Edward Owen – Author

Ray Bradbury Challenge #13- The Patter of Little Feet

One fourth of the way to my goal. Yeah!

 

The Patter of Little Feet

The screaming made it hard to sleep but he was getting used to it. It wouldn’t be long before one of them found a way in. When it did, he would join the chorus of those whose flesh was being clawed, chewed and consumed. The door of the x-ray room was lead lined and thus far had proven an effective barrier against – what? Abominations? Mistakes? Natural justice? He pulled the heavy aprons around his body in a feeble attempt to stop his shivering but it was not the temperature that made his muscles spasm.

Twenty-four hours earliercreepy cradle

“Don’t you ever feel a little sad?” Sandra’s brown eyes were tearing up again. “I mean, you remember when most of them made it, don’t you?”

The small body fit in his hands as he transferred it to the examination table. Its cool temperature passed through his latex gloves.

“Are you insinuating that I am old, Ms. Boothe?”

He gave her several moments to squirm as she tried to back pedal from the comment.

“I – oh no, nothing like that, Dr. Peterson. I don’t think you’re old at all.”

He released her from her torment with the same disarming smile that would eventually lure her into his bed.

“That’s where you are mistaken. I am old. Yes, I remember when the infant mortality rate was expressed in terms the number of deaths instead of live births. In those days, birth control was not only legal, it was highly encouraged and widely practiced. Viable fetuses were even terminated. The human race was in danger of breeding ourselves into extinction. No, I don’t feel sad, just an overwhelming sense of irony.”

Tears flowed down Sandra’s cheeks in response to her mentor’s words. Dr. Peterson, or Michael as she would no doubt yell in the throes of passion, wiped the moisture from her cheeks with a tissue.

“Let’s continue. We have an entire population eager to be parents.”

Their work continued late into the night. Test and retest, a new strain of virus, a stronger bacteria. Several subjects showed promise, but the fact that the disease would not thrive outside of the human body hampered their progress.

As they left the building, Michael put his arm around Sandra’s shoulders. The night held little in the way of surprises in the home of Dr. Michael Peterson. His bed was a shambles; blankets, sheets and two naked bodies strewn across its mattress. In the lab, a small red indicator light blinked. Moments later the sun shone in the window, its rays cutting through the purple cloud that engulfed hundreds of small plastic wrapped bodies lying on steel shelves.

*****

“I need you to run some baselines on the cultures we started last night,” said Michael. “Will that be a problem?”

“No, I’ll be fine. I just needed a good night’s sleep.” Sandra tiptoed and kissed Michael on the cheek. “I slept great thanks to you. Sorry for making you late this morning.”

“I doubt another hour or two will make much difference.” He watched as she strutted into the lab, her hip action no doubt exaggerated for his benefit. He turned his attention to the monitor and let out a heavy sigh. The readings were off the scale. Something must have contaminated the sample. He punched the intercom button.

“Sandra, don’t bother with …” His words were cut off by screams blasting through the speaker. It took him four quick strides to reach the lab. As he burst through the door the bile rose in his throat and he stopped short. Sandra lay on the floor, her blood stained lab coat in shreds. The wall next to her was stained red with spatter as well. She was alive and Michael took a tentative step toward her. The sound of light footsteps caught him off guard. There were two of them. Babies. They rushed toward him, mouths and – claws? – dripping blood. His brain sidestepped making sense of the scene. It went into self preservation-panic mode. He slammed the door and bolted it shut.

Another scream sounded from the main hallway. The office door swung open, pushed by hands too small to grasp its thickness. Crimson droplets smeared on the wood from gnarled fingers and curved talons. The face was dominated by a gaping mouth full of pointed, blood stained teeth. The eyes had yellow irises and large pupils floating on a pale green eyeball. It made a wet, sucking sound and leaped at Michael. Pain erupted in his arm as it buried its teeth in his flesh. He slammed it against the wall. The body went limp and dropped to the floor. Before he could get to the door, two more creatures forced their way in. The only other exit led to the x-ray room. He tried the handle. Regulations required it stay locked when not in use. He fumbled through his pockets checking for his keys. They were on his desk.

He peeked around the corner. There was no movement in the room. He bolted across the carpet and swiped his keyring from the desk. The moment he turned to leave bolts of pain shot through his leg. One of the damn things had been hiding under his desk. He managed to kick it loose and run to the x-ray room. He dropped the keys twice and fumbled to get the correct one in the lock. The slurping was getting louder. Half a dozen creatures jumped at him as he twisted the handle and slipped inside. Their bodies thudded against the door.

As he lay on the floor wrapped in the leaded aprons, a sound came through the door nearly unknown for two generations. A sound that at one time had been a source of joy and now inspired fear.

The patter of little feet.

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