Monday, September 5, 2011

Chapter 7

    When Steven opened his eyes, the light in the room was different than it had been before he had fallen asleep, somehow more diffused. The strange light gave everything in the room a feeling of unreality.
    The room was clean, white, antiseptic. It contained two other hospital beds: one neatly made, the other recently slept in. This was obviously one of the university's first-aid clinics. Hansen had taken it over.
    Steven got out of bed, found his clothes hanging neatly in the closet, and quickly dressed. He fumbled in the drawer of the cart until he found the cigarettes he'd had when he left his apartment.
    How long has it been? he wondered. He stepped to the mirror beside the bed and studied his reflection. His beard showed no more than three days' growth.
    Taking a cigarette from the crumpled pack, he placed it in his mount and lit it. The first lungful of smoke seemed to take the edge off, calming his nerves. Somehow, it brought a bit of sanity back into his world.
    Suddenly, he realized what was making him feel so strange. He felt much better than he should be feeling. The fever was gone, and his wounds no longer hurt. There was only a touch of headache behind his eyes.
    He brought his right hand up and examined his wrist in the strange light. The gash was gone; there was not even the merest trace of a scar. He tore the crude bandages from his arm. That wound, too, was no longer visible. It was as if he had never received those injuries, as if the last few days had not happened.
    But he knew they had. At least, he thought they had. He searched his mind for the events of the past few days and found he could remember only gross generalities. The fine details and the sharpness that marked the computer-generated memories were missing. It was as if someone had told him about what had happened, instead of his actually having lived it.
    Or, like he had dreamed it.
    Still, the bandages - and he did remember some of it.
    The feeling of unreality became suddenly stronger, a heavy mix of both old and new. Had those things really happened? Had he actually met the dog pack? Had Hansen....
    Too many questions, and far too few answers.
    Again he thought about Hansen. Should he try to find him before leaving?
    No, he decided. He had to get out of this room, out of this building. And he had to do it now.
    He shuffled to a low counter on the far side of the room. A piece of hard bread only partly wrapped in aluminum foil lay beside a brown-stained hot plate. He picked the bread up, unwrapped it, stuffed it in his mouth. It crumbled dry and powdery on his tongue and scratched the roof of his mouth. He was tempted to spit it out, but he needed its nourishment.

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