“Think we should hang around?” he asked.
“I don’t think so. I’m already on probation.”
“Dave, they’re gonna come get us. They’ll wanna know what happened.”
“Nah, I don’t think this thing’s gonna be a big deal. Probably send us a nice card for getting Franky to the hospital. Come on.”
We took off walking, since it didn’t seem wise to go back home in the stolen cop car. We went around the edge of the lot as the approaching police car whooshed past us. It skidded to a stop next to Franky’s vehicle and two cops spilled out and went inside. We silently cut across the lawn and crossed a street with a traffic light blinking yellow. We cut through the darkened parking lot of a Chinese restaurant called Panda Buffet, which did not in fact serve panda meat as far as we knew. Behind it was one of the city’s many abandoned properties, the depressing twin buildings of an old tuberculosis asylum that had been closed since the sixties, the gray bricks tinged moss-green.
John lit a cigarette and asked, “So what do you think that thing was?”
I didn’t answer. I found myself scanning the dark plane of each parking lot we passed, studying the shadows, looking for movement. I noticed my steps were hurrying me unconsciously toward the pool of light under the next streetlamp. We passed into the parking lot of a tire place with a ten-foot-tall tire mascot standing by the street. The mascot was made of real tires, with mufflers for arms and a chrome wheel for a head. Some joker had used white spray paint to draw a penis on the front of it in the anatomically appropriate spot.
John said, “So that thing crawled into his mouth, what do you think it was doing?”
“How should I know?”
A blur of red and blue zipped by. Another cop car, lights flashing. Thirty seconds later, another one. John said, “Man, these guys really gather around one of their own, don’t they?”
We walked on, hesitant, a sick feeling in my gut. Two more cop cars flew by. One had different markings, state cop I guess.
“They’re just going there to check up on him, right? John?”
“I don’t know, man.”
“Let’s get home, we’ll see if they got anything about it on TV.”
But he had stopped, saying, “No point, all you’ll get is the news after it gets filtered for the reporters. We’ll get better information if we go back down there.”
“We’d just be in the—”
I stopped at the sound of a distant scream.
John said, “You hear that?”
Another cop car zipped past. How many of those did we have in this town?
“Come on, Dave.”
John took off walking back the way we came. I stood my ground. I didn’t want to go back there, but—and I’m not ashamed to admit this—I also didn’t want to walk back to my place alone, in the dark. I raised a hand to touch the spot on my eye where I had been bitten, raw flesh under a Band-Aid. I winced as the pain in my shoulder stopped me before I could get my hand up there. The chunk taken out of my skin there was getting sorer by the minute. I was about to tell John to have fun without me when—
The sound of distant gunshots, like firecrackers. John started jogging back across the tire store parking lot, toward the hospital. I let out a breath, then followed.
27 Hours Prior to Outbreak
We arrived on the hospital grounds to see that all hell had broken loose. Six cop cars were parked haphazardly around the emergency room entrance, lighting up the parking lot like a dance floor. There was an ambulance, its rear doors open. People were spilling out of the hospital entrance, their heads down like they were running the trenches in a war zone. One lady came out in aqua blue scrubs, one side of her blond hair matted down with blood. There was a clump of onlookers on the far side of the lawn that included three or four wheelchairs, maybe fifty yards from the hospital. It looked like they were gathering patients there, getting them away from the building. One cop was talking to them and gesturing with his hand, karate chopping the air with each barked command. His other hand held a pistol pointed at the sky.
*POP! POP! POP!POP!POP!*
More shots from inside. John, possessing a genetic defect that makes him walk toward danger, strode down toward where it looked like some cops were trying to set up a perimeter around the chaos. Somewhere, Charles Darwin nodded and smiled a knowing smile.
We came upon two cops blocking the sidewalk, a fat black one with glasses and an older guy whose face was all mustache. John stepped off the sidewalk as if to walk right past them on the grass. Black Cop put out a hand and told us to stop, in a tone that suggested if we didn’t he would Taser us until our blood boiled. We backed off, stepping aside as paramedics hustled the bleeding-head lady past us. She was crying, holding her head, saying over and over again, “HE WOULDN’T DIE! HE JUST WOULDN’T DIE! THEY SHOT HIM OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND HE—”
John tapped my shoulder and pointed. A boxy truck was pulling up, blue with white letters on the side. I thought it was some kind of paddy wagon but when the doors opened, a SWAT team spilled out.
John moved off the sidewalk and up onto the lawn in front of the building. There were some benches there, and a ten-foot-tall bronze statue of a lady in old-timey nurse’s garb holding a lantern. Florence Nightingale? I followed John and we joined a small crowd of onlookers.
Gunshots. Rapid shots, dozens of them. Gasps from the audience. I could barely see down there but I could make out people running out of the building, frantic. One lady fell down and got accidentally kicked hard in the face. Then, a man came out supported on the shoulders of two hospital staff, his right leg missing from the knee down. Or at least that’s what it looked like, keep in mind we were still far enough away that the door looked about the size of a postage stamp, and I was trying to look through a growing crowd in front of me. That’s why I can’t be totally sure about what happened next.
First, a man in a black SWAT outfit came running out of the building, screaming something. I couldn’t hear him from where we were standing but to this day John insists the man was screaming, “Run away!”
Then, shots. Loud, sharp, close. Next came the screams. Screams from every single human being close enough to the lobby to see what was going on. Three cops near the entrance ducked behind the parked patrol cars and trained guns on the sliding doors.
A man lumbered out.
Every gun barrel followed him.
It was Officer Franky Burgess.
He was wearing his cop uniform pants and a red shirt … no, that’s not right. It was a white undershirt, stained with blood over 80 percent of its area.
People crowded around, blocking my view. John craned his neck and said, “It’s Franky. Everybody’s got their guns on him, like he’s dangerous. Did he shoot all those people? Hey, move, buddy. I can’t see.”
Frustrated, John went to the nurse statue and, to my horror, climbed it. He got up to where both hands were on her shoulders, his shoes planted on her forearms. Florence’s face was planted in John’s crotch.
I waved at him. “John! Get down from there!”
“I can see him. It looks like they’re talking to him. I don’t see a gun. Oh, shit. Look at his arm. Dave, his right arm is broken. And I mean it’s almost broken at a right angle, and Franky doesn’t even act like he cares—oh, wait. Something’s going on…”
A cop voice from nearby said, “Get down from there! You! Get down!” John ignored him.
A burst of gunfire. Everybody ducked.
“They’re shooting him!” shouted John. “They’re shooting a lot! You can see bits of him flying off! He’s still up! Holy shit he’s—HOLY SHIT! He just grabbed one of the SWAT guys. He grabbed him by the ankles and is swinging him around like a baseball bat! He’s knocking the other guys down!”
“Bullshit! John, get down from there!”
“He’s biting a guy now! He’s eating him! A cop! He’s got him by the neck!”
More shots. Screams. Suddenly I was awash in a panicked current of swinging elbows and shoulders. John jumped down from the statue, and ran with the crowd, as fast as he could. Over his shoulder he yelled, “DAVE! HE’S COMING!”
I took two steps, and somebody slammed into me. My face bounced off wet grass. I climbed to my knees in the stampede. A woman nearby screamed at the top of her lungs. I spun and between running figures saw a shirt stained red with blood.
Standing right there, left arm jutting grotesquely just under the elbow, blood dripping to the grass from a protruding shard of bone.
Police were shouting in the distance, commanding us to get down.
How did he beat them here? He cleared half a football field in five seconds.
Franky’s torso was riddled with puckered bullet wounds, leaking red. His chest heaved with excited breaths, his punctured lungs whistling with each inhale. The broken arm was moving, twitching, the bones tearing free of skin and curling like tentacles.
What the shit?
Cops ran into position. I saw one SWAT guy fumbling to cram a new magazine into the little submachine gun he had. They shouted orders at each other, and at the crowd. Franky opened his mouth, opening wide like a yawn. And just for a second, I thought I saw the face of the spider, nesting there behind his teeth, filling the cavity with its black body.
Then, the Franky monster let out a noise like I had never heard before. It was a shriek, like microphone feedback. But more organic and pained, like the sound a whale would make if it were on fire.
The ground shook from it. My bowels quivered. I think I shat a little. I saw people hitting the ground all around me, saw guns fall from the hands of cops. I clapped my palms over my ears as the pained shriek of Franky the Monster filled my bones. Franky’s back arched, his mouth opened to the sky, howling. Blood was spurting from a dozen bullet holes. It was the last thing I saw before the world swam away and went black.