The Blood of Others
by Kathleen Wolak
Scrape, scrape, scrape. Clara, the second-floor nurse, watched as flakes from the congealed remains of Johnny’s lunch fell into the sink. Her arm was getting sore from washing the dishes. The food they served at Serenity Nursing Facility had a nasty habit of overstaying its welcome in the cheap plastic bowls.
She paused for a moment to rest, but as soon as she turned off the water, she heard the piercing scream from Johnny’s room down the hall. He was having another nightmare.
Clara hurried down the hall to his room as his screams became aggravated gurgles. She cursed silently as she tripped over a mop bucket someone had left in the middle of the hallway. She steadied herself and squish-squashed in her wet shoes the rest of the way to Johnny’s room.
Clara opened the door and found Johnny thrashing in his bed. He was bolting up and forcefully pushing himself back down, as though a strong, invisible force was controlling him. Clara ran over and tried to force him into a horizontal position but was thrown off.
“NNNoooooo... don’t... don’t!” Johnny screeched.
Clara sighed and went out into the hallway.
“Jack?” She called down to the orderly who was coming out of the bathroom. “Can you help me with Johnny? He’s having a fit again. Threw me clear off him this time.”
Jack nodded. He strode down the hallway and entered the wailing room. “Hey there, Johnny,” Jack said gently to the convulsing old man in front of him. “Clara here tells me that you’re throwing people around in here.” He turned to Clara. “Do you think he had one of those dreams again?”
Clara shrugged as she searched the room for the leather restraints that the staff kept on hand for violent outbursts or wandering residents.
“Get OUT of here or he’ll get you, too!” Johnny screamed at Jack.
Clara handed Jack one end of the restraint and buckled the other side herself. Johnny looked right into Clara’s eyes and laughed a high-pitched, blood-curdling laugh. “He likes the pretty girls best.”
Clara jumped back. Johnny’s head lolled but his eyes stayed fixed on hers.
“Stop scaring people, Johnny,” Jack said as he tightened the restraint. “You just had another nightmare.” Then, to Clara: “I’m going to see if Doc Henson is around. Maybe he can give him something to calm him down.” Jack left the room in a hurry, leaving Clara alone with Johnny.
Johnny’s eyes were still on her as she moved slowly towards the door. “He likes the pretty girls best,” he said again, before shutting his eyes and falling back asleep.
Clara left the room and went to look for Jack. She found him talking to another nurse around the corner.
“Sheryl says the doc left for the day,” he said as Clara approached them. “Do you think we can manage him without anything?”
“He’s asleep now,” Clara said, wiping her forehead.
Jack put his arm around her. “You okay? He didn’t shake you up, did he?”
Clara shook her head. “No, no... I’m fine. I’ve seen Alzheimer’s patients act out before. It just seems he’s getting worse. Every day, it seems like, he needs to be held down, and it’s always from a dream. When he’s awake, he’s a perfect angel. He’s quiet and pleasant, and sometimes he seems completely with it. We watch the news together and he’s fine. Just last week we were watching Jeopardy, and he got every answer right!”
Jack shook his head. “It must be some kind of living hell. You know, slowly losing yourself and not knowing where you are half the time. I couldn’t even imagine...”
“That’s why I drink green tea,” Sheryl piped up. “I look at these poor bastards, going to the bathroom in their beds and acting like babies, and I say it’s not gonna happen to me. I’ll take a shotgun to my own head before I need someone to change my dirty diaper. Here, sign this.” She handed a clipboard to Clara.
“What’s this?” Clara asked.
“Just a record we need to keep of Johnny’s behavior. Some guy dropped it off to the doc this morning. I’m not really sure why. I just took it and got the hell out of his office. You gotta sign right there at the bottom.”
Clara shrugged and signed the paper. Before she could read the top, Sheryl plucked it from her hands and turned on her heel. “Wish I could chat, guys, but I have a date tonight and need to wash the urine smell off of me, pronto.”
Jack and Clara watched her leave. “How the hell did she become a nurse?” Jack asked as she turned down the hall.
* * *
A few doors down, Johnny was going through a hell Jack could never imagine. It was a hell that he only went to when he slept. In his waking hours, Johnny’s head was filled with light thoughts.
He liked the pretty nurse who watched the news with him. She reminded him of a distant, fading memory that filled him with warmth. He enjoyed where the window was in his room. Every morning, he could wake up to golden sunshine and watch the family of squirrels that lived in the great oak tree a few feet down collect their nuts for the winter. He silently named them every single day.
When he slept, the dark thoughts crept in.
A man’s head bobs in a bathtub. It’s blurry, but Johnny can make out that the bathroom has aqua tiles on the wall and a white floor. The body isn’t visible under the light red water.
A woman is screaming, but the sound is muffled. She’s in another room. A gunshot fires, and the screaming is silenced.
The head floats comically, bouncing off the faucets and turning in odd directions. The eyes are still open and water flows up the nose, leaving trails that run into a horrified, open mouth.
Gloved hands pick the head up by its matted hair and hold it at arm’s length. The face droops like a high-quality mask when it is held up. It is thrown into an open black duffel bag waiting beside the bathtub.
Quick footsteps sound as a police siren gets louder and louder.
The dreams were starting to get more violent, and much more frequent. Every time Johnny woke up, he knew he needed to warn someone. His dreams were trying to warn him of something, he knew it. He wanted to warn the pretty nurse who was always so nice to him.
When he awoke, though, he was always restrained, and the pretty nurse would avoid him for hours at a time. The next time, the whole ordeal would happen again. He would forget the dreams shortly after, and be back to his normal self within hours.
Now, things were different. He was starting to remember his dreams more clearly.
This time, he was floating above a field, watching a masked man tie up another, smaller man. Next to him was a woman. A pretty blonde thing. They were pleading with the masked man, but Johnny knew their pleas would do them no favors. He watched as the masked man went over to a black duffel bag and withdrew a chainsaw. In moments, the couple was interchangeable.
The masked man laughed and kicked the man’s head like a soccer ball. He walked over to the woman’s remains and stopped laughing. Instead, he ran his fingers over her face, making tears out of the blood from her mouth. This was one of the pretty girls.
Johnny tried to tell the nurse and the big, kind man who brought him Jell-o about the murders in his dream, but by the time he was back to himself, he was strapped down. The last thing he could think of was that nice nurse looking terrified as she left the room.
Johnny vowed silently to try to explain what he saw in his dream to someone the following day, but by the time the next morning came around, he was back to thinking about what to name the family of squirrels outside his window.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Kathleen Wolak