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The Harlequin Children

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Now, if you're reading this... heed my warning: every single word of this is no lie, I assure you. Everything that has happened seemed too real, and I have no other place to turn to. So if you're afraid of this ugly truth, leave now. You might not know what you're getting yourself into...

It first started the day I was relocated for my job. More and more doctors in Portland were requesting help in the newly built wing at Shriners Children's Hospital. My old job in Banner Churchill was shot down a mere few days before I saw that they were in urgent need of more nurses that had a long term familiarity with children and the general workplace. Since I had around six years of medical practice and history, carried along with a bachelor's degree as a surgical assistant (mostly for mothers that would rush in almost on the daily), I was hired nearly on the spot.

I guess it took me a bit to actually register what I had just done, since I drove quite a ways just for an interview... and here I am, suddenly employed. The manager before me asked me several simple questions, such as "When can you start working?" or "What situations can you bring help for on the work floor?" I gave each of those fairly simple questions simple answers.

"I can start tomorrow, if you'd like." I smiled softly, and the manager seemed pleased with my answer. The earlier the better, I supposed. He nodded, handing me a short list of things to give me a rundown of the building itself, and the new wing. Before I could leave after gathering my papers and notes, I was stopped by a hand on my shoulder. I glanced back to the boss, an eyebrow raised.

"Listen... this job doesn't need you to be anywhere other than the new wing. So if you find yourself getting lost somewhere, keep away from the stairs and you should be fine. There's been a few accidents after hours about two nurses falling down them, and I just don't want that happening again any time soon." As soon as he finished his sentence, he let go of my shoulder. Since I was the stupid young girl that I was, I shrugged it off as a unfortunate event and thanked him for his time.

As I drove back home later that day, I couldn't get what he said out of my head. How could two women fall down the stairs so conveniently? It just sounded like a horrible set-up for an old horror movie from the 1900's, and it made less sense each time I would think about it. I almost obsessed about the thought until I got home, sitting in my car for no longer than five minutes, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was taking this job too soon a good idea?

Since I only had a short amount of time to get all of my stuff out of my shared apartment room and get enough sleep to work the next day, I had to get everything together and get it together as neatly as possible. Luckily, that new job feeling was just enough to pick me up off of my feet for the time being. After a back breaking few hours of helplessness and dragging countless boxes of my belongings in to my minivan, I finally collapsed into the driver's seat. My roommate didn't even bother to say goodbye, so I saw no reason to either. I crashed after scrolling over my old posts on my phone after a while, around midnight. It was a good thing too, since I usually felt so drowsy after eleven or so.

I had the strangest dream that night, and it was about the weirdest thing you'd imagine... there were these two babies, who looked no more than a few hours old that were laying in the arms of a mother, who looked as if she were dead for almost four weeks. The mother's skin was tinted a pale blue color instead of what used to be her once seemingly beautiful pale skin, her lips cracked from the lack of moisture in her body. Her jaw was popped open in an unnatural position, and her eyes were clipped open. Her eyes had a white film over it, but you could just barely see her sky blue iris behind the milky substance. Her dark brown hair looked like it was fading from the roots, going from white, silver, all the way down to a dark brown. But that's not what put me off. It was the babies that she cradled in her arms.

Each one had an intense red coloration to their irritated skin, and a thick cracked shell of more pale skin over it. Their eyes were pure red and bulging, as if blood had been flushed into their skulls and had no way of coming back down; and their eye sockets were the worst of it all... the far corner of the eyes were pulled up to where their eyebrow should have been, and the cracked white armor of skin peeled upwards and out of its way. Their lips were pushed out into a permanent "O" formation, and the gums were stretched into view. Even their bodies were disproportioned. Their arms and legs were much thinner and longer than their torsos which were more bloated than a normal, healthy baby would have. Where their genitals would be were just a flat surface - nothing more, nothing less. Just the same cracked armor covering them from head to toe. Their expressions resembled those of a harlequin from some time ago, like the artwork you'd find in history books.

Just the sight made me gag, even in my dream state. I swore that I could see their eyes moving, as if they were trying to see me, pleading for help in their own way. I was jerked away by a sound of screaming, a blaring siren ringing inside of my ears. Once I finally drew to my senses, it occurred to me that it wasn't a siren at all... it was just me, laying facedown on the car horn by accident. The stinging sensation on the corners of my mouth from stomach acid, probably from my previous nightmare. I just wanted to get dressed and forget that it even happened.

Since I was suddenly woken up by the damn horn, it was about 6 o' clock; just enough time for me to get dressed and stop by to get some sort of caffeinated drink for my new life ahead of me. Although I had some second thoughts about getting the new position at Shriners, I had to look at the bright side: I would be helping a lot more lives than I have been at my old job, and everyone will be happy about it all around. It was better than working on cleaning up after each patient was checked out, or handing tools over to the surgeon anyways.

As soon as I cleaned myself up and changed my clothes into the sickly pale blue scrubs they assigned to me, grimacing as I stared at the rearview mirror. This job is just too stressful to even think about. All I had to do was think positive, and everything would be fine. At least I hoped that it would, anyways.

As I hurried in to the lobby of the hospital, a variety of patients, both new and old rushed around me in large swarms. I guess that I had almost forgotten how hectic a place a hospital can be, let alone a children's hospital. Children and teens of all ages bustled around me, pushing and pulling each other every which way. Some were in wheel chairs, others had casts on their arms, legs or feet, and some even had patches covering gnarled wounds they must have had. My heart ached for them, but I had to realize that the reason I came here was to help them, and that's exactly what I was going to do.

I was instantly snapped out of my thoughts by a hand on mine, causing me to gasp in shock. As soon as I looked down to see who it was coming from, the feeling was gone. I was mentally kicking myself, thinking of what it was. It felt too rubbery and wet to the touch to be anything from any of the children that I've seen so far... it might have been one of the workers' hands brushing against mine. That nightmare that I had had definitely gotten inside of my head at that point, and I was just downright sick of it prying itself in to almost every little thought that I had.

Once I finally pushed myself to shuffle up to the front desk to talk about what I had to do and where the new wing was, the receptionist just looked me over with a horrified look, as if she had seen a ghost. "I-It's just down the hall, then to the left," she stuttered out, leaning over the counter to point out which hall she was indicating. I didn't think much of it, thanking her for being so polite and went on my way. It must have been the way I looked. I felt so out of place, yet I didn't dress or look any different than the rest of the staff. Maybe it was just me being paranoid as always.

When I made my way down the hallway, my eyes ran its way along the wall, which was plastered with several drawings and posters drawn on with crayon and colored pencil crudely; obviously drawings from the younger children in the facility. I smiled to myself, sighing softly. There were some drawings of them with their parents, pets or friends, and others were simply drawings of heart shapes and the words "I feal so mutch bater" surrounding it. Things like that made me happy for the job I have.

As I looked ahead once more, I finally came to the split end of the hall. Slowly taking my left, I noticed how there were only five rooms that were in the wing. Two on one side, two on the other, and one at the very end. Looks like that the job I took was worth it after all. The pay was halfway decent, there was less work to be done, and I'd be helping people in the process - not to mention doing what I love. As I glanced in each room every now and then to check on each patient, each seemed to have one thing in common. Which was strange, now that I think about it. Each child was in their very early years... none of them older than one year old; and which was even more strange, was that each side was in a specific pattern. Boy girl, boy girl. Once I finally reached the end of the hall, I had felt like something was definitely off.

The light in the room was shut off, to where there was almost an empty pocket of darkness at the end of the hallway, which made me feel very uneasy. There was supposed to be somebody in there, I knew it. Why didn't anything move or make any noise in there, then? I frowned deeply, crossing my arms. I must have looked completely out of my mind, just by standing there and staring at the door mindlessly, because just a few moments later, one of the other staff members tapped my shoulder, feeling hesitant as they did so. I slowly looked over my shoulder to see who it was, jumping a bit in surprise.

"Sad, isn't it?" he muttered, shaking his head. He must have been able to tell that I was absolutely clueless, because he quickly added; "The twins, Miss. The two who.. erm - passed away?" He whispered the last few words, glancing around them. It took me a moment to realize why he had to whisper the final part of his sentence, because there was a child just... staring. Staring directly at me. The reason he was there in the first place was probably because they called him down to see what was wrong.

"How did it happen?" I looked up to him, raising a brow. He seemed put off by the question, and frankly, so was I. It wasn't like me at all to just pop out questions like that, and I honestly felt pretty rude asking such a thing. But since the question was just there, floating between us, he looked guilty enough to answer.

"Harlequin Ichthyosis," he muttered, shaking his head a bit. A sudden jolt of deja vu shot through me almost instantly. Just the word "harlequin" reminded me of those children that the mother was holding in that nightmare I had just the other night. I bit my bottom lip hard, nodding slowly. "A nasty disease, that is. Doctors say that they didn't last more than an hour and a half." He turned on his heel slowly to hurry back to his work, but I outstretched a hand out to him to stop him.

"E-Excuse me, but-" I pressed my lips in to a thin line, almost giving up on the rest of the sentence before he slowly shuffled back to me with a curious look. He shoved both hands in to his pants' pockets, raising a brow, waiting for me to finish. "Could you explain to me what that means, exactly?" He stared up at the ceiling for a moment, seeming to look for an answer.

"There isn't much that I've heard about, but all I know is that they all had something wrong with their skin. It was like they had some kind of crackle fingernail polish dumped over them or something... I don't know." He sighed softly, scratching the back of his neck; obviously showing how uncomfortable he was on the topic. I nodded understandingly, trying my best to crack a smile; but I couldn't. The horrific scene that laid out before me the night before just kept flashing through my mind over and over again, and wouldn't stop. Oh my God, why wouldn't it stop?

I flinched at each part that would pop in to my head as if it hit me each time I saw it, my chest feeling like it was freezing cold. Although it might have just been a short mental breakdown, sure, I still needed some space at the time. I waved him off, which he didn't seem to mind, since I was the one he had to check up on anyways. He told me that I should probably get some air, seeing how that I was almost as pale as a ghost. He pointed out that there was a short spiral staircase at the opposite end of the hall that would take me to the back of the building, where it was more quiet. Thanking him, I waved him off and started towards the staircase.

At least he was nice enough to even talk to me without staring at me like I was some sort of freak show at the time. As I began to go down the stairs, I realized how fast I was actually going down. As my natural human instincts to slow down kicked in, I tried my best to slow down, but just couldn't, it felt impossible. As I finally noticed how I was going way too fast, I lost my footing - tripping over my own heel and dropped headfirst down the last four or five steps of the stairs.

That's all I could remember, yet here I am... laying here in my own hospital bed. Isn't it ironic? I was there to help them, but here I am, being helped by them; my neck bone nearly snapped. They say that I was lucky that I survived such a fall. This was just a whole mess I could have just avoided if I ignored that door at the end of the hallway. But those visions, the visions of the twins won't go away... and they are staring at me. I can see them, just in the hospital bed next to me. That poor mother's eyes have been following me this whole time, and today, I finally decide to do something.

So, dear reader. If you are reading this so far, you're probably asking yourself questions such as; "Will there be any happy ending?" And to answer that question with a short answer, no. For the more detailed answer, not exactly. While I'm writing these final words, I have been planning on a separate piece of paper how I will flawlessly carry out my own suicide.

Just a simple, tight swift tie of the feeding tube in my arm around my throat, and wound around the bar that the isolating curtains hang from is just the perfect combination to make my escape. Nothing will be between me and my sweet rapture. "Why?" You might be asking yourself. Well, the answer is quite simple. It's the only way to escape from the Harlequin Children.

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