Al Bruno III
Five figures stood around the cold metal table. Everyone else in the morgue of Bodie Village General Hospital had been ordered away. Dr. Gerald Becker, consultant for the Center for Disease Control leaned over the body on the table watching as its mottled gray flesh puckered around the tip of the scalpel and slowly gave way. Blood, long gone cold welled up half-heartedly around the edges of the wound. With practiced ease he made an incision from sternum to pubis. Returning the scalpel to the tray-table he grabbed the rib spreader. This, he thought, this is where one of these Department Of Defense bastards faints.
But, as the bony cage snapped and yawned open, not a one of the four men observing the process fainted or even so much as stifled a gag.
With the ribs spread wide, Gerald lifted the lungs from the within the chest, letting them hang over the edges of the cavity, then he removed the heart, liver, and stomach. There was a scale beside the ray table, he piled the organs there and stepped back. “There’s your evidence gentlemen.”
The government men stepped forward in unison and peered thoughtfully into the chest cavity. The four of them could pass for brothers, each of them tall and broad-shouldered, with pasty complexions and stark expressions on their nondescript faces. They each wore charcoal-colored suits and sunglasses. Only the leader of the four, Special Agent Douglas stood out, and that was because he wore a dark brown fedora that didn’t really go with his ensemble. Gerald wondered if the man was trying to look like some kind of old movie detective or if he was going bald.
After about five minutes of staring intently at the body Agent Douglas asked, “How did you find out about this?”
“As you know,” Gerald couldn’t believe how calm they were acting but then again maybe this wasn’t their first autposy, “I was dispatched here to investigate an outbreak of what appeared to be a new strain of Cholera. At the time my superiors weren’t sure if this event needed a full team. After all, Bodie Village is a small town and the infection only seemed to be impacting the elderly.”
Agent Douglas adjusted his hat and commented “I’ve read your report on the subject.”
Gerald looked back to the other three Department Of Defense agents, they were watching him- No, not watching, studying him. It was like college all over again, a team of professionals waiting for him to say or do something dumb.
“Please continue Doctor Becker.”
“When I arrived here I got right to work, I didn’t notice anything odd at first I was too busy trying to explain and deal with this new strain of Cholera. It wasn’t until my third night here that I realized what was happening…”
Agent Douglas stared into one of the refrigerated cabinets used for storing bodies. Its door had been torn off and there were bloody fingertrails all along the inside of the cubicle.
“Please go on."
Gerald continued speaking, “Twelve people had died by then, and I was exhausted. My motel was in walking distance so I decided to try and wake myself up with a brisk walk back. I was tired and I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings. Someone was walking down the middle of the sidewalk and I never even saw them. They knocked me on my ass and kept going. I would have said something but I recognized them. How couldn’t I? It was an old fart I’d performed a postmortem on a day ago!”
“Did you tell this to anyone? The local police or the hospital staff?” Agent Douglas asked.
Gerald shot him a glare, “Tell them what? That the dead were coming back to life?”
“What did you do next?”
The other Department Of Defense agents were wandering about, one was flipping through Gerald’s papers, another was using the phone and the third was looking at the other samples that Gerald had floating in formaldehyde.
“I don’t remember inviting you to go though my notes.”
Agent Douglas walked into Gerald’s field of vision, “Did you contact the local authorities?”
Gerald shook his head, “Didn’t have to. They contacted me. After what I saw I turned around and headed back to the hospital. The Sheriff was there. The power had gone out in the critical care wing. For some reason the back-up generators had never come on line and eight more patients had died. The Sheriff was there and he told me that he was dealing with a rash of home invasion style robberies. The mayor’s family and several other prominent townsfolk were missing.”
“Had there been any ransom demands?”
“No, and at this point we weren’t expecting any.”
Special Agent Douglas regarded the doctor oddly as he itched under the brim of his fedora, “Why?”
“It made no sense, why kidnap the citizens of a tiny little Oregon town? Certainly not for money. The Sheriff and I both suspected something far worse.”
“And when were those suspicions confirmed?”
“The next morning. At the cemetery.”
“The grave robbings.”
“Desecrations,” Gerald spat, “Every grave less than a decade old had been dug up, the coffins destroyed the bodies removed. I knew it was all connected somehow.”
Agent Douglas frowned, “I don’t believe in intuition.”
“Good for you,” Gerald peeled off the stained surgical gloves, “Why are you so damn calm? What’s our next course of action? The dead are coming back to life and attacking anything with a pulse!”
“I understand you helped the locals find a way to kill these beings?”
Gerald growled with frustration. Was this guy even listening? “It all started when I was talking to one of the Sheriff’s deputies. We were all milling around the hospital conference room. Then I noticed that the pinky finger on his right hand was bent at a weird angle. There was a nub of bone protruding from the skin. He was just standing there casually talking to the receptionist girl. She had just brought us some snacks.”
“That must have looked odd.”
“Very odd. When I confronted him about it he tried to put his hand behind his back but I grabbed it and got a better look. The fingertips were blue and his lips were a pale color. He was dead. Dead and talking about the weather. I shouted for something to restrain him. That’s when he went crazy.”
Agent Douglas nodded thoughtfully, “And that is when Jessica Zelman was killed?”
“Yeah, the receptionist. The dead deputy hit her with so much force it broke her neck. She wasn’t even blocking his way, he just did it. The Sheriff didn’t even think, he just drew his revolver and opened fire, The first shot blew a hole right though the dead deputy’s head. It should have killed him but instead he started running. The Sheriff fired twice more, hitting the son of a bitch in both legs. He went down but he still kept moving, crawling away. The Sheriff and the other deputies caught up to him. They emptied their revolvers into the dead deputy. That stopped him. One of the bullets blew a hole into the small of his back and out the stomach. That’s when we saw the foreign matter. There wasn’t much but I preserved it as best I could.” Gerald nudged the body on the table, “You can get a better look at the creature in here.”
Agent Douglas looked again into the body, staring dispassionately at the ugly shape wrapped around its spinal cord. The creature was like a cross between a centipede and a lobster. He said nothing.
“You’ve…” Gerald felt his intuition kicking in again, “You’ve seen this sort of… this sort of corpse-thing before haven’t you?”
“I can’t comment on that.” Agent Douglas almost smiled, “But please continue with your story.”
“After that the Sheriff deputized a bunch of good old boys and got to work. They set fire to the funeral home and captured or killed as many of the corpse-things as they could. I kept cutting them up as fast as the deputies could get them to me. It didn’t take me long to realize that these bug parasite things were enough like insects that they might be vulnerable to chemical attack.” Gerald Becker gave the agents a self-satisfied smile, “We got a volunteer to get up close to some of the corpse-things and spray them with a mixture of DDT and other dangerous chemicals. They collapsed within ten seconds of exposure. We commandeered one of the trucks they used for the annual mosquito spraying and got to fumigating.”
Agent Douglas frowned, “Weren’t you worried about the after effects on the population?”
“Look what we were up against!” Gerald stood next to him and pointed at the thing entwined around the corpse’s lower spinal cord. It didn’t look dead as much as it looked coiled, prepared to leap out at them in retaliation for being disturbed. “We had to act quickly before they spread. Think about it, we could be fighting an enemy that would never need to eat or sleep and could replenish its ranks by simply by raiding the local cemetery or murdering anyone they came across!”
“Do you or the Sheriff or anyone else have any idea where the things are coming from?”
“No,” Gerald waved his hand dismissively, “That’s why I called my superiors but all I got is you… And I gotta say so far I’m not impressed.”
One of the other agents spoke, it was the first time Gerald had heard his voice, it sounded like a wet cough, “Then the queen is safe.”
“Queen?” Gerald eyes flared with rage. That rage faded once he realized the other agents were began closing in on him, “You do know what’s going on here!”
Special Agent Douglas removed his hat revealing that the front third of his skull had been torn away. The exposed ridges of his skull were yellowish-gray. His brain had become a writhing nest of maggots. They boiled out of the wound to crawl down over his pasty features. He said, “Bodie Village was merely a test to see if our invasion plan was feasible for a species like yours. It is obvious that despite our growing control of your civil authorities the capacity for your species to combat us is going to make our invasion a considerable challenge.”
There was a crash as Gerald brushed past over the tray table in his attempt to run. The four corpse-things caught him easily and pulled him down to the floor. They held him fast. Their cold hands tore at his clothes stripping him to the waist. The corpse-thing that called itself Special Agent Douglas retrieved the dirty scalpel from the floor. “I do this out of respect for your intelligence.” He said as he loomed over Gerald raining grubs onto the struggling man’s bare chest. “We release you from the burden of having to see your woefully limited species conquered and enslaved. You may rest in peace.”
The quivering pink flesh of Gerald Becker’s neck puckered around the tip of the scalpel and slowly gave way.
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