By Jeffrey Bishop
Help sometimes comes from unexpected places. So too does harm.
Tell Time: 10 minutes
Scare Rating: 4/5 Ghosts
Alex’s friends were terrified — and none more so than Janie, his girlfriend.
Against better advice, the couple had been downtown with their friends after dark. They’d had a great time – one of the best times they could remember since the start of the Zombie Apocalypse. As the street lights came on around them, however, they were still joking around and talking, and didn’t immediately notice the mob approach them.
The group knew to get out of there fast, but one of the zombies in the pack managed to grab Janie’s arm just as they got to their friend Rob’s car. Instinctively, Alex jumped between his girlfriend and the creature.
“Let go of her, you freak!” he hollered as he slammed the heel of his hand against its face in a classic Chuck Norris move. Like a flip-top head, the rotted lid flopped over on its jaw hinge.
Stunned, but only slightly, the monster loosened its grip enough to allow the four teens to make their escape.
Safely in the car and with the group quickly driving away from the city square, Alex saw that he’d been wounded.
“That creepster bit me!” he said, examining the torn flesh under the car’s dome light. “Get me some of that antiseptic from the glove box, fast!”
“Technically, it was your hand that bit his teeth,” Rob said, handing back the salve from the car’s first aid kit.
“If I get infected, I’m coming for your lunch first!” was Alex’s retort – which was only half in jest. While Janie and Alex worked on his bite wound, Rob pointed the car not toward their homes, but onto the freeway to the city. There was no sense taking chances; he was going to take Alex to see “Dr. Zombie.”
By the time they got to the doctor’s clinic, Alex was shivering and in a cold sweat – clearly infected. Janie gripped his arm tightly as they entered the waiting room.
Dr. Zombie was famous in the area for apparently having the power to stop an infected zombie bite from advancing the victim to the undead state. With his proprietary formula, he had established a degree of celebrity status — so much so that he starred in his own late-night TV commercials. If Alex was indeed infected, Dr. Zombie was the only person who could do anything about it.
Incredibly, Dr. Zombie himself came into the examining room almost immediately after they’d been admitted. He was a thin man in his early 30s. It was possible, Rob thought upon seeing him, that he wasn’t a doctor at all — at least not a medical doctor. But his cure was supposed to work in at least half of all infection cases if the intervention is provided within an hour.
“You’ve got to help Alex!” cried Janie to the doctor. “We used antiseptic on the wound, but I don’t think it did anything!”
“You did all the right things, and you did everything that you could for him,” he said reassuringly as he began the examination. Dr. Zombie had seen hundreds of cases like Alex’s since the dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse, and understood the girl’s response. But by this time, the hysterics of friends and family members were somewhat amusing to him. Peering into Alex’s pupils with a penlight, the doctor nonetheless managed to maintain his composure.
“This zombie virus has advanced considerably in the last five years; it no longer responds to normal interventions – and never has responded to any of the gimmicky new-age treatments you’ve probably heard of. You did the right thing by bringing him to me.
“There’s still a chance to save him — he hasn’t slipped into the catatonic-but-alert stupor that precedes the transformation and the rage. But we’ve got to act now.” From a small refrigerator in the corner of the treatment room, Dr. Zombie removed a large vial. He filled a syringe with a thick orange gel, then approached Alex. Slowly he slid the needle into the boy’s neck.
“No alcohol to disinfect his skin, doc?” asked Rob.
“Under these circumstances, do you really see a point in it?” the doctor answered dryly as he finished injecting the solution. Alex flinched as the needle came out; he eyed the doctor warily.
“But what was in the needle?” Janie asked.
“What we’ve just given your friend is a specific cocktail of industrial chemicals – including ammonium hydroxide, which is used in the food service industry to “wash” meat byproducts to remove E. coli and other diseases in order to make them fit for human consumption,” Dr. Zombie informed the friends. “This serum may block the spread of the undead virus to his brain. If we can prevent that, he’ll have a chance at remaining normal. We won’t know, however, until the moment of truth. He’ll go through the entire transformation process, whether our solution works for him or not.
“When your friend is about to transform, he’ll go stock-still for a number of hours; he’ll appear to be dead – to the point that his body will become rigid as from rigor mortis,” the doctor continued. “But don’t be mistaken – he’ll remain alive. He’ll be very alert, and he’ll be stoking a killer appetite.
“Throughout history, many of those who have been buried alive weren’t dead, as their loving family members supposed; rather, they were undead. That’s why our folklore always shows zombies emerging from graves and tombs.
Alex and his friends listened intently, hoping for hope in the doctor’s speech.
“At the moment of transformation, death comes. And after death, his body will start back up. It will restart as either life restored, or as an animated corpse. That is the moment we’re waiting for,” the doctor said with grave intentionality.
“The next eight hours are critical – we won’t know until dawn whether our intervention has worked or not. Our protocol is to keep him isolated in a confined cell, in case it doesn’t work. Doing so protects everyone – his friends and family and our staff, anyway.”
Janie protested: “I want to be with him! I want to help him through this!” she cried.
“There’s nothing you can do to help him at this point,” replied the doctor. “As you can see, he’s not able to respond to you at all. However, typically someone on staff stays in the room to monitor and observe as part of our research efforts. If you’d like, I can stay with him the entire time.”
Grudgingly, but somewhat reassured that Alex wouldn’t be alone, Janie assented and watched as an attendant restrained her boyfriend in a wheelchair and rolled him out of the room.
“Wait out front. I’ll let you know how he is in the morning. Have hope!” With that, Dr. Zombie left the teens to join Alex.
It was 4 a.m. in the small, windowless room where Alex and Dr. Zombie were quarantined. The room was stark and bare, with steel plate walls and an intercom system at the door. In the corner was a small stainless steel shelf bolted to the wall; on it was a small collection of tools.
Dr. Zombie had busied himself through the night by reviewing research reports and annotating Alex’s condition at half-hour intervals. Clearly, the good doctor was a nocturnal creature. As dawn approached, he became increasingly interested in his patient, and began addressing him directly. Still in an attentive stupor, Alex didn’t move, but listened as the doctor began what sounded like a well-rehearsed soliloquy.
“My work has been fascinating, young Alex. I’ve certainly learned a lot about this disease and about zombies – perhaps more than anyone else around today. Indeed, that’s but one reason why they call me Dr. Zombie. One reason …” The doctor’s voice trailed off as a thought seemed to briefly pass through his mind.
“I’ve learned a lot, because I’ve had to. For instance, did you know that it takes about 12 hours for the virus to travel throughout the central nervous system to get to the brain? And while it’s common knowledge that the human brain is a special delicacy to the zombie, what’s not well known – by humans or amongst zombies – is that the “prime” cut” is the new zombie brain: the brain of a human right after he has changed over to a zombie.
“As disgusting as zombies are with their flesh-eating habits, they are decidedly not cannibals,” said the doctor. “strangely, they love our brains, but they won’t eat each other’s brains. As a result, very few of them are familiar with this treat. More than just a delicacy, however, we’ve discovered that fresh zombie brains have curative powers. Indeed, they are the active ingredient of my famous cure. And although we advertise a 50 percent cure rate, we’ve actually achieved 100 percent efficacy with our current formulation.”
Alex was more alert than he had been all night; his eyes tracked the doctor pacing back and forth before him. Though his body was frozen, his mind was racing: why was he in lockdown away from his friends if he had been given a cure?
“We’re doing research now that we hope will allow us to permanently cure humanity of the zombie scourge,” the doctor explained, almost as if he’d heard Alex’s thoughts. “But to do this work, we need fresh new zombie brains. This means that while we can help everyone, we choose to only help about half the victims that come to us.
The doctor looked straight into his patient’s eyes. “To put it plainly, Alex: we need for you to fully change into a zombie, so that we can harvest your brains for our work. That orange gel was just a placebo.”
If he had the power to do so, Alex would have screamed. Powerless to move, yell or fight, he instead succumbed to his terror in silence, as Dr. Zombie strode across the room toward him.
“I can tell you are getting upset. I don’t blame you. This work is historic. And you, young Alex, are going to help us make history. Your brains are, anyway.”
Suddenly, in his panic, Alex noticed that he was now able to move a bit, as though the imaginary ice that captured his muscles was thawing. He started to struggle against his restraints – if he could free himself in time, he knew he’d be powerful enough to take down his tormentor.
Dr. Zombie crossed the room to the shelf on the wall behind Alex. He didn’t seem to have noticed Alex’s struggle. If only …
“There’s one last thing to share with you before your transformation,” the morbid doctor added menacingly – the charitable wunderkind doctor was no longer in the room. “While we’ve discovered that an injection of new zombie brains offers a cure for preventing permanent zombification of a new victim, we’ve learned of one additional medicinal effect.”
On the table, from next to a small ball peen hammer – and a fork – the doctor gingerly lifted a scalpel and turned back to Alex.
“New zombie brains, when consumed in the raw by full-blown zombie, temporarily reverses the zombie curse. Eating this delicacy restores the monster to a mostly human-like condition,” talking mostly to himself now, the doctor was almost giddy. “I serendipitously made this discovery first-hand, when I was a young medical school student and starving zombie.”
Alex desperately, but hopelessly, rocked from side to side within his restraints. He was about to become breakfast; the transformation was complete. He could struggle but not free himself; he could finally attempt a scream, but what came out of his mouth was a guttural “Eeearrrrggghhhhh!” instead.
The doctor smiled at the outburst. Like an egg timer going off, the bizarre wail-growl simply meant that it was time. He placed the blade of the scalpel to Alex’s head for the first incision.
“Farewell, Alex,” said Dr. Zombie. “I can’t thank you enough.
“Wish us luck with the research. And wish me bon appétit!”