*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*
The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.
Chapter 37, Part 1
I never would’ve guessed that people sneaking into a quarantine zone would be an actual problem. The presence of the National Guard at the county hospital proved me wrong. Armed soldiers covered almost every exit, including the roof. I guess freaks and idiots are everywhere.
On the other hand, I was there to sneak into a quarantine zone.
The black scrubs Karen had given me didn’t reach my ankles. They were tight through my hips and shoulders, and showed my stomach every time I reached above my head. Being far less curvy than her mother, Karen swam in the floral scrubs she’d chosen for herself. Well, it had seemed like a good idea at the time.
For once, the fog came in handy as we crouched outside the kitchen’s back entrance. We said nothing, both of us on edge as we waited for the door to open. At last, a tall, thin man covered in gang tattoos and piercings backed into the alleyway. Nodding in time to the music that blared through his earbuds, he propped open the door with a milk crate. He sang under his breath as he hoisted several bags of trash into a garbage trolley. He didn’t notice us lurking behind the dumpster, or that we slipped inside the second his back was turned.
I’ve never enjoyed the smell of hospitals. Hospital kitchens are a hundred times worse. The steam from the stock pots thickened the stench of disinfectant and overcooked vegetables. Our heads down, we walked as fast as we could without drawing attention to ourselves. Karen led me past the shelves of canned goods and the stainless steel prep line. A middle-aged, heavyset black woman in pink scrubs gave us the hairy eyeball as we approached. Her hand on her hip, she opened her mouth to say something, but we were already through the swinging doors.
Karen turned left, then we walked by several offices, labs, and the gift shop. Every door was closed, their windows darkened. The woman behind the desk in the main reception area didn’t so much as glance at us. No one said a word as Karen pressed the button to summon the elevator.
I have no idea how human beings came to be the dominant species on this planet. They’re all so unobservant, they should’ve been eaten by sabretooth tigers.
“Did you notice?” Karen said as we waited.
“Yeah.” A sign on the front desk had said that the third and fourth floors were practicing ‘extreme isolation precautions.’
“That’s where they’ve set up the quarantine,” she said. “That’s where we’re going.”
The doors opened to an empty elevator car and Karen let out a breath, sharing my relief. We climbed inside, then Karen pressed the button for the third floor. A few seconds later, the doors opened to absolute chaos.
Karen and I looked at each other. It appeared as though every doctor, nurse, orderly, and public health official in the tristate area was on deck for this crisis. I took a deep breath, bracing myself, then we plunged into the madness. Karen turned left again, then waved for me to follow.
No one noticed us duck into a room labeled UTILITY. Karen shut the door behind us, then snatched a pair of scrubs off the shelf. “Here, put these on,” she said as she tossed them to me. She turned her back to give me some privacy. “They’ll fit better, and they’re unisex.”
“What do you want me to do with these?” I said, holding up her mother’s scrubs. It felt wrong leaving them there. It wasn’t as though Karen’s mother could afford to replace her work clothes.
Karen shrugged as she pulled out better-fitting scrubs for herself. “Just leave them. I’ll figure out how to get them back to Mom later.”
She wouldn’t and we both knew it, but it couldn’t be helped. When we’d finished changing, Karen reached up to tie a surgical mask around my face. Even though she seemed to know what she was doing, I couldn’t help but ask, “Okay, so what’s the plan here?”
“Honestly? I’m just winging it.” Karen twisted my hair into a knot then pulled a yellow cap over my head. “Let me worry about finding Trevor, then I’ll figure out what to do from there.”
We put on yellow isolation gowns over our clothes. Karen began to hand me a pair of latex gloves, then frowned at my claws. Before she could say a word, I tore them off with my teeth. I spat the broken talons into the corner, and they sounded like falling marbles when they hit the floor. Once my fingers were as blunt as any human’s, I took the gloves from Karen.
Karen watched me, pained. “I’m sorry you had to do that.”
I shrugged. “It is what it is.” The world isn’t designed for vampires or tall people. I grabbed the cleaning cart from the back of the room, then said, “Are you ready?”
Karen finished tying her own mask in place, then pulled her shoulders back. “Let’s go,” she said as she opened the door.
We made our way to the nurses desk, where a huge, dry-erase board hung on the wall. The board was sectioned into boxes, each box containing a room number and patient’s name. More than half of the boxes had a large, red X through them.
I wiped down the handrail with disinfectant spray as Karen emptied the trash behind the desk. Not one of the highly-trained medical professionals gave us a second look. This supported my theory that humans don’t have a pack mentality, so much as a hive mind. Wolves and vampires know each other on sight, and we tear intruders to shreds. With humans, as long as you look like the rest of the sheeple, they assume you belong in the herd.
Karen came to stand next to me. “I don’t see his name anywhere,” she said under her breath.
“Neither do I. What was his last name again?”
Karen glared at me behind her mask. “For shit’s sake, Toby. It’s Reed. I must’ve told you that a thousand times.”
“I don’t think it’s been that many,” I said as I gave the board another scan. “No, I definitely don’t see it.”
An alarm blared, then the exhausted nurses jumped to their feet. “Code blue, room three-thirteen,” the tall nurse said without a trace of urgency. Even in the absence of hope, she and her two coworkers hurried from behind the desk.
Of course, the board on the wall had no name written in the box for room three-thirteen. Karen and I exchanged a look, then followed after the nurses. We arrived to find the hospital bed already surrounded. We watched through the window, our backs to the wall, as the doctor shouted to be heard over the wailing medical equipment. One of the nurses finally took a step to the right, then Karen and I let out a breath. The patient on the bed was a man with an iron grey beard and potbelly. He had no roommate.
Karen took a step forward. “That’s Mr. Donovan. He’s my chemistry teacher.”
We watched as the doctor hit him with the defibrillator. Aside from the spasms in his limbs, Donovan didn’t move and the flat lines on the monitors never spiked. The doctor hit him again, then a third time, then swore as he took a step back.
“I’m calling it. Time of death, four-twenty-three.” The doctor tossed the paddles back onto the machine then said, “Strap him down, then get him to the morgue.”
I didn’t catch the nurse’s reply, but it pissed the doctor off.
“Then I don’t care where you put him, just get this room ready for the next person. And make sure the straps are tight this time, I don’t want a repeat of this morning.” He stormed out of the room, tearing off his isolation gear. “Be quick about it, we have five minutes before this motherfucker reanimates.” He slammed his trash into the waste bin next to the door, then noticed us. “What the hell are you two doing? This isn’t a fucking sideshow. Do your job, or I’ll find a fucking immigrant that can.”
I didn’t realize I’d taken a step in the doctor’s direction until Karen grabbed my elbow. I had to settle for glaring at his back as I said, “That guy’s kind of a prick.”
“That’s Dr. Garrison,” Karen said, as though this explained everything. She watched the nurses secure her teacher into an extra thick body bag. “Let’s go. Maybe they have Trevor up on the next floor.”
I nodded. As we got closer the elevators, the walls became lined with gurneys. Every gurney had at least one body bag on it, all of which were squirming. Karen kept walking as though she didn’t see them, so I stopped to check the tags that dangled from the railings.
Karen realized I wasn’t next to her, but didn’t turn around. “What are you doing?” she said, her hands balled into fists.
“You know what I’m doing.” It only took a couple of minutes to check every name, but I could smell Karen’s anxiety growing. Once finished, I took Karen by the elbow then said, “Let’s go.”
Karen’s knees weakened with relief as we edged around the two orderlies piling bodies into the elevator. One of the men lifted his chin at me in greeting as Karen and I walked into the abandoned stairwell.
The peace and quiet was almost alien compared to the commotion in the hall. Even so, I waited until the doors closed behind us before I said, “Karen.”
Karen climbed the steps as though I hadn’t spoken.
“This disease is getting stronger.”
Karen glanced back at me but didn’t stop. “You don’t know that.”
I took the stairs two at a time to catch up. “Your teacher, Donovan? He felt well enough to go to work this morning. Six hours later, he’s flat-lining.”
Karen waved her hand in dismissal. “You didn’t know Mr. Donovan. He was an overweight, diabetic, smoker who was allergic to nuts and pollen. His immune system was a joke. Of course, whatever this thing is took him fast. Trevor still has time.”
“I think you should prepare yourself, in case it’s already too late.”
Karen met my gaze, defiant for a moment, then lunged for the railing. She bent double as she retched, the sound made even more terrible by the echo. She didn’t puke her guts up, but not for lack of trying. When she finally finished, she sat down hard on the steps, clammy and out of breath.
I sighed as I sat down next to her. “I’m sorry. There was probably a nicer way I could’ve put that. I know you’re scared, and I’m not trying to make you feel worse.”
Her eyes closed and her hand on her forehead, Karen nodded. “When we reach the fourth floor, turn right. The nurses desk is at the end of the hall.”
“Okay. And if Trevor’s not on this floor, either?”
Karen trembled as she got to her feet. “Then we go down to the morgue.”
We continued our journey to the fourth floor landing. If only to lighten the mood, I said, “How do you know your way around this place so well?”
Karen checked through the window to make sure the coast was clear. “My mom works here, remember? She used to put me and Scotty in the daycare downstairs. The lady that ran it sucked at her job, so the kids used to play hide and seek in the hospital. Not to mention, I’ve volunteered here every summer since I was twelve. I know this place like the back of my hand.”
“Speaking of your mother, you might want to put your mask back on.”
“Oh, right. Thank you.”
I watched as Karen replaced her surgical mask. “Unless you want to see your mother. Which, I think you should.”
Karen let out a heavy breath. “I want to see my mother more than anything. I want her to hold me and tell me everything is going to be okay, even if it’s not. But I can’t put this on her. I’m…on my own for this one.”
I frowned, a little offended. “You’re not alone. I’m here.”
Karen looked at me over her shoulder then pushed through the door. “Yeah, but for how long?”
Karen’s little dig bothered me, sure, but I decided to keep my mouth shut. She needed somebody with empathy, but I’d shut my emotions off back when I was still a little kid. I sort of floated through life on autopilot. I wasn’t often scared, or sad, or even angry. Violent, yes, but not angry. I was never happy or peaceful, either. I had no idea what to say to someone going through the emotional wringer. My presence and protection were the best I could offer her.
The fourth floor was quieter than the third, because the death toll had been much higher. Karen and I pushed our way through a logjam of gurneys. Karen’s face turned white as she stopped to check each tag. I did the same on the other side of the hall, so of course I found the body bag without a label. I braced myself as I unzipped it, but the universe wasn’t waiting to fuck me in the ass. I know, it shocked me, too. The ghoul that snapped at my fingers was a stranger, and it lost interest in me right away. It shifted its focus to Karen then began to struggle against its restraints.
We reached the deserted nurses desk, where we found yet another dry erase board. Most of the boxes contained the red X, the names of the dead unreadable. We would have to search for Trevor room to room.
Karen turned toward me, her eyes wide, then powerful hands grabbed us by our elbows.