The New Haven Incident - Part Three

Published on 31 May 2024 at 08:00

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Sebastian’s eyes snapped open. He blinked, staring up at a ceiling in an unlit room that was not his. The only source of light came from the mid-morning sun that shone cheerily through the window. The ceiling was white, an array of chequered panels, with inset fluorescent lights… which were all turned off. A hospital, then. A dark hospital.

Startled and confused, Sebastian sat up. He was connected to machines, but they were all switched off. The room was silent, and the ward beyond devoid of any sound. Sensing the silence meant something, he moved slowly. He unhooked the IV, which was long empty, pausing to apply pressure as the wound oozed blood. Then he removed the other contraptions, one by one, until he was free of all the wires and cables. He slipped from the bed, wincing as his feet touched freezing cold vinyl flooring. He paused to make sure his legs could take the weight before straightening and taking better stock of the room.

It was clean, the air holding that strange, sterile hospital smell. Someone had shelled out for a private room for him, complete with a chest of drawers. He spied his boots beside the drawers and he walked forward, his legs taking their time in remembering how to move. A clean pair of socks were rolled up in his left boot. Guessing that whoever brought those over also brought him clothes, he opened the top drawer.

Sure enough, a pair of trousers, an undershirt and a button up shirt sat neatly folded inside. Curiously, so too was his fighting knife.

Someone from the Department, then.

Sebastian could not muster the will to be grateful for the clothes and his weapon. He slowly dressed himself. He paused as he slipped his foot into his pant leg as his eyes fell to his wrists. They were bandaged. He reached across and wrapped one hand over the opposite bandage, remembering drawing a knife down them. The wounds still hurt, indicating it had not been all that long ago. Long enough to have had surgery to close the wounds, however. He guessed they had cauterised the cuts. Perhaps even slipped a sheath over the veins to prevent them reopening under his skin. Numb, Sebastian found he couldn’t much care one way or another that they saved him.

After dressing, he debated leaving the knife behind, but the eerie silence of the hospital grated on him. His entire body screamed that there was imminent danger, so, despite hating the sight of it, he strapped the knife to his chest. He turned and quietly made his way to the door of his room. He cracked it open a little and was immediately assaulted by the sharp, vaguely sweet stench of rotting meat.

He pulled away and closed the door quickly again at the reek that slammed into his senses. He was all too familiar with that smell. His heart thumping hard in his chest, he steeled himself and once again cracked open the door. It took his eyes but a moment to adjust to the gloom of the ward hall. Some of the room doors were open, letting weak light in. He paused. The walls were painted with blood. Some of it splattered so forcefully, it left patterns on the ceiling. Three corpses lay in various poses in the space. One, a paramedic, lay on his side, his abdomen ripped open, his intestines decorating the floor in front of him. His empty eyes were open, face frozen forever in an expression of pain and horror.

Sebastian had seen this before. Not this exact scene. But one very much like it. Cedarwood City. Eleven years ago.

Taking a moment to collect himself, he stepped cautiously into the hall, removing his knife from its sheath. Every step was deliberately placed to minimise sound. If this was Cedarwood City redux, then any hint of life would bring the infected right to him. He needed stealth.

He paused at the reception desk. There was, surprisingly, but one corpse there, her skull crushed beneath a rolling chair. He looked up at the sign, half expecting to see Cedarwood City Hospital. It would confirm his death; he had died and was now relegated to his own personal hell. But the words had nothing to do with Cedarwood. The sign read ‘The Adrienne Lafraise Memorial Hospital.’ New Haven’s newest, first-rate private hospital. Care here did not come cheap. The Department had been prepared to spend a lot of money on him.

Suppressing a sneer, Sebastian moved on, following the signs down two flights of stairs to the main atrium. The large, round space had a stunning garden in the centre. The plants were wilted. They hadn’t been watered in some time. They were not dead, however, which meant that it had not been all that long.

Feeling exposed in the large space, Sebastian moved quickly to the exit; double glass automatic doors. They had been smashed in, leaving the atrium open to the outside. No one was around, save the corpses and they, so far, had not even so much as twitched. Stepping over one of the corpses, Sebastian moved through the shattered doors and out onto the street.

Silence. Sebastian stood still, scowling at the absence of the sounds of a city. There was nothing. The city was as silent as the hospital had been, save for the sounds of birds merrily ignoring the chilling emptiness of the street before Sebastian. Relaxing only a little, he stepped out into the sunlight and there he stopped, looking in every direction, trying to make sense of what he was and was not seeing. A cool breeze moved up the street, sending pieces of paper rustling.

“What the f—”

A shrill scream cut Sebastian’s thoughts off. He spun towards the sound to see a small figure in a ragged nightdress running full tilt down the street, a small satchel in one hand. The girl, with long dark hair, saw Sebastian and turning, ran directly for him. Leaping in from the side an enormous creature lunged at the girl, knocking her to the ground where she rolled.


Before he could even think about what he was doing, Sebastian ran forward and leapt. His right knee collided with the creature’s right cheek just as it opened its jaws to clamp onto the child. The blow was hard enough to make the thing stumble sideways. He turned, grabbed the girl by the arm and hauled her up.

“Quick,” he said, running with her to a nearby parked car. “Get under. I’ll try and draw it away.”

Nodding, the girl slid easily under the car and Sebastian straightened and turned, just in time to see the creature take its giant clawed paw up for a swipe. He dove beneath the strike and rolled to his feet, turning to face the creature with nothing but his knife.

It was a dog, Sebastian guessed, or used to be. It had somehow grown to the size of a bear, a tumorous-looking hunch on its shoulders giving it a similar profile to. Its fur was long, wiry and patchy, with sections of shiny, black skin showing through. Several sores had opened on the dog’s body, oozing a foul-smelling pus. From the lump on the dog’s shoulders protruded four small, clear wings, similar in shape to a bee’s wing. The size of the wings would have been comical, had they not been attached to a hideous, drooling, fanged monster.

There was no way Sebastian could win this fight. The animal before him was sick, true, but it was still lightning fast and impossibly strong. Even still, Sebastian held his ground. He needed to draw the thing away from the child. He needed its undivided attention. The unexpected show of defiance gave the beast pause. It watched Sebastian from multi-faceted eyes. Peeling back its lips, it issued a low, rumbling snarl.

“Come on then,” Sebastian whispered. “Let’s get this over with.”

As if on command, the creature leapt. Sebastian danced to the side, flicking his knife out. It bit into the furred hide, but it was nearly torn from his hands when it struck the dark exposed skin.

Sebastian grunted and stumbled, yanked forward by the unexpected resistance. Before he could regain his balance, he was in the air, tossed up the by the beast’s snout. Twisting his body, Sebastian was able to roll as he landed. Coming to his feet, he faced the creature once more. His chest ached from the impact with the thing’s muzzle. Sebastian noted it, but didn’t permit it to slow him down or alter his movement. There would be time for complaining later. If he didn’t end up in the thing’s belly.

The creature lunged again and Sebastian dove out of the way, coming up on the creature’s right flank. His blade flashed out again. This time, he was careful to avoid the hardened shiny black plates that dotted the hide. The beast yelped, then spun with a snarl. It lunged forward again, anticipating the direction of Sebastian’s evasion. A large claw dug into Sebastian’s back, scraping his scapula. The force sent him sprawling. He pulled himself up, only to be forced flat on his stomach again as the enormous left paw of the creature pressed against his back. Sebastian struggled, but could not get loose. He felt the hot breath of the beast at his neck. He turned his head slowly.

The creature’s snout hovered just inches from his face. Fangs as long as Sebastian’s forearm set in greenish-white gums gleamed as the creature snarled. The jaws opened, then snapped shut as a rock struck the muzzle.

“Leave him alone, you bully!”

Sebastian turned his head again to see the girl. She had crawled out from under the car, standing defiantly with a handfull of stones. She took one in her free hand and threw it hard at the creature. Growling, the beast forgot about Sebastian and leapt forward, slamming face first into the car behind where the girl had stood just moments before.

“Damn it!” Sebastian hissed, pushing himself up. He tightened his grip on his knife and ran forward, slashing hard at the hind leg of the creature as it recovered and rounded on the girl. It roared and spun to face Sebastian once more.

“Hide!” Sebastian shouted to the girl. She nodded at him, turned and vanished underneath another nearby car.

Switching the grip on his knife, Sebastian readied himself for the next strike. He knew he could not match the strength of whatever this thing was. Speed was questionable. His best hope was to exhaust it. Any predator continually rides the balance between what it could cost to acquire their prey and what they would acquire should they get it. If he posed enough of a challenge, perhaps the thing would turn around and seek something easier to kill.

By the third swipe, Sebastian gave up on that theory. The ache in his chest from the muzzle strike had been exacerbated by the weight of the paw on his back and was difficult to ignore. It was hard to breathe, and he was starting to feel dizzy. His body was working on pure adrenaline, and his store of energy was fast disappearing.

He ducked a swipe at his head, but was too slow to avoid the backswing. Once again, he was flying. He slammed onto the hood of a car. What breath he had left him left in a sharp, uncontrolled grunt, and despite his best efforts, he couldn’t draw in again. Sebastian closed his eyes, concentrating on regaining control of his lungs. He felt himself slip as the front of the car crumpled and his eyes snapped open. The creature stood, both paws on the front of the car snarling down at him. Once again, the jaws opened to deliver the killing blow, but before the muzzle could close over him, something fast and large slammed hard into the side of the creature’s head, sending it sprawling across the road.

Unbelieving of his luck, Sebastian permitted himself a moment before rolling over. He managed to get to his side before his body gave out, leaving him there to observe. His breath left him again, this time in bewildered incredulity.

Before him, locked in combat, was the creature and a woman sporting four pairs of dragonfly-like wings. She wielded two short swords with practiced skill. She was impossibly fast, her movement aided by her wings, but her skill with those blades proved the most astonishing. They flashed in the sun as she fought, deflecting blows and cutting into the creature’s hide. Sebastian recognised some of the movements. His own training included considerable time studying martial arts. He watched on, mesmerised, until the creature made a critical error. In an effort to bite the woman’s arm, it overextended its neck. Spinning away from the snapping maw, the winged woman seized the opportunity. Her sword pierced the thing’s throat. She twisted the blade and pulled down, the other sword rising about the neck and coming down hard. The creature’s head fell, separated from the body by extremely precise cuts.

For a moment, nothing moved. The creature, now dead, fell over onto its side as its head rolled away from it. The winged woman watched it for a moment and Sebastian, still on his side on the car, watched her.

With a groan, he forced himself into action, rolling himself off the car to land on his hands and knees. He moved to stand, but the cold point of a steel sword stopped him. He looked up sharply.

The woman stood above him, one sword at his throat. For a moment, Sebastian was caught by her overly large, dark eyes. They were not human. Angled slightly, and completely black, there were no whites, or irises, or pupils that Sebastian could discern. Just a sea of black. The skin around her eyes was similarly dark. That darkness extended a little up into her brow, and down into her cheeks, tracing the lines of her blood vessels before fading into normal-looking skin. What Sebastian had thought was a headband holding back her coppery braid was, in fact, patches of thickened skin, much like those sported by the now dead beast. Instead of black, however, these had a coppery sheen to them, looking not unlike tiger’s eye in the light of the sun. Also unlike the beast, they were not arranged in random patches, but in a symmetrical pattern that extended a little down from the hairline to her brow and around her temples.

Other than these oddities, her face was human; heart-shaped and striking. She was human in every other respect, save for her dragonfly-like wings protruding from her back, and the fact that instead of nails, her fingers ended in sharp claws of the same strange coppery material as covered her hairline. She wore nearly nothing, except a sports bra across her chest over which sat a leather holster for two sheaths on her back. It had been specially designed, Sebastian had to guess, to accommodate her wings. She also wore a pair of skorts; a short skirt hybrid that had been popular fashion in the last few months.

“Wait, Lil!” Sebastian’s gaze was pulled by the voice of the little girl, who scrambled out from under the car. She ran over to the woman and slammed into her leg, wrapping it in a tight hug.

“He tried to help.”

Tried. Sebastian snorted. “Accurate,” he murmured. He turned again to meet the gaze of the woman before him. She cocked her head, as if considering.

“Please, Lil. He’s okay.”

Deciding to trust the child, the woman let the sword drop. She stepped back and, sheathing her weapons, knelt to face the girl. She signed.

The girl nodded. “I’m okay.”

The woman signed again.

“I know. I’m sorry.” The girl began to tear up. “But Becca’s cough… and I heard Doctor Liu say we were running short on supplies. I went to get medicine. But… but there were the things everywhere, and I got lost trying to evade them on my way back. I didn’t mean to be gone so long.” The child broke down crying. “I was so scared.” She buried her head in her hands.

The woman sighed and pulled the girl in close, letting her cry. After a moment, she pulled away and tapped the girl on her shoulder and signed. The girl nodded, swallowing her sobs in giant gulps. She turned and ran back to the car under which she had been hiding, reached under and pulled out the satchel she had been carrying. She slung the pack over her shoulder then ran back over to the woman. The woman signed again. Sebastian guessed she was enquiring after him, given the woman’s emphatic pointing.

“I don’t know. He was outside the hospital when I ran here. He told me to hide. He was fighting the hound before you came.”

The woman rose and turned to Sebastian, regarding him with a cocked head once more. She signed at him.

Of all the languages he had to learn for his various missions around the world, sign language had not been one of them.

“She wants to know what your name is,” the girl supplied.

“Oh. Uh… Sebastian.”

The woman nodded. She signed again.

“This is Lilith,” the girl translated. She beamed up at Sebastian until the woman named Lilith tapped her on the shoulder. “Oh, I’m Hannah.”

“Hello, Hannah,” Sebastian said, smiling slightly at the girl. He turned to the woman. “Hello, Lilith.” The woman cocked her head in acknowledgement of the greeting. An awkward silence fell, before Sebastian spoke.

“I’m… I’m really sorry if this comes off a rude but… and no offence… what are you?”

The girl giggled at Sebastian, stopping the woman as she was about to sign. “She’s a fairy princess, silly!”

Sebastian glanced up at the woman, noting her face soften and the sad smile that touched her lips briefly, before addressing Hannah once more. “Of course. How silly of me.” His gaze returned to the woman. “I’ve never met a fairy princess before.”

The woman offered Sebastian another sad smile before she turned and signed to Hannah.

Time to go.

Hannah nodded and turned with the woman, reaching up to place her tiny hand in the woman’s clawed hand. They started walking. After a few steps they both stopped and turned to Sebastian.

“Coming?” Hannah asked.

“Uh… yeah. I guess.” Sebastian forced his aching body to work, hobbling after the fairy princess and her young charge down the deserted streets of the once bustling centre town.

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