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I’m in one of those interrogation rooms. The kind you see on TV. There’s a mirrored glass for observers. High, plain walls with a shabby coat of paint. Two chairs, a minimalistic comfort. But in the middle of the room lies a gurney.
White as the walls, complete with sanitary sheet and leather straps. Every time I see that sheet, I think of a butcher.
My doctor sits across from me, closest to the door. I’m facing him, my back to the wall. My medical gown crinkles as I shift in my seat.
He smiles, and asks, “So, Mr. LaCroix. How are we feeling today?"
He asks this every time. In the exact same voice. But he’s never the same person, just the same voice. Last time he looked like Morgan Freeman. Before that, a woman. With the same deep, resonant, male tone. At first, it seemed weird. Then I realized where and what this was, and just accepted it.
I let out a cough, shifting in my chair. “I’m fine," I say, like always. “I couldn’t be better".
My doctor, in his white lab coat, slacks and button up shirt, he flips through a clip board in his lap. He thumbs his stethoscope, and smiles. “Oh really?" he says, raising an eyebrow, “That’s not what it says here. It says you checked in for a reason. A very specific reason."
This is how it always starts. The questions come flooding in about my health. But he doesn’t care, not really. Times like this, I wish he’d just cut the crap. Just get it over with, so I can go back to what I was doing. I look across at him, my eyes darting between his face and the clip board.
“Oh yeah?" I ask, “What’s that?"
He smiles, and stops flipping. He crosses his fingers and looks at me. A moment passes, and he says “How’s the drinking? Given up yet?"
So it’s about that. I shrug my shoulders, leaning forward. “Yeah, mostly."
"Define ‘mostly’ for me, Mr. LaCroix."
I hate this shit. I hate the way he’s asking, like he cares. He’s just wanting to scold me. I hate the fact I’m aware of this, but I’m still going to tell him. I’m still going to be his bitch, and give him everything he wants. Because it’s easier that way. I clasp my hands together, massaging my wrists.
Be good, Jack. Be good.
"I haven’t had a drink in over a month."
He raises both his eyebrows, still smiling, nodding. “A month, you say? Well, that’s splendid. What about the smoking? Still doing that, are we?"
"No. Tried it. Didn’t like it."
"Good, good. And I see we’re working on the weight problem."
"Yeah, the best I can."
"Good, Mr. LaCroix. I’m glad!"
He drags out the Os in good a second longer. The way he says that, it’s like he’s talking to a kid. Or his pet. Neither of which diminish his ambivalence.
He flips through the papers on his clip board, stopping on a page. He looks up at me, still smiling. Clearing his throat, he says “Now Mr. LaCroix, you realize those are the control questions."
I nod. Of course I knew.
"And you realize they’re a necessary part of procedure. But now I’d like to ask you a few questions about your real problem. The one you came to us about."
I smirked, and said “Really now? You mean the one I don’t even know about?"
He looks up at me, and places his clip board to the side. He crosses his legs, and rests his hands on his knee. “Yes," he says, “That problem…How are you sleeping?"
"Well, over the last week I’ve slept good."
He crooks his head, studying me. Always studying me. Like I was some kind of rat he was going to put on the Gurney. He’d put me on the gurney, and slice me open, seeing if I was clockwork like his textbooks told him.
"Just over the last week? What about before?"
I rub my wrists, clasping and opening my hands. It’s a nervous tick I picked up. Whenever things get strange, I fiddle. With my hands, with my seating, with what ever is at hand.
"Well, uh, not so much. Not really. I’ve had trouble falling asleep. Staying that way. Some insomnia. It’s not a big deal, though."
He nods, and pulls a pen out of nowhere. He scratches something on the page, then looks back at me. "Some insomnia? Tell me about that."
"I just drink too much coffee."
The way he waits, staring at me, I know he doesn’t buy it. Not even for a minute. It’s starting to fall apart, I know it is. But maybe I can keep going. Maybe just a little while longer.
"Just some coffee? That’s it?" He says, pen poised.
"Yeah, that’s it."
I start twiddling my thumbs, eying the door. I don’t want it to open. But I do, but not the way it normally does. I want to do it on my own this time. I want to break out. To see what else is out there, if there is anything out there. Wherever “here" happens to be. And I don’t want to do it from the gurney.
I glance at the gurney as he writes another note, and stands. He’s still smiling.
He catches my glances, and his grin grows wider. "Mr. LaCroix…you’ll have to excuse me just one moment. I think I’ve everything I need. We’re going to begin treatment. I hope you don’t mind."
This is the turning point. And, like the doctor, it always happens the same way. He’s going to call the nurse in. Then I’m going to take a ride on the gurney. Then they’ll operate. This happens every time, regardless of what I say or how much I protest. They win every time, and I keep coming here. But not today. Not this time.
"Yes, actually, I do mind."
I leap from my chair, over the gurney. My feet land in the doctor’s belly, and he crumbles to the floor. I try not to think of the sound he makes as I bound over him to the door, gripping the handle. I hear him wheeze, sputter and cough. Like a death rattle. But then I hear nothing, save for my feet slapping on marble.
I bound down the hallway blind, turning down whichever path has the least people. I didn’t even know anyone except the doctor and nurse worked here.
A bell rings. It’s high and piercing, like the lunch bells in elementary school. An alarm. It keeps wailing, and seems to be everywhere at once. Adrenaline hits my body, and I scramble past rooms and endless doors. The staff screeches and tries to grab me, but I’m quick. The world bleeds into a mash of colors, screams and bells.
But underneath it all there’s that smell. That hospital smell, a unique combination of bleach and disinfectant. But beneath that, I smell more. Like piss, and shit. Sweat. And the stench of decay. All covered up, but just barely. All hospitals smell that way. Like shallow graves.
I turn a corner too quick, and almost run into a guard. He’s massive, built like an inverted triangle. I freeze, and look up at his face, but there’s not one there. Just a smooth batch of skin where his eyes, nose and mouth should be. He lifts an arm, pointing at me, stepping forward.
I scramble around him and run past, but feel his fingers grace my neck. I turn, and see a set of double doors. Blinding white light shines through two small windows set in each. My legs are aching. I’m wheezing now too, just like the doctor. But I don’t stop, not even for a minute. I run as fast as I can and burst through the doors, the light enveloping me.
I wake up sweating, like always. I sit up, darting my eyes around the room. I’m home. In my bed. It was just a dream, the same one I’ve been having for years. The same one that kept me up last month. All month.
I roll out of bed, wiggling my toes on the carpet. It felt good to do that. Reassuring. A sign I was back in the real world.
I stood, stretched, and walked down the hall to the bathroom. I turned on the light, covering my eyes. My eyes adjusted, and I walked over to the toilet. I pulled my boxers around my ankles, and sat.
It was then I noticed the smell. It seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. It was the bathroom cleaner I used, with a hint of piss and grime. But there was something more too it, like it was all a ruse. It seemed close, too. It was too late to clean, or to care how smelly my bathroom was.
I rubbed my eyes and groaned, lowering my face.
Only then did I notice the hospital gown, still on my body. And only then did I realize where the smell was coming from, and what it was. I looked out my bathroom door, and saw that the hallway didn’t end at the living room. It terminated yards further, at a large desk.
Near a gurney.
A set of pale fingers appeared in the door frame, and around came the doctor, breathless. But still smiling, even while he gripped his gut. "Ah, Mr. LaCroix. You gave us quite a scare."
My body went cold as I stared at him. It sounded like I was pouring water into the toilet beneath me, bowels releasing their entirety.
"No, I…" I stammered, eyes going between the doctor. His clip board. The gurney that wasn’t suppose to be there. “It was…it was a fucking dream, I woke up. You’re not…"
The doctor reached down, and patted my shoulder. He laughed. "Mr. LaCroix, when you’re done, we really must operate. It’s for the best. You know that, don’t you?"
He rolled a finger, and the nurse appeared, syringe in hand. She had a pale face, dark hair. Clipped. Everything about her looked clipped together, always did. Like she’d been snipped together from a thousand different nurses. The liquid in the syringe was a pale green.
The doctor clasped her shoulder. Her gaze didn’t move from me. "Nurse, be so kind as to assist Mr. LaCroix, would you?"
She nodded, and stepped towards me. I stood up, and tried to scramble to my shower, but tripped. And within minutes she was on top of me, inching the needle closer. I screamed. I screamed at the top of my lungs, for help, for anyone.
The doctor just laughed. “Now now, Mr. LaCroix," he said, still smiling, “be good, be good."
The needle pierced my skin, and everything went black.