Father Walter Brennan, S.J.

Love in an Undead Age by A.M. Geever ©2018

Monday, September 14, 2026 - Santa Clara, California

Father Walter Brennan surveyed his dreary office through narrowed eyes. No amount of sprucing up could hide the fact that the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Santa Clara University was in a basement. At least my new office has a window, he thought, even if it was one of those long, narrow, almost near the ceiling kinds of a window. Sunlight still streamed through it, unlike his first office at the university in Galway, Ireland, not far from where had grown up. That windowless hovel had felt like a dungeon. 

Walter checked his watch: 7:45 a.m. Enough time for a cup of tea, he thought, his mind already jumping ahead to his lecture. He reached for his keys but froze mid-motion. Shouting, then a strangled scream from the hallway. What on Earth, he thought, hurrying to the door.

Walter would never forget the sight that awaited him. Allison Landry (Advanced Calculus) and Sebastian Nichols (Automata Theory and Formal Languages) sprawled on the floor at the bottom of the stairs that led down to the basement from the building’s south entrance. A slight woman in her early sixties, Allison had knocked the younger and stronger Sebastian to the ground. She was ripping Sebastian’s throat out with her teeth. Bright red blood spurted in high, thin arcs before spattering on the worn linoleum. Sebastian’s strangled gurgles, punctuated by Allison’s animal-like grunts, sent cold shivers up Walter’s spine. Sebastian flailed without effect against his attacker. 

For a moment, shock rooted Walter where he stood. 

Holy Mother of God!  

Walter dashed towards them and grabbed one of Allison's arms. Allison turned and lunged towards him, Sebastian’s blood dripping from her chin, then abruptly jerked back. A very tall, slender young man had grabbed Allison’s other arm; a visiting assistant professor, but from a different department. Walter had met him but couldn’t remember his name. He was so slender he looked like he would blow over in a breeze but he held Allison fast. Allison snapped and snarled between them like a rabid dog.

“What the hell is wrong with her?” the Visiting Assistant Professor asked.

Walter couldn’t answer. He didn’t know how to process what he was seeing, nor interpret it.

“Get something to tie her up!” Visiting Assistant Professor shouted.

No one heard him above the din of people streaming into the narrow corridor that ran the length of building. Allison thrashed like a wild animal. Despite her wasted appearance Walter could barely keep hold on her arm. Her strength was simply unbelievable. They had to get her restrained before she hurt anyone else. Walter looked around for something that might work when he spied an extension cord hanging on the corner of an AV cart just a few feet away. 

“I'm going to grab that cord from the cart,” Walter said. “I'll only be able to keep one hand on her arm. Hold tight!”  

Visiting Assistant Professor nodded. His fine, sandy colored hair fell into his eyes before he tossed his head to clear his line of vision. Walter reached for the cord. He almost lost his grip on Allison's arm but Visiting Assistant Professor proved loads stronger than he looked. Together, they tied Allison to a chair.

Walter turned to see Jan Sieszchula, the department chair, trying to staunch the wound on Sebastian's neck with a gym towel. Sebastian had become very still. Walter could see he was not breathing.

“I think he's gone. Why don't you let me take over?”

“The ambulance will be here soon, Walter. They can help him!” 

“I'll just say a prayer then.”

Walter knelt beside Sebastian’s body. He felt wetness against his knee. Dear God, he had knelt down into Sebastian’s blood. He didn't have any oil and could not remember if Sebastian was a practicing anything despite having known him for over five years. He decided it didn’t matter. He traced a small cross on Sebastian's forehead with his thumb. 

"Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."

Hearing Walter say the Last Rites seemed to get through to Jan better than trying to reason with him. He let go of the towel on Sebastian’s neck.

“What the hell is this, Walter?”

Walter shook his head. “I don’t know.”

He was about to ask if anyone had called 9-1-1 when he saw almost every student in the hallway filming the unfolding horror show on their cell phones. Walter covered more ground in three steps than he ever thought possible and snatched the phone out of the nearest boy’s hand.

“Hey!” the kid protested.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Walter snapped at the students, his brogue stronger in his anger. He pointed to the north entrance at the other end of the corridor. “Get out of here. Now!”

The wail of approaching sirens signaled help was on the way. Walter turned back to his homicidal colleague, who growled and thrashed against the cord that held her fast. The blood on her face had started to dry, flaking away where the smears were thin. Blood still coated her teeth, as if she had no saliva to dilute it.

“Allison,” he said. “Why did you do this?”

No answer, just growls and moans. 

“I met her last week. She complained she was coming down with a cold but she looked fine at the New Faculty Reception yesterday. Now she looks like death warmed over,” Visiting Assistant Professor said. 

Walter had seen Allison the day before as well. The transformation – sunken eyes with dark circles, shriveled and chapped lips, the reek of decay – was astonishing. 

“She looks like she’s lost twenty pounds overnight,” Walter said. “And her eyes. It’s like she’s not even in there.”  

The doors behind them burst open. Campus Security pounded down the stairs, followed by paramedics who knelt by Sebastian’s prone form. 

A dark-haired woman paramedic checked his pulse, then shook her head. “He’s gone.”

The Campus Security officers gaped at Allison and the bloody body at their feet. One of them shook himself, seeming to remember that he should be taking charge. “Who can tell me what happened here?”

“I suppose I can,” Walter said when no one else answered. “I heard shouting in the hallway-”

“Hey, he’s moving!” 

The officer turned back. Walter stepped forward. Sebastian twitched. 

The paramedic put her hand to Sebastian’s bloody, ruined neck. “I don’t have a pulse.”

“The guy’s moving,” the other paramedic said, not looking up from the I.V. he had started prepping. “Get a dressing on his neck.”  

“There’s no pulse,” his partner insisted. 

Her partner reached over to check for himself. Sebastian’s eyes opened. Then he turned his head toward the man’s extended hand and bit him.

“AAAAHHHK! Get him off me!”

The woman paramedic scrambled to assist her partner. The Campus Security officers rushed into the fray. Sebastian’s arms and legs were moving. He let go of the screaming paramedic’s hand and the man scurried backward. Then Sebastian grabbed the woman paramedic’s arm and bit her, too.

Things seemed to happen in slow motion and fast forward all at once after that. Walter watched as more Campus Security streamed through the doors behind Sebastian and the paramedics, bottlenecking on the stairs. Sebastian had already attacked the first officer, but not before the man tased him in the chest. Sebastian never slowed down. He smashed the poor man’s head against the wall with a sickening crack before beginning to gnaw on him. 

Bodies pressed against Walter as people tried to get away, their screams and shouts echoing off the walls. He was pushed into the AV cart and lost his footing as it rolled from the force of the impact. Walter stumbled, trying to right himself. People were panicked. He would be trampled if he fell. He extended his arm and when his hand hit the floor he pushed hard. Regaining his footing he got clear of the AV cart, which bounced like a pin-ball against the fleeing onlookers. He heard more screams behind him and looked back. Someone had gotten too close to Allison, who was still tied to the chair. The pandemonium intensified as Santa Clara Police entered the building from the other end of the corridor, blocking the only escape route. And still Sebastian lurched down the hall.

Walter felt two strong hands grab his shoulders. He cried out in panic and struggled against them, but was pulled backwards into darkness. A heavy door slammed shut with a metallic thud. Walter heard a sliding lock shoved into place. 

“Help me push this against the door,” Visiting Assistant Professor said, his voice barely a whisper. 

Struggling to tamp down his panic, Walter realized he was in the building’s tiny maintenance room. Feeble light trickled in from a tiny glass block window near the ceiling. He could barely make out a drum of cleaning solvent against the wall. Walter pulled while Visiting Assistant Professor pushed. As his eyes adjusted to the poor light Walter saw three more people crammed in with them against the back wall.

The chaos on the other side of the door intensified. Gunfire and screams reverberated down the hallway. More sirens wailed, some distant, some near. Walter and the rest of the occupants of the tiny room huddled together as far away from the door as possible. 

“Do you think we'll be safe in here?” a young woman’s voice asked.

Visiting Assistant Professor said, “It's better than the hallway.”

“There's no way out but the door,” she said, not quite disagreeing. “We're trapped.”

“I think we're safer here,” Walter said. Under his breath he muttered, “Please God, let help be here soon.”

As soon as the words left his mouth Walter realized that the police and campus security were already here and he felt safer in this closet.

A man’s voice, high with fright. “The guy from Campus Safety tasered him and he didn't even slow down.” 

No one had anything to say after that. They fell silent, listening to the screams and shouts and gunfire. Sirens seemed to be coming from every direction. Dark shadows flickered across the cracks of light around the door. The astringent smell of cleaning fluid and furniture polish permeated the stuffy air. 

Walter looked up at Visiting Assistant Professor. “You saved my life and I don't even know your name.”

A ghost of a smile lifted the corners of Visiting Assistant Professor’s mouth. Walter could not tell the color of his eyes but the tiny expression transformed the young man’s delicate features into movie star handsomeness. He stuck out his hand.

“Doug Michel. Astrophysics, Florida State. I’m here to work with… shit, I can’t even remember.”

“I'm Walter Brennan,” Walter said, before adding inanely, “I teach Algebra and Statistics.”

“What the hell do you get up to here in Math and CS, Walter?” Doug whispered. “I’m not complaining, but why is there a lock on the inside of this door?”

Walter looked at the lock, then back to Doug. “I'm sure I don't want to know.”

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