Sunday evening, Julie Tam, the Chief Medical Examiner stood at the head of the room. She had slides. Lisa and Ashish sat in the front row with Emily and Priestess Sara. Lisa and Sara were getting along great, though Lisa was ten years older. Melissa, Maria, officer Rob Parker and officer Millsaps sat in the second row. Millsaps said he was protecting the coffee and donuts. Mindy, Amina, Jessica and Heinrich Schultz sat in the third row. Mitzy from the police desk was behind them but just to take notes. Latasha came in late, two girls in tow, grabbed a coffee and donut and sat in the fourth row beside Mitzy.
Jessica whispered to Heinrich. “I usually sit back in the third row in class. The ones up front get called on.” Heinrich nodded, but hushed her as Julie saw Latasha come in and immediately got everyone’s attention. When Mitzy got the lights turned off, Julie put up the first slide.
It was a row of bodies in the morgue, all young men and all pale. “There is no blood in them,” Julie said without emotion. “But I found traces of what for a time I thought was arsenic, the same as I thought killed our Janet.” Julie acknowledged Latasha who looked stoic about it. “Then I found this.” She went through three more slides and all showed a two-fanged bite mark on the bodies.
“Vampires?” Melissa asked softly, her voice trembling.
“Not vampires,” Emily and Lisa spoke together.
“It looks to me like a spider bite,” Julie said as she took a ruler to the white wall. She put it up as if to measure between the fangs. “But my measurements suggest that if it is a spider it is bigger than any on earth. The poison imitates arsenic. It is quick and final, and then my guess is the spider has lunch on the victim’s blood.”
“Go back to the first slide.” Lisa waved at Julie. She clearly saw something.
Julie nodded and when she arrived, Lisa pointed. “Carl Weathers and Leon Johnson. They are all drug dealers, and local.”
Ashish spoke up. “If we can get all the names, we might narrow down the exact area.”
“I know all of them,” Latasha whispered. Ashish heard and nodded in her direction.
Julie understood that they would get the information from Latasha later and prepared to move on to the next topic. She looked grim. “This next slide is gruesome,” she warned them and flipped forward again to the correct slide. It was a living room, but one covered in blood, and the blood was splattered everywhere, most noticeably on the walls and around the fireplace. Julie took her ruler and pointed out several things as she spoke. “A leg bone, part of a skull from a six-year-old, and the chewed bone from a forearm. This creature or these creatures do not appear to be interested in blood one way or the other. In the first house we found almost nothing but blood. This is the third, and they all appear to have happened after Thanksgiving. In the first house, the turkey was still on the table, untouched.”
Julie went to the next slide. It was hair samples, coarse and golden. “Whatever kind of animal this is; it does not appear to match any animal known on earth.” Heinrich sat up straight and put his hand out as if trying to touch the hair through the slide before he spoke.
“I have heard of this kind of thing only once.” Heinrich pulled his hand back. “Night creatures. But I was not involved and I have no clear idea how it ended. I might be able to confirm it if I can see the samples.” He turned to Mindy. “Set animals.”
Mindy nodded. “Big surprise they are not a myth.”
Lisa turned around to Mindy. “Can you get me pictures?”
Mindy nodded again. “And whatever information I can surmise. That should not take long. There is not much information.”
Meanwhile, Julie was at the computer getting into a different program. “This last is most disturbing of all,” she said as she played the video. “Recorded by a pedestrian on his phone. This just came in yesterday.” It was a half-dozen boys and three girls all bouncing around the base of a tree by the little woods that grew at the back of the parade ground. The photographer was standing on the parallel street.
One boy began to climb the tree, and the others followed. “The man said they were all screeching and howling like a bunch of animals.” Julie talked over top. “He said he knew college kids could sometimes act strange, but this seemed extraordinary. None of the kids ever spoke a coherent word.” At the top of the tree, two young men began to fight, like it was some contest to see who could touch the very top first. There were no punches or such things. It looked through the poor quality video like they were slapping and scratching each other. Then they fell. One went straight to the ground and hit hard. The other appeared to crack his back on a big branch before he slid off and finished the journey. The video cut off and Julie paused the recording.
“The man called 9-1-1,” Julie said. “The one who hit the branch died. The one who hit the ground spent all of yesterday in the hospital, strapped down. I did an autopsy on the one that died. I found his brain, all but the cerebellum, the lower, animal portion, was atrophied. My suspicion is a virus, possibly some new kind of plague. The staff and I were careful not to touch the brain unprotected. None of us have shown any symptoms. My guess is the disease, if that is what it is, cannot be caught through the air. How it came to infect these students is beyond me.”
“The brain atrophied?” Maria asked.
“Yes. Completely non-functional. All centers of memory, logic, thinking if you will, were useless. The man is for all practical purposes no more than an animal.” Julie turned the video back on, and it was a much better recording of the young man in a hospital bed, growling, howling, yanking and tugging on his straps. “The man bloodied himself trying to escape. Two nurses were touched by the blood. They are in isolation, quarantine just to be safe. Meanwhile, all they have been able to do for the poor young man is keep him sedated. We might have to keep him in a cage eventually, for his own protection as well as ours.”
Jessica had her hand up. “I saw three students like that,” she said, and everyone turned to her. “I came out of environmental science and three of them were screeching and bouncing around a small fire made with twigs. I thought they were playing caveman or some stupid college thing, but when I came up close, they ran off.”
Jessica shrugged. “College kids do act strange sometimes. But then one of them should have been in Maynard’s class. I told her she missed class, but she just shrieked at me.” Jessica shrugged. “Maynard makes me shriek sometimes, too.”
“There is a connection there.” Amina said as the video finished and Mitzy turned the lights back on.
“I feel it too,” Emily said quietly, and thought about her encounter with the pajama man. Maria spoke to Julie.
“Professor Orlov is teaching anatomy and physiology. Do you have some notes we could share with him?”
Julie smiled as she got the copies of her notes. She came prepared.
“Latasha?” Lisa spoke up.
“I have the night creatures,” Lisa said, but she assumed as much before the meeting began. “Latasha, if you find the spider, don’t go it alone. Get back-up.”
“Maybe I could help you track it,” Jessica offered. “Being a hunter has to be good for something.” Everyone talked about the spirit of Artemis in her, like it was some special power or something, but Jessica could not see it. This would be a test, a private test for Jessica to see if that spirit of Artemis meant anything or not.