Morning was never my favorite time of the day. It came too damned early and there was nothing redeeming about being able to greet the dawn, much less the paperboy. Hell, who was kidding whom? The paperboy was a couple in their mid-twenties looking worse for wear every time I saw them tossing the plastic covered papers out the car window of their blue Ford Focus. Lately I'd been watching them toss the papers on their customers' lawns and drive away far too many days in a row.
I could blame the lack of sleep on getting older, or even my financial worries, but honestly it was the stupid birds. I've been a light sleeper ever since I was little, so it wasn't new for me to be woken early by rumbling trucks. Still at other times, it would be the screeching brakes of drunk drivers swerving in the dark, trying to avoid the stray dogs and cats that roamed the neighborhood hunting in between the shadows. Since I really couldn't afford to miss work, the jarringly loud alarm clock on my nightstand was a necessary evil and using earplugs was pretty much counterproductive to waking up in time for work. I stacked pillows over my head during the winter but during the summer it was too warm. The tabletop oscillating fan did block out some of the chirping but not as much as I needed.
The past few weeks, the mockingbirds took over once the mourning doves stopped their cooing and muttering to settle into their dusty beds or in the low branches of bushes and trees that surrounded my bedroom windows. My neighborhood's mockingbirds weren't mimicking the other songbirds in the area but rather the sharp sounds of car alarms, cell phones and my own damn alarm clock. At first I thought I was dreaming about the sounds. Soon it was apparent that the birds were doing it on purpose. I thought it was me being paranoid and delusional. I told a friend of mine at work, half-joking, my theory and she laughed and said I was actually right. It seemed that mockingbirds had a vicious streak, and they did in fact aim at certain people and mimic sounds associated with their chosen mark. I certainly had felt like a target after one week of the abuse, but since then it'd nearly been a month of the constant noise and I wasn't sure I was even sane anymore.
Usually morning arrived with the din of doors slamming and the damned birds doing their best interpretation of Paul's car alarm. His alarm was distinctive and pricey. Paul was a good next-door neighbor but he was a worse paranoid than me. At least he didn't think the birds were out to get him, but he figured more along the lines of the government, the cops and anyone he didn't know. He'd known me for twenty years so I think I cleared the bad list, but some days I wasn't so certain.
The pillow slid off my head and it was then that I noticed that the fan had stopped rotating. I glared over and confirmed that it wasn't moving. I killed fans regularly with the daily use and mentally added a trip to Target after work. Just what I needed, another expense and yet another errand. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and stretched in my bed. Reluctantly, I swung my legs over the floor and got up. The birds stopped their annoying racket and I stumbled into the bathroom. I flipped the switch and nothing happened. I tried again. Well, that didn't work. Frustrated by how my day was starting, I turned on the faucet and splashed my face. I was glad to feel the water pouring out of the pipe. It was unnerving to clean my face and brush my teeth nearly blind but I was ok with it. I was just happy to have water. In near dark I dressed and headed into the kitchen. The power was off. I looked out the window over to my neighbor Paul's kitchen and saw it too was dark.
Then I saw the flakes falling in between our homes. It was Southern California. We didn't get snow in the winter much less in the late summer. The flakes were coming faster, and with them bits of red. It wasn't snow, but ash falling. Ash and fire. A staple in the sky from October through November some years, and while October was only a few days old, this looked like it was destined to be one of those years. A bit of worry churned inside me as I wondered where the fire was. A large ember floated by and I stumbled back from the windowpane.
Stunned by the obvious closeness of the fire, I grabbed up the phone receiver in my kitchen. Silence greeted my ear and the ocean-like echo of nothing. The lines were down. Dark nearly black smoke chased the ash in between the houses and a shiver of fear ran through me.
My cell phone was still in my room so I hustled back down the hallway and snatched it from the charger. My cell had a full charge, but I hesitated to use it. Shrugging, I snatched up my phone and the charger as the impact of the fire sunk into my sleep-deprived brain. I had to get ready to evacuate no matter what the case. My neighborhood was always on the evac list. Something to do with all the large dry thirty year old trees and shake shingle roofs.
Quickly I packed a change of clothes and some critical paperwork in an overnight bag. I looked around the bedroom indecisively, wondering what else I should take with me. My laptop was efficiently packed and some of my irreplaceable pieces of jewelry went into the overnight bag. Most of my pictures were on my laptop's hard drive with the exception of a huge scrapbook of family photos. That was crammed on top of my bags. I could hear a bird outside my window. It wasn't making the usual car alarm noise but now a whooping siren sound. My nerves jangled with the reminder of the horrors facing me outside. I consoled myself with the notion that the fire wasn't close enough to rate door-to-door fireman knocking and alerting us to the dangers. That'd happened two years ago when a nearby canyon went up in flames.
At least that was what I told myself. I was holding tight to the delusion, knowing perfectly well it could mean the fire had cut off any help. The early dawn hour meant most of my neighborhood was still asleep and unaware of the fire. The smell of smoke was now drifting in with a fine dust of soot and I coughed roughly.
Lacing up my hiking boots and grabbing a washcloth I soaked with water, I decided to head over to Paul's. I tossed my keys in my backpack with a bottle of water. If nothing else, he'd have a list of places to evacuate to or avoid if I knew him. That was assuming that he even believed the fire existed. During one fire storm that ran through the area six years ago he decided that the fires were made up and part of the government's attempt to get him out of his home so they could put in wiretaps, small cameras and other sensors. He didn't leave.
Holding the damp cloth over my face, I walked quickly over to Paul's side door. He never answered the front door because he figured Google Earth had their cameras trained on the front of his house, along with others, and by using the side door he was safer. I knocked on the door hard. His fifty-pound Doberman came barking and wiggling. Suzie wasn't vicious and not very bright, but she liked me so I was welcome. Her breed and size still made her frightening to most folks.
A large black bird swooped past me making me jump. At the same time Paul yanked open the door.
"Get inside, Kathy!" Suzie pounced on my shoes and barked her hello while her master yanked me off my feet and into his house.
He slammed the door saying, "I knew this would happen!"
"What, a fire? I didn't see anything last night on the news." I was confused. Paul tended to have some oddities in his existence, so that I wasn't sure what he was talking about, but waited while wondering how I was going to get him out of the house. The quickly barred door didn't seem to help.
While he was locking the side door he set a large steel bar across the entire frame, which didn't bode well for an easy exit. I'd only brought over my backpack that I'd automatically tossed over my shoulder which meant my spare clothes and laptop were still inside my house. At least I had my cell phone and some water if not much else. Sighing I asked, "What's going on, Paul?"
His pupils were large in the dark. The only lighting was from the large windows in the kitchen and a thick candle he had set on the dining room table. Given the early hour I was happy to see he had dressed. Paul didn't always like clothing and I had been rewarded with far too many naked visuals having him as a neighbor. Thankfully he looked good for being in his mid-fifties and with his scant wardrobe his body was nicely bronzed. But still it was like seeing your uncle -- unexpected and unsettling. No brain bleach needed, but close.
The t-shirt had seen better days and his sweat pants were vaguely gray. His beard was thick and nearly white and he still had a full head of salt and pepper hair. All in all, he didn't look like he was insane, but even I wondered.
"Kathy, my dear, it is the end of times. I told you that Gen-Top wasn't just some namby-pamby think tank cooking up new shades of lipsticks. All that press was very convenient and a cover story. They supposedly were just making a new face cream or something that would do for rich women what botox and facelifts promised without having to carve them up or shoot them full of toxins. Ha!"
I shook my head. "What? This fire is at Gen-Top?" I took the important nugget of information hidden in his comment.
"That's what is being said."
"Where is it being said, Paul? I don't have power much less television or radio over at my house." I glanced pointedly at the candle.
"Remember that huge box you signed for last year?"
Shrugging I nodded. We both signed for each other's packages all the time. I never asked what he had shipped and he gave me the same courtesy. I did remember he had to use his utility dolly to move the box and the delivery guys had done the same when dropping it off on my porch.
"I knew when that upstart company moved in over in the valley last year that something like this would happen. Who needs another potion or lotion to allow people to be more beautiful?" He smirked at me and led me away from the door. Suzie bounced with us and kept nudging my hand to her muzzle. I automatically stroked her while following Paul.
We ended up in his office and to my shock there was light. Granted, not bright and shiny lights, but still there was power. He slapped a dark metallic box saying, "Yep, I bought myself a generator."
Okay, it wasn't totally weird, but close. The propane tank attached was odd and reminded me of an outdoor barbecue set up. The cables and lines from the front of the dark green and black generator ran to one lamp and a computer. He also had a battery-operated radio tuned in to the local AM news and there was the static-filled garble of talk show hosts trying to quell panicked callers while still stimulating them enough for some drama.
"Why the generator if you have a working radio?" It seemed like overkill. Then of course I was talking to Paul.
"To see what the world is being told!" He seemed happy to show me what the world was saying.
He keyed something and instantly the computer came alive.
"But how are you getting a signal?" I knew something about computers and that seemed wrong given the lack of landlines for the phones.
"A few other boxes showed up that you didn't sign for last year," was all he'd say with a smug grin. I took that to mean that he'd spent some serious coin and had some satellite capabilities. For a man who was paranoid about government spying, he certainly didn't stint on buying any of the state-of-the-art toys available. I knew better than to explain the mistake in his 'logic' from years of innumerable off the wall conversations we'd had.
He navigated quickly and pulled up a live news feed from a Los Angeles station online. They were talking about the wild fires running through our neighborhood. The monitor showed that a few roofs on houses were smoking and flames licked over the edges, and then they cut to shots of the Gen-Top compound. It was definitely toast. The eucalyptus trees were little more than large matchsticks lining the nearly empty parking lots and buildings. The trees and buildings were urban nightmares of burning material and high flames. It was hypnotic.
"What the hell is going on, Paul?" I was frozen watching the fire blaze and burn quickly through the buildings. The camera kept going back to the scattered cars in the parking lot. I wondered if the owners had got out before the fire overran the structures. I wasn't very hopeful when the camera focused back on a grim-faced newscaster in the studio.
Paul fiddled with his computer, adjusting the volume. I stood right behind Paul in his chair. Together we listened to the newsman's breaking story.
"There are unconfirmed reports of over a dozen employees who are still trapped inside by the fires that are rapidly engulfing the structures of Gen-Top. The firefighters are being hampered by the intense heat from the out-of-control flames and the possibilities of dangerous toxins inside the burning buildings. Gen-Top is new to Southern California and has been touted as being the salvation for a stagnant economy. The employees inside are possibly some of the famous scientists brought on board with promises of a brand new face for women and men." I remembered hearing that buzz-line when talk about Gen-Top first was released. The newscaster had automatically used the commercial throwaway phrase, but it didn't diminish the people inside the buildings. The man continued, "We've been told that a HazMat team has been called and we'll keep reporting on this fire that's been named the Gen-Top Fire until it's completely under control." A banner running across the bottom of the screen used the words Gen-Top Fire and the approximate time it began and that there were trapped employees awaiting rescue. It was dizzying trying to read the bottom while listening to the newscaster.
"Wait, this is just coming in," the gray haired man touched his ear and looked straight into the camera with a deadly serious expression while obviously listening to someone. Dead airtime with the horrible fires burning on the inset screen behind him, the banner repeated the same phrases said and offered no new information. He nodded then put his hand down and shook his head softly.
"There is confirmation of two employees being brought out," the news cut away to a full screen shot of heavy equipment geared firemen carrying out ominous black body bags. There wasn't much more for him to add given the slick inky signs of death. The banner repeated the news of two dead found so far and that emergency crews were being called in from all parts of the county to assist.
"The power and phones are out in these two areas," back to the studio and the screen was filled with a map of my neighborhood with a hundred or so houses blacked out between the main streets in and out of our community.
Paul said, "Okay, guess we won't be fleeing with the rest of the sheep." He flipped over to another online site where the news showed nearly the same shots the previous station had been using. He muted the sound and said, "That'll carry on for a while. Doesn't look good for the employees. That's what you get for working for slimy company like Gen-Top. Dimwits trying to play God with the human code. Hell, we can't even keep our planes in the air why would we think we could fix mankind?"
"Fine, so what are our options?"
"I already put the word out with our neighbors that the fire is out of control and most of the roads were probably going to be blocked off at some point. Most of them tore out of here like their houses were already on fire. Probably made it out. Dunno. I expect Doc will head over here once he finishes his work out. I think some of the others didn't believe me." He sighed. It wasn't unheard of for Paul to be wrong in his obscure leaps of reality. It also explained all the slams of car doors I heard earlier in the pre-dawn hours.
"Paul, did you wake the neighbors?" It dawned on me that was what he probably did.
"They don't have phones or power. Hell, yes!" He was proud of it. The smirk on his lips made me think it was the highlight of his morning.
"Yet you didn't come over and wake me?" I was somewhat appalled and yet oddly disturbed by his behavior.
"You'd come here first. I didn't see the need to wake you if you actually were getting some sleep. Besides I've already seen you in the morning," he grinned lightheartedly. I was pretty careful to keep my blinds closed but the smirk on his face made me think I may have missed a day or two.
"Ah, I don't want to know anything more!!" I really didn't. Paul wasn't the only nudist in our community. Being an insomniac gave me far too much information at times. Blinds should be mandatory. Blinds and really tall privacy fences.
He was positively salivating and I could see that he wanted me to ask what he saw while walking the street being the town crier. I wasn't going to give in to his demonic grin. The smell of smoke blew in reminding me of the fires playing out in the monitor screen and outside our houses.
"Gen-Top isn't some evil corporation, it's a beauty cream business. Honestly, some times I don't know where you get these ideas." I redirected Paul unthinkingly, not wanting to have him share about the nudity and other dawn discoveries.
He returned to his earlier rant with passion. "The hell you say! How can you not realize how they are twisting nature's very fibers? Beauty creams are not what is being produced -- it's a spray mist that seeps into your skin and begins to 'restore' your skin to the best genetic code inside. That's playing with fire." He laughed at his use of the word 'fire.'
"Whatever," I said. "But come on, that's just so sci-fi late night bad movie of the week."
Paul huffed and said, "You'll see."
It was then that we heard thumping at the front door.
"Must be Doc." We headed for the door.
Unbolting the rarely used door, Paul hauled Doc inside saying, "Why didn't you come to the side door?"
"Stupid bird kept trying to pull out my hair. I headed for this door cause it was closer. Hi, Kathy." Doc was nearly bald and inordinately proud of the dozen or so long black hairs he combed over his slick white-skinned pate. Paul and I avoided meeting each others' gaze and nodded, unwilling to question his comment about what the birds were after.
"I was just informing Kathy about Gen-Top's methodology. How they make the mist spray of refined chemicals that soak into the DNA of the idiot using it to 'help attain perfection'. Nice stuff. Now it's blowing in the smoke and ash falling all around the community." Paul seemed gleeful, filling Doc in on his latest theory.
"Stop that, Paul. It's just a fire. They probably had some Bunsen burner accident that got out of control and with the dry conditions and all. Thus is born a new fire. Just another stupid October fire." I was exasperated with his crazy talk and wanted to hear some game plan that didn't end up with us sucking in fumes and dying from smoke inhalation while he dithered about some oddball things that meant more than nothing.
Another knocking on the front door made us all jump. We'd thought everyone in the area had already bailed. Paul made a grunt and opened up, saying, "What?"
Smoke blew in, and a tall woman with a large floppy hat rushed in with the soot, growling her welcome, "What took you so long? Busy playing with your toys again?"
"Jade?" Paul was dumbfounded.
Doc and I were stunned. We thought Paul had made up Jade. Every now and then when Paul was deep in his cups he'd tell us tales about the one that got away after stomping his wallet and heart flat -- the order varied with the number of rum punches inhaled. Jade was the fictional girlfriend from Paul's past. So we'd mistakenly thought.
"Close your mouth, Paul. You don't need to show all those crowns." She closed the door behind her.
The long belted tan trench coat was straight out of a noir novel. The hat and dark glasses filling her face added into the mix. She pulled the glasses off revealing startling large green eyes. Mascara was running from the corners of her eyes.
"Still dressing like a bad B-movie moll I see." He said slowly while trying to get his bearings. "What's with the shades? You hiding from something?"
"Yes, I am. My company." She walked further into the hallway and looked around the place. We might as well have been part of the furnishings for all the attention we merited. On second thought, the furniture was getting more consideration than we were.
"He didn't want to have breakfast? Did you try to serve yogurt and dry toast again?" Paul said dryly.
"Not a houseguest, my company I work for!" She hissed while wandering over and picking up a book from the top of a side table. She regarded the title and huffed softly.
"Back into sci-fi books I see. Haven't you outgrown that stage yet? Paul, you are in your fifties not teens!" She spun gesturing with the book.
"Put that down, Jade. It's a signed copy and a rather decent author. Not everyone goes out and buys everything Oprah pushes." He flushed lightly while watching her with concerned eyes. I'd never see anyone step over Paul so easily. Jade definitely knew the man.
"And why haven't you replaced the couch yet? It has to be a dozen years old." Her laser glare was now focused on the large over stuffed tan leather couch.
"It's finally comfortable." Was all he said.
"Right. Anyways. We need to leave this area now. You still keep all that wacko survival gear?" She began pacing into his home like she belonged there. Doc and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Paul fled the living room hot on her heels.
"Guess we better follow them," I said.
"Kathy, I don't know that I want anything to do with that creature. She's scary." Doc wasn't the most outgoing of men and Jade was a bit strong willed from what we'd seen so far.
"And burning alive is higher on your 'to do' list? Or do we just label it your final 'bucket list' item to check off?" I pushed back while Suzie whined by my side. She'd slunk behind us when Jade showed up. That was odd because usually the dog was all over newcomers. The smoke had to be playing havoc with her sense of smell. She panted and nudged my hand. I petted her head and went after the two. Doc reluctantly trailed after us all while doing his own whining. Thankfully he didn't need a pat on the head.
We found Jade and Paul squared off in the office. She shut up the moment we appeared. Suzie leaned heavily against my leg shaking and now whimpering very softly. Jade caught sight of the dog and barked, "You did keep her! You asshole! You said she was hit by a truck."
Paul smiled weakly and said, "One of us was."
Jade glared while tears glittered on the brim of her lower lids. She wasn't crying from sorrow but she was radiating anger. I wanted to lean against someone bigger and whimper and her anger wasn't even directed at me. For all practical purposes Doc and I had upgraded from furniture to minor annoyances.
Suzie was still trying to hide from Jade unsuccessfully behind my leg. Doc nervously cleared his throat. Paul looked surprised and then said, "Let it be, Jade. Just let it all go. Now tell them what you started to tell me."
Nice lady. I so wasn't in the mood for her anymore than Suzie. Doc audibly gulped and then began coughing as more smoke drifted into the house. California houses rarely were designed airtight since winters were so mild and we didn't get much in the way of freezing rains trying to damage the carpeting. The idea of putting weather stripping around the doors wasn't a concept around most households.
Paul went over to the generator and unplugged the radio and plugged in a small air-filtering device instead. It immediately began working. I didn't think it was going to last very long but Doc calmed down immediately so that was worth it.
Jade sniffed and said, "Like that's going to help when your roof begins to go up in flames?" She was really the helpful sort I could tell. I didn't question Paul's decision to dump her in the least. I wasn't even dating her and I wanted to dump her. From the look in Doc's eyes he was thinking the same thing.
"Jade, you want to leave? You're welcome to find your way outside. I think my friends and I will work out something without your expertise." Paul finally was finding his backbone I was happy to see. Suzie sensed the decisiveness in her master and rushed to his side to wiggle close and wait for his attentions. He absently stroked her head while standing firm.
The room we were in was in the middle of the house yet I could hear the winds roaring outside. It was louder than the generator and the whirling air being pulled and pushed through the filter. That was unnerving. I was hoping it was the winds howling not any fires getting closer.
Jade's eyes darted upwards towards the ceiling and she said, "No, I am not going out there without something from your toy chest. Preferably in the high caliber end or a flamethrower category. You still have those hand held rocket things?"
Nicely non-technical description but I knew what she meant. Those 'toys' were usually featured in the major ending to all the shoot 'em up movies with men in tank tops saving the world while a heavy pounding rock beat danced through the audiences' brains. That she was looking for one was unnerving on so many levels. That Paul had such 'toys' wasn't a shock to me in the least.
"Jade, you have no clue what you are babbling about, as usual. I don't have 'toys' I have defense and offensive weapons. I have some nice pieces. And there's no way I am giving you anything of mine. So either share with us or get the hell out." Suzie punctuated Paul's words with a sharp bark of approval. Now that Paul was back to 'normal' she was happy to help. Jade just looked at Suzie and said, "Sit." Her ears fell and she whined but didn't obey.
"Not your dog, Jade." Paul scratched the top of Suzie's head and looked directly at Jade. "And I am not yours to command either. So tell us why the hell you came here."
"Because I had nowhere else to run and I knew you'd help." There was a drop off on the word help that told me she wasn't as confident of her reception as she pretended.
"Fine, you're here so now what?" Paul wasn't making her any promises.
"I work over at Gen-Top in their research department. I'm their studies coordinator and head of human resources. We've developed a few new products that have some far reaching uses. The most notable is the 'Life Enhancing Mist' that is capable of visually reducing signs of aging and seemingly reversing the damage done by sun, harsh lighting and smoking. At least that's what all the slick advertising pamphlets state. Fine print says still awaiting final approval from the FDA and may have side effects not yet reported." That was a mouthful and we all waited for the punch line.
It came with a bang, "The fire started in the lab working with the animals and mist. A few of the birds escaped along with some of the rats. The rabbits died. And the scientists had noted some odd side effects in the past few weeks. I had a few of them in my office because of job related stress claims and in-house fighting. Those two bodies recovered apparently were located in that lab and had gunshot wounds."
"And you know this how?" Doc fretfully broke in, unable to resist asking. As Jade turned her angry eyes to him he quickly regretted the impulse. She didn't answer him but turned back to Paul saying, "The irregularities that had been noted are not easy throw away side effects. They are world-changing."
"I told you, Kathy! Just like I thought. It wasn't beauty products being designed but something else. And why the hell were you using animals? Animal testing is frowned on at best and your product would have been boycotted once PETA heard." He grimaced.
She laughed, "Rich people don't care how they become beautiful or at what cost as long as the results are good."
I had to give her that. She did have a point. It wasn't a product being aimed at poor folks but the wealthy, and fur coats had yet to go out of fashion because of anything said or done by PETA.
I wondered if she'd ever acknowledge Doc and I were even alive much less in the same limited air space as her. Suzie still wasn't quite sure what to make of Jade still being in her corner of the world either. She'd finally dropped to the ground but not because she was told to sit. In fact, Suzie was nearly nose to the floor trying to keep away from the bad air still coming inside the house. We needed to focus before we were barbecued. "Very nice. So Jade, is it?" I gave Paul a look that let him know he'd made a major blunder by not introducing us all properly but let it go since Jade didn't seem to much care who we were.
"Yes?" I didn't know a single word could be so nasty but I learned something new every day. That was what 'arched' meant I figured while wondering how to phrase what was running through my mind.
"Without meaning to pry, I was wondering what sorts of side effects would cause you to come running for heavy weapons?" I thought that was nicely put without being over the top.
Her eyes narrowed and she hissed, "Obviously something pretty damn scary, I'd say."
"Wow, Jade. You are such a delight! I can't believe you let this one get away, Paul. Did the joy of being bitch slapped by her all the time get too old?" I snarled. Okay, maybe I had some hostility but I hadn't slept in forever, and the harpy really was working on my last nerve. If it weren't for the smoke outside I'd be trying to see if I could talk my way out of the area. Police barricades had to work to keep lookie-lous out not residents from fleeing. Leastways that was how it worked last time I fled my home.
Jade laughed and said, "So, Paul, is this the current tart of the month? Or she just 'special' and you are tutoring her in learning to play well with others? If so, she needs more quiet time. Maybe Suzie can let her use her kennel?"
Doc snickered and I gave him a look that made him cringe.
"No, Jade, that is Kathy. She's the next-door neighbor I told you about years ago and you blew off saying you didn't like me talking about other women no matter how insignificant they were. And then I told you never to talk about her again." Paul hadn't mentioned Jade ever knew I existed. When they were 'dating' he always went with Suzie to her place for weekends. Doc and I had decided he'd been camping or something because he always came back looking trashed. Having met Jade I finally connected his scruffy homecoming. The lady tore him apart almost literally!
"Whatever. Concentrate here, this is a huge problem." Jade dismissed me without ever really answering my question. Lovely. Pretty damn scary didn't exactly draw me a picture. She wasn't the warm fuzzy sort I usually thought about when folks talked about human resource personnel. She was more the type that caused folks to go to human resources.
"Jade, I don't care. I let you in and you just insult my guests and scare my dog. You want a gun. Fine. I'll get you something small and mean like you. I don't have time for your crap. Tell me anything useful or you're outside in ten minutes, gun or no gun." Paul put an arm around me as if I needed the support. I smiled up at him and said softly, "Thanks."
"The mist spray caused some major changes in the animals. The rats and birds began to exhibit some unusual talents. They got smarter faster and learned the puzzles quicker all the while looking younger and sleeker. It was like the drug stopped the clock and repaired all aging. They began to sleep all day and only would come out at night. If they were pulled out before they were ready they became hostile and vicious. Then without any more mist they got faster and began to kill anything in their way." What she said nudged something inside me.
It wasn't a happy feel good sort of tickle but an oddity.
Doc put it together and said, "What'd you feed them?"
Jade went pale. She didn't answer.
"Jade, what did they eat?" Paul asked.
"They started with the weaker and then began biting anything that got too close. That's why the rabbits were all dead."
"The mist makes them into fucking vampires?" Paul screamed looking as upset as I felt.
"We prefer to call it a bad side effect." She answered subdued by her own words. "And the company is trying to cover it all up. They killed those scientists and were in the process of cleaning house and killing anyone who worked on the project. I escaped before they made it to the higher offices."
Paul nodded and said, "Okay, I have just the weapons. Let's go to the back bedroom and get the ammo."
We followed him into the spare room. Without talking he began moving aside a lightly filled bookcase to reveal a light colored piece of walling. He pulled the faux wood paneling aside to reveal a large gun safe. Blocking us from seeing his code he beeped in the numbers and opened up the safe. He pulled out shotguns and cross bows and handed them to Doc who carefully put them on the queen-sized bed. My mouth gaped as he kept pulling out his 'toys'.
"This ought to start the party." He laid down a few boxes of unmarked ammunition.
"Shotgun shells?" Jade looked somewhat knowledgeable.
Paul laughed, "Not just your garden variety of shotgun shells. Nope, Dragon's Breath or what is actually a zirconium-based pyrotechnic round is a pricey little shell runs about five bucks a pop. The round when fired kicks out twelve to twenty feet of sparks. When loaded in the right gun it pretty much makes it a nice shoulder fired techno weapon of choice when needing to use something with some kick. Best in the sawed off shotguns or a throw away round the last shot fired. I have seen them used for surface-to-air or surface-to-surface. I use them with a laser sites. Figure with vampire birds and rats it's best to fight fire with fire. This ought to make them toast."
Wide-eyed, I took the rapidly loaded shotgun and a crossbow.
"Let's get our asses out of here, there should be light enough by now."
We all nodded and let Paul take the lead. I guess we all figured out quickly that the least of our concerns was the fire outside. Bloodsucking birds were a whole new level of scary. Jade nodded and said, "Well, at least I came to the right place."
Looking at Paul I said, "What about the falling ash? Is that able to infect us?"
"Let's pray not. But let's be careful!" With that we went out into the angry dawn. It was going to be a long day.
-- Lydia Manx