Updated: Sep 2, 2020
Though they still thought of her as Doc, they both made a point of calling her Siah.
It was weird.
The day after Nathan woke up, he brought the rest of their stuff from the shop.
Doc was surprised to see his word a day calendar and their books.
She said if they ever had any questions about what they were reading, to just ask her. He’d shrugged, but he might.
It struck both boys how comfortable she was around them; it took a full week for them to realize this was not an act for her. This was her actual personality.
Their looks alone scared most people into, at best, leaving them alone, but she’d watched them kill- Eric had held her at gunpoint- and she smiled at him and checked on Nathan, and left her kid with them.
The woman was a mystery.
The next few days developed a routine. Doc would get up first, stoke the fire and then leave out the back window. Eric would lie on the floor and pretend to be asleep so Sharlie could come, “wake him up”.
Then the three of them would eat breakfast together. Nathan had to use his left arm and even that left him sore but Doc had said he should be grateful he hadn’t been hurt worse; nerve damage alone could have taken the use of his arm completely.
He’d collect wood or do whatever else needed doing until Doc came back around noon, sometimes with more medical supplies and sometimes with food.
She always seemed winded, as if she’d run the whole way.
Wary as she was, they thought she was probably running all along the back roads and alleys like when they’d first followed her.
No matter what though, she always made a point of checking Nathan before she ate, listening to Sharlie prattle while she ate and talking to Eric after she ate.
She’d always have to leave quickly after lunch to get back in time.
Eric didn’t blame her for wanting to come check on the kid during midday, but the schedule was wearing her out. Every night, when she got back, she looked ready to collapse. Yet she’d still check on Nathan, redress the hole in his chest, eat and play with Sharlie a little before falling asleep, sometimes literally passing out without changing clothes.
Three days after he woke up, Nathan said he was able to get up and go to the bathroom himself. Sharlie was scared he would fall, insisting he was, “too wobbly”, still, and stayed by him until he closed the door, ready to catch him if he fell. It was kind of funny.
He’d explained about her gimpy foot to Nathan. It was him who had her put her shoes on first thing every morning and keep them on all day, even when inside.
The old hiking area behind the apt complex bordered the base of the mountains and had decent gaming. The same day Nathan managed to get up by himself, he left Sharlie with her for a while and set a few traps in the woods.
He took his time walking back through this unfamiliar part of town. Doc had been right, he never saw anyone else around this entire section of town or in the surrounding woods. This whole chunk of this small town had been completely abandoned. He could walk around the middle of the street and no one was there to notice him.
He decided to do a little exploring and went through a few apartments. He found a few useful things he thought he’d take, dishes, soap, but one thing he stepped on caught his eye. It was about the right size to cover the hole in the carpet.
When she came back from work that night, he showed Doc the woven rug he’d brought back, and she was thrilled. Then he showed her the two rabbits he’d caught in his traps and the small turkey he’d landed with his bow.
She’d been- ecstatic.
She pulled out the spider thing to grill the rabbit over and she’d shown him how to tear apart the turkey at the joints, making a pot of, “Never Ending Stew” with most of it and marinating the breast meat in vinegar and herbs to eat later. He didn’t eat any of the rabbit, but that breast was the most amazing meat he and Nathan had ever tasted!
He’d thought the never-ending stew thing sounded unsanitary but she insisted it was perfectly healthy so long as you made sure the stew was under constant heat and that you didn’t eat it until you knew nothing was raw. Since they had to keep a constant fire going anyway it was really nice to just have food whenever.
Siah wanted to leave the stew over the spider thing, but he insisted the hook was more secure. She gave him a weird look but agreed and put the thing away.
He’d been able to keep the pot going with fresh small game meat every day and doc was sometimes able to bring back some fresh or canned vegetables to throw in.
Since none of them had gotten sick from it, he figured it must be all right.
He didn’t know what kind of spices Doc- Siah- kept throwing in, but he and Nathan agreed it was delicious.
When Sharlie was down for her naps, the brothers were free to speak openly.
If it weren’t for Nathans being shot, being here with Doc and the kid was- actually- nice. Neither of them said it out loud but, if circumstances were different, it would have been the nicest time of their lives.
He ran after his ball, bumping into his mother as she came out of the bathroom.
“Why aren’t you wearing your mask? You know you’re supposed to wear your mask!” She screeched. He grabbed his ball and ran to the living room- and right into his father.
“Get out of my face you little mutt!” His dad slammed him against the wall.
He fell and tried to hide behind the couch. It didn’t help; his dad sat down in the recliner and shoved his head into the end table. He started to cry. There was blood coming out of his head. His dad came at him, screamed at him to shut up. That made his new little brother cry...
Eric jolted awake. Siah was leaving for the day.
“See you later sweetie.” She leaned down, smiling and tussled his hair before she went to the kitchen. He listened as she crawled through the window.
He came fully awake; they’d been here for nine days now.
He felt lighter; more rested than he had felt in…ever. All his life he had felt weighed down, now he felt loose, like he was just drifting without anything holding him down. Was this what it felt like to be- free? He wasn’t sure he liked it.
Nathan had said he felt the same, he said he even felt less angry. It was weird.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d managed to sleep through the night before they’d come here. It was bothering him that he might be caught off guard while he slept. He rolled out of his sleeping bag and checked Nathan.
He was sound asleep. Siah said he was healing well; that considering where he’d been shot, this was the best-case scenario. She was thanking God no infection had set in.
She had warned them that recuperation would take time and made it clear they were welcome to stay. It burned Eric’s pride to be so dependent, but for Nathan’s sake he would swallow it. He sat and looked and Nathan and then Sharlie for a minute.
Siah wasn’t like anyone he had ever met before. There was no category for her, no place to put her in. She was completely- unique, yeah that was the word for her, unique.
He’d had to carve a new cubbyhole in his brain for her.
Where she lived was almost as interesting as she was. In the time they’d been here, his curiosity about the apartment had deepened. Something was weird about the walls.
He didn’t have a key to the side door but he was able to do some eyeball measurements from the outside and realized the walls were extra thick. A few quick experiments with Nathan and Sharlie shouting and screaming from the inside showed that the apartment was fully soundproofed.
Sharlie had thought it was funny to be screaming for fun. It got even weirder though, when Sharlie showed him her, “Hidey hole.”
It was raining outside and Sharlie had wanted to play a game.
He barely remembered playing hide and seek himself, but once he showed Sharlie she caught on quick. The first couple of times he could see where she was easily, but made out like he was looking everywhere else instead of where she was.
The third time it was his turn to look for her, he actually couldn’t find her.
He looked to Nathan who gestured to the back bedroom.
She’d hidden in the small room before but now he couldn’t see her.
There was no furniture besides the mattress on the floor.
Nowhere for her to hide.
He poked his head out to Nathan. You sure? He mouthed. Nathan nodded.
He looked around the small room again, checked the closet, and looked around again. Nothing.
“What the-”, his thoughts were interrupted when he heard a giggle- from the wall?
He opened the closet again.
“Where did she go?” he said out loud. There it was again, the giggle, it was coming from the wall to his right.
He bent down and looked at it closely. Right along the edge where the walls met, he saw the faintest seam. He’d seen it before and thought it was a crack in the plaster.
The bullet hole right next to it lent to the decrepit look.
Then he saw a tiny light coming in through the hole- and a giggle.
He put his index finger in the hole, curled his finger and pulled.
A piece of the wall swung out towards him like a small door and Sharlie launched herself at him, a tiny flashlight in hand.
“You couldn’t find me Eric! You couldn’t find me!” she cheered.
She was right. He couldn’t. He held onto her as he checked out the small space.
“This was a good hiding place Sharlie.”
“It’s my hidey hole. Mama says if there’s ever a bad guy in the house, I’m supposed to hide here.”
It wasn’t much more than a crawl space set into the wall, maybe two feet square.
No adult could fit into it. Well, he snickered, maybe the doc could.
He admitted defeat and carried a very triumphant Sharlie back to the living room where she told Nathan all about how she had beaten him at Hide and Seek.
Nathan gave him a look but he shook his head. Later. He mouthed.
He’d explain when the kid was down for her nap.
When she was finally asleep, he told Nathan about the crawlspace.
They both agreed, that was not something the doc had carved herself.
The small space was made by a professional who knew what they were doing.
He didn’t know how to bring it up to the Doc though. He wasn’t even sure he was supposed to know about it.
“When you go outside, do you ever see smoke from the fire?”
Eric thought for a minute. “No, I don’t.” Why hadn’t that occurred to him before?
“So she has running water, soundproofed walls, some kind of chimney disguise that gets rid of smoke, a hidden entrance to this place and a crawl space for stashing the kid.”
“And she’s nice to us and leaves her kid with us.” He finished.
“She’s never not answered any of our questions. We should just ask her.”
“She barely has time to eat or catch up when she comes for lunch and she’s barely conscious for dinner. I don’t think she’s able to do more than basic routine.
She’s just too exhausted.”
“Maybe you should find out.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean maybe you should check out that clinic.”
The next morning Eric woke to the sound of Siah shutting the window hatch behind her. He’d already plotted what to do.
“I’m gonna go out.” He propped him up on more pillows so he was fully sitting up.
He went to his backpack and pulled out a plastic bag of underwear and socks.
Opening it, he pulled his spare piece out of its hiding place.
It was a big revolver, fully loaded. Not his favorite weapon with its limited ammunition, but it would do. Good thing Doc hadn’t checked his backpack.
She might’ve burned this one too.
“Going to check out the clinic?”
He handed him the loaded gun.
“Can you handle this?”
Nathan carefully took it.
“Yeah, yeah I’ve got it.” Bleary as he was, his grip held steady.
“Sharlie’s still asleep. I’ve got the stew on for whenever you need.
Don’t let her see the gun. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Bro, I’ve got this. Go.”
He put up his hood, slipped through the window, and went out into the dark.
He felt more comfortable in the dark, always had. Darkness made it easier to hide his face. It was the same for Nathan since he’d been burned.
It hadn’t been that long since Siah left, so it was easy to catch up to her.
He saw her from a distance and stayed far back enough to see without being seen as she took multiple long cuts, rounded corners and cut through alleys, making sure to avoid all the streetlights just like that first night when they had followed her.
She was as paranoid as him and Nathan. He could understand taking these kinds of precautions if she had Sharlie with her but she didn’t. So why the long cuts?
Then he saw her go into an alley- and saw a man flow out of the dark and follow her in.
Even as he ran, he heard a scream. Bolting to the alley, he saw the guy who’d followed her in fall backwards, shaking. What?
He looked up to see Siah standing over the man holding a still flickering Taser.
She bent over the prone man and tased him again. Her crack about him being old enough to be his mother came to mind as he felt his face stretch into a rare smile.
He wished this woman was his mother!
He stepped out of the shadow of the building before he spoke.
He didn’t want her using that thing on him.
“Do you always have to use that on your way to work?”
She jumped and held the thing up.
“It’s me! It’s me!”
“Eric! What are you doing here? Where’s Sharlie?!”
“Nathans awake and with her. I just wanted to see why you seemed so relieved not to take her with you to work.”
He glanced down at the unconscious thug at his feet.
“Does this happen often?”
“Often enough to make carrying this worth my while,” she said as she tucked the Taser back into her coat pocket.
She looked at him for a moment before she jerked her head for him to follow her.
“Come on, there’s only one block left to the clinic. Wait a few seconds, then follow me.” She walked to the end of the alley, looking both ways before leaving.
He looked down at the thug groaning on the ground.
He braced himself against the wall and gave the guy a couple of quick kicks in the ribs. He smiled as he felt/heard some crack before he followed Siah.
The sky was just beginning to lighten as they walked into the clinic.
He put down his hood, the smell inside the place making him want to gag.
Several people were on cots right there in the lobby.
Siah led him past a dimly lit office area and then into a large hospital style room with actual beds in it. He counted four vertical people tending to the two dozen in the room.
She led him to a tiny closet that was oddly empty and shut them both inside.
In another context this might be considered kinky.
“This is where I usually have to leave Sharlie while I’m working. I can only check on her sporadically.” That explained the colorful posters taped to the wall.
Sharlie’s words about, “Her closet” echoed through his mind.
“Why did you really follow me here Eric?”
He shrugged. “I wanted to see why you seemed so scared about bringing her here.”
Now he knew why.
“Going and coming here every day is an ordeal but it can’t be helped.”
He studied her for a minute and was studied in return.
“Is it crowded like this all the time?”
“No, but this is especially bad. Most of the people here don’t really need to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean many of those you see out there are sick with preventable diseases.
Since there’s not enough people to pay the local taxes, utilities were recently cut off to most of the area. Many out there are sick from an outbreak of bad water.
Others are just malnourished so their immune systems are compromised, which makes them susceptible to viruses and infections.”
“Shouldn’t they be at real hospitals?”
“The last one in the county closed down several months ago. This clinic is the last operational medical facility in the area. For the people who still live here, this is it.”
“How many other people work here besides you?”
“Out there is one other doctor, three nurses and handful of volunteers. That’s it.”
“If you’re doing the doctoring here, then who actually runs the place?”
“Running it into the ground you mean? That would be Brent Holsun. Remember how I told you he owns the clinic? Well he’s cut out the middle man. All patients here pay him directly. I and the other staff that are left just get a flat paycheck.”
This explained a lot.
“Couldn’t you get a better job if you moved to a city?”
She looked away and lost herself in a poster of baby animals.
“I was offered one in fact. Good pay, good facilities, but when I prayed about it, I felt God telling me to stay here; telling me that I was needed here.”
She crossed her arms, drew herself up and looked him straight in the eye.
“Three days later was when you broke into my house with Nathan.”
He didn’t know what to say to that.
“Looking back on it, I think God was telling me to stay so I could save your brother.”
He just looked at her. She put her hand up onto his shoulder.
“Eric, I am trusting you with my daughter’s life. Please, go; look after my girl while I’m here. I’ll be back for lunch and I’ll be back again after work.”
She gestured to the bare closet they were in.
“Don’t make me have to bring her back here.”
He nodded. “I’ll look after her.”
She nodded at him and opened the door, the smell hitting him again.
When they reached the intersection in the small hallway, she put a hand on his shoulder, nodded to him and half smiled. He watched her as she walked back to the main room with all the beds in it.
So, Siah had a bleeding heart for all kinds.
His first thoughts about her still held true, Siah was weird.
Trusting where she shouldn’t be, not afraid when she should be, Siah was a mystery.
He stood straight as it occurred to him, he wasn’t feeling any stares.
He was so used to the gaping stares and looks of horror wherever he went, their absence threw him off. Looking around, the people here were too sick, injured or tired to care about him.
He didn’t bother putting his hood back up until he was out the door.
He’d taken one step onto the sidewalk when an idea occurred to him.
He walked to the closet and stopped at the door. He looked around.
From here, there was an emergency exit out the side of the building to his right; in front of him was a small breakroom with a microwave, a table and a few chairs.
Down the hall to his left was the small cubicle style office he’d passed on his way in.
He crouched down to Sharlie’s height. He looked up- and saw what he’d been looking for. Directly above him, near a seam in the ceiling tile, was a tiny hole.
He reached and put one of the chairs under the hole.
He stood on it, moved the tile with the hole and looked around with his pen light.
There were long, snakelike trails in the dust that looked as if they’d been made with wires, leading like a spider’s web, to other holes throughout the hallway.
He knew it, there had been surveillance equipment here.
Something shined off his pen light- he froze as he saw what it was.
He put the tile back into place and stepped off the chair.
In the closet he saw a hole identical to the one in the hallway, except this one had something still in it. He pulled the chair up, doing the same procedure as before, this time coming face to face with an actively recording camera.
He snarled as he viciously yanked the thing out of its anchor, screws flying.
He studied the device with a critical eye.
He’d seen the type before in cheap security systems.
Small, compact, battery powered so no worry about needing an external power source. With a few modifications it easily anchored to whatever position you wanted.
Since it ran on battery power, whoever had installed the thing had to come and replace the battery on a regular basis as well as download whatever had been filmed, this wasn’t the kind of device that uploaded to any sort of network.
It was favored by those who liked to watch and make their own porn.
The external devices attached to the thing gave him pause.
The snake-like things had tiny cameras on the end and were an expensive accessory that didn’t match the old camera.
He glared at the thing in his hand. He didn’t really have to do anything.
The danger was passed. The kid was safe. Still, something pulled him towards the camera, he tucked it and its appendages into the pocket of his hoodie and put the ceiling tile and chair back into place.
Sharlie had said that Mason had seen her when the creep had tried to take her.
That meant he must have been in that office at the time, or at least going down the hall- or maybe he was the one with the camera on the kid?
Considering where his office was situated, he doubted it and Doc had mentioned that she trusted him to actually look in on Sharlie for her.
He wasn’t really sure how much he trusted her judgment though; she was trusting him.
His ears perked at the sound of a voice he hated.
The monster was back. He growled as he ducked into the closet.
He left the door open a sliver and pulled out his hunting knife.
Brent Holsun swaggered into the crowded clinic with all the dripping arrogance of a medieval Lord overseeing his peasants, his latest set of goons trailing along behind him swaggering like the dumb apes they were.
Like Holsun wouldn’t kill any of them if he was in the mood.
“Everyone, I have an announcement, so listen up!” Holsun shouted.
The people he could see in the cots around the office had been slowly waking up as he’d been in the building and now with Holsun’s announcement, those who could were turning over to face him.
Yeah, everyone in this town knew to pay attention to El Jefe.
Holsun shouted to someone out of his range.
“Hey, go get the Docs! Bring them here now!”
He felt his eyes narrow. He heard his Docs voice off in the background saying something in a sassy tone. Somehow that didn’t surprise him.
Holsun narrowed his eyes but went on with his announcement.
“I am hereby putting out a reward for whoever blew up my food shipment two weeks ago!” He gave a smug expression to someone out of his range. Doc, it had to be.
“I have reason to believe the same criminals are responsible for the bloody murder of my men earlier this week. Anyone with information leading to the arrest of this violent crew will receive a $500 cash reward!”
He heard several gasps at the amount being offered.
He wasn’t surprised. $500 was half a year’s wages.
He hadn’t been seriously worried about getting caught for blowing up Holsun’s truck.
He and Nathan had been careful, but the reward was seriously upping the risk level.
Then it occurred to him, why didn’t Holsun have his and Nathans descriptions.
If he had known what they looked like, he would’ve shouted their descriptions right now, not turning to leave.
He had assumed that first day they’d met Siah, she would have told who she’d seen done the murders.
He could understand her covering for them now, babysitting the kid and all, but for Holsun to not know who had killed his guys, that meant Siah had covered for them even then- right after she’d seen them kill several men, after they’d almost killed her.
He waited until long after Holsun and his goons had left before he sheathed his knife and left the building by the side door.
He would check the camera later.