I have barricaded myself in the bathroom. I listen for footfalls. I listen for their whiffling groans and small shrieks. Everything is quiet. The bathroom is the last refuge. The doors—the bathroom has two—are locked. The lights are off. Everything is still. I can feel my heart-rate begin to drop. I begin to exhale deep, even breaths.
You know how it works. The disease passes from one to another. A slight wound is all it takes. From the vantage of early morning I would not have guessed my current, pathetic position—sitting on the side of the tub, trying not to cry.
But one of them told the other that she wanted the hair band back. A struggle ensued. Wailing. “She scratched my eye! She scratched my face and my eye!” The transformation from victim to victimizer takes only a moment. The poison, the pathogen works so fast. The bright eyes darken. Blood and destruction flood the vision. They begin the hunt for other victims.
Three on the couch watching Master Chef Jr. The two shufflers shuffle in. The three on the couch don’t notice the change. The shufflers stand in front of the TV.
“Move, we can’t see,” the three on the couch say. No response. “You have to move,” they say again. Nothing. “Move right now.” The head of one twists around, unnatural. The face has lost the light of consciousness, a sick distortion of the light of humanity lurks behind the eyes. The other’s head bends straight back, the neck extending so that the head travels past the shoulders, slides down the spine. The eyes glare, upside down in the face, at the three on the couch. Both attack, vigorous with rage. All five now shuffle and wail.
I am in the garage, moving bikes and bike trailers and snow tires onto the driveway. My husband went to rent a pressure washer from the building supply. I have earbuds in and am learning about gourmet ramen in the Los Angeles area from Jonathan Gold. I hear a wail. I take an earbud out to listen. I guess it was nothing. As I put the earbud back in, the wail comes back. Others join it. I know what’s happening. They’re coming for me. The door to the garage opens, but I’m already running, out through the open bay door, around the front of the house. Blood thumps and swishes in my ears.
I stand at the front door and listen until I can hear them in the garage, still wailing. I wait. I can hear them heading into the back yard. I open the door and flash inside. The bathroom is a keep. I have a moment’s hope. Maybe a dim memory of the bathroom as a place of privacy has stayed with them, even in their decaying state. Maybe enough of the old neurons are firing that they will leave me alone here. Maybe they’ll respect the inviolable sanctuary of the bathroom.
But now I begin to hear moans, unutterable groanings, too deep for words, and the shuffling footfalls. A shudder riffles through me. They pursue me even here. There is no escape. A hand falls heavy on the door. Another. Clawing, scratching. My shoulders heave and the panic takes me over. Nothing will stop them. Their grief, their pain, their vengeance, whatever it is that drives them, knows no boundary. Even here, in the safest of places, in the peace of the rest room, the moaning and the pounding build. I know there will be no release but death. They will not stop until I am wholly consumed. I know this.
I open the door.