A year or two ago, I started to notice a very strange thing happening to my car. A superstition, you could call it. Once I was in the driver seat, I would check the back to see if there was anyone there, though only at night. My job usually ended at varying times in the evening. Most people do this, probably because of stories like "The Hook", the one about the misunderstood truck driver flashing his lights at the unknowing woman. But I had a good reason for this, and just like those legends, it started with a story.
Back when I was in Boy Scouts, all the kids would tell urban legends, trying to scare our friends. But the best stories came from our dads. Maybe it was because we listened to them closer, or that they've been alive long enough to know how to captivate an audience and if we started learning in our forties it would be too late. Or, it may have been that if there was any truth, even a hint of truth, it would sound real to us kids.
I remember one time we were camping pretty late into the season. My troop was getting ready for a "winter relay race." It was after they told us to go to sleep. I opened up my sleeping bag just enough to hear what my dad was saying to my fellow scouts' fathers. The story took place back when my dad worked at Beth Israel Hospital in the seventies. The burn ward was what he was telling the other parents about. My dad remembers seeing some celebrities there, famous even outside of the Boston area. He described that when your skin burns in a fire it doesn't act like skin anymore, it looks and feels more like a wax substance. The scariest part was looking at the profiles of the victims from before their burns, and how they were after. It was especially frightening to look at the celebrities, when you already knew what they were supposed to look like.
My father would only talk about the burn ward with the other parents. I never dared ask him because of maybe getting a smack on the head for staying up too late. We all stayed up late anyway to hear the scariest stories of them all. There are three attributes from those stories that I can remember. First, he'd only tell the burn ward stories when it was cold out, dry New England cold where you can smell the snow coming. Frosty enough to see our breath but not to cancel camping trips. Second, were the patients' eye balls, what most people don't think of when they think of being burned alive is the skin around their eyes. For most people their eyes are basically glued shut, the skin membranes ooze out and reform at the base of the eye lids. Sometimes the doctors try to pry the eyelids open but most of the time your eyes literally pop.
And third the thing my father could remember most was not the hair or the eyeballs, but the nails. Their hands were the only thing he had to touch when distributing medication. The thing is about the cells that form the fingernails never really reformed correctly after being in heat enough to give third degree burns all over the body even after they heal. The integrity of the nails stay weak and frail years and years after the rest of the victim's body recovered. My dad said that when he cleaned the ward he found dozens upon hundreds of brittle fingernails making up the waste on the floor.
Now back to my superstition before I started explaining my story. I've been finding fingernails in my back seats more and more often. The nails obviously come from a human, but most certainly not me. The first thing I thought of were my clients. I've been working at a facility for the elderly for around two months now, and sometimes I have to drive my clients in my car. I thought that they were probably just acting lazy and not throwing them away, or just the patients wanting to leave a disgusting mess as a means to get a childish rise out of people.
That is, until this one day I went out to my car and saw someone trying to open the back door. It was dark, and when I yelled at him he looked at me and immediately bolted off into the woods. I wish I could say I didn't get a good look at his face. After all, that’s what I said to the police when I told them about the break-in. But I did see his face, if you could call it a face. It’s difficult to explain now despite how clearly I see it in my mind now. The face is not difficult to describe because of how much time has passed or how frightened I was, it’s difficult because of how badly burned the man was.
He had no ears, no eyes, nothing but an open gaping mouth. A mouth that appeared disproportionately big to the rest of the head. This was probably because it was the only thing that gave the man (or thing) any, if at all, natural context. Despite that, the mouth was enough to emote fear. Fear when it became aware that I had interrupted its plans. Everyone has heard those scary stories about the man with the hook, or the misunderstood truck driver flashing his head lights. These stories still latch onto a whole new generation for drivers. Before this incident, I probably would have laughed at them, like you would. It doesn't take a stranger with a knife to get a man to start noticing his surroundings. But it only took me one visit to the burn ward at Beth Israel Hospital to find out that many patients have been unaccounted for...