A Neighbor Infected
Andy pointed a finger at one of the guys. “Zeke, come with us. I want the rest of you guys to come up with some ideas for a game plan for tonight.”
Zeke stood up and all of the guys nodded.
I really wished they would stop doing that.
Andy lumbered to the stairwell door. He glanced back. “You coming, Core?”
I got in line behind Zeke and followed them up the stairs and into Andy’s apartment on the second floor. What I saw inside surprised me.
His front room looked like a sports museum. Jerseys and photos covered most of the wall space. Signed helmets, baseballs, basketballs and other autographed gear was crammed into three large bookcases. The room itself was carefully lit and immaculate.
It was so unlike Andy that I almost couldn’t believe my eyes.
I didn’t have time to look at anything as Andy just plodded down the hall to his bedroom.
I could smell the bedroom before I could see into it. It definitely reeked of Andy’s signature B.O. What a slob.
As we entered, it felt much truer to what I knew about Andy. The room reflected him almost perfectly: smelly, messy and generally offensive. In fact, it was messier than my room even after the ransacking.
Clothes and garbage were piled everywhere. The bed had no sheets, just a blanket piled up in a corner and a caseless feather pillow. A small desk with a computer sat next to one of the two windows.
Andy waded through the filth to the further window. He hesitated, took a deep breath, and then looked back at Zeke and me.
“His window is right across from here.” He pointed a thumb out the window.
Turning back, he shouted, “Hey, Frankie.”
With that, he suddenly became a little too nervous. He straightened up and made for the door. As he left, he called back to me, “Corbin, go talk to Frankie, and if you need anything, just send Zeke here.”
I wish I could say that he left and took his stink with him, but I can’t. The room was soaked in it.
Andy’s bizarre behavior was throwing me for a continual curve. I didn’t have time to muse on his insanity, though. There were more serious matters at hand.
As I reached the window where Andy had shouted, a man appeared in the window directly across the narrow alley.
He was thin and looked tired.
He called out, “So, Andy, you finally…” He stopped short when he saw that it was me.
“Sorry, I thought you were Andy.”
“Thank goodness, no. What’s going on?”
“Andy didn’t say?” I could see distaste on his face every time he said Andy’s name.
“He didn’t say much, and I don’t trust what that idiot has to say anyway.”
“Well, my, uh, roommate got bitten by one of those infected crazies outside the hospital today.”
I could not be shocked again by hearing it. I knew the virus had been spread, and pockets of infected could be anywhere in the city. I was getting into my regular ER mindset. Crisis is what I do, and I knew I could keep it together until this thing was over. I had to do what I could to help the patient.
“How is he doing now?”
Frankie’s voice wavered. “Is Carlton going to die?”
Visions of the infected crowd I had seen outside filled my head. I pushed them out.
“I don’t know. Let’s do what we can to save him. I just need you to help me out, OK?”
Frankie nodded. “OK.”
“How is he doing now?”
“He’s lying in bed. He’s burning up, and he must be in pain because he keeps moaning and grinding his teeth.”
“Has he taken anything for the pain or fever?”
“I gave him four Ibuprofen when he got in.”
“Did that help break the fever?”
“No.” Frankie gave a half shrug. “At least I don’t think they did.”
I turned back to Zeke and sent him to the hall closet up in my apartment to bring down the big first aid kit and every bottle of medicine he could find.
Zeke looked very relieved to have a job that took him out of the room.
“I’m sending Zeke to get him something a little stronger to see if we can’t make him comfortable. How long has he been this way?”
“He got in about twenty minutes after the power went out. Within the hour he had a huge headache and a fever. He came up here to lie down and has been getting worse ever since.”
“How is his breathing?”
“Shallow. At least between moans.”
“Have you been able to take his temperature properly?”
“But you’re sure he’s running a fever.”
“His skin is hotter than I’ve ever felt before. On anyone.”
“OK. Anything else you think I should know?”
Frankie looked down and shook his head.
I wondered how long it would take Zeke to bring my supplies. Frankie wasn’t looking too stable, and I knew that if he freaked out, there’d be absolutely no helping Carlton.
“So, why doesn’t Andy want to talk to you? He left in an awful hurry.”
Frankie clenched his jaw for just a moment, then sighed. “Carlton is Andy’s twin brother. They haven’t spoken since Andy found out, well, since Carlton came out. Now Andy hates Carlton and blames me.”
“Yeah, Andy’s not exactly tolerant of anybody who thinks differently than he does.”
“And Carlton never forgave Andy, either. He doesn’t think I hear it, but I know he still leaves messages on Andy’s phone calling him an uncaring redneck.”
I almost smirked. That’s why Andy had wigged out when I called him a redneck. I just sat and thought for a moment. I didn’t know what to say, anyway. Complex relationships have never been my thing. Emergency medicine is where I shine. I felt bad for the twin brothers, though. Inside me there was swelling a strong feeling that Carlton and Andy would never get a chance to make up.
I didn’t have to sit and think in that uncomfortable silence too long. Zeke burst through the door carrying a large white box with a red cross on it and a grocery sack full of pill bottles.
“Did Andy do that to your apartment?” He tossed his packages on the bed.
I went over to the first aid kit. “Yep. He’s a real class act.”
“But Andy said that… never mind.” Zeke shook his head.
I pulled the small glass thermometer from the kit. “Andy says a lot of things.”
I was about to launch into a tirade about how dumb Andy was, but a scream of pain from across the way cut me short. I ran to the window just in time to see Frankie leaving his post.
Within a few moments, the screaming turned into uncontrolled sobbing. Eventually it quieted to a painful moaning. It was a long few minutes.
“Frankie, what’s going on?” I called out.
A few seconds later, Frankie appeared in the window. His whole demeanor had changed. He was smiling. “I think he’s past it. His fever’s coming down.”
I looked up at Frankie. “I still want you to take his temperature. Can you catch?”
Maybe on a regular day he could, too. I underhanded him the thermometer, throwing it as gently as I could. He bobbled it and it fell to the floor inside his apartment.
I watched him fumble for it a bit. My gut said that the fever breaking would be temporary, if it had really happened at all. Unless Carlton’s immune system was a miracle indeed.
Eventually Frankie got a hold of it and disappeared again from the window.
I wished I could see what was going on in there. Quite often in the ER, I knew that a patient was going to die, but at least I see what was going on, and could do something. From here I could only sit, guess and shout instructions. I felt powerless, and I hated it.
At some point, I became aware of the the fact that the moaning had completely stopped. As soon I a recognized that fact, a new scream cut the silence.
It was different than the scream before. I shouted for Frankie.
There was the sound of a door slamming, and Frankie again appeared at the window. He appeared to be having a full blown panic attack. He was shaking, gasping, shouting and hardly making any sense at all. From his frenzy, I could pick out a few phrases.
“Tried to bite me! What went wrong? He was cold to the touch. What do I… He bit through the thermometer and tried to bite me! What do I do? It broke… What do I do? What do I do?”
My heart sank. I knew it was too late. The only thing left to do was to get Frankie away from Carlton. “Get out of there! If you can lock the door, lock it, but go!”
Frankie wasn’t listening to me. If he didn’t listen now, he wouldn’t get a second chance.
“Frankie, you have to listen. You need to go now. It’s too late for Carlton, but …”
Out of the shadows behind Frankie stepped a thinner version of Andy.
Blood trickled from Carlton’s lip where the bitten thermometer had cut it. He had that same glazed look in his eyes that I had seen seen at the hospital.
There was nothing I could do.