[Image: A black background with white text that reads, “This is a Work of Fiction”.]
The woman almost cracked a smile. She looked at me with a kindly expression. It struck me that this wasn’t the first time that she had to tell someone this and this wasn’t the first time that someone had had this kind of reaction.
“I’m sorry…” I mumbled, feeling embarrassed by her amusement at what I had just blurted out.
“It’s alright. This is a lot for you to process right now,” she said, nodding encouragingly. She sat there quietly for a few seconds.
“I was a zombie?” I asked, softly. I looked down at my hands.
“We don’t like to use that term,” she responded, the corner of her lip twitching. “You were infected with a virus that shut down your ability to function normally and rendered you incapable of sentient thought. You were cured from that virus. You are not a monster.”
“Did I eat people?” I rasped, my question coming out very quickly.
She hesitated. “We will go over more of what happened to you during those 14 months later.”
“I ate people!” I whispered in horror. If I hadn’t the first thing that she would have done would have been to assure me that that wasn’t true. Between her hesitation and her deflection, I knew the truth.
“Ms. Kennedy, do you remember anything from the last 14 months?” The woman asked, simply.
“No,” I admitted, after a pause. I couldn’t remember a lot from before that time. Everything just seemed like a blur of faces and feelings when I tried to think back to what had happened to me in the past.
“That’s because you were very sick and not yourself. You need to remember that what you did during this time was not you. You were infected with a virus and you were not in control of anything.”
“Just how many people did I eat?” I asked, feeling a tear roll down my cheek. I hadn’t even been aware that I was upset enough to cry. But the way she was talking about how I should think of myself only made me more terrified of how I had acted during this time.
“Ms. Kennedy, you’ve had a long day and your recovery is not going to be easy,” the woman said, gently. “Right now, I need for you to rest and focus on getting better.”
“Wait, what about my daughter? Where is she?” I said, brushing away my tears. The moisture felt almost foreign against my fingertips.
The woman opened a file that was on her desk and flipped through it. She froze and stiffened for a second when she read something in the file, then she replaced it on her desk.
“What? Where is she?!” I demanded, my voice raising an octave. “You have to tell me where my daughter is!”
“We were hoping to let you deal with things one at a time,” the woman said slowly. “But your daughter was attacked by the undead at her preschool and did not survive.”
What happened next was a bit of a blur. I remember hearing howling, as if from a wounded animal. Then the woman behind the desk hit a call button and what seemed like a squadron of nurses burst into the room. I didn’t even feel the needle going into my arm. I just looked down and saw it. Seconds later my vision started to blur and the howling stopped.
I woke up with a start. My heart was pounding like I had been running for my life. I stared at the ceiling and tried to remember if I had been dreaming, but nothing came to me. I looked to my left and right. I was in the same hospital room as before. At least, I think I was. I wasn’t completely sure as I imagined the rooms were hardly that individualized. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a call button and pressed it without a second thought. I sat up in bed, groaning as I lifted my aching body up. I pushed the pillows back and leaned against them, pulling my knees to my chest. I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling suddenly cold.
A doctor entered a few seconds later. He looked rather surprised to see me, which struck me as almost comical. “Good afternoon, Ms. Kennedy,” he said, cheerfully.
“How long was I out?” I demanded, my tone harsh.
“You were unconscious for two days,” he said, looking rather sheepish. “You were administered a very high dose of sedative and it proved to be entirely too much for what was already in your system.”
I closed my eyes in frustration. “Can you tell me what’s going on?” I asked, suddenly. Leaning slightly closer to the doctor.
“I’m sorry?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Before I got knocked out a woman was telling me that I had been undead and my daughter was gone and a bunch of crazy shit. Can you just tell me the truth?” I asked, my eyes pleading.
“Uh, Ms. Kennedy, that is the truth,” he said, softly.
I looked at him in annoyance. He must be in on it, too. Figures. “Can I have something to eat?” I asked, instead. It was clear that I wouldn’t be getting any information out of him, so there was no point in continuing the conversation.
“Sure, you must be starving,” he said, reaching into the nightstand beside my bed and pulling out a laminated sheet of white with writing on it. “Here’s a menu. Just use your phone to call the number at the top to place your order. It will be brought up in a second. Be sure to eat slowly. You’re still regaining your strength.”
“Okay,” I said, looking over the menu. I wanted to order one of everything. Even things that I didn’t particularly care for seemed like the sweetest tasting food imaginable.
“It’s about 2pm now,” the doctor said, checking his watch. “I want you to join the recovery support group at 4pm. I’ll have a nurse bring you down at that time.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, not even listening to what he was saying. I saw that they offered grilled cheese made with cheddar and provolone. I wanted to order four of them and eat them one right after the other. I wondered what kind of drinks they offered. I flipped the menu over and scanned for beverages. Although what I really wanted was a margarita with extra salt, a class of iced tea sounded good.
“Okay, Ms. Kennedy, it’s time for the support group,” a nurse said, rolling a wheel chair into the room. I looked up from my pudding cup and tore my eyes away from the rerun of the Golden Girls that I had been watching.
“What?” I asked, my mouth still full of chocolate pudding.
“Dr. Lessner said that he wanted you to attend the hospital’s recovery support group,” the nurse said, with utter patience. He held out his hand for me to help me off of the bed. “You can take your pudding cup,” he added, after a beat.
“Oh, okay.” I took his hand and slowly moved my aching body off of the bed. I felt so woozy that I was almost afraid of my legs giving out as soon as I put weight on them. But I managed to get into the wheelchair without falling over. The nurse helped me arrange my feet and then handed me the pudding cup and started wheeling me out of the room.
“So what kind of group is this?” I asked as we walked down the hallway, passing hospital personal and other patients.
“It’s the recovery support group,” he said, pleasantly. “You’re going to meet other people that are recovering from the infection and talk to Dr. Polaris. She is really nice and the others just love her.”
I nodded even though I realized that he probably didn’t notice it. Was everyone in on this horrible joke? How far were they going to take this? Was this some kind of government experiment to see how far you could push people to believing in delusions before they gave in and did it?
“Okay, here we go,” The nurse said, rolling me into a large, mostly-empty room. There were several people already there. Some in plain clothes, others in hospital gowns like mine. Some in bathrobes. Lots of them had bandages on their bodies or scars that looked like they were healing. The only other woman in the room besides me had a jagged slash across her left cheek that had been stitched up. I wondered what happened to her. She looked awful.
There had been some donuts and coffee set up on a table along the far wall that everyone was partaking in while they waited for the meeting to start. A small circle of folding chairs had been set up in the center of the room, making the space look even larger. A flat screen TV on a stand with a DVD player and a projector was sitting off to the side of the circle.
The nurse moved a chair aside and pushed my wheel chair into the circle. I looked around at some of the other people. They regarded me with caution, almost suspicion. I then looked over at the food table. Although I had eaten a gigantic meal and just finished a pudding cup, I couldn’t resist the idea of having a donut. I looked up at the nurse. “Hey, uh,” I realized that I didn’t know his name. Thankfully, he looked down at me. “Can you get me a donut?” I asked, smiling sweetly.
He smiled back at me. “Okay,” he said heading over.
“Two, please!” I called after him.
The nurse selected two of the glazed donuts for me with a napkin and brought them back over. I put them in my lap and immediately started on one. Just then a well-dressed woman wearing glasses entered the room. The other patients immediately began to quiet down and take their seats. I looked over at her. She must be Dr. Polaris. She looked younger than me, I noted with distaste.
“Hello everyone, glad to see you all here,” The woman said, taking a seat in the circle. She put her briefcase down beside her chair and crossed her legs. “I see we have a new face in the group,” she said, looking over at me. I was in the middle of biting down into the second donut. I shot a cautious glance at the other people in the room before I started to chew.
“Drew, if you could get the door,” she said, looking over at one of the men dressed in street clothes. He shut the door as asked then returned to his chair in the circle. I looked around at the others. There were five of them. One woman and four men. Then me, Dr. Polaris, and my nurse.
“Okay, let’s get started,” the doctor said, smoothing down her skirt. “I’m Dr. Polaris and I’m here to talk to you today about recovery. Let’s go around the circle and say our names and where we’re from like we usually do.”
She gestured to the woman sitting next to her to start. The woman looked around, suspiciously. “I’m Marie. I’m from Bridgeport,” she said in a low voice.
“Tom. I’m from Bridgeport as well,” the next man said on cue.
“I’m Terry. I’m from Maymont,” a younger man said, not even looking up from his shoes.
“Gene. Fairfax,” an older man bit out. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair.
“Alexander,” said the man sitting next to me. “I can’t remember where I’m from,” he admitted. He looked over at me, expectantly.
“Uh, Lily,” I said, after a pause. “I’m, uh…” I trailed off. Where was I from? The answer was so simple, how could it be evading me. “I’m from around here,” I finally said.
“That’s excellent,” Polaris said, supportively. “Now, Lily, since you’re new, I’d like you to go first.”
“Okay,” I said, not sure what she was referring to.
“What do you remember?” Polaris asked.
I looked at her like she had asked me to sing her an opera. Remember? Everything was a blur. What was there to remember? And why should I tell her anyway? She was just another person in on this horrible joke. She wasn’t my friend. She might not even be a real doctor.
“I remember really like chocolate cake,” I finally said, with fake sincerity. Which was true, I had a vague memory of having a birthday, I can’t remember which one, where there was chocolate cake served. It had been really good, I think. I remember eating a lot of it.
“That’s excellent!” Dr. Polaris enthused. I studied her for any sign of sarcasm. There was none. She was completely serious. I decided right then and there that I hated her and her shapely legs. “It’s so nice to have a good memory to hold onto while you’re in recovery. You have a great place to start now, Lily.”
“Uh, yeah,” was all I could manage.
“Now, Alexander, how about you? Where are you at this week?” Dr. Polaris asked, turning to the man in the bathrobe.
“Well, I had dream that I was one of those things again,” he said, looking down at his hands. “I don’t know if it was a memory or if it was real. But I was eating my co-worker, Ted. I don’t like him. I mean, no one does. But I was eating him like he was just food.”
“You have to remember, you will have no conscious memories of what happened to you when you were infected,” Dr. Polaris said, adjusting her glasses. “The virus works by shutting down all higher thoughts. It would be impossible for you to have memories from this time. Whatever you dreamed, it wasn’t real.”
“That’s a relief,” Alexander said, nodding. “I mean, I just can’t imagine being one of those things.”
I burst out laughing. Everyone looked at me in either surprise or annoyance. I looked back at them, incredulously. “Are you fuckers serious?” I demanded.
“Is something wrong, Lily?” Dr. Polaris asked, her demeanor completely unchanged.
“Stop acting like any of this is real,” I said, rolling my eyes. “This is just some horrible gag that everyone seems to be falling for and it’s getting old. When can I go home?” I looked up at the nurse, expectantly.
“Lily,” I looked back at Dr. Polaris, “what you’re feeling is perfectly normal. You’ve been told something that doesn’t make any sense to you at all. In some ways, it’s not possible to believe that this happened to you. But I have to assure you, that this is real. Everyone at this support group is in recovery from the Ruffingard Virus.”
“I was never a zombie, you dolt,” I snapped back.
“We don’t use the term “zombie” here,” Dr. Polaris corrected, patiently. “The virus functions by shutting off all of your higher brain functions, leaving you with the ability to move, use basic navigational skills and feed. You were never dead. You were just infected. But you’ve been cured and you’re starting to regain your memories and cognitive ability.”
“It’s okay, Lily,” Marie said, soothingly. “I know my first support group meeting I completely freaked out on everyone and had to be sedated. It’s not easy to hear.”
“You people can sit here and talk about zombies and viruses all you like, but I have a daughter and a life and I need to get back to it,” I said, looking from one of the support group members to the next and ending on Dr. Polaris.
The doctor bit her lower lip. “Lily, we’re going to watch a short video on what’s been going on this past year, okay?
“Sure!” I responded, throwing my hands up. “Let’s watch all the videos! I have Ghostbusters on DVD!”
Dr. Polaris walked over to the TV and moved it into position so that everyone could see it. Terry groaned when she turned it on and loaded up the DVD player. I crossed my arms over my chest and slumped in the wheelchair. The nurse took the empty chair beside me and placed his arm on my hand. I looked at him, surprised by his sudden affection.
“Okay, I know everyone here has already seen this before, but let’s give Lily a chance to catch up with us,” Dr. Polaris said as the FBI warning came across the scene.
Gene grunted in response as everyone else turned their attention to the TV. I rolled my eyes. This was so silly. There are so many things that I could be doing right now and watching movies on… whatever it was that they wanted me to see was a waste of my time.
To read more in this series, click here.