Updated: Mar 7, 2020
“It needs stitches, but I’m afraid this is the best we can do for now.” Yen had carefully butterfly bandaged together what she could and smothered the rest of my left hand under a gauze mitten. “I’ve got to ask…”
“Yeah, I was already missing that pinky from before.”
“No, I was going to ask: What the hell happened in there?”
I looked at Jerry, who was standing shirtless next to me and applying his own bandages. He gave me the look. The one I’d come to understand as you’re in charge here, buddy. If we were going to tell them the truth, it would need to come from my mouth. If we were going to attempt a cover-up, I’d have to be the one to think up a good lie.
“There was a racoon.”
Yen pulled down my shirt collar and shined her flashlight at my millipede leg track marks. “A racoon? You look like you’ve been pulled under a sewing machine.”
Jerry ran with it, “That’s exactly what happened! The racoon had a sewing machine gun. It was nucking futs in there. Hey, do we have any more of that rubbing alcohol?”
Lucy was pretending not to watch, but even in the dim red glow of the emergency light, I noticed her steal a few passing glances at Jerry’s tattoos.
An angry voice cut into the air. “If there’s another wild coon running around, you need to do something about it right now before we all get rabies.”
Lucy snapped back, “That’s enough out of you!”
Owen was on the floor a few feet away, his hands zip-tied to the drain pipe below the frozen drink machine. Besides a slight welt on his cheek and some frizzled hair, he didn’t look too much worse than when we went into the cooler.
On the other side of the room, Bart lay motionless beneath a packing blanket. There was no reason to rush for his sake anymore.
I didn’t get the whole story. From what I gathered, Owen had a change of heart about Jerry’s plan shortly after the chair went into place, trapping us inside the cooler. He just couldn’t bring himself to surrender his weapon. All pretense of innocence went out the window after Lucy found the CB radio and Owen smashed it into pieces. He needed more time to think, he said. To make sure everyone was on the same page with their stories. He couldn’t risk getting caught up in this. It would have been too much of an inconvenience for a man with his level of visibility.
Lucy took the gun from him. Owen put up a fight. It ended with him on the floor, zip-tied to a drainage pipe. I would have paid every penny I had to see how it went down, but sadly, Lucy was concervative on the details, so I’d have to let my imagination do the work.
Bart held on for as long as he could, but it wasn’t enough. He passed moments before Lucy opened the cooler door and found the two of us in a puddle of blood and vomit.
Maybe we should never have tried to stop him. Maybe he would have been fine if he’d gotten to his delivery truck and hit the road. Maybe my decisions were responsible for what happened. There was going to be a whole lot of maybe that I had to live with, but that depended on me living first. Somewhere inside this poorly lit room was a hyper-intelligent parasitic creature that had been killing and consuming people for eons, and right now it was hatching a plan to make sure we didn’t leave here alive.
Yen had moved on to the line of dots on my chin. The medicine stung like hell, but compared to the millipede, this was a cake walk. “Thanks,” I said as she taped up the bandage. “So, if you’re not a doctor, what are you? Like, a nurse or something?”
“I’m a vet.”
“You mean, like a member of the armed forces?”
“Nope,” she said bluntly.
Well that’s probably okay. As long as she knows her way around a pack of gauze, I’m happy to have her here.
“I am.” Owen’s voice surprised me. Yen turned around and shined the light at him. He had the floor now. “I spent twelve years in the Marine corps. I was stationed in Iraq fighting terrorists while you were in high school. Look, I know I might have messed up. In the heat of the moment, I discharged my weapon and there was some friendly fire, but I am not your enemy. If you want help catching this rabid coon, then cut me free, because you aren’t equipped to handle this situation. I don’t even need my weapon back. If it makes you feel safer, you can let the little guy hold the gun.”
I had to assume that he was referring to me by “the little guy.” It was patronizing, but he may have had a point. Not about freeing him, of course. But about us not being equipped to handle this situation. The baseball bat at my side probably wouldn’t be enough if we found what we were looking for... or if it found us.
Lucy stepped over to Owen and asked, “Where were you stationed?”
She repeated herself, a little more forcefully. “Where were you stationed, Owen?”
“I told you, Iraq.”
“What base?” He hesitated. She continued. “What city?”
“I-” He shook his head. “I don’t have to explain my time in the service--”
“What kind of weapon were you issued?”
“I… uh, I was issued an M16. It’s a standard--”
“You were in the Corps for three tours, you should know the answer to this. What size ammo does an M16 use?”
“What’s the capital of Iraq?”
“I--” he looked flummoxed. As soon as Lucy turned her back to him, he spewed the words “Fuck you, bitch! Let me out of here!” He thrashed against the pipe, leaning his weight into it, then fell limp onto the ground simpering.
I turned to Jerry and said, “I think it’s time. We’re going to need to get the Code Black box.”
Jerry had stripped all the way down to his 'Friendship is Magic' boxers and tossed his soiled clothes into a heap by the front door. “Are you sure?” he said. “Are you positive that this is worthy of a Code Black?”
“If this isn’t, then I honestly don’t want to imagine what is.”
“Alright. I’ll be right back.”
He started for the supply closet until I stopped him. “Wait!”
“You shouldn’t go alone. It’s not safe. What if that… ‘racoon’ tries to get you?”
“It’s fine. Remember? I’m immune to its… uh… cooties.”
“Yeah, but even if you can’t get the, uh, ‘cooties’ for some reason, that thing can still rip you apart like a paper shredder.”
Lucy walked up to Jerry and said, “I’ll go with you. We’ll stay in groups. And if we see any racoon, I’ll take the shot.”
Jerry and I both blurted, “No!” at the same time.
“Why not?” Lucy had already demonstrated an impressive competency to know when to trust people and when to call people on their bullshit. She knew something was up.
I tried for a convincing answer. “We need to make sure it’s the right one. Don’t want to waste bullets on an innocent racoon.”
She gave me a stare that screamed, I know you’re lying, Jack. But she didn’t call me out.
Yen ventured into the conversation. “What kind of racoons do you have around here? Because I’ve seen a lot of racoon attacks in my day, and nothing about this looks right.”
“They’re advanced,” I said. “Highly advanced.”
A minute later, Jerry and Lucy were back in the front room with us. He had brought out the meter-long rectangular box labeled “Code Black: for emergencies ONLY.” He had also displayed an excellent amount of initiative by grabbing the “Code X” box.
Code X wasn’t specifically for situations like this. It was really more of a preparation for whenever one of us needed to work an unexpected double shift without notice, but the contents were incredibly useful. We changed into the spare clothes (sweatpants and black t-shirts), and took turns taking swigs from the bottle of mouthwash and spitting them out into a Styrofoam cup. I was concerned by just how much blood was in my spit. It was, to put it mildly, way above average.
With that minor hygiene maintenance done, we opened the lid on the Code Black box. Yen gasped. Lucy let out a “What the fuck?” Jerry whistled like he didn't already know what was in there. I sighed. Opening this felt like I had lost some kind of personal challenge.
The contents of the Code Black kit were carefully picked out after detailed consideration of many factors. Jerry and I debated the merit of every single thing that went into it. Nothing here was chosen lightly.
I took out the first weapon, a Glock 19 that someone left at the gas station after he didn’t need it anymore (long story). I checked the safety to make sure it still wasn’t there, then put the gun onto the booth table. Next, I pulled out the old bear trap. There was dried blood on the teeth. Definitely too big to do the job we needed. Next, I pulled out another handgun. Then another. I kept removing weapons, setting each down on the table with care until I finally found what I was really looking for. At the bottom of the box, taking up the space from one corner to the other, was Jerry’s main contribution to the kit: the old katana he found at a garage sale and spent two weeks sharpening until it was clean enough to shave with.
I pulled the weapon out by the sheath and handed it to its rightful owner.
“Sweet,” Jerry said, taking it from me with two hands--the only respectful way to take such a weapon. Next, I went right to work piling the guns into the belly slack of my new shirt so I could carry them all together.
As I transported the guns behind the counter, Lucy started questioning me. To be honest, it’s surprising that it took this long. “Hey, wait a second. Where are you going with those things?” She followed me closely, which was good because I needed her flashlight to see the numbers on the dial of the store safe.
“Just putting away the stuff we don’t need.”
She walked over and crouched down by my side. It was just us now. She whispered, “What’s really going on, Jack?”
I turned the dial and answered, “May as well tell you the truth. It’s not a racoon we’re looking for.”
“I kinda figured.”
“There’s a creature in here with us, and it’s what killed Abrahm. It almost killed me and Jerry.”
I turned the knob and opened the safe, then immediately started stacking the guns inside.
Lucy asked, “If there’s a killer monster inside the building, why are you getting rid of the only things we have to defend ourselves with?”
“Because,” I answered. “It’s smart. It knows what weapons are. And it can take over our minds. A gun won’t kill it, but if it infects one of us while we’re armed, if it manages to get a hold of a gun, then that’s game over. We can’t let it use our weapons against us.”
I looked into her eyes for any sign of doubt or sympathy. I tried to study her, to see if she was buying it. But she looked like she was doing the same thing to me, studying my face. We just watched one another for a heavy, solid moment until she looked down, pulled out Owen’s gun, and handed it over.
“Well in that case, don’t forget this one.”
I dropped it inside the safe, closed the door, and spun the dial.
“Thanks,” I said.
It turns out, Yen’s impressive voice translates into an even more impressive scream. This wasn’t like the noise she made when she found Abrahm. This was twice as loud. I felt it in my bones.
My first thought as we jumped to our feet was Oh God. That thing has gotten a hold of Yen! But then Lucy shined her light into the room and I realized that I was wrong…
The millipede queen had found herself a new host, and now Bart’s body was standing in the middle of the room, staring at his hands and wriggling each of his fingers--a crazy smile on his face.
Jerry held the sword over his head and dramatically unsheathed it. “Zombies again, eh? Alright. Let’s do this.”
He ran across the room and swung the blade straight down. It lodged itself into the top of Bart’s skull about an inch deep and stuck. Jerry pulled, but Bart jumped back, taking the wedged weapon with him. The blade was now protruding from his head like a unicorn horn.
“Wow!” Jerry said. “That was not nearly as easy as I thought it was going to be. Bone is hard!”
Lucy grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to the ground behind the counter. “Combination! Open the safe! Do it! Now!”
“It’s on a timer on a battery! The safe won’t open more than once every eight hours!”
She grunted. In a flash, she was back on her feet and leaping over the counter. By the time I got to the other side, she’d already raced over to the table, grabbed by baseball bat, and cracked it over the zombart’s head.
It, predictably, had little effect.
The zombart lifted his hand, gripped the blade, and pulled it free. This was exactly what I was worried about. The monster had gotten ahold of one of our weapons. I knew this was going to happen. I’m a genius.
Owen was screaming and thrashing. Yen was hiding behind Jerry now, moving in my direction. And the Bart-queen was heading... away from all of us? Ah good.
I quickly realized it was heading towards the door. Ah bad! Bart lifted the blade and flicked it down, shattering the glass door into a million pieces. The cloud of green flowed inside like a fire hydrant had busted.
In a matter of seconds, we lost all visibility. The air turned warm. Then hot. Tiny wings and legs the size of hairs blasted my skin. I stepped forward, holding my breath and reaching into the fray, hoping against all hope that my fingers would find salvation.
I felt skin. Immediately, a hand grasped my wrist and yanked me forward. My eyes were closed, but mayflies coated the lining of my lids, wriggling to get underneath. Whoever was holding my arm continued to pull, so I continued to follow, until finally they fell to the ground, taking me with them. As soon as my hands touched the floor, I regained my bearings. I’d know this sticky concrete anywhere. We were inside the storage closet again. Which meant…
I felt my way along the floor until I reached the corner. There should be a box here. Code Blues. Code Blues. Where is it?! I found what I could only hope was the correct cardboard box, ripped it open, reached inside and felt around until-- Eureka!
The NORMAL flashlight.
As soon as I clicked it on, the swarm surged loudly enough for me to hear it, like a tempest wave crashing against the side of a boat. Green splattered the wall as some of the bugs became victims of their own air stampede. With all the strength I had remaining, I tossed it out the doorway. The cloud of bugs--now a solid wall of green--heaved in unison after it, catching it, freezing it in midair, and quickly consuming it.
Jerry slammed the door shut and slid the deadbolt into place. (Why, you might ask, does our supply closet deadbolt from the inside? Well, obviously, for such an occasion as this.)
I hacked up and wiped dead bugs and guts off of myself. Soon, I became aware that I wasn’t the only one. Next to me, Lucy was feverishly pinching off the remaining insects and stomping or clapping them into oblivion. Next to her, Yen sat with her back against the wall, staring at something miles away. I couldn’t believe it. In the chaos, we’d all grabbed each other’s hands and worked our way to safety. We were all safe.
Wait. No. That’s not exactly right.
I counted heads again just to make sure.
Yeah… looks like somebody didn’t make it.
Another asshole mayfly tried racing up my nose, I pinched it and wiped the gooey mess onto my shirt.
Then, quite unexpectedly, the doors of reality fell off their hinges…