The call had come in to the 911 emergency operator just before midnight, “911. What is the nature of your emergency?”
“Not my emergency, sweets. Hers,” a male voice whispered.
The operator tried again counting to ten and preparing to hang up, “Sir, what is the nature of the emergency?”
“Just a little one. A wee girl in a hotel room with an man. I hear her screaming, I hear her crying. I hear him shouting. Sooo good…” he drifted off.
A girl. Screaming. The operator came to full alert and began contacting the LAPD dispatch, “Sir, can you stay on the line? I am dispatching a police unit.”
“Too bad. Old Tom liked to listen,” and with a click the caller hung up.
The LAPD cruiser slid silently into the hotel parking lot: no lights, no sirens. The two officers stepped from their cruiser and looked around. The night hung dead over the hotel. No one was moving, no one yelling or blasting music, no drifters hanging around. Across the street was a row of empty store fronts, vacant windows staring at the officers. On the opposite corner, a twenty-four-hour convenience store stood with a few customers trolling about. With its bright light and cheery colors flooding the corner, it stood as an oasis of normality in a desert of decay. Behind the hotel, a junkyard was piled high with the carcasses of dead cars.
“Which room?” The second officer said, opening the door of the cruiser and putting the rubber sole of his boot on the cracked asphalt. Officer Tim Russet felt good. He felt in control. He had a sweet girl waiting back at their small home in the suburbs away from the necrotic periphery of the city. She was sweet, beautiful, and could do things in bed that nearly caused his heart to stop. And she was waiting for him at the end of his shift. Officer Russet didn’t know it but his life would end in just ten short minutes with most of his internals spread across the cheap motel room he and his partner had just smashed into.
“Room 113,” the first officer said. Officer Theodore Grant was married and he and his wife were expecting their fourth child, would live only a few seconds longer before he, too was eviscerated, his bones, blood, and skin scattered across the worn out carpet and dingy walls of the hotel room. His wife called him Teddy and his kids called him the Bear.
The hotel was a real shithole, a two story fifties relic with aqua green painted walls and a large sign stating the this was the Heartland Hotel. A flickering neon sign below the partially light sign simple stated “vacancy.”
The officers identified the room in question and moved to the door. Russet looked at Grant who nodded, then knocked on the hotel room door, “LAPD, open the door!” followed by a moment of silence. Grant thought he heard something move inside and was about to knock again when a piercing scream shot through the night. For a moment the two officers stood frozen in place starting at each other. Neither had ever heard a scream like that. The scream had come form someone who had had unspeakable things done to them.
On the second floor, Old Tom signed as he leaned back on his filthy bed, “Ahhh, good. One for the road,” he whispered.
That frozen moment passed and the two officer reacted. Officer Grant stepped back then threw is considerable bulk into the door. The door burst in as the frame splintered. Officer Grant stumbled into the short hallway followed by his partner. Both men stopped, each thinking it was time to get out of this place. Just turn around and run for their cruiser. Sit tight in their car until backup had arrived. Maybe two or three other units. Maybe the S.W.A.T. team. Maybe the army. But the scream they had heard. The report said the was a child in here. A little girl. And if that scream came from her, neither of them would ever be able to look themselves in the mirror again if they did not do something to help.
The room was covered from floor to ceiling in a thick, transparent plastic. A small vacuum hooked to an industrial HEPA filter chugged away on the floor pulling air into the sealed off area causing the plastic to bow in slightly, “What the fuck?” Russet said, “A small drug lab, maybe?” Yes, a drug lab. A nice, normal drug lab with some junkie far away picking up supplies. Not, oh God please, no, not a place where a person was tortured, cut, and shredded.
Grant shrugged knowing what was on the other side of that thick plastic was not drug lab and crept forward. He poked the end of his gun into the door leading to the bathroom, “Ted, you’re not going to believe this,” he said as he pushed the door further open giving Russet a good long look at what was in there.
Russet puked. The tub was full to the rim with freshly butchered meat, chunks floating in a think red liquid. The shelves of the bathroom were covered with every conceivable type of prescription bottle and medication, “Fuck this Ted, we should let the forensics guys handle this.”
“Can’t do it Tim. Dispatch said that witnesses had seen a man about fifty carrying a young girl of indeterminate age bound and gagged into the room. She might be in here,” Grant hoped that the meat in the tub wasn’t all that was left of her. But there was that scream. Someone had to be here. They needed to check out the rest of the room before they could get out. The two policemen backed out of the slaughterhouse and slowly made their way to the main living room.
From the other side of the plastic, Russet could hear the sound of machines pumping and wheezing, giving the place the distinct feel of a laboratory or a operating room. Nervously, he slipped between the sheets of plastic. He could feel the air slip by him as he entered the sealed area, “Holly shit, Grant! Get in here,” he said as it became clear what was on the other side. Grant entered the sealed room and this is what he saw; a small girl, thirteen, maybe fourteen bound in some type of straight jacket, tied to the bed with an array of IV needles taped to her arms.
“What the fuck?” Russet said, putting his gun in his holster. He then sat on the edge of the bed, “Hey, hey, little girl, can you hear me? Are you OK?” he said. The girl opened her eyes and looked at Russet who pulled back away wondering if she might have some type of infection. Her eyes were blue with specks of green and brown. The veins around her eyes, cheeks, and forehead shown clearly through her pale and bruised skin in the shape of what looked like two butterfly wings. Grant unconsciously covered his mouth thinking to himself that this girl was definitely not healthy.
“Are you Brier Whiteman?” She asked, her eyes drifting in slow arcs across his face, “Daddy says only the Brier Rabbit can help me.”
Russet looked at Grant and said, “Get the medical team in here right now.”
Had Grant listened to his partner, he might have survived the night, but instead he stood rooted to the floor, staring at the little girl, “Hey, hey! What’s you name?” Russet said as he eyes rolled up into her head. He shook her gently hoping to keep her awake afraid that she might die right there if she went under, “Hey, what’s you’re name? Little girl, what’s you’re name?”
“Alicia,” she whispered then whispered something that sent chills down Russet’s spine, “They sent me down the rabbit hole. They never should have brought me back.”
“Alicia? Alicia, stay with me. Who did this to you? Alicia, who did this to you?” Alicia’s viral eyes wandered around the room until they found Russet’s face again,
“Daddy…Daddy did this. He said it would help make me feel better.”
Russet felt his stomach lurch. Her own father had done this, “All right, we got to get her out of here before the sick motherfucker sees us and books,” he began to undo the straps to the straight jacket, unbuckled the restraints holding her to the bed, then gently remove the multiple IVs in the girls arms and legs. He carefully lifted her up so that she was sitting on the edge of the bed as he unbuckled the fasteners on the back of the jacket, “What kind of sick fuck does this to a child?”
As Russet worked the straps free, Alicia spoke again, “You smell good,” she said as her head lolled against his neck, “You smell like…food.”
Russet pulled the girl’s head back from his neck and said, “What did you say?” then watched, stunned and rooted to the bed as her jaw cracked and popped open to reveal several rows of sharp, spinney teeth.
What the fuck? was all Russet could think before those teeth tore out his throat and a large section of his shoulder. Alicia quickly gulped down the enormous chunk of flesh, deftly dodged the arterial spray shooting from the now dead Russet’s upper torso while her quickly elongating arms and hands, and caught the falling corpse. She quickly reduced it to edible scraps, tossing pieces of bone and viscera about the room with gusto as she rapidly devoured the remains of Officer Russet.
Grant stood in horror, unable to comprehend what he had just witnessed. The little girl had just eaten his partner. The thing sat there on the edge on the bed, neck and stomach distended from the two hundred or so pounds of Russet meat she had just consumed.
Alicia burped, puking up a little blood and meat. “Excuse me,” she said as her eyes landed on Grant. Before he could even blink, she had cross the few feet that had separated him from the beast and drover her talon tipped hands into his stomach, “I’m so sorry,” she whispered into his ears as she pulled out the contents of his abdominal cavity, then worked her vast array of teeth downward into his throat and chest.
Grant tumbled back over the faded sofa and managed to fire off a single shot into the ceiling. Dropping his gun, Grant quickly joined Russet in decorating the walls with the little bit of his body that didn’t slide noisily down the throat of Alicia.
Across the street in the local Stop Rite, Doctor Anderson Carter stood at the counter waiting for the couple in front of him to stop arguing with the clerk and with each other and get out of the way.
The mismatched pair of Laurel and Hardy had been arguing with the clerk for nearly five minutes, “The sign says that the toilet paper is half price,” the middle aged Hardy haus frau stated with the certainty of law. Skinny Laurel nodded in agreement. Carter shifted from foot to foot. He didn’t like leaving Alicia alone for very long.
The clerk pushed back his greasy hair, settling into his most unhelpful passive-resistive posture like a southern lawyer tuning up for his closing argument. Carter felt a bead of sweat roll down his left temple. “Sorry, ma’am. The scanner says $3.55.”
“No, sir. No sir. The sign said half price and am going to pay only half price.” Hardy proclaimed with the certainty of a Jehovah’s witness.
“No siree, gum, not gonna pay full price, not one penny more than what the sign says,” Laurel added hoping to tip the scales in their favor.
If any of the multiple sedatives slowly dripping into her veins were to wear off…Carter thought. He left that thought unfinished. He had enough sedative to stop the heart of an elephant and keep her under until Whiteman showed up. But if he didn’t show up soon, they’d have to move again.
The clerk shrugged and leaned into the microphone jutting out from the counter, “Manager to register three, please.” Carter wanted to scream at the two that while they were tom fucking around over a measly $1.80, his daughter might be waking up. And if his daughter woke up before he got back, they’d have a lot more to worry about that a measly $1.80.
Finally the manager rolled up, looked at the couple standing before him, and gave them there discount. Hardy looked at the clerk as though they had just overturned Roe v. Wade and grabbed up their things in a triumphant huff. Carter placed his items on the rolling conveyor.
The hotel manager, transients, hookers, and even the drug addicts that infested the Heartland motel were beginning to get a little too nosey about him and his daughter.
“Haven’t seen your little girl since you checked in, Mr. Carter,” the motel clerk would ask with disturbing frequency.
“Where’s that little precious thing you drug in here last week, hon?” one of the many whores would ask, “You don’t got her all tied up in a closet, do ya?” they’d ask, half joking while watching him for any sign that he might actually have her tied up in his room.
Which, or course, he did.
One more day and then they’d have to move again.
“Geez, dude. You doing some home surgery?” the clerk asked. Carter had filled one of the small, blue pushcarts with everything he could grab from their first aid aisle. He had filled his cart with gauze, isopropyl alcohol, betadine, hydrogen peroxide, rubber gloves, saline solution, and every disinfectant known to mankind: Pin Sol, Mr. Clean, Lysol, you name it. Keeping the room and Alicia’s isolation tent sterile took everything Carter could throw at it. He couldn’t risk any chance of infection, either hers or his.
“Maybe I should call the manager to see if any this stuff is half price,” Carter said. The clerk ignore him but continued to ring up his items without further comment. Carter quickly bagged up his collection.
“$95.62, dude,” the clerk said. Carter pulled out his crumpled ball of cash that was noticeable smaller than a when they had escaped the Ant Farm and peeled off the last of his $100 dollar bills. Goodbye, old friend, he thought and handed it to the clerk.
The clerk sniffed at the dirty bill, then held it up to the light in the now standard counterfeit check. Carter was about to ask the clerk if it was real when he heard the gunshot.
Inside the motel room, Alicia quickly gathered up some clothing, money, and other things she might need and shoved them into her backpack. She grabbed her shoes and was momentarily confused when she could not pull them over her feet. Looking down, she could see that the Change had made her feet long and narrow, tipped with black, shiny claws, and an extra toe that jutted out like a thumb on each foot. She concentrated hard on her left foot and it shrank down, assuming its normal shape, but she knew she’d be changing again soon and used the claw on her index finger to cut off the toes and made two large holes on the side of her sneakers to let her feet grow again.
She looked into the bathroom and nearly puked at the smell of the dead meat floating in the bathtub. He father had tried to feed her in the weeks since he had burned down the Exotic Training Facility at the Ant Farm and freed her from the hands of Doctor Hare and Doctor Hadder, but dead meat was so repulsive only her overwhelming hunger had made it possible to choke it down. But now she had tasted the real thing again and if her senses were correct, more food was on the way.
Carter and the clerk turned to look out the plate glass windows of the Shop Rite across the street to Carter’s motel room that was now surrounded by a phalanx of police cars, trucks, and urban combat vehicles. In the distance, more sirens could be heard approaching. Carter knew that the Card Guards from the Institute would be among them. And if the night could get any worse, maybe Doctor Hare and Doctor Hadder would make an appearance as well.
Cater rushed out the glass doors of the Stop Rite and ran as hard as his fifty-year-old legs would carry him dimly hearing the voice of the clerk tell him that he had forgotten his items. He saw that the door to his room had been broken down and that more police officers were moving towards it, automatic weapons ready. He began screaming at them as he crossed the street and into the motel’s parking lot, “Stay out, stay out, STAY OUT OF THAT ROOM!” For a second, a short second where the lives of many people hung in the balance, everyone stopped and turned at the screeching, desperate voice that broke the night and then the second ended as the officers closest to Carter realized that had a nut job on their hands and moved to intercept him.
Before he could warn them further, three fully armored policemen jumped him and slammed him, face first, into the broken asphalt of the parking lot while the officer in charge sent his second group of men into the motel room and told the three police men holding Carter down to shut him up. One of the officers zealously applied the butt of his gun to Carters head, silencing him and nearly knocking him out.
The officers of the second wave looked to their commander as he waved them into the room. They disappeared one by one into the darkness of the room while the crowd held its breath and waited.
Alicia sat at the end of the short hallway and waited for the next meal to enter the doorway. She focused hard and managed to shift mostly back into her base state. She looked at her hands that still were far to long with nails that were as think and as sharp as butcher knives, shrugged, and hide them behind her back. Hopefully in the dim light, the food wouldn’t notice her pale skin, hollow, strangely colored eyes, or the remains of their two friends splatter across the room until it was too late from them to back out. The guns they carried may not be enough to kill her, but they could wound her badly enough to prevent her escape and that would land her back at the Ant Farm and Alicia wasn’t going back.
The sound of footsteps grew closer then changed from the hard clap clap of rubber on concrete to the creak of boots on the splintered door and finally to the soft sound of rubber on carpet. Alicia saw the barrel of the gun emerge from the shadows and looked into the eyes of the police officer.
He looked back at her, confused and said, “Little girl? Are you all right?”
Alicia smiled showing him her newly formed teeth.
Outside the motel room, the crowed awaited in silence as the seconds ticked by. Into this hush, the sound of automatic weapons fire interspersed with what sounded like screaming, dying horses broke the night for an eternity followed abruptly by complete silence. The men of the local law enforcement and emergency response units slowly backed away from the source of the sound, panic spreading through the people.
A moment later, someone spotted a lone figure moving towards the doorway and cried out, “Hold you’re fire, it’s a little girl!”
Carter’s head was beginning to clear when the policemen shouted out, identifying Alicia standing in the door. He craned his neck and spotted her through the legs of the many policemen that had encircled the motel room. He could see the blood splashed all over her from head to toe and that she was wearing one of the dead officer’s bullet proof vests.
An EMT pushed his way to the front of the crowed and moved towards the little girl. She looked like she had been through a slaughter house covered from heat to toe with blood and bits of flesh. What the hell had gone on in there? he wondered as he approached her.
Alicia had eaten the second two officers even faster than her first two. The viral engines in her multiple stomachs had reduced the swelling in her neck and abdomen to a point were she didn’t look like a bloated monster, but even having consumed the meat of four full grown men, she still felt ravenous and another piece of food was walking towards her. She focused, concentrated hard to keep the Change at bay. It was critical that she stay in control for just a few minutes. That was all she would need to break out of the half circle of men with weapons.
If she could hold it together for just a few short minutes… but then the EMT touched her arm and said, “It’s OK now, you’re safe…” but before he could finish, the smell of his fresh, living meat penetrated her brain and the Change took over. In the blink of an eye, Alicia had lunged at the EMT and sunk her wide jaw deep into his chest. She ripped off his breast bone and sank another bite into his heart and lungs. Gulp, gulp, gulp! And most of the organs in his chest cavity resided in her stomachs.
Through the legs of the crowd, Carter watched as his little girl devoured the EMT and with everything he still had in him, he began to scream again, “Kill her, kill her, KILL HER NOW! This time no blows came to his head as the police assessed the little killer. Most of the men who stood their could not comprehend the abrupt and violent death of the EMT but their subconscious mind knew enough to tell them to point their weapons at the thing and fire before the nightmare came at them.
Alicia stood up from the body of the EMT, not done, but knowing she only had a few seconds to get out before they put her down. She could see the muzzles of every weapon raise up and point at her. She stretched her arms and legs even further than the change had made them. Using her left hand, she reached up and grabbed hold of the second floor railing some ten feet above her head, and as the first bullet ripped through the air toward her, jerked herself up onto the landing of the second floor. The police corrected and showered her with bullets as she again reached up and grabbed the roofing, felt as the first bullets struck home, then pulled herself up on the roof of the motel. She glanced back at the crowd of police still firing at her and bolted down the roof of the motel, quickly scrambling down the opposite side out of site of the policemen and into the deep, endless forest of junk behind the building.
The police stood stunned as the thing scrambled up the side of the hotel, over the roof, and vanished into the night. Carter had regained his feet and rushed to the remains of the EMT. He pushed through the ring of people standing around him. If the EMT showed any singes of life, Carter would kill him on the spot. But the EMT was quite dead, most of his torso gone into the gullet of his little girl. Carter stood up and began looking for his own way to escape when the unmarked vans and SUVs of the Ant Farm roared into the parking lot sealing off any chance he might have had of escaping.
They screeched to a stop and out poured the Card Guards decked out in their crazy body armor, armor the dead policemen probably wished they had had, followed by the two men that had started it all: Dr. Hare and Dr. Hadder. Carter guessed he wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight, sat down on the asphalt next to the dead EMT and wept.