For her it's love, invasive, invading, obsessive, overwhelming and distracting. He's beautiful. Young, gorgeous skin, luscious hair and an infectious smile. She doesn't know why he loves her but he does, he has a faith in her that no other has displayed and gives her confidence and buoys her self-esteem. Unlike her former employer.
Alice Makin is walking towards the revolving door, a box of personal bits and pieces in her arms. She's been let go once again, a feeling all too familiar and excuses all too lame, there's nothing she hasn't heard before but it still leaves a hole in the pit of her stomach, that sick feeling you get when someone breaks up with you or hammers you for an innocent mistake, she's felt it hundreds of times before and it's familiarity is breeding contempt.
"We're sorry," he started, "But the project's running over budget and we really can't afford you any more," his look sincere until he shakes her hand and moves in with an unexpected peck on the cheek. She reviles as the bile rises in her throat. "Fucktard" she thinks, this is all because I have an opinion, wouldn't suck your dick at the company Christmas party and made a mistake on a frigging spreadsheet but she smiles and departs graciously. She's a contractor, not paid salary, so open to use and abuse. They can let you go any time without warning, with out excuse.
She departs the reception area waving and smiling at Amber the perfectly presented receptionist with the zombie grin. "See you later" Amber chimes as she does whenever anyone crosses her foyer. Alice walks through the door with a shadow sliding sluggishly behind her, joined at the hip and desiring release.
"Fuck you Amber and all who came before you" she hurls over her shoulder. It's a workplace where nobody knows anyone, anonymity with a smile as you pass on stairs. Amber looks slightly hurt then almost amused as another employee clatters across the Terazzo tiles,
"G'night Amber" . . .
Alice walks down the immaculately paved path along a tiered carpark, tears careening down her face. It's like some disease she doesn't recognise. Three times this has happened and she doesn't know why but this time it's different. She did nothing wrong, wasn't contentious as she draws her sunglasses from her bag and begins to sob and rationalise what's happened.
"Your attention to detail is a little lacking" he'd said, and any attempts to explain that her skillset was in other areas were met with a blank stare, "But I've achieved so much, you focus on the minutia," she'd pleaded to no end. Perhaps it was jealousy, a manager resenting her intellect, pointing out his flaws but no. She'd been a good minion despite working in a role beneath her capability.
The glasses aren't hiding the feelings within but there's nobody to see as she descends the stairs. She can't remember where she parked her car and lays out a few expletives before the battered bomb comes into view, "Wish I had a decent car" she thinks to herself, the moment providing a little humour to an otherwise dire situation.
She sits in the car not realising how time had flown. Six cigarettes and waiting for the contraption to start. It has this thing where it refuses to turn over due to dodgy transmission so she's been hatching plans waiting for the cantankerous vehicle to make its mind up that its ready to go home; keys turn and finally the ignition kicks in.
She has conversations with the invisible as often she does. She imagines leaving a crime scene, flashing lights in her rear view mirror, yellow tape cordoning off the area where she used to work. Getting away with it. She sees them all in her mind's eye, as she rounds the roundabout almost in the path of an oncoming pantechnicon. Former workmates all stiff and contorted over their workstations. Blood spattered and pools of red leaching oh-so-slowly into the carpet.
He'll help. He knows things, secret things. Her very own mad scientist who works for the Government might share his secrets help her reek revenge because this time she's not walking away, and he's the only one she can trust. Even the best of friends haven't really understood her plight. Perhaps because she doesn't articulate it, perhaps because they're blind to her suffering...he's the only one.
Thoughts of him begin to take her over as she speeds down the motorway, oblivious to the "Police Targeting Speeding" signs. He's under her skin, in her head, on her body. "Its all so fucking hilarious" he'd say, she's thinking "Hold on boys . . It's going to be a bumpy night"
She's stopped at the lights and presses the lighter in as she pulls a B&H Classic and lights it. It's a nervous response, there's always a reason to reach for a smoke when a crisis looms and it helps her think about why they let her go. She'd been the perfect PA even to the point of dropping off her boss to pick up the rental because his company car wasn't available. They'd chatted, talked about a permanent contract it had all seemed so sweet, so secure, so . . .of course the primary reason for wanting to be in the same car with her was to flirt and test the waters.
He's there when she gets home. "Hey!" he looks up from his computer as she walks into the living room.
"Fuck off...I lost my job!" The bravado sinks into another litany of sobs. He holds her as he does and she pushes a tear stained face into his chest.
"No point crying over spilled milk" he says, as he strokes her hair and fills her with his warmth and understanding.
He releases her and draws the curtains obliterating the last shards of fading sunlight. She stands limp in the centre of the lounge room and he pulls her close and the infection of love or lust takes over. She needs the release. It's like a bullet from a Glock; quick, sharp, short but her orgasm has the desired effect and calms her a little .
"It ain't over till the fat lady sings" he says,
"Fat man!" she retorts as they collect and pick up the discarded clothes from the floor.
She knows he can help. He has a creative brain and a military background. He's been an 'operative' whatever that means, and now works in some secret laboratory with biological weapons. She needs him to help her reek havoc. As she grinds coffee the questions begin.
"You're joking right?" he's leaning against the kitchen counter looking lovely but her face has a fierce resolve.
Their conversation becomes less jovial as he realises she's serious and intent on some sort of retribution, and as her coffee making becomes mechanical he knows he's about to divulge information he's never been game to expose.
"You're serious . . you really want to do something about this? Something er, not quite above board"
"As sure as that's a pistol in your pocket. I'm sick of this."
If I help you, it has to be on my terms. The seriousness in his voice an alien sound to her ears. "If I help you . . you have to follow my instructions. This isn't a video game and nobody must know your source."
Her head slumps over the coffee maker. It all seemed so simple in the car with invisible conversations. Now we're getting down dirty. Time to take a deep breath. She gives him a glance he's never seen. Slightly scary, eyes bright, enthused, dangerous, it gives him a hard on. It's been a while since he's experienced the thrill of covert operations.
"Changing lanes? As in doing something different, avoiding the safe? Shit yeah. I've never been more ready."
For the first time in their relationship they're travelling along the same lines instead of cross purposes. He in need of the thrill, she in need of revenge. Two souls travelling in the same direction, different motives but a parallel plan, "Let's do it." he says.
"Ryan's missing", Peter Trangmar's voice is laconic and hides his concern but his fellow engineer was supposed to have been in the meeting. He's not answering his iPhone, some would refer to it as his fifth appendage. His briefcase is still by his desk and there's a nasty little stain on his chair. Other workmates gather round and examine the area coming to the conclusion that he's had some sudden stomach upset and made a dash for the men's room.
"Ugh disgusting," says Breene and puts two fingers to her nose.
It's not like Ryan to disappear without saying something or at least texting, he'd done that from the loo before but this was unexpected. Giggles are suppressed and theories are hatched and Trangmar, ever the cool pro takes the lead, "Oh fuckit, I'll go and see what the smarmy bastard's up to."
The men's room is deserted save for one stall with a closed door, "Ryan? You in here?" There's no answer but the trickle of brown emanating from beneath the door is imparting a wicked stench. Trangmar moves in closer and pushes the unlocked door. It's unusual to hear a man scream but the sight that greets him is enough to curdle the blood. Ryan's half naked body slumped back like a man-whore waiting for a blow job, his head lolled against the cistern, his pants around his ankles, legs soiled. Blood streaming from his eyes, nose and ears.
Trangmar's caught off guard, there's nothing in the office management manual to deal with this kind of OH&S issue. He races back into the office, white as a sheet and trying desperately not to gag and vomit at what he's just witnessed. Not since he'd found his dead cat, clearly days after the event, infested with maggots and wearing a grisly smile had his stomach turned this way.
"Ryan's dead," he exclaims before sitting and putting his head between his knees to control the dizziness. He's feeling seasick and reaches for the waste paper bin before emptying the contents of his stomach.
"What!!" the chorus is unanimous and simultaneous as Breene races into the men's room only to return with the same palor.
"What happened? Who'd do this? We're engineers, this sort of thing doesn't happen in offices, they're safe places," her babbling halted as Flitch begins to dial 000.
Jake Fitton is just about to take his morning constitutional when the call comes in, "Got a stinker over at Fisher's Engineering," He's tempted to complete at least one lap just to sate his thirst for exercise but hesitates and heads back to the locker room, suits up, puts the magnetic light on the roof of the Commodore and speeds to investigate.
He's only on site for 15 minutes and beginning to interview Breene.
"You're bleeding Jess .. " he makes a hesitant gesture towards her face as he notices the trickle of blood extending from her right nostril. She disbelievingly wipes her top lip with her hand. Within seconds, she begins to convulse, a writhing mess on the floor being restrained by four men. She's foaming at the mouth and growling like a dog, her back contorted before she relaxes with the loosening of a bowel movement and takes her last gasp.
"What the fuck is going on here?" Fitton's really beginning to wish he hadn't risen from the comfort of his satin sheets. He glances round the small crowd now gathered as the Tactical Response Unit infest the building, paramedics rush up the stairs and he can see beads of sweat forming on two others of the team.
"You OK?" He asks the two now sweating profusely and looking a little wobbly. This is becoming a nightmare, two bodies in as many hours and the rest of them are beginning to ail. He instinctively puts the back of his hand to the forehead of Ewen Cooper, "Man you're burning up! Medic!...over here!"
He's never seen anything like it. A conservative environment, mild-mannered suits minding their own business and now all Hell's broken loose as two more begin to convulse. The paramedics are beside themselves and ill equipped. One has the wherewithal to clear the floor.
"Folks we don't know what we're dealing with here but it's rapid and could be contagious. You need to get out of here and fast" as he reaches for his own mask and Hazmat suit. If he was a gambling man, he'd bet his last 50 bucks that this is a virulent contagion beyond anything he's seen before and he ain't taking any chances.
Three bodies down and two others looking perilously ill, time's clearly running out for them and nobody has a clue what's going on but all are genuinely concerned about the spread and whether they too are being impregnated by whatever is killing this small team. Concerned that it might be airborne, the office goes into shutdown.
"Kill the aircon, shut the doors, seal the windows . . . " yells a uniform wielding a gun. "Get your Hazmat suits on and cordon off the area." The response is rapid and immediate.
"It's not contagious." Jill Schuman's a forensic paramedic and while the melee's been unfolding, she's been scouring the area for a cause. She holds a small plastic bag between two gloved fingers. It's contents mostly used except for a faint residue of green slime. Her partner of four years, Joe Kane gives her that glance, the one he used to use when she was a rookie. The "What the fuck do you know" look. She raises her eyebrows.
"Looks like some sort of biohazard..." she postulates. They'd been an item once until she found out he'd been buying the affections of another and the whole relationship had ended badly. High price to pay for a comfortable fuck. His presence is as welcome as a fart in a bottle. Hers a reminder of sweeter scented times. There's still a sexual tension between them but she's focused on her discovery. She ignores his smart-ass comments, this isn't the time nor the place.
"What is it?" Asks Fitton,"I'm not sure but it's not the sort of thing you find lying around an engineering office. I'm guessing Cantharidin, anthrax, some sort of fast acting poison?"
"Get it to the lab, . . " Fitton instructs one of the officers leaning against the partition as bagged corpses secreted away for further examination. Why them? Why this small pod of engineers in a company of hundreds. All within minutes, all sharing the same symptoms, the same rapid demise.
"Right people" Fitton yells, "We're done here. We're not here for a social gathering, fumigate and pack it up." His voice is commanding and the plethora of police and EMT's are keen to leave the place. Jill on the other hand has found a kindred spirit in Fitton, an empath, and not a bad looking dude. She stands by his side, a little too close for his liking but she looks good in an orange hazmat suit even with a mask on and for the first time he notices her eyes. In that moment, brief and in the middle of disaster, she notices his checking her out, and both exchange a mutually understood moment . . yes he's interested, that's clear.
The entire floor is blanketed in sterile cloths until the fumigators can ensure no spores survive. A geometric landscape of green cotton, rather lovely in it's bizarreness. Fitton ushers out the last of the stragglers as he and Schuman take the lift down to the foyer. She removes her mask and a cascade of auburn waves fall onto her shoulders and he's surprised at what he sees. She's easy on the eye, very easy on the eye.
"I couldn't help but notice the tension between you and Kane, you seeing each other? Just broken up?"
"We had a moment," she says and turns to press the button to the ground floor.
"So you're no longer together?"
She's a little embarrassed that he's privy to their bickering, "No, we're no longer together." The doors open to a plethora of press and a shitstorm brewing in the foyer.
The bodies are taken to the city morgue, sealed neatly in their refrigerated drawers and rumours of an epidemic quashed before they begin.
Fitton and Schuman are having coffee and postulating theories while the coroner tries to ascertain the cause of death. It's been 72 hours and still nothing until Fitton's phone rings.
"They're gone!" is all he hears.
"Gone? What's gone? Who's gone?"
The coroner replies, "All of them, all five bodies, vanished."
Pissed off that his newly burgeoning relationship with the attractive Schuman had been interrupted he apologises, "Have to go," he says and leaves $50 on the table, "Something's up with the contagion guys."
She's not prepared to cut their liaison short and curious about his haste, "What? What happened?"
He's already walking away from her and hurls across his shoulder, "They've gone . . .disappeared. All of 'em. "
She's left sitting alone without a clue, fifty bucks staring her in the face - a face reflected in a black cup of coffee. She used to be the life of the party, now she's been dumped for fifty bucks and 5 missing cadavers.
"You gotta be kidding?" Fitton's staring at four empty body bags, unlocked refrigerated lockers and a coroner with a quizzical look on his face. "Who'd fucking steal four bodies covered in shit and blood and possibly carrying a fatal virus?"
"They weren't stolen," the coroner responds, as he points to the footprints on the floor, "they walked out . . "
"What? They walked out? Rescued by a fairy godmother? You have to be kidding. You've been staying up too late bucko. Watching too many horror flicks, the walking dead. Jesus save me!"
"There's something else..." the coroner continues, "...the contents of the ziplock? Genetically altered and irradiated human material. Not sure what, but the DNA code is odd and the cellular structure shows two extra chromasomes. Never seen anything quite like it before. Oh one more thing...it's reproducing. There's 10oz of it now, I had to freeze it to stop it replicating."
This is the stuff of fantasy, Fitton thinks.
Henry Walker's been a resident in Hyde Park for years, hallucinating at every opportunity, bludgeing money and cigarettes, scaring small children from his favourite park bench, but as four blood and shit covered men still wearing suits surround him, he forgets the infestation of lice in his hair and begins to worry about the separation of his head from his body. This bloodied band of brothers with their death grimaces still on their faces, tear at the homeless man until there's little that's recognisable left but his shoes.
"Nike's" one growls in a perfect American accent as the others giggle and wipe the remnants of entrail from their pustuled lips.
"Good taste," says another, "Tasted good . . " says another. The fourth snatches the shoes and replaces his own Julius Marlows with the trainers. They're not fast movers but the sound of impending sirens has them shuffling faster than they should as they disappear into the shadows seeking refuge among the shelter of a brick walkway adjacent to the men's toilets. They might be dead, they might be slow, but they ain't that stupid and they're aware that they're a shadow of their former selves. Keeping a low profile might be wise for a while. Odd that embedded in the undead, the pedantism and minutia so characteristic of the engineer, still remains.
As the sun rises, they're exposed. How to move without arousing suspicion is a problem since the workday has begun and the suits are bustling into the city, traffic jamming as it does. Oddly, no-one bats an eyelid. Quirky street theatre is commonplace and these players arouse no suspicion.
Fitton's flummoxed. He knows these guys were dead. He saw the bodies, smelled the stench watched the death throes of two of them. His drive to solve the mystery momentarily easing the guilt of leaving Schuman in the cafe. He likes her, wonders if she'll ever go out with him again after leaving money on the table and deserting her like a mark leaving a prostitute the morning after. He shrugs off the momentary feeling of guilt and assumes the professionalism of the investigator that he is. For now, he'll retain the facade and try to find the bodies.
The building's quarantined for a week. Fumigated and completely shut down. Fear of infection is the last thing a controversial mining company needs to accelerate their already bad press on environmental sloppiness. Workers take leave, some are laid off until the risk of infection is cleared. While the sun shines outside and the autumn winds clear the air, it's insecticide and anti-bacterial fog within. They'd attracted unwanted attention in the past with their psychometric profiling of staff and reckless abandon of OH&S issues, the last thing they need is the press getting hold of this.
"Hey you," Fitton taps Schuman on the shoulder, "I'm sorry I left you so suddenly the other evening," She's not ready to forgive but those eyes. He has lovely eyes and her disappointment soon melts.
She's incredulous, "Not dead? I checked them all. No breathing, no heartbeat. Trust me Fitton they were dead."
He rolls his eyes. "Yeh, they were dead. Now they're not. Go figure."
"I'll kick your ass if you're making this shit up," she's serious. She's in no mood to be fucked with. This whole scenario is ridiculous. Who does he think she is. She's been in this game for years not like some of the bum-fluffed embryo's that keep her company at night. She knows her shit and dead people do not rise. Well, not until now.
"Alice?" the voice is familiar. It's the HR bitch from the company. "There's been an incident at Prospect, we've had to close the office but the project is continuing. We need someone to recruit a new team, are you interested?"
"Frankly I don't give a flying fuck. I was sacked remember?"
"We're sorry but we need your expertise, we've set up a temporary office. Please, you know the ropes, you know the drill, we value your input, really."
"Well it's about time, I gave my soul to that friggin' company." She needs the work, she wants the job, she knows the team that laid her off are no longer there. This is her opportunity to pick and choose empathic colleagues. Fine, I'll do it"
She sees herself in the gleam of stainless steel, naked as the day she was born. With a messy scar from sternum to pelvis. Disappointing. Man she looks like shit and does her best to spruce up and practice the simplest of phrases. Words that once came so easily are now convoluted and require great effort
"Good mooning Moster Futten." She has no inflexion in her voice and can't enunciate the words but it will have to do. She pushes the fire exit door and is momentarily blinded by the sunlight as Fitton and the Coroner's voices enter the room. There's a waiting station wagon with 'Coroner' written on the side, "Ahem" she growls in a voice that barely resembles hers, turns over the engine and hits the accelerator. She's free. A quick glance in the rear view mirror convinces her that she looks just like everyone else, except for that, and that, and perhaps this . . .still, she's not as bad as she thought.
No time for regret - what happened happened and instead of pushing up daisies she's mobile, hungry and needs to find the others. She sees a young woman on the sidewalk. Scantily clad in denim shorts and a loose tank top. She needs clothes. Within seconds she's strolling back to the car, flicking greased locks across her shoulder and wiping the remnants of a young streetwalker from her lips with a discount petrol voucher she finds in the girl's shorts pocket. She burps. "Excsqueeeeeze me . . ." as she restarts the car. Now fed, 'watered' with the blood of another and newly dressed she cuts a fine jib despite the scum rapidly collecting on what used to be perfect skin. "Boaty is in the ire of the behulder" she grumbles as she attempts to paint decaying lips, the same lips she'd once enhanced with Botox, now smeared across her face but she doesn't care. Not any more. Besides, she's too busy admiring her new watch.
Fitton's lost. He hasn't a clue, bodies missing, a girl he can't get his head around and four empty body bags. It's tempting to just go back between those sheets. Dive deep beneath the surface of the pool and to lose himself. He doesn't really care what happened. They're corpses, how much damage can five loose bodies do?
Henry walker wakes up without his shoes. He's missing a hand and a few other essential accoutrements but he feels good, strong, alive. There's little difference between his look before and the look he has now other than the pain of hunger and no desire to drink. It doesn't hurt when he walks and his vision's clear . . he can smell others in the vicinity; company, people like him, things like him. Now there are six, seven if you include the mightily confused naked prostitute who's still bitchin' about someone else wearing her denim skirt and tank top . . . and her watch. Not quite a zombie infestation but it has the makings.
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Infest, Infect, Inflect"