Paramedic Dean Flynn walked into work ready for another night on the ambulance at Station U, the team of paramedics that served the creatures of myth and legend making up the Unusual community in Elk City. No sooner had he dropped his backpack on the break room table when the tones sounded from the overhead speakers for the first ambulance call of the night. He sighed. Dean had been a little late getting in today, so there’d be no time for dinner tonight before the shift. It was a shame, but that was the life of the working paramedic. Their live-in zombie chef, Freddy, would keep dinner warm for him until he returned in a few hours. His partner, Barry, had arrived early enough to wolf down what looked like an amazing Pasta Bolognese before their shift started. Dean waved at the departing day shift and headed to the ambulance bay with Barry.
“Do you want me to drive?” Barry asked.
“No, I’ll drive. You can have the first run tonight.” As full partners now, Dean and Barry divided the workload for their ambulance calls. They’d alternate who took the lead all night so they’d each get an equal chance to manage individual patients. Even with their unique and Unusual patients at Station U, most 911 calls were routine. Even the creatures of myth and legend got regular chest pain and had trouble breathing after an asthma attack.
The dispatcher’s voice sounded from the speakers as the two paramedics climbed inside the ambulance. “Paramedic U-191, respond to 1327 Central Avenue for multiple victims of an assault. Unknown at this time if the assailant is still on scene or not.”
Barry picked up the mic from the center console and keyed it to answer. “U-191 responding. Confirm if the police are responding as well?”
“Police units are responding but may be delayed due to an additional incident across town,” the female dispatcher’s voice replied.
There were special police units assigned to respond to Unusuals who needed law enforcement assistance as well. If there were some mythical creature rampaging and attacking people, it’d be good to have knowledgeable police officers there to back them up while they took care of any victims. Most of the human residents of Elk City were unaware of the true nature of their Unusual neighbors. Most Unusuals kept a low profile preferring to live quietly among the humans of the city.
Dean pulled the ambulance out of the bay, checking to make sure the garage doors were closing behind him before he pulled out onto the street and headed off to the scene of the incident.
“We need to stay on our toes, Barry. It could be anything.”
Dean had been Barry’s training officer until a few months ago, and he still slipped into instructor mode. The new Station U paramedic had lots of experience with human patients, even more time on the street in total than Dean did. But Dean had gained a lot of knowledge about their special class of patients in his short time on the Station U ambulance, and he had worked to bring the more experienced medic up to speed. Barry was a quick study, and he quickly passed his Station U probationary period, graduating to equal status with Dean.
It took them seven minutes to get to the address the dispatcher gave them. Dean pulled the ambulance into the parking lot of a funeral home. People were streaming out through the doors into the lot. Some of them were clutching bleeding wounds. Dean looked around for signs that police had arrived but saw no flashing blue and red lights that signaled law enforcement units were on the scene. He should have checked before they got to the location so they could stage at a safe distance. It was too late now, though. The injured funeral home visitors saw the flashing red and white lights of the ambulance as Dean pulled into the parking lot and started moving in their direction.
“It looks like the assailant is still inside from the way they are all running out of there. Let’s set up here, and we’ll start treating the ones in the parking lot until police arrive,” Dean suggested.
“Sound’s like a plan,” Barry agreed. He unlatched his seatbelt and popped open his door to jump down and start pulling out supplies to treat whatever traumatic wounds the victims had.
Dean knew that often, in the case of an Unusual attack, it would be bite or claw wounds. Usually, they were not too serious as far as wounds went. The problems came from the magical side effects such bites tended to have. Every creature that bit humans could cause different problems. That made it necessary to identify the type of attacker as soon as possible so they could initiate counter-measures. There were herbal extracts and simple vaccinations that could treat most Unusual bites if they caught the victims in time.
Hopping out of the driver’s side, Dean turned and reached back inside the cab and switched on the perimeter floodlights that lit the area all around the ambulance. It was just getting dark outside, and they were going to need the light to assess any significant number of patients tonight. It would also help them spot any potential attacker mixed in with the retreating human victims. On the way to the rear of the ambulance, Dean got out their emergency bites kit from a compartment on his side of the unit which had all the vaccines and herbal extracts he might need for whatever was attacking people. He jogged around to the back of the unit to open the back doors and prep for receiving their first patients. Judging from the people streaming across the parking lot, it wouldn’t take long.
A woman walked up assisting a middle-aged man in his early fifties. They were the first to arrive. Dean smiled at her, all while watching around and behind her for signs of any disturbance that could signal the arrival of the assailant. He wanted to be ready to defend himself if needed. He and Barry had both been inoculated against most of the infectious magics that Unusuals carried. That didn’t matter much if you didn’t survive the initial attack. The woman started talking as soon as she entered the pool of light thrown by the floods on the ambulance.
“Thank God you’re here,” she said in a rush. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Dean raised his hands, palms outward, to calm her down.
“What happened, ma’am. Just go slow and try and tell me what we’re dealing with here,” Dean said in an even voice. He needed to set a tone of calm from the get-go. It might help to manage the crowd that was coming towards the ambulance’s lights. Setting the tone of the response early was important.
“It’s Grandma,” the woman exclaimed, her eyes going wide. “She sat up in the casket and made this horrible groaning noise. Someone screamed, and she turned her head, saw all of us attending her funeral and said ‘fresh brains.’ Then all hell broke loose. It was like something out of a horror movie.”
Dean nodded as he started examining the bite marks on the man’s arm. Grandma had torn all the way through his coat and broken the skin underneath. He was bleeding a bit and would need a stitch or two to close the wound. Dean slapped a four by four gauze pad over it and had the gentleman hold it in place applying some pressure while he thought about what the woman said. Zombies, in his experience, were just normal people except for the fact they were dead and slowly decaying. This case, though, seemed to match up with the more classical Romero “Night of the Living Dead” style zombie. He scratched his head in thought. Maybe there were different varieties. He’d have to ask his Zombie expert, Freddy, when he got back to the station.
One thing he was sure of, all these zombie bite victims would need to get a shot from his emergency bite kit. He called out to Barry as he opened up the black pelican case he’d grabbed from the side compartment behind the driver’s door.
“Barry, I’m not sure what this is, but everyone here with even a nick of a bite gets a shot of Sodium Benzoate dilution.” It was a common preservative used in milk and other dairy products that also sometimes interfered with digestive enzymes. The docs that backed up Station U had also discovered it was pretty good at counteracting zombie bites or other undead exposures, even as rare as they were.
Barry looked at the people crowding in around them seeking medical attention. Grandma sure did get around the crowd at her funeral. “So you’re thinking Z-bite?”
Dean nodded, appreciating the abbreviation of zombie. No need to alarm all these folks that their family’s matriarch had been turned into some sort of raving undead creature. He was still trying to understand her strange behavior. He wished he could contact Freddy back at the station for some zombie lore, but he’d have to wait. Freddy never answered the phones since he wasn’t technically supposed to be staying there. That station U had a professional chef in residence was the best-kept secret in the department.
“Are you going to try and help our grandma, too?” Another woman asked. “She’s still in there. I think she stopped biting people when her dentures fell out.”
“I can’t believe we all thought she was dead,” said a teenaged boy of about seventeen.
“She can put the dentures back in,” a girl of twelve or so beside the boy mentioned. “I saw them fall out more than once. She would just scoop them off the floor and then pop them back in before she kept chomping. It was totally bizarre.”
Dean tried to reassure the people. “We’ll go and check on her once the police get here to give us a hand. In the meantime, I want everyone to line up behind the ambulance if you’ve been bitten. Even a small bite or nick should be tended to so it doesn’t get infected. We’ll check you all out and give you a shot for the infection, and you’ll be good to go.”
He watched as the folks started to sort themselves out while he and Barry herded them into a manageable group. Dean kept looking back up at the doors to the funeral home for signs of Granny, but apparently, she was either still occupied inside or couldn’t open the heavy glass doors. She could have some more victims trapped inside with her, though. Turning away from the group of patients and onlookers, he keyed his lapel mic and called headquarters.
“U-191 to dispatch. Expedite PD en route and notify the health department of a possible Z-bite incident.”
“Received, U-191. Can you repeat and confirm Z-bite scenario?”
“I have not laid eyes on the assailant yet, but based on crowd accounts, I think it’s accurate. The health department should send follow-up units to track all attendees for possible infection.”
“Received. We will advise.” There was a pause then the dispatcher came on again. “We have PD about two minutes out.”
Dean acknowledged the dispatcher’s update and went back to helping Barry treat the patients. “The police will be here soon, folks. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
* * *
It took a while for the police to gather enough force to go inside and check on grandma’s whereabouts. In the intervening half-hour, Dean and Barry were able to give diluted Sodium Benzoate shots to all the folks who’d been scratched or bitten by the rampaging corpse. They were able to deflect questions about the shots by telling them it was a broad-spectrum antibiotic for those nasty human bites. Both paramedics avoided answering questions about how a corpse could get up in the first place. They said things about how the docs might have pronounced her dead too soon. It seemed to keep them from asking too much more.
By the time they were finished giving all the shots, the health department team had shown up and taken over getting information from all the folks who’d been involved. With that taken care of, Dean walked over to the police officer in charge. It was one of the police’s Station U type officers.
“Hey, O’Malley. What’s up inside? I assume you guys managed to subdue the old lady responsible for all of this.”
“We got her cornered in a utility closet. It took three of us with riot shields to keep her off us. We pushed her back until she was in the room and then we shut the door. I was kind of hoping you and Barry would know what to do with her.”
Barry laughed and then stopped. “Wait. You’re serious.”
“Sure I’m serious. We can’t take her to jail. She’ll just turn all the jailbirds to zombies,” O’Malley said.
Dean considered the situation for a moment. “I don’t understand why she’s so different from other zombies we’ve encountered. Usually, a zombie bite is an accidental thing or a self-defense reaction. Plus, how did she turn anyway? You’d need a voodoo priestess or some other magical source if there’s not a bite involved to begin with.”
“That’s above my pay grade,” O’Malley said. “You paramedic types are the ones who know how all the biology stuff works, not me.”
“I don’t care if it’s above your grade or not,” Barry said. “You’re not using that as an excuse to make us go in there and deal with her alone. You’ve had the same inoculations we’ve had. At the least, you can help us secure the woman so we can escort her to the hospital.”
“I guess I can come in with you and help with that. You’re dealing with all the nasty stuff, though. I don’t do blood.”
Dean shook his head as the three of them started walking up to the funeral home doors. Dean pulled on some purple exam gloves then he reached out and opened the door, holding it for the others and following Barry and officer O’Malley inside.
They could hear the woman snarling and scratching at the inside of the closet door as soon as they got inside. Dean was able to figure out which door it was right away. He walked up and tried talking to the woman through the door. He saw a sign at the entrance to the larger funeral parlor room with an announcement printed on it. It had her name and dates of birth and death. He tried to call out her name to get past her current bloodlust.
“Gladys, I’m Dean Flynn. I’m a paramedic, and I’m here to help you if you let me.” He waited. The scratching and snarling stopped. He put his ear up to the door to listen and jumped back as the woman on the other side slammed into the opposite side hard enough to pop the door open and knock Dean over backward. Before he knew what happened, he had a bundle of snarling grandmother on his chest, snapping at his face with her mouth.
He was screaming in alarm and trying to fend her off. He couldn’t understand why Barry and O’Malley weren’t coming to his aid. Then he realized the sounds coming from the opening and closing mouth above his face weren’t quite right. He looked up at the face inches above his and realized that she didn’t have any teeth. The sounds weren’t teeth snapping together but rather a dull squishy sound of drooling gums rubbing together. That was when he heard the laughing coming from his partner and the police officer.
“Will you guys get control of yourselves and come over here and get this woman off of me?”
“I’m sorry, Dean,” Barry said, wiping tears from his eyes. “You look ridiculous there screaming for help with that ninety-pound dead woman on top of you. You’re able to hold her off you with one hand, but you’re screaming and yelling like it’s a tiger or something.”
O’Malley stopped his belly laughing long enough to chime in, too.
“Didn’t you tell me not to worry because we all had our shots?”
“That doesn’t mean she can’t hurt me,” Dean shouted over the snarls. The drool was starting to spray all over his face. “Come on, guys. Help me out here.”
The two of them came over and hooked the weight of the woman off of him by grabbing her under the arms and lifting straight up. They were easily able to manage her struggling by themselves. Dean got up and wiped his face with a gauze pad he had in his pocket.
“I can’t believe it took three officers with riot shields to manage this woman. I was expecting much worse.” Dean shook his head and continued, switching to treatment mode. “You two hold her here,” Dean announced. “I’ll go and back the ambulance up to the doors, so the family doesn’t see her like this. Hopefully, we can figure out what’s animated her corpse and maybe get her back to some semblance of herself before we tell the family what happened. I’ll talk with the health department lead and see where they want us to take her.”
He headed outside and looked around the parking lot at the surrounding bystanders and remaining funeral visitors who were still lined up and had to talk to the health department teams. He thought about the woman being restrained inside. Something about this didn’t make sense. He had the nagging feeling that grandma’s turning wasn’t a spontaneous accident. Shaking his head while he tried to work it out, Dean walked over to bring the ambulance up so they could transport their patient to Elk City Medical Center or wherever else the docs wanted him to take her.