We went back to the hall where Mrs. Hickory was and placed Eddie in the room next to hers. Ria sat by his side sobbing silently in a chair. There was nothing I could do for her except let her be alone with her son, so I decided to use this moment to go back to the kitchen and find myself something to eat. After a few minutes of browsing, I settled with some chicken noodle soup and fruit cocktail.
I was sitting in the cafeteria on one of the uncomfortable round stools, halfway through the can of fruit when I heard Ria walk in. I looked up briefly then returned my gaze to the fruit which was looking less appetizing by the second. She sat two seats away to my left and placed her elbows on the table and her head in her hands. I continued eating. She looked over at me.
“I knew you would get hungry.” She said, placing a can of beans between us on the table. “I didn’t know what you liked.”
“Thanks, but you didn’t have to do that.”
“I wasn’t sure we would be coming back, so I picked it up… just in case.”
“I’ll have to save it for later. I don’t think I can eat another bite right now.” Ria grabbed the can of beans and placed them in a small, white, cloth bag I hadn’t seen before. She must have noticed me noticing it because she explained where she had found it without my asking.
“I found this bag in Eddie’s room; I put all of the supplies we picked up in there too.”
“Good thinking.” I said as she produced the can of vegetable soup she had obtained earlier. I stood up, “Just going to go throw these cans away.” She nodded and pulled the lid off the can of vegetable soup. I glanced around for a couple seconds trying to spot a garbage can. The only one I saw was all the way on the other side of the cafeteria. As I walked, I tried to think of something to say to her to comfort her, reassure her or simply make conversation. I came up short on all three. Looking at the tables with the trays of uneaten food still occupying them, it dawned on me how ridiculous it was that I was even bothering to throw away my cans. We haven’t been trapped long enough to resort to anarchy, I told myself.
When I got back, I sat one stool closer to her than I was before. There was still a whole seat between us. A chair that represented every barrier that I couldn’t cross and every barrier she couldn’t as well, if she even wanted to. I thought of Gwen and felt ashamed for even thinking of trying to get closer to Ria. I tried to force myself to think of other things. My arm in its sling was hurting so I held it close to me cradled in my other arm. Focusing on the pain was almost enough to distract me but not quite. Despite everything that was going on, all I could think about was how to help Ria deal with what was happening to her son. I tried to put myself in her shoes, but I couldn’t. It was too painful to think about. We have no idea what this thing is. What is happening that causes them to scream like that and just fall unconscious? What are they seeing? Will they even wake up? I couldn’t imagine what she must be going through. Maybe there is no right way to help someone in a situation like that. While I was thinking, Ria had finished eating. She stood up and said, “I’m going to the restroom. The trash can there is closer and I have to, well…never mind.” Then she walked away.
And I was alone. I never knew what to do when I was alone like this. I really wanted to explore the chief’s office but it seemed rude to just leave without telling the only other conscious person here where I was going. I didn’t want her to have to worry about anything else. I also didn’t want to rudely interrupt her in the bathroom, so I couldn’t tell her. I needed to stay close in case she was attacked or…something else. I decided to walk around the cafeteria, reading all of the posters and flyers on the walls. Among them were many health tips and notes on cafeteria etiquette, reminders about events the hospital was hosting and the schedule for meals. Nothing interesting at all, but it passed the time.
The first thunderclap sounded while I was standing by the sink in the kitchen. It had been raining periodically and gray skied all day so this was no surprise. I vaguely remembered the morning weather predicting a slight chance of thunderstorms in the area. I looked toward the windows on the far wall, but saw only steel. It had been quite a while since Ria left so I assumed she went to be with Eddie for a little longer. I decided to take this opportunity to investigate the office of the Chief of Staff. She’ll be alright.
The time between the thunderclaps was rapidly dwindling as I made my way to the door with the handle instead of a knob. There was a keyhole but luckily and mysteriously, the door was unlocked. I opened the door slowly and fumbled along the wall for a light switch. I found two of them and flicked them both on. The energy efficient fluorescent bulb came on instantly. The other switch seemed to do nothing.
The office didn’t appear especially interesting. There was a large bookshelf on the wall to my left, a smaller one behind the mahogany desk in front of me. These shelves were filled with medical texts as befitting a hospital. To my right, I saw a fake plant in the corner, a skeleton and a model of the human torso’s internal organs; still nothing strange. There were posters much like the ones in the cafeteria and beside the desk on the right wall were the Chief’s degrees and awards. Two chairs were in front of the desk for visitors to sit in. One of these appeared to have been pushed away suddenly as if the person who sat in it had to leave rapidly. I walked around to the other side of the desk and saw that the high-backed Chief’s chair appeared much the same way. I moved the chair up to the desk and sat down. On the desk was a computer monitor, keyboard and mouse, two stacks of paper (one slightly higher than the other), stapler, pens, other mundane office supplies, a nameplate (Dr. Laurence Marconi) and a couple of family pictures.
The Chief had a beautiful wife and two young children, a boy and a girl. They were standing in front of a large oak tree and they looked like the happiest people in the world. I hoped the Chief and his family were safe so they could be happy like that again. The journalist side of me wished he were here so I could ask him a few questions. The other photo was of the chief and his wife on their wedding day. Someone had captured the moment they sealed their vows in extremely high resolution. The shot looked professional and the décor extravagant, which suggested the chief was loaded. Outside, I could hear the storm getting worse. Rain was pelting the roof of the hospital and the thunder was growing louder.
I quickly turned my focus to the stack of papers, shuffling through them rapidly hoping to find some clue or indication of what was going on here. The papers were predominantly dossiers of the doctors employed by the hospital, the dates and subjects for the next meetings and other less interesting things. I almost put the papers down but somewhere in the middle of the taller left stack, I saw plans for building renovations. It appeared the hospital was planning to expand. There was a yellow post-it note attached to the page. Written on it in red ink were the words “Dr. Haxon-secret door.”
What the hell did that mean? Was there a secret door in the hospital? What did Dr. Haxon have to do with it? Could it have some connection to what’s happening to everybody? It seemed instead of finding answers in the Chief’s office, I had just found more questions. I put the papers back where they were and turned to the computer monitor. It was off so I pushed the power button and turned it on. The computer itself was already on so I didn’t have to sit through the agonizingly slow startup process. When the monitor lit up, I was met with a password prompt. “****!” I said aloud, frustrated. I was hoping it would already be logged in. I was no hacker and I had no way of guessing the password so I shut the monitor off and left the room.
I walked back to the cafeteria hoping Ria would be there. To my surprise, she was. She was standing near the door looking at one of the pictures on the wall. She noticed me walk in and looked up.
“Hey.” She said with a faint smile.
“Hey.” I replied. Then there was a loud boom and the lights went out, leaving us enveloped in darkness. Ria screamed.