During October, we will celebrate Halloween with Spooktacular merch from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson. We will also share short stories from these authors and some new horror fiction for some extra chills.
The Re-Animator Project
by Will Raven
Dr. Raymond Wescott loved life. But he constantly thought about death. Like an inmate facing execution in the electric chair. Or an incurable cancer patient waiting for the grave.
Perhaps it was a chemical imbalance in his brain that triggered these wild bouts of dreadful melancholy. Or maybe it was a suppressed childhood trauma that ate away at his sanity.
Most assuredly his profession reminded him daily about the fragility of life. He was a virologist at the world-renowned Waverly Medical Institute. He studied deadly pathogens that haunted human existence.
On those cloudy days, when his research led nowhere, he thought about ending his misery. A quick injection and death would come.
But somehow he always managed to hear the “better angel” of his nature. He loved two things in life most. His work and his wife. Sometimes he had to choose between them. And sometimes he managed to strike a balance.
It was Friday evening and the doctor looked forward to spending a relaxing weekend at the beach with Zelda. His life partner just returned home from a two-month sea expedition off the shore of Costa Rica. She was a marine biologist who studied humpback whales.
Ray loved holding Zelda’s hand walking along the beach and hearing the waves come crashing in. They loved to wiggle their toes in the sand. And they enjoyed collecting seashells together that Zelda used to create decorative glass jars mixed with colored sands and shells.
Ray and Zelda were college sweethearts who became inseparable since their first biology class together. After Ray finished medical school, they got married at the college chapel.
Zelda waited for Ray at their cottage in the small Eastern Shore town of Crimson, Maryland. It was a quiet little town and a pretty little house with an ocean view.
Ray felt guilty about leaving so late when Zelda had expected him home two hours earlier. They had planned to grab dinner and watch the sun sink into the Atlantic Ocean afterward.
Trying to make up time, the doctor zoomed along in his new red sports car at about 80 miles per hour when it suddenly gave out about halfway across the Choptank River Bridge. The mishap ticked him off. So much for quality, he thought.
Dr. Wescott pulled off to the shoulder and came to a gradual stop. He turned the starter several times but the engine wouldn’t kick in. In frustration, he pounded his fist on the dashboard and then called Zelda on his iPhone.
“Honey,” he said. “My car just died and I’m on the bridge. It’s been one of those days.”
“You okay,” she said.
“Yes, but I might have to get a tow.”
“Do you want me to come get you?”
“No, it’s a good 45 minutes away.”
“Really I don’t mind given the situation.”
“Let me see first if they can get the car started again.”
“Okay, but call me if you need me.”
“I love you,” Dr. Wescott said.
“I love you, too,” she said sweetly.
Dr. Wescott was about to call Trapp’s Towing Service when an ambulance came barreling down the bridge. The white van swerved out of control, crossing the center lane and slamming hard into the railing a quarter-mile into the bridge.
He watched the wreckage for a few seconds to see if anyone emerged. There was no movement. He ran toward the crash. The engine still idled.
Just as Dr. Wescott arrived, the driver started getting out of the van. A young man dressed in a blue uniform had hit his head on the windshield leaving a cobweb in the glass. He was barely conscious and bled from the temple.
“Get me out of here!” the driver said, staggering to the ground. Dr. Wescott quickly came to his side.
“There’s a frickin zombie in the back of the ambulance and it just attacked J-J-J-Jerry,” said the driver dazed but still conscious. “I heard screams and looked back. That’s when I crashed.”
Before Dr. Wescott could utter a word, a pounding noise came from inside the ambulance. Suddenly, the rear doors popped open. The EMT inside rolled out. He was dead. Blood covered his mutilated face. No doubt it was Jerry.
Then a huge Paul Bunyan like figure, big and burly, stepped out. His powder-white face had dark circles around the eyes.
Minutes before it was a 55-year-old patient lying on the stretcher. He had suffered a heart attack and was in transit to Marlboro Medical Center. He didn’t make it. Now he was a walking corpse. A tall, bearded ghoul in blue jeans with a red flannel shirt.
Dr. Wescott gazed at the creature as it ran toward him.
“Don’t come any closer!” the doctor warned. But the zombie kept coming. He smelled food.
Dr. Wescott took a few steps back.
“Stop, I say!”
At that moment, the zombie went straight for the ambulance driver. The driver tried to get up off the ground, but it was too late. The ghoul grabbed his arm and started eating away.
Dr. Wescott tried to pull the zombie off, but the powerful creature shoved him away. It was all over for the driver as the living corpse chewed into his internal organs.
Dr. Wescott wasn’t going to stick around for the smorgasbord. He seized the opportunity to hop in the van and get away from the carnage. He cut off the flashing lights to avoid attention and raced down the road trying to fathom what just happened. He quickly reached the end of the bridge and kept going.
Ray thought about calling his wife, but remembered leaving his cell phone in the car. He wasn’t going back to get it. Not a chance.
The farther away he got the better. A few minutes later, Macy’s Gas-N-Go was in site. He could call Zelda from there and also report the incident to police, as wild as the story may sound.
The doctor started pushing the communications controls on the dashboard to see if he could reach anyone. Then out of the darkness a female zombie walked in front of the van.
Dr. Wescott slammed on the brakes but it was too late.
The creature hit the front grill and flew back a few yards. Before the doctor could react, a small pack of zombies started toward the van.
Then it clicked. Dr. Wescott realized what the ambulance driver said. He meant zombies were everywhere and multiplying quickly.
A male zombie reached the van first and banged on the side door. The doctor promptly pushed on the gas and broke away.
Speeding down the highway, Dr. Wescott’s thoughts turned to Zelda and whether she was safe.
Crimson was normally a serene little seashore town with candy-colored homes, quaint shops and family-owned restaurants. The doctor liked the lasagna at Richetto’s Italian Restaurant, while Zelda’s favorite was the bruschetta chicken topped off with tiramisu for dessert.
Dr. Wescott hoped that the zombie plague was slow to spread in such a small place where seagulls out numbered humans. But he also knew that the boardwalk presented the perfect platform for rapid infestation.
Passing by some of the villages and towns en route to the beach, the doctor noticed fewer vehicles on the road than normal. He suspected the flesh-eating ghouls were busy elsewhere committing mass murder. He imagined neighbors eating neighbors and husbands eating wives and wives eating husbands. And what about the children?
The good doctor’s stomach turned thinking about the evil that was mutating like a cluster of cancer cells. He approached Crimson with apprehension not knowing what to expect.
Close to town Dr. Wescott saw zombies walking aimlessly in different directions like pigeons waiting for food in the park.
Some strolled into the road. Others drifted up and down the sidewalks like tourists window-shopping for something to tickle their fancy.
In the distance, the doctor heard multiple sirens that echoed across town. It was obvious that all hell was breaking loose in Crimson.
Main Street cut straight down the center of town to the boardwalk. The Wescott’s three-bedroom cottage was just a block away on Huxley Lane.
Dr. Wescott swerved all over the road, weaving around zombies like he was driving through an obstacle course. He flat ran over two of them when he made a hard left onto Huxley.
He put the high beams on to get a better look down the street. In the light, he saw zombies gathered outside houses attempting to get in. They smelled human flesh. The cottage quickly came into focus and he gasped.
“You bastards!” he yelled, watching a female zombie enter their home through a large broken kitchen window.
Dr. Wescott stopped the ambulance at the curb and raced out. He slugged a zombie blocking his path to the window.
Then he heard Zelda’s bloody cry. A female zombie that looked like a hippie with a tie-dye shirt and long golden hair had bitten Zelda’s left forearm.
Zelda screamed in immense pain. Blood dripped.
Dr. Wescott slammed the foul creature to the floor and embraced Zelda.
“Come, we have to move quickly,” the doctor said.
“Thank God, Ray, you’re here,” she said, covering the blood flowing down her arm.
The doctor grabbed a kitchen towel and a fully loaded revolver he kept hidden in the cabinet. He wrapped the cloth around Zelda’s arm and they walked toward the front door.
Standing in the doorway was yet another zombie. It was Mr. Carlin—the Wescott’s next-door neighbor. He looked hungry.
“Dennis, Poor Dennis,” Zelda said.
“He’s a demon now and he’s in our way,” the doctor said firmly. He shot it in the left leg. The ghoul paused a few seconds and started again.
Dr. Wescott took dead aim this time, shooting the creature between the eyes. It immediately dropped to the floor. The doctor took Zelda’s hand and made for the van.
Their path was clear. He opened the passenger door for Zelda, and then closed it behind her. He ran back to the driver’s side and climbed in. He quickly turned the vehicle around and sped up the street.
“Ray, what in the hell is going on,” Zelda asked.
“I don’t know yet, but we need to reach Waverly fast,” he said.
“My arm is feeling numb where that thing bit me?” Zelda said wincing.
“I can treat you at the institute,” Ray said, looking at the blood-soaked towel on his wife’s arm. “Plus we have secure labs there that can keep us safe.”
Dr. Wescott kept his high beams on and motored down Route 50. He watched for zombies that might cross his path.
He tried the communication panel again, but only got white noise. Then he turned on the radio to WZZQ. After a 30-second ad spot to promote summer fun at Ocean City, the news began. Zelda smiled at the irony of it all.
“People who have died are transforming into flesh-eating zombies and committing acts of mass murder. Their bites are infectious and the zombies are multiplying,” the female reporter said.
“Ray, am I going to turn into a zombie?” Zelda said terrified.
Dr. Wescott put his right hand on Zelda’s lap, trying to calm her. They both listened intently as the news continued.
“It’s reported that the ghouls have infested virtually every town on the Eastern Shore. The situation is rapidly deteriorating. The National Guard has been called in and the Coast Guard is sealing off all waterways. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is closed, except for emergency vehicle use. Every effort is being made to contain the situation.
Based on eyewitness reports, the crisis began in the afternoon when a radioactive leak at the Cambridge Nuclear Plant went airborne. The leak was quickly discovered and sealed. However, high levels of radiation were detected in the area.
Some scientists believe the radiation may have caused dead cells in the recently deceased to regenerate. Perhaps this abnormal activity stimulated partial brain function, bringing about re-animation, yet also triggering an infectious agent within the body.
Just hours ago, two workers at a morgue close to the contamination saw three cadavers come to life and just walk away.
At least a dozen other re-animated dead bodies were seen wandering outside a hospital and several funeral parlors within a 50-mile radius of the nuclear plant. Like an epidemic, the zombie pathogen spread rapidly. Within hours, the ghouls had penetrated towns and villages throughout the shore.
Authorities urge everyone to stay indoors in a locked location. Windows must be securely covered to prevent breakage or entry.
We’ll be back in 10 minutes with another update. This is Susan Preston reporting for WZZQ.”
Dr. Wescott clicked off the radio, and looked at his wife. Her usual radiant glow was gone.
“How are you holding up?” he asked.
“I’m getting the chills,” she said, keeping pressure on her arm wound.
The doctor was concerned that the zombie bite had infected her blood. He tried not to show it.
“We’ll be at the institute shortly,” he reassured her.
They soon reached the bridge where Dr. Wescott’s car stalled. The zombie had long ago finished devouring the ambulance driver and the EMT. It was walking at a steady pace down the center of the bridge.
The thought of revenge entered the doctor’s mind. Why don’t I run the son-of-a-bitch over? But he changed his mind at the last second and played it safe.
Seconds later, they drove past the site where the ambulance crashed. Blood and body parts that looked like they had been through a meat grinder were splattered everywhere. Zelda covered her mouth and nearly vomited at the site of it.
Dr. Wescott stopped at his sports car and the picked up his cell phone. He sped off again.
A few miles down the road, they took Exit 9. Waverly Medical Institute was on the right and up a short hill. At the security gate, the guard didn’t recognize Dr. Wescott.
The doctor opened his window. The guard stepped closer.
“Hello John,” said Dr. Wescott, poking his head out the window.
“Why, Dr. Wescott,” the guard said. “What are you doing driving an ambulance?
“It’s a long story,” the doctor said. “But my wife is injured, and I need to get her in for treatment as quickly as possible.”
“Right away, doctor,” the guard said.
The steel gates slid open and Dr. Wescott drove the van in. He went to the south side of the campus and pulled up in front of a two-story building with large glass windows. The doctor did most of his research there.
“We’re here, Zelda,” he said. “And I’m going to take care of that arm.”
“I think I know what it feels like to be dead,” she said. Her face had a chalky appearance. She was shaking.
“This whole thing has been a shock to your system,” Ray said, checking her wound. “You’re going to be okay.”
He then took her to a treatment room where he replaced the bloody towel with a fresh bandage and injected a local anesthetic into her injured arm. He waited a few minutes for the painkiller to dull the nerves and applied stitches to close up the wound.
“You rest now, sweetheart,” Ray whispered into his wife’s ear. “I’ll be right back.”
She nodded and laid down on the white medical bed.
Meanwhile, Dr. Wescott darted across the hall into his office. He quickly turned the radio to WZZQ to get another news update.
“The situation grows worse by the minute,” the radio voice said. “It appears those bitten by a zombie transform into one.”
Dr. Wescott didn’t need to hear anymore. He turned off the radio and quickly returned to Zelda. Her pulse was weak and it appeared that all life was draining from her body.
“Come on, Zelda,” Ray said. “Wake up. You got to wake up now.”
He reached for his wife’s hand. It felt cold like moist putty.
“Zelda, my love, you’re going to make it,” he said, holding back the tears. She squeezed his hand and slowly opened her eyes.
“I will always love you,” she said, looking into her husband’s warm face.
Then Zelda let go of Ray’s hand. Her head rolled over to one side, and her eyes closed. She was dead.
Dr. Wescott held Zelda in his arms and sat motionless. He broke down. Tears tricked down his cheek. A deep, sinking feeling paralyzed him. The love of his life was gone forever.
Then he recalled what Bram Stoker said in Dracula.
“To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious. There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”
He put the gun to his head and began squeezing the trigger when Zelda woke up like a monster straight out of a horror movie. Her eyes opened. They were dark and lifeless like a shark’s eyes. Their eyes met and a chill ran through Dr. Wescott’s body.
Ray realized that his beloved wife had transformed into a flesh-eating zombie. Her teeth clenched as she eyed the doctor’s neck. The doctor gave her the old stiff arm, shoving her backwards. He stepped back from the bed. She got out of the bed and started toward him.
“Zelda, you must stop,” he said, pulling out the revolver. But she kept coming. He then aimed at her head. But he didn’t have the heart to shoot her.
He had a better idea. He led Zelda down a corridor leading to a special isolation room. When she got close enough, he overpowered her, pushing her into the room and locking the door behind her.
She popped back up and continually pounded the doors. The room had a one-way glass window.
Dr. Wescott just stared at Zelda. He felt weary and confused. What to do?, he thought. Then his medical instincts took over, for he envisioned Zelda the Zombie as a patient who may one day save mankind.
Two years later. Helsinki, Finland
Dr. Raymond Wescott cleared his throat. He was about to walk on stage before a packed house at the International Academy for the Advancement of Science. He waited for his gracious introduction to conclude.
Journalists from around the world and some of the most eminent scientists on the planet fidgeted in their seats waiting to hear the doctor speak.
Three months ago, Dr. Wescott received official notice that he was awarded the 2018 Global Village Award for Humanitarian Service.
His shinning moment had arrived. The handsome doctor with wavy black hair straightened his bow tie and walked down the red carpet runaway that extended several feet into the center aisle. In his right hand, he held a gold statue of a dove with a stethoscope around its neck. Also known as the Dovey Award.
Dressed in a tuxedo, he felt a little like a penguin waddling out to the tip of an iceberg. A lavalier mic was mounted to his left lapel.
“Good evening,” Dr. Wescott said. “I’m honored to be with you to accept this distinguished award.”
The crowd was all ears as the doctor started his acceptance speech.
“I would not be here, and perhaps you might not be here either, if it were not for my incredible wife, Zelda. Or should I say my former wife, for she is actually deceased. She’s among the walking dead. A zombie, if you will,” the doctor said.
The audience got their first taste of Zelda two weeks ago when a video of her brushing her hair went viral. She quickly gained zombie star status. Later, a Paris designer named a clothing line after her called Zelda Z that became wildly popular among female teens. Not long ago, she was a Top Secret government operation known as The Re-Animator Project.
“And so I feel it most appropriate that I share acceptance of this award with Zelda.”
A speckle of jeers erupted from the otherwise polite crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to meet Zelda. She is a ghoul and I love her,” the doctor said light heartedly.
A few chuckles. Then the curtain behind Dr. Wescott opened wide enough for Zelda to make an epic entrance. A classic chorus of Richard Wagner’s Here Comes the Bride played behind her, adding humor.
Zelda slowly made her way down the narrow runway. It was no catwalk, but she had a certain grace in her awkward steps.
Zelda Lynn Wescott was a beautiful zombie. Her makeup gave warmth to her milky face and hid the dark circles around her bloodshot eyes. Her black-rim glasses and ruby lipstick contrasted perfectly, adding sex appeal and a touch of sophistication. She was well preserved.
Her long indigo hair flowed a quarter-way down her slim frame. She wore a white satin dress cut at the knees. Her monster platform boots added a fashionable look and provided extra balance.
Dr. Wescott watched with warm admiration. Zelda reached the end of the runway and stood side-by-side with Raymond. The audience gazed at the freakish pair. Cameras flashed like fireflies on a summer night. Scattered oohing and aahing.
“Zelda, please say a few words for us,” Dr. Wescott said, smiling at his wife.
She grinned back and then looked into seats. The subtle gesture quelled the audience.
“Hi, my name is Zelda,” she said, gently waving hello to the amazed spectators with her left arm.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” Ray said.
The crowd rose and began applauding. It was through Zelda that Dr. Wescott discovered a vaccine that ultimately stopped the zombie apocalypse that killed 60 percent of the world’s 7.5 billion people.
Appropriately named Zeldaron, the vaccine was injected into humans similar to a flu shot. The serum quickly enters the bloodstream, repelling zombies much like a mosquito spray works but lasting a lifetime.
Only through swift massive production and distribution of Zeldaron with cooperation of pharmaceuticals worldwide did the epidemic slow and eventually succumb. But the death and devastation was unimaginable.
Later, Dr. Wescott developed Interzomblin that was injected weekly at the base of Zelda’s brain. The liquid protein created from seaweed extract stimulates blood flow to the brain, promoting better motor and verbal function. Whiffs of H.P Lovecraft. Shades of Mary Shelley.
And so long as those around Zelda were inoculated with Zeldaron, she had no urge to feast on human flesh.
For Dr. Wescott, it was a miracle. But his constant thoughts of death lingered. Holding Zelda’s hand, he stood before a boisterous ovation, watching vigilantly for anyone coughing or sneezing. He feared the next deadly pathogen was silently waiting for a host to kill again.
Copyright © 2018
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, used for fictional purposes.