Chapter One: Monsters Under My Bed
“Who the hell sweats in the middle of November?” John Pope sweltered in the unexpected Charleston heat. Pope chucked a piece of debris from the ruins of King Street. He glanced down both sides of the street: north and south. One door down a sandwich sign stood, still promising one meat, three vegetables with tea and biscuits Southern Style for $10.99. Today’s special: fried pork chops. Half the buildings torn to hell and back, the smell and sight of every kind of animal shit known to man, how many rotting bodies – human and alien – laying around, but that sandwich sign still stood there like Miffy and Dirk were going to walk right on in for their Sunday dinner.
“Apparently, these people did.” Lyle returned. In the chill of the pre-dawn morning he’d worn his Red Sox hoodie. The few locals around had laughed when he walked by. Now he knew why. By now the morning sun had baked the dew from the ground, and the warm was beginning to reflect from the streets and ruins that surrounded them. The humidity was getting thick; his clothes would feel like paste by late afternoon. The natives had all worn jackets over shorts and tee shirts and he’d laughed. Now he knew the joke was on him.
“Still, 70 degrees in November in the morning?” Lyle complained again as he sifted through the remains himself, finding nothing but torn and dirty thin, cotton blouses. The kinds of things his nieces wore on their fancy dates to the country club, or the Boston Yacht Club on the weekends. Man his brother in law could be a real asshole, but he rolled in the dough. “Is this really necessary, I mean, rummaging around for pots and pans?” Lyle was mostly complaining to himself about the task at hand, but he knew it was important. Once you get to the end of modern civilization, the mundane little details of your life before suddenly became matters of the utmost importance. Like cooked food. Once all the Burger Kings fell, cooking all the little bugs and diseases out of the food became very important.
“Quit your bitchin’. As long as it’s warm, no one’s gonna be too cold or snowed in to drink, shop or trade, so it’s just fine with me.” He’d worried about that in those long Boston winters: they’d been all in one place, but once people had spread out, one good Nor’easter and he’d have been closed for business. Pope took off his jacket and flung it onto the hood of the half-demolished Mercedes parked on the sidewalk. Pope made a mental note to go back and look at it for parts. “Bring on the heat, man. Bring. It. On.”
Lyle was a bit more stoic about the whole enterprise. Pope made good trades, Lyle got a cut of the action, good enough reason to venture out. The Espheni were cleaned out from this area; they were relatively safe as long as they looked sharp.
“Jackpot!” Pope called out, climbing around some rubble. “Williams Sonoma!” Even Pope thught he sounded ridiculous, but when it came down to it, he needed things, and until they stumbled on a restaurant supply store, this would have to do. Their wares had travelled from Boston to Charleston, and back, and back again were almost useless. Oh hell, they were useless.
Pope had a plan. He always had a plan. He was going to get his bar back one day. Then he’d open up a kitchen. Everyone he’d come down with was already complaining about the government food – industrial cooking at its worst. The locals had it all worked out for themselves, but there was so much the Second Massers weren’t used to. It was a hole he was planning to fill. There was money to be made.
The store had been looted of the smaller things, and the dumbass things were gone: cappuccino makers, expensive coffee makers, china. Because when aliens invaded and kidnapped all the children, there was going to be such a black market for a good latte.
Vermin had torn through the place and contaminated what food stuffs weren’t looted either. Pope held back a chuckle as he imagined raccoons gorging themselves on peppermint cocoa mix, Hazelnut Vanilla Green Tea Decaf coffee beans. Animal waste wasn’t a big problem: apparently wildlife had heard about don’t shit where you eat. Smaller cooking items were gone, but Pope was hoping for the big shit. And then there were the tools. Proper tools. He could open a proper kitchen. He could make some money.
They came to the opening of the stock room. Of course it would’ve been raided, but the question is, did your run-of-the-mill looter think to take what they were looking for? “C’mon.”
Ashley Shealy watched the two men from behind her vantage point across the street. They were Second-Massers; that much she knew. Bad-asses she thought – well, maybe – they could just be wannabes. Who knew? She knelt down in the store at a forty-five degree angle from where they stood. The store where she hid had been built with a three-quarter window, and an elevated display dais that was the perfect shield. It had been a Coach store. Out of the corner of her eye Ashley noticed a brown leather bag, large enough for all her loot. Too heavy. So useless. She turned her attention back to the men, because those shirts the thin one had just thrown on the sidewalk wasn’t useless by any stretch of the imagination. Bleached in the sun they were bandages, a strainer. Jesus H. Christ! Ashley had to catch herself from speaking out loud. The thin guy had left a nice leather biker jacket on the ground. It had to be the real thing, too. She thought she’d heard the rumble of Harleys in the morning. If memory served her right, those things had armored pieces in the elbows, the shoulders, sometimes the back. Those things were warm, padded, and protective. Nothing, not a single one of God’s wild creatures could sink its teeth through one of those.And if a cold snap happened, she’d be warm and happy. Was it worth the risk? Ashley thought long and hard about dog bites and two rough-and-tumble Second Massers. They were pretty deep in the building. She could get away. And she’d be sitting pretty the next time she came across some hungry bare-toothed animal, which was happening more and more often.
Come on, you carpetbagging little sonsuvbitches, just a little farther. Ten feet, that’s all she needed Pope to walk into the store. Then she could make it over there and claim her prize. The deeper they went into the shot-gun style store ruins, the narrower their field of vision to the street. Ten. More. Feet.
Six more feet. Ashley crawled from her hiding spot and quietly moved to hide behind the ruins of a parked Benz, dented and scarred from combat fire and fallen rubble, now rusting in the Charleston sun. She adjusted the car’s side view mirror to see if it would get her a better view. He was looking at the knives. I’ll give you a sharp knife buddy if you don’t move along there. Bluffing when you didn’t even believe it yourself was so sad. She just wished she’d been tough enough to mean it, because she was growing certain those two would have no moral dilemmas whatsoever about doing her in. But she knew she was clearly not smart enough to let that stop her.
Four more feet. She moved from behind the car to the storefront just next to the WS. He was checking out the gadgets. What kind of tough guy gets hung up on a vegetable peeler for Chrissakes? Pope had methodically packed each item he’d found into a backpack that he replaced over his shoulders each time. Which only made the Ashley’s wait that much longer.
Two more feet. She knelt to the ground, turned her head, and got ready. She was certain they’d been bikers in their former life. She crept up to the cotton shirts Lyle had thrown on the ground. They laid muddied and ripped on the pile of broken bricks on the sidewalk. They’d been luxurious once, size 4, she noticed. You were never a size 4 anyway.
Shirts: right hand; jacket and bag: left. Now get the hell out of there. Ashley ran quickly while stuffing her loot into a duffle bag. Once her hands were free, she took the sandwich promotion sign from the street and flung it onto the pile of bricks outside the door’s entrance, hoping to create an obstacle. She ran along the sidewalk, making sure to follow the street’s slight curve behind their field of vision from the store.
Pope and Lyle heard the commotion of the sign and looked up quickly. The aimed their weapons but only saw the same abandoned landscape of consumerism they’d seen before.
“There’s nothing there,” Lyle whispered.
Lyle and Pope reacted to the sounds outside quickly. The scrape of concrete rubble, the thud of something hitting the ground.
“Damn!” Pope managed as fast as he could among the debris outside the store entrance. The sign had been thrown right in the middle; there was no moving forward without moving that goddamned sign. He hurled it onto more trash, useless remains of mindless looting, with enough anger to hear it crash and splinter into the broken words and phrases of what it once promised.
“Fish-heads?” Lyle asked. He looked each way down the street, but saw nothing.
Pope pointed to the sandwich sign. “Since when do skitters collect leather jackets? I left my jacket right there, man, right there.”
“So I guess you’re going to want to get your jacket back?” Lyle said. He wasn’t looking for that.
Pope did want his jacket back, but there was a bigger problem at hand. They needed to find this guy, whomever it was, before he, and whatever army of crazy, inbred rednecks he might have found them. Things might be different than before, and they might be better than the invasion, but there were still plenty of crazy people out there looking for trouble and always would be. He ought to know; he was usually one of them.
“Yes I do. But I’m not an effin’ moron. We go back, get some Bezerkas, and come back ready to kick some ass. I’m not going to walk into an ambush with nothing but you and a pop-gun.”
“No offense taken.”
The two kept a sharp eye as they walked back to their camp. “Still, makes you wonder,” Pope thought out loud, “if there were a big gang wanting to ambush us, they would have ambushed us already.”
“True story,” Lyle agreed.
“And if they were going to lure us into an ambush, disappearing into thin air is a damn stupid way of getting the job done.”
“Yep.” Pope was just following that train of thought down the tracks and into the station. Lyle knew by now, just nod, grunt, wait until Pope was done and get his cut.
Pope’s mind turned to things he wasn’t about to tell about. Being a big pussy was one thing; letting everyone know was suicide. Stupid, sentimental things: a runaway kid from the camp – it happened; some stranded or victimized refugee: there were plenty of people out there still not willing to come into the compound. People too damaged to come back into the world of human beings again, such as it was. They’d just lost too much and seen too much. Lucky for Pope, he’d seen and lost it all long before aliens came on the scene. Still, that wasn’t the kind of person you should just go up to and start a fight with.
Whomever it was for whatever reason, he or she had just wanted stuff and didn’t want to hurt them. The thought of Brandon, dirty and hungry in some rubble made his bones go cold. Could have been some kid just like him, just like his lost son. Then again, it could just be some asshole.
The trick was, as Pope stood on King Street, to know which long stretch of road to go down: northwest or southeast? They’d chained their bikes at Mario Square. The sounds of the Harley’s must have drawn that little scavenger to them.
“Gotta be this way,” Lyle said pointing south. “The road’s blocked and torn up that way.” It would have been too dangerous to go through quickly and quietly.
Pope remembered the huge hold in the road from some blast, the overturned luxury cars and fallen edifice of storefronts. Someone making a getaway would not have gone down there. That still left straight down the alley or south on King.
“Isn’t there an old college dorm down that way,” Pope remembered.
They headed down King, planning to find the dormitory.
Ashley ran south down King Street, turning left on George, then zig-zagged along the grid-plan streets of downtown Charleston. Eventually, she’d get to the ocean that way. Charleston’s streets were an elaborate, Grecian grid of one-way streets, designed so that cars could dance a choreography of loops along Charleston’s narrow streets and historic buildings without congestion or conflict. Never once had Ashley taken it for granted. She found an old home with an iron gated courtyard and rested on a park bench there to catch her breath. She didn’t want to close the gate, afraid the unnatural clang of metal would ring out among the softer sounds of the birds and frogs that thrived in the desolation. She soaked in the various smells from the city: the salt ocean, the lingering stench of the paper mill the breeze brought over from time to time, the stench of death and decay, the smells of life that came to fill its place and make a home there: fucking, birthing, shitting, pollenating, growing. A few yards in the distance, she saw that Kudzu had come to make a stand in historic Charleston. Welcome Kudzu, you lovely little cockroach of the botanical world.
Suddenly a growl took her attention. Shit. Ashley looked from the corner of her eye toward the open gate and saw nothing. But it was there. Ashely inhaled and held her breath, afraid the soft sound of her breathing might bring the unknown beast closer. It growled again: low, sad and desperate, but unmistakably hungry. She counted just one. It wasn’t a pack, thank God. Ashley turned her head slowly, as if by micro-movements she could move her head without being noticed. She heard the unmistakable clicks of paws on the sidewalk. Paws with untrimmed, overgrown nails longer and sharper than the fangs that surely grew from its starving mouth. Ashley had clenched her eyes shut instinctively; she opened them, hoping the site of the historic home overgrown with ivy, the bright sun could replace the terrifying creature she’d raised in her mind’s eye. She needed to keep her cool to escape that thing, whatever it was. That hungry, feral, maybe even rabid, thing. She would have felt safer with the jacket on, not wadded up in her hands.
Ashley had managed to turn her head so she could see the open gate in full view. The animal wasn’t at her yet, but it was coming. It could smell the sweat-drenched dust on her skin, the raw musky aroma of meat in the November morning. She reached for her duffle on the seat next to her and tried to fumble blindly for the taser. Thud. The duffle fell to the ground by her feet. Suddenly the clicks of the paws turned to a run, and the loud, excited barking came close. She could hear the anticipation and anger and desperation in the animal’s barks as it hurled itself down the street. She had seconds. Ashley fell to the ground behind her bag, ready to throw it at the animal’s mouth. Finally, the Taser. A large Doberman came into view and lunged through the gate. Ashley hurled the duffle bag to the animal, which just brushed it aside with its nose. She aimed the Taser to its chest but the connections caught the shoulder. The animal screamed and jumped until it fell to the ground, getting a large scratch on its side in the process. Instinctively Ashley had screamed as well. Hunger and desperation are great healers, and Ashley knew she had seconds. Thirty, best. She snatched up her bag and ran, again perpendicular to the dog’s path. A few feet away, she was blocked into an alley and knew she had to get back to George Street. Fifteen seconds now and that beast would be up and ready for action.
Lyle and Pope heard the screams and ran cautiously towards it. They heard an animal in pain, then the running and a general commotion. They turned down George Street with guns raised.
Ashley hauled ass down George Street, hoping for a doorway, some steps, anything going up. Just to get up. If she could climb just a few steps in some narrow passage, she could create a barricade, an obstacle, anything to slow the animal down. Shit. She’d be trapped. But she could reload, fire, and have thirty seconds to … to do something.
Don’t look back. Never look back at what’s chasing you. That was Ashley’s first rule. If you looked back and it was gaining, you’d freak out and freeze. If you looked back and you were getting away, you’d slow down too soon. Just don’t look back. All you could do was run, and facing forward was the best way to do it. Because then you’d at least see the two men with guns. Shit! Ashley found that doorway only a few feet and sprinted for it.
Lyle saw the giant Doberman heading straight for them. It was a beautiful creature. Hungry, angry, determined and beautiful. Without a word, Lyle knocked the gun from Pope’s hand, leaving him defenseless. “Don’t move!” Lyle hissed. Lyle lowered his arms and head, then froze in the face of the charging animal.
Ashley had jumped the first pine step with no problem and landed on the second. Her feed landed with a soft thud, then two sharp cracks as the rotted pine gave way under her left foot. She couldn’t stifle the scream. She scrambled with her good right leg to the top of the step, pulled the useless left ankle and foot back up, and managed to balance herself upright. Cartridges. She needed a new cartridge, and needed to reload without making a sound.
Pope kept his gun aimed on the charging animal, stopped just feet away from all three of them. The animal barked and showed its teeth. Its ears perched, its gums showed. It was angry, hungry and hurt. For all of its fierce rage, it was still weakened by hunger and whatever happened to it somewhere back there, and the pain from its yelps a few seconds ago was still fresh. It had spent all it had chasing down the street, and it was hoping meanness alone would get the job done.
The animal suddenly quieted, then walked slowly to Lyle, and sniffed around the knees.
Lyle pulled the section of rope from his belt. First he walked to the dog straight on, keeping eye contact. The dog laid on his side, eyes and face asking for a little mercy, a little help. Lyle went behind the dog’s neck, folded the rope in half, and lowered the center of the rope down to the dog’s mouth. Either the dog would bite it, was domesticated enough to play, and Pope could muzzle him, or he could slip the rope under the mouth and tie it around. The second plan worked; the dog was too tired to fight, and it bared its neck and quieted down. He tied the rope while standing, to avoid getting his hands too close, then pulled the ends until the start of the knot touched the animal’s jaw. Then he knelt down used a bandana to loosely tie the dog’s jaws together, leaving the nose open. He then took off the rope, and tied a loose leash using a square knot.
“Stay.” The wound only leaked a little blood, and would stop bleeding altogether if he stayed in that position. It was a grazing, just what Pope had wanted. Pope then turned to face Ashley in the doorway.
Ashley stood, making sure she didn’t show one bit of pain or fear. She stood in the old, narrow threshold three steps above the sidewalk. She pointed her hips and shoulders at an angle, her weight bearing down on her good left foot in the middle of the sagging pine-board step. The once-white door behind her was just one more wrinkled, peeling face of Charleston’s streets – once the Grand Dame, now the forgotten old woman. It was also locked. Ashley kept one hand on her hip, the other pointing the Taser straight at Pope. She didn’t shake. She didn’t tremble. Her voice didn’t break. She spoke low, deep and slow, her southern drawl mixing with firm conviction of a woman who’d had enough for the day. Period.
“Now, look fella, I don’t know you, you don’t know me. I reckon you’re not a bad guy all around. So you can just take that dog if you want, step back and get on back down where you came from. I’ll just be about my business.”
“Your business? I think that’s my jacket you stole.” The injured dog whined in the background, twitching slightly behind Pope.
“I thought it was trash.”
“Fine. Step back, get that dog out of the way, and I’ll toss it to you.” Without moving the right side of her body, keeping the Taser firmly aimed, Ashley started to reach in her bag. The wooden step under her began to moan; she could feel it weaken. Could they hear it? Did the dog’s whines drown it out?
Pope raised his revolver in less than a second. “No. Hell no.”
“Two against one and you’re chickenshit? Old wing man over there can cover you. Me? I just got this little old Taser and if you’re down, I still have to worry about that bear friend of yours over there. So I’d say the odds are in your favor.“ Ashley threw the jacket to Pope’s chest. It fell to the ground. “So, now, there’s nothing more between you and me. You move along your way; I’ll move along mine.”
“Okay, okay, we all just go on our way and everyone gets home in one piece.” Pope said, lowering his revolver, slightly. Only slightly.
Lyle called out “there’s food, doctors, places to live at the encampment.” Pope shot him a look that could kill.
“I know all about it. I’ll send you a Christmas card.” Ashley was trapped right now, and she knew it. She could not open the door behind her without turning her back. She’d turned her back on a dangerous man once. She liked to think she was smart enough not to repeat her mistakes.
Pope really didn’t want to stand around and argue with a crazy woman all day, enough was enough. That dog needed help; it wanted help. If this bitch wanted to limp around alone a dangerous hell-hole with a broken ankle all day, that was her business.
From her bag, Ashley pulled a small plastic bottle and tossed it to Pope, who caught it instinctively.
“Hydrogen Peroxide. For the dog. Get Paul Bunyan over there to give you a hand. I reckon you ain’t lowering your gun for this.”
Ashley needed these men gone. Soon. She felt the step sag a bit more. Some wood would rot slowly, bear the weight and give way little by little, like a weak woman with a bad man. But, this was not the case here; this stuff would give way any second, and snap in some sudden refusal to bear Ashley’s weight any longer. Ashley screamed as she heard the crack ring through the morning. “Goddamnit!” Pope and Lyle snapped their heads to her direction. She had exactly a split second to throw the Taser to the ground. She threw her body against the small side of the alcove and managed to get her good right foot to rest on the side of the step, while her left dangled into the gap. “Sonuvabitch!”
The bag had fallen into the gap. It was only about a two-foot hole from where she’d been standing to the ground. She was injured and now unarmed facing two men who looked like they could carry their own in a prison riot back in the day. “I still have teeth you rat-ass bastard, so don’t you come near me.”
“And probably rabies.” Pope responded.
“You should be so lucky, asshole.”
Pope put his gun back in his pants and walked toward the Taser Ashley had just thrown down. He kicked it about ten feet away from them both. He walked further to the right, picking through debris and rubble. Soon he found what he was looking for: a nice plank, about eight feet long. Sturdy, no damage. He brought it back, and put it down over the stringer that still stood from under the steps. “Pressure treated wood probably, it’ll hold you. You’ll have to figure out how to slide down on your own.”
Lyle had decided at this point that he and the dog would be best off to mind their own business and let those two duke it out between themselves. He’d really never thought he’d meet anyone who could out-swear or out-mean Pope, especially a woman. But believe it or not, there she was, big as life.
“I got about five minutes I can do this,” Ashley nodded to Pope. “Hand me that long stick over there.”
Pope got it, and handed it to her, staying clear of her. She slipped about a foot down the wall when she freed one hand but grabbed the stick. She used it to hook one of the straps of her bag, raise it from the opposite side of the gap, and drop it on the ground under her. She then used the stick to pull the board over to on top of the bag. The ramp was now in a better position. Keeping her eyes locked on Pope, she lowered herself, still in something of a sitting position, down onto the ramp and used her hands to take herself down to the ground. Her problem now: getting the bag.
Ashley was proud of herself: she’d kept her stare fixed on the man, never shook, never trembled from her pain or fear. She was almost home free. “Thanks.”
“Ok,” Pope said. He went toward the Taser slowly while Ashley was starting to lift the board and turn her ramp into a weapon. Still, he had a gun, so what was the best she could do? Then again, she did seem like she was crazy enough to try to catch a bullet in the teeth and fire it back at him. “Here,” he said quietly when he handed her the Taser. “Lady, I really don’t know what you think you’re going to do with a broken ankle in the middle of nowhere, but good luck. Come on, Lyle, let’s take the dog back.”
“He can’t walk that far, man. I can’t carry him and our gear.” Ashley found herself distracted by the sight of Lyle inspecting the graze, talking to the dog quietly, adjusting his muzzle and leash, stroking him gently. Keep your eyes on the man with the gun.
“Get a bike, bring it back here.”
Lyle was going to hate missing whatever happened while he was gone. Damn shame dogs couldn’t talk. “Don’t worry girl, we’ll get you fixed up.”
“A bike?” Ashley almost seemed to laugh.
“You got a problem?”
“Just can’t wait to see how you’re going to pull that off.”
“Well, it looks like you’ll be sticking around here long enough to find that out.”
“Really?” Ashley had now put the plank on her left side, and was turned to her right, using the stick to fish her bag out to her. From the bag she pulled a sports bandage. She started to untie her combat boots, which were now a huge disappointment to her in terms of support, and wrap her ankle.
“It’s broken you know.”
“No shit Sherlock.”
After wrapping two layers around her ankle, she snapped two foot-long lengths from the stick, and used it as a split, then wrapping the sports bandage around them until she was done. She pulled a case of safety pins from her bag, and pinned them in place. She loosened the ties on her boot, pulled it over her foot, then laced it snugly in to place. She used the remainder of the stick, about four feet in length, to hoist herself up and use as a cane.
Damn, Pope thought to himself. It was impressive. Just: damn. He walked forward to give her a hand, but she glared at him fiercely. He wasn’t sure if he heard her hiss.
Ashley continued once she knew Pope wasn’t going to approach any closer: she pulled out a bottle of pills and a canteen and downed two white pills.
What the hell else did that woman carry around with her?
Lyle was back with a bike now, walking it back to where the dog laid.
“This I gotta see,” Ashley laughed.
Pope turned around, showing his back to her, and began lifting the dog to the bike. It was one huge piece of machinery, Ashley noticed.
Pope turned to her one last time. “Look, whatever stupid shit you want to do in this glorious paradise is your business. But if you don’t get that fixed, you’ll never walk right again. Next hungry dog you see will be enjoying crazy lady tartar.” It was Pope’s last try to reason with her.
Ashley hated like hell that he was right. They had doctors back there, nurses, EMTs, she knew it. And she knew that she needed one. Goddamnit all to hell.
“You can ride with us,” Lyle offered as neutrally as he could manage.
“I got my own ride down the street. I just gotta make it another block.”
“You can follow us,” Lyle offered again.
Oh hell no. She didn’t know where they were going, but she was going to that new camp. “I know exactly where it is.”
“You need a password,” Pope added blandly.
“What’s your name hotshot?”
“If you live there, I’m sure everyone will know who you are.”
Lyle laughed. “Yeah, they sure do.”
“Shut the hell up, Lyle.”
Chapter Two: title TBD
Ann Glass pulled her hair behind her neck, tying it in a knot, securing it with some old, inkless pen. She picked a shabby pencil from the counter, checked behind her to lock the pharmacy door, and started over. She needed to be sure, absolutely sure. Above her the fluorescent light flickered slightly and hummed uninterrupted, like some immortal insect, Ann’s sole company in the small broom closet they used for a pharmacy. She looked around her at the sheet-rock covered walls, still bare of paint. A residential deadbolt lock was all that separated the outside world from their entire supply of life-saving medications. Easy to pick, Ann Glass was certain. Their supply was safeguarded more from their community’s shared sense of the common good than any security system they could provide. The small window could easily be opened and closed, allowing someone to come in and out without a trace. Anthony had promised to weld a grate on the window, but they were still looking for the grate.
Ann sniffed unconsciously, her nose searching for some scent of a hospital, but there was only the faint smell of dirt and dust. The overwhelming mix of antiseptic cleaners, medicine and bodies didn’t fill the air with its faux sterility. Instead, the air was sticky and hot, something her New England constitution hadn’t acclimated to. She could feel the sweat forming, making her shirt stick to her skin. She could only. imagine how much worse it was above ground; here, several floors below the ground, it should have been cooler, drier.
Even the sounds that might have given her some sense of belonging were absent: no rhythmic beeps of monitors, background of muffled conversations, nurses gossiping, families shouting to be heard by elderly relatives. No footsteps echoing along the halls. There was only that damn hum above her head, the grating sounds of some non-descript blue-white fluorescent glass tube. Ann was acutely aware that her surroundings would be eerie to many, frightening to most, under the circumstances. But for her, it was merely a lonely reminder of all that was lost, and all they had at risk.
In Boston, Ann had thrived on the hectic pace of urban New England life, escalated by life in an urban hospital. Then, when the aliens invaded, there was the fear, the grief, the running, constant crisis on the road. There was no time to stop, to pause, to think about it all. Of course she was all too aware of the clinical implications: depression following prolonged periods of chronic stress and trauma. Even so, for her there was nothing sadder than an empty hospital. It did not mean no one needed help; it meant people weren’t getting it.
In the silence Ann resumed counting the bottles and came up with the same answer: Demerol, short. Lorezapam, short. Still, it was so hard right now to know for sure. They were still scavenging from nearby hospitals or medical supply warehouses when they could, logging the inventory when it came in. Occasionally, they could request supplies from President Peralta, but they never got what they requested, or enough. And then, occasionally someone found something, and then those odds and ends trickled in. So, everyone just recorded what came in when it came in. She’d tried to set up a more stringent protocol, but in the rush from a skirmish or small battle, when they were short of staff and full of traumas, it was easy to see that someone might make a recording mistake. It happened often enough under the best of circumstances. If people never made mistakes, they never would have needed robots and computers to take it all over back in the good old days.
Ann shook her head in dispute of her own thoughts: sloppy records didn’t explain the types of things missing: everything would be random. There was too much method in it to be madness in the system. The missing antibiotics were the most puzzling right now. More of the narrow spectrum than the broad spectrum was missing, and it was only the low doses. The stock of the larger doses matched her records. Okay, what are the possibilities: drug use. The infirmary had seen its fair share of overdoses since they got here. Still, when she thought about it, it didn’t match the missing medications. In the beginning, they saw patients overdosing from street-grade heroin and cocaine, the typical barbiturates, opiates, but those had gone down. She and her colleagues had reasoned that the availability of those drugs had “dried up,” so to speak. Now they were seeing marijuana, home-made opiates from small poppy patches, inhalants. Some people were chopping up and smoking anything that grew out of the ground. So, these missing drugs didn’t seem to be entering the population. Tobacco was making a big comeback.
She had a thought, just to check out the drug use theory once and for all: syringes. Syringes might just tell the story. She opened the drawer marked “adult” and there they were, in abundant supply. Without thinking, she checked the drawer marked “pediatrics,” why? She didn’t know. There was the surprise: it was half-empty. She herself had stocked that drawer with Sharon, and they’d had a hard time fitting it all in. They’d been so happy to find a cache that would more than meet their needs indefinitely. It had been an exhilarating experience of abundance in their world of scarcity, and now it was gone – erased. Ann threw her clipboard onto the counter in disgust. The fluorescent light shook from the vibration, causing waves of dark and light to fall in the room. Who on earth would steal from children?
Ann Glass knew she needed one person with two things: first, experience in law enforcement and second, the ability to keep a secret. From everyone.
Ann was only slightly surprised that the ground moved under her feet. Another attack. There were so many. It was probably a bad sign that she wasn’t scared, terrified, screaming or panicked. People shouldn’t get this accustomed to bombings, attacks and explosions. Still, there comes a point you’re past numb: you’re more annoyed than frightened anymore. Ann dropped herself to the ground and covered her head. She was able to move to a corner of the room where falling boxes couldn’t hit her. She was too tired of all this to scream. They only lasted a few seconds. You could count to ten, and it was over.
Ten. Eleven. Twelve. And so on. To twenty. What the hell? Wouldn’t this ever end. The shelves shook and trembled, a few cardboard boxes fell at Ann’s feet. Twenty-five seconds. Now Ann could feel the cold sweat of panic on her face, her heart racing. Her daughter, where was her daughter? Panic began to take over. Thirty-five seconds. What the hell? No attack ever lasted this long. Images came and went in split seconds: catastrophes of the building collapsing and her daughter’s small body crushed in the rubble. Buildings toppling and young Matt broken on the ground. Mason. An attack this long: was he bloodied and dead? Taken capture yet again for torture?
Then it stopped. The ground was still. The air was calm. All was deadly quiet as it was before. Except for her mind: which still held the horrifying images of what she might find outside.
“Dr. Glass! Dr. Glass!” Sharon called from down the hall. Ann could hear Sharon’s feet running down the hall.
“Sharon! What happened! Alexis! What’s happened to Alexis!”
The door opened and Sharon stepped inside, instantly dropping to her knees to help Ann up. “Everything’s fine. Alexis is fine. It was a small earthquake.”
Ann stared at Sharon in a daze. Earthquake. Earthquake.
“Ann, we’re on a fault line, we get tremors down here a good bit. No one gets hurt. I think a few glass bottles got broken and last I checked there was a spilled bottle of alcohol down in Ward 5.”
“I went to her room and checked on her on my way here. She slept through it.”
Ann realized she was breathing now. “Matt? Mason?”
“Ann, I don’t know about topside. I’m sure we have a few minor injuries, what with people living in tents and all, but this was minor.”
“We average about ten a year. Most of them are like this, or even smaller. Big one was about a hundred and fifty years ago. We’re living on a fault line, you know, right?”
No, Ann did not know. The information must have been withheld under the “any port in a storm” clause. Sharon helped Ann to her feet, and brushed the dust from her shoulders. “Time to get going. I’m sure we’re going to have quite a few bumped heads to check on.”
Ann started to walk out the door. Sharon noticed the forgotten clipboard on the counter.
“Ann, need this?” Sharon picked it up slowly, taking her time to offer it to Ann.
“Yes, thank you.”