Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: The Blue Jean Regmine / Part One
Took him thirteen minutes to get to the hospital. Should have taken twenty-five but stoplights, traffic, and cops no longer mattered. For a moment, he felt a bittersweet rush of appreciation for the situation. Course, it was that same precipitous situation that had him speeding across town and that was the damn rub.
The maternity ward was set back from the main building, the small two story brick building dwarfed by the new modern metal structure that housed the rest of medical community. He parked the truck in front of the entry, scanned the perimeter for hostiles, grabbed his gear off the seat, and swung down to the sidewalk.
The sun was setting as he pushed through the revolving front door, the metal and glass wheel making a soft whirring noise that echoed in the eerie hush. The foyer and reception desk were empty, the elevator light was flickering, and a pair of bodies blocked the inside stairwell on the far side of the entry. Electricity was sketchy right now and getting stuck in a tin box wasn't a chance he could afford to take, so he toed the bodies to one side, checked the stairs for movement, and then his boots took the steps two at a time.
The rifle was on his shoulder and ready to fire as he came through the door into the second floor hall. Lights flickered over the nurses' station and there was a commotion inside one of the delivery rooms, but the immediate area was as devoid of personnel as the ground floor. He jammed a broom through the door handles of the delivery room to contain the occupants and moved down the hall.
Halfa dozen bodies littered his path and he made sure they were good and dead as he passed each one. Shoulda cleared each of the rooms but now that he was this close, his focus was getting into Room 217. Should have brought back up with him, but this facility was small enough and removed enough from the main building, that it shouldn’t be much trouble to secure, so he couldn’t justify commandeering the manpower.
Folks had banded together out of necessity when the disaster hit, and while they were pretty good about helping out neighbors, tensions were high and taking care of their own was always priority one. And that’s what he was doing now – taking care of his own. His own. In theory. In his heart. Always in his heart, even if she was never again in his arms.
There it was, Room 217, with a pair of uniforms in front of it, both crumpled on the floor, one dead, one still clawing about. Not a direct threat but it still had to be dealt with. He dropped the gear bag off his shoulder and crushed the skull with the rifle butt. He stripped the guards of their weapons and ammo and found the room key in a shirt pocket.
He stood and rapped on the door. “Haley? It’s Jonas. I'm going to unlock the door and come in. Don't brain me with the lamp, okay?”
Soon as he was inside, he grabbed the nearest chair and jammed it up under the door handle. Stood there a moment steeling himself before turning to face her. Four months had not changed her but for the shadows beneath her eyes, dark as coffee in the pale moon of her face. He broke off his gaze, took in the furniture in the room, and his eyes quickly came back to her. “Where’s the baby?”
The corners of her soft plum mouth pulled tight. “I don’t know. That’s what I was trying to tell you on the phone. I woke up this afternoon, couldn’t get the nurse to answer the call button, and when I tried to go out into the hall and find her, I couldn’t get the door open. My mom isn’t answering her office or cell phone. That’s why I called you.”
He sank to the floor, weight balanced on the balls of his feet, head in hands. “Our baby is out there somewhere? Alone? Shit!”
She came to him, bare feet slapping on the cold blue floor. “You’re scaring me, Jonas. What’s going on? What’s out there?”
He looked up at her. “I don’t even know what we have. Boy? Girl? Someone was supposed to call when you went into labor. When all this shit went down, two days ago, I started calling you, even though it was in violation of the restraining order. I couldn’t think straight worrying about you. But you didn’t answer the phone. Not once.”
Her pink polished toes danced back and forth in front of him. “I’d sit down there with you but I’m all tangled up in these iv lines. It’s a girl. We have a tiny baby girl. And I’m so sorry for what my mom did to you -”
“Please. Stop right there,” he said, pushing up off the floor. “I can’t have a rational conversation about your mother at the moment so let’s put any discussions about her on the back burner and keep it there as long as we can. Right now, we need to get you dressed and go find our daughter.”
“Fine,” she said, her jaw clenching a moment, and then relaxing. “But we are going to have that conversation in the near future.”
He nodded, mouth tight at the corners. “Here, give me your hand and I’ll remove the iv shunt. Stop making that face. My sis prepped me for basic medical procedures in case you or the baby needed help when I got here. She was only a semester away from graduating nursing school when we ran out of tuition money.”
She held out her hand and he steadied it, grasping the shunt with his free hand and slowly backing it out of top of her hand. Hard not to move closer and breathe her in or pull her into his arms, but now wasn’t the time. He needed to get his priorities straight. Baby first. Mama second. For now. Maybe forever. But definitely for now.
When he was done, he held onto her hand, and caught her gaze. “You remember that game Jay's brother was always playing? Deadheads Ahead? Well, crazy as it sounds, that shit just got real. Zombies. Walking dead. Dead heads. Doesn’t matter what you call them. They’re for real. We gotta go get – shit, girl, I don’t even know our baby’s name – and keep her safe.”
She broke free of his grasp, stepped into a pair of fuzzy pink bunny slippers and cinched the ties at the back of her gown a little tighter. “Screw getting dressed. I don’t want to waste time primping when we could be searching instead. And if it makes you feel any better, she doesn’t have a name yet. I was waiting to discuss it with you.”
He felt a burst of happiness but tamped it down because there were some unpleasant things to discuss before he opened the door. “Hang on. You’re going to see some ugly stuff. And you’re going to have to learn how to defend yourself against it. If you want, Haley, you can stay here. I’ll lock you in, go find our little miss, and bring her back here to you.”
She shook her head. “No. No, we’re responsible for her. Both of us. We have to do this together. Besides, if this is the way the world is now, or at least our little corner of it, I have to learn how to deal with it.”
“I have to believe that she’s okay, that your mama put a security detail on her like she did you. First time I've ever felt any appreciation for her political power. Now look, there are some real dangers out there we’re going to have to face on our own. The disease is transmitted through saliva so don’t get bit. Sounds simple but it can get complicated real fast. Second thing is that the creatures only die when the brain is crushed so always aim for the head. Mind the wild arms and grasping hands, but always stay focused on the head.”
She frowned. “A lot of good trigonometry is going to do in these situations, huh?”
“Now, there was some movement down the hall when I got here so we need to be prepared for conflict but it should be minimal. I know that’s not much consolation but you’ll have a much easier time acclimating to the situation than most of the rest of us did. Man, the adults were mowed down so fast. They didn’t have any idea what was going on. Tried to reason with them or help them.”
She reached for a ribbon on the dresser and put her hair into a topknot. “So, how many people are left?”
“More than you'd think but sometimes they’re a bigger threat than the zombies. They have a whole different set of motives and trust me, they want a lot more than to just take a bit out of you. It’s best to stick with someone you know and trust so you don’t get caught alone – by zombies or unknown humans.”
She squared her shoulders. “Okay. I think I’m ready.”
Hand still on the doorknob, he turned to look at her. "Not that you asked, or that we had any control over it, but I was hoping for a girl."
She looked up at him, surprise across her face. "You were?"
"Sure. Wanted it more than a cold beer or a new engine."
"Oh! Mama says men want boys."
"Well, what your mama says and does is one of those slippery slopes we can’t lose time or energy negotiating right now, so let me just say this - a healthy baby is what I hoped for most, but right after that, I might have had a daydream or two about pink tutus and pigtails."
Her face lit up and for a moment, he forgot that her mother had ruined their senior year, that the horror outside the door had totally changed their expectations of life, and that the fear that he wouldn't be able to keep his new family together in either world was a constant question lodged in the back of his throat. Sure, they were only eighteen but the irony of it was, that made them better equipped to survive this strange new future.
A starry night, two tender hearts, and a warm spring evening made them parents. Maybe that was love, maybe it wasn't. At the very least, it was an investment in an uncertain future, something to live for when death more real than ever, and a momentary hope and kindness in a world gone mad.
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A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.