TNW – Day 45

This is the fifth chapter.
Start at the beginning or read the previous chapter.

Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.

All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.

The Nudist War – Day 45

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

~ Genesis 2:25, King James Bible

• • •

Jess awoke to the sound of thunder. She opened her eyes and turned to look at the alarm clock. It’s luminous face showed 6:30 AM. She reached over to her laptop and brought up one of the outside security cameras. The video and audio indicated that it was raining heavily. “At least the weather is still normal,” she thought before turning off her alarm, rolling over, and going back to sleep.

In the next room Eddy was snoring heavily. When he got back to the lab the night before, they both agreed they desperately needed a good night’s sleep. After several medicinal scotches, they both retired for the night. The DNA sequencing could wait, besides they were making no progress anyway. A good night’s sleep was the least they were due.

• • •

It was close to noon when they both finally got up. Jess was the first one to arrive in the break room. She was drinking her coffee and watching a security camera feed on the wall display. Eddy staggered in. “Is it ever raining out there,” Jess commented. “Are you really sure you want to go back to MAN’s today?”

“I’m sure that I don’t want to go back to MAN’s today, but I’m not sure I have much choice.”

“Why don’t you call him?” Jess smirked.

“Very funny. Why don’t you call him?” Eddy retorted.

“Hand me the phone.” Eddy handed her the phone. She autodialed the Seaside Hotel. “Hello, this is Jessica Munroe, is MAN there? I’ll wait. … Hi MAN, it’s Jess. How are you?”

Eddy stared wide eyed and silently mouthed “What the f…?”

“Glad to hear it. We’re OK. Just hangin’ out at the lab. Ya know, savin’ the world and all. What?” She laughed. “Yeah, you’re right about that. Say, Edward and I need to come out to talk to you about something. When is a good time? Yeah, that’s what we thought too. OK, tomorrow at 10 AM it is. See you then. You too.” She hung up the phone, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

“What just happened?” Eddy asked sheepishly.

“MAN said it was too dangerous to be out in the pouring rain. He said to come out tomorrow at 10 AM.”

Eddy was speechless. “I mean, how …?” Then it dawned on him, “EDWARD? You called me Edward again.”

“Go back to bed. I’ll wake you if the rain stops,” Jess offered. Eddy didn’t reply. He shuffled off to his room.

With Eddy gone, Jess made another cup of coffee and wandered over to the pantry to see what there was to eat. “Let’s see … mmm Twinkles … haven’t had those in a while.” She remembered when she was a little girl and the company that made Twinkles had gone out of business. She remembered how she cried when her mother explained that she could never have Twinkles again; then later how she squealed with glee when they reappeared on the grocery store shelves. “Mmm Twinkles,” she said out loud quoting the old joke, “they don’t have a shelf life, they have a half-life.”

Jess wondered what day it was. She turned on the nearest laptop and checked the calendar. “Saturday?” she mused. “Well, what better day to kick back and do nothing?” Jess took another sip of coffee and another bite of Twinkle. “If it stops raining, I’d like to go up on the roof and get some more target practice.” She went back to watching the security cameras on the wall display.

As she cycled through the cameras, she eventually came to the garage security cam. On it, a dozen or so Zs were huddled together out of the rain. No, they weren’t huddled, they were bent over eating something. Jess watched in morbid fascination. These were the Zs she had seen running on the beach. She was sure of it. But what were they eating? A dog? Too big for a dog. No, it was a person … or maybe a Z? How many Zs had she seen running on the beach? How many were in the garage? Then she remembered their fruitless attempt to catch seagulls the previous day. “Maybe it is a Z they’re eating,” she exclaimed out load.

The Z feeding frenzy was over in a few minutes. Jess realized that she must have caught it near the beginning. Some of the Zs took the opportunity to defecate and urinate before the pack left the garage and headed back out into the rain. Jess switched cameras to follow them down the street and out of sight. “It’s a good thing we didn’t go see MAN today,” Jess thought. “I would hate to have stumbled into them in the garage. I wonder what made them choose our garage?”

• • •

Unlike the zombies of legend, Zs were living creatures with all of the bodily functions of their human counterparts. They were still physically very much human. They ate meat and drank water. They urinated and defecated. Their reproductive organs and hormones still functioned. Mentally however they were very, very different. The HZV virus had killed off all of the higher brain functions that give us our humanity. Gone were all of the traditional human emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, and Surprise. What was left was an enhanced reptilian cortex and nervous system. Imagine a warm-blooded crocodile in human form with a voracious hunger, human speed, and near superhuman strength and stamina.

Due to its increased metabolism, a Z was always hungry. Eating was always first and foremost on its mind. Zs were strict carnivores with a taste for living flesh. They ate anything and everything as long as it was alive and kicking. Attempts to lure a Z with butchered meat usually failed unless the Z was extremely hungry with no other option. Even then the meat had to be fresh and warm. Deprived of food for a long enough period of time, it was not uncommon for a pack of Zs to turn to eating each other, feeding on the weakest member of the pack, usually a child, a woman, or a senior. As time went on a Z pack tended to thin down to only the strongest males and females. Only after the need to feed was fully satisfied did the last remaining animal urge express itself. Fully fed male and female Zs had been observed to copulate aggressively for hours, with the entire pack participating in the unholy orgy.

Once a Z removed its clothing (or had it ripped off ), it didn’t know or care enough to put it back on. The HZV virus effectively killed off the brain centers capable of embarrassment, shame, and propriety. They were naked and were not ashamed. Clothing had no more meaning to a Z than it would to any other wild animal. Furthermore most of those infected awakened from their comas in the hospital. Hospital gowns fall off quite easily (if you have ever been a hospital patient you know how very true this is). Additionally those that fell into their comas at home often wore little or no clothing. This and the requirements of the daily bodily functions meant that Zs inevitably became nudists. In fact, the presence of clothing on a Z was an indication that the Z had awakened within the last 48 hours or so. Of all the ways that Zs differed from the common Zombie mythology, the naked Z was the most shocking.

• • •

Jess continued to mull over what might have happened if they had stumbled upon those Zs while going to the car in the garage. There was no way they could have killed them all before one or more of the Zs pounced. The idea of being eaten alive by a pack of nudists sent a chill down Jess’s spine. Suddenly she felt cold and dirty. “When did I last have a shower?” A nice hot shower sounded like just the thing to perk up a rainy Saturday afternoon. She finished her coffee and strolled leisurely toward the locker room.

Jess looked at herself in the mirror as she undressed. “Shit, I’ll be fifty soon,” she said out loud. Her long black hair was already showing streaks of grey. “You don’t look too bad for a gal your age,” she told herself in the mirror as she sucked in her tummy and stood up straight. “You’re getting fat, you need more exercise,” she answered herself. “How? By running on the beach being chased by a pack of Zs that are trying to eat me?” she replied. “I guess I could always run the stairs.” She stepped into the shower, turned on the hot water and adjusted the temperature. As the hot water rained down on her and she began to relax, her mind wandered over the events of the past several weeks since the incident with Ruth. She wondered what happened to the rest of her staff. She knew that Bob and his family had sought refuge with MAN at the Seaside, but she had no idea about the rest. “Who died? Who turned?” she wondered. “I need to pay more attention the next time I see that pack of Zs.” The thought of recognizing someone in the Z pack sent another cold chill down Jess’s spine. She turned up the hot water.

Her mind continued to ponder the days following the attack, when the Army had come to the island offering refuge at a compound that was being established on the mainland. She and Eddy turned them down because of their ongoing HZV research. She wondered how many others had gone with them. The hot water felt good as she soaped down. “How much longer will we have water and power?” she wondered. “Who is keeping it up and running? Maybe things are better on the mainland.” So many suppressed thoughts came flooding into her mind. What about her sister back east, with whom she had lost contact? Why hadn’t Eddy been infected? He’d been bitten, after all. Why did MS seem to offer immunity? Her mind kept going back to the feeding pack in the garage. “Why our garage?” Was it chance or did they know she and Eddy were there. The hot water felt so good raining down on her. She wished it would never end. She stood under the hot falling water, deep in thought.

• • •

AHOOGA … Jess was jarred from her contemplation. “What the f…?” … AHOOGA … AHOOGA …

Eddy was running to the break room. … AHOOGA … “JESS, WHERE ARE YOU?” he yelled. … AHOOGA … “JESS?”

AHOOGA … Jess was drying off as fast as she could. … AHOOGA … She could barely hear Eddy over the alarm. … AHOOGA … “I’M IN HERE,” she yelled. … AHOOGA …

Eddy ran to the gun locker and grabbed the two semi-auto shotguns and two of the double-barrels. … AHOOGA … He feverishly began to load the two double-barrels (the semi-autos were always kept loaded). … AHOOGA … “THEY’RE IN THE STAIRWELL,” he yelled to Jess as she came running around the corner, wet, still buttoning up her shirt. … AHOOGA …

“I KNOW,” she yelled back over the alarm. … AHOOGA … The motion sensors they had set up in the stairwells had triggered the Klaxon alarm. … AHOOGA …

Eddy tossed Jess one of the semi-auto shotguns …AHOOGA … and chambered a shell in his. … AHOOGA … He went over to one of the laptops. … AHOOGA … He brought up the controls for the alarm … AHOOGA … and turned it off … AHOO … (silence).

He was just about to bring up the stairwell security cams when the stairway door suddenly burst open. Eddy and Jess swung to face the door at the same time, fingers on their triggers.

• • •

“DON’T SHOOT DON’T SHOOT” a voice yelled.

“Tom … Cindy … you’re still alive!” Jess rushed over with tears in her eyes and hugged them both. Eddy pulled them away from the door and saw their daughter Maxine and dog Wolf in the stairwell. He grabbed them too and pulled them quickly into the hallway, closing and locking the door behind them.

“Is it just you?” Eddy demanded.

“Yes, yes just us,” Thomas Braun replied, his voice still quavering in shock at almost getting shot. “We didn’t know where else to go after we lost power. We still had our keys and we knew there was at least a standby generator here. We didn’t think anyone was still here. We certainly weren’t expecting this kind of reception.”

“Christ, we almost blew you all away! What kind of reception were you expecting? Oh hell …” his voice trailed off as he rushed over to join in the group hug. “Damn it’s good to see all of you,” he wrapped his arms first around Cindy, then around Tom.

Tears streamed down Jess’s face as she hugged Maxine, “what happened? why didn’t you leave with the Army?”

“They wouldn’t take Wolf. No dogs, they said. He’s a member of the family. We couldn’t just leave him behind to be eaten by those … those things,” Cindy stammered. Maxine nodded a tearful agreement. Jess remembered the dog being chased down on the beach and shuddered agreement.

Eddy looked at them. They were dripping wet. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk later. Let’s get you out of those wet clothes. Jess you grab some towels, I’ll get some dry clothes. Show them to the lockers.” Jess led them all down the hallway to the lockers while Eddy went off in search of dry clothing.

• • •

Thomas and Cynthia Braun had transferred from Atlanta to Galveston to work on the H17N10 bat flu research project a year before Eddy had joined the team. The husband and wife team of epidemiologists was the first to join Jessica’s new project. Although both had been born in Germany, they emigrated separately after each had been disqualified from the semi-final selection for the First Mars colonization program, a private initiative to send volunteers on a one-way trip to the Red Planet. They met each other again in the United States while attending a seminar on Solar System colonization and something clicked.

Tom and Cindy had so much in common. Together they watched the final selection process for the first six Martian colonists. They watched the liftoff together from the launch site bleachers reserved for semi-finalists. They watched the daily transmissions as the crew coasted to Mars. They waited together in silent agony with the rest of the world after all communication was lost with the First Mars crew during reentry. Communication was never reestablished. Subsequent high resolution satellite photos depicted their capsule’s debris field strewn across the Martian surface.

Together they watched the very public witch-hunt that eventually proved that shoddy manufacturing by the low bidder was a contributing factor to the mission failure. Many wondered if Tom and Cindy had gotten married in a subconscious effort to ease their grief over the First Mars loss. Others wondered if they were thankful for the rejection that obviously saved their lives. Regardless, nine months after the First Mars tragedy Maxine Ares Braun was born.

• • •

They all sat in the break room sipping scotch, or in Maxine’s case ginger ale. Wolf sat in the corner hungrily gulping down a can of beef stew, which Jess thought looked like dog food anyway. “So after we lost power and it didn’t come back on, we decided to try to make it back to the lab,” Tom explained. “We got into the car and drove here through the pouring rain. Those … things … started following us as soon as we set out. It was as if they could smell our trail, like bloodhounds, you know.” Eddy nodded that he understood. “We drove around a while trying to loose them and then sped over here as quick as we could. I parked on the street … don’t ask why … I wasn’t thinking clearly. We ran through the rain to the garage. The elevators weren’t working but thank god I still had my keys. By the time we got from the elevator to the stairs one of them saw us and must have called to the others. We just barely got the door locked behind us when they started clawing at the door and beating on it.” At this Eddy shot a glance over to Jess who returned his troubled frown. “As soon as we moved past the first landing that hellish alarm began going off. It only stopped going off after I had unlocked the door and was walking in. Thank you for not shooting us.” Tom proffered.

“Yeah, you should have knocked or rung the doorbell first.” Eddy replied half jokingly.

“Well we’re just glad that you made it here, aren’t we Eddy,” Jess said. Eddy nodded in agreement.

Eddy pulled up the garage security cam. There was no sign of Zs. “Guess they had places to go and people to eat,” he quipped. Jess smirked, but the Brauns failed to see the humor.

They all spent the rest of the afternoon and the early evening watching the security cams and getting caught up on what had happened in each of their lives over the past few weeks. Jess also detailed the feeding frenzy she had observed on the garage security cam. Everyone had their own close encounter to relate. Finally Jess suggested it was time they all got some sleep. Eddy and Jess found bedrolls and sleeping bags for the Brauns and turned the break room into a makeshift bedroom. They each said their goodnights and headed off to their respective quarters.

Eddy caught up to Jess in the hallway when they were out of earshot. “The Zs are getting too interested in this place for my comfort.” Jess nodded agreement. Eddy continued, “we need to be extra vigilant. Try to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a busy day.”

• • •

>> TNW – Day 46

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