Doctor Moore took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes again. The last handful of aspirin hadn't taken effect yet, and the glare from the three monitors was piercing her throbbing headache with an acute pain she felt sharply behind her right eye. The sterile white paint of the cell walls somehow looked brighter through the security cameras. A muted cacophony of intermittent beeps, digital tones and industrial machinery laced through the background of the observation chamber. SCP-480 required intensive monitoring and staff attention at all times, but what really made these shifts hard was that there was never anything visible in 480's holding cell. The mixture of fear and intense boredom was stultifying. Dr. Moore shook her head and tried in vain to regain her lost focus.
"Moore. I need the infrared spectrography variance," wheezed Dr. Hirsch.
Dr. Moore started. Where were the numbers? Why couldn't she remember which monitor?
"Uh, just a second, sir."
Dr. Hirsch fumbled in his labcoat for a package of Camels. The ting of a Zippo was somehow audible through the background noise. He took a long drag on his cigarette, and exhaled a stream of smoke that doubled as a sigh. "C'mon Moore. The breach wasn't even three weeks ago. Infrared. What is it?"
Squinting at the middle screen, Dr. Moore carefully moved her finger along screens of various scrolling data. At last. "Five seven three sigma eighteen point three. Don't smoke those in here, they're bad for the equipment and they give me a headache."
Dr. Hirsch consulted his tablet and punched in a few numbers. "We're in quite a lot of trouble if a little smoke can take down a Class Two rad-hardened EMP-shielded workstation, Moore. And you've got headaches because you sleep two hours a night. I told you to take an extra month off."
"There's too much work, sir."
Dr. Hirsch punched more numbers into the tablet. "Yeah, yeah there is. But you're not doing me any favors like this, Ellen. Or yourself. I've tried asking nicely, but I'm ordering you, as your superior, to take some damn time off. Effective immediately."
Dr. Moore stood up quickly from her chair. "But I've just gotten back! SCP-480 is a unique and dangerous-"
"Yes, it is what it is, Doctor," said Dr. Hirsch, "and you're an important part of keeping it here. But as you yourself know, we need everyone at one hundred percent. I need you to go home, Ellen. Take care of your mom. Take care of yourself. And I don't want to see you back here until you've had a full week of eight hours a night."
"No. No arguments. We've got Ramirez from Site-23 to help us cover for now. You're an integral part of containment, Doctor, and I need you at your best."
Dr. Moore felt the initial anger drain away. Replacing it was the realization that Dr. Hirsch was correct, followed by a wave of exhaustion that she could no longer hold at bay.
She logged her ID out of the terminal, gathered her personal effects, and headed to the antechamber. As the door closed behind her, Dr. Hirsch called after her.
"Hey. Ellen. Halloween tonight," he said. He mimicked a steering wheel with his hands, the cigarette dangling from his mouth. "Watch out for trick-or-treaters."
Dr. Moore managed a weary smile and a wave goodbye, and headed into the security checkpoint. The doors closed behind her. She hung up her labcoat, and unbuttoned the top button of her blouse. She placed the leads of the wall-mounted ECG monitor on her chest, and waited expectantly by a speaker mounted next to the monitor. The familiar automated voice soon greeted her.
"Initiating memetic containment protocols. Please state the approved passcode."
Dr. Moore cleared her throat and spoke into a small microphone next to the ECG monitor. "At no point during the last shift has SCP-480 made contact with me."
Seconds passed. Dr. Moore had begun to stand up to head out, but the doors remained closed. The automated voice spoke.
"Vital signs incorrect. Please state the approved passcode."
Dr. Moore shrugged. She resolved to call Security in to calibrate the ECG when she returned. She repeated the passcode into the microphone. This time, the automatic security doors opened. She removed the leads, and headed outside the facility, into the fading sunlight of the late afternoon.
She sat in her car, parked in the driveway and watching the window above the garage. It was dark enough now that the light in the window made the room clearly visible from the outside. The light shone the brighter for the lack of a working streetlight, out of commission for two months now, she noted to herself ruefully. To Dr. Moore, rural living meant hour-long commutes and waiting interminably for maintenance to such niceties of civilization as paved roads and electricity. She understood why Site-415 had to be where it was, but cursed her lot in the countryside once more. Her head was swimming. Why had she tried to go back so soon? Alan was right. Tired researchers meant casualties in her line of work. Or worse.
The light in the window suddenly blinked out. Dr. Moore heaved herself out of her car and finally made her way inside her house.
"She spent most of the day sleeping, so no changes there." The nurse put on her coat as Dr. Moore stepped in through the front door. "Dosage on her pain meds is steady. I changed her sheets and cleaned everything out. Not much improvement, but it's not getting any worse."
Dr. Moore nodded as she slumped in a chair in the kitchen. "Thanks Juana. Did…did…" She gestured futilely towards the staircase as she leaned her forehead against her hand, searching for words.
"Your mother?" Juana raised an eyebrow slightly.
"Yeah. Mom. Did she say anything while I was out?"
The nurse shook her head. "Nothing I could make out, anyhow. You know the doctors, though. They say she's lucky to be breathing unassisted after what happened."
"Yeah. Lucky." Dr. Moore took off her own coat. "Definitely. Thanks again, Juana. I think I might be taking some more time off. So why don't we say Tuesday next time."
Dr. Moore lay her head down on the table. She turned to look over to the nurse, and noticed that she was mouthing something. Puzzled, she sat up. Juana finished mouthing whatever it was she was pretending to be saying, then headed for the front door. Had she been speaking? The door closed, and the familiar sound seemed too loud to Dr. Moore. Too many echoes. She shook her head and headed upstairs to her mother's room.
Most of the room was taken up now with IV drips, heart monitors, a hospital bed and assorted medical equipment, displacing the desk and bookshelves of Dr. Moore's former study. A small, wizened form slept in the midst of a nest of tubes and wires. With the exception of a tangled mass of white hair on the pillow and a sallow, wrinkled arm covered in bruises hanging from the side, one may have easily overlooked that a person occupied this space. Dr. Moore stood in the doorway.
"So." She sighed. "Hi mom."
The arm shifted slightly, rustling a small portion of the tubes and wires.
"Right then. I'm going to be across the hall-"
She was interrupted by a gurgling, wheezing sound from the hospital bed. The low, guttural sound was reminiscent of labored breathing, except it seemed much too slow to be regular breathing. Dr. Moore winced. Her mother would make this sound for hours on end sometimes. Usually in the middle of the night. The doctors were unsure whether it was voluntary, just as they were unsure how much higher brain activity was still occurring. There was nothing for it except to wait. Nothing for any of it except to wait. She stepped out of the room, deciding to wait a little while before a futile attempt at sleep.
A knocking at the door woke her up from the kitchen table. She had fallen asleep onto the newspaper. Groggily, Dr. Moore looked at the wall clock - 8:30 pm. Who could be knocking at the door now? She vaguely remembered that it was Halloween, but no children ever came out as far as her house; the nearest neighbor was a quarter-mile away. The knock came again, three light but insistent raps. Dr. Moore looked through the peephole in the door. There was only darkness.
She kept looking through the glass, straining to see something before opening to the door.
Rap. Rap. Rap.
Dr. Moore jumped backwards instantly as something pale and white obscured her vision of the peephole, and the knocking continued. Her heart pounding, she backed her way into the kitchen, feeling behind her for the knife block on the counter as she was moving, never taking her eyes off the door. Something was not right here. Not right at all.
Rap. Rap. Rap.
The knocking continued. Again, it was soft, but clearly someone was knocking on the door. Dr. Moore never had visitors other than her mother and Juana, and no one had ever bothered to come looking for candy on Halloween in the eight years she'd lived there. Surely whoever this was would get the hint.
Rap. Rap. Rap.
This was going on too long. Something was terribly wrong. Dr. Moore drew the largest chef's knife out of the block. She waited for the knocking to continue.
Two minutes passed, her pulse pounding in her temples and in her grip on the knife. Then another two minutes. Nothing. Dr. Moore started to move, slowly, back towards the front door.
An impact like a sledgehammer shook the entire house, and the door rattled on its hinges. A picture down the hall fell off the wall and crashed with the sound of breaking glass. Dr. Moore thought she had screamed, but couldn't hear herself over the noise of the impact. From upstairs, her mother's labored breathing started in earnest. She didn't dare to look through the peephole now.
The door was starting to give way now. Plates fell from cupboards and lamps tipped over. Dr. Moore could only see the knife in her hand through her terror-narrowed tunnel vision. Phone. She must reach the phone. They'd never arrive in time. She needed the phone.
The gurgling from upstairs was now a drawn out, hitching rattle, droning without pause. Dr. Moore ran for the phone in the living room.
The door was flung open now. She heard it slam into the hall closet. The droning of her dying mother filled her ears. She reached for the phone frantically. As she touched the receiver, darkness washed over her.
"Zanitz, get in here! Hurry, now! Stabilize! Stabilize, god damn it! I need all personnel on-"
A knocking at the door woke her up from the kitchen table. She had fallen asleep onto her book. She looked at the cover. "Secure and Protected Homes: A Locksmith's Guide," by Dennis Rader. She hadn't remembered starting to read this one.
Groggily, Dr. Moore looked at the wall clock - 9:48 pm. Who could be knocking at the door now? She vaguely remembered that it was Halloween, but no children ever came out as far as her house; the nearest neighbor was a half-mile away. The sound came again. Three slow, heavy knocks. Dr. Moore looked through the peephole in the door. A small, disheveled woman stood on her doorstep. Her face was obscured by a white mass of hair. Dr. Moore squinted; was she wearing a hospital gown?
Hesitantly, she opened the door. An elderly woman stood, her back to Dr. Moore. Despite the cold, she was indeed dressed in no more than a hospital gown.
The doctor paused. It couldn't be. "…hello?"
The old woman stood there, her back still to the doctor. She stood perfectly still.
No possible way. She was upstairs, she couldn't have moved from her bed without help, let alone downstairs and outside. But there was no mistaking the wiry white hair. Dr. Moore put her hand on the old woman's shoulder. The woman instantly crumpled to the ground in a heap. As the old woman hit the ground, Dr. Moore could hear several of her bones snapping, and a hollow, wet ripping sound. The woman's hip had been bent at an impossible angle, and she lay in an inexplicably mangled state. Dr. Moore leapt back in horror, the blood instantly drained from her face.
The familiar, hitching gurgling started to come from upstairs. How was this possible? Who was this at the door?
The broken form at the doorstep started to twitch. Muffled grinding and splintering sounds came from the old stranger's corpse as broken limbs started to move again. The overwhelming smell of freshly butchered meat hit Dr. Moore, though there was no blood visible from the strange old woman. The corpse's head suddenly snapped upwards. Though its face was still obscured, Dr. Moore knew it was staring straight at her.
"Hsssssshh. HUUUUURRRRK. Hsssssssshh."
Her mother's persistent death rattle now greeted her face to face. The corpse slowly rose, pulled upwards by an unseen force, its twisted and broken legs now barely brushing the ground as it came eye level to Dr. Moore.
Dr. Moore spun around at the sound behind her. Her mother's face had been mangled beyond recognition. The only recognizable feature was the mouth.
The doctor opened her mouth to scream, but no air could escape the grasp around her throat as an unseen pair of hands choked her from behind. Unconsciousness immediately followed.
"Nonessential personnel are out of the sub-wing. It looks like we've got the source of the breach, doctor."
"Jesus. Check for vitals, but be careful."
A knocking sound woke her up from the kitchen table. She had fallen asleep on top of a large sheaf of papers. Confused, she picked up the first page. The ink was smeared from where her face had come to rest. The first line was hard to read. The second paragraph started with "mind the infrared settings." She remembered saying that earlier today. She looked closer. The entire paragraph was a conversation she had had this morning with Technician Wei. It was written in her own handwriting. She didn't remember writing this down at all.
Dr. Moore looked at the wall clock - 11:58 pm. How had she slept so long?
The knocking started again. Someone was knocking on the glass coffee table in the living room. Her stomach dropped and a chill seized her extremities. The breath stopped in her chest. She slowly approached the living room.
The room was dark, but the children were easy to make out in their crude white sheets. Somehow, three kids in stereotypical ghost costumes had gotten into her house. Some of the fear faded, as she now remembered that it was Halloween, but confusion set in; no children ever came out as far as her house for Halloween; the nearest neighbor was at least two miles away. And why were they in her house?
"If this is your idea of a prank, kids, it isn't funny. I'm going to need parents' phone numbers right-"
The three diminutive, costumed figures traveled quickly to her. She didn't see any legs move, nor did she understand how they moved so fast. Two of the children slammed into Dr. Moore, knocking her off her feet and onto the ground. The third moved next to her head. A withered, gnarled arm reached out of its costume's eyehole and seized her by the jaw. Up close, she saw spotted, red stains starting to show through the immaculate, bright white of the costume sheets.
One of the kids that had knocked her down now lept on top of her midsection. Bony, wrinkled legs now protruded from the bottom of its costume, wrapping around her and pinning her to the floor with a tremendous weight that could not have possibly belonged to the wasted body that these legs must have been supporting. Rivulets of blood started to run down its thighs, soaking into Dr. Moore's shirt.
Her hands still free, Dr. Moore struggled desperately to pry loose the grip on her jaw, but to no avail. The hand was locked onto her, its strength overpowering.
The last costumed figure slowly hovered into her view. It appeared to bend down and look into her eyes, though she couldn't see anything through the blackness of the costume's eyeholes. Another withered arm reached out from under the sheet, holding a pair of pliers. The wrinkled fingers slowly worked the pliers open and closed, moving them slowly towards Dr. Moore's face. As the hand came closer, a wheezing came from whoever was under the sheet.
The costumed child forced the pliers into Dr. Moore's mouth.
"HUUUUUUUURRRKKKKK. Hssssssssshhhhh. HUUUUUUUUURRRRRK."
As several of her incisors were violently twisted from her lower jaw, Dr. Moore tried to scream, but the blood quickly filled her mouth. She couldn't breathe. She felt several more teeth from her upper jaw being wrenched free. There was nothing but pain and the taste of copper. Her mind rebelled, and she lost consciousness.
"So you're saying we have to keep her like this?"
"Dr. Hirsch. Alan. You know the protocols. She did too. She helped write them."
"Do you have any idea what's happening to her right now? In there?"
"The last host bought us eighteen months of unbroken containment for 480. You of all people know what that's worth, Alan."
"You cannot do this! No one-"
"Site Director's orders. Your euthanization request is denied. Dr. Hirsch. And that's the end of it."
A knocking sound woke her up from the kitchen table. She had fallen asleep on top of a manila envelope.
Had she imagined the knocking? She looked at the envelope that had been under her face. "For Ellen," labeled on the front in typeface. She didn't remember taking this home with her.
She opened the envelope. As she shook the contents out onto the table, a pile of photographs came tumbling out, scattering onto the table and the floor.
Groggily, Dr. Moore looked at the wall clock - 1:05 am. She had the vague notion that she had slept through Halloween. She felt a small amount of guilt about not being able to greet anyone at the door, but then remembered that she never had any trick-or-treaters. Still, she pitied any children who may have come out as far as her house, only to be turned away.
She picked up a photograph from the table. Instantly, she recognized her own face. What was she wearing here? Why didn't she remember taking this picture? And why was she making that hideous expression?
Dr. Moore picked up another photograph. It was another picture of herself. She was in a hospital bed, hooked up to what looked like dozens of machines. Men in labcoats were visible on either side of her. Who were these people? Why couldn't she remember taking these pictures?
As she reached for another photograph, the pile of pictures jumped as something knocked three times, in rapid succession, from under the opposite end of the table.