THE ROAD TO NOWHERE:
CHAPTER 1- NOW
Beginnings are strange things. Memories shift and change over time. Looking back, I can make more sense of what happened.
A dry, coppery taste, like old pennies, fills my mouth.
That was the first sensation to come back. Next came pain. It begins as a dull ache spreading from the top of my shoulders down to the soles of my feet. The feeling throbs and flares with each breath, making it difficult to make sense of anything.
My eyes refuse to open. Their lids, heavy and weak, strain before cracking enough to start seeing. Vague blurry shapes surround me, refusing to come into focus.
After what felt like hours, I begin to make out the more obvious details. Several large banks of medical equipment sit to one side the bed. The bed itself is stiff. It feels like I’m lying on a pallet of cinder blocks.
Confusion aside, everything is like a surreal dream. Silence only adds to the unreality around me. No machines beeped. There was an absence of footsteps or even muffled voices.
My thoughts tried to piece together where I was, and how I had gotten here.
I knew I was in a hospital, but why?
No memories answered my question. My mind was as empty as the hollow feeling in my stomach. The only thing I could remember was waking up in this bed.
The silence was telling me that there was no one around. Shouldn’t a doctor or nurse be checking on me? I should be hearing something. Only the sound of my breathing let me know my ears were still working.
I parted my lips, but the surface of my mouth and throat was painfully dry and rough. Trying to call for help wasn’t going to get me anywhere. The noise I could make was closer to a croak than what a human voice should sound like. It wouldn’t carry across the silent room, so I doubted anyone in hallway would be hearing me. The effort brought on a fit of weak coughing that left me panting for breath.
Despite the flaring pain in my lungs the coughing caused, I tried forcing myself to sit up. It was no good. My head lifted a few inches before collapsing back down onto the bed.
Anger filled me at the thought of the hospital staff’s negligence. Even if I’d been unconscious or in a coma, shouldn’t someone be monitoring my condition? What kind of place was this?
Frustrated, I manage to work my way down to the edge of the bed. The blanket that had been covering me spills over to the floor. Moving a little farther, my bare feet touch the cold tiles.
The first instinct was to stand, but my legs collapsed under the strain.
Gray wires I hadn’t noticed, trailing from under my gown to the machine, popped off my chest and came free.
I hit the floor hard. My hands grabbed weakly at the bed, but couldn’t hold onto anything. The force struck my head enough to send it ringing.
Crawling, I inch my way towards the door. It hurt, it was slow, but its best I could do.
I had to stop once to rest, before finally reaching the door. My hands struggled to hold onto the handle. Propping myself against the frame, I manage to turn it far enough to hear the catch click.
The door swings open easier than I expected, sending me spilling into the hallway.
My head turns left and right, but I don’t see anyone on either end of the corridor.
Paper and debris is scattered along the ground. More disturbing are dark splotches of what looks like blood trailing over the floor and across some of the walls. Only one of the overhead lights still work, its florescent tubes flickering weakly.
What the hell happened here?
The trembling in my arms worsen, but I don’t fall from a kneeling position. Half-dragging, half-crawling, I make my way along the ground. It is hard to avoid some of the larger pools that still look wet. Trembling, my hand reaches towards the sticky red stain, and I drag my finger lightly across its surface.
The outer layer parts like the skin that forms over gravy. Bringing it close to my face, It smells foul and rotten.
Hastily, I rub the finger against my gown to try cleaning it off.
Someone left a wheelchair abandoned a few doors farther down. It takes me a few tries before managing to pull myself onto its seat.
Settling in, I put my feet onto the metal footrests. A few hard pushes on the wheels are all it takes to start moving.
A dozen yards farther down, I see where the hallway ends. There are two exits, an elevator and a nearby stairwell.
The elevator call button doesn’t light up, leaving the stairwell my only option.
It was unlocked, but any emergency light inside had failed. The hallway’s flickering light reached a few feet down the stairs, but everything beyond that was dark.
I made my way forward, to the edge of the stairs. The door swung shut behind me, cutting what little light remained down to a thin sliver.
Every noise I make echoes in the small space.
After nearly tumbling down an entire flight of stairs and abandoning the wheelchair, I manage to reach the ground floor.
The small wired-glass door window doesn’t show anything beyond.
The exit door leads to a large open area. I see a reception desk, and a waiting room. Most of chairs had been scattered around, with only four or five still in neat rows. Like what I’d seen upstairs, there’s debris and even more blood.
Next to the waiting room is a set of large glass doors. They’re open a few feet, letting in occasional gusts of cold air.
I manage a limping hobble towards them, eager to see what’s outside.
Past the shadowed building’s interior, indirect light pierces my eyes.
My eyes force themselves shut against the sudden glare. It takes a good minute or two before I can squeeze them open far enough to see.
There isn’t much to look at, even with my hand shielding against the light.
Above me, an awning keeps rain from soaking my hospital gown. It looks as though the downpour has been going for a while. The gutters are filled with two or three inches of standing water. The sight makes me remember how thirsty I feel. Moving to where runoff is pouring down the awning, I tilt my head back, letting it trickle into my mouth.
It’s cold, and I can only think about quenching my thirst. The only problem is telling that to my stomach. It feels sour after a few swallows, making me almost throw up.
Ignoring the nausea, I force myself to look around. There isn’t anyone on the street or in sight. Cars were left parked along the sidewalk, but they were as empty as the street.
It was a full minute before I noticed the two figures sprawled out on the far side of the road. Neither moved, even though they laid in a few inches of standing water.
I shuffle towards them, trying to get a better look. Water splashes over my feet, and rain starts soaking into my gown.
I halt about five feet away from the nearest figure. My eyes starred hard, but it wasn’t moving at all. Edging around the closest one, I get a good look at its face. Or, I should say, what was left of his face. He was male, I could tell that much, and he was dead.
His suit and coat were covered in dozens of different tears. The skin below each tear showed vicious cuts. Rain hadn’t done much to wash clean the bloodstained white undershirt. Jagged tears went through the layers of cloth and tore deeply into the skin beneath.
My eyes trail back up to his head. It was pulled unnaturally far back, almost to the point where it rested against his shoulder blades. His throat was a ragged mess of torn meat.
I began to gag and dry heave. This close, the cloying smell of rotten and decayed meat is enough to force me stumbling away.
I’m down on my knees before the roiling in my stomach finally subsides.
That was the first body I saw, but there have been so many since then.
A drizzle of heavy rain begins to fall on the windshield.
In less than a minute, the dry road darkened under the steady downpour of water. The further I drove down the interstate, the more difficult it was to see.
The car’s worn windshield wipers rubbed fitfully against the window. Each stroke smeared the water as much as it cleared my view of the way ahead.
Visibility of the road worsened, causing me to slow the car.
When I’d first left Barstow, the sky was clear. Weather had grown steadily worse in the two days since. A few scattered clouds grew until the horizon was covered by thick storm fronts.
My attempt at planning the route beforehand was based on a map I’d found. What it couldn’t have taken into account were sections of freeway blocked by abandoned cars.
This touches on the events at the beginning of book one. I wanted new readers who pick this book up to have an idea as to where the series started. I retold it in a new way, keeping in mind how the character has changed.
Book two ended in Barstow. We begin several months later, John once again starting out alone. The answers John seeks for closure lead him into more dangerous situations than he might be able to handle. Chapter one will be released next week.