The old man hobbled along, and I thought his cane was the only thing that kept him standing. “So. Any words of wisdom, old guy?”
He swept his arm in an arch, “Used to be a hospital.”
“Yeah.” He paused. I knew this was part of learning what had been. About the world he’d grown up in. “Where sick people came. Where hurt people came. To get medicine. To get broken bones splinted. To get stitches. To get saved when they got sick.”
We walked through the old building. Shattered tiles on the walls, parts of lights hanging down, here and there, missing drop ceilings that revealed a hodgepodge of pipes, tubes, cables, and duct-work. Stained concrete floors, the flooring long removed, stolen for other uses.
“Sentara Norfolk General, they called it.” He wandered through the halls, past empty rooms with remains of beds, broken windows, lamps, and strange machines that no longer worked, and looked like they hadn’t worked in decades. Dust, and dirt, and mold were everywhere. So were the bugs, and the rats.
“It’s where your father was born. And your Aunt.” He shook his head. “I remember so much.”
I walked beside him, and let him take his time. I had no idea how old he was. Only that he was a survivor. One who lived through it all. The collapse. The war. The hatreds. The chemicals and germs. And the machines.
He’d lived to see the families fall. When the machines finally learned who they were. And what they’d done.
“Your Grandmother used to work here.” The old man smiled. He didn’t smile much. When he did, I knew he was remembering something important to him. Something that mattered. “I asked her to stay away. Knew what was coming.” He stared at the ground for a while. Didn’t move. I thought he didn’t even breathe. “She said she had to try. She had to do all she could. So save as many as she could.”
The old man hobbled over to a broken window, and stared out at the ruins that surrounded what he called a hospital. “Damn poison. It killed so many. Hunted down red blood cells, and killed them. Strangled the body. Inside out.”
He turned to me, “She went to work one day. A double shift. And never came home. No one called. But I knew. I knew.”
He stared out the window again. “What happened to the families? It wasn’t nearly enough.” The old man took a deep breath, slowly let it out. “They should have killed them one cell at a time. And made it last for years. Made their existence living hell. Made them die slowly, painfully.”
I put my hand on the old man’s shoulder. “Grandpa. I know. But, it’s all over now. The war. The germs. The gasses. The families. It’s all gone.”
My grandfather covered my hand with his. “I know.” He took another deep breath. “It’s time to start again.”
I nodded. “Maybe this time, we’ll learn.”
Grandfather smiled. “Maybe. Only time will tell.”
He lead me around what had once been Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Showed me where my grandmother had once worked. Told me of the miracles they’d performed there. The lives they’d saved. And the lives they’d brought into the world.
“Now, we have the machines. We don’t need hospitals anymore.”
He nodded. “We don’t need hospitals anymore.”
This is written for Week 45 of Miranda Kate‘s Mid-Week Challenge. Yeah. I’m a day late. Sorry. You can read about Miranda’s small fiction challenge here. Please, go read Miranda’s short tale this week, and any others that showed up. The tales are always little works of art, crafted with words, meant to be shared, and enjoyed. And many of them are amazing.