*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*
The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.
Chapter 35: Part 3
Nothing could have prepared us for what we found. The hallway was post-apocalyptic. Scattered papers, pools of blood, and a staggering number of dead bodies covered the floor. Broken florescent lights filled the hall with the stink of burning electronics. The fixtures that remained flickered like strobe lights. Torn student council banners hung over the stained glass windows.
A few feet away, two ghouls hunched over the corpse of a nun. They lifted their gore-stained faces when they sensed fresh meat, but continued to chew. Meat and blood gurgled in their throats as their vacant eyes turned toward Karen.
Karen stepped forward as she lifted her gun. She fired twice in as many seconds, delivering perfect shots to each ghouls’ forehead. Brain tissue exploded from the backs of their skulls, then the twice-dead teenagers collapsed.
I knew then why Khalid had given Karen that weapon. I knew why he’d set up the target range in the basement of his whorehouse. All the better to terrorize the vampires that worked for him. I could’ve pointed all of this out to Karen. Maybe I should have. Instead, I nodded toward the dead ghouls and said, “Did you know them?”
Karen pointed her hand cannon at the ground, but kept her finger close to the trigger. “Probably. I’m not going to get a closer look, though. Come on. Trevor’s class is on the next floor.”
We made our way down the hall, our backs to the rows of lockers. We rounded the corner to find three more ghouls lounging under the stairwell. One feasted on a severed arm. All three had stomachs so distended they looked pregnant. The rest of the bodies on the stairs were crumpled in pools of their own blood and guts.
I held out my hand when Karen lifted her gun again. “Let me. My goddamn ears are still ringing.”
Karen nodded, then looked away as I finished off her classmates. She put her hand on my arm in silent thanks as we climbed the stairs.
On the fifth floor, we hit a wall of stench that stopped us in our tracks. Karen leaned against the handrail as though she would pass out, her eyes shut tight. Being human, she couldn’t just stop breathing, like I did. She turned her face into her elbow and took shallow breaths, but started to retch. If there’d been anything in her stomach, she would’ve vomited.
So many bodies littered the floor that there was no clear path through them. The tile was so red and sticky that it was impossible to tell its original color.
“Let me carry you.” I didn’t say what I was really thinking, though Karen had to have had the same thought. There was a better than average chance that one of those bodies belonged to Trevor.
“No,” Karen said. She swallowed hard then began to pick her way through the corpses. “This way. Trevor’s class is down this way.”
Karen wouldn’t look down, so I did it for her. It was then that I realized there was something strange about these bodies. The ones that had turned, either as vamps or ghouls, all seemed to have a single wound in common. Somewhere on their skull, a wide gash split the bone to expose gooey brain matter.
“Karen, wait,” I said.
She stopped then turned next to a classroom crisscrossed by heavy steel flagpoles. The ends of the poles stabbed through metal lockers, effectively blocking the door. The door handle shook, but it was bound to the place where the poles intersected. Karen frowned as she took a step closer to the darkened window, then a white arm smashed through the glass. Reflex alone saved Karen as a clawed hand took a swipe at her face. She tripped over the body lying face-down behind her, then sprawled on the ground.
A cheerleader glared down at Karen. Her fangs were long, and her washed-out blue eyes were ferocious. Dried blood stained the ends of her long, blond ponytails, as well as the lower half of her face. “You’re dead, bitch!” The girl’s voice boomed through the halls. “When I get out of here, you’re dead!”
“Debbie McAllister?” Karen said as I pulled her to her feet. Congealed blood soaked her hands and designer jeans.
The girl screamed again as she slammed her fists against the door. The bloodlust had her so focused on Karen that I was able to creep closer without her seeming to notice. Beyond Blondie, I saw a tall, black kid pacing near the covered windows. Three girls held each other and cried next to the chalkboard. Two more vampires sat at lab tables, their heads in their hands. One boy mumbled into his cell phone, I assumed to leave some sort of message for his mother.
At last, my scent registered with the cheerleader. Her eyes swept over me as her new instincts let her know that I was a rival on her territory. The look on her face grew even more hostile. “Kill her!” The command caught me off guard. When I didn’t move to obey, the girl took a swipe at me. “Why are you just standing there? Do it!”
“What happened here?” I said.
My sense of calm wasn’t contagious. The cheerleader turned her attention back to Karen. “You’re dead, Harris. Do you hear me? When I get out of here, you’re dead!” Blondie stormed away, then upended the teacher’s desk.
I turned to find Karen staring into a large common room. Shards of plate glass covered the floor like a layer of ice. “Friend of yours?” I said when I joined her.
Karen made a face. “Who, Debbie? No way. She was an enormous thunder-cunt before somebody dosed her with vamp.” Karen nodded toward the open area. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse.”
She was right. I assumed this room served as some sort of student lounge. I saw wooden benches, tables, and walls papered with motivational posters. That day, blood-splattered medical screens bearing the initials CDC covered the vending machines. The dead bodies were mostly adults wearing medical scrubs and yellow isolation gowns. Bite marks covered their necks and arms.
Karen crunched through the glass, to a long folding table covered in manila folders. I crouched down to inspect one of the few bodies on the floor wearing a school uniform. The boy’s eyes were yellow, like mine, and rusty fangs peeked below his lips. The same gash that killed those in the hall split his forehead.
Bright, bold red letters were stamped across the folder in Karen’s hand: QUARANTINE. She began to read aloud, “Do you have, or have you experienced in the past twenty-four hours, any of the following symptoms: fever in excess of one-hundred-and-one degrees. A red, burning, or itching rash, with or without white pustules. Headache. Chills. Swelling, painful or otherwise, in your neck, stomach, armpits, or groin area. Stomach pain. Nausea. Vomiting…Thor’s beard, whoever filled out this questionnaire checked off everything.” Karen scanned the paper then looked dejected. “Margret Nguyen. The note on the bottom says ‘immediate transfer to quarantine at Methodist General.’” Karen let the folder drop to the floor. “My mom works there.”
Dozens of identical folders covered the table. The plague had swept over Karen’s school like a tsunami. “Did you know her?”
“I had chemistry with Margret Nguyen. She let me copy off her sometimes. We weren’t friends-friends, but she was nice and everything.” Karen caught herself. “Is nice. Margret is nice. This plague is spreading too fast. If we take care of Justine, will that stop it? Will it cure everyone that’s sick?”
There was no point in lying to her. “I don’t know, but I doubt it.”
Karen’s face fell. “But, it should stop it from spreading any further, right?”
“I hope so.”
Karen’s energy left her in the form of a sigh. “Then we have to try.”
I was on the verge of warning Karen that we needed to leave. Whoever locked up those vamped kids and killed the others would make their way back to us. So, naturally, I heard footsteps right behind me. Karen’s gaze shifted to something over my shoulder then her eyes widened. I ducked and rolled to the right just as an axe blade whizzed past my ear.
I turned to face a line-backer. I’m bigger than average and I don’t intimidate easily, but this kid was a beast. Most of his black hair had escaped his ponytail to hang around his face in damp curls. Blood and chunks of brain splattered his school uniform. His fangs pierced his bottom lip and his yellow eyes were demented as he swung at me again. His newfound vampire strength and speed made him very hard to dodge.
Karen stared at the boy in amazement. “Mateo?”
The boy looked at Karen, then his face twisted with the same rage that had possessed Debbie McAllister. He turned his axe toward Karen, but I caught the handle on the downswing. Mateo growled as he tried to tear the weapon away from me. It felt as though he would dislocate my shoulders, but I held on. He roared as he turned on his heels, and the momentum lifted me off my feet.
Okay, this wasn’t working. Bigger, stronger opponents need different tactics, so I leaned back. Mateo held the weapon tight as he staggered forward. I rolled onto my back, planting my foot in the boy’s stomach. Mateo flipped over me, then landed on his back hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. Mateo blinked, stunned, then seemed surprised to find himself pinned. I pressed the axe handle across his chest, hoping my raw strength and body weight would be enough to keep him down. It was, but just barely.
“Toby, don’t hurt him!”
I looked at Karen out of the corner of my eye. Seriously?
It didn’t matter that I was the more immediate threat. Mateo continued to focus his murderous rage on Karen. “I’m going to kill you, you fucking whore!”
Finally—finally!—Karen remembered that she was a goddamn necromancer. “Hark me now, here my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your bones, your blood, now freeze.”
To my surprise, Mateo continued to struggle beneath me. People strung out on vamp aren’t truly undead, but necromancy still has an effect on them. Karen’s domination should’ve taken the edge off, at least. To my greater surprise, her incantation hadn’t influenced me, either. It was as though she hadn’t spoken.
Karen stammered for a second, then said, “Hark me now, here my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your bones, your blood, now freeze.”
Speaking slower didn’t help. Enunciating every letter didn’t help. Karen had lost her powers.
At that moment, everything clicked into place. Mateo was vamped, yes, but he had no blood on his hands, face, or breath. He’d somehow managed to not only resist the bloodlust, he’d locked away as many of the others as he could. Who knew how many lives he’d saved that day? This was a kid with a will of iron. A good kid. A hero.
And he hated Karen.
Oh, fuck me. “Hey!” I shouted to get Mateo’s attention. “Look at me, not her!”
Mateo’s eyes locked with mine, as though noticing me for the first time. “Why are you defending her?” he said through clenched teeth. “Were you a part of this?”
We heard the click of a gun hammer being drawn back then froze. Karen leveled her weapon at Mateo’s head, tears in her eyes. “Please, Mat, don’t make me do this. I’m begging you. You’re my friend.”
“Friend?” The word exploded out of Mateo. “Fucking ‘friend’? That didn’t stop you from poisoning us, did it, friend? You might as well pull that trigger, Karen, because you’ve already killed me.”
My heart sank into my stomach.
“You think I did this?” Karen said. “You think I gave you vamp?”
“I don’t think, bitch, I know you gave us vamp. You looked me straight in the eye with a smile on your face, then you fed me that fucking brownie. You waited until I swallowed it, then gave me another one. What the fuck is the matter with you? You had to have known how many people would die today. You better go ahead and kill me, because I have every intention of killing you. But first, I want to know why.”
Karen’s hands began to shake. “I didn’t,” she said with a helpless shrug.
“You’re not going to die if we can get you to a hospital in time,” I said. “You haven’t fed, so as long as we get a few pints of O-neg into you before the vamp wears off, you’ll…probably be okay.” Mateo’s face hardened as he looked at me. “I mean, you’re going to need a few weeks of dialysis and you’re in for some nightmare withdrawal symptoms, but then you’re golden.”
Mateo shook his head as he pointed to the body of one of his classmates. “That won’t bring her back.” He pointed to a doctor covered in bite marks. “Or him. Or them. Goddamn it, shoot me, Karen. I don’t want to be the only one that makes it out of here.”
“You won’t be,” I said. “You fought, and you helped as many people as you could.”
“Not all them.” Mateo’s rage broke and he began to sob, but his body was too dry to shed tears. I knew he’d never recover from what he’d been forced to do. “I couldn’t stop all them. I barely saved anyone.” His hatred of Karen swelled up again. “Because of you. Ever since you got out of the hospital, you’ve been a total psycho slut-bunny. I know you gave me those vamp brownies because I wouldn’t fuck you.”
It was hard to tell which accusation offended Karen more. “Excuse me?”
“Don’t act all innocent,” Mateo said with unfiltered contempt. “You’ve been sleeping around behind Trevor’s back for weeks. I know it, you know it. Everyone knows it. Hell, everyone except Trevor.”
Karen lowered her gun. “Mateo, I would never cheat on Trevor. You and I have been friends since middle school. You know me.”
“I know you were all over my jock like a bee on honey at Nicole Spencer’s party last Friday. Maybe you got brain damage when you got sick, or something. Or maybe Trevor isn’t man enough for you, anymore.”
I was really, really starting to like this kid. “I am so sorry about this,” I said.
Before Mateo could ask what I was apologizing for, my fist slammed into his temple. My index finger snapped against his hard skull, but his eyes rolled back.
Karen started to breathe fast, surely in the throes of a panic attack, but I couldn’t go to her. I propped Mateo’s dead weight in a chair then removed the zip-ties from the belt of a security guard. Within seconds, Mateo was bound tight.
Karen paced behind me, her hands in her hair. “Bad Karen did this. Oh, my god, I bought her here, and she did this. Why?”
There was only one reason I could think of, but Karen wasn’t ready to hear it. “She’s…Infernal,” I said. “They’re addicted to suffering. Someone must’ve warned her that the jig was up and that you were on your way.”
“It was probably that whore, Aliese.” Karen’s voice dripped in hatred. “Jealous, meddling bitch, always sticking her ugly nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
“The timing doesn’t make sense, though.” I hoped that if I led Karen toward the truth, she would see it for herself. “We left Kingdom Come, what? About half an hour ago? Something else must’ve set Bad Karen off.”
Karen stared at her hands. “Lord Ahriman took my powers. That’s what that kiss had been about. Why would he do that to me?”
Before I could answer, Mateo groaned. I tried to be as imposing as possible as I stood over him, axe in hand. When his eyes focused on me, I said, “Don’t move. You have no idea how much I don’t want to kill you.”
Mateo glared but obeyed.
“I’m going to ask you some questions,” I said. “First, how long ago did this start?”
Mateo thought it over then shrugged. “I don’t know. They took my class down to get swabbed around eleven, I guess? Most of us were bitching because we were afraid we’d miss lunch. I wasn’t showing any symptoms, though, so I was in and out in ten minutes. But she,” he gave Karen a nasty look, “was waiting outside for us. About fifteen minutes later, I vamped out in the middle of the cafeteria, along with a bunch of others. Cherise Charles, and Andrew Stone…they started killing everyone around them. It was all I could do to not join in, especially after that smell hit me.”
I looked at the smashed clock on the wall, which was still running. “So, shit hit the fan about two hours ago? Karen, you were still asleep then. That rules out Aliese warning Bad Karen. Can you think of anything else that might have set her off?” Come on, Karen. Figure it out already.
It was Mateo that answered. “I figured it was because Trevor finally dumped her ass.”
Karen and I looked at him, shocked. “What?” we said in unison.
“Yeah, and not a moment too soon. I’ve been telling him for weeks that he needed to get rid of her, but you know how he is. If the Olympics had a pussy-whipped competition, Trevor would take home the gold every year. Anyway, bitch was being all weepy and dramatic yesterday, like her slut heart was broken.”
Mateo’s taunts didn’t faze Karen. “Okay,” she said, “this is going to sound weird, but did you see where I went after I gave you the vamp brownies?”
Mateo looked at her as though she’d lost her mind.
I sighed. “Just answer the question.”
Mateo blew a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. “I have no idea. What do you have fifth period?”
Karen turned on her heels. “World History with Coach Brackens. It’s on the first floor.”
I bent to slice through Mateo’s bonds as Karen stormed into the hall. A ghoul, the lower half of its body missing, dragged itself in her direction. Karen sidestepped its clumsy grab, then brought her foot down hard on the back of its head. Its skull flattened as what looked like raspberry jelly spurted from its ears.
Mateo blinked as Karen continued on her way. “What the fuck?” he said.
I started after her and Mateo followed. “It’ll take too much time to explain. Just do me a favor, and don’t try to hurt her again.”
Mateo frowned at my fangs and ragged clothes. “Who the hell are you?”
Mateo wasn’t stupid. “You’re not my friend. I’ve never seen you before in my life. So, you must be Karen’s friend. Question is, are you the sort of friend her boyfriend knows about?”
I was not that sort of friend, but I shrugged. “Does it matter now?”
Mateo and I passed another barred classroom. A young kid, obviously human, had his face pressed against the window. Mateo raised his hand when he saw him, as though to say, Stay there. Everything will be okay. The boy nodded in understanding then backed away from the glass.
By the time we reached the stairs, Karen was already a flight and a half below us. We hurried to catch up. “That wasn’t Karen that dosed the brownies, was it?” Mateo said. “Karen hasn’t been to school in weeks.”
I shook my head. “No. No, she hasn’t.”
This confused him more. “Then what the hell is going on?”
Karen waited for us on the ground floor, gun in hand. Between the covered windows and broken lights, the hallway was pitch black. A strange rattling sound echoed through the halls, coupled with a whoosh and symphony of squeaks.
Karen frowned at me, her eyes useless in the darkness. “What is that?” she said.
Before I could tell her, a swarm of mice and rats rushed over our feet. Karen screamed as she jumped into my arms, and even Mateo swore out loud. The vermin ranged in color, from brown, to black, to pure white, which meant they hadn’t come up from the sewers. Also, they were running for their lives.
“Those are the rodents from the genetics project they’re doing in honors science,” Mateo said. “Who the hell let them out?”
Karen stiffened in my arms, as though hit by a jolt of electricity. Her mouth dropped open, then her face collapsed in despair. She drew in a deep breath of the toxic air then unleashed a scream I’d only heard once before. It was the wail of a mother whose toddler had just wandered into oncoming traffic. The sound jarred me to the bone as Mateo clapped his hands over his ears.
Karen shoved me away, not bothering to catch herself as she fell. The mass of rodents crawled over her arms and into her hair, but Karen continued to howl.
“What’s the matter with her?” Mateo had to shout to be heard.
Orange light flickered from the far end of the hall, and I looked up to see Justine walking toward us. Her black eyes locked with mine as fire blossomed in her wake.
Karen’s head jerked back as though someone had snatched a handful of her hair. Only the whites of her eyes showed, and I didn’t recognize the voice that tore out of her throat. “Die!”
Justine raised her arms and a huge blast of superheated air slammed into us. I threw Karen over my shoulder then grabbed Mateo by his blazer. “Come on!”
I sprinted toward the opposite end of the hall, Mateo on my heels. We reached the covered windows then cannonballed through the glass.