Rose Gardner scrolled through the story she was reading on a fan-fiction site, stifling a yawn. It was dedicated to a larger piece of literature based on the forbidden love between a human and an interdimensional being. The words were cascading and her eyes were scanning, but nothing was registering. The screen suspected of causing a slight headache, more than offering a window to any significance.
"Pretty hot stuff, right?"
The question, which was more of a statement, came from her co-worker and superior, Suzanne. Rose refrained from looking back, wanting to avoid betraying her boredom. She could almost imagine Suzanne's big, brown eyes the size of saucers, seeking out validation for her obsession. That white, unruly mop atop her head thrusting tangled wisps of hair over her beefy jowls, completing the deranged expression. Both ironic and fitting for their line of work.
To be fair, Suzanne was roughly thirty years her senior and there was no need to be rude.
"It sure is." A real cosmic Romeo and Juliet. Rose attempted a sultry tone, but was fairly certain she had missed the mark by a wide margin.
Before she was able to turn around and offer a more lively response, a sharp, shrill scream erupted from down the hall, causing her body to tense and lock up. "Sweet Jesus." The haunting echo was joined by a chorus of yells from other residents in close proximity to the original. Rose forced herself to look back over her shoulder at her co-worker. Suzanne appeared unfazed, head tilted forward, her bottle cap glasses halfway down her nose, wide eyes now narrowed and piercing.
"Must be a bad batch," Suzanne posited just as another staff member and blue-suited security guard rushed by their workstation. She called out to them, "Room 6 again." There was no indication they heard her as more screams resonated throughout the unit.
"What do you mean a bad batch?" Rose's attention turned back to the hall and those rushing down it.
"Just a joke among us here. Sometimes residents have a profound negative reaction to their meds, or they just want some additional attention. But as you can hear, a good many like to participate."
"They sound like a pack of wolves."
The cheery disposition Rose was accustomed to seeing on Suzanne darkened. "Or a pack of mangy, wild dogs scavenging the gutters for scraps. You do a disservice comparing these freaks to such elegant creatures." The woman sighed. "Welcome to Redwood Groves, Darlin'. Don't worry, you'll get used to it," she chimed in as though an afterthought.
The bloodcurdling shouts continued among the residents, but they were now accompanied by what sounded like demands for assistance. Rose stood up and stared through the plexiglass barrier between Suzanne, herself, and the remaining staff and residents. "I think they need help."
"Have at it, you're the rookie. More security will be on the way. They're familiar with the patient in Room 6. You're still new. Like I said, you'll get used to it."
Ignoring her, Rose made her way around their station deck and approached the hall. Suzanne was right, two more security guards arrived on the scene, passing her as they approached the disturbance. Everything was being drowned out by the symphony of terror. She was surprised by her own fortitude. Or maybe it was just the pure curiosity of it all.
Better get acquainted with the patient in Room 6 sooner than later...
The closer she got, the easier it was to decipher between the yelling from the residents and the staff members. They were definitely yelling for help and blurting out different hospital codes. White and Blue. Rose realized she should know them without any hesitation, but all of her senses were on edge and focused on Room 6. The echoing was reaching a fever pitch as she approached the living quarters, the door left wide open.
What greeted her was a scene of three men attempting to pin down a screaming, naked woman, blood splattered across her breasts. The patient was thrashing with all of her might, long tendrils of black hair whipping back and forth, kicking and clawing at her false assailants. It was undoubtedly a rare display of inhuman strength. One security guard had a fresh, bleeding set of nail marks trailing down his left forearm. The part-time staff member's face was contorted in pain, fear, or both. She couldn't tell. But she could make out the matching blood splotches speckled across the front of his white polo shirt.
As the woman's hair shifted again in the altercation, no longer obscuring her face, Rose was able to discern even more gruesome details. The resident's face was covered in blood, a waterfall seeping down from an eviscerated eye socket. The other socket a gory mess of entangled sinews of nerves and flesh, the eye completely dislodged and dangling. In shock, Rose couldn't help but seek out the missing component, which she found being kicked around in the scuffle, smearing blood along the marbled floor. Staring lifelessly back at her.
As a default, defense mechanism, Rose retreated back into her mind — reverting to autopilot — bringing her hands to her face and letting loose a volatile shriek.
And the pack howled with her.
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