**This story originally appeared in Code Z: An Undead Hospital Anthology. **
TO WALK THE HALLS
By Rebecca Besser
Cameron Gather lay on a narrow bed in a little room off the main emergency room ward at Saint Helen’s Hospital, absently rubbing her bulging stomach, waiting for the doctor to examine her. She stared up at the ceiling, breathing slowly like they’d taught her to in her birthing classes; focusing on the florescent bulb – which was blinking slightly – kept her mind off of the fact that she was in labor a month early. Fear raged in her mind every time she heard a sound outside the closed door and her concentration slipped. It had already been a long night and she was tired, and she knew there was more stress to come.
The door clicked open and Cameron jumped and turned to see her husband, Joe, entering the room holding papers and tucking his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans; he looked at her and smiled.
“All set,” he said, pulling the utilitarian plastic chair from the corner closer to the bed and his wife’s side. “Has the doctor been in yet?”
She shook her head no and tears sprang to her eyes. Turning her head, she again focused on the ceiling and the light.
He laid the papers on the floor between his feet, took her free hand in one of his, and placed his other hand on her stomach, rubbing gently.
“Everything’s going to be okay, honey,” Joe said, trying to be reassuring, but he was scared too. His heart was racing, his thoughts were jumbled, and he felt helpless. The fear of losing the woman he loved and/or their child made him want to fall on his knees and cry, while simultaneously he wanted to punch both his fists through the wall and scream at the top of his lungs.
They stayed this way for many long minutes, each lost in their own thoughts, afraid to voice them and jinx the situation. Hollering, ranting, and swearing could be heard through the closed door. The ER was flooded with people seeking various types of medical attention, but they’d been placed in a secluded room to try and keep Cameron calm while they waited for a doctor to decide what was going on with her pregnancy and their unborn child.
The door clicked open and Cameron and Joe jumped, their attention immediately going to the door; the raised volume of the commotion beyond the opening shocked them. A man in a white lab coat and blue-green scrubs walked through the door holding a chart. He was middle aged, slightly overweight, and starting to go bald. He glanced up at the couple and let the door go shut on its own behind him; none of them noticed that it hadn’t latched.
“I’m Dr. Limon, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. You’re doctor, Dr….er…Fontana, is on vacation for a couple of days and I’m covering his patients while he’s away. Luckily, I was upstairs checking on a woman in active labor, so here I am. It says here you’ve been having contraction. Is that right, Mrs. Gather?” he asked, stepping up beside her and smiling down into her troubled face.
She nodded and bite her lip, still caressing her stomach.
“Have you been timing them?” Dr. Limon asked, looking back at the chart he held.
“They were ten minutes apart,” Joe said after clearing his throat. “But she said they were bad, and it’s too soon, so we thought it best to come and get everything checked out.”
“You did the right thing,” the doctor said, and smiled at the couple. “We’ll make sure everything’s okay. You’re far enough along that the baby has a good chance even if you’re in pre-term labor, so I don’t want you two to worry, all right?”
The couple smiled, nodded, and took a deep breath in unison; everything was going to be fine after all.
After a brief examination the doctor decided they would keep Cameron overnight for observation as she was still having severe, but erratic cramps. He was standing at the counter writing his instructions on her chart when the door to the small room flew open and a man came stumbling in. Blood covered the man from head to toe and he slipped a little on the smooth tile floor when some dripped off of his face and clothing to land beneath his feet as he advanced forward. Everyone in the room looked up when he entered, but they were rendered speechless and immobile for a moment with shock.
The man made it to the foot of the bed Cameron lay upon and swiftly bent down and bit into her ankle.
“Get off my wife, you fucker!” Joe screamed, and jumped up – almost slipping and falling on the papers at his feet. He punched the man in the head, sending him reeling backwards into the doctor when he released Cameron’s ankle.
Dr. Limon lost his footing on the blood slick floor, fell back against the counter, and managed to stay standing by grabbing onto the slightly open door’s handle. With difficulty, he remained standing, but barely.
The man moaned, turned, and bit at the doctor, catching his hand between his teeth as the medical professional tried to defend himself.
An ambulance team came rushing in and tackled the strange, biting man, slamming him into the far wall.
“What the hell is going on?” Dr. Limon yelled over the din. “That man just bit a pregnant woman and me!”
“Sorry,” one of the ambulance workers huffed out. “We just picked this guy up and don’t know what’s going on with him yet. Someone saw him stumbling down the street and called 9-1-1. We picked him up and he was fine. On the way here he flat lined and then came back – all on his own. He became more aggressive after that and we’ve been having trouble subduing him.”
“Well, get him out of here!” Dr. Limon yelled, holding his hand and applying pressure to the wound. “Now I have to do a blood work up on this poor woman because of your incompetence! If I find anything, I’ll have you both under review! Is that understood?”
The team nodded and they dragged the deranged man out the door and back into the hall where his moans and groans blended in with all the others.
Joe was leaning over Cameron, who was now sobbing uncontrollably, scared that the man had infected her somehow, especially being covered in blood.
“I’m terribly sorry about that,” Dr. Limon said, rushing forward. “Don’t you fret about anything. I’ll have someone look at the ankle and do a full blood panel, and make sure you’re all right.” He held up his hand and half-grinned, trying to make light of the situation and calm the couple down. “Heck, I’ll be doing one on myself too. We’re in the same boat here.”
Joe just looked at the doctor, but Cameron giggled a little through her tears, grasping at anything that would take her mind off her fears.
“I’ll get a nurse in here stat to bandage you,” he said, heading for the door. “I can’t do it because of my damn hand.”
Minutes later a nurse rushed in looking frazzled and worn down.
“I’m here to take care of your ankle,” she said with a friendly smile. “Then we’ll take you up to maternity and away from this madhouse.”
Without much chitchat, since no one was in the mood, she bandaged the ankle and prepared the bed and Cameron for her move upstairs.
Joe was hoping they would see the asshole that bit his wife in the hall, because he planned on punching him again, but had no such luck. The nurse took them down a hall away from the ER and the other patients.
The elevator ride was uneventful. The only sound was the hum of the machinery and the nurse talking quietly to Cameron, talking about her experiences with pregnancy and asking about baby names. The focus on the positive seemed to help and soon Cameron’s tears dried up and she was smiling a little, which pleased him and made him forget about the crazy man downstairs.
The maternity ward was quiet and continued to bring calm to the couple as Cameron was helped into a hospital gown and hooked up to a device to monitor the baby and her contractions.
“Try to get some sleep after your blood is drawn,” the nurse said to Cameron with a smile. “You’ll need all your strength to have that baby, if he does decide he wants to be born early.”
Cameron laughed, and Joe smiled genuinely for the first time since they’d arrived at the hospital upon hearing the happy sound.
“I will,” Cameron said, and laid her head back and closed her eyes as the nurse left the room.
Joe stepped over and took his wife’s hand.
She opened her eyes and smiled up at him, squeezing reassuringly before closing her eyes again.
A short time later, a young woman with a tray of empty glass vials came in and drew blood from Cameron’s arm. She’d been half-asleep and it didn’t take her long to fall completely into slumber when the woman was done.
Noticing that Cameron was resting peacefully, Joe sat in the semi-comfortable chair provided for fathers, beside the bed, and soon fell asleep as well; stress and the events of the evening had drained his energy.
* * *
An hour later. . .
“Dr. Limon?” Nurse Dalton asked as he came out of the delivery room one, where a woman was almost ready to deliver her baby. “Are you okay? You look like you don’t feel well. . .”
He shook his head and strained to focus on the woman. “I’m a little dizzy. I’m going to go lay down in the doctor’s lounge. Let me know when Mrs. Straight is ready to have the baby. From the looks of things, it might be a half hour or so.”
“Okay,” she said, frowning as he flexed his injured hand that was encased in a bandage and a latex glove. “Is your hand bothering you? Do you want me to get you something for the pain?”
“No,” he said, smiling gently at her concern. “I’m all right. I think I just need rest.”
Nurse Dalton nodded. “Get some sleep. I’ll page you if anything changes.”
He nodded and trudged off down the hall. Once he knew no one was watching, he shuffled close to the wall and held on to the railing attached halfway up for patients who had trouble walking and let it guide him. Truth be told, he felt like crap. He was seeing double and was having a hard time staying on his feet. Upon entering the doctor’s lounge, he stumbled and fell face down on the floor. His breathing slowed and his heart stuttered to a stop.
* * *
Joe awoke to the sound of deep moans coming from his wife. She was thrashing around on the bed, tottering like she was trying to get up but couldn’t; the front of her gown was soaked in blood.
“Honey!” he exclaimed, jumping up out of the chair. “Calm down! You’re gonna fall and hurt yourself or the baby!”
He reached toward the bed to hit the button that would call the nurse. Not wanting to excite or scare Cameron, he didn’t mention the blood that seemed to be running freely from her body. His hand shook and he fumbled to find the button he needed to press for assistance.
She froze at the sound of his voice and her head whipped around to look at him. Cameron hissed and snapped her teeth close to his hand, trying to bite it; he snatched it back just in time, but before he was able to find and press the nurse button.
In the dim light of the room he could see the menacing snarl on her face and the vacant look in her eyes. But that wasn’t what made his blood run cold or caused the lump of fear to rise and block his throat. The front of her hospital gown tore open while he watched and a small hand with sharp claws pried at the opening, making it larger.
“What the fuck?!” he screamed and backed away slowly, shaking his head, hoping he was having a nightmare and none of this was real.
Cameron hissed again and tried with renewed effort to get out of the bed, finally toppling to the floor on the far side of the room. Moments after she fell, Joe heard a wet plop as their child or whatever the hell the thing was now, wiggled its way free of its host’s body. The stench of the amniotic fluid permeated the air as it spilled across the linoleum with a gush.
Joe covered his nose and gagged, flinching away as his wife stood and came stumbling around the bed with her arms outstretched and her jaw falling open and snapping shut with eager anticipation of her upcoming meal. Her fingers were curled into sharp-tipped claws, ready to sink into his flesh and tear him apart. Stepping back out of her reach, his foot bumped the leg of the chair he’d been sleeping in only moments ago, and fell, sprawling onto the hard floor.
She groaned and licked her parched lips, but just as she was about to reach him, the umbilical cord, still attached to the child, got caught on the corner of the bed and she slipped on the wet flooring, going down on her face with a loud smack; she screeched angrily because she couldn’t reach her prize. Desperately, she clawed in front of herself and kicked her feet, looking like a swimmer stuck on dry land, going nowhere. Every time she tried to get up onto her knees, and then to stand, she slipped in the thick fluid covering the floor and fell again, angering herself even more.
Joe watched her in shock. His brain struggled to understand what had happened to the woman he’d been married to for years. He was still trying to wrap his mind around what she’d become when a movement under the bed caught his attention. Little eyes peered out at him as a mutant looking baby struggled to crawl toward him. It hissed and whined when it too became stuck on the umbilical cord attached to its stomach. With a growl of frustration, it flipped onto its back, kicked its legs and grabbed a hold of the cord, pulled it up to its mouth, and chewed violently at it. Blood shot into the air, bathing the bottom of the bed in dark, red fluid.
“Oh, God. . . Oh, God. . . Oh, God. . .” Joe whimpered repeatedly as he began to crying, finally realizing he wasn’t sleeping and everything was real; his wife and child had turned into blood thirsty monsters.
The baby, finally lose from the cord, half-crawled, half-flopped across the floor toward him. Its eyes seemed to glow in the dark; they were trained on Joe like a predator on its unsuspecting prey. Blood dripped from its mouth and teeth – teeth that looked like they’d be at home in the mouth of a large canine – to cover its hands and leave little prints in its wake on the floor, leaving a trail.
Joe shook his head, sobbing uncontrollably as his newborn son and his wife, who’d finally managed to scoot a couple of feet forward, reached him simultaneously, biting into his flesh, tearing at it with their teeth until he went silent, died, and awoke as one of them.
* * *
Meanwhile, in the doctor’s lounge. . .
Nurse Dalton stepped inside the lounge to find Dr. Limon passed out on the floor; she shook him and he responded with a groan. Content that he was awake, she said, “It’s time!” and dashed out into the hall and back to delivery room one, where Mrs. Straight was having her baby.
Sniffing loudly, he rose to his knees and used a nearby chair to lever himself to his feet. Moaning, he followed the warm blooded woman who’d just been in the room. He slapped at the door handle repeatedly until he managed to open the portal. He went out into the hall beyond and purred as her scent grew stronger. Shuffling down the hallway, he soon found his way to the delivery room.
“Good, you’re here,” Nurse Dalton said, barely looking up from the pregnant woman who was panting, laying on the bed the nurse was converting into a delivery table.
Not paying attention, he stumbled and almost fell – his butt accidently landing on the rolling stool he normally sat on to deliver babies. It skidded across the floor until he was sitting between the pregnant woman’s legs. He groaned and leaned forward, breathing deeply of the fresh blood right in front of him.
“The doctor’s here,” Nurse Dalton said, “you can push now.”
A contraction hit and the woman pushed. The child slid out of her birth canal and into the waiting arms of the undead doctor. Pleased with his present, he took a bite. The baby screamed in pain, but the wail didn’t last long as Dr. Limon consumed its tender flesh.
The woman screamed, as did the nurse who fled the room to the nurse’s station, calling for security in the ER. The phone rang and rang, but there was no answer.
Panicking, Nurse Dalton didn’t know what to do. She slammed down the phone and spun in a circle. Through the open doorway she could see that Dr. Limon had finished consuming the baby and was now going to work in the woman lying in the bed; her screams echoed down the quiet halls before coming to an abrupt end.
Down the corridor, Nurse Dalton eyes caught movement. Looking more closely, she witnessed a family come stumbling out of the other occupied labor room, the one where the woman was under observation for the night. Blood covered both of the adults – one of which was carrying a small, wiggling bundle.
She watched as they stumbled down the hall toward her. Unsure of what to do, she glanced back at the doorway leading to where Dr. Limon had unleashed his hunger in an array of carnage. He stood in the doorway panting; the woman stood right behind him, having risen to walk the halls in search of new victims as well.
Thinking fast, Nurse Dalton thought about the quickest escape routes she could take. Spinning on her heel, she darted around the nurse’s station desk and headed down the far hallway. She knew it was the long way to the elevator, but it was the only way she could go without handing herself over to the walking dead. Moans and the slow slap of wet footfalls on the linoleum tiles alerted her to the fact that she was being pursued.
Increasing her pace, she ran along the corridor and slid sideways, and almost tumbled, when she tried to stop in front of the elevators. Pressing the little round button with a “down” arrow, she shifted her weight from foot to foot, swaying uneasily while she waited. Nervously she glanced around her, hearing the monsters advancing closer. Fleetingly she thought about taking the stairs, thinking it would be faster than waiting for the elevator to arrive, but Dr. Limon and Mrs. Straight stumbled around the corner and blocked the hallway that would give her the quickest access to the stairwell. A thump sounded from close behind her and Nurse Dalton spun around and found the husband and wife from the observation room standing less than ten feet away. The noise, which had alerted her to the presence, had been the sound of the small, wiggling bundle being dropped to the floor; her eyes were drawn to it and her mouth fell open in a shocked gasp when she saw the baby who’d been loosely wrapped in a pillowcase.
The baby monster grinned up at her and Nurse Dalton whimpered and shuddered at the sight. The infant had dangerously pointed teeth, which were still stained with blood; it slowly half-crawled, half-flopped toward her.
She backed up, forgetting the duo to her right, who were still advancing toward her; the cool metal elevator door brought her to an abrupt stop. Shaking like a leaf, she shook her head and covered her mouth with her hand to muffle the sob that rose into her throat. Never in her life had she seen such a horror, such an abomination, as the mutant baby. She could tell it wasn’t like the adults; its skin was pristine and hadn’t been marred by bites or any other injury she could see.
All of the creatures were closing in on her, but she was still in a state of shock and was fixated on the strange, ferocious child. Innocence lurked in its eyes, but somewhere deep down she knew the innocence was being used as a ruse, a ploy, to trick her into thinking it wasn’t dangerous, that it wasn’t going to end her life.
Suddenly the elevator dinged and the doors slid open; Nurse Dalton fell backwards into the small, transportation box.
“What the. . .?” a man said as she practically fell into his arms as he tried to dart out; her falling body halted him.
She screamed as his hands gripped her, trying to keep they both on their feet. Spinning, she came face to face with a man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. Instantly she realized he wasn’t one of them.
Moaning and hissing in frustration over their main course suddenly escaping their grasp just as they’d reached her, the undead and abomination baby struggled to close the new gap of a couple extra feet to regain their advantage.
“Excuse me,” the man said, moving to step out of the elevator and into the corridor, “I need to find. . .” He froze at the site of the bloody, walking, growling crowd around the door. “. . .my wife.” The man finished speaking in an almost whisper, his eyes falling on Mrs. Straight, his wife. “Shit.”
Nurse Dalton grabbed the man who seemed to be paralyzed in the doorway and yanked him back just as his wife was about to sink her claws into him. She pressed the “close doors” button and stepped back, beyond the reach of the arms that came darting through the gap of the closing elevator doors.
The man, seeming to suddenly snap out of the shock of finding his wife a blood thirsty mess, punched and kicked at the limbs reaching for them, clearing the gap so that the doors would shut and ensure them a measure of safety. Once they were closed he leaned against the back wall, crossed his arms, but lifted one of his hands up to pinch the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. Expelling his breath in a long, low whoosh, he stayed that way for many tense moments, only moving when Nurse Dalton reached forward to press the button to go down to the ER. His arm shot out and his large, strong hand closed almost painfully around her wrist.
“No,” he growled.
“Look, we have to get down to the security desk, in the ER,” she snapped, tugging her arms away roughly. She didn’t think he would let go at first, but finally he released her.
“No,” he said again, watching her with a dazed expression on his face.
“Why not?” she asked, reaching forward, again, to press the button.
“I said no, damn it!” he roared, and grabbed her wrist again, but not as tightly as before.
“Why the hell not?” she screamed back with tears running down her face – the fear, adrenaline, and confusion in her system finally overcoming her composure.
“Because I just came from down there and it was far worse than what you just escaped up here!” he hollered, clenching his fists at his sides.
“Oh,” Nurse Dalton whispered. “We can’t go down then. . .” She frowned, crossed her arms, and leaned back into the corner of the elevator, swiping at the tears running down her face with the back of her shaking hand.
“I guess we go up and hope for the best,” he said flatly, reaching forward and pressing the button for the top floor; the elevator jerked as it started in the direction it had been commanded to go.
She nodded and closed her eyes, fighting a battle within herself for control. All she really wanted to do was sit down and cry. The senseless agony being caused for no reason tore at her soul. She’d seen years of suffering, being a nurse, and the only disease she could compare the events to was cancer. A ravenous disease that wanted to eat the good and turn it into the bad until the cells grew and killed the host. It caused suffering to people of all ages and wasted them away. What she was dealing with – what was around her – was the cancer of an outside nature, external to the body of life itself. It was death that sought the living, darkness more than willing to snuff out light. She groaned and sobbed, knowing that everything they could do would be futile. The disease, the death, was out of control. The face of the mutant baby swam before her tear filled eyes – a torturous memory forever imprinted on her brain – giving a gruesome face to everything about this evil, this plague.
In her distressed, thought filled state, she didn’t hear the man speaking to her, until he gently gripped her shoulder. She jumped and swung her arms up to protect herself.
“Calm down,” he said soothingly, “I’m not going to hurt you.” He stopped and swallowed a couple of times. “I just need to know. . .” He paused, looked up at the ceiling, swallowed hard again, and looked back at Nurse Dalton with determination. “I need to know what happened to my wife.” His voice cracked with grief on the word “wife” as tears fell from his eyes and his jaw clenched. “What happened to our baby?”
Nurse Dalton took deep breaths and tried to focus on the man in front of her. Images of the baby sliding out of Mrs. Straight and into the arms of the undead Dr. Limon, flashed through her brain: the baby’s scream of pain and the abrupt halt to the sound of new life; the scream of the mother as she watched her child die; and the blood chilling sounds of the woman’s death as she too was eaten alive.
“Tell me,” Mr. Straight growled through clenched teeth, gripping both of her shoulders and shaking her. “I need to know!”
She whimpered and twisted, trying to break free of his grasp. “I can’t. . .”
“Yes, you can!” he screamed in her face, spraying her with saliva and tears.
Closing her eyes, she rushed through the facts as fast as she could, only opening them again when she felt Mr. Straight’s hands leave her body.
He slumped down against the far wall, covering his face with both hands; he wept. His body shook and he breathed in great, sobbing gasps as his grief for his lost wife and child overtook him.
The elevator emanated a resounding ding and the doors suddenly slid open to expose them to the top floor of the medical facility; all was quiet beyond the open door.
Nurse Dalton stepped forward, holding her hand against the door to keep it open. Slowly, she stepped out into the hall, careful not to move her hand in case someone or something tried to attack. She didn’t want to be sealed off alone.
“It looks clear,” she said, turning back to the man who had quieted somewhat, taking her eyes off the hallway.
A woman with no face growled and slammed into Nurse Dalton, knocking them both into the elevator.
Mr. Straight jumped up and tried to wrestle the undead woman off of Nurse Dalton; they slammed into the control panel as he did so, and their bodies pressed a couple of buttons for the lower floors.
Screaming, crying, and flailing, Nurse Dalton fought against her attacker as well. The blood thirsty beast roared, clawed, bit, and scratched as they tried to subdue her.
During the struggle they descended many floors where the elevator paused and the doors slid open. Luckily, no one else decided to join the elevator battle, until they reached the ground floor.
The doors opened with yet another ding, alerting all of the creatures milling around in the Emergency Room to turn and watch the struggle within the elevator. With moans, groans, and harsh squeals of glee, the undead descended upon the battling living.
Nurse Dalton saw them coming and wiggled her way over to the control panel. She pressed the “close doors” button, but there were too many bodies pressed between the doors and they were struggling too hard with the faceless woman to defend their small “safe zone.”
Soon they were overwhelmed and the hungry creatures tore the flesh from their bodies, feasting on parts of them while they screamed. Soon, they too, joined the undead to walk the halls. . .
If you like Rebecca Besser’s short fiction, check out her short story collection, “Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death,” on Amazon:
©Rebecca Besser, 2011. All rights reserved.