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Ruby

Ruby toiled on in her basement, haunted by the memories of her life gone by.  The MacArthur genius grant, mostly spent on her original basement lab in Holland, when she still went around as Rubentia.  Five years of service as a phlebotomist, and a spotless record in her office allowed her the freedom to toil on by day and do her real work at night.  Nobody suspected that for every patient who needed 4 vials of blood, she took 5 and kept one for her personal work at home.  Then the cap had come off the entire affair, and the local constables had discovered the work she’d been doing on local children and elderly.  She wouldn’t allow the memories of that week to come to the front, she forced her brain to forget and move on.

She had managed to clean up the mess, and had fled to America.  She’d settled in a tiny suburb of Flint, Michigan and gone back to work as a drawer of blood.  Then she had bided her time until the story from Holland had disappeared and she had restarted her active research.  But this time, she had devised a new plan of action.  She would use the American custom of trick-or-treat to distribute her work, and thus she could continue for longer and with better results.  Halloween was her yearly mark; it had been on that day right after she’d won the grant that she’d had her epiphany.  She would use her newfound wealth to create an environment where she could study diseases, and possible cures, but on her own time.

She was occasionally sad that she’d never known a great love, never even had a glimpse of love as it sped by in other people’s lives.  Ruby’s mother had told her once that no man would ever look at her in his own personal way if she didn’t do something with herself, wear make-up, do her hair, and dress up.  But Ruby had no time for such frivolities, her devotion went to the research, and even though she knew she’d never share her findings, perhaps someone could do some good with her work after she had gone.

Having one of her frequent arguments with herself, she kept on working,

“Now, Ruby, you know that you aren’t doing the Lord’s work here.  You are flirting with the devil.”

“You be quiet, Ruby.  I know what I’m doing.  I’m helping people.”

“How are you helping people?  You sit in your basement and never show your work to anyone, and then once a year you destroy children.  How is that helping?”

“I don’t need to hear this from you, leave me alone.  I’ve only got a few more days to prepare for this year’s harvest.”

For 15 years, Ruby had been conducting a harvest of the local children.  She gazed over at her wall of photos, and looked upon all the small faces she’d had the pleasure of helping.  She could recall their names if need be, even if she never let herself think of them that intimately.

The alarm on her clock broke her reverie, and she realized it was time to go buy the candy for the trick-or-treaters.  She’d even considered buying full size bars this year to add in with her usual supply of caramel apples and suckers and popcorn balls and bubble gum.  She wondered how many of the children would come to her with the special sign that told her they wanted to help in her research.

 

 

The night of Halloween arrived inauspiciously, simply another day on the calendar as the season switched from fall to winter.  Ruby had the bowls set on the table by her door, one with popcorn balls laced with mind-altering drugs like LSD and Methamphetamine.  A second bowl had caramel apples, the sticky coating hiding a secret ingredient, heroin.  The third bowl had popcorn balls and caramel apples that were untreated and were plain candied treats.  Then she had full size candy bars, and suckers in a fourth bowl.  She was a scientist at heart, and could not stop experimenting.  The regular candy was a control group, and the drug-laced things were to study the effects of the addictions and to see if the children could fight off what they ingested.

The fifth bowl was where she kept her special-special treats, only for those children who showed up at her door wearing the sign that said they wanted to be chosen.  Nestled in this bowl were cereal treats, made of Rice Krispies, Fruit Loops, Count Chocula, and other various sugary goodness from the breakfast aisle.  Hidden in each treat was her life’s work.

This was where she had injected each gooey mixture with small amounts of the blood she had liberated from her office and then infected with differing diseases.  It was a hodgepodge, a grab bag of sickness.  She wasn’t even sure which held which anymore, all she knew was that the lucky ones would be getting AIDs, Malaria, Hepatitis, West Nile, and other goodies.  She would then track each child with little devices she had implanted in the ribbon of the packaging around these special treats.

Ruby had engineered the blood to first give the disease, but then to be able to generate the cure within its platelets.  She would use these results against the others she’d posted in the last decade and a half.  She hoped that eventually she would find a guaranteed cure for these diseases, and maybe even addictive personalities.  By doing so, she would finally feel that she had earned the genius grant and had helped the world in a positive way.  Losing some of the children over the years had been sorrowful, but to make peanut butter, some nuts must be cracked.

Ruby heard the doorbell, and she did a little jig in her kitchen.  Her favorite day of the year had begun, and now she could go about her crusade to try and save the world from itself.

 

 

“She’s started handing out the candy, sir.”

“Good, we need to find out which of those treats has the blood in it.”

“Yes sir, we’re on it.”

The FBI man in the van took his finger off the receiver in his ear and nodded to his partner standing outside the van before turning back to his surveillance.  The agent outside the van took his place by the sidewalk in front of Ruby’s house.  The kids who had been planted were coming back down towards the street now.  It had been easy to figure out the pattern of who got the blood treats; they had simply done an internet search of the most popular cartoon costumes that year, and used the second most.  It had been Ruby’s pattern for her entire terrible career.

The agency had been onto Ruby for 9 months, although it had taken them much longer to pin her down.  First, they had needed to triangulate the area where all the new ailments were cropping up.  Then they’d interviewed all the infected and their parents, and determined it had something to do with the Halloween candy.  They had analyzed blood samples and concluded that all infected were in the blood stream, and then they had easily discovered that within the trick or treat radius there was a woman who worked with blood for a living.

From there it had been easy to set up cameras in the ceiling and watch Ruby take 5 samples instead of 4, and keep one for herself.  The hard part had been convincing one of her neighbors to participate in the operation because they all thought she was a sweet woman who always gave the nicest homemade treats.  They had finally found a group of parents who were wary of her, and they agreed to take part in catching this evil harbinger of death.  They couldn’t wait to bust her and see what horrible things she’d been cooking up in her lab.

Standing by the sidewalk, Agent Brown took the first group of kids aside, and scanned their bags for traces of blood.  Finding none, he let them go on their way and reported the lack of findings to Agent Simpson in the van.

Simpson shook his hand in pain after he’d hit it against the wall of the van.  He was tired of this assignment; he wanted to bring this crazy lady in and move on to exciting jobs where he would get to flash his ability as an agent on the go, taking down drug runners and the like.  Brown on the other hand had been in the agency for a shorter time, and he was content in the boring assignments, they meant he would go home safe every night.  He had no desire for excitement, he only wanted to earn a desk job.  He sent in the next group of kids, hoping to get a strike this time.

 

 

Ruby was handing out good candy, no tainted stuff yet.  She couldn’t shake a feeling in her head that something was off this year.  Maybe it was the mass abundance of similar costumes; maybe she smelt something in the air that came in whenever she answered the doorbell.  She hated to lose a year of research, but maybe this year she should stave off her goals and let it lie.

She opened the door to a group of youngsters, none of whom had on the special sign and she began to relax.  Maybe it was only an influx at the start, perhaps it would even out, and she could still gain ground on her own personal mountain she was climbing.  The doorbell went off again and she was starting to feel that initial excitement all over again, there were lots of kids this year, must be coming from other neighborhoods.

 

 

Agent Brown had savvied up after a few failed attempts.  He’d realized that he was sending in too many of the special costumes and not enough of the regular ones.  He had sent in the next group of special kids a few minutes ago, and he was certain that the lady had lost her apprehension according to what the kids were saying about her.  He walked to the van and got a sip of coffee from his thermos, and was forced into a useless argument with Simpson.

“Brown, what the hell is taking so long?  I want to be home writing this report and getting my next assignment.”

“Easy, Simps, easy, we’re close to a break, no worries.”

“Whatever kid, just go back to standing around, and stop calling me Simps.”

Simpson slammed the door of the van in Brown’s face and Brown took a deep breath and turned back to the group of kids that were exiting the woman’s walk.  He scanned their bags, and his wand started beeping.  He almost missed it in his routine of moving the kids on, but then he stopped and went back over the bag.  There were traces of blood inside.  He thanked the kids and sent them on their way with the exception of the one who had the blood, and her parents.

He took them into the van, and they sat down to discuss further actions.  The agents would go in and take Ruby into custody, and then they would all go to the local police station and do some interrogating, the little girl would need to give a statement that she had indeed gotten the treats from Ruby’s house.  The parent would agree to display the consent form she’d signed to allow her daughter to be used in the investigation.

Then they would be able to go through Ruby’s house and finally put an end to her reign of blood and terror over the immune systems of the community.

The woman and her daughter left for the police station, accompanied by a uniformed officer that had been standing by, and the agents started up the walk to Ruby’s house.

 

 

Ruby walked to answer the doorbell, unaware that this would be the last time for her.  She didn’t recognize the men standing on her stoop, but she understood their official suits, and the way the younger one stood with his hand on a hip holster.  She understood that they were here for her, and that somehow they knew about her work.

She agreed to go with them quietly, but as they put her in the van, she tried to appeal to their human nature,

“Please, destroy my house.  Do not go into the basement lab, it’s only for me.  It won’t accept you.”

Simpson snorted at her, “Listen lady, we’ll go anywhere we want in that house of yours.  Your days of infecting little kids with diseases and drugs are over.”

Ruby hung her head, and hoped they wouldn’t go into the basement, hoped they would listen to her, but she knew that in the end they would do as they were told and then the cat would be out of the bag.  Her efforts to save the world would be its ruination; she knew no one else was ready for what she did in her lab.

At the station, all the steps were taken properly.  She was questioned, the statements were filed, and orders were given.  The agents headed back to the house with a team of blood experts and some local officers.  Brown had called his director and convinced him to send in a hazmat team based on the woman’s claims about her work.  He was told the station would send their blood team within an hour.

 

 

In the basement 2 hours later, the two agents and the blood experts were standing in front of a stone door with a keypad on it.  The woman had refused to tell them the code, but they had found it in a diary in an upstairs bedroom.  They had punched it in and the door had hissed as the hydraulics had given way.

With the door open, they could see into the lab, and once of the techs reached in to turn on the light.  A cloud of gas erupted onto the men, racing down their windpipes and into their noses, coating their lungs with some substance that was turning liquid on contact with their organs.  The men dropped to their knees and were unable to stop hacking and coughing out bloody phlegm.  One man stumbled into the lab, and he collapsed into the case that held all of Ruby’s samples and most of her work.  The vials crashed to the floor and spilled their contents together.

They could not breathe, and one by one, they expired trying to fight through the gases.  The blood expert’s eyes bulged out of his head and eventually burst from the pressure within, sending the viscous substance inside all over the floor in front of him.  Simpson, for some reason, was banging his head on the stone wall, screaming repeatedly about needing to release the pressure in his head.  The force behind his blows cracked his head open and he still went on beating.  His body was dead before the reflexes stopped, his brain oozing out in little chunks of gray matter.

Brown was the last one to die, and his final thought was that he wished they had listened to Ruby.  Long furrows on his face trailed blood and skin stretching to his fingernails where he had raked them across his face.  In one hand, he held his tongue, ripped out and dripping saliva and blood onto the floor.  He frowned and tried to un-jumble his thoughts, but his brain gave way before he could think straight.

 

 

All through that night and the next day, a cloud escaped from Ruby’s house through cracks under the doors and around the windows.  It attached to people walking by, adult and child, causing them to die the same way as the men had.

In the basement, the men who had died started to move.  Their dead limbs twitching and their mouths making small slurping sounds.  They struggled to their feet, bumped into one another and ran into the walls in their attempts to get out of the house.  Their minds had turned from finely tuned crime detecting machines to mush that was only interested in the hunger that now coursed through the not alive forms.

Their dead minds were focused on two things, their hunger and Ruby.  They were hungry to fill the void life had left in them, needed to satiate themselves with life from other people.  Brown and Simpson were stumbling side by side towards the stairs in their attempts to get up to the main floor and then to the outside.  The others followed them as if parts of a long bug controlled by the front legs.  They all were desperate to reach Ruby, driven by mindless need to free her.

 

 

In her cell, Ruby could hear the police officers talking about the stranger occurrences on her street, and she knew the time had come finally for the eradication of the people who would not let her do what she felt was God’s will.  Fifteen years of experiments had been unleashed upon a population that was not ready for what she had done.  She knew the drones would get to her soon, and she would be free to do her work again in another location.  She only hoped it wouldn’t take as long as this time, age was creeping up on her.  And she hoped that she could do away with the drones easier than the last time.  Getting rid of the head constabulary had been the hardest part.  Now she would have to dispose of more officials and then try and figure out a new area to set up in.

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