Word Count: 1,575
For a long, long time I stood by the door with bated breath and Cancer slouched uselessly on the mattress, staring up at the ceiling. Maybe he was saying some last goodbyes because he realized there was a very high chance we were both about to die. The gunfire was getting louder by the second and more and more shots were being fired. Whoever was out there was definitely drawing unwanted attention.
I felt tempted to go out there and just confront them, tell them to shut the fuck up and stop attracting every zombie in a fifty-mile radius. If I did that though I’d wind up dead and Cancer would remain in a vegetable like state, unable to feed or look after himself. I wasn’t sure when I had been assigned nanny-duty but I couldn’t exactly leave him on his own.
All of a sudden, someone’s terrified voice rang shrill throughout the darkened hallways. ‘The door at the end!’
With a jolt of panic I realized I was stood behind the said door.
I pulled my gun upwards and motioned for Cancer to stay where he was. He didn’t exactly protest.
The handle turned and someone’s body slammed against the wood. It shook the coffee table a little.
The idea of letting strangers with guns into our little sanctuary wasn’t exactly an appealing idea but the next voice changed my mind completely. ‘Daddy I’m scared.’
The voice was young, a small child. She couldn’t have been very old. How could I let them die out there?
With a frustrated groan at my inconvenient humanity I pulled the coffee table out the way and unlocked the door. Six shocked faces stared back down the barrel of my gun and I grabbed the arm of the nearest person, a burly looking soldier and yanked him inside. ‘Get in! Put your weapons on the floor and no funny business.’
They obeyed immediately, setting down their guns and holding their hands up in the air. That’s how I knew they were probably harmless; they could have easily outnumbered me if that had been their intention. I was taking a massive risk and it seemed to have paid off.
I slammed the door shut, locked it and began barricading it again. Moans and groans drifted throughout the desolate hospital corridors, hopefully none that would know of our whereabouts. I turned to face the newcomers and had been about to say something when Cancer let out a strangled cry. He scrambled off his mattress and darted straight for the bathroom. He was unstable on his feet though and ended up tripping, probably over his own feet, and went hurtling towards the floor. His head crashed against one of the stalls and when he collapsed, he didn’t get back up again.
I ran over to him and checked for breathing, certain he had probably killed himself in his fragile state. Thankfully, he still appeared to be alive and instead I ended up rolling my eyes.
‘Can I get a little help please?’ I asked.
The burly soldier came over and hoisted Cancer from under the arms. I grabbed his legs and pointed over to the mattress. He wasn’t exactly heavy and we made it to his bed without difficulty.
‘No problem. Is he gonna be alright?’
‘Yeah. He’s just going through something at the minute.’
The guy nodded, looking at me a little uneasily. It wasn’t hard to see why; I still had my gun tight in my grip and the others were all huddled together, eyes wide with fear and apprehension. It gave me a sick sense of power to have them all scared like that. I wasn’t sadistic though; they didn’t have to suffer unnecessarily.
‘You all seem like a relatively harmless group. You can relax I’m not gonna kill you.’
They still looked anxious.
I tried to smile, but it felt foreign and out of place on my face so I gave up. ‘I’m Joe.’
‘My name is David,’ the soldier seemed to realize I was alright and stuck his hand out for me to shake. I took it gratefully.
‘This is Carol,’ he gestured to an older woman with thin greying hair and hard blue eyes. She didn’t look like much fun and I felt like she was going to get on my nerves. ‘Eloise.’ The woman beside him smiled at me. She was also dressed in army uniform and had her brown hair tied in a loose bun. ‘Tammy.’ A larger woman with bleach blonde hair and hazel eyes stared at me, like I was a bomb about to go off. ‘And Alicia and her father, Richard.’
The father was a mousy man with dark hair and blue eyes. I looked at his daughter, although I wouldn’t have guessed they were related had David not told me. The girl’s hair was a mass of blonde fluffy curls and her eyes were wide and crystal blue. She was sucking her thumb and half hid behind her father’s form.
Not much else happened during the next few hours. I offered water and snacks and they seemed to relax slightly in my company. Cancer dozed like a baby on the mattress and every now and then he’d mumble something, an incoherent sentence. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying, the only word I recognized in each muttering was ‘Rayn.’
Sometime later, Cancer stirred. I was stood over by the door trying to listen out for signs of the dead and it was David’s greeting that caught my attention.
‘Look who’s awake.’
Cancer, of course, flipped out completely. It wasn’t unexpected. He was now locked in the bathroom again, one hundred percent conscious and demanding morphine.
‘We saw some morphine on the floor below, maybe we could get some if we armoured ourselves properly,’ Tammy suggested, oblivious to the signs of a drug addict in rehabilitation.
I shook my head. ‘No morphine. He’s gotta do this on his own.’
I had explained briefly Cancer’s problems with drugs and had instructed each of them to not give him any medical supplies without running it by me first.
‘How long have you been here like this?’
‘This is the third day,’ I told him. ‘Although it feels like it’s been months.’
‘What was he on?’
I gave a humourless laugh. ‘You’d get more of an answer if you asked what he wasn’t on. Heroin mainly but I’m sure there’s other shit running through him.’
I remembered too late that there was a small child present and looked at her father guiltily. He didn’t even bat an eyelid; I guessed a little profanity was nothing compared to what she was witnessing nowadays.
‘I’m amazed he’s made it this long,’ Carol said, seeming genuinely surprised. I didn’t blame her.
‘Well he can take care of himself.’ He used to be able to anyway.
‘How come you stuck with someone like that for so long?’
‘He saved my life,’ I said simply. ‘I’ve saved his but he’s become a friend to me and it’s better than being alone.’
‘You’ve got more guts than me,’ Eloise joined in. ‘I’d have found someone else to stick with.’
I wanted to change the subject. ‘How did you all meet?’
David took the reins: ‘Eloise and I were stranded near the White House. We had a massive camp set up, we were trying to rebuild and get on with life as normally as we could. However, an infected person came into the camp and within a few hours the place was in panic and overrun with people turning left right and centre. We got the hell out of there and we’ve been driving ever since. We just kind of picked these guys up as we went.’
The laboratory flashed into my mind. ‘We were in a camp not too long ago, near Atlanta.’
‘Really? What happened?’
‘There was a lab there.’ I purposely left out the part of Cancer carrying a potential cure in his bloodstream. ‘It wasn’t really secure though so we didn’t stay long.’ I smiled suddenly at the memory of Robby causing mayhem just so we could escape. I seriously hoped she was still alive; it’d be nice to thank her if I ever saw her again. I doubted I would, but still…
‘I wonder if that was where Layla was posted,’ Eloise turned to David.
I froze. ‘Layla?’
Eloise smiled fondly. ‘She was an expert in biochemistry. They wanted her to work on a cure.’
Just hearing her name made my blood boil. ‘I know who she is. She killed my friend.’
‘Oh sh-’ David stopped himself suddenly, doing a much better job than me at keeping swearing to a minimum for Alicia’s young ears. ‘Sorry to hear that.’ He didn’t say much else.
‘I don’t think she made it,’ I replied. I hated her guts but Layla may have been their friend and they deserved to know that there was a chance she was no longer alive.
‘What the hell happened?’ Eloise blurted curiously.
‘When we left the lab she wasn’t exactly happy. She followed us with some soldiers, a massive shoot-out occurred and it wasn’t just my friend who died.’ I kept my voice low, hoping Cancer couldn’t hear. Maybe when he was a little more stable I’d replay the events of what happened in detail.
A silence descended upon us all as Eloise and David stared at me in shock.