The stench of rotted flesh and sweat strong enough to be used as elephant tranquilizer wake me. The eye opening knockout gas.
It’s nearly pitch black less for the horizontal slit of orange flickering light across from me. Shadows walk through the flickering light and faint voices whisper about. Laughter from children and women off in the distance. My eyes adjust to the room I’m in. I get up. My feet slap bare on the cold floor and I head for the source of the light to be met by a door. My ear against it I hear the the other side with more clarity.
“That’s check mate, mate. Guess that means I’m the better man after all!”
“That was luck. I got distracted. Best two out of three.”
“Don’t be a sore loser, mate. Take your loss like a champ and give the next person a chance to lose to the master.”
They sound like normal people.
I feel around for the doorknob and twist. Through to the other side it opens to the hallway of an abandoned hospital. Candle lit far down the sight line until it’s swallowed again by the black void somewhere off in the distance. More people packed into this one hall than I’ve seen in months. The place turned its attention to me and sank into complete silence.
“Guess he’s not dead,” one of the men at the chess table says.
A woman walks over with a tray of food. Cooked canned spaghetti, an apple, a cup of water and a closed single serving bag of peanuts. “Eat this. You’ll get some of your energy back.” Just like that she fades off into the shadows.
People gradually return to their activities. The chest table is cleared and I’m welcomed over to it to eat.
“You’re lucky we got to you when we did. You weren’t looking to good,” the man sitting across from me says. “I’m Izek. I found you just as you passed out from exhaustion. What were you doing in he closet, mate? The house was empty. There was nothing to be hiding from.”
The exhaustion must’ve lead me to hallucinate because I remember running from a horde that followed me into the house. The closet was my only option to say alive. I was locked in there for days hearing voices directly outside the door before these guys showed up.
“They chased me in. They must’ve left before I got there.” I say.
“Who followed you in, The afflicted?” He asks.
“Yeah. I was scavenging around the area when one of them spotted me and let out a shriek that alerted the others. The I was on a mission to get away. To become invisible.”
“And I see how that turned out, mate. Poor luck with the draw. You’re safer here, though.” He reaches out to shake my hand. What’s your name, mate?”
“Alex,” I say.
“Well, Alex, get comfortable. Relax. Build your energy back up, mate. You’re with us now. You can stay here for as long as you need to. This hospital is barricaded and well protected. We have survivors in abundance and everyone runs a guard shift or a service shift to keep the place running smooth as silk. Eat up. Rest up. Look around. Talk to people. You’ll find yourself a way to be of service I’m sure. And if you’ve no ideas how to be of help just help the elderly. You can run guard shifts. Work the kitchen. Clean. Help at the daycare. But there is never enough willingness to help the elderly. That’s everyone’s job. It’ll catch you later, mate. Got things to tend to,” Izak says before fading into the shadows.
I finish eating. Feel myself get energized. Down the entire cup of water. I’m alive again.
I’m in blue scrubs used by the hospital staff before the outbreak. These people must’ve cleaned me up and changed my clothes. Still feel my legs and arms shaking from the week long starvation streak I was on.
I venture off down the hallway when I’m done eating. Every patient room I pass is turned into a miniature hangout. People gathered quietly reading by candlelight in some. Board games and card games in others. Painters and sketchers. Everyone’s learned how to pass the time. I go up a flight of stairs into another candle lit hallway. A quiet one. Glimpses into the patient rooms on this level show they’ve been converted into apartments for the residents of the hospital.
“Here, hun.” A gentle, almost inaudible voice says. An older woman standing by one of the doors. “This room is yours. It’s small since we found you alone, but it’ll do. It has all the things you’ll need. A bathroom. Wish a standing shower. A bed. And enough room to keep a couple of things.” She points at a little square piece of paper on the wall. “She can put your name right here if you want people to know it’s your room. Neighbors will introduce themselves or you could wait until morning when everyone is up and down stairs and you could introduce yourself to them.”
”There’s candles inside. I already lit one for you while I cleaned the room up.
“Thank you so much.”
“The things that were found with you were left inside next to the bed. No one touched any of it beyond moving it there and checking to be sure you had no weapons in it.”
“That’s fine. Thanks.”
I go into the room and check around. The moonlight beaming through the window lights just enough to make the room visible without the candle, but the added light helps.
A couple of jeans and shirts are laid out on the bed. Left for me to change into.
I rest them on the chair and lay on the bed watching the candle flicker by the window.