A bank of smoke was streaming languidly out the tall, twenty-foot windows. People were screaming.
An army of ambulances were parked outside, flashing their lights violently in a sea of blue uniforms, as police officers did their best to hold their perimeter, and keep the mass of frantic, bleeding people at bay as they streamed out the front doors. Men and women were dropping to the ground arbitrarily, blood gushing from their noses, eyes, and mouth. EMTs in hazmat suits were shoving their way through the throng to get inside. Bodies were being carried out on gurneys.
A woman was carried out on a stretcher. She was wearing a suit jacket and a pencil skirt. Her calves were hideously scarred with blisters and pustules. She shrieked in pain as the EMTs raced her past the press of the screaming crowd.
They rushed into one of the ambulances at the back of the perimeter, closing the doors behind them. The woman began convulsing on the stretcher as they lowered her down.
“Can we get the restraints?” one of the EMTs shouted. He ripped the hood of his hazmat suit off, staring at the spazzing woman warily in her throws. The others in the car took out Velcro bands and struggled to tie them to her ankles and wrists. She swiped at them furiously, still screaming, pleading for her life.
“IT BURNS!” she shrieked. “MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!”
“Get her some morphine!”
The EMT closest to the wall began rummaging through the drawers, taking out a needle which he plunged into the side of the woman’s mottled neck. Pus oozed out all over him.
“Her organs are failing.”
“I can see that,” the EMT replied, staring down at the pus covering his gloved hand in disgust.
The EMT without the hood looked up sharply. One of the other men were shining a pin light into the woman’s reddening eyes.
“All of her organs.”
“That’s not possible.”
The EMT without the hood leaned over her, his eyes glazing over the area his colleague shined the light on. Her skin was yellowed with jaundice and swelling. The vessels in her eyes had burst. As she reached up weakly towards him, her hand caught by another medic as he struggled again to strap her in place, he saw that her nails were blackening and sloughing off.
“It’s not possible,” he repeated.
The woman vomited, lurching up, splattering it all over the ambulance and all over the EMT’s chest. They jumped back. The stench of meat-rot overwhelmed the vehicle. The EMT threw a hand up over his nose.
The woman was twitching feebly on the stretcher, her entire front covered in red bile. Her swollen lips moved faintly, a wheezing escaping her throat, as though she meant to say something. Everyone watched as she jerked, her one free hand flying through the air weightlessly, and then was still. Pus and blood exuded out of her every orifice.
One of the EMTs sighed in revulsion.
“The fuck is this?”
The ambulance was silent. One of the EMTs reached forward tentatively, putting his fingers to her neck. He shook his head.
“I can’t feel a pulse through the glove.”
The EMT who had taken his hood off in the first place began to strip the entire thing off. It was covered in vomit anyway. He used the sleeve to wipe a spot of it off his chin. He stepped forward and put his finger against the woman’s neck. Her flesh felt wet and spongy to the touch.
“You really shouldn’t,” one of his colleagues warned him, but he ignored them.
“Nothing,” he said. “She’s dead.” He drew his hand away, wiping his fingers off on his pants. It had been hard to feel much of anything, her skin was so swollen. It felt as though it had grown another layer thick. He sighed explosively.
One of the other EMTs leaned across the center console and grabbed up the walkie talkie by the front seat.
“Anyone there, over?”
There was static and a muffled reply in return. The EMT pressed the button again.
“What’s the status, over?”
Everyone waited a beat. The static flared up briefly, screeching. The EMT, feeling naked without his suit, stared at the woman on the stretcher blankly.
“The fuck man, the fuck –”
The EMTs all glanced at one another. The voice came from the walkie talkie. The EMT pressed the button again, talking into the speaker.
“A couple casualties.”
“Everyone man! Everyone! They’re all fucking sick!”
All eyes slid down to the body. Her bloodshot eyes stared up at them glassily. Someone cleared their throat.
“What do we do with this, man?”
“We’ve got to get back out there.”
“She died so quickly.”
Everyone turned their heads to look at him. The man without the hazmat suit. He stared back at them helplessly.
“Do you really think we can help them?”
“Let’s go back out there and try,” the other snapped.
No one moved. Everyone hovered around the woman vacantly, as though frozen into place. Eventually, the EMT man sighed, rolling his shoulders.
“I’m going to need a new suit,” he said softly. He turned to the doors, and everyone else followed, crouched down. He had his hand on the handle, and put his shoulder against the door.
He froze. Pins and needles went up his spine. It sounded like air being let slowly out of a balloon. He turned to look at his colleagues. And then he froze.
They all looked at him strangely. Then they followed his line of sight.
The woman was sitting up slowly on the stretcher. Her eyes glazed over them unblinkingly. Her mouth hung agape, her teeth pink with blood. But as far as they could tell she didn’t draw a single breath. She reached up a scarred, bloodied hand.
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