With Friends Like These.
"Do you think they will be round soon?"
The note of anxiousness was evident in his voice, wanting, needing what the powers that be had to give him. Medicine that would take away the pain, for at least a short time anyway.
Maybe. Does it still hurt?
"You know it does. It always hurts."
The man stared at the ceiling for a few seconds then lowered his gaze turning slightly to stare at the bed at the opposite end of the room.
"I'm worried. I haven't seen anyone for three days. I think they may have left us here to die."
You worry too much, have I told you that before? Yes, I think I have. They'll come, they always come. Just relax, try and get some sleep.
The man turned again to look at the ceiling; the white paint cracked and peeling, the corners grey with mould. He tried to think back to how long he had been here. Three, maybe four years. Yes, four years sounded right. Four years in the same room; the same walls, ceiling and mesh-reinforced windows.
His room, hell, his life, was on the second floor of the building. It was twelve feet wide by fifteen feet long. The space bare except for a table, a toilet in the corner and the tree beds. A small portable television sat silent and dead in its reinforced box high on one wall. Most of his time was spent in this one room, the only concession when the big men came to get him and took him to the large room that held others like him.
Before he had come here; been sent here, he had been someone, someone of note. He couldn't remember what he had been but he knew instinctively that he had been someone important. But something had happened, something that he had pushed to the back of his mind, something that had tried on occasion to force its way to the front of his memories. He couldn't remember, didn't want to remember. He had lost everything; family friends, his job (whatever the hell that had been), it was all gone now, his old life blown away like a leaf on the wind. At least he had friends that would always be there.
Still, the man was not finished talking.
After a few minutes his voice cut through the gloom cast through the single barred window.
"They aren't coming."
His voice had lost some of its questioning now replaced by whining, high pitched and annoying. He stared at the third bed in the room.
Can't you shut up. I'm trying to sleep over here!
Get off his back man, he's trying to deal with the situation. Cut it out!
I'll cut something out in a minute. But maybe your right. After all, he has to listen to us all day too.
The man closed his eyes and tried to relax but sleep wouldn't come.
He sat up and put his bare feet on the floor, his jacket that he had been using as a cover falling off him and hitting the floor with a jangle of buckles. He stood and walked to the door, reaching out a hand for the handle. His hand stopped just short of grasping it. He turned and cocked his head slightly to one side.
"What do you think? Think I should do it?"
You know if you get caught it'll be bad for you. You know that right?
Let him go. It's his life.
The man turned back to the barrier and in one single movement grabbed the handle and pushed it down. He pulled the door inwards and let it swing against the wall. He counted to ten and then stuck his upper body out into the corridor. He looked in both directions trying to find someone, anyone that could help.
What the hell are you doing! If they find you out there it's all over. Your treading a fine line dude.
I thought you said it was his life. That's what you said wasn't it? I'm sure that's what you said.
If I have to come over there I'm going to hurt you. Leave me the hell alone!
The man stepped out into the brightly lit hallway, his unshod feet slapping against the tiled floor.
Ah hell, he's doing it. Wait for me, you can't leave me in here with this guy.
What sort of person would I be if I let you two wander the place without me, I'm coming too.
The man chose a direction seemingly at random following the straight hallway. The white painted walls were broken only occasionally by a vivid splash of bright red arcing across their surface as if a mad painter had just thrown a bucket of paint across them. The decoration didn't obey any set pattern; sometimes the red was on the walls, sometimes on the floors. Sometimes it was just drops, other times it was a twenty foot streak that stained a whole section.
Don't think much of the décor.
The man carried on down the hallway passing under lights that twitched on and off, sometimes coming across a section that was off entirely. He hurried through these with barely a glance uneasy to be too long in the dark. He approached the first corner and peered around it cautiously taking in all the details there. He glanced back the way that he had come the door to his room seeming far away. Doubt starting to show in his eyes.
"I don't know about this you guys.
Too late to turn back now.
Yeah man, let's see what we can see.
The man nodded his head and ducked around the corner. Ahead of his was the door to the 'rec room'. He plodded towards the door as quietly as he could and once there stopped. He took several deep breaths to steady himself. He stood on his tip toes and looked through the mesh door set high in the door. Inside everything was a mess; chairs and tables had been overturned, the same black-red paint from the hallway drying on various surfaces. A large television lay shattered on the floor, something inside still glowing faintly bare exposed wires still sparking faintly.
There's no-one there. Where the hell did they all go?
The man turned his head slightly to the left looking in the direction of the nurses station. The gate that usually barred the entrance hung crazily on one busted hinge.
Well that's a stroke of luck.
I wouldn't call it luck. It's fate.
There was a loud sigh.
Fate this, fate that. There you go again spouting all that fate bullshit!
The man opened his mouth, his gaze never leaving the small window.
"If you can't get along I'm going to send you back to the room. Now quit it!"
The others shut up almost immediately. This being the first time that the man had spoken to either of them in such a tone.
"That's better. Now can we go?"
Without waiting for an answer he opened the door to the large room and stepped inside instantly angling his way towards the nurses station. He entered the broken door and started to pull the draws open two at a time. He found what he was looking for in the sixth draw he tried.
Nestled inside were row upon row of small paper cups. Inside the cups were a multitude of coloured pills; blue ones, red ones, yellows and greens. Some were small, no bigger than a tic-tac, others the size of a medium sized coin. He looked along the rows until his gaze fell on the cup he was looking for. He picked it up and turned it in his hand. It wasn't marked but he knew that it was what he had come looking for. Without thinking he upended the cup and swallowed the four pills that lay inside. He dry-swallowed and felt them go down. Almost immediately he started to fell calmer. He had no idea what they were but knew that they helped.
He sounded almost lucid when he spoke again.
"I feel better now, pain is going."
The others kept quiet, obviously still chagrined at the talking to.
"That's okay, I don't mind. Talk to me when you get out of your gimps." He crushed the cup in his hand and dropped it to the floor letting it roll away under the nearby desk. He turned and walked back out into the large room that he had first come through. He walked over to the window and opened it as far as it would go against the bars.
He placed his hands on the sill. Looking out he could see the dark skyline of the nearby city, the darkening sky a paler dark against the broken outline of skyscrapers and smaller buildings, the stars just visible. Lower down he could see the tops of trees gently swaying in the light dusk breeze.
Even lower were the streets and roads leading from the city towards the high gates of the building he was in.
And it was there that he saw the myriad figures beating against the iron of the iron railings.
They were hundreds deep, hands and arms reaching. One or more must have seen his silhouette against the lighted rectangle of the window. A low moaning started. It got louder and louder until it was almost deafening, hundreds of arms reaching for him where he stood.
He watched for a further five minutes until the last of the light went from the sky and then re-closed the window shutting out the worst of the noise. He turned and sat on the sill, his mind deep in thought.
He remembered something, something important.
It had been a three days ago or thereabouts, strangely the same time that the men in white had left, the nurses too.
The television had been working then. He and a few others had been in this very room and been watching a programme that they had all liked when suddenly it had changed. Nothing they or the staff had tried had worked; the programme that they had been watching had gone.
Everyone had groaned when the news reporter had appeared on screen. He had used big words, words that hurt some of the others heads. They had pounded their fists against their temples rocking back and forth. The staff had just stood there and continued watching the television mouths hanging open.
He remembered words like 'situation' and 'viral outbreak' but he had no idea what they had meant. He lifted his head and looked at the mess the hall had been left in. When the report had been over the staff, the men in white, had taken him and the others and put them into their respective rooms and then they had locked the doors. Many had left but a few had stayed.
He raised a hand and put it to the side of his head.
"Oh you're talking to me again are you?"
You know me. If you don't listen to me who's going to?
"You got a point."
He smiled and lifted his head all the way, staring back into the room. He stood straight and walked over to an overturned chair. He placed it back on its feet and sat down at one of the tables. Someone had been playing cards when it had all gone wrong. Whoever had sat where he was had been winning, a huge pile of plastic poker chips lay over the table in front of him.
"What about you? Are you over it yet?"
The other was silent, not even the exhale of breath.
"Oh, I get it, you're still pissed. Well when you want to you'll talk to me. You have to. It's only a matter of time."
Can I ask a question, it's been bugging me for a long time.
The man smiled.
"Sure, I think I got the time."
Why in the name of Christ do we have to bring him with us? I mean, I'm sure that we could cope without him.
"I like his company, and besides, I couldn't just leave him, it's like we're connected, you know?"
I'm not pissed. You didn't need to say those things, they were hurtful. I was only trying to help. You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me. You know what I'm talking about.
Oh great, just when I thought he was going to quiet all night.
Why don't you go away. I'm sure we would be better without you any day.
I keep him sane.
Don't make me laugh. Sane, when was the last time he was sane?
The voice realized the mistake as soon as he had said the words.
Ah shit man, you know I didn't mean it. He brings the asshole out in me you know?
"It's okay,' he smiled. 'I would think the same thing if I was in your position. Anyway, you're both entitled to your own opinions, that's why I keep you around."
So what's the plan?
"I don't know. I'll, I mean WE, will think of something. We always do."
He stood again and pushed the chair under the table, the slight contact making some of the chips fall to the floor.
"Let's go get something to eat, I think we'll all feel better on a full stomach."
Sounds like a plan. Which way?
"Follow me, I know the way."
Like we have a choice. Lead on, we're coming whether you like it or not.
The man smiled at the words. He looked across at the two empty chairs and then turned towards the door to the kitchen.
"Isn't that the truth."
He walked through the empty hospital his friends with him.