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Dead Inside

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I.


He remembers:

 

The moon, high and fat and yellow. Every few seconds, he'd look up and see her in the sky, and every time, it was a distraction.

Used to be, he could stay vigilant from sun down to sun up, and this shift didn't bother him so much, but those days were past him. It wasn't age catching up, though he'd admit that probably was a factor. It was what lived in the darkness. That knowledge kept him on edge, his mind wondering, his heart beating just a little faster.

He pulled the cruiser over behind a beat-up sedan, the only other vehicle in the parking lot, and checked in on the radio. He'd been finishing up a traffic stop a few blocks away when the call came in. Linda, the manager of Fresh Market, was notoriously paranoid and made a call at least once a month about strange vehicles or odd customers lurking around the store after hours. He had a cruiser pass by the business on its nightly rounds, but it wouldn't be by again for a few minutes still, and, truthfully, he needed something easy to fill his time.

Something routine. Something not related to the moon hanging over his shoulder.

Sheriff Stilinski let out a sigh as he pulled himself out of his car, his boots slapping blacktop loudly. He knew this crappy sedan's owner, as had the market's workers. Loyd Wright, a regular visitor of the drunk tank. Stilinski cocked his head slightly, looking through the back window, and he could make out the silhouette of Loyd's skinny neck and ball cap. The man seemed to be leaning back in his seat, sleeping. Judging from the empty bourbon bottle on the pavement beside his car door, he had a good reason to be tired.

Stilinski shook his head, trying to hold back a small smile. Loyd Wright was as reliable as sunrise. There wasn't a week that passed without the old drunk tripping into a local business and ranting about government conspiracies and the high price of beer.

"They don't want you to know! They don't want you know about the monsters they're makin'. They're everywhere, even here, even in our goddamned town. I seen 'em!"

The smile died before it was ever formed, and Stilinski glanced back up at the moon. Maybe Wright's rants had some merit. Maybe Wright had seen the things in the darkness too. A shiver ran through Stilinski, and he had to fight down that slight near-constant panic at not knowing if his kid was in bed like he was supposed to be...Or if Stiles was out there, with the things that go bump in the night.

Stilinski was good at his job and careful. And on a night when the moon wasn't such a distraction, he would have seen the man in the car shift with awareness. Maybe he would have even noticed some tiny detail, some small give-away that the man inside Loyd Wright's car was not Loyd Wright.

But his eyes were lifted to the sky, his thoughts on children who could grow claws and fangs. Children with glowing eyes. And it wasn't until he reached the driver's side window that he saw the glass was rolled down and the man sitting in the shadows wasn't someone he recognized.

He took it in, one thought on top of another: There's something on the man's lap. That's not Loyd. The guy's pupils are blown. This kid is barely older than Stiles. Didn't Loyd mention a nephew coming to stay with him. The moon brings out the monsters. That's a gun on his lap, and he's raising it. The moon brings out the monsters.

Stilinski shouted a warning as he reached for his sidearm. It was too late. The shot thundered, and blood hit the pavement like raindrops.


II.


He wakes in pain. His body aches, feels dried out and empty. Stilinski thinks maybe it's the flu. It's a vague, dreamlike thought that hits him before awareness. Then he remembers...

Not much, not the in-between. He remembers being shot. Remembers opening his eyes and seeing someone he knows. Melissa McCall. She's standing over him, saying something. He can't remember Stiles, but he can almost feel his son's hand on his shoulder. On instinct alone, he knows his kid has been in this room. This hospital room.

"It's gonna be okay, son." The words tear their way out of his throat, sounding like tires on gravel.

It takes him another minute to realize he's speaking to thin air. He's alone. When he blinks, he realizes the shriveled mess in the vase on the window rail used to be dandelions. Another blink and he sees his IV line is empty, the machine closest to him is dead. Something here is wrong.

Stilinski stumbles out of the bed, trying to use it for leverage. His legs are weaker than expected. He falls and lays there for a while, trying to put it together. When he finally pulls himself up, he makes it to the bathroom and drinks from the sink.

He's too pale in the mirror. His hair looks too gray against his skin, and he has to wonder if the something that is wrong is him, or if it's the world.


The hallways are empty, the nurse's station abandoned, and the walls...the walls are splattered with red. But it's not until he reaches the next wing that he stops.

There's a body there, an elderly nurse he's met a few times. He simply stares a moment, unable to comprehend how a corpse could come to look that way. Ripped open. Missing pieces. She's not fresh, but he's seen decay in his life, and he knows this isn't it. This is slaughter.

This is the work of monsters.


Don't

Open

Dead

Inside

The words are painted in red on the doors to the cafeteria. The entry is chained shut, a familiar looking baseball bat slid through the wide handles.

Stilinski doesn't know what it says about him that he's felt this sort of dread before, here in this very spot. Stiles had been a skinny kid then, rattling on about the mean cafeteria lady refusing to sell him three pieces of cake if he didn't have a parent with him. Stilinski remembers smiling, eyes burning, as he wants to interrupt Stiles' tangent, tell him what the doctor said about Claudia's test results. Explain what they mean. Tell him his mother is dying.

No, that was worse back then. Somehow it was worse than whatever evil is waiting behind these doors.

This hospital is a place of fear, always has been for him, for his son. From the look of it now, it always will be. It doesn't matter if the evil lurking in its halls is a diagnosis or a werewolf or whatever is standing past those doors.

Maybe, he thinks, this is Hell. Because he's beginning to believe in that place again, too.

Moans sound from the cafeteria, a clattering of feet on the floor, and something pushes them apart. They barely budge, just enough for a few bony fingers to work their way through the gap. Then more fingers. More.

So many.


Stiles is alive.

This is the Truth, the only thought that can keep him steady, give him strength.

Stiles is alive.

And because this is the truth, Stilinski doesn't think about the possibility of his son being trapped in the cafeteria. And he doesn't look at the faces of the corpses as he walks past the pile of dead bodies at the hospital's back entrance. They've all taken shots to the head, each and every one of them, and Stilinski would breath a little easier if the smell wasn't threatening to force the water back out of his stomach.

If they've taken head wounds, that means they can be killed, whatever they are. The sheriff's station isn't far from the hospital and closer than his house. He can get there on foot if he needs to, can get inside and get to his weapons. Hell, get to his spare uniform while he's at it. Get the keys to a cruiser. Then figure out how to find his kids.

He can handle this. He has to handle this. Because his boy is alive and waiting for him.

Stiles is alive.

Stilinski rounds the corner of the hospital and sees them. Owners of bony fingers. Bodies still standing, staring in the other direction, away from him. They haven't heard him yet. But there are so many. So many.

Stilinski pulls himself back into the shadow of the building, back to where the fallen corpses are lying down, and gathers himself. Scans his surroundings. Sees a crowbar left atop one of the covered bodies like white roses left in memory. He snatches it up.

In the crowd, there were nurses uniforms, soldiers uniforms, deputy uniforms. There were children. He's the sheriff, he knows these people. Knows he knows them, but he refuses to try and name the walking dead. Refuses. Because, no matter how many of the faces he sees out there, none of those belong to his son.

"Stiles is alive," he says, too low for those things to hear. Just loud enough for it to ring in his ears. It's all he needs, that one sentence.

When the first of the walkers shambles into his line of sight, he's ready, grip tight on the metal bar. He swings. This hospital isn't taking him. He won't let it end here. He has people who need him, a son who needs to be found.