Thursday, 10 September 2009 - 7:48 pm

Empty beds

The infirmary is an odd part of the compound. It was never meant to be a hospital but, like so much in this time After, it has been used for whatever has been needed.

There are stains on the floor that no-one has been able to get off; again, the lack of water tells. Simon the medic tells me that they wash what they need in bleach, but even that has to be used sparingly. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. The floor is not a priority. At least we agree on that.

It used to be full in here, he said. When the Sickness tore through the compound, it was all he could do to keep up with them all. That’s where they lost most of the medical staff – those who weren’t killed by the rain or accidents, were taken by the Sickness. The Sickness, or the shamblers that rose up from it.

He tried everything he could to get even one of them to survive, but he lost all of them. Even the experienced doctors said they’d never seen anything like it while they coughed up the last of their own lives.

After that, the infirmary was full of all of those attacked by the recently-Sick. I remember the horror of that. I remember seeing friends turn on friends in hollow hunger. I remember the ones we lost that way. None of us could stop it happening, not even to the ones we loved.

I nodded and told him I understood. We’ve all seen the same thing happen. We’ve all struggled to make a difference and failed. Even Ben, the one who did make it through the Sickness, didn’t really come out okay. I didn’t tell the medic about Ben. I didn’t know where to start and I knew I didn’t want to get to the end. And something tells me that the whole subject is more than Simon could take; he doesn’t need any more burdens right now.

He looks so worn out. There’s a qualified nurse on staff too – Peter – but the pair of them have been stretched thin for a while now. They sometimes have one or two of the women helping out but none of them are trained. Not everyone had a real doctor to learn from like I did. Not many have the stomach for this kind of thing, they struggle for time to train new hands, and there’s so many other things that need to be done. I told them that I don’t know how much use I’ll be but I guess we all do what we can.

At least it’s quiet at the moment. There’s a middle-aged woman lying in one of the back rooms with the Sickness – she has a couple of days left at most, they said. I should find out her name, see if anyone knows her story, before she’s gone and mindless. They keep their own records here but it’s not the same. It’s facts and dates, not stories. Not lives. And I’m not ready to give up this blog yet.

Apart from the Sickness, they get mostly accidental or conflict-related injuries. Like me. They get a lot of scuffles in the compound, Simon told me, and eventually everyone ends up in here. I guess people are people, wherever you put them and whatever uniforms they wear. I wish that was a comfort.


In my explorations, I found the room I had woken up in after my head injury. I’m still sore about that, partly because I haven’t finished healing and partly because it seems so normal here. It doesn’t help me feel safe or secure, and it doesn’t ease my worries about my friends.

There’s barely a bruise left on me now and the bed looks like no-one has ever slept in it. Even so, it feels more like mine than the dormitory does. The view from the window is familiar and I can still see Matt asleep in the chair, bundled up in a blanket. He stayed here with me like he was chained to that chair, so determined that I shouldn’t be alone. That none of us should be on our own. Now look at us.

I miss him. I miss all of them, but him the most. There are so many faces here and I barely have time to hear one name before the next one is pressing at me. Just another one in the crowd, a pawn to move around. I want my family back.

I thought back to how I got here, and one thing keeps niggling at me. The reason I passed out, the reason I ended up in the infirmary that first time: the person I saw across the courtyard. I can’t remember who it was. I can’t even picture the body I caught sight of, heading away from us as if we weren’t even there. I don’t think whoever it was saw us or heard me shout. I was so sure I knew who it was but the darkness took that all away. Now I can’t remember what got me so wound up. Or who.

I wish there was more to do. The infirmary is so quiet; there’s little to occupy ourselves with other than going over dry medical procedures and trying to remember which cupboard has the bandages in, for when it becomes critical. I should be glad of the chance to catch my breath and pleased that there’s so little pain here. Just one woman dying in a back room.

It gives me too much time to think. I’m much better when I’m doing something. I never have dealt well with inaction, because it makes me feel so helpless. Here, in this place waiting for patients, it feels like there’s a storm about to hit. I would brace for it, but I don’t know what direction it’ll come at me from.

I’m rambling now. I should go relieve Simon – I think he’s sitting vigil over the Sick woman. I wish I knew what was eating at him. He should get some sleep before he wastes away. I don’t think I’ll get any tonight, so I might as well do something useful.