Bookworm Hienrichs stared at the fire in her fireplace, knowing she was going to have a sleepless night. She couldn’t help it; as she felt the slow decay of her body, she constantly rapped on her own mind, testing its soundness. ‘Am I going to go insane?’ she kept wondering. ‘Will I *know* if I’m going insane?’ Mr. Phineas Frakture had thought himself sane the entire time he was a zombie–and even afterwards. How would she know her own insanity?
And so she sat in her front room throughout the night, and even well into morning, wondering if the thought of eating brains, or any human body part, would start to sound appealing. Finally, she got up, went into the bedroom, and stared into the mirror. Grey, cracked, and bleeding skin had marred her face, and her eyes had gone yellow, but the soul in them was still undeniably hers. She sighed.
‘No matter how frightened I am to step out there, I must. I have my duty,’ she thought. And so, she took out her Militia uniform from her wardrobe and got dressed, though she only put on the pants and shirt, not wanting to overburden her cracking skin. She also slipped on sandals, instead of the usual boots. Back in the front room, she armed herself with both revolver and rifle, then paused, listening carefully. There’d been gunfire behind her bedroom several times during the night, as people hunted the zombies in the graveyard, but it seemed to be quiet now. She slipped out of the door, locking it behind her, and descended to the street.
It took her nearly three times as long as usual to make her way to Militia headquarters. She inched along alleyways and squeezed between buildings, continually peering about her, looking for the truly insane afflicted. As Bookworm neared the headquarters building, though, she began to move with more confidence, thinking it unlikely that any zombies had made it this far.
She knocked at the door, calling out her name. After a moment, one of the militia members unlocked it and let her come in swiftly.
“You made it,” he said. “We were beginning to worry that you wouldn’t. And I must say…you’ve looked better.”
“As have you,” Book replied wryly. “Let’s get to work.”
The next few hours were filled with planning, messengers, reports, rescues, and times to rest were few. And then, during a lull, when she was alone in the headquarters, she heard a scuffling sound on the roof. She rose silently from her seat, rifle at the ready. A moment later, there was scrabbling and growling at the back wall. And then, even more horribly, a voice.
“I know yer infected too in there…I can smell it! Why ain’tcha comin out ta play, eh?” The unseen specter laughed. Bookworm gulped, but kept silent.
“Even if it ain’t got yer brain…I know you gotta be wonderin’…what’s it like, eh? Oooh, the freedoms it brings! Of course… till it eats our brains outta our skulls even if someone else don’t, eh?” There was more scrabbling as the creature somehow climbed up the back wall onto the roof. It laughed again. “Better to be runnin’ free out here than boarded up, girly!”
She heard it clawing at the roof, but still kept silent, knowing how solid the militia building was. After a moment of that, there was silence. A silence broken, a few minutes later, by a knock at the door.
“Who’s there?” she called, carefully approaching the door, rifle at the ready.
“Ensign Zaltman Romanas,” came the reply. “Of the Aether Corps.”
Bookworm unlocked the door and carefully opened it, peeking out. The man was normal–completely normal, in fact, and she realized he must have been out of the city when the plague hit.
“Come in, come in,” she said, drawing the man inside and locking the door behind him. “I’m glad to see you.”
“The Aether Corps stands ready to assist,” he said. “In fact, there was a zombie on the roof of this building, but I chased him away.”
“Then I’m doubly glad to see you,” Book replied with a smile. They began discussing how best to coordinate their efforts. In the midst of this, Mr. Mornington arrived, carrying a large bundle. He pulled something out of it–an odd-looking weapon.
“This will deliver a cure to the insane zombies,” he explained. “However, it’s not very accurate, nor will it reload very quickly. So shoot only a few times, then run.”
Bookworm nodded. “Better than nothing, certainly. What about the rest of us?”
“I’m working on that–almost have it completed. Once it is, I’ll start releasing it to the air to spread into the city. However, that will be rather slow. If you want a faster cure, you can come to Brunel Hall for a more concentrated dose. Mr. Harvey will also host a musical event there tonight; the music will carry a low-frequency pulse tone that will attract the rest of the insane infected folks, where they can be exposed to the cure.”
“And we can use these cure launchers for any stragglers?”
“All right, then. I’ll start passing these out to militia members as they come back to report..” Just then, a message tube thunked into the holder, and Bookworm turned to retrieve it. While the pneumatic postal service hadn’t reached everywhere in New Babbage yet, it had grown enough to be of real service for her. “Ahh, dear–there are several zombies at the train station. Mr. Romanas, can you go and assist with that?”
He nodded, took several of the cure launchers, and hurried out the door.
“Thank you for these, Mr. Mornington,” Bookworm said as she saw him to the door. He nodded and said, “I’ll get back to Brunel Hall to finish the other cure.”
Bookworm saw another militia member hurrying up the stairs, and got back to her work.
A few more hours passed, and the pace of reports slowed significantly. When nearly 20 minutes passed without any further word of problems, she began considering heading to Brunel Hall herself. ‘It’s such a long way,’ she thought, feeling exhaustion deep in her bones as she sat at the desk.
But then she heard something that chilled what little blood she had left in her–more scuffling and clawing at the back wall. Then came that voice–the voice that seemed insane and sane at the same time.
“Haha, cure’s out there, girly.. You hear me? They pumpin’ it inta the air…. But here you are locked up inside!”
Bookworm shouldered her rifle and grabbed a cure launcher. “It’s in here, too.”
“Heh, bet it ain’t the same. That Mornington man came by an gave ya one a them popguns, didn’t he? Tried usin’ it on yerself yet? I heard they only work once the mind’s all gone.”
“I wouldn’t call yours exactly all there,” Bookworm replied, trying to sound brave.
The unseen zombie snickered. “It’s as there as it ever were.”
“Not a good sign,” Bookworm breathed to herself.
“Why don’tcha come out an’ give the toy a try, eh? Hehe, I’ll even stand still.”
“No thanks–I’m quite comfortable in here.”
She heard more clawing at the bricks. “How ’bout I come in an meetcha then? Hehehe, we can get all cozy an’ have a meal together.”
Bookworm began backing toward the door. “Definitely not a good sign,” she breathed, even more softly.
“You ain’t even seen me… Hehe.”
Bookworm called, “I can hear you–that’s quite enough for me!”
“Fer all you know, I could be jus normal an messin’ witcha.”
Bookworm frowned. *Could* anyone be that cruel? “If that’s true…it’s even more reason not to meet you face-to-face.” She listened intently, and heard something crawling on the roof.
“Haha! You got brains.. I like that. And not in the usual zombie way. Hah, some around here.. such jokes..!”
“So why am I not laughing?” Bookworm muttered. She bit her lip, wondering what to do. Then stopped biting her lip, as she felt skin give way. A growling came and went at the door. Then, a few minutes later, the scrabbling and picking began at the wall that bordered the cell.
“Hehehe, new mortar and brick… How long does that take to set properly again?”
Book gasped, remembering that the wall there had been damaged by the break-out of a pirate only two weeks ago. A ball of dread seemed to take the place of her stomach. She heard the sound of a fist punching away at the wall, and saw the bricks beginning to give. She backed into the wall and turned to the door, fumbling at the lock. Suddenly, the bricks gave way, crumbling to the floor. A body shoved through the gap. “Hehe, hey there, Darlin’!”
The brief glimpse she had of the burly body, grey and streaked with blood, the ruined face, and the mad, calculating eyes, was the final straw that broke the camel’s back of her frayed nerves. She shrieked, threw open the door, and bolted down the stairs, heading north. A shout rose behind her, “Haha, better run, Darlin’!”
The next few minutes seemed like a nightmare come true for Bookworm. Sometimes, it seemed as if she’d lost her pursuer, but then she’d catch a glimpse of him coming for her. At other times, his running steps seemed as if they were on top of her. She kept going, in a blind panic, until, as they passed City Hall, she heard taunting words behind her.
“Haha, you runnin’ so scared, you ain’t even tried yer popgun!”
That cut through her panic as nothing else could have, as anger at herself burned away some of her fear. ‘It may not do anything,’ she thought, ‘if he’s taunting me into using it. But, nothing ventured…’ She suddenly whirled in place and fired off a couple of pellets. They exploded, releasing a green fog that she presumed to be the cure.
The half-seen figure was amazingly fast on his feet and avoided the fog. But his break in stride was all Bookworm needed. She took off again, fairly flying up the street, and threw herself into Brunel Hall. She looked around wildly a moment, saw a doorway wreathed in green fog, and plunged through it.
Once her vision cleared, she saw several citizens inside, including Mr. Mornington. She breathed a sigh of relief, letting herself slump and dropping the cure launcher. After several minutes, she felt absolute exhaustion catching up with her, and so she curled up in a corner. She was asleep within minutes.
After a few hours, Bookworm woke up. She looked at her hands, then quickly stood up and peered at herself in a nearby mirror. Her skin was still grey, but she didn’t see any fresh blood, and some of the cracking looked to be healing. Her eyes were no longer yellow, but her normal blue. She smiled, and turned back to the room as she heard music starting up.
‘Perhaps I can dance after all,’ she thought.
((OK, so not everything described in here actually happened, but it’s what I *wanted* to do. And since I seem to be the only one writing up events… *thppt* *grin*))