I slowly counted down, giving Ronnie the signal. At zero, she sent a bright smile towards the waiting camera.
“Good afternoon. I am Ronnie McKay and this is WNEZ. In today’s special memorial, we will go over the tragic events on the east coast that occurred five years ago. Those horrifying events, caused by a yet undetermined virus, nicknamed the Mad Death, both directly and indirectly caused the death of tens of thousands before stopping just as suddenly as it began. “
I gestured towards a different camera, and Ronnie swapped her gaze with practiced ease.
“The official death toll for that time will likely never be known. However, we have gathered some photos of the lost in this short memorial video. After the video, we will be here with Doctor Graham Singer of Foley Laboratories to all of your burning questions in regards to the virus.”
“And break.” I stood up, “Back on in five.”
“Thanks, Taylor.” Ronnie gave me a warm smile, looking up from her notes. I could my friend was getting warmed up for her interview with the doctor.
“Director,” Doctor Singer looked at me, “Would it be possible to get some of these lights turned off? They’re giving me a headache.”
“Sorry, Doctor, these lights are needed.”
He sighed and sat back, squinting at the lights. “May I have some pain reliever at least?”
“Of course, Doctor.” I hurried to the first aid kit to get the requested medication. I was surprised that there were only two pills left. A lot of the crew must have headaches today.
“I don’t suppose I could convince you to let me have those?” Our stylist, Mandy, was behind me, “These lights are killer today.”
“Go see Charlie. Maybe he has more.” I gave her a smile.
Mandy sighed and left in hunt of my elusive assistant.
As I headed back to the desk, I noticed that most of the crew seemed to be avoiding the lights. A tentacle of fear wrapped itself through my gut: light sensitivity, The first symptom of the Mad Death.
I took a deep breath, don’t be such a worry-wort, Taylor. The Mad Death is gone. Still, I couldn’t quite shake my fear.
I handed Doctor Singer his medication and fought the urge to check his eyes for the tell-tale blood-red tint that was the next sign of the Mad Death before the craziness really starts.
Returning to my post, “30 seconds!” I called out, getting all of my minions to prepare to go live again.
I silently counted back to zero, and with my gesture, Ronnie’s smile blossomed back into place.
“All the faces of those who died due to the virus always is very sobering” Ronnie looked over to Doctor Singer. “Doctor, there has been much theorizing and research on where the Mad Death virus came from and why it ended suddenly. More than that, however, most of our viewers want to know- Will it come back?”
“Well, Miss McKay, Without knowing where the virus came from, there would be no way for us to say for sure if it could return or not.”
“And what is your guess on the origins of this virus?” Ronnie’s eyes gleamed.
“As you said, there has been much theorizing-”
“What would you say in response to the claims from your ex-research assistant, Trish Kinard, that the Mad Death Virus was designed right under your nose at Foley labs?” Ronnie interrupted, leaning forward. “And that one of your scientists’ released it after you fired them?”
“That is a preposterous claim!” Doctor Singer sat up straight. “Ms. Kinard is a troubled woman. She lost her wife in the attacks five years ago. She is looking for someone to blame.”
“What if I told you that Ms. Kinard has been in contact with us and says that she has the proof to back up her claims?” Ronnie’s smile was turning predatory, she had the Doctor on the ropes, and she knew it.
A massive crash behind me interrupted whatever retort the Doctor had.
There in a heap on the ground, I could see Mandy and one of our cameramen all tangled up.
“Are you both ok? Do you need-” I started towards them, a blood-curdling scream stopped me in my tracks. Mandy’s nail file was buried in the cameraman’s eye. She pulled it out and plunged it back quickly a few times in succession, and his screams cut off.
“Mandy.” Her name escaped my throat unbidden, at the sound, she looked up at me. She was splattered with blood. But her red-tinged eyes are what truly caught my attention. No. Not this. The Mad Death. The memories of past screams mixed with the current mounting insanity all around me.
Mandy’s eyes did not leave mine as she slowly stood, her bloody hands and weapon leaving red polka dots on the floor as she headed towards me.
“Move!” Suddenly, Ronnie was at my shoulder, yanking me away from the bloody woman ahead of me. She shoved me in the direction of the green room, “Get it together, Taylor!”
“No...no...no…” I couldn’t catch my breath, “Not this, not again. I can’t...I can’t…”
A flash of pain made me focus on Ronnie’s face. “You slapped me.”
“Well, you needed a wake-up call.” Ronnie pushed me again. “Now move!”
Now that I was back in control of my senses, I found that the room was descending into chaos. Mandy wasn’t the only one who was infected with Mad Death. Two assistants were going at each other with what looked like the remains of metal clipboards. One of the cameramen was using his camera as a makeshift mace and chain swinging it all around until the wire snapped off it; he then grabbed the camera and started to use it to beat in the head of the man standing next to him.
The quiet newsroom had quickly turned into a bloody warzone. I had the passing thought that I hoped we had gone off the air before the blood started to spill as Ronnie shoved me into the green room, and the grisly scene vanished behind the slamming door. The screams and other sounds from the room sent a shudder down my spine. In hopes of slowing down any pursuers, we pushed a table in front of the door.
Taking a step back from the door, I was surprised to find that Doctor Singer was already in the room. He was crouched down by the couch on the far wall, half hiding behind it.
His face was covered in tears, “Please protect me. I will give you anything you want!”
“Just shut up, Doctor” Ronnie rolled her eyes, “Taylor, do you have your cell?”
I shook my head, “It’s in my bag, on my chair out there.” I gestured towards the door.
“Ok, so we can’t call the cops.” Ronnie leaned up against a table. “Guess we just have to wait them out. They will leave to find fresh blood eventually.”
“How could this happen so fast?” I stared at the door, “I just talked to Mandy. She didn’t have the red eyes then. How could she have the aggression already? Light sensitivity first, two hours later the eyes hemorrhage, 2 hours after that the aggression starts. For everything we don’t know about the virus, how the virus progresses is well documented.”
“Why don’t we ask the good doctor here?” Ronnie asked, her gaze moving to where the man knelt on the floor. “We all know he had something to do with the virus. Tell us, Singer, what did you do?”
His head was bowed, eyes on the floor, soft unidentifiable noises coming from him.
Ronnie crossed the room and yanked his chin up, “I said-” Her voice faded as his now red eyes met her green ones.
With a roar, he lunged at her. Caught off guard, she was knocked on her back as he wrapped his hands tightly around her throat. I blindly grabbed for a weapon, anything to protect my friend.
My hands landed on a blow-dryer left out by Mandy. Not taking the time to think, I swung the dryer hard at his head, the dryer shattering in my hand. Singer didn’t even notice the blow. There was blood dripping down his head onto Ronnie. Thinking fast, I wrapped the cord around his neck and pulled hard. The unexpected addition of my weight on his back sent him tumbling to the side, and he hit his head off the table with a sicking crack.
“Ronnie, are you ok?” I asked, pulling myself back to my feet. When she didn’t respond, I glanced her way, “Ronnie?”
She was sitting up, her hands on her throat. “His blood got in my mouth, Taylor.” Ronnie’s voice was hoarse.
“Oh, Ro...” Tears sprang up in my eyes. We may not know how the virus started, but we knew how it spread. If infected blood got into any open wounds or any other bodily opening, and you were a goner even if they didn’t kill you outright.
“There isn’t time for tears.” Ronnie got to her feet, her voice still hoarse. “We don’t know how this strain of the virus works.”
“I can’t kill you, Ro.” My voice was small even to my own ears, “You are my best friend.”
“Well, in just a little bit, that isn’t going to stop me from tearing you apart.” Ronnie’s gaze was scanning the room. “So, we need to get you out of here. Hopefully, you can get to someplace safe.”
Something slamming into the barricaded door made me jump. Of course, the…things out there couldn’t just leave us alone.
“Ronnie…” Mandy’s voice called, “C’mon out, I need to do your hair!”
The sound of her voice sent a chill down my spine. I could feel my breath speeding up. If I didn’t pull myself together, I would need Ronnie to smack some sense back into me again. I forced myself to take a few deep breaths. Ok, think Taylor. You are the director of a major news outlet, for crying out loud. Get a grip. A weapon, I would need something to defend myself with if I had to leave this room. I looked down at the battered hair dryer I still held. It wouldn’t be of any further use. I scanned the room; finally, my eyes landed on what could be my salvation. My feet started towards the metal coat rack in the room almost without conscious thought. I barely heard the clatter of the dryer as it fell from my hand.
This rack used to drive me insane with how easily the metal pole fell out of the plastic holders. Today it might be the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me. I pulled the rod free; it would be a sturdy weapon.
“Ok, there is no time to wait,” Ronnie’s husky voice broke into my thoughts; she had found a weapon of her own by breaking a chair and removing one of the legs. “I will open the door and deal with Mandy. You run and just keep running. Don’t look back. Get to the elevator and get out of this building.”
There was so much I wanted to tell her. To not to give up. To come with me. That she was the closest thing I had to a sister, and I couldn’t let her go. But none of that would matter when she succumbed to the virus and turned on me. I quietly pulled her into a tight hug. We wordlessly held each other for a moment until another bang on the door ended the moment.
“Ok,” Ronnie whipped some tears from her eyes and took up a position at the door. There was nothing more for us to say. She gave me a small smile as she yanked open the door.
Mandy was caught off guard at the sudden movement of the door and stumbled into the room. But she quickly recovered and charged at Ronnie, still brandishing her bloody nail file. Taking small steps back as she swung her chair leg, Ronnie drew her further into the room.
“Go,” She roared at me when I hesitated.
“Goodbye,” I whispered, finally getting my feet to move. I headed back into what had once been my newsroom. The sight of the bloody bodies on the floor brought back flashbacks of bodies I had seen the last time. Five years ago, Ronnie had kept me safe while our whole world had gone to hell. Now I was alone.
Even through my terror, my instinct kept my feet moving, and I soon found myself on the far side of the newsroom. I had to fight the urge to turn and check on Ronnie. The elevator was only steps away. A sudden scream spun me around; my assistant Charlie was in the doorway of the break room, his now red eyes fixed on me. A jagged, bloody coffee pot was clenched in his hand.
My fear was not going to get me killed. Ronnie gave up her life to protect me, and I will be damned if I let that go to waste. I swung my pipe hard at the now charging figure. Warm blood splattering onto my hands and face when my pole cracked his skull. Charlie fell lifelessly to the floor, the coffee pot rolling free.
Rushing to the elevator, I started to hammer on the call button. When the door finally opened, a bloody but thankfully empty elevator was revealed. I frantically pushed the button for the lobby; my legs almost gave out from under me as the doors closed, blocking the horrible scene from view.
I could hear Ronnie in my head, “Don’t let your guard down. You are not safe yet.”
I tighten my grip on my pipe, watching the numbers count down slowly as the elevator approached the ground floor. The blood spatter on my hands stood out on my pale skin. This will be a different hell I would be entering; I had to be ready, I held my pipe up high, I could do this. I would do this for Ronnie!
When the doors opened, I rushed out with my pipe held at the ready, waiting for the creatures to attack.
“Infected,” I heard someone call, followed by a loud bang and what felt like fire spreading across my side. My pipe fell out of my suddenly nerveless fingers. I reached down, my hand came back crimson, my own blood mixing with the drying blood on my hands. The blood of Charlie and the blood of Singer, infected blood.
“Hold your fire!” Someone hollered, “Her eyes are clear; I repeat, her eyes are clear!”
Someone knelt over me, “It’s ok, you are safe now.”
I really wasn’t, I wanted to tell the shadow, but I couldn’t seem to get the words out before my world went dark. At least I would be with Ronnie.