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26.12.2018

“Are you coming?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Today isn’t good, I’m really sick. Think it’s food poisoning. Probably something going around at the motel, everybody has it. But it’s probably for the best anyway, I think we should hold off. But I’ve been doing a ton of research. It turns out the government has put up a list of names on their Web site. I haven’t been there yet but let me give you the address—”

Amy hung up on him, and turned off her phone.

It was, she would have to say, the angriest she had ever been in her entire life. She took a dozen deep breaths, trying to remember the techniques from the meditation class she had taken (somebody claimed it could do as much to control pain as any prescription painkiller, ha-ha).

She only had one other option. She dug the zombie flyer from her purse, unfolded it, and dialed the hotline number the guy had given out during the press conference.

She punched her way through a series of voice options, then when she reached an operator said, “Uh, hi. My name is Amy Sullivan. My boyfriend’s name is David Wong. His house is where the infection started. Both of us were there. I’m showing symptoms. I think I should be quarantined but I’m two hours away and I don’t have transportation.”

Long pause on the other end.

“Please hold.”

After a minute, a friendly sounding male voice came on the line and said, “Ms. Sullivan?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll come get you. Stay exactly where you are. Don’t panic.”

“Okay. Do you know where the bus stop is in front of—”

“We know where you are. We’ll be there within thirty minutes. Please stay where you are. If someone else approaches you, ask them to stay at least fifty feet away. Remain calm.”

Thirty minutes? So they did have people in town.

She hung up and bit into a Red Vine. She felt stupid. This is what she should have done all along. She’d be in Undisclosed before dark.

13 Hours, 30 Minutes Until the Massacre at Ffirth Asylum

Dark. Thirsty.

I had been hospitalized only once before, for a concussion and some cuts and a fractured eye socket I suffered in a car accident, and for a minor gunshot wound unrelated to the accident. I don’t remember any of it clearly, it happened during a period of my life that is mostly lost to my memory. But one thing I do remember is the long, slow, touch-and-go bob to consciousness that came with the artificially induced coma of anesthesia. Sights and smells drifting in under the haze of nonsense dream logic, and a sense that the world had skipped ahead in time without me. And under it all, the thirst. This was like that.

My last solid memory was stepping through the Porta-Potty, stepping out of the BB’s restroom door and into a shouting, shoving crowd that had gathered behind the store. The people were being herded into that spot by National Guard—confused, scared kids with assault rifles and no protective gear. Somebody started shooting and a head burst like a balloon next to me, the dead guy flailing back through the door I had just exited.

Days had passed since then. I knew that. I could feel it in my sore joints, and I had a vague sense of cycles, of consciousness and unconsciousness—sleeping through a night, drifting in and out of a day that was just as dark. I had been moved, and moved again, rolled down a hallway on a gurney. I remember having an IV in my arm for a while, and then they took it out, and then put it back. I had been outside at some point, behind a fence, talking to other people. I remembered screams, and panic. All of it just flashing through my brain, like headlights passing a bedroom window at night. There and gone. Meaningless.

Sleep.

Awake.

Dark.

I had eyes. I felt the twitch of my eyelids opening and closing, though the view remained the same either way. Was I blind?

I moved my right arm. I couldn’t feel the dragging weight of plastic tubes attached, so I had been unhooked at some point. With some effort I lifted my hand to my face, to see if my eyes were covered. They were not. I blinked. I tried to lift my head, and groaned—a bolt of pain fired up my neck. I looked around for the glow of a digital clock, or a slit of light under a door, or blinking green lights on a console measuring my vitals.

Nothing.

I tried to sit up. I peeled my back off of the sheets, but my other arm wouldn’t come with me. I tugged on it and heard the clank of metal and felt cold steel around my wrist. I was handcuffed to the bed.

That is never a good sign.

I peeled apart dry lips and croaked, “Hello?”

Nobody would have heard it unless they were sitting on the bed with me. I tried to swallow and give it another shot.

“Hello? Is anybody out there?”

Something about the echo of my voice told me I was in a small room.

“HELLO?”

I waited, for the sound of a shuffling nurse’s footsteps outside, or even the jingling of keys and a burly prison guard to tell me to shut the hell up or he was going to put me in solitary.

Nothing. I thought I detected the sound of water dripping, somewhere.

Suddenly I was certain—absolutely certain—that I had been abandoned here. No question, they had stuck me in a building, chained to a bed, and left me here to die of thirst. They didn’t even leave a light on. I’d lie here, for days, pissing and shitting myself, like a neglected dog in a trailer park whose owner was off doing meth somewhere.

“HEY! ANYBODY?”

I yanked at the cuffs. It didn’t do anything but make an irritating noise. I couldn’t even see a door.

There isn’t a door, they just built up a brick wall over the opening, or locked me in a shipping container and bulldozed a thousand tons of dirt on top of it or sank it to the bottom of the ocean.

“HEY! HEY!”

I got one leg up—neither was restrained as far as I could tell—and kicked at the railing the cuffs were attached to. I had no strength in the leg. The railing didn’t give.

“HEY! GODDAMNIT!”

“Sir?”

A tiny voice. I froze.

Did I actually hear that?

I blinked into the darkness, stupidly, looking for movement. Somebody could have been sitting on my lap and I wouldn’t have seen them.

“Hello? Is someone there?”

“It’s just me.” Sounded like a little girl. “Can you be quieter? You’re scaring us.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Anna. Is your name Walt?”

“No. My name is David. Who’s Walt?”

“I thought they called you Walt earlier. When they brought you in.”

“No. Oh, okay. Wong. They probably said Wong, that’s my last name. David Wong.”

“Are you from Japan?”

“No. Who else is in here?”

“Just us. You me and Mr. Bear.”

“Okay, Anna, this is going to seem like a weird question but is Mr. Bear an actual bear or a stuffed bear?”

“He’s stuffed when grown-ups are around. Sorry if I scared you.”

“What are you doing here, Anna?”

“Same as you. We might be sick and they want to make sure other people don’t catch it.”

“Where are we?”

“Why didn’t you ask that question first?”

“What?”

“It didn’t make sense to ask me what I was doing here if you didn’t know where here was.”

“Are we in the hospital?”

No answer.

“Anna? You there?”

“Yes, sorry, I nodded my head but I forgot that you couldn’t see me. We’re in the old hospital. In the basement.”

“Then where is everybody? And what happened to the lights?”

“You can ask the spaceman when he comes by again. There were lots of them here before but everybody has been gone for a while.”

I didn’t need to ask who the spacemen were. Guys in contamination suits.

“How long has it been since they’ve come by?”

“I don’t know, I don’t have my phone. It was two sleeps ago. I’m sure they’ll be back soon. Maybe they close on the weekend.”

“Do you remember when they brought you here?”

“Sort of. They came and got my dad and they told us we couldn’t go home and moved everybody downstairs to the special hospital. And, that’s where we are now.” In a whisper she said, “I think we should be quiet now.”

“How old are you, Anna?”

She whispered, “Eight.”

“Listen to me. I don’t want you to be scared, but they left us here with no power, and no food, and no water. Now hopefully they’ll come back and take care of us but we have to make plans assuming they won’t.”

“If you drank all of your water you can have some of mine.”

“I … do I have water? Where?”

“On the table next to you.”

I reached over with my right hand and hit a row of shrink-wrapped bottles. I dug a bottle out and drank half of it and went into a coughing fit.

“Sssshhhhh. We really should be quiet. There’s a box of granola bars and stuff over there, too, but they’re not very good.”

“Why are we being quiet?”

“I think I hear the shadow man.”

I choked on my water.

“Shhhhh.”

“Anna, we—”

“Please.”

We laid there in silence, floating in still darkness like a pair of eyeless cave fish.

Finally Anna said, “I think he’s gone.”

“The shadow man?”

“Yes.”

“Describe him to me.”

“He’s a shadow with eyes.”

“Where did you see him?”

“Over there.”

“I can’t see where you’re pointing.”

“Over in the corner.”

“When? When did you see him before, I mean?”

She sighed. “I don’t have a clock.”