5:18 pm . . .
There are maps on almost every screen in the office. Ms. Josephine and Ricky are pouring through almanac information, facts and figures, looking for anything they can find on Cotopaxi, Ecuador. Billtruck is engaged in a conversation with Hal, trying to discern exactly where the child’s body was discovered.
What was the cause of death? I ask as I approach Billtruck.
He turns to the computer, “Hal?”
“ . . . Maria Eduardo-Mendez Gonzalez, age six at time of death, died due to massive ex-sanguination through several wounds to her inner arms through the right and left AC (Anterior Carpi) arteries, as well as through the femoral arteries of both the left and right legs, over a period of weeks. It has not been ascertained whether the loss of blood was due to animal attack, but the injuries are consistent with Desmodus rotundus attacks.”
What is Desmodus rotunda-whatever? I ask.
Billtruck takes a deep breath, “Well, it would be any of the three species of blood-eating bats, native to tropical as well as subtropic environments. They are classified as sanguivorous (blood-eating) animals. But there’s a hitch . . . ”
I look back and forth between Billtruck and the myriad computers waiting for an explanation. “What’s the hitch?”
“ . . . the bite marks are much too large to be delivered by the common vampire bats, which typically range from seven to nine centimeters, with a weight of between fifty to one-hundred grams. This is a two-to-four ounce animal,” Hal answers.
So, what . . . a giant bat? That’s a National Geographic kind of thing, not a twenty-three Evils thing.
“There’s more,” Billtruck says as he clears his throat. “Hal, can you tell us the curious circumstances behind the bite marks?”
“ . . . Vampire bats use a razor sharp incision, followed by the administration of a very potent anticoagulant, presented by their saliva. This keeps the blood from clotting. They carry any number of transmittable diseases such as rabies. A simple precipitin test, performed by the medical staff in Cotopaxi, where the body was examined, found negative results.”
I don’t know what that is. What is a precipitin test?
“Human blood can be differentiated from the blood of other species by the precipitin test, which involves the reaction between blood and antihuman rabbit serum.”
I raise my hands in surrender. “Alright, they tested to make sure it’s animal . . . and?”
“ . . . the results of the precipitin tests concluded that the creature that attacked this girl was not animal in origin. It was composed of distinctly human blood factors, including but not limited to histocompatibility antigens, blood enzymes, and serum proteins. Whatever attacked this child, was human. At least at some point along the evolutionary scale.”
Wait, wait, wait, I said. Hold on.
But Hal didn’t wait, wait, wait. “ . . . what is rather perplexing to all investigating these results is that the bruising around the girls wounds was substantial and radiating several inches from the incisions. The bite marks are somewhat similar with human incisors. It is concluded that she was exsanguinated over a period of several days, possibly as many as nine.”
“Dey fed off dat child,” Ms. Josephine said, her face very disturbed, her eyes distant. She can empathize in a way that most of us can barely imagine. “Dey kept ’er alive and dey drained ’er slowly. Until ’er body couldn’t keep up wit da demand.”
Ricky nodded, “Yeah, and they’re probably feeding off of all those other kids, too.”
I wondered aloud, “Isn’t there a disease where people need blood for, like, certain proteins or something? It seems like I remember seeing that on Discovery.”
“I’ve been doing a bit of research on that very thing,” Billtruck said. “And your answer is, strangely, yes. The basic idea is that they consume blood because their body doesn’t produce any one of the important constituents in blood. There are cases where their blood doesn’t produce sufficient amounts of red blood cells, others where the deficit is blood plasma, then there are deficits in . . . ”
Deficits? Deficits. That’s what Uriel said.
“Excuse me,” Billtruck said, looking up at me. “Who?”
Oh, uh, a friend of mine, the angel guy. He told me that the twenty-three Evils would have great strengths, but also weaknesses that could be exploited. A deficit of some kind. So maybe their bodies are deficient in some of these blood ingredients.”
“A new species?” Ricky pondered.
I’m not sure. Maybe it’s something on a smaller level. Since their souls are literally invading this planet, it stands to reason that they might be like any other disease or virus. Maybe we’re confusing cause and effect.
“Holy, shit, Jack!” Ricky said, catching Ms. Josephine’s scolding glare. “That is the first coherent investigative theory you’ve ever had.”
I’d take a bow and milk this if there weren’t kids being fed upon.
Billtruck doesn’t look convinced, “That’s a maybe. But what if it’s more like phoresy, where there’s a transportation of one organism by another, by a more mobile one. Suppose these souls need to move about, you know, jumping here and there. Blood might not be a bad way to travel.”
We’re all quiet, now, considering just how demented and scary this is all becoming.
“Give me an example,” Ricky says, trying to work it out in his mind.
Hal answers, “ . . . feather lice accomplish phoresy by hanging onto the body hairs of certain blood-consuming flies. It occurs in the many and varied parasitic colonies as well.”
“Any other ideas?” Billtruck says, still unsettled about this.
“What about an arbovirus?” Ricky posits.
Hal takes his cue, “ . . . derived from arthropodborne virus, a group of viruses that develop in arthropods (mainly blood-sucking mosquitoes and ticks), in which they cause no apparent harm, and are subsequently transmitted by bites to vertebrate hosts, in which they establish infections and complete their growth cycle. As quoted in the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
So, I say, this could be just a delivery system for the souls. It’s their form of transport.
“We go to da airport,” Ms. Josephine says eerily, “ . . . and evil ’eads for your blood.”
Billtruck picks up a piece of printed paper, “The anonymous voice, he seems pretty convinced that the first victim had a rare blood type. So convinced they sent a sample back to the Vatican.”
Have they analyzed it, yet?
Billtruck shook his head, No.
“So we’re still looking at blood as a means of transfer and travel.”
If they traveled in blood, wouldn’t that make them susceptible to all of the same pitfalls of being whatever their host is? You’re inside a bird, the bird flies into a window . . . you know. That’s a lot of risk.
“So is walking your dog at night, but we still do it,” Billtruck said. “These creatures are going to be limited by their circumstances. They’re suddenly back on earth, and they’ll do anything to stay here, no matter what the rules are. They’ll just adapt and maximize their potential. Like any new species, they will specialize within their niche until they control it, or outgrow it. This is evolution all over again. And right now, they have invaded a new niche, and selective pressure is on their side.”
Hal, what does that mean in terms of violence?
There was a moment where he didn’t answer, then, “ . . . based on the time parameters that these creatures have been here, there is an approximate window of twenty-five to forty days depending on inclement weather and climate conditions to maintain control of the invading species before it dominates it’s niche, pushing the other species away.”
And what is its niche? I ask. What species would be eradicated? I mean, am I going completely nutbag crazy, or are we going to a jungle to hunt vampires?
We all look at each other, but nobody is laughing.
25 days to save the world. Great.