The pounding had stopped for some time now. My nose was stuffed up and my eyes felt swollen from crying for so long. I had sat with my back against the maintenance door while they pounded endlessly. Their moaning, a sound like deep guttural hatred, made the tears fall even faster. It was just my luck that the doors in Allina Medical Center were solid hardwood. Perhaps in another time and place I would call it a waste of money, but now they were the only thing between me and the things outside.
I don’t know how long it was before the gunshots started. I sat, eyes clinched tight, with my knees hugged to my chest. The pounding stopped. The moans became softer. They were moving away from the door, but I was frozen. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak; I was barely even breathing.
“Clear!” someone shouted from outside the closet. I could hear muffled talking. Suddenly, there was pounding on the door again. This was different, not fleshy fists, but something hard.
“If someone is in there, open up!” a voice commanded. Hesitantly, I turned the deadbolt knob. As soon as it clicked, the door swung wide. Searing white light blinded me and I stumbled backwards. “We’ve got a live one!”
I felt hands grab me and lift me to my feet. I stumbled along without argument, being led from the closet and out the front door of the hospital. The carnage was overwhelming. Bodies riddled with bullet wounds lay strewn about the lobby and reception area. Men were positioned throughout the room in navy body armor, carrying automatic weapons. Bright white letters spelled out S.W.A.T. on their backs. My mind couldn’t make sense—no—refused to make sense of the scene before me.
“Come on, Miss,” one of the men escorting me said. I had stopped in the entryway, frozen with the ‘train wreck effect’. The unadulterated violence was so disturbing, yet I couldn’t look away. I recognized faces amongst the dead: Jack, Emma, Frank, and Mr. Anderson, a patient from the second floor diagnosed with emphysema a couple weeks ago. ‘I bet he didn’t think this would be the way he died,’ I thought, a small laugh escaping my lips.
“Miss, please.” I felt a nudge on my shoulder. I turned to see a young man, not a year over thirty. He looked at me directly, his eyes showing both sympathy and sorrow. I nodded in response and pushed through the large glass doors. Echoes of gunshots rang out and followed me into the starlit night.
I glanced around, bewildered. “Wh—what time is it?” I asked, remembering the light filtering though the garage door earlier.
“It’s almost ten-thirty,” the officer replied, “This way, Miss.” He directed me by pointing to the back of a large S.W.A.T. van. As I approached, I could see the parking lot had been cordoned off with yellow tape. A small group of people crowded at the edge of it and several officers faced the crowd, keeping them back. I could make out the yelled questions, “Ma’am, how long were you in there? Miss, how many people have been killed? Could you tell us how you survived?”
A tall, heavy-set man stood at the rear of the van. He looked to be in his late forties and his pale pock-marked face had graying stubble on it. “Good job, Smith,” the man said, addressing the escorting officer, “Help Bravo with clean-up on the first floor.”
“Yes, Sir,” the officer replied, turning on his heel and jogging back to the hospital entrance. Muted gunshots could still be heard coupled with an occasional flash from one of the second story windows.
“Ma’am, I’m Sergeant Wilson. Could you follow me, please?” The sergeant led me to a squad car parked nearby. He opened the back door and motioned for me to climb in. The reporters at the end of the parking lot still frantically called out to me. The sounds disappeared as the police car door closed.
Sergeant Wilson climbed into the front seat, closed his door, and then turned to look at me. He must have seen the questioning look in my eyes as he spoke, “Before you ask, I don’t know what’s going on; no one does. The experts are claiming a rabies epidemic. I don’t buy it. I’m hoping you can shed some light on this.”
I didn’t know what to say. Nothing made sense. Everyone that I worked with was dead, but even worse, they tried to attack me. “I—I don’t…” I stammered, then burst into tears. I sobbed hard into my hands. The sergeant tried to console me, but I couldn’t hear his pleas over the sound of my own heart pounding.
When I opened my eyes, he was in the seat next to me holding out a tissue. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. You don’t have to answer anything; it’s been a long day.” He smiled at me as I took the tissue and dabbed at my eyes. It came back wet, but clean. ‘I must have cried away all my mascara already,’ I absently thought. He took one of my hands in his. They were hard and calloused. “Normally I’d take you down to the station, but nothing has been normal about today. No one is left at the station to watch over you. Calls have been coming in all day and have only gotten more frequent as the night has progressed. Is there someplace I can take you? Where do you live?”
“David’s,” I replied instinctively, “my—my boyfriend’s house.” I cleared my throat and blew my nose into the already-soaked tissue. “He lives in the apartments off Eleventh Avenue and Twelfth Street.”
Sergeant Wilson nodded at me, still smiling, and climbed out of the car. He returned to the front seat and, without a word, started the car and pulled away from Allina Medical Center.
* * * * *
Sergeant Wilson waved to me as he drove off. For a moment, everything seemed normal. I could hear the frogs croaking and crickets chirping. The stars twinkled in the cloudless sky. There was no traffic, no commotion, but nothing could erase the images from my mind.
I made my way to the apartment vestibule. I reached into my pocket for my keys, but came up empty. ‘My car…’ I thought. Last night’s memories were still blurry. I remember leaving the hospital. ‘I must have gotten in an accident; that explains the ambulance,’ I pondered, reaching out to the button panel on the wall and pressing the one labeled 206.
“Hello?” a static-laden voice projected from the tinny speaker.
“David? It’s me, Amber,” I replied, nearly a whisper.
The box emitted a loud buzzing noise and I pulled the security door open. I walked up the stairs and down the short distance of hallway to David’s apartment. I opened the door, stepped inside, and immediately closed and locked it.
“Hey, hun,” David said, without even looking up. He sat on a tan colored couch, a game controller gripped firmly in his hands. The LCD television pulsed violently, animated characters fighting for their imaginary lives. The entertainment center surrounding the flatscreen was enormous. Many shelves held books, DVDs, figurines, and games. “Hunter! Come on guys, I’m getting my ass kicked here!” he yelled into the headset microphone positioned in front of his mouth.
“David, we need to talk,” I said, taking a seat next to him on the couch.
“We’re almost through the sewer, can’t it wait a sec?” he pleaded, his gaze never leaving the television screen. I watched as a horde of zombies thrashed at his character’s body, the screen turning a dark red hue. I’d seen this game before, I knew he’d be dead soon.
“No, David, it’s important,” I replied. I could feel the tears welling up again. I had to tell someone what happened, but every time I tried to put it into words, I lost my voice.
His screen went black; he died. “Damn it!” David cursed into the microphone, tearing the headset from his head and tossing it to the floor. “Damn noobs don’t know how to play this game.” He looked at me, the frustration plain on his face; it softened seeing my tear-filled eyes. “What’s wrong, babe?” he asked, trying to be sympathetic.
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. The tears spilled over again. I tried to find the words between the sobs, but couldn’t form them on my tongue. A few minutes passed and the immediate pain subsided. I was with David; everything would be okay.
“I—I don’t know how to begin,” I explained, “It started last night…”