Trevor woke up once again and he wasn’t outdoors. In fact, he would be staring up at a ceiling, unsure if everything before this was a dream. But that thought shattered when he sat up and saw that he still wore the hospital gown—he was very well in the building he’d just exited earlier.
He checked his watch: half-past three. The sun outside still shone brightly overhead, but evening would soon come, casting darkness on his already foggy mind.
He didn’t even have a plan for what was to come. A tight pain gnawed at his stomach, and Trevor was beginning to realise just how thirsty he was. It didn’t help that the taste of vomit still lingered at the back of his throat.
Maybe he could stay the night, scout out food, medicine, and weapons before leaving. He felt like shit, and the thought of long-distance walks through unfamiliar territory gave him second thoughts about leaving the hospital. Either way, he’d still need to—
There was a clink. Then rustling footsteps.
Trevor scooted towards a wall, planting his back firmly on it. Could it have been a loose window? A flapping curtain? Maybe it’s just his mind playing tricks. It could be a cat or someth—
The sounds echoed through the corridor again. They were definitely footsteps. Trevor scrabbled his fingers across the floor, trying to find something useful. Something cold and sharp pricked his hand, a piece of broken glass. It wasn’t the best, but it’d have to do.
Using the wall to shimmy himself up, Trevor snuck towards the sound, his encounter with the weird figure earlier still fresh in his mind. He pinpointed the source of the commotion, and it was the exact same room where he’d had his first scare.
Sweat beaded down Trevor’s forehead as he steeled himself for another confrontation. Who knew what threats there were in this foreign world he’d woken up to?
He peeked around the corner—the room was brighter now with the afternoon sun—to find a similarly petite creature rummaging through the cupboards, throwing things into a makeshift bag made out of mattress covers. Could it be the same being he’d met earlier?
This time he would do the surprising. His grip around the broken glass tightened, almost cutting through his palm as he poised to strike. The thing turned around, and Trevor realised that he was looking at a woman, not a child, or a monster.
Maybe her small stature gave him the impression that she was young. Her oversized shawl had altered her silhouette somewhat, making her seem scarier than she actually was. She caught sight of Trevor, paused with a jerk, then continued scrounging through the inventory.
“You finally woke up,” she said, not looking at him. “You scared the shit out of me this morning, you know.”
Trevor felt his face flush. The weapon in his hand felt so dirty now. A wave of embarrassment washed over him, causing him to surreptitiously discard the piece of glass.
“Um… sorry. You dragged me back in?”
“I had to, with all that yelling of yours. Besides, I don’t want your body drawing the lurkers’ attention.”
The woman stopped what she was doing to stare at Trevor. That look was either one of confusion or irritation, and he didn’t know which. Then she looked at his body, presumably his gown, and said, “Right. You’re new.”
“New? So you’ve seen others like me?”
“Just one. A few months back.”
“Where is he?”
A shrug. “Dead, maybe. Haven’t seen him since I told him to bug off. He didn’t bring anything to the table. I don’t like people who slow me down.”
“So you know that we’ve been asleep?”
The woman snorted. “I saw the both of you in your beds.”
A shiver ran through Trevor’s spine. People had actually came and went into his room, when he was at his most vulnerable. Who knew what had happened over the past year? He pulled his hospital gown tighter around him, which now began to feel so very thin.
“Don’t worry about it,” she continued, as if reading Trevor’s thoughts. “You were probably safe the entire time. It’s not each other we’re against. At least not anymore.”
“So, these lurkers. What are they?”
“No one knows exactly. They’d wiped out all communications before the attacks began. Backyard stargazers have tried setting up their telescopes to figure it out, but they learned quick not to stand out in the open at night.”
“So it’s true? Stories about us being invaded? What do these things do?”
“Beats me. All these steel tentacles do are reach down and impale you. That’s if you’re lucky. The other option is getting dragged away, and who knows what happens then.”
“And we don’t know what these things are?”
“Well, the smarter space geeks tried setting up their telescopes indoors, and they did get a blurry glimpse of these… things. Some say these tentacles are connected to centipede ships. Others claim they saw shapes of spiders. Makes no difference to me.”
Ships shaped like centipedes and spiders? They’re being attacked from space by insects? This didn’t make any sense, and it all still sounded a bit silly to Trevor. For all he knew, he had only been asleep for one night, and right now he was just in some weird version of a hangover.
But his limbs really did look much skinnier now. That wasn’t something that could happen in a matter of days, even months—Trevor was a hefty ninety kilogrammes the last time he stood on a scale. And the car crash… that happened, didn’t it? He couldn’t really tell if that was a dream.
“This is bullshit,” he said finally. “You don’t really expect me to believe this, do you?”
“Suits you,” the stranger said, wrapping and tying the mattress cover around her newly-scavenged goods. “I’ve got more work to do. See ya.”
She brushed past him out the room, the large pack bobbing clumsily over her narrow shoulders. Trevor watched her walk away for about five steps before he realised his predicament.
“Wait!” he called. “Where you going?”
“Home,” she said, not looking back.
“None of your business.”
He ran after her, his legs still clumsy from months of disuse. “I’m coming with you.”
“No you’re not.”
She stopped, turned around, then said, “Look at you. I already have enough mouths to feed. I don’t need another one.”
“I can take care of myself! All I need is directi—”
“You’re not coming with me.”
“Look, lady, I won’t bother—”
“My name’s Anne, not lady.”
“All right, Anne. Look. I won’t bother you, and you can go about your stuff. All I need is someone to show me around, then I’ll be out of your hair.”
“That’s still slowing me down.”
“Please,” Trevor said, his tone of voice dropping a notch. “I’ve been in a coma for a year I think. I don’t know where I am. Once I find my friends, I’ll leave you alone, even repay you.”
A breath escaped Anne’s lips in equal parts of a sigh and a grumble. “What did you do before the invasion?”
“Huh? I don’t really remember. I think I may have been involved in a car crash or something.”
“I meant your job. What were you? An accountant? A lawyer? The village idiot? I’m thinking it’s the last one.”
Immediately Anne’s words came back. He didn’t bring anything to the table, she had said about the other patient. Trevor didn’t have any survival skills either. He was in advertising, and what good was a creative director in a world such as this? Come up with a billboard to request the aliens to stop attacking?
If there really were aliens. Everything still seemed so surreal to him.
“I was a doctor,” Trevor said.
Anne squinted her eyes, drawing a long pause between them, probably waiting to see if it was a joke, or a lie.
“Really?” she finally said. “So I guess you’d be pretty familiar with the equipment here, huh?”
Fuck. Of course he had to pick the job that was the easiest to confirm in this building. Well there was no turning back now. Time to double down.
“Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what those things outside my room were, like generators or something? But I was a family doctor, and—”
“What does fentanyl do?”
“Painkillers.” That was easy. Thankfully for Trevor, he had watched a lot of documentaries on the opioid crisis, comparing their addiction to his alcohol problem. What he wasn’t thankful about, was Anne proceeding to fish around in her mattress-cover bag.
“All right,” she said, picking a box out at random, “what’s this… tema… zepam do?”
Now he was screwed. On the upside, she didn’t really seem to know either. He thought up an excuse, already planning his stay here should he fail, wondering where he’d forage for food and water.
“Look, I just woke up and I’m still groggy from all that—”
A sharp wail cut right through his sentence. It sounded like a massive steel structure bending under its own weight, only louder. Anne jumped, startled, the colour draining from her face.
“Shit,” she said. “Gotta go.”
She motioned for Trevor to follow her, then hesitated. With an index finger just an inch away from his face, she said, “You better not be lying.”
Then she was off again, leaving Trevor to chase after her with legs that barely worked.