Authors: Devon C Ford
AFTER IT HAPPENED
BOOK TWO: HUMANITY
Dan woke and opened his eye to an ornate but unfamiliar high ceiling.
He could only see from is right side, however. He raised a tentative hand to feel his face, discovering heavy bandaging to the forehead and left side. The events flooded back to him, and the tears of grief and fear started to fall weakly for the loss of his friends.
“HE’S AWAKE” shrieked a voice which could only belong to Leah. The noise lanced through him like a bullet, tearing him from his self-pity.
Too many people to count rushed in, staring at him. He turned his painfully stiff neck to his right to see only one other bed occupied. Everyone tried to speak to him at once until Kate’s commanding voice cut through the cacophony to berate them all and banish them from the medical wing.
She came to him, shining a light in his eye and asking him questions to assess his level of concussion.
He answered them all groggily, then started with his own.
“What happened?” was the best he could do. His throat was sore and his mouth dry.
“You caused merry bloody hell, that’s what happened” she said, reading his mind and bringing a bottle of water with a straw in “running off like you did to play cowboy”
Her words were softened by her genuine smile at seeing him conscious and mostly whole.
“They argued all night about going after you, in the end Jack said he heard something on the radio so we just went” she said plainly
“We?” he croaked
“Joe, Jack, Neil and me” she replied. “Found you slumped in Lexi’s truck and found the others parcelled up inside” she continued before he had a chance to ask “Both are fine; Lexi is still out” she gestured to the bed beside him “but she is responding normally. Serious concussion and she needed some stitches. Lots of stitches, actually.”
“Steve was let out yesterday – he was the only one of you not to have a glass jaw by the way – and got twenty-six stitches in the arm. You got nearly forty on your head because I had to be more delicate to maintain your rugged good looks” she waited for a laugh and realised one wasn’t coming.
Dan started to cry silently, remembering the one name that hadn’t been mentioned.
Kate went on “I can’t comment on the last patient, as I’m underqualified.” She let that sink in.
He turned his good eye to her, “Ash?” he asked, hopefully.
“Leah!” she called towards the closed door “I know you’re out there. Be useful and go and find Sera.
No reply was heard, but the door opened a couple of minutes later.
“Sorry for the delay” Sera announced happily as she entered “I’ve been training this little shit to not bite me. Everyone else is fair game as far as I’m concerned, but I had to muzzle him before he gave up and let me stitch him”
Ash limped towards him on three legs as fast as he could, his tail wagging ludicrously and threatening to destabilise him. He jumped on the bed and tried to lick him through the confines of the muzzle.
“How?” said Dan, but could not continue.
“They found you outside” said Sera “they found the others where you had left them. You were all brought back here.”
He looked at her, holding onto his dog tightly and looking at the shaved patch of fur where a series of ragged stitches held together the slashed skin on his left shoulder.
“Joe went inside to see what had happened. I’m told he has stopped being sick now. He brought back all of your stuff and afterwards followed the last trail of blood to where he found this recalcitrant mutt barking at a window out of his reach. He had lost plenty of blood, but let me tell you he was still damned difficult to catch even on three legs”. She rolled up her left sleeve to show a series of bruises and puncture wounds.
“Don’t worry about me” she said with mock selflessness “I’m only on a course of antibiotics and had to have a tetanus booster in the arse, much to her delight” she shot a playfully evil look at Kate who blew her a kiss.
“Seriously though, he was going to have us all until he saw you in here. We had to show you to him every hour or so when he started to play up. You need to sort that out”
Dan was so happy that they had made it out alive, that he forgot to ask about the one who had nearly killed all four of them.
“I need to see Joe, now” he said, suddenly serious.
Joe bustled in, full of self-importance, only seconds after a shouted summons. He must have been in Ops.
“Welcome back, Boss” he said.
Dan owed him a lot, and decided to play it nice. “You did well Joe. Tell me what you found”
He told the story he had already heard from Kate and Sera. Joe had gone in and followed the same tracks which were blatantly obvious as Dan had left a wide smear of blood as he dragged out the other two. It was mostly them who had smeared Dan’s blood, but still, it was like following a satnav Joe said. He found the candlelit room and recovered all the weapons, as well as Lexi’s shredded equipment. He heard barking and followed it to where he found Ash on three legs with barely the energy to stand. He refused to leave a window which was covered in bloodstains, and he had to send someone back to fetch Sera and Chris who eventually managed to get a blanket over Ash and subdue him with minimal injury.
Sera had stitched up the dog, Kate and Lizzie stitched up the people and there they all were. Kate was especially proud that Alice had done her first sutures as she was supervised closing Steve’s wound as it was the easiest. Dan’s face required more experienced hands apparently, including their resident veterinarian.
“Joe” he said carefully “What about him?” he said with a foreboding emphasis.
“No trace, Boss. Went out the window and vanished. Missing Lexi’s knife but I found everything else” he said
Joe left and Dan turned to face the still sleeping Lexi.
“I’m bloody starving. How long have I been out?” he asked Kate.
“Two days” she said, bringing coffee and food.
THE HEALING PROCESS
Lexi woke that afternoon and immediately began to scream, arching her back like she was fitting. Kate and Lizzie ran to settle her. He felt helpless and responsible for her pain.
“You’re officially discharged” Kate told Dan, summarily dismissing him from the makeshift ward as she charged a hypodermic syringe with what he suspected was morphine.
Alice helped him walk from his bed to his own room. Ten metres had not felt so tiring since he had dragged the two unconscious Rangers from the hospital.
He found that his cot was gone and a proper double bed had been put in his room, with a real quilt, and he was propped up in it.
Courtesy of Jimmy, Alice said.
Sera appeared not long after and delivered Ash, now without the muzzle. The dog climbed onto the bed with difficulty and settled down to sleep after his renewed excitement had tired him.
Leah came in not long after bearing plastic plates of food and sat with him to eat as she shared news from the last two days.
Nobody had been out since they had returned; it seemed like they were locked down until further notice. Joe had stood guard throughout the day, with others taking shifts to remain awake at night.
The world continued to turn, it seemed, without his permanent presence to organise people. Steve joined them, prompting Dan to ask Leah to take some time off. She skipped away, eager to warm up with some TV time and whatever it was she got up to.
He asked Steve to open the window and pass him his cigarettes, which he did and he inhaled deeply, relishing the taste and feel of the nicotine in his lungs. Ash grumbled and shifted position, but did not complain any further at his bad habit.
Steve thanked him for what he did, prompting Dan to wave his thanks away as irrelevant. Steve’s left arm was bandaged and in a sling, but he saw that he had a Sig on his right hip and three spare magazines on his belt. He had cleaned the ugly shotgun belonging to Dan and put it on a small shelf above his head where the cigarettes and a plastic bowl to use as an ashtray went. A short time after, Neil brought in a wheeled trolley with a TV and DVD on, plugging it into a long lead connected to his bank of generators.
It seemed that people’s comfort and entertainment were more important than conserving petrol right now.
He watched some awful, far-fetched films over the rest of the day. It seemed that people can drive cars between consecutive skyscrapers it seemed, without injury, and still be able to deliver sensational one-liners.
He had various visitors, all ignored by Ash who still slept noisily. He was brought snippets of news until he had built a picture of how the civilian contingent was coping in the absence of their warrior class. Chris still worked the farm with Sera keeping a watchful eye when she wasn’t moonlighting as a human Doctor, and Cedric and Maggie were busy over on the gardens. Both Chris and Cedric now carried shotguns as provided by Pete from the civilian armoury. This was apparently done on Penny’s instruction, and Joe was forbidden to leave the grounds until more Rangers were fit.
He struggled to the toilet that afternoon as his newly employed digestive system kicked in. Ash wanted to stay asleep, and he managed a short trip outside to walk, or hobble more accurately, his dog before bed.
More food and more news was brought to him throughout the evening, before he was given more tablets and a healthy dose of scotch before he slept.
Sera came to walk Ash before breakfast, and he responded with stiffness and grumbling before he gave up and sat to have her put a lead around his neck.
Breakfast came next, brought by Leah who had charged an iPad she had borrowed from one of the others and wanted to play a game of air hockey with him which was more like pong. He tried to explain pong to Leah and gave up.
At lunchtime he was visited by Kate and Sera and examined; they said he would be fine and left more tablets with a bottle of water.
Jay came next, and lit a fire in his room, changing the atmosphere considerably. Neil had closed his window mostly, but given him a pipe to blow smoke down for it to escape outside.
That evening, Lexi was helped into his room where she was propped up alongside Dan and left. They sat in silence and watched another blockbuster, seemingly chosen as a radical form of PTSD cure. Half way through I am Legend, when the dog died, they both cried unashamedly and both received annoyed and confused looks from Ash.
Hours after they were put together, they began to speak about the hospital.
“I’m so sorry” Dan said.
Lexi cut him off and told him bluntly, “I knew the risks of being a Ranger; it was just unlucky that he got the drop on me”
Dan thought that it was more than luck. He had ‘got the drop’ on two trained men after he took her out, then wounded a vicious animal intent on ripping his throat out before escaping.
“He wasn’t lucky, he was possessed. Driven mad by all this shit. He was dangerous and he and others like him may still be out there” said Dan, unintentionally bringing the mood down to minus ten degrees.
Lexi didn’t say anything for a while, but he knew she was doing some soul-searching. She lacked the words to express it yet, but she had had a near miss. A very near miss.
“Thank you for coming to save me” she said quietly “I don’t know what he was going to do, but they told me what he had done when I was knocked out. I’d have rather died than go through whatever he planned. I’m glad I didn’t” she smiled at him, ever a lamb in his flock it seemed. He didn’t know how to respond.
“There’s space, can I just stay where I am tonight instead of going back to medical?” she asked hopefully.
He wanted her to, but didn’t want her to misunderstand the reasons.
“Yeah, but if your farts are bad and you snore then you’re out. That’s the dog’s job” he said, receiving a disdainful look from Ash.
They drank and watched another DVD afterwards, but the generator power was cut and they both fell asleep in silence and darkness.
MINORITY OF ONE
He had pulled himself desperately through the window as the hideous animal snapped at him, eager for more of his flesh.
He fell to coldness and safety on the outside, clutching at the ragged mess on his right side. He ran to a place he knew well, and slumped into the corner where he lay shivering throughout the night.
The third great lance of flame and noise from the man’s gun had torn a big scrap of flesh away above the patient’s right hip. He was pressing his badly mangled left hand into the ragged wound. He could not move those fingers anyway. He looked down and saw that the ligaments and tendons of the back of his hand were all exposed, some severed and bunched tight never to be of use again.
He hurt everywhere; that evil animal had bitten him so many times until he managed to stick it with the knife.
He lay there, waiting for the demon to tell him what to do, but no instructions came. No commands to follow were given.
What did come was an ever increasing weakness, and the puddle of congealing blood around him widened.
His breathing became shallow and fast.
He realised that the demon had abandoned him, that he was not strong enough to transcend as promised.
He was not worthy, which was why he was going to die.
He was cold. Tears of sadness and weakness, of impotent rage and loneliness began to fall from his eyes.
As his breathing became sporadic, and his heart finally ran out of blood to pump around his body, he lost consciousness.
The patient died where he sat in the corner of his old room in the secure wing of the psychiatric hospital, surrounded by the rotting bodies of those who gave him the tablets which had kept the demon away for so long.