Being fired didn’t bother Lucy, she expected to be fired after disappearing without notice. During the drive home, Lucy listened to a disk jockey mock a recent story. “There are reports of dead things coming back to life in remote areas of Montana. Some campers who had spent a few days in the Bitterroot National Forest said that they had stumbled upon the carcass of a deer. And while they were standing there looking at it, the carcass started to twitch. When it suddenly rose to its feet, they ran off back to their campsite. Rather than risk their lives, they chose to pack up and leave early. I guess they were afraid that Bambi’s mother was back seeking revenge – and brains!” Lucy shook her head and turned off the radio.
As she pulled into the parking area at the manor, FBI Special Agent Dana Lawrence nearly lost his life trying to flag her down. “We need to talk,” he yelled at her as she stopped the car just short of running him over. Lucy was not in the mood to talk to anyone.
“Not now, Agent Lawrence,” she said as she hurried up the portico steps.
“I know what you are,” Agent Lawrence shouted.
Lucy walked back down the steps and stood face to face with the man. “And what would that be?” Lucy hissed.
“I… I… I don’t really know,” Agent Lawrence stammered, “but I know that you aren’t human.”
“On what do you base your claim?” Lucy asked.
“I spent the night parked in one of the pass allowances along the drive up to the manor house. No one left the house to go pick you up and no car came to drop you off. You were not in the house for several days. We know because we had a warrant to search the house for you. This morning you drove off presumably to go to work. I’d say there is clear evidence of something abnormal or paranormal about you, wouldn’t you?” he replied.
“I don’t have time to play mind games with you,” Lucy admonished. “Go home.”
“Stay here,” John countermanded. “We need him, Lucy,” he said from the portico.
Lucy walked up the steps to speak to John, “Why would be need this mere mortal?”
“We may have a zombie problem,” John replied.
“Are you sure about this, John?” Lucy asked. “He could get in the way, or worse.”
“What do you mean ‘or worse’?” Agent Lawrence asked.
“She means ‘dead’,” John replied. “And you can say ‘no’ and walk away. We need your badge to get us into some restricted areas.”
Lucy hated domestic air travel especially the layovers and long flights. During the time it took to get there, there had been two more incidents in the Bitterroot National Forest. A four-year-old boy had gone missing. The child had taken off to chase a rabbit through the woods and gotten lost. The parents searched for hours before notifying the forest rangers. The search had continued until darkness fell with plans to continue the search in the morning. Authorities weren’t holding out much hope of finding the child alive.
During the search for the lost child, there had been a second sighting of a partially decayed deer wandering about the forest. Authorities dismissed the new claim as they had the original despite the photographic evidence. By early evening, the video of the ‘zombie deer’ had gone viral on the internet.
It was late at night when the three arrived at Missoula. They were scheduled to meet with the local office in the morning to officially join the search. The local FBI office had arranged accommodations at a local motel. Lucy and John had no intention of waiting before conducting their own investigation. Authorities were notorious for calling off searches at night. Every second lost meant a potential tragic ending if tragedy hadn’t already struck. If the child was still alive, they intended to find the boy and leave him somewhere safe.
In the morning, Lucy and John ate breakfast with Agent Lawrence and then rode with him to the local FBI office. They joined the search for the lost boy leading a group of searchers toward an abandoned fire tower. The local volunteers found the boy still asleep at the top. Over the next few days, the little boy had a fantastic tale to tell of being rescued by a Gruffalo and being flown to the top of the tower by a fairy queen. Everyone would laugh at his story and compliment him on his wonderful imagination.
With the search for the boy ended, the only people remaining in the forest were conspiracy theorists determined to bag a zombie deer. The only deer they discovered had a severe case of mange and was found dead at the bottom of a ravine. They went on to accuse the government of covering up the truth. The campers who originally spotted the deer admitted to being both tired and somewhat drunk at the time. The next morning the news had moved on.
Lucy and John were in no hurry to go home despite Agent Lawrence’s insistence. On the flight back home, another video hit the internet. The video showed a wild boar that refused to go down despite being met with a hail of bullets by a group of hunters in the Chattahoochee National Forest. “Looks like we are going to Georgia,” Agent Lawrence commented.
“You are going home,” Lucy corrected. “This is not something that you can arrest.”
“What is it then?” Agent Lawrence asked. “And what was really going on with that deer in Montana?”
“The child was found alive; the deer was found dead; happy end of story,” Lucy remarked. “Let it go.”
“And the wild boar?” Agent Lawrence pressed. “You can’t tell me that you are just going to let that go.”
“Actually, I can,” Lucy replied. “The hunting party probably had too much to drink and couldn’t shoot straight.”
By the time the three arrived back home, the boar video had gained a soundtrack and gone viral. Fragments of “Dueling Banjos” could be heard coming from various smartphones and laptops as they walked through the airport on the way to the parking lot. Agent Lawrence had fallen into a somber mood since being told that his companions were going home to get some rest in their own beds and not rushing off to Georgia. And after they had arrived back at the manor, they bade him good night and left him outside.
Agent Lawrence awoke the next morning to John tapping on his window. When he rolled his window down, John handed him a cup of coffee and invited him inside for breakfast. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s chilly this morning. I could use a warm-up and breakfast.”
“Don’t thank me,” John replied. “I’d have left you out here to starve.”
The two men walked up the steps and were about to enter the house when two FBI agents arrived. Agent Lawrence handed his coffee mug to John and ran out to the car to talk to them. As he ran, back up the portico steps, the other agents drove off. “Let’s go inside,” Agent Lawrence urged. “We need to talk.”
Two hours later, the three were on a plane to Georgia, Lucy and John were on a first name basis with Agent Lawrence, and the Chattahoochee National Forest was cordoned off by the Georgia National Guard. During the night, a hunter had found a dead body near the Tennessee border. The victim appeared to have been gored by a wild hog. He was using a wearable camera to record his hunting trek in the forest when he ran across a decayed boar carcass that had multiple fresh gunshot wounds. By the time the hunter had managed to stumble out of the woods, the wounds he had received from the suddenly revived wild hog had taken a toll.
Because the death had occurred on federal land, the FBI had jurisdiction. None of the wearable camera footage had made it into the wild. Even those who had seen the decayed animal rise up and attack the man were unwilling to discuss it among themselves. The case was handed over to the only agent in Georgia willing to handle it. She had driven up from Savanah that morning and arrived at the airport to greet Agent Dana Lawrence and his two civilian consultants.
Special Agent Gillian Fox gave John Smith a warm embrace and likely would have kissed him if he had arrived alone. She gave a respectful greeting to her Philadelphia based colleague but showed a fair amount of hesitation when it came to Lucy. Lucy smiled and left her hand extended until the agent responded with a respectful handshake, no doubt facilitated by John’s grimace.
Upon arrival at the Atlanta office, the four divided into teams of two. John and Gillian examined the photographs and recordings. Neither John nor Gillian were disturbed by the gore. Daemons never feel squeamish. They were able to locate the approximate area of the forest where the deceased hunter had his run in with the boar and set out to search the area without the other half of their team.
Lucy and Dana went to the FBI morgue to examine the body. After asking to be left alone, Dana pulled the body out of the refrigerator. “What are you doing?” Dana asked as he watched Lucy pass her hand over the body.
“Trying to decide whether the body needs to be burned,” Lucy replied. She passed her hand over a gash in the man’s leg a second time. This was followed by a large flash of light that left spots before Dana’s eyes for a few minutes.
“You could have warned me,” he complained.
“Sorry,” Lucy replied. “I’m used to working with John.” She looked around the room, asking “Where did they put the victim’s clothes?”
“They might still be here, or they could be in evidence lockup. It all depends on whether they have had time to process them,” Dana replied.
“Let’s hope they haven’t,” Lucy stated. Placing her hand on a plastic package, Lucy said, “I found them.” Opening the package and examining the clothing, she remarked, “This isn’t good.” Lucy incinerated the clothing reducing everything to a pile of ash. She then inspected the waste cans looking for the gloves the FBI techs would have worn while making a preliminary exam of the body. Finding the correct can, she incinerated the contents and followed that up by autoclaving several pieces of equipment used during the autopsy.
“Call the lab techs in, have them call back anyone who worked on this body,” Lucy ordered. Dana ran out the door and relayed Lucy’s commands as though they were his own. Most of the techs hadn’t touched the body, but a few who came in showed signs of infection. “Nothing a tanning bed couldn’t cure,” Lucy remarked.
One of the techs replied, “You’re joking. Please tell me she’s joking.” Dana shook his head.
“Yes, I’m joking,” Lucy replied. “Come here and close your eyes as tight as you can. It’s going to feel a little warm.” Lucy left them all with mild cases of sunburn, but they were no longer infected and in danger. “One of the benefits of living tissue is its ability to regenerate. A slow moving parasitic infection faces resistance in a living organism. Dead tissue is another matter. Fortunately, none of the organisms had reached the bloodstream.”
“What about the van?” Dana asked.
“Thank heaven for body bags,” Lucy answered. “I need to get out to the forest. John and Agent Fox need to know what they are dealing with. Montana really was a mange ridden deer. This is something much, much worse.”
“You sound like it’s the start of a zombie apocalypse,” Dana quipped.
“That because it is,” Lucy declared as she placed a call to the CDC in Atlanta.
John and Gillian had tracked a boar managing to catch up to it and corner it a few times. They wisely chose to dodge its charges when it decided to fight, but always taking off after it. They had hoped to tire the boar out, but it seemed to have the upper hand. Lucy arrived just after they had managed to corner the boar for the fifth time. Lucy blasted the creature with concentrated light and set it ablaze but not before noting that it wasn’t the boar from the victim’s wearable camera.
“We have a serious problem,” Lucy stated emphatically. “It’s the zombie parasite, and that isn’t the boar…”
“We know,” Gillian interrupted. “We trapped that one a kilometer south of here. John insisted that we should let you deal with it.”
“We were trying to trap this one but it kept getting away from us,” John added.
“Agent Fox,” Lucy suggested, “you might want to keep Agent Lawrence out of the woods. He’s on his way here and in no way prepared to deal with this.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Gillian replied before taking off for the parking area.
John led Lucy to the place where they had trapped the wild boar. Lucy cauterized the interior of the small den and the surrounding rocks, leaving no trace of the compromised boar. Agent Lawrence was going to have a lot of questions that Lucy wouldn’t know where to begin to answer them. As uncomfortable as Lucy was letting Dana in on her secret, she knew that he wouldn’t let it go.
Unfortunately, FBI Special Agent Dana Lawrence never arrived. Agent Fox received a call that there was an incident at the morgue and a SWAT team had been called in to deal with it. Gillian relayed the information to Lucy and John when they arrived. Lucy had missed something when she was scanning the victim and it had cost Agent Lawrence his life.
By the time, John and Gillian arrived at the morgue, the SWAT team was being examined by CDC doctors for ‘side effects caused by a hallucinogenic spore from a fungus’ that had recently bloomed in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The body of the deceased hunter had been ‘removed for cremation’. The dead agent was examined and ruled clear of the ‘fungus spores’. And Lucy was weighed down with guilt for not having acted sooner.
Agent Gillian Fox examined the recording from the morgue surveillance cameras before making a copy and destroying the original. Other than Lucy destroying evidence of the zombie parasite, everything seemed normal up to the point where Lucy left for the Chattahoochee. A few minutes passed as Agent Lawrence cleaned up the ashes from Lucy’s incineration of the hunter’s clothes. He didn’t notice the body behind him rising from the tray. A few minutes later and it was right behind him. He managed to free his gun and get off a few shots, but they weren’t enough to slow it down. The zombie bit into his neck severing his carotid artery. Agent Lawrence bled to death quickly.
The response to the shots resulted in a SWAT team being called while the creature in the lab was contained. After ten minutes of SWAT preparing to breach, a bright light obscured the camera and the zombie was reduced to a pile of dust. It was obvious from the video that Lucy was a powerful being. Gillian could see why John had chosen to be Lucy’s friend. Still, she remained suspicious of the Seraph, likely a holdover from the war between the Seraph and the Daemon. John was too young to know what that war was like, but Gillian still bore the scars.