They drove me to Queensway Carleton Hospital, the room I was in was built for two but there were seven of us crammed in. I, being one of the least physically wounded, lay on the scratchy floral couch against the window. My head was propped up on a faded purple pillow and IVs stuck out of my joints. The nurse fluttered around, taking heavy steps but moving quickly and precisely. He handed me a glass of reddish fluid and a small, oblong pill. “Drink,” he instructed. His name tag said Jerome, and he had heavy blue-black bags under his eyes.
“What is it?” I asked, starring down at it in confusion. Mom had told me I wasn’t supposed to take any pills while I was on my medication, and since I was always on my medication I never took any pills. I’d told that paramedic that I was taking medication. Had she not heard me? They knew, didn’t they? Would I get sick from taking this? Would I get sick from not taking it?
Jerome flattened a blanket over my legs, my feet sticking up vertically at the ends. “It’s to combat any radiation you may have encountered, it should stabilize you. The drink is to help your body absorb it,” he replied simply. He walked to one of the more critically wounded patients in a bed; her leg was suspended up by a sling and she wore a neck brace.
There was a continuous stream of moaning in the background of the room, like soft elevator music. I stayed motionless on the couch for a while, my head and feet spilling over the arms, just starring at the stucco white ceiling. Outside the night was illuminated with stubborn orange lamps and red tail lights. Most people were in their houses, panicking in the comfort of their homes; emergency personnel, members of parliament, and some other cars still braved the roads. The parliament building had been completely destroyed but for a few useless walls or posts that remained, and then a half-standing wing furthest from the attacks. Several sky scrapers close by had come tumbling down as well, falling with the easy effort of a corpse. Fifteen kilometres away, however, the infrastructure was untouched: were it not for the mass panic, terror, and rooms of wounded people, you wouldn’t be able to tell that anything happened.
On the flat screen mounted in the corner flashed a mess of lazy drawing and primary colours, the children’s cartoon wasn’t enough to even distract me. I wondered why they would play a cartoon, when the youngest person in the room was me, at nineteen, and the oldest seemed to be a man in his late sixties.
I turned my head slightly to the window; the damages here had been less severe. Orange rays bounced off of glass now moonlight was trapped in the pavement. I’d never seen a place so desolate, never mind Canada’s capital. I wondered what would happen to us, to me and Mom, to this country, and in the future. Who had bombed us? Why would anyone want to harm Canada? We weren’t active participants in any war, our troops had even been pulled out of the Iranian civil war. Our prime minister didn’t like getting involved with current affairs. Did this have to do with that alliance that I’d heard about a few weeks back? What was it called? The World Trade Alliance… Maybe Canada had been struck for the same reason Germany had received threats. Maybe this wasn’t so much to do with Canada in particular, but just the whole system, and we seemed like the country out of the bunch least likely to return the blow.
The hand started rising in my stomach again, cold and heavy it clawed its way through my stomach to my throat. It felt as if my air was cut off, as if my voice had been stolen from me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a shadow moving, it was a wispy at first but then took form: first an amorphous shape, then stooping shoulders, a broad chest, large hands, and long legs. As it got closer it got bigger, until it reached the ceiling, and began to bend to fit. By the time it reached me it was bent under the ceiling so the hunch of its back hit the stucco white and its neck was pressed against the window, its face only a few centimetres from mine. The face was black and then… A crack formed, a forked tongue, glass teeth lining the gums, roof, and tongue.
A raspy scream burned in my throat but wouldn’t get passed my lips, any and all sound I formed disappeared into the air. My limbs were frozen, my head wouldn’t turn, and I couldn’t even close my eyes. The things smiled and inched closer. This wasn’t real. It wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t. But my brain made me watch it as it came closer. It was real, to me. As real as anything could be.
The hand clenched and I wanted to throw up, the rows of blue-white shards threatened to rip me. Skin from muscle, muscle from bone, until all that was left was my skeleton. I felt the anticipation of the pain now.
Not real, this isn’t real.
Make it stop!
“Ah!” A high pitched scream, coming from the bottom of my stomach, pierced the room. Nurses looked to me, patients looked to me. Like I was crazy. Like there hadn’t been a monster in the room only a second ago. Wait, no monster. I had created it, and it had disappeared once I’d realized. But… Even now I could feel its hot breath and the clenching hand in my stomach— stealing my breath and ripping my skin.
I stayed seated, panting like a dog, for a few minutes. Patients slowly went back to their suffering and nurses slowly went back to treating them. I had been dreaming, I wasn’t sure when, but at some point I had fallen asleep.
A nurse came up to me a moment later, a different one. “C-can I go for a walk? I need to stretch m-my legs,” I said, thinking of no possible excuse for my screaming. They knew anyway, so why did it matter? GAD. Probably just an ‘episode’, or maybe I was having another break down (one of the nurses had already gotten mad at me shortly after arriving for apparently “being an attention whore”). “I-I’m going for a walk,” I stated. I was sick of everyone looking at me with the same judgemental stare. How dare I take up a hospital room when I wasn’t injured? At least physically, there was nothing wrong with me past a few minor injuries. Because, apparently, mental illnesses could never equate to the caliber of a goddamn broken leg! They couldn’t experience what I went through, and they couldn’t see it, therefore it didn’t exist to them.
I threw the blanket onto the floor and flexed my feet before stretching them over the floor. Sudden anger flushed through me, and rose in me like a blush so my vision became clouded — part of me questioned why I was so angry, that part also felt guilty, but I tried to supress it. “Miss Adner, you really can’t. Patients have to stay in their rooms at all times unless escorted by hospital staff. If you need to use the washroom, it’s right down…”
My vision turned nearly completely red with my quick movements, but I kept my feet firmly planted. I pushed past the nurse, a heavy hand landed on my shoulder, halting my steps. “You need to lie back down, now, Miss Adner.” There was a threatening tone to the voice, and I’m sure the body accompanied could easily drag me back without my consent. But anger, stress, and fear all bubbled over, and manifested into a balled fist making contact with a square jawline. Soon after I was sprinting, going as quickly as my feet would carry me.
It wasn’t hard to get lost in the chaos, and I don’t know if they ever chased me, but soon I was a corridor away from my room. The sight was horrible: people sat moaning against the walls, many of them looked physically fine, but I was the first to know that meant didn’t mean nothing was wrong; nurses pushed through, trying to reassure people without getting too caught up, and doctors walked by briskly not even making eye contact— there weren’t enough of them to indulge one specific person. There was a child, about eleven, sitting against a stack of toilet paper with a little boy on her lap. Her eyes were wide and there was a long streak of blood running down her face, the little boy was luckily asleep despite the noise. Somehow this noise had been blocked in the room, or maybe I had just been too caught up in myself. Where were their parents? And why wasn’t any one helping them? When I walked past her I couldn’t help making eye contact with the little girl. That’s when I noticed that the baby wasn’t moving. “Don’t tell,” the girl whispered, and I shuddered.
There hadn’t been enough hospital gowns, and I hadn’t had to go in for surgery, so I was still in my normal clothes; no one suspected anything as I sat in the waiting room, and leaned against a window. My eyes carried away from the hospital parking lot as far as the limited light and dispersing smoke would let me. The news channel babbled on in the distance, and I tried to catch as much as I could through the high-strung voices.
“… Five exploded in and around the Parliament building and another detonated in a bank close by. Prime Minister Logan Hamilton said in a press conference earlier this night that ‘we must not be so quick to call it an act of terrorism, as this will only incite mass panic.’ The Prime Minister also noted on the usage of the usage of Radiological Dispersal Devices, or dirty bombs, rather than nuclear weapons; RDDs have been described as weapons of ‘mass disruption’ rather than ‘mass destruction’ by military officials. Other countries, such as the US and China, believe a pre-emptive strike may be necessary, though Prime Minister of England said in an interview that this may only escalate the situation. The UN is working in close correspondents with concerning governments at the moment…” A gurney was wheeled quickly through the waiting room and there were shrieks. A woman started trying to run after the gurney, but she was restrained by several nurses and the receptionist. She collapsed to her knees and began sobbing, her family rushed to her sides and they murmured in low, hushed voices. “… Citizens advised to stay five kilometres away from the sites of impact; rescue efforts are under way for those who may be trapped in collapsed buildings, but most people have already been evacuated. The RCMP have not given specific numbers yet but estimates point to several dozen killed and thousands wounded. For the latest updates to the minute, follow CBC online or…” I tuned out again after that.
Dozens dead and thousands injured. In the course of a day, in a couple of hours. All of them dead in just a few moments. The city was evacuated within a five kilometre radius from the impact zones. The Parliament Building was destroyed, and down town was in ruins. Still, after everything, the Prime Minister wouldn’t call this an act of terrorism?
I got up again from the window, the shadow my breath had left against the cool glass slowly receded. I moved through the waiting room, not looking at the families and friends waiting to see their loved ones. Looking at them only made me think of Mom. Where was she? Was she hurt? Could she… No. Don’t finish that thought.
The next corridor I went down was no better, but this time my eyes stayed glued to the ground. When my eyes happened to stumble upon a name plate that said Jason Rouse I stopped, the door was slightly ajar. Basically begging me to inspect. Could this be the same Jason? If it was, the least I owed him was a proper thank you.
My knuckles grazed the smooth, greenish door. I don’t know why, but that particular shade of green unsettled me deeply. Taking a breath I pushed my fist against the door, and it slid open. With the noise and chaos in the hall, no one was watching me. Now was my chance. “Jason?” I whispered, sneaking into the room. It was the same basic layout as mine had been, only it had a view of an abandoned park and it wasn’t as crowded. My eyes wandered the room slowly and then landed on a familiar figure lying in the bed closest to the window. The shadows cast over Jason, from this angle, almost made him look dead. There was an extra machine, other than the basic heart monitor, setup beside his bed and one of his arms hung limply over the bed with a thin tube crawling from it to the machine. “Jason,” I said a little more loudly, he heard me this time.
“You’re not supposed to be in here,” a middle-aged woman informed me — she looked about as healthy as I was, yet she had an elaborate jungle of machines sprouting beside her. “Only doctors, nurses, and immediate family are allowed.” She seemed like the kind of woman who had tattle-tailed as a child and never grown out of it; there was still a ring of dark purple lipstick around the cracked inside of her lip.
“I-I… I just- I’m just here to—”
“She’s my sister, but thank you for your concern, Beth,” Jason replied smoothly, he snuck me a wink when Beth didn’t see me. I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or sincere, but she seemed to accept his answer. Beth pressed her lips together so the purple ring disappeared, and instead deep lines pulled down the side of her nose and mouth. As I came closer he said, “Persephone, what are you doing here?”
“You remember my name?” Honestly, I hadn’t thought he would remember me at all, considering the number of people he had had to look over.
Jason nodded and smiled, he gestured to a blue plastic chair beside his bed with his good hand. “How could I ever forget someone like you?” he asked, again I couldn’t gauge if he was being sincere or not.
I sat, making sure to scoop my hair over one shoulder so it didn’t get stuck in back of the chair. I watched Jason for a moment, deciding how to go on from here; my eyes traced the dark veins visible through the light brown of his palm and forearm, they landed on the thin needle slipped easily into the crook of his elbow. Jason guessed and answered my unvoiced question. “I’m slightly haemophilic, it’s no big deal, but… When I was helping that woman up, I cut my chest a little on some metal. But they said I should be out with the first wave of people, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
Jason looked calm and he wore a reassuring smile, but he couldn’t fool me. Being impaled by metal, which was probably infected, was bad enough in the first place — but he was also a haemophiliac! And here I was working myself up when, comparatively, I was completely fine. My burst of anger before suddenly seemed silly, and embarrassment overcame me. “Did they give you a tetanus shot? A-are you sure you’ll be okay? Should I call the nurse back in…? Or maybe find a doctor? Just wait a second, Jason, I’ll go get someone.” When I stood up, my leg pushed the chair back with a horrific metal on linoleum sound. I made to round the bed but I was stopped in my track, Jason’s hand wrapped around my forearm and slid down to my wrist. I stumbled back.
“Persephone,” he pronounced my name slowly and enunciated each syllable. “I am okay, really. Look—” Jason reached down to where the blanket swallowed his chest, he pulled it down, then he lifted the hem of his shirt just enough that some of his waist and chest were exposed. There was a gash about ten centimetres long from his side to his stomach, the skin around it looked bumpy and swollen, the blood had somewhat dried over the wound but it was still fairly new. I wondered how they’d been able to get his cells to clot the wound. “Totally fine. How are you?” His hand trailed along as I found my seat again, he held on just a moment too long. My cheeks flushed, despite myself, and I cleared my throat to regain composure.
“I’m fine, nothing’s wrong with me. Well… Other than the, yeah… But no physical wounds, I think I’ll be let out soon. Though, I still haven’t seen my mom, so I’m a little worried.” My incisor found my bottom lip, and I chewed on it softly. Where could she be? By now every family member and close friend should know, hell, everyone in the world already did. So why hadn’t she come to find me yet? I knew that I didn’t need Mom here to sign me out or anything, since I was over eighteen, but I worried about her. She hadn’t been affected, had she? Could she maybe not reach the hospital — traffic must have been brutal, but still…
“— Glad you’re okay.” My attention snapped back to Jason, who had been speaking while I’d been worrying.
“Oh, thanks. It’s good to see you’re okay too. Actually, that’s why I came here. Well, sort of, I came here to thank you.” From the corner of my eye I could still see the woman from earlier scowling at us, she was ignoring the couple standing next to her bed trying to talk to her.
“I thought we established earlier that you didn’t need to thank me, I was just doing my job. The fact that nobody died on my watch is satisfaction enough.” Jason gave a crooked smile, and I tried to replicate it. Kidding. He was kidding.
“There!” a voice shouted from behind, I turned my head to see Jerome striding in with another smaller female nurse at the door. Jerome had been the one I’d punched, it hadn’t left a mark, but he looked mad.
“What’s going on?” Jason asked, staring between the two nurses and me.
I smiled sheepishly. “I may have punched him in the face… A little.” When Jerome came closer I stood from my seat and began receding to the wall, my arms up in surrender. “L-look I’m sorry, I was just really worked up a— I didn’t mean it. Let go of me! No!” Jerome wrapped a hand around my forearm and began dragging me to the door where the smaller nurse stood, with a needle in her hand. I looked at the needle and my eyes went wide.
Jason didn’t say anything but he looked just as shocked as I felt. The whole room was staring at me as well, the cranky woman with a look of satisfaction. “Don’t worry, it’s just a sedative,” the female nurse murmured in assurance, she buried the needle in my arm and pushed the contents into my blood stream. I felt the effects immediately: my knees felt weak and I fell onto Jerome for support, my head felt hollow, and my eyes felt heavy. “Where are you taking her?” Jason finally asked, Jerome grunted in response.
“We need to assess her risk to personnel, if she co-operates it shouldn’t take very long,” the female nurse replied.
I wanted to speak but my lips were too numb and my tongue was too heavy to form the shapes. What kind of sedative had the given me? It felt like they’d given me an animal tranquilizer. I had no choice to move with them zombie-like, still leaning on Jerome, as they took me where ever we were going.