Monday morning, Doctor Singh met with the new hire in the biology department.
“Doctor Assur, it is good to have you on the staff at last,” Professor Singh was clearly delighted. Doctor Assur merely looked around the small office and saw that it was at least a corner office.
“Who had this office?”
“Is there money?”
“Well, yes, some. The school has a research reputation. There is some NSF money. Orlov and Maynard have some CDC money,” Professor Singh paused and understood. “Oh, there is a small budget. You can give me the expenses for furniture and such, and as long as it is not extravagant, I am sure the university will reimburse you.
“What about quiet?”
“Oh yes. This year all is quiet. Orlov, Maynard, myself and the others are very quiet people.”
“Good. Now if only we could get the students to shut-up, right?”
Professor Singh tried to smile.
Monday evening, Maria and Emily cornered Professor Orlov. He seemed in a hurry, but they handed him the papers before he could escape. They had discussed it and determined that Orlov and Maynard were the most obvious suspects, and maybe the only suspects.
“From the coroner’s office,” Maria said.
“Apparently there are a number of mindless young people rampaging around the woods behind the parade ground,” Emily added.
“The baseball field?” Professor Orlov wanted to be sure he knew where she was talking about. “What do you mean, mindless?”
Maria pointed to the papers, and the professor took a minute to read. He said only one thing while he was reading, and it was softly spoken, like he was not aware he said it out loud. “No,” he said. “That’s not right.” He looked up at the girls and waved the papers. “Mind if I keep these. I need to examine the findings closely and check out a couple of things.”
“No, fine. We were hoping you might help us track down what might be happening.” The professor grabbed his briefcase and shot out of the room in a hurry and without another word.
“I would say we got his attention,” Maria said. Emily just nodded. The janitor was there and he wanted to close up the science building for the night.
As the light broke above the horizon on Tuesday morning, Amina brought a troop of police armed with dart guns into the forest behind the parade ground. Melissa went with her, as she said, for moral support.
“No one is making a record of this?” Melissa had to ask. Her magic would not show up on camera except in the effects, but Melissa was mostly shy when it came to magic in public.
Millsaps answered. “Any blabbing to reporters is grounds for dismissal.” He moved several yards away from the girls. It was not really what Melissa was asking, but it was good to know.
“Jessica would be better at this,” Amina was not keen on the idea of getting too close to the mindless ones.
Melissa shook her head. “We know where they are, just not exactly where or how many.”
“No, they are not zombies, I mean like in the movies,” Melissa answered. “Julie and Maria have ruled out any danger to us all, unless one of us is tempted to eat one of their brains, we can’t get contaminated.” Melissa picked her boots way up against the grass which was still tall despite the winter. She watched her steps and so she did not see the look of disgust that crossed Officer Parker’s face at the idea of eating someone’s brains. She also bumped into Amina when Amina stopped suddenly.
Amina shook her head. “I cannot see them well. It is like they are an empty space in the world that should not be there, like they are absent and that makes a hole.”
“What?” Millsaps stepped over to hear. The whole line of police had stopped.
“The space is behind those trees and up in the trees. They are becoming active with the light. Please. I don’t want to look anymore.”
Millsaps nodded. “Stay here.” He waved to both sides of the police line and pointed to the trees and also pointed up in the trees. They started forward. Amina, Melissa and officer Parker watched, and listened.
Very quickly there were screams and screeches and howls like howler monkeys defending their territory. Amina knew a few would break through the police line and she dreaded finding her way to those last mindless souls. Their very existence scratched against her senses like coarse sandpaper. She feared if she examined them too closely she might start to weep and not be able to stop. She could not identify them, who they once were, and that, at least, was a blessing.
Her thoughts were interrupted when two of them came rushing out from the trees and headed straight toward them. Officer Parker got to one knee to be sure he struck his targets. He squeezed the trigger twice, slowly, and the mindless ones staggered, stumbled, and went down like the tranquilized beasts they had become.
Amina drew in her breath and looked to the side as she felt another one. Melissa had him. She had her hands up and one hand sweated around her wand. The young man looked frozen in place and would remain that way as long as Melissa’s strength held out. Rob Parker squeezed off another shot and the young man’s eyes rolled up and he fell to the grass even as Amina screamed.