My head is absolutely pounding. I can feel the lump growing on the back of my head. I’m laying down, I realize that when I feel the soft blanket draped over me. Despite my head, I am so comfortable. This is weird. This isn’t right.
Slowly, I begin to open my eyes. I’m staring up at a ceiling. There’s a fan and it’s on? I haven’t seen a ceiling fan or anything work for months. I rapidly blink my eyes until it comes into focus. Am I dead? Did the demon on her demon horse kill me?
Holy shit. I have to be dead. I shoot up. My head feels like it was trailing a million miles behind me. I’m instantly dizzy. Slowly, the room comes into focus. It’s small with off-white walls and minimal furniture. There’s a chair in the corner and fluorescent lights that hang on the wall. I look next to me and find a nightstand, there’s a tray with some food and a big glass of water.
My mouth instantly waters. Can you be this hungry if you’re dead? No, right? I am not dead. I have just woken up in the twilight zone of the zombie apocalypse.
I all but lick my tray within five minutes. I feel both good and sick at the same time. I want to lay back down and just stay this comfortable forever, but my sense of self preservation pushes me up. I wobble up onto my legs.
I look down at myself. I don’t have any pants. I just have my underwear and a t-shirt. A new t-shirt and once I really look myself over, I can tell I have been bathed. What the fuck?
I remember getting lost. I was separated. And then I started going bat shit crazy and seeing…things. And then there was the girl on the horse. I notice the IV stuck in the bend of my arm. Oh great. I get separated over a friggin blanket only to get kidnapped again, but this time they have drugs. Holy fuck. I don’t even know what I just ate and I’m being drugged.
I go to rip it out, but a voice from the door stops me.
“I wouldn’t do that, it’s what’s hydrating you,” says The Maiden. I sit back down, scared shitless. I watch as she slinks from the door to the chair, her freakish long hair hanging heavy around her shoulders. She’s no longer in her leather get-up, but it looking more like one of the Bennet sisters in her loose nightgown and slippers. “You were in pretty bad shape when we found you. I liked your hammock, that was a smart idea.” She crosses her legs.
“Uh, thanks.” I continue to stare at my newly cleaned feet.
“I’m sorry that I hit you, but from how you looked in that clearing, I didn’t think you’d come willingly.” She pushes a strand of her golden locks behind her ear. “The nurses have bathed you and given you clean clothes. What you had, well, I didn’t think you’d want it back.”
Small talk. She’s small talking me. “That’s all nice and everything, but who the hell are you?” I lock my eyes with hers.
She laughs. “They call me The Maiden. Probably because of my hair, and it invoking some bygone time.”
“And who the fuck is they?” I’m angry now. I hate people that small talk and circle talk me, both of which she was trying to do with ease.
“The people that live here with me. You’re in what used to be St. Luke’s.”
One of the bigger hospitals in New Jersey. We had really travelled that far west? “You live here?”
She leans forward. “Yes. Some of us stayed behind when the world went to shit. We stayed with what was left of the patients. We killed those who turned. We kept this for us. We knew it’s value.”
“So you were a doctor?”
She leans her head to one side and smirks. “No, I was a patient here. I was towards the end of my recovery when this all fell apart. The ones that stayed helped me get better until I was able to then help them.”
“And how do you help them?” I draw my knees up to my chest. I do feel better, but I still don’t trust her. The last time I found a little bit of heaven in this world, I wound up being McGrady’s bitch for months.
“Surely, you realized I was different when I rescued you.” She waits, baiting me.
“Yeah…they didn’t try to grab you. It was like they didn’t even know you and your horse were there.”
The Maiden gets up, crossing her arms over her chest. She moves to the foot of my bed. “That’s because they don’t notice me.”
I feel a distinct chill go straight up my spine. I swallow as I look at her. Her gaze is unmoving. She’s creepier than I first thought. Her eyes are absolutely piercing, a deep blue, almost green that makes her seem almost other worldly. “And why is that,” I finally manage to say.
“I live in the in between.” She sits down at the foot of my bed. “I died when I was first brought here. I was legally dead for over a minute and then they brought me back. I live somewhere between here and what’s ever after this. In some way, I am part of them.”
“Oh thank God,” I burst out. This sounds so much better to me than her being a true hell demon.
The Maiden laughs. “What did you think it was?”
“Hell demon. I thought you came from hell to punish me for everything I’ve done since this started.” I stifle a nervous laugh.
“I seem to get that a lot lately.” She stands up. “Get some more rest. Tomorrow I’ll show you around.”
With that, she slinked out of the room and for the first time since Shelby died, I got a honest night of sleep.