(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
Cool sheets on her back and a dull pain in her arm meet Cassidy as her eyes open to an ugly ceiling. Feeling nauseous and achy, the mercenary only moves her head in an attempt to get her bearings. The first thing she sees is an intravenous needle in her arm and a bag of clear medicine, a pulse monitor behind her head signaling her stress. Whispering voices come to her ears, one of them getting louder until she can understand the words. It takes her a minute to realize that she is in a hospital, but the fact does not put her at ease. Gently taking the needle out, Cassidy sits up and is about to make a run for the door when she spots Lloyd snoring in the bed next to her. The serial killer’s head is bandaged with a dot of dried blood on the top. A barred window lets in fresh air and sunlight, the sounds of a busy parking lot and nearby road drowning out most of the bird song.
“They had to sedate your friend,” a friendly girl says from the other side of the room. Her leg is in a cast and elevated, which makes it difficult for her to look around. “He had a bad reaction to something, so they knocked him out. Kept yelling something about knowing how this story goes. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen since I got here five days ago. By the way, I’m Nerissa and the guy peeking at you from under his pillow is Barry. He’s not really asleep. His hope is that we start talking about embarrassing stuff.”
“It isn’t embarrassing stuff,” Barry snaps, his hair an eye-catching mess. He throws off his covers and grips his I.V. pole before sliding out of bed. “I’m here for dehydration and food poisoning like they said you were. From what I heard, it’s rather common and they only keep you for three days. I’ll be home tomorrow, which is why I want an answer. They gave me new underwear when I got admitted and I was told they do that with everyone. All of the boys got ugly colors, but I saw that Nerissa has flowers on her pair. So, I just would like to know if the girls got prettier ones than the boys.”
“Are we sure I’m not asleep and in some porno dream?” Cassidy asks with a groan. Out of curiosity, she puts her head under the sheets and checks herself. “I’ve got strawberries and a headache. Now, can I talk to a doctor about letting my friend and I go early? We have stuff to do, people to kill, and adult clothes to put on. Not to mention figuring out where we are and why we’re here.”
“They gave me a thong,” Lloyd mutters, his eyes still closed. Shifting in the bed, he takes off the bright pink underwear and flings it at the window bars. “Just relax, kid, because I got us to Bethesda once you passed out. Didn’t run over a single squirrel, rabbit, or person too. I was afraid you got radiation poisoning from being too close to those Half-Deads. Turns out you need to drink more water and the ice in the cooler was tainted. Not sure with what, but it was enough to play kickball with your intestines. Let’s just give this a day and get back on the road once we’re sure you’re okay.”
Flopping onto her bed, the mercenary stares at her partner and the pile of gear next to his bed. “Feel like we’ve wasted enough time already. Still, I do feel like I’m about to puke and my head hurts. A night in the hospital won’t make much of a difference. Although, I would like to know what happened to you.”
“He hit his head while getting out of your jeep and needed stitches,” Nerissa answers, cutting Lloyd off. She sticks her tongue out at him, but frowns when he returns the gesture with more wiggling and drool. “That’s so gross. I’m sure The Nurses will let you out if you can convince a doctor to sign off on you. We don’t see them very often since we aren’t surgery patients or in critical condition. The only person that comes around is Trevor, who runs the hospital and brings everyone their meals. He says it helps him check on us. That should be him coming now since it’s time for lunch.”
The door opens while a man in Bermuda shorts and a brightly colored shirt backs in with a cart. A fake parrot is on his shoulder, the stuffed animal on the verge of falling to the floor until Trevor moves it onto his head. With a friendly smile, he puts the hot food on trays and moves them in front of his patients. Reaching into a container on his hip, he pulls out utensils that are a fork and spoon at one end and a sheathed knife at the other. Putting them in place, he stands in the middle of the room to make sure everyone has all they need. A sharp whistle gets a nurse, her face covered by a creepy mask, to take the cart away while he checks the charts. Noticing that Cassidy’s I.V. is no longer attached, Trevor gingerly takes her arm and carefully puts it back in place.
“If you want to leave early then you will need your fluids,” he says in a soft voice. With a flick of his wrist, he pulls a celery stick out of his sleeve and puts it on her tray. “These are ninety-five percent water, so I’d rather you eat this than candy. I still want you to keep that needle in place and drink whenever Twenty-Five comes to check on you. Just so you know, you gave your friend a scare.”
“Hey! There’s that confidentiality thing!” Lloyd shouts, a bite of his tuna sandwich stuffed in his cheek.
“You claimed that your life was an open book,” Barry reminds the serial killer. Grabbing his bowl of fruit, he gets out of bed and takes a seat next to Trevor. “I wanted to talk to you about the payment. Now, you said we could discuss it when I leave, but I think I can get you some stuff that you need. Gauze, never used sheets, and boy underwear that is easier on the eyes. Your patients will thank you for that.”
“Can I still work off my debt like we agreed?” Nerissa asks, her lips covered in chocolate pudding. Picking the grapes out of her fruit bowl, she shifts and grunts at the stiffness in her lower back. “My mom was a nurse before the collapse, so I know a few things. If you don’t want to train me then I can help at the front desk. By the way, is it possible for me to get a bath tonight? It’s been two days and I want to stretch a bit.”
Trevor nods his head to the girl and politely directs Barry to turn his back, the administrator wanting to talk with Cassidy. “Your friend has paid his bill by allowing us to take a blood sample for various testing. One of our goals at the United Salvation Hospital is to create cures that can be brought to the people. Diseases are running rampant out there, so we hope to combat that by examining the blood of our patients. You can do the same or we can discuss other methods of payment. Nothing unsavory, I assure you. This is a hospital after all and we have ethics to consider.”
“I’ll need some time to think about it,” Cassidy replies, her head swimming from the medicine. Her stomach still in knots, she can only sip at her water and stare at the food that smells as good as it looks. “Don’t think I have much of an appetite right now. Kind of strange that I got sick so quickly after eating some of that ice. Unless that combined with being near the Half-Deads and being dehydrated.”
The administrator puts his parrot on Cassidy’s head before reaching over to take her chart out. A nurse abruptly ducks her head in, but she leaves the colorful envelope on top of the door and goes away at the snap of her boss’s fingers. He licks his fingers every time he flips a page, a habit that has left every corner wrinkled and torn. It takes Trevor a minute to decipher the sloppy handwriting and find any mention of radiation poisoning. The man mumbles about needing to run another penmanship course in the hopes of avoiding such confusion. Stopping and tapping at the file, he turns it around to show Cassidy the information, but she only stares blankly like a tired child.
“There is no solid evidence that the radiation affected you since your exposure was minimal,” Trevor explains, putting the chart away. He goes to take the envelope off the door and returns to put it in the parrot’s mouth. “Now, we can do a more thorough blood test, which can be part of your payment. The effects of Half-Dead radiation are unique and seem to vary from person to person. Creating something that can negate them would be a boon for our country. It could even lead to a cure for the Half-Deads themselves. This is something to think about as you heal. Now, I need to check on another room.”
“Wait! Am I going home tomorrow?” Barry asks from his bed.
Trevor stops at the door and checks his watch as if that will hold the answer. “That all depends on how much sleep you get. Not enough rest can result in a relapse. I’ll have Forty-Eight come in with the book cart. That way nobody gets bored before dinner and wanders where they shouldn’t.”
Cassidy and Lloyd exchange worried glances, their roommates already talking about the books they want to read. The mercenary is about to voice her concern when she is struck by a sudden wave of exhaustion. A large yawn stops her from talking, a gesture that is mirrored by her partner. Pushing the tray away from her bed, Cassidy tries to figure out if she is truly exhausted or has been drugged. Watching Nerissa and Barry rub their eyes and curl up in their beds, she is left more disoriented and tries to pinch herself in case she is dreaming. Her fingers feel numb and end up stroking her arm, the comforting sensation making her drowsier. The last things Cassidy hears are Lloyd snoring and Barry faintly mumbling about his favorite pair of underwear.