It’s getting dark, night-time is approaching. I’m scared of what is to come. There’s an evil in this hospital looking to make me its next victim and the worst thing is there’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do is lie here and wait, wait for the inevitable. I won’t even see it coming. I can’t. I’m paralysed from my head to my toes. I can’t even open my eyes to see my fate. I can listen but that makes things worse. My mind uses the sounds to encourage my fear. I wish I was still lying on the road with my life dripping away rather than lying here frightened of being alive.
The accident that sent me here wasn’t long ago. I exited a taxi in haste and I failed to look out for oncoming traffic. It found me without hesitation. Some people have the good fortune to have such accidents erased from their minds, but I’m one of the unlucky few to remember with full clarity. There was no pain initially. The crumple zone lived up to its name rather than its design. My legs buckled when my knees bent sideways from the impact. My upper body slammed onto the bonnet punching my head into the windscreen. It lodged in the head-shaped hole for a brief moment until my legs overtook the rest of my body and fired me like a trebuchet, clearing both the roof and the boot. I was dumped in the middle of the road with cars screeching around me. The shock numbed all the pain at first but after my mind came to terms with what had happened, my senses exploded. I couldn’t decipher the messages my body was sending and I ended up passing out. I awoke here, in this helpless position.
The very first night of my consciousness I encountered the evil presence. It started with a slow grinding squeal of metal on metal. It’s how I envisaged the gears of a torture rack sounding. It grew in volume the closer it got to the door. It came to rest and the door-knob rattled. On this occasion distant footsteps stopped the door from opening. I didn’t know what it was at this point and I simply dismissed it. Tonight I won’t be so blasé.
You may wonder how I can tell it’s getting dark. It’s not because you can still see light fade from behind closed eyes but because there are fewer alien voices bouncing off the walls. The infrequent footsteps become louder too, supported by increased echos. My heart has already begun accelerating in anticipation of tonight’s visit. I’ve never prayed so much, as an atheist I’ve never prayed at all, but I’m willing for any form of salvation. To have the use of my body again would change everything, I pray for the simplest things that would help. I pray for my voice to return, for my hand to move or even for my eyes to open. Something to show everyone I’m still here. Perhaps then they won’t leave me alone at night.
The second night’s experience was different to the first. The place seemed abandoned. There were no signs of life. I have to admit my focus was on managing the pain from this broken body. There’s only so much pain medicine can hide and with the extent of my injuries they were doing a much better job than I could have hoped. For some reason the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It stopped me thinking and changed my focus to listening. I became more aware of the silence as my concentration made it louder. A single clank came from the door-knob. It made me jump. I listened more intently. I could hear the door-knob being turned. It started off slowly, a normal turn as you would do to enter a closed room. When the door resisted opening the door-knob began to rattle as it was used more forcefully. I became more uncomfortable as the rattle changed to a clatter. There was anger operating it now. My fear escalated. I was a prisoner of my own body.
It was over in a flash, that was it. Nothing more occurred. Silence followed quickly and the whole affair ended. There was no explanation, no rhyme nor reason. The stress of the situation had already started to give me indigestion. I wished I could communicate with the staff though I doubt they’d listen.
I can’t believe the hospital staff are unaware I’m awake. I can hear them talk candidly about my chances. It feels like I’m suffering some form of anaesthesia awareness. I’ve heard the stories of people being anaesthetised and still being fully conscious during operations, experiencing all the pain that goes with it. I still have all my senses and my faculties. Stating they’ve given me only a few days to live still hurts regardless of whether or not I can express my dismay.
Their frank discussions about me make me worried about the state of the NHS. I can picture the nurses early in their career, eager to make a difference and help people. Shortly after they have their battle scars from serving in a hospital though, it all changes. Government austerity cuts and bureaucratic regulations stifle their primary goal. They are no longer wardens of your health, rather administrators of policies and budgets; patient care becomes a by-product. I can understand their disillusion.
The third night was the catalyst for my subsequent fear. The door-knob rattled again. It started off gently, but then it increased in intensity. There was a frustration to it. An aggression was building on the other side of the door. The rattling became frantic, escalating to a crescendo. It crashed into silence. I held my breath expecting the door to fling open at any moment. I could feel the hairs on my body stand up and try to flee. The door shattered sending a draught of air over me. The grinding squeal I’d forgotten about began and crawled closer to the bed.
A chime, reminiscent of a gong call for dinner, summoned forward a multi-legged creature. I could hear tapping scurry under the bed from the one side to the other. It sounded like a crab running along a marble floor. My shin was touched by something soft which made me recoil in my mind as my body remained steadfast.
Pain swelled in my stomach. I could smell something putrid, something rank, it was as though a corpse was breathing in my face. I wanted to run so badly but all I could do was hyperventilate. My heart thrashed around my chest sending the heart rate monitor into a tizzy. I braced myself for what was to come. I searched the room for sounds but without success. Somehow I fell asleep while waiting and I woke up in the morning when the nurse checked on me.
The door seemed to be all in one piece. I could hear it being opened and closed without any trouble. Even the door-knob sounded less sinister in the light of day. It’s closed now or at least it sounded like they closed it.
It can’t be long before I get another visit. The beeping of the heart rate monitor is keeping me company. I’ve tried controlling my heartbeat to send out a Morse code SOS however I’ve only managed to create the intro to Metallica’s ‘That Was Just Your Life’.
I can only speculate as to what the creature is. If I put together what I’ve experienced I’d say it was a zombie crab, which is one of the most ludicrous things I’ve come up with. The devil is now sending some kind of shellfish to steal souls? I am most definitely losing the plot.
There are no foreign noises coming from the corridor. The stillness is deafening. I’m projecting myself to have my ear against the door, my early warning system. Still there’s nothing to be done.
The door-knob rattles. I leap back into my body.
More force is used on the door-knob. It’s no longer rattling, it’s banging, sounding like railcars attaching to each other. The door’s banging now. It’s going to give way. Please God, if you’re up there…
Think brain, think. Heart rate monitor. If I take the leads off my chest, it will appear my heart’s stopped. That should get their attention. Shit. I can’t use my fucking hands.
The door-knob is being clouted by something metal. I can feel the vibration brush my face.
Think damn it. I need to stop my heart beat. How? Stop my heart? What if I..? Will they get to me in time? Fuck it. Die by my hands or his? I swallow my tongue. I can’t breathe. I’m gagging. I…………….
It looks like my attempted suicide wasn’t in vain after all. They got to me in time and managed to resuscitate me. The good news doesn’t stop there. My body has had a reboot. I can see, speak and move my head and arms. I must be delirious because the TV, the curtain, the bed-clothes, even my plaster-covered legs all look magnificent. Everything looks blessed. I’ll never take my sight for granted again.
“Paul you’re awake? You gave us a fright for a while,” said the nurse.
“Not as frightened as me.”
“I can imagine. How are you feeling?”
“Relieved. I’ve got a better chance of surviving now.”
“Waking from a coma is a great sign.”
They still think that? Fuck’s sake. “I was thinking more about the night-time visitor.”
Now the nurse looked confused. I tried my best to explain, but the more I said aloud the more insane I sounded.
“Perhaps you need more rest. Here is Mr Pauper, he’s consulting on your case.”
A tall thin, sickly-looking man stepped forward. The drill started up before he could speak. There was a man in coveralls tinkering around with the door.
“The door warps in these humid evenings. It makes it almost impossible to open the door once it’s closed. I struggled to get to you on time. I had to use the fire extinguisher to smash the door open. Hopefully he can repair it,” said Mr Pauper as he stared at the man at the door. “Your recovery so far is excellent. We’re still unable to determine whether you’ll regain the use of your legs. There’s too much swelling at the moment, not to mention the broken bones. Time will tell, however all the signs are encouraging.”
“Could I ask for a security guard to be placed outside the door? I’m in fear for my life.”
“What on earth? What have you got to fear? We don’t have guards on the payroll. We’re not a rich hospital Mr Sampson.”
“Could I have my mobile phone then?”
“Sure I’ll ask the nurse to find it for you. You’re progressing well. I must dash, I’m on my rounds.” Mr Pauper’s smile wouldn’t go amiss on a politician.
The grinding squeal made me spin to my left. The nurse was pushing a surgical trolley to the side of my bed.
“What’s that for?” I said.
“Nothing to worry about.” She left it there, both the trolley and the conversation.
It didn’t take long for the door to be repaired and I was soon left to my own devices. I couldn’t help wonder what the trolley was for. It was definitely the sound from the other night. The trolley seemed prepped. There were all sorts of instruments placed with precision. In the corner of the top shelf was an oddly shaped large lamp, something akin to what a dentist would use. If I’d not known better I would have suspected that it was part of a torturer’s arsenal.
I can’t relax. I feel tonight’s visit has an ominous finality to it. I can see now. I can fight back. The knives on the trolley are within reach. I’m as prepared as I can be. One way or other this will be the end to it.
Darkness has covered me for several hours now. I’m ready, waiting for the zombie crab or whatever the hell it is to turn up.
The door-knob rattles. It catches me off guard and I jolt upright. This time there’s no fighting with the door. The door-knob gives up without resistance. I brace myself as the door opens wide.
I breathe easily as I see Mr Pauper step through.
“You sure know how to scare a fella,” I said between gulps of air.
Mr Pauper didn’t say anything. He had a stern look on his face. He approached my drip and injected something into it.
“Is that to help me sleep?”
He remained quiet. As he turned to face me his keys caught the bed-rest. They chimed. He plugged an electrical extension into the wall socket near the monitor and then threw it under the bed. The plastic sliding and rolling on the exposed flooring made a tapping sound. My zombie crab was just an electrical extension?
Mr Pauper saw the recognition on my face when he plugged the high-powered lamp into the extension. He started to put on surgical gloves. I began to feel drowsy.
“I said earlier Mr Sampson, we are not a rich hospital.” He lifts my bed-cover exposing gauze covering a wound of some sort on my stomach. “We take pride in our customer care, and we can’t keep up this level of quality without patient donations.” He takes a scalpel from the trolley and removes the gauze to reveal a previous incision. “Your care is very expensive. It’s time for you to settle up. It’s a shame you woke before I had finished collecting. I was hoping when you eventually regained consciousness you wouldn’t notice anything missing that couldn’t be explained away by your injuries.”
I’m trying to move my arms to stop him but there’s no energy there. My mind is fading away, I’m struggling to fight on.
“The good news is you won’t be recovering now which means you’re going to be more generous than you can imagine.”
I fade in and out. I can barely see. I keep getting a warm smell of rotten flesh each time Mr Pauper takes his hands out of me. I smell putrid inside, I smell like a rotting corpse.
I open my eyes and see Mr Pauper carrying a small cool box out of the door.
“Until tomorrow, Mr Sampson.”
The door closes. The last thing I hear as I fall asleep is the rattle of the door-knob.