The nurse spun around, blood sheeting down the right side of her face where it had met with the concrete, the needle cocked back, and charged him.
He could have defended himself if he’d been able to see worth a damn, but his eyesight was lagging, drawing images out across his field of vision like an ecstasy trip.
She lunged and he tried to parry back but misjudged the distance, the needle spearing him through the left shoulder.
The pain when she jerked it back out nearly brought him to his knees.
The nurse caught him with a perfectly placed front kick to the solar plexus, and the sheer force behind it punched him back into the wall and drove the breath out of his lungs. He’d never hit a woman in his life, but as Pam moved in for more, he couldn’t shake the thought that it would feel so satisfying to connect his right elbow with this bitch’s jaw.
His eyes locked on the needle in her hand, thinking, No more of that, please God.
Brought his arms up to defend his face, but they felt like boulders.
Sluggish and cumbersome.
The nurse said, “Bet you’re wishing you’d just come out when I asked nicely, huh?”
He lashed out at half speed with a wide-arcing hook that she easily ducked, firing back with a lightning-fast jab that rebroke his nose.
“You want the needle again?” she asked, and he would’ve charged, tried to get her on the floor, pin her underneath his weight, but proximity, considering the needle and his diminished senses, seemed like a bad idea.
Pam laughed, said, “I can tell you’re fading. You know, this is actually kind of fun.”
Ethan struggled to slide away against the wall, shuffling his feet to get out of range, but she tracked his movement, staying in front of him and aligned for another strike.
“Let’s play a little game,” she said. “I poke you with the needle, and you try to stop me.”
She lunged, but there was no pain.
Just a feint—she was toying with him.
“Now the next one, Mr. Burke, is going to—”
Something smashed into the side of her head with a hard thunk.
Pam hit the ground and didn’t move, Beverly standing over her, the frantic light blinking against her face. She still held the metal chair she’d dropped Nurse Pam with by its legs, looking more than a little shocked at what she’d done.
“More people are coming,” Ethan said.
“Can you walk?”
Beverly tossed the chair aside and came over to Ethan as it clattered against the linoleum floor.
“Hold onto me in case your balance goes.”
“It’s already gone.”
He clung to Beverly’s arm as she pulled him along back down the corridor. By the time they’d reached the nurses’ station, Ethan was struggling just to put one foot in front of the other.
He glanced back as they rounded the corner, saw Nurse Pam struggling to sit up.
“Faster,” Beverly said.
The main corridor was still empty, and they were jogging now.
Twice, Ethan tripped, but Beverly caught him, kept him upright.
His eyes were growing heavy, the sedation descending on him like a warm, wet blanket, and all he wanted to do was find some quiet alcove where he could curl up and sleep this off.
“You still with me?” Beverly asked.
“By a thread.”
The door at the corridor’s end loomed fifty feet ahead.
Beverly quickened the pace. “Come on,” she said. “I can hear them coming down the stairwell.”
Ethan heard it too—a jumble of voices and numerous footsteps behind a door they passed leading to a set of stairs.
At the end of the corridor, Beverly jerked the door open and dragged Ethan across the threshold into a cramped stairwell whose six steps climbed to another door at the top, over which glowed a red EXIT sign.
Beverly paused once they were through, let it close softly behind them.
Ethan could hear voices on the other side filling the corridor, sounded like the footfalls were moving away from them, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Did they see us?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
It took all of Ethan’s focus to climb those final steps to the exit, where they crashed through the door and stumbled outside into darkness, Ethan’s feet on wet pavement and the patter of cold rain on his shoulders already beginning to seep through the paper-thin fabric of his gown.
He could barely stand and already Beverly was pulling him toward the sidewalk.
“Where are we going?” Ethan asked.
“To the only place I know they can’t find you.”
He followed her into the dark street.
No cars out, just a smattering of streetlights and houselights, everything dim and obscured by the rain.
They took the sidewalk down a quiet street, and after the second block, Ethan stopped and tried to sit down in the grass, but Beverly wouldn’t let him quit.
“Not yet,” she said.
“I can’t go any farther. I can barely feel my legs.”
“One more block, OK? You can make it. You have to make it if you want to live. I promise you in five minutes you’ll be able to lie down and ride this out.”
Ethan straightened up and staggered on, followed Beverly for one more block, beyond which the houses and streetlights ended.
They entered a cemetery filled with crumbling headstones interspersed with scrub oaks and pines. It hadn’t been maintained in ages, grass and weeds rising to Ethan’s waist.
“Where are you taking me?” His words slurred, felt heavy and awkward falling out of his mouth.
They wove through headstones and monuments, most eroded so badly Ethan couldn’t make out the engraving.
He was cold, his gown soaked through, his feet muddy.
“There it is.” Beverly pointed to a small, stone mausoleum standing in a grove of aspen. Ethan struggled through the last twenty feet and then collapsed at the entrance between a pair of stone planters that had disintegrated into rubble.
It took Beverly three digs with her shoulder to force open the iron door, its hinges grinding loudly enough to wake the dead.
“I need you inside,” she said. “Come on, you’re almost there. Four more feet.”
Ethan opened his eyes and crawled up the steps through the narrow doorway, out of the rain. Beverly pulled the door closed after them, and for a moment, the darkness inside the crypt was total.