"It was early December last year. I was the head surgeon at the hospital; I know quite a bit in the medical field. Anyway, I was working past my usual shift, and then they wheeled a girl in. You. A bullet in your head, a fraction of the skull shattered. Some of your bones were shattered and several of your blood vessels had burst - the hostages and the robbers had completely stampeded you in the confusion. Most of the doctors thought you wouldn't make it, but I did, and… you became something of an obsession. I don't know why, but saving you… I felt like I had some kind of personal obligation."
I stare at her silently, drinking in the story.
"I removed the bullet and we inserted an artificial skull plate. I tried desperately to bring you out of the coma, but nothing worked, and the chances of a vegetable waking up are a thousand to one. But I wouldn't give up; every day, I pushed on. Your brother… he became quite troubled. Dropped out of school and visited almost-"
What? I have to interrupt now. "I have a brother?" I rack my brains, but nothing. Besides the bank robbery, I don't know anything about who I was before.
Eliza studies my face disbelievingly. "You're kidding. You… you don't remember Adam?" I shake my head. She holds her gaze for a moment longer, as though trying to tell if I'm lying, but then lets out a weary sigh and presses her hand to her temples. Then she straightens and continues talking. "Adam cared about you. He may still be alive, but the odds are against it."
"So, a few weeks passed, and your condition was quite stable. We kept you wrapped in bandages to heal the minor injuries." I recall the mummy-like state I was in when I woke up. "And then, at the beginning of January, there was the first sign. Nobody took much notice. It was a brief report on the news, about a small outbreak of a virus – that was it. No information on how to protect ourselves, or what the virus would do to you. The next warning, it came only a few days later. This time it was a clip of a crazed man wandering outside a building. He had killed two men already and he was found to be infected with the same virus we'd heard about earlier; things only got worse from there on. There was quite a commotion. All the reporters wanted to know more about it. People in that area of the town were scared, and there was some talk of evacuating them until the disease was contained, but nothing was done yet."
"The laboratory where they'd been experimenting with it was shut down, but right before that… the virus somehow got out from the lab and went airborne. It was unbelievable how fast things escalated. Almost the whole town was infected; the public saw what horrifying things happened to them in a matter of days."
"Julie, have you ever seen a zombie movie?" The doctor's expression is somber. I swallow hard – in another time and place, I would laugh, tell her she was crazy and that there's no way this is a zombie outbreak. But this is now, and here is here, so I give a tiny nod.
Eliza makes a weird noise and then I realize she's laughing, if you could call it laughing. More of a humorless, sardonic titter. "Take that movie and multiply it by a thousand. This was nothing that had ever happened before; the government, they had absolutely no preparation. The disease spread at unbelievable rates – with no knowledge of exactly what was going on and nothing to stop them, friends and family would go to visit the infected and get sick themselves. Patients could contaminate an entire hospital in a day. You see? The diseased increased exponentially."
"It changes you, Julie, into what can only be a zombie. As far as we know, once you have been bitten, you can change in a matter of hours. The symptoms include fever, headaches, joint pain, incapability to remember recent events and finally a whitening of the irises. From then on your only thought is to eat. Animals, humans, any raw meat will do, living or not. Your body does not decay by itself, but if a wound is inflicted, that area will decompose. We don't know how. When things were going haywire, there wasn't a whole lot of time to study a zombie."
"When the disease had infected two states in hardly a matter of weeks, the entire world was in chaos. Officials had been sent to round up the diseased and had permission to kill on sight. There were shootings in the streets and neighborhoods being abandoned. Airlines refused to fly Americans to other countries; the borders were reinforced to let nobody out. After Ohio went down, there was a nationwide lockdown. Every family forced into their homes, schools shut down, shops closed off. It was January by then. That's… that's when the military stepped in. There were soldiers patrolling the streets 24/7. But the precautions couldn't fix everything. There were already too many of the Chuckies – well, that's the nickname for them – to contain. The hospitals, thank god, were allowed to remain open, but the overcrowding… people were desperate, trying to break in. I still kept you in a private room – but the rest of the staff wanted to pull your plug. I have to admit, it seemed hopeless."
"Then… the Chuckies went overseas. Someone who was infected got onto a private plane and flew to Asia, probably to get help. You can guess what happened." I can feel tears threatening to trickle out. "Julie, one month. That was all it took. After the U.S. government fell, there was no organization. Nothing. People were left to fend for themselves. The rest of the world died just as quickly; at least four-fifths of the population was wiped out, or infected. A couple of survivors and I used the hospital as a safe house for a year. It's December now, you know – I know that your checkup sheet says January, but after the outbreak, I didn't see much point in updating it. And then a little less than two weeks back, we were overrun by a horde, and some of our group didn't make it. We had to leave you behind. My guess it that you woke up maybe two, three days later."
Eliza rests her hand on mine. "I'm sorry."