|Several hours before, after a wayward Escalade had totaled his ambulance in the night, Shane Harris had found himself walking along a back road in one of Michigan’s many small towns. He’d been on call around ten the night before, when everything had started. He was one of three EMTs that had been in the ambulance when it crashed. The driver had died instantly, and his two co-workers had suffered some shared madness, both devolving into murderous freaks in the blink of an eye. Shane had escaped the wreck, and the other EMTs had gone at each other. All Shane had needed to see was the splash of blood against the cracked back window to convince him to hightail it the hell away from there.|
He’d walked through the trees as often as he could. Being a country boy, he knew his way around a forest, and he’d known he didn’t want to be on the roads. He’d figured correctly that his chances had been good he wouldn’t encounter any other people if he stuck to the trees, and avoiding human-or what currently passed for human-contact had seemed like a good idea to him at the time.
When dawn had broken, he’d come upon a big, two-story house tucked back in the woods. The driveway was long and winding, and the home was surrounded on all sides by thick copses of trees. It was a nice place, and Shane had decided it would be the first home he would venture into in order to attempt to reinstate human contact. He was a helper at heart, and if something bad was happening, he’d known he couldn’t go too long without offering his assistance.
As he’d walked through the backyard towards the large house, Shane had seen a young woman leave the house through the open garage door. Though it was an incredibly chilly winter morning, the plump but pretty brunette had been barefoot, dressed in a short-sleeved pajama set. She was holding something in her arms, but Shane hadn’t been close enough to identify what it was at first.
She hadn’t noticed him at all, so Shane had discreetly followed the woman all the way down the driveway, cringing at the thought of how cold she must have been. Just as he was about to call out to her, to offer her his jacket or to escort her back up to the house, she had reached the culvert at the end of the driveway.
The culvert was wide and tall, nearly eight feet from where the young woman stood to the icy water that flowed sluggishly from the cement tunnel. There were rocks and old pieces of concrete in the ditch, and Shane had imagined that in the summer, the water rose high and had all sorts of fish, frogs and crawfish in residence within it.
As he’d pondered these things, the bundle in the woman’s arms had begun to stir, and issued a tiny cry. It was an infant. She’d held it out for the space of a few seconds, and then had dropped it into the icy water.
Shane had been frozen by pure shock for all of three seconds. As the woman let herself drop into the ditch, facedown, after the baby, Shane had raced to the edge and plunged into the water. It had been maybe two and a half feet of arctic chill, but Shane had hardly felt it as he went for the baby.
Luckily, the infant had missed any of the rocks or concrete that could have easily killed it from that high of a drop. Even more luckily, Shane had reacted with speed and experience, pulling the child from the freezing water and wrapping it in his coat, against the heat of his body.
The woman Shane presumed was the baby’s mother had not been so lucky; blood had already begun to blossom in a frozen flower around her outspread brown hair. She had landed on one of the pieces of concrete, and definitely had a head injury. Thinking only of how he would always react in such a situation, Shane had turned her over so she wouldn’t drown, then had taken hold of her by the back of her neck and dragged her up. The school of thought to not move someone who’d suffered a head injury had to bend a little when the injured party was scantily clad in below zero water.
Once they were on the ground away from the ditch, Shane had placed the woman on her side, hoping she would last long enough for him to administer care to the infant, who was Shane’s primary concern at the time. He’d pulled the tiny creature from beneath his coat, handling her gingerly as he slipped his coat off, spread it on the ground and placed the baby atop it. Shane had decided upon seeing the infant that she was either a girl or the world’s prettiest boy, and she’d been breathing, having immediately spat up any water she’d swallowed. She’d begun shivering violently, though; little arms trembling forcefully and tiny fists clenching in apparent pain. Her lips had quickly begun turning blue.
Shane had decided he would attempt CPR on the mother, and then get them both back up to the house as quickly as possible. He’d intended to leave the woman there first, covering her with his coat as he got the baby to a warmer environment.
Course of action decided, Shane had turned back to the woman on the ground. What he’d seen would give him nightmares the next time he was able to sleep, and every time after that.
Small, slithery creatures had been worming their way from the crack in the woman’s head, sliding down her cheeks like grotesque living tears. Her teeth had broken or vanished, and in their places were bloody, oozing holes from which seeped some viscous black fluid. Her stomach had from one minute to the next become grossly distended, bloated like the belly of a many days dead corpse, but Shane knew the woman had been alive-was still alive?-not three minutes before. With insane certainty, Shane had known the woman’s stomach was going to burst and creatures much worse than those on her face would spew forth towards him.
What he’d predicted hadn’t happen, because a weak ray of morning sunlight had lit upon the woman, sending her up in gouts of flame and smoke. She had squealed and screamed while she burned, and Shane had watched in horrified silence, clutching the baby protectively to his chest as her mother burned.
When she was ash on the ground, Shane had crossed himself, sent a word of thanks to the man upstairs, and bolted up the long driveway. The world had gone insane, but Shane had still had a job to do.