The cold brick scraped against her back as he leaned against her. “What ya gonna do now?” he asked.
The icy ridge of the steel pushed against her throat, throbbed with every heartbeat. His putrid body and decaying mind had melded to form a perfect kind of evil, an evil with nothing to lose and fueled by revenge. Months ago she had warned them. She had sensed his brittleness, like a branch long dead, and knew his tension would be released with the violence of an earthquake. They had told her to stick with the treatment and to double his dosage.
He licked his chapped lips and leered at her, bits of yesterday’s food hid from his fetid breath in unbrushed chasms. He pressed his face to hers, smelled her hair, fondled her necklace, traced the line of her chin with a thick thumb, black and grimy from the last oil change. She could feel his excitement against her hip.
“Ain’t feeling so smart now are ya?” She flinched as he showered her with spittle. “All them fancy books ain’t helpin’ ya now, is they?”
She knew better than look him in the eye. He had been punished for that kind of behavior early in the study using pressure points, cattle prods, and other unethical techniques. It only took a couple of lessons. Despite his backwoods manner, his mind had been brilliant before they had stuck their needles in him and treated him like an expendable lab rat. She dropped her gaze and forced herself to study his sweaty chest. She swallowed her revulsion and panic.
“I never meant to hurt you, Jimmy.” Her voice stole into the darkness of the night, infinitesimally small against the enormity of her situation. She watched him grimace as the acrid odor of her urine wafted upward and mingled with the stench of his perspiration. “Jesus.” He jerked his body away and shoved her down to the sidewalk. He planted his heavy-soled shoe on her back and smashed her face against the rough concrete, as she tried to scramble away. “You ain’t going no place ‘cept the place I just come from.”
Terror inundated her, freezing her body but melting her mind. She knew what they did in the basement, and she knew she didn’t have the fortitude to pass the tests. Her voice trembled, “No, god no, Jimmy, I can’t go down there. I won’t last a minute down there. Please, Jimmy, they made me do it.”
Snot hung from her nose, streamers of hope escaping through her nasal cavities. She felt the cool evaporation on her inner thighs. He gathered a fistful of her hair and dragged her toward the basement steps. She clung to his beefy hands and scrambled to get her feet under her. His fingers ripped out a tangled mass as he abruptly dropped to his knees and clutched his head.
“No, no, no, make it stop!”
Strands of her hair mingled with his as he started slapping his skull, beating it like a drum. She crab-crawled away, staring at him wide-eyed, fascinated at the transformation taking place in front of her. His eyes flitted back and forth, wild and unblinking, brushing over her without seeing, watching some movie playing on a screen behind her.
The symptoms had started to surface, finally, just like every test subject before him, but the frantic whipping at his skull was a new development. He pelted his head, knocking it side to side. His dilated eyes drew her in and focused on her face for a moment.
“I don’t want to see it no more, oh God, please, make it stop!”
His pitiful sobbing poked a hole in her frightened, protective shell. She had been a willing participant in the testing, in the beginning, but their bizarre techniques had been hard for her to swallow. Her involvement in the testing had been limited after she’d filed a formal complaint about the horrendous and unsanitary conditions in the medical facility. It’s a miracle infection hadn’t killed more of them.
The basement had become a torture chamber for some but was Jimmy’s only hope. She glanced at the pitiful form on the ground, writhing in pain. If she could access the medical center she could fill a syringe with the antidote and help Jimmy though this phase of the experiment. It wasn’t a cure, because there was no cure, but she could ease his pain and make the journey bearable.
The basement’s heavy, steel door scraped the grated staircase as she pushed it open. A single light bulb marked the passage below. With all the money the company spent developing the drug, you’d think they could have added some wattage. Each time she descended it felt more and more like entering a dungeon; void of hope and full of despair.
She swiped her key card in the lab’s security slot and heaved a sigh of relief when it beeped. Her access had not been restricted yet. Security had been lax the last six months, probably because the company tiptoed along the edge of bankruptcy. She turned on the fluorescents and hurried to the refrigerator, grabbed a vial of the serum and a new syringe. She quickly drew 20cc and hurried back up the metal stairs to the street.
Jimmy was gone. She whipped her head about, searching the vacant sidewalk, the trash cans that stood vigilant next to the building, and the fire escape that clung to the building like a giant insect. She took a few tentative steps toward the alley wishing she had a weapon of some sort. “This is stupid,” she thought. He weighted twice as much as she did and, with the terrors upon him, he had the strength of three men.
Satisfied that he wasn’t lurking on the street, she retraced her steps to the basement door. The local police would throw him into a holding cell until someone from the lab picked him up. They had lost patients twice before, but neither one had Jimmy’s advanced symptoms. The police would ask questions this time. With a shaky sigh, she descended the stairs to lock up the lab, it was dangerous to leave it unattended the way she did. She went to the lab table to straighten up her mess. She crinkled her nose and pulled at her saturated jeans. She needed to be more careful.
He attacked her from behind, grabbed her head in a vise grip, and ripped the syringe out of her hand. “Where did he come from?” He stared her in the eyes as he jabbed the needle in her neck and depressed the plunger, releasing the potent drug into her artery. She felt the effects immediately; her knees buckled as the pain exploded in the base of her skull, blossomed into her brain, and momentarily blinded her. He let her go, and she stumbled away falling against the cold steel of the surgical table. The initial symptoms were all the same in each of the test subjects. They only lasted a few minutes then faded for a merciful few minutes until phase two settled in. She wondered briefly if she would go as quickly as most of the subjects, or if she would end up like Jimmy.
It didn’t take long for the question to be answered. The initial visions shattered her psyche, various stages of torture, multiple victims, unfathomable abominations, flitted past her open eyes. She swung at them, trying to erase the ghastly hallucinations. She clung to the smooth metal table, panting, wanting it to stop. It was too wicked, too corrupt; she wasn’t strong enough for this.
Her fingers fumbled frantically, blindly searching the table as she watched the wheels of horror turning in her mind. There had to be something she could use. Then she found it; its solid form gave her a second of relief. She heard the pop of her eyeball as she thrust the scissors through the socket. Her brain exploded with bolts of white hot lightning then everything turned black.
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