(Excerpt from The Janus Perspective Book 7)
Reggie leads the way with Kevin in tow. Each man dons armor composed of a hodgepodge of mismatch hockey pads and Kevlar. Duffel bags containing a few metal weapons hang from their shoulders. Thus far, iron is the only thing that appears to hurt the shadow creatures, but it doesn’t kill them. Kevin believes his companion is only feigning bravery to mask feelings similar to his own. Trepidation. Apprehension. It is undeniable that they’re both driven by a sense of duty and obligation. Char’s life depends on them finding the medical supplies Dr. Banfield needs. A sister to Reggie. A friend with benefits to Kevin. Char took a gunshot to the chest while saving Kevin’s life, so he owes her.
The front entrance of Pickettsville Memorial Hospital is a dark, gaping maw in severe disrepair. Shattered glass covers the pavement just outside the dark portal, crunching underfoot as the treasure hunters proceed. Kevin envisions an emaciated drug addict breaking the glass to escape, only to be dragged back into the shadows, never to be seen again. The extreme humidity has done its work on the once pristine atrium that appears to have received a fresh coat of a specialty paint called ‘grime and decay.’ Kevin can’t imagine anything they retrieve from this hospital being used in a sterile medical environment.
Mold-covered couch cushions ooze their guts from between distressed seams. Although they don’t see any corpses, an aura of death fills the air. Reggie’s bravery seems to wane as he pauses to take in the scene. He stares at the front desk as if waiting for a ghostly receptionist to slowly rise, welcoming them to the newly branded Hades Memorial Hospital. Kevin is already anxious to leave because the rest of the building is probably far worse than this intro.
Careful not to speak too loudly, Kevin breaks the silence. “We need to make our way to the stairwell.”
Reggie jumps, startled by Kevin’s voice. He’s still staring at the desk. “Yeah, let’s make a move.”
They weave through furniture and debris toward the main hallway. Kevin is thankful for Reggie’s decision to put a couple of headlamps in the bags. Both hands are free if they need to fight, and the lamps automatically dim when struck by bright light, reducing the chance of accidentally blinding each other. As they pass doors barely hanging on their hinges, they try to stay alert should something leap out.
Reggie suddenly stops, causing Kevin to bump into him. They scan the empty hallway up ahead. “What?” Kevin asks, failing to mask his irritation.
Reggie remains silent while staring down the hallway. Kevin sees nothing significant. Reggie finally speaks. “I think we should check the emergency room, just in case the dope fiends missed something. We might even find some of the heavier equipment we need before going upstairs.
“Yeah, I agree, but Dr. B. seemed pretty certain there’s nothing left on the ground floor.”
More silence. Reggie turns around, stepping around Kevin. “OK, I’ll go to the emergency room while you head upstairs.”
Kevin contemplates the suggestion for a split second before groaning and following Reggie back to the atrium. As they pass the front desk, Reggie fixates on it long enough to nearly trip over an end table. Kevin knows he can’t let that slide. “Dude, what were you looking at?”
“Huh?” Reggie replies.
“The front desk. You were staring at it when we first came in. Then you were just doing it again.”
“You’re making a big deal out of me looking at something for a few seconds? I thought I saw somebody over there, but it was just a shadow. An actual shadow. So I moved on.”
“That was a lot longer than a few seconds. It kinda reminded me of…” Kevin’s voice trails off as he recalls Juan’s description of his own moments of catatonia. It’s not something he wants to share with Reggie.
“Reminded you of what?” Reggie presses him.
“Never mind,” Kevin responds. “Let’s just find what we can and get out.”
Reggie casts a curious eye upon Kevin before finally saying, “OK, le’s go.”
The path to the emergency room is littered with putrid garbage and bio waste. I hope I don’t drive a dirty needle through my foot. The sole of Kevin’s boot is far too thick for that to happen, but the simple thought proves unnerving. Beyond the double doors, the place looks worse than anticipated. The dank atmosphere enhances an assortment of faint smells ranging from fresh blood to rotting flesh. Various carts appear at odd intervals, clearly ransacked for whatever goodies could be found. Half full, empty, and broken vials litter the floor. Kevin is positive the dried brown substance smeared on the wall is shit.
“Something tells me whatever we find here is more likely to give Char an infection instead of healing her,” Kevin says.
Reggie carefully rummages through a drawer. “We’re looking for sealed and unused medication. Doc said she could sterilize whatever equipment we find. It’s better to have it than not.”
They scrounge through more drawers and storage bins. Every time Kevin expresses that he’s ready to leave, Reggie insists they check yet another room or closet. They occasionally encounter a charred rib cage or partial skeleton. It’s only a matter of time before one of them places a hand on a more fleshy body part.
Their intense focus is abruptly broken by a chilling sound. Kevin and Reggie hear soft sobbing coming from the atrium. The natural echo of the large room increases the sense of isolation of its source. Multiple sobs are followed by the crackle of a wheezy inhalation. It sounds almost familiar to Kevin, who finds himself inexplicably drawn to it. Before he can reach the ER exit, something grasps Kevin’s arm, immediately breaking his trance. His head wearily swivels toward Reggie shaking his head vigorously.
“It could be somebody who needs help.” Kevin tries to pull away from Reggie.
“Remember, the ones who look human are the most deadly,” Reggie reminds him. “It’s the same for the ones who sound human.”
It’s difficult for Kevin to walk away…
Copyright 2022 Darrell Winfrey