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 a