Park Ave – By Dan Leicht
I woke up to find my arm stuck to an IV set. The small screen in the corner of the room was hissing white noise quietly. My clothes I could see were folded up on a chair sitting across from me. The impact of that hit had sent me to the floor. I looked the devil in the eyes for a few hours before waking up. I was still feeling woozy so I pressed the button to call for a nurse. The hospital was silent. I let the clock tick by until I pressed it again, and again, until I eventually heard light footsteps approaching my room, the footsteps of a ballerina or small child.
“You need something?” said a shrill voice from the open doorway. She stood out of sight from the bed I was trapped in.
“Come in so I can see you,” I asked the voice.
She stepped into the room and turned to look at me, her eyes consumed by the pupil, her skin a dry, flaky, pale white, her jaw unhinged and sagging. As she spoke me adjusted her mouth with a balled up fist. She wore a tattered nurses outfit that looked decades old. She moved in closer as she cocked her head back and forth, her chin swinging like a pendulum.
“And to think I thought all those people stocking up on water and duct-tape for the zombie apocalypse were crazy,” I said as I tugged at the needle in my arm. It’d been sealed in with a strong adhesive, so I leapt out of the bad and grabbed the metal IV stand in my hand.
“You have beautiful eyes, but I’m sure you hear that all the time,” I said as I tried not to gag at the smell.
“Please get back in bed. You’re not well, Mr. Splints.”
“I’m well enough, Nurse of the undead.”
Her brow turned inward as she glared at me and moved even closer. I tightened my grip on the stand and walked toward her. Her body soon started to change, her jaw snapped into place, her fists grew three times larger. She lunged at me but I was able to dodge it. As she regained herself I gripped the metal stand in both hands and held it up as a barrier. She lunged again, but it was clear she didn’t possess the same strength as the shapeshifter that had knocked me out. As she tried to regain herself the second time I took a swing and heard her back crack as she let out a deafening shriek. While she tried to compose herself on the floor I made a dash for the doorway and out into the hall, where I found myself confronted with two options, go left and face more undead nurses, or go right and challenge the man I see in the mirror every morning. Getting down to the ground floor of this place wasn’t going to be as easy as just taking a ride down the elevator.
Having to make a quick decision, the undead nurse crawling across the floor behind me, a horde of them growing closer from the left of the hallway, I made a mad dash for the right and tackled my doppelganger to the ground.
“Watch the coat, slick,” he shouted after hitting the floor.
“You’re not trying to stop me?” I asked.
“Isn’t that what you’re trying to do to me? Get off,” he said as he shoved me to the side. “I’d stay and chat some more but it looks like some of your pals want to spend some quality time. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He made a getaway down the hallway opposite the oncoming attack. The nurses all huddled around me, cocking their heads like owls as their jaws swung in a trance-like rhythm. I found myself not being able to look away as one nurse grew closer.
It happened again. I awoke in another hospital room, this time I wasn’t alone. One either side of me was a shapeshifter that had taken to my ugly mug. Both of them were convulsing on their beds, throwing their bodies up and down as if in tremendous pain. I could hear my own voice crying for mercy from both of them, they’d both been chained to their beds. There was something they were craving, something they needed in order to be whole again. Is that what they had broken into my apartment for? What did I have that they needed so badly?
They wouldn’t calm down. On either side of me they howled as if trying to hold back a demonic transformation. I would have abandoned the bed if I wasn’t in the same situation. They’d been bound to their beds, just as I had, my wrists chained to the metal frame as I laid on a thin pad separating my back from the rusted metal springs. The more they cried for sustenance the more I felt their pain. “More! We need more!”, they both shouted. I could feel myself craving it too…what was it? A hunger was churning within me. It began to drive me mad the more I thought about how much I craved this healing nourishment.
“We need more! Give us more!” they chanted.
The hunger was burning within me. I could feel something compelling me, the scent of what could fill the hole I was feeling. With every bit of strength I had left I pulled on the chains, the metal frame of the bed creaking as the metal grinded against my flesh. With a snap my right wrist broke free, though badly wounded. My left soon followed and I once again made my way to the hallway, this time consumed by instincts I could not explain.
The hallway was barely lit by the moon leaking through the bloodstained windows. I was being compelled to follow a scent without knowing where it would lead. It was driving everything within me to find its origin. As I sprinted through the halls of the hospital I kept remembering back to the man I had tackled in the hallway, the one who looked just like me…he was me. He thought I would be trying to stop him, as I thought of him, and yet he didn’t seem to have any interest in the task. He was on a mission of his own as he left me there as bait to fend off the oncoming horde. Where was he headed? Certainly if I found him I could learn more about what’s going on I thought. I had become an animal on an overwhelming hunt.
Somewhere in the dank hospital he was on a frantic search just as I was. If I listened closely I could make out his steps from the floor above. He was opening each and every door in his search, undoubtably one of the shapfeshifters who had raided my apartment. Frantically my steps carried me up the stairs as a shoulder into a heavy door launched me into the hallway. The noise startled him as he turned around and grinned at my arrival.
“Wondered how long until my ugly mug showed up again,” he said as he raised his fists.
“I don’t wish to fight you, I just want answers,” I spoke softly as I made my way towards him with my hands up by my chest with palms open.
“Must not have gotten your taste yet, have you? Probably still think you’re me too.”
“What are you talking about? What is it you’re searching for?”
“More like a ‘who’, at least I hope that’s still the case. Not exactly sure what you things do with your source material once it runs dry.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’d love to read you a story and tuck you in, but I’ve got places to be,” with that he ran off towards the staircase and traveled onto the next floor.
“No, I’ve been looking for you!” I ran after him, out of both curiosity and the unknown force that compelled me.
I followed him up to the next floor but he wasn’t there, it was as if he’d vanished. Only the first few doors had been opened. His search stopped at the third, but he wasn’t in the room. Crouched down like a catcher on the floor was an elderly woman. It sounded like she was eating something as I stepped towards her. Before I was even halfway across the room she turned around and stared at me with cold grey eyes, her pupils completely gone. In her hands was an arm, one just as wrinkled as her own.
“Ma’am…I can help you. Put the arm down.” She had gone feral in her demeanor. It was like watching a tiger consume it’s prey. I could feel the same bloodlust passing through me, I was craving the taste just as bad as her, but not of the same flesh. I had to find my lookalike, I had to feast. As she kept her eyes fixed on me I walked closer and began to recognize her face. She was the woman I had first visited on Park Ave, the old woman who had attacked the paperboy.
“What happened to you?” I asked. She cocked her head and squinted her eyes, snapping her neck left then right as she stared. After an intense staring contest she dropped the remains of her meal and stood up. Her fists began to grow larger, stubble formed on her chin, her hair turned black.
“Get out!” a gruff voice demanded. The transformed brute ran towards me, without giving it any thought I made a dash towards him too. We met in the middle of the room and locked our hands together in an effort to overpower the other.
“Get out!” he repeated. He was beginning to force me back when I heard footsteps come from behind me. The shapeshifter shifted his glance from my face to another’s moments before being struck with a wooden chair and sent to the ground. His grip still tight on my hands I fell down with him, only to be helped up by a familiar face.
“Don’t bite. I’ve had enough of that today,” said the lookalike I’d been following. I couldn’t stop myself from lunging at him, wanting nothing more than to rip flesh from his exposed forearm. With the leg from the chair still in his hand he struck me and sent me to the floor.
I awoke with a slap to my face. I found myself bound to a chair with tourniquets tight around my wrists and ankles.
“Nap time is over.”
“What is this?”
“You tried to bite me, told you not to do that. You didn’t give me a whole lot of choices.”
“What is it you want from me?”
“Answers about what?”
“About what you shapeshifters are doing here, what you want. The endgame.”
“You’re kidding, right? You’re the imposter here. I’m the real Splints.”
“Yeah, because I eat flesh for breakfast, helps with the blood pressure.”
“I must’ve been injected with something to make me do that. That wasn’t me.”
“Wasn’t me either. So looks like we have more in common than just my face. Also seems like you think you’re me, could use a hand on this case, so you’re hired.”
“Being wrong isn’t usually my thing, unless it’s picking a hobby. Turns out I should’ve retired from this gig years ago. I have been finding out quite a bit on you guys though, so at least I’m getting somewhere. Looks like you take a bit from a host, the source material if you will, and in doing that it gives you their appearance and a bit of their memories. Looks like you’ve been busy too, taking on this case, visiting some of the same places I have. Visited one of my favorite spots on Alexander recently, turns out the bartender thought we had a conversation I don’t remember having. I’m guessing that was you he met with.”
“None of this is making sense…”
“It all makes sense, you just don’t want to believe it yourself. You’re a shapeshifter just like the rest of them.”
©Dan Leicht 2016
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