A/N: Written for the prompt: "...so that's why they call it the 'graveyard shift.'"
WARNINGS: This story contains graphic depictions of violence, character death, and gore.
The only sound in the wing was that of a ticking clock. Ava Taylor knew why she got put on guard duty in this part of the hospital, but damn, it was eerie. Not to mention cold. The unfinished section was high up, and there were tarps doing their best to separate her from the outside, but they could only do so much when it was windy. And yeah, she was there in case anyone decided that this was a good place in the hospital to wander around in. People who were depressed or suicidal might come here, or even curious teenagers. Teenage boys, specifically. Ava knew from her time in high school that they were always up to something. And it hadn't been that long ago that she'd been walking the halls of a high school. She hadn't been able to get into college with her poor grades — Emily would probably start ranting about the injustice of the system against the poor and abused if she could hear her thoughts — so this was the job she'd gotten. She'd always excelled in gym, and after some martial arts and kickboxing classes, this was the job for her.
Except nothing ever happened. All the older and more experienced guards got called when there was an incident; even Emily got called more. Ava had thought she'd have to jump in one time when over the walkie-talkie she heard that a guard had gotten kicked in the head by a patient, but someone else had been closer, more available. Or so they'd told her. Ava didn't want to feel bitter about it, but she did. She always got the short end of the stick, or she was constantly underestimated.
Most of the time they were right. But not with this. They couldn't be.
So as she stood there listening to the hallway clock she almost wanted something to happen.
But it was the graveyard shift. So nothing was likely to be very exciting, unless maybe the apocalypse started, or if there was an alien invasion. Or maybe if a pandemic randomly sprung up?
Ava kept her eyes peeled, but it wasn't like the empty hallway was offering up any adversaries. In her head she was contemplating what to get from the vending machine outside the cafeteria on her break. Snickers, maybe. Those were excellent.
A rumbling started up, so slight she probably wouldn't have felt it if she hadn't been begging for something to happen. It died down, nothing else following, so she didn't think it was anything she had to call in. Then it started up again.
Ava said into her walkie as she walked down the hall, one hand on her gun (lethals weren't allowed around patients, but she wasn't stationed around patients), "This is Taylor, does anyone copy?"
Silence. Static. Then something short, muffled, but enough to make her blood run cold: screams. There was frantic chatter on the radio now, and the screams started up again, fully in the background. The rumbling came again and Ava lurched, putting her hand to the wall.
"Go again," she insisted into the device.
The talking turned into yelling: "...coming down the hall… onto… three… I got civilians in… -teria, and more…"
The words broke off into a scream. A chill running down her spine, Ava started running down the hall, pulling her gun — a Colt M1911 — from the holster on her hip. The wing she was in was still deserted despite whatever was going on, but she had quite a few halls to traverse before she made it back to the nurse's station that was the center of the main part of the floor.
"This is Taylor, does anybody copy?"
Static. Screams. Static.
The floor rumbled beneath her feet.
"This is Taylor, does anybody copy?!"
Ava expected the same static, maybe broken dialogue. She didn't know what was going on, but the last report had surely come from the cafeteria. That had to be what he was going to say. And this time, this time someone responded, voice audible, but pitched high with stress, "This is Walker. I copy."
Ava made it to the nurse's station, keeping her gun pointed at the floor.
"What's going on?" one of the nurses asked, who seemed to be asking for all three of them.
Ava was unsure what emergency protocol to use since the situation was unknown to her.
She quickly said into the walkie-talkie, not wanting Emily to think she was alone, "I copy. What's your 20?"
Ava waited for a response as she told the nurses to lock up patient rooms, keep them away from doors. She also suggested hiding under the nurse's station. Hell, Ava wanted to do just that, but she had a job to do.
"I'm near pulmonary on floor three."
"What's your sitch?"
Ava tried the buttons on the elevator doors. The steel stayed firmly shut. Damn it.
"There is a-a… an animal of some sort… I don't know, but members of security are down, so are patients. Nurses and doctors too."
Ava started to head for the stairwell, racing down it, almost tripping multiple times, but her downward momentum helped her keep going.
"How'd it get there?"
No answer for now, and then, something that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end:
"I heard it used the elevator."
That sentence was enough to nearly stop Ava in her tracks. Her blood beat painfully through her, sweat building up on her neck, under her arms. And then she felt a rush. Adrenaline.
Ava followed the rumbling, followed the screams as she got closer, breathlessly vaulting her way down the stairs.
Ava froze when she got to the floor. Blood.
The stench hit her so hard she put her arm up to her mouth, gagging. It was coppery, and beneath that was the smell of ripped out guts. The rottenness of it permeated the room. Her eyes nearly watered.
And what she saw made her blood run cold, even as anger welled hot in her stomach. Bodies were strewn across the wide hallways, ripped, just like their clothes. Blood was spattered everywhere, and some long streaks of it decorated the walls like some horrible haunted house for Halloween. People, moaned, sobbed. The ones who were alive did at least. There weren't many of them.
A bestial roar sounded to Ava's left. She turned, raising her gun, and was met with Emily running down the hall towards her, shock baton out.
"Emily, what the hell is going on?"
"No time to explain. So here are our options: we call for help and risk getting more people killed, we hide till this thing's gone, or we try to put it down."
"Put it down? Are you serious?"
"It's what the law would say to do."
The roar sounded again, and Emily moved to Ava's side, turning, brown hair that was in a ponytail swishing. Ava's chestnut-colored hair had been in a bun but it was already coming undone thanks to her rush on the stairs.
"Ready?" Emily asked.
Ava's brown eyes met Emily's green. Neither of them were ready, both wanting to flee, find safety, get as far away from that thing as possible.
They made their way down the hallway, the building shook from a heavy weight rampaging through it. When they got to the corner they took positions on both sides of the wall, plastering themselves to it.
Looking at… at the animal had bile rising in Ava's throat, horrified tears coming to her eyes. Oh god, she was really starting to feel her bladder too. Was it really that full? Her legs were shaking as she looked upon it and fought every instinct to turn away and protect herself like the prey she was.
So much for being superior lifeforms.
The thing had its back turned from them, but it was large, head brushing against the ceiling even with its stooped back, and it nearly filled up the hallway. It had dark skin, almost black, and fur just the same. It looked like it was trying to sell the idea that it was a crazed, rabid bear.
But no bear she'd seen had a head that thick, or claws that long, which dripped with blood. They certainly didn't have pointed ears like that, and they most certainly couldn't stand on two legs for so long.
It dropped to all fours, the vibrations running through the floor to her feet and sounding like a whump through the air.
Ava knew she couldn't take it head on, so she considered sneaking up on it. Emily seemed to have a similar idea. But then the walkie-talkie started up. Fear boiled through Ava's stomach, rising up her esophagus into her mouth. Her jaw dropped, but she kept her feet shoulder-width apart, her gun level, remembering her training.
The thing turned.
Golden eyes pierced them with its searing brightness, and a mouth full of wide teeth roared. Spit flew out of its mouth, drool hanging from barely-there bloodied lips.
Ava started shooting. It bellowed, the sound pushing right through her, and she screamed, and everything shook, and it came at her.
She emptied the whole clip before it got to her, and then the world was turning, shaking. Something hot and sharp was digging through her. She hit something hard, the world tumbled, and she hit something hard again.
Ava could only let out choked sobs and whines as the world came back to her. She was on the floor, bleeding profusely, wounds too numerous to count, but they were deep. They throbbed and ached, and her body started shaking in response. Her head spun. A cold sweat broke out on her skin even as she felt like she was burning. It did nothing to cool her. Her stomach raged.
Oh god, here it comes.
Ava puked up the remains of her dinner, and then moaned loudly at how awful she felt. And she couldn't move away from the sick.
All of this happened in a matter of seconds, so she wasn't at all surprised when the thing stepped on her back. Claws dug into fresh wounds.
The thing picked her up by the throat. Tears were in Ava's eyes, and her body convulsed, fighting this trauma. The thing stabbed its claws up through her ribcage, piercing her lungs. Blood welled in as trapped air came out. She drowned in the hallway of the hospital.
Everything went dark.
Emily wanted to scream and cry from the horrors before her. The wolf-bear thing dropped Ava's dead body. It took all of Emily's willpower to not tremble violently.
No, instead she was playing dead, hastily covering herself in blood, and throwing herself onto the remains of a cart and medical supplies — IV tubing, syringes, crushed cups that had maybe once held water or ginger ale, and pills. There was a body three feet from her outstretched foot. She had even turned her foot at an awkward ankle to further give the idea of a violent death. Her hip screamed in protest.
Emily couldn't breathe as the animal leaned down. There were sharp, whistling inhales, like it was sniffing her.
And then it turned and carried on its way, ready to kill, needing all that blood.
Emily shook and wailed, and she didn't get up to face the animal, to save people.
She turned against her job with cowardice.
Looking at Ava's torn and shattered corpse, she broke into pieces, all of what she had once been sundered in a flash of pain and reality and death.
Emily lay on the floor amongst the medical supplies, covered in blood that was not her own, and cried.
Adrenaline had kept Emily awake for a long time, and she found a scalpel and held it tightly in her fist.
The animal was going to come back. It was, it was, it was. She was going to die.
But exhaustion killed those thoughts and she fell unconscious.
A hand was on her shoulder. Emily snarled, aimed near her shoulder with the scalpel, tearing through flesh. The man who had roused her cried out, straightening and stepping back. He was dressed in a sheriff's uniform, but he had to be from another county because Emily didn't recognize him. He was an older man and was nursing a bleeding wound on his forearm.
Emily rose to her feet and leaned against the wall, breathing heavy as everything came back to her.
People had run, but they hadn't been fast enough. They'd been shredded, crushed, bitten, insides and outsides splattered every which way. Patients too weak to rise had cried out as they were slaughtered in their beds. Doctors and nurses were down. Security was down, their shock batons and tasers doing nothing against it. Emily had wished for a lethal weapon, but then Ava's gun had proved fruitless.
Ava's failure was in a crimson puddle on the floor.
"I assume you survived by playing dead," the sheriff said.
Emily had tears in her eyes, and she nodded, breathless.
"What happened here?"
Emily turned to him, confused. Outrage grew from that confusion. "You don't know?!"
"We saw footage on security feeds, but—"
"Then there you go!"
"Deputy," she corrected.
"Please remain calm."
She sank to the floor, knee pulled up to her chest, and she laughed hysterically. Then she sobbed.
"Is it… Is it gone?" she asked.
Another deputy arrived, from a different county, fresh-faced and free of gore and trauma.
"It… It looked like it turned into a man," the sheriff informed her, turning Emily's reality on its head and dumping out all of her sanity as it did so.. "Tracks confirm it," the sheriff went on, seemingly oblivious to the strange and painful realization of the world coming upon her. "And then, uh… um… it… it walked away. It had bullet holes in it and everything."
Everything became Ava's dead body, glassy eyes seemingly staring at her, cheek marred with deep scratches. There was shuffling, moving about, talking. Ava stared. Emily stared back.
Only death could make her win that contest.
God, why had she decided to cover for Sean and take the night shift. Why?
Emptiness. Numbness. Buzzing.
And then through the confused and blindingly aching nothing that surrounded her, Emily heard one of the younger deputies say, after perusing the scene, the bodies, "So that's why they call it the graveyard shift."
His joke washed over her and left.
He was right.
Emily sobbed, and her world was dead.