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The Panchira Perversion

Chapter One: Induction

By Davi MaiPublished 16 days ago Updated 16 days ago 17 min read
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Chapter One: Induction

On the eve of the zombie apocalypse, Charlotte Robinson woke with a hangover and a nervous disposition. The hangover was courtesy of two bottles of chardonnay, enjoyed alone. The nerves were because today was the first day of her new job. Her first "proper" job. One that used her accounting degree in a financial role, not her tray-balancing skills in a cafe. Being hungover and nervous about your first day is bad enough. But as she sat on the edge of the bed and dug numb knuckles into red eyes, Charlotte remembered that last night she'd also broken up with Daniel. The two-timing bastard. So the one bottle of celebratory wine was joined by a second to drown her sorrows.

In the shower, she practised one of her calming visualisation exercises. She imagined Daniel to be a coating of thick grime slathered over her body from head to toe. He was even in her hair. Dirty grey clumps of muck that matted the blonde strands and took repeated applications of shampoo to dislodge. From her scalp to her feet, she cleansed herself of Daniel. Purged him from every inch of her skin and watched him swirl down the drain.

The tiny extractor fan lost its battle against the clouds of steam billowing from the shower cubicle. The vapour enveloped Charlotte in a warm, wet hug. She wrote to herself in the condensation on the glass door. Another tradition since her teens, her affirmations. In cursive script, small enough to fit what she wanted to say, each line bleeding water into the one below…

I don't need Daniel.

I don't want Daniel.

I don't love Daniel.

She smiled, remembering the old Meatloaf song, except for her the lyrics became "None out of three ain't bad".

Under those three lines, she wrote…

I'm going to be great at my new job.

and…

Today is a new start.

Closing her eyes and lifting her face into the full force of the shower, she repeated those five affirmations and sighed with relief.

She left the bathroom, purified in body and soul, and continued her positive reflections while dressing and making coffee. She had a new full-time job that used her qualification. That wasn't bad. She'd only had to suffer those two years of waitressing. She was free of that prick, Daniel. A lucky escape. And she rented her own apartment. Albeit small, and a little too far from the city, it was still hers. Her life was on track.

But within a matter of hours, Charlotte's life would derail in spectacular fashion.

—-

Traffic was heavy. Especially given that it was noon, and everyone should either be at work or in school. Charlotte had allowed herself an hour to drive the thirty minutes to the other side of town. Partly because of her nerves and keenness to arrive early. And partly because she hated using the motorway bypass. The turbulence from passing trucks meant she had to fight the steering wheel to keep her little Corolla on course.

The Institute, as locals called it, sat an acceptable distance from the residential outskirts of the city. Acceptable being around ten miles. The reason for that distance lay in its full name "The Johann Reil Institute for Research and Treatment of Behavioural Disorders." Most locals would have preferred those ten miles to be a hundred.

When preparing for her interview last month, Charlotte had researched the place. Dr Johann Reill, long since dead, had been the original academic to coin the phrase "psychiatry". Although the word in old Greek meant "medical treatment of the soul." So she wasn't sure why this Reill person got the credit. Perhaps he was the first English-speaking doctor to put it into practice. As diligent as she was, she skipped reading the entire history of psychiatry. This facility no longer offered treatment, not since the scandals around electro-therapy. Nowadays, its purpose seemed limited to accommodating the afflicted.

The Institute received annual government funding of nine million dollars. A budget that she, as Finance Officer, would be responsible for. It sure beat helping Fred at the cafe balance his till receipts.

A siren drowned out the wailing of Oasis on the car's radio. An ambulance weaved through the stalled traffic, heading in the opposite direction to Charlotte. Another soon followed, and a police car.

Must be a big accident back in town, she thought.

The institue loomed large over her as she parked the car, checked her clothes and makeup and then ventured up the sweeping stone stairs. With nobody at reception, she ventured further inside and knocked on a door labelled “Warden”. She heard a raspy “Come in”.

Entering the office with an air of well-rehearsed confidence, Charlotte noticed the mahogany desk first. It gleamed with the same autumnal copper and deep carmine of the trees beyond the window. So shiny was the polished wood that she fancied it would serve as a mirror. Had the desk been unoccupied, she'd have leaned closer to adjust her blouse in its reflection. Instead, she stood by the door, achieving that elusive balance between self assuredness and humility, and waited for the desk's occupant to notice her.

The scratching of his pencil did little to relieve the awkward silence. He seemed to scribble the same sentence meticulously, again and again, into a little dog-eared notebook. He swept each full page over with a flourish and began once more from the top. The repeated rhythm of the writing threatened to dull Charlotte into a mid-afternoon trance. She admonished herself for losing concentration and cleared her throat in the most subtle, least aggressive tone she could muster.

The scribbler finally raised his head from the notebook. His greasy black hair, slicked back from a gaunt face, reminded Charlotte of the Count from Sesame Street. He reclined and stretched with a crack of vertebrae, lacing the fingers of both hands behind his head. The executive leather chair creaked and threatened to adopt a new centre of gravity. Charlotte imagined it tipping him upside down, head first, backwards through the window pane. His thin lips curved into a somewhat maniacal grin, as if he'd shared her mischievous thought and relished it.

He rocked the chair forward and spoke with a weasel's voice that matched the face, the hair, the ratty notebook, and the old business suit, two sizes too big.

"Charlotte Robinson, right?" The weasel wheezed.

"Yes, I'm here for my induction." She cringed. It was obvious why she was here. The man knew her name already. A simple "Yes, nice to meet you." would have sufficed.

"Excellent. I'm the warden." he said this with a strange hint of glee and tapped his nameplate. It announced "Gerald Collins - Warden", in shiny brass letters on wood. Charlotte felt some relief that she wasn't the only one stating the obvious. She noticed he'd chewed his fingernails down to the quick and supposed that managing a psychiatric facility would be a stressful job.

The search for a chair proved fruitless. Apart from Gerald's desk, the office held only a tall grey filing cabinet and a large inbuilt cupboard. Perhaps this was some kind of test, to see how she'd behave in an awkward situation. What was the right thing to do? Sit cross-legged on the floor? There was no way this skirt would allow that. Should she put a bum cheek on the corner of the desk like some secretary from the sixties?

Mr Collins seemed as unsure of protocols. He turned to look outside.

"Beautiful view, isn't it, dear?"

The question, despite the creepy inclusion of ‘dear’, gave Charlotte an excuse to move and stand at the window. He wasn't wrong. Autumn loved this part of the country. September sunlight ignited golden fires amongst the trees beyond an expansive emerald lawn.

"Yes, it is."

He swiveled his chair to look at her again. Rather than make eye contact, Charlotte kept her gaze fixed on the vista outside. If she made eye contact with this strange man at such close quarters it might verify the lechery hinted by his voice. And that would shatter her confident demeanor. She'd give a fumbling excuse and flee. She pictured herself like the virginal prey in a schlock horror film, dashing across that wide lawn and scrabbling with the keys in her car's ignition. While the creepy warden stared out at her from his office.

"What colour is that blouse of yours, Charlotte?" He enquired matter-of-factly, as if asking the time.

She couldn't help but look down. "I don't know, cream?"

He grunted. "Really? Cream is so… bland. I'd wager that if we took a peek at the label, it would reveal a more elegant description. Champagne, perhaps?," He paused and smiled with self-satisfaction. "Yes. Champagne is perfect."

'f I have to run across that grass, I'd better ditch these heels.'

"And that skirt is midnight blue? Is it not?" He blathered on. "The darkest of midnights. A midnight at sea perhaps, with the moon hidden behind gathering storm clouds."

"Shouldn't we start my induction?" She ventured, taking a step back.

"Yes, of course." He sighed. "Are you aware that this facility houses the most deranged psychopaths, sexual predators, serial killers, and all manner of other freaks?"

Charlotte thought that was a rather unprofessional way to describe the patients. When she'd researched her new employer, the company described them as "clients". With every sentence he uttered, she liked this Warden less.

"Well, yes, but I imagine you have them locked up. And my role as Finance Officer doesn't involve any contact with the patients?"

This elicited no acknowledgement. The man was now looking at her feet.

"I see your shoes match your skirt. Very nice." He stood and looked her right in the eyes. "Tell me, what else are you wearing that matches?"

Charlotte's face flushed with indignation. But before she could voice a protest, three things happened.

An ear-piercing alarm sounded throughout the building.

A security guard burst through the office door.

And the warden threw Charlotte across the desk.

Caught by surprise, she struggled underneath his weight, an arm pinning her chest. His other hand scrabbled at her legs in a frenzy, clawing at the hem of her skirt. She screamed and writhed, trying desperately to knee him in the groin as he shoved her skirt up to her hips.

The guard fired at Charlotte's assailant. Two electrified prongs fizzed through the air and stabbed into his left buttock. He shrieked in pain as electric spasms jolted through his frame. He looked up at her as he shuddered to the floor and, despite foaming at the mouth, uttered, "Yes, they're champagne too, good girl!"

Charlotte backed up against the office wall.

The guard tapped a radio mic on his chest and shouted above the wailing siren. "Jimmy, I've got Tom. Zapped the little prick." He looked at Charlotte. "Got a civvy lady here, too. Ruffled, but otherwise…. you okay Miss?"

Charlotte nodded, regaining some composure. She realised her skirt was still bunched around her waist and she pushed it back below her knees.

The guard smiled as he twisted taser prongs from a quivering backside. "Excuse me while I deal with Tom here. I'll come check on you soon, don't worry." He lifted Tom by his loose collar and shoved him out of the office and down the corridor. "That's a week of isolation for you, Tommy boy." He said as they left. "I hope she was worth it." Tom apparently thought she was, as he began singing…

"Where were you while we were getting high? In a champagne supernova in the skyyyy…"

Charlotte, flustered but wanting to assert some pride, shouted after him, "They're not champagne, they're cream!"

The alarm stopped wailing. A merciful but eerie silence descended on the scene. The sun had settled lower, now hidden by trees but for the occasional shaft of sparkling orange slicing across the grass.

Straightening her clothes and attempting to flatten any creases, part of her wanted to leave. In fact, most of her wanted to leave. To get in her car and drive home without looking back. Instead, she took stock. As she had that morning in the shower.

Yes, she'd been assaulted. There was no other word for it. Something like that had never happened to her. Up till now, she'd suffered only mild harassment, crude comments, and leering looks. The type of crap that most young women tolerated. But what happened here was physical and shocking. Her pulse and respiration were still too fast. Adrenaline had pumped through her body in its flight or fight moment, and she was yet to come down from the high.

But she was alive and unhurt and had accounted for herself admirably. Would she have been able to fight Tom off if the guard hadn't arrived? It was a question that might bug her for a while. But right now, she reckoned she'd have found his crotch with her knee, or scratched his eyes out. Something. And also, she wasn't a blubbering mess. Wasn't curled up in a corner sobbing.

She’d stay and wait for the guard.

A search of the desk turned up the usual accessories piled into the top drawer. A calendar, phone, pens and other miscellany. The top was swept clean. To prepare for the assault, no doubt. Except for the name plaque, now on the floor. And next to it, the crumpled notebook.

She picked it up, curious to see what the creep had been scribbling when she arrived. In neat longhand, he'd filled the pages with "Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue." She thought they might be the lyrics to an old song, but couldn't quite remember.

Of her employer, the real warden, there was no sign.

The security guard returned." That's him locked up for another week." He sighed. "I'm surprised you didn't realise he wasn’t the warden.”

"Well, I noticed he was odd." She allowed herself to sound offended. "But what was I supposed to think? That he was obviously a psychopath, not the warden? Aren't you victim blaming?"

His expression softened. "Forgive me. That must have been frightening. We get used to it, you see. If it's not Peeping Tom stripping people, it's Alice biting them. Anyway, my name's Steve."

He held out a hand and smiled wider. Charlotte had felt enough awkwardness for one day, so she didn’t leave him hanging. She shook it and tried to smile back.

"Thanks for coming to my aid. Any idea where the real warden is? I'm supposed to start work today as your Finance Officer."

Steve frowned. "Ah, I see. Well, he didn't come in this morning. And I can't reach him." His frown deepened. "Also, there's something strange going on in town."

"Strange? Like what?"

"Some kinda gas leak or biohazard. Come on down to the dayroom while you wait. We'll check if it's still on the TV."

Charlotte liked this Steve guy. He had a soothing vibe about him. Or maybe he was simply normal, and it was the contrast with Peeping Tom she enjoyed.

"I hope it’s still empty, but stay behind me if there's anyone in there, ok?"

"You don't need to tell me that twice!" she laughed nervously as they left the office.

She followed him further into the facility. A corridor clad in flaky institutional-green paint led to the dayroom, and Steve peered through murky glass panels in the double doors.

"Ok, there's only Alice in there. You'll be fine. Don't get too close and don't encourage any flirting."

"Wait, what is Alice's…hmm… disorder?"

"Oh, she's a vampire." Steve smiled and pushed the doors open before Charlotte could object.

Worn sofas and chairs of various types were scattered haphazardly, but most of them were facing an old television in the far corner.

A red-headed girl in grey track pants and tee-shirt with one leg draped over a chair's arm, turned to face them. Alice.

"Steven." she spoke in soft, dulcet tones. "How many times do I have to tell you, the clinical term for vampirism is Renfield's Syndrome? " A freckled smile lifted her upper lip to reveal small, but gleaming, white fangs.

Alice stood and padded, barefoot, toward them. Her movements were precise. Smooth. Charlotte wondered if the young lady always moved like she was prowling a catwalk.

Steve stepped between them. His hand hovered over the taser's holster.

"Aw Steven, don't get all excited." Alice purred. "I only wanted a closer look at your latest girlfriend. She dresses well, doesn't she?"

"That’s because she's a new member of staff, so watch yourself or she'll have to carry a taser like mine. Now, what's on the news? Any updates on that emergency?"

"Yep." Alice kept her eyes locked on Charlotte. "They're calling it a bio-hazard now. Infectious," she said calmy, "We're all going to die."

Steve walked over to the TV and turned up its volume. Charlotte stuck close to him, wary of the only vampire she'd ever met. Alice lowered herself back into her chair.

On screen, a harried news reporter polished his glasses as if he couldn't believe what he was reading from his sheet of paper. He returned the glasses to his face and looked back into the camera, sweat glowing on his bald head.

"We're receiving reports of mass hysteria in the central city. And, this is unverified, but people report that victims of fatal, violent attacks are recovering and attacking others."

Alice had taken her gaze off Charlotte and was examining her own polished nails. She smiled. Her lip exposing those white fangs again.

"See. It's the Zombie apocalypse. We ARE all going to die, but we're going to rise again. Fun, eh!"

"Shuushhh!" Steve scolded her. "Let me listen!"

The newsman continued, "As reported, the State Governor has declared a civil emergency and requested help from the federal government. Our national guard will enforce a strict quarantine zone under the direction of FEMA. They advise anyone within city limits to stay home and shelter in place."

The screen switched to a graphic. A map of the city, sitting within a red circle. Steve leaned in closer and frowned at the screen.

"Shit, we're inside the quarantine zone."

"Oh my," Alice said. "Have the prison guards become prisoners?" she chuckled.

"I'm not a prison guard," Steve corrected her. "This isn't a prison!"

"Could've fooled me."

He ignored her, instead turning to Charlotte.

"Right. There'll be a protocol we need to follow, I'd imagine. But I have to go see if Maggie showed up for work today. She's our cook. Hmm, I don't suppose you want to look for any emergency instructions in Gerald's office?"

Charlotte wasn't keen on staying in the day room with Alice, but nor did she want to tag along behind Steve all day like a stray puppy.

"Sure. How long will you be gone?"

"Not long. And if I get tied up, I'll send Jimmy to look in on you. He's the maintenance guy and my second in charge of security." He tapped his radio.

"Jimmy, you there?"

"Yeah, boss, you hearing the news?"

"Yep. Can you close everything up?" He glanced back at the TV. It was now showing news of power blackouts across town. "And also check the generator. We might need it. Then we'll do a head count."

Alice piped up. "Please don't tell me I have to go to my cell for roll call?"

Steve sighed. "They're not cells, they're rooms. And no, you don't. But stay put ok? I don't want to be looking for people all the time. God knows what kind of night we're in for."

Outside, dusk was settling over the gardens, with the sun dipped well below the treeline.

CONTENT WARNING
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About the Creator

Davi Mai

Short story writer. Fantasy, sci-fi, transgressive. I lack a filter but try to make stuff fun.

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