Chapter 6 of a multipart fantasy serial, new chapter nearly every week.
Patricia opened her eyes. She felt lethargic, and groggy. For a moment, everything was blurry and white. Then some focus. She saw medical equipment and an IV drip. Patricia hated needles, and so she instinctually glanced down at her arm to see a medical bandage wrapped where the IV had been removed. Her throat felt dry, and when she spoke her voice came out sounding raspy and a little bit foreign, “He… Hello?”. A cough from the side of the room that she hadn’t been looking at caused Patricia to turn her head. She saw that a plastic curtain had been hung across the small room she was in, taped to other pieces of plastic, the walls, and the floor to make a sort of makeshift seal. On the other side of that curtain was an elderly man, whose silver hair was almost completely victorious against a few scattered remnants of black. He was wearing a doctors smock, and coughing into a large white handkerchief. As he finished one final deep wet sounding cough, Patty noticed first a dark mustache, and then the bright spots of fresh blood on his handkerchief. He quickly covered it up with a grandfatherly smile, his striking eyes almost reflecting the silver in his hair.
“I was wondering if you’d ever wake up. How are you feeling Patty?”, he said with a pronounced Russian accent, incongrouous with his Asian features. The man straightened himself in his chair, and gave Patricia a glance over, his eyes lingering in ways that made Patricia feel uncomfortable in her sideless hospital gown, and re-assess the grandfatherly-ness of the smile he gave earlier. She tugged at the sides and tried to face the man more directly. When she felt more comfortable she spoke and found that her voice was working a little better, even if it still sounded strange.
“What happened? Where are my parents?”, Patricia said in the bravest voice she felt she could muster, sitting up further and pulling a thin white bed sheet up further around herself.
The doctor chuckled, spurring another small cough, “Good, straight to questions. I’m not sure how much time I have to explain things, so I will be equally direct. Please, you have a lot of questions, I know, but I think you will get them answered faster if you let me do some explaining.”
Patricia almost asked another question before processing what he had said, but then nodded, as the doctor paused to reach for a glass of water and took a sip.
“Good. First, you were in accident. Do you remember rollerblading home?”
Patricia nodded again. Vaguely remembering an impact with some kind of hatchback, and then… something.
“A car backed into you, knocking you in front of larger truck. Fortunately your helmet shattered and prevented the worst impact. You did suffer a concussion and have been unconscious for nearly a week.”
Patricia looked like she would ask something, but the man held his finger up.
“My name is Demitri, and I’m the doctor who was on call when you came in. The reason I’m all alone here, and that there is plastic screen between us, is that something terrible happened while you were unconscious. The US has been attacked by a biological weapon. A virus or agent of some kind, they haven’t identified it yet, but we know it’s airborne”, Demitri paused again, the coughing now taking on a more sinister meaning before resuming, Patricia now too stunned to interrupt. “Bad news is, for those infected, the mortality rate is nearly 100% and fast. It’s virility is unheard of. It all happened so fast there was no time to respond.”
More stunned silence from Patricia. Demitri noticed and seemed to take the opportunity to slide more bad news in, speaking the horrible answer to the question on the top of her mind.
“I’m sorry, like most of the hospital staff, your parents were among the first to succumb.”, a feeling like a stab, and stunned silence from Patricia, as the now more obviously sick man continued. “I’m sorry to dump it on you so quick, but I have more information to share, and perhaps not much time.”, the Doctor seemed to rally a bit, “When we first heard news the doctors setup plastic barriers around all of our immobile patients, and it seems your seal is good and with any luck you haven’t been infected. You may not believe me now, but you are uniquely lucky Patty. Not just for having survived the accident, but because of all the rooms in hospital, you happened to be in the one that has an access to the Hospital’s emergency bunker.”
Demitri shook his head with a small smile as if he couldn’t believe her luck, but Patricia couldn’t seem to share his optimism, she only felt surprised that the tears had not yet started. Demitri seemed to lose a little steam, having another coughing fit while Patricia processed. The elderly man looking suddenly much older.
“I don’t have much time it seems, and I can’t help you with this next part. The virus is airborne, and as I’m uncertain how long the tape will hold you need to listen and follow this next set of instructions quickly. I’m only sorry you didn’t wake sooner and I could have had more time to explain.”, Another, more vicious coughing fit, the white cloth was now soaked with a mix of red, brown, and blackish ooze. “In the corner of the room is hatch. As soon as you feel comfortable standing, and I mean as soon as possible, get up from your bed, open the hatch, climb in and close it. There is big circuit breaker at the bottom of the ladder, turn that on to activate filter and ventilation.”
Demitri then began coughing again, this time not bothering with the now soaked cloth. Much of what he coughed was big globs of wet material, like a jelly. Patricia was horrified enough to be distracted from what he had been saying as she now felt genuine concern for the man. He raised a hand to stop her from getting up and heading towards him.
When the coughing ceased, Demitri looked visibly weakend. “I have the virus, and will soon succumb. The only thing keeping you from this fate is that hasty plastic shield. The virus, or whatever it is, seems to be airborne. Please do not waste any more time in moving into the bunker. There is a computer down there with access to global emergency network, as well as radio. Do not come out until”, and here he coughed again, “… it’s demonstrated to be safe. He then had another coughing fit, dramatically falling out of his chair and curling up on the floor weakly as the violence in his coughs wracked his frame.
Without thinking any further, Patricia went into action. Climbing out of her bed, she examined the hospital room. Her cordoned section had no windows or doors, perhaps the hospital basement? The only exit was the door behind the now disturbingly quiet and sprawled Demitri, and a circular hatch that had been built into the floor like a submarine entrance. As she got up, Patricia saw her clothes, the black “Bomb Technician” shirt, her carpenter jeans and sports bra, folded in a neat pile on an uncomfortable looking hospital chair. Next to that, her messenger bag. She grabbed the wheel on the hatch, and with a hard turn was able to get it open. At the bottom of a 20' ladder a light flickered on, she shouted down but there was no reply. Automatic. Looking back to Demitri she could see that he was indeed no longer moving or breathing, and, after a shiver, she moved with more urgency.
Tossing her clothes and bag down the hole, she climbed in herself, the cold rungs of the painted metal ladder feeling strange on her feet as she climbed down. With one last glance to the dead quiet room, Patricia shut the hatch over her head and spun the smaller interior wheel to seal it closed. A draft she hadn’t noticed ceased flowing past as the hatch was shut. Patricia descended the ladder shakily, towards the weak light at the bottom of the pit.