A Minor Fear
by John Hawfield
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“You don’t get it, do you?”
I shook my head. No I didn’t. Somewhere I could hear faint snickering rising, dancing around the room with the moots of dust.
“Alan, they’re harvesting organs.”
“You’re nuts!” I heard my words repeated from far away — one of the voices in the pipes or behind the walls — followed by childish giggling. The throbbing in my mind now reached the point that it felt as if my brain would start gushing from my ears like spit-up oatmeal. “It’s impossible that, that they... that they are cutting up human beings and selling the parts.”
A singsong taunting whispered from distant corridors: we’re going to gut you. The voices in the pipes roared with laughter. I could feel the tiny hairs standing up along the back of my neck as if a specter was blowing an icy breeze against my flesh through pursed lips.
“Alan, you have to trust me,” said Sarah. “I know this sounds insane, but I’m telling the truth. Please believe me. I know how to get us out of here.” I stood there, shaking my head, rubbing my temples, trying to expel the demons nesting in my cranium. “Face it, Alan, I’m the only one who can help you. Do you trust me?”
Trust. We had only just met a few hours earlier and now she was asking me to do something that over a lifetime I had yet to be able to do in myself.
“Alan, do you trust me?” Sarah said as she checked the hallway again. All clear.
I don’t know why, but I nodded a yes.
“Good. Now follow me and keep it quiet.”
I did, falling into a slow, careful gait behind her position. I became overly aware of every sound, wondering if my pounding heartbeat would be too loud.
“We can get out from the roof,” she said motioning toward a waiting elevator at the end of the hall, its doors opened wide like the mouth of a giant mechanical baby waiting to be spoon-fed its daily course.
As we crept toward the elevator a thought occurred to me. “Why the roof?” I whispered, “I mean, why go up?”
“Because they are watching all of the other doors. There is an auction going on right now, and the only exit that is not being watched is the roof. We’ll climb down the fire escape.”
We slipped into the brightly lit cubicle, with its low hum of modern pop music that had been toned down into gentle melodic strings, and she pushed a button. The doors closed behind us and the elevator began to groan its way up.
“When we get to the top...” Sarah couldn’t complete her sentence. Somewhere in the hospital an alarm went off. All of the buttons and lights on the control panel lit up and began flashing as the elevator stopped.
“What just happened?”
“They’re on to us. Help me open this door,” she said. “Maybe we’re between floors and can climb out.”
We positioned ourselves on each side of the narrow fissure between the two stainless steel teeth. Our fingers dug in hard as we strained against the door’s mechanism. The sides began to budge a bit, then finally gave up resistance and slid open freely.
With luck, we had come to a stop just above another set of doors leading out to a different floor. These opened more easily. We dropped down through the narrow opening and found ourselves in a dimly lit, uninhabited, wing of the hospital.
Paint peeled from the walls, broken doors hung loosely on rusted hinges, cables snaked from open ducts in the ceiling emitting a slight hum barely perceptible to the human ear. Papers littered the floor amid shards of broken glass that glittered in the flickering light like faux diamonds sparkling for the fools that bought them.
Gingerly we inched down the hallway, the crunch of glass under our feet, toward a set of stairwell doors–toward any chance of escape.
“Alan, one of us has to get out of here no matter what. We have to split up.”
My instinct was to put an end to this nonsense right now, but at the same time I trusted her implicitly. I would have done anything she asked of me. I nodded, “Which way do you want to go?”
“You take these stairs, and I’ll double back. I remember seeing another set of stairs along the other side of the building. Try to reach the roof.”
I hung my head, uncertain of what to do.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “we’ll see each other again. At the top.”
She gave me a quick, reassuring, hug, and then was gone. I opened the door and began climbing the stairs toward the roof.
From a few floors above I could hear voices echoing down. These were not the same distant voices from the pipes, or my head. These were the voices of predators on the hunt for prey. Prey they knew exactly where to find. They were on the stairs, coming my way. I had to reach the roof, but there was no chance of doing that now — or at least there was no chance of reaching the roof by going this way. I’d have to make my way down into the depths of the building and then try to find a way out from there.
Turning, I ran down the stairs. They must have heard my descent. Now the stairwell was filled with the echoes of feet pounding hard against concrete. I could feel dull vibrations rumble through each step as I went faster and deeper in the bowels of the building; all while thoughts screamed in my head.
You’ll never make it.
What will they do to me?
You’ll never get out of here alive.
They’ll kill me if they catch me.
You knew better than to be here.
I’ve got to get out of this.
Mommy can’t help you now.
I’ve got to find Sarah.
Can you trust the girl?
Cold sweat poured down my face and neck. Each foot miraculously found the next step without tripping as the light in the stairway dimmed toward darkness. And as the light faded, so did the voices trailing after me.
Within a few more seconds I had reached the bottom of the stairs, as well as the limit of light. Shrouded now in black, my hands felt out in front of me and were met by hard cinder blocks.
I closed my eyes and sank down to the floor, shivering, not wanting to open them so that I could escape whatever horror waited in the dark for me — like a child hiding under blankets to keep the monsters away. Many minutes passed with still no sounds from the stairs above. I opened my eyes.
My vision had now adjusted to the lack of light. I could see a short passage bending off to my left. I rose to my feet and followed the passage until its end. Before me stood a door outlined by a faint glow that escaped through the crevices between it and the doorframe.
I placed my ear against the door like Sarah had done and listened for any movement on the other side. There was a laborious sound, as if someone was carrying something heavy, followed by the slam of doors, and then, nothing. After some time of listening, still with no more sounds of movement, I felt it safe to enter the room.
I fumbled with the resistant handle before it finally gave and allowed me to open the door and enter a room bathed in pale green light against even paler green walls. I was momentarily lost in the vision unfolding in front of me, and forgot about the door. In panic I grasped outward for the handle, realizing too late that it was nonexistent on this side. The latch made an audible click into the locked position as the door closed, trapping me inside.
The vast room was filled with stainless steel tables topped by black satiny bags, each with a zipper down the front. I was in the morgue that Sarah had spoken of, with its endless supply of bodies. I began to sidle through the rows of tables toward a set of double doors with round windows set into the centers, maneuvering my way through a sea of green surrounded by flotsams of death. I took my steps carefully as to not disturb the dead, fearing that they would wake up.
When I was halfway through the room, they did.
The bags began to rise up into sitting positions, muffled groans of agony permeated the black material, the outlines of hands and arms pushed against the fabric, clawing, wanting to be borne back into the world of light.
Running, turning over tables and pushing out of my path lumps of flesh enveloped in dark cocoons, I reached the doors. They were locked. I hurled my body against the steel, pounded my fists, as figures began to emerge from their shrouds of nothingness. I could smell their death; taste their decay in my mouth. I yelled, calling for Sarah, for anybody, to come to my rescue.
Through the doors’ windows I saw the hospital staff converge to watch the show like a crowd gathering in front of the monkeys at a zoo, the wavy glass distorted their faces into grotesque shapes. My eyes searched the room, looking for another way out, frantically tracing the edges of each wall looking for a hidden door, a garbage chute, a closet, anything. Instead I saw her standing along the wall.
“What’s wrong baby?” Mother asked trying to push the entrails back into her body. “Look what they did to me.” Her eyes bled from their sockets as she gazed around the room, trying to focus. “We’ll do the same to you,” she hissed.
“No!” I turned away, covered my face in my hands and cried out Sarah’s name. I pleaded “Sarah–Sarah–Sarah–” between bursts of sobs through clutched fingers until I heard her voice behind me.
I felt her hands on my shoulders turning me around, slowly, almost caressing me into a feeling of safety. Mother’s dead eyes, wide and hollow, stared into mine. Her skin had washed away into a thin sheet of white etched in rivulets of auburn.
“You’ve been a very bad, stupid boy!” Her face twisted wildly, as a guttural growl emitted from deep inside of her. She pulled me toward her, mouth opened wide as if to swallow me whole. I screamed.
The scream still echoed in my head as I woke from the nightmare into reality. I was in my hospital room; it was daytime; the window blinds were no longer closed, allowing bright sunlight to beam into the room and further enliven a cheerful arrangement of flowers in a vase that wasn’t there the night before.
Dr. Lyons raised his eyes from the charts in his hands, “Awake now are we? You’ll be happy to know that the operation was a complete success.”
“Operation?” I questioned, trying to shake off the panic from the nightmare and a drug-laden sleepiness.
“Yes. We did the procedure last night. Don’t you remember?”
“No. I just remember a...” my voice trailed off. I was still groggy and uncertain of anything at that moment. “It must have been those pills the nurse gave me. They really knocked me out.”
Dr. Lyons smiled, “Well it’s over now. You should be on the mend for about two weeks.”
Relief flooded over me, cleansing away the nightmare. The surgery was a success. I had made it!
“Jesus I just... I just don’t remember the surgery,” I said through a subdued laugh. Not that I wanted to. I was, in fact, somewhat happy that I didn’t remember. Yet, in the back of my mind I noticed a gnawing feeling that something was wrong. Then it dawned on me. “Doctor, it’s funny but I don’t feel any pain. Shouldn’t I feel something?”
“You won’t for a bit. It’s the pain killers that you’re on.”
A nurse rushed into the room, startled by my waking scream.
“Is everything all right, Doctor?”
“Everything is fine, just a little post-operative dream.” He consulted the chart again, “It’s time for the patient’s medicine. Please make sure you give it to him.” The doctor replaced the charts to the foot of the bed, and left the room as the nurse busied herself in the cabinet.
“Knock, knock,” came a familiar voice from the door. Sarah stuck her head into the room. “Hey. I was hoping you were still here. I guess everything went well then.”
“Yeah, I guess it did. But I don’t remember a thing except this wild nightmare.”
The nurse came over to the bed and handed me the pills, “Here you are.”
I took the pills from the little paper cup; they were the same little white tablets with the red dots in the center that I had taken previously. “I’m not sure if I should take these things again, not after what they did to me the last time.”
The nurse gave her crooked smile and handed me a cup of water. “Now drink up.”
I did, allowing the pills to wash down my throat. I had been childish to worry, and this was my way of proving to myself that all of my fears were just simple foolishness. I wanted to leave the fears out on the playground where they belonged.
“Do you like the flowers I sent?” Sarah asked.
“You sent those? They’re very nice. Thank you.”
The nurse went back to the cabinet, arranging bottles and instruments, taking inventory.
“So how about your tonsils?” I asked.
“It was moved back, which is why I’m still here.” Sarah then gave me a puzzled look and said, “You mentioned something about a nightmare.”
“Oh it’s nothing. I just had this wild idea from the beginning that something was going to happen to me here. I’ve always had a problem trusting people and I guess it all came out while I was under for surgery.” I yawned, “Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. This is truly the best I’ve felt in years. As scared as I was about being here, I really feel safe.”
“Thank you again,” my voice coming out somewhat muddled.
“For what?” she laughed.
“You know, for being here. And for those flowers.”
They were pretty, just like her.
“Those pills are starting to take effect,” she said. “I’d better be going.”
I tried to shake away the grogginess, but couldn’t.
“Yeah, I’m getting really sleepy now. Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Sarah said standing up and going over to the cabinet. The nurse was still preoccupied with its contents. Sarah spoke quietly with her, their backs now turned toward me, maybe asking how long it would be before I’d be up and around again.
“Sarah,” I said as Dr. Lyons reentered the room, “I hope everything goes well for you too. Don’t be nervous. You’re in good hands here.”
I felt my body growing numb, my arms relaxed behind my head.
“Is the patient all set, nurse?” he asked.
“Everything is fine,” she answered. It was odd how much, in my drugged haze, her voice sounded like Sarah’s.
The fog of sleep was filling in across my mind. Dr. Lyons came over to my bedside. “You know, Alan, I actually met Dr. Jeffery through your mother.”
“How do you mean, doc?” I asked trying to focus, my hand brushing lightly along the pillowcase in hopes that the effort would keep me awake for just a few minutes longer.
“You see, back in those days Jeffery drank heavily. I warned him against it, but you know how it is. Before too long, well, his liver was about gone.”
I tried to say something, but my voice came out nothing more than a distant mumble.
Focus! Stay awake!
“Fortunately for us, your mother turned out to be a perfect match for the donor organ.”
I was slipping away, now feverishly probing the depths of the pillow trying to maintain a grip on consciousness. I felt the two tiny lumps inside the pillowcase.
“Your father was an alcoholic,” he continued. “So you know that it’s just a matter of time before all alcoholics are back at it. And... let’s just say that the need for another operation arises.”
Sarah and the nurse turned around to face both of us. In the haze that now filled my vision I could see she was holding something shiny in her hand. It looked like a gun, cold and hard, the light glinting off it like a tiny lighthouse showing the way home.
“We made an assumption,” Dr. Lyons continued. “And, ironically, well, like mother, like son.”
They began to advance on Lyons. The nurse must be working with Sarah. They both must know what is going on here. Yes! They do! I was sure of it now. They were both sneaking up on Lyons, and were now directly behind him. Sarah had the object poised in her hand ready to strike out. Beyond them, I could barely see through my dimming vision, a group of men lined up along the wall; each carried a number and a clipboard. In the middle was Jeffery.
I was screaming in my head for Sarah to make her move, to put an end to this.
Sarah passed the doctor, came over to my bedside, bent down, the locket with the initials “S.J.” spilled out from between her breasts. She brought her lips close to my ear, her warm breath was soothing against my skin, and whispered, “Like father, like daughter.”
Copyright © 2006 by John Hawfield