Kevin changed his grip on the bat he had taken from Mr. Rogers’s room. The wooden weight was comforting. He swung it experimentally once, then twice, before freezing in place.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
Once upon a time, Kevin had complained about the lack of grease on the wheels of Mr. McGivens’s old wheelchair. Now, he found himself listening for that squeaking, holding his breath when it sounded. Mr. McGivens lost his legs to a landmine out in the swamps of Vietnam, binding him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Three years ago, he was brought to Merry Crest Memory Care when his Alzheimer’s became too much for his family to handle. They stopped visiting before his six-month anniversary. Mr. McGivens was now a zombie.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
Kevin began to back up, one slow sliding step at a time. The bat made him feel better. It did not make him feel safe. Then again, safe had apparently left the building at dinner time the day before.
Supper was served at 6 p.m. and lasted until 8, depending on how long it took to feed those who had to be handfed. It was an hour after he clocked in Kevin heard the screaming start. Ms. Black, an elderly nurse who seemed to have an uncanny rapport with their patients, shrilly shrieked across the small facility.
Mr. Edward had clamped down on her arm with his jaws, holding onto her wrist and elbow like a person would a leg of chicken. He gnawed and snarled; the old crinkle faced curmudgeon turned into a junkyard dog.
Ms. Black tried to yank her arm away, beating at Mr. Edward across his head and shoulders with her free hand.
“I ain’t on the menu,” she screamed.
Other patients were rising from their seats, some of them forcibly throwing their plates away. Mrs. Robinson, a woman who tended to wander like a wraith, drool like a St. Bernard, and babble on like a broken television, turned on Mr. Hand. The little Asian man went down with a terrified scream as Mrs. Robinson shredded him like a cook would a chicken for chicken salad. Blood and gobs of flesh splattered the tables and the floor.
Kevin made it to the door of the dining facility just in time to hit Ms. Cup, one of the administrators, in the face with the door. She was screaming at the top of her lungs. Kevin tried to go in just as she was trying to come out and he had her outweighed by a hundred pounds even counting her terror-stricken sprinting. The door collided with her face and she stumbled backward, right into the lap and arms of Mr. McGivens. The old war veteran buried his teeth in her neck. Blood sprayed across his face and short-cut white hair. Kevin watched through the small window of the door as she struggled more and more weakly. With shaking hands, Kevin locked the door. Just in time for something to thud up against it. The patients were trying to escape.
Backing up, Kevin made for the first room he could remember having something useful as a weapon.
Mr. Rogers had once been a baseball player, strictly minor league, but he was proud of it; kept a case of memorabilia in his room, complete with his old bat signed by all the guys who were on the team with him when he retired. Kevin thought of the bat first. Mr. Rogers second. As Kevin turned the corner into his suite, the old man jumped out at him, fingers curled into claws and mouth gaping open. If it hadn’t been for the headpiece made out of very sturdy plastic connecting him to a rather heavy oxygen tank, he might have actually managed to grab Kevin. As it was, he leapt forward, the plastic snapped taut snatching him backward head-first, and Mr. Rogers’s head made contact with the floor. The body thrashed for several long seconds, smearing blood and brains on the white tile floor. Kevin tried his best not to look.
Turning his head slowly, Kevin took in the man on the floor. He wasn’t moving anymore. With uneasy steps, Kevin moved across him and to the baseball case. The solid pane of glass shattered when he dropped it on the floor. Then he pulled out the bat, an old Louisville Slugger with a dozen names etched into it. Now all he had to do was make it to the exit door.
There was only one door for people. There was a bay door for deliveries, but it was beyond the dining facility. Kevin wasn’t going through there. He would have to go through the door past the nurses’ station. Meaning he was going to have to hit the button inside the nurses’ station and then get through the door before the lock reset back into place.
High school track was five years past, but he was going to have to summon that speed back if he intended to get out of this alive.
Stepping back out into the hall, Kevin flinched at the sound of someone screaming. The voice was not familiar, thankfully. Voices brought faces. Faces brought fear. Kevin had enough fear already. Enough fear to give him the shakes. The bat waved gently with his tremors. Yet he changed his grip on it and kept moving.
Bloody footprints ran and skidded along the floor. Kevin scanned them as he went, looking at their direction. They were going in two different directions: either end of the hall. Kevin walked, nervous eyes watching every doorway for someone to come charging out. The small staff was probably running around, attempting to escape, if they weren’t already gone. He could imagine the nurses at the front station simply let themselves out the front door and didn’t look back. He could not blame them.
He would have done the same.
The hall at the front was empty. He could see the staring glass of the nurses’ station. The bloody smear of someone’s handprint might as well have been outlined in neon. That was when he heard it, squeak, squeak, squeak. Kevin began to back up, one sliding step at a time, waiting for the wheelchair to come into view. Mr. McGivens, the old war veteran, wheeled around the corner His head lolled to one side mimicking curiosity. Bits of Ms. Cup still dripped from the edges of his mouth. There was something menacingly alive in his eyes. Kevin watched for long seconds before pivoting on his heel and taking the first running stride. The squeal of Mr. McGivens coming after him screamed down the hallway, surrounded and supported by the clatter of metal and the understated thrum of tire rubber against the floor.
Kevin made the corner and slipped in a puddle of blood. It was nearly enough to pull him off his feet. With one hand, he grabbed the wall and used it to right himself, the sound of Mr. McGivens getting closer all he could hear. Panting for breath, he ran, only just noticing the body he leapt over in the center of the hall belonging to one of the other orderlies. Kevin had seen him around a time or two, did not know his name, and was not stopping to check his credentials. There was a crushing sound as Mr. McGivens rolled over the dead man.
There was one problem with running around inside a small hospital-like building: eventually there was nowhere left to run. At the end of the hall was one of the fire exit doors. He had forgotten about it. Kevin hit the door full force and screamed as something inside broke, but the door did not open. His scream doubled in intensity as Mr. McGivens slammed into him from behind with all the force the wheelchair could muster. He was still screaming when Mr. McGivens started chewing.
“This is becoming a problem.” Keller stood outside of the Merry Crest Memory Care, with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, watching the building burn. “This is the third site we’ve had to sterilize in the past few weeks. Has anyone managed to track Dr. Lecter’s movements?”
“Not well enough to guess where this is going to happen next. We’ve got feelers out to every care facility that takes Alzheimer’s patients in the country, but there’s no way we can be certain where Dr. Lecter has put this treatment into effect or not. Remember when we got to Woodlawn Memory Home?” Baker stood next to him with a clipboard balanced on her hip.
“Yeah, no outbreak.” Keller took a sip of his coffee. “Took forever to get through the paperwork for shooting that orderly.”
“It was a nice shot, but we’re just going to have to hope we get a lead before this starts all over again.” Baker shrugged. “You know, all of this could have been avoided if God hadn’t given Mrs. Lecter Alzheimer’s.”
“You’re right. Cause then we wouldn’t be running all over the country trying to find where he’s been shooting patients full of this new supposed retrovirus capable of reversing the effects.”
Smoke swirled high into the pre-dawn sky. The fire department would undoubtedly arrive soon. They would find the doors barred from the outside and obvious evidence of arson. The fourth such incident in six months. Someone really did not like old people.