Authors: Mark Campbell
The line disconnected.
Hahn sat in the Audi’s backseat and ran his hand up and down his face, shaking his head as he squeezed his eyes shut.
The driver looked at him in the rearview mirror, waiting.
“Goddammit…” Hahn muttered as he put the phone back into his pocket. He glanced up at the driver. “Get us out of here and onto the interstate as fast as you can. Don’t bother stopping at the hotel for my luggage.”
The driver nodded.
The Audi drove away from the jobsite just as a fire truck and two police cars arrived on the scene.
Hahn turned and looked out the rear window with a frown as the Audi sped away from the site.
All that was left of the rig was a towering heap of twisted steel.
John opened his eyes and stared at an unfamiliar ceiling. His whole head felt like it was throbbing and his body felt sore and stiff. The bed he was lying on was uncomfortable and the thin blanket felt itchy against his exposed skin. He noticed that he was wearing a flimsy hospital gown.
Groggy and disoriented, he looked around the room and tried to make sense of his surroundings. A stack of medical equipment stood next to his bed and a television was mounted on the wall.
His work uniform was neatly folded on the small table by the window and his dirty boots were sitting on the floor.
He turned his head and looked at the door.
Even though it was closed, he heard muffled shouting and a lot of commotion coming from the hall.
“Welcome back,” Rebecca said from the other side of the room.
Startled, he looked towards her voice, confused.
She was sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. She was wearing a white hospital gown, a surgical mask, a hair net, large rubber boots, latex gloves, and clear protective goggles.
“Becky? Where– What–”
“Shh, shh,” Rebecca said as she got off of the chair and rushed to his bedside. “It’s okay, you’re safe.”
She tore off her latex gloves, took his hands and squeezed them gently, smiling as tears ran down her cheeks. She was wearing dirty scrubs.
John started to remember what happened…
“Mike…” he said hoarsely.
He tried to sit up.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she assured as she gently pressed him back down against the bed. “Don’t get up too fast… You have a little bump on the head but otherwise you’re fine… Just take it slow.”
John reached up and touched his head, shocked.
Multiple layers of gauze were wrapped around his crown.
“You had me worried…” she said softly as she gently ran her fingertips across his cheek. “When they brought you in here and I saw you… I just...” She fought her tears and simply shook her head. She opened her watery eyes and smiled down at him. “I’m just so thankful that you’re still alive. At first I thought you had what the others had… I thought you were sick…”
He looked at her and studied her expression, shaking his head, confused. He remembered the quake and the explosion…
“Sick? What are you talking about?” he asked, muttering as he pressed his hand against his throbbing forehead. He stared at her attire. “Why are you dressed like that…? What’s wrong?”
She hesitated a moment and simply shook her head.
“Everything’s fine. The doctors said that you’re not showing any symptoms. Don’t worry about that right now, okay? Just worry about getting your rest,” she said.
He remembered Mike and the black substance…
He took a nervous swallow and looked over at her.
“What about Mike?” he asked.
“Mike. The new guy I was telling you about…” he frowned and looked away. “He was hurt in the blast. Is he here? Did he make it?”
John looked at her expectantly, searching her face for answers.
Rebecca simply looked at him with a confused expression.
“I’m not sure… How did he look?” she asked.
“He’s a young white guy with brown hair. Have you seen him?”
“Ah, yes, him I remember…” she said reluctantly. “He’s rather hard to forget actually…”
“How so?” John asked.
“Well, his symptoms…” she said, but her voice trailed off. “He’s in the ICU right now… I’m not sure if he’ll make it.” She paused. “He’s very… sick with whatever it is.”
Before she could finish what she was saying, the door flew open and a doctor stuck his head into the room.
The doctor was wearing a plastic face shield and a surgical mask; his face was covered with sweat.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but we need you to prep room two,” the doctor told Rebecca.
“What about my husband?” she asked.
The doctor waved a hand in the air.
“Your husband’s being discharged,” the doctor quickly responded. “The toxicology report looks good, the x-rays came back fine, and there’s no brain swelling. He’ll have to undergo a twenty-one day in-house quarantine.”
“Why…? Is he… sick?” she asked.
The doctor frowned.
“Highly unlikely,” the doctor said. “But we have to follow protocol. The nurse will go over everything with him.”
Rebecca hesitated and looked over at John...
“Mrs. Oliver, please,” the doctor said. “We need you out here on the floor. Someone will be here shortly to take care of your husband and get him out of here.”
Rebecca shook her head and furrowed her brows, frustrated.
The doctor waited impatiently at the door as people rushed behind him down the hall.
“Becky, it’s okay,” John said as he placed his hand on her arm. He looked up at her with a frown. “I’ll be fine. Take care of your business.”
She looked down at him and was about to speak.
He shook his head as he stared into her eyes.
She sighed and nodded as she stood up and slid on a fresh pair of latex gloves.
“Fine… Just… Stay safe tonight and try to get some rest, okay? Please call me if you have any problems or start to feel sick... It’s pretty hectic here so I’ll probably end up staying late but I’ll call you as soon as I get out.”
“Thanks, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ll see you later,” John said.
Rebecca waved goodbye, brushed past the doctor, and exited the room.
“Someone will be with you shortly,” the doctor said as he looked at John. “I promise.”
The doctor closed the door before John could reply.
John flopped back down on the bed and closed his eyes as he listened to the muffled commotion in the hallway.
He heard a faint ‘click’ but didn’t think much of it.
John had no idea that someone just locked him inside his room.
Yawning, he picked up the remote from the bedside table and turned on the television, waiting.
The intensive care ward’s stainless steel double-doors swung open as two men wearing white full-containment biohazard suits and self-contained breathing apparatuses walked into the room. Their suits were adorned with the CDC logo and they were each carrying silver cases marked with the biohazard symbol.
The hospital’s small ICU ward was composed of four rooms with a nurse’s station in the center. The rooms were closed off by electromagnetic locks and each room had a large observation window.
Only one of the rooms was occupied.
A doctor was standing by the occupied room’s large window, staring inside with evident concern. He turned and looked at the men as they approached.
“I’m glad to see you, albeit a little surprised. I didn’t expect you guys to arrive here so soon,” the doctor said with relief as he glanced down at his watch. “Did you come from CDC’s Houston office?”
The men in the white-suits stood beside the doctor and looked inside the room, ignoring his question.
“Are you the doctor in charge? The one we spoke with on the phone?” one of the men asked through his suit’s garbled speaker.
The doctor nodded.
The white-suits stared into the window with revulsion.
Inside the room, Mike was lying on the bed taking short shallow breaths. Black blood was leaking from his eyes, ears, nose, and even bubbled out from in-between his lips. His flesh looked pale and was covered in web-like black lines making every vein in his body visible. He stared at the ceiling with a delirious gaze, mumbling to himself as black blood ran down his chin and dribbled onto the front of his hospital gown. An IV fed into his right arm, a blood pressure cuff was wrapped around his left arm, and a pulse monitor was clipped on his index finger.
According to the machine’s digital display next to him, his pressure was low and his pulse was fading.
His entire bed was surrounded by a clear plastic tent and had a large oxygen tank continuously feeding air into it.
“He’s been deteriorating… I…” the doctor trailed off and shook his head as he looked down at the floor. “I just never saw anything quite like this. We want to run more test but we simply don’t have the facilities to accommodate this sort of thing… We don’t even have the proper personal protective gear.”
The white-suits said nothing as they stared into the room and took raspy breaths through their respirators.
“It… shares similar traits to Ebola, but in other ways it’s completely different. Given the sudden onset and aggressive nature of the contagion, my best estimate is that we’re dealing with a novel viral strain of hemorrhagic fever,” the doctor said as he continued to stare at the floor. “Of course I’m way out of my element… That’s why I requested the CDC.”
“Of course,” one of the men inside the white-suits said. “Have you secured the other patients?”
“We’ve followed the instructions given to us over the phone. Their rooms have been locked and we stopped admitting as soon as I got off the phone,” the doctor said.
“What about the staff?” the other asked.
The doctor frowned.
“They’re gathered and waiting in the cafeteria, as requested, and nobody has been allowed to go home. They’re not thrilled about this…” the doctor said. “We’ve taken all the appropriate precautions against hemorrhagic fever though.”
“I understand, but until we know what we’re dealing with we must err on the side of caution. Under the Health Powers Act, this hospital is under quarantine effective immediately,” the white-suit said. “All patients and staff are to remain on the premises until further diagnostic testing can take place.”
“Yeah, I gathered that much,” the doctor grumbled. “Any idea how long we’ll be held?”
Mike’s eyes bulged as he struggled to take in air. Dark blood spurted from his mouth and he started convulsing. He gripped the bed sheets tightly as he thrashed about on the bed. The monitoring equipment next to him started to emit a steady alarm tone.
The doctor’s eyes widened as he looked into the room. He started to reach for the red emergency phone on the wall.
One of the white-suits stopped him before he had a chance to grab the phone.
“We’ll be with you soon, but right now I need you to go wait in the cafeteria with the others,” the white-suit said with a sense of urgency as he ushered the doctor towards the double-doors.
The man rushed the doctor through the double-doors out of the ICU towards the cafeteria.
As soon as the doctor was out of the room, the white-suit returned to the window and stood next to his partner.
Mike stopped convulsing, drew his last breath, and lay motionless on the bed with his fingers clenched around his sweaty sheets. The monitoring equipment next to him flat-lined and emitted a steady tone.
The white-suits looked at each other with concern and sat their silver cases on the floor. They crouched down to open their cases, revealing a tray of syringes and vials of serum. They each removed the trays and both men pulled out a pistol with an attached silencer.
They heard a commotion and the sound of aluminum crashing to the floor.
As soon as they stood up, they were startled to see Mike standing by the window.
The plastic isolation tent that once covered the bed was tossed aside.
Mike was staring at them with a vacant expression and his eyes were completely black. Tarry bile was dribbling out of his mouth, his hospital gown was soaked, and his IV was torn out of his forearm. He cocked his head to the side and stared at the two white-suits, mouth agape.
“Shit!” one of the white-suits exclaimed.
The white-suits pointed their pistols at the glass.
Mike emitted a bellowing scream, spewing saliva. He spun around, grabbed the bed with both hands, and hurled it against the glass.
The glass shattered and threw tiny shards across the ICU’s immaculate floor.
Both of the white-suits fell backwards as the bed came crashing down at their feet. The pistols they were holding flew out of their hands.
Mike leapt out of the shattered window and sprinted towards one of the fallen white-suits and immediately pinned the man down as the man struggled to get back on his feet.
Terrified, the man inside the white-suit struggled and fought, trying desperately and fruitlessly to free himself.
Mike repeatedly struck the white-suit’s face shield with both fists as he sat on top of the man, pinning him down, screaming.
The face shield split down the center.
The other white-suit scrambled for the nearest pistol which had slid halfway across the room.
Mike pulled the two face shield pieces apart, forcibly pried the respirator off of the man’s face, and allowed the oxygen to expunge from the tank.
The pale, petrified man inside the compromised white-suit started screaming as he looked up at his attacker with a wide-eyed expression.
Mike reached inside the suit with both hands and pried the man’s mouth open. He leaned over and regurgitated a thick black substance straight into the man’s open mouth.
The man inside the white-suit started convulsing and flailing on the floor as the black substance poured down his throat and stole his breath.
Mike turned his attention towards the other man, snarling.
The remaining white-suit pointed the pistol at Mike and fired.
Mike’s forehead concaved and his head snapped backwards as the back of his skull ruptured and slathered the wall behind him with clumps of gore and black blood. His limp corpse fell off of the white-suit and landed on the floor with his arms sprawled over his head.
With the smoking gun trembling in his hand, the remaining white-suit breathed frantically through his respirator as he slowly got on his feet. He cautiously approached his fallen comrade and pointed the pistol at the man.
The man on the floor sat up abruptly and lunged towards the white-suit that was holding the gun, gurgling up a foamy black substance from his open mouth.
Downstairs, in the basement, three white-suits with CDC shoulder patches were walking towards the morgue.
The white-suit in the middle of the group was carrying a satchel.
The basement hallway had cement walls and flooring and was illuminated by blinding industrial lighting. The air was cold, stale, and reeked of bleach.
The white-suit holding the satchel keyed his suit’s mic.
“Alpha Team to Bravo Team, what’s your status?” the white-suit asked in a garbled voice.
Annoyed, the white-suit keyed the mike again.
“Alpha Team to Bravo Team! I’ll ask again, what’s your status?!”
“Think they’re alright?” one of the others asked.
The white-suit with the satchel waved a hand in the air.
“Of course they are,” he responded. “They only had to deal with one that’s still alive. We’re the ones who should be worried.” He paused and keyed his mic. “Alpha Team to Charley Team.”
“This is Charley Team. Go ahead with your traffic, Alpha.”
“Charley Team, what’s your status?”
“We’re good. Hospital is under full lockdown. The staff has been isolated in the cafeteria and the patient rooms are locked. We’ll start conducting rapid field tests on the staff momentarily.”
“Copy. Check on Bravo Team over in the ICU. We can’t reach them on the radio. We’ll rendezvous with you outside the cafeteria when we’re finished down here.”
“10-4. I’ll send someone over there in a few.”
The three men stopped right outside the morgue’s double-doors and froze.
The white-suit in the middle put the satchel on the floor, unzipped it, and brought out three MP5 submachine guns with attached suppressors.
“The deceased’s medical and company employment records have been wiped, but don’t forget to take the toe tags off of the corpses,” he said as he handed the others their weapons. “That could be detrimental if one of them gets discovered.”
The other two men nodded.
They gripped their weapons tightly as they walked through the double-doors and stepped inside the morgue.
The morgue was a rather small, cement room with six freezers on each side. Two stainless steel tables with attached sinks sat in the middle of the room.
“Let’s make this quick,” the lead white-suit said as he walked towards the first set of freezers. He pointed his weapon at the door and placed his finger on the trigger, ready. “Open it.”
The other two men readied their weapons and carefully opened the first freezer door...
The metal cadaver tray rolled out.
It was empty.
“Move up,” the leader said as he walked towards the second freezer, weapon ready.
The two men opened the second freezer, pulled out the cadaver tray, and stared at the body bag lying on it, waiting.
The body bag wasn’t moving.
Relieved, the white-suits unzipped it and revealed a naked elderly woman.
She looked peaceful and calm.
The lead white-suit fired a single shot into the woman’s head.
The other men tore the barcode tag off of her toe, zipped the body bag back up, pushed the tray back and slammed the door shut.
The group moved to the next freezer and opened the door.
When they pulled the cadaver tray out, whatever was inside the body bag suddenly started thrashing around, trying to get free.
The white-suits pointed the gun at the cadaver, shaking.
The cadaver inside the body bag let out a feral scream.
Suddenly several freezer doors started rattling as whatever was inside them bashed against them, screaming and howling.
The white-suits startled and looked around the room as the commotion grew louder.
“Dammit!” the lead white-suit said as he quickly shot a three-round burst at the corpse inside the body bag without even unzipping it.
None of the shots landed in the corpse’s head.
The banging intensified at the sound of the gunfire. Some of the freezer doors started to open as their weak hinges snapped off.
The corpse inside the body bag became livid and ripped open the bag’s zipper. It frantically started crawling out of the bag.
Without hesitation, the white-suit fired another burst at the corpse’s exposed head.
The corpse went limp, tumbled off of the cadaver tray and lay motionless on the floor still tangled in the tattered body bag.
The others in the freezers went into an uproar.
The white-suits abruptly turned towards the other freezers, surveying the room with their MP5s.
Freezer doors flung open and cadaver tables rolled off of their rails and crashed against the floor as the corpses inside the bags tussled inside, ripping and tearing through the thin material.
“Sir…” one of the white-suits said as he started cautiously backing up...
The corpses crawled out of their bags and started clamoring onto their feet, snarling as they focused their black orbs towards the three white-suits.