Even from deep within the basement of Northport Regional Hospital, Mollie Edwards could hear the torrential downpour pounding against the building. She was thankful that she had made it inside just before the rain had begun and managed to stay dry. Wet clothes and the cold temperature of the hospital morgue she would be stuck in for the next ten hours was never a good mix.
She had arrived several minutes early for her shift, dreading the mound of paperwork she expected to have on her desk. It seemed that there had been a steady rise in deaths for the past few months, mostly from unnatural causes which added much more to her job than she’d like. The number of autopsies she had been through just this week was ridiculous.
Heaving a sigh, she pushed her way into the heavy, metal door of the morgue and blinked at the three bodies lying on the rolling carts, white sheets draped from their heads to their feet. None had a tag yet, meaning either the other assistant examiner had been extremely busy, or extremely lazy the entire day.
Mollie hurried into the cramped office in the back of the room, frowning down at the back of her partner’s head. He was currently bent over his cluttered desk, headphones wedged in his ears as he nodded his head to the beat.
From three feet away, she could hear his music blaring as loud as it could go and she reached over, jerking one of the white headphones out of his ear. He jumped nearly a foot off of his chair and whirled around, glaring up at Mollie.
“For fuck’s sake, Edwards! You can’t creep up on a guy like that around here.” Mason paused his music and spun around in his chair to face Mollie as she made her way around to her own desk. He had graduated with her from med school last year and she wasn’t too thrilled about him following her to the next stage of her life. He was obnoxious, never serious, and ate like a pig. She would find crumbs and bits of chocolate stuck in the files on a daily basis.
“Are those new?” She pointed a thumb over her shoulder toward the examining room, ignoring his outburst. He didn’t even look their way, instead reaching for the earbud that was dangling between his legs.
“Got here maybe half an hour ago. One man who the coroner said looked to be an OD and a woman with a broken neck.” Mason turned back to his paperwork and ended the conversation by pushing the bud into his ear, music resuming loudly. His attention was immediately on his work in front of him though he spent several seconds drumming his pen over the papers and Mollie stood there, frowning down at him. She reached over and snapped her fingers beneath his nose, making him sigh in annoyance. He looked back up at her, pausing his music. “Yes?”
“There are three of them, you know.”
Mason’s eyebrows creased into a frown and he looked over his shoulder into the cold examination room beyond their office space. For a moment he stared at the third body laying across the table in the middle before giving a shrug. He grinned up at Mollie, his finger hovering over the screen of his phone.
“Must have slipped in when I wasn’t paying attention.” His music came back to life yet again and Mollie rolled her eyes.
It wasn’t the first time they were surprised with a fresh decedent. The hospital staff that worked the evening shifts weren’t as thorough as those in the day and thought just wheeling a body into the morgue was good enough.
Mollie took a seat at her desk and dropped her purse into the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, giving it a kick shut with her heel. The lamp on her desk clicked on and she pulled the first chart from the pile sitting in the wire basket on the corner of her workspace.
She had forgotten about leaving the death certificates unfinished the day before and cursed herself for neglecting them. For the next hour and a half, she filled each one out as quickly yet as thoroughly as she could, making sure not to leave a single piece of information out.
Mason had gotten up to stretch his legs and fetch something from the vending machines upstairs, leaving her to herself. Judging by how long he was taking, Mollie figured he had stopped by the nurse’s station to flirt shamelessly with the night shift girls.
Despite the initial creepiness of being alone in a morgue, Mollie had become so used to it by now that she barely noticed that she was surrounded by lifeless bodies. They were as harmless as a piece of furniture now. It was the living ones she wasn’t too fond of.
Sure, she had her close friends, most of whom were shocked by her career choice. The day she announced that she was taking the job as an assistant medical examiner, her best friend Jenna had looked at her from over a cup of frozen yogurt and said, “you mean with dead people?”.
It had never bothered Mollie like it did others. Though, she didn’t get quite the enjoyment out of it as her coworker did.
Mason had a sick sense of humor and would conjure up backstories for each victim and decedent that was wheeled through the door. That, she did not partake in and had even scolded him several times for being disrespectful, to which he always replied, “who’s going to hear me?”.
Finishing up the last of the death certificates, she slid them into a manila envelope and laid them on her supervisor's desk to be signed and reviewed in the morning. Mollie stood, cracking the bones in her neck before she crossed into the examination room to take a look at the three bodies. She washed her hands and pulled on a pair of nitrile gloves and face mask, stepping up to the first table. Lifting the sheet, she stared down at a woman’s face.
Mollie pulled the tape recorder from her coat pocket and pressed record on the side, lifting it to her face.
“Mollie Edwards, autopsy. Middle-aged female around 40 to 45 years old. Current cause of death is cervical fracture.” She set the recorder down on the rolling tray and pulled the sheet down to the woman’s feet. “Female is overweight with excessive adipose tissue around hips and midsection. There is one scar across her lower abdomen--C-section--and another across the right, upper quadrant most likely due to gallbladder surgery--”
The door to the morgue slammed open and Mollie jumped back, her elbow knocking into the rolling table, tipping it over. The tape recorder and metal tray clattered loudly across the tile floor. Blowing strands of auburn hair away from her eyes, she glared icily at a cackling Mason. He held onto the doorknob for support as he bent over at the waist, nearly dumping his soda into the floor.
“You asshole!” Mollie tried to calm her racing pulse but her anger was making her blood pressure rise.
“You should have seen your face!” He mimicked the surprised look she had made with his mouth and eyes wide before falling into another fit of giggles. “That’ll teach you to sneak up on someone around here.”
Mollie bent down to scoop the metal tray up from the floor and frowned, her tape recorder nowhere to be seen. She stood, glaring at Mason as he danced his way back into their office. “You’re not supposed to have food in here.”
Whether he heard her or not, she couldn’t tell. He was busying himself with his music again, too focused on wedging the headphones deep into his ear canal to hear her.
“He’s lucky I don’t shove those down his throat before the night is over.” She dusted her hands off on her lab coat and decided to forget the tape recorder. It was more time-consuming to continue on paper, but crawling around on the floor, reaching beneath the counters was not happening right now. Being bit by a spider would definitely make her turn homicidal to a certain chubby, insufferable coworker and as satisfying as that would be, she definitely did not want to go to prison.
Grabbing a clipboard and the proper paperwork, she clicked her pen and continued on with the initial observations on the three bodies. The woman was fairly simple. The odd angle of her neck, with a few vertebrates nearly visible beneath the bruised skin, was evident that she had definitely died from the injury. Mollie switched to a fresh set of papers and turned the sheet down on the next one.
The first thing she noticed immediately was his hair. Thick, black strands lay across his forehead and she stared at the silver streak that started at his temple. She had never seen hair that silky and shiny on a dead guy before. Mollie blinked, glancing down at the man’s face, half-covered by a black, fabric mask that stretched from his nose down past his chin.
With a frown, Mollie jerked the sheet down the rest of his body and threw her hands up in the air. He was fully dressed in a black, leather jacket, zipped halfway up to his chest and dark pants.
Did anyone in this hospital actually do their job? If she wanted to undress people for a living, she’d have chosen a job in retail. She glanced to Mason and the corner of her lips lifted in an impish smirk.
This dead fellow would definitely be his responsibility tonight. It would be hilarious watching Mason undress this guy, especially when the decedent had at least a foot of height on her chubby coworker.
Mollie crossed to the last covered exam table and draped the sheet back across another man’s chest. This one was already undressed at least. Thankful for small miracles, Mollie turned to grab her clipboard and clicked her pen, scribbling the basic description of the man. He looked young, early twenties. No obvious signs of trauma that she could see and she parted sections of his dark hair, looking for lacerations or blood splatters.
Maybe this one had been the OD that Mason had mentioned. She pulled the sheet back further and rolled the man’s arms over, checking the aged puncture marks in the bends of his elbows. As she glanced to the other arm, noting the tattoo inked into his chest, a fresh mark across his throat caught her attention.
Frowning, she set the clipboard down across his stomach and guided the man’s head to the side with one hand while reaching above her to position the light closer to the body with the other.
Just below his jaw on the left side, right over his carotid artery were several puncture wounds. Did he really shoot up in his neck? It wasn't necessarily unheard of but it seemed like an awkward place to jam a needle into. But the longer Mollie studied the marks, the less they looked like typical needle marks.
In fact, they looked more like...teeth marks.
“What the…” Mollie trailed off, standing up straight before glancing back at Mason. She could hear his music blaring loudly from his headphones even from several yards away. “Mason!” She shouted to no avail, her voice echoing off the cinder block walls. Raising her hand, she drew her arm back to throw her pen at him but never got the chance. A hand snatched her by the elbow and gripped her with vice-like strength.
Whirling around, Mollie stared wide-eyed at the pale fingers gripping her around the arm. Blackened, cracked nails squeezed her so hard she could feel how sharp they were under the sleeve of her coat. She followed the hand down to the arm she had just been examining all the way to a now smirking face.
The dead man’s eyes snapped open, pupil’s so large they completely blacked out his irises. He cut them immediately to Mollie, his grin widening and she felt a wave of panic seeping through her veins like ice.
A scream lodged tightly in her chest as her instinct to run began to kick in. She jerked her arm back but he held on with a strength that nearly crushed her bones, keeping her close to him. She tried again, with enough force that she could feel the joint in her elbow flare in pain. It was no use. The man sat up, the sheet pooling around his naked waist. Mollie stared in horror, her heart pounding hard and fast against her chest.
Smacking his mouth open, he slid his tongue across his chapped, colorless lips, saliva dripping down his chin onto his chest. He opened his mouth to reveal a row of sharpened fangs where his teeth should have been, his jaw nearly unhinging completely as he pulled Mollie close to him. She could feel his deathly cold flesh against her elbow and she whimpered, struggling against him with all of her strength. The soles of her sneakers squeaked loudly across the tile floor as she resisted his pull.
Across the room, Mason’s music continued on and he heard nothing despite Mollie finally finding her voice. She let out a scream that went ignored and suddenly remembered the pen still gripped tightly in her fist. She grabbed it with her free hand and brought it down into the man’s eye socket as hard as she could.
His howl of furious agony echoed around the room as thick, black blood spewed from his wound, spraying across Mollie’s face. She sputtered, gasping for breath before he jerked her across the table with strength a dead man should not have had. His hold on her released and she collapsed against the rolling tray, sending her equipment scattering across the floor for the second time. She barely managed to catch herself before smacking her head into the next table.
“What the fuck?” Mason’s voice cut through the chaos like a knife and both Mollie and the dead man whipped their heads toward him. For a moment that seemed to stretch on for hours, silence was all that could be heard in the morgue.
Draped across the second body lying on the exam table, Mollie stared between the two of them, eyes wide and mouth gaping like a fish out of water. She wanted to shout at him to run, to get help but no sound would come out. It was like she was living through a nightmare.
The man grabbed the pen still protruding from his eye and pulled it out of the socket with a sickening pop that made Mollie’s stomach turn. She put a hand to her mouth and pushed the table back as far as she could to put space between her and this inhuman creature.
With a sudden, gurgling cry from deep within his chest, the man lurched forward, teeth bared and black-stained hands outstretched. He was across the room before either Mason or Mollie could blink, taking the other assistant medical examiner by the shoulders. He sank his teeth into Mason’s throat and ripped at the flesh, pulling muscle and veins away with his teeth.
Frantically, Mason beat his hands against the man’s chest and shoulders but it did nothing to stop the onslaught. Blood sprayed like a fountain out of the wound and all Mollie could hear was Mason’s strangled, terrified cry as she sank to the floor.
She clamped her hands over her ears, her eyes burning with hot tears as panic froze her in place. Her brain was torn between utter terror and the need to flee to safety. She darted her eyes to the door and back to Mason’s body, still jerking and struggling in the man’s arms. His feet twitched, dangling inches above the floor and Mollie knew she would be next if she didn’t find the strength to leave.
She scrambled to her feet and used the table behind her to brace herself, knowing she would have only a few seconds to cross the room and reach the door. Before she could even move a single muscle, the sheet across the body behind her shifted and slipped down the edge of the table to pool across the floor.
A cold, dread spread down her spine, paralyzing her with fear. She managed to glance to her right where for a second time, she watched a dead man sit up from the examination table.
His eyes were opened but unlike the empty, soulless black of the other man’s, his were bright red and swirling like the storm still raging outside. Without a glance at Mollie, he slipped off the table and pulled a black object from the inside of his leather jacket. He put a hand out, touching her shoulder to push her toward the door.
“You need to leave.” He said quietly, inching closer to where the thing holding Mason was still devouring him.
Frozen to the spot, Mollie could do nothing but stare. Blood was rushing to her head and she could hear a quiet ringing in the back of her ears. She could only remember one other time she had ever fainted and it had felt just like this. Her knees trembled, nearly buckling beneath her and the edges of her vision grew fuzzy and dark.
She took a shaking step back, her heel pressing into something hard and plastic. A button clicked and her own voice echoed through the examining room. “Mollie Edwards, autopsy. Middle-aged female around 40 to 45 years old…”
With a gasp, Mollie jumped and caught the blood-red glare of the other man. His irritated growl was low and terrifying, a sound that would haunt her nightmares. Across the examination room, the creature dropped Mason’s lifeless body with a thump. He spun around to face them, tongue darting around to scoop up the bits and pieces of flesh dripping down his chin.
It let out a shriek and launched itself at her, ignoring the other man. She threw her hands up in front of her face at the sight of his blood-stained mouth. Before she could move, the creature snapped its jaws and the top row of his teeth sank into her forearm, slicing through her flesh until it hit the bone of her elbow.
She screamed through the blinding, searing pain as the creature slammed her down to the floor and sawed his jaws back and forth on her arm. Blood spilled out around his lips and she stared at his impossibly black eyes staring down at her. She'd never seen someone look so...animalistic and terrifying.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the man who she hoped was trying to rescue her throw one of the tables out of the way, reaching down to snatch the creature around the neck. The teeth sawing at her arm were jerked away and she sobbed in agony as the masked man slammed her attacker into the lockers.
Mollie propped herself up on her uninjured elbow, cradling her bleeding arm to her chest. The pain was excruciating and she could only watch the scene in front of her. The one in the mask twirled the object he’d pulled from his jacket deftly in his fingers before pressing the sharpened tip into the creature’s chest. Without a word, he jammed it into the chest cavity, right where the heart would be.
One more animal shriek and the creature disappeared in a cloud of black ash. Mollie watched it rain down around her like ebony snow, her eyes wide, gasping for breath as she stared up at the masked man turning to face her. He kneeled down and cursed beneath his breath, reaching out to carefully pull her arm away from her body.
He studied the bite mark with his crimson gaze narrowed beneath pinched brows. She wanted to pull away but was having a hard time holding on. The room wobbled around her and tipped on its side.
“Shit,” was all she heard before the floor fell away.
Mollie gasped for breath but it was no use. It was as if her lungs couldn't expand enough to take in air. She focused on the mask across his face and blinked as he rushed her out the door of the morgue into the long, narrow hallway of the hospital basement.
They reached the elevator faster than she had expected and he set her down gently into a wheelchair, taking her face in his cold hands.
She could smell the blood on his fingertips and wanted to gag but her body refused to respond. “You need to get some antibiotics right away.”
“What?” She frowned, the black fuzz around her vision blurring his face in front of her. The swirling red of his eyes sank into the black of his pupils and she couldn’t stop staring at them. He tapped her cheek with the back of his hand and she blinked herself out of the daze.
“Just hold on. Get up to the first floor and tell them you’ve been bitten.” He pushed the chair into the elevator, reached in to press the button for the first floor and suddenly Mollie felt as if she had been dropped into a bottomless fog.
The ding of the bell above her sounded as if she were hearing it from several rooms away. As the doors slid closed, she reached out with trembling fingers, finally finding the strength to call out to the masked man.
It was too late. She was alone in the elevator. Several seconds passed and she sat limp in the discarded, broken wheelchair that someone had dumped in the basement. It had been sitting next to the elevator doors for the past two months. Every day, she walked by it and never gave it a second glance. And now, she was sitting in it, bleeding, covered in someone else’s blood--Mason’s blood-- and barely conscious.
It didn’t seem real.
This had to be a nightmare.
As soon as she gave in to the urge to slip into the darkness, she’d wake up in her bedroom and chalk this up to too much spicy food before bed. But she didn’t wake up. The bell inside the elevator chimed cheerily and the doors opened to the first floor waiting area.
The gift shop sat to her left, bright baby pink balloons and ceramic cherubs sat behind a sheet of glass. Turning to the right, she could see the middle-aged woman sitting behind the receptionist desk, filing her fingernails with the phone cradled between her head and shoulder.
Mollie struggled to push herself out into the hallway, her right arm trembling in pain as warm, thick blood dripped down her fingers. She barely made it out of the elevator doors before the woman glanced her way and gasped, jumping to her feet so suddenly the phone shot back into the circular desk.
A rush of people flowed toward her, someone screaming for a doctor, and Mollie breathed a sigh of relief. She let the darkness slip over her, falling finally into unconsciousness.