Shannon and the others knew the truth behind the body count Officer Greene had mentioned. Because of that knowledge, everyone in the diner suspected that the numbers were much higher.
One morning, a month before, two young average women checked into the motel. The younger looking of the two suffered a cough that Rose thought nothing of at the time. After paying for their room, the women made it clear they required no housekeeping services during their three-day stay. Rose didn’t think anything of their request either. It was common for guests to decline such things and she charged them the higher deposit for no housekeeping and checked them in.
That night, both of the women were coughing when they came into the diner for dinner. The sicker of the two looked like creamed death spread on a cracker. Shannon had been off that night but Kelsey had filled her in the next day. The thought of getting sick like the women scared Kelsey. That day she kept remarking how glad she was that the flu wasn’t airborne. After that night, the women were never seen in the diner again.
Rose adhered to the women’s wishes for those three days, leaving the room out of the morning housekeeping rounds. On the fourth day, when the women were late for check out, Rose went to the room to ask them if they were planning on staying or leaving.
Rose didn’t have to be the world’s greatest detective to know that something was wrong when she arrived.
The door was left open about a foot and bloody handprints were drying on its exterior. The tangy, metallic odor of blood and the musty, stale smell of death were noticeable even four feet from the partially open door. Rose did the best, and only, thing she could think of; she pulled Officers Helfron and Greene away from their morning ritual to look into the situation.
Neither Helfron nor Greene knew what to make of the room. While both were disgusted, neither man was alarmed.
The only sign of violence was on one of the twin beds. The remains of one of the women, later confirmed to be the less sickly of the two, were spread over the still made bed. Her body looked as if an alligator had just finished having its way with it. The only things that alluded to it once being a human female were the head, legs and right arm. The face wasn’t recognizable. The lips had been removed and the right eye was missing while the left hung dulcetly from the socket.
Helfron and Greene were glad they called for back up before entering to investigate. Green was looking the body over when it raised its lipless head and mangled arm to him.
With feeble hands it grasped his shirt, eliciting a shrill scream from the reserve Marine and Arizona State Trooper. He tumbled back, shrieking at the top of his voice, which got a laugh from Helfron.
Helfron’s laughter cease when he saw the arm and remains struggle to move while the throat wheezed softly.
Greene knew what the resurrected body wanted. Helfron denied it, saying that such things were only fit for comic books or Hollywood. However, neither trooper approached within the body’s reach and neither felt the desire to render anything other than a well placed nine-millimeter or forty caliber round to its head.
The two troopers cordoned off the room before waiting for what they assumed would be local law enforcement and forensic experts from the state crime labs. What arrived instead were US military units accompanied by personnel from the Center for Disease Control.
No one knew what was worse; being treated roughly by the government agents or watching a reanimated corpse claw the air.
Everyone was subjected to questioning, tests and further invasive questioning from both military and CDC personnel. None in the motel or diner slept for more than four hours at a time during the three days of quarantine. The guests and employees, while not under arrest, were told that they couldn’t leave the premises and that they’d be shot if they attempted to do so. The threat was easily verifiable. The armed soldiers on station had the look of Special Forces personnel who were unafraid to carry out that order.
Those seventy-six hours were the hardest hours Shannon ever experienced. Even though she wasn’t on duty for two of the four days in question, she was still on the premises with the women. Therefore, the CDC experts wanted blood samples, stool samples, hair samples and even fluid samples of a more personal nature. The CDC was nothing if not overly thorough.
She was convinced soldiers would try to take her into “protective custody” once her blood work, let alone the other tests, revealed her “anomalies”. In here mind, she played out over and over again how she would escape. She knew her chances of getting away without killing were nonexistent. If it came to it though, she knew she could do what was needed.
Her confidence in the CDC was thoroughly dashed when they gave her a clean bill of health except for an unusual form of anemia, which didn’t concern them. Obviously they were looking for something other than a lycanthrope infection, something not at a genetic level. It turned out they needed the three days to see if a flu like virus developed in the quarantined. To the relief of the detained, none showed signs of allergies let alone a killer flu bug that turned people into cannibals.
The other female was long gone though. Most thought she had disappeared into the night though a few thought she lurked nearby, intent on killing again. Wherever she was it wasn’t within three miles of the dinner. The military did a thorough sweep but came up empty handed.
In the following weeks at the diner, tempers were short and people were on edge. It was a different atmosphere than what Shannon had grown accustomed to. Normally everyone was friendly, including Greg the repeat sexual harasser.
Everyone stayed on edge until the next week when the tension finally broke. Rose and the others still felt like they were being monitored. How could they not? The military and CDC made everyone sign a nondisclosure statement, re-enforcing the piece of paper with a threat of imprisonment. National security was the catchword of that day.
The only two people who talked about what had happened after the government goon run circus left town were Shannon and Steve Greene.
Shannon couldn’t help but to talk about it. The arrival of the government had set her nocturnal work back by three months. While in quarantine her target had killed again. She despised the fact that the additional deaths needled her. She could deal with collateral damage but she mentally chafed at murders she could have prevented.
Time and again she and Greene discussed what that week had meant for people. He kept going back to zombies and Shannon kept telling him he was full of crap. In her heart, though, she couldn’t discredit nor discount his theory. Werewolves were real so anything was possible as far as her subconscious was concerned. Still, she didn’t want to admit it.
With Greene mentioning the reported national death tolls it brought everything back to her with force.
Rose, more advanced in years and more so in her usage of common sense, seemed to pick up on Shannon’s thoughts. “Hey, Shannon,” she said as Shannon stuck a ticket to the order wheel. “Do you think Steve could be right about the dead walking?” Even though the air conditioning wasn’t at maximum a shiver ran through Rose.
“That’s about as impossible as werewolves existing.” Shannon regretted the remark the moment it left her mouth. Saying that was the same as admitting they were real.
“Yeah, yeah, I know but… Come now, girl. You know what happened here.”
Shannon laid a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “Look, why don’t you ask Deidre about this. She’s seen more of the world than both of us put together.” It was a lame thing to say and Shannon knew it, but her earlier statement had put her off to having that conversation.
Rose nodded and moved over to Deidre. Shannon was surprised that Rose had taken her terrible advice even though she could smell the fear on Rose. The smell saddened her. If Rose was afraid then the situation warranted concern.
Shannon went about working her tables. Ten minutes later Deidre and Kelsey approached her.
“What did you say to Rose,” Deidre asked worriedly. “She was asking me about zombies and the like.”
“Zombies?” said Kelsey snickering at the idea. “What are you two talking about?” Kelsey noticed Rose’s worried appearance too.
“You need to go take care of the family at twelve.” Deidre moved her head, motioning to a table where a family of six sat waiting for drinks.
Kelsey’s face soured at being dismissed. “You guys suck. Why do I always get left out of the good stuff?” Her disappointment was genuine if not over played.
Deidre pinched Kelsey’s cheek. “Let the grown ups talk dear. Maybe later I’ll make you a grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate milk. Hm?”
Kelsey stuck her tongue out at the two. She left for the family’s table.
“What did you say to Rose, Shannon? She’s freaked.”
“Nothing. I just told her that the dead couldn’t possibly walk around. It’s an impossibility.”
“Well you mentioned werewolves too and now she’s all freaked.”
“Freaked? About what?”
“Hey, can I get a little service here?” interjected a voice at the counter. A weary looking long haul trucker held up a giant travel mug. He waved it from side to side like a scepter.
“Be back,” said Deidre. She moved to the trucker, using a fake Southern accent as she addressed him. The accent was the only thing about Deidre that annoyed Shannon. Shannon knew for a fact that it also helped Deidre get excellent tips.
“Hey, sweet meat,” said Greg from the window. “You gonna get table four’s slop or what?”
Shannon wondered aloud more than to herself, “I wonder how Greg’d look with his manhood attached to his forehead. Would he be a true dickhead?”
Greg flexed his right hand in memory of the last time he offended Shannon. He muttered an apology before returning to his duties.
Shannon went about the last half of her shift content that Deidre had dropped their conversation. Speaking of matters that should’ve been left to the world of fiction unsettled.
Her shift ended and she left the diner for her room. Rounding the corner she stumbled into Deidre.
Deidre was leaning against the wall, smoking. “Slow down there, ace. There a shoe sale I don’t know about?” Deidre made jokes at the expense of both sexes. She was an equal opportunity offender.
“Shit!” exclaimed Shannon. She had been so intent on getting to her room that she’d paid no attention to Deidre’s approaching scent, perfume and cigarettes. “Warn a body next time you jump out.” Shannon hoped that the impromptu get together would end quickly.
“Didn’t mean to scare you. I figured my perfume would’ve given me away.” Deidre dropped her cigarette, butting it out with her white Nike jogging shoe.
“Well, it didn’t. Are you off?”
“I am. You got a moment? I want to continue our earlier discussion.”
Shannon didn’t know how to react. Long ago she’d been a friendly woman, open to socializing and making friends at any time. Those days were gone. Since then she’d closed herself off to any influence aside from her private work. Dozens of responses flashed through her mind as how to best get rid of Deidre. Finally she said, “Okay. I’m a couple doors down; we can talk in my room.”
“Sounds good to me.” Deidre said, light another cigarette. Shannon hated smoking. Besides being a health hazard, she was more acutely aware of the fumes than normal people.