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Left for Dead
The blaring sirens wake me from sleep.
I had dreamt of horrors again. Of smoke and ash, sulfur and darkness. And blood, always blood.
The rain splashes softly against the pavement as I step into chaos, shielding my eyes from the blinding ruddy glow as the sirens wheel past.
My coworkers mill about like ants peppered in snow, their white waistcoats billowing in the wind.
Madness. The word comes to me at once. Screeching, screaming, utter madness.
"Clair!" A man's voice calls, high and desperate.
I pause, startled. Yes, Clair, that's my name.
"What happened?" I ask, observing the somewhat competent man before me. He's handsome enough, even with his golden sweat-soaked hair plastered to his forehead, and his less-than-clean waistcoat pressing haphazardly down his sides. Clearly, he's attempting to bespeak some form of order.
"Five-car pileup," The man says quickly, nodding to a body that's been pulled out of the wreckage, covered with a sheet, and placed on a gurney before the EMTs had rushed back to the other victims. "It's bad."
I approach the bloodstained sheet, steeling myself for the worst before pulling the fabric back. The man beneath is dark-haired; his handsome, rugged features marred by the five inch-long scars that curve across his left cheek, beginning just below his eye.
He's twenty-five if he's a day. Traces of stubble darken his cheeks and chin, with thicker patches of hair growing on what little I can see of his chest. The rest of him is a bloody ruin, if the blood-soaked sheet is anything to judge by.
Yet, still, he breathes. Very faintly, yes, but it's there.
"Jonson!" I shout, shock coursing through me. "Get over here, this one's alive!"
Jonson is beside me in an instant, his chest heaving from exertion. His eyes widen as he takes in the rise and fall of the stranger's chest, as well as the vermilion cloth that covers him---a cloth which grows ever darker red as the seconds tick by.
He makes a strangled noise, halfway between a sob and a gasp. "His wounds---he's lost so much blood, just so much---he should be in intensive care immediately---"
"Then why isn't he?" I snap, my eyes never leaving the stranger's face. I see Jonson shoot me a strange look. I master myself quickly. "Take him to my ward," I say, feeling my hands clench into fists at my sides. "I'll take care of him."
My steps are hurried as I move down the hall with the gurney. Forever chasing something that's only just ahead, that's my Clair. I'd heard Mother say, often and loudly as she'd done all things. But my mother is dead these twenty years, and only stars can hear her now.
The ward is well-lit and sparsely furnished, with three white-washed walls and a tiled floor. A steel operating table rests in the center of the room.
I place the gurney alongside the table as the tenderfoots fan out around me. Their eyes are alight and focused, pens busily scratching notes with a vigor.
With Jonson's help, I lift the stranger's body and place him on the cold table before removing the sheet. With this done, I walk across the room to fetch my equipment. Turning back, I capture the novices in a steely gaze before returning to my patient, dismissing Jonson with a look. "Pop quiz. What's wrong with him, and how do I fix it?"
"There's a cut across his femoral artery," a young intern of around nineteen speaks up from the throng, blushing slightly. "As well as a deep laceration toward his anterior interventricular artery." She inclines her head, nodding toward the patient's chest. The girl is alert but passive, her response confident yet undeceive all at once.
I smile. Good. "You need to stanch the flow of blood across his chest as quickly as possible, and I recommend a compression to his thigh until such a time as you can apply stitches." The girl adds carefully. Her dark eyes meet my light ones from across the room, desperate for approval. I nod and the novice smiles, head held higher.
Acknowledging this, I dismiss the students with a wave of my hand. The throng hesitates momentarily before receding at Jonson's urging. Jonson himself follows dutifully behind them.
The intern---Ami, I recall her name---would've ordinarily been right. Now what she learns is only the most basic of procedures in case of emergency---any elementary school student could execute the protocol flawlessly. Once, such science was considered a grand achievement, a medical feat perhaps. But that was before.
For countless eons the mundane tools of our forbearers' have ceased operating. For they require power. And power requires electricity. And electricity requires oil---oil that Earth ceased supplying generations ago.
Instead, society relies on more pagan devices of earth and light and air; combining with the sciences of the known world to create mechanisms that can reconstruct the body's atoms from inside out, effectively healing them.
I watch as the stranger's eyelids flutter in the beginnings of wakefulness. The movement of his face makes his scars twitch spasmodically, making them more prominent than they already are. The scars are a near thing, really. Another inch or two higher, and he would've lost the eye.
Lucky bastard. I think, turning to place the device back into the drawer with the others.
He awakes, a low groan leaving his lips as he sits up, though the only things that remain of his external injuries are large blotches of bloody cotton. His left eye opens first, then his right, both blinking in bemusement as he takes in his surroundings. Sitting up, he looks about.
"May I ask how you acquired your scars?" I begin, facing him.
"What're you, a cop?" There's a smile in his voice. Clearly, the thought amuses him.
"I find you lying on a gurney left for dead after being pulled out of a five car pileup with inculpating scars on your face, and you don't find that suspicious in the least?" I snap back, his hubris annoying me.
The man shrugs. "Not the first time someone's tried to kill me. Won't be the last." He snorts. "As for these," he makes an indifferent jester towards his face, acknowledging and disregarding the scars within the same instant. "Cat scratches."
"Must have been one hell of a cougar."
He laughs, a dark light leaping into his eyes. I suddenly realize that he's close. Much to close. His sent comes to me quickly: torn clothes smelling strongly of smoke and grit and blood, with an unmistakable undercurrent of sulfur lying just underneath.
All at once, I feel the cold, stone floor beneath my feet, trapped in a room that smells of sulfur and ash and blood, eternally shrouded in darkness. And he a shifting terror through it all, ambivalent and forever impatient.
In an instant, I try to make my features impassive, but to no avail. For he has seen the look in my eyes, and his own gleam. Steadily, he takes a step closer. Then another. A slow, predatory smile curving his lips.
"What's wrong, Clair?" His voice is silk. "Don't tell me you believe in monsters?"