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Authors: Joseph K. Richard

Running with the Horde

BOOK: Running with the Horde
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Running with the Horde

(Book 1)

By Joseph K. Richard

Running with the Horde

(Book 1)

By Joseph K. Richard

 

ISBN (eBook):
978-0-692-02789-9

Running with the Horde
Copyright 2014

By Joseph K. Richard

All Rights Reserved

 

Cover art by Joerg Waschescio

 

This book is a work of fiction. Characters, events and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental

 

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the permission of the author.

In loving memory of KMR.

You live on forever in my heart.

“Nobody gets justice. People only get good luck or bad luck.”

Orson Welles

Prologue

A mournful melody on a badly worn cassette tape plays softly in the dimly lit room. The mood is melancholy for the two men sharing drinks.

Their glasses tap together with a soft clink
.

“To the fa
ther I always wanted to be and the son who survived in spite of me,” the older gentleman says in a sad voice. Father and son drink together and gently place their empty glasses on the lacquered countertop.

The tape
runs its course and clicks to a stop on the ancient stereo. The room is drenched in dreary silence. The men are lost in their own thoughts.

The son is reminded of death
bed vigils and wonders, not for the first time, if his father is sick. The father
is
sick after a fashion. A heart sickness is his condition, not of the body but of the spirit. He ponders the worried expression on his son’s face and doubt urges him to tell his boy the truth.

But he doesn’t,
there is too much at stake. His son is not ready for truth. After a lifetime of mistrust, he knows the boy would never believe him. The endgame is too close.

“One more drink, George?” the old man asks as he runs a hand absently through his unruly mane of gray hair.

“Okay
, dad,” the younger man replies with a slight smile. He has seen the gesture a thousand times. On this night it reminds him of the handful of happy memories he’s shared with his father.

“Excellent!”

The father pours them each another round with an exaggerated bartender’s flourish. The young man chuckles politely before they drink again in silence.

“I’m very sorry
, George.”

“The past is the past
, dad, let’s leave it there,” the son replies in a tone he hopes is reassuring.

As the drink burns in his belly, h
e thinks it odd that his tongue should suddenly feel so thick and heavy. He is losing feeling in his hands and face. His father is staring at him intently as the room begins to spin and colors weave together in a terrifying vortex of lines and shapes.

“I’m not sorry for the past
, George,” his father speaks softly in a voice that sounds so far away, “I’m sorry for the future.”

George hears the words but canno
t derive their meaning. The room is floating. His father’s head is a weird hot-air balloon looming over him. For one exhilarating moment he is flying and then everything goes black.

Chapter 1

“Awake”

The last memory I have of my father is an evening of tearful story telling about the good old days
over steaks at his downtown apartment. My memory of this night is vague at best. I remember going there and eating dinner with him but that’s about the extent of it. I think there are two reasons for my spotty recall.

The first is that the good old days were never really that good in the first place, so the stories weren’t all that memor
able.

The second reason
is that the evening in question is fogged over with a thick alcohol-induced haze. I have never had that much to drink in my life!

Or so I like to tell myself. Weird thing is,
I only remember having two drinks and a glass of wine with dinner. One thing I know for certain is that I blacked out. Well, that’s kind of an understatement. I actually went into a coma and woke up in a hospital almost two months later.


When I awoke I was making this grating noise with my throat as though I’d been trying to scream but my vocal chords were damaged. I was alone in a dingy hospital room and very confused. It was the kind of room they use when a person has a very contagious disease and they don’t want anyone else to get it.

Seeing this scared me deeply and
I flew into a type of very weak rage. This consisted of trying to disconnect tubes from my body and ineffectively flailing like a beached fish. All I managed to do was set off an array of alarms from the machines monitoring my vital signs.

In s
hort order, I was joined in the room by a couple of nurses and a lady in a white lab coat. Their soothing words and superior strength soon got me under control. The lab coat introduced herself as Dr. White and she began what became a two-day process of explaining what she believed happened to me.

She
had no idea how I had gotten to the hospital. The night staff apparently found me lying unconscious by the entrance to the emergency room. Evidently, I was choking on my own vomit and they got to me just in time. She couldn’t tell me if I’d been dropped off or somehow managed to get there under my own power.

It was plausible that my dad had dumped me
there after dinner that night but that would actually be quite a leap for him. Not the dumping part but the bringing me to the hospital part, he wasn’t exactly what anyone would call a ‘good’ father.

In any case,
the doctor explained I’d had a near fatal case of blood-alcohol poisoning, at least that had been my initial diagnosis. She wouldn’t explain further and seemed awfully eager to be gone from my room.

She
decided, against my protests to contrary, that I’d had enough excitement for the evening and ordered me to rest and we would talk again in the morning. I didn’t have a choice in the matter because they sedated me. I drifted off to oblivion with hateful visions of liquor bottles and my father’s maniacal laughter floating through my head.


The next morning she sat by my bed and revealed to me that I had been asleep for nearly two months. I was shocked and speechless; it seemed like I had just left my dad’s place the night before, except of course, I was really weak, very tired and had bed sores.

Admittedly
, I was not really paying attention while she reviewed the litany of tests and procedures they’d run on me but I caught the gist of it. I just wouldn’t wake up. My blood, fluids and vital signs all appeared to be normal. The only two oddities were the occasional high fever and an overly active brain the entire time I was in a coma.

I was a t
rue medical marvel she stated with a creepy expression of longing on her face. Her stout little body made the chair creak as she shifted closer to me. A long strand of gray hair escaped her ponytail and made a new home in front of her right eye. She didn’t bat it away as she explained that in any other time I would have been moved to some fancy medical research facility for in-depth study.

She a
ctually told me this! She must have read the alarmed expression on my face because she spent the next several minutes tap dancing away this statement by explaining she was a person of science and blah-blah-blah.

Something she said
earlier finally registered through the cobwebs in my brain.

“Doc, what did you mean by
in any other time
?” I asked as I fiddled with my IV tube.

The doctor looked at me confused for a second before realization dawned on her.

“Oh, you don’t know,” she said with her hands laced together on her chest, “but then how could you know?” the horrified look on her face was straight out of a 1950’s era horror flick.

“Know what?” I asked, my body tensing up on the sheets for some awful revelation.

“There is a sickness,” she said slowly, “nobody knows where or how it started but it’s everywhere, all over the world and it’s very bad.”

“A sickness?” I was so confused.
I thought for a moment I was still in a coma. My hands were clenched tightly around my shins. I realized I had curled into a ball as the doctor spoke. I tried to relax a little but I just ended up looking like an unpleasant blow-up doll flopped on the bed.

“Yes, a sickness,” she replied.

“Do I have it?” I hated the whiny tone that had crept into my voice.

“No, you don’t have it,” she chuckle
d, “and believe me, we thought you did. You had something but we have no idea what and you seem fine now,” she reached out and patted my foot to reassure me. It actually kind of hurt. Her bedside manner was terrible but I didn’t say anything.

“But a lot of people do have
the Sickness,” she said seriously, “and that’s why we’ve kept you in this room, so you’re not exposed. I mean, it’s not a full quarantine or anything, because you’re still exposed to me and my staff but it was the best we could do under the circumstances.”

“What is it?” I asked. She looked at me for a solid minute before answering. I thought maybe she didn’t hear me until she finally spoke.

“They don’t have a name for it yet,” she giggled, “It all happened rather suddenly. It’s been a crazy few weeks. Everyone just calls it the Sickness.” The way she said it made it seem like it was commonplace now, like the weather or the flu.

We sat there in silence as
I waited for her to continue the story. Instead she only nodded and broke eye contact.

Damn, she was weird.


The nurse will be in shortly to review your discharge papers. Good luck to you,” with that she got up from her chair and headed for the door.

I was being rel
eased? That seemed awful sudden, I didn’t feel like I should be released. I hadn’t even stood on my feet yet. I was just in a coma for two months!

“So you’re the only doctor
here?” I asked incredulously.

“Oh no!” s
he exclaimed as she turned back to face me, “I’m just the only one not sick! It’s a pity too, I would have liked to have spent more time with you, Mr. McCloud.” She wiped her nose with her sleeve as she stared at me a moment longer, finally popping out of her daze with a loud snort as she walked out of the room.

As the d
oor eased shut, I could hear the sounds of many people outside of my room. Evidently, the hospital was either exceptionally busy or celebrating Mardi Gras in the hallway.

Chapter 2

“Released”

The day crept by like time was intentionally slowing down to torture me while I waited to be released. I would have watched television but
it wouldn’t turn on. I could see that it was plugged in; I assumed the hospital was having electrical power issues. So instead I stared at the floral print hanging on the wall. I’d seen similar paintings in hotel rooms all my life. They had always bothered me. Secretly I thought the devil had painted them all.

Shortly after noon
, two nurses entered my room. The man flopped down in the chair near my bed and looked about ready to pass out. His nametag declared him to be
Norm
. He had a clipboard full of papers in his hand and a pen stuck behind his ear.

The woman seemed to be a little perkier but also very tired. She went about disconnecting
me from my plastic warren of tubes, needles and monitoring equipment that tethered me to the bed. I really tried to ignore her but she wasn’t gentle.

“We need to ask you a few question
s before we can release you,” Norm said as he plucked the pen from behind his ear. It dropped to the floor and was momentarily lost under the bed.

“Shouldn’t you hold off on the equipment removal then?” I asked.

“What’s that?” he glanced up at me as he fished for his pen on the ground.

“What if I can’t answer your questions?”

“Goddam pen,” he grumbled ignoring me. “Got it!”  he sat back up, forced a smile and prepared to write, “What is your name?”

“George McCloud.”

“Good, how old are you, George?”

“I am 28 years old,” I told him and recited my birthday.

“Got a birthday coming up soon, huh?”

“I guess so,
” I said and nodded blandly.

“Well happy birthday
, George. Try to enjoy it okay? Helluva time to be alive, they’re all pretty special now.”

“Who is special?”

“Birthdays. I meant birthdays. You know, because of the Sickness? Sort of feels like the end of days out there. You’ll see,” he said cheerfully.

There were a few more questions I had to answer, which I did as the other nurse removed my IV line. Norm seemed
satisfied with my responses. When he had checked the last box and made a few short notes on my form he handed it over for me to sign.

I saw that Dr. White had already signed and dated the form so the whole Q & A session had just been a formality. I would have been released no matter what answers I’d given. When I noticed her signatu
re I raised my eyebrows at Norm before signing and handing the clipboard back.

“It is what it is
, man,” he shrugged sheepishly. “It’s like a war zone out there. People are dropping like flies, including the staff here. We just can’t take care of you and we need the bed space,” he crinkled his face up in one of those ‘I’m sorry, I really am’ expressions.

While he’d been speaking
, the other nurse returned with two clear plastic bags. I recognized my clothes in the bigger bag. My wallet and phone were in the other one. I was irritated to see the face of my phone was now just a spider web of cracks. I must have fallen on it.

I gingerly kicked my legs over the side of the bed and made to open my clothes bag as Norm stood
shakily to his feet to stop me.

“Don’t open that,” he cautioned.
“Those were the clothes you were wearing when you came in. We probably should’ve just tossed them. There was, uh, there is quite a bit of vomit on them. Also, you didn’t have any shoes on. You can wear these instead.”

He handed me a pair of scrubs
and some booties.

T
hey both stared vacantly at me as I removed my hospital gown and got changed. Normally this would’ve bothered me, I’m not much on being nude in public but it was like they were just looking through me. I wondered if they both had this mysterious Sickness or were just overly tired.

I put my bags under my arm and waited as we stood there.

“Well, Norm, and um, Rita,” I said, finally reading her name tag. “I’m ready to go I guess.”

Norm smiled like we’d just met and then Rita did too
but neither spoke or moved.

“So should I just leave then?” I asked.

“Yes, George, that’s fine. You can go. Hey you take care of yourself out there.” He looked down at my chart as I squeezed past them.

I had to physicall
y move Rita a bit to get around her. She was burning up with fever which almost made me shout out in alarm. She didn’t say a word as I gently edged her over a few inches.

I could feel the cold linoleum through my thin booties as I made it to the doorway.

“Looks like you have a birthday coming up soon, George,” I heard Norm say to my back.

“Sure do
, Norm.” I glanced back at them. This exchange was beyond creepy. Norm was studying my chart like he was preparing for a test or something. Rita was still staring at the place I’d been standing. I sort of felt bad leaving them like that.

“Since you’re in here,
you might as well get some rest,” I said.

“That sounds good
, George, we’ll do that. Remember we need to have you answer some questions before we can release you.”

“Yeah
, okay.” I said as I shut the light off in the room and stepped out into the hallway.

I was pretty certain they were just going to stay
standing that way until they dropped over or died but I was too unnerved to stick around to see to them. I realize this wasn’t the most humane way to treat people who had provided medical care to me but I was processing a lot of new and crazy information and was a bit overwhelmed. In this case I gave myself a pass.


The notion that I was dreaming occurred to me again as I shuffled slowly through the hallway, past the nurses station and out into the main waiting room of the hospital. Any shame I had about walking around commando vanished quickly as I realized nobody would have given a shit if I had been buck-ass naked juggling puppy heads.

The large waiting area was overflowing with
unattended patients. Most were just milling around aimlessly like walking vegetables or they were sleeping on the floor and furniture.

I kept expecting to wake up with every step I took into the surreal room.
The sound of moaning and wailing was scary on a cellular level. The hairs on my arms and neck stood up like the waiting room was filled with static electricity.

People in various states of undress were doing odd physical contortions and repetitive movements while others just laughed or cried
manically. Some were bleeding from horrible wounds, others simply appeared to be dead on the floor. It was like a convention of serious stroke victims all decided to drop acid at the same time and have a party at the hospital.

There was no sign of Dr. White but
I could tell from their uniforms that some of the people were obviously members of the hospital staff. They were behaving just as strangely as the rest of the people were. I was sweating profusely by this time and wanted nothing more than to get out of there before I caught whatever was making them all act this way.

I made it to the automated door
s, the place I’d been found gurgling on my vomit. A little girl, around seven or eight years old, was just lying there as the doors opened and shut repeatedly on her head. She was clearly having some type of seizure.

Her eyes flittered back and forth at the doors every time they hit her and she was softly singing to herself, though it was anyone’s guess what song it was.
Her feet were kicking like she was doing the doggy paddle.

I stopped in front of her
. I couldn’t just leave her there, she was just a little kid. I set my stuff down and dragged her into the waiting room. She didn’t respond to any of my questions and would not stop singing. Like Rita, she was burning with fever, almost too hot to touch.

There was no one around who wasn’t acting like they were high, sick and crazy all at the same time.
I was in desperate conflict with myself with deep qualms about just leaving a little girl on a dirty hospital floor but there wasn’t anywhere to put her and hell, it wasn’t like she was the only kid in there.

I thought about carrying her to a room with a bed in it but there was no way I was going back inside the IC
U, I had some serious paranoid thoughts brewing in my head. If I went back in there, I was certain I would never make it back out again.

So I made an executive decision. I looked around the room until I spotted
a favorable candidate. He was a young man probably somewhere in his early twenties. He was out cold, sprawled in a chair, one of many arranged in a row surrounding the entire waiting room. His head was resting against the glass of the window behind him.

Stepping gingerly
over people on the lying on ground, I made my way over to him with the little girl in my arms. I set her down on the floor and tried to wake him as politely as I could.

He wouldn’t wake up even as I got ruder about it. I wondered if he was dead. I couldn’t tell for sure
, my medical training was limited to what I’d learned from watching television dramas.

I
grew tired of waiting so I gently pulled him from the chair and laid him out on the floor. It seemed like it would be fine, maybe even more comfortable for him in the long run.

I re
trieved the girl and placed her in the chair. She entertained me with song during this process. When my further attempts to talk to her proved useless I decided I had done my civic duty towards her and she would have to be happy with the chair arrangement.

As I walked away I heard her switch from singing to growling. When I looked back I swear she was trying to bite the arm of the lady seated next to her.
That was enough for me, I picked up my bags and ran out the door.

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