Chapter 3 –The Body in the Bathtub
Scottdale was a small town that primarily left its doors unlocked. Parents allowed their children to meet up with other youngsters to play in the park at the school and never worried after them. Neighbors held an open door policy with one another and it was commonplace to give a short knock followed by a friendly holler into the house. The burly bulk of the figure that had pounded so incessantly on her front door now stood looking meek and frightened as Anna looked through the peephole before turning the knob.
“Paul? What’s wrong? Come in!”
Anyone in Scottdale would have described Paul Turner as queer. Not only because of his sexual preference but because it was also a good descriptor for his paradoxical personality. Paul was a long haul trucker who stood a staggering six foot six, weighed roughly three hundred pounds and looked like he could hold his own in a roadhouse tussle. However, when he opened his mouth he spoke with a certain veiled foppishness and his hands were his biggest conversational descriptor, he moved them often for emphasis but particularly non-stop when he was upset.
Paul entered the Carpenter’s residence without removing his shoes. He looked positively ghastly; his face was a pale greenish grey and his eyes darted back and forth ceaselessly. Anna noticed he was trembling and beads of sweat gathered on his upper lip. She guided him into the kitchen and poured him a glass of water which he promptly refused.
“Is Laura here? I saw her car parked on the road and I really need to see her. I’m so sorry, Anna, to interrupt you like this, but if I had to go anywhere other than across the street, I don’t think I would make it.” His long eyelashes blinked back tears and he began to regale Anna with what was troubling him.
It had begun like any other day for Paul; waking early and gathering up his Pomeranian, Spaz, and preparing to leave on another trip that would likely span at least a thousand miles. The sun hadn’t even risen yet but he’d already eaten his breakfast at Mae’s Diner and was fuelling up his big rig at the local truck stop. He’d been alone at the card-lock, as was typical for such an early start. He’d swiped his card, fuelled up and was standing with his back to the highway replacing his fuel cap when he noticed a figure walking toward him.
“At first I thought he was drunk, or maybe even on drugs,” Paul said dully, shaking his head.
The stranger didn’t speak as he shambled slowly and incoherently onward, though Paul had shouted a questioning greeting at him. He was wearing a blank stare and a blood stained t-shirt and immediately Paul was ready to lend assistance, reaching through his open door for his basic first aid kit positioned in the back of his cab. Spaz barked through the back window at the unknown person in his territory like it was going out of style and Paul had to shoo him away to the other side of the cab while offering apologies to the stranger who seemed to be zoned out, staring blankly and seemingly directly through Paul.
“That’s when he tried to come at me. I didn’t think he had it in him to move like that, he looked like he was on his last legs up until that point. I got in one good punch and he fell down but he didn’t even make a noise like a normal person would. He just growled and gargled at me from his back like he was a wild animal.” Paul shook his head slowly. “Then Spaz lost it. He jumped out and started biting at this guy like he wanted to kill him. He even drew blood. Spaz never bit anyone in his life, Anna.”
Laura walked in from the patio and moved through the kitchen to where Paul was seated at the table, now draining the glass of water in his hand with a dry smack of his lips.
“It’s alright, Paul. Spaz isn’t going to get in any trouble, he was protecting you,” she said as she lightly squeezed his shoulder, trying to lend as much comfort to the large man as her petite frame would allow. “I’m sure that guy just went home with some hurt pride and a couple of stinging dog bites.” Paul looked up at her, obviously at his breaking point.
“I don’t care about that stupid fuck!” he wailed. “Spaz is dead! That fucking guy gave him rabies or something. I hadn’t even been driving an hour before Spaz started going haywire.”
The two women looked at each other, sharing the same look that said “that’s not possible” and seeing this, Paul’s hands began to move in double time; each downward thrust of his fists spoke his sincerity.
“He bit me, Anna!” he said, standing up and exposing his forearm from beneath his long sleeve shirt.
And there it was.
The deep laceration made by Spaz’s tiny Pom teeth, with jagged edges and red streaks sprouting up towards his bicep, made Laura’s tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. By her count, Spaz had bit the stranger at roughly six that morning, contracted whatever strange disease by seven and bit Paul shortly after. Now at nearly nine, Paul’s arm was exhibiting textbook symptoms of an obviously rapid moving infection and his body’s posture was in full support of her assumption. His hairline was drenched in sweat. Paul’s initial pallor had accentuated into an ashen grey and his eyes were ringed with a disturbing shade of eggplant. He was in such a state of shock, Laura was surprised he was still conscious.
Anna was refilling Paul’s glass at the tap when Laura turned off the water.
“He can’t have any more, he needs to go see a doctor right away,” she whispered to Anna.
Anna nodded and turned back to Paul who was standing, swaying near the fridge.
“Paul, we have to get you to the hospital as soon as possible. You look like shit and if Spaz has passed on whatever it was that he got then we need to get you to some help!” Anna’s voice rose to a shrill pitch as she looked up into his blank eyes, shaking him by his arms. His balled fists had unclenched and his shoulders slumped forward like an ape. Without a word, he pitched backward into the fridge, his eyes rolled back until only the whites were visible. He slid to the floor in a soundless heap and Laura rushed in to support his head. Anna knelt beside the two, looking to Laura for guidance.
“Call an ambulance, Ann, then help me drag him towards the door, the paramedics will never get him on a stretcher in here,” Laura instructed. “Tell them that their patient is in shock due to some strange sort of sepsis, unconscious but still breathing. Hurry up now!”
As Anna turned on the ball of her foot to retrieve the phone from the mantle in the living room, Paul heaved a large rattling sigh as his body began to seize. His large hands flailed blindly, catching her leg just below the knee, sending her sprawling into the large piece of quartz that she and Jon had found camping that summer which now served as their doorstopper. Her jaw smashed against the broad side of the rock knocking her unconscious, shattering several molars and nearly severing her tongue as her top teeth bit into it from the force of the fall. Laura watched, struck dumb and wide eyed at the amount of blood which leaked from her best friend’s mouth hanging askew on its hinges. Somehow blood from a familiar face took all the business wind out of her sails.
Paul released Anna’s leg and became still. Laura stepped gingerly overtop of his body to where Anna lay face down, her head in the hallway of the front entrance and the rest of her body in the kitchen. She knelt by her ear, gently moving the blonde hair from her face and whispered, “Anna? Honey, wake up. Oh God, please, Anna, wake up.” Her skin still felt warm to the touch and Laura could feel shallow steady breaths from her nose.
She turned to rush into the living room where the phone lay in its cradle on the fireplace mantle, not noticing Paul’s left leg begin to twitch and flex. As she reached out to grasp the receiver, her shaking hand knocked Trey’s fifth grade picture from its perch beside Stephanie’s. It smashed sending glass flying in a glittering spray across the rug and she jumped to the side to save her bare feet. It was then that she noticed Paul’s hulking shape in the doorway to the living room. His eyes had glazed over with a fine tint of white, turning his emerald eyes into an eerie pale green which looked at her with hunger. He bared his teeth and started in towards her quickly. His weight gathered speed as he awkwardly hurtled himself across the floor of the living room, crashing into the fireplace sending construction paper and paste birthday cards and the rest of the family portraits to the floor.
Laura abandoned her quest for the phone and turned to run, knocking over Anna’s latest needlepoint depicting a barely begun Thanksgiving scene and sprawling to the floor on her palms. Paul struggled to turn himself over to give chase but his newly reanimated body didn’t seem to be following orders completely. Laura darted over the sofa where the doorway to the living room met with the hall nearest the stairs. She could hear him lumbering from somewhere behind her, staggering but fast. She took the stairs in threes and ran into the only open door in the upstairs hallway, turning the knob and pulling it closed quietly behind her.
Paul had only made it to the hallway when his newly appointed and quickly sharpening senses caught the slightest movement out of the corner of his eye. Anna had managed to stand and was struggling to will her feet to move. Her head spun dizzily and her vision doubled in her eyes. Her jaw ached and throbbed and her tongue, which had swollen to nearly twice its size, drooped lazily from between her lips. She could make out two large figures at the end of the hallway and in her delusion tried to call out for Paul’s help, dragging her feet and weeping eyes toward him, her words coming out in a thick garble.
He intercepted her at the first entrance to the living room, tackling her like a quarterback. Her small stature stood no chance and immediately he was on top of her, his face lowered in for the kill, tearing open her throat with his teeth. Anna coughed and gurgled as the blood entered her trachea and streamed up in warm, low arcs around her. She writhed and gasped beneath him, every move causing her heart to beat harder until there was nothing left to pump and she was limp. He tore into her stomach, seeking her intestines, when a barely audible tone reached his ear.
“Shit!” Laura hissed as her beeper went off in her pocket. She pushed the silence button as she read the shorthand message transmitted; the head nurse was letting her know that her 17 year old patient had passed away fifteen minutes earlier. She had forgotten all about her patient as well as the beeper as she hid in the ensuite bathroom, lying quietly behind the shower curtain. Now it gave away her position and her heart fluttered in her chest like a flock of starlings as her adrenaline began to flow. She was faced with the dilemma that she had watched countless times at the cinema; the trapped victim who battles running to secure her freedom against staying in a perfectly good hiding spot. Only now it was compromised and she had nowhere to run.
The footsteps that could be heard ascending the staircase were moving slowly, or perhaps it only seemed slow when compared to Laura’s beating heart, but they did not deviate from their path.
“He can smell me,” she thought, pressing the small of her back to the tub floor.
And it was true. As the footsteps drew nearer to what used to be Laura’s perfectly good hiding spot, she could hear a series of deep inhales as Paul neared the bathroom’s door frame. She barely moved as the door creaked open; her nerves had accepted their fate.
There was a brief silence before Laura’s shrieks tore through the house.