"It's definitely infected," the man said, cradling his arm to his chest. He traced the edges of the bite mark with his fingers, scowling at the briefcase by his feet. "Damn zombies."
Dr Graves coughed politely so that he didn't have to respond. He adjusted his spectacles and stared at the single piece of paper on his desk, wishing there were more so that he could flip through them professionally. It's what doctors were good at: flipping through paper.
"Well, Mr James-"
"Oh, call me Eli. No point in formality if I'm going to die soon, huh?"
"Eli, then," Dr Graves said with a forced smile. He should never have gone into public healthcare; the public was insane. "Could you start at the beginning? How did you get bitten?"
"It's a long story."
"Well, I'm listening."
"A very long story."
"Mr Ja-Eli-if you don't tell me what happened, I can't treat you."
"That's the thing," James replied sadly. "You can't. I looked online: there's no cure for zombification. I just figured...." He sighed. "I was afraid they wouldn't let me into church like this, so I thought I'd get my last rites from you instead. Priest, doctor, it's all the same, right?"
Dr Graves tried to rub away the growing headache, but it didn't work. Still, better the crazy that you know than the next in line in the waiting room. If he dragged it out long enough, he could skip out for a long lunch afterwards and let someone else deal with the rest of the patients.
"Just tell me what happened," he said.
Mr James stood up and began pacing, his shoulders hunched and his head tilted to the ground as if he could not quite confront the world face-on. "Where to begin," he muttered. "Where do books begin? That's right: with a prologue. Or a preface. One of those, anyway." He stopped pacing, turned to face Dr Graves.
"Consider this a preface," he said. "I've been preparing for the zombie apocalypse for ten years now. Oh, people think I'm crazy, that it'll never happen, but I've always known the day would come when the undead would walk the earth, plundering and pillaging. It wasn't a question of if, it was a question of when.
"Over the years I've converted my attic into a safe house. It has steel walls, a built-in toilet and kitchen, a greenhouse section, everything. See, zombies can't climb stairs, so the attic is the safest place. Why anyone would make a basement safe house is beyond me." James paused, rubbing his face tiredly. "Not that it matters anymore."
"The bite, Mr Ja-Eli?"
"I'm getting to that." He picked up his briefcase from the floor and placed it on the desk. "See, the problem with my preparations is that I always planned on being a survivor. If anything, I'd go down fighting; I never planned on being the first case." He tapped his fingers against the briefcase. "In here is irrefutable proof that the zombie apocalypse has begun. I believe the virus is affecting animals first, and that soon it'll become an uncontrollable pandemic."
Dr Graves coughed softly to cover up the sound of his grumbling stomach. Only a few more minutes and then he could leave for lunch. "So," he said, feigning interest, "you were bitten by an animal?"
"Not any animal. A cat. A zombie cat."
"A zombie... cat?" Dr Graves adjusted his spectacles. "Are you sure the cat doesn't simply have rabies?"
"Oh no, not this cat. It was the mangiest thing I'd ever seen. A white cat, so dirty you'd think it was brown, saliva constantly dripping from its wide-open mouth, walking stiff-legged through the alleyway, attacking everything in sight...."
"That... that sounds like rabies."
"It was a zombie cat, I'm telling you. I knew no one would believe me, so when it bit me, I grabbed a rock and hit its head so hard it passed out. So I stuffed it into my briefcase-"
"This briefcase?" Dr Graves interjected, pointing at the one on his desk.
"The cat's in your briefcase," Dr Graves said thoughtfully. Then: "Is it dead?"
"Could be dead, could be alive. Maybe it's both; hard to tell without looking inside." James fiddled with the clasps, all of sudden hopeful. "Do you want to look at it? Give your professional opinion?"
"Let me examine your bite, first," Dr Graves replied, gesturing to the examining table. He stood up and pulled on a pair of gloves, then cleaned James' arm with antiseptic to properly examine the inflammation. Within moments he was satisfied with his diagnosis.
Dr Graves walked over to the supply cupboard. "I'm going to give you a tetanus shot, to be on the safe side." He came back with the syringe, gently tapping on the glass.
James winced as the needle went in, but didn't say a word. Instead, as soon as the injection was over, he began unfastening the briefcase. He opened the case slowly, laying it out in the very middle of the examining table, careful not to touch the contents.
"Hm," said Dr Graves. The cat was curled up into a ball, just small enough to fit inside the case. Its fur was matted with mud and dirt, but streaks of white showed through. The back of its head was half-crushed, no doubt from James' heavy-handed rock throwing.
Graves kept on his gloves and prodded the cat's ribs. Weak heartbeat. Slow breathing. It was still alive, although it was in a coma. In a few hours it would die.
"Well?" said James.
Graves shrugged. "I'm not a veterinarian, but it's probably rabies."
"I should have known you wouldn't believe me," James pouted. "No one believes in zombies."
"Oh, I believe in zombies, Mr James." Dr Graves walked back to the supply cupboard and picked up a scalpel. "Just not zombie cats. The disease only affects humans, after all."
"The... the disease? You mean, it exists already?" James frowned as Dr Graves moved the cat's head into a more accessible position. "Hey, what are you doing?"
"I'm going to eat the cat's brain," he responded matter-of-factly. "It's about time for my lunch break, after all."
The Moral: Always bring a snack in case your doctor is hungry.
Thanks to A.M. Harte for today's dinner time entertainment!