Authors: William D. Carl
“What about you?” he asked. “You said you had no family, brothers killed. You got a man stashed away behind a white picket fence?”
“No, and I don’t have a dog, either. I did have a cat, but she ran away one night. No fences, just a nice little apartment about a mile to the north. With my income, I can’t afford a house.”
He grinned at her. When he smiled, he was even more attractive. “I could float you a loan. Hell, you won’t even have to repay me. Just tell the cops I took it all. That
why you’re leaning against that door, isn’t it? You’ve been stretched out against that thing since we got locked in here.”
“What?” Her wide eyes implied innocence. “This door?”
“That’s where the cash is kept, isn’t it? How’s about we open that sucker up and take a look.”
“You’re still thinking about money? With those things loose out there? We could die when that door opens.”
“Then, baby, I wanna die a rich man. Open her up. Let’s take a look at what’s inside.”
She stood, wiping dust off her black cotton slacks. Two more locks were on this door, and she used one key from her own key chain and one from the bank manager Rick had knocked cold. The door opened slowly, another five inches of steel.
As she exposed its interior, Chesya said, “You’re worried about cops and money. The whole world looked like it was ending last night. It looked like something out of a Left Behind novel … the Apocalypse.”
“You read that crap?”
“Yes, and last night looked like the beasts were inheriting the Earth.”
“You don’t know that. We don’t know much of anything locked in here like this. When those doors open, I want to be ready for whatever is waiting. If things are quiet and back to normal, then I’ll be off to Florida again, and you can return to your apartment and keep living your boring life.”
“I’d really like to believe that,” she said. “But what makes you think anything will ever be normal again? We saw shit last night that I still don’t understand. I mean, werewolves!”
“Come on, come on,” he whispered. “Swing that baby wide open for me.”
Rolling her eyes, she finished opening the door, revealing the shelves inside the metal closet. They were lined with neatly wrapped stacks of cash, rows separated by the type of currency. The air seemed a bit colder than that in the vault, and Rick searched for an air-conditioning vent, but he didn’t see one.
With a whoop of delight, he swooped down on the money, stuffing hundreds into his pockets. He started moving to the twenties, humming “We’re in the Money.” His facial expression had altered from glum and nervous to one of childlike wonder. Chesya had noticed this awe in nearly everyone she had ever trained to work the vault. When they first saw the money, they entered a fantasyland, wondering what they would do with such riches, what they could buy.
Rick’s new enthusiasm frightened Chesya. The sight of all that
money had turned some switch in him, and he was acting foolishly, as though he had become oblivious to their real problems. People with that much confidence made mistakes, and mistakes, even small ones, could get them killed now. She preferred the frightened man, the coward. It brought out the mother and sister in her. She could comfort him, help him, and she knew exactly where she stood with him.
“I take it you’re feeling a little better now?” she asked.
“The money make you happy?”
“You know, it doesn’t take much to get me to forget my problems. A couple hundred thousand dollars does it pretty fucking quick.”
“That’s not really your money.”
“It is now.”
“It’s the bank’s money. The people who’ve invested here, who trust us—”
“Sing it to the choir, sister. It’s insured. If I had to go through the shit I’ve gone through in the last twelve hours, I expect to come out ahead.”
“Where do you live?” she asked, sneaking in the question.
He gave her a knowing wink and said, “Wherever I feel like. This much money, in cash, can get you a lease damn near anywhere.”
“It doesn’t seem right.”
“You handle cash like this every day, right? I don’t mean fondling it, just that a lot of money passes through here all the time. What stops you from just taking it?”
“Are you crazy?”
“Maybe just a little.”
She sighed. “I don’t take it because it isn’t mine to take. There’s a moral line, but you wouldn’t know about that.”
“Here,” he said, tossing her a bundle of wrapped hundred-dollar bills. She caught it, and he continued, “Tell me that doesn’t feel good. You have five thousand dollars in your hands. How many months of rent would that pay on that little apartment of yours? Here.” He threw another bundle, and she caught it. “Take two. That should pay the rent for the rest of the year. Or put a down payment on that
house you wanted. Make sure there’s a picket fence. That ought to make this long night worthwhile.”
She stepped over to the money closet and replaced the bills. “It’s wrong,” she said.
“In the eye of the beholder.”
“No, any way you look at it. It’s wrong.”
“Chesya, da-a-arling.” He drew out the word seductively. “If that door opens in a few hours and the whole world is overrun with werewolf monsters, are you going to tell me that all the rules still apply? You telling me you won’t grab what you can to survive? I’m taking the cash. You can do what you want.”
He was frightening her more with every passing minute, with every calculated remark he made. She knew he was going to do something crazy, and she knew she couldn’t rely on him now. She could control the blithering coward. This new persona was a different matter entirely.
She hesitated. “I don’t know.”
“I would think that we’re going to have to make some new rules if the world’s changed as much as last night. And the first rule I create is—every man for himself.”
“I don’t know. …”
“Hey,” he said, stuffing a plastic bag full of currency. “How about a little help here? And how long have we got now until the door opens?”
With a shudder, she walked over to him, praying he would lose some of his newfound confidence before they were released from this prison.
SEPTEMBER 17, 6:09 A.M.
hristian had fallen asleep in the freight elevator, his legs tucked underneath his body, cuddling the transistor radio. He had kept it on during the night, listening to static instead of the horrible noises from outside. Every once in a while, another (or was it the same?) beast would scrabble at the elevator doors in an attempt to force them open. The sound was terrifying, growling and scratching and what once almost sounded like an animal’s vain attempt at speech, the words mumbled through ragged lips and extended teeth. At these times, he would turn up the volume of the little radio, but the white noise couldn’t entirely dispel the vocalizations of the monsters.
He had concluded that these most definitely were monsters, possibly even aliens from another world. The invasion had come, the ships spewing forth these beast-men into the world’s cities. It made sense to him, more sense than his other theory. …
There were werewolves loose in Cincinnati. And there were a hell of a lot of them out there.
Eventually, when the adrenaline had dissipated, he had fallen asleep, cradling the radio in the crook of his arm, intent upon its static. The soothing noise had helped him sleep. He didn’t know how long he had slumbered, but his dreams were packed with full moons and howling.
“Hello … hello … is anyone out there?”
The voice was soft, yet urgent. It was a man, and his cries startled Christian from his sleeping state. Looking around, he took note that he was still locked in the elevator, and he was still safe, still alone.
Except for the radio.
The static had finally ceased, replaced by a voice, broadcasting its immense loneliness and horror with every word.
“I’m here at WKPX in Milford. There’s nobody else in the radio studio. If anyone can hear me out there, I think it’s safe to come out now. They’re gone. The creatures seemed to have changed back. I haven’t seen one in nearly an hour.”
Sitting up, Christian listened intently.
“I … I think it’s safe to come out now. This is not a trick. If you’re locked up somewhere, you can unlock your doors. Everyone seems to have … changed back into themselves. I don’t understand it, but it’s true. I should warn you, it looks pretty bad out there. A couple of times, I thought I heard gunshots. Rifles. I suggest we all get back to our families and start burying the dead. My name is Juan Cabrone, and if you’re out there, Laurie, I’ll be home soon.”
The static resumed. As though the man had never been broadcasting at all.
Christian took a few deep breaths and pulled opened the elevator doors.
The sunlight from the dawn was stunning.
Jean Cowell looked around at the chaos that had once been his laboratory at Bio-Gen headquarters. Bottles and beakers were smashed into glittering jewels around him, ground beneath padded feet during the night. A foul stench emerged from some of the spilled chemicals, and his notes blew lazily in the breeze venting from a busted window. He picked up one of the pages and read through it, smiling at the work it had taken to prove his hypothesis.
He had tried to prove so many things in his life. Sighing, placing the page on the counter near the back of the lab, he realized the time for tendering proof was almost over. In fact, much of what he considered reality had been shattered like the glass that clinked beneath his shoes. When the very fabric of reality, of belief, was broken, no theoretical proof would ever put the Humpty Dumpty god of the real world back together again. Waking life had warped into mythology. Nothing would ever be the same.
And this thought kept clanging in the brilliant man’s mind, a wake-up call for what was to come.
He had once been a wise man, his mind adroit and quick. And he had attempted to be a good man, albeit without much success. The bugaboos of his true self haunted him throughout his life—his taste for rich foods and wine, his dependence upon marijuana to lull him to sleep, and his taste for young men. The younger, the better.
His mind turned to Christian, the latest of his purchased boys. Christian was so appreciative of every small kindness, every shower, any small bite of food, that Jean found himself trying to go further with this gamin. He wanted Christian off the streets, someplace safe and warm, and he had invited the boy into his life, only to be refused. One more disappointment in a long series of disappointments.
There were no longer any safe places, he had to chide himself. There was no place to hide. If you ran away, where could you run? How do you escape from yourself?
The night had been terrifying, a flurry of teeth and claws and blood. But he had survived it. Many had not. The urges that had compelled him during the night were primitive, animalistic, and, to Jean, completely terrifying. His basest needs had taken physical form during the nocturnal hours, the need for food, for sex, for sheer physical ecstasy. With these guarded secrets unleashed, he had felt true power, unlimited excitement. He had tasted blood and semen, licked at wounds and inflicted new ones upon others who had challenged him. His true inner self was on full display for the world to see.
It had demolished all those carefully built walls that had protected the world from his real conceits.
And it hadn’t been a pretty sight.
Moving to his desk, he took a seat near the broken window, relishing the cool breeze that trickled across his sweat-soaked, naked skin. He sighed, opening the drawer.
In his mind, he thought of the ways he had survived over the years. He remembered the death camp of Auschwitz, remembered his friends and relatives fed to the ovens while he had assisted the Nazis in their repellent experiments. Had he been so different from
them? He thought back to the men in his life, and the boys who had eventually replaced them, their faces growing ever younger, always more innocent. He saw the day that the U.S. government approached him, the day he had signed the contract that had certainly damned his soul for all eternity.
And he saw Christian’s face, his lean body, the way the boy looked when Jean handed him the measly twenty-five dollars. The boy was probably ruined now, his purity discarded like a shucked skin.
Picking up his journal, he wrote a few lines on the final pages, a last gasp of humanity before he ended everything.
“I am only a man, with a man’s weaknesses,” he scribbled. “The world is a terrible place, and I have made it more so. How many have died so far because of what I’ve done? There is a serum, one that can counteract this evil, can possibly cure the world. I no longer wish to be cured. I’ve witnessed the baser side of humankind, tasted the darkness, and I see only one way out. I need to send my soul to hell. Maybe I could stay and be of service to someone, but I cannot live with the knowledge of my own evils, the ones twisting and gnawing at my brains. I cannot live with myself. Nor can I accept what I’ve loosed on the world. It’s too horrible to consider, and I cannot bear to see the visage of accusation again. I’ve seen that scowling face before, and I would rather die than look upon its disappointment and disapproval once again. I’m too old and too weak to handle it. When blame is assigned—and it will be—blame me for it all. I deserve nothing less. Good-bye, my sweet Christian. Good-bye, my fellow scientists. I pray to God my untested serum works.”
His mind raced through the pages of his time on Earth, powerful recollections resurfacing like Proustian whales. Some memories were good, but many of them reflected the more sordid side of his life. It made it easier to take the gun from the drawer and insert it into his mouth. The barrel tasted of nothing. The cold taste of guilt against his lips, phallic metal, hard, unyielding.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, and all the king’s scientists and brilliant researchers
he thought. He knew there would be no absolution
for his crimes, not for the misdemeanors of his cravings, nor for the greatest crime ever wrought on humanity.