Time to weigh in folks. I need some of that brutal honesty. I have the first chapter of DEAD: Onset (Book One of the New DEAD series) done. It has been through its first read-through and basic edits are done. So, if you have some time today, give it a read and weigh in with all the honesty you can. The start of a series is always daunting, and so everybody who sees this can do a little Beta Reading. (And yes, there will be a call for actual Beta Readers coming in early September.) Without any further delay:
The First Few Hours
“Evan? Are you up?”
I spat out the mouthful of toothpaste and cupped my hand to my mouth. “Just getting ready to shower, babe,” I called back.
As I rinsed the sink, I could hear Stephanie, my fiancée, padding around upstairs. I was almost done washing my hair when the curtain opened and Steph popped her face in.
“You should leave about ten minutes early,” she said and then took a sip from her coffee. She closed her eyes and gave a slight moan of pleasure, taunting me with the fact that I hadn’t had my first cup yet.
“Is something wrong?” I asked as I patted down my body to make sure I’d rinsed off all the soap and then shut off the water.
“I guess the police have a section of Powell blocked off. Something about a homeless person or something wandering around in traffic.” She stepped back and handed me my towel.
As I dried, I could hear the Channel 8 morning news team discussing the road closure. I tuned it out and went about gathering my things for my first day of work. Granted, I was only going in as a substitute, but the principal had made it clear that he believed there was a place for me in the music department. I would finally be a full-time school teacher by next year!
As I zipped my bag, my eyes drifted to my heavy tool belt. I’d worked the past few years in construction while I finished school to be a music teacher. It was hard work, but I didn’t mind it knowing that it was only temporary. Also, if not for that job, I would’ve never met Stephanie Strasdin.
I took one last look in the mirror on the back of the door to be sure I was ready. My straight dark hair fell just past the shoulders. I’d been pretty happy when I was told that I didn’t have to cut it. I had on a simple black pullover shirt with the long sleeves pushed up just above the elbows and my favorite pair of black jeans. I’d actually debated on shoes. I loved my Doc Martens. The toes were a bit scuffed, but Steph had nudged me towards the fairly new docksiders.
“You want them to take you somewhat seriously,” she had quipped. “That is going to be hard to do if you look like just another student.”
She had a point. I’d always looked young for my age. Chances are, I would end up being carded well into my thirties which were only three years away.
As I shut the closet door and prepared to head into the kitchen, I paused to watch the bedroom television that had on the local morning news. The footage was being taken from the Channel 8 helicopter. Sure enough, Powell Boulevard was a parking lot for as far as the eye could see in both directions.
The picture swung around and zoomed in on a group of police cars with their lights flashing. A tighter zoom brought a few of the officers into focus. It looked like they had their weapons drawn. I had a feeling that scene wasn’t going to end well.
Grabbing the remote, I shut it off. I didn’t want that kind of negativity bouncing around in my head on the first day. Sub or not, this was my first teaching job. I didn’t want anything to take the shine off this morning.
“Didn’t you say there was just some mentally ill person wandering around on the highway?” I asked as I walked into the kitchen where I could smell toast and coffee in that perfect marriage of morning fragrances.
“I thought it was a homeless guy,” Stephanie said as she slid a small plate containing two pieces of toast slathered with butter and honey.
“Wow…wonder why the cops feel the need to pull their weapons? You’d think they would learn from all the others showing up in the news these past few years.” I took a bite of my toast and shoved that story out of my head for good. Today was my big day and nothing was going to ruin it.
“I will probably have to stay late today,” Stephanie said over her mug of coffee. “So how about you grab some pizza from the take and bake around the corner? We will celebrate your first day and you can tell me all about it when I get home.”
“That new girl didn’t work out?” I pushed my plate aside. I’d only eaten half a piece of toast, but I was just too excited to eat.
“She has called in or left early every day for the past week.”
I got up and moved around the breakfast island to kiss Steph. She leaned up and kissed me on the tip of my chin. It was one of those things that had a story to why she did it. Too bad I couldn’t actually remember it.
“Chewie!” I called.
There was a long pause and then I heard the dull thud of my Newfoundland as she slid off our bed. There was a jingle of her tags and the sound of her big feet padding down the long hallway. I knelt down to greet the big, black dog as it plodded into the room.
“You be a good girl for me, okay?” I grabbed her by her jowls and kissed her cold, wet nose. I looked up at Steph who was holding my denim knapsack out, waiting for me to take it as I headed out the door.
“She’ll be fine. All she does is curl up under my desk and snore.” Steph gave the dog a pat on the side as I stood and took my bag.
I opened the door and stepped out into the misty morning. A solid blanket of high clouds were providing a steady mist. That was one thing about spring in Portland, Oregon…it was not much different from fall or winter. I reached in my pants pocket and grabbed my keys as I tried not to leap down the stairs and sprint to my car. A fresh surge of excitement churned in my stomach making me glad that I hadn’t eaten much or downed a full cup of coffee.
I reached my door and paused. My nose wrinkled and I habitually checked my shoes to ensure I hadn’t stepped in a Chewie landmine. They were clean. I sniffed again for some stupid reason and almost gagged.
“Smells like something died,” I choked out.
“Probably Mr. Bickford’s cat,” Steph held a hand over the lower part of her face to try and block the smell that was almost so thick that it seemed as if I could taste it in the back of my throat. “That silly animal keeps killing squirrels and then leaving them on the porch. I think it has a crush on Chewie.”
“It’ll be anarchy…dogs and cats living together,” I said in a poor Bill Murray from Ghostbusters impersonation.
“You are such a dork,” Steph teased.
“You’re marrying this dork,” I called back as I slid into my beat up old pickup truck.
I turned over the engine and bumped the lever to get the windshield wipers to do a quick sweep across so that I could see. I backed out and heaved the wheel around to aim me towards the exit of our quiet little cul-de-sac. As I dropped into drive, I glanced over one more time at Steph who was standing on the porch with Chewie at her side. She brushed a lock of her dark hair from her eyes and raised that hand in a wave goodbye. I waved back and headed to the first day of what I was sure was going to be the most memorable day in my life.
Today…I was going to be the music teacher at Franklin High School. As I pulled out and headed over to Foster Road, I switched on my radio.
“…unconfirmed reports of the entire town being quarantined—”
I gave my CD a nudge and smiled as it slid into the player. Seconds later, the opening chords to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell blared in my cab. The news had been pretty dismal as of late. There was some new flu or sickness or something that had everybody in a tizzy. Personally, I could care less. I never understood why folks got so bent out of shape over a sickness that killed a handful of people when there were literally billions in this world. The news always made it seem worse than it really was and did a hell of a job scaring the gullible general public.
I sang along with Bon Scott all the way to work. As soon as the big brick building came into view, I had to fight the urge not to stomp on the gas. When I pulled into my parking space, I had to just sit for a moment as the excitement swirled around inside me. I watched groups of kids as they trudged to the main entrance of the high school before I finally got out of my truck. That is when I saw another teacher giving me a questioning look.
“Can I help you?” the older woman said.
She was probably in her fifties and had hair that had turned a very unflattering shade of gray. The wrinkles around her eyes, the crevices in her cheeks, and the lines at the corners of her mouth gave her away as a smoker before I got close enough to pick up on the telltale stink. She was maybe a shade over five feet and far more than a shade over two hundred pound. Her eyes were dark and piggy and the frown she wore so naturally had me thinking of every teacher that I’d despised when I was in school. I could just imagine the life being sucked out of a room whenever she entered it.
“Name’s Evan Berry. I’m the music teacher?” I hated that my voice quavered just enough to make that seem like a question.
“Mr. Poole is the music teacher here,” the woman said with a snort.
“Yeah…I’m his sub.”
“Oh…well then, you aren’t really the music teacher, are you.” There was no quaver in her voice, so her words came across as a statement and not a question.
I opened my mouth to say something that I would probably regret later when the sounds of a police car’s siren erupted on Powell Boulevard just a few yards away causing me to jump. I looked over to see the squad car speeding away with lights and siren in full effect.
“Not from around here, are you?” the woman sniffed as she waddled past me and headed toward a side entrance to the school.
I felt a bit of my earlier exuberance trickle away and quickly made the decision that I would not let some sour old lady ruin this day. If everything that I’d been told in my final interview was true, then this would be the end of my days in construction.
“I’m the music teacher, dammit,” I whispered as I took a deep breath and pulled open the door.
This may be my first day, but I was familiar enough with Franklin High School to notice that there was something a bit off. There should be more kids walking the halls, hurrying to class, or just hanging out by their lockers. As I made my way to the teacher’s lounge. I began to notice something else on the faces: fear.
I made my way down the hallway of hushed conversations and teenagers that were acting more like frightened children being dropped off for their first day of pre-school. I pulled up by a fountain a few feet away from a trio of girls.
“…says that her mom made them help tie her dad down to the bed because he kept trying to attack them,” one of them was saying in a hurried whisper.
“Jessie said that she saw a man behind the Dumpster in the Safeway parking lot, and that he was eating what she swore looked like a dog!” another girl exclaimed.
“He was probably one of those gross homeless people all spun out on meth,” the first one tried to insist.
“Yeah, well my dad says that this is something worse than the news is letting on. He is home right now packing things into the RV. He says that we are leaving this afternoon for someplace in Eastern Oregon where he goes during hunting season,” the girl who had told about the supposed dog eater commented.
I decided that maybe I should just head to the faculty lounge. Teenagers—especially the girls in my experience—love to overexaggerate and overdramatize.
I was anxious to get to my classroom, but it was obvious that something odd was going on here. For the first time ever, I was beginning to wonder if maybe I’d become too cynical when it came to the news. After all, it seemed there was always some sort of illness that they would pound into the public’s consciousness. I just could not get worried when some bug or another would be claimed as being responsible for the deaths of nine people in some backwater province in China. I knew that there had been a lot of talk the past few days, but I’d ignored it.
I was a little disappointed when the first person I saw as I opened the door just happened to be the unpleasant woman from the parking lot. I stepped inside and shut the door behind me. A handful of other teachers were clustered around a table that had a ratty looking coffee maker sitting on it; that seemed like the place to be.
“Evan,” a man’s voice called from my left. I glanced over to see Principal Julian Gordon poke his head up from behind a newspaper.
“Principal Gordon,” I returned the greeting and adjusted my course to head over to the collection of chairs and a loveseat that had a rip where some of the stuffing poked out.
“Looks like your first day is going to be a short one.” Principal Gordon folded his paper and tucked it into a small pouch sewn to the side of his chair.
“Why is that?”
“Where have you been?” he said with obvious surprise at my ignorance of whatever this bug was that had everybody so worked up.
“You guys are talking about this Blue Plague thing that the media is blowing up and scaring folks with?” I tried not to sound too derisive, but I really did not have much faith in the spin machine that was our so-called news media.
I looked around the room and suddenly realized that everybody’s attention was now directed at me and the principal. I felt my mouth grow dry at the ominous feeling that filled the faculty lounge. A bell rang signaling the start of class, but I wasn’t the only one to jump at the sudden sound.
“The rumors are that it is some sort of human rabies that is spreading like wildfire,” Principal Gordon said with a grimace once the ringing stopped. “Riots were reported this morning in Tokyo, but the worst is North Korea. They just went dark about twenty minutes ago and the president is calling some sort of security council meeting.”
“The internet is saying that a town in Kentucky is being completely quarantined and that the citizens have all turned into crazed, blue-faced lunatics that are acting like gee-dee zombies just like you see in the movies,” a man wearing a red flannel shirt and faded jeans growled from where he stood staring out the window on the far side of the room.
“Carl, don’t be ridiculous,” the principal scolded. “Carl is our resident conspiracy theorist…and when he isn’t filling that role to the fullest, he is our woodshop teacher.”
I laughed and then wagged my finger around the room at all the assembled teachers. “This must be some little ritual or something that you folks do to the new guy.”
“You really think the media is just making this stuff up?” the parking lot lady said in total disbelief.
I was about to say something about how they’d blown up things like H1N1 and West Nile when my phone buzzed. I was still getting used to having a cell phone and it took me a few seconds to realize the source of the tingly buzz in my pants pocket.
“Excuse me, just a second,” I said, holding up a finger as I saw Stephanie’s name on the screen.
We had a standing policy about calling each other at work: we didn’t. When you were on the clock, your time belonged to your boss. If she was calling me, then it had to be an emergency.
“What’s wrong, Steph?” I asked in a loud whisper as I stepped back out into the almost empty hallway.
“There is a man in our backyard and he is trying to get in the house!” Stephanie sobbed. “He tried to attack Chewie…she managed to get away, but he bit off a piece of her tail, Evan.”
My mind quickly replayed the snippet of conversation I’d heard from the girls gathered by the water fountain. I shook my head to clear it and was about to speak when I heard the sound of glass shattering.
“Steph!” I shouted, already my feet had me moving towards the parking lot.
“Evan, he’s trying to come in through the back door…he broke the window!”
I heard the deep bark of Chewie, but it didn’t really sound like her. This dog had a ferociousness that was not something that I could accept as being from my sweet girl. This was the opposite of my gentle giant. There was the sound of something cracking followed by Stephanie’s scream.
Then the line went dead.
The door to the faculty lounge opened and the principal stepped out. “Is everything okay, Evan?”
“No…I don’t think it is,” I head myself say. The thing is, I felt like I was outside of my body for some strange reason. Whatever this was, it couldn’t be happening.
“Evan?” Principal Gordon said in a loud whisper.
“I have to go,” I mumbled as I started for the exit.
I could hear the principal calling me as I sped up from a fast walk to a jog and then a run. I reached the exit and slammed the door open so hard that the clang made me jump and caused some nearby dogs to start barking.
I was just reaching my truck when a voice called from almost directly behind me. I spun, a fist raised as if I felt like I was about to be attacked.
“I’m coming with you.” It was the woodshop teacher, Carl. “That phone call sounded serious. If it’s one of them things, you might need some help.”
“One of what things?” I snapped as I jerked the door to my truck open and jumped up into the cab. “I don’t have time for this crap.” I slammed the door and was more than a little surprised to see the burly man stalk over to the passenger side and give the handle a tug.
Exasperated, I leaned over and flipped up the lock as I turned the key in the ignition. I didn’t actually wait for him to get all the way in as I dropped the lever into drive and punched the gas. I was less than ten minutes away, but that could be an eternity if somebody was breaking into my house.
“Thought I heard something about your dog being attacked,” Carl said as he grabbed the dashboard to brace himself while I swerved around a car that was waiting to make a left turn at the intersection that I flew through.
“You were listening in on my call?”
“Friend, your lady was screaming. Everybody in the lounge heard.”
I hadn’t thought of that. The light a half a block away turned yellow. I stepped on the gas knowing that there was no way I would reach it before the light turned red. As I shot through, I heard the honks of angry drivers in my wake.
“You get us killed and you won’t be doing the little woman any good at all, friend,” Carl said through clenched teeth as I practically drove up onto the sidewalk as I reached the next intersection where I had to turn right.
The truck bounced a bit as it took the corner and I fought the steering wheel to straighten us out. I eased up a little on the gas pedal, but I still had to weave between traffic. At last, I saw my street. At the entrance to the cul-de-sac were a half dozen or so people. They were all just standing in a group. A few were pointing or craning their necks to get a better look. I smashed down on the horn as I approached and was briefly grateful that they at least moved out of the way. I recognized some of the neighbors and made a mental note that I would be in a few people’s faces when this was over. How the hell could they just stand there while Steph was in obvious trouble?
Almost on cue, I heard a scream coming from the direction of my house. It started like a regular scream…but then it changed. This was like nothing I’d ever heard in my life, and it almost made me sick to my stomach just hearing it and knowing the source.
Carl was already out of the truck before we’d skidded to a complete stop. I jumped out right on his heels and sprinted for my front door. He didn’t wait for me and burst into my house. I noticed that he was pulling something from his hip that looked like one of those extending police batons.
Just as I stepped through the doorway, I heard another scream. It was so blood-curdling and terrible. It hurt me deep inside to hear somebody make that noise; knowing that it was Steph caused that pain to burn itself into my soul so deeply that I did not believe the feeling would ever go away even after this was over. A second later, I was hit by the smell. It was the same as I’d detected this morning when I’d left for work, only much stronger and mixed with something coppery.
I had no idea what to expect when I followed Carl down the hallway and to rectangle of light that was the entrance to our bedroom. At first, my eyes could not really comprehend what they were seeing. A dark splatter of blood had sprayed one wall and the drips were making their way down as gravity took charge. There was a strand of black fur on the floor at the foot of the bed that looked like Chewie’s tail. The dog was on the far side of the bed and standing between this man who was covered in filth and where Steph had retreated. Somehow, I’d taken the lead from the woodshop teacher and led the way into the room.
Steph was on her knees on the bed, clutching at her left arm that was gushing blood all over her precious white comforter. For some reason, all I could actually think in that second was how angry she was going to be at having her favorite comforter ruined. There was no way all that blood was coming out.
“Hey!” a voice shouted from just behind me and to my left.
Carl shoved past me and was waving that baton in the direction of the man who’d assaulted Stephanie. I climbed up on the foot of the bed, momentarily cursing the fact that she’d insisted her side be pushed all the way against the wall.
The horrid smelling man brought his gaze up to Carl and what I saw made me pause. His eyes were all covered in a sick yellowish film. It reminded me of this lady down the street with really bad cataracts. Only…there was more to it than that. Besides the hideous film that coated them, they were shot through with black tracers. His mouth was coated in red; obviously from having taken a bite out of Stephanie’s arm.
Those two things were enough to convince me that something was very wrong with this guy. My eyes tracked down to his right side. The coat and shirt he’d been wearing was shredded and I could see his bare skin underneath. I had no doubt that I was seeing his actual rib bones where the flesh had been savaged.
Are those bite marks? I wondered as Carl swung his baton and connected to the side of this guy’s face. I’d just grabbed Steph by the hand of her uninjured arm, but my eyes were focused on a single tooth that I saw fly through the air. I heard it land on our floor with a ‘plink’ sound and I shuddered involuntarily.
The man was now turning all his attention on Carl. He was reaching for the man who’d just struck, and the mangled mouth opened to emit a low groan. Carl swung again, this time connecting with the upper arm. I heard a nasty crack, but the crazy son-of-a-bitch didn’t even appear to notice. He staggered towards Carl and tried to grab the retreating woodshop teacher.
“You seeing this?” Carl grunted as he swung again.
This time I was certain that he’d broken the man’s arm as the baton connected with the right wrist. Still this guy gave no indication that he’d been hurt. He staggered another step towards Carl who was now back-pedaling to get clear of the clutching hands that reached for him.
Chewie had jumped up on the bed and come over to me. I saw a nasty trail of blood following her, and I could now confirm that she’d indeed lost most of her tail.
“Evan,” Steph cried, “what’s happening? What is wrong with that…person?”
“It’s just like I was saying.” Carl took a few steps back, putting more space between him and the reeking lunatic that I was now certain had to be on drugs.
My mind tried to make sense of Carl’s statement. I knew there should be some sort of meaning there, but all I could process at the moment was Steph’s crying and obvious need for a doctor, and Chewie’s terrible injury.
At last, the fog clouding my brain seemed to clear a bit, and I pulled Steph with me as I made for the doorway. Just as we reached it, I paused long enough to yank open my closet and pull out a couple of belts that were hanging up.
“You paying attention?” Carl called out as I pushed Steph out of our room and then proceeded to back out as well.
I watched as he swung that baton again. This time he struck just above the knee. I heard the crack and saw the leg bend inwards at an unnatural angle.
“What the…” That was all I could manage. This was just not possible. That guy should be on the ground, howling in pain and maybe clutching his ruined left knee. Still he came at Carl; although, he was now titled to one side very noticeably as he staggered forth.
Chewie had squeezed past me, and now Carl and this intruder were the only two people in the bedroom. The amount of blood everywhere gave me pause. Looking at this poor man, I tried to figure out how we would be able to explain this to the police. After all, despite his having attacked Steph and my dog, we (and by “we” I mean Carl), had shattered this guy’s wrist. Done terrific damage to his knee, and I was almost certain that his one arm had been busted above the elbow.
“C’mon, Carl,” I urged. “We need to get out of here and call the cops.”
Carl paused, leaned forward, and then gave the injured man a hard shove back before turning to face me. “Do you not see what is right here in front of your eyes?” I opened my mouth to respond, but he talked over me, shutting me up. “This ain’t no damn rabies. This is some gee-dee George Romero zombie shit. If’n you’re too stupid to see it…let me demonstrate further.”
I once again tried to speak, but Carl had already turned his back on me. In a flurry of blows, I watched him shatter bones in the arms and then take out the legs. I wanted to stop him. Part of my brain was screaming at me about the wrongness of what he was doing. I backed away with Steph, moving up the hallway, but still able to see what Carl was doing to Steph’s attacker.
“You see what I was saying about this being a gee-dee zombie like in the movies?” Carl called out to us.
It was all just too much. I turned, scooting Steph along towards the front door. She was bleeding, and I needed to get her to the hospital. Something in my head reminded me that I’d had the presence of mind to grab a pair of my belts from the closet.
Turning to Stephanie, I think I registered for the first time just how bad off she was. Her face had drained of all its color and she currently had her eyes squeezed shut.
“I’m gonna get you to the doctor,” I said in a rush. I could hear the heavy thuds as Carl continued his merciless beating of the sick man in our bedroom. All of this was reminding me of some bizarre scene from a Tarantino movie. “Before we go, I just want to put this on your arm to hopefully slow down or stop the bleeding.”
I had already made a loop with the belt, but now I looked down at her wound and my vision swam for an instant. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from passing out and then I fixed the belt on her bicep, just a few inches above her elbow. The rip on her forearm was jagged and nasty. I could see flaps of skin and strands of muscle all slick and lubricated with a crimson sheen.
“Steph?” I realized that she’d stopped crying hysterically at some point. I gave her a gentle shake and her eyes flitted open.
I stumbled back out of reflex. Her eyes, once beautiful and shiny…always hinting at mischief, were now unfocused and staring straight ahead. Also, I could see the capillaries darkening almost as I watched.
“We need to get moving, friend.” Carl was now standing beside me.
I started to look over my shoulder to the bedroom and he moved into my line-of-sight to keep me from actually seeing what he’d done. But I knew. Yes…in the back of my mind, the knowledge that he’d just beat a man to death in our bedroom was there, and the reality of it was growing. He reached out to guide me the rest of the way up the hall and I jerked from his touch like it scalded my skin.
“I can manage,” I said, although I doubt he hardly heard me. My mouth was so dry that the words were more of a rasp than actual intelligible sounds that conveyed how I did not want his help.
I nudged Steph and she took one slow step after another. I was almost to the door when something bumped into my leg hard enough to cause me to stagger. I looked down to see my dog Chewie staring up at me with her big brown eyes.
I felt myself tearing apart from the inside. There was a trail of blood where she’d walked and her tail was dripping. Steph was bleeding from her forearm and had apparently gone into shock.
“I need your help,” I said to Carl.
“Your little lady needs the hospital.” I thought I heard him mutter ‘For whatever good it’ll do her now’ under his breath. “I think I’m just gonna walk home.”
“Wait…what? You’re leaving?”
“I gotta get home and take care of business. If I was you, I’d…” His voice faded and he glanced back over his shoulder. At last, he turned back to face me. “Look, I know you gotta take her to the hospital. I ain’t gonna try to talk you out of it.” I opened my mouth, but he motioned me to be quiet. “I can tell you ain’t ready to believe me yet…but I think you will before long. Just don’t wait until it’s too late. If I can impress upon you how important it will be to get your missy there checked in and then maybe you come home once they take her in back. Come home and see to your dog maybe.”
I glanced down at Chewie. She wagged what was left of her tail and blood splattered the sofa and the television screen with gruesome results.
“I’ll patch her as best I can and get that fella out of your bedroom—” That snapped me out of my haze for a moment.
“What about the police?” I blurted.
“I can call ‘em, but I don’t think they’ll be coming too soon. Sounds like they got enough troubles at the moment.”
That was when the sounds of sirens filtered in and registered in my consciousness. How was all of this happening so quickly. Maybe I was still asleep and would wake to my alarm any moment now to start my first day as a teacher.
“You need to hurry up and get her to the hospital if there is gonna be any chance at all.” Carl was now herding Steph and I to the front door. “You hurry…and don’t stop for anybody. When you get to the hospital…” He stopped again and I could tell he was struggling with something as he stared at Steph. “Just you try to remember what I was saying about all this. Nobody is gonna want to believe it. Nobody will accept it for what it is until it’s too late. Sad thing is, I think we already tipped past that point and are sliding head first into a big shit storm the like of which none of us are ready to face. Hell, I barely believe it myself.”
Somehow, as he’d spoken, Carl had managed to get us to my truck. I thought I saw a few of the onlookers from that crowd at the corner standing in the neighbor’s yard. Honestly, if you asked me five minutes from now, I don’t know what I would remember.
The truck almost seemed to be driving itself as I made my way to Legacy Hospital. I was oblivious to anything but reaching the beacon of help that the hospital represented.
“Just stay with me, Steph,” I kept repeateing every few blocks…or maybe it was every few seconds.
Each time I glanced over at her, she was simply staring straight ahead. I doubted that she was seeing anything. Seven times I had to pull over for emergency vehicles of all sorts. Also, I drove past one apartment complex that looked to be swarming with police as well as three ambulances. It was around then that I realized I kept hearing the pop-pop-pop of small arms fire. That was when it became clear to me that maybe Steph wasn’t the only one in shock.
As I sat behind a Tri-Met bus and waited for the light to change, I physically slapped my face a few times. The first two times barely registered, but by the third time, I felt clarity return. At least I was hoping that was the case.
At last, I pulled into the emergency entrance and found a parking spot. My eyes took in the surroundings and I realized that there were three ambulances in the bay in addition to the fact that the lot looked to be nearing capacity. I wasn’t a regular at hospitals, but that seemed to be a bit much.
I climbed out of the truck and made my way around to the passenger side. I opened the door, but Steph was still just staring straight ahead. I undid her seatbelt and took her good hand. She was like a robot, but she climbed out.
“It’s a surprise,” she said when her eyes finally looked up at me. Tears added some of the shine back, but those dark tracers seemed to be growing darker and lacing her normally beautiful hazel eyes with something terrible.
I was taken aback by her words. They’d been the first she’d uttered since the house where all she had basically done was scream hysterically.
“What’s a surprise, Steph?” I asked.
We stood that way for a while, but she had slipped back into shock or whatever it was that had her acting like a…
Zombie? Was I really about to use that word?
I shoved that out of my head along with all the nonsense that Carl had been spewing. Hell, that was probably why that word came to mind. Well, I’d be giving him a dose…if the cops didn’t arrest his ass. I wasn’t sure they would be able to overlook the fact that he’d busted up that guy so bad despite the fact that the bastard had attacked Steph.
What about those other injuries? the voice in my head piped up, but I shut that down fast as well. I wrapped an arm protectively around Steph as we made our way to the entrance of the emergeny room of Legacy hospital. We were almost there when she began to slump against me.
I felt her knees go and moved to scoop her into my arms. Her head lolled back as I began to carry her as fast as I could to those twin sets of double doors. I stepped on the electrical pad that cause the doors to swing open and I rushed inside.
“Help!” I croaked.