Amia was dreaming. She and Justin were in the orchard. They were young. She no more than seven, he maybe eleven. They were playing with a ball they’d managed to make out of reeds and dried grass. A rabbit jumped up in front of them. They laughed and chased it, running excitedly through the trees.
Suddenly, she was awake. The nurse from the other day was standing over her. The one with the dark curly hair and the soft voice. She was flipping through the papers from the edge of Amia’s bed. She nodded as she scrolled down the page with her pencil, muttering words that Amia couldn’t understand. The woman looked up and gasped softly when she found Amia staring at her. “Oh, sorry to wake you,” she said with a grimace. She looked tired.
Amia shook her head and tried to say something, but the transition from her brother to this woman was too abrupt, and this room was too bright, and she couldn’t get the words to come out of her mouth. Besides, what was there to say?
“Been a pretty hard couple of days, hasn’t it?” The woman put the chart back on the bed. Amia shrugged.
“You want company for a minute?” Before Amia could answer, there was screaming down the hall. Three nurses went running by. The woman muttered something under her breath and peered out the door, listening. The screaming stopped and her face relaxed. She walked back over.
Monique approached Moxy with a mix of sympathy and seriousness. “Actually, Moxy, I needed to talk to you anyhow. You have to talk to the social worker this afternoon about housing. I know she’s tried to talk to you before.” Monique paused, trying to keep her face from showing her frustration. She was so tired and busy, and here she was doing the social worker’s job.
Moxy shook her head. “Thank you, uhm… Sorry, I forgot your name.”
“Monique.” Monique glanced out the door. The hall was still quiet. Did that mean the other staff were handling whatever situation it was?
“Thank you, Monique, but I’d rather not live in Domer housing.”
That was right. Tony had mentioned that she was scared of the government for some reason. Honestly, after a week of working with the Domers, she’d heard enough strange stories to know that there might be good reason for it. But that didn’t change the fact that she was currently homeless and was going to be discharged soon. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d discharged a person to the street, but she always hated it.
“Look, Moxy, this isn’t the government from the Dome.”
Moxy shook her head warily. “You don’t understand.”
Monique nodded. No point getting upset. “I can understand being afraid. And I can tell that you suffered some pretty big traumas in that Dome. But you can’t live in this hospital. I need to get you a place to live.”
“I don’t want the government to know where I live,” Moxy said, twisting the edges of her sheets around her fingers.
“Do you have any money?” Monique asked. They really needed to hire a better social worker. This current one was way too young and passive. She was going to have to talk to the board about it next month.
“No,” Moxy said after a moment.
“Do you have somewhere back inside the Dome area where you can live?”
Moxy nearly choked at this statement and shook her head violently. “I can’t go back in there.”
There was an eruption of shouting down the hall. Monique gave Moxy’s hand a quick squeeze and darted out into the hallway without another word. There was no telling what might be happening. Yesterday, a man had snuck in and set off a bunch of smoke bombs in one of the bathrooms. They’d thought the hospital was on fire, which was actually a real possibility because one of the hospitals a few towns over had actually been set on fire two days ago.
They’d evacuated all of the mobile patients into the parking lot, right into the mass of protestors. The poor Domers had been out there, blinking and wincing in the sun as the protestors screamed at them to go back to the Dome. She’d actually thought for a second that some of the staff were going to throw punches. She could understand being a little fearful of the situation, but the hate Monique had seen since the Dome went down was nothing short of infuriating. People weren’t just protesting anymore; they were attacking the hospital and inciting terror.
She hadn’t been home in three days. The first few days had been so out of control, she’d had to make do with cat naps in the on-call room. She’d been planning on going home tonight, but they’d just gotten a big influx of Domer patients from a city somewhere to the south. Its name escaped her now. There’d been a riot. Something about infectious diseases and mutants. A group of protestors had threatened to blow up the hospital. Finally, the hospital director had given in and called Wytheville.
She arrived at the source of the commotion. There was a small, shriveled man with that sickly white Domer skin and huge amber eyes. He was curled in a ball in the corner of the hallway sobbing, occasionally lifting his head to look around in confusion. Probably had dementia. There’d been a few like that so far.
“They killed them all!” He was rocking and wailing. His lips pulled back to reveal nearly toothless gums.
Hilda, one of the younger nurses, was trying to edge up to him. “Sir, Mr. Wilkins, let me get you back to your room.”
“They wasn’t s’posed to come so fast. Taxes wasn’t even due for a month. Ain’t our fault the soil got bad,” he was blubbering and sobbing. “Ellie, forgive me.” Monique struggled to understand his rolling accent. Taxes?
Hilda tried to get the man to his feet. He let out a long wail and pushed her back. Monique squinted. His arms and neck were covered in long lines of raised, red welts. Was that why he was here? What was that, a rash? She leaned over to Raquel, who was standing next to her. “Why’s he here? Sun damage?”
Raquel shook her head. “No. They found him wandering out in the middle of nowhere covered in those welts. He won’t say much of anything, except something about taxes and everyone dying. When we asked him about the welts, he kept saying something about the children the foxes stole.”
Monique shivered. She moved forward and gently but forcefully grasped one of the man’s wrists and motioned for Hilda to do the same. They pulled him to his feet. He kept mumbling and slobbering as they pulled him down the hall. They whispered words of comfort. Once they were at his room, Monique left Hilda and Raquel to deal with getting the man back into his bed.
The children the foxes stole? An anxious gnawing started in her stomach. Maybe all these protestors were right. Who even knew what was in that Dome? Monique slipped into the women’s changing room. She just needed a second away from the chaos. She pulled her phone out of her pocket to call her mother.
“Hey, Mom. No, it’s fine. How’s Lila doing?” Her daughter’s daycare owner had fled the city to stay with her parents in the countryside, leaving Monique without childcare for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness her mom was around to help out.
“Yeah, let me talk to her.” Lila’s voice came over the phone. She gave Monique a simple recount of what she had done with her grandmother. “Did you draw Mommy a picture?” Monique asked.
“No? Well, Mommy really wants to see you. Could you draw me something and have Grandma take a picture of it?” Another simple, matter of fact response.
“Thanks, Lila-bug. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Can you give Grandma the phone again?”
Her mom came back on, laughing. Lila had apparently just informed her that she was on a mission to ‘draw Mommy a picture.’
“Hey, Mom, would you be okay watching Marcus, too? Just for a couple of days. I don’t think I want him at school the way it is right now.”
Her mom chastised her for being a worry wart and then agreed. Monique thanked her, promised to be back tomorrow night, and quickly dialed up Marcus’ school. As she hung up, she realized her heart was pounding out of control. She sat on a bench between the lockers, waiting for it to stop.
She’d spent her whole life living within twenty miles of that Dome. In one way or another, it had impacted almost every facet of her life. Her great-great grandfather’s family had been taken by the Dome. That man out in the hallway could conceivably be related to her. Her mother’s family had almost all died from the famine that swept through the country after it went up. Her father had worked at one of the dozen Chinese factories that had taken over much of Virginia after the famine. He was always talking about how great America would have been if only there was no Dome. Well, it was gone now. The question was, was life going to get better? The old man’s welt covered arms leapt back in front of her eyes, and she shuddered.