When the end of the world panned out, I took my turn, burned the last corpse in the hospital driveway, and went to bed.
I thought it was over.
Today I wake up to the sound of my best friend bellowing at my bedroom door. Like he’s gone bonkers, batshit crazy, out of his overcooked mind.
I thought it was over.
Not by half.
“YOU STUPID, CHICKENSHIT DEPRESSIVES, I’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THE LOT OF YOU! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’VE DONE? YOU WANTED TO DIE, AND MAKE THE REST OF US DIE, AND THE STRAGGLERS KILL EACH OTHER? HUH? HUH?”
I roll out of bed, open the door to the sight of him pinning the stick-like Moyo by the shoulders against the wall.
“He has anger-management issues.” I sigh, apologetic. “It’s eight in the morning, Nash.”
“NORTH HAD TO CART OUT NURSE G. JUST YESTERDAY!!” He growls, shaking the poor kid so hard his teeth rattle.
“Nash. Nash. Nash.” I try to blink sleep from my eyes. I pull him back by the shirt and put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “What did we say about being civilized?”
As the nurses and doctors started to die off-barely two weeks after I began therapy-and no one from the outside came to retrieve us, we’d decided to take it upon ourselves to keep the peace and order.
We, as in, the neurologically-screwed inmates of Xantan Hospital. And I, as one of the least screwed, had taken upon myself the role of one of the leaders.
“Tell her what you did.”
Moyo looks at me. He looks down. Looks up again, opens and closes his mouth like a beached fish.
“What did you do?” I sound like I’ve aged eight decades since last week. Which I have.
“I picked the lock.” He tries to sound defiant-but can’t even look me in the eye. “To the medicine cabinet.”
“And quietly, too.” Nash fumes. “We were too late.”
I walk to the medicine cabinet and look inside-it’s a mess of overturned shelves and fresh corpses: all but three of the chronic-depressive interns cocktailed themselves out of orbit.
And the worst part is, I’m too exhausted to feel anything.
“One night, Moyo.” I sigh, rubbing my left temple. “I left you to yourselves for one night.”
“They took the pills.” Nash adds. “All of them.”
“All of them.” I repeat blankly.
“Bet you want to kill me now.” Snarks Moyo under his breath.
“Oohoho, no.” Nash grabs him by the front of his shirt and slams him against the wall again, teeth bared. “You’re going to stay alive a long, long time, Boyo.”
I close the medicine cabinet. “I’m going back to bed.”
“What about them?” Asks Moyo.
Nash gestures at me to wipe my face. Spit dribbles out of the right corner of my mouth, without my noticing. I run the back of my hand across my face-even that feels like an effort.
“It’s your mess, kid.”
I return to my cell and crash facedown onto bed, clutching a pillow to my head in an attempt to block out the silence.
I’ll have to admit, that little scene doesn’t paint me in the best light. Maybe I shouldn’t have started this journal with it. Maybe I should put myself forward as some kind of heroine; but to be honest, I don’t feel so hot right now.
And yesterday really was the beginning of something: the beginning of five hospital inmates trekking back to the remains of civilization to get meds for ourselves and the other loose screws. Somehow. From somewhere.
My nickname, as of a month ago, is North. I guess that it’s the only one of my names that matters now, since all the people who used the other one are dead. Amateur musician, social studies major and semi-paralytic extraordinaire. I’m a pretty chill person, by post-apocalyptic standards.
A month ago, the nurses, doctors, janitors, everyone except the patients fell into a sort of coma. No one knew what to do, with the city more than fifty miles away. We called for help-the lines were down. The T.V., the wifi, everything that connected us to the outside world stopped working.
One of the depressives took the ambulance to the city, in an effort to get help. Thankfully, he came back with enough food to feed an army, though he didn’t think of meds, or the empty gas tank. He also brought along five other chronic-depressives, three autistic kids, a lady with Down, and the happy news that the city was also full of catatonics. He got out of the ambulance, went to the bathroom and promptly shot himself with a gun he’d stolen from a 7-Eleven.
We tried everything we could to wake the comatose. When the first doctor died-I don’t even remember his name-we killed a couple others trying to resuscitate them with a defibrillator. And it all went downhill from there.
Do I have it in for the depressives? I don’t. We’ve had a rough month.
Actually, yes. Yes I do. I deserved a corpse-free weekend. Screw them.
But I can’t let it show. They’re about a quarter of our workforce, even now that most of them are dead. And Moyo’s coming with us. Just because of Nash and his sense of retribution.
Two others offer to come with us, when I, Nash and Moyo tell the rest about our plan. One is Lisp, a girl about my age with a motor condition that, to my eyes, improves and worsens at will, like a dysfunctional conduct. She’s got six feet to her name, sleepy gray eyes, long blue hair and a penchant for snark that’s grown as chronic over the past month as the severest condition at Xantan.
The other is Lurch, an even taller, wide-shouldered, painfully shy epileptic who hasn’t said ten words to me since I arrived. As far as I know, he’s worked harder than any of us since the apocalypse began.
“You can’t go.” I tell him.
“I can help.” He says. “I’ll pull my weight.”
I look up at him.
“You’ve had ten seizures in the past month, Lurch.” I tell him. “With medication.”
“You’ll slow us down.” Says Lisp tactfully. “And you might die on the way. Our fearless leader doesn’t want that on her conscience.”
“If you don’t watch your mouth, Lisp, you’re not coming.” Nash growls.
“Are you gonna stop me, Imp?” She smirks, leaning on the wall and looking down at Nash, whose height is close to mine.
Nash opens his mouth to say something-instead he starts stammering uncontrollably, growing angrier and louder by the second.
Hell, what a start.
“Stop, the both of you.” I refuse to roll my eyes. “Lurch, you can come. But if you can’t keep up, I’m sending you back on your own.”
Lurch covers his mouth with both his hands, smiling wide enough to span the room we stand in.
A couple chronic-depressives offer to come, too-but I flat out refuse. One Moyo is more than enough.
As it turns out, the first one to slow the group down is me.
Everything goes smoothly for the first few miles we walk along the highway. There are a few stopped cars and some cows, and nothing else.
After the first few miles, every muscle in my body aches.
My limp gets progressively worse. By the glances the others throw my way, I can tell I’m leaning further forward, breathing harder, my undergrown right side falling behind the rest of me.
“You have to stay alive.” Lisp tells Moyo. She brought her specialized scooter along, so her numb leg gives her less trouble than I give myself. “You’re the only one of us with a fully functional brain-you’ve a responsibility towards the future of the race.”
“Don’t you know depression shrinks your brain?” Says Moyo defensively.
“It shrinks the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex.” Specifies Nash. “But the amygdala grows and hyperactivates.”
“It’s hereditary, too.” Adds Moyo. “So I won’t be doing anyone a favor.”
“In short,” Says Lisp, “You’re the least inconvenienced out of all of us.”
In spite of my ideological disagreement with that statement, my body chooses this precise moment to stumble and fall, scraping my knees and palms.
“See.” Lisp says.
I hear someone chuckling-it’s Lurch. He stops to help me up, trying still not to laugh and blushing beet red.
“Do you want to rest, North?” Moyo asks.
I want to shake my head-but if I keep walking, we won’t be going any faster.
“I can carry you.” Says Lurch, almost inaudibly. “If you want.”
“You won’t get tired?” I don’t want to overtax anyone-least of all him.
“I’ll be fine.” He grins, looking away.
So Lurch gives me a piggyback ride.
“So if you get better,” continues Lisp. “your offspring will get off scot free-or, alternatively, the Apocalypse will kill you, which is what you want, anyway.”
“I don’t want to die.” Mutters Moyo.
“What do you want?” Lisp throws up her hands, exasperated.
Moyo stops, grabs Lisp by the shoulders and kisses her, full on the mouth.
“I wanted to do that.” Says Moyo, equally exasperated. “Now shut up.”
Lurch bursts out laughing.
We spend the night on the grass by the highway. It’s not exactly the most comfortable arrangement, but we brought blankets and pillows, so it’s not terrible. Lisp and I sleep in the middle- I suppose it’s because if something comes to get us, we’re the ones who’d get eaten first.
We wake up pretty early. Nash always gets up hungry and grumpy, so we break out the cereal and sit down to breakfast.
“So, why North?” Lisp asks.
“Because she couldn’t find the bathroom in her own house if she tried.” Laughs Nash.
Lurch chuckles, covering his mouth.
“He’s got a strange sense of humor.” I roll my eyes.
“Anybody want chocolate?” Moyo asks.
We all take a piece of surprisingly dark chocolate. When Nash reaches for one, I put an arm between him and Moyo.
“I hate to be the mom here.” I shoot Nash a murderous look. “But you’re eating chocolate over my dead body, Nash.”
“Bite me.” He snarls.
All because I didn’t let him eat all the cereal in his backpack. He reaches for the chocolate.
I bite at his hand-he flinches back. I pick the chocolate up from the ground, clean it on my shirt and eat it.
“I swear, North.” He grouses, scowling at me. “You’re such an animal.”
“Beast Mom.” Deadpans Moyo.
I shove him, rolling my eyes. The others smirk-Lurch covers his mouth again.
We’re almost halfway to the city when Lurch starts breathing deep. He continues a few paces, then literally lurches to a stop and says,
“Get down, North.”
I jump to the ground. Lurch starts to bend slowly towards the ground, like he’s afraid to fall.
“Nash, help me.” I try to keep my voice calm, take Lurch’s arm and help him down to the ground.
The next few minutes are pretty tense. Though we all have experience with Lurch’s seizures, I’ve yet to get less nervous at their onset. And I’ve never seen him have four seizures in a row before.
We wait it out-making sure he’s lying down on his side, trying to keep him from hurting himself when his limbs jerk. Sometimes he mutters nonsense, a couple times he screams. But that doesn’t worry me. I just pray he doesn’t forget to breathe.
He throws up a couple times when it’s over. His hearing is impaired for a while, and I know his headache might plague him for the rest of the day.
I persuade him to finish-slowly-the two bottles of water he packed for the trip. Moyo gives him some of his chocolate. The tension slowly trickles out of all of us.
“I’m sorry.” Lurch says, when he gets his speech under control.
“We forgive you.” Says Lisp. “Dumbass.”
“You should’ve told us you were tired.” I complain-trying not to whine.
“I wasn’t.” Lurch says. “I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Was it the rock-hard ground?” Grumbles Moyo.
“I was thinking. I’m excited to get out of Xantan, I miss my family, and all the people who died last month…I let things get out of hand. I’m sorry.”
“I get it.” I answer.
“I’ll go back.” Lurch says. “You were right, North.”
“You shouldn’t go back.” I say. “We’ll wait until you’re better-there’s no point in you returning now.”
Lurch smiles his wide smile-he’s too tired to bother hiding it behind his hands.
“Alright.” I say. “For God’s sake, try to sleep.”
He does sleep; and the rest of us end up playing games, talking nonsense and remembering things from before.
But the past is too painful to dwell on. And the truth is, we need every one of our senses on the present-on keeping each other alive.
So, when the first depressing silence falls, Nash abruptly changes the subject.
“You know why Lurch wanted to come?” Says Nash. ”He has this massive crush on you.”
I feel my face heat up.
“He does not.”
Lisp laughs evilly. Moyo just nods.
When Lurch wakes up, I’m suddenly as awkward and blushy around him as he is around everyone else. Out of absolutely nowhere, I realize he has honey-colored eyes and a cute nose. My awkwardness makes my movement even worse. When we take off again, I stumble at least once every five minutes- and I periodically bump into the other four. Especially Lurch.
Damn spatial perception.
We somehow make it to the city in one piece.
It’s a depressing sight-to my surprise, it’s Moyo who pulls himself together first.
“Well, no wonder this place never attracted any tourists.”
He leads us to the biggest specialized pharmaceutical center in the city, without batting an eye, without wasting time or thoughts toward the dead. He reminds me of Orpheus, fighting to walk through the darkness without sparing it a glance. When we reach the center, he checks the counters for corpses.
“Help me move them out.” He tells Nash. “I need a break.”
We take out the list of meds we wrote up with the others. Lisp sticks by Moyo as we browse the shelves and take all we need, as much as will fit into our near-empty backpacks. I go get some food from a nearby convenience store, but only as much as we can carry in our arms. Our packs, our pockets, every other place is for the meds.
Lurch goes to take gasoline-we’ll need to come back, and I don’t want to make this trek again. I’d rather use the ambulance.
I refuse to think about how we’ll make it back to Xantan.
I return to the pharmacy from my trip to the convenience store and find Moyo and Lisp making out in the ibuprofen aisle.
“Hey, lovebirds.” I call. “Let’s move out.”
We leave the city with bulging backpacks.
When we leave the dead behind us, I toss Nash a Snickers bar.
“No way in hell.” He stares at the candy, then back at me.
“Take your meds, stupid.” I grin.
At around eight o’clock, when the sun starts to fall, Lurch-carrying some three liters of gasoline in his left hand- takes my hand.
I blush, hard.
“Hey,” He mumbles. “I, ah…I kinda like you.”
I smile like an idiot. He laughs nervously.
“Alright, Lurch.” Is all my wonderfully articulate, invariably screwy brain can come up with. “Ok.”