*THUMP THUMP, THUMP THUMP*
My heart pounded against my temples. Every double beat shot sharp pains through my head and neck. I tried to peel my eyelids open, but the lashes of my right eye were sealed shut. My surroundings were bright; the light didn’t help with the pain. I reached up to force my other eye open which was covered in a crust. As my eyes focused, I discovered my hand had come away with red flecks, dried blood.
I was laying on a gurney. Medical equipment surrounded me on every side. Slowly sitting up, I looked myself over. Blood was spattered over portions of my nurse scrubs, but I didn’t seem to have any severe injuries. The blood likely came from the wound on my head, yet I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten hurt or how I ended up sitting in the back of an ambulance.
Other than me, the ambulance was unoccupied. The front seats were empty and all of the vehicle doors were closed. ‘Did Jack and Emma forget me?’ It didn’t make sense. In the two years I worked at the medical center, I had never heard of a patient being forgotten in the back on an ambulance. Jack wasn’t a genius, and Emma was basically a ditz, but neither of them would forget a patient—me—in the back of an ambulance.
I slid off the gurney and felt a sharp sting. An IV tube was stretched taut from my hand to the saline bag near the wall. Grabbing a small bandage from the counter, I pressed in on top of the IV needle as I removed it from my hand. “I hate IVs,” I muttered through gritted teeth.
I tried the handle on the back of the ambulance; the latch clicked and I swung the door wide. The parking bay was silent. Sunlight streamed through the garage door windows. ‘How did I get here?’ I wondered. My mind raced, attempting to rewind to my last memory. I recognized the ER parking bay. I was at the Allina Medical Center. I’d spent many nights chatting with Jack and Emma while most of Forest Lake slept peacefully. It was daytime, though; I should have been home.
I rounded the ambulance and moved toward the swinging doors that lead into the emergency room hallway. I pushed through, the doors swinging wide with ease. The ER hall was brightly lit; the fluorescent bulbs hummed softly. The right side and far end of the hall had similar sets of swinging doors in place to allow gurneys to pass. The left side of the hall had a single door leading to a medical equipment storage room. The bulk of the hospitals needles, bags, tubes, and other disposable items were kept there. Two benches flanked the door. If family was brought in with the ambulance, this is where they waited for their loved ones.
I stopped in the center of the hall and pivoted. ‘Think, Amber!’ I paced toward the parking garage, pivoting on my heel again just before the doorway. ‘I was working…’ I paused in front of a bench and took a seat. I buried my face in my hands, struggling to find the path that lead me here. ‘Jack and Emma—‘ “Where are Jack and Emma?” I whispered.
I stood up from the bench and moved toward the emergency room doors. “Jack,” I called out as I pushed one of the doors open, “Em—“ I choked on the last word; the hairs on my arm rose on end and my heart quickened. It looked as though a can of paint had exploded in the corner of the room. There were random footprints scattered in the blood as well a large smear leading to the small ER restroom. ‘Jack and Emma, they brought someone in last night.’
I took a tentative step into the room. The blood underfoot was already dry. I continued through, each step deliberate and slow. My mind struggled to make sense of the scene. ‘Thomas and I were working,’ I thought, trying to retrace the steps that led me here. I stepped over an IV stand lying on its side. The room was in utter disarray. Instruments were strewn about the floor, their crash carts rolled into corners or overturned. One of the beds was shoved against the wall, its privacy curtain torn from its running bracket.
‘Jenkins…’ my thoughts continued. I paused, standing before the main hall door. My skin crawled and ice ran up my spine. “Thomas,” I murmured. The horrific evening replayed itself. “Thomas,” I sobbed, tears spilling over my cheeks.
A snarling groan echoed through the room. I whirled around, my hands covering my mouth. The image of Thomas being thrown to the floor and ravaged flashed through my mind. From out of the restroom doorway stumbled Emma. She wore pink scrubs, the same as mine, but hers were torn and black with saturated blood. He left legging was torn completely off as was most of her calf. Bare tibia and fibula ran into her sneaker, dragging behind her as she shuffled into the ER.
“E--emma?” I whimpered, “Wh--what happened?”
She responded with a throaty moan that caused a knot in my stomach to form. Emma lunged toward me, her left leg unable to balance, sending her diving face first into the linoleum. She didn’t even attempt to brace herself for the fall, still reaching out for me, as her faced smacked the floor with an audible *crunch*. Without hesitation, she pushed herself to her knees and looked up at me. Her eyes were glassy, but focused. Her nose had crumpled in on itself from the fall and it looked like one cheekbone had shattered. She issued another groan, muffled by her collapsed nasal passage. As I turned to run from the room, my mind tried to sort through the flood of thoughts. ‘What happened to Emma? Where was Jack? How was she even walking? Why wasn’t she bleeding? How is she even alive…?’
I retreated through the swinging doors into the ER hall. Within moments, Emma crawled through behind me; her gurgling moans continued. I backed toward the main hall doors. Mesmerized, I watched as Emma pursued on hands and knees, leaving a wet trail of blood behind her. Suddenly the doors swung wide behind Emma. Jack stumbled through, slamming into the opposite wall and leaving a large red imprint of himself behind. He swung his head to look at me. His face and upper body were soaked in blood, his once-blue scrubs now a dark purple. He took a few steps toward me then wailed, the sound echoing through the hall.
I staggered through the second set of doors into the main hall of Allina Medical Center’s first floor. To my left I could see the main entrance to the building. Yellow ribbon crisscrossed the doors, flapping in the wind. My mind had barely registered the police tape before noticing the silhouettes filling the lobby. One large form rounded the corner from the lobby into the hall.
“Frank?” I whispered.
The lumbering security guard locked eyes. He took a few heavy steps toward me before letting out a low grumbling growl. Several moans responded from the lobby. I could see the silhouettes coming into view: Veronica, Betty and Ann from the lab, police officers, and patients. One of them pushed past Frank, a small girl. From the chest up, I could have mistaken her as someone like me…alive. Her torso was torn away like the crust of a pot pie; a length of intestine looped near her thigh.
She screeched at me, moving much faster than Emma had. Except for the wound in her mid-section, she appeared normal. Startled, I turned, taking two steps, then pausing. Five figures were approaching from the far end of the hall, blue scrubs, pink scrubs, and hospital gowns. I could recognize the closest one immediately. Even through the hissing snarls and flayed face and neck, I could recognize Thomas Brody from any distance.
“Oh, God, Thomas!” I cried. Twisting back around, I saw that the small girl was already upon me, her teeth bared and her eyes wild. Instinctively, I shoved her. She couldn’t have been more than eight years old and weighed as much as a sack of dog food. The girl bounced off the wall, hitting the floor hard, most of the momentum her own. She screeched again and crawled back to her feet.
The moans resounded from all around. The ER doors slowly opened as Emma pushed her way through on hands and knees. I looked around me frantically, seeing the heavy door with the simple label on it, Maintenance. I dove for the door handle, swinging it open. I slipped into the small room and slammed the door shut behind me. With a quick turn of the knob above the handle, the dead bolt slid into place. I had never been so grateful that Jeffrey, the janitor, never locked his maintenance room.
It was roughly five feet by eight. The three walls were lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. All manner of cleaning products and tools were stacked in neat piles. A large wheeled bucket sat in the corner with a mop handle protruding from it. I sunk to the floor, leaning against the only barrier between me and them.
*BAM BAM BAM*
I winced as the fists began pounding at the door, then I cried.