The Food of Love
With Tansy it had been love at first sight.
She'd walked down the hospital corridor in her starched whites, towered over by doctors, patients and nurses alike and ignored by all. How they could have missed her, how they could fail so completely to notice her fragile magnificence, Dr. Cutler could not understand.
Even against the uniform she was as pale as the moon. He saw the radiant light from her, the delicate rays seemed to shine on him alone and the response it evoked in him was one of immediate and fierce protectiveness. This was a girl that could not be left alone to struggle against the crush of the world. She would not survive the hospital politics and backbiting and she would be intimidated by the aggressive, demanding patients.
"You okay, Marv?"
"So do you want to come up to the cabin this weekend? Josh and Buzz are coming and a couple of guys from the golf club. You could use a little time out. We'll catch a few trout, drink a few beers, play some cards. What do you say?"
Dr. James Delacroix was a sometime acquaintance of Marvin Cutler. Having Marvin along on his men-only weekend retreat in the hills could do nothing but make Jimmy look good to his other friends and Marvin knew it. Not only that, Dr. Delacroix was a weasel, a gynaecologist of questionable skill and professionalism with misconduct lawsuits against him. Marvin didn't like him. He certainly didn't like being called 'Marv'.
"Who is that nurse?" He asked, ignoring the question.
Jimmy looked around the side of the substantial Dr. Cutler and shrugged when he saw her scurry past.
"Never seen her before. So are you coming, Marv?"
Marvin turned his full attention on the fawning Dr. Delacroix who shrank a little under his commanding stare.
"No, Jim. I have more important things to do."
Such things as the emotions had always held a deep fascination for Marvin Cutler. How was it that his brain could make him feel the overwhelming tide of chaos that was love, he wondered? How could a mere organ cause such agitation?
He sliced through the grey matter of consciousness every day, removing blood clots and tumours with scalpels and burning them away with lasers but he still pondered whether there was more to it than neurons and synapses and a complex mix of electricity and chemistry. The feelings he’d developed the moment he’d seen Tansy caused him to consider the activities of the brain more profoundly than ever.
It was obvious that she was new to the Maiden County Hospital but what was she doing there, he had wondered as his heart attempted to leap out of his throat. She seemed far too small and sensitive for such a place. He wanted to run to her and place his arms around her. He wanted to be the circle of iron that kept her safe for all time.
Marvin was an all or nothing kind of guy. When he ate, he ate big. When he drank, he drank a lot and he drank it fast. He loved the people he liked and hated the ones he didn’t. When something made him sad, he cried and jokes that tickled him would cause him to roar out laughter from the depths of his belly.
Though he lacked tact, he wasn’t stupid, he knew he couldn’t just walk up to the girl, not even knowing her name, and tell her that he knew she was his forever; that he would never let any harm come to her. No, it would have to be more subtle than that.
By the middle of the same afternoon a bouquet of flowers almost as large as the girl herself arrived at her station with a card. It was addressed to Nurse Tansy Pettifer - Marvin had found out everything necessary to approach her and he didn't care who knew it. He was one of the hospital's most loved characters. His mercurial explosions of anger were legend but he was almost always forgiven. People could tell he was honest and they knew where they stood with him.
He could have taken a job in any hospital in the world, there had been dozens of offers over the years, but he loved the town and citizens of Forthright and their county of Maiden. He had lived there all his life and swore he would never leave.
He wasn't there when Tansy received the flowers but he heard on the hospital 'drip feed' that she had cried when she saw them and had sat down when she saw who they were from. His note said 'It would be my great pleasure to spend an hour talking with you. Perhaps you would join me for a meal sometime.' He'd written down his cell phone number for her, in case she took him up on it.
It took her two days to call him, during which time he fretted and mooned and swung from joy to despair so often that the effort wore him out. The rumours of an unusual pallor to Dr. Cutler's face and lapses in his normally unshakeable concentration had circumnavigated the hospital and its entire staff several times when the call finally came.
"Dr. Cutler?" The voice was small but determined.
"This is he."
There was a long pause during which he heard her swallow and take a deep breath. His heart grew in his chest at her courage.
"This is Nurse Pettifer. I'd like to accept your offer."
"Can you get away for lunch?"
"I...Yes, that would be lovely."
"I'll pick you up at midday by the main entrance."
They didn’t have many days of ‘normal’ courting left and, though he had previously believed the saying that ‘forewarned is forearmed’, every time he looked back on those first shimmering moments, when love flooded every grey cell in his brain, he was glad he hadn’t known of the inhumanities to come.
He discovered immediately that she was a voracious eater. She ate cheeseburgers every time they went out and always asked for extra cheese on rare meat. If a restaurant had any extra items on offer that included cheese she would order them. Deep-fried, cheese stuffed jalapeno peppers, crispy potato skins loaded with bacon and cheese, cheesy fries, nachos with salsa and melted cheese. Marvin was a vegetarian and a fresh food enthusiast but his aching love for Tansy made her extraordinary appetite seem adorable.
In every other way she was quiet and demure. When she spoke, Marvin listened to every word and understood her language. Her heart whispered and his listened.
“My father was convinced I’d grow up fat but I haven’t put on a pound since I was sixteen.” She said it through a huge mouthful of flame-grilled ground beef. Sauce and lettuce and a little piece of melted cheese escaped the corner of her mouth. Marvin pointed it out and she blushed as she wiped it away.
“What made you become a nurse?” he asked.
“I like to take care of people. I want to make them feel better when they’re sad or sick. I like to take people’s pain away.” She took another enormous bite, then asked, “What made you become a brain surgeon?”
“The same reasons. Exactly the same.” Their eyes had met and he’d felt like he was part of her in that moment. The connection was unlike any feeling he’d ever had. It prompted him to continue. “Also because the brain is the most fascinating organ in the whole body. It can make you experience anything at all. It governs everything and operating on the brain, well, that’s the most powerful and radical surgery there is. It has the potential for the most good.”
“And the most harm?”
“Absolutely. Great good comes with dangerous odds. That’s the way of things.”
Tansy swallowed her mouthful.
“I wish I was brave enough to take those kinds of risks.” She said.
Marvin reached over and took her tiny hand in his.
“You’re a nurse, Tansy. You take as many risks as I do just by turning up to work. I admire your courage.”
A smile overcame her shyness and she squeezed his hand.
Over the next few days, their closeness grew through their words and in the silences between. Marvin could tell his love was reciprocated in every way, albeit softly. In him she saw the man who would be her wall against the world. He was enormously well built and his hands were huge but he had that strange dexterity that made him a surgical genius. When their passions drove them to his bedroom after their third hamburger lunch, (he'd ordered mushroom soup and a salad) he used the delicacy of his hands to take Tansy to a sexual Oz she'd never dreamed existed.
Only then he was able to tell her his feelings. The ones he'd had in that first moment when his brain had secreted the magical champagne of attraction into his bloodstream.
"I'll always love and protect you, Tansy. You're my honey petal baby. I won't let the world lay a finger on you. I'll love you until God puts out the sun."
She'd held him tight to hear such words; eyes already squeezed closed against the world outside and tears bleeding from their corners.
"I've found my grizzly guardian, my eternity man. You're the only one for me, Marvin. Let me love you forever."
They were stronger vows than any marriage ceremony could have put into their mouths. Again and again Marvin waltzed Tansy in his shovel-sized hands like a marionette, sealing himself inside her. Together they transmuted the love in their brains into body love.
Around the Maiden County Hospital there were plenty of green eyed female staff who had wanted nothing more in the world than to feel the skilful hands of Dr. Marvin Cutler make their brains detonate with his unparalleled talent. Now it was too late.
The first cases sprang up spontaneously across the entire country. They arrived in Maiden County Hospital the same day they arrived in hospitals in from Manhattan to San Francisco and from Michigan to the Mexico border.
The signs and symptoms were severe in all cases; nausea and projectile vomiting, headache and photosensitivity, incoherent speech. These were followed within 48 hours by coma and brain death. Without life support, the rest of the body quickly followed.
At first it was thought that some kind of bacterial infection had crossed over from farm animals. This theory was quickly replaced by fears of a terrorist biological attack until other developed countries began to suffer similar problems. Strangely, in the developing world, there were far fewer cases.
There was panic in the first few hours as emergency news bulletins peppered every channel. The panic became hysteria when the infection produced a terrifying and unprecedented second phase. The bodies of the first victims began to thump on the insides of the mortuary refrigeration units and struggle during their funeral preparations.
Dr. Cutler was one of the first people to witness it.
The senior pathologist of Maiden County Hospital, Dr. Harry Richmond, was using a bone saw to remove the top half of the skull of a teenaged boy who had died of the mysterious illness the previous day. Everyone wanted answers and the brain seemed to be the place to look. Marvin was present in the autopsy room.
Dr. Richmond had planned to take a few micro thin slivers of brain tissue for observation. The buzz of the bone saw ceased and he placed the tool down with a clunk on the steel table. He then proceeded to prize the dome of bone from the rest of the boy’s head. Below it, covering the brain itself was a thin film of membranous tissue than needed to be cut away. It was as he drew the gleaming edge of his scalpel over the surface of the membrane that the boy on the table tried to sit up.
Dr. Richmond was concentrating so hard that his first instinct was to push the boy down again, but by the time the prompt reached his free hand he’d leapt away from the stainless steel table and was standing rigid with his back against the wall. His latex-gloved right hand was held up, gripping the scalpel as if he’d been frozen whilst bidding at an auction.
“What am I looking at here, Marvin?” He asked.
Marvin Cutler found he was unable to reply. Meanwhile, the boy had pulled himself into a sitting position and swung his legs off the table. He looked like someone who had snapped into wakefulness on a crowded bus or a plane and was looking around to see if anyone had noticed the embarrassing jolt.
It was obvious that everything was wrong with the boy. He was pale at the front and purple at the back where his blood had pooled following death. He was having problems moving his limbs and head because he was stiff with rigor mortis. He attempted to slip down from the table and landed badly, his legs not completely straight. He steadied himself with one arthritic arm and straightened himself up to almost his full height. Without the top of his head he would never reach such loftiness again. As he lifted himself up every cold joint and tendon in his body complained with creaks and snaps.
“For God’s sake, Marvin, get some paramedics down here.”
“No way, Harry. He’s dead.”
“He’s moving around, he’s probably frightened too. Get some help.”
“Harry. Harry, look at me.”
The pathologist inched his head towards his colleague of many years. He wasn’t moving half as well as the boy.
“I’m telling you, he’s dead.”
“What do we do?”
There was no time to answer the question. The boy was trying to walk. He held his arms out in front of himself as if he wanted a hug and shuffled towards Dr. Richmond.
“Help? Do you want me to help you?” Asked the pathologist beginning to hold his own hands out to the boy.
“Huuh..hhhh…HUNGRY.” The boy lunged with surprising speed aiming to take hold of Dr. Richmond’s face.
“Move, Harry.” Marvin was trying to close the gap between himself and the boy before he reached Harry but he was too slow. Harry managed to sidestep in the final possible moment and at the same time, the boy tripped over his own out-turned feet. He sailed headlong towards the wall where Harry Richmond had been standing but couldn’t move his arms quickly enough to protect himself. What would have been a nasty bang on the head, one that he would have recovered from, finished him for good. His exposed brain burst on impact, the sudden pressure forcing the pulp out through his eyes and nostrils. He sank down onto his face leaving a mess of gelatine all over the wall and floor.
Harry Richmond hadn’t quite taken it all in.
“Damn.” he said.
“What is it, Harry?”
“Got to start all over again if we want some slides.”
A moment later he slid to the floor in a profound faint.
The media had started out by suggesting that any movement seen in the bodies of the dead was a neurological anomaly produced by electrical impulses that had somehow been stored in the brain beyond death. They told people not to panic, not to overreact. The advice was believed for the few hours it took the public to realise what was really happening. Reports of cannibalistic attacks by the dead escalated and there was no way to suppress the truth.
All over the country being 'dead' had ceased to mean anything significant. To be safe, a body had to be 'capped'; that meant the brain had to be either removed from the rest of the body or damaged beyond functionality. Not everyone was as lucky as Dr. Richmond. It turned out that those who had died of the infection were all hungry. Sources both official and otherwise agreed on what the dead wanted to eat; the brains of the living.
They burst from morgues and staggered down hospital corridors. Those that had died at home rose up, briefly causing their loved ones to believe a miracle had occurred until the dear departed tried to gnaw a hole in their heads. It wasn't the fact that the dead were strong that made them so dangerous, nor were they particularly fast. It was the relentlessness with which they pursued their food that made them such a hazard. One scratch from a grasping hand, one misplaced bite was enough to spread the virus to the living.
When Tansy failed to show up for work, Marvin sped to her house praying that she had overslept, even that she had broken her leg; anything was better than infection. The hospital was already full of patients showing symptoms by that stage and a state of emergency was declared by the president an hour later. Marvin and Tansy watched it together in her bedroom after he took her temperature for the fourth time.
"You're gonna be just fine, honey petal." He said stroking her forehead. There was no question that her body was on fire inside and when their eyes met, they both knew without saying a word that Tansy wasn't going to be fine at all.
"Grizzly take care of me?" She asked. Her face showed fear and pain even though she tried hard to hide it from him. She knew her pain would hurt him too.
"Until God puts out the sun, baby."
They shared a smile and it was almost normal, almost beautiful but in their hearts, hers dying and his very much alive, they knew that the best times were past. With the curtains drawn against the glare of summer sun they sat waiting for the inevitable in the gloom of the artificial twilight.
Marvin was already planning the best way to look after Tansy; the highest quality care he could provide. He didn't go back to work. Instead, he stayed with Tansy, making her drink water which she vomited back immediately, covering the bed and his white tunic with pale, rotten smelling yellow mucus. She could no longer disguise the fear in her eyes. He held her close and rocked her as her stomach spasmed over and over, disgorging more pus-like fluid than seemed possible. When she had finished, he took the bed sheets away and dumped them outside to burn later before covering her with clean sheets and blankets.
"Better now, honey petal?"
She had nodded but was unable to speak. Outside the bedroom Marvin leaned against the wall and wept. There was nothing he could do to save her.
The National Guard rolled into to town the same evening and martial law took the place of liberty, fraternity and justice. A curfew was enforced immediately. Troops with megaphones shouted instructions from their Humvees to the people in their houses. They told them to remain calm and to take their sick to the hospital during daylight. Everyone was to stay in after dark. Anyone out after curfew would be shot once in the head; no questions, no second chances. They were doing it for everyone's safety.
Marvin wondered what the probability was that the army and the government could contain the virus. If the spontaneous cases had already peaked and if all the dead could be capped or destroyed, there was a chance that it could be stopped. If the dead were allowed to continue to attack the living however, the disease would continue to spread. He turned over hundreds of possibilities in his mind as he speculated on where the disease had started and prayed that there might be a cure. He needed facts, hard science to help him, but he didn't believe there was enough time to acquire it before the country collapsed into anarchy.
At two o'clock that morning Tansy died. She had been unconscious for a few hours by that stage. It had not been dramatic. He checked her pulse every ten minutes and it had weakened steadily before finally stopping. He did not draw a sheet over her head.
At first light he grabbed a bag full of her personal items and clothes and drove her to his own house where he worked frantically to prepare. He laid her on his king size bed and brought in his TV which he placed on a table at the foot of the bed. There was already a small music centre in the room but he brought in all the CD's he knew she liked. He put pictures of her family on top of the TV. The silk flowers that normally sat in his dining room soon found a new home on what was now Tansy's bedside table. He undressed and bathed her tiny stiffening body, looked with longing at her heartbreaking curves and pale delicacy. He wanted her and knew he could never have her again. It would be to risk infection if he did.
He didn't want her to damage herself when she came round and he decided that minimal movement was the best solution. With this in mind he wrapped her body in a king size sheet, pinning her legs together and her arms to her sides. He lashed several belts around her drawing them tight over her elbows hands, knees and ankles. He placed pillows over her body to protect her if she struggled and used rope from his garage to tie her down, passing it over her body and under the bed many times until he was satisfied that she was totally secure.
He then put on a pair of leather work gloves in case she tried to bite him. He took a clean pair of socks and pushed them into her mouth. He used a scarf to hold the gag in place. He made a final check of the room and her bonds and left for work.
A Major Dickerson presided over all activities relating to the virus in Maiden county and he was kept informed of government policy by a black-suited man who called himself Mr. King. Dickerson looked like a human bulldog, his face scarred and nose flattened by several breaks, his teeth crooked. His troops followed his orders like robots.
Mr. King was tall and dark haired. His suit was too big for him and he spoke in monotone, giving little away. Despite his rumpled appearance, he had an air of threat about him that no one seemed quite bold enough to mess with. Between them they ruled not only the hospital but the whole town of Forthright.
“I want every single corpse burned to ash, no trace left, you understand me?”
He was talking to the assembled governors and senior doctors of the hospital but he talked to them as if they were grunts in boot camp. Marvin, unafraid of such talk and always first to speak his mind made his reply.
“It will take weeks to get through the backlog and more people are dying from the disease every hour.”
“Then you better get started ASAP.” Dickerson pronounced it ay-sap. “My boys’ll help you.”
The Maiden County Hospital mortuary was situated in the basement next to the incinerator unit. There were two incinerators available but one was never used. Dickerson’s ‘boys’ had the second incinerator fired up in less than an hour and all day the gurneys passed back and forth between the mortuary and the furnace. The bodies did begin to decrease significantly. In the frenetic pace none of the soldiers gave the headless bodies they threw into the flames a second look, thinking they’d merely been capped. They had orders to ‘burn, burn, burn’ and that was what they were doing.
That evening Marvin went home with a much heavier medical kit than usual. Darkness was falling as he unlocked his door and made his way straight to the bedroom. He listened in the gloom for a moment but heard nothing, saw no movement from the shape on the bed.
Switching on the lights he saw Tansy’s eyes were open and fixed on him.
“Tansy, baby,” he said going to her side, “Forgive me, I had to do this to you. If I let you move around, they’ll shoot you.”
He untied the scarf and, putting his leather gloves on again, removed the socks from her mouth. Her jaw was stuck open.
“Aaah aa aaah.”
“Baby, I’m so sorry.” He pushed her jaw shut and helped her to work it loose. She made no attempt to bite his fingers so he removed his gloves. Her voice came out as a whisper.
“I know, honey petal. I’ve got something real nice for you. I’ll be right back.”
In the kitchen he removed the yellow plastic ‘human waste’ bag from his medical kit. With a bone saw plugged in next to the toaster he removed the top half of the skull and dropped into the trash. Using a rubber spatula he scooped the brain onto a plate and discarded the rest of the head. He used a steak knife and fork to cut the bloody grey meat into bite sized chunks and carried the plate through to the bedroom.
Tansy’s eyes grew wide when she saw the plate.
Tears ran down Marvin’s face.
“Yes, Baby, it’s a cheeseburger.” He spiked a piece of brain on the fork and held it out to her. She raised her head from the pillow and took it. He felt the fork wrench in his hand as bit through the offal and into the tines.
“Careful, baby you’ll break your teeth.”
He took the fork away before she could damage herself and watched as she swallowed the piece whole. Her face contorted into a grimace of disgust.
“Honey, what is it? What’s wrong?”
Marvin began to understand the problem. He’d taken the head from a man who died of a heart attack. He’d wanted to be sure she wasn’t eating diseased offal but that wasn’t good enough. That wasn’t what Tansy wanted. She wanted what they all wanted. Living brains.
“Oh, honey petal, I’m so sorry. Tomorrow I’ll bring you a real...cheeseburger. I promise.” He put the socks back in her mouth and retied the scarf around her head. In the kitchen he disposed of the useless human remains. He was exhausted by the strain of the last two days and he went back to the bedroom to lie down and sleep with Tansy.
Knowing she couldn’t harm him he wrapped his arms around her the way he always saw himself doing. They were a circle of pure protection made only for her. He would keep her safe. Throughout the night he heard her biting on the socks and grinding her jaws together. Sometimes three muffled syllables escaped her mouth.
He knew which word she was repeating.
The situation in the town of Forthright deteriorated as quickly as it did everywhere else. The army became more and more involved with keeping order and shooting the steadily rising number of dead. A few people stayed on at the hospital but most stayed home out of fear, as chaos took hold of the whole country. Chains of command were breaking down, businesses were failing taking others with them; it was rapidly becoming 'every man for himself’.
Marvin Cutler was one of those who stayed on at the hospital and the people thought him a saint for doing so. He kept his real reasons for being there to himself. If anyone had discovered the truth, he knew that they would have killed him themselves, either that or fed him to the dead.
Marvin was in a difficult situation ethically. He couldn't condone murder even for Tansy's sake. He knew there had to be another way. He began to devote a great deal of time simple chemistry to crack a way of keeping brain tissue alive. It took him a few days and during that time things did not go smoothly at home.
Each time he returned to his house he found Tansy in a greater state of agitation. She thrashed so hard in the bed that he thought she might break free. The problem was her hunger. He was not able to remove her gag because the moment he did she would begin to scream.
"Please, Tansy pansy, be patient. Grizzly's gonna get baby a cheeseburger, just a little more time, OK?"
He would stuff the socks back into her mouth again and retie her scarf before the screaming could continue. His demeanour became strained and tense. At work people thought it was the pressure of being one of the only doctors left with the courage to continue.
"God bless you, Dr. Cutler. You're a better man than most," said one of the remaining nurses, one day. "By the way, have you seen Tansy? She hasn't been to work for days." They all knew about the relationship.
"Things didn't work out with me and Tansy."
Word went round and everyone that remained felt sorry for him. No wonder he looked so unhappy. And to think that such a good man could be so unlucky in love. No one knew quite what to say to him about it. For one thing, they knew that pretty soon there would not be plenty more fish in the sea.
On the fourth day Marvin could ignore it no longer. The house had begun to reek of decay and the bedroom smelled of rotting meat. Tansy was decomposing and would have to be moved.
“Don’t you worry, honey petal, Grizzly’s gonna find you some where real nice.”
When he’d removed all the shelves from his Westinghouse refrigerator, there was plenty of room for Tansy. She was only a petite little thing, after all. Still bound in her winding sheet, he carried her from the bedroom and pressed her small frame into the fridge as a test. There was plenty of space left over. Before leaving her inside he decided to do something nice for her and set about giving her another bed bath. He tied her down just in case but he needn’t have; she didn’t struggle. He left the gag in because she was still trying to scream for her favourite food.
Cleaning her was not pleasant. No amount of soap could take away the smell of putrefaction. Mould had begun to grow between her fingers and toes and also in her crotch, the place where only days previously he had touched her so expertly and with such tenderness. Now the thought of it made him sick. But his love for her was strong and he had made her a promise. He meant to keep it. When she was as clean as he could get her he put some make upon her face and placed her, unbound but gagged, in the fridge.
He screwed a bracket to the refrigerator and padlocked her inside. Even then, if he was quiet and listened very carefully, he could hear her strangled plea repeated like a mantra.
The air in the house took two days to clear.
Mr. King, the 'government' man, sneaked into the deserted pathology lab where Marvin was nearing success with his 'live brain tissue' experiments.
"Any information you'd like to share Dr. Cutler?"
Marvin, already tightened to his limit, jumped several inches from his stool and banged both his knees under the workbench.
"God damn it, King. Do that again and I'll wring your scrawny neck." To Marvin, the man was no more important than a rat with a suit on.
"You'd be in custody before you got within six feet of me, Doctor. It would be a foolish gesture."
Marvin focussed once more on his microscope, speaking to King as he watched a culture of bacteria on his slide.
"There's no one listening any more, King. No one at the top. Pretty soon you'll be fighting for your life just like everyone else and all your aces will be used up. It's over. Why don't you just leave me alone to enjoy what's left of my time?"
"We already have a cure for the virus, doctor, so you're wasting your time."
Marvin's concentration broke completely. He looked up from his work and a frown crept across his broad features.
"More importantly, we have a vaccination. I myself have antibodies that make me immune to the junk virus."
Marvin turned to look at King. The man was smiling as if he was enjoying keeping Marvin from his work. As if watching the world crumble was his meat and drink.
"You could put an end to all this right now?"
"If we wanted to, yes."
The smile was eating into Marvin's composure. He knew King was teasing him with the truth but he couldn't help taking the man's bait. Here was someone who might be able to save Tansy.
"Why the hell don't you do something? What are you waiting for?"
"We're waiting for the numbers to make sense, doctor. When the world's population has dwindled to around half a billion, we'll move in and begin civilisation all over. There will be no pollution, no starvation, no poverty or disease. It will be the garden of Eden once again."
Marvin thought about it. He knew it could be true.
"It sounds like you knew about this virus before it hit. What did you call it? Junk?"
"Correct. In fact we created it. Junk was a time bomb living in the brain cells of every person that ever ate food from a convenience restaurant."
"Hamburgers. You're talking about hamburgers." said Marvin.
"Hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, pizza, you name it. It's in all of them. We introduced the virus into food sources ten years ago. Its incubation is now complete."
The flush of anger drained from Marvin's face to be replaced by a pale mask of rage.
"You're the ones who killed Tansy," he said in tones as flat as Mr. King's.
"It's not personal, doctor. You must understand that." King drew his gun and pulled the hammer back before Marvin could launch himself in an attack. He pointed the barrel at Marvin's face. "What we don't want is talented people such as yourself coming up with their own cure before we're in control. That is what you're doing in here every day, isn't it, doctor? Working on a cure?"
Marvin couldn't think quickly enough to reply.
"We know you're performing experiments on the living in your own house. I've had you watched."
Marvin's rage was turning rapidly to despair. If they found Tansy, they would destroy her. He would have failed in his promise and it would all be over for them. Before he could think of a way to put King off, the muzzle of gun was nestling against his left kidney.
"Let's go take a look. You drive."
Ten minutes later they pulled into Marvin’s driveway. Marvin unlocked the front door and prayed there was no lingering smell. Somehow he had to get King in and out before he could discover Tansy.
If there was a smell, King didn’t seem to notice it.
“Show me the bedroom.”
Marvin led the way, his eyes flicking around the room, checking that there was nothing left to give his secret away. King didn’t see anything that interested him but he wasn’t satisfied.
“You got a basement?”
Marvin led the way but King found nothing there that he considered worth pursuing. He checked all of the other rooms, every closet and cupboard but he was losing the scent and his certainty. As they stood at the bottom of the stairs by the front door, the kitchen was the only room left but King’s interest in the house and in Marvin was fading swiftly. He put his gun away beneath his oversized jacket.
“Maybe I was wrong about you. Maybe you’re not as smart as I thought.”
Marvin shrugged. He just wanted the conversation to end and the man to leave the house. King turned to walk out the door and Marvin followed, starting to relax.
“Wait.” said King. “What the hell was that?”
“What was what?”
Marvin listened. There was a thumping coming from the kitchen.
“It’s just the cat. She’s always getting herself stuck in the cupboard where I keep the cat food.” Marvin knew it was lame but he couldn’t think of anything else on the spot.
“Cat my ass. Sounds like a mountain lion.”
King walked back into the house and into the kitchen. Marvin followed wondering what there was he could do to save the situation but it was out of his control. King was staring at the locked fridge and grinning.
“You keeping your cat in the fridge these days? Come on, open it up.”
Marvin didn’t move. The banging started again. It was making the glasses rattle in the cupboards.
“Don’t make me take my gun out again, doctor or I may just decide to use it.”
“Here, you do it.” Marvin handed King his key. He was beaten. He didn’t want Tansy to see him open the door and think that he had betrayed her. Better that she saw someone else, an intruder and know they’d been caught out.
King flicked the new lock open easily and snapped the catch back. When he saw Tansy he took a step backward. Even he was shocked by the vulnerability and fear in the poor girls eyes.
“My God, Cutler, you are one wacko motherfucker. Come on, little lady. Don’t be frightened. You’re safe now. He held his hands out to her and slowly, stiffly she moved towards him. She held her own hands out and he took them.
“You’re as cold as ice. Cutler, she could have died in there.”
“Don’t worry, honey, you can have whatever you want just as soon as-”
Tansy drew the man’s head towards her face. He didn’t resist, in fact he almost laughed at the unexpected intimacy of the gesture. Then the grip tightened and she bit into his temple. Marvin heard her teeth splintering and snapping but they did penetrate the man’s skull. King screamed in shock and pain and then screamed again as he realised what Tansy was and what it was she wanted. By then he had no hope of escape. As she sucked on his head, his eyes glazed and his limbs kicked spastically.
“Cavernous wonder of multiples…” were his last words as she emptied his head. The trauma had destroyed the language centres of his brain before he died and Marvin couldn’t help wondering what the words meant in King’s damaged consciousness.
When Tansy was finished she looked up and smiled for the first time since she’d moved into Marvin’s place.
“Grizzly get good cheeseburger.”
The government never sent a replacement for King. Forthright was going to have to wait until 'the numbers made sense' before rebuilding began. The fear and lawlessness went on long after Marvin thought order should have returned.
At the lab he found a way of keeping brains alive. It was cheat's device; all he'd really done was find a way to ferment the brains he stole so that there was bacterial activity going on in them. They were no more living than yoghurt and they smelled of dirty feet but Tansy loved them.
In the derelict hospital, Marvin was the only doctor still working and when uninfected patients came in for help, he saw to it that they didn't survive the consultation. He had a promise to keep - everything else was secondary now.
In the beginning he cut the 'brain cheese' into thick slices and put it between two buns. Tansy had adored them that way and batted her decaying eyelids at him for making her 'real' cheeseburgers. Even though there was no longer any electricity, he kept her in the fridge anyway. It kept the smell contained until mealtimes.
Before long, though, all her teeth had fallen out, as had her eyes. Her green skin was bursting open and the flesh was falling away to reveal the bones and tendons beneath. He knew there would be no end to it; that he would have to keep sheltering and feeding her and that the brain tissue he provided would keep her animated indefinitely.
It was clear to Marvin that there was no point in hoping for a cure. Tansy was too far-gone for it to do any good. He began to suspect that whoever had designed and released the junk virus might also have succumbed to it. No help would ever come to Maiden County.
One evening, as he spooned mashed brain cheese into her mouth, she bit too hard on the spoon and her lower jaw fell off into her lap.
He looked at her eyeless face with her dry, yellow tongue waving in the air beneath her upper palate and wondered where his honey petal baby had gone. The sparks of love no longer blazed and pulsed along his neural pathways, igniting his emotions and causing his heart to swell in his chest.
He began to pray for God to put the sun out.
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