Well, it’s finally here, and it only took a month. Actually a lot of this was written in the last three days, including some marathon sessions starting at 4am, then picking up again after work. It’s good to be working on this again, and hopefully we can get back to the two week production schedule with Chapter 8.
If you missed yesterday’s post and want to catch up on what’s happened so far, or you need a refresher because the author takes too darn long to write, you can check it out here.
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Kammie’s hand was going to be a problem. By the time she’d crawled to the supply closet for alcohol and some sterile gauze, the blood had run all the way down her arm and was dripping onto her scrubs. She bit down on a roll of gauze and held her hand out as far away from her as possible, hoping distance would somehow lessen the pain. As the alcohol flowed over the wound it was all she could do to keep from screaming. After pouring out about half the bottle, she wrapped her hand quickly and tightly.
The wound wouldn’t close without stiches, but at least she might be able to contain the bleeding, hopefully without cutting off circulation to her fingers. She stood inside the dark supply closet, her former sanctuary, closing her eyes and hoping the faintest hope that when she opened them, all this would be back to normal. Her throbbing hand and the memory of that empty lounge grounded her too well in reality for that dream to last long.
When she rejoined Grace the young woman insisted on looking at Kammie’s hand. Kammie had seen this kind of thing a lot with the daughters and sons of older patients. A fierce protective instinct kicks in, and sticks around for days, even weeks, after the parent has passed on. Kammie waved off Grace’s offer gently with her good hand. She didn’t want the young woman worrying more than she had to, given all they still had to do.
It took another hour to check the rest of the rooms on the floor, though at least twenty minutes of that had been taking abuse from Mr. Thomas and trying to resist the urge to knock him out. Out of the 30 patients on the ward she’d lost four: Grace’s mother who’d likely passed just before the incident, two patients crushed beneath hospital beds including the woman in room five, and a man who’d suffocated after his respirator shut down. Maybe about half her patients could walk if the need arose, and another five might move with assistance, leaving seven confined to their beds, eight if you included Margie who still had not regained consciousness.
A few of the patients on oxygen would need new tanks in a couple of hours, but they could last a while without them until some kind of help arrived. Then again, she’d been wandering around for the better part of two hours and hadn’t seen anyone from the other floors. She doubted they were the only people left alive, but if the other parts of the hospital were anything like hers they probably had enough of their own problems to deal with.
Grace suggested congregating the patients who were well enough to be moved into the lounge with Margie, while the two of them tried to come up with some way to move the others. Even the people who could walk did so with great difficulty, having to lift IV poles above the metal slats between ceiling tiles, all while shuffling in hospital booties. A few of the patients had managed to pull on clothes, though most were forced to wander around in thin hospital gowns. Kammie did her best to help the patients maintain a shred of dignity, though even she stifled a laugh when a particularly wide step exposed a plump 55 year old fanny.
A series of hastened footsteps followed by a loud bang caught her attention. It took her a few moments to realize the sound was coming from the stairwell. The loud bang was soon followed by a series of thumps against the door, punctuated by copious amounts of swearing. Through the small glass window she could see one of the part-time paramedics trying to jump for the door handle. The ceiling, which was now the floor, was about four feet below the door, with another couple of feet between the base of the door and the handle. It would have been a stretch for even one of the taller ride-alongs, and Frank was only five foot two.
Kammie pushed the door open gently and looked down.
“Hey Kammie, can you give me a hand?” Frank said.
Kammie bent down and grabbed Frank’s arm with her uninjured hand. As she pulled up she nearly fell backward as her calves grazed the ceiling slats. Frank stumbled forward and caught them by grabbing the door frame. After righting them both, he grinned wildly.
“Somehow I knew you’d still be alive,” Frank said.
“About time you showed up,” Kammie shot back.
Frank was young, but already almost completely bald. Kammie had never seen his original hair color, but the bits that were left were dyed a dark red. The “part-time” paramedics usually worked the same shifts as the nursing staff, at least three 12 hour shifts a week, which usually amounted to more like 14-16 hours.
Despite pulling roughly the same hours, there was a definite pecking order between the nurses and the medics, with the medics at the bottom. Most were only asked to start an EEG, or maybe to put in an IV, while the nursing staff took care of the rest. Frank had never abided by this divide, and Kammie had never seen the need to build fences either. Mostly Frank was just happy to be away from the stress of riding in an ambulance, never knowing if you’ve saved a life or merely delayed the inevitable.
At the end of a long shift Frank would sometimes stand on his head, walking down the hall on his hands while balancing a tray of green Jello on his feet. The patients got a kick out of it, as did most of the nurses as long as their supervisor wasn’t around.
Frank looked around at the patients congregating in the lounge and the distinct lack of other nursing staff. “Are you alone down here?”
“Just me and a civilian, what’s happening on the other floors?”
“I’m not sure. It took me forever just to get up here from upstairs. I’ve only been to the floor below this one, but it looks like more of the same. At least now you’re all seeing the world the way I usually do.”
A tremor tipped the ceiling beneath their feet and Kammie stumbled into Frank, wincing as she hit her bad hand. The tremor shook the building for maybe five seconds, then stopped.
Frank shook his head, “I was wondering when that was going to start.”
“What?” Kammie asked.
“We’re essentially hanging upside-down from the foundation. Even the best engineered building isn’t designed to withstand these kinds of stresses. Some of the floors might hold up a little longer since they have connections to other buildings, but we’re going to start losing the upper floors soon.”
“Assuming the whole building doesn’t tear itself loose first,” Kammie nodded grimly.
“I knew there was a reason I came up here. What would I do without your smiling outlook on life?”
They’d already been hanging for several hours, and there was no sign that gravity was suddenly going to snap back to normal. She’d had some hope that she could treat these patients in place until some kind of help arrived, but it looked like Frank was all she was going to get.
“We’ve got to get these people off this floor and into the basement levels, maybe the parking tunnel,” Kammie said.
Frank nodded, “My thoughts exactly. Any ideas on how?”
Grace walked over from the lobby and Frank extended a hand. Grace shook it limply, then turned to Kammie. “I picked a hell of a day to wear sandals. I don’t know how you guys can stand for all those hours.”
“I’m not sure either,” Kammie smiled. “How is everyone?”
“Wondering what the hell that tremor was. I told them it was nothing to worry about. I’m assuming I was lying?”
“Not really. Worrying isn’t going to change the outcome one way or another. Those tremors are only the building beginning to tear itself apart.”
Grace nodded, “I’m glad to hear it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It’s much much worse.”
Frank smiled, “A couple of hours with this one and you’re already Miss Sunshine and lollipops.”
Grace looked about to chuckle, but then her face fell. She looked down at the floor, then back up at Kammie. She looked more exhausted than just a moment ago if such a thing was possible. Then again, she had probably been at her mother’s side for days. Her hair was oily and pulled back, and her eyes were white from exhaustion.
“We can’t take her with us, can we?” She said quietly.
Frank looked about to say something, but Kammie brushed a hand against his side to quiet him. “I’m sorry, Grace.”
“Can I see her?” Grace said softly. “I don’t want to just leave her.”
Kammie looked at Frank who nodded. “I’ll see if I can round up some boards for the patients who’ll need to be carried. You guys take all the time you need.”
Grace and Kammie had skipped her mother’s room as made their sweep of the patients. By now they’d been back and forth across the hall so many times that stepping over the ceiling struts was something they could do almost by memory.
The world is such a small place at the end. Her mother had died in a room maybe 10 feet by 15 feet, with only her daughter for company. Was that going to be the way it was for the rest of them? They’d never be able to go outside, never feel the sun beating down on their faces again. They would have to huddle in small dark corners until they ran out of water, or food, or maybe even air.
The people who had fallen into the sky had died in an infinite expanse. It must have been so quiet and peaceful. Sure you might scream for the first few minutes or so, but then you’re just falling without ever stopping. It’d get harder to breathe at some point, but the cold would shut your body down long before you’d have to worry about it. You would just float upward, rising toward heaven. How many of them would step into the sky at the end, just to feel the sun one more time?
They found Grace’s mother lying flat on her stomach, cocooned under her deathbed. If she’d died half an hour earlier she’d be laying upside-down on a cold metal slab in a drawer waiting for a ride to a funeral home that would never come. Grace took a few tentative steps in the door, then hung back. She’d spent so much of the last few days in this tiny room, yet it still felt so cold and foreign to her.
Kammie knelt down gently, and slid the bars back on one side of the bed. It creaked, and moaned, and threatened but it didn’t topple over. She reached over and grabbed under the body’s thigh and shoulder. She pulled gently and slowly, taking care not to bump the bed. When she had Grace’s mother out, Kammie turned her over slowly, taking care to reposition her gown and smooth out her hair. She grabbed a blanket that had been resting on the floor and pulled it up to the woman’s chest. She didn’t look all that much older than Kammie, maybe ten years at the most, and it was clear even from her sunken features that she had once been beautiful. Her daughter was evidence of that if nothing else.
Kammie turned and extended a hand toward Grace, who moved tentatively. Kammie beckoned gently until Grace sat down on the other side of her mother’s body. Kammie discretely watched from the door as Grace stroked her mother’s hair for the last time, kissed her softly on the cheek, then brought the sheet up over her face.
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Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube