3LBE #11
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Rats from Spain

by Thomas Deja

 

This was not how it was supposed to be.

The chicken wire window leading out into the main hall should not have been cracked and sagging. Meaty smacks and screams were not what he should be hearing from the hall. The atmosphere inside the administrative office should not have been sticky and oppressive, thanks to a resident tearing the air conditioner out in a tantrum over his incentives. And Terrance should not be feeling red flashes of rage behind his eyes.

• • •

His secretary should not be lying on the floor just outside his own door, blood seeping from her wounds at a lazy pace.

And Meredith Coney should not be looking at him with her big, liquid brown eyes, waiting for the accusations to come.

Terrance turned to her and said, “Make it stop.” He reminded himself that he was the head of the Program and should be stoic and calm. That didn’t stop the panic from rising in his voice.

“Don’t you think I’ve tried,” Meredith replied, that red slash of a mouth curling into a contemptuous sneer. “They forgot an off switch.”

There was a loud thumping and bits of plaster tumbled down the walls, their noise as quiet as mice. A voice in Terrance’s head whispered a reminder that the clients were getting through. The bloodlust now clouded their minds, the need to hit and bite and scratch overwhelming.

“There’s got to be a way to calm them down,” Terrance stated.

“No,” Meredith replied, “No, there isn't.” Her voice hiding a hint of laughter.

• • •

Meredith Coney’s intake file was fairly non-descript, once he thought about it.

The information inside the file was gathered by an attractive dark-haired woman named Lindsey. Lindsey had been the Intake Counselor when Terrance started at the CDT years ago, and she hadn’t seemed to age at all, he noticed on a number of occasions, or ever look her age of forty. Presently, she was slumped against the kitchen sink with a pipe rammed through her gut.

According to her Direct Care Worker at St. John's, Meredith Coney had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, with possible schizoaffective disorder. Policemen had brought the girl to the hospital after finding her on the side of the Van Wyck Expressway, screaming. Coney was very well spoken and non-violent. She suffered from delusions involving 'Mems.' The Mems, according to her statement, were mysterious men and women who conducted medical experiments to create new weapons — for whom, she didn’t know.

It was no secret that the CDT was in desperate need of some new, low-risk clients. The suicide the month before had brought auditors like locust and a change in upper management. It was the sort of chaos that meant rocky times for the 'trench divisions’ like Terrance's. Meredith, who was quiet and non-violent in spite of her delusions, seemed perfect.

• • •

A client threw a chair at the administrative office window. One leg slipped under the sliding gates and shattered the plate glass. Terrance focused beyond the throbbing in his head and closed the door to his office. Meredith watched him fumble with his key, saw him lock the two of them in. She rocked back and forth in her chair, humming.

“This is stupid…what you’re doing,” she told him.

“I'm trying to save your life.” Terrance snapped. The red rage flashing behind his eyes now matched the thumping of his heart. He took the pill bottle from his pocket and rubbed his thumb against the lid absently.

“They didn’t design me for re-use. I'm a one-shot weapon. To be deployed and cleaned up after.”

Terrance looked at her, tried to connect her with the screaming just outside his office’s thin walls, the smells wafting through the circulation ducts. He told himself that she was something evil, something designed to kill whole towns.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he eventually decided aloud.

“Who said it had to?” she responded.

• • •

Terrance had Meredith Coney’s file in front of him during the Deposition Team. He opened up to the psychosocial and addressed the staff.

“Here we have a young white woman, twenty-five years of age, diagnosed with mild schizophrenia undifferentiated, a consistent delusional mindset, evidence of some paranoia. Supposedly not a danger to herself or other, tested clean for alcohol and drugs, no history of abuse…did anyone see her?”

Dr. Blevins nodded. He scratched his neck absently. “She was very lucid, a good historian up until three years ago, when her delusions begins.”

“This is the 'Mems’ scenario?”

Dr. Blevins’ already sour face puckered up even more, as if he swallowed a lemon whole…with a spoiled milk chaser. “Yes. She claims that three years ago she was kidnapped from her car by these beings she called 'Mems.' The Mems, according to the patient description, resemble the 'Men in Black' of conspiracy theorists. These Mem held her in an upstate hospital against her will and experimented upon her until she escaped six months ago — ”

“At which point she is found on the Van Wyck,” Terrance suggested.

“Yes.”

Terrance continued going through the folder with a careful eye. The packet was surprisingly clean of the usual highlighted portions indicating problems with potential intakes. “And she’s been meds compliant, no incidents, no indication of decompensation?”

“No,” offered Jimmy, the counselor who ran the day Center’s MICA program for hardcore drug and alcohol abusers. “My only concern is that she doesn’t seem to be getting better.”

“I wouldn’t have made much progress either if I was at St. John's,” Lindsey said with a slight bemused smile.

Jimmy nodded. “They’ve been having more trouble than us with their charges. In this case, the CSW may not be blowing smoke out of their asses. She may need a more stable environment.”

“You know what I heard,” piped up Wanda, the clinician. With her roundish, wrinkled head and propensity for cable-knit sweaters, she always reminded Terrance of a tortoise. “I heard they caught one of the orderlies torturing a patient.”

Terrance looked up from the file sternly. “Wanda, that was in poor taste.”

Jimmy shrugged. “I think we’ve all heard stories like that. Some wild, wild stuff was happening on those wards. I don’t think we’re ever going to find out what.”

“Still — let’s be sensitive, people,” Terrance warned. “Under different circumstances, it might be our program people were talking about like that. Do we want to give Ms. Coney a trial?”

Dr. Blevins tilted his head to one side. “She has no real downside. Let her try the program for three months.”

“Any objections?”

There was some general muttering, but no objections.

Terrance looked toward Lindsey. “Then let’s bring her in.”

• • •

The tapestry of violence outside the office continued. Terrance listened to the noise, the screaming, the poundings and the shattering of glass and bone. It was worst not seeing what was going on, Terrance thought. No matter how awful the sights he had seen before were, his imagination was trumping them.

It was hot inside his office. The three white strips over the ventilation duct hung limp. Meredith tucked her long legs under her and watched him loosen his tie.

“They didn’t believe me at St. John’s either,” she offered.

There was a series of thumping noises, in rapid succession, each impact accompanied by a sour musical note. The Musical Expression Group must’ve decided there was a better use for its brass instruments.

“But you were listed as non-violent.”

He could hear her shifting position. She placed a hand on his arm. Her flesh was cold enough for him to feel through his suit jacket and dress shirt. He imagined her studying his profile in the emergency lights, deciding how to break it to him.

“It was how they planned it,” she explained to him as if to a child. Her breath, in contrast to her skin, was warm — feverishly so. “It wouldn’t work if I was the one behaving oddly.”

• • •

“You are not going to believe this,” Jimmy told him just as the clients started drifting in.

Terrance looked up from the protocol memo on his desk. “What’s up?”

Jimmy sat down opposite Terrance, the smile on his face so wide as to be predatory. “The Mems is not just a private delusion of our Ms. Coney.”

Terrance paused. He put aside the memo. “Get outta here.”

If possible, Jimmy’s smile grew wider. “I was discussing our latest patient with a colleague over at Rockland —”

“You shouldn’t do that, Jimmy,” Terrance admonished.

Jimmy snorted. “Don’t worry. I didn’t use names. Anyway, I made reference to 'the Mems,' and guess what? Rockland had a client with delusions highly similar to hers.”

“How similar?”

Jimmy flipped open his reporter’s pad. “Patient claimed to have participated in a pharmacological study that was secretly funded by a black ticket organization called 'Dulles Mem.' This organization took the patient to an abandoned hospital somewhere in upstate New York and experimented on him, developing against his will certain psionic empathic abilities.”

Terrance paused. He adjusted himself in his chair. “So what are you saying — that these 'Mems’ Ms. Coney tells us about are real?”

Jimmy put away his pad. “Maybe. Or these Mems are a developing urban legend or something we’ve never come across.”

Terrance, in retrospect, had heard the beginning of the incident through the wall his office shared with Group Room Three. But at the time, the unintelligible mutterings meant nothing. “Did Rockland try to locate this Dulles Mem?”

“No such luck…although the guy tried pretty damn hard…”

“Let’s bring this up at deposition nex —”

There was a crash next door, and the intercom came to life. “Code One, Room Three!”

Code One was the callsign indicating a violent situation on the grounds. Terrance and Jimmy were already on their feet. Some of the clients were beginning to scream and cry. There was blood smeared on the glass to the Group Room. Security rushed up from the Kitchen area.

Terrance went back into his office to call an ambulance. He was sure it was going to be an isolated incident.

• • •

The door to the front office slammed open suddenly. An inarticulate howl rose up, blotting out the other carnage noises around him. Terrance recognized the voice as belonging to Dana, an overweight man from Crown Heights who kept to himself. Terrance imagined the howling as weeks and weeks of trapped frustration finally given voice.

Meredith’s face was only an inch away from Terrance. With every word she formed, he felt her breath stirring his hair. Her body brushed up against him. Terrance felt a physical stirring and fought the impulse to leap away from her, to startle her, or himself. It was the paranoia mounting, he thought, just that momentary loss of control flared into its own burst of fear.

“They’re not going to stop until they find us,” Meredith told him.

Shadows moved across the frosted glass — the sounds of furniture being overturned and equipment smashed. A high-pitched shriek rose from the bullpen until one of the shadows lifted something high up and brought it down hard. Crimson dotted his office glass.

“Why would anyone do this,” he asked aloud, not really to her. He moved himself away from the warmth of her body. In the partial light of his office, Terrance thought he saw her smiling.

“To win,” she said. “Drop me in an enemy country’s capitol, let the virus take hold, and the citizens will destroy themselves.”

“But y-you'd still be free.” Terrance looked at the bottle in his hands; anything to look away from her.

Meredith stirred, shook her head with a languid slowness. “Well, if they’re killing everything in the area, and I'm in the area, then I die as well, right?”

There was a frighteningly loud thump as a chair slammed against the door, making it shudder and cracking the glass. Terrance looked around for something to defend himself. “That’s insane.”

A low chuckle rose from Meredith’s throat. “Why do you think I'm here, director?”

• • •

There were more incidents at CDT.

It began as a general overall irritability in the client population. At first, they were uncooperative, some of them crying for no reason. Terrance felt himself tense when he walked through the halls.

Then Jerry, a MICA client, became upset when asked if he had gone back to using crack. Jerry expressed the intensity of his upset by slamming a counselor’s head into the dryer repeatedly.

Later that week, another client expressed her frustration at not painting her ceramics project correctly by smashing the item over the client next to her.

Then Jimmy found one of the non-violent clients inside one of the staff bathrooms, watching her own hands impassionately as she drowned had one of the intern’s in the toilet.

There was no question there would be audits. Terrance knew there would probably be some disciplinary action. He didn’t care; he wanted the rash of incidents to end. The rash of increasing Code Ones.

Which is when Meredith’s full story came out.

• • •

He could hear them, their rage reduced to inarticulate grunts and roars. Outside his office, midst a chaotic symphony of screams, furniture and bodies were being thrown violently. The pain-wracked pleadings of the survivors were the loudest, but Terrance could still hear the meaty sounds of impact, the crumbling of cascading tile.

“They’re not going to stop,” he realized aloud.

“No they’re not,” whispered Meredith. He could hear her shifting position again behind him. “I did a little reading while I was on the street — after I got away from the Mems. You'd be surprised at what you can find in a comprehensive library.”

Terrance remained silent, debating about whether he should open up the bottle or not.

He could feel her moving closer. It surprised him that, even though the noise beyond his office was a howling cacophony of carnage, Terrance heard every word of her whisper.

“I think there’s something about the particular brain chemistry of the mentally ill,” she theorized, her words coming slowly and carefully. “They absorb the psionic signal I'm sending with a greater efficiency — making them kill-crazy sooner. And since they’re already deeply psychotic, they tend to act out with a great deal more violence. If it wasn’t for that, your staff might’ve had more of a chance.” She sounded like a weapon now, if he'd had any doubt.

Terrance looked down at the pill bottle. The mild sedatives rattled inside the plastic container. He wondered if was the self-medication that kept him from joining the beasts outside, from becoming one of the half-human berserkers scratching at his door.

“We need to get you out of here,” he insisted.

“Why? So I can infect the neighborhood?”

• • •

From Psychiatric Evaluation of Meredith Coney:

Coney is a 25-year-old white female who looks younger than her stated age. Patient was referred by Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. Patient proved to be a lucid historian, and displayed good ADLs. She presented well, being very clean, groomed and dressed in a black blouse and jeans.

Patient claimed to have been travelling after graduating college when she was in a car accident 'somewhere outside New Paltz.' According to her delusion, she was taken to 'the Mem' while unconscious. The Mem referred to is a top-secret laboratory run by the government. Patient claims that the Mem held her against her will, and experimented upon her through both surgical and pharmacological means. Patient claims her brain 'no longer looks like a normal human one.' She claims that the Mem was populated with ‘hundreds’ of people, all without families, who were experimented upon at will. When asked why more people weren’t aware of the Mem, patient replied, ‘Because they don’t want you to know.’

Patient claimed to be responsible for the increase in decompensations on Ward because 'that’s what the Mem wants me to do, whether I want to do it or not.' This seems to indicate Patient will need close monitoring to prevent her from taking actions to prove that her delusions are true.

• • •

The glass on Terrance’s door cracked, spider-webbed. A red stain indicated that the club being used was a client’s head.

Meredith stood up. She walked toward the door, her face passing through the dusky light. “This could be the only way to stop it. It might be the only way for me to be stopped.”

Terrance reached for her. The razor-wire slashes of light that made their way into the room rolled lovingly over her body. It made Meredith into something more beautiful, maybe a vision of fictions and promises.

“Are you insane?” Terrance cried, “They’ll…”

He let the statement trail off.

She smiled an ivory slash amidst shades of gray. “Afraid to give up your life?”

He looked at her, pleaded with his eyes. Another impact shook the door. The crack got larger, extending the hairlines to the window frame itself.

“There…” Terrance said, suddenly aware all of the white noise beyond the room, a choir of pre-lingual grunts that drowned in their own meaninglessness. He looked around frantically for a solution. “There… has to be a better way.”

The glass broke inward. The chicken wire held everything but the tiniest granules of glass in place. A shred of bloody flesh hung off one jagged angle. The grunts were turning to screams. The door shuddered in its frame as one, then another, then another of the transformed patients threw themselves against it. Terrance instinctively looked to his desk. He saw his personal items: the picture of someone he thought he was going to grow old with, a few toys, the stress beanbag — and realized these were all useless elements now.

“I'm going to let them in,” Meredith was saying, “I just hope it’ll be quick. I don’t think I'd mind a lot of pain if it was over quickly.”

Terrance heard her footsteps approach the door. There was a crack like a rifle shot when one of the panels splintered. He got to his feet and scrambled to where Meredith was, hands reaching for her wrists, looking to pull her back.

In the back of his head, he fantasized about throwing her against the wall. Repeatedly. It’s just that weird effect talking, he warned himself, and for a split second wondered how long ago he had taken the sedatives.

Meredith flinched when he touched her. With a grunt indistinguishable from the ones outside, she pushed backwards, leading with her sharp, angular knees. Terrance went back a few steps — long enough for Meredith’s hands to grip the doorknob.

Terrance heard a whisper in the back of his head, louder than the cacophony of guttural voices and the sounds of meat hitting hard wood. It whispered and calmed and instructed him, pointing out all the objects on hand he could pick up and use. He shifted, reached for the stone paperweight he kept on his desk. In the dusky light, it was little more than a shadow given form. But its cool smoothness felt good in his hands as he advanced on her.

The sound of the doorknob turning was like thunder, loud in Terrance’s ear and reverberating in his skull.

“This is for the best,” Meredith said, still facing the door.

As Terrance reared up, the paperweight gripped so tightly in his hands that his knuckles were white.

They came through like a wave just as Terrance brought the heavy stone down on the girl’s head. The residents effected by her siren call came flooding in, their weight and smell overwhelming Terrance, the coppery tang now filling the air, suffocating him. He fell back under their weight, in a difficult tangle of groping, thrashing limbs. But he continued striking them with the rock, feeling the impact down his wrist and up his arm, feeling the warm wet droplets on his fingers and the back of his hand. There was pain as their fingernails dug into his flesh, and the world turned red when someone bit his earlobe and ripped it free. There was no fear, and it was not out of survival need, but sheer pleasure that he pushed and shoved and punched his way into a superior position, smiling at the intermingling of his blood with theirs.

There was a searing pain across his throat, and Terrance caught a glimpse of Meredith being pulled down. Her face was beatifically happy, eyes closed, a smile from ear to ear like a saint.

Somewhere, before all rational thought was torn out of Terrance’s mind, the director thought that she looked how he felt. And then he concentrated on swinging his weapon and hurting hurting hurting those around him… as his vision dimmed red.

 

 

Thomas Deja has lived and worked in New York City all his life — which may explain why most of what he writes is horror fiction. From his earliest work for the seminal humor 'zine Inside Joke to stories in magazines like Creatio ex Nihilo, After Hours, Rictus, Bare Bone and Not One of Us, as well as the short-story anthologies The Asylum Volume One: The Psycho Ward, and Decadence, he has continued to deliver the message that runs through all his work: the nature of life is changing, and it hates you. His work has received Honorable Mention in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and has been published in four languages. Mr. Deja’s most well-known stories are those that have appeared in the Marvel Comics paperback anthologies The Ultimate Hulk, X-Men Legends and Five Decades of the X-Men. Mr. Deja’s Fiction Editor for Fangoria’s “Frightful Fiction” section. He is the founder of Underworlds, a new fiction magazine that he is putting together under the aegis of Prime Books. The first issue will hit bookstores in October. Mr. Deja has also worked in the music industry, writing bios for various Latino artists and co-writing the video for the Barrio Boyzz' Spanish language hit “No Me Dejes.” He has also acted as script doctor on a number of independent film projects.


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ISSUE #11

September 2002

FICTION

ART