The pre-dawn hours flew behind me and by the time I opened my eyes again, it was already midday - the afternoon loomed not far ahead. A stranded shiver of time, of safety, barraged on all sides by death and terror. Or terror and death.
Whatever rocks your boat.
Anna was sleeping lightly, her back pressed against the eastern-most wall. Her rifle cocked in the direction of the door. She snored lightly, a petite noise that filtered through the air, and sounded incredibly out of place.
And it was quiet.
The candle beside the bed, the one that had been the small source of light in the dark, was down to a pathetic knob. Burned out perhaps hours ago in a glaze of oil and wax.
My headache had subsided somewhat. It wasn't gone - and I figured that it wouldn't be gone for a great while, but it had calmed. There was no longer a raging storm in my head impeding my thoughts. Now it was merely a gusty wind, at times kicking order and reason around, but no longer leaving me a stump in the woods. And that was good.
I took the chance then, to examine my body. Something I hadn't really gotten around to earlier.
I was sort of surprised to find I was dressed in white and gray pajamas. Very comfortable, but definitely not what I'd been wearing when Colin shot me down. Well, if Anna had dressed and attended to my wounds, I suppose it's only natural that she would have to deal with my bloody and torn clothes...
Still, the thought made me awkward. But not in an entirely bad way.
It looked like the shot to my leg had hit me close to the hip. Far above the knee. The other two, the ones that had hit my abdomen hadn't been too far from that one. One right beside my appendix scar and the second an inch or two above it.
Gun shot wounds nonetheless, but none as bad as what I thought had hit me that day. And certainly none bad enough to cripple me permanently. Had my knee really been shattered, or any other bone been severely mangled, I imagine my chances for survival would have quickly become slim to none...
Anna awoke at the sounds of my shuffling. Her eyes perked open quickly, aware and acute, surveying everything quickly. A search for danger. But when she saw none, her posture relaxed and she yawned.
I tested my muscles. With each movement, my leg sent a wave of fresh and sharp pain upward, but my movements seemed fine. My toes wriggled and squirmed. I wasn't paralyzed, although I admit, that had been another worry.
"I'll get some food out if you want? Are you hungry? You haven't eaten much these past days. I didn't bring much food that I could force down for you, but I've at least kept you hydrated."
I wasn't hungry, but she ignored me and after a quick rummage in the bag, fetched two cup noddle packages. Chicken flavor. She poured tepid water in them from some water bottles and let them rest for a few minutes before handing one to me.
We didn't have forks, but she handed me a dull metal spoon and had me eat it with that. The spoon was useless, I ended up having to eat most of with my hands.
The soggy meal tasted horribly in my mouth, and as I chewed it down, I realized I hadn't brushed my teeth in weeks. My breath must have been horrid. We ate in silence and when we were done, Anna merely chucked the foam cups unto the floor, in a space she seemed to have set aside for trash.
"We're in the Winchester Building... it's the most eastern one. Smallest one too, only two floors above ground. We're on the second. I thought that would be best... I chose this... room because it's windowless. Seemed more defensible. But I guess it also means we're more cornered, huh..."
I asked her about the Cat-Freak then. Earlier I had nodded off, mostly because of my restless headache, but as reason returned to me, it occurred to me that I had acted incredibly stupidly.
Anna told me there was a Freak in the building. An infected cat - and the way she had described it, it wasn't something I ever wanted to meet down some dark alley. Yet, given that there was a wild dangerous creature so near, I fell asleep, with no real pause or concern towards our safety, given the Freak-Cat might only be a few walls away. In retrospect, that was more than just stupid on my part. It might as well be suicidal.
I asked Anna about the Cat, questioning what had happened after I fell asleep earlier and where precisely the Cat was now.
She stretched slightly, pushing back against her arm until I heard an audible crack and a short sigh of relief.
"The Cat... is probably in the basement level now. That's where it sleeps the daylight hours away. I know you probably want to kill it but that's a bad idea, for a lot of reasons. For now at least..."
I asked what she meant and she met my gaze with something deep, something like concern.
"I already told you this but, killing the Cat would be... tricky, if we were to attempt it. First, killing it at night would be stupid. The ammunition fire could draw Freaks, more active Freaks, to the building. Because of the situation, I haven't really taken the opportunity to cover our scent. The Cat... is strange. Unlike the human and dog Freaks, it doesn't hunt by scent. In fact, luckily for us, it might almost completely devoid of such a sense. That's the reason it isn't actively hunting us."
I asked her what Freaks she feared the gunfire might draw. Human seemed likely, but perhaps there was a another dog pack situated close by?
Her response was in smile.
"Well of course, who knows what might be out there at night wandering around, but what I worry we might get the attention of are flies. There's a nest of them one building over, in the Stanford Building."
Flies? Infected flies? Shit...
"Yeah. Nasty things. Not something we want to have descending on us. I caught sight of them a few days ago. I was coming back with some of our supplies from back at the school when I caught sight of them. I was a little late. Just past sundown. And I saw these gross huge bugs crawl out of the windows and ascend into the sky. They're the size of a... large dogs. Maybe three feet tall? Whatever, that doesn't matter. The real horror show started a day later."
I asked what she meant and a haunted expression contorted her features for a second, fear contrived with disgust. And my heart missed a beat.
"A few hours past daybreak, I went out, to the Standford Building. I wanted to get a better grasp of exactly what the flies were doing-"
I interrupted her then. I asked if she was crazy. Why the hell would she ever willingly enter a building crawling and combing with infected creepy-crawlies that could fly.
"I wasn't going to just go right in. The Standford Building is the hospital's main administration building. The entrance is a glossy lobby with glass walls. Plenty of sunshine, I thought I might be able to get safely in far enough to get a gist of the... situation."
I placed my apprehension aside for the moment. After all, these were events in the past. She obviously survived the idiotic decision. But I decided to talk to her later regarding the fine line between safe behavior and suicidal behavior.
"The glass lobby walls were smashed open. A cascade of glass adorning the floor... And imagine my surprise when I found the lobby was piled with skeletons. All picked clean. Skeletons and bones of variously different animals. Human... dog ... bird... And then imagine my surprise when I saw a small huddled body lying near the lobby reception desk. Huddled... and shaking."
"So I run over the glass and I get to the body, thinking I'd discovered a survivor. I flip the body over and I find a girl. Early forties? Late thirties? Who knows, she looked tired and worn. But as I touched her, her eyes opened and I saw death in those eyes, Alex. Conscious death. She tried to scream, tried incredibly hard, but all that sounded was a hoarse exhale of breath. Her mouth was cracked, torn viciously at the edges."
Anna was staring at something invisible in her hands and I realized that she was reliving something immensely traumatic. Something she desperately needed to voice. To put into another person's mind, so that her own mental burden could be eased, if not at least sightly.
"The skin above her left eye, her forehead, suddenly bulged outward. I heard a quiet crack. Might have been a crick. And then her body went upright and she vomited. Red and black. Blood and bile. She wretched unto the dirty hospital lobby. And then, I almost vomited too, not because of of the sight of the vomit, but because of what was in the vomit. Maggots. Small little white wriggling maggots. Moving amongst the fluid."
I couldn't blink. Couldn't turn away. Couldn't stop listening to a tale that should never be. I was disgusted. And cursing softly in my mind.
"I dropped her then and stepped away. I realized then, what had happened to her. The flies. They had caught her during the night. Caught her and jammed something down her mouth. And judging from the wriggling shapes moving beneath her skin, that something was maggots. And then I realized what all the bones around the lobby meant. Prior hosts. Others things that the flies had caught and stuffed with maggots. I think that's how they reproduce, Alex. They catch you, stuff maggots down your throat, bring you back here, and the maggots grow in you. Eating you from the inside out. And eventually, all that's left are the fucking bones."
And we were silent for awhile. My breathing seemed irregular, awfully excited, but she had told the tale calmly. Only the way she was staring at her hands any real indication of emotion.
"The flies stay away from this building because of the Cat. All Freaks stay away, actually. The Cat is an... opportunist, I guess you could say. But maybe situational hunter might be a better term... it doesn't go outside the building. Ever. It waits for food to come to it, and then it tries to surprise and over power the prey with a burst of strength. The small spaces of the hospital halls are its friend. They prove to be ample space for it to corner food."
So she keeps the Cat alive so that other Freaks, the flies, wont descend on us. But even if we wanted to kill the Cat, the method would only raise problems. Kill it at night and nearby Freaks might be attracted. Go down into the basement and kill it during the day and it's like walking into enemy territory. The Cat could end up catching you by surprise.
"We're pretty safe here. You haven't seen it, but the passage doors beyond this room, the one that leads to the hallway, are narrow. The Cat is huge. Just waddling around, it takes up almost all the hallway's width. It wouldn't go out of its way to come here, unless it knows we're here. Which it doesn't. So there's no problem there..."
My head was still pounding, and my sudden unease, the story of the flies, had set my heart racing in a strange way. The blood was flowing quickly; jumping. And my head started to burn. Somewhere near the back of my skull, the pressure throbbed and beat with my heartbeat.
Maybe my expression had started to reflect my growing pain. She crossed to the side of the bed and pushed me down, into a more lying position.
"Rest. Now. You shouldn't be getting so excited. We're safe for now. So just relax. We wont be going anywhere for a while with your body like that. So sit back."
I was going to argue but a particularly bad knock of pain hit and before I knew it, I was lying back. The pillow doing small wonders for the throbbing.
"Oh. Do you want to use the bathroom? I... I've had to change you these last days after any accident. But if you're awake, I guess I could bring a bucket, or..."