Book: Precipice

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The hospital was compact, but modern.  It was down a short side road off the main highway that ran through Ketchum, the turn marked by a small, blue sign with a large, white “H” and an arrow printed on it.  The face was more than half covered by snow that had stuck to the frozen metal, the deep blue standing out and drawing Katie’s eye as they approached.

Turning into the entrance marked for ambulances, she followed the curving drive, steering around an abandoned police car.  There was a large overhang that extended out from the roof of the building and provided shelter for the EMTs to unload their patients.  Katie forced the Jeep through the last drift of snow and onto the clear pavement, pulling to a gentle stop.

“What do you think?”  Rachel asked as both stared at the glass doors that guarded the dark interior.

“As much as I don’t want to leave him alone, I think we should both go.  You know what you’re looking for and someone needs to watch your back.  Will he be OK?”

“I think getting what we need is more important at the moment,” Rachel said.  “But maybe we should get a gurney and take him inside?”

“No,” Katie finally said after considering the idea.  “We can’t clear and secure the whole building.  Let’s get what we need and find an empty house.”

They spent a few minutes making sure John would stay propped up in the back seat so his lungs wouldn’t fill with fluid and drown him while they were inside the hospital.  They checked on Dog, gave him some water, then Katie locked up the Jeep and slipped the keys in her pocket.  She had debated leaving them in the vehicle for John in case they didn’t come back, but Rachel convinced her that if they didn’t come back John wouldn’t be driving away on his own.

The glass doors were two sets on tracks that if the power was on would slide open automatically.  Katie inserted the beveled end of the Jeep’s tire iron into the seam where they met and together they pushed on the bar and forced the doors apart.  Moving cautiously through the opening they entered the emergency room.

Stench from decaying bodies was heavy in the stale air and the entire area was a shambles.  Both women turned on the flashlights mounted to their rifles and scanned the area.  Bloated bodies, body parts, splashes of blood that had dried black, overturned furniture and dark equipment greeted them.  In every direction glints from brass shell casings winked in the beams of the lights and nearly every surface was pockmarked from gunfire. 

“Where?”  Katie whispered.

“There,” Rachel pointed at an alcove behind a large workstation.

Cautiously they picked their way across the open space, stepping over bodies and avoiding piles of debris.  Both were careful to avoid kicking any of the spent shells, which would tinkle across the hard floor and announce their presence.

They made it across the large area without seeing or hearing anything.  Moving closer together, Katie turned to watch behind them while Rachel headed behind the counter and approached the alcove where she’d spotted a locked drug cabinet.  As she stepped around the corner she pulled up short, nearly running directly into a large infected male wearing hospital scrubs.  He had just been standing there in the shadows.

Rachel involuntarily inhaled sharply in surprise at stumbling across the male and he immediately turned his head in her direction and took a step towards her.  She backpedaled and jerked her rifle up, finger pulling the trigger too early and firing a round into his body.  The male didn’t even flinch from the impact of the bullet.

He snarled and raised his arms to reach for Rachel and she took another step back, running into a rolling cart full of metal covered patient charts.  The cart tipped over and crashed to the floor as she brought the muzzle onto target and fired.  The round punched through the male’s forehead and he crumpled to the floor without another sound.

Rachel was panting, looking around and meeting Katie’s frightened eyes.  The crash of the cart onto the tile floor had been loud, and if there were any more infected in the building they were probably heading in their direction.

“Hurry!”  Katie hissed, turning back to scan the wide hall that led from the ER to the depths of the hospital.

Leaping across the infected she’d just killed, Rachel used her flashlight to survey the equipment and the cabinets.  Using the tire iron she began forcing doors open, making a lot of noise, but right now speed was more important than stealth.

Once all the cabinets were open she began grabbing IV bags of saline and dumping them into a plastic laundry bag that had been lying on the floor.  She followed up with needles, IV tubing, bags of antibiotics and anything else that looked like it might be needed.

Meds collected, Rachel looked around and almost shouted with excitement when she spotted a portable, battery operated, transport ventilator resting on a small cart.  She scooped it up with her free arm, added it to the bag then from the bottom rack of the cart grasped a large cylinder of oxygen by the neck.

“We’ve got to move!”  Katie said, her suppressed rifle starting to fire a moment later.

Rachel yanked the bag off the floor and lifted the looted medical supplies onto her shoulder.  Rushing to join Katie, O2 tank banging against her leg, she looked in the direction the shorter woman was firing and cursed to see over a dozen males shambling down the hall and into the ER.

“Ready,” she said.

Katie turned to lead the way to the exit, stopping when a larger group of males began pouring into the ER through a side entrance that neither of them had noticed.  They were close, moving purposely as they’d already locked on to the sound the two women had made.

“Too many,” Katie said, turning back towards the large hall.

Only four of the original group remained, and Katie put all of them down and sprinted deeper into the hospital as the larger group reached the spot where they had been standing.

“Where are we going?”  Rachel asked, panting under the weight of her load and glancing over her shoulder at the pursuing infected.

“Don’t know, but there’s got to be another way out of the building,” Katie said as they approached a T intersection.

Both of them were slowing, preparing to check before entering the new hall, when a female charged around the right hand corner and slammed into Rachel.  They fell to the floor, the infected screaming inches from Rachel’s face as she tore at her upper body and tried to push her mouth towards her neck.

Katie spun, scooped up the cylinder of oxygen, stepped close and swung it like a baseball bat into the side of the infected’s head.  Her skull was crushed and the body collapsed on top of Rachel who shoved it aside and scrambled to her feet.  Katie handed her the tank and opened up with her rifle, putting down three males who were uncomfortably close.

“Thanks,” Rachel gasped as they turned and ran in the direction the female had come from.

Katie was in front, Rachel following her lead and hoping she had some idea of where she was headed.  The hall was wide with shiny tile on the floor and at the far end, light shone through a set of glass doors that opened to the outside.  They both ran faster when multiple screams sounded behind them.

The drum of running feet was growing louder as they approached the doors.  The females had stopped screaming as they closed the distance on their prey and were focused on pursuing and catching.

“Keep running,” Katie shouted as she skidded to a halt and turned. 

Her rifle was already up but her heart dropped when she saw the number of females bearing down on her.  Some wore scrubs, some patient gowns, and they were spread across the width of the hall as they approached.

Rachel’s step faltered when Katie stopped, intending to join the fight.  Katie was already firing and putting down targets and Rachel dropped the bag of medical supplies and set the tank down so she could raise her rifle and help.

“Go!  Help John!”  Katie screamed at her, shifting her aim from heads to legs.

Rachel hesitated for a moment before deciding to ignore the command.  Dropping to her knee she began firing, dropping the last female with only a few feet to spare.

A large group of males was approaching at their much slower pace, still far enough away to not present a threat.  Yet.  The two women leapt to their feet and Rachel scooped up the supplies as they resumed their retreat to the exit.

The hall opened into a large lobby with a ceiling that soared over their heads.  This was the main entrance to the hospital and chairs were scattered around the space.  Three large openings were in the walls, other corridors that lead to different areas.  A round reception desk dominated the space, situated directly between them and the doors.  Two females popped up from behind it as they approached at a dead run.

Katie fired, somehow managing to miss both of them.  The females leapt onto the surface of the counter and Rachel once again dropped the supplies, the tank ringing loudly when it struck the hard floor.  Each of them started firing, and missing because they were so hyped on adrenaline.

Both females zeroed in on Katie and hurtled off the counter, charging to intercept.  She skidded to a stop, trying to hold steady on target.  Before she could pull the trigger again, one of the females’ head exploded and her body flopped to the ground, tripping her companion.  Katie aimed and fired twice in burst mode, destroying first the face then the skull of the remaining infected.  She glanced behind to see Rachel with her rifle braced on the side of a support column that held up the high ceiling.

Forcing their way through the set of sliding doors, they struggled through thigh deep snow around the outside of the hospital.  The doors had a spring mechanism and closed after they passed through, trapping the males that were still in pursuit.  They bunched up against the sturdy glass and began pounding on it in frustration.

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