Isabelle Adler © 2019
All Rights Reserved
The hospital was huge, which was both a curse and a blessing. It meant Finn had more ground to cover. But it also meant there was a bigger chance of finding anything left after the building had been raided repeatedly for drugs and equipment.
The emergency generators had long gone dead, of course. The permeating chill made refrigeration redundant, and the fact that none of it worked hardly affected the leftover medications. However, the permanent gloom made the search difficult, and Finn had to waste more batteries for the flashlight, which produced a feeble, creepy glow.
He walked down the dusty corridor, making sure to read the plaques next to the doors and entryways carefully. There, behind the next nurses’ station, was another storage room with rows upon rows of drawers with faded labels. It had clearly been looted at some point in the past—probably more than once. Most of the drawers were upturned and scattered on the floor, devoid of contents. A thick layer of dust and shattered glass from the cupboard doors covered everything, and gossamer cobwebs spanned the far corners of the room and the bare shelves.
Finn stepped inside, examining the labels by the light of his flashlight. Two years ago, he’d pilfered a few medical books from a deserted doctor’s office and had studied them religiously, so he had some basic understanding of what he needed. General stuff like analgesics were great too, but those were increasingly hard to find—not to mention the majority of the stuff he managed to score was long expired. As he’d learned from experience, the meds could still be used after their nominal expiration date, if he was careful. What would happen in a few more years was a different question, but the impetus for immediate survival rendered these questions moot. If he couldn’t scavenge what was necessary now, there might not be a future to think about.
As he’d feared, the storage room was completely ransacked. All he could find were some empty pillboxes and a few rolls of gauze that had fallen behind one of the cupboards. Finn stuffed them in his cross-body messenger bag. These always came in handy, especially the ones that were still in their sterile plastic wrappers.
As there was nothing else to be salvaged from the room, Finn continued on to the patient ward. The hospital rooms weren’t always as thoroughly searched as places designated for storage, and that meant there were still some things to be found there—personal items, medical supplies, and the occasional blister pack left behind by the bygone patients. Even things like shampoo and tubes of hand cream were useful, but he hoped to come across something more substantial.
Siobhan had been unwell these past two weeks, and that was the only reason he risked venturing out into the heart of the city where there’d been sightings of feral gangs. Nothing she’d taken so far had had any positive effect. He had to find something to make her better, to take away the awful coughing she’d been suffering from, or at least to alleviate her pain. Their own little stash of supplies had greatly diminished (they were out of Robitussin and down to their last box of ciprofloxacin), and he had to replenish that somehow before she took a turn for the worse.
The beam from his flashlight picked up upturned beds and smashed monitors. The mattresses were gone, but the utilitarian white nightstands were still there, and Finn rummaged through them, despite the sharp smell of urine and mold that seemed to have seeped into the walls. He stuffed all he could find into his bag—bottles of antiseptics, plastic tubing, boxes of Band-Aids—deciding to sort through his loot later, when he didn’t have to conserve battery life.
He recoiled as a swarm of cockroaches scampered from a lower drawer he’d opened without thinking. Must have been true what they said about the nasty buggers surviving a nuclear holocaust. The cockroaches and other critters certainly seemed to thrive where mammals were now failing. Finn shook his head ruefully at the thought and continued with his methodical search.
The window was tightly shuttered, but he could still hear the distant howling of the wind outside. The weather had grown progressively worse ever since he’d left home. He should probably head back before the storm hit or he’d be stranded here for God knew how long. Just a few more rooms, to make sure he hadn’t missed out on anything important.
As he straightened his bag and left the room, the sound of footsteps echoed somewhere farther down the hall. A few sets of them.
Finn froze. It was never a good sign. Abandoned hospitals and stores usually attracted marauders and other sorts of people he had no desire to meet with. He turned off his flashlight and edged down the corridor, away from the noise, keeping to the deeper shadows, but the footsteps were fast approaching. He ducked into the closest room, careful not to make any creaking sounds, and peered out cautiously, concealed by the partly closed door.
Three bulky silhouettes drew nearer. Geared up as they were, carrying large bags and wearing several layers of outerwear, it was hard to make out details since their lights were facing him. After a short muffled conversation, they split, going down the length of the corridor in both directions, entering and checking rooms, apparently with the same idea as Finn regarding potential pickings.
Finn cursed internally. Judging by the looks of their bags, there probably wouldn’t be anything left after they were done even if he managed to slip out unnoticed and come back again later, and there hadn’t been much to begin with. At any rate, this was definitely his cue to leave. He waited until all the looters were busy searching the rooms and tiptoed down the corridor as quietly and as fast as he could, looking for the emergency exit at the end of it.
The heavy metal door was there, beneath the smashed EXIT sign, but when he tried the handle, it clicked dryly and didn’t open. Finn cringed at the sound that was far too loud for such an empty hallway. Shit, shit, shit. He only hoped the others were too absorbed in their rummaging and making too much noise themselves to notice it.
He tried pushing the door open with his shoulder, but it didn’t budge. Maybe there was something obstructing it from the other side. After a few tries, he left the door alone and crept to the window in hopes of finding it open. The snow-covered rails of a fire escape were visible through the patterns of frost on the windowpane—a tantalizing view of a retreat route.
When he tried the opening mechanism, though, it didn’t even click. It was either frozen solid or corroded into place. Possibly both.
Oh, fuck. Finn looked around desperately, but there was no other way out that he could see. He couldn’t really hide in one of the rooms for fear of being discovered, so his only hope was to make his way back while the looters were still inside the rooms. It would be incredibly risky, but he had no other choice. He didn’t know who they were, and he preferred not to find out. He kept to the wall as he hurried along the darkened hallway back toward the nurses’ station.
It might have worked out if by some shitty luck the looters’ search of the next room wasn’t shorter than the previous ones.
“Nothing here at all,” said an annoyed voice, and then two of the three men shuffled out of the room. One of them pushed a dilapidated bed aside with a loud scrape, which diverted his attention, but the other chanced to look straight at Finn and stopped in his tracks.
“Hey!” The guy said, blinding him with the ray of his flashlight.
Finn threw his arm up to shield his eyes from the light. There wasn’t anywhere to hide, but he took advantage of their momentary surprise and bolted down the hall that led toward the ER entrance.
“Hey, you!” the same guy repeated, none too eloquently, and ran after him, joined by his two comrades. The beams of their flashlights picked random patches along the hallway ahead, dancing jerkily, but it was hardly enough to make out the way clearly. As he rounded a corner, Finn bumped into a gurney, sending it rolling on squeaking wheels and losing his footing with the impact. He went down hard, hitting his knee on the floor that was luckily clear of broken glass and other debris.
Finn hissed in pain and frustration and scrambled back to his feet, but he’d already lost precious seconds. The foremost of his pursuers grabbed Finn by the strap of his bag before he could take another step, pulling him roughly backward to face them. Finn squinted, blinded by the glaring light.
“What d’you have here?”
“Nothing. Let me go!” Finn tried to tear away from him, his heart pounding. That was one unfortunate turn of events, to put it mildly. With three against one, he had no real chance of fighting them off, even if they were unarmed, which he bet they weren’t. If he was lucky, they might take his stuff and let him go. If he wasn’t…