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"Paging Doctor Reed. Doctor Reed to room one forty three. Doctor Reed."
I immediately recognized my room number, and was glad the lengthy wait would soon be over.
The voice echoed through the hospital. Sitting atop an examination table, alone in a sterile room, I focused on the bustling sounds beyond the locked door.
It helped me forget the fact that, save for a paper gown that concealed nothing, I was completely naked. Vulnerable. Somewhere, my bloodied Star Wars pajamas were either being washed out, or thrown away.
Dr. Reed. I'd never met Dr. Reed. Honestly, I'd been expecting my usual pediatrician for some reason.
"Well, hello!" boomed the tall, slender man as he burst through the door. His jovial disposition was a welcome change from the gloom of the emergency room.
He studied a chart on a clip board, smiling all the while.
"So... took a nasty fall, did we?"
"Y-yes..." I absently touched the bandage on my head, and could feel it was growing damp.
"Lucky boy, it says here it's just a flesh wound," He tossed the clip board on a nearby table with a clatter, "We'll just make sure everything's in order, then we can begin the procedure!"
"Pro-" I repeated... or rather, tried to.
"Procedure. I know it sounds scary. All that means is that we're going to take care of you."
"Now, if you could lie back on the table, I'm going to take a look at that noggin of yours."
I did as I was told and reclined. Dr. Reed loomed over me, a great thin mass of reddish tan skin and pitch black hair. Well, his mustache, anyway... the top of his head was bald and appeared to be peeling from a sunburn.
He didn't take off his wrap-around sunglasses the entire time.
"Am I going to be alright?" I asked meekly. He already had the bandage off of my head, and the gash it revealed was stinging like Hell.
"Suuuure," Dr. Reed nodded, "I don't see any BRAINS or anything!"
We both laughed.
The reason I'd landed in the emergency room, then under the care of Dr. Reed, was pretty embarrassing. I'd been having a pillow fight with a friend, all while jumping on the bed, and an errant blow had sent me hurtling into the radiator.
Now here I was, quite relieved my brains weren't showing.
"I'm going to knock you out a bit."
I looked up at Dr. Reed with what must've been an expression of shock and betrayal.
"Relaaax," he assured, "It's just a bit of gas, and before you know it you'll be all fixed up!"
I didn't like the sound of that at all. My entire young life had now been whittled down to a choice between intense pain or drug-induced stupor. Loss of control, or outright torture.
"O... Okay..." I swallowed hard.
Dr. Reed dragged over a silver tank, scraping the floor with it all the way over. The sound was like nails on a chalkboard, amplified by the echo chamber we were now sharing.
The mask went over my nose and mouth, and before I knew it I was just really, really happy.
I watched Dr. Reed, through hooded eyes, as he wheeled over a tray of tools. He smiled to himself the entire time. He picked up a scalpel, studied its blade intently, then licked the blade with a flick of his filmy, knobby tongue.
I watched indifferently as he painted my stomach with... something... Then with plenty of sponges and cloth on hand... he cut deeply into my flesh.
I reached for the fresh opening in my own gut and Dr. Reed slapped my hand away. He waved a finger at me and shook his head, still smiling.
I laughed, which caused spurts of blood, which caused me to laugh harder.
When he seemed to be done making and preparing the opening, probing it with ungloved fingers and moving things aside, he reached into the pocket of his white coat and produced a vial.
Inside the vial, I saw something resembling a garden bulb. Something rounded, with spindly "roots". However, the thing was clearly made of flesh or some other tissue, and its hair-like tendrils flexed and released excitedly.
Removing the stopper from the vial, Dr. Reed smirked at me. He then dropped the bulb-thing... the tiny mystery object... into my stomach.
I watched him in wonder as he sewed the wound back up. I thought the whole thing was amazing and wonderful. In that moment, I decided I wanted to be a Doctor when I grew up.
After the job was complete and he'd seen to the head injury that brought me there in the first place, Dr. Reed was gone.
I only told one person what had happened. It was the nurse who came to see me after I awakened from a miniature gas-coma.
She asked who had sewn up my head, and I told her everything. I was shaking, tears in my eyes. By now the fantastic surgical theater I'd witness had turned to a disturbing, half-remembered horrors.
The Nurse assured me I must've been hallucinating.
I couldn't even find the scar on my stomach when I went to show her. This only provided more evidence against my own memories.
My childhood came and went. School, friends, video games and comic books. First love, second love, third love, ecstasy and heartbreak. It would not be wrong to say I never thought about Dr. Reed again.
Until the pain started.
I'd been playing a game of touch football with a few local guys I'd met at a bar. We held the game every other weekend, just as something to do when our girlfriends or wives started getting unbearable.
One of these guys... I don't even know who it was... side-swiped me by mistake, and then landed on top of me. Actually, looking back now I think it had to be Mike, because he's a FAT bastard and I have the general inkling of being underneath a fat bastard.
I couldn't pull myself up off the ground... the pain, radiating from my stomach, was keeping me bent at the middle. No amount of razzing or name-calling helped me "shake it off", and after a few moments everyone finally grasped the seriousness of the situation.
In the ambulance, I couldn't be coaxed out of a fetal position. When the EMTs told me I HAD to let them get at my stomach, I'm pretty sure I just let out a string of profanities and maybe even a slur that came out of nowhere. I can't be positive, the pain had me in a half-conscious state that left me begging for someone to make it a full-on black-out.
It wasn't much better at the hospital. They had to wheel me in, fetal position and all, and anyone who tried to help me got the depth of my obscenity and the threat of violence.
It didn't stop. It didn't even pause. It was just this cold, stinging, stabbing geyser of torment that emanated from my midsection until it washed over my entire body.
Finally, they put me away in a room and went to call in some able-bodied men and some very powerful drugs.
My eyes were clenched. My teeth were clenched. Everything in my person, probably down to the cellular level, was clenched.
A voice echoed through the area.
"Paging Doctor Reed. Doctor Reed to room one forty three. Doctor Reed."
My eyes flicked open. Surely, the intense and unending pain was playing with my senses, making me hear things. Maybe I wasn't even conscious anymore?
The door flung open.
"Oh! Hello again!!" It was Dr. Reed.
He hadn't aged a day, and through the door... behind him... the hallway was completely different from the one I'd passed through to get here. All of a sudden, I remembered the altered hallway from when I'd met this man before. It was something I could've easily recalled previously... had I not been convinced it didn't happen.
"Nnn... nuuhh..." I knew what I wanted to say, but it wasn't coming out through my locked teeth.
"Come now," Dr. Reed clucked his tongue and shook his head at me, "This isn't my fault, YOU weren't being careful!"
I tried to stop him from fixing the mask to my face. I pulled it off five or six times before Dr. Reed finally clasped both my hands in his and forced the thing upon me.
Dr. Reed cut into my stomach again, and I watched with a dopey smile. I couldn't figure out why I didn't want him to do this. It looked awesome.
He pulled the bulb out of my stomach after spending a good few minutes searching for it. As he yanked it out, its tendrils stretched and snapped as if they'd rooted themselves in me.
The bulb was limp and pale in Dr. Reed's hand. He studied it with a fleeting look of sadness before dropping it into his pocket.
Then, he retrieved a vial from the other pocket...
I awoke to an older Nurse who asked if I was still in pain. I told her I wasn't, and she waved away the burly men she'd brought into the room. They shot her a concerned glance, as if I was some sort of dangerous lunatic, and begrudgingly left the room.
"No pain? Nothing at all?" She asked.
"No..." I stared into space, shaking all over. I must've LOOKED like I was hurting.
I turned to meet her gaze, searching her expression... her eyes... for some sign that she really existed and that this was really happening.
"Dr. Reed..." I whispered.
"I'm sorry? Doctor what?"
"Dr. Reed. He cut me open. Dr. Reed."
"Well," She pursed her lips, rolled her eyes to the ceiling as if in thought, "I don't know any Dr. Reed. No, I'm sure I don't, son."
"He operated on me... years ago... years and years..."
She looked perplexed, brow knotted up. She shook her head slowly... but then it gradually turned into a nod.
"Oh, yes..." she nodded quicker, "Doctor Reed! Ha ha! It's been a LONG time since I've heard that one. You must've heard the name mentioned and thought he was your Doctor. There was never any Doctor Reed."
I sat up, looked her in the face accusingly.
"If there was never a Dr. Reed, how can it be a 'long time' since you heard of him?!"
She touched me on the knee, then retracted the hand when she saw just how irate I was becoming.
"Son," she seemed sincere, "We used to get all sorts of funny paperwork through here... reports and folders and invoices... They'd come through with the Doctor's name blacked out, and nobody knew where they came from or what they meant. We kept them all in a box, then over the years we just... shredded them."
"So?" I shrugged at her, shook my head, both executed with an obnoxious and confrontational flair.
"Well, when you black something out, it's 'Redacted', so we called this man, whoever he was, we called him 'Doctor Redacted', but that got old fast..."
My eyes widened. I connected the dots a split second before she said it.
"So we called him 'Doctor Reed' for short."
I don't play touch football anymore. I don't do anything dangerous. I've often spent months on end without leaving the house. It's my greatest fear that this thing inside me... whatever it is... will get injured or killed and... I'll be taken back to Dr. Reed for another procedure.
It's been years since our last visit, and my stomach is bloating.
My stomach is bloating... and the rest of me is withering...