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Sleeping Sickness: The Day Of Knowing, Vol. 3

 

Sleeping Sickness

A Day Of Knowing Tale

By Robert Brockway

 

 

 

Published by Brockwar Press: The Fightin’est Press In The West

Copyright 2015

 

About the Collection

 

The Day of Knowing is a collection of interconnected horror shorts that each build upon a larger fictional world. Every tale is self-contained, and no single story will require that you read any others first. However, every short also builds the lore of the Day of Knowing universe, and readers that follow all of the stories in chronological order will reveal a larger tale that spans dozens of short stories across several decades. The order thus far is: M55, Carrier Wave, Sleeping Sickness.

 

About the Author

 

Robert Brockway is a senior editor and columnist for Cracked.com. He is the author of the urban fantasy/horror Unnoticeables trilogy from Tor Books, the cyberpunk novel Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, and the apocalyptic non-fiction essay collection Everything Is Going To Kill Everybody. The Day of Knowing shorts and others are published on his website, Robertbrockway.net. Follow him on Twitter @brockway_llc.

 

 

 

Yash heard the doors opening, and quickly tucked his pipe up under the sheet, beside the corpse. His hand accidentally brushed its skin. Between that and the weed, he had evil shivers dancing up and down his forearms. He felt like spitting. Instead he smiled.

 

“Dr. Deidrich, what’s going on?” Yash said, and held his hand out for a high five.

 

Deidrich went to reciprocate, but missed. He went to try again and Yash just shook his hand. Poor dude.

 

“Quite a bit, Yash,” Deidrich said ,”we’ve got two new Sleepers in – fresh ones this time! Not quite a day since symptoms first developed.”

 

“Nice,” Yash said, not quite understanding if it was, indeed, ‘nice.’

 

“It is!” Deidrich said. He beamed like a kid just hearing they’re being taken out for ice cream. “Work to be done!”

 

That’s what Dr. Deidrich always said, by way of goodbye. Work to be done! Same pitch every time, like a little song.

 

Yash had never related to a song less. He took this job in the first place because his cousin Suresh said he’d done it for a summer and spent the whole time staring at nurse’s asses and playing cards in the utility closet. Yash was doing his damnedest to spend all day staring at butts and smoking pot by the dumpsters, but they kept interrupting him with work. Haul this here, collapse that gurney, help me lift this guy, empty the trash – it never stopped. Yash made a focused effort to learn every inch of the hospital, so he could find the good smoke spots and just be left alone to ride out his shift. He’d thought he found a good one down here in the basement, in the little access hallway alongside of the morgue. He always kept a body with him when he came down here, as an excuse in case anybody walked in on him. For the first day or two it was paradise. Nobody cut through this dank little hallway with its peeling blue paint and flickering fluorescents. There was no reason. Who needed to get from the isolated C-Wing to the morgue in such a big hurry? They didn’t even have patients in there. Just a bunch of closed up old rooms they used to store furniture.

 

Then the sleeping sickness hit. At first it was just one or two people, passing out in grocery stores and shit. Then they came pouring in – dozens of them. They sat in ICU for a few uneventful nights, then Nurse Bracken came in one day to take blood for a CBC. She’d barely gotten within poking distance when the guy latched onto her arm and took a bite out of Bracken’s neck. Soon after that, all the Sleepers started attacking if you got anywhere near them.

 

Creeped Yash right the hell out.

 

Luckily they sealed the wing after that, and all the government and CDC dudes came flooding in, with their keycards and guards in green uniforms holding M16s and shit. It was intense stuff, and Yash wanted no part of it. But since they’d moved all the Sleepers into C-Wing, the government guys had to walk right through practically of his isolated smoke spots. Nowhere was safe from them. If they knew Yash was smoking up, they didn’t seem to care, but still – it made him paranoid.

 

Or maybe it was the weed.

 

Either way, the last few weeks had been nerve-wracking. If this kept up, Yash would have to skip out. Maybe try to get his old job at the movie theater back. That was pretty good. You really only worked for like a half an hour when all the movies started, then you had at least an hour to yourself before they started letting out. Jack, the manager, would poke his head in and say some lame crap like “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean,” but that just meant you had to clean for like five minutes until he went away again. You could even sneak into the theaters, grab a seat in the back, and watch some of the flick -- so long as you got out ahead of the credits to hold the door open for the patrons. But the theater didn’t pay like this, and then there was his mom.

 

Man, maaji would flip if he quit this job. She’d been riding him like a racehorse about ‘cultivating his future’ and ‘thinking about tomorrow today.’ The movie theater, the gas station, even the tollbooth wasn’t good enough for her. But now that he had a job at a hospital, she was cutting him some slack. She didn’t tell her friends he was a doctor or anything, but she never said ‘orderly.’ She just said ‘oh, Yash is working at the hospital today’ or ‘the doctors that Yash works with said…’ Yash thought it was a score, at first, getting a laidback job like this and getting maaji off his back. But he realized, too late, that he’d trapped himself. He could never take another job that was lesser than this, in his mother’s eyes. It was either stay here forever, or somehow advance. Yash wasn’t sure which scared him more.

 

He jumped again as the double-doors leading to C-wing swung open. He hadn’t yet pulled his pipe back out from under the corpse’s sheet, so he wouldn’t be in trouble or anything. But he always got this feeling like the only reason people came into a room he was in was because they were mad at him for something.

 

“You there,” said a man in a set of pale mint colored scrubs. “Come with me.”

 

Shiiiiit.

 

“I was just dropping this body off for-“

 

“Nevermind that,” the man said. “Quickly. We need some help.”

 

Yash let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.

 

“Oh, yeah, okay,” he said, tucking his pipe further under the corpse’s knee. Didn’t want anybody accidentally stumbling across it while he was gone.

 

The man led Yash through the double doors into the long underground access corridor that led from the main building to C-Wing. He was walking fast, but not like jogging or anything, so Yash figured he was just pissed off and it wasn’t an actual emergency. He told himself that, over and over again, trying to stave off the paranoia creeping into his chest and balls. Paranoia always made his balls tingle, for some reason. He wondered if that happened to anyone else, like if that was a universal constant in humanity but it was one of those things that nobody talked about because admitting it would be like-

 

“Hey!” The man snapped his fingers at Yash, and he seized back into focus. “Are you listening to me?”

 

“Yeah, of course!” Yash said. “What did you say?”

 

The man closed his eyes tightly and breathed hard. He opened them again and spoke real slow but intense, like Yash’s dad did when he was really pissed, but not at you – at like the TV or something.

 

“I said, which way is it back to C-Wing?” The man asked, and gestured at a three-way juncture.

 

“Oh, you lost?” Yash smiled.

 

“Yes, I’ve only been here a week and this damned hospital is like a labyrinth.”

 

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Yash agreed, then pointed down the left hallway. “It’s down there, take the first right and up the stairs.”

 

Yash turned and started to shuffle away, mission completed.

 

“Hey, where are you going?” The man snapped. “I need your help!”

 

Oh, right, Yash thought, and walked back. They followed the hallway to C-Wing. Yash got a little winded on the stairs, then a lot winded when they pulled up short before the thick black doors and he saw two super serious dudes holding machine guns.

 

His balls tingled like he’d poured mouthwash on them.

 

The man went to push by the guards, but they closed ranks and one pushed him back by the shoulder.

 

“ID, sir?” The bigger one asked. He was wearing dark green army fatigues, combat boots, a helmet, a paper facemask, and surgical gloves.

 

“Dammit, I was just through here!” The man said, “not five minutes ago!”

 

“ID, sir.” The smaller one reiterated. Not a request this time.

 

The man sighed and made a big show of patting all around his hips for his ID, which was tethered to his waist with a retractable cord. Yash didn’t think it seemed like a real big deal to find the ID, since it was pinned right to the guy’s scrubs, which didn’t have any pockets anyway. But he got the sense that the man guiding him never needed much of a reason to be annoyed.

 

“There,” he said, shoving the ID too close to the smaller guard’s face. “Dr. Himura. Remember? Remember me now?”

 

The guards stepped aside without a word and looked straight ahead. Dr. Himura turned around and angrily gestured at Yash to hurry up, though they hadn’t actually started moving yet. Himura shoved the black doors to C-wing open, and Yash got his first good look at the place since the CDC and stuff moved in. They’d taken out all the old furniture, which was a bummer. He hoped they’d put it back when they were done – when Yash used this place as a smoke spot, his favorite thing was building little mini-mazes with the old cabinets and such. He’d stack them all in a room in a way that made it look like the whole place was floor to ceiling storage. But if you slipped around one side, or under a desk or something, there was a big open area where Yash had stashed a recliner or an old couch to crash on. It was super cozy. He missed it dearly.

 

Now C-Wing was so clean it was practically empty. Thin white curtains were drawn shut across most of the rooms. All sorts of medical equipment Yash didn’t recognize sat in the hallways. Looked expensive. He tried not to touch it.

 

Himura led him down the central hall to the block at the far end. There was a big open square room in the middle, one wall of it all windows looking down on the empty lot next door, with two more hallways to either side and a handful of small offices in the back. The big room had a bunch of benches and tables bolted to the ground. Maybe a lobby or something, back when C-Wing was still open. The government guys had strewn a bunch of papers, folders, x-rays and other important-looking documents all over every available flat surface. Big whiteboards stood in one corner with crazy numbers and letters scrawled everywhere. There was a table full of radios and walkie-talkies and phones.

 

Himura took a sharp right and ducked into one of the offices. Yash followed him most of the way, but paused at the door. He didn’t want go in if he wasn’t supposed to. This Himura guy would totally yell at him for a breach like that. Yash really didn’t feel like getting yelled at again.

 

“Come in,” Himura snapped, “Jesus, do I have to drag you everywhere?”

 

Yash winced.

 

“So uh, what can I help you with?” He said, stepping into Himura’s crowded little office. There was a low desk and an uncomfortable looking wooden chair. The rest of the space was taken up with cardboard file boxes, stacked one atop the other. Charts poked out between the gaps and cascaded down the sides.

 

“All of these boxes,” Himura said. “You need to move them down the hall to room 460. I don’t care what Deidrich says, I will not work in a space like this!”

 

Yash felt the chore depression setting in. Somebody had tied a big fat task around his neck with a long rope, and tossed him into a lake of boredom and exhaustion. He was already mourning his lost afternoon.

 

“I’m sorry, Doc, I’ve got other duties that need-” Yash tried to slip out of it, but Himura waved his hands right in Yash’s face until he stopped talking.

 

“None of that!” Himura said, “that’s all I’ve gotten from everyone in this wing. ‘I have other duties, I’m needed elsewhere.’ Deidrich said if I needed help so badly, I’d have to go borrow staff from the hospital. Well, I’ve borrowed you.”

 

“Uh…am I even allowed to be in here?” Maybe protocol could save Yash.

 

“Not at all,” Himura laughed, “but that idiot Deidrich said it. Everybody heard him: ‘go borrow staff from the hospital.’ If there’s fallout from this, it’ll land on him. I’ll make sure of it.”

 

Damn. Yash was out of excuses. But he doubted that the Himura guy actually got Yash’s name. Probably never even looked at his nametag. Maybe he could just run away, and Himura wouldn’t be able to tell them who to fire…

 

Yeah, that was it. He’d start moving boxes, then when Himura left, Yash would just slip out the doors and get lost somewhere far away from C-Wing.

 

Yash smiled. His afternoon might be saved, after all.

 

“All of these boxes,” Himura said, pinning Yash with a look you’d normally reserve for uncooperative toddlers. “To room 460. That’s through the war room to the right, down the-“

 

“I know it,” Yash said, smiling. “I know this whole place like the back of my hand.”

 

Himura just glared, then sat down in his creaky wooden chair and stared at a piece of paper until Yash picked up a box and left.

Should he just bolt right now? No, Dr. Himura would probably be on guard for the first few minutes, ready to go looking for him in case Yash got lost or something. The best escape plan was probably to move a few boxes until Himura tuned him out completely, then say he was going to the bathroom or something and take off then. Buy himself a few extra minutes to hide before Himura came thundering out for somebody to yell at.

 

Yash walked through the war room. He wondered why they called it that. Just to be dramatic, like they’re fighting a war on disease? Doctors were pretty full of themselves, Yash had found. He was satisfied with the explanation he’d just made up, and didn’t bother thinking about it anymore.

 

He hung a right and moseyed down the corridor toward room 460. Rooms 401-459 were normal double-occupancy rooms, but 460 was meant to house a bunch of patients in a single common area. Yash wondered how Dr. Himura thought he could fill that space. Even with his desk and all of his boxes, he’d barely take up a single corner. Seemed kinda weird and awful lonely, but maybe it was like a status thing. He who has the biggest office, and all that.

 

Yash paused in front of 460. There was a big plastic tarp over the extra-wide doorway. It had a rectangular flap in the center, buttoned shut, and through the clear plastic window he could see a small access-way with another tarp at the far end. Kinda like an airlock.

 

Yash leaned way back, stared at the number above the door.

 

460, all right.

 

Should he go back and make sure Dr. Himura had the right room?

 

No way in hell. He’d totally flip out at that. He’d probably call Yash all sorts of names. Yash felt his balls tingle just thinking about it.

 

He took a deep breath, unfastened the buttons, picked up his box of charts, and stepped inside. The access-way smelled weird. Like chalk dust and ammonia. There were a bunch of little paper signs everywhere saying to keep out and biohazard and yadda yadda yadda -- that stuff was for patients and visitors, not staff. If he paid attention to every sign telling him to keep out, he wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. Yash undid the fasteners on the far flap, and stepped into a dimly lit room full of hospital beds.

 

Occupied hospital beds.

 

There were probably two dozen of them, all told. Even with the bigger room, it was still crowded – they had the beds staggered down each wall so they could fit twice the amount in the normal space. All the default hospital gadgetry breathed and squeaked – big monitors showed bouncing lines and numbers. Hoses hosed and pumps pumped. Otherwise it was dead quiet. He couldn’t even hear the ambient noise from C-wing.

 

Yash thought about turning around, so as not to disturb the patients. But it didn’t look like any of them were awake and…

 

Oh, hell.

 

He looked closer, and saw heavy leather restraints lashing each patient’s ankles, wrists, waist, chest and forehead to the frames of their steel beds.

 

The Sleepers. They’d sent him to the god damn Sleeper room.

 

Nurse Bracken had lived, when that first one took a chunk out of her neck. But she wasn’t the only one attacked before they realized what was going on. One of the other orderlies, Carl something – he got his face bashed in when he tried to move one of the Sleepers from their bed to a gurney. Some bigshot doctor tried to take a pulse and the lady ripped his hand straight off of his arm. That’s when they got wise and started restraining them.

 

But Yash wasn’t risking it. Not for this job. He set Himura’s box down to one side of the airlock thing, and turned to run right the hell out of there. He hit something hard with his forehead. It made him dizzy. He grabbed blindly and caught some fabric. A man yelled, then Yash was falling.

 

He saw what was going when it was too late to do anything about it: He’d ran straight into some other dude, just ducking through the interior flap as Yash went to jump through it. His forehead had caught the other guy’s chin, and Yash tried to steady himself by grabbing the front of the man’s scrubs. It didn’t work, and the man just tumbled down with Yash. They hit and rolled, slammed into something metal and lay there in an anguished heap. The man got up first, shoving Yash away.

 

“What the hell are you doi”- He started to say.

 

A blur. A snap and a surprised yelp.

 

They’d bumped into one of the patient’s beds. The other guy stood up too fast, and bumped right into the Sleeper’s hand. It was an older dude, bunch of faded tattoos on his neck and hands. The Sleeper snapped through the leather restraint like it was yarn and latched onto the man’s forearm. Yash pushed himself backwards on his butt, unable to take his eyes off the commotion. The guy gasped a little when the Sleeper grabbed him, and tried to pull away, but the thing had him good. He ended up just pulling the wheeled bed across the aisle, far enough to bump into the foot of another Sleeper. That one, a big dude with a huge ZZ Top beard, convulsed like he’d been struck by lightning, and snapped through every one of his restraints at once. The first Sleeper, the old guy, he was struggling a bit with his restraints, but he was still working his way out of them. ZZ Top grabbed the guy in the scrubs by his free arm and wrenched until it came out of the socket. It reminded Yash of the sound hot wings made, when you twisted that useless little wingtip part away. But, you know, louder and way more disturbing. The guy screamed – not like dudes yell in horror movies, all kinda macho and deep. It was a high-pitched and warbly sound, and it just would not stop. Behind the two Sleepers and the guy in the scrubs, Yash could see the other ones stirring. He heard the sounds of restraints popping, and saw dimly-lit forms struggling to sit up. The older Sleeper had his wrists free now, and got a better grip on the guy’s good arm.

 

“Nononono,” the guy screeched, jumping and twisting to get away.

 

The older Sleeper shoved him down on the bed, then held his shoulder with one arm while twisting and yanking with the other. The bearded one still had hold of the guy’s other, now limp arm, and he started twisting, too.

 

Yash didn’t see the arms came off – he was frantically crawling through the airlock already – but he heard them. He’d always remember that sound: The grinding, the suction-pops, the big wet splashes, the screaming.

 

He tripped over the raised lip on the far end of the airlock and ate it right into the linoleum.

 

“Help!” He hollered, “hey somebody! I think this guy needs a lot of help!”

 

Yash sprinted for the war room, screaming himself hoarse, but nobody responded. Dr. Himura’s door wasn’t latched, so he kicked it open and lunged through, slamming it behind him.

 

“What in god’s name are you doing?” Himura was on his feet instantly: ready, able and willing to chew somebody out in a heartbeat.

 

“The…Sleepers…” It couldn’t have been more than a few hundred meters, but Yash was so winded he thought he might black out. Exercise wasn’t his thing. Smoking was.

 

“What? The who?” Himura was holding two emotions in careful balance: Confusion and anger. Waiting to see which one he’d unleash.

 

“The Sleepers…they’re awake,” Yash went to spit on the floor, realized how Himura would probably react to that breach of etiquette, and swallowed instead. “They got somebody!”

 

“What are the Sleepers? The patients, you mean? First of all, they’re in a comatose state, not sleeping, and second-“

 

“They. Got. Somebody!” Yash punched the words out, panting between them.

 

“What does that mean, ‘got somebody?’ Hold on, let me see your eyes. Up here, look up here.” Dr. Himura snapped his fingers in front of his own face.

 

Yash looked up.

 

“You’re on drugs!” Himura said. There was triumph in his voice. “I can’t believe this! Wait until I report you for this, you’ll be out of-“

 

“I think he’s dead!” Yash snapped, pointing back toward the war room.

 

Himura leaned over to glance out the window.

 

“There’s nobody out there,” he said.

 

“Not there,” Yash said, “in the room you sent me to. The room with the Sleepers. Some guy came in and they got him. I think they pulled his arms off!”

 

“Every part of that is so wrong that I’m not even sure where to start. I did not send you to the quarantine. I sent you to an unoccupied storage room very far away from the quarantine. Which, if you did breach quarantine, is an entirely other, equally inexcusable offense. Further, the Sleepers, as you call them, cannot ‘get’ anybody. They are securely restrained, as well as entirely unresponsive to nearly all stimuli. Even if one awoke, the others would not, unless specifically provoked. And finally, a human being cannot simply ‘pull an arm off.’ That is the stuff of comic books and children’s television.”

 

“You sent me there!” Yash pleaded. “To room 460!”

 

“Incorrect. I sent you to Room 416.”

 

“You did not…” Yash paused to think about it, and now wasn’t sure. “Whatever, man! This is all whatever! That dude is really hurt or dead or something! Please just come look!”

 

“Young man,” Himura said. “The only reason I’m leaving this office is to find your superiors and ensure that they terminate your employment immediately. Possibly even involve the authorities.”

 

Balls. Tingling.

 

“But…” Yash started, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He’d already explained everything to the best of his ability. And now the prospect of getting in trouble was taking all the urgency out of the Sleeper situation.

 

Being fired sucks, but it’s cool. Yash had a lot of experience with being fired. He hadn’t been at this job long enough for unemployment, even if he could fudge the paperwork into saying he’d been ‘laid off.’ But he could lie on another resume and get a job delivering pizzas or something. The job wasn’t important. He didn’t exactly relish the thought of getting yelled at by all of his bosses at once, though. He found that’s usually how it worked – bosses loved fireable offenses. They must have some secret pager network just for them, so they could all get in on the action. Still, Yash had experience there, too. He’d take his lumps and revel in the extra days off between jobs for smoking up and watching TV. The cops were another matter, though. Could he really get arrested for this?

 

“Come along now,” Dr. Himura said, and swung open the door to his office. He stepped out into the war room, never taking his eyes off of Yash.

 

Yash followed, head down, trying to look sufficiently penitent as to appease Himura’s bloodlust. He and Himura skirted the war room, between the wall and the benches, and emerged into the main corridor. Himura pulled up short, and Yash nearly ran into him.

 

“What is…?” Himura trailed off.

 

Yash finally looked up. There were people standing in the hallway – maybe a dozen of them, dotted at random throughout the length of the corridor. Each stood bone still, slumped over with their heads down, their limp arms dangling. They were all wearing hospital gowns. Some still had leather cuffs about their wrists and ankles.

 

The Sleepers.

 

Yash looked farther down the hall, and saw a pool of red seeping beneath the black doors marking the exit from C-Wing. One of them was propped open by an arm, clad in dark green army fatigues, a gloved hand still clutching its rifle.

 

“I don’t understand what’s going-” Himura started, but Yash grabbed his shoulder and squeezed as hard as he could.

 

“Don’t talk,” he whispered.

 

“Why not?” Himura said, though he did at least lower his voice.

 

“They like, respond to noise or something.”

 

“Nonsense,” Himura whispered, though somehow still managed to make it feel like yelling. “They’ve only ever shown response to direct contact before.”

 

“Yeah, well, they’re doing something different now, aren’t they?” Yash said. “Do they usually get up and stand around like this?”

 

“No,” Himura admitted. “But what changed?”

 

“I don’t-” Yash answered, but Himura was apparently just talking to himself.

 

“Why suddenly become mobile and responsive to other stimuli? All of our working theories held that this disease functioned by attacking the limbic system but this new behavior seems like hunting rather than an involuntary rage respo-“

 

“Uh, doc?” Yash tugged on Himura’s sleeve like a lost kid at the mall.

 

“Now now!” Himura snapped, too loudly.

 

A dozen faces swiveled to point in their direction. Their eyes were still closed, but their posture became hyper-corrected. Seconds ago the Sleepers were slouching painfully, like gravity itself was too much for them to bear. Now they each stood entirely erect, spines stretched to their fullest height, nearly on tip toes. They cocked their heads, one ear tilted upward. Listening.

 

Yash pulled, and Himura ceded to him. They walked backwards in silence, taking tiny baby steps so as to avoid even scuffing the floor. When they were out of sight, they turned and made their way back to Himura’s office. Yash closed the door very softly behind them.

 

“What do we do?” Yash asked. Authority figures made him painfully nervous, but in times of distress, there was nothing he liked better than having them around to take control.

 

“Do? We’ll just wait for help,” Himura said, and sat down in his rickety wooden chair. It creaked, and they both winced at the sound.

 

“Yeah?” Yash said, hopefully. “Help’s coming?”

 

“Well, I imagine,” Himura said. “Aren’t they?”

 

Yash’s smile faded.

 

“Will people come check on you guys? Like is there a protocol if you don’t check in or something?” He said.

 

“No, we’re a self contained unit. We’re not due to report back until we find something worth reporting. We could call for help…if Deidrich hadn’t pulled all of the office phones for security purposes.”

 

“A radio?” Yash asked, but he had a sinking feeling he already knew the answer.

 

“Yes,” Himura said. “At the front desk, and on the guards. Both by the main entrance, past the pati…past the Sleepers. But surely somebody from the hospital will come check on us, see what’s happened, and call for assistance?”

 

“No,” Yash shook his head. “We’re not supposed to come anywhere near C-wing. You guys got other guys with guns out front, remember?”

 

“Right,” Himura said. “So, we escape, then? Is there a back way out of here?”

 

“Hey, yeah!” Yash perked up, happy to be back in his area of expertise: Ways to slip out of work unseen. “If we take the hallway down there to the end and hang a right there’s like a utility room or something. It’s got some generators and other old equipment. Nobody’s used it in forever, not since they closed down C-wing, but there’s a door in the back that probably leads to Radiology somewhere.”

 

“Probably?” Himura asked.

 

“I’ve never gone through,” Yash said. “The room was creepy. But there’s nothing that could be on the other side except for Radiology! Probably!”

 

“I don’t have any other ideas,” Himura admitted. It seemed to pain him to do so. “It’s worth a try.”

 

They slipped out of Himura’s office like kids sneaking downstairs on Christmas. Yash led the way around the war room, back into the corridor he’d first come down when the Sleepers awoke.

 

“Oh, right,” he said, softly.

 

The remaining dozen or so Sleepers slouched in that hallway. They were strewn about everywhere, aligned in no particular direction. They didn’t seem like they were trying to get somewhere. Just blocking the way.

 

Yash and Himura retreated back to the doctor’s office, shut the door again, and resumed panicking. Yash wanted to wait it out. Like, how long can a human being go without food and water? However long that is, surely somebody would come before then.

 

Himura had flipped positions, and now was all gung-ho about escape.

 

“Recent developments aside, those affected by the disease have exhibited remarkably consistent behavior. They do not attack unless provoked, typically via touch or very close physical contact. Now we’ve added loud noises to the response set, but we have no reason to believe the underlying behavior itself has changed. If we are quiet and don’t get too close, we should be able to simply walk out of here.”

 

“Or,” Yash said, gesturing around the room. “We could stay in here and not risk getting our arms torn off! Seems a no-brainer to me, but I’m no doctor.”

 

“That’s right,” Himura said, puffing up. “You are no doctor. You are an orderly. And an orderly in a wing that has been commandeered by the CDC. We are officially in control here, which means that I, as the sole surviving member of this unit, am officially in control here. You will do as you are told or face severe legal consequences.”

 

‘There he goes again,’ Yash thought, ‘bringing up the cops.’

 

Yash didn’t actually know that much about what cops were and weren’t allowed to do, so he just assumed ‘whatever they want.’ Even if ignoring Himura wasn’t illegal, he was like some bigshot government doctor guy. He could probably tell the cops to charge Yash with all of these deaths if he wanted and they’d do it.

 

“Shit,” Yash said. Then, because it felt good, he said it about ten more times.

 

“If you’re through?” Himura said, and stood with his hand on the doorknob.

 

Yash would have given just about anything to still have his pipe on him.

 

“I guess,” he said.

 

Dr. Himura silently eased the door open and crept back out into the war room. Yash followed. They re-checked the main entrance hall first, but it was both shorter and narrower than the side corridors. The Sleepers in there were standing too close to one another to pass by safely, and besides, these ones were still in high alert mode: Standing ramrod straight, ears to the sky. The Sleepers in the side corridor were hunched over, inert, and spaced farther apart. Himura touched Yash’s arm and pointed down the hallway, then made a right turn motion and nodded. Yash nodded back.

 

Down the hall, to the right, into the utility room and out the door on the other side. It wasn’t more than a few hundred meters. On any other day, it would take three minutes.

 

They moved with painful deliberation, Yash leading the way. He paused after every footstep, looked up at the Sleepers to make sure they hadn’t moved, then started the laborious process of moving his foot again. Himura was plainly getting impatient. He huffed and sighed and followed too close, which seemed like a terrible god damn idea to Yash, but he wasn’t about to risk speaking to say it. It had been ten minutes of slow motion creeping, and Yash was covered in sweat. It soaked into the thin, paper-like material of his uniform. The fabric stuck to his back, caught the draft from the AC, and chilled him to the bone. He wanted nothing more than to sit down, right here, and take a nap – even if it was chilly, and in the middle of a hall full of murderers on pause. But he could feel Himura behind him, growing more impatient by the second, and that pushed him on. Yash took another agonizingly slow step and stopped, checked out the Sleeper nearest him. It was a girl, about his age. Lots of tattoos showing on her bare forearms and calves. She had dyed, short hair like those punks Yash saw in the magazines and stuff. Kinda cute, in her own weird way. You could forget, just looking at her standing there, bent nearly in half at the waist, head hanging low, that she was dangerous. It looked like she was just stretching before a jog or something. Yash shifted his weight forward and started to move his back foot, but pulled up short. He took his eyes off his own feet and looked again at the girl.

 

Her eyes were open.

 

Her head hadn’t moved an inch – still hanging there upside down, pointed at her own knees. But her pupils had shifted all the way to the corners of her eyes and were now locked on Yash. He rocked his weight back to his rear foot, and the girl’s gaze followed him. It was a nearly imperceptible movement. Yash tested it by shifting his weight fore and back again. The girl’s wide, unblinking stare tracked him, like a dog watching a treat.

 

Yash held his hand flat out behind him again, trying to signal Himura to stop, but he didn’t see it this time, either. He stepped way to close to Yash before pulling up quick and letting out an unhappy huff. The girl’s head twitched in their direction at the sound. Just a fraction of an inch.

 

Yash’s butthole spasmed.

 

He pointed at the girl, still keeping his hand low. Himura followed his gaze, and god damn that dude to hell, he yelped.

 

It happened in the spaces between heartbeats. The girl was on Himura faster than Yash could see. She jumped up and locked her thighs around his midsection. He swung a hand back to slap at her face, but she caught it and started yanking. Himura screamed. The Sleepers around him snapped to attention, heads tilting toward the sound. They swiveled to face him.

 

Yash did not need to guess at what would happen next. He suppressed a primal scream, and started running. It was like playing a game of hopscotch – sprinting as quietly as possible while keeping as far as he could from the reach of the Sleepers. If he paused long enough to look, he could see some of them responding to his movement. A shift of the head here, open eyes there, a slight correction of posture. But they didn’t attack.

Yash was doing it. He was making it!

 

There were only three more Sleepers between him and the end of the hallway. He put Himura’s frantic screeching out of his mind and concentrated. He ran and slid low against the wall, keeping a few feet between him and the husky guy with long, greasy hair who was kneeling in the middle of the floor. Yash hopped back across the tiles to the opposite side, avoiding a black dude bent backwards with his own weight. Only one more to go: An old lady standing just off to the left side of the corridor. Plenty of room to get around her.

 

Yash made the biggest mistake of his life: He looked back.

 

Himura was on his back in the middle of a rapidly expanding pool of blood. His arms and legs had been ripped off, strewn haphazardly around his torso. He was still moving, his stomach convulsing as he tried in vain to sit up. His stumps twitching, trying to move limbs that weren’t there anymore. He was looking straight at Yash, his eyes wide, his mouth working senselessly like a fish out of water. The Sleepers around him had gone into active rest again, that thing where they all stood super straight and just listened.

 

They didn’t even want to kill Himura. They just wanted his limbs off. Why? What was the point?

 

Yash realized he’d frozen in place, staring at Himura’s mauled body. He was so close to the end of the hallway. So close to out of there. But he couldn’t move. Part of him wanted to help Himura, though even Yash knew enough about medicine to figure that he’d be dead by the time he got there. Besides, what if he screamed or something? It’d just bring the Sleepers down on them both. But still, he couldn’t bring himself to just turn away from a dying man. Himura was looking at him with such desperation, like Yash could flip a switch and make all this go away. Yash did the only thing he could think to do, to convey his own helplessness to the rapidly fading Himura.

 

He shrugged.

 

Himura’s face darkened, turned up in a scowl. Yash recognized it as his “about to yell at you” expression, but it was already fading. Himura blinked once, twice, then went limp and made a sound like busted bellows. He was dead.

 

Yash made the sign of the cross at Himura, even though Yash wasn’t even remotely Christian and he was pretty sure Himura wasn’t either. He just didn’t know what else to do. He turned to leave.

 

And stared into a deeply tanned and wrinkled face, gone totally slack.

 

The last Sleeper, the older woman, had moved. She stood inches in front of Yash now, eyes closed, posture alert, head tilted like a curious puppy.

 

Yash managed to suppress the scream, but he still sucked in his breath too loudly. The lady’s face jumped, like she’d gotten a static shock. Her head swiveled ever so slightly in his direction. Her eyelids fluttered.

 

Yash broke.

 

He shoved the old lady down as hard as he could, hoping these things could still shatter their hips, and sprinted for the end of the hallway. He took the corner so fast he nearly lost his footing, and honed in on the door to the utility closet like a heat-seeking missile.

 

Yash could hear footsteps behind him. No idea how far. Just the slap of bare feet running on cold tile. He was so close. He was almost there. Anything. Anything to make it. He would get a job. A real one. He’d go every day and work his ass off. He’d be nicer to his mother. He’d quit smoking weed. Well, he’d quit smoking so much weed. Just please. Please let him-

 

touch

 

the

 

handle

 

Chilled metal on his palm. The door swung open easy, and shut with a slam so hard Yash felt it in the floor. He braced himself against the door, ready for the onslaught from the other side, but none came. He waited. And waited. His breath was ragged and cutting, but he didn’t dare cough. After an eternity of bracing, his whole body tense with expectation, Yash pulled his fingers from the knob. They’d been squeezing so hard for so long that they cramped up when he loosened them. He eased his weight away from the door, and crossed the utility room with mousy footsteps.

 

The exit didn’t quite lead to Radiology. It opened into another supply closet between Radiology and Oncology. It stuck at first, and Yash had to wrestle with it in dead silence for a good fifteen minutes. When it opened, it did so inwards. There were boxes of toilet paper stacked against it from the closet side. He pulled down one stack, just enough to slip by, and pulled the door shut behind him. The supply closet opened onto a bustling hallway. There were nurses, doctors, patients -- all rushing by him in a blur. Occupied by whatever mundane crap they’d be doing on any other day. They had no idea what he’d been through. No idea what happened on the other side of those doors. The world just kept on turning. People got torn apart, while a few hundred feet away other people got coffee and bitched about overtime.

 

Yash thought about barricading the door to the supply closet. But the exterior one opened inward, too. He’d have to rig up something to pull against it, instead of blocking it off, and people would look at him like he was crazy. He could try to explain what was back there, but they’d insist on seeing for themselves, and the Sleepers might get out. Yash tested the outside knob. It locked automatically. You didn’t need a key to get out, but you needed one to get in. It would have to be good enough for now, at least until he called the CDC and told them what happened.

 

Yash walked on auto-pilot. The lights were too bright. The noises too loud. He went actively catatonic, like he did if he stayed too long in nightclubs or at malls. When he snapped out of it, he found himself standing in front of a gurney. He looked down at a still corpse, beneath a sheet, in the narrow hallway beside the morgue that bridged the space between C-wing and the hospital proper. Yash reached underneath the sheet and felt around. He extracted his pipe and his lighter.

 

He promised he would quit. He promised he would get his shit together. And he meant it. He would.

 

Tomorrow.

 

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Sleeping Sickness: The Day Of Knowing, Vol. 3

Yash just got himself a sweet new job as a hospital orderly. It's good pay, low stress, and he can spend most of the day getting high in the labyrinthine hallways. Everything is great -- until the CDC arrives with patients struck by a strange and frightening new epidemic. When those patients escape, Yash finds himself caught in a maze of death. Forget getting high, forget the job, now Yash just wants to escape with his limbs intact...

  • Author: Robert Brockway
  • Published: 2016-01-14 01:40:07
  • Words: 7345
Sleeping Sickness: The Day Of Knowing, Vol. 3 Sleeping Sickness: The Day Of Knowing, Vol. 3