Casimir stopped dreaming that he felt like shit and began to actually feel like shit. His mouth tasted like headache and vomit, a pain on the back of his skull throbbed with each beat of his heart, and part of his arm was numb.
He opened his eyes to a flickering flourescent fixture overhead and realized that he was in a hospital. Several of the light fixtures were dark. Only the one above his bed still had power. Lucky him. There was one other bed in the room, and on the white sheets lay a man in a filthy leather jacket, even filthier canvas pants and boots held together by what looked to be sinew and optimism. He hadn't even been changed into a hospital gown like Casimir had, nor bandaged up.
Bandages. Casimir reached up to his head and felt soft cloth banadges, and saw that someone had also wrapped his right hand. He was right-handed. This wouldn't do. He'd broken his right arm as a kid at a friend's birthday party (his parents solution: never again allow him to attend parties) on a rusty swing set and had never learned how to manage with his left hand like everyone promised him that he would.
Someone knocked on the door to his room. Casimir turned to look and almost threw up from the nausea of moving. Then he saw that the source of the sound wasn't someone's knuckles, but someone's skull. He could see their white bone with each thud as it hit the safety glass. Casimir threw up all over his the sheets on his bed, making his head pound worse.
This isn't right, he thought.
Then he remembered last night. Some guy biting him. A shotgun. Was his rescuer lying prone on the bed, mortally wounded because he defended Casimir against, what had it been? Axe-wielding werewolves carrying jugs of PCP? Was he DEAD becuase of Casimir?
Casimir willed himself not to look towards the door as he slid out of bed to avoid the vomit. The chill of the floor worked its way through his hospital-issue high-grip mustard-yellow socks. Thud. Casimir crept over to his rescuer. The man smelled like body odor and trash, but Casimir couldn't imagine that he himself smelled much better. He reached out a hand to check the man's pulse, but before he could the man's hand snapped around Casimir's wrist.
"Mumble," said the man. "Who're you?"
"I'm Casimir," he said, "the guy you rescued last night."
"Rescued mumble mumble Emblem," said the man.
"Emblem?" Casimir repeated.
"Mumble mumble heroin mumble no excuse."
"Pardon?" Casimir asked, not quite sure what the man had said.
The man's hand flew from Casimir's wrist to the collar of his paper gown, grabbed a fistful, and yanked Casimir's head down near his mouth.
"I mumble, that you're not mumble, so what's your mumble for not listening? My mumble is Emblem. And what's making that mother mumble racket?" Emblem said. He released Casimir. Emblem hadn't opened his eyes during the conversation.
"I think it's some kind of disturbed patient," Casimir said. And a little voice in the back of his mind, somewhere near the epicenter of his headache, disagreed.
Then where's the nurses, doctors, or security guards? it asked.
Casimir walked over to the callbox with buttons to call a nurse. He pressed the friendly green button. Nothing - no buzz, no light. If the power was out, Casimir figured, then the reserves might not power the call buttons.
Taking a deep breath, he walked over to the door. The patient stood outside, his flesh covered in splotches of grey and black. Each time he hit the window he smeared a little more thick, coagulated blood on it, and as he pulled away his stringy, matted hair formed a delicate lattice between the skin left on his skull and the window. Then Casimir realized that the patient's stomach hung out of an incision in his abdomen. It looked like a fleshy messenger's satchel. No living human could survive that.
"Zombies!" Casimir said.
"Hey, uh, Emblem, do you have that shotgun?" Casimir asked, scuttling over to Emblem's side. Emblem didn't reply. Drool ran out of his mouth. Casimir poked him. No response. Casimir noticed that Emblem had pulled up the sleeve of his leather jacket and had tied a rubber hose around it. And a syringe sat on the floor where he'd obviously dropped it.
Casimir picked it up. It said "Morphine" in small capital letters.
Casimir had moved to a new city and found heartbreak, zombies and drug abusers. His parents had been right about something.
So that's why Emblem had been out in the street. He was a homeless man, the sort of terrifying boogeyman that his parents loved to talk about.
The events of last night coalesced in Casimir's mind in bits and pieces like astronomical specks of dust ramming into each other. Eventually Planet Stupid Jane floated around in his head. He'd gotten a call that afternoon from Jane saying that it was over, he'd gone out that evening for a drink and stumbled back towards home in the wee hours of the morning. This man had blown the head off of a zombie who'd bitten him.
"Oh, shit," Casimir said, who'd read enough of the literature to know what a zombie bite meant. He wanted to throw up again.
"Shit shit shit shit," Casimir said, slumping down to the cold linoleum that fondled his ass through the paper gown.
"Mutt?" Emblem asked, his speech slurred as he didn't lift his head from the bed and spoke around his drool.
"I'm gonna turn into a zombie!" Casimir wailed.
"Mutt time is it?" Emblem asked.
"Hunh? I don't know. Most of the power's out."
"Five minutes is how long it takes. If not now, not ever."
"But I was bitten by a zombie!"
Emblem didn't say anything and continued to drool.
"How do you know?" Casimir asked Emblem. "Hey, Emblem, how do you know?" Then he listened to himself for a moment. "What am I saying? Zombies aren't even real. I probably just have a concussion."
"And that's just a disturbed patient. I'll just go speak with him," Casimir said, standing up and marching to the door. He opened it and the patient paused, his head mid-thud. The patient took a step towards Casimir and as he did so, whatever membrane had kept a grip on his stomach snapped and the stomach fell to the floor with a plop, chased by such a length of intestines as to embarrass a magician and his multicolor handkerchiefs. Then the patient tried to bite Casimir.
"The truth is stranger than fiction!" Casimir yelled in the face of the zombie, attempting to jump backwards. However, hospital socks with rubberized soles are not meant to provide traction against petite gray lumps of internal organ, and Casimir went skidding backwards instead of jumping. Now the zombie was in the room, the door wide open, trailing the unfurling banner of his innards behind him.
Casimir cowered by Emblem.
"Emblem! Please! Help me!"
"Ssshhh," Emblem said. "You're too loud."
"Emblem, there's a zombie in the room! You've gotta do something!"
Emblem didn't say anything.
Casimir looked around the room for a weapon. The zombie closed in and Casimir seized the only thing nearby: a bedpan. He swung his stainless steel cudgel into the side of the zombie's head. The zombie careened sideways, unable to move its feet quickly enough to balance, and slammed into Casimir's empty bed and both went crashing into the wall.
Another zombie lurched into view in the hallway.
"Emblem, we've got to get out of here!"
Emblem didn't reply.
Casimir thought quickly. They should go back to his apartment. No, if this was the county hospital in downtown Constantinople then that'd be too far away. Then he remembered Branks. Branks worked with him at Dicky's Sandwiches in the basement of the Constantinople Museum of Natural History, and he'd often talked to Casimir about his disaster plans. He'd always told Casimir that if there was a zombie attack, to get to the Museum. He'd never wanted to go to work so badly.
He ran over to Emblem and after a moment figure out how to undo the wheel latches on the bottom of the hospital bed. Emblem had saved his life, now he'd return the favor.