There was a bump on the other side of the wall.
Lady Kristen’s eyes flickered up from her datapad. At least they’d let her have that in quarantine. She found re-reading the Charter to be comforting anyway. In a time when there were different rules, acknowledging the rules that did exist normally was relaxing for her. The Charter turned out to be better company than Lady Méline. She was fast asleep on one of the hospital beds, sprawled out quite unladylike, but she’d been pretty shaken up. Or, that’s what Kristen thought, anyway. She stopped paying attention when Méline went off in French. Her French was pretty good, but not as good as Lady Dominique’s or Lady Méline’s, obviously. Eventually she’d given up trying to communicate with her.
She knew she talked too much sometimes. But she couldn’t help it. If she had something to add, her mother always told her to add it, no matter what. Her voice was important enough to be heard, as she had won out over her other sisters when her family decided she was the one who would go the Lady’s Academy. Whatever she earned, she kept little for herself. The rest was for her family. Else, she’d never hear the end of it. And once they heard she was in quarantine…
She rubbed at the spot where they’d taken her blood, and picked at the band-aid. They’d been ushered into the quarantined room near where Lady Harmony had…well…attacked?…Lady Dominique. The nurses had assured Kristen that everything was going to be fine, that their initial tests had come back negative for whatever infection had infected the two head ladies.
Kristen set aside the pad on the nightstand next to her–she’d stopped reading the text long ago–and slowly climbed to her feet. The titled floor was so cold it hurt her soles; she leaped back onto the bed next to Lady Méline and leaned against the baseboard. Whatever that bump was, it had only happened once. It was probably just a nurse checking in on Lady Harmony and Lady Dominique.
Or maybe it wasn’t…
The two head ladies, infected. Could that be a coincidence? She shook her head? She had always been reprimanded by the Ladies at the Academy for jumping to conclusions. She thought about the Third Lady. Lady Jade didn’t have a way with people nor was she as beautiful as Lady Harmony or Lady Dominique, but she was book-smart, that was for sure. She spoke four different languages fluently, travelled around the Asian continents until her family sent her to the Lady’s Academy. Lady Jade was too nice to have done something like this. Once, she had lent Kristen some of her face cream when Kristen couldn’t afford to buy a new container. People who buy other people face cream don’t infect them with strange light diseases.
There it was again! Kristen’s eyes slid to Méline. “Hey! Wake up. Uh…pas de dormir! Bienvenue! Come on, Méline!”
She let out a tiny groan, stretched like a cat who had been disturbed by its master’s gentle hand, and then rolled over again.
Another crash. There was definitely something going on. Kristen braved the cold floor and padded to the wall they shared with the adjacent room. Every breath she took seemed louder and louder as silence prevailed. She leaned her right ear against the wall, strands of her flattened hair brushing against her cheek.
There was nothing to hear.
She let out a sigh of relief she didn’t know she was holding.
“I’m just being silly,” she told the sleeping Méline. “I mean, like, you’re asleep, but they’re super asleep. So…yeah. Not going t–”
And that was when the wall broke.
Pieces of steel, splinters from a wooden frame, and insulation flew across the room. Kristen ducked behind her bed and shielded her eyes. “What is…”
She stole a glance. Dust from the debris settled, and sure enough, it was Lady Harmony and Lady Dominique! Kristen leapt to her feet and went to greet them.
“I’m so glad you’re–”
But it wasn’t the Lady Harmony that Kristen knew.
Sharpened teeth. Hundreds of them, fit into her tiny mouth. Her lips, red, like she’d put on too much lipstick and then smeared on another coat of blood. And her eyes: as dark as space itself, with only a pinpoint of white for the pupil.
Lady Dominique shared a similar affliction, but she hung back behind Harmony, clutching the sides of the newly formed door between their two rooms. Her soulless, alien eyes were fixed on Harmony, like a young chick watching a mother hen. Except that chickens definitely didn’t look like they were going to murder people.
Kristen’s lips moved to placate them, but before words could escape, Lady Harmony–or the creature that looked like her–blurred as she whipped across the room to Lady Méline’s sleeping form. She didn’t even have a chance. As Méline’s eyelids fluttered, the Lady Harmony creature gripped her by the shoulders, leaned over her face and…oh God, the sound! Like a sloppy, slurping vacuum cleaner…but more muffled screaming…and bones crunching…
Kristen ran for the door and tried the knob. Locked.
“HELP! HELLLLLP!” she screamed.
She clawed at the door. There were no windows.
She pivoted around again. Lady Méline lay discarded on the floor, face down. Lady Harmony’s face was stained with Méline’s blood. It dripped onto Harmony’s dress, and onto the floor. Kristen dared herself to look away, but she couldn’t. To take her eyes off Harmony meant dying.
“Lady Harmony…please don’t kill me…you know me! Junior Lady Kristen…”
It was no use. Her words became babbled nonsense, and then murmurs. For the first time in her life, Kristen had nothing to say. Lady Harmony put one bare foot in front of the other, a smile spreading across her face. A smile that said, victory.
Because Kristen was next.