance of the National Guard, and the President is meeting with Homeland Security and Pentagon officials now. All airspace has been shut down pending investigation of the causes of this deadly epidemic.” Laurie heard several shots sever the air, followed by a wilting scream, “the safest course of action is to stay where you are…”
“Fuck that,” Laurie breathed.
“Please do not go outside until we are able to deliver firm information on the identification of the infected and the properties of the pathogen responsible…” Laurie wondered how many people were eve grasping what wass going on, much less attempting to perform a clear-headed assessment of their safety. She stuffed first aid supplies and dry foods into a hiking pack. She changed while the newscasters, who were layering themselves with a cheap veneer of calm, interviewed local physicians. She tied the field pants tight around her legs and stuffed shotgun shells and bandages into the pockets until they were nearly too heavy for her legs to handle. She pulled her grandfather’s shotgun from the bottom of her closet as the Emergency Broadcasting Signal blasted from seemingly every corner of her apartment. By the time the newscasters were repeating their agoraphobic request, she was turning the key in her Jeep’s ignition.
She slammed into traffic and maneuvered towards the back roads as quickly as possible, trying to circumvent the highway until absolutely necessary, and silently cursing the city of bridges. She would glimpse in all of the other drivers the same determined, frightened look. It wasn’t long before she found herself at a dead stand still just inside of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. She frowned and tried the radio. She could still make out the voice of the newscaster over the crackle of static. “Estimated deaths by dawn number in the thousands, especially as major city arteries become clogged with those attempting to evacuate, despite requests to the contrary…” She closed her eyes and loosened her grip on the steering wheel, still unable to fathom what the disembodied voice was telling her and how it all fit with…
She kept her eyes closed. She didn’t need to look to know that traffic was at a stand still. She didn’t need to look that they were coming…
Three loud knocks on her window jarred her back into the driver’s seat. She faced a tall, man with rich blue eyes. “Come with me!” he shouted through the glass. “Follow me!” he yelled. She reached into the back of her Jeep and pulled out the pack and the gun, struggling for a moment to get around her open door. She heard a crack and stopped, turning to glimpse them for the first time.
She could see them streaming and stumbling through the tunnel’s opening. They blocked the setting sun, casting shadows through the short tunnel. Laurie watched as they overtook some of the escaping drivers and passengers…
“Come on!” the man shouted at her, pulling at her free hand. Laurie didn’t look back again until she thought she recognized her name rumbling towards her under the screams. The man was dodging and shouting for people to follow. Car doors began to spill motorists into screaming, stumbling puddles. “Jesus,” the man breathed as they wove their way free. Some still sat in their cars, their faces an eerie echo of the approaching blank-faced crowd. They didn’t stop running after they cleared the tunnel – even when the screams faded into dark silence they didn’t stop running. He held on to her hand – when the jarring motion of their escape would inevitably shake her hand from his, she would find his fingers encasing hers again. She felt him grow tired and pulled it from him, spurning him forward and away from any impossibly inevitable confrontation with her delusional destiny.
She didn’t recognize where they were, though she could sense they were on the northern edge of the city, when he finally stopped. Laurie pulled the last strings of fatigue from his muscles again before she released his hand and looked down the road. He stopped to catch his breath.
“Jesus, you’re in good shape,” he panted.
“What’s your plan?”
She waited while he caught his breath and mopped sweat from his forehead. “See that building down there?” Laurie looked in the direction he indicated. “That’s an office building for the hospital. The security office is on the top floor – it’s only got one entrance with a good, strong door on it. We’ve got some snacks, a radio, a couple of hand guns, a couple of vehicles, and a closed-circuit security system.” She looked at him for a long moment. “I’m director of security there,” he supplied.
“We’d be safer out of the city.”
“Can you think of another place with any kind of communication to a heliport? I honestly don’t think we’ll be driving out of this, not out of this city.
“I’m Ed, by the way,” he said, holding his hand out.
“Laurie,” she surprised herself by answering with the name she hadn’t used in nine years.
“Wish this was under better circumstances.”
Laurie nodded and followed him towards the office building, the suburbs stretched silent and dark around them.
Ed was about to swipe his card to get into the office building when he paused and pulled a revolver from his holster. “If that shotgun is too much, you could balance your gun and your…” he trailed when he saw the sawed-off barrel trained steady on the door in front of him. “Okay then. Never mind.” He stopped. “You look kind of pale, you ok?” She nodded for him to continue. “We’re going to need to take the stairs, so we can secure all the floors,” he apologized.
Laurie’s mind flashed dimly into his history (his mother, pale, bleeding, in the shadow of his – STOP!). She inched away from him and the thought. He swiped his card and they stepped into the darkness.
Ed knew the three story building well – it had, predictably, emptied at five, unaware that it would never again see those occupants – but securing the building with the scant supplies they had was a task that took much longer than he had originally expected. By the time they closed the doors to the security office, it was inching closer to two in the morning. Ed turned on all of the lights, trying to feel safe. He flicked on the security monitors. “If anyone or anything tries to get in here, we’ll know about it.”
Laurie wondered if he should be more worried about what was already there with him. Every time she blinked she was subjected to another torrent of thought. “I don’t know how long we should stay here,” she whispered. They were so close. He had his back to her while he adjusted monitors and turned on the radio. She stopped blinking, deciding instead to avoid his gaze altogether.
A scream pierced the silence around them as Ed tuned in various monitors. She looked down, hearing the underlying drone of dead breaths. “Christ,” Ed breathed. She studied the tile floor while he broadcast, “If anyone can hear me, the office building is secured, I repeat the office building is secured…” He repeated directions, called for an answer, the only response quiet moans and clamorous crashes. She heard him turn the volume down. “What the fuck is going on…”
A part of Laurie had been spent in preparation for this all of her life, and that part knew exactly what was going on. She heard her name called and tried to ignore it.
“Laurie!” Ed turned around; concerned that somehow she had been infected…She nodded and joined him at the monitors. “Look at them all,” he pointed to the dim shadows in the outer reaches of the parking lot. “Jesus, Laurie, just look at them…”
She stopped remembering to breathe. As her eyes moved from monitor to monitor, she could feel the contact lens catch in the corner of her eye. She tried to resist blinking but couldn’t, and for a split second her vision was bathed blood red before returning to the black and white security screen.
“I don’t think they can get in here,” Ed said, watching the advancing shadows. “It’s just a matter of keeping an eye out,” he continued, indicating the wall of monitors. “I figured on trying to get some of my guys on the radio or phone or something while you got some shut eye. You look like you could use a bit of sleep.”
“I’m not tired yet, but thanks,” she said. The last thing she wanted to do was have her eyes closed… She was going crazier, she decided, right along with the rest of the world.
“That’s understandable. It’s been a crazy night. Want soda, bottled water, anything like that?” She shook her head. “What do you think they are?”
Laurie shook her head, grateful that she didn’t have to face him. “I don’t know.”
“I think I do, even though it sounds crazy to say it, I think it’s zombies.” She kept her back to him. “See? It sounds crazy, but look at them.” She turned around and watched the dim, approaching shadows on more than a half a dozen of the monitors. “I don’t know what else to believe.”
Laurie felt the urge to blurt it out all out, to add her own delusion to the mounting madness, but what was one more mad voice in the world. She stopped herself.
Blink. She saw him confronting his father, knew his mother was behind him, somewhere in the shadows…
“It’s as reasonable as anything else I’ve heard,” Laurie admitted.
“Yeah, I guess it really it. I guess it just doesn’t…feel all that reasonable. I-I should be trying to find out if there is anyone in earshot.”
“There’s a cot in the closet over there.”
“I still don’t think it’s a good idea that we stay here very long. We should take what we need and go.”
“I just want to check on a few people, just give me until dawn…”
Laurie nodded and turned away from him before he noticed she hadn’t blinked for a while. She didn’t bother to mentally kick herself for it. “I understand, I just think it won’t take long until we’re completely surrounded.”
“I don’t think they can hear or smell us up here, and they sure as hell can’t see us up here. I’m sure they’ll clear out by dawn, there’s nothing for them here as far as they’re concerned.” He pointed at one of the monitors. “Besides, that’s the security department’s Jeep, right there next to the entrance. We’ve got enough firepower t o clear that distance, and right there,” he pointed to a key rack on the wall “are the keys to that baby.”
Laurie nodded. She turned back to the cot and lay down facing him, closing her eyes to feign sleep.
She lost herself in the mixture of images and sound. His voice droned through repeated efforts to get someone to answer his calls. Most of his attempts were met with silent static. She heard him talk to the room around him, “I hope you can hear me…”
As time wore on his voice, she could hear the underlying tones of desperation overlay nearly every word that cracked out of his mouth. She thought of what she had learned about epidemiology –healthcare workers were always at ground zero. She could hear the intimations of chaos as she saw it unfold projected on the inky back of her eyelids. She forced them to stay closed, absorbing the strange synch between imagined images and real sounds.
She thought of Eve, of all her stories of Armageddon, the tales of family curses. The webs of thought intermingled with Ed’s voice. She thought of the newscasters, of their ignorance of their facts, and wondered if they knew just as much as she did, what they would be saying…
She heard Ed’s voice crack, followed by a fit of coughing. She pulled it away from him, knowing now it was different – she didn’t have to touch him any more. Something was inside of her was becoming inevitable, terrible choice, and she flinched away from the feeling of her own skin. She heard him turn to check on her. She kept herself as still as possible under the warmth of his gaze. She heard him step towards her and pause before she remembered to breathe. He retreated an turned on the television to KDKA.
The first television station…she thought, wondering if it would also be the last. “The one commonality in all the attacks is that the victims appear to be partially devoured by their attackers. Reports are now mounting from the states on the southern eastern seaboard, now stretching to all major metropolitan areas north of Miami to south of New York…” Laurie thought of the tunnel, of those in the hospital. She heard Ed shift in his seat, a sharp exhale coming from him.
“Ed!” A woman’s voice overtook the drone of the newscasts. “Ed, there’s a bunch trapped over there, but some of us got out, we’re going to try to get to you. Over?” The radio cut off her inane giggle. Laurie could see them sneaking past some of their comrades towards a safer hiding place. She saw them watch the massacre of two nurses who were trying to help patients from their rooms.
“Nora, is that you?” Laurie heard the pitch of Ed’s voice slide upward.
“Yeah, and we’re going to head for you. Shouldn’t take us too much longer. How can we get in?”
“The only way in is the front entrance.”
“Gotcha, we’ll radio when we’re closer. There’s seven of us.” Laurie opened her eyes.
“See you soon, Nora, good to know you’re ok,” Ed answered. He stood and took two steps towards Laurie. “Someone heard…”
Laurie nodded, her eyes slow to adjust to the light beneath the contacts.
“Can you see them yet?”
“How long?” Laurie fixed her gaze on the bank of monitors behind them.
“I don’t know,” Ed answered, following her eyes. “Holy shit…” he started. Dozens of them littered all of the screens. Ed fumbled for the radio. “Nora, if you can hear me…You’re going to have company…”
Laurie and Ed waited long, tense moments for a reply.
“They might have already found that out,” Laurie said.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
They watched the screens, scanning for anything in motion and alive. The sky began to break into a light shade of gray that hailed dawn.
“How long have they been gathering like that?”
She saw a vehicle dart in and out of one of the view of one of the cameras. She stepped beside Ed, her eyes moving across the screen, sweeping across arcs of black and white detail. “There,” she pointed. The sedan plowed past the camera, revealing two doors that had been torn from their hinges on the passenger side. Ed winced at the sight. They tracked the car as it wove through crowds of the zombies, heading for the front door of the facility. “They’re gonna,” Ed stopped on a sharp inhale as they barreled into the back of the Jeep, slamming it forward through the plate glass encasing of the first floor. Laurie and Ed watched as four people climbed out of the sedan, sprinting for the camera that used to be perched over the window. While Ed watched them approach the barricaded staircase, Laurie’s eyes stayed locked on the wreckage of the sedan, as she watched someone try to struggle free from the wreckage. She watched, unblinking, as the zombies made their stumbling, steady approach. Ed was grabbing a flashlight, crowbar, and screwdrivers, his eyes scanning the room for other supplies. Laurie leaned into the screen as the zombies overtook the car. “No,” she said softly, her eyes dry under the contact lenses.
“The staircase is totally blocked,” Ed announced into the radio as he watched them scramble frantically for the stairs. “You’re going to have to use the elevators and we’ll pull you up,” he said, moving towards the rope he spotted.
“I thought there was only one way in,” Laurie said as she watched a mass of writhing dead fall through the shattered lobby.
“There is only one way in, the elevator’s not running, our power failed over to the backup generator while you were sleeping. Don’t give me that look, I was going to tell you when you woke up. It’s going to be fine, we just have to…” he flinched at the sound of shouting emanating from his radio. Laurie watched as the group hurried into the elevator, the doors snapping shut. The elevator’s camera revealed two huddled, shaking figures. Laurie watched on the other camera as the group she watched fall through the window clawed at a man, pulling him to the ground. He disappeared beneath the writhing mass that had overtaken him. In the corner of her eye she watched as another group tore into someone who had fallen as they rounded the corner towards the elevator. Laurie didn’t know which was worse, the dark insanity behind her eyes or the abandonment and cruelty she saw before them.
“We’re coming,” Ed barked into the radio. He motioned Laurie towards the door with his head. She moved over to the shotgun and picked it up, her eyes never moving from the monitor.
“How long is that door going to hold up?” she asked, keeping her eyes away from the camera situated in the lobby…or the one outside…
“We’ve gotta help them, fast,” he said, propping the door open with a chair. He turned down the hallway and ran, yelling “We’re coming,” and sliding onto his knees in front of the elevator, prying it open. By the time she reached him, he had it propped open with a screwdriver. He wrapped the rope around the cords and let it drop into the elevator shaft before he started to wind it around his arms and pull it over his waist. “I’ve broken my ankle three times,” he said. “I can’t jump down.” He indicated the rope. “I’ll make sure you get back up.” He planted his legs. “Okay?”
She looked down to the top of the elevator, where the rope barely reached. “I’m going to have to help them climb up.”
He nodded and planted himself as she grabbed the rope. She put the shotgun at his feet and began to lower herself onto the elevator. She heard the echoes of the zombies slamming against the elevator door mixing with the sounds of the trio in the elevator. She wondered how long it would be until one of the stumbling, jerking hoard would press against the call button.
“How do I get it open?”
“Kick one of the panels down!” Nora screamed up at her. Laurie strained to hear Ed over the shouts and thumps beneath her. She gave up and kicked a panel free, a wall of noise hitting her ask she knocked the lights to the floor of the elevator.
She was looking in on a woman and a man. She could barely see the man, he was slumped into the corner. Nora filled her vision. “Get us out of here!” she squealed. Laurie steadied herself and reached her hand down to help her up, and Nora pulled so hard on her hand Laurie’s knees buckled and she lurched forward, slamming down against the frame that once held the lights. She yelped as Nora grabbed the ledge and pulled herself up, another panel crashing to the floor below as she started to climb the rope. Laurie reached down to help the man.
“I can’t reach…I’m hurt. He pulled himself forward so she could see the wound that spread across the calf of his leg — shredded muscle twitched under a thick coating of viscous blackened blood. Laurie jumped into the elevator and tried to help him, Nora’s frantic movements shifted the rope into grotesque arabesques just out of his reach. She felt him catch the edge of the ledge when she heard the doors opening behind her. The rope’s movements became more erratic and she heard Nora scream “Leave them behind, Eddie!” as she saw the crowds’ shadow grow on the wall behind the man’s legs. She was caught on the wave of the zombies, the demarcation between the living and the dead. Dr. Blair kicked his bloodied leg at her, dragging long traces of blood and memory across her arm. His little girl. He kicked his other leg and tore the contact lens from her left eye. She felt the rage in him surge through her arm. She just wouldn’t let go, she felt him think about the kick that he hoped would send her flying into that mass of filth and she wrapped her arms around his legs tighter, the moaning crowd reached for her and lunged for him, cementing her grasp around him.
She felt pressure and pain build in the man’s spine as he tried to hoist himself up and the crowd pulled him down. She was pinned to him as they pulled him away from hope. She felt his muscles begin to snap as his ribs caught on the ledge. They yanked him suddenly and violently downward – he who treated his patients with a mere sliver of respect in between banging Nora in the broom closet, he who would still love her to be dead just so he could continue to float, directionless, through life. She didn’t pull it from him, she let it stay as his body gave way, his flesh tore open, his warm blood flowed down the side of her face.
The crowd around her move towards the still-twitching meat. She gasped, her hand flew to her chest. She felt as if she was being kicked. The collar of her shirt was twisted and soaked with Dr. Blair’s blood. She coughed and gasped, feeling something surge inside of her. She looked down to her hand splayed across her chest, and watched a thick dark line stain her skin, surging in a curving, arched line from under her hand. The next pain sent her reeling and grasping at her neck, where she felt so much gather with building, horrible pressure. She gasped as the inky-black skin twisted and crawled long spiral strands through her arms. She was panting when it hit her next, spiking long vines of jet black skin around her fingers. The throb of pain flashed through her head as the she felt cold and soothing limbs surrounding her more and more tightly. She felt the corrupted, cursed blood propelled through her veins with the last, elongated throb. She hadn’t realized she was panting until she stopped breathing again. The corpse of Blair stopped its motion and she felt one more chest-shattering thump that sent veins of fire through her forehead.
She heard her name, Ed called for her, screamed her name over the wilted drone of it around her. She felt herself lifted towards the sound of his voice as more and more zombies pressed in to fill the elevator. She grabbed the rope and hoisted herself up, watching as the zombies pressed upwards, the crowd below her inching closer and closer to her with every moment. She jumped and hoisted herself to the third floor, leaping to overtake Nora, tackling her to the ground. Laurie stood and Nora growled deep in her throat, lunging at Laurie. Laurie side stepped her, watching as Nora tried to stop herself at the open elevator shaft. Nora’s ankle buckled under and snapped, sending her off-balance, where she hung suspended in mid-air before tumbling into the moaning darkness. Laurie wiped the remaining contact from her right eye as she turned to face the security office.
“Laurie?” Ed asked. Laurie felt them below, scrambling to climb on top of each other, to make an undead ramp to reach her. Nora’s screams gurgled through the air, and Ed stood, his body drained of motion at the sight of Laurie, the eerie pulmonary patterns jetting through her skin formed a black diadem across her forehead. Long trails of blood ran from her bright white eyes. She lunged for him, knocking him to the ground and the pistol from his hand in a swift, surprising motion. He threw her light weight off of him and began to get up, reaching out to grab her by the throat when she gripped his wrist in her hand. “I could have saved you,” she whispered, grasping both of his wrists. The sound of his scream barely penetrated the tapestry of life she tore from him. She went to college, saw the Dead, married twice, saw the birth of a child. She felt his struggling wane. She broke a few hearts and rare promises, she gambled with old friends just to hear their stories. The screams of the dead and the dying merged into a glut of white noise to her ears as she felt him begin to tip backwards. She pulled him away from the pain and loneliness. He fell back as she pulled him into her, and she watched his body hit the floor. His limbs jerked, pulling him upwards, his blue eyes swam in their sockets – empty, dead and hers. The radio’s warnings droned on, unnoticed.