Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics -chapter 5

"How long have we got?" Biggs barked, doing a quick count of his remaining bullets.  I exchanged a long look with Emma.  I knew she was thinking of all the people we'd worked with every day, just as I was.  Was it possible that they were all dead - or one of these creatures?

Jim raise a brow.  "Five minutes if we're lucky.  The stairs were proving a bit of an obstacle but I wouldn't count on that stopping them for long."
"Right."  Biggs turned to look at all of us.  "Considering the loss of communication, we have to assume most of the hospital is lost.  We need to concentrate on getting out of here alive now."
"If we get to the roof, there's a ladder on the side we can use to get down."  Emma spoke up eagerly.  There were nods all around. 
"Okay, let's head to the elevator." Biggs snapped.

I snorted. "Oh I don't think so."  He turned to glare at me but I met his eyes defiantly.  "Think about it.  We have no way of stopping the elevator from stopping at any of the above floors.  If the upper floors are lost, as you put it, we could find ourselves being delivered straight into the arms of those monsters."  Just the thought of it caused a shiver to run down my spine.
Jim grinned appreciatively at me. "She's got a point there, Biggs." 
Biggs grunted a reluctant acknowledgement.  "Stairs it is, then.  Let's go!"

As our small group headed in the opposite direction to the ER, I couldn't help glancing nervously over my shoulder.  The thought of being trapped in these narrow halls with those creatures made me feel sick.  I blocked the thought and focused on where we were going.  The hallway was really only wide enough for three people walking side by side.  Biggs and Jim were cautiously leading the way followed by Emma, Ken and me.  Behind us, the injured man was being assisted by another officer while B1 and his mate were keeping a close eye on the corridor behind us.

Up ahead,  I could see the surgical wards looming.   Biggs and Jim slowed down as we approached the doors and brought their weapons up.  Biggs nodded at Jim, who slid along the edge of the wall and carefully peered around the wall.  I held my breath as he pulled back again.

"Looks clear.  Five patients lying in bed. "
Biggs nodded.  "Move on, folks."
"Wait!" I grabbed his arm.  "We can't just leave them here!  They're sitting ducks."
The sudden compassion in his eyes made my heart contract.  "There's nothing we can do for them.  They can't get out of bed and we can't protect them.  Our ammunition won't last five minutes in a confined space like that."
Emma suggested.  "If we lock the doors..."
Biggs glanced at her.  "You know those doors weren't designed to withstand significant pressure, like a horde of dead people pressing on it."
"It will at least give them a chance." I said grimly.

"Well, you'd better hurry!" yelled B1.  "Here come the fucking zombies!"  I jerked around to see a mass of dark figures appear at the top of the far stairs.  They dragged, stumbled , lurched and fumbled over the steps.  It occurred to me that it would have been an amusing sight in normal circumstances.  Then the momentary humor fled as the creatures appeared to catch sight of us.  Like a locust plague, the mass of torn figures surged down the hall towards us.

The others bolted down the hall.  "Come on, Lori!" Emma called desperately over her shoulder as I hesitated.
"Damn it!" I grabbed the doors and pulled them shut, flicking the lock.  I sent up a quick prayer that the ...zombies ...were too stupid to work out how to work the lock and then ran after the others.

Oh God.  Another ward.  A quick look behind me turned my guts to water as I saw the horde was catching up.  The pressure of the zombies pouring up the stairs seemed to be forcing the front ones to move faster.  Some fell and were trampled, but not enough to stem the flow.  I knew I didn't have time to lock all the doors and to my shame, I kept running past the wards.  I starting screaming over and over  "Lock down!  Lock down!" in the hope that any remaining staff or able patients would lock the doors.  I knew that the doors wouldn't withstand a determined onslaught by the zombies but with their current focus on us, maybe it would be enough.

I caught a glimpse of a startled nurse standing at the door to the Oncology ward.  "Lock the doors!" I yelled at her.  "Lock down!"  I don't know if she listened to me.  I hoped she did.  Nurses are trained to react quickly and ask questions later.

Ahead of me, the group slowed as we reached a T-junction.  The fact that we had seen no sign of the zombies so far filled me with hope that we might make it to the roof without trouble; that maybe the problem wasn't even widespread and that there was a perfectly legitimate problem with the phones.  However, the sight that greeted us as we turned the corner dashed that hope as if it had never been. Blood pooled on the floor and dripped down the walls.  Sheets lay scattered on the floor of the ward across from us.  I caught a glimpse of a bloodstained mattress hanging off a bed.  The complete absence of movement or sound made the scene surreal. 

The stairs waited temptingly at the end of this suddenly endless corridor.  Behind us, the sussurating moans of the zombie horde brought an image of a pine forest I had grown up near; the sound the wind made as it blew through the tops of the trees.  Haunting. Mournful. Unstoppable. I shivered.   

Beside me, B1's mate (B2, I nicknamed him immediately) looked over his shoulder anxiously. "What should we do?"
Before anyone could answer,  slow moving figures started emerging from the wards ahead of us.  By the pyjamas they wore, they were - had once been - patients.  Now they stared at us with empty, implaccable eyes and the ugly pallor of the dead.  I barely noticed the gaping wounds that marked their bodies as they moved towards us.

We backed into a tight circle, trying to keep an eye on both sides of the corridor.  "Any ideas would be welcome, guys." I joked, trying to calm my panicked breathing.  I could hear Emma sobbing quietly behind me.

"Nothing for it but to shoot our way through this group, I reckon."  Jim said dryly, nodding at the figures ahead of us.  "A handful of them, a handful of us.  Seems a fair fight."
B1 emitted a high pitched laugh.  "Oh yeah, real fair.  Except the only thing that puts them down is a bullet in the brain!"

The wounded young man suddenly spoke up for the first time since he'd received his injuries.  "Someone take my gun."  He held it out towards us.  "My arm is...burning.  I, I don't think I can shoot."  I noted with alarm the flush in his cheeks.  Ken stepped forward and took the gun, checking it in a surprisingly professional manner.  "Let's do it." 

"Wait!" I cried.  Crossing the hall, I opened the janitor's cupboard and pulled out a broom.  Holding it at an angle, I snapped it with my foot and handed one half to a startle Emma.  I quickly removed the broom head and smiled grimly as I wielded the jagged piece of wood like a dagger.  "Now I'm ready."

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 4

A gurgled cry drew my attention.  The older guard was lying against the wall.  The nurse in me kicked in. I grabbed a kit from the nearby counter and hurried over to examine them.
"Call for help"  I snapped at Biggs as I ran by.  Kneeling by the older man, I struggled to stem the flow of blood from his neck but I saw the light of life already fading from his eyes.  Within a minute, he was gone.  I stood up.  "I'm sorry.  He's gone." I quickly moved over to the young man.  His wounds were more serious but not immediately life threatening.  I worried that he was going into shock.   

As I knelt beside the lad, Emma moved to join me, her red hair falling over her face.  "You saved my life, Lori.  I can't believe that you risked your life like that!"
I shrugged, embarassed, as I worked on the boy.  "Momentary madness."
Emma grinned, and with a professional eye, quickly assessed the situation in the room.  Her smile faded as her eyes settled on the dead guard.
"How long has he been dead?" She pointed.
I frowned, puzzled.  "A few minutes.  Why?"

Emma stood up, agitated.  "You've got to get him out of here.  Now!"  Her blue eyes appealed to the other  guards. "The ones who have been bitten turn quickly when they die.  Hurry, we don't have long!"

Even as she spoke, I saw the dead man's eyes snap open.  His lips peeled back and he lunged at a guard near him, sinking his teeth into the man's calf.
"Get him off, get him off!"  The guard screamed, fumbling with his gun.  Biggs stepped forward, coolly pressed his gun against the side of the dead man's head and pulled the trigger.

Biggs turned an icy blue eye on me.  "Either you are a shitty nurse who can't tell when a man is dead, ma'am, or I just iced a corpse. " He closed his eyes briefly.  "I don't suppose there's much chance you're a shitty nurse, is there?"
I shook my head wordlessly, pushing myself to my feet.  "He was gone."
Biggs sighed and turned away.  "Not sure how I am going to explain this away if there is an inquiry.  Then again, not sure there's any way to explain any of this..."
He passed Ken as he gathered his remaining able officers for a conference.
"Thanks."  Ken's sensitive face was drawn and pale.  "That stick allowed me to hold off Jan...those creatures until the officers arrived."
I accepted his thanks with an awkward nod.  It was hard to feel proud when I had abandoned them and run like hell.

The stocky blonde guard (I privately nicknamed him B1, with his pointy head and spiky hair) sent to make a call trotted back from the nurses' station, looking unsettled.  "I can't raise anyone in admin, or down in Emergency, the office..."
Biggs scowled.  "Everyone's spread so damned thin today.  We've been dealing with outbreaks of aggression all over the hospital in the last hour -"  He stopped abruptly as the same appalling thought occurred to all of us.  What if this was happening all over the hospital?
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, folks."  He turned to a bald man calmly chewing gum.  "Jim, go get a visual on what's happening downstairs in ER."
Jim nodded and turned to go.
"And make it quick."
Jim snorted. "Count on it."

My head was spinning. Surely we were overreacting.  There was no way this craziness could be happening all over the hospital?!  Emma looked pale.  Ken murmured, "Just a few of those creatures took out our whole staff and security guards.  If this disease has spread..."
"We don't even know if it is  a disease."  Emma said without conviction.
"Disease,  mass hallucination, act of God. Whatever it is, it kills people and then brings them back with an addiction for human flesh."Ken said dryly.  "I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it would be bad if it has spread."
 Emma shuddered.  I wrapped a protective arm around her.  "We are all aware of what's at stake here, Ken."  My thoughts raced.  What about the children's ward? ICU? Most of the patients in this hospital would be unable to defend themselves! 
Ken deflated and looked sheepish.  "Sorry.  Bit stressed."
I couldn't help myself.  I laughed out loud.  "That's seems the understatement of the day."
Ken grinned and Emma giggled nervously.

The sound of moans filtered through the doors.  We sprang up nervously.  "We need to move."  Emma's voice trembled.  "There are so many of them.  What if they get through?"
"We need to know what we are dealing with before we go anywhere."  Biggs came over to stand in front of Ken and Emma.  "Fill me in on what happened up here.  The more I know, the better I can deal with the situation."

Emma nodded and took a deep breath, watching the doors anxiously.
"I was lucky." She smiled a little, aware of the irony of that statement.  "The miners died within minutes of each other.  We left them on the trolleys while we cleaned up.  I was in the next room getting supplies, but Allana and Jan were in the room with the bodies..." She swallowed and looked away. "I heard them screaming and when I ran in, Jan and Allana were on the ground and two of those monsters were eating them, chewing on their faces, their stomachs."

Emma squeezed her eyes shut as the memories slid over her.  "I ran back into the supply room and locked the door.  They came after me and banged on the door for a while.  I just prayed and prayed and then I heard them move away.  They were making grunting sounds, like they'd gone back to ...eating. And then the screams from the other rooms started."  She shuddered. " I hid in the cupboard until I heard Ken calling my name."

Ken's mouth tightened.  "I was in the men's when it started.  When I came out, the others were already dead or dying.  That's how quickly it happened.  When I trying to get out, I saw Jan and Allana dead on the floor and the supply room door shut; I thought maybe, just maybe, Emma was still alive." He looked at her with a half smile.  "I had to know for sure."
She returned his smile.  "I've never been so happy to see anyone in my life.  I might never have let you go if I hadn't seen... "
"What?"  Biggs tried to urge gently.
"Jan and Allana.  They sat up."  Tears filled her sapphire eyes.  "No noses, lips, cheeks, stomach but they got up without any sign of pain."  She bit her lip. "I knew that they were dead.  Yet there they were...walking."

Ken continued. "When I felt her body tense, I turned around, and they were coming at us."  He shook his head at the memory.  "Thank God their faces were so messed up that they couldn't see very well 'cos they tripped over some boxes.  I just grabbed Emma's hand and ran right past them."

Biggs frowned.  "So your walking dead theory is all based on those nurses having more resistance to pain than you? Jesus."
"No!" Ken exclaimed. "We saw others - hell, Brian was dragging himself along the floor - and he'd been torn in half."  Ken choked and looked away.
"Go look through the door window, Biggs, if you didn't get a good look earlier." I said steadily.  "But I think you already know the truth in your gut."
For a long moment, no one said anything. 
"Yeah." Biggs answered heavily.  "Okay, then."  He turned to leave.
"Biggs." I said, unsure of what to say but knowing I had to say something.  "One of the paramedics was bitten this morning.  He began showing all the same symptoms as these things, shortly after.  It's probably nothing to worry about." I hastened to say.  "The majority of people who are exposed to an encephalitis virus never go on to develop any symptoms but we really need to get these guys treated.  Just in case."
He absorbed this new information silently and then shook his head.  I heard him mutter as he strode away, "I knew I shouldn't have got out of bed this morning."

It seemed to take forever but it was probably only five minutes later when Jim returned.  He entered the room at a trot, which immediately sent my alarm bells ringing.  I sat up, heart beating faster.  "Time to relocate, folks." He said, in his deadpan way.  "We've got dead people heading our way.  Most of the ER, if I am not mistaken."

Tales of the Dead Tropics -chapter 3

Instinctively I hit the security alarm beside the door before racing into the ward.  The hallway was completely deserted.  Images flashed across my eyes like snapshots.  A  mop in a pool of water.  A chair overturned.  Records spilled on the floor.  Coffee cup smashed. Bedding spilling off a trolley. What had happened here?

My ears were assaulted by the sounds of people's panicked cries ahead of me.  My heart began to thump.  I reached over and picked up the mop.  Quickly I unscrewed the head, leaving me with a solid piece of wood to wield, if I needed to.  And I had the feeling I would need to.

I sent up a quick prayer that security would respond soon and started to move down the hall.  The screams had stopped to be replaced by even more disturbing sounds.   Thumps, bangs, whimpers and growls merged with cries of pain and terror.  Swallowing convulsively, I clutched my pole tightly and peered around the corner.

A sight beyond imagining lay before me.  It was a few seconds before my brain could even make sense of the images it was seeing.  But when it did register, I couldn't breathe.  Bodies lay scattered along the length of the hallway.  Five, six? Hunched over the closest ones were three blood-covered men.  For a moment I thought they were trying to help the fallen individuals and then the truth dawned on me with horrifying clarity.  They were eating them.  I blinked rapidly to clear my eyes but still they continued to tear chunks out of the fallen bodies and chew the meat with such relish, that bile rose in my throat.  Their pale skin was splattered with the blood of my colleagues! The blood was in their hair, their clothes, their nails.

A groan drew my eyes to the victim closest to me.  It was a man laying on his back.  The man - no, not a man, no human being could do that -  the maniac  had his head buried in his victim's chest, ripping pieces of flesh off with his teeth.  Oh my God, he was still alive.  His eyes fluttered as he moaned again.

Slowly I pulled back.  For a long moment, I stood pressed against the wall paralysed.  I was terrified of moving, for fear the maniacs would hear me.  Then a new sound.  A door slammed and footsteps ran up the hallway towards us. A feminine cry of despair as whoever it was realised what she had run into.  I took a deep breath and forced myself to peer around the corner again.

Emma, dear bubbly Emma, stood a few feet from the scene of the carnage.  Beside her stood a young man whose face was vaguely familiar(Ken?).  Slowly he reached over and grasped her hand and started to edge backwards and the maniacs stopped their dining to stare at them.

Behind them, a young woman came through the doors, and then another.  With a sinking feeling in my gut, I saw the now familiar pale shiny skin. 

Emma glanced behind her and cried out again.  They were trapped and they knew it.  Without thinking, I flung myself around the corner.
"Hey!  Come and get me!"  I waved my pole and jeered in a foolhardy attempt to distract the maniacs long enough to allow Emma and Ken to escape.  "What are you waiting for, you ugly bastards?"

As the maniacs rose clumsily to their feet, I felt a thrill of satisfaction that my plan had actually worked and they were coming after me.  Then - sheer terror. They were coming after meShit, shit, shit. 
"Catch!"  I hollered and flung my pole like a javelin towards Ken.  Without waiting to see if he caught it, I turned and ran for my life.  The doors loomed ahead, 50 meters, 40...If I could get through, I could bolt it and get help.

A raspy growl echoed through the hall just behind me.  Oh God.  30 meters.  Please God.  A door suddenly opened at the side and a bloody figure stepped through.  I cried out and veered away from it.  I caught a glimpse of ashen skin and a half chewed face.  I banged against the far wall and fell over an overturned chair. The woman lurched at me, hands clenched into claws.  From the corner of my eyes, I saw the other maniacs moving towards me.    I grabbed the chair and heaved it at the woman in desperation. It didn't even slow her down; she reached down and grabbed my ankle.  Screaming, I kicked violently at her face with my other foot until she released me.  Scrambling to my feet, I pelted desperately towards the doorway.

20 meters.  Suddenly the doors flung open and the wonderful sight of our security men greeted me.  I pushed past them as they spread out across the hallway.  "There are people down there that need your help!" I gasped.  "Please hurry." 
"Don't worry, miss" An older man smiled at me.  "We'll have this under control soon."  
I clutched his arm. "They're completely insane!  Cannibals."  He nodded and patted my hand reassuringly before moving off.

I drew back and tried to control my trembling limbs.  I took in the scene.  The woman missing half her face was reaching for a young security guard who pointed his weapon and shouted at her to stop. Two other maniacs were being circled by two armed officers while another two continued down the hall.  I prayed that they were in time to save Ken and Emma.

Suddenly a shot rang out.  My head snapped around to see the young security guard had fired a warning shot above the woman's head.
"What the hell, Jack!" The security officer standing next to me, yelled out.  "These are patients! Use your taser!"
I watched on as the guards fired their tasers - with absolutely no effect.  And in those precious wasted seconds, the maniacs reached out and grabbed the officers.  The woman sunk her teeth eagerly into the young guard's arm and tore a chunk out.  He screamed in disbelief and tried to fend her off.  Further down the hall, the two guards were grappling with the two maniacs that I suddenly recognised as the miners I'd seen brought in.

Cries rang out as the struggles became increasingly desperate.  The maniacs ripped into any part of the body they could reach- hands, ears, neck. 
"Do something!"  I shouted despairingly at the officer beside me.  A quick check identified him as as the officer in charge.  "Biggs!"

Biggs shook himself and pulled his gun out.  "Shoot, shoot! Defend yourself if you have to!"  He strode forward and and tried to find a clear shot.  The woman with a jagged hole where her lips once were, pulled the young officer close and sunk her teeth into the his cheek.  He screamed again but seemed helpless to fight her off.  Biggs pulled her away and aimed his gun at her.  "Don't make me do this, lady."
She bared bloody teeth at him and lunged forward.  He shot her in the chest.  She stumbled back a few steps then moved towards him again.  In incredulity, he shot her again.  Again she reached for him.  Desperate, he pointed his gun at her head and pulled the trigger.  The woman collapsed instantly like a marionnette, a bloody mess where her head had been.

The senior officer stared at her fallen body in disbelief.  Around him, panic took hold as shots rang out without effect.  "They aren't stopping!"
Horrified, I watched the older officer who had comforted me, drop his gun and stagger towards us.  His yells became garbled and blood poured from a ragged wound in his throat.  

Do something!  Stepping forward, I yelled at the top of my voice.  "Shoot them in the head!  It stops them!"
Another guard took up the cry.  "Go for the head!" A cacophony of gunshots followed as the three standing men desperately targeted the maniacs' heads.

As the noise died away, the officers stood surrounded by the corpses of the maniacs.  They gazed at each other, stunned into sombre silence. Suddenly, the sound of a woman's scream brought my head up sharply.  Emma! She ran towards me from the far end of the corridor, waving her arms frantically. "Run!  Run!" Behind her, I heard shots being fired and then Ken and the security guards came bolting around the corner.  They were looking over their shoulders and yelling, "Move! Move!"

In the moment of frozen inaction that gripped me and the others, I saw them -  a throng of blood-splattered creatures staggering around the corner.  It is an image that will forever be burned in my memory.  A doctor with arms that ended in bloody stumps; a security guard with intestines dragging on the floor; a young dark-haired woman (Oh God, was it Jackie?) with a gaping hole where her abdomen once was. One of the guards turned and fired wildly at them.  A bullet slammed into the chest of a middle-aged woman in a nurses's uniform.  She fell back into the crowd.  And then she stood up.

"Help the wounded!"  Biggs yelled, snapping everyone out of their paralysis.  "Get going!"  He grabbed the young man's arm and pulled him up.  We followed the other guards carrying the older injured man through.  I rushed back to hold a door open.  I waved at Emma and the others.  "Come on!" 

She was so close, I could see the flush on her cheeks and the terror in her wide eyes.  Not far behind her were the men and oh, so close, too close, were the monsters.  Their missing limbs slowed them down, thank god, but they kept coming...

"Hurry, Emma." I murmured and held my hand out to her.  Her eyes met mine and she  reached for me.  I closed my fingers around hers and swept her into a tight one-armed hug as I continued to hold the door open.

"Am I safe?" She whispered pleadingly. 
"For now." I answered truthfully as I watched the boys drawing closer over her shoulder.  And then they were through, and the guards were bolting the doors shut. 

Tales of the Dead Tropics -chapter 2

By the time I clocked in, there were four patients being examined in the cubicles and three more waiting in the triage room. The first lot of encephalitis patients had already passed through and been moved to an isolation ward.  However, I had been informed that several more Mossman miners were now showing symptoms and were currently being transported to the hospital. 

As I checked the status of available beds on the computer, Emma dumped records on the counter beside me with a heavy sigh.  "How much longer have we got on this shift?" 
"Let's see." I glanced deliberately at my watch.  "Our shift started half an hour ago so...only eleven and a half hours to go!"
She heaved another dramatic sigh as she reknotted her auburn hair. 
"Why? Got somewhere else to be?" I asked, amused.  Emma's chaotic love life had been the source of much vicarious entertainment for me over the years.  Blue eyes widening innocently, Emma leant forward with a cheeky grin.  I could feel another ear-burning anecdote approaching.

Dr Wilson hurried by and beckoned to us for assistance.  The ER doors opened and Dave and Bob, the paramedics, hurried in with one of the encephalitis patients. Big Dave had a rough bandage wrapped around his left arm while Bob had a wad clamped over a neck wound. As the wiry paramedic passed on the details of his patient to Dr Wilson, I got my first good look at the patient.  A man of about forty, strongly built, he was fighting his restraints, tossing his body to and fro as he moaned.  As he turned to face me, a shiver went down my spine.  If the eyes are the window to the soul, then this man had lost his soul. It felt like I was looking into a vacuum.  No sign of recognition, of emotion, or even a glimmer of humanity.  I had never seen such emptiness - at least not in a living person.

Without blinking, he continued to emit a low moan.  Emma patted his hand hesitantly.  "You will be fine, sir.  Just relax."   With a sudden twist of his body, he lunged across at her, teeth snapping violently together.  Emma jerked away with a startled gasp.  Groaning, he sank back on the gurney.  "Watch it." Dave glanced over. "This guy has already taken a chunk out of both me and Bob."
"I'm having trouble finding his pulse."  Dr Wilson mumbled, a frown of concentration on his wrinkled face.  He turned back as Bob completed his report.  "This patient presented with a high fever, severe headache and confusion.  He went into cardiac arrest half an hour ago.  We successfully revived him but he began displaying extreme aggression and irrationality.  As you can see, he managed to get a couple of bites in before we were able to physically restrain him.  Skin is cold and clammy, pupils fully dilated, temp is..." Bob hesitated. "low.  Sedation was unsuccessful."
Dr Wilson frowned. "Unsuccessful?"
The paramedic shrugged. "Two doses - no effect."
The doctor raised his brow but didn't comment on it further as he headed off with the patient to the isolation ward.  Emma and I watched in bemused silence as the patient continued to struggle down the corridor. 

"What do you make of that?"  Emma asked. 
I shrugged noncommittally, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling in my gut.  "Encephalitis has been known to make people aggressive."
She looked at me incredulously. "And did you see his eyes?!  And what about his skin - so grey and  slack, like it was suddenly too big for his bones.  Creepy!"
Looking sideways at her, my lips twitched.  "Is that your professional diagnosis?  Creepy?"
She flicked a rude gesture at me in response.

A yell jerked our heads around, to see more encephalitis patients being wheeled in, also struggling against their restraints.  Another bleeding paramedic called for assistance. Nurses and doctors hurried over.  I got a glimpse of blank eyes, bloodless skin and clawed hands as the trolleys passed by.  Emma raised her eyebrows at me as she hastened after them, promising further discussion over coffee later.

I shook myself and walked over to Dave as Bob was led into a nearby examination room.  "Come on, let's take a look at that arm."  Dave obediently allowed himself to be led into a room and sat thankfully on a bed.  
"Never seen anything like that before in my life." He muttered.
I glanced at him as I gathered my supplies.  "Really?  You know encephilitis can cause aggression and confusion."
Dave shook his head.  "This is something else.  This guy tried to eat me."
I laughed as I sat down beside him.  "Come on, Dave.  Never heard of a virus turning people into cannibals!"
The big man shrugged.  " Yeah, well, I'm the one who had to watch this guy chewing on the piece of flesh he tore from my arm.  He was drooling and chomping and watching me the whole time like I was a giant piece of meat dangling just out of was freaky."
I shuddered.  "Quit it, Dave.  That's gross."  I pulled away the bandage and whistled.  The patient had managed to tear a seriously thick chunk out of Dave's arm. "You are going to need some serious stitches, my friend."
"Yeah, I kinda figured that."
We sat in silence for several minutes as I cleaned the wound.  Dave clearly had something on his mind as he kept clearing his throat and opening his mouth to speak, then shutting it.  Finally, I sighed in exasperation and met his blue eyes firmly.  "Just spit it out, for goodness sakes."
Dave straightened his shoulders decisively.  "Lori, that guy was dead."
"Yes, I heard you say he had a cardiac arrest and you revived him.  What about it?"
He looked a little embarassed.  "The thing is we didn't succeed in bringing him back.  We'd given up.  Then he just opened his eyes and attacked us."
"Okay." I frowned. " Odd, but spontaneous revival has happened before."
Dave met my eyes. "I saw the heart monitor.  Even when we were struggling to strap him down, the monitor remained flatlined."
I blinked.  "Well, it had to be broken."
"Yeah.  That's what I thought.  Until I talked to the other guys over the cb and found that the same thing had happened to them.  What are the odds that all the monitors in all the ambulances were broken?"


When I left Dave, I was feeling a little worried.  He had started to run a mild temperature.  Bites are notoriously full of bacteria.  After giving him  a dose of antibiotics, I made him promise to go home and rest.  He assured me that he would head out after checking on Bob.

As I made my way down the hall, I ran into Emma.  She was bouncy with wide eyed excitement.  "Those miners are completely insane, I'm afraid!  It took six of us to get them into in the isolation beds.  A couple of the nurses even got bitten, nothing serious, mind you. Now we've all got to wear protective gear around the patients."  She chattered on eagerly as an avid audience of nurses grew around her. "We can't even sedate them; nothing seems to work.  Poor things seem to be mad with the pain."
"What's the treatment plan?" A nearby nurse asked.
Emma shrugged.  "Standard procedures but it will take a while to see if it is working.  In the meantime all we can do is try to make them comfortable."
"Anyway, I have to get back." She looked over at me.  " Meet you at lunch, Lori?"
" You bet. You know how I love cafeteria food. Highlight of my day."
Laughing, Emma wagged her finger at me.  "Still living on the edge, I see."

I returned to the office and took a quick look at the board.  Several people had presented with symptoms of possible encephalitis but that always happened when an alert went out.  People started seeing serious symptoms in the common cold. 

The sound of a rough cough startled me.  I was surprised to see Bob leaning against the doorway and alarmed to see how unwell he looked.  I hurried over and pressed my hand to his forehead.  It was burning hot.  His eyes seemed bleary as he tried to focus on me.
"Hey Lori, I think maybe that bugger gave me some nasty infection..."
"That, or you're on the grog again."  I took his arm firmly and led him back inside.  He lay down gratefully on the bed.  "How long have you been running this fever?"
"About half an hour, I suppose.  And I've got a hell of a headache."  He groaned. "I've been trying to find someone to give me some damned pills so I can go home to bed."
I sniffed derisively even as my thoughts raced through the possibilities.  Could this be encephalitis?  Could it even develop this quickly?   "You're not going anywhere, mister, at least not until you've been seen by another doctor."
Bob moaned in protest. "What did I do to deserve that?!"
I poked him lightly. "If you can still make jokes, there's hope for you yet."

I left him dozing while I hunted down a doctor.  Dr Bennett stood at the nurse's counter filling in a form, and with a little persuasion, agreed to examine Bob.   As I went to follow her, she shooed me away.  "The triage nurse could do with some help.  The waiting room is filling up with neurotic parents and hypochondriacs who are convinced that they've got this encephalitis bug."   I gritted my teeth and left her to it.  Truth be, there was a backlog of sniffling, groaning patients in the waiting room now, and I knew that Bob was in good, if irritating, hands.  I'd always found Dr Bennett with her Margaret Thatcher hair and condescending attitude a pain but I couldn't fault her expertise.

After sending home two patients with the cold and referring  another patient who actually could have the virus, I noticed a sudden flurry of activity as nurses and doctors rushed past my door.
"Excuse me." I murmured to the young girl I was with and hurried out.  In the hallway, there seemed to be struggle going on.  I heard a groan that sent a chill down my back.  The young girl peered around me.  "What's going on?"
I glanced down at her.  " I don't know.  Probably nothing but I am going to check it out.  Stay here."
She nodded obediently and backed up. 

I had a lump in the pit of my stomach as I heard that drawn out moan again.  It couldn't be.  As I neared, I saw that the staff had someone pinned on the floor outside Bob's room.  Dr Bennett stood near by, her perfect hair mussed, face flushed and deep scratches on her cheeks.  She glanced up at me and acknowledged silently what I had dreaded: it was Bob struggling on the floor under two men and two women.

"What happened?" I rushed forward to help them.  Dr Bennett grabbed my arm and pulled me back.  "Sudden aggression, disorientation...he tried to attack me and then a nurse."   

I opened my mouth to respond when there was a scream of pain from one of orderlies.  "The son of a bitch bit me!"  He leapt up clutching his neck and I saw Bob looking up at me.  But it wasn't Bob.  Gone was the sardonic, wiry man I had worked with for years and in his place was ...blankness.  With the pasty skin and the dead eyes,  I knew without doubt that he had been infected by the same virus that had ravaged the miners. 

Bob's empty eyes shifted to the woman holding his left arm.
"Don't let him bite you!" I called out. " He - he might be infectious!"
The woman squealed and released her hold, scrambling back.  The remaining two men struggled to hold Bob down as he grunted and writhed and snapped viciously at them. "Hey, I can't hang on much longer!"  One of the men pinning down Bob cried out.  "Jab him with something, will you?!" 

Dr Bennett grabbed an injection off a nearby trolley and pumped the full syringe into his thigh.   "He should be out in a couple of minutes." She said with satisfaction.  I knelt beside her, pinning down Bob's convulsing legs.  "Dr Bennett, if this is the same virus as the encephelitis patients, sedation probably won't work."
"Where the hell is security?!" Dr Bennett yelled before turning to me in irritation.  "Well, we can't very well sit on him indefinitely, can we? Go find security, will you?  He needs to be properly restrained before he hurts someone else or himself." 

I ignored the flare of anger and edged around Bob cautiously.  As I passed the injured orderly, I paused to tell him to disinfect the wound and get checked out immediately by a doctor.  If this was the virus, it had taken less than two hours from the time of the bite for the infection to reach Bob's brain.  That was impossibly fast.  Maybe Joe was right about the threat of an epidemic, after all.  I suddenly wished I could talk to him. I feared a doctor would treat such a suggestion with ridicule.  After all, maybe Bob had been exposed on an earlier job.

I hurried on.  For some reason, there was not a single security guard on the floor.  I decided to head upstairs to the isolation ward.  Chances were the guards had been called in to deal with more outbreaks of aggression. 

There was no one at the outside nurses' station, odd in itself.  Nibbling on my lip tentatively, I pushed the doors open.  The silence that greeted me was unnerving at first, but the sound I finally heard chilled me to the bone.  I didn't know what I was listening to at first but as it got closer, I suddenly realised what it was.


Panicked, desperate screaming getting closer and closer. 

Tales of the Dead Tropics -chapter 1

The first hint of the plague about to destroy our world came with a brief report on the morning news.  I barely registered it, really, as I tried to persuade the twins to stay in their seats and eat their breakfast.  There was something about some miners being diagnosed with an unidentified form of encephalitis in the nearby village of Mossman.

Joe snorted from his easy chair.  "That's what you get for messing with nature.  The Cape Tribulation rainforest has been untouched by humans for millions of years.  You've got species of plants and insects that have never been identified!  I wouldn't be surprised if they discover that this strain of encephalitis predates the dinosaurs."   I rolled my eyes.  I loved my husband dearly but the last thing I needed this morning was a lecture on the dangers of destroying the virgin rainforest of Cape Tribulation.  He had been impossible for the last few months since the mining companies had won permission to mine part of the rainforest around Mossman. I guess I can't complain now; I knew he was an environmentalist when we started  dating at uni.

"Are you likely to get called into work this morning?" I asked, as I wrestled a porridgy spoon away from Sarah and pushed Alex firmly back into his high chair.  Joe switched off the tv and stood up, stretching his lanky frame.
"If they do call, they're sadly out of luck."  He grinned, grey eyes twinkling.  "Or have you forgotten that somewhere out there is a marlin with my name on it.  They can find another sucker to slave over a microscope."  That's my hubby - a scientist with his priorities straight.

He came over and wrapped his arms around my waist.  "And, of course, I have the most understanding wife in the world, holding down the fort for the whole weekend." 
I laughed and squirmed as he nuzzled my neck.  "Stop crawling and help me clean these kids up before you leave."
He grabbed two year old Alex and lifted him high as he headed for the bathroom.  "Okay, rugrat, try not to make your mum's life a misery while I'm away!"  Alex squealed and tried to swat his father's face.  Sarah, of course, demanded loudly to be picked up, too. 

As I gingerly tried to lift her out of her chair without getting porridge all over my clothes, Michele wandered out of her room.  At 15, she had reached an age where she seemed to want to sleep all morning so I was a bit surprised to see her before noon.
"Good morning, sweetness." I called out as I shepherded Sarah ahead of me to the bathroom.  My teen grunted a greeting as she flung cupboard doors open, no doubt in search of a breakfast that didn't scream healthy.

All in all, a normal morning in the Nelson home.  No awareness that our world was already in the process of changing forever; no hint that, somewhere, an impossible disease was taking hold; no clue that we would be committing unthinkable acts before the day was through.

Twins cleaned up and occupied helping their father pack his bag, I poured myself a cup of tepid coffee and joined Michele at the breakfast table.  She was looking a bit more alert after a sugary cereal hit. 
"So what gets you up so early, honey?" I asked chirpily, knowing how she hated cheeriness first thing in the morning.  Michele narrowed her golden brown eyes, one of the few features she had inherited from me, but refrained admirably from making a sarcastic reply.  Instead she smiled sweetly, which immediately sent off alarm bells. 
"Seeing we don't have any exams today, Hannah wants me to go shopping with her.  Can you give me a lift to Central Shoppingtown? Please, mummy dearest?"

That's the thing about being a parent.  Even though you can spot your kid's manipulations a mile off, they still work more often than not. "Yeah yeah.  If you want a lift, you'd better be ready in half an hour.  I have to drop your dad off at the jetty and your brother and sister at Aunty Kaye's, not to mention get to work by 10." 
Michele jumped up and gave me a hug. "Thanks Mummy! Oh, and can I borrow $20?"

Surprisingly, we got out of the house on time.  Being winter, Cairns was enjoying a glorious day.  Brilliant blue skies, balmy breezes and lush green hills on all sides.  Even after all these years, its beauty could still take my breath away.  However, it seemed I was the only one taking notice of our beautiful surrounds.  Michele had her ipod plugged in, the twins were loudly singing a Wiggles tune while Joe tried to listen to the news.
"Shush, kids!" he called out abruptly as he turned up the radio.

" least 5 suspected cases of the unidentified strain of encephalitis are currently being transported from Mossman to the Cairns Base Hospital where they will undergo testing to confirm the diagnosis. All the victims so far have been employees of the Coldman Mining Company; however, anyone who has been to the Mossman region recently see their doctor immediately if they experience  symptoms such as a sensitivity to light, headaches, vomiting  and a stiff neck.  It is suspected that the virus is being transmitted by mosquitos which may have been disturbed by the mining operations.  As a result, people are being advised to stay clear of Mossman until further notice..."

I sighed.  "Looks like I am going to be busy at the hospital today."  The shortage of nurses at the hospital meant that we were spread pretty thin and an influx of Emergency cases was going to make it a hairy day.
Joe shook his head in dismay.  "If they have this many patients in one day, this could very well turn into an epidemic."
"I wouldn't worry about it, the Department of Health will be on top of it."
He quirked an eyebrow at me. "I love your trusting nature, my sweet."
I snorted. "You know what you can do with that condescensing attitude, mister.  You wait and see, this will all blow over in a few days." 
Yeah, I know, I owe the man an apology.

At the jetty, my brother in law, Andy, was already waiting with a few other guys in front of a medium sized fishing boat.  "About time, git." He called out as we pulled in.  "Putting on your makeup, were you?"
Joe pulled his gear out of the back of the four wheel drive. "Don't need makeup, mate.  I'm naturally beautiful.  You, on the other hand..."
I interrupted their good natured bantering. "Hey Andy, make sure you guys do less drinking and more fishing this time, will you?  That puny fish you brought home last time was an embarassment."
Andrew wandered over and gave me a hearty kiss on the cheek. "Leave the fishing to the men, Lori, and we'll leave the childbearing to the women."
Joe laughed and pulled Andy away.  "We'd better get on the boat now, mate! Lori may be 5 feet nothing but she's a fiend behind the wheel, and I don't like the way she's looking at us!"
I grinned at them as I reversed out of the car park.  "This is me secretly jumping for joy at the prospect of not seeing your sorry asses for a whole weekend."  My last glimpse of them was in the rear view mirror as they laughingly loaded their gear onto the boat. 
After dropping Michele at the shopping mecca which was Central Shoppingtown, I drove along the highway towards my sister's home in the hills.   I passed the usual droves of tourists lounging on the Esplanade, a green stretch of park paradise that separated the city from the sea.  It was an irresistable attraction for families, bird lovers, sun seekers and active people with its boardwalk, mudflats, palm trees, playgrounds, bicycle paths, skateboard park, barbeques and saltwater pool.
"Muddys, Muddys" the twins hollered as we passed the adventure playground.  Even this early, it was already full of children climbing rope and running through fountains.
"Maybe tomorrow, kids.  Mummy's got to work today." I answered distractedly.  For some reason, a mother and child standing outside the gate to the playground caught my eye.  Maybe it was the nurse in me but I immediately recognised that the woman was sick.  She was clutching the gate, her skin was pale and sweaty and she seemed to struggling for breath.  My foot hovered indecisively over the brake but before I could make a decision, she had opened the gate and was gone.
'I guess she'll go see a doctor if she is sick." I muttered under my breath, trying to talk myself out of the instinct to find the woman.  

My sister was sitting on her verandah drinking a cup of coffee as I parked at the bottom of her steep driveway.  Nestled in the midst of a rainforest, Kaye and Andy had built a beautiful pole home, or as my children called it, the treehouse.  As always, I complained about the hike as I walked up the driveway, lugging the twins behind me.  " Ever thought about installing an escalator?"
Kaye's dark hair fell around her laughing face as she leant over her balcony.  "And deny you the only exercise you get? I think not."
"Hey, these kids keep me plenty fit, thank you very much!"  I retorted as I ushered the twins up the spiral wooden staircase.  As always, the view from the house was breathtaking.  There was lush rainforest on three sides and a river running through a deep valley on the remaining side.  On rainy days, a low mist hung over the tops of the mountains making you feel part of a world untouched by man. 
I greeted my sister with a kiss and gratefully took the hot cup of coffee she held out for me.    I plonked myself down on a chair and took a sip of freshly brewed black coffee. "You do know the way to a woman's heart."
"Of course - coffee, chocolate, massages and time alone to read a good book."  She sat down gracefully in the cane chair opposite me and picked up her china cup.  Next to Kaye, I often felt as graceful as Fergie must have felt next to Princess Di. Kaye was all finished elegance and gentle manners while I was a t-shirt and jeans gal with foot in mouth disease.  She took after mum with her dark colouring whereas I had inherited my Dad's honey -coloured hair and fair skin, not to mention shortness.
"Ooh, you really do know me!" I said admiringly.  From within the house came the sound of four toddlers creating havoc, but we ignored it with an ease that only mothers can. "Uh, I suspect I am going to need a caffeine drip for the day ahead."
"Yes, I heard about the encephalitis outbreak on the news.  Do you think you will be looking after them?"
I raised an eyebrow at her.  "I'm working in Emergency today.  There's a good chance."  I sighed.  "I'm supposed to finish at 6pm but if I'm not here by 6.30..."
Kaye grinned. "Feed 'em and bed 'em.  Yeah, I know."
With a glance at my watch, I finished off my coffee and went inside to bid farewell to my kids.  Needless to say, they brushed me off with a hasty goodbye and returned to their game with their cousins, Beth and Allie.  I grinned to myself as I returned to my car.  At least I didn't have to go to work worrying about separation anxiety.