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Author's note: There will be a new chapter every few weeks until the story is finished, but this is what I have so far.
It was spring of 2004. The children had just gone back to school after their Winter Break. Spring sports had started up. The workforce on the Monterey Peninsula stared again as well, rebooted for the New Year. However, there was one workforce which had been working nonstop through this time. There was a shack near the beach, in between Seaside and Fort Rod, which had been operating through the winter. No one knew what this shack was used for, who worked there, or what its purpose was.
It was a secret facility, used to reverse engineer stem cells. For those of you who don’t know, stem cells are used to promote growth, when used in controlled quantities. This facility, which expanded into an underground network of rooms, and laboratories, was testing the reverse effects that they were looking for on rodents. The effects were unbelievable, causing the test subjects to lose all weight, and to slowly go insane.
Unfortunately, the scientists working there had no idea that the stem cells they had engineered were water borne. The facility, being so close to the ocean and major water lines, released excess cells, causing the local populations of Pacific Grove, Monterey, Seaside, and Carmel to become infected. The town’s people would have no idea what was happening to them until it was too late. The virus acted slowly, only becoming apparent to the victim and others when it had already taken over the host body. This is the story of the 55,124 people who lived in this infected area during the time of crisis.
The morning was young as James Burns woke up on March 26, 2004. The sun had just crested over the trees surrounding his Pacific Grove home. He climbed out of bed, being careful not to wake his wife, walked out of their room and toward the kitchen. It was a Friday – the Friday which held the first of the season’s high school baseball games, Pacific Grove against Monterey in a skirmish – and James was looking forward to the afternoon. He turned on the coffee pot, its gurgling sound louder than he expected it to be on this quiet morning. He watched out of the window as children commuted to school, either walking or being driven by friends or parents.
His son, however, was not out there. Joe had been suffering from the stomach flu. He had lost a lot of weight, being 60 pounds instead of his regular 84. Joe was 10 at the time, being one of the smaller children in his class. James and Mary had always worried about his weight, even though the doctors told them not to. James watched out of the window, watching the kids run by, the birds flying in the sky, not hearing that the coffee maker’s gurgling had stopped and had begun beeping. The droning beep sounded in his mind, as he rushed to the coffee maker, pushing the off button. He leaned on the counter, hands supporting his weight, elbows locked.
Little footsteps sounded from down the hallway. It’s probably Mary, James thought, silently cursing himself for waking his wife. He turned around, finding that it was not Mary, but Joe standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he slowly moved into the kitchen.
“I’m here, Joe,” replied James as he watched his son stumble into the kitchen. “Did I wake you up, bud?”
“A beeping noise did,” replied Joe, climbing into a chair at the kitchen table.
“You ready for breakfast?”
Joe shook his head. “I’m not hungry.” James nodded, walking over to him.
“How about this,” James said placing his hand on his son’s shoulder. “How about you meet me in the living room in five minutes, and we will watch some cartoons. That sound good?”
Joe nodded, climbed out of the chair and running silently into the other room. James poured himself a cup of coffee, filling a second for Mary. He left it on the counter next to the coffeepot and walking into the living room. Joe was already sitting on the couch, the television mirroring itself in his glassy eyes. James sat down next to him, wrapping his left arm around his shoulders, moving his right arm to take a sip of the coffee.
The two of them watched cartoons for an hour before Mary came down from their room. She stumbled into the living room, her cup of coffee in her hand, steam rising from it as she held it to her lips. James smiled at her, and she smiled back.
“Hi, Mommy,” said Joe, looking temporarily away from the television.
“Hi sweetie,” Mary responded. She joined them on the couch, sitting to James’ right. They sat for another half-hour before they were disturbed. The phone rang out in the quiet of their home. James rose to take the call.
“Oh no you don’t,” Mary said, pushing his chest lightly back down to the couch as she rose to get the phone. James let her go, settling again on the couch. He heard Mary answer the phone, a brief “hello” followed by more speech which he could not make out. Mary walked back into the living room, holding the phone in one hand which was placed under her chin, her coffee mug in the other, a worried expression on her face.
“I’ll be right back, bud,” said James as he got up from the couch and walked over to his wife. As he approached her, her worried expression waned. He lightly touched her shoulder, wrapping his arm around her waist like he always did, and took the phone from her hand. She reached up on the tips of her toes (she had always had to do so) and kissed him on the lips. James smiled at her, and raised the phone to his ear.
“Hello,” he said.
“James, its Officer McDowell,” said the man from over the phone. It was one of his coworkers (James worked for the Pacific Grove Police Department).
“How’s it going, Mark,” James responded.
“Not a lot,” he said. “The station is shorthanded today, and I was wondering if you could come in for a few hours?”
James looked at his wife, widening his eyes, which he always did when work called him in when he was supposed to be off. She looked back at him, sadness deepening in her eyes.
“Mark,” James said. “You know that it’s my day off today.”
“I know, but the station is shorthanded. Look, I know that you want to take your family to that baseball game later. You work until then and I will take you all.”
James knew that he couldn’t get out of working. There was no way that Mark was going to give up on it. He looked at his wife again, giving her the same eyes that he had before, the sadness in her eyes deepened.
“I will be there in half-an-hour,” James said politely, although in his mid he was screaming, “But it’s my Godamn day off!”
“Alright,” Mark said, a satisfied tone in his voice. “I will see you then.” Mark hung up the phone on his end. James walked into the kitchen and replaced the phone in its holder. He walked back to where Mary was standing and wrapped his arms around her waist. He stooped down, whispering into her ear.
“I have to go get ready,” he whispered. He wished that he didn’t mean it. He left her in the living room, kissing her on the cheek, and walked upstairs to their room, hopping into the shower.
James walked into the police station on Friday, March 26, 2004, his coworkers knowing that he didn’t want to be there. He walked to the back of the station, and assumed his usual seat at his desk. And there he sat, staring at the pictures of his wife and son, which were ever-so-carefully scattered across his desk, awaiting the call that he knew would eventually come.
James had gone into the station around 10:00 in the morning. It was 2:31 when they got their first call. The caller, a female in her 30’s, called from the slums of Seaside, saying that there was someone in her home. Pacific Grove police regularly assisted their neighboring cities, and such assistance was reciprocated in kind, so they responded quickly, James riding in Mark’s car, while the other officers went in their respective cars. Mark and James rode in silence.
They arrived at the house some fifteen minutes later, meeting the other officers outside of the home. Martha and Dean were standing on the driver’s side of Martha’s car, facing the house.
“You try to get inside?” James asked as he and Mark approached the two. They both nodded their heads.
“We walked up to the door,” Dean said. “Knocked as usual. Asked to enter the home. A woman answered us, from behind the door. She said there wasn’t a problem and that it was just her husband.”
“She said that he had come home from work because he was feeling ill,” Martha added, interrupting Dean.
“She refused to open the door. So we wanted to wait until you both got here,” Dean said. “You know, to ask you what we should do.”
James looked at Mark, giving each other the same glance. Dean and Martha were either new, or as old as you could possibly be to be considered new; however, they had been through multiple calls and drills of such situations. James knew this all too well.
“McDowell,” James said, placing his hands on the hood of Martha’s car. “I want you to take Anderson (Martha) around the left of the house. I saw some windows, maybe you can see what’s going on inside. Johansson(Dean), you and me and gonna take the ram and head to the door.
Dean headed to the back of Martha’s car, opening the trunk. He reached inside and pulled out what they called Grond. James, who was a Lord of the Rings fanatic, had taken it upon himself to paint a wolf’s head on the ramming end on the battering ram, recreating the legendary Grond which shattered the gates of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings; The Return of the King.
And just as Dean did so, a woman broke through the door of the home, running toward them, screaming at the top of her lungs. Her shirt was wet with blood from the collar down to the seams at the bottom of the shirt.
“Oh f***,” James yelled. He had been looking at the door when the woman came running out of it. She was still running at them, her arms flailing wildly in the air around her. Martha started screaming and dropped behind her car. Mark and James pulled their .45’s from their holsters raising them as they had been trained to do, and then a gunshot rung out.
James stood frozen in time as he watched the woman fall onto the pavement walkway, which led from the sidewalk up to the door of her home. She hit hard, sliding a few feet, her head bouncing on the concrete all the way, leaving a splattered trail of blood along the pathway.
Dean Johansson ran forward, dropping Grond back in the truck of the car, to the woman who had fallen. He didn’t even look behind him to see who had fired the shot. He had almost reached the woman when James called out his name. No, not called, screamed. Dean spun around, dropping to a crouched position, looking at James and Mark. Mark was also looking at James, who had thrown his forearm in front of Mark’s chest to keep him from moving forward. James had a frightened look on his face, an expression of pure terror.
And due to the magic of narration, absolutely no time has passed from when James had seen the woman fall.
James stood frozen as he watched the woman fall on the pavement. Normally, under other circumstances, he would have rushed forward to help the woman, but these were not normal circumstances. As she fell, she revealed a man standing in the doorway behind her, who was most likely her husband. He was tall and very thin, and in his hands was a shotgun, its barrel smoking from the shot that it had just fired. Still seeing everything in slow motion, James watched as Dean ran forward to help the fallen woman, Mark starting forward as well. Neither of them had seen the man in the door. James threw his left arm out in front of Mark to keep him from moving forward. His forearm smacked Mark’s chest so hard that it hurt James. Despite the pain searing through his arm, James called out to Dean.
“Dean,” James screamed, the feeling of being frozen stopping almost as suddenly as it had begun. Mark looked at James, Dean turning around and dropping to his crouched position, also looking at James. James, however, kept his gaze on the man in the doorway. Both Mark and Dean, almost instantaneously, followed his gaze to the man, seeing him just as he started to c*** the shotgun and begin to walk toward them.
“Oh s***,” yelled Mark as he raised his .45. He was ready to take the shot, but quickly lowered the pistol as Dean came running back toward the car. The man raised the rifle, aiming it at the police cruiser. He fired, hitting the antenna of the car, blowing it off the hood. Martha screamed louder at this, drowning out the noise of the shot, and the cocking of the rifle. The man continued down the walkway, cocking the shotgun again, its empty shell landing on the body of the woman as he walked past her. Mark jumped up from behind the car; his .45 already raised, and fired three shots.
James peered up from behind the car, watching the man fall to the ground. He hit the pavement just as hard, if not harder, than the woman had. The shotgun landed just as hard, hitting the pavement hard enough to snap the wooden stock right off from the rest of the rifle. Mark still stood, his pistol raised, as if waiting for the man to get back up. James and Dean stood up from behind the car, looking at the yard. Martha still sat behind the door of her car.
Mark finally holstered his .45, and the three men gathered together in the yard. Martha was on the radio, or the horn as they called it, calling for an ambulance, a CSI team, and back-up units. Mark and James had started to place markers for the evidence, Dean holding the camera, shooing away neighbors who starting to come out of their houses to see what had happened.
They left the crime scene an hour later and under the control of Seaside P.D. James had returned home to pick up Mary and Joe for the baseball game, arriving at the field just as the first pitch was thrown. They sat down in the home bleachers (the game was being played on Pacific Grove’s field) and started to cheer as Pacific Grove’s runner picked up first base. James was in his Police uniform, still wearing his from the call. Joe sat on his lap, jumping up and down as he clapped for the runner (who had just stolen 2nd on the next pitch). Mary sat next to James, her hand in his, both of them watching the game.
They were sitting almost directly on the 3rd base line from, so that the runner coming in(the one who had stolen 2nd and gotten the first hit) looked as though he was running directly at them. James looked at the teenage boy as he sprinted in, but did not see a teenage boy. Instead he saw the woman who had died earlier that day. The woman who had run at them through the door, running from her husband. He shook his head quickly, his eyes closed. When he reopened them he saw the boy just as he was. He looked at Mary, who had seen his make this gesture with his head, and who now had a look of worry on her face.
“What’s wrong sweetie?” she asked.
“Just got a little headache,” James replied. “That’s all.”
James looked back to the game. It would be another couple of hours before it was over. By that time the office would be closed, but he would have to go in the next day, at least for a little bit, to write up the report of what had happened earlier that day. But for now he could relax, tonight he could relax. “And he would do so”, he told himself. “I will spend the time with my family. My son and my wife” He told himself this because he had a feeling that he wasn’t going to see his family again for a long time.
James walked into the office at 10:00 the next day, assuming his regular seat at his desk. Mark had left a file there, resting atop his keyboard. It wasn’t labeled, and that meant that this was the new file, and James was apparently in charge of it. He pushed it off his keyboard, and opened it. Leaning back in his rolling leather chair, he looked at the pictures inside the file. Both the woman and the man. He glanced over both of them, nothing catching his eye.
Just as he was about to put the file down he realized something odd about the man. He looked at the file again. The man in the picture looked at least fifty pounds heavier than the one they had killed the day before. It was, however, that man that they had killed. James let it slide, setting the file down next to his computer, and began to type away at the report.
Four productive hours later, James finished the report and clicked the Save As button his computer. He leaned back in his leather chair, cracking his knuckles and his back at the same time. He looked at the phone on his desk, the light indicating a new message was blinking. He didn’t check the phone earlier. James pushed the Play button on the phone and it began to play.
“You have, one, new message,” the recording began. “First new message. BEEP. Hey, James, it’s Mark. I think I found something about that case yesterday that is peculiar. I checked with CHOMP (the local name for Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula) and I found some recent records of the man from yesterday checking in there. It was exactly a week ago. He checked in with flu-like symptoms. I talked with the doctor who worked on him and some of the nurses. They all said that he was really bad. Took them three days to get him well enough to go home again. They sent him home two days ago. The doctor said that he was still exhibiting signs of the flu, but was stable enough to go home. Anyway, call me on my cell when you get this message. BEEP. End of new message.”
The message ended there, and James immediately picked up the receiver and dialed Mark’s number. It took three rings before he picked up the phone.
“Hello,” Mark said.
“Mark, its James.”
“Oh, hey, you get my message?”
“Yeah, I just listened to it. SO what’s going on with the flu, and how is it relevant to the case?”
“Our guy went insane, or toward the point of near insanity. The guy killed his fucking wife.”
“When did insanity become part of the case, Mark”
“It just did. You better come up to CHOMP, they are bringing in more cases from the Seaside area. They are all showing signs of the flu. It’s bad, James. They are all showing the same signs that our guy did.”
For a moment, James thought about his son, Joe having the flu. Then he banished the thought from his mind.
“I’ll be right there,” James said. He hung up the phone, slamming it down on the pad. He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair, and Mark’s patrol car keys out of the bowl on his desk. He walked out of the back door of the office, leaving Martha as the only available officer. James strode to the car, clicking the unlock button on the remote in his hand. He climbed into the car, closed the door, slid the key into the ignition, buckled his seatbelt, started the car, and drove out onto Pine Street.
He waited at the stoplight on Pine and Forest, taking a right turn onto Forest Avenue, and heading up to the hospital, where Mark was waiting for him.
James pulled into the parking lot of the hospital just behind an ambulance that was flying toward the emergency room drop off. James parked the car, and got out, seeing another ambulance racing toward the emergency room doors. He jogged quickly through the parking lot, turning left from where he was parked and entering the hospital’s main doors. Inside it was pure chaos. Nurses and doctors were running from different departments, EMT drivers were pushing patients through the departments as quickly as they could. Through this chaos, James found Mark, standing aside the reflection pool, staring at what was happening around him. James walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, Mark,” he said. “Oh, thank God you are here,” Mark said spinning around. “This place is crazy.” “I can see,” James replied. James looked to his left as a man was pushed past him. The man was lying (but is it really lying down if you are strapped against your will?), on a stretcher. He was crying (or sounded like he was crying), but there were no tears. Blood streamed from his eyes. The whites of the man’s eyes were stained red, turning them a disgusting, pinkish color. The rest of his eyes were no visible through the vast amounts of blood. “Holy s***,” James exclaimed, watching the man go past him. “Mark, what the f*** is going on here?” “That’s why I called you up here,” Mark said. “I think this is related to the case. All the signs that our guy had, these people have. Flu-like symptoms, insanity. The blood is new though, I haven’t seen that yet.” He leaned in closer to James. “This is going to get worse before it gets better, James.” James turned his head quickly to his right, peering across the reflection pool. A man had let out a scream from over there. He was sprinting toward the pool, screaming at the top of his lungs. Two large male nurses, each probably weighing in at around 250 pounds, grabbed his arms. James now saw everything in slow motion again, just as he had yesterday. A stretcher came into his view, behind the screaming man, who was now writhing in the arms of the two nurses, trying to get away. James could see, even at this distance (his eyes were still very good at his age), the man’s muscles straining, his veins popping out. The man’s shirt ripped, sending the nurses flying back a few steps, the man, now shirtless, went sprinting for the pool again. But the two men were too fast for him. They grabbed his arms again, lifting the man off his feet, probably a good three feet into the air, throwing him backwards, and onto the stretcher. The man hit the stretcher with a smack, causing it to shake violently. The man turned onto his side, screaming in pain. He curled up into the fetal position, grabbing his knees with both of his hands, crying out in pain. With every sobbing exhale of pure pain the man sent out, a spew of blood came with it, splattering onto the stretcher and the ground, leaving a trail of blood behind. James came back to the real world. “This place is f*ing nuts,” he said. “But doesn’t it remind you of yesterday? The patients?” “Yeah, Mark, it does. Now can you please explain to me why these people are all going crazy?” “We don’t know, officer,” said a man from behind James. James turned, seeing a doctor. Blood was spattered on what James thought was once a clean white coat, turning it a sick pink. The doctor had some paper towels and was wiping the blood off of his hands, which were stained pink. “Now, if you both can excuse us, we are taking all unnecessary personnel out of the hospital. That means you two. If we need you we will call, believe us we will.” James looked at Mark, who shrugged, as if to say, “If he says so.” “Now,” said the doctor, spreading his left arm out, pointing to the door. James and Mark left the hospital, reluctantly, yet respectfully. Mark went with James to the patrol car, (their cars were parked next to each other) and leaned against the back bumper of his car. Mark looked at his watch, 2:46. He put both hands on his thighs, looking up toward the sky. It had started to drizzle. Mark ran his hands through his hair, smearing the rain through it, wetting his whole head. “I looked at one of the head nurses charts while I was in there, “Mark said. James looked at him; Mark just stared at the ground in front of him. “Just before we left. Over the course of six hours, they picked up more than fifty patients.” “What does that have to do with anything, Mark?” Mark stood, facing James. “All of the patients exhibited the same symptoms; they were all picked up from the same general area. Tell me that doesn’t sound f*ing weird to you.” “I’m not trying to say that it’s not weird,” James said, “I’m trying to ask you what the f*** it has to do with our case?” “Did you not see that guy in there? The guy that I know we were both staring at. That guy was crazy, like our guy. Now don’t tell me you don’t think this is all related because I know you do. I recognized that guy in there. He was a neighbor of our guy. Now don’t tell me that isn’t f*ing weird. All of these people are from the same area we were in yesterday, they were all his neighbors. Now tell me that isn’t weird.” James looked at Mark’s face. He was entirely serious about this. He looked around, rain starting to patter on his head and shoulders. A heavy fog was settling in around them, making the rain seem worse than it was. James’ hands were starting to become numb from the cold, so he shoved them into his jacket pockets. He looked back at Mark, who was still staring at him. “Yeah,” James said. “It is weird. I don’t have a good feeling about it, but I don’t have a clue what’s happening. Look, Mark, you’re right, okay? There is something weird going on, but we just can’t pinpoint it yet. And we don’t know enough to do anything about it.” Mark nodded, rain dripping off of his face and onto the ground. “Let’s get back to the office, huh?” Mark nodded once again, and climbed into his car. James climbed into his own car, starting the engine, and pulled out of the parking lot just behind Mark. On the radio the song Wicked Wonderland by Rev Theory played, setting an almost surreal tone in James’ head. The lyrics rebounded in his thoughts; Come out and play now, Come out and play, In my wicked wonderland.