Lindsay’s life became flashes of light, rough hands, explosions, and ringing ears. The hood made her blind and the zip-ties on her wrists kept her stumbling and helpless. Someone was guiding her, a strong hand on her shoulder. They shoved her, then stopped her, then shoved again. Sometimes they would drag her to the ground.
She was outside now and felt the cold on her exposed skin. Someone wrapped a jacket around her and zipped it up, trapping her arms inside. The wind was so cold that it ripped the breath from her, even inside the hood.
Gunfire. She was pulled to the ground again, held there by unseen hands. Something exploded. She could feel the pressure change, like a giant sucking out all the air. Then her ears hurt, a blazing pain in her head. They popped and she coughed. Smoke and something like burned meat filled her nostrils. She heard someone screaming and it took several seconds to realize she was doing it, calling for Katie. The only answer was gunfire, close, making her ears ring louder and louder. Each bullet a tiny nova inside her skull.
Clang-clang-clang-clang. Metal on metal, a sound like angry flies over her head. Something punched her in the arm and it burned like the sun.
“Stay down kid!” a man said, his voice echoing and muffled. She remembered gas masks on the men who had taken them.
She was pushed into the snow. It was cold and wet and uncomfortable. She heard a sound like someone hitting a punching bag or sandbag. Loud cursing from within a gas mask.
An explosion went off so close she felt its heat. It was so loud she felt like it had punched her in the ear and she heard only a loud, constant ringing. It disoriented her and she felt sick and dizzy.
Turning over she felt her stomach kick and she vomited into the fabric of her hood. For a terrible, horrifying second, she thought she’d drown. The fabric of the hood was soaked and clinging and her bile was everywhere. She tried to escape it, shrugging her shoulders, dipping her head low. It must have been the new weight of the hood, because it pulled free of her head and she could see again.
The man next to her was dead. His left arm was torn free of his torso, exposing a red, pulpy mess. The snow was black with blood, the night sky too dim to show color. Above her, the air was full of angry fireflies. They flew so fast they were just streaks of light.
A jet flew over and Lindsay felt it more than heard it. Her ears still rung too loudly to make out even a jet engine. Something burst from its nose, spitting those fireflies into the ground. Not fireflies, bullets. Where they struck, earth erupted. When it was gone, she could just barely make out the shadowy shape of a truck. If there were men inside, she couldn’t tell.
A piece of fallen concrete lay just before her and she curled up as best she could behind it. She kept her eyes turned away from the dead man and tried to find Katie, to find anyone. Figures were moving in the flashes of light of explosions like a stop-motion movie. The intermittent exchange of darkness and light made her eyes hurt and she shut them.
Her arm hurt. Something wet and warm was trickling down into the crook of her elbow, but with the jacket on, she couldn’t find out what it was. She didn’t want to open her eyes again anyway. Nothing but horror was to be seen anyway.
And Katie. She had to find Katie. She’d been hurt and Lindsay had to take care of her. You saved me, she’d said, only she’d been wrong. If she’d saved her it had only been for a minute.
Forcing herself to open her eyes, she shifted and looked over her concrete barricade. Big, squat trucks were funneling into the area ahead, large, bright spotlights illuminating the ground in front of them. They had someone sticking through the roof, a large gun attached to it. It was firing away from her, away from the building. Men were running towards the trucks. Two of them held another between them.
Then, running from the building itself was a man with a smaller, feminine figure in his arms. It looked like she had a hood over her head, but Lindsay didn’t wait to check. She started running towards them, unsure how she even stood up.
The man carrying Katie was using both of his hands to hold her. She thought soldiers always carried people over their shoulder like in posters and movies, but this one did not. It meant he had no gun in his hand. Didn’t it?
“Let her go!” she shouted and the man stopped just long enough to spy her through his gas mask. He sprinted for the trucks again and Lindsay growled, running for them. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Knock them down? Make them shoot her? What?
It turned out that she didn’t need to wonder. By the time she reached them, he’d arrived at the rear of one of the trucks. It’s giant trunk opened, showing a cavernous space inside with benches. Two other soldiers were gently lowering Katie into it.
“Let her go!” she screamed again.
The men in gas masks were just staring at her. The masks moved slightly. Were they talking? The ringing in her ears continued. A bomb could have gone off and she’d never hear it.
“Let her go!” she said again, or thought that’s what she said. She felt the vibration in her throat, but were the words coming out?
She never heard the soldier that came up from behind her. One moment she was shouting, and the next he had her. She screamed but was lifted, kicking, into the air and laid onto his shoulder. They moved towards another truck, a side door opening. She had one last fleeting glimpse of the truck Katie had disappeared into before she was pushed through the door and onto a bench seat. The door shut.
Someone leaned over her, shining a bright light in her eyes. She shut them but strong fingers forced one eye open again. The light was painful. Then those same hands, covered in latex gloves, pried back her lips, shone the light into her mouth and rubbed something course and hard against her gums.
They were moving, the truck accelerating quickly. The soldier above her removed the gas mask and Lindsay saw a woman staring down at her with cold, pale eyes. Her face was full of dark freckles.
The woman unzipped the jacket and touched her arm. It felt like a red-hot knife was being dragged across her left arm. When she looked over, she saw it was covered in blood. There was a hideous gash in her skin and it reminded Lindsay of the dead man in the snow, his body a mass of red pulp and guts.
A needle was in the woman’s hands. Lindsay tried to scream, to tell her to stop but she was powerless. The needle descended and something pinched her neck, then something ice cold flowed into her. Her head began to swim and she felt suddenly so tired her eyes refused to stay open.
A dreamless sleep waited.
She woke in a white room, serenaded by electronic beeps. Her eyes were heavy and crusted over and when she tried to raise a hand to wipe them clean, she found it heavy and restrained. The other arm was free and she cleared her eyes enough to open them.
Her left arm was bandaged and had several wires and tubes attached to it. Looking around, she realized she was in a hospital bed. The beeping sounds came from monitors that read her heart rate and blood pressure. An IV bag hung from a pole.
The room was small and square, made up of cinder block painted eggshell white. The overhead lights were white as well, illuminating the small place easily. A single, gray, metal door was against the far wall. There were no windows.
Next to her, another bed was occupied. It was a man with a face full of bruises, his torso and arms bandaged. It looked as though he had just as many things hooked to him as Lindsay did, maybe more.
When she tried to sit up, she found she was light-headed and in pain. The pain was generalized, existing everywhere. It was as if she’d taken a tumble down a hill and hit every rock on every bone in her body. She lay back and exhaled. That hurt too.
She closed her eyes, trying to push the pain far away. It refused to lessen and she exhaled a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. Even her lungs were on fire, carrying the taste of smoke in back of her throat.
A sense of panic washed through her. Where was Katie? Was she alive? Where did those men take her? For that matter where was she? What was this place?
She strained against her pain again, intent on sliding her legs over the bed side and standing up. She managed to get as far as slipping one foot from beneath the white linen sheet when her strength ebbed.
I just need to rest for a minute, she told herself. Just one minute…
She woke to the sound of the metal door closing. A woman in a black military uniform entered, wearing latex gloves and a surgical mask over her nose and mouth. Her eyes crinkled for a moment as if she were smiling.
“Oh, hello. Awake I see?”
Lindsay didn’t answer, finding it difficult to talk. She wasn’t even sure if she should talk. Every time she’d spoken to someone lately, things had gone badly.
But at least she’d said something important, to Katie, at last. Did she even remember it? Was she alive?
“Where…” Lindsay began but a coughing fit grabbed her and didn’t subside for several seconds. In the meantime, the woman came to her side, checked her monitors and then adjusted something on her IV.
“You need to rest. You’ve been through an ordeal.”
“Where am I?” Lindsay finally managed to say.
“Somewhere safe. I’m Major Richards, one of the doctors here.”
“Are… are you the army?”
Major Richards laughed, her eyes crinkling again. She pressed a button on one of the monitors and Lindsay’s pain ebbed almost immediately. Her eyelids began to grow heavy.
“No… well I guess we are? Near enough that it counts anyway. Point is you’re safe with us. We’ll take care of you.”
The woman’s tone was too warm, too friendly. Lindsay felt wary of it. The man on the radio seemed friendly too. He said he’d been the army too.
“Katie Fox. She’s my friend. I saw someone put her in a truck.”
The woman stared down at her for a moment. The friendly wrinkles around her eyes easing for a moment. Her body seemed to go very still. Then she sighed and shook her head.
“That poor girl…”
Her tone made Lindsay very afraid.
“Is… is she okay? Is she… is she…” Alive?
Major Richards looked back towards the door and then down at Lindsay. She rounded the bed slowly and took her right hand in both of hers. Lindsay’s heart was beating so hard in her chest she thought it might give out.
“Your friend is in quarantine. I’m afraid she’s been infected.”