The countdown is nearing zero. Before that clock ticks down, I wanted to share with the Dark Hayride a taste of what is to come. Here is Chapter 3 of the prequel to the I Zombie series, T-Minus Zero.
Gerand’s expensive wing-tipped shoes carried him to the temporary office set up by the Zero Day Collective. He had no idea what he would say. Fear had such a tight grip on his heart, he thought for sure his brain would stroke out before his hand could grasp the handle of the door. In all honesty, he hoped for that very thing. There was no way of knowing what the Collective would do to him now that he’d completely and utterly failed them.
When he stepped through the door and saw the group of men seated around a video monitor, his heart dropped into his bowels.
“Have a seat Gerand.”
It was John Burgess that spoke. Sweat soaked his forehead and the collar of his expensive shirt.
“Thank you. No. I’d rather stand.”
Burgess allowed the muscles in his sizable jowls to flex and pulse.
“Have a seat Gerand. I insist.”
Out of pure fear, Gerand took the cue and dropped into the wooden chair facing the table filled with over-priced and over-stuffed executives.
Instead of speaking immediately, John Burgess allowed the young scientist to build up a head and heart full of nerves. The man on the hot seat began to perspire profusely. As soon as the first bead of sweat leaped from Gerand’s chin, Burgess continued.
“Tell me about your progress.”
The executive was met with silence.
“You seem to be having a hard time hearing today, Gerand. Allow me to repeat myself. Tell me about your progress.”
Gerand’s gaze shot to the floor. Sweat plipped and plopped at his feet.
“You obviously know… ”
“What was that, Gerand? You mumbled something and I don’t speak a fluent ‘mumble’. Now, answer my question or the consequences will be quite dire!” John Burgess dropped a meaty fist down hard on the table before him.
Gerand stood and screamed. “I said you obviously know! You were watching the damn monitor. You had to have seen for yourself. There’s been zero progress. I have utterly failed you.”
John Burgess smiled.
“Thank you for your honesty. Yes, we were watching. Yes, you have failed us. I would like to say to you we have no room in our ranks for failures. However, we employed you not only for your scientific prowess but for your, how shall I put this… your lack of any apparent moral compass. Under normal circumstances I would have fired you immediately. But there are desperate few molecular biologists as easily bribed as are you. We need you as badly as you need this.”
John Burgess slid a small baggie across the table. Within the baggie was a white cube.
“Laboratory grade. The finest money could not possibly buy. I do believe this is enough to get you through, what, a day now? Is that the level your habit has reached?”
Gerand’s breathing grew labored, his hands visibly shook on the table.
John Burgess withdrew the baggie and carefully tucked it inside of his jacket.
“Now that we understand one another, let me explain the rules a little more clearly. You have been tasked to do one very simple thing – create a virus. We have given you everything you need to succeed and yet you continue to fail. Why?”
Gerand stuttered and went silent. His gray eyes scanned the floor for the courage to confront Burgess and his gang of executioners.
“Your clock is ticking biologist.”
Gerand finally stood and made a show of smoothing out his laboratory coat as a gesture of strength.
“I told you what I needed some time ago. A simple diary.”
Burgess stood to interrupt. Gerand’s voice marched onward.
“Within that diary is the key to your virus. I have tried to make the most educated guesses possible; but this isn’t faith, it’s science, so guesswork is out of the question. If you want this virus, you will find that diary. Until then, you may as well keep every citizen of this innocent town in a coma.”
Burgess picked up a phone and punched a sequence of numbers.
“Bring it in.”
The door to the meeting room clicked open and a beautiful woman in a severely cut skirt suit and five inch patent heels appeared. Grasped tightly in white-glove covered hands was a cracked leather-bound book. The woman set the book on the table in front of Burgess and turned to leave the room.
“Is that…” Gerand asked.
“It is.” Burgess replied.
Gerand reached excited hands toward the book. John Burgess shook his head and handed the man a pair of white gloves. As the biologist slid the gloves over his sweaty hands, he spied the faded lettering on the cover:
Das Tagebuch der Josef Mengele
“The Diary of Josef Mengele. You found it. Have you read it?”
John Burgess shook his head. “The handwritten diary hasn’t even been translated. You will be the first modern scientist to bare witness to its contents. Somewhere, within the pages of this book, you will locate the formula and create The Mengele Virus.”
With his hands gloved, Gerand picked up the book with an ironic nod to reverence. Not a breath left his motionless body. His eyes welled with tears.
“Get back to your laboratory. I’d rather not witness this sickening display of misplaced emotion. Just get me that God damned virus and do it quickly!” Burgess’ voice boomed, jarring everyone in the room to attention… even the wide-eyed Gerand.
“Yes sir. You’ll have your virus, I swear to it.”
Without another word, the biologist left the room.
Burgess stood. “Put a guard on that man. The second he stops his work… break him.”